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Excerpt from "Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Morning of His Life His Boyhood Years and Emergence as an Artist Part One. Images: The Worlds of Hawthorne's Childhood" by Dr. Melinda Ponder, September, 1981, an essay submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master's degree in American Studies at Boston College (courtesy of Dr. Melinda Ponder)

On Hawthorne’s idyllic life as a child in Raymond, Maine
“Nathaniel enjoyed running wild in the forest, but he also responded to the human desire to domesticate the wilderness and to establish homes. He wrote later of Roger Malvin's futile desire to return home after a battle with the Indians in northern New England: ‘There is many and many a long mile of howling wilderness before us yet; nor would it avail me anything if the smoke of my own chimney were but on the other side of that swell of land.’ 125

The possibility of death was never out of Nathaniel's mind; even in Raymond he could see the family graveyard out beyond Uncle Richard's house in the field which overlooked Dingley Brook. Its gravestones were silent reminders of the power of the unseen world over human lives. Although Raymond was not a center of trade, the road which passed through it linked New Hampshire, Vermont and parts of Maine with the commercial seacoast town of Portland. Nathaniel could watch farmers from the remote clearings far beyond Raymond haul their produce on carts and wagons to the Portland market. Raymond itself was a farming community, set in an extraordinarily beautiful landscape on the edge of the wilderness. On the farm where the Hathornes boarded during the summer of 1816, vegetables and grains were grown, cattle were slaughtered for their meat, butter was churned and cheese was made. 126 When Mrs. Hathorne had her own houses several years later, she kept a cow which was fed with hay cut from the surrounding fields. 127

Nathaniel's friends in Raymond were children of farmers. Across the lane from Uncle Richard's house were the Dingleys (Aunt Susan's parents) whose son, Jacob, was close to Nathaniel's age. A few miles over to the east on Quaker Hill, with its breathtaking view of distant Mount Washington, lived Robinson Cook. He was the son of one of the early settlers of the small community of Quakers who had built their first meeting house on Quaker Hill in 1814…. 128

Robinson and Nathaniel probably knew William Symmes, the mulatto son of ‘a leading member of the Massachusetts bar,’ who was raised as the foster son of Capt. Jonathan Britton of Otisfield because his own father had died. 130 Nathaniel and his friends could walk along broad Dingley Brook as it flowed down from its source, Thomas Pond, a half mile away. On its shores was the brickyard run by Jacob Watkins which made the bricks necessary for the chimneys of the houses. From Thomas Pond, Nathaniel could see Rattlesnake Mountain, several miles away, a view which he loved. 131 The mountain had been named for the huge number of snakes which lived in its rocks and had been so numerous that men had hunted them in groups, capturing up to a hundred in a day. 132

From Thomas Pond which reflected the green leaves on his hillsides in its clear waters, the boys could climb up the hill that led to ‘Pulpit Rock.’ 133 It stood among other boulders at the top of a hill which ascended sharply from a boggy area, and was very much like the setting Hawthorne would later use for ‘Young Goodman Brown.' Hidden on top of the boulder amongst the treetops, Nathaniel and his friends could hear the voices of people on the road below. A mile beyond Thomas Pond was Panther Pond, named for the wild animals which still occasionally roamed its banks. On Panther Pond the boys could watch the plaster mill which used limestone made in kilns like those in Hawthorne's story of ‘Ethan Brand’ and those in the Estabrook Woods near his later home in Concord, Massachusetts. 134

Nathaniel also enjoyed visiting Uncle Richard's general store. Built on a rise of ground just east of his house, it was stocked with various staple items such as calico, sugar and a great deal of rum. 135 This store and the Dingley mills were the gathering places for the farmers and teamsters. Here Nathaniel could watch Washington Longley's amazing displays of the drumming skills which he had acquired, along with his drummer's uniform, in the recent War of 1812. 136 Nathaniel might spend a rainy day listening to the stories being swapped by the old-timers of Raymond as they mystified him with tales of such unexplainable events as the spiders whose web saved the life of a little girl from blood-thirsty Indians. 137 Stories were told about local characters--everyone knew of Betty Welsh the first girl born in Raymond, who, while picking berries one day had killed a rattlesnake and a woodchuck. After finishing her berry-pickings she extracted the rattlesnake's oil to use for cooking and fixed the woodchuck for the family dinner. 138 Another local story was of Eli Longley. While en route to the eternally good weather on the western frontier, Longley had awakened one spring morning in Pennsylvania to find the ground covered with frost, and so had returned to Maine to live more contentedly. 139 Nathaniel also listened to these vigorous men discussing the many property and boundary disputes inevitable where land was being surveyed and cleared. 140 He would later place a dispute over land in Maine in the background of the plot of The House of the Seven Gables. 141

In Maine, Nathaniel was left alone to read and dream, probably more than he had been in Salem. He later wrote of the value of these quiet hours: ‘It is only a solitary child left much to such wild modes of culture as he chooses for himself while yet ignorant what culture means, standing on tiptoe to pull down books from no very lofty shelf, and then shutting himself up, as it were, between the leaves, going astray through the volume at his own pleasure, and comprehending it rather by his sensibilities and affections than his intellect--that child is the only student that ever gets the sort of intimacy which I am now thinking of, with a literary personage.’ 145 During this summer in Maine, Nathaniel was finally responsible to his mother alone. Away from the Manning uncles and aunts in Salem, with their constant worrying and rigorous standards, Nathaniel and his sisters flourished under their Mother's gentle guidance.

Nathaniel's first full summer in Maine was an ideal time for him--days of rambling in a beautiful setting and of listening to stories, reading, and dreaming. Elizabeth wrote later of its value—‘It did him a great deal of good in many ways ....His imagination was stimulated, too, by the scenery and by the strangeness of the people; and by the absolute freedom he enjoyed.’ 153 He also experienced the solitude and independence which later would be necessary for him as a writer. He would always feel that he needed ‘a room’ of his own where he could live in the ‘world within.’ 154 He would compare his stories to vegetables which had sprung up of their own accord in his receptive imagination--an imagination, which, in Maine, had begun absorbing images of natural beauty and of a home set in a pastoral, timeless world.”



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