In the spring of 1853 Hawthorne received from his life-long friend, President Pierce, the appointment of United States Consul at Liverpool, then one of the most lucrative places in the gift of the Executive. He held the post for four years, but remained in England two years longer, leaving the country finally in 1859. Though the duties of his office could not have been much to his taste, he discharged them with exemplary diligence, and, we believe, to the satisfaction of all who did business with him. His will was strong, and his sense of duty was not less strong; and he had already been trained to do disagreeable work, for he had been for six years a measurer of coal and salt in the Boston Custom-House, and afterwards for three years surveyor of the port of Salem.
But looking at the growth of his mind, these nine long years of enforced and against-the-grain work were precious to him. They took him out of the world of dreams into the world of life. They gave him subjects for reflection. They sharpened his powers of observation. They braced and gave tone to his intellectual fibre. They kept rust and mould from gathering on his mind. If they postponed for a time the act of writing, they supplied ample material for literary work in the future. It may be well doubted whether we should have had The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables but for the growth and discipline of the previous years of uncongenial drudgery and constrained contact with his kind. The iron of compulsion which entered into his soul became a tonic to his intellectual blood.
Indeed, as a general rule, it is well for a man of genius to give a portion of every day to some regular employment, more or less mechanical in its nature, which does not task the higher faculties, and is followed as a duty, and not from impulse merely. Coleridge gives the same counsel in another form when, in his Biographia Literaria, he earnestly advises young men, who in early life feel themselves disposed to become authors, never to pursue literature as a trade. As he justly remarks, the necessity of earning one's bread by writing will, with most men of genius, convert the stimulant into a narcotic. Coleridge himself, that stately argosy so richly freighted with intellectual wealth, but drifting to and fro over the waters of life without the rudder of will, was a striking proof of the evils of being without a profession, or any regular employment to which he might have gone, day by day, as a merchant goes to his counting-room or a lawyer to his office. Sir Walter Scott and Charles Lamb, men very unlike in mental structure, were both fortunate in having an occupation of this kind; and had a like lot been laid upon Byron, he would have been a better and a happier man, and none the less brilliant as a poet. To coin one's genius into bread is to harness Pegasus into an express-wagon. To be sure, there are striking exceptions to this general rule. Dickens, for instance, gained wealth by the exercise of a rare genius, but look at the ill-requited toils and heart-break-ing struggles of Hood! And had Hawthorne himself earned nothing but by his pen, he would have left no provision for his family.
But if Hawthorne's life in England were not entirely to his taste, it was profitable, and bore good fruit; for we owe to it two remarkable books,—Our Old Home, published in 1863, and the Passages from English Note-Books, now before us. We say if his life were not entirely to his taste, for the mere fact that two such books grew out of the soil of his English experience proves that such experience could not have been all distasteful. No man ever makes a book out of what he desires utterly to forget. And there were elements in his nature which were in harmony with the duties of his official life, and which would lighten the burden of its drudgeries and disgusts. For he was a man as peculiar in character as he was unique in genius. In him opposite qualities met, and were happily and harmoniously blended; and this was true of him physically as well as intellectually. He was tall and strongly built, with broad shoulders, deep chest, a massive head, black hair, and large dark eyes. Wherever he was he attracted attention by his imposing preseace. He looked like a man who might have held the stroke oar in a university boat. And his genius, as all the world knows, was of masculine force and sweep. But, on the other hand, no man had more of the feminine element than he. He was, feminine in his quick perceptions, his fine insight, his sensibility to beauty, his delicate reserve, his purity of feeling. No man comprehended woman more perfectly; none has painted woman with a more exquisite and ethereal pencil. And his face was as mobile andrapid in its changes of expression as is the face of a young girl. His lip and cheek heralded the word before it was spoken. His eyes would darken visibly under the touch of a passing emotion, like the waters of a fountain ruffled by the breeze of summer. So, too, he was the shyest of men. The claims and courtesies of social life were terrible to him. The thought of making a call would keep him awake in his bed. At breakfast, he could not lay a piece of butter upon a lady's plate without a little trembling of the hand: this is a fact, and not a phrase. He was so shy that in the presence of two intimate friends he would be less easy and free-spoken than in that of only one.
And yet the presence of his kind was cordial, and in some sense necessary to him. If his shyness held him back, his sympathies drew him out with a force nearly as strong. And, unlike most men who are at once intellectual and shy, he was not a lover, or a student, of books. He read books as they came in his way, or for a particular purpose, but he made no claim to the honors of learning or scholarship. A great library had no charms for him. He rarely bought a book, and the larger part of his small collection had come to him by gift. His mind did not feed upon the printed page. It will be noticed that in his writings he very seldom introduces a quotation, or makes any allusion to the writings of others. The raptures of the bibliomaniac, foldling his tall copies, his wide margins, his unique specimens, his vellum pages, were as strange to him as are the movements of a violin-player's arm to the deaf man's eye. In the summer of 1859 the writer of this notice—who confesses to an insatiable passion for the possession of books, and an omnivorous appetite for their contents—saw him at Leamington, and was invited by him into his study, the invitation being accompanied with one of his peculiar and indescribable smiles, in which there lurked a consciousness of his friend's weakness. The study was a small, square room, with a table and chair, but absolutely not a single book. He liked writing better than reading. The volumes he studied with the most satisfaction were the faces of men and women; provided always that the volumes did not know him. But a gleam of recognition was enough to turn aside his glance of observation. Without doubt, some of his happiest hours were passed in long rambles through the populous solitudes of Liverpool and London, where no man greeted him, where the human beings he saw were like trees in a wood, where faces could be studied like shells in a drawer or stuffed birds in a cage.
To a man with such powers of observation as Hawthorne, and such taste for using them, the post of American Consul in a large commercial city like Liverpool must have had some decided attractions. He was an artist to whom all sorts of picturesque subjects were constantly sitting for their portraits. And no man can know what strange beasts are produced by the soil of America, until he goes to Europe. At home, a man of Hawthorne's pursuits and position would have seen only the normal growth of his countrymen,—men resembling each other as marbles in a boy's pocket, prosperous and respectable men, graduates of colleges, who sit down to three meals a day, who draw checks to pay their bills, and lock their front doors at the same hour every night. But in Liverpool he would see Americans of a different class,—men who had left their country for their country's good or their own, the stepchildren and outcasts of the land, poor waifs and strays of humanity, floating social sea-weeds with no root to grasp anything with a firm hold, forlorn wanderers over the face of the earth, always needy and sometimes ragged and starving. Not without gifts, faculties, and accomplishments are these vagabonds; sometimes many-tongued, always fluent of speech, plausible in manner, with marked individual traits which stand bare to the eye, with no rags of reserve or self-restraint to cover them. Without doubt these social outlaws were better subjects for a literary limner than the sleek children of prosperity, just as a ruined and ivy-grown cottage is a more picturesque object than a smart suburban villa. That Hawthorne improved his opportunities need not be said to any one who has read the first essay in Our Old Home, entitled Consular Experiences,—one of the best specimens in all his writings of what may be called the prose side of his genius. In minute detail and vigorous portraiture it is a sort of combination of Teniers and Rembrandt. For keen insight, sharp observation, shrewd common sense, knowledge of man, and a mingling of humor and tenderness, it can hardly be surpassed. Little did the originals of these sketches suspect that an eye like a blind man's finger was all the time fixed upon them! Little did they dream of the anonymous immortality that was awaiting them at the hands of the dark-browed man that said so little and heard so much! His account of the reprobate doctor of divinity is painfully interesting; a powerful delineation of a repulsive subject, but made tragic by gleams of light from the central caverns of passion and sin in the human heart. How singular it was that Hawthorne in his official capacity should thus have had revealed to him a man in whom the lowest and grossest propensities were covered over by a thin veneering of respectability and self-restraint, shattered by the first touch of temptation, thus presenting a combination so much rn harmony with the creations of his own genius!
We will, however, bring Hawthorne himself to testify as to the character of the persons with whom his consular life brought him in contact. Our readers may have read the passage before, but it will bear a second perusal:— "Hither, in the course of my incumbency, came a great variety of visitors, principally Americans, but including almost every other nationality on earth, especially the distressed and downfallen ones like those of Poland and Hungary, Italian bandits (for so they looked), proscribed conspirators from old Spain, Spanish Americans, Cubans who professed to have stood by Lopez and narrowly escaped his fate, scarred French soldiers of the Second Republic,—in a word, all sufferers, or pretended ones, in the cause of liberty, all people homeless in the widest sense, those who never had a country or had lost it, those whom their native land had impatiently flung off for planning a better system of things than they were born to,—a multitude of these, and, doubtless, an equal number of jail-birds, outwardly of the same feather, sought the American Consulate in hopes of at least a bit of bread, and, perhaps, to beg a passage to the blessed shores of Freedom. In most cases there was nothing, and in any case distressingly little, to be done for them ; neither was I of a proselyting disposition, nor desired to make my consulate a nucleus for the vagrant discontents of other lands. And yet it was a proud thought, a forcible appeal to the sympathies of an American, that these unfortunates claimed the privileges of citizenship in our Republic on the strength of the very same noble misdemeanors that had rendered them outlaws to their native despotisms. So I gave them what small help I could. Methinks the true patriots and martyr-spirits of the whole world should have been conscious of a pang near the heart, when a deadly blow was aimed at the vitality of a country which they have felt to be their own in the last resort."— Our Old Home, p. 13.
But there were other and better men that crossed his path. The masters of the American vessels trading to Liverpool are, as a general rule, persons worth knowing and talking to. They are intelligent men, fairly well educated, sometimes not ignorant of books, shrewd observers of men, with plain but good manners, and with a manly heartiness about them like a bracing breeze from the sea. The many tempests that have shaken their beards have given force to their characters and a keen edge to their faculties~ A mind like Hawthorne's would find more satisfaction in communion with men like these than with men of more cultivation, finer fibre, but less strength and flavor. Without doubt, he was sometimes bored by respectable dulness in broadcloth and fine linen, by pompous emptinesses in the shape of great men in small places, by callers that had no due sense of the brevity of human life: but who in this melancholy world is not bored? He who would never be bored must bolt his door and break his looking-glass.
His official duties were, for the most part, matters of routine, neither good nor bad, and certainly not worse than what he had experienced in Boston and Salem. We suppose that Hawthorne found no part of his official life so little to his taste as those ceremonials and parade occasions which would have been so congenial to most of his countrymen. For he was one of those exceptional Americans,—would there were more of them!—who have no power of public speech, and recoil with horror and alarm from anything which may call upon them to display their incapacity. But the American Consul at Liverpool is a public personage, and thus his presence is a necessity sometimes at public gatherings, and especially at those civic banquets wherein the municipal dignitaries of so rich a city are wont to seek relief from the austere cares of government and administration. The dinner in England, as every one knows who has been there, rises to the dignity of an institution. It is—not to speak it profanely—a sort of secular sacrament. It takes its place among the choicest jewels of the Englishman's soul,—with the memory of Alfred, with Magna Charta and the Revolution of 1688, with fox-hunting and the Times newspaper. The Englishman is willing to speak and to hear speaking, but he prefers to have them dressed with bread and beef sauce. If the tongue and the ear are to be busy, the teeth must not be idle. A dry-lipped entertainment like an American caucus, where the guests are treated to nothing more savory or nutritious than the east wind, is not at all to the Anglican taste. And thus it happened that Hawthorne, who was no eater, no drinker, and no speech-maker, was often called upon to take a conspicuous part at entertainments where there was nothing but eating, drinking, and speech-making. Indeed, these were sad days to him; when the summons came, he smote his breast like the wedding guest in The Ancient Mariner when he heard the loud bassoon. With many dollars would he have purchased exemption; but in his case, too, there was a "glittering eye" which constrained him,—the eye of the American eagle at home, three thousand miles off. And so he went, with a little speech in his head, and perhaps in his pocket; and he survived the operation, and lived to tell us how he felt when under the knife. Both in Our Old Home and in his English Note-Books he alludes to what he endured in these postprandial exhibitions of himself. Though the reader of the former work can hardly have forgotten its closing passages, we will refresh his recollection by quoting them:
"As soon as the Lord Mayor began to speak, I rapped upon my mind, and it gave forth a hollow sound; being absolutely empty of appropriate ideas. I never thought of listening to the speech, because I knew it all beforehand in twenty repetitions from other lips, and was aware that it would not offer a single suggestive point. In this dilemma I turned to one of my three friends, a gentleman whom I knew to possess an enviable flow of silver speech, and obtested him, by whatever he deemed holiest, to give me at least an available thought or two to start with, and, once afloat, I would trust to my guardian angel for enabling me to flounder ashore again. He advised me to begin with some remarks complimentary to the Lord Mayor, and expressive of the hereditary reverence in which his office was held—at least, my friend thought that there would be no harm in giving his lordship this little sugar-plum, whether quite the fact or no—was held by the descendants of the Puritan forefathers. Thence, if I liked, getting flexible with the oil of my own eloquence, I might easily slide off into the momentous subject of the relations between England and America, to which his lordship had made such weighty allusion. Seizing this handful of straw with a death grip, and bidding my three friends bury me honorably, I got upon my legs to save both countries, or perish in the attempt. The tables roared and thundered at me, and suddenly were silent again. But, as I have never happened to stand in a position of greater dignity and peril, I deem it a stratagem of sage policy here to close these sketches, leaving myself still erect in so heroic an attitude."—Our Old Home, p. 397.
How delightfully provoking this is! Never shall we know how he got out of the scrape. There he stands forever on his feet, with a listening table around and his lips pregnant with an undelivered speech. He is like the young lover in Keats's delicious Ode to a Grecian Urn:
"Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, Though winning near the goal."
Never shall we know whether his speech was "neat and appropriate," whether it was "received with shouts of applause," or whether, after gasping and choking, he ignominiously broke down, resuming his seat with drops of agony on his brow, a humming sound in his ears, a sense of faintness and suffocation at the heart,—in short, all the horrors and miseries of a stage fright.
There are passages in the English Note-Books in like manner expressive of his sufferings at civic feasts, when he was constrained to exchange the gold of silence for the silver of speech. But the playful way in which he recounts these experiences shows that they were not so formidable at the moment as they had been in anticipation. He toys and dallies with the reminiscence as if he were not entirely willing to let it go; without doubt, he was somewhat amused at his own terrors. He stood aside from himself, and observed himself, like a physician feeling his own pulse. He became for the time both object and subject. He sets down his own symptoms as if he had observed them in another person. There must have been a more commonplace satisfaction, too, in the cup, arising from the sense of having overcome a difficulty and done that which seemed at first impossible to do. It is the glow of self-complacency at awaking to the consciousness of a new power. It is the same feeling which hushes the cheek of a young girl the first time she fires a pistol, and finds that it has not blown her head off. The speech, perhaps, was not much, but still it was a speech, and better than he ever thought he could do.
We quote a passage from the work before us, showing how the burden of public speaking grew lighter as he became accustomed to it. Very soon after his arrival in Liverpool he was invited to a state dinner given by the Mayor to the judges and the grand jury, and, of course, he was called upon to speak. He thus chronicles his experience :
"Afterwards the bar, and various other dignitaries and institutions, were toasted; and by and by came the toast to the United States, and to me, as their representative. Hereupon either 'Hail Columbia' or 'Yankee Doodle,' or some other of our national tunes (but Heaven knows which), was played; and at the conclusion, being at bay, and with no alternative, I got upon my legs and made a response. They received me and listened to my nonsense with a good deal of rapping, and my speech seemed to give great satisfaction; my chief difficulty being in not knowing how to pitch my voice to the size of the room. As for the matter, it is not of the slightest consequence. Anybody may make an after-dinner speech who will be content to talk on without saying anything. My speech was not more than two or three inches long; and, considering that I did not know a soul there, except the Mayor himself; and that I am wholly unpractised in all sorts of oratory, and that I had nothing to say, it was quite successful. I hardly thought it was in me, but, being once started, I felt no embarrassment, and went through it as coolly as if I were going to be hanged."—Englisk Note-Books, Vol. I. p. 15.
This was on the fifteenth day of August, 1853. On the fifth day of October, 1854, he was present at a dèjeuner on board the ship James Barnes, on occasion of her coming under the English flag, having been built by Donald McKay of Boston. Here another speech was made, and we can see from his report that the terror was beginning to pass away, and something like satisfaction to steal in:
"I sat between two ladies, one of them Mrs.—, a pleasant young woman, who, I believe, is of American provincial nativity, and whom I therefore regarded as half a countrywoman. We talked a good deal together, and I confided to her my annoyance at the prospect of being called up to answer a toast; but she did not pity me at all, though she felt much alarm about her husband, Captain,—who was in the same predicament. Seriously, it is the most awful part of my official duty,—this necessity of making dinner-speeches at the Mayor's, and other public or semi-public tables. However, my neighborhood to Mrs.—was good for me, inasmuch as by laughing over the matter with her I came to regard it in a light and ludicrous way; and so, when the time actually came, I stood up with a careless dare-devil feeling. The chairman toasted the President immediately after the Queen, and did me the honor to speak of myself in a most flattering manner, something like this: 'Great by his position under the Republic,—greater still, I am bold to say, in the Republic of letters!' I made no reply at all to this; in truth, I forgot all about it when I began to speak, and merely thanked the company in behalf of the President and my countrymen, and made a few remarks with no very decided point to them. However, they cheered and applauded, and I took advantage of the applause to sit down, and Mrs. informed me that I had succeeded admirably. It was no success at all, to be sure ; neither was it a failure, for I had aimed at nothing, and I had exactly hit it. But after sitting down, I was conscious of an enjoyment in speaking to a public assembly, and felt as if I should like to rise again. It is something like being under fire,—a sort of excitement, not exactly pleasure, but more piquant than most pleasures. I have felt this before, in the same circumstances; but while on my legs my impulse is to get through with my remarks and sit down again as quickly as possible."—Vol. I. pp. 130, 131.
In April, 1857, another call was made upon his faculty of speech, on the opening of a free library given to Liverpool by Mr. Browne; and such is the effect of his previous training, that he is beginning almost to enjoy the novel sensation of" thinking upon his legs."
"I was really tired to death before my own turn came, sitting all that time, as it were, on the scaffold, with the rope round my neck. At last Monckton Milnes was called up and made a speech, of which, to my dismay, I could hardly hear a single word, owing to his being at a considerable distance, on the other side of the chairman, and flinging his voice, which is a bass one, across the hall, instead of adown it, in my direction. I could not distinguish one word of any allusions to my works, nor even when he came to the toast did I hear the terms in which he put it, nor whether I was toasted on my own basis or as representing American literature, or as Consul of the United States. At all events, there was a vast deal of clamor; and uprose peers and bishops, general, mayor, knights, and gentlemen, everybody in the hall greeting me with all the honors. I had uprisen, too, to commence my speech; but had to sit down again till matters grew more quiet, and then I got up, and proceeded to deliver myself with as much composure as I ever felt at my own fireside. It is very strange, this self-possession and clear-sightedness, which I have experienced when standing before an audience, showing me my way through all the difficulties resulting from my not having heard Monckton Milnes's speech; and on since reading the latter, I do not see how I could have answered it better. My speech certainly was better cheered than any other; especially one passage, where I made a colossus of Mr. Browne, at which the audience grew so tumultuous in their applause that they drowned my figure of speech before it was half out of my mouth."—Vol. II. pp. 201, 202.
With his usual habit of self-observation he takes occasion to remark upon the effect produced upon himself by the custom of public speaking :
"I can conceive of very high enjoyment in making a speech; one is in such a curious sympathy with his audience, feeling instantly how every sentence affects them, and wonderfully excited and encouraged by the sense that it has gone to the right spot. Then, too, the imminent emergency, when a man is overboard, and must sink or swim, sharpens, concentrates, and invigorates the mind, and causes matters of thought and sentiment to assume shape and expression, though, perhaps, it seemed hopeless to express them just before you rose to speak. Yet I question much whether public speaking tends to elevate the orator, intellectually or morally; the effort, of course, being to say what is immediately received by the audience, and to produce an effect on the instant. I don't quite see how an honest man can be a good and successful orator; but I shall hardly undertake to decide the question on my merely post-prandial experience.—Vol. II. p. 166.
What would Quinctilian say to this startling doctrine, that an honest man can hardly be a good orator,—Quinctilian, who lays down a canon directly the opposite: "Oratorern autem instituimus illum perfectum, qui esse nisi vir bonus non potest." We rather think that history shows more cases against Hawthorne's opinion than in support of it. But if he had said that no wise man can be a great orator, he would have laid down a proposition more easy of support. Most popular speakers, at least, are superficial thinkers.
As has been before said, we owe to Hawthorne's consular life two books, Our Old Home and The English Note-Books. They are alike, but with a difference. They resemble each other as an English flower-garden—in which the walks are swept and the lawn is mowed every day, where not a leaf is allowed to moulder where it falls, where every flower seems to glow with richer hues as if conscious of its privileges and anxious to make a grateful return for the care bestowed upon it—resembles an English park, where, though the shaping and restraining hand of Art is everywhere seen, Nature is yet allowed a certain range and scope. In both the style is exquisite,—the happiest combination possible of grace, harmony, flexibility, and strength; but in the former work there is more of elaboration, in the latter more of ease. Hawthorne's English is absolutely unique; very careful and exact, but never studied; with the best word always in the best place; pellucid as crystal; full of delicate and varied music; with gleams of poetry, and touches of that peculiar humor of his, which is half smile and half sigh. His style can only be matched by that of the best writers in France, a country in which the influence of an academy for so many generations has created a standard of excellence not elsewhere attained except in rare cases. Every candid critic, let him have been born where he may, must admit that, as a mere vehicle for the expression of thought, irrespective of the weight and value of the thought, the best French prose, like that of Sainte-Beuve, Rènan, and George Sand, has attained a perfection not to be found in Italy, England, and least of all in Germany. Wherein this excellence in Hawthorne's style consists it is not easy to say; the charm is too airy and impalpable for the grasp of language. It is to be described by negatives rather than positives; his style is not stiff, not pedantic; it is free from mannerism, caricature, and rhetoric; it has a sap and flavor of its own; it is a peculiar combination of ease and finish. The magic of style is like the magic of manner: it is felt by all, but it can be analyzed and defined by few. A very marked style, like that of Carlyle, is easily described, as the face of Brougham was easily caricatured; but the style of Hawthorne and the face of Gladstone present similar difficulties. The difference between the two works inspired by English life, manners, and scenery is simply the difference between full dress and undress. Hawthorne never was, could not be, a careless writer. By an inevitable law of his mind, every conception to which his pen gave shape was graceful and exact. His style is remarkable for its negative as well as its positive merits, for its freedom from faults as well as its distinct beauties. Before his exquisite sentences verbal criticism folds its hands for lack of argument.
Our Old Home was carefully prepared for the press, but the English Note-Books were kept for his own use, containing observations and reflections which might afterwards serve as materials for works to be published, but not meant for the public eye in the form in which they were set down. Thus the former work has a minute and matchless finish not found in the latter. In point of form , grace of expression, and beauty of style, Our Old Home is entitled to stand at the head of all his works; as the same place is due to The Scarlet Letter in creative power and tragic grandeur. The two together represent the whole circle of his genius, his vision, and his faculty, his originality in invention, his imaginative conception of character, his depth of light and shade in moral portraiture, his piercing insight, his power of passionless contemplation, his shrewd apprehension of every-day life, his feminine sympathy, and his unequalled skill in the use of the instrument of language.
The English and the American Note-Books have alike a peculiar value as illustrating the mind and character of the author. They form, indeed, a sort of autobiography. The question has been sometimes asked, Why have we no memoir of a man of such eminent rank in literature as Hawthorne? and the answer is, first, that it was his own emphatic and frequently expressed desire that nothing of the kind should be done; and, second, that in his case there are few materials for biography. The facts of his life could be put into two such pages as the reader now has before him. It was a very uneventful life, marked by long intervals of silence, wherein, however, the fruits of observation and reflection were slowly ripening on the bough. His birth, his college life, his service in the Custom-House at Boston, his brief experience at Brook Farm, his marriage, his official life in Salem, his consulship in Liverpool, his residence in Italy, his return home, his death,—these are really all the events in his life. For long years, while his classmates were busy in their several professions, making money, earning distinction, he was content to be a dreamer and seem to be an idler in the land. But idler he was not, and hardly a dreamer: he was an observer and a thinker. He was always a diligent worker, and at no easy calling. His work was with the pen,—careful, conscientious, painstaking work, of all forms of intellectual labor that which is attended with the greatest waste of nervous energy. His matchless style was the product of long and laborious training. Much of what he wrote was never published, and much does not now exist in manuscript. He had no weak fondness for his own intellectual offspring, and never were his productions submitted to so merciless a criticism as his own. Hawthorne's life is to be read in his works, and especially in his Note-Books. His biography is simply a record of the growth of his mind. His Note-Books paint him as he was, his reserve included. He does not bare himself to the public gaze like Montaigne and Rousseau; but the essays of Montaigne and the confessions of Rousseau do not present a mind and character of more marked individuality than do the journals of Hawthorne. More of his life and conversation than these give the public is never likely to know, but he who reads them carefully can form a correct estimate of what manner of man he was.
Mrs. Hawthorne, in her Preface to the work before us, expresses the hope that these volumes of Notes, American, English (and hereafter Italian), will dispel an often-expressed opinion that Hawthorne was gloomy and morbid. That this impression should exist is not strange. The Scarlet Letter, The Blithedale Romance, The House of the Seven Gables, The Marble Faun, and many of his smaller stories, have one marked characteristic in common, which maybe defined a taste for studying and delineating the night-side of human nature. He had a passion for exploring the crypts and caverns of the soul, or, to state the case more exactly, his genius found congenial employment in painting the struggles of a heart burdened with the weight of a secret and unconfessed sin, and in portraying lives of a double aspect, which are fair and goodly outside, but spotted with guilt and shame within. He is the searcher and analyzer of dark bosoms. The Scarlet Letter is the highest expression of his genius in this respect,—a work of prodigious power, but so painful in the impression that it leaves that many can never read it a second time.
A kindred element in his genius is his affinity with the weird, the mysterious, the supernatural. His page is dappled with lights and shadows, derived from other suns than ours. No foot moves with firmer tread than his over that dim twilight region which lies between the seen and the unseen. The skill with which he weaves his threads of mystery into the web of common life, the firm hand with which he controls the shadowy shapes which he evokes, the art with which he leaves his problems half unsolved and the reader's mind in doubt as to how much he himself believed of the wonders he revealed or suggested, are among the most striking characteristics of his peculiar and original genius. But in all this he was obeying a law in his mind, and not a law in his members. His genius, by some irresistible force, was drawn towards the dark paths of the soul, haunted by shadowy shapes of gloom and mystery. The writer of this notice once asked him to write a story which should be cheerful and sunny from beginning to end. He smiled, and replied that it was impossible; that the dark cloud would come over the sun, that the spectral form would glide in and hush the noise of mirth. And to those who knew him it is not necesssry to add that there was no affectation in this.
Whatever judgment may be passed upon his genius, there was nothing morbid in his character and temperament. He was indeed much the reverse of morbid. No man of genius ever had less of the infitmities of genius than he. There is a sympathy between the body and the mind, and the morbid habits and unhealthy cravings of men of genius often have their source in a sickly frame or an overtasked brain. But Hawthorne was physically one of the healthiest of men. His pulse kept always even music. In food and drink he retained to the last the simple tastes of childhood. He cared nothing for wine or tobacco or strong coffee or strong tea. He was a sound sleeper and an early riser. He was never moody or fitful or irritable. He was never unduly depressed or unreasonably elated. His spirits were not brilliant, but they were uniform; and, as Mrs. Hawthorne says, "The airy splendor of his wit and humor was the light of his home." For happiness he was singularly independent of external influences. It mattered little to him in what place his lot might be cast. His family, the occasional presence of a very few friends, and the control of his own time,—these were all he asked. The long winter evenings of a quiet village like Concord had no terrors for him. He never felt the leaden touch of the monster ennui, the name of which we are obliged to borrow from the language of a people that has the least of the thing. Theatres, operas, concerts, balls, parties,—all the numberless devices which man has contrived to slay the great enemy, Time,—were to him rather surgical operations to be endured than pleasures to be enjoyed. Of all American men he was the least restless. There was indeed about him an atmosphere of calm repose and easy strength which lulled and quieted the restlessness of others of more excitable mood. The epithet "gentle," which the contemporaries of Shakespeare were so fond of applying to him, is exactly descriptive of Hawthorne's character and manners. He was a gentleman, if there ever were one, alike in things essential and things formal. Nature, which had been so liberal to him in many ways, had not given him in any great measure the faculty of speech, and the events of his life had not been such as to cultivate and enlarge such portion as he had. He was not a fluent or an abundant talker. Argument and discussion were not to his taste, as is generally the case with men whose insight is as keen and sound as his. With his best friends he was open, but not voluble; but his friends were taught that there can be companionship without speech.
We come now to a more direct consideration of the work before us, the Passages from the English Note-Books. The first recorded date is August 4, 1853, and the last is January 3, 1858. They contain his impressions of what he saw and of what befell him, set down at the moment. They should be read with the caution pointed out by Mrs. Hawthorne in the Preface: "Throughout his journals, it will be seen that Mr. Hawthorne is entertaining, and not asserting, opinions and ideas. He questions, doubts, and reflects with his pen, and, as it were, instructs himself. So that these Note-Books should be read, not as definite conclusions of his mind, but merely as passing impressions often. Whatever conclusions he arrived at are condensed in the works given to the world by his own hand, in which will never be found a careless word."—p. viii.
We proceed to quote some passages from the English Note-Books, selected either for their literary merit, or as illustrating some of the traits of character we have before pointed out. Here are a few lines, under the date of December 6, 1857, indicating the peculiar pleasure felt by this shy and reserved man in the infinite and multitudinous life of London:
"All these days, since my last date, have been marked by nothing very well worthy of detail and description. I have walked the streets a great deal in the dull November days, and always take a certain pleasure in being in the midst of human life,—as closely encompassed by it as it is possible to be anywhere in this world; and in that way of viewing it there is a dull and sombre enjoyment always to be had in Holborn, Fleet Street, Cheapside, and the other busiest parts of London. It is human life; it is this material world; it is a grim and heavy reality. I have never had the same sense of being surrounded by materialisms and hemmed in with the grossness of this earthly existence anywhere else; these broad, crowded streets are so evidently the veins and arteries of an enormous city. London is evidenced in every one of them, just as a megatherium is in each of its separate bones, even if they be small ones. Thus I never fail of a sort of self-congratulation in finding myself, for instance, passing along Ludgate Hill."—Vol. II. p. 368.
The Note-Books abound with proofs of Hawthorne's interest in humanity, and the consequent sharpness and discrimination of eye with which he observed it. A noticeable man or woman is studied by him as a naturalist studies a new specimen. Of his unrivalled power in drawing pen-and-ink portraits no one need be reminded who has done no more than read his sketch of Leigh Hunt in Our Old Home. If there be anything in all English literature superior to this in niceness of observation and delicacy of touch, we have never chanced to light upon it. And in the Note-Books are many sketches, less elaborate, but marked by the same combination of masculine force and feminine fineness of perception. Here is a description of a young Jewish lady at a Lord Mayor's dinner in London :
"My eyes were mostly drawn to a young lady who sat nearly opposite me, across the table. She was, I suppose, dark, and yet not dark, but rather seemed to be of pure white marble, yet not white, but the purest and finest complexion, without a shade of color in it, yet anything but sallow or sick ly. Her hair was a wonderful deep raven black, black as night, black as death; not raven black, for that has a shiny gloss, and hers had not, but it was hair never to be painted nor described,—wonderful hair, Jewish hair. Her nose had a beautiful outline, though I could see that it was Jewish too; and that and all her features were so fine that sculpture seemed a despicable art beside her, and certainly my pen is good for nothing. If any likeness could be given, however, it must be by sculpture, not painting. She was slender and youthful, and yet had a stately and cold, though soft and womanly grace; and, looking at her, I saw what were the wives of the old patriarchs in their maiden or early married days,—what Judith was, for, womanly as she looked, I doubt not she could have slain a man in a just cause,—what Bathsheba was, only she seemed to have no sin in her,—perhaps what Eve was, though one could hardly think her weak enough to eat the apple."—Vol. II. p. 114.
Can anything be more exquisite than this? Who this radiant vision was we are not told. The artist and the subject met for a moment and parted to meet no more; but in that moment her image was taken and brought away like a sun picture.
Of things not animate there were none that Hawthorne studied with such interest, chronicled with such minuteness, and remembered with such delight, as the glorious cathedrals of England. And for this—setting aside the fact that a cathedral is such a revelation to an American, giving him for the first time a sense of the sublime embodied in architecture,—a reason may be found in his ever-present sympathy with man and his works. For throughout the vast bulk and infinite details of a cathedral there is interfused a spirit drawn from the mind and soul of man. Every part is instinct with faith and hope and love. Everything which the eye sees, every form, every color, is the embodiment and expression of an idea and to a nature so profound and so sympathetic as Hawthorne's to walk through a cathedral was to summon up before him, and converse with, the builders and worshippers of a former age, men to whom the very stones were vocal, and upon whom the carved saints and martyrs looked with eyes of benediction. He says himself:
"I am weary of trying to describe cathedrals. It is utterly useless. There is no possibility of giving the general effect, or any shadow of it, and it is miserable to put down a few items of tombstones, and a bit of glass from a painted window, as if the gloom and glory of the edifice were thus to be reproduced. Cathedrals are almost the only things (if even those) that have quite filled out my ideal here in this Old World; and cathedrals often make me miserable from my inadequacy to take them wholly in; and, above all, I despise myself when I sit down to describe them."—Vol. II. p. 77.
And yet he does describe them, and describes them often; so often, indeed, that we fear many readers will complain that they have a surfeit of cathedrals. But the descriptions are so good, so accurate, so vivid, so marked by his peculiarities of thought and style, that we cannot wonder that the editor had not the heart to strike out one of them.
But the splendid places, the stately homes, the magnificent mansions of England had comparatively little attraction to him. He does not appear to have visited Chatsworth or Wentworth House, or Castle Howard, or Belvoir Castle, or Woburn Abbey, or Longleat, or any of those great country houses, which are among the wonders of England and of the world; with the single exception of Blenheim, his description of which is so good that we have only to regret that we have not more of the same kind from his graphic pen. Even Knowsley, the splendid seat of the Earl of Derby, though within a few miles of Liverpool, was never seen by him, so far as the record shows. The fame of John Evelyn did attract him to Wootton, but the name of Sir Philip Sidney was not a spell potent enough to draw him to Penshurst.
In these Note-Books we have an expression of Hawthorne's feeling both towards nature and art. He was a lover of nature, but not an impassioned or a fastidious lover. The sort of rapture and passion which Wordsworth reveals in his poetry and Ruskin in his prose was not felt by him. We doubt whether he would have taken much trouble or gone far out of his way merely to see grand or beautiful scenery. The common shows of earth—its woods, its waters, its plains and uplands—contented him. The pretty, quiet, somewhat tame landscape which lay around his home in Concord was all that he required. He never pined for mountains, as Arnold did amid the flat and monotonous scenery of Warwickshire. Indeed, we apprehend that the loneliness, the sternness, the solemn grandeur of mountains fell something like a shadow upon his spirit. We find a characteristic passage in his journal of a tour in Scotland in the summer of 1857. Speaking of the Highlands he says:
"These mountains, in their general aspect, must be very much the same as they were thousands of years ago; for their sides never were capable of cultivation, nor even with such a soil and so bleak an atmosphere could they have been much more richly wooded than we see them now. They seem to me to be among the unchangeable things of nature, like the sea and sky; but there is no saying what use human ingenuity may hereafter put them to. At all events, I have no doubt in the world that they will go out of fashion in due time ; for the taste for mountains and wild scenery is with most people an acquired taste, and it was easy to see today that nine people in ten care nothing about them. One group of gentlemen and ladies—at least, men and women—spent the whole time in listening to a trial for murder, which was read aloud by one of their number from a newspaper. I rather imagine that a taste for trim gardens is the most natural and universal taste as regards landscape."— Vol. II. p. 253.
This last sentence doubtless is a personal confession, and not the expression of a general truth. He himself loved "trim gardens" because of the human element which they involved, because they bore marks of the designing mind and toiling hand of man. We apprehend that he would have found something to like in the highly artificial style of gardening, a taste for which came over from Holland with King William, by which nature was dressed and decorated as elaborately as are the fine gentlemen and ladies that live on the canons of Kneller and Hudson. We wish it had come in his way to visit Elvaston Castle, the seat of the Earl of Harrington, the most wonderful place in England for its topiary work, where he would have seen a good-sized house of seven gables at least, surmounted by two gigantic birds, one in a nest, and one attempting to fly, all cut out of yew. This would have amused, and not displeased him.
Whenever, during his excursions in England and Scotland, it comes in his way to speak of nature, it will be noticed that he does it with much temperance of tone. He is self-possessed, and master of himself. He is a portrait-painter painting a beautiful face, and not a lover stammering and trembling before it. This may be owing in part to the character of English scenery, which is more marked by beauty and grace than by sublimity and picturesqueness, but we doubt whether he would have fallen into raptures before Mont Blanc or the Orteler Spitz. "The ancients," said Goethe, "described the beautiful, but we describe beautiful." So Hawthorne describes the beautiful, but does not describe beautifully, at least not in the sense in which Goethe used the word. He sets down his impressions of what he sees with inimitable grace, but much in the same quiet way as a sailor puts down in his log-book the course of a storm at sea. The reader will apprehend what we mean by comparing the poetic prose of Christopher North, in his A Day at Windermere, with a passage like this, in which accurate observation is not disturbed by any tumultuous beating of the heart:
"Skiddaw lies at the head of a long even ridge of mountains rising into several peaks, and one higher than the rest. On the eastern side there are many noble eminences, and on the west, along which we drove, there is a part of the way a lovely wood, and nearly the whole distance a precipitous range of lofty cliffs, descending sheer down without any slope, except what has been formed in the lapse of ages by the fall of fragments, and the washing down of smaller stones. The declivity thus formed along the base of the cliffs is in some places covered with trees or shrubs ; elsewhere it is quite bare and barren. The precipitous parts of the cliffs are very grand; the whole scene, indeed, might be characterized as one of stern grandeur with an embroidery of rich beauty, without lauding it too much. All the sternness of it is softened by vegetative beauty wherever it can possibly be thrown in; and there is not here, so strongly as along Windermere, evidence that human art has been helping out Nature. I wish it were possible to give any idea of the shapes of the hills; with these, at least, man has nothing to do, nor ever will have anything to do. As we approached the bottom of the lake, and of the beautiful valley in which it lies, we saw one hill that seemed to crouch down like a Titanic watch-dog, with its rear towards the spectator, guarding the entrance to the valley. The great superiority of these mountains over those of New England is their variety and definiteness of shape, besides the abundance everywhere of water prospects, which are wanting among our own hills. They rise up decidedly, and each is a hill by itself, while ours mingle into one another, and, besides, have such large bases that you can tell neither where they begin nor where they end. Many of these Cumberland mountains have a marked vertebral shape, so that they often look like a group of huge lions, lying down with their backs turned toward each other. They slope down steeply from narrow ridges; hence their picturesque seclusions of valleys and dales, which subdivide the lake region into so many communities. Our hills, like apple dumplings in a dish, have no such valleys as these."—Vol. I. pp. 223, 224.
Hawthorne's education in art began in England. We have seen how kindly he took to ecclesiastical architecture, but this was rather on account of the ideas embodied in the forms than the forms themselves; for secular architecture, in all its kinds, he passes by with hardly a glance. Sculpture and painting were new revelations to him, and it was not until after some time that he began to understand and feel them. His first visit to the British Museum was made in September, 1855, and then he was rather bored than otherwise by the remains of ancient art which he saw there, and he has honestly confessed it in a passage of characteristic frankness:
"It is a hopeless, and to me, generally, a depressing business to go through an immense multifarious show like this, glancing at a thousand things, and conscious of some little titillation of mind from them, but really taking in nothing, and getting no good from anything. One need not go beyond the limits of the British Museum to be profoundly accomplished in all branches of science, art, and literature; only it would take a lifetime to exhaust it in any one department; but to see it as we did, and with no prospect of ever seeing it more at leisure, only impressed me with the truth of the old apothegm, 'Life is short, and Art is long' The fact is, the world is accumulating too many materials for knowledge. We do not recognize for rubbish what is really rubbish; and under this head might be reckoned very many things one sees in the British Museum; and, as each generation leaves its fragments and potsherds behind it, such will finally be the desperate conclusion of the learned.
"We went first among some antique marbles,—busts, statues, terminal gods, with several of the Roman Emperors among them. We saw here the bust whence Haydon took his ugly and ridiculous likeness of Nero,—a foolish thing to do. Julius Cesar was there, too, looking more like a modern old man than any other bust in the series. Perhaps there may be a universality in his face, that gives it this independence of race and epoch. We glimpsed along among the old marbles,—Elgin and others, which are esteemed such treasures of art ;—the oddest fragments, many of them smashed by their fall from high places, or by being pounded to pieces by barbarians, or gnawed away by time; the surface roughened by being rained upon for thousands of years; almost always a nose knocked off; sometimes a headless form; a great deficiency of feet and hands,—poor, maimed veterans in this hospital of incurables. The beauty of the most perfect of them must be rather guessed at, and seen by faith, than with the bodily eye; to look at the corroded faces and forms is like trying to see angels through mist and cloud. I suppose nine tenths of those who seem to be in raptures about these fragments do not really care about them; neither do I. And if I were actually moved, I should doubt whether it were by the statues or by my own fancy."—Vol. I. pp. 325, 326.
But two years later he goes again, and by what he says of the Townley Gallery we can measure the training of eye and mind which he had gone through in the mean time:—"I went first today into the Townley Gallery, and so along through all the ancient sculpture, and was glad to find myself able to sympathize more than heretofore with the forms of grace and beauty which are preserved there,—poor, maimed immortalities as they are,—headless and legless trunks, god-like cripples, faces beautiful and broken-nosed,—heroic shapes which have stood so long, or lain prostrate so long, in the open air, that even the atmosphere dissolved the external layer of the marble; and yet, however much they may be worn away, or battered and shattered, the grace and nobility seem as deep in them as the very heart of the stone. It cannot be destroyed, except by grinding them to powder. In short, I do really believe that there was an excellence in ancient sculpture which has yet a potency to educate and refine the minds of those who look at it even so carelessly and casually as I do."—Vol. II. p. 373.
Of pictures in London he has very little to say. If he went to the National Gallery at all, he made no record of his impressions. He sees Raphael's cartoons at Hampton Court, and will "not pretend to admire nor to understand" them. We do not wonder at this, for, by reason of their being form without color, they should close one's training in pictorial art and not begin it. But at Manchester, in the summer of 1857, he made a careful study of the paintings assembled at the Arts' Exhibition in that city. He is at first bewildered and distracted with the multitude of objects which court his attention, and sets down his sensations in language which will recall the experience of many in similar conditions :
"Day before yesterday we went to the Arts' Exhibition, of which I do not think that I have a great deal to say. The edifice, being built more for convenience than show, appears better in the interior than from without,—long vaulted vistas, lighted from above, extending far away, all hung with pictures; and on the floor below, statues, knights in armor, cabinets, vases, and all manner of curious and beautiful things, in a regular arrangement. Scatter five thousand people through the scene, and I do not know how to make a better outline sketch. I was unquiet, from a hopelessness of being able to enjoy it fully. Nothing is more depressing to me than the sight of a great many pictures together; it is like having innumerable books open before you at once, and being able to read only a sentence or two in each. They bedazzle one another with cross lights. There never should be more than one picture in a room, nor more than one picture to be studied in one day. Galleries of pictures are surely the greatest absurdities that ever were contrived, there being no excuse for them, except that it is the only way in which pictures can be made generally available and accessible."—Vol. II. pp. 307, 308.
He recognizes the truth and power of Hogarth, but finds it unaccountable that the "English painters' achievements should be so much inferior to those of the English poets." He sees something wonderful in Turner's "lights and mists and yeasty waves," but "should like him still better if his pictures looked in the least like what they typify." He is strangely sceptical as to all portrait-painting, and says that he does not "remember ever to have recognized a man by having previously seen his portrait." The only painter who calls forth a hearty burst of unqualified enthusiasm is Murillo, who seems to him "about the noblest and purest painter that ever lived, and his Good Shepherd the loveliest picture I have ever seen." This strong expression may be explained by the fact that Murillo, like Hawthorne himself, combined a delicate sense of ideal beauty with the most accurate observation of real life, and could paint equally well an old monk or a lovely infant.
He speaks of his last visit to the Exhibition in terms which show that he had made good progress in the study of art:
"September 6th.—I think I paid my last visit to the Exhibition, and feel as if I had had enough of it, although I have got but a small part of the profit it might have afforded me. But pictures are quite other things to me now from what they were at my first visit; it seems even as if there were a sort of illumination within them, that makes me see them more distinctly."—Vol. II. p. 331.
Of music, other than street music, there is no record whatever in the Note-Books. The opera had no attractions for him, and the same is true of those musical festivals in the great cathedral towns of England, where the grand strains of Handel, Haydn, and Beethoven are heard as they can be heard nowhere else, with the best artists in the world for the solo parts, and a vast tide of trained voices on which to float the choruses. He is equally silent as to the theatre. There is nothing in his journal to prove that he ever attended a dramatic performance during all his residence in England. And he passed by on the other side, without heeding, many things which most foreigners are particularly anxious to observe. It does not appear that he ever was present at more than one debate in the House of Commons, and by that he was evidently wearied. It is not strange that with his shy and reserved habits he should have avoided the great balls and evening parties of the London season, and nothing but a strong sense of duty would have tempted him to take a seat on the platform at an anniversary meeting, though the most eloquent lips in England had been set down in the programme. And as for a presentation at Court, beyond all question he would have preferred to fight a duel or go into battle.
He is silent upon all the games, athletic exercises, and amusements which in England are embraced under the comprehensive name of sport, and in which the nobility and gentry take so much interest and spend so much money. He has never a word to say about cricket or yachting or fox-hunting or horse-racing. To be in England four years, and yet never be at Epsom on a Derby day, is as exceptional a thing as to be a Mussulman and never make a pilgrimage to Mecca; yet Hawthorne never witnessed this unique and characteristic spectacle. All forms of animal life are unheeded by him. English horses, English cattle, English dogs, are all matchless in their way, but he sees or heeds them not. Indeed, we do not remember that any animal is introduced into any of his romances. He was probably never the proprietor of a horse or a dog, and was never seen on the back of a horse. In this respect he presents a marked contrast to both Scott and Dickens, who show their fondness for animals by often putting them into their books.
We had marked other passages for extract, but our notice is already long enough, and we must come to an end. Were we to copy everything that struck us as remarkable in the reading, we should transfer to our pages about half the work. We have given our readers enough to satisfy them that they have in the English Note-Books a book of permanent interest and value, both from its essential literary merit and from its autobiographical character, as illustrating the mental and personal traits of the most original genius in the sphere of imaginative literature that our country has yet produced.