Hawthorne Writes About Thoreau

from Passages from the American Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne
(Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1896)

5 August 1841

Mr. Thoreau has twice listened to the music of the spheres, which, for our private convenience, we have packed into a musical-box.

1 September 1842

Mr. Thoreau dined with us yesterday.... He is a keen and delicate observer of nature, -- a genuine observer, -- which, I suspect, is almost as rare a character as even an original poet; and Nature, in return for his love, seems to adopt him as her especial child, and shows him secrets which few others are allowed to witness. He is familiar with beast, fish, fowl, and reptile, and has strange stories to tell of adventures and friendly passages with these lower brethren of mortality. Herb and flower, likewise, wherever they grow, whether in garden or wildwood, are his familiar friends. He is also on intimate terms with the clouds, and can tell the portents of storms. It is a characteristic trait that he has a great regard for the memory of the Indian tribes, whose wild life would have suited him so well; and, strange to say, he seldom walks over a ploughed field without picking up an arrow-point, spear-head, or other relic of the red man, as if their spirits willed him to be the inheritor of their simple wealth.
With all this he has more than a tincture of literature, -- a deep and true taste for poetry, especially for the elder poets, and he is a good writer, -- at least he has written a good article, a rambling disquisition on Natural History, in the last "Dial," which, he says, was chiefly made up from journals of his own observations. Methinks this article gives a very fair image of his mind and character, -- so true, innate, and literal in observation, yet giving the spirit as well as letter of what he sees, even as a lake reflects its wooded banks, showing every leaf, yet giving the wild beauty of the whole scene. Then there are in the article passages of cloudy and dreamy metaphysics, and also passages where his thoughts seem to measure and attune themselves into spontaneous verse, as they rightfully may, since there is real poetry in them. There is a basis of good sense and of moral truth, too, throughout the article, which also is a reflection of his character; for he is not unwise to think and feel, and I find him a healthy and wholesome man to know.
After dinner (at which we cut the first watermelon and muskmelon that our garden has grown), Mr. Thoreau and I walked up the bank of the river, and at a certain point he shouted for his boat. Forthwith a young man paddled it across, and Mr. Thoreau and I voyaged farther up the stream, which soon became more beautiful than any picture, with its dark and quiet sheet of water, half shaded, half sunny, between high and wooded banks. The late rains have swollen the stream so much that many trees are standing up to their knees, as it were, in the water, and boughs, which lately swung high in air, now dip and drink deep of the passing wave. As to the poor cardinals which glowed upon the bank a few days since, I could see only a few of their scarlet hats, peeping above the tide. Mr. Thoreau managed the boat so perfectly, either with two paddles or with one, that it seemed instinct with his own will, and to require no physical effort to guide it. He said that, when some Indians visited Concord a few years ago, he found that he had acquired, without a teacher, their precise method of propelling and steering a canoe. Nevertheless he was desirous of selling the boat of which he was so fit a pilot, and which was built by his own hands; so I agreed to take it, and accordingly became possessor of the Musketaquid. I wish I could acquire the aquatic skill of the original owner.

2 September 1842

Yesterday afternoon Mr. Thoreau arrived with the boat. The adjacent meadow being overflowed by the rise of the stream, he had rowed directly to the foot of the orchard, and landed at the bars, after floating over forty or fifty yards of water where people were lately making hay. I entered the boat with him, in order to have the benefit of a lesson in rowing and paddling.... I managed, indeed, to propel the boat by rowing with two oars, but the use of the single paddle is quite beyond my present skill. Mr. Thoreau had assured me that it was only necessary to will the boat to go in any particular direction, and she would immediately take that course, as if imbued with the spirit of the steersman. It may be so with him, but it is certainly not so with. me. The boat seemed to be bewitched, and turned its head to every point of the compass except the right one. He then took the paddle himself, and, though I could observe nothing peculiar in his management of it, the Musketaquid immediately became as docile as a trained steed. I suspect that she has not yet transferred her affections from her old master to her new one. By and by, when we are better acquainted, she will grow more tractable.... We propose to change her name from Musketaquid (the Indian name of the Concord River, meaning the river of meadows) to the Pond-­Lily, which will be very beautiful and appropriate, as, during the summer season, she will bring home many a cargo of pond-lilies from along the river's weedy shore. It is not very likely that I shall make such long voyages in her as Mr. Thoreau has made. He once followed our river down to the Merrimack, and thence, I believe, to Newburyport in this little craft.

7 April 1843

My wife has gone to Boston to see her sister.... After my solitary dinner, I lay down, with the "Dial" in my hand, and attempted to sleep; but sleep would not come.... So I arose, and began this record in the journal, almost at the commencement of which I was interrupted by a visit from Mr. Thoreau, who came to return a book, and to announce his purpose of going to reside at Staten Island, as private tutor in the family of Mr. Emerson's brother. We had some conversation upon this subject, and upon the spiritual advantages of change of place, and upon the "Dial," and upon Mr. Alcott, and other kindred or concatenated subjects. I am glad, on Mr. Thoreau's own account, that he is going away, as he is out of health, and may be benefited by his removal; but, on my account, I should like to have him remain here, he being one of the few persons, I think, with whom to hold intercourse is like hearing the wind among the boughs of a forest-tree; and, with all this wild freedom, there is high and classic cultivation in him too....

7 April 1843

After lamplight, finished "Lenore," and drowsed over Voltaire's "Candide," occasionally refreshing myself with a tune from Mr. Thoreau's musical-box, which he had left in my keeping. The evening was but a dull one.

8 April 1843

I returned to our lonely old abbey, opened the door without the usual heart-spring, ascended to my study, and began to read a tale of Tieck. Slow work, and dull work too! Anon, Molly, the cook, rang the bell for dinner, -- a sumptuous banquet of stewed veal and macaroni, to which I sat down in solitary state. My appetite served me sufficiently to eat with, but not for enjoyment. Nothing has a zest in my present widowed state. [Thus far I had written, when Mr. Emerson called.] After dinner, I lay down on the couch, with the "Dial" in my hand as a soporific, and had a short nap; then began to journalize.
Mr. Emerson came, with a sunbeam in his face; and we had as good a talk as I ever remember to have had with him. He spoke of Margaret Fuller, who, he says, has risen perceptibly into a higher state since their last meeting. [There rings the tea-bell.] Then we discoursed of Ellery Channing, a volume of whose poems is to be immediately published, with revisions by Mr. Emerson himself and Mr. Sam G. Ward.... He calls them "poetry for poets." Next Mr. Thoreau was discussed, and his approaching departure; in respect to which we agreed pretty well.... Various other matters were considered or glanced at, and finally, between five and six o'clock, Mr. Emerson took his leave.

9 April 1843

Many times I wound and re-wound Mr. Thoreau's little musical-box; but certainly its peculiar sweetness had evaporated, and I am pretty sure that I should throw it out of the window were I doomed to hear it long and often. It has not an infinite soul.

11 April 1843

Just when I was on the point of choking with a huge German word, Molly announced Mr. Thoreau. He wished to take a row in the boat, for the last time, perhaps, before he leaves Concord. So we emptied the water out of her, and set forth on our voyage. She leaks, but not more than she did in the autumn. We rowed to the foot of the hill which borders the North Branch, and there landed, and climbed the moist and snowy hill-side for the sake of the prospect. Looking down the river, it might well have been mistaken for an arm of the sea, so broad is now its swollen tide; and I could have fancied that, beyond one other headland, the mighty ocean would outspread itself before the eye. On our return we boarded a large cake of ice, which was floating down the river, and were borne by it directly to our own landing­-place, with the boat towing behind.
Parting with Mr. Thoreau, I spent half an hour in chopping wood....

from Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
With Extracts from his Journals and Correspondence, edited by Samuel Longfellow
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1899)

21 November 1848, Hawthorne to Longfellow

Thoreau is to be at my house, as he is engaged to lecture here on Wednesday evening; and I shall take the liberty to bring him with me, unless he has scruples about intruding on you. You would find him well worth knowing; he is a man of thought and originality, with a certain iron-poker-ishness, an uncompromising stiffness in his mental character which is interesting, though it grows rather wearisome on close and frequent acquaintance.