Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, Volume II
By Julian Hawthorne, 1884
The Beginning of the End
THE following winter was a wearisome one for Hawthorne, who was not fond of cold weather, and was not in the humor to warm himself by vigorous exercise in the open air. In the "Old Manse" days he had been in the habit of walking and skating,--according to his wife, he was a graceful skater,--and of sawing and splitting the wood for the family hearth. But now he devolved these offices on his son, and himself remained for the most part within-doors. He had begun to struggle with his new romance the previous autumn, and wrote the first study for "Septimius," which has never been published; though, as a study, it is more interesting than the second (published) version, and covers more paper. It did not satisfy him, and the failure increased his depression, by confirming the notion he had acquired that he was no longer up to the writing mark. In order to get the "Septimius" matter off his mind, however, he rewrote it rapidly to a conclusion, though the latter part of it at least was, I think, composed in a spirit of irony towards himself. "The whole thing is nonsense," he seems to say; "let us see what it looks like." He could not bring himself into sympathy with Septimius's infatuation, and yet he had not wished to write a commonplace satire. That a studious and intelligent young man, even a hundred years ago, should solemnly persuade himself that he could brew a drink that would confer immortal life, was found, upon examination, to he too improbable to be entertained. The young man must be a fool; and Hawthorne finally decides that he is a fool, and makes him appear so. The fault of the story was, that the idea had not been presented in the right way. The idea in itself was good: a spiritual moral was to be deduced from it; but it must not be deliberately and consciously evolved, by the chief actor in the drama. Moreover, the Bloody Footstep episode did not assimilate kindly with the Immortality part of the plot. The main interest should be concentrated upon the latter, and therefore the former became supererogatory; though this, too, would be available enough by itself.
In fact, he next began to consider whether it might not be advisable to make the Bloody Footstep the central thread of his English romance, and to postpone, for the present at any rater all reference to the theme of immortality. He had already, while in Florence, jotted down some notes for such a story, and he now proceeded to reinvestigate the matter. The first result was a partially complete sketch, in which the American portion of the tale is dismissed in a dozen pages or so, and the hero is brought to England and carried through his adventures there, ending with the discovery of the imprisoned ancestor in the secret chamber. In the manuscript as written the story continually breaks off, and the author plunges into a conversation with himself (as it were) upon this or that obstinate feature of the plot or characters; and, having arrived at a temporary and approximate solution thereof, goes on with the thread of the narrative, until another hitch occurs, which is again canvassed as before. By the time he got to the end, Hawthorne had perceived the expediency of introducing certain modifications into the plot, and in particular of giving more space and minuteness to the American scenes. He consequently turned back, and began the book again, importing new scenes and characters, and continuing until the hero is fairly landed in England, and has come into relations with the English personages of the tale. Here the revised first part overlaps the first, and connects itself with it, the last sentence of the former being identical with a corresponding one in the latter. In printing the story under the title of "Dr. Grimshawe's Secret," I ignored so much of the original as is covered by the revise, and omitted the intercalary studies, some parts of which were afterwards printed in a New York magazine. Of course, the author would have rewritten and remodelled the whole, before publishing it.
But he seems to have come to the conclusion to abandon the whole thing,--whether from lack of physical strength to carry it out to his satisfaction, or from distrust of the value of the story itself. By this time also he had got new light upon the other theme,--that of immortality. Instead of taking as his hero a youth who should brew the elixir of malice prepense, he would have an aged and simpleminded man, just on the brink of the grave, who, half inadvertently, should dose himself from time to time with a few drops of a certain mysterious cordial, which was among the legacies of a deceased predecessor. By this treatment he should gradually become younger; yet the change was to be so gradual that the reader, as well as the old gentleman himself; might be in doubt whether it were real or imaginary. By this means the technical difficulties and incongruities of the "Septimius" version would be avoided, or, at all events, so softened and moulded as not to interfere with the essential power and beauty of the conception. And it was upon these lines, accordingly, that "The Dolliver Romance" was begun; which, so far as it goes, is the most exquisite specimen of the mere charm of narration that ever came from Hawthorne's pen.
But I am anticipating a little. After giving up "Grimshawe," Hawthorne--not entirely to lose the labor of his English journalizing--composed from his Note-Books, from time to time, the series of essays on English subjects which were printed in the "Atlantic Monthly," and afterwards collected in a volume under the title of "Our Old Home." They were paid for at the rate (I believe) of two hundred dollars each in the magazine. Hawthorne himself took little interest in the completed work. It was, in one sense, the record of a failure,--a failure to use the material to better purpose. The book would probably have been different had it been intended, from the first, to write a book of that kind. The key, however, such as it is, having been once struck, is perfectly kept throughout, and no more beautiful example of English composition could well be produced: and yet the changes from the original version in the journals are apparently very slight. But they are just the right changes; and a certain magical translucence is given to the style that is inimitable and indescribable. The book--much to the distress and consternation of its publisher--was dedicated to Franklin Pierce. "I find," Hawthorne wrote,
"that it would be a piece of poltroonery in me to withdraw either the dedication or the dedicatory letter. . . . If Pierce is so exceedingly unpopular that his name is enough to sink the volume, there is so much the more need that an old friend should stand by him. I cannot, merely on account of pecuniary profit or literary reputation, go back from what I have deliberately felt and thought it right to do. . . . As for the literary public, it must accept my book precisely as I see fit to give it, or let it alone."
The volume was accepted very cordially, at least in this country, and Hawthorne expressed his pleasure at the appreciation, though remarking that he felt "rather gloomy" about the book himself. In England, as will be remembered, it aroused a good deal of what the English themselves called indignation. We should probably describe the feeling by another name. Here are two letters,--one from Fanny Aikin Kortright, whose nom de plume was Berkeley Aikin, the author of some very able novels; the other from Francis Bennoch. The latter's defence of English fruit is not, as might be supposed, a jest, but is made in all sadness and sincerity. I have myself heard highly educated and intelligent Englishmen express the same sentiments; and it is also a fact that they prefer--at any rate, they say that they prefer--their oysters to ours! If they really do so, it would seem almost too kind a dispensation of Providence.
DEAR MR. HAWTHORNE,--. . . I believe and am sure that "The Scarlet Letter" will endure as long as the language in which it is written; and should that language become dead, the wonderful work will be translated. Mr. S. C. Hall says I am to tell you that your works will live when marble crumbles into dust. I can well understand that even genius stands breathless in silence, watching events ; still, master, you must send us forth soma fresh enchantment ere-long, though you have done so much. Forgive my freedom, dear Mr. Hawthorne, and imagine me the reader you speak of in the preface to "Transformation." Forgive me also if I ask you a question. What is the event you refer to in that romance, which, you say, must be fresh in the memories of men as having happened some years before the work was written?. . . .
Alas, my dear Sir, what have you been doing to the English ladies? You might almost as well have sent circular letters to them asking their ages, as have reflected on their personal appearance! I have not seen your new book, but on every hand I hear, "Mr. Hawthorne has written such a book! He says the English ladies are all like--like--beef!" I cannot make out even from literary folks that you have said anything else; but this bovine matter will not easily be forgiven, to even so great a favorite as yourself. Oh, pray do write another romance to wipe out this crime! Let us have a new Donatello or something else very beautiful, such as you alone--I really believe--can produce; how much pleasanter it will be reading that than running to the looking-glass to see if one really is like--like--beef! . . . . I hope you will accept my best good-wishes for yourself and all yours, and believe me, despite the bovine question, as much as ever
Your very admiring and faithful
MY DEAR HAWTHORNE,--The "Atlantic" Magazine brings you prominently forward. If all your notes are calculated to cast such poetical halos round ordinary places as those you have wreathed round one old cottage in Blackheath Park, I fear the owners and neighbors will hardly know their own homes. It is of course to us a marvellous evidence of power. Had every incident been photographed, the descriptions could not have been more vivid. Let me, however, set you right on two points. You refer to some wretched fruit-trees fastened to a dingy wall, and wonder if anybody ever tasted good fruit in England. Now it so happens that the only fruit-trees so impaled were one or two morella cherries, not meant to be eaten until they have had a month's soaking in good brandy, and that cherry-brandy is tipple for the goddesses. We won't be put down as to the quality of our fruit, but challenge all creation. I should like to know whether all America could equal our straw-berries, cherries, grapes, Ribston pippins, pineapples, etc., etc.; and as for pears my teeth water when I think of them. A friend of mine who was in America last year declares on his honor that, with one or two exceptions, he never tasted throughout America an apple better than a crab-apple in England. They were so sour that he has never been able to look pleasant since.
"Kiss in the Ring," too, you misdescribe, and make what is really a very pretty game of forfeits when played with pretty people, to appear absolutely loathsome. The game is this: boys and girls alternately take hands and form a ring. A youth armed with a handkerchief paces round the ring and drops it at the feet of the girl he admires. He then slips under the festooned hands, escapes from the ring and runs, not to escape but to be overtaken; when, being caught, he gallantly conducts the damsel back into the centre of the ring, where, lifting his hat, he kisses the cheek of the fair one, takes the place where she had stood, completes the ring, and the beauty drops her handkerchief at the feet of some eager swain, and off she flies like a deer pursued by the swift-footed buck. At the first she runs rapidly, but, somehow, she always slackens her pace in time, and willingly becomes a captive; and so the game goes on. Here, too, you take the opportunity of having a fling at English beauty, contrasting it unfavorably with that fragile and most delicate fabric of American womanhood. This won't do! For either grace or loveliness, good bearing or refined gentleness, I'll back England's daughters against the world; unless it be our new princess, who is a very charming piece of humanity.
I have neither time nor inclination to talk politics, so I won't begin. I should only irritate you, although I must congratulate you on personally belonging to the rising and what must be the controlling party soon. When are we to have your new romance?
With all best wishes from me and mine to you and yours, I am
--In the spring of 1862 Hawthorne took a trip to Washington and to the outskirts of the seat of war, chiefly for the benefit of his health. The journey proved to be an agreeable one; and its literary result was an article, "Chiefly about War Matters," contributed to the "Atlantic Monthly." While in Washington he met Leutze, the artist and consented to sit to him for a portrait. I do not know what has become of this portrait; but it is said to have been successful. In the sitter's opinion, it would be "the best ever painted of the same unworthy subject." He was also photographed twice or thrice, with only indifferent results. "My hair is not really so white. . . The sun seems to take an infernal pleasure in making me venerable--as if I were as old as himself." He saw the President, and also General McClellan, whose aspect and bearing pleased him greatly; and he came into close enough contact with the Confederates to be conscious of a passing shadow of peril. Altogether, the experience was of some benefit to him. He sent the following letter to his daughter:--
WASHINGTON, Sunday, March 16, 1862.
DEAR UNA,--I have never a moment's time to write, for I move about all day, and am engaged all the evening; and if ever there is a vacant space, I want to employ it in writing my journal, which keeps terribly behindhand. But I suppose mamma and the rest of you sometimes remember there is such a person, and wish to know what I am about. I went up yesterday to Harper's Ferry (a distance of eighty miles from Washington) by invitation of the directors of a railroad; so that I made the whole journey without expense, and partook of two cold collations besides. To be sure, I paid my expenses with a speech; but it was a very short one. I shall not describe what I saw, because very likely I shall print it in the "Atlantic Monthly;" but I made acquaintance with some rebel prisoners, and liked them very much. It rained horribly all day, and the mud was such as nobody in New England can conceive of. I have shaken hands with Uncle Abe, and have seen various notabilities, and am infested by people who want to exhibit me as a lion. I have seen a camp, and am going in a few days to Manassas, if the mud of the Sacred Soil will permit. Tell mamma that the outcry opened against General McClellan, since the enemy's retreat from Manassas, is really terrible, and almost universal; because it is found that we might have taken their fortifications with perfect ease six months ago, they being defended chiefly by wooden guns. Unless he achieves something wonderful within a week, he will be removed from command, and perhaps shot,--at least I hope so; I never did more than half believe in him. By a message from the State Department, I have reason to think that there is money enough due me from the Government to pay the expenses of my journey. I think the public buildings are as fine if not finer than anything we saw in Europe. I am very well. I have no doubt that Julian well supplies my place as the head of the family. I hope the masquerade passed off to the satisfaction of all concerned. I send my love to everybody (within our own circle, I mean), and remain
Your dutiful father, N. H.
I forget the date of mamma's last letter; but two days have intervened since I received it. I shall set out on my return within a day or two after I have been to Manassas; but the weather is so uncertain, and the road so difficult, that I scarcely hope to go thither much before the end of this week. I have really so little time to write, that you may very probably see me again before hearing from me; but not, at soonest, till the early part of next week.
Thank Bab for her note. Neither you nor Julian can claim any thanks on that score; and as for mamma, her letters are beyond thanks,
--The article above mentioned was published in July, 1862. It was written with great frankness, insomuch that the editor of the magazine was somewhat apprehensive of the consequences; but Hawthorne would abate nothing of his utterances. He, however, ironically appended annotations to the more hazardous portions, purporting to be the horror-stricken comments of the editor upon the writer's want of patriotism. Intentionally absurd though these "comments" were, they seem to have possessed verisimilitude enough to deceive most readers; and I remember that one person, who felt the indignation which they pretended to express, declared, when apprised of their true authorship, "Then I have no respect for a man who runs with the hare, and hunts with the hounds!" But our sense of humor in New England was, at this period, not seldom exanimated by our insatiable political conscientiousness Another gentleman, whose letter is subjoined, takes an equally serious view in the opposite direction.
EDGEWOOD, NEW HAVEN, July 5, 1862.
MY DEAR SIR,--I am glad to see your mark in the "Atlantic;" but should be ready to swear--if I swore--at the marginal impertinences. Pray, is Governor Andrew editor ? A man's opinions can take no catholic or philosophic range nowadays, but they call out some shrewish accusation of disloyalty. It is to me one of the most humiliating things about our present national status, that no talk can be tolerated which is not narrowed to the humor of our tyrannic majority. I can recognize the enormity of basing a new nationality, in our day, upon slavery; but why should this blind me to all other enormities? I have no hope for the country, as a unit, in our generation; and I hope your personal relations (if you have any) with General Butler will excuse my saying that he is the best representative of barbarism in our epoch. It is quite in keeping that "Harpers' Journal of Civilization" should eulogize him.
I remain very truly yours,
DONALD G. MITCHELL.
NATH. HAWTHORNE, Esq.
--In the course of the article Hawthorne made an allusion to the recent action between the "Cumberland" and the "Merrimac," in which the former was sunk by the Confederate ironclad. Longfellow has immortalized the same incident in one of his most stirring lyrics, beginning,
"At anchor in Hampton Roads we lay,
On board of the 'Cumberland,' sloop-of-war."
The "Cumberland" was commanded by a gallant young officer, George U. Morris--
"'Strike your flag' the rebel cries,
In his arrogant, old-plantation strain;
'Never! our gallant Morris replies,--
'It is better to sink than to yield !'--
And the whole air pealed
With the cheers of our men."
Among the letters left by Hawthorne I found one from "our gallant Morris" himself; written in a round, schoolboy hand, but well worth reproducing here.
U.S. GUNBOAT "PORT ROYAL," APPALACHICOLA, FLA.,
March 20, 1863.
MR. N. HAWTHORNE,
DEAR SIR,--I received to-day from a friend the July, 1862, number of the "Atlantic Monthly." Please accept my heartfelt thanks for the flattering manner in which you mentioned my having performed my duty faithfully. As you almost predicted, the Government has not promoted me; though it did Worden; but you must remember he was successful, and without loss,--I unsuccessful, and with a very heavy loss. But, sir, even had I been "honored by Government and other authorities," I assure you it could not have caused me more pleasure than I felt when reading your remarks concerning the fight between the "Merrimac" and "Cumberland." It was a proud and high honor to receive for having tried to sustain unspotted the honor of our Flag, which my father had so well sustained before me. Believe me
Respectfully and gratefully yours,
GEORGE U. MORRIS,
Lieut. Com'g U.S. N.
--Hawthorne returned to Concord about the end of March, 1862, but did little literary work besides finishing his article, and writing a short narrative for the "Weal Reaf;"--a small sheet published at a fair at the Essex Institute, in aid of some patriotic purpose. It described a boyish reminiscence of a legend connected with an old house in the neighborhood, called "Browne's Folly." In sending the narrative to his sister, he wrote:--
DEAR ELIZABETH,--It seemed to me most convenient to write this article in the form of a letter, and it may be pub]ished just as it stands. I wish you to correct the proof-sheets, and to be very careful about it. The Essex Institute certainly ought to be grateful to me, for I could get $100 for such an article.
--In the following July he made another excursion to the seaside with his son, this time to West Gouldsboro', Maine, on the mainland opposite Mt. Desert. The journey thither was made by boat, rail, stage, turn and turn about, and made an impression of adventure upon the younger of the two traveIers; from whose journal I will make a few extracts:--
"Our boat was to start at seven in the evening; and after eating some ice-cream in a restaurant, we drove down to the wharf. The boat is described as 'The New and Splendid Steamship, Eastern Queen;' but it could not have been new less than twenty years ago, and all the splendor consisted in a gandily painted paddle-box. We were already hungry when we got on board, but were then informed, to our surprise and consternation, that nothing to eat was ever provided on these steamers. It was a long time before we could get a stateroom, and then it was only six feet square, with no window to let in the air. We turned in supperless. During the night there was a big thunderstorm, and the waves were pretty high. Next morning there was a thick fog, but it gradually cleared away, and showed the rocky banks of the river.
"At last we stopped at a small place called Bath, and papa said he would go on shore and get something to eat. I went with him, and we had just drunk a glass of cider, and were bargaining for half a dozen biscuits, when there was an alarm of the boat starting. We ran back just in time to get on board by a desperate leap. Continuing on up the river, with occasional short stoppages, we finally reached our destination, Hallowell, and immediately boarded an old stagecoach, with 'Hallowell House' written on it. The town was in great commotion at the departure of its volunteers, who were just going off in the train. It was then about eleven: our train was to start at four. The most interesting thing we did in Hallowell was to eat our dinner, which consisted chiefly of thin soup and a very tough beefsteak. When the train came, it was so crowded that we could hardly find seats; and tired as we were already, we had a three-hours' hot ride before us. The road lay through tangled pine-woods, and clearings covered with the stumps of trees, and over bridges with rocky streams tumbling underneath, and then into another wild wood, and so on. It was dusk when we reached Bangor. We got into an old stage, and drove to the 'Penobscot Exchange.'
"This morning we took a walk round the town. It is large, with well-built brick houses and broad streets. There are a great many churches, and stables, and stove-shops, and a great dearth of bookstores for so large a town. Enlisting is going on here very fast; crowds of men are collected all about, talking it over.
"We left Bangor at night by stage-coach, and drove all night over rough roads, up hill and down, for thirty miles. Papa rode inside, and I outside. There were more than twenty passengers on board, and a great deal of luggage. I sat on the box with the driver, and a returned invalid soldier from the Peninsula, who drank out of a bottle, and sang songs, and told stories, all the way. The driver, on being offered whiskey, refused, saying, 'I never drank a drop in my life,--no, sir! nary!' There was beautiful moonlight, but it was very cold. We drove among high hills, with now and then a lake between them, reflecting the moon. Most of the hills were covered with loose boulders of rock. We had four horses. The men here are fine fellows, better than our Massachusetts folk; they are mostly six-footers or seven-footers. Mr. Sanborn would be thought nothing of here.
"We have just met Mr. George Bradford, who says West Gouldsboro' is a delightful place, with beautiful scenery, entire seclusion, plenty of fishing, and a boat to row. Papa enjoys the prospect very much. The only drawback is, that it is rather rainy.
". . . .We are living in a small farm-house close by the beach. Our landlord, Mr. Hill, is tall and broad-shouldered, with a high head, aquiline nose, and large chin. He is over sixty, but looks strong and hearty. At such an age a man's head is generally partly bald; but though his hair is perfectly white, it covers his head all over, and is cropped short. When in doubt or perplexity, he scratches it. He is sensible on politics, and is not (like his daughter) an abolitionist, but can hear and understand two sides of a thing. He eats with his knife; but so does everybody here. He blows his nose every day at dinner, once, and very hard. When one answers a question of his, he always says, 'Oh, yes!' as if he was reminded of something he had forgotten. His daughter does the same. She is about thirty, very deaf; square and broad-shouldered, with a strong-minded sort of face. When she is talking, she keeps her hand to her right ear, to catch the answer. She says she has an ear-trumpet, but she does not use it. Every evening papa has political discussions with Mr. Hill and Miss Charlotte. He addresses himself chiefly to Mr. Hill, but since the daughter is always sitting by, papa has to talk loud so that she may hear; but the old man is not deaf, and does not need to be shouted at. Altogether it is rather awkward."
Hawthorne himself made some brief entries in the journal. Speaking of the volunteers, he says:
"The bounties offered by the General and State Governments, and largely increased by the towns, make a very strong inducement to young men who have never seen, or would be likely to see, so much money together as is now within their reach, --between two and three hundred dollars in some cases; and no doubt Yankee thrift combines with love of adventure and love of country, to urge them on. It is remarkable how many stalwart men cannot pass the medical examination, on account of some unsuspected and unapparent defect. One third, at least, seem to fall within this class.
"The people of Maine, I think, are very much ruder of aspect than those of Massachusetts, but quite as intelligent, and as comprehensive of the affairs of the time. Indeed, intelligence might well be more general than with us, because high and low sit down together in bar-rooms, and intermix freely in talk. At one hotel in Ellsworth there was a Colonel Burnham, home on furlough from the Army of the Potomac,--quite a distinguished officer, I believe, and in my judgment a very reliable man, fit to lead men in perils and difficulties. He is a middle-aged man, or little more; a dark, intelligent, rather kindly-looking man, with black hair curling on his head, and a black beard and mustache, and wearing a black national wide-awake,--giving him an air something between a soldier and a bandit,--his shoulder-straps having two stars on them, in token of his rank. He was smoking a German pipe, and talked in a quick, good-humored, familiar way about his adventures, answering the questions of all and sundry familiarly, not repelling the humblest, but yet with a kind of natural dignity that would not be presumed upon. He had been in all McClellan's six days' battles, and in how many more I know not; and without volunteering any account of his perils and achievements, was quite willing to talk of them, in an unaffected way, when asked. He had been in the lumber business, and had doubtless met with adventures, and been thrown into positions, as a captain of logging men, that gave him some experience such as a military man might need; at least, he had led a hardy life, and so was not to be abashed by the roughness of war. Another officer, an elderly man, who had likewise Leen with the Army of the Potomac, came to see him, and eke out his camp and battle reminiscences; and there was a young lieutenant from Port Royal, a handsome youth, who had returned in very ill health, but now seemed in a hopeful state of convalescence. There were likewise in the group some of the notables of the town: the lawyer, probably, and the editor of the village newspaper; and besides these, some private soldiers of the Colonel's own and other regiments. These latter made him the proper military salute; after which he conversed affably with them, and one or two of them hesitated not to put in their remarks among those of the other interlocutors, the Colonel not shunning their familiarities, yet neither he nor they forgetting their relative positions. It was curious to see how all parties could so freely dispense with ceremony and formalities, and yet not transgress any nice respect that ought to be observed. There was no condescension on the Colonel's part, nor aspiration on the other side, and yet they met in a very natural and agreeable way. By and by the Colonel (who was quite the lion of the day) drove off with a friend in a one-horse wagon, and the company (after discussing him for a while, with a laudatory summing-up, and somebody remarking that the Colonel was making more money now than in the lumber business) dispersed."
--This is an American Van Ostade, painted with the careless ease of a master.
We lived at Mr. Hill's in peace and plenty for two weeks or more. We went out rowing every day in the boat, and fished for flounders in the bay, and landed on the islands, and went in swimming. There was a society of young girls and fellows in the neighborhood, and one day we went on a picnic with them,--about twenty of us, and cooked a chowder on the beach, which we ate with clam-shell spoons; and afterwards danced in a barn, while Miss Charlotte played on the fiddle. Every day we took walks through the pastures and along the coast, eating great quantities of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and gooseberries, and pelting each other with green elderberries on the way home. Sometimes we would sit for hours beneath the shadow of a rock, with a lovely scene spread out before us, while Hawthorne smoked a cigar, and his son wished he might do likewise. At length Hawthorne wrote home that "it will be impossible for us to stay longer than till a week from to-morrow, because Julian's breeches are in such terrible disrepair, what with bushes, briers, swamps, rocks, beach, mud, sea-water, and various hard usage and mischances. Neither could I keep myself decent a great many days longer. I struggle hard to prevent him from spoiling his light trousers, because if he spoils them, he will inevitably be compelled to stay in bed all summer." So we bade farewell to our host and hostess about the 1st of September, and got back to Concord two days later. We hoped to go back again next year; but this was the last excursion we ever were to make together.
During the autumn there was a good deal of social gayety in Concord, in spite of the war, and although several of our schoolboys had enlisted and gone to the front; we had one or two little parties at our own house; and several times Mr. Alcott's daughters came over to play cards. The "Nonsense Verses" were coming into vogue at this epoch, and everybody was trying his own hand at producing them; and Hawthorne once took a piece of paper and scratched off the following bit of doggerel, which I am sure the revered subject of it will not object to see in print:
"There dwelt a Sage at Apple-Slump,
Whose dinner never made him plump;
Give him carrots, potatoes, squash, parsnips, and peas,
And some boiled macaroni, without any cheese,
And a plate of raw apples, to hold on his knees,
And a glass of sweet cider, to wash down all these,--
And he 'd prate of the Spirit as long as you 'd please,--
This airy Sage of Apple-Slump!"
Another ballad, on another subject, ran as follows:--
"There was an old Boy, with a new coat and breeches,
Who jumped over fences, and tumbled in ditches,
While the mud and the mire
Spattered higher and higher,
Till be went to the fire,
And, as he grew drier,
Burnt great holes in his new coat and breeches!"
And here is still another:--
"There was an Old Lady of Guessme
Whose talking did greatly distress me;
She talked of the nigger,
And still she grew bigger,
This tiresome Old Lady of Guessme!"
The winter had always been Hawthorne's best time for work; and after completing his volume of English sketches, he applied himself to the "Dolliver Romance." Contrary to his usual custom, he permitted his publisher to begin the serial issue of the story in a magazine, but he never expected to furnish the monthly instalments regularly; and it was against his better judgment that any of it saw the light until the whole was finished. It was hoped, however, that when he had once made a beginning, he would be stimulated to continue. But, "there is something preternatural," he writes,
"in my reluctance to begin. I linger at the threshold, and have a perception of very disagreeable phantoms to be encountered if I enter. . . . I don't see much probability of my having the first chapter of the Romance ready as soon as you want it. There are two or three chapters ready to be written, but I am not robust enough to begin, and I feel as if I should never carry it through." And again: "I am not quite up to writing yet, but shall make an effort as soon as I see any hope of success. You ought to be thankful that (like most other broken-down authors) I do not pester you with decrepit pages, and insist upon your accepting them as full of the old spirit and vigor. That trouble, perhaps, still awaits you, after I shall have reached a further stage of decay. Seriously, my mind has, for the present, lost its temper and its fine edge, and I have an instinct that I had better keep quiet. Perhaps I shall have a new spirit of vigor, if I wait quietly for it; perhaps not."
His untoward condition was made worse by the illness of his daughter Una, caused chiefly by the after effects of the quinine she had taken in Rome. The least mischance to Una wrung her father's heart; and it seemed, for a time, as if her ailment might turn out very seriously. Her aunt, Miss Elizabeth Hawthorne, who was also extremely fond of her, wrote inviting her to visit Beverly, near Salem, for change of air and scene, and Una went. In the course of her letter Miss Hawthorne says in reference to "Our Old Home:"--
"I do not, as you suppose I do, like to see the English abused; but your papa is never abusive, only appreciative, which I think nobody ever was before, and only an American ever can be; for the mind of a cultivated American must necessarily be fed upon the best that other nations can supply, and so is likely to share in the qualities of all, --sufficiently, at least, to discover their real nature. As for the English, there were no eyes, at least no earthly eyes, to survey them before they came under your papa's observation; and as for any supervision from on high, they seem to live in the most heathenish unconsciousness of it, and, indeed, of the existence of anything above themselves. Their supreme praise is, that a thing is English; and their censure, when bestowed upon any person of another nation is, that an Englishman would not have done or said so and so. There is no right and wrong,--only English and un-English. What time is to develop in them, of course, cannot be foretold; hut if they were to perish now, to be turned into stone, for instance, becoming motionless in whatever movement was in progress, would they not save their life by losing it? And should you not revisit England with more interest than you could feel to see them in their present transition state? There are symptoms of weakness apparent in their condition which I am half sorry for. Lord Palmerston is always assuring the public that 'the most perfect concord subsists between the cabinets of France and England,' that 'no steps will be taken without the concurrence of France;' and now the 'London Times' asserts that when the Emperor has conquered Mexico he will oblige the Americans to make peace! A threat ominous of evil to England, who thus lets "'I dare not" wait upon "I would,"' and relies upon France for what is beyond her own power, though within her desires."
--This secluded old lady was always observant of politics, and her opinions are often both shrewd and profound, and are expressed in a very entertaining manner.
While Una was at Beverly, her mother wrote to her as follows:--
CONCORD, Dec. 11, 1862.
MY DEAREST UNA,--Great events seem thickening here. Louisa Alcott has had her summons to the Washington Hospitals; and Abby came to ask me about some indelible ink she had, and I offered to do anything I could for Louisa. She said if I could mark her clothes it would assist very much. So I went over, in the divine afternoon, and marked till dusk, and finished all she had. Mrs. Alcott says she shall feel helpless without Louisa, and Mr. Alcott says he sends his only son. Louisa is determined to make the soldiers jolly, and takes all of Dickens that she has, and games. At supper-time Julian came in with the portentous news that the battle has at last begun, and Fredericksburg is on fire from our guns. So Louisa goes into the very mouth of the war. Now, to-day, is the Bible Fair. I carried to Mrs. Alcott early this morning some maizena blancmange which Ann made for papa, and turned out of the sheaf-mould very nicely. A letter has been received from Sergeant-Major How, who reported dirty, ill-ordered barracks, drunken hotels, and general discomfort. He is at Long Island, and may stay five or six weeks there.
Papa has not a good appetite, and eats no dinners except a little potato. But he is trying to write, and locks himself into the library and pulls down the blinds.
General Hitchcock has sent me a catalogue of his Hermetic Library. Good-night.
Your most affectionate MAMMA.
--The visit to Beverly was of decided benefit to Una and after her return home her aunt wrote her frequent letters, full of sense and dry humor. I append a few extracts:
". . .Concord seems a good place for you, but it must be dull for your father, who as far as I could observe, has no society at all out of his own family. But there is pleasure now in reading the newspapers. I heard a man say yesterday that our people are doing 'a handsome piece of business.' It is said that every eighth man in Marblehead is in either the army or the navy. And I have heard that it was the Salem Zouaves who charged upon the redoubtable Obadiah Jennings Wise and his followers, and put them to flight. I suppose Mrs. Dike will send me the Salem papers containing the achievements of the regiment from Essex County, and I mean to send them to your papa.
"I am glad you were all well when you wrote, 'including the cats,' whom I always like to hear from. Palmetto, the Secessionist, has become an exemplary Union animal. She is as fierce as ever, and scratches me to show how she would treat any rebel she could get at. I only wish we had an army actuated by her spirit . . . I congratulate you upon the pleasure you must have felt in hearing your papa read Scott's novels. I have read the 'Gray Champion' lately with renewed delight. I wish he would write something in the same spirit now, for the 'Atlantic Monthly. It is certainly time for the 'Gray Champion' to walk once more. Ask him to think of it. I am glad Julian is no older than he is, otherwise I should expect to hear he was gone to the wars. I am very sorry that your papa has not been well. I wish you were not settled at Concord. The air of the place is not invigorating. People born near the sea require its breezes. . . .
"There is a Secession lady here, who has two daughters married to South Carolina planters. She knows Mr. Yancey and other leading men, and admires Yancey excessively. I am quite in luck, for I have longed to see a Secessionist.
"I agree with your mamma as to who upholds the 'Atlantic,' which was certainly dull before your papa contributed to it, and I wish he would publish something more from his Euglish journal. Is he aware that he has 'earned the undying enmity of all Englishmen, by his remarks upon Englishwomen'? I never doubted that the English were as sensitive as other people, if you could only hit them in the right place. But it may be some compensation to know that the Emperor of Brazil is a warm admirer of both his writings and his photograph,--having been made acquainted with both by some Baptist minister, and singling out your papa's likeness, of his own accord, from a book full of portraits of eminent men. I wish your papa would read, or at least look at, Napier's 'History of tlie Peninsular War.' I have read it with much satisfaction, finding that other nations blunder, when they are in difficulties, as badly as we do; and that the British Government (according to Napier) did nothing but blunder. Do not forget to speak about the 'Gray Champion.' I should like to know whether it seems so wonderful a thing to you as it does to me. It should be read at war-meetings. Men would enlist after hearing it. It would be well to have it printed in the form of a tract, and distributed to the soldiers. I know of nothing written in America so effective."
--There was no improvement in Hawthorne's condition during the spring and summer of 1863. He seemed to have no definite disease, but he grew thinner, paler, and more languid day by day; he sat indoors most of the time, or, when he went out, would walk slowly and feebly, or stand gazing across the fields, with his hands in the side-pockets of his coat,--a wistful, grave look. Early in the summer he had an attack of nose-bleeding, which lasted without intermission for more than twenty-four hours; and though he joked about it, and took it lightly, he was distinctly feebler from that time, and his death occurred within the twelvemonth. He no longer, indeed, seemed to find any sufficient interest in life; and he had always dreaded surviving his own ability to take care of himself; and thus becoming (as he supposed) a burden upon others. The breaking-down of his romance was another weight upon his shoulders. It was at this period, I think, that his friend Richard Henry Stoddard sent him a poem, "The King's Bell," embodying a profound and sombre moral. Hawthorne, in acknowledging the receipt of the poem, gives a glimpse of his state of mind. "I sincerely thank you for your beautiful poem," he says, "which I have read with a great deal of pleasure. It is such as the public have a right to expect, from what you have given us in years gone by; only I wish the idea had not been so sad. I think Felix might have rung the bell once in his lifetime, and once again at the moment of death. Yet you may be right. I have been a happy man, and yet I do not remember any one moment of such happy conspiring circumstances that I could have rung a joy-bell at it." Hawthorne had a high regard for Stoddard, both as an author and as a man, and would have been glad had circumstances enabled him to see and know more of him.
Hawthorne's son was to undergo the autumn examinations for admission to the class of '67 this year; and his father felt more interest in the matter than he, at the time, permitted to appear. He was not ambitious of high rank in scholarship for the boy,--and this was well, for the boy was never out of arm's reach of the bottom of the class,--but he ascribed great importance to the general and incidental instruction that college life brings, and to its social aspects. When Julian left home to meet his trial at Cambridge, his father shook hands with him, and said, smiling, "Mind you get in; but I don't expect you will!" The saving clause was, of course, to soften my own mortification in the event of failure. Happily, I succeeded after a fashion; but only afterwards learned that he would have been much cast down had my fate been different. I remember the happy expression with which he greeted the new-fledged collegian's return home.
In September Hawthorne made a short visit to the seaside with Una; and I find a letter to the latter from her mother:--
SEPTEMBER 10, 1863.
MY DARLING UNA,--. . . I hoped to hear about papa's visit to Rockport, and "all sorts," as dear Mrs. Browning used to say. But I know it is very difficult to write when a guest. When I was writing in that gay sort of way, yesterday, I was very ill myself; and determined you should not know it. I bad a most terrific cold, and coughed my very worst, so that I thought all my blood-vessels would literally burst. I was really alarmed. I even coughed all night, which generally I do not. Oh, I was so thankful that Papa could not hear me I was all praise just for that. When Rose had gone to school, I coughed in real peace, because nobody was hurt. Yesterday morning I lamented over the rain for you, but by driving-time it was all clear and lovely, much to my joy. Last evening Aunt E. P. P. and Miss Eliza Clapp came. You know that I like Miss Clapp very much indeed, and I was therefore glad to see her. Aunt Lizzie looked infinitely delightful, just like a mighty Peace and Union. Rose looked angelic in white muslin, with low neck and short sleeves, and blue sash, and blue bows on her shoulders. She had a sort of pearl~and-rose look that was exquisite. Miss Clapp talked very enchantingly, and I consider her a rare and remarkable person.
--During the winter Hawthorne's state became, for the first time, somewhat alarming. A chief difficulty about him was, that he was extremely reluctant to be thought ill, and to receive the care which illness requires. He wished to do everything for himself. Mrs. Hawthorne, of course, was his nurse, and her tact and discretion achieved what nothing else could have accomplished ; she contrived, too, to maintain her cheerfulness in his presence, but her heart was full. In her letters to her daughter, also, she assumes a hopeful tone, in order that Una might not be deprived of the pleasure of her holidays by home anxieties; but the anguish cannot be entirely hidden. I will close the present chapter with two extracts referring to this period:--
CONCORD, Dec. 17, 1863.
MY DEAREST UNA,--I have a moment to write before Rose goes to the mail. Papa grew better towards last evening, so that he read in one of his huge books of the English State Trials. He had been lying down on the couch and sitting up alternately all day; and at noon he wrapped up and walked out for ten minutes. He slept quietly all night, and went up to bathe feeling quite well. When he came down, after a long time, he looked very ill, and said he had felt very sick in the too hot room; and, as far as I could understand. he had been faint. He is better now, and asleep on the couch. Rose is admirable. . . . My darling, I meant to write you a long letter, but no time is left. I love you with an infinite love, Enjoy yourself heartily; we are doing well here.
Your most loving MAMMA.
I am perfectly well.
DEAREST UNA,--Papa is comfortable to-day, but very thin and pale and weak. I give him oysters now. Hitherto he has had only toasted crackers and lamb and beef tea. I am very impatient that he should see Dr. Vandersende, but he wants to go to him himself; and he cannot go till it be good weather. How forever I shall bless the old German doctor if he can give papa again the zest of life he used to have! It is long since he had it,-- four or five years, I think. I am amazed that such a fortress as his digestion should give way. But his brain has been battering it for a long time,--his brain and his heart. The splendor and pride of strength in him have succumbed; hut they can be restored, I am sure. Meantime he is very nervous and delicate; he cannot bear anything, and he must he handled like the airiest Venetian glass. . . . The earth is gorgeous now with diamonds. Every twig and blade are incrusted with crystal, and the sun makes a glory that must be seen to be known. But our trees are sadly broken by such a weight of icy splendor. I love you with a mighty love, my darling.
Your own MAMMA.