- Historic Sites
Mr. Hawthorne, Mr. Thoreau, Miss Alcott, Mr. Emerson, And Me
A childhood reminiscence of Concord, that special Massachusetts town where the Transcendentalists chose to live their rarefied lives
December 1978 | Volume 30, Issue 1
Not far from the last home of the Alcotts in Concord lived Hon. Charles Creighton Hazewell and his family. If Hawthorne by reason of his genius preserved his individuality of thought and expression untouched by Mr. Emerson, the Hazewells on account of strong natural bias in a totally different direction and large intellectual acquirements along their special lines never fell into Concord ways or reflected Concord thought. Mr. Hazewell, who will be remembered as for many years the Editor of the Boston Traveller , was a man of very remarkable gifts, and although always absorbed in literary work and seldom at home during the day, a very important factor in such society as then prevailed in Concord.
I have had many genuine likings in my time, but I do not think I ever approved any household as I did that of the Hazewells. I never saw before nor since any other house where the food was not more or less a burden and where the washing and ironing did not frequently appear to be the paramount objects of human existence. But no matter what the time of week or day, Mrs. Hazewell was in the library, rocking her baby to be sure, but ready to talk to you about Mary Queen of Scots as if she had been one of her women in waiting and to make you feel as if she had danced a minuet with Francis I only the evening before. As for Mr. Hazewell, all Concord stood aghast at his wonderful memory! Hon. Henry Wilson once asked him during the Civil War in regard to the date of an historical occurrence which he thought took place upon the same day of the week and month as one of our most important victories. Mr. Hazewell showed him his error, but went on to tell of so many decisive events which did occur on the day in question that Mr. Wilson expressed surprise. Mr. Hazewell explained that not only were historical events thus present with him, but he thought he could remember definitely every day of his own life since he was conscious of remembering anything. In telling the story Mr. Wilson said he replied, “Why, Mr. Hazewell, it must be like the judgment day!” and that he could not put out of his mind Mr. Hazewell’s expression as he answered, “My dear sir, it is the judgment day!” Mr. Hazewell had the odd habit of hiding bank notes between the covers of his books and it added a keen pleasure to their use that we were always hoping to find a five, ten, or as I once did, a twenty-dollar bill! Many methods of research and acquisition now in vogue, but then so novel as to be startling, Mr. Hazewell practiced habitually, especially those relating to the mastery of foreign literatures. Entirely self-educated and from early manhood supporting by the work of his pen not only his own family, but several dependent relatives, he read easily Greek, Latin, and most of the modern languages, and late in life mastered Russian because he could not satisfy himself of the actual state of public feeling through translations! Long before the natural manner of acquiring language was discussed, Mr. Hazewell would say, you cannot read St. Simon because you do not understand French? Take the Memoirs in one hand and the dictionary in the other and do the best you can. The local newspaper said, “Poetry and philosophy have everything their own way at the Emerson end of the town, but history, common sense, and newspapers rule in Hazewell Street.”
Hawthorne, Channing, Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Minot Pratt, Hazewell, and Thoreau are all names which bear for me a conjuror’s spell, but I have as yet mentioned only incidentally the one for whose sake far more than for all the attractions of Concord they gathered themselves together. I have not yet said what was Mr. Emerson’s influence on the childhood and youth of Concord.
We knew that he was a great writer, that he corresponded with Carlyle, that Mrs. Tennyson had sent him beautiful crayon portraits of herself and husband, that he entertained poets, philosophers, and nobles, that Daniel Webster visited him every summer, that he had books by the hundreds, as well as many very rare and ancient things from the Tiber and the Nile. I cannot say just how much our knowledge of these facts influenced our opinion, but I do not think very much, for his personality, unlike that of Thoreau or Hawthorne, possessed even for the youngest a unique charm. He was perfectly simple, but if he smiled, you appeared to feel the sunshine, and if he said, “Good morning,” you thought of it as a blessing. He walked several hours daily arranging his thoughts as he walked, and his habits being well known, we frequently stood in little groups on the chance of a passing word. We sometimes sought him in Sleepy Hollow, not then a cemetery, simply a green amphitheatre where poets sauntered, children frolicked, and wild birds warbled. I have often seen him [alone] and once or twice accompanied by his wife and mother seated on the high ridge upon whose west side is now his honored grave. It was perhaps from this ridge that he wrote Margaret Fuller, when she was in Italy, “Here sit mother and I under the pine trees as still almost as we shall lie some day beneath them.”