July 11, 2006

Hawthornes Reunited

Hawthornes Reunited

Last Monday afternoon I went bathing in Walden with the Emersons, and had a very nice time. Julian has quite recovered his proportions after the mumps, and was able to go down with me but he did not bathe. . . . Friday afternoon Rose and Abby Alcott and I went blackberrying in Walden woods and got several quarts….I think all things considered I had rather be here in Concord than anywhere else, even in my dear England.

Una Hawthorne, daughter of Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1862, Returned to Concord, 6/26/06.
old_manse

The Old Manse [Colin Baker]

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne and her daughter Una were re-interred a few weeks ago, their remains moved from London to the Concord MA cemetery where Sophia’s husband Nathaniel Hawthorne is buried. Mid-prep for tonight’s show, we figured we had to make a day trip for the ceremony.

Visiting Concord, it seems that every stone, every brick, and every pane of glass is duly plaqued to note its Transcendental significance: There’s Emerson’s Old Manse, where Nathaniel and Sophia stayed for the first years of their marriage. There’s the vegetable garden Thoreau planted and tended as a wedding present for the couple. At Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, there’s the plot of land where they once talked of building a house together, now the same spot where the Emersons, the Thoreaus, the Alcotts, and the (now complete) Hawthorne family all rest side by side.

nun_hawthorne

Alison Hawthorne Deming, Hawthorne’s great great granddaughter, and Sister Mary Grace [Greta Pemberton]

Sitting under white tents on the lawn of the Manse for the memorial service, the air was as hot and stale as a family attic. Blue-haired Concordians turned out in their floral finest and watched as actors read from Sophia and Nathaniel’s love letters.

After breakfast, I go forth into my garden….I pass down through the orchard to the river-side, and ramble along its margin, in search of flowers for my wife. Usually I discern a fragrant white lily here and there along the shore, growing, with sweet prudishness, beyond the grasp of mortal arm. But it does not escape me so. I know what is its fitting destiny, better than the silly flower knows for itself; so I wade in, heedless of wet pantaloons, and seize the shy lily by its slender stem. . . . Having made up my bunch of flowers, I return with them to my wife, of whom what is loveliest among them are to me the imperfect emblems.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, c. 1843, Returned to Concord, 6/26/06.

I am thankful that I first know Spring after I am married. My heart is so full–it rises to so high a mark–it overflows so bountifully, that were there not another heart to receive my boundless love, I should feel sad & aimless. Oh lovely GOD! I thank thee that I can rush to my husband with all my many waters & sing & thunder with all my waves in the vast expanse of his comprehensive bosom. How I exult there– how I foam & sparkle in the sun of his love–how I wish for no broader region because I have as yet found no limit to this. I myself am spring with all its birds, its rivers, its buds, singing, rushing, blooming in his arms.

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, c. 1843, Returned to Concord, 6/26/06.

As we left the memorial service, the mood among the guests was uncharacteristically cheerful: our interest piqued, our Concord souls proud. No one mourned the distant departed, no one was frustrated at having to watch whole lives distilled down to eulogies. The artifacts we saw — manse, brick, pane — took on human form.

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  • I’m up in Boston for enough of the year (and close by enough the rest of the time) that I’m surprised I’ve never made the trek out to the Manse. I’m sure it’s a more worthwhile pilgrimage than Walden Pond. I’ve been there twice and always managed to leave rather unimpressed.

  • reader

    It was wonderful to hear this program this evening. I’d been curious about Sophia Hawthorne for some time, having read Brenda Wineapple’s life of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and was glad to hear her voice, in concert with her justly famous husband’s, celebrated. I’m grateful for Open Source’s salute to the extraordinary productivity, eloquence, and spirit of the great writers (whether published or not) of that period, with a brutal but necessary Civil War looming and they themselves often struggling under extreme financial pressure and mainstream rejection.