When Nathaniel Met Herman: Lost Hawthorne memoir is published


Americans
love happy endings. Yet in the world of great American literature,
there are so very few. Thats so not only in novels—Moby
Dick
, The Scarlet Letter, The Portrait of a Lady, An American
Tragedy, The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises
—but in the
lives of American authors themselves, which have often been beset
by personal and economic failure, melancholia, alcoholism, money
problems, suicide, and general misery. Maybe that is why the recent
publication of Twenty Days with Julian & Little Bunny by
Papa
(New York Review Books Classics) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
has generated such enormous critical praise and popular enthusiasm. 

Introduced
by novelist Paul Auster, this 72-page “lost memoir—it
was an unnoticed sketch in Hawthorne’s 800- page American
Notebooks
—delightfully chronicles the 46-year-old author’s
20 days caring for his 5-year- old son, Julian, at home in Lenox,
Massachusetts, from July 28 to August 16, 1851, while his wife was
visiting her family near Boston. Nothing much happens here—they
get up and wash, they pick currants, Julian gets stung by a wasp,
they keep a sweet pet rabbit named Bunny, Julian wets the bed, and
Papa has trouble curling the boys hair in the morning—but
specialists and general readers alike are entranced by Hawthornes
loving tone and tender attentiveness to detail. It is warm, silly,
lighthearted, and charming—in short, everything Hawthorne is
decidedly not in his great novels. 

Lurking
behind this family romance of nature walks and berry picking is
a darker story, which critics seem to want to avoid: the complex,
sexually fraught relationship that summer between Hawthorne and
Herman Melville. The 31-year-old author of the soon-to-be-published
Moby Dick visited Hawthorne and Julian several times over
the course of their summer idyll. 

But
as felicitous as Melvilles cameo appearances were in
Hawthornes retelling, they were in reality complicated
by the younger writers idealization of the distinguished
author 15 years his senior. What is only hinted at in Hawthornes
memoir, which was intended to be read principally by his wife, becomes
more clear in correspondence. We have only Melvilles
letters to Hawthorne (the older man’s responses were destroyed
or did not survive). 

This
romance—there is no better word for it—between Hawthorne
and Melville can be understood only in the context of a particular
moment in each man’s life and career. Born in 1804, Hawthorne
was the product of an old New England family; his ancestors were
judges in the Salem witch trials. He was burdened by history and
all his life he was given to brooding melancholia. As a writer he
had achieved some notice with his stories Twice-Told Tales
and Mosses from an Old Manse in the 1830s, but it was not
until 1850, with the publication of The Scarlet Letter, that
he found the fame he so desired. His renown was secured with the
publication of The House of the Seven Gables in 1851. In
1842, at the age of 38, he had married Sophia (Phoebe) Peabody and
by all indications it was a happy union despite Hawthornes
recurrent depressions.

The
younger Melvilles life and career was already on a
more unconventional path. Born in 1819, the son of a once-distinguished
but now-impoverished New York family, Melville went to sea as a
young man. He returned to make a name for himself writing the popular,
yet controversial, South Sea adventure novels Typee (1846)
and Omoo (1847), which deal, to no small degree, with intensely
emotional, and in some cases obviously sexual, relationships between
men. As he notes in White-Jacket (1850), The
sins for which the cities of the plain were overthrown still linger
in some of these wooden-walled Gomorrahs of the deep.” Theres
no direct evidence that Melville had sexual relationships with men,
but from his early novels through his later works, such as Moby
Dick
and Billy Budd, his literary imagination was drenched
in homoeroticism. 

In
1847, at the age of 28, Melville married Elizabeth Shaw, but their
relationship was never particularly happy; there are stories of
verbal and possibly physical abuse on the part of the husband. They
stayed together, however, until his death in 1891. 

If
Hawthorne was the older, brooding intellectual writer, Melville
was the dashing young adventurer, at least at the point in their
lives when they first crossed paths. The two writers first met in
August 1850 and their friendship bloomed a year later. By November
1952, it was essentially over, ended abruptly by Hawthorne. So what
happened between these two men of such different temperaments?  

The
first clue to understanding their relationship appears in a two-part
review Melville wrote of Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old
Manse
in the August 17 and 24, 1850 issues of a popular and
influential magazine, the Literary World. Melville wrote
the piece after meeting Hawthorne for the first time on August 7
and, interestingly, the review was not only anonymous, but also
obscured Melville’s identity further by claiming that it was
penned by a Virginian spending July in Vermont”
(Melville was from New York). He wrote the review in the voice of
someone reading Hawthorne’s book in an empty barn: A
man of deep and noble nature had seized me in this seclusion….
The soft ravishments of the man spun me round about in a web of
dreams…. But already I feel that this Hawthorne has dropped germinous
seeds into my soul. He expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate
him; and further and further shoots his strong New England roots
into the hot soil of my Southern soul.” 

Even
by the florid standards of 19th-century prose, for which Melville
was not known, this sexualized, over-the- top hero worship is excessive.
Lets face it, the review is, by most readings, a love
letter to the author and a pretty steamy one at that. 

At
this time Hawthorne, Sophia, and their two children, Julian and
Una, lived in a small Lenox, Massachusetts farmhouse they had rented
in June 1850. In October of that year—two months after meeting
Hawthorne—Melville bought a house in nearby Pittsfield, where
he lived with his wife and their son, Malcolm. Sophia Hawthorne
was pregnant with their third child, Rose, who was born in May 1851.
In January of that year, Elizabeth Melville was pregnant with their
third child, Stanwix. 

In
January 1851, Melville began writing to Hawthorne in the fevered
tone of someone in love, or at least in the midst of a tremendous
crush. Here he bemoans the postponement of a visit: That
side-blow thro’ Mrs Hawthorne will not do. I am not to be charmed
out of my promised pleasure by any of that ladys syrenisms.
You, Sir, I hold accountable, & the visit (in all its original
integrity) must be made. What! spend the day, only with us? A Greenlander
might as well talk of spending the day with a friend, when the day
is only half an inch long…. 

Another
thing, Mr Hawthorne. Do not think you are coming to any prim nonsensical
house—that is nonsensical in the ordinary way. You must be
much bored with punctilios. You may do what you please—say
or say not what you please. And if you feel any inclination for
that sort of thing—you may spend the period of your visit in
bed, if you like—every hour of your visit…. 

Come,
no nonsense. If you don’t—I will send Constables after
you…. 

By
the way—should Mrs Hawthorne for any reason conclude that she,
for one, can not stay overnight with us—then you must—&
the children, if you please.” 

By
April, Melvilles letters had gotten gushier. At one
point he added a PS, followed by an NB, followed by a PPS. In June
1851, Melville wrote a long letter to Hawthorne in which his hero
worship began to blur boundaries, as he discussed their careers
in the same breath: Another thing. I was in New York
for four- and-twenty hours the other day, and saw a portrait of
N.H. And I have seen and heard many flattering (in a publishers
point of view) allusions to the Seven Gables.’
And I have seen Tales,’ and A New
Volume’ announced, by N.H. So upon the whole, I say to myself,
this N.H. is in the ascendant. My dear Sir, they begin to patronize.
All Fame is patronage. Let me be infamous: there is no patronage
in that. What reputation’ H.M. has is horrible.
Think of it! To go down to posterity is bad enough, any way; but
to go down as a man who lived among the cannibals’!” 

On
July 22, 1851, Melville wrote of finishing Moby Dick, as
he made plans to visit Hawthorne. My dear Hawthorne: This
is not a letter, or even a note—but only a passing word said
to you over your garden gate…. I am now busy with various things—not
incessantly though; but enough to require my frequent tinkerings;
and this is the height of the haying season, and my nag is dragging
me home his winters dinners all the time. And so, one
way and another, I am not yet a disengaged man; but shall be, very
soon. Meantime, the earliest good chance I get, I shall roll down
to you, my good fellow, seeing we—that is, you and I,—must
hit upon some little bit of vagabondism, before Autumn comes. Graylock—we
must go and vagabondize there. But ere we start, we must dig a deep
hole, and bury all Blue Devils, there to abide till the Last Day.” 

On
July 28, Sophia Peabody left Lenox to visit her parents in West
Newton. Four days later, on August 1, Melville showed up unexpectedly.
Melville stayed for dinner and the two men spent much of the night
speaking of time and eternity, things of this world
and the next, books and publishers, and all possible and impossible
matters, according to Hawthorne. 

It
is possible to read this as a 19th-century version of guys
night out—they smoke cigars together in the sacred
precincts of the parlor,” but there is a comfortable eroticism
here that is absent in Hawthornes fiction and other
letters. Is it possible that Melville was finally getting through
to him; that the younger mans constant attention was
melting Hawthorne’s harsher, more-guarded emotional shell?
Notable, too, is that August 1 was Melvilles birthday,
a fact Hawthorne never mentioned, possibly because he didnt
know. The younger man chose to spend it with his idol rather than
with his wife. 

Melville
persisted. On August 8 he joined Hawthorne, Julian, and his friends
George and Evert Duyckinck, publishers of the Literary World,
for a picnic, after which they visited the Shaker village in
nearby Hancock. In the midst of what had been a nothing-but-happy
time since Sophia had been away, Hawthorne suddenly had a fit of
anger. He was appalled by the Shakers, calling them a filthy
set” because of their communal living and bathing facilities.
But his anger seems to have had a sexual undertone, which was peculiar,
given that the Shakers were committed to celibacy. He was appalled
by the separation of the sexes and the fact that two people of the
same sex were forced to share particularly narrow beds.”
He railed away at this close junction of man with man,”
stating that the sooner the sect is extinct the better—the
consummation which, I am happy to hear, is thought to be not a great
many years distant. It is revealing that Hawthorne
who carefully chose each word, even in light sketches, would write
consummation” a word with a clear sexual connotation.
Was this a moment of homosexual panic?  

On
August 9, Hawthorne wrote: Julian awoke in a bright
condition, this morning; and we arose at about seven. I felt the
better for the expedition of yesterday; and asking Julian if he
had a good time, he answered with great enthusiasm in the affirmative;
and that he wanted to go again, and that he loved Mr. Melville as
well as me, and as mama, and as Una.” 

Maybe
Julian’s love of Melville had contributed to Hawthorne’s
agitation. On August 10, he wrote a nearly hysterical passage in
his journal declaring his love for Julian and his family:  Thank
God! God Bless him! God bless Phoebe for giving him to me! God bless
her as the best wife and mother in the world! God bless Una, whom
I long to see again! God Bless little Rosebud! God Bless me, for
Phoebe’s, and all their sake! No other man has so good a wife;
nobody has better children. Would I were worthier of her and them!” 

It’s
hard to see how Hawthornes affection for Melville,
whatever its nature, could survive such an outburst of familial
devotion. Sophia returned on August 16, but something had changed.
On November 14, at a dinner, Herman Melville presented Hawthorne
with a copy of Moby Dick, which was to be published the next
day. The dedication read In Token of my Admiration
for his Genius. This book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne.”
In a lost letter Hawthorne responded favorably to the book, which
prompted yet another effusive reply from Melville. In a long letter
dated November 17, he wrote: Your letter was handed
me last night on the road going to Mr. Morewoods, and
I read it there. Had I been at home, I would have sat down at once
and answered it. In me divine magnanimities are spontaneous and
instantaneous—catch them while you can. The world goes round,
and the other side comes up. So now I cant write what
I felt. But I felt pantheistic then—your heart beat in my ribs
and mine in yours, and both in Gods. A sense of unspeakable
security is in me this moment, on account of your having understood
the book…. 

Whence
come you, Hawthorne? By what right do you drink from my flagon of
life? And when I put it to my lips—lo, they are yours and not
mine. I feel that the Godhead is broken up like the bread at the
Supper, and that we are the pieces. Hence this infinite fraternity
of feeling. Now, sympathizing with the paper, my angel turns over
another page. You did not care a penny for the book. But, now and
then as you read, you understood the pervading thought that impelled
the book—and that you praised. Was it not so? You were archangel
enough to despise the imperfect body, and embrace the soul. Once
you hugged the ugly Socrates because you saw the flame in the mouth,
and heard the rushing of the demon—the familiar—and recognized
the sound; for you have heard it in your own solitudes…. 

Lord,
when shall we be done changing? Ah! its a long stage,
and no inn in sight, and night coming, and the body cold. But with
you for a passenger, I am content and can be happy. I shall leave
the world, I feel, with more satisfaction for having come to know
you. Knowing you persuades me more than the Bible of our immortality…. 

P.S.
I cant stop yet. If the world was entirely made up
of Magians, Ill tell you what I should do. I should
have a paper-mill established at one end of the house, and so have
an endless riband of foolscap rolling in upon my desk; and upon
that endless riband I should write a thousand—a million—billion
thoughts, all under the form of a letter to you. The divine magnet
is on you, and my magnet responds. Which is the biggest? A foolish
question—they are One. 

P.P.S.
Dont think that by writing me a letter, you shall always
be bored with an immediate reply to it—and so keep both of
us delving over a writing-desk eternally. No such thing! I shnt
always answer your letters, and you may do just as you please.” 

Again,
there is no mistaking the sexual overtones. Nineteenth-century writers
knew their Hebrew Bible,and Melville, in fact, had carefully chosen
the names of his characters in Moby Dick for their biblical
allusions. So when he wrote, I shall leave the world,
I feel, with more satisfaction for having come to know you. Knowing
you persuades me more than the Bible of our immortality,
the biblical meaning of the word know”—to
consummate sexual passion—is unmistakable. 

We
have no record of how Hawthorne felt about or responded to this
letter. We do know, however, that five days later, on November 21,
he and his family left their home in Lenox to move back to Boston.
Whatever happened in the Berkshires that summer, aside from the
details recorded in Twenty Days with Julian & Little Bunny
by Papa,
we will never know. 

Clearly,
Melvilles romantic enthusiasm for Nathaniel Hawthorne
grew and may even have been encouraged. But only up to a point.
A few more letters were exchanged between the writers in the fall
of 1952. Melville tried to get Hawthorne to write a novel based
on a tale he had heard of a wronged woman named Agatha. The tale,
significantly, turns on the betrayal of a betrothal vow. Hawthorne
refused to write the story, claiming to have no interest, and suggested
that Melville write it, but they were never really friends again. 

One
standard scholarly explanation for their disaffection is that they
went their own ways, that temperamental artists rarely remain friends
forever. Others claim that Melvilles desperate attempts
to convince the older man to write a novel based on the Agatha story
had caused the separation. It’s true that, at times, Melvilles
sense of the psychological boundaries between himself and Hawthorne
seemed shaky at best. 

 But
whatever caused their break, it is clear from Melvilles
letters, as well as from Hawthorne’s words about Melville in
Twenty Days, that the younger man was—what words to
use here: in love with?” smitten
with? in deep admiration of!”
the older Hawthorne. Melville was no stranger to love between
men, even physical love between men, but he was clearly naive and
overly incautious when expressing his feelings to Hawthorne. What
is finally so charming about this tale is the poignancy of Melvilles
unabashed emotional enthusiasm for the older man. The intensity
of such a love can be frightening and frighten it did. Is it any
wonder that Hawthorne not only pulled away from his friend, but
actually moved? 

In
the summer of 1851, depressed, melancholy Nathaniel Hawthorne may
have discovered more than the fun of cavorting with his son Julian.
To a man already wracked with guilt and gloom, that discovery may
have been too much to bear. Unlike his noble and magisterial heroine
Hester Prynne, he wasnt ready to take the next step
and act upon his feelings.


Michael
Bronski is a long-time activist and writer. His latest book is
Pulp
Friction
.