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H. Dwells Beneath the Shadow of the Iron Age

April 27, 2011

Written in the front pages of The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1910, London: Cassell and Company, Ltd) are the following words. There are a few I am unsure of, so I’m including photographs of the two pages so you, dear reader, can see for yourself. In particular, I can’t make out the first word(s) so any suggestions would be most welcome.

… all minds of the 1st order of genius
Hawthorne concerns himself with
the great problems of the soul.
Our generation had journeyed far from
the Puritan era with its grim justice
and its relentless penalties, but H.
dwells beneath the shadow of the Iron
age. His intellect and imagination
were alike fascinated by the Puritan
idea of justice. Grim men and stern
those Puritans, having neither part
nor lot in human infirmities, and
insensible alike to pleasure and to
pain. Generations of these worthies
slowly filtered thru H. and the
precious drops fell into that vessel
names the Scarlet Letter. This study
of conscience differs from the sent-
imental novels of to-day as the oak-
tree from the hyacinth.
H. believed that the greatest thot that
can occupy the human mind is the
thot of justice and its retributive
workings thru conscience. Doubtless
there are a 1000 questions that competes
for the attentions of youth; but for
men grown mature and strong
life offers no more momentous question
than this: can the soul injured by
temptation and seared by sin
ever recover its pristine vigor and
strength and beauty? is it true that
the breach can never really be mended
but only guarded while always

while always by the broken wall
there lurks the stealthy tread of a
foe that waits to renew his unfor-
gotten trumpets? “I do not know
say the old Greek that God has
any right to forgive sins” But
Dante thinks sin may be consumed
and tho Hawthorne dwelt in a
grim dark era for him there was
sunlight on the top of the mountains.
He felt that somewhere life holds
a fount. divine where the dust
may be cleansed from the soul’s
wings. The remaining [?] soul may
recover its nature simplicity and
dignity thru repentance and con-
Haw. believed everything in the
drama of the soul must be made
to turn upon the open confession
of sin. Therefore among man poss.
transgressions he selects the one sin
that has the most reasons against
acknowledgement and the one man
in the community who would suffer
the most by healing the hurts. And
that his lesson might be the more
convincing he lends a 1000 exten-    [extenuations?]
uations to the wrongdoers.

Thanks for reading,


5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2011 1:38 pm

    Excellent and important work !
    Terrific photography as usual.


  2. WCM permalink
    May 6, 2011 9:44 am

    I believe the first word in the Hawthorne passage is ‘Like’. Appreciate the good work you are doing!

  3. WCM permalink
    May 6, 2011 10:16 am

    Some different readings of the Hawthorne piece:

    H. dwells beneath the shadow > H. dwelt beneath the shadow
    names the Scarlet Letter > named the Scarlet Letter
    his unforgotten trumpets? > his unforgotten triumphs
    I do not know say the old Greek > says the old Greek
    remaining [?] soul > sinning soul
    healing the hurts > telling the truth

    It would be highly interesing to know if there are any indications of the date of these remarks. Does the handwriting belong to an identifiable period? Perhaps ca 1930?

  4. July 27, 2021 12:34 pm

    The long passage here seems to be an extended quote from Brooklyn Congregationalist minister N. D. Hillis’ book Great Books as Life-teachers: Studies of Character, Real and Ideal (1899).

    Seems to be pre-conversion!

    Hillis later took up “race betterment” (eugenics) as his life’s work – the first topic Chesterton tackled after his conversion (Eugenics & Other Evils, 1922!)

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