The haunted chamber

Nathaniel Hawthorne's father was a sea captain who died of yellow fever in 1808, leaving his wife and three children dependent on relatives. Nathaniel, the only son, spent his early years in Salem, Massachusetts, and at a country home in Maine. Immobilized by a leg injury for a long period of time,

Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the greatest American authors, was ashamed of the role his ancestor John Hathorne played in the Salem witch trials.

he developed an interest in reading and contemplation (the act of thinking or meditating about something thoughtfully). Although he was often isolated, he had a pleasant childhood, adored by his mother and two sisters and supported by relatives as he grew into adulthood. In 1821 Hawthorne's prosperous uncles, the Mannings, sent him to Bowdoin College, where fellow students were poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; future U.S. president Franklin Pierce; and Horatio Bridge, who would later finance one of Hawthorne's publications. After graduating from Bowdoin in 1825, Hawthorne returned to Salem and lived with his mother for twelve years. He spent most of his time alone in what he called a "haunted chamber," developing his skills as a writer and discovering the themes that later became the trademarks of his works. In 1838 he met Sophia Peabody, to whom he confided, "If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make great mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed," as quoted in the Encyclopedia of World Biography.

Hawthorne and Peabody were soon engaged, and he credited her with bringing him out into the world again. Although he had published several stories, which he called tales, his writing did not provide sufficient income to support a future wife and family. In 1839 he took a job measuring salt and coal at the Boston Custom House, where he stayed until 1841, when he invested $1000 in Brook Farm Community, a well-known commune (a group that jointly owns property and shares daily chores). Hawthorne thought Brook Farm would provide an economical home for himself and Peabody, but he soon became disenchanted with the experiment in communal living. After their marriage in 1842 the couple moved to Old Manse of Concord, a similar community whose residents included essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer Henry David Thoreau, and clergyman Ellery Channing. The Hawthornes stayed at Old Manse until 1846, when Nathaniel took a position as surveyor at the Salem Custom House. He was dismissed in January1849 as a result of local political conflicts.

Hawthorne was discouraged about losing his job, but his wife urged him to devote himself to writing. Within two years he had produced The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables. Immediate acclaim from critics and other writers gave him the motivation to continue publishing his work. In 1852, when his old friend Pierce was elected president, Hawthorne was appointed overseas U.S. consul (official government representative) at Liverpool, England, where he served from 1853 to 1857. In 1857 the family moved from England to Italy, living mainly in Florence and Rome. Upon returning to the United States in 1860, they settled into their first real home at Concord, New Hampshire. Despite a lifetime of vigor and few illnesses, Hawthorne's health went into a mysterious decline. Refusing medical attention, he died in his sleep on May 19, 1864, while on an expedition with Pierce. Before his death he had started four other books, none of which was completed.

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