The Life and Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne, by Frank Stearns

Chapter 2

Boyhood of Hawthorne: 1804–1821

Salem treasures the memory of Hawthorne, and preserves everything tangible relating to him. The house in which he was born, No. 27 Union Street, is in much the same style and probably of the same age as the Old Manse at Concord, but somewhat smaller, with only a single window on either side of the doorway — five windows in all on the front, one large chimney in the centre, and the roof not exactly a gambrel, for the true gambrel has a curve first inward and then outward, but something like it. A modest, cosy and rather picturesque dwelling, which if placed on a green knoll with a few trees about it might become a subject for a sketching class. It did not belong to Hawthorne’s father, after all, but to the widow of the bold Daniel, It was the cradle of genius, and is now a shrine for many pilgrims. Long may it survive, so that our grandchildren may gaze upon it.

Here Nathaniel Hawthorne first saw daylight one hundred years ago 14 on the Fourth of July, as if to make a protest against Chauvinistic patriotism; here his mother sat at the window to see her husband’s bark sail out of the harbor on his last voyage; and here she watched day after day for its return, only to bring a life-long sorrow with it. The life of a sea-captain’s wife is always a half — widowhood, but Mrs. Hathorne was left at twenty-eight with three small children, including a daughter, Elizabeth, older than Nathaniel, and another, Louisa, the youngest. The shadow of a heavy misfortune had come upon them, and from this shadow they never wholly escaped.

Lowell criticised a letter which John Brown wrote concerning his boyhood to Henry L. Stearns, as the finest bit of autobiography of the nineteenth century.15 It is in fact almost the only literature of the kind that we possess. A frequent difficulty that parents find in dealing with their children is, that they have wholly forgotten the sensations and impressions of their own childhood. The instructor cannot place himself in the position of the pupil. A naturalist will spend years with a microscope studying the development of a plant from the seed, but no one has ever applied a similar process to the budding of genius or even of ordinary intellect. We have the autobiography of one of the greatest geniuses, written in the calm and stillness of old age, when youthful memories come back to us involuntarily; yet he barely lifts the veil from his own childhood, and has much more to say of external events and older people than of himself and his young companions. How valuable is the story of George Washington and his hatchet, hackneyed as it has become! What do we know of the boyhood of Franklin, Webster, Seward and Longfellow? Nothing, or next to nothing.

[Illustration: WINDOW OF THIS CHAMBER]

Goethe says that the admirable woman is she who, when her husband dies, becomes a father to his children; but in the case of Hawthorne’s mother, this did not happen to be necessary. Her brother, Robert Manning, a thrifty and fairly prosperous young man, immediately took Mrs. Hathorne and her three children into his house on Herbert Street, and made it essentially a home for them afterward. To the fatherless boy he was more than his own father, away from home ten months of the year, ever could have been; and though young Nathaniel must have missed that tenderness of feeling which a man can only entertain toward his own child, there was no lack of kindness or consideration on Robert Manning’s part, to either the boy or his sisters.

It was Mrs. Hathorne who chiefly suffered from this change of domicile. She would seem to have been always on good terms with her brother’s wife, and on the whole they formed a remarkably harmonious family — at least we hear nothing to the contrary — but she was no longer mistress of her own household. She had her daughters to instruct, and to train up in domestic ways, and she could be helpful in various matters, large and small; but the mental occupation which comes from the oversight and direction of household affairs, and which might have served to divert her mind from sorrowful memories, was now gone from her. Her widowhood separated her from the outside world and from all society, excepting a few devoted friends, 16 so that under these conditions it is not surprising that her life became continually more secluded and reserved. It is probable that her temperament was very similar to her son’s; but the impression which has gone forth, that she indulged her melancholy to an excess, is by no means a just one. The circumstances of her case should be taken into consideration.

Rebecca Manning says:

“I remember aunt Hawthorne as busy about the house, attending to various matters. Her cooking was excellent, and she was noted for a certain kind of sauce, which nobody else knew how to make. We always enjoyed going to see her when we were children, for she took great pains to please us and to give us nice things to eat. Her daughter Elizabeth resembled her in that respect. In old letters and in the journal of another aunt, which has come into our possession, we read of her going about making visits, taking drives, and sometimes going on a journey. In later years she was not well, and I do not remember that she ever came here, but her friends always received a cordial welcome when they visited her.”

This refers to a late period of Madam Hathorne’s life, and if she absented herself from the table, as Elizabeth Peabody states, 17 there was good reason for it.

Hawthorne himself has left no word concerning his mother, of favorable or unfavorable import, but it seems probable that he owed his genius to her, if he can be said to have owed it to any of his ancestors. In after life he affirmed that his sister Elizabeth, who appears to have been her mother over again, could have written as well as he did, and although we have no palpable evidence of this — and the letter which she wrote Elizabeth Peabody does not indicate it — we are willing to take his word for it. With the shyness and proud reserve which he inherited from his mother, there also came that exquisite refinement and feminine grace of style which forms the chief charm of his writing. The same refinement of feeling is noticeable in the letters of other members of the Manning family. Where his imagination came from, it would be useless to speculate; but there is no good art without delicacy.

Doctor Nathaniel Peabody lived near the house on Herbert Street, and his daughter Elizabeth (who afterward became a woman of prodigious learning) soon made acquaintance with the Hathorne children. She remembers the boy Nathaniel jumping about his uncle’s yard, and this is the first picture that we have of him. When we consider what a beautiful boy he must have been, with his wavy brown hair, large wistful eyes and vigorous figure, without doubt he was a pleasure to look upon. We do not hear of him again until November 10, 1813, when he injured his foot in some unknown manner while at play, and was made lame by it more or less for the three years succeeding. After being laid up for a month, he wrote this pathetic little letter to his uncle, Robert Manning, then in Maine, which I have punctuated properly so that the excellence of its composition may appeal more plainly to the reader.

“SALEM, Thursday, December, 1813.

14 1804.

15 North American Review, April 1860.

16 Wide Awake, xxxiii. 502.

17 Lathrop’s “Study of Hawthorne.”

“DEAR UNCLE:

“I hope you are well, and I hope Richard is too. My foot is no better. Louisa has got so well that she has begun to go to school, but she did not go this forenoon because it snowed. Mama is going to send for Doctor Kitridge today, when William Cross comes home at 12 o’clock, and maybe he will do some good, for Doctor Barstow has not, and I don’t know as Doctor Kitridge will. It is about 4 weeks yesterday since I have been to school, and I don’t know but it will be 4 weeks longer before I go again. I have been out of the office two or three times and have set down on the step of the door, and once I hopped out into the street. Yesterday I went out in the office and had 4 cakes. Hannah carried me out once, but not then. Elizabeth and Louisa send their love to you. I hope you will write to me soon, but I have nothing more to write; so good-bye, dear Uncle.

“Your affectionate Nephew,
“NATHANIEL HATHORNE.”
18

18 Elizabeth Manning in Wide Awake, Nov. 1891.

This is not so precocious as Mozart’s musical compositions at the same age, but how could the boy Hawthorne have given a clearer account of himself and his situation at the time, without one word of complaint? It is worth noting also that his prediction in regard to Doctor Kitridge proved to be correct and even more.

It is evident that neither of his doctors treated him in a physio-logical manner. Kitridge was a water-cure physician, and his method of treatment deserves to be recorded for its novelty. He directed Nathaniel to project his naked foot out of a sitting-room window, while he poured cold water on it from the story above. This, however, does not appear to have helped the case, and the infirmity continued so long that it was generally feared that his lameness would be permanent.

Horatio Bridge considered this a fortunate accident for Nathaniel, since it prevented him from being spoiled by his female relatives, as there is always danger that an only son with two or more sisters will be spoiled. But it was an advantage to the boy in a different manner from this. He learned from it the lesson of suffering and endurance, which we all have to learn sooner or later; and it compelled him, perhaps too young, to seek the comfort of life from internal sources. There were excellent books in the house — Shakespeare and Milton, of course, but also Pope’s “Iliad,” Thomson’s “Seasons,” the “Spectator,” “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and the “Faerie Queene,” and the time had now come when these would be serviceable to him. He was not the only boy that has enjoyed Shakespeare at the age of ten, but that he should have found interest in Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” is somewhat exceptional. Even among professed littérateurs there are few that read that long allegory, and still fewer who enjoy it; and yet Miss Manning assures us that Hawthorne would muse over it for hours. Its influence may be perceptible in some of his shorter stories, but “Pilgrim’s Progress” evidently had an effect upon him; and so had Scott’s novels, as we may judge from the first romance that he published.

At the age of twelve years and seven months he composed a short poem, so perfect in form and mature in judgment that it is difficult to believe that so young a person could have written it. Not so poetic as it is philosophical, it is valuable as indicating that the boy had already formed a moral axis for himself — a life principle from which he never afterward deviated; and it is given herewith: 19

“MODERATE VIEWS.

19 A facsimile of the original can be found in Wide Awake, November, 1891.

“With passions unruffled, untainted by pride,
By reason my life let me square;
The wants of my nature are cheaply supplied,
And the rest are but folly and care.
How vainly through infinite trouble and strife,
The many their labours employ,
Since all, that is truly delightful in life,
Is what all if they please may enjoy.

“NATHANIEL HATHORNE.
“SALEM, February 13, 1817.”

He wrote this with the greatest nicety, framing it in broad black lines, and ornamenting the capitals in a manner that recalls the decoration of John Hathorne’s gravestone. He composed a number of poems between his thirteenth and seventeenth years, quite as good as those of Longfellow at the same age; but after he entered Bowdoin College he dropped the practice altogether and never resumed it, although one would suppose that Longfellow’s example would have stimulated him to better efforts. Neither does he appear to have tried his hand in writing tales, as boys who have no thought of literary distinction frequently do. During the years of his lameness he sometimes invented extemporaneous stories, which invariably commenced with a voyage to some foreign country, from which his hero never returned. This shows how continually his father’s fate was in his mind, although he said nothing of it.

Robert Manning’s interest in the stage-company afforded the boy fine opportunities for free rides, and he probably also frequented the stables; although neither as youth nor as man did he take much interest in driving or riding. He was more fond of playing upon the wharves, a good healthy place — and watching the great ships sailing forth to far-off lands, and returning with their strange cargoes — enough to stimulate any boy’s imagination, if he has it in him. It is likely that if Nathaniel’s father had lived, he would also have followed a seafaring life, and would never have become useful to the world in the way that he did.

Somewhere about the close of the eighteenth century, Richard Manning, the father of Mrs. Hathorne, purchased a large tract of land in Cumberland County, Maine, between Lake Sebago and the town of Casco; and in 1813 Robert Manning built a house near the lake, in the township of Raymond, and his brother Richard, who had become much of an invalid, went to live there, partly for his health and partly to keep an oversight on the property. In 1817 Mrs. Hathorne also went there, taking her children with her, and remaining, with some intermissions, until 1822. Meanwhile the Mannings sold some thousands of acres of land, although not, as we may suppose, at very good prices, and the name of Elizabeth Hathorne was repeatedly attached to the deeds of conveyance. The house that Robert built was the plainest sort of structure, of only two stories, and with no appearance of having been painted; but the farmers in the vicinity criticised it as “Manning’s folly,”— exactly why, does not appear clearly, unless they foresaw what actually happened, that the house could be neither sold nor rented after the Mannings had left it. For many years, it served as a meeting-house — one could not call it a church — and now it has become a Hawthorne museum, the town of Raymond very laudably keeping it in repair.

Although none of the events in the early life of Hawthorne ought to be considered positive misfortunes, as they all contributed to make him what he was, yet upon general principles it is much to be regretted that he should have passed the best years of his boyhood in this out-of-the-way place. His good uncle supplied him with a boat and a gun, and he enjoyed the small shooting, fishing, sailing and skating that the place afforded; but in later years he wrote to Bridge, “It was at Sebago that I learned my cursed habit of solitude,” and this pursued him through life like an evil genius, placing him continually at a disadvantage with his fellow-men. It has been supposed that this mode of life assisted in developing his individuality, but quite as strong individualities have been developed in the midst of large cities. “Speech is more refreshing than light.”

When will parents learn wisdom in regard to their children? A conscientious, tender-hearted boy will be sent to a rough country school, to be scoffed at and maltreated there, before he is twelve years old; while another of a coarser and harder nature will be kept at home, to be petted and pampered until all the vigor and manliness are sapped out of him. Parents who prefer to live in a modest, humble manner, in order that their children may have better advantages, deserve the highest commendation, but in this respect good instruction is less important than favorable associations. From fourteen to twenty-one is the formative period of character, and the influences which may be brought to bear on the growing mind are of the highest importance. Lake Sebago served as an excellent gymnasium for young Hawthorne, and may have helped to develop his sense of the beautiful, but he found few companions there, and those not of the most suitable kind. He was exceedingly fond of skating — so much so that when the ice was smooth he sometimes remained on the lake far into the night. This we can envy him, for skating is the poetry of motion.

The captain of the “Hawthorne,” which plies back and forth across the lake in summer, regularly points out to his passengers the house where the Hathornes lived. It is easily seen from the steamer — a severely plain, unpainted building, in appearance much like the Manning house on Herbert Street. Nearly in line with it a great cliff-like rock juts out from the centre of the lake, on which the Indians centuries ago etched and painted great warlike figures, whose significance is now known to no one. It is said that Hawthorne frequently sailed or rowed to Indian Rock, and to a sort of grotto there which was large enough for his boat to enter. Both the rock and the Manning house are now difficult of access. Longfellow wrote a pretty descriptive poem of a voyage on Sebago, and it is remarkable how he has made use of every feature of the landscape, every incident of the excursion, to fill his verses. The lake has much the shape of an hour-glass, the northern and southern portions being connected by a winding strait, so crooked that it requires the constant effort of the pilot to prevent the little steamer from running aground. There used to be fine fishing in it — large perch, bass, and a species of fresh-water salmon often weighing from six to eight pounds.

Strangely enough, one of Hawthorne’s acquaintances on the shores of Sebago was a mulatto boy named William Symmes, the son of a Virginia slave, foisted by his father upon a Maine sea-captain named Britton, who lived in the half-wilderness around Raymond. Symmes afterwards became a sailor, and continued in that vocation until the Civil War, when he went to live in Alexandria, Va. In 1870 he published in the Portland Transcript what pretended to be a series of extracts from a diary which young Hawthorne had kept while at Raymond, and which was found there, after the departure of the Manning family, by a man named Small, while moving a load of furniture which had been sold to another party. Small preserved it until 1864, and then made a present of it to Symmes.

Doubts have been cast on the genuineness of this diary, as was natural enough under the circumstances; for the original manuscript was never produced by Symmes, who died the following year, and no one knows what has become of it. It may also be asked, why should Small have disposed so readily of this manuscript to Symmes after preserving it sedulously for more than forty years? Why did he not return it to its rightful owner; or, if he felt ashamed of his original abstraction, why did not Symmes restore it to the Hawthorne family after Hawthorne’s death, when every newspaper in the country was celebrating Hawthorne’s genius? It also might have occurred to one of them that such property would have a marketable value, and could be disposed of at a high price to some collector of literary curiosities; but Symmes did not even ask to be remunerated for the portion that he contributed to the Portland Transcript. Neither did he harbor the slightest ill feeling toward Hawthorne, whom he claimed to have met several times in the course of his wanderings — once at Salem, and again at Liverpool — and was always treated by him with exceptional kindness and civility.

The only answer that can be made to these queries is, that men in Symmes’s position in life do not act according to any method that can be previously calculated. In a case like the present, there could be no predicting it; and it is possible that this mulatto valued the diary above all price, as a souvenir of the one white man who had ever been kind and good to him. Who knows what a heart there may have been in William Symmes?

The internal evidence of this diary is so strongly in its favor as to be almost conclusive. Lathrop, who made a special study of it, says:

“The fabrication of the journal by a person possessed of some literary skill and familiar with the localities mentioned, at dates so long ago as 1816 to 1819, might not be an impossible feat, but it is an extremely improbable one.”

To which it might be added, that it could be only a Hawthorne that could accomplish such a fabrication. Few things in literature are more difficult than to make a boy talk like a boy, and the tone of this Sebago journal is not only boyish, but sweet and pleasant to the ear, such as we might imagine the talk of the youthful Hawthorne. Not only this, but there is a gradated improvement of intelligence in the course of it — rather too much so for entire credibility. It is quite possible that there is more of it than Hawthorne ever wrote, but that does not prevent us from having faith in the larger portion of it. The purity of its diction, the nice adaptation of each word to its purpose, and the accuracy of detail are much in its favor; besides which, the personal reflections in it are exactly like Hawthorne. The published portion of the diary in Mr. Pickard’s book makes about fifty rather small pages, but no dates are given except at the close, and that is August, 1818; and as Hawthorne went to Sebago for the first time the preceding year, we may presume that this note-book represents a winter and summer vacation, during which he would seem to have enjoyed himself in a healthy boyish fashion. We have only space for a few extracts from this publication, which serve both to exemplify Hawthorne’s mode of life at Raymond and to illustrate the preceding statement concerning the book.

The first observation in the diary is quoted by Lathrop, and has a decidedly youthful tone.

“Two kingbirds have built their nest between our house and the mill-pond. The male is more courageous than any creature that I know about. He seems to have taken possession of the territory from the great pond to the small one, and goes out to war with every fish-hawk that flies from one to the other over his dominion. The fish-hawks must be miserable cowards to be driven by such a speck of a bird. I have not yet seen one turn to defend himself.”

Kingbirds are the knights-errant of the feathered tribes. They never attack another bird unless it is three times their own size; but when a few years older, the boy Hawthorne would probably have noticed that the kingbirds’ powers of flight are so superior that all other birds are practically at their mercy. This fixes the date of the entry in the early summer of 1817, for kingbirds are not belligerent except during the nesting season. Somewhat later in the year he writes:

“Went yesterday in a sail-boat on the Great Pond with Mr. Peter White, of Windham. He sailed up here from White’s Bridge to see Captain Dingley, and invited Joseph Dingley and Mr. Ring to take a boat-ride out to the Dingley Islands and to the Images. He was also kind enough to say that I might go, with my mother’s consent, which she gave after much coaxing. Since the loss of my father, she dreads to have any one belonging to her go upon the water. It is strange that this beautiful body of water is called a ‘pond.’ The geography tells of many in Scotland and Ireland, not near so large, that are called ‘Lakes.’”

Notice his objection to bad nomenclature, and his school-boy argument against it. In his account of this excursion he says further:

“After we got ashore, Mr. White allowed me to fire his long gun at a mark. I did not hit the mark, and am not sure that I saw it at the time the gun went off, but believe rather that I was watching for the noise that I was about to make.

“Mr. Ring said that with practice I could be a gunner, and that now, with a very heavy charge, he thought I could kill a horse at eight paces!”

Here or nowhere do we recognize the budding of Hawthorne’s genius. This clear introspective analysis is the foundation of all true mental power, and Hawthorne might have become a Platonic philosopher, if he had not preferred to be a story-teller.

These sports came to an end in the autumn when he was sent to study with the Reverend Caleb Bradley, a somewhat eccentric graduate of Harvard, who resided at Stroudwater, Maine, and with whom he remained during the winter. 20He refers to this period of tuition in the short story of “The Vision of the Fountain,” and whether or no any such vision appeared to him, we can fairly believe that the tale was suggested by some pretty school-girl who made an impression on him, only to disappear in a tantalizing manner. It is to be presumed that he returned to his mother at Raymond, for Christmas; and at that time he heard a story of how an Otisfield man named Henry Turner had killed three hibernating bears which he discovered in a cave near Moose Pond, not a difficult feat when one comes upon them in that torpid condition. This would place the killing of the bears at about the first of December, which would be probable enough, and the fact itself has been substantiated by Samuel Pickard. The next succeeding entry relates to the drowning of a boy while swimming, which could only have happened the following June. Mrs. Hathorne was greatly alarmed, and objected to Nathaniel’s going in bathing with the other boys. He did not like the restriction, but writes that he shall obey his mother.

There is a ghost story in the diary, quite original, and told with an air of excellent credibility; and also a short anthropomorphic romance concerning a badly treated horse, full of genuine pathos and kindly sympathy — more sympathetic, in fact, than Hawthorne’s later stories, in which he is sometimes almost too reserved and unemotional:

“‘Good morning, Mr. Horse, how are you today?’ ‘Good morning, youngster,’ said he, just as plain as a horse can speak, and then said, ‘I am almost dead, and I wish I was quite. I am hungry, have had no breakfast and stand here tied by the head while they are grinding the corn, and until master drinks two or three glasses of rum at the store, and then drag him and the meal up the Ben Ham hill, and home, and am now so weak that I can hardly stand. Oh, dear, I am in a bad way,’ and the old creature cried — I almost cried myself.”

The only difficulty in believing this diary to be genuine is the question: If Hawthorne could write with such perspicuity at fourteen, why are there no evidences of it during his college years? But it sometimes happens so.

We cannot refrain from quoting one more extract from the last entry in the Sebago diary, so beautifully tender and considerate as it is of his mother’s position toward her only son. He had been invited by a party of their neighbors to go on an all-day excursion, and though his mother grants his request to be allowed to join them, he feels the reluctance with which she does so and he writes:

“She said ‘Yes,’ but I was almost sorry, knowing that my day’s pleasure would cost her one of anxiety. However, I gathered up my hooks and lines, with some white salted pork for bait, and with a fabulous number of biscuit, split in the middle, the insides well buttered, then skilfully put together again, and all stowed in sister’s large work-bag, and slung over my shoulder, I started, making a wager with Enoch White, as we walked down to the boat, as to which could catch the largest number of fish.” 21

This is the only entry that is dated (August, 1818), and as it was on this same occasion that the black ducks were shot, it must have been on one of the last days of August. We may presume that Nathaniel returned to his studies at Stroudwater the following month, for we do not hear of him again at Raymond — or in Salem, either — until March 24, when he writes to his uncle, Robert Manning, who has evidently just returned from Raymond to Salem, and speaks of expecting to go to Portland with a Mr. Linch for the day. On May 16, 1819, he writes to his uncle Robert again:

“The grass and trees are green, the fences finished and the garden planted. Two of the goats are on the island and the other kept for the milk. I have shot a partridge and a hen-hawk and caught eighteen large trout [probably Sebago salmon]. I am sorry that my uncle intends sending me to school again, for my mother can hardly spare me.”

From which it is easy to infer that he had not attended school very regularly of late, and Uncle Robert would seem to have concluded that it would be better to have his fine nephew where he could personally supervise his goings and comings. Accordingly, on July 26 we find Nathaniel attending school in Salem — a most unusual season for it — and although his mother remained at Raymond two years longer, he was not permitted to return there again, except possibly for short periods.

Emerson once pointed out to me on Sudbury Street, Boston, an extremely old man with long white locks and the face of a devoted scholar, advancing toward us with slow and cautious steps. “That,” said he, “is Doctor Worcester, the lexicographer.” Hawthorne’s early education remains much of a mystery. In 1819 he complains in a letter to his mother that he has to go to a cheap school — a good indication that he did not intend to trust to fortune for his future welfare; soon after this we hear that dictionary Worcester is his chief instructor. He could not have found a more amiable or painstaking pedagogue; nor is it likely that the fine qualities of his teacher were ever better appreciated. Hawthorne himself says nothing of this, for it was not his way to express admiration for man or woman, but we can believe that he felt the same affection for the doctor that well-behaved boys commonly do for their old masters. It was from Worcester that he derived his excellent knowledge of Latin, the single study of which he was fond; and it is his preference for words derived from the Latin which gives grace and flexibility to Hawthorne’s style, as the force and severity of Emerson’s style come from his partiality for Saxon words. During his last year at school, Hawthorne took private lessons of a Salem lawyer, Benjamin Oliver, and perhaps studied with him altogether at the finish.

Hawthorne’s life had been so irregular for years that it is creditable to him that he should have succeeded in entering college at all. We hear of him at Sebago in winter and at Salem in July. He writes to his Uncle Robert to look out for the shot-gun which he left in a closet at Sebago, and which has a rather heavy charge of powder in it. He appears to have found as little companionship in Salem as he did in that wilderness — the natural effect of such a life. He may have been acquainted with half the boys in Salem, but he did not make any warm friends among them. His sister Louisa, who was a more vivacious person than Elizabeth, was his chief companion and comfort. Seated at the window with her on summer evenings, he elaborated the plan of an imaginary society, a club of two, called the “Pin Society,” to which all fees, assessments and fines were paid in pins — then made by hand and much more expensive than now. He constituted himself its secretary, and wrote imaginary reports of its proceedings, in which Louisa is frequently fined for absence from meetings. We do not hear of their going to parties or dances with other children.

In August, 1820, he started an imaginary newspaper called the Spectator, which he wrote himself with some help from Louisa, and of which there was only one copy of each number. He continued this through five successive issues, and we trace in its pages the commencement of Hawthorne’s peculiar humor — too quiet and gentle to make us laugh, but with a penetrating tinge of pathos. Take for instance the following:

“There is no situation in life more irksome than that of an editor who is obliged to find amusement for his Readers, from a head which is too often (as is the present predicament with our own) filled with emptiness. Since commencing this paper, we have received no communication of any kind, so that the whole weight of the business devolves upon our own shoulders, a load far too great for them to bear. We hope the Public will reflect on these grievances.”

This is true fiction, and Nathaniel was not the first or the last editor to whom the statement has applied. His difficulties are imaginary, but he realizes what they might be in reality.

In another number he says:

“We know of no news, either domestic or foreign, and we hope our readers will excuse our not inserting any. The law which prohibits paying debts when a person has no money will apply in this case.”

Then he makes this quiet hit against the people of Maine for having separated themselves and their territory from Massachusetts:

“By a gentleman in the state of Maine, we learn that a famine is seriously apprehended owing to the want of rain. Potatoes could not be procured in some places. When children break their leading strings, and run away from their Parent, (as Maine has done) they may expect sometimes to suffer hunger.” 22

Of his religious instruction we hear nothing; but church-going in New England during the first forty years of the nineteenth century was wellnigh universal, and it makes little difference now to which of the various forms of Calvinistic worship the Manning family subscribed. That young Hawthorne was seriously impressed in this way is evident from the following ode, which he may have composed as early as his fifteenth year:

“Oh, I have roamed in rapture wild
Where the majestic rocks are piled
In lonely, stern, magnificence around
The troubled ocean’s steadfast bound;
And I have seen the storms arise
And darkness veil from mortal eyes
The Heavens that shine so fair and bright,
And all was solemn, silent night.
Then I have seen the storm disperse,
And Mercy hush the whirlwind fierce,
And all my soul in transport owned
There is a God, in Heaven enthroned.”

20 S. T. Pickard’s “Hawthorne’s First Diary.”

21 Appendix A.

22 Wide Awake, xxxiii. 512.

There is more of a rhetorical flourish than of serious religious feeling in this; but genuine piety is hardly to be expected, and not greatly to be desired, in a boy of that age. It represents the desire to be religious, and to express something, he knows not what.

Nathaniel Hawthorne had already decided on his vocation in life before he entered Bowdoin College — a decision which he afterwards adhered to with inflexible determination, in spite of the most discouraging obstacles. In a memorable letter to his mother, written March 13, 1821, he says:

“I am quite reconciled to going to college, since I am to spend my vacations with you. Yet four years of the best part of my life is a great deal to throw away. I have not yet concluded what profession I shall have. The being a minister is of course out of the question. I shall not think that even you could desire me to choose so dull a way of life. Oh, no, mother, I was not born to vegetate forever in one place, and to live and die as tranquil as — a puddle of water. As to lawyers, there are so many of them already that one-half of them (upon a moderate calculation) are in a state of actual starvation. A physician, then, seems to be ‘Hobson’s choice’; but yet I should not like to live by the diseases and infirmities of my fellow-creatures. And it would weigh very hardly on my conscience, in the course of my practice, if I should chance to send any unlucky patient ‘ad infernum,’ which, being interpreted, is ‘to the realms below.’ Oh that I was rich enough to live without profession! What do you think of my becoming an author, and relying for support upon my pen? Indeed, I think the illegibility of my hand is very author-like.” 23

Such were the Ides of March for Hawthorne. It was no boyish ambition for public distinction, nor a vain grasping at the laurel wreath, but a calmly considered and clear-sighted judgment.

23 Conway, 24.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38