TWO HOUSES MADE FAMOUS BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
Nathaniel Hawthorne was thirty-eight years old be-fore he was able to begin the ideal life of Adam with his Eve, to which he had looked forward for many years.
“I want a little piece of land that I can call my own, big enough to stand upon, big enough to be buried in,” he said to a friend when he was thirty-four years old. Lack of money delayed the realization, but it is a curious fact that the marriage to Sophia Peabody took place just after he had made up his mind that the thousand dollars he had invested in the Emerson Brook Farm experiment was gone forever.
The marriage took place July 9, 1842, and housekeeping was at once begun in the Old Manse at Concord, which was built in 1765 by Emerson’s grandfather. But he was merely a renter; his dream of ownership was to be delayed ten years longer. The great rooms of the curious gambrel-roofed house were rather bare, and there was a scarcity of everything except love, yet the author and his bride found nothing but joy in the retired garden and the dormer-windowed house.
Hawthorne’s own charming description of the house and grounds is so attractive that the reader wishes to visit them :
” Between two tall gateposts of rough-hewn stone (the gate itself having fallen from its hinges at some unknown epoch), we beheld the grey front of the old parsonage terminating the vista of an avenue of black ash trees. It was now a twelvemonth since the funeral procession of the venerable clergyman, the, last in-habitant, had turned from that gateway toward the village burying ground. .. .
” Nor, in truth, had the old manse ever been profaned by a lay occupant until that memorable summer afternoon when I entered it as my home. A priest had built it; a priest had succeeded to it; other priestly owners from time to time had dwelt in it; and children born in the chambers had grown up to assume the priestly character. It was awful to recollect how many sermons must have been written there. The latest inhabitant therehe by whose translation to paradise the dwelling was left vacanthad penned nearly three thousand discourses. . . . How often, no doubt, had he paced along the avenue, attuning his meditations to sighs and gentle murmurs, and deep and solemn peals of the wind among the leafy tops of the trees ! . . . I took shame to my-self for having been so long a writer of idle stories, and ventured to hope that wisdom would descend upon me with the falling leaves of the autumn, and that I should light upon an intellectual treasure in the Old Manse well worth those hoards of long-hidden gold which people seek for in moss-grown houses.”
Two years after their marriage, Mrs. Hawthorne wrote to her mother :
” I have no time, as you may imagine. I am baby’s tire-woman, hand-maiden, and tender, as well as nursing mother. My husband relieves me with her constantly, and gets her to sleep beautifully. . . The other day, when my husband saw me contemplating an appalling vacuum in his dressing-gown, he said he was a man of the largest rents in the country, and it was strange he had not more ready money. . . But, somehow or other, I do not care much, because we are so happy.”
Hawthorne did much of his work in the rear room where Emerson wrote. In the introduction to ” Mosses from an Old Manse ” he said of this apartment :
” When I first saw the room, the walls were blackened with the smoke of unnumbered years, and made still blacker by the grim prints of Puritan ministers, that hung around. . . . The rain pattered upon the roof and the sky Bloomed through the dirty garret windows while I burrowed among the venerable books in search of any living thought.”
From his writing Hawthorne turned easily to wandering, in the garden or rowing on the river or helping his wife about the house. ” We had a most enchanting time during Mary the cook’s holiday sojourn in Boston,” Mrs. Hawthorne wrote at one time. ” We remained in our bower undisturbed by mortal creature. Mr. Hawthorne took the new phases of housekeeper, and, with that marvellous power of adaptation to circumstances that he possesses, made everything go easily and well. He rose betimes in the mornings and kindled fires in the kitchen and breakfast room, and by the time I came down the tea-kettle boiled and potatoes were baked and rice cooked, and my lord sat with a book superintending.”
Poverty put an untimely end to life at the Old Manse. The years from 1846 to 1852 were spent in Boston and Salem. In 1852 Hawthorne was able to buy a dilapidated old house at Concord, which he called The Way-side. Here he remained until his appointment in 1853 as American Consul at Liverpool, and to it he returned after king wandering.
The Wayside had been the home of Bronson Alcott. Here Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne made their second real home. They rejoiced as, a little at a time, they were able to improve the property, and they showed always that they knew the secret of finding happiness in the midst of privations.
Hawthorne described his new abode for his friend, George William Curtis :
” As for my old house, you will understand it better after spending a day or two in it. Before Mr. Alcott took it in hand, it was a mean-looking affair, with two peaked gables; no suggestion about it and no venerableness, although from the style of its architecture it seems to have survived beyond its first century. He added a porch in front, and a central peak, and a piazza at each end, and painted it a rusty olive hue, and invested the whole with a modest picturesqueness; all which improvements, together with the situation at the foot of a wooded hill, make it a place that one notices and re-members for a few minutes after passing it. . . .
” The house stands within ten or fifteen feet of the old Boston road (along which the British marched and retreated), divided from it by a fence, and some trees and shrubbery of Mr. Alcott’s setting out. Wherefore I have called it ‘ The Wayside,’ which I think a better name and more morally suggestive than that which, as Mr. Alcott has since told me, he bestowed on it, ‘ The Hillside.’ In front of the house, on the opposite side of the road, I have eight acres of land,the only valuable portion of the place in a farmer’s eye, and which are capable of being made very fertile. On the hither side, my territory extends some little distance over the brow of the hill, and is absolutely good for nothing, in a productive point of view, though very good for many other purposes.
” I know nothing of the history of the house, except Thoreau’s telling me that it was inhabited a generation or two ago by a man who believed he should never die. I believe, however, he is dead; at least, I hope so; else he may probably appear and dispute my title to his residence.”
In furnishing the house Mrs. Hawthorne took keen pleasure in putting the best of everything in her husband’s study. She called it ” the best room, the temple of the Muses and the Delphic shrine.”
In these surroundings, supported by a wife who worshipped him, Hawthorne wrote until the call came to go to England. It was 1860 before he returned to The Wayside. There he hoped to end his life, but death overtook him at Plymouth, New Hampshire, while he was making a tour of New England with Franklin Pierce. Mrs. Hawthorne survived him seven years.