Hawthorne’s life in England was too generally monotonous to afford many salient points to his biographer. It was monotonous in his official duties, in his pleasure-trips, and in his social experiences. He found one good friend in Liverpool, Mr. Henry Bright, to whom he had already been introduced in America, and he soon made another in Mr. Francis Bennoch, who lived near the same city. They were both excellent men, and belonged to that fine class of Englishmen who possess a comfortable income, but live moderately, and prefer cultivating their minds and the society of their friends, to clubs, yachting, horse-racing, and other forms of external show. They were not distinguished, and were too sensible to desire distinction. Henry Bright may have been the more highly favored in Hawthorne’s esteem, but they both possessed that tact and delicacy of feeling which is rare among Englishmen, and by accepting Hawthorne simply as a man like themselves, instead of as a celebrity, they won that place in his confidence from which so many had been excluded.
Otherwise, Hawthorne contracted no friendships among distinguished Englishmen of letters, like that between Emerson and Carlyle; and from first to last he saw little of them. He had no sooner landed than he was greeted with a number of epistles from sentimental ladies, or authors of a single publication, who claimed a spiritual kinship with him, because of their admiration for his writings. One of them even addressed him as “My dear brother.” These he filed away with a mental reservation to give the writers as wide a circuit as he possibly could. He attended a respectable number of dinner parties in both Liverpool and London, at which he remained for the most part a silent and unobtrusive guest. He was not favored with an invitation to Holland House, although he met Lady Holland on one occasion, and has left a description of her, not more flattering than others that have been preserved for us. He also met Macaulay and the Brownings at Lord Houghton’s; but for once Macaulay would not talk. Mrs. Browning evidently pleased Hawthorne very much. 91
The great lights of English literature besides these — Tennyson, Carlyle, Ruskin, Thackeray, Dickens — he was never introduced to, although he saw Tennyson in a picture-gallery at Manchester, and has left a description of him, such as might endure to the end of time. Neither did he make the acquaintance of those three luminaries, Froude, Marian Evans, and Max Muller, who rose above the horizon, previous to his return to America. That he was not presented at Court was a matter of course. There was nothing which he could have cared for less.
After his return he published a volume of English sketches, which he entitled “Our Old Home,” but he seems to have felt actually less at home in England than in any other country that he visited. In that book, and also in his diary, the even tenor of his discourse is interrupted here and there by fits of irritability which disclose themselves in the use of epithets such as one would hardly expect from the pen of Hawthorne. If we apply to him the well-known proverb with respect to the Russians, we can imagine that under similar conditions an inherited sailor-like tendency in him came to the surface. We only remember one such instance in his American Note-book, that in which he speaks of Thoreau’s having a face “as homely as sin.”
Hawthorne did not carry with him to Europe that narrow provincialism, which asserts itself in either condemning or ridiculing everything that differs essentially from American ways and methods. On the contrary, when he compares the old country with the new — for instance, the English scenery with that of New England — Hawthorne is usually as fair, discriminating, and dispassionate as any one could wish, and perhaps more so than some would desire. His judgment cannot be questioned in preferring the American elm, with its wine-glass shape, to the rotund European species; but he admires the English lake country above anything that he has seen like it in his own land. “Centuries of cultivation have given the English oak a domestic character,” while American trees are still to be classed with the wild flowers which bloom beneath their outstretched arms.
Matthew Arnold spoke of his commentaries on England as the writing of a man chagrined; but what could have chagrined Hawthorne there? The socially ambitious man may become chagrined, if he finds that doors are closed to him, and so may an unappreciated would-be genius. But Hawthorne’s position as an author was already more firmly established than Matthew Arnold’s ever could be; and as for social ambition, no writer since Shakespeare has been so free from it. It seems more probable that the difficulty with Hawthorne in this respect was due to his old position on the slavery question, which now began to bear bitter fruit for him. All Englishmen at that time, with the exception of Carlyle, Froude, and the nobility, were very strongly anti-slavery, — the more so, as it cost them nothing to have other men’s slaves liberated — and the English are particularly blunt, not to say gauche, in introducing topics of conversation which are liable to become a matter of controversy. At the first dinner-party I attended in London some thirty-odd years ago, I had scarcely tasted the soup, before a gentleman opposite asked me: “What progress are you making in the United States toward free trade? Can you tell me, sir?” He might as well have asked me what progress we were making in the direction of monarchy. Fortunately for Hawthorne, his good taste prevented him from introducing the slavery question in his publications, excepting in the life of Pierce, but for this same reason his English acquaintances in various places were obliged to discover his opinions at first hand, nor is it very likely that they were slow to do this. Phillips and Garrison had been to England and through England, and their dignified speeches had made an excellent impression. Longfellow, Emerson, Lowell and Whittier had spoken with no uncertain sound, protesting against what they considered a great national evil. How did it happen that Hawthorne was an exception?
Through his kind friend Mr. Bennoch, he fell in with a worthy whom it would have been just as well to have avoided — the proverbial-philosophy poet, Martin Farquhar Tupper; not a genuine poet, nor considered as such by trustworthy critics, but such a good imitation, that he persuaded himself and a large portion of the British public, including Queen Victoria, that he was one. Hawthorne has given an account of his visit to this man, 93 second only in value to his description of Tennyson; for it is quite as important for us to recognize the deficiencies of the one, as it is to know the true appearance of the other. It is an unsparing study of human nature, but if a man places himself on a pedestal for all people to gaze at, it is just this and nothing more that he has to expect. Hawthorne represents him as a kindly, domestic, affectionate, bustling little man, who kept on bustling with his hands and tongue, even while he was seated — a man of no dignity of character or perception of his deficiency of it. This all does well enough, but when Hawthorne says, “I liked him, and laughed in my sleeve at him, and was utterly weary of him; for certainly he is the ass of asses,” we feel that he has gone too far, and suspect that there was some unpleasantness connected with the occasion, of which we are not informed. The word “ass,” as applied to a human being, is not current in good literature, unless low comedy be entitled to that position, and coming from Hawthorne, of all writers, it seems like an oath from the mouth of a woman. Tupper, who was quite proud of his philanthropy, was also much of an abolitionist, and he may have trodden on Hawthorne’s metaphysical toes half a dozen times, without being aware of what he was doing. Altogether, it seems like rather an ill return for Tupper’s hospitality; but Hawthorne himself did not intend it for publication, and on the whole one does not regret that it has been given to the public. We have been, however, anticipating the order of events.
During the summer of 1854, the Hawthorne family made a number of unimportant expeditions, visiting mediaeval abbeys and ruinous castles — especially one to Chester and Eton Hall, which was not quite worth the fees they paid to the janitors. An ancient walled city is much of a novelty to an American for the first time, but, having seen one, you have seen them all, and Chester Cathedral does not stand high in English architecture. On September 14, O’Sullivan appeared again, and they all went into the Welsh mountains, where they examined the old fortresses of Rhyl and Conway, which were built by Edward Longshanks to hold the Welshmen in check. Those relics of the feudal system are very impressive, not only on account of their solidity and the great human forces which they represent, but from a peculiar beauty of their own, which modern fortifications do not possess at all. They seem to belong to the ground they stand on, and the people who live about them look upon them as cherished landmarks. They are the monuments of an heroic age, and Hawthorne’s interest in them was characteristic of his nature.
O’Sullivan returned to Lisbon early in October, and on the 5th of that month, Hawthorne found himself obliged to make a speech at an entertainment on board a merchant vessel called the “James Barnes,” which had been built in Boston for a Liverpool firm of ship-owners. He considered this the most serious portion of his official duty — the necessity of making after-dinner speeches at the Mayor’s or other public tables. He writes several pages on the subject in a humorously complainant tone, congratulating himself that on the present occasion he has succeeded admirably, for he has really said nothing, and that is precisely what he intended to do. After-dinner speeches are like soap-bubbles: they are made of nothing, signify nothing, float for a moment in the air, attract a momentary attention, and then disappear. But the difficulty is, to make an apparent something out of nothing, to say nothing that will offend anybody, and to say something that will be different from what others say. It is truly a hard situation in which to place even a very talented man, and, as Longfellow once remarked, those were most fortunate who made their speeches first, and could then enjoy their dinner, while their successors were writhing in agony. However, there are those who like it, and having practised it to perfection, can do it better than anything else. Hawthorne analyzes his sensations, after finishing his speech, with rare self-perception. “After sitting down, I was conscious of an enjoyment in speaking to a public assembly, and felt as if I should like to rise again. It is something like being under fire — a sort of excitement, not exactly pleasure, but more piquant than most pleasures.” Was it President Jackson, or Senator Benton, who said that fighting a duel was very much like making one’s maiden speech?
Mrs. Hawthorne thus describes the residence of the President of the Chamber of Commerce at Liverpool: 94 “We were ushered into the drawing-room, which looked more like a brilliant apartment in Versailles than what I had expected to see. The panels were richly gilt, with mirrors in the centre, and hangings of gilded paper; and the broad windows were hung with golden-colored damask; the furniture was all of the same hue; with a carpet of superb flowers; and vases of living flowers standing everywhere; and a chandelier of diamonds (as to indefatigable and vivid shining), and candlesticks of the same — not the long prisms like those on Mary’s astral, but a network of crystals diamond-cut.”
This was the coarse commercial taste of the time, previous to the reforms of Ruskin and Eastlake. The same might be said of Versailles. There is no true elegance in gilding and glass-work, including mirrors, unless they be sparingly used.
The Hawthornes were equally overpowered by a dinner-party given by a millionaire and country squire of Liscard Vale; “two enormous silver dish-covers, with the gleam of Damascus blades, putting out all the rest of the light;” and after the fish, these were replaced by two other enormous dishes of equal brilliancy. The table was shortly covered with an array of silver dishes, reflecting the lights above in dazzling splendor. At one end of the table was a roast goose and at the other a boiled turkey; while “cutlets, fricassees, ragouts, tongue, chicken-pies,” and much else, filled the intermediate spaces, and the sideboard groaned under a round of beef “like the dome of St. Peter’s.” It was fortunate that the American consul came to this Herculean repast with an excellent appetite.
Henry Bright was their chief refuge from this flummery, as Hawthorne called it; “an extremely interesting, sincere, earnest, independent, warm and generous hearted man; not at all dogmatic; full of questions, and with ready answers. He is highly cultivated, and writes for the Westminster,”— a man who respected formalities and could preserve decorum in his own household, but liked a simple, unostentatious mode of living — in brief, he was a true English gentleman. Mrs. Hawthorne has drawn his portrait with only less skill than her husband:
“His eyes are large, bright, and prominent, rather indicating great facility of language, which he has. He is an Oxford scholar, and has decided literary tastes. He is delicately strung, and is as transparent-minded and pure-hearted as a child, with great enthusiasm and earnestness of character; and, though a Liberal, very loyal to his Queen and very admiring of the aristocracy.”
He appears to have been engaged in the Australian carrying trade, and owned the largest sailing vessel afloat.
Hawthorne went to an exhibition of English landscape paintings, and he remarked that Turner’s seemed too ethereal to have been painted by mortal hands — the finest compliment that Turner could have received, for in delicate effects of light and shade — in painting the atmosphere itself — he has no rival.
In January, James Buchanan, who was then minister to England, came to visit Hawthorne, and talked with him about the presidency — for which he considered himself altogether too old; but at the same time he did not suggest the renomination of Franklin Pierce. This, of course, disclosed his own ambition, and as Hawthorne’s impartial pen-and-ink sketch of him may not be recognized by many readers, on account of the form in which it appears in the note-books, we append it here, with the regret that Hawthorne could not have treated his friend Pierce in an equally candid manner.
“I like Mr. —. He cannot exactly be called gentlemanly in his manners, there being a sort of rusticity about him; moreover, he has a habit of squinting one eye, and an awkward carriage of his head; but, withal, a dignity in his large person, and a consciousness of high position and importance, which give him ease and freedom. Very simple and frank in his address, he may be as crafty as other diplomatists are said to be; but I see only good sense and plainness of speech — appreciative, too, and genial enough to make himself conversable. He talked very freely of himself and of other public people, and of American and English affairs. He returns to America, he says, next October, and then retires forever from public life.”
A certain amount of rusticity would seem to have been essential to a presidential candidate during the middle of the past century.
During this dismal winter Hawthorne was beset more than ever, by nautical mendicants of all countries — Hungarians, Poles, Cubans, Spanish Americans, and French Republicans, who, unhappily for him, had discovered that the American consul was a tender-hearted man. He had, beside, to deal with a number of difficult cases of maltreated American sailors — the more difficult, because both parties to the suits were greatly given to lying, even on occasions when it would have been more expedient for them to tell the truth. He has recorded one such in his diary, that deserves more than a superficial consideration.
An American bark was on the point of sailing, when the captain cast ashore a bruised and battered-looking man, who made his way painfully to the consulate, and begged Hawthorne for a permit to be placed in the hospital. He called himself the son of a South Carolina farmer, and stated that he had gone on board this vessel with a load of farm products, but had been impressed by the captain for the voyage, and had been so maltreated, that he thought he would die — and so he did, not long afterward, at the hospital. Letters were found upon him, substantiating the statement concerning his father, but it was discovered, from the same source, that he was a jail-bird, and the tattooed figures upon his arms showed that he had been a sailor of many years’ standing, although he had denied this to the consul. Hawthorne speaks of him as an innocent man, the victim of criminal brutality little less than murder; it is certainly difficult to account for such severe ill-treatment, but the man was clearly a bad character, and it is also true that sea-captains do not interfere with their deck-hands without some kind of provocation. The man clung desperately to life up to the last moment, and the letters he carried with him indicated that he was more intelligent than the average of the nautical fraternity.
In June, Hawthorne went with his family to Leamington, of which he afterward published an account in the Atlantic Monthly, criticised at the time for the manner in which he referred to English ladies, as “covering a large area of Nature’s foot-stool”; but this element in Hawthorne’s English writing has already been considered. From Leamington he went, early in July, to the English lakes, especially Windermere, and fortunately found time to thoroughly enjoy them. He enjoyed them not only for their scenery, which he preferred to that of New England, but also as illustrations to many descriptive passages in Wordsworth’s poetry, which serves the same purpose in the guidebook of that region, as “Childe Harold” serves in the guidebooks for Italy and Greece. Hawthorne also was interested in such places for the sake of their associations. He describes Wordsworth’s house, the grounds about it, and the cemetery where he lies, with the accuracy of a scientific report. He finds the grass growing too high about the head-stone of Wordsworth’s grave, and plucks it away with his own hands, reflecting that it may have drawn its nourishment from his mortal remains. We may suppose that he preserved this grass, and it is only from such incidental circumstances that we discover who were Hawthorne’s favorites among poets and other distinguished writers. He twice visited Wordsworth’s grave.
Their first two winters in Liverpool had not proved favorable to Mrs. Hawthorne’s health She had contracted a disorder in her throat from the prevailing dampness, which threatened to become chronic, and her husband felt that it would not be prudent for her to remain there another winter. He thought of resigning and returning to America. Then he thought of exchanging his consulship for one in southern Europe, although the salaries of the more southern consulates were hardly sufficient to support a married man. Then he thought of exchanging places with O’Sullivan, but he hardly knew languages well enough for an ambassador. The doctors, however, had advised Mrs. Hawthorne to spend a winter at Madeira, and she courageously solved the problem by proposing to go there alone with her daughters, for which Lisbon and O’Sullivan would serve as a stepping-stone by the way. There are wives who would prefer such an expedition to spending a winter in England with their husbands, but Mrs. Hawthorne was not of that mould, and in her case it was a brave thing to do.
Accordingly, on the second Monday in October, Mrs. Hawthorne and her two daughters sailed for Lisbon. She was presented at court there; concerning which occasion she wrote a lengthy and very interesting account to her husband, published in her son’s biography. The King of Portugal held a long conversation with her and Minister O’Sullivan, and she describes him as dressed in a flamboyant manner — a scarlet uniform, lavishly ornamented with diamonds. With how much better taste did the Empress of Austria receive the President of the French Republic — in a simple robe of black velvet, fastened at her throat with a diamond brooch. One can envy Mrs. Hawthorne a winter at Madeira, for there is no place in Europe pleasanter for that purpose, unless it be Rome. Meanwhile, her husband spent the winter with his son (who was now old enough to be trusted safely about the streets), at a sea-captains’ boarding-house in Liverpool. There, as in Salem, he felt himself most companionable in such company, as he had been accustomed to it from boyhood; and it appears that at this time he was in the habit of composing fables for the entertainment of Julian, not unlike the yarns which sailors often spin to beguile landsmen. 95
Hawthorne found his third winter in Liverpool dismal enough without his wife and the two little girls, and this feeling was considerably increased by his dislike for the sea-captains’ boarding-house keeper, 96with whom he was living, and concerning whom he remarks, that a woman in England “is either decidedly a lady or decidedly not.” She would not have annoyed him so much, had it not been for “her bustle, affectation, intensity, and pretension of literary taste.” The race of landladies contains curious specimens, although we have met with some who were real ladies nevertheless. Thackeray’s description of a French boarding-house keeper in “The Adventures of Philip” goes to every heart. Hawthorne writes much in his diary, at this juncture, of his friend Francis Bennoch, who clearly did the best he could, as a man and a brother, to make life cheerful for his American friend; a true, sturdy, warm-hearted Englishman.
Christmas was celebrated at Mrs. Blodgett’s, after the fashion of a second-rate English house of entertainment. The servants hung mistletoe about in various places, and woe to the unlucky wight that was caught under it. Hawthorne presents an amusing picture of his boy Julian, nine years old, struggling against the endearments of a chamber-maid, and believes that he himself was the only male person in the house that escaped. 97If any man would be sure to escape that benediction, he would have been the one; for no one could be more averse to public demonstrations of affection.
Hawthorne was witness to a curious strategic manœuvre between President Pierce and Minister Buchanan, which, however, he was not sufficiently familiar with practical politics to perceive the full meaning of. On the way to Southampton with his wife in October, they called on Buchanan in London, and were not only civilly but kindly received. Mrs. Hawthorne wished to view the Houses of Parliament while they were in session, and the ambassador made a knot in his handkerchief, so as to be sure to remember his promise to her. He informed Hawthorne at that time of his desire to return to America, but stated that the President had just written to him, requesting him to remain until April, although he was determined not to do so. He excused himself on the plea of old age, and Hawthorne seems to have had a suspicion of the insincerity of this, but concluded on reflection not to harbor it. Pierce knew already that Buchanan was his most dangerous rival for renomination, and desired that he should remain as far off as possible; while Buchanan was aware that, if he intended to be on the ground, he must not return so late as to attract public attention. There were so many presidential aspirants that Pierce may have found it difficult to supply Buchanan’s place, for the time being.
Buchanan delayed a respectful length of time, and then handed in his resignation. His successor, George M. Dallas, arrived at Liverpool during the second week of March, and Hawthorne who does not mention him by name, called upon him at once, and gives us this valuable portrait of him.
“The ambassador is a venerable old gentleman, with a full head of perfectly white hair, looking not unlike an old-fashioned wig; and this, together with his collarless white neckcloth and his brown coat, gave him precisely such an aspect as one would expect in a respectable person of prerevolutionary days. There was a formal simplicity, too, in his manners, that might have belonged to the same era. He must have been a very handsome man in his youthful days, and is now comely, very erect, moderately tall, not overburdened with flesh; of benign and agreeable address, with a pleasant smile; but his eyes, which are not very large, impressed me as sharp and cold. He did not at all stamp himself upon me as a man of much intellectual or characteristic vigor. I found no such matter in his conversation, nor did I feel it in the indefinable way by which strength always makes itself acknowledged. Buchanan, though somehow plain and uncouth, yet vindicates himself as a large man of the world, able, experienced, fit to handle difficult circumstances of life, dignified, too, and able to hold his own in any society.” 98
Morton McMichael, whose statue now stands in Fairmount Park, once related this incident concerning Dallas, at a meeting of the Philadelphia Hock Club. Somewhere about 1850 Dallas was invited to deliver a 4th of July oration at Harrisburg, where McMichael was also requested to read the Declaration of Independence. McMichael performed his part of the ceremony, and sat down; then Dallas arose and thanked the assembly for honoring him with such an invitation, but confessed to some difficulty in considering what he should say, for an occasion which had been celebrated by so many famous orators; but that a few nights since, while he was lying awake, it occurred to him what he should say to them. After this he proceeded to read his address from a newspaper printed in 1841, which the audience could not see, but which McMichael, from his position on the platform, could see perfectly well.
Hawthorne’s description suggests a man somewhat like this; but the opinion of the Hock Club was that Dallas was not greatly to blame; for how could any man make two distinct and original 4th of July orations?
The 1st of April 1856, Hawthorne and Bennoch set off on a bachelor expedition of their own, first to visit Tupper at Albany, as has been already related, and then going to view a muster of British troops at Aldershot; thence to Battle Abbey, which Hawthorne greatly admired, and the field of Hastings, where England’s greatness began in defeat. He does not mention the battle, however, in his diary, and it may be remarked that, generally, Hawthorne felt little interest in historical subjects. After this, they went to London, where Bennoch introduced Hawthorne at the Milton Club and the Reform Club. At the former, he again encountered Martin F. Tupper, and became acquainted with Tom Taylor, the editor of Punch, as well as other writers and editors, of whom he had not previously heard. The Club was by no means Miltonic, and one would suppose not exactly the place where Hawthorne would find himself much at home. Neither were the proceedings altogether in good taste. Bennoch opened the ball with a highly eulogistic speech about Hawthorne, and was followed by some fifty others in a similar strain, so that the unfortunate incumbent must have wished that the earth would open and let him down to the shades of night below. On such an occasion, even a feather weight becomes a burden. Oh, for a boy, with a tin horn!
Neither did Hawthorne apparently find his peers at the Reform Club. Douglas Jerrold, who reminded him somewhat of Ellery Channing, was the most notable writer he met there. There was, however, very little speech-making, and plenty of good conversation. Unfortunately, he offended Jerrold, by using the word “acrid” as applied to his writing, instead of some other word, which he could not think of at the moment. The difficulty, however, was made up over a fresh bottle of Burgundy, and with the help of Hawthorne’s unlimited good-will, so that they parted excellent friends, and much the better for having known each other. Either Jerrold or some other present told Hawthorne that the English aristocracy, for the most part hated, despised, and feared men of literary genius. Is it not much the same in America?
After these two celebrations, and attending the Lord Mayor’s banquet, where he admired the beautiful Jewess whom he has described as Miriam in “The Marble Faun,” Hawthorne returned to Liverpool; and early in May took another recess, with a Mr. Bowman, to York, Edinburgh, the Trossachs, Abbotsford, and all the haunts of Scott and Burns; with his account of which a large portion of the second volume of English Note-books is filled; so that, if Scotland should sink into the sea, as a portion is already supposed to have done in antediluvian times, all those places could be reconstructed through Hawthorne’s description of them.
This expedition lasted nearly three weeks, and on June 12 Hawthorne received word that his wife, with Una and Rose, had already landed at Southampton. He hastened at once to meet them, greatly rejoiced to find Mrs. Hawthorne entirely restored to health. They had been separated for more than seven months.
They first proceeded to Salisbury, to see the cathedral and Stonehenge — the former, very impressive externally, but not so satisfactory within; and the latter, a work of man emerging out of Nature. Then they went to London, to enjoy the June season, and see the regular course of sights in that huge metropolis. They visited St. Paul’s, the Tower, Guildhall, the National Gallery, the British Museum, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament, apparently finding as much satisfaction in this conventional occupation as they did in the social entertainments of London. At the house of Mr. S. C. Hall, a noted entertainer of those days, Hawthorne became acquainted with the most celebrated singer of her time, or perhaps of all time; namely, Jenny Lind. No modern orator has held such a sway over the hearts of men and women, as that Swedish nightingale — for the purity of her voice seemed no more than the emanation of her lofty nature. Hawthorne describes her as a frank, sincere person, rather tall — certainly no beauty, but with sense and self-reliance in her aspect and manners. She immediately gave Hawthorne an illustration of her frankness by complaining of the unhealthy manner in which Americans, and especially American women, lived. This seems like a prosaic subject for such a person, but it was natural enough; for a concert singer has to live like a race-horse, and this would be what would constantly strike her attention in a foreign country. Hawthorne rallied to the support of his countrywomen, and believed that they were, on the whole, as healthy and long-lived as Europeans. This may be so now, but there has been great improvement in the American mode of living, during the past fifty years, and we can imagine that Jenny Lind often found it difficult to obtain such food as she required.
That she should have requested an introduction to Hawthorne is significant of her interest in American literature, and suggests a taste as refined and elevated as her music.
It was on Hawthorne’s wedding-day this happened, and a few days later he was invited to a select company at Monckton Milnes’s, which included Macaulay, the Brownings, and Professor Ticknor. He found both the Brownings exceedingly pleasant and accessible, but was somewhat startled to find that Mrs. Browning was a believer in spiritism — not such a sound and healthy intelligence as the author of “Middle-march,” and he might have been still more so, if he had known that she and her husband were ardent admirers of Louis Napoleon. That was something which an American in those days could not quite understand. However, he found her an exceedingly pleasant companion. After dinner they looked over several volumes of autographs, in which Oliver Cromwell’s was the only one that would today be more valuable than Hawthorne’s own.
A breakfast at Monckton Milnes’s usually included the reading of a copy of verses of his own composition, but perhaps he had not yet reached that stage on the present occasion.
Hawthorne heard such varied and conflicting accounts of Charles Dickens that he hardly knew whether he would like to meet him or not. He wanted to see Tennyson when he was at the Isle of Wight, but feared that his visit might be looked on as an intrusion, by a person who lived so retired a life — judging perhaps from his own experience. While at Windermere he paused for a moment in front of Harriet Martineau’s cottage, but on second thought he concluded to leave the good deaf lady in peace.
Conway speaks of Hawthorne’s social life in England as a failure; but failure suggests an effort in some direction or other, and Hawthorne made no social efforts. Being lionized was not his business. He had seen enough of it during the London season of 1856, and after that he retired into his domestic shell, cultivating the acquaintance of his wife and children more assiduously than ever, so that even his two faithful allies, Bright and Bennoch, found it difficult to withdraw him from it. Watching the development of a fine child is much more satisfactory than any course of fashionable entertainments — even than Lowell’s twenty-nine dinner-parties in the month of June. Nothing becomes more tedious than long-continued pleasure-seeking, with post-prandial speeches and a constant effort to be agreeable.
Hawthorne remained in England fully seventeen months after this, and made a number of excursions; especially one to Oxford, where he and his family were dined by a former mayor of the city, and where he greatly admired the broad verdant grounds and Gothic architecture of the colleges; and also a second journey to Edinburgh and the Trossachs, undertaken for the benefit of Mrs. Hawthorne and Una. But we hear no more of him in London society, and it only remains for us to chronicle his exceptional kindness to an unfortunate American woman.
It seems strange that the first doubt in regard to the authorship of Shakespeare should have originated on this side of the Atlantic. If Dante was a self-educated poet, there seems no good reason why Shakespeare should not have been; and if the greatest of French writers earned his living as an actor, why should not the greatest of English writers have done the same? That would seem to be much more in harmony with the central idea of American life — the principle of self-helpfulness; but this is a skeptical epoch, and the tendency of our political institutions is toward skepticism of character and distrust of tradition. Hence we have Delia Bacon, Holmes, and Donnelly.
Hawthorne has given future generations an account of Delia Bacon, which will endure as the portrait of a gifted and interesting woman, diverted from the normal channels of feminine activity by the force of a single idea; but he makes no mention of his efforts in her behalf. He found her in the lodgings of a London tradesman, and although she received him in a pleasant and lady-like manner, he quickly perceived that her mind was in an abnormal condition, and that it was positively dangerous to discuss her favorite topic in a rational manner. He had a feeling that the least opposition on his part to the Baconian theory would result in his expulsion from the room, yet he found her conversation interesting, and recognized that if her conclusions were erroneous she had nevertheless unearthed valuable historic material, which ought to be given to the world. He loaned her money, which he did not expect to be repaid, and exerted himself to find a publisher for her, recollecting perhaps the vows he had made to the gods in the days of his own obscurity. He mentions in his diary calling on the Rutledges for this purpose — where he saw Charles Reade, a tall, strong-looking man, just leaving the office. He also wrote to Ticknor & Fields, and finally did get Miss Bacon’s volume brought out in London. The critics treated it in a contemptuous manner, as a desecration of Shakespeare’s memory; and Hawthorne was prepared for this, but it opened a new era in English bibliography. Shortly after the publication of her book Miss Bacon became insane.
To many this appeared like a Quixotic adventure, but now we can see that it was not, and that it was necessary in its way to prove the generosity of Hawthorne. We can readily infer from it what he might have done with ampler means, and what he must often have wished to do. To be sure, the truest kindness to Delia Bacon would have been to have purchased a ticket on a Cunard steamer for her, after her own funds had given out, and to have persuaded her to return to her own country; but those who have dealt with persons whose whole vitality is absorbed in a single idea, can testify how difficult, if not impossible, this would have been. It redounds the more to Hawthorne’s credit that although Elizabeth Peabody was converted to Delia Bacon’s theory, Hawthorne himself never entertained misgivings as to the reality of Shakespeare as a poet and a dramatist.
He had doubts, however, and I felt the same in regard to the authenticity of the verses on Shakespeare’s marble slab. It is fortunate that Miss Bacon’s purpose of opening the tomb at Stratford was not carried out, but that is no reason why it should not be opened in a properly conducted manner, for scientific purposes — in order to discover all that is possible concerning so remarkable and mysterious a personality. Raphael’s tomb has been opened, and why should not Shakespeare’s be also?
At the Democratic convention in 1856 the Southern delegates wished to renominate Franklin Pierce, but the Northern delegates refused their agreement to this, because they knew that in such a case they would be liable to defeat in their own districts. James Buchanan was accordingly nominated, and Pierce’s fears in regard to him were fully realized. He was elected in November, and the following June appointed Beverly Tucker to succeed Hawthorne as consul at Liverpool. Hawthorne resigned his office on July 1, 1857, and went with his family on a long tour in Scotland. Two weeks earlier he had written a memorial to the Secretary of State concerning the maltreatment of a special class of seamen, which deserved more consideration than it received from the government at Washington.
The gold discoveries in California had induced a large immigration to America from the British Isles, and many who went thither in hopes of bettering their fortunes became destitute from lack of employment, and attempted to work their passage back to Liverpool in American sailing vessels. It is likely that they often represented themselves as more experienced mariners than they actually were, and there were also a good many stowaways who might expect little mercy; but there was no court in England that could take cognizance of their wrongs — in order to obtain justice they would have to return to America — and it cannot be doubted that the more brutal sort of officers took advantage of this fact. The evil became so notorious that the British minister at Washington requested Pierce’s administration to have legislation enacted that would cover this class of cases, but the President declined to interfere. This may have been prudent policy, but Hawthorne felt for the sufferers, and the memorial that he submitted to our government on their account has a dignity, a clearness and cogency of statement, worthy of Blackstone or Marshall. It is in marked contrast to the evasive reply of Secretary Cass, both for its fine English and for the directness of its logic. It is published at length in Julian Hawthorne’s biography of his father, and is unique for the insight which it affords as to Hawthorne’s mental ability in this direction. We may infer from it that if he had made a study of jurisprudence, he might have risen to the highest position as a writer on law.
Hawthorne’s English Note-books are the least interesting of that series, on account of the literal descriptions of castles, abbeys, scenery and palaces, with which they abound. The perfectly cultivated condition of England and Scotland, so far as he went in the latter country, is not stimulating to the imagination; for, as he says somewhere, even the trees seemed to be thoroughly domesticated. They are excellent reading for Americans who have never been to England, or for those who wish to renew their memories in regard to certain places there — perhaps better for the latter than for the former; and there are fine passages in them, especially his descriptions of the old abbeys and Gothic cathedrals, which seem to have delighted him more than the gardens at Blenheim and Eton, and to have brought to the surface a rare quality in his nature, or otherwise hidden in its depths — his enthusiasm. Never before did words fail him until he attempted to describe the effect of a Gothic cathedral — the time-honored mystery of its arches, the sober radiance of its stained windows, and the solemn aspiration of its lofty vault. As Schiller says, they are the monuments of a mighty civilization of which we know only too little.
Hawthorne’s object in writing these detailed accounts of his various expeditions becomes apparent from a passage in his Note-book, of the date of August 21, 1856, in which he says: “In my English romance, an American might bring a certain tradition from over the sea, and so discover the cross which had been long since forgotten.” It may have been his intention from the first to write a romance based on English soil, but that soil was no longer productive of such intellectual fruit, except in the form in which Dickens dug it up, like peat, out of the lower classes. We find Francis Bennoch writing to Hawthorne after his return to America, 99 hoping to encourage him in this direction, but without apparent effect. Instead of a romance, he made a collection of essays from those portions of his diary which were most closely connected together, enlarging them and rounding them out, which he published after his return to America, in the volume we have often referred to as “Our Old Home.” But as truthful studies of English life and manners Mrs. Hawthorne’s letters, though not always sensible, are much more interesting than her husband’s diary.
When Doctor Johnson was inquired of by a lady why he defined “pastern” in his Dictionary as the knee of a horse, he replied, “Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance;” and if Hawthorne had been asked a year afterwards why he went to Scotland in the summer of 1857, instead of to the Rhine and Switzerland, he might have given a similar excuse. In this way he missed the grandest and some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe. He could not, however, have been ignorant of the attractions of Paris, and yet he lingered in England until the following January, and then went over to that metropolis of fashion at a most unseasonable time. He had, indeed, planned to leave England in October, 100 and does not explain why he remained longer. He made a last visit to London in November, where he became reconciled to his fellow-townsmen of Salem, in the person of Edward Silsbee, of whom he writes as “a man of great intelligence and true feeling, absolutely brimming over with ideas.” Mr. Silsbee was an amateur art critic and connoisseur, who often made himself serviceable to American travellers in the way of a gentleman-cicerone. He went with the Hawthorne family to the Crystal Palace, where there were casts of all famous statues, models of architecture, and the like, and gave Hawthorne his first lesson in art criticism. Hawthorne indicated a preference for Michel Angelo’s statue of Giuliano dé Medici, called “Il Pensero;” also for the “Perseus” of Cellini, and the Gates of the Florentine Baptistery by Lorenzo Ghiberti. If we except the other statues of Michel Angelo, these are the most distinguished works in sculpture of the modern world.
91 J. Hawthorne, ii. 129.
92 The general effect of Thoreau’s face was by no means unpleasant.
93 J. Hawthorne, ii. 114.
94 Mrs. Lathrop, 238.
95 J. Hawthorne, ii. 75.
96 English Note-book, November 28, 1855.
97 English Note-book, December, 1855.
98 English Note-book, March, 1856.
99 Mrs. Lathrop, 310.
100 English Note-book, December, 1857.
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