IN reviewing a work like “ Septimius Felton,” 1 the latest of Hawthorne’s more important productions which reached a tangible completeness before the author’s death, it is necessary to assume a somewhat different attitude of mind from that into which criticism must usually throw itself. A final revision of the story would have undoubtedly fitted the different parts more perfectly to the scale of the whole, as well as pruned its pages ot portions mainly experimental, — sentences, sometimes paragraphs, in which the writer seeks his thought through several modes of expression, as the sculptor approaches his outline by successive blows of the chisel, which in the result become invisible. Allowance for this will, of course, be made by readers who appreciate the peculiar value of the work, since they will recognize that it is to this very brokenness of surface we owe an insight into the author’s literary processes. But there is another consideration of far greater importance in its effect upon our estimate of “ Septimius,” though one that, from its nature, will not occur to many without some explanation. This is the consideration of the place occupied by this work in the mind of its author. There is no evidence at hand that Hawthorne intended to publish the story as it existed in the manuscript to which we owe the present volume. On the contrary, I think we shall find that he had decisively abandoned this form of the story, and had sought for his idea a new embodiment in the “ Dolliver Romance.” The nature of the connection, therefore, between these two fragments —the one wrought out to a definite conclusion, but not retouched, the other finished with a fine point so far as it went — becomes a topic which it seems desirable to discuss ; since to determine the relation of the present story in the author’s regard, and the extent of its maturity, measured by the history of the underlying idea, is very necessary to the attainment of truthful perceptions respecting it. Our attention, then, will be first required in an endeavor briefly to trace the origin and gradual development of the integral idea which these fragments partially and in different ways interpret.
Certain passages in the “English Note-Books” indicate that Hawthorne was in 1855, to a certainty, revolving the scheme of a new romance. Though the plan of this, so far as it had been definitely laid out, seems to have been radically different from that of “Septimius,” several points of resemblance also present themselves. The first of these passages, dated April 12, 1855, and thrown in abruptly at the close of a day’s narrative, refers to a project which would seem already to have become familiar to the writer’s contemplation, though no previous mention of it occurs. “ In my Romance,” it runs, “ the original emigrant to America may have carried away with him a family secret, by which it was in his power, had he so chosen, to have brought about the ruin of the family. This secret he transmitted to his American progeny, by whom it is inherited throughout all the intermediate generations. At last the hero of my Romance comes to England, and finds that, by means of this secret, he still has it in his power to procure the downfall of the family.” The resemblance between this item of the proposed plot and that line of incident in “Septimius” which brings in the antique chest containing family papers, the estate in England waiting for an heir, and the subsequent rumored departure of Septimius, to claim this estate, is at once evident. But in the later story all this forms a source of very subordinate interest, and the motives connected with the inheritance of the ancient property merely measure out the limits by which the action of the figures is somewhat controlled. It was on April 7, 1855, that Hawthorne set down apparently the first account which had reached him of the Smithell’s Hall legend. This was only five days before he made the above-cited note for a main incident in his romance ; and it is probable enough that he had already connected the two items in his mind, since, later, we find them inseparably woven together. In August of the same year he visited the Hall, and wrote a more detailed account of the strange phenomenon on its threshold, and the superstition to which it gave color. “ The legend is a good one,” he says. The parting request of the hostess was that he “should write a ghost-story for her house ” ; but the bloody footstep had already stamped itself strongly enough upon Hawthorne’s mind to give the embryo romance its birthmark. The only other allusion in the Note-Books is a paragraph under date of August 21, 1856, referring to the story of a stone cross buried in Cromwell’s time, to prevent its destruction, but which was dug up two hundred years afterward by the vicar of the parish, from the church of which it had been taken. Hawthorne suggests to himself that “an American might bring the tradition over the sea, and so discover the cross, which had been altogether forgotten.” This seems to indicate that the direction which his story should take had again become uncertain, though this incident is simply a varied form of the transatlantic interest which it seems from an early period to have been his intention to introduce. That he subsequently threw it entirely aside appears from the next documentary evidence which comes to us.
This consists of a manuscript book written m 1858, in journal form, and containing what must have been the earliest sketch of the story, as he then conceived it. It begins abruptly at some point comparatively early in the progress of the tale, and proceeds uncertainly, at the rate of a few pages each day, for about a month. Detached passages of narration alternate with abstracts of the proposed plot, and analysis of the characters. The chief interest seems to lie in the project which a young American has formed, during a visit to England, of tracing out and proving his inherited right to an old manor-house formerly the property of his ancestors. This old hall possesses that feature of the bloody footstep which “Septimius Felton” has made so real to us, and with this some mystery is connected, which the writer himself does not yet seem to have discovered. He takes a characteristic pleasure in waiting for this suggestive footstep to track the lurking interest of his story to its lair, and lingers on the threshold of the hall, gazing upon it, indulging himself with that tantalizing pleasure of vague anticipation which he intends his story shall bestow upon the reader. The perusal of this singular journal, in which the transactions recorded are but day-dreams, is absorbing beyond description. But though at times we seem to be rapidly approaching the heart of the story, yet at every point the subtle darkness and coming terror of the theme seem to baffle the author, and he retires, to await a more favorable moment. At its conclusion, though he appears now to have formed a clear picture enough of what his persons are to do, there is still wanting the underlying thought, which he at moments dimly feels but cannot bring to light, and without which he is unable to fuse the materials into a liquid state ready for the mould.
Our only information as to the course of the story between April, 1858, and the time of writing “ Septimius,” must be gathered from a sketch found among the author’s papers, the date of which it is not possible to determine with precision, though both its matter and form indicate that it must have been written subsequently to the journal above mentioned. Herein are found curiously mingled certain features of both “ Septimius ” and the “ Dolliver Romance.” So far as is consistent with the essential privacy of the manuscript, I shall give a general outline of its contents, in order to exhibit in proper sequence the successive stages by which the primary conception advanced to its ultimate phase. It consists of two sections, in the second of which the story is taken up after a lapse, apparently of some years. In the first of these chapters, for they hardly exceed the limit of such, the most prominent figure is that of a singular, morose old man, who inhabits a house overlooking a New England graveyard. But though his situation resembles in this particular that of Grandsir Dolliver, his characteristics resemble more those of Doctor Portsoaken. He is constantly accompanied, too, by brandy-and-water, and a cloudcompelling pipe ; and his study, like the doctor’s chamber in “ Septimius,” is tapestried with spider-webs, a particularly virulent spider which dangles over his head, as he sits at his writingdesk, being made to assume the aspect of a devilish familiar. On the other hand, his is a far richer nature than that of Portsoaken, and less debased. Hawthorne appears subsequently to have divided him, straining off from the rank sediments which settle into the character of Doctor Portsoaken the clear sweetness of good Grandsir Dolliver. This “ grim doctor,” as he is almost invariably styled in the manuscript, seems to have originated in Hawthorne’s observation of a Mr. Kirkup, painter, spiritualist, and antiquarian of Florence,2 who also probably stood as a model for Grandsir Dolliver. Not that either of these personages is copied from Mr. Kirkup ; but the personality and surroundings of this quaint old gentleman had some sort of affinity with the author’s idea, which led him to maintain a certain likeness between him and his own fictitious persons. Certain scenes or people which to others offer no especial attraction, an author will recognize as having some mysterious alliance with his own dreamy purposes, and he forthwith seizes upon them as a sort of pretext with himself, under cover of which he may shape forth his own proper creation. As in the case of the Florentine antiquary, a little girl dwells in the house of the doctor, her chief plaything being, like that of Mr. Kirkup’s adopted daughter, a very beautiful Persian kitten. There is much about her like Pansie, of the “ Dolliver ” fragment, but she is still only dimly brought out. The boy is described as of superior nature, but strangely addicted to revery. Though his traits are but slightly indicated, he suggests in general the character of Septimius, and may very easily have grown into him, at a later period. At first he is much neglected by the doctor, but afterwards, by resolute and manly behavior in questioning his mysterious guardian as to his own origin, and the connection subsisting between them, he secures greater consideration. The doctor gradually hints to him the fact of his descent from an old English family, and frequent mention is made of the old, ancestral hall, the threshold of which is stained by the imprint of a bloody footstep marking the scene of some dark tragedy which in the superstitious haze thrown over it by time assumes various and uncertain forms. At different times two strangers are introduced, who appear to have some strange knowledge of, and connection with the ghastly footstep ; and finally a headstone is discovered in the neighboring cemetery, marking the spot where an old man had been buried many years since, and engraved with the likeness of a foot. The grave has been recently opened to admit a new occupant, and the children, in playing about it, discover a little silver key, which the doctor, so soon as it is shown him, pockets, with the declaration that it is of no value. After this, the boy’s education is taken in hand by his being sent to school; but presently the doctor sickens of life, and characteristically resolving to abandon brandy-drinking, and die, does so accordingly. Mention has been previously made of certain papers which he had kept in a secret place, and these the youth now secures. The second part describes his advent into England. He soon makes his way to the old hall, but just as his connection with it and its inmates begins, the manuscript terminates.
I have thought it worth while to dwell on these matters in detail, merely that the reader should observe how many of the same items which at this early period were destined to lead to quite a different end were afterwards welded into the substance of the present romance. Up to 1858, it appears from the journalized sketch, the writer had not struck the key-note of his story.
It is of course impossible to determine when he first combined with the materials already in his mind that “ idea of a deathless man ” which, as we learn from a letter published in Mr. J. T. Fields’s chapter on the writer, in his “ Yesterdays with Authors,” he had received from Thoreau, through a tradition related by him concerning Hawthorne’s residence of the Wayside. But, this junction of ideas once formed, everything became naturally accessory to the weird interest involved in the search for immortality. This cast at once a new light over all the field, and the surroundings took on unexpected aspects. The inheritance became an inferior motive-power, on which, however, the romantic action depends ; the family papers and the silver key came well to hand, for the elucidation of the plot ; the bloody footstep gained a new and deep significance ; and a “ purple everlasting flower,” presented in 1854 to Mrs. Hawthorne by the gardener of Eaton Hall, blossomed out, with supernatural splendor, as a central point in the design.
But, symmetrical as this disposition appears, it was destined to give place to another. The proof that “ Septimius Felton ” had been abandoned consists in the following facts. In the prefatory note, addressed to Franklin Pierce, which Hawthorne published with “ Our Old Home,” in 1863, occurs this explanatory statement : “ These and other sketches with which, in a somewhat rougher form than I have given them here, my journals were copiously filled, were intended for the side-scenes and backgrounds and exterior adornments of a work of fiction, of which the plan had imperfectly developed itself in my mind, and into which I ambitiously proposed to convey more of various modes of truth than I could have grasped by a direct effort. Of course I should not mention this abortive project, only that it has been utterly thrown aside and will never now be accomplished.” Now, this note having been written in July, and Hawthorne having begun, in November of the same year, to arrange for the publication of the “ Dolliver Romance,” the first chapter of which was to have appeared in the following January, had not his illness prevented, it is hardly possible that " Septimius ” should not have already been completed. The “abortive project,” therefore, would seem to have been the same dark tale which has now fortunately come to light ; and we must conclude that its author regarded it as a still experimental form of the original English Romance, now growing to a very different expression, since the introduction of the immortality interest. But in the first page of the isolated opening scene from the “ Dolliver Romance,” published in the “ Atlantic Monthly ” for July, 1864, occurs the mention of a certain potent cordial, from which the good doctor had received great invigoration, and which we may well suppose was destined to tincture the whole story. Another point from which we may perhaps trace a connection with “Septimius Felton,” if indeed other indication be necessary than the strong inferences suggested by our brief review of the growth of the romance, is to be found in the passing mention of Grandsir Dolliver’s grandson Cornelius, by whom this cordial had been compounded, and who had displayed a great efficiency with powerful drugs, Recalling that the author describes many nostrums as having been attributed to Septimius, which he had perhaps chanced upon in his unsuccessful attempts to distil the elixir of life, we shall perhaps find in this posthumous character of Cornelius, this mere memory, the remains of Septimius, who, as it would seem, was to have been buried by the author under the splendid monument of a still more highly wrought and more aspiring form of the romance. If such be truly the case, it is no wonder that the author’s creations should appear as real beings. If he could create a whole ancestry, as it were, for each person in preliminary attempts after this manner, surely the veins of each should throb with actual inherited blood.
From these circumstances I infer that Hawthorne had returned to the execution of his long-cherished design. I have little doubt that the “ Dolliver Romance ” would have been as much a romance of immortality as “ Septimius Felton,” the motive in the former being somewhat differently accented, however, by the fact that it is an aged man, instead of a youth, who sets out to discover the elixir of life, or, rather, who is to profit by it. But whatever modification the design might have undergone, we possess in “ Septimius ” enough to justify the conclusion that the “ Dolliver Romance ” would have taken its place among the most robust and beautiful offspring of the author’s genius. He wrote with a fountain-pen as it were, in which was locked the fluid thought of a lifetime ; and during the nine years which elapsed between the first note for his romance and the completion of its initial chapter, this had deepened and sweetened still in hue and quality until it became indeed most fit to be poured out as a chrism upon the crowned work, in token of its consecration to the loftiest ends.
But let us for a moment examine the worth and beauty of this foundationstory, upon which the finished structure was to have been based. Coming from such sources, forming itself thus slowly, and made rich with the nutritive assimilations of many years, “Septimius” is rife with profound undertones of a suggested meaning, — Such undertones as must accompany all art which intertwists the heart-strings of the artist with its fibre. Evident among these is the typification in the hero’s case of that struggle which must always ensue between a man possessed by inspiring ambition and the stubborn circumstances of the human state. The poet and the painter are equally with Septimius seekers after immortality, though of a more ethereal kind. Their difficulties become his, in great measure ; he finds " the whole of passing life impertinent ” to his magnificent and solitary enterprise. And when he seeks to bury himself in the occult pursuit he has begun, “ here was the troublesome day passing over him, and pestering and bewildering, and tripping him up, as the days will all of us, the moment we try to do anything that we flatter ourselves is of a little more importance than (what) others are doing.” And again, when he returns from Boston, where he had felt himself strangely adrift in the city’s multitudinous life, “the mist rose up about him, the pale mist-bow of ghostly promise curved before him ; and he trod back again, poor boy, out of the clime of real effort, into the land of his dreams and shadowy enterprise.’ Moreover, the very unhealthiness and contortion of his aspirations make him peculiarly apt to the author’s purpose, for it gives him a strong personal aspect of his own, which unseals the springs of tenderness and pity on his behalf, at the same time serving to intimate a subtle error into which artists and idealists may easily fall. The artist, namely, must preserve for himself a little circle of serene air, somewhere amid the troublesome noises of earth ; but if he cannot somehow wrap himsell about with his peculiar atmosphere, in whatever surroundings, — if, while he clings to his high purpose, he cannot succeed in living generously towards his fellows, making the common light of day answer for the nimbus which perhaps he hopes posterity will see shining about his head, — if he fails in these things, his truest nobility as a man is apt to lose itself in this same treacherous pit in which Septimius’s soul lies smothered. But these deep hints run through the tale in a dark undercurrent, like a shadowy forest-brook, throwing up light through momentary, curving breaks of surface ; and it is as impossible to reproduce their fleeting lights here as it would be to preserve the moving brilliance of the stream by drawing a little of it into a pocket-flask. Indeed, the quality of the disclosures reminds one of that attributed to Septimius’s manuscript, now blurred over by a deceptive sameness of appearance, and again raying forth luminous glimpses into the heart of things. The visions they excite swim before us, mystic and beautitul as those that glimmer on the golden brim of Tieck’s enchanted goblet. But at least one ultimate moral we may seize, one which gives the work its unity, and in which all minor suggestions are included. This is the same which finds in the Faust legend and similar mediæval traditions a ruder embodiment, namely, that, in order to defraud Nature of her dues, we must enter into compact with the Devil. Both Faust and Septimius enter into the study of the black art, with the hope of securing results denied to their kind by a common destiny ; but Faust proves infinitely the meaner of the two, since he desires only to restore his youth, that he may engage in the mere mad joy of a lusty existence for a few years, while Septimius seeks some mode, however austere and cheerless, of prolonging his life to centuries of world-wide beneficence. Yet the satanically refined egoism which lays hold of Septimius is the same spirit incarnated in Goethe’s Mephistopheles, — der Geist der stets verneint. To Faust he denies the existence of good in anything, primarily the good of that universal knowledge to the acquisition of which he has devoted his life, but through this scepticism mining his faith in all besides. To Septimius he denies the worth of so brief a life as ours, and the good of living to whatever end seems for the hour most needful and noble. Septimius might perhaps be not inadequately described as Faust at an earlier stage of development than that in which Goethe represents him. Indeed, these words, applied by Mephistopheles to Faust, suit Septimius equally well: —
Der ungebändigt immer vorwärts dringt
Und dessen übereiltes Streben
Der Erde Freuden überspringt.”3
As a further point of resemblance between the two cases, it may be noticed that the false dreams of both are dispelled by the exorcising touch of a woman. Both have fallen into error through perceiving only half of the truth which has hovered and glimmered before them ; and that their errors should be thus corrected seems to intimate their origin in the exclusively masculine mood, the asceticism, which has prevailed in the minds of these two dark characters. It will be observed that, in the first relation of Rose to Septimius, Hawthorne takes pains to contrast with this mood, delicately but strongly, the gentle conservatism and wisely practical tendency of the woman to be satisfied with life, which make her influence so admirable a poising force to man. The subsequent alteration of the situation, by which he makes her the half-sister of his hero, must be attributed to the fact that he had proportioned the elements too strongly, at first, to permit of the story bringing away from their ferment a proper clearness and lucidity ; and that the change sprang naturally from the necessities of the advancing plot, seems proved by the ease with which the new relation falls into our consciousness. But though the womanliness which is to frustrate Septimius’s scheme must be materially subdued from the warmth with which it is depicted in Rose Garfield, yet it is a most feminine woman who accomplishes this result. A phase of character rich in interest, but which I can only mention in passing, is presented in the person of Sybil Dacy, who here occupies very much the same place, in some regards, as Roger Chillingworth in “The Scarlet Letter.” The movement of the story is made largely to depend on a subtle scheme of revenge undertaken by her, as that of “The Scarlet Letter ” hangs upon the mode of retribution sought by the physician ; but her malice is directed, characteristically, against the slayer of the young officer who had despoiled her of her honor, and, again characteristically, she is unable to consummate her plan, from the very tenderness of her feminine heart, which leads her first to half sympathize with his dreams, then pity him for the deceit she practised on him, and at last rather love than hate him. But there is a consistent difference between the working of the womanly element in Faust and in Hawthorne’s romance. In the former instance it is through the gratification of his infernal desire that the hero is awakened from his trance of error and restored to remorse ; while Septimius’s failure to accomplish his intended destiny appears to be owing to the inability of his aspiring nature to accommodate itself to that code of “ moral dietetics ” which is to assist his strange project. “ Kiss no woman if her lips be red ; look not upon her if she be very fair,” is the maxim taught him. “ If thou love her, all is over, and thy whole past and remaining labor and pains will be in vain.” How pathetic a situation this, how much more terrible than that of Faust, when he has reached the turning-point in his career ! A nature which could accept an earthly immortality on these terms, for the sake of his fellows, must indeed have been a lofty one. But there is still too much of the heart in this lofty nature to admit of its being satisfied with so cruel an abstraction. On the verge of success, as he supposes, with the long-sought drink standing ready for his lips, he nevertheless seeks a companion. Half unawares, he has fallen in love with Sybil, and thenceforth, though in a way he had not anticipated, “all is over.” Yet, saved from death by the poison in which he had hoped to find the spring of endless life, his fate appears admirably fitting. There is no picture of Mephisto hurrying him off to an apparently irrevocable doom. The wrongs he has committed against himself, his friends, humanity, — these, indeed, remain, and are remembered. He has undoubtedly fallen from his first purity and earnestness, and must hereafter be content to live a life of mere conventional comfort, full of mere conventional goodness, conventional charities, in that substantial English home of his. Could anything be more perfectly compensatory ? Yet to this fate we may perhaps leave him without too deep a sigh.
What would have been the outcome of the “ Dolliver Romance,” where the incitement to an attempt at indefinite prolongations of existence was destined, conjecturally, to come from little Pansie, thus reversing the action of the feminine element, we shall, of course, never know. But the situation was thoroughly unique ; and the fragment which the author left us offers us a prelude full of most silvery and resonant promise for what was to follow.
With subdominant interests of such insinuating power, it might be supposed that the author could not easily succeed in attracting us to the story of “Septimius,” for itself. Yet precisely in the success with which he achieves this most difficult of all points does the complete balance of his powers become visible. The scene of the romance is laid in Concord, at the time of the Revolution, the period involved being that included between the outbreak of war and the battle of Monmouth, — a space of a little more than three years. But the great national interests involved in this epoch take no important place in our regard. Hawthorne can afford, apparently, to sink into the background this rich pigment, on which another artist might have felt it becoming to throw the strongest lights ; and with him it forms a field of lurid storm and gloom, against which the figures of his solemn tale stand out in impressive relief. With only one slight exception, the plot is worked out within the neighborhood of three houses, standing side by side along the Lexington turnpike, and sheltered by a line of low hills, one of the summits of which becomes the stage for most of the more important actions. This is the more easily effected, since the whole series of occurrences derive their interest from the construction put upon them by the hero, rather than from their intrinsic importance. For Septimius’s character is nothing more nor less than a mood which occurs to many, but is transient with most, developed into a real person. This mood is his permanent constitution ; and it is thus that a natural and sufficiently ordinary and probable set of incidents becomes imbued with an aspect suiting his disposition. So that throughout the book we enter into the brain of this halfcrazy youth, and dwell there, taking these incidents just as he has colored them, until, despite the impossibility of the thing, and unheeding those turnings of the fabric by which the author occasionally hints a reverse side, showing the rude stitches which back his tapestry, we come to think and feel with the hero, and look forward with trembling eagerness to the anticipated consummation of his desire. In the execution of this story Hawthorne would appear to have realized the conditions he himself prescribes for the romancer, namely, that he should be always “careering upon the utmost verge of a precipitous absurdity,” the skill lying in “ coming as close as possible without tumbling over.” At the last, however, he lets in the daylight with a ruthless hand ; and the acute sense of disappointment we feel in the event is perhaps the best proof of the success with which he has thrown us into Septimius’s point of view. I need not recall those who have looked over the legend of Smithell’s Hall as given in the Note-Books to a contemplation of the transforming power with which he has handled this item in the romance. But a point of equal interest in regard to it is the skill with which it is made to reflect in a wholly different scale of color the same idea which informs Aunt Keziah’s legend. Had either of these minor tales — the one grotesque, sadly humorous, flavored with gentle satire ; the other wild, moving, and terrible — been wrought out into a separate strain, it could have been made to echo, by itself, both widely and well. But, poised as they are in harmonious contrast, they form an illustration not otherwise obtainable of that versatility of vision by which the master could conceive with equal power two wholly different renderings of a single theme ; while their implication with the superior movement of the same theme in the hero’s mind gives to the whole the tumultuous richness of a fugue in music.
The characterization in this work I cannot pass, without remarking upon its connection with the author’s style. In the development of the persons there is perceptible an adherence to the rough exteriors of real life, a reproduction of idiomatic and defective ways of speaking, as in Aunt Keziah, old Mrs. Hagburn, and Dr. Portsoaken, which gives them a verisimilitude, a color and rotundity, lacking in the characters introduced to our acquaintance by the earlier efforts of the author, noticeably his short tales. This would seem to be a direct consequence of that gradual mellowing, that thawing out of a nature oppressed with outward shyness, but full of tender juices at the core, which shows itself early in the “ Custom-House,” and the introductory chapter prefixed to the “ Mosses,” later in the chapters made up of his English experience; and which would seem to have overspread his last years with the genial warmth of a rich maturity. After granting something to the untrimmed condition in which the work finds its way to us, I think there is still reason for believing that Hawthorne meant to leave about these figures more tangible vestiges of every-day wear than it had been usual with him to do ; and there is enough in what is here given us to show how perfect might have been the union between his smooth refinements of style and a treatment of character heartily real in tone. Through the individuals thus brought before us, he has let fall the central radiance of his thought, until each has become a living and illuminated symbol of some one of its various phases. Observe how the life-giving mixture changes its nature in the hands of different persons. The witch-like aunt fancies she has found it in her nauseous and turbid mixture of herbs and “good West Injy.”Doctor Portsoaken has merged all the aspirations of his youth in alcoholic liquor, and finds his water of life corked up in a brandy-bottle. On the other hand, Septimius appears to have refined himself away from such gross errors, and is likely to discover an elixir as pure as the current of his humanitarian aims. But the icy egoism which has stolen into heart and brain in the prosecution of his plans finds its material representative in the poisonous fungus which, resembling the flower whose bloody sap could impart life, would nevertheless have carried death into his veins, had he taken but a sip of the distillations from it.
I had designed only to give the reader a floating image of the idea the gradual expansion of which had cast its filmy beauty over Hawthorne’s declining years ; but the rays I have drawn together form but a thin, a tremulous and insufficient air-picture. Such, in the massive manifestation of the ripening plan which “ Septimius” offers, is the accord of parts with the whole, such the relation of incident to idea, of word to thought, and thought to thought again, that it is impossible to do reverence to its mystic unity by mere detached observations.
There is one consideration which disposes me to stifle any regret for the loss of the fairy structure which was to have rested on this so costly and substantial basement, and this is the observation of a certain gentle mood of confidences in the author, while preparing these pages, from which he might have been tempted to withdraw, in completing a new version. One fancies that he has drawn the reader’s imagination into the hospitality of his own village and hill-top, in the hope of establishing a more direct and personal relation with him than he could effect, unaided by some such contrivance. Accepting the shy invitation, thus delicately offered, to share his privacy, we find ourselves fancying, in the progress of this sombre-sweet story, that an unusual and welcome temper of trustfulness is bringing us closer together. We are constantly tempted to look through the dark presence of Septimius, where he paces his hill-top, “ brooding, brooding,” with that deepening “ chasm in his brow,” to where we feel that the grave-smiling poet is standing, behind him. For we seem to behold Hawthorne looking down from the spiritual eminence of his last, lingering days upon the world, its neighbors and loved ones, — so close below him, so strangely removed, — and through the turbid medium of this imaginary enthusiast’s reveries subtly infusing the essence of his concluding thoughts on art and existence. So genial and tender at times does this indirect revelation of himself become, that I feel persuaded he must intuitively have shaped his utterance to fit what proved to be his final opportunity for communion with men, before he should himself taste that elixir which could at once absolve and transfer him from all human imperfection to a lasting youthfulness, yet not deprive him of the immortality he won on earth.
G. P. Lathrop.
- Septimius Felton ; or, The Elixir of Life. By NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE. Boston : James R. Osgood & Co. 1872.↩
- French and Italian Note-Books, Vol. II. pp. in117 (Am. ed.).↩
- To him has destiny a spirit given
That unrestrainedly still onward sweeps,
To scale the skies long since hath striven
And all earth’s pleasures overleaps.↩