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Ch. 6 - England and Italy

Hawthorne was close upon fifty years of age when he came to Europe--a
fact that should be remembered when those impressions which he
recorded in five substantial volumes (exclusive of the novel written
in Italy), occasionally affect us by the rigidity of their point of
view. His Note-Books, kept during his residence in England, his two
winters in Rome, his summer in Florence, were published after his
death; his impressions of England, sifted, revised, and addressed
directly to the public, he gave to the world shortly before this
event. The tone of his European Diaries is often so fresh and
unsophisticated that we find ourselves thinking of the writer as a
young man, and it is only a certain final sense of something
reflective and a trifle melancholy that reminds us that the simplicity
which is on the whole the leading characteristic of their pages, is,
though the simplicity of inexperience, not that of youth. When I say
inexperience, I mean that Hawthorne's experience had been narrow. His
fifty years had been spent, for much the larger part, in small
American towns--Salem, the Boston of forty years ago, Concord, Lenox,
West Newton--and he had led exclusively what one may call a
village-life. This is evident, not at all directly and superficially,
but by implication and between the lines, in his desultory history of
his foreign years. In other words, and to call things by their names,
he was exquisitely and consistently provincial. I suggest this fact
not in the least in condemnation, but, on the contrary, in support of
an appreciative view of him. I know nothing more remarkable, more
touching, than the sight of this odd, youthful--elderly mind,
contending so late in the day with new opportunities for learning old
things, and on the whole profiting by them so freely and gracefully.
The Note-Books are provincial, and so, in a greatly modified degree,
are the sketches of England, in _Our Old Home_; but the beauty and
delicacy of this latter work are so interwoven with the author's air
of being remotely outside of everything he describes, that they count
for more, seem more themselves, and finally give the whole thing the
appearance of a triumph, not of initiation, but of the provincial
point of view itself.

I shall not attempt to relate in detail the incidents of his residence
in England. He appears to have enjoyed it greatly, in spite of the
deficiency of charm in the place to which his duties chiefly confined
him. His confinement, however, was not unbroken, and his published
journals consist largely of minute accounts of little journeys and
wanderings, with his wife and his three children, through the rest of
the country; together with much mention of numerous visits to London,
a city for whose dusky immensity and multitudinous interest he
professed the highest relish. His Note-Books are of the same cast as
the two volumes of his American Diaries, of which, I have given some
account--chiefly occupied with external matters, with the accidents
of daily life, with observations made during the long walks (often
with his son), which formed his most valued pastime. His office,
moreover, though Liverpool was not a delectable home, furnished him
with entertainment as well as occupation, and it may almost be said
that during these years he saw more of his fellow-countrymen, in the
shape of odd wanderers, petitioners, and inquirers of every kind, than
he had ever done in his native land. The paper entitled "Consular
Experiences," in _Our Old Home_, is an admirable recital of these
observations, and a proof that the novelist might have found much
material in the opportunities of the consul. On his return to America,
in 1860, he drew from his journal a number of pages relating to his
observations in England, re-wrote them (with, I should suppose, a good
deal of care), and converted them into articles which he published in
a magazine. These chapters were afterwards collected, and _Our Old
Home_ (a rather infelicitous title), was issued in 1863. I prefer to
speak of the book now, however, rather than in touching upon the
closing years of his life, for it is a kind of deliberate _résumé_ of
his impressions of the land of his ancestors. "It is not a good or a
weighty book," he wrote to his publisher, who had sent him some
reviews of it, "nor does it deserve any great amount of praise or
censure. I don't care about seeing any more notices of it."
Hawthorne's appreciation of his own productions was always extremely
just; he had a sense of the relations of things, which some of his
admirers have not thought it well to cultivate; and he never
exaggerated his own importance as a writer. _Our Old Home_ is not a
weighty book; it is decidedly a light one. But when he says it is not
a good one, I hardly know what he means, and his modesty at this
point is in excess of his discretion. Whether good or not, _Our Old
Home_ is charming--it is most delectable reading. The execution is
singularly perfect and ripe; of all his productions it seems to be the
best written. The touch, as musicians say, is admirable; the
lightness, the fineness, the felicity of characterisation and
description, belong to a man who has the advantage of feeling
delicately. His judgment is by no means always sound; it often rests
on too narrow an observation. But his perception is of the keenest,
and though it is frequently partial, incomplete, it is excellent as
far as it goes. The book gave but limited satisfaction, I believe, in
England, and I am not sure that the failure to enjoy certain
manifestations of its sportive irony, has not chilled the appreciation
of its singular grace. That English readers, on the whole, should have
felt that Hawthorne did the national mind and manners but partial
justice, is, I think, conceivable; at the same time that it seems to
me remarkable that the tender side of the book, as I may call it,
should not have carried it off better. It abounds in passages more
delicately appreciative than can easily be found elsewhere, and it
contains more charming and affectionate things than, I should suppose,
had ever before been written about a country not the writer's own. To
say that it is an immeasurably more exquisite and sympathetic work
than any of the numerous persons who have related their misadventures
in the United States have seen fit to devote to that country, is to
say but little, and I imagine that Hawthorne had in mind the array of
English voyagers--Mrs. Trollope, Dickens, Marryat, Basil Hall, Miss
Martineau, Mr. Grattan--when he reflected that everything is relative
and that, as such books go, his own little volume observed the
amenities of criticism. He certainly had it in mind when he wrote the
phrase in his preface relating to the impression the book might make
in England. "Not an Englishman of them all ever spared America for
courtesy's sake or kindness; nor, in my opinion, would it contribute
in the least to any mutual advantage and comfort if we were to besmear
each other all over with butter and honey." I am far from intending to
intimate that the vulgar instinct of recrimination had anything to do
with the restrictive passages of _Our Old Home_; I mean simply that
the author had a prevision that his collection of sketches would in
some particulars fail to please his English friends. He professed,
after the event, to have discovered that the English are sensitive,
and as they say of the Americans, for whose advantage I believe the
term was invented; thin-skinned. "The English critics," he wrote to
his publisher, "seem to think me very bitter against their countrymen,
and it is perhaps natural that they should, because their self-conceit
can accept nothing short of indiscriminate adulation; but I really
think that Americans have much more cause than they to complain of me.
Looking over the volume I am rather surprised to find that whenever I
draw a comparison between the two people, I almost invariably cast the
balance against ourselves." And he writes at another time:--"I
received several private letters and printed notices of _Our Old Home_
from England. It is laughable to see the innocent wonder with which
they regard my criticisms, accounting for them by jaundice, insanity,
jealousy, hatred, on my part, and never admitting the least suspicion
that there may be a particle of truth in them. The monstrosity of
their self-conceit is such that anything short of unlimited admiration
impresses them as malicious caricature. But they do me great injustice
in supposing that I hate them. I would as soon hate my own people."
The idea of his hating the English was of course too puerile for
discussion; and the book, as I have said, is full of a rich
appreciation of the finest characteristics of the country. But it has
a serious defect--a defect which impairs its value, though it helps to
give consistency to such an image of Hawthorne's personal nature as we
may by this time have been able to form. It is the work of an
outsider, of a stranger, of a man who remains to the end a mere
spectator (something less even than an observer), and always lacks the
final initiation into the manners and nature of a people of whom it
may most be said, among all the people of the earth, that to know them
is to make discoveries. Hawthorne freely confesses to this constant
exteriority, and appears to have been perfectly conscious of it. "I
remember," he writes in the sketch of "A London Suburb," in _Our Old
Home_, "I remember to this day the dreary feeling with which I sat by
our first English fireside and watched the chill and rainy twilight of
an autumn day darkening down upon the garden, while the preceding
occupant of the house (evidently a most unamiable personage in his
lifetime), scowled inhospitably from above the mantel-piece, as if
indignant that an American should try to make himself at home there.
Possibly it may appease his sulky shade to know that I quitted his
abode as much a stranger as I entered it." The same note is struck in
an entry in his journal, of the date of October 6th, 1854.

"The people, for several days, have been in the utmost
anxiety, and latterly in the highest exultation, about
Sebastopol--and all England, and Europe to boot, have been
fooled by the belief that it had fallen. This, however, now
turns out to be incorrect; and the public visage is somewhat
grim in consequence. I am glad of it. In spite of his actual
sympathies, it is impossible for an American to be otherwise
than glad. Success makes an Englishman intolerable, and
already, on the mistaken idea that the way was open to a
prosperous conclusion of the war, the _Times_ had begun to
throw out menaces against America. I shall never love
England till she sues to us for help, and, in the meantime,
the fewer triumphs she obtains, the better for all parties.
An Englishman in adversity is a very respectable character;
he does not lose his dignity, but merely comes to a proper
conception of himself.... I seem to myself like a spy or
traitor when I meet their eyes, and am conscious that I
neither hope nor fear in sympathy with them, although they
look at me in full confidence of sympathy. Their heart
'knoweth its own bitterness,' and as for me, being a
stranger and an alien, I 'intermeddle not with their joy.'"

This seems to me to express very well the weak side of Hawthorne's
work--his constant mistrust and suspicion of the society that surrounded
him, his exaggerated, painful, morbid national consciousness. It is, I
think, an indisputable fact that Americans are, as Americans, the most
self-conscious people in the world, and the most addicted to the belief
that the other nations of the earth are in a conspiracy to undervalue
them. They are conscious of being the youngest of the great nations, of
not being of the European family, of being placed on the circumference
of the circle of civilisation rather than at the centre, of the
experimental element not having as yet entirely dropped out of their
great political undertaking. The sense of this relativity, in a word,
replaces that quiet and comfortable sense of the absolute, as regards
its own position in the world, which reigns supreme in the British and
in the Gallic genius. Few persons, I think, can have mingled much with
Americans in Europe without having made this reflection, and it is in
England that their habit of looking askance at foreign institutions--of
keeping one eye, as it were, on the American personality, while with the
other they contemplate these objects--is most to be observed. Add to
this that Hawthorne came to England late in life, when his habits, his
tastes, his opinions, were already formed, that he was inclined to look
at things in silence and brood over them gently, rather than talk about
them, discuss them, grow acquainted with them by action; and it will be
possible to form an idea of our writer's detached and critical attitude
in the country in which it is easiest, thanks to its aristocratic
constitution, to the absence of any considerable public fund of
entertainment and diversion, to the degree in which the inexhaustible
beauty and interest of the place are private property, demanding
constantly a special introduction--in the country in which, I say, it is
easiest for a stranger to remain a stranger. For a stranger to cease to
be a stranger he must stand ready, as the French say, to pay with his
person; and this was an obligation that Hawthorne was indisposed to
incur. Our sense, as we read, that his reflections are those of a shy
and susceptible man, with nothing at stake, mentally, in his
appreciation of the country, is therefore a drawback to our confidence;
but it is not a drawback sufficient to make it of no importance that he
is at the same time singularly intelligent and discriminating, with a
faculty of feeling delicately and justly, which constitutes in itself
an illumination. There is a passage in the sketch entitled _About
Warwick_ which is a very good instance of what was probably his usual
state of mind. He is speaking of the aspect of the High Street of the

"The street is an emblem of England itself. What seems new
in it is chiefly a skilful and fortunate adaptation of what
such a people as ourselves would destroy. The new things are
based and supported on sturdy old things, and derive a
massive strength from their deep and immemorial foundations,
though with such limitations and impediments as only an
Englishman could endure. But he likes to feel the weight of
all the past upon his back; and moreover the antiquity that
overburdens him has taken root in his being, and has grown
to be rather a hump than a pack, so that there is no getting
rid of it without tearing his whole structure to pieces. In
my judgment, as he appears to be sufficiently comfortable
under the mouldy accretion, he had better stumble on with it
as long as he can. He presents a spectacle which is by no
means without its charm for a disinterested and unincumbered

There is all Hawthorne, with his enjoyment of the picturesque, his
relish of chiaroscuro, of local colour, of the deposit of time, and
his still greater enjoyment of his own dissociation from these things,
his "disinterested and unincumbered" condition. His want of
incumbrances may seem at times to give him a somewhat naked and
attenuated appearance, but on the whole he carries it off very well. I
have said that _Our Old Home_ contains much of his best writing, and
on turning over the book at hazard, I am struck with his frequent
felicity of phrase. At every step there is something one would like to
quote--something excellently well said. These things are often of the
lighter sort, but Hawthorne's charming diction lingers in the
memory--almost in the ear. I have always remembered a certain
admirable characterisation of Doctor Johnson, in the account of the
writer's visit to Lichfield--and I will preface it by a paragraph
almost as good, commemorating the charms of the hotel in that
interesting town.

"At any rate I had the great, dull, dingy, and dreary
coffee-room, with its heavy old mahogany chairs and tables,
all to myself, and not a soul to exchange a word with except
the waiter, who, like most of his class in England, had
evidently left his conversational abilities uncultivated. No
former practice of solitary living, nor habits of reticence,
nor well-tested self-dependence for occupation of mind and
amusement, can quite avail, as I now proved, to dissipate
the ponderous gloom of an English coffee-room under such
circumstances as these, with no book at hand save the county
directory, nor any newspaper but a torn local journal of
five days ago. So I buried myself, betimes, in a huge heap
of ancient feathers (there is no other kind of bed in these
old inns), let my head sink into an unsubstantial pillow,
and slept a stifled sleep, compounded of the night-troubles
of all my predecessors in that same unrestful couch. And
when I awoke, the odour of a bygone century was in my
nostrils--a faint, elusive smell, of which I never had any
conception before crossing the Atlantic."

The whole chapter entitled "Lichfield and Uttoxeter" is a sort of
graceful tribute to Samuel Johnson, who certainly has nowhere else
been more tenderly spoken of.

"Beyond all question I might have had a wiser friend than
he. The atmosphere in which alone he breathed was dense; his
awful dread of death showed how much muddy imperfection was
to be cleansed out of him, before he could be capable of
spiritual existence; he meddled only with the surface of
life, and never cared to penetrate further than to
ploughshare depth; his very sense and sagacity were but a
one-eyed clear-sightedness. I laughed at him, sometimes
standing beside his knee. And yet, considering that my
native propensities were toward Fairy Land, and also how
much yeast is generally mixed up with the mental sustenance
of a New Englander, it may not have been altogether amiss,
in those childish and boyish days, to keep pace with this
heavy-footed traveller and feed on the gross diet that he
carried in his knapsack. It is wholesome food even now! And
then, how English! Many of the latent sympathies that
enabled me to enjoy the Old Country so well, and that so
readily amalgamated themselves with the American ideas that
seemed most adverse to them, may have been derived from, or
fostered and kept alive by, the great English moralist.
Never was a descriptive epithet more nicely appropriate than
that! Doctor Johnson's morality was as English an article as
a beef-steak."

And for mere beauty of expression I cannot forbear quoting this
passage about the days in a fine English summer:--

"For each day seemed endless, though never wearisome. As far
as your actual experience is concerned, the English summer
day has positively no beginning and no end. When you awake,
at any reasonable hour, the sun is already shining through
the curtains; you live through unnumbered hours of Sabbath
quietude, with a calm variety of incident softly etched upon
their tranquil lapse; and at length you become conscious
that it is bedtime again, while there is still enough
daylight in the sky to make the pages of your book
distinctly legible. Night, if there be any such season,
hangs down a transparent veil through which the bygone day
beholds its successor; or if not quite true of the latitude
of London, it may be soberly affirmed of the more northern
parts of the island that To-morrow is born before its
Yesterday is dead. They exist together in the golden
twilight, where the decrepit old day dimly discerns the face
of the ominous infant; and you, though a mere mortal, may
simultaneously touch them both, with one finger of
recollection and another of prophecy."

The Note-Books, as I have said, deal chiefly with, the superficial
aspect of English life, and describe the material objects with which
the author was surrounded. They often describe them admirably, and the
rural beauty of the country has never been more happily expressed. But
there are inevitably a great many reflections and incidental
judgments, characterisations of people he met, fragments of psychology
and social criticism, and it is here that Hawthorne's mixture of
subtlety and simplicity, his interfusion of genius with what I have
ventured to call the provincial quality, is most apparent. To an
American reader this later quality, which is never grossly manifested,
but pervades the Journals like a vague natural perfume, an odour of
purity and kindness and integrity, must always, for a reason that I
will touch upon, have a considerable charm; and such a reader will
accordingly take an even greater satisfaction in the Diaries kept
during the two years Hawthorne spent in Italy; for in these volumes
the element I speak of is especially striking. He resigned his
consulate at Liverpool towards the close of 1857--whether because he
was weary of his manner of life there and of the place itself, as may
well have been, or because he wished to anticipate supersession by the
new government (Mr. Buchanan's) which was just establishing itself at
Washington, is not apparent from the slender sources of information
from which these pages have been compiled. In the month of January of
the following year he betook himself with his family to the
Continent, and, as promptly as possible, made the best of his way to
Rome. He spent the remainder of the winter and the spring there, and
then went to Florence for the summer and autumn; after which he
returned to Rome and passed a second season. His Italian Note-Books
are very pleasant reading, but they are of less interest than the
others, for his contact with the life of the country, its people and
its manners, was simply that of the ordinary tourist--which amounts to
saying that it was extremely superficial. He appears to have suffered
a great deal of discomfort and depression in Rome, and not to have
been on the whole in the best mood for enjoying the place and its
resources. That he did, at one time and another, enjoy these things
keenly is proved by his beautiful romance, _Transformation_, which
could never have been written by a man who had not had many hours of
exquisite appreciation of the lovely land of Italy. But he took It
hard, as it were, and suffered himself to be painfully discomposed by
the usual accidents of Italian life, as foreigners learn to know it.
His future was again uncertain, and during his second winter in Rome
he was in danger of losing his elder daughter by a malady which he
speaks of as a trouble "that pierced to my very vitals." I may
mention, with regard to this painful episode, that Franklin Pierce,
whose presidential days were over, and who, like other ex-presidents,
was travelling in Europe, came to Rome at the time, and that the
Note-Books contain some singularly beautiful and touching allusions to
his old friend's gratitude for his sympathy, and enjoyment of his
society. The sentiment of friendship has on the whole been so much
less commemorated in literature than might have been expected from
the place it is supposed to hold in life, that there is always
something striking in any frank and ardent expression of it. It
occupied, in so far as Pierce was the object of it, a large place in
Hawthorne's mind, and it is impossible not to feel the manly
tenderness of such lines as these:--

"I have found him here in Rome, the whole of my early
friend, and even better than I used to know him; a heart as
true and affectionate, a mind much widened and deepened by
the experience of life. We hold just the same relation to
one another as of yore, and we have passed all the
turning-off places, and may hope to go on together, still
the same dear friends, as long as we live. I do not love him
one whit the less for having been President, nor for having
done me the greatest good in his power; a fact that speaks
eloquently in his favour, and perhaps says a little for
myself. If he had been merely a benefactor, perhaps I might
not have borne it so well; but each did his best for the
other, as friend for friend."

The Note-Books are chiefly taken up with descriptions of the regular
sights and "objects of interest," which we often feel to be rather
perfunctory and a little in the style of the traditional tourist's
diary. They abound in charming touches, and every reader of
_Transformation_ will remember the delightful colouring of the
numerous pages in that novel, which are devoted to the pictorial
aspects of Rome. But we are unable to rid ourselves of the impression
that Hawthorne was a good deal bored by the importunity of Italian
art, for which his taste, naturally not keen, had never been
cultivated. Occasionally, indeed, he breaks out into explicit sighs
and groans, and frankly declares that he washes his hands of it.
Already, in England, he had made the discovery that he could, easily
feel overdosed with such things. "Yesterday," he wrote in 1856, "I
went out at about twelve and visited the British Museum; an
exceedingly tiresome affair. It quite crushes a person to see so much
at once, and I wandered from hall to hall with a weary and heavy
heart, wishing (Heaven forgive me!) that the Elgin marbles and the
frieze of the Parthenon were all burnt into lime, and that the granite
Egyptian statues were hewn and squared into building stones."

The plastic sense was not strong in Hawthorne; there can be no better
proof of it than his curious aversion to the representation of the
nude in sculpture. This aversion was deep-seated; he constantly
returns to it, exclaiming upon the incongruity of modern artists
making naked figures. He apparently quite failed to see that nudity is
not an incident, or accident, of sculpture, but its very essence and
principle; and his jealousy of undressed images strikes the reader as
a strange, vague, long-dormant heritage of his straight-laced Puritan
ancestry. Whenever he talks of statues he makes a great point of the
smoothness and whiteness of the marble--speaks of the surface of the
marble as if it were half the beauty of the image; and when he
discourses of pictures, one feels that the brightness or dinginess of
the frame is an essential part of his impression of the work--as he
indeed somewhere distinctly affirms. Like a good American, he took
more pleasure in the productions of Mr. Thompson and Mr. Brown, Mr.
Powers and Mr. Hart, American artists who were plying their trade in
Italy, than in the works which adorned the ancient museums of the
country. He suffered greatly from the cold, and found little charm in
the climate, and during the weeks of winter that followed his arrival
in Rome, he sat shivering by his fire and wondering why he had come
to such a land of misery. Before he left Italy he wrote to his
publisher--"I bitterly detest Rome, and shall rejoice to bid it
farewell for ever; and I fully acquiesce in all the mischief and ruin
that has happened to it, from Nero's conflagration downward. In fact,
I wish the very site had been obliterated before I ever saw it."
Hawthorne presents himself to the reader of these pages as the last of
the old-fashioned Americans--and this is the interest which I just now
said that his compatriots would find in his very limitations. I do not
mean by this that there are not still many of his fellow-countrymen
(as there are many natives of every land under the sun,) who are more
susceptible of being irritated than of being soothed by the influences
of the Eternal City. What I mean is that an American of equal value
with Hawthorne, an American of equal genius, imagination, and, as our
forefathers said, sensibility, would at present inevitably accommodate
himself more easily to the idiosyncrasies of foreign lands. An
American as cultivated as Hawthorne, is now almost inevitably more
cultivated, and, as a matter of course, more Europeanised in advance,
more cosmopolitan. It is very possible that in becoming so, he has
lost something of his occidental savour, the quality which excites the
goodwill of the American reader of our author's Journals for the
dislocated, depressed, even slightly bewildered diarist. Absolutely
the last of the earlier race of Americans Hawthorne was, fortunately,
probably far from being. But I think of him as the last specimen of
the more primitive type of men of letters; and when it comes to
measuring what he succeeded in being, in his unadulterated form,
against what he failed of being, the positive side of the image quite
extinguishes the negative. I must be on my guard, however, against
incurring the charge of cherishing a national consciousness as acute
as I have ventured to pronounce his own.

Out of his mingled sensations, his pleasure and his weariness, his
discomforts and his reveries, there sprang another beautiful work.
During the summer of 1858, he hired a picturesque old villa on the
hill of Bellosguardo, near Florence, a curious structure with a
crenelated tower, which, after having in the course of its career
suffered many vicissitudes and played many parts, now finds its most
vivid identity in being pointed out to strangers as the sometime
residence of the celebrated American romancer. Hawthorne took a fancy
to the place, as well he might, for it is one of the loveliest spots
on earth, and the great view that stretched itself before him contains
every element of beauty. Florence lay at his feet with her memories
and treasures; the olive-covered hills bloomed around him, studded
with villas as picturesque as his own; the Apennines, perfect in form
and colour, disposed themselves opposite, and in the distance, along
its fertile valley, the Arno wandered to Pisa and the sea. Soon after
coming hither he wrote to a friend in a strain of high satisfaction:--

"It is pleasant to feel at last that I am really away from
America--a satisfaction that I never really enjoyed as long
as I stayed in Liverpool, where it seemed to be that the
quintessence of nasal and hand-shaking Yankeedom was
gradually filtered and sublimated through my consulate, on
the way outward and homeward. I first got acquainted with my
own countrymen there. At Rome too it was not much better.
But here in Florence, and in the summer-time, and in this
secluded villa, I have escaped out of all my old tracks,
and am really remote. I like my present residence
immensely. The house stands on a hill, overlooking Florence,
and is big enough to quarter a regiment, insomuch that each
member of the family, including servants, has a separate
suite of apartments, and there are vast wildernesses of
upper rooms into which we have never yet sent exploring
expeditions. At one end of the house there is a moss-grown
tower, haunted by owls and by the ghost of a monk who was
confined there in the thirteenth century, previous to being
burnt at the stake in the principal square of Florence. I
hire this villa, tower and all, at twenty-eight dollars a
month; but I mean to take it away bodily and clap it into a
romance, which I have in my head, ready to be written out."

This romance was _Transformation_, which he wrote out during the
following winter in Rome, and re-wrote during the several months that
he spent in England, chiefly at Leamington, before returning to
America. The Villa Montauto figures, in fact, in this tale as the
castle of Monte-Beni, the patrimonial dwelling of the hero. "I take
some credit to myself," he wrote to the same friend, on returning to
Rome, "for having sternly shut myself up for an hour or two every day,
and come to close grips with a romance which I have been trying to
tear out of my mind." And later in the same winter he says--"I shall
go home, I fear, with a heavy heart, not expecting to be very well
contented there.... If I were but a hundred times richer than I am,
how very comfortable I could be! I consider it a great piece of good
fortune that I have had experience of the discomforts and miseries of
Italy, and did not go directly home from England. Anything will seem
like a Paradise after a Roman winter." But he got away at last, late
in the spring, carrying his novel with him, and the book was
published, after, as I say, he had worked it over, mainly during some
weeks that he passed at the little watering-place of Redcar, on the
Yorkshire coast, in February of the following year. It was issued
primarily in England; the American edition immediately followed. It is
an odd fact that in the two countries the book came out under
different titles. The title that the author had bestowed upon it did
not satisfy the English publishers, who requested him to provide it
with another; so that it is only in America that the work bears the
name of _The Marble Fawn_. Hawthorne's choice of this appellation is,
by the way, rather singular, for it completely fails to characterise
the story, the subject of which is the living faun, the faun of flesh
and blood, the unfortunate Donatello. His marble counterpart is
mentioned only in the opening chapter. On the other hand Hawthorne
complained that _Transformation_ "gives one the idea of Harlequin in a
pantomime." Under either name, however, the book was a great success,
and it has probably become the most popular of Hawthorne's four
novels. It is part of the intellectual equipment of the Anglo-Saxon
visitor to Rome, and is read by every English-speaking traveller who
arrives there, who has been there, or who expects to go.

It has a great deal of beauty, of interest and grace; but it has to my
sense a slighter value than its companions, and I am far from
regarding it as the masterpiece of the author, a position to which we
sometimes hear it assigned. The subject is admirable, and so are many
of the details; but the whole thing is less simple and complete than
either of the three tales of American life, and Hawthorne forfeited a
precious advantage in ceasing to tread his native soil. Half the
virtue of _The Scarlet Letter_ and _The House of the Seven Gables_ is
in their local quality; they are impregnated with the New England air.
It is very true that Hawthorne had no pretension to pourtray
actualities and to cultivate that literal exactitude which is now the
fashion. Had this been the case, he would probably have made a still
graver mistake in transporting the scene of his story to a country
which he knew only superficially. His tales all go on more or less "in
the vague," as the French say, and of course the vague may as well be
placed in Tuscany as in Massachusetts. It may also very well be urged
in Hawthorne's favour here, that in _Transformation_ he has attempted
to deal with actualities more than he did in either of his earlier
novels. He has described the streets and monuments of Rome with a
closeness which forms no part of his reference to those of Boston and
Salem. But for all this he incurs that penalty of seeming factitious
and unauthoritative, which is always the result of an artist's attempt
to project himself into an atmosphere in which he has not a
transmitted and inherited property. An English or a German writer (I
put poets aside) may love Italy well enough, and know her well enough,
to write delightful fictions about her; the thing has often been done.
But the productions in question will, as novels, always have about
them something second-rate and imperfect. There is in _Transformation_
enough beautiful perception of the interesting character of Rome,
enough rich and eloquent expression of it, to save the book, if the
book could be saved; but the style, what the French call the _genre_,
is an inferior one, and the thing remains a charming romance with
intrinsic weaknesses.

Allowing for this, however, some of the finest pages in all Hawthorne
are to be found in it. The subject, as I have said, is a particularly
happy one, and there is a great deal of interest in the simple
combination and opposition of the four actors. It is noticeable that
in spite of the considerable length of the story, there are no
accessory figures; Donatello and Miriam, Kenyon and Hilda, exclusively
occupy the scene. This is the more noticeable as the scene is very
large, and the great Roman background is constantly presented to us.
The relations of these four people are full of that moral
picturesqueness which Hawthorne was always looking for; he found it in
perfection in the history of Donatello. As I have said, the novel is
the most popular of his works, and every one will remember the figure
of the simple, joyous, sensuous young Italian, who is not so much a
man as a child, and not so much a child as a charming, innocent
animal, and how he is brought to self-knowledge and to a miserable
conscious manhood, by the commission of a crime. Donatello is rather
vague and impalpable; he says too little in the book, shows himself
too little, and falls short, I think, of being a creation. But he is
enough of a creation to make us enter into the situation, and the
whole history of his rise, or fall, whichever one chooses to call
it--his tasting of the tree of knowledge and finding existence
complicated with a regret--is unfolded with a thousand ingenious and
exquisite touches. Of course, to make the interest complete, there is
a woman in the affair, and Hawthorne has done few things more
beautiful than the picture of the unequal complicity of guilt between
his immature and dimly-puzzled hero, with his clinging, unquestioning,
unexacting devotion, and the dark, powerful, more widely-seeing
feminine nature of Miriam. Deeply touching is the representation of
the manner in which these two essentially different persons--the woman
intelligent, passionate, acquainted with life, and with a tragic
element in her own career; the youth ignorant, gentle, unworldly,
brightly and harmlessly natural--are equalised and bound together by
their common secret, which insulates them, morally, from the rest of
mankind. The character of Hilda has always struck me as an admirable
invention--one of those things that mark the man of genius. It needed
a man of genius and of Hawthorne's imaginative delicacy, to feel the
propriety of such a figure as Hilda's and to perceive the relief it
would both give and borrow. This pure and somewhat rigid New England
girl, following the vocation of a copyist of pictures in Rome,
unacquainted with evil and untouched by impurity, has been
accidentally the witness, unknown and unsuspected, of the dark deed by
which her friends, Miriam and Donatello, are knit together. This is
_her_ revelation of evil, her loss of perfect innocence. She has done
no wrong, and yet wrongdoing has become a part of her experience, and
she carries the weight of her detested knowledge upon her heart. She
carries it a long time, saddened and oppressed by it, till at last she
can bear it no longer. If I have called the whole idea of the presence
and effect of Hilda in the story a trait of genius, the purest touch
of inspiration is the episode in which the poor girl deposits her
burden. She has passed the whole lonely summer in Rome, and one day,
at the end of it, finding herself in St. Peter's, she enters a
confessional, strenuous daughter of the Puritans as she is, and pours
out her dark knowledge into the bosom of the Church--then comes away
with her conscience lightened, not a whit the less a Puritan than
before. If the book contained nothing else noteworthy but this
admirable scene, and the pages describing the murder committed by
Donatello under Miriam's eyes, and the ecstatic wandering, afterwards,
of the guilty couple, through the "blood-stained streets of Rome," it
would still deserve to rank high among the imaginative productions of
our day.

Like all of Hawthorne's things, it contains a great many light threads
of symbolism, which shimmer in the texture of the tale, but which are
apt to break and remain in our fingers if we attempt to handle them.
These things are part of Hawthorne's very manner--almost, as one might
say, of his vocabulary; they belong much more to the surface of his
work than to its stronger interest. The fault of _Transformation_ is
that the element of the unreal is pushed too far, and that the book is
neither positively of one category nor of another. His "moonshiny
romance," he calls it in a letter; and, in truth, the lunar element is
a little too pervasive. The action wavers between the streets of Rome,
whose literal features the author perpetually sketches, and a vague
realm of fancy, in which quite a different verisimilitude prevails.
This is the trouble with Donatello himself. His companions are
intended to be real--if they fail to be so, it is not for want of
intention; whereas he is intended to be real or not, as you please. He
is of a different substance from them; it is as if a painter, in
composing a picture, should try to give you an impression of one of
his figures by a strain of music. The idea of the modern faun was a
charming one; but I think it a pity that the author should not have
made him more definitely modern, without reverting so much to his
mythological properties and antecedents, which are very gracefully
touched upon, but which belong to the region of picturesque conceits,
much more than to that of real psychology. Among the young Italians of
to-day there are still plenty of models for such an image as Hawthorne
appears to have wished to present in the easy and natural Donatello.
And since I am speaking critically, I may go on to say that the art of
narration, in _Transformation_, seems to me more at fault than in the
author's other novels. The story straggles and wanders, is dropped and
taken up again, and towards the close lapses into an almost fatal

Henry James

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