AS to his social life in Brunswick, it may be said that Hawthorne, coming, as he did, from a family of exceptionally recluse habits, gained there his first practical knowledge of the world. It was not strange, therefore, that in his personal relations he formed few intimacies and rarely sought the friendship of others. Reserve was a prominent trait in his character, but it was the reserve of self-respect, not of pride or timidity. He discouraged advances in a negative way, and gave his confidence only to a few.
College friendships then, as now, were greatly influenced by association in the different literary societies. There were two of these at Bowdoin, the Peucinian and its young rival, the Athenaean. Several of the professors and most of the conservative students belonged to the first, while "Young Bowdoin" was more strongly attracted to the other.
The poet Longfellow was a Peucinian, and his elder brother an Athenaean. For that reason Hawthorne was better acquainted with Stephen
than with Henry, but the college relations of the poet and the romance writer were always kindly, and led to a strong friendship in later life.
Hawthorne was not studious in the general acceptation of the term, but he devoted much time to miscellaneous reading. His facility for acquiring knowledge would, with little labor, have placed him in the front rank of his class. As it was, he took much greater interest in the humanities than in the more abstruse branches of the prescribed course. Mathematics and metaphysics, as studies, he disliked and neglected, to his frequent discredit in the recitation-room; but the languages were attractive and pleasant. Especially did he like the Latin, which he wrote with great ease and purity. In the other studies of the curriculum he stood hardly above mediocrity, and in declamation he was literally nowhere. He never declaimed in the old chapel, as the students were required to do on Wednesdays. Fines and admonitions were alike powerless. He would not declaim. To this peculiarity is to be attributed his failure to have a part assigned him in the Commencement exercises on graduation, though his rank, No. 18 in a class of thirty-eight, would otherwise have entitled him to one.
He told me that when twelve or thirteen years
old, on some occasion in play-hours, he went upon a stage in the school-room to declaim. Some larger boys ridiculed him and pulled him down, which so mortified and enraged him that he was inspired with a lasting aversion to any future effort in that direction. Nor did he attempt to speak in public until many years afterwards, when, as United States Consul at Liverpool, he made a speech at a civic dinner, of which he wrote me an amusing account. He was more exultant at his success on that occasion than he ever seemed to be for the authorship of "The Scarlet Letter."
In the literary aspirations of his collegiate life poetry had apparently no place. Yet some small poems of his--written before entering college, and still resting in my memory--showed, as I thought, considerable merit. Since, however, he refrained from writing verses afterwards, one can only conjecture what his success would have been had he made poetry instead of prose the vehicle for his fancies.
In the "Biography," and in Mr. Lathrop's "Study," it appears that, while a young boy, he was much addicted to rhyming. At sixteen, however, he wrote his sister, "I have almost given up writing poetry. No man can be a poet and a book-keeper at the same time." This was written when he expected to become a merchant. For, in the same letter, he wrote, "I do not think
I shall ever go to college. I cannot bear the thought of living upon Uncle Robert for four years longer. How happy I should be to be able to say, 'I am lord of myself.'"
The world may well bless the memory of "Uncle Robert," that his liberality was unfaltering, and that his estimate of the judicious course for his nephew's education was so correct. Little, though, did he dream of the inestimable benefit he was bestowing upon all English-speaking peoples by his wise expenditure for the future author's training.
Reverting to the subject of poetry, I believe there is no evidence of Hawthorne's writing any poetry after he entered college, though he frequently quoted it. Apropos to his ante-college versifying, I remember that, on a moonlight evening, Hawthorne and I were leaning over the railing of the bridge just below the falls, listening to the falling water, and enjoying the beauties of the scene, when I recited some passages from the colloquy between Lorenzo and Jessica in the "Merchant of Venice." Then Hawthorne, in his deep, musical tones, responded with the following verses, which he said he had written before coming to college:
"We are beneath the dark blue sky,
And the moon is shining bright.
Oh, what can lift the soul so high
As the glow of a summer night,
When all the gay are hushed to sleep,
And they who mourn forget to weep
Beneath that gentle light?
"Is there no holier, happier land
Among those distant spheres,
Where we may meet that shadow band,
The dead of other years,
Where all the day the moonbeams rest,
And where at length the souls are blest
Of those who dwell in tears?
"Oh, if the happy ever leave
The bowers of bliss on high,
To cheer the hearts of those who grieve,
And wipe the tear-drop dry,
It is when moonlight sheds its ray,
More pure and beautiful than day,
And earth is like the sky."
I preserved the lines, and a few years since gave a copy to Mr. Lathrop, who published them in his interesting "Study of Hawthorne."
I remember also another little poem of Hawthorne's, which I wrote down soon after hearing it, but the manuscript was lost. It ran thus:
"The ocean hath its silent caves,
Dark, quiet, and alone;
Though there be fury on the waves,
Beneath them there is none.
"The awful spirits of the deep
Hold their communion there,
And there are those for whom we weep--
The young, the brave, the fair.
"The earth hath guilt, the earth hath care,
Unquiet are its graves,
But peaceful sleep is ever there
Beneath the dark blue waves.
"Calmly the wearied seamen rest
Beneath their own blue sea;
The ocean's solitudes are blest,
For there is purity."
This little poem was afterwards set to music by E. L. White.