Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, Volume II
By Julian Hawthorne, 1884
SINCE the Biography was in print, the author has received from Mrs. Horace Mann the three following letters, written by Hawthorne to her husband at the time of his ejection from the Custom House. While they do not add anything of importance to our knowledge of the situation, they are interesting as defining his attitude in his own words, and as incidental evidence of the independence of his personal character,
SALEM, June 26, 1849.
MY DEAR SIR,--I have just received your note, in which you kindly offer me your interest towards reinstating me in the office of Surveyor.
I was perfectly in earnest in what I told Elizabeth, and should still be unwilling to have you enter into treaty with Mr. King, Mr. Upham, or other members of the local party, in my behalf. But, on returning here, I found a state of things rather different from what I expected; the general feeling being strongly in my favor, and a disposition to make a compromise, advantageous to me, on the part of some, at least, of those who had acted against me. The "Essex Register" of yesterday speaks of an intention to offer me some better office than that of which I have been deprived. Now I do not think that I can, preserving my self-respect, accept of any compromise. No otber office can be offered me, that will not have been made vacant by the removal of a Democrat; and even if there were such an office, still, as charges have been made against me, complete justice can be done only by placing me exactly where I was before. This also would be the easiest thing for the Administration to do, as they still hold my successor's commission suspended. A compromise might indeed be made, not with me, but with Captain Putnam, by giving him a place in this Custom House,--which would be of greater emolument than my office; and I have reason to believe that the Collector would accede to such an arrangement. Perhaps this idea might do something towards inducing Mr. Meredith to make the reinstatement.
I did not intend to involve you in this business, nor, indeed, have I desired any friend to take up my cause; but if, in view of the whole matter, you should see fit to do as Mr. Mills advises, I shall feel truly obliged. Of course, after consenting that you should use your influence in my behalf, I should feel myself bound to accept the reinstatement, if offered. I beg you to believe, also, that I would not allow you to say a word for me if I did not know that I have within my power a complete refutation of any charges of official misconduct that have been or may be brought against me.
Sophia and the children are well. The managers of the Lyceum desire to know if you will deliver two lectures for them, before the Session of Congress.
Very truly yours,
Hon. HORACE MANN, West Newton.
SALEM, July 2, 1849.
MY DEAR SIR,--I am inclined to think, from various suspicious indications that I have noticed or heard of, between the Whigs and one or two of my subordinate officers, that they are concocting, or have already concocted, a new set of charges against me. Would it not be a judicious measure for you to write to the Department, requesting a copy of these charges, that I may have an opportunity of answering them? There can be nothing (setting aside the most direct false testimony, if even that) which I shall not have it in my power either to explain, defend, or disprove. I had some idea of calling for these charges through the newspapers; but it would bring on a controversy which might be interminable, and could only, however clearly I should prove my innocence, make my reinstatement the more difficult; so that I judge it best to meet the charges in this way,--always provided that there are any. It grieves me to give you so much trouble; but you must recollect that it was your own voluntary kindness, and not my importunity, that involved you in it.
Very truly yours,
SALEM, Aug. 8, 1849.
MY DEAR SIR,--My case is so simple, and the necessary evidence comes from so few sources and is so direct in its application, that I think I cannot mistake my way through it; nor do I see how it can be prejudiced by my remaining quiet for the present. I will sketch it to you as briefly as possible.
Mr. Upham accuses me of suspending one or more Inspectors, for refusing to pay party-subscriptions, and avers that I sent them a letter of suspension by a messenger, whom he names, and that--I suppose after the payment of the subscriptions--I withdrew the suspension. I shall prove that a question was referred to me, as chief executive officer of the Custom House, from the Collector's office, as to what action should be taken on a letter from the Treasury Department requiring the dismissal of our temporary Inspectors. We had two officers in that position. They were Democrats, men with large families and no resources, and irreproachable as officers; and for these reasons I was unwilling that they should lose their situations. In order, therefore, to comply with the spirit of the Treasury order, without removing these two men, I projected a plan of suspending them from office during the inactive season of the year, but without removing them, and in such a manner that they might return to duty when the state of business should justify it I wrote an order (which I still hold in my possession) covering these objects, which, however, was not intended to be acted on immediately, but for previous consultation with the Deputy Collector and the head clerk. On consulting the latter gentleman, he was of opinion, for various reasons, which he cited, that the two Inspectors might be allowed to remain undisturbed until further orders from the Treasury, to which, as the responsibility was entirely with the Collector's department, I made no objection. And here, so far as I had any knowledge or concern, the matter ended.
But it is said that I notified the Inspectors of their suspension by a certain person, who is named. I have required an explanation of this person; and he at once avowed that, being aware of this contemplated movement, and being in friendly relations with these two men, he thought it his duty to inform them of it; but he most distinctly states that he did it without my authority or knowledge, and that he will testify to this effect whenever I shall call upon him so to do. I did not inquire what communication he had with the two Inspectors, or with either of them; for I look upon his evidence as clearing me, whatever may have passed between him and them. But my idea is (I may be mistaken, but it is founded on some observation of the manoeuvres of small politicians, and knowing the rigid discipline of Custom Houses as to party-subscriptions) that there really was an operation to squeeze an assessment out of the recusant Inspectors, under the terror of an impending removal or suspension; that one of the Inspectors turned traitor, and was impelled, by the threats and promises of Mr. Upham and his coadjutors, to bring his evidence to a pretty direct point on me; and that Mr. Upham, in his memorial to the Treasury Department, defined and completed the lie in such shape as I have given it above. But I do not see how it can stand, for a moment, against my defence.
The head clerk (the same Mr. Burchmore whose letter I transmitted to you) was turned out a week ago, and will gladly give his evidence at any moment, proving the grounds on which I acted. The other person, who is said to have acted as messenger, is still in office, as Weigher and Gauger, at a salary of fifteen hundred dollars per annum. He is a poor man, having been in office but two years, and expended all his income in paying debts for which he was an indorser; and he now wishes to get a few hundred dollars to carry him to California, or give him some other start in life. Still he will come forward if I call upon him, but of course would rather wait for his removal, which will doubtless take place before the session of Congress. Meantime I have no object to attain, worth purchasing at the sacrifice he must make. My Surveyorship is lost; and I have no expectation, nor any desire, of regaining it. My purpose is simply to make such a defence to the Senate as will insure the rejection of my successor, and thus satisfy the public that I was removed on false or insufficient grounds. Then, if Mr. Upham should give me occasion--or perhaps if he should not--I shall do my best to kill and scalp him in the public prints; and I think I shall succeed. . . .
[Here a dozen lines or so have been cut out by Mrs. Mann, to satisfy the rapacity of some autograph-fiend, who, should this meet his eye, is requested to forward a copy of the passage to the publishers.]
I mean soon to comply with your kind invitation to come and see you, not on the above business, but because I think of writing a school-book, or, at any rate, a book for the young,--and should highly prize your advice as to what is wanted, and how it should be achieved. I mean as soon as possible--that is to say, as soon as I can find a cheap, pleasant, and healthy residence--to remove into the country, and bid farewell forever to this abominable city; for, now that my mother is gone, I have no longer anything to keep me here.--Sophia and the children are pretty well. With my best regards to Mrs. Mann, I am
Very truly yours,
P.S. Do pardon me for troubling you with this long letter; but I am glad to put you in possession of the facts, in case of accidents.
--The order of suspension above referred to (with the day of the month left blank) is given below.
SURVEYOR'S OFFICE, SALEM, Nov. --, 1847.
The services of temporary officers being seldom required at this season of the year, Messrs. Millet and Laidsey will consider themselves relieved from duty, after the discharge of the vessels on which they may be at present engaged, unless when the permanent Inspectors are all employed.
NATH. HAWTHORNE, Surveyor.