Yesterdays with Authors
By James T. Fields
Whenever I look at Hawthorne's portrait, and that is pretty often, some new trait or anecdote or reminiscence comes up and clamors to be made known to those who feel an interest in it. But time and eternity call loudly for mortal gossip to be brief, and I must hasten to my last session over that child of genius, who first saw the light on the 4th of July, 1804.
One of his favorite books was Lockhart's Life of Sir Walter Scott, and in 1862 I dedicated to him the Household Edition of that work. When he received the first volume, he wrote to me a letter of which I am so proud that I keep it among my best treasures."I am exceedingly gratified by the dedication. I do not deserve so high an honor; but if you think me worthy, it is enough to make the compliment in the highest degree acceptable, no matter who may dispute my title to it. I care more for your good opinion than for that of a host of critics, and have an excellent reason for so doing; inasmuch as my literary success, whatever it has been or may be, is the result of my connection with you. Somehow or other you smote the rock of public sympathy on my behalf, and a stream gushed forth in sufficient quantity to quench my thirst though not to drown me. I think no author can ever have had publisher that he valued so much as I do mine."
He began in 1862 to send me some articles from his English Journal for the Atlantic magazine, which he afterwards collected into a volume and called "Our Old Home." On forwarding one for December of that year he says:--
"I hope you will like it, for the subject seemed interesting to me when I was on the spot, but I always feel a singular despondency and heaviness of heart in reopening those old journals now. However, if I can make readable sketches out of them, it is no matter."
In the same letter he tells me he has been re-reading Scott's Life, and he suggests some additions to the concluding volume. He says:--
"If the last volume is not already printed and stereotyped, I think you ought to insert in it an explanation of all that is left mysterious in the former volumes,--the name and family of the lady he was in love with, etc. It is desirable, too, to know what have been the fortunes and final catastrophes of his family and intimate friends since his death, down to as recent a period as the death of Lockhart. All such matter would make your edition more valuable; and I see no reason why you should be bound by the deference to living connections of the family that may prevent the English publishers from inserting these particulars. We stand in the light of posterity to them, and have the privileges of posterity.... I should be glad to know something of the personal character and life of his eldest son, and whether (as I have heard) he was ashamed of his father for being a literary man. In short, fifty pages devoted to such elucidation would make the edition unique. Do come and see us before the leaves fall."
While he was engaged in copying out and rewriting his papers on England for the magazine he was despondent about their reception by the public. Speaking of them, one day, to me, he said: "We must remember that there is a good deal of intellectual ice mingled with this wine of memory." He was sometimes so dispirited during the war that he was obliged to postpone his contributions for sheer lack of spirit to go on. Near the close of the year 1862 he writes:--
"I am delighted at what you tell me about the kind appreciation of my articles, for I feel rather gloomy about them myself. I am really much encouraged by what you say; not but what I am sensible that you mollify me with a good deal of soft soap, but it is skilfully applied and effects as you intend it should.... I cannot come to Boston to spend more than a day, just at present. It would suit me better to come for a visit when the spring of next year is a little advanced, and if you renew your hospitable proposition then, I shall probably be glad to accept it; though I have now been a hermit so long, that the thought affects me somewhat as it would to invite a lobster or a crab to step out of his shell."
He continued, during the early months of 1863, to send now and then an article for the magazine from his English Note-Books. On the 22d of February he writes:--
"Here is another article. I wish it would not be so wretchedly long, but there are many things which I shall find no opportunity to say unless I say them now; so the article grows under my hand, and one part of it seems just about as well worth printing as another. Heaven sees fit to visit me with an unshakable conviction that all this series of articles is good for nothing; but that is none of my business, provided the public and you are of a different opinion. If you think any part of it can be left out with advantage, you are quite at liberty to do so. Probably I have not put Leigh Hunt quite high enough for your sentiments respecting him; but no more genuine characterization and criticism (so far as the writer's purpose to be true goes) was ever done. It is very slight. I might have made more of it, but should not have improved it.
"I mean to write two more of these articles, and then hold my hand. I intend to come to Boston before the end of this week, if the weather is good. It must be nearly or quite six months since I was there! I wonder how many people there are in the world who would keep their nerves in tolerably good order through such a length of nearly solitary imprisonment?"
I advised him to begin to put the series in order for a volume, and to preface the book with his "Consular Experiences." On the 18th of April he writes:--
"I don't think the public will bear any more of this sort of thing.... I had a letter from -----, the other day, in which he sends me the enclosed verses, and I think he would like to have them published in the Atlantic. Do it if you like, I pretend to no judgment in poetry. He also sent this epithalamium by Mrs. -----, and I doubt not the good lady will be pleased to see it copied into one of our American newspapers with a few laudatory remarks. Can't you do it in the Transcript, and send her a copy? You cannot imagine how a little praise jollifies us poor authors to the marrow of our bones. Consider, if you had not been a publisher, you would certainly have been one of our wretched tribe, and therefore ought to have a fellow-feeling for us. Let Michael Angelo write the remarks, if you have not the time."
("Michael Angelo" was a clever little Irish-boy who had the care of my room. Hawthorne conceived a fancy for the lad, and liked to hear stories of his smart replies to persistent authors who called during my absence with unpromising-looking manuscripts.) On the 30th of April he writes:--
"I send the article with which the volume is to commence, and you can begin printing it whenever you like. I can think of no better title than this, 'Our Old Home; a Series of English Sketches, by,' etc. I submit to your judgment whether it would not be wed to print these 'Consular Experiences' in the volume without depriving them of any freshness they may have by previous publication in the magazine?
"The article has some of the features that attract the curiosity of the foolish public, being made up of personal narrative and gossip, with a few pungencies of personal satire, which will not be the less effective because the reader can scarcely find out who was the individual meant. I am not without hope of drawing down upon myself a good deal of critical severity on this score, and would gladly incur more of it if I could do so without seriously deserving censure.
"The story of the Doctor of Divinity, I think, will prove a good card in this way. It is every bit true (like the other anecdotes), only not told so darkly as it might have been for the reverend gentleman. I do not believe there is any danger of his identity being ascertained, and do not care whether it is or no, as it could only be done by the impertinent researches of other people. It seems to me quite essential to have some novelty in the collected volume, and, if possible, something that may excite a little discussion and remark. But decide for yourself and me; and if you conclude not to publish it in the magazine, I think I can concoct another article in season for the August number, if you wish. After the publication of the volume, it seems to me the public had better have no more of them.
"J---- has been telling us a mythical story of your intending to walk with him from Cambridge to Concord. We should be delighted to see you, though more for our own sakes than yours, for our aspect here is still a little winterish. When you come, let it be on Saturday, and stay till Monday. I am hungry to talk with you."
I was enchanted, of course, with the "Consular Experiences," and find from his letters, written at that time, that he was made specially happy by the encomiums I could not help sending upon that inimitable sketch. When the "Old Home" was nearly all in type, he began to think about a dedication to the book. On the 3d of May he writes:--
"I am of three minds about dedicating the volume. First, it seems due to Frank Pierce (as he put me into the position where I made all those profound Observations of English scenery, life, and character) to inscribe it to him with a few pages of friendly and explanatory talk, which also would be very gratifying to my own lifelong affection for him.
"Secondly, I want to say something to Bennoch to show him that I am thoroughly mindful of all his hospitality and kindness; and I suppose he might be pleased to see his name at the head of a book of mine.
"Thirdly, I am not convinced that it is worth while to inscribe it to anybody. We will see hereafter."
The book moved on slowly through the press, and he seemed more than commonly nervous about the proofsheets. On the 28th of May he says in a note to me:--
"In a proof-sheet of 'Our Old Home' which I sent you to-day (page 43, or 4, or 5 or thereabout) I corrected a line thus, 'possessing a happy faculty of seeing my own interest.' Now as the public interest was my sole and individual object while I held office, I think that as a matter of scanty justice to myself, the line ought to stand thus, 'possessing a happy faculty of seeing my own interest and the public's.' Even then, you see, I only give myself credit for half the disinterestedness I really felt. Pray, by all means, have it altered as above, even if the page is stereotyped; which it can't have been, as the proof is now in the Concord post-office and you will have it at the same time with this.
"We are getting into full leaf here, and your walk with J---- might come off any time."
An arrangement was made with the liberal house of Smith and Elder, of London, to bring out "Our Old Home" on the same day of its publication in Boston. On the 1st of July Hawthorne wrote to me from the Wayside as follows:--
"I am delighted with Smith and Elder, or rather with you; for it is you that squeeze the English sovereigns out of the poor devils. On my own behalf I never could have thought of asking more than L50, and should hardly have expected to get L10; I look upon the L180 as the only trustworthy funds I have, our own money being of such a gaseous consistency. By the time I can draw for it, I expect it will be worth at least fifteen hundred dollars.
"I shall think over the prefatory matter for 'Our Old Home' today, and will write it to-morrow. It requires some little thought and policy in order to say nothing amiss at this time; for I intend to dedicate the book to Frank Pierce, come what may. It shall reach you on Friday morning.
"We find ----- a comfortable and desirable guest to have in the house. My wife likes her hugely, and for my part, I had no idea that there was such a sensible woman of letters in the world. She is just as healthy-minded as if she had never touched a pen. I am glad she had a pleasant time, and hope she will come back.
"I mean to come to Boston whenever I can be sure of a cool day.
"What a prodigious length of time you stayed among the mountains!
"You ought not to assume such liberties of absence without the consent of your friends, which I hardly think you would get. I, at least, want you always within attainable distance, even though I never see you. Why can't you come and stay a day or two with us, and drink some spruce beer?"
Those were troublous days, full of war gloom and general despondency. The North was naturally suspicious of all public men, who did not bear a conspicuous part in helping to put down the Rebellion. General Pierce had been President of the United States, and was not identified, to say the least, with the great party which favored the vigorous prosecution of the war. Hawthorne proposed to dedicate his new book to a very dear friend, indeed, but in doing so he would draw public attention in a marked way to an unpopular name. Several of Hawthorne's friends, on learning that he intended to inscribe his book to Franklin Pierce, came to me and begged that I would, if possible, help Hawthorne to see that he ought not to do anything to jeopardize the currency of his new volume. Accordingly I wrote to him, just what many of his friends had said to me, and this is his reply to my letter, which bears date the 18th of July, 1863: --
"I thank you for your note of the 15th instant, and have delayed my reply thus long in order to ponder deeply on your advice, smoke cigars over it, and see what it might be possible for me to do towards taking it. I find that it would be a piece of poltroonery in me to withdraw either the dedication or the dedicatory letter. My long and intimate personal relations with Pierce render the dedication altogether proper, especially as regards this book, which would have had no existence without his kindness; and if he is so exceedingly unpopular that his name is enough to sink the volume, there is so much the more need that an old friend should stand by him. I cannot, merely on account of pecuniary profit or literary reputation, go back from what I have deliberately felt and thought it right to do; and if I were to tear out the dedication, I should never look at the volume again without remorse and shame. As for the literary public, it must accept my book precisely as I think fit to give it, or let it alone.
"Nevertheless, I have no fancy for making myself a martyr when it is honorably and conscientiously possible to avoid it; and I always measure out my heroism very accurately according to the exigencies of the occasion, and should be the last man in the world to throw away a bit of it needlessly. So I have looked over the concluding paragraph and have amended it in such a way that, while doing what I know to be justice to my friend, it contains not a word that ought to be objectionable to any set of readers. If the public of the North see fit to ostracize me for this, I can only say that I would gladly sacrifice a thousand or two of dollars rather than retain the good-will of such a herd of dolts and mean-spirited scoundrels. I enclose the rewritten paragraph, and shall wish to see a proof of that and the whole dedication.
"I had a call from an Englishman yesterday, and kept him to dinner; not the threatened -----, but a Mr. -----, introduced by -----. He says he knows you, and he seems to be a very good fellow. 1 have strong hopes that he will never come back here again, for J---- took him on a walk of several miles, whereby they both caught a most tremendous ducking, and the poor Englishman was frightened half to death by the thunder.... On the other page is the list of presentation people, and it amounts to twenty-four, which your liberality and kindness allow me. As likely as not I have forgotten two or three, and I held my pen suspended over one or two of the names, doubting whether they deserved of me so especial a favor as a portion of my heart and brain. I have few friends. Some authors, I should think, would require half the edition for private distribution."
"Our Old Home" was published in the autumn of 1863, and although it was everywhere welcomed, in England the strictures were applied with a liberal hand. On the 18th of October he writes to me:--
"You sent me the 'Pleader' with a Notice of the book, and I have received one or two others, one of them from Bennoch. 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 than they to complain of me. Looking over the volume, I am rather surprised to find that whenever I draw a comparison between the two people, I almost invariably cast the balance against ourselves. It is not a good nor a weighty book, nor does it deserve any great amount either of praise or censure. I don't care about seeing any more notices of it."
Meantime the "Dolliver Romance," which had been laid aside on account of the exciting scenes through which we were then passing, and which unfitted him for the composition of a work of the imagination, made little progress. In a note written to me at this time he says:--
"I can't tell you when to expect an instalment of the Romance, if ever. There is something preternatural in my reluctance to begin. I linger at the threshold, and have a perception of very disagreeable phantasms to be encountered if I enter. I wish God had given me the faculty of writing a sunshiny book."
I invited him to come to Boston and have a cheerful week among his old friends, and threw in as an inducement a hint that he should hear the great organ in the Music Hall. I also suggested that we could talk over the new Romance together, if he would gladden us all by coming to the city. Instead of coming, he sent this reply:--
"I thank you for your kind invitation to hear the grand instrument; but it offers me no inducement additional to what I should always have for a visit to your abode. I have no ear for an organ or a jewsharp, nor for any instrument between the two; so you had better invite a worthier guest, and I will come another time
"I don't see much probability of my having the first chapter of the Romance ready so soon as you want it. There are two or three chapters ready to be written, but I am not yet robust enough to begin, and I feel as if I should never carry it through.
"Besides, I want to prefix a little sketch of Thoreau to it, because, from a tradition which he told me about this house of mine, I got the idea of a deathless man, which is now taking a shape very different from the original one. It seems the duty of a live literary man to perpetuate the memory of a dead one, when there is such fair opportunity as in this case: but how Thoreau would scorn me for thinking that I could perpetuate him! And I don't think so.
"I can think of no title for the unborn Romance. Always heretofore I have waited till it was quite complete before attempting to name it, and I fear I shall have to do so now. I wish you or Mrs. Fields would suggest one. Perhaps you may snatch a title out of the infinite void that will miraculously suit the book, and give me a needful impetus to write it.
"I want a great deal of money....I wonder how people manage to live economically. I seem to spend little or nothing, and yet it will get very far beyond the second thousand, for the present year.... If it were not for these troublesome necessities, I doubt whether you would ever see so much as the first chapter of the new Romance.
"Those verses entitled 'Weariness,' in the last magazine, seem to me profoundly touching. I too am weary, and begin to look ahead for the Wayside Inn."
I had frequent accounts of his ill health and changed appearance, but I supposed he would rally again soon, and become hale and strong before the winter fairly set in. But the shadows even then were about his pathway, and Allan Cunningham's lines, which he once quoted to me, must often have occurred to him,--
"Cauld's the snaw at my head,
And cauld at my feet,
And the finger o' death 's at my een,
Closing them to sleep."
We had arranged together that the "Dolliver Romance" should be first published in the magazine, in monthly instalments, and we decided to begin in the January number of 1864. On the 8th of November came a long letter from him:--
"I foresee that there is little probability of my getting the first chapter ready by the 15th, although I have a resolute purpose to write it by the end of the month. It will be in time for the February number, if it turns out fit for publication at all. As to the title, we must defer settling that till the book is fully written, and meanwhile I see nothing better than to call the series of articles 'Fragments of a Romance.' This will leave me to exercise greater freedom as to the mechanism of the story than I otherwise can, and without which I shall probably get entangled in my own plot. When the work is completed in the magazine, I can fill up the gaps and make straight the crookednesses, and christen it with a fresh title. In this untried experiment of a serial work I desire not to pledge myself, or promise the public more than I may confidently expect to achieve. As regards the sketch of Thoreau, I am not ready to write it yet, but will mix him up with the life of The Wayside, and produce an autobiographical preface for the finished Romance. If the public like that sort of stuff, I too find it pleasant and easy writing, and can supply a new chapter of it for every new volume, and that, moreover, without infringing upon my proper privacy. An old Quaker wrote me, the other day, that he had been reading my Introduetion to the 'Mosses' and the 'Scarlet Letter,' and felt as if he knew me better than his best friend; but I think he considerably overestimates the extent of his intimacy with me.
"I received several private letters and printed notices of 'Our Old Home' from England. It is laughable to see the innocent wonder with which they regard my criticisms, accounting for them by jaundice, insanity, jealousy, hatred, on my part, and never admitting the least suspicion that there may be a particle of truth in them. The monstrosity of their self-conceit is such that anything short of unlimited admiration impresses them as malicious caricature. But they do me great injustice in supposing that I hate them. I would as soon hate my own people.
"Tell Ticknor that I want a hundred dollars more, and I suppose I shall keep on wanting more and more till the end of my days. If I subside into the almshouse before my intellectual faculties are quite extinguished, it strikes me that I would make a very pretty book out of it; and, seriously, if I alone were concerned, I should not have any great objection to winding up there."
On the 14th of November came a pleasant little note from him, which seemed to have been written in better spirits than he had shown of late. Photographs of himself always amused him greatly, and in the little note I refer to there is this pleasant passage:--
"Here is the photograph,--a grandfatherly old figure enough; and I suppose that is the reason why you select it.
"I am much in want of cartes de visite to distribute on my own account, and am tired and disgusted with all the undesirable likenesses as yet presented of me. Don't you think I might sell my head to some photographer who would be willing to return me the value in small change; that is to say, in a dozen or two of cards?"
The first part of Chapter I. of "The Dolliver Romance" came to me from the Wayside on the 1st of December. Hawthorne was very anxious to see it in type as soon as possible, in order that he might compose the rest in a similar strain, and so conclude the preliminary phase of Dr. Dolliver. He was constantly imploring me to send him a good pen, complaining all the while that everything had failed him in that line. In one of his notes begging me to hunt him up something that he could write with, he says:--
"Nobody ever suffered more from pens than I have, and I am glad that my labor with the abominable little tool is drawing to a close."
In the month of December Hawthorne attended the funeral of Mrs. Franklin Pierce, and, after the ceremony, came to stay with us. He seemed ill and more nervous than usual. He said he found General Pierce greatly needing his companionship, for he was overwhelmed with grief at the loss of his wife. I well remember the sadness of Hawthorne's face when he told us he felt obliged to look on the dead. "It was," said he, "like a carven image laid in its richly embossed enclosure, and there was a remote expression about it as if the whole had nothing to do with things present." He told us, as an instance of the ever-constant courtesy of his friend General Pierce, that while they were standing at the grave, the General, though completely overcome with his own sorrow, turned and drew up the collar of Hawthorne's coat to shield him from the bitter cold.
The same day, as the sunset deepened and we sat together, Hawthorne began to talk in an autobiographical vein, and gave us the story of his early life, of which I have already written somewhat. He said at an early age he accompanied his mother and sister to the township in Maine, which his grandfather had purchased. That, he continued, was the happiest period of his life, and it lasted through several years, when he was sent to school in Salem. "I lived in Maine," he said, "like a bird of the air, so perfect was the freedom I enjoyed. But it was there I first got my cursed habits of solitude." During the moonlight nights of winter he would skate until midnight all alone upon Sebago Lake, with the deep shadows of the icy hills on either hand. When he found himself far away from his home and weary with the exertion of skating, he would sometimes take refuge in a log-cabin, where half a tree would be burning on the broad hearth. He would sit in the ample chimney and look at the stars through the great aperture through which the flames went roaring up. "Ah," he said, "how well I recall the summer days also, when, with my gun, I roamed at will through the woods of Maine. How sad middle life looks to people of erratic temperaments. Everything is beautiful in youth, for all things are allowed to it then."
The early home of the Hawthornes in Maine must have been a lonely dwelling-place indeed. A year ago (May 12, 1870) the old place was visited by one who had a true feeling for Hawthorne's genius, and who thus graphically described the spot.
"A little way off the main-travelled road in the town of Raymond there stood an old house which has much in common with houses of its day, but which is distinguished from them by the more evident marks of neglect and decay. Its unpainted walls are deeply stained by time. Cornice and window-ledge and threshold are fast falling with the weight of years. The fences were long since removed from all the enclosures, the garden-wall is broken down, and the garden itself is now grown up to pines whose shadows fall dark and heavy upon the old and mossy roof; fitting roof-trees for such a mansion, planted there by the hands of Nature herself, as if she could not realize that her darling child was ever to go out from his early home. The highway once passed its door, but the location of the road has been changed; and now the old house stands solitarily apart from the busy world. Longer than I can remember, and I have never learned how long, this house has stood untenanted and wholly unused, except, for a few years, as a place of public worship; but, for myself, and for all who know its earlier history, it will ever have the deepest interest, for it was the early home of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
"Often have I, when passing through that town, turned aside to study the features of that landscape, and to reflect upon the influence which his surroundings had upon the development of this author's genius. A few rods to the north runs a little mill-stream, its sloping bank once covered with grass, now so worn and washed by the rains as to show but little except yellow sand. Less than half a mile to the west, this stream empties into an arm of Sebago Lake. Doubtless, at the time the house was built, the forest was so much cut away in that direction as to bring into view the waters of the lake, for a mill was built upon the brook about halfway down the valley, and it is reasonable to suppose that a clearing was made from the mill to the landing upon the shore of the pond; but the pines have so far regained their old dominion as completely to shut out the whole prospect in that direction. Indeed, the site affords but a limited survey, except to the northwest. Across a narrow valley in that direction lie open fields and dark pine-covered slopes. Beyond these rise long ranges of forest-crowned hills, while in the far distance every hue of rock and tree, of field and grove, melts into the soft blue of Mount Washington. The spot must ever have had the utter loneliness of the pine forests upon the borders of our northern lakes. The deep silence and dark shadows of the old woods must have filled the imagination of a youth possessing Hawthorne s sensibility with images which later years could not dispel.
"To this place came the widowed mother of Hawthorne in company with her brother, an original proprietor and one of the early settlers of the town of Raymond. This house was built for her, and here she lived with her son for several years in the most complete seclusion. Perhaps she strove to conceal here a grief which she could not forget. In what way, and to what extent, the surroundings of his boyhood operated in moulding the character and developing the genius of that gifted author, I leave to the reader to determine. I have tried simply to draw a faithful picture of his early home."
On the 15th of December Hawthorne wrote to me:--
"I have not yet had courage to read the Dolliver proof-sheet, but will set about it soon, though with terrible reluctance, such as I never felt before. . . . . I am most grateful to you for protecting me from that visitation of the elephant and his cub. If you happen to see Mr. ----- of L----, a young man who was here last summer, pray tell him anything that your conscience will let you, to induce him to spare me another visit, which I know he intended. I really am not well and cannot be disturbed by strangers without more suffering than it is worth while to endure. I thank Mrs. F---- and yourself for your kind hospitality, past and prospective. I never come to see you without feeling the better for it, but I must not test so precious a remedy too often."
The new year found him incapacitated from writing much on the Romance. On the 17th of January, 1864, he says:--
"I am not quite up to writing yet, but shall make an effort as soon as I see any hope of success. You ought to be thankful that (like most other broken-down authors) I do not pester you with pages, and insist upon your accepting them as full of the old spirit and vigor. That trouble, perhaps, still awaits you, after I shall have reached a further stage of decay. Seriously, my mind has, for the present, lost its temper and its fine edge, and I have an instinct that I had better keep quiet. Perhaps I shall have a new spirit of vigor, if I wait quietly for it; perhaps not."
The end of February found him in a mood which is best indicated in this letter, which he addressed to me on the 25th of the month:--
"I hardly know what to say to the public about this abortive Romance, though I know pretty well what the case will be. I shall never finish it. Yet it is not quite pleasant for an author to announce himself, or to be announced, as finally broken down as to his literary faculty. It is a pity that I let you put this work in your programme for the year, for I had always a presentiment that it would fail us at the pinch. Say to the public what you think best, and as little as possible; for example: 'We regret that Mr. Hawthorne's Romance, announced for this magazine some months ago, still lies upon the author's writing-table, he having been interrupted in his labor upon it by an impaired state of health'; or, 'We are sorry to hear (but know not whether the public will share our grief) that Mr. Hawthorne is out of health and is thereby prevented, for the present, from proceeding with another of his promised (or threatened) Romances, intended for this magazine'; or, 'Mr. Hawthorne's brain is addled at last, and, much to our satisfaction, he tells us that he cannot possibly go on with the Romance announced on the cover of the January magazine. We consider him finally shelved, and shall take early occasion to bury him under a heavy article, carefully summing up his merits (such as they were) and his demerits, what few of them can be touched upon in our limited space'; or, 'We shall commence the publication of Mr. Hawthorne's Romance as soon as that gentleman chooses to forward it. We are quite at a loss how to account for this delay in the fulfilment of his contract; especially as he has already been most liberally paid for the first number.' Say anything you like, in short, though I really don't believe that the public will care what you say or whether you say anything. If you choose, you may publish the first chapter as an insulated fragment, and charge me with the overpayment. I cannot finish it unless a great change comes over me; and if I make too great an effort to do so, it will be my death; not that I should care much for that, if I could fight the battle through and win it, thus ending a life of much smoulder and scanty fire in a blaze of glory. But I should smother myself in mud of my own making. I mean to come to Boston soon, not for a week but for a single day, and then I can talk about my sanitary prospects more freely than I choose to write. I am not lowspirited, nor fanciful, nor freakish, but look what seem to be realities in the face, and am ready to take whatever may come. If I could but go to England now, I think that the sea voyage and the 'Old Home' might set me all right.
"This letter is for your own eye, and I wish especially that no echo of it may come back in your notes to me."P. S. Give my kindest regards to Mrs. F----, and tell her that one of my choicest ideal places is her drawing-room, and therefore I seldom visit it."
On Monday, the 28th of March, Hawthorne came to town and made my house his first station on a journey to the South for health. I was greatly shocked at his invalid appearance, and he seemed quite deaf. The light in his eye was beautiful as ever, but his limbs seemed shrunken and his usual stalwart vigor utterly gone. He said to me with a pathetic voice, "Why does Nature treat us like little children! I think we could bear it all if we knew our fate; at least it would not make much difference to me now what became of me." Toward night he brightened up a little, and his delicious wit flashed out, at intervals, as of old; but he was evidently broken and dispirited about his health. Looking out on the bay that was sparkling in the moonlight, he said he thought the moon rather lost something of its charm for him as he grew older. He spoke with great delight of a little story, called "Pet Marjorie," and said he had read it carefully through twice, every word of it. He had much to say about England, and observed, among other things, that "the extent over which her dominions are spread leads her to fancy herself stronger than she really is; but she is not to-day a powerful empire; she is much like a squash-vine, which runs over a whole garden, but, if you cut it at the root, it is at once destroyed." At breakfast, next morning, he spoke of his kind neighbors in Concord, and said Alcott was one of the most excellent men he had ever known. "It is impossible to quarrel with him, for he would take all your harsh words like a saint."
He left us shortly after this for a journey to Washington, with his friend Mr. Ticknor. The travellers spent several days in New York, and then proceeded to Philadelphia. Hawthorne wrote to me from the Continental Hotel, dating his letter "Saturday evening," announcing the severe illness of his companion. He did not seem to anticipate a fatal result, but on Sunday morning the news came that Mr. Ticknor was dead. Hawthorne returned at once to Boston, and stayed here over night. He was in a very excited and nervous state, and talked incessantly of the sad scenes he had just been passing through. We sat late together, conversing of the friend we had lost, and I am sure he hardly closed his eyes that night. In the morning he went back to his own home in Concord.
His health, from that time, seemed to give way rapidly, and in the middle of May his friend, General Pierce, proposed that they should go among the New Hampshire hills together and meet the spring there.
The first letter we received from Mrs. Hawthorne[*] after her husband's return to Concord in April gave us great anxiety. It was dated "Monday eve,"and here are some extracts from it:--
"I have just sent Mr. Hawthorne to bed, and so have a moment to speak to you. Generally it has been late and I have not liked to disturb him by sitting up after him, and so I could not write since he returned, though I wished very much to tell you about him, ever since he came home. He came back unlooked for that day; and when I heard a step on the piazza, I was lying on a couch and feeling quite indisposed. But as soon as I saw him I was frightened out of all knowledge of myself,--so haggard, so white, so deeply scored with pain and fatigue was the face, so much more ill he looked than I ever saw him before. He had walked from the station because he saw no carriage there, and his brow was streaming with a perfect rain, so great had been the effort to walk so far..... He needed much to get home to me, where he could fling off all care of himself and give way to his feelings, pent up and kept back for so long, especially since his watch and ward of most excellent, kind Mr. Ticknor. It relieved him somewhat to break down as he spoke of that scene.... But he was so weak and weary he could not sit up much, and lay on the couch nearly all the time in a kind of uneasy somnolency, not wishing to be read to even, not able to attend or fix his thoughts at all. On Saturday he unfortunately took cold, and, after a most restless night, was seized early in the morning with a very bad stiff neck, which was acutely painful all Sunday. Sunday night, however, a compress of linen wrung in cold water cured him, with belladonna. But he slept also most of this morning.... He could as easily build London as go to the Shakespeare dinner. It tires him so much to get entirely through his toilet in the morning, that he has to lie down a long time after it. To-day he walked out on the grounds, and could not stay ten minutes, because I would not let him sit down in the wind, and he could not bear any longer exercise. He has more than lost all he gained by the journey, by the sad event. From being the nursed and eared for,--early to bed and late to rise,--led, as it were, by the ever-ready hand of kind Mr. Ticknor, to become the nurse and night-watcher with all the responsibilities, with his mighty power of sympathy and his vast apprehension of suffering in others, and to see death for the first time in a state so weak as his,--the death also of so valued a friend,--as Mr. Hawthorne says himself, 'it told upon him' fearfully. There are lines ploughed on his brow which never were there before.... I have been up and alert ever since his return, but one day I was obliged, when he was busy, to run off and lie down for fear I should drop before his eyes. My head was in such an agony I could not endure it another moment. But I am well now. I have wrestled and won, and now I think I shall not fail again. Your most generous kindness of hospitality I heartily thank you for, but Mr. Hawthorne says he cannot leave home. He wants rest, and he says when the wind is warm he shall feel well. This cold wind ruins him. I wish he were in Cuba or on some isle in the Gulf Stream. But I must say I could not think him able to go anywhere, unless I could go with him. He is too weak to take care of himself. I do not like to have him go up and down stairs alone. I have read to him all the afternoon and evening and after he walked in the morning to-day. I do nothing but sit with him, ready to do or not to do, just as he wishes. The wheels of my small ménage are all stopped. He is my world and all the business of it. He has not smiled since he came home till to-day, and I made him laugh with Thackeray's humor in reading to him; but a smile looks strange on a face that once shone like a thousand suns with smiles. The light for the time has gone out of his eyes, entirely. An infinite weariness films them quite. I thank Heaven that summer and not winter approaches."
On Friday evening of the same week Mrs. Hawthorne sent off another despatch to us:--
"Mr. Hawthorne has been miserably ill for two or three days, so that I could not find a moment to speak to you. I am most anxious to have him leave Concord again, and General Pierce's plan is admirable, now that the General is well himself. I think the serene jog-trot in a private carriage into country places, by trout-streams and to old farm-houses, away from care and news, will be very restorative. The boy associations with the General will refresh him. They will fish, and muse, and rest, and saunter upon horses' feet, and be in the air all the time in fine weather. I am quite content, though I wish I could go for a few petite soins. But General Pierce has been a most tender, constant nurse for many years, and knows how to take care of the sick. And his love for Mr. Hawthorne is the strongest passion of his soul, now his wife is departed. They will go to the Isles of Shoals together probably, before their return.
"Mr. Hawthorne cannot walk ten minutes now without wishing to sit down, as I think I told you, so that he cannot take sufficient air except in a carriage. And his horror of hotels and rail-cars is immense, and human beings beset him in cities. He is indeed very weak. I hardly know what takes away his strength. I now am obliged to superintend my workman, who is arranging the grounds. Whenever my husband lies down (which is sadly often) I rush out of doors to see what the gardener is about.
"I cannot feel rested till Mr. Hawthorne is better, but I get along. I shall go to town when he is safe in the care of General Pierce."
On Saturday this communication from Mrs. Hawthorne reached us:--
"General Pierce wrote yesterday to say he wished to meet Mr. Hawthorne in Boston on Wednesday, and go from thence on their way.
"Mr. Hawthorne is much weaker, I find, than he has been before at any time, and I shall go down with him, having a great many things to do in Boston; but I am sure he is not fit to be left by himself, for his steps are so uncertain, and his eyes are very uncertain too. Dear Mr. Fields, I am very anxious about him, and I write now to say that he absolutely refuses to see a physician officially, and so I wish to know whether Dr. Holmes could not see him in some ingenious way on Wednesday as a friend; but with his experienced, acute observation, to look at him also as a physician, to note how he is and what he judges of him comparatively since he last saw him. It almost deprives me of my wits to see him growing weaker with no aid. He seems quite bilious, and has a restlessness that is infinite. His look is more distressed and harassed than before; and he has so little rest, that he is getting worn out. I hope immensely in regard of this sauntering journey with General Pierce.
"I feel as if I ought not to speak to you of anything when you are so busy and weary and bereaved. But yet in such a sad emergency as this, I am sure your generous, kind heart will not refuse me any help you can render.... I wish Dr. Holmes would feel his pulse; I do not know how to judge of it, but it seems to me irregular."
His friend, Dr. O. W. Holmes, in compliance with Mrs. Hawthorne's desire, expressed in this letter to me, saw the invalid, and thus describes his appearance in an article full of tenderness and feeling which was published in the "Atlantic Monthly" for July, 1864:--
"Late in the afternoon of the day before he left Boston on his last journey I called upon him at the hotel where he was staying. He had gone out but a moment before. Looking along the street, I saw a form at some distance in advance which could only be his,-- but how changed from his former port and figure! There was no mistaking the long iron-gray locks, the carriage of the head, and the general look of the natural outlines and movement; but he seemed to have shrunken in all his dimensions, and faltered along with an uncertain, feeble step, as if every movement were an effort. I joined him, and we walked together half an hour, during which time I learned so much of his state of mind and body as could be got at without worrying him with suggestive questions,--my object being to form an opinion of his condition, as I had been requested to do, and to give him some hints that might be useful to him on his journey.
"His aspect, medically considered, was very unfavorable. There were persistent local symptoms, referred especially to the stomach, --'boring pain,' distension, difficult digestion, with great wasting of flesh and strength. He was very gentle, very willing to answer questions, very docile to such counsel as I offered him, but evidently had no hope of recovering his health. He spoke as if his work were done, and he should write no more.
"With all his obvious depression, there was no failing noticeable in his conversational powers. There was the same backwardness and hesitancy which in his best days it was hard for him to overcome, so that talking with him was almost like love-making, and his shy, beautiful soul had to be wooed from its bashful prudency like an unschooled maiden. The calm despondency with which he spoke about himself confirmed the unfavorable opinion suggested by his look and history."
I saw Hawthorne alive, for the last time, the day he started on this his last mortal journey. His speech and his gait indicated severe illness, and I had great misgivings about the jaunt he was proposing to take so early in the season. His tones were more subdued than ever, and he scarcely spoke above a whisper. He was very affectionate in parting, and I followed him to the door, looking after him as he went up School Street. I noticed that he faltered from weakness, and I should have taken my hat and joined him to offer my arm, but I knew he did not wish to seem ill, and I feared he might be troubled at my anxiety. Fearing to disturb him, I followed him with my eyes only, and watched him till he turned the corner and passed out of sight.
On the morning of the 19th of May, 1864, a telegram, signed by Franklin Pierce, stunned us all. It announced the death of Hawthorne. In the afternoon of the same day came this letter to me:--
"PEMIGEWASSET HOUSE, PLYMOUTH, N. H.
Thursday morning, 5 o'clock.
"MY DEAR SIR,--The telegraph has communicated to you the fact of our dear friend Hawthorne's death. My friend Colonel Hibbard, who bears this note, was a friend of H----, and will tell you more than I am able to write.
"I enclose herewith a note which I commenced last evening to dear Mrs. Hawthorne. O, how will she bear this shock! Dear mother--dear children--
"When I met Hawthorne in Boston a week ago, it was apparent that he was much more feeble and more seriously diseased than I had supposed him to be. We came from Centre Harbor yesterday afternoon, and I thought he was on the whole brighter than he was the day before. Through the week he had been inclined to somnolency during the day, but restless at night. He retired last night soon after nine o'clock. and soon fell into a quiet slumber. In less than half an hour changed his position, but continued to sleep. I left the door open between his bedroom and mine,--our beds being opposite to each other,--and was asleep myself before eleven o'clock. The light continued to burn in my room. At two o'clock, I went to H----'s bedside; he was apparently in a sound sleep, and I did not place my hand upon him. At four o'clock I went into his room again, and, as his position was unchanged, I placed my hand upon him and found that life was extinct. I sent, however, immediately for a physician, and called Judge Bell and Colonel Hibbard, who occupied rooms upon the same floor and near me. He lies upon his side, his position so perfectly natural and easy, his eyes closed, that it is difficult to realize, while looking upon his noble face, that this is death. He must have passed from natural slumber to that from which there is no waking without the slightest movement.
"I cannot write to dear Mrs. Hawthorne, and you must exercise your judgment with regard to sending this and the unfinished note, enclosed, to her.
Hawthorne's lifelong desire that the end might be a sudden one was gratified. Often and often he has said to me, "What a blessing to go quickly!" So the same swift angel that came as a messenger to Allston, Irving, Prescott, Macaulay, Thackeray, and Dickens was commissioned to touch his forehead, also, and beckon him away.
The room in which death fell upon him,
"Like a shadow thrown
Softly and lightly from a passing cloud,"
looks toward the east; and standing in it, as I have frequently done, since he passed out silently into the skies, it is easy to imagine the scene on that spring morning which President Pierce so feelingly describes in his letter.
On the 24th of May we carried Hawthorne through the blossoming orchards of Concord, and laid him down under a group of pines, on a hillside, overlooking historic fields. All the way from the village church to the grave the birds kept up a perpetual melody. The sun shone brightly, and the air was sweet and pleasant, as if death had never entered the world. Longfellow and Emerson, Channing and Hoar, Agassiz and Lowell, Greene and Whipple, Alcott and Clarke, Holmes and Hillard, and other friends whom he loved, walked slowly by his side that beautiful spring morning; The companion of his youth and his manhood, for whom he would willingly, at any time, have given up his own life, Franklin Pierce, was there among the rest, and scattered flowers into the grave. The unfinished Romance, which had cost him so much anxiety, the last literary work on which he had ever been engaged, was laid on his coffin.
"Ah! who shall lift that wand of magic power,
And the lost clew regain?
The unfinished window in Aladdin's tower Unfinished must remain."
Longfellow's beautiful poem will always be associated with the memory of Hawthorne, and most fitting was it that his fellow-student, whom he so loved and honored, should sing his requiem.
[Author's note: ] *As I write this paragraph, my friend, the Reverend James Freeman Clarke, puts into my hand the following note, which Hawthorne sent to him nearly thirty years ago:--
54 Pinckney Street, Friday, July 8,1842
MY DEAR SIR,--Though personally a stranger to you, I am about to request of you the greatest favor which I can receive from any man. I am to be married to Miss Sophia Peabody; and it is our mutual desire that you should perform the ceremony. Unless it should be decidedly a rainy day, a carriage will call for you at half past eleven o'clock in the forenoon.
Very respectfully yours, NATH. HAWTHORNE
Rev. JAMES F. CLARKE, Chestnut Street.