The Hawthorne Manuscripts

AMONG the peculiarities of the world’s way of looking at authors is this : that it desires to fix upon each writer of distinction a definite, unalterable character, and does not much like to have the conception it has thus arrived at disturbed. It is willing at first to let the author impress upon it his predominant qualities, and from these an estimate is formed ; but when once that process has been gone through with, any modification of it is thought to be troublesome. It is so easy to settle things by tag and docket; to file an author away in some pigeon-hole of the mind, where you can always be sure of finding his case settled, and by mere reference to a name can without mental exertion remind yourself of what he is or was in all particulars, — or at least of what, according to your notion, he ought to have been, — that the mass of readers and reviewers prefer this mode of classifying, even at the cost of distortion, or of limiting their own approach to truth. A new view, a slight revising of opinion, which would aid in building, up a more veracious idea of the man or his work, is an annoyance: it disarranges the pigeon-hole system. Hence it is that the novelist imperils his popularity when he writes verse, that the humorist is not permitted to be tragic, and the writer whom the public has come to consider as possessing strength in sombre effects meets with opposition if he tries humor. Have we not all seen an audience at the theatre, which, finding comic personages and situations in the play, makes up its mind that laughter is the business of the evening ; so that when the drama suddenly unfolds a serious element in some episode of extreme pathos — some point of inmost sorrow, the silent wrecking of a heart, the quivering of an emotion beyond endurance, going on under the ordinary guises of character or condition that throw over them only the dark absurdity of all suffering — this same audience, instead of trembling with sympathy, bursts into a guffaw ? Having made so sure of the thing beforehand, it sees and feels only the grotesque surface, and will not be shocked by the bracing terror of the truth within.

In a more prosaic way, this same tendency to conventionalize, to agree that an author, having once been “ posed,” must never be seen in any other attitude by his admirers than the one appointed for him, leads to some protest and much rather needless disappointment when biographies, autobiographies, and letters begin to appear after his death, and when his immature or fragmentary writings are revived from obscurity, or posthumously published. The thoughtless cry is raised that such a proceeding does the author wrong ; or the remark is made that the rescued matter was not worth preserving. If a book is not worth preserving, it will soon drop out of sight, and no one can be forced to read it. On the other hand, it is not easy to see why the printing of unfinished work is an injustice to an author who has won for himself a historic importance, so long as his completed works are available for ascertaining what he could accomplish at his best. It is an old instance, but one always pertinent to questions of this kind, that, had Virgil’s last injunction been obeyed, to burn the manuscript of the Æneid, we should have lost the great epic of Latin literature. Doubtless, if a good, enterprising modern reviewer had flourished in Rome at that time, he would roundly have condemned Varies and Plotius Tucca, who violated the poet’s trust, and even the Emperor Augustus, who instigated them. The responsibility for disposing of the manuscripts of a famous author does not, however, rest upon the light-hearted reviewer; and that important member of society does not greatly trouble himself to conceive how difficult is the position of persons on whom such responsibility actually reposes. It might, therefore, be a good thing if, instead of repeating the stock phrases about indiscretion and injustice, which have done duty ever since the emergency first arose, he would inquire what real instruction may be got from publications of the sort referred to.

I have been asked to do something in that direction, respecting the Hawthorne manuscripts recently made public ; and so I return to a subject which I confess has for me an enduring fascination. When Fanshawe was reprinted and placed among Hawthorne’s works, the motive was one of self-protection ; and the act, undertaken in face of great reluctance on the part of those most nearly concerned, caused them much pain. Yet the result appears to be, on the whole, good. Fanshawe has very little intrinsic value as a piece of literature : if it were now to come out as the production of a new author, it would probably fall as flat as it did on its first appearance in 1828, and we might well be pardoned for not discerning in it any special promise. Yet when, on being resuscitated, it has to be regarded as the jejune performance of a man who afterwards attained to great eminence, the case is certainly quite different ; the very meagreness and dullness of the story then become interesting, because of the inquiry which naturally arises, how the romancer whose power was afterwards so commanding grew up from a beginning so feeble. If we were not in possession of this early attempt, we naturally should have a less vivid sense of that industry and that capacity for expanding into fuller strength to which we owe his enduring achievements. Similarly, the disclosure of the various manuscripts remaining at his death — first, his private NoteBooks, and then the unfinished pieces of fiction issued respectively under the titles Septimius Felton, The Ancestral Footstep, and Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret, together with detached memoranda for the latter —gives an insight into his mind at the other extreme of his career, the closing period, when his activity was drawing towards a sudden end. All these sketches, memoranda, and fragments, moreover, by revealing the method of his mind, throw a light backward over his whole intellectual history, and enable us better than ever before to complete the study of his growth, and to observe what the process actually was by which he had advanced from that first timid and unnoticed production of Fanshawe to a summit of unshaken fame. It is with these three manuscripts, therefore, and with the isolated scenes of The Dolliver Romance, that I shall ask the reader to occupy himself, in this article.

Their chronological order is probably as follows : The Ancestral Footstep, Dr. Grimshawe, Septimius Felton, and then, of course, last of all, The Dolliver Romance. The first was written at Rome, in the spring of 1858. From Florence, it will be remembered, Hawthorne wrote to Mr. Fields : “ Speaking of romances, I have planned two, one or both of which I could have ready for the press in a few months, if I were either in England or America.” One of these was The Marble Faun, and the other, undoubtedly, was the English romance, of which he had already, at the date of the above letter, sketched this outline. The Marble Faun soon afterward drew to itself all his creative energies, and kept them employed until well into the winter of 1859—60. It is possible that, immediately after completing the Italian romance, he may have begun the massive, though unfinished, sketch now known as Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret; but as he sailed for home from England in June, 1860, it seems unlikely that he should have set to work upon that draft of the English story until after his return to Concord ; and we know that, disturbed by the public excitements which were at that time harshly preluding the civil war, he did not at once find himself in the mood for composition, and still less so when the struggle began. " I have not found it possible,” he wrote to his old friend, Horatio Bridge, “ to occupy my mind with its usual trash and nonsense during these anxious times ; but as the autumn advances, I find myself sitting down at my desk and blotting successive sheets, as of yore.” This was in October, 1861 ; so that there had apparently been an interval of many months, from his return in June, 1860, till this October of the following year, during which he had accomplished little or nothing beyond the two Old Home chapters published in The Atlantic at that time. Very likely his “ blotting successive sheets ” refers to the beginnings of Doctor Grimshawe; for both this and the Septimius Felton must have been written between October, 1861, and the whiter of 1863, when he entered upon the new scheme of The Dolliver Romance.

The question of Hawthorne’s handwriting, although otherwise only incidental, assumes a certain importance when we are trying to determine approximately the date of these manuscripts, or to decide whether, by any stretch of possibility, they could have been intended for publication in their present form. That Septimius was not so intended is quite evident from the broken and changing nature of the plot, if not also from the occasional looseness of the style. The same is true of the Grimshawe, I should say, in spite of a greater strength, composure, and finish of style in portions of this latter production. Indeed, the original manuscript of the Grimshawe, which, as I recall it, was, like Septimius, written without division into chapters, — with brief notes and incongruous passages in the text, which are relegated in the printed form to an appendix, and with longer notes (some of them on the backs of pages containing the main narrative) interspersed,— would seem to have reached a stage not more ripe for publication than Septimius Felton. Some few months ago a mistaken report got currency that the writing of Hawthorne was generally very illegible ; and a member of his family took pains to correct this error, adding that “ his handwriting, even in its most hurried form, is decipherable by any painstaking reader, with possibly the exception of a few words. Whatever he intended for the press, he wrote quite clearly enough.” These unambiguous words were construed as an assertion that the Grimshawe manuscript was very clear and easy to make out; a curious inference, reminding one of what Hawthorne himself, in one of his books, has called “ the wild babble of the time, such as was formerly spoken at the fireside, and now congeals in newspapers.” The heliotype reproduction of a specimen from the original pages, which accompanies the volume containing Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret, shows plainly that none but a painstaking reader could decipher such a script; though it should not be forgotten that the process of photographing and printing somewhat dims the first distinctness. The specimen also shows to a careful observer that the greater part of the passage given can be made out with but little study. My own experience was, when I went over a large number of these identical pages, about ten years since, that after some practice the crabbed chirography became wonderfully more luminous than it at first looked to be; although the minute interlineations and perplexing erasures caused numerous halts. The manuscript of Septimius Felton, which Miss Una Hawthorne chiefly transcribed, presented like difficulties, as she hinted in her preface to that fragment. Now all this was very uncharacteristic of Hawthorne’s earlier manuscripts, — those of his completed works, — which were remarkably clear as to penmanship, and almost devoid of corrections ; and even the pages of The Ancestral Footstep, which, as it was meant solely for his own inspection, he would naturally have written with no especial care, become tolerably distinct so soon as the eye has accustomed itself to a degree of vagueness in the letters, arising from haste and informality. It is therefore not unreasonable to conclude that, when Hawthorne was tracing the sentences of Grimshawe and Septimius, his hand already felt and communicated to his pen the cramping and baffling influence of the illness which, at that time slowly stealing upon him, was destined to prove fatal ; just as we may notice the extraordinary and painful change of Dickens’s handwriting from its first buoyant openness to the dark mazes of those sheets which he penned just before his death. And here there is a point of the utmost importance to be remarked. It is this : when Hawthorne, in the last weeks of his life, set about preparing the first chapter of The Dolliver Romance for this magazine, he was as careful as of old to make the writing legible. He was no longer master of that firm, masculine, yet graceful hand which was impressed upon the printers’ copy of The House of the Seven Gables ; e was probably unable to shape the letters well, if they were small ; but the manuscript of the Dolliver, now in the Public Library at Concord, shows that he laboriously made them much larger and rounder than usual, so that there could be no failure on the score of distinctness. This, we may infer, was because he designed the matter for publication, and it must be taken to corroborate his daughter’s averment that “ whatever he intended for the press he wrote quite clearly enough.” On the testimony of the handwriting alone, then, it is fair to conclude that Grimshawe and Septimius (which were written when he was less feeble than while putting the Dolliver into form) not only were far from ready for publication, — which their contents also prove, — but had not even been brought to the point of awaiting merely a final elaboration. For the author’s punctiliousness in sending a clean copy to the printers would have necessitated somewhat more than a touching up, here and there: it would have compelled a rewriting, and a rewriting might perhaps have resulted in radical changes throughout.

That such would have been the event seems hardly to admit of a doubt; and a comparison of Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret with Septimius and with The Dolliver Romance brings out points of connection, by the aid of which it becomes easy to divine how both the former books were simply abandoned drafts of a work which would, under a materially altered guise, have attained to its fruition as The Dolliver Romance. A variety of prompt opinions have already been brought forward as to the value of Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret as a work of art ; and in some quarters there appears to be a disposition to rank it with the finished romances that have already become celebrated, — a rash judgment, which time will not strengthen. Here, indeed, is a veritable injustice to the author, if his voluminous and rambling study for a story is to be granted equal merit with the well-proportioned structures upon which he had bestowed the final resources of his art! — unless we assume his genius to have so enlarged its scope that this incomplete experiment of his last years is, by mere force of added power, able to hold its own against The Scarlet Letter, which was the perfected offering of an earlier time. Such an assumption is impossible, when we observe that the newly published volume does not contain any large moral truth, is not permeated and vitalized by any central or controlling idea, and fails to depict any one passion in a comprehensive and masterly sweep of scenes, characters, consequences. There is nothing here that can be placed on the same plane with that lesson favoring truthfulness even in sin, and condemning revenge even for a just wrong, which we find in The Scarlet Letter; nothing possessing the subtile attraction exercised by the study of heredity embodied in The House of the Seven Gables. The Grimshawe sketch offers no match for the presentation of a theoretical reformer, which constitutes a valid motive for The Blithedale Romance ; and its atmosphere is of a more turbid kind than that through which the fine idealization and clear-cut conception of The Marble Faun are conveyed. In a word, it lacks intellectual cohesion ; a fact which, if it were true of a finished work, would be fatal, but, in the case of a study like this one, is only what we should expect. And, as a natural consequence, the substance of the book also lacks cohesion. There is a gap in the middle, partially filled by an intercalated chapter about a secret chamber, in itself curious and impressive, but not connected with any other portion of the story except by one passing hint, until the same secret chamber is opened in the final pages ; and even there no explanation is given as to the occupant, or how he came to be hidden in it. The situation is unintelligible until we consult the revisional notes, of which some have appeared in print at the time of writing these lines. In those notes, Hawthorne sets forth the scheme of presenting a man selfimprisoned by fear, to which he had been influenced through the plots of another man whom he had wronged, and who thus revenges himself. “ There seems to be something in this ugly idea,” he muses, “ which may eventually answer the purpose ; but not as I see it

now.” Afterwards he fears that it is too absurd; “not only impossible, but in a manner flat and commonplace.” He makes provision, however, for bringing it early into the tale, and for repeatedly alluding to it, which is not carried out in the Grimshawe as now published ; and had he ever finally used this rather sensational invention in the story destined to grow out of the Grimshawe, he would most probably have softened, modified, and refined it into something having only a general kinship with the thing as it stands. Besides all this, the narrative has no ending : it breaks off abruptly ; stops, simply because there is no more of it. Redelyffe, the hero, is left in an aimless position ; the result of his adventures is not even shadowed forth ; and Elsie, abandoned in the same way, proves furthermore to have been an entirely superfluous character. The whole figment resolves itself into a complication attending the succession to an estate, a motive falling much below those which Hawthorne usually selected. The Ancestral Footstep shows us how he meant to evolve from this complication a higher interest; that of the American heir’s renunciation of his claim to the estate, in the belief that it would be better to stick to his own country. Even in such an interest, however, — unless he had been singularly fortunate with the treatment,—there would seem to be but little room for the deeper movement of Hawthorne’s genius ; and since, as it was, he had not succeeded in bringing out the idea with much force, it is easy to guess why this whole Grimshawe sketch became so unsatisfactory to him that he would not carry it out to the conclusion he had nearly reached. A sketch it remained, accordingly, an experimental fragment; for mere bulk does not alter that fact. If it were twice as long, and had no more of dramatic construction or of ending than it now possesses, it would still be an incomplete study.

And yet, what a study! If The Ancestral Footstep was the chalk outline, this was the large blocking out of the fresco upon the wall. The painting of the first scene — the old grave-yard, the Doctor’s house, the two children — is close, firm, and imbued with a strikingly sombre depth of tone ; the figure of the Doctor has a wild, rough superabundance of vigor uncommon in Hawthorne’s creations ; the portions descriptive of the English locality of the story are touched in with a charming mellowness ; and the scene at the Warden’s dinner, where Lord Braithwaite and Redclyffe look into each other’s eyes with secret hostility over the Loving Cup, is both characteristic and effective. There are many strokes as peculiarly in the author’s vein of fancy, already familiar to us, as this one where, in speaking of the old Hospital pensioners who came to inhale the savors of the kitchen, he says, “ The ghosts of ancient epicures seemed on that day ... to haunt the dim passages, snuffing in with shadowy nostrils the rich vapors, assuming visibility in the congenial medium, almost becoming earthly again in the strength of their earthly longings for one other feast such as they used to enjoy.” But there are also many repetitions of effect, and a frequent recurrence to the idea that the American, coming to England, felt himself to be the self-same ancestor who had gone away two centuries before, and was now returning home. In the style, too, mingled though it is of dignity and freedom, and full of beauties, the same words or phrases are often used in close proximity, in a way to preclude the theory that the author considered this version of the story as presenting anything very near to a finished surface. Had he done so, he would hardly have allowed himself so awkward an invention as “ unwipeupable ” (p. 301), or an inverted construction like, “ He muttered, the old figure, some faint moaning sound.” Other instances might be cited, of the same kind, which illustrate the informality of the whole study in his eyes. Precisely in its informality, of course, lies its chief value. In parts rough, in others gleaming with pure gold, it is like a rich piece of quartz, seized in its pristine state from the recesses of his mind. There is a certain fierceness of energy, an exaggeration of luridness here and there, — as in the Doctor’s midnight malediction that blasted an elm-tree, in the demoniacal spiders, and in the whole secretchamber episode, — that give it an unique interest; and the material of the story embraces a greater variety than appears in Septimius. Nevertheless, I think the latter sketch much the finer in its suggestions, and its quality a more penetrating one. That is one reason for supposing that it was written later than the Grimshawe, and had received the benefit of a clarifying process in the romancer’s mind. Another reason is that when Hawthorne resolved to put his English impressions into the form of reminiscent essays he abandoned the plan of using them in a romance, as we know from his preface to Our Old Home. Most of these papers were published in the autumn of 1861 and in 1862, and it is improbable that after he had got well under way with them he would have devoted himself to a fictional sketch containing so many observations of England as the Grimshawe does. Its date, then, appears to be fixable in the winter of 1861—62, and antecedent to that of the Septimius fragment.

The Bloody Footstep, as every one is now aware, left its trail first on the pages of the preliminary sketch recently issued in The Atlantic ; although it was not a wholly new object of imagination for Hawthorne when he heard of it at Smithell’s Hall, in 1855, for in the American Note-Books five years before, in 1850, be had made this memorandum : “ The print in blood of a naked foot to be traced through the street of a town.” Next, it appears in the Grimshawe ; its stamp is also put upon Septimius ; and in the last extant scene of The Dolliver Romance it is mentioned once more. Evidently, Hawthorne was determined to follow up the quest upon which it had so long and so perplexingly held him. Doctor Grimshawe himself was displaced, in Septimius, and another doctor, Portsoaken by name, introduced, — not quite the same character as Grimshawe, but doubtless a modification from him, and equally gifted with a predilection for spider-webs and the brandy-bottle. In the Dolliver, again, we find that the old Grandsir is also a doctor ; totally unlike these imaginary predecessors in the other manuscripts, it is true, yet bringing to our notice another coincidence. It is significant, too, that Grandsir Dolliver should have under his protection a little granddaughter, Pansie, dwelling with him in an old house by a graveyard — like Doctor Grimshawe and Elsie, — and having for her sole other companion a kitten. Elsie also has a Persian kitten as her playmate, in addition to the boy Redclyffe. There is a further line of resemblance ; slight to be sure, but illustrative of the way in which the same elements were carried over, with some change, from one tentative form of the projected romance to another. The American claimant to whom we are introduced in The Ancestral Footstep carries a silver key, which is to unlock some part of the mystery surrounding his inheritance ; and it turns out to fit an old cabinet, which — reflecting, by an ingenious symbolism, the endless and bewildering search for the true heir — the author describes as being made in the likeness of a palace, “ showing within some beautiful old pictures in the panels of the doors, and a mirror, that opened a long succession of mimic halls, reflection upon reflection, extending to an interminable nowhere.” A silver key plays a part in the Grimshawe as well, but there it is applied to an old coffer of carved oak, in the secret chamber. This chest, as a note explains, was, according to one tradition, thought to contain a treasure of gold, but when opened it displayed only “ a treasure of golden locks; ” and the notion of a deposit of gold is continued in Septimius Felton, where the hero has an old box of oak and iron, with rude steel embellishments on the outside, and mediæval carving of ivory figures inside. This also is unlocked by means of a silver key, which Septimius has taken from the breast of the young English officer slain by him on the day of Concord Fight.

At first glance, it is not clear how two themes so unlike as that of revived claims to an English estate and that of the search for an elixir of life came to be united ; how one led to the other. But a clue is given in the last chapter but one of the Grimshawe. Redclyffe, after being drugged, on awaking in the secret chamber, and finding himself confronted with the spectre-like old man incarcerated there, was bewildered, and in trying to account for what he saw recalled the various stories he had heard about the house, wondering " whether there might not have been something of fact in the legend of the undying old man.” No such legend has been mentioned in the body of the sketch, but it is probable that Hawthorne had intended to insert it somewhere, as leading up to the revelation of the secret chamber. Here, then, is the point of connection. When he had become convinced that the plot and purpose of the English story, as he had blocked it out, were inadequate and not likely to yield the best results, he probably turned to the germ supplied by this vision of a deathless man, and began to develop it. Now, there was a tradition that a former occupant of Hawthorne’s house, The Wayside, had cherished the belief that he should never die; something more than a tradition, I may say, for I have since ascertained that such a man actually did live there. So that, as the romancer sat in the little tower study which, he had recently built for himself at the top of the house, looking out from the windows upon the Lexington road in front, or the low hill at the back, which had formed part of the scene of the Revolutionary conflict in 1775, nothing was more natural than for him to transfer his whole dreamy fabric to that ground and that period. And thus, bringing in a new scheme altogether, and retaining some of the old material, Septimius Felton was produced. Septimius is depicted as going, in the end, to England, where he enters into possession of an estate to which he is the lawful heir; the main current of the English romance, as it originally flowed from the pen, having in this newer channel dwindled to a very slender rill. But the manner in which he had worked out the story of a man bent upon obtaining the elixir of perpetual youth did not content him, either; and it was after this that he conceived still another mode of approach to the goal, and began the Dolliver. Why, then, did he not destroy the two discarded manuscripts ? The only plausible answer to this question is that he purposed drawing upon both, — or at least referring to them, — in the composition of the freshly undertaken work from which death called him away. Having carried out two different motives in separate studies, and found that both fell short of his aim, he had, in all likelihood, discovered a practicable mode of combining them in a romance of larger and deeper drift than he had at first contemplated. The Dolliver Romance would have become the vehicle of a profound and pathetic drama, based on the instinctive yearning of man for an immortal existence, the attempted gratification of which would have been set forth in various ways: through the selfish old sensualist, Colonel Dabney, who seized the mysterious elixir, and took such a draught of it that it killed him; through the simple old Grandsir, anxious to live for Pansie’s sake; and perhaps through Pansie herself, who, coming into the enjoyment of an ennobling love, would desire to defeat death in order that she might make sure of keeping always the perfection of her mundane happiness,—all these diverse modes of striving to be made the adumbration of a higher one, the shadow-play that should define and direct the mind to the true immortality beyond this world. To such a plan, the instance of a person or a family endeavoring to perpetuate one particular phase of existence, as it is the tendency of English institutions to do, could have been made to minister with admirable appropriateness; hence it would not have been strange if Hawthorne, with this end in view, had interwoven with The Dolliver Romance a strand from the Grimshawe study.

An assurance that he had, in his own mind, struck the key-note, is afforded by the perfection of matter and style belonging to the only completed scene of the Dolliver. To Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret may doubtless he awarded a more demonstrative vigor, but it does not follow that the strength is greater for being deployed upon the surface ; rather, the contrary is indicated. In the Dolliver fragment, the strength is drawn in, concentrated, reserved, and the consequence is that its virtue is redoubled ; it underlies the pensive charm, the tremulous pathos, the tender fancy, of the musical periods with an unfathomable depth. Reading Grimshawe is like looking at an opaque wall covered by a striking, half-finished design in somewhat harsh colors : the bold strokes, the sharp contrasts, and weak spots recall the broad method of scene-painting, but I get from it no sense of a spiritual perspective, leading me on beyond the external show. Into The Dolliver Romance, however, the mind penetrates, as the eye sinks into the permeable yet endless blue of the sky. The sentences become indefinably symbolic ; all through them there is a vibration of some deeper thought and meaning than any which the literal statement seems to embody; and when a burst of more purely spectacular incident is needed, we see from the picturing of Colonel Dabney and his death scene that the author could still throw such an element into the narrative, with a jet of intensity more startling than that which illuminates the first part of Grimshawe. Thus, then, we get a general idea of Hawthorne’s method : to make at first an outline, like The Ancestral Footstep, — light, easy, graceful, and exploratory; then to deepen the lines, enlarge and intensify the whole composition, as in the Grimshawe and Septimius, even to the point of excess, if he felt so inclined. “ Do not stick at any strangeness or preternaturality,” he tells himself, in one of the notes lately printed in The Century magazine. “ It can be softened down to any extent, however wild the first conception.” And last, when it came to modeling the final form, he recovered the repose of the first sketch, but preserved at the same time all the best of that grim force and fantastic suggestion which had been gained by an untrammeled play of imagination in the blocking out. I do not feel sure that he always wrote so many preliminary versions and memoranda for a work of fiction as in this instance; I am inclined to doubt it, because so much of his meditation was done out-ofdoors, while walking. But whether or not he used pen and paper, the procedure must have been in each case essentially that which we have just traced. One thing appears to be likely : that he did not spend much time in rewriting for the sake of securing a better verbal expression. He once said to his sisterin-law, Miss E. P. Peabody, in allusion to his own literary problems, “ The difficulty is not so much how to say things as what to say ; ” intimating that he so filled his mind with the motive and substance of a romance before resorting to the pen that, when he sat down to write, the task consisted mainly in selection, arrangement, proportioning, and so on. How it was that, from the fluent but rather colorless medium which he had used in Fanshawe, he was able to compound the wonderful style which the world has come to know as being his alone, no one can presume to say with confidence; but, in seeing how he labored over the theme and the inner purport of a romance, how he considered with utmost care every detail of plot or character, and with what austerity he rejected copious results of this labor when they failed to come up to his exacting standard, we obtain a hint as to how the style was formed. Such a process must have involved a constant shaping of the word to the thought, just as in the Note-Books the steady aim seems to be to put down observations of actual things with scrupulous exactness, no matter how trivial or humble the subject. But instead of setting out upon a course of reading specially calculated to manufacture a style, like the historians Prescott and Alison, for instance, or modeling chiefly upon one master, as Thackeray did upon Fielding, Hawthorne adopted the principle of searching into the interior significance of his imaginary people, and his real or fictitious scenes ; and in working this out, through every sort of detail, with the unfaltering candor evidenced by his own private comments now published, he had perforce to use language with a choice as sensitive and as unmerciful as that which controlled him in the judgment of his fanciful materials. But in the choosing of the fittest phrase his decision was evidently prompt, so that erasure and substitution were rare expedients with him. Rough though this analysis be, it strikes out a distinction perhaps worth considering, because it tends to explain why Hawthorne’s style — which, instead of being applied from without, like a mould to compress the thought, sprang from the thought itself, as if it were its flower — was at once so original and so unobtrusive, so thoroughly infused with the spirit of art, yet innocent of all affectation, and as natural as if no other kind of utterance were possible. It resulted logically from the conscientious, self-scrutinizing method of working now laid bare before us. It was, we may say, a style not made but inevitable. Given the peculiar mind once fairly exercising its native insight, it must express itself so, and only so ; but at the date of Fanshawe it had not learned the proper application of its power, and that knowledge was perhaps not fully gained until The Scarlet Letter, twenty years afterward, came into the gates of life ; although in the short tales of the interim the author had made great advances.

Inexhaustible patience of genius, to wait twenty years for its first adequate fruitage ! But the more we examine, the more we discern that patience, manifested in various ways, was a cardinal trait in Hawthorne, and one of the great sources of his power. I have elsewhere pointed out that the relation of Grandsir Dolliver and Pansie was obviously suggested to him by Mr. Kirkup and his little ward, Imogen, whom he had seen in Florence five years previously.1 Imogen is described as “ a pale, large-eyed little girl,” and Pansie is also mentioned as “a rather pale and large-eyed little thing.” Mr. Kirkup is not copied in the gentle grandsire, but his attitude towards the child is reproduced ; for Hawthorne had spoken of the former, in his NoteBooks, as “ thinking all the time of ghosts, and looking into the child’s eyes to seek them,” and in the Dolliver he represents the old man as “ frolicking amid a throng of ghosts ” of departed female relatives, whose “forgotten features peeped through the face of the great-grandchild.” A kitten, recalling Imogen’s, frisks about in the Dolliver household ; and as the same animal accompanies Elsie in Dr. Grimshawe’s house, we may conclude that there, also, the writer was thinking of Imogen. But whence comes the old house by the graveyard, which stands at the beginning of both these fragments ? Turning to the American Note-Books, we find under date of July 4, 1838, a paragraph concerning the old burial-ground in Charter Street, Salem : “In a corner of the burial-ground, close under Dr. P—’s garden fence, are the most ancient stones remaining in the graveyard ; moss grown, deeply sunken. One to ‘ Dr. John Swinnerton, Physician,’ in 1688. ... It gives strange ideas, to think how convenient to Dr. P—’s family this burial-ground is,— the monuments standing almost within arm’s reach of the side windows of the parlor.” The Dr. P—here mentioned, there is now no harm in saying, was Dr. Peabody, father of Miss Sophia Peabody, who afterwards became Mrs. Hawthorne. His house, which is still standing, holds precisely the position relative to the cemetery assigned to that of Dr. Grimshawe, “ covering ground which else had been sown thickly with buried bodies,” and to the abode of Dr. Dolliver ; for it is built upon a corner nicked out of the consecrated space, and has the graves close at its back and along one of its sides. It must not be supposed that the character of Dr. Peabody had anything to do with the attributes given to Dr. Grimshawe and his mild successor, Dr. Dolliver ; but the circumstance of a doctor being placed in that dwelling, in each sketch, is one of those associations with literal fact which Hawthorne seems so often to have preferred, in constructing his fiction. Only the other day I visited the spot. Hawthornes, Bowditches, Keyses, Ingersolls, and other vanished representatives of old Salem families have been laid away there, under rudely chiseled headstones of slate, that still mark the repositories of their ashes ; and the statement in Grimshawe, “Thus rippled and surged, with its hundreds of little billows, the old graveyard about the house which cornered upon it,” still applies. A cheerless locality enough on a winter’s day, as I saw it, although the mounded grass and the trees scattered here and there might impart a much pleasanter aspect in summer ; but the deep gloom which Hawthorne threw over it, in his Grimshawe study, was supplied mainly from his own imagination, for the purpose of inducing a certain mood in his readers. The Note-Book record contains a trifling error; the date on Dr. Swinnerton’s headstone being really 1690, instead of 1688. The name “ Simmerton,” given to a physician in the Grimshawe (page 129), is perhaps a misprint, or a copyist’s error, for Swinnerton. He also occurs in the Dolliver fragment as the venerable teacher from whom the Grandsir had learned his apothecary’s craft. But, long before that, again, he had received the honor of a notice in the Seven Gables, first chapter, where the physicians consult as to the cause of Colonel Pyncheon’s death: “One — John Swinnerton by name — who appears to have been a man of eminence, upheld it ... to be a case of apoplexy.” For the original hint of the old Brazen Serpent sign which Dr. Dolliver has in his possession, we must look to one of Hawthorne’s less known sketches,— that which gives some account of Dr. Bullivant,2 an apothecary of Boston, who flourished about 1670, and is supposed to have had a gilded head of Æsculapius in front of his shop. But in the Dolliver Hawthorne remarks that in Dr. Swinnerton’s day a head of Æsculapius “ would have vexed the souls of the righteous as savoring of heathendom,” and therefore he had adopted the Brazen Serpent, which he bequeathed to old Dr. Dolliver. Of Bullivant, too, it is said that he advertised “ a Panacea promising life but one day short of eternity, and youth and health commensurate.” So, by this putting together of things far apart, by this reticulation of one web of fancy with another, Dr. Bullivant’s panacea and Dr. Dolliver’s cordial, Dr. Swinnerton and little Florentine Imogen all turn out to have a mysterious connection, and are landed in the house of Hawthorne’s father-inlaw, which he had been keeping in mind for over twenty-two years as an available accessory. “ Hold on to this,” says Hawthorne, in one of The Century memoranda, respecting a particular thread of the new romance. But had he not always been holding on ? He never lost an impression worth preserving, and he could wait as long as need might be before utilizing it.

The series of longer notes just mentioned, and connected with the abortive English story, contains one or two references to real persons that go to show, in like manner, how he used models from life, not for portraiture, perhaps not even for any trait of character in the original, but as presenting one association or another consonant with the character he wanted to elaborate. Thus, he writes, “An old woman (Hannah Lord, perhaps) must be the only other member of the household.” Hannah Lord was a cousin of Hawthorne’s mother, remembered by her relatives in Salem as an excellent maiden lady, who devoted much of her time to serving other people ; but possibly some quaiutness about her, in his recollection, served Hawthorne in building up mentally the “ crusty Hannah,” who in Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret does not get beyond the stage of a mere name. In thinking over the Pensioner, who is to be the true heir, Hawthorne jots down, “Take the character of Cowper for this man:" and further, “ He might be a Fifth-Heavenly man ... in figure, Mr. Alcott.” Adopting these points of support from real life, he could obtain a solid basis for His personage ; but after the figure had once been set in motion, it would be absurd to imagine that everything he might say or do was to be taken as Hawthorne’s interpretation of the poet Cowper or of Mr. Alcott. An exactly parallel mistake, nevertheless, is constantly made by persons who say that Zenobia, in The Blithedale Romance, stood for Margaret Fuller. The converse might be true,— that Miss Fuller stood for Zenobia; that is, as a temporary model, until the author had constructed his heroine, who would then hold her place in his mind as a separate entity.

All these notes are extremely instructive. Some of them, alluding to the proposed course of the plot, mention incidents which may be allowed to stand " as before,” or “ pretty much as now; ” making it evident that such memoranda were written after Hawthorne had sketched out a considerable part of the manuscript and was becoming dissatisfied with it. But others have the appearance of being preparatory and feeling the way. They suggest a poet eager to give life to his idealizations upon the stage, but compelled to consider the machinery of the theatre, to turn over the “ properties ” and see how far they will aid him, yet all the while cherishing a secret contempt for these mechanical devices with which he must work. Thus, when the subject is “the coffin of a young lady, which, being opened, it proves to be filled with golden locks of hair,” the romancer adds, “ This nonsense must be kept subordinate, however.”Over and over he tries to adjust details, without success; reviews this and that possibility; returns unwearied to the beginning, in the hope of a better issue. As the flame of the chemical blow-pipe consumes the diamond and dissipates metals in vapor, the flame-point of his imagination is concentrated upon different materials, which disappear one after another. He permits himself the most impossible and monstrous imaginings: as, of the English lord, that he shall be a worshiper of the sun, a cannibal, “ A murderer — ’t won’t do at all. A Mahometan — psh! ” — not in seriousness, but trusting by random hits to touch the right spring at last, and always bringing himself up with sharp reprimand for his vagrant absurdities. Then, at a loss, he idly strings together names of his acquaintances, and commences afresh. Sometimes a pungent reflection escapes him, like this : “ That a strange repulsion — as well as attraction — exists among human beings. If we get off, it is almost impossible to get on again.” But he is perfectly well aware how little he is accomplishing : “ The life is not yet breathed into this plot, after all my galvanic efforts. Not a spark of passion as yet.” He lays out business-like directions as to what is to be done: thus, of the Doctor, “ Make his character very weird indeed, and develop it in dread and mystery.” Indeed, the most striking and profitable fact about this entirely unique record is the perfect self-possession of the writer, the presence of the cool understanding, which keeps up a running fire of sarcasm against himself, at his failures.

A searching observer has said, speaking of the author generically, “ He learns to bear contempt, and to despise himself. He makes, as it were, postmortem examinations of himself before he is dead.” Nothing could better describe the process to which Hawthorne, in these notes, was subjecting his own mind. Enemies, Leonardo thought, teach an artist more, by their criticisms, than friends; but what enemy could have been so impartial as Hawthorne was in judging his handiwork ? His supremacy in art, we discover, owed much to the stringent critical faculty which he exercised upon the product of his imagination. It is undeniable that the finest criticism must have in it something of creative genius ; but apparently it is not less true that the creative writer needs, for the highest reach of his power, a solid foundation of critical acumen. And the demand for equipment of that kind, in his case, is just so much the greater by the obligation resting upon him, not merely to measure the achievement of others, but to gauge his own performance, and, on occasion, suppress it. This is precisely the crowning virtue which some authors of eminence have been unable to grasp. But Hawthorne was able to, and did it. That which he considered unworthy to see the light has now, in the course of events, been revealed, together with his frank, informal commentary thereon. It is not a great work, in the severe artistic sense, but it is a great illustration of an artist’s workings; and if the appearance of sketches, studies, fragments, and notes of this nature should disarrange that conventional posture in which, as I have said, readers like to place their favorites, a compensation is not wanting. In place of theoretical views that, even when framed by a sympathetic mind, must fall short unless complete data have been procurable, they will get a man of genius precisely as he was, —one who earned, by longcontinued toil and a high fidelity to literary honor, all that he received, and perhaps more.

George Parsons Lathrop.

  1. A Study of Hawthorne, pages 278, 279. The account of a visit to Mr. Kirkup is in the French and Italian Note-Books, August 12, 1858.
  2. This will he found in the twelfth volume of the new Library edition, under the head of Tales and Sketches.