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Ch. 4 - Brook Farm and Concord


The history of the little industrial and intellectual association
which formed itself at this time in one of the suburbs of Boston has
not, to my knowledge, been written; though it is assuredly a curious
and interesting chapter in the domestic annals of New England. It
would of course be easy to overrate the importance of this ingenious
attempt of a few speculative persons to improve the outlook of
mankind. The experiment came and went very rapidly and quietly,
leaving very few traces behind it. It became simply a charming
personal reminiscence for the small number of amiable enthusiasts who
had had a hand in it. There were degrees of enthusiasm, and I suppose
there were degrees of amiability; but a certain generous brightness of
hope and freshness of conviction pervaded the whole undertaking and
rendered it, morally speaking, important to an extent of which any
heed that the world in general ever gave to it is an insufficient
measure. Of course it would be a great mistake to represent the
episode of Brook Farm as directly related to the manners and morals of
the New England world in general--and in especial to those of the
prosperous, opulent, comfortable part of it. The thing was the
experiment of a coterie--it was unusual, unfashionable, unsuccessful.
It was, as would then have been said, an amusement of the
Transcendentalists--a harmless effusion of Radicalism. The
Transcendentalists were not, after all, very numerous; and the
Radicals were by no means of the vivid tinge of those of our own day.
I have said that the Brook Farm community left no traces behind it
that the world in general can appreciate; I should rather say that the
only trace is a short novel, of which the principal merits reside in
its qualities of difference from the affair itself. _The Blithedale
Romance_ is the main result of Brook Farm; but _The Blithedale
Romance_ was very properly never recognised by the Brook Farmers as an
accurate portrait of their little colony.

Nevertheless, in a society as to which the more frequent complaint is
that it is monotonous, that it lacks variety of incident and of type,
the episode, our own business with which is simply that it was the
cause of Hawthorne's writing an admirable tale, might be welcomed as a
picturesque variation. At the same time, if we do not exaggerate its
proportions, it may seem to contain a fund of illustration as to that
phase of human life with which our author's own history mingled
itself. The most graceful account of the origin of Brook Farm is
probably to be found in these words of one of the biographers of
Margaret Fuller: "In Boston and its vicinity, several friends, for
whose character Margaret felt the highest-honour, were earnestly
considering the possibility of making such industrial, social, and
educational arrangements as would simplify economies, combine leisure
for study with healthful and honest toil, avert unjust collisions of
caste, equalise refinements, awaken generous affections, diffuse
courtesy, and sweeten and sanctify life as a whole." The reader will
perceive that this was a liberal scheme, and that if the experiment
failed, the greater was the pity. The writer goes on to say that a
gentleman, who afterwards distinguished himself in literature (he had
begun by being a clergyman), "convinced by his experience in a
faithful ministry that the need was urgent for a thorough application
of the professed principles of Fraternity to actual relations, was
about staking his all of fortune, reputation, and influence, in an
attempt to organize a joint-stock company at Brook Farm." As Margaret
Fuller passes for having suggested to Hawthorne the figure of Zenobia
in _The Blithedale Romance_, and as she is probably, with one
exception, the person connected with the affair who, after Hawthorne,
offered most of what is called a personality to the world, I may
venture to quote a few more passages from her Memoirs--a curious, in
some points of view almost a grotesque, and yet, on the whole, as I
have said, an extremely interesting book. It was a strange history and
a strange destiny, that of this brilliant, restless, and unhappy
woman--this ardent New Englander, this impassioned Yankee, who
occupied so large a place in the thoughts, the lives, the affections,
of an intelligent and appreciative society, and yet left behind her
nothing but the memory of a memory. Her function, her reputation, were
singular, and not altogether reassuring: she was a talker, she was
_the_ talker, she was the genius of talk. She had a magnificent,
though by no means an unmitigated, egotism; and in some of her
utterances it is difficult to say whether pride or humility
prevails--as for instance when she writes that she feels "that there
is plenty of room in the Universe for my faults, and as if I could not
spend time in thinking of them when so many things interest me more."
She has left the same sort of reputation as a great actress. Some of
her writing has extreme beauty, almost all of it has a real interest,
but her value, her activity, her sway (I am not sure that one can say
her charm), were personal and practical. She went to Europe, expanded
to new desires and interests, and, very poor herself, married an
impoverished Italian nobleman. Then, with her husband and child, she
embarked to return to her own country, and was lost at sea in a
terrible storm, within sight of its coasts. Her tragical death
combined with many of the elements of her life to convert her memory
into a sort of legend, so that the people who had known her well, grew
at last to be envied by later comers. Hawthorne does not appear to
have been intimate with her; on the contrary, I find such an entry as
this in the American Note-Books in 1841: "I was invited to dine at Mr.
Bancroft's yesterday, with Miss Margaret Fuller; but Providence had
given me some business to do; for which I was very thankful!" It is
true that, later, the lady is the subject of one or two allusions of a
gentler cast. One of them indeed is so pretty as to be worth
quoting:--

"After leaving the book at Mr. Emerson's, I returned through
the woods, and, entering Sleepy Hollow, I perceived a lady
reclining near the path which bends along its verge. It was
Margaret herself. She had been there the whole afternoon,
meditating or reading, for she had a book in her hand with
some strange title which I did not understand and have
forgotten. She said that nobody had broken her solitude, and
was just giving utterance to a theory that no inhabitant of
Concord ever visited Sleepy Hollow, when we saw a group of
people entering the sacred precincts. Most of them followed
a path which led them away from us; but an old man passed
near us, and smiled to see Margaret reclining on the ground
and me standing by her side. He made some remark upon the
beauty of the afternoon, and withdrew himself into the
shadow of the wood. Then we talked about autumn, and about
the pleasures of being lost in the woods, and about the
crows, whose voices Margaret had heard; and about the
experiences of early childhood, whose influence remains upon
the character after the recollection of them has passed
away; and about the sight of mountains from a distance, and
the view from their summits; and about other matters of high
and low philosophy."

It is safe to assume that Hawthorne could not on the whole have had a
high relish for the very positive personality of this accomplished and
argumentative woman, in whose intellect high noon seemed ever to
reign, as twilight did in his own. He must have been struck with the
glare of her understanding, and, mentally speaking, have scowled and
blinked a good deal in conversation with her. But it is tolerably
manifest, nevertheless, that she was, in his imagination, the
starting-point of the figure of Zenobia; and Zenobia is, to my sense,
his only very definite attempt at the representation of a character.
The portrait is full of alteration and embellishment; but it has a
greater reality, a greater abundance of detail, than any of his other
figures, and the reality was a memory of the lady whom he had
encountered in the Roxbury pastoral or among the wood-walks of
Concord, with strange books in her hand and eloquent discourse on her
lips. _The Blithedale Romance_ was written just after her unhappy
death, when the reverberation of her talk would lose much of its
harshness. In fact, however, very much the same qualities that made
Hawthorne a Democrat in polities--his contemplative turn and absence
of a keen perception of abuses, his taste for old ideals, and
loitering paces, and muffled tones--would operate to keep him out of
active sympathy with a woman of the so-called progressive type. We may
be sure that in women his taste was conservative.

It seems odd, as his biographer says, "that the least gregarious of
men should have been drawn into a socialistic community;" but although
it is apparent that Hawthorne went to Brook Farm without any great
Transcendental fervour, yet he had various good reasons for casting
his lot in this would-be happy family. He was as yet unable to marry,
but he naturally wished to do so as speedily as possible, and there
was a prospect that Brook Farm would prove an economical residence.
And then it is only fair to believe that Hawthorne was interested in
the experiment, and that though he was not a Transcendentalist, an
Abolitionist, or a Fourierite, as his companions were in some degree
or other likely to be, he was willing, as a generous and unoccupied
young man, to lend a hand in any reasonable scheme for helping people
to live together on better terms than the common. The Brook Farm
scheme was, as such things go, a reasonable one; it was devised and
carried out by shrewd and sober-minded New Englanders, who were
careful to place economy first and idealism afterwards, and who were
not afflicted with a Gallic passion for completeness of theory. There
were no formulas, doctrines, dogmas; there was no interference
whatever with private life or individual habits, and not the faintest
adumbration of a rearrangement of that difficult business known as
the relations of the sexes. The relations of the sexes were neither
more nor less than what they usually are in American life, excellent;
and in such particulars the scheme was thoroughly conservative and
irreproachable. Its main characteristic was that each individual
concerned in it should do a part of the work necessary for keeping the
whole machine going. He could choose his work and he could live as he
liked; it was hoped, but it was by no means demanded, that he would
make himself agreeable, like a gentleman invited to a dinner-party.
Allowing, however, for everything that was a concession to worldly
traditions and to the laxity of man's nature, there must have been in
the enterprise a good deal of a certain freshness and purity of
spirit, of a certain noble credulity and faith in the perfectibility
of man, which it would have been easier to find in Boston in the year
1840, than in London five-and-thirty years later. If that was the era
of Transcendentalism, Transcendentalism could only have sprouted in
the soil peculiar to the general locality of which I speak--the soil
of the old New England morality, gently raked and refreshed by an
imported culture. The Transcendentalists read a great deal of French
and German, made themselves intimate with George Sand and Goethe, and
many other writers; but the strong and deep New England conscience
accompanied them on all their intellectual excursions, and there never
was a so-called "movement" that embodied itself, on the whole, in
fewer eccentricities of conduct, or that borrowed a smaller licence in
private deportment. Henry Thoreau, a delightful writer, went to live
in the woods; but Henry Thoreau was essentially a sylvan personage and
would not have been, however the fashion of his time might have
turned, a man about town. The brothers and sisters at Brook Farm
ploughed the fields and milked the cows; but I think that an observer
from another clime and society would have been much more struck with
their spirit of conformity than with their _déréglements_. Their
ardour was a moral ardour, and the lightest breath of scandal never
rested upon them, or upon any phase of Transcendentalism.

A biographer of Hawthorne might well regret that his hero had not been
more mixed up with the reforming and free-thinking class, so that he
might find a pretext for writing a chapter upon the state of Boston
society forty years ago. A needful warrant for such regret should be,
properly, that the biographer's own personal reminiscences should
stretch back to that period and to the persons who animated it. This
would be a guarantee of fulness of knowledge and, presumably, of
kindness of tone. It is difficult to see, indeed, how the generation
of which Hawthorne has given us, in _Blithedale_, a few portraits,
should not at this time of day be spoken of very tenderly and
sympathetically. If irony enter into the allusion, it should be of the
lightest and gentlest. Certainly, for a brief and imperfect chronicler
of these things, a writer just touching them as he passes, and who has
not the advantage of having been a contemporary, there is only one
possible tone. The compiler of these pages, though his recollections
date only from a later period, has a memory of a certain number of
persons who had been intimately connected, as Hawthorne was not, with
the agitations of that interesting time. Something of its interest
adhered to them still--something of its aroma clung to their garments;
there was something about them which seemed to say that when they
were young and enthusiastic, they had been initiated into moral
mysteries, they had played at a wonderful game. Their usual mark (it
is true I can think of exceptions) was that they seemed excellently
good. They appeared unstained by the world, unfamiliar with worldly
desires and standards, and with those various forms of human depravity
which flourish in some high phases of civilisation; inclined to simple
and democratic ways, destitute of pretensions and affectations, of
jealousies, of cynicism, of snobbishness. This little epoch of
fermentation has three or four drawbacks for the critic--drawbacks,
however, that may be overlooked by a person for whom it has an
interest of association. It bore, intellectually, the stamp of
provincialism; it was a beginning without a fruition, a dawn without a
noon; and it produced, with a single exception, no great talents. It
produced a great deal of writing, but (always putting Hawthorne aside,
as a contemporary but not a sharer) only one writer in whom the world
at large has interested itself. The situation was summed up and
transfigured in the admirable and exquisite Emerson. He expressed all
that it contained, and a good deal more, doubtless, besides; he was
the man of genius of the moment; he was the Transcendentalist _par
excellence_. Emerson expressed, before all things, as was extremely
natural at the hour and in the place, the value and importance of the
individual, the duty of making the most of one's self, of living by
one's own personal light and carrying out one's own disposition. He
reflected with beautiful irony upon the exquisite impudence of those
institutions which claim to have appropriated the truth and to dole it
out, in proportionate morsels, in exchange for a subscription. He
talked about the beauty and dignity of life, and about every one who
is born into the world being born to the whole, having an interest and
a stake in the whole. He said "all that is clearly due to-day is not
to lie," and a great many other things which it would be still easier
to present in a ridiculous light. He insisted upon sincerity and
independence and spontaneity, upon acting in harmony with one's
nature, and not conforming and compromising for the sake of being more
comfortable. He urged that a man should await his call, his finding
the thing to do which he should really believe in doing, and not be
urged by the world's opinion to do simply the world's work. "If no
call should come for years, for centuries, then I know that the want
of the Universe is the attestation of faith by my abstinence.... If I
cannot work, at least I need not lie." The doctrine of the supremacy
of the individual to himself, of his originality and, as regards his
own character, _unique_ quality, must have had a great charm for
people living in a society in which introspection, thanks to the want
of other entertainment, played almost the part of a social resource.

In the United States, in those days, there were no great things to
look out at (save forests and rivers); life was not in the least
spectacular; society was not brilliant; the country was given up to a
great material prosperity, a homely _bourgeois_ activity, a diffusion
of primary education and the common luxuries. There was therefore,
among the cultivated classes, much relish for the utterances of a
writer who would help one to take a picturesque view of one's internal
possibilities, and to find in the landscape of the soul all sorts of
fine sunrise and moonlight effects. "Meantime, while the doors of the
temple stand open, night and day, before every man, and the oracles of
this truth cease never, it is guarded by one stern condition; this,
namely--it is an intuition. It cannot be received at second hand.
Truly speaking, it is not instruction but provocation that I can
receive from another soul." To make one's self so much more
interesting would help to make life interesting, and life was
probably, to many of this aspiring congregation, a dream of freedom
and fortitude. There were faulty parts in the Emersonian philosophy;
but the general tone was magnificent; and I can easily believe that,
coming when it did and where it did, it should have been drunk in by a
great many fine moral appetites with a sense of intoxication. One
envies, even, I will not say the illusions, of that keenly sentient
period, but the convictions and interests--the moral passion. One
certainly envies the privilege of having heard the finest of Emerson's
orations poured forth in their early newness. They were the most
poetical, the most beautiful productions of the American mind, and
they were thoroughly local and national. They had a music and a magic,
and when one remembers the remarkable charm of the speaker, the
beautiful modulation of his utterance, one regrets in especial that
one might not have been present on a certain occasion which made a
sensation, an era--the delivery of an address to the Divinity School
of Harvard University, on a summer evening in 1838. In the light,
fresh American air, unthickened and undarkened by customs and
institutions established, these things, as the phrase is, told.

Hawthorne appears, like his own Miles Coverdale, to have arrived at
Brook Farm in the midst of one of those April snow-storms which,
during the New England spring, occasionally diversify the inaction of
the vernal process. Miles Coverdale, in _The Blithedale Romance_, is
evidently as much Hawthorne as he is any one else in particular. He is
indeed not very markedly any one, unless it be the spectator, the
observer; his chief identity lies in his success in looking at things
objectively and spinning uncommunicated fancies about them. This
indeed was the part that Hawthorne played socially in the little
community at West Roxbury. His biographer describes him as sitting
"silently, hour after hour, in the broad old-fashioned hall of the
house, where he could listen almost unseen to the chat and merriment
of the young people, himself almost always holding a book before him,
but seldom turning the leaves." He put his hand to the plough and
supported himself and the community, as they were all supposed to do,
by his labour; but he contributed little to the hum of voices. Some of
his companions, either then or afterwards, took, I believe, rather a
gruesome view of his want of articulate enthusiasm, and accused him of
coming to the place as a sort of intellectual vampire, for purely
psychological purposes. He sat in a corner, they declared, and watched
the inmates when they were off their guard, analysing their
characters, and dissecting the amiable ardour, the magnanimous
illusions, which he was too cold-blooded to share. In so far as this
account of Hawthorne's attitude was a complaint, it was a singularly
childish one. If he was at Brook Farm without being of it, this is a
very fortunate circumstance from the point of view of posterity, who
would have preserved but a slender memory of the affair if our
author's fine novel had not kept the topic open. The complaint is
indeed almost so ungrateful a one as to make us regret that the
author's fellow-communists came off so easily. They certainly would
not have done so if the author of _Blithedale_ had been more of a
satirist. Certainly, if Hawthorne was an observer, he was a very
harmless one; and when one thinks of the queer specimens of the
reforming genus with which he must have been surrounded, one almost
wishes that, for our entertainment, he had given his old companions
something to complain of in earnest. There is no satire whatever in
the _Romance_; the quality is almost conspicuous by its absence. Of
portraits there are only two; there is no sketching of odd figures--no
reproduction of strange types of radicalism; the human background is
left vague. Hawthorne was not a satirist, and if at Brook Farm he was,
according to his habit, a good deal of a mild sceptic, his scepticism
was exercised much more in the interest of fancy than in that of
reality.

There must have been something pleasantly bucolic and pastoral in the
habits of the place during the fine New England summer; but we have no
retrospective envy of the denizens of Brook Farm in that other season
which, as Hawthorne somewhere says, leaves in those regions, "so large
a blank--so melancholy a deathspot--in lives so brief that they ought
to be all summer-time." "Of a summer night, when the moon was full,"
says Mr. Lathrop, "they lit no lamps, but sat grouped in the light and
shadow, while sundry of the younger men sang old ballads, or joined
Tom Moore's songs to operatic airs. On other nights there would be an
original essay or poem read aloud, or else a play of Shakspeare, with
the parts distributed to different members; and these amusements
failing, some interesting discussion was likely to take their place.
Occasionally, in the dramatic season, large delegations from the farm
would drive into Boston, in carriages and waggons, to the opera or the
play. Sometimes, too, the young women sang as they washed the dishes
in the Hive; and the youthful yeomen of the society came in and helped
them with their work. The men wore blouses of a checked or plaided
stuff, belted at the waist, with a broad collar folding down about the
throat, and rough straw hats; the women, usually, simple calico gowns
and hats." All this sounds delightfully Arcadian and innocent, and it
is certain that there was something peculiar to the clime and race in
some of the features of such a life; in the free, frank, and stainless
companionship of young men and maidens, in the mixture of manual
labour and intellectual flights--dish-washing and æsthetics,
wood-chopping and philosophy. Wordsworth's "plain living and high
thinking" were made actual. Some passages in Margaret Fuller's
journals throw plenty of light on this. (It must be premised that she
was at Brook Farm as an occasional visitor; not as a labourer in the
Hive.)

"All Saturday I was off in the woods. In the evening we had
a general conversation, opened by me, upon Education, in its
largest sense, and on what we can do for ourselves and
others. I took my usual ground:--The aim is perfection;
patience the road. Our lives should be considered as a
tendency, an approximation only.... Mr. R. spoke admirably
on the nature of loyalty. The people showed a good deal of
the _sans-culotte_ tendency in their manners, throwing
themselves on the floor, yawning, and going out when they
had heard enough. Yet as the majority differ with me, to
begin with--that being the reason this subject was
chosen--they showed on the whole more interest and
deference than I had expected. As I am accustomed to
deference, however, and need it for the boldness and
animation which my part requires, I did not speak with as
much force as usual.... Sunday.--A glorious day; the woods
full of perfume; I was out all the morning. In the afternoon
Mrs. R. and I had a talk. I said my position would be too
uncertain here, as I could not work. ---- said 'they would
all like to work for a person of genius.' ... 'Yes,' I told
her; 'but where would be my repose when they were always to
be judging whether I was worth it or not?.... Each day you
must prove yourself anew.' ... We talked of the principles
of the community. I said I had not a right to come, because
all the confidence I had in it was as an _experiment_ worth
trying, and that it was part of the great wave of inspired
thought.... We had valuable discussion on these points. All
Monday morning in the woods again. Afternoon, out with the
drawing party; I felt the evils of the want of conventional
refinement, in the impudence with which one of the girls
treated me. She has since thought of it with regret, I
notice; and by every day's observation of me will see that
she ought not to have done it. In the evening a husking in
the barn ... a most picturesque scene.... I stayed and
helped about half an hour, and then took a long walk beneath
the stars. Wednesday.... In the evening a conversation on
Impulse.... I defended nature, as I always do;--the spirit
ascending through, not superseding, nature. But in the scale
of Sense, Intellect, Spirit, I advocated the claims of
Intellect, because those present were rather disposed to
postpone them. On the nature of Beauty we had good talk.
---- seemed in a much more reverent humour than the other
night, and enjoyed the large plans of the universe which
were unrolled.... Saturday,--Well, good-bye, Brook Farm. I
know more about this place than I did when I came; but the
only way to be qualified for a judge of such an experiment
would be to become an active, though unimpassioned,
associate in trying it.... The girl who was so rude to me
stood waiting, with a timid air, to bid me good-bye."

The young girl in question cannot have been Hawthorne's
charming Priscilla; nor yet another young lady, of a most
humble spirit, who communicated to Margaret's biographers
her recollections of this remarkable woman's visits to Brook
Farm; concluding with the assurance that "after a while she
seemed to lose sight of my more prominent and disagreeable
peculiarities, and treated me with affectionate regard."

Hawthorne's farewell to the place appears to have been accompanied
with some reflections of a cast similar to those indicated by Miss
Fuller; in so far at least as we may attribute to Hawthorne himself
some of the observations that he fathers upon Miles Coverdale. His
biographer justly quotes two or three sentences from _The Blithedale
Romance_, as striking the note of the author's feeling about the
place. "No sagacious man," says Coverdale, "will long retain his
sagacity if he live exclusively among reformers and progressive
people, without periodically returning to the settled system of
things, to correct himself by a new observation from that old
standpoint." And he remarks elsewhere that "it struck me as rather odd
that one of the first questions raised, after our separation from the
greedy, struggling, self-seeking world, should relate to the
possibility of getting the advantage over the outside barbarians in
their own field of labour. But to tell the truth, I very soon became
sensible that, as regarded society at large, we stood in a position of
new hostility rather than new brotherhood." He was doubtless oppressed
by the "sultry heat of society," as he calls it in one of the jottings
in the Note-Books. "What would a man do if he were compelled to live
always in the sultry heat of society, and could never bathe himself
in cool solitude?" His biographer relates that one of the other Brook
Farmers, wandering afield one summer's day, discovered Hawthorne
stretched at his length upon a grassy hillside, with his hat pulled
over his face, and every appearance, in his attitude, of the desire to
escape detection. On his asking him whether he had any particular
reason for this shyness of posture--"Too much of a party up there!"
Hawthorne contented himself with replying, with a nod in the direction
of the Hive. He had nevertheless for a time looked forward to
remaining indefinitely in the community; he meant to marry as soon as
possible and bring his wife there to live. Some sixty pages of the
second volume of the American Note-Books are occupied with extracts
from his letters to his future wife and from his journal (which
appears however at this time to have been only intermittent),
consisting almost exclusively of descriptions of the simple scenery of
the neighbourhood, and of the state of the woods and fields and
weather. Hawthorne's fondness for all the common things of nature was
deep and constant, and there is always something charming in his
verbal touch, as we may call it, when he talks to himself about them.
"Oh," he breaks out, of an October afternoon, "the beauty of grassy
slopes, and the hollow ways of paths winding between hills, and the
intervals between the road and wood-lots, where Summer lingers and
sits down, strewing dandelions of gold and blue asters as her parting
gifts and memorials!" He was but a single summer at Brook Farm; the
rest of his residence had the winter-quality.

But if he returned to solitude, it was henceforth to be as the French
say, a _solitude à deux_. He was married in July 1842, and betook
himself immediately to the ancient village of Concord, near Boston,
where he occupied the so-called Manse which has given the title to one
of his collections of tales, and upon which this work, in turn, has
conferred a permanent distinction. I use the epithets "ancient" and
"near" in the foregoing sentence, according to the American
measurement of time and distance. Concord is some twenty miles from
Boston, and even to day, upwards of forty years after the date of
Hawthorne's removal thither, it is a very fresh and well-preserved
looking town. It had already a local history when, a hundred years
ago, the larger current of human affairs flowed for a moment around
it. Concord has the honour of being the first spot in which blood was
shed in the war of the Revolution; here occurred the first exchange of
musket-shots between the King's troops and the American insurgents.
Here, as Emerson says in the little hymn which he contributed in 1836
to the dedication of a small monument commemorating this
circumstance--

"Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world."

The battle was a small one, and the farmers were not destined
individually to emerge from obscurity; but the memory of these things
has kept the reputation of Concord green, and it has been watered,
moreover, so to speak, by the life-long presence there of one of the
most honoured of American men of letters--the poet from whom I just
quoted two lines. Concord is indeed in itself decidedly verdant, and
is an excellent specimen of a New England village of the riper sort.
At the time of Hawthorne's first going there it must have been an even
better specimen than to-day--more homogeneous, more indigenous, more
absolutely democratic. Forty years ago the tide of foreign immigration
had scarcely begun to break upon the rural strongholds of the New
England race; it had at most begun to splash them with the salt
Hibernian spray. It is very possible, however, that at this period
there was not an Irishman in Concord; the place would have been a
village community operating in excellent conditions. Such a village
community was not the least honourable item in the sum of New England
civilisation. Its spreading elms and plain white houses, its generous
summers and ponderous winters, its immediate background of promiscuous
field and forest, would have been part of the composition. For the
rest, there were the selectmen and the town-meetings, the town-schools
and the self-governing spirit, the rigid morality, the friendly and
familiar manners, the perfect competence of the little society to
manage its affairs itself. In the delightful introduction to the
_Mosses_, Hawthorne has given an account of his dwelling, of his
simple occupations and recreations, and of some of the characteristics
of the place. The Manse is a large, square wooden house, to the
surface of which--even in the dry New England air, so unfriendly to
mosses and lichens and weather-stains, and the other elements of a
picturesque complexion--a hundred and fifty years of exposure have
imparted a kind of tone, standing just above the slow-flowing Concord
river, and approached by a short avenue of over-arching trees. It had
been the dwelling-place of generations of Presbyterian ministers,
ancestors of the celebrated Emerson, who had himself spent his early
manhood and written some of his most beautiful essays there. "He
used," as Hawthorne says, "to watch the Assyrian dawn, and Paphian
sunset and moonrise, from the summit of our eastern hill." From its
clerical occupants the place had inherited a mild mustiness of
theological association--a vague reverberation of old Calvinistic
sermons, which served to deepen its extra-mundane and somnolent
quality. The three years that Hawthorne passed here were, I should
suppose, among the happiest of his life. The future was indeed not in
any special manner assured; but the present was sufficiently genial.
In the American Note-Books there is a charming passage (too long to
quote) descriptive of the entertainment the new couple found in
renovating and re-furnishing the old parsonage, which, at the time of
their going into it, was given up to ghosts and cobwebs. Of the little
drawing-room, which had been most completely reclaimed, he writes that
"the shade of our departed host will never haunt it; for its aspect
has been as completely changed as the scenery of a theatre. Probably
the ghost gave one peep into it, uttered a groan, and vanished for
ever." This departed host was a certain Doctor Ripley, a venerable
scholar, who left behind him a reputation of learning and sanctity
which was reproduced in one of the ladies of his family, long the most
distinguished woman in the little Concord circle. Doctor Ripley's
predecessor had been, I believe, the last of the line of the Emerson
ministers--an old gentleman who, in the earlier years of his
pastorate, stood at the window of his study (the same in which
Hawthorne handled a more irresponsible quill) watching, with his hands
under his long coat-tails, the progress of Concord fight. It is not by
any means related, however, I should add, that he waited for the
conclusion to make up his mind which was the righteous cause.

Hawthorne had a little society (as much, we may infer, as he desired),
and it was excellent in quality. But the pages in the Note-Books which
relate to his life at the Manse, and the introduction to the _Mosses_,
make more of his relations with vegetable nature, and of his customary
contemplation of the incidents of wood-path and way-side, than of the
human elements of the scene; though these also are gracefully touched
upon. These pages treat largely of the pleasures of a kitchen-garden, of
the beauty of summer-squashes, and of the mysteries of apple-raising.
With the wholesome aroma of apples (as is indeed almost necessarily the
case in any realistic record of New England rural life) they are
especially pervaded; and with many other homely and domestic emanations;
all of which derive a sweetness from the medium of our author's
colloquial style. Hawthorne was silent with his lips; but he talked with
his pen. The tone of his writing is often that of charming
talk--ingenious, fanciful, slow-flowing, with all the lightness of
gossip, and none of its vulgarity. In the preface to the tales written
at the Manse he talks of many things and just touches upon some of the
members of his circle--especially upon that odd genius, his
fellow-villager, Henry Thoreau. I said a little way back that the New
England Transcendental movement had suffered in the estimation of the
world at large from not having (putting Emerson aside) produced any
superior talents. But any reference to it would be ungenerous which
should omit to pay a tribute in passing to the author of _Walden_.
Whatever question there may be of his talent, there can be none, I
think, of his genius. It was a slim and crooked one; but it was
eminently personal. He was imperfect, unfinished, inartistic; he was
worse than provincial--he was parochial; it is only at his best that he
is readable. But at his best he has an extreme natural charm, and he
must always be mentioned after those Americans--Emerson, Hawthorne,
Longfellow, Lowell, Motley--who have written originally. He was
Emerson's independent moral man made flesh--living for the ages, and not
for Saturday and Sunday; for the Universe, and not for Concord. In fact,
however, Thoreau lived for Concord very effectually, and by his
remarkable genius for the observation of the phenomena of woods and
streams, of plants and trees, and beasts and fishes, and for flinging a
kind of spiritual interest over these things, he did more than he
perhaps intended toward consolidating the fame of his accidental human
sojourn. He was as shy and ungregarious as Hawthorne; but he and the
latter appear to have been sociably disposed towards each other, and
there are some charming touches in the preface to the _Mosses_ in regard
to the hours they spent in boating together on the large, quiet Concord
river. Thoreau was a great voyager, in a canoe which he had constructed
himself, and which he eventually made over to Hawthorne, and as expert
in the use of the paddle as the Red men who had once haunted the same
silent stream. The most frequent of Hawthorne's companions on these
excursions appears, however, to have been a local celebrity--as well as
Thoreau a high Transcendentalist--Mr. Ellery Channing, whom I may
mention, since he is mentioned very explicitly in the preface to the
_Mosses_, and also because no account of the little Concord world would
be complete which should omit him. He was the son of the distinguished
Unitarian moralist, and, I believe, the intimate friend of Thoreau, whom
he resembled in having produced literary compositions more esteemed by
the few than by the many. He and Hawthorne were both fishermen, and the
two used to set themselves afloat in the summer afternoons. "Strange and
happy times were those," exclaims the more distinguished of the two
writers, "when we cast aside all irksome forms and strait-laced
habitudes, and delivered ourselves up to the free air, to live like the
Indians or any less conventional race, during one bright semicircle of
the sun. Rowing our boat against the current, between wide meadows, we
turned aside into the Assabeth. A more lovely stream than this, for a
mile above its junction with the Concord, has never flowed on
earth--nowhere indeed except to lave the interior regions of a poet's
imagination.... It comes flowing softly through the midmost privacy and
deepest heart of a wood which whispers it to be quiet; while the stream
whispers back again from its sedgy borders, as if river and wood were
hushing one another to sleep. Yes; the river sleeps along its course and
dreams of the sky and the clustering foliage...." While Hawthorne was
looking at these beautiful things, or, for that matter, was writing
them, he was well out of the way of a certain class of visitants whom he
alludes to in one of the closing passages of this long Introduction.
"Never was a poor little country village infested with such a variety of
queer, strangely-dressed, oddly-behaved mortals, most of whom took upon
themselves to be important agents of the world's destiny, yet were
simply bores of a very intense character." "These hobgoblins of flesh
and blood," he says in a preceding paragraph, "were attracted thither by
the wide-spreading influence of a great original thinker who had his
earthly abode at the opposite extremity of our village.... People that
had lighted on a new thought or a thought they fancied new, came to
Emerson, as the finder of a glittering gem hastens to a lapidary, to
ascertain its quality and value." And Hawthorne enumerates some of the
categories of pilgrims to the shrine of the mystic counsellor, who as a
general thing was probably far from abounding in their own sense (when
this sense was perverted), but gave them a due measure of plain
practical advice. The whole passage is interesting, and it suggests that
little Concord had not been ill-treated by the fates--with "a great
original thinker" at one end of the village, an exquisite teller of
tales at the other, and the rows of New England elms between. It
contains moreover an admirable sentence about Hawthorne's
pilgrim-haunted neighbour, with whom, "being happy," as he says, and
feeling therefore "as if there were no question to be put," he was not
in metaphysical communion. "It was good nevertheless to meet him in the
wood-paths, or sometimes in our avenue, with that pure intellectual
gleam diffused about his presence, like the garment of a shining one;
and he so quiet, so simple, so without pretension, encountering each man
alive as if expecting to receive more than he could impart!" One may
without indiscretion risk the surmise that Hawthorne's perception, of
the "shining" element in his distinguished friend was more intense than
his friend's appreciation of whatever luminous property might reside
within the somewhat dusky envelope of our hero's identity as a collector
of "mosses." Emerson, as a sort of spiritual sun-worshipper, could have
attached but a moderate value to Hawthorne's cat-like faculty of seeing
in the dark.

"As to the daily coarse of our life," the latter writes in the spring
of 1843, "I have written with pretty commendable diligence, averaging
from two to four hours a day; and the result is seen in various
magazines. I might have written more if it had seemed worth while, but
I was content to earn only so much gold as might suffice for our
immediate wants, having prospect of official station and emolument
which would do away with the necessity of writing for bread. These
prospects have not yet had their fulfilment; and we are well content
to wait, for an office would inevitably remove us from our present
happy home--at least from an outward home; for there is an inner one
that will accompany us wherever we go. Meantime, the magazine people
do not pay their debts; so that we taste some of the inconveniences of
poverty. It is an annoyance, not a trouble." And he goes on to give
some account of his usual habits. (The passage is from his Journal,
and the account is given to himself, as it were, with that odd,
unfamiliar explicitness which marks the tone of this record
throughout.) "Every day I trudge through snow and slosh to the
village, look into the post-office, and spend an hour at the
reading-room; and then return home, generally without having spoken a
word to any human being.... In the way of exercise I saw and split
wood, and physically I was never in a better condition than now." He
adds a mention of an absence he had lately made. "I went alone to
Salem, where I resumed all my bachelor habits for nearly a fortnight,
leading the same life in which ten years of my youth flitted away like
a dream. But how much changed was I! At last I had got hold of a
reality which never could be taken from me. It was good thus to get
apart from my happiness for the sake of contemplating it."

These compositions, which were so unpunctually paid for, appeared in
the _Democratic Review_, a periodical published at Washington, and
having, as our author's biographer says, "considerable pretensions to
a national character." It is to be regretted that the practice of
keeping its creditors waiting should, on the part of the magazine in
question, have been thought compatible with these pretensions. The
foregoing lines are a description of a very monotonous but a very
contented life, and Mr. Lathrop justly remarks upon the dissonance of
tone of the tales Hawthorne produced under these happy circumstances.
It is indeed not a little of an anomaly. The episode of the Manse was
one of the most agreeable he had known, and yet the best of the
_Mosses_ (though not the greater number of them) are singularly dismal
compositions. They are redolent of M. Montégut's pessimism. "The
reality of sin, the pervasiveness of evil," says Mr. Lathrop, "had
been but slightly insisted upon in the earlier tales: in this series
the idea bursts up like a long-buried fire, with earth-shaking
strength, and the pits of hell seem yawning beneath us." This is very
true (allowing for Mr. Lathrop's rather too emphatic way of putting
it); but the anomaly is, I think, on the whole, only superficial. Our
writer's imagination, as has been abundantly conceded, was a gloomy
one; the old Puritan sense of sin, of penalties to be paid, of the
darkness and wickedness of life, had, as I have already suggested,
passed into it. It had not passed into the parts of Hawthorne's nature
corresponding to those occupied by the same horrible vision of things
in his ancestors; but it had still been determined to claim this
later comer as its own, and since his heart and his happiness were to
escape, it insisted on setting its mark upon his genius--upon his most
beautiful organ, his admirable fancy. It may be said that when his
fancy was strongest and keenest, when it was most itself, then the
dark Puritan tinge showed in it most richly; and there cannot be a
better proof that he was not the man of a sombre _parti-pris_ whom M.
Montégut describes, than the fact that these duskiest flowers of his
invention sprang straight from the soil of his happiest days. This
surely indicates that there was but little direct connection between
the products of his fancy and the state of his affections. When he was
lightest at heart, he was most creative, and when he was most
creative, the moral picturesqueness of the old secret of mankind in
general and of the Puritans in particular, most appealed to him--the
secret that we are really not by any means so good as a well-regulated
society requires us to appear. It is not too much to say, even, that
the very condition of production of some of these unamiable tales
would be that they should be superficial, and, as it were, insincere.
The magnificent little romance of _Young Goodman Brown_, for instance,
evidently means nothing as regards Hawthorne's own state of mind, his
conviction of human depravity and his consequent melancholy; for the
simple reason that if it meant anything, it would mean too much. Mr.
Lathrop speaks of it as a "terrible and lurid parable;" but this, it
seems to me, is just what it is not. It is not a parable, but a
picture, which is a very different thing. What does M. Montégut make,
one would ask, from the point of view of Hawthorne's pessimism, of
the singularly objective and unpreoccupied tone of the Introduction to
the _Old Manse_, in which the author speaks from himself, and in which
the cry of metaphysical despair is not even faintly sounded?

We have seen that when he went into the village he often came home
without having spoken a word to a human being. There is a touching
entry made a little later, bearing upon his mild taciturnity. "A
cloudy veil stretches across the abyss of my nature. I have, however,
no love of secrecy and darkness. I am glad to think that God sees
through my heart, and if any angel has power to penetrate into it, he
is welcome to know everything that is there. Yes, and so may any
mortal who is capable of full sympathy, and therefore worthy to come
into my depths. But he must find his own way there; I can neither
guide nor enlighten him." It must be acknowledged, however, that if he
was not able to open the gate of conversation, it was sometimes
because he was disposed to slide the bolt himself. "I had a purpose,"
he writes, shortly before the entry last quoted, "if circumstances
would permit, of passing the whole term of my wife's absence without
speaking a word to any human being." He beguiled these incommunicative
periods by studying German, in Tieck and Bürger, without apparently
making much progress; also in reading French, in Voltaire and
Rabelais. "Just now," he writes, one October noon, "I heard a sharp
tapping at the window of my study, and, looking up from my book (a
volume of Rabelais), behold, the head of a little bird, who seemed to
demand admittance." It was a quiet life, of course, in which these
diminutive incidents seemed noteworthy; and what is noteworthy here
to the observer of Hawthorne's contemplative simplicity, is the fact
that though he finds a good deal to say about the little bird (he
devotes several lines more to it) he makes no remark upon Rabelais. He
had other visitors than little birds, however, and their demands were
also not Rabelaisian. Thoreau comes to see him, and they talk "upon
the spiritual advantages of change of place, and upon the _Dial_, and
upon Mr. Alcott, and other kindred or concatenated subjects." Mr.
Alcott was an arch-transcendentalist, living in Concord, and the
_Dial_ was a periodical to which the illuminated spirits of Boston and
its neighbourhood used to contribute. Another visitor comes and talks
"of Margaret Fuller, who, he says, has risen perceptibly into a higher
state since their last meeting." There is probably a great deal of
Concord five-and-thirty years ago in that little sentence!

Henry James

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