Nathaniel Hawthorne's Son:
Julian Hawthorne's Beginings & Beliefs
Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Julian Hawthorne, the only son of one of America's greatest writers, was born 1:00 a.m., June 22, 1846, a few doors from the Boston house where Edgar Allen Poe first saw light of day. His father called him "the Black Prince," he was so dark compared to his older sister Una
Julian, a tall handsome boy, grew up privileged, athletic, spoiled, & happy, though forever in the shadow of the brilliant, neurotic Nathaniel. When he was seven years old, in 1853, he went with his parents to Liverpool, soon after to London, & from age twelve to fourteen lived with them in Italy. While staying at the Castle of Chillon in Switzerland in 1859, young Julian expressed his fascination for the setting by attempting to sketch everything he saw. The habit of travel was to stay with him his whole life, for he was adventurous at heart & felt no one place to be certainly his home.
The Black Prince loved his mother & father unwaveringly, & was loved by them, as is conveyed in numerous biographies & memoirs of the Hawthorne family, by Nathaniel's notebooks, & by Julian's voluminous writings about Sophia & Nathaniel. He grew up steeped in New England traditions, descended as he was from two old families. Sophia Amelia Peabody's ancestors had been in America since 1640. The Peabodys claimed descent from no less a personage than Queen Boadicea who fought the Romans. After Boadicea's death, her son fled with his followers to a Welsh mountain, where the clan held the title Pe-boadie, "Hill of the Body (of Men)" or "Peak of Boadicea." Meanwhile, looming on the paternal side of his family tree, stood one John Hathorne [sic] "who lived to enjoy the sinister renown" of having been the judge to examine & condemn to death the women of the famous Salem witchcraft trials.
Home-schooling included exposure to the world's great literature, frequently read aloud by his father in Latin. Nathaniel saw to it that the boy was schooled in equestrianism & swordfighting, to which was added dance, sketching, & gymnastics. From his mother he inherited a fascination for metaphysical philosophy. He always remembered his mother as "tender-hearted & sensitive as an angel, with depths beyond sounding." She studied esotericism & collected volumes on occult research, including books on the Kabbalah. Her love of supernatural speculation was expressed "not in its grosser phases, but as a deeper insight in the realm of causes." Hence she cultivated in her son his lasting belief that the most profound truths were to be discovered by means of occult knowledge, whereas "Science answers its own questions, but neither can nor will answer any others."
Both Sophia & Nathaniel loved to read the Faerie Queene to Una, Julian, & eventually to their last born "Rosebud." Indeed, Sophia named Una after Spenser's heroine. Spenser inspired Julian always to think of himself as a formidable knight with chivalrous manners; & Sophia helped make him arms & armor by which to better express his Romantic child's soul. Upon the occasion of Julian accidentally frightening off burglars by calling out to his mother in the night, he afterward formed a version of the event that was a testament to his personal valor. (The incident was not as amusing for the Liverpool housebreakers whose botched crime gained them an unconscionably lengthy prison sentence for the sake of Nathaniel's hat and cane.) Even his older sister helped shape his love of the fantastic as the two of them lived daily in a world where fairies & magical transformations were wholehearted realities. Nathaniel's "The Snow-Image, a Childish Miracle," in which the image comes to life to play with the children, is treated with such naturalism because it is based on a father's observance of childhood games & beliefs, as when Una & Julian gathered twigs for the fairies' winter fuel.
His lifelong interest in occult thought & belief was additionally assisted by his & his sisters' brilliant, Antioch-educated governess. Miss Ada Shepard was known as a "reluctant" medium who, at Sophia's insistence, entertained & terrorized Elizabeth Barrett Browning at family seances. Yet another gothic influence was in 1849 & 1850, the period spent in a weird dark house in Salem, replete with an elderly, furtive grandmother lurking in her separate chambers. Grandma Hawthorne became a recluse twenty years earlier, upon the death of her husband (in Sumatra, to yellow fever). In her eighties, little able to communicate due to deafness, Julian recalled her as the mysterious, rarely seen, dying creature who, on the few occasions when she did venture into company, was like a noble, decrepit ghost. She left him with a solemn impression.
On a trip to Florence in 1859 with his sisters, governess, & parents, they stayed mainly with a Swedenborgian disciple, artist Hiram Powers, who kept his visitors chilled with ghost stories expertly told. Additionally, Hiram enthralled the intellectual eccentricities of Sophia & Ada with discourses on the spiritual universe. Julian recalled, "It seemed as the world of the occult were making a determined attack on us during the Florence sojourn; whichever way we turned we came in contact with something mysterious." Nor was Nathaniel exempt from expressions of supernatural belief. His tale The Ghost of Doctor Harris was a true family legend, & there were many like it told privately among friends.
Neither Nathaniel nor Sophia wanted their son to be a penman, as Nathaniel, who to support his family had had to work as a customs officer, knew it to be well nigh impossible to make a vocation of writing. His parents sought to provide him an education that would set him toward a more stable situation. Soon after the family returned to America in 1860, he attended a co-educational school in Concord, where he excelled at cricket & track but was a poor scholar.
When he was sent off to Harvard's scientific school, Sophia missed the attentions of her beautiful son. She wrote to a friend, all too prophetically, "He is entirely of the aesthetic order, & his absence & unobservance of worldly considerations will probably not advance him in the dusty arena of life." At Harvard, he gained some fame as an oarsman, track star, & front-rank gymnast, but remained a disinterested student who failed math & gained no degree. His father, from whom he had never before been separated, died during Julian's freshman year, which did not increase his fondness for study & absence from home.
He left Harvard in 1867 to attend the engineering school of Dresden University, for his sisters & widowed mother were by then living in Germany. Yet again he failed to obtain a degree. It was nevertheless a momentous time in his life, for it was in Dresden in 1869 that he met another young expatriot American, Miss May ("Minne") Albertina Amelung. Julian was smitten by Minne's intellectuality, her absurd sense of humor, even by her streaks of cynicism & moments of gloom. She was fair & graceful, grey-eyed, handsome, & indomitable. He sent love sonnets written for Minne to the revived Putnam's & these became his first published works, discounting a lost, anonymously published poem from Harvard days.
On her father's side, Minne was of a wealthy glassworking family, of Germanic stock. Through her mother, she was one of the Randolphs of Virginia. Julian & Minne were engaged soon after they met, evidently before she returned to America. Julian followed after her, & they were married stateside November 15, 1870, with only her family present since his mother could not afford the transAtlantic trip.
Minne must have had a fairly good idea of what she was getting into. Even where love is blind, it was obvious that Julian had been inept at studies, & his prospects were fair at best. He was a handsome, fine-featured man with his jaunty caps & fine, full mustache. Minne was assuredly attracted to his bodily beauty (his measurements remained the Harvard gymnastic ideal for years) & to his swordsman's grace. On the other hand, he tended toward a rumpled appearance that made him seem already a little bit lost in the world. Minne brought into the marriage an anchor of protection for Julian. He brought dreaminess & foible.
It was by all accounts for many years a happy marriage for Julian, who could not have had a more supportive spouse during the financially tough times awaiting them. He spent the next year or so with the Hydrographic Engineering Department of Docks of New York, hating it intensely. He put in the mouth of one of his fictional narrators (in "The Countess Almira's Murder") this sad observation of so ordinary a life: "We that are called drones in the human hive have a pathetic time of it. We would like to benefit our race; our ideals are good; our capacities fair; & yet we achieve nothing... At best, we become critical or appreciative; in lack of a proper life of our own, we supplement the lives of others."
In such a frame of mind, he had as yet no thought of writing as a career alternative. A well-timed strike gave him pause to rethink the work-a-day life seemingly endless before him. In 1870, about the time of his marriage, Harper's Weekly accepted his first story, "Love & Counter Love; or, Masquerading," paying the munificent sum of $50.00.
Only then did he begin to imagine he might achieve a degree of independence through writing. This was a delusion he was frequently to regret in years to come. Still, in his immediate enthusiasm, & with Minne's encouragement to follow his heart, he invested a portion of his first writerly earnings by ordering fifty reams of lined paper, with which to embark upon a new career. He sold several stories in rapid succession, composed upon this stock. These early tales, chiefly supernatural, were taken mainly by Appletons' Journal, but also by Scribner's, Lippincott's & a physically attractive journal called the Aldine, besides all the magazines in the Harpers' group.
Before full half his three-foot pile of invested-in ruled paper was exhausted, the typewriter era began. Julian still possessed some of the useless lined paper to the end of his life. It was the present author's bemused pleasure to read Julian's earliest handwritten manuscripts as penned on these lined sheets, & to handle some unused sheets as well. I had to repel the momentary urge to swipe one or two blank sheets in order to compose something of my own upon Julian's old writing stock, that I might feel a closer connection with the subject of my research.
His career gained momentum in 1873 with the appearance of Bressant, his first novel, very widely reviewed in scores of major & minor periodicals. This attention came in part because of the curiosity of it being the work of Nathaniel's offspring, although the book certainly was a commercial success on its own merits, read in places where the family name of Hawthorne meant but little. Max M¸ller commented in the December 1873 issue of the the Aldine that Bressant had been translated into Turkish & was being read aloud in cafÈs & kif dens of Constantinople.
Thus began a career that extended well into the twentieth century, Julian becoming one of the very first American authors to make his living (such as it was to be!) exclusively by the pen.
copyright © 1998 by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
The photographs show Julian at age 17, age 52, & age 82 -- a handsome fellow throughout his life.
The article is adapted from the opening portion of my monograph "The Gothic Magician: The Life & Supernatural Tales of Julian Hawthorne" which serves as Introduction to The Rose of Death & Other Mysterious Delusions by Julian Hawthorne, issued in fine hardcover edition limited to 500 copies & now out of print. However, I squirrelled away several copies which can be had autographed by the editor from Violet Books, so check out the Catalog linked in the navigation bar below.
Forthcoming is a second volume of Julian's weird tales as The Laughing Mill & Other Absolute Evils, in a limited edition that will match The Rose of Death, having a new introduction by myself, & preface by Brian Stableford. Price & release date are not as yet set, so at the moment I'm only taking a names for a reserve list.
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