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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 78

[ 84 ] April 9, 2017 |

This is the grave of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

2016-09-18 15.09.23

Born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, Hawthorne graduated from Bowdoin in 1825. He slowly made his name as a writer, although made very little money, publishing his first story collection in 1837. He finally received a real salary in 1839 when he was named to a patronage position at the Boston Custom House. In 1846, he went to work at the port of Salem. He only lasted until 1848, for Hawthorne was a Democrat and thus when Zachary Taylor was elected president, he lost his job. But he did begin having more success as a writer, most notably when The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850 and in which he excoriated various people in Salem who he hated. The book sold well and brought Hawthorne a reasonable income at a time when the book market in Europe and the U.S. was not unlike the DVD market in China today: i.e., everything was pirated. The House of the Seven Gables followed in 1851 and The Blithedale Romance in 1852. All of this made Hawthorne a leader in the nation’s first major literary movement.

He then took his talents to a much lower place as he wrote the campaign biography of Franklin Pierce. Always a local Democrat, Hawthorne was politically a complete hack, who wrote a completely ridiculous book that claimed slavery would eventually disappear, left out Pierce’s rampant alcoholism, and claimed that the reason Pierce hadn’t done anything great was that he preferred to stay in the background and didn’t need to anyway. Said Horace Mann, “If he makes out Pierce to be a great man or a brave man, it will be the greatest work of fiction he ever wrote.” Thanks to his hackwork, Pierce named Hawthorne as the American consul in Liverpool. He didn’t write much at this point, eventually coming out The Marble Faun in 1860, which I think only Hawthorne scholars actually read. He was sick and decided to go on a tour of New England with Pierce. Christ only knows how much alcohol was consumed on this trip. Anyway, on it, Hawthorne got sick and died on May 19, 1864.

Nathaniel Hawthorne is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts.


Comments (84)

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  1. The Dark God of Time says:

    He was a leader, but there were others before him

    Irving, along with James Fenimore Cooper, was among the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe, and Irving encouraged American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe. Irving was also admired by some European writers, including Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Thomas Campbell, Francis Jeffrey, and Charles Dickens. As America’s first genuine internationally best-selling author, Irving advocated for writing as a legitimate profession and argued for stronger laws to protect American authors from copyright infringement.

    Even after decent copyright laws were passed in America, there was still a thriving pirated books industry in this country In the latter half of the 19th Century.

    • Lamont Cranston says:

      I cannot see the name James Fenimore Cooper without posting Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.

      I may be mistaken, but it does seem to me that “Deerslayer” is not a work of art in any sense; it does seem to me that it is destitute of every detail that goes to the making of a work of art; in truth, it seems to me that “Deerslayer” is just simply a literary delirium tremens.

      A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are — oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.

      Counting these out, what is left is Art. I think we must all admit that.

    • econoclast says:

      I didn’t think Irving had much of an international reputation, but at the Alhambra in Spain (a medieval Muslim palace) they have a sign for the room where Irving stayed in the 1820s.

      • wjts says:

        Irving had an international reputation, at least in Britain – Walter Scott was a fan, as was Byron, and the former, I think, had a role in getting the Sketch Book published over there. I’ve just started reading his stuff in the last month or so. Definitely recommended.

      • Just the other day I saw someone mention in passing that Irving was a major influence on Dickens, for example in creating the tradition of holiday stories.

    • AlanInSF says:

      Irving and Cooper created an “American school” of the then-traditional European novel conventions, but Hawthorne can fairly be said to be the first modern American novelist. IMHO. Melville was on a similar track, but Moby Dick, though published in 1851 (and dedicated to Hawthorne), didn’t sell at all, and was not widely known until the 1920s.

    • Hogan says:

      American copyright laws protected American copyrights, not foreign copyrights, and did nothing about foreign pirating of American works. It wasn’t until the Berne Convention in 1886 that countries began acknowledging foreign copyrights.

  2. Joe_JP says:

    Hawthorne and Melville had a short passionate friendship.

    • sigaba says:

      Melville probably scared Hawthorne off, his letters to him were always intense and a little creepy.

      Melville also wanted Hawthorne to hook him up with a gig at the NY Customs House through his connections with Pierce. This was eventually achieved but not with NH’s help.

    • econoclast says:

      Melville has a quote about Hawthorne in one of his letters that I love for its incredible hyperbole: “There is the grand truth about Nathaniel Hawthorne. He says No! in thunder; but the Devil himself cannot make him say yes.”

  3. Woodrowfan says:

    We can’t remember Pierce without repeating the line so often used by his political rivals, “The Hero of Many a Well-Fought Bottle.”

  4. vic rattlehead says:

    I remember signing up for Law and Literature in law school. Then taking one look at the syllabus, seeing The Scarlet Letter, having a flashback to high school, saying “Fuck this” and dropping it.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      I enjoyed reading it the first time — because I waited till I had some appreciation for the style. I think I was 25 or 30, and ready to enjoy whimsical rococo as a way to leaven a melodrama. It would be a rare high-schooler with such tastes. (Same goes for much of Moby Dick — to tell the story in such a way just because you can is perverse for many readers.)

      • Bruce Vail says:

        Moby Dick or Scarlet Letter should never be assigned to normal high schoolers. I don’t think they are, any more, but Scarlet Letter was still on the reading list where I went to high school in the 1970s.

        • N__B says:

          I got them both, one in 8th and one in 9th. Wuthering Heights, too.

          • wjts says:

            I’m still puzzled as to why my English teacher thought it was a good idea to assign us Ethan Frome in 10th grade, though I’m more puzzled as to why Scribner’s thought it was a good idea to publish Ethan Frome or why Edith Wharton thought it would be a good idea to write Ethan Frome.

            • N__B says:

              I hear Ethan Frome has tried to disown Ethan Frome.

              • I have read a ton of Wharton and wow, does Ethan Frome stick out like a sore thumb. It’s OK – even a genius has some duds, and you can’t blame her for trying something a little different – but why it’s become such a touchstone of school syllabi I have no idea, especially since Wharton wrote a lot in the novella length and there are several stories that would be more palatable to high-school students.

                • wjts says:

                  The only other thing of hers I’ve read is an anthology of her ghost stories, which I remember as competent but unspectacular.

                • NewishLawyer says:

                  The Age of Innocence and House of Mirth are divine.

                • wjts says:

                  I find most non-genre fiction from 1890 to 1960 or so unbearable. I blame Henry James and Ernest Hemingway.

                • vic rattlehead says:

                  @ wjts After reading Shirley Jackson I was pretty much ruined for any other ghost stories. Please consider this comment a solicitation for recommendations.

                • wjts says:

                  If I remember, I’ll come back with more recommendations when I get home this evening, but M.R. James is hands-down my favorite.

                • Hogan says:

                  I think this started back when students weren’t expected to buy their own books, so assignments were based on whatever they had fifty copies of in the school library. After that the vagaries of school funding guaranteed that certain moments of literary taste became zombified, and teachers tried to make the best of it.

                • wjts says:

                  Other recommendations, as promised (some of which are not technically ghost stories):

                  Arthur Machen: The White People, “The Great God Pan”
                  Algernon Blackwood: “The Willows”, “The Wendigo”
                  E.F. Benson, “Negotium Perambulans”
                  Rosemary Timperley, “Harry”
                  L.P. Hartley, “W.S.”
                  T.E.D. Klein, “The Events at Poroth Farm”
                  Susan Hill: The Mist in the Mirror, The Woman In Black
                  Joe Hill, “The Black Phone”

                • Hogan says:

                  This is a cheap assortment of Victorian-era ghost stories that should give you some leads on other authors.

                • Hogan says:

                  By “cheap” I mean “inexpensive,” not the other thing.

              • wjts says:

                The film adaptation was remarkable: it stopped Cool Runnings from being the worst sled-related movie of 1993.

            • Lee Rudolph says:

              Because the Fromes’ wrath outgrabe.

            • vic rattlehead says:

              I had to read it in eighth grade. I “read” it and sat through the Liam Neeson movie. God that made me hate literature so much.

              Then I read The Custom of the Country on the recommendation of Jonathan Franzen (I know he’s not popular around these parts, I know the late great SEK in particular was not a fan. I had just finished Freedom and I always like to search for interviews with authors I enjoy and see what books they recommend) and greatly enjoyed it. Not only is it a better book, it seemed as relevant as ever. But Lord almighty, what jackass curriculum coordinator thought Edith Wharton was a good idea for 14 year olds?

            • Wasn’t there a commenter here that loved it?

              The not very good reason to read Ethan Frome is that it informs Franzen’s Purity.

              • vic rattlehead says:

                I probably like Franzen more than most around here (based on what discussion I’ve seen over the years) and I couldn’t even get halfway through Purity

                • Albert Burneko’s posts on it on Deadspin were funny.

                  What’s weird about Franzen’s, for me, is the time it took me to appreciate what he’s doing in The Corrections are evidently wasted, because everything I think made it and Freedom worth reading, he decided he must never again do.

                • wjts says:

                  Mallory Ortberg’s takes on Franzen are delightful. Though Franzen himself presumably disapproves of delight in all its forms.

                • vic rattlehead says:

                  Those are basically my thoughts as well. I actually really enjoyed Freedom, although Franzen’s seeming contempt for his characters (at least to me) is what really makes his books hard to read.

                • I feel like if you read the contempt as filtered through a generational context, it isn’t pleasant, but it works better.. Purity doesn’t really let the reader do that. It also begins to feel, over three books, like he’s better at expressing contempt for women than for men, and doesn’t realize it. Male readers may feel differently about this, I guess.

                • N__B says:

                  Franzen is okay, but “Let It Go” is overplayed.

          • Ahenobarbus says:

            I got them both, one in 8th and one in 9th.

            I can’t imagine this. We did Scarlett Letter in High School (Junior year, maybe?), but if nothing else, Moby Dick soaks up so much time. Never read Wuthering Heights… wonder if an all-boys H.S. is the cause.

        • I read The Scarlet Letter in 9th grade, albeit as an independent study thing (or whatever you’d call “they’re making me take English lessons along with the other Israeli kids, and I’ll do literally anything not to have to do that”). Probably about 90% of it went over my head, but I remember liking it, and The House of the Seven Gables. Keep meaning to read some more of Hawthorne’s stuff.

          Moby Dick, on the other hand, I bounced off of hard at 16 – and by that point I had already read at least a bit of Austen, Thackery, Elliott, Bronte, and Wharton. Didn’t go back to it until ten years later, and even then it was a bit of a slog.

        • Redwood Rhiadra says:

          I didn’t get Moby Dick, but I did have to read Scarlet Letter for HS English. (This was early 90s.)

      • vic rattlehead says:

        I actually started reading Moby Dick a few months ago (had to stop less than halfway through-started a new job and just didn’t have the time/mental energy). But I remember it being a hell of a fun read, and thinking that Melville was a hell of a good prose stylist-right up there with my favorites like Pynchon.

        • Vance Maverick says:

          Yes, and a good comparison. Seeming excess of style boiling over irrepressibly and yet moving forward.

          Melville was also capable of surprises as a poet — see “Shiloh”.

        • Joe_JP says:

          Few years ago, read all of Jane Austen’s books, loved her style of writing. Like various books deemed classics, but darn, Moby Dick is so damn long. We read a small passage back in high school.

          • Vance Maverick says:

            Assigning a passage seems reasonable.

            I don’t have a clear idea of what literature should be taught in high school. A selection that gives a taste of the variety that’s out there, and of what’s valued for what reasons, and at the same time is accessible to high schoolers, seems like a lot to ask and yet just about the minimum.

          • vic rattlehead says:

            What Austen book did you start with? In a similar(?) vein, I also have a copy of Middlemarch staring at me from the shelf-have you read that one? All these damn books but I’ve got no discipline.

            • Joe_JP says:

              Northanger Abbey. Guess I roughly read them in order of how they were originally written.

              Read “Lady Susan” and the partial excerpts of books she never completed. But, could never manage to read all of her Juvenilia.

              • bender says:

                For someone who might only read one Austen novel, I’m not sure I would start with Northanger Abbey. IIRC some of the humor in it is satire of gothic novels which were popular at the time, and the contemporary reader won’t get the references.

                I’m enough of an Austen fan to have read five or six novels, but not enough to have distinct memories of them.

                • Joe_JP says:

                  The basic idea is fairly easy to understand and people could miss things in other books. A major point, e.g., in Mansfield Park is the nature of the specific play they choose, which particularly upsets the character in question.

                  NA also is short. A couple of the other ones are more heavy going. Emma is fairly light but long. Of course, the common favorite is Pride and Prejudice. Persuasion might be a good one too since it’s short too.

            • LFC says:

              Read Middlemarch in college *many* years ago (and thought it was great). Have dipped into it again here and there, but never re-read it. Was just looking now at the opening of the first chapter. Right from the opening passages one can tell this is a completely brilliant melding of a novel of psychological depth with a novel of social observation (“a study of provincial life,” to quote the subtitle, in England of the early 1830s).

              Here, for instance, is the quietly devastating way in which Eliot introduces one of the characters:

              It was hardly a year since they [Dorothea Brooke and her sister] had come to live at Tipton Grange with their uncle, a man of nearly sixty, of acquiescent temper, miscellaneous opinions, and uncertain vote…. Mr. Brooke’s conclusions were as difficult to predict as the weather: it was only safe to say that he would act with benevolent intentions and that he would spend as little money as possible in carrying them out.

        • David Allan Poe says:

          For something a little shorter and less metaphysically taxing than Moby Dick, White Jacket, a fictionalized tale about Melville’s time on a man o’ war, is really good. The description of what rounding Cape Horn was like on a nineteenth-century sailing ship is excellent.

    • Dennis Orphen says:

      Were you afriad the proffessor was going to sew your potientially lousy grade on your chest in red fabric?

      • vic rattlehead says:

        How dare you!

        Actually I figured that if I was going to have to read a lot of dry crap I might as well just bite the bullet and take Federal Courts (which I guess is best described as a sort of hybrid between civil procedure and constitutional law?). At the deadline I decided to take it for a letter grade instead of pass/fail and ended up getting an A despite skipping a third of the classes. One of my prouder law school moments.

        • Dennis Orphen says:

          Notice I tried to cover my ass by using the modifier potentially. That was intentional, assuming everyone here is good for >3.5 (uninflated, and bell curved relative to the punters) is a safe bet.

  5. N__B says:

    I like to think that, between Pierce and Trump, NY will permanently hold the record for the two worst presidents. Imagine who would have to be elected from PA to join Buchanan to seize the crown.

  6. NewishLawyer says:

    Largely-OT but related to writing and your Labor posts. I was in a used book store and browsing through a book from 1991 on the history of Oil called the Prize. In the book, there was a picture of a magazine from the mid-1800s or so. The magazine was dedicated to stories about “Young Boys Making Money!!” but seemed a little less sachrine than Horatio Alger because the illustration was of a 12 year old boy or so defending his oil well from villains with a club.

    Do you know much about the history of these magazines? Were they published with propagandistic purposes? By whom? How long did they last for? Is there a modern equivalent that I am just unaware of?

  7. arthur says:

    Pebbles on the grave is an exclusively(?) Jewish tradition, and I don’t recall seeing them elsewhere in this series. Any thoughts on why that’s going on here?

  8. Matt McKeon says:

    As of two years ago, The Scarlet Letter was still being assigned to Mass. high school students.

    I loved that book, but read it as an adult. Hawthorne had some pretty good short stories as well. The House of 7 Gables was mostly a dud, but there was a train journey, experienced by an insane character that was wonderful.

    Pierce authorized federal troops to return Anthony Burns to slavery, an exercise of federal power that the states’ rights loving South was totally cool with.

  9. Latverian Diplomat says:

    “Always a local Democrat” should be “Always a loyal Democrat”?

  10. Brian 13 says:

    Senior year in High School, South Hadley, Mass. we read The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible back-to-back. Then field trip to Salem to visit the Witch Museum. Which had one of those great, now old-fashioned, diorama things. John Proctor being pressed to death, “More weight!”, still vividly comes to mind. We also visited, I’m not sure, either the actual house that had seven gables, or maybe just the house Hawthorne lived in when he wrote Seven Gables.

    I also thought that teacher chose some books that were not the authors’ best. I.e., we read Tom Sawyer, later I read Huck Finn and thought it was much better. We read Grapes of Wrath, later I read East of Eden and thought it much better. Read The Old Man and The Sea, later I read For Whom The Bell Tolls; read Great Expectations, later Oliver Twist etc. We read the Bronte sisters; but didn’t read Austen or Elliot. What was up with that? Love to ask that teacher that question, but she must be long passed away now. Also, I hated her. She failed me one term for only turning in two drafts of the final paper, instead of three, and not turning in the index cards with a separate card for each quoted reference. Sheesh!

    • Hogan says:

      John Proctor being pressed to death, “More weight!”

      I think you’ll find that was Giles Corey.


      I think in a lot of cases they were picking the author’s shortest novel, not her best novel. Hence Ethan Frome, Silas Marner, TOM&TS (which is entirely free of the drinking and sex that so mar Hemingway’s earlier work). I’m completely baffled by the choice of Tom Sawyer, though, especially when Huck Finn and Connecticut Yankee are sitting right there.

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