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The Scarlet Letter, with a long, reflective letter from Hawthorne

HAWTHORNE, NATHANIEL. The Scarlet Letter, a Romance with Autograph letter signed to Donald Grant Mitchell

Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields / The Wayside, Concord, Massachusetts, 1850; 15 April 1862

Original brown cloth. Foot of spine lightly frayed. A handsome, tight copy.

Letter: 3 pages. Tipped in at the front of The Scarlet Letter. Original folds. Very good condition.

First edition of the Scarlet Letter. Henry James hailed The Scarlet Letter as “the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the country … It is beautiful, admirable, extraordinary.”

[Tipped in at the front:]

A long reflective letter written by Hawthorne to popular American essayist and novelist Donald Grant Mitchell, best known by his pen name “Ik Marvel.” His best-selling Reveries of a Bachelor (1850) was reportedly one of Emily Dickinson’s favorite books.

Hawthorne’s letter follows a wartime visit to Washington with publisher, friend, and advisor William Ticknor. While there he saw the war first-hand, meeting President Lincoln and visiting the Manassas battlefield. He also posed for portraits, including photographs at Mathew Brady’s studio and a painting by Emanuel Leutze.

He tells Mitchell, in part: “I think the enclosed photograph [not present] is the least objectionable of half a dozen from which I selected—all of them being stern, hard, ungenial, and more over, somewhat grayer than the original. The sun has a spite at me, because I have shunned him and lived mostly in the shade. I passed through New Haven the other evening, and would gladly have stopt, had I known you were there. For myself, I have made some additions to a little old cottage, and am settled here, I suppose, for life—though with many regretful and longing looks across the sea. If our country crumbles quite to pieces, we shall all be at liberty to choose another.”

Hawthorne goes on, “I have been trying to make my way into another Romance, but realities are too strong for me, and I meet with no good success. Why has your pen been idle for so long? Hoping, against hope, that we shall soon see happier times.”

The “Romance” Hawthorne mentions proved to be his final one, for he died in 1864. The manuscript of the unfinished Dolliver Romance was poignantly placed upon his coffin at his funeral. The novel was finally published in 1876.

This is a splendid pair comprising the first edition of The Scarlet Letter and a fine letter by Hawthorne reflecting on his place in the world and his literary legacy.