Excerpt from Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple
In this passage from Wineapple's 2003 biography of Hawthorne, she discusses Melville's
and Hawthorne's shared interest in the sea but also contrasts "the coxswain…come
back to tell all, striding off the gangplank" with the writer who was a "dry-docked
Custom House inspector (223). (courtesy of Alfred
"Hawthorne liked the bushy-bearded young man-utterly himself-and asked him to spend a few days at the red house. Generally suspicious of literary men (Longfellow was an exception), Hawthorne much preferred the retired sea dogs of Salem to any highfalutin tribe in Concord or the Berkshires. Plus, like Melville, he loved the sea, which represented raw adventure and a test of manhood perfectly balanced by death, certain and uncertain (223).
And here Melville was, bearded and bronzed, a man who led the kind of life Hawthorne could only dream about: afloat on some craft or other, battling typhoons and enduring doldrums, dropping anchor in exotic, distant lands. Mixing with salts, young and old, on board ship, men and women on land, Melville was the coxswain, not a dry-docked Custom House inspector, come back to tall all, striding off the gangplank into a garret where he could dip his pen into the inkpot and be, of all things, a writer. He was also a willing acolyte, fourteen years Hawthorne's junior, fatherless, and so hungry for literary companionship that he eagerly projected onto the older author the preoccupations assailing him while he wrote his book about whales" (223-224).