HAWTHORNE dedicated but two of his books to friends--"Our Old Home" to ex-President Pierce, in 1863; and "The Snow Image" to myself, in 1850.
In the preface to the last he gives some pleasant glimpses of his college life, which present a better picture of his lighter occupations than can be found elsewhere; and it may be interesting to the admirers of his writings to have some of the statements in the following extract from that preface amplified and explained by one who was familiar with the scenes and incidents to which he refers.
In that dedication he says:
"Be all that as it may, there can be no question of the propriety of my inscribing this volume of earlier and later stories to you, and pausing here a few moments to speak of them as friend speaks to friend; still being cautious, however, that the public and the critics shall overhear nothing which we care about concealing. On you, if on no other person, I am entitled to rely
to sustain the position of my dedicatee. If anybody is responsible for my being at this day an author, it is yourself. I know not whence your faith came, but while we were lads together at a country college, gathering blueberries in study hours under those tall, academic pines, or watching the great logs as they tumbled along the current of the Androscoggin, or shooting pigeons or gray squirrels in the woods, or bat-fowling in the summer twilight, or catching trout in that shadowy little stream which, I suppose, is still wandering riverward through the forest, though you and I will never cast a line in it again; two idle lads, in short (as we need not fear to acknowledge now), doing a hundred things that the Faculty never heard of, or else it would have been the worse for us--still, it was your prognostic of your friend's destiny that he was to be a writer of fiction. And a fiction-monger he became in due season. But was there ever such a weary delay in obtaining the slightest recognition from the public as in my case? I sat down by the Wayside of life, like a man under enchantment, and a shrubbery sprang up around me, and the bushes grew to be saplings, and the saplings became trees, until no exit appeared possible through the entangling depths of my obscurity. And there, perhaps, I should be sitting at this moment, with the moss on the imprisoning tree-trunks, and the yellow leaves of more than a score of autumns piled above me, if it had not been for you. For it was through your interposition--and that, moreover, unknown to himself--that your early friend was brought before the public somewhat more prominently than theretofore in the first volume of 'Twice-Told Tales.' Not a publisher in America, I presume, would have thought well enough of my forgotten or never-noticed stories to risk the expense of print and paper; nor do I say this with any purpose of casting odium on the respectable fraternity of booksellers for their blindness to my wonderful merit. To confess the truth, I doubted of the public recognition quite as much as they could do. So much the more generous was your confidence; and knowing, as I do, that it was founded on old friendship rather than cold criticism, I value it only the more for that.
"So now, when I turn back upon my path, lighted by a transitory gleam of public favor, to pick up a few articles which were left out of my former collections, I take pleasure in making them the memorial of our very long and unbroken connection."
Formerly the college grounds and the land adjoining included a great area of pine forest,
with blueberry bushes and other shrubs for its undergrowth, and with foot-paths running deviously for miles under the shady trees, where, in their season, squirrels and wild pigeons might be found in sufficient numbers to afford good sport. The woodland gave a charmingly secluded retreat, and imparted a classic aspect to the otherwise tame scenery of the Brunswick Plains. Unhappily, in later years a public road was made between the campus and the quiet old graveyard, and a street was opened on another side, so that the grove has been sadly circumscribed. I am sorry to add that many of those "tall academic pines" have been cut down, leaving only their stumps to tell of their former existence and their destruction. The beauty of these woods made such an impression upon Longfellow's poetical mind that--fifty years later--in addressing the few remaining members of our class, he thus apostrophized the woods he so well remembered:
"Ye groves of pine,
That once were mine, but are no longer mine."
In our day one could wander for miles through this forest without meeting a person (except a stray student or two) or hearing a sound other than the occasional chatter of a squirrel, the song
of a bird, or the sighing of the wind through the branches overhead.
By crossing the road leading to Bath, a town nine miles away, one came into another division of the pine woods, where the sandy soil was not so level, and through which ran the "shadowy little stream" that, after traversing the main street of the village and skirting the small elevation near Professor Cleveland's house, made its way to the river, a mile or so below the falls of the Androscoggin.
In this brook we often fished for the small trout that were to be found there; but the main charm of those outings was in the indolent loitering along the low banks of the little stream, listening to its murmur or to the whispering of the overhanging pines.
There was one favorite spot in a little ravine, where a copious spring of clear cold water gushed out from the sandy bank and joined the larger stream. This was the Paradise Spring, which deserves much more than its present celebrity for the absolute purity of its waters. Of late years the brook has been better known as a favorite haunt of the great romance writer, and it is now often called the Hawthorne Brook.
Another locality, above the bridge, afforded
an occasional stroll through the fields and by the river. There, in spring, we used to linger for hours to watch the giant pine-logs (for there were giants in those days) from the far-off forests, floating by hundreds in the stream until they came to the falls; then, balancing for a moment on the brink, they plunged into the foamy pool below. Those who have seen such huge tree-trunks, each possessing a certain individuality, approach in groups or singly, and disappear, will understand why it was so fascinating to "watch the great logs as they tumbled along the current."
The Androscoggin River, one of the largest in New England, bounds the village on the north, while on the opposite side, and two or three miles distant, lies Maquoit Bay (an inlet of the beautiful Casco Bay), which afforded a genuine marine view, vulgarized though it was by the dilapidated wharf and the two or three melancholy sloops that plied between this point and Portland, laden with lumber and firewood. A trip in one of these coasters is said to have inspired a high officer of the college with the beneficent idea of writing a book of "Songs for Sailors." Though the little volume fell still-born from the press, a few copies escaped, and gave occasion for great fun to the irreverent youngsters, who parodied it
without mercy. I can only rescue for a brief hour from oblivion the initial stanza of the first poem in the book, and here offer it as a "specimen brick":
"All you who would be seamen
Must bear a valiant heart,
And when you come upon the sea
You must not think to start;
Nor once to be faint-hearted
In hail, rain, wind, or snow;
Nor to think for to shrink
When the stormy winds do blow."
In process of time it was my fortune to "come upon the sea," and I experienced the full force of "hail, rain, wind, or snow" on several occasions--notably in the Portsmouth, beating round Cape Horn in a wild, wintry gale; and again in the Saratoga, in a blinding storm of snow and sleet, embayed off the coast of New Hampshire, and only saved from total shipwreck by cutting away the masts and anchoring on a rocky lee-shore. I take shame upon myself for not recalling, then and there, those appropriate and inspiriting lines.
To this little bay within a bay we occasionally resorted, but the tiresome walk over the sandy road deprived the excursions of half their pleasure.
The bay and the rapid river gave to the flat region adjacent to the college its only picturesque features. Of these Longfellow wrote:
"Thou river, widening through the meadows green
To the vast sea, so near and yet unseen!"
Another of our favorite strolls was in a sparsely settled street by the riverside. There, after tea, Hawthorne and I often walked, silent or conversing, according to the humor of the hour. These rambles sometimes ended at the unpainted cottage of an old fortune-teller who, from the tea-leaves in a cracked cup or from a soiled pack of cards, evoked our respective destinies. She always gave us brilliant futures, in which the most attractive of the promised gifts were abundance of gold and great wealth of wives. Lovely beings these wives of destiny were sure to be, some of whom the old crone prophesied would be "dark-complected" and others "light-complected," but all surpassingly beautiful. These blessings, and more, she predicted for so small a silver coin that, though we were her best patrons, our modest stock of pocket-money was not inconveniently diminished by her fees.
We were fully repaid for the outlay by the fun of the hour; but, to the discredit of the prophetess, it must be said that the gold never came to us, but to each a very happy marriage without the dangerous procession of blondes and brunettes. And it was an added tie between us
that each had the highest appreciation of the many excellent qualities of his friend's wife.
A few years since I revisited the spot where the sibyl once had lived; but, alas! only to find that her house was gone, and that a railway-track had usurped its former site.
In our long evening walks, especially when discussing the probable future of each, Hawthorne was less reserved than at other times. On such occasions I always foretold his success if he should choose literature as a profession. He listened without assenting, but, as he told me long afterwards, he was cheered and strengthened in his subsequent career by my enthusiastic faith in his literary powers.
The professors and students all acknowledged his superiority in Latin and English composition, yet to me he insisted that he could never bring himself into accord with the general reading public, nor make himself sufficiently understood by it to gain anything more than a beggarly support as an author. It was this distrust of being rightfully appreciated that, for so many years, prevented him from taking that rank among the foremost writers of America which scholars and critics now concede to him.