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another, though less tangible link between
them. We often hear Poe and Hawthorne
classed together as " weird" or " grotesque;"
and, on the other hand, Irving and Haw-
thorne are joined by a supposed bond of
similar style. Yet, in bringing them together
now, I do not mean to contribute further to
this want of discrimination. On the con-
trary, my object will be to bring out the
more strongly, by close contrast, their ine-
radicable and important unlikeness to each
other.

It is noticeable that all the most brilliant
figures in our literature thus far have been
men of English stock: Irving, Cooper,
Poe, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Emerson,
Lowell, Holmes, not to speak of our chief
historians, are all British seedlings in a firesh
soil; their worics are — as men said of the
first setdements here — a " New Plantation,"



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POE, IRVING, HAWTHORNE.



but still a part of English literature. This
obvious bsx is what we must look to for
explanation (if any is needed) of the resem-
blances to the older growth so easily traced
in the younger. But this parentage cannot
excuse any excess of likeness in the results;
for American thought and American genius
are not such by virtue of a different blood in
the veins of American men, but by virtue of
new and independent action nourished by old
and inherited sources of strength. The New
England setdements from the beginning,
and all the colonies from the time of the
Revolution, claimed separate standards of
judgment in government, based on truths
of which they had a clearer view than the
mother coimtry. In like manner, independ-
ence of view is the root from which all dis-
tinctively national literature among us must
spring. This, of course, implies no arbi-
trary connection between it and any atti-
tude of hostility which may exist between
two governments. On the contrary, the
best American writing has, I thinl^ pro-
ceeded from minds the most imbued with a
love for England deeper than the seas and
much stronger than time. This is because
the mood of the American revolutionists
Vas not one of hatred, but of a great
and injured affection toward the mother
land. It was this affection that gave to
their resolve for freedom a pathos and a
nobleness beyond all. They fought for
truth, and so were forced, in a measure,
to fight against their own hearts. So that
it is the attitude of remembered love and
reverence, combined with an absolute reserve
of individuality, which makes a chief part of
what we call the American quality as opposed
to the English. The English quality in
literature is something compounded of vari-
ous historic elements, but it is perfectly
welded, entirely unified, a thing by itself,
and absolute. The American quality is
relative. I make no attempt to impose this
theory upon what may be done hereafter,
except as such future work may come within
the conditions stated. Undoubtedly there
must arrive a time when the diverse mate-
rials now concentrating in this country shall
find a common unit of character in which
the precise and intrinsic nature of American-
ness can be given with more exactness.
But, thus far, when American creative genius
in the arts has lost this relativeness, disor-
^nization has ensued, giving its produc-
tions a singular formlessness. Or else
they have gravitated toward some foreign
literature. This statement need hardly



be amplified; we see the process going
on around us every day. To resist soc^
attraction, then — ^not in any bigoted scqk,
but merely in the sense of ass^ting a
separate and imique entity — becomes a
sign of the greater depth of origiiiafilj m
Ajmerican writers. This integrity demaods
a sane and masculine self-suffidency, and a
capacity for solid faith in local possibilitTCS,
which make up a very high standard. If
one accepts a lower standard it is by oo
means a gross offense; it may be the odf
condition on which he can secure the par-
ticular charm for his woric which be wants
to give to it; but let us recognize at the
same time that the standard is lower. I
take it that nationality, in the best sense, is
the strongest fiber of strong genius. Thb
being marred, the whole organism sufiers^

Under this light, Irving would seem to
fall into place below Hawthorne. The en-
thusiast for Irving will of course point os
at once to his legendary researches, to die
"Sketch Book," and "Wolfcrfs Roost," and
" Knickerbocker's Histoiy of New Yoif
We must admit at once that here he recalls
a considerable debt, which the grattfode
of many readers for many years has daljr
acknowledged. At the time whoi these
works were produced, a good deal of sctf-
reliance was needed in the man who shonki
look for romantic material mainly akmg the
shores of the Hudson, not dien illuimned
by the light of old tales and the grace of
modem dreaming that rests upon them now.
But exacdy what are the results of Irvmg^
American associations ? How fiu^ do dxy
extend? To me it seems that the coo-
quest over something hitherto unsubfected
to literature, and the substantial gain to
America of handiwork containing the gcnn
of a new order of thought or iecfing, is in
Irving's books almost nil. What is his view*
point? Almost entirely that which leads
to a search for the mere picturesque. The
lightness and vagueness of theme widi
which he is content is very manifest in •■ Wol-
fert's Roost," in the "Tales of a TtKs^xx^
and the introduced narrative of ^BnMielindge
Hall ;" and at times the minute atom of ral
emotion or definite incident at the boCtDca
of these, is almost stifled by his iniBriaWr
desire of words. But the most reroatkaiite
example is his treatment of the Rip Via
Winkle legend. There is hardly a suspidoQ
here of the real depth of pathos which has
since been revealed to us in the same stoiy
on the stage. As elsewhere, Irving sbonY
in his sketch of this tradition an ezccOeat



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POE, IRVING, HAWTHORNE.



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sense of what constitutes elegant entertain-
ment ; his perception of the gentlemanly in
literature is admirable; he contrives good
conventional contrasts, and rounds in the
whole with a sonorous and well-derived style.
It is the most completely "polite" writing.
But the absence is as complete of anjrthing
like profoimd insight, deep imaginative
sympathy, or genuinely dramatic rendering
of character and circumstance. As for any
new distillation of truth fix)m his New World
subjects, we must forego that entirely. All
this finds parallel, too, in his style, which
the systematic and loyal puffing of half a
century has not been able to make into
anything else than a patent-leather Addi-
sonian one. For simple surface execution,
it may be agreed, he has been equaled by
few in his time ; and " Bracebridge Hall" is a
most remarkable revival of an obsolete and
very acceptable style ; but from this sort of
imitation the same unconscious insincerity
is as inseparable as it is from the recent
French reproductions of Japanese porce-
lains. They are even better, one may say,
than the originals, and yet the more refined
and enduring value of the first product is
entirely absent firom the imitations. Thack-
eray's "Henry Esmond" is the only En^ish
fiction of this century, I suppose, which in
point of antiquated style comes upon the
same ground with "Bracebridge Hall ;" but
there, instead of being an anachronism, the
style is a part of the dramatic unity, and
again it is penetrated at every point and
nobly uplifted by the atmosphere of powerful
human passions. Thus, Irving's superficial
treatment of theme and acquired style ope-
rate against the originality of his few Amer-
ican fictions. In his Knickerbocker history
he has furbished up the conventional
Dutch type with some ingenuity; but, as
in the Dutch traditions he elaborated only
an imported interest, so here he merely
treated in his own light and playful way a
kind of character ahready well establi:hea in
English books, and as old at least as the
time of Andrew Marvell's lines on Holland.
This brings us to his humor, which Mr.
Bryant has declared to be not that of " The
Spectator." There is, indeed, a discover-
able difference; but it is in the lighter
caliber of Irving's. There is a smack of
college wit about it, especially in the excess
to which he carries pretended derivations
of local and personal names. There is
always in Irving's writing the mild, sweet
radiance of a graceful, uncontaminated spirit
which comes forth here and there in a sort



of subdued and gentle smile; and this is
something to be prized. But his humor
never develops into the full, rich laugh that
belongs to Scott and Dickens. It is always
a smile, as his drawing is sketching. There
is something full of meaning in that oddly
logical title of his most popular work, "The
Sketch Book." He was, in strict analysis,
an amateur. But it will not do to play the
amateur, when one is laying the foundation
of a national literature. I do not wish to
detract. Irving was an exquisite writer,
justly popular ; he was an attractive histo-
rian, and his charming compilation on
Goldsmith, with his "Mahomet " and "Co-
lumbus " will always be read for their smooth
language, at least. One would not ask,
either, for a more flowing and inspiriting
narrative than his " Life of Washington ; "
and I may add that he has treated this
subject in a tone that accords most happily
with the tone and time of the noble Virginia
gentleman who did with such simple dignity
Siat which has given to our brief national
history a lasting splendor. But how can
we conceal the atritude which this same
exquisite writer always held toward England,
which shows not only in his biography but
throughout his sketches and essays, — in the
most subde and fascinaring way perhaps,
but none the less conclusively limiting his
magnitude? It comes out almost ludi-
crously in his correspondence with that rabid
miso-Briton, Paulding, whom Drake laugh-
ingly hails as "the pride of the backwood,
the poet of cabbages, log-huts, and gin."
Irving, enjoying his English fame, was vex-
edly concerned by the irrepressible out-
breaks of his fiiend, which, however, had
real pluck in them. " The Edinburgh Re-
view," which was unusually amiable toward
Irving, took offense at his excessive com-
plaisance, at last, and thus scouted him:
" He gasped for British popularity^ — ^he
came, and found it He was received, ca-
ressed, applauded, and made giddy : natu-
ral politeness owed him some return, for he
imita^d, admired, deferred to us • • • it
was plain he thought of nothing else, and
was ready to sacrifice everything to obtain
a smile or a look of approbation." It is not
needful to read the " Edinburgh," to assure
ourselves of this ; but at least let us be care-
ful not to forget how the public, whose favor
Irving so fondly sought, could sneer at his
devotion. In its savage fashion, it recog-
nized his inferior position ; we must admit
it, also, though more kindly.

Let us turn to Poe. Here is a man to make



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POE, IRVING, HAWTHORNE.



mischief with theories. How will his nervous,
explosive, insane personality restrain itself to
the principle of American-ness as we have
tried to Settle it ? Do we not encounter m
him a sort of genius which scorns the con-
dition of relativeness ? And is there not
therefore something more primitively distmct
and valuable about Poe, than about Haw-
thome ? In a certain sense, this is, perhaps,
the case. Mr. Fairfield's ingenious article
on the unhappy poet,* by raismg distincdy
the medical question which, in a vague form,
has doubtless occurred to many readers —
that of Poe's madness— tries to prove too
much.t There is a morbid and shattering
susceptibility connected with some genius;
but in the other there is a tremulous, con-
standy re-adjusted, and infinitely delicate
sensitiveness which is simply the perfect
period of health. Such must be the condi-
tion in men like Shakespeare and Haw-
thorne, however dissimilar their tempera-
ments, who grasp the two hemispheres of the
human mind, the sane and the insane, and
hold them perfectly reconciled in their gen-
tle yet unsparing and ahnost divine insight
These men, therefore, are eminently of the
first order. We should place Dickens with
them, for his variety of oudook, except that
it is only the superficial distortions of mind
which his genius chiefly concerns itself with ;
and wefiancy in him at times a slighdy fevered
sensitiveness which leads to contamination



• See •♦A Mad Man of Letters," in Scrib-
NER for October, 1875, p. 690. .

t It may properly be mentioned here that Dr.
Maudsley, whom Mr. Fairfield quotes as main-
taining with other authorities— especially Moreau de
Tours — that •* the mental aura of poetry and of the
more original orders of fiction," seems to have been
misunderstood by the writer. The chapter of
"The Physiology and Pathology of Mind," in
which he treats this point, is described in the table
of contents as asserting " the wide difference between
the highest genius and any kind of insanity, " Fur-
thermore, in that chapter, he speaks of the epileptic
theory as "the extravagant assertion of a French
author (Moreau de Tours), that a morbid condition
of nerve element is the condition of genius." He
expressly speaks of Edgar Poe as so constituted, but
urges that we must never forget that "anyone so
• • * 'ise an example of the highest

ghest genius,** I take to include
igindity. There is an apparent
Guides itself, and is often sup-
eater ; such was Poe's. Mauds-
fectly dear. "Although it might
ne not caring to be accurate, that
acutely sensitive and subjective
rbid condition of nerve element,
moment's calm reflection, would
>f the genius of such as Shake-
> Humboldt, as arising out of a



from the phases he is describing. Now, a
case like Poe's, where actual mental decay
exists, and gives to his productions a sharper
and more dazzling effect, is certainly more
unique, though less admirable, than instances
of the higher orders. But putting aside the
question of malady, we may weigh merely
the degree of intensity of the genius.

Poe*s gift flourished upon him like a de-
structive flame; and the ashes that it lefi
are like a deadly poison which some one
has learned to powder out of a plant-root.
As a mere potency, dissociated from quali-
ties of beauty or truth, Poe must be rated
almost highest among American poets; and
high among prosaists ; no one else offers so
much pimgency,such impetuous and frightful
energy crowded into such small space. Yet
it would be difficult to conceive a poetic
fury — if we may so call the motive power of
his prose-tales, which is much the same as
that of his more impressive poems — a poetic
fiiry less aUied to himian life in general
There is absolutely no definition of character
worth mentioning in his fiction. The near-
est thing to it is his lurid painting of half-
maniacal moods. He looks always for
fixed and inert quantities with which he may
juggle at will ; hence, the best of his stories
are to the best of Hawthorne's short tales
what the most delicate mechanism of metal
springs is to an organism filled with the
true breath of Ufe. We owe to Poe the first
agile and determined movement of criticism
in this country, and, though it was a start-
ling dexterity, with but littie depth, which
winged his censorial shafts, he was excd-
lendy fitted for the critic's office in one way,
because he knew positively what standards
he meant to judge by, and kept up an inflex-
ible hostility to any offense against them.
He had an acute instinct in matters of liter-
ary form ; it amounted, indeed, to a passion,
as all his instincts and perceptions did ; he
had also the knack of finding reasons, good
or bad, for his opinions, and of stating them
well. All this is essential to the equipment
of a critic, and it was well to have them
exemplified ; though, of course, Poe's criti-
cism was constandy vitiated by ill-balanced
impulse, by incredible jealousies, and by
various undermining tendencies of his thor-
oughly unsound mind. And here we reach
the gist of the whole Poe problem again.
The same imperfection runs through all his
performances, except, perhaps, three poems,
"The Raven," "Ligeia," and the earher one
of two addressed " To Helen;" his work is
honeycombed with error and falsity, bad



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POE, IRVING, HAWTHORNE.



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taste, undue outlay of language for small
returns; and he seems sooner or later to
have run his own pen full against all his
rigid criteria for measuring others. It is
extremdy suggestive that the holder of such
positive doctrine about beauty, the man also
of whom pre-eminendy it may be said as
Baudelaire wrote of him, " Chance and the
incomprehensible were his two great ene-
mies," should so completely £ail to reach
even an abstract, unmoral perfection within
the confined and inelastic spaces of thought
which he fixed as sufficient, and should so
constandy force upon us hideousness and hor-
ror, while gasping in the gross atmosphere
of earth, and professing himself the special
apostle of beauty in art. This passionate
search for the beautiful, unhdmed, erring,
guided by no North Star of faith set in a
dome of mystery, is the very thing which
drove him into such whirlpools of ph3rsical
horror and ignoble waliowings in decay;
because it issued fi-om interior discord, and
was not a normal, deep-seated desire.
Whatever the cause, his brain had a rift of
ruin in it at the start For him, there was
always a " demon in the sky ; " and, though
he kept the delicate touch that stole a
new grace from classic antiquity, it was the
fi^ngibility, the quick decay, the fall of beau-
tiful things, that excited him. In one of his
tales he sa)rs : " I • • • have imbibed
the shadows of ^en columns at Balbec,
and Tadmor, and Persepolis, until my very
soul has become a ruin." That is it Al-
ways beauty and grace overthrown seem to
him the most characteristic and the most
poetic, and it is the shadow of such ruined
beauty that he imbibes, nrather than the still
living beauty of light upon them or of green
growth around them.

The life and the writings stand intimately
connected, almost inseparable, in Poe, just
as Irving's life — his eariy experience of
Europe, and the conditions of provincial
New York society — ^wiU account for his limi-
tations and his slight American substance.
But in Poe there is no special conformity to
English models ; there is rather a leaning to
the French feeling for form, and to a deli-
cate-pointed, varied and fervent accuracy of
expression which resembles that of the mod-
em Parisian school, but probably proceeds as
much firom the innate necessities of his genius.
The foreign marking, however, is very faint ;
scarcely shows, in fact, against the glaring
ground of his own qualities. On the other
hand, he has no traits that we can call
American. We even fsmcy in him a kind of



shrinking fi-om any identification with his
native land, instinctive, if not conscious.
His genius was a detonating agent, which
could have been convulsed into its meet
activity anywhere, and had nothing to do
with a soil. It was shaken by that discord
which, I have said, is apt to overtake the
American writer out of sympathy with Amer-
ica. Does this absence of roots make it
more universal ? Merely, I think, as the
wind is more transferable than a tree. There
is something unmatched and enviable in the
wrath of the wind ; but it is certainly less
near to man than a tree, which, like man,
has growth. To change our adjective, let
us call Poe a positive genius. He would
have flourished anywhere in much the same
way that he did in America. Irving, then,
is comparative; given the condition of a
certain gendemanly leisure, he might have
done something pleasant in letters elsewhere,
but it would probably have been much less
noticeable th^ what he has left us. Also,
he ranks higher than Poe for human sym-
pathy and incipient humor, whereas Poe is
barren of even a smile. Neither of them, how-
ever, possessed insight Irving had that sort
of insight which a connoisseuPs magnifying
glass can give, and Poe had an extraordinary
keenness in speculation and calculation.
But Hawthorne has insight in the profound-
est sense, — a consciousness of visible and
invisible life, and of sound and unsound
character, a gift of real analysis, a deeper
and tenderer humor than Irving's, although
hardly broader in its effect; and, finally, he
could not have flourished in any earth but
that of Salem. That is, if he had been
rooted elsewhere, he would have missed
some of his richest, purest, add most original
traits.

This flavor of nativity, is it not inev-
itably one of the higher attributes of gen-
ius? Whether or not the greater range
of in^ght and vigor of dramatic feeling get
any of their strength from this quality is, of
course, a debatable point There is obvi-
ously an original texture in Hawthorne's
genius which puts him at once in advance
of the other two writers; but this texture
might never have been worked into literature
witti its present power and subdety had the
circumstances of his development been ma-
terially other than they were. In fine, the
national quality and the personal ones so
subtend and overlap each other in him that
their relation is clearly a vital and meaning
rdation. The more I study his life, the
more I feel the singular value of this union.



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FOE, IRVING, HAWTHORNE.



That life I shall here try to sketch at
the risk of seeming to digress too widely.
The connection of the man and his works
is in this case more subtie, various, and
extended than in either of the two we have
already glanced at.

Hawthorne's ancestors came from a place
in Wiltshire called, according to an early entry
in the "American Note-Books," Wigcastle,
Wiston, and which in a letter from a relative,
dated i860, I have seen alluded to as Wil-
ton Castlewig. The simame was variously
spelled, and different members of the family
developed some eight distinct ways of writ-
ing it.

A younger son, William Hathome, who
came over with Winthrop in the "Arbella,"
1630, was the American progenitor. He
went first to Dorchester, where he was
made a Freeman (a name that meant a
great deal, just there and then), and in
1635-6 he was representative for that town
in the General Court This ancestor distin-
guished himself in the colony. He was
thought so desirable a citizen that the toWn
of Salem offered him large grants of land if
he would remove, thither. This he did in
1636 or 1637. From that time he became
prominent in New England history, as dep-
uty to the General Court, Speaker of the
House of Representatives, Commissioner of
Customs, military commander, a member of
committees at critical junctures, — ^notably
that of 1 66 1 to deliberate on the "patent,
laws, privileges " of the colonists, and their
"duty to His Majesty," when he opi>osed all
appeals to the Crown, and maintained the
nght of the colonists to defend their govern-
ment against all attempts at overthrow. He
is about the only man of that time whose
reputation for eloquence has come down to
posterity. The apostle Eliot wrote of him
as " the most eloquent man of the Assembly
# # • # often opposed to Endicott, who
glided with the popular stream;" and John-
son, in the " Wonder-Woricing Providence,"
spake of him as " the Godly Captaine Wil-
liam Hathom, whom the Lord hath indued
with a quick apprehension, strong memory,
and Rhetorick." His son John was a sturdy
successor, of severe temper, inherited his civil
and military honors, and was a magistrate
at the time of the Witchcraft trials. The
land grant to William assigned him an estate
in the then choicest part of the town, along
the South River, and a street in Salem on that
very spot bears the name of Hathom to this
day. It is worth while to give these details,
as showing how substantial were the links



that bound Hawthorne to the past of his
country, and knitted him more firmly to its
present. Th** Hathomes remained iimxi-
terrugtedly at Salem fix)m 1637, and Na-
thaniel, when a young man, went on Sundays
to the First Church (a second edifice buOt
on the site of the first place of worship in
Salem), where his forefathers and ^mily had
held their pew firom about 1640. Joseph
was the next in descent fix)m John, and his
retired ferm-Hfe preluded a change in the



Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 141 of 163)