We have now reached the point where the concealed foundations of Hawthorne’s life terminate, and the final structure begins to appear above the surface, like the topmost portion of a coral island slowly rising from the depths of a solitary ocean.
When he left college, his friends Cilley and Pierce entered into law, the gateway to politics; Bridge returned to his father’s estate at Bridgton, to engage later in a large enterprise there; and other classmates took up various activities in the midst of other men; but for Hawthorne no very clear path presented itself. Literature had not yet attained, in the United States, the rank of a distinct and powerful profession. Fifteen years before, Brockden Brown had died prematurely after a hapless struggle, worn out with overwork — the first man who had undertaken to live by writing in this country since its colonization. “The North American Review,” indeed, in Boston, was laying the corner-stone of a vigorous periodical literature; and in this year of 1825 William Cullen Bryant had gone to New York to edit “The New York Review,” after publishing at Cambridge his first volume of poetry, “The Ages.” Irving was an author of recent but established fame, who was drawing chiefly from the rich supplies of European manners, legend, and history; while Cooper, in his pleasant Pioneer-land beside Otsego Lake, had begun to make clear his claim to a wide domain of native and national fiction. But to a young man of reserved temper, having few or no friends directly connected with publication, and living in a sombre, old-fashioned town, isolated as all like towns were before the era of railroads, the avenue to publicity and a definite literary career was dark and devious enough.
I suppose it was after his venture of “Fanshawe,” that he set about the composition of some shorter stories which he called “Seven Tales of my Native Land.” [Footnote: The motto prefixed to these was, “We are seven.”] His sister, to whom he read these, has told me that they were very beautiful, but no definite recollection of them remains to her, except that some of them related to witchcraft, and some to the sea, being stories of pirates and privateers. In one of these latter were certain verses, beginning —
“The pirates of the sea, they were a fearful race.”
Hawthorne has described in “The Devil in Manuscript,” while depicting a young author about to destroy his manuscript, his own vexations in trying to find a publisher for these attempts. “They have been offered to some seventeen booksellers. It would make you stare to read their answers. . . . One man publishes nothing but school-books; another has five novels already under examination; . . . another gentleman is just giving up business on purpose, I verily believe, to escape publishing my book. . . . In short, of all the seventeen booksellers, only one has vouchsafed even to read my tales; and he — a literary dabbler himself, I should judge — has the impertinence to criticise them, proposing what he calls vast improvements, and concluding . . . that he will not be concerned on any terms. . . . But there does seem to be one honest man among these seventeen unrighteous ones; and he tells me fairly that no American publisher will meddle with an American work, seldom if by a known writer, and never if by a new one, unless at the writer’s risk.” He indeed had the most discouraging sort of search for a publisher; but at last a young printer of Salem promised to undertake the work. His name was Ferdinand Andrews; and he was at one time half-owner with Caleb Cushing of an establishment from which they issued “The Salem Gazette,” in 1822, the same journal in which Hawthorne published various papers at a later date, when Mr. Caleb Foote was its editor. Andrews was ambitious, and evidently appreciative of his young townsman’s genius; but he delayed issuing the “Seven Tales” so long that the author, exasperated, recalled the manuscript. Andrews, waiting only for better business prospects, was loath to let them go; but Hawthorne insisted, and at last the publisher sent word, “Mr. Hawthorne’s manuscript awaits his orders.” The writer received it and burned it, to the chagrin of Andrews, who had hoped to bring out many works by the same hand.
This, at the time, must have been an incident of incalculable and depressing importance to Hawthorne, and the intense emotion it caused may be guessed from the utterances of the young writer in the sketch just alluded to, though he has there veiled the affair in a light film of sarcasm. The hero of that scene is called Oberon, one of the feigned names which Hawthorne himself used at times in contributing to periodicals. “‘What is more potent than fire!’ said he, in his gloomiest tone. ‘Even thought, invisible and incorporeal as it is, cannot escape it. . . . All that I had accomplished, all that I planned for future years, has perished by one common ruin, and left only this heap of embers! The deed has been my fate. And what remains? A weary and aimless life; a long repentance of this hour; and at last an obscure grave, where they will bury and forget me!’” There is also an allusion to the tales founded on witchcraft: “I could believe, if I chose,” says Oberon, “that there is a devil in this pile of blotted papers. You have read them, and know what I mean — that conception in which I endeavored to embody the character of a fiend, as represented in our traditions and the written records of witchcraft. O, I have a horror of what was created in my own brain, and shudder at the manuscripts in which I gave that dark idea a sort of material existence!’ You remember how the hellish thing used to suck away the happiness of those who . . . subjected themselves to his power.” This is curious, as showing the point from which Hawthorne had resolved to treat the theme. He had instinctively perceived that the only way to make the witchcraft delusion available in fiction was to accept the witch as a fact, an actual being, and expend his art upon developing the abnormal character; while other writers, who have attempted to use the subject for romantic ends, have uniformly taken the historical view, and sought to extract their pathos from the effect of the delusion on innocent persons. The historical view is that of intelligent criticism; but Hawthorne’s effort was the harbinger and token of an original imagination.
After the publication of “Fanshawe” and the destruction of his “Seven Tales,” Hawthorne found himself advanced not so much as by a single footstep on the road to fame. “Fame!” he exclaims, in meditation; “some very humble persons in a town may be said to possess it — as the penny-post, the town-crier, the constable — and they are known to everybody; while many richer, more intellectual, worthier persons are unknown by the majority of their fellow-citizens.” But the fame that he desired was, I think, only that which is the recognition by the public that a man is on the way to truth. An outside acknowledgment of this is invaluable even to the least vain of authors, because it assures him that, in following his own inner impulse through every doubt and discouragement, he has not been pursuing a chimera, and gives him new heart for the highest enterprises of which he is capable. To attain this, amid the peculiar surroundings of his life, was difficult enough. At that time, Salem society was more peculiarly constituted than it has been in later years. A strong circle of wealthy families maintained rigorously the distinctions of class; their entertainments were splendid, their manners magnificent, and the fame of the beautiful women born amongst them has been confirmed by a long succession reaching into the present day. They prescribed certain fashions, customs, punctilios, to disregard which was social exile for the offending party; and they were divided even among themselves, I am told, by the most inveterate jealousies. It is said that certain people would almost have endured the thumb-screw rather than meet and speak to others. There seems to be good authority for believing that Hawthorne could have entered this circle, had he so chosen. He had relatives who took an active part within it; and it appears that there was a disposition among some of the fashionable coterie to show him particular favor, and that advances were made by them with the wish to draw him out. But one can conceive that it would not be acceptable to him to meet them on any but terms of entire equality. The want of ample supplies of money, which was one of the results of the fallen fortunes of his family, made this impossible; those who held sway were of older date in the place than some of the Hawthornes, and, like many another long-established stock, they had a conviction that, whatever their outward circumstances might be, a certain intrinsic superiority remained theirs. They were, like the lady of Hawthorne blood mentioned in the “American Note–Books,” “proud of being proud.” The Hawthornes, it was said, were as unlike other people as the Jews were to Gentiles; and the deep-rooted reserve which enveloped Hawthorne himself was a distinct family trait. So that, feeling himself to be in an unfair position, he doubtless found in these facts enough to cause him acute irritation of that sort which only very young or very proud and shrinking men can know. Besides this, the altered circumstances of his line, and his years in Maine, had brought him acquainted with humbler phases of life, and had doubtless developed in him a sympathy with simpler and less lofty people than these magnates. His father had been a Democrat, and loyalty to his memory, as well as the very pride just spoken of, conspired to lead him to that unpopular side. This set up another barrier between himself and the rich and powerful Whigs, for political feeling was almost inconceivably more bitter then than now. Thus there arose within him an unquiet, ill-defined, comfortless antipathy that must have tortured him with wearisome distress; and certainly shut him out from the sympathy and appreciation which, if all the conditions had been different, might have been given him by sincere and competent admirers. So little known among his own townsfolk, it is not to be wondered at that no encouraging answer reached him from more distant communities.
In his own home there was the faith which only love can give, but outside of it a chill drove his hopes and ardors back upon himself and turned them into despairs. His relatives, having seen him educated by the aid of his uncle, and now arrived at maturity, expected him to take his share in practical affairs. But the very means adopted to train him for a career had settled his choice of one in a direction perhaps not wholly expected; all cares and gains of ordinary traffic seemed sordid and alien to him. Yet a young man just beginning his career, with no solid proof of his own ability acquired, cannot but be sensitive to criticism from those who have gained a right to comment by their own special successes. As he watched these slow and dreary years pass by, from his graduation in 1825 to the time when he first came fully before the public in 1837, he must often have been dragged down by terrible fears that perhaps the fairest period of life was being wasted, losing forever the chance of fruition. “I sat down by the wayside of life,” he wrote, long after, “like a man under enchantment, and a shrubbery sprang up around me, and the bushes grew to be saplings, and the saplings became trees, until no exit appeared possible, through the entangling depths of my obscurity.” Judge in what a silence and solitary self-communing the time must have passed, to leave a thought like this: “To think, as the sun goes down, what events have happened in the course of the day — events of ordinary occurrence; as, the clocks have struck, the dead have been buried.” Or this: “A recluse like myself, or a prisoner, to measure time by the progress of sunshine through his chamber.” His Note–Books show how the sense of unreality vexed and pursued him; and how the sadness and solemnity of life returned upon him again and again; and how he clothed these dark visitants of his brain with the colors of imagination, and turned them away from him in the guise of miraculous fantasies. He talks with himself of writing “the journal of a human heart for a single day, in ordinary circumstances. The lights and shadows that flit across it, its internal vicissitudes.” But this is almost precisely what his printed Note–Books have revealed to us. Only now and then do we get precisely the thought that is passing through his mind at the moment; it more often throws upon the page a reflected image — some strange and subtle hint for a story, the germs of delicate fabrics long afterward matured, some merry or sad conceit, some tender yet piercing inference — like the shadows of clouds passing quickly across a clear sky, and casting momentary glooms, and glances of light, on the ground below. These journals do not begin until a date seven years after “Fanshawe” was published; but it is safe to assume that they mirror pretty closely the general complexion of the intervening years.
His mode of life during this period was fitted to nurture his imagination, but must have put the endurance of his nerves to the severest test. The statement that for several years “he never saw the sun,” is entirely an error; but it is true that he seldom chose to walk in the town except at night, and it is said that he was extremely fond of going to fires if they occurred after dark. In summer he was up shortly after sunrise, and would go down to bathe in the sea. The morning was chiefly given to study, the afternoon to writing, and in the evening he would take long walks, exploring the coast from Gloucester to Marblehead and Lynn — a range of many miles. Or perhaps he would pace the streets of the town, unseen but observing, gathering material for something in the vein of his delicious “Night Sketches.” “After a time,” he writes, “the visions vanish, and will not appear again at my bidding. Then, it being nightfall, a gloomy sense of unreality depresses my spirits, and impels me to venture out before the clock shall strike bedtime, to satisfy myself that the world is not made of such shadowy materials as have busied me throughout the day. A dreamer may dwell so long among fantasies, that the things without him will seem as unreal as those within.” Or, if he chose a later hour, he might go abroad to people the deserted thoroughfares with wilder phantoms. Sometimes he took the day for his rambles, wandering perhaps over Endicott’s ancient Orchard Farm and among the antique houses and grassy cellars of old Salem village, the witchcraft ground; or losing himself among the pines of Montserrat and in the silence of the Great Pastures, or strolling along the beaches to talk with old sailors and fishermen. His tramps along the Manchester and Beverly shores or from Marblehead to Nahant were productive of such delicate tracings as “Footprints by the Sea-shore,” or the dream-autobiography of “The Village Uncle.” “Grudge me not the day,” he says, in the former sketch, “that has been spent in seclusion, which yet was not solitude, since the great sea has been my companion, and the little sea-birds my friends, and the wind has told me his secrets, and airy shapes have flitted around my hermitage. Such companionship works an effect upon a man’s character, as if he had been admitted to the society of creatures that are not mortal.” This touches the inmost secret of those lonely, youthful years, which moulded the pure-hearted muser with ethereal, unsuspected fingers. Elsewhere, Hawthorne has given another glimpse into his interior life at this time: “This scene came into my fancy as I walked along a hilly road, on a starlight October evening; in the pure and bracing air I became all soul, and felt as if I could climb the sky, and run a race along the Milky Way. Here is another tale in which I wrapped myself during a dark and dreary night-ride in the month of March, till the rattling of the wheels and the voices of my companions seemed like faint sounds of a dream, and my visions a bright reality. That scribbled page describes shadows which I summoned to my bedside at midnight; they would not depart when I bade them; the gray dawn came, and found me wide awake and feverish, the victim of my own enchantments!” Susan, the imaginary wife in “The Village Uncle,” is said to have had a prototype in the daughter of a Salem fisherman, whose wit and charm gave Hawthorne frequent amusement; and I suppose that not seldom he reaped delightful suggestions from his meetings with frank, unconscious, and individual people of tastes and life unlike his own. I have heard it told with a polite, self-satisfied scorn, that he was in the habit of visiting now and then a tavern patronized by ‘longshore-men and nautical veterans, to listen to their talk. I can well believe it, for it is this sort of intercourse that a person of manly genius, with a republican fellow-feeling for the unrenowned, most covets. How well he gives the tone of these old sea-dogs, when he writes: “The blast will put in its word among their hoarse voices, and be understood by all of them!” It was this constant searching among the common types of men, and his ready sympathy with them, refined as it was hearty, that stored his mind with a variety of accurate impressions which afterward surprised observers, in a man of habits so retired.
His uncles, the Mannings, were connected with extensive stage-coach lines at this time, and Hawthorne seems to have used these as antennae to bring himself in contact with new and nutritive regions and people. A letter, probably written in 1830, which I do not feel at liberty to quote entire, tells something of a trip that he took with Samuel Manning through a part of Connecticut and the Connecticut valley. The extracts that follow give a glimpse of the fresh and alert interest he felt about everything; and I regard them as very important in showing the obverse of that impression of unhealthy solitude which has been so generally received from accounts of Hawthorne hitherto published.
“We did not leave New Haven till last Saturday . . . and we were forced to halt for the night at Cheshire, a village about fifteen miles from New Haven. The next day being Sunday, we made a Sabbath day’s journey of seventeen miles, and put up at Farmington. As we were wearied with rapid travelling, we found it impossible to attend divine service, which was (of course) very grievous to us both. In the evening, however, I went to a Bible class with a very polite and agreeable gentleman, whom I afterward discovered to be a strolling tailor of very questionable habits. . . . We are now at Deerfield (though I believe my letter is dated Greenfield) . . . with our faces northward; nor shall I marvel much if your Uncle Sam pushes on to Canada, unless we should meet with two or three bad taverns in succession. . . .
“I meet with many marvellous adventures. At New Haven I observed a gentleman staring at me with great earnestness, after which he went into the bar-room, I suppose to inquire who I might be. Finally, he came up to me and said that as I bore a striking resemblance to a family of Stanburys, he was induced to inquire if I was connected with them. I was sorry to be obliged to answer in the negative. At another place they took me for a lawyer in search of a place to settle, and strongly recommended their own village. Moreover, I heard some of the students at Yale College conjecturing that I was an Englishman, and today, as I was standing without my coat at the door of a tavern, a man came up to me, and asked me for some oats for his horse.”
It was during this trip, I have small doubt, that he found the scenery, and perhaps the persons, for that pretty interlude, “The Seven Vagabonds.” The story is placed not far from Stamford, and the conjurer in it says, “I am taking a trip northward, this warm weather, across the Connecticut first, and then up through Vermont, and may be into Canada before the fall.” The narrator himself queries by what right he came among these wanderers, and furnishes himself an answer which suggests that side of his nature most apt to appear in these journeys: “The free mind that preferred its own folly to another’s wisdom; the open spirit that found companions everywhere; above all, the restless impulse that had so often made me wretched in the midst of enjoyments: these were my claims to be of their society.” “If there be a faculty,” he also writes, “which I possess more perfectly than most men, it is that of throwing myself mentally into situations foreign to my own, and detecting with a cheerful eye the desirableness of each.” There is also one letter of 1831, sent back during an expedition in New Hampshire, which supplies the genesis of another Twice–Told Tale, “The Canterbury Pilgrims.”
“I walked to the Shaker village yesterday [he says], and was shown over the establishment, and dined there with a squire and a doctor, also of the world’s people. On my arrival, the first thing I saw was a jolly old Shaker carrying an immense decanter of their superb cider; and as soon as I told him my business, he turned out a tumblerful and gave me. It was as much as a common head could clearly carry. Our dining-room was well furnished, the dinner excellent, and the table attended by a middle-aged Shaker lady, good looking and cheerful. . . . This establishment is immensely rich. Their land extends two or three miles along the road, and there are streets of great houses painted yellow and tipt with red. . . . On the whole, they lead a good and comfortable life, and, if it were not for their ridiculous ceremonies, a man could not do a wiser thing than to join them. Those whom I conversed with were intelligent, and appeared happy. I spoke to them about becoming a member of their society, but have come to no decision on that point.
“We have had a pleasant journey enough. . . . I make innumerable acquaintances, and sit down on the doorsteps with judges, generals, and all the potentates of the land, discoursing about the Salem murder [that of Mr. White], the cow-skinning of Isaac Hill, the price of hay, and the value of horse-flesh. The country is very uneven, and your Uncle Sam groans bitterly whenever we come to the foot of a low hill; though this ought to make me groan rather than him, as I have to get out and trudge every one of them.”
The “Clippings with a Chisel” point to some further wanderings, to Martha’s Vineyard; and an uncollected sketch reveals the fact that he had been to Niagara. It was probably then that he visited Ticonderoga; [Footnote: A brief sketch of the fortress is included in The Snow Image volume of the Works.] but not till some years later that he saw New York. With these exceptions, and a trip to Washington before going to Liverpool in 1853, every day of his life up to that date was passed within New England. In “The Toll–Gatherer’s Day” one sees the young observer at work upon the details of an ordinary scene near home. The “small square edifice which stands between shore and shore in the midst of a long bridge,” spanning an arm of the sea, refers undoubtedly to the bridge from Salem to Beverly. But how lightly his spirit hovers over the stream of actual life, scarcely touching it before springing up again, like a sea-bird on the crest of a wave! Nothing could be more accurate and polished than his descriptions and his presentation of the actual facts; but his fancy rises resilient from these to some dreamy, far-seeing perception or gentle moral inference. The visible human pageant is only of value to him as it suggests the viewless host of heavenly shapes that hang above it like an idealizing mirage. His attitude at this time recalls a suggestion of his own in “Sights from a Steeple”: “The most desirable mode of existence might be that of a spiritualized Paul Pry, hovering invisible round man and woman, witnessing their deeds, searching into their hearts, borrowing brightness from their felicity, and shade from their sorrow, and retaining no emotion peculiar to himself.” He had the longing which every creative mind must feel, to mix with other beings and share to the utmost the possibilities of human weal or woe, suppressing his own experience so far as to make himself a transparent medium for the emotions of mankind; but he still lacked a definite connection with the multifarious drama of human fellowship; he could not catch his cue and play his answering part, and therefore gave voice to a constantly murmurous, moralizing “aside.” He delights to let the current of action flow around him and beside him; he warms his heart in it; but when he again withdraws by himself, it is with him as with the old toll-gatherer at close of day, “mingling reveries of Heaven with remembrances of earth, the whole procession of mortal travellers, all the dusty pilgrimage which he has witnessed, seems like a flitting show of phantoms for his thoughtful soul to muse upon.”
“What would a man do,” he asks himself, in his journal, “if he were compelled to live always in the sultry heat of society, and could never bathe himself in cool solitude?” As yet, this bracing influence of quietude, so essential to his well-being, fascinates him, and he cannot shake off its influence so far as to enter actively and for personal interests into any of the common pursuits even of the man who makes a business of literature. Yet nothing impresses him more than the fact that every one carries a solitude with him, wherever he goes, like a shadow. Twice, with an interval of three years between, this idea recurs in the form of a hint for romance. “Two lovers or other persons, on the most private business, to appoint a meeting in what they supposed to be a place of the utmost solitude, and to find it thronged with people.” The idea implied is, that this would in fact be the completest privacy they could have wished. “The situation of a man in the midst of a crowd, yet as completely in the power of another, life and all, as if they two were in the deepest solitude.” This contradiction between the apparent openness that must rule one’s conduct among men, and the real secrecy that may coexist with it, even when one is most exposed to the gaze of others, excites in his mind a whole train of thought based on the falsity of appearances. If a man can be outwardly open and inwardly reserved in a good sense, he can be so in a bad sense; so, too, he may have the external air of great excellence and purity, while internally he is foul and unfaithful. This discovery strikes our perfectly sincere and true-hearted recluse with intense and endless horror. He tests it, by turning it innumerable ways, and imagining all sorts of situations in which such contradictions of appearance and reality might be illustrated. At one time, he conceives of a friend who should be true by day, and false at night. At another he suggests: “Our body to be possessed by two different spirits, so that half the visage shall express one mood, and the other half another.” “A man living a wicked life in one place and simultaneously a virtuous and religious one in another.” Then he perceives that this same uncertainty and contradiction affects the lightest and seemingly most harmless things in the world. “The world is so sad and solemn,” he muses, “that things meant in jest are liable, by an overpowering influence, to become dreadful earnest.” And then he applies this, as in the following: “A virtuous but giddy girl to attempt to play a trick on a man. He sees what she is about, and contrives matters so that she throws herself completely into his power, and is ruined — all in jest.” Likewise, the most desirable things, by this same law of contradiction, often prove the least satisfactory. Thus: “A person or family long desires some particular good. At last it comes in such profusion as to be the great pest of their lives.” And this is equally true, he finds, whether the desired thing be sought in order to gratify a pure instinct or a wrong and revengeful one. “As an instance, merely, suppose a woman sues her lover for breach of promise, and gets the money by instalments, through a long series of years. At last, when the miserable victim were utterly trodden down, the triumpher would have become a very devil of evil passions — they having overgrown his whole nature; so that a far greater evil would have come upon himself than on his victim.” This theme of self-punished revenge, as we know, was afterward thoroughly wrought out in “The Scarlet Letter.” Another form in which the thought of this pervading falsehood in earthly affairs comes to him is the frightful fancy of people being poisoned by communion-wine. Thus does the insincerity and corruption of man, the lie that is hidden in nearly every life and almost every act, rise and thrust itself before him, whichever way he turns, like a serpent in his path. He is in the position of the father confessor of whom he at one time thinks, and of “his reflections on character, and the contrast of the inward man with the outward, as he looks around his congregation, all whose secret sins are known to him.” But Hawthorne does not let this hissing serpent either rout him or poison him. He is determined to visit the ways of life, to find the exit of the maze, and so tries every opening, unalarmed. The serpent is in all: it proves to be a deathless, large-coiled hydra, encircling the young explorer’s virgin soul, as it does that of every pure aspirer, and trying to drive him back on himself, with a sting in his heart that shall curse him with a life-long venom. It does, indeed, force him to recoil, but not with any mortal wound. He retires in profound sorrow, acknowledging that earth holds nothing perfect, that his dream of ideal beings leading an ideal life, which, in spite of the knowledge of evil, he has been cherishing for so many years, is a dream to be fulfilled in the hereafter alone. He confesses to himself that “there is evil in every human heart, which may remain latent, perhaps, through the whole of life; but circumstances may rouse it to activity.” It is not a new discovery; but from the force with which it strikes him, we may guess the strength of his aspiration, the fine temper of his faith in the good and the beautiful. To be driven to this dismal conclusion is for him a source of inexpressible dismay, because he had trusted so deeply in the possibility of reaching some brighter truth. No; not a new discovery; — but one who approaches it with so much sensibility feels it to be new, with all the fervor which the most absolute novelty could rouse. This is the deepest and the true originality, to possess such intensity of feeling that the oldest truth, when approached by our own methods, shall be full of a primitive impressiveness.
But, in the midst of the depression born of his immense sorrow over sin, Hawthorne found compensations. First, in the query which he puts so briefly: “The good deeds in an evil life — the generous, noble, and excellent actions done by people habitually wicked — to ask what is to become of them.” This is the motive which has furnished novelists for the last half-century with their most stirring and pathetic effects. It is a sort of escape, a safety-valve for the hot fire of controversy on the soul’s fate, and offers in its pertinent indefiniteness a vast solace to those who are trying to balance the bewildering account of virtue with sin. Hawthorne found that here was a partial solution of the problem, and he enlarged upon it, toward the end of his life, in “The Marble Faun.” But it was a second and deeper thought that furnished him the chief compensation. In one of the “Twice–Told Tales,” “Fancy’s Show–Box,” he deals with the question, how far the mere thought of sin, the incipient desire to commit it, may injure the soul. After first strongly picturing the reality of certain sinful impulses in a man’s mind, which had never been carried out — “A scheme of guilt,” he argues, taking up the other side, “till it be put in execution, greatly resembles a train of incidents in a projected tale. . . . Thus a novel-writer, or a dramatist, in creating the villain of romance, and fitting him with evil deeds, and the villain of actual life in projecting crimes that will be perpetrated, may almost meet each other half-way between reality and fancy. It is not until the crime is accomplished that guilt clinches its gripe upon the heart, and claims it for its own. Then, and not before, sin is actually felt and acknowledged, and, if unaccompanied by repentance, grows a thousand-fold more virulent by its self-consciousness. Be it considered, also, that men often overestimate their capacity for evil. At a distance, while its attendant circumstances do not press upon their notice, its results are dimly seen, they can bear to contemplate it. . . . In truth, there is no such thing in man’s nature as a settled and full resolve, either for good or evil, except at the very moment of execution. Let us hope, therefore, that all the dreadful consequences of sin will not be incurred, unless the act have set its seal upon the thought. Yet . . . man must not disclaim his brotherhood, even with the guiltiest, since, though his hand be clean, his heart has surely been polluted by the flitting phantoms of iniquity.” That is, purity is too spotless a thing to exist in absolute perfection in a human being, who must often feel at least the dark flush of passionate thoughts falling upon him, however blameless of life he may be. From this lofty conception of purity comes that equally noble humility of always feeling “his brotherhood, even with the guiltiest.” What more logical issue from the Christian idea, what more exquisitely tender rendering of it than this? “Let the whole world be cleansed, or not a man or woman of us can be clean!” was his exclamation, many years later, in that English workhouse which he describes in a heart-rending chapter of “Our Old Home” called “Outside Glimpses of English Poverty.” And it was then that he revealed the vast depth and the reality of his human sympathy toward the wretched and loathsome little foundling child that silently sued to him for kindness, till he took it up and caressed it as tenderly as if he had been its father.
Armed with these two perceptions, of the good that still persists in evil persons, and the deep charity which every one must feel towards even the most abject fellow-being, Hawthorne moves forth again to trace the maze; and lo, the serpent drops down, cowering. He has found a charm that robs sin and crime of their deadly hurt, and can handle them without danger. It is said by some that Hawthorne treats wrong and corruption too shrinkingly, and his mood of never-lessened and acute sensibility touching them is contrasted with that of “virile” writers like Balzac and George Sand. But these incline to make a menagerie of life, thrusting their heads into the very lion’s mouth, or boldly embracing the snake of sin. They are indeed superior in strong dramatic and realistic effects; but, unvicious as may be their aim, they are not filled with a robust morality: they deliberately choose unclean elements to heighten the interest — albeit using such elements with magnificent strength and skill. Let us be grateful that Hawthorne does not so covet the applause of the clever club-man or of the unconscious vulgarian, as to junket about in caravan, carrying the passions with him in gaudy cages, and feeding them with raw flesh; grateful that he never loses the archangelic light of pure, divine, dispassionate wrath, in piercing the dragon!
We see now how, in this early term of probation, he was finding a philosophy and an unsectarian religiousness, which ever stirred below the clear surface of his language like the bubbling spring at bottom of a forest pool. It has been thought that Hawthorne developed late. But the most striking thing about the “Twice–Told Tales” and the first entries in the “American Note–Books” is their evidence of a calm and mellow maturity. These stories are like the simple but well-devised theme which a musician prepares as the basis of a whole composition: they show the several tendencies which underlie all the subsequent works. First, there are the scenes from New England history — “Endicott and the Red Cross,” “The Maypole of Merry Mount,” “The Gray Champion,” the “Tales of the Province House.”
Then we have the psychological vein, in “The Prophetic Pictures,” “The Minister’s Black Veil,” “Dr. Heidegger,” “Fancy’s Show–Box”; and along with this the current of delicate essay-writing, as in “The Haunted Mind,” and “Sunday at Home.” “Little Annie’s Ramble,” again, foreshadows his charming children’s tales. It is rather remarkable that he should thus have sounded, though faintly, the whole diapason in his first works. Moreover, he had already at this time attained a style at once flowing and large in its outline, and masterly in its minuteness.
But this maturity was not won without deep suffering and long-deferred hope.
If actual contact with men resulted in such grave and sorrowful reflection as we have traced, how drearily trying must have been the climaxes of solitary thought after a long session of seclusion! And much the larger portion of his time was consumed amid an absolute silence, a privacy unbroken by intimate confidences and rife with exhausting and depressing reactions from intense imagination and other severe intellectual exercise. Not only must the repression of this period have amounted at times to positive anguish, but there was also the perplexing perception that his life’s fairest possibilities were still barren. “Every individual has a place in the world, and is important to it in some respects, whether he chooses to be so or not.” So runs one of the extracts from the “American Note–Books”; and now and then we get from the same source a glimpse of the haunting sense that he is missing his fit relation to the rest of the race, the question whether his pursuit was not in some way futile like all the human pursuits he had noticed — whether it was not to be nipped by the same perversity and contradiction that seemed to affect all things mundane. Here is one of his proposed plots, which turns an inner light upon his own frame of mind: “Various good and desirable things to be presented to a young man, and offered to his acceptance — as a friend, a wife, a fortune; but he to refuse them all, suspecting that it is merely a delusion. Yet all to be real, and he to be told so when too late.” Is this not, in brief, what he conceives may yet be the story of his own career? Another occurs, in the same relation: “A man tries to be happy in love; he cannot sincerely give his heart, and the affair seems all a dream. In domestic life the same; in politics, a seeming patriot: but still he is sincere, and all seems like a theatre.” These items are the merest indicia of a whole history of complex emotions, which made this epoch one of continuous though silent and unseen struggle. In a Preface prefixed to the tales, in 1851, the author wrote: “They are the memorials of very tranquil and not unhappy years.” Tranquil they of course were; and to the happy and successful man of forty-seven, the vexing moods and dragging loneliness of that earlier period would seem “not unhappy,” because he could then see all the good it had contained. I cannot agree with Edwin Whipple, who says of them, “There was audible to the delicate ear a faint and muffled growl of personal discontent, which showed they were not mere exercises of penetrating imaginative analysis, but had in them the morbid vitality of a despondent mood.” For this applies to only one of the number, “The Ambitious Guest.” Nor do I find in them the “misanthropy” which he defines at some length. On the contrary, they are, as the author says, “his attempts to open an intercourse with the world,” incited by an eager sympathy, but also restrained by a stern perception of right and wrong.
Yet I am inclined to adhere to the grave view of his inner life just sketched. When his friend Miss Peabody first penetrated his retirement, his pent-up sympathies flowed forth in a way that showed how they had longed for relief. He returned constantly to the discussion of his peculiar mode of living, as if there could be no understanding between himself and another, until this had been cleared up and set aside. Among other things, he spoke of a dream by which he was beset, that he was walking abroad, and that all the houses were mirrors which reflected him a thousand times and overwhelmed him with mortification. This gives a peculiar insight into his sensitive condition.
The noiseless, uneventful weeks slipped by, each day disguising itself in exact semblance of its fellow, like a file of mischievous maskers. Hawthorne sat in his little room under the eaves reading, studying, voicelessly communing with himself through his own journal, or — mastered by some wild suggestion or mysterious speculation — feeling his way through the twilight of dreams, into the dusky chambers of that house of thought whose haunted interior none but himself ever visited. He had little communication with even the members of his family. Frequently his meals were brought and left at his locked door, and it was not often that the four inmates of the old Herbert Street mansion met in family circle. He never read his stories aloud to his mother and sisters, as might be imagined from the picture which Mr. Fields draws of the young author reciting his new productions to his listening family; though, when they met, he sometimes read older literature to them. It was the custom in this household for the several members to remain very much by themselves; the three ladies were perhaps nearly as rigorous recluses as himself; and, speaking of the isolation which reigned among them, Hawthorne once said, “We do not even live at our house!” But still the presence of this near and gentle feminine element is not to be underrated as forming a very great compensation in the cold and difficult morning of Hawthorne’s life.
If the week-day could not lure him from his sad retreat, neither could the Sunday. He had the right to a pew in the First Church, which his family had held since 1640, but he seldom went to service there after coming from college. His religion was supplied from sources not always opened to the common scrutiny, and it never chanced that he found it essential to join any church.
The chief resource against disappointment, the offset to the pain of so much lonely living and dark-veined meditation was, of course, the writing of tales. Never was a man’s mind more truly a kingdom to him. This was the fascination that carried him through the weary waiting-time. Yet even that pleasure had a reverse side, to which the fictitious Oberon has no doubt given voice in these words: “You cannot conceive what an effect the composition of these tales has had upon me. I have become ambitious of a bubble, and careless of solid reputation. I am surrounding myself with shadows, which bewilder me by aping the realities of life. They have drawn me aside from the beaten path of the world, and led me into a strange sort of solitude . . . where nobody wished for what I do, nor thinks or feels as I do.” Alluding to this season of early obscurity to a friend who had done much to break it up, he once said, “I was like a person talking to himself in a dark room.” To make his own reflection in a mirror the subject of a story was one of his projects then formed, which he carried out in the “Mosses.” With that image of the dark room, and this suggested reflection in the mirror, we can rehabilitate the scene of which the broken lights and trembling shadows are strewn through the “Twice–Told Tales.” Sober and weighty the penumbrous atmosphere in which the young creator sits; but how calm, thoughtful, and beautiful the dim vision of his face, lit by the sheltered radiance of ethereal fancies! Behind his own form we catch the movement of mysterious shapes — men and women wearing aspects of joy or anger, calm or passionate, gentle and pitiable, or stern, splendid, and forbidding. It is not quite a natural twilight in which we behold these things; rather the awesome shadowiness of a partial eclipse; but gleams of the healthiest sunshine withal mingle in the prevailing tint, bringing reassurance, and receiving again a rarer value from the contrast. There are but few among the stories of this series afterward brought together by the author which are open to the charge of morbidness. In “The White Old Maid” an indefinable horror, giving the tale a certain shapelessness, crowds out the compensating brightness which in most cases is not wanting; perhaps, too, “The Ambitious Guest” leaves one with too hopeless a downfall at the end; and “The Wedding Knell” cannot escape a suspicion of disagreeable gloom. But these extremes are not frequent. The wonder is that Hawthorne’s mind could so often and so airily soar above the shadows that at this time hung about him; that he should nearly always suggest a philosophy so complete, so gently wholesome, and so penetrating as that which he mixes with even the bitterest distillations of his dreams. Nor is the sadness of his tone disordered or destructive, more than it is selfish; he does not inculcate despair, nor protest against life and fate, nor indulge in gloomy or weak self-pity. The only direct exposition of his own case is contained in a sketch, “The Journal of a Solitary Man,” not reprinted during his life. One extract from this I will make, because it sums up, though more plaintively than was his wont, Hawthorne’s view of his own life at this epoch:—
“It is hard to die without one’s happiness; to none more so than myself, whose early resolution it had been to partake largely of the joys of life, but never to be burdened with its cares. Vain philosophy! The very hardships of the poorest laborer, whose whole existence seems one long toil, has something preferable to my best pleasures. Merely skimming the surface of life, I know nothing by my own experience of its deep and warm realities, . . . so that few mortals, even the humblest and weakest, have been such ineffectual shadows in the world, or die so utterly as I must. Even a young man’s bliss has not been mine. With a thousand vagrant fantasies, I have never truly loved, and perhaps shall be doomed to loneliness throughout the eternal future, because, here on earth, my soul has never married itself to the soul of woman.”
The touch about avoiding the cares of life is no doubt merely metaphorical; but the self-imposed doom of eternal loneliness reveals the excess of sombreness in which he clothed his condition to his own perception. One may say that the adverse factors in his problem at this time were purely imaginary; that a little resolution and determined activity would have shaken off the incubus: but this is to lose sight of the gist of the matter. The situation in itself — the indeterminateness and repression of it, and the denial of any satisfaction to his warm and various sympathies, and his capacity for affection and responsibility — must be allowed to have been intensely wearing. Hawthorne believed himself to possess a strongly social nature, which was cramped, chilled, and to some extent permanently restrained by this long seclusion at the beginning of his career. This alone might furnish just cause for bitterness against the fate that chained him. It was not a matter of option; for he knew that his battle must be fought through as he had begun it, and until 1836 no slightest loophole of escape into action presented itself. It lay before him to act out the tragedy of isolation which is the lot of every artist in America still, though greatly mitigated by the devotion of our first generation of national writers. If he had quitted his post sooner, and had tried by force to mould his genius according to theory, he might have utterly distorted or stunted its growth. All that he could as yet do for himself was to preserve a certain repose and harmony in the midst of uncertainty and delay; and for this he formed four wise precepts: “To break off customs; to shake off spirits ill disposed; to meditate on youth; to do nothing against one’s genius.” [Footnote: American Note–Books, Vol. I.] Thus he kept himself fresh and flexible, hopeful, ready for emergency. But that I have not exaggerated the severity and import of his long vigil, let this revery of his show, written at Liverpool, in 1855: “I think I have been happier this Christmas than ever before — by my own fireside, and with my wife and children about me; more content to enjoy what I have, less anxious for anything beyond it in this life. My early life was perhaps a good preparation for the declining half of life; it having been such a blank that any thereafter would compare favorably with it. For a long, long while I have been occasionally visited with a singular dream; and I have an impression that I have dreamed it ever since I have been in England. It is, that I am still at college — or, sometimes, even at school — and there is a sense that I have been there unconscionably long, and have quite failed to make such progress as my contemporaries have done; and I seem to meet some of them with a feeling of shame and depression that broods over me as I think of it, even when awake. This dream, recurring all through these twenty or thirty years, must be one of the effects of that heavy seclusion in which I shut myself up for twelve years after leaving college, when everybody moved onward, and left me behind.” Experiences which leave effects like this must bite their way into the heart and soul with a fearful energy! This precursive solitude had tinged his very life-blood, and woven itself into the secret tissues of his brain. Yet, patiently absorbing it, he wrote late in life to a friend: “I am disposed to thank God for the gloom and chill of my early life, in the hope that my share of adversity came then, when I bore it alone.” It was under such a guise that the test of his genius and character came to him. Every great mind meets once in life with a huge opposition that must somehow be made to succumb, before its own energies can know their full strength, gain a settled footing, and make a roadway to move forward upon. Often these obstacles are viewless to others, and the combat is unsuspected; the site of many a Penuel remains untraced; but none the less these are the pivots on which entire personal histories turn. Hawthorne’s comparatively passive endurance was of infinitely greater worth than any active irruption into the outer world would have been. It is obvious that we owe to the innumerable devious wanderings and obscure sufferings of his mind, under the influences just reviewed, something of his sure and subtle touch in feeling out the details of morbid moods; for though his mind remained perfectly healthy, it had acquired acute sympathy with all hidden tragedies of heart and brain.
But another and larger purpose was not less well served by this probation. The ability of American life to produce a genius in some sense exactly responding to its most distinctive qualities had yet to be demonstrated; and this could only be done by some one who would stake life and success on the issue, for it needed that a soul and brain of the highest endowment should be set apart solely for the experiment, even to the ruin of it if required, before the truth could be ascertained. Hawthorne, the slowly produced and complex result of a line of New–Englanders who carried American history in their very limbs, seemed providentially offered for the trial. It was well that temperament and circumstance drew him into a charmed circle of reserve from the first; well, also, that he was further matured at a simple and rural college pervaded by a homely American tone; still more fortunate was it that nothing called him away to connect him with European culture, on graduating. To interpret this was the honorable office of his classmate Longfellow, who, with as much ease as dignity and charm, has filled the gap between the two half-worlds. The experiment to be tried was, simply, whether with books and men at his command, and isolated from the immediate influence of Europe, this American could evolve any new quality for the enrichment of literature. The conditions were strictly carried out; even after he began to come in contact with men, in the intervals of his retirement, he saw only pure American types. A foreigner must have been a rare bird in Salem, in those days; for the maritime element which might have brought him was still American. Hawthorne, as we have seen, and as his Note–Books show, pushed through the farming regions and made acquaintance with the men of the soil; and probably the first alien of whom he got at all a close view was the Monsieur S—— whom he found at Bridge’s, on his visit to the latter, in 1837, described at length in the Note–Books. So much did Hawthorne study from these types, and so closely, that he might, had his genius directed, have written the most homely and realistic novels of New England life from the material which he picked up quite by the way. But though he did not translate his observations thus, the originality which he was continuously ripening amid such influences was radically affected by them. They established a broad, irrepressible republican sentiment in his mind; they assisted his natural, manly independence and simplicity to assert themselves unaffectedly in letters; and they had not a little to do, I suspect, with fostering his strong turn for examining with perfect freedom and a certain refined shrewdness into everything that came before him, without accepting prescribed opinions. The most characteristic way, perhaps, in which this American nurture acted was by contrast; for the universal matter-of-fact tone which he found among his fellow-citizens was an incessant spur to him to maintain a counteracting idealism. Thus, singularly enough, the most salient feature of the new American product was its apparent denial of the national trait of practical sagacity. It is not to be supposed that Hawthorne adhered consciously to the aim of asserting the American nature in fiction. These things can be done only half consciously, at the most. Perhaps it is well that the mind on which so much depends should not be burdened with all the added anxiety of knowing how much is expected from it by the ages. Therefore, we owe the triumphant assertion of the American quality in this novel genius to Hawthorne’s quiet, unfaltering, brave endurance of the weight that was laid upon him, unassisted by the certainty with which we now perceive that a great end was being served by it. But, although unaware of this end at the time, he afterward saw some of the significance of his youth. Writing in 1840, he speaks thus of his old room in Union Street:—
“This claims to be called a haunted chamber, for thousands upon thousands of visions have appeared to me in it; and some few of them have become visible to the world. If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make great mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed; and here I have been glad and hopeful, and here I have been despondent. . . . And now I begin to understand why I was imprisoned so many years in this lonely chamber, and why I could never break through the viewless bolts and bars; for if I had sooner made my escape into the world, I should have grown hard and rough, and my heart might have become callous by rude encounters with the multitude. . . . But living in solitude till the fulness of time, I still kept the dew of my youth and the freshness of my heart.”
Yes, and more than this, Hawthorne! It was a young nation’s faith in its future which — unsuspected by any then, but always to be remembered henceforth — had found a worthy answer and after-type in this faithful and hopeful heart of yours! Thus was it that the young poet who, in the sense we have observed, stood for old New England, absorbed into himself also the atmosphere of the United States. The plant that rooted in the past had put forth a flower which drew color and perfume from today. In such wise did Hawthorne prove to be the unique American in fiction.
I have examined the librarian’s books at the Salem Athenaeum, which indicate a part of the reading that the writer of the “Twice–Told Tales” went through. The lists from the beginning of 1830 to 1838 include nearly four hundred volumes taken out by him, besides a quantity of bound magazines. This gives no account of his dealings with books in the previous five years, when he was not a shareholder in the Athenaeum, nor does it, of course, let us know anything of what he obtained from other sources. When Miss E. P. Peabody made his acquaintance, in 1836–37, he had, for example, read all of Balzac that had then appeared; and there is no record of this in the library lists. These lists alone, then, giving four hundred volumes in seven years, supply him with one volume a week — not, on the whole, a meagre rate, when we consider the volumes of magazines, the possible sources outside of the library, and the numberless hours required for literary experiment. I do not fancy that he plodded through books; but rather that he read with the easy energy of a vigorous, original mind, though he also knew the taste of severe study. “Bees,” he observes in one place, “are sometimes drowned (or suffocated) in the honey which they collect. So some writers are lost in their collected learning.” He did not find it necessary to mount upon a pyramid of all learning previous to his epoch, in order to get the highest standpoint for his own survey of mankind. Neither was he “a man of parts,” precisely; being in himself a distinct whole. His choice of reading was ruled by a fastidious need. He was fond of travels for a rainy day, and knew Mandeville; but at other times he took up books which seem to lie quite aside from his known purposes. [Footnote: See Appendix III.] Voltaire appears to have attracted him constantly; he read him in the original, together with Rousseau. At one time he examined Pascal, at another he read something of Corneille and a part of Racine. Of the English dramatists, he seems at this time to have tried only Massinger; “Inchbald’s Theatre” also occurs. The local American histories took his attention pretty often, and he perused a variety of biography — “Lives of the Philosophers,” “Plutarch’s Lives,” biographies of Mohammed, Pitt, Jefferson, Goldsmith, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats, Baxter, Heber, Sir William Temple, and others. Brewster’s “Natural Magic” and Sir Walter Scott’s essay on “Demonology and Witchcraft” are books that one would naturally expect him to read; and he had already begun to make acquaintance with the English State Trials, for which he always had a great liking. “Colquhoun on the Police” would seem not entirely foreign to one who mentally pursued so many malefactors; but it is a little surprising that he should have found himself interested in “Babbage on the Economy of Machinery.” He dipped, also, into botany and zoölogy; turned over several volumes of Bayle’s “Critical Dictionary,” read Mrs. Jameson, and the “London Encyclopaedia of Architecture”; and was entertained by Dunlap’s “History of the Arts of Design in America.” It was from this last that he drew the plot of “The Prophetic Pictures,” in the “Twice–Told Tales.” Some Boston newspapers of the years 1739 to 1783 evidently furnished the material for an article called “Old News,” reprinted in “The Snow Image.” Hawthorne seems never to have talked much about reading: ’tis imaginable that he was as shy in his choice of books and his discussion of them, as in his intercourse with men; and there is no more ground for believing that he did not like books, than that he cared nothing for men and women. Life is made up, for such a mind, of men, women, and books; Hawthorne accepted all three estates.
Gradually, from the midst of the young author’s obscurity, there issued an attraction which made the world wish to know more of him. One by one, the quiet essays and mournful-seeming stories came forth, like drops from a slow-distilling spring. The public knew nothing of the internal movement which had opened this slight fountain, nor suspected the dark concamerations through which the current made its way to the surface. The smallest mountain rill often has a thunder-storm at its back; but the average reader of that day thought he had done quite enough, when he guessed that the new writer was a timid young man fabling under a feigned name, excellent in his limited way, who would be a great deal better if he could come out of seclusion and make himself more like other people.
The first contributions were made to the “Salem Gazette” and the “New England Magazine”; then his attempts extended to the “Boston Token and Atlantic Souvenir,” edited by S. G. Goodrich; and later, to other periodicals. Mr. Goodrich wrote to his young contributor (October, 1831): “I am gratified to find that all whose opinion I have heard agree with me as to the merit of the various pieces from your pen.” But for none of these early performances did Hawthorne receive any considerable sum of money. And though his writings began at once to attract an audience, he had slight knowledge of it. Three young ladies — of whom his future sister-inlaw, Miss Peabody, was one — were among the first admirers; and though Hawthorne baffled his readers and perhaps retarded his own notoriety by assuming different names in print, [Footnote: Among these were “Oberon” and “Ashley Allen Royce,” or “The Rev. A. A. Royce.” The latter was used by him in the Democratic Review, so late as March, 1840.] they traced his contributions assiduously, cut them out of magazines, and preserved them. But they could not discover his personal identity. One of them who lived in Salem used constantly to wonder, in driving about town, whether the author of her favorite tales could be living in this or in that house; for it was known that he was a Salem resident. Miss Peabody, who had in girlhood known something of the Hathorne family (the name was still written either way, I am told), was misled by the new spelling, and by the prevalent idea that Nathaniel Hawthorne was an assumed name. This trio were especially moved by “The Gentle Boy” when it appeared, and Miss Peabody was on the point of addressing “The Author of ‘The Gentle Boy,’” at Salem, to tell him of the pleasure he had given. When afterward told of this, Hawthorne said, “I wish you had! It would have been an era in my life.” Soon after, the Peabodys returned to Salem, and she learned from some one that the new romancer was the son of the Widow Hathorne. Now it so chanced that her family had long ago occupied a house on Union Street, looking off into the garden of the old Manning family mansion; and she remembered no son, though a vague image came back to her of a strong and graceful boy’s form dancing across the garden, at play, years before. Her mind therefore fastened upon one of the sisters, who, she knew, had shown great facility in writing: indeed, Hawthorne used at one time to say that it was she who should have been the follower of literature. Full of this conception, she went to carry her burden of gratitude to the author, and after delays and difficulties, made her way into the retired and little-visited mansion. It was the other sister into whose presence she came, and to her she began pouring out the reason of her intrusion, delivering at once her praises of the elder Miss Hathorne’s fictions.
“My brother’s, you mean,” was the response.
“It is your brother, then.” And Miss Peabody added: “If your brother can write like that, he has no right to be idle.”
“My brother never is idle,” answered Miss Louisa, quietly.
Thus began an acquaintance which helped to free Hawthorne from the spell of solitude, and led directly to the richest experiences of his life. Old habits, however, were not immediately to be broken, and months passed without any response being made to the first call. Then at last came a copy of the “Twice–Told Tales,” fresh from the press. But it was not until the establishment of the “Democratic Review,” a year or two later, that occasion offered for a renewal of relations. Hawthorne was too shy to act upon the first invitation. Miss Peabody, finally, addressing him by letter, to inquire concerning the new periodical, for which he had been engaged as a contributor, asked him to come with both his sisters on the evening of the same day. Entirely to her surprise, they came. She herself opened the door, and there before her, between his sisters, stood a splendidly handsome youth, tall and strong, with no appearance whatever of timidity, but, instead, an almost fierce determination making his face stern. This was his resource for carrying off the extreme inward tremor which he really felt. His hostess brought out Plaxmau’s designs for Dante, just received from Professor Felton of Harvard, [Footnote: The book may have been Felton’s Homer with Flaxman’s drawings, issued in 1833.] and the party made an evening’s entertainment out of them.
The news of this triumph, imparted to a friend of Miss Peabody’s, led to an immediate invitation of Hawthorne to dinner at another house, for the next day. He accepted this, also, and on returning homeward, stopped at the “Salem Gazette” office, full of the excitement of his new experiences, announcing to Mr. Foote, the editor, that he was getting dissipated. He told of the evening with Miss Peabody, where he said he had had a delightful time, and of the dinner just achieved. “And I’ve had a delightful time there, too!” he added. Mr. Foote, perceiving an emergency, at once asked the young writer to come to his own house for an evening. Hawthorne, thoroughly aroused, consented. When the evening came, several ladies who had been invited assembled before the author arrived; and among them Miss Peabody. When he reached the place he stopped short at the drawing-room threshold, startled by the presence of strangers, and stood perfectly motionless, but with the look of a sylvan creature on the point of fleeing away. His assumed brusquerie no longer availed him; he was stricken with dismay; his face lost color, and took on a warm paleness. All this was in a moment; but the daughter of the house moved forward, and he was drawn within. Even then, though he assumed a calm demeanor, his agitation was very great: he stood by a table, and, taking up some small object that lay upon it, he found his hand trembling so that he was forced to put it down again.
While friends were slowly penetrating his reserve in this way, he was approached in another by Mr. Goodrich, who induced him to go to Boston, there to edit the “American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge.” This work, which only continued from 1834 to September, 1837, was managed by several gentlemen under the name of the Bewick Company. One of these was Bowen, of Charlestown, an engraver; another was Goodrich, who also, I think, had some connection with the American Stationers’ Company. The Bewick Company took its name from Thomas Bewick, the English restorer of the art of wood-engraving, and the magazine was to do his memory honor by its admirable illustrations. But, in fact, it never did any one honor, nor brought any one profit. It was a penny popular affair, containing condensed information about innumerable subjects, no fiction, and little poetry. The woodcuts were of the crudest and most frightful sort. It passed through the hands of several editors and several publishers. Hawthorne was engaged at a salary of five hundred dollars a year; but it appears that he got next to nothing, and that he did not stay in the position long. There is little in its pages to recall the identity of the editor; but in one place he quotes as follows from Lord Bacon: “The ointment which witches use is made of the fat of children digged from their graves, and of the juices of smallage, cinquefoil, and wolf’s-bane, mingled with the meal of fine wheat,” and hopes that none of his readers will try to compound it. In the tale of “Young Goodman Brown,” when Goody Cloyse says, “I was all anointed with the juice of small-age and cinquefoil and wolf’s-bane,” and the Devil continues, “‘Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe,’—‘Ah, your worship knows the recipe,’ cried the old lady, cackling aloud.” A few scraps of correspondence, mostly undated, which I have looked over, give one a new view of him in the bustle and vexation of this brief editorial experience. He sends off frequent and hurried missives to one of his sisters, who did some of the condensing and compiling which was a part of the business. “I make nothing,” he says, in one, “of writing a history or biography before dinner.” At another time, he is in haste for a Life of Jefferson, but warns his correspondent to “see that it contains nothing heterodox.” At the end of one of the briefest messages, he finds time to speak of the cat at home. Perhaps with a memory of the days when he built book-houses, he had taken two names of the deepest dye from Milton and Bunyan for two of his favorite cats, whom he called Beelzebub and Apollyon. “Pull Beelzebub’s tail for me,” he writes. But the following from Boston, February 15, 1836, gives the more serious side of the situation:—
“I came here trusting to Goodrich’s positive promise to pay me forty-five dollars as soon as I arrived; and he has kept promising from one day to another, till I do not see that he means to pay at all. I have now broke off all intercourse with him, and never think of going near him . . . I don’t feel at all obliged to him about the editorship, for he is a stockholder and director in the Bewick Company; . . . and I defy them to get another to do for a thousand dollars what I do for five hundred.”
Goodrich afterward sent his editor a small sum; and the relations between them were resumed.. A letter of May 5, in the same year, contains these allusions:—
“I saw Mr. Goodrich yesterday. . . . He wants me to undertake a Universal History, to contain about as much as fifty or sixty pages of the magazine. [These were large pages.] If you are willing to write any part of it, . . . I shall agree to do it. If necessary I will come home by and by, and concoct the plan of it with you. It need not be superior in profundity and polish to the middling magazine articles. . . . I shall have nearly a dozen articles in The Token — mostly quite short.”
The historical project is, of course, that which resulted in the famous “Peter Parley” work. “Our pay as historians of the universe,” says a letter written six days later, “will be about one hundred dollars, the whole of which you may have. It is a poor compensation, but better than the Token; because the writing is so much less difficult.” He afterward carried out the design, or a large part of it, and the book has since sold by millions, for the benefit of others. There are various little particulars in this ingenious abridgment which recall Hawthorne, especially if one is familiar with his “Grandfather’s Chair” and “True Stories” for children; though the book has probably undergone some changes in successive editions. This passage about George IV. is, however, remembered as being his: “Even when he was quite an old man, this king cared as much about dress as any young coxcomb. He had a great deal of taste in such matters, and it is a pity that he was a king, for he might otherwise have been an excellent tailor.”
Up to this time (May 12) he had received only twenty dollars for four months’ editorial labor. “And, as you may well suppose,” he says, “I have undergone very grievous vexations. Unless they pay me the whole amount shortly, I shall return to Salem, and stay there till they do.” It seems a currish fate that puts such men into the grasp of paltry and sordid cares like these! But there is something deeper to be felt than dissatisfaction at the author-publisher’s feeble though annoying scheme of harnessing in this rare poet to be his unpaid yet paying hack. This deeper something is the pathos of such possibilities, and the spectacle of so renowned and strong-winged a genius consenting thus to take his share of worldly struggle; perfectly conscious that it is wholly beneath his plane, but accepting it as a proper part of the mortal lot; scornful, but industrious and enduring. You who have conceived of Hawthorne as a soft-marrowed dweller in the dusk, fostering his own shyness and fearing to take the rubs of common men, pray look well at all this. And you, also, who discourse about the conditions essential to the development of genius, about the milieu and the moment, and try to prove America a vacuum which the Muse abhors, will do well to consider the phenomenon. “It is a poor compensation, yet better than the Token”; so he wrote, knowing that his unmatched tales were being coined for even a less reward than mere daily bread. He took the conditions that were about him, and gave them a dignity by his own fine perseverance. It is this inspired industry, this calm facing of the worst and making it the best, which has formed the history of all art. You talk of the ages, and choose this or that era as the only fit one. You long for a cosey niche in the past; but genius crowds time and eternity into the present, and says to you, “Make your own century!”
Meanwhile, if he received no solid gain from his exertions, Hawthorne was winning a reputation. In January he had written home: “My worshipful self is a very famous man in London, the ‘Athenaeum’ having noticed all my articles in the last Token, with long extracts.” This refers to the ‘Athenaeum’ for November 7, 1835, which mentioned “The Wedding Knell” and “The Minister’s Black Veil” as being stories “each of which has singularity enough to recommend it to the reader,” and gave three columns to a long extract from “The Maypole of Merry Mount”; the notice being no doubt the work of the critic Chorley, who afterward met Hawthorne in England. Thus encouraged, he thought of collecting his tales and publishing them in volume form, connected by the conception of a travelling story-teller, whose shiftings of fortune were to form the interludes and links between the separate stories. A portion of this, prefatory to “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” has been published in the “Mosses,” with the heading of “Passages from a Relinquished Work.” Goodrich was not disposed to lavish upon his young beneficiary the expense of bringing out a book for him, and the plan of reprinting the tales with this framework around them was given up. The next year Bridge came to Goodrich and insisted on having a simple collection issued, himself taking the pecuniary risk. In this way the “Twice–Told Tales” were first brought collectively before the world; and for the second time this faithful comrade of Hawthorne laid posterity under obligation to himself. It was not till long afterward, however, that Hawthorne knew of his friend’s interposition in the affair.
Mr. Bridge had not then entered the navy, and was engaged in a great enterprise on the Androscoggin; nothing less than an attempt to dam up that river and apply the water-power to some mills. In July of 1837, Hawthorne went to visit him at Bridgton, and has described his impressions fully in the Note–Books. It was probably his longest absence from Salem since graduating at Bowdoin. “My circumstances cannot long continue as they are,” he writes; “and Bridge, too, stands between high prosperity and utter ruin.”
The change in his own circumstances which Hawthorne looked for did not come through his book. It sold some six or seven hundred copies in a short time, but was received quietly, [Footnote: Some of the sketches were reprinted in England; and “A Rill from the Town Pump” was circulated in pamphlet form by a London bookseller, without the author’s name, as a temperance tract.] though Longfellow, then lately established in his Harvard professorship, and known as the author of “Outre–Mer,” greeted it with enthusiasm in the “North American Review,” which wielded a great influence in literary affairs.
On March 7, 1837, Hawthorne sent this note to his former classmate, to announce the new volume.
“The agent of the American Stationer’s Company will send you a copy of a book entitled ‘Twice–Told Tales,’— of which, as a classmate, I venture to request your acceptance. We were not, it is true, so well acquainted at college, that I can plead an absolute right to inflict my ‘twice-told’ tediousness upon you; but I have often regretted that we were not better known to each other, and have been glad of your success in literature and in more important matters.” Returning to the tales, he adds: “I should like to flatter myself that they would repay you some part of the pleasure which I have derived from your own ‘Outre–Mer.’
“Your obedient servant,
Longfellow replied warmly, and in June Hawthorne wrote again, a long letter picturing his mood with a fulness that shows how keenly he had felt the honest sympathy of the poet.
“Not to burden you with my correspondence,” he said, “I have delayed a rejoinder to your very kind and cordial letter, until now. It gratifies me that you have occasionally felt an interest in my situation; but your quotation from Jean Paul about the ‘lark’s nest’ makes me smile. You would have been much nearer the truth if you had pictured me as dwelling in an owl’s nest; for mine is about as dismal, and like the owl I seldom venture abroad till after dusk. By some witchcraft or other — for I really cannot assign any reasonable why and wherefore — I have been carried apart from the main current of life, and find it impossible to get back again. Since we last met, which you remember was in Sawtell’s room, where you read a farewell poem to the relics of the class — ever since that time I have secluded myself from society; and yet I never meant any such thing, nor dreamed what sort of life I was going to lead. I have made a captive of myself, and put me into a dungeon, and now I cannot find the key to let myself out — and if the door were open, I should be almost afraid to come out. You tell me that you have met with troubles and changes. I know not what these may have been, but I can assure you that trouble is the next best thing to enjoyment, and that there is no fate in this world so horrible as to have no share in either its joys or sorrows. For the last ten years, I have not lived, but only dreamed of living. It may be true that there have been some unsubstantial pleasures here in the shade, which I might have missed in the sunshine, but you cannot conceive how utterly devoid of satisfaction all my retrospects are. I have laid up no treasure of pleasant remembrances against old age; but there is some comfort in thinking that future years can hardly fail to be more varied and therefore more tolerable than the past.
“You give me more credit than I deserve, in supposing that I have led a studious life. I have indeed turned over a good many books, but in so desultory a way that it cannot be called study, nor has it left me the fruits of study. As to my literary efforts, I do not think much of them, neither is it worth while to be ashamed of them. They would have been better, I trust, if written under more favorable circumstances. I have had no external excitement — no consciousness that the public would like what I wrote, nor much hope nor a passionate desire that they should do so. Nevertheless, having nothing else to be ambitious of, I have been considerably interested in literature; and if my writings had made any decided impression, I should have been stimulated to greater exertions; but there has been no warmth of approbation, so that I have always written with benumbed fingers. I have another great difficulty in the lack of materials; for I have seen so little of the world that I have nothing but thin air to concoct my stories of, and it is not easy to give a lifelike semblance to such shadowy stuff. Sometimes through a peep-hole I have caught a glimpse of the real world, and the two or three articles in which I have portrayed these glimpses please me better than the others.
“I have now, or shall soon have, a sharper spur to exertion, which I lacked at an earlier period; for I see little prospect but that I shall have to scribble for a living. But this troubles me much less than you would suppose. I can turn my pen to all sorts of drudgery, such as children’s books, etc., and by and by I shall get some editorship that will answer my purpose. Frank Pierce, who was with us at college, offered me his influence to obtain an office in the Exploring Expedition [Commodore Wilkes’s]; but I believe that he was mistaken in supposing that a vacancy existed. If such a post were attainable, I should certainly accept it; for, though fixed so long to one spot, I have always had a desire to run round the world. . . . I intend in a week or two to come out of my owl’s nest, and not return till late in the summer — employing the interval in making a tour somewhere in New England. You who have the dust of distant countries on your ‘sandal-shoon’ cannot imagine how much enjoyment I shall have in this little excursion. . . .
A few days later the quarterly, containing Longfellow’s review of the book, appeared; and the note of thanks which Hawthorne sent is full of an exultation strongly in contrast with the pensive tone of the letter just given.
Salem, June 19th, 1837.
DEAR LONGFELLOW:— I have today received, and read with huge delight, your review of ‘Hawthorne’s Twice–Told Tales.’ I frankly own that I was not without hopes that you would do this kind office for the book; though I could not have anticipated how very kindly it would be done. Whether or no the public will agree to the praise which you bestow on me, there are at least five persons who think you the most sagacious critic on earth, viz., my mother and two sisters, my old maiden aunt, and finally the strongest believer of the whole five, my own self. If I doubt the sincerity and correctness of any of my critics, it shall be of those who censure me. Hard would be the lot of a poor scribbler, if he may not have this privilege. . . .
Very sincerely yours,
That “Evangeline” was written upon a theme suggested to Hawthorne (by a friend who had heard it from a French Canadian [Footnote: See American Note–Books, October 24,1839]) and by him made over to the poet, has already been made public. Hawthorne wrote, on its appearance:——
“I have read ‘Evangeline’ with more pleasure than it would be decorous to express. It cannot fail, I think, to prove the most triumphant of all your successes.”
Nevertheless, he gave vent to some of his admiration in a notice of the work which he wrote for “The Salem Advertiser,” a Democratic paper.
“The story of Evangeline and her lover,” he there says, “is as poetical as the fable of the Odyssey, besides that it comes to the heart as a fact that has actually taken place in human life.” He speaks of “its pathos all illuminated with beauty — — so that the impression of the poem is nowhere dismal nor despondent, and glows with the purest sunshine where we might the least expect it, on the pauper’s death-bed. . . . The story is told with the simplicity of high and exquisite art, which causes it to flow onward as naturally as the current of a stream. Evangeline’s wanderings give occasion to many pictures both of northern and southern scenery and life: but these do not appear as if brought in designedly, to adorn the tale; they seem to throw their beauty inevitably into the calm mirror of its bosom as it flows past them. . . . By this work of his maturity he has placed himself on a higher eminence than he had yet attained, and beyond the reach of envy. Let him stand, then, at the head of our list of native poets, until some one else shall break up the rude soil of our American life, as he has done, and produce from it a lovelier and nobler flower than this poem of Evangeline!”
Longfellow’s characteristic kindly reply was as follows:——
“MY DEAR HAWTHORNE:—— I have been waiting and waiting in the hope of seeing you in Cambridge. . . . I have been meditating upon your letter, and pondering with friendly admiration your review of ‘Evangeline,’ in connection with the subject of which, that is to say, the Acadians, a literary project arises in my mind for you to execute. Perhaps I can pay you back in part your own generous gift, by giving you a theme for story, in return for a theme for song. It is neither more nor less than the history of the Acadians, after their expulsion as well as before. Felton has been making some researches in the State archives, and offers to resign the documents into your hands.
“Pray come and see me about it without delay. Come so as to pass a night with us, if possible, this week; if not a day and night.
“Ever sincerely yours,
“HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.” There is nothing in our literary annals more unique and delightful than this history of Longfellow’s warm recognition of his old classmate, and the mutual courtesies to which it led. One is reminded by it of the William Tell episode between Goethe and Schiller, though it was in this case only the theme and nothing of material that was transferred.
An author now almost forgotten, Charles Fenno Hoffman, also published in “The American Monthly Magazine,” [Footnote: For March, 1838.] which he was editing, a kindly review, which, however, underestimated the strength of the new genius, as it was at first the general habit to do. “Minds like Hawthorne’s,” he said, “seem to be the only ones suited to an American climate. . . . Never can a nation be impregnated with the literary spirit by minor authors alone. . . . Yet men like Hawthorne are not without their use.”. . . . In this same number of the magazine, by the way, was printed Hawthorne’s “Threefold Destiny,” under the pseudonyme of Ashley Allen Royce; and the song of Faith Egerton, afterward omitted, is thus given:——
“O, man can seek the downward glance,
And each kind word — — affection’s spell — —
Eye, voice, its value can enhance;
For eye may speak, and tongue can tell.
“But woman’s love, it waits the while
To echo to another’s tone;
To linger on another’s smile,
Ere dare to answer with its own.”
These versicles, though they might easily be passed over as commonplace, hold a peculiar inner radiance that perhaps issued from the dawn of a lifelong happiness for Hawthorne at this period.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09