The Life and Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne, by Frank Stearns

Chapter 4

Little Misery: 1825–1835

During the War of the American Revolution, the officers of the French fleet, which was stationed at Newport, invented a game of cards, called “Boston,” of which one peculiarity was, that under certain conditions, whoever held the lowest hand would win the count. This was called “Little Misery,” and this was the kind of hand which Nathaniel Hawthorne had to play for fifteen years after leaving Bowdoin College. Only his indomitable will could have carried him through it.

A college graduate who lacks the means to study a profession, and who has no influential relative to make a place for him in the world, finds himself in a most discouraging position. The only thing that his education has fitted him to do is, to teach school, and he may not be adapted to this, on account of some personal peculiarity. There was, and I suppose is still, a prejudice among mercantile men against college graduates, as a class of proud, indolent, neglectful persons, very difficult to instruct. Undoubtedly there are many such, but the innocent have to suffer with the guilty. It is natural that a man who has not had a liberal education should object to employing a subordinate who knows Latin and Greek. Whether Hawthorne’s Uncle Robert, who had thus far proved to be his guardian genius, would have educated him for a profession, we have no means of knowing. This would mean of course a partial support for years afterward, and it is quite possible that Mr. Manning considered his duties to his own children paramount to it. What he did for Nathaniel may have been the best he could, to give him the position of book-keeper for the stage-company. This was of course Pegasus in harness (or rather at the hitching-post), but it is excellent experience for every young man; although the compensation in Hawthorne’s case was small and there could be no expectation of future advancement.

In this dilemma he decided to do the one thing for which Nature intended him — to become a writer of fiction — and he held fast to this determination in the face of most discouraging obstacles. He composed a series of short stories — echoes of his academic years — which he proposed to publish under the title of Wordsworth’s popular poem, “We Are Seven.” One of these is said to have been based on the witchcraft delusion, and it is a pity that it should not have been preserved, but their feminine titles afford no indication of their character. He carried them to a publisher, who received him politely and promised to examine them, but one month passed after another without Hawthorne’s hearing from him, so that he concluded at length to make inquiries. 31 The publisher confessed that he had not even undertaken to read them, and Nathaniel carried them back, with a sinking heart, to his little chamber in the house on Herbert Street — where he may have had melancholy thoughts enough for the next few weeks.

Youth, however, soon outgrows its chagrins. In less than two years Hawthorne was prepared to enter the literary lists, equipped with a novelette, called “Fanshawe”; but here again he was destined to meet with a rebuff. After tendering it to a number of publishers without encouragement, he concluded to take the risk of publishing it himself. This only cost him a few hundred dollars, but the result was unsatisfactory, and he afterward destroyed all the copies that he could regain possession of.

Hawthorne’s genius was of slow development. He was only twenty-four when he published this rather immature work, and it might have been better if he had waited longer. It was to him what the “Sorrows of Werther” was to Goethe, but while the “Sorrows of Werther” made Goethe famous in many countries, “Fanshawe” fell still-born. The latter was not more imitative of Scott than the “Sorrows of Werther” is of Rousseau, and now that we consider it in the cool critical light of the twentieth century, we cannot but wonder that the “Sorrows of Werther” ever produced such enthusiasm. It is quite as difficult to see why “Fanshawe” should not have proved a success. It lacks the grace and dignity of Hawthorne’s mature style, but it has an ingenious plot, a lively action, and is written in sufficiently good English. One would suppose that its faults would have helped to make it popular, for portions of it are so exciting as to border closely on the sensational. It may be affirmed that when a novel becomes so exciting that we wish to turn over the pages and anticipate the conclusion, either the action of the story is too heated or its incidents are too highly colored. The introduction of pirates in a work of fiction is decidely sensational, from Walter Scott downward, and, though Hawthorne never fell into this error, he approaches closely to it in “Fanshawe.” There is some dark secret between the two villains of the piece, which he leaves to the reader as an exercise for the imagination. This is a characteristic of all his longer stories. There is an unknown quantity, an insoluble point, in them, which tantalizes the reader.

What we especially feel in “Fanshawe” is the author’s lack of social experience. His heroine at times behaves in a truly feminine manner, and at others her performances make us shiver. Her leaving her guardian’s house at midnight to go off with an unknown man, whom her maidenly instinct should have taught her to distrust, even if Fanshawe had not warned her against him, might have been characteristic of the Middle Ages, but is certainly not of modern life. Bowdoin College evidently served Hawthorne as a background to his plot, although removed some distance into the country, and it is likely that the portrait of the kindly professor might have been recognized there. Ward’s Tavern serves for the public-house where the various characters congregate, and there is a high rocky ledge in the woods, or what used to be woods at Brunswick, where the students often tried their skill in climbing, and which Hawthorne has idealized into the cliff where the would-be abductor met his timely fate. The trout-brook where Bridge and Hawthorne used to fish is also introduced.

Fanshawe himself seems like a house of which only two sides have been built. There are such persons, and it is no wonder if they prove to be short-lived. Yet the scene in which he makes his noble renunciation of the woman who is devoted to him, purely from a sense of gratitude, is finely and tenderly drawn, and worthy of Hawthorne in his best years. The story was republished after its author’s death, and fully deserves its position in his works.

It was about this time (1827) that Nathaniel Hathorne changed his name to Hawthorne. No reason has ever been assigned for his doing so, and he had no legal right to do it without an act of the Legislature, but he took a revolutionary right, and as his family and fellow-citizens acquiesced in this, it became an established fact. His living relatives in the Manning family are unable to explain his reason for it. It may have been for the sake of euphony, or he may have had a fanciful notion, that such a change would break the spell which seemed to be dragging his family down with him. Conway’s theory that it was intended to serve him as an incognito is quite untenable. His name first appears with a w in the Bowdoin Triennial Catalogue of 1828.

There are very few data existing as to Hawthorne’s life during his first ten years of manhood, but it must have been a hard, dreary period for him. The Manning children, Robert, Elizabeth and Rebecca, were now growing up, and must have been a source of entertainment in their way, and his sister Louisa was always a comfort; but Horatio Bridge, who made a number of flying visits to him, states that he never saw the elder sister, even at table — a fact from which we may draw our own conclusions. Hawthorne had no friends at this time, except his college associates, and they were all at a distance — Pierce and Cilley both flourishing young lawyers, one at Concord, New Hampshire, and the other at Thomaston, Maine — while Longfellow was teaching modern languages at Bowdoin. He had no lady friends to brighten his evenings for him, and if he went into society, it was only to be stared at for his personal beauty, like a jaguar in a menagerie. He had no fund of the small conversation which serves like oil to make the social machinery run smoothly. Like all deep natures, he found it difficult to adapt himself to minds of a different calibre. Salem people noticed this, and his apparent lack of an object in life — for he maintained a profound secrecy in regard to his literary efforts — and concluded that he was an indolent young man without any faculty for business, and would never come to good in this world. No doubt elderly females admonished him for neglecting his opportunities, and small wits buzzed about him as they have about many another under similar conditions. It was Hans Andersen’s story of the ugly duck that proved to be a swan.

No wonder that Hawthorne betook himself to the solitude of his own chamber, and consoled himself like the philosopher who said, “When I am alone, then I am least alone.” He had an internal life with which only his most intimate friends were acquainted, and he could people his room with forms from his own fancy, much more real to him than the palpable ignota whom he passed in the street. Beautiful visions came to him, instead of sermonizing ladies, patronizing money-changers, aggressive upstarts, grimacing wiseacres, and that large class of amiable, well-meaning persons that makes up the bulk of society. We should not be surprised if angels sometimes came to hover round him, for to the pure in heart heaven descends upon earth.

There is a passage in Hawthorne’s diary under date of October 4, 1840, which has often been quoted; but it will have to be quoted again, for it cannot be read too often, and no biography of him would be adequate without it. He says:

“Here I sit in my old accustomed chamber where I used to sit in days gone by. . . . This claims to be called a haunted chamber, for thousands upon thousands of visions have appeared to me in it; and some few of them have become visible to the world. If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make great mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed; and here I have been glad and hopeful, and here I have been despondent. And here I sat a long, long time, waiting patiently for the world to know me, and sometimes wondering why it did not know me sooner, or whether it would ever know me at all — at least, till I were in my grave. And sometimes it seemed as if I were already in the grave, with only life enough to be chilled and benumbed. But oftener I was happy — at least as happy as I then knew how to be, or was aware of the possibility of being. By and by, the world found me out in my lonely chamber, and called me forth — not indeed, with a loud roar of acclamation, but rather with a still, small voice — and forth I went, but found nothing in the world that I thought preferable to my solitude till now . . . and now I begin to understand why I was imprisoned so many years in this lonely chamber, and why I could never break through the viewless bolts and bars; for if I had sooner made my escape into the world, I should have grown hard and rough, and been covered with earthly dust, and my heart might have become callous by rude encounters with the multitude. . . . But living in solitude till the fulness of time was come, I still kept the dew of my youth, and the freshness of my heart.”

During these dismal years Horatio Bridge was Hawthorne’s good genius. The letters that Hawthorne wrote to him have not been preserved, but we may judge of their character by Bridge’s replies to him — always frank, manly, sympathetic and encouraging. Hawthorne evidently confided his troubles and difficulties to Bridge, as he would to an elder brother. Bridge finally destroyed Hawthorne’s letters, not so much on account of their complaining tone as for the personalities they contained; 32 and this suggests to us that there was still another side to Hawthorne’s life at this epoch concerning which we shall never be enlightened. A man could not have had a better friend than Horatio Bridge. He was to Hawthorne what Edward Irving was to Carlyle; and the world is more indebted to them both than it often realizes.

There is in fact a decided similarity between the lives of Carlyle and Hawthorne, in spite of radical differences in their work and characters. Both started at the foot of the ladder, and met with a hard, long struggle for recognition; both found it equally difficult to earn their living by their pens; both were assisted by most devoted friends, and both finally achieved a reputation among the highest in their own time. If there is sometimes a melancholy tinge in their writings, may we wonder at it? Pericles said, “We need the theatre to chase away the sadness of life,” and it might have benefited the whole Hawthorne family to have gone to the theatre once a fortnight; but there were few entertainments in Salem, except of the stiff conventional sort, or in the shape of public dances open to firemen and shop-girls. Long afterward, Elizabeth Hawthorne wrote of her brother:

“His habits were as regular as possible. In the evening after tea he went out for about an hour, whatever the weather was; and in winter, after his return, he ate a pint bowl of thick chocolate —(not cocoa, but the old-fashioned chocolate) crumbed full of bread: eating never hurt him then, and he liked good things. In summer he ate something equivalent, finishing with fruit in the season of it. In the evening we discussed political affairs, upon which we differed in opinion; he being a Democrat, and I of the opposite party. In reality, his interest in such things was so slight that I think nothing would have kept it alive but my contentious spirit. Sometimes, when he had a book that he particularly liked, he would not talk. He read a great many novels.” 33

If Elizabeth possessed the genius which her brother supposed, she certainly does not indicate it in this letter; but genius in the ore is very different from genius smelted and refined by effort and experience. The one important fact in her statement is that Hawthorne was in the habit of taking solitary rambles after dark — an owlish practice, but very attractive to romantic minds. Human nature appears in a more pictorial guise by lamplight, after the day’s work is over. The groups at the street corners, the glittering display in the watchmaker’s windows, the carriages flashing by and disappearing in the darkness, the mysterious errands of foot-passengers, all served as object-lessons for this student of his own kind.

Jonathan Cilley once said:

“I love Hawthorne; I admire him; but I do not know him. He lives in a mysterious world of thought and imagination which he never permits me to enter.” 34

Long-continued thinking is sure to take effect at last, either in words or in action, and Hawthorne’s mind had to disburden itself in some manner. So, after the failure of “Fanshawe,” he returned to his original plan of writing short stories, and this time with success. In January, 1830, the well-known tale of “The Gentle Boy” was accepted by S. G. Goodrich, the editor of a Boston publication called the Token, who was himself better known in those days under the nom de plume of “Peter Parley.” “The Wives of the Dead,” “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” and “Major Molineaux” soon followed. In 1833 he published the “Seven Vagabonds,” and some others. The New York Knickerbocker published the “Fountain of Youth” and “Edward Fayne’s Rosebud.” After 1833 the Token and the New England Magazine 35 stood ready to accept all the short pieces that Hawthorne could give them, but they did not encourage him to write serial stories. However, it was not the custom then for writers to sign their names to magazine articles, so that Hawthorne gained nothing in reputation by this. Some of his earliest pieces were printed over the signature of “Oberon.”

An autumn expedition to the White Mountains, Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario, and Niagara Falls, in 1832, raised Hawthorne’s spirits and stimulated his ambition. He wrote to his mother from Burlington, Vermont, September 16:

“I have arrived in safety, having passed through the White Hills, stopping at Ethan Crawford’s house, and climbing Mt. Washington. I have not decided as to my future course. I have no intention of going into Canada. I have heard that cholera is prevalent in Boston.”

It was something to have stood on the highest summit east of the Rocky Mountains, and to have seen all New England lying at his feet. A hard wind in the Crawford Notch, which he describes in his story of “The Ambitious Guest,” must have been in his own experience, and as he passed the monument of the ill-fated Willey family he may have thought that he too might become celebrated after his death, even as they were from their poetic catastrophe. This expedition provided him with the materials for a number of small plots.

The ice was now broken; but a new class of difficulties arose before him. American literature was then in the bud and promised a beautiful blossoming, but the public was not prepared for it. Monthly magazines had a precarious existence, and their uncertainty of remuneration reacted on the contributors. Hawthorne was poorly paid, often obliged to wait a long time for his pay, and occasionally lost it altogether. For his story of “The Gentle Boy,” one of the gems of literature, which ought to be read aloud every year in the public schools, he received the paltry sum of thirty-five dollars. Evidently he could not earn even a modest maintenance on such terms, and his letters to Bridge became more despondent than ever.

Goodrich, who was a writer of the Andrews Norton class, soon perceived that Hawthorne could make better sentences than his own, and engaged him to write historical abstracts for his pitiful Peter Parley books, paying him a hundred dollars for the whole work, and securing for himself all the credit that appertained to it. Everybody knew who Peter Parley was, but it has only recently been discovered that much of the literature which passed under his name was the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The editor of a New York magazine to which Hawthorne contributed a number of sketches repeatedly deferred the payment for them, and finally confessed his inability to make it — which he probably knew or intended beforehand. Then, with true metropolitan assurance, he begged of Hawthorne the use of certain unpublished manuscripts, which he still had in his possession. Hawthorne with unlimited contempt told the fellow that he might keep them, and then wrote to Bridge:

“Thus has this man, who would be considered a Mæcenas, taken from a penniless writer material incomparably better than any his own brain can supply.” 36

Whether this New York periodical was the Knickerbocker or some other, we are not informed; neither do we know what Bridge replied to Hawthorne, who had closed his letter with a malediction, on the aforesaid editor, but elsewhere in his memoirs he remarks:

“Hawthorne received but small compensation for any of this literary work, for he lacked the knowledge of business and the self-assertion necessary to obtain even the moderate remuneration vouchsafed to writers fifty years ago.” 37

If Horatio Bridge had been an author himself, he would not have written this statement concerning his friend. Magazine editors are like men in other professions: some of them are honorable and others are less so; but an author who offers a manuscript to the editor of a magazine is wholly at his mercy, so far as that small piece of property is concerned. The author cannot make a bargain with the editor as he can with the publisher of his book, and is obliged to accept whatever the latter chooses to give him. Instances have been known where an editor has destroyed a valuable manuscript, without compensation or explanation of any kind. Hawthorne was doing the best that a human being could under the conditions that were given him. Above all things, he was true to himself; no man could be more so.

Yet Bridge wrote to him on Christmas Day, 1836:

“The bane of your life has been self-distrust. This has kept you back for many years; which, if you had improved by publishing, would long ago have given you what you must now wait a long time for. It may be for the best, but I doubt it.”

Nothing is more trying in misfortune than the ill-judged advice of well-meaning friends. There is no nettle that stings like it. To expect Hawthorne to become a literary genius, and at the same time to develop the peculiar faculties of a commercial traveller or a curb-stone broker, was unreasonable. In the phraseology of Sir William Hamilton, the two vocations are “non-compossible.” Bridge himself was undertaking a grandly unpractical project about this time: nothing less than an attempt to dam the Androscoggin, a river liable to devastating floods; and in this enterprise he was obliged to trust to a class of men who were much more uncertain in their ways and methods than those with whom Hawthorne dealt. Horatio Bridge had not studied civil engineering, and the result was that before two years had elapsed the floods on the Androscoggin swept the dam away, and his fortune with it.

In the same letter we also notice this paragraph concerning another Bowdoin friend:

“And so Frank Pierce is elected Senator. There is an instance of what a man can do by trying. With no very remarkable talents, he at the age of thirty-four fills one of the highest stations in the nation. He is a good fellow, and I rejoice at his success.” 38

Pierce certainly possessed the cap of Fortunatus, and it seems as if there must have been some magic faculty in the man, which enabled him to win high positions so easily; and he continued to do this, although he had not distinguished himself particularly as a member of Congress, and he appeared to still less advantage among the great party leaders in the United States Senate. He illustrated the faculty for “getting elected.”

In October, 1836, the time arrived for settling the matrimonial wager between Hawthorne and Jonathan Cilley, which they had made at college twelve years before. Bridge accordingly examined the documents which they had deposited with him, and notified Cilley that he was under obligation to provide Hawthorne with an octavo of Madeira.

Cilley’s letter to Hawthorne on this occasion does not impress one favorably. 39 It is familiar and jocose, without being either witty or friendly, and he gives no intimation in it of an intention to fulfil his promise. Hawthorne appears to have sent the letter to Bridge, who replied:

“I doubt whether you ever get your wine from Cilley. His inquiring of you whether he had really lost the bet is suspicious; and he has written me in a manner inconsistent with an intention of paying promptly; and if a bet grows old it grows cold. He wished me to propose to you to have it paid at Brunswick next Commencement, and to have as many of our classmates as could be mustered to drink it. It may be Cilley’s idea to pay over the balance after taking a strong pull at it; if so, it is well enough. But still it should be tendered within the month.”

In short, Cilley behaved in this matter much in the style of a tricky Van Buren politician, making a great bluster of words, and privately intending to do nothing. He was running for Congress at the time on the Van Buren ticket, and it is quite likely that the expenses of the campaign had exhausted his funds. That he should never have paid the bet was less to Hawthorne’s disadvantage than his own.

It was now that Horatio Bridge proved himself a true friend, and equally a man. In the spring of 1836 Goodrich had obtained for Hawthorne the editorship of the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge, with a salary of five hundred dollars; 40but he soon discovered that he had embarked on a ship with a rotten hulk. He started off heroically, writing the whole of the first number with the help of his sister Elizabeth; but by midsummer the concern was bankrupt, and he retired to his lonely cell, more gloomy and despondent than before. There are few sadder spectacles then that of a man seeking work without being able to obtain it; and this applies to the man of genius as well as to the day laborer.

Horatio Bridge now realized that the time had come for him to interfere. He recognized that Hawthorne was gradually lapsing into a hypochondria that might terminate fatally; that he was Goethe’s oak planted in a flowerpot, and that unless the flower-pot could be broken, the oak would die. He also saw that Hawthorne would never receive the public recognition that was due to his ability, so long as he published magazine articles under an assumed name. He accordingly wrote to Goodrich — fortunately before his mill-dam gave way — suggesting the publication of a volume of Hawthorne’s stories, and offered to guarantee the publisher against loss. This proposition was readily accepted, but Bridge might have made a much better bargain. What it amounted to was, the half-profit system without the half-profit. The necessary papers were exchanged and Hawthorne gladly acceded to Goodrich’s terms. Bridge, however, had cautioned Goodrich not to inform Hawthorne of his share in the enterprise, and the consequence of this was that he shortly received a letter from Hawthorne, informing him of the good news — which he knew already — and praising Goodrich, to whom he proposed to dedicate his new volume. Bridge’s generosity had come back to him, dried and salted — as it has to many another.

What could Bridge do, in the premises? Goodrich had written to Hawthorne that the publisher, Mr. Howes, was confident of making a favorable arrangement with a man of capital who would edit the book; but Bridge did not know this, and he suspected Goodrich of sailing into Hawthorne’s favor under a false flag. He therefore wrote to Hawthorne, November 17, 1836:

“I fear you will hurt yourself by puffing Goodrich undeservedly — for there is no doubt in my mind of his selfishness in regard to your work and yourself. I am perfectly aware that he has taken a good deal of interest in you, but when did he ever do anything for you without a quid pro quo? The magazine was given to you for $100 less than it should have been. The Token was saved by your writing. Unless you are already committed, do not mar the prospects of your first book by hoisting Goodrich into favor.”

This prevented the dedication, for which Hawthorne was afterward thankful enough. The book, which was the first volume of “Twice Told Tales” came from the press the following spring, and proved an immediate success, although not a highly lucrative one for its author. With the help of Longfellow’s cordial review of it in the North American it established Hawthorne’s reputation on a firm and irrefragable basis. All honor to Horatio.

As if Hawthorne had not seen a sufficiently long “winter of discontent” already, his friends now proposed to obtain the position of secretary and chronicler for him on Commodore Jones’s exploring expedition to the South Pole! Franklin Pierce was the first to think of this, but Bridge interceded with Cilley to give it his support, and there can be no doubt that they would have succeeded in obtaining the position for Hawthorne, but the expedition itself failed, for lack of a Congressional appropriation. The following year, 1838, the project was again brought forward by the administration, and Congress being in a more amiable frame of mind granted the requisite funds; but Hawthorne had now contracted new ties in his native city, bound, as it were, by an inseparable cord stronger than a Manila hawser, and Doctor Nathaniel Peabody’s hospitable parlors were more attractive to him than anything the Antarctic regions could offer.

We have now entered upon the period where Hawthorne’s own diary commences, the autobiography of a pure-minded, closely observing man; an invaluable record, which began apparently in 1835, and was continued nearly until the close of his life; now published in a succession of American, English and Italian note-books. In it we find records of what he saw and thought; descriptive passages, afterward made serviceable in his works of fiction, and perhaps written with that object in view; fanciful notions, jotted down on the impulse of the moment; records of his social life; but little critical writing or personal confessions — although the latter may have been reserved; from publication by his different editors. It is known that much of his diary has not yet been given to the public, and perhaps never will be.

In July, 1837, Hawthorne went to Augusta, to spend a month with his friend Horatio Bridge; went fishing with him, for what they called white perch, probably the saibling; 41 and was greatly entertained with the peculiarities of an idiomatic Frenchman, an itinerant teacher of that language, whom Bridge, in the kindness of his heart, had taken into his own house. The last of July, Cilley also made his appearance, but did not bring the Madeira with him, and Hawthorne has left this rather critical portrait of him in his diary:

“Friday, July 28th. — Saw my classmate and formerly intimate friend, — — for the first time since we graduated. He has met with good success in life, in spite of circumstances, having struggled upward against bitter opposition, by the force of his abilities, to be a member of Congress, after having been for some time the leader of his party in the State Legislature. We met like old friends, and conversed almost as freely as we used to do in college days, twelve years ago and more. He is a singular person, shrewd, crafty, insinuating, with wonderful tact, seizing on each man by his manageable point, and using him for his own purpose, often without the man’s suspecting that he is made a tool of; and yet, artificial as his character would seem to be, his conversation, at least to myself, was full of natural feeling, the expression of which can hardly be mistaken, and his revelations with regard to himself had really a great deal of frankness. A man of the most open nature might well have been more reserved to a friend, after twelve years separation, than —— was to me. Nevertheless, he is really a crafty man, concealing, like a murder-secret, anything that it is not good for him to have known. He by no means feigns the good feeling that he professes, nor is there anything affected in the frankness of his conversation; and it is this that makes him so fascinating. There is such a quantity of truth and kindliness and warm affections, that a man’s heart opens to him, in spite of himself. He deceives by truth. And not only is he crafty, but, when occasion demands, bold and fierce like a tiger, determined, and even straightforward and undisguised in his measures — a daring fellow as well as a sly one.”

This can be no other than Jonathan Cilley; like many of his class, a man of great good humor but not over-scrupulous, so far as the means he might make use of were concerned. He did not, however, prove to be as skilful a diplomat as Hawthorne seems to have supposed him. The duel between Cilley and Graves, of Kentucky, has been so variously misrepresented that the present occasion would seem a fitting opportunity to tell the plain truth concerning it.

President Jackson was an honest man, in the customary sense of the term, and he would have scorned to take a dollar that was not his own; but he suffered greatly from parasites, who pilfered the nation’s money — the natural consequence of the spoils-of-office system. The exposure of these peculations gave the Whigs a decided advantage, and Cilley, who had quickly proved his ability in debate, attempted to set a back-fire by accusing Watson Webb, the editor of the Courier and Enquirer, of having been bribed to change the politics of his paper. The true facts of the case were, that the paper had been purchased by the Whigs, and Webb, of course, had a right to change his politics if he chose to; and the net result of Cilley’s attack was a challenge to mortal combat, carried by Representative Graves, of Kentucky. Cilley, although a man of courage, declined this, on the ground that members of Congress ought not to be called to account outside of the Capitol, for words spoken in debate. “Then,” said Graves, “you will at least admit that my friend is a gentleman.”

This was a fair offer toward conciliation, and if Cilley had been peaceably inclined he would certainly have accepted it; but he obstinately refused to acknowledge that General Webb was a gentleman, and in consequence of this he received a second challenge the next day from Graves, brought by Henry A. Wise, afterward Governor of Virginia. Cilley still objected to fighting, but members of his party urged him into it: the duel took place, and Cilley was killed.

It may be said in favor of the “code of honor” that it discourages blackguardism and instructs a man to keep a civil tongue; but it is not always possible to prevent outbursts of temper, especially in hot climates, and a man’s wife and children should also be considered. Andrew Jackson said at the close of his life, that there was nothing he regretted so much as having killed a human being in a duel. Man rises by humility, and angels fall from pride.

Hawthorne wrote a kindly and regretful notice of the death of his old acquaintance, which was published in the Democratic Review, and which closed with this significant passage:

“Alas, that over the grave of a dear friend, my sorrow for the bereavement must be mingled with another grief — that he threw away such a life in so miserable a cause! Why, as he was true to the Northern character in all things else, did he swerve from his Northern principles in this final scene?” 42

It will be well to bear this in mind in connection with a somewhat similar incident, which we have now to consider.

An anecdote has been repeated in all the books about Hawthorne published since 1880, which would do him little credit if it could be proved — a story that he challenged one of his friends to a duel, at the instigation of a vulgar and unprincipled young woman. Horatio Bridge says in reference to it:

“This characteristic was notably displayed several years later, when a lady incited him to quarrel with one of his best friends on account of a groundless pique of hers. He went to Washington for the purpose of challenging the gentleman, and it was only after ample explanation had been made, showing that his friend had behaved with entire honor, that Pierce and Cilley, who were his advisers, could persuade him to be satisfied without a fight.” 43

How the good Horatio could have fallen into this pit is unimaginable, for a double contradiction is contained in his statement. “Some time after this,” that is after leaving college, would give the impression that the affair took place about 1830, whereas Pierce and Cilley were not in Washington together till five or six years later — probably seven years later. Moreover, Hawthorne states in a letter to Pierce’s friend O’Sullivan, on April 1, 1853, that he had never been in Washington up to that time. The Manning family and Mrs. Hawthorne’s relatives never heard of the story previous to its publication.

The internal evidence is equally strong against it. What New England girl would behave in the manner that Hawthorne’s son represents this one to have done? What young gentleman would have listened to such a communication as he supposes, and especially the reserved and modest Hawthorne? One can even imagine the aspect of horror on his face at such an unlady-like proceeding. The story would be an ignominious one for Hawthorne, if it were credible, but there is no occasion for our believing it until some tangible evidence is adduced in its support. There was no element of Quixotism in his composition, and it is quite as impossible to locate the identity of the person whom Hawthorne is supposed to have challenged.

31 J. Hawthorne, i. 124.

32 Horatio Bridge, 69.

33 J. Hawthorne, i. 125.

34 Packard’s “Bowdoin College,” 306.

35 J. Hawthorne, i. 175.

36 Horatio Bridge, 68, 69.

37 Horatio Bridge, 77.

38 J. Hawthorne, i. 148.

39 J. Hawthorne, i. 144.

40 Conway, 45.

41 The American saibling, or golden trout, is only indigenous to Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire, and to a small lake near Augusta.

42 Conway, 63.

43 Bridge, 5.

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