Friday, 1 February 2013

The Expected Execration of the Afflicted Authoress

              Hawthorne wrote a letter to Leonard Bacon, using very carefully chosen words, informing him of his concerns regarding Delia’s well-being, but Leonard’s subsequent letter to his sister was not so carefully couched. It appears to express all the right filial concerns until Leonard finally warms to his brotherly task; he commends Hawthorne and the value of his advice to her, he makes sensible suggestions and even manages to admit that her researches could have value. Then he launches into the meat of things –
The friends who humor your delusion, and permit you to believe that they think there may be something in it, may have the kindest intentions, but they have less confidence in you than I have shown by speaking frankly what they think would be lost upon you.’ 

Your theory about the authorship of Shakspeare's plays may after all be worth something if published as a fiction.’ 
Delia took her brother’s words to heart. She turned on her delusion-humouring friends and cut herself off from most of them, with Hawthorne bearing the brunt of her fury. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne

She accuses him of betraying her confidences (which he hadn’t), falsely raising her hopes (which he didn’t), and to all intents and purposes of laughing at her behind her back (which he couldn’t). To his eternal credit, Hawthorne remained true to Delia and his word to her. Under the circumstances a lesser man might have dropped her cause like a hot potato but Hawthorne continued to approach publishers, trying to get the book into print. He wrote several prefaces for her and Delia rejected each of his efforts, except for the last, for a variety of reasons. He sent her detailed letters of his progress. He sent her money. And, from the omissions in his records, he destroyed any of the letters she sent to him that might have damaged her future, potentional, reputation (we can infer this from comments made in reply to her delusive imputations, in his letters to her). 

Delia Bacon - The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespere Unfolded - 1857

Then, in early April 1857, The Philosophy of The Plays of Shakspere Unfolded. By Delia Bacon. With a Preface by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Author of ‘The Scarlet Letter, etc. was finally published, both in Britain and America. As many of the publishers who had turned the book down had predicted would happen, the critics savaged it. One, picked at random, from the National Review July 1857, reads, 
We have met with nothing in the range of literature so like the attempt to find a needle in a bundle of hay, as the task of extracting a definite meaning from the vast body of obscure verbiage and inconsequential reasoning in which she has folded up her ideas.” 
And that’s not one of the most caustic. Her own countrymen were just as dismissive. 
On every page, nay, over almost every paragraph, we are forced to exclaim: 'O matter and impertinency, mixed reason in madness!” 
[North American Review October 1857] 
It is, it must be admitted, extremely hard going. There are few citations, which means that her examples are difficult to verify, and would have benefited from a sympathetic editing, as she throws in everything she has come across, regardless of relevance. For once in this blog, it is a book that I cannot recommend, however much you may sympathise with the fate of its author.

In June 1857, Mr David Rice, a surgeon and Mayor of Stratford, wrote to the American Consul in Liverpool regarding the mental health of an American lady living in the town. The Consul, (that’s Nathaniel Hawthorne, remember) replied immediately, authorising whatever expenditure might be deemed suitable in the treatment of his countrywoman. Hawthorne sent letter after letter to Rice enquiring about his poor friend, who had been, so it seemed, finally broken by the disappointment at the reception of her great project. What letters he received back from Delia began with thanks for his continued support but pretty soon the accusations and ingratitude resurfaced, along with other delusions and hallucinations too. Delia Salter Bacon’s sanity had finally departed from her forever. 

Theodore Bacon - Delia Bacon - A Biographical Sketch - 1888

In December she was moved to an asylum at Henley-in-Arden and in March 1859, it happened that a nephew, George Bacon, landed in England on his way back home to America on the ‘Overland Route’, from his two-year voyage to the China Seas. He learned of his aunt’s condition and went immediately to her side. Shocked at what he found in the Henley asylum, he postponed his departure for a week and rearranged transport home for himself and his aunt. They left five years after she had arrived for what was supposed to have been a summer’s visit. Back home in Hartford, Connecticut, she was housed in the ‘Retreat’ where her condition continued to decline as she fell further into violent mania. Late in August 1859, her two remaining brothers and two remaining sisters came to her bedside and she seemed to muster, to the extent that she held lucid conversations with her siblings, but several days later, on September 2nd, she died with them present at her bedside.

The Grave of Delia Bacon

What she may have suffered before her intellect gave way, we had better not try to imagine. No author had ever hoped so confidently as she; none ever failed more utterly.” 
Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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