The Brain, the Beauty, and the Invalid

By Caleb Crain. Written in May 2005, first published on this blog 4 April 2007.

A review of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism. By Megan Marshall. Houghton Mifflin. 602 pp. $28.

ELIZABETH PALMER PEABODY WAS DOWDY. In 1819, when she was young and still marriageable, her mother reminded her that “neatness is a duty.” But Elizabeth confessed to her younger sister Mary in 1834 that “I do not feel able to promise that you will ever see me more than barely tidy.” After she gave up on marriage, she seems to have let herself go to seed. The essayist and abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who admired her greatly, found her touring Switzerland in 1867 with her eyeglasses on her chin and a nightgown peeping out from under her day clothes. Henry James Sr. thought she looked “dissolute,” and Henry James Jr. elaborated the adjective into a metaphor in his 1885 novel The Bostonians, where he caricatured her as Miss Birdseye, a spinster philanthropist whose face “looked as if it had been soaked, blurred, and made vague by exposure to some slow dissolvent.”

Listening to Elizabeth Peabody talk reminded one sharp young woman of a gush of water: “I have watched the rapids above Lake Erie, and the opening of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, with precisely the same feeling,” wrote the feminist and historian Caroline Healey Dall. She was absent-minded. The story went that she once collided with a tree, and when a bystander asked her about it, explained, “Yes, I saw it, but I did not realize it.” In middle age and after, she was fat. According to her nephew Julian Hawthorne, the combination of traits once proved fatal to a brood of kittens in an armchair.

Could this woman ever have been engaged to be married to the nice, retiring Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, as Elizabeth herself once exclaimed, was “handsomer than Lord Byron”? Megan Marshall thinks so. In her group biography of Elizabeth and her younger sisters, Mary and Sophia, Marshall notes that at seventeen Elizabeth looked “good and pure and gentle, and even beautiful” to the reformer William Henry Channing. In her accomplishments Elizabeth was certainly a match for Nathaniel. She was a translator, essayist, publisher, and bookseller in the 1830s and 1840s, and in later life, her advocacy brought kindergartens to America. But Nathaniel chose instead to marry her sister Sophia. Elizabeth never married.

MARSHALL’S BOOK HAS A CURIOUS SCOPE. Her subjects are born only in the fifth chapter, and the book ends in 1843, after the two younger sisters are married—Mary to the educator Horace Mann—and before Elizabeth has done her most important work as an educator and reformer. Courtship and marriage, then, become the book’s central concern. The early chapters recount a dark and little-known secret involving the Palmer family. In the winter of 1785–1786, near Boston, Betsy Palmer, the sisters’ grandmother, had an affair with Royall Tyler while her husband, Joseph Pearse Palmer, was away in Maine.{1} Joseph returned in April, and in September Betsy gave birth to an illegitimate daughter. The ménage was oddly amicable. Tyler stayed with the family until winter, and remained on friendly terms with the husband. He returned to the Boston area a few years later and became interested in Betsy and Joseph’s daughter Mary—the Peabody sister’s aunt. He married her in 1794, when she was eighteen. It was a happy marriage, at least according to a memoir that Mary wrote at the end of her life, which came four decades after the end of her husband’s. They had eleven children; they also raised Sophia Palmer and at least one of her brothers. But the marriage of Joseph Pearse Palmer and Betsy Palmer never recovered. Joseph fell from a bridge and died in 1797. The tone of his last letter was desperate, and Marshall plausibly speculates that he may have jumped.

After Tyler left the Palmers in 1786, he helped to put down Shays’ rebellion in western Massachusetts and then went to New York, where he wrote The Contrast, probably the only play composed in America before the Civil War that is still funny. The humor is naughty, and it is not surprising that the author was a rascal in his sex life. But Marshall suggests that he was something worse—a child abuser. She has only one piece of evidence. In “Seduction,” an essay published in the Christian Examiner in 1833, Eliza Palmer Peabody, the second-oldest daughter of Joseph and Betsy and the mother of the Peabody sisters, described a sexual crime she had witnessed forty years earlier, when she was between eight and ten years old:

. . . to us it did not seem pure for a polished man of literary eminence, to enter the sanctuary of sleeping innocence, of absolute childhood, for the basest purposes. . . . He seduced the woman, whose children he would have corrupted, caused the self-murder of a wife and mother, and afterwards married the daughter of his victim. He is dead, and the horrors of his mind, during a lingering disease, were the dreadful fruits of sin; but not of disgrace, for this man always had a good standing in society.

Eliza must have been describing Tyler. Although he was not famous in 1786, he soon became so, and he died in 1826 from a slow-growing cancer on his face. But the account is at least partly fictional, since Betsy Palmer did not kill herself. Marshall infers from the phrases about “the basest purposes” and “children he would have corrupted” that Tyler made sexual advances to Eliza, but the phrases are ambiguous. The charge is too serious to consider proven on such evidence. Still, Tyler’s seduction of his wife’s mother would by itself have brought repercussions in the family, and it is not unreasonable of Marshall to suggest that he cast a long shadow. Marshall believes that Eliza’s experience with Tyler, whatever it was, left the girl with a lifelong “fear of predatory men.” When Eliza married, she chose a weak man like her father rather than a dangerous one like Tyler. Perhaps because poverty may have made her mother vulnerable, Eliza would insist that her own daughters knew how to earn a living. The daughters, according to Marshall,

were called on throughout their lives to puzzle out and then to soothe their mother’s heavy sorrows, to vindicate her defeats with their accomplishments, to compensate for her troubled marriage with grand passions of their own.

Marshall believes that Eliza shared the family secret with her two oldest daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, but kept it from her youngest, Sophia. She even speculates that Eliza named Sophia after Betsy Palmer’s love-child “in an effort at continued concealment.” If he was ever told about the skeleton in his in-laws’ closet, Hawthorne might well have been struck by the idea of Tyler’s cancer as retribution. Not only did Reverend Dimmesdale’s sin show in his breast at the end of The Scarlet Letter, but the Pyncheons in The House of the Seven Gables seemed to be paying for their crimes in their gurgling throats. Thomas St. John, an independent scholar in Brattleboro, Vermont, has already speculated that Tyler’s fate inspired Maule’s curse on Colonel Pyncheon, “God will give him blood to drink!” {2}

A GENERATION BEFORE TYLER knew them, the Palmers had been rich. In the 1740s, Joseph Pearse Palmer’s father had manufactured chocolate, spermaceti candles, salt, glass, and stockings. He served in the Revolution, but he was disgraced when he bungled an attack on the British in Newport, Rhode Island. The war distracted him from his business and deprived his factories of workers, and when it ended he went bankrupt. Joseph Pearse Palmer failed to restore the family’s fortunes. He opened a store in Boston in the 1780s, but it failed. His wife took in boarders while he traveled to Maine as a lumber agent.

A family pattern was set of women working to make up for men who couldn’t earn. When it came time for Eliza to marry, she chose Peabody, whom a contemporary described as “half Physician & Schoolmaster & perhaps half of something else.” He had plans to open a singing school, to churn butter, to work as an accountant, and to sell tiny wooden boxes to apothecaries. All failed. He became a dentist, an occupation then low in prestige. He was irritable. His wife explained that his petulance was typical of “those who have been taken out, as it were, from a family so uneducated as his” and thrust into a milieu with a higher “mental culture.”

That mental culture was Eliza’s. “I long for means and power,” she once wrote, “. . . but I wear peticoats [sic] and can never be Governor.” She wrote newspaper verse, a Sunday school textbook, and an unpublished novel about her family’s misfortunes. Her example was so powerful that her daughter Elizabeth assumed that women had been the important sex throughout history. When Eliza taught her daughter about early New England, the girl misheard the word “ancestors” as “Ann Sisters” and imagined “a procession of fair women in white robes.”

At age twelve, the young Elizabeth Peabody aspired to teach herself Hebrew. When her reading of theology texts led her to declare that Jesus had been human not divine, her parents forbade her to read any more for a summer. Instead she reread the gospels thirty times. At age thirteen, she met Reverend William Ellery Channing, the mild, eloquent leader of Unitarianism in America, and fell into something like love. As a young woman, she would spend her Saturday afternoons with him, discussing Wordsworth and Coleridge. In the late 1820s, she begged for permission to copy out his sermons for publication. She bragged that she could do it while “listening to an interesting book read aloud.” Channing chose Plato’s Timaeus.

She became a teacher at age seventeen. For almost two decades, as poverty forced her family to move frequently—shuttling between Salem, Lancaster, and Boston—Elizabeth supported herself and them as a teacher and private tutor. Her classes usually dispersed in a year or two, when parents found something suspicious about her unconventional manners, her emotional involvement with her students, her liberal ideas about religion, or her willingness, in collaboration with Bronson Alcott in the 1830s, to teach children Socratically.

In her teens she attracted a proposal of marriage. “I know what the feeling of love is, for I have been sought and all but won,” she wrote to Mary in 1834. She identified her suitor only once, to report his suicide: “Poor L.B. found his way in such a horrid way out of the world,” she wrote. The incident is a soap opera in Louise Hall Tharp’s 1950 book The Peabody Sisters of Salem. Elizabeth “never could rid her soul of a sense of guilt and responsibility for the tragedy,” Tharp wrote. She guessed that L.B. was Levi Bridge, a man twenty years older than Elizabeth and known to have had an episode of mental illness. Marshall identifies L.B. as Lyman Buckminster, a graduate of Harvard’s divinity school and a more likely candidate, being only eight years older than Elizabeth, and denies that Elizabeth felt lifelong guilt over his death.

Read together, Tharp’s and Marshall’s books suggest how much popular biography has changed in the past half-century. Research standards are higher now, but the harsh sunlight of scholarly rigor seems to have faded some of the color from the upholstery. Tharp described, for example, a box that carried not only letters between the sisters but also a chemistry book, “soiled laundry,” and “some coveted but expensive cobalt-blue paint.” It is absent from Marshall’s book, probably because she couldn’t verify it. Tharp used few footnotes, and she wasn’t always accurate. She ran together great-aunts, for example, and she claimed that quarantine was unknown in the nineteenth century and that the short story wasn’t Hawthorne’s medium. Still, her style was tart—“she was thirty-six now and she looked it,” Tharp wrote of Mary Peabody—and had vivid details, as in her description of a scene when a “Psyche knot” unraveled in Elizabeth’s hair one evening to the dismay of the more elegant Margaret Fuller. In her account, one can almost smell the belladonna, aconite, sassafras, and horehound that pervaded Elizabeth’s bookstore.

Moreover, in view of its limited scope, Marshall’s book lacks the sweep of Tharp’s narrative. By ending her account in 1843 she leaves too much out. She omits Elizabeth’s campaign to establish kindergartens in Boston and then across America in the 1860s and 1870s, an effort that a recent biographer of Elizabeth calls “her greatest work, her ‘Nature,’ Walden, ‘Song of Myself’ . . . .” {3} While she criticizes Tharp for having slighted the intellectual and artistic achievements of the women, she gives courtship more weight than Sharp did.

WHEN THEY WERE GIRLS, Mary, the middle sister, was the “satellite” of Elizabeth. “Some one said once that neither E. or I were complete without the other—and that is the way I feel about it,” Mary remembered in 1834. Of Mary, Elizabeth recalled, “I constantly heard of her beauty.”

Marshall pokes fun at Tharp for stereotyping the sisters as ” ‘the brain,’ ‘the beauty,’ and ‘the invalid,’ ” but she doesn’t paint their characters so differently. As Marshall describes her, Mary was a daydreamer who liked to read novels, ramble in the woods, and sing. Like Elizabeth, she supported herself by teaching. At first Mary found teaching a struggle, but as her confidence grew, she developed a pedagogy. She refused to teach by rote, as was then the practice, and she insisted that children should not be forced to read or write too soon. She collaborated with Elizabeth on two books heavily influenced by transcendentalism, The Moral Culture of Infancy and Kindergarten Guide. In “Self-Reliance,” Emerson had suggested that there is no tuition, only intuition, and Elizabeth and Mary brought his ideas into the classroom, which Elizabeth conceived of as “a republic of children.” “The germ of everything is in the human soul,” Mary wrote in 1863. “Education is not the creation, but only the bringing forth of these germs.”

In 1832 a handsome widower moved into the boardinghouse in Boston where the two sisters were staying. A Whig in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Horace Mann was a reformer, and his efforts on behalf of the mentally ill probably stirred both sisters’ admiration. Certainly the romance of his grief, which had blanched his hair and nearly broken his faith in a loving god, stirred their pity. Mary confided to Sophia that Horace “make[s] me feel my connection with human beings more keenly.” But it was Elizabeth who became Horace’s friend. Elizabeth wrote that one night after Mary left the boardinghouse parlor, Horace “laid his head upon my bosom” and then broke into sobs. “Again, again, and again he pressed me to his heart, and with floods of tears, thanked me.” The ostensible topic of conversation was his unabated mourning. Elizabeth began to hint that perhaps Mary should move back home to Salem.

Instead Mary agreed in 1833 to a long visit to Cuba with Sophia, who needed a rest cure. But Mary was in love, and her withdrawal was risky. Elizabeth’s letters to Mary, quoted by both Marshall and Tharp, describe how she and Horace continued to weep, hold hands, and embrace. To Mary’s relief, nothing came of it but a sonnet by Elizabeth in praise of chastity and a few tender dialogues about “the difference between love and friendship.” While in Cuba, Mary began to correspond with Horace directly, but nothing seemed to come of that, either. It was only in 1843 that Horace proposed. Their honeymoon, Tharp tells us, was a tour of the “prisons, insane asylums and schools” of Europe. They would have three sons. In 1848 Horace took the late John Quincy Adams’s seat in Congress, and in 1853 he was inaugurated president of Antioch, a new coeducational, nondenominational college in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It was a difficult post. Antioch was beset by financial troubles and sectarian disputes, and the Manns were hit by typhoid, which killed Horace in 1859.

SOPHIA, THE YOUNGEST SISTER, was passive, delicate, tiny, and emotional. In weakness was her strength. “I never knew any human creature who had such sovereign power over everybody—grown and child—that came into her sweet and gracious presence,” Elizabeth observed. As an infant, Sophia was thought by her mother to have a “rebellious spirit.” According to Marshall, Eliza undertook to love her daughter into submission. The teething infant was dosed with calomel, a high-strength purgative drug that contained mercury, and the poisoning may have initiated a lifelong frailty. At age nine or ten, she began to have headaches, which Marshall believes were migraines. By the summer of 1819 Sophia had become “an embodied headache,” according to Mary. Her susceptibility exempted her from chores and intermittently from school. It did not, however, stop her from kissing boys.

Sophia shared her mother’s opium, and as she grew, her headaches were augmented by fevers and fainting spells. Doctors tried “leeches, ammonia, carbonate of iron, and colchicum,” Marshall reports, as well as “sulphate of iron, arsenic, quinine.” Sophia described her headaches on the one hand as “corkscrews, borers, pincers, daggers, squibs and bombs” and on the other hand as “the highest ministers of GOD’s inexpressible love.”

Tharp, writing when psychoanalysis was at the height of its popularity, blamed Sophia’s mother. “You enjoy too fervently,” Eliza wrote to the teenage Sophia vacationing in Vermont. “Come home now and live upon the past.” During her two-year rest cure in Cuba from 1833 to 1835, Sophia was feeling so well that Boston began to gossip about her coquetry, and Eliza cautioned her: “Do not let that Don tempt you to waltz. It may destroy all that has been done.” Marshall defends Eliza as trying to protect her daughter from pain, pointing out that the elimination of experiences that might cause migraines is recommended by the migraine expert Oliver Sacks. “Sophia’s ambivalence about the independence her mother envisioned for her,” Marshall writes, “was surely a greater factor in her chronic illness than any unconscious desire on her mother’s part to keep her a dependent at home.” Sacks believes that migraines have a psychological component, and Marshall sees his approach anticipated in Sophia’s treatment by Dr. Walter Channing, the younger brother of the minister idolized by Elizabeth. A handsome and brawny man, Channing told the Peabodys that Sophia was “without any disease but the habit of being sick.” He did not confront her. His method was to establish a bond of trust with his patient, in order to gradually direct her attention to “something out of herself.” He hinted steadily that sickness might not be virtuous, writing to Sophia that he was not “enamoured of martyrdom in my friends.” She responded with a crush and on-again off-again improvement.

Sophia had drawn and painted since she was thirteen. In 1829 Elizabeth hired a German illustrator as a classroom instructor, and his praise encouraged Sophia. In June 1830 Elizabeth arranged for Thomas Doughty to paint a landscape in Sophia’s bedroom, so that she could study his method and copy his canvas. Bostonians were willing to pay for fine copies, and Sophia’s talent held the promise that she might earn a living by it. Later that summer she copied a portrait by Chester Harding, and the following year a landscape by Washington Allston. Allston praised it, though he advised Sophia to “copy nature” instead.

Unfortunately, Sophia was often inspired to create as a migraine was beginning. Between excitement and collapse, she finished only a handful of original, full-scale works: a bust of the famous deaf and blind student Laura Bridgman, and oil paintings of imaginary English and Italian landscapes. She felt more comfortable making small ornaments—miniature panels for hand baskets and fire screens. When she tried to illustrate a book by Elizabeth, anxiety overwhelmed her. In her last work, completed before her first child was born, she copied a reproduction owned by Emerson of a Roman bas relief of Endymion, the sleeper whose ecstasy came to him while dreaming. “In some way, it is my life,” she wrote to her mother.

ELIZABETH ADMIRED HAWTHORNE’S TALES, but she didn’t believe he could have written them because, she reasoned, “a man who could write so would be very distinguished,” and Nathaniel wasn’t. In 1837 she called at his house believing that the real author was his sister Elizabeth, known as Ebe, with whom she had studied as a girl.

Nathaniel returned the visit accompanied by his two sisters—“a hooded figure hanging on each arm,” Elizabeth later recalled. While Elizabeth and Mary showed off a new illustrated edition of The Iliad, they inspected Nathaniel. “The beauty of the outline of all his features, the pure complexion, the wonderful eyes, like mountain lakes seeming to reflect the heavens, made a wonderful impression,” Elizabeth wrote later. His Gothic home life was almost as attractive. The Hawthornes ate most of their meals in solitude, each in a separate room. Three months could go by without Nathaniel catching sight of his sister Ebe. “We do not live at our house,” he confessed; “we only vegetate.”

During the visit, Sophia stayed upstairs in bed. According to Elizabeth, she said, “I think it would be rather ridiculous to get up,” and added that “If he has come once he will come again.” Whether or not Sophia knew it, she was blowing Nathaniel’s secret dog whistle. Withholding was a note that his ears picked up even when no one else’s did.

Marshall believes he didn’t answer the call right away. For several months Elizabeth had him to herself. Hawthorne was moved by Elizabeth’s efforts to prise him out of his shell. In February 1838, she mailed a copy of his Twice-Told Tales to Wordsworth; in March she raved about the book in The New-Yorker; and in the fall she wangled him a job at the Boston Custom House. In May he wrote to an editor that Elizabeth “is a good old soul, and would give away her only petticoat.” These do not sound like the words of an infatuated man.

Marshall claims, however, that between Elizabeth and Nathaniel “a private ‘understanding’ was reached: they would marry.” Rumors of such an engagement have been reported before, but Marshall offers as a new piece of evidence a six-hundred-page manuscript biography of Elizabeth, written in 1904 by a young admirer named Mary Van Wyck Church. Shortly before she died, according to Church, Elizabeth said that Hawthorne had been “the love of her life.” Because Church had access to documents later lost, Marshall quotes from Church’s manuscript throughout her book. However, she never quotes a sentence asserting that Nathaniel and Elizabeth were engaged. Nor does she give the context in which Church used the word “understanding,” which Marshall places in quotation marks. In a recent article in The New Yorker, Marshall has printed a bit more of Church’s text than appears in her book: “With Hawthorne, it never was love, though he doubtless . . . so considered it,” Church wrote, in what seems to have been a paraphrase of Elizabeth’s words. Elizabeth “was too strong, too magnanimous & too clear in her understanding to be long held in the bondage of an unhappy passion.” But the word “understanding” cannot be construed in this sentence as a synonym for “engagement to marry.” In fact, from the evidence Marshall has presented, the explanation in Church’s account resembles the ambiguous one that Elizabeth gave a German correspondent in 1886: “had Hawthorne wanted to marry me he would probably not have found much difficulty in getting my consent.” In other words, she didn’t marry him because he didn’t propose.

When Nathaniel and Sophia at last met, they gazed at each other with “intentness of interest,” according to an account that Elizabeth wrote in the 1880s for their son Julian, then writing his parents’ biography. She claimed that she recognized at once that they had fallen in love. She gave Sophia’s Cuba journals to Nathaniel. While Marshall suspects that Elizabeth did so in the hope that the account of Sophia’s illness would frighten him off, it seems clear that Hawthorne believed marriage would cure Sophia. By June he was copying passages of her journal into his own, and over the summer he worked one of her Cuban anecdotes into his tale “Edward Randolph’s Portrait.” Sophia, in turn, illustrated his story “The Gentle Boy,” and he called her illustration “a creation of deep and pure beauty.”

In the play of compliments began a union that Margaret Fuller would call “holy and equal” and that the couple themselves would call “inward and eternal.” By January 1839, they were engaged. As with Royall Tyler and Mary Palmer, it would be several years before the union was public and the couple set up house. But once united, they presented a front impervious to the world—to Elizabeth, sometimes cruelly so. “I shall not let Sophia have your letter to her,” Nathaniel wrote to Elizabeth in 1855, when he thought she was trying to make Sophia feel guilty about neglecting their father. “This conjugal relation is one which God never meant you to share, and which therefore He apparently did not give you the instinct to understand.”

Nothing came between Sophia and Nathaniel; that was the idea they had of love. She yielded in 1844 when he asked her not to sell her copy of the relief of Endymion, and she yielded in 1857 when he decided she shouldn’t publish her travel journals. “She gives her man the sugar-plum of her own submissive sweetness,” wrote D. H. Lawrence. “And when he’s taken this sugar-plum in his mouth, a scorpion comes out of it.” Lawrence didn’t mean by this that Sophia was to blame. He was exploding by description the Hawthornes’ idea of intimacy, which demonized sex and prettified love, causing damage that Nathaniel understood as a writer though not, apparently, as a man. In 1862, Sophia told the wife of her husband’s publisher that Nathaniel “hates to be touched more than any one I ever knew.”

“Nothing can be further from my purposes than to be upon a sick bed,” Sophia wrote to her mother immediately after her marriage. In fact, although her headaches would be mentioned less frequently, they never stopped. As T. Walter Herbert shows in his brilliant study Dearest Beloved, the air of the Hawthornes’ marriage was not easy to breathe. Their children did not thrive. The eldest daughter struggled with mental illness all her life. Julian was imprisoned for fraud in 1912. Only the youngest daughter came into her own: after Rose Hawthorne survived marriage to an alcoholic, a bout with insanity, and the death of her only child, she devoted herself as Mother Mary Alphonsa Lathrop to a Roman Catholic order that cared for the sick and the poor in New York’s Lower East Side.

ONCE ELIZABETH WAS SHUT OUT of the romances that led to her sisters’ marriages, her own career began. In the summer of 1840, she opened a bookstore and circulating library in Boston, stocking books and periodicals in foreign languages as well as English. Dissident Unitarians flocked to it. She hosted the Transcendentalist Club and Margaret Fuller’s seminars for women. That winter she started an imprint in her own name and published an abolition tract by her hero Reverend Channing; three books by Hawthorne of historical tales for children followed. In 1841 her store hosted a fundraiser for the utopian experiment Brook Farm, and in 1842 she took over The Dial after its commercial publisher went bankrupt.

Elizabeth’s enterprises weren’t profitable, but they served reform, which would be the passion that organized the rest of her life. Her choice of causes was indiscriminate. Kindergarten deserved her efforts, and in 1849 she published Thoreau’s famous essay on civil disobedience, but she squandered years on a system of color-coded charts intended to help students of history memorize dates. In 1855 she was liberated to give even more of herself to reform by an annuity, set up by a former student with contributions from her friends. It paid one hundred dollars a year, which she could spend however she liked, but she had no power to give away the principal.

She was easy to laugh at, and sooner or later her intellectual sloppiness and moral certainty exasperated almost everyone. She was forgiven because of her generosity. Elizabeth arranged for Margaret Fuller to meet Emerson, lobbied editors on her behalf, and recruited students for her classes. Nonetheless Fuller couldn’t stand “the blur, the haste, the tangle” of Elizabeth’s mind and thought little of her unfeminist devotion to great men. So public was Fuller’s frustration with Elizabeth that Reverend Channing was said to have intervened. His mild rebuke nicely captures Elizabeth Peabody’s claim on our memory: “Miss Fuller,” Channing reportedly said, “when I consider that you are all that Miss P[eabody] wished to be, and that you despise her, and that she loves and honors you, I think her place in Heaven must be very high.”


1 Although Marshall does not credit him, Bruce A. Ronda reported the adultery earlier in his compact and lively Elizabeth Palmer Peabody: A Reformer on Her Own Terms (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), my source for a number of details and quotations in this review. I have also consulted T. Walter Herbert, Dearest Beloved: The Hawthornes and the Making of the Middle-Class Family (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); Patricia Dunlavy Valenti, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne: A Life, Volume 1, 1809–1847 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004); and Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003).

2 Thomas St. John, “Judge Royall Tyler in the House of the Seven Gables.”

3 Ronda, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, p. 307.