« PreviousContinue »
1804 - 1864.
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, the most brilliant and original writer of romance that America has yet produced, was born in Salem in 1804 and died in 1864. He graduated at Bowdoin College in 1825, being a classmate of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He began to write at an early age; but his first efforts received little encouragement. Modest, retiring, and singularly sensitive, he was unwilling to thrust himself forward, but patiently awaited the recognition of his claims to literary honors, and the rewards which accrue to the successful author. During the early years of his manhood lie filled offices in the Custom Houses of Boston and Salem ; but while discharging his duties with fidelity, he gave his thought and heart to literary labor. His first book, Tveice Told Tales, found few readers ; and it may be said that ten years after its publication his name would hardly have found a place in a catalogue of American writers. In The Scarlet Letter, however, he vindicated his right to the title of author, and from the publication of that book his reputation steadily and rapidly increased in brilliancy. In 1853 he was appointed Consul to Liverpool by his friend and classmate, President Pierce, and held that office several
years, receiving flattering attentions in the most cultivated circles of England. During his residence in that country he gathered material for Our Old Home, one of the most delightful records of travel and observation ever written. At the expiration of his term of office he proceeded to Italy, where he lived for some time, and, as the fruit of this sojourn, gave to the world The Marble Faun. During the last years of his life the condition of his health obliged him to abstain, measurably, from literary work; but he left behind him several chapters of The Dolliver Romance which warrant the opinion that the completed work would have been his masterpiece. Several years after his death there was discovered among his papers the manuscript of S ptimius Felton, a weird and repulsive, but strikingly characteristic, story. Mr. Hawthorne died at Plymouth, New Hampshire, while on a journey with Ex-President Pierce.
On the whole, Hawthorne must be esteemed the foremost writer of prose among Americans ; and it would not be easy to select a name from the crowded annals of English literature that is more closely and honorably associated with the marriage of fine thoughts to fine language, which constitutes the charm of prose. As a romancist, he stands alone and unapproached. His psychological insight was simply marvelous, and gave a distinguishing and inimitable character to all his writings. The dark side of things especially attracted him; he dwelt broodingly and with the devotion of an enthusiast upon abnormal manifestations of human nature, and delighted in delineating the intricacies of human passion. Yet to those who knew him intimately he was eminently lovable; and in his writings one can catch glimpses of moods of genuine sunny hunior. His style is remarkable for its purity and gracefulness. The Scarlet Letter and The House of The Seven Gables are generally esteemed his best works. The extracts are from Our Oil Home and Mosses from an Old Manse.
CIVIC BANQUETS IN ENGLAND.
It has often perplexed me to imagine how an Englishman will be able to reconcile himself to any future state of existence from which the earthly institution of dinner shall be exclude:1. Even if he fail to take his appetite along with him (which it seems to me hardly possible to believe, since this endowment is so essential to his composition), the immortal day must still admit an interiin of two or three hours during which he will be conscious of a slight distaste, at all events, if not an absolute repugnance, to merely spiritual nutriment. The idea of dinner has so imbedded itself among his highest and deepest characteristics, so illuminated itself with intellect and softened itself with the kindest emotions of his heart, so linked itself with Church and State, and grown so majestic with long hereditary custorns and ceremonies, that by taking it utterly away, Death, instead of putting the final touch to his perfection, would leave him infinitely less complete than we have already known him. In this connection I should be glad to invite the reader to the official dinner-table of his Worship the Mayor, at a large English seaport where I spent
The Mayor's dinner-parties occur as often as once a fortnight, and, inviting his guests by fifty or sixty at a time, his Worship probably assembles at his board most of the eminent citizens and distinguished personages of the town and neighborhood more than once during his year's incumbency, and very much, no doubt, to the promotion of good feeling among individuals of opposite parties and diverse pursuits in life. A miscellaneous party of Englishmen can always find more comfortable ground to meet upon than as many Americans, their differences of opinion being incomparably less radical than ours, and it being the sincerest wish of all their hearts, whether they call themselves Liberals or what not, that nothing in this world shall ever be greatly altered from what it has been and is. Thus there is seldom such a virulence of political hostility that it may not be dissolved in a glass or two of wine, without making the good liquor any more dry or bitter than accords with English taste.
The first dinne of this kind at which I had the honor to be present took place during assize-time, and included among the guests the judges and the prominent members of the bar. Reaching the Town Hall at seven o'clock, I communicated my name to one of several splendidly dressed footmen, and he repeated it to another on the first staircase, by woom it was passed to a third, and thence to a fourth at the door of the reception-room, losing all resemblance to the original sound in the course of these transmissions; so that I had the advantage of making my entrance in the character of a stranger, not only to the whole company, but to myself as well. His Worship, however, kindly recognized me, and put me on speaking terms with two or three gentlemen, whom I found very affable, and all the more hospitably attentive on the score of my nationality. It is very singular how kind an Englishman will almost invariably be to an individual American, without ever bating a jot of his prejudice against the American character in the lump. My new acquaintances took evident pains to put me at my ease; and, in requital of their good-nature, I soon began to look round at the general company in a critical spirit, making my crude observations apart, and drawing silent inferences, of the correctness of which I should not have been half so well satisfied a year afterwards as at that moment.
There were two judges present, a good many lawyers, and a few officers of the army in uniform. The other guests seemed to be principally of the mercantile class, and among them was a ship-owner from Nova Scotia, with whom I coalesced a little, inasmuch as we were born with the same sky over our heads, and an unbroken continuity of soil between his abode and mine. There was one old gentleman, whose character I never made out, with powdered hair, clad in black breeches and silk stockings, and wearing a rapier at his side ; otherwise, with the exception of the military uniforms, there was little or no pretence of official costume. It being the first considerable assemblage of Englishmen that I had seen, my honest impression about them was, that they were a heavy and homely set of people, with a remarkable roughness of aspect and behavior, not repulsive, but beneath which it required more familiarity with the national character than I then possessed always to detect the good breeding of a gentle
Being generally middle-aged, or still farther advanced, they were by no means graceful in figure; for the comeliness of the youthful Englishman rapidly diminishes with years, his body appearing to grow longer, his legs to abbreviate themselves, and his stomach to assume the dignified prominence which justly belongs to that metropolis of his system. His face (what with the acridity of the atmosphere, ale at lunch, wine at dinner, and a well-digested abundance of succulent food) gets red and mottled, and develops at least one additional chin, with a promise of more; so that, finally, a stranger recognizes his animal part at the most superficial glance, but must take time and a little pains to discover the intellectual. Comparing him with an American, I really thought that our national paleness and lean habit of flesh gave us greatly the advantage in an æsthetic point of view. It seemed to me, moreover, that the English tailor had not done so much as he might and ought for these heavy figures, but had gone on wilfully exaggerating their uncouthness by the roominess of their garments; he had evidently no idea of accuracy of fit, and smartness was entirely out of his line. But, to be quite open with the reader, I afterwards learned to think that this aforesaid tailor has a deeper art than his brethren among ourselves, knowing how to dress his customers with such individual propriety that they look as if they were born in their clothes, the fit being to the character rather than the form. If you make an Englishman smart (unless he be a very exceptional one, of whom I have seen a few), you make him a monster; his best aspect is that of ponderous respectability.
In due time we were summoned to the table, and went thither in no solemn procession, but with a good deal of jostling, thrusting behind, and scrambling for places when we reached our destination. The legal gentlemen, I suspect, were responsible for this indecorous zeal, which I never afterwards remarked in a similar party. The dining-hall was of noble size, and, like the other rooms of the suite, was gorgeously painted and gilded and brilliantly illuminated. There was a splendid table-service, and a noble array of footmen, some of them in plain clothes, and others wearing the town-livery, richly decorated with gold lace, and themselves excellent specimens of the blooming young manhood of Britain. When we were fairly seated, it was certainly an agreeable spectacle to look up and down the long vista of earnest faces, and behold them so resolute, so conscious that there was an important business in hand, and so determined to be equal to the occasion.
During the dinner I had a good deal of pleasant conversation with the gentlemen on either side of me. One of them, a lawyer, expatiated with great unction on the social standing of the judges. Representing the dignity and authority of the Crown, they take precedence, during assize-time, of the highest military men in the kingdom, of the Lord-Lieutenant of the county, of the Archbishops, of the royal Dukes, and even of the Prince of Wales.
For the nonce,
they are the greatest men in England. With a glow of professional complacency that amounted to enthusiasm, my friend assured me, that, in case of a royal dinner, a judge, if actually holding an assize, would be expected to offer his arm and take the Queen herself to the table. Happening to be in company with some of these elevated personages, on subsequent occasions, it appeared to me that the judges are fully conscious of their paramount claims to respect, and take rather more pains to impress tirem on their ceremonial inferiors than men of high hereditary rank are apt to do. Bishops, if it be not irreverent to say so, are sometimes marked by a similar characteristic. Dignified position is so sweet to an Englishman that he needs to be born in it, and to feel it thoroughly incorporated with his nature from its original germ, in order to keep him from flaunting it obtrusively in the faces of innocent bystanders.
After an hour or two of valiant achievement with knife and fork came the dessert ; and at the point of the festival where finger-glasses are usually introduced, a large silver basin was carried. round to the guests, containing rose-water, into which we dipped the ends of our napkins and were conscious of a delightful fragrance, instead of that heavy and weary odor, the hateful ghost of a defunct dinner.
When the cloth was removed, a goodly group of decanters were set before the Mayor, who sent them forth on their outward voyage, full freighted with Port, Sherry, Madeira, and Claret, of which excellent liquors, methought, the latter found least acceptance among the guests. When every man had filled his glass, his Worship stood up and proposed a toast. It was, of course, “Our gracious Sovereign," or words to that effect ; and immediately a band of musicians, whose preliminary tootings and thrummings I had already heard behind me, struck up “ God save the Queen,” and the whole company rose with one impulse to assist in singing that: famous national anthem.
MOSSES FROM AN OLD MANSE.
WE stand now on the river's brink. It may well be called the Concord, — the river of peace and quietness, — for it is certainly the most unexcitable and sluggish stream that ever loitered imperceptibly towards its eternity, the sea. Positively, I had lived three weeks beside it, before it grew quite clear to my perception which way the current flowed. It never has a vivacious aspect, except when a northwestern breeze is vexing its surface, on a sunshiny day.
From the incurable indolence of its nature, the stream is happily incapable of becoming the slave of human ingenuity, as is the fate of so many a wild, free, mountain torrent. While all things else are compelled to subserve some useful purpose, it idles its sluggish life away in lazy liberty, without turning a solitary spindle, or affording even water-power enough to grind the corn that grows upon its banks.
The torpor of its movement allows it nowhere a bright, pebbly