Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 to 1864-born Salem, Massachusetts) is by far best known for his classic novel about adultery, The Scarlett Letter (1850). The Scarlett Letter was one of the very first mass produced books in America and was a best seller upon publication. I read it a long time ago. Most of his works are set in the New England region of the United States and many are related to issues revolving around puritanism.
Recently I was browsing through some of the short story selection on Dailylit.com and I saw there were a number of selections by Hawthorne. There was one story I recalled having read in school, "The Artist of the Beautiful". The plot of the story was still pretty fresh in my memory somehow so I decided to read it again to see how it looked to me now.
"The Artist of the Beautiful" is a classic tale of the seeming conflict of the artistic temperament with the practical mentality. A tale of the conflict of the lover of beauty and the advocate of pure practicality. It is a battle of a watch maker and his apprentice. I do not want to give away much of the plot of the story.
In this story we do not see a simple conflict between a hyper sensitive artist (recall this is in the height of the romantic era in Europe) and a brutish craftsman. The artist is not swooning over a daisy while the watcher maker toils away with out a thought in his blank mind:
But it was always for purposes of grace, and never with any mockery of the useful. He did not, like the crowd of school-boy artisans, construct little windmills on the angle of a barn or watermills across the neighboring brookTo some extent Hawthorne may be mocking the overly lush prose of some of his contemporaries in this passage. The watch maker's apprentice seemingly spends far to much time on the projects he is given and is out touch withe fact that time equals money and it is profit that runs a business
One of his most rational projects was to connect a musical operation with the machinery of his watches, so that all the harsh dissonances of life might be rendered tuneful, and each flitting moment fall into the abyss of the past in golden drops of harmony. If a family clock was intrusted to him for repair,--one of those tall, ancient clocks that have grown nearly allied to human nature by measuring out the lifetime of many generations,--he would take upon himself to arrange a dance or funeral procession of figures across its venerable face, representing twelve mirthful or melancholy hours
Purely for his own pleasure the artist creates a mechanical butterfly of marvelous beauty:
It has been delicately wrought," said the artist, calmly. "As I told you, it has imbibed a spiritual essence--call it magnetism, or what you will. In an atmosphere of doubt and mockery its exquisite susceptibility suffers torture, as does the soul of him who instilled his own life into it. It has already lost its beauty; in a few moments more its mechanism would be irreparably injured."
We see here a clear portrait of the artist as tortured soul. The last lines of the story are kind of an artistic credo in terms of a Romantic Era reading of Plato's theory of ideas
When the artist rose high enough to achieve the beautiful, the symbol by which he made it perceptible to mortal senses became of little value in his eyes while his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the reality.