When Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on our most patriotic holiday in 1804, his ancestral roots were already deeply planted in New England. Writing in The Scarlet Letter (1850) of his sentimental affection for the town of his birth, Hawthorne ascribed his feeling "to the deep and aged roots which my family has struck into the soil." Nearly two centuries after the appearance of his first ancestor "in the wild and forest-bordered settlement," where over time they "mingled their earthly substance with the soil," Hawthorne felt the New England earth itself "must necessarily be akin to the mortal frame wherewith, for a little while, I walk the streets," And, though he acknowledges that this affinity might seem to be merely the "sensuous sympathy of dust for dust," he also perceived a "moral quality" in the feeling engendered by "the figure of that first ancestor," which had been present in his imagination from boyhood and which, he wrote, "still haunts me and induces a sort of home feeling with the past."
It is this rich combination of love of his ancestral soil, a strong sense of the richness of the American past, and that "moral quality" which translates into a concern for the secrets of the human heart that gives Hawthorne's work its unique flavor. William Hathorne (the writer added the w as a young man) came to New England with John Winthrop in 1630. Judge John Hathorne, his son, was an unrepentant burner of witches during the notorious Salem witch trials (1692); and Nathaniel's paternal grandfather, Daniel Hathorne, inspired a patriotic ballad during the American Revolution by his valor and courage as a privateer. These ancestors were the writer's strongest links to the past, and his stories and novels turn again and again to the periods their lives touched. Unlike any American writer of short fiction who came before him, Hawthorne was able to link his personal sense of the past with the actual history of his region, as throughout his work he simultaneously plumbed the most private aspects of his own psyche while exploring the shared myths of his community.
Hawthorne's father, Nathaniel Hathorne, followed the family seafaring tradition, handed down, his son wrote, "for above two hundred years"; but with him the tradition of "a gray-headed shipmaster, in each generation, retiring from the quarterdeck to the homestead, while a boy of fourteen took his hereditary place before the mast," ended. Only four when his father died in far off Suriname, Nathaniel grew up in Salem and Maine in the family of his mother, Elizabeth Manning Hathorne, sturdy Maine inlanders who schooled him in other, no less valuable, traditions. He went to school in Salem, and then--rather than going to sea--he entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1821. In 1825 he emerged as an apprentice writer. Years of frustration were ahead of him, but his course was certain.
Returning to his mother's home in Salem after graduation, Hawthorne began his career as what he called "the obscurist man of letters in America." These were the lonely and difficult years when he earned little but learned much. He had begun to write fiction while in college, and soon after graduation he published (at his own expense) Fanshawe (1828), his first novel, which was set at a school like Bowdoin. Soon realizing that publication of this apprentice work was a mistake, Hawthorne disposed of as many copies as he could locate and asked his friends and family to do the same. A fire at the Marsh and Capen store in 1831 destroyed all the unsold copies, and Hawthorne continued to deny authorship of the novel for the rest of his life. During this same period he prepared and then destroyed the first of several short-fiction collections that failed to find a publisher. Five of the "Seven Tales of My Native Land" were intentionally consigned to the fire, apparently without "mercy or remorse, (and, moreover without any subsequent regret)," if the preface Hawthorne added to the 1851 edition of Twice-Told Tales is to be believed. In the more fictionalized version of this episode, presented in "The Devil in Manuscript" (New-England Magazine, November 1835; collected in The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales, 1852), however, Hawthorne's attitude is quite different as he describes a young writer who in a moment of despair threw his unpublished manuscripts into the flames: "Oberon stood gazing at the conflagration, and shortly began to soliloquize, in the wildest strain, as if Fancy resisted and became riotous, at the moment when he would have compelled her to ascend that funeral pile. His words described objects which he appeared to discern in the fire, fed by his own precious thoughts; perhaps the thousand visions, which the writer's magic had incorporated with those pages, became visible to him in the dissolving heat, brightening forth ere they vanished forever; while the smoke, the vivid sheets of flame, the ruddy and whitening coals, caught the aspect of a varied scenery." While it is probable that neither extreme of these two reactions fully describes Hawthorne's attitude, the appearance of the manuscript-burning episode in his fiction suggests it was a memorable, and perhaps painful, occasion for the young author.
A second group of stories, "Provincial Tales," was apparently sent in 1829 to Samuel Griswold Goodrich, publisher of The Token, an annual Christmas gift book in which a number of Hawthorne's early publications appeared. This collection was not published as a book, though Goodrich did include "Sights from the Steeple" in The Token for 1831, and "The Wives of the Dead," "Roger Malvin's Burial," "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," and "The Gentle Boy" in The Token for 1832. All these stories are believed by scholars to have been among those in "Provincial Tales." A preliminary version of "Alice Doane's Appeal," one of the two surviving stories from the first unpublished collection, was also included. A revised version was published in The Token for 1835. A third projected collection was to have been unified through the device of an itinerant young artist who travels through New England telling stories for his livelihood, but, like the other projected collections, "The Story Teller" never saw print as a complete work. Its contents too were published individually in magazines and eventually collected in volumes of short stories.
Though the specific contents of these early collections are not known for certain and though some of the stories, tales, and sketches in them have probably been lost forever, it is still possible, from what is known about them, to characterize the short fiction Hawthorne was writing at this early stage in his career. Though most of the models he encountered in his college reading were British--his favorite author then was Sir Walter Scott --it is clear that from the beginning he had linked his literary fate to his native land, and the titles of these collections suggest the primacy he gave to native American materials. It was these qualities Herman Melville recognized in Hawthorne when he wrote in "Hawthorne and His Mosses," the review of Mosses from an Old Manse (1846) that he wrote for the Literary World (17 and 24 August 1850): "He is one of the new, and far better generation of your writers. The smell of young beeches and hemlocks is upon him; your own broad prairies are in his soul; and if you travel away inland into his deep and noble nature, you will hear the far roar of his Niagara."
The original, American quality Melville recognized in Hawthorne was there almost from the beginning, though he did need to labor to get out from under the European influences that are so apparent in his earliest work. Fanshawe suffers in part because its American setting never emerges from a generalized Gothic vision that owes more to Scott than to experience, and Hawthorne likely disowned it because he recognized it as imitative. The same realization may lie behind his destruction of other early efforts, as he sought for a new kind of national fiction rooted in the American experience.
For all its artistic faults, Fanshawe nevertheless had a positive effect on Hawthorne's career. Among its few readers was Samuel Goodrich. In early 1836 Hawthorne made his entry into the professional literary world of Boston as editor of the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge, published by the Bewick Company, of which Goodrich was a director. For the March through September issues Hawthorne and his sister Elizabeth wrote or selected from other publications the entire contents of the journal. Though he complained of a lack of editorial control on his resignation from the magazine in August, it was more probably the publisher's failure to pay his salary that accounts for his early departure. This misunderstanding does not seem to have affected his relationship with Goodrich seriously, however, because he completed in September 1836, again with Elizabeth as his assistant, Peter Parley's Universal History, on the Basis of Geography (1837), one of a popular series of children's books published by Goodrich under the pseudonym Peter Parley. More important, however, Goodrich agreed to bring out Hawthorne's first collection of short fiction under the imprint of the American Stationers' Company, which published The Token and some of his Peter Parley books.
With Hawthorne's college friend Horatio Bridge, who acted secretly to spare Hawthorne embarrassment, offering $250 as a guaranty against the publisher's losses, an edition of one thousand copies was published on 6 or 7 March 1837. This collection of eighteen stories was enlarged to thirty-nine in 1842, and Hawthorne added a preface to the 1851 edition. Since no other collection of short fiction intervened between the editions of 1837 and 1842 and since many of the stories added to the enlarged edition were written by 1837, the two editions may be treated as a single work.
Some credibility is given to Hawthorne's characterization of himself as "the obscurist man of letters in America" during the period preceding 1837, despite the regular appearance of his work in gift books and magazines for the past half-dozen years, by an anonymous reviewer for the Boston Courier (9 March 1837), who announced the work as "the production of 'Nathaniel Hawthorne'--whether a true or fictitious name, we know not--probably the latter." However, that obscurity began to lessen with the appearance of a review by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the July 1837 issue of North American Review which announced Hawthorne as "a new star ... in the heaven of poetry." Edgar Allan Poe, in a long two-part review of the 1842 edition for Graham's Magazine (April and May 1842), proclaimed, "the style is purity itself. Force abounds. High imagination gleams from every page. Mr. Hawthorne is a man of truest genius." Other critics saw parallels with Germany's Ludwig Tieck and England's Charles Dickens while hailing Hawthorne as a truly American literary voice.
Unlike Hawthorne's earlier, unpublished collections, Twice-Told Tales is not organized around a particular theme or idea. To the modern reader, the selections might even seem eccentric, as Hawthorne reserved for later collections some early stories that have come to be regarded as his masterpieces, while including, especially in the 1842 edition, a number of slighter works. Hawthorne himself characterized the selections as "such articles as seemed best worth offering to the public a second time," which might suggest a deliberate effort to attract a popular following by republishing those pieces most attractive to his contemporaries. Unfortunately, however, this effort was not successful, and even though sales of the first edition repaid Bridge's guaranty, Hawthorne realized little profit from it. The 1842 edition fared even worse--and its failure represented a greater problem for the author since he was by then contemplating marriage--as it did not even make the cost of publication. Not until the edition of 1851 was Hawthorne to realize a profit on his early stories. He had, after the critical success of Twice-Told Tales , become, in Poe's words, "the example, par excellence , in this country, of the privately-admired and publicly-unappreciated man of genius."
The stories selected for Twice-Told Tales reflect both Hawthorne's interest in New England history and his fascination with daily life in his community. Best among the historical pieces are three stories Hawthorne included in the 1837 edition--"The Gray Champion," "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," and "The Gentle Boy"--as well as two of the four stories grouped as "Legends of the Province House" and "Endicott and the Red Cross"--all added to the 1842 edition. Another story that was first collected in the 1837 edition, "A Rill from the Town Pump," was identified by Hawthorne in his 1851 preface as the most popular piece in the collection, and it is the cornerstone of the second group--which might more accurately be described as personal essays than as short stories in the modern sense. This group also includes "Sunday at Home," "Sights from a Steeple," and "Little Annie's Ramble," all of which were first collected in the 1837 edition. Among other, less easily categorized, notable stories in the collection, "The Minister's Black Veil" and "Wakefield"--both included in the 1837 edition--are excursions into psychological fiction; "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," also included in the 1837 edition, reveals the fascination with the moral implications of science Hawthorne would develop in other writings. Another story that Hawthorne included in the first edition, "The Prophetic Pictures," concerns itself with the responsibilities of the artist, while "The Ambitious Guest"--added in 1842--introduces the scholar-idealist character type Hawthorne would treat more complexly elsewhere. In the larger context the themes of these stories as well as those of the two major groups reflect lifelong preoccupations in Hawthorne's short stories and novels.
Hawthorne selected a recently published story to open the 1837 edition of Twice-Told Tales. "The Gray Champion" first appeared in the New England Magazine for January 1835, and scholars have speculated it may have been written earlier as part of "Provincial Tales." The story is a fictionalized version of an actual event which took place in Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1675 when King Philip's War set the Indians against the colonists. Surprised by an attack while at Sunday morning worship, the confused and frightened citizens of Hadley were rallied by a dignified elderly man who assumed command to repulse the attackers. Afterward this "Angel of Hadley" disappeared as suddenly as he had come, leaving the delivered townspeople in awe and wonder at their savior's identity. (He was in fact one of the three signers of the death warrant for Charles I who went into hiding in New England after the Restoration of the British monarchy in 1660.)
Hawthorne altered the original event in several respects, but most particularly by changing the crisis from an Indian attack to an April 1689 confrontation between the colonists and the soldiers of Sir Edmund Andros, the royal governor of New England in 1686-1689 and a symbol of British tyranny. As Hawthorne writes, "The whole scene was a picture of the condition of New England, and its moral, the deformity of any government that does not grow out of the nature of things and the character of the people." With the "religious multitude" on one side, and "the group of despotic rulers" on the other, the "mercenary soldiers" waited for the order "to deluge the street with blood." In answer to a cry from the citizens for God to "provide a Champion for thy people," an aged patriarch appears to confront the attackers. Looking like a resurrected spirit from the first generation of Puritans, the old man speaks with the voice of prophecy as he tells Governor Andros that the rule of James II is over and his own term as royal governor at an end. The people rally behind him, and the British forces retreat. When the episode is over, the old man has disappeared; but, the story ends, "I have heard, that, whenever the descendants of the Puritans are to show the spirit of their sires, the old man appears again," because "he is the type of New-England's hereditary spirit; and his shadowy march, on the eve of danger, must ever be the pledge, that New England's sons will vindicate their ancestry."
An excellent choice for the first story of a first collection, "The Gray Champion" introduces a number of themes and techniques Hawthorne would employ throughout his career. Taking poetic license with the facts, Hawthorne adroitly fashioned a regional, or even national, myth by realizing the symbolic possibilities inherent in his historical source. While the story unfolds plausibly, the uncertainties surrounding the appearance, disappearance, and identity of the old warrior provide just the degree of the mysterious that Hawthorne described as the meeting between reality and fantasy. Like his Puritan ancestors, Hawthorne saw the events of history as symbols for deeper truths, but while they sought religious truths he sought to create the "truth of fiction."
The theme of Puritan defiance of royal authority appears again in "Endicott and the Red Cross," which was probably written shortly before it was published in The Token and Atlantic Souvenir for 1838. The story again makes use of an actual historical event that Hawthorne turns to his own purposes. When John Endicott, commander of Salem's Puritan militia, tore the red cross of Saint George, the patron saint of England, from a British flag in 1634, it was in all likelihood a religious gesture reflecting his refusal to fight under a flag with a cross upon it because it symbolized the Church of England and, to the Puritans, suggested idolatry. In Hawthorne's story Endicott tells the people that Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury "are minded ... to establish the idolatrous forms of English Episcopacy; so that when [Archbishop] Laud shall kiss the Pope's toe, as cardinal of Rome, he may deliver New England, bound hand and foot, into the power of his master!" In Hawthorne's interpretation the religious element is strongly paralleled by a more political meaning that links Puritan defiance of royal authority to the events of the American Revolution nearly a century and a half later. As Endicott waved the "tattered ensign above his head," the narrator explains, "the people gave their sanction to one of the boldest exploits which our history records. And, for ever honored be the name of Endicott! We look back through the mists of ages and recognize, in the rending of the Red Cross from New England's banner, the first omen of that deliverance which our father consummated, after the bones of the stern Puritan had lain more than a century in the dust."
Interpretations of "Endicott and the Red Cross" center around the extent to which Hawthorne's treatment of the Puritan leader is ironic. Though his passionate stand against Old World tyranny marks him as a legitimate American hero, the scene surrounding the events of the story suggests other possibilities. In an early example of the tableau method he would use so effectively in The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne describes the scene as a reflection in Endicott's highly polished breastplate, a picture of Puritan intolerance unrivaled in Hawthorne's writings. The whipping post, pillory, and stocks are featured, along with such victims of Puritan authority as a "wanton gospeller" who had "dared give interpretations of Holy Writ, unsanctioned by the infallible judgment of the civil and religious rulers," and a woman who was forced to wear a "cleft stick on her tongue, in appropriate retribution for having wagged that unruly member against the elders of the church." Also among the crowd are men and women marked by cropped ears, branded cheeks, slit nostrils, and other signs of the cruel "justice" of the New England community. Of particular interest is the appearance in this group of "a young woman ... whose doom was to wear the letter A on the breast of her gown, in the eyes of all the world and her own children .... Sporting with her infamy, the lost and desperate creature had embroidered the fatal token in scarlet cloth, with golden thread, and the nicest art of needle-work; so that the capital A might have been thought to mean Admirable, or any thing rather than Adulteress."
In typically ambiguous fashion Hawthorne leaves unresolved the tension between Endicott as symbol of religious intolerance and as emblem of heroic resistance to foreign domination of New England. It has often been argued by Hawthorne's critics that his world is colored in shades of gray, rather than in the extremes of black and white, and such would seem to be the case in this story. Without denying what is admirable in the historic experience of New England, Hawthorne nevertheless recognized that the little commonwealth was, in some respects, compromised from the beginning by evils which mimicked those of the Old World from which the Puritans fled. Given Hawthorne's general sense of human fallibility, it is consistent with his philosophy that he recognize the failures as well as the triumphs in the Puritan past. Just as he found much to deplore as well as much to admire in his own ancestors, Hawthorne finds our common historical past a complex mixture of good and evil.
The Puritan figures who dominate these two stories emerge again as shadowy background characters when Hawthorne treats the period of the American Revolution. In "Howe's Masquerade" (first published in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review for May 1838 as one of the four "Legends of the Province-House") a procession of figures from the American past appears to Sir William Howe during the final days of the siege of Boston. It is led by the colony's Puritan governors including "an individual of stern visage" (Endicott) bearing "a rolled-up banner, which seemed to be the banner of England, but strangely rent and torn." They are followed by "a procession of the regicide judges of King Charles," which would include the Gray Champion. Also in the procession is the tyrant Sir Edmund Andros against whom the Gray Champion acted. All the figures in the ghostly parade "form the funeral procession of royal authority in New England," but they also serve to underline the connections Hawthorne clearly sees between the Puritan past and the political history of American independence.
Hawthorne confessed at the end of "Howe's Masquerade" that "it is desperately hard work, when we attempt to throw the spell of hoar antiquity over localities with which the living world, and the day that is passing over us, have aught to do." This lack of a lengthy American past led Hawthorne in the preface to The Marble Faun (1860) to complain of "the difficulty of writing a romance about a country where there is no shadow, no antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong." It may have been this lack of historical distance that made him less comfortable with the events of the American Revolutionary period than with those of the Puritan years, but whatever the cause, he is only rarely as successful in imaginatively dramatizing this history as that of the seventeenth century. The four táles he called "Legends of the Province House," though they reflect the most momentous change in American history, never achieve the quality of "The Gray Champion" and "Endicott and the Red Cross," and they remain at the periphery of Hawthorne's historical fiction. Only in these two stories and "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" ( The Token for 1832; collected in The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales, 1852) did Hawthorne achieve the symbolic power and mythic dimensions characteristic of his best work in a story with a Revolutionary War setting.
Undoubtedly the most successful example of making myth of history in Twice-Told Tales is "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," which first saw publication in The Token and Atlantic Souvenir for 1836. Some scholarship suggests the story was written early enough to have been included in the projected "Provincial Tales," but the date of composition remains elusive. The story was probably revised or rewritten for publication about 1835, making it one of the more recent tales in the 1837 edition of Twice-Told Tales. The confrontation between John Endicott and Thomas Morton is recorded in several Puritan histories to which Hawthorne had access, but the exact source for his story is uncertain.
"The May-Pole of Merry Mount" is Hawthorne's interpretation of the Puritan destruction of a rival colony called Merry Mount at Mount Wollaston (near modern-day Quincy), Massachusetts. In Hawthorne's story, which ignores the complaint by the Puritans that the new colonists were selling guns to the Indians, this episode becomes a classic confrontation between puritanical repression and a prelapsarian spirit of mindless jollity. On one side are John Endicott, "the Puritan of Puritans," and his followers, variously described as "most dismal wretches," "grim," and "dark Puritans." On the other are the followers of Thomas Morton, worshipers at the ancient maypole who, "should their banner be triumphant, were to pour sunshine over New England's rugged hills, and scatter flower-seeds throughout the soil." As Hawthorne describes it, "jollity and gloom were contending for an empire" when the Puritans marched on the Merrymounters.
As the story unfolds, the Merrymounters are dancing around their maypole, celebrating life and fertility. Their costumes evoke pre-Christian rites and even obscure the distinctions between men and beasts: "Had a wanderer, bewildered in the melancholy forest, heard their mirth, and stolen a half-affrighted glance he might have fancied them the crew of some Comus, some already transformed to brutes, some midway between man and beast, and the others rioting in the flow of tipsy jollity that foreran the change." At the center of the festivities are the Lord and Lady of May, an attractive young couple "presently to join in holy matrimony." The Puritans, a band of whom secretly watched this scene of merriment, "compared the masques to those devils and ruined souls, with whom their superstition peopled the forest." As for these enemies of Merry Mount, "their festivals were fast-days, and their chief pastime the singing of psalms. Woe to the youth or maiden, who did but dream of a dance." The whipping post, Hawthorne writes, "might be termed the Puritan May-Pole."
"The May-Pole of Merry Mount" is the most clearly "mythic" story in Twice-Told Tales, and as a result it lends itself easily to psychological, philosophical, or theological interpretations. The emphasis in this story on a prelapsarian paradise in conflict with the postlapsarian world of the Puritan preoccupation with guilt and sin links the story thematically to Hawthorne's novel The Marble Faun and suggests the theme of the "fortunate fall" as a likely interpretation. Pointed allusions to the Golden Age as well as descriptions of the Merrymounters suggest that they represent humankind-or the individual-at a level of development prior to knowledge of sin, moral restraint, or guilt. The Puritans, on the other hand, seem so dominated by their sense of sin and guilt as to stand for total repression of those human sexual instincts reflected in the revelry of the Merrymounters. One world is dominated by self-indulgent gaiety and lighthearted sexuality, the other by a self-restraint that seems lifeless and sterile.
The young lord and lady of the maypole emerge as the meeting ground of the two conflicting impulses. Merry Mount is a world existing out of time, lacking a past as well as a future, since no change or evolution occurs there. It is also a world full of superficial pleasure but lacking any real human passion. Thus, Edith, the queen of May, says to her consort, Edgar, "I sigh amid this festive music .... I struggle as with a dream, and fancy that these shapes of our jovial friends are visionary, and their mirth unreal .... What is the mystery in my heart?" As the two await their wedding, "a little shower of withering rose leaves" falls from the maypole as a reminder that youth is transitory. Ironically, it is their love, not the appearance of the Puritans, that dooms Edith and Edgar to exile from Merry Mount and life in a postlapsarian world: "from the moment that they truly loved, they had subjected themselves to earth's dooms of care, and sorrow, and troubled joy, and had no more home at Merry Mount."
When the young couple is brought before Endicott, who has felled the maypole with his sword, they are not so much representatives of the world of Merry Mount as young people at a point of transition in their lives. "There they stood, in the first hour of wedlock, while the idle pleasures, of which their companions were the emblems, had given place to the sternest cares of life, personified by the dark Puritans. But never had their youthful beauty seemed so pure and high, as when its glow was chastened by adversity." In an ambiguous ending the young couple are stripped of their festive costumes to be clothed in "garments of a more decent fashion," and Edgar is shorn of his youthful locks, symbolizing their integration into the somber world of Puritanism. As a final gesture, however, Endicott, "the severest Puritan of all," throws the garland from the maypole over their heads. Though they have been forced from the world of Merry Mount to return no more, the wreath suggests that, "in the tie that united them, were intertwined all the purest and best of their early joys." Joining in themselves both the sense of life characteristic of the Merrymounters and the knowledge of suffering and sin taught by the Puritans, we last see them going "heavenward, supporting each other along the difficult path it was their lot to tread." Only by having lost the false paradise of Merry Mount are they free to seek a life that intermingles the joy and sorrow, as well as the love, that is man's true lot in this world.
As "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" deals with questions of sin and guilt in a broadly mythological context, "The Minister's Black Veil," adjacently situated in Twice-Told Tales, looks at a similar question on a more individual and personal level. Along with "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" and "The Wedding Knell," it was first published in The Token and Atlantic Souvenir for 1836, and, like so many other Hawthorne stories, "The Minister's Black Veil" has a historical basis, though Hawthorne's fiction version varies widely from historical fact. In a footnote to his "parable" Hawthorne refers to a New England clergyman of an earlier period who had "made himself remarkable by the same eccentricity as is here related of the Reverend Mr. Hooper." In that instance, however, the clergyman "had accidentally killed a beloved friend; and from that day till the hour of his own death ... hid his face from men." Hawthorne's clergyman has far more mysterious motivations for veiling his face.
Secret sin and its effects on the individual were to fascinate Hawthorne throughout his career, and Hawthorne's treatment of the theme in The Scarlet Letter is anticipated in this story. The veil that covers Reverend Hooper's face is one of Hawthorne's most effective symbols for "those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them." Despite tantalizing hints that the minister somehow may have been involved in the death of a young woman parishioner, it is never clear whether the veil conceals "some great crime, too horrible to be entirely concealed," or only Hooper's exaggerated preoccupation with his human, and therefore necessarily sinful, nature. This ambiguity, however, is purposeful. Hawthorne concentrates on the effect of the veil on Hooper's life and ministry, rather than upon the cause for his taking it up. Long before modern psychology described the phenomenon, Hawthorne recognized that guilt can have an existence of its own that bears little relationship to actual causes.
The effect of the veil is twofold: it isolates Hooper from his parishioners and condemns him to the loveless and sterile existence epitomized by the termination of his relationship with his fiancée, Elizabeth; but by the same act he is turned into a powerfully effective preacher: "By the aid of this mysterious emblem ... he became a man of awful power, over souls that were in agony for sin." Like Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter, Hooper draws a strange power from the secret he carries in his heart, and while it destroys one aspect of his life it enhances another. Because he is able through his example to lead others to salvation, Hooper's story might be read as another of Hawthorne's variations on the theme of the "fortunate fall," but to limit the reading to that level would ignore other equally important concerns in Hawthorne's fiction.
Hawthorne believed strongly in the natural bond he called the "magnetic chain of humanity." Anything which severs that chain he regarded as inimical to the human spirit and destructive of man's best self. Several of his heroes, both in short stories and novels, have so isolated themselves. Behind his veil, "Mr. Hooper spent a long life, irreproachable in outward act, yet shrouded in dismal suspicions; kind and loving, though unloved and dimly feared; a man apart from men, shunned in their health and joy, but ever summoned to their aid in mortal anguish."
Despite the good he may have accomplished in his ministry, Hooper goes to his grave as a gloomy reminder, not simply of man's fallen nature but of the necessity of coming to terms with one's own human condition. Like his counterparts Goodman Brown and Arthur Dimmesdale, Hooper, who cannot reconcile himself to the reality of his human limitations or accept that good might coexist with evil in a single soul, allows his preoccupation with sin to isolate him from the human community where redemptive love might occur.
During the years immediately following publication of the first edition of Twice-Told Tales Hawthorne wrote little adult fiction. His stories scarcely bringing in enough to support his modest bachelor habits, it was impossible for him to contemplate marriage to Sophia Amelia Peabody, with whom he was falling in love, without a steady income. With the help of Sophia's sister Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Hawthorne was appointed a measurer in the Boston customhouse in January 1839. For the two years he held this post, he apparently wrote little. According to one estimate, between 1838 and 1842 he may have written only two adult sketches, though he did produce the three-volume Grandfather's Chair series of stories for children (1841). He also prepared the second edition of Twice-Told Tales for publication in 1842, but the twenty-one stories he added had all appeared in magazines and gift books (or in one case--The Sister Years -as a pamphlet) by the end of 1839.
In late 1840 Hawthorne invested in George Ripley's Brook Farm, an experiment in communal living at West Roxbury, Massachusetts, in hope of finding a situation that would enable him both to write and to support a wife. Hawthorne discovered that manual labor left little energy for writing. From April to November of 1841 he labored among the transcendentalist community members before giving up his plan of bringing Sophia to live there after their marriage. Though the Brook Farm experience contributed little to his short fiction, it did provide the basis for his novel The Blithedale Romance (1852). Unfortunately for his precarious financial position Hawthorne was never able to recoup his investment in Brook Farm. Soon after leaving he completed another children's book, Biographical Stories for Children (1842).
On 9 July 1842 Hawthorne and Sophia Peabody were married and took up residence in the Old Manse at Concord, Massachusetts, where they would live until October 1845. Hawthorne found himself able to write again, and he steadily supplied the magazines with enough somewhat formulaic stories and sketches "to earn ... so much gold as might suffice" to support his new household, but little beyond that. The approximately twenty stories he published during this short period rarely achieve the high quality of his earlier masterpieces. He said of these years in his introductory essay to Mosses from an Old Manse, "all that I had to show, as a man of letters, were these few tales and essays, which had blossomed out like flowers in the calm summer of my heart and mind." When he came to assemble a new collection of short fiction, he reached into his literary past for "some [stories] that were produced long ago-faded things, reminding me of flowers pressed between the leaves of a book" in order to flesh out the collection. These earlier stories, which he had passed over at least twice in selecting materials for his collections, ironically include "Roger Malvin's Burial" and "Young Goodman Brown," both finished before 1830 and now considered by Hawthorne's critics to be among his authentic masterpieces of short fiction.
A new collection of tales and sketches by Hawthorne was first proposed in late 1845 by Evert Duyckinck, an editor for the firm of Wiley and Putnam who had praised Twice-Told Tales in a review. Once again Hawthorne thought in terms of a unified collection and planned an essay which would be "a sort of framework" uniting the stories with each other, and also putting them into the context of the author's life at the Old Manse. By spring 1846 when Hawthorne finished "The Old Manse," he no longer occupied "the most delightful nook of a study" where he wrote during the Manse period. His family augmented by the birth of a daughter. Una (1844-1877). Hawthorne had taken his wife and child in fall 1845 to his mother's house in Salem while he sought a political appointment to supplement his meager income from writing. They were not to find a house in Salem until September 1847, by which time their second child, Julian (1846-1934), had been born. In March 1846 Hawthorne was appointed surveyor of customs in Salem, and it was there-where The Scarlet Letter was begun-that he completed his nostalgic sketch. More than just a farewell to the Old Manse, this essay was also meant as his farewell to writing short fiction. Mosses from an Old Manse would be, he wrote, "the last collection of this nature, which it is my purpose ever to put forth. Unless I could do better, I have done enough in this kind." Though he would turn his hand occasionally to short works during the next few years, the bulk of his contribution to the short-story genre was behind him. Before him lay the great romances of his maturity as a writer.
Once again Hawthorne's wish for a unified book-length work was frustrated. "The Old Manse" does not do its office. The reflexive voice of the sketch, the ostensible unifying device of the collection, is present in some of the stories and sketches in Mosses from an Old Manse but by no means in all of them. The pieces themselves range widely from such authentic masterpieces as "The Birth-mark" (Pioneer, March 1843) and "The Artist of the Beautiful" (United States Magazine, June 1844) to "Mrs. Bullfrog" ( The Token for 1838), one of Hawthorne's few efforts to write in a comic mode, and "Buds and Bird Voices" (United States Magazine, June 1843), a nostalgic companion piece to "The Old Manse." The result is a work with an even smaller percentage of first-rate pieces than Twice-Told Tales, and half of those stories had been written more than fifteen years earlier. One must conclude that the Golden Age of Hawthorne's short-fiction writing was already behind him when he assembled this collection.
The two early masterpieces in Mosses from an Old Manse, "Young Goodman Brown" (probably written in 1828 or 1829 and first published in the April 1835 issue of New-England Magazine ) and "Roger Malvin's Burial" (written in the same period and first published in The Token for 1832), return again to the colonial and early republic settings characteristic of much of Hawthorne's best fiction. These stories share with others of the period a symbolic habit of mind combined with an intuitive sense of depth psychology and myth that intrigue the modern reader of Hawthorne. Yet, by the time he included them in Mosses from an Old Manse, the author himself had now passed over these tales in making selections for both editions of Twice-Told Tales, suggesting that he either saw less in them himself,or expected his readers to see less, than subsequent readers have. It may be that he was not speaking entirely tongue-in-cheek when he wrote of these stories in an 1854 letter to James T. Fields, "Upon my honor, I am not quite sure that I entirely comprehend my own meanings in some of these blasted allegories," though he also complained, "Yet certainly there is more in it than the public generally gave me credit for, at the time it was written."
Regardless of Hawthorne's perception of his allegorical stories, it is largely on them, rather than upon the lighter tales and sketches in which he tried to capture the flavor of contemporary life, that his modern reputation rests. In the allegories Hawthorne explores that "neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairyland where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other" he described in the preface to The Scarlet Letter. By the time he came to write his major romances, Hawthorne appears to have solved the conflict between his interest in writing sketches of contemporary life and his attraction to the more imaginative materials of his romances, but that tension seems still clear in Mosses from an Old Manse.
"Young Goodman Brown" has been particularly attractive to critics and scholars who read Hawthorne in terms of his anticipation of depth psychology. Hawthorne's repeated intuitive grasp of the effects of guilty knowledge on the unconscious mind assures him a place in the tradition of psychological fiction. Nowhere is this understanding more apparent than in "Young Goodman Brown." Set in the repressive atmosphere of seventeenth-century New England, the story takes the form of a dreamlike journey into the dark, primeval forest, where the protagonist meets at a Black Mass all the familiar figures of his daily life, including his own new wife, Faith.
Salem village provides an image of order, reason, and moral rigidity against which is contrasted the lawless wilderness that Brown enters on his mysterious mission. As he reluctantly makes his way into the forest, Brown seems in the grip of some compulsion over which he lacks control. To his dismay he discovers, when he reaches a clearing where something resembling a Black Mass is about to be held, that all the community leaders-the moral examples and paternal models held up to him in his youth-are among the congregation, including even his own Faith. In this reversal of the orderly world of Salem, Brown learns that "Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness." Those individuals who seemed so upright and godly in the light of day are revealed in the darkness of the forest to belong equally to the night world of the devil. At the last possible moment Brown cries out to heaven for Faith to join him in resisting this "communion of your race." Ironically, Brown's salvation from the demons in the forest condemns him to a life of misanthropy and isolation, so that when he dies in later years, "they carved no hopeful verse on his tomb-stone; for his dying hour was gloom."
Brown is unable to reconcile himself to the fact that the people he has admired in his youth participate in the sinfulness that for Hawthorne is part of the essential human condition. After his forest visit Brown can see only the darker side of human nature and cannot reconcile himself to the inherent tension in human beings between the forces of light and those of darkness. Through his journey into the wilderness Brown achieves knowledge, but he lacks the wisdom to reconcile the adult experience of sin and guilt as characteristics of human nature with his childishly naive need to view people as unambiguously either good or evil. The result is ignorance of his own complex nature and isolation from the community as well.
Many critics have read this story as a psychological allegory in which the world of the village represents that aspect of the personality Freud characterized as the superego, while the forest scene dramatizes the instinctual qualities characteristic of the id. In this reading, Brown's discovery in the forest frequently is translated as sexual knowledge, an interpretation consistent with both the emphasis on his new marriage and the sexual overtones of the sins described in the communion scene. So read, the story becomes a metaphorical descent into the underworld of the subconscious mind--much as a dream might take one into the depths of his or her emotional being--where Brown discovers his own sexual--that is, sinful--nature. As he revealed in "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," Hawthorne was concerned with the repressive aspects of Puritanism, and the effects on the psyche of rigid denial of natural human qualities. In "Young Goodman Brown" he explores the problems incumbent upon Puritan morality in such a way as to generalize about the universal experience of awakening awareness and the necessity of incorporating one's new knowledge into the adult psyche as a natural aspect of growth.
The effects of guilty knowledge on Goodman Brown are largely internalized, resulting only in his isolation from the community. In "Roger Malvin's Burial" Hawthorne returns to the same topic, but this time he treats much more overt effects of compulsive behavior resulting from a guilty conscience. Probably written in the late 1820s as one of the projected "Provincial Tales," this story, like others of that early group, has a historical event as background, though little use is made of history in the narrative itself. In fact, except for providing a degree of verisimilitude to a somewhat fantastic tale, the historical account of a 1725 raid against the Indians contributes little to Hawthorne's treatment of his material. Once again, history is a point of departure for Hawthorne, not an end in itself. Far more central to "Roger Malvin's Burial" are such themes as the effects of hidden guilt and the psychological conflict between fathers and sons.
Early in the story Hawthorne establishes a father-son bond between Roger Malvin and Reuben Bourne. During the two men's journey home following the raid, Malvin, weak from his wounds, sends the younger man for help, saying, "I have loved you like a father, Reuben, and, at a time like this, I should have something of a father's authority." Reuben replies, "because you have been a father to me, should I therefore leave you to perish, and to die unburied in the wilderness?" He obeys the older man, however, vowing to return "either to save his companion's life, or to lay his body in the grave." Reaching home near death,Reuben is nursed by Roger Malvin's daughter, Dorcas, and later marries her, but he never keeps his promise to her father. The emotion-laden context of Reuben's abandonment of Roger Malvin to die from his wounds achieves even greater significance by the fact that, with Reuben's marriage to Dorcas, he becomes guilty, in his own mind at least, of the crime of parricide.
Hawthorne gives little indication that Reuben could have successfully rescued Roger Malvin, but he should have fulfilled his promise to return to lay the other man's bones in a Christian grave. His failure to do so haunts Reuben and occasions his guilt over "his selfish love of life" that had caused him to leave Roger Malvin before his fate was decided. Trapped in his own lie that he left his wife's father dead and buried, Reuben becomes a victim of "the mental horrors, which punish the perpetrator of an undiscovered crime." His guilt assures the failure of all he puts his hand to, eventually forcing him to relocate with his wife and son, Cyrus--now a young man of fifteen--to the farther settlements. As they set out on this journey, Reuben unconsciously leads them back to the locale of Roger's death. There, in a final guilty sacrifice, Reuben "accidentally" slays his own son at the exact place where he left Roger Malvin years earlier. In an agony of guilt Reuben confesses to Dorcas the fate of her father, telling her, "Your tears will fall at once over your father and your son."
Paralleling Hawthorne's fascination with secret guilt was his interest in the cleansing ritual of confession, but this story offers a complicated variation on the theme that Hawthorne would later employ in The Scarlet Letter and The Marble Faun. According to the final sentence of "Roger Malvin's Burial," "His sin was expiated, the curse was gone from him; and, in the hour, when he had shed blood dearer to him than his own, a prayer, for the first time in years, went up to Heaven from the lips of Reuben Bourne." This release of the spirit implies that redemption follows Reuben's fulfilling his vow to return to Roger Malvin and his confession to Dorcas of his earlier failure; but the reader cannot overlook the sacrifice of the innocent Cyrus. Though Hawthorne seems to end the story on an affirmative note, the reader cannot escape the irony that Reuben's salvation has come at the cost of an act that seems more morally compromising than the original cause of his guilt. In all his works Hawthorne never wrote a more morally ambivalent ending.
Obsession, or what his generation called monomania, was an enduring interest of Hawthorne's in both his short fiction and his romances. A group of three stories in Mosses from an Old Manse includes some of his best treatments of monomaniacal characters who bring about their own downfalls and frequently those of people closest to them through their pursuits of ideals that lead them to try to improve nature. In "The Birth-mark" and "Rappaccini's Daughter" science is the instrument through which such alterations of nature are undertaken, while in "The Artist of the Beautiful" an artist obsessed with perfection abandons the real substance of life to devote himself to a godlike attempt to make a perfectly realized creation. Both the scientist and the artist are objects of suspicion in Hawthorne's fiction, so it is not surprising that they share some of the same characteristics. In addition to these stories collected in Mosses from an Old Manse, "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" ( Knickerbocker or New York Monthly Magazine, January 1837; collected in Twice-Told Tales, 1837) and "Ethan Brand" (first published as "The Unpardonable Sin" in the Boston Weekly Museum, 5 January 1850; collected in The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales) are other important treatments of the scientist in Hawthorne's short fiction; while "Drowne's Wooden Image" (Godey's Magazine and Lady's Book, July 1844; first collected in Mosses from an Old Manse) and "The Prophetic Pictures" ( The Token and Atlantic Souvenir for 1837; first collected in Twice-Told Tales, 1837) present similar artist figures. Both these character types reappear in Hawthorne's romances.
In many respects Aylmer of "The Birthmark" (Pioneer, March 1843) is the archetype for all Hawthorne's scientists, since he represents both what is best and what is worst about all of them. His aspirations are truly admirable, his aims ostensibly noble, and his experimental methods essential to human progress. Conversely, however, his obsession with perfection, his drive to achieve some ultimate and transcendental effect through science, and his personal ambition are Faustian qualities that doom him morally. While Aylmer, even at his worst, seems more admirable than his apelike assistant, Aminadab, Hawthorne nevertheless condemns him for his foolish failure to recognize his limitations in a world where Nature "permits us to mar, but seldom to mend, and, like a jealous patentee, never to make."
Married to the beautiful Georgianna, Aylmer is obsessed by the one "visible mark of earthly imperfection" that mars her beauty--a small birthmark shaped like a hand, on one cheek--and he determines to devote all his skill in science to its removal so that "the world might possess one living specimen of ideal loveliness, without the semblance of a flaw." Ironically, Aylmer gives credit to Georgianna for having led him "deeper than ever into the heart of science" until he feels "fully competent to render this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow." Swayed by Aylmer's disgust with her one imperfection, Georgianna willingly enters into the experiment to remove the birthmark, thus persuading some readers to conclude that she is implicated in her own death. Aylmer does succeed in removing the birthmark, but too late they both realize "the fatal Hand had grappled with the mystery of life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union with a mortal frame." As the mark fades away, Georgianna dies, leaving Aylmer to contemplate the "profounder wisdom" that "ever does the gross Fatality of Earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence, which, in "this dim sphere of half-development, demands the completeness of a higher state" for its ultimate perfection.
Sometimes classified as early science-fiction fantasies, Hawthorne's stories of science, like his imaginative interpretation of history, have foundations in the actual. With the rise of modern sciences the nineteenth century saw old established principles and authorities for understanding the physical world give way to empirical and experimental methods which sometimes seemed to threaten the bounds of acceptable moral behavior, especially in the minds of essentially conservative thinkers like Hawthorne. The questions raised in the twentieth century over moral and ethical issues related to scientific experiments with genetics and atomic power are scarcely less disturbing than question raised over science in Hawthorne's day. While his stories of scientists are explorations of the Faustian archetype, they also voice the concerns of a writer who believed that science should exercise great caution before plunging into experiments, the results of which could not be anticipated.
The conflict in values between the experimental attitude represented by Aylmer and a more-conservative tradition in science that relied upon authority is nowhere more succinctly illustrated in Hawthorne's work than by the conflict between Professor Baglioni and Doctor Rappaccini. Baglioni defines Hawthorne's sense of the Faustian quest when he says of his rival, "he cares infinitely more for science than for mankind .... He would sacrifice human life, his own among the rest, or whatever else was dearest to him, for the sake of adding so much as a grain of mustardseed to the great heap of his accumulated knowledge." Later, placing his own views on science in clear juxtaposition to Rappaccini's, Baglioni says, "he is a wonderful man!--a wonderful man indeed! A vile empiric, however, in his practice, and therefore not to be tolerated by those who respect the good old rules of the profession!" Though Hawthorne would seem to remain neutral in this conflict, the tragic results achieved by such empiricists as Aylmer, Rappaccini, and Ethan Brand,whose science proceeds by experiment rather than authority, suggest that he had serious misgivings about the new scientific methods becoming prevalent during his lifetime. Since all three of these stories were composed during his lifetime. Since these stories were composed from the middle to late 1840s, they can fairly be said to reflect his mature attitude toward scientific experimentation.
"Rappaccini's Daughter" (United States Magazine and Democratic Review, December 1844) is perhaps the most complex of all Hawthorne's short stories, and the conflict between empirical and traditional science is only a small design in its rich fictional tapestry. Even within a canon characterized by ambiguity and veiled allusions, "Rappaccini's Daughter" stands out for its enigmatic complexity. Rappaccini is an evil genius as well as a loving and protective father; Beatrice is both a model of purity and an emblem of evil; Rappaccini's garden is both "the Eden of the present world" and a poisonous death trap. No reading is ever likely to reconcile all the possibilities of the story into a single coherent pattern, nor is there likely to be even general agreement among scholars upon even the most basic questions of interpretation.
Of all Hawthorne's heroes, Rappaccini most closely resembles Aylmer as the scholar-scientist who uses his science in an attempt to make a world surpassing natural creation. Clearly the old scientist is a Faustian figure in his pursuit of knowledge, a quality which, when combined with his excessive love for and desire to protect his daughter, motivates his attempt to create a new Eden. His garden, however, is the reverse of that in Genesis in almost every respect. The atmosphere of his garden of poisonous plants does not foster life,but death; and, while the created garden is a product of love, it is not a love that integrates its inhabitants into the magnetic chain of humanity Hawthorne talks about elsewhere but one that isolates Beatrice--the daughter Rappaccini has raised to thrive on the garden's toxic atmosphere--and Giovanni, whom the doctor would make Adam to Beatrice's Eve after gradually acclimatizing him to the garden's poisons. The love which fosters the garden is possessive and sterile, not truly creative and productive. It is an ironic Eden at best, at worst a perverted inversion of life-sustaining nature.
Beatrice nevertheless presents the image of a pure and angelic being whose spirit is untouched by the world she inhabits, even though her physical being is so imbued with poison that she has become as "poisonous as she is beautiful." Being unable to separate the scientific laws that govern the world he inhabits from those that govern Beatrice's garden, Giovanni makes the fatal mistake of believing that he can transform her physical nature without harming the spirit within. Somewhat like Aylmer's attempt to transform Georgianna into a perfect being, Giovanni's attempt to "perfect" Beatrice by giving her the antidote to the poison that is her very nature destroys her in the process, but only after they realize that he has become as toxic to beings of the natural world as Beatrice. When Beatrice asks him, "Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?" it is to his lack of insight into her spiritual nature that she refers. In terms borrowed from "The Birth-mark," Rappaccini sought to make and Giovanni to mend, but in the end they could only mar.
Closely related to the scientist-scholar in Hawthorne's cast of characters is the artist, another figure whose preoccupation with his genius can turn into a monomaniacal obsession. Like the two preceding stories. "The Artist of the Beautiful" (United States Magazine and Democratic Review, June 1844) was written while Hawthorne was in residence at the Old Manse. Owen Warland shares with Aylmer and Rappaccini a fascination with the ideal, which he pursues with fanatic zeal. Unlike them, however, no human life is at stake as a result of his creative drive, and the only cost paid is Owen's isolation after he elects to pursue art rather than life.
Somewhat like Aylmer, Owen Warland represents an extreme of intellectual and artistic sensibility, while Robert Danforth, the blacksmith, represents an earthy and sensual man, like Aminadab, who has little use for spiritualized vision. Significantly, Danforth marries Annie, and they have a child, while Owen, who also loves Annie, spends his life bringing forth a perfectly realized mechanical butterfly. Both men are creators, but when the baby, whom Hawthorne calls a "Child of Strength," crushes the fragile little butterfly into oblivion, actual life triumphs over the ethereal product of the artist. For Owen, however, the loss seems to matter little: "he looked placidly at what seemed the ruin of his life's labor, and which was yet no ruin. He had caught a far other butterfly than this." Hawthorne endows the butterfly with significance for Owen beyond its mere physical being.
After he learns of Annie and Robert's engagement, Owen is represented as a man who "had lost his faith in the invisible, and now prided himself, as such unfortunates invariably do, in the wisdom which rejected much that even his eye could see and trusted confidently in nothing but what his hand could touch." By these terms Owen seems to be a materialist who has lost confidence in any reality beyond the physical world and who lacks the spiritual faith necessary to bring out man's best nature; "But, in Owen Warland, the spirit was not dead, nor past away; it only slept." Through his creation of the lifelike butterfly. Owen reawakens his own slumbering spirituality, and, after its destruction, the narrator explains, "when the artist rose high enough to achieve the Beautiful, the symbol by which he made it perceptible to mortal senses became of little value in his eyes, while his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the Reality."
Hawthorne's ambiguous affirmation of the artist's spiritual quest admits no easy conclusions. While Owen achieves a spiritual triumph at the end of the story, he is also an isolated and lonely figure. His creation, unlike Robert and Annie's baby, enhances no life but his own after the few moments of amusement it has provided. Ultimately Hawthorne seems to admire the creative process for its enhancement of human potential, while at the same time he deplores it for its cutting the artist off from life itself. This profound ambiguity at the heart of "The Artist of the Beautiful" may well represent one of Hawthorne's most personal attempts to resolve his ambivalent feelings about "the comparative value of the Beautiful and the Practical" in his own life.
Reviews of Mosses from an Old Manse were generally favorable, most critics preferring it to the two earlier editions of Twice-Told Tales. Mosses from an Old Manse is well known for having inspired two of the most important reviews in American critical history: Poe's "Tale Writing--Nathaniel Hawthorne" (Godey's Lady's Book, November 1847) and Herman Melville's "Hawthorne and His Mosses" (Literary World, August 1850). Melville, who would dedicate his MobyDick to Hawthorne in 1851, said of the older writer, "this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free." Going on in his review to compare Hawthorne to Shakespeare in the "Art of Telling the Truth," and praising Hawthorne's American originality and freedom form European models, Melville announced, "And now, my countrymen, as an excellent author of your own flesh and blood--anunimitating, and, perhaps, in his way, an inimitable man--whom better can I commend to you, in the first place, than Nathaniel Hawthorne." In many respects Melville's review singles out the qualities in Hawthorne's fiction that modern critics have also found praiseworthy.
Poe, who admired Twice-Told Tales more than Mosses from an Old Manse, complained that the later collection suffers from "a somewhat too general or prevalent tone-a tone of melancholy and mysticism," that "the subjects are insufficiently varied," and that "there is not so much of versatility " as he would wish. Nevertheless, he quickly acknowledged that "the style is purity itself. Force abounds. High imagination gleams from every page. Mr. Hawthorne is a man of the truest genius." In the long run, Poe's essay is more important for his definition of the short story than for unique insights into Hawthorne's work.
Despite his assurances in the preface that Mosses from an Old Manse would be his last collection of short fiction, Hawthorne produced one more collection of short fiction for adults in 1851. The first two years after he became surveyor in the Salem Custom House in 1846 were not at all productive literary years for him. By the time the election of a Whig, Zachary Taylor, to the presidency in 1848 led to the dismissal of Hawthorne, a Democrat, in June 1849, he seems to have finished only the preface to Mosses from an Old Manse and four short stories. After losing his post he turned to work on The Scarlet Letter, which he had planned as a long short story, and completed his first major novel on 3 February 1850. That "Ethan Brand," written during his tenure in the customhouse, was first conceived as a novel may suggest that his interest was already turning toward full-length romances, but it is also probably true that he did not find the routine of the customhouse conducive to creativity. Other than "Ethan Brand," the short stories finished at this time are not of the highest quality. "Main Street" (Aesthetic Papers, 1849), the best and most popular of them, is more properly classified as a sketch than a short story. Both "The Snow-Image" (International Miscellany of Literature, Art, and Science, November 1850) and "The Great Stone Face" (National Era, 24 January 1850) were written as children's stories, though they were later included in The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales, a collection of stories for adults. At least as far as adult fiction was concerned, Hawthorne was turning his attention to the major novels with which he would complete his literary career.
Encouraged by the success of The Scarlet Letter in 1850 and then The House of the Seven Gables in 1851, Ticknor, Reed and Fields brought out a new edition of Twice-Told Tales--to which Hawthorne added a preface--in 1851, published a collection of his stories for children--A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys--in late 1851 (dated 1852), and began negotiations to buy the copyright to Mosses from an Old Manse from Wiley and Putnam. (Ticknor, Reed and Fields brought out a revised and enlarged edition in 1854.) They also published a new collection of his short fiction in late 1851 (dated 1852). Like his other collections, The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales includes both early and recent stories (including those written while he was in the customhouse). The best of the stories from the customhouse period, "Ethan Brand" (Boston Weekly Museum, 5 January 1850), was initially intended as a full-length novel and is subtitled "A Chapter from an Abortive Romance." First published as "The Unpardonable Sin. From an Unpublished Work" in the 5 January 1850 issue of the Boston Weekly Museum, it rivals in imaginative power the best of Hawthorne's short fiction, but it lacks the formal distinction that characterizes his best stories. Of the earlier stories published in this volume, only "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" (The Token for 1832) can stand beside the early masterpieces. Like others of Hawthorne's best stories, it was written early and probably included among the "Provincial Tales." It is difficult to understand why Hawthorne repeatedly passed over this excellent story in his earlier collections while including clearly inferior work.
The central character in "Ethan Brand," who both looks back to the scholar-idealists of the earlier stories and forward to Chillingworth of The Scarlet Letter, explicitly dramatizes Hawthorne's fear that science might subordinate moral values to experimental curiosity. In "Ethan Brand" Hawthorne gives his most elaborate description of the imbalance between the head and the heart that characterizes his scholar-scientists and leads to their downfall: "Then ensued that vast intellectual development, which, in its progress, disturbed the counterpoise between his mind and heart." As a result of Brand's pursuit of the "Unpardonable Sin", "the Idea that possessed his life." he subordinates the heart to the intellect to the extent that his heart withers within him: "He had lost his hold of the magnetic chain of humanity.He was no longer a brother-man, opening the chambers or the dungeons of our common nature by the key of holy sympathy, which gave him a right to share in all its secrets; he was now a cold observer, looking on mankind as the subject of his experiment, and, at length, converting man and woman to be his puppets, and pulling the wires that moved them to such degrees of crime as were demanded for his study."
While Hawthorne's earlier scientists may have erred from misplaced and even monomaniacal worship of the ideal, none of them, including Rappaccini, can be said with certainty to be inherently evil. Not so with the Faustian Ethan Brand. His search for the "Unpardonable Sin" has been undertaken in total disregard of any moral consideration, and he alone of Hawthorne's characters prior to Chillingworth might deserve condemnation as an unpardonable sinner who "had committed the only crime for which heaven could afford no mercy." That sin, which he finds finally within himself, is "the sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man, and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims!"
"My Kinsman, Major Molineux" reflects Hawthorne's early fascination with New England history and is his best treatment of the restless period that preceded the American Revolution. Young Robin Molineux leaves his pastoral home in the wilderness to make his way in "the little metropolis of a New England colony," where he hopes to put himself under the protection of a powerful relative, Major Molineux. As the events of the story unfold, Robin meets a succession of figures who not only refuse to help him find his kinsman, but react with increasing hostility to his civil requests for direction. Eventually he is told to wait at a particular corner, where he will see the major pass. He does so, and is eventually rewarded by the sight of a revolutionary mob, led by a diabolically painted figure, carrying Robin's tarred-and-feathered kinsman through the streets. At first appalled, Robin ultimately joins in the mob's laughter at the humiliation of Major Molineux. At the end of the story Robin is planning to depart for home, but then he is persuaded by the gentleman who told him where to find his kinsman that he should remain to make his way in the world without help. Hawthorne's best story of the psychological transition from adolescence to young manhood, "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" works also as a political allegory which explores the birth of American democracy--with Robin representing the emerging nation and the major representing England--and reveals its author's somewhat ambivalent attitude toward the events heralding the birth of the United States.
In the last of a series of three sketches called "Old News" ( New-England Magazine, February, March, and May 1835; collected in The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales) he writes that the Tory faction in New England mistook "the temporary evils of a change, for permanent diseases of the system which that change was to establish." Hawthorne's portrayal of Major Molineux, whose humiliation is referred to as "the foul disgrace of a head grown grey in honor," suggests that he is not unsympathetic to the Tory position. In a story without any heroic figures with whom Robin might identify, the major is more sympathetically treated than his tormentors. Though it is unlikely that Hawthorne meant to repudiate the achievements of the American Revolution, he seems to have had ambiguous feelings about the violent methods by which independence was achieved.
After The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales Hawthorne produced no more new collections of short fiction. In July 1852 The Blithedale Romance, his third novel in a little over two years, was published in England and the United States. From that time until the appearance of his last completed novel, The Marble Faun, he published only two books: a campaign biography of his college friend Franklin Pierce (1852) and a volume of children's stories, Tanglewood Tales (1853).
In July 1850 Hawthorne took his family to live in Lenox, Massachusetts, where his third child, Rose (1851-1926), was born the following May. They moved to West Newton, near Boston, in November 1851 but remained there only briefly before buying a house they named the Wayside in Concord and settling there in May 1852.
After Franklin Pierce won the 1852 presidential election, Hawthorne was appointed U.S. consul in Liverpool. The family sailed for England in July 1853, and Hawthorne held office until October 1857. From January 1858 until mid 1859 the family lived in Italy and then spent another year in England before returning home to Concord. On 19 May 1864, while on a tour of New England with Franklin Pierce, Hawthorne died quietly in his sleep in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Had Hawthorne written no novels, his influence on American literature would have been hardly less than it has been. In his short fiction Hawthorne helped to define the American short-story tradition, giving it its characteristically symbolic and psychological form. Nearly every major American writer in this genre since the Civil War has been influenced by Hawthorne in some way. If the short story is indeed, as some literary scholars have maintained, America's unique contribution to the world's literature, Hawthorne had a major part in securing that place in literary history for his country.
From: Grant, William E. "Nathaniel Hawthorne." American Short-Story Writers Before 1880, edited by Bobby Ellen Kimbel and William E. Grant, Gale, 1988. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 74.