The romances of Hawthorne
can hardly be understood apart from the current of Transcendentalism in which his genius was formed.
Most foreigners and many of his countrymen have thought of him as an affectionate student of the New England
past, in a small way comparable to Scott
with his love of Border history, and especially they have thought of him as a kind of portrait painter, who magically resharpened for us the already fading lineaments of Puritanism.
Reflection might suggest, however, that the portrait he restored bears an unlucky resemblance in its sombreness and its unloveliness to the portrait of Edward Randolph
in the Twice told tales
, and a little further thought would perhaps convince us that Hawthorne
usually treats Puritanism, not as the central theme in his canvas, but as a dark background for the ideas and for the experiences which more deeply concern him. Those ideas and experiences have little to do with Puritanism except by contrast; they were partly furnished to his imagination by the enthusiastic but uncritical thinkers among his acquaintance who kindled rapturously at Alcott
's conversations or basked in the indefiniteness of Emerson
's lectures, and partly they were furnished by his own contact with Alcott
and with their writings.
Like them, he was less a Puritan than a lover of the present, and if he seemed often to deal with things long past, it was only because he had the faculty, more than other men, of recognizing in the present whatever had served its purpose or was worn out or dead.
But if as a Transcendentalist he stood aloof from Puritanism, his temperament forced him to stand aloof also from the other