"I seem to myself like a spy or traitor": transatlantic dislocation in Hawthorne's English travel writing.
The Great Britain that Hawthorne deploys in his critique of America is, however, very much a place of his own creation. During his tenure as American consul to Liverpool, Hawthorne had the opportunity to observe life in the nation on a number of levels, meeting with people from different strata of society, visiting diverse regions, viewing the latest industrial and technological developments and witnessing the reactions of the populace to a number of significant political events. At that time, Britain was the dynamic center of a globe-spanning empire, undergoing a number of profound social, cultural and economic realignments. These aspects of British society, however, are largely absent from Hawthorne's published accounts. (1) In Our Old Home, the American claimant manuscripts, and the English notebooks and letters from this period, Hawthorne largely depicts England as a static society in decline that lacks the innovative and progressive energy of America. Although his comparisons of these cultures are at least initially motivated by national rivalry and his consciousness that he was serving the United States in a diplomatic capacity, the representation he formulates emphasizes many aspects of American culture that Hawthorne finds objectionable in other contexts. When developed in response to the events leading to the Civil War and the devastating consequences of American factionalism, Hawthorne's image of England subsequently becomes an ideal of cultural coherence and homogeneity. In Hawthorne's political thought, then, the idea of England is the means by which he articulates his opposition to the political initiatives leading to the war and, in some measure, to the idea of America itself. His literary engagement with England illustrates the ways in which geographical dislocation may engender cultural confusion and misreading but, more importantly, how the resulting representations assume real political dimensions and consequences.
The England of Our Old Home
The very title of Our Old Home, Hawthorne's most developed representation of Great Britain, underlines the relationship that the text substantiates: England is parent to America and of special importance for this reason--but just as the child is destined to grow to maturity and the parent to lose vitality, England now is largely constituted within the past and the future belongs to the young America. (2) Throughout Our Old Home, Hawthorne consistently emphasizes the antiquity of England and its failure to make its institutions accord with contemporary needs. In one paradigmatic passage, for example, Hawthorne uses architecture metaphorically to illustrate what he sees as the English tendency to remain imprisoned within the confines of its history:
The new things are based and supported on sturdy old things, and derive a massive strength from their deep and immemorial foundations, though with such limitations and impediments as only an Englishman could endure. But he likes to feel the weight of all the past upon his back; and, moreover, the antiquity that overburdens him has taken root in his being, and has grown to be rather a hump than a pack, so that there is no getting rid of it without tearing his whole structure to pieces. In my judgment, as he appears to be sufficiently comfortable under the moldy accretion, he had better stumble on with it as long as he can. (5:70)
The nation, then, is largely defined by its past accomplishments, and while these do have substance and weight, they have also become overwhelming to the point of stasis: English history is so omnipresent that it has become intrinsic to the life of the nation. English culture can only "stumble" into modernity slowly and incompletely. Although its heritage provides a reassuring continuity, Hawthorne notes that for the "disinterested and unencumbered observer" such as himself, the whole nation is simply "spectacle," providing picturesque scenes from a vanished world.
Hawthorne's efforts to shape Great Britain to this static image and thereby to provide evidence of American ascendency are especially evident in the chapter "Pilgrimage to Old Boston," in which he describes his visit to Lincolnshire. The chapter focuses primarily on the region's historical sites; even in this context, however, Hawthorne excludes what he judges to be the striking or notable artifacts of English history from his description of the culture that created them. Lincolnshire Cathedral is exemplary of this tendency. Even as he singles the Cathedral out for especial praise, Hawthorne also uses its magnificence to distinguish and separate it from the English nation. In his description, it is not an artifact as much as a powerful work of art, and its affective power evolves over long association: "there is a continual mystery of variety, so that, at every glance, you are aware of a change, and a disclosure of something new, yet working a harmonious development of what you have heretofore seen" (5:151). Because it discloses itself slowly to the viewer, it evades historical categorization or definition: "[i]t does not impress the beholder as an inanimate object, but as something that has a vast, quite, long-enduring life of its own; a creation which man did not build, though in some way or other it is connected with him, and kindred to human nature" (5: 146). Coexistent with rather than part of the nation's history, the Cathedral exists on another level of being, and so neither reveals nor reflects upon the culture that produced it.
More recent developments that speak to Great Britain's contemporary accomplishments, especially its industrial development, are given little attention. In describing his journey through the English Midlands to Boston, Hawthorne records transitory impressions of Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln. This region was heavily industrialized in the early nineteenth century: newly-built factories employed tens of thousands of people, causing the populations of the towns and cities to explode. Manchester, for example, expanded by an estimated 600% between 1771 and 1831, primarily because of its involvement in textile manufacturing, and it has been called the world's first industrial city. The development of the iron industry also affected the region profoundly. This huge population growth led to the production of a great deal of cheap housing for workers, as well as to the dramatic extension of transportation systems such as canals, roads and railways. These activities were made possible through technological innovations ranging from the flying shuttle, the water frame and the spinning mule for textile production, to the use of steam engines, to power rotary machinery in factories and mills. Through this unprecedented manufacturing growth, Great Britain became the world's dominant economic power. Because of the poor working and living conditions in these cities, however, the region also became a locus for political agitation and trade unionism. (3)
Hawthorne, however, minimizes the modern or dynamic aspects of English social and economic life. He ignores Manchester altogether and only briefly notes the factory towns he sees from the railway, reducing them to "their tall chimneys, and their pennons of black smoke, their ugliness of brick-work, and their heaps of refuse matter from the furnace (5:139). The city of Sheffield, then renowned for its steel production, is also diminished in the narrative. It, too, had experienced exponential growth in this period and, at the time of Hawthorne's visit, was producing 60% of the cutlery used in the United States. Hawthorne, however, shows very little interest in this, characterizing the city only as "the famous town of razors and pen knives," which, while essentially accurate, limits its importance to the production of small personal accessories. His description of the city is brief, focusing on the smog created by industries: "My impressions of it are extremely vague and misty--or, rather, smoky:--for Sheffield seems to me smokier than Manchester, Liverpool, or Birmingham.... It might have been Pluto's own metropolis, shrouded in sulphurous vapor" (5:141). Murky and out-of-focus, Sheffield recalls Hawthorne's description of Lincolnshire Cathedral: figuratively not part of the England of Our Old Home, it belongs to some other un-English nether-region that lurks on the fringes of the landscape.
Once in Boston, the village from which the American city took its name, Hawthorne identifies similarities between the two locales and records that he "began to feel at home in this good old town, for its very name's sake, as I never had before felt, in England" (5:156). The Boston of Lincolnshire remained a village, and so is obviously unable to compete with Boston, Massachusetts in industry, size, traffic or cultural importance. By using the common name and historical relationship to create a false equivalency, Hawthorne underscores the superiority of the American Boston and, by implication, America itself. After touring the wharf and market, he notes the extent to which the new Boston has surpassed its namesake:
The whole scene made an odd impression of bustle, and sluggishness, and decay, and a remnant of wholesome life; and I could not but contrast it with the mighty and populous activity of our own Boston, which was once the feeble infant of this English town;--the latter, perhaps, almost stationary ever since that day, as if the birth of such an offspring had taken away its own principle of growth. (5:155-56)
This specious comparison is for Hawthorne a source of national pride: "I thought of Long Wharf. And Faneuil Hall, and Washington-street, and the Great Elm, and the State House, and exulted lustily" (5:156). The rapid growth of the American Boston and the comparative smallness and unimportance of the English Boston, then, are manifest expressions of the relationship between England and America that Hawthorne is working to substantiate. England is destined to fade into the past as America becomes the center of growth and innovation. Just as old Boston has given way to the vibrant American Boston, the "Old Home" that he describes has long ceased to be a world power: its people and institutions have lost their vitality and are already part of a distant history.
The English Notebooks and the Creation of Hawthorne's England
The extent to which Hawthorne edited his own experiences of Great Britain to create this reductive image of a nation in decline is evident in The English Notebooks. A series of journal entries that Hawthorne made between 1855 and 1859, the notebooks provided the material for Our Old Home and the uncompleted American claimant manuscripts. They record his appointments, meetings, excursions and impressions, and as such are not systematic. Hawthorne's reactions are often mercurial, some judgments no doubt motivated by the sheer exhaustion of travelling, and he occasionally modulates or reverses his opinions. Over the course of his time in England, he often revisits sites, and typically--although not consistently--is more positive about them the second time he sees them. (4) Hawthorne's opinions and tastes also evolve over the course of the writings, especially in regard to topics such as visual art. For this reason, it is difficult to define consistencies throughout the entries. But key themes do emerge. Throughout, he is intent on two related objectives: identifying England as belonging to the past, and seeing the significance of England as deriving specifically from its relationship to America.
The regions and aspects of English life that Hawthorne singles out for praise--rural villages, pastoral landscapes, great houses, cathedrals and cemeteries--tend to refer to what he sees as representative of English antiquity. These things cooperate with his paradigm because they either locate England in the remote past or define it through its relationship to American ascendancy. The aspects of English culture that diverge from his construction are problematic for Hawthorne, however, and, he constantly diminishes examples of British power in the world, expresses discomfort with evidence of Great Britain's complex imperial operations, and either ignores or marginalizes its significant technological and industrial developments. (5) This tendency is especially apparent in his descriptions of the British seats of government. When Hawthorne describes the new Palace of Westminster, which holds the Houses of Parliament, he either minimizes the impressions that the vast new edifice makes or historicizes it so that the structure is made to express an England shrinking in global importance. At the time of Hawthorne's visit, the Palace of Westminster was still under construction, although near completion. (6) The complex, built around the original medieval Westminster or Great Hall, constituted a vast undertaking: its neo-Gothic design included three main towers, the largest of which became the tallest secular structure in the world upon its completion in 1860. It covered approximately eight acres, containing 1,100 rooms, three miles of passages and 100 staircases, making it the largest building in the world at that time. When he views Westminster Palace from the vantage point of the Thames, near Westminster Bridge, Hawthorne acknowledges it as a "noble" and a "magnificent edifice" of "long and massive extent, with a delightful promenade." He goes on to qualify this praise almost immediately, however: "yet I doubt whether it is so impressive as it might have been made, considering its immensity. It makes no more impression than you can well account to yourself for, and rather wonder that it is not more." Elaborating upon this perception, he emphasizes the human agency evident in its design and construction:
The reason must be, that the architect has not "builded better than he knew"; there was no power higher and wiser than himself, making him its instrument;--he reckoned upon and contrives all his effects, with malice aforethought, and therefore missed the crowning effect--that being a happiness which God, out of his pure grace, mixes up with only the simple-hearted efforts of men. (21:376)
Unlike the cathedrals, then, Westminster Palace is reduced to a mere human expression of economic and industrial effort and is thus prevented from achieving the status of real art.
The medieval Great Hall, contained within the new Westminster Palace complex, affects him more profoundly. This impression is ascribed to its antiquity, however, and is used as evidence of England's decreasing political and economic relevance. While touring a gallery on his way to the Hall, he notes several statues commemorating leading figures of English history. This occasion, in turn, becomes an opportunity to describe the British Empire as in sharp decline, its accomplishments largely in the past:
But, yet, I cannot help imagining that this rich and noble edifice has more to do with the past than with the future; that it is the glory of a declining empire, and that the perfect bloom of this great stone flower, growing out of the institutions of England, forebodes that they have nearly lived out their life. It sums up all. Its beauty and magnificence are made out of ideas that are gone by. (21:371)
The Great Hall is impressive because of its clear relationship to England's past: its "simplicity and antique nakedness" is "worthy to be the haunt and home of History, through the six centuries since it was built" (21:372). That Hawthorne makes these remarks while surrounded by the ambitious construction of the new Palace illustrates the selectivity of his reading of English history and culture. By focusing on the aesthetics of the complex, he is able to ignore the enormous wealth evidenced by its construction in order to represent it as an example of England's cultural diminution. The "great stone flower" evoking the distant past implies that England's greatness resides entirely in the period evoked by the Great Hall. The vast new building is ironically made a relic of the nation's decline.
In a similar manner, Hawthorne consistently minimizes the significance of Great Britain's ongoing imperial engagements. Hawthorne was resident during the Crimean War, and his discussion of the conflict demonstrates this attitude. Britain's involvement in this war was--among other factors--a consequence of its trade in the Near East and India and its need to protect vital routes, as well as its larger geopolitical alliance with the Turkish Empire. (7) Hawthorne, however, is unwilling to admit the global scope of the war and consistently undermines its importance. His description of the English reaction to the Battle of Sebastopol is exemplary. The siege of Sebastopol was a key event in the war, and its success ensured Allied victory. Hawthorne, however, focuses almost entirely on the celebrations in England and reduces them to the level of pantomime. In his discussion of a planned performance of the battle at the Surrey Zoological Gardens, which he does not witness himself, he emphasizes the shoddiness and artificiality of the preparations:
Plaster statues stand here and there, one of them without a head, thus disclosing the hollowness of his trunk; ... and the buildings for the animals and other purposes had a flimsy, paste-board aspect of pretension. ... I take pains to remember these small items, because they suggest the day-life or torpidity of what may look very brilliant at night;--these corked-up fountains, slovenly green sward, cracked casts of statues, pasteboard castles and duck-pond bay of Balaclava, then shining out in magic splendor; and the shabby attendants, whom we saw sweeping, shoveling, are probably transformed into the heroes of Sebastopol. (21:380-81)
Hawthorne is generally anti-militaristic and typically stresses the destructive violence of armed conflicts in his other writings. (8) Here, the effort to reduce the whole affair to mere spectacle is also illustrative of his propensity to dismiss Britain's importance in world politics. Hawthorne, in fact, remarks that he "shall never love England till she sues to us for help, and, in the meantime, the fewer triumphs she obtains, the better for all parties" (21:138).
A humorous incident that illustrates this effort to isolate British military accomplishments occurs during Hawthorne's tour of the Chelsea Hospital, during which an old soldier shows him various military trophies. Hawthorne notes "banners of all the countries with which the British have had wars, since James the Second's time: French, Dutch, Indian, Prussian and American; for the old pensioner failed not to show me the flags that had been captured at Washington, which hang, I think, a little higher than any of the rest" (21:378). The American flags on display were taken in the War of 1812, during which the British army occupied Washington and burned its public buildings, forcing the American government to flee to Maryland. Although the long-term consequences of this conflict were complex, and are still debated by historians, the war nonetheless demonstrated British military might and that nation's determination to maintain an active presence on the continent. The flags are visible symbols of its military ascendancy and have been collected and displayed to represent Britain as a global power. Again, however, Hawthorne consigns this power to the past. He reflects that the flags are slowly disintegrating, and so will eventually become unrecognizable: "[i]t is a comfort that they are already indistinguishable, or almost so, owing to dust and tatters, and will soon rot away from their staves. I suppose the moths do us a good office with these dishonored flags" (21:378). By implication, the military prowess they represent will similarly decline, ultimately becoming an ancient history.
Just as Hawthorne minimizes British imperial ambitions, so he also shows little interest in the nation's technological or industrial innovations. When he does visit factories, such as the Mersey Iron Foundry, which was producing massive cannon at that time, he avoids relating the scale of production to his estimations of the nation and its military might (21:417-419). His general tendency to discount technological progress, however, is most evident in his description of the Crystal Palace. Built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Palace was intended to showcase Britain's technological and industrial power, as well as its cultural reach. It was considered a marvel of engineering and one of the defining achievements of the Victorian period, even anticipating modernist architecture. When he first visits it in 1855, however, Hawthorne describes it in far less grandiose terms: "I do not think a very impressive edifice can be built of glass;--light and airy, to be sure, but still it will be no other than an overgrown conservatory." It is, he concludes, merely "a gigantic toy, for the English people to play with" (21:358-59).
The Palace excited strong reactions, and such figures as Thomas Carlyle and William Morris were critical of it as well. (9) The significant aspect of Hawthorne's reactions, however, is that he acknowledges the structure's architectural originality while simultaneously using it to define England and the English as inherently regressive: it is "unlike anything else in England: uncongenial with the English character, without privacy, destitute of mass, weight and shadow; unsusceptible of ivy, lichens, or any mellowness of age" (21:359). The sheer originality of the Palace, then, distinguishes it for him as something un-English and inconsistent with what he sees as the essential character of the nation. In a second visit in 1858 Hawthorne is less dismissive, but he remains unenthusiastic. He notes that the innovative use of glass for the construction of the Palace suggests the possibility of a whole new mode of construction, and that "an architectural order, of which we have yet little or no idea, is to be developed from glass as a building material, instead of brick and stone." At the same time, however, he still finds "the atmosphere chill and comfortless" and observes that there is "as little beauty in the architecture ... as was possible to attain with such a gigantic use of such a material" (22:425). Since the England he has come to know is defined by its close identity with and comfort in its past, the stark modernity of the Palace marks it as fundamentally alien in spirit to the nation that produced it. (10)
Along with this propensity to reduce all of England to the level of artifact, Hawthorne describes its inhabitants as themselves slowly degrading to object status. Throughout his entries, he is fixated on the fatness, redness and ignorance of the English. He writes that people in rural areas, for example,
really seem to take no interest in public affairs; at all events, they have no intelligence on such subjects.... The public life of America is lived through the mind and heart of every man in it; here, the people feel that they have nothing to do with what is going forward, and, I suspect, care little or nothing about it. (21:245)
With so little mental stimulation combined with their national fixation on food and comfort, the English become increasingly material as they age: "There is hardly a less beautiful object than the elderly John Bull, with his large body, protruding paunch, short legs, and mottled, double-chinned, irregular-featured aspect" (21:17). Hawthorne's most profound revulsion, however, is reserved for English women:
my experience is, that [an] English lady of forty or fifty is apt to become the most hideous animal that every pretended to human shape. No caricature could do justice to some of their figures and features; so puffed out, so huge, so without limit, with such hanging dewlaps, and all manner of fleshly abomination--dressed too, in a way to show all these points to the worst advantage, and walking about with entire self-satisfaction, unconscious of the wrong they are doing to one's idea of womanhood. (21:133)
The descriptions are obviously hyperbolic, but they also emphasize the idea of the English people as being--like the nation itself--mere accumulations of matter, with little capacity for thought or action. (11)
While in England, Hawthorne of course encounters many individuals who do not accord with this image, and whom he acknowledges as possessing intelligence and vitality; such figures, however, do not lead him to alter his assumptions about the English generally, but rather are defined as simply un-English. When discussing Tennyson, for example, he asserts that "an Englishman of genius usually lacks the national characteristics, and is great abnormally, and through disease" (22:353). Tennyson, then, like the Crystal Palace, is a deviation from Hawthorne's restrictive perception of the national character, and as such does not challenge his essential definition of it. (12)
The Idea of England in Hawthorne's Political Thought
By describing England as being essentially of the past and requiring reformation along American lines, Hawthorne was consistent with the vast majority of American literary visitors, whose travel narratives extolled the superiority of America. (13) Unlike these writers, however, and in contrast to his published writing, Hawthorne also wrote a number of personal letters in which he expressed his strong preference for England over America. To William D. Ticknor he wrote, "To say the truth, the longer I stay away, the less I feel inclined to come back; and if it were not for my children, I question whether I should ever see America again" (17:481). In another letter, also to Ticknor, he was more explicit in his distaste for the literary and political culture of America: "I would rather be a sojourner in any other country than return to my own. The United States are fit for many excellent purposes, but they certainly are not fit to live in" (18:140). In a later exchange with James T. Fields, he unequivocally expressed his preference for the life he found in Great Britain: "America is a country to boast of, and to get out of, and keep away from, and that England is the only country to live in" (18:161). While taking a tour of Italy before returning to the United States, moreover, he experienced homesickness not for his own native country, but for the England he had just left. To his British friend Francis Bennoch, Hawthorne wrote, "I long for England just as if I were a native John Bull" (18:177). (14)
Hawthorne's disjunctive reactions are not paradoxical, but rather derive from the nature of England as he formulated it in his writing. The qualities that Hawthorne assigns to America to establish its superiority over Britain--its intelligence and innovative energy--are the very ones that he, at least while in America, treats with a great deal of ambivalence. In the essay "The Old Manse," for example, written during his first residence in Concord, he complains of the reformers flocking there: "[n]ever was a poor little country village infested with such a variety of queer, strangely dressed, oddly behaved mortals, most of whom took themselves to be important agents of the world's destiny, yet were simply bores of a very intense water" (10:31-32). Their activities, he asserts, are ultimately simply disruptive: because of them, society "has gone distracted, through a morbid activity, and while preternaturally wide-awake, is nevertheless tormented by visions." The only solution to this frenetic obsession with visionary change, he argues, is "an interval of sound repose" (10:29). This need for some kind of stability to counterbalance what Hawthorne saw as the constant emphasis upon newness and innovation in America was a frequent theme in his writing. In The Blithedale Romance, for example, Coverdale, having left the Blithedale community and returned to Boston, reflects on how the "fermentation of opinions ... going on in the general brain of the Community" produced a "kind of Bedlam" (3: 140). In order not to lose his sense of reality altogether, it is essential to "go and hold a little talk with the conservatives ... all those respectable old blockheads, who still, in this intangibility and mistiness of affairs, kept a death-grip on one or two ideas which had not come into vogue since yesterday-morning" (3:141). (15)
In attempting to articulate his attraction to England, Hawthorne depicts it in terms like those Coverdale uses to describe the intellectual life of Boston. As he explains in a letter to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the certainties and fixed realities of English culture provide an escape from the endless speculation and theorizing he saw as endemic to America, as well as the constant efforts to solicit agreement that are accessory to this feature of public intellectual life:
America is a good place for young people, but not for those who are past their prime. It is impossible to grow old comfortably there: for nothing keeps in countenance. For my part, I have no love for England nor Englishmen, and I do love my own country; but, for all that, the honest truth is, I care little whether I ever set eyes on it again. Everything is so delightfully sluggish here! It is so pleasant to find people holding on to old ideas, and hardly now beginning to dream of matters that are already old with us! I have had enough of progress;- now I want to stand stock still: or rather, to go back twenty years or so:--and that is just what I seem to have done, in coming to England. Then too, it is so agreeable to find one's self relieved from the tyranny of public opinion--or, at any rate, under the jurisdiction of quite a different public sentiment from what we have left behind us. A man of individuality and refinement can certainly live far more comfortably here (provided he have the means to live at all) than in New England. (17:250)
Hawthorne's preference for England's "delightfully sluggish" culture derives specifically from his perception that it places no social, cultural or political demands upon him, leaving him free to live as he sees fit. As Hawthorne writes to James T. Fields, "What an absurd personage John [Bull] is! I find that my liking for him grows stronger the more I see of him, but that my admiration and respect have constantly decreased" (17:380). The lack of respect Hawthorne's characteristic Englishman commands conversely makes liking that person much easier.
By constructing England as the cultural opposite of America, Hawthorne positions the two nations as converse but complementary states--passive and active, material and intellectual, traditional and innovative, complaisant and ambitious--that balance and thus complete each other. For this reason, in many letters he fantasizes about somehow annexing England and making it a part of America. In one characteristic passage to Ticknor, he complains about new legislation in Massachusetts regulating the manufacturing and sales of liquor: "Massachusetts must be a very uncomfortable place, just now, with your liquor laws and other nonsense. I wish we could annex this island to the Union, so that I could have an estate here in Warwickshire" (17:358). The stagnant traditionalism of England provides a respite from and corrective to the energetic striving that makes life in America so uncomfortable and chaotic. As he writes to Longfellow, "[i]t is good for the moral nature of an American to live in England, among a more simple and natural people than ourselves" (17:340): through its influence, the American character is tempered.
Conclusion: Hawthorne's American Abdication
Confronting the Civil War--which he understood largely as the continuation of earlier reformist activities, exacerbated to the point that they threatened the survival of the nation--Hawthorne returned to the idea of England. In this context, however, he increasingly used it to underscore what he saw as the destructive tendencies inherent in American political culture. When responding to news of the political turmoil, Hawthorne typically describes Europe--at least for the American expatriate--as offering an escape from what he saw as the relentless theorizing and posturing that were leading the country to war. Writing to Ticknor in October 1856 about news from America, including John Brown's raids in Kansas, Hawthorne notes that "there seems to be no stormier prospect anywhere, than in our own country, and I find myself less and less inclined to come back, with every budget of news that comes from thence" (17:558-59). He goes on to state that, unlike his English friends, he does not expect political dissolution, but actions such as these nonetheless call the rationale of America as a nation into question: "I have no country or only just enough of one to be ashamed of" (17:559).
The construction of England as an idealized state of social cohesion had profound consequences for Hawthorne's political thought. It led him to see America's geographic vastness and cultural heterogeneity as preventing its inhabitants from a full experience of citizenship, and, by implication, as leading to the political fragmentation about which he was reading. In a letter to Longfellow he argues that the size of England allows its people to feel a sense of connection to their nation that is simply impossible for Americans to know:
The English are intensely patriotic; their island being not too big to be taken bodily into each of their hearts; whereas, we must dilute and attenuate our patriotism till it becomes little better than none. We have so much country that we have really no country at all; and I feel the want of one, every day of my life. (18:266-67)
A later letter to Henry Bright, written in December 1860 when Hawthorne was contemplating the failure of the Union, is more explicit about how he saw his imagined England as a model for what the American continent should be, and how the reorganization of the nation as a series of autonomous regions would provide its citizens with a coherent sense of place that they had hitherto lacked and would also allow for greater cultural development than was possible in the Union:
Well, I am ashamed to say how little I care about the matter. New England will still have her rocks and ice, and I should not wonder if we become a better and nobler people than ever heretofore. As to the South, I never loved it. We do not belong together; the Union is unnatural, a scheme of man, not an ordinance of God; and as long as it continues, no American of either section will ever feel a genuine thrill of patriotism, such as you Englishmen feel at every breath you draw. (18:355)
Continuing in a humorous vein, Hawthorne entertains the idea that an independent New England might reestablish older relationships with the British Empire:
Don't you think England ... might be induced to receive the New England States back again, in our old Provincial capacity? ... Or perhaps it would be a better idea to arrange a kingdom for Prince Alfred by lumping together Canada, New England, and Nova Scotia. Those regions are almost homogeneous as regards manners and character, and cannot long be kept apart, after we lose the counterbalance of our Southern States. For my part, I should be very glad to exchange the South for Canada, though I have not quite made up my mind as to the expediency of coming either under the Queen's scepter or Prince Alfred's. But if any such arrangement takes place, I shall claim to be made a peer for having been the first to suggest it. (18:355)
Although obviously facetious, this letter nonetheless emphasizes Hawthorne's conviction in the necessity for some degree of commonality--geographic, cultural, social or economic--for nationhood, as well as his belief that Great Britain ideally exemplified these conditions.
In a March 1863 letter to Bright, his last comprehensive statement on the war, Hawthorne notes his alienation from all political factions because of his desire for coherent nationhood: "I sympathize with nobody and approve of nothing; and if I have any wishes on the subject, it is that New England might be a nation by itself" (18:543). (16) His hypothetical nation of New England, however, is modeled on an old England that is largely his own construction, carefully formulated in the entries in his English Notebooks. It is virtually free of the reformist activities he satirized in works such as Mosses from an Old Manse and The Blithedale Romance. During the Civil War it became his comfort and refuge, but also his isolation.
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
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--. The English Notebooks 1856-1860. Ed. Thomas Woodson and Bill Ellis. Vols. 21 and 22 of Centenary Edition. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1997. Print.
Hylton, Stuart. A History of Manchester. Chichester, England: Phillimore & Co. Ltd., 2003. Print.
Milder, Robert. "In the Belly of the Beast: Hawthorne in England." New England Quarterly 84.1 (2011): 60-103. Print.
Newberry, Frederick. Hawthorne's Divided Loyalties: England and America in His Works. Rutherford: Associated UP, 1987. Print.
Reynolds, Larry J. Devils and Rebels: The Making of Hawthorne's Damned Politics. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2008. Print.
Riding, Christine and Jacqueline Riding, eds. The Houses of Parliament: History, Art, Architecture. London: Merrell Publishers Ltd., 2001. Print.
Smith, Andrew Lloyd. "'The Wrong Side of the Tapestry': Hawthorne's English Travel Writing." The Yearbook of English Studies, Nineteenth-Century Travel Writing 34 (2004): 127-137. Print.
Stewart, Randall. Introduction. The English Notebooks. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. NY: Russell & Russell, 1962. ix-xl. Print.
Stowe, William. Going Abroad: European Travel in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994. Print.
(1)Hawthorne was far from unique in this respect. In '"Latent Preparedness': Allusions in American Travel Literature on Britain," Goluboff notes that American visitors to Great Britain generally approached the nation through the prism of their previous exposure to British literature. As such, they arrived expecting to see "rural cots, wimpling burns and quaint Dickensian characters" (67). Written accounts of Great Britain typically conformed to these expectations, but "[industrial Britain-Manchester and Newcastle and Birmingham-was either avoided completely or impatiently dismissed" (75).
(2) Andrew Lloyd Smith, in "'The Wrong Side of the Tapestry': Hawthorne's English Travel Writing," makes a similar observation: he notes that "Hawthorne's position of transatlantic relations is based on the notion that England has determined American identity much as a parent shapes a child" (128). Smith observes, too, that this identification is obviously "in marked indifference to the many and other paternities of the mid-century United States."
(3) Stuart Hylton's A History of Manchester (2003) provides a thorough overview of the city and its significance in the industrial development of Great Britain.
(4) In Hawthorne's Divided Loyalties: England and America in his Works (1987), Frederick Newberry notes that Hawthorne's reactions to England become progressively more positive over the duration of his appointment, and that his most scathing critiques occur in his first two years of residency. This is especially true with his reactions to architecture, such as Chester Cathedral and York Cathedral. Despite this fact, however, Newberry observes that Hawthorne "does not ... entirely shed his negative opinions of English character and society" (198).
(5) It should be noted that Hawthorne does write at length about the problem of English poverty in Our Old Home in the chapter "Some Outside Glimpses of English Poverty." Here, however, he tends to contrast the plight of the poor with the excessive wealth of the British aristocracy, and by so doing positions the problem as deriving from the British caste system rather than the new industrialism. In "'A Confusion of Unwashed and Shabbily Dressed People': Nineteenth-Century Americans and Urban Britain," Shirley Foster notes that many American visitors were shocked by their first exposure to British poverty. This "denied the former colonized nation the fantasies by which it could still trace links with the colonial mother, and raised questions of whether America, now becoming an imperial power in its own right, might not also be in danger of such regression" (130). Typically, and as Hawthorne does in this chapter, American visitors attempted to assure themselves that America would be immune to such conditions.
(6) After a fire destroyed some of the original structure in 1834, a new ambitious plan was devised in 1835. Construction began in 1840 and was mostly complete by 1860; the entire structure, however, was not officially finished until 1870. At the time of Hawthorne's visit, what would become the Victoria Tower was still being built. For a description of the different buildings, and their history and construction over time, as well as the cultural and political issues surrounding their design and placement, see Christine and Jacqueline Riding, The Houses of Parliament: History, Art, Architecture (2001).
(7) For more on the American interest in and response to the Crimean War, see Alan Dowty, The Limits of American Isolation: The United States and the Crimean War (1971). This work provides useful context for understanding Hawthorne's anti-British sentiments in the sections of the English Notebooks dealing with this conflict.
(8) Larry J. Reynolds's Devils and Rebels: The Making of Hawthorne's Damned Politics (2008) has called attention to sustained pacifistic themes throughout Hawthorne's writings, noting how, in works such as The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair, Hawthorne consistently expresses disapprobation for military actions and emphasizes their human cost.
(9) For a study of the diverse reactions excited by the Crystal Palace and the 1851 Exhibition generally, see Jeffrey A. Auerbach, The Great Exhibition of 1851: A Nation on Display (1999), and John R. Davis, The Great Exhibition (1999). Thomas Carlyle, for example, characterized the Crystal Palace as an "inane tornado" and a "big Glass Soapbubble," and William Morris as a "magnified ... conservatory!" (qtd. in Davis 193-194).
(10) Throughout his English writing Hawthorne characteristically stresses the English capacity for personal comfort. In his description of Charlecote Hall in Our Old Home, for example, he writes, "[a]ll about the house and domain, there is a perfection of comfort and domestic taste, an amplitude of convenience, which could have been brought about only by the slow ingenuity and labor of many successive generations, intent upon adding all possible improvement to the home where years gone by, and years to come, give a sort of permanence to the intangible present" (5: 119).
(11) Smith notes the metaphorical connection between the English and American culture and populace in Hawthorne's English writings: "[t]he claimed thinness of Americans is associated with a rectitude and even moral severity, against which the heavy English figure suggests a bullying greed and a sexuality somehow gone to seed" (128). In "In the Belly of the Beast: Hawthorne in England," Robert Milder discusses the spiritual significance Hawthorne assigned to womanhood and how his descriptions of the sexuality and physicality of English women suggested a larger moral crisis: "Because sex was seldom merely sex for him but was entwined with ideals of woman's ethereal nature, to make light of purity, in reference to any class, was to call into question the reality of the moral order and therefore, the reality of the spiritual order and the existence of the soul" (83).
(12) In Our Old Home Hawthorne makes the same point about Admiral Nelson, asserting that while he was preeminent in British--and world--naval history, he "had none of the stolid characteristics that belong to his class, and cannot fairly be accepted as their representative man." Hawthorne expands this point to argue that all genius is out of keeping with English character and temperament, and that the remarkable individuals who define the culture do so by being fundamentally atypical of it: the "ordinary Englishman is the healthiest and wholesomest of human beings; an extraordinary one is almost always, in one way or another, a sick man." As such, he concludes that "genius in an Englishman ... is usually a symptom of a lack of balance in the general making-up of the character" (5:232).
(13) William Stowe provides a comprehensive overview of American travel writing in this period in Going Abroad: European Travel in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (1994).
(14) Randall Stewart notes the violently contradictory nature of Hawthorne's interaction with Great Britain: "England both attracted and repelled: attracted ... the imaginative writer, and repelled the American patriot; for Hawthorne was, somewhat diversely, both of these" (xl). Stewart argues too that Hawthorne's inability to resolve or reconcile these commitments or responses was "an acute mental conflict" and "contributed not a little to the unhappiness of Hawthorne's final years."
(15) Milder notes that, in the opposition Hawthorne constructs, '"John Bull' was an alter ego, a somewhat coarse but cheerful and well-meaning English Hyde to his own self-consciously thin-blooded American Jekyll," and England itself was "a world of counter-romance" (70).
(16) For further discussion of Hawthorne's political and personal isolation in Concord during the Civil War, see Reynolds, 217-243.
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|Publication:||Nathaniel Hawthorne Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
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