Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne
It was a brash, bustling, energetic country in which
Hawthorne grew up and carved out his writing career. The
covered wagons were rolling West, with signs that bravely
declared "California or bust!" The first passenger railroad
opened, and the trains went huffing and puffing along at the
(then) incredible speed of 20 miles an hour. Jackson was
elected president, throwing the conservative statesmen out of
office and ushering in the age of democracy and the common
man.It was an age between wars, when America, having beaten
England for the second time?in the War of 1812?was flexing its
adolescent muscles. Hope was in the air, and also a feeling of
impatience with the imported, second-hand, European way of doing
things. "Down with the past" might have been the slogan of the
time. Americans sensed a fresh, creative task at hand in the
building of a new country. It was a task that called for strong
backs, clear eyes, and open minds.

There were experiments in living going on to match the
experiments in politics and technology. Starry-eyed
intellectuals gathered outside Boston to thrive on a vegetarian
diet at Alcott?s Fruitlands. Thoreau conducted his own private
experiments in a life close to nature at Walden Pond. Horace
Mann planned to change the world by changing education.

Where was Hawthorne while all this excitement was going on?
In his bedroom in Salem, reading a book. You get the distinct
feeling about this man that, so far as the great adventures of
his time were concerned, he simply wasn?t paying attention.
Hawthorne was gazing intelligently off in another direction.
Most of his generation looked expectantly toward the future.
Hawthorne kept his eyes on the past.

He was an introvert, almost a recluse, this native son of
Salem, Massachusetts. After graduating from Bowdoin College, he
spent close to twelve years at home in his room, reading and
learning his writer?s craft. For subject matter, he turned not
to life but to books and to his own family history. When he was
a boy, his Puritan ancestors had haunted his imagination. And
now, he read voraciously about early New England history,
fleshing out his childhood dreams.

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