Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Many-Headed Hydra in Hawthorne's Tales and Sketches

Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker's The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, should be required reading for all Hawthornists. In the way it deals with transatlantic Puritan radicalism and its connections with political, social, and economic radicalism in the centuries before and during which race was codified as a scientific and legal institution, it provides as important a context for Puritan Studies as does the more top-down global history of the same period by Thomas Bender in the similarly-important study A Nation among Nations: America's Place in World History. Of course the revolutionary Atlantic is a place Melville scholars should know well, even if not enough of them have read C.L.R. James. But those who think Hawthorne simply ignored, denied, or disavowed this world have not read his tales and sketches closely enough.

What follows is an incomplete list of pirates, sailors, slave traders, India traders and others that can be found in the Tales and Sketches Library of America edition of Hawthorne's works. Just so y'all don't think I was overreading or anything in my Conde/Mukherjee post forever ago....

"Sir William Phips": this biographical sketch of an early colonial governor not only sheds light on The Scarlet Letter and Hawthorne's relation to Cooper but perhaps shows what Faulkner's Thomas Sutpen might have been dreaming about when he left Appalachia for the Caribbean after his encounter with the plantation system.

In this state of society the future governor grew up, and many years after, sailing with a fleet and an army to make war upon the French, he pointed out the very hills where he had reached the age of manhood, unskilled even to read and write. The contrast between the commencement and close of his life was the effect of casual circumstances. During a considerable time, he was a mariner, at a period when there was much licence on the high seas. After attaining to some rank in the English navy, he heard of an ancient Spanish wreck off the coast of Hispaniola, of such mighty value, that, according to the stories of the day, the sunken gold might be seen to glisten and the diamonds to flash, as the triumphant billows tossed about their spoil. These treasures of the deep (by the aid of certain noblemen, who claimed the lion's share) Sir William Phips sought for, and recovered, and was sufficiently enriched, even after an honest settlement with the partners of is adventure. That the land might give him honor, as the sea had given him wealth, he received knighthood from King James....

Hawthorne's narrator then goes on to imagine a day in the life of Governor Phips, noting various details that can be related to Linebaugh and Rediker, Bender, Conde, Mukherjee, and others:

Just emerging from the door are two footmen, one an African slave of shining ebony, the other an English bond-servant, the property of the governor for a term of years....

Another object of almost equal interest, now appears in the middle of the way. It is a man clad in a hunting shirt and Indian stockings, and armed with a long gun; his feet have been wet with the waters of many an inland lake and stream, and the leaves and twigs of the tangled wilderness are intertwined with his garments; on his head he wears a trophy which we would not venture to record without good evidence of the fact,--a wig made of the long and straight black hair of his slain savage enemies. This grim old heathen stands bewildered in the midst of King-street. The governor regards him attentively, and recognizing a playmate of his youth, accosts him with a gracious smile, inquires as to the prosperity of their birth place and the life and death of their ancient neighbors, and makes appropriate remarks on the different stations allotted by fortune to two individuals, born and bred besides the same wild river. Finally, he puts into his hand, at parting, a shilling of the Massachusetts coinage, stamped with the figure of a stubbed pine tree, mistaken by King Charles for the oak which saved his royal life. Then all the people praise the humility and bountifulness of the good governor, who struts onward flourishing his gold-headed cane, while the gentleman in the straight black wig is left with a pretty accurate idea of the distance between himself and his own companion....

A great crowd of people is collected on the common, composed of whole families, from the hoary grandsire to the child of three years old; all ages and both sexes look with interest on the array of their defenders; and here and there stand a few dark Indians in their blankets, dull spectators of the strength that has swept away their race.... After a variety of weary evolutions, evening begins to fall, like the veil of gray and misty years that have rolled betwixt that warlike band and us.

This apparent acquiescence to what scholars today call "the myth of the Vanishing American" is particularly striking in light of the controversies over Jackson's Indian Removal policy. Even more striking is the implicit contrast between "that warlike band and us," in a decade characterized by the Trail of Tears and several Indian wars. Writing here from the beginning of the decade, Hawthorne missed the signs apparent even then that there were to be more continuities between the era of King Philip's War and his own.

"Dr. Bullivant": this sketch gets into social changes in the New England colonies over the course of the 17th C but focuses on its last 30 years in particular. In some ways, this is a less mythic and more historicized version of events taking place later than "The May-pole of Merry Mount" and somewhat reversing the implications which Hawthorne drew out of Endicott's actions in that story.

This gradual but sure operation [the passing away of older, more pious Puritans and an accompanying "relaxation" in society's "theory and practice of morals and religion"] was assisted by the increasing commercial importance of the colonies, whither a new se of emigrants followed unworthily in the track of the pure-hearted Puritans. Gain being now the allurement, and almost the only one, since dissenters no longer dreaded persecution at home, the people of New-England could not remain entirely uncontaminated by an extensve intermixture with worldly men. The trade carried on by the colonists, (in the face of several inefficient acts of Parliament,) with the whole maritime world, must have had a similar tendency; nor are the desperate and dissolute visitants of the country to be forgotten among the agents of a moral revolution. Freebooters from the West Indies and the Spanish Main,--state criminals, implicated in the numerous plots and conspiracies of the period,--felons, loaded with private guilt,--numbers of these took refuge in the provinces, where the authority of the English king was obstructed by a zealous spirit of independence, and where a boundless wilderness enabled them to defy pursuit. Thus the new population, temporary and permanent, was exceedingly unlike the old, and far more apt to disseminate their own principles than to imbibe those of the Puritans.

There's much more from this sketch of interest, but let's continue with our maritime theme.

"Sights from a Steeple": Almost twenty years before "The Custom-House," Hawthorne was quite aware of where much of New England's wealth came from.

I can even select the wealthiest of the company [of gentlemen]. It is the elderly personage in somewhat rusty black, with powdered hair, the superfluous whiteness of which is visible upon the cape of his coat. His twenty ships are wafted on some of their many courses by every breeze that blows, and his name--I will venture to say, though I know it not--is a familiar sound among the far separated merchants of Europe and the Indies.

"Edward Fane's Rosebud":

She can speak of strange maladies that have broken out, as if spontaneously, but were found to have been imported from foreign lands, with rich silks and other merchandise, the costliest portion of the cargo.

"Egotism; or, the Bosom-Serpent":

It was a dark-browed man, who put the question; he had an evasive eye, which, in the course of a dozen years, had looked no mortal directly in the face. There was an ambiguity about this person’s character--a stain upon his reputation--yet none could tell precisely of what nature; although the city-gossips, male and female, whispered the most atrocious surmises. Until a recent period, he had followed the sea, and was, in fact, the very ship-master whom George Herkimer had encountered, under such singular circumstances, in the Grecian Archipelago.

"The Intelligence Office": Supten? Paging Mr. Sutpen. Are you there, sir? Please report to the Intelligencer. Are you there, Mr. Sutpen?

The next that entered was a man beyond the middle age, bearing the look of one who knew the world and his own course in it. He had just alighted from a handsome private carriage, which had orders to wait in the street while its owner transacted his business. This person came up to the desk with a quick, determined step, and looked the Intelligencer in the face with a resolute eye; though, at the same time, some secret trouble gleamed from it in red and dusky light.

"I have an estate to dispose of," said he, with a brevity that seemed characteristic.

"Describe it," said the Intelligencer.

The applicant proceeded to give the boundaries of his property, its nature, comprising tillage, pasture, woodland, and pleasure-grounds, in ample circuit; together with a mansion-house, in the construction of which it had been his object to realize a castle in the air, hardening its shadowy walls into granite, and rendering its visionary splendor perceptible to the awakened eye. Judging from his description, it was beautiful enough to vanish like a dream, yet substantial enough to endure for centuries. He spoke, too, of the gorgeous furniture, the refinements of upholstery, and all the luxurious artifices that combined to render this a residence where life might flow outward in a stream of golden days, undisturbed by the ruggedness which fate loves to fling into it.

"I am a man of strong will," said he, in conclusion; "and at my first setting out in life, as a poor, unfriended youth, I resolved to make myself the possessor of such a mansion and estate as this, together with the abundant revenue necessary to uphold it. I have succeed to the extent of my utmost wish. And this is the estate which I have now concluded to dispose of."

"And your terms?" asked the Intelligence, after taking down the particulars with which the stranger had supplied him

"Easy--abundantly easy!"” answered the successful man, smiling, but with a stern and almost frightful contraction of the brow, as if to quell an inward pang. "I have been engaged in various sorts of business--a distiller, a trader to Africa, an East India merchant, a speculator in the stocks--and, in the course of these affairs, have contracted an encumbrance of a certain nature. The purchaser of the estate shall merely be required to assume this burthen to himself."

"I understand you," said the Man of Intelligence, putting his pen behind his ear. "I fear that no bargain can be negotiated on these conditions. Very probably, the next possessor may acquire the estate with a similar incumbrance, but it will be of his own contracting, and will not lighten your burden in the least."

"And am I to live on," fiercely exclaimed the stranger, "with the dirt of these accursed acres, and the granite of this infernal mansion, crushing down my soul? How, if I should turn the edifice into an almshouse or a hospital, or tear it down and build a church?"

"You can at least make the experiment," said the Intelligencer; "but the whole matter is one which you must settle for yourself."

The man of deplorable success withdrew, and got into his coach, which rattled lightly over the wooden pavements, though laden with the weight of much land, a stately house, and ponderous heaps of gold, all compressed into an evil conscience.

There's much more, but for today let's end with a passage from Lathrop's study of Hawthorne:

Each town had a special trade, and kept the monopoly. Portsmouth and Newburyport ruled the trade with Martinique, Guadaloupe, and Porto Rico, sending out fish and bringing back sugar; Gloucester bargained with the West Indies for rum, and brought coffee and dye-stuffs from Surinam; Marblehead had the Bilboa business; and Salem, the most opulent of all, usurped the Sumatra, African, East Indian, Brazilian, and Cayenne commerce.

More on this next Wednesday, if we get back from Hawaii soon enough to blog!

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