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Chapter 5


A paddle-wheel ocean-liner--The hens, the cow, and the carpenter--W.
D. Ticknor--Our first Englishman--An aristocratic acrobat--Speech that
beggars eulogy--The boots of great travellers--Complimentary
cannon--The last infirmity of noble republican minds--The golden
promise: the spiritual fulfilment--Fatuous serenity--Past and
future--The coquetry of chalk cliffs--Two kinds of imagination--The
thirsty island--Gloomy English comforts--Systematic geniality--A
standing puzzle--The respirator--Scamps, fools, mendicants, and
desperadoes--The wrongs of sailor-men--"Is this myself?"--"Profoundly
akin"--Henry Bright--Charm of insular prejudice--No stooping to
compromise--The battle against dinner--"I'm glad you liked it!"--An
English-, Irish-, and Scotchman--An Englishman owns his country--A
contradiction in Englishmen--A hospitable gateway--Years of memorable
trifles.

--

The steamship Niagara was, in 1853, a favorable specimen of nautical
architecture; the Cunard Company had then been in existence rather
less than a score of years, and had already established its reputation
for safety and convenience. But, with the exception of the red
smoke-stack with the black ring round the top, there was little
similarity between the boat that took us to England and the mammoths
that do that service for travellers now adays. The Niagara was about
two hundred and fifty feet long, and was propelled by paddle-wheels,
upon the summits of whose curving altitudes we were permitted to climb
in calm weather. The interior decorations were neat and pretty, but
had nothing of the palatial and aesthetic gorgeousness which educates
us in these later ages. The company of passengers was so small that a
single cow, housed in a pen on deck, sufficed for their needs in the
way of milk, and there were still left alive and pecking contentedly
about their coop a number of fowls, after we had eaten all we could of
their brethren at the ten dinners that were served during the voyage.
The crew, from the captain down, were all able seamen, friendly and
companionable, and not so numerous but that it was easy to make their
individual acquaintance. The most engaging friend of the small people
was the carpenter, who had his shop on deck, and from whom I acquired
that passion for the profession which every normal boy ought to have,
and from the practice of which I derived deep enjoyment and many
bloody thumbs and fingers for ten years afterwards.

But we had companionship historically at least more edifying. William
D. Ticknor, the senior partner of my father's publishers, was the only
figure familiar at the outset. He was one of the most amiable of men,
with thick whiskers all round his face and spectacles shining over his
kindly eyes; a sturdy, thick-set personage, active in movement and
genial in conversation. It was James T. Fields who usually made the
trips to England; but on this occasion Fields got no farther than the
wharf, where the last object visible was his comely and smiling
countenance as he waved his adieux. Conspicuous among the group on the
after-deck, as we glided out of the smooth harbor of Boston, was an
urbane and dignified gentleman of perhaps sixty years of age, with a
clean-shaven mouth and chin, finely moulded, and with what Tennyson
would call an educated whisker, short and gray, defining the region in
front of and below his ears. He spoke deliberately, and in language
carefully and yet easily chosen, with intonations singularly distinct
and agreeable, giving its full value to every word. This was our first
native Englishman; no less a personage than Mr. Crampton, in fact,
the British Minister, who was on his way to Halifax. He had fine,
calm, quietly observant eyes, which were pleasantly employed in
contemplating the beauty of that summer seascape--an opalescent ocean,
and islands slumbering in the July haze. Near him stood a light-built,
tall, athletic individual, also obviously English, but thirty years
younger; full, also, of artistic appreciation; this was Field
Talfourd, who was an artist, and many things besides; a man proficient
in all forms of culture. His features were high and refined, and,
without being handsome, irresistibly attractive. He turned out to be
a delightful playmate for the children, and astonished them and the
rest of the company by surprising gymnastic feats in the rigging. The
speech of these two Britishers gave the untravelled American a new
appreciation of the beauty and significance of the English language.
Not all Englishmen speak good English, but when they do, they beggar
eulogy.

George Silsbee was likewise of our party; he was an American of the
Brahman type, a child of Cambridge and Boston, a man of means, and an
indefatigable traveller. He had the delicate health and physique of
the American student of those days, when out-door life and games made
no part of our scholastic curricula. He may have been forty years old,
slight and frail, with a thin, clean-shaven face and pallid
complexion, but full of mind and sensibility. We do not heed
travellers now, and I am inclined to think they are less worth heeding
than they used to be. It is so easy to see the world in these latter
days that few persons see it to any purpose even when they go through
the motions of doing so. But to hear George Bradford or Silsbee talk
of England, France, and Italy, in the fifties, was a liberal
education, and I used sometimes to stare fascinated at the boots of
these wayfarers, admiring them for the wondrous places in which they
had trodden. Silsbee travelled with his artistic and historic
consciousness all on board, and had so much to say that he never was
able to say it all.

But to my father himself were accorded the honors of the captain's
table, and for him were fired the salutes of cannon which thundered us
out of Boston Harbor and into Halifax. These compliments, however,
were paid to him not as a man of letters, but as a political
representative of his country, and, let a man be as renowned as he
will on his personal account, he will still find it convenient, in
order to secure smooth and agreeable conditions on his way through the
world, to supplement that distinction with recommendations from the
State Department. Respect for rank is the last infirmity even of
noble republican minds, and it oils the wheels of the progress of
those who possess it. An American widow of my later acquaintance, a
lady of two marriageable daughters and small social pretensions in her
own country, toured Europe with success and distinction, getting all
the best accommodations and profoundest obeisances by the simple
device of placing the word "Lady" before her modest signature in the
hotel registers. She was a lady, of course, and had a right so to
style herself, and if snobbish persons chose to read into the word
more than it literally meant, that was not Mrs. Green's affair.

American commerce still existed in 1853, and the Liverpool consulate
was supposed to have more money in it than any other office in the
gift of the administration. As a matter of fact, several of my
father's predecessors had retired from their tenure of office with
something handsome (pecuniarily speaking) to their credit; whether the
means by which it had been acquired were as handsome is another
question. Be that as it may, Congress, soon after my father's
accession, passed a law cutting down the profits about three-fourths,
and he was obliged to practise the strictest economy during his
residence abroad in order to come home with a few thousand dollars in
his pocket. Nevertheless, the dignity, in the official sense, of this
consular post was considerable, and it brought him, in combination
with his literary fame, a good deal more attention in England than he
well knew what to do with. But, in one way or another, he also made
friends there who remained to the end among the dearest of his life
and more than countervailed all the time and energy wasted on the
Philistines.

The Atlantic, all the way across, with the exception of one brief
emotional disturbance between lunch and dinner-time, wore a smile of
fatuous serenity. The sun shone; the vast pond-surface oilily
undulated, or lay in absolute flatness, or at most defiled under our
eyes in endless squadrons of low-riding crests. My mother, whose last
experience of sea-ways had been the voyage to Cuba, in which the ship
was all but lost in a series of hurricanes, was captivated by this
soft behavior, and enjoyed the whole of it as much, almost, as her
husband, who expanded and drank in delight like a plant in the rain.
But, in truth, these must have been blessed hours for them both.
Behind them lay nearly eleven years of married life, spent in narrow
outward circumstances, lightened only towards the last by the promise
of some relaxation from strain, during which they had found their
happiness in each other, and in the wise and tender care of their
children, and in the converse of chosen friends. They had filled their
minds with knowledge concerning the beauties and interests of foreign
lands, with but a slender expectation of ever beholding them with
bodily sight, but none the less well prepared to understand and
appreciate them should the opportunity arrive. And now, suddenly, it
had arrived, and they were on the way to the regions of their dreams,
with the prospect of comparative affluence added. They had nearly
twelve years of earthly sojourn together before them, the afternoon
sunshine to be clouded a little near the close by the husband's
failing health, but glorified more and more by mutual love, and
enriched with memories of all that had before been unfulfilled
imaginings. This voyage eastward was the space of contemplation
between the two periods, and the balm of its tranquillity well
symbolized the peace of soul and mind with which they awaited what the
horizons were to disclose.

The right way to approach England for the first time is not by the
west coast, but by the south, as Julius Caesar did, beckoned on by the
ghostly, pallid cliffs that seem to lift themselves like battlements
against the invader. It is historically open to question whether there
would have been any Roman occupation, or any Saxon or Norman one
either, for that matter, but for the coquetry of those chalk cliffs.
An adventurer, sighting the low and marshy shores of Lancashire, and
muddying his prows in the yellow waters of the Mersey, would be apt to
think that such a land were a good place to avoid. But the race of
adventurers has long since died out, and their place is occupied by
the wide-flying cormorants of commerce, to whom mud flats and rock
deserts present elysian beauties, provided only there be profit in
them. One kind of imagination has been superseded by another, and both
are necessary to the full exploitation of this remarkable globe that
we inhabit.

But even the level capes of Lancashire were alluring to eyes that saw
England, our venerable mother, loom behind them, with her thousand
years' pageantry of warfare and civilization. The egregious little
island is a thirsty place; the land drinks rain as assiduously as do
its inhabitants beer and other liquors. Heavy mists and clouds
enveloped it as we drew near, and ushered us up the Mersey into a
brown omnipresence of rain. The broad, clear sunshine of the Atlantic
was left behind, and we stood on wet decks and were transported to
sloppy wharfs by means of a rain-sodden and abominably smoking little
tug-boat--as the way was fifty years ago. Liverpool was a gray-stone
labyrinth open to the deluge, and its inhabitants went to and fro with
umbrellas over their heads and black respirators over their mouths,
looking as if such were their normal plight--as, indeed, it was. Much
of this was not needed to quench the enthusiasm of the children. The
Waterloo Hotel, to which, by advice of friends, we were driven, seemed
by its very name to carry out the idea of saturation, which the
activities of nature so insistently conveyed. It was intensely
discomfortable, and though the inside of the hotel was well supplied
with gloomy English comforts, and the solemn meals were administered
with a ceremonious gravity that suggested their being preliminaries to
funerals, yet it was hard to be light-hearted. The open-grate coal
fires were the most welcome feature of this summer season, and no
doubt the wine list offered the best available substitute for
sunlight; but we had not been trained to avail ourselves of it. We
drank water, which certainly appeared an idle proceeding in such a
climate. In Liverpool, however, or in its suburbs, we were to live
for the better part of four years, and we must make the best of it.
And there is in English people, when rightly approached, a steady and
systematic geniality that not only makes handsome amends for their
weather, but also accounts for the otherwise singular fact that the
country is inhabited at all. A people with a smaller fund of interior
warmth could not have endured it. The French talk about conquering
England, but they could not hold it if they did, and it is one of the
standing puzzles of history how the Romans, an Italian race, were able
to maintain themselves under these skies during four centuries. It may
be objected that the present English population is not indigenous to
the island; but they are the survival of the fittest and toughest
selected from many aspirants. Nor can it be doubted that the British
hunger for empire in all parts of the world is due to nothing so much
as to their anxiety to have a plausible pretext for living elsewhere
than at home.

My father took the rain, as he took everything that could not be
helped, philosophically, and it seemed to do him no harm; indeed, his
health was uniformly good all through his English residence. It did
not suit so well my mother, who was constitutionally delicate in the
lungs; she was soon obliged to adopt the English respirator, and
finally was driven to take refuge for the greater part of a year in
Lisbon and Madeira, returning only a little before the departure of
the family for Italy in 1858. But there must have been in him an
ancestral power of resistance still effective after more than two
centuries of transplantation; he grew ruddy and robust while facing
the mist and mirk, and inhaling the smoky moisture that did service
for air. Nor was his health impaired by the long hours in the daily
consulate--a grimy little room barely five paces from end to end, with
its dusty windows so hemmed in by taller buildings that even had there
been any sunshine to make the attempt, it could never have succeeded
in effecting an entrance through them. Here, from ten in the morning
until four in the afternoon, he dealt with all varieties of scamps and
mendicants, fools and desperadoes, and all the tribe of piratical
cutthroats which in those days constituted a large part of the
merchant marine. Calamity, imbecility, and rascality were his constant
companions in that dingy little den; and the gloomy and sooty skies
without but faintly pictured the moral atmosphere which they exhaled;
he entered deeply into all their affairs, projects, and complaints,
feeling their troubles, probably, at least as keenly as they did
themselves, and yet he came out of it all with clear eyes and a sound
digestion. I presume the fact may have been that he unconsciously
regarded the whole affair somewhat as we do a drama in a theatre; it
works upon our sensibilities, and yet we do not believe that it is
real. There was nothing in the experience germane to his proper life;
it could not become a part of him, and therefore its posture towards
him remained inveterately objective. The only feature of it that
quickened a responsive chord in him was the revelation of the
intolerable condition of the sailors in many of our ships, and upon
these abuses he enlarged in his communications to Washington.
Improvements were made in consequence of his remonstrances; but the
American merchant service had already begun its downward career, and
it is only very lately, owing to causes which are too novel and
peculiar to be intelligently discussed as yet, that our flag is once
more promising to compete against that of England.

It would be misleading to say, however, that my father was not
interested in his consulate work; there was a practical side in him
which took hold of the business in man-fashion, and transacted it so
efficiently as to leave no room for criticism, and nobody can produce
voluntary effects without feelng in himself a reaction from them. He
had occasion to look into the privacy of many human hearts, to pity
them and advise them, and from such services and insights he no doubt
obtained a residue of wisdom which might be applied to his own
ulterior uses. These were indirect and incidental issues; but from the
consulate qua consulate Hawthorne was radically alien, and when he
quitted it, he carried away with him no taint or trace of it. As he
says in his remarks upon the subject, he soon came to doubt whether it
were actually himself who had been the incumbent of the office at all.

But Providence does not deny manna to man in his extremity, and to my
father it came in the shape of a few English friends, and in
occasional escapes from the office into the outside England where,
after the centuries of separation, he found so much with which he
could still feel profoundly akin. His most constant friendly visitor
was Henry A. Bright, a university man, the son of a wealthy local
merchant, who sent ships to Australia, and was related (as most
agreeable Englishmen are--though there are shining exceptions) to the
aristocratic class. Bright, at this time, could not have been over
thirty years of age; he was intensely English, though his slender
figure and mental vivacity might make him seem near to the
conventional American type. But through him, as through an open
window, Hawthorne was enabled to see far into the very heart of
England. Bright not merely knew England; he was England, and England
at its best, and therefore also at its most insular and prejudiced. It
was unspeakably satisfying and agreeable to encounter a man at once so
uncompromising and so amiable, so wrong-headed (from the American
point of view) and so right-hearted. He was drawn to my father as
iron is drawn to the magnet; on every outward point they fought each
other like the knight errants of old, while agreeing inwardly, beneath
the surface of things, as few friends are able to agree. Each admired
the other's onslaughts and his prowess, and, by way of testifying his
admiration, strove to excel himself in his counter attacks. The debate
was always beginning, and in the nature of things it could never end;
the effect of their blows was only to hammer each the other more
firmly into his previous convictions. Probably all the things that
are English and all the things that are American never before or since
received such full and trenchant exposition as was given them by
Hawthorne and by Bright. The whole subject of monarchy and aristocracy
as against republicanism and democracy was threshed out to the last
kernel by champions each of whom was thoroughly qualified to vindicate
his cause. Each, constrained by the stress of battle to analyze and
expound his beliefs more punctually than ever before, thereby
convinced himself while leaving his adversary undaunted; and, of
course, both were right. For this world is so constituted that two
things incompatible in outward manifestation may in their roots be one
and the same, and equally appeal to the suffrages of honest men.
England and America are healthy and vigorous in proportion as they
differ from each other, and a morbid and vicious tendency in either is
noticeable the moment either begins to take a leaf from the other's
book. My father and Bright could not have been the lifelong friends
that they were had either of them yielded his point or stooped to
compromise.

Apart from political matters, and such social themes as were nearly
allied to them, the two friends had many points of agreement and
sympathy. Bright had from the first been an ardent and intelligent
admirer of the romancer's writings, and though they might often differ
in their estimates of individual works, they were in hearty accord as
to the principles which underlie all literature and art. Upon matters
relating to society, my father was more apt to accept theories which
Bright might propound than to permit of their being illustrated in his
own person; he would admit, for example, that a consul ought to mingle
socially with the people to whom he was accredited; but when it came
to getting him out to dinner, in evening dress and with a speech in
prospect, obstacles started up like the armed progeny of the Dragon's
Teeth. For, though no one enjoyed real society more than he did, he
was ardently averse from conversing as an official with persons
between whom and himself as a man there could be little sympathy.
Almost as much, too, did he dislike to meet the polite world merely on
the basis of the books that he had written, which his entertainers
were bound to praise whether or not they had read or comprehended
them, and to whose well-meant but inexpert eulogies he must constantly
respond with the threadbare and pathetic phrase, "I'm glad you liked
it." Bright, of course, insisted that fame and position carried
obligations which must be met, and he was constantly laying plots to
inveigle or surprise his friend into compliance. He often succeeded,
but he failed quite as frequently, so that, as a Mrs. Malaprop might
have said, Hawthorne as a social lion was a rara avis, from first to
last. The foible of artificial, as distinguished from spontaneous,
society is that it so seldom achieves simple human relations.

Another chief friend of his was Francis Bennoch. England would never
have seemed "our old home" to my father, without the presence and
companionship of these two men. Both had literary leanings, both were
genial, true, and faithful; but in other respects they were widely
dissimilar. Bright was of the pure Saxon type; Bennoch represented
Great Britain at large; there were mingled in him English, Irish, and
Scotch ancestry. In himself he was a superb specimen of a human being;
broad-shouldered, straight, and vigorous, massive but active, with a
mellow, joyful voice, an inimitable brogue, sparkling black eyes full
of hearty sunshine and kindness, a broad and high forehead over bushy
brows, and black, wavy hair. He bubbled over with high spirits, humor,
and poetry, being, indeed, a poet in achievement, with a printed and
bound volume to show for it--songs, lyrics, and narrative poems,
composed in the spirit of Burns and Scott. He was at this time one of
the handsomest men in England, with a great heart, warmer than any
summer England ever knew, and a soul of ardor and courage, which sent
through his face continual flashes of sympathy and fellowship. One
naturally thought and spoke of him in superlatives; he was the
kindest, joiliest, most hospitable, most generous and chivalrous of
men, and his affection and admiration for my father were also of the
superlative kind. He had made a fortune in the wool business, and had
an office in Wood Street, London; but his affairs permitted him to
make frequent excursions to Liverpool, and to act as his American
friend's guide and cicerone to many places in England which would
otherwise have been unknown to him. My father enjoyed these trips
immensely; Bennoch's companionship gave the right keynote and
atmosphere to the sights they saw. A real Englishman owns his country,
and does the honors of it to a visitor as if it were his private
estate. Discussions of politics and of the principles of government
never arose between these two, as they did between my father and
Bright; for Bennoch, though one of the most loyal and enthusiastic of
her Majesty's subjects, and full of traditional respect for the
British nobility, was by nature broadly democratic, and met every man
as an equal and a brother. One often finds this contradiction in
Englishmen; but it is such logically only. A man born to the
traditions of monarchy and aristocracy accepts them as the natural
background of his ideas, just as the English landscape is the setting
of his house and park; he will vindicate them if assailed; but
ordinarily they do not consciously affect his mental activities, and
he will talk good republicanism without being aware of it. The
monarchy is a decoration, a sentiment, a habit; as a matter of fact,
England is more democratic in many essentials than we have as yet
learned how to be. Bennoch was not a university man, and lacked the
historical consciousness that Bright so assiduously cultivated; he
lived by feeling and intuition more than by deliberate intellectual
judgments. He was emotional; tears would start to his eyes at a touch
of pathos or pity, as readily as the laughter of a moment before. So
lovable, gallant, honest, boyish a man is seldom born into this modern
world-boyish as only the manliest men can be. He died thirty years
after the time I write of, the same fresh and ardent character as
ever, and loving and serving Hawthorne's children for Hawthorne's
sake. I shall have occasion to mention him hereafter; but I have dwelt
upon him here, both because he made it forever impossible for any one
who knew him well to do other than love the land which could breed
such a man, and because, for the American Hawthorne, he was as a
hospitable gate-way through which the England of his dreams and
imaginings was entered upon as a concrete and delightful reality.

With Bright and Bennoch on his right hand and on his left, then, my
father began his English experience. The two are frequently mentioned
in his English journals, and Bennoch figures as one of the subordinate
characters in the posthumous romance called Doctor Grimshawe's Secret.
It is but a sketch of him, however, and considerably modified from the
brilliant and energetic reality. Meanwhile the consul began to
accustom himself to the routine of the consulate, and his family,
leaving the sombre respectability of the Waterloo Hotel, moved, first,
to the hospitable boarding-house of Mrs. Blodgett, and afterwards to a
private dwelling in Rock Park, Rock Ferry, on the opposite side of the
Mersey, where we were destined to dwell for several years. They were
years full of events very trifling in themselves, but so utterly
different from everything American as to stamp themselves upon the
attention and the memory. It is the trifling things that tell, and
give character to nations; extraordinary things may occur anywhere,
and possess little national flavor. In another chapter I will attempt
some portrayal of this English life of fifty years since.


Julian Hawthorne

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