HAWTHORNE, Nathaniel (1804-1864). Printed page proofs of The Scarlet Letter, with numerous press corrections, some probably by Hawthorne, others by the publisher's proofreaders, on some 144 pages, plus SOME 38 SUBSTANTIVE ALTERATIONS OR ADDITIONS, probably by the author, several gatherings dated February 17, 21, 21 on the first page of quires 10, 13 and 15. [Salem, Mass.], n.d. [1849-1850].
12o, pp.-324, 197 x 118mm. and slightly smaller, on white wove paper, without pp.i-iv (title-leaf and list of contents, evidently printed subsequently), printed on rectos only for proofing purposes, unbound, folded in gatherings, ENTIRELY UNCUT, collation as in Frazer Clarke Jr., (first page "The Custom-House Introductory to "The Scarlet Letter" browned, fraying to edges of some sheets, occasional small paper losses at corners, pp.321 and 322 torn and neatly mended but catching several words of an ink note on last page). Half morocco protective box.
A PREVIOUSLY UNRECORDED SET OF PAGE PROOFS REVISED BY HAWTHORNE FOR ONE OF THE QUINTESSENTIAL AMERICAN NOVELS OF THE 19TH CENTURY
The discovery of the corrected page proofs for The Scarlet Letter constitutes a significant literary find. Hawthorne's original handwritten manuscript, used as printer's copy, is known to have been burnt after it was returned by Fields, the publisher, to its author. Later, in the postscript of a letter to Fields, Hawthorne explained that "the M.S. of the Scarlet letter was burnt long ago." More graphically, he told the publisher's widow, Annie Adams, that "I put it up the chimney." (See Matthew J. Bruccoli, "Notes on the Destruction of The Scarlet Letter Manuscript," in Studies in Bibliography, 20 , pp. 257-259). Only the leaf bearing Hawthorne's manuscript titlepage and table of contents survives, at the Pierpont Morgan Library (illustrated in H. Cahoon, T.V. Lange and C. Ryskamp, American Literary Autographs, no.26). Up to now, the sole text source for this novel was the first printing. Author's corrected proofs of this period almost never survive; most having been discarded in the standard practice of publication. The textual study of these previously unknown corrected proofs may permit a reassessment of Hawthorne's working methods in the writing and editing of his greatest novel and may perhaps suggest readings different from those in the standard edition of this classic American work.
In 1845 Hawthorne left the transcendentalist experiment at Brook Farm and returned to Salem, where he obtained through Franklin Pierce--a Bowdoin college classmate--an appointment as surveyor of the Boston Custom House, but he was summarily dismissed when a new administration took office, leaving him in severe financial straits. Though he had been very disappointed with the poor reception and lackluster sales of his previous writings, he began work on what he termed a "hell-fired story." In the winter of 1849, the young Boston publisher James T. Fields visited Hawthorne in Salem. When asked about his recent literary efforts, Hawthorne scoffed, pointing out that the publishers were still trying to sell off a small edition of his Twice-Told Tales. "Who would risk publishing a book for me, the most unpopular writer in America?" he complained. Fields responded "I would," and promised an edition of 2,000 copies of anything Hawthorne might write. As Fields was departing, Hawthorne produced from his desk a roll of manuscript of an unfinished novel, telling Fields "It is either very good or very bad--I don't know which." As Fields later recalled, "on my way up to Boston I read the germ of "The Scarlet Letter"; before I slept that night I wrote him a note all aglow with admiration of the marvelous story he had put in my hands, and told him I would come again to Salem the next day and arrange for its publication" (Fields, Hawthorne, Boston, 1876, pp.18-20). On 8 January 1850, Hawthorne promised to send copy for the printers, but complained that he could not think of a title for the work. By 15 January he had sent to Fields all but three chapters [see below] and warned that "the proof-sheets will need to be revised," and added, "I write such an infernal hand that this is absolutely indispensable" (Letters 1843-1853, ed. Woodson et al, p.305. On 3 February 1850, Hawthorne finished reading the new novel to his wife, Sophia. "It broke her heart," he wrote, "and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success."
In spite of Fields's enthusiasm, Hawthorne remained pessimistic about the reception of the book, and cautioned his friend, Horatio Bridge, that while "some portions of "The Scarlet Letter" are powerfully written," still "my writings do not, nor ever will, appeal to the broadest class of sympathies, and therefore will not obtain a very wide popularity" (Letters 1843-1853, p.311). The novel, later lauded by Henry James as, "the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the country," was an immediate and lasting success in spite of the fact that it dealt with a subject--adultery--not often made explicit in contemporary fiction. When it was published on 16 March 1850, it proved an immediate success, selling 2,500 copies in its first week of publication; a second printing of 2,500 copies followed a month later. See C. E. Frazer Clark, Jr., Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Descriptive Bibliography, A.16.1.
Corrections and emendations: The proofs may provide a clue to a minor mystery concerning the writing of the book. In his 8 January letter to Fields, already cited, Hawthorne reported that he had not yet finished three chapters of his manuscript, but he did not specify which these might be. In these proofs, three gatherings: 10 (pp.146-159, end of "The Leech," beginning of "The Leech and the Patient"; 13 (pp.193-208, end of "Another View of Hester," beginning of "Hester and the Physician"); and 15 (pp.225-240, end of "A Forest Walk," beginning of "The Pastor and His Parishioners") are dated respectively February 17, 21, and 27, probably by a press corrector. These three gatherings show far more extensive and numerous corrections and revisions by both author and the press-corrector, suggesting they may correspond to the text Hawthorne supplied last in manuscript, even though they do not constitute integral chapters. In all, on some 144 pages, the sheets exhibit some 650 corrections of accidentals (spelling, type alignment, punctuation, word division and capitalization). Some 90 corrections, all accidentals, in orange-red pencil are undoubtedly by the printer's proofreader. An ink notation on page 17 (first in quire 2) directs the typsetters to "correct all marks but those circled round"; thereafter, a number of the printer's suggested alterations are circled (some appear in the published book, others were evidently missed). More importantly, in some 38 instances, the sheets show significant corrections, revisions or additions to the text. "Would" is altered to "could"; "even" to "ever" and vice-versa; "dark" to "dank"; "his" to "her"; "then" to "thence"; "worse" to "worser," etc. More significantly, at p. 146 the word "anthem" is interpolated to yield the unique image of "the solemn wind-anthem among the tree-tops..." On p.152 "unwisely" is changed to "universally" so that the passage reads "savage priests: who were universally acknowledged to be powerful enchanters..." In the evocative scene where little Pearl dances among the old gravestone (p.160), the verb "skip" is made "skipped"; further on, to improve the Puritan period dialect of Reverend Dimmesdale, "meddles" becomes "meddlest" (p.164). Whole words are inserted at some places: at p.194 the word "too" to make the phrase read "It was perceived, too, that"; and "daily" is added to yield the phrase "and earn daily bread for little Pearl and herself." And, in one of the key meetings of Hester and Dimmesdale, late in the narrative, "who" is carefully altered to "why," in the phrase "Why did I not understand?" (p.237). On the same page, "steadily" is changed to "sternly" in the sentence "Hester would not set him free, lest he should look her sternly in the face." And, at p.240, in Hester's remonstrance to the Reverend, an entire telling phrase is added to Hester's speech: "where thou has been most wretched to me."
Provenance: "Presented to the Historical Natural History and Library Society of South Natick Mass, by Mrs. Lucy T. (Bigelow) Mann. Aug. 1886," faded inscription in upper margins of first page. The Hawthorne's were related by marriage to the Manns: Hawthorne's wife's sister Mary Tyler Peabody had married Horace Mann in 1843.