A Study Of Hawthorne
by George Parsons Lathrop
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"Shelley himself," says the austere critic, airing his literature, "never imagined a more dissolute conversation than that in which the polluted minister comforts himself with the thought, that the revenge of the injured husband is worse than his own sin in instigating it. 'Thou and I never did so, Hester,' he suggests; and she responds, 'Never, never! What we did had a consecration of its own.'"

And these wretched and distorted consolations of two erring and condemned souls, the righteous Churchman, with not very commendable taste, seizes upon as the moral of the book, leaving aside the terrible retribution which overtakes and blasts them so soon after their vain plan of flight and happiness. Not for a moment does Hawthorne defend their excuses for themselves. Of Hester:—

"Shame, Despair, Solitude! These [he says] had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss."

And what she urges on behalf of herself and Dimmesdale must, of course, by any pure-minded reader, be included among the errors thus taken into her mind.

"The minister, on the other hand, had never gone through an experience calculated to lead him beyond the scope of generally received laws; although, in a single instance, he had so fearfully transgressed one of the most sacred of them.... Were such a man once more to fall, what plea could be urged in extenuation of his crime? None; unless it avail him somewhat, that he was broken down by long and exquisite suffering; that his mind was darkened and confused by the very remorse which harrowed it."

But that these partial excuses are futile, the writer goes on to show, in this solemn declaration:—

"And be the stern and sad truth spoken, that the breach which guilt has once made into the human soul is never, in this mortal state, repaired. It may be watched and guarded.... But there is still the ruined wall, and near it the stealthy tread of the foe that would win over again his unforgotten triumph."

How Mr. Dimmesdale yielded to this stealthy foe is then described; but it is also shown how Roger Chillingworth, the personified retribution of the two sinners, fastens himself to them in all their movements, and will be with them in any flight, however distant.

"'Hadst thou sought the whole earth over,' said he, looking darkly at the clergyman, 'there was no one place so secret, no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me.'"

And it was precisely because Hawthorne would leave no specious turn of the hypocrisy of sin unrevealed, that he carried us through this delusive mutual consolation of the guilty pair, and showed us their empty hope, founded on wrong-doing, powdered to dust at the moment of fulfilment.

But the reverend critic, by some dark and prurient affinity of his imagination, saw nothing of the awful truths so clearly though briefly expressed, and finally came to the conclusion that the moral of the whole fiction was "that the Gospel has not set the relations of man and woman where they should be, and that a new gospel is needed to supersede the Seventh Commandment, and the bond of matrimony."

"The lady's frailty, [writes the reviewer,] is philosophized into a natural and necessary result of the Scriptural law of marriage, which by holding her irrevocably to her vows, as plighted to a dried-up old book-worm, ... is viewed as making her heart an easy victim.... The sin of her seducer, too, seems to be considered as lying, not so much in the deed itself, as in his long concealment of it; and in fact the whole moral of the tale is given in the words, 'Be true, he true!' as if sincerity in sin were a virtue, and as if 'Be clean, he clean!' were not the more fitting conclusion."

But this moral of cleanliness was one so obvious that Hawthorne probably never dreamed of any one's requiring it to be emphasized. In fact, it is the starting-point, the very foundation, of the tragedy. The tale is a massive argument for repentance, which is the flinging aside of concealment, and the open and truthful acknowledgment of sin. In the Puritan mode of dealing with sin, Hawthorne found the whole problem of repentance and confession presented in the most drastic, concentrated, and startling form; for the Puritans carried out in the severest style a practical illustration of the consequences of moral offence. Since men and women would not voluntarily continue in active remorse and public admission of wrong-doing, these governors and priests determined to try the effect of visible symbols in keeping the conscience alive. People were set before the public gaze, in the stocks, whipped in public at the whipping-post, and imprisoned in the pillory. Malefactors had their ears cropped; scolding women had to wear a forked twig on the tongue; other criminals to carry a halter constantly around the neck. But that this was only a hellish device, after all; that the inflictors of such punishment were arrogating too much to themselves, and shared the office of the fiend; that, moreover, this compulsion of a dumb outward truthfulness would never build up the real inner truth of the soul;—all this Hawthorne perceived and endeavored to portray in a form which should be as a parable, applying its morality to the men and women of to-day, all the more persuasively because of its indirectness. As a study of a system of social discipline never before so expounded, it claimed the deepest attention. And never was the capacity of sinning men and women for self-delusion more wonderfully illustrated than in this romance. The only avenue of escape from such delusion was shown to be self-analysis; that is, the conscientious view of one's self which keeps the right or wrong of one's conduct always clearly visible. Hester was on the whole the truest of the three persons in the drama, and the advantages of this comparative trueness are constantly made manifest. She in a measure conquers evil and partly atones for her wrong, by the good which she is able to do among her fellow-beings,—as much compensation as can rightfully be hoped for a woman who has once been so essentially corrupted as she. Dimmesdale, too, retains so much of native truth that he never allows his conscience to slumber for a moment, and plies the scourge of remorse upon himself continually. To this extent he is better than Chillingworth, who, in order to take into his own hands the retribution that belongs to Heaven, deliberately adopts falsity for his guide, and becomes a monster of deceit, taking a wicked joy in that which ought to have awakened an endless, piteous horror in him instead, and have led to new contemplation and study of virtue. But Dimmesdale, though not coolly and maliciously false, stops short of open confession, and in this submits himself to the most occult and corrosive influence of his own sin. For him, the single righteousness possible consisted in abject acknowledgment. Once announcing that he had fallen, and was unworthy, he might have taken his place on the lower moral plane; and, equally resigning the hope of public honor and of happiness with Hester, he could have lent his crippled energies to the doing of some limited good. The shock to the general belief in probity would have been great; but the discovery that the worst had been made known, that the minister was strong enough to condemn himself, and descend from the place he no longer was fit for, would have restored the public mind again, by showing it that a deeper probity possible than that which it wanted to see sustained. This is the lesson of the tragedy, that nothing is so destructive as the morality of mere appearances. Not that sincerity in sin is a virtue, but that it is better than sin and falsehood combined. And if anything were wanting, at first, to make this clear, there certainly is not a particle of obscurity left by the glare of the catastrophe, when the clergyman rejects Hester's hope that he and she may meet after death, and spend their immortal life together, and says that God has proved his mercy most of all by the afflictions he has laid upon him.

As to the new truth which Hester hoped would be revealed, it could have been no other than that ultimate lifting up of the race into a plane of the utmost human truthfulness, which every one who believes in the working of all things for good, looks forward to with vague longing, but with most certain faith. How far the Puritan organization was from this state of applied truth, the romance shows. Nearly every note in the range of Puritan sympathies is touched by the poet, as he goes on. The still unspoiled tenderness of the young matron who cannot but feel something of mercifulness toward Hester is overruled by the harsh exultation of other women in her open shame. We have the noble and spotless character of Winthrop dimly suggested by the mention of his death on the night of Dimmesdale's vigil at the pillory; but much more distinct appears the mild and saintly Wilson, who, nevertheless, is utterly incompetent to deal with the problem of a woman's lost morality. Governor Bellingham is the stern, unflinching, manly upholder of the state and its ferocious sanctions; yet in the very house with him dwells Mistress Hibbins, the witch-lady, revelling in the secret knowledge of widespread sin. Thus we are led to a fuller comprehension of Chillingworth's attitude as an exponent of the whole Puritan idea of spiritual government; and in his diabolical absorption and gloating interest in sin, we behold an exaggerated—but logically exaggerated—spectre of the Puritan attempt to precipitate and personally supervise the punishments of eternity on this side of death.

Dr. George B. Loring, of Salem, wrote at the time an excellent reply to this article in "The Church Review," though he recognized, as all readers of general intelligence must, that the author of it did not by any means represent the real enlightenment of the clergy and laity for whom he undertook to be a mouthpiece.

Considered as a work of art, "The Scarlet Letter" is perhaps not so excellent as the author's subsequent books. It may not unjustly be called a novel without a plot, so far as this touches the adroit succession of incidents and the interdependence of parts, which we call "plot." Passion and motive and character, having been brought together in given relations, begin to work toward a logical issue; but the individual chapters stand before us rather as isolated pictures, with intervals between, than as the closely conjoined links of a drama gathering momentum as it grows. There is succession and acceleration, indeed, in the movement of the story, but this is not quite so evident as is the hand which checks each portion and holds it perfectly still, long enough to describe it completely. The author does not, like a playwright, reflect the action swiftly while it passes, but rather arrests it and studies it, then lets it go by. It may be that this is simply the distinction between the dramatist's and the novelist's method; but probably we must allow it to be something more than that, and must attribute it to the peculiar leisure which qualifies all Hawthorne's fictions, at times enhancing their effect, but also protracting the impression a little too much, at times. Yet the general conception, and the mode of drawing out the story and of illustrating the characters, is dramatic in a high degree. The author's exegesis of the moods of his persons is brief, suggestive, restrained; and, notwithstanding the weight of moral meaning which the whole work carries, it is impossible to determine how much the movement of events is affected by his own will, or by that imperious perception of the necessary outcome of certain passions and temperaments, which influences novelists of the higher order.

As a demonstration of power, it seems to me that this first extended romance was not outdone by its successors; yet there is a harshness in its tone, a want of mitigation, which causes it to strike crudely on the aesthetic sense by comparison with those mellower productions. This was no doubt fortunate for its immediate success. Hawthorne's faith in pure beauty was so absolute as to erect at first a barrier between himself and the less devout reading public. If in his earlier tales he had not so transfused tragedy with the suave repleteness of his sense of beauty, he might have snatched a speedier popular recognition. It is curious to speculate what might have been the result, had he written "The House of the Seven Gables" before "The Scarlet Letter." Deep as is the tragic element in the former, it seems quite likely that its greater gentleness of incident and happier tone would have kept the world from discovering the writer's real measure, for a while longer. But "The Scarlet Letter" burst with such force close to its ears, that the indolent public awoke in good earnest, and never forgot, though it speedily forgave the shock.

There was another smaller but attendant explosion. Hawthorne's prefatory chapter on the Custom-House incensed some of his fellow-citizens of Salem, terribly. There seems to have been a general civic clamor against him, on account of it, though it would be hard to find any rational justification therefor. In reference to the affair, Hawthorne wrote at the time:—

"As to the Salem people, I really thought I had been exceedingly good-natured in my treatment of them. They certainly do not deserve good usage at my hands, after permitting me ... to be deliberately lied down, not merely once, but at two separate attacks, and on two false indictments, without hardly a voice being raised on my behalf."

This refers to political machinations of the party opposed to Hawthorne as an official: they had pledged themselves, it was understood, not to ask for his ejection, and afterward set to work to oust him without cause. There is reason to believe that Hawthorne felt acute exasperation at these unpleasant episodes for a time. But the annoyance came upon him when he was worn out with the excitement of composing "The Scarlet Letter"; and this ebullition of local hostility must moreover have been especially offensive at a moment when the public everywhere else was receiving him with acclaim as a person whose genius entitled him to enthusiastic recognition. Hawthorne had generous admirers and sincere friends in Salem, and his feeling was, I suppose, in great measure the culmination of that smouldering disagreement which had harassed him in earlier years, and had lurked in his heart in spite of the constant mild affection which he maintained toward the town.

But the connection between Hawthorne and Salem was now to be finally broken off. He longed for change, for the country, and for the recreation that the Old Manse garden had given him. "I should not long stand such a life of bodily inactivity and mental exertion as I have led for the last few months," he wrote to Bridge. "Here I hardly go out once a week." On this account, and because of his difficulty in writing while in office, he did not so much regret losing his place. One of the plans proposed at this time was that he should rent or buy the Sparhawk house, a famous old colonial mansion on Goose Creek, at Kittery, in Maine, which was then to be disposed of in some way. Hawthorne, I think, would have found much that was suggestive and agreeable in the neighborhood. After his return from abroad, he made a visit to the quaint and stately little city of Portsmouth, and dined at one of the most beautiful old houses in New England, the ancient residence of Governor Langdon, then occupied by the Rev. Dr. Burroughs. A memorial of that visit remains, in this bright note from his host:—

PORTSMOUTH, September, 1860.


MY DEAR SIR:—There are no Mosses on our "Old Manse," there is no Romance at our Blithedale; and this is no "Scarlet Letter." But you can give us a "Twice-Told Tale," if you will for the second time be our guest to-morrow at dinner, at half past two o'clock.

Very truly yours,


But, at present, Hawthorne's decision led him to Berkshire.




In the early summer, after the publication of "The Scarlet Letter," Hawthorne removed from Salem to Lenox, in Berkshire, where himself and his family were ensconced in a small red house near the Stockbridge Bowl. It was far from a comfortable residence; but he had no means of obtaining a better one. Meantime, he could do what he was sent into the world to do, so long as he had the mere wherewithal to live.

He was much interested in Herman Melville, at this time living in Pittsfield. There was even talk of their writing something together, as I judge from some correspondence; though this was abandoned.

Between this summer of 1850 and June, 1853, Hawthorne wrote "The House of the Seven Gables," "The Blithedale Romance," "The Wonder-Book for Boys and Girls," and "Tanglewood Tales," besides the story of "The Snow Image" in the volume to which this supplies the title; and his short "Life of Franklin Pierce." The previous paucity of encouragements to literature, and the deterring effect of official duties and of the Brook Farm attempt, were now removed, and his pen showed that it could pour a full current if only left free to do so.

The industry and energy of this period are the more remarkable because he could seldom accomplish anything in the way of composition during the warm months. "The House of the Seven Gables" was under way by September, 1850.

"I shan't have the new story ready," he writes to his publisher on the 1st of October, "by November, for I am never good for anything in the literary way till after the first autumnal frost, which has somewhat such an effect on my imagination that it does on the foliage here about me,—multiplying and brightening its hues; though they are likely to be sober and shabby enough after all."

The strain of reflection upon the work in hand which he indulged one month later is so important as to merit dwelling upon.

"I write diligently, but not so rapidly as I had hoped. I find the book requires more care and thought than 'The Scarlet Letter'; also I have to wait oftener for a mood. 'The Scarlet Letter' being all in one tone, I had only to get my pitch, and could then go on interminably. Many passages of this book ought to be finished with the minuteness of a Dutch picture, in order to give them their proper effect. Sometimes, when tired of it, it strikes me that the whole is an absurdity, from beginning to end; but the fact is, in writing a romance, a man is always, or always ought to be, careering on, the utmost verge of a precipitous absurdity, and the skill lies in coming as close as possible, without actually tumbling over. My prevailing idea is, that the book ought to succeed better than 'The Scarlet Letter,' though I have no idea that it will."

By the 12th of January, 1851, he was able to write: "My 'House of the Seven Gables' is, so to speak, finished; only I am hammering away a little at the roof, and doing up a few odd jobs that were left incomplete"; and at the end of that month, he despatched the manuscript to Boston, still retaining his preference for it over the preceding work.

"It has met with extraordinary success from that portion of the public to whose judgment it has been submitted, viz. from my wife. I likewise prefer it to 'The Scarlet Letter'; but an author's opinion of his book just after completing it is worth little or nothing, he being then in the hot or cold fit of a fever, and certain to rate it too high or too low.

"It has undoubtedly one disadvantage, in being brought so close to the present time; whereby its romantic improbabilities become more glaring."

He also wrote to Bridge, in July, after listening to the critics, and giving his own opinion time to mature:—

"I think it a work more characteristic of my mind, and more proper and natural for me to write, than 'The Scarlet Letter,'—but, for that very reason, less likely to interest the public. Nevertheless, it appears to have sold better than the former, and I think is move sure of retaining the ground that it acquires. Mrs. Kemble writes that both works are popular in England, and advises me to take out my copyright there."

His opinion of the superiority of the fresh production to his first great romance is no doubt one that critics will coincide with as regards artistic completeness; though his fear that it would not succeed so well was not confirmed, because, as I have suggested, he had begun to acquire that momentum of public favor which sets in after its first immense inertia has once been overcome. Acting on the reports from England, he made a suggestion to his publisher; and though this at first met with discouragement, ten months later L200 were received from a London house for "The Blithedale Romance." English editions of his works had already become numerous. But Hawthorne began now to receive a more ethereal and not less welcome kind of tribute from abroad, that of praise from the makers and markers of literature. The critics welcomed him to a high place; authors wrote to him, urging him to cross the sea; and Miss Mitford—of whom he said, "Her sketches, long ago as I read them, are as sweet in my memory as the scent of new hay"—sent special messages expressive of her pleasure.

When the "Blithedale Romance" had come out, Mr. Hawthorne sent Miss Mitford a copy, and she wrote in reply this cordial and delightful note:—

SWALLOWFIELD, August 6,1852.

At the risk of troubling you, dear Mr. Hawthorne, I write again to tell you how much I thank you for the precious volume enriched by your handwriting, which, for its own sake and for yours, I shall treasure carefully so long as I live. The story has your mark upon it,—the fine tragic construction unmatched amongst living authors, the passion of the concluding scenes, the subtle analysis of jealousy, the exquisite finish of style. I must tell you what one of the cleverest men whom I have ever known, an Irish barrister, the juvenile correspondent of Miss Edgeworth, says of your style: "His English is the richest and most intense essence of the language I know of; his words conveying not only a meaning, but more than they appear to mean. They point onward or upward or downward, as the case may be, and we cannot help following them with the eyes of imagination, sometimes smiling, sometimes weeping, sometimes shuddering, as if we were victims of the mesmeric influence he is so fond of bringing to bear upon his characters. Three of the most perfect Englishmen of our day are Americans,—Irving, Prescott, and this great new writer, Mr. Hawthorne." So far my friend Mr. Hockey. I forget, dear Mr. Hawthorne, whether I told you that the writer of whose works you remind me, not by imitation, but by resemblance, is the great French novelist, Balzac. Do you know his books? He is untranslated and untranslatable, and it requires the greatest familiarity with French literature to relish him thoroughly.... I doubt if he be much known amongst you; at least I have never seen him alluded to in American literature. He has, of course, the low morality of a Frenchman, but, being what he is, Mrs. Browning and I used to discuss his personages like living people, and regarded his death as a great personal calamity to both.

I am expecting Mrs. Browning here in a few days, not being well enough to meet her in London.... How I wish, dear Mr. Hawthorne, that you were here to meet them! The day will come, I hope. It would be good for your books to look at Europe, and all of Europe that knows our tongue would rejoice to look at you.

Ever your obliged and affectionate friend,


I must transcribe here, too, part of a letter from Herman Melville, who, in the midst of his epistle, suddenly assumes the tone of a reviewer, and discourses as follows, under the heading, "The House of the Seven Gables: A Romance. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. 16mo. pp. 344."

"The contents of this book do not belie its clustering romantic title. With great enjoyment we spent almost an hour in each separate gable. This book is like a fine old chamber, abundantly but still judiciously furnished with precisely that sort of furniture best fitted to furnish it. There are rich hangings, whereon are braided scenes from tragedies. There is old china with rare devices, set about on the carved beaufet; there are long and indolent lounges to throw yourself upon; there is an admirable sideboard, plentifully stored with good viands; there is a smell of old wine in the pantry; and finally, in one corner, there is a dark little black-letter volume in golden clasps, entitled Hawthorne: A Problem....

"We think the book for pleasantness of running interest surpasses the other work of the author. The curtains are now drawn; the sun comes in more; genialities peep out more. Were we to particularize what has most struck us in the deeper passages, we should point out the scene where Clifford, for a minute, would fain throw himself from the window, to join the procession; or the scene where the Judge is left seated in his ancestral chair.

"Clifford is full of an awful truth throughout. He is conceived in the finest, truest spirit. He is no caricature. He is Clifford. And here we would say, that did the circumstances permit, we should like nothing better than to devote an elaborate and careful paper to the full consideration and analysis of the purpose and significance of what so strongly characterizes all of this author's writing. There is a certain tragic phase of humanity, which, in our opinion, was never more powerfully embodied than by Hawthorne: we mean the tragicalness of human thought in its own unbiased, native, and profound workings. We think that into no recorded mind has the intense feeling of the whole truth ever entered more deeply than into this man's. By whole truth, we mean the apprehension of the absolute condition of present things as they strike the eye of the man who fears them not, though they do their worst to him."

This really profound analysis, Mr. Mellville professes to extract from the "Pittsfield Secret Review," of which I wish further numbers could be found.

But chief among the prizes of this season were letters from his friends Lowell and Holmes. The latter's I insert, because it admirably illustrates the cordial relation which has always distinguished the famous writers of New England,—no pleasant illusion of distance, but a notable and praiseworthy reality.

BOSTON, April 9, 1851.

MY DEAR SIR:—I have been confined to my chamber and almost to my bed, for some days since I received your note; and in the mean time I have received what was even more welcome, the new Romance "from the Author." While I was too ill to read, my wife read it to me, so that you have been playing physician to my heartaches and headaches at once, with the magnetism of your imagination.

I think we have no romancer but yourself, nor have had any for this long time. I had become so set in this feeling, that but for your last two stories I should have given up hoping, and believed that all we were to look for in the way of spontaneous growth were such languid, lifeless, sexless creations as in the view of certain people constitute the chief triumphs of a sister art as manifested among us.

But there is rich red blood in Hester, and the flavor of the sweet-fern and the bayberry are not truer to the soil than the native sweetness of our little Phoebe! The Yankee mind has for the most part budded and flowered in pots of English earth, but you have fairly raised yours as a seedling in the natural soil. My criticism has to stop here; the moment a fresh mind takes in the elements of the common life about us and transfigures them, I am contented to enjoy and admire, and let others analyze. Otherwise I should be tempted to display my appreciating sagacity in pointing out a hundred touches, transcriptions of nature, of character, of sentiment, true as the daguerreotype, free as crayon sketching, which arrested me even in the midst of the palpitating story. Only one word, then, this: that the solid reality and homely truthfulness of the actual and present part of the story are blended with its weird and ghostly shadows with consummate skill and effect; this was perhaps the special difficulty of the story.

I don't want to refuse anything you ask me to do. I shall come up, I trust, about the 1st of June. I would look over the MS. in question, as a duty, with as much pleasure as many other duties afford. To say the truth, I have as great a dread of the Homo Caudatus Linn., Anglice, the Being with a Tale, male or female, as any can have.

"If foes they write, if friends they read me dead,"

said poor Hepzibah's old exploded poet. Still, if it must be, I will stipulate to read a quantity not exceeding fifty-six pounds avoirdupois by weight or eighteen reams by measure or "tale,"—provided there is no locomotion in the case. The idea of visiting Albany does not enter into my intentions. I do not know who would serve as a third or a second member of the committee; Miss Sedgwick, if the Salic law does not prevail in Berkshire, is the most natural person to do it. But the real truth is, the little Albaneses want to see the author of "The Scarlet Letter," and don't care a sixpence who else is on the committee. That is what they are up to. So if you want two dummies, on the classical condition not to leave the country except in case of invasion, absentees, voters by proxy, potential but not personally present bottle-holders, I will add my name to those of Latimer, Ridley, and Co. as a Martyr in the cause of Human Progress.

Believe me, my dear sir,

Yours very sincerely,

O. W. Holmes.

Hawthorne's interest in Dr. Holmes's works was also very great, and one of the last books which he read at all was "Elsie Venner," which he had taken up for a second time shortly before his death.

Amid all the variety of thoughtful and thoughtless praise, or of other comment on the new romance, he began to feel that necessity for abstracting his attention entirely from what was said of his work in current publications, which forces itself upon every creative mind attempting to secure some centre of repose in a chattering and unprivate age like the present. This feeling he imparted to Bridge, and it also appears in one or two published letters. At the same time, it must be remembered how careful a consideration he gave to criticism; and he wrote of Edwin Whipple's reviewing of the "Seven Gables":—

"Whipple's notices have done more than pleased me, for they have helped me to see my book. Much of the censure I recognize as just; I wish I could feel the praise to be so fully deserved. Being better (which I insist it is) than 'The Scarlet Letter,' I have never expected it to be so popular."

In this same letter occurs the following:—

"—— ——, Esq., of Boston, has written to me, complaining that I have made his grandfather infamous! It seems there was actually a Pyncheon (or Pynchon, as he spells it) family resident in Salem, and that their representative, at the period of the Revolution, was a certain Judge Pynchon, a Tory and a refugee. This was Mr. ——'s grandfather, and (at least, so he dutifully describes him) the most exemplary old gentleman in the world. There are several touches in my account of the Pyncheons which, he says, make it probable that I had this actual family in my eye, and he considers himself infinitely wronged and aggrieved, and thinks it monstrous that the 'virtuous dead' cannot be suffered to rest quietly in their graves."

The matter here alluded to threatened to give Hawthorne almost as much inconvenience as the tribulation which followed the appearance of "The Custom-House." One of the complainants in this case, though objecting to the use of the name Pyncheon, "respectfully suggests," with an ill-timed passion for accuracy, that it should in future editions be printed with the e left out, because this was the proper mode in use by the family.

There has been some slight controversy as to the original of the visionary mansion described in this romance. Mr. Hawthorne himself said distinctly that he had no particular house in mind, and it is also a fact that none is recalled which fulfils all the conditions of that of the "Seven Gables." Nevertheless, one party has maintained that the old Philip English house, pulled down many years since, was the veritable model; and others support the Ingersoll house, which still stands. The Curwin, called the "Witch House," appears, by an antique painting from which photographs have been made, to have had the requisite number of peaks at a remote date; but one side of the structure being perforce left out of the picture, there is room for a doubt. [Footnote: It is from one of these photographs that the cut in the new edition of Hawthorne's Works has been developed.]

In "The House of the Seven Gables" Hawthorne attained a connection of parts and a masterly gradation of tones which did not belong, in the same fulness, to "The Scarlet Letter." There is, besides, a larger range of character, in this second work, and a much more nicely detailed and reticulated portrayal of the individuals. Hepzibah is a painting on ivory, yet with all the warmth of a real being. Very noticeable is the delicate veneration and tenderness for her with which the author seems to inspire us, notwithstanding the fact that he has almost nothing definite to say of her except what tends to throw a light ridicule. She is continually contrasted with the exquisite freshness, ready grace, and beauty of Phoebe, and subjected to unfavorable comparisons in the mind of Clifford, whose half-obliterated but still exact aesthetic perception casts silent reproach upon her. Yet, in spite of this, she becomes in a measure endeared to us. In the grace, and agreeableness too, with which Hawthorne manages to surround this ungifted spinster, we find a unit of measure for the beauty with which he has invested the more frightful and tragic elements of the story. It is this triumph of beauty without destroying the unbeautiful, that gives the romance its peculiar artistic virtue. Judge Pyncheon is an almost unqualified discomfort to the reader, yet he is entirely held within bounds by the prevailing charm of the author's style, and by the ingenious manner in which the pleasanter elements of the other characters are applied. At times the strong emphasis given to his evil nature makes one suspect that the villain is too deeply dyed; but the question of equity here involved is one of the most intricate with which novelists have to deal at all. The well-defined opposition between good and bad forces has always been a necessity to man, in myths, religions, and drama. Heal life furnishes the most absolute extremes of possession by the angel or the fiend; and Shakespere has not scrupled to use one of these ultimate possibilities in the person of Iago. Yet Hawthorne was too acutely conscious of the downward bent in every heart, to let the Judge's pronounced iniquity stand without giving a glimpse of incipient evil in another quarter. This occurs in the temptation which besets Holgrave, when he finds that he possesses the same mesmeric sway over Phoebe, the latest Pyncheon offshoot, as that which his ancestor Matthew Maule exercised over Alice Pyncheon. The momentary mood which brings before him the absolute power which might be his over this fair girl, opens a whole new vista of wrong, in which the retribution would have been transferred from the shoulders of the Pyncheons to those of the Maules. Had Holgrave yielded then, he might have damned his own posterity, as Colonel Pyncheon had his. Thus, even in the hero of the piece, we are made aware of possibilities as malicious and destructive as those hereditary faults grown to such rank maturity in the Judge; and this may be said to offer a middle ground between the side of justice and attractiveness, and the side of injustice and repulsiveness, on which the personages are respectively ranged.

The conception of a misdeed operating through several generations, and righted at last solely by the over-toppling of unrestrained malevolence on the one hand, and on the other by the force of upright character in the wronged family, was a novel one at the time; this graphic depicture of the past at work upon the present has anticipated a great deal of the history and criticism of the following twenty-five years, in its close conjunction of antecedent influences and cumulative effects.

As a discovery of native sources of picturesque fiction, this second romance was not less remarkable than the one which preceded it. The theme furnished by the imaginary Pyncheon family ranges from the tragic in the Judge, through the picturesquely pathetic in Clifford, to a grotesque cast of pathos and humor in Hepzibah. Thence we are led to another vein of simple, fun-breeding characterization in Uncle Venner and Ned Higgins. The exquisite perception which draws old Uncle Venner in such wholesome colors, tones him up to just one degree of sunniness above the dubious light in which Hepzibah stands, so that he may soften the contrast of broad humor presented by little Ned Higgins, the "First Customer." I cannot but regret that Hawthorne did not give freer scope to his delicious faculty for the humorous, exemplified in the "Seven Gables." If he had let his genius career as forcibly in this direction as it does in another, when burdened with the black weight of the dead Judge Pyncheon, he might have secured as wide an acceptance for the book as Dickens, with so much more melodrama and so much less art, could gain for less perfect works. Hawthorne's concentration upon the tragic element, and comparative neglect of the other, was in one sense an advantage; but if in the case under discussion he had given more bulk and saliency to the humorous quality, he might also have been more likely to avoid a fault which creeps in, immediately after that marvellous chapter chanted like an unholy requiem over the lifeless Judge. This is the sudden culmination of the passion of Holgrave for Phoebe, just at the moment when he has admitted her to the house where Death and himself were keeping vigil. The revulsion, here, is too violent, and seems to throw a dank and deathly exhalation into the midst of the sweetness which the mutual disclosure of love should have spread around itself. There is need of an enharmonic change, at this point; and it might have been effected, perhaps, by a slower passage from gloom to gladness just here, and a more frequent play of the brighter mood throughout the book. But the tragic predilection seems ultimately to gain the day over the comic, in every great creative mind, and it was so strong with Hawthorne, that instead of giving greater play to humor in later fictions, it curtailed it more and more, from the production of the "Seven Gables" onward.

Mr. Curtis has shown me a letter written soon after the publication of the new book, which, as it gives another instance of the writer's keen enjoyment of other men's work, and ends with a glimpse of the life at Lenox, I will copy at length:—

LENOX, April 29,1851.

MY DEAR HOWADJI:—I ought to be ashamed (and so I really am) of not having sooner responded to your note of more than a month ago, accompanied as it was by the admirable "Nile Notes." The fact is, I have been waiting to find myself in an eminently epistolary mood, so that I might pay my thanks and compliments in a style not unworthy of the occasion. But the moment has not yet come, and doubtless never will; and now I have delayed so long, that America and England seem to have anticipated me in their congratulations.

I read the book aloud to my wife, and both she and I have felt that we never knew anything of the Nile before. There is something beyond descriptive power in it. You make me feel almost as if we had been there ourselves. And then you are such a luxurious traveller.... The fragrance of your chibonque was a marvellous blessing to me. It cannot be concealed that I felt a little alarm, as I penetrated the depths of those chapters about the dancing-girls, lest they might result in something not altogether accordant with our New England morality; and even now I hardly know whether we escaped the peril, or were utterly overwhelmed by it. But at any rate, those passages are gorgeous in the utmost degree. However, I suppose you are weary of praise; and as I have nothing else to inflict, I may as well stop here.

S—— and the children and I are plodding onward in good health, and in a fair medium state of prosperity; and on the whole, we are quite the happiest family to be found anywhere. We live in the ugliest little old red farm-house you ever saw....

What shall you write next? For of course you are an author forever. I am glad, for the sake of the public, but not particularly so for your own.

Very soon after the issue of the "Seven Gables," another lighter literary project was put into execution.

"I mean [he had announced on the 23d of May] to write within six weeks or two months next ensuing, a book of stories made up of classical myths. The subjects are: The Story of Midas, with his Golden Touch; Pandora's Box; The Adventure of Hercules in Quest of the Golden Apples; Bellerophon and the Chimera; Baucis and Philemon; Perseus and Medusa."

The "Wonder-Book" was begun on the first of June, and finished by the middle of July; so that the intention of writing it within six weeks was strictly carried out: certainly a rapid achievement, considering the excellent proportion and finish bestowed upon the book. It is a minor work, but a remarkable one; not its least important trait being the perfect simplicity of its style and scope, which, nevertheless, omits nothing essential, and preserves a thorough elegance. Its peculiar excellences come out still more distinctly when contrasted with Charles Kingsley's "The Heroes; or, Greek Fairy Tales," published in England five years after the appearance of the "Wonder-Book" here. The fresher play of Hawthorne's mind with those old subjects is seen in nothing more agreeably than in the graceful Introduction and interludes which he has thrown around the mythological tales, like the tendrils of a vine curling over a sculptured capital. This midsummer task—it was very uncommon for him to write in the hot season—perhaps had something to do with further unsettling Hawthorne's health, which at this time was not good. The somewhat sluggish atmosphere of the far inland valley did not suit his sea-braced temperament; and so, instead of renting Mrs. Kemble's country place, as he had thought of doing, he decided to leave Berkshire with the birds; but not to go southward. Moving to West Newton, near Boston, he remained there for the winter, writing "Blithedale," which was put forth in 1852.

The special characteristic of "The Blithedale Romance" seems to me to be its appearance of unlabored ease, and a consequent breeziness of effect distinguishing its atmosphere from that of any of the other romances. The style is admirably finished, and yet there is no part of the book that gives the same impression of almost unnecessary polish which occasionally intervenes between one's admiration and the "Seven Gables." On this score, "Blithedale" is certainly the most consummate of the four completed romances. And as Hawthorne has nowhere given us more robust and splendid characterization than that of Zenobia and Hollingsworth, the work also takes high rank on this ground. The shadows, which seemed partly dispersed in the "Seven Gables," gather again in this succeeding story; but, on the other hand, it is not so jarringly terrible as "The Scarlet Letter." From this it is saved partly by the sylvan surrounding and the pleasant changes of scene. In comparing it with the other works, I find that it lets itself be best defined as a mean between extremes; so that it ought to have the credit of being the most evenly attempered of all. The theme is certainly as deep as that of the earlier ones, and more tangible to the general reader than that of "The Marble Faun"; it is also more novel than that of "The Scarlet Letter" or even the "Seven Gables," and has an attractive air of growing simply and naturally out of a phenomenon extremely common in New England, namely, the man who is dominated and blinded by a theory. And the way in which Hollingsworth, through this very prepossession and absorption, is brought to the ruin of his own scheme, and has to concentrate his charity for criminals upon himself as the first criminal needing reformation, is very masterly. Yet, in discussing the relative positions of these four works. I am not sure that we can reach any decision more stable than that of mere preference.

There is a train of thought suggested in "Blithedale" which receives only partial illustration in that story, touching the possible identity of love and hate. It had evidently engaged Hawthorne from a very early period, and would have made rich material for an entire romance, or for several treating different phases of it. Perhaps he would have followed out the suggestion, but for the intervention of so many years of unproductiveness in the height of his powers, and his subsequent too early death.

It was while at West Newton, just before coming to the Wayside, that he wrote a note in response to an invitation to attend the memorial meeting at New York, in honor of the novelist, Cooper, which should be read for its cordial admiration of a literary brother, and for the tender thought of the closing sentence.

To Rev. R. W. Griswold.

February 20,1852.

Dear Sir:—I greatly regret that circumstances render it impossible for me to be present on the occasion of Mr. Bryant's discourse in honor of James Fenimore Cooper. No man has a better right to be present than myself, if many years of most sincere and unwavering admiration of Mr. Cooper's writings can establish a claim. It is gratifying to observe the earnestness with which the literary men of our country unite in paying honor to the deceased; and it may not be too much to hope that, in the eyes of the public at large, American literature may henceforth acquire a weight and value which have not heretofore been conceded to it: time and death have begun to hallow it.

Very respectfully yours,

Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Early in the summer of 1852 he went to Concord again, where he had bought a small house, there to establish his permanent home. Mr. Curtis was at this time writing some chapters for a book on "The Homes of American Authors," among which was to be included the new abode of Hawthorne. The project called forth from the romancer this letter:—

CONCORD, July 14, 1852.

MY HEAR HOWADJI:—I think (and am glad to think) that you will find it necessary to come hither in order to write your Concord Sketches; and as for my old house, you will understand it better after spending a day or two in it. Before Mr. Alcott took it in hand, it was a mean-looking affair, with two peaked gables; no suggestiveness about it and no venerableness, although from the style of its construction it seems to have survived beyond its first century. He added a porch in front, and a central peak, and a piazza at each end, and painted it a rusty olive hue, and invested the whole with a modest picturesqueness; all which improvements, together with its situation at the foot of a wooded hill, make it a place that one notices and remembers for a few moments after passing it. Mr. Alcott expended a good deal of taste and some money (to no great purpose) in forming the hillside behind the house into terraces, and building arbors and summer-houses of rough stems and branches and trees, on a system of his own. They must have been very pretty in their day, and are so still, although much decayed, and shattered more and more by every breeze that blows. The hillside is covered chiefly with locust-trees, which come into luxuriant blossom in the month of June, and look and smell very sweetly, intermixed with a few young elms and some white-pines and infant oaks,—the whole forming rather a thicket than a wood. Nevertheless, there is some very good shade to be found there. I spend delectable hours there in the hottest part of the day, stretched out at my lazy length, with a book in my hand or an unwritten book in my thoughts. There is almost always a breeze stirring along the sides or brow of the hill.

From the hill-top there is a good view along the extensive level surfaces and gentle, hilly outlines, covered with wood, that characterize the scenery of Concord. We have not so much as a gleam of lake or river in the prospect; if there were, it would add greatly to the value of the place in my estimation.

The house stands within ten or fifteen feet of the old Boston road (along which the British marched and retreated), divided from it by a fence, and some trees and shrubbery of Mr. Alcott's setting out. Whereupon I have called it "The Wayside," which I think a better name and more morally suggestive than that which, as Mr. Alcott has since told me, he bestowed on it,—"The Hillside." In front of the house, on the opposite side of the road, I have eight acres of land,—the only valuable portion of the place in a farmer's eye, and which are capable of being made very fertile. On the hither side, my territory extends some little distance over the brow of the hill, and is absolutely good for nothing, in a productive point of view, though very good for many other purposes.

I know nothing of the history of the house, except Thoreau's telling me that it was inhabited a generation or two ago by a man who believed he should never die. [Footnote: This is the first intimation of the story of Septimius Felton, so far as local setting is concerned. The scenery of that romance was obviously taken from the Wayside and its hill.] I believe, however, he is dead; at least, I hope so; else he may probably appear and dispute my title to his residence....

I asked Ticknor to send a copy of "The Blithedale Romance" to you. Do not read it as if it had anything to do with Brook Farm (which essentially it has not), but merely for its own story and character. Truly yours,


The Wayside was, perhaps, so named in remembrance of the time when its owner had "sat down by the wayside like a man under enchantment." It characterized well, too, his mental attitude in maturity; though the spell that held him now was charged with happiness. The house itself was small, but the proprietor might have carved on his lintel the legend over Ariosto's door, Parva, sed apta mihi. In October, 1852, he wrote to Bridge that he intended to begin a new romance within a day or two, which he should make "more genial" than the last. What design this was cannot now be even conjectured. Hawthorne had written, in the preceding year, "I find that my facility of labor increases with the demand for it"; and he always felt that an unlimited reserve of invention and imagination awaited his drafts upon it, so that he could produce as many books as he might have time for writing. But circumstances again called him away from ideal occupations. Just as he was preparing to write the "Tanglewood Tales," as a sequel to the "Wonder-Book," General Pierce, the Democratic nominee for President, urged him to write his biography, as a "campaign" measure. "I have consented to do so," wrote Hawthorne, to his publisher; "somewhat reluctantly, however, for Pierce has now reached that altitude where a man careful of his personal dignity will begin to think of cutting his acquaintance. But I seek nothing from him, and therefore need not be ashamed to tell the truth of an old friend." To Bridge, after the book was out, he wrote much more confidentially and strongly. "I tried to persuade Pierce that I could not perform it as well as many others; but he thought differently, and of course, after a friendship of thirty years, it was impossible to refuse my best efforts in his behalf, at the great pinch of his life." In this letter, also, he states that before undertaking the work, he resolved to "accept no office" from Pierce; though he raises the query whether this be not "rather folly than heroism." In discussing this point, he says, touching Pierce:—

"He certainly owes me something; for the biography has cost me hundreds of friends here at the North, who had a purer regard for me than Frank Pierce or any other politician ever gained, and who drop off from me like autumn leaves, in consequence of what I say on the slavery question. But they were my real sentiments, and I do not now regret that they are on record."

These have to do with Hawthorne's attitude during the war. Speaking of Pierce's indorsement of the Compromise, both as it bore hard on Northern views and exacted concessions from the South thought by it to be more than reciprocal, he says:—

"It was impossible for him not to take his stand as the unshaken advocate of Union, and of the mutual steps of compromise which that great object unquestionably demanded. The fiercest, the least scrupulous, and the most consistent of those who battle against slavery recognize the same fact that he does. They see that merely human wisdom and human efforts cannot subvert it, except by tearing to pieces the Constitution, breaking the pledges which it sanctions, and severing into distracted fragments that common country which Providence brought into one nation, through a continued miracle of almost two hundred years, from the first settlement of the American wilderness until the Revolution."

He predicted, too, the evils of forcible abolition being certain, and the good only a contingency, that the negroes would suffer aggravated injuries from the very process designed to better their state. It is useless here to enter into the question of degrees of right and wrong on either side, in the struggle which had already become formidable before Pierce's election; but one can see how sincerely, and with what generous motives, a man like Hawthorne would feel that the Union must be maintained peacefully. Without questioning the undoubted grandeur of achievement which we sanely fell upon through the insane fit of civil war, we may recognize a deep patriotism consistent with humanity which forced itself to dissent from the noble action of the fighters, because it could not share in any triumph, however glorious, that rested on the shedding of brothers' blood. It was this kind of humanity that found shelter in the heart of Hawthorne.

Unwelcome as was the task, he wrote the biography of Pierce, in friendship, but in good faith also, even seeing the elements of greatness in his old classmate, which might yet lead him to a career. [Footnote: As a literary performance, the book is of course but slightly characteristic; and being distasteful to the author, it is even dry. Yet there is a great deal of simple dignity about it. The Whig journals belabored it manfully, and exhausted the resources of those formidable weapons, italics and small capitals, in the attempt to throw a ridiculous light on the facts most creditable to Pierce. Hawthorne came in for a share of the abuse too. One newspaper called the book his "new romance"; another made him out a worthy disciple of Simonides, who was the first poet to write for money. The other party, of course, took quite another view of the work. A letter to Hawthorne from his elder sister bears well upon his fidelity. "Mr. D—— has bought your Life of Pierce, but he will not be convinced that you have told the precise truth. I assure him that it is just what I have always heard you say."] He had not much hope of his friend's election, but when that occurred, the question of office, which he had already mooted, was definitely brought before him. When Pierce learned that he positively would not take an office, because to do so now might compromise him, he was extremely troubled. He had looked forward to giving Hawthorne some one of the prizes in his hand, if he should be elected. But the service he had exacted from his friend threatened to deprive Hawthorne of the very benefit which Pierce had been most anxious he should receive. At last, Mr. Ticknor, Hawthorne's publisher, was made the agent of Pierce's arguments, and to them he added personal considerations which were certainly not without weight. Literature gave but a bare subsistence, and Hawthorne was no longer young, having passed his forty-ninth year. His books were not likely, it seemed, to fill the breach that would be made in the fortunes of his family, were he to be suddenly removed. This, Mr. Ticknor urged, in addition to the friendly obligation which Pierce ought to be allowed to repay. Hawthorne, as we have seen, had always wished to travel, and the prospect of some years in Europe was an alluring one: the decision was made, to take the Liverpool consulship.

The appointment was well received, though many persons professed surprise that Hawthorne could accept it. One gentleman in public life, however, who knew how unjust current judgments may often be, was not of this number, as appears from his note below.—

SENATE CHAMBER, March 26, 1853.

MY DEAR HAWTHORNE:—"Good! good!" I exclaimed aloud on the floor of the Senate as your nomination was announced.

"Good! good!" I now write to you, on its confirmation. Nothing could be more grateful to me. Before you go, I hope to see you.

Ever yours,





It is very instructive to trace the contact of Hawthorne's mind with Europe, as exhibited in his "English Note-Books" and "French and Italian Note-Books." But in these records three things are especially observable. He goes to Europe as unperturbed, with an individual mood as easily sustained, as he would enter Boston or New York. He carries no preconception of what may be the most admirable way of looking at it. There has never been a more complete and charming presentment of a multitude of ingenuous impressions common to many travellers of widely differing endowment than here, at the same time that you have always before you the finished writer and the possible romancer, who suddenly and without warning flashes over his pages of quiet description a far, fleeting light of delicious imagination. It is as if two brothers, one a dreamer, and one a well-developed, intellectual, but slightly stoical and even shrewd American, dealing exclusively in common-sense, had gone abroad together, agreeing to write their opinions in the same book and in a style of perfect homogeneity. Sometimes one has the blank sheet to himself, sometimes the other; and occasionally they con each other's paragraphs, and the second modifies the ideas of the first. It is interesting to note their twofold inspection of Westminster Hall, for example. The understanding twin examines it methodically, finding its length to be eighty paces, and its effect "the ideal of an immense barn." The reasoning and imagining one interposes to this, "be it not irreverently spoken"; and also conjures up this splendid vision: "I wonder it does not occur to modern ingenuity to make a scenic representation, in this very hall, of the ancient trials for life or death, pomps, feasts, coronations, and every great historic incident ... that has occurred here. The whole world cannot show another hall such as this, so tapestried with recollections." But in any case it is always apparent that the thought is colored by a New World nurture. From this freshness of view there proceeded one result, the searching, unembarrassed, yet sympathetic and, as we may say, cordial criticism of England in "Our Old Home." But it also gave rise to the second notable quality, that exquisite apprehension of the real meaning of things European, both institutions and popular manners and the varied products of art. At times, Hawthorne seems to have been born for the one end of adding this final grace of definition which he so deftly attaches to the monuments of that older civilization. He brings a perception so keen and an innate sympathy so true for everything beautiful or significant, that the mere flowing out of this fine intellectual atmosphere upon the objects before him invests them with a quality which we feel to be theirs, even while we know that it could not have become ours without his aid. A breath of New England air touches the cathedral windows of the Old World, and—I had almost said—bedims them with a film of evanescent frost-work; yet, as that lingers, we suddenly discern through the veil a charm, a legendary fascination in their deep-gemmed gorgeousness, which, although we have felt it and read of it before, we never seized till now. I speak, of course, from the American point of view; though in a great measure the effect upon foreign readers may be similar. But I fancy a special appropriateness for us in the peculiar mixture of estimation and enthusiasm which forms the medium through which Hawthorne looks at the spectacle of transatlantic life and its surroundings. He visits the British Museum, and encounters only disappointment at the mutilated sculptures of the Parthenon; but out of this confession, which is truth, slowly arises the higher truth of that airy yet profound response with which he greets the multiform mute company of marble or painted shapes that form the real population of Rome.

Even there, he has much dissent to make, still; and we may not find it at all essential or beneficial to follow each of his deviations ourselves. But however we may differ with him, it is impossible not to feel sure that within this circle of contradictions, of preference for new frames and of his friend Thompson's pictures to all but a very few of the old masters', somewhere within there is a perfectly trustworthy aesthetic sensibility which grasps the "unwritten rules of taste," the inmost truth of all art. This inmost secret is, however we may turn it, a matter of paradox, and the moment it professes to be explained, that moment are the gates of the penetralia shut upon us. The evasiveness and the protest, then, with which Hawthorne discourses to himself as he wanders through the galleries of Europe, are the trembling of the needle, perfectly steadfast to the polar opposites of truth, yet quivering as with a fear that it may be unsettled by some artificial influence from its deep office of inner constancy. And as if, in this singular world, all truth must turn to paradox at the touch of an index finger, that almost faulty abstention from assuming the European tone which has made Hawthorne the traveller appear to certain readers a little crude,—that very air of being the uncritical and slightly puzzled American is precisely the source of his most delightful accuracies of interpretation.

The third greatest distinction of his foreign observation is its entire freedom from specialism. Perhaps this cannot be made to appear more clearly than in the contrast presented by his "English Note-Books" and "Our Old Home" to Emerson's "English Traits," and Taine's "Notes on England." The latter writer is an acute, alert, industrious, and picturesque comparer of his own and a neighboring country, and is accompanied by a light battery of literary and pictorial criticism, detached from his heavier home armament. Emerson, on the other hand, gives us probably the most masterly and startling analysis of a people which has ever been offered in the same slight bulk, unsurpassed, too, in brilliancy and penetration of statement. But the "English Traits" is as clear, fixed, and accurate as a machinist's plan, and perhaps a little too rigidly defined. Hawthorne's review of England, though not comparable to Emerson's work for analysis, has this advantage, that its outline is more flexible and leaves room for many individual discriminations to which it supplies an easily harmonized groundwork. Emerson and Taine give us their impressions of a foreign land: Hawthorne causes us to inhale its very atmosphere, and makes the country ours for the time being, rather than an alien area which we scrutinize in passing. Yet here and there he partakes of the very qualities that are dominant with Emerson and Taine. "Every Englishman runs to 'The Times' with his little grievance, as a child runs to his mother," is as epigrammatic as anything in "English Traits"; [Footnote: No one, I think, has so well defined our relation to the English as Hawthorne, in a casual phrase from one of his printed letters: "We stand in the light of posterity to them, and have the privileges of posterity." This, on London, ought to become proverbial: "London is like the grave in one respect,—any man can make himself at home there; and whenever a man finds himself homeless elsewhere, he had better die, or go to London."] and there is a tendency in his pages to present the national character in a concrete form, as the French writer gives it. But, in addition, Hawthorne is an artist and a man of humor; and renders human character with a force and fineness which give it its true value as being, after all, far weightier and dearer to us than the most important or famous of congealed results of character. Withal a wide and keen observer and a hospitable entertainer of opinions, he does not force these upon us as final. Coming and going at ease, they leave a mysterious sense of greater wisdom with us, an indefinable residue of refined truth.

It is a natural question, why did not Hawthorne write an English romance, as well, or rather than an Italian one? More than half his stay abroad was north of the Channel, and one would infer that there could have been no lack of suggestion there. "My ancestor left England," he wrote, "in 1630. I return in 1853. I sometimes feel as if I myself had been absent these two hundred and twenty-three years, leaving England just emerging from the feudal system, and finding it, on my return, on the verge of republicanism." Herein lay a source of romantic possibilities from which he certainly meant to derive a story. But the greater part of his four years in England was spent in Liverpool, where his consular duties suppressed fiction-making. [Footnote: And it was not till he reached the villa of Montauto at Florence that he could write:—

"It is pleasant to feel at last that I am really away from America,—a satisfaction that I never enjoyed as long as I stayed in Liverpool, where it seemed to me that the quintessence of nasal and hand-shaking Yankee-dom was continually filtered and sublimated through my consulate, on the way outward and homeward. I first got acquainted with my own countrymen there. At Rome, too, it was not much better. But here in Florence, and in the summer-time, and in this secluded villa, I have escaped out of all my old tracks, and am really remote."]

Hawthorne's genius was extremely susceptible to every influence about it. One might liken its quality to that of a violin which owes its fine properties to the tempering of time and atmosphere, and transmits through its strings the very thrill of sunshine that has sunk into its wood. His utterances are modulated by the very changes of the air. In one of his letters from Florence he wrote:—

"Speaking of romances, I have planned two, one or both of which I could have ready for the press in a few months if I were either in England or America. But I find this Italian atmosphere not favorable to the close toil of composition, although it is a very good air to dream in. I must breathe the fogs of old England or the east-winds of Massachusetts, in order to put me into working trim."

But though England might be his workshop for books dreamed of in Italy, yet the aspect of English life seems much more fittingly represented by his less excursively imaginative side, as in "Our Old Home," than in a romance. Perhaps this is too ingenious a consolation; but I believe we may much better spare the possible English romance, than we could have foregone the actual Italian one.

In "The Marble Faun" Hawthorne's genius took a more daring and impressive range than ever before, and showed conclusively—what, without this testimony, would most likely have been questioned, or even by some denied—that his previous works had given the arc of a circle which no English or American writer of prose fiction besides himself has even begun to span. It is not alone that he plucks from a prehistoric time—"a period when man's affinity with nature was more strict, and his fellowship with every living thing more intimate and dear"—this conception of Donatello, the fresh, free, sylvan man untouched by sin or crime. Donatello must rank with a class of poetic creations which has nearly become extinct among modern writers: he belongs to the world of Caliban, Puck, and Ariel. But besides this unique creation, the book reveals regions of thought wide, ruin-scarred, and verdurously fair as the Campagna itself, winning the mind back through history to the primitive purity of man and of Christianity. I recoil from any attempt at adequate analysis of this marvellous production, for it is one of those works of art which are also works of nature, and will present to each thoughtful reader a new set of meanings, according to his individuality, insight, or experience. The most obvious part of the theme is that which is represented in the title, the study of the Faun's nature; and this embraces the whole question of sin and crime, their origin and distinction. But it is not the case, as has been assumed, that in this study the author takes the position of advocate to a theory that sin was requisite to the development of soul in man. For, though he shows that remorse developed in Donatello "a more definite and nobler individuality," he also reminds us that "sometimes the instruction comes without the sorrow, and oftener the sorrow teaches no lesson that abides with us"; and he illustrates this in the exquisite height of spirituality to which Hilda has attained through sinlessness. He is not, I say, the advocate of a theory: this charge has been made by self-confident critics, who saw only the one idea,—that of a Beneficence which has so handled sin, that, instead of destroying man, "it has really become an instrument most effective in the education of intellect and soul." This idea is several times urged by Miriam and Kenyon, but quickly rejected each time; first by Kenyon, and then by Hilda; so that, while it is suggested, it is also shown to be one which human nature cannot trust itself to dwell upon. But the real function of the author is that of a profound religious teacher. The "Romance of Monte Beni" is, as Miriam plainly says, the story of the fall of man repeated. It takes us with fearless originality to the source of all religious problems, affirming,—as one interpreter [Footnote: See an unsigned article, "The Genius of Hawthorne," in the Atlantic Monthly for September, 1868.] has said,—"the inherent freedom of man," and illustrating how he may choose the good or the evil. Donatello is the ideal of the childlike nature on the threshold of history who has lived without choosing either, up to the time when his love and defence of Miriam involve him in crime. Father Antonio, "the spectre of the catacombs," and Miriam's persecutor, is the outcome of a continual choice of evil and of utter degradation. These two extremes, more widely asunder than Prospero and Caliban, Hawthorne has linked together in his immense grasp of the inmost laws of life, and with a miraculous nicety of artistic skill. Then comes Donatello's fall, illustrating the genesis of sin from crime, in accordance with the Biblical story of Cain; and this precipitates an examination, not only of the result upon Donatello himself, but of the degree in which others, even the most guiltless, are involved. There is first the reaction upon and inculpation of Miriam, whose glance had confirmed Donatello's murderous intent; only a glance, yet enough to involve her in the doom of change and separation—of sin in short—which falls upon the Faun. And in Hilda's case, it is the simple consciousness of another's guilt, which is "almost the same as if she had participated" in it. The mutual relations of these persons, who are made to represent the whole of society, afford matter for infinite meditation, the artistic and moral abstract of which the author has given.

But with this main theme is joined a very marvellous and intricate study of the psychology of Beatrice Cenci's story, in a new form. Miriam is a different woman placed in the same circumstances which made the Cenci tragedy. In the "French and Italian Note-Books," Hawthorne describes the look he caught sight of in Guido's picture,—that "of a being unhumanized by some terrible fate, and gazing out of a remote and inaccessible region, where she was frightened to be alone, but where no human sympathy could reach her." It was of this single insight that both Miriam and Hilda were born to his mind. He reproduces this description, slightly modified, in the romance (Vol. I. Chap. XXIII.): "It was the intimate consciousness of her father's guilt that threw its shadow over her, and frightened her into" this region. Now, in the chapter called "Beatrice," quite early in the story, he brings out between Miriam and Hilda a discussion of Beatrice and her history. It is evident, from the emphasis given by the chapter-title, that this subject is very deeply related to the theme of the romance; and no theory can explain Miriam's passionate utterances about the copy of Guido's portrait, except that which supposes her own situation to be that of Beatrice. This chapter is full of the strongest hints of the fact. Miriam's sudden resemblance to the picture, at the instant when she so yearns to grasp the secret of Beatrice's view of her own guilt or innocence; her ardent defence of Beatrice's course, as "the best virtue possible under the circumstances," when Hilda condemns it; her suggestion that, after all, only a woman could have painted the poor girl's thoughts upon her face, and that she herself has "a great mind to undertake a copy," giving it "what it lacks";—all these things point clearly. But there is a mass of inferential evidence, besides; many veiled allusions and approaches to a revelation, as well as that very marked description of the sketches in which Miriam has portrayed in various moods a "woman acting the part of a revengeful mischief towards man," and the hint, in the description of her portrait of herself, that "she might ripen to be what Judith was, when she vanquished Holofernes with her beauty, and slew him for too much adoring it." There is no need to pursue the proof further: readers will easily find it on re-examining the book. But what is most interesting, is to observe how Hawthorne has imagined two women of natures so widely opposed as Hilda and Miriam under a similar pressure of questionable blood-guiltiness. With Miriam, it is a guilt which has for excuse that it was the only resort against an unnatural depravity in Father Antonio. But as if to emphasize the indelibleness of blood-stains, however justly inflicted, we have as a foil to Miriam the white sensitiveness of Hilda's conscience, which makes her—though perfectly free from even the indirect responsibility of Miriam—believe herself actually infected. In both cases, it is the shadow of crime which weighs upon the soul; but Miriam, in exactly the position of Beatrice Cenci, is a more complex and deep-colored nature than she; and Hilda, differently affected by the same question of conscience, is a vastly spiritualized image of the historic sufferer. Miriam, after the avenging of her nameless wrong, doubts, as Beatrice must have done, whether there be any guilt in such avengement; but being of so different a temperament, and having before her eyes the effect of this murder upon the hitherto sinless Faun, the reality of her responsibility is brought home to her. The clear conscience of Hilda confirms it. Thus by taking two extremes on either side of Beatrice,—one, a woman less simply and ethereally organized, and the other one who is only indirectly connected with wrong or crime,—Hawthorne seems to extract from the problem of Beatrice all its most subtle significance. He does not coldly condemn Beatrice; but by re-combining the elements of her case, he succeeds in magnifying into startling distinctness the whole awful knot of crime and its consequence, which lies inextricably tangled up within it. How different from Shelley's use of the theme! There is certainly nothing in the "Marble Faun" to equal the impassioned expression of wrong, and the piercing outcry against the shallow but awful errors of human justice, which uplift Shelley's drama. But Shelley stops, on the one side, with this climax:—

"O plead With famine or wind-walking pestilence, Blind lightning or the deaf sea, not with man!"

And on the side of the moral question, he leaves us with Beatrice's characterization of the parricide,

"Which is, or is not, what men call a crime."

Hawthorne, on the contrary, starts from this latter doubt. "The foremost result of a broken law," he says, "is ever an ecstatic freedom." But instead of pausing to give this his whole weight, as Shelley does, he distinctly pronounces the murder of Miriam's degraded father to be crime, and proceeds to inquire how Miriam and Donatello may work out their purification. So that if the first part of the romance is the Fall of Man repeated, the second part is the proem to a new Paradise Regained; and the seclusion of the sculptor and the Faun, and their journey together to Perugia, seasoned with Kenyon's noble and pure-hearted advice, compose a sort of seven-times-refined Pilgrim's Progress. Apt culmination of a genius whose relations to Milton and Bunyan we found to be so suggestive! The chief means which Kenyon offers for regeneration is that Miriam and the Faun shall abandon any hope of mutual joy, and consecrate themselves to the alleviation of misery in the world. Having by violence and crime thrust one evil out of life, they are now by patience and benevolence to endeavor to exorcise others. At the same time, remarking that Providence has infinitely varied ways of dealing with any deed, Hawthorne leaves a possibility of happiness for the two penitents, which may become theirs as "a wayside flower, springing along a path that leads to higher ends." But he also shows, in Donatello's final delivering of himself up to justice, the wisdom of some definite judgment and perhaps punishment bestowed by society. Thus, avenues of thought are opened to us on every side, which we are at liberty to follow out; but we are not forced, as a mere theorist would compel us, to pursue any particular one to the exclusion of the others. In all we may find our way to some mystic monument of eternal law, or pluck garlands from some new-budded bough of moral truth. The romance is like a portal of ebony inlaid with ivory,—another gate of dreams,—swinging softly open into regions of illimitable wisdom. But some pause on the threshold, unused to such large liberty; and these cry out, in the words of a well-known critic, "It begins in mystery, and ends in mist."

Though the book was very successful, few readers grasped the profounder portions. It is a vast exemplar of the author's consummate charm as a simple storyteller, however, that he exercised a brilliant fascination over all readers, notwithstanding the heavy burden of uncomprehended truths which they were obliged to carry with them. Some critics complain of the extent to which Roman scenery and the artistic life in Rome have been introduced; but, to my mind, there is scarcely a word wasted in the two volumes. The "vague sense of ponderous remembrances" pressing down and crowding out the present moment till "our individual affairs are but half as real here as elsewhere," is essential to the perspective of the whole; and nothing but this rich picturesqueness and variety could avail to balance the depth of tragedy which has to be encountered; so that the nicety of art is unquestionable. It is strange, indeed, that this great modern religious romance should thus have become also the ideal representative of ruined Rome—the home of ruined religions—in its aesthetic aspects. But one instance of appreciation must be recorded here, as giving the highest pitch of that delightful literary fellowship which Hawthorne seems constantly to have enjoyed in England. His friend John Lothrop Motley, the historian, wrote thus of "The Marble Faun," from Walton-on-Thames, March 29, 1860:—

"Everything that you have ever written, I believe, I have read many times, and I am particularly vain of having admired 'Sights from a Steeple,' when I first read it in the Boston 'Token,' several hundred years ago, when we were both younger than we are now; of having detected and cherished, at a later day, an old Apple-Dealer, whom, I believe, you have unhandsomely thrust out of your presence, now that you are grown so great. But the 'Romance of Monte Beni' has the additional charm for me, that it is the first book of yours that I have read since I had the privilege of making your personal acquaintance. My memory goes back at once to those walks (alas, not too frequent) we used to take along the Tiber, or in the Campagna; ... and it is delightful to get hold of the book now, and know that it is impossible for you any longer, after waving your wand as you occasionally did then, indicating where the treasure was hidden, to sink it again beyond plummet's sound.

"I admire the book exceedingly.... It is one which, for the first reading, at least, I didn't like to hear aloud.... If I were composing an article for a review, of course, I should feel obliged to show cause for my admiration; but I am only obeying an impulse. Permit me to say, however, that your style seems, if possible, more perfect than ever. Where, O where is the godmother who gave you to talk pearls and diamonds?... Believe me, I don't say to you half what I say behind your back; and I have said a dozen times that nobody can write English but you. With regard to the story, which has been somewhat criticised, I can only say that to me it is quite satisfactory. I like those shadowy, weird, fantastic, Hawthornesque shapes flitting through the golden gloom, which is the atmosphere of the book. I like the misty way in which the story is indicated rather than revealed; the outlines are quite definite enough from the beginning to the end to those who have imagination enough to follow you in your airy flights; and to those who complain, I suppose that nothing less than an illustrated edition, with a large gallows on the last page, with Donatello in the most pensile of attitudes,—his ears revealed through a white nightcap,—would be satisfactory. I beg your pardon for such profanation, but it really moves my spleen that people should wish to bring down the volatile figures of your romance to the level of an every-day romance.... The way in which the two victims dance through the Carnival on the last day is very striking. It is like a Greek tragedy in its effect, without being in the least Greek."

To this Hawthorne replied from Bath (April 1, 1860); and Mr. Motley has kindly sent me a copy of the letter.

MY DEAR MOTLEY:—You are certainly that Gentle Reader for whom all my books were exclusively written. Nobody else (my wife excepted, who speaks so near me that I cannot tell her voice from my own) has ever said exactly what I loved to hear. It is most satisfactory to be hit upon the raw, to be shot straight through the heart. It is not the quantity of your praise that I care so much about (though I gather it all up most carefully, lavish as you are of it), but the kind, for you take the book precisely as I meant it; and if your note had come a few days sooner, I believe I would have printed it in a postscript which I have added to the second edition, because it explains better than I found possible to do the way in which my romance ought to be taken.... Now don't suppose that I fancy the book to be a tenth part as good as you say it is. You work out my imperfect efforts, and half make the book with your warm imagination; and see what I myself saw, but could only hint at. Well, the romance is a success, even if it never finds another reader.

We spent the winter in Leamington, whither we had come from the sea-coast in October. I am sorry to say that it was another winter of sorrow and anxiety.... [The allusion here is to illness in the family, of which there had also been a protracted case in Rome]. I have engaged our passages for June 16th.... Mrs. Hawthorne and the children will probably remain in Bath till the eve of our departure; but I intend to pay one more visit of a week or two to London, and shall certainly come and see you. I wonder at your lack of recognition of my social propensities. I take so much delight in my friends, that a little intercourse goes a great way, and illuminates my life before and after....

Your friend,


These seven years in Europe formed, outwardly, the most opulently happy part of Hawthorne's life. Before he left America, although he had been writing—with several interruptions—for twenty-four years, he had only just reached a meagre prosperity. I have touched upon the petty clamor which his Custom-House pictures aroused, and the offensive political attacks following the Life of Pierce. These disagreeables, scattered along the way, added to the weary delay that had attended his first efforts, made the enthusiastic personal welcome with which he everywhere met in England, and the charm of highly organized society, with its powerful artistic classes centred upon great capitals there and in Italy, a very captivating contrast. Still there were drawbacks. The most serious one was the change in the consular service made during his term at Liverpool. The consulate there was considered the most lucrative post in the President's gift, at the time of his appointment. But, to begin with, Pierce allowed the previous incumbent to resign prospectively, so that Hawthorne lost entirely the first five months of his tenure. These were very valuable months, and after the new consul came into office the dull season set in, reducing his fees materially. Business continued bad so long, that even up to 1855 little more than a living could be made in the consulate. In February of that year a bill was passed by Congress, remodelling the diplomatic and consular system, and fixing the salary of the Liverpool consul at $7,500,—less than half the amount of the best annual income from it before that time. The position was one of importance, and involved an expensive mode of life; so that even before this bill went into operation, though practising "as stern an economy," he wrote home, "as ever I did in my life," Hawthorne could save but little; and the effect of it would have been not only to prevent his accomplishing what he took the office for, but even to have imposed loss upon him. For, in addition to social demands, the mere necessary office expenses (including the pay of three clerks) were very large, amounting to some thousands yearly; and the needs of unfortunate fellow-citizens, to whom Hawthorne could not bring himself to be indifferent, carried off a good portion of his income. As he says, "If the government chooses to starve the consul, a good many will starve with him." The most irritating thing about the new law was that it merely cut down the consular fees, without bringing the government anything; for the fees came from business that a notary-public could perform, and the consul would naturally decline to take it upon himself when his interest in it was removed. Fortunately, the President was given some discretion about the date of reappointment, and allowed the old commission to continue for a time. Meanwhile, Hawthorne was obliged, in anticipation of the new rule, to alter his mode of life materially. He now planned to give up the place in the autumn of 1855, and go to Italy; but this was not carried out till two years later.

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