Hawthorne’s “Twice-told Tales” by Margaret Fuller

Twice-told Tales. By NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE. Boston: James Munroe & Company. 1842.

EVER since the “Gentle Boy” first announced among us the presence of his friend and observer, the author of the “Twice-told Tales” has been growing more and more dear to his readers, who now have the pleasure of seeing all the leaves they had been gathering up here and there collected in these two volumes.
It is not merely the soft grace, the playfulness, and genial human sense for the traits of individual character, that have pleased, but the perception of what is rarest in this superficial, bustling community, a great reserve of thought and strength never yet at all brought forward. Landor says, “He is not over-rich in knowledge who cannot afford to let the greater part lie fallow, and to bring forward his produce according to the season and the demand.” We can seldom recur to such a passage as this with pleasure, as we turn over the leaves of a new book. But here we may. Like gleams of light on a noble tree which stands untouched and self-sufficing in its fulness of foliage on a distant hill-slope, — like slight ripples wrinkling the smooth surface, but never stirring the quiet depths of a wood-embosomed lake, these tales distantly indicate the bent of the author’s mind, and the very frankness with which they impart to us slight outward details and habits shows how little yet is told. He is a favorite writer for children, with whom he feels at home, as true manliness always does; and the “Twice-told Tales” scarce call him out more than the little books for his acquaintance of fairy stature.
In the light of familiar letters, written with ready hand, by a friend, from the inns where he stops, in a journey through the varied world-scenes, the tales are most pleasing; but they seem to promise more, should their author ever hear a voice that truly calls upon his solitude to open his study door.
In his second volume, “The Village Uncle,” “Lily’s Guest,” “Chippings with a Chisel,” were new to us, and pleasing for the same reasons as former favorites from the same hand, We again admired the sweet grace of the little piece, “Footprints on the Sea-shore.”
“Chippings with a Chisel,” from its mild, common-sense-philosophy, and genial love of the familiar plays of life, would have waked a brotherly smile on the lips of the friend of Dr.
It is in the studies of familiar life that there is most success. In the mere imaginative pieces, the invention is not clearly woven, far from being all compact, and seems a phantom or shadow, rather than a real growth. The men and women, too, flicker large and unsubstantial, like “shadows from the evening firelight,” seen “upon the parlor wall.” But this would be otherwise, probably, were the genius fully roused to its work, and initiated into its own life, so as to paint with blood-warm colors. This frigidity and thinness of design usually bespeaks a want of the deeper experiences, for which no talent at observation, no sympathies, however ready and delicate, can compensate. We wait new missives from the same hand.

Source: The Dial (July 1842) pp. 130-131