Изображения страниц





[ocr errors]

HAWTHORNE's real entrance into literature dates from the publication of the Twice-Told Tales, a series of harmoniously framed narratives which have maintained their rank unmoved by the capriciousness of popular taste.

The sources are in part colonial history or historical legend and tradition. “The Gray Cham'pion’ is an incident of the tyranny of Andros. ‘The Maypole of Merry Mount' celebrates the madcap revelries of the first settlers at Wollaston. In Endicott and the Red Cross' Hawthorne records a dramatic incident in the history of his native town, and introduces, by the way, a motive that later was to develop into his masterpiece.

The Legends of the Province House'('Howe's 'Masquerade,' “Edward Randolph's Portrait, ' 'Lady Eleanore's Mantle,' and 'Old Esther Dud'ley') have their warp of historical truth, but the imaginative element is dominant. “The Gentle

r'is Hawthorne's sympathetic tribute to the persecuted sect of the Quakers. ‘Sunday at Home,' 'Snow-Flakes,' 'Sights from a Steeple,' 'Foot

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

prints on the Seashore,' represent a type of literature which former generations enjoyed, and which modern magazine editors would decline with energy and quite perfunctory thanks.

There are stories of horror and psychological mystery. The author of ‘Markheim' might have chosen a theme like that treated in “Wakefield,' or in ‘The Prophetic Pictures.' His handling would have been different. We do not gladly suffer an obvious moral in these days. No one would now dare to put 'A Parable' for the explanatory title of his narrative, as Hawthorne has done in ‘The Minister's Black Veil,' or advise the reader that the experiences of David Swan (if experiences those can be called where a man sleeps and things do not happen to him) argue “a super'intending Providence.'

In Mosses from an Old Manse Hawthorne's gain in power is marked. He still moralizes' his legends; but the force of the conception and the richness of the imagery drive the philosophy into the background. The grim and uncanny humor of which Hawthorne had a masterful command is displayed to the full in this book. No better illustration can be cited than the scene where the old witch Mother Rigby exhorts the scarecrow, she had so cunningly fashioned, to be a man. It is a grotesque, a gruesome, and a mirthprovoking scene. Hawthorne had brooded long over the superstitious past with which his own history was so singularly linked. Among the fruit of these meditations was the story of Young Goodman Brown.' Like the minister in the fearful narrative of Thrawn Janet,' Goodman Brown had been in the presence of the powers of evil; but unlike the minister, he no longer believed in virtue.

Mosses from an Old Manse also includes odd conceits such as “The Celestial Railroad,' a new enterprise built from the famous City of Destruction, a 'populous and flourishing town,' to the Celestial City. The dreamer in this modern Pilgrim's Progress takes the journey under the personal conduct of Mr. Smooth-it-away and notes with interest the improvements in methods of transportation since Bunyan's time. Less ingenious but no less amusing are ‘The Hall of Fantasy,' The Procession of Life,' and “The Intelligence Office.' Monsieur de l'Aubépine loved an allegorical meaning

Between the Twice-Told Tales and the Mosses Hawthorne published a group of children's stories. Grandfather's Chair and the two succeeding volumes consist of little narratives of colonial history, in which our national exploits are celebrated in the tone of confident Americanism so much deplored by Professor Goldwin Smith. There are 'asides’ for grown people, as when Grandfather tells the children that Harvard College was founded to rear up pious and learned ministers,

[ocr errors]

and that old writers called it a school of the 'prophets.'

'Is the college a school of the prophets now?' asked Charley.

*You must ask some of the recent graduates,' answered Grandfather.

The Wonder-Book and its sequel, the Tanglewood Tales, contain new versions of old classical myths, the Gorgon's Head, the Minotaur, the Golden Fleece, and nine more. Here the adult reader has a chance to feel the magic of Hawthorne's art in a form where it seems most tangible but is no less elusive. He will be astonished at the air of reality given these old legends. The perfect example of his work in this

genre (the child's story) is the initial fantasy of The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales. Such complete interweaving of the imaginative and the realistic is little short of marvellous. And yet there are people who say that perfect art cannot subsist in company with a moral. They may be commended to the account of the common-sensible man who in the goodness of his heart brought the odd, glittering, little snow-fairy into the house and put her down in front of the hot stove.





In addition to being an engrossing narrative and

every way a supreme illustration of Hawthorne's art, The Scarlet Letter is a 'study in will power. Of the four human lives involved in this tragedy, that of Hester Prynne is the most absorbing, her character is the loftiest. Carried to the place of shame, her dark Oriental beauty irradiates all about her, and she bears herself like a queen. Her punishment is her own, she will ask none to share it. Her sacrifice has been infinite, but it asks nothing in return. She bears with regal patience slight and insult, and that worst punishment of all, the wondering terror of little children, who flee her approach as of an evil thing.

Hawthorne has brought out with infinite skill the dreariness of the years following the public disgrace when Hester has no longer the help of a rebellious pride such as carried her almost exultantly through the first crises of the dungeon and the pillory. With a refinement of art the author adds one last bitter drop to Hester Prynne's cup of bitterness in the wasting away of her superb

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »