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Hawthorne in Concord

by Philip McFarland

Philip McFarland
Philip McFarland
 
I've been asked to talk with you here in Concord this evening about Nathaniel Hawthorne, born some fifteen miles from this place, in Salem, Massachusetts, on Independence Day in 1804, a little over two hundred years ago. My subject tonight, then, is, specifically, "Hawthorne in Concord," not coincidentally the title not only of this talk but of a book that I wrote and that Grove Press published in 2004. Hawthorne is, at least for me, a vastly appealing figure, and not only because he wrote some of the greatest works in American literature, including The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and unforgettable short stories such as "Young Goodman Brown," "Wakefield," and""The Minister's Black Veil." He wrote nearly a hundred stories, in fact, and not a dull one among them.

In addition to being a great writer, however, fully acknowledged as such here and in Europe during his lifetime, and, moreover, with a reputation that (unlike that of so many American writers) never went into eclipse after his death, right down to our present generation that continues to esteem his achievement highly, none higher: In addition to being a great writer, Hawthorne was, face to face, an extraordinarily attractive human being. For one thing, he was extremely handsome. Everyone who met him agreed on that. He was trim, of athletic build, solid and strong with abundant dark locks of hair and a dazzling smile and eyes that were nothing less than astonishing. Bayard Taylor said that they were the only eyes he had ever known flash fire. Charles Read insisted that he had never seen such eyes as Hawthorne's in a human head. Richard Henry Stoddard spoke of them as lightning-like eyes, unfathomable as night. Julia Ward Howe called them tumultuous sapphires, and Elizabeth Peabody thought they were wonderful eyes, "like mountain lakes seeming to reflect the heavens."

Even in his mid-fifties, when Concord's schoolmaster Frank Sanborn saw him for the first time, and even though Hawthorne by then had grown the droopy and hardly beautifying mustache in which he would often be photographed and by which we have come to know him, even then Sanborn wrote of being completely unprepared for the author's "remarkable personal beauty," as late as 1860. Of all the Concord and Cambridge authors, according to that witness, Hawthorne "was by far the most distinguished in feature and in the impression he produced," far handsomer, Sanborn asserted, than was Byron in the best of his portraits, handsomer by far than was Daniel Webster, and with none of that statesman's marring arrogance.

For, if Hawthorne was a greatly admired and exceptionally handsome literary genius, he was also a singularly shy one. You would never, for example, have got him to stand before you here where I'm standing now. "My dear Sir," he wrote a Mr. J. T. Tucker from Concord in October 1852, "I am sincerely sorry to say that it is out of my power to deliver a lecture at Holliston; inasmuch as I never in my life made a public address of any kind, and have not now the hardihood to attempt it. This disability has compelled me to decline many invitations similar to your own. With my thanks for the kind opinion which induced it. Very respectfully yours."

But listen to those words of his again, if you will. This is the very definition of fugitive writing, a note dashed off, not for posterity's eyes, and yet see how every word of it counts, every sentence moving surely and gracefully from one pertinent thought to the next. "My dear Sir: I am sincerely sorry to say that it is out of my power to deliver a lecture at Holliston; inasmuch as I never in my life made a public address of any kind, and have not now the hardihood to attempt it. This disability has compelled me to decline many invitations similar to your own. With my thanks for the kind opinion which induced it. Very respectfully yours."

Hawthorne would not speak in public, or indeed appear in public any more than could be helped. When he had first moved to Concord, a decade earlier than 1852, the date of this note just read, and had proceeded to live here three years and longer after 1842, not more than a dozen villagers ever laid eyes on him, according to George William Curtis, a fellow resident in the village, and this despite Hawthorne's going to town virtually every day, to the postoffice and to browse through magazines in the village Athenaeum , although always he went and came through the woods, never along the public road. This exceptionally reserved, handsome, and gifted man had arrived to settle in Concord on his wedding day. At the time of his marriage Hawthorne had just turned 38, having spent a childhood in Salem with two sisters and a widowed mother, and having spent a part of his young manhood , four years of it , at Bowdoin College in Maine. Thereafter, from his graduation in 1825 onward for twelve long years Hawthorne in a high room under the eaves of the family's Salem home on Herbert Street was learning to write. He burned much of what he wrote during those twelve isolated years in his so-called owl's nest, but some of it, including some of his very best stories, appeared anonymously in various newspapers, periodicals, and annuals of the 1830s, although, as he later wrote, "without making (so far as I have ever been aware) the slightest impression on the public." Even so, he was finally persuaded to collect a number of the stories and publish them in a volume, as Twice Told Tales, in 1837. And again in his words, "Though not widely successful in their day and generation, they had the effect of making me known in my own immediate vicinity; insomuch that, however reluctantly, I was compelled to come out of my owl's nest and lionize in a small way. Thus I was gradually drawn somewhat into the world, and became pretty much like other people."

One consequence of his new, modest fame was that a family a few blocks off in Salem sought their author-neighbor's acquaintance: the Peabodys; and the youngest daughter in that family, Sophia, became fairly promptly the woman with whom Hawthorne would fall deeply in love. They met in November of 1837, became secretly engaged probably in January 1839, and were finally married in the summer of 1842, having during those five years encountered considerable resistance to an impoverished author's marrying a semi-invalid, herself without money and too delicate to take on housekeeping chores. Sophia with her terrible headaches had never expected to marry at all, and yet it turned out in the event to be a miracle. They were married in a quiet ceremony in downtown Boston at midday Saturday, July 9, taking a carriage soon after for the four-hour ride through a thundershower out to Concord village, arriving at their new home at five in the afternoon. And as Sophia wrote her mother ecstatically next day: "every step the horses took, I felt better and not in the least tired. I was not tired at the tavern and not tired when I arrived. My husband looked upon me as upon a mirage which would suddenly disappear. It seemed miraculous that I was so well." Sophia's health, which had caused her agony as far back in the past as her teething days, was all at once blissfully untroublesome. In her new role the bride felt wonderful, woke next morning feeling wonderful still, though hardly more so than did the groom. To one of his sisters back in Salem that first full day of his married life, Hawthorne wrote with typical quiet humor that he and his bride were "as happy as people can be, without making themselves ridiculous, and might be even happier; but, as a matter of taste, we choose to stop short at this point. Sophia is very well, and sends her love."

The newlyweds had come to Concord at the urging of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson, Boston-born, had settled in the village some eight years earlier. He was a year older than Hawthorne, and already in 1842 was doubtless the most stimulating thinker in America, author of the influential little volume Nature and of two celebrated, published addresses and a collection of essays. Emerson was a friend of the Peabody family in Salem, so that although he only distantly knew Hawthorne, he did know Hawthorne's bride, and had urged the two when they married to come live in the empty home of Emerson's stepgrandfather Ezra Ripley, Concord's late, longtime, much-loved minister, who had died the previous fall in his venerable nineties. Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne could rent the Ripley house for $100 a year, and it was that house, on the northern edge of Concord, to which the newlyweds came on their wedding day, and that house, the Old Manse, that this new tenant would make famous around the world.

America on the Hawthornes' wedding day was of course a vastly different place from what it is now. It was much smaller, geographically and in terms of population: maybe seventeen million people in the thirty United States then, compared to the three hundred million in the fifty states now. In the summer of 1842 it was still a Union rather than a Nation; the idea of nationhood would follow the Civil War, two decades in the future. Moreover, in 1842 America was primarily agricultural; a village such as Concord, with its 2,000 souls, was here as a farming community, autonomous, self-sufficient, independent of Boston, which was no nearer than three or four hours away by stage or mailcoach. Most people in America still were born on farms, worked on farms. And as for Boston, that was even then, as late as 1842, still primarily commercial, not yet industrial. Sailing ships filled Boston harbor, fortunes were made in trade, and the gaze of the Union was eastward, out over the ocean along trading routes toward markets in the East , and toward Italian art, toward French style and fashion, toward German music and philosophy, toward English literature.

This was the eastward-looking world of 1842 that newlyweds at the Manse were living in, even while imagining themselves as Adam and Eve living in paradise. They were very much in love , a hundred of Hawthorne's surviving love letters attest to that , and they loved the Old Manse and the solitude it provided them. Their routine there was simple, varied only by the occasional visitor, and the weather, and the season. Hawthorne would wake early and go down to the nearby river's edge and fish for breem for their breakfast. They would eat abundantly of the fruit of the apple orchard on their property, and of their vegetable garden, which Emerson's handyman Henry Thoreau had plowed and planted for them. Hawthorne would write through the morning in his study upstairs, or tend his garden, or chop at his woodpile, while Sophia, who was a gifted artist, painted in the breakfast room on the ground floor. In the afternoon they might explore the surrounding woods or gather whortleberries from a nearby hill, or Hawthorne would stroll by back ways into the village to visit the postoffice, while Sophia, in the glory of health, would attend to household chores. Then when evening came, they would settle into Hawthorne's stove-warmed study upstairs, under a glowing astral lamp, and read aloud: among much else, the whole of Milton's Paradise Lost through the fall, all twelve books and nine-thousand lines of it. Sophia adored hearing the rich melody of her husband's expressive voice. They took to dining later than midday and forgoing an afternoon tea ceremony, in order not to break up precious hours reading together after time spent at their separate occupations. "We have passed the happiest winter," Sophia would write a Salem friend that first year, "the long evenings lifted out of the common sphere by the magic of Shakespeare. Mr. Hawthorne read aloud to me all the plays. And you must know how he reads, before you can have any idea what it was."

Most of the time they were alone with each other, and needed no one else, though friends did occasionally stop by. Margaret Fuller, whose company both of the Hawthornes relished, would go for boat rides with them on the river, and Emerson and Hawthorne on one occasion strolled through two glorious September days the forty miles to Harvard village and back. Henry David Thoreau was another of the villagers with whom the reclusive Hawthorne was willing to spend time; in fact, he liked Thoreau best perhaps of all the Concordians. Sophia describes one memorable December scene involving those two and one other, neighbors skating together on the frozen river by the Manse. "Henry Thoreau is an experienced skater," she wrote, "and was figuring dithyrambic dances and Bacchic leaps on the ice , very remarkable, but very ugly, methought. Next him followed Mr. Hawthorne who, wrapped in his cloak, moved like a self-impelled Greek statue, stately and grave. Mr. Emerson closed the line, evidently too weary to hold himself erect, pitching headforemost, half lying on the air." Taking a break, Emerson had stepped into the Manse, and, Sophia wrote, "said to me that Hawthorne was a tiger, a bear, a lion, and there was no tiring him out; and he might be the death of a man like himself. And then, turning upon me that kindling smile for which he is so memorable, he added, 'Mr. Hawthorne is such an Ajax, who can cope with him!' "

In such simple pleasures a husband and wife were living through days on the edge of Concord in the 1840s. The first anniversary of their wedding day came round, and in the notebook where both of them wrote, knowing the other would read, Hawthorne paused over the blank page for July 9, 1843. "Dearest love," he set down, "I know not what to say, and yet cannot be satisfied without marking with a word or two this holiest anniversary of our life. But life now heaves and swells beneath me like a brim-full ocean; and the endeavor to comprise any portion of it in words, is like trying to dip up the ocean in a goblet. We never were so happy as now , never such wide capacity for happiness, yet overflowing with all that the day and every moment brings to us." This "birthday of our married life" was, he thought, like a cape of land "which we have now doubled, and find a more infinite ocean of love stretching out before us. God bless us and keep us; for there is something more awful in happiness than in sorrow, the latter being earthly and finite, the former composed of the texture and substance of eternity, so that spirits still embodied may well tremble at it."

Sophia's feelings were more simply expressed. Two years and longer, fully two and a half years beyond that moment when they had first stepped down from the carriage and opened the door of the Manse into their new married life, she wrote her husband: "I bless God for such a destiny as mine; you satisfy me beyond all things."

Hawthorne had been writing during these days, some of his most memorable stories: "The Birthmark," "The Celestial Railroad," "The Artist of the Beautiful," "Rappaccini's Daughter." These were appearing in magazines of the time to general applause, both here and in England. One prominent critic announced himself enrolled "among those who regard Mr. Hawthorne as fitted to stand at the head of American Literature." Another submitted categorically that "Of American writers destined to live, he is the most original, the one least indebted to foreign models or literary precedents of any kind." And a third, Edgar Allan Poe, proclaimed about this time that "Upon the whole we look upon him as one of the few men of indisputable genius to whom our country has as yet given birth. As such, it will be our delight to do him honor."

Yet, despite his productivity, and with all the praise, Hawthorne was unable to make a living by his pen. The times were hard, with the effects of America's first great depression, of 1837, still much in evidence, so that some of the magazines he wrote for folded, bankrupt, after two or three issues; and of those that survived, their editors deferred paying the author the $50 a story they owed him, or never paid him at all.

What brought the Manse days to an end, then, was this matter of money. Hawthorne became a father in the spring of 1844, and he felt the responsibility of parenthood acutely. Literature couldn't be counted on to feed the baby; and already he was in debt to the butcher, the tailor, the landlord, the taxcollector, although if people would have paid him what he was owed he could have discharged those debts three times over. But they didn't pay, and he couldn't write more than three or four hours a day in any case without a deterioration in the quality of his work, so he must find something else to do. What people in his situation did then , what Edgar Poe in Philadelphia was trying to do at this very time , was secure a government post that would furnish a livelihood. By the summer of 1845 Hawthorne's friends were seeking to arrange just such an appointment for the author, but so far without success, and meanwhile the late Parson Ripley's son in nearby Waltham was making sounds that he wanted the Old Manse back to live in himself. The upshot was that in early October 1845, after three happy years of living there, Hawthorne was reduced abruptly to vacating the place and hurrying his wife and infant daughter back to Salem, the three of them ingloriously forsaking Concord with only ten borrowed dollars left in the author's pocket, in order to return to live with his mother and sisters, he soon back seated in Salem at the writing table high in his little owl's-nest under the eaves on Herbert Street.

In months immediately ahead, Hawthorne did manage to pay off his debts, while putting together a volume made up of the stories he had lately written, introduced by a charming essay describing his idyllic three years in Concord. The book was published as Mosses from an Old Manse. But although critically praised, it brought no more financial success than had his earlier volume of Twice-Told Tales, and meanwhile the governmental post that his friends were seeking for him remained elusive. Not until the spring of 1846 did he finally secure an appointment as collector in the Salem Customhouse.

In fact, seven years would pass between the time when Hawthorne left the Old Manse and when he returned to Concord, now to settle for good, as he thought, and write fulltime in the first house that he ever owned. It would turn out to be the last house, this Wayside, as he called it, newly purchased from the Alcott family, for $1500, in February 1852. For by then, in the time between the Old Manse days of 1845 and these Wayside days of 1852, Hawthorne's fortunes had improved. He had worked at the Salem customhouse three years, writing very little during that time, until the Whigs had come into power in Washington, in March 1849, and fired the Democrat Hawthorne from his position, a victim of the spoils system. By then he had two children, and suddenly no income, and nothing to do but try to write his way out of a desperate financial predicament.

Yet by the end of the 1840s, economic times were brighter, and editors could offer more for his efforts, so that Hawthorne found himself all at once making money with what he was required to write, and no longer writing tales for $50 or $100 apiece but, rather, more lucrative novels, full-length romances. The first of those , in his lifetime he would complete no more than four novels , the first was set in colonial Boston in the mid-seventeenth century, and begins with bearded men in steeple-crowned hats gathering with their womenfolk around a wooden edifice, those earlier Bostonians assembled before their Puritan prison as the spike-studded door opens to expose a grim-faced jailer leading forth a young woman who carries at her breast a baby squinting in unfamiliar sunlight. The baby's form half hides on the woman's somber gown a piece of fine red cloth, fantastically embroidered, gold-threaded, in the shape of the letter A.

The Scarlet Letter, published in the spring of 1850, and The House of the Seven Gables, published the following year, did not make Hawthorne rich , he would never be rich , but they were sufficiently remunerative to allow him to purchase a modest old farmhouse that the Alcott family had put up for sale in Concord, on the Lexington Road. In the early summer of 1852 the Hawthornes moved into the Wayside, the very structure in which Bronson Alcott's daughter Louisa had been living through childhood years that she would later immortalize in Little Women; and in that same home Hawthorne now intended to ply his different version of the authorial craft for the rest of his days. The firing from the Salem customhouse had given this author his fill of politics; he was through with all that, meant to write now, his family , a loving wife and three loving children , complete and a third novel (The Blithedale Romance) about to appear, along with a collection of myths, A Wonder Book, retold for children.

Hawthorne's situation had changed, and America had changed as well, drastically, during the seven years since the author's earlier residence in Concord. The country had become, as mentioned, economically far more prosperous. But already toward the end of Hawthorne's and Sophia's years at the Manse , as a sign of another great change , in June 1844, the railroad had arrived in Concord, abruptly reducing the cost of the fifteen-mile trip from the village to Boston by a third, from 75 to 50, and the time required to make the trip from four bumpy hours to one, and that one hour on rails level and smooth. Moreover, all this while, in Waltham nearby, in Nashua and Manchester, in the miracle city of Lowell (nothing but an open field as late as 1820, now a city ten times the size of Concord), burgeoning textile mills had been luring farmers' daughters away from farms to live in brick boarding houses and earn high wages among the looms, another vast change destructive of earlier rural patterns. In addition, in the very last month of the Hawthornes' stay at the Manse, back in September 1845, had occurred far off one more portent of change, when an ugly black fungus had appeared in Ireland on the potato crop, spreading, through rain-soaked months and years that followed, all over the breadth of the island. Emigrants had fled the blight, filling Boston with Irish faces over these recent days and providing a low-cost workforce for the mills that the Yankee farmgirls had grown disillusioned with, mills where working conditions were becoming increasingly harsh.

New England was changing, from commercial to industrial, from coach and canal travel to travel on the railroad, from farming autonomously to growing crops for an urban market, from a generally homogeneous population in Massachusetts to one that was increasingly heterogeneous. And by 1852, when the Hawthornes returned to live in Concord, the Union , another huge change , had turned its gaze westward. For by then the Mexican War had been fought and won, and the victors had appropriated more than half of Mexico's territory, and simultaneously gold had been found glittering in the newly acquired riverbeds of California. The Gold Rush was on, with Forty-Niners wending their way across the vast new territories. And the nation had turned its gaze westward, where, along with the gold, those new lands were bringing to a boil a long-simmering American agony, over slavery. Should the South's peculiar institution be allowed to follow the Forty-Niners westward to California, or should it be kept contained within its present boundaries?

Those were political questions; and Hawthorne, still smarting over his dismissal from the Salem customhouse, was through with politics, not much concerned with sociological matters in any case, was rather a psychological author, concerned with matters of the individual human heart. He would write about individual guilt and isolation and egotism and pride and the need to confess, as he always had , and found himself finally positioned here at the Wayside in 1852 with time and money enough to do so.

But in the very week of the Hawthornes' return to live in Concord, in far-off Baltimore, the Democratic Party, eager like its opponents, the Whigs, to avoid the volatile slavery question, had turned for their candidate to a little known and hence uncontroversial compromise dark horse, a veteran of the Mexican War and retired senator from New Hampshire, Franklin Pierce. Quite unexpectedly Pierce the northerner and strict constitutionalist , that is, he stood for enforcing the Constitution, which sanctioned slavery, Franklin Pierce was nominated in June 1852 to appeal to both South and North, as the Democratic Party's candidate for the Presidency of the United States. And at once Pierce's good friend from their days together at Bowdoin College, Nathaniel Hawthorne, was sought out to write a campaign biography that would introduce this scarcely known political quantity to the nation. Hawthorne could not turn down his friend's request. He did write the biography, a quite uncharacteristic performance, in the late summer of 1852, and through the fall, like the rest of the nation North and South, watched the scurrilous presidential campaign unfold and awaited the outcome.

Meanwhile, during this fall, on one overcast day in October, the Hawthorne family set out on a stroll from the Wayside the couple of miles north through the woods and along Peter's Path to a hill opposite the home that the parents had earlier rented. At the crest of the hill Sophia left the others and descended alone to the public road and the tree-lined avenue beyond familiar gateposts. For the first time in seven years she was returning to the Old Manse. "As I stood there and mused," she wrote, "the silence was profound. Not a human being was visible in the beloved old house, or around it. The river gleamed like glass here and there in the plain, slumbering and shining." And of course she thought of the indescribable happiness that she and her husband had known there, happiness that forever consecrated everything about this spot. Yet amazingly, as she wrote, these later years were providing even more happiness than she had felt then, "for I am ten years happier in time and an uncounted degree happier in kind. I know my husband ten years better, and I have not arrived at the end; for he is still an enchanting mystery, beyond the region I have discovered and made my own."

Hawthorne the author during this period was writing another collection of myths for children, the charming Tanglewood Tales. And, in November, the election returns came in. Franklin Pierce had won his bid for the presidency, so that his close friend Hawthorne would in due time receive a reward for the campaign biography that had helped bring that victory about. The new chief executive proceeded to appoint Hawthorne to be consul at Liverpool, England; and who can blame him for accepting the appointment? It was the second most lucrative position at the administration's disposal, after London; so that finally, by pausing in his writing for only the four years of Pierce's term in office, in order to serve his country overseas, Hawthorne might finally make his family financially secure for life , never again have to worry about money, spend the remainder of his years with his wife and children provided for, writing thereafter not for bread but for the sheer love of it.

And so, all unexpectedly, this second interlude in Concord came to an early end, after only a year, in the summer of 1853, as the Hawthornes set sail from Boston harbor bound for England. But this time there was no ignominy in the departure, as there had been in leaving the Manse. This time no scurrying in desperation, on borrowed money, back to Salem. Now Hawthorne and his family were sailing in comfort into a bright future, cannon ashore firing salutes in his honor, as the steamship Niagara, bearing the United States Consul to Liverpool, put out to sea.

Another seven years would pass before the Hawthornes returned to Concord to resume their life at the Wayside. By then, the author was fifty-six years old. For four years and longer he had faithfully discharged his consular duties, had come to love England in his wanderings over the countryside, and had afterward traveled with his family to Italy for an extended stay, before returning to England for yet another year to finish a new novel, the first since The Blithedale Romance eight years before. So Hawthorne was coming home in the summer of 1860 under what seemed favorable circumstances, with more money than he had ever had in his life, with this new novel, The Marble Faun, just published and being widely read and commented on, and with at least three well-developed ideas for further novels in his brain, eager to be set down on paper. Their first full day back, Emerson welcomed the family's return with a neighborhood strawberry party, and afterward Hawthorne got busy promptly enlarging the Wayside to provide servants' quarters, separate rooms for his three growing children, and a study for himself at the top of the house.

Those alterations took time, however, all that carpentry, so the author was not able to get down to work for a while. And as it dragged on through the fall and winter and spring of 1861, rebuilding the Wayside turned out to be much more expensive than estimated. The family had less money than they had expected to come home with in any case. In the middle of his tenure as consul, Hawthorne had been distressed to learn that an economizing Congress had cut his salary in half. Living in England had proved costlier than anticipated, and the travels and year-long stay in Italy and additional year in England had further reduced the family income. Back home now, he must get busy wielding his pen as soon as possible.

Only, the times were no longer suitable for the concocting of romances such as Hawthorne's mind brooded on. The nation was hurtling toward civil war, the new Republican Party having, the month before the family's return to America, nominated for president a sectional candidate, a railroad lawyer and former representative from Illinois. Mr. Lincoln would go on to win the presidency in November, while the Wayside in Concord was still resounding with carpenters' saws and hammers, and by the time Hawthorne was finally able to get down to work at his desk in his new sky-parlor study, Fort Sumter and the Union flag had been fired upon.

Like many others, he was at first exhilarated and later made heartsick by the war. And like others, Hawthorne hardly knew what the war was being fought for. He was a New Englander, felt little kinship with southerners anyway. Let them go. Fight to keep the border states in the Union, but let the slave states go. We never were a nation anyway; the North would be a far more moral country with the slave states gone. And the bloodletting: 24,000 casualties at Shiloh, 26,000 at Antietam, 30,000 at Chancellorsville, 43,000 at Gettysburg. "The Present, the Immediate, the Actual, has proved too potent for me," Hawthorne wrote. "It takes away not only my scanty faculty, but even my desire for imaginative composition."

Yet he did try heroically to write in his sky-parlor, pages and pages of three separate novels, none finished but the manuscripts of all three efforts surviving and printing to 800 pages, with painful, agonized marginal notes that reveal the author's strivings to work his way forward: "Oh, Heavens! I have not the least notion how to get on. I never was in such a sad predicament before."

He worried about the war. He worried about his writing, about making money enough by it to provide for his family and next year send his son to Harvard. He worried about his oldest child's health, his daughter Una, who in her teens had grown rebellious, high-strung, even sometimes violent. Hawthorne's own health all this while was deteriorating, although he would not admit as much. Doctors he didn't trust. Slowly he was wasting away, to his devoted wife's great grief, but he would not have doctors probing at him. Was it gastrointestinal cancer that was killing him? His symptoms would suggest as much, but in any case the day finally arrived when Hawthorne took himself off to spare his family's watching him die. Under the guise of a health-restoring carriage ride into New Hampshire , a "serene jog trot in a private carriage," as Sophia wrote hopefully, "into country places, by trout streams and old farm houses, away from care and news", Hawthorne and his lifelong friend Franklin Pierce traveled together until they had reached an inn in Plymouth, in the center of the state. And there in a room at the Pemigewassat House, in the early hours of Thursday, May 19, Nathaniel Hawthorne, age 59, died in his sleep, so peacefully that the bedclothes were undisturbed.

Thus this sketch that began with a wedding must end with a funeral. It occurred in Concord's First Parish Church, Unitarian, on Monday, May 23, 1864, a glorious spring day with fruit trees abloom all over the village. Some of the most notable figures in American culture attended, among them Emerson, and Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell, and Alcott, and Louis Agassiz, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Former President Pierce sat with the family. The chapter that was Hawthorne's final effort at fiction lay as an unfinished manuscript on the coffin, along with a wreath made from apple blossoms from the orchard at the Old Manse. James Freeman Clarke, who twenty-two years earlier had joined Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sophia Peabody in matrimony, was on hand to deliver the eulogy. "God placed him here," the Reverend Mr. Clarke said, "to glorify New England life and pour over it the poetical beauty which was in his heart." And the minister went on: "I know no other thinker or writer who had so much sympathy with the dark shadow, that shadow which the theologian calls sin, as our friend. He seemed to be the friend of all sinners, in his writings."

And that, of course, makes Hawthorne the friend of each one of us.

Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/12322/


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