Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne (July 4, 1804 – May 19, 1864) is one of the most celebrated American authors from Salem, Massachusetts. Among his most famous works are The Scarlet Letter (1850), Young Goodman Brown (1835) and The House of Seven Gables (1851). The actual House of Seven Gables, which is a historical landmark, still operates in Salem today. Throughout his life, he would move between Salem, Concord and Lenox, Massachusetts, returning to Salem for various reasons. Loosely involved with the Transcendentalists, Hawthorne maintained acquaintances with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville.

Hawthorne began his writing career while he was still at school at Bowdoin College. With financial help from his uncles, Hawthorne was able to attend Bowdoin from 1821-1825. By his own admission however, Hawthorne was a negligent student. It was at Bowdoin that Hawthorne would become friends with Longfellow. At a young age he had developed a love for reading, but not much of a passion for study. To worsen the situation, Hawthorne missed his mother and sisters terribly while he was at school. Upon graduation he would return home to his mother and sister’s for a twelve years.

During those early years Hawthorne would continue to write and was slowly start to gain notoriety but it didn’t provide a stable income. As such, Hawthorne began working at the Boston Custom House weighing and gaging salt and coal. Hawthorne was the financial provider for his sisters and mothers, his father having died of yellow fever in 1808. During his childhood, his mother would bring him and sisters to live with her brothers, the same ones that would later pay for his education.

Around the same time that Hawthorne met his future wife he would also end his time living with his mother and sisters. While courting Sophia Peabody, Hawthorne would spend some time at the Brook Farm community where he would make his connections with Emerson and Thoreau. However, Hawthorne would soon discover that transcendentalism was not to his taste. The time he would spend at the Farm though would allow him to save money toward his marriage with Sophia. Upon their marriage, July 9, 1842, Sophia and Nathaniel would rent the Old Manse, owned by Emerson, in Concord, Massachusetts. Their first child would be born there in 1844.

Shortly after, with growing financial debt and a growing family, the Hawthornes would move back to Salem where Nathaniel would attain a much need job at the Salem Custom House. When the political attitude of the country change a few years later Hawthorne would be pushed out of his position. Little did Hawthorne know that this would be the period in which he would write The Scarlet Letter. One of the first mass-produced books in the country.

Hawthorne never fully felt comfortable in Salem, feeling trapped in the Puritan origins of the town. He would again move his family, this time to the Red House in Lenox, Massachusetts. During this time Hawthorne would become acquaintances with Melville and enjoy his most productive time as a writer. In which he would produce  The House of Seven Gables.

In addition to his writing, Hawthorne would enjoy a brief political stint. Franklin Pierce would begin his friendship with Hawthorne when they were both still in school.  During Pierce’s campaign, Hawthorne would write a campaign biography for him. When Pierce was elected president, he would appoint Hawthorne to an American consul to Britain as a reward for his help during his campaign.

After moving to Britain from 1853-1857, Hawthorne would take his family on extended holiday to Italy until 1860. Arriving back in the States, Hawthorne took permanent residence at the Wayside in Concord, Massachusetts. Concord is where he would finish his final novel. After its publication, Hawthorne would start to decline in health. He sought to rekindle his productivity and success of his earlier years, but would never reach it. After a slow decline in health, Hawthorne would pass away in his sleep in Plymouth, Massachusetts.