LETTERS OF MRS. SOPHIA A. HAWTHORNE.
UNQUESTIONABLY Nathaniel Hawthorne owed much of the success in his career to the cheerful aid and encouragement of his wife. She held up his hands when he was listless or despairing, she made his home a happy one, and she brought out the sunshine of his nature even when the clouds of life were darkest.
It goes without saying that Mrs. Hawthorne was a woman of high intellectual gifts. Capable of thoroughly appreciating her husband's rare qualities, and always ready and earnest to cheer and brighten his path, their union was most fortunate, and the world owes much to the wife's felicitous influence over her gifted husband for the results of his literary labors.
I have thought that, as a corollary to the foregoing sketches of Hawthorne, some of his wife's letters to me might fittingly be contributed, in order to show his manliness and loving devotion to his wife and family, as well as in displaying more fully some of his finer characteristics.
"CONCORD, July 4, 1845.
"MY DEAR SIR,--I wrote you a long letter some days since, which, not meeting entire approval from my lord, I laid aside. It was only a freak of fancy that was condemned, however, and so I will write the same letter over again, with that omission, for in all matters of taste and fitness he is absolutely correct. I must say to you again that I like your book very much for various reasons. Its truth and sincerity and unprejudiced observation make it valuable, independent of its excellent sense. It has the grace of simplicity and ease, and is, at the same time, sufficiently strong. It is also very entertaining. I am extremely fastidious in books, and am seldom held fast by one, but this I could not bear to lay down whenever I had a moment to read it. For your sake I am glad your cruise ended so soon; yet, for the sake of the public, I could wish it had been longer, that we might have had two volumes instead of one. There cannot be too much of such true and living history of countries and peoples.
"How impossible to find the limit to the consequences of a good action! Through your magnanimous desire to benefit my husband you have given the public a pleasant glimpse of Africa. Now my husband has returned your favor of the past with regard to his 'Twice-Told-Tales.' You
first procured his appearance in a book, and now he introduces you in a fair volume to the present age.
"With regard to our visit to you, I fear you know not what you undertake. Unless I have a servant with me I cannot go, and a servant would make our party too large. I know that your hospitality is as magnificent as that of the Grecian hero who slew an hundred beeves to entertain his guests; but this is no reason why it should be abused. There would still be an advantage in my taking my woman, because she would take the whole care of us, and we should be no additional trouble to your domestics. But are not four of us too many? I wish, too, you would tell me about the military arrangement of your citadel. Is there a great deal of martial music and parade, so that Una's sleep would be murthered every noon? Her little life is rounded with a sleep every day, and if these naps are prevented, I will not answer for her serenity and agreeableness of behavior; and you might wish her in Jericho instead of in your house. I must be perfectly frank with you, dear sir, in another regard. The length of our visit to you will make a great difference about our household arrangements here, and therefore I wish you would not think me wholly wanting in etiquette and propriety if I request you to tell me whether you desire
us to stay one, two, or three weeks. I sincerely wish to know which. I believe you appointed the 25th of July for the appearance of our constellation in your heavens. Is it not so? We certainly could not appear before that time. Your beautiful engraving of the Transfiguration shines down upon us superbly all day long. I too should like to command gold, so as to perform such splendid acts for my friends. I have often thought it would be enchanting to be an Aladdin's Lamp, and astonish people with unexpected pearls and diamond houses.
"Una says she wishes very much to see Mr. Bridge, and to go to Portsmouth and breathe sea-air. When I question her upon the subject, the enthusiasm of her assent far surpasses our insignificant yes. In her eloquent speeches she always points with the forefinger of her right hand, which proves the legitimacy of that gesture in oratory. Her language continues in that unintelligible, divine idiom to which we have no grammar nor lexicon.
"My husband is spending this great day upon the river. He has not yet said he shall go to Portsmouth. He thinks he is too poor, I believe; but I shall persuade him to the contrary, I suspect. Una wishes to be remembered to you, with the gracious permission to kiss her lilywhite hand. I am very sorry I have had to write
with a spoiled steel pen, but perhaps you can make out my name. With cordial congratulations upon your new dignities, I am yours with much regard.
"S. A. HAWTHORNE."
"SALEM, Dec. 20, 1846.
"DEAR MR. BRIDGE, -- My husband enjoins upon me to answer your very welcome letters of August 20th and October 20th. which he received yesterday. As he has a high regard for you and an utter detestation of pen, ink, and paper, I am glad to relieve him of assuring you, by means of these appliances, how cordially we remember you, and how rejoiced we always are to hear of your safety and well-being. I find my husband calls you 'the truest and warmest friend he has in the world.' From him such an assurance is, in my opinion, equal to a crown of glory. Besides most kindly thinking of you from an inward impulse as a friend in need and deed, we are perpetually reminded by the African idol upon the mantelpiece of Mr. Horatio Bridge.
"Una often inquires after you, and now understands perfectly that you are upon the great sea in a great ship. She is still a charming little person, though, like the moon, she holds her course sometimes behind clouds and slender storms, but they can only for a short time conceal her
shining smiles and gracious countenance. I have never discovered any ugliness in her heart and behavior, for wrong has hardly power to cast a shadow upon her before she breaks forth all contrition and sweetness. She is in perfect health and bloom, and just now enchanted with the snow, which, for the first time, she is big enough to play with.
"Her little brother is an entire contrast to her ladyship. His father called him the Black Prince during the first weeks of his life, because he was so dark in comparison with her. He is decidedly, I think, a brun; but his complexion is brilliant and his eyes dark gray, with long black lashes, like Mr. Hawthorne's. We thought he looked very much like you at first, but he does not now. He is a Titan in strength and size, and though but six months old, is as large as some children of two years. His father declares he does not care anything about him because he is a boy, and so I am obliged to love him twice as much as I otherwise should. He is as pleasant and smiling as a summer's day, and his temperament is very sturdy and comfortable, quite unlike Una's, in not being at all sensitive; nor is he as delicately organized. She enjoys him very much, and he admires her beyond all things.
"We are residing in the most stately street in Salem, but our house is much too small for our
necessities. My husband has no study, and his life is actually wasted this winter for want of one. He has not touched his desk since we came to Salem, nor will not, until we can remove to a more convenient dwelling, I fear.
"I am very glad to have such good news of your book. The old and new world seem to agree in its favor. It certainly has had a wonderful success, and I am quite content that you are writing more. I believe that you will write better than ever, now that you are a husband and a happy man, for marriage, with true sentiment and comprehension, is, I think, a great apocalypse, and opens a new world. I rejoice that you have ceased to be a stray comet, and have come into a regular orbit, for I should imagine you to be a person who might particularly enjoy a harmonious domestic life.
"I only saw Mrs. Bridge once, and then in the street in Boston, after your departure, for I found it impossible to call upon her before the birth of my little boy. She was with her mother, and I greeted her and shook hands with her very cordially. She looked very lovely in blue, but pale. I hope I shall know her some day, for her face and manner promise a noble and lovely woman. It seems to me that human beings are wretched Arabs until they find central points in other human beings around which all their brightest and
richest sentiments shall revolve. Every true and happy family is a solar system that outshines all the solar systems in space and time.
"Mr. Hawthorne will write a postscript and tell you about the war, of which I know nothing except the gratifying fact that Lieutenant ----- was shot.
"S. A. HAWTHORNE."
"CONCORD, April 5, 1864.
"MY DEAR MR. BRIDGE,--Mr. Hawthorne has gone upon a journey, and I opened your letter this morning. When you write anything I must not see you must put private at the top of the page, and then I will reverently fold up the letter and put it aside.
"Alas! it was no 'author's excuse' which was published in the Atlantic, but a most sad and serious truth. Mr. Hawthorne has really been very ill all winter, and not well, by any means, for a much longer time; not ill in bed, but miserable on a lounge or sofa, and quite unable to write a word, even a letter, and lately unable to read. I have felt the wildest anxiety about him, because he is a person who has been immaculately well all his life, and this illness has seemed to me an awful dream which could not be true. But he has wasted away very much, and the suns in his eyes are collapsed, and he has had no spirits, no
appetite, and very little sleep. Richard was not himself, and his absolute repugnance to see a physician, or to have any scientific investigation of his indisposition, has weighed me down like a millstone. I have felt such a terrible oppression in thinking that all was not doing for his relief that might be done, that sometimes I have scarcely been able to endure it--at moments hardly able to fetch my breath in apprehension of the possible danger. But, thank Heaven, Mr. Ticknor has taken him out of this groove of existence, and intends to keep him away until he is better. He has been in New York at the Astor House since last Tuesday night, a week from to-day. I have had six letters, five from Mr. Ticknor, and one at last from my husband, written with a very tremulous hand, but with a cheerful spirit.
"My dear Mr. Bridge, you, with your deep, warm, tender heart, can easily imagine how I have suffered in all this. My faith has been tried in its central life. I bless God it has not failed me; but yet I cannot conceive of myself as surviving any peril to my husband. Though I would not complain, because I know that God must do right, and that he is also love itself.
"I should not be surprised if you should see Mr. Hawthorne in Washington. I wish he could be persuaded to stay southward until these piercing east winds of spring abate here. But he
intends to go a little later to the Isle of Shoals, to stay until the advent of visitors in the fashionable season. I see that Concord is not the place for him. He needs the damp sea-air for healthy comfort, and enjoyment. I wish, with all my heart, that our dear little Wayside domain could be sold advantageously for his sake, and that he could wander on sea-beaches all the rest of his days.
"The state of our country has, doubtless, excessively depressed him. His busy imagination has woven all sorts of sad tissues. You know his indomitable, untamable spirit of independence and self-help. This makes the condition of an invalid peculiarly irksotne to him. He is not a very manageable baby, because he has so long been a self-reliant man; but his innate sweetness serves him here, as in all things, and he is very patient and good.
"Julian has just entered upon his last half of freshman year. He comes home every Saturday and spends Sunday with us, so that we hardly have lost him. He stoutly hates the Mathematics, but is very fond of Latin, and friendly to Greek, and is the greatest gymnast in his class. He is very strong and very gentle, and--you will forgive a mother for saying this--he is entirely of the aesthetic order, and his absence and unobservance of worldly considerations will probably
not advance him in the dusty arena of life; but he will be unspoiled for the next world, I think, and I hope he will be able to make at least a living in this.
"Rosebud is blooming out vastly. She is nearly a head above Mama, and will be very tall. She is now discoursing music on the piano, for which she has a good faculty; and she goes to school, and has a talent for drawing figures. Una is very Well, and feels excessively aged since her twentieth birthday, though Julian assures her she looks only sixteen. She has no tutor now, but studies by herself in the morning, and paints in the afternoon, and sews for the soldiers a great deal. I have written you too much, dear Mr. Bridge; but you ask me after all these folk, and so I tell you. With my kindest regards to Mrs. Bridge, I am
"Very truly yours,
"S. A. HAWTHORNE."
"THE WAYSIDE, CONCORD, MASS., Nov. 7, 1865.
"MY DEAR MR. BRIDGE,--Can you send me any memories or incidents of Mr. Hawthorne's college life, when you were with him so much?
"I am now very much occupied in copying his journals, or portions of them, for papers for the Atlantic; and something is demanded of his life, and these records in his own words are the best of all autobiography--I mean are the best
biography, being auto. They are very rich as studies of nature and man, and now and then a glimpse of his personal character gleams through in a radiant way, though he puts himself aside as much as possible, as always. The Augusta Journal is all copied, in which I have ventured to put Mr. B. for your name. You figure there in a commanding way, being lord of the Manor in position and character.
"The reason I wish to have you write down your reminiscences is because, by and by, these papers will all be collected into a volume, and these connecting links will be wanted. The earliest remaining journal begins in 1835.
"I have requested his sister to write her recollections of his childhood and early youth, for she alone can now do that.
"It is a vast pleasure to pore over his books in this way. I seem to be with him in all his walks and observations. Such faithful, loving notes of all he saw never were put on paper before. Nothing human is considered by him too mean to ponder over. No bird, nor leaf, nor tint of earth or sky is left unnoticed. He is a crystal medium of all the sounds and shows of things, and he reverently lets everything be as it is, and never intermeddles, nor embellishes, nor detracts.
"It is truth itself, and has all the immortal charm of truth, even in the smallest details. For do we
not like to see even a common object of still life truthfully represented by the great masters of Dutchland? It is only the great masters in any art who trust to truth.
"I hoped to see you again, summer before the last, with Mrs. Bridge. My constant expectation of seeing her prevented me from replying to her very kind letter. Will you tell her so with my love? Perhaps she will come this next summer, if she can bear to come now my king has gone, and so the cottage is no longer a palace.
"I shall be glad of any occasion to hear from you, dear Mr. Bridge.
"Very sincerely yours,
"SOPHIA A. HAWTHORNE."
"CONCORD, MASS., Nov. 25, 1865.
"MY DEAR MR. BRIDGE,--I have both your letters, for which I am deeply obliged. I feel great compunction in asking you to take your time to recollect the past in regard to my husband, for it seems as if you ought to rest when you leave the Bureau. But I beg you not to weary yourself in doing it, for there is no pressing hurry, though, as you truly say, 'we should do without delay what is to be done.' I mean that this is not to be done if it tax you too much.
"Gen'l Pierce has indeed been alarmingly ill,
but is now recovering. Julian happened to come home to forage for books, and I sent him to Concord, N. H., immediately, to see exactly how he was. Julian found Gen'l Pierce very weak, and unable to sit up, and fearfully wasted, but not 'blue,' as Julian expressed it, and very glad to see him, and Julian read aloud to him. It was a bilious affection that prostrated him. The day after Julian's return, Thursday, 23d, he was well enough to think of sending me a newspaper containing a paragraph about his improvement in health.
"As 'gratitude is the keen sense of favors to come,' according to the witty Frenchman, I wish to know whether you can help me to any autographs of persons notorious and illustrious in the war times. I have a dear friend in England (dear to Mr. Hawthorne, too), who is always writing eloquent implorings for autographs of great Americans--great in treason, great in patriotism, great in council, great in prowess. This English friend has done so much for me, in sending me the finest picture in the world of my husband, that I would beg for him anything that is respectable. If you cannot attain to these autographs, and will tell me to whom I might properly apply, I will take any trouble whatever for the end in view.
"Your last letter is very interesting to me.
Mr. Hawthorne always scorned the idea that he had ever written any poetry. And I never saw any he wrote except a single poem which is in his own handwriting, given to me, I believe, by his sister. But I never dared let him know I possessed it, for he would have forbidden me to keep it, probably. His ideal was so high, and his modesty so excessive, that he was never satisfied with anything he accomplished, even to the last. But his first efforts he utterly despised.
"I hope you will recall characteristics of his early youth. Do you remember the scene with the gypsy in Brunswick? Of a woman who told fortunes?
"I hope you are very well, dear Mr. Bridge. Those friends of my husband's whom he loved so faithfully are very precious to me. There were but few--you and Gen'l Pierce the chief. But I feel a vital interest in your and in his health and well-being. I hope you are better than when I saw you here.
"With our love to you and Mrs. Bridge,
"Very sincerely yours,
"S. A. HAWTHORNE."
"January 19, 1866.
"MY DEAR MR. BRIDGE--To-day I received your kind note and the paper of reminiscences, for which I thank you exceedingly. Once
before (Nov. 24) I received a paper from you, which I acknowledged at once, and at the same time asked you if you could procure me some autographs of our famous men of the war, statesmen and generals, for an English friend, to whom my husband had promised some. It is a matter of great moment with this gentleman, and every time I have a letter from him he mentions his hopes and expectations. I cannot bear to trouble you, but I do not know to whom else to apply; and I feel bound to fulfil Mr. Hawthorne's intentions, especially in regard to Mr. Bright, who loved him so truly.
"I have a very lame right hand, and so I cannot write but a few words, or I should enlarge upon these very interesting particulars about Mr. Hawthorne.
"Gratefully and cordially yours,
"SOPHIA A. HAWTHORNE."
"MY DEAR MR. BRIDGE,--To-day I received your letters enclosing the autographs. I cannot express how much obliged I am to you for them, for Mr. Bright writes from time to time a pathetic appeal for the fulfilment of the promise made him. He has lately met with a severe bereavement in the death of a brother, who was the pride and hope of the family, and it is the first time in
a large circle that one has been taken; but I shall send him the autographs.
* * * * * *
"You must excuse me for not thinking Mr. Hawthorne over-valued you. I never heard from him but one opinion on this subject. He had the utmost reliance upon you, and reposed upon it with infinite satisfaction. It seems to me not a small merit to have inspired in him such respect, love, and trust as he invariably expressed for you. That you do not recognize yourself in his portrait only makes it the truer. I always felt that he had no more thorough friend than you in the world, and I know he thought so.
"How very kind of you to find me these autographs. I thank you over and over for them. We all send our love to you and Mrs. Bridge.
"Very cordially yours,
"S. A. HAWTHORNE.
"P.S.--For your last reminiscences I am deeply obliged. Every word you record is to me like apples of gold in pictures of silver, because I can so absolutely trust your truth and sincerity. You see I am smitten with my husband's great prejudice in your favor.--S. H."
"Jan. 2d, 1867.
"MY DEAR MR. BRIDGE,--I take the liberty to
enclose this letter to you, because I do not know whether General Hitchcock be in Washington or not, and I did not wish my letter to go to the Dead-letter Office. He used to live on Pennsylvania Avenue. If you will put the address on for me I shall thank you very much.
"I send to you and Mrs. Bridge all Christmas and New Year good wishes. I have been confined to my room for three weeks, but am now better. The children are all well and satisfactory. Rose has just left me, having been at home through the Christmas holidays. She is now at Dr. Lewis's famous gymnastic school in Lexington. Julian is reading his logic and metaphysics. Una reads history to me and the literature suggested as she goes on. She also is keeping up her music and Latin, and has a class in gymnastics. They are all so bright and good that my life is a thanksgiving for them. I live for them. When they are settled in life I should like to sleep as he did, if God please. Affairs perplex and tire me very much, yet I am in great peace.
"I hope you and Mrs. Bridge are well. I fear you are too busy to tell me how you do. With my love to Mrs. Bridge, I am,
"Very sincerely yours,
"SOPHIA A. HAWTHORNE."
In conclusion let me hope that, while gleaning a few grains in the field of Hawthorne's history, I shall have contributed something which will, at least, have the value of personal testimony, and which may, perhaps, be used with advantage by some biographer in the future.
I may also hope that the disclosures herein made will give a modicum of pleasure, unalloyed by adverse criticism, to those who are near and dear to me.
To them I commend this little volume.