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Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

Notes to

Chiefly About War Matters

By a Peaceable Man

The article, "Chiefly About War Matters," is presented as it appeared in the Riverside Edition's (1883) collection of Hawthorne, XII, pages 299-345. A note by the collection editor, George Parsons Lathrop, preceded the reprint from the July, 1862, "Atlantic Monthly" magazine. In the original, the notes are at the bottom of each page, and not italicized, and not numbered, but marked with a dagger for each footnote. "Atlantic Monthly" articles at the time were customarily not signed, although when they were collected later they were attributed; in most cases, it was obvious to the readers who the author was.

[This article appeared in the "Atlantic Monthly" for July 1862, and is now first reprinted among Hawthorne's collected writings. The editor of the magazine objected to sundry paragraphs in the manuscript, and these were cancelled with the consent of the author, who himself supplied all the foot-notes that accompanied the article when it was published. It has seemed best to retain them in the present reproduction. One of the suppressed passages, in which President Lincoln is described, has since been printed, and is therefore restored to its proper place in the following pages. -- G. P. L., 1883, Riverside Edition]

Both Lathrop and Henry James, in reading this article, fell into the trap (obvious--once you see it--and funny!) of completely missing Hawthorne's irony. Lathrop even confirms that Hawthorne wrote the sidebar notes as well as the text. There is no evidence that anything other than the Lincoln description was edited out of the article by the "Atlantic Monthly" editor, James T. Fields, who for whatever reason (perhaps the disinclination to involve himself in a political discussion that was no longer pertinent) did not make that clear to readers. Consequently, as James Bense points out in a brilliant article (American Literature, 61:2, May 1989, copyright by the Duke University Press, and reprinted in Cady90), the piece is a satirical hoax. The fake editorial notes signal that, and also serve, Bense maintains, the purpose of a rare dialectic of freedom of speech in a time of war. Hawthorne's political ideas seem to be fairly presented in his Life of Franklin Pierce, and further isolated him from his abolitionist Concord neighbors.

Bense summarizes the article, "It was the discrepancy between the ideological faith necessary to win a war and the particular truths as he observed them that engaged him as a critic of history itself.

"Finding himself at odds with the American world, Hawthorne could not accept the solution of silence. . . . Hawthorne's detachment from the popular support of the Northern cause in the Civil War has been criticized, but his engagement with the tragic drama itself should be praised. As an artist and public figure, Hawthorne fulfilled a moral imperative by making his views of the war a matter of public and historical record. To do so without compromising his integrity, he incorporated the voice of opposition into his overall intention, both for the expediency of the moment and with the full realization that what he wished to convey could only be achieved through a unique demonstration of his impersonality as an artist." [Cady90, 276]

Please note that some references to black people, Republicans and other politicians, and others in the article may offend some readers today and should be placed in historical context.

Fields prints some letters from Hawthorne who went to Washington with George Ticknor, Fields's partner. Hawthorne sat for a portrait with Leutze, who he relates was painting the giant docudrama in the Capitol.

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