[lit-ideas] Hawthorne's senior year at Bowdoin

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2006 11:39:05 -0800

As evidence that I am still subscribed, here is an interesting passage from
one of the books I'm reading:  On page 73 of Salem is My Dwelling Place, A
Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author Edwin Haviland Miller writes, 


"In October 1824 Hawthorne with no enthusiasm returned for his final year at
Bowdoin.  With more than one glance in the mirror he assumed the role of a
condescending and somewhat obnoxious senior.  'I have put on my gold
watch-chain,' he bragged to his sister Elizabeth, 'and purchased a cane; so
that, with the aid of my new white gloves, I flatter myself that I make a
most splendid appearance in the eyes of the pestilent little freshmen.'
After the play-acting he proceeded to 'serious' business.  His term bills
for the past year remained unpaid, and, it turned out, he was 


'very low spirited, and I verily believe that all the blue devils in Hell,
or wherever else they reside, have been let loose upon me.  I am tired of
college, and all its amusements and occupations.  I am tired of my friends
and acquaintances, and finally I am heartily tired of myself.  I would not
live over my college life again, 'though 'twere to buy a world of happy


"The sentiments were melodramatic and self-pitying but not wholly false.
The weariness and the depressed periods began in youth and were shortly to
be recorded in the pages of his first romance, Fanshawe."


"But the 'blue devils' came and went, and there were the usual college
diversions.  Probably in their senior year, Hawthorne and five classmates
drew up the 'Constitution of Pot-8-O [Potato] Club.'  In this somewhat
heavy-handed takeoff on the structures of student organizations, the six
youths promised to meet once a week, 'at which time an entertainment shall
be provided consisting of roasted Potatoes, Salt and Cider or some other
mild drink, but ardent spirits shall never be introduced. . . . Some one of
the members at each meeting shall read an original dissertation or poem, and
if he omit to perform the same, after receiving notice, he shall pay a fine
of a peck of Potatoes.'


"To his sisters Hawthorne passed himself off as a man of the world, a dandy,
but his classmates painted a somewhat less glamorous portrait.  His friend
Cilley wrote later: 'I love Hawthorne, I admire him: but I do not know him.
He lives in a mysterious world of thought and imagination which he never
permits me to enter.'  Another student, writing sixty years after
graduation, reported that Hawthorne during his college years was 'a peculiar
and rather remarkable young man, -- shy, retiring, fond of general reading,
busy with his own thoughts, and usually alone or with one or two of his
special friends, Pierce . . . and Horatio Bridge. . . . he never told a
story nor sang a song.  His voice was never heard in any shout of merriment;
but the silent beaming smile would testify to his keep appreciation of the
scene, and to his enjoyment of the wit.  He would sit for a whole evening
with head gently inclined to one side, hearing every word, seeing every
gesture, and yet scarcely a word would pass his lips.'


"One of the legends at Bowdoin had it that Hawthorne sat in a dark corner of
Ward's Tavern sipping wine, with his hat pulled over his eyes.'


"As he entered the third and last term of his senior year and passed his
twenty-first birthday, which a few years earlier he had believed would mark
his freedom from dependency upon the Mannings, little had changed.  As he
had known from the beginning, his years at Bowdoin would provide neither a
profession for a livelihood.  He had also been aware while he edited the
Spectator that authorship and starvation were virtually synonymous.  And so
he would have to return to Salem and be an overaged ward of the Mannings."




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