10 September (1840): Nathaniel Hawthorne to Sophia Peabody

 Although Nathaniel Hawthorne refers to Sophia Peabody as “[m]ost dear wife”, the two would not officially marry until 1842. In the letter below, Hawthorne is on leave from Brook Farm, the famous experimental utopian community in West Roxbury, MA, where he had taken up residence in the hope of winning for himself and his future wife a stable, reliable existence. 

September 10, 1841, Salem

Dear Miss Peabody, 

Most dear wife, thou canst not imagine how strange it seems to me that thou shouldst ever suffer any bodily harm. I cannot conceive of it—the idea will not take the aspect of reality. Thou art to me a spirit gliding about our familiar paths:  and I always feel as if thou wert beyond the reach of mortal accident—nor am I convinced to the contrary even by thy continual gashings of thy dearest fingers and sprainings of thy ancle [sic]. I love thee into the next state of existence, and therefore do not realise that thou art here as subject to corporeal harm as is thy husband himself—nay, ten times more so, because thy earthly manifestation is refined almost into spirit.   

But, dearest, thy accident did make thy husband’s heart flutter very riotously. I wanted to hold thee in mine arms; for I had a foolish notion that thou wouldst be much better—perhaps quite well! I cannot tell thee all I felt; and still I had not the horrible feelings that I should expect, because there was a shadowiness interposed between me and the fact, so that it did not strike my heart, as the beam did thy head. Let me not speak of it anymore, lest it become too real.   

Sweetest, thou dost please me much by criticising thy husband’s stories, and finding fault with them. I do not very well recollect Monsieur de Miroir; but as to Mrs. Bullfrog, I give her up to they severest reprehension. The story was written as a mere experiment in that style; it did not come from am depth within me—neither my heart nor mind had anything to do with it. I recollect that the Man of Adamant seemed a fine idea to me, when I looked at it prophetically; but I failed in giving shape and substance to the vision which I saw. I don’t think it can be very good.   

Ownest wife, I cannot believe all these stories about Munroe, because such an abominable rascal never would be sustained and countenanced by respectable men. I take him to be neither better nor worse than the average of his tribe. However, I intend to have all my copy-rights taken out in my own name; and if he cheats me once, I will have nothing more to do with him, but will straightway be cheated by some other publisher—that being, of course, the only alternative.

Dearest, what dost thou think of taking Governor Shirley’s young French wife as the subject of one of the cuts? Thou shouldst represent her in the great chair, perhaps with a dressing glass before her, and arrayed in all manner of fantastic finery, and with an outré French air; while the old Governor is leaning fondly over her, and a Puritan counsellor or two are manifesting their disgust, in the background. A negro footman and French waiting maid might be in attendance.  Do not think that I expect thee to adopt my foolish fancies about these things. Whatever thou mayst do, it will be better than I can think. In Liberty Tree, thou mightest have a vignette, representing the chair in a very battered, shattered, and forlorn condition, after it had been ejected from Hutchinson s house. This would serve to impress the reader with the woeful vicissitudes of sublunary things. Many other subjects would  thy husband suggest, but he is terribly afraid that  thou wouldst take one of them, instead of working  out thine own inspirations.   

Belovedest, I long to see thee. Do be magnificently well by Saturday—yet not on my account, but thine own. Meantime, take care of thy dearest head. Thou art not fit to be trusted away from thy husband’s guidance, one moment. 

Dear little wife, didst thou ever behold such an  awful scribble husband writes, since he became a farmer? His chirography always was abominable; but now it is outrageous.   

God bless thee, dearest and may His hand be continually outstretched over thy head. Expect me on Saturday afternoon.  




For more on Hawthorne, Peabody and Brook Farm, click here