Hawthorne And Melville

Crowninshield's Wharf, George Ropes.jpg

Crowninshield's Wharf 1806 George Ropes, Jr.

A Chapter From "Nathaniel Hawthorne: Studies In The House Of The Seven Gables"

Thomas St. John


Portrait By Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Hark ye, yet again---the little lower layer.

Herman Melville


but had a hidden process involved in it that made the whole thing infinitely deeper

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Hawthorne family took the train on Thursday, May 23, 1850, from the Castle station in Salem to Lenox in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. The writer called this retreat "Moving their household gods from Salem," an allusion to Virgil's Aeneid, in which the Roman hero Aeneas follows an ancient custom, moving his household gods from the sacked and burning Troy, bearing his father, Anchises, on his back. Themes from the Aeneid abound in The House of the Seven Gables.

Salem, Massachusetts was Nathaniel Hawthorne's legendary burning Troy. Salem means "peace," but after his sacking at the Custom House, and the furious response of the local newspapers, politicians and clergy to The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne thought otherwise. After the Salem people "at two several attacks" had permitted him "to be deliberately lied down," he wished to "bid farewell forever to this abominable city":

I detest this town so much that I hate to go into the streets, or to have the people see me. . .I feel an infinite contempt for them, and probably have expressed more of it than I intended; for my preliminary chapter has caused the greatest uproar that ever happened here since witch-times.

He half-expected the crowds to tar and feather him: "from such judges as my fellow-citizens, I should look upon it as a higher honor than a laurel-crown.".

In The House of the Seven Gables, the legend of the Golden Bough from the Aeneid appears with the morning sun: ". . .a reflected gleam, struggling through the boughs of the elm-tree." There is another allusion to the epic poem in the first impression given by Jaffrey Pyncheon: ". . .you could feel just as certain that he was opulent. . .as if you had seen him touching the twigs of the Pyncheon-elm, and, Midas-like, transmuting them to gold." This ancestral elm survives the five-day northeaster intact,

. . .except a single branch, that, by the earlier change with which the elm-tree sometimes prophesies the autumn, had been transmuted to bright gold. It was like the golden branch that gained Aeneas and the Sibyl admittance into Hades.

This one mystic branch hung down before the main-entrance of the seven gables, so nigh the ground, that any passer-by might have stood on tiptoe and plucked it off. Presented at the door, it would have been a symbol of his right to enter and be made acquainted with all the secrets of the house.

In Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas descends into the Lower World and sees that "an elm-tree loomed there, shadowy and huge,/The aged boughs outspread, beneath whose leaves,/Men say, the false dreams cling, thousands on thousands.".

Hawthorne not only links his Pyncheon elm to the Virgil elm; he also recollects that in "The Sleeping Beauty," the curse settles on the whole world: "And the wind fell, and on the trees before the castle, not a leaf moved again."

But the Pyncheon elm will survive the terrible storm, and beauty will return---

"The Pyncheon-elm, throughout its great circumference, was all alive, and full of the morning sun and a sweetly tempered little breeze, which lingered within this verdant sphere, and set a thousand leafy tongues a-whispering all at once.". The elm "whispered unintelligible prophecies".

Clifford becomes a second Aeneas: "this poor, forlorn voyager from the Islands of the Blest, in a frail bark, on a tempestuous sea, had been flung, by the last mountain-wave of his shipwreck, into a quiet harbor. There, as he lay more than half-lifeless on the strand, the fragrance of an earthly rosebud had come to his nostrils, and, as odors will, had summoned up reminiscences or visions of all the living and breathing beauty, amid which he should have had his home.".


Capt. Nathaniel Hathorne

Translating the "Aeneid" for entrance to Bowdoin College at the age of sixteen in 1820 was a revelation and a consolation for Nathaniel, the forlorn son of lost seafarers. He was ever haunted by the feeling that his father had never been properly buried at home, in Salem.


Hathorne had served first in 1789 before the mast on the Salem ship "America", sailing later as third mate on the "Perseverance", as first mate aboard the armed "Herald", as mate on the "Hannah" for St. Petersburg, Russia, captain of the East Indiaman "Mary and Eliza", the schooner "Neptune", and the "Astrea", and finally the brig "Nabby".


Salem Ship "Perseverance"

Third Mate Nathaniel Hathorne

Hathorne's logbooks describe the sailors taken ashore at Ascension Island for the great turtles and their eggs for trading, and the two-day battle against the eighteen-gun French privateer "La Gloire" armed with "12 & 9 Pounders".

Elephant On Board, Nathaniel Hathorne's Logbook.jpg

Elephant on board

At St. Helena, taking on board pumpkins, and the "Greens for the Elephant".

On March 10, 1796 aboard the "America", Nathaniel Hathorne commented---"this Night we saw the North Star which I think is a great Pleasure to a homeward Bound Mariner after a Long Voige to India".

The Salem Gazette "Ship News" for Octorber 23, 1804---

Arrived, Ship Mary and Eliza, Capt. Nathaniel Hathorne in 113 days from Batavia

Capt. Hathorne, who had left Batavia about the 15th June last, reports, that all the crop of Coffee was exhausted, and no more was to be had for the season. 6 or 7 ships had been obliged to leave the port for Bengal and other places, without procuring any. No less than 45 neutral ships, principally American, had loaded there from September to June


Captain Nathaniel Hathorne was inducted into the East Indian Marine Society on November 7, 1804. This was a charitable and educational organization. The inductees were in the processional parade through the streets of Salem, and honored with a formal dinner.

Captain Nathaniel Hathorne sailed from Salem for the last time in December 1807 with a cargo of salt fish, to be traded for sugar and molasses. After a stay in the French Guiana, his ship "Nabby" arrived in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana, now Suriname. Hathorne and six or seven crew members had yellow fever.

Two weeks later, with the "Nabby" still awaiting clearance, Nathaniel Hathorne died in the boardinghouse of Englishwoman Hannah Birch. He died intestate. After the creditors were reimbursed, his estate totaled $296.21.



The first six books of Virgil's epic poem speak of Aeneas' moral quest, the almost fatal sea journey, and his death-celebrating funeral rites. The famous image of Aeneas bearing his father on his shoulders from the burning Troy and the poem's overwhelming stress on funeral rites are echoed in Holgrave's talk of the past:

It lies upon the Present like a giant's dead body! In fact, the case is just as if a young giant were compelled to waste all his strength in carrying about the corpse of the old giant, his grandfather, who died a long while ago, and only needs to be decently buried. Just think, a moment; and it will startle you to see what slaves we are to bygone times---to Death, if we give the matter the right word!".


Wreck Of The Perseverance

Tarpauline Cove, Naushon Island, Cape Cod 1805

Painting By Michele Felice Corne

The elder Nathaniel Hathorne's death marked his son for life: "The world is cold," said the writer, "and I am an almshouse child.".

If you know anything of me, you know how I sprang out of mystery, akin to none, a thing concocted out of the elements, without visible agency---how, all through my boyhood, I was alone; how I grew up without a root, yet continually longing for one--longing to be connected with somebody---and never feeling myself so. . . I have tried to keep down this yearning, to stifle it, annihilate it, with making a position for myself, with being my own past; but I cannot overcome this natural horror of being a creature floating in the air, attached to nothing; ever this feeling that there is no reality in the life and fortunes, good or bad, of being so unconnected. There is not even a grave, not a heap of dry bones, not a pinch of dust, with which I can claim connection.


Salem Harbor Engraved In 1796

Forrester's Wharf, Derby Wharf Warehouses, Enos Briggs Shipyard

Winter Island Distant

Hawthorne feared that he should "leave no son to inherit my share in life, with a better sense of its privileges and duties, when his father should vanish like a bubble".

Nathaniel Hawthorne At Bowdoin College.jpg

Graduation Silhouette

Class Of 1825

Bowdoin College

Hawthorne inherited his father's sea journals---a source of inspiration and a spur to the writer's literary impulse. The elder Nathaniel addressed couplets and quatrains to Elizabeth back in Salem. With the ship Perseverence docked in Manila, he wrote---

Place me where never Summer breeze
Unbinds the Glebe or warms the Trees
Where ever Lowering Clouds appear
And angry Jove deforms the inclemmant Year

While translating the Aeneid, the son thought of going to sea himself and practiced writing a ship's log. He copied his father's ornate script in one journal, practicing. In the hand-printed Spectator---a newsletter of his own devising--in 1820, in answer to the question "What then is Benevolence?" he gives "It is to protect the fatherless, and to make the Widow's heart to sing for joy." In an essay entitled, "Autumnal," he asks, "Must we slumber to awake no more?".

Many of Hawthorne's tales deal with the sudden departure, by a character, from the ordinary way. The question is often whether or not there will be a successful return to the true inner self. In these inventions, we see the child who, in the years following his father's death, made up stories for his sisters and ended them with "And then I'll go away and never come back.".

These stories were Hawthorne's first literary obsequies, along with the quatrain he composed for the burial of the family's cat. There is an early concern for proper burial in his ritualistic repetition of a favorite line from Richard III: "Stand back, my lord, and let the coffin pass!" The spiritual quests in his childhood favorites, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, became associated with his father's last journey.


Crowninshield's Wharf, 1806, George Ropes

This child again dominates the author of The House of the Seven Gables passage in which Hepzibah, in flight from her house, has "the wretched consciousness of being adrift," while "wandering all abroad, on precisely such a pilgrimage as a child often meditates, to the world's end." Surinam may well have been the world's end.

The circumstances of Captain Hathorne's death are reflected here: "Hardly a week after his decease, one of the Cunard steamers brought intelligence of the death, by cholera, of Judge Pyncheon's son, just at the point of embarkation for his native land." Hepzibah also has "an uncle---who had sailed for India, fifty years before, and never been heard of since. . .".

Both Hawthorne's uncles---John Manning and Daniel Hathorne, maternal and paternal---had been lost at sea. Finally, only one month had elapsed from Margaret Fuller's drowning on July 19, 1850, to Hawthorne's measured sentence "In this republican country, amid the fluctuating waves of our social life, somebody is always at the drowning-point.".

The central image in the Aeneid is the serpent. Hawthorne's serpent references strike a Virgilian aspect. Holgrave mentions "the drama which, for almost two hundred years, has been dragging its slow length over the ground, where you and I now tread"---the drama of the Pyncheon-Maule vengeance.

Jaffrey Pyncheon's "sultry, dog-day heat" of benevolence radiates from his heart, making him "very much like a serpent, which, as a preliminary to fascination, is said to fill the air with his peculiar odor." The scissor-grinder's wheel "issued an intense and spiteful prolongation of a hiss, as fierce as those emitted by Satan and his compeers in Pandemonium. . .It was an ugly, little, venemous serpent of a noise. . .".

In the chapter "The Arched Window," the political procession that "trailed its length of trampling footsteps" past the Seven Gables is a kind of serpent. It "might so fascinate" Clifford as to induce him to hurl himself to his death from the arched window in a misguided effort to join the throng below. Hawthorne's memories of politics in Salem were still painful, so he describes the procession as "trampling".

Hawthorne once told Horace Conolly, whom he regarded as his most subtle betrayer in Salem, "I don't reckon you among my enemies, nor ever have. You are a kind of pet serpent, and must be allowed to bite now and then, that being the nature of the critter." Pondering the themes of the Aeneid in the Berkshire Hills, Hawthorne, still resenting being cast out of Salem, looked about for a Trojan horse. He was not long in finding one.

Writing a romance based on "The Sleeping Beauty" called for a happy ending. Two or three weeks after the publication of The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne wrote: ". . . in writing it, I suppose I was illuminated by my purpose to bring it to a prosperous close, while the gloom of the past threw its shadow along the reader's pathway." This is consistent with Hawthorne's faith--despite Salem--in "man's brightening destiny."

But clearly, a happy ending could never be written by the man who had said: "Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!" In order to resolve this, Hawthorne resorted to multiple narratives and levels of meaning.

Before writing The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne wrote a fairly long, detailed story about a witchcraft execution of a woman. Hawthorne later added this execution as a secret inner story about Hepzibah Pyncheon. In order to accomplish this without being detected---except by the very alert---Hawthorne broke this execution tale into pieces and scattered them throughout his romance. Many passages in The House of the Seven Gables, then, have a double meaning---what the admiring Melville referred to with Ahab's admonition

Hark ye, yet again--the little lower layer

The surface of The House of the Seven Gables is sunny. But if the fragments of the execution story are detected, then taken from the misleading contexts into which they are placed and reassembled in proper order, a vastly different picture emerges in horrifying detail. The romance is precisely what Sophia called it in her journal: "the inevitable Fate--'the innocent suffering for the guilty' seemingly so dark yet so clear a law." Clifford and Hepzibah Pyncheon are the suffering innocents.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was ready to write about Salem, but the good citizens of Essex County and the politicos of that "unblessed" Custom House were not ready to appreciate Hawthorne's modern witch-hunt for Clifford and Hepzibah. The author concealed his true narrative, "to render it the more difficult of attainment" by the intolerant.

Hawthorne refers directly to the possibility of a reader discovering his deeper meaning---and his literary duplicity---in The House of the Seven Gables itself: "Had any observer of these proceedings been aware of the fearful secret, hidden within the house, it would have affected him with a singular shape and modification of horror".

The romance---

"was not to be taken literally and simply, but had a hidden process involved in it that made the whole thing infinitely deeper than he had hitherto deemed it to be. Indeed, it appeared to him, on close observation, that it had not been the intention of the writer really to conceal what he had written from any earnest student, but rather to lock it up for safety in a sort of coffer, of which diligence and insight should be the key, and the keen intelligence with which the meaning was sought should be the test of the seeker's being entitled to possess the secret treasure."

With these two sentences, Hawthorne ostensibly describes his protagonist, Septimius Felton, at the moment he discovers that the mysterious manuscript before him "was part of that secret writing for which the Age of Elizabeth was so famous and so dexterous."

On February 10, 1850 Hawthorne wrote that, in a particular type of story, it might be "allowable, and highly advisable. . .to have as much mist and glorified fog as possible, diffused on all sides, but still there should be a distinct pathway to tread upon---a clue that the reader shall confide in, as being firmly fastened somewhere." But the readers will not proceed far unless they "know---or, at least, begin to know, or fancy they are about knowing---something of the matter at hand."

Hawthorne feared that his loss of his secure position at the Custom House, after years of struggle for financial stability for his growing family, would ruin him. This fear accounts for his extreme resentment of Salem policitians. But after writing The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne realized that "The better remedy is for the sufferer to pass on, and leave what he once thought his irreparable ruin far behind him."

The House of the Seven Gables illustrates Hawthorne's thesis that ". . . the wrongdoing of one generation lives into successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief. . ."

Hawthorne later said---

"I would come, as if to gather up the white ashes of those who had perished at the stake, and to tell the world---the wrong being now atoned for---how much had perished there which it had never yet known how to praise."


On August 5, 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne met Herman Melville: the impact shook every timber in The House of the Seven Gables. The presence of this brooding mariner, poetic soul such as Hawthorne's father had been, stirred the deepest memories---and doubts---of the older writer. Melville's talk of the sea, of time, eternity, death, myth, and literature, his metaphysical leaping, struck Hawthorne's own particular woe.


Herman Melville

Hawthorne eventually recoiled from Melville's truth---but not before giving to Moby Dick; or the Whale the bitter duplicity of his literary technique in The House of the Seven Gables.


Third Mate Nathaniel Hathorne


Salem Ship "Perseverance"

January 24, 1797

at Meridian a Very Large Fish came along Side, hove the Harpoon into it. but the Carpenter being in the Coil of the line the Fish hauled him over the Stern so that we were obliged to let the Fish go harpoon line and all to get the Carpenter onboard again


The harpoon was darted; the stricken whale flew forward; with igniting velocity the line ran through the groove; -- ran foul. Ahab stooped to clear it; he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone.


Yes, there is death in this business of whaling--a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.

Lithograph By F. Martens, Detail, After Louis Ambroise Garneray, The Whale In A Flurry.jpg

Lithograph By F. Martens, After Louis Ambroise Garneray


The initial encounter during an excursion to Monument Mountain, that amiable conversation while sitting on benches with Melville---smoking cigars, drinking port in the barn behind Arrowhead---these found a chink Hawthorne's armor that none ever even suspected was there.


Herman Melville's 1862 Arrowhead

Pittsfield, Massachusetts, In The Berkshire Hills

Herman Melville held the literary key to unlock the secret treasure in The House of the Seven Gables. On April 16, 1851 Melville wrote the Pittsfield "secret review" of Hawthorne's romance, "published by H. Melville". Inside the mansion he had found "a dark little black-letter volume in golden clasps, entitled 'Hawthorne: A Problem.'" Melville could not have given a more finely pointed hint that he knew the secret--a book within the book. Melville had felt the nerve-trembling "shock of recognition" when first discovering Hawthorne's deeper meanings.

He wrote in his personal copy of Hawthorne's Mosses From an Old Manse, "For there is a sure, though a secret sign in some works which prove the culmination of the powers (only the developable ones, however) that produced them. . .I somehow cling to the strange fancy, that, in all men, hiddenly reside certain wondrous, occult properties. . .which may chance to be called forth. . ."


Melville so admired Hawthorne's skill in deliberately concealing these fragments--and his true meaning--that he modelled the sinking of the Pequod on the sinking of Clifford. Melville's Ishmael is slowly drawn to the vortex of the whirlpool caused by the plunging ship: "Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the buttonlike black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve. Till, gaining that vital centre, the black bubble upward burst. . .".

Hawthorne describes the process of Clifford's drowning in detail, a matter of "whirling sticks, straws, and all such trifles, round and round, right over the black depth where a dead corpse lay unseen. . .At his decease, there is only vacancy, and a momentary eddy---very small, as compared with the apparent magnitude of the ingurgitated object---and a bubble or two, ascending out of the black depth, and bursting at the surface.".

Since Ixion is mentioned by Hawthorne and Melville alike, they may have discussed this Greek legend. Ixion is punished for murderous cruelty to his father-in-law and for his blind adulterous lust, qualities which Hawthorne saw in Judge Pyncheon standing in for Judge Royall Tyler: "It was a modern parallel to the case of Ixion embracing a cloud, and was so much the more ridiculous, as the Judge prided himself on eschewing all airy matter, and never mistaking a shadow for a substance.".

In the Aeneid, Ixion is tortured in the lower world, and a hundred iron throats cannot tell his crimes. Ixion is tantalized in Hades with the riches of the world, so Hawthorne taunts "Governor Pyncheon" with sarcastic irony for a full chapter in The House of the Seven Gables.

But Melville never revealed Hawthorne's secret---even until his death forty years later in 1891. This seems extraordinary. The explanation may lie in the circumstances of their meeting---


Monument Mountain

On August 5, 1850, Hawthorne and Melville went on an outing of literary people---a picnic on Monument Mountain in the Berkshire Hills. After ascending the heights, the party enjoyed a feast early in the afternoon, "well-moistened" with wine, at the home of David Dudley Field, an attorney in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

This dinner was the occasion of a notable literary debate. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes began by praising English authors, apparently with little reservation, and by taunting Cornelius Mathews--the chief editorial writer for Edward Duyckinck's Literary World---for his literary chauvinism in promoting the movement known as Young America.

The fiery Melville joined in the dispute, defending American writers. Even if Duyckinck did report to his wife that Hawthorne looked on placidly---which he may well have, at first--the publisher James T. Fields recalled that Hawthorne "rayed out in a sparkling and unwonted manner" and "stoutly" opposed Holmes's comparison of English and American authors.

Cornelius Mathews wrote about this encounter for the Literary World: "You would give the world to have an accurate account of so careful a pen as ours of what that picked company of wits and belles had to say to each other over the wine.". But "We have sealed a seal, never, never to divulge, no never" what had been discussed.

The secret collaboration between Hawthorne and Melville began in this atmosphere of mystery, and continued with Melville's literary disguise in signing his "Hawthorne and His Mosses" review for the Literary World as "A Virginian Spending His Summer in Vermont.". Friendships in the nineteenth century often involved such blood-brotherhood pacts. The stage was set for literary duplicity.

The hard necessity to hide the truth, in order to protect it from a destructive society, was ever borne in upon Hawthorne. In later years he wrote, "What a terrible thing it is, to try to get off a little bit of truth into this miserable humbug of a world!".


Melville never betrayed Hawthorne's confidence. When Julian Hawthorne visited Melville in 1883 in New York City on East Twenty-sixth, "a quiet side street. . .where he was living almost alone," he asked the aged writer if he had any letters that Hawthorne had written. Melville replied with a melancholy gesture that they "had all been destroyed long since. . .that he had kept nothing.".

Asked to recall the red cottage days, Melville only shook his head. Twenty years after Nathaniel Hawthorne's death, his son describes Melville:

He seemed nervous, and every few minutes would rise to open and then to shut again the window opening on the court yard. . .He was convinced Hawthorne had all his life concealed some great secret, which would, were it known, explain all the mysteries of his career. . .some secret in my father's life which had never been revealed, and which accounted for the gloomy passages in his books. It was characteristic in him to imagine so; there were many secrets untold in his own career.


Julian Hawthorne

There is cruelty in Melville's refusal to tell Julian directly about the subtle Nathaniel. But Melville was under no obligation to tell even Julian. This would not only have betrayed Hawthorne's desire to keep his secret only for those who had earned a right to it; but it also would have deprived Julian of the freedom to discover the secret of The House of the Seven Gables for himself.

It is sufficient that Melville recognized Hawthorne---

There is a certain tragic phase of humanity which, in our opinion, was never more powerfully embodied than by Hawthorne. We mean the tragicalness of human thought in its own unbiassed, native, and profounder workings. We think that into no recorded mind has the intense feeling of the visible truth ever entered more deeply than into this man's. By visible truth we mean the apprehension of the absolute condition of present things as they strike the eye of the man who fears them not, though they do their worst to him. . .




It is a fair conjecture what Hawthorne intended for the elusive Holgrave. This Maule, concealing his identity, comes to the Seven Gables two months before Clifford arrives from prison. Hepzibah, who "had gnashed her teeth against human law," senses that Holgrave is a kindred lawless spirit and tells Phoebe, "I suppose he has a law of his own!".

In Hawthorne's secret story, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon has sought out Holgrave to be his spy on Clifford---a betraying informer. The judge believes that only a Maule could be so revengeful, and therefore predictable and trustworthy. But Holgrave then falls in love with Phoebe and abandons his dark purpose. In a rare moment of honesty, he tells her that he lives at the Seven Gables so "that I may know the better how to hate it".

The logic of Hawthorne's inner story, if extended, yields the possibility that Holgrave not only ceased spying, but that he also confronted the evil Judge Pyncheon with his refusal to serve him---carefully choosing a time when they were alone in the Seven Gables parlor. This sudden betrayal by Holgrave enrages Jaffrey, and "in an access of wrath", he perishes by drinking his own blood.

Despite the fact that "It is reported, all over town, that Judge Pyncheon, who owns the house, has been murdered. . .", there is no evidence that there was any murder, by Clifford, Holgrave, or anyone else. It is always clear on all levels that Judge Pyncheon was destroyed by his own rage and hatreds.

There is little direct textual evidence in "The House of the Seven Gables" that Hawthorne carefully thought out his secret story entirely to this final, bitter, and fatal scene. As always, Hawthorne's comfort lay in covering his literary tracks, and in this case, presenting Holgrave as the unalloyed hero of the romance.


Edmund Kean As King Lear

Portrait By William Etty

Quite aside from being an informer, Holgrave is surrounded by allusions to Shakespeare's King Lear. Hawthorne had seen Edmund Kean's performance of King Lear in Boston on March 5, 1821, and had written: "It was enough to have drawn tears from millstones. I could have cried myself if I had been in a convenient place for such an exploit.". This tale of an ancient British royalty hopelessly divided by property and power offers a parallel to the American story.

Holgrave says, "I cannot help fancying that Destiny is arranging its fifth act for a catastrophe." He relates how his ancestor, Matthew Maule, was said to be able to regulate other peoples' dreams, "pretty much like the stage-manager of a theatre".

Phoebe accuses Holgrave: "You talk as if this old house were a theatre; and you seem to look at Hepzibah's and Clifford's misfortunes, and those of generations before them, as a tragedy, such as I have seen acted in the hall of a country-hotel. . ." . And in commenting on the fall of the aristocratic Hepzibah to becoming the huckstress of a cent-shop, Hawthorne says: "The tragedy is enacted with as continual a repetition as that of a populur drama on a holiday, and, nevertheless, is felt as deeply, as when an hereditary noble sinks below his order. . .".

Melville's review, "Hawthorne and His Mosses," must have reminded Hawthorne of seeing King Lear in Boston thirty years before. Melville had been especially moved by Hawthorne's description of the orchard at the Old Manse and saw it, in an allegorical fashion, as "the visible type of the fine mind that had described it. . .".

In the stillness of summer afternoons, he, too, had heard the apples falling "out of the mere necessity of perfect ripeness. . .". Thinking of his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville remembered King Lear's poignant brooding:

Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither;
Ripeness is all.


Nathaniel Hawthorne's Red Cottage, Stockbridge Bowl, Tanglewood, November 1871, Harper's New Monthly Magazine.jpg

Hawthorne's Cottage By Stockbridge Bowl And Tanglewood

Harper's New Monthly Magazine, November 1871

I don't know whether I told you that I bought some black velvet and put a new cover on my brother George's desk, and Kitty scrubbed all the brass bright, and I made the mahogany clean of ink and polished it, so that it looks very handsomely; and it was upon this desk that Mr. Hawthorne wrote 'The House of the Seven Gables.'

Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mahogany Desk.jpg

Nathaniel Hawthorne's Desk


Nathaniel Hawthorne, Topps Card 2006.jpg



Herman Melville's Drawing Of Arrowhead From Memory

On Board The "Meteor" 1860 Bound For San Francisco



"Melville's Residence"

Woodcut By W. Roberts 1855


Wellington Peabody, Auguest 28, 1835, Silhouette.jpg

Wellington Peabody

Wellington Peabody, born on December 16, 1815, was Sophia Peabody Hawthorne's younger brother. He dropped out of Harvard College and shipped aboard a New Bedford whaler about March 1832 for a two year cruise. Returning to New York City in June 1834, Wellington was among the crew that was beaten, starved, and forced into jumping ship without pay.

Nathaniel Hawthorne likely discussed Wellington Peabody's situation with Herman Melville. This may have in turn inspired the passage in "Moby-Dick", "A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."

Engaged to the Charlestown heiress Mary Boardman, Wellington travelled to New Orleans to work as a medical resident under Dr. John S. McFarlane in the Marine Hospital Service at a time when yellow fever prevailed.

Wellington was a popular worker---observing, lancing, dosing with calomel---but in trying to find a cure for yellow fever he examined with bare hands the intestines of a deceased sailor during an autopsy. He contracted the disease and died four days later on September 29, 1837.

His silhouette was made on August 28, 1835.

The gravestone in the Howard Street Burial Ground in Salem reads---

George Francis
Nov. 25, 1839
Aged 26

died at New Orleans
Sept. 29, 1837
Aged 22

Sons of
Dr. Nathaniel and
Lizzie Peabody




Nathaniel Hawthorne was a kind-hearted man as well as a great novelist. While he was consul at Liverpool a young Yankee walked into his office. The boy had left home to seek his fortune, but evidently hadn't found it yet, although he had crossed the sea in his search. Homesick, friendless, nearly penniless, he wanted a passage home.

The clerk said Mr. Hawthorne could not be seen, and intimated that the boy was not American, but was trying to steal a passage. The boy stuck to his point, and the clerk at last went to the little room and said to Mr. Hawthorne: "Here's a boy who insists upon seeing you. He says he is an American, but I know he isn't." Hawthorne came out of the room and looked keenly at the eager, ruddy face of the boy.

"You want a passage to America?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you say you're an American?"

"Yes, sir."

"From what part of America?"

"United States, sir."

"What State?"

"New Hampshire, sir."


"Exeter, sir."

Hawthorne looked at him for a minute before asking him the next question.

"Who sold the best apples in your town?"

"Skim-milk Folsom, sir,"

said the boy, with glistening eye, as the old familiar by-word brought up

the dear old scenes of home.

"It's all right," said Hawthorne to the clerk;

"give him a passage."

Little Masterpieces of American Wit and Humor

Edited by Thomas L. Masson

(Doubleday, Page & Company, 1903).



Laura Bridgman, 1841, Bust By Sophia Peabody Hawthorne.jpg

Laura Bridgman, By Sophia Peabody, September 1841

Laura Bridgman, Age 11, By Sophia Peabody.jpg



Apple Orchard At The Little Red House

Slope Down To Lake Makheenac


Herman Melville

Hark ye, yet again -- the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event -- in the living act, the undoubted deed -- there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?


Capt. Nathaniel Silsbee's Account Of Battle With French Privateer "La Gloire"

On the morning of the third day of November, at daylight, two
strange sails were discovered a few leagues to windward of us, one
of which was soon recognized to be the East India Company's packet
ship "Cornwallis" of eighteen guns, which left the river at the same
time with us. At about 8 o'clock, a. m., the other ship stood towards
the "Cornwallis," soon after which the latter bore down upon us under
full sail, commencing at the same time a running fight with the other
ship which then displayed French colours. We soon perceived that
they were both plying their sweeps very briskly, that the Frenchman's
grape was making great havoc on the Cornwallis, and that the crew
of the latter ship had cut away her boats and were throwing over-
board their ballast and other articles for the purpose of lightening
their ship, and thereby facilitating their escape. The sea was per-
fectly smooth and the wind very light, so much so that it was quite
mid-day before either of the ships were within gunshot of us, by
which time we (the five American ships) were in a close line, our
decks cleared of a large stock of poultry (which with their coops
could be seen for considerable distance round us) and every prepara-
tion made to defend ourselves, to the extent of our ability; but this
display of resistance on our part seemed to be quite disregarded by
the pursuing ship, and she continued steering directly for my own
ship which was in the center of our fleet, until she was fully and
fairly within gunshot, when my own guns were first opened upon her,
which were instantly followed by those of each and all of the other
four ships.

When the matches were applied to our guns the French ship was
plying her sweeps, and, with studding-sails on both sides, coming
directly upon us; but when the smoke of our guns, caused by repeated
broadsides from each of our ships, had so passed off as to enable us to
see her distinctly, she was close upon the wind and going from us. The
captain of the "Cornwallis" (which was then within hailing dis-
tance) expressed a wish to exchange signals with us, and to keep
company while the French ship (which was known by him to be "La
Gloire," a privateer of twenty-two nine pounders and four hundred
men) was in sight, which request was complied with, and he having
lost all his boats, I went on board his ship, where our signals were
made known to him, and where the captain and officers of the "Corn-
wallis" acknowledged the protection which we had afforded them in
the most grateful terms.

The "Cornwallis" continued with us two days, in the course of
which, the privateer approached us several times in the night, but
finding that we were awake, hauled off and after the second night we
saw no more of her. A sketch of that rencounter, from the pencil of
my highly esteemed friend, Lewis Brantz, Esq., of Baltimore, who
commanded the "Sphinx," was subsequently sent to me by him and
that sketch was borrowed of me several years thereafter by an Ital-
ian friend then in this country. . .

That voyage in the "Herald" was terminated by a safe arrival at
Boston toward the last of February, 1801, and to the satisfaction,
I believe, of all who were interested in it.

The Essex Institute Historical Collections, Volume XXXV, 1899. (Salem, Massachusetts: The Salem Press Co., 1899) pp. 22-23.




Faith And Ahab


Captain Ahab Ceeley Greets Whale Oil Rosie

Faith Mapple Looks On





Thomas St. John

Thomas St. John graduated from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey and lived in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Brattleboro, Vermont. His four grandparents all lived in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

His essays with an historical theme appear in the University of Utah's Western Humanities Review, the Ball State University Forum, and Counterpunch.

Brattleboro History at brattleborohistory.com






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