CHAPTER FOURTEEN. LEXINGTON AND CONCORD
He made many changes in "The Wayside" and surrounding grounds. He enlarged the house and added the striking but quite unpicturesque tower which rises from the centre of the main part; here he had his study and point of observation; he could see the unwelcome visitor while yet a far way off, or contemplate the lazy travel of a summer's day.
Just beyond is "Orchard House," into which the Alcotts moved in October, 1858.
A philosopher may not be a good neighbor, and Alcott lived just a little too near Hawthorne. "It was never so well understood at 'The Wayside' that its owner had retiring habits as when Alcott was reported to be approaching along Larch Path, which stretched in feathery bowers between our house and his. Yet I was not aware that the seer failed at any hour to gain admittance, - one cause, perhaps, of the awe in which his visits were held. I remember that my observation was attracted to him curiously from the fact that my mother's eyes changed to a darker gray at his advents, as they did only when she was silently sacrificing herself. I clearly understood that Mr. Alcott was admirable, but he sometimes brought manuscript poetry with him, the dear child of his own Muse. There was one particularly long poem which he had read aloud to my mother and father; a seemingly harmless thing, from which they never recovered."
The appreciation the great men of Concord had of one another is interesting to the outside world. Great souls are seldom congenial, - popular impression to the contrary notwithstanding. Minds of a feather flock together; but minds of gold are apt to remain apart, each sufficient unto itself. It is in sports, pastimes, business, politics, that men congregate with facility; in literary and intellectual pursuits the leaders are anti-pathetic in proportion to their true greatness. Now and then two, and more rarely three, are united by bonds of quick understanding and sympathy, but men of profound convictions attract followers and repel companions.
Emerson's was the most catholic spirit; he understood his neighbors better than they understood one another; his vision was very clear. For a man who mingled so little with the world, who spent so much of his life in contemplation - in communing with his inner self - Emerson was very sane indeed; his idiosyncrasies did not prevent his judging men and things quite correctly.
Hawthorne and Emerson saw comparatively little of each other; these two great souls respected the independence of each other too much to intrude. "Mr. Hawthorne once broke through his hermit usage, and honored Miss Ellen Emerson, the friend of his daughter Una, with a formal call on a Sunday evening. It was the only time, I think, that he ever came to the house except when persuaded to come in for a few moments on the rare occasions when he walked with my father. On this occasion he did not ask for either Mr. or Mrs. Emerson, but announced that his call was upon Miss Ellen. Unfortunately, she had gone to bed, but he remained for a time talking with my sister Edith and me, the school-mates of his children. To cover his shyness he took up a stereoscope on the centre-table and began to look at the pictures. After looking at them for a time he asked where those views were taken. We told him they were pictures of the Concord Court and Town Houses, the Common and the Mill-dam; on hearing which he expressed some surprise and interest, but evidently was as unfamiliar with the centre of the village where he had lived for years as a deer or a wood-thrush would be. He walked through it often on his way to the cars, but was too shy or too rapt to know what was there."
Emerson liked Hawthorne better than his books, - the latter were too weird, uncanny, and inconclusive. In 1838 he noted in his journal, "Elizabeth Peabody brought me yesterday Hawthorne's 'Footprints on the Seashore' to read. I complained there was no inside to it. Alcott and he together would make a man."
Later, when Hawthorne came to live in Concord, Emerson did his best to get better acquainted; but it was of little use; they had too little in common. Both men were great walkers, and yet they seldom walked together. They went to Harvard to see the Shakers, and Emerson recorded it as a "satisfactory tramp; we had good talk on the way."
After Hawthorne's death, Emerson made the following entry in his journal: "I thought him a greater man than any of his works betray; there was still a great deal of work in him, and he might one day show a purer power. It would have been a happiness, doubtless, to both of us, to come into habits of unreserved intercourse. It was easy to talk with him; there were no barriers; only he said so little that I talked too much, and stopped only because, as he gave no indication, I feared to exceed. He showed no egotism or self-assertion; rather a humility, and at one time a fear that he had written himself out. I do not think any of his books worthy his genius. I admired the man, who was simple, amiable, truth-loving, and frank in conversation, but I never read his books with pleasure; they are too young."
Emerson was greedy for ideas, and the pure, limpid literature of Hawthorne did not satisfy him.