Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography


Life and Background

Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, came from old New England stock; in fact, one of his ancestors was a judge during the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692-93. (Hawthorne's feelings in this matter are part of the story of The House of the Seven Gables.) For several generations, Hawthorne's paternal ancestors followed the sea, while the family declined in wealth and social importance; his father, Captain Hathorne (Hawthorne added the "w" to the spelling of the family name after he graduated from college), died at Surinam, Dutch Guiana, when his son was four years old.

The boy was brought up in the households of his mother's family in Salem and in the back country of Maine. He was sent to Bowdoin College by his uncles. When he was graduated in 1825, Hawthorne determined to become a writer of fiction. For more than a decade he devoted himself to learning his craft, living at the family home, reading much, writing much, destroying many of his productions, but sending some of his stories to magazines and the popular "annuals," the Christmas gift-books of the time. These early works were published anonymously. After some ventures in editing and literary hackwork undertaken in an effort to support himself — the many stories he published in these years brought him little income — and after a brief period of employment in the Boston Custom House and another period as a member of the experimental socialist community at Brook Farm, Hawthorne married, at the age of thirty-eight, Miss Sophia Peabody. Thereafter, anticipating the later American pattern, he was never to have a home which he could think of as permanent. Several happy years in the Old Manse in Concord (Emerson's ancestral home) brought him into contact with Emerson and Thoreau.

Later, back in Salem again, he was employed as a Surveyor in the Salem Custom House until, losing his job for political reasons, he tried the experiment of devoting himself wholly to literature. He wrote The Scarlet Letter very quickly, following it soon after with The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, and other works. In Lenox, in the Berkshires, he formed what is for us his most significant literary friendship when he became a neighbor of Herman Melville, then at work on Moby Dick, which Melville dedicated to Hawthorne. For seven years, Hawthorne was abroad, in England, where he tried to solve his financial problems by serving as United States Consul in Liverpool, and in Italy, adding steadily to his notebooks but unable to do any creative work until, at the end of his stay, he wrote The Marble Faun. Returning to Concord in 1860, he died after four unhappy years during which, working against failing health and flagging creative energies which were probably attributable to a breakdown of his psychic health, he tried to bring to satisfactory conclusions several late romances which he left unfinished at his death.

A Chronology of Hawthorne's Life

1804 Nathaniel Hawthorne born July 4, on Union Street, Salem, Massachusetts, second of three children and only son of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Manning Hathorne; descended on both sides from prominent New England ancestors.

1808 Death of his father, a sea captain, at Surinam, in Dutch Guiana, leaving a widow and children partially dependent on her relatives, the Mannings.

1821 Attended Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Franklin Pierce were his classmates.

1825 Graduated from Bowdoin College and returned to the "chamber under the eaves" in his mother's house in Salem and spent a dozen years in relative seclusion, reading and writing, rather than entering a trade or profession as was expected of him.

1828 Published Fanshawe: A Tale, anonymously and at his own expense; later recalled the book, which was based on many of his experiences at Bowdoin College, and he destroyed all the copies he could locate.

1830 Published in the Salem Gazette his first story, "The Hollow of the Three Hills."

1830-37 Wrote tales and sketches which appeared in newspapers, magazines, and especially The Token, an annual published by Samuel Griswold Goodrich.

1837 From March through August, edited The American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge at Boston; with the help of his sister Elizabeth, he wrote or excerpted from books and periodicals the matter required to fill each monthly issue.

1838 Published Peter Parley's Universal History, which he wrote, again with Elizabeth's help, for the Peter Parley series issued by Samuel Griswold Goodrich; brought out a collection of eighteen stories and sketches in Twice-Told Tales, for which his Bowdoin classmate Horatio Bridge guaranteed the publishers against loss.

1839 Became engaged to marry Sophia Peabody, the semi-invalid daughter of Dr. Nathaniel and Amelia Peabody, and sister of Elizabeth, a teacher and a pioneer in the development of kindergartens, and sister of Mary Tyler, who became the wife of educator Horace Mann.

1839-40 Worked as a Measurer in the Boston Custom House; wrote very little in these years except for the entries in his notebook.

1841 Published Grandfathers Chair, Famous Old People, and Liberty Tree, composed of historical and biographical accounts written for children; joined the Brook Farm Community at West Roxbury, Massachusetts, in April, where he hoped to provide a home and a living for Sophia and also to reserve time for his writing.

1842 Published an expanded edition of Twice-Told Tales in two volumes and Biographical Stories; was married on July 9 to Sophia Peabody at Boston, a marriage which proved to be idyllic.

1842-45 Lived at the Old Manse, Concord, where he had as neighbors and associates Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Amos Bronson Alcott; wrote sketches and tales, "allegories of the heart," many of which were published in the Democratic Review.

1846 Published Moses from an Old Manse; his son Julian was born on June 22.

1846-49 Worked as Surveyor in the Salem Custom House; his mother died while he was writing The Scarlet Letter.

1850 Published The Scarlet Letter, which won him considerable fame.

1850-51 Lived in the Red House, Lennox, Massachusetts, where he had Herman Melville as a neighbor and eager visitor.

1851 Published The House of the Seven Gables, The Snow-Image and Other Twice-Told Tales, and True Stories from History and Biography; his daughter Rose was born on May 20.

1852 Published The Blithedale Romance, which reflected in great detail his experiences at Brook Farm; also published A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys and the campaign biography of Franklin Pierce.

1853 Published Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys.

1853-57 Appointed by President Pierce to serve as United States Consul at Liverpool.

1857-59 Lived in Rome and Florence; frequented the art museums and wrote expanded notebook entries which he later reworked for inclusion in The Marble Faun.

1860 Published The Marble Faun, his last completed work of fiction; strove in vain to finish another romance and at his death left four fragments: Dr. Grimshaw's Secret, Septimus Felton, The Ancestral Footstep, and The Dolliver Romance.

1863 Published Our Old Home in December, which contains a series of essays on England and English-American relations.

1864 On April 10, was shaken by the death of his friend W. D. Tichnor; on May 11, accompanied Franklin Pierce to New Hampshire in search of improved health; on May 18, died at Plymouth, New Hampshire; on May 23, was buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord.

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