The Morgan Museum & Library in New York City has a great exhibition (among several) on entitled The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives which features a range of seemingly-private journals, from the first printed edition of St. Augustine’s Confessions to Bob Dylan’s record of his 1974 concert tour, with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Queen Victoria, Albert Einstein and Tennessee Williams (among others) in between. Taken together, the collection raises questions about the motivations behind diary-keeping in general and reveals lots of little personal details about public figures in particular. Two nineteenth-century Massachusetts authors figure prominently in the exhibition: Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Actually it’s the Hawthorne family who are featured in the Morgan exhibition. Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, together kept journals which were not so private; they shared them with each other, made responsive comments, and later their children added illustrations. The end results were Hawthorne marriage and family journals. Both the Hawthornes were great diarists, giving us insights into his years toiling as a public servant in Boston and Liverpool and her views of Civil War-era Concord, but the diaries in the Morgan exhibition are unique because of their collective nature. The first joint Hawthorne diary is also available in published form, as Ordinary Mysteries. The Common Journal of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, 1842-43, edited by Nicholas R. Lawrence and Marta L. Werner.
Despite their focus on the family, the Morgan diaries do reveal insights into Hawthorne’s creative process, including his idea for a story about “the life of a woman, who, by the old colony law, was condemned always to wear the letter A sewed on her garment, in token of her having committed adultery”. Notes for A Scarlet Letter, published this very week in 1850. Below are two daguerreotypes taken of Hawthorne and two of his children at just about that time, and a postcard of t 14 Mall Street, the Hawthorne’s last Salem house, where he wrote his first bestseller.