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Selected Tales and Sketches

Selected Tales and Sketches

3.5 2
by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Michael J. Colacurcio (Introduction)

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The short fiction of a writer who helped to shape the course of American literature. With a determined commitment to the history of his native land, Nathaniel Hawthorne revealed, more incisively than any writer of his generation, the nature of a distinctly American consciousness. The pieces collected here deal with essentially American matters: the Puritan past,


The short fiction of a writer who helped to shape the course of American literature. With a determined commitment to the history of his native land, Nathaniel Hawthorne revealed, more incisively than any writer of his generation, the nature of a distinctly American consciousness. The pieces collected here deal with essentially American matters: the Puritan past, the Indians, the Revolution. But Hawthorne was highly - often wickedly - unorthodox in his account of life in early America, and his precisely constructed plots quickly engage the reader's imagination. Written in the 1820s, 30s, and 40s, these works are informed by themes that reappear in Hawthorne's longer works: The Scarlet LetterThe House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance. And, as Michael J. Colacurcio points out in his excellent introduction, they are themes that are now deeply embedded in the American literary tradition.

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Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright Page



The Hollow of the Three Hills

Sir William Phips

Mrs. Hutchinson

The Wives of the Dead

My Kinsman, Major Molineux

Roger Malvin’s Burial

Passages from a Relinquished Work

Mr. Higginbotham’s Catastrophe

The Haunted Mind

Alice Doane’s Appeal

The Gray Champion

Young Goodman Brown


The Notch of the White Mountains

The Ambitious Guest

The May-Pole of Merry Mount

The Minister’s Black Veil - A PARABLE

Sunday at Home

The Man of Adamant - AN APOLOGUE

Endicott and the Red Cross

Night Sketches


The Hall of Fantasy

The Birth-mark



The Celestial Rail-road

Earth’s Holocaust

The Artist of the Beautiful




Suggestions for Further Reading


Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was born in Salem, Massachusetts, where, after his graduation from Bowdoin College in Maine, he wrote the bulk of his masterful tales of American colonial history, many of which were collected in his Twice-told Tales (1837). In 1839 and 1840 Hawthorne worked in the Boston Customs House, then spent most of 1841 at the experimental community of Brook Farm. After his marriage to Sophia Peabody, he settled in the “Old Manse” in Concord; there, between 1842 and 1845, he wrote most of the other tales in this volume, first gathered in a collection entitled Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). His career as a novelist began with The Scarlet Letter (1850), whose famous preface recalls his 1846-1849 service in “The Custom-House” of Salem. The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and The Blithedale Romance (1852) followed in rapid succession. After a third political appointment—this time as American Consul in Liverpool, England, from 1853 to 1857—Hawthorne’s life was marked by the publication of The Marble Faun (1860) but also by a sad inability to complete several more long romances. Ill health, apparently, and possibly some failure of literary faith finally eroded Hawthorne’s striking ability to make imaginative sense of America’s distinctive moral experience.


Michael J. Colacurcio is the author of The Province of Piety: Moral History in Hawthorne’s Early Tales and of various essays and reviews in the field of American literature. He has also edited and contributed to a volume of New Essays on The Scarlet Letter. He is currently Professor of English and American Studies at UCLA.

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First published in the United States of America by Penguin Books 1987
Published simultaneously in Canada



Introduction and compilation copyright © Viking Penguin Inc., 1987

All rights reserved


The text of the stories in this collection is that established by the Centenary
Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne published by the Ohio State University
Center for Textual Studies and Ohio State University Press. The selections are from the volumes entitled Twice-Told Tales, Mosses from an Old Manse, The Snow-Image
and Uncollected Tales, and Miscellany. Copyright © Ohio State University
Press, 1974, 1987. All rights reserved.


Acknowledgment is made to The Library of America for their assistance in the production of this book.


Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 1804-1864.
Selected tales and sketches.
(Penguin classics)
Bibliography: p.
I. Colacurcio, Michael J. II. Title.
PS1852.C’.3 86-21247

eISBN : 978-1-101-07780-1





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When Hawthorne recollected, in the often quoted Preface to the third edition of his Twice-told Tales (1851), that he had once found himself “the obscurest man of letters in America,” he was speaking of a phase of his career that had long since lapsed. The Scarlet Letter (1850) had not yet had time to establish itself as the classic we now universally recognize—that miracle of meditation which transcends provincial origin and subject matter to become a standard of World Literature; but it was already a significant critical and popular success. The House of the Seven Gables ( 1851), which Hawthorne himself in some moods preferred to The Scarlet Letter, would further secure his reputation. And by the time The Blithedale Romance (1852) was making its way among reviewers and booksellers, a somewhat envious Herman Melville could write his recently estranged friend that “this name of ‘Hawthorne’ seems to be ubiquitous.”

But if these three extended fictions—the “American Romances,” as Henry James would name them in his critical biography of 1879—established Hawthorne in that rich and catholic world we treasure as “fiction in English,” and also at the center of an ongoing critical debate we recognize as “novel versus romance,” it remains true that those shorter fictions Hawthorne produced in the decades prior to 1850 amount to far more than a long foreground to worldly success. Indeed the total achievement of his earlier tales and sketches is so remarkable that Hawthorne would merit a place in the first rank of American authors even if he had written none of his longer works. Nor would the literature of any modern nation-state be anything but significantly enhanced if Nathaniel Hawthorne had happened to be born there and to have subjected its peculiar moral history to his unique style of fictional analysis.

Yet Hawthorne remains emphatically an American writer—self-consciously then and distinctively now. Most obviously: as no one escapes the pressures of history, so this notable descendant of the American Puritans could scarcely have eluded all trace of their conscientious and symbolic manner of taking the world. More significantly, his American-ness reveals itself in terms he consciously learned, by immersing himself, at the outset of his career, in the whole sequence of colonial and provincial texts which inevitably express the Puritan Mind and arguably control American Identity.

That is to say, Hawthorne did not merely inherit his status or assume his function as an “American” author; rather, he studied to recreate and meditated to judge the special quality of moral experience in his native land. More incisively than any writer of his generation, he placed the moral argument both for and against Calvinism. Further, he had the critical intelligence to discern how much of the familiar politics of mission and destiny was but the public face of a piety that flourished in America distinctively. And eventually, especially in the 1840s, he acquired the perspective to notice how much of the morale of his own generation of intellectuals was suitably understood as neo-Puritan, despite their vigorous rejection of the theological idioms of the older orthodoxy. The continuities are clear and strong enough to suggest that, after he had written out his account of the Puritan conscience, he deliberately turned to something like a moral history of his own times. Thus even Hawthorne’s more contemporaneous tales maintain a firm sense of involvement in a reality that is both concrete and continuous.

From this observation it follows that the enduring, even dazzling achievement of Hawthorne’s early fiction is not sufficiently appreciated in the terms modern readers find readiest to hand: not in that formalism which regards literary meaning as utterly internal to the work itself; and not even in those systems of psychoanalytic analysis which help us find, in literature as elsewhere, some structure deep enough to inform all possible experience of the world. For, contrary to the implication of both these famous critical schemes, the typical Hawthorne tale appears to insist that we cannot get along without historical reference. Not thematically, of course, as the tales frequently set out to judge the import of experiences that have been altogether real and definite. And not even formally—should we find ourselves insisting on that once proud distinction—for the reality of history usually introduces, quite deliberately, some contrary or discordant element into the otherwise smooth and plausible rhetoric of the Hawthorne tale itself. As history in Hawthorne usually signals irony, so we often find an entire reordering of values is triggered by some local but altogether strategic reference or allusion.

This is not to say, of course, that some subtle “historicism” may serve as our only system of critical notice. No one should fail to observe that Hawthorne’s plots are often crafted for exquisite swiftness and precision of impact; or that his patterns of sight and sound are arranged with an artist’s sense of repetition and difference. And only the studiedly naive will resist the intimations of psychic complexity that lurk (even unconsciously) behind his most innocent-looking image or symbol. Yet the reader is also invited to pursue, with equal vigor and tact, the significance of allusions that seem to incorporate history into the imaginative world of the fiction. It might be too much to claim that we must always begin or end with such references. Yet it may be fair to suggest that Hawthorne fully emerges from his early obscurity only when the reader is determined to trace his art back to the real-life sources in the history that sustained it.


None of the works we might think to identify as Hawthorne’s first significant literary production provides a full introduction to the precise historical demands we have been anticipating. His project of “moral history” begins quite early, but it does not appear to have been entirely aboriginal; and that fact seems always to have been part of our critical problem. Accustomed to identify moral “origin” with artistic “epitome,” we have rarely thought to look for swift and significant historical development.

Fanshawe, a brief, seriocomic novel of sexual intrigue which Hawthorne managed to publish in 1828, is explicitly set in the previous century—in and about a “seminary of learning” located in a “retired corner of one of the New England states”—but its affinities are with literary traditions hardly to be identified with what Hawthorne’s contemporaries specifically defined as “the matter of America.” Scholars have patiently identified the influence of Sir Walter Scott, and of the so-called gothic and domestic or sentimental schools of English fiction; and though critics once claimed that this work predicted all that was really essential in Hawthorne’s moral vision, no one has ever tried to link it very directly with the short fictions Hawthorne was also writing (and trying to collect) in the years immediately after his graduation from Bowdoin College in 1825. Indeed it now seems something of an embarrassment; not a false start, exactly, which the author subsequently tried to recall, as was once believed; but more like a bid to get something published, anonymously; something which lightly mocked even as it traded on the most popular of readerly expectations.

The case of the first of Hawthorne’s several projected collections of brief tales is somewhat more complicated and suggestive, though even here the argument for the author’s deep involvement in moral history, or in a fully studied art of allusion, would look a little premature. The title of the proposed collection, “Seven Tales of My Native Land,” clearly suggests some patriotic motive, as does the prior fact of Hawthorne’s membership in the more “nativist” of the two literary societies (the “Athenean”) in existence at Bowdoin in the 1820s. Apparently Hawthorne began his career as a literary professional in substantial agreement with the widespread (though by no means universal) sentiment in favor of an American literature that should aspire to eventual greatness not formally, by imitating the established genres of British literature, but materially, by emphasizing those experiences that had distinguished American experience from all others. As earlier generations of independent-minded Americans had urged their constituents to “buy homespun,” so American writers of the early nineteenth century were repeatedly urged to “use American materials.” And we can easily imagine the author of the “Seven Tales” trying—in the words of one of Hawthorne’s later, more ironic narrators—“to deserve well of [his] country by snatching from oblivion some else unheard-of fact of history.”

Yet the literary image of the “Seven Tales” is blurred indeed. Part of the problem, quite simply, is that we cannot be sure of its precise table of contents, especially as this cardinal uncertainty is linked to some fairly strong evidence that a discouraged Hawthorne may have destroyed the majority of the tales intended for this first projected but never actually published collection. Well after Hawthorne’s death (in 1864), his sister Elizabeth remembered reading, in the summer of 1825, a gathering of tales whose subjects she named as “witchcraft” and “the sea”; but she could mention only a couple of titles. One of these she referred to as “Alice Doane,” and most scholars infer that “Alice Doane’s Appeal” (1834)—whose clearly fictionalized narrator refers to the tale within his tale as one that chanced to survive some general literary conflagration—is in fact a dramatized redaction of one of Hawthorne’s original “Seven.” Beyond this one quasi-fact, however, most of the conditions surrounding Hawthorne’s earliest attempts to market his tales remain indeed obscure.

“The Hollow of the Three Hills” (1830), which is surely about witchcraft in some sense, may quite possibly be a survivor from Hawthorne’s first attempt at self-collection. So may be “The Wives of the Dead” (1832), whose setting and action at least partially invoke the sea. Nor is it entirely fanciful to suppose that “An Old Woman’s Tale” (1830)-not included in this collection—might have been designed to serve as a sort of frame for some series or other; most suggestively, it identifies its source as the “strangely jumbled” memory of a cronelike old woman whose tale-telling habits have left “a thousand of her traditions lurking in the corners and by-places of [the narrator‘s] mind.” All we can say with any certainty, however, is that the Hawthorne who returned in the summer of 1825 from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, to his native place of Salem, Massachusetts, had a mind to publish a collection of tales that subscribed, at least nominally, to the nativist literary program; and that he grew frustrated and even a little angry when he gradually inferred, by 1827, that publishers were not eager to publish his collection as such.

Yet it may be worth pausing a moment to consider the precise quality of Hawthorne’s earliest published tale of his native land. For the temptation has been strong to identify “The Hollow of the Three Hills” as indeed a first; to decide that its subject recalls the infamous matter of the Salem Witchcraft, in which one of Hawthorne’s remote ancestors had been deeply involved (as a surveillant but none too judicious magistrate); and to conclude with satisfaction and in haste that Hawthorne found his true “Hawthornean” métier almost immediately. The problem with this view is that it tends to establish a rather simplistic model of both the motive and the style of Hawthorne’s involvement in history: gloomy ancestral wrong elaborated in a basically gothic manner. And while this account may almost serve for “The Hollow,” it definitely reduces the complexity of tales like “Alice Doane’s Appeal” and “Young Goodman Brown,” in which Hawthorne’s recreation of the past is much more than merely associative or tonal.

Anticipating just a bit, perhaps, the reader should notice that many features of “The Hollow of the Three Hills” are relatively conventional. The unspecified gloom of its setting amid “strange old times, when fantastic reveries were realized among the actual circumstances of life” contrasts quite noticeably with the sense of time and place so narrowly evoked in Hawthorne’s two later witchcraft tales—the “Appeal” actually told on the “gallows hill” of the Salem executions, and “Brown” leaving clear traces of Hawthorne’s reading of Cotton Mather’s weirdly definitive Wonders of the Invisible World and deftly establishing a concrete sense of the moral psychology (and even the religious sociology) of the Puritan village. Furthermore, the literary effects of “The Hollow” seem a good deal more predictable than those which come later. The lonely grief of the dishonored father and mother, the madness of the deserted husband (complete with the insane laughter and rattling chains of his madhouse), and the most untimely death of the abandoned child all suggest that Hawthorne’s loyalty to gothic and sentimental precedent is stronger than his fidelity to the motives and morphology of “Witchcraft in Salem.” Even the witchery of the tale seems a bit more literary than the seventeenth-century record would justify: the old witch-woman who recreates the events of the tale is “diabolic” chiefly in her lurid enjoyment of domestic tragedy; and her supernatural powers, even if spurious, are largely those of some spiritualistic medium. The whole thing seems a little too pat, too trimly tailored to the taste of a nineteenth-century audience.

In general, then, it is no surprise that historical scholarship has had little to say about the “outré” events of this very early tale; or that existing criticism has analyzed its rhetorical and structural effects rather than elaborated its moral themes. It is as if Hawthorne were making trial of a tone rather than propounding an explanation; as if, in a way we have yet to consider, full seriousness entered a Hawthorne work only with an opening of some significant historical issue.

Nor do we have to wait very long for that implied event, as the tales Hawthorne intended for his second projected (but again unpublished) collection take us at once into matters which only a determined commitment to history can adequately follow. Again there is some uncertainty about the complete table of proposed contents. Possibly the tales which survived the fiery failure of the “Seven Tales” were to be included. And scholars have speculated that a number of historical tales published in the mid-1830s were originally written for this collection—the “Provincial Tales,” which Hawthorne’s letters clearly show him trying to publish in 1829. But here the ambiguities hardly matter, for a stable center quite plainly emerges. And with it a firm sense of the subtle direction Hawthorne’s interest in American materials would take: not democratic patriotism or romantic nostalgia or even a moralized gothicism propels Hawthorne’s literary fascination with “provincial” America but instead, and much more soberly, some fairly deep commitment to the project of culture criticism. The facts are the facts of history, and the spirit is that of irony.

At this stable center, then, lie three very significant tales, all of which were published eventually in an 1832 Christmas “gift-book,” The Token. All are very pointedly historical and yet, significantly, each is immersed in materials quite specific to itself; and none deals with the ancestral (and also gothic) matter of the witchcraft. “The Gentle Boy” (omitted from this collection because of its length) takes up the issues of doctrine and religious psychology (piety) that appear to have divided, but also to have joined in mortal combat, the dominant sect of Puritans and their recessive but by no means quietistic antagonists, the Quakers. “Roger Malvin’s Burial” leads us at once beyond the supposedly congenial confines of the original Puritan century and propounds a story of true and false heroism in the midst of a bloody but also representative or mythic “fight” for territory disputed by the French and the Indians, in the War which famously bears their allied name. And “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” appears to explore in advance the psychological and rhetorical conditions of the American Revolution, outrageously but deliberately reducing the one truly “majestic” event of American destiny to the contour and proportion of a rum riot, awkwardly occurring somewhere in the 1730s.

The range is surprisingly wide, as the past turns out to be more than a tonal alternative to the rational and recalcitrant conditions of the present; and the literary effects are anything but predictable, as the act of retelling is by no means an obvious or rule-ridden performance. Yet a common motive really does emerge: to insist that past experience is likely to have been far different from the image any present might wish, for whatever reason of identity or power, to project back upon it.

In one sense, of course, the range encompassed by these three tales is perfectly predictable, as theorists of American literary culture had already decided, quite early in the nineteenth century, that the store of peculiarly “American” materials consisted of three essential “matters”: the matter of the Puritans, of the Indians, and of the Revolution. And at some level Hawthorne’s three indubitably “provincial” tales merely take up each of these definitive historical matters in turn. Yet those same theorists were clearly calling for something much different from what Hawthorne was prepared to give them in his own highly, often wickedly unorthodox account of the American provinces. The Puritans, for example, were widely understood to be “bigoted”—persecuting the Quakers as fiercely as they had suppressed (and banished) “heretics” such as Roger Williams and Ann Hutchinson earlier, or as they later hounded the accused witches. But they were also supposed to represent a wholesome and valuable strain of dedication and purpose inseparable from the national character; and it was further assumed, more often than not, that their institutions actually contained, beneath the limitations of their own personal will, the seeds of liberal democracy. A fine theory, as Hawthorne surely must have felt. Yet what “The Gentle Boy” dramatizes instead is simply the pain and moral confusion of persons who, though clearly on opposite sides of some dialectic of history, all appeal in vain to an apparently uniform God beyond.

Nor are the other members of Hawthorne’s tidy little trinity any more forgiving. “Roger Malvin’s Burial” plainly announces that it has some reference to a 1725 episode of Indian warfare known as Lovewell’s Fight which, though obscure to most modern readers, was widely celebrated on its hundredth anniversary as not only a triumph of advancing white civilization but also as a signal instance of frontier virtue and moral stamina. Well aware that the actual incident had been altogether ragged and unlovely, Hawthorne’s response is clearly ironic and pointed, going straight to the express issue of courage and cowardice but also, with equal directness, to the suppressed one of lying about the logic (and even the events) of protective retaliation. And very few critics of “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” —including those who insist that its real interest is psychological or mythic—have been able to escape the impression that Hawthorne’s version of the Revolution lacks all trace of ordinary American piety.

The psychoanalytic critics have a point, of course: “The Gentle Boy” does indeed suggest that persecuting sadists and suffering masochists have been let loose to play some terrible symbiotic game; and both “Malvin” and “Molineux” exhibit a deep structure it is hard to avoid calling Oedipal, in Freud’s own most precise and father-murdering sense. Yet some other point seems just as true and more persistently provoked by the carefully appointed historical surface of these three tales: Hawthorne’s provincial dramas are not set “nowhere,” or even just “anywhere” in some remote and tonally appropriate past, but in those precise moments of historical crisis which Americanist theory had somewhat innocently identified as the young nation’s most appropriate thematic space. The “Provincial Tales” clearly insist on their own historicity as the earlier “Seven” (as we know them) do not. Apparently something happened, between 1827 and 1829, to Hawthorne’s sense of the project of American literature.


Literary maturity, we might safely suppose, is no less remarkably mysterious than any other kind: it comes, if at all, whenever it does; its forms may be structural, and therefore predictable, but hardly its causes. Yet it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the most important thing Hawthorne ever did for the maturing of his own literary career was to undertake, beginning in 1827, an exhaustive and fairly systematic study of American history in its colonial, provincial, and revolutionary periods. The early results of this program of purposive reading and imaginative “re-cognition” bear sharply on the historical density and difference of the “Provincial Tales.”

The leading facts of “Hawthorne’s Reading” have long been clear, for the surviving records of his borrowings from his local subscription library, the Salem Athenaeum, were published in 1949. This well-thumbed list, itself but a minimum suggestion of Hawthorne’s voracious habits as a reader, clearly suggests that one of Hawthorne’s principal and vital interests swiftly became something we might almost risk calling by the name of “American Studies.” In an age when Everyman was, famously, “his own historian,” Hawthorne merely fulfilled the role more faithfully than almost anyone else. In an age when many local institutions like the Salem Athenaeum were anxiously trying to preserve and collect everything that might shed light on the prerevolutionary identity of the nation’s colonial experience, Hawthorne simply tried to read it all. Not only the obvious and crucial masterworks such as John Winthrop’s Journal and Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana, which together form a magisterial frame around the original Puritan century, but more local and embattled texts as well: Edward Johnson’s Wonder-Working Providence of Sion’s Saviour, for example, which recapitulated the first two decades of founding under the urgent aspect of an immanent second coming; and Nathaniel Ward’s Simple Cobbler of Aggawam, whose unwonted wit meant to instruct both New and Old England men in the more timely art of political compromise that yet stopped short of toleration; and New England’s Memorial by Nathaniel Morton, the nephew and loyal redactor of William Bradford, whose own authoritative account “Of Plymouth Plantation” was piously folded into the larger “non-separatist” account of Puritan motive and meaning; and even William Hubbard’s Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians of New England.

Nor did Hawthorne’s reading limit him to one side of the story. Willem Sewel’s History of the Quakers, which lies directly behind “The Gentle Boy,” tells much that providential and filiopietistic history found it necessary to omit or gloss over. More significantly, perhaps, Hawthorne appears to have learned the meaning of the “radical” dissent of Roger Williams and of the “populist” loyalties of John Wise directly from their own works. He even appears to have known (though perhaps at some second hand) the aboriginal Anglo-naturalism of Thomas Morton, whose New English Canaan—or whose infamous outpost at Merry Mount—has enlisted the sympathy of so many who hate Puritanism by instinct. Thus criticism as well as myth went early into the Hawthorne mix.

Hawthorne clearly read George Bancroft’s monumental but tendentious “libertarian” account of the Puritan contribution to the History of the United States as soon as the first volumes began to appear in 1834. But just as clearly he already knew much of the material on which it was based. Most importantly, perhaps, he was intensely familiar with the authoritative but not always “friendly” account it was supposed to supplant—the endlessly patient though often dull “constitutionalist” analysis of The History of Massachusetts Bay by Thomas Hutchinson, plainly the most fair and formidable of the Tory historians of prerevolutionary New England. Neither Hutchinson’s secularism nor his loyalty to the king was lost on the Hawthorne who wrote “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” though for other purposes the mentality of Hutchinson would have to be supplemented by that of Benjamin Trumbull, whose Complete History of Connecticut everywhere privileges the “higher” considerations of piety, declension, and revival. And behind Hawthorne’s alert response to these tomes lay his reading of the available local histories (of the towns of Boston, Salem, and Ipswich, for example, and of the regions of Maine and New Hampshire), and of dozens (probably hundreds) of local sermons and tracts. Apparently he even faced up to the available collections of legal and judicial proceedings from the earliest colonial years. The industrious graduate student is (cautiously) invited to attempt as much.

In the famously self-effacing letter to Longfellow of June 4, 1837, Hawthorne characterizes all this virtually archival reading as “desulcory.” And so it probably was, with regard to its available order and arrangement: who knew, in the 1820s, just how to re-cognize the colonial past? But Hawthorne appears to have read “religiously” as well, when we consider seriousness of purpose or efficacy of outcome. In one sense he merely did his required Americanist homework: before one could fairly “use” American materials, one had significantly to possess them. And in the end, what is often loosely referred to as Hawthorne’s artistic use of history turns out to be something very like history.

Best recognized, of course, is Hawthorne’s singular success in recovering the experience of those New England Puritans, whose piety and rhetoric have always advanced the most powerful claim to “founding” importance. And yet the evidence of the “Provincial Tales” suggests that it is possible to overstate and even misconstrue the place of Puritanism in the Hawthorne project. Hawthorne himself appears to have favored “The Gentle Boy” over “Malvin” and “Molineux,” reprinting the one in the first of his actually published collections, the Twice-told Tales of 1837, while reserving the other two for later reissue. But modern criticism uniformly prefers the two “non-Puritan” tales in this group. And more significantly, perhaps, all three reveal a similar dedication to the shape and implication of moral experience in the relevant past. “The Gentle Boy” aptly reminds us that the notoriously puritanic theme of “weaned affections” contains a powerful theologic prejudice against what rationalists and romantics both called nature; but “Malvin” and “Molineux” exist to recall that the complex problem of American guilt and innocence has a significant political as well as a religious dimension.

The crucial issue lurking here, however, is probably biographical, as it involves the question of the personal or familiar bias Hawthorne may have brought to his study of moral history in America. As too many of the older biographies begin their account of this “Capital Son of the Old Puritans” with a highly dramatic account of “Ancestral Salem” in the seventeenth century, so, too, many literary interpreters have assumed that Hawthorne’s penchant for and/or his quarrel with Puritanism was simply a given, with the implication that he wrote Puritan history either naturally or else by symptomatic retreat from an uncongenial present to a privileged past.

The facts tend to suggest otherwise. The Salem where Hawthorne was born (in 1804) was commerical rather than theologic in its dominant tone; and its religious cast was more liberal than conservative. His parents both belonged to churches that would become Unitarian when the “standing order” of Congregationalism was split in the 1820s; and all but one member of his extended family would favor churches teaching a decidedly un-Calvinistic understanding of sin and salvation. Accounts of Hawthorne’s childhood all indicate that he was indulged rather than disciplined, in the formidable manner of puritanic “Christian nurture”; and the record of his early education reads more like a Novel of Enlightenment than any conceivable Narrative of Surprising Conversion. The (modest) record of the Bowdoin years (1821-25) indicates that Hawthorne neatly avoided all organized attempts to awaken his slumbering sense of sin and save his soul. Further, as we have already noticed, none of his first works indicates that he is merely expressing some Puritanism of nature or early training. When the Puritan mentality does authoritatively appear, in “The Gentle Boy,” its context is one of learning and judgment: conscience and compulsion emerge as facts of the public rather than the private history.

Another way to approach the same fundamental point—that Hawthorne learned to do what he did with the past—is to notice that several other works published near the outset of his career also smell distinctly of the lamp of precise historical study. Three “sketches” of noteworthy historical figures, which appeared in the Salem Gazette in December 1830 and January 1831, all reveal a Hawthorne who is trying to be somewhat more precise about the import of the national “story” than he could conceivably have been in “The Hollow of the Three Hills” or “The Wives of the Dead.” “Sir William Phips” deftly characterizes the political career and private morale of the man who had been the first governor of New England under its new, “Royal,” and decidedly secularized charter of 1691. “Mrs. Hutchinson,” besides predicting a certain “typic” identity for Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, powerfully evokes the strain of theological feminism which mixes itself unstably in the religious recipe of Puritan prophecy. And “Dr. Bullivant” (omitted from this collection) aptly notices the puritanic expulsion of wit as but a merely naturalistic “humor,” even as it elaborately meditates the cause and consequence of what a still unhilarious nineteenth century called gloom. Significant cultural achievements in their own way, each of these brief sketches serves as an important marker of Hawthorne’s growing historical interest and precision.

Finally, of course, as even these three sketches tend to predict, it was on Puritanism that Hawthorne did choose to throw the light of his historical intelligence most fully and repeatedly. Yet clearly he must be thought of as choosing. Knowledge came from study and, as always, genius came from genius. But some considered project, provincial or otherwise, is clearly at issue in Hawthorne’s repeated and increasingly subtle attempts to antholo gize his early uses of American materials. So that, when the major tales of the Puritans do eventually emerge from the uncertain light of the famous “haunted chamber” of Hawthorne’s family house in Salem—to which he returned, from Bowdoin, in 1825, and in which he read and wrote for the better part of the next twelve years—they must be thought of as coming as much from knowledge and conscious intention as from bias, as validly from the historical as from some other, more romantic form of imagination.

“Alice Doane’s Appeal” self-consciously situates its gothic extravagance in precise relation to the mad logic of the Salem witchcraft of 1692: Leonard Doane does indeed, in the memorable formulation of Frederick Crews, “murder his personified wish”; but the rationale of this murderous aberration is specifically related to rumors of the Devil’s insidious power of “spectral” simulation, so that the murdered man only seemed guilty of the deeds that tempted the fantasy of the murderer himself. “Young Goodman Brown” (1835) puts the capstone on Hawthorne’s literary use of this peculiar Puritan theme of “specter evidence,” as some pitiable yet far too culpably innocent protagonist “sees” absolutely everyone at a witch meeting that only he has verifiably set out to attend. All of this is somehow predicted by New England’s own notorious witchcraft authority, Cotton Mather: the Devil can indeed appear “as an angel of light,” or in the shape of an innocent person; God Himself may permit it as a test of the faith of the elect. All of this is superstitious or hysterical by the sober standards of enlightened reason. And yet before scapegoating Mather, Hawthorne appears to have felt, one had better decide if it expressed some fundamental tendency of human instinct or animal faith. Otherwise the past was all too simply mad.

Nor, as our argument has so far implied, is Hawthorne’s psychology of witchcraft anything but a part of his total achievement in the area of historical re-cognition. “The Minister’s Black Veil” (1836) and “The May-Pole of Merry Mount” (1836) stand out from the remaining “Puritan” group, providing (between them) as provocative and authoritative an account as we have had of the now cooperating, now contending styles of puritanic piety and politics. And there are other tales as well, just less significant in their literary power to do history. But most of these come along a moment later in Hawthorne’s extended first period of artistic enterprise. And some account of Hawthorne’s third and most complex project of organized self-collection may be required to get the full context and scope of their determined historicism.


Along with “Goodman Brown” and many others, Hawthorne’s tales of the “May-Pole” and the “Black Veil” spilled forth as part of the virtual flood of publications that followed the breakup, in 1834, of yet another projected collection—“The Story-Teller.” Once more, unhappily, a subtle and multiform literary intention was atomized by editorial fiat; and once more, maddeningly, its reconstruction lies just beyond the reach of surviving evidence. What does survive, however, clearly indicates that Hawthorne had labored very carefully, over a span of four or more years, to put together a work which would collectively embody an extended commentary on the emergent state of American culture. And though, as always, “the might-have-been is but boggy ground to build on,” all the signs suggest that when certain arbiters of popular taste vetoed the publication of “The Story-Teller” as such, American literature lost one of its most sophisticated narrative experiments.

What Hawthorne delivered to a prospective publisher (early in 1834, apparently) was the completed manuscript of a proposed two-volume work in which many individual tales and localized sketches were all set within a rather precise and dramatically significant frame: some concrete “narrator” —a well-identified personage, with a history and developing story of his own—was to deliver each of the individual literary productions, and each was to be associated with some particular and well-evoked though as yet “unstoried” American place; furthermore, some unfolding thread of travel and of story was to connect all the more specific manifestations of the story-telling art. Perhaps Hawthorne was deliberately trying to domesticate the example of Washington Irving’s very popular Sketch-Book (1820), which called up the storied places of England even as it borrowed a few very old, probably archetypal folk tales for relocation in the Kaatskil region of upstate New York. In any case, some principle of situationality or “world liness” was clearly trying to insist on itself, in relation to even the most imaginative of literary performances. Evidently a mind haunted by reverie and recollection was to be given a local habitation and a name.

But the collection was cut up: first by the editorial decision (of Samuel Goodrich) that it was not suitably publishable as a book but might profitably appear serially, in successive numbers of the New-England Magazine; and then, according to the dictate of yet another editor (Park Benjamin), that its various tales and sketches would have to appear independently, without the connecting links of setting or narrative situation. One thing thus became very many, each falling out of relation to the others and to some idea of a literary whole. Moreover, each individual thing lost part of its essential self-definition; for, even as Hawthorne’s project was about to demonstrate, literary meaning is never so inherent as to defy the rhetorical powers of speaker, occasion, and audience. And so it is not hard to believe the testimony of Hawthorne’s sister-in-law (Elizabeth Peabody) that when they “tore up the book,” Hawthorne “cared little for the stories afterward, which had in their original place ... a great deal of significance.”

Yet out they flooded, in the two or three years that followed, in the New-England Magazine and elsewhere; to be regrouped, sooner or later, in the various collections Hawthorne’s improving luck and growing fame would authorize; but never as the composite cultural whole his all but inviolable historicity had first imagined. Whence our own largely ahistori cal criticisms have had to take them up, one by one, each as some strangely dislocated or remarkably intense thing “in itself.” Or else as fragments of some quaintly localized version of the romantic bildungsroman—as if the growth of the artist’s own mind were the only available topic of interest.

In fact, however, the enabling cultural premise and even the initial framing construction of “The Story-Teller” have survived the original editorial deconstruction and the subsequent literary misprision: the premise alone, in a suggestive but probably superseded experiment called “The Seven Vagabonds” (not included in this volume); and both together, with clear and operative intention, in an intriguing four-part sketch which acquired the awkward and somewhat pitiful title of “Passages from a Relinquished Work.” “Vagabonds” (1833) sets loose a “strolling gentleman,” eager to become an “itinerant novelist,” among a crowd of show-men, gypsies, and confidence men-idlers all, and all on their way to a Methodist camp meeting, there to divert the sober gentry as they rise up from the “anxious bench” of their sin and salvation; in the very next moment, however, the tale swiftly defeats the idle purpose of this hilarious little pilgrimage with the austere revelation, delivered by the lonely but imposing figure of the “circuit-riding” Methodist himself, that his revival meeting is quite “broke up.” The ending has seemed a bit abrupt, yet the thematic implication is perfectly clear: according to somebody’s dichotomy of spiritual culture, the literary career is being set over against the evangelical calling. And then, as if this obvious and painful dialectic could indeed have been missed, the “Fragments” (1834) puts it forth again.

A would-be storyteller elects to break free of the faithful watch of his ministerial foster parent, taking to the road with only his native wit for a saving grace. Instantly, however, he is joined by another would-be liver-off-the-word, an evangelical preacher named Eliakim Abbott. An odd couple, surely; yet henceforth the two will itinerate together, the one preaching salvation to all those who have ears to hear, the other seeking variously to amuse or mildly edify whoever happens to have the price of admission to some village theater. The dichotomy is too cruelly and humorously perfect to be anything but Hawthorne’s satiric yet not quite self-pitying version of the problem of secular or “historical” literature in a puritanic or “typological” culture. It even sheds a little light on the tone and bearing of the famous “writer of story books!” passage in “The Custom-House. ”

What follows most immediately from this highly suggestive beginning is, clearly, the Story-Teller’s first public performance: an impromptu recitation of a rather tall tale called “Mr. Higginbotham’s Catastrophe” (1834), which used to be taken, in isolation, as evidence of Hawthorne’s real gift for local color along with a spurious capacity for gratuitous over-plotting, but which can yet be recovered as an outrageous parody of the philosophical problem of “testimony,” particularly as it relates to the Christian story of a miraculous resurrection. The audience laughs uproariously, at nothing more than the name of the nominal protagonist, even as the Story-Teller deploys the schoolbook (but still potent) skepticism of David Hume; and even as Eliakim Abbott preaches that nearer-home cruci fixion of Christian repentance, to a small congregation in the narrow confines of the local schoolhouse. Suddenly Hawthorne’s talent for spiritual dilemma appears terribly up-to-date. Yet perhaps a present cultural situation is also history, whenever we choose to problematize it as such.

What was to follow along after this latter-day definition of the enduring “literary” hegemony of Puritanism will probably never become entirely clear. Evidently our fictional exponent (possibly to be named “Oberon”) and his evangelical antagonist were to wander, in tandem and in tension, all around New England, observing what they found, philosophizing their radical differences, and situating, one way or another, a number of tales which opened the spiritual history of a country many observers declared barren of significance and hence of literary opportunity. Most of the tales and local sketches Hawthorne published between 1834 and 1837 have been more or less plausibly assigned to “The Story-Teller” but, as the significant connections have been impossible to reinvent, such ascriptions have seemed not so much speculative as empty. This collection includes only one compound example of “what might have been”: “The Ambitious Guest” (1835), a moralized tale of what might be called the insecurity of nature, and which appears to echo Jonathan Edwards’ infamous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is clearly (if partially) prepared for by the “aweful” speculations of a sketch called “The Notch,” which was published as part of a larger unit called “Sketches from Memory by a Pedestrian” (1835). It is just possible that a few other such relationships may yet be discovered among the large assortment of tales and sketches which appeared separately in these years. But for the most part “The Story-Teller” comes down to us more as a cultural idea than as a literary reality.

Yet the idea remains full of critical significance. For one thing, the example of its elaborate narrative plan forces us to recognize the first collection Hawthorne did succeed in publishing as in fact a “miscellany.” The cogently titled Twice-told Tales (1837)—which Horatio Bridge silently underwrote, even as his letters volubly tried to cheer up his badly discouraged college chum—really did end Hawthorne’s long stint as nameless writer-of-supply for New England magazines and Christmas gift books; and clearly it did much, as the Preface to its third edition (1851) famously confesses, “to open an intercourse with the world.” But it was, in the last analysis, a mere gathering together of a certain range or variety of individual literary productions, without the studied integrity of the earlier projects, and without the framing reminder of cultural origin and local reference which distinguishes the intention of “The Story-Teller.” Its own being is remarkable enough to encourage investigation of its own looser sort of unity. Yet it strongly provokes the inference that Hawthorne had in some measure adjusted his more complex literary ambition to the terms in which his editors, rightly or wrongly, represented his audience. He simplified himself in order to survive.

More particularly, the entire dramatic form of “The Story-Teller” may prompt us to look for some narrator, lending distance and even a certain amount of irony to the most apparently personal of Hawthorne’s sketches of the 1830s. Hawthorne’s highly authoritative biographer, Arlin Turner, has detected farcical exaggeration in certain “Story-Teller” pieces which lament the bitter fate of “the artist,” so that supposedly confessional pieces like the (excluded) “Devil in Manuscript” (1835) and “Fragments from the Journal of a Solitary Man” (1837) may exhibit more satire than self-pity. So may “The Haunted Mind” (1835), “Sunday at Home” (1837), and “Night Sketches” (1838)—all of which have been included as (ambiguous) examples of Hawthorne’s treatment of the artistic (or otherwise “isolated”) mentality and point of view. Any or all of these may once have been offered by the most fully characterized of Hawthorne’s early narrators; certainly none can be read as unmediated autobiography. Evidently—the lesson of “The Story-Teller” suggests—Hawthorne’s psychological sketches are far more likely to characterize than simply to confess.

It also appears that the narrator who reveals a bit of his literary biography even as he rehearses the rejected “Appeal” of the original “Alice Doane” is the very Story-Teller, who may as easily share a fact or two with “the real Hawthorne” as does, much later, the notoriously unreliable narrator of The Blithedale Romance. Certainly this would help to account for the repeated and otherwise problematic intrusion of the angry teller into the well-composed tale. It might even give us a way to understand why it seems so easy for that teller to end by blaming Cotton Mather for the witchcraft, in a way Hawthorne himself would elsewhere always resist.

This consideration may well bring us back to the most obviously historical, explicitly Puritan contents of “The Story-Teller.” “Young Goodman Brown” does not by itself worry the conditions of its own telling; that, one suspects, has been part of its supposedly “timeless” power to fascinate and reveal. Yet we can easily imagine it as associated with the locale of Salem Village, which itself continues to stimulate the practice of psychohistory; and surely it is not amiss to wonder why the narrator raises only the problem of “dream,” when the story itself retells the wondrous tale of “specter evidence” with assured historical authority. A similar and even more unsettling question attaches to “The Minister’s Black Veil,” which the alert reader may well associate with the decades (and the themes) of the “Great Awakening,” but which the narrator offers as a somewhat more general—and sentimental—parable of painful solitude and pleasant society. More insistently still, “The Gray Champion” (1835) seems almost a case study in apparent narrative inconsistency, its oratorical conclusion broadly honoring the typological formula of Puritan politics the tale everywhere else portrays as paranoia. Most obviously, perhaps, “The May-Pole of Merry Mount” demands to be studied from the narrative perspective as firmly as from the historical: just whose authority is supposed to sponsor the tidy lesson in comparative colonization that is attached to the entirely fictional confrontation between a mythicized Governor Endicott and his misplaced “Priest of Baal”? And who wrote—to edit whose enthusiasm—the fey little footnote which exists to assure the decently empirical reader that, of course, nothing quite like the story’s central symbolic event ever really took place? Perhaps the literary strategy of these tales is every bit as deep as their historical plot.

A simpler point remains cogent: from “The Story-Teller” as from the “Provincial Tales,” Hawthorne’s historical fictions survive as historical, just as they do survive. Full of explicit reminders of the events and personages of the past, they invite and reward the attempt to trace out their pattern of allusion. “Goodman Brown” implies the “spectral” theme of Cotton Mather almost as plainly as it pronounces his name. The “Black Veil” amply evokes a sunny but backslidden world that both demands and resists the power of some darkly conscientious awakening to the “true” sight of sin. The “Champion” draws the logic of providential vindication so tight it almost snaps—in the face of George Bancroft. And the “May-Pole” tries to force its honest reader to question the import and the power of an allegory that goes back to the very foundation of puritanic America. And when we put these tales beside Hawthorne’s “provincial” histories, and add to them the half-dozen or so historical tales that appeared a year or two later, we are clearly in possession of the most authoritative and “survivable” achievement of Hawthorne’s first period.

Yet evidently Hawthorne had meant there to be more. Not more tales of colonial and provincial history, necessarily, though here too some discoveries may yet be made; but more in the way of dramatic directive to cultural location. And with that a sense of what it might mean to retell the stories (if not quite the events) of the Puritan and Revolutionary past, in the midst of a bourgeois, democratic, and somewhat bumptious present, so that an available “Story-Teller” might fairly have prevented modern criticism from ever conceiving Hawthorne as a writer who fled from reality to imagination, or who treated the past as nothing more than fugitive fancy’s temporal realm. Arguably he had begun that way, somewhere in his early and the century’s middle twenties. But by 1835 he had fully mastered an art of history as subtle and self-aware as anything ever attempted in fiction.


The remainder of Hawthorne’s career as “story-teller”—as opposed to his later appearance as our prime exemplar of the self-divided “romance-novel” —may be summarized much more briefly. Not because the tales and sketches of his second, “Old Manse,” period are greatly inferior to those of his original, elongated, and still somewhat murky “Salem” phase. But because the outlines of his life and literary interests are much clearer at this later moment; and because his thematic relation to the “transcendental” concerns of his Emerson-inspired 1840s is altogether manifest and plausible. Hawthorne republished and added to his miscellaneous Twice-told Tales in 1842 and again in 1851; but the story of his next significant literary venture is well and strategically told by the fully public and suitably arranged contents of his Mosses from an Old Manse (1846).

Nothing could be clearer, biographically, than the “break” in Hawthorne’s career just after the publication, finally, of a first collection. To be sure, many of his older interests continue through 1837 and 1838, with the latter year marked by the writing and publication of his four-part “Legends of the Province House,” only one of which (“Edward Randolph’s Portrait”) can be included in this volume. Unfortunately, as together those tales subject the ideology of the American Revolution to a degree of rhetorical and psychic scrutiny it has seldom received since; and further so, as their unrelenting irony all but makes up for the uncensored sentiment let loose in a fair number of domestic tales published at this time. But then a whole new range of contemporaneous—and strenuously intellectual—interests begins to develop.

Much of the worldly “intercourse” opened up by the Twice-told Tales requires no arcane research to discover. The signature of that work identified Hawthorne, as an author, to the notably intellectual Peabody sisters of Salem. To the least assertive of these sisters, Sophia, Hawthorne soon became engaged, even as the far more aggressive Elizabeth was working to advance his (perilous) claim to political patronage from the Jacksonian Democratic Party. Though the years 1839 and 1840 seem most clearly marked by the outpouring of love letters Hawthorne wrote to his fiancée while he held the uncongenial post of Customs Inspector for the Port of Boston, it is worth remembering that the first of Hawthorne’s extended works for children were also written at just this time; and that The Whole History of Grandfather’s Chair (as this three-part history of Massachusetts was later to be entitled) offers a useful hint about the world Hawthorne had entered. Though the matter of the Puritans and of the Revolution was familiar and even backward-looking, the purpose was new, as Hawthorne clearly thought of his subtle but largely unironic re-retelling as a contribution to the reform of education, itself part of a larger “ferment” of protest which has seemed to define American social history in the 1840s. Evidently Hawthorne agreed with Horace Mann, the reformer about to marry yet another of the Peabody sisters, that it matters very much what children are given to read.

Other recognitions and agreements might not come so easily in Hawthorne’s new environment. Boston, including its intellectual suburbs of Unitarian Cambridge and Transcendental Concord, was a vastly wider, more vibrant and fluid world than Salem had ever been. Having invested many of his summers traveling around New England, and having pressed one of his tours as far as Detroit, Hawthorne was of course no Robin Molineux; he had even spent six months in 1836 in New England’s “metropolis,” editing the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge. Such experiences could hardly fail to widen one’s horizon. But this was different. For Hawthorne was now, in fact if not by personal preference, a part of the political machine; like it or not, he had to socialize with Bancroft. And though he tried to stand aside from the current of transcendental Lectures and feminist Conversations, his new relations inevitably drew him in: Sophia was herself an ardent enthusiast of Emersonian idealism; and Elizabeth Peabody, who had been secretary to William Ellery Channing (Emerson’s Unitarian “bishop”) and then assistant at the notoriously experimental school of Bronson Alcott (Emerson’s Platonic “saint”), seemed to be at the center of everything connected with what people fell into calling “the Newness.” She even wrote some of the public relations material for Brook Farm, George Ripley’s transcendental commune at Roxbury, which she liked to describe as “Christ’s idea of society. ”

Abruptly enough, therefore, a studious, somewhat reclusive, and intensely shy young man and writer—younger in social experience than his thirty-five years—was set down in close proximity to the center of a self-conscious “Renaissance,” to which he would soon begin to make his own considerable contribution, but which was begun well before he arrived and would have been, even without his participation, one of the most significant intellectual and social awakenings in American history. Sooner or later our “moral historian” would have to estimate the mentality of his own generation of Transcendental Seekers, most of whom seemed more than a little puritanic still.

Meet the Author

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, the son and grandson of proud New England seafarers. He lived in genteel poverty with his widowed mother and two young sisters in a house filled with Puritan ideals and family pride in a prosperous past. His boyhood was, in most respects, pleasant and normal. In 1825 he was graduated from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, and he returned to Salem determined to become a writer of short stories. For the next twelve years he was plagued with unhappiness and self-doubts as he struggled to master his craft. He finally secured some small measure of success with the publication of his Twice-Told Tales (1837). His marriage to Sophia Peabody in 1842 was a happy one. The Scarlet Letter (1850), which brought him immediate recognition, was followed by The House of the Seven Gables (1851). After serving four years as the American Consul in Liverpool, England, he traveled in Italy; he returned home to Massachusetts in 1860. Depressed, weary of writing, and failing in health, he died on May 19, 1864, at Plymouth, New Hampshire.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
July 4, 1804
Date of Death:
May 19, 1864
Place of Birth:
Salem, Massachusetts
Place of Death:
Plymouth, New Hampshire
Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, 1824

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