The Life and Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne, by Frank Stearns

Appendix B

In February, 1883, a review of “Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife” was published in the Atlantic Monthly, evidently written by a person with no good-will toward the family. Editors ought to beware of such reviews, for their character is easily recognized, and the effect they produce often reacts upon the publication that contains them. In the present instance, the ill-humor of the writer had evidently been bottled up for many years.

To place typographical errors to the debit of an author’s account — not very numerous for a work of eight hundred pages — suggests either an inexperienced or a strongly prejudiced critic. This is what the Atlantic writer begins with, and he (or she) next proceeds to complain that the book does not contain a complete bibliography of Hawthorne’s works; although many excellent biographies have been published without this, and it is quite possible that Hawthorne’s son preferred not to insert it. No notice is taken of the many fine passages in the book, like the apostrophe upon Hawthorne’s marriage, 144 and that excellent description of the performances of a trance medium at Florence, but continues in an ascending climax of fault-finding until he (or she) reaches the passage from Hawthorne’s Roman diary concerning Margaret Fuller. 145

If public opinion has any value, this passage concerning Margaret Fuller’s marriage ought not to have been published; but what can Margaret Fuller’s friends and admirers expect? Do they think that a young American woman can go to a foreign country, and live with a foreign gentleman, in defiance of the customs of modern society, without subjecting herself to the severest criticism? It is true that she married Count d’Ossoli before her child was born, and her friends, who were certainly an enlightened class, always believed that she acted throughout from the most honorable motives (my own opinion is, that she acted in imitation of Goethe), but how can they expect the great mass of mankind to think so? Hawthorne had a right to his opinion, as well as Emerson and Channing, and although it was certainly not a very charitable opinion, we cannot doubt that it was an honest one. In regard to the marriage tie, Hawthorne was always strict and conservative.

This is the climax of the Atlantic critique, and its anti-climax is an excoriation of Hawthorne’s son for neglecting to do equal and exact justice to James T. Fields. This truly is a grievous accusation. Fields was Hawthorne’s publisher and would seem to have taken a personal and friendly interest in him besides, but we cannot look on it as a wholly unselfish interest. It was not like Hillard’s, Pierce’s, and Bridge’s interest in Hawthorne. If Fields had not been his publisher, it is not probable that Hawthorne would have made his acquaintance; and if his son has not enlarged on Fields’s good offices in bringing “The Scarlet Letter” before the public, there is an excellent reason for it, in the fact that Fields had already done so for himself in his “Yesterdays with Authors.” That Fields’s name should have been omitted in the index to “Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife,” may have been an oversight; but, at all events, it is too microscopic a matter to deserve consideration in a first-class review.

Are we become such babies, that it is no longer possible for a writer to tell the plain, ostensible truth concerning human nature, without having a storm raised about his head for it? George P. Bradford and Martin F. Tupper are similar instances, and like Boswell have suffered the penalty which accrues to men of small stature for associating with giants.

144 J. Hawthorne, i. 242,

145 J. Hawthorne, i. 30–35.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55