Books: A Real Man's Life

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When Hawthorne went to Boston in 1839 to check cargoes for the customs, they corresponded. For several years before they were married Hawthorne wrote to her as her husband; once, at his insistence, she signed herself in a corner in a small, scared hand "Sophia Hawthorne." In his letters were passages like the sweetest speeches in Shakespeare:

Let us content ourselves to be earthly

creatures, And hold communion of spirit in such


as are ordained to us . . .

In one letter he wrote of himself with a profundity that biographers have misinterpreted but have not surpassed:

"If I had sooner made my escape into the world, I should have grown hard and rough, and been covered with earthly dust, and my heart might have become callous by rude encounters with the multitude. But living in solitude till the fullness of time was come, I still kept the dew of my youth and the freshness of my heart. I used to think I could imagine all passions, all feelings, and states of the heart and mind; but how little did I know! Indeed we are but shadows; we are not endowed with real life, and all that seems most real about us is but the thinnest substance of a dream—till the heart be touched."

With his marriage in 1842 Hawthorne became ready for his greatest work, The Scarlet Letter, and four years later, after poverty and happiness in Concord and in Salem, he wrote it, grew sick over it, and let it be published in a hurry with the long introductory essay on the Salem Custom House—an essay, then, of political significance and courage—acting as a kind-of "lightning rod" to keep the full shock of his masterpiece from the public. Imagination and the life of Salem had interpenetrated. Wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes: "He has done it, and it will never be harsh country again ... A light falls upon the place not of land or sea! How much he did for Salem!"

-*Nineteen forty-eight would be a big Hawthorne year. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a biography by Brown University's Randall Stewart, will be published this month (Yale; $4). The Portable Hawthorne (Viking; $2), edited by Malcolm Cowley, and Theodore Maynard's A Fire Was Lighted (Bruce; $3.50), a biography of Hawthorne's daughter, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, have appeared earlier.

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