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Nathaniel Hawthorne The Literary Conscience
Literature of Consience
Christopher C. Copass
English II, 2nd Period
April 29, 1999
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works established him as one of the most unique authors of the 19th century. With works such as The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne not only entertained his audience, he made them look at their own life and compare it to 17th century Puritan New England. He also brought readers to the realization of how harsh and difficult the period of American History was. Hawthorne’s unique style of writing and his ability to probe deep into the human conscience made him one of Early America’s most greatly admired authors.
The Hawthornes had already left their legacy with the town of Salem leaving Nathaniel Hawthorne a long rich history of ancestry in the town. In 1630, William Hawthorne made the Journey to the New World with John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts. Two of Hawthorne’s relatives who were directly involved with the Salem witch trials, also left their mark on the town. Hawthorne carried a direct relation to Judge Hathorne himself, being the primary cause of Hawthorne later adding a “w” to his name. Another of his relatives, Phillip English, was accused of witchcraft. These events definitely affected Hawthorne, even after the name change. Even as a grown man he used to say he could “still hear the ghosts in the old houses of Salem…” (Manley 23).
His father was occupied with a Salem shipping company. His occupation frequently took him away on voyages delivering spices and silks. One day, he returned to Salem to find his wife had given birth to a new son. He had been born on the 4th of July in 1804 and was given the name Nathaniel. His father loved Nathaniel, affectionately called “Nath,” dearly, but could not spend much time with him because of his job. One fateful day, he was assigned to captain a ship on a voyage to Suriname, in South America. A few weeks later, Hawthorne received the devastating news that the rampaging Yellow Fever had put an end to his father’s life. Although Hawthorne was greatly saddened by his father’s death, it did not have the distinguishing affect on his life that it did on his mother’s. She became withdrawn almost to the extent of reclusive. The rest of her life was lived in a state of melancholy. Hawthorne loathed to be in close proximity to his mother. He spent a large portion of childhood at the wharves in Salem, watching the schooners come in bringing silks and spices. Hawthorne’s life reflected his great love of the ocean, which probably originated at the now famous wharves.
At the age of nine, one of the most significant events in Hawthorne’s life occurred. The typical New England boy, Hawthorne was very physically active and athletic. One fateful day, while Hawthorne was playing ball, he injured his foot. Not only was his foot damaged, but it grew together improperly and created a problem which would ail him for the rest of his life.
After his accident, Hawthorne was confined to his bed because he had lost mobility. During this time, Hawthorne read many books that would became his favorites, and also have an impact on his writing. These books included Pilgrim’s Progress, by Bunyan, and Faerie Queen, by Spenser. He also enjoyed reading Shakespeare. When the condition of his leg improved, he put on small plays for his sister, who also admired Shakespeare.
At this point in his life, Hawthorne became mildly reclusive because he had been accustomed to sitting inside reading all day due to the fact that he could not walk properly. He mostly confined himself to his room where he began writing. Hawthorne “founded” a hand-printed magazine, The Spectator, which include some of Hawthorne’s early literature. He filled his magazine with some of his personal humor. His most amiable times were spent in his “Printing Office” working on his magazine. This appears to be the first time Hawthorne became seriously interested in writing.
As Hawthorne’s became older, he began to make plans to attend college. The College his Uncle chose was Bowdoin College. The first class at Bowdoin College consisted of seven members. His Uncle, who paid his expenses, chose this simplistic and ancient college. Its classes were modeled after Harvard’s with a strong emphasis on Latin, Greek, and moral character (Hoeltje 53-54). During his attendance there, Hawthorne became friends with two of his soon to be illustrious classmates, Franklin Pierce and Henry David Thoreau.
When Hawthorne returned from college, he decided to pursue writing further. His Uncle became incensed that he had paid for Hawthorne’s education, yet Hawthorne had ignored his requests for him to go into the stagecoach business. His mother shared his Uncles anger due to the fact that Hawthorne no longer pitied his mother in her state of continual grief.
As Hawthorne matured, he would produce many manuscripts. His first manuscript was Seven Tales of My Native Land. Many publishers rejected the Novel. Eventually, someone finally agreed to publish the novel. The man delayed so long in publishing the work that Hawthorne, in a fit of rage, burned the manuscript. This was a major setback for Hawthorne, but it would not last long. Throughout his life, whenever he found a copy of the printed book, he would burn it.
In his first years upon returning from college, Hawthorne produced a romance novel called Fanshawe. The novel was about a girl who is attending “Harley College” who is so beautiful that two men fall in love with her. Fanshawe is taking a walk in the woods when he observes someone trying to kidnap the girl. He foils the kidnapper's plans, but refuses all rewards and dies a young man. The kidnapper marries the girl.
His next manuscript, printed in 1826, was Twice Told Tales, which became a very popular book. Edgar Allen Poe became a well-known advocate of the book. He thought Hawthorne to be a pure writer and said that his tone was very effective. His only complaint about the book was a discrepancy with the title. He felt Twice Told Tales was an improper name for the novel because he felt the tales in the book “would be told more than a thousand times over” (Online). Henry W. Longfellow also loved the book and said of it “Live ever sweet book” (Manley 80).
As Hawthorne continued to age, he looked at the prospect or marrying someone. The Peabodys had been friends with the Hawthornes for years. Hawthorne began to make frequent visits to the girls of the household. Although Elizabeth Peabody took a great interest in Hawthorne, he was truly in love with her sister Sophia. Sophia was somewhat of an invalid. When Hawthorne first came to visit, she remained upstairs in her room. Eventually, Sophia also fell in love with Hawthorne. They would take long walks by the wharves and eventually they knew they were both in love.
Hawthorne became increasingly excited at the prospect of marriage. He decided they should live in a utopian type community called “Brook Farm.” Snow and other bad weather constantly plagued the farm and Hawthorne decided this environment was too unstable to raise a family in. They were married the next June. They spent their honeymoon in Concorde at “The Old Manse,” the former home of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Sophia and Hawthorne quickly fell in love with its beauty and scenery.
While at the Old Manse, Hawthorne published a novel based on his experiences at Brook Farm. The narrator of the tale, Miles Cloverdale, symbolizes the same skeptical overseer at Brook Farm. Many other characters in the book are based on acquaintances at Brook farm (Cohen 67).
Hawthorn’s first child, a daughter, was born in 1844. Hawthorne named her “Una” after the heroine of Faerie Queen, the book he loved so much as a child. Near the same time, Sophia’s sister, husband of the great educator Horace Mann, also gave birth to a child. It was a joyous time for both families.
While at The Old Manse, Hawthorne enjoyed the friendship of two other authors, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Hawthorne, Sophia, Thoreau, and Emerson frequently took ice-skating expeditions down the frozen Concorde River. They also went for long walks in the forest and listened to Emerson and Thoreau with their naturalistic skills. These would prove to be long and lasting friendships for Hawthorne.
Later, Hawthorne left Concorde to return back to Salem. He took a position at the Salem Customs House as a surveyor. Although he did not particularly delight in his position, he enjoyed the prestige it brought to his family. Whenever possible, Hawthorne would take time off of his job to stroll down the wharves and watch the ships as he did as a child. Hawthorne was a staunch Democrat and when in 1848 Zachary Taylor was elected president, the Whigs of Salem signed a petition demanding his removal from the office. After this Hawthorne returned to writing.
Hawthorne was extremel
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