February 26, 2011

Death of Mrs. Hawthorne

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne outlived her husband Nathaniel Hawthorne by seven years. When Hawthorne died far from home in 1864, she wrote that he avoided "the pain of bidding us farewell." Publisher James T. Fields convinced the grieving widow that his various journals and notebooks, particularly those from his travels, should be published. Sophia became his posthumous editor and noted, "It is a vast pleasure to pore over his books in this way." The result was Notes in England and Italy, with "Mrs. Hawthorne" credited as author. As she prepared the book, she wrote:

I seem to be with him in all his walks and observations. Such faithful, loving notes of all he saw never were put on paper before. Nothing human is considered by him too mean to ponder over. No bird, nor leaf, nor tint of earth or sky is left unnoticed. He is a crystal medium of all the sounds and shows of things, and he reverently lets everything be as it is, and never intermuddles...

Even with these happy thoughts, however, Sophia was burdened with grief. As Annie Adams Fields (wife of James) remarked, "What an altered household! She feels very lonely, and is like a reed." Soon, the Hawthornes' home at The Wayside in Concord, Massachusetts was unbearable, and she moved with their children to Europe. She had become distrustful of her husband's publisher and, at one point, accused him of not paying the royalties she was due for her husband's work. Fields blamed his former partner, the late William Davis Ticknor. Ticknor's close friendship with Hawthorne, he alleged, resulted in "the highest rate of copyright [the company] ever paid." The dispute was soon settled.

It was in England that Sophia died on February 26, 1871. She was 61. A week later, she was buried in London's Kensal Green Cemetery. 135 years later, Sophia Hawthorne (as well as her daughter Una) was reburied in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where she remains next to her husband.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much, Rob, for Sophia's loving and clear-sighted words re NH's "observations" on his many walks. She is quite the poet herself with the words, "He is a crystal medium of all the sounds and shows of things, and he reverently lets everything be as it is...." NH was such a keen observer of human nature in all its beauty and frailties, but also of "bird" and "leaf" and "tint of earth or sky." His description of the white doves in "The Marble Faun" is haunting. What a treasure he is in our national literature. Appreciations for this entry.


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