Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, Volume I
By Julian Hawthorne, 1884
Boyhood and Bachelorhood
A CERTAIN mystery invests the early life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. There is a difficulty in reconciling the outward calm and uneveutfulness of his young manhood with the presence of those qualities which are known to have been in him. It is not his literary or imaginative qualities that are now referred to; he found sufficient outlet for them. But here was a young man, brimming over with physical health and strength; endowed (by nature, at all events) with a strong social instinct; with a mind daring, penetrating, and independent; possessing a face and figure of striking beauty and manly grace; gifted with a stubborn will, and prone, upon occasion, to outbursts of appalling wrath; in a word, a man fitted in every way to win and use the world, to have his own way, to live throughout the full extent of his keen senses and great faculties; and yet we find this young engine of all possibilities and energies content (so far as appears) to sit quietly down in a meditative solitude, and spend all those years when a man's blood runs warmest in his veins in musing over the theories and symbols of life, and in writing cool and subtle little parables apposite to his meditations. Had he been a fanatic or an enthusiast; had he been snatched into the current of some narrow and overpowering preoccupation, whose interests filled each day, to the exclusion of all other thoughts and interests; had he been a meagre and pallid anatomy of overwrought brain and nerves,--such behavior would have been more intelligible. But he was many-sided, unimpulsive, clear-headed; he had the deliberation and leisureliness of a well-balanced intellect; he was the slave of no theory and of no emotion; he always knew, so to speak, where he was and what he was about. His forefathers, whatever their less obvious qualities may have been, were at all events enterprising, active, practical men, stern and courageous, accustomed to deal with and control lawless and rugged characters; they were sea-captains, farmers, soldiers, magistrates; and, in whatever capacity, they were used to see their own will prevail, and to be answerable to no man. True, they were Puritans, and doubtless were more or less under dominion to the terrible Puritan conscience; but it is hardly reasonable to suppose that this was the only one of their traits which they bequeathed to their successor. On the contrary, one would incline to think that this legacy, in its transmission to a legatee of such enlightened and unprejudiced understanding, would have been relieved of its peculiarly virulent and tyrannical character, and become an object rather of intellectual or imaginative curiosity than of moral awe. The fact that it figures largely in Hawthorne's stories certainly can scarcely be said to weaken this hypothesis; the pleasurable exercise of the imagination lies in its relieving us from the pressure of our realities, not in repeating and dallying with them. Upon the whole, therefore, there is no ground for assuming that, leaving out of the question the personal or original genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne, he was not in all other respects quite as much of a human being, in the widest sense of the term, as old Major William himself, or Bold Daniel either. How then, is his extraordinary undemonstrativeness to be accounted for?
This problem has perplexed all who have had anything to say about the great New England romancer. The most common escape has lain in the direction of constructing an imaginary Hawthorne from what was assumed to be the internal evidence of his writings,--a sort of morbid, timid, milk-and-water Frankenstein, who was drawn on by a grisly fascination to discuss fearful conceptions, and was in a chronic state of being frightened almost into hysterics by the chimeras of his own fancy. His aversion from bores and ignorant or uncongenial intrusion was magnified into a superhuman and monstrous shyness; in the earlier part of his literary career, opinion was divided as to whether he were a young lady of' a sentimental and moralizing turn of mind, or a venerable and bloodless sage, with dim eyes, thin white hair, and an excess of spirituality. Some of these sagacious guesses came to the ears of the broad-shouldered and ruddy-checked young man, and he smiles over them inthe preface to the "Twice-Told Tales," and was tempted, as he intimates, to "fill up so amiable an outline, and to act in consonance with the character assigned to him; nor, even now, could he forfeit it without a few tears of tender sensibility." Later, he was suspected of being identical with the ineffective, inquisitive, and cynical poet, Miles Coverdale, in "The Blithedale Romance;" and, for aught I know, of being Arthur Dimmesdale, or Roger Chillingworth, or Clifford, or the Spectre of the Catacombs itself. But this is not the way to get at the individuality of a truly imaginative writer; and, latterly, the concoctions of the deductive philosophers have begun to have less weight.
Meanwhile, however, another school of Hawthorne analysts has sprung up, with great hopes of success. These are persons, some of whom were acquaintances of Hawthorne during his bachelor days and for a time afterwards, and who maintain that he not only possessed broad and even low human sympathies and tendencies, but that he was by no means proof against temptation, and that it was only by the kind precaution and charitable silence of his friends that his dissolute excesses have remained so long concealed. Singularly enough, it is as a tippler that the author of "The Scarlet Letter" most frequently makes his appearance in the narratives of these expositors; he was the victim of an insatiable appetite for gin, brandy, and rum, and if a bottle of wine were put on the table, he could hardly maintain a decent self-restraint. So probable in themselves and so industriously circulated were these stories, that, when the present writer was in London, three or four years ago, Mr. Francis Bennoch, the gentleman to whom the "English Note-Books" were dedicated by Mrs. Hawthorne, related to him the following anecdote: At a dinner at which Mr. Bennoch had been present, some time before, a gentleman had got up to make some remarks, in the course of which he referred to Nathaniel Hawthorne. He spoke of him as having been, during his residence in England, a confirmed inebriate, mentioned a special occasion on which he had publicly disgraced himself at an English table, and wound up with the information that his death had been brought about by a drunken spree on which he and Franklin Pierce had gone off together. When this historian had resumed his seat, Mr. Bennoch rose and spoke nearly as follows:
"I was the friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne during many years; I knew him intimately: no man knew him better. I was his constant companion on his English excursions and during his visits to London. I have seen him in all kinds of circumstances, in all sorts of moods, in all sorts of company; and I wish to say, to the gentleman who has just sat down, and to you all, that, often as I have seen Nathaniel Hawthorne drink wine, and though he had a head of iron, I have never known him to take more than the two or three glasses which every Englishman drinks with his dinner. I have never known him to be, and I know I am saying the truth when I say that he never was, under the influence of liquor. I myself was present on the occasion to which the gentleman has alluded, and I sat beside Nathaniel Hawthorne; and I am happy to tell you that then, as at all other times, where all were sober, he was the soberest of all. And in conclusion I will say, that the statement which the gentleman has just made to you, and which I am willing to believe he merely repeated upon hearsay, is a lie from beginning to end. Whoever repeats it, tells a lie; and whoever repeats it after hearing what I have said, tells a lie knowing it to be such."
This terse little speech embodies nearly all there is to be said on this subject. Mr. Hawthorne never was a teetotaler, any more than he was an abolitionist or a thug; but he was invariably temperate. During his lifetime he smoked something like half a dozen boxes of cigars, and drank as much wine and spirits as would naturally accompany that amount of tobacco. Months and sometimes years would pass without his either drinking or smoking at all; but when he would resume those practices, it was not to "make up for lost time,"--his moderation was not influenced by his abstention. Though very tolerant of excesses in others, he never permitted them in himself; and his conduct in this respect was the result not more of moral prejudice than of temperamental aversion. He would have been sober if he had had no morality. At one time, in his younger days, he was accustomed to sup frequently at a friend's table, where the lady of the house made very excellent tea, which the guest was very fond of. One evening, in sending down to replenish his cup, she remarked, "Now, Mr. Hawthorne, I am going to play Mrs. Thrale to your Johnson. I know you are a slave to my tea." Mr. Hawthorne made no reply, but contented himself with mentally noting that he had been guilty of a personal indulgence; and during five years, dating from that evening, he never touched another cup of tea. Every aspect of his life reflects the same principle; he could not endure the thought of being in the thraldom of any selfish or sensuous habit. Nevertheless, there is one other remark to make before this matter is laid aside.
I have just said that he was very tolerant of excesses in others; and herein, if anywhere, he would be open to blame. The commandment, "Judge not," cannot be held to excuse a man for toleration which amounts to passive encouragement of vice. Now Hawthorne, both by nature and by training, was of a disposition to throw himself imaginatively into the shoes (as the phrase is) of whatever person happened to be his companion. For the time being, he would seem to take their point of view and to speak their language; it was the result partly of a subtle sympathy and partly of a cold intellectual insight, which led him half consciously to reflect what he so clearly perceived. Thus, if he chatted with a group of rude sea-captains in the smoking-room of Mrs. Blodgett's boarding-house, or joined a knot of boon companions in a Boston bar-room, or talked metaphysics with Herman Melville on the hills of Berkshire, he would aim to appear in each instance a man like as they were; he would have the air of being interested in their interests and viewing life by their standards. Of course, this was only apparent; the real man stood aloof and observant, and only showed himself as he was, in case of his prerogatives being invaded, or his actual liberty of thought and action being in any way infringed upon. But the consequence may sometimes have been that people were misled as to his absolute attitude. Seeing his congenial aspect towards their little round of habits and beliefs, they would leap to the conclusion that he was no more and no less than one of themselves; whereas they formed but a tiny arc in the great circle of his comprehension. This does not seem quite fair; there is a cold touch in it; it has a look of amusing one's self at others' expense or profiting by their follies. The drunkard who complains that his companion allows him to get drunk, but empties his own glass over his shoulder, generally finds some sympathy for his complaint. Literally, as well as figuratively, it might have been said that Hawthorne should "drink square," or keep out of the way. There is nothing, however, to prevent the most contracted mind from perceiving that to be a student of human nature is not the same as to be a spy upon it. Nor can Hawthorne be charged with deception,--with pretending to be that which he was not. "I have no love of secrecy," he has written in his journal (1843). "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 be must find his own way there. I can neither guide nor enlighten him. . . . I sympathize with them, not they with me." Here lies the gist of the matter. Hawthorne always gave as much as he could to his companions; but it was not within the possibilities of his temperament for him to give them much more than they gave him. He could not force his depths to be visible to them; and if they could not see into them, they must perforce limit themselves. to the outward aspect. But because they could not sympathize with him, he was not to preclude himself from sympathizing with them. He was powerless to reveal himself fully, save in fit company; and such company, for him, was very rare. There were not more than two or three persons in the world to whom he could disclose himself freely; though there may have been scarcely any to whom he could not have made a partial (and therefore, doubtless, misleading) disclosure. It only remains to add that what was true of his personal conversation was also true of his letters. He involuntarily addressed each one of his companions in a different vein and style. If a man was pinnacled high in the intense inane, and could not extricate himself from that position, then Hawthorne would gravely descant to him upon his intense inanities; or if a poor creature were unable to comprehend anything higher than gin and politics, then would gin and politics constitute the argument of Hawthorne's epistles to him. All this, it must be understood, was apart from the demands and obligations of personal friendship, as to which no one was ever more stanch and trustworthy than Hawthorne. But he had his own views regarding the manner in which people should be interfered with, even for their own salvation, and regarding the extent to which such interference was justifiable.
But if the Hawthorne problem can be solved neither by rarefying him into a metaphysical abstraction nor by condensing him into a gross sensualist, what is to be done with him? By what means, through what experience, did he acquire that air and manner of a man of the world, which so early invested both his writings and his personality, and which to the world always remained so impenetrable? In what struggle, catastrophe, or abyss did those powerful energies which his nature contained achieve quiescence and composure? What victory or what loss endowed him with that even mood of humorous gravity, that low, melodious, masculine speech, that calm and commanding bearing? Whence came that veiled strength of character that so impressed and magnetized all with whom he came in contact? Was all this the mere consequence of a day-to-day growth and development, and was his profound insight into the structure and frailties of the human heart purchased at no more poignant cost than that of a succession of meditative and secluded years? "I used to think," he writes, "that I could imagine all feelings, all passions, and states of the heart and mind," which is as much as to say that he thought he could make imagination do the work of experience. Again: "Living in solitude till the fulness of time was come, I still kept the dew of my youth and the freshness of my heart," which indicates that his experience, if be had any, was not of a kind to destroy his self-respect or discourage his faith in virtue. "Had I sooner made my escape into the world, I should have grown hard and rough, and been covered with earthly dust, and my heart might have become callous by rude encounters with the multitude." These, certainly, are the words of a man who had no stain, at any rate, upon his conscience. But there are other channels, besides that of the personal conscience, through which a shock or an impression may be conveyed which shall color and mould the whole after-existence.
The truth is, that hunters on this sort of trails are apt to miss their way by being too violent and, so to say, palpable in their expectations. A profound and exceptional nature does not meet with vulgar mishaps; and, on the other hand, it may be reached by influences that would be scarcely noticed by persons of a coarser texture. In Nathaniel Hawthorne the sentiment of reverence was very highly developed, and I do not know that too much weight can be given to this fact. It is the mark of a fine and lofty organization, and enables its possessor to apprehend, to suffer, and to enjoy things which are above the sphere of other people. It exalts and refines his power of discrimination between right and wrong. It lays him open to mortal injuries, and, in compensation, it enriches him with exquisite benefits. It opens his eyes to what is above him, and thereby deepens his comprehension of what is around him and at his feet. Reverence, combined with imagination, and vivified by that faculty of divining God's meaning, which belongs to genius,--this equipment is, of itself, enough to educate a man in all the wisdom of the world, as well as in much that appertains to a higher region. And it is evident that, with a character thus equipped, a relatively small shock to the sensibilities may produce a remarkably strong effect.
Before entering more minutely into this matter, let us review the available facts concerning Nathaniel Hawthorne's boyhood,--which cannot be said to amount to much. A composition, in the form of a diary, has indeed been brought to light, which purports to have been written by him while living in Raymond, Maine. But, with deference to the contrary opinion of those who are worth listening to on the subject, the present writer has been unable to find in this "diary', any trustworthy evidence, either external or internal, of its being anything else than a rather clumsy and leaky fabrication. Assuming it to be genuine, however, it seems singularly destitute of biographical value; and, at all events, it shall not here be inflicted upon the reader. It may be doubted whether Shakspeare, or even Solomon, at twelve years of age, could have been a seriously interesting subject of study. Babies are interesting and instructive in a high degree, because they are as yet impersonal or un-self-conscious; but a half-grown boy is a morally amphibious creature, who, so far as he has attained individuality, is disagreeable, and, so far as he has not attained it, is superfluous. The boy Hawthorne's achievements as a newspaper editor are also of slight significance, despite the fact that he afterwards grew to be an author. Many boys who grew up to be horse-car conductors or members of the Legislature have edited better newspapers at the same age. What is most noticeable in his juvenile days is, one would say, the wholesome absence of any premonitions of what he was afterwards to become. He was, so far as any one could see, nothing more than a healthy, handsome, intelligent, mischievous boy, who deserved some credit for not letting himself be seriously spoilt by the admiration of his mother and sisters. The only trustworthy autobiographical fragment of his, known to be extant, is comprised in the following few paragraphs which he wrote out for his friend Stoddard, who was compiling an "article" on him for the "National Review," 1853. It contains little that is new; but it is always worth while to listen to Hawthorne's own words on even the most familiar subject.
"I was born in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, in a house built by my grandfather, who was a maritime personage. The old household estate was in another part of the town, and had descended in the family ever since the settlement of the country; but this old man of the sea exchanged it for a lot of land situated near the wharves, and convenient to his business, where he built the house (which is still standing), and laid out a garden, where I rolled on a grass-plot under an apple-tree, and picked abundant currants. This grandfather (about whom there is a ballad in Griswold's 'Curiosities of American Literature') died long before I was born. One of the peculiarities of my boyhood was a grievous disinclination to go to school, and (Providence favoring me in this natural repugnance) I never did go half as much as other boys, partly owing to delicate health (which I made the most of for the purpose), and partly because, much of the time, there were no schools within reach.
"When I was eight or nine years old, my mother, with her three children, took up her residence on the banks of the Sebago Lake, in Maine, where the family owned a large tract of land; and here I ran quite wild, and would, I doubt not, have willingly run wild till this time, fishing all day long, or shooting with an old fowling-piece; but reading a good deal, too, on the rainy days, especially in Shakspeare and 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' and any poetry or light books within my reach. Those were delightful days; for that part of the country was wild then, with only scattered clearings, and nine tenths of it primeval woods. But by and by my good mother began to think it was necessary for her boy to do something else; so I was sent back to Salem, where a private instructor fitted me for college. I was educated (as the phrase is) at Bowdoin College. I was an idle student, negligent of college rules and the Procrustean details of academic life, rather choosing to nurse my own fancies than to dig into Greek roots and be numbered among the learned Thebans.
"It was my fortune or misfortune, just as you please, to have some slender means of supporting myself; and so, on leaving college, in 1825, instead of immediately studying a profession, I sat myself down to consider what pursuit in life I was best fit for. My mother had now returned, and taken up her abode in her deceased father's house, a tall, ugly, old, grayish building (it is now the residence of half a dozen Irish families), in which I had a room. And year after year I kept on considering what I was fit for, and time and my destiny decided that I was to be the writer that I am. I had always a natural tendency (it appears to have been on the paternal side) toward seclusion; and this I now indulged to the utmost, so, that, for months together, I scarcely held human intercourse outside of my own family; seldom going out except at twilight, or only to take the nearest way to the most convenient solitude, which was oftenest the seashore, the rocks and beaches in that vicinity being as fine as any in New England. Once a year, or thereabouts, I used to make an excursion of a few weeks, in which I enjoyed as much of life as other people do in the whole year's round. Having spent so much of my boyhood and youth away from my native place, I had very few acquaintances in Salem, and during the nine or ten years that I spent there, in this solitary way, I doubt whether so much as twenty people in the town were aware of my existence.
"Meanwhile, strange as it may seem, I had lived a very tolerable life, always seemed cheerful, and enjoyed the very best bodily health. I had read endlessly all sorts of good and good-for-nothing books, and, in the dearth of other employment, had early begun to scribble sketches and stories, most of which I burned. Some, however, got into the magazines and annuals; but, being anonymous or under different signatures, they did not soon have the effect of concentrating any attention upon the author. Still, they did bring me into contact with certain individuals. Mr. S. C. Goodrich (a gentleman of many excellent qualities, although a publisher) took a very kindly interest in me, and employed my pen for 'The Token,' an annual. Old copies of 'The Token' may still be found in antique boudoirs and on the dusty shelves of street bookstalls. It was the first and probably the best--it could not possibly be the worst--annual ever issued in this country. It was a sort of hot-house, where native flowers were made to bloom like exotics.
"From the press of Munroe & Co., Boston, in the year 1837, appeared 'Twice-Told Tales.' Though not widely successful in their day and generation, they had the effect of making me known in my own immediate vicinity; insomuch that, however reluctantly, I was compelled to come out of my owl's nest and lionize in a small way. Thus I was gradually drawn somewhat into the world, and became pretty much like other people. My long seclusion had not made me melancholy or misanthropic, nor wholly unfitted me for the bustle of life; and perhaps it was the kind of discipline which my idiosyncrasy demanded, and chance and my own instincts, operating together, had caused me to do what was fittest."
Mr. Hawthorne's sister Elizabeth, who has been already quoted, gives other details in letters written to her niece in the year after Hawthorne's death (1865 or thereabouts). Extracts from these letters are appended.
"Your father was born in 1804, on the 4th of July, in the chamber over the little parlor in the house in Union Street, which then belonged to my grandmother Hathorne, who lived in one part of it. There we lived until 1808, when my father died, at Surinam. I remember that one morning my mother called my brother into her room, next to the one where we slept, and told him that his father was dead. He left very little property, and my grandfather Manning took us home. All through our childhood we were indulged in all convenient ways, and were under very little control except that of circumstances. There were aunts and uncles, and they were all as fond of your father and as careful of his welfare as if he had been their own child. He was both beautiful and bright, and perhaps his training was as good as any other could have been. We were the victims of no educational pedantry. We always had plenty of books, and our minds and sensibilities were not unduly stimulated. If he had been educated for a genius, it would have injured him excessively. He developed himself. I think mental superiority in parents is seldom beneficial to children. Shrewdness and good-nature are all that is requisite. The Maker of the child will train it better than human wisdom could do. Your father was very fond of animals, especially kittens; yet he sometimes teased them, as boys will. He once seized a kitten and tossed it over a fence; and when he was told that she would never like him again, he said, 'Oh, she'll think it was William!' William was a little boy who played with him. He never wanted money, except to spend; and once, in the country, where there were no shops, he refused to take some that was offered to him, because he could not spend it immediately. Another time, old Mr. Forrester offered him a five-dollar bill, which he also refused; which was uncivil, for Mr. Forrester always noticed him very kindly when he met him. At Raymond, in Maine, my grandfather owned a great deal of wild land. Part of the time we were at a farmhouse belonging to the family, as boarders, for there was a tenant on the farm; at other times we stayed at our uncle's. It was close to the great Sebago Lake, now a well-known place. We enjoyed it exceedingly, especially your father and I. At the time our father died, Uncle Manning had assumed the entire charge of my brother's education, sending him to the best schools and to college. It was much more expensive than it would be to do the same things now, because the public schools were not good then, and of course he never went to them. Your father was lame a long time from an injury received while playing bat-and-ball. His foot pined away, and was considerably smaller than the other. He had every doctor that could be heard of; among the rest, your grandfather Peabody. But it was 'Dr. Time' who at last cured him. I remember he used to lie upon the floor and read, and that he went upon two crutches. Everybody thought that, if he lived, he would be always lame. Mr. Joseph E. Worcester, the author of the Dictionary, who at one time taught a school in Salem, to which your father went, was very kind to him; he came every evening to hear him repeat his lessons. It was during this long lameness that he acquired his habit of constant reading. Undoubtedly he would have wanted many of the qualities which distinguished him in after life, if his genius had not been thus shielded in childhood.
"He did not, in general, profess much love for flowers,--less than be felt, no doubt. Once, when he expected to leave Salem soon, he told us, on his return from a walk, that he had switched off the heads of all the columbines he passed, as he never meant and never wished to see their successors again. But, as it happened, he did not go away, and visited the same spots for several years after that."
Mr. Hawthorne has told his son many of his boyish experiences on the great Sebago Lake: how he used to skate there in winter, and how, one day, he followed for a great distance, armed with his fowling-piece, the tracks of a black bear, but without being able to overtake him. He was a good deal of a sportsman, and had all the fishing and hunting he wanted; but be was more fond of the idea or sentiment of the thing than of the actuality of it, and often forbore to pull the trigger, and threw back the fish that he drew from the river or lake. Not only he, but his mother and sisters likewise, appear to have enjoyed this half-wild Raymond life very much; nevertheless, as Miss Elizabeth Hawthorne writes, "by some fatality we all seemed to be brought back to Salem, in spite of our intentions and even resolutions." Hawthorne was in Raymond even less than the rest of the family; in 1818 he was at school in Salem, and only made them occasional visits. By 1820 they were all in Salem together; and now, having attained his seventeenth year, he began to make experiments in verse. "Except letters," says his sister, "I do not remember any prose writings of his till a much later period. I send you one of his poems, composed at the age of sixteen, which I found among some old papers. These verses have not much merit; they were written merely for amusement, and perhaps for the pleasure of seeing them in print,--for some like this he sent to a Boston newspaper." The poem, which has no title, is as follows:--
The moon is bright in that chamber fair,
And the trembling starlight enters there
With a soft and quiet gleam;
The wind sighs through the trees around,
And the leaves send forth a gentle sound,
Like the voices of a dream.
He has laid his weary limbs to sleep;
But the dead around their vigil keep,
And the living may not rest.
There is a form on that chamber floor
Of beauty which should bloom no more,--
A fair, yet fearful guest!
The breath of morn has cooled his brow,
And that shadowy form has vanished now,
Yet he lingers round the spot;
For the pale, cold beauty of that face,
And that form of more than earthly grace,
May be no more forgot.
There is a grave by yon aged oak,
But the moss-grown burial-stone is broke
That told how beauty faded;
But the sods are fresh o'er another head,
For the lover of that maiden dead
By the same tree is shaded.
There is an agreeable ghastliness in this conception of a young man dying for love of a ghost, who had been a ghost since some generations before he was born; and though the form of versification and the vein of sentiment is hackneyed enough, there is considerable felicity and severity in the choice of words. At the same time the composition helps us to see that its author never could have been a genuine poet. Had Poe, at the same age, treated such a subject, he would have thrown his whole heart and earnestness into it, and would have produced something, by hook or by crook, that must have held a place in literature. Hawthorne, on the other hand, cannot regard the matter seriously; he knows he is only in jest, and is merly concerned not to be vapid or verbose. He always thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. good poetry; but the idea of being a poet himself was something he could scarcely contemplate with a grave countenance. Possibly his insensibility to music--he was wont to declare that he never could distinguish between "Yankee Doodle" and "Hail Columbia "--may have had something to do with it; the lilt and jingle of measured feet and rhymes were not reconcilable, to his mind, with the sobriety of earnest utterance. If he had anything important to say, it must be said, not sung. Yet he read Scott's Poems to his children; and with the keenest relish of their rhythm and melody, the beauty of which was enhanced by his delivery.
Be that as it may, his letters of this period are much more entertaining and characteristic than his poetry; there was always a touch about them that prompts one to say, "There is the man!" Among the various scraps of browned and fragile paper which have been wafted down to us from his youthful days, is one sibylline leaf, containing scarce twoscore words, but full of pith and inscrutable suggestiveness. Who was the Ass? what was the Book? and did Aunt Mary ever get possession of the Secret? Here is the communication, which, on the evidence of the handwriting, may have been written about Hawthorne's eighteenth year.
"That Ass brought the book, and gave it directly to your aunt Mary. I hope you were wise enough to pretend to know nothing of the matter, if she has said anything to you about it.
The handwriting is particularly legible, and the word "Ass" is engrossed with special care, significant of cordial emphasis. Of all asses who ever put their blundering hoofs into other people's pies, this ass was evidently the most utterly and irritably asinine. Impressive, likewise, is the bold and immoral exhortation to hypocrisy with which the missive concludes. Little did poor Aunt Mary suspect what a mine of dark dissimulation was yawning beneath her virtuous feet.
The six following letters belong to the period preceding and following Hawthorne's entrance into Bowdoin College, and convey further enlightenment as to what sort of a youth he was.
SALEM, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 1819.
DEAR SISTER,--We are all well, and hope you are the same. I do not know what to do with myself here. I shall never be contented here, I am sure. I now go to a five-dollar school,--I, that have been to a ten-dollar one. "O Lucifer, son of the morning, how art thou fallen!" I wish I was but in Raymond, and I should be happy. But "'t was light that ne'er shall shine again on life's dull stream." I have read "Waverley," "The Mysteries of Udolpho," "The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom," "Roderick Random," and the first volume of "The Arabian Nights."
Oh, earthly pomp is but a dream,
And like a meteor's short-lived gleam;
And all the sons of glory soon
Will rest beneath the mould'ring stone.
And Genius is a star whose light
Is soon to sink in endless night,
And heavenly beauty's angel form
Will bend like flower in winter's storm.
Though those are my rhymes, yet they are not exactly my thoughts. I ani full of scraps of poetry; can't keep it out of my brain.
I saw where in the lowly grave
Departed Genius lay;
And mournful yew-trees o'er it wave,
To hide it from the day.
I could vomit up a dozen pages more if I were a mind to turn over.
Oh, do not bid me part from thee,
For I will leave thee never.
Although thou throw'st thy scorn on me,
Yet I will love forever.
There is no heart within my breast,
For it has flown away,
And till I knew it was thy guest,
I sought it night and day.
Tell Ebe she's not the only one of the family whose works have appeared in the papers. The knowledge I have of your honor and good sense, Louisa, gives me full confidence that you will not show this letter to anybody. You may to mother, though. My respects to Mr. and Mrs. Howe.
Your humble servant and affectionate brother,
Yours to uncle received.
SALEM, March 13, 1821.
DEAR MOTHER,--Yours of the ---- was received. I am much flattered by your being so solicitous for me to write, and shall be much more so if you can read what I write, as I have a wretched pen. Mr, Manning is in great affliction concerning that naughty little watch, and Louisa and I are in like dolorous condition. I think it would he advisable to advertise him in the Portland papers. How many honors are heaped upon Uncle Richard! He will soon have as many titles as a Spanish Don. I am proud of being related to so distinguished a personage. What has become of Elizabeth? Does she never intend to notice me again? I shall begin to think she has eloped with some of those "gay deceivers" who abound in Raymond, if she does not give me some proof to the contrary. I dreamed the other night that I was walking by the Sebago; and when I awoke was so angry at finding it all a delusion, that I gave Uncle Robert (who sleeps with me) a most horrible kick. I don't read so much now as I did, because I am more taken up in studying. I am quite reconciled to going to college, since I am to spend the vacations with you. Yet four years of the best part of my life is a great deal to throw away. I have not yet concluded what profession I shall have. The being a minister is of course out of the question. I should not think that even you could desire me to choose so dull a way of life. Oh, no, mother, I was not born to vegetate forever in one place, and to live and die as calm and tranquil as--a puddle of water. As to lawyers, there are so many of them already that one half of them (upon a moderate calculation) are in a state of actual starvation. A physician, then, seems to be "Hobson's choice;" but yet I should not like to live by the diseases and infirmities of my fellow-creatures. And it would weigh very heavily on my conscience, in the course of my practice, if I should chance to send any unlucky patient "ad inferum," which being interpreted is, " to the realms below." Oh that I was rich enough to live without a profession! What do you think of my becoming an author, and relying for support upon my pen? Indeed, I think the illegibility of my hand-writing is very author-like. How proud you would feel to see my works praised by the reviewers, as equal to the proudest productions of the scribbling sons of John Bull. But authors are always poor devils, and therefore Satan may take them. I am in the same predicament as the honest gentleman in "Espriella's Letters,"--
"I am an Englishman, and naked I stand here,
A-musing in my mind what garment I shall wear."
But as the mail closes soon, I must stop the career of my pen. I will only inform you that I now write no poetry, or anything else. I hope that either Elizabeth or you will write to me next week.
Your affectionate son,
Do not show this letter.
BRUNSWICK, April 14, 1822.
MY DEAR SISTER, I received your letter of April 10, and also one which was dated the 20th of March. How it could have been so long on the road, I cannot conceive. I hope you will excuse my neglect in writing to mother and you so seldom; but still I believe there is but one letter due from me to you, as I wrote about the middle of March. My health during this term has been as good as usual, except that I am sometimes afflicted with the Sunday sickness; and as that happens to be the case to-day, I employ my time in writing to you. My occupations this term have been much the same as they were last, except that I have, in a great measure, discontinued the practice of playing cards. One of the students has been suspended, lately, for this offence, and two of our class have been fined. I narrowly escaped detection myself, and mean for the future to he more careful.
I believe our loss by the fire is or will be nearly made up. I sustained no damage by it, except having my coat torn; but it luckily happened to be my old one. The repairs on the building are begun, and will probably he finished by next Commencement. I suppose Uncle Robert has arrived at Raymond. I think I shall not want my pantaloons this term, the end of which is only three weeks from Wednesday. I look forward with great pleasure to the vacation, though it is so short that I shall scarcely have time to get home. A great part of the students intend to remain here.
I have some cash at present, but was much in want of it the first part of the term. I suppose you have heard that a letter containing money which Uncle Robert sent me some time ago, was lost. I have since received some by Joseph McKean. Excuse my bad writing.
Your affectionate brother,
You need not show this.
BRUNSWICK, May 4, 1823.
MY DEAR SISTER, I received your letter, and was very glad of it, for they are "like angel visits, few and far between." However, to say the truth, I believe I have not much right to complain of the dilatory nature of our correspondence.
I am happy to hear that Uncle Robert has arrived safe, and was pleased with his journey. I should have thought a longer stay would have been necessary to make observations sufficient for a reasonable book of travels, which I presume it is his intention to publish.
The bundle of books which you mention, I saw. with my own eyes, put into the desk where all orders for Sawin are deposited. As it was a stormy day, Sawin did not come himself, but sent a boy.
There is in the medical class a certain Dr. Ward, of Salem, where he intends to settle, after taking his degree of M.D., which will be given him this term. I shall give him a letter of introduction to you when be returns to Salem, which be intends in about a fortnight. He is the best scholar among the medicals, and I hope you will use your influence to get him into practice.
I am invited by several of the students to pass the vacation with them. I believe I shall go to Augusta, if mother and Uncle R. have no objections. The stage fare will be about five dollars, and I should like about ten dollars as spending money, as I am going to the house of an Honorable. As Mr. McKean is sick, I think the money had better be directed to me than to him. The term ends in a fortnight from Wednesday next.
I wish to receive instructions about my thin clothes, whether I am to get them made here or have them sent down to me. I have but one good pair of pantaloons, the others being in rather a dilapidated condition.
If I had time, I would tell you a mighty story, how some of the students hung Parson Mead in effigy, and how one of them was suspended. Mother need not be frightened, as I was not engaged in it. Give my love to all and sundry.
Your affectionate brother,
. . .I have been introduced to Gardiner Kellog. A few weeks ago, as I was entering the door of the college, somebody took hold of my cloak and said that "Kellog wished the honor of Mr. Hathorne's acquaintance." I looked round, and beheld a great, tall, awkward booby, frightened to death at his own boldness, and grinning horribly a ghastly smile. I saw his confusion, and with that condescending affability which is one among my many excellences, I took him by the hand, expressed my pleasure at the meeting, and inquired after his sister and friends. After he had replied to these queries as well as his proper sense of my superiority would admit, I desired to see him at my room as soon as convenient, and left him. This interesting interview took place before numerous spectators, who were assembled round the door of the college. He has since been at my room several times, and is very much pleased (how should it be otherwise?) with my company. I am, however, very much displeased with him for one thing. I bad comfortably composed myself to sleep on Saturday afternoon, when I was awakened by a tremendous knocking at the door, which continued about ten minutes. I made no answer, but swore internally the most horrible oaths. At last, the gentleman's knuckles being probably worn out, he retired; and upon looking out of the window, I discovered that my pestilent visitor was Mr. Kellog. I could not get asleep again that afternoon.
I made a very splendid appearance in the chapel last Friday evening, before a crowded audience. I would send you a printed list of the performances if it were not for the postage.
BRUNSWICK, Aug. 11, 1824.
MY DEAR LOUISA,--I have just received your letter, and you will no doubt wonder at my punctuality in answering it. The occasion of this miracle is, that I am in a terrible hurry to get home, and your assistance is necessary for that purpose. In the first place, I will offer a few reasons why it is expedient for me to return to Salem immediately, and then proceed to show you how your little self can be instrumental in effecting this purpose.
Firstly, I have no clothes in which I can make a decent appearance, as the weather in this part of the world is much too cold for me to wear my thin clothes often, and I shall therefore be compelled to stay at home from meeting all the rest of the term, and perhaps to lie in bed the whole of the time. In this case my fines would amount to an enormous sum.
Secondly, if I remain in Brunswick much longer, I shall spend all my money; for, though I am extremely prudent, I always feel uneasy when I have any cash in my pocket. I do not feel at all inclined to spend another vacation in Brunswick; but if I stay much longer, I shall inevitably be compelled to, for want of means to get home.
Thirdly, our senior examination is now over, and many of our class have gone home. The studies are now of little importance, and I could obtain leave of absence much easier than at any other time.
Fourthly, it is so long since I saw the land of my birth that I am almost dead of homesickness, and am apprehensive of serious injury to my health if I am not soon removed from this place.
Fifthly, the students have now but little to do, and mischief, you know, is the constant companion of idleness. The latter part of the term preceding Commencement is invariably spent in dissipation, and I am afraid that my stay here will have an ill effect upon my moral character, which would be a cause of great grief to mother and you.
I think that by the preceding arguments I bave clearly shown that it is very improper for me to remain longer in Brunswick; and we will now consider the means of my deliverance. In order to effect this, you must write me a letter, stating that mother is desirous for me to return home, and assigning some reason for it. The letter must be such a one as is proper to be read by the president, to whom it will be necessary to show it. You must write immediately upon the receipt of this, and I shall receive your letter on Monday; I shall start the next morning, and be in Salem on Wednesday. You can easily think of a good excuse. Almost any one will do. I beseech you not to neglect it; and if mother has any objections, your eloquence will easily persuade her to consent. I can get no good by remaining here, and earnestly desire to be at home.
If you are at a loss for an excuse, say that mother is out of health; or that Uncle R. is going a journey on account of his health, and wishes me to attend him; or that Elizabeth is on a visit at some distant place, and wishes me to come and bring her home or that George Archer has just arrived from sea, and is to sail again immediately, and wishes to see me before he goes; or that some of my relations are to die or be married, and my presence is necessary on the occasion. And lastly, if none of these excuses will suit you, and you can think of no other, write and order me to come home without any. If you do not, I shall certainly forge a letter, for I will be at home within a week. Write the very day that you receive this. If Elizabeth were at home, she would be at no loss for a good excuse. If you will do what I tell you, I shall be
Your affectionate brother,
My want of decent clothes will prevent my calling at Mrs. Sutton's. Write immediately, write immediately, write immediately.
Haste, haste, post-haste, ride and run, until these shall be delivered. You must and shall and will do as I desire. If you can think of a true excuse, send it; if not, any other will answer the same purpose. If I do not get a letter by Monday, or Tuesday at farthest, I will leave Brunswick without liberty.
BRUNSWICK, Nov. 26, 1824.
MY DEAR AUNT,--Elizabeth has informed me that you wish me to write to you, and as I am always ready to oblige, I shall endeavor to find materials for a letter. There is so little variety at college that you will not expect much news, or if you do, you will be disappointed. If my letter should happen to be very short, you will excuse it, as I attend to my studies so diligently that I have not much time to write.
A missionary society has lately been formed in college, under the auspices of a gentleman from Andover; but it does not meet with much encouragement: only twenty-two of the students have joined it, and most of them are supported by the Education Society, so that they have not much to give. I suppose you would be glad to hear that I am a member; but my regard to truth compels me to confess that I am not.
There is a considerable revival of religion in this town, and those adjoining, but unfortunately it has not yet extended to the college. The students have generally been very steady and regular this term, but religion is less regarded than could be desired. This is owing in part to the unpopularity of Mr. Mead, whom the students dislike so much that they will attend to none of his exhortations. I sincerely sympathize with Uncle Robert, and the family, in the pleasure they must feel at the approaching event. I wish that it were possible for me to be present in order that I might learn how to conduct myself when marriage shall be my fate. I console myself with the hope that you, at least, will not neglect to give me an invitation to your wedding, which I should not be surprised to hear announced. Elizabeth says that you are very deeply in love with Mr. Upham. Is the passion reciprocal?
The weather has lately been very cold, and there is now snow enough to make some sleighing. I keep excellent fires, and do not stir from them unless when it is absolutely necessary. I wish that I could be at home to Thanksgiving, as I really think that your puddings and pies and turkeys are superior to anybody's else. But the term does not close till about the first of January. I can think of nothing else that would be interesting to you, and as it is now nearly recitation time, I must conclude. I shall expect a letter from you very soon, otherwise I shall not write again.
Your affectionate nephew,
BRUNSWICK, April 21, 1825
MY DEAR SISTER,--I have been negligent about answering your letter, but you know my habits too well to be at all concerned at it. Nothing of any importance has taken place lately; my health has been very good, and I have neither been suspended nor expelled.
The term, I believe, will close about three weeks from the present time. I feel extremely anxious to see you all; and unless the government should compel me to stay in Brunswick during the vacation (of which there is little danger), I shall certainly return home. Mr. Leach was extremely anxious that I should accompany him on a visit to Raymond this spring; but I think I shall decline the honor.
I hope mother's health continues to improve, and that I shall find her as well as ever, when I return. You ought to give me a more particular account of yourselves and all that concerns you) as) though it might appear trifling to others, it would be interesting to me. I suppose Louisa has by this time returned from Newburyport, and gives herself the airs of a travelled lady.
I betook myself to scribbling poetry as soon as I heard of Lucy's album, and, after much labor, produced four lines, which I immediately burnt. I fear I shall he unable to write anything worthy of the immortality of such a record.
I have been thinking all the term of writing to Uncle William, according to his request, and shall expect a good scolding when I return, for neglecting it. I believe I promised to write to him, but promises are not always performed. He is so engaged in business, however, that he will never think of it.
I have scarcely any money, and wish to have fifteen dollars sent me in about a fortnight. I am not sure whether the term ends in three or in four weeks. If it is more than three, I will write after receiving the money. I have nothing more to write, excepting my respects to family and friends.
A boy's college life is often, in some respects, an epitome of his after life in the world. In the one place, as in the other, his character and tastes betray themselves; he selects the associates who are congenial to his nature, and finds his level among them. Nathaniel Hawthorne's academic career shows him to have been independent, self-contained, and disposed to follow his own humor and judgment, without undue reference to the desires or regulations of the college faculty. His friends were men who afterwards attained a more or less distinguished position in the world,--Franklin Pierce, Horatio Bridge, and Longfellow. He evinced no unnatural and feverish thirst for college honors, and never troubled himself to sit up all night studying, with a wet towel round his head and a cup of coffee at his elbow; but neither did he see fit to go to the other extreme. He assimilated the knowledge that he cared for with extreme ease, and took just enough of the rest to get along with; in this respect, as in most others, displaying a delectable maturity of judgment and imperturbable common-sense. He perceived that the value of college to a man--or, at any rate, to him--was not so much in the special things that were taught as in the general acquaintance it brought about with the various branches of learning; and still more, in the enlargement which it incidentally gives to one's understanding of foreign things and persons. At no time during his residence at Bowdoin did he have the reputation of being a recluse, or exclusive; it was his purpose and practice to he like his fellows, and (barring certain private and temperamental reservations) to do as they did. He steered equally clear of the Scylla of prigdom, and the Charybdis of recklessness; in a word, he had the mental and moral strength to be precisely his natural and unforced self. Within certain limits he was facile, easy-going, convivial; but beyond those limits he was no more to be moved than the Rock of Gibraltar or the North Pole. He played cards, had "wines" in his room, and went off fishing and sheoting with Bridge when the faculty thought he was at his books; but he maintained without effort his place in the recitation room, and never defrauded the college government of any duty which he thought they had a right to claim from him. His personal influence over his college friends was great; and he never abused it or employed it for unworthy ends.
He was the handsomest young man of his day, in that part of the world. Such is the report of those who knew him; and there is a miniature of him, taken some years later, which bears out the report. He was five feet ten and a half inches in height, broad-shouldered, but of a light, athletic bulld, not weighing more than one hundred and fifty pounds. His limbs were beautifully formed, and the moulding of his neck and throat was as fine as anything in antique sculpture. His hair, which bad 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 mustache until his fifty-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, in a letter written in 1876, 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 gypsy woman, meeting him suddenly in a woodland path, gazed at him and asked, "Are you a man or an angel?" His complexion was delicate and transparent, rather dark than light, with a ruddy tinge in the cheeks. The skin of his face was always very sensitive, and a cold raw wind caused him actual pain. His hands were large and muscular, the palm broad, with a full curve of the outer margin; the fingers smooth, but neither square nor pointed; the thumb long and powerful. His feet were slender and sinewy, and he had a long, elastic gait, accompanied by a certain sidewise swinging of the shoulders. He was a tireless walker, and of great bodily activity; up to the time he was forty years old, he could clear a height of five feet at a standing jump. His voice, which was low and deep in ordinary conversation, had astounding volume when he chose to give full vent to it; with such a voice, and such eyes and presence, he might have quelled a crew of mutinous privateersmen at least as effectively as Bold Daniel, his grandfather: it was not a bellow, but had the searching and electnfying quality of the blast of a trumpet.
During the ensuing summer Mr. Dike, his uncle by marriage, made him a visit at Brunswick, and saw fit, on his return to Salem, to give the young man's mother a somewhat eulogistic account of him. The young man, however, was displeased at being so reported. There was an indolence in his nature, such as, by the mercy of Providence, is not seldom found to mark the early years of those who have some great mission to perform in the world, and who, but for this protecting laziness, would set about the work prematurely, and so bring both it and themselves to ruin. Nathaniel Hawthorne hated to be told that he was going to be a distinguished man. For, in the first place, it was an invasion of his private freedom thus to hamper and mortgage his right to do as he pleased with himself; and, in the second place, he was secretly conscious that his ideal of ambition was altogether too lofty and refined an affair ever to attain that gross and palpable realization that is commonly the condition of public distinction. He imagined that his own commendation was the only thing worth his striving for; and it took a good many years of lonely and unrecognized labor to deliver him from that persuasion. But although this attitude which he assumed may have been open to the charge of selfishness and indolence, it was more dignified and respectable than that of the man who thirsts for popular applause, and grasps at it pell-mell, before he has gained experience enough to tell black from white. The former is selfish, because it is concerned solely with one's own benefit and enjoyment, apart from any benefit to mankind; and it is indolent, because it involves the necessity only of thinking fine things, and not also of giving them such visible or tangible form that others may see and know them. But the latter attitude is vulgar, because it finds pleasure less in achievement than in recognition. Hawthorne never knew how to be vulgar; and in due time he got the better both of his selfishness and his indolence. Meanwhile, however, he deemed it prudent to affirm that he would "never make a distinguished figure in the world," and that all he hoped or wished was "to plod along with the multitude." That is to say, he was reluctant to commit himself to anything. Nevertheless, here is what his sister writes of him:--
"It was while in college that he formed the design of becoming an author by profession. In a letter to me he says that he had 'made progress on my novel.' I have already told you that he wrote some tales to be called 'Seven Tales of my Native Land,' with the motto from Wordsworth, 'We are Seven.' I read them and liked them. I think they were better than 'Fanshawe.' Mr. Goodrich (Peter Parley) told him afterwards that he thought 'Fanshawe' would have brought him some profit if it had bad an enterprising publisher. These 'Seven Tales' he attempted to publish; but one publisher, after keeping them a long time, returned them with the acknowledgment that he had not read them. It was the summer of 1825 that he showed them to me. One was a tale of witchcraft,--'Alice Doane,' I believe it was called; and another was 'Susan Grey.' There was much more of his peculiar genius in them than in 'Fanshawe.' I recollect that he said, when he was still in hopes to publish them, that he would write a story which would make a smaller book, and get it published immediately if possible, before the arrangements for bringing out the Tales were completed. So he wrote 'Fanshawe' and published it at his own expense, paying $100 for that purpose. There were a few copies sold, and he gave me one; but afterwards he took possession of it, and no doubt burned it. We were enjoined to keep the authorship a profound secret, and of course we did, with one or two exceptions; for we were in those days almost absolutely obedient to him. I do not quite approve of either obedience or concealment. Your father kept his very existence a secret, as far as possible. When it became known to literary men that there was such a person, he had applications to write for annuals and periodicals, etc.; and that is the way, I suppose, that genius is made known to the world in these days. But even then he was not paid punctually, so that he had much to depress his spirits. His habits were as regular as possible. In the evening after tea he went out for about one hour, whatever the weather was; and in winter, after his return, be ate a pint bowl of thick chocolate (not cocoa, but the old-fashioned chocolate) crumbed full of bread: eating never hurt him then, and he liked good things. In summer he ate something equivalent, finishing with fruit in the season of it. In the evening we discussed political affairs, upon which we differed in opinion; he being a Democrat, and I of the opposite party. In reality, his interest in such things was so slight that I think nothing would have kept it alive but my contentious spirit. Sometimes, when he had a book that he particularly liked, he would not talk. He read a great many novels; he made an artistic study of them. There were many very good books of that kind that seem to be forgotten now."
And thus it was that he entered upon that long vigil in the "haunted chamber" of the family mansion in Herbert Street,--the antechamber of his fame. "Sometimes," he writes, in the often-quoted passage, it seemed as if I were already in the grave, with only life enough to be chilled and benumbed. But oftener I was happy,--at least, as happy as I then knew how to be, or was aware of the possibility of being." His melancholy, indeed, belonged rather to his imagination than to his realities; it was the melancholy of a mind conscious of power, but as yet doubtful whether that power could be so used or adjusted as to leave its mark upon mankind. His happiness was the result of good health, freedom from petty annoyances, and the author's inestimable privilege of artistic creation. There may be a revulsion of feeling about the creations, when they have achieved outward embodiment; but so long as the process of production is going on, there is pleasure of a very high and enviable sort.
From the letters belonging to this period, I will give the following, to his sister Louisa: --
SALEM, Nov. 4, 1831.
DEAR L.,--I send Susannah's Gibraltars. There were fourteen of them originally, but I doubt whether there will be quite a dozen when she gets them. Susannah knows well enough that she was the debtor, instead of the creditor, in this business; and if she has any sort of conscience she will send me back some sugar-plums.
I also send the bag of coins. I believe there is a silver threepence among them, which you must take out and bring home, as I cannot put myself to the trouble of looking for it at present. It was a gift to me from the loveliest lady in the land, and it would break my heart to part with it.
I don't understand the hint about the smelling-bottle. I have made all possible inqulries, but neither mother nor Elizabeth recollect to have seen such a thing. I never make use of a smelling-bottle myself, and of course would have no motive for keeping it. I will speak to the town-crier to-morrow.
Mrs. Ede's wedding-cake will be very acceptable, and I wish she had brought it with her when she went through town. I am afraid there is little prospect of my repaying her in kind; but when I join the Shakers, I will send her a great slice of rye-and-Indian bread.
P.S. You can't imagine how quiet and comfortable our house has been since you went away.
The paragraph about the silver threepence is worth marking.
Though the coin in question had been given to him by the loveliest lady in the land (whoever she may have been), and though it would have broken his heart to part with it, yet he would not be at the pains to put his hand into the bag to take it out, but devolved that labor upon his sister. This seems to show that the frenzy of amorous passion had not, at the age of twenty-seven, succeeded in making an absolute slave of him. Concerning these "loveliest ladies," his sister Elizabeth has the following remarks to make:--
"About the year 1833, your father, after a sojourn of two or three weeks at Swampscott, came home captivated, in his fanciful way, with a 'mermaid,' as he called her. He would not tell us her name, but said she was of the aristocracy of the village, the keeper of a little shop. She gave him a sugar heart, a pink one, which he kept a great while, and thcn (how boyish, but how like him!) he ate it. You will find her, I suspect, in 'The Village Uncle.' She is Susan. He said she had a great deal of what the French call espièlerie. At that time he had fancies like this whenever he went from home."
Susan remains Susan still, and nothing more, to all the world; but I should like to know how she was affected by the description of herself in "The Village Uncle." This is how she appeared when he first caught sight of her:--
"You stood on the little bridge, over the brook, that runs across King's beach into the sea. It was twilight; the waves rolling in, the wind sweeping by, the crimson clouds fading in the west, and the silver moon brightening above the hill; and on the bridge were you, fluttering in the breeze like a sea-bird that might skim away at your pleasure. You seemed a daughter of the viewless wind, a creature of the ocean foam and the crimson light, whose merry life was spent in dancing on the crests of the billows, that threw up their spray to support your footsteps. As I drew nearer, I fancied you akin to tha race of mermaids, and thought how pleasant it would be to dwell with you among the quiet coves, in the shadow of the cliffs, and to roam along secluded beaches of the purest sand, and when our northern shores grew bleak, to haunt the islands, green and lonely, far amid summer seas. And yet it gladdened me, after all this nonsense, to find you nothing but a pretty girl, sadly perplexed with the rude behavior of the wind about your petticoats."
And, upon a further acquaintance, he addresses her thus:--
"At a certain window near the centre of the village, appeared a pretty display of gingerbread men and horses, picture-books and ballads, small fish-hooks, pins, needles, sugar-plums, and brass thimbles,--articles on which the young fishermen used to expend their money from pure gallantry. What a picture was Susan behind the counter! A slender maiden, though the child of rugged parents, she had the slimmest of all waists, brown hair curling on her neck, and a complexion rather pale, except when the sea-breeze flushed it. A few freckles became beauty-spots beneath her eyelids. How was it, Susan, that you always talked and acted so carelessly, yet always for the best, doing whatever was right in your own eyes, and never once doing wrong in mine, nor shocked a taste that had been morbidly sensitive till now? And whence had you that happiest gift, of brightening every topic with an unsought gayety, quiet but irresistible, so that even gloomy spirits felt your sunshine, and did not shrink from it? Nature wrought the charm. She made you a frank, simple, kind-hearted, sensible, and mirthful girl. Obeying nature, you did free things without indelicacy, displayed a maiden's thoughts to every eye, and proved yourself as innocent as naked Eve."
Charming though all this declares her to have been, however, the mermaid was not destined to have any further effect on Hawthorne's destiny than to inspire him to write this delicately conceived and gracefully expressed sketch of her.