There is no portion of Hawthorne’s life concerning which we know less than the four years after his return from England to his native land. He was so celebrated that every eye was upon him; boys stopped their games to see him pass by, and farmers stood still in the road to stare at him. He was Hawthorne the famous, and every movement he made was remembered, every word spoken by him was recorded or related, and yet altogether it amounts to little enough. Letters have been preserved in number — many of his own and others from his English friends, and those from his wife to her relatives; but they do not add much to the picture we have already formed in our minds of the man. As he said somewhere, fame had come too late to be a satisfaction to him, but on the contrary more of an annoyance. Hawthorne left Leamington the last of March, and transferred his family to Bath, which he soon discovered to be the pleasantest English city he had lived in yet — symmetrically laid out, like a Continental city, and built for the most part of a yellowish sandstone; not unlike in appearance the travertine of which St. Peter’s at Rome is built. The older portion of the city lies in a hollow among the hills, like an amphitheatre, and the more recent additions rise upon the hill-sides above it to a considerable height. This is the last note of enthusiasm in his writings; and in the next entry in his diary, which was written at Lothrop Motley’s house, Hertford Street, London, May 16, he makes this ominous confession: “I would gladly journalize some of my proceedings, and describe things and people, but I find the same coldness and stiffness in my pen as always since our return to England.” It is only too evident that from this time literary composition, which had been the chief recreation of his youth, and in which he had always found satisfaction until now, was no longer a pleasure to him. It is the last entry in his journal, at least for more than two years, and whatever writing he accomplished in the mean time was done for the sake of his wife and children. Dickens had a similar experience the last year of his life. Clearly, Hawthorne’s nervous force was waning.
On May 15, Hawthorne and Motley were invited to dine by Earl Dufferin, that admirable diplomat and one of the pleasantest of men. In fact, if there was a person living who could make Hawthorne feel perfectly at his ease, it was Dufferin. Motley provided some entertainment or other for his guest every day, and Hawthorne confessed that the stir and activity of London life were doing him “a wonderful deal of good.” What he seems to have needed at this time was a vigorous, objective employment that would give his circulation a start in the right direction; but how was he to obtain that?
He enjoyed one last stroll with Henry Bright through Hyde Park and along the Strand, and found time to say a long farewell to Francis Bennoch: the last time he was to meet either of them on this side of eternity.
He returned to Bath the 1st of June, and ten days later they all embarked for Boston — as it happened, by a pleasant coincidence, with the same captain with whom they had left America seven years before. Mrs. Hawthorne’s sister, Mrs. Horace Mann, prepared their house at Concord for their reception, and there they arrived at the summer solstice.
The good people of Concord had been mightily stirred up that spring, by an attempt to arrest Frank B. Sanborn and carry him forcibly to Washington — contrary to law, as the Supreme Court of the State decided the following day. The marshal who arrested him certainly proceeded more after the manner of a burglar than of a civil officer, hiding himself with his posse comitatus in a barn close to Sanborn’s school-house, watching his proceedings through the cracks in the boards, and finally arresting him at night, just as he was going to bed; but the alarm was quickly sounded, and the whole male population of the place, including Emerson, turned out like a swarm of angry hornets, and the marshal and his posse were soon thankful to escape with their bones in a normal condition. A few nights later, the barn, which was owned by a prominent official in the Boston Custom House, was burned to the ground (the fire-company assisting), as a sacrifice on the altar of personal liberty.
The excitement of this event had not yet subsided when the arrival of the Hawthorne family produced a milder and more amiable, but no less profound, sensation in the old settlement; and this was considerably increased by the fact that for the first month nothing was seen of them, except a sturdy-looking boy fishing from a rock in Concord River, opposite the spot where his father and Channing had discovered the unfortunate school-mistress. Old friends made their calls and were cordially received, but Hawthorne himself did not appear in public places; and it was soon noticed that he did not take the long walks which formerly carried him to the outer limits of the town. He was sometimes met on the way to Walden Pond, either alone or in company with his son; but Bronson Alcott more frequently noticed him gliding along in a ghost-like manner by the rustic fence which separated their two estates, or on the way to Sleepy Hollow. When the weather became cooler he formed a habit of walking back and forth on the hill-side above his house, where the bank descends sharply like a railroad-cut, with dwarf pines and shrub oaks on the further side of it. He wore a path there, which is described in “Septimius Felton,” and it is quite possible that the first inception of that story entered his mind while looking down upon the Lexington road beneath him, and imagining how it appeared while filled with marching British soldiers.
About July 10, 1860, the scholars of Mr. Sanborn’s school, male and female, gave an entertainment in the Town Hall, not unlike Harvard Class Day. Mrs. Hawthorne and her eldest daughter appeared among the guests, and attracted much attention from the quiet grace and dignity of their manners; but there was an expression of weariness on Miss Una’s face, which contrasted strangely with the happy, blithesome looks of the school-girls. Some idea of the occasion may be derived from a passing remark of Mrs. Hawthorne to a Harvard student present: “My daughter will be happy to dance with you, sir, if I can only find her.”
In September Hawthorne wrote to James T. Fields: 122
“We are in great trouble on account of our poor Una, in whom the bitter dregs of that Roman fever are still rankling, and have now developed themselves in a way which the physicians foreboded. I do not like to write about it, but will tell you when we meet. Say nothing.”
Miss Una was evidently far from well, and her father’s anxiety for her sensibly affected his mental tone.
He was invited at once to join the Saturday Club, popularly known at that time as the Atlantic Club, because its most conspicuous members were contributors to that periodical. Hawthorne did not return in season to take part in the Club’s expedition to the Adirondack Mountains, concerning which Doctor Holmes remarked that, considering the number of rifles they carried, it was fortunate that they all returned alive. The meetings of the Club came but once a month, and as the last train to Concord was not a very late one, Judge Hoar had his carryall taken down to Waltham on such occasions, and thence he, with Hawthorne and Emerson, drove back to Concord through the woods in the darkness or moonlight; and Hawthorne may have enjoyed this as much as any portion of the entertainment.
A club whose membership is based upon celebrity reminds one rather of a congregation of stags, all with antlers of seven tines. There was every shade of opinion, political, philosophical and religious, represented in the Saturday Club, and if they never fought over such subjects it was certainly much to their credit. Very little has been divulged of what took place at their meetings; but it is generally known that in the winter of 1861 Longfellow was obliged to warn his associates that if they persisted in abusing Sumner he should be obliged to leave their company; Sumner being looked upon by the Democrats and more timid Republicans as the chief obstacle to pacification; as if any one man could prop a house up when it was about to fall. After the War began, this naturally came to an end, and Sumner was afterwards invited to join the Club, with what satisfaction to Hoar, Lowell, and Holmes it might be considering rather curiously to inquire. We can at least feel confident that Hawthorne had no share in this. He did not believe in fighting shadows, and he at least respected Sumner for his frankness and disinterestedness.
Such differences of opinion, however, are not conducive to freedom of discussion. Henry James, Sr., lifts the veil for a moment in a letter to Emerson, written about this time, 123 and affords us a picture of Hawthorne at the Saturday Club, which might bear the designation of a highly-flavored caricature. According to Mr. James, John M. Forbes, the Canton millionaire, preserved the balance at one end of the table, while Hawthorne, an oasis in a desert, served as the nearest approach to a human being, at the other. “How he buried his eyes in his plate and ate with such a voracity! that no one should dare to ask him a question.”
We do not realize the caricaturist in Henry James, Jr., so readily, on account of his elastic power of expression; but the relationship is plain and apparent. Both father and son ought to have been baptized in the Castalian Fount. There are those who have been at table with both Hawthorne and the elder James, and without the slightest reflection on Mr. James, have confessed their preference for the quiet composure and simple dignity of Hawthorne. In truth Hawthorne’s manners were above those of the polished courtier or the accomplished man of fashion: they were poetic manners, and in this respect Longfellow most nearly resembled him of all members of the Club; although Emerson also had admirable manners and they were largely the cause of his success. It would have done no harm if Emerson had burned this letter after its first perusal, but since it is out of the bag we must even consider it as it deserves.
Hawthorne must have enjoyed the meetings of the Club or he would not have attended them so regularly. He wrote an account of the first occasion on which he was present, giving an accurate description of the dinner itself and enclosing a diagram of the manner in which the guests were seated, but without any commentary on the proceedings of the day. It was, after all, one of the nerve-centres of the great world, and an agreeable change from the domestic monotony of the Wayside. Thackeray would have descried rich material for his pen in it, but Hawthorne’s studies lay in another direction. Great men were not his line in literature.
Meanwhile Mrs. Hawthorne and her daughter were transforming their Concord home into a small repository of the fine arts. Without much that would pass by the title of elegance, they succeeded in giving it an unpretentious air of refinement, and one could not enter it without realizing that the materials of a world-wide culture had been brought together there. Hawthorne soon found the dimensions of the house too narrow for the enlarged views which he had brought with him from abroad, and he designed a tower to be constructed at one corner of it, similar to, if not so lofty as that of the Villa Manteuto. This occupied him and the dilatory Concord carpenter for nearly half a year; and meanwhile chaos and confusion reigned supreme. There was no one whose ears could be more severely offended by the music of the carpenter’s box and the mason’s trowel than Hawthorne, and he knew not whether to fly his home or remain in it. Not until all this was over could he think seriously of a new romance.
He made his study in the upper room of the tower; a room exactly twenty feet square, with a square vaulted ceiling and five windows — too many, one would suppose, to produce a pleasant effect of light — and walls papered light yellow. There he could be as quiet and retired as in the attic of his Uncle Robert Manning’s house in Salem. Conway states that he wrote at a high desk, like Longfellow, and walked back and forth in the room while thinking out what he was going to say. The view from his windows extended across the meadows to Walden woods and the Fitchburg railroad track, and it also commanded the Alcott house and the road to Concord village. It was in this work-shop that he prepared “Our Old Home” for the press and wrote the greater part of “Septimius Felton” and “The Dolliver Romance.”
The War was a new source of distraction. It broke out before the tower was finished, stimulating Hawthorne’s nerves, but disturbing that delicate mental equilibrium upon which satisfactory procedure of his writing depended. On May 26, 1861, he wrote to Horatio Bridge:
“The war, strange to say, has had a beneficial effect upon my spirits, which were flagging wofully before it broke out. But it was delightful to share in the heroic sentiment of the time, and to feel that I had a country — a consciousness which seemed to make me young again. One thing as regards this matter I regret, and one thing I am glad of. The regrettable thing is that I am too old to shoulder a musket myself, and the joyful thing is that Julian is too young.” 124
Hawthorne’s patriotism was genuine and deep-seated. He was not the only American whom the bombardment of Fort Sumter had awakened to the fact that he had a country. What we have always enjoyed, we do not think of until there is danger of losing it. In the same letter, he confesses that he does not quite understand “what we are fighting for, or what definite result can be expected. If we pummel the South ever so hard, they will love us none the better for it; and even if we subjugate them, our next step should be to cut them adrift.”
There were many in those times who thought and felt as Hawthorne did. Douglas said in the Senate, “Even if you coerce the Southern States and bring them back by force, it will not be the same Union.” A people does not necessarily mean a nation; for the idea of nationality is of slow growth, and is in a manner opposed to the idea of democracy; for if the right of government depends on the consent of the governed, the primary right of the governed must be to abrogate that government whenever they choose to do so. Hawthorne was simply a consistent democrat; but time has proved the fallacy of Douglas’s statement, and that a forcible restoration of the Union was entirely compatible with friendliness and mutal good-will between the different sections of the country — after slavery, which was the real obstacle to this, had been eliminated. If the States east of the Alleghanies should attempt to separate from the rest of the nation, it would inevitably produce a war similar to that of 1861.
Hawthorne even went to the length at this time of proposing to arm the negroes, and preparing them “for future citizenship by allowing them to fight for their own liberties, and educating them through heroic influences.” 125 When George L. Stearns was organizing the colored regiments in Tennessee in 1863 he wrote concerning his work, in almost exactly these terms; and the inference is plain that Hawthorne might have been more of a humanitarian if his early associations had been different.
Such an original character as Bronson Alcott for a next-door neighbor could not long escape Hawthorne’s penetrating glance. Alcott was an interesting personality, perfectly genuine, frank, kindly and imperturbably good-humored. He had a benevolent aspect, and in general appearance so much resembled the portraits of Benjamin Franklin that his ingenious daughters made use of him in charades and theatricals for that purpose. Hawthorne had known him many years earlier, and had spoken very pleasantly of him in his first publication of “The Hall of Fantasy.” He even said, “So calm and gentle was he, so quiet in the utterance of what his soul brooded upon, that one might readily conceive his Orphic Sayings to well up from a fountain in his breast, which communicated with the infinite abyss of thought,”— rather an optimistic view for Hawthorne. Alcott’s philosophy had the decided merit, which Herbert Spencer’s has not, of a strong affirmation of a Great First Cause, and our direct responsibility thereto: but it was chiefly the philosophy of Plotinus; and his constant reiteration of a “lapse” in human nature from divine perfection (which was simply the Donatello phase expressed in logic), with the various corollaries deduced from it, finally became as wearisome as the harp with a single string. Whether he troubled Hawthorne in that way, is rather doubtful, for even as a hobby-rider, Alcott was a man of Yankee shrewdness and considerable tact. Rose Hawthorne says that “he once brought a particularly long poem to read, aloud to my mother and father; a seemingly harmless thing from which they never recovered.” What poem this could have been I have no idea, but in his later years Alcott wrote some excellent poetry, and those who ought to know do not think that he bored Hawthorne very severely. They frequently went to walk together, taking Julian for a make-weight, and Hawthorne could easily have avoided this if he had chosen. There are times for all of us when our next-door neighbors prove a burden; and it cannot be doubted that in most instances this is reciprocal. 126
Alcott was a romance character of exceptional value, and Hawthorne recognized this, but did not succeed in inventing a plot that would suit the subject. The only one of Hawthorne’s preparatory sketches given to the public — in which we see his genius in the “midmost heat of composition”— supposes a household in which an old man keeps a crab-spider for a pet, a deadly poisonous creature; and in the same family there is a boy whose fortunes will be mysteriously affected in some manner by this dangerous insect. He did not proceed sufficiently to indicate for us how this would turn out, but he closes the sketch with the significant remark, “In person and figure Mr. Alcott”; from which it may be inferred that the crab-spider was intended to symbolize Alcott’s philosophy, and the catastrophe of the romance would naturally result from the unhealthy mental atmosphere in which the boy grew up — a catastrophe which in Alcott’s family was averted by the practical sagacity of his daughters. The idea, however, became modified in its application.
It is with regret that we do not allot a larger space to this important sketch, for it is clearly an original study (like an artist’s drawing) of the unfinished romance which was published in 1883 under the title of “Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret.” Long lost sight of in the mass of Hawthorne’s manuscripts, this last of his posthumous works was reviewed by the critics with some incredulity, and Lathrop had the hardihood to publicly assert that no such romance by Hawthorne’s pen existed, thereby casting a gratuitous slander on his own brother-inlaw. We may have our doubts in regard to the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, for we have no absolute standard by which to judge of Shakespeare’s style, but the “style, the matter, and the drift” of “Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret” are so essentially Hawthornish that a person experienced in judging of such matters should not hesitate long in deciding that it belongs in the same category with “Fanshawe” and “The Dolliver Romance.” It is even possible to determine, from certain peculiarities in its style, the exact period at which it was written; which must have been shortly after Hawthorne’s return from Europe. In addition to this, if further evidence were required, its close relationship to the aforementioned sketch is a fact which no sophistry can reason away. 127
The bloody footstep suggested to Hawthorne by the antediluvian print in the stone step at Smithell’s Hall, in Lancashire, serves as the key-note of this romance; but the eccentric recluse, the big crab-spider, the orphaned grandchild, and even Bronson Alcott also appear in it. Alcott, however — and his identity cannot be mistaken — does not play the leading part in the piece, but comes in at the fifth chapter, only to disappear mysteriously in the eighth; the orphan boy is companioned by a girl of equal age, and these two bright spirits, mutually sustaining each other, cast a radiance over the old Doctor in his dusty, frowsy, cobwebby study, which brings out the external appearance and internal peculiarities of the man, in the most vivid manner. The dispositions and appearances of the two children are also contrasted, as Raphael might have drawn and contrasted them, if he had painted a picture on a similar subject.
The crab-spider is one of the most horrible of Nature’s creations. Hawthorne saw one in the British Museum and it seems to have haunted his imagination ever afterward. Why the creature should have been introduced into this romance is not very clear, for it plays no part in the development of the plot. The spider hangs suspended over the old Doctor’s head like the sword of Damocles, and one would expect it to descend at the proper moment in the narrative, and make an end of him with its nippers; but Doctor Grimshawe dies a comparatively natural death, and the desiccated body of the spider is found still clinging to the web above him. The man and the insect were too closely akin in the modes and purposes of their lives for either to outlast the other. There is nothing abnormal in the fact of Doctor Grimshawe’s possessing this dangerous pet; for all kinds of poisonous creatures have a well-known fascination for the medical profession. Doctor Holmes amused himself with a rattlesnake.
In spite of its unpleasant associations with spiders and blood-stains, “Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret” is one of the most interesting of Hawthorne’s works, containing much of his finest thought and most characteristic description. The portrait of the grouty old Doctor himself has a solidity of impast like Shakespeare’s Falstaff, and the grave-digger, who has survived from colonial times, carries us back involuntarily to the burial scene in “Hamlet.” Alcott, whose name is changed to Colcord, is not treated realistically, but rather idealized in such kindly sympathetic manner as might prevent all possibility of offence at the artistic theft of his personality. The plot, too, is a most ingenious one, turning and winding like a hare, and even diving out of sight for a time; but only to reappear again, as the school-master Colcord does, with a full and satisfactory explanation of its mysterious course. To judge from the appearance of the manuscript, this romance was written very rapidly, and there are places in the text which intimate this; but it vies in power with “The Scarlet Letter,” and why Hawthorne should have become dissatisfied with it — why he should have failed to complete, revise, and publish it — can only be accounted for by the mental or nervous depression which was now fastening itself upon him.
It is noticeable, however, that where the plot is transferred to English ground Hawthorne’s writing has much the same tone and quality that we find in “Our Old Home.” External appearances seem to impede his insight there; but this is additional proof of the authenticity of the work. 128
Shortly after the battle of Bull Run Hawthorne went with his boy to recuperate at Beverly Farms, leaving his wife and daughters at the Wayside, and the letters which passed between these two divisions of the family, during his absence, give some very pretty glimpses of their idyllic summer life. Mrs. Hawthorne “cultivated her garden,” and gave drawing lessons to the neighbors’ children, while her husband, forty miles away, was fishing and bathing. The Beverly shore has not a stimulating climate, but is very attractive in summer to those who do not mind a few sultry nights from land breezes. It was near enough to Salem for Hawthorne to revive the reminiscences of his youth (which become more and more precious after the age of fifty), without obtruding himself on the gaze of his former townsmen or of the young lady “who wished she could poison him.” 129 It is to be hoped that he saw something of his sister Elizabeth again, the last remnant of his mother’s household, who for some inscrutable reason had never visited him at Concord.
We note here a curious circumstance; namely, that Hawthorne appears to have lost the art of writing short sketches. It will be recollected that twenty years earlier he did not feel equal to anything beyond this, and that it cost him a strenuous effort to escape from the habit. Now when he would have liked to return to that class of composition he could not do so. Fields would have welcomed anything from his pen (so severe a critic he was of himself), but his name does not appear in the Atlantic Monthly from July, 1861, to June, 1862, and it cannot be doubted that with the education of his son before him, the remuneration would have been welcome. It was not until nearly a year later that he conceived the idea of cutting his English Note-book into sections, and publishing them as magazine articles.
From this time forth, one discouragement followed another. In the autumn of 1861 the illness of his daughter, which he had expected and predicted, came to pass in a violent form. The old Roman virus, kept under in her blood, for a time, by continual changes of air and climate, at last gained the mastery, and brought her once more in danger of her life. She had to be removed to the house of her aunt, Mrs. Mann, who lived in the centre of the town, on account of her father’s nerves, so that the Concord doctor could attend her at night when necessary. It was the severest and most protracted case of fever that the physician had ever known to be followed by a recovery. Miss Una did recover, but the mental strain upon her father was even more exhausting than that which her previous illness had caused, and he was not in an equal condition to bear it.
“Septimius Felton” may have been written about this time (perhaps during his daughter’s convalescence), but his family knew nothing of it, until they discovered the manuscript after his death. When it was published ten years later, the poet Whittier spoke of it as a failure, and Hawthorne would seem to have considered it so; for he left it in an unfinished condition, and immediately began a different story on the same theme — the elixir of life. It has no connection with the sketch already mentioned, in which Alcott’s personality becomes the mainspring, but with another abortive romance, called “The Ancestral Footstep,” which Hawthorne commenced while he was in England. It is invaluable for the light it throws on his method of working. Descriptive passages are mentioned in it “to be inserted” at a later time, meanwhile concentrating his energy on more important portions of the narrative. Half way through the story he changed his original plan, transforming the young woman who previously had been Septimius’s sweetheart to Septimius’s sister; and it may have been the difficulty of adjusting this change to the portion previously written, that discouraged Hawthorne from completing the romance. But the work suffers also from a tendency to exaggeration. The name of Hagburn is unpleasantly realistic, and Doctor Portsoaken, with his canopy of spider-webs hanging in noisome festoons above his head, is closely akin to the repulsive. The amateur critic who averred that he could not read Hawthorne without feeling a sensation as if cobwebs were drawn across his face, must have had “Septimius Felton” in mind. Yet there are refreshing passages in it, and the youthful English officer who kisses Septimius’s sweetheart before his eyes, and afterward fights an impromptu duel with him, dying as cheerfully as he had lived, is an original and charming character. The scene of the story has a peculiar interest, from the fact that it is laid at Hawthorne’s own door; the Feltons are supposed to have lived at the Wayside and the Hagburns in the Alcott house.
The firm of Ticknor & Fields now began to feel anxious on Hawthorne’s account, and the last of the winter the senior partner proposed a journey to Washington, which was accordingly accomplished in the second week of March. Horatio Bridge was now chief of a bureau in the Navy Department, and was well qualified to obtain for his veteran friend an inside position for whatever happened to be going on. In the midst of the turmoil and excitement of war, Hawthorne attracted as much attention as the arrival of a new ambassador from Great Britain. Secretary Stanton appointed him on a civil commission to report concerning the condition of the Army of the Potomac. He was introduced to President Lincoln, and made excursions to Harper’s Ferry and Fortress Monroe. Concerning General McClellan, he wrote to his daughter on March 16:
“The outcry opened against Gen. McClellan, since the enemy’s retreat from Manassas, is really terrible, and almost universal; because it is found that we might have taken their fortifications with perfect ease six months ago, they being defended chiefly by wooden guns. Unless he achieves something wonderful within a week, he will be removed from command, at least I hope so; I never did more than half believe in him. By a message from the State Department, I have reason to think that there is money enough due me from the government to pay the expenses of my journey. I think the public buildings are as fine, if not finer, than anything we saw in Europe.” 130
General McClellan was not a great man, and Hawthorne’s opinion of him is more significant from the fact that at that time McClellan was expected to be the Joshua who would lead the Democratic party out of its wilderness. On his return to Concord, Hawthorne prepared a commentary on what he had seen and heard at the seat of war, and sent it to the Atlantic Monthly; but, although patriotic enough, his melancholy humor was prominent in it, and Fields particularly protested against his referring to President Lincoln as “Old Abe,” although the President was almost universally called so in Washington; and the consequence of this was that Hawthorne eliminated everything that he had written about Lincoln in his account — which might be called “dehamletizing” the subject. In addition to this he wrote a number of foot-notes purporting to come from the editor, but really intended to counteract the unpopularity of certain statements in the text. This was not done with any intention to deceive, but, with the exception of Emerson and a few others who could always recognize Hawthorne’s style, the readers of the Atlantic supposed that these foot-notes were written by either James T. Fields or James Russell Lowell, who had been until recently the editor of the Magazine — a practical joke which Hawthorne enjoyed immensely when it was discovered to him.
This contribution, essay, or whatever it may be called, had only a temporary value, but it contained a prediction, which has been often recollected in Hawthorne’s favor; namely, that after the war was over “one bullet-headed general after another would succeed to the presidential chair.” In fact, five generals, whether bullet-headed or not, followed after Lincoln and Johnson; and then the sequence came to an end apparently because the supply of politician generals was exhausted. Certainly the Anglo–Saxon race yields to no other in admiration for military glory.
Fields afterward published Hawthorne’s monograph on President Lincoln, and, although it is rather an unsympathetic statement of the man, it remains the only authentic pen-and-ink sketch that we have of him. Most important is his recognition of Lincoln as “essentially a Yankee” in appearance and character; for it has only recently been discovered that Lincoln was descended from an old New England family, and that his ancestors first emigrated to Virginia and afterward to Kentucky. 131 Hawthorne says of him:
“If put to guess his calling and livelihood, I should have taken him for a country schoolmaster as soon as anything else. 132 He was dressed in a rusty black frock-coat and pantaloons, unbrushed, and worn so faithfully that the suit had adapted itself to the curves and angularities of his figure, and had grown to be the outer skin of the man. He had shabby slippers on his feet. His hair was black, still unmixed with gray, stiff, somewhat bushy, and had apparently been acquainted with neither brush nor comb that morning, after the disarrangement of the pillow; and as to a nightcap, Uncle Abe probably knows nothing of such effeminacies. His complexion is dark and sallow, betokening, I fear, an insalubrious atmosphere around the White House; he has thick black eyebrows and impending brow; his nose is large, and the lines about his mouth are very strongly denned.
“The whole physiognomy is as coarse a one as you would meet anywhere in the length and breadth of the States; but, withal, it is redeemed, illuminated, softened, and brightened by a kindly though serious look out of his eyes, and an expression of homely sagacity, that seems weighted with rich results of village experience. A great deal of native sense; no bookish cultivation, no refinement; honest at heart, and thoroughly so, and yet, in some sort, sly — at least, endowed with a sort of tact and wisdom that are akin to craft. . . . But on the whole, I liked this sallow, queer, sagacious visage, with the homely human sympathies that warmed it; and, for my small share in the matter, would as lief have Uncle Abe for a ruler as any man whom it would have been practicable to put in his place.” 133
This is not a flattered portrait, like those by Lincoln’s political biographers; neither is it an idealized likeness, such as we may imagine him delivering his Gettysburg Address. It is rather an external description of the man, but it is, after all, Lincoln as he appeared in the White House to the innumerable visitors, who, as sovereign American citizens, believed they had a right to an interview with the people’s distinguished servant.
Hawthorne’s European letter-bag in 1862 is chiefly interesting for Henry Bright’s statement that the English people might have more sympathy with the Union cause in the War if they could understand clearly what the national government was fighting for; and that Lord Houghton and Thomas Hughes were the only two men he had met who heartily supported the Northern side. Perhaps Mr. Bright would have found it equally as difficult to explain why the British Government should have made war upon Napoleon for twelve consecutive years.
Henry Bright, moreover, seemed to be quite as much interested in a new American poet, named J. G. Holland, and his poem called “Bitter–Sweet.” Lord Houghton agreed with him that it was a very remarkable poem, and they wished to know what Hawthorne could tell them about its author. As Holland was not recognized as a poet by the Saturday Club, Hawthorne’s answer on this point would be very valuable if we could only obtain a sight of it. Holland was in certain respects the counterpart of Martin F. Tupper.
In the summer of this year Hawthorne went to West Goldsboro’, Maine, an unimportant place opposite Mount Desert Island, taking Julian with him; a place with a stimulating climate but a rather foggy atmosphere. He must have gone there for his health, and it is pathetic to see how the change of climate braced him up at first, so that he even made the commencement of a new diary, and then, as always happens in such cases, it let him down again to where he was before. He did not complain, but he felt that something was wrong with him and he could not tell what it was.
Wherever he went in passing through the civilized portion of Maine, he found the country astir with recruits who had volunteered for the war, so that it seemed as if that were the only subject which occupied men’s minds. He says of this in his journal:
“I doubt whether any people was ever actuated by a more genuine and disinterested public spirit; though, of course, it is not unalloyed with baser motives and tendencies. We met a train of cars with a regiment or two just starting for the South, and apparently in high spirits. Everywhere some insignia of soldiership were to be seen — bright buttons, a red stripe down the trousers, a military cap, and sometimes a round-shouldered bumpkin in the entire uniform. They require a great deal to give them the aspect of soldiers; indeed, it seems as if they needed to have a good deal taken away and added, like the rough clay of a sculptor as it grows to be a model.”
Such is the last entry in his journal. Hawthorne was not carried off his feet by the excitement of the time, but looked calmly on while others expended their patriotism in hurrahing for the Union. What he remarks concerning the volunteers was perfectly true Men cannot change their profession in a day, and soldiers are not to be made out of farmers’ boys and store clerks simply by clothing them in uniform, no matter how much courage they may have. War is a profession like other professions, and requires the severest training of them all.
122 Mrs. J. T. Fields, 118.
123 Memoir of Bronson Alcott; also the “Hawthorne Centenary.”
124 J. Hawthorne, ii. 276.
125 The “Hawthorne Centenary,” 197.
126 Rose Hawthorne, however, writes charmingly of the Alcotts. Take this swift sketch, among others: “I imagine his slightly stooping, yet tall and well-grown figure, clothed in black, and with a picturesque straw hat, twining itself in and out of forest aisles, or craftily returning home with gargoyle-like stems over his shoulders.”
127 This sketch was published in the Century, January, 1883.
128 There are many other evidences; such as, “after-dinner speeches on the necessity of friendly relations between England and the United States,” and “the whistling of the railway train, two or three times a day.”
129 W. D. Howells’ Memoirs.
130 J. Hawthorne, ii. 309.
131 Essay on Lincoln in “True Republicanism.”
132 The country school-master of that time. — Ed.
133 “Yesterdays with Authors,” 99.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51