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    Ch. 6 - England and Italy

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    Chapter 6
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    Hawthorne was close upon fifty years of age when he came to Europe--a
    fact that should be remembered when those impressions which he
    recorded in five substantial volumes (exclusive of the novel written
    in Italy), occasionally affect us by the rigidity of their point of
    view. His Note-Books, kept during his residence in England, his two
    winters in Rome, his summer in Florence, were published after his
    death; his impressions of England, sifted, revised, and addressed
    directly to the public, he gave to the world shortly before this
    event. The tone of his European Diaries is often so fresh and
    unsophisticated that we find ourselves thinking of the writer as a
    young man, and it is only a certain final sense of something
    reflective and a trifle melancholy that reminds us that the simplicity
    which is on the whole the leading characteristic of their pages, is,
    though the simplicity of inexperience, not that of youth. When I say
    inexperience, I mean that Hawthorne's experience had been narrow. His
    fifty years had been spent, for much the larger part, in small
    American towns--Salem, the Boston of forty years ago, Concord, Lenox,
    West Newton--and he had led exclusively what one may call a
    village-life. This is evident, not at all directly and superficially,
    but by implication and between the lines, in his desultory history of
    his foreign years. In other words, and to call things by their names,
    he was exquisitely and consistently provincial. I suggest this fact
    not in the least in condemnation, but, on the contrary, in support of
    an appreciative view of him. I know nothing more remarkable, more
    touching, than the sight of this odd, youthful--elderly mind,
    contending so late in the day with new opportunities for learning old
    things, and on the whole profiting by them so freely and gracefully.
    The Note-Books are provincial, and so, in a greatly modified degree,
    are the sketches of England, in _Our Old Home_; but the beauty and
    delicacy of this latter work are so interwoven with the author's air
    of being remotely outside of everything he describes, that they count
    for more, seem more themselves, and finally give the whole thing the
    appearance of a triumph, not of initiation, but of the provincial
    point of view itself.

    I shall not attempt to relate in detail the incidents of his residence
    in England. He appears to have enjoyed it greatly, in spite of the
    deficiency of charm in the place to which his duties chiefly confined
    him. His confinement, however, was not unbroken, and his published
    journals consist largely of minute accounts of little journeys and
    wanderings, with his wife and his three children, through the rest of
    the country; together with much mention of numerous visits to London,
    a city for whose dusky immensity and multitudinous interest he
    professed the highest relish. His Note-Books are of the same cast as
    the two volumes of his American Diaries, of which, I have given some
    account--chiefly occupied with external matters, with the accidents
    of daily life, with observations made during the long walks (often
    with his son), which formed his most valued pastime. His office,
    moreover, though Liverpool was not a delectable home, furnished him
    with entertainment as well as occupation, and it may almost be said
    that during these years he saw more of his fellow-countrymen, in the
    shape of odd wanderers, petitioners, and inquirers of every kind, than
    he had ever done in his native land. The paper entitled "Consular
    Experiences," in _Our Old Home_, is an admirable recital of these
    observations, and a proof that the novelist might have found much
    material in the opportunities of the consul. On his return to America,
    in 1860, he drew from his journal a number of pages relating to his
    observations in England, re-wrote them (with, I should suppose, a good
    deal of care), and converted them into articles which he published in
    a magazine. These chapters were afterwards collected, and _Our Old
    Home_ (a rather infelicitous title), was issued in 1863. I prefer to
    speak of the book now, however, rather than in touching upon the
    closing years of his life, for it is a kind of deliberate _résumé_ of
    his impressions of the land of his ancestors. "It is not a good or a
    weighty book," he wrote to his publisher, who had sent him some
    reviews of it, "nor does it deserve any great amount of praise or
    censure. I don't care about seeing any more notices of it."
    Hawthorne's appreciation of his own productions was always extremely
    just; he had a sense of the relations of things, which some of his
    admirers have not thought it well to cultivate; and he never
    exaggerated his own importance as a writer. _Our Old Home_ is not a
    weighty book; it is decidedly a light one. But when he says it is not
    a good one, I hardly know what he means, and his modesty at this
    point is in excess of his discretion. Whether good or not, _Our Old
    Home_ is charming--it is most delectable reading. The execution is
    singularly perfect and ripe; of all his productions it seems to be the
    best written. The touch, as musicians say, is admirable; the
    lightness, the fineness, the felicity of characterisation and
    description, belong to a man who has the advantage of feeling
    delicately. His judgment is by no means always sound; it often rests
    on too narrow an observation. But his perception is of the keenest,
    and though it is frequently partial, incomplete, it is excellent as
    far as it goes. The book gave but limited satisfaction, I believe, in
    England, and I am not sure that the failure to enjoy certain
    manifestations of its sportive irony, has not chilled the appreciation
    of its singular grace. That English readers, on the whole, should have
    felt that Hawthorne did the national mind and manners but partial
    justice, is, I think, conceivable; at the same time that it seems to
    me remarkable that the tender side of the book, as I may call it,
    should not have carried it off better. It abounds in passages more
    delicately appreciative than can easily be found elsewhere, and it
    contains more charming and affectionate things than, I should suppose,
    had ever before been written about a country not the writer's own. To
    say that it is an immeasurably more exquisite and sympathetic work
    than any of the numerous persons who have related their misadventures
    in the United States have seen fit to devote to that country, is to
    say but little, and I imagine that Hawthorne had in mind the array of
    English voyagers--Mrs. Trollope, Dickens, Marryat, Basil Hall, Miss
    Martineau, Mr. Grattan--when he reflected that everything is relative
    and that, as such books go, his own little volume observed the
    amenities of criticism. He certainly had it in mind when he wrote the
    phrase in his preface relating to the impression the book might make
    in England. "Not an Englishman of them all ever spared America for
    courtesy's sake or kindness; nor, in my opinion, would it contribute
    in the least to any mutual advantage and comfort if we were to besmear
    each other all over with butter and honey." I am far from intending to
    intimate that the vulgar instinct of recrimination had anything to do
    with the restrictive passages of _Our Old Home_; I mean simply that
    the author had a prevision that his collection of sketches would in
    some particulars fail to please his English friends. He professed,
    after the event, to have discovered that the English are sensitive,
    and as they say of the Americans, for whose advantage I believe the
    term was invented; thin-skinned. "The English critics," he wrote to
    his publisher, "seem to think me very bitter against their countrymen,
    and it is perhaps natural that they should, because their self-conceit
    can accept nothing short of indiscriminate adulation; but I really
    think that Americans have much more cause than they to complain of me.
    Looking over the volume I am rather surprised to find that whenever I
    draw a comparison between the two people, I almost invariably cast the
    balance against ourselves." And he writes at another time:--"I
    received several private letters and printed notices of _Our Old Home_
    from England. It is laughable to see the innocent wonder with which
    they regard my criticisms, accounting for them by jaundice, insanity,
    jealousy, hatred, on my part, and never admitting the least suspicion
    that there may be a particle of truth in them. The monstrosity of
    their self-conceit is such that anything short of unlimited admiration
    impresses them as malicious caricature. But they do me great injustice
    in supposing that I hate them. I would as soon hate my own people."
    The idea of his hating the English was of course too puerile for
    discussion; and the book, as I have said, is full of a rich
    appreciation of the finest characteristics of the country. But it has
    a serious defect--a defect which impairs its value, though it helps to
    give consistency to such an image of Hawthorne's personal nature as we
    may by this time have been able to form. It is the work of an
    outsider, of a stranger, of a man who remains to the end a mere
    spectator (something less even than an observer), and always lacks the
    final initiation into the manners and nature of a people of whom it
    may most be said, among all the people of the earth, that to know them
    is to make discoveries. Hawthorne freely confesses to this constant
    exteriority, and appears to have been perfectly conscious of it. "I
    remember," he writes in the sketch of "A London Suburb," in _Our Old
    Home_, "I remember to this day the dreary feeling with which I sat by
    our first English fireside and watched the chill and rainy twilight of
    an autumn day darkening down upon the garden, while the preceding
    occupant of the house (evidently a most unamiable personage in his
    lifetime), scowled inhospitably from above the mantel-piece, as if
    indignant that an American should try to make himself at home there.
    Possibly it may appease his sulky shade to know that I quitted his
    abode as much a stranger as I entered it." The same note is struck in
    an entry in his journal, of the date of October 6th, 1854.

    "The people, for several days, have been in the utmost
    anxiety, and latterly in the highest exultation, about
    Sebastopol--and all England, and Europe to boot, have been
    fooled by the belief that it had fallen. This, however, now
    turns out to be incorrect; and the public visage is somewhat
    grim in consequence. I am glad of it. In spite of his actual
    sympathies, it is impossible for an American to be otherwise
    than glad. Success makes an Englishman intolerable, and
    already, on the mistaken idea that the way was open to a
    prosperous conclusion of the war, the _Times_ had begun to
    throw out menaces against America. I shall never love
    England till she sues to us for help, and, in the meantime,
    the fewer triumphs she obtains, the better for all parties.
    An Englishman in adversity is a very respectable character;
    he does not lose his dignity, but merely comes to a proper
    conception of himself.... I seem to myself like a spy or
    traitor when I meet their eyes, and am conscious that I
    neither hope nor fear in sympathy with them, although they
    look at me in full confidence of sympathy. Their heart
    'knoweth its own bitterness,' and as for me, being a
    stranger and an alien, I 'intermeddle not with their joy.'"

    This seems to me to express very well the weak side of Hawthorne's
    work--his constant mistrust and suspicion of the society that surrounded
    him, his exaggerated, painful, morbid national consciousness. It is, I
    think, an indisputable fact that Americans are, as Americans, the most
    self-conscious people in the world, and the most addicted to the belief
    that the other nations of the earth are in a conspiracy to undervalue
    them. They are conscious of being the youngest of the great nations, of
    not being of the European family, of being placed on the circumference
    of the circle of civilisation rather than at the centre, of the
    experimental element not having as yet entirely dropped out of their
    great political undertaking. The sense of this relativity, in a word,
    replaces that quiet and comfortable sense of the absolute, as regards
    its own position in the world, which reigns supreme in the British and
    in the Gallic genius. Few persons, I think, can have mingled much with
    Americans in Europe without having made this reflection, and it is in
    England that their habit of looking askance at foreign institutions--of
    keeping one eye, as it were, on the American personality, while with the
    other they contemplate these objects--is most to be observed. Add to
    this that Hawthorne came to England late in life, when his habits, his
    tastes, his opinions, were already formed, that he was inclined to look
    at things in silence and brood over them gently, rather than talk about
    them, discuss them, grow acquainted with them by action; and it will be
    possible to form an idea of our writer's detached and critical attitude
    in the country in which it is easiest, thanks to its aristocratic
    constitution, to the absence of any considerable public fund of
    entertainment and diversion, to the degree in which the inexhaustible
    beauty and interest of the place are private property, demanding
    constantly a special introduction--in the country in which, I say, it is
    easiest for a stranger to remain a stranger. For a stranger to cease to
    be a stranger he must stand ready, as the French say, to pay with his
    person; and this was an obligation that Hawthorne was indisposed to
    incur. Our sense, as we read, that his reflections are those of a shy
    and susceptible man, with nothing at stake, mentally, in his
    appreciation of the country, is therefore a drawback to our confidence;
    but it is not a drawback sufficient to make it of no importance that he
    is at the same time singularly intelligent and discriminating, with a
    faculty of feeling delicately and justly, which constitutes in itself
    an illumination. There is a passage in the sketch entitled _About
    Warwick_ which is a very good instance of what was probably his usual
    state of mind. He is speaking of the aspect of the High Street of the
    town.

    "The street is an emblem of England itself. What seems new
    in it is chiefly a skilful and fortunate adaptation of what
    such a people as ourselves would destroy. The new things are
    based and supported on sturdy old things, and derive a
    massive strength from their deep and immemorial foundations,
    though with such limitations and impediments as only an
    Englishman could endure. But he likes to feel the weight of
    all the past upon his back; and moreover the antiquity that
    overburdens him has taken root in his being, and has grown
    to be rather a hump than a pack, so that there is no getting
    rid of it without tearing his whole structure to pieces. In
    my judgment, as he appears to be sufficiently comfortable
    under the mouldy accretion, he had better stumble on with it
    as long as he can. He presents a spectacle which is by no
    means without its charm for a disinterested and unincumbered
    observer."

    There is all Hawthorne, with his enjoyment of the picturesque, his
    relish of chiaroscuro, of local colour, of the deposit of time, and
    his still greater enjoyment of his own dissociation from these things,
    his "disinterested and unincumbered" condition. His want of
    incumbrances may seem at times to give him a somewhat naked and
    attenuated appearance, but on the whole he carries it off very well. I
    have said that _Our Old Home_ contains much of his best writing, and
    on turning over the book at hazard, I am struck with his frequent
    felicity of phrase. At every step there is something one would like to
    quote--something excellently well said. These things are often of the
    lighter sort, but Hawthorne's charming diction lingers in the
    memory--almost in the ear. I have always remembered a certain
    admirable characterisation of Doctor Johnson, in the account of the
    writer's visit to Lichfield--and I will preface it by a paragraph
    almost as good, commemorating the charms of the hotel in that
    interesting town.

    "At any rate I had the great, dull, dingy, and dreary
    coffee-room, with its heavy old mahogany chairs and tables,
    all to myself, and not a soul to exchange a word with except
    the waiter, who, like most of his class in England, had
    evidently left his conversational abilities uncultivated. No
    former practice of solitary living, nor habits of reticence,
    nor well-tested self-dependence for occupation of mind and
    amusement, can quite avail, as I now proved, to dissipate
    the ponderous gloom of an English coffee-room under such
    circumstances as these, with no book at hand save the county
    directory, nor any newspaper but a torn local journal of
    five days ago. So I buried myself, betimes, in a huge heap
    of ancient feathers (there is no other kind of bed in these
    old inns), let my head sink into an unsubstantial pillow,
    and slept a stifled sleep, compounded of the night-troubles
    of all my predecessors in that same unrestful couch. And
    when I awoke, the odour of a bygone century was in my
    nostrils--a faint, elusive smell, of which I never had any
    conception before crossing the Atlantic."

    The whole chapter entitled "Lichfield and Uttoxeter" is a sort of
    graceful tribute to Samuel Johnson, who certainly has nowhere else
    been more tenderly spoken of.

    "Beyond all question I might have had a wiser friend than
    he. The atmosphere in which alone he breathed was dense; his
    awful dread of death showed how much muddy imperfection was
    to be cleansed out of him, before he could be capable of
    spiritual existence; he meddled only with the surface of
    life, and never cared to penetrate further than to
    ploughshare depth; his very sense and sagacity were but a
    one-eyed clear-sightedness. I laughed at him, sometimes
    standing beside his knee. And yet, considering that my
    native propensities were toward Fairy Land, and also how
    much yeast is generally mixed up with the mental sustenance
    of a New Englander, it may not have been altogether amiss,
    in those childish and boyish days, to keep pace with this
    heavy-footed traveller and feed on the gross diet that he
    carried in his knapsack. It is wholesome food even now! And
    then, how English! Many of the latent sympathies that
    enabled me to enjoy the Old Country so well, and that so
    readily amalgamated themselves with the American ideas that
    seemed most adverse to them, may have been derived from, or
    fostered and kept alive by, the great English moralist.
    Never was a descriptive epithet more nicely appropriate than
    that! Doctor Johnson's morality was as English an article as
    a beef-steak."

    And for mere beauty of expression I cannot forbear quoting this
    passage about the days in a fine English summer:--

    "For each day seemed endless, though never wearisome. As far
    as your actual experience is concerned, the English summer
    day has positively no beginning and no end. When you awake,
    at any reasonable hour, the sun is already shining through
    the curtains; you live through unnumbered hours of Sabbath
    quietude, with a calm variety of incident softly etched upon
    their tranquil lapse; and at length you become conscious
    that it is bedtime again, while there is still enough
    daylight in the sky to make the pages of your book
    distinctly legible. Night, if there be any such season,
    hangs down a transparent veil through which the bygone day
    beholds its successor; or if not quite true of the latitude
    of London, it may be soberly affirmed of the more northern
    parts of the island that To-morrow is born before its
    Yesterday is dead. They exist together in the golden
    twilight, where the decrepit old day dimly discerns the face
    of the ominous infant; and you, though a mere mortal, may
    simultaneously touch them both, with one finger of
    recollection and another of prophecy."

    The Note-Books, as I have said, deal chiefly with, the superficial
    aspect of English life, and describe the material objects with which
    the author was surrounded. They often describe them admirably, and the
    rural beauty of the country has never been more happily expressed. But
    there are inevitably a great many reflections and incidental
    judgments, characterisations of people he met, fragments of psychology
    and social criticism, and it is here that Hawthorne's mixture of
    subtlety and simplicity, his interfusion of genius with what I have
    ventured to call the provincial quality, is most apparent. To an
    American reader this later quality, which is never grossly manifested,
    but pervades the Journals like a vague natural perfume, an odour of
    purity and kindness and integrity, must always, for a reason that I
    will touch upon, have a considerable charm; and such a reader will
    accordingly take an even greater satisfaction in the Diaries kept
    during the two years Hawthorne spent in Italy; for in these volumes
    the element I speak of is especially striking. He resigned his
    consulate at Liverpool towards the close of 1857--whether because he
    was weary of his manner of life there and of the place itself, as may
    well have been, or because he wished to anticipate supersession by the
    new government (Mr. Buchanan's) which was just establishing itself at
    Washington, is not apparent from the slender sources of information
    from which these pages have been compiled. In the month of January of
    the following year he betook himself with his family to the
    Continent, and, as promptly as possible, made the best of his way to
    Rome. He spent the remainder of the winter and the spring there, and
    then went to Florence for the summer and autumn; after which he
    returned to Rome and passed a second season. His Italian Note-Books
    are very pleasant reading, but they are of less interest than the
    others, for his contact with the life of the country, its people and
    its manners, was simply that of the ordinary tourist--which amounts to
    saying that it was extremely superficial. He appears to have suffered
    a great deal of discomfort and depression in Rome, and not to have
    been on the whole in the best mood for enjoying the place and its
    resources. That he did, at one time and another, enjoy these things
    keenly is proved by his beautiful romance, _Transformation_, which
    could never have been written by a man who had not had many hours of
    exquisite appreciation of the lovely land of Italy. But he took It
    hard, as it were, and suffered himself to be painfully discomposed by
    the usual accidents of Italian life, as foreigners learn to know it.
    His future was again uncertain, and during his second winter in Rome
    he was in danger of losing his elder daughter by a malady which he
    speaks of as a trouble "that pierced to my very vitals." I may
    mention, with regard to this painful episode, that Franklin Pierce,
    whose presidential days were over, and who, like other ex-presidents,
    was travelling in Europe, came to Rome at the time, and that the
    Note-Books contain some singularly beautiful and touching allusions to
    his old friend's gratitude for his sympathy, and enjoyment of his
    society. The sentiment of friendship has on the whole been so much
    less commemorated in literature than might have been expected from
    the place it is supposed to hold in life, that there is always
    something striking in any frank and ardent expression of it. It
    occupied, in so far as Pierce was the object of it, a large place in
    Hawthorne's mind, and it is impossible not to feel the manly
    tenderness of such lines as these:--

    "I have found him here in Rome, the whole of my early
    friend, and even better than I used to know him; a heart as
    true and affectionate, a mind much widened and deepened by
    the experience of life. We hold just the same relation to
    one another as of yore, and we have passed all the
    turning-off places, and may hope to go on together, still
    the same dear friends, as long as we live. I do not love him
    one whit the less for having been President, nor for having
    done me the greatest good in his power; a fact that speaks
    eloquently in his favour, and perhaps says a little for
    myself. If he had been merely a benefactor, perhaps I might
    not have borne it so well; but each did his best for the
    other, as friend for friend."

    The Note-Books are chiefly taken up with descriptions of the regular
    sights and "objects of interest," which we often feel to be rather
    perfunctory and a little in the style of the traditional tourist's
    diary. They abound in charming touches, and every reader of
    _Transformation_ will remember the delightful colouring of the
    numerous pages in that novel, which are devoted to the pictorial
    aspects of Rome. But we are unable to rid ourselves of the impression
    that Hawthorne was a good deal bored by the importunity of Italian
    art, for which his taste, naturally not keen, had never been
    cultivated. Occasionally, indeed, he breaks out into explicit sighs
    and groans, and frankly declares that he washes his hands of it.
    Already, in England, he had made the discovery that he could, easily
    feel overdosed with such things. "Yesterday," he wrote in 1856, "I
    went out at about twelve and visited the British Museum; an
    exceedingly tiresome affair. It quite crushes a person to see so much
    at once, and I wandered from hall to hall with a weary and heavy
    heart, wishing (Heaven forgive me!) that the Elgin marbles and the
    frieze of the Parthenon were all burnt into lime, and that the granite
    Egyptian statues were hewn and squared into building stones."

    The plastic sense was not strong in Hawthorne; there can be no better
    proof of it than his curious aversion to the representation of the
    nude in sculpture. This aversion was deep-seated; he constantly
    returns to it, exclaiming upon the incongruity of modern artists
    making naked figures. He apparently quite failed to see that nudity is
    not an incident, or accident, of sculpture, but its very essence and
    principle; and his jealousy of undressed images strikes the reader as
    a strange, vague, long-dormant heritage of his straight-laced Puritan
    ancestry. Whenever he talks of statues he makes a great point of the
    smoothness and whiteness of the marble--speaks of the surface of the
    marble as if it were half the beauty of the image; and when he
    discourses of pictures, one feels that the brightness or dinginess of
    the frame is an essential part of his impression of the work--as he
    indeed somewhere distinctly affirms. Like a good American, he took
    more pleasure in the productions of Mr. Thompson and Mr. Brown, Mr.
    Powers and Mr. Hart, American artists who were plying their trade in
    Italy, than in the works which adorned the ancient museums of the
    country. He suffered greatly from the cold, and found little charm in
    the climate, and during the weeks of winter that followed his arrival
    in Rome, he sat shivering by his fire and wondering why he had come
    to such a land of misery. Before he left Italy he wrote to his
    publisher--"I bitterly detest Rome, and shall rejoice to bid it
    farewell for ever; and I fully acquiesce in all the mischief and ruin
    that has happened to it, from Nero's conflagration downward. In fact,
    I wish the very site had been obliterated before I ever saw it."
    Hawthorne presents himself to the reader of these pages as the last of
    the old-fashioned Americans--and this is the interest which I just now
    said that his compatriots would find in his very limitations. I do not
    mean by this that there are not still many of his fellow-countrymen
    (as there are many natives of every land under the sun,) who are more
    susceptible of being irritated than of being soothed by the influences
    of the Eternal City. What I mean is that an American of equal value
    with Hawthorne, an American of equal genius, imagination, and, as our
    forefathers said, sensibility, would at present inevitably accommodate
    himself more easily to the idiosyncrasies of foreign lands. An
    American as cultivated as Hawthorne, is now almost inevitably more
    cultivated, and, as a matter of course, more Europeanised in advance,
    more cosmopolitan. It is very possible that in becoming so, he has
    lost something of his occidental savour, the quality which excites the
    goodwill of the American reader of our author's Journals for the
    dislocated, depressed, even slightly bewildered diarist. Absolutely
    the last of the earlier race of Americans Hawthorne was, fortunately,
    probably far from being. But I think of him as the last specimen of
    the more primitive type of men of letters; and when it comes to
    measuring what he succeeded in being, in his unadulterated form,
    against what he failed of being, the positive side of the image quite
    extinguishes the negative. I must be on my guard, however, against
    incurring the charge of cherishing a national consciousness as acute
    as I have ventured to pronounce his own.

    Out of his mingled sensations, his pleasure and his weariness, his
    discomforts and his reveries, there sprang another beautiful work.
    During the summer of 1858, he hired a picturesque old villa on the
    hill of Bellosguardo, near Florence, a curious structure with a
    crenelated tower, which, after having in the course of its career
    suffered many vicissitudes and played many parts, now finds its most
    vivid identity in being pointed out to strangers as the sometime
    residence of the celebrated American romancer. Hawthorne took a fancy
    to the place, as well he might, for it is one of the loveliest spots
    on earth, and the great view that stretched itself before him contains
    every element of beauty. Florence lay at his feet with her memories
    and treasures; the olive-covered hills bloomed around him, studded
    with villas as picturesque as his own; the Apennines, perfect in form
    and colour, disposed themselves opposite, and in the distance, along
    its fertile valley, the Arno wandered to Pisa and the sea. Soon after
    coming hither he wrote to a friend in a strain of high satisfaction:--

    "It is pleasant to feel at last that I am really away from
    America--a satisfaction that I never really enjoyed as long
    as I stayed in Liverpool, where it seemed to be that the
    quintessence of nasal and hand-shaking Yankeedom was
    gradually filtered and sublimated through my consulate, on
    the way outward and homeward. I first got acquainted with my
    own countrymen there. At Rome too it was not much better.
    But here in Florence, and in the summer-time, and in this
    secluded villa, I have escaped out of all my old tracks,
    and am really remote. I like my present residence
    immensely. The house stands on a hill, overlooking Florence,
    and is big enough to quarter a regiment, insomuch that each
    member of the family, including servants, has a separate
    suite of apartments, and there are vast wildernesses of
    upper rooms into which we have never yet sent exploring
    expeditions. At one end of the house there is a moss-grown
    tower, haunted by owls and by the ghost of a monk who was
    confined there in the thirteenth century, previous to being
    burnt at the stake in the principal square of Florence. I
    hire this villa, tower and all, at twenty-eight dollars a
    month; but I mean to take it away bodily and clap it into a
    romance, which I have in my head, ready to be written out."

    This romance was _Transformation_, which he wrote out during the
    following winter in Rome, and re-wrote during the several months that
    he spent in England, chiefly at Leamington, before returning to
    America. The Villa Montauto figures, in fact, in this tale as the
    castle of Monte-Beni, the patrimonial dwelling of the hero. "I take
    some credit to myself," he wrote to the same friend, on returning to
    Rome, "for having sternly shut myself up for an hour or two every day,
    and come to close grips with a romance which I have been trying to
    tear out of my mind." And later in the same winter he says--"I shall
    go home, I fear, with a heavy heart, not expecting to be very well
    contented there.... If I were but a hundred times richer than I am,
    how very comfortable I could be! I consider it a great piece of good
    fortune that I have had experience of the discomforts and miseries of
    Italy, and did not go directly home from England. Anything will seem
    like a Paradise after a Roman winter." But he got away at last, late
    in the spring, carrying his novel with him, and the book was
    published, after, as I say, he had worked it over, mainly during some
    weeks that he passed at the little watering-place of Redcar, on the
    Yorkshire coast, in February of the following year. It was issued
    primarily in England; the American edition immediately followed. It is
    an odd fact that in the two countries the book came out under
    different titles. The title that the author had bestowed upon it did
    not satisfy the English publishers, who requested him to provide it
    with another; so that it is only in America that the work bears the
    name of _The Marble Fawn_. Hawthorne's choice of this appellation is,
    by the way, rather singular, for it completely fails to characterise
    the story, the subject of which is the living faun, the faun of flesh
    and blood, the unfortunate Donatello. His marble counterpart is
    mentioned only in the opening chapter. On the other hand Hawthorne
    complained that _Transformation_ "gives one the idea of Harlequin in a
    pantomime." Under either name, however, the book was a great success,
    and it has probably become the most popular of Hawthorne's four
    novels. It is part of the intellectual equipment of the Anglo-Saxon
    visitor to Rome, and is read by every English-speaking traveller who
    arrives there, who has been there, or who expects to go.

    It has a great deal of beauty, of interest and grace; but it has to my
    sense a slighter value than its companions, and I am far from
    regarding it as the masterpiece of the author, a position to which we
    sometimes hear it assigned. The subject is admirable, and so are many
    of the details; but the whole thing is less simple and complete than
    either of the three tales of American life, and Hawthorne forfeited a
    precious advantage in ceasing to tread his native soil. Half the
    virtue of _The Scarlet Letter_ and _The House of the Seven Gables_ is
    in their local quality; they are impregnated with the New England air.
    It is very true that Hawthorne had no pretension to pourtray
    actualities and to cultivate that literal exactitude which is now the
    fashion. Had this been the case, he would probably have made a still
    graver mistake in transporting the scene of his story to a country
    which he knew only superficially. His tales all go on more or less "in
    the vague," as the French say, and of course the vague may as well be
    placed in Tuscany as in Massachusetts. It may also very well be urged
    in Hawthorne's favour here, that in _Transformation_ he has attempted
    to deal with actualities more than he did in either of his earlier
    novels. He has described the streets and monuments of Rome with a
    closeness which forms no part of his reference to those of Boston and
    Salem. But for all this he incurs that penalty of seeming factitious
    and unauthoritative, which is always the result of an artist's attempt
    to project himself into an atmosphere in which he has not a
    transmitted and inherited property. An English or a German writer (I
    put poets aside) may love Italy well enough, and know her well enough,
    to write delightful fictions about her; the thing has often been done.
    But the productions in question will, as novels, always have about
    them something second-rate and imperfect. There is in _Transformation_
    enough beautiful perception of the interesting character of Rome,
    enough rich and eloquent expression of it, to save the book, if the
    book could be saved; but the style, what the French call the _genre_,
    is an inferior one, and the thing remains a charming romance with
    intrinsic weaknesses.

    Allowing for this, however, some of the finest pages in all Hawthorne
    are to be found in it. The subject, as I have said, is a particularly
    happy one, and there is a great deal of interest in the simple
    combination and opposition of the four actors. It is noticeable that
    in spite of the considerable length of the story, there are no
    accessory figures; Donatello and Miriam, Kenyon and Hilda, exclusively
    occupy the scene. This is the more noticeable as the scene is very
    large, and the great Roman background is constantly presented to us.
    The relations of these four people are full of that moral
    picturesqueness which Hawthorne was always looking for; he found it in
    perfection in the history of Donatello. As I have said, the novel is
    the most popular of his works, and every one will remember the figure
    of the simple, joyous, sensuous young Italian, who is not so much a
    man as a child, and not so much a child as a charming, innocent
    animal, and how he is brought to self-knowledge and to a miserable
    conscious manhood, by the commission of a crime. Donatello is rather
    vague and impalpable; he says too little in the book, shows himself
    too little, and falls short, I think, of being a creation. But he is
    enough of a creation to make us enter into the situation, and the
    whole history of his rise, or fall, whichever one chooses to call
    it--his tasting of the tree of knowledge and finding existence
    complicated with a regret--is unfolded with a thousand ingenious and
    exquisite touches. Of course, to make the interest complete, there is
    a woman in the affair, and Hawthorne has done few things more
    beautiful than the picture of the unequal complicity of guilt between
    his immature and dimly-puzzled hero, with his clinging, unquestioning,
    unexacting devotion, and the dark, powerful, more widely-seeing
    feminine nature of Miriam. Deeply touching is the representation of
    the manner in which these two essentially different persons--the woman
    intelligent, passionate, acquainted with life, and with a tragic
    element in her own career; the youth ignorant, gentle, unworldly,
    brightly and harmlessly natural--are equalised and bound together by
    their common secret, which insulates them, morally, from the rest of
    mankind. The character of Hilda has always struck me as an admirable
    invention--one of those things that mark the man of genius. It needed
    a man of genius and of Hawthorne's imaginative delicacy, to feel the
    propriety of such a figure as Hilda's and to perceive the relief it
    would both give and borrow. This pure and somewhat rigid New England
    girl, following the vocation of a copyist of pictures in Rome,
    unacquainted with evil and untouched by impurity, has been
    accidentally the witness, unknown and unsuspected, of the dark deed by
    which her friends, Miriam and Donatello, are knit together. This is
    _her_ revelation of evil, her loss of perfect innocence. She has done
    no wrong, and yet wrongdoing has become a part of her experience, and
    she carries the weight of her detested knowledge upon her heart. She
    carries it a long time, saddened and oppressed by it, till at last she
    can bear it no longer. If I have called the whole idea of the presence
    and effect of Hilda in the story a trait of genius, the purest touch
    of inspiration is the episode in which the poor girl deposits her
    burden. She has passed the whole lonely summer in Rome, and one day,
    at the end of it, finding herself in St. Peter's, she enters a
    confessional, strenuous daughter of the Puritans as she is, and pours
    out her dark knowledge into the bosom of the Church--then comes away
    with her conscience lightened, not a whit the less a Puritan than
    before. If the book contained nothing else noteworthy but this
    admirable scene, and the pages describing the murder committed by
    Donatello under Miriam's eyes, and the ecstatic wandering, afterwards,
    of the guilty couple, through the "blood-stained streets of Rome," it
    would still deserve to rank high among the imaginative productions of
    our day.

    Like all of Hawthorne's things, it contains a great many light threads
    of symbolism, which shimmer in the texture of the tale, but which are
    apt to break and remain in our fingers if we attempt to handle them.
    These things are part of Hawthorne's very manner--almost, as one might
    say, of his vocabulary; they belong much more to the surface of his
    work than to its stronger interest. The fault of _Transformation_ is
    that the element of the unreal is pushed too far, and that the book is
    neither positively of one category nor of another. His "moonshiny
    romance," he calls it in a letter; and, in truth, the lunar element is
    a little too pervasive. The action wavers between the streets of Rome,
    whose literal features the author perpetually sketches, and a vague
    realm of fancy, in which quite a different verisimilitude prevails.
    This is the trouble with Donatello himself. His companions are
    intended to be real--if they fail to be so, it is not for want of
    intention; whereas he is intended to be real or not, as you please. He
    is of a different substance from them; it is as if a painter, in
    composing a picture, should try to give you an impression of one of
    his figures by a strain of music. The idea of the modern faun was a
    charming one; but I think it a pity that the author should not have
    made him more definitely modern, without reverting so much to his
    mythological properties and antecedents, which are very gracefully
    touched upon, but which belong to the region of picturesque conceits,
    much more than to that of real psychology. Among the young Italians of
    to-day there are still plenty of models for such an image as Hawthorne
    appears to have wished to present in the easy and natural Donatello.
    And since I am speaking critically, I may go on to say that the art of
    narration, in _Transformation_, seems to me more at fault than in the
    author's other novels. The story straggles and wanders, is dropped and
    taken up again, and towards the close lapses into an almost fatal
    vagueness.
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