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    Ch. 5 - The Three American Novels

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    Chapter 5
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    The prospect of official station and emolument which Hawthorne
    mentions in one of those paragraphs from his Journals which I have
    just quoted, as having offered itself and then passed away, was at
    last, in the event, confirmed by his receiving from the administration
    of President Polk the gift of a place in the Custom-house of his
    native town. The office was a modest one, and "official station" may
    perhaps appear a magniloquent formula for the functions sketched in
    the admirable Introduction to The _Scarlet Letter_. Hawthorne's duties
    were those of Surveyor of the port of Salem, and they had a salary
    attached, which was the important part; as his biographer tells us
    that he had received almost nothing for the contributions to the
    _Democratic Review_. He bade farewell to his ex-parsonage and went
    back to Salem in 1846, and the immediate effect of his ameliorated
    fortune was to make him stop writing. None of his Journals of the
    period from his going to Salem to 1850 have been published; from which
    I infer that he even ceased to journalise. _The Scarlet Letter_ was
    not written till 1849. In the delightful prologue to that work,
    entitled _The Custom-house_, he embodies some of the impressions
    gathered during these years of comparative leisure (I say of leisure
    because he does not intimate in this sketch of his occupations that
    his duties were onerous). He intimates, however, that they were not
    interesting, and that it was a very good thing for him, mentally and
    morally, when his term of service expired--or rather when he was
    removed from office by the operation of that wonderful "rotatory"
    system which his countrymen had invented for the administration of
    their affairs. This sketch of the Custom-house is, as simple writing,
    one of the most perfect of Hawthorne's compositions, and one of the
    most gracefully and humorously autobiographic. It would be interesting
    to examine it in detail, but I prefer to use my space for making some
    remarks upon the work which was the ultimate result of this period of
    Hawthorne's residence in his native town; and I shall, for
    convenience' sake, say directly afterwards what I have to say about
    the two companions of _The Scarlet Letter_--_The House of the Seven
    Gables_ and _The Blithedale Romance_. I quoted some passages from the
    prologue to the first of these novels in the early pages of this
    essay. There is another passage, however, which bears particularly
    upon this phase of Hawthorne's career, and which is so happily
    expressed as to make it a pleasure to transcribe it--the passage in
    which he says that "for myself, during the whole of my Custom-house
    experience, moonlight and sunshine, and the glow of the fire-light,
    were just alike in my regard, and neither of them was of one whit more
    avail than the twinkle of a tallow candle. An entire class of
    susceptibilities, and a gift connected with them--of no great richness
    or value, but the best I had--was gone from me." He goes on to say
    that he believes that he might have done something if he could have
    made up his mind to convert the very substance of the commonplace that
    surrounded him into matter of literature.

    "I might, for instance, have contented myself with writing
    out the narratives of a veteran shipmaster, one of the
    inspectors, whom I should be most ungrateful not to mention;
    since scarcely a day passed that he did not stir me to
    laughter and admiration by his marvellous gift as a
    story-teller.... Or I might readily have found a more
    serious task. It was a folly, with the materiality of this
    daily life pressing so intrusively upon me, to attempt to
    fling myself back into another age; or to insist on creating
    a semblance of a world out of airy matter.... The wiser
    effort would have been, to diffuse thought and imagination
    through the opaque substance of to-day, and thus make it a
    bright transparency ... to seek resolutely the true and
    indestructible value that lay hidden in the petty and
    wearisome incidents and ordinary characters with which I was
    now conversant. The fault was mine. The page of life that
    was spread out before me was dull and commonplace, only
    because I had not fathomed its deeper import. A better book
    than I shall ever write was there.... These perceptions came
    too late.... I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably poor
    tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Surveyor
    of the Customs. That was all. But, nevertheless, it is
    anything but agreeable to be haunted by a suspicion that
    one's intellect is dwindling away, or exhaling, without your
    consciousness, like ether out of phial; so that at every
    glance you find a smaller and less volatile residuum."

    As, however, it was with what was left of his intellect after three
    years' evaporation, that Hawthorne wrote _The Scarlet Letter_, there
    is little reason to complain of the injury he suffered in his
    Surveyorship.

    His publisher, Mr. Fields, in a volume entitled _Yesterdays with
    Authors_, has related the circumstances in which Hawthorne's
    masterpiece came into the world. "In the winter of 1849, after he had
    been ejected from the Custom-house, I went down to Salem to see him
    and inquire after his health, for we heard he had been suffering from
    illness. He was then living in a modest wooden house.... I found him
    alone in a chamber over the sitting-room of the dwelling, and as the
    day was cold he was hovering near a stove. We fell into talk about his
    future prospects, and he was, as I feared I should find him, in a very
    desponding mood." His visitor urged him to bethink himself of
    publishing something, and Hawthorne replied by calling his attention
    to the small popularity his published productions had yet acquired,
    and declaring that he had done nothing and had no spirit for doing
    anything. The narrator of the incident urged upon him the necessity of
    a more hopeful view of his situation, and proceeded to take leave. He
    had not reached the street, however, when Hawthorne hurried to
    overtake him, and, placing a roll of MS. in his hand, bade him take it
    to Boston, read it, and pronounce upon it. "It is either very good or
    very bad," said the author; "I don't know which." "On my way back to
    Boston," says Mr. Fields, "I read the germ of _The Scarlet Letter_;
    before I slept that night I wrote him a note all aglow with admiration
    of the marvellous story he had put into my hands, and told him that I
    would come again to Salem the next day and arrange for its
    publication. I went on in such an amazing state of excitement, when we
    met again in the little house, that he would not believe I was really
    in earnest. He seemed to think I was beside myself, and laughed sadly
    at my enthusiasm." Hawthorne, however, went on with the book and
    finished it, but it appeared only a year later. His biographer quotes
    a passage from a letter which he wrote in February, 1850, to his
    friend Horatio Bridge. "I finished my book only yesterday; one end
    being in the press at Boston, while the other was in my head here at
    Salem, so that, as you see, my story is at least fourteen miles
    long.... My book, the publisher tells me, will not be out before
    April. He speaks of it in tremendous terms of approbation, so does
    Mrs. Hawthorne, to whom I read the conclusion last night. It broke her
    heart, and sent her to bed with a grievous headache--which I look
    upon, as a triumphant success. Judging from the effect upon her and
    the publisher, I may calculate on what bowlers call a ten-strike. But
    I don't make any such calculation." And Mr. Lathrop calls attention,
    in regard to this passage, to an allusion in the English Note-Books
    (September 14, 1855). "Speaking of Thackeray, I cannot but wonder at
    his coolness in respect to his own pathos, and compare it to my
    emotions when I read the last scene of _The Scarlet Letter_ to my
    wife, just after writing it--tried to read it rather, for my voice
    swelled and heaved as if I were tossed up and down on an ocean as it
    subsides after a storm. But I was in a very nervous state then, having
    gone through a great diversity of emotion while writing it, for many
    months."

    The work has the tone of the circumstances in which it was produced.
    If Hawthorne was in a sombre mood, and if his future was painfully
    vague, _The Scarlet Letter_ contains little enough of gaiety or of
    hopefulness. It is densely dark, with a single spot of vivid colour in
    it; and it will probably long remain the most consistently gloomy of
    English novels of the first order. But I just now called it the
    author's masterpiece, and I imagine it will continue to be, for other
    generations than ours, his most substantial title to fame. The
    subject had probably lain a long time in his mind, as his subjects
    were apt to do; so that he appears completely to possess it, to know
    it and feel it. It is simpler and more complete than his other novels;
    it achieves more perfectly what it attempts, and it has about it that
    charm, very hard to express, which we find in an artist's work the
    first time he has touched his highest mark--a sort of straightness and
    naturalness of execution, an unconsciousness of his public, and
    freshness of interest in his theme. It was a great success, and he
    immediately found himself famous. The writer of these lines, who was a
    child at the time, remembers dimly the sensation the book produced,
    and the little shudder with which people alluded to it, as if a
    peculiar horror were mixed with its attractions. He was too young to
    read it himself, but its title, upon which he fixed his eyes as the
    book lay upon the table, had a mysterious charm. He had a vague belief
    indeed that the "letter" in question was one of the documents that
    come by the post, and it was a source of perpetual wonderment to him
    that it should be of such an unaccustomed hue. Of course it was
    difficult to explain to a child the significance of poor Hester
    Prynne's blood-coloured _A_. But the mystery was at last partly
    dispelled by his being taken to see a collection of pictures (the
    annual exhibition of the National Academy), where he encountered a
    representation of a pale, handsome woman, in a quaint black dress and
    a white coif, holding between her knees an elfish-looking little girl,
    fantastically dressed and crowned with flowers. Embroidered on the
    woman's breast was a great crimson _A_, over which the child's
    fingers, as she glanced strangely out of the picture, were maliciously
    playing. I was told that this was Hester Prynne and little Pearl, and
    that when I grew older I might read their interesting history. But the
    picture remained vividly imprinted on my mind; I had been vaguely
    frightened and made uneasy by it; and when, years afterwards, I first
    read the novel, I seemed to myself to have read it before, and to be
    familiar with its two strange heroines, I mention this incident simply
    as an indication of the degree to which the success of _The Scarlet
    Letter_ had made the book what is called an actuality. Hawthorne
    himself was very modest about it; he wrote to his publisher, when
    there was a question of his undertaking another novel, that what had
    given the history of Hester Prynne its "vogue" was simply the
    introductory chapter. In fact, the publication of _The Scarlet Letter_
    was in the United States a literary event of the first importance. The
    book was the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the
    country. There was a consciousness of this in the welcome that was
    given it--a satisfaction in the idea of America having produced a
    novel that belonged to literature, and to the forefront of it.
    Something might at last be sent to Europe as exquisite in quality as
    anything that had been received, and the best of it was that the thing
    was absolutely American; it belonged to the soil, to the air; it came
    out of the very heart of New England.

    It is beautiful, admirable, extraordinary; it has in the highest
    degree that merit which I have spoken of as the mark of Hawthorne's
    best things--an indefinable purity and lightness of conception, a
    quality which in a work of art affects one in the same way as the
    absence of grossness does in a human being. His fancy, as I just now
    said, had evidently brooded over the subject for a long time; the
    situation to be represented had disclosed itself to him in all its
    phases. When I say in all its phases, the sentence demands
    modification; for it is to be remembered that if Hawthorne laid his
    hand upon the well-worn theme, upon the familiar combination of the
    wife, the lover, and the husband, it was after all but to one period
    of the history of these three persons that he attached himself. The
    situation is the situation after the woman's fault has been committed,
    and the current of expiation and repentance has set in. In spite of
    the relation between Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, no story of
    love was surely ever less of a "love story." To Hawthorne's
    imagination the fact that these two persons had loved each other too
    well was of an interest comparatively vulgar; what appealed to him was
    the idea of their moral situation in the long years that were to
    follow. The story indeed is in a secondary degree that of Hester
    Prynne; she becomes, really, after the first scene, an accessory
    figure; it is not upon her the _dénoûment_ depends. It is upon her
    guilty lover that the author projects most frequently the cold, thin
    rays of his fitfully-moving lantern, which makes here and there a
    little luminous circle, on the edge of which hovers the livid and
    sinister figure of the injured and retributive husband. The story goes
    on for the most part between the lover and the husband--the tormented
    young Puritan minister, who carries the secret of his own lapse from
    pastoral purity locked up beneath an exterior that commends itself to
    the reverence of his flock, while he sees the softer partner of his
    guilt standing in the full glare of exposure and humbling herself to
    the misery of atonement--between this more wretched and pitiable
    culprit, to whom dishonour would come as a comfort and the pillory as
    a relief, and the older, keener, wiser man, who, to obtain
    satisfaction for the wrong he has suffered, devises the infernally
    ingenious plan of conjoining himself with his wronger, living with
    him, living upon him, and while he pretends to minister to his hidden
    ailment and to sympathise with his pain, revels in his unsuspected
    knowledge of these things and stimulates them by malignant arts. The
    attitude of Roger Chillingworth, and the means he takes to compensate
    himself--these are the highly original elements in the situation that
    Hawthorne so ingeniously treats. None of his works are so impregnated
    with that after-sense of the old Puritan consciousness of life to
    which allusion has so often been made. If, as M. Montégut says, the
    qualities of his ancestors _filtered_ down through generations into
    his composition, _The Scarlet Letter_ was, as it were, the vessel that
    gathered up the last of the precious drops. And I say this not because
    the story happens to be of so-called historical cast, to be told of
    the early days of Massachusetts and of people in steeple-crowned hats
    and sad coloured garments. The historical colouring is rather weak
    than otherwise; there is little elaboration of detail, of the modern
    realism of research; and the author has made no great point of causing
    his figures to speak the English of their period. Nevertheless, the
    book is full of the moral presence of the race that invented Hester's
    penance--diluted and complicated with other things, but still
    perfectly recognisable. Puritanism, in a word, is there, not only
    objectively, as Hawthorne tried to place it there, but subjectively as
    well. Not, I mean, in his judgment of his characters, in any
    harshness of prejudice, or in the obtrusion of a moral lesson; but in
    the very quality of his own vision, in the tone of the picture, in a
    certain coldness and exclusiveness of treatment.

    The faults of the book are, to my sense, a want of reality and an
    abuse of the fanciful element--of a certain superficial symbolism. The
    people strike me not as characters, but as representatives, very
    picturesquely arranged, of a single state of mind; and the interest of
    the story lies, not in them, but in the situation, which is
    insistently kept before us, with little progression, though with a
    great deal, as I have said, of a certain stable variation; and to
    which they, out of their reality, contribute little that helps it to
    live and move. I was made to feel this want of reality, this
    over-ingenuity, of _The Scarlet Letter_, by chancing not long since
    upon a novel which was read fifty years ago much more than to-day, but
    which is still worth reading--the story of _Adam Blair_, by John
    Gibson Lockhart. This interesting and powerful little tale has a great
    deal of analogy with Hawthorne's novel--quite enough, at least, to
    suggest a comparison between them; and the comparison is a very
    interesting one to make, for it speedily leads us to larger
    considerations than simple resemblances and divergences of plot.

    Adam Blair, like Arthur Dimmesdale, is a Calvinistic minister who
    becomes the lover of a married woman, is overwhelmed with remorse at
    his misdeed, and makes a public confession of it; then expiates it by
    resigning his pastoral office and becoming a humble tiller of the
    soil, as his father had been. The two stories are of about the same
    length, and each is the masterpiece (putting aside of course, as far
    as Lockhart is concerned, the _Life of Scott_) of the author. They
    deal alike with the manners of a rigidly theological society, and even
    in certain details they correspond. In each of them, between the
    guilty pair, there is a charming little girl; though I hasten to say
    that Sarah Blair (who is not the daughter of the heroine but the
    legitimate offspring of the hero, a widower) is far from being as
    brilliant and graceful an apparition as the admirable little Pearl of
    _The Scarlet Letter_. The main difference between the two tales is the
    fact that in the American story the husband plays an all-important
    part, and in the Scottish plays almost none at all. _Adam Blair_ is
    the history of the passion, and _The Scarlet Letter_ the history of
    its sequel; but nevertheless, if one has read the two books at a short
    interval, it is impossible to avoid confronting them. I confess that a
    large portion of the interest of _Adam Blair_, to my mind, when once I
    had perceived that it would repeat in a great measure the situation of
    _The Scarlet Letter_, lay in noting its difference of tone. It threw
    into relief the passionless quality of Hawthorne's novel, its element
    of cold and ingenious fantasy, its elaborate imaginative delicacy.
    These things do not precisely constitute a weakness in _The Starlet
    Letter_; indeed, in a certain way they constitute a great strength;
    but the absence of a certain something warm and straightforward, a
    trifle more grossly human and vulgarly natural, which one finds in
    _Adam Blair_, will always make Hawthorne's tale less touching to a
    large number of even very intelligent readers, than a love-story told
    with the robust, synthetic pathos which served Lockhart so well. His
    novel is not of the first rank (I should call it an excellent
    second-rate one), but it borrows a charm from the fact that his
    vigorous, but not strongly imaginative, mind was impregnated with the
    reality of his subject. He did not always succeed in rendering this
    reality; the expression is sometimes awkward and poor. But the reader
    feels that his vision was clear, and his feeling about the matter very
    strong and rich. Hawthorne's imagination, on the other hand, plays
    with his theme so incessantly, leads it such a dance through the
    moonlighted air of his intellect, that the thing cools off, as it
    were, hardens and stiffens, and, producing effects much more
    exquisite, leaves the reader with a sense of having handled a splendid
    piece of silversmith's work. Lockhart, by means much more vulgar,
    produces at moments a greater illusion, and satisfies our inevitable
    desire for something, in the people in whom it is sought to interest
    us, that shall be of the same pitch and the same continuity with
    ourselves. Above all, it is interesting to see how the same subject
    appears to two men of a thoroughly different cast of mind and of a
    different race. Lockhart was struck with the warmth of the subject
    that offered itself to him, and Hawthorne with its coldness; the one
    with its glow, its sentimental interest--the other with its shadow,
    its moral interest. Lockhart's story is as decent, as severely draped,
    as _The Scarlet Letter_; but the author has a more vivid sense than
    appears to have imposed itself upon Hawthorne, of some of the
    incidents of the situation he describes; his tempted man and tempting
    woman are more actual and personal; his heroine in especial, though
    not in the least a delicate or a subtle conception, has a sort of
    credible, visible, palpable property, a vulgar roundness and relief,
    which are lacking to the dim and chastened image of Hester Prynne.
    But I am going too far; I am comparing simplicity with subtlety, the
    usual with the refined. Each man wrote as his turn of mind impelled
    him, but each expressed something more than himself. Lockhart was a
    dense, substantial Briton, with a taste for the concrete, and
    Hawthorne was a thin New Englander, with a miasmatic conscience.

    In _The Scarlet Letter_ there is a great deal of symbolism; there is,
    I think, too much. It is overdone at times, and becomes mechanical; it
    ceases to be impressive, and grazes triviality. The idea of the mystic
    _A_ which the young minister finds imprinted upon his breast and
    eating into his flesh, in sympathy with the embroidered badge that
    Hester is condemned to wear, appears to me to be a case in point. This
    suggestion should, I think, have been just made and dropped; to insist
    upon it and return to it, is to exaggerate the weak side of the
    subject. Hawthorne returns to it constantly, plays with it, and seems
    charmed by it; until at last the reader feels tempted to declare that
    his enjoyment of it is puerile. In the admirable scene, so superbly
    conceived and beautifully executed, in which Mr. Dimmesdale, in the
    stillness of the night, in the middle of the sleeping town, feels
    impelled to go and stand upon the scaffold where his mistress had
    formerly enacted her dreadful penance, and then, seeing Hester pass
    along the street, from watching at a sick-bed, with little Pearl at
    her side, calls them both to come and stand there beside him--in this
    masterly episode the effect is almost spoiled by the introduction of
    one of these superficial conceits. What leads up to it is very
    fine--so fine that I cannot do better than quote it as a specimen of
    one of the striking pages of the book.

    "But before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking, a light
    gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky. It was
    doubtless caused by one of those meteors which the
    night-watcher may so often observe burning out to waste in
    the vacant regions of the atmosphere. So powerful was its
    radiance that it thoroughly illuminated the dense medium of
    cloud, betwixt the sky and earth. The great vault
    brightened, like the dome of an immense lamp. It showed the
    familiar scene of the street with the distinctness of
    midday, but also with the awfulness that is always imparted
    to familiar objects by an unaccustomed light. The wooden
    houses, with their jutting stories and quaint gable-peaks;
    the doorsteps and thresholds, with the early grass springing
    up about them; the garden-plots, black with freshly-turned
    earth; the wheel-track, little worn, and, even in the
    marketplace, margined with green on either side;--all were
    visible, but with a singularity of aspect that seemed to
    give another moral interpretation to the things of this
    world than they had ever borne before. And there stood the
    minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne,
    with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and
    little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting-link
    between these two. They stood in the noon of that strange
    and solemn splendour, as if it were the light that is to
    reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all
    that belong to one another."

    That is imaginative, impressive, poetic; but when, almost immediately
    afterwards, the author goes on to say that "the minister looking
    upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense
    letter--the letter _A_--marked out in lines of dull red light," we
    feel that he goes too far and is in danger of crossing the line that
    separates the sublime from its intimate neighbour. We are tempted to
    say that this is not moral tragedy, but physical comedy. In the same
    way, too much is made of the intimation that Hester's badge had a
    scorching property, and that if one touched it one would immediately
    withdraw one's hand. Hawthorne is perpetually looking for images which
    shall place themselves in picturesque correspondence with the
    spiritual facts with which he is concerned, and of course the search
    is of the very essence of poetry. But in such a process discretion is
    everything, and when the image becomes importunate it is in danger of
    seeming to stand for nothing more serious than itself. When Hester
    meets the minister by appointment in the forest, and sits talking with
    him while little Pearl wanders away and plays by the edge of the
    brook, the child is represented as at last making her way over to the
    other side of the woodland stream, and disporting herself there in a
    manner which makes her mother feel herself, "in some indistinct and
    tantalising manner, estranged from Pearl; as if the child, in her
    lonely ramble through the forest, had strayed out of the sphere in
    which she and her mother dwelt together, and was now vainly seeking to
    return to it." And Hawthorne devotes a chapter to this idea of the
    child's having, by putting the brook between Hester and herself,
    established a kind of spiritual gulf, on the verge of which her little
    fantastic person innocently mocks at her mother's sense of
    bereavement. This conception belongs, one would say, quite to the
    lighter order of a story-teller's devices, and the reader hardly goes
    with Hawthorne in the large development he gives to it. He hardly goes
    with him either, I think, in his extreme predilection for a small
    number of vague ideas which are represented by such terms as "sphere"
    and "sympathies." Hawthorne makes too liberal a use of these two
    substantives; it is the solitary defect of his style; and it counts as
    a defect partly because the words in question are a sort of specialty
    with certain writers immeasurably inferior to himself.

    I had not meant, however, to expatiate upon his defects, which are of
    the slenderest and most venial kind. _The Scarlet Letter_ has the
    beauty and harmony of all original and complete conceptions, and its
    weaker spots, whatever they are, are not of its essence; they are mere
    light flaws and inequalities of surface. One can often return to it;
    it supports familiarity and has the inexhaustible charm and mystery of
    great works of art. It is admirably written. Hawthorne afterwards
    polished his style to a still higher degree, but in his later
    productions--it is almost always the case in a writer's later
    productions--there is a touch of mannerism. In _The Scarlet Letter_
    there is a high degree of polish, and at the same time a charming
    freshness; his phrase is less conscious of itself. His biographer very
    justly calls attention to the fact that his style was excellent from
    the beginning; that he appeared to have passed through no phase of
    learning how to write, but was in possession of his means from the
    first of his handling a pen. His early tales, perhaps, were not of a
    character to subject his faculty of expression to a very severe test,
    but a man who had not Hawthorne's natural sense of language would
    certainly have contrived to write them less well. This natural sense
    of language--this turn for saying things lightly and yet touchingly,
    picturesquely yet simply, and for infusing a gently colloquial tone
    into matter of the most unfamiliar import, he had evidently cultivated
    with great assiduity. I have spoken of the anomalous character of his
    Note-Books--of his going to such pains often to make a record of
    incidents which either were not worth remembering or could be easily
    remembered without its aid. But it helps us to understand the
    Note-Books if we regard them as a literary exercise. They were
    compositions, as school boys say, in which the subject was only the
    pretext, and the main point was to write a certain amount of excellent
    English. Hawthorne must at least have written a great many of these
    things for practice, and he must often have said to himself that it
    was better practice to write about trifles, because it was a greater
    tax upon one's skill to make them interesting. And his theory was
    just, for he has almost always made his trifles interesting. In his
    novels his art of saying things well is very positively tested, for
    here he treats of those matters among which it is very easy for a
    blundering writer to go wrong--the subtleties and mysteries of life,
    the moral and spiritual maze. In such a passage as one I have marked
    for quotation from _The Scarlet Letter_ there is the stamp of the
    genius of style.

    "Hester Prynne, gazing steadfastly at the clergyman, felt a
    dreary influence come over her, but wherefore or whence she
    knew not, unless that he seemed so remote from her own
    sphere and utterly beyond her reach. One glance of
    recognition she had imagined must needs pass between them.
    She thought of the dim forest with its little dell of
    solitude, and love, and anguish, and the mossy tree-trunk,
    where, sitting hand in hand, they had mingled their sad and
    passionate talk with the melancholy murmur of the brook. How
    deeply had they known each other then! And was this the man?
    She hardly knew him now! He, moving proudly past, enveloped
    as it were in the rich music, with the procession of
    majestic and venerable fathers; he, so unattainable in his
    worldly position, and still more so in that far vista in
    his unsympathising thoughts, through which she now beheld
    him! Her spirit sank with the idea that all must have been a
    delusion, and that vividly as she had dreamed it, there
    could be no real bond betwixt the clergyman and herself. And
    thus much of woman there was in Hester, that she could
    scarcely forgive him--least of all now, when the heavy
    footstep of their approaching fate might be heard, nearer,
    nearer, nearer!--for being able to withdraw himself so
    completely from their mutual world, while she groped darkly,
    and stretched forth her cold hands, and found him not!"

    _The House of the Seven Gables_ was written at Lenox, among the
    mountains of Massachusetts, a village nestling, rather loosely, in one
    of the loveliest corners of New England, to which Hawthorne had
    betaken himself after the success of _The Scarlet Letter_ became
    conspicuous, in the summer of 1850, and where he occupied for two
    years an uncomfortable little red house which is now pointed out to
    the inquiring stranger. The inquiring stranger is now a frequent
    figure at Lenox, for the place has suffered the process of
    lionisation. It has become a prosperous watering-place, or at least
    (as there are no waters), as they say in America, a summer-resort. It
    is a brilliant and generous landscape, and thirty years ago a man of
    fancy, desiring to apply himself, might have found both inspiration
    and tranquillity there. Hawthorne found so much of both that he wrote
    more during his two years of residence at Lenox than at any period of
    his career. He began with _The House of the Seven Gables_, which was
    finished in the early part of 1851. This is the longest of his three
    American novels, it is the most elaborate, and in the judgment of some
    persons it is the finest. It is a rich, delightful, imaginative work,
    larger and more various than its companions, and full of all sorts of
    deep intentions, of interwoven threads of suggestion But it is not so
    rounded and complete as _The Scarlet Letter_; it has always seemed to
    me more like a prologue to a great novel than a great novel itself. I
    think this is partly owing to the fact that the subject, the _donnée_,
    as the French say, of the story, does not quite fill it out, and that
    we get at the same time an impression of certain complicated purposes
    on the author's part, which seem to reach beyond it. I call it larger
    and more various than its companions, and it has indeed a greater
    richness of tone and density of detail. The colour, so to speak, of
    _The House of the Seven Gables_ is admirable. But the story has a sort
    of expansive quality which never wholly fructifies, and as I lately
    laid it down, after reading it for the third time, I had a sense of
    having interested myself in a magnificent fragment. Yet the book has a
    great fascination, and of all of those of its author's productions
    which I have read over while writing this sketch, it is perhaps the
    one that has gained most by re-perusal. If it be true of the others
    that the pure, natural quality of the imaginative strain is their
    great merit, this is at least as true of _The House of the Seven
    Gables_, the charm of which is in a peculiar degree of the kind that
    we fail to reduce to its grounds--like that of the sweetness of a
    piece of music, or the softness of fine September weather. It is
    vague, indefinable, ineffable; but it is the sort of thing we must
    always point to in justification of the high claim that we make for
    Hawthorne. In this case of course its vagueness is a drawback, for it
    is difficult to point to ethereal beauties; and if the reader whom we
    have wished to inoculate with our admiration inform us after looking a
    while that he perceives nothing in particular, we can only reply
    that, in effect, the object is a delicate one.

    _The House of the Seven Gables_ comes nearer being a picture of
    contemporary American life than either of its companions; but on this
    ground it would be a mistake to make a large claim for it. It cannot
    be too often repeated that Hawthorne was not a realist. He had a high
    sense of reality--his Note-Books super-abundantly testify to it; and
    fond as he was of jotting down the items that make it up, he never
    attempted to render exactly or closely the actual facts of the society
    that surrounded him. I have said--I began by saying--that his pages
    were full of its spirit, and of a certain reflected light that springs
    from it; but I was careful to add that the reader must look for his
    local and national quality between the lines of his writing and in the
    _indirect_ testimony of his tone, his accent, his temper, of his very
    omissions and suppressions. _The House of the Seven Gables_ has,
    however, more literal actuality than the others, and if it were not
    too fanciful an account of it, I should say that it renders, to an
    initiated reader, the impression of a summer afternoon in an
    elm-shadowed New England town. It leaves upon the mind a vague
    correspondence to some such reminiscence, and in stirring up the
    association it renders it delightful. The comparison is to the honour
    of the New England town, which gains in it more than it bestows. The
    shadows of the elms, in _The House of the Seven Gables_, are
    exceptionally dense and cool; the summer afternoon is peculiarly still
    and beautiful; the atmosphere has a delicious warmth, and the long
    daylight seems to pause and rest. But the mild provincial quality is
    there, the mixture of shabbiness and freshness, the paucity of
    ingredients. The end of an old race--this is the situation that
    Hawthorne has depicted, and he has been admirably inspired in the
    choice of the figures in whom he seeks to interest us. They are all
    figures rather than characters--they are all pictures rather than
    persons. But if their reality is light and vague, it is sufficient,
    and it is in harmony with the low relief and dimness of outline of the
    objects that surround them. They are all types, to the author's mind,
    of something general, of something that is bound up with the history,
    at large, of families and individuals, and each of them is the centre
    of a cluster of those ingenious and meditative musings, rather
    melancholy, as a general thing, than joyous, which melt into the
    current and texture of the story and give it a kind of moral richness.
    A grotesque old spinster, simple, childish, penniless, very humble at
    heart, but rigidly conscious of her pedigree; an amiable bachelor, of
    an epicurean temperament and an enfeebled intellect, who has passed
    twenty years of his life in penal confinement for a crime of which he
    was unjustly pronounced guilty; a sweet-natured and bright-faced young
    girl from the country, a poor relation of these two ancient
    decrepitudes, with whose moral mustiness her modern freshness and
    soundness are contrasted; a young man still more modern, holding the
    latest opinions, who has sought his fortune up and down the world,
    and, though he has not found it, takes a genial and enthusiastic view
    of the future: these, with two or three remarkable accessory figures,
    are the persons concerned in the little drama. The drama is a small
    one, but as Hawthorne does not put it before us for its own
    superficial sake, for the dry facts of the case, but for something in
    it which he holds to be symbolic and of large application, something
    that points a moral and that it behoves us to remember, the scenes in
    the rusty wooden house whose gables give its name to the story, have
    something of the dignity both of history and of tragedy. Miss
    Hephzibah Pyncheon, dragging out a disappointed life in her paternal
    dwelling, finds herself obliged in her old age to open a little shop
    for the sale of penny toys and gingerbread. This is the central
    incident of the tale, and, as Hawthorne relates it, it is an incident
    of the most impressive magnitude and most touching interest. Her
    dishonoured and vague-minded brother is released from prison at the
    same moment, and returns to the ancestral roof to deepen her
    perplexities. But, on the other hand, to alleviate them, and to
    introduce a breath of the air of the outer world into this long
    unventilated interior, the little country cousin also arrives, and
    proves the good angel of the feebly distracted household. All this
    episode is exquisite--admirably conceived, and executed with a kind of
    humorous tenderness, an equal sense of everything in it that is
    picturesque, touching, ridiculous, worthy of the highest praise.
    Hephzibah Pyncheon, with her near-sighted scowl, her rusty joints, her
    antique turban, her map of a great territory to the eastward which
    ought to have belonged to her family, her vain terrors and scruples
    and resentments, the inaptitude and repugnance of an ancient
    gentlewoman to the vulgar little commerce which a cruel fate has
    compelled her to engage in--Hephzibah Pyncheon is a masterly picture.
    I repeat that she is a picture, as her companions are pictures; she is
    a charming piece of descriptive writing, rather than a dramatic
    exhibition. But she is described, like her companions too, so subtly
    and lovingly that we enter into her virginal old heart and stand with
    her behind her abominable little counter. Clifford Pyncheon is a still
    more remarkable conception, though he is perhaps not so vividly
    depicted. It was a figure needing a much more subtle touch, however,
    and it was of the essence of his character to be vague and
    unemphasised. Nothing can be more charming than the manner in which
    the soft, bright, active presence of Phoebe Pyncheon is indicated,
    or than the account of her relations with the poor dimly sentient
    kinsman for whom her light-handed sisterly offices, in the evening of
    a melancholy life, are a revelation of lost possibilities of
    happiness. "In her aspect," Hawthorne says of the young girl, "there
    was a familiar gladness, and a holiness that you could play with, and
    yet reverence it as much as ever. She was like a prayer offered up in
    the homeliest beauty of one's mother-tongue. Fresh was Phoebe,
    moreover, and airy, and sweet in her apparel; as if nothing that she
    wore--neither her gown, nor her small straw bonnet, nor her little
    kerchief, any more than her snowy stockings--had ever been put on
    before; or if worn, were all the fresher for it, and with a fragrance
    as if they had lain among the rose-buds." Of the influence of her
    maidenly salubrity upon poor Clifford, Hawthorne gives the prettiest
    description, and then, breaking off suddenly, renounces the attempt in
    language which, while pleading its inadequacy, conveys an exquisite
    satisfaction to the reader. I quote the passage for the sake of its
    extreme felicity, and of the charming image with which it concludes.

    "But we strive in vain to put the idea into words. No
    adequate expression of the beauty and profound pathos with
    which it impresses us is attainable. This being, made only
    for happiness, and heretofore so miserably failing to be
    happy--his tendencies so hideously thwarted that some
    unknown time ago, the delicate springs of his character,
    never morally or intellectually strong, had given way, and
    he was now imbecile--this poor forlorn voyager from the
    Islands of the Blest, in a frail bark, on a tempestuous sea,
    had been flung by the last mountain-wave of his shipwreck,
    into a quiet harbour. There, as he lay more than half
    lifeless on the strand, the fragrance of an earthly rose-bud
    had come to his nostrils, and, as odours will, had summoned
    up reminiscences or visions of all the living and breathing
    beauty amid which he should have had his home. With his
    native susceptibility of happy influences, he inhales the
    slight ethereal rapture into his soul, and expires!"

    I have not mentioned the personage in _The House of the Seven Gables_
    upon whom Hawthorne evidently bestowed most pains, and whose portrait is
    the most elaborate in the book; partly because he is, in spite of the
    space he occupies, an accessory figure, and partly because, even more
    than the others, he is what I have called a picture rather than a
    character. Judge Pyncheon is an ironical portrait, very richly and
    broadly executed, very sagaciously composed and rendered--the portrait
    of a superb, full blown hypocrite, a large-based, full-nurtured
    Pharisee, bland, urbane, impressive, diffusing about him a "sultry"
    warmth of benevolence, as the author calls it again and again, and
    basking in the noontide of prosperity and the consideration of society;
    but in reality hard, gross, and ignoble. Judge Pyncheon is an elaborate
    piece of description, made up of a hundred admirable touches, in which
    satire is always winged with fancy, and fancy is linked with a deep
    sense of reality. It is difficult to say whether Hawthorne followed a
    model in describing Judge Pyncheon; but it is tolerably obvious that
    the picture is an impression--a copious impression--of an individual. It
    has evidently a definite starting-point in fact, and the author is able
    to draw, freely and confidently, after the image established in his
    mind. Holgrave, the modern young man, who has been a Jack-of-all-trades
    and is at the period of the story a daguerreotypist, is an attempt to
    render a kind of national type--that of the young citizen of the United
    States whose fortune is simply in his lively intelligence, and who
    stands naked, as it were, unbiased and unencumbered alike, in the centre
    of the far-stretching level of American life. Holgrave is intended as a
    contrast; his lack of traditions, his democratic stamp, his condensed
    experience, are opposed to the desiccated prejudices and exhausted
    vitality of the race of which poor feebly-scowling, rusty-jointed
    Hephzibah is the most heroic representative. It is perhaps a pity that
    Hawthorne should not have proposed to himself to give the old
    Pyncheon-qualities some embodiment which would help them to balance more
    fairly with the elastic properties of the young daguerreotypist--should
    not have painted a lusty conservative to match his strenuous radical. As
    it is, the mustiness and mouldiness of the tenants of the House of the
    Seven Gables crumble away rather too easily. Evidently, however, what
    Hawthorne designed to represent was not the struggle between an old
    society and a new, for in this case he would have given the old one a
    better chance; but simply, as I have said, the shrinkage and extinction
    of a family. This appealed to his imagination; and the idea of long
    perpetuation and survival always appears to have filled him with a kind
    of horror and disapproval. Conservative, in a certain degree, as he was
    himself, and fond of retrospect and quietude and the mellowing
    influences of time, it is singular how often one encounters in his
    writings some expression of mistrust of old houses, old institutions,
    long lines of descent. He was disposed apparently to allow a very
    moderate measure in these respects, and he condemns the dwelling of the
    Pyncheons to disappear from the face of the earth because it has been
    standing a couple of hundred years. In this he was an American of
    Americans; or rather he was more American than many of his countrymen,
    who, though they are accustomed to work for the short run rather than
    the long, have often a lurking esteem for things that show the marks of
    having lasted. I will add that Holgrave is one of the few figures, among
    those which Hawthorne created, with regard to which the absence of the
    realistic mode of treatment is felt as a loss. Holgrave is not sharply
    enough characterised; he lacks features; he is not an individual, but a
    type. But my last word about this admirable novel must not be a
    restrictive one. It is a large and generous production, pervaded with
    that vague hum, that indefinable echo, of the whole multitudinous life
    of man, which is the real sign of a great work of fiction.

    After the publication of _The House of the Seven Gables_, which
    brought him great honour, and, I believe, a tolerable share of a more
    ponderable substance, he composed a couple of little volumes, for
    children--_The Wonder-Book_, and a small collection of stories
    entitled _Tanglewood Tales_. They are not among his most serious
    literary titles, but if I may trust my own early impression of them,
    they are among the most charming literary services that have been
    rendered to children in an age (and especially in a country) in which
    the exactions of the infant mind have exerted much too palpable an
    influence upon literature. Hawthorne's stories are the old Greek
    myths, made more vivid to the childish imagination by an infusion of
    details which both deepen and explain their marvels. I have been
    careful not to read them over, for I should be very sorry to risk
    disturbing in any degree a recollection of them that has been at rest
    since the appreciative period of life to which they are addressed.
    They seem at that period enchanting, and the ideal of happiness of
    many American children is to lie upon the carpet and lose themselves
    in _The Wonder-Book_. It is in its pages that they first make the
    acquaintance of the heroes and heroines of the antique mythology, and
    something of the nursery fairy-tale quality of interest which
    Hawthorne imparts to them always remains.

    I have said that Lenox was a very pretty place, and that he was able
    to work there Hawthorne proved by composing _The House of the Seven
    Gables_ with a good deal of rapidity. But at the close of the year in
    which this novel was published he wrote to a friend (Mr. Fields, his
    publisher,) that "to tell you a secret I am sick to death of
    Berkshire, and hate to think of spending another winter here.... The
    air and climate do not agree with my health at all, and for the first
    time since I was a boy I have felt languid and dispirited.... O that
    Providence would build me the merest little shanty, and mark me out a
    rood or two of garden ground, near the sea-coast!" He was at this time
    for a while out of health; and it is proper to remember that though
    the Massachusetts Berkshire, with its mountains and lakes, was
    charming during the ardent American summer, there was a reverse to
    the medal, consisting of December snows prolonged into April and May.
    Providence failed to provide him with a cottage by the sea; but he
    betook himself for the winter of 1852 to the little town of West
    Newton, near Boston, where he brought into the world _The Blithedale
    Romance_.

    This work, as I have said, would not have been written if Hawthorne
    had not spent a year at Brook Farm, and though it is in no sense of
    the word an account of the manners or the inmates of that
    establishment, it will preserve the memory of the ingenious community
    at West Roxbury for a generation unconscious of other reminders. I
    hardly know what to say about it save that it is very charming; this
    vague, unanalytic epithet is the first that comes to one's pen in
    treating of Hawthorne's novels, for their extreme amenity of form
    invariably suggests it; but if on the one hand it claims to be
    uttered, on the other it frankly confesses its inconclusiveness.
    Perhaps, however, in this case, it fills out the measure of
    appreciation more completely than in others, for _The Blithedale
    Romance_ is the lightest, the brightest, the liveliest, of this
    company of unhumorous fictions.

    The story is told from a more joyous point of view--from a point of
    view comparatively humorous--and a number of objects and incidents
    touched with the light of the profane world--the vulgar, many-coloured
    world of actuality, as distinguished from the crepuscular realm of the
    writer's own reveries--are mingled with its course. The book indeed is
    a mixture of elements, and it leaves in the memory an impression
    analogous to that of an April day--an alternation of brightness and
    shadow, of broken sun-patches and sprinkling clouds. Its dénoûment is
    tragical--there is indeed nothing so tragical in all Hawthorne, unless
    it be the murder-of Miriam's persecutor by Donatello, in
    _Transformation_, as the suicide of Zenobia; and yet on the whole the
    effect of the novel is to make one think more agreeably of life. The
    standpoint of the narrator has the advantage of being a concrete one;
    he is no longer, as in the preceding tales, a disembodied spirit,
    imprisoned in the haunted chamber of his own contemplations, but a
    particular man, with a certain human grossness.

    Of Miles Coverdale I have already spoken, and of its being natural to
    assume that in so far as we may measure this lightly indicated
    identity of his, it has a great deal in common with that of his
    creator. Coverdale is a picture of the contemplative, observant,
    analytic nature, nursing its fancies, and yet, thanks to an element of
    strong good sense, not bringing them up to be spoiled children; having
    little at stake in life, at any given moment, and yet indulging, in
    imagination, in a good many adventures; a portrait of a man, in a
    word, whose passions are slender, whose imagination is active, and
    whose happiness lies, not in doing, but in perceiving--half a poet,
    half a critic, and all a spectator. He is contrasted, excellently,
    with the figure of Hollingsworth, the heavily treading Reformer, whose
    attitude with regard to the world is that of the hammer to the anvil,
    and who has no patience with his friend's indifferences and
    neutralities. Coverdale is a gentle sceptic, a mild cynic; he would
    agree that life is a little worth living--or worth living a little;
    but would remark that, unfortunately, to live little enough, we have
    to live a great deal. He confesses to a want of earnestness, but in
    reality he is evidently an excellent fellow, to whom one might look,
    not for any personal performance on a great scale, but for a good deal
    of generosity of detail. "As Hollingsworth once told me, I lack a
    purpose," he writes, at the close of his story. "How strange! He was
    ruined, morally, by an over plus of the same ingredient the want of
    which, I occasionally suspect, has rendered my own life all an
    emptiness. I by no means wish to die. Yet were there any cause in this
    whole chaos of human struggle, worth a sane man's dying for, and which
    my death would benefit, then--provided, however, the effort did not
    involve an unreasonable amount of trouble--methinks I might be bold to
    offer up my life. If Kossuth, for example, would pitch the
    battle-field of Hungarian rights within an easy ride of my abode, and
    choose a mild sunny morning, after breakfast, for the conflict, Miles
    Coverdale would gladly be his man, for one brave rush upon the
    levelled bayonets. Further than that I should be loth to pledge
    myself."

    The finest thing in _The Blithdale Romance_ is the character of
    Zenobia, which I have said elsewhere strikes me as the nearest
    approach that Hawthorne has made to the complete creation of a
    _person_. She is more concrete than Hester or Miriam, or Hilda or
    Phoebe; she is a more definite image, produced by a greater
    multiplicity of touches. It is idle to inquire too closely whether
    Hawthorne had Margaret Fuller in his mind in constructing the figure
    of this brilliant specimen of the strong-minded class and endowing her
    with the genius of conversation; or, on the assumption that such was
    the case, to compare the image at all strictly with the model. There
    is no strictness in the representation by novelists of persons who
    have struck them in life, and there can in the nature of things be
    none. From the moment the imagination takes a hand in the game, the
    inevitable tendency is to divergence, to following what may be called
    new scents. The original gives hints, but the writer does what he
    likes with them, and imports new elements into the picture. If there
    is this amount of reason for referring the wayward heroine of
    Blithedale to Hawthorne's impression of the most distinguished woman
    of her day in Boston, that Margaret Fuller was the only literary lady
    of eminence whom there is any sign of his having known, that she was
    proud, passionate, and eloquent, that she was much connected with the
    little world of Transcendentalism out of which the experiment of Brook
    Farm sprung, and that she had a miserable end and a watery grave--if
    these are facts to be noted on one side, I say; on the other, the
    beautiful and sumptuous Zenobia, with her rich and picturesque
    temperament and physical aspects, offers many points of divergence
    from the plain and strenuous invalid who represented feminine culture
    in the suburbs of the New England metropolis. This picturesqueness of
    Zenobia is very happily indicated and maintained; she is a woman, in
    all the force of the term, and there is something very vivid and
    powerful in her large expression of womanly gifts and weaknesses.
    Hollingsworth is, I think, less successful, though there is much
    reality in the conception of the type to which he belongs--the
    strong-willed, narrow-hearted apostle of a special form of redemption
    for society. There is nothing better in all Hawthorne than the scene
    between him and Coverdale, when the two men are at work together in
    the field (piling stones on a dyke), and he gives it to his companion
    to choose whether he will be with him or against him. It is a pity,
    perhaps, to have represented him as having begun life as a blacksmith,
    for one grudges him the advantage of so logical a reason for his
    roughness and hardness.

    "Hollingsworth scarcely said a word, unless when repeatedly
    and pertinaciously addressed. Then indeed he would glare
    upon us from the thick shrubbery of his meditations, like a
    tiger out of a jungle, make the briefest reply possible, and
    betake himself back into the solitude of his heart and
    mind.... His heart, I imagine, was never really interested
    in our socialist scheme, but was for ever busy with his
    strange, and as most people thought, impracticable plan for
    the reformation of criminals through an appeal to their
    higher instincts. Much as I liked Hollingsworth, it cost me
    many a groan to tolerate him on this point. He ought to have
    commenced his investigation of the subject by committing
    some huge sin in his proper person, and examining the
    condition of his-higher instincts afterwards."

    The most touching element in the novel is the history of the grasp
    that this barbarous fanatic has laid upon the fastidious and
    high-tempered Zenobia, who, disliking him and shrinking, from him at a
    hundred points, is drawn into the gulf of his omnivorous egotism. The
    portion of the story that strikes me as least felicitous is that which
    deals with Priscilla and with her mysterious relation to Zenobia--with
    her mesmeric gifts, her clairvoyance, her identity with the Veiled
    Lady, her divided subjection to Hollingsworth and Westervelt, and her
    numerous other graceful but fantastic properties--her Sibylline
    attributes, as the author calls them. Hawthorne is rather too fond of
    Sibylline attributes--a taste of the same order as his disposition, to
    which I have already alluded, to talk about spheres and sympathies. As
    the action advances, in _The Blithdale Romance_, we get too much out
    of reality, and cease to feel beneath our feet the firm ground of an
    appeal to our own vision of the world, our observation. I should have
    liked to see the story concern itself more with the little community
    in which its earlier scenes are laid, and avail itself of so excellent
    an opportunity for describing unhackneyed specimens of human nature. I
    have already spoken of the absence of satire in the novel, of its not
    aiming in the least at satire, and of its offering no grounds for
    complaint as an invidious picture. Indeed the brethren of Brook Farm
    should have held themselves slighted rather than misrepresented, and
    have regretted that the admirable genius who for a while was numbered
    among them should have treated their institution mainly as a perch for
    starting upon an imaginative flight. But when all is said about a
    certain want of substance and cohesion in the latter portions of _The
    Blithedale Romance_, the book is still a delightful and beautiful one.
    Zenobia and Hollingsworth live in the memory, and even Priscilla and
    Coverdale, who linger there less importunately, have a great deal that
    touches us and that we believe in. I said just now that Priscilla was
    infelicitous; but immediately afterwards I open the volume at a page
    in which the author describes some of the out-of-door amusements at
    Blithedale, and speaks of a foot-race across the grass, in which some
    of the slim young girls of the society joined. "Priscilla's peculiar
    charm in a foot-race was the weakness and irregularity with which she
    ran. Growing up without exercise, except to her poor little fingers,
    she had never yet acquired the perfect use of her legs. Setting
    buoyantly forth therefore, as if no rival less swift than Atalanta
    could compete with her, she ran falteringly, and often tumbled on the
    grass. Such an incident--though it seems too slight to think of--was a
    thing to laugh at, but which brought the water into one's eyes, and
    lingered in the memory after far greater joys and sorrows were wept
    out of it, as antiquated trash. Priscilla's life, as I beheld it, was
    full of trifles that affected me in just this way." That seems to me
    exquisite, and the book is full of touches as deep and delicate.

    After writing it, Hawthorne went back to live in Concord, where he had
    bought a small house in which, apparently, he expected to spend a
    large portion of his future. This was in fact the dwelling in which he
    passed that part of the rest of his days that he spent in his own
    country. He established himself there before going to Europe, in 1853,
    and he returned to the Wayside, as he called his house, on coming back
    to the United States seven years later. Though he actually occupied
    the place no long time, he had made it his property, and it was more
    his own home than any of his numerous provisional abodes. I may
    therefore quote a little account of the house which he wrote to a
    distinguished friend, Mr. George Curtis.

    "As for my old house, you will understand it better after
    spending a day or two in it. Before Mr. Alcott took it in
    hand, it was a mean-looking affair, with two peaked gables;
    no suggestiveness about it, and no venerableness, although
    from the style of its construction it seems to have survived
    beyond its first century. He added a porch in front, and a
    central peak, and a piazza at each end, and painted it a
    rusty olive hue, and invested the whole with a modest
    picturesqueness; all which improvements, together with its
    situation at the foot of a wooded hill, make it a place that
    one notices and remembers for a few moments after passing.
    Mr. Alcott expended a good deal of taste and some money (to
    no great purpose) in forming the hillside behind the house
    into terraces, and building arbours and summer-houses of
    rough stems and branches and trees, on a system of his own.
    They must have been very pretty in their day, and are so
    still, although much decayed, and shattered more and more by
    every breeze that blows. The hillside is covered chiefly
    with locust trees, which come into luxuriant blossom in the
    month of June, and look and smell very sweetly, intermixed
    with a few young elms, and white pines and infant oaks--the
    whole forming rather a thicket than a wood. Nevertheless,
    there is some very good shade to be found there. I spend
    delectable hours there in the hottest part of the day,
    stretched out at my lazy length, with a book in my hand, or
    some unwritten book in my thoughts. There is almost always a
    breeze stirring along the sides or brow of the hill. From
    the hill-top there is a good view along the extensive level
    surfaces and gentle hilly outlines, covered with wood, that
    characterise the scenery of Concord.... I know nothing of
    the history of the house except Thoreau's telling me that it
    was inhabited, a generation or two ago, by a man who
    believed he should never die. I believe, however, he is
    dead; at least, I hope so; else he may probably reappear and
    dispute my title to his residence."

    As Mr. Lathrop points out, this allusion to a man who believed he
    should never die is "the first intimation of the story of _Septimius
    Felton_." The scenery of that romance, he adds, "was evidently taken
    from the Wayside and its hill." _Septimius Felton_ is in fact a young
    man who, at the time of the war of the Revolution, lives in the
    village of Concord, on the Boston road, at the base of a woody hill
    which rises abruptly behind his house, and of which the level summit
    supplies him with a promenade continually mentioned in the course of
    the tale. Hawthorne used to exercise himself upon this picturesque
    eminence, and, as he conceived the brooding Septimius to have done
    before him, to betake himself thither when he found the limits of his
    dwelling too narrow. But he had an advantage which his imaginary hero
    lacked; he erected a tower as an adjunct to the house, and it was a
    jocular tradition among his neighbours, in allusion to his attributive
    tendency to evade rather than hasten the coming guest, that he used to
    ascend this structure and scan the road for provocations to retreat.

    In so far, however, as Hawthorne suffered the penalties of celebrity
    at the hands of intrusive fellow-citizens, he was soon to escape from
    this honourable incommodity. On the 4th of March, 1853, his old
    college-mate and intimate friend, Franklin Pierce, was installed as
    President of the United States. He had been the candidate of the
    Democratic party, and all good Democrats, accordingly, in conformity
    to the beautiful and rational system under which the affairs of the
    great Republic were carried on, begun to open their windows to the
    golden sunshine of Presidential patronage. When General Pierce was put
    forward by the Democrats, Hawthorne felt a perfectly loyal and natural
    desire that his good friend should be exalted to so brilliant a
    position, and he did what was in him to further the good cause, by
    writing a little book about its hero. His _Life of Franklin Pierce_
    belongs to that class of literature which is known as the "campaign
    biography," and which consists of an attempt, more or less successful,
    to persuade the many-headed monster of universal suffrage that the
    gentleman on whose behalf it is addressed is a paragon of wisdom and
    virtue. Of Hawthorne's little book there is nothing particular to
    say, save that it is in very good taste, that he is a very fairly
    ingenious advocate, and that if he claimed for the future President
    qualities which rather faded in the bright light of a high office,
    this defect of proportion was essential to his undertaking. He dwelt
    chiefly upon General Pierce's exploits in the war with Mexico (before
    that, his record, as they say in America, had been mainly that of a
    successful country lawyer), and exercised his descriptive powers so
    far as was possible in describing the advance of the United States
    troops from Vera Cruz to the city of the Montezumas. The mouthpieces
    of the Whig party spared him, I believe, no reprobation for
    "prostituting" his exquisite genius; but I fail to see anything
    reprehensible in Hawthorne's lending his old friend the assistance of
    his graceful quill. He wished him to be President--he held afterwards
    that he filled the office with admirable dignity and wisdom--and as
    the only thing he could do was to write, he fell to work and wrote for
    him. Hawthorne was a good lover and a very sufficient partisan, and I
    suspect that if Franklin Pierce had been made even less of the stuff
    of a statesman, he would still have found in the force of old
    associations an injunction to hail him as a ruler. Our hero was an
    American of the earlier and simpler type--the type of which it is
    doubtless premature to say that it has wholly passed away, but of
    which it may at least be said that the circumstances that produced it
    have been greatly modified. The generation to which he belonged, that
    generation which grew up with the century, witnessed during a period
    of fifty years the immense, uninterrupted material development of the
    young Republic; and when one thinks of the scale on which it took
    place, of the prosperity that walked in its train and waited on its
    course, of the hopes it fostered and the blessings it conferred, of
    the broad morning sunshine, in a word, in which it all went forward,
    there seems to be little room for surprise that it should have
    implanted a kind of superstitious faith in the grandeur of the
    country, its duration, its immunity from the usual troubles of earthly
    empires. This faith was a simple and uncritical one, enlivened with an
    element of genial optimism, in the light of which it appeared that the
    great American state was not as other human institutions are, that a
    special Providence watched over it, that it would go on joyously for
    ever, and that a country whose vast and blooming bosom offered a
    refuge to the strugglers and seekers of all the rest of the world,
    must come off easily, in the battle of the ages. From this conception
    of the American future the sense of its having problems to solve was
    blissfully absent; there were no difficulties in the programme, no
    looming complications, no rocks ahead. The indefinite multiplication
    of the population, and its enjoyment of the benefits of a
    common-school education and of unusual facilities for making an
    income--this was the form in which, on the whole, the future most
    vividly presented itself, and in which the greatness of the country
    was to be recognised of men. There was indeed a faint shadow in the
    picture--the shadow projected by the "peculiar institution" of the
    Southern States; but it was far from sufficient to darken the rosy
    vision of most good Americans, and above all, of most good Democrats.
    Hawthorne alludes to it in a passage of his life of Pierce, which I
    will quote not only as a hint of the trouble that was in store for a
    cheerful race of men, but as an example of his own easy-going
    political attitude.

    "It was while in the lower house of Congress that Franklin
    Pierce took that stand on the Slavery question from which he
    has never since swerved by a hair's breadth. He fully
    recognised by his votes and his voice, the rights pledged to
    the South by the Constitution. This, at the period when he
    declared himself, was an easy thing to do. But when it
    became more difficult, when the first imperceptible murmur
    of agitation had grown almost to a convulsion, his course
    was still the same. Nor did he ever shun the obloquy that
    sometimes threatened to pursue the Northern man who dared to
    love that great and sacred reality--his whole united
    country--better than the mistiness of a philanthropic
    theory."

    This last invidious allusion is to the disposition, not infrequent at
    the North, but by no means general, to set a decisive limit to further
    legislation in favour of the cherished idiosyncrasy of the other half of
    the country. Hawthorne takes the license of a sympathetic biographer in
    speaking of his hero's having incurred obloquy by his conservative
    attitude on the question of Slavery. The only class in the American
    world that suffered in the smallest degree, at this time, from social
    persecution, was the little band of Northern Abolitionists, who were as
    unfashionable as they were indiscreet--which is saying much. Like most
    of his fellow-countrymen, Hawthorne had no idea that the respectable
    institution which he contemplated in impressive contrast to humanitarian
    "mistiness," was presently to cost the nation four long years of
    bloodshed and misery, and a social revolution as complete as any the
    world has seen. When this event occurred, he was therefore
    proportionately horrified and depressed by it; it cut from beneath his
    feet the familiar ground which had long felt so firm, substituting a
    heaving and quaking medium in which his spirit found no rest. Such was
    the bewildered sensation of that earlier and simpler generation of which
    I have spoken; their illusions were rudely dispelled, and they saw the
    best of all possible republics given over to fratricidal carnage. This
    affair had no place in their scheme, and nothing was left for them but
    to hang their heads and close their eyes. The subsidence of that great
    convulsion has left a different tone from the tone it found, and one may
    say that the Civil War marks an era in the history of the American mind.
    It introduced into the national consciousness a certain sense of
    proportion and relation, of the world being a more complicated place
    than it had hitherto seemed, the future more treacherous, success more
    difficult. At the rate at which things are going, it is obvious that
    good Americana will be more numerous than ever; but the good American,
    in days to come, will be a more critical person than his complacent and
    confident grandfather. He has eaten of the tree of knowledge. He will
    not, I think, be a sceptic, and still less, of course, a cynic; but he
    will be, without discredit to his well-known capacity for action, an
    observer. He will remember that the ways of the Lord are inscrutable,
    and that this is a world in which everything happens; and eventualities,
    as the late Emperor of the French used to say, will not find him
    intellectually unprepared. The good American of which Hawthorne was so
    admirable a specimen was not critical, and it was perhaps for this
    reason that Franklin Pierce seemed to him a very proper President.

    The least that General Pierce could do in exchange for so liberal a
    confidence was to offer his old friend one of the numerous places in
    his gift. Hawthorne had a great desire to go abroad and see something
    of the world, so that a consulate seemed the proper thing. He never
    stirred in the matter himself, but his friends strongly urged that
    something should be done; and when he accepted the post of consul at
    Liverpool there was not a word of reasonable criticism to be offered
    on the matter. If General Pierce, who was before all things
    good-natured and obliging, had been guilty of no greater indiscretion
    than to confer this modest distinction upon the most honourable and
    discreet of men of letters, he would have made a more brilliant mark
    in the annals of American statesmanship. Liverpool had not been
    immediately selected, and Hawthorne had written to his friend and
    publisher, Mr. Fields, with some humorous vagueness of allusion to his
    probable expatriation.

    "Do make some inquiries about Portugal; as, for instance, in
    what part of the world it lies, and whether it is an empire,
    a kingdom, or a republic. Also, and more particularly, the
    expenses of living there, and whether the Minister would be
    likely to be much pestered with his own countrymen. Also,
    any other information about foreign countries would be
    acceptable to an inquiring mind."

    It would seem from this that there had been a question of offering him
    a small diplomatic post; but the emoluments of the place were justly
    taken into account, and it is to be supposed that those of the
    consulate at Liverpool were at least as great as the salary of the
    American representative at Lisbon. Unfortunately, just after
    Hawthorne had taken possession of the former post, the salary attached
    to it was reduced by Congress, in an economical hour, to less than
    half the sum enjoyed by his predecessors. It was fixed at 7,500
    dollars (£1,500); but the consular fees, which were often copious,
    were an added resource. At midsummer then, in 1853, Hawthorne was
    established in England.
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