The Dolliver Romance
In "The Dolliver Romance," only three chapters of which the author lived to complete,
we get an intimation as to what would have been the ultimate form given to that romance
founded on the Elixir of Life, for which "Septimius Felton" was the preliminary study.
Having abandoned this study, and apparently forsaken the whole scheme in 1862,
Hawthorne was moved to renew his meditation upon it in the following year; and as the
plan of the romance had now seemingly developed to his satisfaction, he listened to the
publisher's proposal that it should begin its course as a serial story in the "Atlantic
Monthly" for January, 1864--the first instance in which he had attempted such a mode of
But the change from England to Massachusetts had been marked by, and had perhaps in
part caused, a decline in his health. Illness in his family, the depressing and harrowing
effect of the Civil War upon his sensibilities, and anxiety with regard to pecuniary affairs,
all combined to make still further inroads upon his vitality; and so early as the autumn of
1862 Mrs. Hawthorne noted in her private diary that her husband was looking "miserably
ill." At no time since boyhood had he suffered any serious sickness, and his strong
constitution enabled him to rally from this first attack; but the gradual decline continued.
After sending forth "Our Old Home," he had little strength for any employment more
arduous than reading, or than walking his accustomed path among the pines and
sweetfern on the hill behind The Wayside, known to his family as the Mount of Vision.
The projected work, therefore, advanced but slowly. He wrote to Mr. Fields:--
"I don't see much probability of my having the first chapter of the Romance ready so
soon as you want it. There are two or three chapters ready to be written, but I am not yet
robust enough to begin, and I feel as if I should never carry it through."
The presentiment proved to be only too well founded. He had previously written:--
"There is something preternatural in my reluctance to begin. I linger at the threshold, and
have a perception of very disagreeable phantasms to be encountered if I enter. I wish God
had given me the faculty of writing a sunshiny book."
And again, in November, he says: "I foresee that there is little probability of my getting
the first chapter ready by the 15th, although I have a resolute purpose to write it by the
end of the month." He did indeed send it by that time, but it began to be apparent in
January that he could not go on.
"Seriously," he says, in one letter, "my mind has, for the present, lost its temper and its
fine edge, and I have an instinct that I had better keep quiet. Perhaps I shall have a new
spirit of vigor if I wait quietly for it; perhaps not." In another: "I hardly know what to say
to the public about this abortive Romance, though I know pretty well what the case will
be. I shall never finish it.... I cannot finish it unless a great change comes over me; and if
I make too great an effort to do so, it will be my death."