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Introduction

Inheritance of friendships--Gracious giants--My own good fortune--My
father the central figure--What did his gift to me cost him?--A
revelation in Colorado--Privileges make difficulties--Lights and
shadows of memory--An informal narrative--Contrast between my father's
life and mine.

--

The best use we can make of good fortune is to share it with our
fellows. Those to whom good things come by way of inheritance,
however, are often among the latest to comprehend their own advantage;
they suppose it to be the common condition. And no doubt I had nearly
arrived at man's estate before it occurred to me that the lines of few
fishers of men were cast in places so pleasant as mine. I was the son
of a man of high desert, who had such friends as he deserved; and
these companions and admirers of his gave to me in the beginning of my
days a kindly welcome and encouragement generated from their affection
and reverence for him. Without doing a stroke of work for it, I found
myself early in the enjoyment of a principality of good will and
fellowship--a species of freemasonry, I might call it, though the
secret was patent enough--for the rights in which, unaided, I might
have contended my lifetime long in vain. Men and women whose names are
consecrated apart in the dearest thoughts of thousands were familiars
and playmates of my childhood; they supported my youth and bade my
manhood godspeed. But to me, for a long while, the favor of these
gracious giants of mind and character seemed agreeable indeed, but
nothing out of the ordinary; my tacit presumption was that other
children as well as I could if they would walk hand in hand with
Emerson along the village street, seek in the meadows for arrow-heads
with Thoreau, watch Powers thump the brown clay of the "Greek Slave,"
or listen to the voice of Charlotte Cushman, which could sway
assembled thousands, modulate itself to tell stories to the urchin who
leaned, rapt, against her knees. Were human felicity so omnipresent
as a happy child imagines it, what a world would this be!

In time, my misapprehension was corrected, rather, I think, through
the application to it of cold logic than by any rude awakening. I
learned of my riches not by losing them--the giants did not withdraw
their graciousness--but by comparing the lot of others with my own.
And yet, to tell the truth--perhaps I might better leave it untold;
only in these chapters, especially, I will not begin with reserves--to
say truth, then, my world, during my father's lifetime, and afterwards
for I will not say how long, was divided into two natural parts, my
father being one of them, and everybody else the other. Hence I was
led to regard the parties of the latter part, rich or poor, giants or
pygmies, as being, after all, of much the same stature and value. The
brightness (in the boy's estimation) of the paternal figure rendered
distinctions between other brightnesses unimportant. The upshot was,
in short, that I inclined to the opinion that while compassion was
unquestionably due to other children for not having a father like
mine, yet in other respects my condition was not egregiously superior
to theirs. They might not know the Brownings or the Julia Ward Howes;
but then, very likely, the Smiths and the Joneses, whom they did know,
were nearly as good.

After fifty years, of course, such prepossessions yield to experience.
My father was the best friend I ever had, and he will always stand in
my estimation distinct from all other friends and persons; but I can
now recognize that in addition to the immeasurable debt I owe him for
being to me what he was in his own person, he bestowed upon me a
privilege also immeasurable in the hospitality of these shining ones
who were his intimates. Did the gift cost him nothing? Nothing, in one
sense. But, again, what does it cost a man to walk upright and
cleanly during the years of his pilgrimage: to deal justly with all,
and charitably: diligently to cultivate and develop every natural
endowment: always to seek truth, tell it, and vindicate it: to
discharge to the utmost of his ability every duty that was intrusted
to him: to rest content, in the line of his calling, with no work
inferior to his best: to say no word and do no act which, were they
known, might weaken the struggle against temptation of any
fellow-creature? These qualities were the price at which Hawthorne
bought his friends; and in receiving those friends from him, his
children could not but feel that the bequest represented his
unfaltering grasp upon whatever is pure, lofty, and generous in human
life.

Yes, whatever it may cost a man of genius to be all his life a good
man, and to use and develop his genius to the noblest ends only, that
my father's friends cost him, and in that amount am I his debtor; and
the longer I myself live, and the more I see of other men, the higher
and rarer do I esteem the obligation. Moreover, in speaking of his
friends, I was thinking of those who personally knew him; but the
world is full to-day of friends of his who never saw him, to whom his
name is my best and surest introduction. Once, only three years since,
in the remote heart of the Colorado mountains, I chanced to enter the
hut of an aged miner; he sat in a corner of the little family room; on
the wall near his hand was fixed a small bookshelf, filled with a
dozen dog-eared volumes. The man had for years been paralyzed; he
could do little more than to raise to that book-shelf his trembling
hand, and take from it one or other of the volumes. When this
helpless veteran learned my name, he uttered a strange cry, and his
face worked with eager emotion; the wife of his broad-shouldered son
brought me to him in his corner; his old eyes glowed as they perused
me. I could not gather the meaning of his broken, trembling speech;
the young woman interpreted for me. Was I related to the great
Hawthorne? "Yes; I am his son." "His son!" Seldom have I met a gaze
harder to sustain than that which the paralytic bent upon me. Would I
might have worn, for the time being, the countenance of an archangel,
so to fill out the lineaments, drawn during so many lonely years by
his imagination and his reverence, of his ideal writer! "The son of
Hawthorne!" He said no more, save by the strengthless pressure of his
hands upon my own; the woman told me how all the books on the little
shelf were my father's books, and for fifteen years the old man had
read no others. Helpless tears of joy, of gratitude, of wonder ran
down the furrows of his cheeks into his white beard. And how could I
at whom he so gazed help being moved: on that desolate, unknown
mountain-side, far from the world, the name which I had inherited was
loved and honored! One does not get one's privileges for nothing. My
father gave me power to make my way, and cast sunshine on the path;
but he made the path arduous, too!

Be that as it may, I now ask who will to look in my mirror, and see
reflected there some of the figures and the scenes that have made my
life worth living. As I peer into the dark abysm of things gone by,
many places that seemed at first indistinct, grow clearer; but many
more must remain impenetrable. Upon the whole, however, I am
surprised to find how much is still discernible. Nearly a score of
years ago I published, in the shape of a formal biography of Hawthorne
and his wife, the consecutive facts of their lives, and numerous
passages from their journals and correspondence. My aim is different
now; I wish to indite an informal narrative from my own point of view,
as child, youth, and man. There will be gaps in it--involuntary ones;
and others occasioned by the obligation to retain those pictures only
that seem likely to arouse a catholic interest. Yet there will be a
certain intimacy in the story; and some matters which history would
omit as trivial will be here adduced, for the sake of such color and
character as they may contain. I shall not stalk on stilts, or mouth
phrases, but converse comfortably and trustfully as between friends.
If a writing of this kind be not flexible, unpretending, discursive,
it has no right to be at all. Art is not in question, save the minor
art that lives from line to line. Gossip about men, women, and
things--it can amount to little more than that.

In the earlier chapters the dramatis personae and the incidents must
naturally group themselves about the figure of my father; for it was
thus that I saw them. To his boy he was the fountain of love, honor,
and energy; and to the boy he seemed the animating or organizing
principle of other persons and events. With his death, in my
eighteenth year, the world appeared disordered for a season; then,
gradually, I learned to do my own orientation. I was destined to an
experience superficially much more active and varied than his had
been; and it was a world superficially very different from his in
which I moved and dealt There must follow a corresponding modification
in the character of the narrative; yet that, after all is superficial,
too. For the memory of my father has always been with me, and has
doubtless influenced me more than I am myself aware. And certainly but
for him this book would never have been attempted.

Julian Hawthorne

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