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Ch. 1 - Early Years

It will be necessary, for several reasons, to give this short sketch
the form rather of a critical essay than of a biography. The data for
a life of Nathaniel Hawthorne are the reverse of copious, and even if
they were abundant they would serve but in a limited measure the
purpose of the biographer. Hawthorne's career was probably as tranquil
and uneventful a one as ever fell to the lot of a man of letters; it
was almost strikingly deficient in incident, in what may be called the
dramatic quality. Few men of equal genius and of equal eminence can
have led on the whole a simpler life. His six volumes of Note-Books
illustrate this simplicity; they are a sort of monument to an
unagitated fortune. Hawthorne's career had few vicissitudes or
variations; it was passed for the most part in a small and homogeneous
society, in a provincial, rural community; it had few perceptible
points of contact with what is called the world, with public events,
with the manners of his time, even with the life of his neighbours.
Its literary incidents are not numerous. He produced, in quantity, but
little. His works consist of four novels and the fragment of another,
five volumes of short tales, a collection of sketches, and a couple of
story-books for children. And yet some account of the man and the
writer is well worth giving. Whatever may have been Hawthorne's
private lot, he has the importance of being the most beautiful and
most eminent representative of a literature. The importance of the
literature may be questioned, but at any rate, in the field of
letters, Hawthorne is the most valuable example of the American
genius. That genius has not, as a whole, been literary; but Hawthorne
was on his limited scale a master of expression. He is the writer to
whom his countrymen most confidently point when they wish to make a
claim to have enriched the mother-tongue, and, judging from present
appearances, he will long occupy this honourable position. If there is
something very fortunate for him in the way that he borrows an added
relief from the absence of competitors in his own line and from the
general flatness of the literary field that surrounds him, there is
also, to a spectator, something almost touching in his situation. He
was so modest and delicate a genius that we may fancy him appealing
from the lonely honour of a representative attitude--perceiving a
painful incongruity between his imponderable literary baggage and the
large conditions of American life. Hawthorne on the one side is so
subtle and slender and unpretending, and the American world on the
other is so vast and various and substantial, that it might seem to
the author of _The Scarlet Letter_ and the _Mosses from an Old Manse_,
that we render him a poor service in contrasting his proportions with
those of a great civilization. But our author must accept the awkward
as well as the graceful side of his fame; for he has the advantage of
pointing a valuable moral. This moral is that the flower of art blooms
only where the soil is deep, that it takes a great deal of history to
produce a little literature, that it needs a complex social machinery
to set a writer in motion. American civilization has hitherto had
other things to do than to produce flowers, and before giving birth to
writers it has wisely occupied itself with providing something for
them to write about. Three or four beautiful talents of trans-Atlantic
growth are the sum of what the world usually recognises, and in this
modest nosegay the genius of Hawthorne is admitted to have the rarest
and sweetest fragrance.

His very simplicity has been in his favour; it has helped him to
appear complete and homogeneous. To talk of his being national would
be to force the note and make a mistake of proportion; but he is, in
spite of the absence of the realistic quality, intensely and vividly
local. Out of the soil of New England he sprang--in a crevice of that
immitigable granite he sprouted and bloomed. Half of the interest that
he possesses for an American reader with any turn for analysis must
reside in his latent New England savour; and I think it no more than
just to say that whatever entertainment he may yield to those who know
him at a distance, it is an almost indispensable condition of properly
appreciating him to have received a personal impression of the
manners, the morals, indeed of the very climate, of the great region
of which the remarkable city of Boston is the metropolis. The cold,
bright air of New England seems to blow through his pages, and these,
in the opinion of many people, are the medium in which it is most
agreeable to make the acquaintance of that tonic atmosphere. As to
whether it is worth while to seek to know something of New England in
order to extract a more intimate quality from _The House of Seven
Gables_ and _The Blithedale Romance_, I need not pronounce; but it is
certain that a considerable observation of the society to which these
productions were more directly addressed is a capital preparation for
enjoying them. I have alluded to the absence in Hawthorne of that
quality of realism which is now so much in fashion, an absence in
regard to which there will of course be more to say; and yet I think I
am not fanciful in saying that he testifies to the sentiments of the
society in which he flourished almost as pertinently (proportions
observed) as Balzac and some of his descendants--MM. Flaubert and
Zola--testify to the manners and morals of the French people. He was
not a man with a literary theory; he was guiltless of a system, and I
am not sure that he had ever heard of Realism, this remarkable
compound having (although it was invented some time earlier) come into
general use only since his death. He had certainly not proposed to
himself to give an account of the social idiosyncrasies of his
fellow-citizens, for his touch on such points is always light and
vague, he has none of the apparatus of an historian, and his shadowy
style of portraiture never suggests a rigid standard of accuracy.
Nevertheless he virtually offers the most vivid reflection of New
England life that has found its way into literature. His value in this
respect is not diminished by the fact that he has not attempted to
portray the usual Yankee of comedy, and that he has been almost
culpably indifferent to his opportunities for commemorating the
variations of colloquial English that may be observed in the New
World. His characters do not express themselves in the dialect of the
_Biglow Papers_--their language indeed is apt to be too elegant, too
delicate. They are not portraits of actual types, and in their
phraseology there is nothing imitative. But none the less, Hawthorne's
work savours thoroughly of the local soil--it is redolent of the
social system in which he had his being.

This could hardly fail to be the case, when the man himself was so
deeply rooted in the soil. Hawthorne sprang from the primitive New
England stock; he had a very definite and conspicuous pedigree. He was
born at Salem, Massachusetts, on the 4th of July, 1804, and his
birthday was the great American festival, the anniversary of the
Declaration of national Independence.[1] Hawthorne was in his
disposition an unqualified and unflinching American; he found occasion
to give us the measure of the fact during the seven years that he
spent in Europe toward the close of his life; and this was no more
than proper on the part of a man who had enjoyed the honour of coming
into the world on the day on which of all the days in the year the
great Republic enjoys her acutest fit of self-consciousness. Moreover,
a person who has been ushered into life by the ringing of bells and
the booming of cannon (unless indeed he be frightened straight out of
it again by the uproar of his awakening) receives by this very fact an
injunction to do something great, something that will justify such
striking natal accompaniments. Hawthorne was by race of the clearest
Puritan strain. His earliest American ancestors (who wrote the name
"Hathorne"--the shape in which it was transmitted to Nathaniel, who
inserted the _w_,) was the younger son of a Wiltshire family, whose
residence, according to a note of our author's in 1837, was
"Wigcastle, Wigton." Hawthorne, in the note in question, mentions the
gentleman who was at that time the head of the family; but it does not
appear that he at any period renewed acquaintance with his English
kinsfolk. Major William Hathorne came out to Massachusetts in the
early years of the Puritan settlement; in 1635 or 1636, according to
the note to which I have just alluded; in 1630 according to
information presumably more accurate. He was one of the band of
companions of the virtuous and exemplary John Winthrop, the almost
life-long royal Governor of the young colony, and the brightest and
most amiable figure in the early Puritan annals. How amiable William
Hathorne may have been I know not, but he was evidently of the stuff
of which the citizens of the Commonwealth were best advised to be
made. He was a sturdy fighting man, doing solid execution upon both
the inward and outward enemies of the State. The latter were the
savages, the former the Quakers; the energy expended by the early
Puritans in resistance to the tomahawk not weakening their disposition
to deal with spiritual dangers. They employed the same--or almost the
same--weapons in both directions; the flintlock and the halberd
against the Indians, and the cat-o'-nine-tails against the heretics.
One of the longest, though by no means one of the most successful, of
Hawthorne's shorter tales (_The Gentle Boy_) deals with this pitiful
persecution of the least aggressive of all schismatic bodies. William
Hathorne, who had been made a magistrate of the town of Salem, where a
grant of land had been offered him as an inducement to residence,
figures in New England history as having given orders that "Anne
Coleman and four of her friends" should be whipped through Salem,
Boston, and Dedham. This Anne Coleman, I suppose, is the woman alluded
to in that fine passage in the Introduction to _The Scarlet Letter_,
in which Hawthorne pays a qualified tribute to the founder of the
American branch of his race:--

"The figure of that first ancestor, invested by family
tradition with a dim and dusky grandeur, was present to my
boyish imagination as far back as I can remember. It still
haunts me, and induces a sort of home-feeling with the past,
which I scarcely claim in reference to the present, phase of
the town. I seem to have a stronger claim to a residence
here on account of this grave, bearded, sable-cloaked and
steeple-crowned progenitor--who came so early, with his
Bible and his sword, and trod the unworn street with such a
stately port, and make so large a figure as a man of war and
peace--a stronger claim than for myself, whose name is
seldom heard and my face hardly known. He was a soldier,
legislator, judge; he was a ruler in the church; he had all
the Puritanic traits, both good and evil. He was likewise a
bitter persecutor, as witness the Quakers, who have
remembered him in their histories, and relate an incident of
his hard severity towards a woman of their sect which will
last longer, it is to be feared, than any of his better
deeds, though these were many."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: It is proper that before I go further I should
acknowledge my large obligations to the only biography of our author,
of any considerable length, that has been written--the little volume
entitled _A Study of Hawthorne_, by Mr. George Parsons Lathrop, the
son-in-law of the subject of the work. (Boston, 1876.) To this
ingenious and sympathetic sketch, in which the author has taken great
pains to collect the more interesting facts of Hawthorne's life, I am
greatly indebted. Mr. Lathrop's work is not pitched in the key which
many another writer would have chosen, and his tone is not to my sense
the truly critical one; but without the help afforded by his elaborate
essay the present little volume could not have been prepared.]

William Hathorne died in 1681; but those hard qualities that his
descendant speaks of were reproduced in his son John, who bore the
title of Colonel, and who was connected, too intimately for his
honour, with that deplorable episode of New England history, the
persecution of-the so-called Witches of Salem. John Hathorne is
introduced into the little drama entitled _The Salem Farms_ in
Longfellow's _New England Tragedies_. I know not whether he had the
compensating merits of his father, but our author speaks of him, in
the continuation of the passage I have just quoted, as having made
himself so conspicuous in the martyrdom of the witches, that their
blood may be said to have left a stain upon him. "So deep a stain,
indeed," Hawthorne adds, characteristically, "that his old dry bones
in the Charter Street burial-ground must still retain it, if they have
not crumbled utterly to dust." Readers of _The House of the Seven
Gables_ will remember that the story concerns itself with a family
which is supposed to be overshadowed by a curse launched against one
of its earlier members by a poor man occupying a lowlier place in the
world, whom this ill-advised ancestor had been the means of bringing
to justice for the crime of witchcraft. Hawthorne apparently found the
idea of the history of the Pyncheons in his own family annals. His
witch-judging ancestor was reported to have incurred a malediction
from one of his victims, in consequence of which the prosperity of the
race faded utterly away. "I know not," the passage I have already
quoted goes on, "whether these ancestors of mine bethought themselves
to repent and ask pardon of Heaven for their cruelties, or whether
they are now groaning under the heavy consequences of them in another
state of being. At all events, I, the present writer, hereby take
shame upon myself for their sakes, and pray that any curse incurred by
them--as I have heard, and as the dreary and unprosperous condition of
the race for some time back would argue to exist--may be now and
henceforth removed." The two first American Hathornes had been people
of importance and responsibility; but with the third generation the
family lapsed into an obscurity from which it emerged in the very
person of the writer who begs so gracefully for a turn in its affairs.
It is very true, Hawthorne proceeds, in the Introduction to _The
Scarlet Letter_, that from the original point of view such lustre as
he might have contrived to confer upon the name would have appeared
more than questionable.

"Either of these stern and black-browed Puritans would have
thought it quite a sufficient retribution for his sins that
after so long a lapse of years the old trunk of the family
tree, with so much venerable moss upon it, should have
borne, as its topmost bough, an idler like myself. No aim
that I have ever cherished would they recognise as laudable;
no success of mine, if my life, beyond its domestic scope,
had ever been brightened by success, would they deem
otherwise than worthless, if not positively disgraceful.
'What is he?' murmurs one grey shadow of my forefathers to
the other. 'A writer of story-books! What kind of a business
in life, what manner of glorifying God, or being serviceable
to mankind in his day and generation, may that be? Why, the
degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!' Such
are the compliments bandied between my great grandsires and
myself across the gulf of time! And yet, let them scorn me
as they will, strong traits of their nature have intertwined
themselves with mine."

In this last observation we may imagine that there was not a little
truth. Poet and novelist as Hawthorne was, sceptic and dreamer and
little of a man of action, late-coming fruit of a tree which might
seem to have lost the power to bloom, he was morally, in an
appreciative degree, a chip of the old block. His forefathers had
crossed the Atlantic for conscience' sake, and it was the idea of the
urgent conscience that haunted the imagination of their so-called
degenerate successor. The Puritan strain in his blood ran clear--there
are passages in his Diaries, kept during his residence in Europe,
which might almost have been written by the grimmest of the old Salem
worthies. To him as to them, the consciousness of _sin_ was the most
importunate fact of life, and if they had undertaken to write little
tales, this baleful substantive, with its attendant adjective, could
hardly have been more frequent in their pages than in those of their
fanciful descendant. Hawthorne had moreover in his composition
contemplator and dreamer as he was, an element of simplicity and
rigidity, a something plain and masculine and sensible, which might
have kept his black-browed grandsires on better terms with him than he
admits to be possible. However little they might have appreciated the
artist, they would have approved of the man. The play of Hawthorne's
intellect was light and capricious, but the man himself was firm and
rational. The imagination was profane, but the temper was not
degenerate.

The "dreary and unprosperous condition" that he speaks of in regard
to the fortunes of his family is an allusion to the fact that several
generations followed each other on the soil in which they had been
planted, that during the eighteenth century a succession of Hathornes
trod the simple streets of Salem without ever conferring any especial
lustre upon the town or receiving, presumably, any great delight from
it. A hundred years of Salem would perhaps be rather a dead-weight for
any family to carry, and we venture to imagine that the Hathornes were
dull and depressed. They did what they could, however, to improve
their situation; they trod the Salem streets as little as possible.
They went to sea, and made long voyages; seamanship became the regular
profession of the family. Hawthorne has said it in charming language.
"From father to son, for above a hundred years, they followed the sea;
a grey-headed shipmaster, in each generation, retiring from the
quarter-deck to the homestead, while a boy of fourteen took the
hereditary place before the mast, confronting the salt spray and the
gale which had blustered against his sire and grandsire. The boy also,
in due time, passed from the forecastle to the cabin, spent a
tempestuous manhood, and returned from his world-wanderings to grow
old and die and mingle his dust with the natal earth." Our author's
grandfather, Daniel Hathorne, is mentioned by Mr. Lathrop, his
biographer and son-in-law, as a hardy privateer during the war of
Independence. His father, from whom he was named, was also a
shipmaster, and he died in foreign lands, in the exercise of his
profession. He was carried off by a fever, at Surinam, in 1808. He
left three children, of whom Nathaniel was the only boy. The boy's
mother, who had been a Miss Manning, came of a New England stock
almost as long-established as that of her husband; she is described by
our author's biographer as a woman of remarkable beauty, and by an
authority whom he quotes, as being "a minute observer of religious
festivals," of "feasts, fasts, new-moons, and Sabbaths." Of feasts the
poor lady in her Puritanic home can have had but a very limited number
to celebrate; but of new-moons, she may be supposed to have enjoyed
the usual, and of Sabbaths even more than the usual, proportion.

In quiet provincial Salem, Nathaniel Hawthorne passed the greater part
of his boyhood, as well as many years of his later life. Mr. Lathrop
has much to say about the ancient picturesqueness of the place, and
about the mystic influences it would project upon such a mind and
character as Hawthorne's. These things are always relative, and in
appreciating them everything depends upon the point of view. Mr.
Lathrop writes for American readers, who in such a matter as this are
very easy to please. Americans have as a general thing a hungry
passion for the picturesque, and they are so fond of local colour that
they contrive to perceive it in localities in which the amateurs of
other countries would detect only the most neutral tints. History, as
yet, has left in the United States but so thin and impalpable a
deposit that we very soon touch the hard substratum of nature; and
nature herself, in the western world, has the peculiarity of seeming
rather crude and immature. The very air looks new and young; the light
of the sun seems fresh and innocent, as if it knew as yet but few of
the secrets of the world and none of the weariness of shining; the
vegetation has the appearance of not having reached its majority. A
large juvenility is stamped upon the face of things, and in the
vividness of the present, the past, which died so young and had time
to produce so little, attracts but scanty attention. I doubt whether
English observers would discover any very striking trace of it in the
ancient town of Salem. Still, with all respect to a York and a
Shrewsbury, to a Toledo and a Verona, Salem has a physiognomy in which
the past plays a more important part than the present. It is of course
a very recent past; but one must remember that the dead of yesterday
are not more alive than those of a century ago. I know not of what
picturesqueness Hawthorne was conscious in his respectable birthplace;
I suspect his perception of it was less keen than his biographer
assumes it to have been; but he must have felt at least that of
whatever complexity of earlier life there had been in the country, the
elm-shadowed streets of Salem were a recognisable memento. He has made
considerable mention of the place, here and there, in his tales; but
he has nowhere dilated upon it very lovingly, and it is noteworthy
that in _The House of the Seven Gables_, the only one of his novels of
which the scene is laid in it, he has by no means availed himself of
the opportunity to give a description of it. He had of course a filial
fondness for it--a deep-seated sense of connection with it; but he
must have spent some very dreary years there, and the two feelings,
the mingled tenderness and rancour, are visible in the Introduction to
_The Scarlet Letter_.

"The old town of Salem," he writes,--"my native place,
though I have dwelt much away from it, both in boyhood and
in maturer years--possesses, or did possess, a hold on my
affections, the force of which I have never realized during
my seasons of actual residence here. Indeed, so far as the
physical aspect is concerned, with its flat, unvaried
surface, covered chiefly with wooden houses, few or none of
which pretend to architectural beauty; its irregularity,
which is neither picturesque nor quaint, but only tame; its
long and lazy street, lounging wearisomely through the whole
extent of the peninsula, with Gallows Hill and New Guinea at
one end, and a view of the almshouse at the other--such
being the features of my native town it would be quite as
reasonable to form a sentimental attachment to a disarranged
chequer-board."

But he goes on to say that he has never divested himself of the sense
of intensely belonging to it--that the spell of the continuity of his
life with that of his predecessors has never been broken. "It is no
matter that the place is joyless for him; that he is weary of the old
wooden houses, the mud and the dust, the dead level of site and
sentiment, the chill east wind, and the chilliest of social
atmospheres;--all these and whatever faults besides he may see or
imagine, are nothing to the purpose. The spell survives, and just as
powerfully as if the natal spot were an earthly paradise." There is a
very American quality in this perpetual consciousness of a spell on
Hawthorne's part; it is only in a country where newness and change and
brevity of tenure are the common substance of life, that the fact of
one's ancestors having lived for a hundred and seventy years in a
single spot would become an element of one's morality. It is only an
imaginative American that would feel urged to keep reverting to this
circumstance, to keep analysing and cunningly considering it.

The Salem of to-day has, as New England towns go, a physiognomy of its
own, and in spite of Hawthorne's analogy of the disarranged
draught-board, it is a decidedly agreeable one. The spreading elms in
its streets, the proportion of large, square, honourable-looking
houses, suggesting an easy, copious material life, the little gardens,
the grassy waysides, the open windows, the air of space and salubrity
and decency, and above all the intimation of larger antecedents--these
things compose a picture which has little of the element that painters
call depth of tone, but which is not without something that they would
admit to be style. To English eyes the oldest and most honourable of
the smaller American towns must seem in a manner primitive and rustic;
the shabby, straggling, village-quality appears marked in them, and
their social tone is not unnaturally inferred to bear the village
stamp. Village-like they are, and it would be no gross incivility to
describe them as large, respectable, prosperous, democratic villages.
But even a village, in a great and vigorous democracy, where there are
no overshadowing squires, where the "county" has no social existence,
where the villagers are conscious of no superincumbent strata of
gentility, piled upwards into vague regions of privilege--even a
village is not an institution to accept of more or less graceful
patronage; it thinks extremely well of itself, and is absolute in its
own regard. Salem is a sea-port, but it is a sea-port deserted and
decayed. It belongs to that rather melancholy group of old
coast-towns, scattered along the great sea-face of New England, and of
which the list is completed by the names of Portsmouth, Plymouth, New
Bedford, Newburyport, Newport--superannuated centres of the traffic
with foreign lands, which have seen their trade carried away from them
by the greater cities. As Hawthorne says, their ventures have gone "to
swell, needlessly and imperceptibly, the mighty flood of commerce at
New York or Boston." Salem, at the beginning of the present century,
played a great part in the Eastern trade; it was the residence of
enterprising shipowners who despatched their vessels to Indian and
Chinese seas. It was a place of large fortunes, many of which have
remained, though the activity that produced them has passed away.
These successful traders constituted what Hawthorne calls "the
aristocratic class." He alludes in one of his slighter sketches (_The
Sister Years_) to the sway of this class and the "moral influence of
wealth" having been more marked in Salem than in any other New England
town. The sway, we may believe, was on the whole gently exercised, and
the moral influence of wealth was not exerted in the cause of
immorality. Hawthorne was probably but imperfectly conscious of an
advantage which familiarity had made stale--the fact that he lived in
the most democratic and most virtuous of modern communities. Of the
virtue it is but civil to suppose that his own family had a liberal
share; but not much of the wealth, apparently, came into their way.
Hawthorne was not born to a patrimony, and his income, later in life,
never exceeded very modest proportions.

Of his childish years there appears to be nothing very definite to
relate, though his biographer devotes a good many graceful pages to
them. There is a considerable sameness in the behaviour of small boys,
and it is probable that if we were acquainted with the details of our
author's infantine career we should find it to be made up of the same
pleasures and pains as that of many ingenuous lads for whom fame has
had nothing in keeping.

The absence of precocious symptoms of genius is on the whole more
striking in the lives of men who have distinguished themselves than
their juvenile promise; though it must be added that Mr. Lathrop has
made out, as he was almost in duty bound to do, a very good case in
favour of Hawthorne's having been an interesting child. He was not at
any time what would be called a sociable man, and there is therefore
nothing unexpected in the fact that he was fond of long walks in which
he was not known to have had a companion. "Juvenile literature" was
but scantily known at that time, and the enormous and extraordinary
contribution made by the United States to this department of human
happiness was locked in the bosom of futurity. The young Hawthorne,
therefore, like many of his contemporaries, was constrained to amuse
himself, for want of anything better, with the _Pilgrim's Progress_
and the _Faery Queen_. A boy may have worse company than Bunyan and
Spenser, and it is very probable that in his childish rambles our
author may have had associates of whom there could be no record. When
he was nine years old he met with an accident at school which
threatened for a while to have serious results. He was struck on the
foot by a ball and so severely lamed that he was kept at home for a
long time, and had not completely recovered before his twelfth year.
His school, it is to be supposed, was the common day-school of New
England--the primary factor in that extraordinarily pervasive system
of instruction in the plainer branches of learning, which forms one of
the principal ornaments of American life. In 1818, when he was
fourteen years old, he was taken by his mother to live in the house of
an uncle, her brother, who was established in the town of Raymond,
near Lake Sebago, in the State of Maine. The immense State of Maine,
in the year 1818, must have had an even more magnificently natural
character than it possesses at the present day, and the uncle's
dwelling, in consequence of being in a little smarter style than the
primitive structures that surrounded it, was known by the villagers as
Manning's Folly. Mr. Lathrop pronounces this region to be of a "weird
and woodsy" character; and Hawthorne, later in life, spoke of it to a
friend as the place where "I first got my cursed habits of solitude."
The outlook, indeed, for an embryonic novelist, would not seem to have
been cheerful; the social dreariness of a small New England community
lost amid the forests of Maine, at the beginning of the present
century, must have been consummate. But for a boy with a relish for
solitude there were many natural resources, and we can understand that
Hawthorne should in after years have spoken very tenderly of this
episode. "I lived in Maine like a bird of the air, so perfect was the
freedom I enjoyed." During the long summer days he roamed, gun in
hand, through the great woods, and during the moonlight nights of
winter, says his biographer, quoting another informant, "he would
skate until midnight, all alone, upon Sebago Lake, with the deep
shadows of the icy hills on either hand."

In 1819 he was sent back to Salem to school, and in the following year
he wrote to his mother, who had remained at Raymond (the boy had found
a home at Salem with another uncle), "I have left school and have
begun to fit for college under Benjm. L. Oliver, Lawyer. So you are in
danger of having one learned man in your family.... I get my lessons
at home and recite them to him (Mr. Oliver) at seven o'clock in the
morning.... Shall you want me to be a Minister, Doctor, or Lawyer? A
Minister I will not be." He adds, at the close of this epistle--"O how
I wish I was again with you, with nothing to do but to go a-gunning!
But the happiest days of my life are gone." In 1821, in his
seventeenth year, he entered Bowdoin College, at Brunswick, Maine.
This institution was in the year 1821--a quarter of a century after
its foundation--a highly honourable, but not a very elaborately
organized, nor a particularly impressive, seat of learning. I say it
was not impressive, but I immediately remember that impressions depend
upon the minds receiving them; and that to a group of simple New
England lads, upwards of sixty years ago, the halls and groves of
Bowdoin, neither dense nor lofty though they can have been, may have
seemed replete with Academic stateliness. It was a homely, simple,
frugal, "country college," of the old-fashioned American stamp;
exerting within its limits a civilizing influence, working, amid the
forests and the lakes, the log-houses and the clearings, toward the
amenities and humanities and other collegiate graces, and offering a
very sufficient education to the future lawyers, merchants, clergymen,
politicians, and editors, of the very active and knowledge-loving
community that supported it. It did more than this--it numbered poets
and statesmen among its undergraduates, and on the roll-call of its
sons it has several distinguished names. Among Hawthorne's
fellow-students was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who divides with our
author the honour of being the most distinguished of American men of
letters. I know not whether Mr. Longfellow was especially intimate
with Hawthorne at this period (they were very good friends later in
life), but with two of his companions he formed a friendship which
lasted always. One of these was Franklin Pierce, who was destined to
fill what Hawthorne calls "the most august position in the world."
Pierce was elected President of the United States in 1852. The other
was Horatio Bridge, who afterwards served with distinction in the
Navy, and to whom the charming prefatory letter of the collection of
tales published under the name of _The Snow Image_, is addressed. "If
anybody is responsible at this day for my being an author it is
yourself. I know not whence your faith came; but while we were lads
together at a country college--gathering blueberries in study-hours
under those tall Academic pines; or watching the great logs as they
tumbled along the current of the Androscoggin; or shooting pigeons and
grey squirrels in the woods; or bat-fowling in the summer twilight; or
catching trout in that shadowy little stream which, I suppose, is
still wandering river-ward through the forest--though you and I will
never cast a line in it again--two idle lads, in short (as we need not
fear to acknowledge now), doing a hundred things the Faculty never
heard of, or else it had been worse for us--still it was your
prognostic of your friend's destiny that he was to be a writer of
fiction." That is a very pretty picture, but it is a picture of happy
urchins at school, rather than of undergraduates "panting," as
Macaulay says, "for one and twenty." Poor Hawthorne was indeed
thousands of miles away from Oxford and Cambridge; that touch about
the blueberries and the logs on the Androscoggin tells the whole
story, and strikes the note, as it were, of his circumstances. But if
the pleasures at Bowdoin were not expensive, so neither were the
penalties. The amount of Hawthorne's collegiate bill for one term was
less than 4_l._, and of this sum more than 9_s._ was made up of fines.
The fines, however, were not heavy. Mr. Lathrop prints a letter
addressed by the President to "Mrs. Elizabeth C. Hathorne," requesting
her co-operation with the officers of this college, "in the attempt to
induce your son faithfully to observe the laws of this institution."
He has just been fined fifty cents for playing cards for money during
the preceding term. "Perhaps he might not have gamed," the Professor
adds, "were it not for the influence of a student whom we have
dismissed from college." The biographer quotes a letter from Hawthorne
to one of his sisters, in which the writer says, in allusion to this
remark, that it is a great mistake to think that he has been led away
by the wicked ones. "I was fully as willing to play as the person he
suspects of having enticed me, and would have been influenced by no
one. I have a great mind to commence playing again, merely to show him
that I scorn to be seduced by another into anything wrong." There is
something in these few words that accords with the impression that the
observant reader of Hawthorne gathers of the personal character that
underlay his duskily-sportive imagination--an impression of simple
manliness and transparent honesty.

He appears to have been a fair scholar, but not a brilliant one; and
it is very probable that as the standard of scholarship at Bowdoin was
not high, he graduated none the less comfortably on this account. Mr.
Lathrop is able to testify to the fact, by no means a surprising one,
that he wrote verses at college, though the few stanzas that the
biographer quotes are not such as to make us especially regret that
his rhyming mood was a transient one.

"The ocean hath its silent caves,
Deep, quiet and alone.
Though there be fury on the waves,
Beneath them there is none."

That quatrain may suffice to decorate our page. And in connection with
his college days I may mention his first novel, a short romance
entitled _Fanshawe_, which was published in Boston in 1828, three
years after he graduated. It was probably also written after that
event, but the scene of the tale is laid at Bowdoin (which figures
under an altered name), and Hawthorne's attitude with regard to the
book, even shortly after it was published, was such as to assign it to
this boyish period. It was issued anonymously, but he so repented of
his venture that he annihilated the edition, of which, according to
Mr. Lathrop, "not half a dozen copies are now known to be extant." I
have seen none of these rare volumes, and I know nothing of _Fanshawe_
but what the writer just quoted relates. It is the story of a young
lady who goes in rather an odd fashion to reside at "Harley College"
(equivalent of Bowdoin), under the care and guardianship of Dr.
Melmoth, the President of the institution, a venerable, amiable,
unworldly, and henpecked, scholar. Here she becomes very naturally an
object of interest to two of the students; in regard to whom I cannot
do better than quote Mr. Lathrop. One of these young men "is Edward
Wolcott, a wealthy, handsome, generous, healthy young fellow from one
of the sea-port towns; and the other Fanshawe, the hero, who is a poor
but ambitious recluse, already passing into a decline through
overmuch devotion to books and meditation. Fanshawe, though the deeper
nature of the two, and intensely moved by his new passion, perceiving
that a union between himself and Ellen could not be a happy one,
resigns the hope of it from the beginning. But circumstances bring him
into intimate relation with her. The real action of the book, after
the preliminaries, takes up only some three days, and turns upon the
attempt of a man named Butler to entice Ellen away under his
protection, then marry her, and secure the fortune to which she is
heiress. This scheme is partly frustrated by circumstances, and
Butler's purpose towards Ellen thus becomes a much more sinister one.
From this she is rescued by Fanshawe, and knowing that he loves her,
but is concealing his passion, she gives him the opportunity and the
right to claim her hand. For a moment the rush of desire and hope is
so great that he hesitates; then he refuses to take advantage of her
generosity, and parts with her for a last time. Ellen becomes engaged
to Wolcott, who had won her heart from the first; and Fanshawe,
sinking into rapid consumption, dies before his class graduates." The
story must have had a good deal of innocent lightness; and it is a
proof of how little the world of observation lay open to Hawthorne, at
this time, that he should have had no other choice than to make his
little drama go forward between the rather naked walls of Bowdoin,
where the presence of his heroine was an essential incongruity. He was
twenty-four years old, but the "world," in its social sense, had not
disclosed itself to him. He had, however, already, at moments, a very
pretty writer's touch, as witness this passage, quoted by Mr. Lathrop,
and which is worth transcribing. The heroine has gone off with the
nefarious Butler, and the good Dr. Melmoth starts in pursuit of her,
attended by young Wolcott.

"'Alas, youth, these are strange times,' observed the
President, 'when a doctor of divinity and an undergraduate
set forth, like a knight-errant and his squire, in search of
a stray damsel. Methinks I am an epitome of the church
militant, or a new species of polemical divinity. Pray
Heaven, however, there be no such encounter in store for us;
for I utterly forgot to provide myself with weapons.'

"'I took some thought for that matter, reverend knight,'
replied Edward, whose imagination was highly tickled by Dr.
Melmoth's chivalrous comparison.

"'Aye, I see that you have girded on a sword,' said the
divine. 'But wherewith shall I defend myself? my hand being
empty except of this golden-headed staff, the gift of Mr.
Langton.'

"'One of these, if you will accept it,' answered Edward,
exhibiting a brace of pistols, 'will serve to begin the
conflict before you join the battle hand to hand.'

"'Nay, I shall find little safety in meddling with that
deadly instrument, since I know not accurately from which
end proceeds the bullet,' said Dr. Melmoth. 'But were it not
better, since we are so well provided with artillery, to
betake ourselves, in the event of an encounter, to some
stone wall or other place of strength?'

"'If I may presume to advise,' said the squire, 'you, as
being most valiant and experienced, should ride forward,
lance in hand (your long staff serving for a lance), while I
annoy the enemy from afar.'

"'Like Teucer, behind the shield of Ajax,' interrupted Dr.
Melmoth, 'or David with his stone and sling. No, no, young
man; I have left unfinished in my study a learned treatise,
important not only to the present age, but to posterity, for
whose sake I must take heed to my safety. But, lo! who rides
yonder?'"

On leaving college Hawthorne had gone back to live at Salem.

Henry James

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