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Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

Glimpses of Authors

By Caroline Ticknor

Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922




FROM his home in Jamaica Plain, my grandfather, William D. Ticknor, had gone out for the last time, in March, 1864, to accompany his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne upon a southern trip, which it was hoped would benefit the latter's health. Hawthorne was failing, and it had been suggested that a journey to a milder clime might prove the one thing needful; therefore, his publisher, on whom he had for years depended for all manner of kindly offices, consented to take charge of the invalid, little dreaming that it would be his own last journey.

The story of this friendship has been already chronicled, [1] but a brief outline of it can hardly be omitted here without leaving these literary memories quite incomplete.

The journey above referred to was not the first that had been taken by Hawthorne and his publisher, for the novelist and dreamer shrank from the management of small details, and had on numerous occasions turned to the sturdy companionship of his friend when he desired to take some trip. If he had planned to go to Washington, he dreaded it until Ticknor had promised to accompany him, and when President Pierce appointed him to the Liverpool consulship, he would not embark unless his publisher would consent to go with him and start him upon the new enterprise.

So it was that in 1853 Ticknor sailed with the Hawthornes for England, and saw them satisfactorily settled in their new home. Taking leave of his friends he crossed the Channel in season to witness the brilliant military fete in Paris held in honor of Napoleon III; visited De Quincey in Scotland; and returned for a last stay with Hawthorne, who accompanied him on a pleasure trip to Chester before he sailed for Boston. This excursion, which was later described in Hawthorne's Journal, was greatly enjoyed by the two; all the members of the Hawthorne family were to have accompanied them, but owing to the threatening weather, they remained at home, the children being mollified by the prospect of gifts to be purchased in the old town. And the following day found little Julian parading round the garden blowing a new trumpet, and dragging behind him a wooden cannon straight from Chester.

Soon after this excursion the friends parted, and on October 8, 1853, Hawthorne's pen was following the traveler homewards:

"While I write you this, you are tossing in mid-ocean but I hope it will find you safely ensconced in your Paradise at the Old Corner. We all miss you very much...."

This letter marked the opening of a trans-Atlantic correspondence with his publisher which Hawthorne kept up during his entire stay abroad. His letters, of which over one hundred and fifty have been preserved, are full of characteristic reflections, comments, and observations. In them the writer depicts many incidents connected with his diplomatic life, and in these spontaneous communications reveals himself with a freedom from all restraint not to be found elsewhere in his letters and journals.

One of the most amusing literary episodes which took place during his consulship was the sponsoring of Delia Bacon's volume, "The Shakespeare Problem," the first production ever put forth to exploit the Baconian theory. Hawthorne theoretically objected to women writers, declaring in a mood of extreme cynicism that he considered "all ink-stained women detestable." Yet upon very slight acquaintance with the author of this work, and without being in sympathy with her Baconian belief, he deliberately proceeded to finance the publication of her book, an expense he could ill afford, because he sympathized with the discouraged writer and thought her book had literary merit.

Thus in the kindness of his heart did Hawthorne launch the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, losing money in his venture, and winning slight gratitude from the eccentric author who had produced it, and who was highly indignant with him when it went to press because he failed to furnish for the book the precise introduction which she demanded.

When the volume finally appeared, Hawthorne regretted that he had not wielded the blue pencil in connection with the Baconian theory, and he wrote to his Boston publisher:

"Matters look dark, as regards Miss Bacon's book. I shall certainly not 'save my Bacon' there. It was absurd in me to let her publish such a heavy volume; and in fact, I never thought of authorizing the publication of such an immense mass, which is enough to swamp a ship of the line. However, this shall be the last of my benevolent follies, and I never will be kind to anybody again as long as I live."

In spite of this protest, Hawthorne continued to help those that were constantly appealing to him for financial aid, many of whom proved even less appreciative than the luckless Delia, who never forgave him his refusal to state that he believed in her Baconian theory; this lady only survived the publication of her work two years, being at the last quite mentally unbalanced.

Hawthorne's trials in furnishing funds for the return passages of irresponsible fellow-countrymen were many and varied. He sympathized with their tales of woe and generally aided the applicants, who sometimes returned the loans, but very frequently failed to do so. Hawthorne was prone to leave to his publisher the pleasant task of communicating with the relatives of the impecunious ones whose sense of honor did not impel them to refund a loan without a delicate reminder when once they were safely within the borders of the homeland, and it will never be known how many of the consul's "deserving cases" realized his expectations.

Hawthorne's sojourn in Italy, which followed his diplomatic service in England, is interestingly described in letters to his publisher written during this period, when he was busied with the production of the "Marble Faun"; in one of these he says:

"We are now in the height of the Carnival, and the young people find it great fun. To say the truth, so do I; but I suppose I should have enjoyed it better at twenty. The Prince of Wales is here, and seems to take vast delight in pelting and being pelted, along the Corso. The poor fellow will not have many such merry times, in his future life."

In regard to his home-coming he continues:

"I should be very reluctant to leave Concord, or to live anywhere else than by my own hillside; that one spot (always excepting the 'Old Corner') is the only locality that attaches me to my native land. I am tied to it by one of my heartstrings, all the rest of which have long ago broken loose.

"I told you in my last, that I had written a Romance. It still requires a good deal of revision, trimming off of exuberances, and filling up vacant spaces; but I think it will be all right in a month or two after I arrive. I shall do my best upon it, you may be sure; for I feel that I shall come before the public, after so long an interval, with all the uncertainties of a new author. If I were only rich enough, I do not believe I should ever publish another book, though I might continue to write them for my own occupation and amusement. But with a wing of a house to build, and my girls to educate, and Julian to send to Cambridge, I see little prospect of the 'dolce far niente,' as long as there shall be any faculty left in me. I have another Romance ready to be written, as soon as this one is off the stocks."

Hawthorne had from earliest days delved into the mediaeval history of Italy, and he arrived there prepared to appreciate to the utmost what that poetic and artistic land had to offer, and to weave it into his forthcoming romance. Certain vivid impressions received soon after his arrival began to form a nucleus for his plot. One morning he chanced to enter a church where a Capuchin monk was lying dead, whose strange appearance stirred his imagination; and later, when he visited the Capitol, he was greatly charmed by the Faun of Praxiteles, and at once began to develop the train of thought which it suggested. He wrote in this connection:

"This famous race of fauns was the most delightful of all that antiquity imagined. It seems to me that a story with all sorts of fun and pathos in it might be contrived on the idea of the species having become intermingled with the human race; a family with the faun blood in them having prolonged itself from the classic era till our own days. The tail might have disappeared, by dint of constant intermarriage with ordinary mortals; but the pretty hairy ears should occasionally reappear in members of the family; and the moral instincts and intellectual characteristics of the faun might be picturesquely brought out."

The idea of making the Faun the center of his story gradually grew and developed into the longest and most elaborate of his works! He said of its length, that he had not the heart to cancel his many descriptions of Roman and Florentine scenes which it had given him so much pleasure to pen.

Relinquishing his plan for an immediate return to America, Hawthorne remained another year abroad in order to finish his book in England and so secure the British copyright. When the work neared com pletion, considerable discussion arose in regard to its title. The author wished to call it "The Marble Faun," or else "Saint Hilda's Shrine," while Mr. Fields preferred "The Romance of Monte Beni," and Smith and Elder, the London publishers, insisted upon naming it "The Transformation," under which title it finally appeared in London.

While finishing this book the author spent some time at Whitby, where the ruined abbey, built by Saint Hilda, undoubtedly suggested the name which he used in his romance. From Whitby he went to Redcar, and then to Leamington, where in November, 1859, he put the final touches to this work, experiencing his usual dissatisfaction with his finished product; of which his wife wrote at this time:

"My husband has just finished his book, 'The Romance of Monte Beni,' . . . As usual, he thinks the book good for nothing, and based upon a very foolish idea which nobody will like or accept. But I am used to such opinions, and understand why he feels oppressed with disgust of what has so long occupied him. The true judgment of the work was his first idea of it, when it seemed to him worth the doing. He has regularly despised each one of his books immediately upon finishing it.... Mr. Hawthorne has no idea of portraying me as Hilda. Whatever resemblance one sees is accidental."

The warm reception which the book received did much to cheer the author, and a month before his return to America he wrote expressing his satisfaction with the result, but at the same time suggesting that his work was of little consequence as compared with the great prize-fight then taking place. He wrote: " I am glad that the romance has gone off so well. Here, it may also be called a successful affair; Smith and Elder having got out the third edition, and perhaps more by this time; for the good opinion of the "Times" has great weight with John Bull.

"Just now, however, the English public cares very little for any American except John Heenan, the prizefighter. You cannot imagine the interest that is felt in the battle, nor their surprise at Heenan's standing up so sturdily against their champion. No moral or intellectual triumph that we could possibly win, would inspire them with half the respect, or half the mortification, that the loss of this fight would have caused them. It is, indeed, a great pity that it was left undecided; that is, provided (as there were ten chances to one), the event had turned out favorably for our side."

Although "The Transformation" was received with great eagerness by the British public, some disappointment prevailed because of its vague conclusion, and in consequence, the author, in half-ironic mood, penned the brief chapter which is now appended to the book.

June, 1860, found Hawthorne at home again and settled at the Wayside in Concord, where the remainder of his life was passed. And after his return, as before his departure, his various little journeys were made in the company of his publisher; the former often insisting that his identity should be concealed on the hotel registers under the incognito of a "friend."

The frequent references which Hawthorne makes to the "Old Corner" recall the fact that this was a place which he loved to frequent. In the small counting-room was "Hawthorne's chair," in a secluded nook; there he was wont to sit dreaming in the shadow, while the senior partner was busy at his desk close by. Across the office, in the opposite corner, was the little green curtained sanctum of Mr. Fields, where the sociable spirits invariably gathered, but in the counting-room, which was elevated two or three steps above the level of the store, was a secluded point-of-vantage. There Hawthorne would take up his position where he could see and yet be out of sight, and in this chair, for many years it was his custom to ensconce himself, whenever he visited the "Corner"; he often spent whole hours there resting his head upon his hand apparently in happy sympathy with his environment. And those that looked in at the counting-room recalled the picture as truly characteristic of the two friends; one in the light, brimful of stirring activity, the other watching in the shadow.

In 1862 Hawthorne and Ticknor made a memorable trip to Washington, investigating war conditions, and enjoying an interview with Lincoln. On their return the former produced an article for the "Atlantic Monthly" entitled "Chiefly About War Matters," in which he embodied a striking description of the President. This seemed to Mr. Fields too frankly realistic to suit the pages of the magazine just at that time; he therefore cut out a large portion of it which was not printed until nine years later, when it appeared in his reminiscences.

The interview with Lincoln was an exceedingly amusing one, for it was found that to accomplish it speedily, the friends must join a delegation which had been dispatched from a Massachusetts whip-factory. to bestow upon the President a splendid whip, with golden ferules and a carved ivory handle. In the rear of this delegation went Hawthorne and Ticknor, accompanied by their friend Major Ben: Perley Poore.

The whip was impressively presented, and its bearer in a set speech suggested that it was "emblematic," and that the President would doubtless recognize the fact; the spokesman discreetly suggesting the thought that such an instrument might be effectively used on the rebels. Hawthorne has entertainingly described this episode, and the great tact with which Lincoln handled, not only the whip, but the accompanying suggestion, which he waved gracefully aside, assuring the spokesman that he accepted the gift as an emblem of peace and not of punishment. He held aloft the "emblematic" whip in great good-humor as if he were touching up a pair of fine horses, and thus dismissed the delegation in the best of spirits.

This visit to Washington had proved so beneficial to Hawthorne's health that it was vainly hoped another journey South might be productive of a similar result, and when in the spring of 1864, the writer's family began to despair of his recovery, it was suggested that his publisher should once more accompany him upon a trip.

The travelers set out upon March 28th, planning to journey southward by degrees, breaking the trip at several places where they might find a milder climate. But from the beginning they were pursued by storms and hurricanes, and the tempestuous elements kept them imprisoned, first in New York, and then in Philadelphia, where they remained at the Continental Hotel awaiting pleasant weather before continuing southward.

From there, Ticknor wrote Mrs. Hawthorne, on April 7th, that they had seen the first ray of sunshine since their departure, despite which fact Hawthorne seemed gaining steadily; he also stated that they had taken a drive to Fairmount Park that afternoon, with friends. He did not state, however, that on this drive, which proved a very bleak one, he had taken off his overcoat and wrapped it about Hawthorne, fearing that he might be chilled, and had himself added to a cold from which he had been suffering.

Following this letter came the news that Ticknor had been stricken with congestion of the lungs; and upon April 10th he passed away at the Continental Hotel, leaving his companion stunned by this calamity. In all his life Hawthorne had never stood beside a death-bed, and now to witness the sudden departure of his friend was to him a staggering blow from which he proved powerless to rally.

On his return to Concord, a few days later, he seemed completely broken, and quite unable to throw off the deep depression that had settled upon him. The image of death that he had witnessed would not be banished; he dwelt upon the tragic happening, and would reiterate that he, and not Ticknor, should have died.

After a month it was decided that Hawthorne must not remain in Concord, where he was brooding upon the loss of his friend and living over again those last painful hours. It was therefore arranged that he should once more try a change of scene, although he was almost too feeble to undertake the journey.

As has been frequently recorded, Hawthorne and Franklin Pierce set out for the White Mountains about the middle of May. When they reached Plymouth, New Hampshire, they put up at the Pemigewasset House, where Hawthorne retired early and fell asleep. His friend looked in upon him from time to time, and found him resting comfortably. Returning again, however, soon after midnight, he noticed that the sleeper had ceased to breathe. In answer to his often expressed wish, Hawthorne had taken his departure in his sleep.

And so in a month's time the invalid followed his vigorous companion whose death-bed he had guarded, and who had given his life in a vain effort to win back his friend to health. And on the home from which the active man, of only fifty-three years, had gone forth never to return, the shadows rested heavily; as they did on the group at the "Old Corner," from which the cornerstone had been suddenly uprooted. There, William D. Ticknor's sons, and his partner, James T. Fields, continued to carry on the traditions of the publishing house he had established; and in the home at Jamaica Plain members of the literary fraternity still found a welcome awaiting them.

[1] See Hawthorne and His Publisher.

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