Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hawthorne, Poe, Brook Farm, and Ripley

Happy birthday to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was born July 4, 1804. Poe and Hawthorne, I believe, were cut from the same chunk of marble. Both focused on perfecting the tale (until Hawthorne defected to novels) and attempted to make it big in the magazine industry (more or less). Both struggled financially for most of their lives (Hawthorne didn't buy a house until after Poe's death), and both were deeply in love with their wives.

Where they differed, however, was in the purpose of their writing. Though both presented the dark side of human nature — guilt, sin, evil — Hawthorne tried to teach lessons, something Poe called "the Heresy of The Didactic." Poe believed any piece of writing was a work of Art and need not be sullied by something like a moral message. Nevertheless, Poe encouraged Hawthorne early in his writing career. In his review of Twice-Told Tales, Poe writes of Hawthorne: "The style of Mr. Hawthorne is purity itself. His tone is singularly effective — wild, plaintive, thoughtful, and in full accordance with his themes... Upon the whole we look upon him as one of the few men of indisputable genius to whom our country has as yet given birth."

Poe would later soften his praise when Mosses from an Old Manse was published. Moving to the Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts, connected Hawthorne with Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the Transcendentalists. Poe did not approve — though, in reality, neither did Hawthorne. He had grown weary with the movement fairly early after being a founding member of the Transcendental community at Brook Farm. Hawthorne quickly saw their idealism and optimism were misplaced. He quit and later sued to have his initial investment returned.

Coincidentally, today is the anniversary of the death of George Ripley, the Transcendental minister-turned-critic who founded Brook Farm. By his death in 1880, his attempts at creating a Utopia were pretty much forgotten. While the experiment was in full bloom, Poe at one point noted his "sincere respect" for Brook Farmers but noted that they "meant no harm." Really, Poe's was belittling them and noting that, at worst, they couldn't do much harm anyway.

Happy birthday to Hawthorne, and RIP to Ripley. As an aside, I just realized that this is my 100th post.

No comments: