The Life of a Prodigal Son
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of Illinois Press
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Julian Hawthorne would have been a public intellectual had he been an intellectual. Nevertheless, he led, if not a charmed life, a privileged and eventful one. “No other person still alive,” he wrote in his Memoirs, “could duplicate my story.”1 The only son and second of three children of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, he outlived his famous father by seventy years. He was born during the Mexican War in the same month Nathaniel published...
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At 9:30 AM on Wednesday, October 15, 1913, two elderly men stepped into the open air through the gate of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Each of them wore a shoddy suit, a vivid scarlet tie, and a pair of paper shoes, and each carried a suitcase as well as a train ticket to New York and a five-dollar bill, their graduation gifts from Uncle Sam.1 Julian Hawthorne and
Part I: The Heir
I. 1846–64: “I do not at all despair of seeing him grow up a gentleman”
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“A small troglodyte made his appearance here at ten minutes to six o’clock this morning,” the proud father announced on June 22, 1846. “He has dark hair and is no great beauty at present, but is said to be a particularly fine little urchin by everybody who has seen him.” The “troglodyte” was not christened for nearly a year, because his parents could not agree on a name. They bandied about a few, such as Theodore and Gerald; meanwhile, his...
2. 1864–74: “Julian inherits the princely disposition of his father”
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Nathaniel left Concord on May 12, 1864, on a leisurely tour of New Hampshire with Franklin Pierce. He planned to relax in the hamlets along the way and recoup some strength. After retiring to his room in the Pemigewasset House in Plymouth the night of May 18, he seemed to sleep peacefully until, the next morning, Pierce “put his hand on his brow and found it ice,”
Part II: The Hack
3. 1874–82: “My reputation is much sounder than my bank account”
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If the years in bucolic Concord between 1860 and his father’s death in 1864 were among the most pleasant of Julian’s life, his vagabond years in jolly old England between 1874 and 1882 were among the most difficult. He reminisced most often in his anecdotage not about his childhood or his studies at Harvard and Dresden but about his eight grueling years in and around London. His brood continued to grow, with the births of Gwendolen...
4. 1882–87: “My chief annoyance is that I should have to write in order to live”
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When Julian stepped from the steamer in New York on March 13, 1882, he touched native soil for the first time in nearly a decade. He joined his family at the Wayside in Concord, where he had last lived in the summer of 1868. At his home nearby, Ralph Waldo Emerson was dying. In his final years, Emerson suffered from dementia, or, as Julian put it, his “external memory seemed to have been wiped clean.” W. D. Howells described the...
5. 1887–96: “The literary profession is no sinecure”
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When Julian was fired by the World, he was thrown back upon his own resources. He had discovered during his stint with the newspaper the influence of the accounting room, or the extent to which expectations of subscribers, and especially advertisers, may shape the contents of a publication. “In reality the advertisers are the formers of our literature,” he concluded. They “refuse to advertise” in a publication that “does not reach the class of...
Part III: The Shadow
6. 1897–1907: “I did a few things for them and gave them some sage counsel”
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The publisher of Cosmopolitan, John Brisbane Walker, believed the British were guilty of genocide in India, where millions of people were dying of starvation. But he had no proof, so in late January 1897 he commissioned Julian to find it. “I would fear to risk your life,” Walker wrote him on January 24, but “these relations of Great Brit[ain] to India” needed to be investigated.1 At a farewell dinner for Julian at the Waldorf-Astoria the
7. 1908–14: “Whatever disgrace attaches to this affair belongs not to me”
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When he returned from Cuba in January 1908, Julian commenced a desperate job search. At first he accepted piecework: He was hired to ghostwrite a book for the author and editor Seymour Eaton, although there is no evidence he finished it or received more than a hundred dollars for his work.1 He began to hype a vanity press called “The Thinkers Club” that Eaton founded to print short books on topical issues for a fee,2 though the club failed to issue a single volume. He penned a promotional brochure...
8. 1915–34: “I am an old man and I know the world”
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After publication of The Subterranean Brotherhood, Julian needed a job. He pitched a series of essays on “Love Stories from the Bible” to the Wheeler syndicate, the same outfit that serialized his prison memoirs. The syndicate marketed the series without mentioning him by name, merely that he was “an American author of national reputation.” Two of the articles survive in proof among Julian’s papers—“Abraham and Hagar” and “The Story of the Nazarite Who Betrayed the Secret of the Lord for the Sake of a...
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At Julian’s death Edith lost her only source of income. He had no life insurance. She eked out a living by selling some Hawthorniana, including a draft of Dr. Grimshawe’s Secret in Sophia’s hand and a batch of Elizabeth Hawthorne’s letters, to the Rare Book Department at Scribner’s for $250. She spoke occasionally on KFRC radio in San Francisco on topics gleaned from his papers. When he died, moreover, the Star-News had a backlog of thirty-eight of his columns, and Edith silently wrote seventeen more from...
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Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2014