BLTC Press Titles


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Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment

Rudolf Steiner


Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely


Four Americans: Roosevelt, Hawthorne, Emerson, Whitman

by Henry Augustin Beers

Excerpt:

I heard Colonel Higginson say, in a lecture at Concord, that if a few drops of redder blood could have been added to Hawthorne's style, he would have been the foremost imaginative writer of his century. The ghosts in "The ^Eneid" were unable to speak aloud until they had drunk blood. Instinctively, then, one seeks to infuse more red corpuscles into the somewhat anaemic veins of these tales and romances. For Hawthorne's fiction is almost wholly ideal. He does not copy life like Thackeray, whose procedure is inductive: does not start with observed characters, but with an imagined problem or situation of the soul, inventing characters to fit. There

is always a dreamy quality about the action: n/ no violent quarrels, no passionate love scenes. Thus it has been often pointed out that in "The Scarlet Letter" we do not get the history of Dimmesdale's and Hester's sin: not the passion itself, but only its sequels in the conscience. So in "The House of the Seven Gables," and "The Marble Faun," a crime has preceded the opening of the story, which deals with the working out of the retribution.

When Hawthorne handled real persons, it was in the form of the character sketch— ^> often the satirical character sketch,—as in the introduction to "The Scarlet Letter" which scandalized the people of Salem. If he could have made a novel out of his customhouse acquaintances, he might have given us something less immaterial. He felt the lack of solidity in his own creations: the folly of constructing "the semblance of a world out of airy matter"; the "value hidden in petty incidents and ordinary characters." "A better book than I shall ever write was there," he confesses, but "my brain wanted the insight and my hand the cunning to transcribe it."

Now and then, when he worked from observation, or utilized his own experiences, a piece of drastic realism results. The suicide of Zenobia is transferred, with the necessary changes, from a long passage in "The American Note Books," in which he tells of going out at night, with his neighbors, to drag for the body of a girl who had drowned herself in the Concord. Yet he did not refrain the touch of symbolism even here. There is a wound on Zenobia's breast, inflicted by the pole with which Hollingsworth is groping the river bottom.

And this is why one finds his "American Note Books" quite as interesting reading as his stories. Very remarkable things, these note books. They have puzzled Mr. James, who asks what the author would be at in them, and suggests that he is writing letters to himself, or practising his hand at description. They are not exactly a journal intime; nor are they records of thought, like Emerson's ten volumes of journals. They are carefully composed, and are full of hints for plots, scenes, situations, characters, to be later worked up. In the three collections, "Twice-Told Tales," "Mosses from an Old Manse," and "The Snow Image," there are, in round numbers, a hundred tales and —sketches; and Mr. Conway has declared that, in the number of his original plots^ no modern author, save Browning, has equalled Hawthorne. Now, the germ of many, if not most, of these inventions may be found in some brief jotting—a paragraph, or a line or two—in "The American Note Books."

Yet it is not as literary material that these notes engage me most—by far the greater portion were never used,—but as records of s observation and studies of life. I will even acknowledge a certain excitement when the diarist's wanderings lead him into my own neighborhood, however insignificant the result. Thus, in a letter from New Haven in 1830, he writes, "I heard some of the students at Yale College conjecturing that I was an Englishman." Mr. Lathrop thinks that it was on this trip through Connecticut that he hit upon his story, "The Seven Vagabonds," the scene of which is near Stamford, in the van of a travelling showman, where the seven wanderers take shelter during a thunderstorm. How quaintly true to the old provincial life of back-country New England are these figures—a life that survives to-day in out-of-the-way places. Holgrave, the young daguerreotypist in "The House of the Seven Gables," a type of the universal Yankee, had practised a number of these queer trades: had been a strolling dentist, a lecturer on mesmerism, a salesman in a village store, a district schoolmaster, editor of a country newspaper; and "had subsequently travelled New England and the Middle States, as a peddler, in the employment of a Connecticut manufactory of Cologne water and other essences." The Note Books tell us that,

at North Adams in 1838, the author foregathered with a surgeon-dentist, who was also a preacher of the Baptist persuasion: and that, on the stage-coach between Worcester and Northampton, they took up an essence-vender who was peddling anise-seed, cloves, red-cedar, wormwood, opodeldoc, hair-oil, and Cologne water. Do you imagine that the essence-peddler is extinct? No, you may meet his covered wagon to-day on lonely roads between the hill-villages of Massachusetts and Connecticut.


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