From Margaret B. Moore's The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne. University of Missouri Press, p. 19-20.
From Margaret B. Moore's The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne. University
of Missouri Press, pp. 19-20.
Hawthorne was far more than a recorder of facts, of course. . . . He examines the role of the artist who tells the story and interprets the details. He is usually accurate as to facts, but the meaning of these facts is often his own. What made the history of Salem come alive to Hawthorne was what he called "fireside tradition." Over and over again Hawthorne affirmed what was learned in the chimney-corner. In an introduction to "Main-Street," Julian Hawthorne noted that for his father the books on the history of Salem were
supplemented by traditions and tales handed down from generation to generation, which had come to his knowledge when, as a boy, he sat by the broad hearthstone of his old-fashioned home, and listened to legends and accounts of personal experience from the mouths of the old men and women of that day, now seventy or eighty years gone by. Hawthorne was born in 1804, and the memories of those who were old when he was young, went back nearly to the beginning of the previous century, and were re-enforced by lore derived from their own forebears, which extended to the early years of the New England settlement. 19
This is not pure speculation. In 1898 another Salemite, John Felt (1815- 1907), wrote his nephew in Virginia:
I saw one day, "awhile ago" up in Essex Street near the Witch House--as I was walking down with my Mother, a man on the opposite side of the Street & Mother said "There is Doctor Holyoke over on the other side." He lived in Salem then and had lived there One Hundred (100) years. . . . Probably Dr. Holyoke had seen in his younger days men who saw the Witches hung up on Gallows Hill-in the upper part of Salem, and if I had thought of it I might have asked him to tell me about it & probably I never would have forgotten it. 20This was undoubtedly true of Hawthorne too, as George Parsons Lathrop suggests in recalling the "legacy of legend and shudder-rousing passages of family tradition" incorporated in his early experience.21
When Hawthorne grappled with Salem and its past, he put much emphasis on
the telling, not just the writing, of tales. Many of his stories involved
storytellers, such as those in "Alice Doane's Appeal," "The Village Uncle,"
and "Tales of the Province House." Sometimes the stories are embedded in a
longer work, like Holgrave's story of Alice Pyncheon in The House of the
Seven Gables, Zenobia's legend in The Blithedale Romance, or the
two stories told by Dr. Portsoaken and Sybil Dacy in "Septimius Felton." Hawthorne
planned a sort of Canterbury Tales sequence in the projected "Story-Teller"
and "Seven Tales of my Native Land." Grandfather's Chair is a series
of tales related to children. Eustace Bright is the storyteller in A Wonder
Book. The writer actually replicated the telling of tales in each of these
so that they are full of the passive voice: "it is said," or "it was whispered."
Since the teller is relating something based on memory, the facts are never
presented as certain; versions vary; different reports come in. Much of the
ambiguity in Hawthorne stems from this approach.
19. NH, Main Street with Introduction by Julian Hawthorne, 7.
20. John Felt to William Chester White, October 2, 1898, Felt-White Collection.
21. George Parsons Lathrop, A Study of Hawthorne, 37.
Source: Moore, Margaret B. The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1998.