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A Fascinating Hawthorne Association Copy

(HAWTHORNE, NATHANIEL.) Pulsifer, David. Inscriptions from the Burying-Grounds in Salem, Massachusetts

Boston: James Loring, 1837

28pp. Original printed front wrapper, rear wrapper lacking. A little dogeared, some chipping.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s signed copy of this work on Salem’s old burying-grounds. The tomb of Nathaniel Mather, memorialized here, was an important inspiration for Hawthorne.

In this book, the antiquarian David Pulsifer recorded the words found on Salem tombstones. Familiar names of old Salem are listed—Corey, Crowninshield, Ingersoll, Pickman, Ropes—as well as several of Hawthorne’s own distant ancestors. But of greatest interest is the tombstone for Cotton Mather’s younger brother Nathaniel: “Mr. Nathaniel Mather. Dec’d. October ye 17th, 1688.” The epitaph, printed on page 18, reads:

An aged person
that had seen
but nineteen winters
in the world.

Hawthorne mentions this very tombstone in Fanshawe, his first novel, when he describes the tombstone of his protagonist: “This [inscription] was borrowed from the grave of Nathanael Mather, whom, in his almost insane eagerness for knowledge and in his early death, Fanshawe resembled. ‘The ashes of a hard student and a good scholar.’“ The quotation is actually from Cotton Mather’s words on his brother in Magnalia Christi Americana.

In 1838, Hawthorne referred to the Nathaniel Mather grave again in his American Notebooks: “There, too, is the grave of Nathaniel Mather, the younger brother of Cotton, and mentioned in the Magnalia as a hard student, and of great promise. ‘An aged man at nineteen years,’ saith the grave-stone. It affected me deeply, when I had cleared away the grass from the half-buried stone, and read the name. An apple-tree or two hang over these old graves, and throw down the blighted fruit on Nathaniel Mather’s grave,—he blighted too.”

The grave of Nathaniel Mather evidently stayed with Hawthorne for years. It warned not only of death, but also, apparently, of a too-ardent quest for knowledge.