In May, 1870, an article was published in the “Portland Transcript,” giving some of the facts connected with Hawthorne’s sojourn in Maine, as a boy. This called out a letter from Alexandria, Va., signed “W. S.,” and purporting to come from a person who had lived at Raymond, in boyhood, and had been a companion of Hawthorne’s. He gave some little reminiscences of that time, recalling the fact that Hawthorne had read him some poetry founded on the Tarbox disaster, already mentioned. [Footnote: See ante, p. 89.] Himself he described as having gone to sea at twenty, and having been a wanderer ever since. In. speaking of the date of the poetry, “We could not have been more than ten years old,” he said. This, of course, is a mistake, the accident having happened in 1819, when Hawthorne was fourteen. And it is tolerably certain that he did not even visit Raymond until he was twelve.
The letter called out some reminiscences from Mr. Robinson Cook, of Bolster’s Mills, in Maine, who had also known Hawthorne as a boy; some poetry on the Tarbox tragedy was also found, and printed, which afterward proved to have been written by another person; and one or two other letters were published, not especially relevant to Hawthorne, but concerning the Tarbox affair. After this, “W. S.” wrote again from Alexandria (November 23, 1870), revealing the fact that he had come into possession, several years before, of the manuscript book from which he afterward sent extracts. The book, he explained, was found by a man named Small, who had assisted in moving a lot of furniture, among it a “large mahogany bookcase” full of old books, from the old Manning House. This was several years before the civil war, and “W. S.” met Small in the army, in Virginia. He reported that the book —“originally a bound blank one not ruled,” and “gnawed by mice or eaten by moths on the edges”— contained about two hundred and fifty pages, and was written throughout, “the first part in a boyish hand though legibly, and showing in its progress a marked improvement in penmanship.” The passages reprinted in the present volume were sent by him, over the signature “W. Sims,” to the “Transcript,” and published at different dates (February 11, 1871; April 22, 1871). Their appearance called out various communications, all tending to establish their genuineness; but, beyond the identification of localities and persons, and the approximate establishing of dates, no decisive proof was forthcoming. Sims himself, however, was recalled by former residents near Raymond; and there seemed at least much inferential proof in favor of the notes. A long silence ensued upon the printing of the second portion; and at the end of 1871 it was made known that Sims had died at Pensacola, Florida. The third and last supposed extract from Hawthorne’s note-book was sent from Virginia again, in 1873 (published June 21 of that year), by a person professing to have charge of Sims’s papers. This person was written to by the editors of the “Transcript,” but no reply has ever been received. A relative of Hawthorne in Salem also wrote to the Pensacola journal in which Sims’s death was announced, making inquiry as to its knowledge of him and as to the source of the mortuary notice. No reply was ever received from this quarter, either. Sims, it is said, had been in the secret service under Colonel Baker, of dreaded fame in war-days; and it may be that, having enemies, he feared the notoriety to which his contributions to journalism might expose him, and decided to die — at least so far as printer’s ink could kill him. All these circumstances are unfortunate, because they make the solution of doubts concerning the early notes quite impossible, for the present.
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. It is not likely that an ordinary impostor would hit upon the sort of incident selected for mention in these extracts. Even if he drew upon circumstances of his own boyhood, transferring them to Hawthorne’s, he must possess a singularly clear memory, to recall matters of this sort; and to invent them would require a nice imaginative faculty. One of the first passages, touching the “son of old Mrs. Shane” and the “son of the Widow Hawthorne,” is of a sort to entirely evade the mind of an impostor. The whole method of observation, too, seems very characteristic. If the portion descriptive of a raft and of the manners of the lumbermen be compared with certain memoranda in the “American Note–Books” (July 13 and 15, 1837), derived from somewhat similar scenes, a general resemblance in the way of seizing characteristics will be observed. Of course, if the early notes are fabrications, it may be that the author of them drew carefully after passages of the maturer journal, and this among others. But the resemblance is crossed by a greater youthfulness in the early notes, it seems to me, which it would be hard to produce artificially. The cool and collected style of the early journal is not improbable in a boy like Hawthorne, who had read many books and lived much in the companionship of older persons. Indeed, it is very much like the style of “The Spectator” of 1820. A noticeable coincidence is, that the pedler, Dominicus Jordan, should be mentioned in both the journal and “The Spectator.” The circumstance that the dates should all have been said to be missing from the manuscript book is suspicious. Yet the last extract has the month and year appended, August, 1819. What is more important is, that the date of the initial inscription is given as 1816; and at the time when this was announced it had not been ascertained even by Hawthorne’s own family and relatives that he had been at Raymond so early. But since the publications in the “Transcript,” some letters have come to light of which I have made use; and one of these, bearing date July 21, 1818, to which I have alluded in another connection, speaks of Raymond from actual recollection. “Does the Pond look the same as when I was there? It is almost as pleasant at Nahant as at Raymond. I thought there was no place that I should say so much of.” The furnisher of the notes, if he was disingenuous, might indeed have remembered that Hawthorne was in Maine about 1816; he may also have relied on a statement in the “Transcript’s” editorial, to the effect that Hawthorne was taken to Raymond in 1814. In that editorial, it is also observed: “Hawthorne was then a lad of ten years.” I have already said that Sims refers to the period of the verses on the Tarboxes as being a time when he and Hawthorne were “not more than ten years old.” This, at first, would seem to suggest that he was relying still further upon the editorial. But if he had been taking the editorial statement as a basis for fabrication, it is not likely that he would have failed to ascertain exactly the date of the freezing of Mr. and Mrs. Tarbox, which was 1819. The careless way in which he alludes to this may have been the inadvertence of an impostor trying to make his account agree with one already published; but it is more likely that the sender of the notes did not remember the precise year in which the accident occurred, and was confused by the statement of the “Transcript.” An impostor must have taken more pains, one would think. It must also be noticed that “the Widow Hawthorne” is spoken of in the notes. Sims, however, in his preliminary letter, refers to the fact that “the universal pronunciation of the name in Raymond was Hathorn — the first syllable exactly as the word ‘hearth’ was pronounced at that time”; and the explanation of the spelling in the notes doubtless is that Sims, or whoever transcribed the passage, changed it as being out of keeping with the now historic form of the name. It is possible that further changes were also made by the transcriber; and a theory which has some color is, that the object in keeping the original manuscript out of the way may have been, to make it available for expansions and embellishments, using the actual record as a nucleus.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55