Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, Volume II
By Julian Hawthorne, 1884
Rome to England
THE Piazza Poli house was comfortable in itself,--though, of course, on an indefinitely compacter scale than the vast caravanserai to which we had accustomed ourselves in Florence,--stood in a convenient place, nearly at the centre of Rome. At night we could bear the murmurous plash of the Fountain of Trevi, which was accessible from our piazza by a short alley; and in Carnival-time the more tumultuous roar of the maskers and merry-makers was plainly audible, surging up and down the narrow channel of the Corso, on our right. And the Piazza del Popolo, the Roman Forum, the Pincian, the Pantheon,--all were at short radii from our starting-point. Looking out of our front windows, we beheld an oblong space of perhaps two acres of cobblestones, with a palace on the right hand and another on the left; and overhead the intensely blue Roman sky. Our short absence from the city led us to regard it in the peculiar light of a home in a foreign land,--a kind of home-feeling which has an element of the adventurous mixed up in it, and which carries with it no burden of responsibility. We were in a better mood than before, too, to understand and enjoy Rome on her own terms. We had become accustomed to the Italian sentiment of things, and we knew where to go and how to observe. Altogether, therefore, the prospect was highly agreeable, and we anticipated a great deal of happiness in our snug little lodgings. Mr. Thompson the artist, who had engaged the house for us, accompamed us on our first visit to it; and I remember the miraculous way in which the door opened in response to our ring. The latch lifted, and the door swung inwards; but no human hand or form appeared. We mounted the dark and narrow stairs, and were greeted above by the elderly lady who acted in the capacity of servant during our sojourn; and found the solution of the mystery in a sort of bell-rope depending from the wall, which was attached to a system of wires that acted upon the latch.
The old lady aforesaid comprised within her own person the total retinue of domestics that we employed or required; for there was no kitchen-work done in the house: we had our meals brought from a neighboring restaurant. They came in a large tin box on a man's head; and very good meals they were, in the French style,--three courses and a dessert at dinner; and if the brisée beef appeared rather often, it was always very nicely cooked and flavored. In the evenings, which were long for everybody was indoors by six o'clock, Roman air not being considered quite salubrious after that hour--it got to be the custom to play cards, all the family taking a hand first or last. We played whist and euchre and old maid, and had great fun. Hawthorne was an incomparable companion at such times; he made the life and jollity of the amusement. Everybody wanted to be his partner, not because he always won, for he did not, but because either good or evil fortune was delightful in alliance with him. He was charming in victory; but I am not sure that he was not more charming in defeat. The true nature of a person is sure to discover itself in a long series of games of cards. He entered heartily and unreservedly into the spirit of the contest. When he was beaten he defrauded his opponents of none of their legitimate triumph by affecting indifference; and when he captured the odd trick he made no pretence of not caring. It was a genuine struggle all the way through, and refreshing, however it turned out. Perhaps there are few men of fifty-four years who have enough of boyish freshness left in them to sit down with their family, night after night, and laugh and exult through an hour or two's play, in which the only stakes were the honor of victory. It never occurred to me to think it remarkable then; but now it seems different. He never seemed old to us, however, even to the last. There was a primitive freshness in him, that was always arching his eyebrow and twitching the corners of his mouth.
I remember this the better on account of what occurred afterwards. The Roman malaria was not supposed to be dangerous after October; nevertheless, in order to be on the safe side, our rule, as has been already observed, was to be in at six. But Hawthorne's eldest daughter, Una, was much devoted to sketching, and showed some talent for it; and was therein aided and abetted by Miss Ada Shepard, our young American governess. Roman ruins are tempting material; and one evening she and Una overstayed their time a little at the Palace of the Caesars, in order to finish a drawing. A few days afterwards, Una showed symptoms of chills and fever, and the attacks returned intermittently. It was evident that she had caught the Roman fever, but for a time the attack seemed to be slight. Dr. Franco, the most prominent homeopathic physician in Rome, was in attendance; and the youth of the patient and the unimpaired vigor of her constitution were in her favor. The disease held on, however, gradually becoming more severe, and undermining her strength. After a month or two she was no longer able to leave her bed in the intervals of her attacks as formerly; and the matter began to look serious. Mrs. Hawthorne was, from the first, constantly beside her daughter, and a better nurse--more self-possessed, cheerful, tender, and exact--could not probably have been found in Europe. She was also unweariable so long as there was any need for nursing; and it would be difficult to say how little sleep she had during the four months that Una's illness was critical. It became very critical at length; and one morning Dr. Franco came out of the room looking unusually serious, and spoke privately to Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne. After he had gone, we knew that Una was not only ill, but that the chances were now against her recovery.
Mrs. Hawthorne said afterwards that Hawthorne had never taken a hopeful view of the case. The grief he felt at the idea that perhaps his daughter might die was so keen that he could not endure the alternations of hope and fear, and therefore had settled with himself not to hope at all. Indeed, he was at no period of his life of a sanguine temperament; and whether from philosophic determination or by force of nature, he uniformly chose to anticipate the darker alternative of whatever event was developing. But when the physician was obliged to admit that his skill had done all it could, and that the rest must be left to fate, the shock found Hawthorne scarcely prepared. He had been grave before, but now a positive darkness seemed to gather over his face. He said nothing, emotion never found verbal expression with him; but no one who looked in his eyes would have felt that there was any need of speech.
All this time, the card playing had been going on, evening after evening,just as usual. At the accustomed hour we would take our places at the table, even Mrs. Hawthorne and Una occasionally taking hands, before the latter was wholly confined to her bed; and Hawthorne always sat in his chair at the head. The rest of us laughed and enjoyed ourselves pretty much as before, and scarcely noticed how seldom Hawthorne contrived to smile. We thought that, so long as he could play cards, there was no danger of an evil issue of the fever. And this, of course, was precisely his object in continuing the practice. Until concealment was no longer of use, he was resolved to keep us from suspecting any danger. At what cost to his own nerves and patience he had persevered in this daily infliction, one can imagine now, but we had no suspicion of it then. And so it went on, until Dr. Franco made the communication above mentioned. We did not expect to have any game that evening; but at seven o'clock Hawthorne produced the cards, and we sat down. The game was whist, and certainly it was silent enough to satisfy the most exacting disciple. One hand was played; and then Hawthorne put down his cards. He had gone to the limit of his possibility. "We won't play any more," said he. And neither at that nor at any future time was that rubber of whist decided.
Gloomy days followed, without and within. The winter was peculiarly dark and depressing, and there was nothing to lighten it in the sick-chamber. Mrs. Hawthorne, who, at the other extreme from her husband, never gave up hope until there was absolutely nothing left to hope for, had gathered herself up after the blow, and gone back to her patient with unfaltering strength and energy. Franco afterwards said that the girl would undoubtedly have died under any other hands than her mother's. There is a sympathy that does by intuition what no medical skill can advise. Mrs. Hawthorne had at least her duties to support her, but Hawthorne had nothing; there was no distraction for his thoughts, from day to day. At length the crisis in the disease came. Unless Una's fever abated before morning, she would die.
With this sentence in her ears, the mother confronted her night's work. She had not slept for eight-and-forty hours, and had lain down but for a few minutes at a time. As she thought of what might be to come, she was conscious of a strong rebellion in her heart. She could not resign herself to losing her daughter. Una was the first-born, and on many accounts perhaps the dearest of the children. She had the finest mind of any, the most complex and beautiful character, and in various ways most strongly resembled her father. She was just emerging from childhood, and becoming a young woman. The struggle had been so prolonged that it seemed impossible to surrender now. And yet death or life lay in the beating of a pulse. For the first time in her life, the mother found herself at odds with Providence.
Una had been wandering in her mind for several days, and was continually talking in a vague unintelligible murmur, and recognized no one. If she were now to die, there could be no farewell,--no comprehension on her part of the end. As the night deepened, and the hour drew near which was to decide all, she ceased her mutterings, and lay quite still. Her mother was alone in the room with her. Hawthorne, whether awake or not, was lying on his bed in an adjoining chamber. Mrs. Hawthorne went to the window and looked out on the piazza. It was dark and silent; no one was abroad. The sky, too, was heavy with clouds. She looked up at the clouds, and said to herself that she could not bear this loss.
All at once, however, her feeling changed. It was one of those apparently miraculous transformations that sometimes come over faithful and loving hearts. "Why should I doubt the goodness of God?" she asked herself. "Let Him take her, if He sees best. I can give her to Him. I will not fight against Him any more."
Her spirits were lighter than at any time since the illness began; she had made the sacrifice, and found herself not sadder but happier. She went back to the bedside, and put her hand on Una's forehead; it was cool and moist. Her pulse was slow and regular, and she was sleeping naturally. The crisis had passed, favorably. One can imagine the wife going to the husband, and telling him "She will live!" Such a moment would atone for many months of suffering.
The convalescence was long and tedious, but it proceeded without relapse. Roman fever is a disease from which one seldom recovers unequivocally, and the present case was perhaps no exception to the rule; though the ill effects of the large doses of quinine that had been taken were probably quite as lasting and injurious as those of the fever itself. But it was enough, for the present, that the peril to life was passed. Soon after the favorable change had set in, General Pierce, whose presidential term had lately concluded, came to Rome, and he and Hawthorne saw a great deal of each other. "I found all my early friend in him," the latter said. I recollect the first evening that Pierce came to our house, and sat in the little parlor, in the dusk, listening to the story of Una's illness. "Poor child! poor child!" he said occasionally, in a low voice. His sympathy was like something palpable,--strong, warm, and comforting. He said very little, but it was impossible not to feel how much he cared. He knew of his own experience what it was to lose children: He stayed in Rome several weeks, and he and Hawthorne talked over all their former years and adventures, since they were boys in college together. There are some interesting observations on the ex-President's character in the Note-Books. "I do not love him one whit the less for having been President," says Hawthorne, "nor for having done me the greatest good in his power. If he only had been the benefactor or, perhaps I might not have borne it so well; but each did his best for the other, as friend for friend."
The Carnival came again, and this time Hawthorne seems to have entered more freely than before into the spirit of the festivaL Indeed, it fell in with a private festival of his own, for his daughter was often able to take part in the frolic. We had a carriage, and drove up and down, amidst bouquets and confetti, in the endless procession of the Corso; and Hawthorne flung his ammunition as zealously as any one. While he was actually engaged, he fell cordially enough into the humor of the sport; but as he became merely a spectator, he could perceive only the absurdity of it all. Absurd or not, and whether or no he contemplated making use of the Carnival in a romance, he studied it pretty thoroughly on the two opportunities that were afforded him.
As the spring advanced, he resumed his walks about Rome, sometimes alone and sometimes with a companion. On one occasion we were trudging along a road that skirted the outside of the walls, from one gate to the other, and the companion, who was always on the lookout for snail-shells and lizards, had fallen a couple of hundred yards in the rear. Hawthorne had disappeared round a bend of the road; and on catching sight of him again, his son saw that he was engaged in conversation with a dingy-looking personage, who had evidently just asked him what time it was. Hawthorne was not very fluent in conversational Italian, whereas his son, in his daily excursions about the city with his friends Edmund and Hubert Thompson, had picked up what he thought was a sufficiently practical knowledge of the language. Prompted, therefore, by a charitable desire to render his attainments useful, he shouted out to his father to wait till he came up, and he would translate the hour into the inquirer's native tongue; and at the same time. he set out towards them at top speed. But the stranger immediately left Hawthorne, and continued on his way; and it appeared that the former had made shift to give him the desired information. On reaching home, however, Hawthorne told the anecdote to his wife, and remarked that he had every reason to think that the man had intended to rob him. For, as he produced his watch, the man's hand had crept to the handle of a knife in his belt, and his countenance had assumed an ominous expression; but the sudden shout in the distance, and the apparition of a figure of indeterminate dimensions making all haste towards the scene of operations, had altered his intention; he had muttered, "Grazie, signor," and walked off Within a few weeks there had been five or six highway robberies outside the walls of Rome. The moral of this story seems to be that a disinterested wish to air one's Italian may result in averting the blow of a stiletto.
Hawthorne appears to have enjoyed the last month or two of his Roman sojourn. His spirits had rebounded after the heavy depression of the winter, and had not yet settled to their normal level; nor was he as yet aware how fatally that period of anguish had told upon him. The weather was warm and sunny, and pleasant friends were around him. He saw a good deal of William Story, and it was in his company that he visited the farm on which the new statue of Venus had just been excavated,--that which was thought to be the original from which the Medicean Venus was copied. Then there were farewell visits to be made to all. the familiar places of interest; and there is always a peculiar charm in a farewell visit, even if it be a melancholy one. Hawthorne was glad to leave Rome, and yet he was sensible of a strong affection for it. It endeared itself to him even by the suffering it had inflicted; and had his daughter died there, it is doubtful if he would have found it possible ever to return to America. As it was, however, he hastened to be gone.
We left Rome on the 26th of May, Hawthorne having taken an early walk that morning to the Pincian, and through the Borghese gardens, and to Saint Peter's; and "methought," he says, "they never looked so beautiful, nor the sky so bright and blue." The railroad to Civita Vecchia had been completed a few months before, and it was by that route that we departed. "We had great pother and difficulty in getting ourselves and our mountain of luggage taken to the station in season," Hawthorne wrote,
"and I know not that we should have succeeded in leaving Rome, but for the good offices of Dr. Appleton, who took as much as possible of the rough and tumble of the matter upon himself, out of mere kindness of heart. On getting to our destination, we had further trouble in getting our luggage transported from the railway to the water-side; for the people of Civita Vecchia are absolute harpies of luggage, and cannot be hindered from laying their unclean hands upon it by any efforts of the owner. I think they are really the most pertinacious rogues in Italy, and the most exorbitant; and my remnant of Roman silver (with which I had expected to be burthened in Leghorn and further onward) melted away as if it were coined of snow. After shouldering our way through this difficulty, a new one sprung up; for on applying at the ticket-office of the steamer, we were told that we could not be received, because my passport had not the visa of the French Embassy in Rome. This signature had not been obtained, because we meant to go in the first instance, only to Leghorn; but as I had taken a through-ticket to Marseilles, with liberty of stopping at the intermediate places, the steamer agent declared it impossible to take us without the French visé. Here was great horror and despair on my part; for I do think life would scarcely be worth having at the expense of spending one night at Civita Vecchia; and besides, in these crowded times, there was some doubt whether we could have obtained a shelter. However, the agent (who had at first put on an immitigable face--to frighten us the more, I suppose) finally intimated that the signature of the French consul at Civita Vecchia might be sufficient, if there were time to obtain it; so I sent off a commissionaire forthwith, and the passport soon came back duly viséd. I must do the steamer-people and the commissionaire the justice to say that they seemed to be honest men, and not only asked for no undue fees, but returned (it was the commissionaire who did this unheard-of act) a slight overcharge which he had made. Having got on board, the female part of us were assigned a state-room to themselves, and Julian and I were put into a room with six berths in it, most of which were occupied; a hot place, too, down almost to the water's edge, and aired and lighted only by a small round hole. We shortly left the port (which appears to be entirely an artificial harbor, built all round with stone), and I rejoiced from the bottom of my soul to see this hateful place sinking under the horizon. Dinner was served soon after our departure, but I think only Julian, Una, and I, of our party, profited much by it; and we had a beautiful sunset, and clear, calm evening till bedtime."
These details of travel were always a great bugbear to Hawthorne, the rather since he was obliged to conduct his negotiations through an interpreter; and it seems a pity that he could not have been relieved of all such discomfort by the services of a good courier.
It had been our intention to spend a week or two (on Una's account) at Leghorn; but as she seemed benefited instead of fatigued by the voyage, and in order to avoid the inconvenience of having "all Tophet let loose upon us, in the shape of custom-house officers, gendarmes, commissionaires, luggage-harpies, and beggars," we decided to keep on to Marseilles. So, after spending the night on board the steamer in the harbor, we sailed next morning for Genoa, and thence proceeded without incident to Marseilles, "which was really," says Hawthorne, "like passing from death into life."
Our next objective point was Geneva, to which we travelled by way of Avignon, remaining several days at the latter town. On arriving there,
"an omnibus took us to the Hotel d'Europe, where, on driving into the courtyard, we were received by an elderly lady in black, of brisk and kindly manners. She assigned us a suite of rooms, extending along a gallery that looks down into the court; a saloon and, I believe, four bedrooms, which number we have since diminished to save expense, and because our hostess cannot conveniently let us have so many, in view of some races which will bring her a great crowd of guests in a day or two. We dine at the table d'hote at five o'clock with very little company; most of the guests dining at seven. It was a very good dinner; some claret, which appeared very tolerable to me after my experience of the sour old wines of Italy, was placed on the table in liberal quantity. The whole thing is far better managed than at the table d'hote of an American hotel; and though the viands here were not half so good or so numerous, it was much easier to get a comfortable dinner."
The characteristics of Avignon are dwelt upon at some length in the Note-Books, and nothing need be added here.
"We left on the 7th of June for Geneva, stopping on the way at Lyons, where, after a good deal of search, I found my way to the Consul's. Here it was my misfortune to encounter, instead of the Consul, two American ladies, with whom I stayed talking for above an hour, I should think,--to our mutual weariness, no doubt. By and by, however, the Consul came in, a Mr. White, an elderly, frank, agreeable gentleman, who received me with great courtesy when he knew my name. After all, I needed no assistance from him, my passport having been viséd for Switzerland by the Consul at Marseilles; and this little republic makes everybody welcome. Returning to our hotel, I spent as much as an hour and a half in arranging to send four trunks to await us at Macon, instead of taking them with us on our journey. The same business would not have required five minutes on an American railway."
In alluding to the scenery between Lyons and Geneva, which was very beautiful, Hawthorne observes:
"I have come to see the nonsense of attempting to describe fine scenery. There is no such possibility. If scenery could be adequately reproduced in words, there would have been no need of God's making it in realitv. And I have no heart any longer, as I have said a dozen times already, for journalizing. Had it been otherwise, there is enough of picturesque and peculiar in Geneva to fill a good many of these pages; but really I lack energy to seek objects of interest, curiosity even so much as to glance at them, heart to enjoy them, intellect to profit by them. I deem it a grace of Providence when I have a decent excuse to my wife and to my own conscience for not seeing even those things that have helped to tempt me abroad. It may be disease; it may be age; it may be the effect of the lassitudinous Roman atmosphere but such is the fact."
It was a fact to a certain extent; but much of the vigor of expression with which it is stated is due to the circumstance that Hawthorne was in the habit of journalizing in the evenings, when he, fatigued by the labors of the day, and was thus liable to import into the recollection of what he had been seeing the weariness and distaste of the moment of writing. But there is no doubt that the springs of external enjoyment were beginning to run dry for him.
After a day or two at Geneva, we took the boat down the lake to Villeneuve, and put up at the Hotel de Byron. Here again Hawthorne was stimulated to describe much and effectively; though, once more, looking back upon it all, he insists that he has not "any spirit to write, as of yore. I flag terribly: scenes and things make but dim reflections in my inward mirror; and if ever I have a thought, words do not come aptly to clothe it." Nevertheless, the whole of "The Marble Faun" was written after this date. But the Continental journal now comes to an end, and not more than twenty or thirty pages are added of the final English and the American experiences. Returning at the end of a week to Geneva, we went to Paris, and thence to London, and so found ourselves again in the Old Home, after a residence on the other side of the Channel of about eighteen months.
Hawthorne now decided to remain another year in England, in order to prepare the new romance for the English market; being the more moved thereto because he had unadvisedly made a loan to a friend of a large sum of money, which was never repaid, and the loss of which necessitated his insuring an English copyright. The English atmosphere--moral, if not physical--revived him somewhat. He appreciated England the better for his absence from it. On tbe Continent he had neither felt nor known anything of the national social life. Always inclined even in his own country to be rather a spectator of society than an active participant in it, he had been more so than ever in England, while in Italy his estrangement had been absolute; and consequently he had been forced to confine himself almost exclusively to the companionship of art and archaeology. Such association is, no doubt, educative and refining in moderate doses, taken in connection with social intercourse or in the way of relaxation therefrom. But to expect a man like Hawthorne to put up contentedly with nothing else, was too much. He was already a highly cultivated man, but his culture had proceeded in the direction of humanity and nature rather than of art. In studying works of art, he had been subjected to an inevitable disappointment. Understanding nothing of technique,--of the difficulties to be overcome, and the means adopted to overcome them,--he could only feel that the results were not commensurate with his expectations. The sky of the painter was not so bright as that of nature; the statue lacked movement and variety. He looked for the achievement of the impossible, and, not finding it, failed to give due credit to what was actually accomplished. Had his refinement been less, he would have been ignorantly pleased; had his technical knowledge and perception of relativity been greater, he could have felt conscientiously satisfied. A great part of specific art culture consists in learning the limitations of art, and judging, not absolutely, but comparatively. Hawthorne had never had opportunity for this; and the ideal notions of art which his noble imagination had engendered in his mind, and which had been nourished by the report of art-lovers, were bound to be discomfited. He succeeded best with architecture, because that is the most spontaneous and least artificial form that art assumes. His appreciation of the famous buildings and ruins of Europe was profound and cordial; yet even here he is continually finding the beauty enhanced by its connection with humanity and antiquity,--a connection, of course, not intrinsic, but created by the observer's imagination. During his residence abroad, he labored strenuously to attain a more complacent point of view: he succeeded in no small degree; but, as he constantly refused to say he was satisfied until he felt that he was so, and could explain why, his Note-Books rather understate his progress than the contrary. All the while, he was hungering (perhaps without knowing it) for human beings,--for a society which he understood and was congenitally in sympathy with. Such a society could exist, for him, only in New England. There only could he feel, without need of practically demonstrating it, that he was essentially at one with those around him. Elsewhere he would be anxious about the differences; there he could be confident of the similarities. He had felt the differences sensibly enough during his first residence in England; but the social comparison between England and the Continent was so much in favor of the former as almost to make him feel, on his return thither, that he was actually at home again. Here, at all events, were English friends whom he knew and loved; and friendly regards encompassed him wherever he went. For several weeks previous to retiring to Redcar to write, he stayed in London, and was half surprised to find himself meeting a good many people and enjoying it.
Henry Bright was in Cambridge at the time of Hawthorne's arrival in London, and lost no time in inviting him to come down and see that seat of classical learning. "It is settled," he writes, "that you must stay with me till Monday at Cambridge. Rooms are engaged in college, and you are engaged to dinner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Had you been at S----'s last night, you would have met a charming madman who favored us with his company. Are you at the 'Derby' to-day?" Hawthorne, however, was unable to leave London, and presently received another communication beginning,
"Consul Hawthorne, you're a sinner--
Make engagements--do not keep 'em !
What am I to say to S-----? However, I find I can stay at Cambridge some time longer; so you must stay too. Can I see you here to-morrow at twelve?" Hawthorne could not go; and not many days later Bright came up to London, where, he writes to me,
I saw much of your father. On July 8 we went together to the House of Commons, where Mr. Whitbread, the member for Bedford, got us places. We came in for a debate on the navy estimates, and heard Lord John Russell, Lord Palmerston, and Mr. Disraeli. On the 9th we all dined at Richmond; and I remember how amused Hawthorne was at a lady in a curiously antique costume who passed us in the street: she reminded him, he said, of a maid of honor of Queen Anne's time. On the 10th we dined at the Heywoods', at Connaught Place. On the 12th we went to call on Charles Sumner, though Hawthorne said, 'As we're neither of us the Lord Chancellor, he won't care about us!' Mr. Sumner had been very kind to me in America. We afterwards went to see Dr. Williams's library, then in Red Cross Street,--an out-of-the-way sight, but very curious for its pictures of Puritan divines and its manuscripts of Baxter. On the 13th we went for an hour to the Workingmen's College, where Tom Hughes had asked us. A number of men were sitting round the table, and Hughes read to them Tennyson's 'The Grandmother's Apology,' which had just come out. We also breakfasted with Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), but I forget the date."
It was about this time, also, that Hawthorne first met Henry Chorley, who claimed the merit of having "discovered" him so long ago as the epoch of the "Twice-Told Tales." Mr. Chorley was the literary critic of the "Athenaeum," which was then, I believe, edited by Hepworth Dixon. He admired Hawthorne's genius, and had written cordial things of the three American novels. Personally he was an agreeable and brilliant little man, and he gave Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne a charming dinner at his tiny, but delightful house in London. I find this characteristic note from him, alluding to the occasion :--
DEAR MR. HAWTHORNE,--Put a card in the post, to say (as I hope) that you are no worse for having come to me. I cannot say how pleased I was to receive your letter. Surely, though one cannot believe in spirits, must one not in sympathies? Pray, recollect my readiness to do you both any pleasure; and also, that if I can't, I shall say I can't: so you cannot be strange with
Very gratefully and respectfully yours,
13 EATON PLACE, WEST.
--We shall see Mr. Chorley again after "The Marble Faun" has been published. Meanwhile Hawthorne and his family left London, and went first to Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast, in search of the seclusion necessary for writing the romance, which was at this time in pieces, as it were, ready to be remodelled and put together. Whitby was a moderately agreeable watering-place, with a high cliff on which were the remains of an abbey built in past ages by Saint Hilda. The names of the personages in the new book were in their usual unsettled condition; and I recollect that this abbey, with its tradition, suggested to Hawthorne the appellation which he bestowed upon the New England girl in the story. Hilda has, I believe, been supposed to have been based upon the character of Miss Ada Shepard, the young American governess before mentioned, who had returned to the United States before we recrossed the Channel. The hypothesis is more than usually infelicitous. Hilda--whose fault, if she have any, as a creation, is that she is too much of an abstraction--has in her some traits of Mrs. Hawthorne, though the latter, and perhaps Hawthorne himself, were not aware of it. Mrs. Hawthorne's was much the larger and broader nature of the two, and was remarkable for a gentle humor and sunniness of disposition, in which Hilda is conspicuously deficient. Nevertheless, Sophia Hawthorne, with her more winning and humane characteristics omitted, would have furnished ample materials for a Hilda; but of Miss Shepard the latter shows no trace.
Hawthorne did not remain long at Whitby; it does not seem to have suited him as a place to compose in. It was too much of a seaside resort, perhaps, and it did not possess any special facilities for undisturbed walks. The cliffs were neither of rock nor of chalk, but of a dirty kind of clay; interesting to geologists from the quantity of ammonites and other fossil remains contained in them, but not otherwise attractive. It was finally decided to go to Redcar, which was not far distant, but greatly more secluded. Here the broad brown sands stretched for miles, with the sombre German ocean breaking over them; and inland there were long wastes of lonely country, with small, remote villages here and there. The place was little known then; and certainly it offered the strongest possible contrast to the scenes amidst which the Romance was laid, and therefore gave these the stronger relief in the writer's memory and imagination.
Owing, in great measure, to the exertions of Mr. Bright, who wrote a pamphlet on the subject, and talked with various personages in authority, an agitation was set on foot at this period relative to the old matter of the ill-treatment of sailors on board of American vessels. Hawthorne himself intended publishing something on the subject, but, with the exception of some letters to private individuals and his despatches to Congress, never found opportunity to carry out his purpose. The evil, in time, abated itself, chiefly owing to the decay of the commerce that had given rise to it. But the subject was discussed in the House, on the motion of Lord Houghton, as may he seen in the subjoined letter from Bright to Hawthorne:--
WEST DERBY, LIVERPOOL, July 29, 1859.
MY DEAR MR. HAWTHORNE,--A letter is waiting for you at Whitby, where I supposed you were. Monckton Milnes is bringing on the ship-cruelty question in the House on the 2d August, and he wishes you very much to send him a few lines relative to the matter. Do please write to him at 16 Upper Brook Street, and tell him, if you will kindly do so, that the evils are very real, and the law quite inoperative. Mr. Ticknor, Mr. Jay, and Charles Morton are going to try what your Congress can do; and on this side, Mr. Milnes will move an address to the Queen, "praying her to enter into negotiations with the Government of the United States for the purpose of preventing the gross cruelties practised on merchant seamen engaged in the traffic between this country and the United States, and for bringing the offenders to justice." To this I hope no objection can he raised, either on this side or on yours. Please do not lose a post in writing to Milnes, or it may be too late. Tuesday is the day.
I am already longing to be with you all again, and must certainly come to see you if you will let me.
H. A. BRIGHT.
--At Redcar, Hawthorne used to write during the morning until dinner-time, which was at half-past one; and after dinner, except when it rained too heavily, he would take his son out to walk with him. We generally went northward along the sands; and at a certain point of the coast, where there was a sort of inlet, Hawthorne would seat himself, and allow the boy to go in swimming. Then they would resume their walk, and generally strike inland, and return by a roundabout way to Redcar. The dark mass of the little town, with the red sunset sky behind it, presented quite a picturesque effect, of the solemn and dreary order. Hawthorne's health improved during his residence here; and upon the whole he seems rather to have gained than lost from this last year in England.
We remained between three and four months in Redcar, and, so far as I can recollect, we had the place entirely to ourselves. It was not the "season; and even Henry Bright did not succeed in getting out to see us, although, as appears from the following letter, he had partly formed some such project in his mind:--
WEST DERBY, Sept. 8, 1859.
MY DEAR HAWTHORNE,--How are you all, and how is the novel, and how is the Faun? Do write me a line, and tell me about your doings and beings and thinkings. I send Mrs. Hawthorne an American paper with an article in it on Mr. Horace Mann. Thank you most heartily for writing to Monckton Milnes on the cruelty question. You no doubt saw the papers of the 4th August with an account of the debate in them, and how Mr. Milnes quoted us both. I do hope your people (I mean the people who were yours,--you are an Englishman now) will help our Government in getting something done.
I have been staying with Mr. Milnes for a week at his place in Yorkshire. It was the pleasantest time I ever spent, and I have to parody Tom Appleton's mot and say, "If I 'm very good in this world, I shall go to 'Frystone' in the next." A beautiful park and gardens; a library--such a library, with tempting readable books, books You always wanted to see, just the by-paths of literature which lead nowhere in particular, but are leafy and flowery and fruity all the same; and then a large and pleasant party of people, each one of whom was interesting; and a good cook (!) and excursions; and, best of all, the kindest of hostesses, and a host who is a host,--a host in himself. There, does n't your mouth water? It ought to.
I saw Mrs. Gaskell the other day. She too is writing a novel, and the scene is to be somewhere near Redcar; so I think it is probable she may pay you a visit, and in that case the double magnet will draw me too. Would n't it be glorious? Only I'm afraid the two novels might suffer; still, it would be so jolly,--almost as good as Frystone. I can't say more than that. By the way, how perverse you novelists are! Mrs. Gaskell is going to "smash" her hero's face, which she says is quite a new idea, and he is to be horrible to look upon, and then a young lady is to love him. It 's as bad as your Faun committing murder. But it's no good arguing with you; as somebody says in one of Scott's novels, "a wilfu' and obstinate mon [or woman] will hae his [her] ain way!"
Dr. Lothrop was over here the other day. I did n't like him quite so well as I fancied I remembered liking him. He is--well, never mind what he is; I don't like being censorious on paper, and he has certainly been very kind to me, and his daughter is certainly very beautiful. I have been showing my chirography to a woman who pretends to tell character from handwriting, and she has just sent such an account of me that I feel absolutely vain to think what opportunities I have of making my own acquaintance, and what pleasure it must be to my tailor to make clothes for so eminent an individual. Who now will venture to say anything uncivil of my pothooks and hangers? Shall we hand up your handwriting and see what comes of that?
H. A. BRIGHT.
--In October we left Redcar, which was becoming somewhat too inclement for comfort, and made another visit to Leamington, which had become a comparatively familiar place to us. The house we occupied, however, was no longer in Lansdowne Circus, at the upper extremity of the town, but in the midst of the town itself, on the other side of the bridge. Here, with the exception of one or two brief excursions to London, Hawthorne remained until March of 1860, and finished the romance. Every day he walked out, visiting the towns in the neighborhood,--Lillington, Warwick, and Witnash. It was on one of these expeditions that we discovered the grave of John Treeo, close beneath the wall of Lillington Church, as described in the Note-Books. Another day, at Warwick, "it was market-day: in tbe sort of colonnade of the town-house, or whatever they call it, there were people selling small wares, apples, vegetables, etc., and all through the market-place there was a little scattered trade of the same kind going forward; pigs, too, and sheep, alive or dead. All was very quiet and dull. We went into the museum, among the most interesting objects in which were some small portions of the auburn hair and beard of King Edward IV." Again, he went to Coventry, where his friend Bennoch was staying, and was entertained there by a retired manufacturer, Mr. Bill. "His house," writes Hawthorne, "is a very good and unpretending one, and Mr. Bill seems to live a most quiet and comfortable life, without coach-house or man-servant, though Mr. Bennoch says he has an income of three thousand pounds ($15,000), besides retaining an interest in his former business."
The weather, however, was very unpropitious, and Hawthorne cannot forbear referring to it. "I think" he says,
"I never felt how dreary and tedious winter can be, till this present English winter, though I have spent four or five in England before. But always heretofore it has been necessary for me to venture out and look the dark weather in the face; whereas, this winter, I have chiefly moped by the fireside, and at most have ventured out but an hour or two in the day. It has been inconceivably depressing: such fog; such dark mornings, that sulked onwards till nightfall; such damp and rain; such sullen and penetrating chills; such mud and mire; surely, the bright serenity of a New England winter can never be so bad as this. I have not really emerged into life through the whole season."
On one of his trips to London, to arrange the details of the publication of his book, he called again on Leigh Hunt, accompanied by his wife and Una. They found the old gentleman as cordial and agreeable as on the former occasion; and, Mrs. Hawthorne having accidentally left her cloak behind her, Hunt sent it back the next day, with this little note:--
DEAR MR. AND MRS. HAWTHORNE (for " The Scarlet Letter" and " The Indicator" will warrant me, I trust, in thus addressing you, to say nothing of gratitude for your visit),--Had there been any reason in time, weather, or any other contingency, for allowing me to expect the return of any one of you for the accompanying cloak, I would have kept it accordingly in that "look-out;" but as this is out of the question, I send it you by parcels' delivery, trusting that it will at all events be in time for you before your departure. I guess it belongs to the young lady, the look of whose face upon the old man (with the others') I shall not easily forget.
Your obliged visitee,
The "Romance of Monte Beni" was finished early in the spring of 1860; but I will close this chapter with the following letters from Mr. Samuel Lucas, the editor of "Once a Week," to which periodical George Meredith was at that time, I believe, contributing one of his remarkable novels. The journal was finely illustrated, and, though it had only lately come into existence, was taking a high place among the magazines of the day. Hawthorne entertained some thoughts of publishing his projected English novel in its pages; but the design was never fulfilled.
"ONCE A WEEK" OFFICE, No. 11 BOUVERIE ST.,
FLEET ST., LONDON, Nov. 5, 1859.
DEAR SIR,--Will you excuse the liberty which, as editor of "Once a Week," I take of addressing you without waiting for an introduction from any common friend, and will you permit me to trouble you, without preamble, on a matter of business?
It would give me the greatest satisfaction if you are at liberty to entertain a proposal to write a tale for "Once a Week," and I am confident that Bradbury and Evans would meet your views in a pecuniary sense, should that desideratum be attainable. For myself I may claim better opportunities than most of appreciating the profound truthfulness of the descriptions in "The Scarlet Letter" and "The House of the Seven Gables;" for at one time I took a keen interest in cognate subjects, and must have gone over much of your ground to write, for example, papers like that in the Edinburgh Review, three or four years ago, on "The Fathers of New England." I mention these circumstances by way of excusing myself for breaking in upon you thus abruptly. Hoping for your favorable consideration of my proposal, I remain,
--Mr. Hawthorne replied with a doubtful and contingent affirmative, and Mr. Lucas promptly rejoined as follows
11 BOUVERIE ST., Nov. 17, 1859.
MY DEAR SIR,--I am both gratified and obliged by your answer to my letter. Moreover, it is quite as satisfactory as I could have expected, as it leaves me the hope that hereafter you may be induced to comply with our very earnest wishes. I agree with you that the Puritan chord is monotonous, and would indeed prefer any other theme. I know with what power you can touch other themes, for I have just read "The Blithedale Romance." And perhaps, having lived so long in England as I am glad to hear you have, and enjoyed your sojourn, you may have acquired such an interest in some phases of English life that you may be prompted to weave these into a story. In this respect you seem to have an advantage possessed by none of your inventive compatriots whom I can recall, except Washington Irving, and I sincerely believe it is open to you, by striking into this track, to achieve as thoroughly an English and European reputation as he has. Highly honored as you are in England, in my opinion your name has not acquired here, as yet, nearly as much prestige as should fairly belong to it; and I do think your association with us would materially help towards this, in the first place, because of our great and increasing circulation, and in the next, because I can put at your disposal for illustrative purposes the best artistic resources in this country. In this respect we are aiming at something unique. I may add that it will equally suit us if we could make arrangements with yourself for some time hence, say even towards the close of 1860. I shall be greatly pleased if you will give me a further warranty to discuss the matter with Bradbury and Evans, who are quite prepared to meet you on your own terms in a pecuniary sense.
Believe me yours sincerely,
--The new romance was placed in the hands of the printers in February, and was published in three volumes by Messrs. Smith and Elder at the end of that month, under the title of "Transformation,"