Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, Volume I
By Julian Hawthorne, 1884
FOUR years in his native town of Salem succeeded Hawthorne's four years' residence in Concord. The period is externally definable as that in which he held the post of Surveyor in the Salem Custom House, and wrote "The Scarlet Letter." In its more interior aspect it was a season of ripened manhood, of domestic happiness and sorrow, of the bringing-up of children, of the broadening and deepening of character. The country was exchanged for the town; and something symbolical, perhaps, may be divined in the change. The man was made to feel, more intimately than heretofore, the strength and beauty of human sympathies; and the lovely experience of married happiness which he enjoyed, raised him to a moral standpoint from which he was enabled clearly to discern and state the nature and consequences of unfaithfulness, which form the theme of his memorable romance.
The Hawthornes occupied, in succession, three houses during their Salem residence. The first was the old family mansion in Herbert Street, where they had for fellow-inmates Madame Hawthorne and the two sisters, Elizabeth and Louisa. This proved inconvenient; and they afterwards rented, for a short time, a house in Chestnut Street. Their third and final abode was in Mall Street; and here there was room enough for the accommodation of Hawthorne's mother and sisters in a separate part of the house, so that the two families were enabled to carry on their respective existences with no further contact than might be voluntary on their part. It was in this house that Madame Hawthorne died; and not long after that event, Hawthorne, no longer one of the obscurest men of letters in America, but the author of one of America's most famous novels, removed to Lenox, in the county of Berkshire, Massachusetts.
The Salem letters and journals which constitute the bulk of this chapter are full of references to Hawthorne's children,--to the daughter, Una, born in Concord, and to the son, Julian, who came into the world two years later. Some of these references the biographer has thought fit to retain. A human being before he or she becomes a self-conscious individual possesses a certain charm which every humane person acknowledges, for the very reason that it is a natural and spontaneous charm, instead of being the result of character. There is something universal in it; the doings and sayings of a child, so far as they are childlike, are the doings and sayings of all children. The consideration which has weight in the present instance, however, is by no means the value to the biography of the children themselves. That could, at best, be but very small; it would be limited to such reflection of the parents' characteristics as might be perceived or imagined in the offspring. But the attitude of the father and mother towards their children, the manner of their dealings with them, and the calling-forth in the former of traits and phases of nature and character which are manifested only in response to the children's demand,--these are considerations which no biographer can afford to neglect; on the contrary, he may deem himself fortunate when he finds such material at hand. Moreover, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife so merged their own personal aims and desires in the welfare and interests of their children, that it would be impossible to give an intelligible picture of their domestic career, were the children to be blotted out of it.
The writer offers this explanation less out of a desire to shield his own modesty than in order to protect the vicarious delicacy and fastidiousness of a certain class of readers; and, in the hope that his attempt has not been unsuccessful, will proceed with his narrative.
Early in the new year Mrs. Hawthorne wrote to her mother:--
SALEM, HERBERT ST., January, 1846.
. . Una's force is immense. I am glad to see such will, since there is also a fund of loveliness. No one, I think, has a right to break the will of a child, but God; and if the child is taught to submit to Him through love, all other submission will follow with heavenly effect upon the character. God never drives even the most desperate sinner, but only invites or suggests through the events of His providence. I remember my own wilfulness, and how I used to think, when quite a child, that God was gentle and never frowned upon me, and that I would try more and more to be gentle to everybody in gratitude to Him, though they were not gentle to me. Una has her father's loveliness of nature, added to what little I possessed; and so I hope her task will be less difficult.
I have made my husband a new writing-gown,--one of those palm-leaf Moscow robes,--his old one being a honeycomb of holes. He looks regal in it. Purple and fine linen become him so much that I cannot bear to see him tattered and torn. And now I have almost arranged his wardrobe for a year to come, so that he can begin all over new again. He never lets me get tired. He arrests me the moment before I do too much, and he is then immitigable; and I cannot obtain grace to sew even an inch more, even if an inch more would finish my work. I have such rich experience of his wisdom in these things, that whatever may be the inconvenience, I gratefully submit.
We have not yet made any arrangements for the summer. On many accounts it would be inconvenient to remain in this house. Madame Hawthorne and Louisa are too much out of health to take care of a child, and I do not like to have Una in the constant presence of unhealthy persons. We have never let her go into Madame Hawthorne's mysterious chamber since November, partly on this account, and partly because it is so much colder than the nursery, and has no carpet on it. We cannot go to Boston to live, for it would not suit my husband's arrangements, and I would rather live in a tub than where he is not.
--One of the present biographer's earliest recollections is of his father's palm-leaf dressing-gown, and of the latter's habit of wiping his pen upon the red flannel lining of it. At length his wife made a cloth pen-wiper in the form of a butterfly, and surreptitiously sewed it on in the blackest centre of the ink-stains, much to Mr. Hawthorne's gratification and amusement. Here is another letter, bearing date March 22, 1846:--
DEAREST MOTHER,--I am glad you approve of our plan of a temporary residence in Boston. There is only one solitary drawback, and this is the occasional absence of my husband, should he enter his official station before we return to Salem. But he will only be absent in the morning, so that I shall see him as much as now. As for Una, she will throw a light on the sunshine for you this summer. Every day she has greater command of expression. Of late, a nice sense of propriety has found utterance in her. Last evening, after I had been picking down the wick of a lighted lamp, she said with the most tender and protecting air, "Has oo burned oosef, mamma? Oo must take tare and not burn oosef, betause it is not proper to burn oosef." At table she says, "A little water, if oo please, papa; and be tareful not spill, betause it is not proper to spill water on the tloth, papa."
--The appointment to the "official station" came the next day.
THIS morning we had authentic intelligence that my husband is nominated, by the President himself, for Surveyor of the Custom House. It is now certain, and so I tell it to you. Governor Fairfield wrote the letter himself. The salary is twelve hundred dollars.
Will you ask father to go to Earle's and order for Mr. Hawthorne a suit of clothes: the coat to be of broadcloth, of six or seven dollars a yard; the pantaloons of kerseymere or broadcloth of quality to correspond; and the vest of satin,--all to be black?
--An inscrutable destiny had decreed that Mr. Hawthorne's next child should be born in Boston, and accordingly the summer and autumn of this year were spent in a house in Carver Street in that city. Afterwards the family went back to Salem, and lived awhile in the Chestnut Street dwelling. Towards the beginning of the winter Mrs. Hawthorne wrote:--
SALEM, Nov. 17, 1846.
My husband sees the actual bearings of things with wonderful precision, though some would suppose him "of imagination all compact." But those of whom Shakspeare spoke were probably as many-sided as Mr. Hawthorne; for people who fail in imagination are apologies for men, like the poor wronged horses with side-blinders. If I had a hundred thousand of the dead Dudley L. Pickman's fifteen hundred thousand dollars, I would do several things for my friends. But instead of a hundred thousand dollars, we shall not have a cent over our expenses this year, both because we had to spend more in Boston, and because Custom House fees have been unusually small this summer, and government is abominably remiss in paying the "constructed fees" due the officers.
As to Baby, his cheeks, eyes, and limbs affirm enormous well-being. He weighs twenty-three pounds, which is within two pounds of Una's weight when she was eighteen months old,--and he is not quite five months old. His mighty physique is not all fat, but he is modelled on a great plan in respect to his frame. Una looks like a fairy golden-hair beside him: she is opaline in lustre and delicacy.
I wish you would tell Mr. Cheney that Mr. Hawthorne was never so handsome as now, and he must come directly and draw him.
Yesterday we went to Mrs. Forrester's to see an old book once belonging to our distinguished ancestor William Hathorne, 1634. Rachel Forrester is making out a genealogical tree of the Hawthorne race. In the evening my husband and I spent an hour and a half at Mr. Howes', with Mr. Emerson while Louisa Hawthorne and Dora kept watch here. It is the first time we have spent the evening out since Una was born. . . .
--Here is a passage which throws light upon Mr. Hawthorne's taste in the matter of female attire:--
APRIL 23, 1847.
The dark purple mousseline which I wore in Boston I have had to give up; for my husband all at once protested that he could not see me in it any longer, and that he hated it beyond all endurance. He begged me to give it to Dora and to pay her for accepting it! Dora made it, you know, and admired it exceedingly, and needed it very much, and was made quite happy by possessing it. I only regret it because a certain beloved Fairy sent it to me from Fairy Land; but this is a secret, and you must not ask me any questions about it. Mr. Hawthorne does not like to see me wear dark materials, and he is truly contented only when I shine in silk.
We have not a house yet. That house in Bridge Street is unattainable. We may have to stay here during the summer, after all. Birds do visit our trees in Chestnut Street, and Una talks incessantly about flowers, birds, and fields. She is a perfect little Idyl of the Spring,--a Pastoral Song.
--The new house was not discovered until six or seven months later; but its suitableness, when found, seems to have compensated for the delay. The mention of the study (in Mrs. Hawthorne's subjoined description of it) suggests the remark that Hawthorne did a good deal of literary work in Salem in addition to "The Scarlet Letter." It was in the Mall Street house that "The Snow Image" and some of the other tales included in the volume bearing that title, were written. Still, the productiveness of these years is not to be compared with that of the period following the publication of his first great Romance.
SALEM, Sept. 10, 1847.
How glad you will be, dear mother, to hear that we are to have the Mall Street house, and for $200! We shall move this month, and Una will have the splendid October to live out of doors on a smiling earth. There could not be anything more convenient for us in almost all respects. The middle parlor I am going to live in, because it will save going up and down stairs, both for me and my handmaiden, who will be close at hand in her kitchen across the entry; and because it will save much wood to have no separate nursery, and because there is no other room for a nursery unless I take the drawing-room or the guest-chamber in the third story. The little room next the parlor will hold all the rubbish of a nursery, so that I can keep the parlor very nice, - and this parlor overlooks the yard and garden, so that I can watch Una all the time she is out of doors. Our chamber is to be the room I have named the drawing-room, because it will be so mightily convenient to have all on one floor. The house is single in depth, and so we shall bask in sunshine all the winter. The children will have a grand race-course on rainy days from the end of the chamber to the end of the pantry. My husband's study will be high from all noise, and it will be to me a Paradise of Peace to think of him alone and still, yet within my reach. He has now lived in the nursery a year without a chance for one hour's uninterrupted musing, and without his desk being once opened! He--the heaven-gifted Seer--to spend his life between the Custom House and the nursery! I want him to be with me, not because he must be, but only when he is just in the mood for all the scenes of Babydom. In the evening he is always mine, for then he never wishes to write.
By this arrangement I expect to have a very easy time, and also to have some TIME. Our drawing-room will be above the chamber; but it will be, at present, unfurnished, because we have nothing to put into it, and cannot now afford to buy any furniture. I wish we could chance to get furniture as cheaply as Mary did at some auction, yet so pretty and new. But we cannot get any now.
It will be very pleasant to have Madame Hawthorne in the house. Her suite of rooms is wholly distinct from ours, so that we shall only meet when we choose to do so. There are very few people in the world whom I should like or would consent to have in the house even in this way; but Madame Hawthorne is so uninterfering, of so much delicacy, that I shall never know she is near excepting when I wish it; and she has so much kindness and sense and spirit that she will be a great resource in emergencies. Elizabeth is an invisible entity. I have seen her but once in two years; and Louisa never intrudes. Being responsible persons, also, I can leave one of the children with them, when I take the other out to walk; and it is barely possible that I may take a real walk with my husband again while in the body, and leave both children at home with an easy mind. It is no small satisfaction to know that Mrs. Hawthorne's remainder of life will be glorified by the presence of these children and of her own son. I am so glad to win her out of that Castle Dismal, and from the mysterious chamber into which no mortal ever peeped, till Una was born, and Julian,--for they alone have entered the penetralia. Into that chamber the sun never shines. Into these rooms in Mall Street it blazes without stint. . .
--In picturesque contrast with the matter-of-fact conditions of existence in the old New England town, is the following picture of Italy, from the pen of George William Curtis, which had reached them during the summer, and which is too pleasant and characteristic to be omitted.
SALERNO, May 4, 1847.
MY DEAR FRIEND,--Yesterday I went to Paestum, and had a Grecian day. When I am at beautiful places here in Italy, I am attended by troops of invisible friends, and all day yesterday I was thinking of you; so while the Mediterranean rolls and plunges under my window in this little town below Naples, I can look upon the dim, dark line, fancy you upon the other shore, and send this shout across, which, in telling you of the rare delight which I experienced yesterday, will tell you how constantly you are remembered in a country which is only more beautiful with every new day.
I left Naples with Burril and two other young artists last Friday, for an excursion of some two or three weeks among the mountains upon the seashore, where Salvator Rosa studied, and in whose magnificent heights and ravines and arching rocks, through which the sea sleeps far away, the eye constantly detects the kindred of the bold landscapes it has admired of that most picturesque of picture-makers. Intricate mountain paths wind over these ravines, in whose bases, as at home, foam and gurgle silver swift streams, and whose opening vista is broad and calm upon steep pointed hills, whose highest summits are square with convents and castles. Along these paths creep the dark-haired, gypsy-like women, bearing burdens upon their heads, so heavy that I cannot lift them. These weights must injure the brain, so that whole races deteriorate. The toiling processions pause at the small square stone shrines of the Madonna; and some lay a few flowers gathered from the mountain-side before the mild-featured portrait of the Virgin, others fall upon their knees and say an Ave Maria; the men raise their hats as they pass, and the half-conscious expression of reliance upon and relations with an unseen beauty and bounty is very beautiful. The Italians are too poetic a people to acknowledge or enjoy a religion which is not altogether picturesque and impressive to the imagination. And how much the Catholic Church is so, one does not realize until he sits here in the very spray of the fountain.
The mountains are a continual succession of nests, like those in Northwestern Massachusetts, and the town where we were lies on a plain as fertile as the Connecticut banks, with a green of spring more lustrous and intense than we see in New England. From the little town of Cava we came here on Sunday morning, riding upon a road which is scooped out of a mountain which slopes into the sea,--for the whole coast here is of that character. All day Sunday I loitered along the shore; and at daybreak yesterday morning we were off for Paestum, which is some twenty-five miles south of Salerno. We drove over a wide plain between the mountains and the sea, which as we came into Calabria was very gloomy and dreary. At first there were a few vineyards, arranged differently from those in Tuscany. There the vines are trained over short yawning-boughed trees; here they are festooned in long garlands from tree to tree. We reached Paestum about nine o'clock. It was one of the oldest Italian cities known to history. Augustus visited its remains as antiquities; and the three temples were long forgotten, buried alive in the desolation of the country, until they were discovered, a century since, by a young Neapolitan artist. They are near the great road and in plain sight; but the people around are so miserably ignorant and wretched, that they would be as much interested and surprised by the mountains or the sea as by structures which seemed coeval and of equal majesty with them. The ancient town was always unhealthy. Its walls were but two and a half miles in circumference; and of the whole city only three temples, an arched gateway, a few rods of grass-grown wall, and some fragments of stone called an amphitheatre, alone remain. But the temples are the oldest and most perfect ruins in Europe. Two of them stand side by side, the other an eighth of a mile distant. The middle one is called of Neptune, under whose protection the city is supposed to have been, and whose Grecian name it bore,--Poseidon. The two others are called of Ceres, and a Basilica. The temple and the arch are in the grandest and simplest and purest taste; I have never before seen buildings which stood in a proper breadth and grandeur of space. The sea lies a mile away over the plain; on the other side are stern mountains, their bases smoothly green with the rounding tufts of olive groves. The plain in many parts is uninhabitable from the stagnant waters which breed the most deadly miasmas. Yet it is matted around the temples with the rankest luxuriance of weeds and plants, which lace and choke each other, covered with the most profuse variety of deeply colored flowers. Everywhere it is desolate and sad. A young man who had been there for a few days gave me mournful accounts of the poverty and misery of the people, who are all beggars, and who contract horrible diseases from the famine and malaria. In early June the proprietors who own the land retire to the mountains for the summer, leaving those who cannot afford to go to the mercy of the deadly atmosphere and the most griping want. All the children came begging, with prematurely old faces, heavy, sick eyes, and an unnatural prominence of the stomach which was horrible. Two little girls moaned to me, one of whom had only a battered nightgown and a heavy woollen wrapper to protect her head and body from the sun, which yesterday, in the first days of May, was very intense. I saw several children eating a root which looked and smelt like a rank weed; and I realized the misery of Ireland, except that there are thousands, and here a few dozens. Droves of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats passed silently and heavily by, followed by the taciturn, wondering peasant, who stopped and looked curiously upon the strangers; and in the late afternoon an old beggar sat under the arch of the gateway, and displayed a picture of the Blessed Mary, in whose name he gasped for charity.
We lingered the whole day among the ruins, in the temples, or lying a little way from them on beds of the most honey-breathed clover, which made the air sweet enough for all the gorgeous blossoms that hung and nodded among it. I have never seen any building so exquisite as the Temple of Neptune. It is like a strain of music; and the satisfaction in looking upon it was complete and rapturous, like that of seeing finest flowers and pictures and sunsets and fruits and statues. It stands so firm and free in the air, an unimpaired witness of the Grecian grandeur in art. I have not seen anything that inspired in me more reverence for human genius; and I could well fancy that Time would not prey upon a form so delicately perfect, which draws upon the flowery plain, midway between the mountains and the sea, lines as aerial as their own. It defies Nature and her withering years. Birds were singing in and around it, and wheeling above it in long sweeping lines, which seemed transfixed in the temple's flowing grace. We must feel that the Greeks are yet our masters in those arts and aims which are still the best; and could you have seen that temple in the sunny silence of the fresh May morning, I am sure that you would have thrilled with the consciousness that your ideas of Grecian grace and culture were buds only, when measured by this flower.
Paestum was famous in history and poetry for its roses, and I plucked a few buds, which I hope will be well enough preserved for me to offer Mrs. Hawthorne when I return to America. But how return from a life which is so constantly new and charming? I left Rome three weeks since, only comforted because I promised myself to return, and found Naples sunny and sauntering, quite as beautiful although so different,--having no association to interest, but spacious and sunny, with an unending series of pictures upon its bay; for the bay of Naples is as beautiful as its fame. Its lines are long and grand,--mountain and sea lines; and you have lived too long upon the seashore not to know that it is dower enough for any situation. Naples is a lazy Italian Paris upon these sunny shores. There is a great appearance of business, but it is only the bustle of laziness riding to its enjoyment. Upon the shore the streets are wide, and the Royal Villa or Promenade stretches for half a mile upon the water, tastefully and carefully arranged, with fine copies of the noblest statues so placed under trees and among flowers that their beauty is greater, and art is dignified by their harmonious blending with the line of the waves and clouds and trees. Handsome women and children walk and play among the trees, and it is by far the finest public walk I have seen in Italy.
During the last part of my Roman residence I became much acquainted with and fascinated by a boy of some nine or ten years, named John Risley, who is an American, and who, with his father and younger brother, has acquired great fame in Europe as a gymnast. They play at all the great theatres; and while I have often seen wonderful feats of strength and skill, I have never seen any human motion, not excepting Fanny Ellsler's dancing, so flowingly graceful as this boy's. I went constantly to see them, particularly him, in Rome, and could not resist knowing him. We walked a great deal together. I saw him constantly, and found him noble and affectionate, with all the elements of the finest manly character. Whether he will be such a man as he is boy, I doubt; for his father, although a perfect physical man, is not refined or gentle, and necessarily has a great influence upon my boy. During the time, too, I felt the full fascination of the heads of Antinous in the Vatican, and realized the pure deep love he could have inspired. I speak of Risler because they return to America during the summer, and after one tour through the United States will retire from the stage; and I hoped that Una might be old enough to realize her fairy love in his beautiful motions. Margaret Fuller reached Rome about a fortnight before I left. She seems well, and it was very pleasant to hear her stories of the famous men she has seen in France and England,--because I see no men and she sees them always so well. I liked her more than I ever did. I hope to find her on my return to Rome, if Southern Italy does not charm us too long. Cranch, also, I left in Rome. Did you know that he is a father of a month's standing, and that his son bears my name? Mr. Emerson's poems have reached these benighted shores; but I find that he has published all the best, except the "Threnody." Ellery Channing's I have not seen. In the dearth of newspapers I gradually drift away from all knowledge of what is going on in the book way at home; but beyond the confines of newspaper reading lie many good things. On Vesuvius I saw the grandest daybreak and sunrise. I go on no mountain-tops now without remembering Wachusett. Pompeii, too, is unspeakably solemn and imposing. We think at home that we know something of these things, but it is only the imagination of mountain prospects from the valley below. Ascend into this Italian heaven, and you shall find all shackles of men and customs fall away like clouds at sunrise. The want of the public opinion which is the safeguard at home is the security of satisfaction here.
Give much love to Mrs. Hawthorne and Una.
G. W. CURTIS.
NATH. HAWTHORNE, Esq., Salem, Mass.
--Life now went on smoothly for a time, from a worldly as well as from a spiritual point of view. The Surveyor's salary was sufficient unto the day, if not unto the future; and the surroundings were congenial. Change of air is uniformly beneficial; and, after a season in the rarefied atmosphere of Emerson and Margaret Fuller, it was wholesome to seek temporary relaxation on the levels of ordinary humanity. Mrs. Hawthorne writes (November, 1847):
My husband began retiring to his study on the 1st of November, and writes every afternoon. Have you seen the most exquisite of reviews upon 'Evangeline,' very short, but containing all? Evangeline is certainly the highest production of Mr. Longfellow.
Julian was seventeen months old yesterday, and walked to the Common on his little feet, with Dora, while Una had gone to walk with her father. They met, and I went to the gate and saw them returning together, Julian taking hold of his father's and Una's hands, and Una shining with joy at taking the first walk with Julian. Oh, am I not happy? I am, I am!' as the Peri sang when she opened Heaven's gate with a tear; (my husband says, 'That is, she tore it open!') Julian idolizes his father, and will not come to me when he is in the room. Una is full of surprising stories. The other day she told one about a little girl who was naughtier and naughtier, and finally, as a culmination of wickedness, 'struck God'.' I could not help thinking how many people 'struck God.'
"We have been surprised by a visit from Ellery Channing. He stayed but two hours, and was as entertaining and inexplicable as ever, making himself welcome by his wonderful smile. He said that Mr. Emerson had become a man of the world more, and that he was not so easy of access as formerly."
--About this time the family journal, begun in Concord, seems to have turned up again; but its pages are now devoted almost exclusively to chronicling the exploits of the two children. Hawthorne himself, quite as often as his wife, acted the part of reporter; and it would be instructive to contrast the style and the quality of the insight of the two observers. The mother sees goodness and divinity shining through everywhere; the father's attitude is deductive and moralizing. After following them through all the vicissitudes of a day, for example, there comes this passage:--
"SALEM, 1/4 of 8 o'clock, March, 1848.--I have just been for a walk round Buffum's corner, and returning, after some half an hour's absence, find Una and Julian gone to bed. Thus ends the day of these two children,--one of them four years old, the other some months less than two. But the days and the years melt away so rapidly that I hardly know whether they are still little children at their parents' knees, or already a maiden and a youth, a woman and a man. This present life has hardly substance and tangibility enough to be the image of eternity. The future too soon becomes the present, which, before we can grasp it, looks back upon us as the past. It must, I think, be only the image of an image. Our next state of existence, we may hope, will be more real,--that is to say, it may be only one remove from a reality. But, as yet, we dwell in the shadow cast by time, which is itself the shadow cast by eternity."
--During the ensuing summer Mrs. Hawthorne made a visit of a few weeks to her mother in Boston, taking the children with her; and while she was away, her husband wrote her the two following letters:--
SALEM, SURVEYOR'S OFFICE, June 19, 1848.
ONLY BELOVEDEST,--I received thy letter, and was as much refreshed by it as if it had been a draught of ice-water,--a rather inapt comparison, by the way. Thou canst not imagine how lonely our house is. I wish, some time or other, thou wouldest let me take the two children and go away for a few days, and thou remain behind. Otherwise thou canst have no idea of what it is. And after all, there is a strange bliss in being made sensible of the happiness of my customary life by this blank interval.
Tell my little daughter Una that her dolly, since her departure, has been blooming like a rose,--such an intense bloom, indeed, that I rather suspected her of making free with a brandy-bottle. On taxing her with it, however, she showed no signs of guilt or confusion, and I trust it was owing merely to the hot weather. The color has now subsided into quite a moderate tint, and she looks splendidly at a proper distance, though, on close inspection, her skin appears rather coarse. She has contracted an unfortunate habit of squinting, and her mouth, I am sorry to say, is somewhat askew. I shall take her to task on these matters, and hope to produce a reformation. Should I fail, thou must take her in hand. Give Una a kiss, and tell her I love her dearly.
THINE OWNEST HUSBAND.
SALEM, July 5, 1848.
UNSPEAKABLY BELOVEDEST,--Thy letter has just been handed to me. It was most comfortable to me, because it gives such a picture of thy life with the children. I could see the whole family of my heart before my eyes, and could hear you all talking together.
I went to town, and got home here between eleven and twelve o'clock at night. I went into the little room to put on my linen coat, and, on my return to the sitting-room, behold! a stranger there,--whom dost thou think it might be? --it was my sister Elizabeth! I did not wish to risk frightening her away by anything like an exhibition of wonder; and so we greeted each other kindly and cordially, but with no more empressement than if we were constantly in the habit of meeting. It being so late, and I so tired, we did not have much talk then; but she said she meant to go to walk this afternoon, and asked me to go with her, which I promised to do. Perhaps she will now make it her habit to come down and see us occasionally in the evening.
The other night, I dreamt that I was at Newton, in a room with thee and with several other people and thou tookst occasion to announce that thou hadst now ceased to be my wife, and hadst taken another husband. Thou madest this intelligence known with such perfect composure and sang-froid,-- not particularly addressing me, but the company generally,--that it benumbed my thoughts and feelings, so that I had nothing to say. But, hereupon, some woman who was there present, informed the company that, in this state of affairs, having ceased to be thy husband, I had become hers, and, turning to me, very coolly inquired whether she or I should write to inform my mother of the new arrangement How the children were to be divided, I know not. I only know that my heart suddenly broke loose, and I began to expostulate with thee in an infinite agony, in the midst of which I awoke. But the sense of unspeakable injury and outrage hung about me for a long time, and even yet it has not quite departed. Thou shouldst not behave so when thou comest to me in dreams.
Oh, Phoebe, I want thee much. Thou aft the only person in the world that ever was necessary to me. Other people have occasionally been more or less agreeable; but I think I was always more at ease alone than in anybody's company, till I knew thee. And now I am only myself when thou art within my reach. Thou art an unspeakably beloved woman. How couldst thou inflict such frozen agony upon me in that dream?
If I write any more, it would only be to express more lovings and longings; and as they are impossible to express, I may as well close.
--There is a tradition in the family that the extraordinary seclusion of "Aunt Ebe," mentioned above, was due to the following grievous misunderstanding. Una had been in the habit of passing an hour or two of each day in her aunt's room, the child being a great favorite with that lady. On one occasion, however, when her mother was about sending her up as usual, Una said, "I don't want to go to Aunt Ebe any more!" "Why not?" her mother inquired. "Because," Una replied, "Aunt Ebe makes me naughty. She gives me candy; and when I tell her you don't let me have candy, she says, 'Oh, never mind; your mother will never know!" This alarming report led to investigations and inquiries, the upshot of which was a suspension of Una's visits, and the total disappearance from mortal view of Aunt Ebe. In process of time, however, the breach was happily mended, as we have seen.
The next letter is to Una from her father, containing more news of the dolly previously mentioned. It should, perhaps, he explained that the splendor of dolly's complexion, and the other modifications in her physiognomy, were the result of Mr. Hawthorne's practices upon her with his wife's palette and brushes. He often used to amuse himself and the children by painting little faces for them; and it was always his way to make the cheeks of these visages as ruddy as vermilion would allow.
SALEM, June 7, 1848.
MY DEAR LITTLE UNA,--I have been very much pleased with the letters which you have sent me: and I am glad to find that you do not forget me, for I think of you a great deal. I bring home a great many beautiful flowers,--roses and poppies and lilies and bluebells and pinks and many more besides, -but it makes me feel sad to think that my little Una cannot see them. Your dolly wants to see you very much. She sits up in my study all day long and has nobody to talk with. I try to make her as comfortable as I can, but she does not seem to be in very good spirits. She has been quite good, and has grown very pretty, since you went away. Aunt Louisa and Dora are going to make her a new gown and a new bonnet.
I hope you are a good little girl, and are kind to your little brother, and Horace, and Georgie, and the baby. You must not trouble mamma but must do all you can to help her.
Dora wishes to see you very much. So do Grandmamma and Aunt Ebe and Aunt Louisa. Aunt Ebe and I went to walk together, a day or two ago, and the rain came and wet us a little.
Do not you wish to come home and see me? I think we shall be very happy when you come, for I am sure you will be a good little girl. Good-by.
YOUR AFFECTIONATE FATHER
--The summer and autumn passed away without incident; but there is a dim impression on the mind of one of the children of having heard a story read to him about a certain miraculous snow image, which he was, for a long time, firmly convinced that he and his sister had made in their own yard. Be that as it may, the subjoined letter shows that Hawthorne was at work about something; and "The Snow Image" was among the results of his labor. It was first published in a "Memorial Volume " to Mrs. Osgood, and afterwards, I believe, was issued by itself with colored illustrations. "Elizabeth's Book," spoken of below, was brought out the next year, under the title of "Aesthetic Papers." The article finally contributed to it by Hawthorne was that called "Main Street." The story alluded to in the first paragraph of his letter was probably "Ethan Brand." It was too lurid for Miss Peabody's aestheticism.
SALEM, December, 1848.
MY DEAR MOTHER,--I shall send with this letter my husband's article for Elizabeth's book. What is the name of the book? My husband says that if this paper will not suit the book, he will make some other use of it if you will send it back. He wishes the note at the end of the manuscript to be placed at the beginning of the printed text as a preface; and he thinks it had better be upon a separate fore-leaf. It is a tremendous truth, written, as he often writes truth, with characters of fire, upon an infinite gloom,--softened so as not wholly to terrify, by divine touches of beauty,--revealing pictures of nature, and also the tender spirit of a child.
What good news from France! What a pleasant surprise it must have been to that worthy Monsieur who was imprisoned for a political offence and condemned to be executed, to find himself all at once made Governor! There seems to be a fine fresh ail in France just now, and I hope it will extend through the atmosphere of Europe. It is a great day when kings are, after all, found to be nothing but helpless men as soon as the people feel them to be so; and it is very pretty when the people do not hurt the kings, but merely make them run. Since Prince Metternich has resigned, I conceive that monarchy is in its decline.
Julian rides very far on his hobby-horse,--round the whole earth,--and then dismounts, loaded down with superb presents for us all,--for his father, golden books, golden pens, golden horses, and all appropriate gifts for a scholar and a gentleman; for me, golden work-baskets, golden needles, and such things. In these golden dreams he reminds me of my brother Wellington, who used to pour golden showers upon his friends. He goes to Boston a great deal to see you; but I suppose you do not often perceive him.
--I find this allusion to "Main Street" and to the "Aesthetic" volume in a letter from Mrs. Peabody to her daughter:--
MY DEAR Sophy,--In our "Evening Traveller" is a very excellent notice of Elizabeth's book by the editor. Speaking of "Main Street," he says: "No one but Hawthorne could have written it. It is perfectly graphic. If there were an artist of genius enough to transfer it to canvas, it would make a panorama of inestimable worth." Miss Lucy Osgood gave an oration about it in our book-room yesterday, in her usual emphatic manner, declaring she never was so charmed. We have good hope that the book will sell, and those who have it are already expressing a wish to have another. One gentleman has subscribed for three numbers of the next volume. If this edition all sells, she will make $400 clear.
--The time was now approaching when a bit of shrewd political manoeuvring on the part of persons professing to be his friends was to oust Hawthorne from the Surveyorship, and bring forth "The Scarlet Letter." Meanwhile, from the pages of the family journal, I extract the following curious study of the children,--one out of many which he wrote there.
SALEM, January, 1849.--It is one of Una's characteristics never to shut the door. Yet this does not seem exactly to indicate a loose, harum-scarum disposition; for I think she is rather troubled by any want of regularity in matters about her. She sometimes puts the room in order, and sets things to rights, very effectively. When she leaves anything loose, it is owing to a hasty, headlong mood, intent upon the end, and rushing at once towards it. It is Julian's characteristic, on the other hand, always to shut the door, whatever hurry he may be in. It does not seem to interfere with the settled purpose wherewith he pursues his object, although, indeed, he is not so strenuous in his purposes as Una; and it seems to cost him little or no sacrifice of feeling to give them up. "Well," he says benignly, after being reasoned or remonstrated with, and turns joyfully to something else. Nevertheless, he is patient of difficulties, and unweariable in his efforts to accomplish his enterprises,--as, for instance, in building a house of blocks, where he renews the structure again and again, however often it may tumble down, only smiling at each new catastrophe; when Una would have blazed up in a passion, and tossed her building materials to the other side of the room. Her mother thinks that her not shutting the door is owing to laziness. She has a great fund of laziness, like most people who move with an impetus.
Her beauty is the most flitting, transitory, most uncertain and unaccountable affair, that ever had a real existence; it beams out when nobody expects it; it has mysteriously passed away when you think yourself sure of it. If you glance sideways at her, you perhaps think it is illuminating her face, but, turning full round to enjoy it, it is gone again. When really visible, it is rare and precious as the vision of an angel. It is a transfiguration,--a grace, delicacy, or ethereal fineness,--which at once, in my secret soul, makes me give up all severe opinions that I may have begun to form about her. It is but fair to conclude that on these occasions we see her real soul. When she seems less lovely, we merely see something external. But, in truth, one manifestation belongs to her as much as another; for, before the establishment of principles, what is character but the series and succession of moods?
The sentiment of a picture, tale, or poem is seldom lost upon her; and when her feelings are thus interested, she will not hear to have them interfered with by any ludicrous remark or other discordance. Yet she has, often, a rhinoceros-armor against sentiment or tenderness; you would think she were marble or adamant. It seems to me that, like many sensitive people, her sensibilities are more readily awakened by fiction than realities.
Julian and Una are now running to and fro across the room. There never was a gait more expressive of childish force and physical well-being than his; no faintness, weakness, weariness, about it. Una has vigor, too, but it is extremely dependent on the state of her spirits or her nerves; and unless her mind be right, she will be tired, perhaps, the moment she is out of bed; or, if there is anything to excite her, she may be in the highest physical force after all the toils of a weary day. Julian's vigor is, in a much greater degree, what is natural and proper to his body. . . .
--In the "English Note-Books," in 1855, Hawthorne wrote that he was much moved while reading the manuscript of "The Scarlet Letter" to his wife. "But I was then," he adds, "in a very nervous state, having gone through a great diversity and severity of emotion, while writing it." In fact, several calamities befell at this time, as if in sinister atonement for the quiet felicity of so many years. First of all, came his unexpected official decapitation, and the consequent necessity of concentrating his whole imaginative energy upon his new book,- the success of which, of course, he was very far from anticipating. The obligation to write for one's bread is (for a sensitively organized man, with a family dependent upon him) likely to be productive of considerable anxiety of mind; but these conditions were not, it appears, severe enough by themselves for the birth of "The Scarlet Letter." Midway in its composition, Madame Hawthorne was taken dangerously ill,--she was above seventy years of age,--and, after a struggle of a few weeks, she died. Domestic embarrassments, arising from insufficient pecuniary means, followed; and in the autumn the entire household was prostrated by illness, Mr. Hawthorne's disease being an almost intolerable attack of earache, lasting without intermission for several days, during which he was obliged to take the whole charge of the children. Matters might have become still worse, had not Miss E. P. Peabody chanced to hear of the family's condition; when she immediately, at no small personal loss and inconvenience, hastened to the scene of disaster, and by her exertions succeeded in substantially alleviating it. Such were the straits and turmoils amidst which the most terse and concentrated Romance of that generation was conceived and written; but, despite all hindrances, moral and physical, it was in the printer's hands within six months from the time of its commencement.
Regarding the political intrigue which turned Hawthorne out of his position, it is not necessary to say much. A Mr. Upham, whose name has already appeared in these pages, and some other persons who had always avowed the utmost friendly solicitude for Hawthorne, drew up a petition praying that a certain individual be appointed to a certain office, namely, the Salem Surveyorship; and to this petition they obtained the signatures of a number of men of Hawthorne's own party, by the simple device of suppressing the fact that Hawthorne was himself the incumbent of the Surveyorship in question. When the truth came out, they protected themselves by casting reflections upon Hawthorne's political and even upon his private character. One may smile, now, at the final issue of all these evilly meant designs; but it is none the less refreshing to read such a letter as this which Dr. Peabody wrote on the subject:--
BOSTON, June 12, 1849.
DEAR SOPHIE,--Yours announcing a startling disclosure was received to-day about ten o'clock. I was truly astonished. About the close of the session of our Legislature, I was at the State House, and fell in with Mr. Upham. I asked him if he thought Hawthorne would be turned out. He was quite cosey, and said he thought nothing would be done about it. In looking back upon the interview, I now have an impression revived that there was a sort of mystification in his manner. But what I now write for is to suggest that nothing should be done hastily. That is, I would collect all the evidence I could about the document signed and sent on. If possible, I would get the document, or get some one in Washington to procure it or inquire about it and see it, so that he could make affidavit. After getting all the testimony, and finding out all the names upon the paper, I would, if the case will authorize it, commence a suit for damages. A false statement which deprives a man of his living is a libel and an actionable offence. If I did not do that, I would make the welkin ring, and expose all the names connected with the affair. Mr. Hawthorne can defy the world to prove that he ever wrote a political article: if I have a right impression, he can defy them to prove that he ever cast a political vote; perhaps he has not voted in any case. He will find Whigs enough to enlist in his cause, and it will be nuts to politicians on his side to make capital out of it. I should like to have Mr. Upham asked if he prays nowadays, and what sort of a prayer he made after he put his name to that document. I should like to ask him if he ever heard of the Ninth Commandment. Tell Mr. Hawthorne to be busy, but not to fire till he gets his battery well manned and charged, and then he will make a Buena Vista conquest.
With remembrances as due,
Your father, N. P.
--Six weeks later, Mrs. Peabody discourses on the same subject in this manner:--
BOSTON, July 28, 1849.
MY DEAR SOPHY,--I hope a letter will come to-day; I want to know how Madame Hawthorne is. I feel as if her illness is of a kind to cause much alarm. If you should leave Salem, I hope you will find some cottage not far from Boston; for, charming as are sheltering trees and verdant fields, a literary man has a wider scope for the exercise, or rather for profit from the exercise, of his mind in the city than in the country.
Miss Burley has just returned from Salem. She was very desirous that your husband should come out with the whole truth, at all risks and notwithstanding all delicacies. She said she believed that it was better for all, even for the criminals, that there should be no hushings-up. We told her that we believed Mr. Hawthorne would appeal in behalf of his character next winter. She was earnest to know if something could not be done by him earlier. She said she never knew such things delayed without becoming more complicated and giving rise to more difficulties. Mr. Upham might get possessed of political power which he had no moral right to have. Mr. Everett ought to be undeceived. Since Mr. Hawthorne had publicly denied the first charges, which were of things morally innocent, this acquiescence under more grave charges might seem, to people at a distance, to imply confession. Mr. Hawthorne's reputation belonged to his country, and ought not to be allowed to rest under any imputation. Reputation was a subtle good, which did not bear bad breath. You will know Miss Burley's warm-hearted interest in all that concerns you; but your husband will act according to his own sense of right; and there certainly was much weight in what he said of the danger in which some of his friends in office would be involved, by coming forward in his cause, if he acted immediately relative to his removal. You know in whom you trust, and will, I doubt not, be guided by His wisdom and goodness. . . .
--In spite of Miss Burley, Hawthorne refused to enter upon a vindication of his private character; on the contrary, he treated with imperturbable indifference, not to say levity, all efforts to arouse him on that score, both at this epoch and in similar cases afterwards. Sometimes he would put off his advisers with grotesque threats of the revenge he proposed to take upon his enemies; but the hardest blow he ever actually dealt, in this kind, was to introduce one of them as the leading character in a certain Romance of his. There he stands for all time,--subtle, smooth, cruel, unscrupulous; perfectly recognizable to all who knew his real character, but so modified as to outward guise that no one who had met him merely as an acquaintance would ever suspect his identity.
On the day he received the news of his discharge, Hawthorne came home several hours earlier than usual; and when his wife expressed pleasure and surprise at his prompt reappearance, he called her attention to the fact that he had left his head behind him. "Oh, then," exclaimed Mrs. Hawthorne, buoyantly, "you can write your book!" for Hawthorne had been bemoaning himself, for some time back, at not having leisure to write down a story that had long been weighing on his mind. He smiled, and remarked that it would be agreeable to know where their bread and rice were to come from while the story was writing. But his wife was equal to the occasion. Hawthorne had been in the habit of giving her, out of his salary, a weekly sum for household expenses; and out of this she had every week contrived secretly to save something, until now there was quite a large pile of gold in the drawer of her desk. This drawer she forthwith with elation opened, and triumphantly displayed to him the unsuspected treasure. So he began "The Scarlet Letter" that afternoon; and blessed his stars, no doubt, for sending him such a wife.
In July, Madame Hawthorne fell ill, and her symptoms were such as to cause serious anxiety. Her daughters were neither of them available as nurses, and the duty of attending on her devolved, therefore, exclusively on Mrs. Hawthorne. To her husband, consequently, was left the charge of the two children. As the latter required constant supervision, the Romance had to be practically discontinued for the time. Day after day, throughout the hot and sunny summer weather, Hawthorne sat in the nursery, or stationed himself at the window overlooking the yard, and watched them play and prattle before him; settling their little disputes, sympathizing with their little squabbles, listening to their voices, their laughter, and their tears; while, all the time, in the chamber above, his mother lay upon what all knew to be her death-bed. And upon that dark background of emotion the airy and careless gambols of the children showed like a bright, fantastic embroidery; strangely contrasted, and yet more strangely harmonious, for the reigning motive of all their various games was the reproduction, in fun and frolic, of the tragedy enacting upstairs. The anguish and the mirth of life have seldom been more strikingly intertwined together.
At length, when the hour of his mother's departure was evidently near at hand, he sought to relieve the dreary pain of suspense by having recourse to the old family journal. Here he wrote down, from hour to hour, the features of the scene that passed before him. In all his writings there is, perhaps, no passage more impressive than this which follows; so simple is it--so spontaneous, so tragic. And there is nothing, certainly, which casts so searching a light upon the inner region of his nature.
July 29, 1849, Sunday, half-past nine o'clock, A. M.--A beautiful, fresh summer morning! All my Journals of the children, hitherto, have been written at fireside seasons, when their daily life was spent within doors. Now it is a time of open doors and windows, when they run in and out at will, and their voices are heard in the sunshine, like the song of birds. Our metes and bounds are rather narrow; but still there is fair room for them to play under the elms, the pear-tree, and the two or three plum-trees that overshadow our brick avenue and little grass-plot. There is air, too, as good almost as country air, from across the North River; and so our little people flourish in the unrestrained freedom which they enjoy within these limits. They are inactive hardly for a moment throughout the day, living a life as full of motion as the summer insects, who are compelled to crowd their whole existence into this one season.
This morning, however, my journal begins with trouble; for Una is shut up in the drawing-room, and crying bitterly for her mamma, who is compelled to be in grandmamma's sick-chamber. Julian looks very sad and dolorous, and puckers up his little face, in sympathy with his sister's outcries; and, being himself on the point of bursting into tears, I tell him to go to the drawing-room door and release Una from her imprisonment. So he departs on his mission, and forthwith returns, leading Una by the hand, with the tears all over her discolored face, but in peaceful mood. I kiss her forehead, and the sun shines out again, with a bright rainbow in the sky.
By and by, however, she begins to make complaint about her hair, which has not been combed this morning, everybody being busy with grandmamma. At last comes in Dora, and takes her into the little room, where I hear her busily prattling about various matters while Dora combs her hair. Julian, who has been sitting on the floor, playing a sort of tune by pulling a string across a bar of iron, gets up and runs into the little room to talk with Dora and Una. His mother making a momentary flitting appearance, he requests to go up and see grandmamma with her; being refused, he asks for a kiss, and, while receiving it, still offers up a gentle and mournful petition to be allowed to go with his mother. As this cannot be, he remains behind, with a most woful countenance and some few quiet tears. The shower, however, is averted by Dora's telling him a story, while she continues to dress Una's hair. Julian has too much tenderness, love, and sensibility in his nature; he needs to be hardened and tempered. I would not take a particle of the love out of him; but methinks it is highly desirable that some sterner quality should be interfused throughout the softness of his heart, else in course of time, the hard intercourse of the world, and the many knocks and bruises he will receive, will cause a morbid crust of callousness to grow over his heart; so that, for at least a portion of his life, he will have less sympathy and love for his fellow-beings than those who began life with a much smaller portion. After a lapse of years, indeed, if he have native vigor enough, there may be a second growth of love and benevolence; but the first crop, with its wild luxuriance, stands a good chance of being blighted.
"Well, father!" cries Una, coming out of the little room with her hair nicely combed, and looking into the glass with an approving glance. This is not one of her beautiful days, nevertheless; but it is highly possible that some evanescent and intangible cause may, at any moment, make her look lovely, for such changes come and go as unaccountably as the changes of aspect caused by the atmosphere in mountain scenery. A queer comparison, however,--a family of mountains on one side and Una's little phiz on the other.
Una is describing graudmamma's sickness to Julian. "Oh, you don't know how sick she is, Julian; she is sick as I was when I had scarlet fever in Boston." What a contrast between that childish disease and these last heavy throbbings--this funeral march--of my mother's heart! Death is never beautiful but in children. How strange! For them Nature breaks her promise, violates her pledge, and like a pettish child, destroys her own prettiest play-things; whereas the death of old age is the consummation of life, and yet there is so much gloom and ambiguity about it that it opens no vista for us into Heaven. But we seem to see the flight of a dead child upward, like a butterfly's.
Julian has been dressed for a walk; and, surmounted by a very broad-brimmed straw hat, which makes him look not unlike a mushroom, goes off with Dora, while Una stands with her feet on the cross-pieces of the gate to watch their departure. She is infinitely adventurous, and spends much of her time, in this summer weather, hanging on that gate, and peeping forth into the great, unknown world that lies beyond. Ever and anon, without giving us the slightest notice, she is apt to take a flight into the said unknown; and when we go to seek her, we find her surrounded by a knot of children, with whom she has made acquaintance, and who gaze at her with a kind of wonder, recognizing that she is not altogether like themselves.
She has been up to see her grandmamma, and spent a good while in the chamber, fanning the flies from grandmamma's face. She describes grandmamma's sickness to Julian, while he rides on his hobby-horse. "It would be very painful for little Julian to see," she says to him, "for she is very sick indeed, and sometimes she almost cries; but she is very patient with her sickness." "Why, Una," answers Julian, "if I were to go to her, I would stroke her, and she would be very quiet."
Julian assumes the character of mamma, and addresses Una as Julian; and talks very pathetically about how he should feel "if little Julian were to faint away and go to God." In the midst of this scene they are both suddenly transformed into two other characters,--Una into a lady, and Julian into a "coacher," or hackman; then for a fitful moment or two they become themselves again. If their outward shapes corresponded with their imaginations, they would shift to and fro between one semblance and another, faster than even Proteus did. They live themselves into everything that passes under their notice, thereby showing what strong impressions are made on their young and fresh susceptibilities.
Half-past two, P. M.--They are playing with a hen,--a black crested hen, which very often comes into the yard. Of all playthings, a living plaything is infinitely the most interesting to a child. A kitten, a horse, a spider, a toad, a caterpillar, an ant, a fly,--anything that can move of its own motion,--immediately has a hold on their sympathies. The dread of creeping things appears not to be a native instinct; for these children allow caterpillars to crawl on their naked flesh without any repugnance. Julian has obtained possession of the hen, and seems almost in the mind to put her into the street, but cannot prevail with himself so to do. However, he permits Una to put her through the fence, and they both stand looking at the hen, who chases an insect in the sunny street. Scarcely has she gone, when Julian opens the gate, runs in pursuit, and comes back triumphantly with the abominable fowl in his arms. Again the hen is gone; and Julian stands bemoaning himself at the gate; and both children hang on the gate, looking abroad, and themselves having somewhat the aspect of two birds in a cage. They come back and sit down on the door-step, and Una comforts Julian at great length for the loss of the hen, concluding as follows: "So now little Julian should not cry for the hen, when he has so many good things that God gives him."
At about five o'clock I went to my mother's chamber, and was shocked to see such an alteration since my last visit. I love my mother; but there has been, ever since boyhood, a sort of coldness of intercourse between us, such as is apt to come between persons of strong feelings if they are not managed rightly. I did not expect to be much moved at the time, that is to say, not to feel any overpowering emotion struggling just then,--though I knew that I should deeply remember and regret her. Mrs. Dike was in the chamber; Louisa pointed to a chair near the bed, but I was moved to kneel down close by my mother, and take her hand. She knew me, but could only murmur a few indistinct words; among which I understood an injunction to take care of my sisters. Mrs. Dike left the chamber, and then I found the tears slowly gathering in my eyes. I tried to keep them down, but it would not be; I kept filling up, till, for a few moments, I shook with sobs.
For a long time I knelt there, holding her hand; and surely it is the darkest hour I ever lived. Afterwards I stood by the open window and looked through the crevice of the curtain. The shouts, laughter, and cries of the two children had come up into the chamber from the open air, making a strange contrast with the death-bed scene. And now, through the crevice of the curtain, I saw my little Una of the golden locks, looking very beautiful, and so full of spirit and life that she was life itself. And then I looked at my poor dying mother, and seemed to see the whole of human existence at once, standing in the dusty midst of it. Oh, what a mockery, if what I saw were all,--let the interval between extreme youth and dying age be filled up with what happiness it might! But God would not have made the close so dark and wretched, if there were nothing beyond; for then it would have been a fiend that created us and measured out our existence, and not God. It would be something beyond wrong, it would be insult, to be thrust out of life and annihilated in this miserable way. So, out of the very bitterness of death, I gather the sweet assurance of a better state of being.
At one moment little Una's voice came up, very clear and distinct, into the chamber,--"Yes, she is going to die." I wish she had said, "Going to God," which is her idea and usual expression of death; it would have been so hopeful and comforting, uttered in that bright young voice. She must have been repeating or enforcing the words of some elder person who had just spoken.
July 30, half-past ten o'clock.--Another bright forenoon, warmer than yesterday, with flies buzzing through the sunny air. Mother still lives, but is gradually growing weaker, and appears to be scarcely sensible. Una takes a strong interest in poor mother's condition, and can hardly be kept out of the chamber,--endeavoring to thrust herself in at the door whenever it is opened, and continually teasing me to be permitted to go up. This is partly intense curiosity of her active mind; partly, I suppose, natural affection. I know not what she supposes to be the final result to which grandmamma is approaching. She talks of her being soon to go to God, and probably thinks that she will be taken away bodily. Would to God it were to be so! Faith and trust would be far easier than they are now. But, to return to Una, there is something that almost frightens me about the child,--I know not whether elfish or angelic, but, at all events, supernatural. She steps so boldly into the midst of everything, shrinks from nothing, has such a comprehension of everything, seems at times to have but little delicacy, and anon shows that she possesses the finest essence of it,--now so hard, now so tender; now so perfectly unreasonable, soon again so wise. In short, I now and then catch an aspect of her in which I cannot believe her to be my own human child, but a spirit strangely mingled with good and evil, haunting the house wnere I dwell. The little boy is always the same child, and never varies in his relation to me.
Three o'clock, P. M.--Julian is now lying on his couch in the character of sick grandmamma, while Una waits on him as Mrs. Dike. She prompts him in the performance, showing a quite perfect knowledge of how it should all be: "Now, stretch out your hands to be held." "Will you have some of this jelly?" Julian starts up to take the imaginary jelly. "No; grandmamma lies still." He smacks his lips. "You must not move your lips so hard." "Do you think Una had better come up?" "No." "You feel so, don't you?" His round curly head and rosy face, with a twinkling smile upon it, do not look the character very well. Now Una is transformed into grandmamma, and Julian is mamma, taking care of her. She groans, and speaks with difficulty, and moves herself feebly and wearisomely; then lies perfectly still, as if in an insensible state; then rouses herself and calls for wine; then lies down on her back with clasped hands; then puts them to her head. It recalls the scene of yesterday to me with frightful distinctness; and out of the midst of it little Una looks at me with a smile of glee. Again, Julian assumes the character. "You're dying now," says Una ; "so you must lie still." "I shall walk, if I 'm dying," answers Julian; whereupon he gets up and stumps about the room with heavy steps. Meantime Una lies down on the couch, and is again grandmamma, stretching out her hand in search of some tender grasp, to assure herself that she is still on the hither side of the grave. All of a sudden, Julian is Dr. Pearson, and Una is apparently mamma, receiving him, and making excuses for not ushering him into the sick-chamber. Here ensues a long talk about the patient's condition and symptoms. Una tells the doctor plainly that she thinks we had better have Dr. Cummins; whereupon Dr. Pearson replies, "We can't have any more talking; I must go." The next instant Una transforms him into Dr. Cummins, --one of the greatest miracles that was ever performed, this instantaneous conversion from allopathy to homoeopathy.
--Here the record stops. Madame Hawthorne's death occurred the next day; and we can only conjecture what may have been the thoughts and the emotions which visited Hawthorne's soul in the interval. His wife wrote on the 1st of August to Mrs. Peabody, announcing the death; and the sentence in which she alludes to her husband is the only direct testimony as to his condition.
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 1, 1849.
MY DEAREST MOTHER,--Mrs. Hawthorne died yesterday afternoon, after four or five days of pain, relieved by intervals of unconsciousness. I am weary, weary, weary, heart and head. I have watched through all the days (not nights), keeping off flies, holding her in my arms as she sat up for breath, and sympathizing far too deeply and vividly with her children and with herself to escape unscathed. My husband came near a brain fever, after seeing her for an hour; and while all our hearts were aching with sorrow and care, Mrs. ----- has been like some marble-souled fiend. But of that I cannot speak now or perhaps ever. I hope GOD will forgive her, but I do not see how He can! Elizabeth and Louisa are desolate beyond all words. We all have lost an angel of excellence, and in mind and person an angel,--oh, such a loss! She looks so heavenly sweet, calm, happy, peaceful, that I cannot see death in her now; I only hear death as I stand over her,--for what else can such silence be?
At the last she had no suffering,--for eight hours no suffering,--but gradually faded as day fades; no difference momentarily, but hourly a change. I thought I could not stay through the final hour, but found myself courageous for Louisa's and Elizabeth's sakes; and her disinterested, devoted life exhaled in a sigh, exquisitely painful to hear when we knew it was the last sigh,--but to her not painful.
I am too tired to rest yet.
The funeral takes place to-morrow at four o'clock.
--Arrangements were now made looking towards a removal from Salem to the fresh air and surroundings of Berkshire, where Hawthorne might finish his Romance at a distance from the house now gloomy with sad associations. As it turned out, however, this change was not effected until the spring of the following year, after "The Scarlet Letter" was an accomplished fact. A month after Madame Hawthorne's departure, Mrs. Hawthorne was able to write cheerfully as follows:--
SALEM, Sept. 2, 1849.
We are all very well and in brave spirits. The prospect of "mountaneous air" (as a gentleman here called it the other day) already vivifies our blood. To give up the ocean caused rather a stifling sensation; but I have become used to the idea of mountains now,--the next best breath. I think it probable that Louisa and Elizabeth Hawthorne will remain in Salem at least till summer of next year, and this would simplify our life very much in the first struggle for bread; for they cannot help us possibly,--we only must help them. Louisa is not in strong health enough to do anything, and it would be a pain to me to see her making any efforts; and Elizabeth is not available for every-day purposes of pot-hooks and trammels, spits and flat-irons. I intend to paint at least three hours a day, while my husband takes cognizance of the children; as he will not write more than nine hours out of the twelve, and his study can be my studio as well.
Mr. O'Sullivan sent us $100 of his debt the other day, and we have access to another hundred if we want it before we earn it. So do not be anxious for us in a pecuniary way. Mr. Hawthorne writes immensely. I am almost frightened about it. But he is well now, and looks very shining.
The children have been acting Flaxman's outlines. The other day Una happened to hurt Julian unintentionally; he cried out, and she threw herself on her knees before him as he sat on the sofa, and in a tragic and sounding tone exclaimed, "'T is not unknown to thee, Royal Apollo, that I have done no deed of base injustice!" I had no idea she so well comprehended that scene.
I am glad you like "The Great Stone Face." Mr. Hawthorne says he is rather ashamed of the mechanical structure of the story, the moral being so plain and manifest. He seemed dissatisfied with it as a work of art. But some persons would prefer it precisely on account of its evident design. And Ernest is a divine creation,--so grand, so comprehensive, and so simple. . . .
--It is curious to note how (in pursuance of the proverb), when things had reached their worst, they began to mend, in all directions at once. Here is what was doubtless a gratifying letter from Hillard, written a month or two before "The Scarlet Letter" was heard of:--
BOSTON, Jan. 17, 1850.
MY DEAR HAWTHORNE,--It occurred to me and some other of your friends that, in consideration of the events of the last year, you might at this time be in need of a little pecuniary aid. I have therefore collected, from some of those who admire your genius and respect your character, the enclosed sum of money, which I send you with my warmest wishes for your health and happiness. I know the sensitive edge of your temperament; but do not speak or think of obligation. It is only paying, in a very imperfect measure, the debt we owe you for what you have done for American Literature. Could you know the readiness with which every one to whom I applied contributed to this little offering, and could you have heard the warm expressions with which some accompanied their gift, you would have felt that the bread you had cast upon the waters had indeed come back to you.
Let no shadow of despondency, my dear friend, steal over you. Your friends do not and will not forget you. You shall be protected against "eating cares," which, I take it, mean cares lest we should not have enough to eat.
My check, you perceive, is made payable to your order. You must therefore endorse it. I presume that you can get it cashed at some of the Salem banks. With my affectionate remembrances to your wife,
Ever faithfully yours,
GEO. S. HILLARD.
--And here is another note, not less agreeable and characteristic, from the poet Whittier:--
AMESBURY, Feb. 22, 1850.
N. HAWTHORNE, ESQ.
DEAR FRIEND,--I have just learned with regret and surprise that no remittance has been sent thee for thy admirable story in the "Era." Dr. B. wrote me, in receipt of it months ago, that he had directed his agent in Boston to pay thee.
The pecuniary affairs of the "Era" are in the hands of Dr. B.; but I was unwilling to leave the matter unadjusted, and hasten to forward the amount. It is, I feel, an inadequate compensation.
I am glad to hear of thy forthcoming book. It is spoken of highly by the publishers. God bless and prosper thee!
Truly thy friend,
JOHN G. WHITTIER
--The Salem period closes with this foreglimpse, in a letter from Mrs. Hawthorne, of a visit from Miss Bremer, who was at that time in America:--
"I heard of a charming prospect about seeing Miss Bremer, from Lydia Chase. I am sure I should feel honored by a visit from her. She will not mind a ragged carpet, a nursery parlor, and all the inevitable inconveniences of our present ménage. I am sure the children would be drawn to her. Lydia said she was to dine with her, and come and make us a call in the afternoon. We cannot give her a room, just now, to be comfortable in; but to have a call from her would be delightful."