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

From Personal Recollections of Nathaniel Hawthorne,
by Horatio Bridge, 1893


MY own duties as Paymaster-General in charge of a naval bureau at Washington were too arduous and engrossing to allow much time to be given to private matters either of interest or friendship, yet I was glad to have a month's visit from Hawthorne in March and April of 1862.

He went occasionally to Congress, to the White House, and to other places of interest in Washington. He visited some of the neighboring battle-fields in company with Mrs. Bridge and Dicey, the English writer, and he made an excursion to McClellan's headquarters, another to Harper's Ferry, and a steamer trip with me to Norfolk.

During his visit he met many distinguished men, and gained a much clearer view of the war than he had before. His clever article in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862, entitled "Chiefly About War Matters," embodied the results of his observations.

The letter next following speaks of the Wayside, which was just finished, and gives some of Hawthorne's views in relation to the war, as do the two letters immediately following it.

"CONCORD, May 26, 1861.

* * * * *

"I am about making the final disbursements on account of my house, which, of course, has cost me three times the sum calculated upon. I suppose every man, in summing up the cost of a house, feels considerably like a fool; but it is the first time, and will be the last, that I make a fool of myself in this particular way. At any rate, the result is a pretty and convenient house enough, no larger than was necessary for my family and an occasional friend, and no finer than a modest position in life demands. The worst of it is, I must give up all thoughts of drifting about the world any more, and try to make myself at home in one dull spot.

"It is rather odd, with all my tendency to stick in one place, I yet find great delight in frequent change; so that, in this point of view, I had better not have burdened myself with taking a house upon my back. Such change of quarters as makes up the life of you naval men might have suited me.

"The war, strange to say, has had a beneficial effect upon my spirits, which were flagging wofully before it broke out. But it was delightful to share in the heroic sentiment of the time, and to feel that I had a country-a consciousness which seemed to make me young again. One thing, as regards this matter, I regret, and one I am glad of. The regrettable thing is that I am too old to shoulder a musket myself, and the joyful thing is that Julian is too young. He drills constantly with a company of lads, and he means to enlist as soon as he reaches the minimum age; but I trust that we shall either be victorious or vanquished before that time. Meantime (though I approve of the war as much as any man), I don't quite understand what we are fighting for, or-what definite result can be expected. If we pummel the South ever so hard, they will love us none the better for it; and even if we subjugate them, our next step should be to cut them adrift. If we are fighting for the annihilation of slavery, to be sure, it may be a wise object, and offers a tangible result, and the only one which is consistent with a future reunion between North and South. A continuance of the war would soon make this plain to us, and we should see the expediency of preparing our black brethren for future citizenship by allowing them to fight for their own liberties and educating them through heroic influences.

"Whatever happens next, I must say that I rejoice that the old Union is smashed. We never were one people, and never really had a country since the Constitution was formed.

"I trust you mean to come and bring Mrs. Bridge to see us this summer. I shall like my house twice as well when you have looked at it. We are all well. Write again.

"Your friend,



"CONCORD, Oct. 12, 1861.


* * * * *

"I am glad you take such a hopeful view of our national prospects so far as regards the war; but my own opinion is that no nation ever came safe and sound through such a confounded difficulty as this of ours. For my part I don't hope, nor indeed wish, to see the Union restored as it was. Amputation seems to me much the better plan, and all we ought to fight for is the liberty of selecting the point where our diseased members shall be lop't off. I would fight to the death for the Northern Slave States and let the rest go.

"I fully expected that you would pay me at least a flying visit while at the North this summer, but I suppose your time was brief and filled up with more essential matters.

"I have not found it possible to occupy my mind with its usual trash and nonsense during these anxious times, but, as the autumn advances, I find myself sitting down to my desk and blotting successive sheets of paper, as of yore. Very likely I may have something ready for the public long before the public is ready to receive it.

"We are all very well, and, in spite of public troubles, have spent a quiet and happy summer. I am glad Mrs. Bridge has had a little respite from Washington life, and heartily wish you had been with her. But honest men are of too much value and too rare to be spared from their posts in these times.

"Do write again, and enlighten me so far as you may as to what is going on.

"Your friend,


"CONCORD, Feb. 14, 1862.

"DEAR BRIDGE,--Your proposition that I should pay a visit to Washington is very tempting, and I should accept it if it were not for several 'ifs'--neither of them, perhaps, a sufficient obstacle in itself, but, united, pretty difficult to overcome. For instance, I am not very well, being mentally and physically languid; but I suppose there is about an even chance that the trip and change of scene might supply the energy which I lack. Also, I am pretending to write a book; and though I am no wise diligent about it, still, each week finds me a little more advanced, and I am now at a point where I do not like to leave it entirely. Moreover, I ought not to spend money needlessly in these hard times, for it is my opinion that the book-trade, and everybody connected with it, is hound to fall to zero before the war and the subsequent embarrassments come to an end.

"I might go on multiplying 'ifs,' but the above are enough. Nevertheless, as I said, I am greatly tempted by your invitation, and it is not impossible that, in the course of a few weeks, I may write to ask you if it still holds good. Meanwhile I send you enclosed a respectable old gentleman, who my friends say is very like me, and may serve as my representative. If you will send me a similar one of yourself, I shall be truly obliged.

"Frank Pierce came here and spent a night, a week or two since, and we mingled our tears and condolences for the state of the country. Pierce is truly patriotic, and thinks there is nothing left for us but to fight it out, but I should be sorry to take his opinion implicitly as regards our chances in the future. He is bigoted to the Union, and sees nothing but ruin without it; whereas I (if we can only put the boundary far enough south) should not much regret an ultimate separation. A few weeks will decide how this is to be, for, unless a powerful Union feeling shall be developed by the military successes that seem to be setting in, we ought to turn our attention to the best mode of resolving ourselves into two nations. It would be too great an absurdity to spend all our Northern strength for the next generation in holding on to a people who insist on being let loose. If we do hold them, I should think Sumner's territorial plan the best way.

"I trust your health has not suffered by the immense occupation which the war must have brought upon you. The country was fortunate in having a man like yourself in so responsible a situation--'faithful found among the faithless.'

"I wish I could hear from you oftener. Shall you come to New England next summer? If so do try (with Mrs. Bridge) to pay us a visit--the longer the better.

"My wife and family are quite well, and send their kindest regards to Mrs. Bridge and your self.

"Your friend,


"P.S.--I ought to thank you for a shaded map of negrodom, [note 1] which you sent me a little while ago. What a terrible amount of trouble and expense in washing that sheet white, and after all I am afraid we shall only variegate it with blood and dirt."

After his month's visit to the capital, Hawthorne returned home much improved in health and spirits. The change of climate and scene, the relief from literary work, and the excitement of the war-spirit, effervescing all around him, seemed to have a beneficial effect upon him, and he went back to Concord with apparently renewed strength.

"CONCORD, April 13. 1862.

"DEAR BRIDGE,--Yours enclosing two photographs of Prof. Henry is received.

"I reached home safe and sound on Thursday after a very disagreeable journey.

"It was a pity I did not wait one day longer, so as to have shared in the joyful excitement about the Petersburg victory and the taking of Island No. 10.

"I found the family in good health, except that Una has a cold, and Rosebud is blossoming out with the mumps, which the other two children will probably take in due course.

"They all think me greatly improved by the journey and absence, and are grateful to Mrs. Bridge and yourself for your kind attentions.

"Your friend ever,


The letters just given show that though Hawthorne came to Washington "feeling not very well," he returned greatly improved by the journey and the social life at the capital.

In that year and the one next following, he published "Our Old Home," and did some other literary work; but the springs of life were running low, and the great brain was growing tired.

His lassitude increased, and he failed gradually till, on that last journey with Pierce towards the White Mountains, the volume of his life was closed.

The sad news reached me in Washington at a time when I was confined to my room by an accident, and I could not join the little band of devoted friends who mournfully bore his body to its resting-place--upon the hill-top, and under his favorite pines.

Pierce's regard for Hawthorne was warm and tender to the last, and it became even more af fectionate as the end drew nigh. The health of Hawthorne had been gradually failing for two or three years until May, 1864, when his brainpower and physical strength both grew languid, and he could work no more. The ex-President ("Frank" of our college days) then came and took him away towards the hill-country, with the faint hope that the mountain air would reinvigorate him.

Travelling by easy stages in Pierce's private carriage, they passed through the region so familiar to Pierce until, on the 18th of May, 1864, they reached Plymouth, N. H., and stopped at the Pemigewasset House to rest and sleep.

On retiring that last, sad night, they occupied connecting rooms, with the door between them open. Hawthorne slept quietly at first, and Pierce went in two or three times to see to the invalid's comfort. The last time--about four o'clock--he found him lying in what seemed to be a quiet sleep; but the heart had ceased to beat. Hawthorne had died--apparently without a struggle.

The following letter of General Pierce gives an interesting and affecting account of Hawthorne's last journey and his death:

"ANDOVER, MASS., May 2!, 1864.

"MY DEAR BRIDGE,--You will have seen, with profound sorrow, the announcement of the death of the dearest and most cherished among our early friends.

"You will wish to know something more of Hawthorne's last days than the articles in the newspapers furnish.

"He had been more or less infirm for more than a year. I had observed, particularly within the last three or four months, evidences of diminished strength whenever we met. The journey, which was terminated by Mr. Ticknor's sudden death at Philadelphia, was commenced at the urgent solicitation of friends, who thought change essential for him. Mr. Ticknor's death would have been a great loss and serious shock to H. at any time, but the effect was undoubtedly aggravated by the suddenness of the event and H.'s enfeebled condition.

"About three weeks since I went to Concord (Mass.), and made arrangements to take a journey to the lakes, and thence up the Pemigewasset with my carriage, leaving time and details of the trip to be settled by circumstances en route.

"I met H. at Boston, Wednesday (11th), came to this place by rail Thursday morning, and went to Concord, N. H., by evening train. The weather was unfavorable, and H. feeble; and we remained at C. until the following Monday. We then went slowly on our journey; stopping at Franklin, Laconia, and Centre Harbor, and reaching Plymouth Wednesday evening (18th). We talked of you, Tuesday, between Franklin and Laconia, when H. said--among other things--'We have, neither of us, met a more reliable friend.'

"The conviction was impressed upon me, the day we left Boston, that the seat of the disease from which H. was suffering was in the brain or spine, or both. H. walked with difficulty, and the use of his hands was impaired. In fact, on the 17th I saw that he was becoming quite helpless, although he was able to ride, and, I thought, more comfortable in the carriage with gentle motion than anywhere else; for, whether in bed or up, he was very restless. I had decided, however, not to pursue our journey beyond Plymouth, which is a beautiful place, and thought, during our ride Wednesday, that I would the next day send for Mrs. Hawthorne and Una to join us there. Alas ! there was no next day for our friend.

"We arrived at Plymouth about six o'clock. After taking a little tea and toast in his room, and sleeping for nearly an hour upon the sofa, he retired. A door opened from my room to his, and our beds were not more than five or six feet apart. I remained up an hour or two after he fell asleep. He was apparently less restless than the night before. The light was left burning in my room--the door open--and I could see him without moving from my bed. I went, however, between one and two o'clock to his bedside, and supposed him to be in a profound slumber. His eyes were closed, his position and face perfectly natural. His face was towards my bed. I awoke again between three and four o'clock, and was surprised--as he had generally been restless--to notice that his position was unchanged--exactly the same that it was two hours before. I went to his bedside, placed my hand upon his forehead and temple, and found that he was dead. He evidently had passed from natural sleep to that sleep from which there is no waking, without suffering, and without the slightest movement.

"I came from Plymouth yesterday and met Julian in Boston. He said that his mother and sisters were wonderfully sustained and composed.

"The funeral is to take place at Concord, Monday, at one o'clock. I wish you could be there. I go to Lowell this afternoon, and shall drive across the country to C. to-morrow evening. I need not tell you how lonely I am, and how full of sorrow.

"Give my love to Mrs. Bridge.

"Your friend,


"H. BRIDGE, ESQ., Washington, D. C."

Five years after Hawthorne's death Pierce himself died.

I trust that it will not be considered out of place for me to give General Pierce's description of his own ill-health, and his recollections of his old friends and compeers, as in his last year he realized that his end drew nigh.

In a letter, dated a year before his death, he wrote as follows:

"CONCORD, N. H., Oct. 11, 1868.

"MY DEAR BRIDGE, -- It was refreshing to glance at your note of the 31st ult. But I can only acknowledge; I cannot reply to it.

"I do not spring up readily from my serious illness. My friends, who are around me, seem to think that I am regaining strength as fast as I ought to expect, at my period of life; while it seems to me that about all that can be said is that, within the last few days, I am holding my own.

"Oct. 15th.--I was obliged to drop this on the day of its date, and have not much strength now. When the physicians said I was convalescent, two weeks ago, I supposed I might be quite on my feet again by this time. Does it ever occur to you, Bridge, that we are rightly classed among the old men now? It is quite certain that those who were not old, but prominent, during my day, and those who were in the early struggle with me--among the first class Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Bartlett, Mr. Jos. Bell, Mr. Atherton, Sr., and Mr. Farley; and among the second Judge Gilchrist, Mr. Choate, Atherton, Jun., and at last Mr. Norris, Mr. Wells--and most of their more humble compeers, have gone before.

"I do not, my dear friend, look upon it gloomily, but sometimes, when I seem to be gathering up vigor so slowly, I doubt if I take into the account, fully enough, my protracted and severe illness, or the fact that nearly sixty-four years of pretty strenuous life have passed over my head. I am driving out, more or less, daily, and can repeat, with more or less comfort, 'Thou art my God, my time is in thy hand.'

"Give my love to dear Mrs. Bridge.

"Always, early and late, y'r Friend,


A few weeks before his death Mrs. Bridge and I went to see General Pierce, who was then lying ill at his sea-shore cottage. He was too weak to leave his bed, and he was sadly emaciated; but his old, bright look came back as he welcomed us. When we took our leave--all being conscious that it was for the last time--he raised himself from his pillow and embraced me like a brother. And thus we parted.


[note 1]: This refers to a map, showing the proportion of negroes to whites in the different slave States, as indicated by darker or lighter shades.

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