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In A Brown Study, 9

June 24, 2016

The mourning dove wakes me at 5:30, its cooing not a cheerful sound, but a soft fog horn echoing into the ocean of slumber. Of medium size, the dove wears a dull grey vest over a lighter grey body. Doves mate for life and are prolific breeders, usually both the male and female birds caring for two eggs at a time, with as many as six broods a year. The mourning dove is also know as the turtledove, the symbol of peace.

In letters to his wife, the former Sophia Peabody, Nathaniel Hawthorne called her his “dove”, either a poetic affectation or a symbol of true affection. A husband must choose his wife, his friend for life, carefully, and Hawthorne vowed he “could love no other.”

Sophia’s father was Nathaniel Peabody, a dentist, and her mother Elizabeth, a Unitarian, the church begun in Boston in 1784 holding the belief there is one true God, not three in one, and Satan is alive and well, a constant threat to all. Sophia had three brothers and two sisters.

Educated by her older sister Elizabeth, Sophia learned Latin, French, Greek, Hebrew, and some German, as well as geography, science, literature, and history. (No math?) In questionable health, Sophia was treated by her dentist father with mercury for teething problems. Later she used calomel and opium to relieve frequent pain and migraines. Throughout her life, illness was a constant problem.

Sophia objected to the idea of marriage. Her large family sustained her, and she disliked society. She painted and later she illustrated her husband’s books and wrote a few articles. She assumed total care for their three children.

Sister Elizabeth, a journalist and manager of a bookstore in Boston, brought Hawthorne home to visit. Catching a glimpse of the man who would change her opinions of marriage, Sophia declared he was the most handsome man she had ever seen, “more handsome than Lord Byron.” Nathaniel, stricken with love,  called her his dove. They became secretly engaged.

Their engagement lasted five years! She gave him two of her paintings which he hid under a curtain so he “could enjoy them alone.” Finally after another brief postponement, the wedding took place on July 9, 1842. Sophia was 32, Hawthorne 38.

On their first wedding anniversary and married to his dove, Hawthorne, despite money problems, cooed, “we were never so happy as we are now.” Could such happiness endure?

To be cont.-


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