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A Fascinating Hawthorne Letter Promoting a Distinctively American Book and Reflecting on English Literary Taste

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Autograph letter signed [to Henry Arthur Bright]

Brunswick, 7 January 1854

1 ¼ pp. Tipped into William Lewis Mansfield’s Up-Country Letters (New York: Appleton, 1852). 19th-century calf. Spine browned and chipped, some wear.

In this wonderful letter Hawthorne reflects on the reception of American literature in England. The letter is tipped into his friend Mansfield’s Up-Country Letters, which he highly recommends to his friend H. A. Bright.

In late 1849, William Lewis Mansfield of Cohoes, New York, sent the manuscript of his poem “The Morning Watch” to Nathaniel Hawthorne for his critique. Hawthorne, then finishing The Scarlet Letter, responded thoughtfully in several letters and accepted much-needed compensation. Mansfield’s work was published by George P. Putnam in 1850. Hawthorne declined further money but accepted bottles of champagne. A year later Mansfield sent his epistolary manuscript “Up-Country Letters” to Hawthorne for his judgment. Sophia reported that her husband, who was finishing The House of the Seven Gables, was “much pleased” with his correspondent’s new project, finding it “true & graphic.” Mansfield’s sometimes-musing, sometimes-bemused letters included a graceful acknowledgment of “the deep mosses of Hawthorne”—presumably the 1846 collection Mosses from an Old Manse. Hawthorne later referred to Up-Country Letters when visiting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In 1854 the influential British writer and politician Richard Monckton Milnes (later Lord Houghton) asked Hawthorrne for recommendations of half a dozen American books. Hawthorne asked his publisher to foward several distinctly American but little-known books, naming Up-Country Letters, Thoreau’s Walden, and Julia Ward Howe’s Passion-Flowers.

The January 7, 1854, manuscript letter tipped into this volume is to Hawthorne’s close friend in Liverpool, Henry A. Bright. It expands revealingly on Hawthorne’s view of Mansfield’s volume:

“I send an American book—’Up-Country Letters’—which I beg you to read & hope you will like it. It would gratify me much if you would talk about it, or write about it, and get it into some degree of notice in this country. England, within two or three years past, has read & praised a hundred American books that do not deserve it half so well; but I somewhat question whether the English mind is not rather too bluff and beef-y to appreciate the peculiar charm of these letters. Yet we have produced nothing more original, nor more genuine.”