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Excerpt from Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Edwin Haviland Miller. (courtesy of University of Iowa Press, 1991)

Edwin Haviland Miller comments on Hawthorne's relationship with his uncle, Samuel Manning.

Among the Manning uncles Hawthorne's favorite was the youngest, Samuel, who was only thirteen years older than Hawthorne. Sam's role in the family business was to travel in Maine and New Hampshire to acquire horses for the stagecoaches. He was evidently a first-class swapper of horses and a professional trickster. He and one of his chums had on hand a supply of "long gleaming tails" which they attached to horses so cleverly that even the other Mannings were sometimes taken in. Sam was a convivial bachelor and enjoyed operating out of local taverns which were often owned by old or recently acquired friends. At one tavern "it was like the seperation of soul and body to get him away," Hawthorne explained to his sister. "Your Uncle Sam complains that his lungs are seriously injured by the immense deal of talking he was forced to do." It was clear that he did an "immense deal" of drinking too, which his nephew somehow forgot to mention. The only thing that discouraged him was to "meet with two or three bad taverns in succession."

When traveling together, uncle and nephew frequently overslept and missed "divine service, which was (of course) very grievous to us both." On one occasion they "got into the State Prison, and had the iron door to a cell barred upon us. However, you need say nothing about it, as we made our escape very speedily." Hawthorne was never censorious of Sam's tippling or trifling, probably because he appreciated such an indulgent, fun-loving companion. He also enjoyed the slice of rural society he discovered. "I make innumerable acquaintances," he informed Louisa, "and sit down, on the doorsteps in the midst of Squires, judges, generals, and all the potentates of the land, discussing about the Salem Murder, the cow skinning of Isaac Hill, the price of hay, and the value of horse flesh." If it is difficult to visualize Hawthorne discussing horseflesh like a character out of Faulkner, the difficulty originates in our preconceptions.

Sam was not a roué so far as we know, although in the taverns which were necessary for his well-being he hobnobbed with the town drunks as well as the tarts and their pimps who frequented such places. Whether Hawthorne learned about the realities of sex under Sam's guidance, there is no way of determining. Despite his fascination with all varieties of sexual experience and his tendency like Robin Molineux to seek out the pleasures of the flesh, usually at a protective distance, he was generally as secretive and evasive as Arthur Dimmesdale, who with downcast eyes surreptitiously ogles the white bosoms of young parishioners.

The travels of the horse dealer and "the artist of the beautifu1"--Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, as it were--took them all over New England, from New Haven perhaps to Canada. On one occasion, in Canterbury, New Hampshire, while Sam lingered over his cups, Hawthorne took himself to a Shaker service where he watched thirty or forty Shaker women sing and dance, many of whom "looked pretty much as if they had just stept out of their coffins." The men were remarkable only for "their stupidity, and it did look queer to see these great boobies cutting all sorts of ridiculous capers with the gravest countenances imaginable." Before he concluded this lengthy letter to Louisa his opinion of the group shifted. He noted their "good and comfortable life, and if it were not for their ridiculous ceremonies, a man could not do a wiser thing than to join them. Those whom I conversed with were intelligent and appeared happy. I spoke to them about becoming a member of the Society, but have come to no decision on that point."

These adventures ended on November 17, 1833, when Sam at forty-two died of tuberculosis. (89-90)

 



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