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Ch. 5 - The Three American Novels

The prospect of official station and emolument which Hawthorne
mentions in one of those paragraphs from his Journals which I have
just quoted, as having offered itself and then passed away, was at
last, in the event, confirmed by his receiving from the administration
of President Polk the gift of a place in the Custom-house of his
native town. The office was a modest one, and "official station" may
perhaps appear a magniloquent formula for the functions sketched in
the admirable Introduction to The _Scarlet Letter_. Hawthorne's duties
were those of Surveyor of the port of Salem, and they had a salary
attached, which was the important part; as his biographer tells us
that he had received almost nothing for the contributions to the
_Democratic Review_. He bade farewell to his ex-parsonage and went
back to Salem in 1846, and the immediate effect of his ameliorated
fortune was to make him stop writing. None of his Journals of the
period from his going to Salem to 1850 have been published; from which
I infer that he even ceased to journalise. _The Scarlet Letter_ was
not written till 1849. In the delightful prologue to that work,
entitled _The Custom-house_, he embodies some of the impressions
gathered during these years of comparative leisure (I say of leisure
because he does not intimate in this sketch of his occupations that
his duties were onerous). He intimates, however, that they were not
interesting, and that it was a very good thing for him, mentally and
morally, when his term of service expired--or rather when he was
removed from office by the operation of that wonderful "rotatory"
system which his countrymen had invented for the administration of
their affairs. This sketch of the Custom-house is, as simple writing,
one of the most perfect of Hawthorne's compositions, and one of the
most gracefully and humorously autobiographic. It would be interesting
to examine it in detail, but I prefer to use my space for making some
remarks upon the work which was the ultimate result of this period of
Hawthorne's residence in his native town; and I shall, for
convenience' sake, say directly afterwards what I have to say about
the two companions of _The Scarlet Letter_--_The House of the Seven
Gables_ and _The Blithedale Romance_. I quoted some passages from the
prologue to the first of these novels in the early pages of this
essay. There is another passage, however, which bears particularly
upon this phase of Hawthorne's career, and which is so happily
expressed as to make it a pleasure to transcribe it--the passage in
which he says that "for myself, during the whole of my Custom-house
experience, moonlight and sunshine, and the glow of the fire-light,
were just alike in my regard, and neither of them was of one whit more
avail than the twinkle of a tallow candle. An entire class of
susceptibilities, and a gift connected with them--of no great richness
or value, but the best I had--was gone from me." He goes on to say
that he believes that he might have done something if he could have
made up his mind to convert the very substance of the commonplace that
surrounded him into matter of literature.

"I might, for instance, have contented myself with writing
out the narratives of a veteran shipmaster, one of the
inspectors, whom I should be most ungrateful not to mention;
since scarcely a day passed that he did not stir me to
laughter and admiration by his marvellous gift as a
story-teller.... Or I might readily have found a more
serious task. It was a folly, with the materiality of this
daily life pressing so intrusively upon me, to attempt to
fling myself back into another age; or to insist on creating
a semblance of a world out of airy matter.... The wiser
effort would have been, to diffuse thought and imagination
through the opaque substance of to-day, and thus make it a
bright transparency ... to seek resolutely the true and
indestructible value that lay hidden in the petty and
wearisome incidents and ordinary characters with which I was
now conversant. The fault was mine. The page of life that
was spread out before me was dull and commonplace, only
because I had not fathomed its deeper import. A better book
than I shall ever write was there.... These perceptions came
too late.... I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably poor
tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Surveyor
of the Customs. That was all. But, nevertheless, it is
anything but agreeable to be haunted by a suspicion that
one's intellect is dwindling away, or exhaling, without your
consciousness, like ether out of phial; so that at every
glance you find a smaller and less volatile residuum."

As, however, it was with what was left of his intellect after three
years' evaporation, that Hawthorne wrote _The Scarlet Letter_, there
is little reason to complain of the injury he suffered in his

His publisher, Mr. Fields, in a volume entitled _Yesterdays with
Authors_, has related the circumstances in which Hawthorne's
masterpiece came into the world. "In the winter of 1849, after he had
been ejected from the Custom-house, I went down to Salem to see him
and inquire after his health, for we heard he had been suffering from
illness. He was then living in a modest wooden house.... I found him
alone in a chamber over the sitting-room of the dwelling, and as the
day was cold he was hovering near a stove. We fell into talk about his
future prospects, and he was, as I feared I should find him, in a very
desponding mood." His visitor urged him to bethink himself of
publishing something, and Hawthorne replied by calling his attention
to the small popularity his published productions had yet acquired,
and declaring that he had done nothing and had no spirit for doing
anything. The narrator of the incident urged upon him the necessity of
a more hopeful view of his situation, and proceeded to take leave. He
had not reached the street, however, when Hawthorne hurried to
overtake him, and, placing a roll of MS. in his hand, bade him take it
to Boston, read it, and pronounce upon it. "It is either very good or
very bad," said the author; "I don't know which." "On my way back to
Boston," says Mr. Fields, "I read the germ of _The Scarlet Letter_;
before I slept that night I wrote him a note all aglow with admiration
of the marvellous story he had put into my hands, and told him that I
would come again to Salem the next day and arrange for its
publication. I went on in such an amazing state of excitement, when we
met again in the little house, that he would not believe I was really
in earnest. He seemed to think I was beside myself, and laughed sadly
at my enthusiasm." Hawthorne, however, went on with the book and
finished it, but it appeared only a year later. His biographer quotes
a passage from a letter which he wrote in February, 1850, to his
friend Horatio Bridge. "I finished my book only yesterday; one end
being in the press at Boston, while the other was in my head here at
Salem, so that, as you see, my story is at least fourteen miles
long.... My book, the publisher tells me, will not be out before
April. He speaks of it in tremendous terms of approbation, so does
Mrs. Hawthorne, to whom I read the conclusion last night. It broke her
heart, and sent her to bed with a grievous headache--which I look
upon, as a triumphant success. Judging from the effect upon her and
the publisher, I may calculate on what bowlers call a ten-strike. But
I don't make any such calculation." And Mr. Lathrop calls attention,
in regard to this passage, to an allusion in the English Note-Books
(September 14, 1855). "Speaking of Thackeray, I cannot but wonder at
his coolness in respect to his own pathos, and compare it to my
emotions when I read the last scene of _The Scarlet Letter_ to my
wife, just after writing it--tried to read it rather, for my voice
swelled and heaved as if I were tossed up and down on an ocean as it
subsides after a storm. But I was in a very nervous state then, having
gone through a great diversity of emotion while writing it, for many

The work has the tone of the circumstances in which it was produced.
If Hawthorne was in a sombre mood, and if his future was painfully
vague, _The Scarlet Letter_ contains little enough of gaiety or of
hopefulness. It is densely dark, with a single spot of vivid colour in
it; and it will probably long remain the most consistently gloomy of
English novels of the first order. But I just now called it the
author's masterpiece, and I imagine it will continue to be, for other
generations than ours, his most substantial title to fame. The
subject had probably lain a long time in his mind, as his subjects
were apt to do; so that he appears completely to possess it, to know
it and feel it. It is simpler and more complete than his other novels;
it achieves more perfectly what it attempts, and it has about it that
charm, very hard to express, which we find in an artist's work the
first time he has touched his highest mark--a sort of straightness and
naturalness of execution, an unconsciousness of his public, and
freshness of interest in his theme. It was a great success, and he
immediately found himself famous. The writer of these lines, who was a
child at the time, remembers dimly the sensation the book produced,
and the little shudder with which people alluded to it, as if a
peculiar horror were mixed with its attractions. He was too young to
read it himself, but its title, upon which he fixed his eyes as the
book lay upon the table, had a mysterious charm. He had a vague belief
indeed that the "letter" in question was one of the documents that
come by the post, and it was a source of perpetual wonderment to him
that it should be of such an unaccustomed hue. Of course it was
difficult to explain to a child the significance of poor Hester
Prynne's blood-coloured _A_. But the mystery was at last partly
dispelled by his being taken to see a collection of pictures (the
annual exhibition of the National Academy), where he encountered a
representation of a pale, handsome woman, in a quaint black dress and
a white coif, holding between her knees an elfish-looking little girl,
fantastically dressed and crowned with flowers. Embroidered on the
woman's breast was a great crimson _A_, over which the child's
fingers, as she glanced strangely out of the picture, were maliciously
playing. I was told that this was Hester Prynne and little Pearl, and
that when I grew older I might read their interesting history. But the
picture remained vividly imprinted on my mind; I had been vaguely
frightened and made uneasy by it; and when, years afterwards, I first
read the novel, I seemed to myself to have read it before, and to be
familiar with its two strange heroines, I mention this incident simply
as an indication of the degree to which the success of _The Scarlet
Letter_ had made the book what is called an actuality. Hawthorne
himself was very modest about it; he wrote to his publisher, when
there was a question of his undertaking another novel, that what had
given the history of Hester Prynne its "vogue" was simply the
introductory chapter. In fact, the publication of _The Scarlet Letter_
was in the United States a literary event of the first importance. The
book was the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the
country. There was a consciousness of this in the welcome that was
given it--a satisfaction in the idea of America having produced a
novel that belonged to literature, and to the forefront of it.
Something might at last be sent to Europe as exquisite in quality as
anything that had been received, and the best of it was that the thing
was absolutely American; it belonged to the soil, to the air; it came
out of the very heart of New England.

It is beautiful, admirable, extraordinary; it has in the highest
degree that merit which I have spoken of as the mark of Hawthorne's
best things--an indefinable purity and lightness of conception, a
quality which in a work of art affects one in the same way as the
absence of grossness does in a human being. His fancy, as I just now
said, had evidently brooded over the subject for a long time; the
situation to be represented had disclosed itself to him in all its
phases. When I say in all its phases, the sentence demands
modification; for it is to be remembered that if Hawthorne laid his
hand upon the well-worn theme, upon the familiar combination of the
wife, the lover, and the husband, it was after all but to one period
of the history of these three persons that he attached himself. The
situation is the situation after the woman's fault has been committed,
and the current of expiation and repentance has set in. In spite of
the relation between Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, no story of
love was surely ever less of a "love story." To Hawthorne's
imagination the fact that these two persons had loved each other too
well was of an interest comparatively vulgar; what appealed to him was
the idea of their moral situation in the long years that were to
follow. The story indeed is in a secondary degree that of Hester
Prynne; she becomes, really, after the first scene, an accessory
figure; it is not upon her the _dénoûment_ depends. It is upon her
guilty lover that the author projects most frequently the cold, thin
rays of his fitfully-moving lantern, which makes here and there a
little luminous circle, on the edge of which hovers the livid and
sinister figure of the injured and retributive husband. The story goes
on for the most part between the lover and the husband--the tormented
young Puritan minister, who carries the secret of his own lapse from
pastoral purity locked up beneath an exterior that commends itself to
the reverence of his flock, while he sees the softer partner of his
guilt standing in the full glare of exposure and humbling herself to
the misery of atonement--between this more wretched and pitiable
culprit, to whom dishonour would come as a comfort and the pillory as
a relief, and the older, keener, wiser man, who, to obtain
satisfaction for the wrong he has suffered, devises the infernally
ingenious plan of conjoining himself with his wronger, living with
him, living upon him, and while he pretends to minister to his hidden
ailment and to sympathise with his pain, revels in his unsuspected
knowledge of these things and stimulates them by malignant arts. The
attitude of Roger Chillingworth, and the means he takes to compensate
himself--these are the highly original elements in the situation that
Hawthorne so ingeniously treats. None of his works are so impregnated
with that after-sense of the old Puritan consciousness of life to
which allusion has so often been made. If, as M. Montégut says, the
qualities of his ancestors _filtered_ down through generations into
his composition, _The Scarlet Letter_ was, as it were, the vessel that
gathered up the last of the precious drops. And I say this not because
the story happens to be of so-called historical cast, to be told of
the early days of Massachusetts and of people in steeple-crowned hats
and sad coloured garments. The historical colouring is rather weak
than otherwise; there is little elaboration of detail, of the modern
realism of research; and the author has made no great point of causing
his figures to speak the English of their period. Nevertheless, the
book is full of the moral presence of the race that invented Hester's
penance--diluted and complicated with other things, but still
perfectly recognisable. Puritanism, in a word, is there, not only
objectively, as Hawthorne tried to place it there, but subjectively as
well. Not, I mean, in his judgment of his characters, in any
harshness of prejudice, or in the obtrusion of a moral lesson; but in
the very quality of his own vision, in the tone of the picture, in a
certain coldness and exclusiveness of treatment.

The faults of the book are, to my sense, a want of reality and an
abuse of the fanciful element--of a certain superficial symbolism. The
people strike me not as characters, but as representatives, very
picturesquely arranged, of a single state of mind; and the interest of
the story lies, not in them, but in the situation, which is
insistently kept before us, with little progression, though with a
great deal, as I have said, of a certain stable variation; and to
which they, out of their reality, contribute little that helps it to
live and move. I was made to feel this want of reality, this
over-ingenuity, of _The Scarlet Letter_, by chancing not long since
upon a novel which was read fifty years ago much more than to-day, but
which is still worth reading--the story of _Adam Blair_, by John
Gibson Lockhart. This interesting and powerful little tale has a great
deal of analogy with Hawthorne's novel--quite enough, at least, to
suggest a comparison between them; and the comparison is a very
interesting one to make, for it speedily leads us to larger
considerations than simple resemblances and divergences of plot.

Adam Blair, like Arthur Dimmesdale, is a Calvinistic minister who
becomes the lover of a married woman, is overwhelmed with remorse at
his misdeed, and makes a public confession of it; then expiates it by
resigning his pastoral office and becoming a humble tiller of the
soil, as his father had been. The two stories are of about the same
length, and each is the masterpiece (putting aside of course, as far
as Lockhart is concerned, the _Life of Scott_) of the author. They
deal alike with the manners of a rigidly theological society, and even
in certain details they correspond. In each of them, between the
guilty pair, there is a charming little girl; though I hasten to say
that Sarah Blair (who is not the daughter of the heroine but the
legitimate offspring of the hero, a widower) is far from being as
brilliant and graceful an apparition as the admirable little Pearl of
_The Scarlet Letter_. The main difference between the two tales is the
fact that in the American story the husband plays an all-important
part, and in the Scottish plays almost none at all. _Adam Blair_ is
the history of the passion, and _The Scarlet Letter_ the history of
its sequel; but nevertheless, if one has read the two books at a short
interval, it is impossible to avoid confronting them. I confess that a
large portion of the interest of _Adam Blair_, to my mind, when once I
had perceived that it would repeat in a great measure the situation of
_The Scarlet Letter_, lay in noting its difference of tone. It threw
into relief the passionless quality of Hawthorne's novel, its element
of cold and ingenious fantasy, its elaborate imaginative delicacy.
These things do not precisely constitute a weakness in _The Starlet
Letter_; indeed, in a certain way they constitute a great strength;
but the absence of a certain something warm and straightforward, a
trifle more grossly human and vulgarly natural, which one finds in
_Adam Blair_, will always make Hawthorne's tale less touching to a
large number of even very intelligent readers, than a love-story told
with the robust, synthetic pathos which served Lockhart so well. His
novel is not of the first rank (I should call it an excellent
second-rate one), but it borrows a charm from the fact that his
vigorous, but not strongly imaginative, mind was impregnated with the
reality of his subject. He did not always succeed in rendering this
reality; the expression is sometimes awkward and poor. But the reader
feels that his vision was clear, and his feeling about the matter very
strong and rich. Hawthorne's imagination, on the other hand, plays
with his theme so incessantly, leads it such a dance through the
moonlighted air of his intellect, that the thing cools off, as it
were, hardens and stiffens, and, producing effects much more
exquisite, leaves the reader with a sense of having handled a splendid
piece of silversmith's work. Lockhart, by means much more vulgar,
produces at moments a greater illusion, and satisfies our inevitable
desire for something, in the people in whom it is sought to interest
us, that shall be of the same pitch and the same continuity with
ourselves. Above all, it is interesting to see how the same subject
appears to two men of a thoroughly different cast of mind and of a
different race. Lockhart was struck with the warmth of the subject
that offered itself to him, and Hawthorne with its coldness; the one
with its glow, its sentimental interest--the other with its shadow,
its moral interest. Lockhart's story is as decent, as severely draped,
as _The Scarlet Letter_; but the author has a more vivid sense than
appears to have imposed itself upon Hawthorne, of some of the
incidents of the situation he describes; his tempted man and tempting
woman are more actual and personal; his heroine in especial, though
not in the least a delicate or a subtle conception, has a sort of
credible, visible, palpable property, a vulgar roundness and relief,
which are lacking to the dim and chastened image of Hester Prynne.
But I am going too far; I am comparing simplicity with subtlety, the
usual with the refined. Each man wrote as his turn of mind impelled
him, but each expressed something more than himself. Lockhart was a
dense, substantial Briton, with a taste for the concrete, and
Hawthorne was a thin New Englander, with a miasmatic conscience.

In _The Scarlet Letter_ there is a great deal of symbolism; there is,
I think, too much. It is overdone at times, and becomes mechanical; it
ceases to be impressive, and grazes triviality. The idea of the mystic
_A_ which the young minister finds imprinted upon his breast and
eating into his flesh, in sympathy with the embroidered badge that
Hester is condemned to wear, appears to me to be a case in point. This
suggestion should, I think, have been just made and dropped; to insist
upon it and return to it, is to exaggerate the weak side of the
subject. Hawthorne returns to it constantly, plays with it, and seems
charmed by it; until at last the reader feels tempted to declare that
his enjoyment of it is puerile. In the admirable scene, so superbly
conceived and beautifully executed, in which Mr. Dimmesdale, in the
stillness of the night, in the middle of the sleeping town, feels
impelled to go and stand upon the scaffold where his mistress had
formerly enacted her dreadful penance, and then, seeing Hester pass
along the street, from watching at a sick-bed, with little Pearl at
her side, calls them both to come and stand there beside him--in this
masterly episode the effect is almost spoiled by the introduction of
one of these superficial conceits. What leads up to it is very
fine--so fine that I cannot do better than quote it as a specimen of
one of the striking pages of the book.

"But before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking, a light
gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky. It was
doubtless caused by one of those meteors which the
night-watcher may so often observe burning out to waste in
the vacant regions of the atmosphere. So powerful was its
radiance that it thoroughly illuminated the dense medium of
cloud, betwixt the sky and earth. The great vault
brightened, like the dome of an immense lamp. It showed the
familiar scene of the street with the distinctness of
midday, but also with the awfulness that is always imparted
to familiar objects by an unaccustomed light. The wooden
houses, with their jutting stories and quaint gable-peaks;
the doorsteps and thresholds, with the early grass springing
up about them; the garden-plots, black with freshly-turned
earth; the wheel-track, little worn, and, even in the
marketplace, margined with green on either side;--all were
visible, but with a singularity of aspect that seemed to
give another moral interpretation to the things of this
world than they had ever borne before. And there stood the
minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne,
with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and
little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting-link
between these two. They stood in the noon of that strange
and solemn splendour, as if it were the light that is to
reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all
that belong to one another."

That is imaginative, impressive, poetic; but when, almost immediately
afterwards, the author goes on to say that "the minister looking
upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense
letter--the letter _A_--marked out in lines of dull red light," we
feel that he goes too far and is in danger of crossing the line that
separates the sublime from its intimate neighbour. We are tempted to
say that this is not moral tragedy, but physical comedy. In the same
way, too much is made of the intimation that Hester's badge had a
scorching property, and that if one touched it one would immediately
withdraw one's hand. Hawthorne is perpetually looking for images which
shall place themselves in picturesque correspondence with the
spiritual facts with which he is concerned, and of course the search
is of the very essence of poetry. But in such a process discretion is
everything, and when the image becomes importunate it is in danger of
seeming to stand for nothing more serious than itself. When Hester
meets the minister by appointment in the forest, and sits talking with
him while little Pearl wanders away and plays by the edge of the
brook, the child is represented as at last making her way over to the
other side of the woodland stream, and disporting herself there in a
manner which makes her mother feel herself, "in some indistinct and
tantalising manner, estranged from Pearl; as if the child, in her
lonely ramble through the forest, had strayed out of the sphere in
which she and her mother dwelt together, and was now vainly seeking to
return to it." And Hawthorne devotes a chapter to this idea of the
child's having, by putting the brook between Hester and herself,
established a kind of spiritual gulf, on the verge of which her little
fantastic person innocently mocks at her mother's sense of
bereavement. This conception belongs, one would say, quite to the
lighter order of a story-teller's devices, and the reader hardly goes
with Hawthorne in the large development he gives to it. He hardly goes
with him either, I think, in his extreme predilection for a small
number of vague ideas which are represented by such terms as "sphere"
and "sympathies." Hawthorne makes too liberal a use of these two
substantives; it is the solitary defect of his style; and it counts as
a defect partly because the words in question are a sort of specialty
with certain writers immeasurably inferior to himself.

I had not meant, however, to expatiate upon his defects, which are of
the slenderest and most venial kind. _The Scarlet Letter_ has the
beauty and harmony of all original and complete conceptions, and its
weaker spots, whatever they are, are not of its essence; they are mere
light flaws and inequalities of surface. One can often return to it;
it supports familiarity and has the inexhaustible charm and mystery of
great works of art. It is admirably written. Hawthorne afterwards
polished his style to a still higher degree, but in his later
productions--it is almost always the case in a writer's later
productions--there is a touch of mannerism. In _The Scarlet Letter_
there is a high degree of polish, and at the same time a charming
freshness; his phrase is less conscious of itself. His biographer very
justly calls attention to the fact that his style was excellent from
the beginning; that he appeared to have passed through no phase of
learning how to write, but was in possession of his means from the
first of his handling a pen. His early tales, perhaps, were not of a
character to subject his faculty of expression to a very severe test,
but a man who had not Hawthorne's natural sense of language would
certainly have contrived to write them less well. This natural sense
of language--this turn for saying things lightly and yet touchingly,
picturesquely yet simply, and for infusing a gently colloquial tone
into matter of the most unfamiliar import, he had evidently cultivated
with great assiduity. I have spoken of the anomalous character of his
Note-Books--of his going to such pains often to make a record of
incidents which either were not worth remembering or could be easily
remembered without its aid. But it helps us to understand the
Note-Books if we regard them as a literary exercise. They were
compositions, as school boys say, in which the subject was only the
pretext, and the main point was to write a certain amount of excellent
English. Hawthorne must at least have written a great many of these
things for practice, and he must often have said to himself that it
was better practice to write about trifles, because it was a greater
tax upon one's skill to make them interesting. And his theory was
just, for he has almost always made his trifles interesting. In his
novels his art of saying things well is very positively tested, for
here he treats of those matters among which it is very easy for a
blundering writer to go wrong--the subtleties and mysteries of life,
the moral and spiritual maze. In such a passage as one I have marked
for quotation from _The Scarlet Letter_ there is the stamp of the
genius of style.

"Hester Prynne, gazing steadfastly at the clergyman, felt a
dreary influence come over her, but wherefore or whence she
knew not, unless that he seemed so remote from her own
sphere and utterly beyond her reach. One glance of
recognition she had imagined must needs pass between them.
She thought of the dim forest with its little dell of
solitude, and love, and anguish, and the mossy tree-trunk,
where, sitting hand in hand, they had mingled their sad and
passionate talk with the melancholy murmur of the brook. How
deeply had they known each other then! And was this the man?
She hardly knew him now! He, moving proudly past, enveloped
as it were in the rich music, with the procession of
majestic and venerable fathers; he, so unattainable in his
worldly position, and still more so in that far vista in
his unsympathising thoughts, through which she now beheld
him! Her spirit sank with the idea that all must have been a
delusion, and that vividly as she had dreamed it, there
could be no real bond betwixt the clergyman and herself. And
thus much of woman there was in Hester, that she could
scarcely forgive him--least of all now, when the heavy
footstep of their approaching fate might be heard, nearer,
nearer, nearer!--for being able to withdraw himself so
completely from their mutual world, while she groped darkly,
and stretched forth her cold hands, and found him not!"

_The House of the Seven Gables_ was written at Lenox, among the
mountains of Massachusetts, a village nestling, rather loosely, in one
of the loveliest corners of New England, to which Hawthorne had
betaken himself after the success of _The Scarlet Letter_ became
conspicuous, in the summer of 1850, and where he occupied for two
years an uncomfortable little red house which is now pointed out to
the inquiring stranger. The inquiring stranger is now a frequent
figure at Lenox, for the place has suffered the process of
lionisation. It has become a prosperous watering-place, or at least
(as there are no waters), as they say in America, a summer-resort. It
is a brilliant and generous landscape, and thirty years ago a man of
fancy, desiring to apply himself, might have found both inspiration
and tranquillity there. Hawthorne found so much of both that he wrote
more during his two years of residence at Lenox than at any period of
his career. He began with _The House of the Seven Gables_, which was
finished in the early part of 1851. This is the longest of his three
American novels, it is the most elaborate, and in the judgment of some
persons it is the finest. It is a rich, delightful, imaginative work,
larger and more various than its companions, and full of all sorts of
deep intentions, of interwoven threads of suggestion But it is not so
rounded and complete as _The Scarlet Letter_; it has always seemed to
me more like a prologue to a great novel than a great novel itself. I
think this is partly owing to the fact that the subject, the _donnée_,
as the French say, of the story, does not quite fill it out, and that
we get at the same time an impression of certain complicated purposes
on the author's part, which seem to reach beyond it. I call it larger
and more various than its companions, and it has indeed a greater
richness of tone and density of detail. The colour, so to speak, of
_The House of the Seven Gables_ is admirable. But the story has a sort
of expansive quality which never wholly fructifies, and as I lately
laid it down, after reading it for the third time, I had a sense of
having interested myself in a magnificent fragment. Yet the book has a
great fascination, and of all of those of its author's productions
which I have read over while writing this sketch, it is perhaps the
one that has gained most by re-perusal. If it be true of the others
that the pure, natural quality of the imaginative strain is their
great merit, this is at least as true of _The House of the Seven
Gables_, the charm of which is in a peculiar degree of the kind that
we fail to reduce to its grounds--like that of the sweetness of a
piece of music, or the softness of fine September weather. It is
vague, indefinable, ineffable; but it is the sort of thing we must
always point to in justification of the high claim that we make for
Hawthorne. In this case of course its vagueness is a drawback, for it
is difficult to point to ethereal beauties; and if the reader whom we
have wished to inoculate with our admiration inform us after looking a
while that he perceives nothing in particular, we can only reply
that, in effect, the object is a delicate one.

_The House of the Seven Gables_ comes nearer being a picture of
contemporary American life than either of its companions; but on this
ground it would be a mistake to make a large claim for it. It cannot
be too often repeated that Hawthorne was not a realist. He had a high
sense of reality--his Note-Books super-abundantly testify to it; and
fond as he was of jotting down the items that make it up, he never
attempted to render exactly or closely the actual facts of the society
that surrounded him. I have said--I began by saying--that his pages
were full of its spirit, and of a certain reflected light that springs
from it; but I was careful to add that the reader must look for his
local and national quality between the lines of his writing and in the
_indirect_ testimony of his tone, his accent, his temper, of his very
omissions and suppressions. _The House of the Seven Gables_ has,
however, more literal actuality than the others, and if it were not
too fanciful an account of it, I should say that it renders, to an
initiated reader, the impression of a summer afternoon in an
elm-shadowed New England town. It leaves upon the mind a vague
correspondence to some such reminiscence, and in stirring up the
association it renders it delightful. The comparison is to the honour
of the New England town, which gains in it more than it bestows. The
shadows of the elms, in _The House of the Seven Gables_, are
exceptionally dense and cool; the summer afternoon is peculiarly still
and beautiful; the atmosphere has a delicious warmth, and the long
daylight seems to pause and rest. But the mild provincial quality is
there, the mixture of shabbiness and freshness, the paucity of
ingredients. The end of an old race--this is the situation that
Hawthorne has depicted, and he has been admirably inspired in the
choice of the figures in whom he seeks to interest us. They are all
figures rather than characters--they are all pictures rather than
persons. But if their reality is light and vague, it is sufficient,
and it is in harmony with the low relief and dimness of outline of the
objects that surround them. They are all types, to the author's mind,
of something general, of something that is bound up with the history,
at large, of families and individuals, and each of them is the centre
of a cluster of those ingenious and meditative musings, rather
melancholy, as a general thing, than joyous, which melt into the
current and texture of the story and give it a kind of moral richness.
A grotesque old spinster, simple, childish, penniless, very humble at
heart, but rigidly conscious of her pedigree; an amiable bachelor, of
an epicurean temperament and an enfeebled intellect, who has passed
twenty years of his life in penal confinement for a crime of which he
was unjustly pronounced guilty; a sweet-natured and bright-faced young
girl from the country, a poor relation of these two ancient
decrepitudes, with whose moral mustiness her modern freshness and
soundness are contrasted; a young man still more modern, holding the
latest opinions, who has sought his fortune up and down the world,
and, though he has not found it, takes a genial and enthusiastic view
of the future: these, with two or three remarkable accessory figures,
are the persons concerned in the little drama. The drama is a small
one, but as Hawthorne does not put it before us for its own
superficial sake, for the dry facts of the case, but for something in
it which he holds to be symbolic and of large application, something
that points a moral and that it behoves us to remember, the scenes in
the rusty wooden house whose gables give its name to the story, have
something of the dignity both of history and of tragedy. Miss
Hephzibah Pyncheon, dragging out a disappointed life in her paternal
dwelling, finds herself obliged in her old age to open a little shop
for the sale of penny toys and gingerbread. This is the central
incident of the tale, and, as Hawthorne relates it, it is an incident
of the most impressive magnitude and most touching interest. Her
dishonoured and vague-minded brother is released from prison at the
same moment, and returns to the ancestral roof to deepen her
perplexities. But, on the other hand, to alleviate them, and to
introduce a breath of the air of the outer world into this long
unventilated interior, the little country cousin also arrives, and
proves the good angel of the feebly distracted household. All this
episode is exquisite--admirably conceived, and executed with a kind of
humorous tenderness, an equal sense of everything in it that is
picturesque, touching, ridiculous, worthy of the highest praise.
Hephzibah Pyncheon, with her near-sighted scowl, her rusty joints, her
antique turban, her map of a great territory to the eastward which
ought to have belonged to her family, her vain terrors and scruples
and resentments, the inaptitude and repugnance of an ancient
gentlewoman to the vulgar little commerce which a cruel fate has
compelled her to engage in--Hephzibah Pyncheon is a masterly picture.
I repeat that she is a picture, as her companions are pictures; she is
a charming piece of descriptive writing, rather than a dramatic
exhibition. But she is described, like her companions too, so subtly
and lovingly that we enter into her virginal old heart and stand with
her behind her abominable little counter. Clifford Pyncheon is a still
more remarkable conception, though he is perhaps not so vividly
depicted. It was a figure needing a much more subtle touch, however,
and it was of the essence of his character to be vague and
unemphasised. Nothing can be more charming than the manner in which
the soft, bright, active presence of Phoebe Pyncheon is indicated,
or than the account of her relations with the poor dimly sentient
kinsman for whom her light-handed sisterly offices, in the evening of
a melancholy life, are a revelation of lost possibilities of
happiness. "In her aspect," Hawthorne says of the young girl, "there
was a familiar gladness, and a holiness that you could play with, and
yet reverence it as much as ever. She was like a prayer offered up in
the homeliest beauty of one's mother-tongue. Fresh was Phoebe,
moreover, and airy, and sweet in her apparel; as if nothing that she
wore--neither her gown, nor her small straw bonnet, nor her little
kerchief, any more than her snowy stockings--had ever been put on
before; or if worn, were all the fresher for it, and with a fragrance
as if they had lain among the rose-buds." Of the influence of her
maidenly salubrity upon poor Clifford, Hawthorne gives the prettiest
description, and then, breaking off suddenly, renounces the attempt in
language which, while pleading its inadequacy, conveys an exquisite
satisfaction to the reader. I quote the passage for the sake of its
extreme felicity, and of the charming image with which it concludes.

"But we strive in vain to put the idea into words. No
adequate expression of the beauty and profound pathos with
which it impresses us is attainable. This being, made only
for happiness, and heretofore so miserably failing to be
happy--his tendencies so hideously thwarted that some
unknown time ago, the delicate springs of his character,
never morally or intellectually strong, had given way, and
he was now imbecile--this poor forlorn voyager from the
Islands of the Blest, in a frail bark, on a tempestuous sea,
had been flung by the last mountain-wave of his shipwreck,
into a quiet harbour. There, as he lay more than half
lifeless on the strand, the fragrance of an earthly rose-bud
had come to his nostrils, and, as odours will, had summoned
up reminiscences or visions of all the living and breathing
beauty amid which he should have had his home. With his
native susceptibility of happy influences, he inhales the
slight ethereal rapture into his soul, and expires!"

I have not mentioned the personage in _The House of the Seven Gables_
upon whom Hawthorne evidently bestowed most pains, and whose portrait is
the most elaborate in the book; partly because he is, in spite of the
space he occupies, an accessory figure, and partly because, even more
than the others, he is what I have called a picture rather than a
character. Judge Pyncheon is an ironical portrait, very richly and
broadly executed, very sagaciously composed and rendered--the portrait
of a superb, full blown hypocrite, a large-based, full-nurtured
Pharisee, bland, urbane, impressive, diffusing about him a "sultry"
warmth of benevolence, as the author calls it again and again, and
basking in the noontide of prosperity and the consideration of society;
but in reality hard, gross, and ignoble. Judge Pyncheon is an elaborate
piece of description, made up of a hundred admirable touches, in which
satire is always winged with fancy, and fancy is linked with a deep
sense of reality. It is difficult to say whether Hawthorne followed a
model in describing Judge Pyncheon; but it is tolerably obvious that
the picture is an impression--a copious impression--of an individual. It
has evidently a definite starting-point in fact, and the author is able
to draw, freely and confidently, after the image established in his
mind. Holgrave, the modern young man, who has been a Jack-of-all-trades
and is at the period of the story a daguerreotypist, is an attempt to
render a kind of national type--that of the young citizen of the United
States whose fortune is simply in his lively intelligence, and who
stands naked, as it were, unbiased and unencumbered alike, in the centre
of the far-stretching level of American life. Holgrave is intended as a
contrast; his lack of traditions, his democratic stamp, his condensed
experience, are opposed to the desiccated prejudices and exhausted
vitality of the race of which poor feebly-scowling, rusty-jointed
Hephzibah is the most heroic representative. It is perhaps a pity that
Hawthorne should not have proposed to himself to give the old
Pyncheon-qualities some embodiment which would help them to balance more
fairly with the elastic properties of the young daguerreotypist--should
not have painted a lusty conservative to match his strenuous radical. As
it is, the mustiness and mouldiness of the tenants of the House of the
Seven Gables crumble away rather too easily. Evidently, however, what
Hawthorne designed to represent was not the struggle between an old
society and a new, for in this case he would have given the old one a
better chance; but simply, as I have said, the shrinkage and extinction
of a family. This appealed to his imagination; and the idea of long
perpetuation and survival always appears to have filled him with a kind
of horror and disapproval. Conservative, in a certain degree, as he was
himself, and fond of retrospect and quietude and the mellowing
influences of time, it is singular how often one encounters in his
writings some expression of mistrust of old houses, old institutions,
long lines of descent. He was disposed apparently to allow a very
moderate measure in these respects, and he condemns the dwelling of the
Pyncheons to disappear from the face of the earth because it has been
standing a couple of hundred years. In this he was an American of
Americans; or rather he was more American than many of his countrymen,
who, though they are accustomed to work for the short run rather than
the long, have often a lurking esteem for things that show the marks of
having lasted. I will add that Holgrave is one of the few figures, among
those which Hawthorne created, with regard to which the absence of the
realistic mode of treatment is felt as a loss. Holgrave is not sharply
enough characterised; he lacks features; he is not an individual, but a
type. But my last word about this admirable novel must not be a
restrictive one. It is a large and generous production, pervaded with
that vague hum, that indefinable echo, of the whole multitudinous life
of man, which is the real sign of a great work of fiction.

After the publication of _The House of the Seven Gables_, which
brought him great honour, and, I believe, a tolerable share of a more
ponderable substance, he composed a couple of little volumes, for
children--_The Wonder-Book_, and a small collection of stories
entitled _Tanglewood Tales_. They are not among his most serious
literary titles, but if I may trust my own early impression of them,
they are among the most charming literary services that have been
rendered to children in an age (and especially in a country) in which
the exactions of the infant mind have exerted much too palpable an
influence upon literature. Hawthorne's stories are the old Greek
myths, made more vivid to the childish imagination by an infusion of
details which both deepen and explain their marvels. I have been
careful not to read them over, for I should be very sorry to risk
disturbing in any degree a recollection of them that has been at rest
since the appreciative period of life to which they are addressed.
They seem at that period enchanting, and the ideal of happiness of
many American children is to lie upon the carpet and lose themselves
in _The Wonder-Book_. It is in its pages that they first make the
acquaintance of the heroes and heroines of the antique mythology, and
something of the nursery fairy-tale quality of interest which
Hawthorne imparts to them always remains.

I have said that Lenox was a very pretty place, and that he was able
to work there Hawthorne proved by composing _The House of the Seven
Gables_ with a good deal of rapidity. But at the close of the year in
which this novel was published he wrote to a friend (Mr. Fields, his
publisher,) that "to tell you a secret I am sick to death of
Berkshire, and hate to think of spending another winter here.... The
air and climate do not agree with my health at all, and for the first
time since I was a boy I have felt languid and dispirited.... O that
Providence would build me the merest little shanty, and mark me out a
rood or two of garden ground, near the sea-coast!" He was at this time
for a while out of health; and it is proper to remember that though
the Massachusetts Berkshire, with its mountains and lakes, was
charming during the ardent American summer, there was a reverse to
the medal, consisting of December snows prolonged into April and May.
Providence failed to provide him with a cottage by the sea; but he
betook himself for the winter of 1852 to the little town of West
Newton, near Boston, where he brought into the world _The Blithedale

This work, as I have said, would not have been written if Hawthorne
had not spent a year at Brook Farm, and though it is in no sense of
the word an account of the manners or the inmates of that
establishment, it will preserve the memory of the ingenious community
at West Roxbury for a generation unconscious of other reminders. I
hardly know what to say about it save that it is very charming; this
vague, unanalytic epithet is the first that comes to one's pen in
treating of Hawthorne's novels, for their extreme amenity of form
invariably suggests it; but if on the one hand it claims to be
uttered, on the other it frankly confesses its inconclusiveness.
Perhaps, however, in this case, it fills out the measure of
appreciation more completely than in others, for _The Blithedale
Romance_ is the lightest, the brightest, the liveliest, of this
company of unhumorous fictions.

The story is told from a more joyous point of view--from a point of
view comparatively humorous--and a number of objects and incidents
touched with the light of the profane world--the vulgar, many-coloured
world of actuality, as distinguished from the crepuscular realm of the
writer's own reveries--are mingled with its course. The book indeed is
a mixture of elements, and it leaves in the memory an impression
analogous to that of an April day--an alternation of brightness and
shadow, of broken sun-patches and sprinkling clouds. Its dénoûment is
tragical--there is indeed nothing so tragical in all Hawthorne, unless
it be the murder-of Miriam's persecutor by Donatello, in
_Transformation_, as the suicide of Zenobia; and yet on the whole the
effect of the novel is to make one think more agreeably of life. The
standpoint of the narrator has the advantage of being a concrete one;
he is no longer, as in the preceding tales, a disembodied spirit,
imprisoned in the haunted chamber of his own contemplations, but a
particular man, with a certain human grossness.

Of Miles Coverdale I have already spoken, and of its being natural to
assume that in so far as we may measure this lightly indicated
identity of his, it has a great deal in common with that of his
creator. Coverdale is a picture of the contemplative, observant,
analytic nature, nursing its fancies, and yet, thanks to an element of
strong good sense, not bringing them up to be spoiled children; having
little at stake in life, at any given moment, and yet indulging, in
imagination, in a good many adventures; a portrait of a man, in a
word, whose passions are slender, whose imagination is active, and
whose happiness lies, not in doing, but in perceiving--half a poet,
half a critic, and all a spectator. He is contrasted, excellently,
with the figure of Hollingsworth, the heavily treading Reformer, whose
attitude with regard to the world is that of the hammer to the anvil,
and who has no patience with his friend's indifferences and
neutralities. Coverdale is a gentle sceptic, a mild cynic; he would
agree that life is a little worth living--or worth living a little;
but would remark that, unfortunately, to live little enough, we have
to live a great deal. He confesses to a want of earnestness, but in
reality he is evidently an excellent fellow, to whom one might look,
not for any personal performance on a great scale, but for a good deal
of generosity of detail. "As Hollingsworth once told me, I lack a
purpose," he writes, at the close of his story. "How strange! He was
ruined, morally, by an over plus of the same ingredient the want of
which, I occasionally suspect, has rendered my own life all an
emptiness. I by no means wish to die. Yet were there any cause in this
whole chaos of human struggle, worth a sane man's dying for, and which
my death would benefit, then--provided, however, the effort did not
involve an unreasonable amount of trouble--methinks I might be bold to
offer up my life. If Kossuth, for example, would pitch the
battle-field of Hungarian rights within an easy ride of my abode, and
choose a mild sunny morning, after breakfast, for the conflict, Miles
Coverdale would gladly be his man, for one brave rush upon the
levelled bayonets. Further than that I should be loth to pledge

The finest thing in _The Blithdale Romance_ is the character of
Zenobia, which I have said elsewhere strikes me as the nearest
approach that Hawthorne has made to the complete creation of a
_person_. She is more concrete than Hester or Miriam, or Hilda or
Phoebe; she is a more definite image, produced by a greater
multiplicity of touches. It is idle to inquire too closely whether
Hawthorne had Margaret Fuller in his mind in constructing the figure
of this brilliant specimen of the strong-minded class and endowing her
with the genius of conversation; or, on the assumption that such was
the case, to compare the image at all strictly with the model. There
is no strictness in the representation by novelists of persons who
have struck them in life, and there can in the nature of things be
none. From the moment the imagination takes a hand in the game, the
inevitable tendency is to divergence, to following what may be called
new scents. The original gives hints, but the writer does what he
likes with them, and imports new elements into the picture. If there
is this amount of reason for referring the wayward heroine of
Blithedale to Hawthorne's impression of the most distinguished woman
of her day in Boston, that Margaret Fuller was the only literary lady
of eminence whom there is any sign of his having known, that she was
proud, passionate, and eloquent, that she was much connected with the
little world of Transcendentalism out of which the experiment of Brook
Farm sprung, and that she had a miserable end and a watery grave--if
these are facts to be noted on one side, I say; on the other, the
beautiful and sumptuous Zenobia, with her rich and picturesque
temperament and physical aspects, offers many points of divergence
from the plain and strenuous invalid who represented feminine culture
in the suburbs of the New England metropolis. This picturesqueness of
Zenobia is very happily indicated and maintained; she is a woman, in
all the force of the term, and there is something very vivid and
powerful in her large expression of womanly gifts and weaknesses.
Hollingsworth is, I think, less successful, though there is much
reality in the conception of the type to which he belongs--the
strong-willed, narrow-hearted apostle of a special form of redemption
for society. There is nothing better in all Hawthorne than the scene
between him and Coverdale, when the two men are at work together in
the field (piling stones on a dyke), and he gives it to his companion
to choose whether he will be with him or against him. It is a pity,
perhaps, to have represented him as having begun life as a blacksmith,
for one grudges him the advantage of so logical a reason for his
roughness and hardness.

"Hollingsworth scarcely said a word, unless when repeatedly
and pertinaciously addressed. Then indeed he would glare
upon us from the thick shrubbery of his meditations, like a
tiger out of a jungle, make the briefest reply possible, and
betake himself back into the solitude of his heart and
mind.... His heart, I imagine, was never really interested
in our socialist scheme, but was for ever busy with his
strange, and as most people thought, impracticable plan for
the reformation of criminals through an appeal to their
higher instincts. Much as I liked Hollingsworth, it cost me
many a groan to tolerate him on this point. He ought to have
commenced his investigation of the subject by committing
some huge sin in his proper person, and examining the
condition of his-higher instincts afterwards."

The most touching element in the novel is the history of the grasp
that this barbarous fanatic has laid upon the fastidious and
high-tempered Zenobia, who, disliking him and shrinking, from him at a
hundred points, is drawn into the gulf of his omnivorous egotism. The
portion of the story that strikes me as least felicitous is that which
deals with Priscilla and with her mysterious relation to Zenobia--with
her mesmeric gifts, her clairvoyance, her identity with the Veiled
Lady, her divided subjection to Hollingsworth and Westervelt, and her
numerous other graceful but fantastic properties--her Sibylline
attributes, as the author calls them. Hawthorne is rather too fond of
Sibylline attributes--a taste of the same order as his disposition, to
which I have already alluded, to talk about spheres and sympathies. As
the action advances, in _The Blithdale Romance_, we get too much out
of reality, and cease to feel beneath our feet the firm ground of an
appeal to our own vision of the world, our observation. I should have
liked to see the story concern itself more with the little community
in which its earlier scenes are laid, and avail itself of so excellent
an opportunity for describing unhackneyed specimens of human nature. I
have already spoken of the absence of satire in the novel, of its not
aiming in the least at satire, and of its offering no grounds for
complaint as an invidious picture. Indeed the brethren of Brook Farm
should have held themselves slighted rather than misrepresented, and
have regretted that the admirable genius who for a while was numbered
among them should have treated their institution mainly as a perch for
starting upon an imaginative flight. But when all is said about a
certain want of substance and cohesion in the latter portions of _The
Blithedale Romance_, the book is still a delightful and beautiful one.
Zenobia and Hollingsworth live in the memory, and even Priscilla and
Coverdale, who linger there less importunately, have a great deal that
touches us and that we believe in. I said just now that Priscilla was
infelicitous; but immediately afterwards I open the volume at a page
in which the author describes some of the out-of-door amusements at
Blithedale, and speaks of a foot-race across the grass, in which some
of the slim young girls of the society joined. "Priscilla's peculiar
charm in a foot-race was the weakness and irregularity with which she
ran. Growing up without exercise, except to her poor little fingers,
she had never yet acquired the perfect use of her legs. Setting
buoyantly forth therefore, as if no rival less swift than Atalanta
could compete with her, she ran falteringly, and often tumbled on the
grass. Such an incident--though it seems too slight to think of--was a
thing to laugh at, but which brought the water into one's eyes, and
lingered in the memory after far greater joys and sorrows were wept
out of it, as antiquated trash. Priscilla's life, as I beheld it, was
full of trifles that affected me in just this way." That seems to me
exquisite, and the book is full of touches as deep and delicate.

After writing it, Hawthorne went back to live in Concord, where he had
bought a small house in which, apparently, he expected to spend a
large portion of his future. This was in fact the dwelling in which he
passed that part of the rest of his days that he spent in his own
country. He established himself there before going to Europe, in 1853,
and he returned to the Wayside, as he called his house, on coming back
to the United States seven years later. Though he actually occupied
the place no long time, he had made it his property, and it was more
his own home than any of his numerous provisional abodes. I may
therefore quote a little account of the house which he wrote to a
distinguished friend, Mr. George Curtis.

"As for my old house, you will understand it better after
spending a day or two in it. Before Mr. Alcott took it in
hand, it was a mean-looking affair, with two peaked gables;
no suggestiveness about it, and no venerableness, although
from the style of its construction it seems to have survived
beyond its first century. He added a porch in front, and a
central peak, and a piazza at each end, and painted it a
rusty olive hue, and invested the whole with a modest
picturesqueness; all which improvements, together with its
situation at the foot of a wooded hill, make it a place that
one notices and remembers for a few moments after passing.
Mr. Alcott expended a good deal of taste and some money (to
no great purpose) in forming the hillside behind the house
into terraces, and building arbours and summer-houses of
rough stems and branches and trees, on a system of his own.
They must have been very pretty in their day, and are so
still, although much decayed, and shattered more and more by
every breeze that blows. The hillside is covered chiefly
with locust trees, which come into luxuriant blossom in the
month of June, and look and smell very sweetly, intermixed
with a few young elms, and white pines and infant oaks--the
whole forming rather a thicket than a wood. Nevertheless,
there is some very good shade to be found there. I spend
delectable hours there in the hottest part of the day,
stretched out at my lazy length, with a book in my hand, or
some unwritten book in my thoughts. There is almost always a
breeze stirring along the sides or brow of the hill. From
the hill-top there is a good view along the extensive level
surfaces and gentle hilly outlines, covered with wood, that
characterise the scenery of Concord.... I know nothing of
the history of the house except Thoreau's telling me that it
was inhabited, a generation or two ago, by a man who
believed he should never die. I believe, however, he is
dead; at least, I hope so; else he may probably reappear and
dispute my title to his residence."

As Mr. Lathrop points out, this allusion to a man who believed he
should never die is "the first intimation of the story of _Septimius
Felton_." The scenery of that romance, he adds, "was evidently taken
from the Wayside and its hill." _Septimius Felton_ is in fact a young
man who, at the time of the war of the Revolution, lives in the
village of Concord, on the Boston road, at the base of a woody hill
which rises abruptly behind his house, and of which the level summit
supplies him with a promenade continually mentioned in the course of
the tale. Hawthorne used to exercise himself upon this picturesque
eminence, and, as he conceived the brooding Septimius to have done
before him, to betake himself thither when he found the limits of his
dwelling too narrow. But he had an advantage which his imaginary hero
lacked; he erected a tower as an adjunct to the house, and it was a
jocular tradition among his neighbours, in allusion to his attributive
tendency to evade rather than hasten the coming guest, that he used to
ascend this structure and scan the road for provocations to retreat.

In so far, however, as Hawthorne suffered the penalties of celebrity
at the hands of intrusive fellow-citizens, he was soon to escape from
this honourable incommodity. On the 4th of March, 1853, his old
college-mate and intimate friend, Franklin Pierce, was installed as
President of the United States. He had been the candidate of the
Democratic party, and all good Democrats, accordingly, in conformity
to the beautiful and rational system under which the affairs of the
great Republic were carried on, begun to open their windows to the
golden sunshine of Presidential patronage. When General Pierce was put
forward by the Democrats, Hawthorne felt a perfectly loyal and natural
desire that his good friend should be exalted to so brilliant a
position, and he did what was in him to further the good cause, by
writing a little book about its hero. His _Life of Franklin Pierce_
belongs to that class of literature which is known as the "campaign
biography," and which consists of an attempt, more or less successful,
to persuade the many-headed monster of universal suffrage that the
gentleman on whose behalf it is addressed is a paragon of wisdom and
virtue. Of Hawthorne's little book there is nothing particular to
say, save that it is in very good taste, that he is a very fairly
ingenious advocate, and that if he claimed for the future President
qualities which rather faded in the bright light of a high office,
this defect of proportion was essential to his undertaking. He dwelt
chiefly upon General Pierce's exploits in the war with Mexico (before
that, his record, as they say in America, had been mainly that of a
successful country lawyer), and exercised his descriptive powers so
far as was possible in describing the advance of the United States
troops from Vera Cruz to the city of the Montezumas. The mouthpieces
of the Whig party spared him, I believe, no reprobation for
"prostituting" his exquisite genius; but I fail to see anything
reprehensible in Hawthorne's lending his old friend the assistance of
his graceful quill. He wished him to be President--he held afterwards
that he filled the office with admirable dignity and wisdom--and as
the only thing he could do was to write, he fell to work and wrote for
him. Hawthorne was a good lover and a very sufficient partisan, and I
suspect that if Franklin Pierce had been made even less of the stuff
of a statesman, he would still have found in the force of old
associations an injunction to hail him as a ruler. Our hero was an
American of the earlier and simpler type--the type of which it is
doubtless premature to say that it has wholly passed away, but of
which it may at least be said that the circumstances that produced it
have been greatly modified. The generation to which he belonged, that
generation which grew up with the century, witnessed during a period
of fifty years the immense, uninterrupted material development of the
young Republic; and when one thinks of the scale on which it took
place, of the prosperity that walked in its train and waited on its
course, of the hopes it fostered and the blessings it conferred, of
the broad morning sunshine, in a word, in which it all went forward,
there seems to be little room for surprise that it should have
implanted a kind of superstitious faith in the grandeur of the
country, its duration, its immunity from the usual troubles of earthly
empires. This faith was a simple and uncritical one, enlivened with an
element of genial optimism, in the light of which it appeared that the
great American state was not as other human institutions are, that a
special Providence watched over it, that it would go on joyously for
ever, and that a country whose vast and blooming bosom offered a
refuge to the strugglers and seekers of all the rest of the world,
must come off easily, in the battle of the ages. From this conception
of the American future the sense of its having problems to solve was
blissfully absent; there were no difficulties in the programme, no
looming complications, no rocks ahead. The indefinite multiplication
of the population, and its enjoyment of the benefits of a
common-school education and of unusual facilities for making an
income--this was the form in which, on the whole, the future most
vividly presented itself, and in which the greatness of the country
was to be recognised of men. There was indeed a faint shadow in the
picture--the shadow projected by the "peculiar institution" of the
Southern States; but it was far from sufficient to darken the rosy
vision of most good Americans, and above all, of most good Democrats.
Hawthorne alludes to it in a passage of his life of Pierce, which I
will quote not only as a hint of the trouble that was in store for a
cheerful race of men, but as an example of his own easy-going
political attitude.

"It was while in the lower house of Congress that Franklin
Pierce took that stand on the Slavery question from which he
has never since swerved by a hair's breadth. He fully
recognised by his votes and his voice, the rights pledged to
the South by the Constitution. This, at the period when he
declared himself, was an easy thing to do. But when it
became more difficult, when the first imperceptible murmur
of agitation had grown almost to a convulsion, his course
was still the same. Nor did he ever shun the obloquy that
sometimes threatened to pursue the Northern man who dared to
love that great and sacred reality--his whole united
country--better than the mistiness of a philanthropic

This last invidious allusion is to the disposition, not infrequent at
the North, but by no means general, to set a decisive limit to further
legislation in favour of the cherished idiosyncrasy of the other half of
the country. Hawthorne takes the license of a sympathetic biographer in
speaking of his hero's having incurred obloquy by his conservative
attitude on the question of Slavery. The only class in the American
world that suffered in the smallest degree, at this time, from social
persecution, was the little band of Northern Abolitionists, who were as
unfashionable as they were indiscreet--which is saying much. Like most
of his fellow-countrymen, Hawthorne had no idea that the respectable
institution which he contemplated in impressive contrast to humanitarian
"mistiness," was presently to cost the nation four long years of
bloodshed and misery, and a social revolution as complete as any the
world has seen. When this event occurred, he was therefore
proportionately horrified and depressed by it; it cut from beneath his
feet the familiar ground which had long felt so firm, substituting a
heaving and quaking medium in which his spirit found no rest. Such was
the bewildered sensation of that earlier and simpler generation of which
I have spoken; their illusions were rudely dispelled, and they saw the
best of all possible republics given over to fratricidal carnage. This
affair had no place in their scheme, and nothing was left for them but
to hang their heads and close their eyes. The subsidence of that great
convulsion has left a different tone from the tone it found, and one may
say that the Civil War marks an era in the history of the American mind.
It introduced into the national consciousness a certain sense of
proportion and relation, of the world being a more complicated place
than it had hitherto seemed, the future more treacherous, success more
difficult. At the rate at which things are going, it is obvious that
good Americana will be more numerous than ever; but the good American,
in days to come, will be a more critical person than his complacent and
confident grandfather. He has eaten of the tree of knowledge. He will
not, I think, be a sceptic, and still less, of course, a cynic; but he
will be, without discredit to his well-known capacity for action, an
observer. He will remember that the ways of the Lord are inscrutable,
and that this is a world in which everything happens; and eventualities,
as the late Emperor of the French used to say, will not find him
intellectually unprepared. The good American of which Hawthorne was so
admirable a specimen was not critical, and it was perhaps for this
reason that Franklin Pierce seemed to him a very proper President.

The least that General Pierce could do in exchange for so liberal a
confidence was to offer his old friend one of the numerous places in
his gift. Hawthorne had a great desire to go abroad and see something
of the world, so that a consulate seemed the proper thing. He never
stirred in the matter himself, but his friends strongly urged that
something should be done; and when he accepted the post of consul at
Liverpool there was not a word of reasonable criticism to be offered
on the matter. If General Pierce, who was before all things
good-natured and obliging, had been guilty of no greater indiscretion
than to confer this modest distinction upon the most honourable and
discreet of men of letters, he would have made a more brilliant mark
in the annals of American statesmanship. Liverpool had not been
immediately selected, and Hawthorne had written to his friend and
publisher, Mr. Fields, with some humorous vagueness of allusion to his
probable expatriation.

"Do make some inquiries about Portugal; as, for instance, in
what part of the world it lies, and whether it is an empire,
a kingdom, or a republic. Also, and more particularly, the
expenses of living there, and whether the Minister would be
likely to be much pestered with his own countrymen. Also,
any other information about foreign countries would be
acceptable to an inquiring mind."

It would seem from this that there had been a question of offering him
a small diplomatic post; but the emoluments of the place were justly
taken into account, and it is to be supposed that those of the
consulate at Liverpool were at least as great as the salary of the
American representative at Lisbon. Unfortunately, just after
Hawthorne had taken possession of the former post, the salary attached
to it was reduced by Congress, in an economical hour, to less than
half the sum enjoyed by his predecessors. It was fixed at 7,500
dollars (£1,500); but the consular fees, which were often copious,
were an added resource. At midsummer then, in 1853, Hawthorne was
established in England.

Henry James

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