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Hawthorne at Salem

Biographical Information

Literature Related to Hawthorne's Early Years

Silhouette of Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1825(?)
from <I>Portraits of Nathaniel Hawthorne: An Iconography</I> by Rita Gollin
Silhouette of Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1825(?) from Portraits of Nathaniel Hawthorne: An Iconography by Rita Gollin (courtesy of Northern Illinois UP)

Hawthorne was always a reader. While convalescing from his foot injury as an adolescent, Hawthorne read prodigiously. Shakespeare, Spenser, Scott, and Rousseau were all on the list, but his favorites were Bunyan and Montaigne. And yet, Hawthorne rarely bought a book and was not considered by others, nor did he consider himself, bookish.

Hawthorne's first foray into the world of authorship was his publication with his sister, Louisa, of a newspaper, The Spectator, an imitation of the Salem Gazette which Hawthorne distributed to his family. The publication, edited by "N. Hathorne & Co." was short-lived; the first issue was published in August 21, 1820, and the seventh and final issue on September 18 of that year. Hawthorne penned the newspaper in his own hand, with some assistance from Louisa, and copies of the original Spectator are in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. The Spectator contains poetry, domestic news, essays, and advertisements, such as one seeking a husband for his fifty-year old aunt, Mary Manning, and one asking for a position for an indigent poet. The plea for subsidy and a note in one issue announcing "a new edition of the miseries of authors," indicate that Hawthorne was aware, even then, that the writing life that beckoned was not to offer the financial security he might have wished, but perhaps more importantly this ad, and other pieces in The Spectator, signaled the wit that would be a part of Hawthorne's mature work.

Hawthorne's writing in the paper also reveals a preoccupation with death and time, separation and loneliness, subjects of writers of the day, but also not surprising topics for an adolescent whose father died when he was a young boy. One poem, in the last issue of The Spectator, seems likely to refer to this early tragedy in Hawthorne's life:

The billowy Ocean rolls its wave,
Above the shipwreck'd Sailor's Grave,
Around him ever roars the Deep,
And lulls his wearied form to sleep,
Low in the deep Sea's darkest dell,
He hears no more the tempest swell.

In the domestic news section of the first edition of The Spectator, Hawthorne refers to the story around Salem of a sea serpent seen off the coast of Massachusetts in 1819, another of a series of sightings of such a creature dating to 1638. In The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Moore notes that in this article Hawthorne "foreshadows his feeling about the use of specter evidence against the witches" (148). Hawthorne never, however, made use of the sea serpent story in his fiction. Moore points out, however, that Hawthorne may have written such works, but they may have been lost. Moore points out that Hawthorne's sister, Elizabeth, "said that her brother showed her in the summer of 1825 the tales that would have made up his projected 'Seven Tales of My Native Land' which 'dealt with witchcraft and the sea.'" One tale contained some verses, only one line of which has been preserved. 'The rovers of the sea, they were a fearful race' (149).