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Clashes with Editors

Hawthorne lived most of his life in Massachusetts and was, for a time, a neighbor of Ralph Waldo Emerson's in Concord. He was also a college classmate of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's at Bowdoin. By the time Emerson, Longfellow, and others founded The Atlantic, in 1857, Hawthorne had become a prominent literary figure as a result of publishing his collection of short stories, Twice-told Tales (1837), and The Scarlet Letter (1850). His work appeared regularly in the magazine during its early years.

One of his most famous pieces—an essay entitled "Chiefly About War Matters," on his encounter with the Civil War—appeared in the July 1862 issue. Here Hawthorne described his trip south from Massachusetts to visit the nation's capital and interview many of the country's civil and military leaders. Because, contrary to the convictions of most members of the New England literary milieu of the age, Hawthorne wasn't entirely convinced of the necessity of abolition, he considered the Civil War to be at best an ambiguous exercise, and took a dim view of many of the war's Northern principals.

The Atlantic, however, was founded and edited by passionate abolitionists. As a result, many passages in the draft Hawthorne turned in ended up being altered by editors, whose views on these matters differed from his own. In response, Hawthorne is said to have grumbled, "What a terrible thing it is to try to let off a little bit of truth into this miserable humbug of a world!" In protest he added a series of humorous editorial "footnotes," written in the voice of a somewhat dimwitted editor. In place of a not entirely flattering description of President Lincoln that the editors had deleted, for example, he wrote:

We are compelled to omit two or three pages, in which the author describes the interview, and gives his idea of the personal appearance and deportment of the President. The sketch appears to have been written in a benign spirit, and perhaps conveys a not inaccurate impression of its august subject; but it lacks reverence.

And in place of another deleted section he wrote:

We do not thoroughly comprehend the author's drift in the foregoing paragraph, but are inclined to think its tone reprehensible, and its tendency impolitic in the present stage of our national difficulties.

Convinced that The Atlantic was overly biased toward a radical point of view, he warned one editor,

The political complexion of the Magazine has been getting too deep a black Republican tinge, and ... there is a time pretty near at hand when you will be sorry for it. The politics of the Magazine suit Massachusetts tolerably well (and only tolerably) but it does not fairly represent the feeling of the country at large.

When Hawthorne died at the age of sixty, he was in the midst of working on a novel called The Dolliver Romance, which The Atlantic had planned to publish in installments. Two years after his death The Atlantic did decide to publish the first installment, with a forward by Hawthorne's friend Oliver Wendell Holmes. Hawthorne would not be forgotten, Holmes emphasized, because "he has left enough [important writing] to keep his name in remembrance as long as the language in which he shaped his deep imagination is spoken by human lips."