Monday, July 25, 2005


Readers of Hawthorne will appreciate a bumper sticker I saw yesterday: “Wakefield: the Spirit of New England.” I believe it was an advertisement for a town in New Hampshire.

So that all might enjoy the message more fully, this week’s two-for-Tuesday provides (1.) Hawthorne’s short version of the Wakefield story, which he frames as a recollection from an “old magazine or newspaper” and (2.) the moral of that story. The latter is an eloquent and persuasive statement of the moral core of conservatism. It may also explain something of the Yankee cast of mind.
(1.) The wedded couple lived in London. The man, under pretence of going on a journey, took lodgings in the next street to his own house, and there, unheard of by his wife or friends, and without the shadow of a reason for such self-banishment, dwelt upwards of twenty years. During that period, he beheld his home every day, and frequently the forlorn Mrs. Wakefield. And after so great a gap in his matrimonial felicity—when his death was reckoned certain, his estate settled, his name dismissed from memory, and his wife, long, long ago, resigned to her autumnal widowhood—he entered the door one evening, quietly, as from a day’s absence, and became a loving spouce till death.

(2.) Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever. Like Wakefield, he may become, as it were, the Outcast of the Universe.


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