Frederick W. Loring, that bright young poet who was so soon lost to us, once remarked: “Appreciation is to the artist what sunshine is to flowers. He cannot expand without it.” The success of “The Scarlet Letter” proved that all Hawthorne’s genius required was a little moderate encouragement — not industry but opportunity. His pen, no longer slow and hesitating, moved freer and easier; the long pent-up flood of thoughts, emotions, and experiences had at length found an outlet; and the next three years were the most productive of his life.
His first impulse, however, was to escape from Salem. Although his removal from office had been a foregone conclusion, Hawthorne felt a certain degree of chagrin connected with it, and also imagined a certain amount of animosity toward himself which made the place uncomfortable to him. He was informed that the old Sparhawk mansion, close to the Portsmouth Navy Yard, was for sale or to rent, and the first of May, Hawthorne went thither to consider whether it would serve him for a home. 80 One would suppose that sedate old Portsmouth, with its courteous society and its dash of military life, would have suited Hawthorne even better than Concord; but he decided differently, and he returned to meet his family in Boston, where he made the acquaintance of Professor Ticknor, who introduced him at the Athenaeum Library. He saw Hildreth at the Athenæum working on his history of the United States; sat for his portrait to C. E. Thompson; went to the theatre; studied human nature in the smoking-room at Parker’s; and relaxed himself generally. He must have stayed with his family at Doctor Peabody’s on West Street, for he speaks of the incessant noise from Washington Street, and of looking out from the back windows on Temple Place. This locates the house very nearly.
Two months later, July 5, 1850, he was at Lenox, in the Berkshire Mountains. Mrs. Caroline Sturgis Tappan, a brilliant Boston lady, equally poetic and sensible, owned a small red cottage there, which she was ready to lease to Hawthorne for a nominal rent. Lowell was going there on account of his wife, a delicate flower-like nature already beginning to droop. Doctor Holmes was going on account of Lowell, and perhaps with the expectation of seeing a rattlesnake; Fields was going on account of Lowell and Holmes. Mrs. Frances Kemble, already the most distinguished of Shakespearian readers, had a summer cottage there; and it was hoped that in such company Hawthorne would at last find the element to which he properly belonged.
Unfortunately Hawthorne took to raising chickens, and that seems to have interested him more than anything else at Lenox. He fell in cordially with the plans of his friends; ascended Monument Mountain, and went on other excursions with them; but it may be more than suspected that Lowell and Holmes did most of the talking. He assimilated himself more to Holmes perhaps than to any of the others. His meeting with Mrs. Kemble must have been like a collision of the centrifugal and centripetal forces; and for once, Hawthorne may be said to have met his antipodes. They could sincerely admire one another as we all do, in their respective spheres; but such a chasm as yawned between them in difference of temperament, character, and mode of living, could not have been bridged over by Captain Eads.
Fannie Kemble, as she was universally called, had by long and sympathetic reading of Shakespeare transformed herself into a woman of the Elizabethan era, and could barely be said to belong to the nineteenth century. Among other Elizabethan traits she had acquired an unconsciousness of self, together with an enormous self-confidence, and no idea of what people thought of her in polite society ever seems to have occurred to her. She had the heart of a woman, but mentally she was like a composite picture of Shakespeare’s dramatis personae, and that Emerson should have spoken of her as “a great exaggerated creature” is not to be wondered at. In her own department she was marvellous.
The severity of a mountain winter and the disagreeableness of its thawing out in spring, is atoned for by its summer — that fine exhilarating ether, which seems to bring elevated thoughts, by virtue of its own nature. Hawthorne enjoyed this with his children and his chickens; and his wife enjoyed it with him. It is evident from her letters that she had not been so happy since their first year at the Old Manse. She had now an opportunity to indulge her love of artistic decoration, in adorning the walls of their little red cottage, which has since unfortunately been destroyed by fire. She even began to give her daughter, who was only six years old, some instruction in drawing. The following extract concerning her husband, from a letter written to her mother, is charmingly significant of her state of mind at this time.
“Beauty and the love of it, in him, are the true culmination of the good and true, and there is no beauty to him without these bases. He has perfect dominion over himself in every respect, so that to do the highest, wisest, loveliest thing is not the least effort to him, any more than it is to a baby to be innocent. It is his spontaneous act, and a baby is not more unconscious in its innocence. I never knew such loftiness, so simply borne. I have never known him to stoop from it in the most trivial household matter, any more than in a larger or more public one.” 81
Truly this gives us a beautiful insight into their home-life, and Hawthorne himself could not have written a more accurate eulogium. As intimated in the last chapter, we all make our way through life by correcting our daily trespasses, and Hawthorne was no exception to it; but as a mental analysis of this man at his best Mrs. Hawthorne’s statement deserves a lasting recognition.
“THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES”
It was not until early frosts and shortening days drove Hawthorne within doors that he again took up his writing, but who can tell how long he had been dreaming over his subject? Within five months, or by the last week of January, “The House of the Seven Gables” was ready for the press. There is no such house in Salem, exactly as he describes it; but an odd, antiquated-looking structure at No. 54 Turner Street is supposed to have served him for the suggestion of it. The name is picturesque and well suited to introduce the reader to a homely suburban romance.
The subject of the story goes back to the witchcraft period, and its active principle is a wizard’s curse, which descends from one generation to another, until it is finally removed by the marriage of a descendant of the injured party to a descendant of the guilty one. Woven together with this, there is an exposition of mesmerism, or, as it is now called, Christian Science, with its good and evil features.
Each of Hawthorne’s larger romances has a distinct style and quality of its own, apart from the fine individualized style of the author. Lathrop makes an excellent remark in regard to “The House of the Seven Gables,” that the perfection of its art seems to stand between the reader and his subject. It resembles in this respect those Dutch paintings whose enamelled surface seems like a barrier to prevent the spectator from entering the scenes which they represent. It would be a mistake to consider this a fault, but one cannot help noticing the accuracy with which the subordinate details of the plot are elaborated. Is it possible that this is connected in a way with the rarefied atmosphere of Lenox, in which distant objects appear so sharply defined?
“The House of the Seven Gables” might be symbolized by two paintings, in the first of which Hepzibah Pyncheon stands as the central figure, her face turned upward in a silent prayer for justice, her brother Clifford, with his head bowed helplessly, at one side, and the judge, with his chronic smile of satisfaction, behind Clifford; on the other side the keen-eyed Holgrave would appear, sympathetically watching the progress of events, with Phoebe Pyncheon at his left hand. Old Uncle Banner and little Ned Higgins might fill in the background. In the second picture the stricken judge would be found in a large old-fashioned arm-chair, with Clifford and Hepzibah flying through a doorway to the right, while Phoebe and Holgrave, the one happy and the other startled, enter on the left.
Hepzibah, not Phoebe, is the true heroine of the romance — or at least its central figure. Nowhere do we look more deeply into Hawthorne’s nature than through this sympathetic portrait of the cross-looking old maid, whose only inheritance is the House of the Seven Gables, in which she has lived many years, poor, solitary, friendless, with a disgrace upon her family, only sustained by the hope that she may yet be a help and comfort to her unfortunate brother. The jury before whom Clifford was tried believed him to be guilty, but his sister never would believe it. She lives for him and suffers with him. Hawthorne does not mitigate the unpleasantness of her appearance, but he instructs us that there is a divine spark glowing within. Very pitiful is her attempt to support the enfeebled brother by keeping a candy store; but noble and heroic is her resistance to the designs of her tyrannical cousin. It is her intrepidity that effects the crisis of the drama.
Both Hepzibah and Clifford Pyncheon are examples of what fine portraiture Hawthorne could accomplish in exceptional or abnormal personalities, without ever descending to caricature. Judge Pyncheon has been criticised as being too much of a stage villain, but the same might be alleged of Shakespeare’s (or Fletcher’s) Richard III. What is he, in effect, but a Richard III. reduced to private life? Moreover, his habit of smiling is an individual trait which gives him a certain distinction of his own. Usually,
Faces ever blandly smiling
Are victims of their own beguiling.
But Judge Pyncheon is a candidate for the governorship, and among the more mercenary class of politicians smiling often becomes a habit for the sake of popularity. Hawthorne might have added something to the judge’s personale by representing him with a droll wit, like James Fiske, Jr., or some others that we have known, and he might have exposed more of his internal reflections; but he serves as a fair example of the hard, grasping, hypocritical type of Yankee. We see only one side of him, but there are men, and women too, who only have one side to their characters.
It has been affirmed that Hawthorne made use of the Honorable Mr. Upham, the excellent historian of Salem witchcraft, as a model for Judge Pyncheon, and that this was done in revenge for Mr. Upham’s inimical influence in regard to the Salem surveyorship. It is impossible, at this date, to disentangle the snarl of Hawthorne’s political relations in regard to that office, but Upham had been a member of Congress and was perhaps as influential a Whig as any in the city. If Hawthorne was removed through his instrumentality, he performed our author a service, which neither of them could have realized at the time. Hawthorne, however, had a strong precedent in his favor in this instance; namely, Shakespeare’s caricature of Sir Thomas Luce, as Justice Shallow in “The Merry Wives of Windsor”; but there is no reason why we should think better or worse of Mr. Upham on this account.
Phoebe Pyncheon is an ideal character, the type of youthful New England womanhood, and the most charming of all Hawthorne’s feminine creations. Protected by the shield of her own innocence, she leaves her country home from the same undefined impulse by which birds fly north in spring, and accomplishes her destiny where she might have least expected to meet with it. She fills the whole book with her sunny brightness, and like many a young woman at her age she seems more like a spirit than a character. Her maidenly dignity repels analysis, and Hawthorne himself extends a wise deference to his own creation.
The future of a great nation depends more on its young women than upon its laws or its statesmen.
In regard to Holgrave, we have already said somewhat; but he is so lifelike that it seems as if he must have been studied from one of the younger members of the Brook Farm association; perhaps the one of whom Emerson tells us, 82 that he spent his leisure hours in playing with the children, but had “so subtle a mind” that he was always consulted whenever important business was on foot. He is visible to our mental perspective as a rather slender man, above medium height, with keen hazel eyes, a long nose, and long legs, and quick and lively in his movements. Phoebe has a more symmetrical figure, bluish-gray eyes, a complexion slightly browned from going without her hat, luxuriant chestnut-brown hair, always quiet and graceful. We have no doubt that Holgrave made a worthy husband for her, and that he occasionally took a hand in public affairs.
Judge Pyncheon’s duplicity is revealed to Holgrave by the medium of a daguerreotype. Men or women who are actors in real life should avoid being photographed, for the camera is pretty sure to penetrate their hypocrisy, and expose them to the world as they actually are. Every photograph album is to a certain extent a rogues’ gallery, in which our faults, peculiarities, and perhaps vices are ruthlessly portrayed for the student of human nature. If a merchant were to have all his customers photographed, he would soon learn to distinguish those who were not much to be trusted.
Notice also Hawthorne’s eye for color. When Clifford, Hepzibah, and Phoebe are about to leave the seven-gabled house for the last time, “A plain, but handsome dark-green barouche” is drawn to the door. This is evidently his idea of a fine equipage; and it happens that the background of Raphael’s “Pope Julius” is of this same half-invisible green, and harmonizes so well with the Pope’s figure that few realize its coloring.
The plot of this picturesque story is the most ingenious of Hawthorne’s life, but sufficiently probable throughout to answer the purpose of a romance, and it is the only one of Hawthorne’s larger works which ends happily. It was brought out by Ticknor & Company at Easter 1850 — less than ten weeks after it was finished; but we think of the House of the Seven Gables as standing empty, deserted and forlorn.
In December Emerson had written to Hawthorne concerning a new magazine in which he and Lowell were interested, and if Hawthorne would only give it his support its success could not be questioned. What Hawthorne replied to this invitation has never been discovered, but he had seen too many such periodicals go to wreck to feel much confidence in this enterprise. 83 It is of more importance now that Emerson should have addressed him as “My dear Hawthorne,” for such cordial friendliness was rare in “the poet of the pines.” Mrs. Alcott once remarked that Emerson never spoke to her husband otherwise than as “Mr. Alcott,” and it is far from likely that he ever spoke to Hawthorne differently from this. The conventionalities of letter-writing run back to a period when gentlemen addressed one another — and perhaps felt so too — in a more friendly manner than they do at present.
Works of fiction and sentimental poetry stir up a class of readers which no other literature seems to reach, and Hawthorne was soon inundated with letters from unknown, and perhaps unknowable, admirers; but the most remarkable came from a man named Pyncheon, who asserted that his grandfather had been a judge in Salem, and who was highly indignant at the use which Hawthorne had made of his name. 84 This shows how difficult it is for a writer of fiction or a biographer to escape giving offence. The lightning is sure to strike somewhere.
“THE SNOW IMAGE”
The question now was, what next? As it happened, the next important event in the Hawthorne family was the advent of their younger daughter, born like Agassiz, “in the lovely month of May,” and amid scenery as beautiful as the Pays de Vaud. Her father named her Rose, in defiance of Hillard’s objection to idyllic nomenclature; and as a child she seemed much like the spirit of that almost fabulous flower, the wild orange-rose. Ten years later, she was the most graceful girl in the Concord dancing-school, and resembled her elder sister so closely that they could not have been mistaken for anything but sisters. As she grew older she came more and more to resemble her mother.
It was said that Hawthorne’s “Wonder Book” originated in his telling free versions of the Greek myths to his children on winter evenings; and also that Horace Mann’s boys, who were almost exactly of the same age as Una and Julian, participated in the entertainment. This may have happened the following winter at Newton, but could hardly have taken place at Lenox; and otherwise it is quite impossible to identify all the children with botanical names in Hawthorne’s introduction. Julian once remarked, at school, that he believed that he was the original of Squash-blossom, and that is as near as we can get to it. Some of them may have been as imaginary as the ingenious Mr. Eustace Bright, and might serve as well to represent one group of children as another.
The book was written very rapidly, at an average of ten pages a day, and it has Hawthorne’s grace and purity of style, but it does not belong to the legitimate series of his works. It is an excellent book for the young, for they learn from it much that every one ought to know; but to mature minds the original fables, even in a translation, are more satisfactory than these Anglo–Saxon versions in the “Wonder Book.”
The collection of tales which passes by the name of “The Snow Image” is a much more serious work. “The Great Stone Face” and one or two others in the collection were prepared at Salem for the same volume as “The Scarlet Letter,” but judiciously excluded by Mr. Fields. “The Snow Image” itself, however, is plainly derived from Hawthorne’s own experience during the winter at Lenox. The common-sensible farmer and his poetic wife could not be mistaken for Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne, but the two sportive children are easily identified as Una and Julian. They are not only of the same age, but the “slight graceful girl” and “chubby red-cheeked boy” describes them exactly. The idea has been derived from the fable of the Greek sculptor Pygmalion whose statue came to life. That seems far enough off to be pleasantly credible, but to have such a transubstantiation take place in the front yard of a white-fenced American residence, is rather startling. Yet Hawthorne, with the help of the twilight, carries us through on the broad wings of his imagination, even to the melting of the little snow-sister before an airtight stove in a close New England parlor. The moral that Hawthorne draws from this fable might be summed up in the old adage, “What is one man’s meat is another man’s poison”; but it has a deeper significance, which the author does not seem to have perceived. The key-note of the fable is the same as that in Goethe’s celebrated ballad, “The Erl King”; namely, that those things which children imagine, are as real to them as the facts of the external world. Nor do we altogether escape from this so long as we live.
The origin of “The Great Stone Face” is readily traced to the profile face in the Franconia Mountains — which has not only a strangely human appearance, but a grave dignified expression, and, as a natural phenomenon, ranks next to Niagara Falls. The value of the fable, however, has perhaps been over-estimated. It is an old story in a modern garb, the saying so often repeated in the Book of Isaiah: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” The man Ernest, who is much in his ways like Hawthorne himself, spends his leisure in contemplating the Great Stone Face, and thus acquires a similar expression in his own. The wealthy merchant, the famous general, the great party leader, and the popular poet, all come upon the scene; but not one of them appears to advantage before the tranquil countenance of the Great Stone Face. Finally, Ernest in his old age carries off the laurel; and in this Hawthorne hits the mark, for it is only through earnestness that man becomes immortal. Yet, one would suppose that constantly gazing at a face of stone, would give one a rather stony expression; as sculptors are liable to become statuesque from their occupation.
Another Dantean allegory, and fully equal in power to any Canto in Dante’s “Inferno,” is the story of “Ethan Brandt,” or “The Unpardonable Sin.” We have a clew to its origin in the statement that it was part of an unfinished romance; presumably commenced at Concord, but afterward discarded, owing to the author’s dissatisfaction with his work — an illustration of Hawthorne’s severe criticism of his own writing. The scene is laid at a limekiln in a dark and gloomy wood, where a lime-burner, far from human habitations, is watching his fires at night. To him Ethan Brandt appears, a strange personage, long known for his quest after the unpardonable sin, and the solitude echoes back the gloominess of their conversation. Finally, the lime-burner fixes his fires for the night, rolls himself up in his blanket, and goes to sleep. When he awakes in the morning, the stranger is gone, but, on ascending the kiln to look at his caldron, he finds there the skeleton of a man, and between its ribs a heart of white marble. This is the unpardonable sin, for which there is neither dispensation nor repentance. Ethan Brandt has committed suicide because life had become intolerable on such conditions.
The summer of 1851 in Lenox was by no means brilliant. It had not yet become the tip end of fashion, and Hawthorne’s chief entertainment seems to have been the congratulatory letters he received from distinguished people. Mrs. Frances Kemble wrote to him from England, announcing the success of his book there, and offering him the use of her cottage, a more palatial affair than Mrs. Tappan’s, for the ensuing winter. Mrs. Hawthorne, however, felt the distance between herself and her relatives, and perhaps they both felt it. Mrs. Hawthorne’s sister Mary, now Mrs. Horace Mann, was living in West Newton, and the last of June Mrs. Hawthorne went to her for a long summer visit, taking her two daughters with her and leaving Julian in charge of his father, with whom it may be affirmed he was sufficiently safe. It rarely happens that a father and son are so much together as these two were, and they must have become very strongly attached.
For older company he had Hermann Melville, and G. P. R. James, whose society he may have found as interesting as that of more distinguished writers, and also Mr. Tappan, whom Hawthorne had learned to respect for his good sense and conciliatory disposition — a true peace-maker among men and women. Burill Curtis, the amateur brother of George W. Curtis, came to sketch the lake from Hawthorne’s porch, and Doctor Holmes turned up once or twice. On July 24 Hawthorne wrote to his friend Pike at Salem: 85
“By the way, if I continue to prosper as heretofore in the literary line, I shall soon be in a condition to buy a place; and if you should hear of one, say worth from $1500 to $2000, I wish you would keep your eye on it for me. I should wish it to be on the seacoast, or at all events with easy access to the sea.”
The evident meaning of this is that the Hawthornes had no desire to spend a second winter in the Berkshire hills. The world was large, but he knew not where to rest his head. Mrs. Hawthorne solved the problem on her return to Lenox, and it was decided to remove to West Newton when cold weather came. Thither they went November 21 in a driving storm of snow and sleet — a parting salute from old Berkshire — and reached Horace Mann’s house the same evening.
Nobody knows where the Hawthornes lived in Newton. The oldest survivors of both families were only five years of age at that time. Mrs. Hawthorne’s father also resided in Newton that winter, and it is more than likely that they made their residence with him. Julian Hawthorne has a distinct recollection of the long freight-trains with their clouds of black smoke blowing across his father’s ground during the winter; so they could not have lived very far from the Worcester railroad. Horace Mann’s house is still standing, opposite a school-house on the road from the station, where a by-way meets it at an acute angle. The freight-trains and their anthracite smoke must have had a disturbing influence on Hawthorne’s sensibility.
The long-extended town of Newton, which is now a populous city, has much the best situation of any of the Boston suburbs — on a moderately high range of hills, skirted by the Charles River, both healthful and picturesque. It is not as hot in summer nor so chilly at other seasons as Concord, and enjoys the advantage of a closer proximity to the city. Its society is, and always has been, more liberal and progressive than Salem society in Hawthorne’s time. Its citizens, mainly professional and mercantile men, are active, intelligent, and sensible, without being too fastidious. It was a healthful change for Hawthorne, and we are not surprised to find that his literary work was affected by it. Mrs. L. Maria Child lived there at the time, and so did Celia Thaxter, although not yet known to fame. The sound, penetrating intelligence of Horace Mann may have also had its salutary effect.
“THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE”
Hawthorne’s “Wonder Book” and “The Snow Image” were expressed to Ticknor & Company before leaving Lenox, and “The Blithedale Romance” may also have been commenced before that change of base. We only know, from his diary, that it was finished on the last day of April, 1852, and that he received the first proof-sheets of it two weeks later — which shows what expedition publishers can make, when they feel inclined.
The name itself is somewhat satirical, for Hawthorne did not find the life at Brook Farm very blithesome, and in the story, with the exception of the sylvan masquerade, there is much more rue than heart’s-ease, as commonly happens in his stories. The tale ends tragically, and without the gleam of distant happiness which lights up the last scenes of “The Scarlet Letter.” It commences with a severe April snowstorm, an unfavorable omen; the same in which Hawthorne set out to join the West Roxbury community.
And yet the name is not without a serious meaning — a stern, sad moral significance. The earth is not naturally beautiful, for rank Nature ever runs to an excess. It is only beautiful when man controls and remodels it; but what man makes physically, he can unmake spiritually. We pass by a handsome estate, a grand arcade of elms over its avenue, spacious lawns, an elegant mansion, a luxurious flower-garden; but we are informed that happiness does not dwell there, that its owner is a misanthropic person, whose nature has been perverted by the selfishness of luxury; that there are no pleasant parties on the lawn, no happy wooing in that garden, no marriage festivals in those halls; and those possessions, which might have proved a blessing to generations yet unborn, are no better than a curse and a whited sepulchre. How many such instances could be named.
It may have occurred to Hawthorne, that, if George Ripley, instead of following after a will-o’-the-wisp notion, which could only lead him into a bog, had used the means at his disposal to cultivate Brook Farm in a rational manner, and had made it a hospitable rendezvous for intellectual and progressive people — an oasis of culture amid the wide waste of commercialism — the place might well have been called Blithedale, and Mr. Ripley would have inaugurated a movement as rare as it was beneficial. It was only at a city like Boston, whose suburbs were pleasant and easily accessible, that such a plan could be carried out; and it was only a man of Mr. Ripley’s scholarship and intellectual acumen who could have drawn together the requisite elements for it. It looks as if he missed an opportunity.
We should avoid, however, confounding George Ripley with Hawthorne’s Hollingsworth. It is quite possible that Hawthorne made use of certain traits in Ripley’s character for this purpose, and also that he may have had some slight collision with him, such as he represents in “The Blithedale Romance;” but Ripley was an essentially veracious nature, who, as already remarked, carried out his experiment to its logical conclusion. Hollingsworth, on the contrary, proposes to pervert the trust confided to him, in order to establish at Blithedale an institution for the reformation of criminals, by which proceeding he would, after a fashion, become a criminal himself. At the same time, he plays fast and loose with the affections of Zenobia and Priscilla, who are both in love with him, designing to marry the one who would make the most favorable match for his purpose. It is through the junction of these two streams of evil that the catastrophe is brought about.
Priscilla is evidently taken from the little seamstress whom Hawthorne mentions in his diary for October 9, 1841, and if she ever discovered this, she could hardly have been displeased, for she is one of his most lovable creations; not so much of an ideal as Phoebe Pyncheon, for she is older and has already seen hard fortune. Her quiet, almost submissive ways at first excite pity rather than admiration, but at length we discover that there is a spirit within her, which shines through its earthly envelope, like the twinkling of a star.
Zenobia has a larger nature and a more gifted mind than Priscilla, but also a more mixed character. Her name suggests a queenly presence and she is fully conscious of this. She does not acquire an equal influence over the other sex, for she is evidently in love with herself. She is described as handsome and attractive, but no sooner had “Blithedale” been published than people said, “Margaret Fuller” 86 — although Margaret Fuller was rather plain looking, and never joined the Brook Farm association.
If this surmise be correct, it leads to a curious consideration. After painting a portrait of Zenobia in Chapter VI of “Blithedale,” quite worthy of Rubens or Titian, he remarks, through the incognito of Miles Coverdale, in the first part of Chapter VII, that Priscilla reminds him of Margaret Fuller, and says this to Priscilla herself. Now it proves in the sequel that Priscilla and Zenobia are half-sisters, but it would be as difficult to imagine this from anything that is said in the story about them, as it is to understand how the shy, undemonstrative Priscilla could have reminded Coverdale of the brilliant and aggressive leader of the Transcendentalists.
The introduction of Margaret Fuller’s name in that place comes abruptly on the reader, and momentarily dispels the illusion of the tale. Was Hawthorne conscious of the undercurrent of relationship, which he had already formulated in his mind, between Priscilla and Zenobia; or what is more likely, did he make the comparison in order to lead his readers away from any conceptions they might have formed in regard to the original of his heroine? If the latter supposition be true, he certainly was not very successful, for in either case it is evident that Margaret Fuller was prominent in his thoughts at the time he wrote those two chapters.
Hawthorne’s idea of her, however, should not be accepted as a finality. What Emerson and other friends have said concerning her should also be considered in order to obtain a just impression of a woman who combined more varied qualities than perhaps any other person of that time. Hawthorne says of Zenobia, that she was naturally a stump oratoress — rather an awkward expression for him — and that “her mind was full of weeds.” Margaret Fuller was a natural orator, and her mind was full of many subjects in which Hawthorne could take little interest. She was a revolutionary character, a sort of female Garibaldi, who attacked old Puritan traditions with a two-edged sword; she won victories for liberalism, but left confusion behind her. Like all such characters, she made friends and enemies wherever she went. She sometimes gave offence by hasty impulsive utterances, but more frequently by keenly penetrating arguments for the various causes which she espoused. Only a woman could deliver such telling shots.
Lowell, who was fond of an argument himself, did not like her better than Hawthorne did. There may be some truth in what he says in “The Fable for Critics,” that the expression of her face seemed to suggest a life-long familiarity with the “infinite soul”; but Margaret Fuller was sound at heart, and when she talked on those subjects which interested her, no one could be more self-forgetful or thoroughly in earnest. At times, she seemed like an inspired prophetess, and if she had lived two thousand years earlier, she might have been remembered as a sibyl. 87
“The Blithedale Romance” is written with a freer pen and less carefully than “The House of the Seven Gables,” and is so much the better; for the author’s state of mind in which he is writing will always affect the reader more or less, and if the former feels under a slight constraint the latter will also. A writer cannot be too exact in ascertaining the truth — Macaulay to the contrary — but he can trouble himself too much as to the expression of it. At the same time, “The Blithedale Romance” is the least poetic of Hawthorne’s more serious works (which is the same as saying that it is more like a novel), for the reason that Hawthorne in this instance was closer to his subject. It is also more of a personal reminiscence, and less an effort of the imagination. He has included in it a number of descriptive passages taken from his Brook Farm diary; most notably the account of that sylvan masquerade, in which Coverdale finds his former associates engaged on his return to Blithedale in the autumn. Perhaps this is the reason why the book has so pleasant a flavor — a mellow after-thought of old associations.
An air of mystery adds an enchantment to a work of art, whether in poetry, painting, or sculpture — perhaps also in music; but there is a difference in kind between mystery and uncertainty. We do not like to be left half in the dark, in regard to things which we think we ought to know. There is a break in Hawthorne’s chain of evidence against Hollingsworth and Zenobia, which might possibly have been filled to advantage. He would certainly have been non-suited, if his case had been carried into court. We are permitted to suppose that Zenobia, in order to clear her path of a successful rival, assists the mountebank, Westervelt, to entrap Priscilla, over whom he possesses a kind hypnotic power, and to carry her off for the benefit of his mountebank exhibitions; but it remains a supposition and nothing more. We cannot but feel rejoiced, when Hollingsworth steps onto the platform and releases Priscilla from the psychological net-work in which she is involved, and from which she has not sufficient will-power to free herself. He certainly deserves her hand and fortune; but, as to his condemnatory charges against Zenobia, which led directly to her suicide — what could they have been? Was there nothing more than the trick she had attempted upon Priscilla? And if he accused her of that only, why should he suffer perpetual remorse on account of her death? Surely there was need of further explanation here, for the catastrophe and its consequences are out of all proportion to the apparent cause.
His account of the recovery of Zenobia’s body is a close transcript of the search for that unfortunate school-mistress, who drowned herself in Concord River; and it is possible that, if Hawthorne had not been present on that occasion, the plot might have terminated in some other manner.
The story closes without a ray of hope for Hollingsworth; but the reader can perceive one in the generous devotion of his single-minded wife, even if Hawthorne did not.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51