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Chapter 4


A transfigured cattle-pen--Emerson the hub of Concord--His
incorrigible modesty--Grocery-store sages--To make common men feel
more like Emerson than he did--His personal appearance--His favorite
gesture--A glance like the reveille of a trumpet--The creaking
boots--"The muses are in the woods"--Emerson could not read
Hawthorne--Typical versus individual--Benefit from
child-prattle--Concord-grape Bull--Sounds of distant battle--Politics,
sociology, and grape-culture--The great white fence--Richard Henry
Stoddard--A country youth of genius--Whipple's Attic salt--An
unwritten romance--The consulship retires literature--Louisa's
tragedy--Hard hit--The spiritual sphere of good men--Nearer than in
the world--The return of the pilgrim.

--

My father's first look at "The Wayside" had been while snow was still
on the ground, and he had reported to his wife that it resembled a
cattle-pen.

But the family advent was effected in June, and although a heavy rain
had fallen while the domestic impedimenta were in transit, wetting the
mattresses and other exposed furniture, yet when the summer sun came
out things began to mend. My mother and Una came a day ahead of the
others, and with the help of carpenters and upholsterers, and a
neighboring Irishman and his wife for cleaning and moving purposes,
they soon got human order into the place of savage chaos. The new
carpet was down in the study, the walls had been already papered and
the wood-work grained, the pictures were hung in their places, and the
books placed on their shelves. By the time the father, the boy, the
baby, and the nurse drove up in the hot afternoon a home had been
created for their reception.

Mr. Emerson was, and he always remained, the hub round which the wheel
of Concord's fortunes slowly and contentedly revolved. He was at this
time between forty-five and fifty years old, in the prime of his
beneficent powers. He had fulfilled the promise of his unique
youth--obeyed the voice at eve, obeyed at prime. The sweet austerity
of his nature had been mellowed by human sorrows--the loss of his
brothers and of his eldest son; he had the breadth and poise that are
given by knowledge of foreign lands, and friendships with the best men
in them; he had the unstained and indomitable independence of a man
who has always avowed his belief, and never failed to be true to each
occasion for truth; he had the tranquillity of faith and insight, and
he was alert with that immortal curiosity for noble knowledge the
fruit of which enriches his writings. Upon his modestly deprecating
brows was already set the wreath of a world-wide fame, and yet every
village farmer and store-keeper, and every child, found in his
conversation the wisdom and companionship suited to his needs, and was
made to feel that his own companionship was a valued gift. Emerson
becomes more extraordinary the further we get away from him in years;
illustrating the truth which Landor puts into the mouth of Barrow in
one of his Imaginary Conversations, that "No very great man ever
reached the standard of his greatness in the crowd of his
contemporaries: this hath always been reserved for the secondary." The
wealth contained in his essays has only begun to be put in general
circulation, and the harvest of his poetry is still more remote; while
the sincere humility of the man himself, who was the best incarnate
example of many of his ideals, still puzzles those critics who believe
every one must needs be inferior to his professions.

"Though I am fond of writing and of public speaking," said Emerson, "I
am a very poor talker, and for the most part prefer silence"; and he
went on to compare himself in this respect with Alcott, "the prince of
conversers." Alcott was undoubtedly the prince of fluency, and Emerson
rarely, in private dialogue, ventured to string together many
consecutive sentences; but the things he did say, on small occasion or
great, always hit the gold. On being appealed to, or when his turn
came, he would hang a moment in the wind, and then pay off before the
breeze of thought with an accuracy and force that gave delight with
enlightenment. The form was often epigrammatic, but the air with which
it was said beautifully disclaimed any epigrammatic consciousness or
intention. It was, rather, "I am little qualified to speak adequately,
but this, at least, does seem to me to be true." In the end, therefore,
as the interlocutor thought it all over, he was perhaps surprised to
discover that, little in quantity as Emerson may have said during the
talk, he had yet said more than any one else in substance. But it may
be admitted that he was even better in listening than in speech; his
look, averted but attentive, with a smile which seemed to postpone
full development to the moment when his companion should have uttered
the expected apple of gold in the picture of silver, was subtly
stimulating to the latter's intellect, and prompted him to outdo
himself. His questions were often revelations, discovering truth which
the other only then perceived, and thus beguiling him into admiration
of his own supposed intelligence. In this, as in other things, he
acted upon the precept that it is more blessed to give than to receive
gratification; he never seemed to need any other happiness than that
of imparting it. And so selflessly and insensibly were the riches of
his mind and nature communicated to the community that innocent little
Concord could not quite help believing that its wealth and renown were
somehow a creation of its own. The loafers in Walcott & Holden's
grocery store were, in their own estimation, of heroic stature,
because of the unegoistic citizen who dwelt over yonder among the
pines. Emerson was a great man, no doubt; but then he was no more than
their own confessed equal, or inferior!

This will and power to secularize himself is perhaps Emerson's unique
attribute. It is comparatively easy to stand on mountain-tops and to
ride Pegasus; but how many of those competent to such feats could at
the same time sit cheek by jowl with hucksters and teamsters without a
trace of condescension, and while rubbing shoulders with the rabble of
the street in town-meeting, speak without arrogance the illuminating
and deciding word? This, at last, is the true democracy that levels up
instead of down. An Emerson who can make common men feel more like
Emerson than he himself did is the kind of man we need to bring
America up to her ideals.

Emerson was ungainly in build, with narrow, sloping shoulders, large
feet and hands, and a projecting carriage of the head, which enhanced
the eagle-like expression of his glance and features. His head was
small; it was covered (in 1852) with light brown hair, fine and
straight; he was cleanshaven save for a short whisker; the peaked ends
of an uncomfortable collar appeared above the folds of a high, black
silk stock. His long-skirted black coat was commonly buttoned up; he
wore, on different occasions, a soft felt hat or a high silk one, the
latter, from use, having become in a manner humanized. On the street
he kept his face up as he walked along, and perceived the approach of
an acquaintance afar off, and the wise, slow smile gleamed about his
mouth as he drew near. "How do you do?" was sometimes his greeting;
but more often, "Good-bye!" or "Good-night!"--an original and more
sensible greeting. Though ungainly in formation, he was not ungraceful
in bearing and action; there was a fitness and harmony in his
manifestations even on the physical plan. On the lecture platform he
stood erect and unadorned, his hands hanging folded in front, save
when he changed the leaf of his manuscript, or emphasized his words
with a gesture: his customary one, simple but effective, was to clinch
his right fist, knuckles upward, the arm bent at the elbow, then a
downward blow of the forearm, full of power bridled. It was
accompanied by such a glance of the eyes as no one ever saw except
from Emerson: a glance like the reveille of a trumpet. Yet his eyes
were not noticeably large, and their color was greenish-gray; but they
were well set and outlined in his head, and, more than is the case
with most men, they were the windows of his soul. Wendell Phillips had
an eloquent and intrepid eye, but it possessed nothing approaching the
eloquence and spiritual influence of Emerson's. In every Lyceum course
in Concord, Emerson lectured once or twice, and the hall was always
filled. One night he had the misfortune to wear a pair of abominably
creaking boots; every slightest change of posture would be followed by
an outcry from the sole-leather, and the audience soon became
nervously preoccupied in expecting them. The sublimest thoughts were
mingled with these base material accompaniments. But there was
nothing to be done, unless the lecturer would finish his lecture in
his stocking-feet, and we were fain to derive a fortuitous inspiration
from observing the unfaltering meekness with which our philosopher
accepted the predicament. I have forgotten the subject of the lecture
on that occasion, but the voice of the boots will always sound in my
memory.

In his own house Emerson shone with essential hospitality, and yet he
wonderfully effaced himself; any one but he might hold the centre of
the stage. You felt him everywhere, but if you would see him, you
must search the wings. He sat in his chair, bending forward, one leg
crossed over the other, his elbows often supported on his knee; his
legs were rather long and slender, and he had a way, after crossing
his leg, of hitching the instep of that foot under the calf of the
other leg, so that he seemed braided up. He seldom stood in a room, or
paced to and fro, as my father was fond of doing. But the two men were
almost equally addicted to outdoor walking, and both preferred to walk
alone. Emerson formed the habit of betaking himself to Walden woods,
which extended to within a mile or so of his door; thence would he
return with an exalted look, saying, "The muses are in the woods
to-day"; and no one who has read his Woodnotes can doubt that he found
them there. Occasionally Channing, Thoreau, or my father would be his
companion; Alcott preferred to busy himself about his rustic fences
and summer-houses, or to sit the centre of a circle and converse, as
he called it; meaning to soliloquize, looking round from face to face
with unalterable faith and complacency.

My father read Emerson with enjoyment; though more and more, as he
advanced in life, he was disposed to question the expediency of
stating truth in a disembodied form; he preferred it incarnate, as it
appears in life and in story. But he could not talk to Emerson; his
pleasure in his society did not express itself in that form. Emerson,
on the other hand, assiduously cultivated my father's company, and,
contrary to his general habit, talked to him continuously; but he
could not read his romances; he admitted that he had never been able
to finish one of them. He loved to observe him; to watch his silence,
which was full of a kind of speech which he was able to appreciate;
"Hawthorne rides well his horse of the night!" My father was Gothic;
Emerson was Roman and Greek. But each was profoundly original and
independent. My father was the shyer and more solitary of the two, and
yet persons in need of human sympathy were able to reach a more
interior region in him than they could in Emerson. For the latter's
thought was concerned with types and classes, while the former had the
individual touch. He distrusted rules, but had faith in exceptions and
idiosyncrasies. Emerson was nobly and magnanimously public; my father,
exquisitely and inevitably private; together they met the needs of
nearly all that is worthy in human nature.

Emerson rose upon us frequently during our early struggles with our
new abode, like a milder sun; the children of the two families became
acquainted, the surviving son, Edward, two years my elder, falling to
my share. But Emerson himself also became my companion, with a
humanity which to-day fills me with grateful wonder. I remember once
being taken by him on a long walk through the sacred pine woods, and
on another occasion he laid aside the poem or the essay he was writing
to entertain Una in his study, whither she had gone alone and of her
own initiative to make him a call! It is easy to compliment a friend
upon his children, but how many of us will allow themselves to be
caught and utilized by them in this fashion? But Emerson's mind was so
catholic, so humble, and so deep that I doubt not he derived benefit
even from child-prattle. His wife rivalled him in hospitality, though
her frail health disabled her from entering into the physical part of
social functions with the same fortitude; in these first months we
were invited to a party where we were fellow-guests with all the other
children of Concord. There they were, their mothers with them, and
everything in sight that a child at a party could require. My new
friend Edward mounted me on his pony, and his father was at hand to
catch me when I fell off. Such things sound incredible, but they are
true. A great man is great at all times, and all over.

Thoreau, Channing, and Alcott were also visible to us at this time,
but of none of them do I find any trace in my memory; though I know,
as a matter of fact, that Channing and my father once permitted me to
accompany them on a walk round the country roads, which inadvertently
prolonged itself to ten miles, and I knew what it was to feel
foot-weary. But another neighbor of ours, hardly less known to fame,
though in a widely different line of usefulness, makes a very distinct
picture in my mind; this was Ephraim Wales Bull, the inventor of the
Concord grape. He was as eccentric as his name; but he was a genuine
and substantive man, and my father took a great liking to him, which
was reciprocated. He was short and powerful, with long arms, and a big
head covered with bushy hair and a jungle beard, from which looked out
a pair of eyes singularly brilliant and penetrating. He had brains to
think with, as well as strong and skilful hands to work with; he
personally did three-fourths of the labor on his vineyard, and every
grape-vine had his separate care. He was married and had three
children, amiable but less interesting than himself. He had, also, a
tremendous temper, evidenced by his heavy and high-arched eyebrows,
and once in a while he let slip upon his helpers in the vineyard this
formidable wrath, which could easily be heard in our peaceful
precincts, like sounds of distant battle. He often came over and sat
with my father in the summer-house on the hill, and there talked about
politics, sociology (though under some other name, probably), morals,
and human nature, with an occasional lecture on grape-culture. He
permitted my sister and me to climb the fence and eat all the grapes
we could hold; it seems to me he could hardly have realized our
capacity. During our second summer he built a most elaborate fence
along the road-front of his estate; it must have been three hundred
yards long and it was as high as a man could reach; the palings,
instead of being upright, were criss-crossed over one another, leaving
small diamond-shaped interstices. The whole was painted brilliant
white, to match the liliputian cottage in which the Bull family
contrived (I know not how) to ensconce itself. When the fence was
built, Mr. Bull would every day come forth and pace slowly up and down
the road, contemplating it with the pride of a parent; indeed, it was
no puny achievement, and when I revisited Concord, thirty years later,
the great white fence was still there, with a few gaps in it, but
still effective. But the builder, and the grapes--where were they?
Where are Cheops, and the hanging gardens of Babylon?

Among many visitors came Richard Henry Stoddard, already a poet, but
anxious to supplement the income from his verses by a regular stipend
from the big pocket of Uncle Sam. His first coming was in summer, and
he and my father went up on the hill and sat in the summer-house
there, looking out upon the wide prospect of green meadows and distant
woods, but probably seeing nothing of them, their attention being
withdrawn to scenes yet fairer in the land of imagination and memory.
Stoddard was then, as always, a handsome man, strong and stanch,
black-haired and black-bearded, with strong eyes that could look both
fierce and tender. He was masculine, sensitive, frank, and humorous;
his chuckle had infinite merriment in it; but, as his mood shifted,
there might be tears in his eyes the next moment. He was at that time
little more than five-and-twenty years old, and he looked hardly that;
he was a New England country youth of genius. Nature had kindled a
fire in him which has never gone out. Like my father, he was
affiliated with the sea, and had its freshness and daring, though
combined with great modesty, and he felt honored by the affection with
which he inspired the author of The Scarlet Letter. It was not until
his second visit, in the winter, that the subject of a custom-house
appointment for him came up; for my father, being known as a close
friend of the President, whose biography he had written for the
campaign, became the object of pilgrimages other than literary ones.
He received sound advice, and introductions, which aided him in
getting the appointment, and he held it for nearly twenty years--more
to the benefit of the custom-house than of poetry, no doubt, though he
never let poetry escape him, and he is to-day a mine of knowledge and
wisdom on literary subjects. There is an immense human ardor, power,
and pathos in Stoddard; better than any other American poet does he
realize the conception of his great English brother--the love of love,
the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn. The world has proved impotent to
corrupt his heroic simplicity; he loved fame much, but truth more. He
is a boy in his heart still, and he has sung songs which touch
whatever is sweetest, tenderest, and manliest in the soul of man.

E. P. Whipple, essentially a man of letters, and famous in his day as
a critic of literature, appeared often in "The Wayside." His verdict
on a book carried weight; it was an era when literary criticism was
regarded seriously, and volumes devoted to critical studies had
something more than, a perfunctory vogue. He had written penetrating
and cordial things about my father's books, and foretold the high
place which he would ultimately occupy in our Pantheon. He was rich in
the kind of Attic salt which, was characteristic of Boston in the
middle century; the product of an almost excessive culture erected on
sound, native brains. He had abounding wit; not only wit of the sort
that begets mirth, but that larger and graver wit which Macaulay
notices in Bacon's writings--a pure, irradiating, intellectual light.
It had often the effect of an actual physical illumination cast upon
the topic. He was magnificent as a dinner-table companion. He was
rather a short, thick-shouldered man, with a big head on a short neck,
a broad, projecting forehead, prominent eyes, defended by shiny
spectacles, and bushy whiskers. He is not remembered now, probably
because he never produced any organic work commensurate with his huge
talent. Analyses of the work of others, however just, useful, and
creative, do not endure unless they are associated with writing of the
independent sort. Whipple, with all his ability and insight, never
entered the imaginative field on his own account, and in the press of
wits he falls behind and is forgotten.

My father had come to Concord with the idea of a new romance in his
mind; he designed it to be of a character more cheerful than the
foregoing ones. It was never written, and but the slightest traces of
what it might have been are extant. Herman Melville had spent a day
with us at Concord, and he had suggested a story to Hawthorne; but the
latter, after turning it over in his mind, came to the conclusion that
Melville could treat the subject better than he could; but Melville
finally relinquished it also. It seems likely, however, that this
projected tale was not the one which Hawthorne had originally been
meditating. At all events, it was postponed in favor of a new book of
wonder-stories from Greek mythology--the first one having had.
immediate popularity, and by the time this was finished, the occasion
had arrived which led to the writing of Pierce's biography. This, in
turn, was followed by the offer by the President to his friend of the
Liverpool consulate, then the most lucrative appointment in the gift
of the administration; and Hawthorne's acceptance of it caused all
literary projects to be indefinitely abandoned.

But even had there been time for the writing of another book, the
death of Hawthorne's sister Louisa would doubtless have unfitted him
for a while from undertaking it. This was the most painful episode
connected with his life; Louisa was a passenger on a Hudson River
steamboat which was burned. She was a gentle, rather fragile woman,
with a playful humor and a lovable nature; she had not the
intellectual force either of her brother or of her sister Elizabeth;
but her social inclinations were stronger than theirs. She was a
delightful person to have in the house, and her nephew and niece were
ardently in love with her. She was on her way to "The Wayside" when
the calamity occurred, and we were actually expecting her on the day
she perished. Standing on the blazing deck, with the panic and the
death-scenes around her, the gentle woman had to make the terrible
choice between the river and the fire. She was alone; there was none
to advise or help her or be her companion in inevitable death. Her
thoughts must have gone to her brother, with his strength and courage,
his skill as a swimmer; but he was far away, unconscious of her
desperate extremity. She had to choose, and the river was her choice.
With that tragic conception of the drowning of Zenobia fresh in his
mind, the realization of his sister's fate must have gained additional
poignancy in my father's imagination. He was hard hit, and the traces
of the blow were manifest on him. After about a month, he made a
journey to the Isles of Shoals with Franklin Pierce, and in that
breezy outpost of the land he spent some weeks, much to his advantage.
This was in the autumn of 1852, and I recall well enough the gap in
things which his long absence made for me, and my perfect joy when the
whistle of the train at the distant railway station signalled his
return. Twenty minutes had to elapse before the railroad carriage
could bring him to our door; they were long and they were brief, after
the manner of minutes in such circumstances. He came, and there was a
moment of indescribable glory while he leaped from the carriage and
faced the situation on the doorstep of his home. His countenance was
glowing with health and the happiness of home-coming. I thought him,
as I always did, the most beautiful of human beings, by which I do not
mean beautiful in feature, for of that I was not competent to hold an
opinion; but beautiful in the feelings which he aroused in me
beholding him. He was beautiful to be with, to hear, touch, and
experience. Such is the effect of the spiritual sphere of good men,
in whom nature and character are harmonious. My father got his
appointment from Washington in the following March, 1853. His wife had
but one solicitude in leaving America; her mother was aged and in
delicate health, and their parting might be forever in this world. But
a month before the appointment was confirmed, her mother quietly and
painlessly died. It was as if she had wished not to be separated from
her beloved daughter, and had entered into the spiritual state in the
expectation of being nearer to her there than she could be in the
world. My mother always affirmed that she was conscious of her
mother's presence with her on momentous occasions during the remainder
of her own life.

June came; the farewells were said, we were railroaded to Boston,
embarked on the Cunard steamship Niagara, Captain Leitch, and steamed
out of Boston Harbor on a day of cloudlessness and calm. Incoming
vessels, drifting in the smoothness, saluted us with their flags, and
the idle seamen stared at us, leaning over their bulwarks. The last of
the low headlands grew dim and vanished in the golden haze of the
afternoon. "Go away, tiresome old land!" sang out my sister and
myself; but my father, standing beside us, gazing westward with a
serious look, bade us be silent. Two hundred and twenty years had
passed since our first ancestor had sought freedom on those
disappearing shores, and our father was the first of his descendants
to visit the Old Home whence he came. What was to be the outcome? But
the children only felt that the ocean was pleasant and strange, and
they longed to explore it. The future and the past did not concern
them.

Julian Hawthorne

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