I. The Tales (1830-1852)
My Kinsman, Mayor Molineux
Roger Malvin's Burial
Young Goodman Brown
The Minister's Black Veil
The Man of Adamant
from "The Old Manse"
to Twice-told Tales
to The Snow-Image
II. The Scarlet Letter (1850)
III. The Published Romances (1851-1860)
from The House of the Seven Gables
from The Blithedale Romance
from The Marble Faun
IV. The European Journals (1853-1860)
from the English, French, and Italian Journals
V. The Last Years (1861-1864)
Passages from the letters and the Unfinished Romances
Suggestions for Further Reading
Table of Contents
I - THE TALES 1830-1852
MY KINSMAN, MAJOR MOLINEUX 1832
ROGER MALVIN’S BURIAL 1832
YOUNG GOODMAN BROWN 1835
THE MINISTER’S BLACK VEIL - A PARABLE 1836
THE MAN OF ADAMANT - AN APOLOGUE 1837
THE BIRTH-MARK 1843
RAPPACCINI’S DAUGHTER - FROM THE WRITINGS OF AUBÉPINE 1844
PREFACES - FROM “THE old MANSE” 1846
TO TWICE-TOLD TALES 1851
TO THE SNOW-IMAGE 1852 - To Horatio Bridge, Esq., U.S.N.
II - THE SCARLET LETTER 1850
I - THE PRISON-DOOR
II - THE MARKET-PLACE
III - THE RECOGNITION
IV - THE INTERVIEW
V - HESTER AT HER NEEDLE
VI - PEARL
VII - THE GOVERNOR’S HALL
VIII - THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER
IX - THE LEECH
X - THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT
XI - THE INTERIOR OF A HEART
XII - THE MINISTER’S VIGIL
XIII - ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER
XIV - HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN
XV - HESTER AND PEARL
XVI - A FOREST WALK
XVII - THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER
XVIII - A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE
XIX - THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE
XX - THE MINISTER IN A MAZE
XXI - THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY
XXII - THE PROCESSION
XXIII - THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER
XXIV - CONCLUSION
III - THE PUBLISHED ROMANCES 1851-1860
FROM THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES 1851
FROM THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE 1852
FROM THE MARBLE FAUN 1860
IV - THE EUROPEAN JOURNALS 1853-1860
FROM THE ENGLISH, FRENCH, AND ITALIAN JOURNALS
V - THE LAST YEARS 1860-1864
PASSAGES FROM THE LETTERS AND THE UNFINISHED ROMANCES
Suggestions for Further Reading
THE PORTABLE HAWTHORNE
Best known today for his enigmatic tales and the short novel called The Scarlet Letter, NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE was born in Salem, Massachusetts, at the dawn of the nineteenth century. After graduating from Bowdoin College, in 1825, he published his first romance, Fanshawe, and, when that failed, turned to writing short stories and prose sketches that, over the next two decades, gradually made him known in America and England. The Scarlet Letter appeared in 1850, followed soon after by The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, each of which increased his international renown. The next seven years he spent with his family in Europe, first as U.S. consul in Liverpool, then as a resident tourist on the Continent. Just prior to the publication of The Marble Faun, his last completed romance, he returned to his home in Concord, Massachusetts, where he spent the remaining four years of his life preparing excerpts from his English journals for publication while trying, unsuccessfully, to finish two more romances, based in part on his years in Europe. After a period of declining health, he died before his sixtieth birthday, while traveling in New Hampshire with his old college friend Franklin Pierce.
WILLIAM c. SPENGEMANN is the Hale Professor in Arts and Sciences and Professor of English Emeritus at Dartmouth College. His books include Mark Twain and the Backwoods Angel, The Adventurous Muse, The Forms of Autobiography, A Mirror for Americanists, and A New World of Words. He is also the editor of three Penguin Classics: Henry James’s The American, Herman Melville’s Pierre, and, with Jessica F. Roberts, Nineteenth Century American Poetry.
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This edition first published in Penguin Books 2005
All rights reserved
The text of the selections in this book is that established by The Centenary Edition of the Works of
Nathaniel Hawthorne published by the Ohio State University Center for Textual Studies and Ohio State
University Press. The selections are from the volumes entitled The Scarlet Letter, The House of the
Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance and Fanshawe, The Marble Faun, The American Notebooks,
Twice-Told Tales, Mosses from an Old Manse, The Snow Image and Uncollected Tales, The American
Claimant Manuscripts, The French and Italian Notebooks, The Letters 1857-1864, The English
Notebooks 1853-1856, and The English Notebooks 1856-1860. Copyright © 1962, 1964, 1965,
1968, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1987, 1997 by Ohio State University Press. All rights reserved.
Illustrations from Portraits of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Rita K. Gollin,
Northern Illinois University Press, 1983.
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The portable Hawthorne / edited with an introduction by William C. Spengemann.
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Hawthorne’s autobiographical preface to Mosses from an Old Manse, ambiguously subtitled “The Author Makes the Reader Acquainted with His Abode,” opens with the following paragraph:
Between two tall gate-posts of rough-hewn stone, (the gate itself having fallen from its hinges, at some unknown epoch,) we beheld the gray front of the old parsonage, terminating the vista of an avenue of black-ash trees. It was now a twelvemonth since the funeral procession of the venerable clergyman, its last inhabitant, had turned from that gate-way towards the village burying-ground. The wheel-track, leading to the door, as well as the whole breadth of the avenue, was almost overgrown with grass, affording dainty mouthfuls to two or three vagrant cows, and an old white horse, who had his own living to pick up along the roadside. The glimmering shadows, that lay half-asleep between the door of the house and the public highway, were a kind of spiritual medium, seen through which, the edifice had not quite the aspect of belonging to the material world. Certainly it had little in common with those ordinary abodes, which stand so imminent upon the road that every passer-by can thrust his head, as it were, into the domestic circle. From these quiet windows, the figures of passing travellers looked too remote and dim to disturb the sense of privacy. In its near retirement, and accessible seclusion, it was the very spot for the residence of a clergyman; a man not estranged from human life, yet enveloped, in the midst of it, with a veil woven of intermingled gloom and brightness. It was worthy to have been one of the time-honored parsonages of England, in which, through many generations, a succession of holy occupants pass from youth to age, and bequeath each an inheritance of sanctity to pervade the house and hover over it, as with an atmosphere.
As a way of introducing his subject, the old parsonage in Concord, Massachusetts, where he and Sophia went to live following their marriage, the passage seems fairly routine. Looked at closely, however, it can be seen to begin and end in quite different situations and stylistic keys. In the first three sentences, the speaker stands, alongside one or more unnamed companions, at the entry to the cart path that leads away toward the house, off in the distance. What he sees from this vantage point—gateposts, some trees, two or three cows, an old horse—might be seen by anyone who stood beside him, as, indeed, the reader is invited to do. The objects named are what the speaker says they are, nothing more. They do not ask to be taken, the way things in Hawthorne’s stories and notebooks so often do, as “emblematic of something.”
By the sixth sentence, however, the speaker’s situation has changed. Somehow, he has moved inside the house. Now seemingly alone, he looks out the front windows, back at the public highway, where he stood just moments before. Out there, he sees some “passing travellers.” Are they his former companions? Is he, perhaps, still standing among them, still looking up the driveway at the “gray front” of the house? He does seem to be a rather different person now: talking to himself, rather than to the reader, and pondering such meanings as might lie hidden in his new “abode,” or be lent to it, instead of describing its appearance. At first, the house sat before the speaker’s eyes. Now it seems to lie inside his head—to be his head, in fact, its windows his eyes. Out on the road, in the “material world,” gateposts were just gateposts. Here in this dusky interior, removed as it is from “ordinary” existence by “the glimmering shadows” in the middle distance, everything seems “emblematic of something” immaterial, although what that “something” might be in a case like that “veil woven of intermingled gloom and brightness” would not be easy to say.
What we have here are two very different ways of writing: one that Hawthorne called “the style of a man of society” and one he called “the talk of a secluded man with his own mind and heart.” The former style, he explains in another preface, “has none of the abstruseness of idea, or obscurity of expression” that suffuses the secluded style. Writings of this open, public sort may be imbued with an atmosphere of the “moral picturesque” or touched here and there with a gentle irony, but they “never need translation” into more explicit terms. On the contrary, anything written in this outgoing style “may be understood and felt by anyone who will give himself the trouble to read it.”
Those who trouble to read Hawthorne’s writings in his esoteric style, however, have their work cut out for them. Obscurely figurative, rather than transparently literal, these “written communications of a solitary mind with itself” always “need translation” into plain language. Seeming always to mean something else, they fairly beg to be interpreted, although no interpretation ever manages, quite, to empty them of meaning.
Attempts at translation are always worthwhile, though, for of the two styles this one has the potential to be “profound” and hence to become “deeply and permanently valuable.” What Hawthorne called his “photographic” style might serve “to open an intercourse with the world,” but only his “thoughtful or imaginative” style would do for a writer who, like himself, is “burrowing to his utmost ability into the depths of our common nature . . . and who pursues his researches in that dusky region, as he needs must, as well by the tact of sympathy as by the light of observation.”
These two very different voices might be said to bespeak two different “Hawthornes”: the one known to his family and friends, and one that, except as “shadowed forth” in his emblematic fictions, remained hidden from all inquiring eyes, even, it seems, from his own. One of his acquaintances doubtless spoke for many others when he confessed, “I love Hawthorne. I admire him; but I do not know him. He lives in a mysterious world of thought and imagination which he never permits me to enter.” Hawthorne felt this division in himself no less sharply. In a letter written before their marriage, he told Sophia his idea of recording a single day, first, in his “external” life and then in his “inward” life. “Nobody,” he said, “would think that the same man could live two such different lives simultaneously.”
Had he written those parallel diaries for Sophia, he would have had to use for the first his public style and for the second his private, emblematic style. All “talk about his external habits . . . and other matters entirely upon the surface,” he insisted, “hide the man instead of displaying him.” Anyone at all curious to learn anything “essential” about him “must make quite another sort of inquest, and look through the whole range of his [imagined] characters, good and evil.”
Those who did seek him there often found the view disturbing. When his son, Julian, grew old enough to read the tales, he could not recognize in them the man he had known as his father. Even Hawthorne himself sometimes found that persona strange. Looking over the tales he had chosen for one of his collections, he told his publisher, “My past self is not very much to my taste, as I see it in this book.” He must have known at the time, he supposed, what the tales were intended to mean; but reading them now, through the outward-looking eyes of the “man of society,” he could neither recall what that was nor recover it from the words on the printed page.
Two styles—one transparently circumstantial, the other enigmatically portentous—bespeaking two Hawthornes, the first a popular journalist, the second a withdrawn poet: in the light of this duality, his whole career can be traced, from Fanshawe, his first known publication, to Our Old Home, the last of his writings he saw in print, and the excerpts from an unfinished, unfinishable work that appeared under the title “Scenes from ‘The Dolliver Romance,’ ” shortly after his death. When the career is surveyed in these terms, a number of critical issues come into somewhat clearer focus: his reasons for suppressing Fanshawe; the differences among the one hundred or so short pieces he published in periodicals between 1830, when he took up that form, and 1852, when he abandoned it; the unmatched power of The Scarlet Letter; the dissipation of that force in the romances he published thereafter; the abrupt change in his notebooks and journals, beginning around 1850; and his inability to finish another romance after The Marble Faun, even as he went on publishing successful journalism.
Then, too, when read in this light, and in the order of their publication, his writings tell a coherent, memorable story, instead of merely huddling together under two covers, the way selections for anthologies like this one are apt to do. It is a classic sort of tale, with a rising action, a resounding climax, a falling action, and a conclusion “of intermingled gloom and brightness.” As in so many of his own stories, the main character here is an artist possessed of magical powers and given to rash undertakings that lead to ambiguous conclusions.
Just where this story begins is somewhat unclear. When Hawthorne was seventeen and away at school, he asked his mother in a letter what she would say to his becoming a writer. The earliest evidence we have of his actually being one, however, appeared three years after his graduation from Bowdoin college, with the publication of Fanshawe, which he may have begun there. In any case, he had the novel printed anonymously, at his own expense, and then withdrew it almost immediately, never to mention it again. Even his wife learned of it only after his death.
Why he repudiated this story can only be guessed, but it seems that the literal, if somewhat affected, style of the narrative will not get at a subject that keeps cropping up along the way, only to be dismissed each time: the consequences, good as well as bad, that might result from a beautiful young woman’s fall from virtue. This devilish theme, it appears, could be handled only with emblematic tongs.
For the next couple of decades, Hawthorne divided his considerable energies between hack writing (including a half-dozen books for children) and the production of short pieces for annual gift books, monthly magazines, and newspapers. These short pieces fall into three more or less distinct categories. There are “sketches,” like “My Visit to Niagara” and “The Old Apple-Dealer,” snapshots of picturesque scenes and characters rendered in his “photographic” style and tinted with conscious “artistry.” Then there are “allegories” like “The Celestial Railroad” and “Earth’s Holocaust,” moral lessons hiding in plain sight behind fictional stage settings. Last come Hawthorne’s “tales,” imagined stories like “Young Goodman Brown” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” involving fictive characters in emblematic situations and told entirely in the secretive, poetic style. While the sketches mean little if anything more than they say outright, and the allegories put fiction at the service of meanings statable in their own terms, the tales strive, through fictive actions, with uncertain success, to uncover the meanings buried within them.
The tales led Hawthorne straight to The Scarlet Letter, his only novel written, as they are, entirely in his poetic style. Virtually every word in the story of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale comes bearing another meaning, one that generations of readers have tried to capture in literal terms, but that has finally defeated every attempt to detach it from the figures that seem its only adequate means of expression. When all is said and done, perhaps the only way to say all that The Scarlet Letter does is to recite it verbatim. Hawthorne remembered doing just that, right after finishing the story. “I read the last scene to my wife,” he recalled some years later, “—tried to read it, rather, for my voice swelled and heaved, as if I were tossed up and down on an ocean, as it subsided after a storm. . . . I think I have never overcome my adamant in any other instance.”
Whatever meaning Hawthorne may have drawn from that reading—and conveyed to Sophia, who went straight to bed, he was pleased to note, with a sick headache—he never wrote another story like it. To avoid any risk of doing so, he wrote only one more tale, “Feathertop,” which is really an allegorical caricature of the man he blamed for his dismissal from the Salem Custom House, and went back to writing romances in the formerly discarded manner of Fanshawe: stories about the (managed) triumph of innocence over guilt; all of them employing essentially the same characters and beefed up to salable girth with larger and larger helpings of journalistic copy.
During the seven years he spent in Europe, between The Blithedale Romance and The Marble Faun, Hawthorne turned exclusively to writing a journal of his travels and sightseeing in England and on the Continent. He had always kept a notebook of ideas for stories, but now he took to writing long descriptive entries, volumes of them, all in an essayistic style as pure, in itself, as the poetic style of The Scarlet Letter. Upon his return to America, he tried writing fiction again in the long-dormant emblematic style of the tales but found himself unable to finish anything. Seemingly arbitrary and factitious, rather than necessary to the expression of the writer’s inchoate ideas, his emblems mean next to nothing—either to the reader or, apparently, to the writer.
Journalism, on the other hand, continued to flow from his pen with seeming ease. While revising sections of his English journals, first for serial publication, then together in the volume called Our Old Home, he recorded a visit to Washington, D.C., and the battlefields of Virginia for Atlantic Magazine. In steady decline since The Scarlet Letter, the poetic style was dead by 1862, as he himself would be less than two years later. Whether that cryptically eloquent language perished because Hawthorne’s health was failing or he wasted away because it had is not an altogether impudent question. It was, as he insisted, the “essential” part of himself—the part he lived entirely in words.
From the moment that Hawthorne began signing his works, each new publication made his name better known, increasing his fame as the basis for it expanded. Over the last few decades, however, that foundation has been steadily shrinking until his fame now rests almost entirely on a few tales and The Scarlet Letter. Without those, he would lie in the graveyard of defunct literary reputations, alongside scores of writers famous in their day but of interest now only to historians of literary taste. Instead, he stands as firmly today on the pedestal of literary renown—if for somewhat different reasons—as he did in the 1860s.
The question is, what keeps the tales and The Scarlet Letter flying out of the bookstores when Evangeline, a poem that made Longfellow rich, has gone out of print, and when the terms predominant in Hawthorne’s great works—sin, guilt, confession, innocence—have lost virtually all but their legal meanings? What interest, for that matter, can a contemporary reader take in the writings of a man addicted to the sentimental grotesqueries of gothic fiction, frightened to death of female sexuality, indifferent to slavery, hostile to Jews, obsessed with respectability, and given to incessant moralizing? If “Art,” as Ezra Pound said, is “news that stays news,” what remains newsworthy about the naughty midnight rambles of Goodman Brown or the adultery of Hester Prynne?
If the persistent appeal of the tales and The Scarlet Letter can be located anywhere in particular, it must be said to lie in the combined stylistic economy and semantic resonance of Hawthorne’s undiluted poetic voice and the unplumbed mystery this language evokes—an unspoken, otherwise unspeakable subject that lurks behind the veil of every announced concern, begging to be called forth yet refusing all invitations to make itself known. This, at any rate, is what sustains our interest in things like Blake’s tiger, Coleridge’s ancient mariner, Melville’s whale, Whitman’s soul, Wallace Stevens’s emperor of ice-cream, and T. S. Eliot’s children in the trees. These are, as Eliot put it, all symbols of “the depths of feeling into which we cannot peer.”
While the tales and The Scarlet Letter are more than enough to keep the name Hawthorne alive all by themselves, we should remember that this Hawthorne has a fraternal twin: the “man of society” who wrote the sketches, allegories, and prefaces; who found the tales inscrutable and The Scarlet Letter too somber; who supplied reams of padding for the published romances; and who went on publishing journalism when the “secluded man” had forgotten how to converse with “his own mind and heart.” Above all, this is the Hawthorne who amassed the European journals, long buried in manuscript collections or available only in edited selections but now widely available in three hefty volumes of The Centenary Edition. The Hawthorne on display here is the one his family and friends were permitted to know: clearheaded, witty, opinionated, moody, fiercely judgmental, and bent on speaking his mind on every subject as plainly as possible.
Although readers of these two Hawthornes have tended to call one of them or the other the “real” Hawthorne, there is really no reason to take sides in the matter. Poet, journalist: each of these Hawthornes has his peculiar merits—profound genius on the one hand, dazzling skill on the other. Hawthorne himself could not finally choose between them. To the “man of society,” the phantoms of the haunted mind seemed merely hallucinatory. To the secluded dreamer, the “ordinary” world seemed superficial, incomplete. Rather than silence one or the other of these contestant voices, he spent much of his career looking for a way to wed them, thus to produce a complete being at once true to itself and fully acceptable to society. Whether that entailed burrowing far enough into himself to rediscover the outside world in an altogether new light or allowing himself to be rescued from the dungeon of his heart by a dovelike woman, he could never finally decide. Neither, then, should the reader who wants to know all of Nathaniel Hawthorne there is to be known.
Except for his brief and shadowy apprenticeship, as recorded in Fanshawe—a book best left to specialists—the moving story of Hawthorne’s writing life, as it looks from this time and place, unfolds in the selections for this volume: his rise to literary eminence in the tales, his arrival at that artistic pinnacle in The Scarlet Letter, his decline as a writer of fiction in his next three published romances, his emergence as a top-flight essayist in the European journals, and, in his last years, his collapse as a romancer in the unfinished stories, despite his undiminished vitality as a journalist in his very last publications.
A lot has happened to “Nathaniel Hawthorne” since Malcolm Cowley compiled the first Portable Hawthorne back in 1948, much of it since 1969, when Cowley revised and expanded his original edition to take advantage of recent scholarship. On the supply side, volumes of material then held in manuscript collections have become generally available in the now complete Centenary Edition of the Works, sharpening Hawthorne’s authorial profile. On the receiving end, Hawthorne’s readership has changed even more, rethinking what it is that lends a writer the sort of status these Portables recognize and foster. Whereas Cowley could pretty much assume widespread agreement among his readers regarding Hawthorne’s literary greatness, today’s editor, owing to the recent proliferation of critical schools and of materials deemed worthy of literary regard, can count on no such unanimity of opinion. What could once be taken for granted must now be argued for and demonstrated: Hawthorne’s continuing, if somewhat altered, claims upon the notice and admiration of serious, attentive readers.
1804 NH born in Salem, Massachusetts, to Nathaniel and Elizabeth (Manning) Hathorne, two years after his sister Elizabeth.
1808 His sea-captain father dies of yellow fever in Surinam. His younger sister, Louisa, is born, and the family moves in with grandfather Richard Manning, in Salem.
1813 Uncle Robert Manning becomes guardian to the family on the death of Richard. NH is laid up at home for more than two years with an injured foot.
1818-20 The Hathornes move to the Manning farm in Raymond, Maine. NH away at school in Portland and Salem.
1821-25 NH completes his A.B. degree at Bowdoin College, where he makes lifelong friends of Franklin Pierce, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Horatio Bridge. He returns to Salem after graduation to live with his mother and sisters.
1828 NH publishes Fanshawe anonymously at his own expense, then recalls it, never to mention it again.
1829-35 Now spelling his name Hawthorne, NH publishes a dozen or so tales and sketches in various periodicals, at first anonymously or pseudonymously, eventually signed.
1836 NH moves to Boston to become editor of The American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge, which soon folds, sending NH, unpaid, back to Salem. With his sister Elizabeth, he writes Peter Parley’s Universal History, On the Basis of Geography.
1837 Twice-told Tales, his first collection of short pieces, is published, with a secret subvention from Horatio Bridge. NH meets Sophia Peabody, his future wife. He begins to publish in the Democratic Review.
1839 NH returns to Boston as measurer in the customhouse there. He proposes to Sophia.
1840 He completes three books for children: Grandfather’s Chair, Famous Old People, and Liberty Tree.
1841 He resigns from the Boston Custom House and returns to Salem. He joins the utopian community at Brook Farm, in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, in search of an affordable residence for himself and Sophia, but leaves before the year is out.
1842 NH and Sophia marry and move into the Old Manse, in Concord, Massachusetts. An expanded edition of Twice-told Tales is published.
1844 The Hawthornes’ first child, Una, is born at the Old Manse.
1845 NH edits Horatio Bridge’s Journal of an African Cruiser. The Hawthornes move back to Salem.
1846 NH appointed surveyor at the Salem Custom House. The family moves to Boston, where their second child, Julian, is born, then once again back to Salem. Mosses from an Old Manse is published.
1849-50 NH is dismissed from the Salem Custom House. He attends his mother’s death. The Scarlet Letter, with “The Custom House” as a preface, is published. NH moves his family to Lenox, Massachusetts. There he meets Herman Melville, who soon reviews Mosses for Literary World. Two of his children’s books are reissued under a new title.
1851 NH publishes the third edition of Twice-told Tales, with a preface; The House of the Seven Gables; The Snow-Image and Other Twice-told Tales, dedicated to Horatio Bridge; and A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys. Melville dedicates Moby-Dick to NH. After the birth of their third child, Rose, the Hawthornes move yet again, to West Newton, Massachusetts.
1852 NH publishes The Blithedale Romance, set at Brook Farm, and a campaign biography of his Bowdoin classmate Franklin Pierce, soon to be elected president of the United States. NH’s younger sister, Louisa, is killed in a steamboat accident. The Hawthornes buy their first home, in Concord, Massachusetts, and move in.
1853 NH publishes Tanglewood Tales for children. He is appointed U.S. consul in Liverpool.
1853-57 NH begins the journals he will keep throughout his stay in Europe. He travels widely in Britain during times away from the Consulate. Sophia spends months in Portugal and Madeira for her health. Mosses from an Old Manse is reissued in an expanded edition, in 1854. NH is visited by Melville, on his way to and from the Holy Land.
1858-59 Having resigned as consul, NH travels with his family to France, Italy, and Switzerland, staying for more than a year in Rome and Florence, where he meets expatriate American artists, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and William Cullen Bryant. Begins a romance set in England, then drops it to begin The Marble Faun. Una is dangerously ill with malaria.
1859-60 NH returns to England, where he finishes The Marble Faun before sailing for America.
1860-62 Back at the Wayside in Concord, Massachusetts, he resumes work on his English romance but abandons it after two more drafts to start another, on the elixir of life, which he also abandons. He visits Washington, D.C., and Civil War battlefields in Virginia. “Chiefly About War Matters” is published in Atlantic Monthly.
1863 NH publishes Our Old Home, a collection of revised portions of his English journals, dedicated to Franklin Pierce, now in political disgrace for his attempts to avert the Civil War.
1864 NH’s declining health prevents further work on “The Elixir of Life.” After his death, during a tour of New Hampshire with Pierce, a portion of that unfinished romance appears in Atlantic Monthly entitled “Scenes from ‘The Dolliver Romance.’ ”
THE TALES 1830-1852
When Fanshawe failed to satisfy either the public or himself, Hawthorne turned to writing short pieces for magazines. His reasons for this change in literary form were partly commercial. In a publishing market glutted with pirated English novels, the periodicals offered an unknown American writer a more likely medium of exposure and source of income.
At the same time, Hawthorne’s motives for the switch seem to have been artistic. Fanshawe had shown the “man of society” to be reluctant or unable to tell stories of a sort Hawthorne felt increasingly driven to write: stories seeking answers to moral problems, instead of illustrating foregone conclusions. His public voice could say, either openly or disguised in metaphors, things familiar and agreeable to both the speaker and his audience. But only the “talk of a secluded man with his own mind and heart” could look deeply into his imaginings in hopes of discovering there what one of his characters calls “some master-thought, that should guide me through this labyrinth of life, teaching me wherefore I was born, and how to do my task on earth, and what is death.” Let the “man of society” entertain and instruct the public with sketches and allegories; the “secluded man,” conversing with himself, would seek, “with an emblematic divining-rod . . . for emblematic gold—that is for Truth—for what of Heaven is left on earth.”
Whether because that divining rod was the wrong tool for the job or because no such Truth exists to be discovered, none of Hawthorne’s tales quite succeeds in this sublime artistic undertaking. In almost every case, the tales leave their protagonists alone and unhappy for having made a choice that seemingly would have left them no better off had they chosen otherwise. Would Robin have succeeded in his quest for the help of his kinsman Major Molineux had he believed the major’s seductive housekeeper instead of “shrewdly” running away? Would Dorcas have married Reuben Bourne if he had immediately dispelled her mistaken notion of him as a hero? Should young Goodman Brown have remarried Faith at the devil’s altar instead of remaining forever estranged from her? Parson Hooper and Richard Digby spurn the women who love them. Would they have done better to abandon their self-isolating quests? Should Aylmer and Giovanni have accepted their tainted loved ones as is, at the cost of accepting what Georgiana’s bloody hand and Beatrice’s poisonous breath seem to portend?
Each of these tales ends with something that sounds like a moral lesson the story was written to illustrate. Never, though, do these explanations answer the many questions the stories raise. Who is that unnamed stranger who joins Robin at the end of the story to witness the disgrace of Major Molineux and deliver the moral? How, exactly, will killing his son enable Reuben Bourne to tell Dorcas the truth at long last? Is it better to accept and display one’s secret sins, as Parson Hooper does, or to deny them, as Goodman Brown must? Who is the villain, Rappaccini for his “experiment” or Baglioni for his meddling?
Hawthorne’s tales have often been admired for their proto-modernist ambiguities, and they might well no longer be read were they as easily understood as the sketches or as readily decoded as the allegories. Ambiguity, however, is the last thing Hawthorne wanted. It is, rather, the very problem he gave his stories to solve. “It is not that I have any love for mystery,” he wrote to Sophia, “but because I abhor it—and because I have felt a thousand times, that words may be a thick and darksome veil between the soul and the truth it seeks.”
As long as the truth remains veiled in words, however, only in that veil can it be glimpsed, now and then, darkly glimmering. In one of Hawthorne’s tales not included in this volume, a man tells his female companion a densely emblematic, highly suggestive story about an antique ring. At its conclusion, the woman asks what the ring stands for. Clearly annoyed, the man answers, “You know that I can never separate the idea from the symbol in which it manifests itself.” And when she persists, he puts her off with a moral interpretation much like those that conclude so many of Hawthorne’s tales, thus stilling her anxiety without really explaining anything that makes the story compelling. For the “man of society,” emblems may be useful or unnecessary. For a “secluded man” conversing with himself, emblems are “essential.” They are, as Hawthorne once put it, “the heart’s native language.”
Arranged in this section in the order of their first publication are some of Hawthorne’s best-known, because most darkly suggestive, tales, along with a passage from “The Old Manse” and the other two prefaces (both in full) he wrote for collections of his short pieces.
The human Heart to be allegorized as a cavern; at the entrance there is sunshine, and flowers growing about it. You step within, but a short distance, and begin to find yourself surrounded with a terrible gloom, and monsters of divers kinds; it seems like Hell itself. You are bewildered, and wander long without hope. At last a light strikes upon you. You press towards it yon, and find yourself in a region that seems, in some sort, to reproduce the flowers and sunny beauty of the entrance, but all perfect. These are the depths of the heart, or of human nature, bright and peaceful; the gloom and terror may lie deep; but deeper still is this eternal beauty.
FROM THE AMERICAN NOTEBOOKS
MY KINSMAN, MAJOR MOLINEUX 1832
After the kings of Great Britain had assumed the right of appointing the colonial governors, the measures of the latter seldom met with the ready and general approbation, which had been paid to those of their predecessors, under the original charters. The people looked with most jealous scrutiny to the exercise of power, which did not emanate from themselves, and they usually rewarded the rulers with slender gratitude, for the compliances, by which, in softening their instructions from beyond the sea, they had incurred the reprehension of those who gave them. The annals of Massachusetts Bay will inform us, that of six governors, in the space of about forty years from the surrender of the old charter, under James II., two were imprisoned by a popular insurrection; a third, as Hutchinson inclines to believe, was driven from the province by the whizzing of a musket ball; a fourth, in the opinion of the same historian, was hastened to his grave by continual bickerings with the House of Representatives; and the remaining two, as well as their successors, till the Revolution, were favored with few and brief intervals of peaceful sway. The inferior members of the court party, in times of high political excitement, led scarcely a more desirable life. These remarks may serve as preface to the following adventures, which chanced upon a summer night, not far from a hundred years ago. The reader, in order to avoid a long and dry detail of colonial affairs, is requested to dispense with an account of the train of circumstances, that had caused much temporary inflammation of the popular mind.
It was near nine o’clock of a moonlight evening, when a boat crossed the ferry with a single passenger, who had obtained his conveyance, at that unusual hour, by the promise of an extra fare. While he stood on the landing-place, searching in either pocket for the means of fulfilling his agreement, the ferryman lifted a lantern, by the aid of which, and the newly risen moon, he took a very accurate survey of the stranger’s figure. He was a youth of barely eighteen years, evidently country-bred, and now, as it should seem, upon his first visit to town. He was clad in a coarse grey coat, well worn, but in excellent repair; his under garments were durably constructed of leather, and sat tight to a pair of serviceable and well-shaped limbs; his stockings of blue yarn, were the incontrovertible handiwork of a mother or a sister; and on his head was a three-cornered hat, which in its better days had perhaps sheltered the graver brow of the lad’s father. Under his left arm was a heavy cudgel, formed of an oak sapling, and retaining a part of the hardened root; and his equipment was completed by a wallet, not so abundantly stocked as to incommode the vigorous shoulders on which it hung. Brown, curly hair, well-shaped features, and bright, cheerful eyes, were nature’s gifts, and worth all that art could have done for his adornment.
The youth, one of whose names was Robin, finally drew from his pocket the half of a little province-bill of five shillings, which, in the depreciation of that sort of currency, did but satisfy the ferryman’s demand, with the surplus of a sexangular piece of parchment valued at three pence. He then walked forward into the town, with as light a step, as if his day’s journey had not already exceeded thirty miles, and with as eager an eye, as if he were entering London city, instead of the little metropolis of a New England colony. Before Robin had proceeded far, however, it occurred to him, that he knew not whither to direct his steps; so he paused, and looked up and down the narrow street, scrutinizing the small and mean wooden buildings, that were scattered on either side.
“This low hovel cannot be my kinsman’s dwelling,” thought he, “nor yonder old house, where the moonlight enters at the broken casement; and truly I see none hereabouts that might be worthy of him. It would have been wise to inquire my way of the ferryman, and doubtless he would have gone with me, and earned a shilling from the Major for his pains. But the next man I meet will do as well.”
He resumed his walk, and was glad to perceive that the street now became wider, and the houses more respectable in their appearance. He soon discerned a figure moving on moderately in advance, and hastened his steps to overtake it. As Robin drew nigh, he saw that the passenger was a man in years, with a full periwig of grey hair, a wide-skirted coat of dark cloth, and silk stockings rolled about his knees. He carried a long and polished cane, which he struck down perpendicularly before him, at every step; and at regular intervals he uttered two successive hems, of a peculiarly solemn and sepulchral intonation. Having made these observations, Robin laid hold of the skirt of the old man’s coat, just when the light from the open door and windows of a barber’s shop, fell upon both their figures.
“Good evening to you, honored Sir,” said he, making a low bow, and still retaining his hold of the skirt. “I pray you to tell me whereabouts is the dwelling of my kinsman, Major Molineux?”
The youth’s question was uttered very loudly; and one of the barbers, whose razor was descending on a well-soaped chin, and another who was dressing a Ramillies wig, left their occupations, and came to the door. The citizen, in the meantime, turned a long favored countenance upon Robin, and answered him in a tone of excessive anger and annoyance. His two sepulchral hems, however, broke into the very centre of his rebuke, with most singular effect, like a thought of the cold grave obtruding among wrathful passions.
“Let go my garment, fellow! I tell you, I know not the man you speak of. What! I have authority, I have—hem, hem—authority; and if this be the respect you show your betters, your feet shall be brought acquainted with the stocks, by daylight, tomorrow morning!”
Robin released the old man’s skirt, and hastened away, pursued by an ill-mannered roar of laughter from the barber’s shop. He was at first considerably surprised by the result of his question, but, being a shrewd youth, soon thought himself able to account for the mystery.
“This is some country representative,” was his conclusion, “who has never seen the inside of my kinsman’s door, and lacks the breeding to answer a stranger civilly. The man is old, or verily—I might be tempted to turn back and smite him on the nose.” Ah, Robin, Robin! even the barber’s boys laugh at you, for choosing such a guide! You will be wiser in time, friend Robin.
He now became entangled in a succession of crooked and narrow streets, which crossed each other, and meandered at no great distance from the water-side. The smell of tar was obvious to his nostrils, the masts of vessels pierced the moonlight above the tops of the buildings, and the numerous signs, which Robin paused to read, informed him that he was near the centre of business. But the streets were empty, the shops were closed, and lights were visible only in the second stories of a few dwelling-houses. At length, on the corner of a narrow lane, through which he was passing, he beheld the broad countenance of a British hero swinging before the door of an inn, whence proceeded the voices of many guests. The casement of one of the lower windows was thrown back, and a very thin curtain permitted Robin to distinguish a party at supper, round a well-furnished table. The fragrance of the good cheer steamed forth into the outer air, and the youth could not fail to recollect, that the last remnant of his travelling stock of provision had yielded to his morning appetite, and that noon had found, and left him, dinnerless.
“Oh, that a parchment three-penny might give me a right to sit down at yonder table,” said Robin, with a sigh. “But the Major will make me welcome to the best of his victuals; so I will even step boldly in, and inquire my way to his dwelling.”
He entered the tavern, and was guided by the murmur of voices, and fumes of tobacco, to the public room. It was a long and low apartment, with oaken walls, grown dark in the continual smoke, and a floor, which was thickly sanded, but of no immaculate purity. A number of persons, the larger part of whom appeared to be mariners, or in some way connected with the sea, occupied the wooden benches, or leather-bottomed chairs, conversing on various matters, and occasionally lending their attention to some topic of general interest. Three or four little groups were draining as many bowls of punch, which the great West India trade had long since made a familiar drink in the colony. Others, who had the aspect of men who lived by regular and laborious handicraft, preferred the insulated bliss of an unshared potation, and became more taciturn under its influence. Nearly all, in short, evinced a predilection for the Good Creature in some of its various shapes, for this is a vice, to which, as the Fast-day sermons of a hundred years ago will testify, we have a long hereditary claim. The only guests to whom Robin’s sympathies inclined him, were two or three sheepish countrymen, who were using the inn somewhat after the fashion of a Turkish Caravansary; they had gotten themselves into the darkest corner of the room, and, heedless of the Nicotian atmosphere, were supping on the bread of their own ovens, and the bacon cured in their own chimney-smoke. But though Robin felt a sort of brotherhood with these strangers, his eyes were attracted from them, to a person who stood near the door, holding whispered conversation with a group of ill-dressed associates. His features were separately striking almost to grotesqueness, and the whole face left a deep impression in the memory. The forehead bulged out into a double prominence, with a vale between; the nose came boldly forth in an irregular curve, and its bridge was of more than a finger’s breadth; the eyebrows were deep and shaggy, and the eyes glowed beneath them like fire in a cave.
While Robin deliberated of whom to inquire respecting his kinsman’s dwelling, he was accosted by the innkeeper, a little man in a stained white apron, who had come to pay his professional welcome to the stranger. Being in the second generation from a French Protestant, he seemed to have inherited the courtesy of his parent nation; but no variety of circumstance was ever known to change his voice from the one shrill note in which he now addressed Robin.
“From the country, I presume, Sir?” said he, with a profound bow. “Beg to congratulate you on your arrival, and trust you intend a long stay with us. Fine town here, Sir, beautiful buildings, and much that may interest a stranger. May I hope for the honor of your commands in respect to supper?”
“The man sees a family likeness! the rogue has guessed that I am related to the Major!” thought Robin, who had hitherto experienced little superfluous civility.
All eyes were now turned on the country lad, standing at the door, in his worn three-cornered hat, grey coat, leather breeches, and blue yarn stockings, leaning on an oaken cudgel, and bearing a wallet on his back.
Robin replied to the courteous innkeeper, with such an assumption of consequence, as befitted the Major’s relative.
“My honest friend,” he said, “I shall make it a point to patronize your house on some occasion, when”—here he could not help lowering his voice—“I may have more than a parchment three-pence in my pocket. My present business,” continued he, speaking with lofty confidence, “is merely to inquire the way to the dwelling of my kinsman, Major Molineux.”
There was a sudden and general movement in the room, which Robin interpreted as expressing the eagerness of each individual to become his guide. But the innkeeper turned his eyes to a written paper on the wall, which he read, or seemed to read, with occasional recurrences to the young man’s figure.
“What have we here?” said he, breaking his speech into little dry fragments. “ ‘Left the house of the subscriber, bounden servant, Hezekiah Mudge—had on, when he went away, grey coat, leather breeches, master’s third best hat. One pound currency reward to whoever shall lodge him in any jail in the province.’ Better trudge, boy, better trudge!”
Robin had begun to draw his hand towards the lighter end of the oak cudgel, but a strange hostility in every countenance, induced him to relinquish his purpose of breaking the courteous innkeeper’s head. As he turned to leave the room, he encountered a sneering glance from the bold-featured personage whom he had before noticed; and no sooner was he beyond the door, than he heard a general laugh, in which the innkeeper’s voice might be distinguished, like the dropping of small stones into a kettle.
“Now is it not strange,” thought Robin, with his usual shrewdness, “is it not strange, that the confession of an empty pocket, should outweigh the name of my kinsman, Major Molineux? Oh, if I had one of these grinning rascals in the woods, where I and my oak sapling grew up together, I would teach him that my arm is heavy, though my purse be light!”
On turning the corner of the narrow lane, Robin found himself in a spacious street, with an unbroken line of lofty houses on each side, and a steepled building at the upper end, whence the ringing of a bell announced the hour of nine. The light of the moon, and the lamps from numerous shop windows, discovered people promenading on the pavement, and amongst them, Robin hoped to recognize his hitherto inscrutable relative. The result of his former inquiries made him unwilling to hazard another, in a scene of such publicity, and he determined to walk slowly and silently up the street, thrusting his face close to that of every elderly gentleman, in search of the Major’s lineaments. In his progress, Robin encountered many gay and gallant figures. Embroidered garments, of showy colors, enormous periwigs, gold-laced hats, and silver hilted swords, glided past him and dazzled his optics. Travelled youths, imitators of the European fine gentlemen of the period, trod jauntily along, half-dancing to the fashionable tunes which they hummed, and making poor Robin ashamed of his quiet and natural gait. At length, after many pauses to examine the gorgeous display of goods in the shop windows, and after suffering some rebukes for the impertinence of his scrutiny into people’s faces, the Major’s kinsman found himself near the steepled building, still unsuccessful in his search. As yet, however, he had seen only one side of the thronged street; so Robin crossed, and continued the same sort of inquisition down the opposite pavement, with stronger hopes than the philosopher seeking an honest man, but with no better fortune. He had arrived about midway towards the lower end, from which his course began, when he overheard the approach of some one, who struck down a cane on the flag-stones at every step, uttering, at regular intervals, two sepulchral hems.
“Mercy on us!” quoth Robin, recognizing the sound.
Turning a corner, which chanced to be close at his right hand, he hastened to pursue his researches, in some other part of the town. His patience was now wearing low, and he seemed to feel more fatigue from his rambles since he crossed the ferry, than from his journey of several days on the other side. Hunger also pleaded loudly within him, and Robin began to balance the propriety of demanding, violently and with lifted cudgel, the necessary guidance from the first solitary passenger, whom he should meet. While a resolution to this effect was gaining strength, he entered a street of mean appearance, on either side of which, a row of ill-built houses was straggling towards the harbor. The moonlight fell upon no passenger along the whole extent, but in the third domicile which Robin passed, there was a half-opened door, and his keen glance detected a woman’s garment within.
“My luck may be better here,” said he to himself.
Accordingly, he approached the door, and beheld it shut closer as he did so; yet an open space remained, sufficing for the fair occupant to observe the stranger, without a corresponding display on her part. All that Robin could discern was a strip of scarlet petticoat, and the occasional sparkle of an eye, as if the moonbeams were trembling on some bright thing.
“Pretty mistress,”—for I may call her so with a good conscience, thought the shrewd youth, since I know nothing to the contrary—“my sweet pretty mistress, will you be kind enough to tell me whereabouts I must seek the dwelling of my kinsman, Major Molineux?”
Robin’s voice was plaintive and winning, and the female, seeing nothing to be shunned in the handsome country youth, thrust open the door, and came forth into the moonlight. She was a dainty little figure, with a white neck, round arms, and a slender waist, at the extremity of which her scarlet petticoat jutted out over a hoop, as if she were standing in a balloon. Moreover, her face was oval and pretty, her hair dark beneath the little cap, and her bright eyes possessed a sly freedom, which triumphed over those of Robin.
“Major Molineux dwells here,” said this fair woman.
Now her voice was the sweetest Robin had heard that night, the airy counterpart of a stream of melted silver; yet he could not help doubting whether that sweet voice spoke Gospel truth. He looked up and down the mean street, and then surveyed the house before which they stood. It was a small, dark edifice of two stories, the second of which projected over the lower floor; and the front apartment had the aspect of a shop for petty commodities.
“Now truly I am in luck,” replied Robin, cunningly, “and so indeed is my kinsman, the Major, in having so pretty a housekeeper. But I prithee trouble him to step to the door; I will deliver him a message from his friends in the country, and then go back to my lodgings at the inn.”
“Nay, the Major has been a-bed this hour or more,” said the lady of the scarlet petticoat; “and it would be to little purpose to disturb him to-night, seeing his evening draught was of the strongest. But he is a kind-hearted man, and it would be as much as my life’s worth, to let a kinsman of his turn away from the door. You are the good old gentleman’s very picture, and I could swear that was his rainy-weather hat. Also, he has garments very much resembling those leather—But come in, I pray, for I bid you hearty welcome in his name.”