150 years ago today Nathaniel Hawthorne died, far from either his native city of Salem or his adopted town of Concord, in the company not of his beloved family but that of his devoted friend, former President Franklin Pierce. Really he died alone (as Pierce reported), very peacefully, in his sleep. I don’t think there are any plans to mark this memorial here in Salem (remember, we are Witch City, not Hawthorne city, and Nathaniel doesn’t seem to have cared much for Salem anyway), but (as usual) there will be events in Concord. It appears that Hawthorne had been unhappy and unsettled for some time before his death (just shy of 60; his birthday is July 4): there were money worries, health issues, the separation from his family, and of course the war–he doesn’t seem to have been enough of an Abolitionist or enough of a Yankee for his friends and neighbors– but at least his passing was peaceful, very peaceful according to President Pierce. I did a quick search of newspaper front pages for the week after May 19–and Hawthorne’s death was on the front page of every single newspaper I scanned, even in the South, although generally it was just a line or two in the midst of all the war news. He was famous in his own time, and has become even more so with time. There are many compelling and contradictory things about the work and the character of Nathaniel Hawthorne–he was both intensely shy and so handsome that people would stop him in the street– but for me, he’s always been the ultimate New Englander, and that is how and why I am thinking about him today.
Manuscript copy of The Dolliver Romance, which Hawthorne was working on before his death, New York Public Library; Newspaper reports from The (Washington, D.C.) Evening Star and The Daily State Sentinel (Indianapolis), May 20, 1864, Library of Congress Historic Newspapers Collection; Hawthorne’s birthplace in its original location on Union Street in Salem and its journey to the House of the Seven Gables campus in 1958; Hawthorne’s Concord milieu, from Samuel Adams Drake, Our World’s Greatest Benefactors (1884); The Pemigewasset House in Plymouth, NH: where Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, Library of Congress