"This claims to be called a haunted chamber, for thousands upon thousands of visions have appeared to me in it; and some few of them have become visible to the world. If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make great mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed; and here I have been glad and hopeful, and here I have been despondent.... And now I begin to understand why I was imprisoned so many years in this lonely chamber, and why I could never break through the viewless bolts and bars; for if I had sooner made my escape into the world, I should have grown hard and rough, and my heart might have become callous by rude encounters with the multitude.... But living in solitude till the fulness of time, I still kept the dew of my youth and the freshness of my heart."
Yes, and more than this, Hawthorne! It was a young nation's faith in its future which—unsuspected by any then, but always to be remembered henceforth—had found a worthy answer and after-type in this faithful and hopeful heart of yours! Thus was it that the young poet who, in the sense we have observed, stood for old New England, absorbed into himself also the atmosphere of the United States. The plant that rooted in the past had put forth a flower which drew color and perfume from to-day. In such wise did Hawthorne prove to be the unique American in fiction.
I have examined the librarian's books at the Salem Athenaeum, which indicate a part of the reading that the writer of the "Twice-Told Tales" went through. The lists from the beginning of 1830 to 1838 include nearly four hundred volumes taken out by him, besides a quantity of bound magazines. This gives no account of his dealings with books in the previous five years, when he was not a shareholder in the Athenaeum, nor does it, of course, let us know anything of what he obtained from other sources. When Miss E. P. Peabody made his acquaintance, in 1836-37, he had, for example, read all of Balzac that had then appeared; and there is no record of this in the library lists. These lists alone, then, giving four hundred volumes in seven years, supply him with one volume a week,—not, on the whole, a meagre rate, when we consider the volumes of magazines, the possible sources outside of the library, and the numberless hours required for literary experiment. I do not fancy that he plodded through books; but rather that he read with the easy energy of a vigorous, original mind, though he also knew the taste of severe study. "Bees," he observes in one place, "are sometimes drowned (or suffocated) in the honey which they collect. So some writers are lost in their collected learning." He did not find it necessary to mount upon a pyramid of all learning previous to his epoch, in order to get the highest standpoint for his own survey of mankind. Neither was he "a man of parts," precisely; being in himself a distinct whole. His choice of reading was ruled by a fastidious need. He was fond of travels for a rainy day, and knew Mandeville; but at other times he took up books which seem to lie quite aside from his known purposes. [Footnote: See Appendix III.] Voltaire appears to have attracted him constantly; he read him in the original, together with Rousseau. At one time he examined Pascal, at another he read something of Corneille and a part of Racine. Of the English dramatists, he seems at this time to have tried only Massinger; "Inchbald's Theatre" also occurs. The local American histories took his attention pretty often, and he perused a variety of biography,—"Lives of the Philosophers," "Plutarch's Lives," biographies of Mohammed, Pitt, Jefferson, Goldsmith, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats, Baxter, Heber, Sir William Temple, and others. Brewster's "Natural Magic" and Sir Walter Scott's essay on "Demonology and Witchcraft" are books that one would naturally expect him to read; and he had already begun to make acquaintance with the English State Trials, for which he always had a great liking. "Colquhoun on the Police" would seem not entirely foreign to one who mentally pursued so many malefactors; but it is a little surprising that he should have found himself interested in "Babbage on the Economy of Machinery." He dipped, also, into botany and zooelogy; turned over several volumes of Bayle's "Critical Dictionary," read Mrs. Jameson, and the "London Encyclopaedia of Architecture"; and was entertained by Dunlap's "History of the Arts of Design in America." It was from this last that he drew the plot of "The Prophetic Pictures," in the "Twice-Told Tales." Some Boston newspapers of the years 1739 to 1783 evidently furnished the material for an article called "Old News," reprinted in "The Snow Image." Hawthorne seems never to have talked much about reading: 'tis imaginable that he was as shy in his choice of books and his discussion of them, as in his intercourse with men; and there is no more ground for believing that he did not like books, than that he cared nothing for men and women. Life is made up, for such a mind, of men, women, and books; Hawthorne accepted all three estates.
Gradually, from the midst of the young author's obscurity, there issued an attraction which made the world wish to know more of him. One by one, the quiet essays and mournful-seeming stories came forth, like drops from a slow-distilling spring. The public knew nothing of the internal movement which had opened this slight fountain, nor suspected the dark concamerations through which the current made its way to the surface. The smallest mountain rill often has a thunder-storm at its back; but the average reader of that day thought he had done quite enough, when he guessed that the new writer was a timid young man fabling under a feigned name, excellent in his limited way, who would be a great deal better if he could come out of seclusion and make himself more like other people.
The first contributions were made to the "Salem Gazette" and the "New England Magazine"; then his attempts extended to the "Boston Token and Atlantic Souvenir," edited by S. G. Goodrich; and later, to other periodicals. Mr. Goodrich wrote to his young contributor (October, 1831): "I am gratified to find that all whose opinion I have heard agree with me as to the merit of the various pieces from your pen." But for none of these early performances did Hawthorne receive any considerable sum of money. And though his writings began at once to attract an audience, he had slight knowledge of it. Three young ladies—of whom his future sister-in-law, Miss Peabody, was one—were among the first admirers; and though Hawthorne baffled his readers and perhaps retarded his own notoriety by assuming different names in print, [Footnote: Among these were "Oberon" and "Ashley Allen Royce," or "The Rev. A. A. Royce." The latter was used by him in the Democratic Review, so late as March, 1840.] they traced his contributions assiduously, cut them out of magazines, and preserved them. But they could not discover his personal identity. One of them who lived in Salem used constantly to wonder, in driving about town, whether the author of her favorite tales could be living in this or in that house; for it was known that he was a Salem resident. Miss Peabody, who had in girlhood known something of the Hathorne family (the name was still written either way, I am told), was misled by the new spelling, and by the prevalent idea that Nathaniel Hawthorne was an assumed name. This trio were especially moved by "The Gentle Boy" when it appeared, and Miss Peabody was on the point of addressing "The Author of 'The Gentle Boy,'" at Salem, to tell him of the pleasure he had given. When afterward told of this, Hawthorne said, "I wish you had! It would have been an era in my life." Soon after, the Peabodys returned to Salem, and she learned from some one that the new romancer was the son of the Widow Hathorne. Now it so chanced that her family had long ago occupied a house on Union Street, looking off into the garden of the old Manning family mansion; and she remembered no son, though a vague image came back to her of a strong and graceful boy's form dancing across the garden, at play, years before. Her mind therefore fastened upon one of the sisters, who, she knew, had shown great facility in writing: indeed, Hawthorne used at one time to say that it was she who should have been the follower of literature. Full of this conception, she went to carry her burden of gratitude to the author, and after delays and difficulties, made her way into the retired and little-visited mansion. It was the other sister into whose presence she came, and to her she began pouring out the reason of her intrusion, delivering at once her praises of the elder Miss Hathorne's fictions.
"My brother's, you mean," was the response.
"It is your brother, then." And Miss Peabody added: "If your brother can write like that, he has no right to be idle."
"My brother never is idle," answered Miss Louisa, quietly.
Thus began an acquaintance which helped to free Hawthorne from the spell of solitude, and led directly to the richest experiences of his life. Old habits, however, were not immediately to be broken, and months passed without any response being made to the first call. Then at last came a copy of the "Twice-Told Tales," fresh from the press. But it was not until the establishment of the "Democratic Review," a year or two later, that occasion offered for a renewal of relations. Hawthorne was too shy to act upon the first invitation. Miss Peabody, finally, addressing him by letter, to inquire concerning the new periodical, for which he had been engaged as a contributor, asked him to come with both his sisters on the evening of the same day. Entirely to her surprise, they came. She herself opened the door, and there before her, between his sisters, stood a splendidly handsome youth, tall and strong, with no appearance whatever of timidity, but, instead, an almost fierce determination making his face stern. This was his resource for carrying off the extreme inward tremor which he really felt. His hostess brought out Plaxmau's designs for Dante, just received from Professor Felton of Harvard, [Footnote: The book may have been Felton's Homer with Flaxman's drawings, issued in 1833.] and the party made an evening's entertainment out of them.
The news of this triumph, imparted to a friend of Miss Peabody's, led to an immediate invitation of Hawthorne to dinner at another house, for the next day. He accepted this, also, and on returning homeward, stopped at the "Salem Gazette" office, full of the excitement of his new experiences, announcing to Mr. Foote, the editor, that he was getting dissipated. He told of the evening with Miss Peabody, where he said he had had a delightful time, and of the dinner just achieved. "And I've had a delightful time there, too!" he added. Mr. Foote, perceiving an emergency, at once asked the young writer to come to his own house for an evening. Hawthorne, thoroughly aroused, consented. When the evening came, several ladies who had been invited assembled before the author arrived; and among them Miss Peabody. When he reached the place he stopped short at the drawing-room threshold, startled by the presence of strangers, and stood perfectly motionless, but with the look of a sylvan creature on the point of fleeing away. His assumed brusquerie no longer availed him; he was stricken with dismay; his face lost color, and took on a warm paleness. All this was in a moment; but the daughter of the house moved forward, and he was drawn within. Even then, though he assumed a calm demeanor, his agitation was very great: he stood by a table, and, taking up some small object that lay upon it, he found his hand trembling so that he was forced to put it down again.
While friends were slowly penetrating his reserve in this way, he was approached in another by Mr. Goodrich, who induced him to go to Boston, there to edit the "American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge." This work, which only continued from 1834 to September, 1837, was managed by several gentlemen under the name of the Bewick Company. One of these was Bowen, of Charlestown, an engraver; another was Goodrich, who also, I think, had some connection with the American Stationers' Company. The Bewick Company took its name from Thomas Bewick, the English restorer of the art of wood-engraving, and the magazine was to do his memory honor by its admirable illustrations. But, in fact, it never did any one honor, nor brought any one profit. It was a penny popular affair, containing condensed information about innumerable subjects, no fiction, and little poetry. The woodcuts were of the crudest and most frightful sort. It passed through the hands of several editors and several publishers. Hawthorne was engaged at a salary of five hundred dollars a year; but it appears that he got next to nothing, and that he did not stay in the position long. There is little in its pages to recall the identity of the editor; but in one place he quotes as follows from Lord Bacon: "The ointment which witches use is made of the fat of children digged from their graves, and of the juices of smallage, cinquefoil, and wolf's-bane, mingled with the meal of fine wheat," and hopes that none of his readers will try to compound it. In the tale of "Young Goodman Brown," when Goody Cloyse says, "I was all anointed with the juice of small-age and cinquefoil and wolf's-bane," and the Devil continues, "'Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe,'—'Ah, your worship knows the recipe,' cried the old lady, cackling aloud." A few scraps of correspondence, mostly undated, which I have looked over, give one a new view of him in the bustle and vexation of this brief editorial experience. He sends off frequent and hurried missives to one of his sisters, who did some of the condensing and compiling which was a part of the business. "I make nothing," he says, in one, "of writing a history or biography before dinner." At another time, he is in haste for a Life of Jefferson, but warns his correspondent to "see that it contains nothing heterodox." At the end of one of the briefest messages, he finds time to speak of the cat at home. Perhaps with a memory of the days when he built book-houses, he had taken two names of the deepest dye from Milton and Bunyan for two of his favorite cats, whom he called Beelzebub and Apollyon. "Pull Beelzebub's tail for me," he writes. But the following from Boston, February 15, 1836, gives the more serious side of the situation:—
"I came here trusting to Goodrich's positive promise to pay me forty-five dollars as soon as I arrived; and he has kept promising from one day to another, till I do not see that he means to pay at all. I have now broke off all intercourse with him, and never think of going near him ... I don't feel at all obliged to him about the editorship, for he is a stockholder and director in the Bewick Company; ... and I defy them to get another to do for a thousand dollars what I do for five hundred."
Goodrich afterward sent his editor a small sum; and the relations between them were resumed.. A letter of May 5, in the same year, contains these allusions:—
"I saw Mr. Goodrich yesterday.... He wants me to undertake a Universal History, to contain about as much as fifty or sixty pages of the magazine. [These were large pages.] If you are willing to write any part of it, ... I shall agree to do it. If necessary I will come home by and by, and concoct the plan of it with you. It need not be superior in profundity and polish to the middling magazine articles.... I shall have nearly a dozen articles in The Token,—mostly quite short."
The historical project is, of course, that which resulted in the famous "Peter Parley" work. "Our pay as historians of the universe," says a letter written six days later, "will be about one hundred dollars, the whole of which you may have. It is a poor compensation, but better than the Token; because the writing is so much less difficult." He afterward carried out the design, or a large part of it, and the book has since sold by millions, for the benefit of others. There are various little particulars in this ingenious abridgment which recall Hawthorne, especially if one is familiar with his "Grandfather's Chair" and "True Stories" for children; though the book has probably undergone some changes in successive editions. This passage about George IV. is, however, remembered as being his: "Even when he was quite an old man, this king cared as much about dress as any young coxcomb. He had a great deal of taste in such matters, and it is a pity that he was a king, for he might otherwise have been an excellent tailor."
Up to this time (May 12) he had received only twenty dollars for four months' editorial labor. "And, as you may well suppose," he says, "I have undergone very grievous vexations. Unless they pay me the whole amount shortly, I shall return to Salem, and stay there till they do." It seems a currish fate that puts such men into the grasp of paltry and sordid cares like these! But there is something deeper to be felt than dissatisfaction at the author-publisher's feeble though annoying scheme of harnessing in this rare poet to be his unpaid yet paying hack. This deeper something is the pathos of such possibilities, and the spectacle of so renowned and strong-winged a genius consenting thus to take his share of worldly struggle; perfectly conscious that it is wholly beneath his plane, but accepting it as a proper part of the mortal lot; scornful, but industrious and enduring. You who have conceived of Hawthorne as a soft-marrowed dweller in the dusk, fostering his own shyness and fearing to take the rubs of common men, pray look well at all this. And you, also, who discourse about the conditions essential to the development of genius, about the milieu and the moment, and try to prove America a vacuum which the Muse abhors, will do well to consider the phenomenon. "It is a poor compensation, yet better than the Token"; so he wrote, knowing that his unmatched tales were being coined for even a less reward than mere daily bread. He took the conditions that were about him, and gave them a dignity by his own fine perseverance. It is this inspired industry, this calm facing of the worst and making it the best, which has formed the history of all art. You talk of the ages, and choose this or that era as the only fit one. You long for a cosey niche in the past; but genius crowds time and eternity into the present, and says to you, "Make your own century!"
Meanwhile, if he received no solid gain from his exertions, Hawthorne was winning a reputation. In January he had written home: "My worshipful self is a very famous man in London, the 'Athenaeum' having noticed all my articles in the last Token, with long extracts." This refers to the 'Athenaeum' for November 7, 1835, which mentioned "The Wedding Knell" and "The Minister's Black Veil" as being stories "each of which has singularity enough to recommend it to the reader," and gave three columns to a long extract from "The Maypole of Merry Mount"; the notice being no doubt the work of the critic Chorley, who afterward met Hawthorne in England. Thus encouraged, he thought of collecting his tales and publishing them in volume form, connected by the conception of a travelling story-teller, whose shiftings of fortune were to form the interludes and links between the separate stories. A portion of this, prefatory to "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," has been published in the "Mosses," with the heading of "Passages from a Relinquished Work." Goodrich was not disposed to lavish upon his young beneficiary the expense of bringing out a book for him, and the plan of reprinting the tales with this framework around them was given up. The next year Bridge came to Goodrich and insisted on having a simple collection issued, himself taking the pecuniary risk. In this way the "Twice-Told Tales" were first brought collectively before the world; and for the second time this faithful comrade of Hawthorne laid posterity under obligation to himself. It was not till long afterward, however, that Hawthorne knew of his friend's interposition in the affair.
Mr. Bridge had not then entered the navy, and was engaged in a great enterprise on the Androscoggin; nothing less than an attempt to dam up that river and apply the water-power to some mills. In July of 1837, Hawthorne went to visit him at Bridgton, and has described his impressions fully in the Note-Books. It was probably his longest absence from Salem since graduating at Bowdoin. "My circumstances cannot long continue as they are," he writes; "and Bridge, too, stands between high prosperity and utter ruin."
The change in his own circumstances which Hawthorne looked for did not come through his book. It sold some six or seven hundred copies in a short time, but was received quietly, [Footnote: Some of the sketches were reprinted in England; and "A Rill from the Town Pump" was circulated in pamphlet form by a London bookseller, without the author's name, as a temperance tract.] though Longfellow, then lately established in his Harvard professorship, and known as the author of "Outre-Mer," greeted it with enthusiasm in the "North American Review," which wielded a great influence in literary affairs.
On March 7, 1837, Hawthorne sent this note to his former classmate, to announce the new volume.
"The agent of the American Stationer's Company will send you a copy of a book entitled 'Twice-Told Tales,'—of which, as a classmate, I venture to request your acceptance. We were not, it is true, so well acquainted at college, that I can plead an absolute right to inflict my 'twice-told' tediousness upon you; but I have often regretted that we were not better known to each other, and have been glad of your success in literature and in more important matters." Returning to the tales, he adds: "I should like to flatter myself that they would repay you some part of the pleasure which I have derived from your own 'Outre-Mer.'
"Your obedient servant,
Longfellow replied warmly, and in June Hawthorne wrote again, a long letter picturing his mood with a fulness that shows how keenly he had felt the honest sympathy of the poet.
"Not to burden you with my correspondence," he said, "I have delayed a rejoinder to your very kind and cordial letter, until now. It gratifies me that you have occasionally felt an interest in my situation; but your quotation from Jean Paul about the 'lark's nest' makes me smile. You would have been much nearer the truth if you had pictured me as dwelling in an owl's nest; for mine is about as dismal, and like the owl I seldom venture abroad till after dusk. By some witchcraft or other—for I really cannot assign any reasonable why and wherefore—I have been carried apart from the main current of life, and find it impossible to get back again. Since we last met, which you remember was in Sawtell's room, where you read a farewell poem to the relics of the class,—ever since that time I have secluded myself from society; and yet I never meant any such thing, nor dreamed what sort of life I was going to lead. I have made a captive of myself, and put me into a dungeon, and now I cannot find the key to let myself out,—and if the door were open, I should be almost afraid to come out. You tell me that you have met with troubles and changes. I know not what these may have been, but I can assure you that trouble is the next best thing to enjoyment, and that there is no fate in this world so horrible as to have no share in either its joys or sorrows. For the last ten years, I have not lived, but only dreamed of living. It may be true that there have been some unsubstantial pleasures here in the shade, which I might have missed in the sunshine, but you cannot conceive how utterly devoid of satisfaction all my retrospects are. I have laid up no treasure of pleasant remembrances against old age; but there is some comfort in thinking that future years can hardly fail to be more varied and therefore more tolerable than the past.
"You give me more credit than I deserve, in supposing that I have led a studious life. I have indeed turned over a good many books, but in so desultory a way that it cannot be called study, nor has it left me the fruits of study. As to my literary efforts, I do not think much of them, neither is it worth while to be ashamed of them. They would have been better, I trust, if written under more favorable circumstances. I have had no external excitement,—no consciousness that the public would like what I wrote, nor much hope nor a passionate desire that they should do so. Nevertheless, having nothing else to be ambitious of, I have been considerably interested in literature; and if my writings had made any decided impression, I should have been stimulated to greater exertions; but there has been no warmth of approbation, so that I have always written with benumbed fingers. I have another great difficulty in the lack of materials; for I have seen so little of the world that I have nothing but thin air to concoct my stories of, and it is not easy to give a lifelike semblance to such shadowy stuff. Sometimes through a peep-hole I have caught a glimpse of the real world, and the two or three articles in which I have portrayed these glimpses please me better than the others.
"I have now, or shall soon have, a sharper spur to exertion, which I lacked at an earlier period; for I see little prospect but that I shall have to scribble for a living. But this troubles me much less than you would suppose. I can turn my pen to all sorts of drudgery, such as children's books, etc., and by and by I shall get some editorship that will answer my purpose. Frank Pierce, who was with us at college, offered me his influence to obtain an office in the Exploring Expedition [Commodore Wilkes's]; but I believe that he was mistaken in supposing that a vacancy existed. If such a post were attainable, I should certainly accept it; for, though fixed so long to one spot, I have always had a desire to run round the world.... I intend in a week or two to come out of my owl's nest, and not return till late in the summer,—employing the interval in making a tour somewhere in New England. You who have the dust of distant countries on your 'sandal-shoon' cannot imagine how much enjoyment I shall have in this little excursion....
A few days later the quarterly, containing Longfellow's review of the book, appeared; and the note of thanks which Hawthorne sent is full of an exultation strongly in contrast with the pensive tone of the letter just given.
SALEM, June 19th, 1837.
DEAR LONGFELLOW:—I have to-day received, and read with huge delight, your review of 'Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales.' I frankly own that I was not without hopes that you would do this kind office for the book; though I could not have anticipated how very kindly it would be done. Whether or no the public will agree to the praise which you bestow on me, there are at least five persons who think you the most sagacious critic on earth, viz., my mother and two sisters, my old maiden aunt, and finally the strongest believer of the whole five, my own self. If I doubt the sincerity and correctness of any of my critics, it shall be of those who censure me. Hard would be the lot of a poor scribbler, if he may not have this privilege....
Very sincerely yours,
That "Evangeline" was written upon a theme suggested to Hawthorne (by a friend who had heard it from a French Canadian [Footnote: See American Note-Books, October 24,1839]) and by him made over to the poet, has already been made public. Hawthorne wrote, on its appearance:——
"I have read 'Evangeline' with more pleasure than it would be decorous to express. It cannot fail, I think, to prove the most triumphant of all your successes."
Nevertheless, he gave vent to some of his admiration in a notice of the work which he wrote for "The Salem Advertiser," a Democratic paper.
"The story of Evangeline and her lover," he there says, "is as poetical as the fable of the Odyssey, besides that it comes to the heart as a fact that has actually taken place in human life." He speaks of "its pathos all illuminated with beauty,——so that the impression of the poem is nowhere dismal nor despondent, and glows with the purest sunshine where we might the least expect it, on the pauper's death-bed.... The story is told with the simplicity of high and exquisite art, which causes it to flow onward as naturally as the current of a stream. Evangeline's wanderings give occasion to many pictures both of northern and southern scenery and life: but these do not appear as if brought in designedly, to adorn the tale; they seem to throw their beauty inevitably into the calm mirror of its bosom as it flows past them.... By this work of his maturity he has placed himself on a higher eminence than he had yet attained, and beyond the reach of envy. Let him stand, then, at the head of our list of native poets, until some one else shall break up the rude soil of our American life, as he has done, and produce from it a lovelier and nobler flower than this poem of Evangeline!"
Longfellow's characteristic kindly reply was as follows:——
"MY DEAR HAWTHORNE:——I have been waiting and waiting in the hope of seeing you in Cambridge.... I have been meditating upon your letter, and pondering with friendly admiration your review of 'Evangeline,' in connection with the subject of which, that is to say, the Acadians, a literary project arises in my mind for you to execute. Perhaps I can pay you back in part your own generous gift, by giving you a theme for story, in return for a theme for song. It is neither more nor less than the history of the Acadians, after their expulsion as well as before. Felton has been making some researches in the State archives, and offers to resign the documents into your hands.
"Pray come and see me about it without delay. Come so as to pass a night with us, if possible, this week; if not a day and night.
"Ever sincerely yours,
"HENRY W. LONGFELLOW." There is nothing in our literary annals more unique and delightful than this history of Longfellow's warm recognition of his old classmate, and the mutual courtesies to which it led. One is reminded by it of the William Tell episode between Goethe and Schiller, though it was in this case only the theme and nothing of material that was transferred.
An author now almost forgotten, Charles Fenno Hoffman, also published in "The American Monthly Magazine," [Footnote: For March, 1838.] which he was editing, a kindly review, which, however, underestimated the strength of the new genius, as it was at first the general habit to do. "Minds like Hawthorne's," he said, "seem to be the only ones suited to an American climate.... Never can a nation be impregnated with the literary spirit by minor authors alone.... Yet men like Hawthorne are not without their use.".... In this same number of the magazine, by the way, was printed Hawthorne's "Threefold Destiny," under the pseudonyme of Ashley Allen Royce; and the song of Faith Egerton, afterward omitted, is thus given:——
"O, man can seek the downward glance, And each kind word,——affection's spell,—— Eye, voice, its value can enhance; For eye may speak, and tongue can tell.
"But woman's love, it waits the while To echo to another's tone; To linger on another's smile, Ere dare to answer with its own."
These versicles, though they might easily be passed over as commonplace, hold a peculiar inner radiance that perhaps issued from the dawn of a lifelong happiness for Hawthorne at this period.
AT BOSTON AND BROOK FARM.
Hawthorne's mood at this time was one of profound dissatisfaction at his elimination from the active life of the world. "I am tired of being an ornament," he said, with great emphasis, to a friend. "I want a little piece of land that I can call my own, big enough to stand upon, big enough to be buried in. I want to have something to do with this material world." And, striking his hand vigorously on a table that stood by: "If I could only make tables," he declared, "I should feel myself more of a man." He was now thirty-four, and the long restraint and aloofness of the last thirteen years, with the gathering consciousness that he labored under unjust reproach of inaction, and the sense of loss in being denied his share in affairs, had become intolerable. It was now, also, that a new phase of being was opened to him. He had become engaged to Miss Sophia Peabody, a sister of his friend.
President Van Buren had been two years in office, and Mr. Bancroft, the historian, was Collector of the port of Boston. One evening the latter was speaking, in a circle of Whig friends, of the splendid things which the Democratic administration was doing for literary men. "But there's Hawthorne," suggested a lady who was present.
"You've done nothing for him." "He won't take anything," was the answer: "he has been offered places." In fact, Hawthorne's friends in political life had urged him to enter politics, and he had at one time been tendered a post of some sort in the West Indies, but refused it because he would not live in a slaveholding community. "I happen to know," said the lady, "that he would be very glad of employment." The result was that a commission for a small post in the Boston Custom House came, soon after, to the young author. On going down from Salem to inquire further about it, he received another and a better appointment as weigher and gauger, with a salary, I think, of twelve hundred a year. Just before entering the Collector's office, he noticed a man leaving it who wore a very dejected air; and, connecting this with the change in his own appointment, he imagined this person to be the just-ejected weigher. Speaking of this afterward, he said: "I don't believe in rotation in office. It is not good for the human being." But he took his place, writing to Longfellow (January 12, 1839):
"I have no reason to doubt my capacity to fulfil the duties; for I don't know what they are. They tell me that a considerable portion of my time will be unoccupied, the which I mean to employ in sketches of my new experience, under some such titles as follows: 'Scenes in Dock,' 'Voyages at Anchor,' 'Nibblings of a Wharf Rat,' 'Trials of a Tide-Waiter,' 'Romance of the Revenue Service,' together with an ethical work in two volumes, on the subject of Duties, the first volume to treat of moral and religious duties, and the second of duties imposed by the Revenue Laws, which I begin to consider the most important class."
Two years later, when Harrison and Tyler carried the election for the Whigs, he suffered the fate of his predecessor. And here I may offer an opinion as to Hawthorne's connection with the Democratic party. When asked why he belonged to it, he answered that he lived in a democratic country. "But we are all republicans alike," was the objection to his defence. "Well," he said, "I don't understand history till it's a hundred years old, and meantime it's safe to belong to the Democratic party." Still, Hawthorne was, so far as it comported with his less transient aims, a careful observer of public affairs; and mere badinage, like that just quoted, must not be taken as really covering the ground of his choice in politics. A man of such deep insight, accustomed to bring it to bear upon everything impartially, was not to be influenced by any blind and accidental preference in these questions; albeit his actual performance of political duties was slight. I think he recognized the human strength of the Democratic, as opposed to the theorizing and intellectual force of the Republican party. It is a curious fact, that with us the party of culture should be the radical party, upholding ideas even at the expense of personal liberty; and the party of ignorance that of order, the conservating force, careful of personal liberty even to a fault! Hawthorne, feeling perhaps that ideas work too rapidly here, ranged himself on the side that offered the greater resistance to them.
This term of service in Boston was of course irksome to Hawthorne, and entirely suspended literary endeavors for the time. Yet "my life only is a burden," he writes, "in the same way that it is to every toilsome man.... But from henceforth forever I shall be entitled to call the sons of toil my brethren, and shall know how to sympathize with them, seeing that I likewise have risen at the dawn, and borne the fervor of the midday sun, nor turned my heavy footsteps homeward till eventide." He need not always have made the employment so severe, but the wages of the wharf laborers depended on the number of hours they worked in a day, and Hawthorne used to make it a point in all weathers, to get to the wharf at the earliest possible hour, solely for their benefit. For the rest, he felt a vast benefit from his new intercourse with men; there could not have been a better maturing agency for him at this time; and the interval served as an apt introduction to the Brook Farm episode.
That this least gregarious of men should have been drawn into a socialistic community, seems at first inexplicable enough; but in reality it was the most logical step he could have taken. He had thoroughly tried seclusion, and had met and conquered by himself the first realization of what the world actually is. Next, he entered into the performance of definite duties and the receipt of gain, and watched the operation of these two conditions on himself and those about him; an experiment that taught him the evils of the system, and the necessity of burying his better energies so long as he took part in affairs. This raised doubts, of course, as to how he was to fit himself into the frame of things; and while he mused upon some more generous arrangement of society, and its conflicting interests, a scheme was started which plainly proposed to settle the problem. Fourier had only just passed away; the spread of his ideas was in its highest momentum. On the other hand, the study of German philosophy, and the new dissent of Emerson, had carried men's thoughts to the very central springs of intellectual law, while in Boston the writing and preaching of Channing roused a practical radicalism, and called for a better application of Christianity to affairs. The era of the Transcendentalists had come. The Chardon Street meetings—assemblages of ardent theorists and "come-outers" of every type, who, while their sessions lasted, held society in their hands and moulded it like clay—were a rude manifestation of the same deep current. In the midst of these influences, Mr. Ripley, an enthusiastic student of philosophy, received an inspiration to establish a modified socialistic community on our own soil. The Industrial Association which he proposed at West Roxbury was wisely planned with direct reference to the emergencies of American life; it had no affinity with the erratic views of Enfantin and the Saint Simonists, nor did it in the least tend toward the mistakes of Robert Owen regarding the relation of the sexes; though it agreed with Fourier and Owen both, as I understand, in respect of labor. In a better and freer sense than has usually been the case with such attempts, the design sprang out of one man's mind and fell properly under his control. His simple object was to distribute labor in such a way as to give all men time for culture, and to free their minds from the debasing influence of a merely selfish competition. It was a practical, orderly, noble effort to apply Christianity directly to human customs and institutions. "A few men and women of like views and feelings," one of his sympathizers has said, "grouped themselves around him, not as their master, but as their friend and brother, and the community at Brook Farm was instituted." At various times Charles Dana, Pratt, the young Brownson, Horace Sumner (a younger brother of Charles), George William Curtis, and his brother Burrill Curtis were there. The place was a kind of granary of true grit. People who found their own honesty too heavy a burden to carry successfully through the rough jostlings of society, flocked thither. "They were mostly individuals" says Hawthorne, "who had gone through such an experience as to disgust them with ordinary pursuits, but who were not yet so old, nor had suffered so deeply, as to lose their faith in the better time to come."
To men like Hawthorne, however little they may noise the fact abroad, the rotten but tenacious timbers of the social order shake beneath the lightest tread. But he knew that the only wise method is to begin repairing within the edifice, keeping the old associations, and losing nothing of value while gaining everything new that is desirable. Because Brook Farm seemed to adopt this principle, he went there. Some of the meetings of the associators were held at Miss E. P. Peabody's, in Boston, and the proceedings were related to him. Mr. Ripley did not at first know who was the "distinguished literary gentleman" announced as willing to join the company; and when told that it was Hawthorne, he felt as if a miracle had befallen, or "as if," he tells me, "the heavens would presently be filled with angels, and we should see Jacob's ladder before us. But we never came any nearer to having that, than our old ladder in the barn, from floor to hayloft." For his personal benefit, Hawthorne had two ends in view, connected with Brook Farm: one, to find a suitable and economical home after marriage; the other, to secure a mode of life thoroughly balanced and healthy, which should successfully distribute the sum of his life's labor between body and brain. He hoped to secure leisure for writing by perhaps six hours of daily service; but he found nearly sixteen needful. "He worked like a dragon," says Mr. Ripley.
The productive industry of the association was agriculture; the leading aim, teaching; and in some cases there were classes made up of men, women, children, whom ignorance put on the same plane. Several buildings accommodated the members: the largest, in which the public table was spread and the cooking done, being called The Hive; another, The Pilgrim House; a smaller one, The Nest; and still another was known as The Cottage. In The Eyrie, Mr. and Mrs. Ripley lived, and here a great part of the associators would gather in the evenings. Of a summer night, when the moon was full, they lit no lamps, but sat grouped in the light and shadow, while sundry of the younger men sang old ballads, or joined Tom Moore's songs to operatic airs. On other nights, there would be an original essay or poem read aloud, or else a play of Shakespere, with the parts distributed to different members; and, these amusements failing, some interesting discussion was likely to take their place. Occasionally, in the dramatic season, large delegations from the farm would drive into Boston in carriages and wagons to the opera or the play. Sometimes, too, the young women sang as they washed the dishes, in The Hive; and the youthful yeomen of the society came in and helped them with their work. The men wore blouses of a checked or plaided stuff, belted at the waist, with a broad collar folding down about the throat, and rough straw hats; the women, usually, simple calico gowns, and hats,—which were then an innovation in feminine attire. In the season of wood-wanderings, they would trim their hats with wreaths of barberry or hop-vine, ground-pine, or whatever offered,—a suggestion of the future Priscilla of "Blithedale." Some families and students came to the farm as boarders, paying for their provision in household or field labor, or by teaching; a method which added nothing to the funds of the establishment, and in this way rather embarrassed it. A great deal of individual liberty was allowed. People could eat in private or public; and it has been said by those who were there that the unconventional life permitted absolute privacy at any time. Every one was quite unfettered, too, in the sphere of religious worship. When a member wished to be absent, another would generally contrive to take his work for the interval; and a general good-will seems to have prevailed. Still, I imagine there must have been a temporary and uncertain air about the enterprise, much of the time; and the more intimate unions of some among the members who were congenial, gave rise to intermittent jealousies in those who found no special circle. "In this way it was very much like any small town of the same number of inhabitants," says one of my informants. Indeed, though every one who shared in the Brook Farm attempt seems grateful for what it taught of the dignity and the real fellowship of labor, I find a general belief in such persons that it could not long have continued at its best. The system of compensating all kinds of service, skilled or otherwise, according to the time used, excited—as some have thought—much dissatisfaction even among the generous and enlightened people who made up the society. "I thought I could see some incipient difficulties working in the system," writes a lady who was there in 1841. "Questions already arose as to how much individual freedom could be allowed, if it conflicted with the best interests of the whole. Those who came there were the results of another system of things which still gave a salutary cheek to the more radical tendencies; but the second generation there could hardly have shown equal, certainly not the same, character." A confirmation of this augury is the fact that the cast of the community became decidedly more Fourieristic before it disbanded; and it is not impossible that another generation might have decolorized and seriously deformed human existence among them. Theories and opinions were very openly talked over, and practical details as well; and though this must have had its charm, yet it would also touch uncomfortably on a given temperament, or jar upon a peculiar mood. In such enterprises there must always he a slight inclination to establish a conformity to certain freedoms which really become oppressions. Shyness was not held essential to a regenerated state of things, and was perhaps too much disregarded; as also was illness, an emergency not clearly provided for, which had to be met by individual effort and self-sacrifice, after the selfish and old-established fashion of the world. How this atmosphere affected Hawthorne he has hinted in his romance founded on some aspects of community life: "Though fond of society, I was so constituted as to need these occasional retirements, even in a life like that of Blithedale, which was itself characterized by a remoteness from the world. Unless renewed by a yet further withdrawal towards the inner circle of self-communion, I lost the better part of my individuality. My thoughts became of little worth, and my sensibilities grew as arid as a tuft of moss ... crumbling in the sunshine, after long expectance of a shower." A fellow-toiler came upon him suddenly, one day, lying in a green hollow some distance from the farm, with his hands under his head and his face shaded by his hat. "How came you out here?" asked his friend. "Too much of a party up there," was his answer, as he pointed toward the community buildings. It has also been told that at leisure times he would sit silently, hour after hour, in the broad old-fashioned hall of The Hive, where he "could listen almost unseen to the chat and merriment of the young people," himself almost always holding a book before him, but seldom turning the leaves.
One sees in his letters of this time [Footnote: American Note-Books, Vol. I.] how the life wore upon him; and his journal apparently ceased during the whole bucolic experience. How joyously his mind begins to disport itself again with fancies, the moment he leaves the association, even temporarily! And in 1842, as soon as he is fairly quit of it, the old darkling or waywardly gleaming stream of thought and imagination flows freshly, untamably forward. Hawthorne remained with the Brook Farm community nearly a twelvemonth, a small part of which time was spent in Boston. Some of the letters which his sisters wrote him show a delightful solicitude reigning at home, during the period of his experiment.
"What is the use," says one, "of burning your brains out in the sun, if you can do anything better with them?... I am bent upon coming to see you, this summer. Do not you remember how we used to go a-fishing together in Raymond? Your mention of wild flowers and pickerel has given me a longing for the woods and waters again."
Then, in August,
"C—— A——," writes his sister Louisa, "told me the other day that he heard you were to do the travelling in Europe for the community."
This design, if it existed, might well have found a place in the Dialogues of the Unborn which Hawthorne once meant to write; for this was his only summer at Brook Farm. "A summer of toil, of interest, of something that was not pleasure, but which went deep into my heart, and there became a rich experience," he writes, in "Blithedale." "I found myself looking forward to years, if not to a lifetime, to be spent on the same system." This was, in fact, his attitude; for, after passing the winter at the farm as a boarder, and then absenting himself a little while, he returned in the spring to look over the ground and perhaps select a house-site, just before his marriage, but came to an adverse decision. This no doubt accorded with perceptions which he was not called upon to make public; but because he was a writer of fiction there seems to have arisen a tacit agreement, in some quarters, to call him insincere in his connection with this socialistic enterprise. He had not much to gain by leaving the community; for he had put into its treasury a thousand dollars, about the whole of his savings from the custom-house stipend, and had next to nothing to establish a home with elsewhere, while a niche in the temple of the reformers would have cost him nothing but labor. The length of his stay was by no means uncommonly short, for there was always a transient contingent at Brook Farm, many of whom remained but a few weeks. A devoted but not a wealthy disciple, who had given six thousand dollars for the building of the Pilgrim House, and hoped to end his days within it, retired forever after a very short sojourn, not dissuaded from the theory, but convinced that the practical application was foredoomed to disaster. And, in truth, though a manful effort was made, with good pecuniary success for a time, ten years brought the final hour of failure to this millennial plan.
Very few people who were at Brook Farm seem to have known or even to have seen Hawthorne there, though he was elected chairman of the Finance Committee just before leaving, and I am told that his handsome presence, his quiet sympathy, his literary reputation, and his hearty participation in labor commanded a kind of reverence from some of the members. Next to his friend George P. Bradford, one of the workers and teachers in the community, his most frequent associates were a certain Rev. Warren Burton, author of a curious little book called "Scenery-Shower," designed to develop a proper taste for landscape; and one Frank Farley, who had been a pioneer in the West, a man of singular experiences and of an original turn, who was subject to mental derangement at times. The latter visited him at the Old Manse, afterward, when Hawthorne was alone there, and entered actively into his makeshift housekeeping.
President Pierce, on one occasion, speaking to an acquaintance about Hawthorne, said: "He is enthusiastic when he speaks of the aims and self-sacrifice of some of the Brook Farm people; but when I questioned him whether he would like to live and die in a community like that, he confessed he was not suited to it, but said he had learned a great deal from it. 'What, for instance?' 'Why, marketing, for one thing. I didn't know anything about it practically, and I rode into Boston once or twice with the men who took in things to sell, and saw how it was done.'" The things of deepest moment which he learned were not to be stated fully in conversation; but I suppose readers would draw the same inference from this whimsical climax of Hawthorne's as that which has been found in "The Blithedale Romance"; namely, that he looked on his socialistic life as the merest jesting matter. Such, I think, is the general opinion; and a socialistic writer, Mr. Noyes, of the Oneida Community, has indignantly cried out against the book, as a "poetico-sneering romance." This study of human character, which would keep its value in any state of society that preserved its reflective faculty intact and sane, to be belittled to the record of a brief experiment! Hawthorne indeed, speaking in the prefatory third person of his own aim, says: "His whole treatment of the affair is altogether incidental to the main purpose of the romance; nor does he put forward the slightest pretensions to illustrate a theory, or elicit a conclusion, favorable or otherwise, in respect to socialism." And though he has told the story autobiographically, it is through a character whom we ought by no means to identify with Hawthorne in his whole mood. I have taken the liberty of applying to Hawthorne's own experience two passages from Coverdale's account, because they picture something known to be the case; and a careful sympathy will find no difficulty in distinguishing how much is real and how much assumed. Coverdale, being merely the medium for impressions of the other characters, is necessarily light and diaphanous, and Hawthorne, finding it more convenient, and an advantage to the lifelikeness of the story, does not attempt to hold him up in the air all the time, but lets him down now and then, and assumes the part himself. The allusions to the community scheme are few, and most of them are in the deepest way sympathetic. Precisely because the hopes of the socialists were so unduly high, he values them and still is glad of them, though they have fallen to ruin. "In my own behalf, I rejoice that I could once think better of the world than it deserved. It is a mistake into which men seldom fall twice in a lifetime; or, if so, the rarer and higher is the nature that can thus magnanimously persist in error." Where is the sneer concealed in this serious and comprehensive utterance? There is a class of two-pronged minds, which seize a pair of facts eagerly, and let the truth drop out of sight between them. For these it is enough that Hawthorne made some use of his Brook Farm memories in a romance, and then wrote that romance in the first person, with a few dashes of humor.
Another critic, acting on a conventional idea as to Hawthorne's "cold, self-removed observation," quotes to his disadvantage this paragraph in a letter from Brook Farm: "Nothing here is settled.... My mind will not be abstracted. I must observe and think and feel, and content myself with catching glimpses of things which may be wrought out hereafter. Perhaps it will be quite as well that I find myself unable to set seriously about literary occupation for the present." This is offered as showing that Hawthorne went to the community—unconsciously, admits our critic, but still in obedience to some curious, chilly "dictate of his nature"—for the simple purpose of getting fresh impressions, to work up into fiction. But no one joined the society expecting to give up his entire individuality, and it was a special part of the design that each should take such share of the labor as was for his own and the general good, and follow his own tastes entirely as to ideal pursuits. A singular prerogative this, which every one who writes about Hawthorne lays claim to, that he may be construed as a man who, at bottom, had no other motive in life than to make himself uneasy by withdrawing from hearty communion with people, in order to pry upon them intellectually! He speaks of "that quality of the intellect and the heart which impelled me (often against my own will, and to the detriment of my own comfort) to live in other lives, and to endeavor—by generous sympathies, by delicate intuitions, by taking note of things too slight for record, and by bringing my human spirit into manifold accordance with the companions God had assigned me—to learn the secret which was hidden even from themselves"; and this is cited as evidence of "his cold inquisitiveness, his incredulity, his determination to worm out the inmost secrets of all associated with him." Such distortion is amazing. The few poets who search constantly for truth are certainly impelled to get at the inmost of everything. But what, in Heaven's name, is the motive? Does any one seriously suppose it to be for the amusement of making stories out of it? The holding up to one's self the stern and secret realities of life is no such pleasing pursuit. These men are driven to it by the divine impulse which has made them seers and recorders.
As for Hawthorne, he hoped and loved and planned with the same rich human faith that fills the heart of every manly genius; and if discouraging truth made him suffer, it was all the more because his ideals—and at first his trust in their realization—were so generous and so high. Two of his observations as to Brook Farm, transferred to the "The Blithedale Romance," show the wisdom on which his withdrawal was based. The first relates to himself: "No sagacious man will long retain his sagacity, if he live exclusively among reformers and progressive people, without periodically returning to the settled system of things, to correct himself by a new observation from that old standpoint." He had too much imagination to feel safe in giving free rein to it, in a special direction of theoretic conduct; he also remembered that, as the old system of things was full of error, it was possible that a new one might become so in new ways, unless watched. The second observation touches the real weakness of the Brook Farm institution: "It struck me as rather odd, that one of the first questions raised, after our separation from the greedy, struggling, self-seeking world, should relate to the possibility of getting the advantage over the outside barbarians in their own field of labor. But to own the truth, I very soon became sensible that, as regarded society at large, we stood in a position of new hostility rather than new brotherhood." And, in fact, the real good which Mr. Ripley's attempt did, was to implant the co-operative idea in the minds of men who have gone out into the world to effect its gradual application on a grander scale. It is by introducing it into one branch of social energy after another that the regenerative agency of to-day can alone be made effectual. The leaders of that community have been broad-minded, and recognize this truth. None of them, however, have ever taken the trouble to formulate it as Hawthorne did, on perceiving it some years in advance.
The jocose tone, it maybe added, seems to have been a characteristic part of the Brook Farm experiment, despite the sober earnest and rapt enthusiasm that accompanied it. The members had their laughing allusions, and talked—in a strain of self-ridicule precisely similar to Coverdale's—of having bands of music to play for the field-laborers, who should plough in tune. This merely proves that they were people who kept their wits whole, and had the humor that comes with refinement; while it illustrates by the way the naturalness of the tone Hawthorne has given to Coverdale.
The Priscilla of Blithedale was evidently founded upon the little seamstress whom he describes in the Note-Books as coming out to the farm, and Old Moodie's spectre can be discerned in a brief memorandum of a man seen (at Parker's old bar-room in Court Square) in 1850. It has been thought that Zenobia was drawn from Margaret Fuller, or from a lady at Brook Farm, or perhaps from both: a gentleman who was there says that he traces in her a partial likeness to several women. It is as well to remember that Hawthorne distinctly negatived the idea that he wrote with any one that he knew before his mind; and he illustrated it, to one of his most intimate friends, by saying that sometimes in the course of composition it would suddenly occur to him, that the character he was describing resembled in some point one or more persons of his acquaintance. Thus, I suppose that when the character of Priscilla had developed itself in his imagination, he found he could give her a greater reality by associating her with the seamstress alluded to; and that the plaintive old man at Parker's offered himself as a good figure to prop up the web-work of pure invention which was the history of Zenobia's and Priscilla's father. There is a conviction in the minds of all readers, dearer to them than truth, that novelists simply sit down and describe their own acquaintances, using a few clumsy disguises to make the thing tolerable. When they do take a hint from real persons the character becomes quite a different thing to them from the actual prototype. It was not even so definite as this with Hawthorne. Yet no doubt, his own atmosphere being peculiar, the contrast between that and the atmosphere of those he met stimulated his imagination; so that, without his actually seeing a given trait in another person, the meeting might have the effect of suggesting it. Then he would brood over this suggestion till it became a reality, a person, to his mind; and thus his characters were conceived independently in a region somewhere between himself and the people who had awakened speculation in his mind.
He had a very sure instinct as to when a piece of reality might be transferred to his fiction with advantage. Mr. Curtis has told the story of a young woman of Concord, a farmer's daughter, who had had her aspirations roused by education until the conflict between these and the hard and barren life she was born to, made her thoroughly miserable and morbid; and one summer's evening she sought relief in the quiet, homely stream that flowed by the Old Manse, and found the end of earthly troubles in its oozy depths. Hawthorne was roused by Curtis himself coming beneath his window (precisely as Coverdale comes to summon Hollingsworth), and with one other they went out on the river, to find the poor girl's body. "The man," writes his friend, "whom the villagers had only seen at morning as a musing spectre in the garden, now appeared among them at night to devote his strong arm and steady heart to their service."
By this dark memory is the powerful climax of "The Blithedale Romance" bound to the sphere of a reality as dread.
THE OLD MANSE.
There is a Providence in the lives of men who act sincerely, which makes each step lead, with the best result, to the next phase of their careers. By his participation in the excellent endeavor at Brook Farm, Hawthorne had prepared himself to enjoy to the full his idyllic retirement at the Old Manse, in Concord. "For now, being happy," he says, "I felt as if there were no question to be put."
Hawthorne was married in July, 1842, and went at once to this his first home. Just before going to Brook Farm he had written "Grandfather's Chair," the first part of a series of sketches of New England history for children, which was published by Miss Peabody in Boston, and Wiley and Putnam in New York; but the continuation was interrupted by his stay at the farm. In 1842 he wrote a second portion, and also some biographical stories, all of which gained an immediate success. He also resumed his contributions to the "Democratic Review," the most brilliant periodical of the time, in which Whittier, Longfellow, Lowell, Poe, and other noted authors made their appearance. It was published at Washington, and afterward at New York, and made considerable pretensions to a national character. Hawthorne had been engaged as a contributor, at a fair rate, in 1838, and his articles had his name appended (not always Hie practice at that time) in a way that shows the high estimation into which he had already grown. "John Inglefield's Thanksgiving," "The Celestial Railroad," "The Procession of Life," "Fire Worship," "Buds and Bird Voices," and "Roger Malvin's Burial," all appeared in the "Democratic" in 1843. "Rappaccini's Daughter" and other tales followed in the next year; and in 1845 the second volume of "Twice-Told Tales" was brought out at Boston. During the same year Hawthorne edited the "African Journals" of his friend Bridge, then an officer in the navy, who had just completed a cruise. The editor's name evidently carried great weight, even then. "The mere announcement, 'edited by Nathaniel Hawthorne,'" said one of the critics, "is enough to entitle this book to a place among the American classics." I dwell upon this, because an attempt has been made to spread the idea that Hawthorne up to the time of writing "The Scarlet Letter" was still obscure and discouraged, and that only then, by a timely burst of appreciation in certain quarters, was he rescued from oblivion. The truth is, that he had won himself an excellent position, was popular, and was himself aware by this time of the honor in which he was held. Even when he found that the small profits of literature were forcing him into office again, he wrote to Bridge: "It is rather singular that I should need an office: for nobody's scribblings seem to be more acceptable than mine." The explanation of this lies in the wretchedly dependent state of native authorship at that time. The law of copyright had not then attained to even the refined injustice which it has now reached. "I continue," he wrote, in 1844, "to scribble tales with good success so far as regards empty praise, some notes of which, pleasant enough to my ears, have come from across the Atlantic. But the pamphlet and piratical system has so broken up all regular literature, that I am forced to work hard for small gains."
Besides the labors already enumerated, he edited for the "Democratic" some "Papers of an old Dartmoor Prisoner" (probably some one of his "sea-dog" acquaintance in Salem). He was in demand among the publishers. A letter from Evert Duyckinck (New York, October 2, 1845), who was then in the employ of Wiley and Putnam, publishers of the "African Cruiser," says of that book: "The English notices are bounteous in praise. No American book in a long time has been so well noticed." The same firm were now eager to bring out his recent tales, and were also, as appears in the following from Duyckinck, urging the prosecution of another scheme: "I hope you will not think me a troublesome fellow," he writes, "if I drop you another line with the vociferous cry, MSS.! MSS.! Mr. Wiley's American series is athirst for the volumes of tales; and how stands the prospect for the History of Witchcraft, I whilom spoke of?" The History Hawthorne wisely eschewed; but early in 1846 the "Mosses from an Old Manse" was issued at New York, in two volumes. This attracted at once a great deal of praise, and it certainly shows a wider range and fuller maturity than the first book of "Twice-Told Tales"; yet I doubt whether the stories of this group have taken such intimate hold of any body of readers as those, although recommending themselves to a larger audience. Hawthorne's life at the Old Manse was assuredly one of the brightest epochs of his career: an unalloyed happiness had come to him, he was full of the delight of first possession in his home, a new and ample companionship was his, and the quiet course of the days, with their openings into healthful outdoor exercise, made a perfect balance between creation and recreation. The house in which he dwelt was itself a little island of the past, standing intact above the flood of events; all around was a mild, cultivated country, broken into gentle variety of "hills to live with," and touched with just enough wildness to keep him from tiring of it: the stream that flowed by his orchard was for him an enchanted river. He renewed the pleasant sports of boyhood with it, fishing and boating in summer, and in winter whistling over its clear, black ice, on rapid skates. In the more genial months, the garden gave him pleasant employment; and in his journal-musings, the thought gratifies him that he has come into a primitive relation with nature, and that the two occupants of the Manse are in good faith a new Adam and Eve, so far as the happiness of that immemorial pair remained unbroken. The charm of these experiences has all been distilled into the descriptive chapter which prefaces the "Mosses"; and such more personal aspects of it as could not be mixed in that vintage have been gathered, like forgotten clusters of the harvest, into the Note-Books. It remains to comment, here, on the contrast between the peaceful character of these first years at Concord and the increased sombreness of some of the visions there recorded.
The reason of this is, that Hawthorne's genius had now waxed to a stature which made its emanations less immediately dependent on his actual mood. I am far from assuming an exact autobiographical value for the "Twice-Told Tales"; a theory which the writer himself condemned. But they, as he has also said, require "to be read in the clear brown twilight atmosphere in which they were written"; while the "Mosses" are the work of a man who has learned to know the world, and the atmosphere in which they were composed seems almost dissonant with the tone of some of them. "The Birthmark," "The Bosom Serpent," "Rappaccini's Daughter," and that terrible and lurid parable of "Young Goodman Brown," are made up of such horror as Hawthorne has seldom expressed elsewhere. "The Procession of Life" is a fainter vibration of the same chord of awfulness. Such concentration of frightful truth do these most graceful and exquisitely wrought creations contain, that the intensity becomes almost poisonous. What is the meaning of this added revelation of evil? The genius of Hawthorne was one which used without stint that costliest of all elements in production,—time; the brooding propensity was indispensable to him; and, accordingly, as some of these conceptions had occurred to him a good while before the carrying out, they received great and almost excessive elaboration. The reality of sin, the pervasiveness of evil, had been but slightly insisted upon in the earlier tales: in this series, the idea bursts up like a long-buried fire, with earth-shaking strength, and the pits of Hell seem yawning beneath us. Dismal, too, is the story of "Roger Malvin's Burial," and dreary "The Christmas Banquet," with its assembly of the supremely wretched. In "Earth's Holocaust" we get the first result of Hawthorne's insight into the demonianism of reformatory schemers who forget that the centre of every true reform is the heart. And, incidentally, this marks out the way to "The Scarlet Letter" on the one hand, and "The Blithedale Romance" on the other, in which the same theme assumes two widely different phases. Thus we find the poet seeking more and more certainly the central fountain of moral suggestion from which he drew his best inspirations. The least pleasing quality of the work is, I think, its overcharged allegorical burden. Some of the most perfect of all his tales are here, but their very perfection makes one recoil the more at the supremacy of their purely intellectual interest. One feels a certain chagrin, too, on finishing them, as if the completeness of embodiment had given the central idea a shade of too great obviousness. Hawthorne is most enjoyable and most true to himself when he offers us the chalice of poetry filled to the very brim with the clear liquid of moral truth. But, at first, there seems to have been a conflict between his aesthetic and his ethical impulse. Coleridge distinguishes the symbolical from the allegorical, by calling it a part of some whole which it represents. "Allegory cannot be other than spoken consciously; whereas in the symbol it is very possible that the general truth represented may be working unconsciously in the writer's mind.... The advantage of symbolical writing over allegory is that it presumes no disjunction of faculties, but simple predominance." Now in the "Allegories of the Heart," collected in the "Mosses," there is sometimes an extreme consciousness of the idea to be illustrated; and though the ideas are in a measure symbolical, yet they are on the whole too disintegrating in their effect to leave the artistic result quite generous and satisfying. Allegory itself, as an echo of one's thought, is often agreeable, and pleases through surprise; yet it is apt to be confusing, and smothers the poetic harmony. In his romances, Hawthorne escapes into a hugely significant, symbolic sphere which relieves the reader of this partial vexation. "The Celestial Railroad," of course, must be excepted from censure, being the sober parody of a famous work, and in itself a masterly satirical allegory. And in two cases, "Drowne's Wooden Image," and "The Artist of the Beautiful," we find the most perfect imaginable symbolism. In one, the story of Pygmalion compressed and Yankeefied, yet rendered additionally lovely by its homeliness; and the essence of all artistic life, in the other, presented in a form that cannot be surpassed. "Mrs. Bullfrog" is a sketch which is ludicrously puzzling, until one recalls Hawthorne's explanation: "The story was written as a mere experiment in that style; it did not come from any depth within me,—neither my heart nor mind had anything to do with it." [Footnote: American Note-Books, Vol. II.] It is valuable, in this light, as a distinct boundary-mark in one direction. But the essay vein which had produced some of the clearest watered gems in the "Twice-Told Tales," begins in the "Mosses" to yield increase of brilliance and beauty; and we here find, with the gathering strength of imagination,—the enlarged power for bringing the most unreal things quite into the circle of realities,—a compensating richness in describing the simply natural, as in "Buds and Bird Voices," "Fire Worship," "The Old Apple-Dealer."
Everything in these two volumes illustrates forcibly the brevity, the absolutely right proportion of language to idea, which from the first had marked Hawthorne with one trait, at least, quite unlike any displayed by the writers with whom he was compared, and entirely foreign to the mood of the present century. This sense of form, the highest and last attribute of a creative writer, provided it comes as the result of a deep necessity of his genius, and not as a mere acquirement of art, is a quality that has not been enough noticed in him; doubtless because it is not enough looked for anywhere by the majority of critics and readers, in these days of adulteration and of rapid manufacture out of shoddy and short-fibred stuffs. We demand a given measure of reading, good or bad, and producers of it are in great part paid for length: so that with much using of thin and shapeless literature, we have forgotten how good is that which is solid and has form. But, having attained this perfection in the short story, Hawthorne thereafter abandoned it for a larger mould.
The "Mosses," as I have said, gained him many admirers. In them he for the first time touched somewhat upon the tendencies of the current epoch, and took an entirely independent stand among the philosophers of New England. Yet, for a while, there was the oddest misconception of his attitude by those at a distance. A Whig magazine, pleased by his manly and open conservatism, felt convinced that he must be a Whig, though he was, at the moment of the announcement, taking office under a Democratic President. On the other hand, a writer in "The Church Review" of New Haven, whom we shall presently see more of, was incited to a tilt against him as a rabid New England theorist, the outcome, of phalansteries, a subverter of marriage and of all other holy things. In like manner, while Hawthorne was casting now and then a keen dart at the Transcendentalists, and falling asleep over "The Dial" (as his journals betray), Edgar Poe, a literary Erinaceus, wellnigh exhausted his supply of quills upon the author, as belonging to a school toward which he felt peculiar acerbity. "Let him mend his pen," cried Poe, in his most high-pitched strain of personal abuse, "get a bottle of visible ink, hang (if possible) the editor of 'The Dial,' cut Mr. Alcott, and throw out of the window to the pigs all his odd numbers of the 'North American Review.'" This paper of Poe's is a laughable and pathetic case of his professedly punctilious analysis covering the most bitter attacks, with traces of what looks like envy, and others of a resistless impulse to sympathize with a literary brother as against the average mind. He begins with a discussion of originality and peculiarity: "In one sense, to be peculiar is to be original," he says, but the true originality is "not the uniform but the continuous peculiarity, ... giving its own hue to everything it touches," and touching everything. From this flimsy and very uncertain principle, which seems to make two different things out of the same thing, he goes on to conclude that, "the fact is, if Mr. Hawthorne were really original, he could not fail of making himself felt by the public. But the fact is, he is not original in any sense." He then attempts to show that Hawthorne's peculiarity is derivative, and selects Tieck as the source of this idiosyncrasy. Perhaps his insinuation may be the origin of Hawthorne's effort to read some of the German author, while at the Old Manse,—an attempt given up in great fatigue. Presently, the unhappy critic brings up his favorite charge of plagiarism; and it happens, as usual, that the writer borrowed from is Poe himself! The similarity which he discovers is between "Howe's Masquerade" and "William Wilson," and is based upon fancied resemblances of situation, which have not the least foundation in the facts, and upon the occurrence in both stories of the phrase, "Villain, unmuffle yourself!" In the latter half of his review, written a little later, Mr. Poe takes quite another tack:—
"Of Mr. Hawthorne's tales we would say emphatically that they belong to the highest region of art,—an art subservient to genius of a very lofty order. We had supposed, with good reason for so supposing, that he had been thrust into his present position by one of the impudent cliques who beset our literature; ... but we have been most agreeably mistaken.... Mr. Hawthorne's distinctive trait is invention, creation, imagination, originality,—a trait which, in the literature of fiction, is positively worth all the rest. But the nature of the originality ... is but imperfectly understood.... The inventive or original mind as frequently displays itself in novelty of tone as in novelty of matter. Mr. Hawthorne is original in all points."
This, certainly, is making generous amends; but before he leaves the subject, the assertion is repeated, that "he is peculiar, and not original."
Though an extravagant instance, this tourney of Poe's represents pretty well the want of understanding with which Hawthorne was still received by many readers. His point of view once seized upon, nothing could be more clear and simple than his own exposition of refined and evasive truths; but the keen edge of his perception remained quite invisible to some. Of the "Twice-Told Tales" Hawthorne himself wrote:—
"The sketches are not, it is hardly necessary to say, profound; but it is rather more remarkable that they so seldom, if ever, show any design on the writer's part to make them so.... Every sentence, so far as it embodies thought or sensibility, may be understood and felt by anybody who will give himself the trouble to read it, and will take up the book in a proper mood."
But it was hard for people to find that mood, because in fact the Tales were profound. Their language was clear as crystal; but all the more dazzlingly shone through the crystal that new light of Hawthorne's gaze.
After nearly four years, Hawthorne's tenancy of the Manse came to an end, and he returned to Salem, with some prospect of an office there from the new Democratic government of Polk. It is said that President Tyler had at one time actually appointed him to the Salem post-office, but was induced to withdraw his name. There were local factions that kept the matter in abeyance. The choice, in any case, lay between the Naval Office and the surveyorship, and Bridge urged Hawthorne's appointment to the latter. "Whichever it be," wrote Hawthorne, "it is to you that I shall owe it, among so many other solid kindnesses. I have as true friends as any man has, but you have been the friend in need and the friend indeed." At this time he was seriously in want of some profitable employment, for he had received almost nothing from the magazine. It was the period of credit, and debts were hard to collect. His journal at the Old Manse refers to the same trouble. I have been told that, besides losing the value of many of his contributions to the "Democratic," through the failure of the magazine, he had advanced money to the publishers, which was never repaid; but this has not been corroborated, and as he had lost nearly everything at Brook Farm, it is a little doubtful. At length, he was installed as surveyor in the Salem Custom-House, where he hoped soon to begin writing at ease.
THE SCARLET LETTER.
The literary result of the four years which Hawthorne now, after long absence, spent in his native town, was the first romance which gave him world-wide fame. But the intention of beginning to write soon was not easy of fulfilment in the new surroundings.
"Literature, its exertions and objects, were now of little moment in my regard," he says, in "The Custom-House." "I cared not at this period for books; they were apart from me.... A gift, a faculty, if it had not departed, was suspended and inanimate within me."
Readers of that charming sketch will remember the account of the author's finding a veritable Puritan scarlet letter in an unfinished upper room of the public building in which he labored at this time, and how he was urged by the ghost of a former surveyor, who had written an account of the badge and its wearer, to make the matter public. The discovery of these materials is narrated with such reassuring accuracy, that probably a large number of people still suppose this to have been the origin of "The Scarlet Letter." But there is no knowledge among those immediately connected with Hawthorne of any actual relic having been found; nor, of course, is it likely that anything besides the manuscript memorandum should have been preserved. But I do not know that he saw even this. The papers of Mr. Poe were probably a pure invention of the author's.
A strange coincidence came to light the year after the publication of the romance. A letter from Leutze, the painter, was printed in the Art Union Bulletin, running thus:—
"I was struck, when some years ago in the Schwarzwald (in an old castle), with one picture in the portrait-gallery; it has haunted me ever since. It was not the beauty or finish that charmed me; it was something strange in the figures, the immense contrast between the child and what was supposed to be her gouvernante in the garb of some severe order; the child, a girl, was said to be the ancestress of the family, a princess of some foreign land. No sooner had I read 'The Scarlet Letter' than it burst clearly upon me that the picture could represent no one else than Hester Prynne and little Pearl. I hurried to see it again, and found my suppositions corroborated, for the formerly inexplicable embroidery on the breast of the woman, which I supposed was the token of her order, assumed the form of the letter; and though partially hidden by the locks of the girl and the flowers in her hair, I set to work upon it at once, and made as close a copy of it, with all its quaintness, as was possible to me, which I shall send you soon. How Hester Prynne ever came to be painted, I can't imagine; it must certainly have been a freak of little Pearl. Strange enough, the castle is named Perlenburg, the Castle of Pearls, or Pearl Castle, as you please."
A more extraordinary incident in its way than this discovery, if it be trustworthy, could hardly be conceived; but I am not aware that it has been verified.
The germ of the story in Hawthorne's mind is given below. The name Pearl, it will be remembered, occurs in the Note-Books, as an original and isolated suggestion "for a girl, in a story."
In "Endicott and the Red Cross," one of the twice-told series printed many years before, there is a description of "a young woman, with no mean share of beauty, whose doom it was to wear the letter A on the breast of her gown, in the eyes of all the world and her own children. Sporting with her infamy, the lost and desperate creature had embroidered the fatal token in scarlet cloth, with golden thread and the nicest art of needlework." A friend asked Hawthorne if he had documentary evidence for this particular punishment, and he replied that he had actually seen it mentioned in the town records of Boston, though with no attendant details. [Footnote: I may here transcribe, as a further authority, which Hawthorne may or may not have seen, one of the laws of Plymouth Colony, enacted in 1658, about the period in which the events of "The Scarlet Letter" are placed. "It is enacted by the Court and the Authoritie thereof that whosoeuer shall committ Adultery shal bee seuerly Punished by whipping two seueral times viz: once whiles the Court is in being att which they are convicted of the fact, and the second time as the Court shall order, and likewise to were two Capitall letters viz: A D cut cut in Cloth and sewed on their vpermost garments on their arme or backe; and if at any time they shal bee taken without said letters, whiles they are in the Gou'ment soe worne, to be forthwith Taken and publicly whipt."] This friend said to another at the time: "We shall hear of that letter again, for it evidently has made a profound impression on Hawthorne's mind." Returning to Salem, where his historical stories and sketches had mainly been written, he reverted naturally to the old themes; and this one doubtless took possession of him soon after his entrance on his customs duties. But these disabled him from following it out at once. When the indefatigable Whigs got hold of the government again, Hawthorne's literary faculty came into power also, for he was turned out of office. In the winter of 1849, therefore, he got to work on his first regular romance. In his Preface to the "Mosses" he had formally renounced the short story; but "The Scarlet Letter" proved so highly wrought a tragedy that he had fears of its effect upon the public, if presented alone.
"In the present case I have some doubts about the expediency, [he wrote to Mr. Fields, the junior partner of his new publisher, Ticknor,] because, if the book is made up entirely of 'The Scarlet Letter,' it will be too sombre. I found it impossible to relieve the shadows of the story with so much light as I would gladly have thrown in. Keeping so close to its point as the tale does, and diversified no otherwise than by turning different sides of the same dark idea to the reader's eye, it will weary very many people, and disgust some. Is it safe, then, to stake the book entirely on this one chance?"
His plan was to add some of the pieces afterward printed with the "The Snow Image," and entitle the whole "Old Time Legends, together with Sketches Experimental and Ideal." But this was abandoned. On the 4th of February, 1850, he writes to Bridge:—
"I finished my book only yesterday: one end being in the press at Boston, while the other was in my head here at Salem; so that, as you see, the story is at least fourteen miles long....
"My book, the publisher tells me, will not be out before April. He speaks of it in tremendous terms of approbation; so does Mrs. Hawthorne, to whom I read the conclusion last night. [Footnote: This recalls an allusion in the English Note-Books (September 14, 1855): "Speaking of Thackeray, I cannot but wonder at his coolness in respect to his own pathos, and compare it with my emotions when I read the last scene of The Scarlet Letter to my wife just after writing it,—tried to read it, rather, for my voice swelled and heaved, as if I were tossed up and down on an ocean as it subsides after a storm. But I was in a very nervous state, then, having gone through a great diversity of emotion while writing it, for many months."] It broke her heart, and sent her to bed with a grievous headache,—which I look upon as a triumphant success. Judging from its effect on her and the publisher, I may calculate on what bowlers calls a 'ten-strike.' But I do not make any such calculation."
Now that the author had strongly taken hold of one of the most tangible and terrible of subjects, the public no longer held back. "The Scarlet Letter" met with instant acceptance, and the first edition of five thousand copies was exhausted in ten days. On the old ground of Salem and in the region of New England history where he had won his first triumphs, Hawthorne, no longer the centre of a small public, received the applause of a widespread audience throughout this country, and speedily in Europe too. His old friend, "The London Athenaeum," received "The Scarlet Letter" with very high, though careful praise. But at the same time with this new and wide recognition, an assault was made on the author which it is quite worth while to record here. This was an article in "The Church Review" (an Episcopal quarterly published at New Haven), [Footnote: In the number for January, 1851.] written, I am told, by a then young man who has since reached a high place in the ecclesiastical body to which he belongs. The reviewer, in this case, had in a previous article discussed the question of literary schools in America. Speaking of the origin of the term "Lake School," he pronounced the epithet Lakers "the mere blunder of superficial wit and raillery." But that did not prevent him from creating the absurd title of "Bay writers," which he applied to all the writers about Boston, baptizing them in the profane waters of Massachusetts Bay. "The Church Review" was in the habit of devoting a good deal of its attention to criticism of the Puritan movement which founded New England. Accordingly, "It is time," announced this logician, in opening his batteries on Hawthorne, "that the literary world should learn that Churchmen are, in a very large proportion, their readers and book-buyers, and that the tastes and principles of Churchmen have as good a right to be respected as those of Puritans and Socialists." Yet, inconsistently enough, he declared that Bay writers could not have grown to the stature of authors at all, unless they had first shaken off the Puritan religion, and adopted "a religion of indifference and unbelief." Thus, though attacking them as Puritans and Socialists (this phrase was aimed at Brook Farm), he denied that they were Puritans at all. Clear understanding of anything from a writer with so much of the boomerang in his mind was not to be expected. But neither would one easily guess the revolting vulgarity with which he was about to view "The Scarlet Letter." He could discover in it nothing but a deliberate attempt to attract readers by pandering to the basest taste. He imagines that Hawthorne "selects the intrigue of an adulterous minister, as the groundwork of his ideal" of Puritan times, and asks, "Is the French era actually begun in our literature?" Yet, being in some points, or professing to be, an admirer of the author, "We are glad," he says, "that 'The Scarlet Letter' is, after all, little more than an experiment, and need not be regarded as a step necessarily fatal." And in order to save Mr. Hawthorne, and stem the tide of corruption, he is willing to point out his error. Nevertheless, he is somewhat at a loss to know where to puncture the heart of the offence, for "there is a provoking concealment of the author's motive," he confesses, "from the beginning to the end of the story. We wonder what he would be at: whether he is making fun of all religion, or only giving a fair hint of the essential sensualism of enthusiasm. But, in short, we are astonished at the kind of incident he has selected for romance." The phraseology, he finds, is not offensive: but this is eminently diabolical, for "the romance never hints the shocking words that belong to its things, but, like Mephistopheles, hints that the arch-fiend himself is a very tolerable sort of person, if nobody would call him Mr. Devil." Where, within the covers of the book, could the deluded man have found this doctrine urged? Only once, faintly, and then in the words of one of the chief sinners.