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AN ADVENTURE IN PURE ROMANCE
ATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, master of the imaginatively romantic, tried to make his very life one of actual romance and never more so than when, with the fire as if of romantic youth, although he was then well on, toward forty, he flung himself and his little fortune into the adventure of Brook Farm.
Throughout his life he was eager to find the romance of actual living. His ideal days at the Old Manse, rambling in the woods and floating on the Concord or Assabeth, his life in romantic Italy, his love for the romantic countryside of England, his return, toward the close of his life, to the romantic surroundings of his beloved Concord – always he sought for the finest possible in life: he aimed for rugged independence but tried to achieve independence romantically. And the most romantic feature of his life was his connection with Brook Farm.
He did not start that remarkable movement. He had nothing to do with its inception. But in its possibilities it so appealed to him that he went into it with enthusiastic buoyancy. Those who think of Hawthorne only as a cold and uncordial recluse miss altogether the Hawthorne who rowed and camped and talked with Ellery Channing; they miss altogether the Hawthorne who threw himself with unreserve into the experiment of Brook Farm.
George Ripley, a man of high ideals who had found it due to his own conscience to leave the ministry, was the founder. He dreamed of a community in which mental advancement and physical well-being would go hand in hand; he dreamt of a society of intelligent, cultured, cultivated people, who were to live together, with each one improving himself and all the others, and each one doing his share of the mental and physical toil which would be necessary to keep up the expenses of living. Life was to be simplified and made glorious. There was to be a school, and there were to be mechanical industries, and fruit and vegetables and milk were to be the product of their own farm. Each one, man or woman, was to do his share of work, physical and mental, and all were to participate in the mutual intellectual benefits of association. After the founding, by a little group of friends, no one was to be admitted without probation and a vote, and, thus safeguarded against undesirables and impracticables, the community was to represent the mental activity of a wide variety of thinkers in conjunction with the plain good sense of chosen farmers and mechanics. Each thinker was at the same time to be a worker, and each worker a thinker.
The venture was begun in the spring of 1841. The shares were five hundred dollars each, and twenty-four were taken by the first group, the founders. And Hawthorne did not wait coldly to see if it were to be a success. He was eagerly ready to devote himself to the work and to associate with other chosen souls. Nor was his enthusiasm merely of the spirit; he showed it practically, with a pathetic earnestness. He had saved – he, the master of American fiction – he had saved one thousand dollars from his salary in the Boston Custom House, and this sum he paid in for two of the Brook Farm shares. There could be no deeper proof of his sincerity.
Hawthorne was even made chairman of the finance committee – the last position in the world, one would think, for so unworldly a man; and it is vastly interesting to know that, after paying $10,500 for the property the committee promptly negotiated a mortgage loan of $11,000 for the purpose of expenses and new buildings. A mortgage for more than the purchase price!
The Brook Farmers were to fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world, but they were also to work. Charles A. Dana, then a young man, joined. George William Curtis joined. The man who was to achieve fame as Father Hecker, founder of the Paulists, joined. Ripley was the guiding spirit. Emerson looked on with sympathy and encouragement, even though Brook Farm did not draw him from his beloved Concord. Margaret Fuller did not join, but she lent to the community the frequent gleam of her personality. That Hawthorne daily milked a cow is one of the joyful memories of the Farm, and that he playfully christened the cow Margaret Fuller, because of its intelligent face and reflective character, is another.
But Brook Farm was not a practical success. The land that Ripley had picked out was wretchedly poor for farming, nor were the mechanic industries, such as sash-making, at all prosperous. But for a while the effort went on nobly. There was wholesome life and companionship. Scholars and gentlemen hoed and plowed and milked; well-bred ladies washed clothes and scrubbed floors. The nights were filled with talk and music and cheerfulness. Some new buildings were erected, which seem, from descriptions, to have been more astonishingly ugly than could fairly have been expected of romantic philosophers, and perhaps it is well that they burned down, as they did, either while the Brook Farmers were there or in the years after their departure.
I think the fact that there were more men than women militated against success; and it seems surprising that more women did not join; with such men as Hawthorne and Dana and Ripley and Curtis there, it would seem that women would joyously have entered into the enthusiasm of it all. In this twentieth century they doubtless would, but in the 1840's women were still cabined, cribbed, confined.
It is interesting, and it is striking, that not one of the Brook Farmers ever admitted that Brook Farm was a failure. Of course, they admitted that the community broke up, and with financial loss, but all of the people connected with it, both men and women, always believed that there had, for all of them, been more of profit than of loss; each was sure that every one was benefited. It was really a glorious thing to do, a glorious effort to make.
Hawthorne himself, when at length he saw that the movement was doomed to failure, was wise enough to leave. He seems to be picturing himself when, in the novel that was one of the fruits of Brook Farm, the "Blithedale Romance," he represents Miles Coverdale, on the eve of his departure, thus setting down his thoughts of the people he was to meet out in the world, away from his companions at the Farm: "It was now time for me to go and hold a little talk with the conservatives, the writers of the North American Review, the merchants, the politicians, the Cambridge men, and all those respectable old blockheads who still kept a death-grip on one or two ideas which had not come into vogue since yesterday morning."
He left, and married the woman of his choice, and continued on his career of fame, winning more and more the reputation of being cold and repellent – which his associates at Brook Farm knew so well that he was not! And he wrote his novel of the place the name of Blithedale itself declaring what charm and poetry he had found there – and he incorporated in that story the feeling of what Brook Farm had meant to him.
Brook Farm itself is still largely, in appearance, what it was when it knew the wonderful community. The spot is but ten or eleven miles from Boston Common, yet urban and suburban development have alike missed it, except as to a gathering of cemeteries in the region close by. It is easily reachable, by train to West Roxbury, or even more conveniently by trolley. And there are still the traces of the main entrance and gateway; there is still the same general aspect, of walls trailed over with the scarlet barberry, of rolling meadows and woodland, of dips and hollows alternating with little heights, of pine trees, scattered or thickly massed.
A Lutheran Home stands on the spot where the main building of the farmers stood, and, such having been the fiery devastation, the only house standing that stood when they were there is a little place which somehow gained the name of "Margaret Fuller's cottage"; for the reason, as it was long ago quaintly said, that it was the only building there with which Margaret Fuller had nothing to do! But it was a building with which, undoubtedly, Hawthorne and Dana had to do, and probably all of them.
It stands on a still lonely spot; a small house, steep-roofed, four-gabled, of broad and unplaned clapboards, and with windows of so oddly unusual a size as to lead to the impression that the sash are probably some of the very sash that the Brook Farmers made and unsuccessfully tried to market.
Pictorial pudding-stones of enormous size dot the landscape – one marvels that with such outward and visible signs of an unkindly soil Ripley could ever have deceived himself and the others into faith that the land had possibilities! – and immediately in front of this cottage is such a stone, over six feet in height and of twice that length. All about stretches away a land without levels, with little pools in the hollows, with trees in clumps and singles and masses, with rocky rolling swells, and with the Charles flowing quietly by. And the breeze blowing across the meadows blows fresh from a land of pure romance.
About the same distance from the center of Boston as is Brook Farm, but off to the eastward, near the coast, are two small homes which also are important in New England history and which also stand for romance, though here the romance is of a different character, for it is the typically American romance of success, the romance of rising from humble surroundings to lofty place.
It is in Quincy that these two small homes stand, the little homes in which were born two men of American romance. And I do not mean John Hancock, although he was born in Quincy, for he was not of financially straitened ancestry; I mean those two Quincy-born men, John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams. And the town of Quincy is the only place that enjoys the honorable distinction of being the birthplace of two Presidents of the United States.
The houses in which these two Presidents that were to be, were born, are of rather humble type, but sweet and cheerful and comfortable, with an air, as it were, of self-respect. The two stand close to each other, almost touching shoulders. One looks first at the house in which John Adams was born, small and unimpressive as it is, and then at the house to which he took his wife, a home just as simple, where their son John Quincy was born. It is amazing and it is inspiring to realize that from such homes men could rise to the highest places of leadership and to the very Presidency, and the close conjunction of the two houses adds much to the dramatic effect.
The Fairbanks House, Dedham - Probably the oldest in New England
John Adams fell in love with a connection of the Quincys, a powerful and wealthy family, and they from the first discerned his unusual qualities and did not oppose the match, and the marriage was of great practical aid in his advancement. And his wife, Abigail Smith, instead of being one who was always urging him to extravagance or pretentiousness, as a daughter of the wealthy Quincys might so easily have been, was a woman of much good sense and of moderation. It is delightful to find her writing to him, when she learns that he is likely to be sent as ambassador abroad, and when it would be expected that she would eagerly urge such brilliant advancement, that "this little cottage has more heart-felt satisfaction for you than the most brilliant court can afford." And that this Abigail of the aristocrats was really a finely sturdy American was further shown in many ways, as by her answer to an Englishman, on the ship on which she herself crossed the ocean; for when he asked, over and over, what was the family of this or that American, she told him "that merit, not title, gave a man preeminence in our country; that I did not doubt it was a mortifying circumstance to the British nobility to find themselves so often defeated by mechanics and mere husbandmen; but that we esteemed it our glory to draw such characters not only into the field but into the senate."
Adams, from such a humble birthplace and such a humble home, was quite equal to upholding his dignity and that of his country abroad, and to hold with honor the office of President of the United States. But it is rather amusing, and it is highly interesting, looking at these plain and little homes, to remember that, in a letter to his wife, in 1797, after his election to the Presidency, he wrote, addressing his wife as "My dearest friend," a form in use at that period between married folk, and signing himself "Tenderly yours," a form even yet not entirely gone out of fashion:
"I hope you will not communicate to anybody the hints I give you about our prospects; but they appear every day worse and worse. House rent at twenty-seven hundred dollars a year, fifteen hundred dollars for a carriage, one thousand for one pair of horses, all the glasses, ornaments, kitchen furniture, the best chairs, settees, plateaus, &c., all to purchase, and not a farthing probably will the House of Representatives allow, though the Senate have voted a small addition. All the linen besides. I shall not pretend to keep more than one pair of horses for a carriage, and one for a saddle. Secretaries, servants, wood, charities which are demanded as a right, and the million dittoes present such a prospect as is enough to disgust any one.
Yet not one word must we say. We must stand our ground as long as we can."
John Adams was very much of a man; and it should be remembered that it was he who, New Englander though he was, was broad enough to nominate, in the Continental Congress, George Washington to be commander-in-chief of the American forces. Jefferson said of John Adams that he was "our Colossus on the floor; not graceful, not elegant, not always fluent, but with power both of thought and of expression."
Adams and Jefferson, it will be remembered, both lived until the fiftieth anniversary of the event with which both had so much to do, the making of the Declaration; and both, by one of the most remarkable coincidences in history, died not only in 1826, the fiftieth year, but actually on July the Fourth.
The two Adamses, the two Presidents, father and son, were not only born in adjoining houses, but sleep their last sleep in adjoining tombs; for both lie in granite chambers beneath the portico of the Stone Temple, that fine-looking church, solid and of excellent proportions, with round-topped tower, which faces into Quincy Square.
There are at least three homes of the Quincy family in Quincy, but it is one in particular that is meant when the "Quincy homestead" is referred to by any one of the neighborhood. (The Massachusetts way of pronouncing "Quincy" is as if the family suffer from a well-known affection of the throat.)
The homestead is away from the thick-settled part of the city of Quincy, and is set nestlingly beside a stream, now little, which in the long ago was navigable for smallish boats. It is a great dormer-windowed mansion, quaint, rambling and romantic, with attractive roof lines, and is now in the possession of a patriotic society, and filled with its own furniture of the past. It is a house of innumerable spacious and low-ceilinged rooms; it was always an aristocrat's house, and presumably it was deemed none the less aristocratic from its owner being a bit of a buccaneer. It is a house of one romantic room after another; a house unusually full of charm, even compared with other ancient houses; a house dating back, as to its main portion, for over two centuries; that main part having incorporated within it a still earlier portion dating back into the sixteen hundreds. And it contains what seems surely the most elaborate and most cleverly constructed secret hiding space, between floors, in America, this space being an entire false room, entered by a secret entrance, and of quite unsuspected existence through any outward appearance, the room above it and the room below being reached separately from each other from another part of the house.
This building, so extremely interesting in appearance and age, possesses a definite interest in that it was the home of the two Dorothy Q.'s, those delightfully cognomened young women who float with that romantic designation through New England history and reminiscences. And the adherents of either one of the Dorothy Q. Is are always ready to do battle for her as being of more prominence than the other Dorothy Q. Perhaps none but New Englanders would be interested in following out the precise genealogical lines, but at least one may say that the Dorothy Q. who is remembered because she figures pleasantly in American poetry, was born here in 1709, and that the other Dorothy Q. was born here some forty years later and became the wife of John Hancock.
A pleasant tradition still keeps in mind that it was in a room with a beautiful wallpaper newly imported from Paris that Hancock proposed to his Dorothy Q. and was accepted, and the very room is remembered and the very wallpaper is still on the walls; an oddly striking paper, with much of queer red in its composition and with little Cupids and Venuses often recurring.
A little farther along the coast, to the southward from Quincy, is Marshfield, long the beloved home of Daniel Webster, and where he died. To some extent the mighty Webster has already been forgotten; his immense and overshadowing fame has to quite a degree vanished; and this is largely owing to his having disappointed all New England by his ill-fated "Ichabod" speech on the subject of compromise with slavery. And that Whittier, a poet far from first-rate, could by his tremendous "Ichabod" lines be conqueror of one of the mighty orators of all history, shows curiously the essential strength of literature as compared with oratory. The people of New England could not forget that they had honored and trusted Webster absolutely, they could not but see that he acted against their profoundest principles; they might in time have forgiven, through realizing that Webster discerned, what they could not discern, how dreadful would be the impending conflict, and that it was because of this that he was willing to temporize. But Whittier wrote "Ichabod," and the proud crest of Webster sank.
Webster owned two thousand acres of land, bordering on the sea. Much was woodland; much was given over to fruit trees; he was an enthusiastic farmer and tree grower. Planted under his personal direction were fully a hundred thousand trees, and he had a great stock of pedigreed cattle, with many horses and even some llamas; he had poultry of the finest breeds, and even peacocks. He saw to the making of paths and pools and walls. He lived like a princely farmer, spending money with lavishness. But always first in his affection was the ocean, with its might and mystery.
His house was burned, some years after his death, and all the barns and outbuildings but a single tiny little one-story structure, really but a but, which he sometimes used as an office or study, in accordance with the practice of the old-time New England lawyers. Another house has been built, but there is a general sense of something lost and wanting.
It is pleasant to know that Webster's own neighbors, his immediate friends, in Marshfield and Boston, were loyal to him at the last; it is pleasant to know that after his final speech, in Boston, in 1852, the year in which he died, a huge crowd followed him to his hotel in that city and that he was escorted by a thousand horsemen; it is pleasant to know that, going down to Marshfield, thousands and thousands met him, men and women and children, and that many of them accompanied him throughout the ten miles from the station to his home – there was then no nearer station – and that for all that distance the way was lined with his admirers, strewing garlands.
When he knew he was dying, he loved to look off toward the beloved ocean, and at night he loved to see the light that swung at the masthead of his yacht; and as Death crept nearer, he one day had himself placed at his door, while his cattle and horses were led by in a long procession.
On the very last of his days he was heard to murmur, "On the 24th of October all that is mortal of Daniel Webster will be no more." He was buried in his favorite costume, with blue coat with gilt buttons, with white cravat, with silk stockings, waistcoat, trousers, patent-leather shoes and gloves. And more than eight thousand people solemnly followed his body to the grave.
It is a lonely place, a spot of peculiar desolateness, where Webster lies buried. It is a long distance from any house; a little tablet by the roadside, near the house that has been built where his own home once stood, points the traveler down a pathway that winds far off to a distant burying-ground, upon a little bit of low-rising land, in the midst of a great salt-marsh meadow. It is desolate, it is lonely. Once an ancient little church stood beside this burying-ground, but it long ago vanished, leaving no sign of why the few graves are here, although among them are some of very early Pilgrim stock. But the lonely graveyard is not neglected, and it is impressive in its barrenness, its desolation. In all, it is even beautiful here, with a strange and somber beauty.
One thinks of his triumphant oratory, his splendidness, of the power he possessed, of the idolatry he inspired. And what superb poise the man possessed, whether one trusts to humorous stories or to grave! He could thrill immense audiences with a word, a gesture, even with his moments of stately silence. It might have been of the Orator instead of the Bellman that the poet wrote when he said: "They all praised to the skies – such a carriage, such ease and such grace! Such solemnity, too! One could see he was wise the moment one looked on his face!" That is just it: Webster not only was a great man, but he looked the part as much as any man ever did.
But there was also a cheerfully human side to him; with his friends, he was a delightful dinner companion and story-teller, cheerful and gay; yet even at dinner he did not forget his stately poise; I suppose he could not put it away even if he would; and one remembers the perhaps apocryphal tale of his carving, at dinner, and unfortunately letting the bird slip into his neighbor's lap, and of the booming intonation of his calm request, "May I trouble you for the turkey, madame?" And one remembers the immensely illustrative tale, not apocryphal, of Webster at the Jenny Lind concert in Boston, when the Swedish singer, aglow with happiness, came out and bowed to the great audience in response to tumultuous acclaim and the mighty Daniel arose in his place in the audience and returned the bow!