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His health began to decline and he was spiritless and depressed. In March, 1864, accompanied by his friend W. D. Ticknor, he started southward, hoping for benefit from the change. Ticknor, who was seemingly in perfect health, died suddenly in Philadelphia. Hawthorne was unnerved by the shock. In May he undertook a carriage journey among the New Hampshire hills with Pierce. The friends proceeded by easy stages, reaching Plymouth in the evening of May 18. Hawthorne was growing visibly weaker and Pierce had already determined that he would send for Mrs. Hawthorne. Shortly after midnight he went into his friend's room. Hawthorne was apparently sleeping. He went again between three and four in the morning. Hawthorne was dead.
'I Am a man, and between man and man there 'is always an insuperable gulf,' said Kenyon in The Marble Faun.
Hawthorne might have been speaking through Kenyon's lips, so accurately does the saying voice his private thought. He lived in a world apart. No experience of custom-house, consulate, or farm could bring him quite out of his world into the
common world of men. Hawthorne had more reason than Emerson to complain of the wall between him and his fellow-mortals. When glib talkers were displaying no end of conversational change, Hawthorne kept his hands in his pockets. He had no mind to indulge in that form of matching pennies known as small talk.
Observers have voiced their impressions of him in different ways; their testimony is not discordant. The romantically inclined described Hawthorne as mysterious. Plain people thought him queer. Even his brother authors found him odd. Longfellow described Hawthorne as a strange owl, a
very peculiar individual, with a dash of originality ' about him very pleasant to behold. Yet Hawthorne was without a grain of affectation, and took keen interest in the homely facts of life. His books everywhere betray this interest. He who wrote that description of his kitchen garden in The Old Manse would seem to be just the man to lean over the fence and talk cabbages and squashes with some neighborhood farmer. And perhaps he did.
He was not fond of men of letters as a classwhich is not surprising. The friends who stood close to him were not literary. Bridge was a naval officer. Pierce was a politician, representative of a type for which Hawthorne had contempt. Hillard was a lawyer, a man of the world. Hawthorne was not without his share of human nature,' as we say. He had his prejudices, and they were sometimes deeply rooted. When smarting under a sense of injustice he could wield a caustic pen. He was a good hater, but not narrowminded. He hated spirit-rapping, table-tipping, and all the vulgar machinery and manifestations of a vulgar delusion. He hated noise, brawling, and dissension. He loved his home. His letters to his wife reveal a nature of exquisite delicacy. He loved children, Nature, and he was chivalrous in his attitude towards the animal creation.
A trait of Hawthorne's character comes out in the following incident. He proposed to dedicate Our Old Home to Franklin Pierce. This was in 1863. The publishers, it is said, were filled with consternation and distress.' The ex-president's name was not one to conjure with. Hawthorne explained his position: ‘I find that it would be a
piece of poltroonery in me to withdraw either the 'dedication or the dedicatory letter. ... If Pierce ‘is so exceedingly unpopular that his name is
enough to sink the volume, there is so much the more need that an old friend should stand by ‘him. I cannot, merely on account of pecuniary profit or literary reputation, go back from what 'I have deliberately felt and thought it right to 'do. . . . As for the literary public, it must ac‘cept my book precisely as I see fit to give it, or let it alone.'
Friendship sometimes has in it an element of perversity, and has been known to delight in petty martyrdom. There was nothing of this in Hawthorne. All he notes is that friendship is not a commodity.
HAWTHORNE knew the secret of producing magical effects by quiet means. He had perfect command of the materials by which are rendered the half tones, the delicate shadings, the mysterious opalescent hues of beautiful prose. Yet his manner is unostentatious and his vocabulary simple. There are writers in whose work the feeling excited of pleasurable surprise can be traced to a particular word glittering like a diamond or a sapphire. With Hawthorne the effects are elusive, not always to be apprehended at the moment.
The beauty of his prose is best explained by the beauty of the ideas; the natural phrasing serves but to define it, as physical loveliness may be accentuated by simplicity of dress. Hawthorne's thoughts, being exquisite in themselves, make ornament superfluous.
There is no trace of effort in his writing. The Scarlet Letter, for example, reads as if it had come ‘like a breath of inspiration. Such directness and
precision of touch must always be a source of wonder and delight, not alone to writers who fumble their sentences but to skilled literary craftsmen as well. In Henry James's admirable story “The
Death of the Lion' is a paragraph which suggests Hawthorne's manner. The regal way in which the famous novelist, Neil Paraday, adds perfect sentence to perfect sentence is altogether like Hawthorne.
Economy of phrase is one of his virtues. In Hawthorne there are no wasted or superfluous sentences, not even a word in excess. Something inexorably logical enters into his work, as in the poetic art. This economy extends to his books as a whole. For stories so rich in ideas, so heavy with suggestion, they are short rather than long. Yet the movement is always leisurely. There is no haste or eagerness. A few strokes of the pen, , made with restful deliberation, serve to carry the reader into the very heart of a tragedy. He cannot but admire the superb strength which with so little visible effort could bring him so far.
· Henry James : Terminations.