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agony ! "the sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims!" (p. 485). He has spent his life hunting for the evil in men's hearts, making of men and women the subjects of psychological experiment. Thus he has himself become a fiend with a heart of marble. Now we observe that in Chapter XIV of The House of Seven Gables Hawthorne carefully distinguishes the point at which his young hero, Holgrave, resists the temptation to a like sin. He possesses mesmeric power; but when the opportunity comes to exercise it upon Phoebe, he refrains. "To a disposition like Holgrave's, at once speculative and active, there is no temptation so great as the opportunity of acquiring empire over the human spirit. .. Let us, therefore, concede to the daguerreotypist the rare and high quality of respect for another's individuality" (p. 253).
In The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne had already worked out the nature of such a sin in the relation of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale. "May God forgive thee," says the dying minister upon the scaffold, to Chillingworth, "Thou, too, hast greatly sinned" (p. 303). The old physician is pictured as a complete fiend, not because he desired revenge, but because of the nature of that revenge. If he had denounced the minister, or had wished to drive him to confession, his action would have commanded our sympathy. But Chillingworth tells us plainly (in Chapter IV) that such is not his purpose. Having sworn Hester to keep the secret of his identity even from her lover, he smiles mysteriously at her, and the troubled Hester cries, "Hast thou enticed me into a bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?" "Not thy soul," he answers, "No, not thine" (p. 100). The response has the double edge of irony; for in truth, two souls are involved in his revenge, that of his tortured victim and his own. As the story develops, Chillingworth experiences a growing ecstasy in simply prying into the secret recesses of the minister's heart. When Dimmesdale discovers at last who Chillingworth is, his resentment is not for the discovery of his sin so much as for " the shame!—the indelicacy!—the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it!" "We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than even the polluted priest! That old man's sin has been blacker than my sin. He has violated in
cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so!" (p. 234).
We seem to have reached by small gradations the somewhat fantastic conclusion that Hawthorne's young heroes and his mature villains are compounded of the same materials and that both are varieties of self-portraiture. Such an hypothesis, once adopted, attracts to itself other bits of evidence.
There is, in the first place, Hawthorne's own conviction of sin. This was in part a consciousness of the general sinfulness of mankind, in part a sense of personal guilt. It was genuine and deep and noticeable to others. Henry James, the elder, for instance, tells us in his account of a dinner at the Saturday Club that Hawthorne" has the look all the time of a rogue who suddenly finds himself in a company of detectives. . . . The idea I got was, and it was very powerfully impressed on me, that we are all monstrously corrupt, hopelessly bereft of human consciousness." This observation chimes in with Hawthorne's made many years before (Fancy's Show Box, 1837, p. 257): "Man must not disclaim his brotherhood even with the guiltiest, since though his hand be clean, his heart has surely been polluted by the flitting phantom of iniquity." In all four of his great romances, the plot involves characters who are hiding a painful secret; and the same idea informs a very large number of his tales, such as The Minister's Black Veil, The Prophetic Pictures, The Hollow of the Three Hills, The White Old Maid, Egotism, or The Bosom Serpent, to mention only a few. Nor can we explain Hawthorne's feeling as merely the survival of the Puritan conception of original sin, for his thinking on matters of religion and ethics, though limited, was independent; with the writing of The Scarlet Letter he had already freed himself from the acceptance of Puritan doctrine, and the philosophy of sin worked out in his novels is progressively away from the older theology. In his first romance, The Scarlet Letter, salvation is won through the acceptance of consequences; in his' second, The House of the Seven Gables, the consequences-which affect both the guilty and the innocent-wear themselves to an end with the passage of time; in the last, The Marble Faun, the ques-' tion is suggested whether sin is not a necessary part of the educa
Emerson, E. W., Early Years of the Saturday Club, p. 332.
tion of a human being. With such capacity for free thought and living in the midst of the transcendental group, who never grappled at all with the problem of the existence of evil, it seems more than ever odd that Hawthorne should have suffered keenly from a sense of general and personal corruption.
Nor is his own life open to any sinister imaginings on our part, unless we accept the Freudian view of human nature. All that we know of Hawthorne's conduct, letters, and journals indicates an almost blameless character. He was a man of noble purposes and immense self-control. He gives no sign of having been in love with anyone but his wife, and every sign of devotion to her and to their children. All his thoughts show innocence of mind. Even his strictures on the display of nudity in European works of art seem like provincial ignorance rather than evidence of suppressed desire. The only crime of which he could possibly accuse himself was the one which he seems so much to dread that he depicts it again and again, as though fascinated by its horror-that coldness of heart towards his fellow men, that unwillingness to participate in "the united life of mankind," that curiosity to know what lies beneath the surface of human actions, which, in its extreme form, he regarded as the unpardonable sin.
Yet this analytic inspection of his fellow men was the very essence of his art as a writer of psychological romance. His notebooks prove that he kept up a ceaseless activity of observation, motivated by deliberate inquisitiveness and a definite intention to use the material for publication. Whenever he depicts an artist, such is the nature of the artist's occupation. Immense as have been the strides made by modern psychology since Hawthorne's day, inadequate as his explanation of the nature of man's soul often is, his romances are alive today just in proportion to the degree of psychic truth at which he arrived by this method. He often falls short of the truth because his conscience reproached him when he tried to penetrate to the bottom of a soul. Hence his exasperating habit, frequent in his short stories and often evident at the greatest moments of his novels, of assigning two or more different explanations for a particular piece of conduct, and his other obvious failure to know in detail the lives of his characters beyond the limits of the particular story in hand. Wherever the reader feels such uncertainty, the psychology of Hawthorne's fiction becomes
unsatisfactory. Wherever, as in the case of his great characters, Hester, Arthur, Zenobia, Donatello, and of his simpler characters, Hepzibah, Hilda, he does feel certain of the inner workings, we accept his explanations as truth; and the character continues to make an impression on readers and critics even in our own times. He seems always to have been doubtful of the ethical justification of his artistic method. We find this doubt most frequently expressed in The Blithedale Romance, where, as we have seen, Miles Coverdale is really an autobiographical character. He tells us, for instance (p. 398), "It is not, I apprehend, a healthy kind of mental occupation to devote ourselves too exclusively to the study of individual men and women. If the person under examination be oneself the result is pretty certain to be diseased action of the heart, almost before we can snatch a second glance. Or, if we take the freedom to bring a friend under our microscope, we would insulate him from many of his true relations, magnify his peculiarities, inevitably tear him into bits, and of course patch him very clumsily together again. What wonder, then, should we be frightened by the aspect of a monster, which, after all,—although we can point to every feature of his deformity in the real personage, may be said to be mainly created by ourselves?
"Thus, as my conscience has often whispered me, I did Hollingsworth a great wrong by prying into his character; and I am perhaps doing him as great a one at this moment by putting faith in the discoveries which I seemed to make. But I could not help it."
Again, in the same story (p. 415), Coverdale meets a forlorn old man and at once subjects him to psychological examination. "In the wantonness of youth, strength and comfortable conditions,making my prey of peoples' individualities as my custom was,— I tried to identify my mind with the old fellow's and take his view of the world, as if looking through a smoke-blackened glass at the sun."
Once more (p. 463), in conversation with the girl he is supposed to love, "no doubt it was a kind of sacrilege in me to attempt to come within her maiden mystery; but as she appeared to be tossed aside by her other friends, let fall like a flower which they had done with, I could not resist the impulse to take just one peep beneath her folded petals." And I have already quoted two other passages from the same book to the same general effect. In the
crisis of the story (p. 562), when Coverdale comes upon Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla just as Hollingsworth has made plain to Zenobia that his only interest in her is the use of her wealth for his philanthrophic schemes, Zenobia turns to Coverdale with the taunt, "This long while past you have been following up your groping for human emotions in the dark corners of the heart. Had you been here a little sooner you might have seen them dragged into the daylight."
These last words are almost precisely like the terms in which Hawthorne describes the activity of his villains, Rappaccini, Chillingworth, and Ethan Brand. For him the distinction between good and evil in such an activity seems to be tested by the degree of sympathy felt by the artist-observer and the degree of his willingness to become an actor in the drama when the objects of his observation are passing through a crisis. Hawthorne suffered from an inability to decide whether or not his own heart was cold or warm, and he also felt that he himself could not thus lay hold on life. His journals contain many a complaint that he cannot feel the reality and the importance of such social experiments as Brook Farm, of such philosophic effort as Emerson's, of any political movements whatsoever, and even of the ordinary daily activities of the human beings to whom he stood closest. "My father," writes Rose Hawthorne, "fostered his interest in human nature by regarding instead of embracing it." Quite late in his life (1858) he reproaches himself for his merely shadowy hold on human affairs. "Taking no root I soon weary of any soil in which I may be temporarily deposited. The same impatience I sometimes feel, or conceive of, as regards this earthly life." 8
He suffered no less that he had no accuser but himself. The dread of what he might become, or perhaps actually was, he seems to have projected in his fiction in the shape of those monstrous villains who seem to us wholly unnatural, though they have a sort of theatrical effectiveness. In this kind of self-revelation he felt, I think, entirely safe, for he was sure that not half a dozen people in all the world ever had understood or would understand him. We can imagine how he would have detested the inquisitive process to which this article has, at some length, subjected him. Vassar College.
"Cf. Blithedale Romance, p. 495.
French and Italian Note-Books, p. 431.