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David Goss Lecture

Hawthorne's Salem: A Seaport in Decline and the Inspiration of a Mind

by Professor David Goss
Gordon College,
Wenham, MA

David Goss, Coordinator of Arts, Gordon College, Wenham, MA
David Goss, Coordinator of Arts, Gordon College, Wenham, MA


We are-- all of us-- the product of our environment and the events and people that surround us. This is no less true in the case of young Nathaniel Hawthorne who spent almost 35 of his almost 60 years in Salem, Massachusetts-- most especially the fortunate years of his childhood and youth.
The purpose of tonight's lecture is to provide the Hawthorne student with a glimpse of life in the author's native place during the time he lived there. It goes without saying that few places had greater influence upon Hawthorne-- both in his personal life--his youth especially-- and in his writings.

Salem at Hawthorne's Birth

One of the rather remarkable aspects of Hawthorne's life--among many-- was that he was born in Salem, Massachusetts on the Fourth of July in 1804. Apart from the patriotic overtones of such a birthday-- Nathaniel always took special delight in the town celebrating on his natal day. Secondly, the year 1804 marks what many historians consider to be the very pinnacle of Salem's prosperity as a seaport engaged in highly profitable trade with India, China, Sumatra, Cape Town, Smyrna, Mocha, the South Pacific, the Mediterranean and the Baltic ports including St. Petersburg. It was, at the time, the wealthiest seaport per capita in the U. S. firmly grounded in trade.

In a world then at war between France and England and their respective allies, the U.S. and Salem, in particular walked a fine line of neutrality-- while amassing incredible fortunes in maritime trade. It was no mere coincidence that the stately houses of Chestnut Street and Washington Square-- each reflecting the wealth of Federalist and Jeffersonian merchant-ship owners-- were largely built during the first five years of the 19th Century. It was, for Salem especially, the beginning of the end of a glorious era that would soon crash with the devastating effects of Jefferson's (1808) ill-conceived Embargo followed quickly by the War of 1812. A one-two punch from which Salem would never recover. And Hawthorne's life began--just as Salem's preeminence was about to end.

Hawthorne's Family History

Another remarkable aspect of Hawthorne's life was his family's long-lived connection to the town of Salem. Beginning with his great-great-great grandfather, William Hathorne, who arrived with the vanguard of the Great Migration in the 1630s and promptly moved to Salem from Dorchester, his family had never lived anywhere else.

William Hathorne was known as a magistrate and harsh persecutor of Quakers and Native Americans following King Phillip's War-- sending many to the sugar plantations of the West Indies and almost certain death. His son, the now infamous Colonel John Hathorne did not greatly improve the family's reputation for harsh treatment of prisoners as he presided over many pre-trial hearings and some sessions of the Court of Oyer and Terminer in Salem during the 1692 witchcraft trial episode. He was particularly virulent in his prosecution of the accused and-- unlike many of his colleagues-- never expressed any regret concerning the role he had played in Salem's great travesty of justice, dying unrepentant in 1717. But Nathaniel Hawthorne, like so many of his age, also was the product of a maritime family. His grandfather, on of Salem's famous Revolutionary privateers was known in a popular ballad as "Bold Daniel" Hathorne. The author's father, Captain Nathaniel Hawthorne had-- for many years-- sailed the vessels of his in-laws, the Crowninshields, but never his own. (Bold Daniel's daughter, Sarah Hathorne, had married John Crowninshield, a member of the extremely successful ship-owning family of Salem, while another of Daniel's daughters married Capt. Simon Forrester-- who was a protégé of Daniel Hathorne and rose to become a millionaire ship owning merchant as well.)

Hawthorne's Life in Salem After His Father's Death

None of these maritime connections did Nathaniel Hawthorne much good, however, since his grandfather-- though perhaps bold-- was not especially "lucky" in business. Nathaniel's sea captain father died only four years after the youngster's birth in 1808 of yellow fever in Dutch Guinea, Surinam-- while on a voyage-- never to return to Salem. This left Mrs. Elizabeth Hathorne (or "Madame" as she would ever after be known) to raise a family of three young children with no primary wage earner.

For this reason, the young widow left the Hathorne house on Union Street-- between Derby and Essex Streets, and moved back home to her father, Richard Manning, Sr.'s, house on neighboring Herbert Street, selling the small Union Street house and investing the proceeds for a lifetime of widowhood. Here it was-- near the harbor-- on Herbert Street-- that young Nathaniel-- from the age of four to the age of fourteen (or from 1808 to 1818) would spend his youth.

Herbert Street was, in 1808, far from an elegant neighborhood-- a side street that hadn't had any pretence to prestige. Only along nearby Derby were there still houses which had been occupied by some of Salem's great merchant families-- the Derbys and Crowninshields and nearby-- the home of Uncle Simon Forrester and Aunt Rachel.

The quiet pride of Madame Hathorne--living in a state of gentile poverty-- was imbued to her progeny, despite their somewhat humble surroundings. And Nathaniel was not immune to this influence. Years later, his sister, Elizabeth "Ebe," recalled an instance when Uncle Forrester offered young Nathaniel a gift of a five dollar bill which "he also refused, which was uncivil [of him], for Mr. Forrester always noticed him kindly when he met him."

Thus it was that at a young age, Hawthorne found himself fatherless-- living in the crowded home of his maternal grandfather, with few prospects for the life of prosperity being enjoyed by many of Salem's maritime families-- including some of his own relations. Thus inauspicious beginning could not help but shadow Hawthorne's impressions of the community in which he lived, but he was acutely aware of his family's place in the social hierarchy of Salem-- a once prominent and prosperous family now fallen upon hard times.

Hawthorne and the Mannings

Let us look into the Manning house (which still stands by the way) and explore the Salem domestic environment that produced the young author. At the time of his arrival, Hawthorne's grandfather, Richard Manning, and his grandmother, Miriam, ran the household at Herbert Street. The Hawthorne family included-- Nathaniel, his sisters Elizabeth (whom he called Ebe) and Maria Louisa and mother, Elizabeth. Also living at Herbert Street at the same time were two aunts-- Mary and Priscilla Manning and a Manning niece, Hannah, who filled the role of a domestic servant. The ratio of men to women therefore was 2 to 7-- but that would soon change.

Grandfather Richard, the owner and proprietor of the Boston to Salem Stage Company, lived only five years after the arrival of Nathaniel and his family. Hawthorne remembered him as a kindly figure-- practical and plainspoken. He, like Nathaniel's father, was removed from the domestic scene abruptly on a business trip "to the Eastward"-- dying of a stroke in an Inn in Newbury. "He left his family in perfect health, on Saturday, on a journey to the Eastward, had proceeded as far as Newbury, and on the following morning was arrested by the hand of death, being found in his bed in a fit of apoplexy." So read Richard Manning's obituary in the Salem Gazette in April 1813.

Now Hawthorne was devoid of a male role model at home-- a need that would be addressed by his mother's brother, Robert Manning, who, at the age of 24 would-- for the rest of Hawthorne's youth-- serve as a surrogate father. Robert Manning would not marry until the age of 40 but would die at 53 in 1842-- before his nephew would achieve national fame as an author.

This third, and in many ways most significant, man in young Nathaniel's life took readily to the task of advising and encouraging his nephew and helping to offset the imbalance of female companionship at Herbert St. whenever possible. Robert was constantly moving between managing the Manning properties in Maine and helping his three brothers, Richard, William and Samuel, run the family stage coach business in Massachusetts. This in no way deterred him from taking on a fatherly role as is evidenced by a famous letter from him to Nathaniel in 1813:

"Nathaniel-- Oh how I am be-dear'd and be-uncled by great Boys and girls. Why when I red [read] your letters, I went to the glass to see my white hairs, I felt as if I were 40 or 50 years old, but no matter for that, be good children and the older "Dear Uncle" grows the more he will love you.

Nat, you want to learn to swim, and so you shall when Uncle comes home, but you must study the hard lessons, learn all you can at school, mind your mother, don't look cross, hold your heard up like a man, keep your clothes clean, and when Uncle comes home we shall enjoy ourselves as we did in good old times."

I digress; it would be this same Uncle Robert, who in 1817 would build a home in Raymond, Maine (near Sebago Lake), to which Mrs. Hawthorne and her three children would move in 1818. This would be the first occasion that Nathaniel would escape to actually reside somewhere other than Salem. (He did spend the summer of 1816 in Maine-- but only as a vacationer) and his two years in Maine he would consider the happiest of his youth. He later would recall: "Those were delightful days, for that part of the country was wild then, with only scattered clearings, and nine-tenths of it, primeval woods. I lived in Maine like a bird of the air, so perfect was the freedom I enjoyed."

Perhaps, in retrospect, the Maine sojourn compared favorably to his years in Salem at Herbert Street because he was no longer under the watchful eyes of so many female relations. Clearly there is some circumstantial evidence that he had some serious issues with the way his grandmother, Miriam, managed the household-- especially regarding her frugal policies concerning foods. "I am deeply concerned for our supply of oranges," he wrote to Uncle Robert from Salem, "which are rotting as fast as possible and we stand a fair chance of not having any good of them because we have to eat the bad ones first as the good are to be kept 'till they are spoilt also." And again, "Grandmother Manning possesses a pot of excellent guava jelly and another of limes which will both surely go to mold because she is keeping them both against the time when somebody is sick, and I suppose she would be very disappointed if everybody was to continue well, and they were to spoil."

Hawthorne's Injury and Convalescence

Ironically, it was Nathaniel himself who in that very year-- 1813-- would become an invalid as a result of a foot injury while playing "bat and ball." He had just been enrolled in Mr. Worcester's school but the injury was so severe that he was confined to his room on the top floor of the Herbert Street house. In December, he wrote Uncle Robert: "It is now four weeks yesterday since I have been to school and I don't know but it will be four weeks longer before I go again!" The injury to young Nathaniel's foot must have been very serious since it kept him away from school for months-- until Mr. Worcester was requested to do some private tutoring at the Manning home for the young invalid. My suspicion is that Nathaniel-- although certainly injured-- was most likely not at death's door-- despite the negative diagnosis of most of Salem's medical practitioners-- which included his future father-in-law, Dr. Nathaniel Peabody. He acknowledged that he has always had "a natural repugnance for schooling"-- confiding much later that "I never did go [to school] half as much as other boys, partly owing to delicate health (which I made the most of for the purpose)-- and partly because much of the time, there were no schools within reach."

It was during his lengthy period of convalescence at Herbert Street-- between 1813 and 1814-- that he developed his lifelong habit of constant reading-- which was encouraged by his older sister, Ebe and his Aunt Mary Manning who used her library card at the Salem Athenaeum-- which stood, in those days, at the corner of Front Street and Washington Street-- to fetch home books for the idle student to devour. Later, especially after his return from Bowdoin, he would take Aunt Mary's card, which he would later purchase in his own name from 1826 to 1839, and borrow books directly from the Athenaeum-- borrowing a grand total of 487 titles-- many of which were books concerned with foreign travel to exotic destinations.

Thus the by-product of his experience as a semi-invalid in 1814 was the love of literature which ultimately would lead to his consideration of writing as a career. But that would not take place for a few more years.

Schooling in Salem

Returning from Maine, Nathaniel found himself at the ripe old age of 15-- back in Salem again-- and once again living at the Manning House on Herbert Street. His mother and sisters stayed on in Maine for a few more months-- but Nathaniel was obliged to enroll in Mr. Archer's School on Marlborough Street in Salem. Not being able to severely injure himself again-- he was forced to attend-- but not without feelings of remorse and regret. Regret for having to give up Maine's rural bliss for the city and remorse for the shame of now having to go to a "cheaper" and less prestigious school than Mr. Worcester's Academy. The shame of this reduction in academic status is whimsically conveyed in a letter to his mother in July, 1819: "I have begun to go to school and can find no fault with it except it's not being dear enough, only $5.00 a quarter, and not near enough for it is up by the Baptist Meeting House (Federal Street and North Street). " And again he complained to younger sister Louisa a little more forcibly, "I shall never be conceited here, I am sure. I now go to a $5.00 school, I have been to a $10.00 one. 'O, Lucifer, son of morning, how art thou fallen!'"

Thus last poetic Biblical phrase gives one to believe that Nathaniel's penchant for reading was beginning at last to have an outward effect upon his writing. He was already producing poetry-- an example of which is as follows:

"Oh early pomp is but a dream And like a meteor's short-lived gleam, And all the sons of glory soon, Will rest beneath the mouldering stone, And genius is a star whose light Is soon to sink in endless night, And heavenly beauty's angel form Will bend like flowers in winder's storm."

Hawthorne and The Spectator

Some of the rhymes found their way into Hawthorne's latest project-- a newspaper-- of which he was the editor, publisher and author. Each issue of The Spectator provided readers-- limited only to his family-- with gossip, humor and articles all relating in some way to family activities. He even went so far as to run advertisements for a husband for his Aunt Mary. Several copies of this unusual "publication" are in the collection of the J. D. Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex museum. The newsletter was short-lived, lasting from August 1820 to September 25, 1820. Brief though his career as an entrepreneurial editor might have been-- The Spectator does provide the Hawthorne student with a brief glimpse of the young author's personality and perspective on life among the Mannings. (He includes among his editorial essays-- such topics as "On Wealth, " "On Benevolence," "On Industry," and my personal favorite, "Money, the Root of Evil," which concludes with the phrase: "It is the love of money that is the deepest root of all evil." Money, or rather, the lack of money, is a theme that haunts Hawthorne throughout most of life-- at least during his years in Salem.

Hawthorne at Bowdoin

Ultimately, it was decided by Uncle Robert and his mother that he should attend Bowdoin, which was chosen in part because of its proximity to Raymond, Maine, and more particularly because of its low tuition ($12/semester). Even in contemplating his future occupation, in a letter to his mother, in 1821 during his first year at Bowdoin he speculated:
"The being of a minister is of course out of the Question. I should not think that even you could desire me to choose so dull a way of life. Oh, no, mother, I was not born to vegetate forever in one place, and to live and die as calm and tranquil as a puddle of water. As to lawyers, there are so many of them already that one half of them (upon a moderate calculation) are in a state of actual starvation. A physician, then, seems to be "Hobson's Choice"--; but yet I should not like to live by the diseases and infirmities of my fellow creatures. And it would weigh very heavily upon my conscience if, in the course of my practice, I should chance to send any unlucky patient "ad inferum," which being interpreted is "to the realms below." Oh, that I was rich enough to live without a profession! What do you think of my becoming an author, and relying for support upon my pen? I think the illegibility of my handwriting is very author-like. How proud you would feel to see my works praised by the reviewers, as equal to the proudest productions of the scribbling sons of John Bull. But authors are always poor devils, and therefore, Satan may take them."
The year before graduation, 1824, Uncle Robert-- the source of Hawthorne's tuition money-- married Rebecca Dodge Burnham. Hawthorne chose to not attend the ceremony, quipping in a letter: "I wish it were possible for me to be present, in order that I might learn how to conduct myself when marriage shall be my fate."

Hawthorne's Return to Salem After Graduation

He returned to Salem after his September 1825 graduation. This time he was coming home with a purpose.
"It was my fortune or misfortune to have some slender means of supporting myself, and so, on leaving college, in 1825 instead of immediately studying a profession, I sat myself down to consider what pursuit in life I was best fit for. My mother had now returned, and taken up her abode in her deceased father's house, in which I had a room. And year after year I kept on considering what I was fit for, and time and my destiny decided I was to be the writer that I am. "
Salem, the Mannings, and a unique domestic environment had created a writer with a desire to tell stories rooted deep in the soil of New England-- and most especially grounded in the bedrock of Salem's Puritan legacy.

(There would be two unsuccessful attempts to write before success with "Twice told Tales" in 1835/36, "Seven Tales of My Native Land" and "Fanshawe" in 1828. The first was never published and the second, published privately, was destroyed by the author-- all except 3-4 copies.)


Nathaniel Hawthorne, by Arlin Turner, 1980, Oxford Univ. Press, London & NY.
Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times by Jas. R. Mellow, 1980, Houghton-Mifflin, Boston.
Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Romance of the Orient, by Luther S. Luedtke, Indiana Univ. Press, C. 1989.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, by Mark Van Dover, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT., 1972.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, by Terence Martin, Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1983.

Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/11691/

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