HAWTHORNE, THE HIPPIE, AND THE SQUARE
A MEMBER OF MY FRESHMAN HUMANITIES SECTION speaks to the
class on "The Hippie and the Square.'' On this assignment unlike some
others he has clearly invested some thought and much emotion, so I
give him my best attention. But as I listen, and as I talk with him after
class, I have the feeling that I have met the thesis and the categories
before, under different names and in varying combinations and
emphases, but still recognizable. In part, his division of mankind goes
back to the Bhagavad-Gita and to the story of Mary and Martha. But to
me his talk has (and not, I believe, simply because American literature
is my specialty) a peculiarly American ring. In the terms of his attack
on American society, but above all in the attack itself, he unconsciously
follows a venerable American tradition. The thought would shock him.
I am especially reminded of Hawthorne, a man whose thought is more
radical and more modern (or more timeless) than we usually recognize
behind the eighteenth-century urbanity of his style, his allegorical habit,
and his historical settings.
My student's definitions and distinctions are not sharply drawn,
but the general outlines of his two types are clear. Whatever reality the
hippie may have in fact, he is by now well established as an American
image, joining the Pilgrim Father, the Puritan, the Pioneer, and the
Prohibitionist as figures, honored or hated, and always shifting, through
which we have tried to understand ourselves.
Within this outline, as it stands at the moment, the hippie is seen
as the seeker of peace, love, and joy. He is not hung up. Freed from
materialism, from the past, from traditions, institutions, inherited
customs, values, and restraints, he is open to the flow of experience.
Acceptance of the body frees his senses for the apprehension of beauty
beauty. He rejects Christianity, my student tells me, but sees some
possibilities in Buddhism. Christianity, one assumes, is associated too
strongly with war, acquisitiveness, and asceticism. Behind the whole
complex is a large unstated and unexamined assumption. But examining
assumptions is a part of the rationalism and traditionalism the hippie
rejects. The assumption is that man does not grow into peace, love, and
joy through study, contemplation, discipline, self-restraint. They are his
natural inheritance. He is not a bucket to be filled, laboriously, with
goodness by church, family, society. Rather, he is a spring in which
goodness and happiness bubble up unless clogged or polluted by ancient
The square is an even more familiar figure. If, as my student tells
me, he has always run America (but not run it well), he should be
familiar. He is a churchgoer, but if there.are peace, love, or joy in
Christianity the square misses them. His Christianity is selective,
yielding him righteousness and respectability, but not forbidding those
things to which he is attracted. He is attracted to wealth, power,
competition. He approves of war as group competition at its most
intense. He stresses sobriety and distrusts the senses. But relation of
cause and effect is not clear. Perhaps he rejects beauty and joy because
they interfere with business efficiency; perhaps he is driven to efficiency
and aggression by his lack of beauty and joy .
My student offers little help on the sources of his ideas. When
I ask him, he says, ''I've just been rapping in the dorms.'' But if
ultimately his types go back to whoever first set out to distinguish the
contemplative from the active life, it is not too difficult to trace them
more immediately to such sources as McLuhan, Marcuse, and Norman
O. Brown. If my student has just been rapping, someone in the dorm has
been reading. It is almost a critical cliche now to see the whole complex
of thought my student represents as part of a ''New Romanticism''
descended from the earlier Romantics, particularly Blake. In America it
goes back farther than the Romantics and its history is more continuous.
The aspiration, the longing, my student shares is a part of the American
Dream: und however sour that dream may turn at times it is a real part
of American thought and feeling, perhaps most present when it is most
denied. So many would not, from the start, have seen our cquntry as a
nightmare if they had not unconsciously expected it to be a pleasant
At this point I am tempted to trace that tradition in a long
digression, but the digression might grow to book length. One can see
the Pilgrims as drop-outs from, and the Puritans as rebels against, an
ecclesiastical Establishment that stood too much between individual men
and women and their God, an Establishment that had grown hypocritical
and mechanical. One could point out the extent to which Puritan traits
are still visible in our hippies.1 One could move on to the intuitional
and libertarian rebellion of Ann Hutchinson (''the sainted Ann
Hutchinson" Hawthorne calls her in The Scarlet Letter) and Roger
Williams against the orthodoxy the Puritan rebels established, and then
to the Transcendentalist revolt. How near Emerson was to our day,
scholars who translate his philosophical terms into the terms of modern
psychology are only now finding out.2 One could add Walt Whitman,
hero of the 'Beats " who preceded the hippies; Melville's picture of
mixed piety and greed in Captains Peleg and Bildad; Twain's view of
society from the underside in Huckleberry Finn; James's portraits of the
square in the Newsomes and Pococks of The Ambassadors, and the
pictures Lewis gives us in Main Street and Babbitt. Speaking of Lewis,
as one reads the writers of the 1920s now, it is surprising how close
their mood is to that of the hippies.3 But in an essay on Hawthorne,
longer digression would be intolerable. Let it suffice that if the square
has dominated American life he has fared badly in serious American
literature, and that even Ben Franklin was less square than D. H.
Lawrence has painted him.
Hawthorne is our most instructive illustration of continuity. In his
dissatisfactions, in his vision of the good life and the good society, in
his analysis of psychological and social forces that contribute to or block
the good life or the good society, he is often strikingly similar to
disaffected youth of 1970. Perhaps in his points of difference with that
youth he is also instructive. He deals more thoughtfully than any other
American writer save possibly Melville with the issues raised (but
usually not answered) by the hippie ethic: the individual and society,
freedom and responsibility, emotion and reason, law and love.
The issue of peace to begin with the usual starting point of the
hippie was, until the Civil War, less pressing in Hawthorne's time than
in ours. But note that Emerson and Thoreau worked out early in their
careers justification for withdrawal from active politics to make possible
contemplation and growth of the soul. (Emerson's "Ode, Inscribed to W.
H. Channing" is one of many statements of that justification.) Yet both
abandoned their position to passionately defend John Brown.4 They
became, as it were, activists rather than hippies, and activists in a
dubious cause. Hawthorne neither withdrew frpm politics when young
nor threw himself passionately into them when old. He abhorred equally
the violence of slavery and the anti-slavery violence of John Brown. His
lack of enthusiasm for the Civil War was such that the Atlantic was
doubtful about accepting his last sketches. As we look back now on how
much the Civil War cost and how much it failed to accomplish we may
see some virtue in his position.
At the center ol Hawthorne's thought and feeling is the paradox
that each person is sacred and must be free, and that at the same time
he is incomplete and must have society and love for his completion.
Q. D. Leavis is right in saying that the relation of the individual to
society is his special theme, and R. W. B. Lewis is right in adding that
he is particularly qualified to deal with the theme because he can
sympathize with both.5 In this balancing of claims he is more modern
than the Transcendentalists, who, for all their essays on love and
friendship, placed almost unlimited reliance on the individual soul.
The case for individual freedom and dignity is made by
Dimmesdale, of The Scarlet Letter. His sin and Hester's he says is not
so great as that of Chillingworth: "He has violated, in cold blood, the
sanctity of the human heart."6 All of Hawthorne's chief sinners are men
who in pride of position, wealth, or intellect violate that sanctity:
Chillingworth, Rappaccini, Ethan Brand, Hollingsworth, Colonel
Pyncheon and Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon. Societies, as well as individuals,
may be guilty. Witness the Puritan villages of "The Gentle Boy'' and
The Scarlet Letter. "The action of the novel springs," says Lewis of The
Scarlet Letter, ''from the enormous but improbable suggestion that the
society's estimate of the moral structure of the universe may be tested
and found inaccurate.''7
The need for the opposite pole of love and community
Hawthorne came to through his own loneliness and his desire to escape
from it, to "establish an intercourse with the world.'' The ''haunted
chamber'' in which he felt himself imprisoned until Sophia Peabody and
a political appointment drew him out has been a commonplace of
Hawthorne biography and criticism. Reacting from such isolation, he
filled his notebooks with observations on the common life about him.
It is probably not by sheer chance that while others supported Brook
Farm from outside, he alone of major figures of his time risked his
savings and seven months of his life in that experimental community.
But it was Sophia whom he hailed, again and again, in letters and
notebooks, as his deliverer. What she saved him from he called
"unreality." Gifted with unusual power to see through the superficial and
the false, he was, as he realized, all too prone to see as illusion what
most men take for reality, to find no value in things others value. Only
in close ties with others could he find the emotional vitality that makes
life meaningful. When he first parted with Sophia after his marriage for
a brief return to his mother's home he noted the difference Sophia had
made. ''But how changed was I! at last I had caught hold of a reality,
which never could be taken from me."8 Again he wrote to her, ''I should
be only a shadow of the night; it is you that give me reality, and make
all things real for me.''9 Of Phoebe, of The House of the Seven Gables,
he exclaimed: "She was real! Holding her hand, you felt something; a
substance, and a warm one; and so long as you should feel its grasp,
soft as it was, you might be certain that your place was good in the
whole sympathetic chain of human nature. The world was no longer a
delusion" (327). The reference to holding Phoebe's hand, ''a substance,
and a warm one,'' is a reminder that, in terms of a distinction he was
fond of making, Hawthorne loved with his heart, not only with his head.
Sophia's later attempts to blot such words as ''bedfellow'' from his
notebooks failed, and --- lest younger readers should be confused by the
nineteenth-century propriety of his words ---it is clear that the body was
involved. For all his withdrawal and reticence, he had spontaneous
emotional warmth that separates him from the abstracting tendencies of
the Transcendentalists and links him to the dissenters of our day.
''Unless you love someone nothing else makes sense" says a poster for
sale in college bookstores. Hawthorne would have agreed.
Hawthorne's age was like ours again in its concern with the
question of the meaning of time, and of how one responds to time.
Lewis follows Emerson in conveniently dividing writers of the period
into ''The Party of Hope'' and ''The Party of Memory.'' For Hawthorne
and Melville he creates a new class, ''The Party of Irony." The
classification is brilliant, but misses a facet of Hawthorne's mind.
Though such works as The House of the Seven Gables show that he
knew that the past lives on in the present, he shared the general
Romantic desire to escape from always looking before and after. He
even used the favorite term of our youth. When he was with Sophia, he
said, ''Then I feel that there is a Now, and that Now must be always
calm and happy."10 Rummaging through the library of the Old Manse
he found himself musing ''the fact that the works of man's intellect
decay like those of his hands. Thought grows mouldy. What was good
and nourishing food for the spirits of one generation affords no
sustenance for the next."11 He gives to Holgrave, Clifford, and Uncle
Venner attacks upon the tyranny of the past, upon inherited institutions,
ideas, and property, rivalling those expressed by Emerson in ''Nature.''
The Past, says Holgrave, is Death, and death controls our property, rules
our courts, gives forms to our worship of living Deity. We live in dead
men's houses, built as foundations for perpetuating our families. But the
houses should be burnt, and the families ''once in every half-century, at
longest, should be merged into the great, obscure mass of humanity'' (pp
352-54). That the older, happier, and wealthier Holgrave reverses
himself proves only that Hawthorne belongs to the Party of Irony, not
that he had himself repudiated the view. The fall of once proud and
wealthy families into decay is presented so often and approvingly in the
American Notebooks that Stewart treats it as one of Hawthorne's major
themes.12 A chapter in Our Old Home, his last book published during
his lile, ends with the contrast between the mass marriage of a crowd ol
Manchester poor and the marriage of two of Manchester's wealthiest.
One parson and one service had amalgamated the wretchedness of scores
of paupers; a Bishop and three or four clergymen had combined their
spiritual might to forge the golden links of this other marriage-bond."
The poor returned to their hovels, while the wealthy pair returned to a
"fair property" which "seemed more exclusively and inalienably their
own, because of its descent through many forefathers." But Hawthorne
continued, 'And is it possible, after all, that there may be a flaw in the
title-deeds? Is, or is not, the system wrong that gives one married pair
so immense a superfluity of luxurious home, and shuts out a million
others from any home whatever?" That question, he concluded, "the
gentlemen of England" must some day answer.13
Hawthorne feared the dominance of the past, then, both because
it blocks unselfconscious joy in the present, and because it perpetuates
injustice and suffering. In his sympathy with all who suffer, in the
quality that would now be called compassion, is another link to the
hippie. Certainly he felt compassion with an intensity less sensitive and
imaginative men, of his time or ours, cannot match. Perhaps too his
religious faith, which our age has largely lost, enabled him to feel more
strongly for the welfare of others. For Hawthorne had more at stake. He
linked inequality and injustice to the question of immortality. Viewing
the slum children of Manchester he speculated: "It might almost make
a man doubt the existence of his own soul to observe how Nature has
flung these little wretches into the street and left them there, so
evidently regarding them as nothing worth, and how all mankind
acquiesce in the great mother's estimate of her offspring. For, if they are
to have no immortality, what superior claim can I assert for mine?"
It is the intensity of his feeling, I believe, that builds the marked
rhythms of his sentences as he continues. First he sees the children of
Victorian poverty as the "hideous bugs and many-footed worms" he
found under logs as a boy, but soon the image changes to that of the
body beneath dark water so frequently found in his novels:14 "Ah, what
a mystery! Slowly, slowly, as after groping at the bottom of a deep
noisome, stagnant pool, my hope struggles up~vard to the surface, bearing
the halfdrowned body of a child along with it, and heaving it aloft for
its life, and my own life, and all our lives. Unless these slime-clogged
nostrils can be made capable of inhaling celestial air, I know not how
the purest and most intellectual of us can reasonably hope to taste a
breath of it. The whole question of eternity is staked there. If a single
one of these helpless little ones be lost, the world is lost."15 The same
theme is continued in Hawthorne"s visit to the children's ward of a
workhouse, where a "sickly, wretched, humor-eaten infant, the offspring
of unspeakable sin and sorrow" held up its arms to him. Hawthorne
lifted the child and comforted it, explaining, "No doubt, the child's
mission in reference to our friend was to remind him that he was
responsible, in his degree, for all the suffering and misdemeanors of the
world in which he lived, and was not entitled to look upon a particle of
its dark calamity as if it were none of his concern."16 It is typical that
he should have disguised himself through the use of the third person.
His English Notebooks, not originally intended for publication, reveal
"our friend's" true identity. But more important is the feeling of
responsibility for the child. Hawthorne goes beyond ''compassion" into
what Howells (who must certainly have been helped in discovering the
theme through his reading of Hawthorne) called "complicity." Stephen
Crane, in turn, was to borrow the word and the theme from Howells and
give them one of their finest expressions in "The Blue Hotel."
With the sense of complicity goes an attack on the proud,
insensitive, and successful, who are seen as denying their part in sin and
suffering. Hawthorne, like the hippies, saw such qualities as related and
as characterizing a group, the group now called the Establishment. It is
clear in The Scarlet [ester that the judges who judge Hester are unfit to
judge. "Young Goodman Brown" carries the suggestion further with its
vision of corruption in deacon, magistrate, and priest. In The House of
the Seven Gables Hawthorne states directly in his own person what
"Young Goodman Brown" so ambiguously suggests: "Since there must
be evil in the world . . . a high man is as likely to grasp his share of it,
as a low one" (p. 322). Although he here as always qualifies by noting
that all share in evil, the novel shows it particularly among the wealthy,
powerful, and respectable. His sympathetic characters are, like
Huckleberry Finn, from the bottom of society. Like Twain, or the
hippies, or Bret Harte but without his sentimentality, he gives us a
reverse view of society, seen from the bottom and with a preponderance
of virtue at the bottom and evil at the top.
Symptomatic of the degree of social corruption are false official
images and a general inability to recognize evil in high places. As the
hippies would say, you can't trust the media. Only the innocent Phoebe,
the recluse Hepzibah, the jail-bird Clifford; and the speculative radical
Holgrave see the real Judge Pyncheon. All others are so caught up in the
material values he represents that, consciously at least, they accept the
face he presents to the public. In an impressively developed passage
Hawthorne compares the public image of Judge Pyncheon to a stately
palace. But, he continues, "in some low and obscure nook, some narrow
closet on the ground floor, shut, locked, and bolted, and the key flung
away or beneath the marble pavement in a stagnant water-puddle, with
the richest pattern of mosaic work above it may lie a corpse,
halfdecayed and still decaying, and diffusing its death-scent all through
the palace." Familiarity will make the "inhabitants" miss the scent; for
"visitors" it will be covered by the "rich odors" scattered through the
house. But to the "seer" the palace will "melt into thin air, leaving only
the little nook, the bolted closet" (pp. 380-81).
The palace and its rich odors are the Judge's distinguished career
and his ostentatious good deeds, all adding up to a man of "high respecta-
bility," as Hawthorne notes at his first appearance and stresses at every
opportunity thereafter. Both the career and the good deeds Hawthorne
develops at length, but it is more to our purpose here to quote Hyatt
Waggoner's translation of Judge Pyncheon's image into contemporary
If Hawthorne were writing the book today, he would
have to make him a suburban Republican active in the
Chamber of Commerce, opposed to fair housing laws
because they endanger the rights of property, a member
of a country club that excludes almost everyone, willing
chairman when his turn comes of the United Fund or
Community Chest drive, a trustee of a hospital and a
college, a man who despite all his good works is known
as a realist with his feet on the ground who can be
trusted never to be taken in by baseless idealism, or any
other "isms," a staunch defender of the American way of
life, and a senior warden of a wealthy Episcopal
Since the official views of the Establishment control men's
minds, there is little hope for justice through established institutions.
Hepzibah knows that the truly insane man is Judge Pyncheon. Yet when
the Judge threatens to accuse Clifford of insanity unless he reveals the
title to the northern lands, she knows better than to call for help: "But
how wild, how almost laughable the fatality, and yet how continually
it comes to pass, thought Hepzibah, in this dull delirium of a
world, that whosoever, and with however kindly a purpose, should
come to help, they would be sure to help the strongest side!" (p. 389).
In Hawthorne, as in Huckleberrv Finn, if justice triumphs in the end it
is not because of but in spite of the official institutions of justice; justice
is supplied by Providence, or by the author's manipulation.
Yet for all the "darkness" Melville celebrated in Hawthorne, he
was never the complete pessimist. If he insisted on evil in all men he
also insisted on the good in nearly all. If the masses' heads are addled,
there is a residium of virtue in their hearts; when they judge with their
hearts, as he tells us in The Scarlet Letter, they judge correctly. Though
the Judge and his Puritan ancestor the Colonel are praised in sermons,
on gravestones, and in written history, Hawthorne observes the "vast
discrepancy" between "these cold, formal, and empty words of the chisel
that inscribes, the voice that speaks, and the pen that writes for the
public eye and for distant time" and "the pencil sketches that pass from
hand to hand, behind the original's back" (p. 316). Melville was to
develop the same theme in Billy Budd. Billy is recorded in official
Naval records as an example of "extreme depravity," but in the living
tradition of enlisted sailors a chip from the spar from which he was
hanged is cherished as "a piece of the Cross." Holgrave's camera too,
using honest sunlight as its medium of portraiture, sees the true Jaffrey
Pyncheon. The implication should please our hippies nature is in
sympathy with truth and with the lowly.
Judge Pyncheon is a "capatalist," as Hawthorne keeps reminding
us. The term was new in Hawthorne's time and Hawthorne is concerned
with showing us a man of his own time. Yet he is equally concerned
with showing the Judge as a current version of a continuing type, a
surface modidcation of his Puritan ancestor to ft modern conditions, but
with the resemblance of his photo to the Colonel's portrait revealing the
true continuity. In his account of that adaptation, Hawthorne touches
notes which are "modern" not only for 1850 but for 1970. The Judge is
a hypocrite of a special form, unknown to his more frankly aristocratic
ancestors. To hold power in a democratic society he must pretend an
equality he does not believe; he must bend lower in proportion as he
feels himself above the man he meets, and put on a smile that, as
Hawthorne remarks in the best tall-tale tradition, would ripen grapes. He
is a manipulator of the democratic process, "skilled to adjust those
preliminary measures, which steal from the people, without its
knowledge, the power of choosing its own rulers" (p. 407). Yet
Hawthorne is penetrating enough to know that such a man is not a
conscious hypocrite. Rather, he is "unfortunately situated, seldom or
never looking inward, and resolutely taking his idea of himself from
what purports to be his image." Such men are untroubled by conscience
"unless it might be for the little space of five minutes in the twenty-four
hours" (pp. 380-82).
On those qualities that in part contribute toward success and in
part result from it, Hawthorne again anticipates more recent social
critics. The Puritan Colonel who founded the Pyncheon line in America
was "endowed with common-sense, as massive and hard as blocks of
granite, fastened together by stern rigidity of purpose, as with iron
clamps" (p. 247). In other Puritan portraits and in his pictures of current
worldly success Hawthorne stressed images of iron, granite, rigidity. He
stressed, as James, Sherwood Anderson and others were to stress, the
loss that goes with achieving, the high price paid for the favors of the
Bitch Goddess. An unbalance, an overdevelopment of some aspects of
personality and underdevelopment of others, results in character that
Hawthorne could usually pity while he condemned. Of Judge Pyncheon
he exclaimed, 'Surely, it must have been at no slight cost, that he had
thus fortified his soul with iron!'' (p. 386). A part of the loss is lack of
self-knowledge, an inability to look inward. Another is the "hard texture
of the sensibilities," what the young of 1970 would call lack of
sensitivity. The emphasis on "common-sense" and business, together
with hostility to art and beauty, gives a narrow focus that aids
efficiency, but certainly at the cost of love, perception, and joy. Such
men collect ''splendid rubbish" and ''big, heavy, solid unrealities," but as
James's Strether would say, they live less.
In the Hawthorne value system the loss of love, particularly
domestic love, is crucial. The Puritan Colonel, we are told, "had worn
out three wives . . . merely by the remorseless weight and hardness of
his character.'' The Judge had lost his wife early in marriage, and
according to ''fable'' or folk rumor she had died heart-broken. Is it
speculating too wildly to see Hawthorne as approaching the analysis,
common to our time, that sees acquisitiveness and aggressiveness allied
to an exaggerated and false concept of the male role'? The Colonel, he
tells us, ''had clothed himself in a grim assumption of kindliness, a
rough heartiness of word and manner, which most people took to be the
genuine warmth of nature, making its way through the thick and
inflexible hide of a manly character" (p. 316). I have added emphasis.
To see Hawthorne as a defender of joy, lamenting its absence among the
squares of his day, may seem paradoxical to those accustomed to
stressing his "darkness." But to some extent the emphasis on gloom in
Hawthorne is the result of recent critical fashion.18 As he repeatedly
explained, the gloom of his stories was not the product of his will. He
repeatedly promised his publisher, Fields, "a more genial book," or a
"sunshiny" one, but he added, "the Devil himself seems to get into my
inkstand." The novels he wanted to write would have resembled
Trollope's.19 His notebooks record his longing for brightness. Though
his American Notes show him falling in with a surprising number of
funeral processions they also show him enjoying such bright spots as a
girl met on his travels: "If she were larger than she is, and of less
pleasing aspect, I think she might be intolerable; but being so small, and
with a white skin, healthy as a wild flower, she is really very agreeable;
and to look at her face is like being shone upon by a ray of the sun."20
His first reaction to an English almshouse was ''that the sense of beauty
was insuffciently regarded in all the arrangements."21 In The House of
the Seven Gables, Clifford (a true flower child) blows soap bubbles
from an arched upper window. Hawthorne's account of the reactions of
those on whom they fall shows his sympathy with beauty, imagination,
the spirit of play: "It was curious to see how the passers-by regarded
these brilliant fantasies, as they came floating down, and made the dull
atmosphere imaginative about them. Some stopt to gaze, and perhaps
carried a pleasant recollection of the bubbles onward, as far as the
street-corner; some looked angrily upward, as if poor Clifford wronged
them, by setting an image of beauty so near their dusty pathway. A
great many put out their fingers, or their walking-sticks, to touch withal,
and were perversely gratified, no doubt, when the bubble, with all its
pictured earth and sky-scene, vanished as if it had never been" (p. 346).
Hawthorne even anticipates our hippies (and D. H. Lawrence and
other critics of the twenties) in suspecting that modern times more than
earlier times and America more than other nations are hostile to joy and
beauty. A sense of loss of color, gaiety, ancient customs and rituals runs
through The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne feared that in the new world and
the new day even physical vigor might be declining: "for throughout that
chain of ancestry [since the Puritan migration] every successive mother
has transmitted to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate and briefer
beauty, and a slighter physical frame" (p. 114). "Refinement" may have
been gained, but Hawthorne, as always, notes the price. But "The
Maypole of Merrymount'' is the chief case in point. It is largely on this
story that Q. D. Leavis has advanced her thesis that the gains and losses
involved in transmitting culture from England to America form one of
Hawthorne's major concerns.
Hawthorne calls the story a ''sort of allegory" dealing with an
episode in which "jollity and gloom were contending for an empire."
Leavis has commented on the care and artistic brilliance with which he
balances accounts, including modifications in the true history of
Merrymount in order to make that colony fully representative of "the
immemorial culture of the English folk with its Catholic and ultimately
pagan roots, preserved in song and dance, festivals and superstitions, and
especially the rites and dramatic practices of which the May-Day
ceremonies were the key."22 She concludes that Hawthorne saw it as a
''disaster for New England" that the traditions of Merrymount and of the
Puritans could not be reconciled. My student ends his paper on a similar
note that the hope of America lies in uniting the hippie and the square.
Certainly the opening of the story shows the hippie and the
square as the hippie views them. Though there is a subtle shift during
the course of the story, sympathy remains divided. If the revellers of
Merrymount win, Hawthorne tells us, they will "pour sunshine over New
England's rugged hills, and scatter flower seeds throughout the veil.'' The
Puritans, who ''unfortunately'' are in the same land, are "most dismal
wretches.'' Hawthorne presents them through the familiar images of iron,
granite, darkness, black shadows. It is they, not the triflers of
Merrymount, whom Hawthorne accuses of "superstition." Their
whipping post, he tells us, ''might be termed the Puritan maypole," and
the institution of which they are most proud, as showing their "well
ordered settlements," is the stocks. They are given, in short, the
combination of solemnity, piety, avariciousness, and disciplined violence
which our hippies see as ultimate square vices ''Their weapons are
always at hand to shoot down the straggling savage." They meet not '`to
keep up the old English mirth" but to hear three-hour sermons ''or to
proclaim bounties on the heads of wolves and the scalps of Indians." In
a final assault on beauty and individual freedom, Endicott orders that the
"long glossy curls" of the May Lord be cut "in the true pumpkin-shell
fashion." The indictment is thorough; the sense of loss in what he has
made Merrymount represent is real. In the terms used now by such
theologians as Harvey Cox, Hawthorne deplored the absence of
"festival" in American life. He never, in this story or elsewhere,
repudiated those things the hippie longs for. He did differ with the
hippie in his analysis of conditions under which they may be attainable,
and in his sense of human limitations.
First, he knew that all men are defective. ''Earth's Holocaust" is
his most striking statement of the theme, but every story and novel is
based on that premise. Those who ignore human imperfection in their
planning become, like Aylmer of "The Birthmark,'' destroyers rather than
creators. From his knowledge of universal depravity came and not as
paradoxically as it may seem a humility and a sense of social
solidarity too often lacking in our young critics of society. The society
with which he was concerned was a wider society. As we have noted,
his people are often ''saved'' through love for one other person. The heart
is touched by love, bringing warmth, or ''reality." But the saved one
does not then withdraw with his loved one in a society of the elect; he
does not join a Brook Farm or a commune. He returns to the larger
society, to what Lewis calls "the tribe." He is defective and
incomplete-as it is defective and incomplete; he needs it as it needs him.
Thus love unites Phoebe and Holgrave, but also serves the larger social
purpose of uniting two warring families, displacing hate by love and
"cleansing'' a cursed house. Love for Clifford brings Hepzibah out of
destructive pride and isolation into intercourse with the world. Hester is
saved at the end not by the "consecration of its own" she once thought
blessed her union with Dimmesdale, not by escape into the trackless
forest or to the Old World, but by returning to serve the people of her
village. Pearl offers the clearest example. The belated courage, honesty,
and love of Dimmesdale in the final scaffold scene effect her saving
miracle. Learning to love her father she learns also to love mankind and
becomes a part of the magic circle or magnetic chain of humanity:
''Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief in
which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and
as her tears fell upon her lather's cheek, they were a pledge that she
would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with
the world, but be a woman in it'' (p. 236).
The scene of Pearl's conversion (I think we must call it that)
suggests another distinction between Hawthorne and the hippie. He had
a different view of joy' a different view of the relation between joy and
sorrow, a different view of the part love plays in both joy and sorrow.
Note the linking of "joy and sorrow'' in the passage. Sorrow
accompanies joy in almost every reference Hawthorne makes. To
Longfellow he wrote in the days of his isolation in the haunted chamber
in Salem, "I can assure you that trouble is the next best thing to
enjoyment, and that there is no fate in this world so horrible as to have
no share in either its joys or sorrows."23 Not suffering, but existing
untouched, unawakened, is the true loss of life. Sorrow is an
unavoidable part of life, but a repeated pattern in Hawthorne's fiction
suggests that it may be a constructive part. Hepzibah, we are told, has
''been enriched by poverty, developed by sorrow, elevated by the strong
and solitary affection of her life." Phoebe half regrets that she is less
''merry'' then before she knew Hepzibah and Clifford and shared their
troubles, but trusts that she is wiser" than before. Holgrave assures her
that it is wrong to mourn for ''the first, careless, shallow gaiety of
youth.'' For in its place can come, if one loves, a "profound happiness
at youth regained, -so much deeper and richer than that we lost" (pp.
371-72). It is a scene of grief that develops Pearl's sympathies. Without
sympathy, in turn, there can be no escape from self, no reaching out to
love and through it to joy. Love, Hawthorne would agree with the
hippie, is the route to Joy. But he saw that it also has a logical
connection to sorrow. Of the Lord and Lady of May, in "The Maypole
of Merrymount," he observed, "From the moment that they truly loved,
they had subjected themselves to earth's doom of care and sorrow, and
had no more a home at MerryMount" (p. 85). Love binds us to others,
and thus to sharing in their sorrows as well as their joys. It commits us
to life, to warm awareness and vulnerability.
There are, then, different kinds of happiness; one label will not
cover all. Hawthorne, who chose his words carefully, used "joy'' only
once in "The Maypole of Merrymount,'' and then rel'erred to ''a troubled
joy.'' For the rest, the key words are "glee,'' ''mirth," "gay,'' ''jollity.''
Mirth, gaiety, jollity belong to the "silken'' people of Merrymount, and
before the end of the story they are forced and artificial, masks of "gay
despair," even among them. We are told of the people of Merrymount,
"Once, it is said, they were seen following a flower-decked corpse, with
merriment and festive movement to the grave. But did the dead man
laugh?" (p.86). In their treatment of death they tried to ignore a truth
that Hawthorne could never forget, and which he suggests we should not
ignore. It is a part of the falsity of Judge Pyncheon that he tried to
ignore it' crowding his life with material gain and public honors, and
fmally dying with his watch before him and his mind filled with
speculation on further gains to be made in the fiteen, twenty "yes,
perhaps fve and twenty" years he hoped lay before him. My freshman
student quotes, as the perfect expression of hippie belief, this couplet:
The Creator has a master plan
Peace and joy throughout the land.
Hawthorne, in addition to objecting to the false rhyme, would have
added qualifications. For the awakened person he saw a "troubled joy,"
including knowledge of sorrow, of death, of sin in which somehow we
all bear complicity, and with both joy and trouble intensifed by love,
linking us to others who share in the human condition.
With such distinctions, we can hardly call Hawthorne a true and
complete hippie. Neither can we deny that he shared the hippies'
aversions and the most essential of their desires. We can see him as
relevant the word is useful if overworked even to the hippie
generation. To do so we need those qualities in which he was strongest:
humility to accept as equals and as like ourselves people of all classes,
ages, and times, and historical imagination to see essential likeness of
one time to another beneath their superficial differences.
NORTHERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY
1 A recent immigrant, with the fresh perspective of the newcomer, has
been struck with how clearly the hippie is a part of older American
tradition. Only in America, he points out, do youth who turn to free
love, perversions, and drugs feel the need to turn them into virtues by
linking them to the cause of peace. Like Cotton Mather, they must
convince themselves that they are doing good before they can act. See
Leopold Tyrmand, "Reflections: Notebook of a Dilettante," New Yorker,
November 6, 1968, p. 72.
2 See William E Bridges, "Transcendentalism and Psychotherapy:
Another Look at Emerson," American Literature, XLI (1969), 157-77.
3 Frederick J. Hoffman sketches that mood in chapter 1, ' The Temper
of the Twenties," in The Twenties (New York, 1962).
4 Thomas Woodson comments (unfavorably) on Thoreau's change of
principles m "Thoreau on Poverty and Magnanimity," PMLA, LXXXI
5 Q. D. Leavis, ''Hawthorne as Poet," in Interpretarions of American
Charles Feidelson, Jr. and Paul Brodtkorb. Jr. (New York, 1959), p. 32;
R. W. B. Lewis, The American Adam (Chicago, 1955), p. 111.
6 The Complete Novels and Selected Tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne, ed.
Norman Holmes Pearson (New York, 1937), p. 200. All quotations from
the novels and stories are from this edition. Page numbers will hereafter
be given in parentheses in the text.
7 Lewis,p. 112.
8 American Notebooks, ed. Randall Stewart (New Haven, 1932), p. 174.
9 Julian Hawthorne, Hawthorne and His Wife(Boston, 1888), p. 238.
10 American Notebooks, pp. 203-4.
I I Mossesfrom an Old Manse (Philadelphia, 1891), p. 20.
12 Pp. Ixxvi-lxxix.
13 In Hawthorne in Eng/and, ed. Cushing Strout (Ithaca, 1965), pp.
14 See my essay, "The Body in Hawthorne's Fountain," Papers of the
Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters, Ll l (1967), 383-89.
I 5 Hawthorne in England, pp. 207-8.
16 Ibid., p. 2S8.
17 The House of the Seven Gables, ed. Hyatt H. Waggoner (Boston,
1964), pp. xi-xii.
18 See Howard Mumford Jones's comment: "The American wing of the
literary museum was virtually unvisited until rumor went round that
Melville and Hawthorne were seen there conversing with the devil." The
Bright Medusa (Urbane, 1952), p. 2.
19 F. Matthiessen, American Renaissance (New York, 1941), pp.
20 American Notebooks, p. 82.
21 Hawthorne in England, p. 223.
22 Interpretations of American Literature, p. 35
23 Matthiessen, p. 227.