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Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

Hawthorne at The Old Manse

By Allen French

The Trustees of Reservations

[Editor's note: ] this little paperbound booklet, of 24 pages and six plates, is on sale at the Old Manse bookstore for $3.00. There is no copyright notice [as the publisher's note at the end states, Mr. French died before publication (in 1986?) of the typescript, which was apparently based on his lecture notes.] Quotations italicized in the original have been changed to indented blockquotes here. A slight printer's error, the mistaken italicizing of the last paragraph, has been corrected here. We have maintained French's bibliography, though some of the quotations can be found online in full text form here [see the Old Manse home page].


Although Nathaniel Hawthorne was a wanderer, and though of his sixty years he spent but eight in Concord, each time after he had left the place, old Concord lured him back. His early manhood had been solitary; his life in Salem, while he slowly taught himself the mastery of his craft, was as oddly like a hermit's as could be possible for a man to lead who lived with a mother and sisters. The family was abnormal. To mark her widowhood, his mother shut herself from the world, not even eating with her children, who took to the same habits with all naturalness. Sometimes Hawthorne would not leave the house until after dusk; if he went out by daylight it was on a visit to the library, or to begin a long and solitary ramble. At home his meals were often left at his door; occasionally he met his sisters in the evening, yet he was more than forty years old when his wife records that he dined with his mother for the first time in his recollection.

Such a life, with little literary success to draw him from his shell, naturally produced a peculiar man, and peculiar he was when he first came to Concord. He had, nevertheless, had three recent experiences which did much to humanize him. The first was his term of service as weigher and gauger at the Boston custom-house, the second was his year's sojourn at Brook Farm, the third (more likely than either of these to bring out any innate sociability) was his acquaintance with, and engagement to, Sophia Amelia Peabody. They were married on July 9th, 1842, and he brought his wife immediately to Concord, settling in the Old Manse.

Already he had a reputation as a writer, but that did not mean what the business world calls success. Money was owing him for services rendered and manuscripts delivered, but they were bad debts, difficult to collect. He had put a thousand dollars into Brook Farm, but could not take them out again. Although he appears to have considered that the money was due him, it seems plain enough that Brook Farm should have been considered, financially speaking, a bad investment. Possibly it led him directly to Concord, for Mr. Ripley, one of the leaders at Brook Farm, was a relative of the Reverend Samuel Ripley of Waltham who owned the Concord Manse. To Concord Hawthorne came, then, with his bad debts, his wife just recovered from a life of invalidism, and his scanty belongings, but also with his pen and with his brain.

The Manse had been vacated by the death of Dr. Ezra Ripley, Concord's pastor, who had married the widow of the Reverend William Emerson and taken over his household and his responsibilities. Even in those days the Manse had a character of its own. Hawthorne visited it early in June, 1842, probably on his first visit to Concord. He looked the place over and gave directions for changing it into a "comfortable modern residence," a task which, in spite of its apparent difficulty, he records later as successfully accomplished. As for the actual arrival of the newly wedded pair a month after this first visit, we have found no description of it.

There are plenty of descriptions, however, of Hawthorne's personal appearance at this time, and in fact at almost any time of his life, so striking it was. He was handsome, and the fact that all his earlier pictures do not show him so is due partly to the ordeal of the daguerrotype partly to the fact that nothing and no one could reproduce the expression of his eyes. In later life, when he was worn, and when also the photograph had been invented, there were taken some excellent likenesses of him. But he needed such a painter as Watts, or a photographer like some of our moderns, to do him justice. We must be content with pen-pictures.

His son describes him thus:

He was the handsomest young man of his day, in that part of the world. Such is the report of those who knew him . . . He was five feet ten and a half inches in height, broad shouldered, but of a light, athletic build, not weighing more than a hundred and fifty pounds. His limbs were beautifully formed, and the moulding of his neck and throat was fine as anything in antique sculpture. His hair, which had a long, curving wave in it, approached blackness in color; his head was large and grandly developed; his eyebrows were dark and heavy, with a superb arch and space beneath. His nose was straight, but the contour of his chin was Roman. He never wore a beard, and was without a moustache until his fity-fifth year. His eyes were large, dark blue, brilliant, and full of varied expression. Bayard Taylor used to say that they were the only eyes he had ever known flash fire. Charles Reade . . . declared that he had never before seen such eyes as Hawthorne's in a human head. When he went to London, persons whose recollections reached back through a generation or so, used to compare his glance to that of Robert Burns. While he was yet in college, an old gipsy woman, meeting him suddenly in a woodland path, gazed at him and asked, "Are you a man or an angel?" . . . His voice, which was low and deep in ordinary conversation, had astounding volume when he chose to give full vent to it. [1]

From this description we can visualize the impression that Hawthorne made upon his contemporaries.

Of scarcely less interest is his wife. Although herself without creative literary ability, she is in two ways to be compared with Mrs. Browning: first, in her physical history, and second, as having such great influence over the life of a genius. Each of these two women was an invalid from early years, until rescued by the power of love from the living death of the sickroom. Each became all in all to a great man, and by this stimulus recovered such health as to live an active life, to rear children, and to meet the strain of the struggle with the world. Each was of so much importance to her husband as never to be ignored in the history of his life. Of many great men it may be said that it does not matter to the world whether they married or not, but the love-passages in the lives of Browning and Hawthorne did much to make them the men they were. It is interesting to wonder whether the two women, in their later friendship, referred to the similarity of their lives.

Julian Hawthorne speaks of his father's marriage thus:

. . . all the available evidence goes to show that the most fortunate event of his life was, probably, his marriage with Sophia Peabody. To attempt to explain and describe his career without taking this event into consideration would, therefore, be like trying to imagine a . . . day without a sun. Nothing seems less likely than that he would have accomplished his work in literature independently of her sympathy and companionship . . . Her lofty and assured ideals kept him to a belief in the reality and veracity of his own . . . She revived his confidence and courage by the touch of her gentle humor and cheerfulness; before her unshaken hopefulness and serenity, his constitutional tendency to ill-foreboding and discouragement vanished away. Nor was she of less value to him on the merely intellectual side. Her mental faculties were finely balanced and of great capacity; her taste was by nature highly refined, and was rendered exquisitely so by cultivation. [2]

Mrs. Hawthorne's life history is as follows: she was a healthy, normal child, but her teething was difficult, and according to the practice of those days she was dosed with drugs. Their effect, and the effect of others given to remove their effect (for she went from doctor to doctor), ruined her health. She had, we are told, "an acute nervouse headache, which lasted uninterruptedly from her twelfth to her thirty-first year." A visit in Cuba gave her benefit which, however, the return voyage took away. In one period of comparative strength she took up painting, but the exertion was too much for her, although her talent was striking. In consequence of all this, she lived in great retirement at home, surrounded (and here she was more fortunate than Mrs. Browning) by the most loving parental care, and by devoted friends. These two forces of love and pain developed in her a most beautiful character. Her son says of her:

She was disciplined and instructed by pain, as others are by sin and its consequences; and thus she could become strong and yet remain without stain. What seems more remarkable is, that all her suffering never tempted her, even for a moment, into a self-pitying or morbid frame of mind She was always happy, and fertile in strength and encouragement for others; her voice was joyful music, and her smile a delicate sunshine.... in person she was small, graceful, active, and beautifully formed. Her face was so alive and translucent with lovely expressions that it was hard to determine whether or not it were physically lovely; but I incline to think that a mathematical survey would have pronounced her features plain; only, no mathematical survey could have taken cognizance of her smile.... Beautiful or not, I have never seen a woman whose countenance better rewarded contemplation. [3]

And her sister Elizabeth wrote of her as follows:

Sophia was never without pain; but there were times when it was not so extreme but that she could read. She read Degerando, and translated it for me to read to my pupils; and Plato. Sometimes my scholars (I kept my school in my house) would go up to see her in her room; and the necessity of their keeping still so as not to disturb her was my means of governing my school, for they all spontaneously governed themselves for Sophia's sake. I never knew any human creature who had such sovereign power over everybody--grown or child--that came into her sweet and gracious presence. Her brothers reverenced and idolized her. She was for some years the single influence that tamed Ellery Channing. [4]

Such were the experiences and the character of Hawthorne's wife.

We have seen that the stimulus which the love of Hawthorne gave to her health she repaid fully in the inspiration which she was to him all his life long. One other service she rendered which cannot be ignored, for without her help Hawthorne's life could never have been properly written. Though she had not the creative literary faculty, she had something which is almost as rare, a talent for letter writing. Through many years she wrote long letters to her parents, letters which have been preserved, and which give the best picture we have of Hawthorne at home. She had both insight and descriptive power, and her letters tell of Hawthorne's internal and external self, all that we can ask.

We may note in passing that next to his wife Hawthorne is his own best biographer. His diary and notebooks supply many of his acts and thoughts, but also (remarkable in a man so reserved) he was in the habit of supplying biographical data in the prefaces to his books. In them he speaks without disguise of his actions and his thoughts, names his friends, describes his neighbors and reveals his life with a frankness most strange in him. We welcome it, however, because both his diary and the Mosses reflect the happiness of his life at the Old Manse.

Thanks, then, to these intimate writings of Hawthorne and his wife, we are able to see their life in the Manse through their own eyes. Living so much in each other, they naturally lived very much by themselves, and repelled, with quiet but decisive politeness, the attempt which Margaret Fuller made, early in their married life, to persuade them to take in with them as boarders Ellery Channing and his wife, Miss Fuller's sister. The Hawthornes meant to live alone, and did so, with the intensest happiness to themselves. From lack of money their mode of life was very simple; they had but one servant, and when she went away on a vacation they got along without any, even after their baby, Una, was born. Their mutual devotion was such that any service they rendered to each other made them perfectly happy.

I warmed rice for myself [wrote Mrs. Hawthorne] and had the happiness of toasting his bread. Apollo boiled some potatoes for breakfast. Imagine him with that magnificent head bent over a cooking stove, and those star eyes watching a pot boil. In consequence, there never were such good potatoes before. [5]

Such was her appreciation of his good offices; and after an errand of his to the village, she records, "I saw in the distance the form of forms approaching."

What was the Manse in the day of these ideally happy people?

Between the two tall gate-posts of rough-hewn stone [says Hawthorne in the Mosses] (the gate itself having fallen from its hinges at some unknown epoch) we behold the gray front of the old parsonage terminating the vista of an avenue of black ash-trees. It was now a twelve-month since the funeral procession of the venerable clergyman, its last inhabitant, had turned from that gateway towards the village burying-ground. The wheel-track leading to the door, as well as the whole breadth of the avenue, was almost overgrown with grass, affording dainty mouthfuls to two or three vagrant cows and an old white horse who had his own living to pick up along the roadside. The glimmering shadows that lay half asleep between the door of the house and the public highway were a kind of spiritual medium, seen through which the edifice had not quite the aspect of belonging to the material world. Certainly it had little in common with those ordinary abodes which stand so imminent upon the road that every passer-by can thrust his head, as it were, into the domestic circle. From these quiet windows the figures of passing travelers looked too remote and dim to disturb the sense of privacy. In its near retirement and accessible seclusion it was the very spot for the residence of a clergyman,--a man not estranged from human life, yet enveloped in the midst of it with a veil woven of intermingled gloom and brightness. It was worthy to have been one of the time-honored parsonages of England in which, through many generations, a succession of holy occupants pass from youth to age, and bequeath each an inheritance of sanctity to pervade the house and hover over it as with an atmosphere.

Nor, in truth, had the Old Manse ever been profaned by a lay occupant until that memorable summer afternoon when I entered it as my home. [6]

He went to the village daily for his letters, and to spend an hour at what he sometimes called the Athenaeum, a room in a building near the square where he went to read the newspapers. It was Judge Keyes who introduced him there; and that he became a regular visitor is plain from his Journal. Judge Keyes spoke of Hawthorne's pleasant manner when approached, but noted also his evident shyness. After these daily visits to civilization, Hawthorne would return again to his solitude, where he would garden, or split wood, or write as the mood took him. In the evenings he frequently read aloud to his wife, who, being happy in everything he did, satisfied him completely, even in such solitude.

My wife is, in the strictest sense, [he wrote] my sole companion, and I need no other; there is no vacancy in my mind, any more than in my heart. In truth, I have spent so many years in total seclusion from all human society, that it is no wonder if now I feel all my desires satisfied by this sole intercourse. But she has come to me from the midst of many friends and a large circle of acquaintance; yet she lives from day to day in this solitude, seeing nobody but myself and our Molly, while the snow of our avenue is untrodden for weeks by any footsteps save mine; yet she is always cheerful. Thank God that I suffice for her boundless heart! [7]

He did suffice for her. She heads a letter, "The Promised Land," and on returning to Concord after a visit, she heads another letter "Paradise regained." She admires him from minute to minute; she is indignant when he is spoken of in a newspaper as "gentle Nat Hawthorne," and wonders how anyone can be so bold and familiar.

Mrs. Hawthorne writes an enlightening account of their housekeeping during the cook's vacation:

We had a most enchanting time during Mary the cook's holiday sojourn in Boston. We remained in our bower undisturbed by mortal creature. Mr. Hawthorne took the new phasis of housekeeper, and, with that marvellous power of adaptation to circumstances that he possesses, made everything go easily and well. He rose betimes in the mornings, and kindled fires in the kitchen and breakfast-room, and by the time I came down, the tea-kettle boiled, and potatoes were baked and rice cooked, and my lord sat with a book, superintending.... It seems as if there were no side of action to which he is not equal,--at home among the stars, and, for my sake, patient and effective over a cooking-stove....

Our breakfast was late, because we intended to have only breakfast and dinner. After breakfast, I put the beloved study into very nice order, and, after establishing him in it, proceeded to make smooth all things below. When I had come to the end of my labors, my dear lord insisted upon my sitting with him; so I sat by him and sewed, while he wrote, with now and then a little discourse; and this was very enchanting. At about one, we walked to the village; after three, we dined. On Christmas Day we had a truly paradisiacal dinner of preserved quince and apple, dates, and bread and cheese and milk. The washing of dishes took place in the mornings, so we had our beautiful long evenings from four o'clock till ten. At sunset he would go out to exercise on his woodpile. We had no visitors except a moment's call from good Mrs. Prescott. [8]

On the other hand, let us hear Hawthorne's self upon the subject of the life at the Manse:

My life is more like that of a boy, externally, than it has been since I was really a boy. It is usually supposed that the cares of life come with matrimony; but I seem to have cast off all care, and live on with as much easy trust in Providence as Adam could possibly have felt before he learned that there was a world beyond Paradise. My chief anxiety consists in watching the prosperity of my vegetables.... It is as if the original relation between man and nature were restored in my case, and as if I were to look exclusively to her for the support of Eve and myself.... The fight with the world--the struggle to wrench the means of living from a host of greedy competitors--all this seems like a dream to me. My business is merely to live and to enjoy; and whatever is essential to life and enjoyment will come as naturally as the dew from heaven. This is, practically at least, my faith. And so I awake in the morning with a boyish thoughtlessness as to how the outgoings of the day are to be provided for, and its incomings rendered certain. After breakfast, I go forth into my garden, and gather whatever the bountiful Mother has made fit for our present sustenance; and of late days she generally gives me two squashes and a cucumber, and promises me green corn and shell-beans very soon. Then I pass down through our orchard to the river-side, and ramble along its margin in search of flowers.... Having made up my bunch of flowers, I return with them to my wife.... I ascend to my study, and generally read, or perchance scribble in this journal, and otherwise suffer Time to loiter onward at his own pleasure, till the dinner-hour. In pleasant days, the chief event of the afternoon, and the happiest one of the day, is our walk.... So comes the night; and I look back upon a day spent in what the world would call idleness, and for which I myself can suggest no more appropriate epithet; and which, nevertheless, I cannot feel to have been spent amiss. True, it might be a sin and shame, in such a world as ours, to spend a lifetime in this manner; but for a few summer weeks it is good to live as if this world were heaven. [9]

This quotation from the Journal omits, through Mrs. Hawthorne's excessive modesty, the most charming passage. I give it here, as found in another book:

Having made up my bunch of flowers, I return with them to my wife, of whom what is loveliest among them are to me the imperfect emblems. My imagination twines her and the flowers into one wreath; and when I offer them to her, it seems as if I were introducing her to beings that have somewhat of her own nature in them.... [10]

And again he says:

Methinks my wife is twin-sister to the spring; so they should greet one another tenderly,--for they both are fresh and dewy, both full of hope and cheerfulness; both have bird-voices, always singing out of their hearts; both are sometimes overcast with flitting mists, which only make the flowers bloom brighter; and both have power to renew and re-create the weary spirit. I have married the Spring! I am husband to the month of May! [11]

This song of rejoicing in his marriage is a lyric as delightful as could be imagined, and, when once associated with the gray old Manse, forever makes it a place of charming memory. Elsewhere he records his more mundane thoughts and occupations, his excursions to the village, his exercise at the wood-pile, his work in the garden. There is a period where he is left alone with the servant, and another when he is actually alone in the house, doing his own cooking, a labor which, with the dishwashing, was entirely too much for him, so that at last he makes a forlorn appeal for bread to his good neighbors, the Prescotts. But then he writes:

George P------ has just come to say that Mrs. P------ has not bread at present, and is gone away this afternoon, but she will send some tomorrow. I mean to have a regular supply from the same source.... The beef is done!!! [He writes as a postscript to the same letter, having already described his struggles with it and with the cookbook.] [12]

But with the successful boiling of the corned beef the worst of his struggles came to an end, for in the next letter to his absent wife he wrote:

Everything goes on well with me.... just at supper time came Mrs. B------ with a large covered dish, which proved to contain a quantity of specially good flapjacks, piping hot, prepared, I suppose, by the fair hands of Miss Martha or Miss Abby, for Mrs. Prescott was not at home. They served me both for supper and breakfast [for breakfast, notice, and since he hated kindling the fire, he possibly ate them cold]; and I thanked Providence and the young ladies, and compared myself to the prophet fed by ravens,--though the simile does rather more than justice to myself, and not enough to the generous donors of the flapjacks. The next morning, Mrs. P------ herself brought two big loaves of bread, which will last me a week, unless I have some guests to provide for. I have likewise found a hoard of crackers in one of the covered dishes; so that the old castle is sufficiently provisioned to stand a long siege. The corned beef is exquisitely done, and as tender as a young lady's heart, all owing to my skillful cookery.... To say the truth, I look upon it as such a masterpiece in its way, that it seems irreverential to eat it. Things on which so much labor and thought are bestowed should surely be immortal. [13]

This was in April, and we find him still alone in June, when he records the arrival of a Mr. F-----, a wandering ne'er-do-well to whom Hawthorne was kind, and who on this occasion repaid some of the benefactions, for the letter records:

About the first thing he did was to wash the dishes; and he is really indefatigable in the kitchen, so that I am quite a gentleman of leisure. Previous to his arrival, I had kindled no fire for four entire days, and had lived all the time on the corned beef, except one day, when Ellery and I went down the river on a fishing excursion. [14]

We are not, let us hope, to suppose that the corned beef of April lasted until June. Even his frugality, in those days without ice-chests, could have scarcely accomplished that.

And let us leave this temporary widowhood of Hawthorne with a little better picture. Four days after the last extract he writes:

Mr. F---- is . . . absolutely in the seventh heaven, and he talks and talks and talks and talks, and I listen and listen and listen with a patience for which, in spite of all my sins, I firmly expected to be admitted to the mansions of the blessed. And there is really a contentment in being able to make this poor, world-worn, half-crazy man so entirely comfortable as he seems to be here. He is an admirable cook. We had some roast veal and a baked rice-pudding on Sunday, really a fine dinner, and cooked in better style than Mary can equal; and George Curtis came to dine with us . . . I have had my dreams of splendor, but never expected to arrive at the dignity of keeping a man-cook. [15]

Such were the Hawthornes in the Manse, far different from any of their predecessors, "something new and strange" to Concord. In his published diary are to be found references to the dog and cat, to the days on the river and in the woods, and to the weather, which for a year or two was certainly remarkable. An ideal couple they were, with their simple life, and with their happiness.

Now what impression did they make upon the town?

George William Curtis gives a whimsical account of the mysterious man who occupies the Manse, how strange and almost wild he seemed to the folk of Concord. The account is playful, and yet there is a story, purporting to be true, of a youth who heard that the inhabitant of the Manse was a little queer, but thought little of the statement until, passing the Manse one day on his way to the village, he saw the stranger standing near the road, motionless, in an attitude of deep thought. "He seems a little daft," thought the young collegian. Passing that way on his return, an hour later, Hawthorne was again seen, in exactly the same place and attitude. "He certainly is daft," decided the lad.

It is fair to assume that Hawthorne caused much speculation in the quiet town, which had never seen one of his kind, whose voluntary retirement provoked curiosity, whose idleness must have aroused condemnation in a Puritan community, and who may, easily, in one way and another, have appeared to be what the New Englander calls "queer."

However, Hawthorne had friends and visitors, as he himself informs us in his journal, although he cannot boast of their numbers.

Few, indeed, are the mortals who venture within our sacred precincts. George Prescott, who has not yet grown earthly enough, I suppose, to be debarred from occasional visits to Paradise, comes daily to bring three pints of milk from some ambrosial cow; occasionally, also, he makes an offering of mortal flowers.... Mr. Emerson comes sometimes, and has been feasted . . . on our nectar and ambrosia. Mr. Thoreau has twice listened to the music of the spheres, which for our private convenience, we have packed into a musical-box. Elizabeth Hoar, who is much more at home among spirits than among fleshly bodies, came hither a few times merely to welcome us to the ethereal world; but latterly she has vanished into some other region of infinite space. One rash mortal, on the second Sunday after our arrival, obtruded himself upon us in a gig. There have since been three or four callers, who preposterously think that the courtesies of the lower world are to be responded to by people whose home is in Paradise. I must not forget to mention that the butcher comes twice or thrice a week.... Well, the above-mentioned persons are nearly all that have intruded into the hallowed shade of our avenue; except, indeed, a certain sinner who came to bargain for the grass in our orchard, and another who came with a new cistern.... And, by the bye, a young colt comes up our avenue, now and then, to crop the seldom-trodden herbage; and so does a company of cows, whose sweet breath well repays us for the food which they obtain. There are likewise a few hens, whose quiet cluck is heard pleasantly about the house. [16]

Thus he enumerates the few visitors of his first summer, and intimates that he does not intend to "return call." So the neighbors who called upon him and his wife probably felt themselves rebuffed by him, as the Salem folk did both earlier and later. Still the Hawthornes had visitors, and of a very considerable kind, if Emerson, Thoreau, Channing, and Elizabeth Hoar are to be named among them. He even visited in return at favored houses, went to Emerson's certainly, and Channing's probably, and came out of his shell as much as it was possible for him to do. Yet he was doubtless odd, though chiefly shy, and among his qualities his power of silence was most remarkable.

There is no better description of Hawthorne at this time than that of George William Curtis, who met him first at the house of Emerson:

During Hawthorne's first year's residence in Concord, I had driven up with some friends, to an aesthetic tea at Mr. Emerson's. It was in the winter, and a great wood-fire blazed upon the hospitable hearth. There were various men and women of note assembled, and I, who listened attentively to all the fine things that were said, was for some time scarcely aware of a man who sat upon the edge of the circle, a little withdrawn, his head slightly thrown forward upon his breast, and his bright eyes clearly burning under his black brow. As I drifted down the stream of talk, this person, who sat silent as a shadow, looked to me as Webster might have looked had he been a poet--a kind of poetic Webster. He rose and walked to the window, and stood quietly there for a long time, watching the dead white landscape. No appeal was made to him, nobody looked after him, the conversation flowed steadily on as if everyone understood that his silence was to be respected. It was the same thing at table. In vain the silent man imbibed aesthetic tea. Whatever fancies it inspired did not flower at his lips. But there was a light in his eye which assured me that nothing was lost. So supreme was his silence that it presently engrossed me to the exclusion of everything else. There was very brilliant discourse, but this silence was much more poetic and fascinating. Fine things were said by the philosophers, but much finer things were implied by the dumbness of this gentleman with heavy brows and black hair. When he presently rose and went, Emerson, with the "slow, wise smile" that breaks over his face, like day over the sky, said, "Hawthorne rides well his horse of the night." [17]

If this is Hawthorne in company, let us see him as once, at least, he appeared (and disappeared) at his own house. At the Hawthorne centenary at the Wayside (in 1904), Mrs. Julia Ward Howe told the following:

More than fifty years ago, Dr. Howe and I drove out to Concord to visit Horace Mann and his wife, who had found a summer boarding-place [Judge Keyes' house] next door to the Manse, where the Hawthornes were installed. We brought with us our little daughter of the same age as Una Hawthorne. In the course of the day, we found our way into the Hawthorne residence, where Mrs. Hawthorne received us very graciously. She promised that we should see her husband. Just then a male figure descended the stairs. "My husband," she cried, "here are Dr. and Mrs. Howe." What we did see was a broad hat pulled down over a hidden face, and a figure that quickly vanished through an opposite door.

I think that Mrs. Hawthorne made some excuse about an appointment which called her husband to go upon the river with Thoreau. [18]

Those who got to know Hawthorne liked him. With Thoreau he was on good terms, and the two went often on the river: the diary tells of their floating down-stream together on a great cake of ice. Thoreau taught him to paddle, and Hawthorne bought a boat, which the naturalist had built and in which Thoreau and his brother had voyaged for the famous "Week."

The acquaintance with Emerson seems to have come through Mrs. Hawthorne, who knew Emerson before her marriage. Emerson called on them at the Manse, apparently with some frequency, and even visited Hawthorne when he was there alone. He admired Hawthorne, who had for him an odd sort of attraction, as the following extract from a letter of Mrs. Hawthorne shows.

Mr. Hawthorne's abomination of visiting still holds strong, be it to see no matter what angel. But he is very hospitable. ... Mr. Emerson says his way is regal.... even when at table he hands the bread. Elizabeth Hoar remarked that though his shyness was very evident, yet she liked his manner, because he always faced the occasion like a man, when it came to the point.... Mr. Emerson delights in him; he talks to him all the time, and Mr. Hawthorne looks answers. He seems to fascinate Mr. Emerson. Whenever he comes to see him, he takes him away, so that no one may interrupt.... his close and deadset attack upon his ear. Miss Hoar says that persons about Mr. Emerson so generally echo him, that it is refreshing to find this perfect individual, all himself and nobody else. [19]

It is worth remarking that the reason for Hawthorne's attraction for Emerson, as interpreted by Miss Hoar, does credit to both men. And the intercourse--is it not amusing? Mr. Emerson talks all the time, and Hawthorne looks answers. Thus he did, we may be sure, with most, if not all, of his acquaintance. It is this silence of his which so expressed his character, which attracted some people, but repelled others, and which, both for its manifestations and its meaning, is worth examining. People called him moody or gloomy, an accusation which roused his intimates to his defense, so that on this point there have been interesting things said. His daughter states indignantly that those who found him silent were bores whom he desired not to attract. Others, however, speak less sweepingly.

Here is his wife's testimony upon this point. Speaking of "The Complete Writings of Hawthorne," she hopes that their publication

. . will dispel an often-expressed opinion that Mr. Hawthorne was gloomy and morbid. He had the inevitable pensiveness and gravity of a person who possessed what a friend of his called "the awful power of insight;" but his mood was always cheerful and equal, and his mind particularly healthful, and the airy splendor of his wit and humor was the light of his home. He saw too far to be despondent, though his vivid sympathies and shaping imagination often made him sad in behalf of others. He also perceived morbidness, wherever it existed, instantly, as if by the illumination of his own steady cheer; and he had the plastic power of putting himself into each person's situation, and of looking from every point of view, which made his charity almost comprehensive. From this cause he necessarily attracted confidences, and became confessor to very many sinning and suffering souls, to whom he gave tender sympathy and help, while resigning judgment to the Omniscient and All-wise. [20]

A cloudy veil [Hawthorne himself explains] stretches over the abyss of my nature. I have, however, no love of secrecy and darkness. I am glad to think that God sees through my heart, and, if any angel has power to penetrate into it, he is welcome to know everything that is there. Yes, and so may any mortal who is capable of full sympathy, and therefore worthy to come into my depths. But he must find his own way there. I can neither guide him nor enlighten him. It is this reserve, I suppose, which has given the objectivity to my writings. [21]

Yet Hawthorne has betrayed his almost wilful love of solitude and silence. It was when his wife left him alone with the servant at the Manse. Soon after she left, Thoreau called on him, and he records regretfully: "I had a purpose, if circumstances would permit, of passing the whole term of my wife's absence without speaking a word to any human being; but now my Pythagorean vow has been broken within three or four hours after her departure." [22] Nevertheless, he managed, later, to go and come from the village, spending his usual hour in the reading-room, without speaking to anyone, and a few days later he records: "Today no more than yesterday have I spoken word to moral." [23]

A man who finds advantage in not saying good-morning to his servant, even though, as his diary shows, he appreciates her faithfulness, is certainly odd. He was not particularly busy at anything. He wrote in his journal, he split wood and managed to black his eye while so doing, he made the music-box play to him, and he read a tale in German. I cannot help quoting here. and in no ill-natured spirit, Whittier's description of him: "He was a strange puzzle. I never felt quite sure whether I knew him or not. He never seemed to be doing anything, and yet he did not like to be disturbed at it." Still, it is most likely that Hawthorne's long periods of inactivity were necessary, before those spurts of work in which he wrote his romances and tales. Looking at him in this way, one does not even regret his years spent in public offices, feeling that before his death Hawthorne probably wrote all there was in him.

Before his three years at the Manse were over, he felt the pressure of debt. "The other day," writes his wife, "when my husband saw me contemplating an appalling vacuum in his dressing-gown he said he 'was a man of the largest rents in the country, and it was strange he had not more ready money.' Our rents are certain not to be computed; for everything now seems to be wearing out all at once, and I expect the dogs will begin to bark soon, according to the inspired dictum of Mother Goose. But, somehow or other, I do not care very much, because we are so happy." [24] At last he came even to debt, and she writes again, "There is owing to him . . . more than thrice money enough to pay all his debts; and he was confident that when he came to a pinch like this, it would not be withheld from him. It is wholly new to him to be in debt. and he cannot 'whistle for it,' as Mr. Emerson advised him to do, telling him that everybody was in debt, and that they were all worse than he was." [25]

Hawthorne had been writing with fair success so far as accepted articles went, but not so much as to payment for them. However, we are told that in the end he cleared himself of debts, and went away leaving all bills paid behind him. He says of the period:

As to the daily course of our life, I have written with pretty commendable diligence, averaging from two to four hours a day, and the result is seen in various magazines. I might have written more if it had seemed worth while; but I was content to earn only so much gold as might suffice for our immediate wants, having prospect of official station and emolument which would do away with the necessity of writing for bread. Those prospects have not yet had their fulfillment; and we are well content to wait, because an office would inevitably remove us from our present happy home,--at least from an outward home; for there is an inner one that will accompany us wherever we go. Meantime, the magazine people do not pay their debts; so that we taste some of the inconveniences of poverty. It is an annoyance, not a trouble. [26]

As for what he produced, he wrote most of the Mosses actually at the Manse, and he edited there, also, his friend Bridge's Diary of an African Cruiser. That he was no longer what he called himself, "the most obscure man of letters in America," is proved by the fact that the Diary sold fairly well upon his name as editor. The Mosses had also a modest sale, but none of his works paid well, and he was not in easy circumstance until The Scarlet Letter, some years later, made its great success.

Just one picture of Hawthorne at work, before he leaves the Manse. When he wished to write he went into his study, where he was customarily left undisturbed. His wife does once confess the following. It was on a lovely day after rain. She says: "I went into the orchard, and found my dear husband's window was open; so I called to him, on the strength of the loveliness, though against all rules. His noble head appeared at once; and a new sun, and dearer, shone out of his eyes on me. But he could not come then, because the Muse had caught him in a golden net." [27] Except his diary, Hawthorne usually wrote in complete retirement, nor did he often discuss with his wife the story he might be working on. She knew nothing of The Scarlet Letter, although she knew that he was working harder and under more mental stress than ever before, until he read it to her complete. Of this reticence of his she says herself in a letter written from the Manse:

I do not know what the present production is about, even: for I have made it a law unto myself not to ask him a word concerning what he is writing, because I always disliked to speak of what I was painting. He often tells me, but sometimes the story remains hidden till he reads it aloud to me, before sending it away. [28]

At last the time drew near for the Hawthornes to leave the Manse. The "official station and emolument" of which he spoke was offered to him, and accepted. Early in October, 1845, the family (the little Una had been born) prepared to go.

" . . . We gathered up our household goods," he says, "drank a farewell cup of tea in our pleasant little breakfast room, . . . and passed forth between the tall stone gateposts as uncertain as the wandering Arabs where our tent might next be pitched." [29]

Hawthorne's "first Concord period," as a historian might call it, sometime in the Fall, had come to an end. It leaves us with a picture of almost idyllic happiness, such as endears the old house to us whenever we think of the married lovers wandering in the orchard, or devotedly waiting upon each other in all their household duties. It was never to be repeated. Never again was Hawthorne to be so happy and free of care. He must many a time have looked back with longing, as we do now with delight, to recollections "of the river, with its delightful solitudes, and of the avenue, the garden, and the orchard, and especially the dear old Manse, with the little study on its western side, and the sunshine glimmering through the willow branches while...[he] wrote." [30]


  1. Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1885), I, 120-121. (Hereafter referred to as Hawthorne and His Wife.)
  2. Ibid., p. 39.
  3. Ibid., p. 48.
  4. Ibid., p. 63.
  5. Ibid, p. 273.
  6. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses From an Old Manse (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1873), I, 5-6.
  7. Hawthorne and His Wife, I, 289.
  8. Ibid., pp. 273-274.
  9. Newton Arvin (ed.), The Heart of Hawthorne's Journals (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1929), pp. 9596. (Hereafter referred to as Journals.)
  10. Hawthorne and His Wife, I, 288.
  11. Ibid., p. 290.
  12. The Complete Writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Autograph Edition (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1900), XVIII (American Notebooks), p. 463. (Hereafter referred to as Hawthorne's Writings.)
  13. Ibid., pp. 464-465.
  14. Ibid., p. 465.
  15. Ibid., p. 467.
  16. Journals, p. 91.
  17. George William Curtis, Literary and Social Essays (New York: Harper and Bros., 1895), p. 43.
  18. The Hawthorne Centenary Celebration at The Wayside, Concord, Massachusetts, July 4-7, 1904 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1905), p. 37.
  19. Hawthorne and His Wife, I, 270-271.
  20. Hawthorne's Writings, XVIII, "Mrs. Hawthorne's Preface," xiii.
  21. Ibid., p. 425.
  22. Ibid., p. 421.
  23. Ibid., p. 434.
  24. Hawthorne and His Wife, I, 280.
  25. Ibid., p. 287.
  26. Hawthorne's Writings, XVIII, 418-419.
  27. Hawthorne and His Wife, I, 272.
  28. Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Memories of Hawthorne (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1897), p. 70.
  29. Hawthorne's Writings, IV (Mosses From an Old Manse), 45.
  30. Mosses From an Old Manse (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1890), p. 46.


This booklet has materialized as the result of a remark I made to Allen French that it was a pity there was no article we could make available to Concord's visitors telling the story of the three happy years spent by the Hawthornes at the Manse. I was chairman of the Local Committee in charge of the Manse at the time, and I had turned to Allen French as the recognized authority on matters concerning the town's interesting history.

Mr. French replied in a day or so by producing some forty typewritten pages of his own material, saying I could do what I would with them, rearranging, or cutting, or changing them as I saw fit. They had been pulled from a folder that evidently contained the basis of lectures that he occasionally was called upon to give on Concord subjects.

At the time, there was some question as to who should sponsor and finance such a publication, and nothing was done. In the meantime, however, as Mr. French has died, it seems a pity not to have the results of his labors and sympathetic judgment, even in so small a matter, put into permanent form. The picture that these few pages gives of what must have been Hawthorne's most contented years, told very largely through the medium of carefully selected quotations from his, his wife's, and other contemporary writing, should be a very appealing supplement to a visit to The Old Manse itself.


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