Whitman, Hawthorne, Thoreau and July 4th

HawthorneI was reading this morning about July 4th and found that there are lots of literary convergences on this day – many of them related to some of my favorite writers. For example – did you know that today is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthday? Yup. 1804 was the year and Salem, Massachusetts was the place (an appropriate natal spot for this talented, reclusive, and darkly haunted individual). I also found that Hawthorne had a significant NH connection, not only in the White Mountains (which figure a lot in his tales) but also on the Isles of Shoals – which he visited in 1852 and chronicled in his journal.

Thoreau’s CabinJuly 4 ,1845 found Henry David Thoreau packing up and moving out to his newly-built cabin on Walden Pond, outside of Concord, Massachusetts. Most likely, Hawthorne would have crossed paths with Thoreau (if/when he left his house), as he was still living at The Old Manse in Concord in 1845. Indeed, describing Thoreau, Mr. Hawthorne wrote: “[Thoreau] is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and rustic, though courteous manners, corresponding very well with such an exterior. But his ugliness is of an honest and agreeable fashion, and becomes him much better than beauty.” Then in 1854, July 4 saw Thoreau speaking out against slavery at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.

Walt WhitmanTen years after Thoreau moved to Walden (and a year after the 1854 publication of his masterpiece about that experience) Walt Whitman published, on July 4th, 1855, the first edition of his seminal work, Leaves of Grass. This tome appeared in many editions over Whitman’s lifetime, with the first including 12 poems and the last (the “Deathbed Edition“) including more than 300 poems. The Good Gray Poet published this first edition himself with a friend and it caused quite a stir. Here’s a link to the 2005 NPR story, marking the 150th anniversary of this literary event!

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2 Responses to Whitman, Hawthorne, Thoreau and July 4th

  1. JordanCornblog says:

    Wow, Alice – this is awesome! I agree that Whitman would say the same or worse about the current occupant of the White House … and am whole-heartedly with you in your wish for peace. And I have a question … would you ever consider being a guest blogger here?


  2. Alice says:

    I do love convergences. All kinds of small world coincidences perk my interest and curiosity. And when they are in my own backyard, so to speak, all the better. Which brings me to Hawthorne’s New Hampshire connection, a lifelong connection that began when he and Franklin Pierce as young men first met in route to Bowdoin College to begin college. So began the closest of friendships, one that netted Nathaniel patronage jobs that kept food on his family table as well as numerous trips to Concord, New Hampshire and vicinity to talk over old and new times with friend, Franklin. It was on one of those trips that Nathaniel died unexpectantly in Plymouth, New Hampshire, a sad convergence between him, Franklin and our state to be sure. Franklin’s friendship even continued after the loss of his old friend when he paid for Nathaniel’s son, Julian, to go to college. I can’t close without sharing a less loving convergence I happened upon–this one between Walt Whitman and Franklin Pierce who was, apparently, not a favorite of Walt’s or, come to think of it, of later historians who typically rate our favorite son as ONE of–if not THE worst– presidents of our country. Here I’m told is how Walt portrayed Nathaniel’s dear friend and the political world in which he traveled–quite a divergence (get it?) from Nathaniel’s opinion to be sure:

    Whitman believed the federal government was an array of “robbers, pimps . . . malignants, conspirators, murderers . . . infidels, disunionists, terrorists, mail-riflers, slave-catchers . . . body-snatchers . . . monte-dealers, duelists, carriers of concealed weapons, blind men, deaf men, pimpled men, scarred inside with the vile disorder, gaudy outside with gold chains made from the people’s money and the harlot’s money twisted together . . . the lousy combings and born freedom sellers of the earth.”

    Whitman was especially unimpressed with Franklin Pierce, who, Whitman claimed, “eats dirt and excrement for his daily meals.”

    Ouch! I don’t think Walt visited New Hampshire, but he was the truest kind of patriot, and I expect he would share similarly choice sentiments about our present president who, to my mind, has easily overtaken Franklin Pierce’s spot at the bottom of the list of America’s most wanting.

    Happy 4th. May it help to (somehow)converge with peace.


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