Nathaniel Hawthorne/Chapter 7
Hawthorne left the Wayside home with a good deal of regret for its quiet happiness, and yet with pleasant anticipations of the opportunity of seeing foreign countries. He had the roaming instinct; and, though he had almost completed fifty years of life, its satisfaction had been of the slightest. It is necessary to recall how very little he had seen of the world in order to appreciate at all the way in which England and Italy looked to his middle-aged eyes, the points in which they failed to appeal to him as well as those in which they arrested his interest. With all his love, or at least sentiment, for the sea, this was the first voyage he had made, and finding himself a good sailor he enjoyed it immensely. It was the next thing to commanding a ship himself upon his ancestral element, and he felt the mystery and distance and that vague impression of indefinite time that belong to the ocean atmosphere,—the wish to sail on and on forever. In Liverpool, where he arrived in July, he was plunged at once into a confused mass of new impressions and also into the very mundane duties and surroundings of the consulate.
The narrative of his European experiences in every aspect is fully told in the book of reminiscences "Our Old Home," which he published after his return, and in the voluminous note-books kept in his English, French, and Italian sojourns; and this long story is still further enlarged and varied by the letters of the family, and the recollections of his friends. It can be read in detail, and except as a story of detail it has very little interest. The essential point which belongs to his biography is to see how Hawthorne bore himself, the general impression made on him, the ways in which his character came out, in these novel circumstances. At first, he found the office itself very much an old story. In fact, as a matter of routine and a part of daily external affairs, the life of the consulate was that of the Boston coal wharf and the Salem Custom House over again. He repeated the history of these early experiences to the letter, except that he was no longer ridden with the idea that he must go to work in a material, every-day task in order to be a man among men; he was free from that delusion, but at the same time he welcomed the change of life. Politics had already begun to take on that unpleasantness for a Northern man of his affiliations which could make even so dull a participant as he was, in his sluggish conservatism, very uncomfortable; he had felt its rude censures and misapprehensions of delicate personal relations—such as existed between himself and President Pierce— disagreeably near at hand; and he was glad to get away from his native land, upon which before a year had passed he looked back with the feeling that he never desired to return to it. He did not enjoy England so much, however, as this might seem to indicate; and, especially, he did not enjoy his work, for, notwithstanding his philosophy of the usefulness of manual toil and regular occupation of an unliterary kind, the touch of work always disenchanted his mind at once. He liked it no better than on the two previous occasions at Boston and Salem; it bored and wearied him, and just as before, though he does not now complain of the fact, it put an end to his literary activity, paralyzed and sterilized his genius as completely as if it had blasted him with a curse. The difficulty of serving two masters, though it is sometimes thought to be a service peculiarly fitted for men of letters, was illustrated in Hawthorne's career in many ways and on several occasions, but nowhere more plainly than in the period of his five years of atrophy from the time he entered the consulate till the composition of "The Marble Faun." He wrote vigorously in his note-books, from time to time, but such composition was the opiate it had always been for his higher imaginative and moral powers, and exercised only his faculty of observation. The fact that he does not complain of this state of affairs is due probably to his growing weariness of higher literary effort, the true power of his genius, which now had only an ebbing physical force for its basis. He was too much engaged in affairs, and too tired, to write; but he was not displeased to have so good an excuse, and perhaps his ambition was already really satisfied by the success he had achieved, and he felt the spur less.
Altogether, the first and lasting impression made by his account of his life at Liverpool is that he was the same discontented employee who had chafed against circumstances before, and had not changed his mind with the skies over him. The expression of his moods has the old touch of irritability, too, in its excess of language, its air of confiding something that one would not say aloud, its half-conscious pettishness. In March, 1854, he writes to Bridge, in this character, though here possibly it is the presence of politics that is the disturbing factor:—
"I like my office well enough, but any official duties and obligations are irksome to me beyond expression. Nevertheless, the emoluments will be a sufficient inducement to keep me here, though they are not above a quarter part what some people suppose them.
"It sickens me to look back to America. I am sick to death of the continual fuss and tumult and excitement and bad blood which we keep up about political topics. If it were not for my children I should probably never return, but—after quitting office—should go to Italy, and live and die there. If Mrs. Bridge and you would go, too, we might form a little colony amongst ourselves, and see our children grow up together. But it will never do to deprive them of their native land, which I hope will be a more comfortable and happy residence in their day than it has been in ours. In my opinion, we are the most miserable people on earth.
"I wish you would send me the most minute particulars about Pierce—how he looks and behaves when you meet him, how his health and spirits are—and above all, what the public really thinks of him—a point which I am utterly unable to get at through the newspapers. Give him my best regards, and ask him whether he finds his post any more comfortable than I prophesied it would be."
Another year's experience completed his dissatisfaction, and it had reached the familiar acute stage, as early as July, 1855, when he indited that well-known note to Mr. Bright, "the tall, slender, good-humored, laughing, voluble" English friend, who had done everything in the world to make him happy:—
Dear Mr. Bright,—I have come back (only for a day or two) to this black and miserable hole.
Truly yours, Nath. Hawthorne.
There spoke the man, as if the sun had photographed him. It is true that he had a particular occasion for black spirits at the moment, inasmuch as the law reducing the emoluments of the office had just gone into effect, in consequence of which the wages of his slavery were much reduced. He was now very much disposed to resign. He had saved enough money to free his mind from any anxiety for the future, since he thought he could live on what he had with the exercise of economy; the health of Mrs. Hawthorne was somewhat impaired, and it was necessary to arrange a change of residence for her; and he was thoroughly weary of his English surroundings. The President offered him a post in the American Legation at Lisbon, but he declined to consider it; and finally the matter was settled by Mrs. Hawthorne spending the winter at Lisbon with O'Sullivan, who was minister there, while Hawthorne himself retained the consulate and remained in Liverpool, keeping Julian with him while the other two children accompanied their mother. Mrs. Hawthorne, after a delightful visit, returned much improved in health, and it was not until the autumn of 1857 that Hawthorne retired from office, after Buchanan became President.
As a consul Hawthorne discharged his duties with fidelity and efficiency, and was in every way a satisfactory officer. He was diligent and attentive in business affairs, and he was especially considerate of the numbers of distressed citizens who naturally drifted into his care and notice, and was always conscientious and generous in dealing with them, while the burden was a heavy charge. The only matter that stands out notably in his official action is his interest in the inhumane treatment of sailors on American ships, and just before he left office he sent a long dispatch to his government in respect to it. His reflections on the subject, which are apposite and sensible enough, are of less interest biographically than a few sentences upon himself in this philanthropic character, which he wrote to his sister-in-law:—
"I do not know what Sophia may have said about my conduct in the Consulate. I only know that I have done no good,—none whatever. Vengeance and beneficence are things that God claims for Himself. His instruments have no consciousness of His purpose; if they imagine they have, it is a pretty sure token that they are not His instruments. The good of others, like our own happiness, is not to be attained by direct effort, but incidentally. All history and observation confirm this. I am really too humble to think of doing good! Now, I presume you think the abolition of flogging was a vast boon to seamen. I see, on the contrary, with perfect distinctness, that many murders and an immense mass of unpunishable cruelty—a thousand blows, at least, for every one that the cat-of-nine-tails would have inflicted—have resulted from that very thing. There is a moral in this fact which I leave you to deduce. God's ways are in nothing more mysterious than in this matter of trying to do good."
This is the same voice that was heard in "The House of the Seven Gables" and "The Blithedale Romance," and shows how deep-seated was Hawthorne's antipathy to conscious philanthropy, and doubtless he meant Elizabeth Peabody as she read it to lay it to heart as an abolitionist.
If Hawthorne observed much cruelty among the crews of American ships, he must have accepted it as a part of the general misery of the world with as much philosophy as he was master of, while he did his duty with regard to it according to his opportunities. He was well liked by the sea captains who came in contact with him. He had, indeed, a good previous training, inasmuch as his terms of service in the Custom House had made him familiarly acquainted with this seafaring type, to which he was also akin. He met the American captains not only at his office, but at the boarding-house of Mrs. Blodgett, where they resorted in numbers, and where he himself lived at various times, and during the whole period of his wife's absence in Portugal. This house is described by himself as strongly impregnated with tar and bilge-water, and the men as very much alive. He admired them, and thought they contrasted very favorably with Englishmen in vitality, and he liked to be with them. Just as he had associated happily and on equal terms with similar men whom he had known in his own country, and made good-fellowship with them at Salem, he now was a welcome and companionable member of this hardy group, which his son Julian remembered in its general look and quality, and describes in a smoking-room scene that makes this side of Hawthorne more lifelike than it appears elsewhere:—
"The smoking-room was an apartment barely twenty feet square, though of a fair height; but the captains smoked a great deal, and by nine o'clock sat enveloped in a blue cloud. They played euchre with a jovial persistence that seems wonderful in the retrospect, especially as there was no gambling. The small boys in the house (there were two or three) soon succeeded in mastering the mysteries of the game, and occasionally took a hand with the captains. Hawthorne was always ready to play, and used to laugh a great deal at the turns of fortune. He rather enjoyed card-playing, and was a very good hand at whist; and knew, besides, a number of other games, many of which are now out of fashion, but which he, I suppose, had learned in his college days. Be the diversion or the conversation what it might, he was never lacking in geniality and good-fellowship; and sparkles of wit and good humor continually came brightening out of his mouth, making the stalwart captains haw-haw prodigiously, and wonder, perhaps, where his romances came from. Nevertheless, in his official capacity, he sometimes made things (in their own phrase) rather lively for them; and it is a tribute to his unfailing good sense and justice, that his enforcement of the law never made him unpopular."
Christmas Day was an occasion of special festivity at this boarding-house, and that of 1855 was unusually distinguished in its annals by the presence of Hawthorne and the legend of the merry-making about him which his friend Bright put into his clever rhymes of the "Song of Consul Hawthorne." Whether in his office, or at the boarding-house, or going about the docks at Liverpool, "Consul Hawthorne" was evidently a very typical New Englander abroad, and popular with his own people. He had laid the author off, and was as purely a practical man of nautical affairs as would be found in any shipping office in the city; and it needed no close observer to see that the native element in him was of a very obstinate and unmalleable nature.
It has been suggested that Hawthorne was afraid of liking English people better than an American ought, as he says he suspects Grace Greenwood did:—
"She speaks rapturously of the English hospitality and warmth of heart. I likewise have already experienced something of this, and apparently have a good deal more of it at my option. I wonder how far it is genuine, and in what degree it is better than the superficial good feeling with which Yankees receive foreigners,—a feeling not calculated for endurance, but a good deal like a brushwood fire. We shall see!"
He had abundant opportunity to see, for he was very kindly received by the society which it was natural for him to mingle with, and several of his hosts were untiring in their efforts to please him and render him comfortable. He was by no means incapable of social intercourse, notwithstanding his retired habits; the capacity had never been developed by early breeding or by later necessity, and though on his return home, the change in him was noticeable, even under the influence of his foreign travels he remained a silent, difficult, and evasive person in society. When he was among his own old and familiar friends, such as Bridge or Pierce, or with new companions whom he accepted into his circle, such as Fields, he was open enough and took his share genially and sometimes jovially, as well as when he was with the American sea captains or his old associates in Salem; but the touch of social formality, the presence of a stranger, the ways and habits of conventionality shut him up in impenetrable reserve and made him temporarily miserable. In England, however, he was compelled to meet and be met in the ordinary intercourse of men and women, and he fared much better than might have been anticipated. Very greatly to the surprise of his friends he proved an excellent after-dinner speaker, not only on the public occasions where the sense of his official station as a representative of his country would have spurred him to acquit himself well, but also at private parties and in purely personal relations. Like many silent men he was a good listener, and his sensitiveness and mental alertness gave the impression of more sympathy than perhaps he felt. He made himself agreeable, at all events, and he submitted to an amount of human fellowship that was astonishing to himself. The novelty of the society he entered, doubtless, attracted him, and fed his curiosity, as it certainly was an excitement to his wife. They had lived all their lives in a community so much simpler in all the furnishings of refined living, so much less characterized by the material luxuries of wealth, than this in which they now found themselves, that the mere sight of the houses, dinners, and liveries was a new experience, and they observed them like country cousins. The manners of this society, also, arrested their attention. It was inevitable that Hawthorne should maintain an aloofness from all this, nevertheless, with the natural democratic questioning of the reality of the courtesy, the propriety of the system, the kind and quality of the social results. He felt the appeal that this life made, he perceived its fitness to the soil, he saw it as a growth that belonged in its place; but he was thoroughly glad that there was nothing like it in his own country. There is not the slightest hint in any word of his that he regarded himself as an ambassador of friendship in a foreign country or thought that it was any part of his duty to cultivate international good feeling: he felt himself politically, socially, fundamentally, an alien in England, and he preferred to be so; what first struck him were those obvious differences that distinguish the two peoples, and these remained most prominently in his mind. He was a stranger when he landed at Liverpool, and he never suffered the least tincture of naturalization while he was in the country.
This attitude determines the point of view in his notes and reminiscences. He was an observer, close and accurate and interested; but he had not that sympathy which seeks to understand, to interpret, to justify what one sees, and to put one's self in accord with it. He had his standards already well fixed, and his limitations which he was not sufficiently aware of to desire to escape. He had, too, the critical spirit which is a New England trait, and with this went its natural attendant, the habit of speaking his mind. In writing down his impressions of English manners and institutions and people, he behaved exactly as he had done in his records of similar things at home; there was no difference in his method or in the character of what he said; he was telling what he saw with that indifference to how it would strike other people which comes near to being unconsciousness. He was a good deal surprised when he discovered that the English did not relish what he said; he protested that he had done them more than justice, that they were too easily hurt, and as for hating them, he adds, "I would as soon hate my own people." There is no ill-nature in "Our Old Home;" there is only the clearly expressed, bare, unsympathetic statement of what he had seen, touched here and there with that irony and humor which were apt to mix with his view of men and things. So the people at Salem had thought he did them injustice in his sketch of his native home, and he in turn had told them that he had treated them very considerately, without enmity or ill feeling of any kind, and in fact what he had written "could not have been done in a better or kindlier spirit nor with a livelier effect of truth." He had written of England in precisely the same way, with that remorseless adherence to his own impression which was second nature to him, and with that willingness to see the wrong side of things that he disliked, to minimize human nature when it bored him, and to get a grim humor out of his victims, which was also a part of his endowment. In all this, as in some other parts of Hawthorne's personality, there is a reminder of Carlyle. The hard judgment he wrote down of Margaret Fuller, for example, and the humorous extravagance of his visit to Martin Tupper, are not to be paralleled except in Carlyle's reminiscences; there was the same unflinching rigor, the same cold obtuseness, the same half-wearied contempt for what excited their humor in both men. In his vexation of spirit Hawthorne is especially suggestive of some discomfortable cousinship between them; and he was often vexed in spirit. He was, it would seem, especially burdened by the material comfort of England, in which he found a grossness but little consonant with his own taste and spirit, and he made of this the type of things English, as it is easy to do:—
"The best thing a man born in this island can do is to eat his beef and mutton and drink his porter, and take things as they are; and think thoughts that shall be so beefish, muttonish, portish, and porterish, that they shall be matters rather material than intellectual. In this way an Englishman is natural, wholesome, and good; a being fit for the present time and circumstances, and entitled to let the future alone!"
The ascetic and intellectual element, which was large in his ideal past, was revolted by these things, just as the democratic instincts of his nature were shocked by the aristocratic system of society with its social results. He was, too, always in a certain sense homesick; not that he was anxious to go home or looked forward to his return with great pleasure, but he was a man out of place, and had lost the natural harmonies between the outer and the inner life. He had taken a house at Rock Park, a suburb of Liverpool, but he could not make a home out of it, and his account of his residence there gives the whole interior atmosphere of his English stay.
"I remember to this day the dreary feeling with which I sat by our first English fireside and watched the chill and rainy twilight of an autumn day darkening down upon the garden, while the preceding occupant of the house (evidently a most unamiable personage in his lifetime) scowled inhospitably from above the mantelpiece, as if indignant that an American should try to make himself at home there. Possibly it may appease his sulky shade to know that I quitted his abode as much a stranger as I entered it."
It is plain to see that he rather endured than enjoyed English life, notwithstanding the true pleasures he found and the kind friends he made. He was a stranger, taking a stranger's view and with much suspicion of his surroundings, anticipating something hostile in them and forestalling it with his own defenses not too friendly in aspect; in a word he was a foreigner, and he never lost the sense of being in a country not his own, to which he felt superior in all essential matters.
Some regret has been expressed that he did not come into closer contact with English literary life, and especially with the more famous writers of the day. He did not even make the acquaintance of Dickens, Thackeray, Tennyson, Carlyle, George Eliot, to name the most important, nor was he really introduced to the best intellectual life of England at all. He met several second-rate writers, and he knew the Brownings more particularly in Italy. It is not likely, however, that much was lost by this failure to get into touch with the great masters of his own art or with English thinkers and poets in general. Hawthorne had never cared for such society in his own country, and it was probably by his own choice that he missed the literary sets in London. The distaste that he felt for society seems to have taken an aggravated form where his own craft was concerned, whether through self-consciousness, or the memory of his years of obscurity, or for whatever reason; perhaps he had known authors enough at Concord and had no spirit of adventure left in that direction. His own genius was solitary, and in his friendships literary sympathy had no share, for he neither received nor gave it; in fact, if he became familiar with an author, such as Thoreau or Ellery Channing or Herman Melville, it was with the man, not the author. The terms on which he stood with Longfellow and Emerson are those on which, at the happiest, he might have met Thackeray, Tennyson, or Carlyle; but, though speculation must be vain, it is far more probable that he would have found little congeniality with any one of the three. Lord Houghton appears to have made an effort to take him about, but with so little success that he thought Hawthorne had taken a dislike to him. As it was, Hawthorne saw quite enough, and more than he desired, of literary England; it was mostly weariness to him.
It must be acknowledged that the manners and institutions of the country, and its people for the most part, were little to Hawthorne's taste, and he showed this in his book about them; but, for all that, he found the country interesting and often lovely in its picturesque antiquity and softnesses of light and color, and he appreciated to the full the literary and historical sentiment that most appeals to Americans of like education and breeding. He made many excursions in different parts of England, and visited Scotland and the Isle of Man, and he lingered in many towns and villages and was disposed to haunt old places with a pilgrim devotion. He loved the face of the country, too, and notwithstanding its misted and dreary skies, especially over Liverpool, he found some good words for its weather, its seasons, its long days, and all its out-door look. He went about with the mind and senses of a tourist, satiating his instincts for minute and detailed observation and writing it all down; in a spirit, too, of enjoyment and discovery; and out of this satisfaction of his inveterate habits of observing and noting and walking about with no other end in view, just as if he were taking an autumn stroll in Salem, came the felicity of the English notes, which after all deductions is very great in its own field of delicate sentiment and realistic grasp and the atmosphere of a mind. Hawthorne was thoroughly happy in indulging his wandering propensity in such voyages of discovery; especially in London he found a city that satisfied his idea of it, and he seems to have busied himself there for days and weeks in merely going about from point to point and seeing the spectacle of its vast and varied life. Hawthorne's English experiences will, perhaps, be best realized, if he is thought of apart from literature, as a man much identified with the shipping interests and commercial society of Liverpool, and attending to this business rather doggedly and wearily, not especially liking the place or the people, whose ways and notions he was instinctively against, being himself a settled New Englander of a strong race type; and yet, besides this, a man who managed in his four years' residence to see a great deal of the length and breadth of England, as a summer tourist might visit its shrines on pilgrimage. This describes his life, nevertheless, only from the outside; as soon as one opens his note-books, his personality changes the impression, and pervades even his least sympathetic pages with a human quality that wins on the reader in spite of all reservations, and one sees how in the face of his prejudices and limitations England was saved to him by his literary faculty, the interests, susceptibilities, and powers that were his as a man of letters. One finds in his experience, too, besides the consul and the man of letters, a kindly and simple manhood of a more primitive element, the human heart in its own original right, as in the well-known incident of the workhouse child who was so strangely drawn to him. Of the humane actions, however, of which any record remains, none is so honorable as his considerateness, generosity, and conscientiousness in his correspondence with Delia Bacon, whom he endured and befriended with infinite patience and delicacy; the letters which he wrote to her show his character in a very noble light, and bring out one side of his life which has little illustration, his habitual thoughtfulness for the weak. One recalls his care for his Brook Farm friend Farley at Concord, for example; and all his relations with what one may call the wayside acquaintance of life were to his honor.
One other incident must also find a place here, which completes an earlier story and rounds out his own conception of integrity. On coming to Liverpool he had incurred heavy expenses, but six months of his more fortunate days had not gone by before he sent to Hillard the money which his friends had given to him in his sore need at Salem while he was writing "The Scarlet Letter." His own words best express the feelings which led him to make this restitution:—
Liverpool, December 9, 1853.
Dear Hillard,—I herewith send you a draft on Ticknor for the sum (with interest included) which was so kindly given me by unknown friends, through you, about four years ago.
I have always hoped and intended to do this, from the first moment when I made up my mind to accept the money. It would not have been right to speak of this purpose before it was in my power to accomplish it; but it has never been out of my mind for a single day, nor hardly, I think, for a single working hour. I am most happy that this loan (as I may fairly call it, at this moment) can now be repaid without the risk on my part of leaving my wife and children utterly destitute. I should have done it sooner; but I felt that it would be selfish to purchase the great satisfaction for myself, at any fresh risk to them. We are not rich, nor are we ever likely to be; but the miserable pinch is over.
The friends who were so generous to me must not suppose that I have not felt deeply grateful, nor that my delight at relieving myself from this pecuniary obligation is of any ungracious kind. I have been grateful all along, and am more so now than ever. This act of kindness did me an unspeakable amount of good; for it came when I most needed to be assured that anybody thought it worth while to keep me from sinking. And it did me even greater good than this, in making me sensible of the need of sterner efforts than my former ones, in order to establish a right for myself to live and be comfortable. For it is my creed (and was so even at that wretched time) that a man has no claim upon his fellow-creatures, beyond bread and water and a grave, unless he can win it by his own strength or skill. But so much the kinder were those unknown friends whom I thank again with all my heart.
* * * * *
This money must have been the first he had saved, and he could now spare it from his income. In the four years that he held the consulate he had held to his main purpose of laying by a competency, and when he resigned, on August 31, 1857, his mind was at ease with regard to the future for himself and his family. His gratitude for this late won independence, humble as it was, must have been deeply felt, as is apparent from his letters at the time; a great weight had been lifted from his spirit, and his happiness was such as only a man with his ideas of personal independence could realize. He proposed now to linger in Europe for some time longer; and when he was relieved from his duties in the fall he went with the family through France to Italy, hoping that the southern winter would be of benefit to Mrs. Hawthorne's still uncertain health.
Life in Italy proved far more agreeable than it had been in England, and there were periods in it when Hawthorne enjoyed as great happiness in the placid course of the days as he ever experienced. For the first time in his life he was free from the necessity of labor, and he had recently escaped from that practical business of affairs and daily duties which was always irksome to him. The change, too, from the dark skies of England and its grimy Liverpool materialism to an atmosphere of sun and warmth and artistic beauty was itself enough to reanimate his spirit; and he found at once some congenial society, and not a few who seemed to him like old friends. He appears for the first time in his life really to live with other people, not as an occasional visitant coming out of his hermitage, but as one of themselves. He sought out Story, who was an old neighbor at Salem, though he had known him only slightly, and under his guidance he mixed with the American artists then in Rome,—Miss Hosmer, Thompson, Kopes, and Miss Lander,—as well as with others of the foreigners resident there, Miss Bremer, Mrs. Jameson, and Bryant among the rest; and he became good friends with Motley and his family, whose companionship he enjoyed in a very natural, frank way. The picturesque ruins of Home, its gardens and fountains and the sky and air appealed to him, as if to new senses or at least to senses newly awakened and developed; and he was sensibly attracted by the artistic works on every hand. He was not wholly uncultivated in art, though his aesthetic sense had been rather a hope than a reality all through his life. He had written to his wife before marriage, nearly twenty years ago, "I never owned a picture in my life; yet pictures have been among the earthly possessions (and they are spiritual ones too) which I most coveted;" and in his tales there is a recurring reference to pictures as a part of his imaginative world. The influence of his wife's artistic tastes in his home life had also been a kind of preparation for appreciation of the masterpieces, many of which had long been familiar to his eyes and thoughts in reproductions. In his Boston days he use to visit such collections of pictures as were accessible to him, and he knew sculpture somewhat through casts. Such cultivation, however, was at best a very limited and incomplete preparation, and did not preserve him from the tourist's weariness of galleries. He had wished in London that the Elgin marbles had all been reduced to lime. There was something pictorial in his genius, but painting was slower to give up its secrets to him than sculpture, which, being a more abstract art and simpler in intention, as well as nearer to the living form, made the easier appeal to him. He did not respond to Italian painting very perfectly at the best, and his education hardly proceeded farther than an appreciation of the softer and brighter works of Guido and Raphael, nor did he ever free himself from the intellectual prepossessions of his mind. He did not become even an amateur in art, and he probably knew it; he had begun too late to enter that world; and he contented himself with a moral sympathy, an apprehension of idea and feeling, rather than the seeing eye and understanding heart by which one takes possession of the artistic world as a free citizen there. It was not an important matter, however; his comments on art have only a personal interest, lighting up his own nature; but, within his limits, he enjoyed a new and great experience, one that illumined and softened his mind, in his wanderings about the galleries and churches and his sittings in artists' studios. The contemporary and native world of Italy he attended to but very little, noting its picturesque aspects somewhat, but taking the slightest interest in its people; if he had felt a barrier between himself and the English, here was a gulf of difference that it was hopeless to attempt to pass over, and he left the Italians in the inaccessible foreignness in which he found them.
The first four months were spent at Rome, in this gradual opening of his mind to the new impressions of the city, so fascinating to his imagination, and in establishing himself and his family in the new society of their daily life. Late in May, 1858, they went north by the carriage road, and settled at Florence in the Casa Bella, near Casa Guidi, where the Brownings were, and not far from Powers's studio. In August they took possession of the old villa of Montaüto on the hill of Bellosguardo, near the city, which is so closely associated with Hawthorne's Italian days as the tower of Monte Beni. Here he began to write "The Marble Faun," shutting himself up for an hour or two every day in the stern effort, as he describes it, of coming "to close grip with a romance which I have been trying to tear out of my mind." The scene of his labors was quite remote, such a place as he liked to have to write in, and he was undisturbed unless it were by the Spiritualism of the Browning villa, where Mrs. Browning was a believer; and, perhaps under the influence of this association, Mrs. Hawthorne showed more plainly her natural inclination to a more than curious interest in the phenomena. She was, indeed, somewhat a believer in the power of communication with the spiritual world, and its near presence and influence in our lives. The seclusion of the villa of Montaüto was very grateful to Hawthorne, and he writes of it to Fields with almost a home-feeling, as if he had again found a lodging place at least for his wandering Penates:—
"It is pleasant to feel at last that I am really away from America—a satisfaction that I never really enjoyed as long as I stayed in Liverpool, where it seemed to me that the quintessence of nasal and hand-shaking Yankeedom was gradually filtered and sublimated through my consulate, on the way outward and homeward. I first got acquainted with my own countrymen there. At Rome, too, it was not much better. But here in Florence, and in the summer-time, and in this secluded villa, I have escaped out of all my old tracks, and am really remote. I like my present residence immensely. The house stands on a hill, overlooking Florence, and is big enough to quarter a regiment, insomuch that each member of the family, including servants, has a separate suite of apartments, and there are vast wildernesses of upper rooms into which we have never yet sent exploring expeditions. At one end of the house there is a moss-grown tower, haunted by owls and by the ghost of a monk who was confined there in the thirteenth century, previous to being burnt at the stake in the principal square of Florence. I hire this villa, tower and all, at twenty-eight dollars a month; but I mean to take it away bodily and clap it into a romance, which I have in my head, ready to be written out."
The kind of life that was led by the family is more vividly sketched by his daughter in her reminiscences of the time, and her pages afford the only full companion picture to those of the Old Manse and the Berkshire cottage, and to some extent supply the lack of that autobiographic background to "The Marble Faun" which the reader misses in Hawthorne's own preface.
"The walls of the hall and staircase were of gray stone, as were the steps which led echoingly up to the second story of the house. My sister exclaims in delight concerning the whole scene: 'This villa,—you have no idea how delightful it is! I think there must be pretty nearly a hundred rooms in it, of all shapes, sizes, and heights. The walls are never less than five feet thick, and sometimes more, so that it is perfectly cool. I should feel very happy to live here always. I am sitting in the loggia, which is delightful in the morning freshness. Oh, how I love every inch of that beautiful landscape!' The tower and the adjacent loggia were the features that preëminently sated our thirst for suggestive charm, and they became our proud boast and the chief precincts of our daily life and social intercourse. The ragged gray giant looked over the road-walls at its foot, and beyond and below them over the Arno valley, rimmed atop with azure distance, and touched with the delicate dark of trees. Internally, the tower (crowned, like a rough old king of the days of the Round Table, with a machicolated summit) was dusty, broken, and somewhat dangerous of ascent. Owls that knew every wrinkle of despair and hoot-toot of pessimism clung to narrow crevices in the deserted rooms, where the skeleton-like prison frameworks at the unglazed windows were in keeping with the dreadful spirits of these unregenerate anchorites. The forlorn apartments were piled one above the other until the historic cylinder of stone opened to the sky. In contrast to the barrenness of the gray inclosures, through the squares of the windows throbbed the blue and gold, green and lilac, of Italian heavens and countryside....
"Some of the rooms at Montaüto I studiously avoided. The forlorn cavern of a parlor, or ballroom, I remember to have seen only once. There was a painful vacuum where good spirits ought to have been. Along the walls were fixed seats, like those in the apse of some morally fallen cathedral, and they were covered with blue threadbare magnificence that told the secrets of vanity. Heavy tables crowded down the centre of the room. I came, saw, and fled. The oratory was the most thrilling place of all. It opened out of my sister's room, which was a large, sombre apartment. It was said to attract a frequently seen ghost by the force of its profound twilight and historic sorrows; and my sister, who was courageous enough to startle a ghost, highly approved of this corner of her domain. But she suddenly lost her buoyant taste for disembodied spirits, and a rumor floated mistily about that Una had seen the wretched woman who could not forget her woes in death. In 'Monte Beni' this oratory is minutely pictured, where 'beneath the crucifix ... lay a human skull ... carved in gray alabaster, most skillfully done ... with accurate imitation of the teeth, the sutures, the empty eye-caverns.' Everywhere the intense picturesqueness gave material, at Montaüto, for my father's romance."
Amid such surroundings the new romance was sketched out, but not very much progress could have been made with it. In October the family returned to Rome by way of Siena, where some happy days were spent with Story,—a town which impressed Hawthorne almost temperamentally, standing apart in his mind with Perugia. "A thoughtful, shy man," he says, "might settle down here with the view of making the place a home, and spend many years in a sombre kind of happiness." At Rome they settled again in the Piazza Poli, and entered on the winter days with much happiness, feeling acquainted now and partly at home in the city. But a misfortune came to them in the illness of Una, who was taken with Roman fever, and her life was despaired of. Hawthorne always took his sorrows hard, and he suffered much in this period of anxiety, enduring in his stoic way the heavy pressure; happily the doctor proved mistaken in his confidence that the child would die, and though her illness was long, she gradually recovered strength. It was during her convalescence that Pierce came to Rome, and Hawthorne found in his friendship a great support and comfort. It is plain that Pierce was the only man that Hawthorne loved with his full heart, and he had come to recognize the great place this friendship held in his life. His loyalty to Pierce was a true tribute, and its expression does honor to both men:—
"I have found him here in Rome, the whole of my early friend, and even better than I used to know him; a heart as true and affectionate, a mind much widened and deepened by the experience of life. We hold just the same relation to one another as of yore, and we have passed all the turning-off places, and may hope to go on together, still the same dear friends, as long as we live. I do not love him one whit the less for having been President, nor for having done me the greatest good in his power; a fact that speaks eloquently in his favor, and perhaps says a little for myself. If he had been merely a benefactor, perhaps I might not have borne it so well; but each did his best for the other, as friend for friend."
The illness of Una had thrown a shadow over these last days at Rome, and it was in any case necessary to take her away. In a characteristic outburst Hawthorne writes to Fields:—
"I bitterly detest Rome, and shall rejoice to bid it farewell forever; and I fully acquiesce in all the mischief and ruin that has happened to it, from Nero's conflagration downward. In fact, I wish the very site had been obliterated before I ever saw it."
They left Rome late in May and went by sea to Marseilles, and after a rapid journey up the Rhone and to Geneva went by Paris to London. The return to England was somewhat like homecoming, and during this second residence Hawthorne shows a more sympathetic and contented spirit. He determined to finish his romance here, and settled first at Whitby and afterwards at Redcar, and still later he migrated to Leamington; but the romance was mainly put into shape at Redcar, where the necessary conditions of solitude were best realized. He lived very much as when he had written his other works at home, writing in the morning and spending the rest of the day with the children out of doors on the sands. He finished the book on November 8, and it was published early the following spring. [Footnote: The Marble Faun, or the Romance of Monte Beni. By Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of "The Scarlet Letter." Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 1860. 12mo. 2 vols., pp. 283; 288.]
Hawthorne came to the writing of "The Marble Faun" after his genius was matured, with his temperament fully ripened, his intellectual and moral and artistic nature consonant in its varied play, and at the height of his literary powers. The story is in one sense a culmination, and it is perhaps his most complete expression of life; but it is less characteristic of him, less peculiarly his own, than the American tales, notwithstanding its greater breadth, its finer beauty, and its more profound mystery. In method he develops nothing new; the scheme, the manner, the tone are the same already made familiar. He had recourse to his life abroad for the realism of the scene, and took out of his note-books and memory the whole visible world of his romance, precisely as he had formerly utilized the New England village life and the Brook Farm experience. He has drunk in the charm of Italy and absorbed the picturesque and artistic atmosphere of Rome and its religious impressiveness; he has taken most delicately and harmoniously into his sensitive temperament the loveliness and the power of both the world of the past and the world of art, and he renders them back in description as they were mirrored in himself; the stir of Roman life, its antiquity, its still and immutable forms of picture and sculpture, are given back with full sympathy and as clearly as the autumn woodland of the old Puritan town in his first romance; and this realism, for such it is notwithstanding its glamour, is the substance of the tale, though it is all surface, just as was the case with "The House of the Seven Gables." He has done for Rome and Italy what he there did for Salem, different as the effect may seem, owing to the greater nobility and dignity of the material.
He has also in the management of the story confined himself, as was his wont, to a few characters, Donatello, Miriam, Hilda, and Kenyon, each strictly isolated in peculiar individuality, and offering the opportunity for powerful contrasts; and he has allowed his imagination to find its spring in the symbolism of a physical object, here the marble statue of the faun, and let his moral scheme evolve out of the brooding of his thought upon the spiritual thing thus suggested for the play of meditation. The plot itself, though more definitely disclosed in its main incident of crime, which is made central in the narrative, is of the simplest sort, and no more than enough to provide corporal fact sufficient to give the body of event and situation; and, for the rest, the story both before and after is left wholly vague, the mystery of Donatello's fate repeating the mystery of Miriam's past. In this he showed again his indifference to what became of his characters when they had fulfilled their function artistically; he had no human sympathy with their personal fortunes. This peculiarity is only another phase of the fact that crime itself did not interest him in its mortal career. The use he found in crime was only as the means by which sin was generated in the soul; and his concern was with the latter, not the former.
He has projected on such a background and out of such a group of characters an analytic study of the nature of evil, and this is his main theme, overlaid as it is with all the decorative beauty of his interpretation of Italy. He had formerly set forth the history of sin in the heart, taking the evil for granted and reflecting upon it as a thing given; he now looks backward and is engaged with the genesis of sin in a natural man, the coming of sin into the world of nature; and yet this is not all, but he endeavors to think about the meaning of evil, the reason for sin's existence, the old problem fundamental in thought about the spiritual life. It cannot be regarded as a matter on which he came to any satisfactory conclusion or even uttered any novel reflections; and it is this that gives its lack of firmness to the work on the ethical side. Donatello is made into a living soul of a higher capacity by his experience of crime; but Hawthorne suggests that evil serves a good purpose in this only with much reluctance, and indeed he may almost be said to reject this explanation. Donatello became "a sadder and a wiser man," and with that old phrase the issue for him seems to be summed. It is noticeable that, as in "The Scarlet Letter," there is no question of how this soul that has come into a miserable consciousness is to be healed; and it is remarkable that the only consolation the Church can give is vouchsafed by Hawthorne to the heretic Hilda, but not to the child of its own bosom. Hawthorne, if he indicates through Kenyon his ideas, seems to advise, as elsewhere, letting the dead past bury its dead while Donatello and Miriam should go on to what self-sacrificing life they can find. Unsatisfactory as the story is, merely as a tale, it is less vague than the central truth, the moral theme which it embodies. The truth is that after all, in the ethical sphere of the story, Hawthorne has given no more than his meditations, very much at random, upon sin as it appears in the world of nature, and the way in which his chosen characters react under its influence. Hilda is as innocent as Donatello, but her soul frees itself from the contact; and Miriam is as guilty, yet she alone is unaffected by the crime in her essential nature, so far as appears. She is the most vital character in the book, having touches in her of both Hester and Zenobia; the three women are all of one kind in their different environment, and Miriam is the most human of the three,—strong, assertive, practical as they all are, and also entirely resourceless in their tragedies.
The romance is not of a kind to sustain very firm critical handling, for its structure is thus weak, not merely in the plot but in its ethical meaning; if the former is left unwrought, so the latter is left unclarified. The power of the work lies rather in its artistic effects, independent of any purpose Hawthorne had in writing; his genius was creative in its own right, and when he had once brought the background, the characters, and the idea together, they in a certain sense took life and built up their own story, while his hand linked picture to picture in the unfolding scene, with a free play of sentiment, fancy, and meditation round about them. Intense points show out, as if by an inner and undesigned brilliancy. The companionship of Donatello, full of the freshness and laughter of the early world, with Miriam tracked by her own terrible secret, is itself a startling situation, and the effecting of their union by a crime, which paralyzes the love of one while it creates the love of the other, is the work of a master imagination. Hilda in her dove-cote, keeping the perpetual lamp burning at the Virgin's shrine and taking into her heart the lovely pictures of old time as a pool reflects heaven in its quiet depths, is a figure of sensitive purity, rendered symbolically, with the same truth and delicacy as Donatello, though so opposed in contrast to his natural innocence blighted and stained; even the quality of mercilessness, which Hawthorne gave her out of his own heart, she turns to favor and to prettiness, till it seems to belong to her as a part of her chastity of nature. The reduplication of the characters in the world of art about them, though it is frequently resorted to by Hawthorne, does not grow monotonous; but by this method he rather animates the external world, as if picture and statue and tower had absorbed life and were permeated with its human emotion. The faun is, perhaps, a somewhat hard symbol, and needs to be vitalized in Donatello before its truth is felt to be alive; but the drawing that reproduces the model as the demon's face, the sketches of Miriam portraying a woman's revengeful mischief, the sights that Donatello and Kenyon shape out of the sunset, the benediction of the statue of the pontiff, the evasive eyes of Beatrice felt in Hilda, Donatello, and Miriam, are instances of borrowed or attributed life, which illustrate how constantly and effectively Hawthorne uses this means of expression, and it is the chief means by which he has integrated and harmonized the various material into a whole artistically felt. It is an error, however, to force his interpretation too far, as in the attempt to see in the Beatrice portrait a shadow of Miriam's mystery; if such a thought crossed his mind, it left no record of itself, and he was as ignorant as others of Miriam's actual past, one may be sure. That unwillingness to be gazed upon, of which he makes so much, recurring to it again and again and most pointedly in Donatello, was the simplest and primary symbol to him, apparently, of the shock of sin, whether it were in the victim like Beatrice or the participant like Donatello or the spectator like Hilda. In Miriam it is less felt, because to her the knowledge of evil had come in her earlier career.
It is in rendering this spiritual shock, disturbing the very seat of life, that Hawthorne best succeeds in the moral part of his subject; and it is by awakening some answering vibration in his readers that he imparts to the romance that universal interest which makes it rank so high as it does in the literature of the soul's life. He was not, however, very apt in the mechanics of his art, and in lieu of structure such as a man of far less faculty might be an adept in, he finds in his imagined tale a principle of life itself; his work is seldom well reasoned, but it has vital germs of thought, emotion, and action, and these are loosed into activity and grow of themselves, and he fosters and develops them in his richly brooding mind. So, here, the spiritual shock, which is the central spring of the romance, is allowed to transmit itself in every direction, and he lays bare its workings. It is saddest in Donatello in the moment when he heard the cry of the falling wretch, when he turned cold at Miriam's touch, when he lost his kinship with the wild creatures he loved; and it is fixed in his unquiet, evasive eyes. One loves Donatello, and of no other character of Hawthorne can it be said that it wins affection; and one wishes that, if he must have a soul, he might have come into it in some way of natural kindness dissociated from a moral theory. This theory—and here is the one discord—is, after all, felt to be an exotic in the Italian air. Donatello has been puritanized, and though the character may be a perfect symbolic type, it has nothing racial in it; and to be racial was Donatello's charm. It is the same wherever the story is taken up; it is charming as an artistic work, but when one begins to think about it, the method of approach is proved to be wrong because it solves nothing and ends in futility. It is throughout a Puritan romance, which has wandered abroad and clothed itself in strange masquerade in the Italian air. Hawthorne's personality pervades it, like life in a sensitive hand. It is the best and fullest and most intimate expression of his temperament, of the man he had come to be, and takes the imprint of his soul with minute delicacy and truth. It is a meditation on sin, but so made gracious with beauty as to lose the deformity of its theme; and it suffers a metamorphosis into a thing of loveliness. To us it is in boyhood our dream of Italy, and in after years the best companion of memory; it is also a romance of nature and art, and of the mystery of evil, shot through with such sunshine gleams, with the presence of pure color and divine forms, as to seem like the creations of that old mythic Mediterranean world which, though it held shapes of terror, was the most beautiful land that the imagination has ever known.