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Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

[from House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1950 (no copyright notice), in Great Illustrated Classics series. "With illustrations reproducing drawings for early editions and photographs of contemporary scenes together with an introductory biographical sketch of the author and anecdotal captions by Basil Davenport."]


to The House of the Seven Gables

[By Basil Davenport]


NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE was born on the Fourth of July, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, an old whaling port where his family had lived for generations. His great-grandfather, Justice Hathorne (as the family spelled the name until Nathaniel, as a young man, inserted the W), presided over the witch trials, and was notorious for his severity and prejudice against the accused. One woman whom he sentenced maintained on the scaffold that God would avenge her; and as the family sank from prosperity to genteel poverty, they attributed their misfortunes to "the witch's curse." Hawthorne himself was deeply interested in family influences and in the decay of old families, two themes which appear in The House of the Seven Gables. He was brought up by a widowed mother, first in Salem and then in an uncle's house, on the edge of the Maine wilderness. His mother and sisters were such recluses that often the family did not meet for days at a time, even at meals; and Hawthorne became shy and solitary, as he remained to a degree all his life. He was sent to Bowdoin College, in Maine, and on graduation returned to Salem, determined to be a writer. For twelve years he lived and worked alone, producing nothing but a romance called Fanshawe, which he later rejected, and in 1837 a volume of short stories, Twice Told Tales. In 1841 he married Sophia Peabody, who brought him into contact with the New England intellectuals of the day--Emerson and Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott, among others. On his marriage he moved to the Old Manse in Concord, and three years later produced another volume of short stories, Mosses from an Old Manse. But finding the need for a regular job to live on, he was appointed Surveyor of the Custom House in Salem, and lived there for five years, still writing an occasional short story. At the end of that time he lost his job, partly through a change in the administration, partly through the slanders of an acquaintance, the Reverend Charles Upham, whom he pilloried as Judge Pyncheon in The House of the Seven Gables. His wife wrote to her mother at the time, "Being a man, he is not alarmed at being set upon his own feet again,--or on his head, I might say--for that contains the available gold of a mine scarcely yet worked at all." She produced some money she had secretly saved, enough for him to live on while he wrote The Scarlet Letter. This appeared in 1850 and was immediately successful; from that time on, Hawthorne was one of the most celebrated of American authors. In the next two years he produced The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance. In 1853 he received from his old Bowdoin friend Franklin Pierce, then President of the United States, an appointment as U.S. consul at Liverpool. He spent the next seven years in the Old World, partly in England, partly in Italy, from which he drew the inspiration for his last important work, The Marble Faun. In 1860 he returned to Concord and lived there quietly until his death in 1864.


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