"Hawthorne in His Own Time is better than a biography: it provides canny first-hand accounts of an author often considered unknowable, along with key literary assessments of the era, allowing readers to sift through the evidence and form their own judgments. Students, scholars, and lovers of the Great Romancer's work will all find much of value in this collection of gems."Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism
Hawthorne in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associatesby Ronald A Bosco (Editor), Jillmarie Murphy (Editor)
This first collection of personal reminiscences by those who knew Hawthorne intimately or knew about him through reliable secondary sources provides the real human history behind the successful writer.
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HAWTHORNE in His Own Time A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates
University of Iowa Press Copyright © 2007 University of Iowa Press
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Chapter One [Reminiscences of My Brother from His Childhood through the 1830s] (1870-1871)
Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne
* * *
Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne (1802-1883), Nathaniel's older sister, was his closest companion and confidante during their childhood in Salem and adolescent years in Raymond and Sebago Lake, Maine, and she helped him read for college prior to his admission to Bowdoin. An extremely well-read person, she later supported Nathaniel during his editorship of the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge in 1836 by submitting pieces for publication, and she collaborated with him on Peter Parley's Universal History, on the Basis of Geography in 1836 and 1837. Writing in Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife (1884), her nephew Julian remembered her as his father's literary conscience but acknowledged the reclusive disposition that, inherited from their mother, she shared with her brother, in contrast to their younger sister Louisa's sociability: [F]rom an exaggerated ... Hindoo-like construction of ... seclusion[, their] mother] ... withdrew entirely from society.... Such behavior ... could not fail to have its effect on the children. They had no opportunity to know what social intercourse meant; their peculiarities and eccentricities were ... negatively encouraged.... It is saying much for the sanity and healthfulness of [their] minds ... that their loneliness distorted their judgment ... so little as it did. Elizabeth ... [had] an understanding in many respects as commanding and penetrating as that of her famous brother; a cold, clear, dispassionate common-sense, softened by a touch of humor.... "The only thing I fear," her brother once said, "is the ridicule of Elizabeth." As for Louisa, ... she was more commonplace than [either] of them; a pleasant, refined, sensible, feminine personage, with considerable innate sociability. (1:4-5) Elizabeth composed the epistolary reminiscences that follow at the request of James T. Fields, who liberally drew details about her brother's early life from them for his "Our Whispering Gallery" series on Hawthorne in the Atlantic Monthly (1871). The value of all her letters at the time was that they provided early personal information her brother had been unwilling to share even with intimates such as Fields. Here Fields learned, for instance, that Hawthorne relished crime stories and was especially fond of the Newgate Calendar; delighted in reading through cookbooks for old New England recipes; wanted to join as its resident historian Charles Wilkes's 1830s-1840s naval expedition through the Pacific, to Antarctica, and along the American northwest coast; and extended his loyalty to college friends such as George B. Cheever, whom he visited in jail after Cheever was flogged and sued for libel over a temperance tract he published in 1835. Fields incorporated in his text the two letters Elizabeth enclosed with her letter of 13 December 1870; they deal with Hawthorne's travels with Uncle Samuel Manning through New Hampshire, where they stopped in Farmington and at the Shaker village in Canterbury.
Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne to James T. Fields, 12? December 1870
My dear Mr Fields
The reason I did not write to you immediately is that I sprained my right wrist, a fortnight ago, in getting out of a wagon in the evening; I can hardly hold a pen yet.
In some Portland[, Maine,] newspapers, within a year, some communications, relative to my brother, and purporting to be written by friends of his have appeared. I have not seen any of them, therefore I do not know how much credit they are entitled to. But my cousin Richard C. Manning told me some things that were in them which had been told to him, for he had not seen them himself. One was a letter from an early acquaintance, who had been my brother's companion in many rambles and fishing excursions, and afterwards met him in Europe, where, my brother said that he had hardly been more charmed than when, so many years ago, they sat "looking over Thomas Pond at the slopes of Rattlesnake Mountain" or something to that effect. I believe that to be true, because I remember the place, which was one of his favorites. Perhaps you have seen those newspapers. You know my brother was once an inhabitant of Maine, though but for a short time, except as a student. We lived in Raymond, on one side of the Sebago, then a Pond, now a Lake. We spent one summer there when he was twelve years old, and became permanent residents two years after. It did him a great deal of good, in many ways. It was a new place, with few inhabitants, far away "from churches and schools," so of course he was taught nothing; but he became a good shot, and an excellent fisherman, and grew tall and strong. His imagination was stimulated, too, by the scenery and by the strangeness of the people; and by the absolute freedom he enjoyed. One of those newspaper writers says that he was very strictly brought up, and not allowed to form many acquaintances; but I do not remember much constraint, except that we were required to pay some regard to Sunday, which was a day of amusement to most of the people. On Sundays, my Mother was unwilling to have us read any but religious books, but as we grew up, that prohibition was sometimes disregarded. We always had books, perhaps full enough. As soon as we could read with ease, we began to read Shakespeare, which perhaps we should not have done if books of more entertainment had been as plentiful as they are now. My brother studied Shakespeare, Milton and Pope and Thomson. The Castle of Indolence he especially admired. As soon as he was old enough to buy books for himself, he purchased Spenser's Fairy Queen. My Uncle Robert [Manning] was always buying books. I ought to have said in the beginning, that our father died when Nathaniel was four years old, and from that time Uncle Robert took charge of his education, sent him always to the best schools in Salem, and afterwards to College. After the loss of our Father we lived with our Grandfather and Grandmother Manning, where there were four Uncles and four Aunts, all, for many years, unmarried, so that we were welcome in the family. Nathaniel was particularly petted, the more because his health was then delicate and he had frequent illnesses. When he was, I think, about nine years old, he hurt his foot, playing bat and ball, at school, and was lame for more than a year. No injury was discernible, but in a little while his foot ceased to grow like the other. All the Doctors far and near were brought to look at it. Dr Smith of Hanover, then very famous, happening to come to Salem, saw it, among the rest, and he said that Doctor Time would probably help him more than any other. He used two crutches, and wore a wadded boot to sustain the ancle, but it was Doctor Time who cured him at last, and at twelve years old he was perfectly well. People who saw him then asked if this was the little lame boy. Mr. Worcester, the author of the Dictionary, taught a school in Salem when Nathaniel was hurt; and he was one of his pupils. Mr. Worcester was extremely kind, offering to come every day to hear his lessons, so that my brother lost nothing in his studies. He used to lie upon the carpet and read; his chief amusement was playing with kittens, of whom he had always been very fond. He would build houses and covered avenues with books, for the kittens to run through. Of course everything was done that could be thought of for his entertainment, for it was feared that he would be always lame. It was then that he acquired the habit of constant reading. Indeed, all through his boyhood, everything seemed to conspire to unfit him for a life of business, for after he had recovered from this lameness, he had another illness, seeming to lose the use of his limbs, [and was] obliged to resort again to his old crutches, which were pieced at the ends to make them longer. He said, after he began to write, that he had not expected to live to be twenty-five. But at seventeen he was perfectly well and entered college, and after that his health never failed until his long stay in Rome, which, I think, caused his death. He was a very handsome child, the finest boy, many strangers observed, whom they had ever seen. When he was well, Uncle Robert frequently took him into the country, and once at some place in New Hampshire, they met a gentleman and lady who seemed much pleased with him and offered him money, which he refused, because he said he could not spend it there-there were no shops. Another time, in Salem, an old gentleman, a connection of ours, but one whom my brother seldom saw, stopped him in the street and after talking with him a little while, offered him a ten dollar bill, which he also declined to accept, I believe without assigning any reason. The old gentleman was not well pleased, and spoke of it to one of his uncles,-apparently thinking it implied an unfriendly feeling towards himself. My uncle apologized as well as he could, by saying that his Mother disapproved of his having much spending money. I daresay he would have liked the money, in both instances, if it had come from anyone whom he thought nearly enough related to have a right to bestow it.
I cannot write more now, but tomorrow when I hope my hand will be stronger I will begin again. I depend upon your assurance that no one shall know that I write this. If you think it too trivial to be of use pray let me know....
Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne to James T. Fields, 13 December 1870
All the anecdotes that I can remember are too trifling to be told; for instance, he once kicked a little dog that he was fond of, and on being told that the dog would not love him if he treated it so, he said, "Oh, he'll think it is grandmother," who hated a dog, though she would not have kicked it. When he could not speak quite plainly, he used to repeat, with vehement emphasis and gesture, this line, which somebody had taught him, from Richard Third; "My Lord, stand back, and let the coffin pass." It is where Gloster meets the funeral of King Henry the Sixth.
Pilgrim's Progress was a favorite book of his at six years old. When he went to see his Grandmother Hawthorne he used to sit in a large chair in the corner of the room, near a window, and read it, half the afternoon, without speaking. No one ever thought of asking how much of it he understood. I think it one of the happiest circumstances of his training that nothing was ever explained to him, and that there was no professedly intellectual person in the family to usurp the place of Providence, and supp[l]ement its shortcomings, in order to make him what he was never intended to be. His mind developed itself. Intentional cultivation would have spoiled it. He used to invent long stories, wild and fanciful, and to tell us where he was going when he grew up, and of wonderful adventures he was to meet with, always ending with "and I'm never coming back again." That, perhaps, he said that we might value him the more while he stayed with us.
He inherited much of his temperament-his sensitiveness, and his capacity for placid enjoyment from his mother; and he looked like her.
There was one boy at school with whom he had a regular fight every little while. He said the boy was overbearing and quarrelsome, being a little older than himself.
He often took long walks alone, both before and after his lameness. When we lived in Raymond, I generally went with him, and one cold winter evening when the moon was at the full, we walked out on the frozen Sebago to a point which we were afterwards told was quite three miles from our starting place, and that we were in danger from wild animals. Perhaps we were, for bears were occasionally seen in that vicinity. But Nathaniel said that we would go again the next evening and he would carry his gun. The next evening it fortunately snowed; for we should not have been allowed to go, and there would have been a struggle for liberty. Soon after that he went back to Salem, to go to school. The walks by the Sebago were delightful, especially in a dry season, when the pond was low, and we could follow, as we once did, the windings of the shore, climbing over the rocks until we reached a projecting point, from which there was no resisting the temptation to go on to another, and then still further, until we were stopped by a deep brook impossible to be crossed; though he could swim, but I could not and he would not desert me.
He went for a few months to a school in a neighbouring town, [Stroudwater].... It was kept by the Rev. Mr. Bradley, in whose family he boarded. I do not know whether he learned much, but he had a good time, one night especially, when the barn, close to the house, caught fire; for all his life he enjoyed a fire. On this occasion he said that he helped to dress the children, but there was a complaint made that he snatched up one of them, with a heap of clothes that did not belong to it, and ran to a spot where he could look at the fire; there he put the poor little thing into the trowsers of an older boy, and contrived to fasten them round its neck, and supposed that he had done all that was incumbent upon him. Mrs Bradley said that the child caught a cold, and that Nathaniel was a shockingly awkward boy. In Salem, he always went out when there was a fire; once or twice he was deluded by a false alarm; and after that he used to send me to the top of the house to see if there really was a fire, and if it was well under [way], before he got up. He said that once an old woman who saw him looking at a great fire scolded him in threatening terms, though she forbore from actual violence, in her indignation "at a strong young man's not going to work as other people did." But there was seldom any derangement of the usual routine of things in Salem, and the more people were in any way stirred up, the better he would be pleased.
I cannot write much yet, and I am advised not to write at all at present; so I send you two letters, written in two separate years. The uncle with whom he journeyed was an invalid, and also a Stage Proprietor, travelling at once for health and business. There is nothing remarkable in the letters, but they will show you that he was essentially the same in earlier life as when you knew him. The reason that I have no other letters of his is that he always, when he came home, burned all he had written....
Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne to James T. Fields, 16 December 1870
... Soon after Nathaniel left College he wrote some tales "Seven Tales of My Native Land," with the motto from Wordsworth "We are Seven." I think it was before Wordsworth's Poems were re-published here. I read the Tales in Manuscript; some of them were very striking, particularly one or two Witch Stories....
Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne to James T. Fields, 26 December 1870
When my brother was about fourteen he wrote me a list of the books he had been reading. There were a good many of them; but I only remember such of the Waverl[e]y Novels as he had not previously read, and as were then published, and Rousseau's Heloise and his Confessions (both of which were considered by his friends extremely improper) and the Newgate Calendar, which he persisted in going through to the end, though I believe there are several volumes, in spite of serious remonstrances. But every book he read was good for him, whatever it would have been for other boys. I do not think he ever opened one, except in the course of his education, because it was recommended as useful, and to be true was sometimes an objection in his eyes. In one of Miss Edgeworth's Tales a novel written by Bishop Berkeley-Gaudentio di Lucca-is mentioned; and, as it happened to be in a Circulating Library, I got it for him to read; but he said that it was true, and he would not even look it over. The printing and binding were unlike those of novels, and it was not particularly entertaining, but there was much in it that would have suited him. After he left College, he depended for books principally upon the Salem Athenaeum and a Circulating Library, the latter of which supplied him with most of the novels then published. The Athenaeum was very defective; and it was one of my brother's peculiarities that he never would visit it himself, nor look over the Catalogue to select a book, nor indeed do anything but find fault with it; so that it was left entirely to me to provide him with reading, and I am sure nobody else would have got half so much out of such a dreary old library as I did. There were some valuable works; The Gentlemen's Magazine, from the beginning of its publication, containing many curious things, and 6 vols. folio, of Howell's State Trials, he preferred to any others. There was also much that related to the early History of New England, with which I think he became pretty well acquainted, aided, no doubt, by the Puritan instinct that was in him. He was not very fond of history in general. He read Froissart with interest, and his love of Scott's novels led him, when very young, to read Clarendon, and other English histories of that period, and earlier; of which there were several very curious ones in the Athenaeum. He said that he did not care much for the world before the fourteenth century. He read such French books as the Library contained, there were not many except Voltaire's and Rousseau's. There was one long series of Volumes, the Records of some learned society, the Academie des Inscriptions, I think, which contained a good deal that was readable. It was his custom to write in the forenoon, and usually in the afternoon, unless the weather was especially fine, when he often took a long walk; but the evenings he spent in reading, going out for about half an hour, however, after tea. If there was any gathering of people in the town he always went out; he liked a crowd. When General Jackson, of whom he professed himself a partizan, visited Salem, in 1833, he walked out to the boundaries of the town to meet him, not to speak to him-only to look at him; and found only a few men and boys collected, not enough, without the assistance that he rendered, to welcome the General with a good cheer. It is hard to fancy him doing such a thing as shouting.
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