Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864)Biography Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804, on the 4th of July in Salem, Mass. His grandfather was a judge in the Salem witch trials. Nathaniel’s surname, when born, was spelled, “Hathorne”. After he graduated from college he added the “w” in order to make the spelling conform to the way it was pronounced. Hawthorne hated school, and barely advanced through his studies. Nathaniel entered, and subsequently graduated from, Bowdin College in Salem. Hawthorne was not an outstanding student, and graduated only in the middle of his class in 1825.
Nathaniel had many famous classmates, including, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the (future US President) Franklin Pierce. After graduation, Nathaniel returned to his mother’s house on Charter Street in Salem, Massachusetts, and began to write. Nathaniel sequestered himself in her house for the next twelve years. Critics were fascinated with this apparent isolation, and speculated at length of his activities during this time. However, history shows that this “isolation” period was not as reclusive as Hawthorne would have most believe.
He socialized quite often in Salem, and used the free passage that was available on his uncle’s stagecoach line to make summer excursions around New England; Hawthorne even went as far west as Detroit. Hawthorne published his first novel, Fanshaw: A Tale, at his own expense in 1828. However, he later recalled it and destroyed all the copies he could find. Then, in 1830, the Salem Gazette published his first story, “The Hollow of the Three Hills”. With the publication of Twice-Told Tales in 1837, his name was finally recognized by the public. By the year 1838, (at the age of 34) he had written over two-thirds of the tales and sketches he would write during his lifetime. A year later, Hawthorne met Sophia Peabody and became engaged to her. Hawthorne felt that with his modest success in writing, he would not be able to provide a life sufficient enough for Sophia. Through the help of some influential people, he was given the position as a Measurer of Salt and Coal, in the Custom House at Boston. Hawthorne would use many of these experiences at the Custom House in his later writings. Just prior to his marriage to Sophia, he searched for better paying work, and was certain that he could not make a sufficient living off of his literature works. Hawthorne began looking for better paying work. Nathaniel invested a thousand dollars in a place called the Brook Farm Community. The work load here left him no time to write. Hawthorne’s lack of sympathy with the Transcendentalist viewpoint supported by the community, and the fact that the farm appeared to be financially unsuccessful, led Hawthorne to try to tell Sophia that he must form other plans for them. He resigned from the community in November, 1841. Hawthorne was given the opportunity to write for the Democratic Review. This employment gave him renewed hope that he could provide a living for Sophia. Hawthorne and Sophia were married in 1942 and moved to Concord, Massachusetts, where they took up residence in the now famous “Old Manse”. Hawthorne made colleagues and neighbors of some of the leading Transcendentalists of the day including, Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller and Alcott. Apparently, Hawthorne’s views changed on Transcendentalism since his stay at Brook Farm. His later works show some transcendentalist influence, including a belief in individual choice and consequently an emphasis on symbolism. Life at the “Old Manse” proved productive both artistically and financially. Here is where he produced some of the tales that were to appear in Mosses from an Old Manse. After the birth of their first child, financial problems began for the Hawthorne family. Hawthorne was successful in gaining the appointment of “Surveyor for the District of Salem and Beverly and Inspector of the Revenue for the Port of Salem.” He drew a salary of $1,200.00 per year, in 1846. Even though this position eased the financial problems, it left him little time to write. Due to the change in the political party which controlled the government, Hawthorne resigned this position in 1841. After the death of Hawthorne’s mother in 1849, he was put under more financial pressure and emotional stress. Sophia revealed, unbeknownst to Hawthorne, that she had saved money from her allowance for household expenses over the years. With the help of this money, Hawthorne resolved to try once again to earn a living through his writing. For the next eight months, Hawthorne worked day and night to finish, The Scarlet Letter.
In 1850, he published The Scarlet Letter which sold well. However, it was pirated by two London publishers, and the financial rewards were not great for Hawthorne and his family. Hawthorne had to take the wrath from several citizens of Salem, for some of the passages from the “Custom House” section of this novel. The Scarlet Letter was the first true psychological novel, contrasting Puritan morality with passion and individualism. The Hawthorne family moved to Lennox, Massachusetts, where they lived for the following year. It was here that Hawthorne made the acquaintance of Herman Melville, who was writing his first novel, Moby Dick. Hawthorne made a great impact on the writings of Melville, and the dedication of the novel (Moby Dick), to Hawthorne is evidence of the magnitude of this impact. During this time, Nathaniel published The Blithedale Romance, based on his experiences at Brook Farm. Needing to find a more permanent residence, Hawthorne moved his family back to Concord, Massachusetts. During his stay in Concord, Nathaniel wrote only two of his works there; Tanglewood Tales, and A Life of Pierce. A Life of Pierce was written as a campaign biography for his former classmate and future president of the United States, Franklin Pierce. For this biography, Hawthorne was rewarded with an appointment as United States Consul at Liverpool, England. While serving as consul, Nathaniel wrote no more fiction. Hawthorne did keep journals which later served as material for Our Old Home, dealing with the English scenery, life and manners. Hawthorne remained as consul until the election of President Buchanan, after which Nathaniel resigned his position. Following his resignation as consul, he moved his family to Italy, where they lived in Rome and Florence. Nathaniel kept journals of all art museums and historical sites he and his family toured. These journals served as the source material for his final, complete work, The Marble Faun, which was published in England as Transformation. The Hawthornes then moved back to Boston. Nathaniel’s health began to deteriorate rapidly in the early months of 1864. Nathaniel and his old classmate and friend, Franklin Pierce, traveled to New Hampshire in search of improved health. Nathaniel Hawthorne died in his sleep on May 19, 1864, at the age of 60, in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Hawthorne was buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at Concord. During his college days, Hawthorne made the acquaintance of several people who attained their fame through American literature and politics. The list of pallbearers for his funeral reads like the “who’s-who” in American Literature; they included Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell and Emerson. Former United States President Franklin Pierce accompanied Mrs. Hawthorne and his children to the funeral.
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