Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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IN September of the year during the February of which Hawthorne had
completed "The Scarlet Letter," he began "The House of the Seven
Gables." Meanwhile, he had removed from Salem to Lenox, in Berkshire
County, Massachusetts, where he occupied with his family a small red
wooden house, still standing at the date of this edition, near the
Stockbridge Bowl.

"I sha'n't have the new story ready by November," he explained to his
publisher, on the 1st of October, "for I am never good for anything in
the literary way till after the first autumnal frost, which has
somewhat such an effect on my imagination that it does on the foliage
here about me-multiplying and brightening its hues." But by vigorous
application he was able to complete the new work about the middle of
the January following.

Since research has disclosed the manner in which the romance is
interwoven with incidents from the history of the Hawthorne family,
"The House of the Seven Gables" has acquired an interest apart from
that by which it first appealed to the public. John Hathorne (as the
name was then spelled), the great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne,
was a magistrate at Salem in the latter part of the seventeenth
century, and officiated at the famous trials for witchcraft held there.
It is of record that he used peculiar severity towards a certain woman
who was among the accused; and the husband of this woman prophesied
that God would take revenge upon his wife's persecutors. This
circumstance doubtless furnished a hint for that piece of tradition in
the book which represents a Pyncheon of a former generation as having
persecuted one Maule, who declared that God would give his enemy "blood
to drink." It became a conviction with the Hawthorne family that a
curse had been pronounced upon its members, which continued in force in
the time of the romancer; a conviction perhaps derived from the
recorded prophecy of the injured woman's husband, just mentioned; and,
here again, we have a correspondence with Maule's malediction in the
story. Furthermore, there occurs in the "American Note-Books" (August
27, 1837), a reminiscence of the author's family, to the following
effect. Philip English, a character well-known in early Salem annals,
was among those who suffered from John Hathorne's magisterial
harshness, and he maintained in consequence a lasting feud with the old
Puritan official. But at his death English left daughters, one of whom
is said to have married the son of Justice John Hathorne, whom English
had declared he would never forgive. It is scarcely necessary to point
out how clearly this foreshadows the final union of those hereditary
foes, the Pyncheons and Maules, through the marriage of Phoebe and
Holgrave. The romance, however, describes the Maules as possessing some
of the traits known to have been characteristic of the Hawthornes: for
example, "so long as any of the race were to be found, they had been
marked out from other men - not strikingly, nor as with a sharp line,
but with an effect that was felt rather than spoken of - by an
hereditary characteristic of reserve." Thus, while the general
suggestion of the Hawthorne line and its fortunes was followed in the
romance, the Pyncheons taking the place of the author's family, certain
distinguishing marks of the Hawthornes were assigned to the imaginary
Maule posterity.

There are one or two other points which indicate Hawthorne's method of
basing his compositions, the result in the main of pure invention, on
the solid ground of particular facts. Allusion is made, in the first
chapter of the "Seven Gables," to a grant of lands in Waldo County,
Maine, owned by the Pyncheon family. In the "American Note-Books"
there is an entry, dated August 12, 1837, which speaks of the
Revolutionary general, Knox, and his land-grant in Waldo County, by
virtue of which the owner had hoped to establish an estate on the
English plan, with a tenantry to make it profitable for him. An
incident of much greater importance in the story is the supposed murder
of one of the Pyncheons by his nephew, to whom we are introduced as
Clifford Pyncheon. In all probability Hawthorne connected with this,
in his mind, the murder of Mr. White, a wealthy gentleman of Salem,
killed by a man whom his nephew had hired. This took place a few years
after Hawthorne's graduation from college, and was one of the
celebrated cases of the day, Daniel Webster taking part prominently in
the trial. But it should be observed here that such resemblances as
these between sundry elements in the work of Hawthorne's fancy and
details of reality are only fragmentary, and are rearranged to suit the
author's purposes.

In the same way he has made his description of Hepzibah Pyncheon's
seven-gabled mansion conform so nearly to several old dwellings
formerly or still extant in Salem, that strenuous efforts have been
made to fix upon some one of them as the veritable edifice of the
romance. A paragraph in the opening chapter has perhaps assisted this
delusion that there must have been a single original House of the Seven
Gables, framed by flesh-and-blood carpenters; for it runs thus: -

"Familiar as it stands in the writer's recollection - for it has been an
object of curiosity with him from boyhood, both as a specimen of the
best and stateliest architecture of a long-past epoch, and as the scene
of events more full of interest perhaps than those of a gray feudal
castle - familiar as it stands, in its rusty old age, it is therefore
only the more difficult to imagine the bright novelty with which it
first caught the sunshine."

Hundreds of pilgrims annually visit a house in Salem, belonging to one
branch of the Ingersoll family of that place, which is stoutly
maintained to have been the model for Hawthorne's visionary dwelling.
Others have supposed that the now vanished house of the identical
Philip English, whose blood, as we have already noticed, became mingled
with that of the Hawthornes, supplied the pattern; and still a third
building, known as the Curwen mansion, has been declared the only
genuine establishment. Notwithstanding persistent popular belief, the
authenticity of all these must positively be denied; although it is
possible that isolated reminiscences of all three may have blended with
the ideal image in the mind of Hawthorne. He, it will be seen, remarks
in the Preface, alluding to himself in the third person, that he trusts
not to be condemned for "laying out a street that infringes upon
nobody's private rights... and building a house of materials long in
use for constructing castles in the air." More than this, he stated to
persons still living that the house of the romance was not copied from
any actual edifice, but was simply a general reproduction of a style of
architecture belonging to colonial days, examples of which survived
into the period of his youth, but have since been radically modified or
destroyed. Here, as elsewhere, he exercised the liberty of a creative
mind to heighten the probability of his pictures without confining
himself to a literal description of something he had seen.

While Hawthorne remained at Lenox, and during the composition of this
romance, various other literary personages settled or stayed for a time
in the vicinity; among them, Herman Melville, whose intercourse
Hawthorne greatly enjoyed, Henry James, Sr., Doctor Holmes, J. T.
Headley, James Russell Lowell, Edwin P. Whipple, Frederika Bremer, and
J. T. Fields; so that there was no lack of intellectual society in
the midst of the beautiful and inspiring mountain scenery of the place.
"In the afternoons, nowadays," he records, shortly before beginning the
work, "this valley in which I dwell seems like a vast basin filled with
golden Sunshine as with wine;" and, happy in the companionship of his
wife and their three children, he led a simple, refined, idyllic life,
despite the restrictions of a scanty and uncertain income. A letter
written by Mrs. Hawthorne, at this time, to a member of her family,
gives incidentally a glimpse of the scene, which may properly find a
place here. She says: "I delight to think that you also can look
forth, as I do now, upon a broad valley and a fine amphitheater of
hills, and are about to watch the stately ceremony of the sunset from
your piazza. But you have not this lovely lake, nor, I suppose, the
delicate purple mist which folds these slumbering mountains in airy
veils. Mr. Hawthorne has been lying down in the sun shine, slightly
fleckered with the shadows of a tree, and Una and Julian have been
making him look like the mighty Pan, by covering his chin and breast
with long grass-blades, that looked like a verdant and venerable
beard." The pleasantness and peace of his surroundings and of his
modest home, in Lenox, may be taken into account as harmonizing with
the mellow serenity of the romance then produced. Of the work, when it
appeared in the early spring of 1851, he wrote to Horatio Bridge these
words, now published for the first time: -

"'The House of the Seven Gables' in my opinion, is better than 'The
Scarlet Letter:' but I should not wonder if I had refined upon the
principal character a little too much for popular appreciation, nor if
the romance of the book should be somewhat at odds with the humble and
familiar scenery in which I invest it. But I feel that portions of it
are as good as anything I can hope to write, and the publisher speaks
encouragingly of its success."

From England, especially, came many warm expressions of praise, - a fact
which Mrs. Hawthorne, in a private letter, commented on as the
fulfillment of a possibility which Hawthorne, writing in boyhood to his
mother, had looked forward to. He had asked her if she would not like
him to become an author and have his books read in England.

G. P. L.


WHEN a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that
he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and
material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume had
he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of composition is
presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible,
but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The
former - while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to
laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from
the truth of the human heart - has fairly a right to present that truth
under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or
creation. If he think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical
medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the
shadows of the picture. He will be wise, no doubt, to make a very
moderate use of the privileges here stated, and, especially, to mingle
the Marvelous rather as a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavor, than
as any portion of the actual substance of the dish offered to the
public. He can hardly be said, however, to commit a literary crime
even if he disregard this caution.

In the present work, the author has proposed to himself - but with what
success, fortunately, it is not for him to judge - to keep undeviatingly
within his immunities. The point of view in which this tale comes
under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone
time with the very present that is flitting away from us. It is a
legend prolonging itself, from an epoch now gray in the distance, down
into our own broad daylight, and bringing along with it some of its
legendary mist, which the reader, according to his pleasure, may either
disregard, or allow it to float almost imperceptibly about the
characters and events for the sake of a picturesque effect. The
narrative, it may be, is woven of so humble a texture as to require
this advantage, and, at the same time, to render it the more difficult
of attainment.

Many writers lay very great stress upon some definite moral purpose, at
which they profess to aim their works. Not to be deficient in this
particular, the author has provided himself with a moral, - the truth,
namely, that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the
successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage,
becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief; and he would feel it a
singular gratification if this romance might effectually convince
mankind - or, indeed, any one man - of the folly of tumbling down an
avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an
unfortunate posterity, thereby to maim and crush them, until the
accumulated mass shall be scattered abroad in its original atoms. In
good faith, however, he is not sufficiently imaginative to flatter
himself with the slightest hope of this kind. When romances do really
teach anything, or produce any effective operation, it is usually
through a far more subtile process than the ostensible one. The author
has considered it hardly worth his while, therefore, relentlessly to
impale the story with its moral as with an iron rod, - or, rather, as by
sticking a pin through a butterfly, - thus at once depriving it of life,
and causing it to stiffen in an ungainly and unnatural attitude. A
high truth, indeed, fairly, finely, and skilfully wrought out,
brightening at every step, and crowning the final development of a work
of fiction, may add an artistic glory, but is never any truer, and
seldom any more evident, at the last page than at the first.

The reader may perhaps choose to assign an actual locality to the
imaginary events of this narrative. If permitted by the historical
connection, - which, though slight, was essential to his plan, - the
author would very willingly have avoided anything of this nature. Not
to speak of other objections, it exposes the romance to an inflexible
and exceedingly dangerous species of criticism, by bringing his
fancy-pictures almost into positive contact with the realities of the
moment. It has been no part of his object, however, to describe local
manners, nor in any way to meddle with the characteristics of a
community for whom he cherishes a proper respect and a natural regard.
He trusts not to be considered as unpardonably offending by laying out
a street that infringes upon nobody's private rights, and appropriating
a lot of land which had no visible owner, and building a house of
materials long in use for constructing castles in the air. The
personages of the tale - though they give themselves out to be of
ancient stability and considerable prominence - are really of the
author's own making, or at all events, of his own mixing; their virtues
can shed no lustre, nor their defects redound, in the remotest degree,
to the discredit of the venerable town of which they profess to be
inhabitants. He would be glad, therefore, if-especially in the quarter
to which he alludes-the book may be read strictly as a Romance, having
a great deal more to do with the clouds overhead than with any portion
of the actual soil of the County of Essex.

LENOX, January 27, 1851.



Nathaniel Hawthorne

I The Old Pyncheon Family

HALFWAY down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty
wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various
points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The
street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the old Pyncheon House; and an
elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to
every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm. On my
occasional visits to the town aforesaid, I seldom failed to turn down
Pyncheon Street, for the sake of passing through the shadow of these
two antiquities, - the great elm-tree and the weather-beaten edifice.

The aspect of the venerable mansion has always affected me like a human
countenance, bearing the traces not merely of outward storm and
sunshine, but expressive also, of the long lapse of mortal life, and
accompanying vicissitudes that have passed within. Were these to be
worthily recounted, they would form a narrative of no small interest
and instruction, and possessing, moreover, a certain remarkable unity,
which might almost seem the result of artistic arrangement. But the
story would include a chain of events extending over the better part of
two centuries, and, written out with reasonable amplitude, would fill a
bigger folio volume, or a longer series of duodecimos, than could
prudently be appropriated to the annals of all New England during a
similar period. It consequently becomes imperative to make short work
with most of the traditionary lore of which the old Pyncheon House,
otherwise known as the House of the Seven Gables, has been the theme.
With a brief sketch, therefore, of the circumstances amid which the
foundation of the house was laid, and a rapid glimpse at its quaint
exterior, as it grew black in the prevalent east wind, - pointing, too,
here and there, at some spot of more verdant mossiness on its roof and
walls, - we shall commence the real action of our tale at an epoch not
very remote from the present day. Still, there will be a connection
with the long past - a reference to forgotten events and personages, and
to manners, feelings, and opinions, almost or wholly obsolete - which,
if adequately translated to the reader, would serve to illustrate how
much of old material goes to make up the freshest novelty of human
life. Hence, too, might be drawn a weighty lesson from the
little-regarded truth, that the act of the passing generation is the
germ which may and must produce good or evil fruit in a far-distant
time; that, together with the seed of the merely temporary crop, which
mortals term expediency, they inevitably sow the acorns of a more
enduring growth, which may darkly overshadow their posterity.

The House of the Seven Gables, antique as it now looks, was not the
first habitation erected by civilized man on precisely the same spot of
ground. Pyncheon Street formerly bore the humbler appellation of
Maule's Lane, from the name of the original occupant of the soil,
before whose cottage-door it was a cow-path. A natural spring of soft
and pleasant water - a rare treasure on the sea-girt peninsula where the
Puritan settlement was made - had early induced Matthew Maule to build a
hut, shaggy with thatch, at this point, although somewhat too remote
from what was then the centre of the village. In the growth of the
town, however, after some thirty or forty years, the site covered by
this rude hovel had become exceedingly desirable in the eyes of a
prominent and powerful personage, who asserted plausible claims to the
proprietorship of this and a large adjacent tract of land, on the
strength of a grant from the legislature. Colonel Pyncheon, the
claimant, as we gather from whatever traits of him are preserved, was
characterized by an iron energy of purpose. Matthew Maule, on the
other hand, though an obscure man, was stubborn in the defence of what
he considered his right; and, for several years, he succeeded in
protecting the acre or two of earth which, with his own toil, he had
hewn out of the primeval forest, to be his garden ground and homestead.
No written record of this dispute is known to be in existence. Our
acquaintance with the whole subject is derived chiefly from tradition.
It would be bold, therefore, and possibly unjust, to venture a decisive
opinion as to its merits; although it appears to have been at least a
matter of doubt, whether Colonel Pyncheon's claim were not unduly
stretched, in order to make it cover the small metes and bounds of
Matthew Maule. What greatly strengthens such a suspicion is the fact
that this controversy between two ill-matched antagonists - at a period,
moreover, laud it as we may, when personal influence had far more
weight than now - remained for years undecided, and came to a close only
with the death of the party occupying the disputed soil. The mode of
his death, too, affects the mind differently, in our day, from what it
did a century and a half ago. It was a death that blasted with strange
horror the humble name of the dweller in the cottage, and made it seem
almost a religious act to drive the plough over the little area of his
habitation, and obliterate his place and memory from among men.

Old Matthew Maule, in a word, was executed for the crime of witchcraft.
He was one of the martyrs to that terrible delusion, which should teach
us, among its other morals, that the influential classes, and those who
take upon themselves to be leaders of the people, are fully liable to
all the passionate error that has ever characterized the maddest mob.
Clergymen, judges, statesmen, - the wisest, calmest, holiest persons of
their day stood in the inner circle round about the gallows, loudest to
applaud the work of blood, latest to confess themselves miserably
deceived. If any one part of their proceedings can be said to deserve
less blame than another, it was the singular indiscrimination with
which they persecuted, not merely the poor and aged, as in former
judicial massacres, but people of all ranks; their own equals,
brethren, and wives. Amid the disorder of such various ruin, it is not
strange that a man of inconsiderable note, like Maule, should have
trodden the martyr's path to the hill of execution almost unremarked in
the throng of his fellow sufferers. But, in after days, when the
frenzy of that hideous epoch had subsided, it was remembered how loudly
Colonel Pyncheon had joined in the general cry, to purge the land from
witchcraft; nor did it fail to be whispered, that there was an
invidious acrimony in the zeal with which he had sought the
condemnation of Matthew Maule. It was well known that the victim had
recognized the bitterness of personal enmity in his persecutor's
conduct towards him, and that he declared himself hunted to death for
his spoil. At the moment of execution - with the halter about his neck,
and while Colonel Pyncheon sat on horseback, grimly gazing at the scene
Maule had addressed him from the scaffold, and uttered a prophecy, of
which history, as well as fireside tradition, has preserved the very
words. "God," said the dying man, pointing his finger, with a ghastly
look, at the undismayed countenance of his enemy, - "God will give him
blood to drink!" After the reputed wizard's death, his humble
homestead had fallen an easy spoil into Colonel Pyncheon's grasp. When
it was understood, however, that the Colonel intended to erect a family
mansion-spacious, ponderously framed of oaken timber, and calculated to
endure for many generations of his posterity over the spot first
covered by the log-built hut of Matthew Maule, there was much shaking
of the head among the village gossips. Without absolutely expressing a
doubt whether the stalwart Puritan had acted as a man of conscience and
integrity throughout the proceedings which have been sketched, they,
nevertheless, hinted that he was about to build his house over an
unquiet grave. His home would include the home of the dead and buried
wizard, and would thus afford the ghost of the latter a kind of
privilege to haunt its new apartments, and the chambers into which
future bridegrooms were to lead their brides, and where children of the
Pyncheon blood were to be born. The terror and ugliness of Maule's
crime, and the wretchedness of his punishment, would darken the freshly
plastered walls, and infect them early with the scent of an old and
melancholy house. Why, then, - while so much of the soil around him was
bestrewn with the virgin forest leaves, - why should Colonel Pyncheon
prefer a site that had already been accurst?

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