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In A Brown Study, Postlude

November 10, 2016

This world was not meant to be happy in — only to succeed in.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

In The Blithedale Romance Hawthorne wrote, “The good we aim at will never be attained. People never get the good they seek. It comes with something else,” something much less desirable. Hawthorne did not condone slavery and never owned slaves, but he opposed war. He regarded himself as well intentioned and fair minded. (Don’t we all?)

“All women, as authors, are feeble and tiresome,” Hawthorne exploded. “I wish they were forbidden to write on having their faces scarified with an oyster shell.” Some women writers claimed readerships that threatened him. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold 300,000 copies while The Scarlet Letter sold barely 7,000. Hawthorne wanted to keep politics out of art. Mrs. Stowe wanted to use art to make her political point.

“Women have done their best to add a girlish feebleness on the tottering infancy of our literature,” he noted when Maria Cummins sold 40,000 copies of The Lamplighter in 2 months. “America is now wholly given over to a d—d mob of scribbling women.” If his fiction did not sell, he could not support his family, but if it sold he was afraid he was writing trash. As the politics of the day unfolded, he became less able to concentrate on writing. When he died, he had $120. in cash on hand. His estate totaled $26,322.61, but his friends were certain he would meet The Bard on the other side.

Hawthorne dreaded illness and infirmity, and old age more than death. He feared ending his days in the local poor-house. In May, 1864 his wife, fearing for his health, coaxed him to go on a trip through New Hampshire with his friend Franklin Pierce. In the coach, as they conversed, Hawthorne remarked in a low voice, “What a boon it would be if, when life draws to its close, one could pass away without a struggle.”

At a beautiful old inn in Plymouth, at the juncture of two rivers, with doors open between their rooms, Pierce wakened to see Hawthorne “lying in a natural position, like a child, with his right hand under his cheek.” He could not perceive his friend was not breathing. Hawthorne passed “from natural sleep to that from which there is no earthly waking.”

Hawthorne was buried on a hilltop under the pines in Concord. His friend Franklin Pierce was not asked to be a pallbearer.

He (Hawthorne) sought for things to love, for his heart was tender. His spirit strove for truth, but it was elusive. Truth and beauty – an eternal quest. Fear and hope – twin destinies  (paraphrase of”The Painted Veil” by Percy Bysshe Shelley)

 

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