Sunday, August 26, 2007

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

Sierra Club


The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.


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American writer, son of Nathaniel Hathorne (1776 - 1808), was born at Salem, Massachusetts, on the 4th of July 1804. The head of the American branch of the family, William Hathorne of Wilton, Wiltshire, England, emigrated with Winthrop and his company, and arrived at Salem Bay, Mass., on the 12th of June 1630. He had grants of land at Dorchester, where he resided for upwards of six years, when he was persuaded to remove to Salem by the tender of further grants of land there, it being considered a public benefit that he should become an inhabitant of that town. He represented his fellow-townsmen in the legislature, and served them in a military capacity as a captain in the first regular troop organized in Salem, which he led to victory through an Indian campaign in Maine. Originally a determined "Separatist," and opposed to compulsion for conscience, he signalized himself when a magistrate by the active part which he took in the Quaker persecutions of the time (1657 - 1662), going so far on one occasion as to order the whipping of Anne Coleman and four other Friends through Salem, Boston and Dedham. He died, an old man, in the odour of sanctity, and left a good property to his son John, who inherited his father's capacity and intolerance, and was in turn a legislator, a magistrate, a soldier and a bitter persecutor of witches. Before the death of Justice Hathorne in 1717, the destiny of the family suffered a sea-change, and they began to be noted as mariners. One of these seafaring Hathornes figured in the Revolution as a privateer, who had the good fortune to escape from a British prison-ship; and another, Captain Daniel Hathorne, has left his mark on early American ballad-lore. He too was a privateer, commander of the brig "Fair American," which, cruising off the coast of Portugal, fell in with a British scow laden with troops for General Howe, which scow the bold Hathorne and his valiant crew at once engaged and fought for over an hour, until the vanquished enemy was glad to cut the Yankee grapplings and quickly bear away. The last of the Hathornes with whom we are concerned was a son of this sturdy old privateer, Nathaniel Hathorne. He was born in 1776, and about the beginning of the 19th century married Miss Elizabeth Clarke Manning, a daughter of Richard Manning of Salem, whose ancestors emigrated to America about fifty years after the arrival of William Hathorne. Young Nathaniel took his hereditary place before the mast, passed from the forecastle to the cabin, made voyages to the East and West Indies, Brazil and Africa, and finally died of fever at Surinam, in the spring of 1808. He was the father of three children, the second of whom was the subject of this article. The form of the family name was changed by the latter to "Hawthorne "in his early manhood.

After the death of her husband Mrs Hawthorne removed to the house of her father with her little family of children. Of the boyhood of Nathaniel no particulars have reached us, except that he was fond of taking long walks alone, and that he used to declare to his mother that he would go to sea some time and would never return. Among the books that he is known to have read as a child were Shakespeare, Milton, Pope and Thomson, The Castle of Indolence being an especial favourite. In the autumn of 1818 his mother removed to Raymond, a town in Cumberland county, Maine, where his uncle, Richard Manning, had built a large and ambitious dwelling. Here the lad resumed his solitary walks, exchanging the narrow streets of Salem for the boundless, primeval wilderness, and its sluggish harbour for the fresh bright waters of Sebago lake. He roamed the woods by day, with his gun and rod, and in the moonlight nights of winter skated upon the lake alone till midnight. When he found himself away from home, and wearied with his exercise, he took refuge in a log cabin where half a tree would be burning upon the hearth. He had by this time acquired a taste for writing, that showed itself in a little blank-book, in which he jotted down his woodland adventures and feelings, and which was remarkable for minute observation and nice perception of nature. After a year's residence at Raymond, Nathaniel returned to Salem in order to prepare for college. He amused himself by publishing a manuscript periodical, which he called the Spectator, and which displayed considerable vivacity and talent. He speculated upon the profession that he would follow, with a sort of prophetic insight into his future. "I do not want to be a doctor and live by men's diseases," he wrote to his mother, "nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So I don't see that there is anything left for me but to be an author. How would you like some day to see a whole shelf full of books, written by your son, with 'Hawthorne's Works' printed on their backs?"

Nathaniel entered Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, in the autumn of 1821, where he became acquainted with two students who were destined to distinction - Henry W. Longfellow and Franklin Pierce. He was an excellent classical scholar, his Latin compositions, even in his freshman year, being remarkable for their elegance, while his Greek (which was less) was good. He made graceful translations from the Roman poets, and wrote several English poems which were creditable to him. After graduation three years later (1825) he returned to Salem, and to a life of isolation. He devoted his mornings to study, his afternoons to writing, and his evenings to long walks along the rocky coast. He was scarcely known by sight to his townsmen, and he held so little communication with the members of his own family that his meals were frequently left. The name of Nathaniel Hawthorne finally became known to his countrymen as a writer in The Token. His first public recognition came from England, where his genius was discovered ar 1835 by Henry F. Chorley, one of the editors of the Athenaeum, in which he copied three of Hawthorne's most characteristic writings from The Token. Nathaniel Hawthorne's most famous works include: The Scarlet Letter and Young Goodman Brown. [Adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)]

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