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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 78

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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.

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