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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 78

without invention, take any conspicuous position in the history of the American novel. When Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter in 1850 he could not profit by a long series of native experiments in the art of the novel but had to initiate the mode in which he has since seemed supreme.
  And yet The Scarlet Letter represents in Hawthorne’s own career the fruit of an apprenticeship to art the like of which no other American man of letters has demanded of himself. For twenty-five years a disposition which Hawthorne generally encouraged had held him to a task of preparation. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804, he came of a line of substantial citizens settled in the town since its earliest days. Once prominent, the line had become less so, but all its generations had busied themselves with affairs, latterly on the sea. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who could not point to even a clergyman among his ancestors, was the first of his name to be sedentary. As a boy he was robust, handsome, athletic, no particular student, but rather more of a reader of general literature than has been ordinarily noted, ranging easily from The Faerie Queene to The Newgate Calendar. When he was fourteen, Hawthorne proceeded to less literary adventures, and spent a year in the deep seclusion of the Maine woods along Lake Sebago. “It was there,” he later declared, “I got my cursed habits of solitude.” At the time he took a keen and wild delight in his exposure to the forest, which eventually played a larger part in his imaginative life than the sea which his fathers had followed and to which he himself at first wanted to go. He spent four years at Bowdoin College, which was then scarcely more



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