CHAPTER FOURTEEN. LEXINGTON AND CONCORD
Nearly two weeks later she continues in the same letter, "Sweet, dear Mary, nearly a fortnight has passed since I wrote the above. I really believe I will finish my letter to-day, though I do not promise. That magician upstairs is very potent! In the afternoon and evening I sit in the study with him. It is the pleasantest niche in our temple. We watch the sun, together, descending in purple and gold, in every variety of magnificence, over the river. Lately, we go on the river, which is now frozen; my lord to skate, and I to run and slide, during the dolphin death of day. I consider my husband a rare sight, gliding over the icy stream. For, wrapped in his cloak, he looks very graceful; impetuously darting from me in long, sweeping curves, and returning again - again to shoot away. Our meadow at the bottom of the orchard is like a small frozen sea now; and that is the present scene of our heroic games. Sometimes, in the splendor of the dying light, we seem sporting upon transparent gold, so prismatic becomes the ice; and the snow takes opaline hues from the gems that float above as clouds. It is eminently the hour to see objects, just after the sun has disappeared. Oh, such oxygen as we inhale! After other skaters appear, - young men and boys, - who principally interest me as foils to my husband, who, in the presence of nature, loses all shyness and moves regally like a king. One afternoon Mr. Emerson and Mr. Thoreau went with him down the river. Henry Thoreau is an experienced skater, and was figuring dithyrambic dances and Bacchic leaps on the ice, - very remarkable, but very ugly methought. Next him followed Mr. Hawthorne, who, wrapped in his cloak, moved like a self-impelled Greek statue, stately and grave. Mr. Emerson closed the line, evidently too weary to hold himself erect, pitching headforemost, half lying on the air. He came in to rest himself, and said to me that Hawthorne was a tiger, a bear, a lion, - in short, a satyr, and there was no tiring him out; and he might be the death of a man like himself. And then, turning upon me that kindling smile for which he is so memorable, he added, 'Mr. Hawthorne is such an Ajax, who can cope with him!'"
Of all the pages, ay, of all the books, that have been printed concerning Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau, there is not one which more vividly and accurately set the men before us and describe their essential characteristics than the casual lines of this old letter: - Thoreau, the devotee of nature, "figuring dithyrambic dances and Bacchic leaps on the ice," joyous in the presence of his god; the mystic Hawthorne, wrapped in his sombre cloak, "moved like a self-impelled Greek statue, stately and grave," - with magic force these words throw upon the screen of the imagination the figure of the creator of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale; while Emerson is drawn with the inspiration of a poet, "evidently too weary to hold himself erect, pitching headforemost, half lying on the air;" "half lying on the air," - the phrase rings in the ear, lingers in the memory, attaches itself to Emerson, and fits like a garment of soft and yielding texture.
The letter concludes as follows: "After the first snow-storm, before it was so deep, we walked in the woods, very beautiful in winter, and found slides in Sleepy Hollow, where we became children, and enjoyed ourselves as of old, - only more, a great deal. Sometimes it is before breakfast that Mr. Hawthorne goes to skate upon the meadow. Yesterday, before he went out, he said it was very cloudy and gloomy, and he thought it would storm. In half an hour, oh, wonder! what a scene! Instead of a black sky, the rising sun, not yet above the hill, had changed the firmament into a vast rose! On every side, east, west, north, and south, every point blushed roses. I ran to the study and the meadow sea also was a rose, the reflection of that above. And there was my husband, careering about, glorified by the light. Such is Paradise.
"In the evening we are gathered together beneath our luminous star in the study, for we have a large hanging astral lamp, which beautifully illumines the room, with its walls of pale yellow paper, its Holy Mother over the fireplace, and pleasant books, and its pretty bronze vase on one of the secretaries, filled with ferns. Except once, Mr. Emerson, no one hunts us out in the evening. Then Mr. Hawthorne reads to me. At present we can only get along with the old English writers, and we find that they are the hive from which all modern honey is stolen. They are thick-set with thought, instead of one thought serving for a whole book. Shakespeare is pre-eminent; Spencer is music. We dare to dislike Milton when he goes to heaven. We do not recognize God in his picture of Him. There is something so penetrating and clear in Mr. Hawthorne's intellect, that now I am acquainted with it, merely thinking of him as I read winnows the chaff from the wheat at once. And when he reads to me, it is the acutest criticism. Such a voice, too, - such sweet thunder! Whatever is not worth much shows sadly, coming through such a medium, fit only for noblest ideas. From reading his books you can have some idea of what it is to dwell with Mr. Hawthorne. But only a shadow of him is found in his books. The half is not told there."
Just a letter, the outpouring of a loving young heart, written with no thought of print and strange eye, slumbering for more than fifty years to come to light at last; - just one of many, all of them well worth reading.
The three great men of Concord were happy in their wives. Mrs. Hawthorne and Mrs. Alcott were not only great wives and mothers, but they could express their prayers, meditations, fancies, and emotions in clear and exquisite English.
It was after the prosperous days of the Liverpool Consulate that Hawthorne returned to Concord to spend the remainder of his all too short life.