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From Personal Recollections of Nathaniel Hawthorne,
by Horatio Bridge, 1893


ALTHOUGH Hawthorne, while a collegian, rarely sought or accepted the acquaintance of the young ladies of the village, he had a high appreciation of the sex. An early marriage, however, did not enter into his plans of life. The evidence of this fact is among my papers and runs thus:

"BOWDOIN COLLEGE, Nov. 14, 1824.

"If Nathaniel Hathorne is neither a married man nor a widower on the fourteenth day of November, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-six, I bind myself upon my honor to pay the said Hathorne a barrel of the best old Madeira wine.

"Witness my hand and seal.


[J. C.]

"BOWDOIN COLLEGE, Nov. 14, 1824.

"If I am a married man or a widower on the fourteenth day of November, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-six, I bind myself, upon my honor, to pay Jonathan Cilley a barrel of the best old Madeira wine.

"Witness my hand and seal.


[N. H.]

"This instrument shall be delivered to Horatio Bridge, and if Hathorne is married within the time specified, he shall transmit the intelligence to him immediately, and the bet, whoever shall lose it, shall be paid within a month after the expiration of the time.



This very formal agreement was enclosed in a closely sealed package, endorsed in Hawthorne's writing, thus:

"Mr. Horatio Bridge is requested to take charge of this paper, and not to open it until the fifteenth day of November, 1836, unless by the joint request of Cilley and Hathorne."

On the designated day I broke the seals, and notified Cilley that he had lost the wager. He admitted the loss and, after the delay of a year or more, was making arrangements for its payment and a meeting to taste the wine, when his tragic death, in the duel with Graves, settled the account.


Many years ago Hawthorne requested me to burn the letters he had written me in his youth and early manhood. On reading them over, I found them full of passages of beauty and of details of his own plans and purposes, hopes and disappointments. They were, however, too free in their expressions about persons and things to be safely trusted to the chances of life; and all his early letters were destroyed. Many of these were signed "Oberon," and others the familiar "Hathorne" or "Hath."

In a letter of Miss Peabody, quoted by Mr. Conway, it is stated that "his classmates called Hawthorne 'Oberon the Fairy' on account of his beauty, and because he improvised tales." It seems a pity to spoil so poetic a fancy; but, if truthful narrative is required, the cold facts are these:

In reality the pseudonym of "Oberon" was not given to him by his classmates or by any one else while in college, but was assumed by him at a later date and in this wise: Soon after graduation we agreed to correspond regularly at stated periods, and we selected new signatures for our letters. Hawthorne chose that of "Oberon" (which he afterwards used for some of his magazine articles), while I took the more prosaic one of "Edward."

Neither his beauty nor his improvised tales had anything to do with his sobriquet of "Oberon."

While in college and for some years afterwards he spelled his name without the w. On first seeing the improved signature I wrote him that it was suggestive of a fat legacy, to which he replied that he had been blessed with no such luck, though he would gladly take every letter in the alphabet for a thousand dollars each. He added that, in tracing the genealogy of his family, he had found that some of his ancestors used the w, and he had merely resumed it.

Later, he sometimes took the signature of "L'Aubépine," which name he adopted temporarily, in accordance with the whim of a queer Frenchman who spent a month with us in my bachelor home in Maine, as described in the "American Note-Books," Vol I., p. 49. There Hawthorne says: "He has Frenchified all our names, calling B------, Monsieur Du Pont; myself, M. De L'Aubépine; and himself, M. De Berger; and all Knights of the Round Table."


There was a musical society at Bowdoin, though not many of the students were instrumental performers. Longfellow played the flute, but Hawthorne was notably deficient in musical talent. Like Charles Lamb, he might have said, "The gods have made me most unmusical."

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