THE narrative of Hawthorne's life after leaving college has been published in his own "Note-Books," edited by Mrs. Hawthorne; in the able biography of "Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife," by their son; and in the interesting "Study of Hawthorne," by his son-in-law; to say nothing of the sketches of the romance writer by Fields, Curtis, Stoddard, James, and others. But though the principal facts--essential to a biography--have been given in those publications, and however much may have been written upon this subject, there remain unrecorded many incidents, the recital of some of which may be acceptable to those readers who prize every fresh fact concerning this author of superlative power and fame. I may therefore hope that my ample knowledge of his personal, political, and literary character will enable me to add something worthy of record to the mass of facts that go to make up the story of his life. My contribution will at least have the value of personal recollections. To these I am able to
add many interesting letters of Hawthorne and his wife.
If, at any time, I should repeat what has already been published by others, except for the purpose of commenting upon or of giving some additional facts pertinent thereto, the repetition will be unintentional.
I am not a critic, and therefore shall not venture upon an analysis of Hawthorne's writings--a task which many pens abler than mine have already essayed, and which critics yet unborn will doubtless contribute to the literature of the future. Nor shall I attempt to write a biography of the romance writer--a work already accomplished in the publications just mentioned. These were admirable, each in its way ; and recently they have been supplemented by the "Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne," by Moncure D. Conway, a volume I have read with much interest, though he seems to me to have been quite too severe and unjust in his criticism of Hawthorne for having written the "Life of Franklin Pierce" and for his own opinions on the subject of slavery. Had Mr. Conway known the charm of Pierce's warm-heartedness and his devoted friendship for Hawthorne he could have better understood that it would have been hard for the latter to withhold the use of his voice and pen in promoting the interests of his early friend.
If Mr. Conway had regarded the problem of disunion as did all parties, except the pronounced abolitionists, previous to the civil war, he might have been more charitable in his judgment of both Pierce and Hawthorne.
It should be remembered that before the war broke out the Northern Democrats and a large portion of the Republicans considered the preservation of the Union in its entirety as of paramount importance, and were not willing to jeopardize it by plunging the country into war, though they looked upon slavery as a deplorable evil. They had been educated to believe that the Constitution was sacred and binding upon all the States--North and South--and that no State had the right to repudiate the contract into which all had entered.
No Northern man had better means of knowing the dangers impending, previous to the outbreak of the war, than had General Pierce. Intimately associated--as he was--with the strong men of the South, in his Cabinet and in Congress, he saw that the Southerners were determined, at all hazards, to defend their peculiar institution of slavery, which was imperilled by the abolitionists. While the Northern Republicans in general scouted the idea that the Slave States would go to war with such odds in men, money, and war-material against them, Pierce knew that the South was in dead earnest.
Northern men, in position to see the signs of the times, were strangely obtuse to them. Shortly before South Carolina seceded I was at table in Washington with a Republican Congressman from Central New York, when a Northern lady, who had exceptional means of knowing the true state of Southern feeling, earnestly assured him that the South would certainly secede unless the prevailing excitement could be allayed. The Congressman smiled and said, "Mrs. ------, I will give you a hundred dollars for each State that secedes, and a hundred for every day it stays out." It goes without saying that had the pledge been kept, the lady would have been in much more prosperous circumstances than she is in to-day.
In the Senate, when the Southern Senators, one after another, made their impassioned protests against the course of the Republicans, most of the Northern Senators listened in unconcealed incredulity, not believing that the warnings could be serious; but Pierce saw the dangers of the crisis, and would have gone far and suffered much to avert them. He did not love slavery, but he tolerated it rather than see the Union destroyed.
For weal or for woe, he was always true to the Constitution and the Union.
Probably the first visit of more than a day or two that Hawthorne ever made (outside his own family circle) was one to me in my bachelor quarters in Augusta, Maine, in 1837.
My paternal home--a spacious house of twenty rooms--had come into my possession by inheritance; and, as my brothers and sisters had all gone to new homes after our father's decease, I was left sole occupant of the mansion, with the exceptions of my factotum Tom and a family who lived in a wing of the building and attended to the housekeeping.
I had given a room to my French teacher (an odd Franco-German from Alsace) that I might utilize my spare hours by improving my knowledge of French.
To this irregular household Hawthorne came to spend a month with me; and doubtless it was a pleasure to him--as it certainly was a great one to me--that we could thus enjoy a few weeks' reunion, without ceremony and without restraint.
The Frenchman's vocation took him away for the daytime, but he returned at night to amuse and enliven us by his gayety, his philosophy, and his eccentricities.
This queer foreigner was, to Hawthorne, an object-lesson which he did not fail to improve, as his journal shows. Some of the entries in that journal bring out, in strong relief, one prominent
trait in his character. I mean that of noticing, critically, all scenes and incidents worthy to be remembered, and of jotting down some of his observations for future use.
His mental sight was both panoramic and microscopic; and he looked at persons and things with a discerning and discriminating eye, whether the object of his attention were a friend or a stranger--a tree or a flower--a hill or a pebble. Thus he dissected the character and described the personality of the French teacher with a lenient, yet impartial hand, while he portrays him in this manner:
"Mons. S----- does not appear to be more than twenty-one years old--a diminutive figure, with eyes askew, and otherwise of an ungainly physiognomy; he is ill-dressed also, in a coarse blue coat, thin cotton pantaloons, and unbrushed boots; altogether with as little French coxcombry as can well be imagined, though with something of the monkey aspect inseparable from a little Frenchman. He is, nevertheless, an intelligent and well-informed man, apparently of extensive reading in his own language--a philosopher and an infidel.
* * * * *
"The little Frenchman impresses me very strongly too--so lonely as he is here, struggling against the world, with bitter feelings in his breast and
yet talking with the vivacity and gayety of his nation--making this his home from darkness to daylight, and enjoying here what little domestic comfort and confidence there is for him; and then going about all the livelong day, teaching French to blockheads who sneer at him, and returning at about ten o'clock in the evening to his solitary room and bed. Before retiring, he goes to B-----'s bedside, and if he finds him awake stands talking French and expressing his dislike of the Americans--'Je hais, je hais les Yankees!' thus giving vent to the stifled bitterness of the whole day. In the morning I hear him getting up early--at sunrise or before--humming to himself, scuffling about his chamber with his thick boots, and at last taking his departure for a solitary ramble till breakfast. Then he comes in, cheerful and vivacious enough, eats pretty heartily, and is off again, singing French chansons as he goes down the gravel-walk. The poor fellow has no one to sympathize with him but B-----, and thus a singular connection is established between two utterly different characters.
"Then there is myself, who am likewise a queer character in my way, and have come to spend a week or two with my friend of half a lifetime-- the longest space probably that we are destined to spend together; for Fate seems preparing changes for both of us. My circumstances, at
least, cannot long continue as they are and have been; and Bridge, too, stands between high prosperity and utter ruin."
The "Twice-Told-Tales," had just been published, but Hawthorne had not then gained full confidence in the favorable effect of the publication upon his future prospects; and, to myself, the "utter ruin " came, a few months later, in the destruction of the expensive dam and mills, on the successful outcome of which I had staked all that I possessed.
My own time was engrossed by affairs, and I saw little of my French guest except in the early morning and at night, when he came back to us as to friends in whom he could find the sympathy and appreciation which so rarely came into his isolated life. Without influence and without means--of obscure parentage and grotesque personality, yet with a good education--he had come to America, seeking the fortune and distinction which he could not hope for in his native home.
Hawthorne's visit (all too soon for me) came to an end; and shortly afterwards the Frenchman--having finished his teaching in the village-- went away to "seek pastures new," and I saw him no more. Hawthorne had returned to the seclusion of his home, and the French waif went, by invitation, to spend a few days in Salem, where a ludicrous incident occurred to the two companions.
They were strolling one day through the fields near Salem, when--not noticing the yellow flag of warning--they passed within the precincts appropriated to a small-pox hospital and were at once made prisoners by the custodians of this place for the infected, and were not liberated until they had been fumigated by burned leather and subjected to other disinfectants. This tyrannous treatment doubtless--and with good reason--brought out the little Frenchman's emphatic cry of "Je hais, je hais les Yankees"; but Hawthorne enjoyed the contretemps immensely.
In the first decade after Hawthorne left college he formed several plans of life, one of which was that of entering his Uncle Manning's counting-house. In one of his letters to me he spoke of this as a settled purpose, but his repugnance to commercial life was such that the plan was ultimately abandoned, and he relapsed into the state of partial inaction which so often results from unsettled plans.
It is well known that, soon after graduating, he prepared for the press a little volume of tales, entitled "Seven Tales of my Native Land." The publisher who engaged to bring out the book was so dilatory that at last Hawthorne, becoming impatient and dissatisfied with the excuses given,
peremptorily demanded the return of the manuscript. The publisher, aroused to a sense of his duty and ashamed of his broken promises, apologized and offered to proceed with the work at once; but Hawthorne was inexorable; and though, as he wrote me at the time, he was conscious of having been too harsh in his censures, he would not recede, and he burned the manuscript, in a mood half savage, half despairing. As I expressed to him--perhaps too strongly-- my regret for this proceeding, he did not, when "Fanshawe" was published, confide to me the fact. Hearing, though, of the publication, I procured a copy, and subsequently mentioned it to Hawthorne. He had meantime become dissatisfied with the book, and he called in and destroyed all the copies he could reach. At his request I burned my copy, and we never alluded to "Fanshawe" afterwards. It was at this time, I think, that he became utterly disheartened, and, though conscious of possessing more than ordinary literary talent, he almost abandoned all expectation of success as an author.
In one of his letters to me, after relating some of his disappointments, he compared himself to one drifting helplessly toward a cataract, and closed with these despairing words, "I'm a doomed man, and over I must go."
Happily the despondent mood was not
permanent, and he continued to write, though subjected to frequent disappointments. He was a contributor for a little while to a magazine published, I believe, in New York. The compensation was small, and even that the publisher professed his inability to pay. So Hawthorne stopped his contributions and withdrew.
At the parting a characteristic incident occurred. The editor begged for a mass of manuscript in his possession, as yet unpublished, and it was scornfully bestowed. "Thus," wrote Hawthorne,"has this man, who would be considered a Maecenas, taken from a penniless writer material incomparably better than any his own brain can supply." And he closed with a bitter malediction upon the grasping editor.
He had the experience of being more than once deceived by those who professed to have the power and wish to befriend him. A young man, with some means and greater aspirations, commenced the publication of a literary newspaper in Boston, and offered him the position of co-editor. Another person, backed by a rich father, supplanted Hawthorne, who was civilly bowed out, and the newspaper, after a brief and sickly life, expired.
In the Hawthorne Biography there appeared several old and carelessly written letters of my own--answers to some of Hawthorne's that were, long since, destroyed at his request.
These letters I should hardly have reproduced except for the purpose of showing that Hawthorne was at times quite despairing and in need of all the encouragement his friends could give.
The following extracts from my answers, just mentioned, will indicate sufficiently the tenor of his letters therein referred to
"AUGUSTA, Oct. 16, 1836.
"DEAR HATH,--I have a thousand things to say to you, but can't say more than a hundredth part of them.
"You have the blues again. Don't give up to them for God's sake and your own, and mine, and everybody's. Brighter days will come, and that within six months. . . .
"See what I have written for the Boston Post, and tell me is it best to send it?
"'It is a singular fact that, of the few American writers by profession, one of the very best is a gentleman whose name has never yet been made public, though his writings are extensively and favorably known.
"'We refer to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Esq., of Salem, the author of the "Gentle Boy," the "Gray Champion," etc., etc., all productions of high merit, which have appeared in the annuals and magazines of the last three or four years.
"'Liberally educated, but bred to no
profession, he has devoted himself exclusively to literary pursuits, with an ardor and success which will, ere long, give him a high place among the scholars of this country.
"'His style is classical and pure; his imagination exceedingly delicate and fanciful, and through all his writings there runs a vein of sweetest poetry.
"'Perhaps we have no writer so deeply imbued with the early literature of America; or who can so well portray the times and manners of the Puritans.
"'Hitherto Mr. Hawthorne has published no work of magnitude; but it is to be hoped that one who has shown such unequivocal evidence of talent will soon give to the world some production which shall place him in a higher rank than can be obtained by one whose efforts are confined to the sphere of magazines and annuals.'
"This is not satisfactory by any means; and yet it may answer the purpose of attracting attention to your book when it comes out. It is not what I wish it were, nor can I make it so.
"AUGUSTA, Oct. 22, 1836.
"DEAR HATH,--I have just received your last, and do not like its tone at all. There is a kind of desperate coolness about it that seems dangerous. I fear that you are too good a subject for suicide, and that some day you will end your mortal woes on your own responsibility.
"However, I wish you to refrain till next Thursday, when I shall be in Boston, Deo volente.
"I am not in a very good mood myself, just now, and am certainly unfit to write or think.
"Be sure you come and meet me in Boston.
"Yours truly, H. BRIDGE."
"AUGUSTA, Dec. 25, 1836.
"DEAR HAWTHORNE,--On this Christmas day I am writing up my letters. Yours comes first.
"I am sorry that you did not get the magazine, because you wanted it. Not that I think it very important to you. You will have more time for your book. . . .
"Whether your book will sell extensively may be doubtful; but that is of small importance in
the first one you publish. At all events, keep up your spirits till the result is ascertained; and, my word for it, there is more honor and emolument in store for you, from your writings, than you imagine. The bane of your life has been self-distrust. This has kept you back for many years; which, if you had improved by publishing, would long ago have given you what you must now wait a short time for. It may be for the best, but I doubt it.
"I have been trying to think what you are so miserable for. Although you have not much property, you have good health and powers of writing, which have made, and can still make, you independent.
"Suppose you get 'but $300 per annum' for your writings. You can, with economy, live upon that, though it would be a tight squeeze. You have no family dependent upon you, and why should you 'borrow trouble'?
"This is taking the worst view of your case that it can possibly bear. It seems to me that you never look at the bright side with any hope or confidence. It is not the philosophy to make one happy.
"I expect, next summer, to be full of money, a part of which shall be heartily at your service, if it comes. . . .
"And so Frank Pierce is elected Senator.
There is an instance of what a man can do by trying. With no very remarkable talents, he at the age of thirty-four fills one of the highest stations in the nation. He is a good fellow, and I rejoice at his success. He can do something for you perhaps. The inclination he certainly has. Have you heard from him lately?
"Yours ever, H. BRIDGE."
"AUGUSTA, Feb. 1, 1837.
"DEAR HAWTHORNE, -- So your book is in press, and will soon be out. Thank God the plunge will be made at last. I am sure it will be for good.
"I coincide perfectly with you touching the disparity between a writer's profits and a publisher's. It is hard that you should do so much and receive so little from The Token. You say an editorship would save you. I tell you that within six months you may have an editorship in any magazine in the country if you desire if. I wish to God that I could impart to you a little of my own brass. You would then dash into the contest of literary men, and do honor to yourself and to your country in a short time. But you never will have confidence enough in yourself, though you will have fame. . . .
"AUGUSTA, May 24, 1837.
"DEAR HAWTHORNE,--I am rejoiced that your last gives me reason to expect that you will pay me a visit soon. When you come, make your arrangements so that you can stay two or three months here. I have a great house to myself, and you shall have the run of it.
"I received a letter two days ago from Pierce, dated May 2d, requesting me to ascertain exactly how matters were relating to the exploring expedition. I have written Pierce, advising him to inquire of the Secretary of the Navy if there is any vacancy, and recommending you for it.
"It might be well to put your papers on file in his office, in case you should be a candidate for one of the editorships of the magazine.
"It is of no use for you to feel blue. I tell you that you will be in a good situation next winter instead of 'under a sod.' Pierce is interested for you, and can make some arrangement I know. An editorship or a clerkship at Washington he can and will obtain. So courage, and au diable with your 'sods!'
"I have something to say to you upon marriage and about Goodrich, and a thousand other things. I shall be inclined to quarrel with you if you do not come, and that will be a serious business for you, for my wrath is dreadful. Good-by till I see you here.
These letters in some measure indicate the despondency to which Hawthorne was subjected at this, the turning-point in his literary career. In his secluded life he neither had nor sought new friends who could have aided and encouraged him, and his life wore away with little apparent promise. Still he continued to write for the small sums he received in cash or promises as well as for the pleasurable excitement of composition and with the growing hope of future success.
[note 1]: This letter was written at the time when I had just intervened to procure the publication of "Twice-Told-Tales," without Hawthorne's knowledge of my agency in the matter.
Within the six months' limit the book came out, and brighter days did come; but I could not then tell him the grounds of my confident prediction.