Italy charmed him wholly, and he longed to make it his home. There had not been want of unjust criticism of him in America, while at Liverpool. When some shipwrecked steamer passengers were thrown upon his hands, for whom he provided extra-officially, on Mr. Buchanan's (then minister) refusing to have anything to do with the matter, a newspaper rumor was started at home that Mr. Hawthorne would do nothing for them until ordered to by Mr. Buchanan.
"It sickens me," he wrote at that time, "to look back to America. I am sick to death of the continual fuss and tumult and excitement and bad blood which we keep up about political topics. If it were not for my children, I should probably never return."
And on the eve of sailing, he wrote to another friend:—
"I shall go home, I fear, with a heavy heart, not expecting to be very well contented there."
But his sense of duty, stronger than that of many Americans under similar circumstances, was rigorously obeyed. We shall see what sort of reward this fidelity to country won from public opinion at home.
THE LAST ROMANCE.
There are in the "English Note-Books" several dismal and pathetic records of tragic cases of brutality or murder on shipboard, which it was Hawthorne's duty as consul to investigate. These things, as one might have divined they would, made a very strong and deep impression upon him; and he tried strenuously to interest the United States government in bettering the state of the marine by new laws. But though this evil was and is still quite as monstrous as that of slavery, there was no means of mixing up prejudice and jealousy with the reform, to help it along, and he could effect nothing. He resolved, on returning home, to write some articles—perhaps a volume—exposing the horrors so calmly overlooked; but the slavery agitation, absorbing everybody, perhaps discouraged him: the scheme was never carried out. It is a pity; for, aside from the weight which so eminent a name might have given to a good cause, the work would have clearly proven the quick, responsive, practical nature of his humanity—a quality which some persons have seen fit to deny him—in a case where no question of conflicting rights divided his sense of duty.
He came to America in June, 1860. For several years the mutterings of rising war between the States had been growing louder. In June of 1856 he had written to Bridge, expressing great hope that all would yet turn out well. But so rapidly did the horizon blacken, that later in the same year he declared that "an actual fissure" seemed to him to be opening between the two sections of the country. In January, 1857:—
"I regret that you think so doubtfully of the prospects of the Union; for I should like well enough to hold on to the old thing. And yet I must confess that I sympathize to a large extent with the Northern feeling, and think it is about time for us to make a stand. If compelled to choose, I go for the North. New England is quite as large a lump of earth as my heart can really take in.... However, I have no kindred with nor leaning toward the Abolitionists."
He felt, no doubt, that the vital principle of The Union from the beginning had been compromise, mutual concession, and if it was to be severed, preferred that it should be peacefully. Still, his moods and wishes varied as did those of many careful watchers at that time; and he saw too clearly the arguments on either side to hold fixedly to one course. In the December after his return, secession began; and for more than a year following he could not fix his attention upon literary matters. He wrote little, not even his journal, as Mrs. Hawthorne has told us, until 1862. Accustomed to respond accurately to every influence about him, with that sensitized exterior of receptive imagination which overlay the fixed substance of personal character,—so that, as we have seen, even a change of climate left its impress on his productions,—it was not strange that the emotions of horror and pain, the passion of hate, the splendid heroism which charged the whole atmosphere about him, now, should absorb his whole sensibility, and paralyze his imagination. It was no time for quiet observation or creative revery. A new era had broken upon us, ushered by the wild din of trumpet and cannon, and battle-cry; an era which was to form new men, and shape a new generation. He must pause and listen to the agonies of this birth, striving vainly to absorb the commotion into himself and to let it subside into clear visions of the future. No hope! He could not pierce the war-smoke to any horizon of better things. He who had schooled himself so unceasingly to feel with utmost intensity the responsibility of each soul for any violence or crime of others, could not cancel the fact of multitudinous murder by any hypothesis of prospective benefit. Thus, in the midst of that magnificent turbulence, he was like the central quiet of a whirlpool: all the fierce currents met there, and seemed to pause,—but only seemed. Full of sympathy as he was for his fellows, and agitated at times by the same warlike impulses, he could not give himself rein as they did, nor dared to raise any encouraging strain in his writing, as others felt that they might freely do. His Puritan sense of justice, refined by descent and wedded to mercy, compelled him to weigh all carefully, to debate long and compassionately. But meantime the popular sense of justice—that same New England sentiment, of which his own was a development—cared nothing for these fine considerations, and Hawthorne was generally condemned by it as being warped by his old Democratic alliances into what was called treason. Nevertheless, he was glad to be in his native land, and suffer bitter criticism here,—if that were all that could be granted,—rather than to remain an unmolested exile.
An article which he contributed to the "Atlantic Monthly" in July, 1862, gives a faint inkling of his state of mind at this time; but nothing illustrates more clearly, either, the reserve which he always claimed lay behind his seemingly most frank expressions in print. For he there gives the idea of something like coldness in his attitude touching the whole great tragedy. But those who saw him daily, and knew his real mood, have remembered how deeply his heart was shaken by it. Fortunately, there are one or two epistolary proofs of the degree in which his sympathy with his own side of the struggle sometimes mastered him. He used to say that he only regretted that his son was too young and himself too old to admit of either of them entering the army; and just after the first battle of Bull Run he wrote to Mr. Lowell, at Cambridge, declining an invitation:—
THE WAYSIDE, CONCORD, July 23, 1861.
DEAR LOWELL:—I am to start, in two or three days, on an excursion with——, who has something the matter with him, and seems to need sea-air and change. If I alone were concerned, ... I would most gladly put off my trip till after your dinner; but, as the case stands, I am compelled to decline. Speaking of dinner, last evening's news will dull the edge of many a Northern appetite; but if it puts all of us into the same grim and bloody humor that it does me, the South had better have suffered ten defeats than won this victory.
And to another friend, in October:—
"For my part, I don't hope (nor, indeed, wish) to see the Union restored as it was; amputation seems to me much the better plan.... I would fight to the death for the Northern slave States, and let the rest go.... I have not found it possible to occupy my mind with its usual trash and nonsense during these anxious times; but as the autumn advances, I find myself sitting down at my desk and blotting successive sheets of paper as of yore."
He had now begun, I suppose, the "Romance of Immortality," or "Septimius Felton," which has been posthumously printed, but had been abandoned by him for another treatment of the same theme, called "The Dolliver Romance." This last, of which two chapters appeared, was left unfinished at his death. Of "Septimius" I shall not attempt an analysis: it contains several related and concentric circles of meaning, to survey which would require too much space. The subject had been one of the earliest themes of meditation with Hawthorne, and he wrote as with a fountain-pen in which was locked the fluid thought of a lifetime. One of the less obvious aspects of the book is the typification in Septimius's case of that endless struggle which is the lot of every man inspired by an ideal aim. The poet and the painter are, equally with Septimius, seekers after immortality, though of a more ethereal kind; and his morbidness and exaggeration serve to excite in us a tenderness and pity over him, assisting the reception of truth. These relate mainly to the temptation of the artist to effect a severance of ordinary, active human relations. (Sad to think what bitter cause the author had to brood upon this, the fault attributed to himself!) The poet, the creator in whatever art, must maintain his own circle of serene air, shutting out from it the flat reverberations of common life; but if he fail to live generously toward his fellows,—if he cannot make the light of every day supply the nimbus in which he hopes to appear shining to posterity,—then he will fall into the treacherous pit of selfishness where Septimius's soul lies smothered. But this set of meanings runs imperceptibly into others, for the book is much like the cabalistic manuscript described in its pages: now it is blurred over with deceptive sameness, and again it brims with multifarious beauties like those that swim within the golden depth of Tieck's enchanted goblet. The ultimate and most insistent moral is perhaps that which brings it into comparison with Goethe's "Faust"; this, namely, that, in order to defraud Nature of her dues, we must enter into compact with the Devil. Both Faust and Septimius study magic in their separate ways, with the hope of securing results denied to their kind by a common destiny; but Faust proves infinitely the meaner of the two, since he desires only to restore his youth, that he may engage in the mere mad joy of a lusty existence for a few years, while Septimius seeks some mode, however austere and cheerless, of prolonging his life through centuries of world-wide beneficence. Yet the satanically refined egoism which lays hold of Septimius is the same spirit incarnated in Goethe's Mephistopheles,—der Geist der stets verneint. To Faust he denies the existence of good in anything, primarily the good of that universal knowledge to the acquisition of which he has devoted his life, but through this scepticism mining his faith in all besides. To Septimius he denies the worth of so brief a life as ours, and the good of living to whatever end seems for the hour most needful and noble. Septimius might perhaps be described as Faust at an earlier stage of development than that in which Goethe represents him. [Footnote: Indeed, these words, applied by Mephistopheles to Faust, suit Septimius equally well:—
"Ihm hat das Schicksal einen Geist gegeben Der ungebaendigt immer vorwarts dringt Und dessen uebereiltes Streben Der Erde Freuden ueberspringt."]
As a further point of resemblance between the two cases, it may be noticed that the false dreams of both are dispelled by the exorcising touch of a woman. Both have fallen into error through perceiving only half of the truth which has hovered glimmering before them; these errors originate in the exclusively masculine mood, the asceticism, which has prevailed in their minds. It will be observed that, in the first relation of Rose to Septimius, Hawthorne takes pains to contrast with this mood, delicately but strongly, the woman's gentle conservatism and wisely practical tendency to be satisfied with life, which make her influence so admirable a poising force to man. The subsequent alteration of the situation, by which he makes her the half-sister of his hero, is owing, as Mr. Higginson has pointed out, to the fact "that a heroine must be supplied who corresponds to the idea in the lover's soul; like Helena in the second part of Faust." [Footnote: A phase of character rich in interest, but which I can only mention, in passing, is presented in the person of Sybil Dacy, who here occupies very much the same place, in some regards, as Roger Chillingworth in "The Scarlet Letter." The movement of the story largely depends on a subtle scheme of revenge undertaken by her, as that of "The Scarlet Letter" hangs upon the mode of retribution sought by the physician; but her malice is directed, characteristically, against the slayer of the young officer who had despoiled her of her honor, and, again characteristically, she is unable to consummate her plan, from the very tenderness of her feminine heart, which leads her first to half sympathize with his dreams, then pity him for the deceit she practised on him, and at last to rather love than hate him.]
But there is a suitable difference between the working of the womanly element in "Faust" and in Hawthorne's romance. In the former instance it is through the gratification of his infernal desire that the hero is awakened from his trance of error and restored to remorse; while Septimius's failure to accomplish his intended destiny appears to be owing to the inability of his aspiring nature to accommodate itself to that code of "moral dietetics" which is to assist his strange project. "Kiss no woman if her lips be red; look not upon her if she be very fair," is the maxim taught him. "If thou love her, all is over, and thy whole past and remaining labor and pains will be in vain." How pathetic a situation this, how much more terrible than that of Faust, when he has reached the turning-point in his career! A nature which could accept an earthly immortality on these terms, for the sake of his fellows, must indeed have been a hard and chilly one. But there is still too much of the heart in it, to admit of being satisfied with so cruel an abstraction. On the verge of success, as he supposes, with the long-sought drink standing ready for his lips, Septimius nevertheless seeks a companion. Half unawares, he has fallen in love with Sybil, and thenceforth, though in a way he had not anticipated, "all is over." Yet, saved from death by the poison in which he had hoped to find the spring of endless life, his fate appears admirably fitting. There is no picture of Mephisto hurrying him off to an apparently irrevocable doom. The wrongs he has committed against himself, his friends, humanity,—these, indeed, remain, and are remembered. He has undoubtedly fallen from his first purity and earnestness, and must hereafter be content to live a life of mere conventional comfort, full of mere conventional goodness, conventional charities, in that substantial English home of his. Could anything be more perfectly compensatory?
Nothing is more noticeable than the way in which, while so many symbolisms spring up out of the story, the hero's half-crazed and bewildered atmosphere is the one which we really accept, until the reading is ended. By this means we are enabled to live through the whole immortal future which he projects for himself, though he never in reality achieves any of it. This forcing of the infinite into the finite, we are again indebted to Mr. Higginson for emphasizing as "one of the very greatest triumphs in all literature." "A hundred separate tragedies," he says, "would be easier to depict than this which combines so many in one."
But notice the growth of the romance in Hawthorne's mind. "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," in which several people are restored to youth for an hour by a life-elixir, was published before 1837. In 1840 we have this entry in the journal: "If a man were sure of living forever here, he would not care about his offspring." A few years afterward, in "A Virtuoso's Collection," the elixir vitae is introduced, "in an antique sepulchral urn," but the narrator refuses to quaff it. "'No; I desire not an earthly immortality,' said I. 'Were man to live longer on the earth, the spiritual would die out of him.... There is a celestial something within us, that requires, after a certain time, the atmosphere of heaven to preserve it from ruin.'" But the revolt against death, and then the reactionary meditation upon it, and final reverence for it, must, from the circumstances of his youngest years, have been very early familiar to Hawthorne; and in the course of these meditations, the conception of deathlessness must often have floated before him. The tradition as to the former owner of the Wayside, who had thought he should never die (alluded to in the letter to Curtis, in 1852 [Footnote: See ante, p. 244.]), brought it definitely home to him. He had in 1837 thought of this: "A person to spend all his life and splendid talents, in trying to achieve something totally impossible,—as, to make a conquest over nature"; but the knowledge of an actual person who had expected to live forever gave the scattered elements coherence. The way in which other suggestions came into the plan is exceedingly curious. The idea of a bloody footstep appears in the Note-Books in 1850: "The print in blood of a naked foot to be traced through the street of a town." By a singular corroboration, he encountered five years afterward in England an actual bloody footprint, or a mark held to be such, at Smithell's Hall in Lancashire. ("English Note-Books," Vol. I. April 7, and August 25, 1855.) The parting request of his hostess there was that he "should write a ghost-story for her house," and he observes that "the legend is a good one." Only five days after first hearing it he makes a note thus: "In my Romance, the original emigrant to America may have carried away with him a family secret, by which it was in his power, had he so chosen, to have brought about the ruin of the family. This secret he transmitted to his American progeny, by whom it is inherited throughout all the intermediate generations. At last the hero of my Romance comes to England, and finds that, by means of this secret, he still has it in his power to procure the downfall of the family." This clearly refers to something already rapidly taking shape in his mind, and recalls at once the antique chest containing family papers, and the estate in England waiting for an heir, of "Septimius." Could he have already connected the two things, the bloody footstep and this Anglo-American interest? The next piece of history comes in the shape of a manuscript book in journal form, written in 1858, after Hawthorne had left the consulate, and containing what must have been the earliest sketch of the story, as he then conceived it. It begins abruptly, and proceeds uncertainly, at the rate of a few pages each day, for about a month. Detached passages of narration alternate with abstracts of the proposed plot, and analysis of the characters. The chief interest seems to lie in the project which a young American has formed, during a visit to England, of tracing out and proving his inherited right to an old manor-house formerly the property of his ancestors. This old hall possesses the peculiarity of the bloody footstep, and with this some mystery is connected, which the writer himself does not yet seem to have discovered. He takes a characteristic pleasure in waiting for this suggestive footstep to track the lurking interest of his story to its lair, and lingers on the threshold of the tale, gazing upon it, indulging himself with that tantalizing pleasure of vague anticipation in which he hopes to envelop the good reader. The perusal of this singular journal, in which the transactions recorded are but day-dreams, is absorbing beyond description. But though at times he seems to be rapidly approaching the heart of the story, yet at every point the subtle darkness and coming terror of the theme seem to baffle the author, and he retires, to await a more favorable moment. At its conclusion, though he appears now to have formed a clear picture enough of what his persons are to do, there is still wanting the underlying thought, which he at moments dimly feels but cannot bring to light, and without which he is unable to fuse the materials into readiness for the mould.
Our only information as to the course of the story between April, 1858, and the time of writing "Septimius," must be gathered from a sketch found among the author's papers, the date of which it is not possible to determine with precision, though both its matter and form indicate that it must have been written subsequently to the journal above mentioned. Herein are curiously mingled certain features of both "Septimius" and the "Dolliver Romance." So far as is consistent with the essential privacy of the manuscript, I shall give a general outline of its contents. It consists of two sections, in the second of which a lapse of some years is implied. In the first of these chapters, for they hardly exceed that limit, the most prominent figure is that of a singular, morose old man, who inhabits a house overlooking a New England graveyard. But though his situation resembles in this particular that of Grandsir Dolliver, his characteristics resemble more those of Dr. Portsoaken. He is constantly accompanied, too, by brandy-and-water and a cloud-compelling pipe; and his study, like the doctor's chamber in "Septimius," is tapestried with spider-webs; a particularly virulent spider which dangles over his head, as he sits at his writing-desk, being made to assume the aspect of a devilish familiar. On the other hand, his is a far richer and less debased nature than that of Portsoaken. Hawthorne appears subsequently to have divided him, straining off from the rank sediments which settle into the character of Dr. Portsoaken the clear sweetness of good Grandsir Dolliver. This "grim doctor," as he is almost invariably styled in the manuscript, seems to have originated in Hawthorne's knowledge of a Mr. Kirkup, painter, spiritualist and antiquarian, of Florence, [Footnote: French and Italian Note-Books, Vol. II.] who also probably stood as a model for Grandsir Dolliver. Not that either of these personages is copied from Mr. Kirkup; but the personality and surroundings of this quaint old gentleman had some sort of affinity with the author's idea, which led him to maintain a certain likeness between him and his own fictitious persons. As in the case of the Florentine antiquary, a little girl dwells in the house of the doctor, her chief playmate being, like that of Mr. Kirkup's adopted daughter, a very beautiful Persian kitten. There is much about her like Pansie, of the "Dolliver" fragment, but she is still only dimly brought out. The boy is described as of superior nature, but strangely addicted to revery. Though his traits are but slightly indicated, he suggests in general the character of Septimius, and may very easily have grown into him, at a later period. At first he is much neglected by the doctor, but afterwards, by resolute and manly behavior in questioning his mysterious guardian as to his own origin, and the connection subsisting between them, he secures greater consideration. The doctor gradually hints to him the fact of his descent from an old English family, and frequent mention is made of the ancestral hall, the threshold of which is stained by the imprint of a bloody footstep marking the scene of some dark tragedy, which, in the superstitious haze thrown over it by time, assumes various and uncertain forms. At different times two strangers are introduced, who appear to have some obscure knowledge of, and connection with, the ghastly footstep; and, finally, a headstone is discovered in the neighboring cemetery, marking the spot where an old man had been buried many years since, and engraved with the likeness of a foot. The grave has been recently opened to admit a new occupant, and the children, in playing about it, discover a little silver key, which the doctor, so soon as it is shown him, pockets, with the declaration that it is of no value. After this, the boy's education is taken in hand by his being sent to school; but presently the doctor sickens of life, and characteristically resolving to abandon brandy-drinking, and die, does so accordingly. Mention has previously been made of certain papers which he had kept in a secret place, and these the youth now secures. The second part describes his advent into England. He soon makes his way to the old hall, but just as his connection with it and its inmates begins, the manuscript terminates.
It will be noticed that in this fragment the scene is at first laid in New England, whereas the journalized sketch opened the drama in England. From this I infer that the former was written after the return to this country. "The Marble Faun" appropriated the author's attention, after the sketch of 1858; and in this, which was probably written just before the commencement of the war, he had not yet clearly struck the key-note of the story. When he recurred to it, in the autumn of 1861, on beginning to "blot successive sheets as of yore," it was at last with the definite design of uniting the legend of the deathless man with the legend of Smithell's Hall. It is as if, having left England, he could no longer write an English romance, but must give the book mainly an American coloring again. There is a pathetic interest, too, in his thus wavering between the two countries, which now so nearly equally divided his affections, and striving to unite the Wayside with the far-off English manor. Under the new design, everything began to fall into place. The deathless man was made the hero; the English inheritance became an inferior motive-power, on which, however, the romantic action depends; the family papers and the silver key came well to hand for the elucidation of the plot; the bloody footstep gained a new and deep significance; and a "purple everlasting flower," presented in 1854 to Mrs. Hawthorne by the gardener of Eaton Hall, blossomed out, with supernatural splendor, as a central point in the design. The scene being in Concord, and the time of writing that of war, the Revolutionary association was natural. But the public phase of that epoch could not assume an important place: it was sunk into the background, forming merely a lurid field on which the figures of this most solemn and terrific of all Hawthorne's works stand out in portentous relief. One singular result of the historic location, however, is the use that was now made of that tradition which Lowell had told him at the Old Manse, concerning a boy who was chopping wood on the April morning of the famous fight, and found a wounded British soldier on the field, whom he killed with his axe. "Oftentimes, as an intellectual and moral exercise, I have sought to follow that poor youth through his subsequent career, and observe how his soul was tortured by the blood-stain.... This one circumstance has borne more fruit for me than all that history tells us of the fight." Thus had he written, fourteen years before; and now that sombre study furnished him with the psychology of the death-scene in the beginning of "Septimius."
But the romance, even in this form, was again abandoned, as we learn from the prefatory note to Pierce in "Our Old Home," written in July, 1863. He there speaks of it as an "abortive project, utterly thrown aside," which "will never now be accomplished." In November of that year, "The Dolliver Romance" was announced for serial publication; and in the first page of the isolated opening scene, published in July, 1864, occurs the mention of a certain potent cordial, from which the good doctor had received great invigoration, and which we may well suppose was destined to tincture the whole story. Another point from which a connection with "Septimius Felton" may perhaps be traced is the passing mention of Grandsir Dolliver's grandson Cornelius, by whom this cordial had been compounded, he having displayed a great efficiency with powerful drugs. Recalling that the author describes many nostrums as having been attributed to Septimius, which he had perhaps chanced upon in his unsuccessful attempts to distil the elixir of life, we may fairly conjecture this posthumous character of Cornelius, this mere memory, to be the remains of Septimius, who, it would seem, was to have been buried by the author under the splendid monument of a still more highly wrought and more aspiring form of the romance. The only remaining portions of this latest form have been printed, and are lull of a silvery and resonant promise. Unquestionably it was to have been as much a "Romance of Immortality" as "Septimius"; and the exquisite contrast of the child Pansie—who promised to be the author's most captivating feminine creation—with the aged man, would no doubt have given us a theme of celestial loveliness, as compared with the forbidding and remorseless mournfulness of the preliminary work. In the manuscript sketch for "Septimius" there is a note referring to a description in the "English Note-Books" of two pine-trees at Lowood, on Windermere, "quite dead and dry, although they have the aspect of dark, rich life. But this is caused by the verdure of two great ivy-vines which have twisted round them like gigantic snakes, ... throttling the life out of them, ... and one feels that they have stolen the life that belonged to the pines." This does not seem to have been used; but the necessity of some life being stolen in order to add to any other life more than its share, is an idea that very clearly appears in the romance. In "Dolliver" the same strain of feeling would probably have reappeared; but it would there perhaps have been beautified, softened, expiated by the mutual love of Pansie and the grandsire; each wishing to live forever, for the other. Even in "Septimius" we can discern Hawthorne standing upon the wayside hill-top, and, through the turbid medium of the unhappy hero, tenderly diffusing the essence of his own concluding thoughts on art and existence. Like Mozart, writing what he felt to be a requiem for his own death, like Mozart, too, throwing down the pen in midmost of the melody, leaving the strain unfinished, he labors on, prescient of the overhanging doom. Genial and tender at times, amidst their sadness, his reveries are nevertheless darkened by the shadow of coming death; and it is not until the opening of "The Dolliver Romance" that the darkness breaks away. Then, indeed, we feel once more the dewy freshness of the long-past prime, with a radiance unearthly fair, besides, of some new, undreamed-of morning. He who has gone down into the dark valley appears for a brief space with the light of the heavenly city on his countenance. Ah, prophet, who spoke but now so sadly, what is this new message that we see brightening on your lips? Will it solve the riddle of sin and beauty, at last? We listen intently; we seem to lean out a little way from earth.
Only an eddying silence! And yet the air seems even now alive with his last words.
What has thus far been developed in this essay, concerning Hawthorne's personality, though incidental, has, I hope, served the end in view,—that of suggesting a large, healthy nature, capable of the most profound thought and the most graceful and humorous mental play. The details of his early life already given show how soon the inborn honor of his nature began to shine. The small irregularities in his college course have seemed to me to bring him nearer and to endear him, without in any way impairing the dignity and beauty of character which prevailed in him from the beginning. It is good to know that he shared the average human history in these harmless peccadilloes; for they never hurt his integrity, and they are reminders of that old but welcome truth, that the greatest men do not need a constant diet of great circumstances. He had many difficulties to deal with, as unpicturesque and harassing as any we have to encounter in our daily courses,—a thing which people are curiously prone to forget in the case of eminent authors. The way in which he dealt with these throws back light on himself. We discover how well the high qualities of genius were matched by those of character.
Fragmentary anecdotes have a value, but so relative that to attempt to construct the subject's character out of them is hazardous. Conceptions of a man derived only from such matter remind one of Charles Lamb's ghosts, formed of the particles which, every seven years, are replaced throughout the body by new ones. Likewise, the grossest errors have been committed through the assumption that particular passages in Hawthorne's writings apply directly and unqualifiedly to himself. There is so much imagination interfused with them, that only a reverent and careful imagination can apply them aright. Nor are private letters to be interpreted in any other way than as the talk of the hour, very inadequately representative, and often—unless read in many lights—positively untrue, to the writer. It gives an entirely false notion, for example, to accept as a trait of character this modest covering up of a noble sentiment, which occurs in a letter refusing to withdraw the dedication of "Our Old Home" to Pierce, in the time of the latter's unpopularity:—
"Nevertheless, I have no fancy for making myself a martyr when it is honorably and conscientiously possible to avoid it; and I always measure out my heroism very accurately according to the exigencies of the occasion, and should be the last man in the world to throw away a bit of it needlessly."
Such a passage ought never to have been printed without some modifying word; for it has been execrably misused. "I have often felt," Hawthorne says, "that words may be a thick and darksome veil of mystery between the soul and the truth which it seeks." What injustice, then, that he should be judged by a literal construction of words quickly chosen for the transient embodiment of a mood!
The first and most common opinion about the man Hawthorne is, that he must have been extremely gloomy, because his mind nourished so many grave thoughts and solemn fancies. But this merely proves that, as he himself says, when people think he is pouring himself out in a tale or an essay, he is merely telling what is common to human nature, not what is peculiar to himself. "I sympathize with them, not they with me." He sympathizes in the special direction of our darker side. A creative mind of the higher order holds the thread which guides it surely through life's labyrinths; but all the more on this account its attention is called to the erratic movement of other travellers around it. The genius who has the clew begins, therefore, to study these errors and to describe them for our behoof. It is a great mistake to suppose that the abnormal or preposterous phases which he describes are the fruit of self-study,—personal traits disguised in fiction; yet this is what has often been affirmed of Hawthorne. We don't think of attributing to Dickens the multiform oddities which he pictures with such power, it being manifestly absurd to do so. As Dickens raises the laugh against them, we at once perceive that they are outside of himself. Hawthorne is so serious, that we are absorbed in the sober earnest of the thing, and forget to apply the rule in his case. Dickens's distinct aim is to excite us with something uncommon; Hawthorne's, to show us that the elements of all tragedies lie within our individual natures; therefore we begin to attribute in undue measure to his individual nature all the abnormal conditions that he has shown to be potential in any of us. But in truth he was a perfectly healthy person.
"You are, intellectually speaking, quite a puzzle to me," his friend George Hillard wrote to him, once. "How comes it that, with so thoroughly healthy an organization as you have, you have such a taste for the morbid anatomy of the human heart, and such a knowledge of it, too? I should fancy, from your books, that you were burdened with some secret sorrow, that you had some blue chamber in your soul, into which you hardly dared to enter yourself; but when I see you, you give me the impression of a man as healthy as Adam in Paradise."
This very healthiness was his qualification for his office. By virtue of his mental integrity and absolute moral purity, he was able to handle unhurt all disintegrated and sinful forms of character; and when souls in trouble, persons with moral doubts to solve and criminals wrote to him for counsel, they recognized the healing touch of one whose pitying immaculateness could make them well.
She who knew best his habitual tone through a sympathy such as has rarely been given to any man, who lived with him a life so exquisitely fair and high, that to speak of it publicly is almost irreverent, has written:—
"He had the inevitable pensiveness and gravity of a person who possessed what a friend has called his 'awful power of insight'; but his mood was always cheerful and equal, and his mind peculiarly healthful, and the airy splendor of his wit and humor was the light of his home. He saw too far to be despondent, though his vivid sympathies and shaping imagination often made him sad in behalf of others. He also perceived morbidness wherever it existed instantly, as if by the illumination of his own steady cheer."
His closest friends, too, speak with delight of his genial warmth and ease in converse with them. He could seldom talk freely with more than two or three, however, on account of his constitutional shyness, and perhaps of a peculiarly concentrative cast of mind; though he possessed a ready adaptability. "I talk with everybody: to Mrs. T—— good sense; to Mary, good sense, with a mixture of fun; to Mrs. G——, sentiment, romance, and nonsense." [Footnote: American Note-Books, 1837.] A gentleman who was with him at Brook farm, and knew him well, tells me that his presence was very attractive, and that he inspired great esteem among all at the farm by his personal qualities. On a walking trip to Wachusett, which they once made together, Hawthorne showed a great interest in sitting in the bar-rooms of country taverns, to listen to the talk of the attendant farmers and villagers. The manner in which he was approached had a great deal to do with his response. If treated simply and wisely, he would answer cordially; but he was entirely dismayed, as a rule, by those who made demonstrations of admiration or awe. "Why do they treat me so?" he asked a friend, in one case of this sort. "Why, they're afraid of you." "But I tremble at them," he said. "They think," she explained, "that you're imagining all sorts of terrible things." "Heavens!" he answered; "if they only knew what I do think about." At one time, when he was visiting this same friend, he was obliged to return some calls, and his companion in the midst of conversation left him to continue it. He had previously asked his hostess, in assumed terror, what he should talk about, and she advised "climate." Accordingly, he turned to the naval officer whom he was calling upon, and asked him if he had ever been to the Sandwich Islands. "The man started," he said, on returning, "as if he had been struck. He had evidently been there and committed some terrible crime, which my allusion recalled. I had made a frightful mess of it. B—— led me away to the door." This woful account was, of course, an imaginary and symbolical representation of the terrors which enforced conversation caused him; the good officer's surprise at the abrupt introduction of a new subject had supplied him with the ludicrous suggestion. Mr. Curtis has given an account of his demeanor on another occasion:—
"I had driven up with some friends to an aesthetic tea at Mr. Emerson's. It was in the winter, and a great wood-fire blazed upon the hospitable hearth. There were various men and women of note assembled; and I, who listened attentively to all the fine things that were said, was for some time scarcely aware of a man who sat upon the edge of the circle, a little withdrawn, his head slightly thrown forward upon his breast, and his black eyes ['black' is an error] clearly burning under his black brow. As I drifted down the stream of talk, this person, who sat silent as a shadow, looked to me as Webster might have looked had he been a poet,—a kind of poetic Webster. He rose and walked to the window, and stood there quietly for a long time, watching the dead-white landscape. No appeal was made to him, nobody looked after him; the conversation flowed steadily on, as if every one understood that his silence was to be respected. It was the same thing at table. In vain the silent man imbibed aesthetic tea. Whatever fancies it inspired did not flower at his lips. But there was a light in his eye which assured me nothing was lost. So supreme was his silence, that it presently engrossed me, to the exclusion of everything else. There was very brilliant discourse, but this silence was much more poetic and fascinating. Fine things were said by the philosophers, but much finer things were implied by the dumbness of this gentleman with heavy brows and black hair. When he presently rose and went, Emerson, with the 'slow, wise smile' that breaks over his face like day over the sky, said, 'Hawthorne rides well his horse of the night.'"
He was not a lover of argumentation. "His principle seemed to be, if a man cannot understand without talking to him, it is useless to talk, because it is immaterial whether such a man understands or not." And the same writer says:——
"His own sympathy was so broad and sure, that, although nothing had been said for hours, his companion knew that not a thing had escaped his eye, nor a single pulse of beauty in the day, or scene, or society, failed to thrill his heart. In this way his silence was most social. Everything seemed to have been said."
I am told that in his own home, though he was often silent, it was never with sadness except in seasons of great illness in the house, the prevailing effect of his manner being usually that of a cheerful and almost humorous calm. Mr. Curtis gives perhaps one of the best descriptions of his aspect, when he speaks of his "glimmering smile"; and of his atmosphere, when he says that at Emerson's house it seemed always morning, but at Hawthorne's you passed into
"A land in which it seemed always afternoon."
Hawthorne's personal appearance is said by those who knew him to have been always very impressive. He was tall and strongly built, with beautiful and lustrous gray-blue eyes, and luxuriant dark brown hair of great softness, which grew far back from his forehead, as in the early engraved portrait of him. His skin had a peculiar fineness and delicacy, giving unusual softness to his complexion. After his Italian sojourn he altered much, his hair having begun to whiten, and a thick dark mustache being permitted to grow, so that a wit described him as looking like a "boned pirate." When it became imperative to shake off his reticence, he seems to have had the power of impressing as much by speech as he had before done by silence. It was the same abundant, ardent, but self-contained and perfectly balanced nature that informed either phase. How commanding was this nature may be judged from the fact related of him by an acquaintance, that rude people jostling him in a crowd would give way at once "at the sound of his low and almost irresolute voice." The occasions on which he gave full vent to his indignation at anything were very rare; but when these came, he manifested a strength of sway only to be described as regal. Without the least violence, he brought a searching sternness to bear that was utterly overwhelming, carrying as it did the weight of perfect self-control. Something even of the eloquent gift of old Colonel Hathorne seemed to be locked within him, like a precious heirloom rarely shown; for in England, where his position called for speech-making, he acquitted himself with brilliant honor. But the effort which this compelled was no doubt quite commensurate with the success. He never shrank, notwithstanding, from effort, when obligation to others put in a plea. A member of his family has told me that, when talking to any one not congenial to him, the effect of the contact was so strong as to cause an almost physical contraction of his whole stalwart frame, though so slight as to be perceptible only to eyes that knew his habitual and informal aspects; yet he would have sunk through the floor rather than betray his sensations to the person causing them. Mr. Curtis, too, records the amusement with which he watched Hawthorne paddling on the Concord River with a friend whose want of skill caused the boat continually to veer the wrong way, and the silent generosity with which he put forth his whole strength to neutralize the error, rather than mortify his companion by an explanation. His considerateness was always delicate and alert, and has left in his family a reverence for qualities that have certainly never been surpassed and not often equalled in sweetness.
He was simple in his habits, and fond of being out of doors, but not—after his college days—as a sportsman. While living beside the Concord, he rowed frequently, with a dreamy devotion to the pastime, and was fond of fishing; swimming, too, he enjoyed. But his chief exercise was walking; he had a vast capacity for it, and was, I think, never even seen upon horseback. At Brook Farm he "belabored the rugged furrows" with a will; and at the Old Manse he presided over his garden in a paradisiacal sort of way. Books in every form he was always eager for, sometimes, as has been reported, satisfying himself with an old almanac or newspaper, over which he would brood as deeply as over richly stored volumes of classic literature. At other times he was fastidious in his choice, and threw aside many books before he found the right one for the hour. [Footnote: He would attach himself to a book or a poem apparently by some law perceptible only to himself, perhaps often giving an interest by his own genius. A poem On Solitude, in Dryden's Miscellany, was at one time a special favorite with him.
"O Solitude, my sweetest choice, Places devoted to the Night, Remote from Tumult and from Noise, How you my restless thoughts delight!"
And the last stanza has these lines:—
"O, how I solitude adore, That element of noblest wit, Where I have learned Apollo's lore, Without the pains to study it."]
An impression has been set afloat that he cared nothing for books in themselves, but this is incorrect. He never had the means to accumulate a library of any size, but he had a passion for books.
"There yet lingers with me a superstitious reverence for literature of all kinds," he writes in "The Old Manse." "A bound volume has a charm in my eyes similar to what scraps of manuscript possess for the good Mussulman; ... every new book or antique one may contain the 'open sesame,'—the spell to disclose treasures hidden in some unsuspected cave of Truth."
When he lived at the Wayside, and would occasionally bring home a small package of books from Boston, these furnished him fresh pleasure for many days. He would carry some favorite of them with him everywhere, from room to room or to his hill-top. He was, as we have seen, a cordial admirer of other writers, seldom vexing himself with a critical review of their merits and defects, but applying to them instead the test of his own catholic capacity for enjoyment. The deliberate tone in which he judges his own works, in his letters, shows how little his mind was impressed by the greatness of their fame and of the genius found in them. There could not have been a more modest author, though he did not weakly underrate his work. "Recognition," he once said to Mr. Howells, "makes a man very modest."
An attempt has also been made to show that he had little interest in animals, partly based, ludicrous as it may seem, on his bringing them into only one of his books. In his American journals, however, there is abundant evidence of his acute sympathy in this direction; at the Old Manse he fried fish for his dog Leo, when he says he should not have done it for himself; and in the Trosachs he finds a moment for pitying some little lambs startled by the approach of his party. [Footnote: English Note-Books (May, 1856).] I have already mentioned his fondness for cats. It has further been said that he did not enjoy wild nature, because in the "English Note-Books" there is no outgushing of ecstatic description. But in fact he had the keenest enjoyment of it. He could not enter into the spectacle when hurrying through strange regions. Among the English lakes he writes:—
"To say the truth, I was weary of fine scenery, and it seemed to me that I had eaten a score of mountains and quaffed as many lakes, all in the space of two or three days, and the natural consequence was a surfeit.
"I doubt if anybody ever does really see a mountain, who goes for the set and sole purpose of seeing it. Nature will not let herself be seen in such cases. You must patiently bide her time; and by and by, at some unforeseen moment, she will quietly and suddenly unveil herself and for a brief space allow you to look right into the heart of her mystery. But if you call out to her peremptorily, 'Nature! unveil yourself this very moment!' she only draws her veil the closer; and you may look with all your eyes, and imagine that you see all that she can show, and yet see nothing."
But this was because his sensibility was so great that he drew from little things a larger pleasure than many feel when excited by grand ones; and knowing this deeper phase, he could not be content with the hasty admiration on which tourists flatter themselves. The beauty of a scene which he could absorb in peace was never lost upon him. Every year the recurrent changes of season filled him with untold pleasure; and in the spring, Mrs. Hawthorne has been heard to say, he would walk with her in continuous silence, his heart full of the awe and delight with which the miracle of buds and new verdure inspired him. Nothing could be more accurate or sensitive than the brief descriptions of nature in his works. But there is nothing sentimental about them; partly owing to the Anglo-Saxon instinct which caused him to seek precise and detailed statement first of all, and partly because of a certain classic, awe-inspired reserve, like that of Horace and Virgil.
There was a commendable indolence in his character. It was not a constitutional weakness, overcoming will, but the instinctive precaution of a man whose errand it was to rise to great emergencies of exertion. He always waited for an adequate mood, before writing. But these intervals, of course, were richly productive of revery which afterward entered into the creative moments. He would sometimes become deeply abstracted in imagination; and while he was writing "The Scarlet Letter" it is related by a trustworthy person that, sitting in the room where his wife was doing some sewing, he unconsciously took up a part of the work and cut it into minute fragments with the scissors, without being aware that he had done so. At some previous time, he had in the same way gradually chipped off with a knife portions of a table, until the entire folding-leaf was worn away by the process. The opinion was sometimes advanced by him that without a certain mixture of uncongenial labor he might not have done so much with the pen; but in this he perhaps underestimated the leisure in his blood, which was one of the elements of his power. Men of smaller calibre are hollowed out by the fire of ideas, and decay too quickly; but this trait preserved him from such a fate. Combined with his far-reaching foresight, it may have had something to do with his comparative withdrawal from practical affairs other than those which necessity connected him with. Of Holgrave he writes:—
"His error lay in supposing that this age more than any past or future one is destined to see the garments of antiquity exchanged for a new suit, instead of gradually renewing themselves by patchwork; ... and more than all, in fancying that it mattered anything to the great end in view whether he himself should contend for it or against it."
The implied opinion of the author, here, is not that of a fatalist, but of an optimist (if we must connect him with any "ism") who has a very profound faith in Providence; not in any "special providence," but in that operation of divine laws through unexpected agencies and conflicting events, which is very gradually approximating human affairs to a state of truthfulness. Hawthorne was one of the great believers of his generation; but his faith expressed itself in the negative way of showing how fragile are the ordinary objects of reverence in the world, how subject the best of us are to the undermining influence of very great sin; and, on the other hand, how many traits of good there are, by consequence, even in the worst of us. This, however, is a mere skeleton statement: the noblest element in his mood is that he believes with his heart. A good interpreter has said that he feels with his brain, and thinks with his heart, to show the completeness with which he mingled the two elements in his meditations on existence. A warm, pure, living sympathy pervaded all his analysis of mankind, without which that analysis would have taken no hold upon us. It is a crude view which reckons him to have been wanting in moral enthusiasm: he had not that kind which can crush out sympathy with suffering, for the sake of carrying out an idea. Perhaps in some cases this was a fault; but one cannot dwell on the mistaken side of such a phase, when it possesses another side so full of beneficent aid to humanity. And it must be remembered that with all this susceptibility, he was not a suffering poet, like Shelley, but distinctly an endurer. His moral enthusiasm was deeper than that of any scheme or system.
His distaste for society has been declared to proceed from the fact that, when he once became interested in people, he could no longer chemically resolve them into material for romance. But this assumption is also erroneous; for Hawthorne, if he felt it needful, could bring to bear upon his best friends the same qualitative measuring skill that he exercised on any one. I do not doubt that he knew where to place his friends and acquaintance in the scale of relative excellence. All of us who have not an equal analytic power with his own can at least reverence his discretion so far as to believe that he had stand-points not open to every one, from which he took views often more essentially just than if he had assumed a more sweeping estimate. In other cases, where he bestowed more friendship and confidence than the object of them especially deserved, he no doubt sought the simple pleasure of accepting what circumstances offered him. He was not a suspicious person; although, in fear of being fooled by his fancy, he cultivated what he often spoke of to a friend as "morose common-sense," deeming it a desirable alloy. There was even, in many relations, an unquestioning trust on his part; for he might well be called
"As the greatest only are, In his simplicity sublime."
The connection between Pierce and himself involved too many considerations to make it possible to pass them with indifference; and he perhaps condemned certain public acts of the President, while feeling it to be utter disloyalty to an old friend to discuss these mistakes with any one. As to other slighter connections, it is very likely he did not take the trouble that might have saved him from being imposed upon.
But it is impossible to define Hawthorne's personality precisely. A poet's whole effort is to indirectly express this, by expressing the effect of things upon him; and we may read much of Hawthorne in his books, if we have the skill. But it is very clear that he put only a part of himself into them; that part which best served the inexorable law of his genius for treating life in a given light. For the rest, his two chapters on "The Custom-House" and "The Old Manse" show us something of his mode of taking daily affairs. But his real and inmost character was a mystery even to himself, and this, because he felt so profoundly the impossibility of sounding to the bottom any human heart. "A cloudy veil stretches over the abyss of my nature," he writes, at one time. "I have, however, no love of secrecy or darkness." At another time: "Lights and shadows are continually flitting across my inward sky, and I know neither whence they come nor whither they go; nor do I look too closely into them." A mind so conscious as his of the slight reality of appearances would be dissatisfied with the few tangible qualities which are all of himself that a man can discern: at the same time he would hesitate to probe the deeper self assiduously, for fear of turning his searching gaze too intently within, and thus becoming morbid. In other persons, however, he could perceive a contour, and pursue his study of investigation from without inward,—a more healthy method. His instinctive knowledge of himself, being brought into play, would of course aid him. Incidentally, then, something of himself comes to light in his investigation of others. And it is perhaps this inability to define their own natures, except by a roundabout method, which is the creative impulse of all great novelists and dramatists. I doubt whether many of the famous delineators of character could give us a very distinct account of their own individualities; and if they did, it would probably make them out the most uninteresting of beings. It would certainly be divested of the special charm of their other writing. Imagine Dickens clearly accounting for himself and his peculiar traits: would he be able to excite even a smile? How much of his own delicious personality could Thackeray have described without losing the zest of his other portraitures? Hawthorne has given a kind of picture of himself in Coverdale, and was sometimes called after that character by his friends; but I suspect he has adroitly constructed Coverdale out of the appearance which he knew himself to make in the eyes of associates. I do not mean that Hawthorne had not a very decisive personality; for indeed he had. But the essence of the person cannot be compressed into a few brief paragraphs, and must be slowly drawn in as a pervasive elixir from his works, his letters, his note-books. In the latter he has given as much definition of his interior self as we are likely to get, for no one else can continue the broken jottings that he has left, and extend them into outlines. We shall not greatly err if we treat the hidden depths of his spirit with as much reverence as he himself used in scrutinizing them. Curiously enough, many of those who have studied this most careful and delicate of definers have embraced the madness of attempting to bind him down in unhesitating, absolute statements. He who mastered words so completely that he learned to despise their obscurity, has been made the victim of easy epithets and a few conventional phrases. But none can ever be said to know Hawthorne who do not leave large allowances for the unknowable.
POE, IRVING, HAWTHORNE.
The names of Poe, Irving, and Hawthorne have been so often connected without due discrimination, that it is imperative to consider here the actual relation between the three men. Inquiry might naturally be roused by the circumstance that, although Hawthorne has freely been likened to Irving in some quarters, and in others to Poe, the latter two are never supposed to hold anything in common. Indeed, they might aptly be cited in illustration of the widely opposed tendencies already developed in our brief national literature. Two things equal to the same thing are equal to each other; and if Poe and Irving were each equal to Hawthorne, there would be some similarity between them. But it is evident that they are not like quantities; and we must conclude that they have been unconsciously used by critics, in trying to find a unit of measure to gauge the greatest of the triad with.
Undoubtedly there are resemblances in Hawthorne to both Poe and Irving. Hawthorne and Irving represent a dignity and roundedness of diction which is one of the old-fashioned merits in English writing; and because they especially, among eminent authors of the century, have stood for this quality, they have been supposed to stand close together. But Irving's speech is not so much an organic part of his genius as a preconceived method of expression which has a considerable share in modifying his thought. It is rather a manner than a style. On the other hand, it would be hard to find a style growing so naturally and strongly out of elemental attributes as Hawthorne's, so deftly waiting upon the slightest movement of idea, at once disclosing and lightly veiling the informing thought,—like the most delicate sculptured marble drapery. The radical differences of the two men were also obscured in the beginning by the fact that Hawthorne did not for some time exhibit that massive power of hewing out individual character which afterward had full swing in his romances, and by a certain kinship of fancy in his lighter efforts, with Irving's. "The Art of Book-Making" and "The Mutability of Literature" are not far removed from some of Hawthorne's conceits. And "The Vision of the Fountain" and "The Village Uncle" might have issued in their soft meditativeness from Geoffrey Crayon's own repertory, except that they are moulded with a so much more subtile art than his, and with an instinct of proportion so much more sure. But even in the earlier tales, taken all together, Hawthorne ranks higher than Irving in the heraldry of genius: he has more quarterings in his shield. Not only does he excel the other in brief essay, depending only on endogenous forces, whereas Irving is always adorning his paragraphs with that herb-o'-grace, quotation, but he also greatly surpasses him in the construction of his stories; and finally, his psychological analysis and symbolic imagination place him beyond rivalry. It is a brilliant instance of the more ideal mind asserting its commanding power, by admirable achievements in the inferior styles,—so that even in those he was at once ranked with the most famous practiser of them,—and then quietly reaching out and grasping a higher order of truths, which no one had even thought of competing for. I suppose it is not assumed for a moment that "Wolfert's Roost," the "Tales of a Traveller," the story of "Rip Van Winkle," the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and the picturesque but evanescent tales of "The Alhambra" can be brought into discussion on the same terms with Hawthorne's romances, as works of art; and they assuredly cannot be as studies of character, for of this they have next to nothing. The only phases of character which Irving has any success in dealing with are those of credulity and prejudice. The legendary tendency of the two men has perhaps confused some readers. Both were lovers of association, and turned naturally to the past for materials: the New-Yorker found delightful sources of tradition or of ludicrous invention in the past of that city, where his family held a long-established and estimable footing; and the New-Englander, as we have seen, drew also through the channel of descent from the dark tarn of Puritan experience. But Irving turned his back upon everything else when he entered the tapestried chamber of the past, while Hawthorne sought that vantage-ground only to secure a more impressive view of humanity. There is one gift of Irving's which won him an easier as well as a wider triumph than that which awaited Hawthorne; and this is his ability to take the simple story-teller's tone, devoid of double meanings. Poe, also, had the passion for narrative in and for itself, but in him it was disturbed by a diseased mind, and resulted in a horrid fascination instead of cheerful attraction. Hawthorne, to be sure, possessed the gift of the raconteur; but in general he was at once seer and teller, and the higher exertions of his imagination were always in the peculiarly symbolic atmosphere we are wont to associate with him. Irving's contented disposition in this regard is certainly very charming; there are often moods in which it is a great relief to turn to it; and he has in so far the advantage over the other two. He pitches for us the tone of average cultured minds in his time and locality; and in reading him we have a comfortable sense of reality, than which nothing in fiction is more reassuring. This is almost entirely absent from the spell with which Hawthorne holds us; and here, indeed, we touch the latter's most decided limitation as a writer of fiction; for although his magnificently portrayed characters do not want reality, an atmosphere of ghostliness surrounds them, warning us that we must not look to find life there as we see it elsewhere. There is a Northern legend of a man who lay down to sleep, and a thin smoke was seen to issue from his nostrils, traverse the ground, cross a rivulet, and journey on, finally returning to the place whence it came. When he awoke, he described an imaginary excursion of his own, following exactly the course which the smoke had taken. This indirect contact might furnish a partially true type of Hawthorne's mysterious intercourse with the world through his books.
It would be a mistake, however, to attribute this difference to the greater strength of Irving's humor,—a trait, always much lauded in him. It is without doubt a good quality. This mild, sweet radiance of an uncontaminated and well-bred spirit is not a common thing in literature. But I cannot fall in with the judgment that calls it "freer and far more joyous" than Addison's. Both in style and in humor Irving has caught something of the grace of "The Spectator"; but as in the style he frequently falls short, writing feeble or jarring sentences, so in humor I cannot see how he is to be brought at all on a level with Addison, who is primarily a grave, stately, scholarly mind, but all the deeper on that account in the lustre of his humorous displays. Addison, too, had somewhat of the poet in him, and was capable of tragedy as well as of neat satire and compact characterization. But if we looked for a pithy embodiment of the difference between Irving and Hawthorne, we might call the former a "polite writer," and the latter a profound poet: as, indeed, I have called him in this essay, though with no intent to confuse the term with that given to poets who speak in verse. Pathos is the great touchstone of humor, and Irving's pathos is always a lamentable failure. Is it not very significant, that he should have made so little of the story of Rip Van Winkle? In his sketch, which has won so wide a fame and given a lasting association to the Kaatskills, there is not a suspicion of the immense pathos which the skill of an industrious playwright and the genius of that rare actor, Mr. Jefferson, have since developed from the tale. The Dame Van Winkle that we now know is the creation of Mr. Boucicault; to him it is we owe that vigorous character,—a scold, a tyrant to her husband, but nevertheless full of relentful womanliness, and by the justice of her cause exciting our sympathy almost as much as Rip himself does. In the story, she wears an aspect of singular causelessness, and Rip's devotion to the drinking-can is barely hinted: the marvellous tenderness, too, and joyful sorrow of his return after the twenty years' sleep, are apparently not even suspected by the writer. It is the simple wonder and picturesqueness of the situation that charm him; and while in the drama we are moved to the bottom of our hearts by the humorous tragicalness it casts over the spectacle of conflicting passions, the only outcome of the written tale is a passing reflection on the woe of being henpecked. "And it is a common wish of all henpecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draught out of Rip Van Winkle's flagon." To be sure, there is a hidden moral here, of the folly of driving men to drunkenness; but it is so much obscured as to suggest that this was of small moment in the writer's mind. Such a moral, in any case, must necessarily have been very delicately advanced, in order not to becloud the artistic atmosphere; but a person of searching dramatic genius would have found means to emphasize it without injury to art, just as it has been done on the stage. Imagine what divine vibrations of emotion Hawthorne would have smitten out of this theme, had he been the originator of it. Certainly we should, as the case stands, have missed the whole immortal figment, had not Irving given it to us in germ; the fact that our playwright and our master comedian have made it so much greater and more beautiful does not annul that primary service; but, looking at the matter historically, we must admit that Irving's share in the credit is that of the first projector of a scientific improvement, and the latter sort of person always has to forego a great part of his fame in favor of the one who consummates the discovery. I am willing to believe that there was a peculiar advantage in Irving's treatment; namely, that he secured for his story a quicker and more general acceptance than might have been granted to something more profound; but this does not alter the critical judgment that we have to pass upon it. If Irving had grasped the tragic sphere at all, he would have shone more splendidly in the comic. But the literary part of him, at least, never passed into the shade: it somehow contrived to be always on that side of the earth which was towards the sun. Observe, now, the vital office of humor in Hawthorne's thought. It gleams out upon us from behind many of the gravest of his conceptions, like the silver side of a dark leaf turning in the wind. Wherever the concretion of guilt is most adamantine, there he lets his fine slender jet of humor play like a lambent fire, until the dark mass crumbles, and the choragos of the tragedy begins his mournful yet hopeful chant among the ruins. This may be verified in the "Seven Gables," "Blithedale," and "The Marble Faun"; not in "The Scarlet Letter," for that does not present Hawthorne's genius in its widest action. In one place he speaks of "the tragic power of laughter,"—a discrimination which involves the whole deep originality of his mind. It is not irrelevant here to remark that at the most affecting portions of the play "Rip Van Winkle," the majority of the audience always laugh; this, though irritating to a thoughtful listener, is really an involuntary tribute to the marvellous wisdom and perfection with which Jefferson mingles pathos and humor. Again Hawthorne: "Human destinies look ominous without some perceptible intermixture of the sable or the gray." And, elsewhere: "There is something more awful in happiness than in sorrow, the latter being earthly and finite, the former composed of the substance and texture of eternity, so that spirits still embodied may well tremble at it." These thoughts could never have occurred to Irving with the same intensity. Now, from all this we gather inference as to the deep sources of Hawthorne's humor. I sometimes think that Thalia was the daughter, and not the sister, of Melpomene. As to actual exhibition of humor, Hawthorne's is made a diffusive medium to temper the rays of tragedy with, and never appears in such unmixed form as that of Irving. So that even though we must confess a smaller mental calibre in the latter, we may gladly grant him a superiority in his special mood of fun. An excellent English critic, Leslie Stephen, lately wrote: "Poe is a kind of Hawthorne and delirium tremens." This announcement, however, betrays a singular misapprehension. When Hawthorne's tales first appeared, they were almost invariably taken to bear an intimate and direct relation to the author's own moods; while Poe's were supposed to be daring flights of pure imagination, or ingenious attempts to prove theories held by the writer, but were not charged directly to his own experience. Time has shown that the converse was the case. The psychical conditions described by Hawthorne had only the remotest connection with any mood of his own; they were mainly translations, into the language of genius, of certain impressions and observations drawn from the world around him. After his death, the Note-Books caused a general rustle of surprise, revealing as they did the simple, wholesome nature of this strange imaginer; yet though he there speaks—surely without prejudice, because without the least knowledge that the world would ever hear him—of "the objectivity" of his fictions, critics have not yet wholly learned how far apart from himself these creations were. The observation of some mental habit in men, or law of intercourse between human beings, would strongly present itself to him; and in order to get a concise embodiment, his genius planned some powerful situation to illustrate it with; or, at another time it might be that a strange incident, like that of Mr. Moody, suggesting "The Minister's Black Veil," or a singular physiological fact like that on which "The Bosom Serpent" is based, would call out his imagination to run a race with reality and outstrip it in touching the goal of truth. But, the conception once formed, the whole fictitious fabric would become entirely removed from himself, except so far as it touched him very incidentally; and this expulsion of the idea from himself, so that it acquires a life and movement of its own, and can be contemplated by the artist from the outside, is the very distinction between deeply creative and merely inventive genius. Poe's was of the latter sort. He possessed a wild, arbitrary imagination, that sometimes leaped frantically high; but his impressiveness is always that of a nightmare, always completely morbid. What we know of Poe's life leads inevitably to the conclusion that this quality, if it did not spring from disease, was at least largely owing to it. For a time, it was the fashion to make a moral question of Poe's unfortunate obliquities; but a more humane tendency reduces it to a scientific problem. Poe suffered great disaster at the hands of his unjust biographer; yet he was a worse enemy to himself than any one else could be. The fine enamel of his genius is all corroded by the deadly acid of his passions. The imperfections of his temperament have pierced his poetry and prose, shattered their structure, and blurred their beauty. Only four or five of his poems—"The Raven," "Ligeia," the earlier of the two addressed "To Helen," and the sonnet to his wife—escape being flawed by some fit of haste, some ungovernable error of taste, some hopeless, unaccountable break in their beauty. In criticism, Poe initiated a fearless and agile movement; he had an acute instinct in questions of literary form, amounting to a passion, as all his instincts and perceptions did; he had also the knack of finding clever reasons, good or bad, for all his opinions. These things are essential to a critic's equipment, and it was good service in Poe to exemplify them. Yet here, too, the undermining processes of his thoroughly unsound mind subverted the better qualities, vitiated his judgments with incredible jealousies and conflicting impulses, and withered the most that he wrote in this direction into something very like rubbish. We have seen, for example, how his attempt to dispassionately examine Hawthorne resulted. Sooner or later, too, he ran his own pen full against his rigid criteria for others. It is suggestive to find that the holder of such exacting doctrine about beauty, the man also of whom pre-eminently it may be said, as Baudelaire wrote of him, "Chance and the incomprehensible were his two great enemies," should so completely fail to reach even the unmoral perfection which he assigned as the highest attainable. Professing himself the special apostle of the beautiful in art, he nevertheless forces upon us continually the most loathsome hideousness and the most debasing and unbeautiful horror. This passionate, unhelmed, errant search for beauty was in fact not so much a normal and intelligent desire, as an attempt to escape from interior discord; and it was the discord which found expression, accordingly, instead of the sense of beauty,—except (as has been said) in fragments. Whatever the cause, his brain had a rift of ruin in it, from the start, and though his delicate touch often stole a new grace from classic antiquity, it was the frangibility, the quick decay, the fall of all lovely and noble things, that excited and engaged him. "I have imbibed the shadows of fallen columns," he says in one of his tales, "at Balbec, and Tadmor, and Persepolis, until my very soul has become a ruin." Always beauty and grace are with him most poetic in their overthrow, and it is the shadow of ruined grandeur that he receives, instead of the still living light so fair upon them, or the green growth clinging around them. Hawthorne, too, wandered much amid human ruin, but it was not with delight in the mere fact of decay; rather with grieving over it, and the hope to learn how much of life was still left in the wreck, and how future structures might be made stronger by studying the sources of failure. One of the least thoughtful remarks which I have heard touching Hawthorne was this, that his books could not live because they dealt with the "sick side" of human nature. As if great poets ever refrained from dealing with it! The tenure of fame depends on whether the writer has himself become infected with sickness. With Hawthorne this is most certainly not the case, for the morbid phases which he studied were entirely outside of himself. Poe, on the other hand, pictured his own half-maniacal moods and diseased fancies. There is absolutely no study of character in his stories, no dramatic separateness of being. He looks only for fixed and inert human quantities, with which he may juggle at will. He did not possess insight; and the analytic quality of which he was so proud was merely a sort of mathematical ingenuity of calculation, in which, however, he was extraordinarily keen. As a mere potency, dissociated from qualities, Poe must be rated almost highest among American poets, and high among prosaists; no one else offers so much pungency, such impetuous and frightful energy crowded into such small compartments. Yet it would be difficult to find a poetic fury less allied to sane human life than that which informs his tales. It is not the representation of semi-insanity that he gives: he himself is its representative. Instead of commanding it, and bringing it into some sort of healthy relation with us, he is swayed and carried away by it. His genius flourished upon him like a destructive flame, and the ashes that it left, are like a deadly powdered poison. Clifford Pyncheon in the "Seven Gables" is Poe himself, deprived of the ability to act: in both are found the same consummate fastidiousness, the same abnormal egotism. And it is worth attention that when Clifford is aroused to sudden action by Judge Pyncheon's death, the coruscating play of his intellect is almost precisely that brilliant but defective kind of ratiocination which Poe so delights to display. It is crazy wildness, with a surface appearance of accurate and refined logic. In this fact, that Hawthorne—the calm, ardent, healthy master of imagination—is able to create the disordered type that Poe is, we shall find by how much the former is greater than the latter.
A recent writer has raised distinctly the medical question as to Poe. He calls him "the mad man of letters par excellence," and by an ingenious investigation seems to establish it as probable that Poe was the victim of a form of epilepsy. But in demonstrating this, he attempts to make it part of a theory that all men of genius are more or less given over to this same "veiled epilepsy." And here he goes beyond the necessities of the case, and takes up an untenable position. There is a morbid and shattering susceptibility connected with some genius; but that tremulous, constantly readjusted sensitiveness which indicates the perfect equilibrium of health in other minds must not be confounded with it. Such is the condition of the highest genius alone; of men like Shakespere and Hawthorne, who, however dissimilar their temperaments, grasp the two spheres of mind and character, the sane and the insane, and hold them perfectly reconciled by their gentle yet unsparing insight. A case like Poe's, where actual mental decay exists in so advanced a stage and gives to his productions a sharper and more dazzling effect than would have been theirs without it, is probably more unique, but it is certainly less admirable, less original in the true sense, than an instance of healthier endowment like Hawthorne. On the side of art, it is impossible to bring Poe into any competition with Hawthorne: although we have ranked him high in poetry and prose, regarded simply as a dynamic substance, it must be confessed that his prose has nothing which can be called style, nor even a manner like Irving's very agreeable one. His feeling for form manifests itself in various ways, yet he constantly violates proportion for the sake of getting off one of his pseudo-philosophical disquisitions; and, notwithstanding many successful hits in expression, and a specious but misleading assumption of fervid accuracy in phraseology, his language is loose, promiscuous, and altogether tiresome.
Poe, Irving, and Hawthorne have one marked literary condition in common: each shows a double side. With Poe the antithesis is between poetry and criticism; Irving, having been brought up by Fiction as a foster-mother, is eventually turned over to his rightful guardian, History; and Hawthorne rests his hand from ideal design, in elaborating quiet pictures of reality. In each case there is more or less seeming irreconcilement between the two phases found in combination; but the opposition is rather more distinct in Hawthorne, and the grasp with which it is controlled by him is stronger than that of either Poe or Irving,—again a result pronouncing him the master.