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From Grandfather's Chair, 1840

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Introductory Note

[By George Parsons Lathrop, 1882]


IN a letter which Hawthorne addressed to Longfellow at the time of publishing the "Twice-Told Tales," he said, speaking of his life up to that time and his future prospects:----

"I have now, or shall soon have, a sharper spur to exertion, which I lacked at an earlier period; for I see little prospect but that I shall have to scribble for a living. But this troubles me much less than you would suppose. I can turn my pen to all sorts of drudgery, such as children's books, etc."

Precisely what the "sharper spur" was can be conjectured only; but it is not unlikely that thoughts of marriage had already entered his mind, for certainly within the term of two years following he had made that matrimonial engagement which was destined to be carried out in a life-long union of great happiness. He had already, in writing "Peter Parley's History" for Goodrich, demonstrated his fitness for supplying youthful minds with simple and entertaining literature. It should seem that, having learned something from his experience with Goodrich, corroborative of Virgil's Sic vos non vobis, he determined to exercise for his own benefit the faculty of writing for children, which he had thus developed, and had shown himself conscious of in the Longfellow letter just quoted. Accordingly, between the time of issuing his collected stories and the date of his Brook Farm episode, he produced a number of brief narratives, the subjects of which were drawn from those old New England annals which some of his tales and other detached papers--to say nothing of the local coloring in "The Scarlet Letter"--show him to have conned over so thoroughly.

These little stories, connected by dialogue, and by a pleasant fiction concerning an old chair supposed to have figured in the various historical scenes depicted, were first published in diminutive volumes, each one of the three parts appearing separately.

In the prefatory note to the "Twice-Told Tales" the editor has related how Mrs. Hawthorne, before her marriage, drew an illustration for "The Gentle Boy," which was engraved and printed with a special edition of that story. Extracts from his letters to her, written at Salem, during an absence from Brook Farm in September, 1841, [see American Note-Books, September 14-16, 1841] indicate that a series of illustrations for the "Grandfather's Chair" stories was contemplated; and presumably she was to furnish the sketches. Hawthorne there offers a number of suggestions for the drawings, that indirectly disclose the vividness and completeness with which he had imagined the scenes described. He proposes as themes for the artist's pencil, Master Cheever's old-fashioned school, the Acadians, the Earl of Loudon's military council at Boston, and Liberty Tree. The reader will find it interesting to refer to these passages; but the pictorial project was, apparently, abandoned.

To the literary student" Grandfather's Chair" presents two points deserving notice: one, the fact that the incident of Endicott's cutting the red cross from the banner of England, which furnished the motive for a Twice-Told Tale, is here treated in a manner quite different; the other, that the exile of the Acadians is chosen by Hawthorne as one of the occurrences likely to appeal to his youthful audience. It will be remembered by every one acquainted with recent American literary history, that Hawthorne surrendered to Longfellow the story which formed the groundwork of "Evangeline." This story was told to Hawthorne in October, 1839, [see American Note-Books, October 24, of that year] just at the period when he was writing "Grandfather's Chair." Perhaps the editor may be pardoned if he here remarks that he has often been skeptical as to the indifference, which it has sometimes been alleged that Hawthorne displayed towards the pathetic tradition which prompted "Evangeline;" and that the romancer should, at the very time of hearing the story, have been engaged in treating the exile of the Acadians with a sympathy so unmistakable, as is shown even in his brief child's story, tends to confirm this skepticism. Longfellow had done Hawthorne a great kindness by noticing favorably in the "North American Review" his friend's "Twice-Told Tales." It seems probable enough that Hawthorne, on seeing how much the Evangeline anecdote struck his friend the poet, resolved to yield it up at once, without betraying any intention he may have had of utilizing it himself.

No further comment is required on the contents of this collection; unless it be that the "The Pine-Tree Shillings," by the universal currency which they have enjoyed in school-readers and elsewhere, ought effectually to dispel the frequently expressed opinion that Hawthorne failed to attain general popularity.

G. P. L.

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