Although Nathaniel Hawthorne called himself "the obscurest man in American letters," his achievements in fiction, both as short-story writer and novelist, offer models fashioned too well for contemporary and later writers to ignore. Even though fame was slow to come and his wallet remained relatively thin throughout his career as a writer, Hawthorne claimed a central place in American letters, becoming, in time, an influential force in the artistic development of such writers as Herman Melville, Henry James, William Dean Howells, Mary Jane Wilkins Freeman, Sarah Orne Jewett, William Faulkner, and Flannery O'Connor, members of the so-called Hawthorne School. His focus on the past of the nation, especially the Puritan era, his delving into the social and psychological forces underlying human behavior, his reliance on symbols to convey rich and ambivalent value to his stories and romances, his insistence on finding and understanding the sources of humanity 's darker side, and his exploration of such themes as isolation, monomania, guilt, concealment, social reform, and redemption not only created a following among aspiring writers but also brought him into the nation's classrooms, where The Scarlet Letter (1850), to name only his most famous work, still holds a firm place: more than eighty editions of it are available in formats ranging from textbooks, casebooks, and paperbacks to audio cassettes and CD-ROMs.
Born 4 July 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, Nathaniel Hawthorne (who added a "W" to the family name) was the middle child of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Manning Hathorne, who also had two daughters, Elizabeth and Louisa. Young Nathaniel was a descendant of Puritan settlers in Salem and the adjoining communities. His father, captain of a ship, died in 1808 in Surinam (Dutch Guiana) of yellow fever. Lacking funds to maintain her own household, Elizabeth Manning Hathorne retreated to her parents' home and looked to her Manning relatives for support. Reclusive by nature, she remained a widow, living in Salem except for the years she removed her family to Raymond, Maine, where her brother built her a house and where Nathaniel "ran quite wild" as he skated, fished, and hunted. Before making that move, she had begun Nathaniel's education at home, placing him (because of a leg injury he suffered while playing ball) under the tutelage of Joseph Emerson Worcester. That injury helped to fashion his personality, since he became a reader, continuing to read assiduously, especially on rainy days in Raymond, such authors as John Bunyan and William Shakespeare and acquired, as he later lamented, his "cursed habits of solitude." To prepare him for college, his mother sent him back to Salem, where, living with his Manning relatives, he studied with Benjamin Lynde Oliver, a lawyer. As a means of entertaining himself, his absent mother, and his Manning kin, he launched a newspaper, The Spectator , imitating the famous journal of Richard Steele and Joseph Addison and serving as writer, editor, printer (done by careful hand-lettering), and publisher. In it he shared short essays, included some family gossip, made his debut as a poet, and created a comic classified notice aimed at finding a husband for his Aunt Mary. This short-lived project had to be produced in his spare time, since he served as both secretary and bookkeeper in Uncle William Manning's stagecoach office and pressed forward with his preparatory studies. This experience in the workaday world revealed something important to him, as he told his sister Ebe: "No man can be a Poet and a Book Keeper at the same time." (When he became a writer, he produced little creative work while holding down jobs in a customhouse or in a consular office.)
So that he could be closer to his mother and sisters, Hawthorne chose the frontier college of Bowdoin, enrolling there in 1821 and making lifelong friends, among them Jonathan Cilley, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Franklin Pierce, and Horatio Bridge. Typical of students who seriously weigh professional opportunities, Hawthorne in a letter to his mother mused upon various paths open to him:
The being a minister is of course out of the Question. I should not think that even you could desire me to choose so dull a way of life. Oh, no, mother, I was not born to vegetate forever in one place, and to live and die as calm and tranquil as--a puddle of water. As to lawyers, there are so many of them already that one half of them (upon a moderate calculation) are in a state of actual starvation. A physician, then, seems to be "Hobson's choice"; but yet I should not like to live by the diseases and infirmities of my fellow Creatures. And it would weigh very heavily on my conscience if, in the course of my practice, I should chance to send any unlucky patient "ad inferum," which being interpreted is "to the realms below." Oh that I was rich enough to live without a profession. What do you think of my becoming an author, and relying for support upon my pen? I think the illegibility of my handwriting is very author-like. How proud you would feel to see my works praised by the reviewers, as equal to proudest productions of the scribbling sons of John Bull. But authors are always poor devils, and therefore Satan may take them.
That he was willing to join that brotherhood of poor devils appears in his first forays into fiction while he was in college. Although he says nothing about daring Satan to take him, he apparently began a series of stories that came to be titled "Seven Tales of My Native Land" and started writing a novel, Fanshawe (1828), set in a place much like Bowdoin and the neighboring town of Brunswick. Activities other than serious study must have filled his days, since, at graduation, he stood eighteenth in a class of thirty-five. If he left Bowdoin without honors, he departed with the intention of becoming a poor devil committed to rivaling the proud scribblers of John Bull.
Preceding his graduation, his mother and sisters had returned to Salem, where he now joined them in 1825, spending the decade that followed in a "dismal and squalid chamber" in his pursuit of literary fame. Completing the romance begun at Bowdoin, he offered Fanshawe to publishers; finding no one interested, he printed it at his own expense. This abortive piece takes its title from a pale scholar, a student at Harley College, who becomes a champion of Ellen Langton, a newcomer living with the college president and his wife, the Melmouths. Fanshawe's friend Edward Walcutt is attracted to Ellen, and Fanshawe himself develops romantic feelings. Into this pastoral setting comes a mysterious stranger, Butler, who abducts Ellen, hoping to acquire her fortune. Learning of her absence, Dr. Melmouth, Fanshawe, and Walcutt set out separately to find her. Fanshawe discovers Ellen and Butler, the latter slipping and falling to his death as he climbs a cliff to attack Fanshawe. Fanshawe descends the precipice, kisses Ellen, and revives her. Out of gratitude for his rescuing her, Ellen offers to marry him. He declines, returns to his books, and dies shortly thereafter. Ellen and Walcutt eventually marry. Patterned after the novels of Sir Walter Scott, Fanshawe presented a variety of characters, a plot centering on romantic love, and acts of villainy and heroism. Its liveliest characters are Mrs. Melmouth and Hugh Crombie, landlord of a tavern near Harley College; its strangest characters are a sick woman and her sister--the former is the demented mother of Butler, as the reader learns later. This mixture of romance, mystery, and abduction was a false start. So unhappy was Hawthorne with himself as a would-be novelist that he tried to round up every copy of the book to destroy; so closemouthed was he about its appearance that not even his wife knew he had published the work. Yet, it foreshadowed what was to come: stylistically, it revealed Hawthorne's reliance upon such authors as Addison, Steele, and Samuel Johnson as mentors in shaping his sentences; thematically, it announced his interest in the dark side of human nature; and psychologically, it established his penchant for reflective, retiring young men who face difficult struggles as they attempt to cope with the world beyond their studies or writing desks. The distance between Fanshawe and Arthur Dimmesdale is great, but Hawthorne took the first steps toward the Puritan minister in describing Fanshawe.
His failed novel behind him, Hawthorne now attempted to make his mark as a writer of tales and sketches capable of doing, in part, for New England something similar to what Sir Walter Scott had done for Scotland. He hit upon scheme after scheme to organize his pieces into works a publisher would accept, offering tales under the titles "Seven Tales of My Native Land," "Provincial Tales," and "The Story Teller." Disheartened by the cold reception of his first collection, he burned the manuscript of "Seven Tales of My Native Land." If his tales could not reach print as a package, they could appear, as some did, as separate pieces, a few of them published in the Salem Gazette, many of them taken by Samuel Goodrich for his annual, The Token , where they appeared anonymously. Published under Hawthorne's name, the pieces Goodrich chose would have lifted Hawthorne from the ranks of obscure writers, for among the tales selected by Goodrich were "The Gentle Boy," "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," and "Roger Malvin's Burial." In great measure, these tales and others published in The Token and other annuals stake out Hawthorne's fictional territory: his consuming interest in the nation's history, particularly the Puritan past; his exploration of the psychological and emotional factors underlying human behavior; his eagerness to understand the power and politics of sexuality; his probing of sin, concealment, guilt, penance, and redemption; and his willingness to entertain and dramatize different points of view on social, political, cultural, and religious questions.
Perhaps the tale most illustrative of this fictional territory is "Young Goodman Brown," which appeared first in The New-England Magazine (April 1835). Set in the period just preceding Salem's infamous witch trials (1692), the tale introduces a curious and confident quester who seeks to discover something about reputed occult activities in the nearby Salem forest. The quest of Young Goodman Brown, a bridegroom married only three months to a young woman named Faith, transforms him from a trusting man into a doubting, despairing, and gloomy husband, neighbor, and townsman. What he sees or believes he sees (or perhaps only dreams about) during his night in the forest wrenches him free of all his moorings. Because he saw or believed he saw (or dreamed about) his pastor, wife, and fellow churchmen preparing to become communicants in a witches' Sabbath, he halts his quest, rushes wildly through the forest, and hears a blasphemous assertion: "Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome, again, my children, to the communion of your race!" Spotting his wife's pink ribbons near the scene, he cries, "My Faith is gone! . . .There is no good on earth, and sin is but a name. Come, devil! For to thee is this world given."
The young Puritan's dark night of the soul leaves him tormented, isolated, and convinced that he is living in a community of hypocrites. He now mistrusts everyone; turns from the embrace of his wife, though he fathers a large family; and goes to his grave without a "hopeful verse upon his tomb-stone." In this tale as in others, Hawthorne sought to analyze the imprint that Puritanism, in its inward-turning and hubristic way, left on the national character. Here was an obsessive personality, a stone-hearted man who cut himself loose from the magnetic chain of humanity. Hawthorne explored many similar men and women through such characters as Richard Digby, Roderick Elliston, Lady Eleanore Rochcliff, Ethan Brand, and Roger Chillingworth.
That Hawthorne's contemporaries saw and appreciated his intention of creating a national literature appears in the criticism of the collections that eventually gathered Hawthorne's early tales and sketches together: Twice-Told Tales (1837; republished with additional materials in 1842) and Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). Writing for the prestigious North American Review (July 1837), Longfellow observed of the tales included in Twice-Told Tales: "One of the most prominent characteristics of these tales is, that they are national in their character." This quiet flag-waving turned into an energetic parade of national pride when Charles Webber and Herman Melville expressed their reactions to tales in Mosses from an Old Manse . For the American Whig Review, Webber proclaimed, "Hawthorne is national--national in subject, in treatment and in manner." Melville's review for the Literary World, "Hawthorne and His Mosses" (17 August 1850), expressed his pride in the accomplishment of Nathaniel of Salem, whom he bravely named in the same sentence with William of Stratford: "Call him an American and have done, for you cannot say a nobler thing of him" (17 and 24 August 1850).
Had Melville and other critics been privy to the notebooks that Hawthorne began to keep in May 1835, they would have seen instantly how closely Hawthorne was observing the ways and thoughts of his fellow citizens. He recorded scenes in vivid details and jotted down ideas for tales and sketches. These notebooks, eventually published posthumously as Passages from the American Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1868) and Hawthorne's Lost Notebook, 18351841 (1978), provide not only accounts of his travels and observations but also themes or starting points for his fiction--for example, the entry that seems to be the germ that led to "The Artist of the Beautiful," "A person to spend all his life and splendid talents in trying to achieve some-thing naturally impossible,--as to make a conquest over Nature." Hawthorne specialist Newton Arvin identified and included most of these germinal passages in The Heart of Hawthorne's Journals (1929).
Hawthorne spent roughly a decade (18251835) writing, submitting, receiving rejection notices, and, in moments of frustration, burning manuscripts. Excepting evening strolls, occasional hiking tours, and walks along the seashore, he saw little of the world. A temporary break in his routine came in January 1836, when he accepted appointment as editor of The American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge, located in Boston. He and his sister Elizabeth wrote most of the copy. By June the publisher was bankrupt, and Hawthorne returned to Salem. Writing to Longfellow to account for the time since their last meeting, Hawthorne confided: "I have secluded myself from society; and yet I never meant any such thing, nor dreamed of the sort of life I was going to lead. I have made a captive of myself and put me in a dungeon; and now I cannot find the key to let myself out." Yet, he wanted the tales to reach beyond his dungeon, "to open an intercourse with the world," as he suggested in his preface to the 1851 republication of Twice-told Tales. But intercourse came on its own terms, more through his tales and sketches than through confessional autobiographical prefaces, a point he later insisted upon in his conclusion to the preface for Mosses from an Old Manse: "So far as I am a man of really individual attributes, I veil my face; nor am I, nor have ever been one of those supremely hospitable people, who serve up their hearts delicately fried, with brain-sauce, as a tidbit for their beloved public."
If he had paused to consider how the publication of Twice-Told Tales affected one of his Salem neighbors, he could have credited the book with helping fashion the key that unlocked his dungeon door. Once disabused of her assumption that one of Hawthorne's sisters was the author of the book, neighbor Elizabeth Palmer Peabody became the champion of the volume, reviewing it for The New-Yorker (24 March 1838) and recommending it to her Boston and Concord friends, including Ralph Waldo Emerson. Her efforts to draw the Hawthorne siblings within her social and intellectual circle ultimately brought her semi-invalid sister, Sophia Amelia Peabody, and Hawthorne together.
Intent upon furthering his career and hoping to enlist him to write children's literature, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody encouraged Hawthorne's interest in writing historical accounts of New England's past for children. The results were Grandfather's Chair: A History for Youth (1841), Famous Old People: Being the Second Epoch of Grandfather's Chair (1841), and Liberty Tree: With the Last Words of Grandfather's Chair (1841), all of which were published by Peabody and sold at her bookshop. Not published by her but reflecting her ambition to put quality writing in the hands of children, Biographical Stories for Children (1842) provides accounts of the Colonial American painter Benjamin West, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Johnson, and Queen Christina of Sweden. None of these works did well in the marketplace, although a later omnibus edition published by Ticknor and Fields found a wider readership.
Looking toward marriage and hoping to gain means to make the union possible, Hawthorne abandoned writing and, with Peabody 's help, won a political appointment as a coal measurer in the Boston Customs House. This dusty, stifling work provided but meager means toward his goal. More promising, he concluded, was a housing arrangement possibly available with a group of social reformers now assembling at Brook Farm in nearby West Roxbury. He invested funds in the experiment in communal living and moved to Brook Farm. The few months he lived there (April to November 1841) proved disappointing, since his creativity fell to nil as he tended hogs and mucked out stables, and because, given housing problems on the farm, he saw no opportunity to hasten his wedding date.
He, therefore, asked Sophia to do a courageous thing: to marry him, combine their talents (hers was in copying as well as producing paintings), and move to Concord to the Old Manse, the home of Emerson's grandfather and step-grandfather. They took their wedding vows 9 July 1842 and, once settled into the house, considered themselves a new Adam and Eve in Eden. Here was a garden ready planted for them, thanks to Henry David Thoreau, and here were such companions as Emerson, Ellery Channing, Bronson Alcott, and Margaret Fuller to engage in conversations or go hiking or boating with. The Old Manse was their home for three and a half years. Hawthorne entered one of his most productive periods, writing twenty sketches and tales, and celebrated with Sophia the birth of a daughter, Una on 3 March 1844.
Four of the tales written during this time stand among Hawthorne's best: "The Birth-Mark" (published in The Pioneer, March 1843), "The Celestial Rail-Road," (The Democratic Review, May 1843), "The Artist of the Beautiful" (The Democratic Review, May 1844), and "Rappaccini's Daughter" (The Democratic Review, November 1844). The tales, taken together, show Hawthorne's deepening concern for philosophic, moral, and religious questions while affording him the opportunity, in the instance of "The Celestial Rail-Road," to hold his Transcendental neighbors up to ridicule. Two of the tales, "The Birth-Mark" and "Rappaccini's Daughter," examine the aspirations of two scientists to improve upon nature--Aylmer, of the first tale, to remove a hand- shaped birthmark from his wife's otherwise perfectly beautiful face, and Rappaccini, of the second, to enable his daughter, Beatrice, to work safely among plants biologically mutated to outdo nature's creations. Georgianna, Aylmer's wife, grieved because of her husband's unhappiness with her imperfection, allows him to go forward with his experiment, despite his record of repeated failures in scientific experimentation. This time the experiment is successful but at the cost of Georgianna's life, for as the mark disappears, she dies. Had she been the wife of Aylmer's materialistic assistant, Aminadab, she would have escaped any experimentation. The shaggy, indescribably earthy assistant mutters to himself as the experiment goes forward, "If she were my wife, I'd never part with the birth-mark." Here Hawthorne sharply contrasts the idealistic scientist with the practical man of the world, the practical man knowing that imperfection is part and parcel of human existence, the idealist suffering from the illusion that, rightfully applied, intellect can overcome nature's mistakes and shortcomings. Even if Georgianna finally approves and praises Aylmer's lofty aspirations, the narrator invites the reader to side morally against Aylmer and with Aminadab.
A similar invitation presents itself in "Rappaccini's Daughter." However innocent and pure she may be, despite her father's use of her as sister to the exotic plants he nurtures, the Beatrice of this tale will lead no one to heaven. Instead, the forces arrayed against her--a scholar and would-be suitor, Giovanni Guasconti; her father's rival in botanical science, Professor Baglioni; and her monomaniacal father--press her into a kind of Dantean hell, leaving her victim to their jealousies, insensitivities, and fears. Part of that fear is gender-based, since her sexuality is something potentially, or actually, frightening. Hawthorne once again suggests that pride, manipulation of what is natural and good for selfish purposes, and unwillingness to accept human traits as well as limitations create a moral wrong.
Although Peter Hovenden and his son-in-law, Robert Danforth, out of their practical hardheadedness, would like to declare Owen Warland guilty of a moral wrong for not better serving his community and himself by using his considerable talents in clockmaking and repair more responsibly, they finally differ from him most sharply because he has the ambition to spiritualize matter. Their philosophic disagreement runs as a thread through "The Artist of the Beautiful," affording Hawthorne the chance to air aesthetic notions, some arguably cherished by him, some disdained. From what can be gathered from other tales where imagination clashes with practicality, as in "The Snow-Image," Hawthorne cherished these words spoken by the narrator of this tale:
Ideas which grow up within the imagination, and appear so lovely to it, and of a value beyond whatever men call valuable, are exposed to be shattered and annihilated by contact with the Practical. It is requisite for the ideal artist to possess a force of character that seems hardly compatible with its delicacy; he must keep faith in himself, while the incredulous world assails him with utter disbelief.
Against incalculable odds, much stemming from the Hovendens and much from his own human failings, Owen succeeds in spiritualizing matter by creating a mechanical butterfly sensitive to differences in the human touch, before it is crushed by Peter Hovenden's grandson. In creating the butterfly, a symbol not only of the imagination but of the soul as well, Owen was left with more than a tiny pile of rubbish, for his "spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the Reality" of his accomplishment. Whether Owen is truly triumphant in his achievement, however, remains unsettled among Hawthorne's critics, for some see the mechanical butterfly as far too trivial, the product of a stubbornly dedicated clockmaker and not a true treasure of art, not a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Owen himself seems too petulant and trifling to stand as a model of the true artist, his overindulgence in food and drink counting against him morally. The story both undercuts and supports Owen as an idealistic artist, a fact that contributes teasing levels of ambiguity to the piece. For that reason, it bears an unmistakable Hawthornean imprint, since he was a master of ambiguity.
Ambiguities do not disappear from "The Celestial Rail-Road," but they figure far less prominently than does irony. If a mechanical contrivance, regardless of how awe-inspiring in its beauty and performance, could not draw the heavy-handed Hovendens from their spiritual lassitude, a railroad line and a train could accomplish for mid-nineteenth-century travelers something that Bunyan's protagonist Christian gained only with troubling, superhuman efforts. Not harassed by haranguing preachers, able to pile their bags in a baggage car, eager to put Bunyan's monsters to work for the railway line, their eyes shielded from their true condition by fog stirred up by the Giant Transcendentalism, these travelers scorned the old-fashioned way of Bunyan's pilgrim and proceeded lightheartedly on their journey. The cutting edge of Hawthorne's irony slices them to pieces, revealing the futility of their faith in mechanization to make life better, satirizing the confusion and emptiness of doctrines espoused by Transcendentalists and liberal religious thinkers. Because it seemed to support their beliefs, many conservative groups saw fit to republish the story separately, a fact that made it one of Hawthorne's most widely circulated tales.
Excellent though they were, these and other pieces written during the Old Manse period failed to earn sufficient income for the Hawthornes to pay their bills. After trying to obtain a political appointment for a position in Salem's post office, Hawthorne turned to his political friends once again, this time winning appointment as surveyor in the Salem Custom House. His family shared living quarters with his mother and sister before he was able to rent a house and provide a separate apartment for them. Work at the Custom House occupied his mornings, but he did find time to assemble twenty-one uncollected stories and present them as Mosses from an Old Manse together with one of his most significant familiar essays, "The Old Manse," which provides an idyllic glance at his Edenic life in the famous old parsonage.
Life in Salem proved anything but pleasant. A dying seaport, Salem hosted a customhouse filled with appointees with little or nothing to do. They idled their time away, as Hawthorne humorously revealed in an essay on the customhouse published as an introduction to The Scarlet Letter . But boredom is a minor thing compared to the loss of a job. The election of Zachary Taylor meant that the Whigs could replace Democratic appointees if they so chose. Acting against arguments by Hawthorne's literary and political friends that the nation's intellectual and cultural life would be better served if he were to retain his post, Hawthorne's political foes, led by Charles Wentworth Upham, dismissed him.
Downcast as he was over the loss of his position and his income, Hawthorne had a heavier blow to endure, the death of his mother on 31 July 1849, "the darkest hour I ever lived." His notebook entries record the depth of his pain and suffering even as he describes the heedless playfulness of Una and Julian (born after the move to Salem) as they reenact their grandmother's dying gestures.
The intensity and force of the prose in his notebook was a prelude to the work that Hawthorne began soon thereafter, The Scarlet Letter. Living on funds that Sophia had stashed away, Hawthorne returned to the Puritan past that had so absorbed him in the earliest stages of his writing career in such tales as "Endicott and the Red Cross," where he noted the penalty invoked for adultery (the wearing of the letter "A"), "The Gray Champion," "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," "The Gentle Boy," and "Young Goodman Brown."
Choosing adultery as the sin to which the Puritans were to react, and in so doing, according to some of his moralistic critics, "Frenchifying" American literature, Hawthorne presented the story of a young wife, Hester, who, separated from her much older husband, Chillingworth, falls in love with her minister, Dimmesdale, and bears a child, whom she names Pearl. Intent upon punishing Hester and discovering her partner in sin, the Puritans force her to wear a scarlet "A" on her bosom and demand that she reveal her lover's name. In their treatment of her, the church leaders of Salem, where the action is set, and their followers mete out punishment with mean-spirited, intolerant rigor but are flexible enough, eventually, to see worth in her as seamstress, nurse, and conscientious mother.
Although the revelation of her sin brings scorn, ostracism, and anguish, Hester's suffering pales beside that of Dimmesdale, whose concealment of his sin ladens him with guilt, a guilt all the more keenly felt because Chillingworth, having correctly weighed various signs, fixes upon Dimmesdale as the man who cuckolded him. Pretending to be Dimmesdale's friend and acting as his physician, Chillingworth seeks revenge by launching a subtle psychological and spiritual attack upon the preacher.
Hawthorne thus sets in motion forces that play themselves out with staggering impact, the earliest example of its power coming when Hawthorne read the just completed romance to his wife. He recorded that hearing him read it, with his voice swelling and heaving as if he "were tossed up and down on an ocean," provoked such strong feelings that "it broke her heart and sent her to bed with a grievous headache." At least she realized, though, that she had just heard a powerful piece of literature; as Henry James was to declare a generation later: "The book was the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in this country."
The dynamics of the novel center on the transformation of its major characters, the stages of which are marked by three scaffold scenes. The moral and spiritual circuit of the romance branches into the competing impulses of concealment and revelation. Each scaffold scene dramatizes these forces at work.
Important as these three scenes are to Hawthorne's focused handling of theme and character development, they are not the only places where the twin impulses of concealment and revelation propel his romance. They are the chief elements, for example, in the relationship of Hester and Pearl. From the time she learns to talk, Pearl insistently and repeatedly asks Hester why she wears the scarlet letter. Hester evades her, a tactic that leads impish Pearl to attempt to tease the truth out of her mother by making an "A" out of seaweed and adorning herself with it. Pearl wants her mother to be truthful, a responsibility Hawthorne imposes on Pearl as an agent of salvation; another one is Chillingworth, who must play a kind of biblical Nathan to Dimmesdale's David. Their agency renders Pearl and Chillingworth as more allegorical forces than plausibly drawn characters but does help the moralistic narrator to advise his readers, "Be true! Be true! Be True! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred."
Although Hawthorne's introductory essay to The Scarlet Letter was written after he completed the romance, besides being an engaging personal essay and a consummate display of his talents as humorist and satirist, it has two important links to the romance. One link is that Hawthorne pointedly insists upon his Puritan heritage, beginning with the "bearded, sable- cloaked, and steeple-crowned progenitor" William Hathorne, "soldier, legislator, judge," who was "likewise a better persecutor," remembered for his severity toward a woman of the Quaker sect and continuing with William's son, John, who never recanted his decision in the Salem witch trials. Hawthorne confides that "strong traits of their nature have intertwined themselves with mine." The second link arises from the literary game that Hawthorne plays with his readers by pretending that the work he offers to them is only his edited version of a dusty account stashed away by a predecessor in the Custom House, Jonathan Pue, whose pastime as a local antiquarian led him to uncover the story behind a scrap of cloth bearing a scarlet letter.
More important, however, is Hawthorne's statement about the workings of his imagination, which he describes as a kind of spiritualizing agent working upon actualities, somewhat like the transformation of objects seen by moonlight rather than sunlight. For the writer of romances, unlike the writer of novels, photographic realism is not the object but rather something "invested with a quality of strangeness and remoteness, though still almost as vividly present as by sunlight." The romancer, Hawthorne asserts, requires a "neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other." He enlarged upon this theory of romance composition in later works, particularly The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and The Marble Faun; or, The Romance of Monte Beni (1860; first published in London as Transformation: or, The Romance of Monte Beni, 1860).
Appearing under the imprint of Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, with Fields crediting himself with having prompted Hawthorne to enlarge his draft of a tale about Hester to the length of a romance, The Scarlet Letter won instant praise but failed to bring in funds sufficient for the Hawthornes to remain in Salem. They found more economical quarters in the Berkshires, at Stockbridge, near Lenox. Celebrated for its summer colony of intellectuals and writers, the area attracted such literary figures as James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Fannie Kemble. Not far away, in Pittsfield, Herman Melville had his permanent home.
Once the family settled in, Hawthorne enjoyed one of his most productive periods, writing The House of the Seven Gables and A Wonder-book for Girls and Boys (1851), adding a preface to a new edition of Twice-Told Tales (1851), and drawing together seventeen previously uncollected tales, among them "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" and "Ethan Brand," under the title The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales (1852). This flurry of creativity and editing enabled him, for the first time, to meet the family 's expenses.
Although he bade "forever farewell to this abominable" Salem, upon leaving for the Berkshires he instantly returned to his ancestral city for the setting of The House of the Seven Gables, not, he insists, "to describe local manners" nor to draw upon real personages there, his characters being, he asserts, "really of the author's own making." The claim is a smokescreen, since traits of Charles Wentworth Upham, the man most eager to remove Hawthorne from his customhouse position, were obvious to persons in Hawthorne's circle when they read his presentation of Judge Pyncheon. Hawthorne's sister Elizabeth has confirmed Upham was the model.
A brighter tale than his first romance, notably because Hawthorne shaped it to have a happy ending, The House of the Seven Gables traces events that stem from the rapacious deeds of the earliest Pyncheon, who forced the Maule family from its well-situated lot to build a home grand enough to match his aristocratic yearnings. The displaced Maule uttered a curse upon being ousted from his property, a curse passing from generation to generation and ending only with the union between descendants of the original disputants--Holgrave, the Maule descendant, and Phoebe Pyncheon.
Before presenting the characters upon whose shoulders he places the burden of ancient wrongs and within whose hearts he fixes remedies to cure past misdeeds, Hawthorne gives an account of the house and the family that inhabited it--a proud family with aristocratic pretensions that gradually had lost position and sunk into the near poverty it had reached as the story opens. A salient detail from this background information is that the original builder, Colonel Pyncheon, died quickly and mysteriously on the day he opened his grand new home for his fellow townsmen to see. His grim-faced portrait has remained in the house ever since his untimely death. Unknown to his descendants, behind that portrait repose a map and deed that might have helped the family secure aristocratic standing. The quest for them continues until the present moment, and that is where the principal action of the romance begins.
Now inhabiting the house are Hepzibah Pyncheon--ladylike, proud, and virtually penniless, forced by necessity to open a portion of the house as a shop; Holgrave, a renter--social reformer, man of various pursuits in his attempt to establish himself; and Clifford Pyncheon--a shell of a man just released from prison after serving a sentence as the (wrongly) convicted killer of his uncle. To the house come two others, Phoebe Pyncheon, a country cousin not brought up as a Pyncheon, and Judge Pyncheon, a modern embodiment of the worst family traits. Phoebe ultimately teams with Holgrave to be a liberating force to end the curse, while Judge Pyncheon remains enslaved to the family 's dream of aristocratic standing to the last--dying just as the governor's post seems within his grasp.
The drama of the romance arises from a conflict involving forces representing the past and energies directed toward living within the present and looking toward the future. Hepzibah--scowling, ugly, isolated, but compassionate in her dealings with her brother, Clifford, a devotee of beauty incapable of dealing with life as it is--desperately wishes to remain a lady and cannot cope with her new station as a shopkeeper. Falsely accused by Judge Pyncheon of killing his uncle, Clifford, on his release from prison, returns to his ancestral home and breaks free from his past only upon the untimely death of Judge Pyncheon. Whether he will be capable of dealing with freedom without the help of Hepzibah and Phoebe is uncertain, since there is something suicidal in his desire to rejoin humanity--he almost leaps from an upper-story window.
The dark, moldering house and the diminutive chickens remaining in the yard symbolize the fall of the Pyncheons from high estate to low. Yet, decayed as the house is, Judge Pyncheon believes that it somewhere conceals a map that will enable him to lay claim, at last, to a princely tract of land in Maine. That belief brings him to the house, motivates his wish to speak with Clifford, and precipitates his clash with Hepzibah. The judge's imperial ways offend Phoebe, the ray of sunshine that brightens the house and Clifford's life, and she helps Hepzibah delay the judge's inquisition of Clifford. As he waits in Colonel Pyncheon's old chair, the judge suddenly dies in the same manner as his rapacious forebear. His death not only proves psychologically liberating but also allows Hepzibah, Clifford, Phoebe, and Holgrave to leave the dilapidated house and move to the judge's country estate.
This happy ending seems forced to many of Hawthorne's readers, especially the final decision of Holgrave and his parting words, for, from a position asserting that one generation should not be burdened with houses and property passed down from a preceding one, Holgrave has turned conservative, expressing a wish that the Judge had built the house of stone rather than wood. As Terence Martin has pointed out, Holgrave did qualify his statement by saying that the exterior should have been stone and that future inhabitants should be free to redesign and furnish the shell as they see fit. Thus, Hawthorne suggests that certain conservative forces are necessary to guarantee stability and that if future generations need to make changes to keep a society viable, there should be no impediment to desirable adjustments. Perhaps that is why Hawthorne told his friend Horatio Bridge that he considered The House of the Seven Gables "better than" The Scarlet Letter. The House of the Seven Gables became a vehicle for his political views as it afforded him the opportunity to dramatize the moral of his romance: "namely, that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes pure and uncontrollable mischief."
Herman Melville, whom Hawthorne had met at a picnic outing some months before completing The House of the Seven Gables and with whom he had exchanged visits as well as philosophic ideas, wrote to praise the romance and to share an assessment of Hawthorne's nature: "There is a certain tragic phase of humanity which, in our opinion, was never more powerfully embodied than by Hawthorne. We mean the tragicalness of human thought in its own un-biased, native, and profounder workings. . . . There is the grand truth about Nathaniel Hawthorne. He says No! in thunder; but the Devil himself cannot make him say yes." In both thought and artistry Melville reaped a rich harvest from his association with Hawthorne; the most significant outcome was Melville's rewriting of Moby-Dick; or The Whale (1851), which Melville dedicated to Hawthorne. Hawthorne's sympathetic reading of that novel and his letter of congratulations (now lost) lifted Melville's spirits: "Your heart beat in my ribs and mine in yours, and both in God's. A sense of unspeakable security is in me this moment, on account of your having understood the book."
Even as he was touching another writer's heart with his latest romance, Hawthorne turned his hand to children's literature again, adapting Greek myths for a collection titled A Wonder-book for Girls and Boys. He created as his narrator, an energetic, playful, and articulate Williams College student named Eustace Bright, who, over a stretch of autumnal days, recasts tales of Perseus, Midas, Pandora, Hercules, and Philemon and Baucis for charmingly named children, among whom are Periwinkle, Sweet Fern, Squash-Blossom, Milkweed, and Buttercup. They are eager, spirited listeners who assume personalities as their imaginative young mentor spins his tales. The book had original illustrations done by Hammat Billings and enjoyed sales brisk enough to encourage Hawthorne to adapt a second set of myths, which appeared as Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys: Being a Second Wonder-book (1853).
The Hawthornes' stay in the Berkshires, from the middle of 1850 until November of the following year, was brightened by the birth on 20 May 1851 of their second daughter, Rose, about whom Hawthorne wrote to his sister Louisa: "She made her appearance this morning at about three o'clock, and is a very promising child--kicking valiantly and crying most obstreperously." Happy as he was to have a new daughter, Hawthorne shuddered at the thought of spending another winter in the mountains. As a temporary arrangement, the family rented the house of Horace Mann, the husband of Sophia's sister Mary, in West Newton, Massachusetts. The Manns were living in Washington, D.C., where Mann was serving in Congress. Wishing to return to Concord, the Hawthornes bought Bronson Alcott's house, bestowing on it the name "The Wayside."
Meanwhile, still at the West Newton address, Hawthorne began work on his third romance, a project in the planning stage before he ran "away from the Berkshire winter." The work transmuted some of his experience at Brook Farm into fiction. This experiment in communal living, a reaction to the oppressive impact of industrialization upon heretofore agricultural and commercial America, provided a model for the setting of Blithedale, as Hawthorne called his would-be utopia. A central question came to be the thread that tied this romance together: could a group of Fourieristic reformers return to the land and, while working together to supply the basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing, live so as to improve their imaginative and spiritual selves?
A concomitant question was whether or not a group dedicated to fostering the common good could overcome personal desires and goals and be truly altruistic. How would human nature play itself out in such a scenario? And how would the outside world impinge upon the reformers? Although Hawthorne came to call the work The Blithedale Romance (1852), the work could easily pass as a novel of ideas or social criticism. It is anchored in Victorian and industrializing America and weighs issues confronting the America of Hawthorne's time, particularly the women's rights question and prison reform. He embodies these issues in four principal characters--two women, Zenobia (the pen name of a woman whose true identity we never learn) and Priscilla, her half-sister; and two men, Hollingsworth, a would-be criminal reformer, and Miles Coverdale, a minor poet who serves as narrator.
Hawthorne's mix of characters features a strong-willed, articulate, and idealistic woman, Zenobia, who has something of an air of mystery about her. Some contemporary readers saw her as a fictional realization of Margaret Fuller. If Hester was truly a nineteenth-century woman masquerading as a woman of the seventeenth century, as some readers of The Scarlet Letter believe, Zenobia is fully a woman of her time or, oddly enough, a woman of the physique and strength of the Puritan women who assailed Hester so unmercifully. Repeatedly, especially in his notebooks, Hawthorne makes a point of how womankind in America is a more refined, but far weaker, female than her Puritan forebears or her present-day English sister. In allowing themselves to be more and more feminized over the centuries, responding as they did to pressures exerted upon them by men and by themselves, American women had come to resemble Zenobia's half-sister, Priscilla, who is thin and delicate; like her, they were looking to fulfill themselves as man's helpmate. If she could follow her head, Zenobia would become the woman she is capable of being--strong, self-reliant, and self-defining. The Blithedale Romance would not be a Hawthorne story, however, if the heart were not involved, since, from the beginning of his writing career to its end, Hawthorne dramatized the competing claims of the head and the heart. Struggle though she does against the claims of the heart, Zenobia cannot free herself from a romantic attachment to Hollingsworth, the self-indulging social reformer whose interest in her proves more financial than romantic. Her wealth, or her reputed possession of it, makes her a target, for, through her, he might gain the means whereby he can realize his dream of reforming criminals. His monomania overpowers her, and, in her bitter realization, she cries out:
You have embodied yourself in a project. . . . First, you aimed a death-blow, and a treacherous one, at this scheme [the Blithedale experiment in communal living] of a purer and higher life, which so many noble spirits had wrought out. Then, because Coverdale could not quite be your slave, you threw him ruthlessly away. And you took me, too, in your plan, as long as there was hope of my being available, and now fling me aside again, a broken tool! But, foremost, and blackest of your sins, you stifled down your inmost consciousness!--you did a deadly wrong to your heart!--you were ready to sacrifice this girl [Priscilla], whom, if God ever showed a purpose, He put in your charge, and through whom He was striving to redeem you!
These words, bitter as they are, foretell the relationship that develops for Priscilla and Hollingsworth, but with something of a reversal. In her despondency, Zenobia later drowns herself. Guilt-ridden, Hollingsworth can hardly face the world, forsakes his reformatory schemes, and comes to lean heavily upon Priscilla, whom he marries. Insubstantial as she appears to be, Priscilla has strength and strives to be Hollingsworth's redeemer. From a wisp of a girl, she grows partway toward being a woman, studiously fashioning herself after her adored sister but retaining many traits defining her as an angel in a Victorian household. She is also the woman Coverdale loves. Did he, too, need her strength to help him define himself, to become more than a minor poet? Was her malleability the secret to her besting her sister in matters of the heart? Did personalities such as hers fare better in the cult of domesticity that dominated Victorian society? Was there anything in her beliefs and behavior that helped push women forward in their struggle for equality? Whatever the explanation, Hawthorne makes her a survivor while having Zenobia, in her defiance and despair, drown herself, patterning her death on lovelorn Ophelia of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. In brief, the woman question is raised, dramatized, but not resolved in this romance.
Yet, Hawthorne forthrightly reveals both Zenobia and Priscilla as victimized by the men in their lives. Professor Westervelt, a mesmeric showman, shares a past with both Zenobia and Priscilla, the latter having played a spiritualized lady in his act. Their father, Fauntleroy, now a beaten man going by the name of Old Moodie, has not fulfilled his fatherly obligations to them. Miles Coverdale, in self-protective, self-serving ways, is not free of Zenobia's charge that he wants to turn their suffering into a ballad. Clearly, Hester Prynne's hope had not been realized, the hope she expressed to troubled women coming to her for advice and comfort--"her firm belief, that, at some brighter period when the world had grown ripe for it in Heaven's own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness." That brighter period had not come to Blithedale.
Showing a willingness to experiment fictionally, Hawthorne employed a first-person narrator, Miles Coverdale. Hawthorne had sparingly used the first-person point of view in his tales, limiting it to such early pieces as "The Wedding Knell" and "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment." In those, Hawthorne lacked the challenge that he presented himself in The Blithedale Romance, for Miles Coverdale is a developing character whose deeds of commission and omission help to shape the story he is telling. Although he sometimes resembles the chorus in a Greek tragedy, he probes, stirs, prods, and retreats, refusing sympathy here, belatedly declaring love there. His retreat into his hermitage, a grapevine entwining itself in a white-pine tree, enables him to watch the others unobserved, a bit of voyeurism he repeats later in town by staring into the rooms Zenobia has taken opposite his hotel. He wants to ferret out facts but is unreliable, arriving too late to serve as a competent witness to important interactions among other characters, failing to understand some of the emotional and psychic forces at work as the action unfolds. He is filter, screen, interpreter, and misinterpreter; he is also one of Hawthorne's most intriguing creations. As a detached, cool observer he must ultimately examine his relation to the world at large. In doing so, he seems more noteworthy for his tendency to observe rather than to participate.
Even though Hawthorne steered clear of making easily recognized characters out of his associates at Brook Farm, a few contemporary readers, among them Mary Russell Mitford in England, were certain that Margaret Fuller was the model for Zenobia. That he drew heavily on his notebooks for material is certainly true; he lifted the snowstorm, for example, from notebook entries about his arrival at Brook Farm. The longest stretch of notebook material came, however, from an episode recorded when he was living in the Old Manse and assisted in recovering the body of Martha Hunt, who drowned herself in the Concord River. (He repeated the practice of turning to his notebooks when he wrote The Marble Faun.)
Critic Edwin Percy Whipple, to whom Hawthorne had sent a draft asking for advice about the work, praised it highly. It "seems to us the most perfect in execution of any of Hawthorne's works, and as a work of art, hardly equaled by anything this country has produced. . . . The romance, also, has more thought than any of its predecessors; it is literally crammed with the results of the most delicate and searching observation of life, manners and character, and of the most piercing imaginative analysis of motives and tendencies; yet nothing seems labored . . . ." In responding to the body of Hawthorne's fiction, Henry James wrote: "The finest thing in The Blithedale Romance is the character of Zenobia, which I have said elsewhere strikes me as the nearest approach that Hawthorne has made to the complete creation of a person."
An event occurring shortly after the publication of The Blithedale Romance, the nomination of Franklin Pierce as the Democratic nominee for president, pulled Hawthorne away from fiction and led him to become a biographer once again. Earlier, he had written biographical sketches for children and pieces for adult readers on Sir William Phips, Sir William Pepperell, and Jonathan Cilley. Not an active candidate for the position, Pierce was chosen on the forty-ninth ballot after the frontrunners--Lewis Cass, Stephen A. Douglas, and James Buchanan--failed to garner sufficient backing to take the nomination. Upon hearing the news of his friend's nomination, Hawthorne offered to help by writing a campaign biography. He had to do the work quickly in order to boost Pierce's campaign, a fact that stirred Hawthorne to immediate appeals for material, some of which he gleaned from conversations with Pierce; some, from Pierce's journal kept during his soldiering in the Mexican War; and some, from letters, documents, and newspaper clippings. Now a relatively obscure man after serving a term in the U.S. Senate and a stint as a brigadier general in the Mexican War, Pierce was certainly not a household word. Hawthorne faced the task of introducing him to American voters, his task made more difficult because of Pierce's stand on the slavery question. A dedicated Unionist, Pierce had voted for the Compromise of 1850, and he had no sympathy for the measures abolitionists were willing to take to free slaves. Together with Pierce, Hawthorne believed that slavery would, in time, come to an end and that the nation would be spared a bloodbath. They shared the wishes of George Washington, who expressed hope that slavery would be abolished. That belief, or hope, colored Hawthorne's presentation of Pierce's views on slavery, and that belief cost Hawthorne dearly, years later, when he dedicated his book on his travels in England, Our Old Home: A Series of English Sketches (1863), to Pierce. Family members, especially Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, and his neighbors in Concord, especially Emerson, burnt his ears with their heated protests.
The book, Life of Franklin Pierce (1852), was published by Ticknor, Reed and Fields in two formats, a cloth edition selling for 50¢ and a paperback selling for 37.5¢. Receiving no royalties, Hawthorne was paid a flat $300. Reaction to the biography split much along party lines--the Whigs denouncing it, the Democrats approving it. A reviewer for the Springfield Republican wrote dismissively: "This is Hawthorne's last fiction, and has been considered by competent judges to be his best, at least, as one indicating a greater degree than any of his previous works. The author's disclaimer of political partizanship is one which we do not receive or believe in for a moment."
Hawthorne undertook Pierce's biography as an act of friendship, expecting no political favors in return. That stance took a turn, however, as Hawthorne looked over his accounting ledgers. Immediately behind him was the expense of repairing the house he had bought in Concord and rechristened The Wayside, and ahead of him was the duty of providing for the education of his children. In the back of his mind, also, was a promise to Sophia that one day he would take her to Italy to see the paintings and statues of the great masters. Besides, he had long dreamed of seeing England, the home of his ancestors. If he were ever going to visit it, as so many of his literary acquaintances had, now was the time. He realized that a patronage plum might fall his way if Pierce were made aware of his interest. That plum was the consul's post in Liverpool, a position made lucrative because of the busy English trade with America transacted in Liverpool. Pierce was happy to see to it that Hawthorne received the appointment.
While the political process making the appointment a reality was taking place, Hawthorne resumed his writing by turning more classical myth into juvenile literature. Once again drawing upon Charles Anthon's Classical Dictionary, Hawthorne has Eustace recast the stories of Theseus and the Minotaur, the Pygmies, Cadmus and the dragon's teeth, Ulysses' visit to Circe's palace, and Jason and the Golden Fleece. Hawthorne completed Tanglewood Tales on 9 March 1853. A few days later he added an introduction and sent the manuscript off. Proud of his efforts, he wrote to Richard Henry Stoddard: "They are done up in excellent style, purified from all moral stains, recreated as good as new, or better, and fully equal, in their own way, to Mother Goose." Hawthorne also wrote Stoddard: "I never did anything else as well as these old baby-stories." Apparently few critics have taken this remark seriously, for Hawthorne's writing for children remains under-explored. Moreover, although children figured in two uncompleted romances, posthumously published as The Dolliver Romance and Other Pieces (1876) and Doctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance (1883), Hawthorne never again wrote for children. The Wonder-book and Tanglewood Tales continue to be republished, however, and tales from them, especially "The Golden Touch," have appeared, often lavishly illustrated, under separate covers.
When the appointment was secured, Hawthorne knew he would be away from Concord for at least five years: the consul's term was for four years and the long-dreamed-of tour of Italy would add another year. To ready themselves for the sojourn abroad, the family packed, stored, or burned things, including hundreds of Sophia's letters. Writing of this conflagration, Hawthorne said, "The world has no more such; and now they are all ashes. What a trustful guardian of secret matters fire is! What should we do without Fire and Death?" None of their biographers has praised this act of housecleaning.
Hawthorne and his family made plans to cross the Atlantic on the screw steamer Niagara and, in the company of one of his publishers, William Ticknor, boarded for the passage to England from Boston on 6 July 1853. The family found a house in Rock Park, about five miles up the Mersey River from Liverpool, and Hawthorne assumed consular duties 1 August 1853. They did not prove to be free of bother, since all kinds of people with real or imagined problems turned up at his office, some deserving sympathy and therefore help, oftentimes from his own pocket, some deserving chastisement, which he offered gratis, an act he found pleasing, especially in the instance of a wayward American preacher who became involved for a time in the activities of the seamier areas of Liverpool. If the job was sometimes irksome, more bothersome still was impending congressional action to put consuls on fixed salaries. For Hawthorne, the proposed legislation was tantamount to picking his pocket--he stood to make far less money if he were deprived of the fees accruing to him as head of one of the nation's busiest consulates. Accordingly, he made repeated and forceful cases with Washington bureaucrats to stand firm against any change affecting the emoluments of consuls. This phase of life as a public man was not entirely selfish, since Hawthorne also threw whatever weight he could against the harsh and inhumane treatment of underlings by their captains and junior officers.
Even though official duties consumed much of his time, Hawthorne did not cease being a literary man. Perhaps the best products of the years he spent as consul are his English notebooks. His habit of keeping journals enabled him to record not only his day-to-day activities but also his musings on English people and their traits. Always the observer, Hawthorne described persons, places, and events, sometimes so graphically--English women, for example--that his forthrightness raised the dander of English reviewers: "My experience is that, an English lady of forty or fifty is apt to become the most hideous animal that ever pretended to human shape. No caricature could do justice to some of their figures and features; so puffed out, so huge, so without limit, with such hanging dew-laps, and all manner of fleshly abomination. . . .They are gross, gross, gross. Who would not shrink from such a mother! Who would not abhor such a wife!" He recounted tours that he made alone or with his family or his English friends Henry Bright and Francis Bennoch. He reported on visits to English households, where he sometimes was feted as a literary man, and he gave an account of Melville's visit with him, including their conversation during a walk on the beach at Southport. In his customary manner, Melville "began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken. . . . He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us." Much of what Hawthorne shares are the ordinary events of living, but, occasionally, important events, such as the extended stay in Manchester to see a special art collection, invigorated his narrative talents, and he forgot that he was a traveler or a consul. The literary man in him awoke at such places as Smithel's Hall, at Bolton-le-Moors, where he heard the story of a bloody footstep, the seed of a romance he intended to call "The Ancestral Footstep" and on which he worked for a time in Italy before setting it aside in favor of The Marble Faun. Eventually, back in Concord, he picked up the motif of the bloody footstep again, weaving it into two uncompleted romances, Etherege, published by Randall Stewart and the editors of the Centenary Edition of Hawthorne's work as The American Claimant Manuscripts (1977) and Doctor Grimshawe's Secret, republished in the same volume.
His English notebooks yielded other literary dividends later, first in the form of a series of travel articles for The Atlantic Monthly (later gathered and published as Our Old Home). A few years following his death, Sophia Hawthorne, after cleaning and polishing his text, removing words and phrases she found offensive, and excising some materials because they had been extracted for use in Our Old Home, arranged for the publication of Passages from the English Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1870). (The complete text was not published until the Centenary Edition.)
That Hawthorne recognized the worth of his notebooks is clear. Looking over what he had written since beginning them, he wrote Ticknor: "I keep a journal of all my travels and adventures, and I could easily make up a couple of nice volumes for you; but, unluckily, they would be much too good and true to bear publication. It would bring a terrible hornet's nest about my ears." Instead of capitalizing on his talents as a travel writer, he wanted to resume his role as a romancer, to which he returned after reaching Italy. He resumed work on "The Ancestral Footstep" but put it aside when a fresh idea struck him during a visit to an art collection.
In Italy Hawthorne and Sophia entered into the society of the American and British art colony in Rome. Together they visited the studios of sculptors William Wetmore Story, Harriet Hosmer, Paul Akers, Louisa Lander, Thomas Crawford, and John Gibson, and painters Cephas Thompson, George Loring Brown, and Hamilton Wilde. Guidebooks in hand, they saw masterpieces of classical and Italian renaissance artists in churches, museums, and private galleries open to the public, all the while keeping journals of their experience, Sophia often adding sketches to help her capture the wonders they were seeing. On one of their aesthetic outings, they saw a copy of Praxiteles' Faun at the Borghese Casino. At once Hawthorne thought of the statue as representing "a natural and delightful link betwixt human and brute life, and with something of a divine character intermingled." A literary spark was kindled a few days later when he saw Praxiteles' original in the Sculpture Gallery of the Capitol. Besides recording physical details about the statue, Hawthorne entered some philosophical musings in his notebook:
The faun has no principle, nor could comprehend it, yet is true and honest by virtue of his simplicity; very capable, too, of affection. He might be re-fined through his feelings, so that the coarser, animal part of his nature would be thrown into the back ground, though liable to assert itself at any time. Praxitiles has only expressed this animal nature by one (or rather two) definite signs--the two ears--which go up in a little peak, not likely to be discovered on slight inspection, and, I suppose, are covered with fine, downy fur. A tail is probably hidden under his garment. Only a sculptor of the finest imagination, most delicate taste, and sweetest feeling could have dreamed of representing a faun in this guise; and if you brood over it long enough, all the pleasantness of sylvan life, and all the genial and happy characteristics of the brute creation, seemed to be mixed in him with humanity--trees, grass, flowers, cattle, deer, and unsophisticated men.
Hawthorne's first idea for fictional use was to develop the "moral instincts and intellectual characteristics of the faun" in "the person of a young lady." As he settled to the challenge of a new romance, he decided that the person of a young man was better suited to the story he was to tell about three artists and their young Italian friend, the faunlike Donatello. He apparently began work on his new story in mid July of 1858 but fell far behind the pace he had been able to maintain while composing his earlier romances, one long delay occasioned by Una's serious, almost fatal, bout with malaria. He completed a first draft on 30 January 1859, but the final draft was not finished until early November, following the family 's return to England. He dropped his plan to revise and finish it in America when he agreed with his publishers that he could best protect his copyright in England if he remained there until the work was in print. Smith, Elder, and Company paid him £600 but disliked his suggestions for a title. Although Fields liked "The Romance of Monte Beni," the British publisher balked and asked for further suggestions. Among the ones Hawthorne proposed was "Transformation," the title chosen by the British firm, despite his wish that the work be titled "The Marble Faun." Hawthorne got his way with Fields: the American edition appeared under a title that allowed for both his first and his final wishes: The Marble Faun; or The Romance of Monte Beni. The romance sold well in both England and America, the American sales surpassing the total figures for any of his other romances while he was alive. (Ultimately, The Scarlet Letter far exceeded any of his other compositions.) Unhappiness among British readers about unresolved mysteries led Hawthorne to write a Postscript for the romance. His pretended meeting of the author with Hilda and Kenyon offered few clues but did raise the serious question of whether he had achieved his ends as a romancer. The question was an important one since realistic novels were sweeping the fictional field, especially in England, and since Hawthorne faced the challenge of finding the right ingredients for a romance if he continued to write in that genre.
Although the setting is different, Hawthorne circled back to themes, characters, and patterns of behavior he had used in earlier works. His principal themes are guilt, concealment, transformation, forgiveness, and redemption. These themes become intertwined in the relations and actions of four young acquaintances--Hilda and Miriam Schaefer, aspiring painters; Kenyon, a sculptor; and Donatello, the scion of an aristocratic Italian family. Miriam Schaefer is somewhat like Hester and Zenobia; Hilda is similar to Phoebe and Priscilla; and Coverdale is somewhat akin to Kenyon. Even Donatello has a Hawthornean ancestor--Dimmesdale. Donatello and Dimmesdale are especially alike in how they carry the burden of guilt. To this quartet of principal characters Hawthorne adds a fifth person, unnamed but known to them as both an artist's model and a monk. Somewhere in Miriam's past he seems to have been involved in a crime, perhaps sexual in nature, and Miriam, if not an active partner in it, appears guilty by association. To sustain the mystery that he deemed proper to a romance, Hawthorne does not give the model-monk a distinctive personality. Instead, he can best be described as an allegorical figure representing evil, Miriam's conscience, the taint in man since Adam's fall, and a burden of guilt that cannot be wished or washed away. Ultimately, he is the catalyst who moves Donatello from the state of innocence to the state of experience, from thoughtless gaiety to reflective self-examination, and from Arcadian simplicity to contemporary complicity in the affairs of mankind. As a redemptive force, he thus has kinship with Chillingworth, whose efforts to do evil have the ironic effect of bringing Dimmesdale back to the path of salvation. The model-monk is the dynamic force helping to transform Donatello from faun to man.
The Italian setting provided the "neutral territory" that Hawthorne viewed as essential to his artistry as a romancer, a point he makes tellingly in the Preface:
Italy, as the site of . . . Romance, was chiefly valuable . . . as affording a sort of poetic or fairy precinct, where actualities would not be so terribly insisted upon, as they are, and must needs be in America. No author, without a trial, can conceive of the difficulty of writing a Romance about a country where there is no shadow, no antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but a common-place prosperity, in broad and simple daylight, as is happily the case with my dear native land.
In its long stretch of history from Etruscan, Roman, and Christian times, Italy afforded the antiquity, picturesqueness, mysteries, and gloomy wrongs that Hawthorne wanted to embody in this new romance, the first that he had conceptualized fully in eight years. Lying at the heart of that conception were related questions that he would ask readers to ponder--even if two of his principal characters refused to entertain one of them: by what ways did man achieve moral instincts and intellectual characteristics? Miriam frames the second question in this way:
The story of the Fall of Man! Is it not repeated in our Romance of Monte Beni? And may we follow the analogy yet farther? Was that very sin--into which Adam precipitated himself and all his race--was it the destined means by which, over a long pathway of toil and sorrow, we are to attain, a higher, brighter, and profounder happiness, than our lost birthright gave? Will not this idea account for the permitted existence of sin, as no other theory can?
In short, Hawthorne invited his readers to examine the idea of the Fortunate Fall, the notion that because Adam sinned and Christ came to redeem man and make possible eternal life in paradise, mankind can realize a greater happiness than if the Garden of Eden had remained man's home.
The action leading to the formulation of these questions involves the killing of the model-monk by Donatello, an act he committed in response to a look in Miriam's eyes when her persecutor approached her on a precipice. Hilda witnessed Donatello's act of flinging the model-monk to his death. How the principal characters will behave now becomes Hawthorne's chief concern. As in The Scarlet Letter, he is much more interested in the psychological baggage that each character must bear after a sin has been committed than he is in the sin itself. How will each act alone? How will they interact? How will they cope with the social and theological implications of the act?
The immediate response of Miriam and Donatello is one of exhilaration: "She turned to him--the guilty, blood-stained, lonely woman--she turned to her fellow criminal, the youth, so lately innocent, whom she had drawn into her doom. She pressed him close, close to her bosom, with a clinging embrace that brought their two hearts together, till the horrour and agony of each was combined into one emotion, and that, a kind of rapture." For a time they enjoy the rapture, the sense of freedom coming from the knowledge that Miriam's persecutor would no longer dog her footsteps. Their feelings at this point are reminiscent of those of Hester and Dimmesdale in the forest scene when Hester convinces him that they should leave the Puritan community and return to England.
These feelings of rapture and freedom are short-lived, however, for Donatello's awakened conscience produces guilt, and he withdraws, hermit-like, to his ancestral home of Monte Beni, shunning Miriam and the others and growing gloomier and gloomier with each passing day. To this estate eventually come Kenyon and Miriam, Kenyon as a kind of Virgil to lead Donatello to the path of salvation, Miriam as a kind of suppliant asking for Kenyon's help in drawing Donatello from his self-imposed isolation. Their efforts bear fruit in Donatello's decision to accompany Kenyon for a tour of the Tuscan countryside, a tour that ends in the great square of Perugia in front of a bronze statue of Pope Julius III. Here, beneath the outstretched hands of the bronzed pope, hands perhaps signifying a blessing, Miriam and Donatello meet. Miriam is willing to have Donatello fling her off if he wishes, but he, wiser now because he realizes the worth of human love, says, "Our lot lies together. Is it not so? Tell me, in Heaven's name, if it be otherwise!" Witnessing their joining of hands, Kenyon behaves more like a priggish clergyman than a best man. He reminds Miriam that, through her agency, Donatello has been transformed from his "wild and happy state" to one of believing that "joys that he cannot find elsewhere" he can "find on earth." Continuing his lecture, Kenyon seeks to make Donatello aware of Miriam's worth: "She has rich gifts of heart and mind, a suggestive power, a magnetic influence, a sympathetic knowledge, which, wisely and religiously exercised, are what your condition needs. She possesses what you require, and, with utter self-devotion, will use it for your good." Assuming the rhetoric of a clergyman, he concludes: "The bond betwixt you, therefore, is a true one, and never--except by Heaven's own act--should be rent asunder." That bond will indeed hold, even if Donatello, in an act admitting to Roman authorities his guilt in the murder of the model-monk, must face imprisonment for his crime. The value accruing to Donatello, finally, results from his awakened consciousness, from his movement from an animal-like existence to the community of mankind.
Growth and maturation, the major elements of transformation in the narrative thread following Donatello's murder of the model-monk, are not part of Hilda's story. Keeper of a shrine though she may be and household angel as she aspires to become, Hilda lacks the power to cope with the feelings that flood into her heart and mind when she witnesses Miriam's tacit approval of Donatello's act to rid Miriam of her persecutor. Retreat, not growth, is her mechanism for coping. When Miriam visits Hilda's room on the morning following the crime, Hilda coldly rebuffs her: "If I were one of God's angels, with a nature incapable of stain, and garments that never could be spotted, I would keep ever at your side, and try to lead you upward. But I am a poor lonely girl, whom God has set here in an evil world, and given her only a white robe, and bid her wear it back to Him, as white as when she put it on. Your powerful magnetism would be too much for me." Even though Hilda can refuse to befriend and lead Miriam "upward," she cannot cast off the burden of guilt she feels after witnessing the glance between Miriam and Donatello that led to the model-monk's death. She closes her interview with Miriam by asserting: "While there is a single guilty person in the universe, each innocent one must feel his innocence tortured by that guilt. Your deed, Miriam, has darkened the whole sky." Only after Hilda seems assured that Donatello and Miriam will pay their debt to society by submitting to punishment does she see "sunlight on the mountain-tops." In between the interview and her upcoming wedding to Kenyon and their return to America, she will undergo many dark nights of the soul, will try to unburden herself by confessing to a Roman Catholic priest, and will be held under guard by Roman authorities. Even though she has the sensitivity to discern Donatello's intellectual and moral growth following his crime, she dare not consider the agency that brought his development about, the commission of a sin. Kenyon muses upon the agency and poses his perplexity to Hilda: "Sin has educated Donatello, and elevated him. Is Sin, then--which we deem such a dreadful blackness in the Universe--is it, like Sorrow, merely an element of human education, through which we struggle to a higher and purer state than we could otherwise have attained? Did Adam fall, that we might ultimately rise to a far loftier Paradise than his?"
Hilda's quick and thought-stopping reply is "Oh, hush! . . .This is terrible; and I could weep for you, if you do indeed believe it. Do you not perceive what a mockery your creed makes, not only of religious sentiment, but of moral law, and how it annuls and obliterates whatever precepts of Heaven are written deepest within us? You have shocked me beyond words!" To this outpouring of words, Kenyon, bowing to his household saint, responds, "I never did believe it!"
Even though Hilda and Kenyon are destined to return to America and attempt to live as a new Adam and Eve in some prelapsarian state, Hawthorne has led readers to examine the paradox of Donatello's transformation by having him sin, undergo suffering and sorrow, and find a path to salvation. The practical result for Hawthorne, theologically speaking, was having his cake and eating it, too.
In this many-layered romance, Hawthorne presses into useful service several of the art treasures of Rome--classical, renaissance, and contemporary. Many of the pieces serve as indices to his principal characters--most obviously, of course, Praxiteles' Faun to Donatello. The Beatrice Cenci, by Guido Reni or Francesco Albani, through the lack of response to it, sheds light on both Hilda and Miriam. The demon spread beneath the feet of the Archangel Michael in Reni's painting of that celestial warrior has resemblances to the model-monk. Miriam is associated with Jael and Judith, both as subjects for Old Masters and as women whom she chooses to depict in her own paintings.
Hawthorne appropriated William Wetmore Story's Cleopatra (a work in progress during Hawthorne's sojourn in Rome) for Kenyon's studio. Miriam's comments on that work provide another index to her character. Kenyon's ability to conceive and execute the figure of such a passionate woman seems to belie his romantic interest in the pure and simple, if not cold, Hilda. In courting Hilda he displays further kinship with Coverdale, whose preference for Priscilla betrays an inability to appreciate Zenobia's womanliness as opposed to her sister's cultivated femininity. Had Kenyon been able to value Miriam's insight into his work and had he focused his romantic interests in her, his art surely would have reached higher levels. Opting instead for Hilda, who abandons creativity to dedicate her artistic efforts to becoming a copyist of great works of the old masters, Kenyon settles for mediocrity as an artist. Hilda will become his spiritual, not his aesthetic, guide. If for Hilda one reads Sophia and for Kenyon, Nathaniel, one can understand why Hawthorne, unlike Melville, was hesitant to deal with metaphysics. Yet, master of ambiguity and ambivalence that he was, Hawthorne managed to create a heavily theological work.
Those ambiguities and ambivalences result primarily from oppositional forces set in motion in this romance. Donatello's growth contrasts with Hilda's regression; constraint clashes with freedom; condemnation hinders a movement toward redemption; a spirit of creativity is weighed against acceptance of imitation as a worthy aesthetic goal; open-mindedness contends with intolerance; and the richness, variety, and complexity of European culture invite comparison with the leanness and simplicity of American culture.
As had been his practice in earlier romances, Hawthorne once again turned to his notebooks to supply portions of the work. He drew heavily on visits to museums and churches, found useful material for Kenyon and Donatello's rambles from those parts of his notebooks detailing his family 's excursion to Florence and other areas of northern Italy, converted the Villa Montauto, which he rented during his stay in Florence, into Donatello's ancestral castle, Monte Beni, and transformed a moonlight ramble with members of the British and American art colony in Rome into the fateful scene in which Donatello kills the model-monk. The abundance of material about the artistic and historical wonders of Rome and northern Italy in the romance led many contemporary readers to use it as a tourist guide, and, to satisfy that market, some publishers published heavily illustrated editions, especially Bernhard Tauchnitz of Leipzig.
The romance met a mixed critical response. E. P. Whipple ranked it as "the greatest of his works"; Anthony Trollope insisted on discussing its faults along with its virtues; Henry James asserted that it had a "slighter value than its companions"; and Henry Bright, an English critic and close friend of Hawthorne, complained of its "want of finish" (his particular criticism of the romance was Hawthorne's refusal to clear up all mysteries). Among scholars, some have argued that the work provides clear evidence of Hawthorne's failing powers, some contend that he asked more of himself in this romance and thereby, with some stumbling, pushed the romance to a higher level by demonstrating its ability to combine mythic, religious, historical, aesthetic, philosophical, psychological, and cultural concerns--preparing, in essence, for the treatment of complex issues in modern society such as those explored by Henry James and later writers. In brief, Hawthorne pushed the romance to its limits and beyond. The result, sadly for him, was that he had set the bar so high that he could never reach it again, despite devoted efforts to do so.
Nearly seven years had passed since the Hawthornes had sailed for Europe. Now with a successful new romance behind him, Hawthorne eagerly contemplated returning to his home in Concord. In the company of James T. Fields and his bride, Annie, the family sailed on the Europa and spent a pleasant eleven days at sea. Arriving in Boston on 28 June 1860, the family departed immediately for Concord and The Wayside, where, later, Emerson gave a welcome-home party--the guests including such notables as Bronson Alcott and Frank Sanborn. Thoreau came calling, too, recording that Hawthorne was little changed except for a browning resulting from his days upon a sunlit sea. Ever ready to lend a hand to a neighbor, Alcott offered to help landscape the grounds around The Wayside, and Ellery Channing put in good words for Sanborn's school (the Hawthornes had been used to home-schooling their children). Having grown accustomed to more spacious quarters during their stay in Italy, the Hawthornes undertook a remodeling project, adding a tower to The Wayside so that Hawthorne could have the privacy to write. The improvements to The Wayside cost four times the amount that the family expected, amounting to more than $2,000 and convincing Hawthorne that he had better turn wage-earner again.
Hoping that "The Ancestral Footstep" would flow better this time than it had in Italy, he returned to the story, formulating one approach after another, pondering which way to develop his plot and characters, writing note after note to himself, changing names of characters, chastising himself for his inability to focus and push forward, finally realizing that he could not fashion a romance up to his standards. In the process of shaping his story, Hawthorne eventually produced related fragmentary romances surviving as Doctor Grimshawe's Secret (1883) and Etherege (published in The American Claimant Manuscripts, 1977). The core of the action traces a young American's travel to England to champion his claim to the home of his ancestors. This claimant, finally named Etherege, possesses a secret that will help establish ownership of the family seat. Hawthorne's efforts stalled, and he turned his energies elsewhere. After going through his father's manuscripts, Julian Hawthorne pieced together the fragmentary portion titled Doctor Grimshawe's Secret, which was published by James R. Osgood. Edward H. Davidson meticulously edited a version called Hawthorne's Dr. Grimshawe's Secret, published by Harvard University Press in 1954. Additional editorial work was done for the Hawthorne Centenary Edition for the volume titled The American Claimant Manuscripts; the editorial labors of Davidson, and Claude M. Simpson and Neal Smith, who co-edited the Centenary Edition, reveal Hawthorne's hopes, frustrations, and methods of creation. Few novelists have left such an intriguing trail of creative ups and downs.
If the claimant's story did not yield to Hawthorne's best efforts, perhaps an elixir of life leading to immortality (a subject frequently mentioned in his notebooks and treated already in such works as "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment") would. Consequently, he began sketching the story of a young man called Septimius, who, much later, was given the surname "Felton" and then "Norton." The germ for the story came from Thoreau, who recounted the tale of a man who had once resided in The Wayside. Thoreau said that the man had believed he would never die. Hawthorne's hero shared that belief, thinking it an attainable goal since he possessed a mysterious recipe that made immortality a certainty. The action occurs during and after the Revolutionary War. Caught up in the excitement over the coming of the redcoats, Septimius picks up his gun and encounters a young Briton, whom he shoots. The Briton forgives Septimius and puts into his hands a miniature portrait and a blood-soaked manuscript. Septimius, who is studying for the ministry, becomes obsessed with the idea that the manuscript holds the recipe for an elixir. His monomania proves his undoing--since he gradually cuts himself off from human relationships capable of enriching his life.
This romance seemed more promising than the American claimant story, and Hawthorne looked forward to serializing it in The Atlantic Monthly before publishing it in book form with Ticknor and Fields. Once again, however, the piece refused to come together as a coherent whole: characters kept changing not only names but also relationships (a girlfriend becoming a sister, for instance), elements of the claimant story began to creep in, and Hawthorne undertook an extensive revision, turning from a tale about Septimius Felton to one about Septimius Norton, which retained many of the elements of the former. As he had done in the claimant romance, Hawthorne wrote notes to himself, drafted studies, and prodded himself to move on to the finishing touches. Once more, however, he had stalled. Students of his work and life have puzzled over his failure to complete another romance. For some, The Marble Faun provided evidence of weakening creative powers; some thought the clash between the North and the South was so wearisome that Hawthorne could not carry on; and some believe the observations of his family and friends about the state of his body and mind hold the clues to his creative demise. For others, however, a more convincing explanation lies in the tastes of the time. Hawthorne, working now in an era beginning to favor realism and realistic novels, was out of step with contemporary literary tastes and could not adapt to them. One version of the romance did see print several years after his death when his daughter Una, with the help and advice of English poet Robert Browning, edited Septimius: A Romance for publication in 1872.
The energy and sparks of literary genius found in an essay resulting from a trip to Washington, D.C., during the Civil War undermine explanations that Hawthorne had lost, or was losing, his ability to write. Accompanied by William Ticknor, Hawthorne traveled to Washington in March 1862 to visit his longtime friend Horatio Bridge, now serving as Chief of the Naval Bureau of Provisions and Clothing. Hawthorne's month-long stay in the capitol enabled him to visit with the Massachusetts delegation, to call at the White House, to sit for a portrait by Emanuel Leutze, to see the Monitor and the Cumberland, the latest vessels in naval warfare, to walk over the battlefield at Manassas, to observe some Confederate prisoners, and to explore Harpers Ferry. Upon his return to Concord, he recounted his experiences in a piece for The Atlantic Monthly, "Chiefly About War Matters," published in the July 1862 issue. In tone and outlook, the essay might have been written by an objective foreigner. Hawthorne was detached, humorous, critical, and so candidly vivid in his description of Abraham Lincoln that Fields deleted the passage. The portrait was unflattering:
I should have taken him for a country schoolmaster. He was dressed in a rusty black frock-coat and pantaloons, unbrushed, and worn so faithfully that the suit had adapted itself to the curves and angularities of his figure, and had grown to be an outer skin of the man. He had shabby slippers on his feet. His hair was black, still unmixed with gray, stiff, somewhat bushy, and had apparently been acquainted with neither brush nor comb that morning.
For all Lincoln's coarse physiognomy, Hawthorne liked the look in his eyes and his "expression of homely sagacity." As a move to counter his critical and humorous tone, Hawthorne provided footnotes in which he remarked on the tone and content of the piece. The notes seemed to indicate that the editor was taking issue with Hawthorne. For anyone seeking to explain Hawthorne's gridlock over the writing of romances, the essay offers a direct comment: "The general heartquake of the country long ago knocked at my cottage-door, and compelled me, reluctantly, to suspend the contemplation of certain phantasies, to which, according to my harmless custom, I was endeavoring to give a sufficiently lifelike aspect to admit of their figuring in a Romance." Read objectively, the essay seems as spirited and brilliant as "The Custom-House" essay completed a dozen years earlier. His years of writing in his notebooks while in England and Italy had served him well, for he had sharpened his powers of observation and polished his style. In short, the essay betrays no sign that he had lost his literary powers. What it does betray, to the chagrin of some of his Concord neighbors and many readers of The Atlantic Monthly, is both a willingness to find fault with some measures being taken by Union forces to conduct the war effort and the capacity to say sympathetic things about Rebel soldiers. As the subtitle of his essay makes clear, he wanted to write as a peaceable man, a man saddened because the nation had allowed itself to be pushed into a war. His firm belief was that, left to providence, slavery would die of its own accord as it had earlier done in the North.
The essay brought in some much needed cash, but more was required to keep the household running. His publishers suggested that he draw together ten articles based on his English notebooks, pieces appearing since 1857, and combine them with two other sketches, "Consular Experiences" and "Lichfield and Uttoxeter." Previously published sketches included "Leamington Spa," "About Warwick," "Recollections of a Gifted Woman" (a piece about his efforts to help Delia Bacon in her book about the authorship of the Shakespearean plays), "Pilgrimage to Old Boston," "Near Oxford," "Some of the Haunts of Burns," "A London Suburb," "Up the Thames," "Outside Glimpses of English Poverty," and "Civic Banquets." The collection, called Our Old Home, did not require much revision, and stood to make some money. From the standpoint of Ticknor and Fields, such a volume, unlike "Chiefly About War Matters," seemed incapable of domestic political offense, Hawthorne having been deemed politically incorrect by some Atlantic readers. But Hawthorne surprised them and outraged many of his neighbors and kinfolk when he dedicated the book to Franklin Pierce, considered by the majority of people in Hawthorne's circle to be a copperhead and, thus, a traitor to the North. For Hawthorne, friendship meant more than political conformity. The volume opens with a personal testimony to that friendship and is titled "To a Friend." Apologizing to Pierce for the slightness of the volume, Hawthorne explained that he had meant to draw upon his English notebooks for a romance. That project failed, he explained, because "The Present, the Immediate, the Actual, has proved too potent for me." By that explanation he meant disruptions occasioned by his concern over the nation at war. In a move to disarm critics, neighbors, and kinfolk, especially his ardent abolitionist sister-in-law, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, he concluded his remarks by asserting:
I need no assurance that you continue faithful forever to that grand idea of an irrevocable Union, which, as you once told me, was the earliest that your brave father taught you. For other men there may be a choice of paths--for you, but one; and it rests among my certainties that no man's loyalty is more stedfast, no man's hopes or apprehensions on behalf of our national existence more deeply heartfelt, or more closely intertwined with his possibilities of personal happiness, than those of FRANKLIN PIERCE.
Among those outraged by Hawthorne's dedication was Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Fields to express her disappointment that his firm had published the book: "Do tell me if our friend Hawthorn [sic] praises that arch traitor Pierce in his preface & your firm publishes it . . . . what! patronize such a traitor to our faces!--I can scarce believe it. . . . But I have n't read it." Emerson, reportedly, cut out the dedication page as well as "To a Friend." Despite the ire raised over the dedication, the book sold well and received a mixed response from critics, those from England often expressing unhappiness about his candid descriptions of England. Writing to Fields about some English reviews that had come to hand, Hawthorne said,
The English critics seem to think me very bitter against their countrymen, and it is perhaps natural that they should, because their self-conceit can accept nothing short of indiscriminate adulation; but I really think that Americans have more cause to complain of me. Looking over the volume, I am rather surprised to find that, whenever I draw a comparison between the two peoples, I almost invariably cast the balance against ourselves.
Although he found himself unable to complete his romances about an American Claimant and Septimius Felton (Norton), Hawthorne with renewed hope began planning a new work on the theme of an elixir of life, calling the new venture "The Dolliver Romance." Working on it during the latter half of 1863, he looked forward to having Fields begin serialization in the February 1864 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, despite his dislike of serial publication. A general lassitude now beset him, and writing was a struggle. He failed to meet his deadline but remained dedicated to pushing ahead, writing Longfellow to say, "One more book I should like well enough to write, and have indeed begun it, but with no assurance of ever bringing it to an end. As is always the case, I have a notion that this last book would be my best; and full of wisdom about matters of life and death--and yet it will be no deadly disappointment if I am compelled to drop it."
For all his difficulties, Hawthorne did some of his most masterful writing during this time. His description of Doctor Dolliver's quarters (situated in Salem), his description of the old apothecary and his perky great-granddaughter Pansie, the Rembrandtish tones apparent in his handling of light and dark, and his genial style all combine to show that his creative powers were as sound as ever even if his body was not. He drafted three chapters, the first of which reached a state at which compositors were preparing it for publication. Some fragmentary studies show further attempts to shape the romance, but death cut short his efforts. In a gesture of farewell, Fields placed the uncompleted manuscript of the romance on Hawthorne's coffin. The fragment had to await publication until 1876, when it appeared in Appletons' Journal under the title The Dolliver Romance and Other Pieces.
Hawthorne's gastrointestinal discomforts and steadily declining energy (probably a manifestation of his suffering from stomach cancer) alarmed his family. A trip to the South, perhaps extending as far as Cuba, might restore him and was his wife's proposed remedy. At the end of March 1864 Hawthorne, accompanied by Ticknor, left Boston to venture south, not knowing exactly where he was going nor how long he might be gone. The first stop was New York City. Next they went to Philadelphia, with plans to continue on to Baltimore after some sightseeing in Philadelphia. But fate had an ironic twist for the two travelers--the caretaker, Ticknor, was stricken with a severe cold and, matters turning worse, died, and the near invalid, Hawthorne, had to make it back to Concord on his own.
Still hopeful that travel would benefit him, the family arranged for Hawthorne to spend some time with former President Pierce. Hawthorne was to meet Pierce in Boston, where, unknown to Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes was secretly to ferret out the causes of Hawthorne's ailment. Knowing that Hawthorne would not submit to an examination, Holmes had to settle for a walk along a Boston street, during which time he questioned Hawthorne, learning that his most persistent symptoms were "boring pain, distention, difficult digestion." Holmes did not like what he saw and privately told Annie Fields that "the shark's tooth is upon him."
Pierce and Hawthorne began their journey on 12 May, heading toward New Hampshire. When they reached Concord, Hawthorne was too feeble to continue, and the old friends rested for a few days before moving on to Plymouth and taking lodging at the Pemigewasset House on 18 May. Too exhausted to take his meal with other guests in the dining room, Hawthorne had tea and toast in his room, which adjoined Pierce's. Pierce checked on Hawthorne around two o'clock that night, finding Hawthorne sleeping on his side. On his second check about two hours later, Pierce touched the forehead of his old friend and found it cold.
On 23 May at the Unitarian Church in Concord family and friends gathered to hear James Freeman Clarke, who had officiated at Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne's wedding twenty-two years earlier, conduct the funeral services. Hawthorne's coffin was then taken to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. In attendance at the funeral were Emerson, Holmes, Longfellow, Lowell, and John Greenleaf Whittier.