SKETCHES FROM CONCORD AND APPLEDORE
CONCORD THIRTY YEARS AGO; NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE; LOUISA M. ALCOTT; RALPH WALDO EMERSON; MATTHEW ARNOLD; DAVID A. WASSON; WENDELL PHILLIPS; APPLEDORE AND ITS VISITORS; JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER
BY FRANK PRESTON STEARNS
TO A JACQUEMINOT ROSE.
CONCORD THIRTY-ODD YEARS AGO
LOUISA M. ALCOTT
MATTHEW ARNOLD'S LECTURE
DAVID A. WASSON
APPLEDORE AND THE LAIGHTONS
CONCORD ELMS, ON MAIN STREET
THE CONCORD RIVER, NEAR BATTLE GROUND
HAWTHORNE, AFTER AN ENGRAVING FROM THE PAINTING BY C. G. THOMPSON
THE OLD MANSE, RESIDENCE OF DR. RIPLEY
LOUISA ALCOTT, FROM A PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN IN 1868
THE ALCOTT HOUSE
KING'S BUST OF EMERSON, MODELLED IN 1854
AUTOGRAPH LETTER FROM MATTHEW ARNOLD
DAVID A. WASSON IN 1878, FROM A PORTRAIT BY HIS SON GEORGE
WENDELL PHILLIPS AS HE APPEARED BEFORE THE PHI BETA KAPPA
TWILIGHT AT THE ISLES OF SHOALS
CELIA THAXTER, PHOTOGRAPHED BY MISS ANNIE RICHARDS IN 1890
WHITTIER'S HOUSE AT AMESBURY
JOHN G. WHITTIER IN HIS SEVENTY-SECOND YEAR, FROM A PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMPSON
THE MERRIMAC RIVER, NEAR AMESBURY, BY MOONLIGHT
A volume of reminiscences is commonly the last book that an author publishes, if indeed he does not leave the task to his literary administrator. There are not wanting, however, instances to the contrary; and in the present case my object is more especially to attract public attention to the lives and works of two distinguished men, one of whom has hitherto been little appreciated, and the other, as it seems to me, greatly misunderstood. My position in regard to David A. Wasson has already been challenged, but I have faith that it will endure the test of time. If these pages shall also succeed in restoring to Wendell Phillips a portion of the fame which he lost by the wayward course of his declining years, they will not have been written in vain. The other characters that I have brought upon this stage are such as both the writer and the public have long taken an interest in. To the few living personages who have been introduced, I would apologize, and excuse myself on the ground that the picture would be imperfect without them.
SKETCHES FROM CONCORD AND APPLEDORE
CONCORD THIRTY YEARS AGO.
To one looking westward from Boston State House there appears a line of rugged, precipitous hills extending across the country from southwest to northeast. Having ascended these heights, we perceive beyond them an irregular line of pale blue mountains, of which Wachusett is the most southerly peak, and which is in fact a portion of the White Mountain range extending through New Hampshire and into the northern part of Maine. The watershed between these two forms the valley of the Concord and Merrimac Rivers, which is the first military line of defence in New England west of the sea-coast. It is for this reason that the first struggle for American independence took place on the banks of the Concord River, and not elsewhere; a fact that might have been predicted, though not of course with certainty, when Boston was first settled.
One would like to know how this rural community with martial destiny before it happened to obtain the name of Concord. Did the Rev. Peter Bulkley, descendant of the Plantagenets, who first organized society in that valley, did he come there for peace and repose after a religious controversy in Boston? No doubt the sloping hillsides and broad sunny plain with the sluggish river winding through it looked very restful to him, after the rugged country through which he had passed; but we fear that he found discord and contention already before him, as many have who came there since for a like purpose. Was there a strange fatality in the name, so that Patrick Henry might say with added force, "Gentlemen may cry peace, peace, but there is no peace"? Is it true that peace and war are reciprocal like night and day,—one a rest and preparation for the other, and at the same time its natural consequence? Certain it is that no individual life is interesting or valuable in which there has not been a severe struggle; and periods of warfare have often proved to be powerful stimulants for human energy and intellect. In one respect, however, the Rev. Peter Bulkley was fully justified, for Concord has become more famous in the arts of peace than if a Marengo or Gravelotte had been fought there. It has a place in the history of literature, and its name is pleasant either to speak or think of.
The town is beautifully situated and seems to sleep in the hollow of the hills. It is now a suburb of Boston, with artistic bridges, water from Sandy Pond, a bronze statue of the minute man, and a good deal of suburban elegance; but thirty years ago it was one of the neat, unpretending, yet so respectable looking, New England villages, such as are still to be met with in the central part of Massachusetts. The country roads wound into the town and wound out of it; the river crept lazily by with only a slight swirl or eddy on its surface; and the wild flowers on its banks bloomed and faded without attracting more attention than in the days of the Indians. Early in the morning ten or a dozen well-dressed gentlemen might be seen hastening to the railway station; then after the children had gone to school there was a nearly unbroken silence until they came out again. Occasionally a farmer in his hay-cart or other rude vehicle would jingle through the village, or a woman with a shawl and sun-bonnet would call at one of the stores, make some small purchase, and return as she came.
Towards evening the children would come out of school, and fill the streets with noise and excitement for a time; the gentlemen would return from Boston looking quite as much fatigued as if they had been working all day in a cornfield. The houses on Main Street were mostly so white as to be hardly distinguishable from the snow in winter, though many of them belonged, architecturally at least, to the last century, and had brass knockers on the doors. Yet there was a certain harmony among them; and it seemed as if the place must always have been as it was at that time.
There is, however, a compensation in the dullness of country life, which may be expressed in the word nature. The real architecture of Concord was not in private or public edifices, but in its magnificent elms, whose branches spanned the streets like the arches of a Gothic cathedral. The largest of them stands in front of the town hall, and its trunk measures just sixteen feet in circumference; though Doctor Holmes has failed to enumerate it in his list of the great trees of the State. Another on the road to Lexington is remarkable for its straight stem and perfect wineglass form. In autumn the scarlet maples set between the elms are no bad substitute for stained-glass windows.
There were no fine pictures in the town, but every turn of the river disclosed a landscape equal to a Claude or a Kenset. It is rare good fortune to live by a river of clear, pure water which serves equally well for boating and swimming or skating. There are very few such rivers. In the larger ones the current is usually too strong to make a long rowing expedition pleasant entertainment, and tide rivers are always inconvenient. In small rivers shoals and sand-bars commonly abound. River skating, also, is a science by itself, and requires, like Alpine climbing, well-seasoned knowledge and experience. It is a very different matter from whirling around in a city rink with half an inch of snow on the ice. The young men of Concord used to skate to Lowell, on favorable occasions, and back again, nearly thirty miles in all, and thought nothing of it. Concord River with its grassy banks, picturesque bridges and continual change of hill and meadow scenery is one of the prettiest that can be found anywhere.
Then such walks and drives as there were in the town! From Concord Common roads branch off in all directions like the spokes of a wheel. The oldest road, by which the British troops made their entry and exit, runs northeasterly to the Hawthorne house and Lexington with a firm, dry sidewalk for more than a mile; another goes northwesterly to the battle-ground and Esterbrook farm, where there were magnificent chestnut trees equal in size and shape to the Persian walnuts of Europe, as well as huge granite boulders scattered about from some pre-historic glacier.
The Emerson farm lies between two interesting roads, one going straight over the hills of Boston, and the other to Walden Lake and Thoreau's hermitage, or where it was. Between them runs a lively, gurgling brook, which used to be frequented by woodcock, and the Virginia rail, and passes close by Mrs. Emerson's garden.
Two or three miles to the south there is another lakelet called Fairhaven Bay, the south branch of the river flowing through it, quite equal in its way to Walden, or to an Irish lake, for that matter. On the outskirts of the village, there was many a quaint old weather-beaten house with a well-sweep, perhaps, for accompaniment,—excellent subjects for a sketchbook,—and Walden woods were always full of natural side-shows and those charming effects of color and shadow which artists delight in.
On the western side, there were the two mile square, the three mile square, and five mile square, for those who liked an exact measure for their constitutional exercise; and on the north the road went straight to Sleepy Hollow, now one of the famous cemeteries of the world. Thence, paths went through the fields and woods to the Lexington road on one side and to the north bridge on the other; and these paths are memorable from the fact that they were Hawthorne's favorite walk during the last years of his life.
A curious accident happened somewhere about 1860 just beyond Sleepy Hollow. A farmer returning to the next town felt the earth shaking under his wagon, and looked behind him just in time to see a piece of the road disappear into a pool of black water. The natives thought it had gone down to China for they were all summer filling the place up, and the expense was not less than that of a new district school-house.
The Indian name of the river was Muskataquid, and there was formerly an Indian encampment on the site of the old Ripley manse and battleground. A great quantity of arrow-heads of flint, jasper and quartz have been found in the neighboring fields, and Emerson used sometimes to bring his visitors to search for them. The Ripley family had a fine collection of Indian relics, and it is almost pathetic to think of the pains and labor the aborigines must have expended in manufacturing those household and warlike implements,—the arrows especially being often so soon lost again.
It is likely that they chose this situation for its sunny exposure, and as a favorable landing for their canoes, rather than from a decided feeling for landscape beauty. No doubt they had their battles and invasions, and perhaps repulsed their enemies from the same ground where the British line was afterwards formed.
What one wonders at, in regard to the Concord fight, is that the English commander should have drawn off his men after the first volley and so slight a loss. He had as good a position as his opponents, and after an obstinate struggle might have succeeded in carrying the bridge, the bayonets of his soldiers giving him a certain advantage. This would seem to have been more prudent than to retreat so long a distance before a confident enemy. It has been agreed that the position of the minute men was the best they could have selected, for after repulsing the British troops they were able to send a detachment across by Sleepy Hollow and Hawthorne's path to attack them again in flank on the Lexington road. This success was as fortunate for the colonies as in the summer of 1861 Bull Run was unlucky for our Southern friends.
The men who were drawn up to be shot at on Lexington Common were no doubt as brave as their friends who contested the battle of the old north bridge, but their position was not a favorable one to hold against a superior force. It was an excellent position to retreat from, and perhaps that is what their commander had in view. Evidently they should have withdrawn to Concord, or have intrenched themselves on the nearest hillside commanding the Boston and Concord road. Such was the difference between these two fights.
The life of Concord, at the time of which we write, was not its celebrated people so much as Mr. Frank B. Sanborn's school for youth of both sexes. There were not young people enough in the town to make a dance or a picnic out of, and this school introduced an element from the outside world which was both useful and improving. Most of his pupils came from the vicinity of Boston, but there were many also from Springfield, now and then one from the West Indies, and finally a Sandwich Islander, a genuine Kanaka. They supported several boarding-houses, the candy-store and the corner grocery, besides greatly increasing the revenue of the post-office.
It was a cheerful sight to see these ruddy youths and blooming maidens of a winter's day come trooping in to get the evening mail with their skates in their hands. There was also a daily delegation of farmers' boys from Acton, staunch, worthy fellows, and generally better behaved than their more aristocratic companions.
Mr. Sanborn himself, (afterwards for more than twenty years the efficient inspector of our state charities,) was the most genial and good-humored of schoolmasters. He enjoyed teaching, and wished his scholars to enjoy learning. He liked to see the bright young faces about him, and it was their own fault if he was not liked by his pupils. He was impartial, frank, and perfectly sincere; knew how to keep discipline without being a martinet. He was especially a good instructor for young ladies for he never showed them any sentimental tenderness.
It was not a very good training school, like the Boston Latin School, or Phillips Academy at Exeter, and this is usually the case in a school where there are pretty young women; but, as Emerson indeed said, much could be learned with Mr. Sanborn which was not to be had at other schools,—especially this, that the true aim of life should not be riches or success or even scholarship, but moral and intellectual development. Mr. Sanborn's ideal of his profession was a high one, and but for his interest in the larger field of philanthropy he might have succeeded in realizing it.
Mr. Sanborn's most troublesome boy had a scriptural name, which we will call David,—afterwards quite a distinguished lawyer. There was no harm in David, but an immense deal of mischief. In fact he was irrepressible. "David, stand up on the floor," was part of the customary routine; and when this was accompanied by the use of a large lexicon his situation was a truly amusing one. If he succeeded in escaping this penalty of transgression until the first recess he was considered fortunate. He usually returned from the school sports too much exhausted for any further exertion, but in half an hour was as lively again as ever. All veneration for authority seemed to have been replaced in David by a strong sense of the ridiculous. His seat was immediately under the eye of the master, with his face to the wall, and a large map of ancient Rome before him, but this did not prevent him from turning about on all possible occasions and expressing his various states of mind in such ludicrous pantomime as would set off the young girls and small boys like a row of torpedoes. Whatever might be said or done in the school without bringing condign punishment on his head David was sure to say or do; and his criticism of passing events and comments during recitations were quite as edifying as those of the instructor,—which is saying a good deal. He had committed to memory one of the longest lists of exceptions in the Latin grammar, and never missed an opportunity of repeating it as rapidly as possible and with a comical look.
His one object of aversion was Mr. Sanborn's rattan, and what to do about it he did not know; until coming to school one morning very early with another youth of the same disposition, they cut it into sections and smoked it. After this he was in great terror for several days lest the theft should be discovered, but as the rattan was more for ornament than exercise, its absence did not appear to have been noticed. Of course these performances made quite a hero of him with the girls, and he was rewarded with their smiles and favor at the school dances and other social occasions.
As an artistic contrast to this picture we remember three beautiful girls who boarded with the wife of the village blacksmith, in one of the whitest and most neatly kept houses in the town. They were not merely pretty young women, but each possessed a style of beauty peculiarly her own. One was a bright, rosy blonde, with sparkling eyes and a lively, spirited manner; another more quiet and composed, with an ivory-white complexion, and large, dreamy, tender-looking eyes; and the third was a light brunette with an oval face and regular features, reserved and dignified. Slightly idealized, with these fine qualities, they might have served for a picture of the Three Graces. They had the advantage of pretty manners, and being fast friends and of a single mind, made a strong impression wherever they went. Though the eldest was not more than seventeen, the Bigelow girls, as they were called from the blacksmith's family name, took the lead in Concord social life for the time being, and gave a tone to it. Their influence helped to make the boys more manly and the other girls more respectful.
Such a trio could not long escape the notice of the Harvard students, a number of whom made their acquaintance through graduates of the school; and one of them, inspired with admiration, composed a song which was quite popular at the time, beginning thus:
"There was an old lady in Concord did dwell, Who had but three boarders, and each one a belle; Grace, Jennie and Maggie, more priceless than pearls; Then here's to the health of the Bigelow girls."
Truly the days of their youth were the days of their glory; but it is not so for everyone. In fact many of us never obtain any glory. And who is that plainly dressed girl with the meekly determined look who goes back and forth so quietly and regularly? If you speak to her she will smile, but her voice is not often heard. It is Miss Evans' Mary Garth, or the prototype of Louisa Alcott's "Old Fashioned Girl." She is the best scholar in school, and already has important plans in her mind for the future.
Mr. Alcott would sometimes come in on a Wednesday afternoon, listen to the declamations and afterwards give his young friends a conversation on the faculties of the human mind. He was an agreeable speaker, and knew how to hold the attention of his youthful audience. On one of these occasions while he was discoursing on the higher mental faculties which are not possessed by the lower animals, a small boy suddenly called out from his corner, "Dogs have a conscience; I've seen it." The whole school roared at this, and it nearly disconcerted Mr. Alcott; but he quickly recovered himself, and explained that the apprehension of punishment often supplies the place of a conscience in dogs, as well as in boys and men; and a highly interesting discussion ensued on this subject. Such a method of instruction was highly refreshing after the dry routine in Latin and mathematics.
There was a yearly nutting excursion in October to Esterbrook farm where there were tall chestnut trees, flying squirrels and plenty of wood for a bonfire. May-day was usually celebrated at Conantum,—a pine-clad hill on the south side of Fairhaven Bay, opposite the cliffs. As soon as winter came committees were chosen to provide dancing or theatricals for every Friday evening; but the climax of pleasure was a half-holiday for a skating carnival on Walden Pond,—where Thoreau was sure to be present, and also a Miss Caroline Moore, daughter of the deputy sheriff, and afterwards widely known in Europe and America as the skatorial queen.
"Three cheers for the Giver of this glorious afternoon," and then the caps would go up in the air, and the rocks and hills echo the hoarse shouts of the boys. I can hear now the jingling of the skates, the crackling of the snow and the merry laughter as we came from under the pine trees of Walden into the keen starlight, with the great comet streaming in front of us.
On the first of May, 1859, Emerson wrote in a letter to Carlyle: "My boy divides his time between Cicero and cricket,—and will go to college next year. Sam Ward and I tickled each other the other day, in looking over a very good company of young people, by finding in the newcomers a marked improvement on their parents."
There are those who still remember seeing the two distinguished men on the Concord playground, and wondering what they thought of it. Mr. Ward came to place his boy under Mr. Sanborn's care; and a remarkable boy he proved to be,—equally generous, fearless and high-minded. Twenty years later, that same boy, looking out of his New York office window, saw his former guide and preceptor striding through Wall Street. He rushed down the stairs, and out upon the sidewalk, but the friend of his youth had disappeared and was nowhere to be found.
With two or three exceptions, Mr. Sanborn's young men held him in high regard, and when, in 1860, the United States marshals tried to carry him off by force to testify at Washington in regard to the Harper's Ferry invasion, they all rushed to his rescue, and foremost among them a Baltimore boy, who had been cursing his teacher as an infernal abolitionist for the previous six months.
Mr. Sanborn is much better known for his connection with the Harper's Ferry invasion than for his Concord school, or later service on the board of State Charities. He was secretary of the Kansas Aid Committee in Boston during 1856, and in this way became acquainted with John Brown, who visited the school, and the two were afterwards intimate friends.
None of Brown's New England supporters approved of his invasion of Virginia, and Mr. Sanborn especially argued the matter with him and endeavored to dissuade him from it. He thus became acquainted, however, with Brown's plans, and was the only person outside of Brown's immediate followers who knew of the proposed attack on Harper's Ferry. When the attempt failed and John Brown was a prisoner in Charlestown jail, Mr. Sanborn found himself, as an accessory before the act, in a most trying situation. If carried to Virginia either as a witness or as "particeps criminis" his chance for life would be a slight one. The question was, would General Banks, who was then governor of Massachusetts, refuse to surrender him. John A. Andrew did not consider it safe to rely on him; and Mr. Sanborn accordingly disappeared for the winter, his school being carried on meanwhile by an assistant and some public spirited Concord ladies, one of whom was a sister of Hon. E. R. Hoar.
In the spring Mr. Sanborn reappeared, and was almost immediately summoned by a United States marshal to give an account of himself before the senate committee in Washington. This he declined to do, believing that the townspeople would forcibly resist any attempts to carry him off.
The marshal, however, set a trap for him that missed little of being successful. He came to Concord at midnight, and secreted himself in an old barn which was close to the school-house, and belonged to one Mr. Holbrook, a custom-house officer. There he remained all the next day, keeping watch of Mr. Sanborn's movements through the cracks in the boards. A little after nine in the evening he was joined by four assistants in a carriage. They then proceeded to Mr. Sanborn's house, seized him at the door, and in spite of his great size and strength, would certainly have carried him off had it not been for the courage and energy of his sister Sarah. She screamed "murder," and seizing the carriage-whip, made such good use of it that the horses were with difficulty prevented from running away.
Her cries waked up the blacksmith in the next house, and he quickly came to the rescue. The "Bigelow girls" ran through the village like wild cats ringing door-bells and calling on the people. In less than twenty minutes nearly every man in town, Emerson included, was on the spot. The crowd showed a determined spirit, and the marshals were probably glad enough when Judge Hoar appeared with a writ of "habeas corpus," and took the prisoner out of their hands in a legal manner. The case was tried in Boston next day, and Mr. Sanborn was adjudged to have the right of it. A lively celebration followed in the Concord town hall that evening, and Miss Sarah Sanborn was presented with an elegant revolver; but the old borough had not been so stirred up since '75.
The place was not without some small entertainments. Every autumn there was an annual cattle-show at which the same bulls, horses and poultry were brought for exhibition, and one might suppose also the same fruit and vegetables; for they differed little in appearance from one year to another. A live bittern in a cage of laths was an unusual curiosity. Ventriloquists and every kind of a juggler, as well as native Indians and the wild men of Borneo, came to perform in the town hall.
Then there was the Concord Lyceum. People in those days believed in obtaining nourishment for the mind as well as the body. Pretty dry nourishment it often proved to be; but it served to bring them together for an hour or two, and take them out of themselves and their dull routine. Wiser remarks and more fresh information were sometimes heard upon the stairway than in the lecture-hall.
Yet Emerson was always good, and every man and woman who came to hear him probably felt better for it, even if they were unable to comprehend what he said to them. In the mind's eyes one can see now his spare figure standing at the desk between two large kerosene lamps, bending forward slightly to catch the familiar sentence with his eye, and then calmly surveying his audience as if to see where he could deliver it most effectively.
Henry Ward Beecher drew the largest house, and produced great enthusiasm by comparing the United States to an elephant,—though at that time there can hardly be said to have been any United States; but the fine oratory of Wendell Phillips made the strongest impression, rather too rhetorical to be permanent—but it was intense while it lasted. A young lady who was obliged to take laughing-gas a few days after his lecture on Toussaint L'Ouverture repeated passages from it with appropriate gestures, in the dentist's chair, and finally concluded, not with the name of the negro statesman, but of the Concord high-school teacher. Phillips was an especial favorite with the older ladies of the town, who organized a local anti-slavery society in his honor, and held a meeting of it whenever he came there.
But neither Phillips nor Beecher could equal a lecture by the Unitarian clergyman on the naval policy of England, which was based on valuable facts and might well be compared to a few grains of wheat in the midst of infinite chaff.
Judge Hoar did not lecture before the lyceum, which seemed strange, for he was not only a man of vigorous intellect, but had, as Lowell said,
"More wit and gumption and shrewd Yankee sense Than there are mosses on an old stone-fence,"
and he could have made any subject interesting in which he was interested himself.
The Hoar family for some time past had been almost kings in Concord, as frequently happens where there is an uncommonly strong man, either a lawyer or a manufacturer, in a town of two or three thousand inhabitants. They were a hardy New England race, lawyers by an inherited tendency, and had now made their mark in public affairs for three generations. They can count among their immediate relatives more senators and representatives to Congress than any other American family. It was said in 1775 that while Samuel Adams represented the force and virtue of New England life, John Adams was the best product of its cultivated side; and it would seem as if old Samuel Hoar, the founder of his line, were a mean between the two. Fortunate is such a father if he has a son who inherits his talents and virtues as well as his property; and fortunate is the son whose father knows from his own experience what is best to do for him.
The Judge was always an interesting figure in the Concord streets, and also a pleasant person to meet, for there was never the least pretention about him. He usually had the air of a man with an object before him, and yet it was sufficiently evident that he did not intend to claim more than his rightful share. He walked the ground with a tenacious step, but with no unseemly haste. There was a keen, frosty sparkle in his eye, and a certain severity of manner which, however, covered a great deal of kindness. He liked successful men such as were his own equal in ability, but he was quite as likely to take an interest in those who were unfortunate. A brother of Dr. Holmes, a constant invalid and great sufferer, who required much consideration, was a more frequent visitor at his house than Lowell or Agassiz. His face bore a striking resemblance to Raphael's portrait of the war-like Pope Julius Second, the last of the great popes. He admired Emerson, and was frequently seen in his company; but Alcott and Thoreau he seemed to have little respect for. Mr. Alcott once said, "I suppose Judge Hoar looks on me as the most useless person on the continent; but I can at least appreciate him."
He was the youngest judge that had ever been appointed to the supreme bench of Massachusetts, member of Congress, president of the Harvard Alumni, etc.; but his real distinction now is that as a member of General Grant's cabinet he was the first American in public life to take a determined stand in regard to civil-service reform.
For thirty years he had seen the government patronage turned into an enormous engine of political corruption, and endure it longer he could not. He went to Washington, much to his own inconvenience, mainly to strike a blow at this monster. Did he realize the magnitude of the work before him—one which thousands of patriotic men have since attempted and signally failed to accomplish? It was like taking the meat away from a tiger, or trying to lift the Mitgard serpent. Judge Hoar found himself quite alone in the president's cabinet, and with the exception of Sumner, Garfield, and a few others, senators and representatives united against him in a massive phalanx. Even the friendship of General Grant was unable to protect him from the fury of his opponents. He returned, not unwillingly, to his native heath and the practice of a better profession than Washington politics.
In his report to Congress on the battle of Bull Run, General Winfield Scott gave the opinion that it was lost through the lack of capable officers for the volunteer regiments; and it is generally true that men who like to play soldier in time of peace are not the best material to make real soldiers out of. This would not apply however to Captain George L. Prescott of Concord, who commanded the embattled farmers in that engagement. He was leading an advance on the enemy's centre—"a magnificent sight to look at," his colonel said—when the right wing of the army was outflanked by General Kirby Smith, and the Union forces obliged to retreat. The colonel also appears to have done his duty there, and being severely wounded at this juncture could hear nothing in the feverish condition he was in for the next few days but Prescott saying, "Steady, men, steady!" to the soldiers. Previous to 1861 he was station master at Concord, and also carried on a business in lumber, cement, and other building materials, which he could easily do, for trains in those days were not so very numerous. He was the first person that attracted the attention of visitors to the town; for he had a commanding figure and a frank, manly countenance, only too fearless and kindly,—a very handsome man. The Hoar family were evidently Yankees, and so were Emerson, Alcott, and Sanborn, but Captain Prescott was an American without seeming to belong to any particular part of the country. His cordial frankness and independence of manner reminded one of a Virginian.
The refined side of his nature is indicated by an anecdote of his first few days in camp on the Potomac. A cadet freshly graduated from West Point was directed by General McDowell to drill the different companies of the regiment in succession, and having but slight respect for volunteer soldiers, he gave an emphasis to his orders by the plentiful use of profane language. When he came to the Concord company, Captain Prescott, who was standing at one side, walked across to him and said, "I must request you, Sir, to give your orders in the plain terms of the military code, for my men do not like profanity. If you do otherwise, I shall order them to march off the ground; and they will obey me and not you." This brought the cadet to terms very quickly.
In the spring of 1862 he recruited another company for the Massachusetts Thirty-second; soon rose to the rank of colonel; and after escaping the peril of a dozen hard-fought battles, he was finally killed, with nearly half his command, in Grant's advance upon Richmond. Perhaps no other man would have been so greatly missed in his native town.
Thoreau used to walk through Concord with the long step of an Indian, looking straight before him, but at the same time observing everything. Occasionally he would stop, make an incision in the bark of a tree with his knife, or pick up a stone and examine it. It was not often that he was met with in anybody's house, or seen in company with other men.
His profession was that of a surveyor; and it is easy to imagine how, with his poetic temperament, while laying out roads and measuring wood-lots, he came to be what he was. Many people thought his peculiar ways were an affectation, but I believe that he was one of the plainest and simplest of men; as plain and single-minded as President Lincoln himself. It was his theory of the way men should live. He was a Diogenes without being a cynic.
James Russell Lowell (as he himself tells us) was sent to Concord to rusticate while he was at college, and conceived at that time an aversion for Thoreau which never left him. In his celebrated "Fable for Critics" he satirized him as an imitator of Emerson, and so plainly that there was no mistaking the portrait. This could not have troubled Thoreau much for he was a perfect stoic, and cared little for the opinions of others so long as he satisfied his own conscience. Emerson, however, felt it keenly, for it was equally a reflection on his friend and his own sagacity. In his last volume of poems Lowell also speaks of Emerson in a way which indicates rather a diminished respect for him.
It is true that Thoreau imitated Emerson's manner of speech a good deal—and it was often difficult to avoid doing this while in Emerson's company—but Lowell also in his younger days affected a grave and reserved demeanor which he afterwards became tired of and threw entirely aside. About the time of which we speak Emerson complained that he saw too little of Thoreau, and was afraid that he avoided him. The man was sufficiently original. He did not pretend to be a poet, and his prose writing is not at all like Emerson. In point of style it is purer and more classic than either Emerson's or Lowell's; and these two lines of his,
"In the good then who can trust. Only the wise are just,"
certainly deserve to be set up somewhere in letters of gold.
He had a strong dislike of matrimony. Once while walking across a field with David A. Wasson he kicked a skunk-cabbage with his boot and said, "There, marriage is like that." Lowell was without doubt right about him in this respect. Thoreau's notions of life, like the socialistic theories of Henry George, would if generally adopted put an end to civilization. He wanted like the French theorists of the last century to separate himself from the history of his race; a most dangerous attempt. It is like cutting a tree from its roots. Wasson had many a hard argument with him on this point, and tried to show him that customs are the good logic of the human race: but it was too late. However, logic is one thing and character another.
The best eulogy of Thoreau is to be found in Emerson's poetry. He is evidently the subject of the beautiful little poem called "Forbearance." The opening lines,
"Thou who hast named the birds without a gun; Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk; At rich men's tables eaten bread and pulse;—"
This describes the hermit of blue Walden exactly. A large portion of "Woodnotes" is devoted to an account of his pilgrimage in the forests of Maine; and the ode to "Friendship" must have been inspired either by him or Carlyle.
"I fancied he was fled— And after many a year, Glowed unexhausted kindliness, Like daily sunrise there."
He delivered a lecture one winter before the Concord lyceum on wild apple-trees. The subject made his audience laugh, but their laughter was of short duration. The man who had lived there so long unknown was at last revealed before them, It was the best lecture of the season, and at its close there was long continued applause.
The literary celebrities of Concord, with the exception of Thoreau, were not indigenous. Emerson may have gone there from an hereditary tendency, but more likely because his cousins the Ripleys dwelt there. Hawthorne came there by way of the Brook Farm experiment. How, with his reserved and solitary mode of life, he should have embarked in such a gregarious enterprise is not very clear; but the election of General Harrison had deprived him of a small government office—it seems as if Webster might have interfered in his behalf—his writings brought him very little, and perhaps he hardly knew what to do with himself.
All accounts agree that he joined the West Roxbury association of his own free-will, and without solicitation of any kind. He not only threw himself into this hazardous scheme with an energy that astounded his friends but he embarked in it all the money he had in the world, which was nearly a thousand dollars. He has left no explanation from which we might infer what his hopes or his motives were.
Since three wise men went to sea in a bowl, or the army of German children set out for the Holy Land in the twelfth century, there was never a more hare-brained or chimerical undertaking. I once knew of a boy who after much reading of Robinson Crusoe, started for the woods at five o'clock of a summer afternoon, with the full intention of spending the night there alone. He took with him a light fowling-piece, and some crackers in his jacket pocket. He gathered some berries and shot some small birds, and cooked them after the Indian fashion. When it grew dark, however, he became frightened and climbed into a tree; but he could not sleep there, and finally returned home about one o'clock in the morning to find his family in great agitation.
This was not very unlike the Brook Farm enterprise, which was inspired by the writings of Fourier, a seductive French socialist and one of the most unreasonable of men. He considered, like Diogenes, that since all men could not be rich and comfortable, it was better that they should all be needy and miserable. It was one of the sentimental out-growths of the French Revolution, for which Napoleonism is always the proper remedy. One of his peculiar notions was that every man should black his own boots.
George Ripley and his friends do not seem to have made any definite calculation of what might be the result of their experiment. They expected, by working six hours a day and limiting themselves to the simplest and most frugal living, to have six left for literary pursuits and the enjoyment of profound conversation. Any practical farmer would have told them that this could not be done and make both ends meet at the close of the year. Any political economist would have told them that a community which disregards the advantage of division of labor, could not compete with one which recognizes that advantage. The principles of Fourier, if generally adopted, would produce general starvation and soon reduce the population of Europe to one fourth of its present numbers. London, which depends for its size on its commercial and political importance, would become almost as desolate as ancient Thebes.
There was lately an essay published in one of our magazines entitled, "Why Socialism appeals to Artists," and the reason alleged was that artists, being more sensitive and delicately organized than most people, were less capable of enduring the hard struggle with the world which all are obliged to sustain who make their own way in it. This is no doubt the true explanation of the Brook Farm enterprise, and it carries with it its own contradiction. The more realistic sort of literature might survive in the communistic order, but sculpture and painting, which depend upon the undivided surplus of production which we call wealth, would inevitably perish. Even literature would disappear at length, then science, or at least all advancement of science, precedent in law would be disregarded, and the dark ages come again. The present organization of society is the accumulated wisdom of mankind for thousands of years. Like the language we speak, it was rather an intellectual growth than the invention of an individual or any number of individuals. Those who have done the most for it have added but little to the whole. It may be subverted by revolution for a time, but will always reassert itself again. It may be amended or modified by reason, but cannot be replaced, either by the ingenuity of one man or that of a whole generation.
The logic of custom is the most cogent of all reasoning, for it is inherited in our veins from our ancestors. The man who tries to escape from it is like a plant being pulled up by the roots. It is exactly this which writers like Fourier and Henry George leave out of their reckoning. They see that in individual cases custom is often blind, cruel, and oppressive, and being kind-hearted and sympathetic they hate it; but they might as well hate the earth itself because there are deserts and swamps and malarious places on its surface. It is, no doubt, the special business of man to remodel the earth as much as possible; to drain its swamps, and level its forests; but in spite of that its rivers and mountains will always remain the same, and separate ourselves from it we cannot.
The greater number of the Brook Farm community were transcendentalists, and we have no desire to depreciate the work which the transcendentalists accomplished. They were the needful men and women of their time; the importers of fresh thought and a more elevated mental activity. The most critical and conservative of American reviews has said of them:
"They put aside worldly ambition and desire as truly as ever did medieval monk or oriental ascetic, and thus gave what was essential in their surroundings, a practical proof of their sincerity. The result was almost startling. Their Yankee audience first ridiculed them as dreamers; but when they found that what the transcendentalists actually recommended to them was dreaming, their ridicule changed to wonder, and finally to a sort of awe-struck admiration, something like that we imagine a Roman to have felt on learning that a Christian was capable of giving up his fish-ponds and nightingales' tongues, and his afternoons at the amphitheatre, for the sake of what he called 'Truth' proclaimed by an obscure few."
This is not saying too much, but if anything too little. Since the time of the early Christians there was never a more pure-minded and loyal-hearted congregation than that which was gathered at Brook Farm. They were really the best society of the day. George Ripley himself, one of the finest scholars and most agreeable writers of that time, afterwards found his right place as literary editor of the New York Tribune, where for twenty-five years he disseminated the knowledge of the best thought and literature broadcast over the land. When we consider the immense circulation of that periodical and the quality of its readers, we can hardly overestimate the value of his work. Many have become famous for less.
There were poets, painters, musicians in the community; especially John S. Dwight, who as the life-long editor of the "Journal of Music," also deserves a place on the roll of our public educators. George William Curtis was one of the youngest members of the community, but always one of the most brilliant. Sometimes of a rainy day there was very good cheer and entertainment in the "Hive" as they called their most commodious building, but generally the men were too drowsy and fatigued after their work was done for much intellectual activity.
It is necessary, however, to distinguish between the New England transcendentalists and the German school of philosophy, from which they are supposed to have derived their inspiration. A German critic has said of them that they were not so much philosophers as poetical rhapsodists, and this is about the truth of it. Their business was not so much thinking, as to celebrate thinking. There was also in the composition of their creed a strong element of French naturalism, which is not easily reconciled with the teachings of the German transcendentalists. Kant, Fichte, and Schelling were true metaphysicians, and would never have encouraged their pupils to establish a socialistic community in the suburbs of Leipsic, nor would they have approved of Emerson's lines:
"Who liveth with the stalwart pine Foundeth an heroic line; Who liveth in the palace hall Waneth fast and spendeth all;—"
for they would have said, "There are the Hohenzollerns; and the experience of mankind is also worth something." It was this empirical French quality in New England transcendentalism which gave it a certain popularity, but at the same time prevented it from striking its roots deeply into the national soil. The law of nature has its value, but where it conflicts with the historical method it is invariably defeated.
Emerson was the elected chief of the transcendental movement on account of his influence with the public, but its true leader and representative character was Margaret Fuller.
This remarkable woman, whose life was adventure from the cradle, who lived in everybody's house except her own, who went everywhere and did everything on nothing a year, who made enemies by the dozen and friends by the score, still remains one of the most distinguished persons of that period. With some faults of character, she still possessed those strong qualities which are required for the conduct of a great enterprise. She had that personal magnetism which comes from courage, confidence, and clear perceptions. She inspired great enthusiasm in others for whatever she was interested in herself.
As a talker, she was the rival of Carlyle and Coleridge; the best we have ever had on this side of the water, and with such an artistic style that one could hardly decide whether it was studied or natural. She was a terrible antagonist; for she united the tongue of a woman to the logical faculty of a man, and it was impossible to get the better of her. Her faults were the faults of youth, as she was occasionally vain, saucy or overbearing, and always self-conscious. It was this last trait that Lowell referred to when he represented her as saying that since her earliest years she had "lived cheek by jowl with the Infinite Soul." Much youthful vanity, however, can be forgiven to those who are generous and faithful. Besides, Margaret Fuller was splendidly domestic. She advocated women's rights to a certain extent; but she was no forerunner to the modern brood of platform women who fumble their night-keys while they discourse on the duties of wives and mothers. She carried a helping hand into the families that she entered, as well as stirring all the inmates to an unwonted mental activity. She would knit socks while she talked Plato: but the best testimony to her character is the character of her friends. People are known by the company they keep.
The one quality which Hawthorne had in common with the transcendentalists, except such qualities as are common to all good people, was ideality. Next to the grand structure of his head, this is the most noticeable characteristic in the pictures of him. He seems to have been attracted to them at first, and was even mistaken for a transcendentalist by Edgar A. Poe, and was attacked by that fiery Virginian in a most belligerent manner.
At Brook Farm, however, he soon began to differentiate from them, and finally acquired for them something like an aversion. Neither is this to be wondered at. Hawthorne was an artist pure and simple. He looked for ideality in human life; not in the ideas that control and direct it. He was not like Raphael and Shakspeare, men who could enjoy philosophy and make their art so much the richer and deeper for it. He saw everything in a pictorial form; facts and conditions which did not make a picture had no value for him, and reasoning was a weariness and a disagreeable effort. Nevertheless he did the best he could.
It is delightful to think of the tremendous energy with which he worked at Brook Farm. No one else seems to have done so much hard labor there. He was better fitted for this than many of his colleagues, having a strong, full-chested frame, and is said in his youth to have been a very swift runner and skater; but nothing indicates better the latent force that was in this quiet and usually inactive man. Many of the Brook Farm adventurers were not physically equal to a solid day's work, but this was a contingency which nobody had foreseen.
Hawthorne was one of the first to discover the futility of the experiment. Early in the following year he wrote to Miss Sophia Peabody to whom he was then engaged: "It has become quite evident to me that our fortunes are not to be found in this place;" a conclusion which he no doubt arrived at from an examination of the accounts of the association. It was Hawthorne's salvation in the difficult path of life he had chosen; a path as difficult and dangerous as that of an Alpine climber, that, poet as he was, he always looked facts sternly in the face and did not permit himself to be misled by romantic or sentimental illusions.
It had been expected that the more brilliant members of the community would be able to write magazine articles, or other remunerative literature, in their hours of leisure, and money thus obtained would go into the common fund. Hawthorne found that he could do nothing of the kind. Two or three hours' work in the sun did not quite deprive him of the use of his brains, but it left him without either fancy or imagination. He also felt the want of that external refinement which a nature like Hawthorne's requires as a fulfilment of its internal condition. The lack of nicety in the housekeeping became continually more and more unpleasant to him. The expenditures at the end of the first year were largely in excess of the receipts; in fact the inmates had eaten up nearly everything that the farm produced. His friend Franklin Pierce, who was just beginning to be prominent in politics, asked him the salutary question, "What are you gaining by this peculiar mode of life?"
His experience there served as a foundation for the "Blithedale Romance," and caused no further injury than the loss of his money. It would have required a Thackeray to have realized and described the humorous side of it—the highly practical joke of so many well-educated and cultivated people making life unnecessarily hard for themselves.
In the autumn of 1841 a reverend gentleman, the brother of Mrs. L. Maria Child, went to visit his friend at Brook Farm accompanied by his niece, who is one of the few persons now living who have a distinct memory of the place. On calling at the "Hive" they learned that only a few members of the association were present at that moment, but Mr. Ripley himself could be found in the turnip field, where they soon discovered him with two others, throwing turnips into a cart. On the approach of his friends, Mr. Ripley came forward and said, "Dr. Francis, this is really kind of you, to come such a distance to see an old fellow. You perceive I am occupied with the philosophy of 'de cart.'" This referred to some writings he had lately published on Descartes' philosophy, and made his audience laugh heartily.
Mr. Dwight then appeared and gave an interesting account of a flock of wild geese which he had discovered early in the morning marching through the cornfield. He said they looked exactly like tame geese, but as soon as he came in sight of them they flew away in a most surprising manner. Mr. Bradford, who is frequently mentioned in Hawthorne's note-book, looked sunburnt and very thin, and averred that milking the cows on a frosty morning was a chilly kind of business. Hawthorne himself had gone to Boston; probably to sell the pig referred to in his conversation with Franklin Pierce. The visitors walked about the premises and were shown through the "Hive," but found it rather a dreary and comfortless building. The farm did not appear to be well kept. There was too evidently a lack of order and discipline there; and without order and discipline no enterprise in which numbers are concerned can succeed.
Having discovered nothing better than fool's gold at Brook Farm, Hawthorne suddenly came across the true metal in the domestic privacy of his married life at Concord. It would appear from one of Mrs. Hawthorne's letters that George Ripley was so sanguine of the success of his experiment that he had given Hawthorne a sort of guarantee for the thousand dollars which the latter had invested in it. When, at the close of the first year, Hawthorne had decided to withdraw from the association, he naturally hoped to regain a portion of his capital. Mr. Ripley was too deeply involved to accommodate him in that way, and offered instead the rent of the old Ripley mansion in Concord, which then happened to be vacant. So Hawthorne and Miss Peabody were happily married, with no immediate fund save the rent of an ancient house in the country, and no better expectations than the uncertain income from his pen.
It was a hazardous undertaking, but he was now nearly forty years old, his fiancee more than thirty, nor could the sharpest foresight discover any advantage from waiting longer. Emerson, in his lecture on heroism, has signalled especially the heroism of the scholar, and selected as an example the Frenchman Anquetil Duperron, who worked his passage on a vessel to India, and then worked his way, mostly on foot, through Afghanistan and Persia, learning languages as he went, in order to obtain copies of the sacred books of the Persians, which were then unknown in Europe. Were it not for fear of giving offence he might have found a finer heroism in literary genius, and selected an example from his own village.
For fifteen years Hawthorne had been like a ship detained from port by adverse winds. The handsomest and most gifted man in America had nearly reached to forty years without being married or finding a home of his own. It was a life of hardship; of social starvation almost like exile. It tested his courage, his faith in human nature, to the utmost. How difficult were the earlier years of Irving and Bryant and Longfellow. That he remained always true to himself and never lost sight of that ideal of excellence which was his guiding-star.
We are not surprised to learn that his difficulties were rather augmented than diminished by matrimony. Even in plain, rural Concord he found at the end of three years, that his expenses had exceeded his income by what seemed to him quite a formidable debt. This distressed him the more because he had not yet learned that all men must lose in some manner, and that the whole community is bound to take a share in such losses as are honestly incurred. This is what charity and philanthropy, as well as the various forms of insurance, finally result in. But Hawthorne was the last man to apply such a principle to his own case. He had continually hoped that when a balance-sheet was drawn up at Brook Farm some portion of his investment there would be returned to him; but this resource also failed him.
At last Bancroft the historian, whom James K. Polk strangely enough had made secretary of the navy, heard of his situation, and had him appointed collector of the port at Salem. He was again removed from that position by President Taylor, and it has been said that his wife heroically supported him by her skill in drawing and painting until the "Scarlet Letter" could be finished and money procured from its publication. The nomination of Franklin Pierce for the presidency was a piece of good fortune for Hawthorne such as the wildest expectation could never have imagined; and at length in his fiftieth year, with the consulate of Liverpool, he finally saw the wolves driven from his door. This realistic side of his life seems to have escaped the attention of his biographers.
Yet he may be called fortunate to have lived when he did. It is easy to say that we should have appreciated Emerson and Hawthorne better than their cotemporaries appreciated them, but it is one thing to recognize a genius when we meet him and a very different matter to admire him after we have been informed that he is a famous man. It is doubtful if writers in whom the ideality is so strongly marked would be received with favor at the present time either by editors or the public. The tendency to materialism would have been too strong for them. Lyceum lectures, on which Emerson depended chiefly, are not what they were; and either of them in a magazine would appear in too startling a contrast with the smooth impersonal writing of to-day. The two cardinal sins of a writer now are to have a style of his own and ideas of his own.
Complaint is frequently made that we have no great men like those of the past; but such grand individualities as Hawthorne and Webster, or even self-centred characters like Horace Greeley, are no longer possible. Everywhere, in the college, in the market, and in society, war is waged upon originality and independence of character. It is the same in politics as in literature. Our novelist critic said of the rage for Christmas cards, some years since, "The truth is that art must obey the popular will or cease to be." There was not much art certainly in Christmas cards; but nothing could express better the truculent spirit of the age.
Most husbands are fortunate if their honeymoon lasts a month, but Hawthorne's lasted two years. It would seem as if during that space not a cloud came across his sky. He gathered flowers for his wife—water lilies, which he must have sought for in a boat, fringed gentians and the queenly "Lilium Canadensis"—and then felt that the most beautiful of them were unequal to the loveliness of her nature. After the first months, few visitors came to see them. "George Prescott," he says, "sometimes enters our paradise to bring us the products of the soil, but for weeks the snow in our avenue has been untrodden by any other guest." Mrs. Hawthorne's letters at this period are exceedingly interesting, for nowhere in her husband's writings, or in those of others, do we come so close to this rare and remarkable man. The following description of his character seems to have been a genuine case of thought transferrence, so much is it like his own writing in grace and purity of expression:
"He loves power as little as any mortal I ever knew; and it is never a question of private will between us, but of absolute right. His conscience is too fine and high to permit him to be arbitrary. His will is strong, but not to govern others. He is so simple, so transparent, so just, so tender, so magnanimous, that my highest instinct could only correspond to his will. I never knew such delicacy of nature."
This is a classic gem, and nothing could be added to it. The character of Hilda in "The Marble Faun," is simply Mrs. Hawthorne at the age of twenty-two. She was a pure-hearted, unselfish person, but not self-reliant or over wise. There is a golden edge or rainbow hue to his description of the old manse which distinguishes it from his other writings and betrays the deeply penetrating happiness he felt there. It is like a morning landscape painted while the dew is on the grass. One notices especially his delight in the great yellow squash-blossoms and the way in which he idealizes them. This, and the three years he spent in Europe after the expiration of his consulate, were the holidays of his life and the reward of all the rest.
With the exception of William Ellery Channing, he made no friends in Concord, though he speaks kindly of Thoreau, and compares Channing to him. It is to be suspected that this was largely on account of his political principles—or the lack of them. He had held office under a democratic administration and felt that his interests were connected with that party. Further than that, he does not appear to have distinguished between the two parties. Of his most intimate friends, one was a democrat and the other a whig. But the annexation of Texas was now in sight, and Concord was stirred again with the spirit of '75. Hawthorne, as is well known, did not take interest in the antislavery movement, and a heated discussion of any subject must have been jarring and unpleasant to him.
It is not impossible that in this way he came into conflict with Margaret Fuller and conceived an abiding dislike to her. Miss Fuller would not have spared her eloquence in regard to what she considered a matter of principle, nor is it likely that she would have been more considerate of the respect which is due in such matters from a woman to a man.
There were not a few persons whom she offended by too much "bounce." To a reverend gentleman who asked her, as they were parting at the house of a mutual friend, where her office was in Boston, she replied, "Oh! look in the directory for it"; instead of politely giving him the street and number. Thus she lost a pleasant acquaintance and a subscriber to "The Dial." Hawthorne and his wife had not been four days in Concord before she came to them with a proposition that they should take Ellery Channing and his wife, who was her own sister, into their family as boarders. One cannot help some astonishment at this proceeding, for it is an instinct with all women to know that a newly married couple do not like to be interfered with. No word has ever been published from which we can infer how the grievance between them originated, but it is morally certain that there was a grievance of some kind, and as Hawthorne was the most inoffensive of men, it is not likely that he was responsible for it.
Now in regard to what follows, it is well to carry in mind two important points. In the first place, a writer of fiction acquires a habit, very naturally, of dealing with all tales and anecdotes as if they were subjects for his art, and is not therefore so accurate a judge of their veracity as a lawyer or a critic might be. Whatever holds together as a story is to him as good as true. The second point is that although Hawthorne understood human nature better than the rest of us, it is nevertheless with certain limitations. His romance characters are of a rare sort and are well sustained, but they form a group by themselves. He has not the range of Scott, Thackeray, or Goethe. There is not the slightest evidence that he appreciated the character of Emerson; and if so, he would not be likely to appreciate Emerson's intimate friends. A man like John Brown, always ready to rush upon destruction for an idea, must have been an inexplicable riddle to him. Yet John Brown was the only American who could match Hawthorne in ideality—totally different as they were in other respects.
Twelve years later, while Hawthorne was in Rome, he became acquainted with a sculptor named Mosier, who gave him a most disparaging account of Margaret Fuller's marriage to Count D'Ossoli. This informant said that the D'Ossoli family, though pretending to be noble, actually lived like peasants; that the count's brother had for some years been a servant to a gentleman he knew of; that the count himself was an exceedingly handsome man, but ignorant and clownish; that he could not even speak Italian; and that Margaret Fuller had become a good deal demoralized in Rome, and could neither write nor converse with her former brilliancy. Hawthorne accepted this statement and entered it in his diary with inferences of his own which are still more unfavorable to Miss Fuller.
We like to believe that he wrote this rather to relieve his own mind than with the expectation of influencing the minds of others. We can easily forgive him for it, for in the whole course of his life there is no other instance of the same kind; but he was most certainly in error to believe such an imputation on the character of a respectable lady from the authority of a single witness. C. P. Cranch, the poet and landscape-painter, says that this Mr. Mosier was the veriest Munchausen, and nobody in Rome thought of crediting his stories. But Mosier's statement shows on its face signs of internal weakness. When he says that Count D'Ossoli in attempting to model a foot placed the big-toe on the wrong side, he states what is altogether incredible, and discloses his own splenetic humor. Neither is it more likely that Margaret Fuller permitted him to examine her manuscripts so that she might obtain his assistance in regard to their publication. Whatever may be said of her, she was not a fool, and was better acquainted with both English and American publishers than all the sculptors in Italy.
Miss Fuller's marriage was rather a peculiar one, but nothing is more common than for a highly intellectual woman to select a mate who is a decided contrast to her. Hawthorne has given us an example of this in the romance of Monte Beni—the brilliant Miriam falling in love with that Italian child of nature Donatello. Margaret Fuller was always attracted strongly by personal beauty, and when she was a girl at school she chose her favorites rather for that than for their mental endowments. The handsome D'Ossoli was no doubt all the more interesting to her because he belonged to a noble family which had come to misfortune. Is it not better for us to look at the matter in this way? Margaret Fuller's marriage, voyage, and final destruction against the rocks of her native land, would form the subject for a magnificent poem.
How could it happen that Hawthorne deceived himself? Is it possible that he was in the right, and men like Emerson, Ripley, and James Freeman Clarke in the wrong? Why does he consider Miss Fuller to have had a strong, coarse nature, and to have been morally unsound? Here we enter into the deepest recesses of the author's nature.
Hawthorne was not wholly a fatalist, or he never could have conceived the character of Donatello, but he was very largely so. A man for whom a life of action is impossible, and who is thus unable to escape wholly from his own shadow, naturally comes to look on any series of events as an inevitable chain of cause and effect. He speaks somewhere of Byron's virtues and vices as being so closely interwoven that he could not have had one without the other, and if the objectionable passages in his poetry were expurgated, the life and genius of it would go with them. His story of "The Birth-mark" is an allegory of the same description. He did not agree with Shakspeare, that the best men are moulded out of faults, but believed that as we are in the beginning, so we remain essentially till the end.
He says that whenever Margaret Fuller heard of a rare virtue, she wished to possess it and adorn herself with it; so that she finally became a sort of brilliant external patchwork, dazzling to the eye, but internally quite different. There is a certain truth in this, but it is not a whole truth; for there is Socrates—a compendium of all the ancient virtues, consistent throughout, and who formed himself in the manner Hawthorne describes. It is true that in a search after rare and exceptional virtues we are apt to lose sight of the more homely kind which form the bone and sinew of human-life. But is not this effort a virtue in itself? Is not all progress in this world accomplished as the frog escaped from the well, by jumping up three feet and falling back two? Is not the very crown of character that which we derive from failure, penitence, and self-reproach? Human nature is a mysterious labyrinth and the wisest have only found a partial clue to it.
George S. Hillard—a brilliant amateur sort of writer, orator and editor—came to visit Hawthorne one of the last Sundays while he remained in the Old Manse, and the two went together to spend the forenoon in Walden woods, calling on Emerson by the way to inquire what the best road might be. Emerson prudently detained them until after the townspeople were safely in their churches, and then accompanied them. It is a pleasant retrospect to think of those two mighty men, so like and yet so unlike, together with their amiable and gifted friend, going off on this Sunday excursion. Mr. Hillard was a fortunate companion for him, for no one could serve better as a mean between two extremes. At the close of Hawthorne's rehearsal of this episode, he makes this note, in commentary:—
"I find that my respect for clerical people, as such, and my faith in the utility of their office, decrease daily. We certainly do need a new Revelation, a new system; for there seems to be no life in the old one."
Was this the summary and net result of their stroll in Walden woods? It must be confessed that such was the opinion of the most thoughtful and high-minded people in those days; but we do not feel so now. Schism and separation have done their work, and liberal thinkers everywhere are now returning to the Christian fold.
* * * * *
About the first of June 1860 the Hawthorne family returned from their long residence in England and Italy. There was no little curiosity concerning them in the quiet old settlement, which was increased by the fact that nothing was seen of them for several months after they came.
If Thoreau was a recluse, Hawthorne was an anchorite. He brought up his children in such purity and simplicity as is scarcely credible,—not altogether a wise plan. It was said that he did not even take a daily paper. In the following year Martin F. Conway, the first United States representative from Kansas, went to Concord to call on Emerson, and Emerson invited Hawthorne to dine with them. Judge Conway afterwards remarked that Mr. Hawthorne said very little during the dinner, and whenever he spoke he blushed. Imagine a man five times as sensitive as a young lady in her first season, with the will of a Titan, and a mind like a crown-glass mirror, and you have Nathaniel Hawthorne. While he was in a state of observation, the expression of his face reflected everything that was going on about him; in his reflective moods, it was like looking in at the window of a dark room, or perhaps a picture-gallery; and if any accident disturbed him his look was something like a cracked pane of glass.
Moreover there was something unearthly or superterrestrial about him, as if he had been born and brought up in the planet Saturn. Wherever he went he seemed to carry twilight with him. He walked in perfect silence looking furtively about for fear he might meet some one that he knew. His large frame and strong physique ought to have lasted him till the year 1900. There would seem to be something strange and mysterious about his death, as there was in his life. His head was massive, and his face handsome without being attractive. [Footnote: This, however, was near the close of his life.] The brow was finely chiseled, and the eyes beneath it were dark, luminous and fathomless. I never saw him smile, except slightly with his eyes.
If his son invited a friend to dinner it was always when his father was away from home. Neither do I remember seeing him at his daughter's out-coming party,—an occasion when the town musician declined to appear because the sister of his particular friend had not been invited.
Emerson has given an account of this trait in Hawthorne's character, but he has failed to discover the mainspring of it. Who indeed can explain it? It was part of the man, and without it we could not have had Hawthorne. Perhaps the easiest solution is that of Thoreau's wild apple-tree. When the sprout from an apple-seed comes up in the grass a cow pretty soon bites it off. The next year it puts out two more shoots, and the ends of these are again nipped off. Thus it continues to grow under severe restrictions and forms at length a large thorn-bush, from which finally the tree is able to shoot up beyond the cow's reach and bears its proper fruit. So no doubt Hawthorne in his youth, being a tender plant, was greatly annoyed by brutal and inconsiderate people. A sensitive, proud and refined nature inevitably becomes a target for all the cheap wits and mischievous idlers in the neighborhood. To escape from this we may suppose that Hawthorne surrounded himself with an invisible network of reserve, behind which his pure and lofty spirit could develop itself in a harmonious manner.
This he certainly succeeded in doing. In purity of expression and a graceful diction Hawthorne takes the lead of his century. He was the romance writer of the Anglo-Saxon race; in that line only Goethe has surpassed him. Nor is it possible for pure and beautiful work to emanate from a mind which is not equally pure and beautiful. Wells of English undefiled cannot flow from a turbid spring.
In purity Emerson probably equaled him, but not in his sense of beauty. Where he surpassed Hawthorne was in manliness, and in his broad humanitarian interests. Otherwise no two men could be more unlike than these, and it would seem to be part of the irony of fate that they should have lived on the same street, and been obliged to meet and speak with each other. One was like sunshine, the other shadow. Emerson was transparent, and wished to be so, he had nothing to conceal from friend or enemy. Hawthorne was simply impenetrable. Emerson was cordial and moderately sympathetic. Hawthorne was reserved, but his sympathies were as profound as the human soul itself. To study human nature as Hawthorne and Shakespeare did, and to make models of their acquaintances for works of fiction, Emerson would have considered a sin; while the evolution of sin and its effect on character was the principal study of Hawthorne's life. One was an optimist, and the other what is sometimes unjustly called a pessimist: that is, one who looks facts in the face and sees people as they are. Hawthorne could not have felt quite comfortable in the presence of a man who asked such searching questions as Emerson frequently did, and Emerson could scarcely have found satisfaction in conversing with one who never had any opinion to express.
A good many people claimed to have been Hawthorne's friends after his death who were sufficiently afraid of him while he was alive. He does not appear to have ever had but two very intimate friends, Franklin Pierce and George S. Hillard, both remarkably amiable and sympathetic men,—qualities to which they owed equally their successes and failures in life. Ex-president Pierce used to come to Concord and carry Hawthorne off to the White Mountains, the Isles of Shoals or Philadelphia, just as two college-students will drop their books and go off somewhere to have a good time. Once while Hawthorne was in Boston, Mr. Hillard tried to persuade him to go to Cambridge and dine with Longfellow; but he would not, and went home by the next train.
He was pro-slavery in politics, partly because his two friends were so, and partly because he disliked the abolitionists. It is not necessary to suppose that the pro-slavery people of the North in those days believed that human slavery was morally right. It is doubtful if any one believed that. A great many considered it, as Webster did, a serious evil but a dangerous matter to interfere with (and so it proved); some were influenced by mercenary motives; and the northern Democrats, misled by the illogical doctrine of State Sovereignty, believed they had no right to interfere with it. Mr. Hillard held the first of these positions, and General Pierce the last. Very likely Hawthorne shared in both of them; but he never explained himself, and what he thought on the subject will always remain a mystery. The political element seems almost to have been left out of his composition; and in one of his books he speaks of the Concord fight with a certain kind of indifference.
Alcott was almost the only man in Concord who had the courage to call on Hawthorne. Sometimes they even went to walk together. How much satisfaction Hawthorne found in these visits it would be difficult to say, for the very philosophic breadth and extension of Alcott's interest were enough to make Hawthorne feel rather shy of him. Alcott's conversation about books and literature was often very fine, but even this could not have given Hawthorne much entertainment. His own library, as he states himself somewhere, was of a miscellaneous character, and contained the works of scarcely any author of repute except Shakespeare. Alcott's sense of humor and keen knowledge of human nature may have been a sort of common ground between them.
Meanwhile Hawthorne, as afterwards appeared, was making a study of Alcott to see whether he would serve his purpose as the mainspring for a new work of fiction. The manuscript plot of a romance was found among Hawthorne's papers in which he describes a personage in general outline like his neighbor Alcott, but without his ideality and good-humor. This imaginary character was supposed to live in a retired manner, together with an old housekeeper, a boy of whom he is the legal guardian, and a huge spider in which his interest and solicitude are more especially centred. What the catastrophe of this strange story was to have been, we are not informed, but it naturally would have arisen from the unhealthy and oppressive social position in which the boy must have found himself as he advanced towards manhood. At the close of his memoranda Hawthorne says, "In person and figure Mr. Alcott—". To be selected as the mainspring of a romance is properly a compliment.
There was a certain Dutch artist who made a specialty of sheep, and painted them so well that Goethe said of him, "This painter so entered into the life of his subject that I think he must have been a sheep, and I shall become one if I continue to look at his pictures." In the same way Hawthorne had such penetrating sympathy for all living things, that he unconsciously absorbed certain qualities from those with which he was most familiar. He would sometimes write a letter to his publisher, Mr. Fields, which was almost like what Mr. Fields would have written to him.
Venomous creatures appeared to have been especially interesting to him, and he even fancied a poisonous influence in the Roman sunshine. Perhaps his liking for spiders may account for a certain cobwebby feeling which comes over one at times while reading his books. There can be no doubt of this, for when I once spoke of it, a lawyer who was present replied, "I have said the same myself; and when I was in Paris reading a French newspaper, I had a feeling as if cobwebs were being drawn across my face, and looking down to the end of the column, I saw that it was a translation from Hawthorne." But these peculiarities are like the soil which gives flavor to the grape, and the wine that comes from the grape.
If the reader thinks that in these few paragraphs Hawthorne has hardly received proper justice, he may not be far wrong. Yet how can any personal account of such a man do him justice. It may be said of him that he was a model husband, a kind father, and an exemplary citizen, and that is all. During his lifetime there were people who did him great injustice. His reserved life was looked upon as a morbid selfishness. The rare publication of his writings was supposed to arise from indolence. It was thought that he wrote the life of Franklin Pierce for the sake of a government office, and when he was actually appointed consul at Liverpool, the case was proved beyond a doubt. The anti-slavery people looked upon him as a lamentable exception to the other literary men of America, who were all on their side: they doubted if he had been born with any sense of right and wrong. What answer can be made to such accusations? When it is a question of motive, of moral consciousness, how are such charges to be refuted?
So President Garfield has often been accused of appointing an efficient and honest collector for the port of New York, in the interest of mercenary politics. Charles Sumner for preventing the annexation of San Domingo, was called a traitor to the negro race, and it was said that his speech on the subject was delivered under the influence of brandy. A college-professor informed his class that Sumner was a man of small erudition, and Garrison spoke of him as one who had evidently joined the anti-slavery cause from interested motives. A Boston merchant whose word had been as good as his note for thirty years was gibbetted soon after his death by a high-minded journalist, as the type of mendacious duplicity.
But why multiply these unpleasant examples of misrepresentation? Hardly a great and good man has ever lived without suffering from it at one time or another. They originate in bad temper, in partisan malice, and those believe them who have no just criterion to distinguish truth from falsehood.
After all, what other American has accomplished a literary work equal to Hawthorne's. He was an artist, purely an artist, and of the finest quality. The raw material may be in us, but to develop it requires pains and labor. The greater the talent the more difficult is its fruition. Hawthorne's life was absorbed in this. His habitual mood was a dreamy, brooding observation. When Englishmen say that no great work of art has been produced in America; that Allston's magnificent pictures remain half-finished; that neither Emerson or Lowell has been able to write a book, but only essays; that we have no historian as good as Macaulay, and that the best of our poetry consists of ballads and other short pieces; my reply is, "The Scarlet Letter" and "The Marble Faun." These are great works of art. The most unique and original, perhaps, of the present century; and if they have not the lyrical form they are exquisitely written, and none the less poetic.
There is a difference in kind between a great work and a small one. A good sonnet may be finished in an hour, and is a pleasant recreation; but the composition of a tragedy requires a severe, protracted and laborious effort. Goethe's finest songs were written in a moment, a flash of inspiration; but Faust may be called the work of his lifetime. He himself describes the difficulties which attend the composition of a tragedy, in such a manner as may well deter others from attempting it. How few, indeed, are the dramatic poets in all times and countries! Even Byron did not succeed in this. Mrs. Hawthorne said that during the period while her husband was occupied with the "Scarlet Letter," there were a contraction of his brow, and a look of care and anxiety in his face, which were reflected in her own nerves and made her unhappy, although she knew little of what he was writing. Both these romances are tragedies; and there is something in tragedy that places it at the top of all literature. Their subjects also indicate that he was in full sympathy with his own time, and perhaps understood the nineteenth century better than it does itself.
Emerson has been called a Greek, but Hawthorne was more Hellenic than he. This may be perceived in his version of the Greek legends in "Tanglewood Tales." His style is much like that of Isocrates. Where Webster or Emerson would use Saxon words, Hawthorne would use Greek or Latin ones, and gain in grace and flexibility what he lost in force and vigor. He would seem to have been a southerner by nature, fond of warm weather and an inactive life.
His short stories are of equal value comparatively with those that are longer and more complete. I remember in my youth being attracted by the title of one of them. It was called "The Unpardonable Sin," and described a man, who, having spent many years in search of this iniquity, finds it too heavy a burden for his soul to carry, and destroys himself one night in a limekiln. Next morning the lime-burner discovered a marble heart floating on the surface of the seething lime. This was the unpardonable sin,—to have a cold, unfeeling heart. Such allegories make a more lasting impression than many sermons. His note-books also are of great value, especially the American ones. He makes dramatic situations out of the simplest incidents, and we read between the lines sentences he never wrote. We remember them without in the least intending to do so, and find ourselves reflecting upon them as if they were important events. No writer since Fielding has given so faithful a picture of the time in which he lived.
One can envy such a man the three years he spent in Italy. During that time he resided chiefly in a villa on the height called Bellosguardo, near Florence, a villa which he has described with some changes, in the "Marble Faun," as the mountain residence of Donatello. A more delightful summer abode cannot be conceived, for it has the advantage of mountain air, and the view from it is unsurpassable. Picturesque Florence, with its towers and battlements, lies almost beneath it, while the green and sylvan valley of the Arno stands before it, with the far-off purple mists of the Mediterranean. Behind it the Apennines stretch from Livorno to Rome. The interior of this chateau, finished in ancient marble, he has described himself.
Hawthorne's life was not a very easy one, as judged by ordinary standards; and until he went to England it was a weary and uncomfortable struggle. Let us be thankful that for once he had a full measure of rest and enjoyment, and let us be grateful to the man who made this possible for him.
More than ten years after his death on a summer afternoon Mr. Alcott was entertaining some friends, and as they looked towards the Hawthorne house one of them said, "Would you be surprised, Mr. Alcott, to see Nathaniel Hawthorne some day gliding past your rustic fence as he used to do?" "No, sir, I should not," replied the old philosopher, "for while he lived he always seemed to me like an apparition from some other world. I used to see him coming down from the woods between five and six o'clock, and if he caught sight of any one in the road he would go under cover like a partridge. Then those strange suspicious side-glances of his! They are not anywhere in his writings. I believe they were inherited from some ancestor who was a smuggler, or perhaps even an old pirate. In his investigation of sin he was expiating the sins of his progenitors." There is reason for believing that Alcott was not far wrong in this conjecture.
Julian Hawthorne, in the biography of his father, says of their ancestors: "His forefathers, whatever their less obvious qualities may have been, were at all events enterprising, active, practical men, stern and courageous, accustomed to deal with and control lawless and rugged characters; they were sea-captains, farmers, soldiers, magistrates; and, in whatever capacity, they were used to see their iron will prevail, and to be answerable to no man."
A man who does not subordinate his will to the common law and the common good must eventually become a lawless man; unless restrained by such natural refinement and rare sense of propriety as we meet with in Hawthorne himself. It is not necessary to suppose that any of them were pirates, which was probably a mere flourish of Alcott's rhetoric.
* * * * *
There is another legend that Daniel Webster, Rufus Choate and Nathaniel Hawthorne were all distantly related through the Batchelder family. There are said to be red and black Batchelders, like the Douglas family in Scotland; and the black Batchelders have a rare gift of intellect which only comes to the surface when united with some other stock. One would like to know how much truth there is in this. There are indeed certain striking points of resemblance between these three; each in his own line surpassing all others of the same period. Their complexion, and their great physical strength, their deeply arched eye-brows, their genius for language, their reticent and contemplative habits, and especially a certain pregnant gloominess of expression, would seem to indicate a nearer unity than the general one of the Aryan races. Yet the case remains to be proven by documentary evidence.
LOUISA M. ALCOTT.
Mr. Alcott's house in Concord was situated on the Lexington road about three-quarters of a mile from the village centre. It was the best-looking house almost in the town, being of simple but faultless architecture, while the others were mostly either too thin or too thick, or out of proportion in some way. It lacked a coat of fresh paint sometimes, but this was to its advantage from an artistic point of view. Fine old elm-trees shaded the path in front of it, and across the road a broad level meadow stretched away to Walden woods. In the rear it was half surrounded by low pine-wooded hills, which protected it from the north-easterly storms and the cold draughts of winter. Mr. Alcott had quite a genius for rustic architecture, as is proved by the summer-house which he and Thoreau built for Emerson, and the fences, seats and arbors with which he adorned his little place added a final charm to the rural picture. In summer nights the droning of the bittern could be heard across the meadows, and woodcock came down familiarly from the hills to look for worms in the vegetable-garden. The snow melted here in Spring and the grass grew green earlier than in other places. It was the fitting abode and haven of rest for a family that had found the conflict of life too hard for them.
Within the house was as pleasant as without. There is no better decoration for a room than a good library, and though Mr. Alcott's books were not handsomely bound one could see at a glance they were not of a common sort. They gave his study an air of distinction, which was well carried out by the refined look and calm demeanor of its occupant. The room opposite, which was both parlor and living-room, always had a cheerful homelike appearance; and after the youngest daughter May entered on her profession as a painter, it soon became an interesting museum of sketches, water-colors and photographs. I remember an engraving of Murillo's Virgin, with the moon under her feet, hanging on the wall, and some excellent copies of Turner's water-color studies. The Alcotts were a hospitable family, not easily disturbed by callers, and ready to share what they had with others. The house had a style of its own.
How Emerson accomplished what he did, with his slight physique and slender strength, will always be one of the marvels of biography. His is the only instance, I believe, on record of a man who was able to support a family by writing and talking on abstract subjects. It is true he inherited a small property, enough to support a single man in a modest way, and without this his career would not have been possible; but the main source of his income was winter lecturing—a practice which evidently killed Theodore Parker, naturally a strong and powerful man. Yet he was not satisfied with this, but wished also to provide for others who had no claims of relationship upon him. His generous efforts in behalf of Carlyle have long since been made public; but the help he gave Mr. Alcott will probably never be known. Least of all would Emerson have wished it to be known. One can imagine that he said to himself: "Here is a man of rare spiritual quality, with whom I am in the closest sympathy: I cannot permit him to suffer any longer." So after the philosophic school in the Masonic Temple had come to an end, he invited him to Concord and cared for him like a brother. Mr. Alcott deserved this, for though he was not more a philosopher than Thoreau was a naturalist, and equally with Thoreau he was a character. The primal tenet in his creed was like the ancient mariner's, to harm neither man nor bird nor beast; and he exemplified this doctrine with incredible consistency for full fifty years. He lived a blameless life. Many laughed at him for his unpractical theories; but the example of one such man, even in a reactionary way, is worth more to the community than the practical efforts of ten ordinary men. He has besides the distinction of being the person, whom, during the middle portion of his life, Emerson most liked to converse with.
Froude the historian calls Charles the Fifth one of nature's gentlemen: so was Mr. Alcott. It is easy to distinguish the man whose behavior is an emanation of himself from people of well-bred manners or of cultivated manners. Well-bred manners come from habit and association, and though always pleasant may be nothing more than a superficial varnish; while cultivated manners imply a certain amount of self-restraint. No man was ever more free from formality or affectation. He was neither condescending to inferiors nor would he yield ground to those who considered themselves above him, but met all people on the broad equality of self-respect. He was always most respected where society was most polite and refined. Neither was he lacking in personal courage. During the Anthony Burns excitement in Boston in 1852, he took a prominent position among the rescuers, and if a collision of the guards had taken place he would likely have been killed.