MY own marriage in 1846 brought to Hawthorne another appreciative friend, to whom he at once gave his confidence and esteem.
Our house was always open to him, and he came to us at will, as to friends from whom he was sure of a welcome and in whose society he felt no restraint.
On one occasion, after my return from an African and European cruise, I was ordered to the Portsmouth station, where we were hardly settled at house-keeping when Hawthorne came to see us.
The hall was encumbered by boxes, at sight of which he feared that his visit was inopportune; and he quickly said, "I have just come for an hour or two to see you, and must return this evening." Mrs. Bridge--perceiving that the fear of incommoding us was influencing him--said,
"Must you desert us when I need your aid in unpacking these boxes ?"
"Will you really let me help you ?" he replied.
Her joking answer--assuring him of her
pleasure in gaining so strong a helper, both in muscle and intelligence--put him entirely at ease, and for a week he made himself useful on all possible occasions. As I was convalescing, after a malarial fever, it was a great relief to me to have his efficient aid.
A pleasant feature of the work consisted in unpacking and selecting places for the many things that Mrs. Bridge had been able to collect in France and Italy during the troublous times of 1848-49.
Hawthorne was much interested in her account of the persons she had met and the places she had visited, but more especially of her journey in Spain.
Mrs. Bridge had come to join me in Europe; but, as I was attached to a cruising ship, we could only meet occasionally, and she was obliged to make her journeys without me.
At another time, on one of his visits, he was talking with Mrs. Bridge at twilight, while I was dozing on the sofa. With the ease of manner that precluded all embarrassment on his part, she said to him, "Now tell me a story." Looking at me--without a moment's hesitation--he said, "I will tell you one which I could write, making that gentleman one of the principal characters. I should begin with the description
of his father--a dignified and conservative man--who, for many years, had lived in a great mansion, by the side of a noble river, and had daily enjoyed the sight of the beautiful stream flowing placidly by, without a thought of disturbing its natural course.
"His children had played upon its banks, and the boys swam in the quiet stream or rowed their boats thereon.
"But, after their father's decease, his sons, grown to manhood--progressive in unison with the spirit of the age--conceived the project of utilizing the great body of water flowing idly by. So, calling in the aid of a famous engineer, they built a high and costly dam across the river, thus creating a great water-power sufficient for the use of many prospective mills and factories.
"The river--biding its time--quietly allowed the obstructions to be finished; and then it rose in its wrath and swept away the expensive structure and the buildings connected with it, and took its course majestically to the sea.
"Nor did this satisfy the offended river-gods; for they cut a new channel for the stream, and swallowed up the paternal mansion of the young men, and desolated its beautiful grounds, thus showing the superior power of Nature whenever it chooses to assert itself."
The year after the visit just described--being still languid and debilitated--I accepted Hawthorne's invitation to come and see him and his family at Lenox in the Berkshire hills, a region famed for the healthfulness of its climate, and as the home of the Sedgwicks, Fanny Kemble Butler, etc.
Fashion had not then invaded these lovely hills, and the comparatively small society was noted for its simple mode of living, for its intelligence, and its culture.
The Hawthornes occupied an old-fashioned cottage, painted deep red, and overlooking a charming lake.
There were a great many deficiencies in the arrangements of the quaint old house and grounds, for which I had a quick eye, and to the immediate remedying of which Hawthorne and I devoted our efforts. Mrs. Hawthorne looked on with amused approval (even when our performances were rather revolutionary), as she saw us engaging, with great glee, in improving matters generally. Boxes were turned into closets and bookshelves, and the cellar and hen-house were not neglected.
A letter I wrote my wife from Lenox gives my own impressions of the surroundings of the Hawthornes, and of our occupations during my very pleasant visit:
"LA MAISON ROUGE, July 18, 1850.
"CARA MIA,--I must explain the meaning of the caption. Be it known, then, that Hawthorne occupies a house painted red, like some old-fashioned farm-houses you have seen. It is owned by Mr. Tappan, who lived in it awhile; but he is now at High-Wood, the beautiful place of Mr. Ward. The old farm-house is quite comfortable, having sufficient room, and being furnished simply and in good taste. All the surroundings give proof of the easy circumstances of the present occupants.
"The view of the lake is lovely; I have seldom seen one so beautiful.
"Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne are most friendly, and my visit seems to give them much satisfaction.
"Nor am I quite useless. I have planned various improvements in the house and grounds, including some in the hennery, where the nests and roosts are now arranged according to the directions of the best authors upon that useful subject. To-morrow we are going to make some closets and book-shelves of the boxes in which the furniture came. As I am not so strong as before my fever, Hawthorne does the hard work, such as lifting, sawing, etc., while I plan and hammer. Oh, we are a model pair of working-men--the Man of Genius and the Naval Officer!
"The children behave very well, and, certainly, are charming youngsters. Una acts like a little lady, and exhibits good temper and obedience; while Julian is a good-natured, laughing young giant.
"We intend to visit High-Wood at an early day, and thence shall drive to the village, if we can get Mr. Tappan's vehicle.
"19th. It has rained all the forenoon. Consequently we have been at work in cellar, hennery, and shed. In the reorganized hennery our labor has already been justified, for no less than three hens have shown their approval of it by each laying an egg in a new and scientific nest.
"I have selected two boxes for the children's closets, besides a large one for a wardrobe, and another for a general closet; and, having laid out several days' work for somebody in papering, etc., I am satisfied.
"We have cleared up the wood-house and cellar, mended some chairs, and have done a great deal towards making the establishment 'shipshape' and comfortable.
"You must not think that I am exerting myself too much. Hawthorne has taken the hardest part of the work, and I really feel all the better for the exercise. . . .
"Hawthorne and his wife both send kindest regards.
As the "House of the Seven Gables" was at that time in course of preparation, it is fair to presume that the fowls, flowers, and vegetables of the Red-house establishment were studies for the pictures of Phoebe's garden favorites.
Hawthorne's residence at Lenox was marked not only by the production of the "House of the Seven Gables," but by that of the "Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys," a volume of three hundred pages, which he wrote in seven weeks, his facility for labor increasing with the public demand for his writings. He also prepared, at that place, a second volume of "Twice-Told-Tales" and began the "Blithedale Romance."
A few days after leaving Lenox I received the following letter, which has in it an amusing touch about the effect my active reforms had produced upon the children.
"LENOX, Aug. 7, 1850
"Duyckink, of the Literary World, and Herman Melville are in Berkshire, and I expect them to call here this morning. I met Melville the other day, and liked him so much that I have asked him to spend a few days with me before leaving these parts.
"We all have very pleasant recollections of your visit. Julian broke a china cup a few days. ago, and very coolly remarked that 'Mr. Bridge could mend it.'
"We have got some maple-paper, and shall soon begin the transmutation of your boxes.
"We are getting along very well. Una and Julian grow apace, and so do our chickens, of which we have two broods. There is one difficulty about these chickens, as well as about the old fowls. We have become so intimately acquainted with every individual of them, that it really seems like cannibalism to think of eating them. What is to be done?
"With our best regards to Mrs. Bridge,
"LENOX, March 15, 1851.
"DEAR BRIDGE,-- I am glad to hear from you at last, although I am sorry you have sunk into the depths of official idleness, and have effected nothing towards the new edition of the "Cruiser."
"You know not what fame you may be flinging away. However, all that shall he made up in a journal or history of your next voyage. But I do most heartily wish that you would cut the Navy, and trust to God and your own exertions for a good life at home. Even such a poor house and poor fare as mine, for instance, are better than sea-biscuit and a stateroom.
"The 'House of the Seven Gables,' in my opinion, is better than 'The Scarlet Letter'; but I should not wonder if I had refined upon the principal character a little too much for popular appreciation; nor if the romance of the book should be found somewhat at odds with the humble and familiar scenery in which I invest it. But I feel that portions of it are as good as anything I can hope to write, and the publisher speaks encouragingly of its success.
"How slowly I have made my way in life! How much is still to be done! How little worth--outwardly speaking--is all that I have achieved! The bubble reputation is as much a bubble in literature as in war, and I should not be one whit the happier if mine were world-wide and time-long than I was when nobody but yourself had faith in me.
"The only sensible ends of literature are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one's family and friends; and, lastly, the solid cash.
"Remember me to Mrs. Bridge, and give her, likewise, my wife's remembrances. I shall take advantage of a visit to Dr. Peabody in June next to go to Boston, and hope to have a meeting with you before my return.
"The boxes, I must confess, are not all papered, but neither are they all unpapered; and my
wife was talking of doing the remainder only the day before your letter arrived.
"LENOX, July 22, 1851.
"DEAR BRIDGE,--What a long, long while since I have heard from you! I don't know when it was, or which of us wrote last, though I am, most probably, in your debt for a letter; but a weary scribbler, like myself, must be allowed a great deal of license as regards debts of that nature. Why did you not write and tell me how you liked, or how you did not like, the 'House of the Seven Gables'? Did you feel shy of expressing an unfavorable opinion? It would not have hurt me in the least, though I am always glad to please you; but I rather think I have reached that stage when I do not care, very essentially one way or the other, for anybody's opinion on any one production. On this last romance, for instance, I have heard and seen such diversity of judgment that I should be altogether bewildered if I attempted to strike a balance. So I take nobody's estimate unless it happens to agree with my own. I think it a work more characteristic of my mind, and more proper and natural for me to write, than 'The Scarlet Letter'; but for that very reason, less likely to interest the public. Nevertheless it appears to
have sold better than the former, and, I think, is more sure of retaining the ground it acquires. Mrs. Kemble writes that both works are popular in England, and advises me to take out my copyright there.
"Since the first of June I have written a book of two or three hundred pages for children; and I think it stands a chance of a wide circulation. The title, at all events, is an ad captandum one--'The Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys.' I don't know what I shall write next. Should it be a romance, I mean to put an extra touch of the devil into it, for I doubt whether the public will stand two quiet books in succession without my losing ground. As long as people will buy, I shall keep at work, and I find that my facility for labor increases with the demand for it.
"Mrs. Hawthorne published a little work two months ago, which still lies in sheets, but I assure you it makes some noise in the world, both by day and night. In plain English, we have another little daughter; a very bright, strong, and healthy miss; but at present with no pretensions to beauty. Sophia intends, in the course of two or three weeks, to take the baby to Mr. Mann's in West Newton, on a short visit. Una will accompany her, and I shall remain here with Julian. After her return I shall go to Boston, and, if you should be still at Portsmouth, I will run
down thither to see you, if for no more than a day. It is now above a year since I have been ten miles from this place, and I begin to need a little change of scene.
"We intend to take Mrs. Kemble's house in October or the beginning of November. She offered it last year for nothing; but I declined the terms. She offers it now for the same rent that I pay here; and, though this is inadequate, yet as she cannot let the house on any other terms, or to any other person, I see no impropriety in my accepting the offer. If she could do better, I would not take it. We shall lose a beautiful prospect, and gain a much more convenient and comfortable house than our present one. If I continue to prosper in my literary vocation, I mean to buy a house before a great while, but it shall not be in Berkshire. I prefer the sea-coast, both as a matter of taste and because I think it suits both Sophia's constitution and my own better than this hill country.
"Do write and tell me of your welfare and prospects. I am afraid you will not be able to read this scrawl, but I have contracted a bad habit of careless penmanship.
"With our best regards to Mrs. Bridge,
After receiving this letter, I wrote Hawthorne
of the old family home of the Sparhawks, at Kittery Point, which was then for sale, and was not far from the cottage near the sea which I had just bought.
"LENOX, Oct. 11, 1852.
"DEAR BRIDGE,--The Sparhawk house certainly offers some temptations, among which, however, I do not reckon that hideous story of the howling dead man, but I shall resist them. It is too much out of the way. I have learned pretty well the desirableness of an easy access to the world; and you will learn it, too, if you should ever actually occupy your island purchase. You will never be able to make that your permanent home. I am sure of it. It will do well enough to play Robinson Crusoe for a summer or so, but when a man is making his settled dispositions for life, he had better be on the mainland, and as near a railroad station as possible.
"My 'Wonder-Book,' I suppose, will be out soon. I do not know your direction in Boston, so cannot send you one unless first advised thereof; but will tell the publishers to hand you one when called for. I have also a new volume of 'Twice-Told-Tales' in press and a new romance in futurity.
"We shall leave here, with much joy, on the first day of December.
"With our best regards to Mrs. Bridge, whom
I would not have missed seeing, only it involved the not seeing my wife the next day.
In the year of grace 1890 the historic "Red House" was burned, and now only the blackened ruins near the lovely lake remain to mark the spot where it had stood so long. In that "little red shanty," as Mrs. Hawthorne called it, Hawthorne wrote the " House of the Seven Gables" and the "Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys," and there he began the " Blithedale Romance." In that house, too, Rose (now Mrs. Lathrop) was born. To that little, low-studded, yet cheerful dwelling, for nearly forty years after the departure of the man who made it famous, visitors, in yearly increasing numbers, resorted as to a shrine of genius purely American. Mr. Tappan, owner of the place, had the good taste as well as the kindly remembrances which led him to keep the study in the same state that Hawthorne left it in.
"CONCORD, Mass., Oct. 18, 1852.
"DEAR BRIDGE,--I received your letter some time ago, and ought to have answered it long since, but you know my habits of epistolary delinquency, so I make no apology. Besides, I have been busy with literary labor of more kinds than one. Perhaps you have seen 'Blithedale'
before this time. I doubt whether you will like it very well; but it has met with good success, and has brought me--besides its American circulation--a thousand dollars from England; whence, likewise, have come many favorable notices. Just at this time I rather think your friend stands foremost there as an American fiction-monger.
"In a day or two I intend to commence a new romance, which, if possible, I mean to make more genial than the last.
"I did not send you the 'Life of Pierce,' not considering it fairly one of my literary productions.
"I was terribly reluctant to undertake this work, and tried to persuade Pierce--both by letter and viva voce--that I could not perform it so well as many others; but he thought differently; and, of course, after a friendship of thirty years, it was impossible to refuse my best efforts in his behalf at this--the great pinch of his life.
"Other writers might have made larger claims for him, and have eulogized him more highly; but I doubt whether any other could have bestowed a better aspect of sincerity and reality on the narrative, and have secured all the credit possible for him without spoiling all by asserting too much.
"Before undertaking it, I made an inward
resolution that I would accept no office from him; but, to say the truth, I doubt whether it would not be rather folly than heroism to adhere to this purpose in case he should offer me anything particularly good. We shall see. A foreign mission I could not afford to take. The consulship at Liverpool I might. I have several invitations from English celebrities to come over there, and this office would make all straight. What luck that fellow has! I have wanted you here while writing up his memoirs for the sake of talking over his character with you, as I cannot with any other person. I have come seriously to the conclusion that he has in him many of the chief elements of a great ruler. His talents are administrative; he has a subtle faculty of making affairs roll onward according to his will, and of influencing their course without showing any trace of his action. There are scores of men in the country that seem brighter than he is; but Frank has the directing mind, and will move them about like pawns on a chess-board, and turn all their abilities to better purpose than they themselves could do. Such is my idea of him after many an hour of reflection on his character while making the best of his biography. He is deep, deep, deep. But what luck withal! Nothing can ruin him.
"Nevertheless I do not feel very sanguine
about the result of this election. There is hardly a spark of enthusiasm in either party; but what there is, so far as I can judge, is on the side of Scott. The prospect is none of the brightest, either in New York, Ohio, or Pennsylvania; and unless Frank gets one of them, he goes to the wall. He himself does not appear to admit the possibility of failure; but I doubt whether, in a position like his, a man can ever form a reliable judgment of the prospect before him.
"Should he fail, what an extinction it will be! He is in the intensest blaze of celebrity. His portrait is everywhere--in all the shop-windows, and in all sorts of styles--on wood, steel, and copper; on horseback, on foot, in uniform, in citizen's dress, in iron medallions, in little brass medals, and on handkerchiefs; and it seems as if the world were full of his not very striking physiognomy.
"If he loses the election, in one little month he will fall utterly out of sight and never come up again. He is playing a terrible game, and for a tremendous stake. On one side power, the broadest popularity, and a place in history; on the other (for I doubt whether it would not prove a knock-down blow) oblivion, or death and a forgotten grave. He says, however, that he should bear defeat with equanimity. Perhaps he might, but I think he is not aware of the intense
excitement in which he lives. He seems calm, but his hair is whitening, I assure you. Well, three weeks more will tell the story.
"By the by, he speaks most kindly of you, and his heart seems to warm towards all his old friends under the influence of his splendid prospects. If he wins he will undoubtedly seek for some method of making you the better for his success. I love him, and, oddly enough, there is a kind of pitying sentiment mixed up with my affection for him just now.