With such antecedents behind him, and such associations awaiting him, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born, July 4, 1804.
His father, the captain of a trading-vessel, was one of three sons of the privateersman Daniel, and was born in 1776; so that both father and son, it happens, are associated by time of birth with the year and the day that American independence has made honorable and immemorial. The elder Nathaniel wore his surname in one of several fashions that his predecessors had provided — for they had some eight different ways of writing, though presumably but one of pronouncing it — and called himself Hathorne. It was not long after the birth of his only boy, second of his three children, however, that he left the name to this male successor, with whom it underwent a restoration to the more picturesque and flowered form of Hawthorne. Nathaniel, the son of Daniel, died in Surinam, in the spring of 1808, of a fever, it is thought, and left his widow stricken with a lifelong grief, his family suddenly overwhelmed with sorrow and solitude. I think I cannot convey the sadness of this more fully than by simply saying it. Yet sombre as the event is, it seems a fit overture to the opening life of this spirit so nobly sad whom we are about to study. The tradition seems to have become established that Captain Nathaniel was inclined to melancholy, and very reticent; also, that though he was an admirable shipmaster, he had a vigorous appetite for reading, and carried many books with him on his long voyages. Those who know the inheritances that come with the Puritan blood will easily understand the sort of dark, underlying deposit of unutterable sadness that often reminds such persons of their austere ancestry; but, in addition to this, the Hathornes had now firmly imbibed the belief that their family was under a retributive ban for its share in the awful severities of the Quaker and the witchcraft periods. It was not to them the symbolic and picturesque thing that it is to us, but a real overhanging, intermittent oppressiveness, that must often have struck across their actions in a chilling and disastrous way. Their ingrained reticence was in itself, when contrasted with Major Hathorne’s fame in oratory, a sort of corroboration of the idea that fate was making reprisals upon them. The captain’s children felt this; and the son, when grown to manhood, was said to greatly resemble his father in appearance, as well. Of the Endicotts, who also figured largely in the maritime history of Salem, it is told that in the West Indies the name grew so familiar as being that of the captain of a vessel, that it became generic; and when a new ship arrived, the natives would ask, “Who is the Endicott?” Very likely the Hathornes had as fixed a fame in the ports where they traded. At all events, some forty years after the captain’s death at Surinam, a sailor one day stopped Mr. Surveyor Hawthorne on the steps of the Salem Custom House, and asked him if he had not once a relative — an uncle or a father — who died in Surinam at the date given above. He had recognized him by his likeness to the father, of whom Nathaniel probably had no memory at all.
But he inherited much from his mother, too. She has been described by a gentleman who saw her in Maine, as very reserved, “a very pious woman, and a very minute observer of religious festivals,” of “feasts, fasts, new moons, and Sabbaths,” and perhaps a little inclined to superstition. Such an influence as hers would inevitably foster in the son that strain of reverence, and that especial purity and holiness of thought, which pervade all that he has written. Those who knew her have said also, that the luminous, gray, magnificent eyes that so impressed people in Hawthorne were like hers. She had been Miss Elizabeth Clarke Manning, the daughter of Richard Manning, whose ancestors came to New England about 1680, and sister of Richard and of Robert Manning, a well-known pomologist of the same place. After the death of her husband, this brother Robert came to her assistance, Captain Hathorne having left but little property: he was only thirty-two when he died.
Nathaniel had been born in a solid, old-fashioned little house on Union Street, which very appropriately faced the old shipyard of the town in 1760; and it appears that in the year before his birth, the Custom House of that time had been removed to a spot “opposite the long brick building owned by W. S. Gray, and Benjamin H. Hathorne,”— as if the future Surveyor’s association with the revenue were already drawing nearer to him. The widow now moved with her little family to the house of her father, in Herbert Street, the next one eastward from Union. The land belonging to this ran through to Union Street, adjoining the house they had left; and from his top-floor study here, in later years, Hawthorne could look down on the less lofty roof under which he was born. The Herbert Street house, however, was spoken of as being on Union Street, and it is that one which is meant in a passage of the “American Note–Books” (October 25, 1838), which says, “In this dismal chamber FAME was won,” as likewise in the longer revery in the same volume, dated October 4, 1840.
“Certainly,” the sister of Hawthorne writes to me of him, “no man ever needed less a formal biography.” But the earlier portion of his life, of which so little record has been made public, must needs bear so interesting a relation to his later career, that I shall examine it with as much care as I may.
Very few details of his early boyhood have been preserved; but these go to show that his individuality soon appeared. “He was a pleasant child, quite handsome, with golden curls,” is almost the first news we have of him; but his mastering sense of beauty soon made itself known. While quite a little fellow, he is reported to have said of a woman who was trying to be kind to him, “Take her away! She is ugly and fat, and has a loud voice!” When still a very young school-boy, he was fond of taking long walks entirely by himself; was seldom or never known to have a companion; and in especial, haunted Legg’s Hill, a place some miles from his home. The impression of his mother’s loss and loneliness must have taken deep and irremovable hold upon his heart; the wide, bleak, uncomprehended fact that his father would never return, that he should never see him, seems to have sunk into his childish reveries like a cabalistic spell, turning thought and feeling and imagination toward mournful and mysterious things. Before he had passed from his mother’s care to that of the schoolmaster, it is known that he would break out from the midst of childish broodings, and exclaim, “There, mother! I is going away to sea, some time”; then, with an ominous shaking of the head, “and I’ll never come back again!” The same refrain lurked in his mind when, a little older, he would tell his sisters fantastic tales, and give them imaginary accounts of long journeys, which he should take in future, in the course of which he flew at will through the air; on these occasions he always ended with the same hopeless prophecy of his failing to return. No doubt, also, there was a little spice of boyish mischief in this; and something of the fictionist, for it enabled him to make a strong impression on his audience. He brought out the dénouement in such a way as to seem — so one of those who heard him has written — to enjoin upon them “the advice to value him the more while he stayed with” them. This choice of the lugubrious, however, seems to have been native to him; for almost before he could speak distinctly he is reported to have caught up certain lines of “Richard III.” which he had heard read; and his favorite among them, always declaimed on the most unexpected occasions and in his loudest tone, was —
“Stand back, my Lord, and let the coffin pass!”
Though he has nowhere made allusion to the distant and sudden death of his father, Hawthorne has mentioned an uncle lost at sea, in the “English Notes,” [Footnote: June 30, 1854]— a startling passage. “If it is not known how and when a man dies,” he says “it makes a ghost of him for many years thereafter, perhaps for centuries. King Arthur is an example; also the Emperor Frederic [Barbarossa] and other famous men who were thought to be alive ages after their disappearance. So with private individuals. I had an uncle John, who went a voyage to sea about the beginning of the War of 1812, and has never returned to this hour. But as long as his mother lived, as many as twenty years, she never gave up the hope of his return, and was constantly hearing stories of persons whose descriptions answered to his. Some people actually affirmed that they had seen him in various parts of the world. Thus, so far as her belief was concerned, he still walked the earth. And even to this day I never see his name, which is no very uncommon one, without thinking that this may be the lost uncle.” At the time of that loss Hawthorne was but eight years old; he wrote this memorandum at fifty; and all that time the early impression had remained intact, and the old semi-hallucination about the uncle’s being still alive hung about his mind through forty years. When we change the case, and replace the uncle in whom he had no very distinct interest with the father whose decease had so overclouded his mother’s life, and thwarted the deep yearnings of his own young heart, we may begin to guess the depth and persistence of the emotions which must have been awakened in him by this awful silence and absence of death, so early thrown across the track of his childish life. I conceive those lonely school-boy walks, overblown by shadow-freighting murmurs of the pine and accompanied by the far-off, muffled roll of the sea, to have been full of questionings too deep for words, too sacred for other companionship than that of uninquisitive Nature; — questionings not even shaped and articulated to his own inner sense.
Yet, whatever half-created, formless world of profound and tender speculations and sad reflections the boy was moulding within himself, this did not master him. The seed, as time went on, came to miraculous issue; but as yet the boy remained, healthily and for the most part happily, a boy still. A lady who, as a child, lived in a house which looked upon the garden of the widow’s new abiding-place, used to see him at play there with his sisters, a graceful but sturdy little figure; and a little incident of his school-days, at the same time that it shows how soon he began to take a philosophical view of things, gives a hint of his physical powers. He was put to study under Dr. J. E. Worcester, the famous lexicographer, (who, on graduating at Yale, in 1811, had come to Salem and taken a school there for a few years;) and it is told of him at this time, on the best authority, that he frequently came home with accounts of having fought with a comrade named John Knights.
“But why do you fight with him so often?” asked one of his sisters.
“I can’t help it,” he said. “John Knights is a boy of very quarrelsome disposition.”
Something in the judicial, reproving tone of the reply seems to hint that Hawthorne had taken the measure of his rival, physically as well as mentally, and had found himself more than a match for the poor fellow. All that is known of his bodily strength in maturer boyhood and at college weighs on this side; and Horatio Bridge, [Footnote: See Prefatory Note to The Snow Image.] his classmate and most intimate friend at Bowdoin College, tells me that, though remarkably calm-tempered, any suspicion of disrespect roused him into readiness to give the sort of punishment that his athletic frame warranted.
But one of the most powerful influences acting on this healthy, unsuspected, unself-suspecting genius must have been that of books. The house in Herbert Street was well provided with them, and he was allowed to make free choice. His selection was seldom, if ever, questioned; and this was well, for he thus drew to himself the mysterious aliment on which his genius throve. Shakespere, Milton, Pope, and Thomson are mentioned among the first authors with whom he made acquaintance on first beginning to read; and “The Castle of Indolence” seems to have been one of his favorite poems while a boy. He is also known to have read, before fourteen, more or less of Rousseau’s works, and to have gone through, with great diligence, the whole of “The Newgate Calendar,” which latter selection excited a good deal of comment among his family and relatives, but no decisive opposition. A remark of his has come down from that time, that he cared “very little for the history of the world before the fourteenth century”; and he had a judicious shyness of what was considered useful reading. Of the four poets there is of course but little trace in his works; Rousseau, with his love of nature and impressive abundance of emotion, seems to stand more directly related to the future author’s development, and “The Newgate Calendar” must have supplied him with the most weighty suggestions for those deep ponderings on sin and crime which almost from the first tinged the pellucid current of his imagination. There is another book, however, early and familiarly known to him, which indisputably affected the bent of his genius in an important degree. This is Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.”
Being a healthy boy, with strong out-of-door instincts planted in him by inheritance from his seafaring sire, it might have been that he would not have been brought so early to an intimacy with books, but for an accident similar to that which played a part in the boyhoods of Scott and Dickens. When he was nine years old he was struck on the foot by a ball, and made seriously lame. The earliest fragment of his writing now extant is a letter to his uncle Robert Manning, at that time in Raymond, Maine, written from Salem, December 9, 1813. It announces that his foot is no better, and that a new doctor is to be sent for. “May be,” the boy writes, “he will do me some good, for Dr. B—— has not, and I don’t know as Dr. K—— will.” He adds that it is now four weeks since he has been to school, “and I don’t know but it will be four weeks longer.” This weighing of possibilities, and this sense of the uncertain future, already quaintly show the disposition of the man he is to grow into; though the writing is as characterless as extreme youth, exaggerated distinctness, and copy-books could make it. The little invalid has not yet quite succumbed, however, for the same letter details that he has hopped out into the street once since his lameness began, and been “out in the office and had four cakes.” But the trouble was destined to last much longer than even the young seer had projected his gaze. There was some threat of deformity, and it was not until he was nearly twelve that he became quite well. Meantime, his kind schoolmaster, Dr. Worcester (at whose sessions it may have been that Hawthorne read Enfield’s “Speaker,” the name of which had “a classical sound in his ears,” long, long afterward, when he saw the author’s tombstone in Liverpool), came to hear him his lessons at home. The good pedagogue does not figure after this in Hawthorne’s boyish history; but a copy of Worcester’s Dictionary still exists and is in present use, which bears in a tremulous writing on the fly-leaf the legend: “Nathaniel Hawthorne, Esq., with the respects of J. E. Worcester.” For a long time, in the worst of his lameness, the gentle boy was forced to lie prostrate, and choosing the floor for his couch, he would read there all day long. He was extremely fond of cats — a taste which he kept through life; and during this illness, forced to odd resorts for amusement, he knitted a pair of stockings for the cat who reigned in the household at the time. When tired of reading, he diverted himself with constructing houses of books for the same feline pet, building walls for her to leap, and perhaps erecting triumphal arches for her to pass under. In this period he must have taken a considerable range in literature, for his age; and one would almost say that Nature, seeing so rare a spirit in a sound body that kept him sporting and away from reading, had devised a seemingly harsh plan of luring him into his proper element.
It was more likely after this episode than before, that Bunyan took that hold upon him so fraught with consequences. He went every Sunday to his grandmother Hathorne’s, and every Sunday he would lay hands upon the book; then, going to a particular three-cornered chair in a particular corner of the room, “he would read it by the hour, without once speaking.” I have already suggested the relations of the three minds, Milton, Bunyan, and Hawthorne. The more obvious effect of this reading is the allegorical turn which it gave the boy’s thoughts, manifest in many of his shorter productions while a young man; the most curious and complete issue being that of “The Celestial Railroad,” in the “Mosses,” where Christian’s pilgrimage is so deftly parodied in a railroad route to the heavenly goal. Full of keen satire, it does not, as it might at first seem, tend to diminish Bunyan’s dignity, but inspires one with a novel sense of it, as one is made to gradually pierce the shams of certain modern cant. But a more profound consequence was the direction of Hawthorne’s expanding thought toward sin and its various and occult manifestations. Imagine the impression upon a mind so fine, so exquisitely responsive, and so well prepared for grave revery as Hawthorne’s, which a passage like the following would make. In his discourse with Talkative, Faithful says: “A man may cry out against sin, of policy; but he cannot abhor it but by virtue of a godly antipathy. I have heard many cry out against sin in the pulpit, who can abide it well enough in the heart, house, and conversation.”
Here is almost the motive and the moral of “The Scarlet Letter.” But Hawthorne refined upon it unspeakably, and probed many fathoms deeper, when he perceived that there might be motives far more complex than that of policy, a condition much more subtly counterfeiting the mien of goodness and spirituality. Talkative replies, “You lie at a catch, I perceive,”— meaning that he is sophistical. “No, not I,” says Faithful; “I am only for setting things right.” Did not this desire of setting things right stir ever afterward in Hawthorne’s consciousness? It is not a little singular to trace in Bunyan two or three much more direct links with some of Hawthorne’s work. When Christiana at the Palace Beautiful is shown one of the apples that Eve ate of, and Jacob’s ladder with some angels ascending upon it, it incites one to turn to that marvellously complete “Virtuoso’s Collection,” [Footnote: Mosses from an Old Manse, Vol. II.] where Hawthorne has preserved Shelley’s skylark and the steed Rosinante, with Hebe’s cup and many another impalpable marvel, in the warden-ship of the Wandering Jew. So, too, when we read Great–Heart’s analysis of Mr. Fearing, this expression, “He had, I think, a Slough of Despond in his mind, a slough that he carried everywhere with him,” we can detect the root of symbolical conceptions like that of “The Bosom Serpent.” [Footnote: Mosses from an Old Manse, Vol. II.] I cannot refrain from copying here some passages from this same portion which recall in an exceptional way some of the traits of Hawthorne, enough, at least, to have given them a partially prophetic power over his character. Mr. Great–Heart says of Mr. Fearing: “He desired much to be alone; yet he always loved good talk, and often would get behind the screen to hear it.” (So Hawthorne screened himself behind his genial reserve.) “He also loved much to see ancient things, and to be pondering them in his mind.” What follows is not so strictly analogous throughout. Mr. Honest asks Great–Heart why so good a man as Fearing “should be all his days so much in the dark.” And he answers, “There are two sorts of reasons for it. One is, the wise God will have it so: some must pipe, and some must weep. . . . And for my part, I care not at all for that profession which begins not in heaviness of mind. The first string that the musician usually touches is the bass, when he intends to put all in tune. God also plays upon this string first, when he sets the soul in tune for himself. Only there was the imperfection of Mr. Fearing; he could play upon no other music but this, till towards his latter end.” Let the reader by no means imagine a moral comparison between Hawthorne and Bunyan’s Mr. Fearing. The latter, as his creator says, “was a good man, though much down in spirit”; and Hawthorne, eminent in uprightness, was also overcast by a behest to look for the most part at the darker phases of human thinking and feeling; yet there could not have been the slightest real similarity between him and the excellent but weak-kneed Mr. Fearing, whose life is made heavy by the doubt of his inheritance in the next world. Still, though the causes differ, it could be said of Hawthorne, as of Master Fearing, “Difficulties, lions, or Vanity Fair, he feared not at all; it was only sin, death, and hell that were to him a terror.” I mean merely that Hawthorne may have found in this character-sketch — Bunyan’s most elaborate one, for the typical subject of which he shows an evident fondness and leniency — something peculiarly fascinating, which may not have been without its shaping influence for him. But the intimate, affectionate, and lasting relation between Bunyan’s allegory and our romancer is something to be perfectly assured of. The affinity at once suggests itself, and there are allusions in the “Note–Books” and the works of Hawthorne which recall and sustain it. So late as 1854, he notes that “an American would never understand the passage in Bunyan about Christian and Hopeful going astray along a by-path into the grounds of Giant Despair, from there being no stiles and by-paths in our country.” Rarely, too, as Hawthorne quotes from or alludes to other authors, there is a reference to Bunyan in “The Blithedale Romance,” and several are found in “The Scarlet Letter”: it is in that romance that the most powerful suggestion of kinship between the two imaginations occurs. After Mr. Dimmesdale’s interview with Hester, in the wood, he suffers the most freakish temptations to various blasphemy on returning to the town: he meets a deacon, and desires to utter evil suggestions concerning the communion-supper; then a pious and exemplary old dame, fortunately deaf, into whose ear a mad impulse urges him to whisper what then seemed to him an “unanswerable argument against the immortality of the soul,” and after muttering some incoherent words, he sees “an expression of divine gratitude and ecstasy that seemed like the shine of the celestial city on her face.” Then comes the most frightful temptation of all, as he sees approaching him a maiden newly won into his flock. “She was fair and pure as a lily that had bloomed in Paradise. The minister knew well that he himself was enshrined within the stainless sanctity of her heart, which hung its snowy curtains about his image, imparting to religion the warmth of love, and to love a religious purity. Satan, that afternoon, had surely led the poor young girl away from her mother’s side, and thrown her into the pathway of this sorely tempted, or — shall we not rather say? — this lost and desperate man. As she drew nigh, the arch-fiend whispered to him to condense into small compass and drop into her tender bosom a germ of evil that would be sure to blossom darkly soon, and bear black fruit betimes.” Now, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, “poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice. . . . Just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him and stepped up softly to him, and, whisperingly, suggested many grievous blasphemies to him, which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind.” I need not enlarge upon the similar drift of these two extracts; still less mark the matured, detailed, and vividly human and dramatic superiority of Hawthorne’s use of the element common to both.
For other reading in early boyhood he had Spenser (it is said that the first book which he bought with his own money was “The Faery Queen,” for which he kept a fondness all his life), Froissart’s “Chronicles,” and Clarendon’s “History of the Rebellion.” The incident of Dr. Johnson’s penance in Uttoxeter Market dwelt so intimately in Hawthorne’s mind (he has treated it in the “True Stories,” and touches very tenderly upon it in “Our Old Home,” where he says that he “has always been profoundly impressed” by it), that I fancy a childish impression must have endeared it to him; and Boswell may have been one of his acquisitions at this time. Perhaps Dr. Worcester made the book known to him; and he would not be at a loss to find endless entertainment there.
It was in November, 1813, that the accident at ball disabled him. In June of the same year an event had taken place which must have entered strongly into his heart, as into that of many another Salem boy. Young Lawrence, of the American navy — who had won honors for himself at Tripoli and in the then prevailing war with Great Britain — had just been promoted, for gallant achievements off the coast of Brazil, to a captaincy, and put in command of the frigate “Chesapeake,” at Boston. A British frigate, the “Shannon,” had been cruising for some time in the neighborhood, seeking an encounter with the “Chesapeake,” and the valiant Lawrence felt compelled to go out and meet her, though he had only just assumed command, had had no time to discipline his crew (some of whom were disaffected), and was without the proper complement of commissioned officers. Americans know the result; how the “Chesapeake” was shattered and taken in a fifteen minutes’ fight off Marblehead, and how Lawrence fell with a mortal wound, uttering those unforgotten words, “Don’t give up the ship.” The battle was watched by crowds of people from Salem, who swarmed upon the hillsides to get a glimpse of the result.
When the details at last reached the town, many days afterward, Captain George Crowninshield fitted out a flag of truce, sailed for Halifax with ten shipmasters on board, and obtained the bodies of Lawrence and his lieutenant, Ludlow. Late in August they returned, and the city gave itself to solemnities in honor of the lost heroes, with the martial dignity of processions and the sorrowing sound of dirges. Cannon reverberated around them, and flags drooped above them at half-mast, shorn of their splendor. Joseph Story delivered an eloquent oration over them, and there was mourning in the hearts of every one, mixed with that spiritualized sense of national grandeur and human worth that comes at hours like this. Among the throngs upon the streets that day must have stood the boy Nathaniel Hawthorne; not too young to understand, and imbibing from this spectacle, as from many other sources, that profound love of country, that ingrained, ineradicable American quality, which marked his whole maturity.
I have not found any distinct corroboration of the report that Nathaniel again lost the use of his limbs, before going to Maine to live. In another brief, boyish letter dated “Salem, Monday, July 21, 1818” (all these documents are short, and allude to the writer’s inability to find anything more to say), he speaks of wanting to “go to dancing-school a little longer” before removing with his mother to the house which his uncle is building at Raymond. He has also, he says, been to Nahant, which he likes, because “fish are very thick there”; both items seeming to show a proper degree of activity. There has been a tendency among persons who have found nothing to obstruct the play of their fancies, to establish a notion of almost ill-balanced mental precocity in this powerful young genius, who seems to have advanced as well in muscular as in intellectual development.
It was in October, 1818, that Mrs. Hathorne carried her family to Raymond, to occupy the new house, a dwelling so ambitious, gauged by the primitive community thereabouts, that it gained the title of “Manning’s Folly.” Raymond is in Cumberland County, a little east of Sebago Lake, and the house, which is still standing, mossy and dismantled, is near what has since been called Radoux’s Mills. Though built by Robert Manning, it was purchased afterward by his brother Richard, whose widow married Mr. Radoux, the owner of these mills. Richard Manning’s will provided for the establishing of a meeting-house in the neighborhood, and his widow transformed the Folly into a Tabernacle; but, the community ceasing to use it after a few years, it has remained untenanted and decaying ever since, enjoying now the fame of being haunted. Lonely as was the region then, it perhaps had a more lively aspect than at present: A clearing probably gave the inmates of the Folly a clear sweep of vision to the lake; and to the northwest, beyond the open fields that still lie there, frown dark pine slopes, ranging and rising away into “forest-crowned hills; while in the far distance every hue of rock and tree, of field and grove, melts into the soft blue of Mount Washington.” This weird and woodsy ground of Cumberland became the nurturing soil of Hawthorne for some years. He stayed only one twelvemonth at Sebago Lake, returning to Salem after that for college preparation. But Brunswick, where his academic years were passed, lies less than thirty miles from the home in the woods, and within the same county: doubtless, also, he spent some of his summer vacations at Raymond. The brooding spell of his mother’s sorrow was perhaps even deepened in this favorable solitude. I know not whether the faith of women’s hearts really finds an easier avenue to such consecration as this of Mrs. Hathorne’s, in Salem, than elsewhere. I happen lately to have heard of a widow in that same neighborhood who has remained bereaved and uncomforted for more than seventeen years. With pathetic energy she spends the long days of summer, in long, incessant walks, sorrow-pursued, away from the dwellings of men. But, however this be, I think this divine and pure devotion to a first love, though it may have impregnated Hawthorne’s mind too keenly with the mournfulness of mortality, was yet one of the most cogent means of entirely clarifying the fine spirit which he inherited, and that he in part owes to this exquisite example his marvellous, unsurpassed spirituality. A woman thus true to her highest experience and her purest memories, by living in a sacred communion with the dead, annihilates time and is already set in an atmosphere of eternity. Ah, strong and simple soul that knew not how to hide your grief under specious self-comfortings and maxims of convenience, and so bowed in lifelong prostration before the knowledge of your first, unsullied love, be sure the world will sooner or later know how much it owes to such as you!
More than once has Nathaniel Hawthorne touched the delicate fibres of the heart that thrill again in this memorial grief of his mother’s; and, incongruous as is the connection of the following passage out of one of the Twice–Told Tales, it is not hard to trace the origin of the sensibility and insight which prompted it: “It is more probably the fact,” so it runs, “that while men are able to reflect upon their lost companions as remembrances apart from themselves, women, on the other hand, are conscious that a portion of their being has gone with the departed, whithersoever he has gone” [Footnote: “drippings with a Chisel,” in Vol. II. of the Twice–Told Tales.] But the most perfect example of his sympathy with this sorrow of widowhood is that brief, concentrated, and seemingly slight tale, “The Wives of the Dead,” [Footnote: See The Snow Image, and other Twice–Told Tales.] than which I know of nothing more touching and true, more exquisitely proportioned and dramatically wrought out among all English tales of the same scope and length. It pictures the emotions of “two young and comely women,” the “recent brides of two brothers, a sailor and a landsman; and two successive days had brought tidings of the death of each, by the chances of Canadian warfare and the tempestuous Atlantic.” The action occupies the night after the news, and turns upon the fact that each sister is roused, unknown to the other, at different hours, to be told that the report about her husband is false. One cannot give its beauty without the whole, more than one can separate the dewdrop from the morning-glory without losing the effect they make together. It is a complete presentment, in little, of all that dwells in widowhood. One sentence I may remind the reader of, nevertheless: “Her face was turned partly inward to the pillow, and had been hidden there to weep; but a look of motionless contentment was now visible upon it, as if her heart, like a deep lake, had grown calm because its dead had sunk down so far within it.” Even as his widowed mother’s face looked, to the true-souled boy, when they dwelt there together in the forest of pines, beside the placid lake!
Yet clear and searching as must then have been his perceptions, he had not always formulated them or made them his chief concern. On May 16, 1819 (the first spring after coming to the new abode), he writes to his uncle Robert that “we are all very well”; and “the grass and some of the trees look very green, the roads are very good, there is no snow on Lymington mountains. The fences are all finished, and the garden is laid out and planted. . . . I have shot a partridge and a henhawk, and caught eighteen large trout out of our brooke. I am sorry you intend to send me to school again.” Happy boy! he thinks he has found his vocation: it is, to shoot henhawks and catch trout. But his uncle, fortunately, is otherwise minded, though Nathaniel writes, in the same note: “Mother says she can hardly spare me.” The sway of outdoor life must have been very strong over this stalwart boy’s temperament. One who saw a great deal of him has related how in the very last year of his life Hawthorne reverted with fondness, perhaps with something of a sick and sinking man’s longing for youthful scenes, to these early days at Sebago Lake; “Though it was there,” he confessed, “I first got my cursed habits of solitude.” “I lived in Maine,” he said, “like a bird of the air, so perfect was the freedom I enjoyed.” During the moonlight nights of winter he would skate until midnight all alone upon Sebago Lake, with the deep shadows of the icy hills on either hand. When he found himself far away from his home and weary with the exercise of skating, he would sometimes take refuge in a log-cabin, where half a tree would be burning on the broad hearth. He would sit in the ample chimney, and look at the stars through the great aperture through which the flames went roaring up. “Ah,” he said, “how well I recall the summer days, also, when with my gun I roamed at will through the woods of Maine! . . . Everything is beautiful in youth, for all things are allowed to it then!” The same writer mentions the author’s passion for the sea, telling how, on the return from England in 1860, Hawthorne was constantly saying in his quiet, earnest way: “I should like to sail on and on forever, and never touch the shore again.” I have it from his sister that he used to declare that, had he not been sent to college, he should have become a mariner, like his predecessors. Indeed, he had the fresh air and the salt spray in his blood.
Still it is difficult to believe that by any chance he could have missed carrying out his inborn disposition toward literature. After we have explained all the fostering influences and formative forces that surround and stamp a genius of this sort, we come at last to the inexplicable mystery of that interior impulse which, if it does not find the right influences at first, presses forth, breaks out to right and left and keeps on pushing, until it feels itself at ease. It cannot wholly make its own influences, but it fights to the death before it will give up the effort to lay itself open to these; that is, to get into a proper surrounding. The surrounding may be as far as possible from what we should prescribe as the fit one; but the being in whom perception and receptivity exist in that active state which we call genius will adapt itself, and will instinctively discern whether the conditions of life around it can yield a bare nourishment, or whether it must seek other and more fertile conditions. Hawthorne had an ancestry behind him connected with a singular and impressive history, had remarkable parents, and especially a mother pure and lofty in spirit; lived in a suggestive atmosphere of private sorrow and amid a community of much quaintness; he was also enabled to know books at an early age; yet these things only helped, and not produced, his genius. Sometimes they helped by repression, for there was much that was uncongenial in his early life; yet the clairvoyance, the unconscious wisdom, of that interior quality, genius, made him feel that the adjustment of his outer and his inner life was such as to give him a chance of unfolding. Had he gone to sea, his awaking power would have come violently into contact with the hostile conditions of sailor-life: he would have revolted against them, and have made his way into literature against head-wind or reluctant tiller-rope alike. It may, of course, be said that this prediction is too easy. But there are evidences of the mastering bent of Hawthorne’s mind, which show that it would have ruled in any case.
As we have seen, he returned to Salem in 1819, to school; and on March 7, 1820, he wrote thus to his mother:—
“I have left school, and have begun to fit for College under Benjm. L. Oliver, Lawyer. So you are in great danger of having one learned man in your family. Mr. Oliver thought I could enter College next commencement, but Uncle Robert is afraid I should have to study too hard. I get my lessons at home, and recite them to him [Mr. Oliver] at 7 o’clock in the morning. . . . Shall you want me to be a Minister, Doctor, or Lawyer? A minister I will not be.” This is the first dawn of the question of a career, apparently. Yet he still has a yearning to escape the solution. “I am extremely homesick,” he says, in one part of the letter; and at the close he gives way to the sentiment entirely: “O how I wish I was again with you, with nothing to do but to go a gunning. But the happiest days of my life are gone. . . . After I have got through college, I will come down to learn E—— Latin and Greek.” (Is it too fanciful to note that at this stage of the epistle “college” is no longer spelt with a large C?) The signature to this letter shows the boy so amiably that I append it.
“I remain,” he says,
A jesting device this, which the writer, were he now living, would perhaps think too trivial to make known; yet why should we not recall with pleasure the fact that in his boyish days he could make this harmless little play, to throw an unexpected ray of humor and gladness into the lonely heart of his mother, far away in the Maine woods? And with this pleasure, let there be something of honor and reverence for his pure young heart.
In another letter of this period [Footnote: This letter, long in the possession of Miss E. P. Peabody, Mr. Hawthorne’s sister-inlaw, unfortunately does not exist any longer. The date has thus been forgotten, but the passage is clear in Miss Peabody’s recollection.] he had made a long stride towards the final choice, as witness this extract:—
“I do not want to be a doctor and live by men’s diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So, I don’t see that there is anything left for me but to be an author. How would you like some day to see a whole shelf full of books, written by your son, with ‘Hawthorne’s Works’ printed on their backs?”
But, before going further, it will be well to look at certain “Early Notes,” purporting to be Hawthorne’s, and published in the Portland “Transcript” at different times in 1871 and 1873. A mystery overhangs them; [Footnote: See Appendix I.] and it has been impossible, up to this time, to procure proof of their genuineness. Most of the persons named in them have, nevertheless, been identified by residents of Cumberland County, who knew them in boyhood, and the internal evidence of authorship seems to make at least some of them Hawthorne’s. On the first leaf of the manuscript book, said to contain them, was written (as reported by the discoverer) an inscription, to the effect that the book had been given to Nathaniel Hawthorne by his uncle Richard Manning, “with the advice that he write out his thoughts, some every day, in as good words as he can, upon any and all subjects, as it is one of the best means of his securing for mature years command of thought and language”; and this was dated at Raymond, June 1, 1816. This account, if true, puts the book into the boy’s hands at the age of twelve. He did not go to Raymond to live until two years later, but had certainly been there, before, and his Uncle Richard was already living there in 1816. So that the entries may have begun soon after June, of that year, though their mature character makes this improbable. In this case, they must cover more than a year’s time. The dates were not given by the furnisher of the extracts, and only one item can be definitely provided with a date. This must have been penned in or after 1819; and yet it seems also probable that the whole series was written before the author’s college days. If genuine, then, they hint the scope and quality of Hawthorne’s perceptions during a few years antecedent to his college-course, and — whether his own work or not — they picture the sort of life which he must have seen at Raymond.
“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.
“Swapped pocket knives with Robinson Cook yesterday. Jacob Dingley says that he cheated me, but I think not, for I cut a fishing pole this morning, and did it well; besides, he is a Quaker, and they never cheat.”
Richard Manning had married Susan Dingley; this Jacob was probably her nephew. In this allusion to Quakers one might fancy a germ of tolerance which ripened into “The Gentle Boy.”
“Captain Britton from Otisfield was at Uncle Richard’s today. Not long ago, uncle brought here from Salem a new kind of potatoes called ‘Long Reds.’ Captain Britton had some for seed, and uncle asked how he liked them. He answered, ‘They yield well, grow very long — one end is very poor, and the other good for nothing.’ I laughed about it after he was gone, but uncle looked sour and said there was no wit in his answer, and that the saying was ‘stale.’ It was new to me, and his way of saying it very funny. Perhaps uncle did not like to hear his favorite potato spoken of in that way, and that if the captain had praised it he would have been called witty.”
“Captain Britton promised to bring ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ for me to read, the next time he comes this way, which is every time he goes to Portland. Uncle Richard has not the book in his library.
“This morning the bucket got off the chain, and dropped back into the well. I wanted to go down on the stones and get it. Mother would not consent, for fear the wall might cave in, but hired Samuel Shane to go down. In the goodness of her heart, she thought the son of old Mrs. Shane not quite so valuable as the son of the Widow Hawthorne. God bless her for all her love for me, though it may be some selfish. We are to have a pump in the well, after this mishap.
“Washington Longley has been taking lessons of a drumming master. He was in the grist-mill to day, and practised with two sticks on the half-bushel. I was astonished at the great number of strokes in a second, and if I had not seen that he had but two sticks, should have supposed that he was drumming with twenty.”
“Major Berry went past our house with a large drove of sheep yesterday. One, a last spring’s lamb, gave out; could go no farther. I saw him down near the bridge. The poor dumb creature looked into my eyes, and I thought I knew just what he would say if he could speak, and so asked Mr. Berry what he would sell him for. ‘Just the price of his pelt, and that will bring sixty-five cents,’ was the answer. I ran and petitioned mother for the money, which she soon gave me, saying with a smile that she tried to make severe, but could not, that I was ‘a great spendthrift.’ The lamb is in our orchard now, and he made a bow (without taking off his hat) and thanked me this morning for saving him from the butcher.
“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.’ It is not respectful to speak of so noble, deep, and broad a collection of clear water as a ‘Pond’; it makes a stranger think of geese, and then of goose-pond. Mr. White, who knows all this region, told us that the streams from thirty-five ponds, large and small, flow into this, and he calls it Great Basin. We landed on one of the small islands that Captain Dingley cleared for a sheep pasture when he first came to Raymond. Mr. Ring said that he had to do it to keep his sheep from the bears and wolves. A growth of trees has started on the island, and makes a grove so fine and pleasant, that I wish almost that our house was there. On the way from the island to the Images Mr. Ring caught a black spotted trout that was almost a whale, and weighed before it was cut open, after we got back to Uncle Richard’s store, eighteen and a half pounds. The men said that if it had been weighed as soon as it came out of the water it would have been nineteen pounds. This trout had a droll-looking hooked nose, and they tried to make me believe, that if the line had been in my hands, that I should have been obliged to let go, or have been pulled out of the boat. They were men, and had a right to say so. I am a boy, and have a right to think differently. We landed at the Images, when I crept into the cave and got a drink of cool water. In coming home we sailed over a place, not far from the Images, where Mr. White has, at some time, let down a line four hundred feet without finding bottom. This seems strange, for he told us, too, that his boat, as it floated, was only two hundred and fifty feet higher than the boats in Portland Harbor, and that if the Great Pond was pumped dry, a man standing on its bottom, just under where we then were, would be more than one hundred and fifty feet lower than the surface of the water at the Portland wharves. Coming up the Dingley Bay, had a good view of Rattlesnake Mountain, and it seemed to me wonderfully beautiful as the almost setting sun threw over its western crags streams of fiery light. If the Indians were very fond of this part of the country, it is easy to see why; beavers, otters, and the finest fish were abundant, and the hills and streams furnished constant variety. I should have made a good Indian, if I had been born in a wigwam. To talk like sailors, we made the old hemlock-stub at the mouth of the Dingley Mill Brook just before sunset, and sent a boy ashore with a hawser, and was soon safely moored to a bunch of alders. 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. Mr. White went to Uncle Richard’s for the night, and I went home and amused my mother with telling how pleasantly the day had passed. When I told her what Mr. Ring said about my killing a horse, she said he was making fun of me. I had found that out before.
“Mr. March Gay killed a rattlesnake yesterday not far from his house, that was more than six feet long and had twelve rattles. This morning Mr. Jacob Mitchell killed another near the same place, almost as long. It is supposed that they were a pair, and that the second one was on the track of its mate. If every rattle counts a year, the first one was twelve years old. Eliak Maxfield came down to mill today and told me about the snakes.
“Mr. Henry Turner of Otisfield took his axe and went out between Saturday and Moose ponds to look at some pine-trees. A rain had just taken off enough of the snow to lay bare the roots of a part of the trees. Under a large root there seemed to be a cavity, and on examining closely something was exposed very much like long black hair. He cut off the root, saw the nose of a bear, and killed him, pulled out the body; saw another, killed that, and dragged out its carcass, when he found that there was a third one in the den, and that he was thoroughly awake, too; but as soon as the head came in sight it was split open with the axe, so that Mr. Turner, alone with only an axe, killed three bears in less than half an hour, the youngest being a good-sized one, and what hunters call a yearling. This is a pretty great bear story, but probably true, and happened only a few weeks ago; for John Patch, who was here with his father Captain Levi Patch, who lives within two miles of the Saturday Pond, told me so yesterday.
“A young man named Henry Jackson, Jr., was drowned two days ago, up in Crooked River. He and one of his friends were trying which could swim the faster. Jackson was behind but gaining; his friend kicked at him in fun, thinking to hit his shoulder and push him back, but missed, and hit his chin, which caused him to take in water and strangle, and before his friend could help or get help, poor Jackson was (Elder Leach says) beyond the reach of mercy. I read one of the Psalms to my mother this morning, and it plainly declares twenty-six times that ‘God’s mercy endureth forever.’ I never saw Henry Jackson; he was a young man just married. Mother is sad, says that she shall not consent to my swimming any more in the mill-pond with the boys, fearing that in sport my mouth might get kicked open, and then sorrow for a dead son be added to that for a dead father, which she says would break her heart. I love to swim, but I shall not disobey my mother.
“Fishing from the bridge today, I caught an eel two thirds as long as myself. Mr. Watkins tried to make me believe that he thought it a water moccasin snake. Old Mr. Shane said that it was a ‘young sea-sarpint sure.’ Mr. Ficket, the blacksmith, begged it to take home for its skin, as he said for buskin-strings and flail-strings. So ends my day’s fishing.
“Went over today to see Watkins make bricks. I have always thought there was some mystery about it, but I can make them myself. Why did the Israelites complain so much at having to make bricks without straw? I should not use straw if I was a brick-maker; besides, when they are burned in the kiln, the straw will burn out and leave the bricks full of holes.
“I can, from my chamber window, look across into Aunt Manning’s garden, this morning, and see little Betty Tarbox, flitting among the rose-bushes, and in and out of the arbor, like a tiny witch. She will never realize the calamity that came upon her brothers and sisters that terrible night when her father and mother lay within a few rods of each other, in the snow, freezing to death. I love the elf, because of her loss; and still my aunt is much more to her than her own mother, in her poverty, could have been.”
This little girl was the child of some poor people of the neighborhood who were frozen to death one March night, in 1819. In a letter to his uncle Robert, March 24, 1819, Nathaniel says: “I suppose you have not heard of the death of Mr. Tarbox and his wife, who were froze to death last Wednesday. They were brought out from the Cape on Saturday, and buried from Captain Dingley’s on Sunday.” This determines the time of writing the last-quoted extract from the journal.
“This morning I saw at the grist-mill a solemn-faced old horse, hitched to the trough. He had brought for his owner some bags of corn to be ground, who, after carrying them into the mill, walked up to Uncle Richard’s store, leaving his half-starved animal in the cold wind with nothing to eat, while the corn was being turned to meal. I felt sorry, and nobody being near, thought it best to have a talk with the old nag, and said, ‘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 must 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, then drag him and the meal up the Ben Ham Hill, and home, and am now so weak that I can hardly stand. O dear, I am in a bad way’; and the old creature cried. I almost cried myself. Just then the miller went down stairs to the meal-trough; I heard his feet on the steps, and not thinking much what I was doing, ran into the mill, and taking the four-quart toll-dish nearly full of corn out of the hopper, carried it out and poured it into the trough before the horse, and placed the dish back before the miller came up from below. When I got out, the horse was laughing, but he had to eat slowly, because the bits were in his mouth. I told him that I was sorry, but did not know how to take them out, and should not dare to if I did, for his master might come out and see what I was about. ‘Thank you,’ said he, ‘a luncheon of corn with the bits in is much better than none. The worst of it is, I have to munch so slowly, that master may come before I finish it, and thrash me for eating his corn, and you for the kindness.’ I sat down on a stone out of the wind, and waited in trouble, for fear that the miller and the owner of the corn would come and find out what I had done. At last the horse winked and stuck out his upper lip ever so far, and then said, ‘The last kernel is gone’; then he laughed a little, then shook one ear, then the other, then shut his eyes as if to take a nap. I jumped up and said: ‘How do you feel, old fellow; any better?’ He opened his eyes, and looking at me kindly, answered ‘very much,’ and then blew his nose exceedingly loud, but he did not wipe it. Perhaps he had no wiper. I then asked if his master whipped him much. He opened his eyes, and looking at me kindly, answered, ‘Not much lately; he used to till my hide got hardened, but now he has a white-oak goad-stick with an iron brad in its end, with which he jabs my hind quarters and hurts me awfully.’ I asked him why he did not kick up, and knock his tormentor out of the wagon. ‘I did try once,’ said he, ‘but am old and was weak, and could only get my heels high enough to break the whiffletree, and besides lost my balance and fell down flat. Master then jumped down, and getting a cudgel struck me over the head, and I thought my troubles were over. This happened just before Mr. Ben Ham’s house, and I should have been finished and ready for the crows, if he had not stepped out and told master not to strike again, if he did he would shake his liver out. That saved my life, but I was sorry, though Mr. Ham meant good.’ The goad with the iron brad was in the wagon, and snatching it out I struck the end against a stone, and the stabber flew into the mill-pond. ‘There,’ says I, ‘old colt,’ as I threw the goad back into the wagon, ‘he won’t harpoon you again with that iron.’ The poor old brute knew well enough what I said, for I looked him in the eye and spoke horse language. At that moment the brute that owned the horse came out of the store, and down the hill towards us. I slipped behind a pile of slabs. The meal was put in the wagon, the horse unhitched, the wagon mounted, the goad picked up and a thrust made, but dobbin was in no hurry. Looking at the end of the stick, the man bawled, ‘What little devil has had my goad?’ and then began striking with all his strength; but his steed only walked, shaking his head as he went across the bridge; and I thought I heard the ancient Equus say as he went, ‘Thrash as much as you please, for once you cannot stab.’ I went home a little uneasy, not feeling sure that the feeding the man’s corn to his horse was not stealing, and thinking that if the miller found it out, he would have me taken down before Squire Longley.
“Polly Maxfield came riding to mill today on horseback. She rode as gracefully as a Trooper. I wish with all my heart that I was as daring a rider, or half so graceful.
“This morning walked down to the Pulpit Rock Hill, and climbed up into the pulpit. It looks like a rough place to preach from, and does not seem so much like a pulpit when one is in it, as when viewing it from the road below. It is a wild place, and really a curiosity. I brought a book and sat in the rocky recess, and read for nearly an hour. This is a point on the road known to all teamsters. They have a string of names for reference by which they tell each other where they met fellow-teamsters and where their loads got stuck, and I have learned them from those who stop for drinks at the store. One meets another near our house, and says, ‘Where did you meet Bill?’ ‘Just this side of Small’s Brook,’ or ‘At the top of Gray’s Pinch,’ ‘At the Dry Mill–Pond,’ ‘Just the other side of Lemmy Jones’s,’ ‘On the long causeway,’ ‘At Jeems Gowen’s,’ ‘Coming down the Pulpit Rock Hill,’ ‘Coming down Tarkill Hill.’ I have heard these answers till I have them by heart, without having any idea where any of the places are, excepting the one I have seen today. While on the bridge near the Pulpit, Mr. West, who lives not far away, came along and asked where I had been. On my telling him, he said that no money would hire him to go up to that pulpit; that the Devil used to preach from it long and long ago; that on a time when hundreds of them were listening to one of his sermons, a great chief laughed in the Devil’s face, upon which he stamped his foot, and the ground to the southwest, where they were standing, sunk fifty feet, and every Indian went down out of sight, leaving a swamp to this day. He declared that he once stuck a pole in there, which went down easily several feet, but then struck the skull-bone of an Indian, when instantly all the hassocks and flags began to shake; he heard a yell as from fifty overgrown Pequots; that he left the pole and ran for life. Mr. West also said that no Indian had ever been known to go near that swamp since, but that whenever one came that way, he turned out of the road near the house of Mr. West, and went straight to Thomas Pond, keeping to the eastward of Pulpit Rock, giving it a wide berth. Mr. West talked as though he believed what he said.
“A pedler named Dominicus Jordan was today in Uncle Richard’s store, telling a ghost-story. I listened intently, but tried not to seem interested. The story was of a house, the owner of which was suddenly killed. Since his death the west garret-window cannot be kept closed; though the shutters be hasped and nailed at night, they are invariably found open the next morning, and no one can tell when or how the nails were drawn. There is also on the farm an apple-tree, the fruit of which the owner was particularly fond of, but since his death no one has been able to get one of the apples. The tree hangs full nearly every year, but whenever any individual tries to get one, stones come in all directions as if from some secret infernal battery, or hidden catapult, and more than once have those making the attempts been struck. What is more strange, the tree stands in an open field, there being no shelter near from which tricks can be played without exposure. Jordan says that it seems odd to strangers to see that tree loaded with apples when the snow is four feet deep; and, what is a mystery, there are no apples in the spring; no one ever sees the wind blow one off, none are seen on the snow, nor even the vestige of one on the grass under the tree; and that children may play on the grass under and around it while it is in the blossom, and until the fruit is large enough to tempt them, with perfect safety; but the moment one of the apples is sought for, the air is full of flying stones. He further says, that late one starlight night he was passing the house, and looking up saw the phantom walk out of the garret window with cane in hand, making all the motions as if walking on terra firma, although what appeared to be his feet were at least six yards from the ground; and so he went walking away on nothing, and when nearly out of sight there was a great flash and an explosion as of twenty field-pieces, then — nothing. This story was told with seeming earnestness, and listened to as though it was believed. How strange it is that almost all persons, old or young, are fond of hearing about the supernatural, though it produces nervousness and fear! I should not be willing to sleep in that garret, though I do not believe a word of the story.
“The lumbermen from Saccarappa are getting their logs across the Great Pond. Yesterday a strong northwest wind blew a great raft of many thousands over almost to the mouth of the Dingley Brook. Their anchor dragged for more than a mile, but when the boom was within twenty or thirty rods of the shore, it brought up, and held, as I heard some men say who are familiar with such business. All the men and boys went from the mill down to the pond to see the great raft, and I among them. They have a string of logs fastened end to end and surrounding the great body, which keeps them from scattering, and the string is called a boom. A small, strong raft, it may be forty feet square, with an upright windlass in its centre, called a capstan, is fastened to some part of the boom. The small raft is called ‘Head Works,’ and from it in a yawl-boat is carried the anchor, to which is attached a strong rope half a mile long. The boat is rowed out the whole length of the rope, the anchor thrown over, and the men on the headworks wind up the capstan and so draw along the acres of logs. After we went down to the shore, several of the men came out on the boom nearest to us, and, striking a single log, pushed it under and outside; then one man with a gallon jug slung to his back, taking a pickpole, pushed himself ashore on the small single log — a feat that seemed almost miraculous to me. This man’s name was Reuben Murch, and he seemed to be in no fear of getting soused. This masterly kind of navigation he calls ‘cuffing the rigging’; nobody could tell me why he gave it that name. Murch went up to the store, had the jug filled with rum (the supply having run out on the headworks), and made the voyage back the way he came. His comrades received him with cheers, and after sinking the log and drawing it back under the boom, proceeded to try the contents of the jug, seeming to be well satisfied with the result of his expedition. It turned out that Murch only rode the single log ashore to show his adroitness, for the yawl-boat came round from the headworks, and brought near a dozen men in red shirts to where we were. I was interested listening to their conversation mixed with sharp jokes. Nearly every man had a nickname. Murch was called ‘Captain Snarl’; a tall, fierce-looking man, who just filled my idea of a Spanish freebooter, was ‘Dr. Coddle.’ I think his real name was Wood. The rum seems to make them crazy, for one, who was called ‘Rub-a-dub,’ pitched ‘Dr. Coddle’ head and heels into the water. A gentlemanly man named Thompson, who acted as master of ceremonies, or Grand Turk, interfered and put a stop to what was becoming something like a fight. Mr. Thompson said that the wind would go down with the sun, and that they must get ready to start. This morning I went down to look for them, and the raft was almost to Frye’s Island.
“I have read ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ but do not agree with Captain Britton that it is a witty and uncommonly interesting book; the wit is obscene, and the lies too false.”
The next and last piece of this note-book was printed two years later than the preceding items, and after the death of the person who professed to own the manuscript, but still with the same degree of mystery, except in the matter of date.
“Day before yesterday Mr. Thomas Little from Windham, Mr. M. P. Sawyer of Portland, Mr. Thomas A. Deblois, a lawyer, Mr. Hanson of Windham, and Enoch White, a boy of about my own age, from White’s Bridge, came up to the Dingley Brook in a sail-boat. They were on the way to Muddy River Bog, for a day’s sport, fishing, and shooting ducks. Enoch proposed that I should go with them. I needed no urging, but knew how unwillingly my mother would consent. They could wait but a few minutes, and Uncle Richard kindly wrote a note, asking her to be willing to gratify me this time.
“She said, ‘Yes,’ but I was almost sorry, knowing that my day’s pleasure would cost her one of anxiety. However, I gathered up 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 would catch the largest number of fish.
“The air was clear, with just breeze enough to shoot us along pleasantly, without making rough waves. The wind was not exactly after us, though we made but two tacks to reach the mouth of Muddy River. The men praised the grand view, after we got into the Great Bay. We could see the White Hills to the northwest, though Mr. Little said they were eighty miles from us; and grand old Rattlesnake, to the northeast, in its immense jacket of green oak, looked more inviting than I had ever seen it; while Frye’s Island, with its close growth of great trees, growing to the very edge of the water, looked like a monstrous green raft, floating to the southeastward. Whichever way the eye turned, something charming appeared. Mr. Little seems to be familiar with every book that has ever been written, and must have a great memory. Among other things, he said:—
“‘Gentlemen, do you know that this should be called the sea, instead of the Great Pond; that ships should be built here and navigate this water? The surface of the Sea of Galilee, of which we hear so much in the New Testament, was just about equal to the surface of our sea today.’
“And then he went on to give a geographical description of the country about the Sea of Galilee, and draw parallels between places named in the Testament and points in sight. His talk stole my attention until we were fairly at Muddy River mouth.
“Muddy River Bog is quite a curiosity. The river empties into the pond between two small sandy capes or points, only a short distance apart; but after running up a little between them we found the bog to widen to fifty or sixty rods in some places, and to be between two or three miles long. People say that it has no bottom, and that the longest poles that ever grew may be run down into the mud and then pushed down with another a little longer, and this may be repeated until the long poles are all gone.
“Coarse, tall water-grass grows up from the mud over every part, with the exception of a place five or six rods wide, running its whole length, and nearly in the middle, which is called the Channel. One can tell at first sight that it is the place for pickerel and water-snakes.
“Mr. Deblois stated something that I never heard before as a fact in natural history, that the pickerel wages war upon all fish, except the trout, who is too active for him; that he is a piscatorial cannibal; but that under all circumstances and in all places, he lives on good terms with the water-snake.
“We saw a great many ducks, but they seemed to know that Mr. Sawyer had a gun, and flew on slight notice. At last, as four were flying and seemed to be entirely out of gunshot, he fired, saying he would frighten them, if no more; when, to our surprise, he brought one down. The gun was loaded with ball, and Mr. Deblois told him he could not do it again in a million shots. Mr. Sawyer laughed, saying that he had always been a votary of Chance, and that, as a general thing, she had treated him handsomely.
“We sailed more than a mile up the bog, fishing and trolling for pickerel; and though we saw a great many, not one offered to be caught, but horned pouts were willing, and we caught them till it was no sport. We found a man there who had taken nearly two bushels of pouts. He was on a raft, and had walked from near the foot of Long Pond, in Otisfield. Mr. Little knew him, and, intending to have some fun, said, ‘The next time you come to Portland I want half a dozen of your best jewsharps; leave them at my store at Windham Hill. I need them very badly.’
“The man deliberately took from the hook a large pout that he had just pulled up, and, laying his fishing-pole down, began solemnly to explore in his pockets, and brought out six quaint jewsharps carefully tied to pieces of corn-cobs; then he tossed them into our boat to Mr. Little, saying, ‘There they are, Tom, and they are as good ones as I ever made; I shall charge you fifty cents for them.’ Mr. Little had the worst of the joke; but as the other men began to rally him, he took out the silver and paid the half-dollar; but they laughed at him till he told them, if they would say no more about it, he would give them all the brandy they could drink when they got home.
“Mr. Deblois said he would not be bribed; that he must tell Peter White when he got to Windham Hill.
“Mr. Little said he would not have Peter White know it for a yoke of steers.
“After fishing till all were tired, we landed on a small dry knoll that made out into the bog, to take our luncheon. The men had a variety of eatables, and several bottles that held no eatables. The question was started whether Enoch and I should be invited to drink, and they concluded not to urge us, as we were boys, and under their care. So Mr. Deblois said, ‘Boys, anything to eat that is in our baskets is as much yours as ours; help yourselves; but we shall not invite you to drink spirits.’
“We thanked them, and said that we had plenty of our own to eat, and had no relish for spirits, but were very thirsty for water. Mr. Little had been there before, and directed us to a spring of the best of water, that boiled up like a pot from the ground, just at the margin of the bog.
“Before starting to return, the bet between Enoeh and myself had to be settled. By its conditions, the one who caught the largest number of fish was to have all the hooks and lines of the other. I counted my string and found twenty-five. Enoch made twenty-six on his; so I was about turning over the spoils, when Mr. Sawyer said that my string was the largest, and that there was a mistake. So he counted, and made twenty-six on mine, and twenty-five on Enoch’s. We counted again, and found it was as he said, and Enoch prepared to pay the bet, when Mr. Sawyer again interfered, saying that Enoch’s string was certainly larger than mine, and proposed to count again. This time I had but twenty-four, and Enoch twenty-seven. All the men counted them several times over, until we could not tell which was which, and they never came out twice alike.
“At length Mr. Deblois said solemnly, ‘Stop this, Sawyer, you have turned these fish into a pack of cards, and are fooling us all.’ The men laughed heartily, and so should I if I had known what the point of the joke was.
“Mr. Deblois said the decision as to our bet would have to go over to the next term. After starting for home, while running down the bog, Mr. Sawyer killed three noble black ducks at one shot, but the gun was not loaded this time with ball. Mr. Hanson struck with his fishing-pole, and killed a monstrous water-snake. Mr. Little measured a stick with his hands, and using it as a rule, declared him to be five feet long. If I thought any such snakes ever went over to Dingley Bay, I never would go into the water there again.
“When we got out of the bog into the open water, we found a lively breeze from the northwest, and they landed me at the Dingley Brook in less than an hour, and then kept on like a great white bird down towards the Cape, and for the outlet. I stood and watched the boat until it was nearly half-way to Frye’s Island, loath to lose sight of what had helped me to enjoy the day so much. Taking my fish I walked home, and greeted mother just as the sun went out of sight behind the hills in Baldwin. The fish were worthless, but I thought I must have something to show for the day spent. After exhibiting them to mother and sister, and hearing the comments as to their ugliness, and much speculation as to what their horns were for, I gave them to Mr. Lambard, who said that pouts were the best of fish after they were skinned.
“I have made this account of the expedition to please Uncle Richard, who is an invalid and cannot get out to enjoy such sport, and wished me to describe everything just as it had happened, whether witty or silly, and give my own impressions. He has read my diary, and says that it interested him, which is all the reward I desire. And now I add these lines to keep in remembrance the peculiar satisfaction I received in hearing the conversation, especially of Mr. Deblois and Mr. Little. August, 1818, Raymond.”
These extracts from the Raymond Journal, if they be genuine, as in most respects I believe they must be, will furnish a clew, otherwise wanting, to the distinct turn which the boy’s mind took toward authorship after his return to Salem, and on passing the propylon of classical culture. We can also see in them, I think, the beginning of that painstaking accumulation of fact, the effort to be first of all accurate, which is a characteristic of his maturer and authenticated note-books; very significant, too, is the dash of the supernatural and his tone concerning it. A habit of thus preserving impressions, and of communing with himself through the pen, so constant and assiduous as we know it to have been in his later years — even when mind and time were preoccupied — must have been formed early, to retain so strong a hold upon him. But there is another reason for supposing that he had begun to compose with care before coming from Raymond to Salem; and this is found in the fact that, in 1820, he began issuing (probably to a very small and intimate circle of subscribers) a neat little weekly paper printed with the pen on sheets of a much-curtailed note size, and written in an excellent style.
The first number, dated Monday, August 21, 1820, opens with the Editor’s Address:—
“Our feelings upon sending into the world the first number of the Spectator may be compared to those of a fond Parent, when he beholds a beloved child about to embark on the troubled Ocean of public Life. Perhaps the iron hand of Criticism may crush our humble undertaking, ere it is strengthened by time. Or it may pine in obscurity neglected and forgotten by those, with whose assistance it might become the Pride and Ornament of our Country. . . . We beg leave farther to remark that in order to carry on any enterprise with spirit MONEY is absolutely necessary. Money, although it is the root of all evil, is also the foundation of everything great and good, and therefore our Subscribers . . . will please carefully to remember that the terms are two cents per month.”
A little further on there is this allusion to the Scriptural proverb cited above: “We have been informed that this expression is incorrect, and that it is the love of Money which is the ‘Root of all Evil.’ But money is certainly the cause of the love of Money. Therefore, Money is the deepest ‘Root of Evil.’” (Observe, here, the young student’s pride of reason, and the consciousness of a gift for casuistry!) Under the head of “Domestic News” occur some remarks on the sea-serpent, the deduction from various rumors about the monster being that “he seems to possess a strange and we think rather unusual faculty of appearing in different shapes to different eyes, so that where one person sees a shark, another beholds a nameless dragon.” (Here, too, is the humorously veiled distrust that always lurked beneath his dealings with the marvellous.) In the next columns there is found an advertisement of the Pin Society, which “will commence lending pins to any creditable person, on Wednesday, the 23d instant. No numbers except ten, twenty, and thirty will be lent”; and the rate of interest is to be one pin on every ten per day. This bold financial scheme is also carried on by the editor in person — a combination which in these days would lay him open to suspicions of unfair dealing. I have seen a little manuscript book containing the remarkable constitution and by-laws of this society, in which there were but two members; and it is really a curious study of whimsical intricacy, the work of a mind perfectly accustomed to solitude and fertile in resources for making monotony various and delightful. It does not surprise one to meet with the characteristic announcement from this editor that he has “concluded not to insert deaths and marriages (except of very distinguished persons) in the Spectator. We can see but little use in thus giving to the world the names of the crowd who are tying the marriage knot, and going down to the silent tomb.” There is some poetry at the end of the paper, excellent for a boy, but without the easy inspiration of the really witty prose.
It would seem that this weekly once made a beginning, which was also an end, before nourishing up into the series of which I have synopsized the first issue; for there is another Number One without date, but apparently earlier. This contains some exemplary sentiments “On Solitude,” with a touch of what was real profundity in so inexperienced a writer. “Man is naturally a sociable being,” he says; “and apart from the world there are no incitements to the pursuit of excellence; there are no rivals to contend with; and therefore there is no improvement. . . . The heart may be more pure and uncorrupted in solitude than when exposed to the influences of the depravity of the world; but the benefit of virtuous examples is equal to the detriment of vicious ones, and both are equally lost.” The “Domestic Intelligence” of this number is as follows: “The lady of Dr. Winthrop Brown, a son and Heir. Mrs. Hathorne’s cat, Seven Kittens. We hear that both of the above ladies are in a state of convalescence.” Also, “Intentions of Marriage. The beautiful and accomplished Miss Keziah Dingley will shortly be united to Dominicus Jordan Esq.” (The young author appears to have allowed himself in this paragraph the stimulus of a little fiction respecting real persons. Dominicus Jordan is the pedler of the Raymond notes. Who Miss Keziah was I do not know, but from the name I guess her to have been a relative, by appellation at least, through Richard Manning’s wife. If Hawthorne did not himself call Miss Dingley aunt, he may very likely have heard her commonly spoken of by that title. Did the old, boyish association perhaps unconsciously supply him with a name for the Indian aunt of “Septimius Felton”?) The next item is “DEATHS. We are sorry to be under the necessity of informing our readers that no deaths of importance have taken place, except that of the publisher of this Paper, who died of Starvation, owing to the slenderness of his patronage.” Notwithstanding this discouraging incident, one of the advertisements declares that “Employment will be given to any number of indigent Poets and Authors at this office.” But shortly afterward is inserted the announcement that “Nathaniel Hathorne proposes to publish by subscription a new edition of the Miseries of Authors, to which will be added a sequel, containing Facts and Remarks drawn from his own experience.”
In Number Two of the new series, the editor speaks of a discourse by Dr. Stoughton, “on Tuesday evening. . . . With the amount of the contribution which was taken up . . . we are unacquainted, as, having no money in our pockets, we departed before it commenced.” This issue takes a despondent view of the difficulties that beset editors. There is a clever paragraph of “Domestic News” again. “As we know of no News,” it says, “we hope our readers will excuse us for not inserting any. The law which prohibits paying debts when a person has no money will apply in this case.” Next we have a very arch dissertation “On Industry”: “It has somewhere been remarked that an Author does not write the worse for knowing little or nothing of his subject. We hope the truth of this saying will be manifest in the present article. With the benefits of Industry we are not personally acquainted.” The desperate editor winds up his week’s budget with a warning to all persons who may be displeased by observations in the Spectator, that he is going to take fencing lessons and practise shooting at a mark. “We also,” he adds, “think it advisable to procure a stout oaken cudgel to be the constant companion of our peregrinations.” The assumption of idleness in the essay on Industry, just quoted, breaks down entirely in a later number, when the editor — in apologizing for inaccuracies in the printing of his paper — enumerates his different occupations: “In the first place we study Latin and Greek. Secondly we write in the employment of William Manning Esq., [at that time proprietor of an extensive line of stagecoaches]. Thirdly, we are Secretary, Treasurer, and Manager of the ‘Pin Society’; Fourthly, we are editor of the Spectator; fifthly, sixthly, and lastly, our own Printers, Printing Press and Types.” But the young journalist carried on his labors unabatedly, for the term of some five weeks, and managed to make himself very entertaining. I take from an essay “On Benevolence” a fragment which has a touch of poetry out of his own life. Benevolence, he says, is “to protect the fatherless, and to make the Widow’s heart sing for joy.” One of the most cherishable effusions is that “On Wealth,” in which the venerable writer drops into a charmingly confidential and reminiscent vein. “All men,” he begins, “from the highest to the lowest, desire to pursue wealth. . . . In process of time if we obtain possession” of a sum at first fixed as the ultimatum, “we generally find ourselves as far from being contented as at first. . . . When I was a boy, I one day made an inroad into a closet, to the secret recesses of which I had often wished to penetrate. I there discovered a quantity of very fine apples. At first I determined to take only one, which I put in my pocket. But those which remained were so very inviting that it was against my conscience to leave them, and I filled my pockets and departed, wishing that they would hold more. But alas! an apple which was unable to find space enough among its companions bounced down upon the floor before all the Family. I was immediately searched, and forced, very unwillingly, to deliver up all my booty.” In the same number which contains this composition appears the token of what was doubtless Hawthorne’s first recognition in literature. It is a “Communication,” of tenor following:—
“Mr. Editor: I have observed in some of your last papers, Essays on Various subjects, and am very much pleased with them, and wish you to continue them. If you will do this, you will oblige
“MARIA LOUISA HATHORNE.”
“We hail the above communication,” writes the editor with exaggerated gratitude, “as the dawn of a happy day for us.” In his next and final issue, though (September, 18, 1820), he satirically evinces his dissatisfaction at the want of a literary fraternity in his native land, through this “Request”:—
“As it is part of the plan of the Spectator to criticise home-manufactured publications, we most earnestly desire some of our benevolent Readers to write a book for our special benefit. At present we feel as we were wont to do in the days of our Boyhood, when we possessed a Hatchet, without anything to exercise it upon. We engage to execute the Printing and Binding, and to procure the Paper for the Work, free of all expense to the Author. If this request should be denied us, we must infallibly turn our arms against our own writings, which, as they will not stand the test of criticism, we feel very unwilling to do. We do not wish that the proposed work should be too perfect; the Author will please to make a few blunders for us to exercise our Talents upon.”
In these quotations one sees very clearly the increased maturity (though it be only by a year or two) of the lad, since the engrossing of his records at Raymond. We get in these his entire mood, catch gleams of a steady fire of ambition under the light, self-possessed air of assumed indifference, and see how easily already his humor began to play, with that clear and sweet ripeness that warms some of his more famous pages, like late sunshine striking through clusters of mellow and translucent grapes. Yet our grasp of his mental situation at this point would not be complete, without recognition of the graver emotions that sometimes throbbed beneath the surface. The doubt, the hesitancy that sometimes must have weighed upon his lonely, self-reliant spirit with weary movelessness, and all the pain of awakening ambition and departing boyhood, seem to find a symbol in this stanza from the fourth “Spectator”:—
“Days of my youth, ye fleet away,
As fades the bright sun’s cheering ray,
And scarce my infant hours are gone,
Ere manhood’s troubled step comes on.
My infant hours return no more,
And all their happiness is o’er;
The stormy sea of life appears,
A scene of tumult and of tears.”
Of the vexations of unfledged manhood the boy of sixteen did not speak without knowledge. Various sorts of pressure from uncongenial sources were now and then brought to bear upon him; there was present always the galling consciousness of depending on others for support, and of being less self-sustaining than approaching manhood made him wish to be. Allusion has been made to his doing writing for his uncle William. “I still continue,” he says in a letter of October, 1820, to his mother at Raymond, “to write for Uncle William, and find my salary quite convenient for many purposes.” This, to be sure, was a first approach to self-support, and flattering to his sense of proper dignity. But Hawthorne, in character as in genius, had a passion for maturity. An outpouring of his thoughts on this and other matters, directed to his sister, accompanies the letter just cited. Let us read it here as he wrote it more than a half-century ago:—
DEAR SISTER:— I am very angry with you for not sending me some of your poetry, which I consider a great piece of ingratitude. You will not see one line of mine until you return the confidence which I have placed in you. I have bought the ‘Lord of the Isles,’ and intend either to send or to bring it to you. I like it as well as any of Scott’s other poems. I have read Hogg’s “Tales,” “Caleb Williams,” “St. Lean,” and “Mandeville.” I admire Godwin’s novels, and intend to read them all. I shall read the “Abbot,” by the author of “Waverley,” as soon as I can hire it. I have read all Scott’s novels except that. I wish I had not, that I might have the pleasure of reading them again. Next to these I like “Caleb Williams.” I have almost given up writing poetry. No man can be a Poet and a book-keeper at the same time. I do find this place most “dismal,” and have taken to chewing tobacco with all my might, which, I think, raises my spirits. Say nothing of it in your letters, nor of the “Lord of the Isles.” . . . I do not think I shall ever go to college. I can scarcely bear the thought of living upon Uncle Robert for four years longer. How happy I should be to be able to say, “I am Lord of myself!” You may cut off this part of my letter, and show the other to Uncle Richard. Do write me some letters in skimmed milk. [The shy spirit finds it thus hard, even thus early, to be under possible surveillance in his epistolary musings, and wants to write invisibly.] I must conclude, as I am in a “monstrous hurry!”
Your affectionate brother, NATH. HATHORNE.
P. S. The most beautiful poetry I think I ever saw begins:—
“She’s gone to dwell in Heaven, my lassie,
She’s gone to dwell in Heaven:
Ye’re ow’re pure quo’ a voice aboon
For dwalling out of Heaven.”
It is not the words, but the thoughts. I hope you have read it, as I know you would admire it.
As to the allusion to college, it is but a single ray let into the obscurity of a season when the sensitive, sturdy, proud young heart must have borne many a vigil of vexatious and bitter revery. And this must not be left out in reckoning the grains and scruples that were compounding themselves into his inner consciousness. But at last he struck a balance, wisely, among his doubts; and in the fall of 1821 he went to Bowdoin to become one of the famous class with Longfellow and Cheever, the memory of which has been enwreathed with the gentle verse of “Morituri Salutamus,”— a fadeless garland. In “Fanshawe,” an anonymous work of his youth, Hawthorne has pictured some aspects of the college at Brunswick, under a very slight veil of fiction.
“From the exterior of the collegians,” he says, “an accurate observer might pretty safely judge how long they had been inmates of those classic walls. The brown cheeks and the rustic dress of some would inform him that they had but recently left the plough, to labor in a not less toilsome field. The grave look and the intermingling of garments of a more classic cut would distinguish those who had begun to acquire the polish of their new residence; and the air of superiority, the paler cheek, the less robust form, the spectacles of green, and the dress in general of threadbare black, would designate the highest class, who were understood to have acquired nearly all the science their Alma Mater could bestow, and to be on the point of assuming their stations in the world. There were, it is true, exceptions to this general description. A few young men had found their way hither from the distant seaports; and these were the models of fashion to their rustic companions, over whom they asserted a superiority in exterior accomplishments, which the fresh, though unpolished intellect of the sons of the forest denied them in their literary competitions. A third class, differing widely from both the former, consisted of a few young descendants of the aborigines, to whom an impracticable philanthropy was endeavoring to impart the benefits of civilization.
“If this institution did not offer all the advantages of elder and prouder seminaries, its deficiencies were compensated to its students by the inculcation of regular habits, and of a deep and awful sense of religion, which seldom deserted them in their course through life. The mild and gentle rule . . . was more destructive to vice than a sterner sway; and though youth is never without its follies, they have seldom been more harmless than they were here. The students, indeed, ignorant of their own bliss, sometimes wished to hasten the time of their entrance on the business of life; but they found, in after years, that many of their happiest remembrances, many of the scenes which they would with least reluctance live over again, referred to the seat of their early studies.”
He here divides the honors pleasantly between the forest-bred and city-trained youth, having, from his own experience, an interest in each class. Yet I think he must have sided, in fact, with the country boys. Horatio Bridge, his classmate, and throughout life a more confidential friend than Pierce, was brought up on his father’s estate at Bridgton, north of Sebago Lake; and Franklin Pierce, in the class above him, his only other frequent companion, was a native of the New Hampshire hill-lands. He himself, in his outward bearing, perhaps gathered to his person something the look of both the seaport lads and the sturdy mountaineers and woodsmen. He was large and strong (in a letter to his uncle Robert, just before entering college, he gives the measure of his foot, for some new shoes that are to be sent; it is ten inches), but an interior and ruling grace removed all suspicion of heaviness. Being a sea-captain’s son, he would naturally make his connections at college with men who had the out-of-doors glow about them; the simple and severe life at Raymond, too, had put him in sympathy with the people rather than with the patricians (although I see that the reminiscences of some of the old dwellers near Raymond describe the widow and her brother Richard as being exclusive and what was there thought “aristocratic”). Hawthorne, Pierce, and Bridge came together in the Athenaean Society, the newer club of the two college literary unions, and the more democratic; and the trio preserved their cordial relations intact for forty years, sometimes amid confusions and misconstructions, or between cross-fires of troublous counter-considerations, with a rare fidelity. Hawthorne held eminent scholarship easily within his grasp, but he and his two cronies seem to have taken their curriculum very easily, though they all came off well in the graduation. Hawthorne was a good Latinist. The venerable Professor Packard has said that his Latin compositions, even in the Freshman year, were remarkable; and Mr. Longfellow tells me that he recalls the graceful and poetic translations which his classmate used to give from the Roman authors. He got no celebrity in Greek, I believe, but he always kept up his liking for the Latin writers. Some years since a Latin theme of his was found, which had been delivered at an exhibition of the Athenaean Society, in December, 1823. [Footnote: See Appendix II.] It shows some niceties of selection, and the style is neat; I even fancy something individual in the choice of the words sanctior nec beatior, as applied to the republic, and a distinctly Hawthornesque distinction in the fulgor tantum fuit sine fervore; though a relic of this kind should not be examined too closely, and claims the same exemption that one gives to Shelley’s school-compelled verses, In Horologium.
His English compositions also excited notice. Professor Newman gave them high commendation, and Mr. Bridge speaks of their superiority. But none of them have survived; whether owing to the author’s vigilant suppression, or to the accidents of time. It was Hawthorne’s habit as a young man to destroy all of his own letters that he could find, on returning home after an absence; and few records of his college life remain. Here is a brief note, however.
BRUNSWICK, August 12, 1823.
MY DEAR UNCLE:— I received your letter in due time, and should have answered it in due season, if I had not been prevented, as L—— conjectures, by laziness. The money was very acceptable to me, and will last me till the end of the term, which is three weeks from next Wednesday. I shall then have finished one half of my college life. . . . I suppose your farm prospers, and I hope you will have abundance of fruit, and that I shall come home time enough to eat some of it, which I should prefer to all the pleasure of cultivating it. I have heard that there is a steamboat which runs twice a week between Portland and Boston. If this be the case I should like to come home that way, if mother has no apprehension of the boiler’s bursting.
I really have had a great deal to do this term, as, in addition to the usual exercises, we have to write a theme or essay of three or four pages, every fortnight, which employs nearly all my time, so that I hope you will not impute my neglect of writing wholly to laziness. . . .
Your affectionate nephew, NATH. HATHORNE.
This letter, as well as the others here given, shows how much of boyish simplicity surrounded and protected the rare and distinct personality already unfolded in this youth of eighteen. The mixture makes the charm of Hawthorne’s youth, as the union of genius and common-sense kept his maturity alive with a steady and wholesome light. I fancy that obligatory culture irked him then, as always, and that he chose his own green lanes toward the advancement of learning. His later writings vouchsafe only two slight glimpses of the college days. In his Life of Franklin Pierce, he recalls Pierce’s chairmanship of the Athenaean Society, on the committee of which he himself held a place. “I remember, likewise,” he says, “that the only military service of my life was as a private soldier in a college company, of which Pierce was one of the officers. He entered into this latter business, or pastime, with an earnestness with which I could not pretend to compete, and at which, perhaps, he would now be inclined to smile.” But much more intimate and delightful is the reminiscence which, in the dedicatory preface of “The Snow Image,” addressed to his friend Bridge, he thus calls up. “If anybody is responsible for my being at this day an author, it is yourself. I know not whence your faith came: but, while we were lads together at a country college, gathering blueberries in study hours under those tall academic pines; or watching the great logs as they tumbled along the current of the Androscoggin; or shooting pigeons and gray squirrels in the woods; or bat-fowling in the summer twilight; or catching treats in that shadowy little stream, which, I suppose, is still wandering riverward through the forest — though you and I will never cast a line in it again — two idle lads, in short (as we need not fear to acknowledge now), doing a hundred things that the Faculty never heard of, or else it had been the worse for us — still it was your prognostic of your friend’s destiny, that he was to be a writer of fiction.” I have asked Mr. Bridge what gave him this impression of Hawthorne, and he tells me that it was an indescribable conviction, aroused by the whole drift of his friend’s mind as he saw it. Exquisite indeed must have been that first fleeting aroma of genius; and I would that it might have been then and there imprisoned and perpetuated for our delight. But we must be satisfied with the quick and sympathetic insight with which Hawthorne’s friend discovered his true bent. The world owes more, probably, to this early encouragement from a college companion than it can ever estimate.
Nothing in human intercourse, I think, has a more peculiar and unchanging value than the mutual impressions of young men at college: they meet at a moment when the full meaning of life just begins to unfold itself to them, and their fresh imaginations build upon two or three traits the whole character of a comrade, where a maturer man weighs and waits, doubts and trusts, and ends after all with a like or dislike that is only lukewarm. Far on toward the close of life, Hawthorne, in speaking of something told him by an English gentleman respecting a former classmate of the latter’s, wrote: “It seemed to be one of those early impressions which a collegian gets of his fellow-students, and which he never gets rid of, whatever the character of the person may turn out to be in after years. I have judged several persons in this way, and still judge them so, though the world has come to very different opinions. Which is right — the world, which has the man’s whole mature life on its side; or his early companion, who has nothing for it but some idle passages of his youth?” The world, doubtless, measures more accurately the intrinsic worth of the man’s mature actions; but his essential characteristics, creditable or otherwise, are very likely to be better understood by his classmates. In this, then, we perceive one of the formative effects on Hawthorne’s mind of his stay at Brunswick. Those four years of student life gave him a thousand eyes for observing and analyzing character. He learned then, also, to choose men on principles of his own. Always afterward he was singularly independent in selecting friends; often finding them even in unpopular and out-of-the-way persons. The affinity between himself and Bridge was ratified by forty years of close confidence; and Hawthorne never swerved from his early loyalty to Pierce, though his faithfulness gave him severe trials, both public and private, afterward. I am not of those who explain this steadfastness by a theory of early prepossession on Hawthorne’s part, blinding him to Pierce’s errors or defects. There is ample proof in the correspondence between Bridge and himself, which I have seen, that he constantly and closely scanned his distinguished friend the President’s character with his impartial and searching eye for human character, whatsoever its relations to himself. I believe if he had ever found that the original nucleus of honor and of a certain candor which had charmed him in Pierce was gone, he would, provided it seemed his duty, have rejected the friendship. As it was, he saw his old friend and comrade undergoing changes which he himself thought hazardous, saw him criticised in a post where no one ever escaped the severest criticism, and beheld him return to private life amid unpopularity, founded, as he thought, upon misinterpretation of what was perhaps error, but not dishonesty. Meanwhile he felt that the old “Frank,” his brother through Alma Mater, dwelt still within the person of the public man; and though to claim that brotherhood exposed Hawthorne, under the circumstances, to cruel and vulgar insinuations, he saw that duty led him to the side of his friend, not to that of the harsh multitude.
Perhaps his very earliest contribution to light literature was an apocryphal article which he is said to have written when about eighteen or nineteen. Just then there came into notice a voracious insect, gifted with peculiar powers against pear-trees. Knowing that his uncle was especially concerned in fruit culture, Hawthorne wrote, and sent from college to a Boston paper, a careful description of the new destroyer, his habits, and the proper mode of combating him, all drawn from his own imagination. It was printed, so the tale runs; and a package of the papers containing it arrived in Salem just as the author reached there for a brief vacation. Mr. Manning is said to have accepted in good faith the knowledge which the article supplied, but Hawthorne’s amusement was not unmixed with consternation at the success of his first essay.
In the two or three letters from him at college which still survive, there is no open avowal of the inner life, which was then the supplier of events for his outwardly monotonous days; not a breath of that strain of revery and fancy which impressed Bridge’s mind! One allusion shows that he systematically omitted declamation; and an old term bill of 1824 (the last year of his course) charges him with a fine of twenty cents for neglect of theme! Spur to authorship:— the Faculty surely did its best to develop his genius, and cannot be blamed for any shortcomings. [Footnote: The amount of this bill, for the term ending May 21, 1824, is but $19.62, of which $2.36 is made up of fines. The figures give a backward glimpse at the epoch of cheap living, but show that the disinclination of students to comply with college rules was even then expensive. The “average of damages” is only thirty-three cents, from which I infer that the class was not a destructive one.] Logically, these tendencies away from essay and oratory are alien to minds destined to produce literature; but empirically, they are otherwise. Meantime, we get a sudden light on some of the solid points of character, apart from genius, in this note from the college president, and the student’s parallel epistles.
May 29, 1822.
MRS. ELIZABETH C. HATHORNE.
MADAM:—— By note of the Executive Government of this college, it is made my duty to request your co-operation with us in the attempt to induce your son faithfully to observe the laws of this institution. He was this day fined fifty cents for playing cards for money, last term. He played at different times. Perhaps he might not have gained, were it not for the influence of a student whom we have dismissed from college. It does not appear that your son has very recently played cards; yet your advice may be beneficial to him. I am, madam,
Your obedient, humble servant,
WILLIAM ALLEN, President.
The next day after this note was written (on May 30, 1822) the subject of it wrote thus:—
“MY DEAR MOTHER:— I hope you have safely arrived in Salem. I have nothing particular to inform you of, except that all the card-players in college have been found out, and my unfortunate self among the number. One has been dismissed from college, two suspended, and the rest, with myself, have been fined fifty cents each. I believe the President intends to write to the friends of all the delinquents. Should that be the case, you must show the letter to nobody. If I am again detected, I shall have the honor of being suspended; when the President asked what we played for, I thought it proper to inform him it was fifty cents, although it happened to be a quart of wine; but if I had told him of that, he would probably have fined me for having a blow. [It appears that the mild dissipation of wine-drinking in vogue at Bowdoin at that time was called having a “blow;” probably an abbreviation for the common term “blow-out,” applied to entertainments.] There was no untruth in the case, as the wine cost fifty cents. I have not played at all this term. I have not drank any kind of spirits or wine this term, and shall not till the last week.”
But in a letter to one of his sisters (dated August 5, 1822) a few months afterward, he touches the matter much more vigorously:—
“To quiet your suspicions, I can assure you that I am neither ‘dead, absconded, or anything worse.’ [The allusion is to some reproach for a long silence on his part.] I have involved myself in no ‘foolish scrape,’ as you say all my friends suppose; but ever since my misfortune I have been as steady as a sign-post, and as sober as a deacon, have been in no ‘blows’ this term, nor drank any kind of ‘wine or strong drink.’ So that your comparison of me to the ‘prodigious son’ will hold good in nothing, except that I shall probably return penniless, for I have had no money this six weeks. . . . The President’s message is not so severe as I expected. I perceive that he thinks I have been led away by the wicked ones, in which, however, he is greatly mistaken. I was full as willing to play as the person he suspects of having enticed me, and would have been influenced by no one. I have a great mind to commence playing again, merely to show him that I scorn to be seduced by another into anything wrong.”
I cannot but emphasize with my own words the manly, clear-headed attitude of the young student in these remarks. He has evidently made up his mind to test the value of card-playing for wine, and thinks himself — as his will be the injury, if any — the best judge of the wisdom of that experiment. A weaker spirit, too, a person who knew himself less thoroughly, would have taken shelter under the President’s charitable theory with thanksgiving; but Hawthorne’s perfectly simple moral sense and ingrained manhood would not let him forget that self-respect lives by truth alone. In this same letter he touches lesser affairs:—
“I have not read the two novels you mention. I began some time ago to read Hume’s ‘History of England,’ but found it so abominably dull that I have given up the undertaking until some future time. I can procure books of all sorts from the library of the Athenaean Society, of which I am a member. The library consists of about eight hundred volumes, among which is Rees’s Cyclopaedia [this work was completed in 1819], and many other valuable works. . . . Our class will be examined on Tuesday for admittance to our Sophomore year. If any of us are found deficient, we shall be degraded to the Freshman class again; from which misfortune may Heaven defend me.”
But the young Freshman’s trepidation, if he really felt any, was soon soothed; he passed on successfully through his course. Not only did he graduate well, but he had also, as we shall see, begun to prepare himself for his career. Here is a letter which gives, in a fragmentary way, his mood at graduation:—
“BRUNSWICK, July 14, 1825.
“MY DEAR SISTER:—. . . . I am not very well pleased with Mr. Dike’s report of me. The family had before conceived much too high an opinion of my talents, and had probably formed expectations which I shall never realize. I have thought much upon the subject, and have finally come to the conclusion that I shall never make a distinguished figure in the world, and all I hope or wish is to plod along with the multitude. I do not say this for the purpose of drawing any flattery from you, but merely to set mother and the rest of you right upon a point where your partiality has led you astray. I did hope that Uncle Robert’s opinion of me was nearer to the truth, as his deportment toward me never expressed a very high estimation of my abilities.”
Mr. Dike was a relative, who had probably gone back to Salem, after seeing the young man at Brunswick, with a eulogy on his lips. Hawthorne’s modesty held too delicate a poise to bear a hint of praise, before he had yet been put to the test or accomplished anything decisive. In some ways this modesty and shyness may have postponed his success as an author; yet it was this same delicate admixture which precipitated and made perfect the mysterious solution in which his genius lay. The wish “to plod along with the multitude,” seemingly unambitious, is only a veil. The hearts that burn most undyingly with hope of achievement in art, often throw off this vapor of discontent; they feel a prophetic thrill of that nameless suffering through which every seeker of truth must pass, and they long beforehand for rest, for the sweet obscurity of the ungifted.
Another part of this letter shows the writer’s standing at college:—
“Did the President write to you about my part? He called me to his study, and informed me that, though my rank in the class entitled me to a part, yet it was contrary to the law to give me one, on account of my neglect of declamation. As he inquired mother’s name and residence, I suppose that he intended to write to her on the subject. If so, you will send me a copy of the letter. I am perfectly satisfied with this arrangement, as it is a sufficient testimonial to my scholarship, while it saves me the mortification of making my appearance in public at Commencement. Perhaps the family may not be so much pleased by it. Tell me what are their sentiments on the subject.
“I shall return home in three weeks from next Wednesday.”
Here the dim record of his collegiate days ceases, leaving him on the threshold of the world, a fair scholar, a budding genius, strong, young, and true, yet hesitant; halting for years, as if gathering all his shy-souled courage, before entering that arena that was to echo such long applause of him. Yet doubt not that the purpose to do some great thing was already a part of his life, together with that longing for recognition which every young poet, in the sweet uncertain certainty of beginning, feels that he must some day deserve. Were not these words, which I find in “Fanshawe,” drawn from the author’s knowledge of his own heart?
“He called up the years that, even at his early age, he had spent in solitary study — in conversation with the dead — while he had scorned to mingle with the living world, or to be actuated by any of its motives. Fanshawe had hitherto deemed himself unconnected with the world, unconcerned in its feelings, and uninfluenced by it in any of his pursuits. In this respect he probably deceived himself. If his inmost heart could have been laid open, there would have been discovered that dream of undying fame, which, dream as it is, is more powerful than a thousand realities.”
Already, while at Bowdoin, Hawthorne had begun to write verses, and perhaps to print some of them anonymously in the newspapers. From some forgotten poem of his on the sea, a single stanza has drifted down to us, like a bit of beach-wood, the relic of a bark too frail to last. It is this:—
“The ocean hath its silent caves,
Deep, quiet, and alone;
Though there be fury on the waves,
Beneath them there is none.”
If one lets the lines ring in his ears a little, the true Hawthornesque murmur and half-mournful cadence become clear. I am told, by the way, that when the Atlantic cable was to be laid, some one quoted this to a near relative of the writer’s, not remembering the name of the author, but thinking it conclusive proof that the ocean depths would receive the cable securely. Another piece is preserved complete, and much more nearly does the writer justice:—
“We are beneath the dark blue sky,
And the moon is shining bright;
O, what can lift the soul so high
As the glow of a summer night;
When all the gay are hushed to sleep
And they that mourn forget to weep,
Beneath that gentle light!
“Is there no holier, happier land
Among those distant spheres,
Where we may meet that shadow band,
The dead of other years?
Where all the day the moonbeams rest,
And where at length the souls are blest
Of those who dwell in tears?
“O, if the happy ever leave
The bowers of bliss on high,
To cheer the hearts of those that grieve,
And wipe the tear-drop dry;
It is when moonlight sheds its ray,
More pure and beautiful than day,
And earth is like the sky.”
At a time when the taste and manner of Pope in poetry still held such strong rule over readers as it did in the first quarter of the century, these simple stanzas would not have been unworthy of praise for a certain independence; but there is something besides in the refined touch and the plaintive undertone that belong to Hawthorne’s individuality. This gentle and musical poem, it is curious to remember, was written at the very period when Longfellow was singing his first fresh carols, full of a vigorous pleasure in the beauty and inspiration of nature, with a rising and a dying fall for April and Autumn, and the Winter Woods. One can easily fancy that in these two lines from “Sunrise on the Hills”:—
“Where, answering to the sudden shot, thin smoke
Through thick-leaved branches from the dingle broke,”
it was the fire of Hawthorne’s fowling-piece in the woods that attracted the young poet, from his lookout above. But Longfellow had felt in the rhythm of these earliest poems the tide-flow of his future, and Hawthorne had as yet hardly found his appropriate element.
In 1828, however, three years after graduating, he published an anonymous prose romance called “Fanshawe,” much more nearly approaching a novel than his later books. It was issued at Boston, by Marsh and Capen; but so successful was Hawthorne in his attempt to exterminate the edition, that not half a dozen copies are now known to be extant. We have seen that he read and admired Godwin and Scott, as a boy. “Kenilworth,” “The Pirate,” “The Fortunes of Nigel,” “Peveril of the Peak,” “Quentin Durward,” and others of Scott’s novel; had appeared while Hawthorne was at Bowdoin; and the author of “Waverley” had become the autocrat of fiction. In addition to this, there is an inbred analogy between New England and Scotland. In the history and character of the people of each country are seen the influence of Calvin, and of a common-school system. Popular education was ingrafted upon the policy of both states at about the same period, and in both it has had the same result, making of the farming-class a body of energetic, thrifty, intelligent, and aspiring people. Scotland and New England alike owe some of their best as well as their least attractive traits to bitter climate and a parsimonious soil; and the rural population of either is pushed into emigration by the scanty harvests at home. It is not a little singular that the Yankee and the canny Scot should each stand as a butt for the wit of his neighbors, while each has a shrewdness all his own. The Scotch, it is true, are said to be unusually impervious to a joke, while our Down–Easters are perhaps the most recondite and many-sided of American humorists. And, though many of the conditions of the two regions are alike, the temperaments of the two races are of course largely dissimilar. The most salient distinction, perhaps, is that of the Scotch being a musical and dancing nation; something from which the New–Englanders are fatally far removed. As if to link him with his Puritan ancestry and stamp him beyond mistake as a Pilgrim and not a Covenanter, Hawthorne was by nature formed with little ear for music. It seems strange that a man who could inform the verses on “Moonlight,” just quoted, with so delicate a melody, and never admitted an ill-timed strain or jarring cadence into his pure, symphonious prose, should scarcely be able to distinguish one tune from another. Yet such was the case. But this was owing merely to the absence of the musical instinct. He would listen with rapture to the unaccompanied voice; and I have been always much touched by a little incident recorded in the “English Note–Books”: “There is a woman who has several times passed through this Hanover Street in which we live, stopping occasionally to sing songs under the windows; and last evening . . . she came and sang ‘Kathleen O’Moore’ richly and sweetly. Her voice rose up out of the dim, chill street, and made our hearts throb in unison with it as we sat in our comfortable drawing-room. I never heard a voice that touched me more deeply. Somebody told her to go away, and she stopped like a nightingale suddenly shot.” Hawthorne goes on to speak with wonder of the waste of such a voice, “making even an unsusceptible heart vibrate like a harp-string”; and it is pleasant to know that Mrs. Hawthorne had the woman called within, from the street. So that his soul was open to sound. But the unmusicalness of New England, less marked now than formerly, is only a symbol, perhaps — grievous that it should be so! — of the superior temperance of our race. For, by one of those strange oversights that human nature is guilty of, Scotland, in opening the door for song and dance and all the merry crew of mirth, seems to admit quite freely two vagabonds that have no business there, Squalor and Drunkenness. Yet notwithstanding this grave unlikeness between the two peoples, Hawthorne seems to have found a connecting clew, albeit unwittingly, when he remarked, as he did, on his first visit to Glasgow, that in spite of the poorer classes there excelling even those of Liverpool in filth and drunkenness, “they are a better looking people than the English (and this is true of all classes), more intelligent of aspect, with more regular, features.” There is certainly one quality linking the two nations together which has not yet been commented on, in relation to Hawthorne; and this is the natural growth of the weird in the popular mind, both here and in Scotland. It is not needful to enter into this at all at length. In the chapter on Salem I have suggested some of the immediate factors of the weird element in Hawthorne’s fiction; but it deserves remark that only Scott and Hawthorne, besides George Sand, among modern novelists, have used the supernatural with real skill and force; and Hawthorne has certainly infused it into his work by a more subtle and sympathetic gift than even the magic-loving Scotch romancer owned. After this digressive prelude, the reader will be ready to hear me announce that “Fanshawe” was a faint reflection from the young Salem recluse’s mind of certain rays thrown across the Atlantic from Abbotsford. But this needs qualification.
Hawthorne indeed admired Scott, when a youth; and after he had returned from abroad, in 1860, he fulfilled a tender purpose, formed on a visit to Abbotsford, of re-reading all the Waverley novels. Yet he had long before arrived at a ripe, unprejudiced judgment concerning him. The exact impression of his feeling appears in that delightfully humorous whimsey, “P.‘s Correspondence,” which contains the essence of the best criticism. [Footnote: See Mosses from an Old Manse, Vol. II.] In allusion to Abbotsford, Scott, he says, “whether in verse, prose, or architecture, could achieve but one thing, although that one in infinite variety.” And he adds: “For my part, I can hardly regret that Sir Walter Scott had lost his consciousness of outward things before his works went out of vogue. It was good that he should forget his fame, rather than that fame should first have forgotten him. Were he still a writer, and as brilliant a one as ever, he could no longer maintain anything like the same position in literature. The world, nowadays, requires a more earnest purpose, a deeper moral, and a closer and homelier truth than he was qualified to supply it with. Yet who can be to the present generation even what Scott has been to the past?” Now, in “Fanshawe” there is something that reminds one of Sir Walter; but the very resemblance makes the essential unlikeness more apparent.
The scene of the tale is laid at Harley College, “in an ancient, though not very populous settlement in a retired corner of one of the New England States.” This, no doubt, is a reproduction of Bowdoin. Mr. Longfellow tells me that the descriptions of the seminary and of the country around it strongly suggest the Brunswick College. The President of Harley is a Dr. Melmoth, an amiable and simple old delver in learning, in a general way recalling Dominie Sampson, whose vigorous spouse rules him somewhat severely: their little bickerings supply a strain of farce indigenous to Scott’s fictions, but quite unlike anything in Hawthorne’s later work. A young lady, named Ellen Langton, daughter of an old friend of Dr. Melmoth’s, is sent to Harley, to stay under his guardianship. Ellen is somewhat vaguely sketched, in the style of Scott’s heroines; but this sentence ends with a trace of the young writer’s quality: “If pen could give an adequate idea of Ellen Langton’s beauty, it would achieve what pencil . . . never could; for though the dark eyes might be painted, the pure and pleasant thoughts that peeped through them could only be seen and felt.” This maiden the doctor once took into his study, to begin a course of modern languages with her; but she “having discovered an old romance among his heavy folios, contrived by the sweet charm of her voice to engage his attention,” and quite beguiled him from severer studies. Naturally, she inthralls two young students at the college: one of whom is Edward Wolcott, a wealthy, handsome, generous, healthy young fellow from one of the seaport towns; and the other, Fanshawe, the hero, who is a poor but ambitious recluse, already passing into a decline through overmuch devotion to books and meditation. Fanshawe, though the deeper nature of the two, and intensely moved by his new passion, perceiving that a union between himself and Ellen could not be a happy one, resigns the hope of it from the beginning. But circumstances bring him into intimate relation with her. The real action of the book, after the preliminaries, takes up only some three days, and turns upon the attempt of a man named Butler to entice Ellen away under his protection, then marry her, and secure the fortune to which she is heiress. This scheme is partly frustrated by circumstances, and Butler’s purpose towards Ellen then becomes a much more sinister one. From this she is rescued by Fanshawe; and, knowing that he loves her, but is concealing his passion, she gives him the opportunity and the right to claim her hand. For a moment, the rush of desire and hope is so great that he hesitates; then he refuses to take advantage of her generosity, and parts with her for the last time. Ellen becomes engaged to Wolcott, who had won her heart from the first; and Fanshawe, sinking into rapid consumption, dies before his class graduates. It is easy to see how the sources of emotion thus opened attracted Hawthorne. The noble and refined nature of Fanshawe, and the mingled craftiness, remorse, and ferocity of Butler, are crude embodiments of the same characteristics which he afterward treated in modified forms. They are the two poles, the extremes — both of them remote and chilly — of good and evil, from which the writer withdrew, after exploring them, into more temperate regions. The movement of these persons is visionary, and their personality faint. But I have marked a few characteristic portions of the book which suggest its tone.
When the young lady’s flight with the stranger actually takes place, young Wolcott and President Melmoth ride together in the pursuit, and at this point there occurs a dialogue which is certainly as laughable and is better condensed than most similar passages in Scott, whom it strongly recalls. A hint of Cervantes appears in it, too, which makes it not out of place to mention that Hawthorne studied “Don Quixote” in the original, soon after leaving college.
“‘Alas, youth! these are strange times,’ observed the President, ‘when a doctor of divinity and an undergraduate set forth like a knight-errant and his squire, in search of a stray damsel. Methinks I am an epitome of the church militant, or a new species of polemical divinity. Pray Heaven, however, there he no encounter in store for us; for I utterly forgot to provide myself with weapons.’
“‘I took some thought for that matter, reverend knight,’ replied Edward, whose imagination was highly tickled by Dr. Melmoth’s chivalrous comparison.
“‘Ay, I see that you have girded on a sword,’ said the divine. ‘But wherewith shall I defend myself? — my hand being empty except of this golden-headed staff, the gift of Mr. Langton.’
“‘One of those, if you will accept it,’ answered Edward, exhibiting a brace of pistols, ‘will serve to begin the conflict, before you join the battle hand to hand.’
“‘Nay, I shall find little safety in meddling with that deadly instrument, since I know not accurately from which end proceeds the bullet,’ said Dr. Melmoth. ‘But were it not better, seeing we are so well provided with artillery, to betake ourselves, in the event of an encounter, to some stone-wall or other place of strength?’
“‘If I may presume to advise,’ said the squire, ‘you, as being most valiant and experienced, should ride forward, lance in hand (your long staff serving for a lance), while I annoy the enemy from afar.’
“‘Like Teucer behind the shield of Ajax,’ interrupted Dr. Melmoth, ‘or David with his stone and sling. No, no, young man; I have left unfinished in my study a learned treatise, important not only to the present age, but to posterity, for whose sakes I must take heed to my safety. But lo! who rides yonder?’”
In one place only does the author give full rein to his tragic power; but this is a vigorous burst, and remarkable also for its sure and trenchant analysis. During his escape with Ellen, Butler is moved to stop at a lonely hut inhabited by his mother, where he finds her dying; and, torn by the sight of her suffering while she raves and yearns for his presence, he makes himself known to her.
“At that unforgotten voice, the darkness burst away at once from her soul. She arose in bed, her eyes and her whole countenance beaming with joy, and threw her arms about his neck. A multitude of words seem struggling for utterance; but they gave place to a low moaning sound, and then to the silence of death. The one moment of happiness, that recompensed years of sorrow, had been her last. . . . As he [Butler] looked, the expression of enthusiastic joy that parting life had left upon the features faded gradually away, and the countenance, though no longer wild, assumed the sadness which it had worn through a long course of grief and pain. On beholding this natural consequence of death, the thought perhaps occurred to him that her soul, no longer dependent on the imperfect means of intercourse possessed by mortals, had communed with his own, and become acquainted with all its guilt and misery. He started from the bedside and covered his face with his hands, as if to hide it from those dead eyes. . . . But his deep repentance for the misery he had brought upon his parent did not produce in him a resolution to do wrong no more. The sudden consciousness of accumulated guilt made him desperate. He felt as if no one had thenceforth a claim to justice or compassion at his hands, when his neglect and cruelty had poisoned his mother’s life, and hastened her death.”
What separates this story from the rest of Hawthorne’s works is an intricate plot, with passages of open humor, and a rather melodramatic tone in the conclusion. These are the result in part of the prevalent fashion of romance, and in part of a desire to produce effects not quite consonant with his native bent. The choice of the title, “Fanshawe,” too, seems to show a deference to the then prevalent taste for brief and quaint-sounding names; and the motto, “Wilt thou go on with me?” from Southey, placed on his title-page, together with quotations at the heads of chapters, belongs to a past fashion. Fanshawe and Butler are powerful conceptions, but they are so purely embodiments of passion as to assume an air of unreality. Butler is like an evil wraith, and Fanshawe is as evanescent as a sad cloud in the sky, touched with the first pale light of morning. Fanshawe, with his pure heart and high resolves, represents that constant aspiration toward lofty moral truth which marked Hawthorne’s own mind, and Butler is a crude example of the sinful spirit which he afterward analyzed under many forms. The verbal style has few marks of the maturer mould afterward impressed on it, except that there is the preference always noticeable in Hawthorne for Latin wording. Two or three phrases, however, show all the limpidness and ease for which he gained fame subsequently. For instance, when Fanshawe is first surprised by his love for Ellen, he returns to his room to study: “The books were around him which had hitherto been to him like those fabled volumes of magic, from which the reader could not turn away his eye, till death were the consequence of his studies.” This, too, is a pretty description of Ellen: “Terror had at first blanched her as white as a lily. . . . Shame next bore sway; and her blushing countenance, covered by her slender white fingers, might fantastically be compared to a variegated rose, with its alternate stripes of white and red.” Its restraint is perhaps the most remarkable trait of the novel; for though this comes of timidity, it shows that Hawthorne, whether this be to his advantage or not, was not of the order of young genius which begins with tumid and excessive exhibition of power. His early acquaintance with books, breeding a respect for literary form, his shy, considerate modes of dealing with any intellectual problem or question requiring judgment, and the formal taste of the period in letters, probably conspired to this end.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09