A few years ago I attended a meeting of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society at Bowdoin College which Hawthorne attended for four years, graduating with the Class of 1825. I spoke on the subject of Hawthorne and his college chums - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America’s most revered poets, and Franklin Pierce, one of its most reviled presidents. A third would serve in the state legislature and was eventually elected to the House of Representatives from the new State of Maine. He would die at the hands of a Congressional colleague in one of the last legal duels held in the United States, an event which Hawthorne would roundly condemn. Last summer I had an opportunity to deliver another talk on Hawthorne at a scholarly conclave in Concord, Massachusetts, where he resided late in life and where he is buried. This time I discussed his travels throughout northern New England. One of these, his last as it would turn out, was in the company of his old Bowdoin classmate, Franklin Pierce.
This summer I was invited to the Hawthorne House in Raymond, which is just a short distance from our summer cottage here in Maine. The subject of this talk was Hawthorne’s connections with the State of Maine. For many years the maternal side of his family was associated with a broad wilderness tract along the eastern shores of Lake Sebago, in Cumberland County. Hawthorne considered these youthful years in Raymond some of his happiest, and he cherished the time he spent wandering the woods and fishing the lake and nearby streams. “I lived in Maine like a bird of the air, so perfect was the freedom I enjoyed.,” Hawthorne would later admit.. “But it was there I first got my cursed habits of solitude.” Ebe, Nathaniel’s sister, saw a great change in her brother as a result of his time in Maine. “His imagination was stimulated, too, by the scenery and by the strangeness of the people; and by the absolute freedom he enjoyed.” This early association with this area was responsible for his choosing to attend Bowdoin College.
I understand Hawthorne’s sentiment. I feel the same way each and every time I am able to return to Maine and this is why I am spending the entire summer here. I will be posting several accounts of my weeks here before we return home in early October, and don’t be surprised if I include an occasional reference to Mr. Hawthorne along the way. I am looking forward with great anticipation to the enjoyment of the solitude and peace of mind this place affords me.
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