Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is, to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (4 July 180419 May 1864) was a 19th-century American novelist and short story writer, best-known today for his many short stories and his romance novels The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, and The Marble Faun.

Quotes[edit]

It is one of those symbolic scenes, which lead the mind to the sentiment, though not to the conception, of Omnipotence.
Let us forget the other names of American statesmen, that have been stamped upon these hills, but still call the loftiest — WASHINGTON.
Mountains are Earth's undecaying monuments. They must stand while she endures, and never should be consecrated to the mere great men of their own age and country, but to the mighty ones alone, whose glory is universal, and whom all time will render illustrious.
  • If his inmost heart could have been laid open, there would have been discovered that dream of undying fame, which, dream as it is, is more powerful than a thousand realities.
  • Would Time but await the close of our favorite follies, we should all be young men, all of us, and until Doom's Day.
  • Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever.
  • Long, long may it be, ere he comes again! His hour is one of darkness, and adversity, and peril. But should domestic tyranny oppress us, or the invader's step pollute our soil, still may the Gray Champion come, for he is the type of New England's hereditary spirit; and his shadowy march, on the eve of danger, must ever be the pledge, that New England's sons will vindicate their ancestry.
  • In old times, the settlers used to be astounded by the inroads of the northern Indians, coming down upon them from this mountain rampart, through some defile known only to themselves. It is indeed a wondrous path. A demon, it might be fancied, or one of the Titans, was travelling up the valley, elbowing the heights carelessly aside as he passed, till at length a great mountain took its stand directly across his intended road. He tarries not for such an obstacle, but rending it asunder, a thousand feet from peak to base, discloses its treasures of hidden minerals, its sunless waters, all the secrets of the mountain's inmost heart, with a mighty fracture of rugged precipices on each side. This is the Notch of the White Hills. Shame on me, that I have attempted to describe it by so mean an image — feeling, as I do, that it is one of those symbolic scenes, which lead the mind to the sentiment, though not to the conception, of Omnipotence.
  • Let us forget the other names of American statesmen, that have been stamped upon these hills, but still call the loftiest — WASHINGTON. Mountains are Earth's undecaying monuments. They must stand while she endures, and never should be consecrated to the mere great men of their own age and country, but to the mighty ones alone, whose glory is universal, and whom all time will render illustrious.
  • As the moral gloom of the world overpowers all systematic gaiety, even so was their home of wild mirth made desolate amid the sad forest.
  • As far as my experience goes, men of genius are fairly gifted with the social qualities; and in this age, there appears to be a fellow-feeling among them, which had not heretofore been developed. As men, they ask nothing better than to be on equal terms with their fellow-men; and as authors, they have thrown aside their proverbial jealousy, and acknowledge a generous brotherhood.
    • "The Hall of Fantasy" (1843)
  • She poured out the liquid music of her voice to quench the thirst of his spirit.
  • "What is the Unpardonable Sin?" asked the lime-burner; and then he shrank farther from his companion, trembling lest his question should be answered. "It is a sin that grew within my own breast," replied Ethan Brand, standing erect with a pride that distinguishes all enthusiasts of his stamp. "A sin that grew nowhere else! The sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims!
  • The book, if you would see anything in it, requires to be read in the clear, brown, twilight atmosphere in which it was written; if opened in the sunshine, it is apt to look exceedingly like a volume of blank pages.
In youth men are apt to write more wisely than they really know or feel; and the remainder of life may be not idly spent in realizing and convincing themselves of the wisdom which they uttered long ago.
  • How slowly I have made my way in life! How much is still to be done! How little worth — outwardly speaking — is all that I have achieved! The bubble reputation is as much a bubble in literature as in war, and I should not be one whit the happier if mine were world-wide and time-long than I was when nobody but yourself had faith in me.
    The only sensible ends of literature are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one's family and friends; and, lastly, the solid cash.
  • When the Artist rises high enough to achieve the Beautiful, the symbol by which he makes it perceptible to mortal senses becomes of little value in his eyes, while his spirit possesses itself in the enjoyment of the reality.
  • The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is, to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed.
  • It is because the spirit is inestimable that the lifeless body is so little valued.
    • The Blithedale Romance, Chapter 28
  • In youth men are apt to write more wisely than they really know or feel; and the remainder of life may be not idly spent in realizing and convincing themselves of the wisdom which they uttered long ago.
  • America is now wholly given over to a d--d mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash — and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed. What is the mystery of these innumerable editions of the Lamplighter, and other books neither better nor worse? — worse they could not be, and better they need not be, when they sell by 100,000.
Nobody, I think, ought to read poetry, or look at pictures or statues, who cannot find a great deal more in them than the poet or artist has actually expressed.

The Marble Faun (1860)[edit]

  • No author, without a trial, can conceive of the difficulty of writing a romance about a country where there is no shadow, no antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but a commonplace prosperity, in broad and simple daylight, as is happily the case with my dear native land. It will be very long, I trust, before romance writers may find congenial and easily handled themes, either in the annals of our stalwart republic, or in any characteristic and probable events of our individual lives. Romance and poetry, ivy, lichens and wallflowers need ruin to make them grow.
    • Preface
  • Nobody has any conscience about adding to the improbabilities of a marvelous tale.
    • Chapter IV: The Spectre of the Catacomb
  • It is a suggestive idea to track those worn feet backward through all the paths they have trodden ever since they were the tender and rosy little feet of a baby, and (cold as they now are) were kept warm in his mother's hand.
    • Volume I, Chapter XXI.
  • Nobody, I think, ought to read poetry, or look at pictures or statues, who cannot find a great deal more in them than the poet or artist has actually expressed.
    • Chapter XLI: Snowdrops and Maidenly Delights

Notebooks[edit]

The American Notebooks (1835 - 1853)[edit]

Passages from the American Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1868) by Sophia Hawthorne, earlier published in The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 18, no. 110, December 1866 and The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 18, no. 107, September 1866
Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally...
  • Every individual has a place to fill in the world, and is important, in some respect, whether he chooses to be so or not.
    • 1836
  • We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream: it may be so the moment after death.
    • 1836
  • What would a man do, if he were compelled to live always in the sultry heat of society, and could never bathe himself in cool solitude?
    • 1836
  • Moonlight is sculpture; sunlight is painting.
    • 1838
  • I do detest all offices — all, at least, that are held on a political tenure. And I want nothing to do with politicians. Their hearts wither away, and die out of their bodies. Their consciences are turned to india-rubber, or to some substance as black as that, and which will stretch as much.
    • 1840
  • I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.
    • 1842
  • Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
    • 1848
  • Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it.
    • 1851
  • Caresses, expressions of one sort or another, are necessary to the life of the affections as leaves are to the life of a tree. If they are wholly restrained, love will die at the roots.
    • 1853

The English Notebooks (1853 - 1858)[edit]

Passages from the English Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1870) by Sophia Hawthorne
  • Nervous and excitable persons need to talk a great deal, by way of letting off their steam.
    • December 1853
  • If mankind were all intellect, they would be continually changing, so that one age would be entirely unlike another. The great conservative is the heart, which remains the same in all ages; so that commonplaces of a thousand years' standing are as effective as ever.
    • January 1854
  • A woman's chastity consists, like an onion, of a series of coats. You may strip off the outer ones without doing much mischief, perhaps none at all; but you keep taking off one after another, in expectation of coming to the inner nucleus, including the whole value of the matter. It proves, however, that there is no such nucleus, and that chastity is diffused through the whole series of coats, is lessened with the removal of each, and vanishes with the final one which you supposed would introduce you to the hidden pearl.
    • 16 March 1854

The Scarlet Letter (1850)[edit]

It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual health, to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate.
My fortune somewhat resembled that of a person who should entertain an idea of committing suicide, and, altogether beyond his hopes, meet with the good hap to be murdered.
My heart was a habitation large enough for many guests, but lonely and chill, and without a household fire. I longed to kindle one! It seemed not so wild a dream.
Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart.
  • It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual health, to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate.
    • Introduction: The Custom-House
  • It is a good lesson — though it may often be a hard one — for a man who has dreamed of literary fame, and of making for himself a rank among the world’s dignitaries by such means, to step aside out of the narrow circle in which his claims are recognized, and to find how utterly devoid of all significance, beyond that circle, is all that he achieves, and all he aims at.
    • Introduction: The Custom-House
  • If a man, sitting all alone, cannot dream strange things, and make them look like truth, he need never try to write romances.
    • Introduction: The Custom-House
  • The moment when a man's head drops off is seldom or never, I am inclined to think, precisely the most agreeable of his life. Nevertheless, like the greater part of our misfortunes, even so serious a contingency brings its remedy and consolation with it, if the sufferer will but make the best, rather than the worst, of the accident which has befallen him.
    • Introduction: The Custom-House
  • In view of my previous weariness of office, and vague thoughts of resignation, my fortune somewhat resembled that of a person who should entertain an idea of committing suicide, and, altogether beyond his hopes, meet with the good hap to be murdered.
    • Introduction: The Custom-House
  • The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.
    • Chapter I: The Prison Door
  • On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A.
    • Chapter II: The Market-Place
  • In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it.
    • Chapter II: The Market-Place
  • My heart was a habitation large enough for many guests, but lonely and chill, and without a household fire. I longed to kindle one! It seemed not so wild a dream.
    • Chapter IV: The Interview
  • There is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghostlike, the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime; and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it.
    • Chapter V: Hester at Her Needle
  • Wherever there is a heart and an intellect, the diseases of the physical frame are tinged with the peculiarities of these.
    • Chapter IX: The Leech
  • Trusting no man as his friend, he could not recognize his enemy when the latter actually appeared.
    • Chapter X: The Leech and His Patient
  • A pure hand needs no glove to cover it.
    • Chapter XII: The Minister's Vigil
  • Let the black flower blossom as it may!
    • Chapter XIV: Hester and the Physician
  • Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart.
    • Chapter XV: Hester and Pearl
  • "Never, never!" whispered she. "What we did had a consecration of its own."
    • Chapter XVII: The Pastor and His Parishioner
  • The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers — stern and wild ones, — and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.
    • Chapter XVIII: A Flood of Sunshine
  • Love, whether newly born, or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world.
    • Chapter XVIII: A Flood of Sunshine
  • No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.
    • Chapter XX: The Minister in a Maze
  • Among many morals which press upon us from the poor minister's miserable experience, we put only this into a sentence: — "Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!"
    • Chapter XXIV: Conclusion
  • It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his object.
    • Chapter XXIV: Conclusion

The House of the Seven Gables (1851)[edit]

The wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones...
  • Many writers lay very great stress upon some definite moral purpose, at which they profess to aim their works. Not to be deficient in this particular, the author has provided himself with a moral, — the truth, namely, that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief; and he would feel it a singular gratification if this romance might effectually convince mankind — or, indeed, any one man — of the folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity, thereby to maim and crush them, until the accumulated mass shall be scattered abroad in its original atoms. In good faith, however, he is not sufficiently imaginative to flatter himself with the slightest hope of this kind. When romances do really teach anything, or produce any effective operation, it is usually through a far more subtile process than the ostensible one. The author has considered it hardly worth his while, therefore, relentlessly to impale the story with its moral as with an iron rod, — or, rather, as by sticking a pin through a butterfly, — thus at once depriving it of life, and causing it to stiffen in an ungainly and unnatural attitude. A high truth, indeed, fairly, finely, and skilfully wrought out, brightening at every step, and crowning the final development of a work of fiction, may add an artistic glory, but is never any truer, and seldom any more evident, at the last page than at the first.
    • Preface
  • Halfway down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm.
    • Ch. I : The Old Pyncheon Family
  • The aspect of the venerable mansion has always affected me like a human countenance, bearing the traces not merely of outward storm and sunshine, but expressive also, of the long lapse of mortal life, and accompanying vicissitudes that have passed within. Were these to be worthily recounted, they would form a narrative of no small interest and instruction, and possessing, moreover, a certain remarkable unity, which might almost seem the result of artistic arrangement.
    • Ch. I : The Old Pyncheon Family
  • God will give him blood to drink!
    • Ch. I : The Old Pyncheon Family
  • Life is made up of marble and mud.
    • Ch. II : The Little Shop-Window
  • What other dungeon is so dark as one's own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one's self!
    • Ch. XI : The Arched Window
  • The world owes all its onward impulses to men ill at ease. The happy man inevitably confines himself within ancient limits.
    • Ch. XX : The Flower of Eden
  • Of all the events which constitute a person's biography, there is scarcely one — none, certainly, of anything like a similar importance — to which the world so easily reconciles itself as to his death.
    • Ch. XXI : The Departure

The Blithedale Romance (1852)[edit]

  • I seriously wished—selfish as it may appear—that the reformation of society had been postponed about half a century, or, at all events, to such a date as should have put my intermeddling with it entirely out of the question.
  • What, in the name of common-sense, had I to do with any better society than I had always lived in? It had satisfied me well enough. My pleasant bachelor-parlor, sunny and shadowy, curtained and carpeted, with the bedchamber adjoining... my evening at the billiard club, the concert, the theatre, or at somebody's party, if I pleased - what could be better than all this? Was it better to hoe, to mow, to toil and moil amidst the accumulations of a barnyard; to be the chambermaid of two yoke of oxen and a dozen cows; to eat salt beef, and earn it with the sweat of my brow, and thereby take the tough morsel out of some wretch's mouth, into whose vocation I had thrust myself?
  • Hollingworth's more than brotherly attendance gave me inexpressible comfort. Most men - and certainly I could not always claim to be one of the exceptions - have a natural indifference, if not an absolute hostile feeling, towards those whose disease, or weakness, or calamity of any kind causes to falter or faint among the rude jostle of our existence. The education of Christianity, it is true, the sympathy of a like experience and the example of women, may soften and, possibly, subvert this ugly characteristic of our sex; but it is originally there, and has likewise its analogy in the practice of our brute brethren, who hunt the sick and disabled member of the herd from among them, as an enemy. It is for this reason that the stricken deer goes apart, and the sick lion grimly withdraws into his den. Except in love, or the attachments of kindred, or other very long and habitual affection, we really have no tenderness. But there was something of the woman moulded into the great, stalwart frame of Holligsworth; nor was he ashamed of it, as men often are of what is best in them, nor seemed ever to know that there was such a soft place in his heart. I knew it well, however, at that time, although afterwards it came nigh to be forgotten. Methought there could not be two such men alive as Holligsworth. There never was any blaze of a fireside that warmed and cheered me, in the down—sinkings and shiverings of my spirit, so effectually as did the light out of those eyes, which lay so deep and dark under his shaggy brows. Happy the man that has such a friend beside him when he comes to die! ...How many men, I wonder, does one meet with in a lifetime, whom he would choose for his deathbed companions! It still impresses me as almost a matter of regret that I did not die then, when I had tolerably made up my mind to it; for Holligsworth would have gone with me to the hither verge of life, and have sent his friendly and hopeful accents far over on the other side, while I should be treading the unknown path.


Disputed[edit]

  • Easy reading is damn hard writing.
    • Also attributed to Ernest Hemingway and others; the earliest definite occurrence of this yet found in research for Wikiquote is by Maya Angelou, who stated it in Conversations With Maya Angelou (1989) edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot:
I think it's Alexander Pope who says, "Easy writing is damn hard reading," and vice versa, easy reading is damn hard writing
The statement she referred to is most probably:
You write with ease, to show your breeding,
But easy writing's curst hard reading


Misattributed[edit]

  • Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy, of dishonesty.
    • "Accuracy is twin brother to honesty, and inaccuracy to dishonesty." — Charles Simmons, Laconic Manual and Brief Remarker, containing over a thousand subjects alphabetically and systematically arranged (1852), p. 20: "Accuracy"
  • All brave men love; for he only is brave who has affections to fight for, whether in the daily battle of life, or in physical contests.
    • William Cowper Prime in The Old House by the River (1853); first misattributed to Hawthorne in Notable Thoughts about Women: A Literary Mosaic (1882) by Maturin Murray Ballou, p. 239
  • Religion and art spring from the same root and are close kin. Economics and art are strangers.
    • Willa Cather, "Four Letters: Escapism" first published in Commonweal (17 April 1936)
  • You can get assent to almost any proposition so long as you are not going to do anything about it.
    • John Jay Chapman, Practical Agitation (1900), ch.7

Quotes about Hawthorne[edit]

Alphabetized by author or source
  • I am always so dazzled and bewildered with the richness, the depth, the … jewels of beauty in his productions that I am always looking forward to a second reading where I can ponder and muse and fully take in the miraculous wealth of thoughts.
  • Hawthorne's career was probably as tranquil and uneventful a one as ever fell to the lot of a man of letters; it was almost strikingly deficient in incident, in what may be called the dramatic quality. Few men of equal genius and of equal eminence can have led on the whole a simpler life... He produced, in quantity, but little. His works consist of four novels and the fragment of another, five volumes of short tales, a collection of sketches, and a couple of story-books for children. And yet some account of the man and the writer is well worth giving. Whatever may have been Hawthorne's private lot, he has the importance of being the most beautiful and most eminent representative of a literature. The importance of the literature may be questioned, but at any rate, in the field of letters, Hawthorne is the most valuable example of the American genius.
  • There in seclusion and remote from men
    The wizard hand lies cold,
    Which at its topmost speed let fall the pen,
    And left the tale half told.
  • It is curious, how a man may travel along a country road, and yet miss the grandest, or sweetest of prospects, by reason of an intervening hedge, so like all other hedges, as in no way to hint of the wide landscape beyond. So has it been with me concerning the enchanting landscape in the soul of this Hawthorne, this most excellent Man of Mosses.
  • Where Hawthorne is known, he seems to be deemed a pleasant writer, with a pleasant style, — a sequestered, harmless man, from whom any deep and weighty thing would hardly be anticipated: — a man who means no meanings. But there is no man, in whom humor and love, like mountain peaks, soar to such a rapt height, as to receive the irradiations of the upper skies; — there is no man in whom humor and love are developed in that high form called genius; no such man can exist without also possessing, as the indispensable complement of these, a great, deep intellect, which drops down into the universe like a plummet. Or, love and humor are only the eyes, through which such an intellect views this world. The great beauty in such a mind is but the product of its strength.
  • I found that but to glean after this man, is better than to be in at the harvest of others.
  • The truth seems to be, that like many other geniuses, this Man of Mosses takes great delight in hoodwinking the world, — at least, with respect to himself. Personally, I doubt not, that he rather prefers to be generally esteemed but a so-so sort of author; being willing to reserve the thorough and acute appreciation of what he is, to that party most qualified to judge — that is, to himself. Besides, at the bottom of their natures, men like Hawthorne, in many things, deem the plaudits of the public such strong presumptive evidence of mediocrity in the object of them, that it would in some degree render them doubtful of their own powers, did they hear much and vociferous braying concerning them in the public.
  • It is hard to be finite upon an infinite subject, and all subjects are infinite. By some people, this entire scrawl of mine may be esteemed altogether unnecessary, inasmuch, "as years ago" (they may say) "we found out the rich and rare stuff in this Hawthorne, whom you now parade forth, as if only yourself were the discoverer of this Portuguese diamond in our Literature." — But even granting all this; and adding to it, the assumption that the books of Hawthorne have sold by the five-thousand, — what does that signify? — They should be sold by the hundred-thousand, and read by the million; and admired by every one who is capable of Admiration.

External links[edit]

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