Next> | <Prev | /Search/ | ?Help?
Words | Names | Dates | Places | Art | Notes | End

Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

Hawthorne's Dr. Grimshawe's Secret

Edited, with an introduction and notes

by Edward H. Davidson

Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954

Copyright, 1954 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College



.... when he died in 1864, [Hawthorne] left in manuscript three unfinished romances which, when afterward published by his heirs, were given the arbitrary titles of Doctor Grimshawe's Secret, Septimius Felton, and The Dolliver Romance.

Both The Ancestral Footstep and Doctor Grimshawe's Secret are companion pieces: they represent Hawthorne's attempt to write an "English romance" out of his own experiences in England during his residence there from 1853 to 1858; the other two, Septimius Felton and The Dolliver Romance, are "Romances of Immortality," which study the effects of a man's search for the elixir of life. Before his death Hawthorne solemnly enjoined his heirs not to publish any of these or other manuscript pieces but to burn them.

It is not, therefore, a pleasant task to exhume a literary relic, such as Doctor Grimshawe's Secret, which its author wanted destroyed. There may be some excitement in literary detection--the piecing together of fragmentary evidence, the clues to lost manuscript drafts and preliminary studies which have been mentioned over the years only in auction catalogues, the false starts, and then the location of many segments which, when put together, become the whole of Doctor Grimshawe's Secret as Hawthorne left it at his death. Down through the years I have had the excitement of discovering and fitting together the missing pieces in some diabolically contrived puzzle. Yet I must confess that, in such detection and exhumation, I have often felt that I was doing Hawthorne a wrong, that I was committing one of those sins for which his fictional characters have long been remembered--call it the violation of an artist's heart.

For in a true sense this edition of Grimshawe is a "violation." It is one in a series of violations which began when Hawthorne's wife and children disobeyed the injunction to destroy any unfinished romances. They not only preserved the relics but sold them piecemeal to wealthy collectors, who put them beyond the reach of fire or careless hands.

I sometimes think that a writer should destroy his early or unfinished drafts and that, if he fails to do the job himself, someone else should do it for him. I realize that such destructions would put out of business many of us who earn our living by teaching--and editing--English and American literature. I know too that many writers of our own time want their papers to be preserved: they stipulate in their wills that their private memoranda, manuscripts, diaries, canceled checks, and calling cards be presented to and housed in one of our distinguished libraries. Perhaps the world of letters would be deprived of much fascinating reading if I had my way; I, for one, should not like to think that Boswell's ebony cabinet and all that it contained had long ago perished at Auchinleck.

But Pepys, Boswell, Franklin, Jefferson--all those who recorded life as it moved before their eyes and who attempted to shore their reputations and their lives against the judgment of posterity--I leave off my list. I am speaking of the artist, the poet, novelist, dramatist, who projected a vision of life not precisely as it daily met his eyes but as he saw it through the spectrum of his imagination. To present to the world an artist's clumsy, fumbling efforts is, I maintain, a violation....

Yet, once having committed myself to the continuing violation of Hawthorne's wishes and privacy, I decided to go all the way. I would leave nothing out. I would reproduce Doctor Grimshawe's Secret with photographic, and pedantic minuteness. . . .

.... But because his heirs disobeyed his solemn injunction to destroy these papers, we are permitted to wander down strange pathways of his craft and to track him through devious turns of his mind. It is an old struggle, that of the writer with his subject, but it is different every time it occurs. This one in Grimshawe is a nightmare, perhaps because Hawthorne is his own hero and villain, god and devil, lover and hater. He was unprepared for the role, but it is fascinating to watch him in it.. . .

Introductory -- Notes on the Text

There are nine manuscript items which pertain to Grimshawe. Six of these are preliminary studies, of only a page or two each, in which Hawthorne outlined his narrative and sketched his cast of characters. I have also printed a seventh study, which, though it has the doubtful validity of existing only in a copy by Julian Hawthorne, seems sufficiently authentic to warrant inclusion with the others. This latter item is in the Pierpont Morgan Library; the others are in the Huntington Library, the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Morgan Library.

Then there are the two extensive drafts. The first consists of 117 pages written in a large, fairly smooth hand and paginated only on the rectos. After many interruptions and asides, it did bring the story to a sudden, improvised conclusion. Julian Hawthorne sold it piecemeal to various collectors; today its separate parts are in the Morgan, the Huntington, and the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. The second draft is quite different: it was composed in Hawthorne's cramped penmanship of late 1860 and early 1861 and paginated on both rectos and versos from "1" through "47." The narrative breaks off suddenly in what would undoubtedly have been the middle of a chapter, had Hawthorne been able to finish the romance. The manuscript of this draft is now in the Morgan Library. (A full account of this tangled story of curiously dispersed manuscripts is in my Hawthorne's Last Phase, 1949.)

.... By the terms of Mrs. Hawthorne's will, the "Grimshawe" papers passed to her son Julian, who mislaid for a time the first draft and was long undecided what he should do with the second. When, about 1882, he planned to write a life of his father, he thought he would print that second draft as an appendix to the biography. Then, quite unexpectedly, he discovered the first and longer draft in an old trunk. Now in possession of these two drafts, Julian decided that he could present a "complete" novel if he employed some editorial sleight of hand. He used the second draft as the basis for his text and ignored those portions of the first draft which the revise overlapped. Then, because the ill-organized first draft contained not only passages of narrative but also long meditative asides, Julian carefully removed those extensive digressions, patched together the remaining narrative sections which brought the tale to a quite illogical conclusion, and added them to the revise. He changed the names of characters in order that people would remain the same throughout the book; intercalated sentences of his own composition in order to conceal the rifts in the tale; and shifted one whole segment of the first draft from the end, where it belonged, to the middle of his edition. What we have hitherto known as Doctor Grimshawe's Secret is in no way the unfinished romance on which Hawthorne worked in 1860 and 1861....


[Online editor's note: the Romance is painful to read. The only interest is in the pathetic notes to himself of the author, who at that time must have been dying of cancer, overwhelmed by the actuality of the Civil War, and struggling to write anything to make some money for his family. The notes are on the order of, "There is still a want of something, which I can by no means get at, nor even describe what it is--which, indeed, would be almost equivalent to supplying the want."]

[Since the edition by Davidson is now under copyright, we have chosen to give, instead of the text, this overlong extract from his brave preface and introduction, to explain what the text is about. You may find his book in your library if you are still curious to examine this gruesome corpse. We see no point in republishing online here the out-of-copyright Julian Hawthorne hatchet job on his father's manuscript. Let it rest in peace. So, whatever Dr. Grimshawe's secret was, it will remain one with us, or the President and Fellows of Harvard College, if they ever want to put it online themselves some day.]

Next> | Words | Names | Dates | Places | Art | Notes | ^Top