HAWTHORNE AND HIS CIRCLE
By Julian Hawthorne
[IMAGE: NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE (From a crayon drawing by Samuel Rowse)]
Inheritance of friendships—Gracious giants—My own good fortune—My father the central figure—What did his gift to me cost him?—A revelation in Colorado—Privileges make difficulties—Lights and shadows of memory—An informal narrative—Contrast between my father's life and mine
Value of dates—My aunt Lizzie's efforts—My father's decapitation—My mother's strong-box—The spirit of The Scarlet Letter—The strain of imaginative composition—My grandmother Hawthorne's death—Infantile indifference to calamity—The children's plays and books—The house on Mall Street—Scarlet fever—The study on the third floor—The haunted mahogany writing-desk—The secret drawers—The upright Egyptian—Mr. Pickwick—My father in 1850—The flowered writing-gown, and the ink butterfly—Driving the quill pen—The occupants of the second floor—Aunt Louisa and Aunt Ebe—The dowager Mrs. Hawthorne—I kick my aunt Lizzie—The kittens and the great mystery—The greatest book of the age
Horatio Bridge's "I-told-you-so"—What a house by the sea might have done—Unknown Lenox—The restlessness of youth—The Unpardonable Sin and the Death—less Man—The little red house—Materials of culture—Our best playmates—The mystery of Mrs. Peter's dough—Our intellectual hen-fishing for poultry—Yacht-building—Swimming with one foot on the ground—Shipwreck—Our playfellow the brook—Tanglewood—Nuts—Giants and enchanters—Coasting—Wet noses, dark eyes, ambrosial breath-My first horseback ride—Herman Melville's stories—Another kind of James—The thunder-storm—Yearning ladies and melancholy-sinners—Hindlegs—Probable murder—"I abominate the sight of it!"—The peril of Tanglewood—The truth of fiction—An eighteen-months' work—We leave five cats behind
Chariots of delight—West Newton—Raw American life—Baby's fingers—Our cousin Benjamin's untoward head—Our uncle Horace—His vacuum—A reformer's bristles—Grace Greenwood's first tears—The heralding of Kossuth—The decorated engine—The chief incident of the reception—Blithedale and Brook Farm—Notes from real life—Rough draughts—Paths of composition—The struggle with the Pensioner—Hawthorne's method—The invitation of Concord—Four wooden walls and a roof—Mr. Alcott's aesthetic carpentering—Appurtenances of "The Wayside"—Franklin Pierce for President—"The most homeless people in the world"
A transfigured cattle-pen—Emerson the hub of Concord—His incorrigible modesty—Grocery-store sages—To make common men feel more like Emerson than he did—His personal appearance—His favorite gesture—A glance like the reveille of a trumpet—The creaking boots—"The muses are in the woods"—Emerson could not read Hawthorne—Typical versus individual—Benefit from child-prattle—Concord-grape Bull—Sounds of distant battle—Politics, sociology, and grape-culture—The great white fence—Richard Henry Stoddard—A country youth of genius—Whipple's Attic salt—An unwritten romance—The consulship retires literature—Louisa's tragedy—Hard hit—The spiritual sphere of good men—Nearer than in the world—The return of the pilgrim
A paddle-wheel ocean-liner—The hens, the cow, and the carpenter—W. D. Ticknor—Our first Englishman—An aristocratic acrobat—Speech that beggars eulogy—The boots of great travellers—Complimentary cannon—The last infirmity of noble republican minds—The golden promise: the spiritual fulfilment—Fatuous serenity—Past and future—The coquetry of chalk cliffs—Two kinds of imagination—The thirsty island—Gloomy English comforts—Systematic geniality—A standing puzzle—The respirator—Scamps, fools, mendicants, and desperadoes—The wrongs of sailor-men—"Is this myself?"—"Profoundly akin"—Henry Bright—Charm of insular prejudice—No stooping to compromise—The battle against dinner—"I'm glad you liked it!"—An English-, Irish-, and Scotchman—An Englishman owns his country—A contradiction in Englishmen—A hospitable gateway—Years of memorable trifles
Patricians and plebeians—The discomforts of democracy—Varieties of equality—Social rights of beggars—The coming peril—Being dragged to the rich—Frankness of vulgarity and hopelessness of destitution—Villages rooted in the landscape—Evanescence of the spiritual and survival of the material—"Of Bebbington the holy peak"—The Old Yew of Eastham—Malice—prepense interest—History and afternoon tea—An East—Indian Englishman—The merchantman sticks in the mud—A poetical man of the world—Likeness to Longfellow—Real breakfasts—Heads and stomachs—A poet-pugilist—Clean-cut, cold, gentle, dry—A respectable female atheist—The tragedy of the red ants—Voluptuous struggles—A psalm of praise
Life in Rock Park—Inconvenient independence of lodgings—The average man—"How many gardeners have you got?"—Shielded by rose-leaves of culture and refinement—The English middle class—Prejudice, complacency, and Burke's Peerage—Never heard of Tennyson or Browning—Satisfaction in the solid earth—A bond of fellowship—A damp, winding, verdurous street—The parent of stucco villas—Inactivity of individual conscience—A plateau and a cliff—dwelling—"The Campbells are Coming!"—Sortes Virgilianae—A division in the family—Precaution against famine—English praying and card-playing—Exercise for mind and body—Knight-errantry—Sentimentality and mawkishness—The policeman and the cobbler—A profound truth—Fireworks by lamplight—Mr. Squarey and Mrs. Roundey—Sandford and Merton—The ball of jolly
Cataclysmic adventures—On the trail of dazzling fortunes—"Lovely, but reprehensible Madham"—The throne saves the artist—English robin redbreast—A sad and weary old man—"Most indelicate woman I've ever known"—Perfectly chaste—Something human stirred dimly—"She loves me; she loves me!"—The Prince of Wales and half-a-crown—Portentous and thundering title—Honest English simplicity—"The spirit lacking"—Abelard, Isaac Newton, and Ruskin—A famous and charming woman of genius—Deep and wide well of human sympathy—The whooping-cough
Two New England consciences—Inexhaustible faith and energy—Deep and abiding love of England—"'How the Water Comes Down at Lodore"—"He took an' he let go"—Naked mountains—The unsentimental little quadruped—The human element in things sticks—The coasts of England—A string of sleepy donkeys—Unutterable boy-thoughts—Grins and chuckles like an ogress—-Hideous maternal parody—-The adorable inverted bell-glass—Strange things happen in the world—An ominous clouding of the water—Something the world has never known—Overweening security—An admonition not to climb too high—How vice may become virtue by repetition—Corporal Blair's chest—Black-Bottle Cardigan—Called to Lisbon
If there were boarding-houses in paradise—Blodgett, the delight of mankind—Solomon foresaw her—A withering retort—A modest, puny poise about her—Hidden thoughts derived from Mother Eve and Grecian Helen—The feminine council that ruled the Yankee captains—Bonds of fraternity, double-riveted and copper-fastened—Through the looking-glass—Men only of the manliest sort—The lady-paramount—Hands which were true works of art—Retained his dignity without putting it on—Sighed heavily over my efforts—Unctuous M. Huguenin—"From dawn to eve I fell"—The multum-in-parvo machine—"Beauty and the Beast"—Frank Channing—"Blood-and water!"—A lapful of Irish stew
Bennoch and Bright like young housekeepers—"What did you marry that woman for?"—"Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures"—"The worst book anybody ever wrote"—"Most magnificent eye I ever saw"—A great deal of the feminine in Reade—Fire, pathos, fun, and dramatic animation—A philosophical library in itself—Amusing appanage of his own book—Oily and voluble sanctimoniousness—Self-worship of the os-rotundas sort—Inflamed rather than abated by years—"Every word of it true; but—"—Better, or happier, because we had lived—Appropriated somebody else's adventure—Filtering remarks through the mind of a third person—A delightful Irishman—Unparalleled audacity—An unregenerate opinion—The whole line of Guelphs in it—"Oh, that somebody would invent a new sin!"—"The Angel in the House"—Very well dressed—Indomitable figure, aggressively American—Too much of the elixir of life—A little strangeness between us—Sunshine will always rest on it
Talked familiarly with kings and queens—Half-witted girl who giggled all the time—It gnawed me terribly—A Scotch terrier named Towsey—A sentiment of diplomatic etiquette—London as a physical entity—Ladies in low-necked dresses—An elderly man like a garden-spider—Into the bowels of the earth—The inner luminousness of genius—Isolated and tragic situation—"Ate ever man such a morsel before!"—The great, wild, mysterious Borrow—Her skeleton, huddled, dry, and awful—"Ma'am, you expose yourself!"—Plane, spokeshave, gouge, and chisel—"I-passed-the-Lightning"—Parallel-O-grams—A graduate of Antioch—"Continual cursing"—A catastrophe—"Troubles are a sociable sisterhood"—"In truth I was very sorry"—He had dreamed wide-awake of these things—A friend of Emerson and Henry James—Embarked at Folkestone for France
Old-Homesickness—The Ideal and the Real—A beautiful but perilous woman with a past—The Garden of Eden a Montreal ice-palace—Confused mountain of family luggage—Poplars for lances—Miraculous crimson comforters—Rivers of human gore—Curling mustachios and nothing to do—Odd behavior of grown people—Venus, the populace, and the MacDaniels—The happiness to die in Paris—Lived alone with her constellations—"O'Brien's Belt"—A hotel of peregrinations—Sitting up late—Attempted assassination—My murderer—An old passion reawakened—Italian shells and mediaeval sea-anemones—If you were in the Garden of Eden—An umbrella full of napoleons—Was Byron an Esquimau?
Our unpalatial palace—"Cephas Giovanni"—She and George Combe turned out to be right—A rousing temper—Bright Titian hair—"All that's left of him"—The pyramidal man of destiny—The thoughts of a boy are long, long thoughts—Clausilia Bubigunia—Jabez Hogg and the microscope—A stupendous surprise—A lifetime in fourteen months—My father's jeremiades—"Thank Heaven, there is such a thing as whitewash!"—"Terrible lack of variety in the old masters"—"The brazen trollop that she is!"—Several distinct phases of feeling—Springs of creative imagination roused—The Roman fever—A sad book—Effects of the death-blow—The rest is silence
The Roman carnival in three moods—Apples of Sodom—Poor, battered, wilted, stained hearts—A living protest and scourge—Dulce est desipere in loco—A rollicking world of happy fools—Endless sunshine of some sort—Greenwich Fair was worth a hundred of it—They thundered past, never drawing rein—"Senza moccolo!"—Nothing more charming and strange could be imagined—Girls surprised in the midst of dressing themselves—A Unitarian clergyman with his fat wife—Apparent license under courteous restraint—He laughed and pelted and was pelted—William Story, as vivid as when I saw him last—A too facile power—A deadly shadow gliding close behind—Set afire by his own sallies—"Thy face is like thy mother's, my fair child!"—Cleopatra in the clay—"Wer nie sein Brod mit thranen ass."
Drilled in Roman history—Lovely figures made of light and morning—What superb figures!—The breath and strength of immeasurable antiquity—Treasures coming direct from dead hands into mine—A pleasant sound of coolness and refreshment—Receptacles of death now dedicated to life—The Borghese is a forest of Ardennes—Profound and important communings—A smiling deceiver—Of an early-rising habit—Hauling in on my slack—A miniature cabinet magically made Titanic—"If I had a murder on my conscience"—None can tell the secret origin of his thoughts—A singularly beautiful young woman—She actually ripped the man open—No leagues of chivalry needed in Rome—A resident army—Five foot six—Corsets and padding—She was wounded in the house of her friends
Miss Lander makes a bust—The twang of his native place—Wholly unlike anybody else—Wise, humorous Sarah Clarke—Back to the Gods and the Fleas—Horace Mann's statue—Miss Bremer and the Tarpeian Rock—"I was in a state of some little tremor"—Mrs. Jameson and Ruskin—Most thorough-going of the classic tragedies—A well-grown calf—An adventure in Monte Testaccio—A vision of death—A fantastic and saturnine genius—A pitch-black place—Illuminations and fireworks—The Faun—Enjoying Rome—First impressions—Lalla's curses
In Othello's predicament—Gaetano—Crystals and snail-shells—Broad, flagstone pavements—Fishing-rods and blow-pipes—Ghostly yarns—Conservative effects of genius—An ideal bust and a living one—The enigma of spiritualism—A difficult combination to overthrow—The dream-child and the Philistine—Dashing and plunging this way and that—Teresa screamed for mercy—Grapes and figs and ghostly voices—My father would have settled there—Kirkup the necromancer—A miraculous birth—A four-year-old medium—The mysterious touch—An indescribable horror—Not even a bone of her was left—Providence takes very long views
Burnt Sienna—The Aquila Nera—A grand, noble, gentle creature—The most beautiful woman in the world—Better friends than ever—A shadow brooded—Boys are whole-souled creatures—Franklin Pierce—Miriam, Hilda, Kenyon, Donatello—The historian of the Netherlands—When New England makes a man—The spell of Trevi—An accession of mishaps—My father's mustache—Three steps of stone, the fourth, death—Havre, Redcar, Bath, London, Liverpool
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE (From a crayon drawing by Samuel Rowse)
BIRTHPLACE OF NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE AT SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS
JAMES T. FIELDS
THE WAYSIDE (Showing Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife)
EDWIN P. WHIPPLE
JAMES T. FIELDS, NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, AND WILLIAM D. TICKNOR
RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES
REV. WILLIAM HENRY CHANNING, 1855
WILLIAM WETMORE STORY
PENCIL SKETCHES IN ITALY, BY MRS. NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
THE MARBLE FAUN
Inheritance of friendships—Gracious giants—My own good fortune—My father the central figure—What did his gift to me cost him?—A revelation in Colorado—Privileges make difficulties—Lights and shadows of memory—An informal narrative—Contrast between my father's life and mine.
The best use we can make of good fortune is to share it with our fellows. Those to whom good things come by way of inheritance, however, are often among the latest to comprehend their own advantage; they suppose it to be the common condition. And no doubt I had nearly arrived at man's estate before it occurred to me that the lines of few fishers of men were cast in places so pleasant as mine. I was the son of a man of high desert, who had such friends as he deserved; and these companions and admirers of his gave to me in the beginning of my days a kindly welcome and encouragement generated from their affection and reverence for him. Without doing a stroke of work for it, I found myself early in the enjoyment of a principality of good will and fellowship—a species of freemasonry, I might call it, though the secret was patent enough—for the rights in which, unaided, I might have contended my lifetime long in vain. Men and women whose names are consecrated apart in the dearest thoughts of thousands were familiars and playmates of my childhood; they supported my youth and bade my manhood godspeed. But to me, for a long while, the favor of these gracious giants of mind and character seemed agreeable indeed, but nothing out of the ordinary; my tacit presumption was that other children as well as I could if they would walk hand in hand with Emerson along the village street, seek in the meadows for arrow-heads with Thoreau, watch Powers thump the brown clay of the "Greek Slave," or listen to the voice of Charlotte Cushman, which could sway assembled thousands, modulate itself to tell stories to the urchin who leaned, rapt, against her knees. Were human felicity so omnipresent as a happy child imagines it, what a world would this be!
In time, my misapprehension was corrected, rather, I think, through the application to it of cold logic than by any rude awakening. I learned of my riches not by losing them—the giants did not withdraw their graciousness—but by comparing the lot of others with my own. And yet, to tell the truth—perhaps I might better leave it untold; only in these chapters, especially, I will not begin with reserves—to say truth, then, my world, during my father's lifetime, and afterwards for I will not say how long, was divided into two natural parts, my father being one of them, and everybody else the other. Hence I was led to regard the parties of the latter part, rich or poor, giants or pygmies, as being, after all, of much the same stature and value. The brightness (in the boy's estimation) of the paternal figure rendered distinctions between other brightnesses unimportant. The upshot was, in short, that I inclined to the opinion that while compassion was unquestionably due to other children for not having a father like mine, yet in other respects my condition was not egregiously superior to theirs. They might not know the Brownings or the Julia Ward Howes; but then, very likely, the Smiths and the Joneses, whom they did know, were nearly as good.
After fifty years, of course, such prepossessions yield to experience. My father was the best friend I ever had, and he will always stand in my estimation distinct from all other friends and persons; but I can now recognize that in addition to the immeasurable debt I owe him for being to me what he was in his own person, he bestowed upon me a privilege also immeasurable in the hospitality of these shining ones who were his intimates. Did the gift cost him nothing? Nothing, in one sense. But, again, what does it cost a man to walk upright and cleanly during the years of his pilgrimage: to deal justly with all, and charitably: diligently to cultivate and develop every natural endowment: always to seek truth, tell it, and vindicate it: to discharge to the utmost of his ability every duty that was intrusted to him: to rest content, in the line of his calling, with no work inferior to his best: to say no word and do no act which, were they known, might weaken the struggle against temptation of any fellow-creature? These qualities were the price at which Hawthorne bought his friends; and in receiving those friends from him, his children could not but feel that the bequest represented his unfaltering grasp upon whatever is pure, lofty, and generous in human life.
Yes, whatever it may cost a man of genius to be all his life a good man, and to use and develop his genius to the noblest ends only, that my father's friends cost him, and in that amount am I his debtor; and the longer I myself live, and the more I see of other men, the higher and rarer do I esteem the obligation. Moreover, in speaking of his friends, I was thinking of those who personally knew him; but the world is full to-day of friends of his who never saw him, to whom his name is my best and surest introduction. Once, only three years since, in the remote heart of the Colorado mountains, I chanced to enter the hut of an aged miner; he sat in a corner of the little family room; on the wall near his hand was fixed a small bookshelf, filled with a dozen dog-eared volumes. The man had for years been paralyzed; he could do little more than to raise to that book-shelf his trembling hand, and take from it one or other of the volumes. When this helpless veteran learned my name, he uttered a strange cry, and his face worked with eager emotion; the wife of his broad-shouldered son brought me to him in his corner; his old eyes glowed as they perused me. I could not gather the meaning of his broken, trembling speech; the young woman interpreted for me. Was I related to the great Hawthorne? "Yes; I am his son." "His son!" Seldom have I met a gaze harder to sustain than that which the paralytic bent upon me. Would I might have worn, for the time being, the countenance of an archangel, so to fill out the lineaments, drawn during so many lonely years by his imagination and his reverence, of his ideal writer! "The son of Hawthorne!" He said no more, save by the strengthless pressure of his hands upon my own; the woman told me how all the books on the little shelf were my father's books, and for fifteen years the old man had read no others. Helpless tears of joy, of gratitude, of wonder ran down the furrows of his cheeks into his white beard. And how could I at whom he so gazed help being moved: on that desolate, unknown mountain-side, far from the world, the name which I had inherited was loved and honored! One does not get one's privileges for nothing. My father gave me power to make my way, and cast sunshine on the path; but he made the path arduous, too!
Be that as it may, I now ask who will to look in my mirror, and see reflected there some of the figures and the scenes that have made my life worth living. As I peer into the dark abysm of things gone by, many places that seemed at first indistinct, grow clearer; but many more must remain impenetrable. Upon the whole, however, I am surprised to find how much is still discernible. Nearly a score of years ago I published, in the shape of a formal biography of Hawthorne and his wife, the consecutive facts of their lives, and numerous passages from their journals and correspondence. My aim is different now; I wish to indite an informal narrative from my own point of view, as child, youth, and man. There will be gaps in it—involuntary ones; and others occasioned by the obligation to retain those pictures only that seem likely to arouse a catholic interest. Yet there will be a certain intimacy in the story; and some matters which history would omit as trivial will be here adduced, for the sake of such color and character as they may contain. I shall not stalk on stilts, or mouth phrases, but converse comfortably and trustfully as between friends. If a writing of this kind be not flexible, unpretending, discursive, it has no right to be at all. Art is not in question, save the minor art that lives from line to line. Gossip about men, women, and things—it can amount to little more than that.
In the earlier chapters the dramatis personae and the incidents must naturally group themselves about the figure of my father; for it was thus that I saw them. To his boy he was the fountain of love, honor, and energy; and to the boy he seemed the animating or organizing principle of other persons and events. With his death, in my eighteenth year, the world appeared disordered for a season; then, gradually, I learned to do my own orientation. I was destined to an experience superficially much more active and varied than his had been; and it was a world superficially very different from his in which I moved and dealt There must follow a corresponding modification in the character of the narrative; yet that, after all is superficial, too. For the memory of my father has always been with me, and has doubtless influenced me more than I am myself aware. And certainly but for him this book would never have been attempted.
Value of dates—My aunt Lizzie's efforts—My father's decapitation—My mother's strong-box—The spirit of The Scarlet Letter—The strain of imaginative composition—My grandmother Hawthorne's death—Infantile indifference to calamity—The children's plays and books—The house on Mall Street—Scarlet fever—The study on the third floor—The haunted mahogany writing-desk—The secret drawers—The upright Egyptian—Mr. Pickwick—My father in 1850—The flowered writing-gown, and the ink butterfly—Driving the quill pen—The occupants of the second floor—Aunt Louisa and Aunt Ebe—The dowager Mrs. Hawthorne—I kick my aunt Lizzie—The kittens and the great mystery—The greatest book of the age.
My maternal aunt, Miss Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, was a very learned woman, and a great student of history, and teacher of it; and by the aid of huge, colored charts, done by my uncle Nat Peabody and hung on the walls of our sitting-room, she labored during some years to teach me all the leading dates of human history—the charts being designed according to a novel and ingenious plan to fix those facts in childish memory. But as a pupil I was always most inapt and grievous, in dates and in matters mathematical especially; so that I gave her inexhaustible patience many a sad hour. To this day I cannot tell in what year was fought the battle of Marathon, or when John signed Magna Charta; though the battle itself, and the scene of the barons with menacing brows gathered about John, stood clearly pictured in my imagination. Dates were arbitrary, and to my memory nothing arbitrary would stick. Nevertheless, when I am myself constructing a narrative, whether it be true or fictitious, I am wedded to dates, and cannot be divorced from them. It must be set down precisely when the events took place, in what years the dramatis personae were born, and how old they were when each juncture of their fortunes came to pass. I can no more dispense with dates than I can talk without consonants; they carry form, order, and credibility. Or they are like the skeleton which gives recognizable shape to men and animals. Nothing mortal can get on without them..
Whether this addiction be in the nature of a reaction from my childish perversity, giving my erudite and beloved aunt Lizzie (as I called her) her revenge so long after our lessons are over; or how else to explain it, I know not; but it leads me to affirm here that the nadir of my father's material fortunes was reached about the year 1849. At that time his age was five-and-forty, and I was three.
The causes of this financial depression were several. One morning he awoke to find himself deprived, by political chicanery, of the income of a custom-house surveyorship which for some while past had served to support his small family. Now, some men could have gone on writing stories in the intervals between surveying customs, and have thus placed an anchor to windward against the time when the political storm should set in; but Nathaniel Hawthorne was devoid of that useful ability. Nor had he been able to spend less than he earned; so, suddenly, there he was on his beam-ends. Leisure to write, certainly, was now abundant enough; but he never was a rapid composer, and even had he been so, the market for the kind of things he wrote was, in the middle of the past century, in New England, neither large nor eager. The emoluments were meagre to match; twenty dollars for four pages of the Democratic Review was about the figure; and to produce a short tale or sketch of that length would take him a month at least. How were a husband and wife and their two children to live for a month on the mere expectation of twenty dollars from the Democratic Review—which was, into the bargain, terribly slow pay? Such was the problem which confronted the dark-haired and grave-visaged gentleman as he closed his desk in the Salem custom-house for the last time, and put on his hat to walk home.
Thanks, however, to some divine foresight on my mother's part, aided by a wonderful talent for practical economy, she had secretly contrived to save, out of her weekly stipends, small sums which in the aggregate bulked large enough to make an important difference in the situation. So when her husband disclosed his bad news, she opened her private drawer and disclosed her banknotes, with such a smile in her eyes as I can easily picture to myself. Stimulated by the miracle, he remembered that the inchoate elements of a story, in which was to figure prominently a letter A, cut out of red cloth, or embroidered in scarlet thread, and affixed to a woman's bosom, had been for months past rumbling round in his mind; now was the time of times to shape it forth. Yonder upon the table by the window stood the old mahogany writing-desk so long unused; here were his flowered dressing-gown and slippers down-at-heel. He ought to be able to finish the story before the miraculous savings gave out; and then all he would have to do would be to write others. And, after all, to be rid of the surveyorship was a relief.
But matters were not to be run off quite so easily as this. The Scarlet Letter, upon coming to close quarters with it, turned out to be not a story of such moderate caliber as Hawthorne had hitherto been used to write, but an affair likely to extend over two or three hundred pages, which, instead of a month or so, might not be completed in a year; yet it was too late to substitute something more manageable for it—in the first place, because nothing else happened to be at his disposal, and secondly, because The Scarlet Letter took such intimate hold upon the vitals of his heart and mind that he was by no means able to free himself from it until all had been fulfilled. Only men of creative genius know in what glorious and harrowing thraldom their creations hold them. Having once been fairly begun, The Scarlet Letter must inevitably finish itself for good or ill, come what might to the writer of it.
[IMAGE: BIRTHPLACE OF NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE AT SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS]
This is a story of people and events, not a study in literary criticism; but the writing of The Scarlet Letter was an event of no trifling importance in the story of its author's life. To read the book is an experience which its readers cannot forget; what its writing must have been to a man organized as my father was is hardly to be conveyed in words. Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth—he must live through each one of them, feel their passion, remorse, hatred, terror, love; and he must enter into the soul of the mysterious nature of Pearl. Such things cannot with impunity be done by any one; the mere physical strain, all conditions being favorable, would be almost past bearing. But my father, though uniformly his bodily health was all his life sound, was never what I would call a robust man; he was exquisitely balanced. At the time he began his book he was jaded from years of office drudgery, and he was in some anxiety as to the issue of his predicament. The house in which he dwelt, small and ill-placed in a narrow side-street, with no possibility of shutting out the noise of traffic and of domestic alarms, could not but make the work tell more heavily upon him. But in addition to this there were fortuitous occasions of emotional stress, all of which I shall not mention; but among them were the distasteful turmoil aroused by his political mishap; and, far more poignant, the critical illness of his mother. Circumstances led to her being housed under his roof; there she lingered long at death's door, and there at last she died. He profoundly loved her; but deep-rooted, too, in both of them was that strange, New England shyness, masking in visible ice the underlying emotion. Not since his boyhood had their mutual affection found free, natural expression; and now, in this final hour, that bondage of habit caused the words of tenderness to stumble on their lips. The awful majesty of approaching death, prompting them to "catch up the whole of love and utter it" ere it be too late, wrought this involuntary self-repression into silent agony.
She died; his own health was shaken to its foundations; his children fell ill, his wife underwent acute suffering; and through all this, and more, The Scarlet Letter must be written. No wonder that, when he came to read the story in manuscript to his wife, his voice faltered and broke; and she slipped to her knees and hid her face on her arms in the chair. "I had been suffering," he commentated, long afterwards, "from a great diversity and severity of emotion." Great works of art—things with the veritable spirit of enduring life in them—are destined to be born in sore travail and pain. Those who give them birth yield up their own life to them.
It was at this period—say, about 1850—that my own personal recollections, in a shadowy and incoherent way, begin. The shadows are exclusively of time's making; they were not of the heart. All through the trials of my parents I retained a jocund equanimity (save for some trifling childish ailments) and esteemed this world a friendly and agreeable place. The Scarlet Letter dashed my spirits not a whit; I knew not of its existence, by personal evidence, till full a dozen years later; and even the death of my grandmother left me light of heart, for the passing of the spirit from the body can but awaken the transient curiosity of a child of four. For the rest, my physical environment, in itself amusing and interesting enough to me, had its chief importance from the material it afforded on which to construct the imaginary scenes and characters of my play. My sister Una and myself were forever enacting something or somebody not ourselves: childish egoism oddly decking itself in the non-ego. We believed in fairies, in magic, in angels, in transformations; Hans Christian Andersen, Grimm, The Black Aunt (oh, delectable, lost volume) were our sober history-books, and Robinson Crusoe was our autobiography. But I did occasionally take note of concrete appearances, too; and some of them I remember.
The house—the third which we had inhabited since my father became surveyor—was on Mall Street, and was three stories in height, with a yard behind and at one end; this yard, which was of importance to my sister and myself, had access to the street by a swinging gate. There were three or four trees in it, and space for play. The house was but one room deep, and lying as it did about north and south, the rooms were open to both the morning and the afternoon sunshine. They opened one into the other in a series; and when my father was safe up-stairs in his study, my mother would open all the doors of the suite on the lower floor, and allow the children to career triumphantly to and fro. No noise that we could make ever troubled her nerves, unless it was the noise of conflict; the shriek of joy, however shrill, passed by her harmless; but the lowest mutter of wrath or discontent distressed her; for of such are the mothers of the kingdom of heaven! And so zealous was our regard for her just and gentle law that I really think we gave way as little as most children to the latter.
Of course, whenever the weather permitted, we were out in the yard, or even promenaded for short distances up and down the street. And once—"How are you?" inquired a friend of the family, as he drove by in his wagon. "Oh, we've got the scarlet fever!" we proudly replied, stepping out gallantly along the sidewalk. For we were treated by a homoeopathic doctor of the old school, who was a high-dilutionist, and mortal ills could never get a firm grip on us. In winter we rejoiced in the snow; and my father's story of the Snow Image got most of its local color from our gambols in this fascinating substance, which he could observe from the window of his study.
The study was on the third floor of the house, secluded from the turmoil of earth, so far as anything could be in a city street. No one was supposed to intrude upon him there; but such suppositions are ineffectual against children. From time to time the adamantine gates fell ajar, and in we slipped. It seemed a heavenly place, tenanted by a being possessed of every attribute that our imaginations could ascribe to an angel. The room and its tenant glimmer before me as I write, luminous with the sunshine of more than fifty years ago. Both were equipped for business rather than for beauty; furniture and garments were simple in those Salem days. A homely old paper covered the walls, a brownish old carpet the floor. There was an old rocking-chair, its black paint much worn and defaced; another chair was drawn up to the table, which stood to the left of the eastern window; and on the table was a mahogany desk, concerning which I must enter into some particulars. It was then, and for years afterwards, an object of my most earnest scrutiny. Such desks are not made nowadays.
When closed, it was an oblong mahogany box, two feet long by half that width, and perhaps nine inches high. It had brass corners, and a brass plate on the top, inscribed with the name, "N. Hawthorne." At one end was a drawer, with a brass handle playing on a hinge and fitting into a groove or socket when down; there was a corresponding handle at the other end, but that was for symmetry only; the one drawer went clear through the desk. I often mused over the ethics of this deception.
Being opened, the desk presented a sloping surface two feet square, covered with black velvet, which had been cut here and there and pasted down again, and was stiffened with many ink-spatterings. This writing surface consisted of two lids, hinged at their junction in the centre; lifting them, you discovered two receptacles to hold writing-paper and other desk furniture. They were of about equal capacity; for although the upper half of the desk was the more capacious, you must not forget that two inches of it, at the bottom, was taken up by the long drawer already mentioned.
But there was, also, a more interesting curtailment of this interior space. Along the very top of the desk, as it lay open, was a narrow channel, perhaps a couple of inches wide and deep, divided into three sections; two square ones, at the opposite ends, held the ink-bottle and the sand-bottle; the long central one was for quill pens. These, in the aggregate, appeared to the superficial eye to account for all that remained of the cubic contents of the structure; but the supreme mystery and charm of the affair was that they did not!
No; there was an esoteric secret still in reserve; and for years it remained a secret to me. The bottle-sockets and pen-tray did not reach down to the level of the long drawer by nearly an inch. Measurement would prove that; but you would have said that the interval must be solid wood; for nothing but a smooth panel met the eye when you pulled aside the sheets of writing-paper in their receptacle to investigate. But the lesson of this world, and of the desk as a part of it, is that appearances are not to be trusted. The guile of those old desk-makers passes belief.
I will expose it. In the pen-tray lay a sort of brass nail, as long as your little finger, and blunt at the end. Now take the sand-bottle from its hole. In one corner of the bottom thereof you will see a minute aperture, just big enough to admit the seemingly useless brass nail. Stick it in and press hard. With an abrupt noise that makes you jump, if you are four or five years old, that smooth, unsuspected strip of panel starts violently forward (propelled by a released spring) and reveals—what? Nothing less than the fronts of two minute drawers. They fit in underneath the pen-tray, and might remain undiscovered for a hundred years unless you had the superhuman wit to divine the purpose of the brass nail. The drawers contain diamonds, probably, or some closely folded document making you the heir to a vast estate. As a matter of fact, I don't know what they contained; the surprise of the drawers themselves was enough for me. I need not add that I did not guess the riddle myself; but nothing that I can call to mind impressed me more than when, one day, my father solved it for me with his little brass wand. At intervals, afterwards, I was allowed to work the miracle myself, always with the same thrill of mysterious delight. The desk was human to me; it was alive.
There were little square covers for the ink and sand-bottles; and on the under sides of these were painted a pair of faces; very ruddy in the cheeks they were, with staring eyes and smiling mouths; and one of them wore a pair of black side-whiskers. They were done by my father, with oil—colors filched from my mother's paint-box. They seemed to me portraits of the people who lived in the desk; evidently they enjoyed their existence hugely. And when I considered that the desk was also somehow instrumental in the production of stories—such as the Snow Image—of a delectable and magical character, the importance to my mind of the whole contrivance may be conceived. When I grew beyond child's estate, I learned that it had also assisted at the composition of The Scarlet Letter. If ever there were a haunted writing-desk, this should have been it; but the ghosts have long since carried it away, whither I know not.
On the table were two ornaments; one, the finely moulded figure of an Egyptian in bronze, the wide Egyptian head-dress falling on the shoulders, the arms lying rigidly at the sides, with fists clinched. Generations of handling had made it almost black, but the amiable expression of the little countenance—the figure was about seven inches tall—greatly endeared it to me. Its feet were pressed close together on a small round stand; but one day somebody set it down on a hot stove, where it remained without flinching till the feet were melted off. After some years my mother had an ebony stump affixed to it, preserving the proportions of the figure and setting it once more erect. He was of greater endurance and of finer physical if not of moral development than the Tin Soldier of Hans Christian Andersen. The other ornament, less than half the Egyptian's size, and also made of bronze, was a warrior in mediaeval armor, whose head lifted off, showing a sharp-pointed rod the sheath of which was the body. Its use was to pick the wicks of the oil-lamps of that epoch, and its name was Mr. Pickwick. When afterwards I became acquainted with the world's Mr. Pickwick, I supposed his creator had adopted the name from our bronze warrior; but the world's Pickwick was made of stuff more enduring than bronze; he remains, but our little warrior has vanished.
I come now to the human occupant of this chamber of marvels. I see a tall, strong man, whose wide-domed head was covered with wavy black hair, bushing out at the sides. It thinned somewhat over the lofty crown and brow; the forehead was hollowed at the temple and rounded out above, after the Moorish style of architecture. Under heavy, dark eyebrows were eyes deep-set and full of light, marvellous in range of expression, with black eyelashes. All seemed well with me when I met their look. The straight, rather salient nose had a perceptible cleft at the tip, which, I was told, was a sign of good lineage; muddy-mettled rascals lacked it; so that I was much distressed by the smooth, plebeian bluntness, at that time, of my own little snub. The mouth, then unshaded by a mustache, had a slight upward turn at the corners, indicative of vitality and good-humor; the chin rounded out sharply convex from the lip. The round, strong column of the neck well supported the head; my mother compared it with that of the Apollo Belvedere, a bust of which stood in the corner of our sitting-room. The head was deep—a great distance between the base of the ear and the wing of the nostril—and was well filled out behind. Above the blue of the shaven beard the complexion showed clear white and red, announcing a strong heart and good digestion. My father shaved himself daily; I was not permitted to see the operation, but I knew he lathered, and wondered why. He was naturally athletic; broad-shouldered and deep in the chest, lean about the loins, weighing never over one hundred and eighty pounds; his height was five feet ten and three-quarter inches; his legs and feet were slender and graceful, his gait long and springy, and he could stand and leap as high as his shoulder. In the house he wore slippers, which seemed always old and down-at-heel.
In the house, also, he wore a writing-gown, made for him some years before by my mother; it reached nearly to his heels, and had been a gorgeous affair, though now much defaced. The groundwork was purple, covered all over with conventional palm-leaf in old-gold color; the lining was red. This lining, under the left-hand skirt of the gown, was blackened with ink over a space as large as your hand; for the author was in the habit of wiping his pen thereon; but my mother finally parried this attack by sewing in the centre of the place a penwiper in the shape of a butterfly.
While story-writing, the door of the study was locked against all the world; but after noon he became approachable, except during The Scarlet Letter period, when he wrote till evening. He did not mind my seeing him write letters; he would sit with his right shoulder and head inclined towards the desk; the quill squeaked softly over the smooth paper, with frequent quick dips into the ink-bottle; a few words would be written swiftly; then a pause, with suspended pen, while the next sentence was forming in the writer's mind. When he miswrote, instead of crossing out the word, he would smear it out with his finger, and rewrite over the smear; so that his page had a mottled appearance. The writing was accompanied by intermittent nods of the head, as one would say, "Sic cogito!" So far as he is concerned, the shadows close in on me here.
But I have said that the house was of three stories, and I have accounted for two of them only. The second was occupied by my grandmother Hawthorne and her two daughters, Aunt Louisa and Aunt Ebe (the latter appellation being an infantile version of her name invented by my father, who was her junior, and used by us to distinguish between her and that other Elizabeth who was Aunt Lizzie Peabody). Of my grandmother Hawthorne I have no personal recollection at all; she was a Manning, a beautiful old lady, whom her son resembled. She had been a recluse from society for forty years; it was held to be good form, in that age and place, to observe such Hindoo rites after the death of a husband; hers had died in his thirty-fourth year in Surinam. But she had also insensibly fallen into the habit of isolating herself in some degree from her own family; they were all of them addicted to solitude of the body, though kindly enough disposed in the abstract. When we went to live in the Mall Street house, the old lady and her daughters uprooted themselves from their home of many years in Herbert Street and dwelt with us; and that quaint crystallization of their habits was in a measure broken up. But the dowager Mrs. Hawthorne, it soon appeared, had come there to die; she was more than seventy years old. My aunt Louisa I seem dimly to recall as a tall, fragile, pale, amiable figure, not very effective. My aunt Ebe I afterwards came to know well, and shall defer mention of her. So I was encompassed by kindly petticoats, and was very happy, but might have been better for a stout playmate of my own sex. I had a hobby-horse, which I rode constantly to fairy-land in quest of treasure to bestow upon my friends. I swung with Una on the gate, and looked out upon the wonder of the passing world. The tragedy of my grandmother's death, which, as I have said, interrupted the birth of The Scarlet Letter, passed me by unknowing, or rather without leaving a trace upon my memory. On the other hand, I can reconstitute vividly two absurd incidents, destitute of historical value. After my grandmother Hawthorne's death I fell ill; but the night before the disease declared itself, I was standing in a chair at the nursery window, looking out at the street-lamp on the corner, and my aunt Lizzie Peabody, who had just come on from Boston, was standing behind me, lest I should fall off. Now, I was normally the most sweet-tempered little urchin imaginable; yet suddenly, without the faintest warning or provocation, I turned round and dealt my loving aunt a fierce kick in the stomach. It deprived her of breath for a space; but her saintly nature is illustrated by the fact that the very first use she made of her recovered faculties was to gasp out, "Sophie, the child must be ill!" Fortunately for my reputation, the illness was not long in arriving. The other episode must have happened at about the same period, and is likewise concerned with Aunt Lizzie. We had a cat, and the cat had had kittens a day or two before. Aunt Lizzie came into the nursery, where Una and I were building houses of blocks, and sat down in the big easy-chair. The cat was in the room, and she immediately came up to my aunt and began to mew and to pluck at her dress with her claws. Such attentions were rare on pussy's part, and my aunt noticed them with pleasure, and caressed the animal, which still continued to devote its entire attention to her. But there was something odd in the sound of her mewing and in the intent regard of her yellow eyes. "Can anything be the matter with pussy?" speculated my aunt. At that moment my father entered the room, and my aunt rose to greet him. Then the massacre was revealed, for she had been sitting upon the kittens. Their poor mother pounced upon them with a yowl, but it was too late. My dear aunt was rather a heavy woman, and she had been sitting there fifteen minutes. We all stood appalled in the presence of the great mystery.
One day a big man, with a brown beard and shining brown eyes, who bubbled over with enthusiasm and fun, made his appearance and talked volubly about something, and went away again, and my father and mother smiled at each other. The Scarlet Letter had been written, and James T. Fields had read it, and declared it the greatest book of the age. So that was the last of Salem.
Horatio Bridge's "I-told-you-so"—What a house by the sea might have done—Unknown Lenox—The restlessness of youth— The Unpardonable Sin and the Deathless Man—The little red house—Materials of culture—Our best playmates—The mystery of Mrs. Peter's dough—Our intellectual hen—Fishing for poultry—Yacht-building—Swimming with one foot on the ground—Shipwreck—Our playfellow the brook—Tanglewood— Nuts—Giants and enchanters—Coasting—Wet noses, dark eyes, ambrosial breath—My first horseback ride—Herman Melville's stories—Another kind of James—The thunder-storm—Yearning ladies and melancholy sinners—Hindlegs—Probable murder—"I abominate the sight of it!"—The peril of Tanglewood—The truth of fiction—An eighteen-months' work—We leave five cats behind.
Horatio Bridge, my father's college friend, was a purser in the navy and lived in Augusta, Maine, his official residence being at Portsmouth. He had kept in closer touch with the romancer than any of his other friends had since their graduating days, and he had been from the first a believer in his coming literary renown. So, when The Scarlet Letter shone eminent in the firmament of book-land, it was his triumphant "I-told-you-so" that was among the earliest to be heard. And when my father cast about for a more congenial place than Salem to live in, it was to Bridge that he applied for suggestions. He stipulated that the place should be somewhere along the New England sea-coast.
Had this wish of his been fulfilled it might have made great differences. Hawthorne had always dwelt within sight and sound of the Atlantic, on which his forefathers had sailed so often between the Indies and Salem port, and Atlantic breezes were necessary to his complete well-being. At this juncture physical health had for the first time become an object to him; he was run down by a year of suffering and hard work, and needed nature's kindest offices. A suitable house of his own by the sea-side would probably have brought him up to his best physical condition to begin with, and kept him so; and it would so have endeared itself to him that when, two or three years later, Pierce had offered him a foreign appointment he might have been moved to decline it, and have gone on writing American romances to the end—to the advantage of American letters. Concord had its own attractions; but it never held him as the sea would have done, nor nourished his health, nor stimulated his genius. A house of his own beside the Atlantic might well have added twenty years to his life.
But it was not upon the knees of the gods.
Bridge's zealous efforts failed to find a place available, and after an uneasy interval, during which his friend wandered uncomfortably about Boston and the neighborhood (incidentally noting down some side-scenes afterwards to be incorporated in The Blithedale Romance), a cottage in the Berkshire Hills was spoken of, and upon examination seemed practicable. Lenox, at that time, was as little known as Mount Desert; it was not until long afterwards that fashion found them out and made them uninhabitable to any but fashionable folks. Moreover, my father had seen something of Lenox a dozen years before.
A dozen years before he was not yet betrothed to Sophia Peabody; he already loved her and she him; but her health seemed an insuperable barrier between them. This and certain other matters were weighing heavily upon his soul, and his future seemed dark and uncertain. He thought of taking a voyage round the world; he thought of getting into politics; he even thought—as young men full of life sometimes will—of death. What he finally did, with native good sense, was to make a two-months' trip in the mountainous region to the westward, to change the scene and his state of mind, and to get what artists call a fresh eye. He chose North Adams as his headquarters, and forayed thence in various directions over a radius of twenty miles. He was then beginning to revolve one of the two great romance themes that preoccupied his whole after-life, neither of which was he destined to write. This was the idea of the Unpardonable Sin; the other was the conception of the Deathless Man. The only essay we have towards the embodiment of the first vision is the short fragment published in Mosses from an Old Manse, called "Ethan Brand." The other was attempted in various forms, of which Septimius, Dr. Grimshawe's Secret, and The Dolliver Romance, all posthumously published, are the most important.
But Stockbridge, Pittsfield, and Lenox had been included among his haunts during the break-away above mentioned, and he remembered that the scenery was beautiful, the situation remote, and the air noble. Next to the sea it seemed an ideal place to recuperate and write in. Thither, at all events, he resolved to go, and early in the summer of 1850 we arrived at the little red house above the shores of Stockbridge Bowl, with bag and baggage. Little though the house was, the bag and baggage were none too much to find easy accommodation in it.
A fair-sized city drawing-room of these sumptuous contemporary days could stow away in a corner the entire structure which then became our habitation, and retain space enough outside it for the exploitation of social functions. Nevertheless, by the simple expedient of making the interior divisions small enough, this liliputian edifice managed to contain eight rooms on its two floors (including the kitchen). One of the rooms was, in fact, the entrance-hall; you stepped into it across the threshold of the outer door, and the staircase ascended from it. It was used as an extension of the drawing-room, which opened out of it. The drawing-room adjoined the dining-room, with windows facing the west, with a view of the mountains across the lake, and the dining-room communicated with the kitchen. One of the western-looking up-stairs rooms served as my father's study; my sister Una had her chamber, I mine (which was employed as the guest-chamber upon occasion), and our parents the other. What more could be asked? for when Rose was born, her crib stood beside her mother's bedstead.
When we were not asleep—that is, during twelve hours out of the twenty-four—Una's existence and mine were passed mainly in the outer sitting-room and in the dining-room. There was plenty to entertain us. I had my rocking-horse, which I bestrode with perfect fearlessness; my porcelain lion, which still survives unscathed after the cataclysms of half a century; my toy sloop, made for me by Uncle Nat; and a jack-knife, all but the edge and point, which had been removed out of deference to my youth. Una had a doll, a miniature mahogany centre-table and bureau, and other things in which I felt no interest. In common, we possessed the box of wooden bricks, and the big portfolio containing tracings by my mother, exquisitely done, of Flaxman's "Outlines of the Iliad and Odyssey" and other classic subjects. We knew by heart the story of all these mythological personages, and they formed a large part of our life. They also served the important use of suggesting to my father his Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales stories, and, together with the figures of Gothic fairy-lore, they were the only playmates, with the exception of our father and mother, that we had or desired.
But our father and mother were, of course, the main thing, after all. She was with us all day long; he, from the time he stopped writing, early in the afternoon, till our bed-time. They answered all our questions about things animate and inanimate, physical and metaphysical; and that must have taken time, for our curiosity was magnificent; and "The Old Boy," my father records, "asked me today what were sensible questions—I suppose with a view to asking me some." They superintended our projections of creation on the black-board—a great, old-fashioned black-board, the like of which I have not since beheld; they read to us and told us stories. Many of these stories were of incidents of their own child-life; and there was also the narrative of our mother's voyage to Cuba and back, and residence there when she was about eighteen or twenty—a fascinating chronicle. Meal-times were delectable festivals, not only because the bread-and-milk, the boiled rice and tapioca pudding, and eggs and fruit tasted so good, but by reason of the broad outlook out of window over the field, the wood, the lake, and the mountains; supper-time, with the declining sun pouring light into the little room and making the landscape glorious, was especially exhilarating. Ambrosial was the bread baked by Mrs. Peters, the taciturn and serious religious person of color who attended to our cooking; the prize morsels were the ends, golden brown in hue, crunching so crisply between our teeth. I used to wonder how a being with hands so dark as those of Mrs. Peters managed to turn out dough so immaculate. She would plunge them right into the ivory-hued substance, yet it became only whiter than before. But the life of life was, of course, out-doors. There was a barn containing a hay-mow and a large hen-coop, soon populous with hens and chickens, with an heroic snow-white rooster to keep them in order. Hens are the most audacious and presuming of pets, and they have strong individuality.
One of our brood was more intellectual and enterprising than the others; she found a way of getting out of the coop, no matter how tightly it was shut up; and she would jump in our laps as we sat eating a piece of bread in the barn doorway and snatch it away from us; but I think we sometimes sat there with the bread on purpose to have her do it. Once or twice—until I was detected and stopped—I enjoyed the poignant delight of fishing for hens out of the barn loft; my tackle consisted of a bent pin at the end of a string tied to a stick. It was baited with a grain of corn, or a bit of rag would do as well, for hens have no hereditary suspicion of anglers, and are much more readily entrapped than fishes. Pulling them up, squawking and fluttering, was thrilling, but, of course, it was wrong, like other thrilling things, and had to be foregone. A less unregenerate experiment was fastening two grains of corn to the ends of a long bit of thread; two hens would seize each a grain and begin swallowing thread until they interfered, with each other, when a disgorgement would take place. It was an economical sport—the one bit of thread and the two corn-grains would last all day—and, in view of the joy afforded to the spectators, did not seem too unkind. My father had mechanical talent, and with an old door-knob and some strips of shingle he would make a figure of a man with a saw; you fixed it to the edge of a table, set the door-knob swinging, and the creature would saw with the most absurd diligence. From the same shingle he would construct a pugilist, who, being set up where the wind played upon him, would swing his arms interminably. It was yacht-building, however, that afforded us most entertainment. A shingle was whittled to a point at one end; a stick with a square paper slipped on it was stuck up in the middle, and a rudder made fast to the stern; such a boat would sail boldly out upon the vastness of the lake, till the eye could no longer follow the diminishing white speck. These days beside the lake were full of good things. The water was clear, with a white sand bottom; we were given swimming-lessons in the hot summer weather; having waded in up to our middles, we faced towards the shore, where sat our father with a long fishing-pole, the end of which he kept within our reach, and bade us lean forward on the water and kick up our feet. But, for my part, I kept one foot on the bottom. It was not till years afterwards that I mustered courage to take it off, and that was in a lake three thousand miles from Stockbridge Bowl, with the towers of the castle of Chillon reflected in its calm surface.
We also made limited use of a leaky old punt, which one day capsized and emptied its whole crew into the water, luckily close to shore. We fished for gold carp for hours together, and during our two summers we caught a couple of them; there were thousands of them swimming about; but a bent pin with the bait washed off is not a good lure. In winter, the lake had five feet of ice on it, which lasted far into the spring, and once or twice we got aboard this great raft and tracked across it, with as much awe and enthusiasm as ever Kane had felt in his arctic explorations. In all, we became intimate friends with the lake idea, new to us then, but never to grow stale; and our good fortune favored us during after-life with many lovely lakes and ponds, including such gems as Rydal, Walden, and Geneva.
Water, in another enchanting guise, dashed and gurgled for us in the brook that penetrated like a happy dream the slumber of the forest that bordered on the lake. The wooded declivity through which it went was just enough to keep it ever vocal and animated. Gazing down upon it, it was clear brown, with glancing gleams of interior green, and sparkles diamond white; tiny fishes switched themselves against the current with quivering tails; the shaggy margins were flecked with sunshine, and beautiful with columbines, violets, arbutus, and houstonias. Fragments of rock and large pebbles interrupted its flow and deepened its mellow song; above it brooded the twilight of the tall pines and walnuts, responding to its merriment with solemn murmurings. What playfellow is more inexhaustible than such a brook, so full of life, of motion, of sound and color, of variety and constancy. A child welcomes it as an answer to its own soul, with its mystery and transparency, its bounded lawlessness, its love of earth and its echoes of the sky. In winter our brook had a new charm: it ran beneath a roof of ice, often mounded with snow; its voice sounding cheerful as ever in those inscrutable caverns, as if it discoursed secret wonders of fairy-land, and carried treasures of the elves and gnomes. Zero, with his utmost rigors, could not still its speech for a day or fix his grip upon those elastic limbs. Indeed, the frosty god conspired with it for our delight; building crystal bridges, with tracery of lace delicater than Valenciennes, and spangled string-pieces, and fretted vaultings, whimsical sierras, stalactite and stalagmite. An icicle is one of those careless toys of nature which the decorative art of man imitates in vain. They are among the myriad decorations of children's palaces.
To Tanglewood, as we called it, at all seasons of the year, came Hawthorne and his wife and children. In spring there was the issuing forth of the new life from beneath the winter coverlid; the first discovery of sociable houstonias, and the exquisite tints and fragrance of the mayflower on its dark, bearded stalk. When June became perfect, and afterwards till nuts were ripe, my father loved to lie at full length upon the mossy and leaf-strewn floor, looking up at the green roof, the lofty whispering-gallery of vaulted boughs, with its azure lattices and descending sunlight-shafts; wrapped in imaginings some of which were afterwards to delight the world; but many more of them, no doubt, were fated to join the glorious company of untold tales. Beside him sat our mother, on a throne which we had fashioned for her from the upright stump of a tree; round about them played the little girl and boy. They brought all the treasures which this wonderfully affluent world afforded: flowers in all seasons; strawberries, small but of potent flavor, which the little boy would gather with earnest diligence, and fetch to the persons he loved, mashed into premature jam in his small fist; exciting turtles with variegated carapaces, and heads and feet that went in and out; occasional newts from the plashy places; and in autumn, hatfuls of walnuts. There were chestnuts, too, upon whose prickly hulls the preoccupied children would sometimes inadvertently plump themselves. Our father was a great tree-climber, and he was also fond of playing the role of magician. "Hide your eyes!" he would say, and the next moment, from being there beside us on the moss, we would hear his voice descending from the sky, and behold! he swung among the topmost branches, showering down upon us a hail-storm of nuts. There was a big cavern behind the kitchen chimney, which gradually became filled with these harvests, and on winter evenings they were brought forth and cracked with a hammer on the hearth-stone.
The wide field, or croft, which sloped from the house to the wood was thickly grown with mullein-stalks, against which I waged war with an upper section of one of my father's old broken canes, for I took them for giants, and stubborn, evil-minded enchanters. I slew them by scores; but I could make no way against the grasshoppers, which jumped against my bare legs and pricked them. There were wasps, too; one of them stung Una on the lower lip as she was climbing over a rail-fence. Her lip at once assumed a Bourbon contour, and I reached the conclusion, by some tacit syllogism of infancy, that the rail-fence was at least half to blame for the catastrophe, and always carefully avoided it. I likewise avoided the wasps; a certain trick they have of giving a hitch to their after-parts as they walk along always struck me as being obviously diabolical.
When the snows came, two and three feet deep, we got out the family sled from its summer lodging in the barn and went forth, muffled in interminable knit tippets and other woollen armor, to coast down the long slope. Our father sat in front with the reins in his hands and his feet thrust out to steer, and away we went clinging fast behind him. Sometimes we swept triumphantly to the bottom; at other times we would collide with some hidden obstacle, and describe each a separate trajectory into the snow-banks. We made enormous snow-balls by beginning with a small one and rolling it over and over in the soft snow till it waxed too vast for our strength; two or three of these piled one on another would be sculptured by the author of The Scarlet Letter into a snow-man, who would stand stanch for weeks. Snow-storms in Lenox began early and lasted till far into April. The little red house had all it could do, sometimes, to lift its upper windows above them. In the front yard there was a symmetrical balsam fir-tree, tapering like a Chinese pagoda. One winter morning we found upon one of its lower boughs a little brown sparrow frozen stiff. We put it in a card-board coffin, and dug out a grave for it beneath the fir, with a shingle head-stone. The funeral ceremonies had for the two mourners a solemnity such as is not always felt at such functions in later life.
Of the regular daily routine was the journey to Luther Butler's, quarter of a mile up the road, for milk and butter. I generally accompanied my father, and saw placid Luther's cows, placid as himself, with their broad, wet noses, amiable dark eyes, questionable horns, and ambrosial breath. Mr. Tappan, our landlord, had horses, and once he mounted me on the bare back of one of the largest of these quadrupeds, which, to the stupefaction of everybody, instantly set off at full gallop. Down the road we thundered, the rider, with his legs sticking out at right angles, screaming with joy, for this transcended any rocking-horse experiences. A hundred yards away there was a bend in the road. Just at that point there was a manure-pile, which had long bided its time. I had hold of a strand of the horse's mane; but when he swerved at the bend I had to let go, and after a short flight in air, the manure-pile received me in its soft embrace. Looking up the road, I saw Mr. Tappan, with dilated eyes and a countenance expressing keen emotion, coming towards me at a wonderful pace, and my father and mother following him at a short distance. I did not myself mind the smell of manure, and the others were glad to put up with it in consideration of my having escaped broken bones.
We did not keep a dog, but Herman Melville, who often came over from Pittsfield, had a large Newfoundland which he sometimes brought with, him, and Mr. G. P. R. James, a novelist of the Walter Scott school, had another, and I was permitted to bestride both of them; they were safe enough, but they would turn back their heads and lay their cold noses on my leg; I preferred the now-forbidden horse. But Melville himself made up for everything by the tremendous stories he used to tell about the South Sea Islands and the whale fishery. Normally he was not a man of noticeable appearance; but when the narrative inspiration was on him, he looked like all the things he was describing—savages, sea-captains, the lovely Fayaway in her canoe, or the terrible Moby Dick himself. There was vivid genius in this man, and he was the strangest being that ever came into our circle. Through all his wild and reckless adventures, of which a small part only got into his fascinating books, he had been unable to rid himself of a Puritan conscience; he afterwards tried to loosen its grip by studying German metaphysics, but in vain. He was restless and disposed to dark hours, and there is reason to suspect that there was in him a vein of insanity. His later writings were incomprehensible. When we were living in England, he passed through the midst of us on one of his aimless, mysterious journeys round the world; and when I was in New York, in 1884, I met him, looking pale, sombre, nervous, but little touched by age. He died a few years later. He conceived the highest admiration for my father's genius, and a deep affection for him personally; but he told me, during our talk, that he was convinced that there was some secret in my father's life which had never been revealed, and which accounted for the gloomy passages in his books. It was characteristic in him to imagine so; there were many secrets untold in his own career. But there were few honester or more lovable men than Herman Melville.
[IMAGE: HERMAN MELVILLE]
James (no relation of our distinguished contemporary) was a commonplace, meritorious person, with much blameless and intelligent conversation; but the only thing that recalls him personally to my memory is the fact of his being associated with a furious thunder-storm. My father and I were alone in the house at the time; my mother had gone to West Newton on a three weeks' visit. In the midst of the thunder and lightning, the downpour and the hurricane, the crash of matter and the wreck of worlds, our door burst open, and behold! of all persons in the world to be heralded by such circumstances, G. P. R. James! Not he only, but close upon his heels his entire family, numerous, orthodox, admirable, and infinitely undesirable to two secluded gentlemen without a wife and mother to help them out. But it was a choice between murder and hospitality, and come in they must. Never before or after did our liliputian drawing-room harbor so large an assemblage. They dripped on the carpet, they were conventional and courteous; we made conversation between us; but whenever the thunder rolled, Mrs. James became ghastly pale. Mr. James explained that this was his birthday, and that they were on a pleasure excursion. He conciliated me by anecdotes of a pet magpie or raven who stole spoons. At last, the thunder-storm and the G. P. R. Jameses passed off together.
There were many other visitors, not only old friends, but persons attracted thither out of the void by the fame of the book "along whose burning leaves," as Oliver Wendell Holmes sang of it, "his scarlet web our wild romancer weaves." It was a novel experience for the man who had become accustomed to regarding himself as the obscurest man of letters in America. Lonely, yearning ladies came; enthusiastic young men; melancholy sinners. The little red house was not a literary Mecca only, but a moral one. The dark-browed, kindly smiling author received them all courteously; he was invariably courteous. "I would not have a drunken man politer than I," he once answered me, when I asked him why he had returned the salutation of a toper. What counsel he gave to those who came to him as to a father confessor of course I know not; but later, when I used to sit in his office in the Liverpool consulate, I sometimes heard him speak plain truths to the waifs and strays who drifted in there; and truth more plain, yet bestowed with more humanity and brotherly purpose, I have never heard since. It made them tremble, but it did them good. Such things made him suffer, but he never flinched from the occasion by a hair's-breadth. He must have loved his fellow-creatures.
Somebody gave me a rabbit, which I named Hind-legs. I was deeply interested in him for a while, especially when I learned that he could not drink water; but he lasted only two weeks, and I am under the impression that I killed him. Not that I loved him less; but children are prone to experiment with this singular thing called life when it is in their power. They do not believe that death can be other than a transient phenomenon; the lifeless body may puzzle, but it does not convince them. I was certainly not a cruel urchin, and I can recall none but cordial sentiments towards Hindlegs on my part. I remember no details of the murder, if murder were done; but I do remember feeling no surprise when, one morning, Hindlegs was found dead. After so many years, I will not bring against the owner of Hindlegs a verdict of positive guilt; but I suspect him. Hindlegs, at all events, achieved an immortality which can belong to few of his brethren; for my father, after pooh-poohing the imbecile little bundle of fur for a day or two, conceived an involuntary affection for him, and reported his character and habits in his journal in a manner which is likely to keep his memory alive long after the hand that (perhaps) slew him is dust.
In default of dogs and Hindlegs, we had abundant cats. My father was always fond of these mysterious deities of ancient Egypt, and they were never turned away from our doors; but how so many of them happened to find us out in this remote region I cannot explain. It seems as if goodwill towards cats spontaneously generated them. They appeared, one after another, to the number of five; but when the time came for us to leave the red house forever, the cats would not and could not be packed up, and they were left behind. In my mind's eye I still see them, squatting abreast, silhouetted against the sky, on the brow of the hill as we drove down the road; for they had scampered after our carry-all when we drove away. Cats teach Americans what they are slow to learn—the sanctity and permanence of home.
But Lenox could not be a home for us. It was, indeed, a paradise for the children; but the children's father was never well there. He had a succession of colds—as those affections are called; it was ascribed to the variations of temperature during the summers; but the temperature would not have troubled him had he not been hard hit before he went to Berkshire. He got out of patience with the climate, and was wont to anathematize it with humorous extravagance, as his way was: "It is horrible. One knows not for ten minutes together whether he is too cool or too warm. I detest it! I hate Berkshire with my whole soul. Here, where I had hoped for perfect health, I have for the first time been made sensible that I cannot with impunity encounter nature in all her moods." It was the summers that disagreed with him. "Upon the whole," he said, "I think that the best time for living in the country is the winter." It was during the winter that he did most of his writing. The House of the Seven Gables was written between September of 1850 and January or February of 1851.
But composition took more out of him than formerly. He admitted to his sister Louisa that he was "a little worn down with constant work," and added that he could not afford any idle time now, being evidently of the opinion that his popularity would be short-lived, and that it behooved him, therefore, to make the most of it. But "the pen is so constantly in my fingers that I abominate the sight of it!" he exclaimed. This was after he had transgressed his custom of never writing in the hot months. He began in June and finished in forty days the whole volume of The Wonder-Book. He also read the tales to his domestic audience as fast as they were written, and benefited, perhaps, by the expert criticism of the small people. Many passages in the intercalated chapters, describing the adventures of Eustace Bright and the Tangle-wood children, are based on facts well known to his own two youngsters. And when Eustace tells his hearers that if the dark-haired man dwelling in the cottage yonder were simply to put some sheets of writing-paper in the fire, all of them and Tangle-wood itself would turn into cinders and vanish in smoke up the chimney—even the present chronicler saw the point; though, at the same time, he somehow could not help believing in the reality of Primrose, Buttercup, Dandelion, Squash-blossom, and the rest. Thus early did he begin to grasp the philosophy of the truth of fiction.
The House of the Seven Gables and The Wonder-Book were a fair eighteen-months' work, and in addition to them Hawthorne had, before leaving Lenox, planned out the story of The Blithedale Romance; so that after we got to West Newton—our half-way station on the road to Concord—he was prepared to sit down and write it. Long before we left Concord for England he had published Tangle-wood Tales, not to mention the biography of Franklin Pierce. Una and her brother knew nothing about the romances; they knew and approved the fairy tales; but their feeling about all their father's writings was, that he was being wasted in his study, when he might be with them, and there could be nothing in any books, whether his own or other authors', that could for a moment bear comparison with his actual companionship. What he set down upon the page was but a less free and rich version of the things that came from his living mouth in our heedless playtimes. "If only papa wouldn't write, how nice it would be!" And, indeed, a book is but a poor substitute for the mind and heart of a man, and it exists only as one of the numberless sorry makeshifts to which time constrains us, while we are waiting for eternity and full communion.
It was a dreary day in the beginning of the second winter that we set out on our eastward journey; but Hawthorne's face was brighter than the weather warranted, for it was turned once more towards the sea. We were destined, ere we turned back, to go much farther towards the rising sun than any of us then suspected. We took with us one who had not been present at our coming—a little auburn-haired baby, born in May. Which are the happiest years of a man's life? Those in which he is too much occupied with present felicity to look either forward or backward—to hope or to remember. There are no such years; but such moments there may be, and perhaps there were as many such moments awaiting Hawthorne as had already passed.
His greatest work was done before he left his native land, and within a year or two of his death he wrote to Richard Stoddard: "I have been a happy man, and yet I cannot remember any moment of such happy conspiring circumstances that I would have rung a joy-bell at it."
Chariots of delight—West Newton—Raw American life—Baby's fingers—Our cousin Benjamin's untoward head—Our uncle Horace—His vacuum—A reformer's bristles—Grace Greenwood's first tears—The heralding of Kossuth—The decorated engine— The chief incident of the reception—Blithedale and Brook Farm—Notes from real life—Rough draughts—Paths of composition—The struggle with the Pensioner—Hawthorne's method—The invitation of Concord—Four wooden walls and a roof—Mr. Alcott's aesthetic carpentering—Appurtenances of "The Wayside"—Franklin Pierce for President"—The most homeless people in the world."
The sky that overhung Hawthorne's departure from Lenox was gray with impending snow, and the flakes had begun to fall ere the vehicle in which his family was ensconced had reached the railway station in Pittsfield. Travel had few amenities in those days. The cars were all plain cars, with nothing to recommend them except that they went tolerably fast—from twenty to thirty miles an hour. They were chariots of delight to the children, who were especially happy in occupying the last car of the train, from the rear windows of which they could look down upon the tracks, which seemed to slide miraculously away from beneath them. The conductor collected the tickets—a mysterious rite. The gradually whitening landscape fled past, becoming ever more level as we proceeded; by-and-by there was a welcome unpacking of the luncheon-basket, and all the while there were the endless questions to be asked and faithfully answered. It was already dark by the time we were bundled out at the grimy shed which was called the depot, at West Newton, where we were met by the Horace Manns, and somehow the transit to the latter's house, which we were to occupy for the winter, was made. The scene was gloomy and unpleasant; the change from the mountains of the west depressing; and, for my part, I cannot remember anything agreeable in this raw little suburb. American life half a century ago had a great deal of rawness about it, and its external aspect was ugly beyond present belief. We may be a less virtuous nation now than we were then, but we are indescribably more good to look at. And the West Newton of to-day, as compared with that of 1851, will serve for an illustration of this truth.
Horace Mann's house was a small frame dwelling, painted white, with green blinds, and furnished with a furnace stiflingly hot. One of the first things the baby did was to crawl under the sofa in the sitting-room and lay her small fingers against the radiator or register, or whatever it is called, through which the heat came. She withdrew them with a bitter outcry, and on the tip of each was a blister as big as the tip itself. We had no glorious out-door playground in West Newton; it was a matter of back yards and sullen streets. The snow kept piling up, week after week; but there was no opportunity to put it to its proper use of coasting. The only redeeming feature of the physical situation that I recall is the momentous fact of a first pair of red-topped boots. They were very uncomfortable, and always either wet or stiff as iron from over-dryness; but they made their wearer as happy as they have made all other boys since boots began. A boy of six with high boots is bigger than most men.
But if the outward life was on the whole unprepossessing, inward succulence was not lacking. We had the Manns, to begin with, and the first real acquaintance between the two sets of children opened here. Mary Peabody, my mother's elder sister, had married Horace Mann, whose name is honorably identified with the development in this country of common-school education. They had three children, of about our age, all boys. A statue in bronze of Horace Mann stands in front of the State-house in Boston, and the memory of the strenuous reformer well merits the distinction. He took things seriously and rather grimly, and was always emphatically in earnest. He was a friend of George Combe, the phrenologist, after whom his second boy was named; and he was himself so ardent a believer in the new science that when his younger son, Benjamin, was submitted to him for criticism at a very early age he declared, after a strict phrenological examination, that he was not worth bringing up. But children's heads sometimes undergo strange transformations as they grow up, and Benjamin lived to refute abundantly his father's too hasty conclusion in his case. He became eminent as an entomologist; George followed the example of his father on educational lines. Horace, who died comparatively early, was an enthusiastic naturalist, who received the unstinted praise and confidence of the great Agassiz. My uncle Horace, as I remember him, was a very tall man, of somewhat meagre build, a chronic sufferer from headaches and dyspepsia. His hair was sandy, straight, rather long, and very thick; it hung down uncompromisingly round his head. His face was a long square, with a mouth and chin large and immitigably firm. His eyes were reinforced by a glistening pair of gold-bowed spectacles. He always wore a long-skirted black coat. His aspect was a little intimidating to small people; but there were lovely qualities in his nature, his character was touchingly noble and generous, and the world knows the worth of his intellect. He was anxious, exacting, and dogmatic, and was not always able to concede that persons who differed from him in opinion could be morally normal. This was especially noticeable when the topic of abolition happened to come up for discussion; Horace Mann was ready to out-Garrison Garrison; he thought Uncle Tom's Cabin a somewhat milk-and-water tract. He was convinced that Tophet was the future home of all slave-holders, and really too good for them, and he practically worshipped the negro. Had he occupied a seat in Congress at that juncture, it is likely that the civil war might have been started a decade sooner than it was. My father and mother were much more moderate in their view of the situation, and my mother used to say that if slavery was really so evil and demoralizing a thing as the abolitionists asserted, it was singular that they should canonize all the subjects of the institution. But, as a rule, all controversy with the indignant zeal of our relative was avoided; in his eyes any approach to a philosophical attitude on the burning question was a crime. Nor were his convictions less pronounced on the subject of total abstinence from liquor and tobacco. Now, my father smoked an occasional cigar, and it once came about that he was led to mention the fact in Horace Mann's hearing. The reformer's bristles were set in a moment. "Do I understand you to say, Mr. Hawthorne, that you actually use tobacco?" "Yes, I smoke a cigar once in a while," replied my father, comfortably. Horace Mann could not keep his seat; he started up and paced the room menacingly. He had a high admiration for my father's genius, and a deep affection for him as a man, and this infidelity to the true faith seemed to him the more appalling. But he would be true to his colors at all costs, and after a few moments he planted himself, tall and tragic, before his interlocutor, and spoke, in a husky voice, to this effect: "Then, Mr. Hawthorne, it is my duty to tell you that I no longer have the same respect for you that I have had." Then he turned and strode from the room, leaving the excommunicated one to his reflections. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, and my father was as much touched as he was amused by this example of my uncle's candor. Of course, there was a great vacuum in the place where my uncle's sense of humor might have been; but there are a time and place for such men as he, and more than once the men without sense of humor have moved the world.
In addition to the Manns, there were visitors—the succession of whom, indeed, was henceforth to continue till the end of my father's earthly pilgrimage. Among the earliest to arrive was Grace Greenwood, wading energetically to our door through the December snow. She was one of the first, if not the first, of the tribe of women correspondents; she had lately returned, I think, from England, and the volume of her letters from that strange country was in everybody's hands. She was then a young woman, large and handsome, with dark hair and complexion, and large, expressive eyes, harmonious, aquiline features, and a picturesque appearance. She wore her hair in abundant curls; she exhaled an atmosphere of romance, of graceful and ardent emotions, and of almost overpowering sentiment. In fact, she had a genuine gift for expression and description, and she made an impression in contemporary letters. We might smile now—and, in truth, we sometimes did then—over some of her pages; but much of her work would still be called good, if resuscitated from the dusty book-shelves of the past. I remember one passage in her English Letters which was often quoted in our family circle as a typical illustration of the intensity of the period: "The first tears," wrote Grace, "that I had shed since leaving my dear native land fell fast into the red heart of an English rose!" Nothing could be better than that; but the volume was full of similar felicities. You were swimming in radiant tides of enthusiastic appreciation, quotations from the poets and poetical rhapsodies; incidents of travel, humorous, pathetic, and graphic; swirling eddies of word-painting, of moral and ethical and historical reflection; withal, an immense, amiable, innocent, sprawling temperament. And as was her book, so was Grace herself; indeed, if any one could outdo the book in personal conversation, Grace was that happy individual. What she accomplished when she embarked, full-sailed, upon the topic of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables may be pictured to themselves by persons endowed with the rudiments of imagination; I must not attempt to adorn this sober page with an attempted reproduction of the scene. Mortal language reeled and cracked under the strain of giving form to her admiration; but it was so honest and well meant that it could not but give pleasure even in the midst of bewilderment. My father bowed his head with a painful smile; but I dare say it did him good when the ordeal was over.