Slowing Down the War: The Sauntering Gaze of Hawthorne's Peaceable Man.
This assumption has often led critics to neglect the work's literary qual ities in favor of relating "War Matters" to troubling aspects of Hawthorne's last years, in which he maintained a detached posture amid the crises of slavery and the Civil War; remained loyal to his friend, the unpopular, anti-abolitionist, former president Franklin Pierce, to whom he dedicated Our Old Home (1863); and failed, despite several attempts, to follow The MarbleFaun (1860) with another romance. Larry J. Reynolds has complicated this familiar story of Hawthorne's "fall" by arguing that his supposed political escapism "can more accurately be described as his standing his ground" in principled commitment to pacifism (218) while his Concord neighbors became willing "to condone violence to effect political change" (112). (2) Yet there is a lingering sense that the ineffectual appeals to peaceful abolition in "War Matters" represent the "fall from grace," as Jonathan W. Murphy puts it, of "a disengaged artist getting a bit daft in his old age" (45). Situated within a biographical context of failure, inaction, and deterioration, (3) "War Matters" has been seen as an expression of its author's "immoral political passivity" (Cheyfitz 545), or as an example of the kind of nonnction prose essay to which Hawthorne turned once "his loss of power as a writer" collapsed the project of romance (Brodhead 69), (4) yet I contend that tethering this work to a narrative of personal decline obscures its inspired aesthetic design and experimentation with temporality.
In this article, I argue that much of the confusion and controversy surrounding this text, "surely one of the most curious War documents written by an American man of letters," as Daniel Aaron remarks, stems from a misunderstanding of its genre (49). I will show how Hawthorne, in "War Matters," adopts Washington Irving's formulation of the literary sketch, a genre with which he experimented throughout his career, as an aesthetic response to the accelerated temporalities of the war: the speed of modernization--embodied in "War Matters" by such technologies as the "abominably irksome" "click of the telegraph" and the USS Monitor--and the rush toward partisanship and absolutism in wartime (23: 404).
In The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-20), Irving focalizes his literary sketches through what he famously calls the "sauntering gaze" of his fictional narrator, the alienated American observer Geoffrey Crayon, whose aimless picturesque strolls through England produce the descriptive fancies of a wandering mind rather than narrative momentum (9). Hawthorne drew on this tradition with his Peaceable Man, an estranged spectator in his own country, whose meandering observations and tentative judgments place him at odds with the speed and partisanship of the war. In the slow time of the literary sketch, where descriptions of political and military leaders, modernized warfare, and militarized landscapes may unfold unhurriedly to no unified end, Hawthorne, filtered through his fictional narrator, found an aesthetic defense against temporal acceleration. Rather than literally presenting the reactionary views of Nathaniel Hawthorne, "War Matters" assumes the sauntering mode of the literary sketch to allow its author and readers to sift through conflicting moods evoked by the war. Through the leisurely, descriptive eye and uncertain stances of his Peaceable Man, I argue, Hawthorne sought to counter the hurried temporality of the war and weaken the appeal of quickly formed political convictions.
Long neglected in relation to Hawthorne's tales and romances, "War Matters" has come to be valued in recent decades as "a singularly candid revelation of his private thoughts and feelings regarding the Civil War" and slavery (Murphy 45). When condemning Hawthorne's responses to slavery, critics have emphasized a scene in "War Matters," in which his Peaceable Man describes the fugitive slaves he encounters on his trip as "so picturesquely natural in manners, and wearing such a crust of primeval simplicity, (which is quite polished away from the northern black man,) that they seemed a kind of creature by themselves, not altogether human, but perhaps quite as good, and akin to the fauns and rustic deities of olden times" (23: 420). Eric Cheyfitz, writing in 1994, in perhaps the most passionate rejection of Hawthorne's standing at the center of the American literary canon, groups this aestheticization of fugitive slaves in "War Matters" with Hawthorne's earlier campaign biography of Franklin Pierce to denounce the author's "simply reprehensible stand on the slavery issue" (540). Following Cheyfitz, Jean Fagan Yellin has used this scene along with Hawthorne's letters to fault his "racial responses and... his failure to subject them to analysis" (152).
If more recent criticism of "War Matters" has moved beyond the focus on Hawthorne's racism in this scene to an appreciation of the work's formal complexity, Hawthorne's personal politics largely remain the point of contention in debates about this text. Even recent sympathetic work on "War Matters" by scholars such as Arthur Riss and Jonathan Murphy maintains the "assumption that the narrative voice is Nathaniel Hawthorne's voice," which, as Charles H. Adams once argued, "has led critics to miss the main point of the piece, since it has led them either to condemn or apologize for Hawthorne's attitude toward the war" (353). Eager to evaluate Hawthorne's politics, many critics have made hasty generic judgments of the slippery "War Matters," using its autobiographical origins as a basis for reading a literary sketch as nonfiction. Generic ambiguity, however, inheres in the majority of Hawthorne's works and deserves closer attention in "War Matters."
Hawthorne's writings have long disrupted the generic expectations of their readers. Edgar Allan Poe, for example, began his Graham's Magazine review of Twice-told Tales by expressing uncertainty in classifying the genre of shorter sketches such as "Sights from a Steeple" and "The Haunted Mind." Although "[t]he book professes to be a collection of tales," Poe argues, "they are by no means all tales, either in the ordinary or in the legitimate understanding of the term. Many of them are pure essays" (298). The "discrepancy" of these inconclusive, reflective sketches, "with that marked precision and finish by which the body of the work is distinguished," puzzled Poe, who is not alone in having difficulty classifying the genre of Hawthorne's works (398). As is suggested by the title of the Library of America's collection, Tales and Sketches, Hawthorne and his critics have used both terms when referring to his shorter works, with the more substantial short narratives tending to fall under the former designation and "the whole class of little descriptive effusions directed upon common things," in Henry James's words, making up the latter (39). Yet it is hard to split the two categories neatly, and the Library of America collection makes no attempt, leaving it up to readers to detect the subtle differences. Although determining which works of Hawthorne count as tales and which count as sketches remains an inexact endeavor, one critic has approximated that "[f]ully one-third of his short works are sketches" (Pauly 495).
Hawthorne's tales and sketches are not his only works that confound conventional genre classification. Unsatisfied with the mimetic expectations of the novel, Hawthorne famously designated his longer narratives "romances," whose prefaces theorizing the form are also difficult to pin down generically. "The Custom-House," the preface to The Scarlet Letter (1850), toys with notions of autobiography in a way consistent with "War Matters." Hawthorne writes, "[W]e may prate of the circumstances that lie around us, and even of ourself, but still keep the inmost Me behind its veil. To this extent and within these limits, an author, methinks, may be autobiographical, without violating either the reader's rights or his own" (1:4). Similar to his method in "War Matters," Hawthorne, in "The CustomHouse," filters his own experience through his aesthetic imagination, thereby maintaining an authorial distance as he subtly fictionalizes his own life.
Perhaps due to its context within a self-identified romance, no one would categorize "The Custom-House," a work that claims to spring from "an autobiographical impulse," as pure nonfiction, and yet critics have read "War Matters," topical material published in a politically charged periodical, as various types of nonfiction (1:3). It has most often been referred to as an essay, with Thomas R. Moore devoting an entire article to the argument that, over against the sketch, "War Matters" and Our Old Home are "nonfiction within the established tradition of the informal essay" (363). It has also been designated "an extended travelogue" (Murphy 43), a "tour memoir" (Murison 536), "a narrative piece that Hawthorne wrote in the name of realism" (Bentley 901), and Hawthorne's "only piece of journalism on the Civil War" (Riss 251).
When the term "sketch" has been applied to aspects of "War Matters," such as references to "Hawthorne's sketch of Lincoln" in the piece (Trninic 118), it is used neither in a systematic manner nor to designate the work as a whole. Although the literary sketch is absent in discussions of "War Matters," critics such as Kristie Hamilton, Alfred Bendixen, and Steven Petersheim have recently connected this form to the shorter earlier works commented upon by Poe and James, the book prefaces, and Our Old Home, Hawthorne's most overtly Irvingesque work and the last book published during his lifetime. Such criticism has disclosed Hawthorne's lifelong interest in the form of the literary sketch even as it has failed to account for "War Matters."' (5) Reading "War Matters" as a literary sketch, I will first trace Irving's theoiy of the genre, paying special attention to how this recursive, descriptive form works to resist the pace of narrative, national, and historical progress, a technique Hawthorne adopted as an aesthetic strategy during the "anxious times" of war (18: 412).
A SKETCH OF IRVING'S LITERARY SKETCH
Like Hawthorne's prefaces, in which he simultaneously theorizes and apologizes for his unconventional forms, Irving, in the voice of Geoffrey Crayon, opens The Sketch Book by hesitantly outlining the features of the fictional literary sketch, "a form uniquely his own," which transformed the popular nonaction travel sketch into metaphorical literature (Rubin-Dorsky, "Genesis" 226). In "The Author's Account of Himself," the American Crayon introduces the sketch narrator's "rambling propensity" and defines his method of sketching "the shifting scenes of life" through which he has wandered in Europe:
I cannot say that I have studied them with the eye of a philosopher, but rather with the sauntering gaze with which humble lovers of the picturesque stroll from the window of one print shop to another; caught sometimes by the delineations of beauty, sometimes by the distortions of caricature and sometimes by the loveliness of landscape. As it is the fashion for modern tourists to travel pencil in hand, and bring home their portfolios filled with sketches. I am disposed to get up a few for the entertainment of my friends. (9)
By likening his prose sketches to the rough, impromptu visual pencil sketches of tourists, Crayon argues, as he does throughout his book, for the lightness of his works. Although Crayon's conversational tone and selfdeprecating humor have earned his reputation of "genial amateurishness," this superficial lightness masks the alienation, anxiety, and melancholy that resonate throughout his sketchbook (Seed 69). Crayon may cheerfully tell us that his sketches are for the amusement of his acquaintances, yet by the evidence of these very writings it becomes clear that the solitary, nationless Crayon has few, if any, friends and his primary affect is alienation. Rather than the social form Crayon misleadingly suggests, the literary sketch is actually "a process of psychological investigation in quest of indeterminate results," as Thomas H. Pauly remarks, which the uncertain, alienated sketch narrator has difficulty communicating to himself, much less to others (490). As Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky argues, beneath Irving's seemingly "casual collection of disjointed sketches," anxiety is "the web holding these disparate pieces together" ("Anxiety" 500). Writing under immense emotional turmoil after the collapse of his family's business and the loss of his financial security, Irving, in Rubin-Dorsky's account, created the genre of the literary sketch as a therapeutic "process of recreation, examination, and release" that allowed him to work through his anxieties ("Anxiety" 500). Through the persona of the fictional sketch narrator, Geoffrey Crayon, Irving found a filter between himself and the world through which to investigate the complex range of emotions he experienced in this dark period of his life ("Genesis" 227). During the troubled times of the Civil War, which produced in Hawthorne "a sense of infinite weariness" (18: 543), Irving's literary descendent likewise fashioned a superficially genial, deeply melancholic persona to explore the full spectrum of emotions engendered by the war, which can range in a single paragraph for the Peaceable Man from celebrating the "morally invigorating" effects of battle to grieving how war proves civilization's lack of advancement from barbarism (23: 421-22).
This "process of psychological investigation" by the sketchpersona produces the alternative temporality later embraced by Hawthorne. Through the "sauntering gaze" of his rambling spectator, Irving's genre works to resist the steady progression of narrative and national time, embodying the nineteenth-centuiy American literature that Lloyd Pratt has recently argued "pluralized time" by offering "distinct temporal dispositions" against the uniform time of national destiny (5). In the recursive form of the sketch, there is no conventional plot, only "the variety of stances the narrator goes through" in response to his environment (Seed 80). "Whatever 'happens' in the sketch," as Rubin-Dorsky observes, "happens inside of Crayon" ("Genesis" 237). The momentum of conventional narrative is thus slowed to the "continual reverie" of a loafing narrator who suspends his observations on the evanescent pictures of life in detailed description and contemplation (Irving 14). As suggested by Crayon's reference to portfolio sketches, Irving's descriptive form attempts to apply a painterly sensibility to the written word by lingering within moments of visual perception in resistance to the speed and continuity of narrative.
Through Crayon's loitering, equivocal musings, Irving's form leads more often to aporia than to any kind of epistemological or narrative closure. I quote at length from "The Voyage," Crayon's sketch on his passage from the United States to England, as its reflection on sea travel symbolizes the literary sketch's break from the comforts of conventional narrative:
In travelling by land there is a continuity of scene and a connected succession of persons and incidents, that carry on the story of life, and lessen the effect of absence and separation. We drag, it is true, "a lengthening chain" at each remove of our pilgrimage; but the chain is unbroken--we can trace it back link by link; and we feel that the last still grapples us to home. But a wide sea voyage severs us at once.--It makes us conscious of being cast loose from the secure anchorage of settled life and sent adrift upon a doubtful world. It interposes a gulf, not merely imaginaiy, but real, between us and our homes--a gulf subject to tempest and fear and uncertainty, rendering distance palpable and return precarious. (11)
Like Hawthorne, whose aesthetic theory centers on the relationship between the actual and the imaginary, Irving, filtered through Crayon, posits land and sea as contrasting metaphysical categories. When traveling on the firm ground of land, "there is a continuity of scene and a connected succession of persons and incidents," which secures experience in an orderly progression. Like conventional narrative momentum, this connected string of events works to "carry on the story of life" along a steadily "lengthening chain," which can be traced "back link by link" in a deterministic causal nexus. Traveling across the misty zones of sea, or through the indeterminate sauntering of the literary sketch, however, "all is vacancy" (12), as Crayon's world is emptied of epistemological grounding and temporal and narrative progress. Drifting on open waters, away from the order and continuity of land, Crayon becomes "conscious of being cast loose from the secure anchorage of settled life and sent adrift upon a doubtful world." Acknowledging his tendency to become lost in the "continual reverie" the sea voyage inspires, Crayon reminds himself that "it is time to get to shore," as the demands of temporal and narrative progression compel his meandering book to move forward (14).
While this sketch concludes with Crayon physically stepping onto the land of Liverpool, his mind remains lost in the hazy winds of the sea. Alienated from modernity's regimented temporality and "hurry and bustle," "The meetings of acquaintances--the greetings of friends--the consultations of men of business," Crayon tells us, "I alone was solitary and idle. I had no friend to meet, no cheering to receive. I stepped upon the land of my forefathers--but felt that I was a stranger in the land" (15). Crayon's consciousness, and therefore his sketchbook, resists securing itself to the continuity and linear progress of the land, circling instead in the "doubtful world" of the sea.
THE SAUNTERING GAZE IN "WAR MATTERS"
The inconclusive, descriptive sauntering of Irving's literary sketch can be seen many places in Hawthorne, yet this mode appears in "War Matters" as a particularly apt aesthetic strategy for confronting the speed of the Civil War. Drawn away from his hermetic life as an artist by the pervasiveness of the war, the Peaceable Man states, "I gave myself up to reading newspapers and listening to the click of the telegraph, like other people; until, after a great many months of such pastime, it grew so abominably irksome that I determined to look a little more closely at matters, with my own eyes" (23: 404). Secondhand reports from the war only annoy the Peaceable Man, whose privileging of subjectivity, his "own eyes," leads him roving toward the zones of war. "To look a little more closely at matters" is to apply the sauntering gaze of the archetypal sketch narrator to the war, to suspend its rapid movements in descriptive portraits that can be received and interpreted at a slower pace than what comes through the click of the telegraph. "To look a little more closely," here, I argue, signifies not only an altered spatial orientation but also a temporal one.
By lingering in leisurely description, the Peaceable Man's closer look relaxes the tempo of traditional narrative. The unhurried manner in which he narrates his meeting with the artist Emanuel Leutze exemplifies this deceleration. Upon arriving in the Capitol building, the Peaceable Man seeks out Leutze:
In quest of him, we went through halls, galleries, and corridors, and ascended a noble staircase, balustraded with a dark and beautifully variegated marble from Tennessee, the richness of which is quite a sufficient cause for objecting to the secession of that State. At last, we came to a barrier of pine boards, built right across the stairs. Knocking at a rough, temporary door, we thrust a card beneath; and, in a minute or two, it was opened by a person in his shirt-sleeves, a middle-aged figure, neither tall nor short, of Teutonic build and aspect, with an ample beard of ruddy tinge and chestnut hair. He looked at us, in the first place, with keen and somewhat guarded eyes, as if it were not his practice to vouchsafe any great warmth of greeting, except upon sure ground of observation. (23: 408)
A walk toward an appointment may not do much to build narrative momentum, but like Crayon, nothing is unfit subject matter for the descriptive studies of the Peaceable Man. In his sauntering quest for Leutze, particularly his attention along the way to details that do not productively advance narrative, readers can feel the slow passage of time within the world of the literary sketch. We follow his meandering path "through halls, galleries, and corridors," perceive through him the minute features of the Capitol building's interior design, and wait with him, "a minute or two," outside of Leutze's door. When the Peaceable Man finally meets Leutze, his gaze continues to produce descriptive insights, now suspending in a detailed portrait the painter he apprehends in the frame of the doorway. Leutze shares the Peaceable Man's visual emphasis, and rather than responding to one another with verbal communication, the two artists come eye to eye in "observation."
Leutze's painterly gaze becomes an inspiration for the sketch narrator. The Peaceable Man is comforted to find Leutze, amid the speed and noise of wartime, relaxed in his creative process, focusing, not on the daily concerns of the telegraph or newspaper, but on his "great national work, which is destined to glow for centuries on the walls of the Capitol." "[C]almly elaborating his design; while other men doubted and feared," Leutze exemplifies the passive, spectatorial posture toward which the Peaceable Man himself strives. By applying the sauntering gaze to the war zones of Washington, which mirror, as the setting always does in the Irvingesque sketch, the narrator's psychological landscape, the Peaceable Man works through his own doubts and fears. As an aesthetic defense against temporal acceleration, the Peaceable Man assumes the altered relationship to time of Leutze, who sus pends the quickening pace of westward expansion "in a momentary pause of triumph." Although the Peaceable Man's pacifistic sketch ultimately contradicts the imperialism celebrated by Leutze's mural, he nevertheless feels a "good augury" in the artist's ability to pause the momentary, preserving it for contemplation (23: 409). (6)
In addition to its resistance to temporal speed, the sauntering gaze casts doubt on quickly formed political convictions. As evidenced by how frequently he is "compelled to interfere with [the Peaceable Man's] license of personal description and criticism," the nationalistic, absolutist "editor" of the piece recognizes the subversive potential of the narrator's descriptive gaze (23: 410). Throughout "War Matters," the Peaceable Man's close description complicates the comfortable partisan positions speeding through American print culture. His rambling sketch of the notoriously indecisive General McClellan, for example, destabilizes common beliefs about the unpopular commander. In a letter to his daughter Una shortly after his tour of Washington, Hawthorne writes, "[T]he outcry against General McClellan since the enemy's retreat from Manassas, is really terrible.... Unless he achieves something wonderful within a week, he will be removed from command, and perhaps shot--at least, I hope so. I never did more than half believe in him" (18: 437-38). Despite holding to the common Northern opinion of McClellan in his private writings, Hawthorne in "War Matters," a work that supposedly reveals his personal political beliefs, challenges this view through the Peaceable Man's meandering portrait.
Against quick partisan judgments accusing McClellan "of sloth, imbecility, cowardice, treasonable purposes, and, in short, utterly denying his ability as a soldier, and questioning his integrity as a man," the Peaceable Man takes "sufficient time to peruse" McClellan with his "pair of very attentive eyes" and, through his unhurried, detailed description of General McClellan's physical features and character in leading his men, the Peaceable Man becomes skeptical of those who would call McClellan "a coward, or a traitor, or a humbug, or anything less than a brave, true, and able man" (23: 424). Yet the Peaceable Man undermines his own generous study of McClellan, as in keeping with Crayon's diffident example, he admits to "being most profoundly ignorant of the art of war" (23: 423), and insists, "Of course, I may be mistaken; my opinion, on such a point, is worth nothing" (23: 424). The indeterminacy of the Peaceable Man's sauntering gaze reveals the epistemological groundlessness of political convictions, which like Crayon's sea voyage, "makes us conscious of being cast loose from the secure anchorage of settled life and sent adrift upon a doubtful world."
THE LITERARY SKETCH'S MODERNISM
As I have been suggesting, the slowness and indeterminacy of the sauntering gaze are the most important fruits of Hawthorne's embrace of Irving's literary sketch. These features empower the Peaceable Man's resistance to the compulsory speed of narrative, national, and historical time and the dehumanizing technologies and ephemerality of modernization. In this way, the solitary spectator of the Irvingesque literary sketch is an early instance of the modernist trope of the, flaneur, the detached, loitering observer of urban spectacles. At least one critic has noted how, through Crayon in The Sketch Book, "Irving casts himself as a flaneur responsive to any momentary sight or impression, but above all moving at an unhurried pace" (Seed 69). The concept of the flaneur was not explicitly theorized until Charles Baudelaire's "The Painter of Modern Life" (1863), a key early work on modernist aesthetics, yet the sauntering gaze of Irving's sketch narrator, applied by Hawthorne to modernized warfare and the urban crowds of Washington, shares many of its characteristics.
In Baudelaire's landmark essay, published just a year after Hawthorne's "War Matters," he defines the flaneur as one who hastily sketches "the daily metamorphosis of external things" (4). Not afforded the time to study "heroic or religious subjects," the flaneur, as "the painter of the passing moment," directs his imaginative gaze at the ephemerality of his modern world (4). Like the Peaceable Man, who "adopt[s] the universal habit of" Willard's Hotel in Washington as his "own identity is lost among" its multitude of "office-seekers, wire-pullers, inventors, artists, poets, prosers, (including editors, army-correspondents, attaches of foreign journals, and long-winded talkers,) clerks, diplomatists, mail-contractors, railway directors" (23: 438-39), Baudelaire's flaneur "enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy.... responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life" (9).
The nineteenth-century flaneur has traditionally been associated with European metropolises, yet Dana Brand has pointed out that "[f]ew societies in history had ever urbanized as rapidly as America did in the first half of the nineteenth century" to challenge "prevailing assumptions about the provincial, antiurban character of American antebellum culture" (9). In doing so, Brand has revealed the presence of the flaneur figure in the imagination of writers such as Poe and Hawthorne. Like Brand, Kristie Hamilton has connected Hawthorne's interest in the problems of modernity with his embrace of the sketch, a form she sees adopted by a wide range of antebellum writers, such as Irving, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, Fanny Fern, Lydia Maria Child, and Poe, as a means to "debate the meanings and practices that inhered in daily life with the onset of modernization" ("Hawthorne" 102). For Hamilton, the sketch's capacity to interrogate the ephemerality of modern life attracted Hawthorne, whose "conceptualization of the sketch is intertwined with his interest in the modern problem of evanescence" ("Hawthorne" 101), which she defines as "the division of time into mere moments that pass hastily away" ("Hawthorne" 116).
Perhaps because it has been assumed to be nonfictional journalism, neither Hamilton nor Brand includes "War Matters" in their discussions of Hawthorne, the sketch, and modernity. Yet it is in this work, in which the Peaceable Man leaves his secluded cottage to observe the surging flow of modern national life, that Hawthorne most closely aligns with Baudelaire's modernism. While Hamilton sees Hawthorne, through the form of the sketch, "repeatedly explor[ing] strategies by which the modern (usually male) subject may revitalize himself in rhythm with the times and may gain a new kind of enduring presence," I find that Hawthorne, particularly in the case of "War Matters," holds a more pessimistic view of modernity, and his orientation toward the quickening pace and increasing ephemerality of modern life is one of resistance ("Hawthorne" 101). Rather than striving to be "in rhythm with the times," "The tempo of the flaneur," in Walter Benjamin's words, "is a protest against the tempo of the crowd" (157). Just as, for Benjamin, "The flaneur protests against the production process with his ostentatious nonchalance" (157), the "unsubstantial business" of the sketch narrator's relaxed tempo and luxurious description resists the speed and utilitarian emphasis of modern life (23: 403).
In "War Matters," the Civil War functions as a metonym for American modernization. En route to the war zones of Washington from sleepy New England, the Peaceable Man comments on the northeast region he traverses: "The country, in short, so far as bustle and movement went, was more quiet than in ordinary times, because so large a proportion of its restless elements had been drawn towards the seat of conflict" (23: 405). Here he reflects on how the war has absorbed the electrical energy, the "bustle and movement," of the nation. By journeying to Washington and applying the sauntering gaze to "the seat of conflict," therefore, the Peaceable Man seeks to defuse the restless forces of modernization at their center.
The farther the Peaceable Man moves south, opposite the spring's "slow progress from the south" (23: 404), toward the center of the war, the more "the air was full of a vague disturbance" (23: 405). As he nears Washington, he feels the presence of the war in "the greater abundance of military people" guarding the railroads he travels (23: 405). More distressing to the Peaceable Man than the railway stations "thronged with soldiers," however, is the militarization of the landscape (23: 406). From Fort Ellsworths ugly ramparts, "which have been heaped up out of the muddy soil, within the last few months," the Peaceable Man gazes out on "a beautiful view of the Potomac, a truly majestic river, and the surrounding country" (23: 418). This juxtaposition between militarized battlegrounds and nature's "majestic" backdrop inspires the Peaceable Man's remark that, aesthetically, "the war has done a great deal of enduring mischief by causing the devastation of great tracts of woodland scenery, in which this part of Virginia would appear to have been very rich" (33: 419). In a matter of months, "An army destroys everything before and around it, even to the very grass," causing the Peaceable Man to lament, "Fifty years will not repair this desolation" of the Virginia landscape (23: 419). This commentary typifies the Peaceable Man's consideration of the long-term consequences of a nation immersed in the immediacy of war.
In his description of Fort Ellsworth, the Peaceable Man aligns poetry with the slow temporality of nature against that of the war's "epoch of terror and suffering" (23: 418). If there is one benefit of the militarized countryside, for the Peaceable Man, it is that it promises to "afford fit soil for poetry to root itself in; for this is a plant which thrives best in spots where blood has been spilt long ago, and grows in abundant clusters in old ditches, such as the moat around Fort Ellsworth will be, a century hence" (23: 418). Although the war zones will provide "historical associations we can link with our localities," which may inspire a greater national poetiy, "what many will reckon but a worthless weed," this flowering may be measured only by the century (23: 418). Like the literal vegetation of rural Virginia, poetry's "herb of grace" will once again sprout "in the old footprints of the war," but only, like the "slow progress" of the spring, in its own unhurried time (23: 419).
Through his mournful consideration of rural Virginia's formerly "decorous quietude and dulness," which has been wiped away by the "stir and bustle" with which "army-wagons trundled heavily over the pavements, and sentinels paced the sidewalks, and mounted dragoons dashed to-and-fro on military errands" (23: 416), the Peaceable Man assumes the kind of altered temporal orientation that Dana Luciano has identified in nineteenth-century American literature of grief: "As a newly rational and predominantly linear understanding of time came to dominate the West, the time of feeling, deliberately aligned with the authority of the spiritual and natural worlds, was embraced as a mode of compensation for, and, to some extent, of resistance to, the perceived mechanization of society" (6). The Peaceable Man's "time of feeling" particularly manifests in his resistance to the dehumanizing "rapid advances" in military science, which easily outpace the "ideas of military men" that "solidify and fossilize so fast" with changing technologies (33: 432). It is in this discussion of the ironclad warships and the naval etiquette they render obsolete where he most directly engages the modern problem of evanescence, which Hamilton has found at the heart of Hawthorne's sketches.
In the swift mechanization of the Union Navy, fortresses and ships that were recently considered innovative "are somewhat too cumbrous for the quick spirit of to-day" (23: 434). In resistance to the unquestioned pace of modernity, the Peaceable Man directs his sauntering gaze at what he calls "the strangest-looking craft I ever saw," the Monitor, which had engaged just days earlier the USS Merrimack in the epochal Battle of Hampton Roads, the first encounter between ironclad warships (23: 435). "The singularity of the object," which epitomizes the speed of mechanization he resists, incites the Peaceable Man's greatest descriptive powers, moving him, as he states, "into a more ambitious vein of description than I often indulge" (23: 435). "[U]gly, questionable, suspicious, evidently mischievous," this "devilish... new war-fiend," the Monitor, "could not be called a vessel at all," for the Peaceable Man could view it only as "a machine" (23: 435).
Even more than the ugliness of the ironclad, "the tendency of modern improvement" to antiquate the human skill of military men that was once decisive in combat disturbs the Peaceable Man (23: 438). With the impervious new warships, the heroism of battle has been lost "because human strife is to be transferred from the heart and personality of man into cunning contrivances of machinery, which, by-and-by, will fight out our wars with only the clank and smash of iron, strewing the field with broken engines, but damaging nobody's little finger except by accident" (23: 437-38). In a nation "asking for newspapers that contained accounts of the battle between the Merrimac and Monitor," the Peaceable Man's meditations on the ironclads leads readers to consider that the more significant conflict taking place may instead be between man and machine (23: 406).
Echoing the directionless movement of the Irvingesque sketch, the Peaceable Man's journey into the "seat of conflict" does not provide the conclusions expected in conventional narrative. Unable to uphold partisan convictions, he ends his discussion of the war in indeterminacy. Union victory may bring "Love, and a quiet household," but, perhaps, "if we stop short of that blessed consummation," the Souths secession will be allowed to stand. Upset by the "innuendo" in these remarks, the editor interrupts one last time to question the Peaceable Man's loyalty to the Union cause. From his perspective, "The war can never be allowed to terminate, except in the complete triumph of Northern principles. We hold the event in our own hands, and may choose whether to terminate it by the methods already so successfully used, or by other means equally within our control, and calculated to be still more speedily efficacious" (23: 44?). In this conclusion, the Peaceable Man saunters off the page, leaving his absolutist editor scrambling to reinstate the control, calculation, and speed that his sketch has destabilized.
Hawthorne's readers may be disappointed that he did not more forcefully support the Civil War, but perhaps his undermining of absolutist thought, in "War Matters," is not so far removed from our own intellectual moment, which distrusts appeals to nationalistic teleology and metaphysical universals. The Peaceable Man's equivocations and aestheticism have provided important evidence for critical efforts to expose Hawthorne's ideological failings, yet "War Matters" is a much more vital work than its quietist reputation suggests. Indeed, the haste with which critics have reacted to its author's politics has obscured how its inventive experimentation with genre works to resist speed itself. By embracing the sauntering gaze of the Irvingesque literary sketch, Hawthorne enlisted an aesthetic fit for combatting mechanical responses to war.
Zachary Williams is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
(1.) See especially Cheyfitz, which I discuss below.
(2.) In his nuanced study of Hawthorne's politics, Devils and Rebels, Reynolds "posits that a Christian pacifism, not unlike that of the Quakers, serves as the foundation of his politics, which, though characterized as thoughtless and benighted," by both his New England contemporaries and present-day ideological critiques, "actually possess a depth and subtlety comparable to those of his literary works themselves" (xvi). Like his "habitual assumption of the perspectives of different persons" in writing fiction (12), "Hawthorne's most thoughtful political vision," Reynolds argues, "is circumspection. the willingness and tendency to entertain multiple points of view" in resistance to "the rashness and reductiveness of binary thinking," a method which can be seen in "War Matters" (10).
(3.) For biographies that discuss "War Matters" in such a context, see Mellow. Miller, Turner, and Wineapple. Mellow claims that "War Matters" "gave evidence of the vigor of Hawthorne's style" (560), Wineapple praises it as a "tour de force" (348), and Turner describes it as the work in which Hawthorne most directly addresses "immediate and momentous questions, on which his relatives and associates had positive and divergent opinions, and on which he felt a moral obligation to reach defensible conclusions of his own" (365). Even so. each biographer reads "War Matters" in the context of Hawthorne's physical and artistic decline upon his return to Concord in i860 after seven years abroad. Also considering it within a narrative of "Hawthorne's disintegration" (470), Miller is more critical in his assessment of "War Matters," arguing that its "familiar ambivalence afforded [Hawthorne] a kind of cowardly protection and freedom from commitment, his seesawing and evasiveness pleasing no one, probably not even himself" (474).
(4.) To be fair, Brodhead offers praise for "War Matters" when making this point: "Hawthorne found it easy to turn out ruminative prose essays in his late years, and some of these efforts--particularly 'Chiefly About War Matters' and the introduction to Our OldHome. 'Consular Experiences'--deserve ranking with the best of his work" (69). He still frames it, however, within the context of "Hawthorne's authorial collapse," as part of the less-ambitious writing Hawthorne was forced to embrace once "his enfeeblement. his abject and unreversing loss of physical and mental force in his last years," left him "incapacitated" as a writer of fiction (69).
(5.) The Peaceable Man's meandering descriptions of modernized warfare, in par ticular. would seem to lit Hamilton's interest in the literary sketch as an "aesthetic of fragmentation" designed to ameliorate anxieties about modernization by familiarizing its readers with a formal discontinuity that "diminished the shock of the perception of constant change" (America's Sketchbook 30, 134). In her book, America's Sketchbook: The Cultural Life of a Nineteenth-Century Literary Genre, and her chapter. "Hawthorne. Modernity, and the Literary Sketch." in The Cambridge Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hamilton examines how Hawthorne used the form of the sketch to interrogate the effects of rapid technological development, but her focus remains on the earlier works more commonly considered as sketches such as "The Old Apple Dealer." "The Old Manse," and "Main Street."
(6.) As Edward Wesp observes, "[I]t is the feeling of narrative suspension that Hawthorne seemingly admires in the mural," as it is "the inherent capacity of the still image to more comfortably suspend a moment than narrative" (417). For Wesp, Hawthorne laments the writer's inability to live up to the visual artist's defense "against the war's threat of impending obsolescence" through his aesthetic and temporal suspension (417). Yet I argue that, by embracing the features of the literary sketch. Hawthorne achieves the painterly posture, suspending moments in aesthetic images in resistance to the speed and ephemerality of modernity.
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|Publication:||Nathaniel Hawthorne Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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