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'The wrong side of the tapestry': Hawthorne's English travel writing.


Hawthorne's period in England as American Consul at Liverpool brought him into contact with British and American eccentrics and enabled him to ramble the old towns and significant places he had known through reading, and the churchyards to which he seemed inexorably drawn. His views of the English and of English places were in some respects conventional but demonstrate his powerfully emblematic imagination and profound concern for mortality and an unease related to his feelings about sexuality, dirt, and foreignness which is seen not only in Our Old Home, but also in his English Notebooks and The Marble Faun. Some episodes are particularly disturbing: his expression of anti-Semitism (about the Lord Mayor's Dinner), and his encounters with poverty, in particular with a sickly and perhaps syphilitic child in an almshouse.


It was never intended to be looked at from any point of view in that straight line; so that it is like looking at the wrong side of a piece of tapestry.

(Nathaniel Hawthorne, Our Old Home)

The end of Our Old Home finds Hawthorne betrayed into making an address at the Lord Mayor's banquet, nervously determined he will 'save both countries, or perish in the attempt'. (1) As the book closes he remains, 'still erect in so heroic an attitude', the speech yet unmade (p. 354). This final ironic gesture, towards a tense silence, points to an issue other than the contemporary political 'chasm of discord between England and America' (p. 344) that confronted the then American Consul at Liverpool (Hawthorne served between 1853 and 1857) (2)--what is it that Hawthorne, as travel writer, really could say of his investigations into the 'Old Home' of England and Europe? That rhetorical silence reverberates in other ways too: an admission that his mind was 'absolutely empty of appropriate ideas' (p. 344), a premonition of his inability to turn the observations of his English notebooks into coherent fictions; (3) perhaps for us as later readers a precursor of his imminent death, and in any case a figure for the almost compulsive registration in his readings of England of death itself, the final 'old home'.

For the role of lively cultural mediator, interpreting America to the English, and reporting back on their supposed ancestors to his readers across the Atlantic, Hawthorne was almost spectacularly unsuitable. Nor did he think himself much fitted for the role: his first published essay from these travels, 'Some of the Haunts of Burns', appeared in the Atlantic in October 1860 with the byline by 'A Tourist Without Imagination or Enthusiasm' (Our Old Home, p. xv). His observations produced more outrage than amusement when he described an English dowager promenading under full sail in Leamington, and his loyalty to the much despised ex-President Franklin Pierce almost sank the book on its publication. His cultural observations were surprisingly superficial, but his deeper insights and interests often seem more universal than local, as for example when he noted that a landscape seen from a railway must inevitably be seen amiss because 'it was never intended to be looked at from any point of view in that straight line; so that it is like looking at the wrong side of a piece of tapestry' (p. 140). But, again, the whole of Hawthorne's invocation of the 'Old Home', so mis-taken and conventional, and almost perversely under the spell of his own obsessive concerns, is like looking at the wrong side of a tapestry, which becomes an invitation to the pulling of a loose thread or two, to see what may be revealed.

Hawthorne's position on transatlantic relations is based on the notion that England had determined American identity much as a parent shapes a child, and it is this thread that, with marked indifference to the many and various other paternities of the mid-century United States, he attempts to follow. 'After all these bloody wars and vindictive animosities', he insists, 'we still have an unspeakable yearning towards England':

When our forefathers left the old home, they pulled up many of their roots, but trailed along with them others, which were never snapt asunder by the tug of such a lengthening distance, nor have been torn out of the original soil by the violence of subsequent struggles, nor severed by the edge of the sword. Even so late as these days, they remain entangled with our heartstrings, and might often have influenced our national course like the tiller-ropes of a ship, if the rough gripe of England had been capable of managing so sensitive a kind of machinery. It has required nothing less than the boorishness, the stolidity, the self-sufficiency, the contemptuous jealousy, the half-sagacity, invariably blind of one eye and often distorted of the other, that characterize this strange people, to compel us to continue to be a great nation in our own right, instead of continuing virtually, if not in name, a province of their small island. What pains did they take to shake us off, and have ever since taken to keep us wide apart from them! (p. 19).

His identification of a boorish materialism in the English, as compared to the supposedly more sensitive 'machinery' of the Americans, provided Hawthorne with a conceptual (and emotive) frame for his observations of their many differences. The sense of relative political weight ('if England had been wise enough to twine our new vigor roundabout her ancient strength, her power would have been too firmly established ever to yield' (p. 19)) translates into a metaphorical personal leanness compared to a beef-nourished solidity. It is unsurprising that many found his caricature of the mature English woman offensive; what is perhaps more remarkable is that he should insist on seeing some sort of correlation between the (assumed) nature of a nation's women and its moral state. The 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:

I have heard a good deal of the tenacity with which English ladies retain their personal beauty to a late period of life; but (not to suggest that an American eye needs use and cultivation before it can quite appreciate the charm of English beauty, at any age) it strikes me that an English lady of fifty is apt to become a creature less refined and delicate, so far as her physique goes, than anything that we Western people class under the name of woman. She has an awful ponderosity of frame, not pulpy, like the looser development of our few fat women, but massive with solid beef and streaky tallow; so that (although struggling manfully against the idea) you inevitably think of her as made up of steaks and sirloins. When she walks, her advance is elephantine. When she sits down, it is on a great round space of her Maker's footstool where she looks as if nothing could ever move her. She imposes awe and respect by the muchness of her personality, to such a degree that you probably credit her with far greater moral and intellectual force than she can fairly claim. Her visage is usually grim and stern, seldom positively forbidding, yet calmly terrible, not merely by its breadth and weight of feature, but because it seems to express so much well-founded self-reliance, such acquaintance with the world, its toils, troubles, and dangers, and such sturdy capacity for trampling down a foe. Without anything positively salient, or actively offensive, or, indeed, unjustly formidable to her neighbors, she has the effect of a seventy-four gun ship in time of peace; for while you assure yourself that there is no real danger, you cannot help thinking how tremendous would be her onset, if pugnaciously inclined, and how futile the effort to inflict any counter-injury. She certainly looks tenfold--nay a hundredfold--better able to take care of herself than our slender-framed and haggard womankind; but I have not found reason to suppose that the English dowager of fifty has actually greater courage, fortitude, and strength of character, than our women of similar age, or even a tougher physical endurance than they. (p. 49)

Hawthorne's assault in the uncomfortable guise of satire builds to a final salvo:

You can meet this figure in the street, and live, and even smile at the recollection. But conceive of her in a ball-room, with the bare, brawny arms that she invariably displays there, and all the other corresponding development, such as is beautiful in the maiden blossom, but a spectacle to howl at in such an overblown cabbage-rose as this. (p. 49)

Revenge against British commentators' criticism of American manners and mores might no doubt be part of what drove Hawthorne into such travesties, but I think there is also an element determined by the nature of his imagination's working (shared in part by his admirer and biographer Henry James) (4) which required that he shape his insights in sometimes crudely physical terms.

Not only his discourse but even his underlying observations seem to have been determined by some insistent metaphorical sieve through which the idea of 'Englishness' precipitated out notions of Beefeaters, oak trees, ancient houses and graveyards, dust, and death. Hawthorne's imagination was powerfully emblematic, perpetually seeking material analogies as embodiments of abstractions, so that just as thinking in metaphors can dominate and distort perception, his emblematic objects would sometimes overwhelm his inherent subtlety of observation, and have him thinking in cliches. But his imagination was also rigorous, and frequently almost obsessive, and that led him to what might be called the re-examined cliche. A tale such as 'The Minister's Black Veil' shows this process working. The trope is turned, developed, minutely observed and explored, and its absurd but tragic consequences in ordinary life mapped with almost Kafkaesque modernity. In Our Old Home the association of the Motherland with antiquity and a sense of immemorial lives and deaths produces a consistent undertone, an apologia for the gross and bullying culture that he discerned at this time of England's imperial confidence.

If Melville's Everyman, feet set agoing, would inexorably head for water and for meditations on nature and the ideal, Hawthorne's, it seems, would as determinedly set off for the nearest graveyard, intending ruminations on dust and mortality. Endless searches among graveyards seem to be a part of Hawthorne's appreciation of a cherished antiquity, in opposition to the denials of the past implicit in the American culture: whereas 'old associations are sure to be fragrant herbs in English nostrils; we [Americans] pull them up as weeds' (p. 51). The complexity and richness of his historical sense distinguished Hawthorne among American writers of his age (although he was by no means alone in sensing the power of such historical themes as witchcraft in Salem) and it depended upon both an understanding of the real forces at work, whether of religion, or of colonial politics and independence, (5) and an evocation of emotion, frequently rooted in such signifying objects as Mr Surveyer Pue's manuscript or the Scarlet Letter itself, when described in the Custom-House sketch. Arguably, the materiality insisted on by his imagination in grasping the imaginative and the past was in part his undoing, resulting in such nonsense as Donatello's supposedly having actual faun's ears in The Marble Faun (1860), or the fixed idea of the bloody footstep that seemed to paralyze his final works. This allegorical proclivity meant that although on occasion (as with the Scarlet Letter) his conceptions could become powerful signifiers, too often such a freight of insistent meaning has its cost in lost fluidity and leads to reader responses akin to the depicted reception of the mechanical butterfly in his story of 'The Artist of the Beautiful'.

However, when the technique works it can find complex meanings in the material world. Hawthorne's description of the rapid ageing of gravestones, for example (time 'gnaws an English gravestone with wonderful appetite' (p. 55)), leads him into a recognition of the poetry of the ensuing effects: The rain falls into the deep incisions of the letters and scarcely has time to be dried away before another shower sprinkles the flat stone again, and replenishes those little reservoirs. The unseen, mysterious seeds of mosses find their way into the lettered furrows, and are made to germinate by the continual moisture and watery sunshine of the English sky; and by-and-by, in a year, or two years, or many years, behold the complete inscription--


and all the rest of the tender falsehood--beautifully embossed in raised letters of living green, a bas-relief of velvet moss on the marble slab! [...] it outlives the grief of friends. (p. 55)

This annotation of what might be called 'natural language' echoes the inscription, 'on a filed, sable, the Letter A gules', of Hester's gravestone, while its greenness also reverberates with Pearl's childishly knowing play on the meaning of the scarlet letter when she fashions her own green version out of eel grass, here implying a demonic aspect in the letter because of the serpent connotation of 'eel'. Such echoes suggest the reader should reflect again on Hawthorne's overtly comforting phrase 'all the rest of the tender falsehood', presumably referring to the hope of everlasting life, which is contradicted even in its invocation here. That ingenuous exclamation mark begins to seem less naive and sentimental, and more an ironic camouflage for Hawthorne's subversion. To translate: the dead are utterly dead; it is the stone slab that lives on!

At the same time this trope of natural language is a part of Hawthorne's interest throughout Our Old Home in the traces of the past, the meanings of those inscriptions on the bland surface of the present that may be best seen in ancient surroundings, and the question that dominated his later writings from The Marble Faun on: what it really means to have a past. In Our Old Home, the answer seems all too frequently an exasperated 'it means nothing'. What strikes the Westerner, he says, despite his being endlessly drawn by 'the influence of hoar antiquity lingering into the present daylight' (p. 58) and so finding that the article he is trying to write has taken its own course and 'occupied itself almost wholly with country churches' (p. 61), what most strikes the American visitor is the tedium of the permanent:

[He] becomes sensible of the heavy air of a spot where the forefathers and foremothers have grown up together, intermarried, and died, through a long succession of lives, without any intermixture of new elements, till family features and character are all run in the same inevitable mould. Life is there fossilized in its greenest leaf. The man who died yesterday, or ever so long ago, walks the village-street to-day, and chooses the same wife that he married a hundred years since, and must be buried again, tomorrow, under the same kindred dust that has already covered him half a score of times. (p. 59)

A registration of the differences between introverted English existence and the freedom and change of the American way results in a recognition of mere pointlessness, the endless rotations of meaningless life, bizarrely fixed the same through the centuries, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to the existential meaninglessness of 'Wakefield', Hawthorne's story of the man who stepped aside and lost his place in the universe.

The next inscription in the churchyard that Hawthorne notices opens into a social discourse that he would explore further in his chapter 'Outside Notes on English Poverty'. This inscription runs:
 Poorly lived,
 And poorly died,
 Poorly buried,
 And no one cried. (p. 56)

The grave is so small, at only three feet long, that unless its occupant had been a dwarf he must have been doubled up; and the gravestone is so overgrown with grass and lichens, so crumbly with age and foul weather, that Hawthorne doubts anyone will be at the trouble of deciphering it again (p. 57).

The 'inevitable mould', this sense that life is 'fossilized in its greenest leaf', and the 'kindred dust', refer to another principal thread in the reverse side of Hawthorne's tapestry of the European world. Subscribing unoriginally to the proposition of the Old versus the New world, Hawthorne looks to the very soil for the essence of this difference. The earth of England itself is old, and the people are of this earth which, metonymically, suggests that they are of the dirt, earthy, as Hawthorne's imagination unfolds the possibilities of his metaphor made flesh. In the churchyard at Whitnash, where he remarked on the introversion of immemorial village life he notes that there had been dug, for whatever reason, 'an immense pit [...] long and broad and fifteen feet deep, two thirds of which profundity were discolored by human decay and mixed up with crumbly bones' (p. 61).

A sense of what might further be contained in this human element in the very earth is suggested in The Marble Faun, written shortly before this memoir, when Kenyon expresses his sense of the gulf 'beneath us, everywhere' into which runs human crime: 'All the blood that the Romans shed, whether on battlefields, or in the Coliseum, or on the cross--in whatever public or private murder--ran into this fatal gulf, and formed a mighty subterranean lake of gore, right beneath our feet' (Centenary Edition, iv, 163). In the same vein, Hawthorne describes Rome as a 'long decaying corpse, retaining a trace of the noble shape it was, but with accumulated dust and a fungus growth overspreading all its more admirable features' (iv, 325).

Frederick Crews claimed that 'Jewishness, earthliness, filth and sexuality are symbolically interchangeable in [Hawthorne's] imagination'. (6) There is certainly evidence for this view in Hawthorne's vicious description of the crowded conditions of the Roman ghetto, 'where thousands of Jews are crowded within a narrow compass, and lead a close, unclean and multitudinous life, resembling that of maggots when they overpopulate a decaying cheese' (iv, 388). (The gentile Italian children do not fare much better in his account however, having for father, the sun, 'and their mother--a heap of Roman mud', iv, 222). The Marble Faun turns obsessively on the relations between death, the earth, and decay (the bones of the catacombs, the surfacing of the fatal Model) and life, beauty, and sexuality (Kenyon's Cleopatra, Miriam's sexual force, Hilda's idealized appeal as sexually pure), all mediated by an inter-realm of flesh, clay, and marble. To illustrate, here is the description of an ancient figure found near Rome:

In a corner of the excavation, lay a small round block of stone, much incrusted with earth that had dried and hardened upon it. So, at least, you would have described this object, until the sculptor lifted it, turning it hither and thither, in his hands, brushed off the clinging soil, and finally placed it on the slender neck of the newly discovered statue. The effect was magical. It immediately lighted up and vivified the whole figure, endowing it with personality, soul, and intelligence. The beautiful Idea at once asserted its immortality, and converted that heap of fragments into a whole, as perfect to the mind, if not to the eye, as when the new marble gleamed with snowy lustre; nor was the impression marred by the earth that still hung upon the exquisitely graceful limbs, and even filled the lovely crevice of the lips. Kenyon cleared it away from between them, and almost deemed himself rewarded with a living smile. (iv, 424)

This passage condenses the aesthetic, philosophical, and sensual investments of The Marble Faun and Hawthorne's responses to Europe, if not also perhaps, of his writing as a whole. The interplay between the fragments and the unitary work of art (with a significant echo of Kenyon's bust of Cleopatra based on Miriam, and his marble hand modelled from Hilda's) works alongside an interplay between the snowy marble and the earth that sensuously clings to the figure's graceful limbs and even the 'lovely crevice' of the lips. The paradigms of the little hand in 'The Birthmark', Rappaccini's physically corrupted but spiritually pure Beatrice, Zenobia's and Hester's intense but fallen sexuality, and even the issues of Romanticism versus Classicism, the Ideal to be discovered within the broken Real, or the ethical truth to be derived from sin, as the plot of The Marble Faun develops these issues; are all implied within this startling trope. There is, furthermore, a connection to be made between this figure and Miriam herself, via the sculptor's Cleopatra, and behind this a further connection can be made, in line with Crew's insight, between Hawthorne's idea of female sexuality and Jewishness. This connection is to be found buried within the travel writings.

Miriam is described, through her portrait, as 'a beautiful woman, such as one sees only two or three, if even so many, in all a lifetime; so beautiful, that she seemed to get into your consciousness and memory, and could never afterwards be shut out, but haunted your dreams for pleasure or for pain; holding your inner realm as a captured territory, though without deigning to make herself at home there'. She is youthful, and of Jewish aspect, has eyes of unsoundable depth, and black abundant hair, which is not glossy but instead is pointedly signalled as Jewish: 'a dark glory such as crowns no Christian maiden's head' (iv, 48). The ultimate origin of this hauntingly seductive woman (to know whom may prove fatal, at least for Donatello, and the Model), is the story of Beatrice Cenci, whose picture plays a minor but revealing role in The Marble Faun; but the more immediate source seems likely to be a young woman whom Hawthorne met at the previously mentioned Lord Mayor's Banquet in 1856, at which Hawthorne is figuratively struck dumb, like one who has looked on Medea. In the 'Egyptian Hall' at the Mansion House dinner,

Nearly opposite to me, on the other side of the table, sat a young lady in white, who I am sorely tempted to describe, but dare not, because not only the supereminence of her beauty, but its peculiar character, would cause the sketch to be recognised, however rudely it might be drawn. I hardly thought that there existed such a woman, outside of a picture-frame or the covers of a romance; not that I had ever met with her resemblance even there, but being so distinct and singular an apparition she seemed likelier to find her sisterhood in poetry and picture than in real life. Let us turn away from her, lest a touch too apt should compel her stately, and cold, and soft, and womanly grace, to gleam out upon my page, with a strange repulsion and unattainableness in the very spell that made her so beautiful. (v, 336-37)

Hawthorne's sexual anxiety is made more evident in his addition that her 'familiarly attentive' companion (the Lord Mayor's brother in fact) has a 'monstrous portent of a beard' such that no mouth could be seen until he opened it to speak or eat, when 'you suddenly became aware of a cave, hidden behind the imperious and darksome shrubbery', and the suggestion that 'any child would have recognised them at a glance. It was Bluebeard and a new wife (the loveliest of the series, but already with a mysterious gloom overshadowing her fair young brow)' (v, 337). The English Notebook entry identifies this young woman (like Miriam in The Marble Faun) with Judith and Rachel, and thus underscores her Jewishness ('her nose had a beautiful outline, though I could see that it was Jewish too' (English Notebooks, p. 321)). In fact, further comparison of the Notebook entry with the version in Our Old Home reveals the disturbing extent of Hawthorne's anti-Semitism behind his self-censorship: while admiring the woman he added 'I doubt not that she could have slain a man [...] only she seemed to have no sin in her', and 'I never should have thought of touching her, nor desired to touch her; for, whether owing to distinctness of race, my sense that she was a Jewess, or whatever else, I felt a sort of repugnance, simultaneously with my perception that she was an admirable creature' (English Notebooks, p. 321).

The uneasy humour of Hawthorne's reference to Bluebeard covers over the (undoubtedly racist) sense of horror he experienced at this meeting. This 'Bluebeard' is, according to the Notebook,

the very Jew of Jews; the distilled essence of all the Jews that have been born since Jacob's time; he was Judas Iscariot; he was the wandering Jew; he was the worst, and at the same time, the truest type of his race [...]; and he must have been circumcised as much [as] ten times over. I never beheld anything so ugly, and disagreeable, and preposterous, and laughable, as the outline of his profile; it was so hideously Jewish, and so cruel, and so keen. [...] I rejoiced exceedingly in this Shylock, this Iscariot; for the sight of him justified me in the repugnance I have always felt towards his race. (English Notebooks, p. 321)

Accepting that virulent anti-Semitism might be something of a norm for New Englanders in Hawthorne's day (as it was later, and in England as much so) there is still perhaps some element in this irruption into Hawthorne's genial text that indicates a peculiar unease. The man is powerful, older (even 'elderly', with a wig and dyed beard, yet 'in his prime'), and above all, other. His positioning as guardian--husband, possessor, controller--of the desirable but utterly taboo young Jewish woman conjoins with his social positioning--successful, accepted, at the very centre of the English social scene--the Lord Mayor's brother (David Salomons was the first Jew to be elected to this office (English Notebooks, p. 646)), in the Egyptian Hall (with the name's suggestion of the mysterious, the colonial, the forbidden exoticism at the centre of 'Englishness'). The centrality of the Jewish Benjamin Disraeli in British political life at this time and thereafter (Chancellor of the Exchequer under Lord Derby in 1852, later becoming Prime Minister himself) may also be of some significance in this constellation of only partially interrogable feelings.

An uneasy mocking tone and cautious self-censorship creeps into Hawthorne's discourse whenever he has to deal with matters that he considers unpleasant, and sometimes perhaps it is not merely self-censorship. An episode at Greenwich Fair, for example, when he describes two young girls pestering his party, and one of them turning cartwheels down the hill ('dreading a repetition of the feat, we gave her sixpence and an admonition, and enjoined her never to do so any more' (v, 238)) draws on an entry in the Notebook in which the two quarter pages between 'Two girls, perhaps twelve years old, followed us and haunted us for' and 'petticoats;' (with probable references to nakedness), have been cut out, no doubt by Mrs Hawthorne (English Notebooks, p. 642).

His years as Consul gave Hawthorne ample opportunity to visit and study the different strata of British social life, and he spent time travelling and commuting across the Mersey in the company of ordinary people. It was also the nature of his post that a constant stream of people would come to him, mainly Americans and American sailors, but also a good number only pretending to be such and hoping for a handout or possibly passage to the States. Among these honest and not-so-honest claimants, the sane and the almost outright lunatic, some stood out. In particular Hawthorne discusses the respectable, fine-looking middle-aged clergyman who kicks over the traces on arrival abroad and a week later turns up, unrecognizably debauched, and dressed in army officer's dirty uniform. Hawthorne gave this Dimmesdale figure a stern homily, 'hitting him hard, doing my utmost to find out his most vulnerable part and prick him into the depths of it. And not without more effect than I had dreamed of, or desired!' (v, 28-29). English claimants, Americans who believed themselves entitled to an English inheritance or title, were among the deranged or simply misinformed who flocked to his office, which served in some respects to incarnate the more general American alignment towards an assumed ancestry. Hawthorne thought this suitable material for fiction, and it was at all events a means of proposing some substantive issues about pre-Civil War American identities. 'My ancestor left England in 1635. I return in 1853', he noted. 'I sometimes feel as if I had myself been absent these two hundred and eighteen years--leaving England just emerging from the feudal system, and finding it on the verge of Republicanism. It brings the two far separated points of time very closely together, to view the matter thus' (English Notebooks, p. 92).

The horrors of poverty engaged most American travellers to the 'old home' and Hawthorne titled one of his chapters 'Outside Glimpses of English Poverty'. The key motif of earthiness and filth appears at the opening of this piece, once again treated with an uncomfortably light tone: 'Dirt, one would fancy, is plenty enough all over the world, being the symbolic accompaniment of the foul encrustation which began to settle over and bedim all earthly things as soon as Eve had bitten the apple [...]. But the dirt of a poverty-stricken English street is a monstrosity unknown on our side of the Atlantic' (pp. 277-78). Grime, gin-shops, and 'inconceivably sluttish women', shops and hucksters selling miserable and decayed foods serve a population that reminds Hawthorne of unclean insects found under a piece of wood, and have him ask how 'anything so precious as an immortal soul can have been buried under this dirt-heap, plunged into this cesspool of misery and vice!' (p. 282). 'Slowly', he repeats, 'slowly, as after groping at the bottom of a deep, noisome, stagnant pool, my hope struggles to the surface, bearing the half-drowned body of a child along with it, and heaving it aloft for its life, and my own life, and all our lives'. This peculiar image anticipates the telling of an encounter, so disturbing to Hawthorne that he described it as happening to another member of his party, when in an alms-house a 'sickly, wretched, humor-eaten' child, a 'pale, half-torpid little thing with a humor in its eyes and face', took a fancy to the visiting gentleman, following him everywhere like a pet kitten and 'mutely insisting on being taken up' (p. 300). In a heroic act he did take up the 'loathsome child and caressed it as if he had been its father' (p. 301). On the party's return to the courtyard, 'here again was the same little Wretchedness waiting for its victim, with a smile of joyful, yet dull recognition, about its scabby mouth and in its rheumy eyes'. Again, the Notebook entry proves even more revealing: 'This little sickly, humor-eaten fright prowled around me. [...] I held my undesirable burthen a little while; and after setting the child down, it still followed me, holding two of my fingers (luckily the glove was on) and playing with them, just as if (God save us!) it were a child of my own' (English Notebooks, p. 275). 'I wish I had not touched the imp; and yet I should never have forgiven myself if I had repelled its advances', he concludes. New Englander to the bone, he describes this event as somehow Providential: 'No doubt the child's mission in reference to our friend was to remind him that he was responsible, in his degree, for all the sufferings and misdemeanors of the world in which he lived [...] unless he expiated it by better deeds'; and more personally, in the Notebook entry: 'If it were within the limits of possibility--if I had ever done such wickedness as could have produced this child--I should certainly have set down its affection to the score of blood-recognition; and I cannot conceive of any greater remorse than a parent must feel, if he could see such a result of his illegitimate embraces' (English Notebooks, p. 276).

This, perhaps, we should see prophetically as the real English claimant, at least to come, but at this time Hawthorne's beloved United States was facing the crisis that threatened its very existence, while England basked in an imperial strength.

(1) Nathaniel Hawthorne, Our Old Home: A Series of English Sketches, ed. by William Charvat and others, Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, v (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1970), p. 354. Subsequent references are to this edition.

(2) This period is well covered in James O'Donald Mays, Mr Hawthorne Goes to England: The Adventures of a Reluctant Consul (Burley, Ringwood, Hampshire: New Forest Leaves, 1983). Another excellent study is Arnold Goldman, 'Hawthorne's Old Home', in Nathaniel Hawthorne: New Critical Essays, ed. by A. Robert Lee (London and Totowa NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1982), pp. 148-70.

(3) 'Of course I should not now mention this abortive project, only that it has been utterly thrown aside, and will never now be accomplished. The Present, the Immediate, the Actual, has proved too potent for me' (p. 4).

(4) See in particular James's The Bostonians.

(5) See Charles Swann, Nathaniel Hawthorne: Tradition and Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

(6) Frederick C. Crews, The Sins of the Fathers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 22.


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Author:Smith, Allan Lloyd
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Article Type:Critical Essay
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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