Our Whispering Gallery: Ii

THE last time, my dear nephew, we sat together in this small apartment I talked with you about Pope and Thackeray, the portraits of whom are still looking at us from the wall. To-day we will sit opposite the likeness of the rarest genius America has given to literature, − a man who lately sojourned in this busy world of ours, but during many years of his life

“ Wandered lonely as a cloud,” −

a man who had, so to speak, a physical affinity with solitude. I hope you have read and enjoyed, as I have done, the writings of this author, who has never soiled the public mind with one unlovely image. His men and women have a magic of their own, and we shall wait a long time before another arises among us to take his place. Indeed, it is highly probable no one will ever walk precisely the same round of fiction which he traversed with so free and firm a step.

The portrait we are looking at was made by Rowse (an exquisite drawing, as you perceive), and is a very truthful representation of the head of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He was several times painted and photographed, but it was impossible for art to give the light and beauty of his wonderful eyes. I remember to have heard, in the literary circles of London, that, since Burns, no author had appeared there with so fine a face as Hawthorne. Old Mrs. Basil Montagu told me, many years ago, that she sat next to Burns at dinner, when he appeared in society in the first flush of his fame, after the Edinburgh edition of his poems had been published. She said, among other things, that, although the company consisted of some of the best bred men of England, Burns seemed to her the most perfect gentleman among them. She noticed, particularly, his genuine grace and deferential manner toward women, and I was interested to hear Mrs. Montagu’s brilliant daughter, when speaking of Hawthorne’s advent in English society, describe him in almost the same terms as I had heard her mother, years before, describe the Scottish poet. I happened to be in London with Hawthorne during his consular residence in England, and I was always greatly delighted at the rustle of admiration his personal appearance excited when he entered a room. His bearing was modestly grand, and his voice touched the ear like a melody. You can see, from the face before you, that its impression among strangers would be no common one.

Here is a golden curl which adorned the head of Nathaniel Hawthorne when he lay a little child in his cradle. It was given to me many years ago by one near and dear to him. I have two other similar “blossoms,” which I keep pressed in the same book of remembrance. One is from the head of John Keats, and was given to me by Charles Cowden Clarke, and the other graced the head of Mary Mitford, and was sent to me after her death by her friendly physician, who watched over her in her last hours. Leigh Hunt says,

“ There seems a love in hair, though it be dead.
It is the gentlest, yet the strongest thread
Of our frail plant, − a blossom from the tree
Surviving the proud trunk ; − as though it said,
Patience and Gentleness is Power. In me
Behold affectionate eternity. ”

There is a charming old lady, now living two doors from me, who dwelt in Salem when Hawthorne was born, and, being his mother’s neighbor at that time (Mrs. Hawthorne then lived in Union Street), there came a message to her intimating that the baby could be seen by calling. So my friend tells me she went in, and saw the little winking thing in its mother’s arms. She is very clear as to the beauty of the infant, even when only a week old, and remembers that “ he was a pleasant child, quite handsome, with golden curls.” She also tells me that Hawthorne’s mother was a beautiful woman, with remarkable eyes, full of sensibility and expression, and that she was a person of singular purity of mind. Hawthorne’s father, whom my friend knew well, she describes as a warm-hearted and kindly man, very fond of children. He was somewhat inclined to melancholy, and of a reticent disposition. He was a great reader, employing all his leisure time at sea over books.

Hawthorne’s father died when Nathaniel was four years old, and from that time his uncle Robert Manning took charge of his education, sending him to the best schools and afterwards to college. When the lad was about nine years old, while playing bat and ball at school, he lamed his foot so badly that he used two crutches for more than a year. His foot ceased to grow like the other, and the doctors of the town were called in to examine the little lame boy. He was not perfectly restored till he was twelve years old. His kind-hearted schoolmaster, Joseph Worcester, the author of the Dictionary, came every day to the house to hear the boy’s lessons, so that he did not fall behind in his studies. He used to lie flat upon the carpet, and read and study the long days through. Some time after he recovered from this lameness he had an illness causing him to lose the use of his limbs, and he was obliged to seek again the aid of his old crutches, which were then pieced out at the ends to make them longer. While a little child, and as soon almost as he began to read, the authors he most affected were Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, and Thomson. The “ Castle of Indolence” was an especial favorite with him during boyhood. The first book he bought with his own money was a copy of Spenser’s “ Faery Queen.”

One who watched him during his childhood tells me, that “ when he was six years old his favorite book was Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’; and that whenever he went to visit his Grandmother Hawthorne, he used to take the old family copy to a large chair in a corner of the room near a window, and read it by the hour, without once speaking. No one ever thought of asking how much of it he understood. I think it one of the happiest circumstances of his training, that nothing was ever explained to him, and that there was no professedly intellectual person in the family to usurp the place of Providence and supplement its shortcomings, in order to make him what he was never intended to be. His mind developed itself; intentional cultivation might have spoiled it..... He used to invent long stories, wild and fanciful, and tell where he was going when he grew up, and of the wonderful adventures he was to meet with, always ending with, ‘ And I’m never coming back again,’ in quite a solemn tone, that enjoined upon us the advice to value him the more while he stayed with us.”

When he could scarcely speak plain, it is recalled by members of the family that the little fellow would go about the house, repeating with vehement emphasis and gestures certain stagy lines from Shakespeare’s Richard III., which he had overheard from older persons about him. One line, in particular, made a great impression upon him, and he would start up on the most unexpected occasions and fire off in his loudest tone,

“ Stand back, my Lord, and let the coffin pass.”

When Hawthorne was a little more than twelve, the family moved to Raymond in the State of Maine ; here his out-of-door life did him great service, for he grew tall and strong, and became a good shot and an excellent fisherman. Here also his imagination was first stimulated, the wild scenery and the primitive manners of the people contributing greatly to awaken his thought. At seventeen he entered Bowdoin College, and after his graduation returned again to live in Salem. During his youth he had an impression that he would die before the age of twenty-five ; but the Mannings, his everwatchful and kind relations, did everything possible for the care of his health, and he was tided safely over the period when he was most delicate.

When a youth he made a journey into New Hampshire with one of his relatives. They travelled by wagon, and met with many adventures which the young man chronicled in his letters home. Some of the touches in these epistles were very characteristic and amusing, and they showed in those early years his quick observation and descriptive power. The travellers “ put up ” at Farmington, in order to rest over Sunday. Hawthorne writes to a member of the family in Salem: “As we were wearied with rapid travelling, we found it impossible to attend divine service, which was, of course, very grievous to us both. In the evening, however, I went to a Bible class, with a very polite and agreeable gentleman, whom I afterwards discovered to be a strolling tailor, of very questionable habits.”

When the travellers arrived in the Shaker village of Canterbury, Hawthorne at once made the acquaintance of the Community there, and the account which he sent home was to the effect that the brothers and sisters lead a good and comfortable life, and he wrote : “If it were not for the ridiculous ceremonies, a man might do a worse thing than to join them.” Indeed, he spoke to them about becoming a member of the Society, and was evidently much impressed with the thrift and peace of the establishment.

This visit in early life to the Shakers is interesting as suggesting to Hawthorne his beautiful story of “ The Canterbury Pilgrims,” which you will find in his volume of “The Snow-Image, and other Twice-Told Tales.”

A lady of my acquaintance (the identical “ Little Annie ” of the “ Ramble ” in “ Twice-Told Tales ”) recalls the young man “ when he returned home after his collegiate studies.” “He was even then,” she says, “a most noticeable person, never going into society, and deeply engaged in reading everything he could lay his hands on. It was said in those days that he had read every book in the Athenæum Library in Salem.” This lady remembers that when she was a child, and before Hawthorne had printed any of his stories, she used to sit on his knee and lean her head on his shoulder, while by the hour he would fascinate her with delightful legends, much more wonderful and beautiful than any she has ever read since in printed books.

The traits of the Hawthorne character were stern probity and truthfulness. Hawthorne’s mother had many characteristics in common with her distinguished son, she also being a reserved and thoughtful person. Those who knew the family describe the son’s affection for her as of the deepest and tenderest nature, and they remember that when she died his grief was almost insupportable. The anguish he suffered from her loss is distinctly recalled by many persons still living, who visited the family at that time in Salem.

I first saw Hawthorne when he was about thirty-five years old. He had then published a collection of his sketches, the now famous “Twice-Told Tales.” Longfellow, ever alert for what is excellent, and eager to do a brother author opportune and substantial service, at once came before the public with a generous estimate of the work in the North American Review; but the choice little volume, the most promising addition to American literature that had appeared for many years, made little impression on the public mind. Discerning readers, however, recognized the supreme beauty in this new writer, and they never afterwards lost sight of him.

In 1832 Hawthorne published a short anonymous romance called Fanshawe. I once asked him about this disowned publication, and he spoke of it with great disgust, and afterwards he thus referred to the subject in a letter written to me in 1851 : “You make an inquiry about some supposed former publication of mine. I cannot be sworn to make correct answers as to all the literary or other follies of my nonage ; and I earnestly recommend you not to brush away the dust that may have gathered over them. Whatever might do me credit you may be pretty sure I should be ready enough to bring forward. Anything else it is our mutual interest to conceal; and so far from assisting your researches in that direction, I especially enjoin it on you, my dear friend, not to read any unacknowledged page that you may suppose to be mine.”

When Mr. George Bancroft, then Collector of the Port of Boston, appointed Hawthorne weigher and gauger in the custom-house, he did a wise thing, for no public officer ever performed his disagreeable duties better than our romancer. Here is a tattered little official document signed by Hawthorne when he was watching over the interests of the country : it certifies his attendance at the unlading of a brig, then lying at Long Wharf in Boston. I keep this precious relic side by side with one of a similar custom-house Character, signed Robert Burns.

I came to know Hawthorne very intimately after the Whigs displaced the Democratic romancer from office. In my ardent desire to have him retained in the public service, his salary at that time being his sole dependence, − not foreseeing that his withdrawal from that sort of employment would be the best thing for American letters that could possibly happen, − I called, in his behalf, on several influential politicians of the day, and I well remember the rebuffs I received in my enthusiasm for the author of the “ Twice-Told Tales.” One pompous little gentleman in authority, after hearing my appeal, quite astounded me by his ignorance of the claims of a literary man on his country. “ Yes, yes,” he sarcastically croaked down his public turtlefed throat, “ I see through it all, I see through it; this Hawthorne is one of them 'ere visionists, and we don’t want no such a man as him round.” So the “visionist” was not allowed to remain in office, and the country was better served by him in another way. In the winter of 1849, after he had been ejected from the custom-house, I went down to Salem to see him and inquire after his health, for we heard he had been suffering from illness. He was then living in a modest wooden house in Oliver Street, if I remember rightly the location. I found him alone in a chamber over the sitting-room of the dwelling ; and as the day was cold, he was hovering near a stove. We fell into talk about his future prospects, and he was, as I feared I should find him, in a very desponding mood. “ Now,” said I, “is the time for you to publish, for I know during these years in Salem you must have got something ready for the press.” “ Nonsense,” said he ; “what heart had I to write anything, when my publishers (M. and Company) have been so many years trying to sell a small edition of the ‘Twice-Told Tales’? I still pressed upon him the good chances he would have now with something new. “ Who would risk publishing a book for me, the most unpopular writer in America?” “ I would,” said I, “and would start with an edition of two thousand copies of anything you write.” “ What madness ! ” he exclaimed ; “your friendship for me gets the better of your judgment. No, no,” he continued ; “ I have no money to indemnify a publisher’s losses on my account.” I looked at my watch and found that the train would soon be starting for Boston, and I knew there was not much time to lose in trying to discover what had been his literary work during these last few years in Salem. I remember that I pressed him to reveal to me what he had been writing. He shook his head and gave me to understand he had produced nothing. At that moment I caught sight of a bureau or set of drawers near where we were sitting ; and immediately it occurred to me that hidden away somewhere in that article of furniture was a story or stories by the author of the “Twice-Told Tales,” and I became so positive of it that I charged him vehemently with the fact. He seemed surprised, I thought, but shook his head again ; and I rose to take my leave, begging him not to come into the cold entry, saying I would come back and see him again in a few days. I was hurrying down the stairs when he called after me from the chamber, asking me to stop a moment. Then quickly stepping into the entry with a roll of manuscript in his hands he said: “ How in Heaven’s name did you know this thing was there ? As you have found me out, take what I have written, and tell me, after you get home and have time to read it, if it is good for anything. It is either very good or very bad, − I don’t know which.” On my way up to Boston I read the germ of “ The Scarlet Letter”; before I slept that night I wrote him a note all aglow with admiration of the marvellous story he had put into my hands, and telling him that I would come again to Salem the next day and arrange for its publication. I went on in such an amazing state of excitement when we met again in the little house, that he would not believe I was really in earnest. He seemed to think I was beside myself, and laughed sadly at my enthusiasm. However, we soon arranged for his again appearing before the public in the shape of a book.

This quarto volume − handle it carefully, my dear lad − contains numerous letters, written to me by him from 1850 down to the month of his death. The first one refers to “ The Scarlet Letter,” and is dated in January, 1850. At my suggestion he had altered the plan of that story. It was his intention to make “ The Scarlet Letter ” one of several short stories, all to be included in one volume, and to be called




His first design was to make “The Scarlet Letter ” occupy about two hundred pages in his new book ; but I persuaded him, after reading the first chapters of the story, to elaborate it, and publish it as a separate work. After it was settled that “The Scarlet Letter” should be enlarged and printed by itself in a volume he wrote to me : −

“ I am truly glad that you like the Introduction, for I was rather afraid that it might appear absurd and impertinent to be talking about myself, when nobody, that I know of, has requested any information on that subject.

“As regards the size of the book, I have been thinking a good deal about it. Considered merely as a matter of taste and beauty, the form of publication which you recommend seems to me much preferable to that of the ‘ Mosses.’

“ In the present case, however, I have some doubts of the expediency, because, if the book is made up entirely of ‘ The Scarlet Letter,’ it will be too sombre. I found it impossible to relieve the shadows of the story with so much light as I would gladly have thrown in. Keeping so close to its point as the tale does, and diversified no otherwise than by turning different sides of the same dark idea to the reader’s eye, it will weary very many people and disgust some. Is it safe, then, to stake the fate of the book entirely on this one chance ? A hunter loads his gun with a bullet and several buckshot; and, following his sagacious example, it was my purpose to conjoin the one long story with half a dozen shorter ones, so that, failing to kill the public outright with my biggest and heaviest lump of lead, I might have other chances with the smaller bits, individually and in the aggregate. However, I am willing to leave these considerations to your judgment, and should not be sorry to have you decide for the separate publication.

“ In this latter event it appears to me that the only proper title for the book would be ‘ The Scarlet Letter,’ for ‘The Custom-House’ is merely introductory, − an entrance-hall to the magnificent edifice which I throw open to my guests. It would be funny if, seeing the further passages so dark and dismal, they should all choose to stop there! If ‘The Scarlet Letter’ is to be the title, would it not be well to print it on the title-page in red ink ? I am not quite sure about the good taste of so doing, but it would certainly be piquant and appropriate, and, I think, attractive to the great gull whom we are endeavoring to circumvent.”

One beautiful summer day, twenty years ago, I found Hawthorne in his little red cottage at Lenox, surrounded by his happy young family. His boy and girl were swinging on the gate as we drove up to his door, and with their sunny curls formed a beautiful feature in the landscape. As the afternoon was cool and delightful, we proposed a drive over to Pittsfield to see Holmes, who was then living on his ancestral farm. Hawthorne was in a cheerful condition and seemed to enjoy the beauty of the day to the utmost. Next morning we were all invited by Mr. Dudley Field, then living at Stockbridge, to ascend Monument Mountain. Holmes, Hawthorne, Duyckinck, Herman Melville, Headley, Sedgwick, Matthews, and several ladies, were of the party. We scrambled to the top with great spirit, and when we arrived, Melville, I remember, bestrode a peaked rock, which ran out like a bowsprit, and pulled and hauled imaginary ropes for our delectation. Then we all assembled in a shady spot, and one of the party read to us Bryant’s beautiful poem commemorating Monument Mountain. Then we lunched among the rocks, and somebody proposed Bryant’s health, and “long life to the dear old poet.” This was the most popular toast of the day, and it took, I remember, a considerable quantity of Heidsieck to do it justice. In the afternoon, pioneered by Headley, we made our way, with merry shouts and laughter, through the Ice-Glen. Hawthorne was among the most enterprising of the merry-makers; and being in the dark much of the time, he ventured to call out lustily, and pretend that certain destruction was inevitable to all of us. After this extemporaneous jollity, we all dined together at Mr. Dudley Field’s in Stockbridge, and Hawthorne rayed out in a sparkling and unwonted manner. I remember the conversation at table chiefly ran on the physical differences between the present American and English men, Hawthorne stoutly taking part in favor of the American. This 5th of August was a happy day throughout, and I never saw Hawthorne in better spirits.

Often and often I have seen him sitting in the chair you are now occupying by the window, looking out into the twilight. He liked to watch the vessels dropping down the stream, and nothing pleased him more than to go on board a newly arrived bark from Down East, as she was just moored at the wharf. One night we made the acquaintance of a cabin-boy on board a brig, whom we found off duty and reading a large subscription volume, which proved, on inquiry, to be a Commentary on the Bible. When Hawthorne questioned him why he was reading, then and there, that particular book, he replied with a knowing wink at both of us, “There ’s consider’ble her’sy in our place, and I’m a studying up for ’em.”

He liked on Sunday to mouse about among the books, and there are few volumes in this room that he has not handled or read. He knew he could have unmolested habitation here, whenever he chose to come, and he was never allowed to be annoyed by intrusion of any kind. He always slept in the same room, − the one looking on the water; and many a night I have heard his solemn footsteps over my head, long after the rest of the house had gone to sleep. Like many other nervous men of genius, he was a light sleeper, and he liked to be up and about early ; but it was only for a ramble among the books again. One summer morning I found him as early as four o’clock reading a favorite poem, Grainger’s “ Ode on Solitude,” a piece he very much admired. That morning I shall not soon forget, for he was in the vein for autobiographical talk, and he gave me a most interesting account of his father, the sea-captain, who died of the yellow-fever in Havana, and of his beautiful mother, who dwelt a secluded mourner ever after the death of her husband. Then he drew a picture of his college life, and of his one sole intimate, Franklin Pierce, whom he loved devotedly his life long.

In the early period of our acquaintance he much affected the old Exchange Coffee-House in Devonshire Street, and once I remember to have found him shut up there before a blazing coal-fire, in the “ tumultuous privacy ” of a great snow-storm, reading with apparent interest an obsolete copy of the “Old Farmer’s Almanac,” which he had picked up about the house. He also delighted in the Old Province House, at that time an inn, kept by one Thomas Waite, whom he has immortalized. After he was chosen a member of the Saturday Club he came frequently to dinner with Felton, Longfellow, Holmes, and the rest of his friends, who assembled once a month to dine together. At the table, on these occasions, he was rather reticent than conversational, but when he chose to talk it was observed that the best things said that day came from him.

As I turn over his letters, the old days, delightful to recall, come back again with added interest. “ I sha’n’t have the new story,” he says in one of them, dated from Lenox on the 1st of October, 1850, “ready by November, for I am never good for anything in the literary way till after the first autumnal frost, which has somewhat such an effect on my imagination that it does on the foliage here about me, − multiplying and brightening its hues; though they are likely to be sober and shabby enough after all.

“ I am beginning to puzzle myself about a title for the book. The scene of it is in one of those old projectingstoried houses, familiar to my eye in Salem ; and the story, horrible to say, is a little less than two hundred years long ; though all but thirty or forty pages of it refer to the present time. I think of such titles as ‘ The House of the Seven Gables,’ there being that number of gable-ends to the old shanty ; or 1 The Seven-Gabled House ’; or simply, ‘The Seven Gables.’ Tell me how these strike you. It appears to me that the latter is rather the best, and has the great advantage that it would puzzle the Devil to tell what it means.”

A month afterwards he writes further with regard to “ The House of the Seven Gables,” concerning the title to which he was still in a quandary: −

“ ‘ The Old Pyncheon House : A Romance ' ; 4 The Old Pyncheon Family ; or the House of the Seven Gables : A Romance’, − choose between them. I have rather a distaste to a double title ; otherwise, I think I should prefer the second. Is it any matter under which title it is announced? It a better should occur hereafter, we can substitute. Of these two, on the whole, I judge the first to be the better

“ I write diligently, but not so rapidly as I had hoped. I find the book requires more care and thought than 4 The Scarlet Letter ’ ; also, I have to wait oftener for a mood. 4 The Scarlet Letter’ being all in one tone, I had only to get my pitch, and could then go on interminably. Many passages of this book ought to be finished with the minuteness of a Dutch picture, in order to give them their proper effect. Sometimes, when tired of it, it strikes me that the whole is an absurdity, from beginning to end ; but the fact is, in writing a romance, a man is always, or always ought to be, careering on the utmost verge of a precipitous absurdity, and the skill lies in coming as close as possible, without actually tumbling over. My prevailing idea is, that the book ought to succeed better than ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ though I have no idea that it will.”

On the 9th of December he was still at work on the new romance and writes: “My desire and prayer is to get through with the business in hand. I have been in a Slough of Despond for some days past, having written so fiercely that I came to a stand-still. There are points where a writer gets bewildered and cannot form any judgment of what he has done, or tell what to do next. In these cases it is best to keep quiet.”

On the 12th of January, 1851, he is still busy over his new book, and writes: “ My ‘ House of the Seven Gables ’ is, so to speak, finished ; only I am hammering away a little on the roof, and doing up a few odd jobs, that were left incomplete.” At the end of the month the manuscript of his second great romance was put into the hands of the expressman at Lenox, by Hawthorne himself, to be delivered to me. On the 27th he writes: “ If you do not soon receive it, you may conclude that it has miscarried ; in which case, I shall not consent to the universe existing a moment longer. I have no copy of it, except the wildest scribble of a first draught, so that it could never be restored.

“It has met with extraordinary success from that portion of the public to whose judgment it has been submitted, viz. from my wife. I likewise prefer it to ‘The Scarlet Letter’; but an author’s opinion of his book just after completing it is worth little or nothing, he being then in the hot or cold fit of a fever, and certain to rate it too high or too low.

“It has undoubtedly one disadvantage in being brought so close to the present time ; whereby its romantic improbabilities become more glaring.

“ I deem it indispensable that the proof-sheets should be sent me for correction. It will cause some delay, no doubt, but probably not much more than if I lived in Salem. At all events, I don’t see how it can be helped. My autography is sometimes villanously blind ; and it is odd enough that whenever the printers do mistake a word, it is just the very jewel of a word, worth all the rest of the dictionary.”

I well remember with what anxiety I awaited the arrival of the expressman with the precious parcel, and with what keen delight I read every word of the new story before I slept. Here is the original manuscript, just as it came that day, twenty years ago, fresh from the author’s hand. The printers carefully preserved it for me ; and Hawthorne once made a formal presentation of it, with great mock solemnity, in this very room where we are now sitting.

After the book came out he wrote : “ I have by no means an inconvenient multitude of friends ; but if they ever do appear a little too numerous, it is when I am making a list of those to whom presentation copies are to be sent. Please send one to General Pierce, Horatio Bridge, R. W. Emerson, W. E. Channing, Longfellow, Hillard, Sumner, Holmes, Lowell, and Thompson the artist. You will yourself give one to Whipple, whereby I shall make a saving. I presume you won’t put the portrait into the book. It appears to me an improper accompaniment to a new work. Nevertheless, if it be ready, I should be glad to have each of these presentation copies accompanied by a copy of the engraving put loosely between the leaves. Good by. I must now trudge two miles to the village, through rain and mud knee-deep, after that accursed proofsheet. The book reads very well in proofs, but I don’t believe it will take like the former one. The preliminary chapter was what gave ‘ The Scarlet Letter’ its vogue.”

The engraving he refers to in this letter was made from a portrait by Mr. C. G. Thompson, and at that time, 1851, was an admirable likeness. On the 6th of March he writes : “ The package, with my five heads, arrived yesterday afternoon, and we are truly obliged to you for putting so many at our disposal. They are admirably done. The children recognized their venerable sire with great delight. My wife complains somewhat of a want of cheerfulness in the face ; and, to say the truth, it does appear to be afflicted with a bedevilled melancholy ; but it will do all the better for the author of ‘The Scarlet Letter.’ In the expression there is a singular resemblance (which I do not remember in Thompson’s picture) to a miniature of my father.”

His letters to me, during the summer of 1851, were frequent and sometimes quite long. “The House of the Seven Gables” was warmly welcomed both at home and abroad. On the 23d of May he writes : −

“ Whipple’s notices have done more than pleased me, for they have helped me to see my book. Much of the censure I recognize as just; I wish I could feel the praise to be so fully deserved. Being better (which I insist it is) than ‘ The Scarlet Letter,’ I have never expected it to be so popular (this steel pen makes me write awfully).-Esq., of Boston, has written to me, complaining that I have made his grandfather infamous ! It seems there was actually a Pyncheon (or Pynchon, as he spells it) family resident in Salem, and that their representative, at the period of the Revolution, was a certain Judge Pynchon, a Tory and a refugee. This was Mr. -’s grandfather, and (at least, so he dutifully describes him) the most exemplary old gentleman in the world. There are several touches in my account of the Pyncheons which, he says, make it probable that I had this actual family in my eye, and he considers himself infinitely wronged and aggrieved, and thinks it monstrous that the ‘virtuous dead’ cannot be suffered to rest quietly in their graves. He further complains that I speak disrespectfully of the -’s in Grandfather’s Chair. He writes more in sorrow than in anger, though there is quite enough of the latter quality to give piquancy to his epistle. The joke of the matter is, that I never heard of his grandfather, nor knew that any Pyncheons had ever lived in Salem, but took the name because it suited the tone of my book, and was as much my property, for fictitious purposes, as that of Smith. I have pacified him by a very polite and gentlemanly letter, and if ever you publish any more of the Seven Gables, I should like to write a brief preface, expressive of my anguish for this unintentional wrong, and making the best reparation possible ; else these wretched old Pyncheons will have no peace in the other world, nor in this Furthermore, there is a Rev. Mr. − − resident within four miles of me, and a cousin of Mr. -, who states that he likewise is highly indignant. Who would have dreamed of claimants starting up for such an inheritance as the House of the Seven Gables !

“ I mean to write, within six weeks or two months next ensuing, a book of stories made up of classical myths. The subjects are : The Story of Midas, with his Golden Touch, Pandora’s Box, The Adventure of Hercules in quest of the Golden Apples, Bellerophon and the Chimera, Baucis and Philemon, Perseus and Medusa; these, I think, will be enough to make up a volume. As a framework, I shall have a young college student telling these stories to his cousins and brothers and sisters, during his vacations, sometimes at the fireside, sometimes in the woods and dells. Unless I greatly mistake, these old fictions will work up admirably for the purpose ; and I shall aim at substituting a tone in some degree Gothic or romantic, or any such tone as may best please myself, instead of the classic coldness, which is as repellant as the touch of marble.

“ I give you these hints of my plan, because you will perhaps think it advisable to employ Billings to prepare some illustrations. There is a good scope in the above subjects for fanciful designs. Bellerophon and the Chimera, for instance : the Chimera a fantastic monster with three heads, and Bellerophon fighting him, mounted on Pegasus ; Pandora opening the box ; Hercules talking with Atlas, an enormous giant who holds the sky on his shoulders, or, sailing across the sea in an immense bowl ; Perseus transforming a king and all his subjects to stone, by exhibiting the Gorgon’s head. No particular accuracy in costume need be aimed at. My stories will bear out the artist in any liberties he may be inclined to take. Billings would do these things well enough, though his characteristics are grace and delicacy rather than wildness of fancy. The book, if it comes out of my mind as I see it now, ought to have pretty wide success amongst young people ; and, of course, I shall purge out all the old heathen wickedness, and put in a moral wherever practicable. For a title how would this do : ‘ A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys’; or, ‘The WonderBook of Old Stories ’ ? I prefer the former. Or, ‘ Myths Modernized for my Children ’ ; that won’t do.

“ I need a little change of scene, and meant to have come to Boston and elsewhere before writing this book ; but I cannot leave home at present.”

Throughout the summer Hawthorne was worried almost out of existence by people who insisted that they, or their families in the present or past generations, had been deeply wronged in “The House of the Seven Gables.” In a note, received from him on the 5th of June, he says : −

“ I have just received a letter from still another claimant of the Pyncheon estate. I wonder if ever, and how soon, I shall get a just estimate of how many jackasses there are in this ridiculous world. My correspondent, by the way, estimates the number of these Pyncheon jackasses at about twenty ; I am doubtless to be remonstrated with by each individual. After exchanging shots with all of them, I shall get you to publish the whole correspondence, in a style to match that of my other works, and I anticipate a great run for the volume.

“ P. S. My last correspondent demands that another name be substituted, instead of that of the family; to which I assent, in case the publishers can be prevailed on to cancel the stereotype plates. Of course you will consent ! Pray do ! ”

Praise now poured in upon him from all quarters. Hosts of critics, both in England and America, gallantly came forward to do him service, and his fame was assured. On the 15th of July he sends me a jubilant letter from Lenox, from which I will read to you several passages: −

“Mrs. Kemble writes very good accounts from London of the reception my two romances have met with there. She says they have made a greater sensation than any book since ‘Jane Eyre ’; but probably she is a little or a good deal too emphatic in her representation of the matter. At any rate, she advises that the sheets of any future book be sent to Moxon, and such an arrangement made that a copyright may be secured in England as well as here. Could this be done with the Wonder Book ? And do you think it would be worth while ? I must see the proof-sheets of this book. It is a cursed bore ; for I want to be done with it from this moment. Can’t you arrange it so that two or three or more sheets may be sent at once, on stated days, and so my journeys to the village be fewer ?

“ That review which you sent me is a remarkable production. There is praise enough to satisfy a greedier author than myself. I set it aside, as not being able to estimate how far it is deserved. I can better judge of the censure, much of which is undoubtedly just; and I shall profit by it if I can. But, after all, there would be no great use in attempting it. There are weeds enough in my mind, to be sure, and I might pluck them up by the handful ; but in so doing I should root up the few flowers along with them. It is also to be considered, that what one man calls weeds another classifies among the choicest flowers in the garden. But this reviewer is certainly a man of sense, and sometimes tickles me under the fifth rib. I beg you to observe, however, that I do not acknowledge his justice in cutting and slashing among the characters ot the two books, at the rate he does ; sparing nobody, I think, except Pearl and Phœbe. Yet I think he is right as to my tendency as respects individual character.

“ I am going to begin to enjoy the summer now, and to read foolish novels, if I can get any, and smoke cigars, and think of nothing at all; which is equivalent to thinking of all manner of things.”

The composition of the “ Tanglewood Tales ” gave him great pleasure, and all his letters, during the period he was writing them, overflow with evidences of his felicitous mood. He requests that Billings should pay especial attention to the drawings, and is very anxious that the porch of Tanglewood should be “ well supplied with shrubbery.” He seemed greatly pleased that Mary Russell Mitford had fallen in with his books and had written to me about them. “ Her sketches,” he said, “ long ago as I read them, are as sweet in my memory as the scent of new hay.” On the 18th of August he writes: −

“ You are going to publish another thousand of the Seven Gables. I promised those Pyncheons a preface. What if you insert the following ?

“(The author is pained to learn that, in selecting a name for the fictitious inhabitants of a castle in the air, he has wounded the feelings of more than one respectable descendant of an old Pyncheon family. He begs leave to say that he intended no reference to any individual of the name, now or heretofore extant ; and further, that, at the time of writing his book, he was wholly unaware of the existence of such a family in New England for two hundred years back, and that whatever he may have since learned of them is altogether to their credit.)

“ Insert it or not, as you like. I have done with the matter.”

I advised him to let the Pyncheons rest as they were, and omit any addition, either as note or preface, to the romance.

Near the close of 1851 his health seemed unsettled, and he asked me to look over certain proofs “carefully,” for he did not feel well enough to manage them himself. In one of his notes, written from Lenox at that time, he says : −

“ Please God, I mean to look you in the face towards the end of next week; at all events, within ten days. I have stayed here too long and too constantly. To tell you a secret, I am sick to death of Berkshire, and hate to think of spending another winter here. But I must. The air and climate do not agree with my health at all ; and, for the first time since I was a boy, I have felt languid and dispirited during almost my whole residence here. O that Providence would build me the merest little shanty, and mark me out a rood or two of garden-ground, near the sea-coast. I thank you for the two volumes of De Quincey. If it were not for your kindness in supplying me with books now and then, I should quite forget how to read.”

Hawthorne was a great devourer of books, and in certain moods of mind it made very little difference to him what the volume before him happened to be. An old play or an old newspaper sometimes gave him wondrous great content, and he would ponder the sleepy, uninteresting sentences as if they contained immortal mental aliment. He once told me he found such delight in old advertisements in the newspaper files at the Boston Athenæum, that he had passed delicious hours among them. At other times he was very fastidious, and threw aside book after book until he found the right one. De Quincey was a special favorite with him, and the Sermons of Laurence Sterne he once commended to me as the best sermons ever written. In his library was an old copy of Sir Philip Sidney’s “Arcadia,” which had floated down to him from a remote ancestry, and which he had read so industriously for forty years that it was nearly worn out of its thick leathern cover. Hearing him say once that the old English State Trials were enchanting reading, and knowing that he did not possess a copy of those heavy old folios, I picked up a set at a book-stall and sent them to him. He often told me that he spent more hours over them and got more delectation out of them than tongue could tell, and he said, if five lives were vouchsafed to him, he could employ them all in writing stories out of those books. He had sketched, in his mind, several romances founded on the remarkable trials reported in the old volumes; and one day, I remember, he made my blood tingle by relating some of the situations he intended, if his life was spared, to weave into future romances. Sir Walter Scott’s novels he continued almost to worship, and was accustomed to read them aloud in his family. The novels of G. P. R. James, both the early and the later ones, he insisted were admirable stories, admirably told, and he had high praise to bestow on the novels of Anthony Trollope. “ Have you ever read these novels ? ” he wrote to me in a letter from England, some time before Trollope began to be much known in America. “ They precisely suit my taste; solid and substantial, written on the strength of beef and through the inspiration of ale, and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business and not suspecting that they were made a show of. And these books are as English as a beefsteak. Have they ever been tried in America? It needs an English residence to make them thoroughly comprehensible ; but still I should think that the human nature in them would give them success anywhere.”

But I fear I am tiring you with this long talk about the man I knew and loved so well. You ask me if all his moods were sombre, and if he was never jolly sometimes like other people. Indeed he was; and although the humorous side of Hawthorne was not easily or often discoverable, yet have I seen him marvellously moved to fun, and no man laughed more heartily in his way over a good story. Wise and witty H-, in whom wisdom and wit are so ingrained that age only increases his subtile spirit, and only enhances the power of his cheerful temperament, always had the talismanic faculty of breaking up that thoughtfully sad face into mirthful waves ; and I remember how Hawthorne writhed with hilarious delight over Professor L-’s account of a butcher who remarked that, “ I dees had got afloat in the public mind with respect to sassingers.” I once told him of a young woman who brought in a manuscript, and said, as she placed it in my hands, “ I don’t know what to do with myself sometimes, I’m so filled with mammoth thoughts.” A series of convulsive efforts to suppress explosive laughter followed, which I remember to this day.

He had an inexhaustible store of amusing anecdotes to relate of people and things he had observed on the road. One day he described to us, in his inimitable and quietly ludicrous manner, being watched, while on a visit to a distant city, by a friend who called, and thought he needed a protector, his health being at that time not so good as usual. “ He stuck by me,” said Hawthorne, “as if he were afraid to leave me alone ; he stayed past the dinner-hour, and when I began to wonder if he never took meals himself, he departed and set another man to watch me till he should return. That man watched me so, in his unwearying kindness, that when I left the house I forgot half my luggage, and left behind, among other things, a beautiful pair of slippers. They watched me so, among them, I swear to you I forgot nearly everything I owned.”

I see you are still interested, my dear boy, in this remarkable author ; and, if you desire it, I will continue my reminiscences of him when we meet again. I could go on in this desultory conversational way a long time if I were as sure of my audience as I am of the genius of my subject. So you must decide if we shall continue our Hawthorne talk next month, or if you are to move your uncle’s chair opposite some other portrait, of which there are many more in the room.