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Deep as Dante

Brenda Wineapple’s new biography of the most brilliant flower of the New England Renaissance reminded me that it was time to reread Hawthorne.  She delineated the man very well, got his politics almost right, but barely did justice to his work.

Writing in 1847, ten years after the publication of Hawthorne’s first collection of stories, Twice-Told Tales, Edgar Allan Poe complained that, “until lately, it was never the fashion to speak of him in any summary of our best authors.”  Poe described Hawthorne as a “genius of a very lofty order,” whose tales belonged “to the highest region of Art.”  While he praised Hawthorne’s “invention, creation, imagination, originality,” he faulted him for insufficient “diversity” in his themes and characters, as well as excessive “melancholy and mysticism.”  Poe barely understood the man.

Not so Herman Melville.  In 1850, he read Hawthorne’s second collection of tales, Mosses From an Old Manse, published four years before, and was enraptured.  The acclaimed author of the enchanting Marquesan adventure Typee (1846) wrote a sparkling essay entitled “Hawthorne and His Mosses” full of praise for the Salem-born author.  “A man of a deep and noble nature has seized me in this seclusion.  His wild witch voice rings through...

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