J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The True Author of “The Young Provincial”

The idea that Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “The Young Provincial,” the sketch I quoted yesterday from The Token, for 1830, wasn’t a bad guess.

In 1830 Hawthorne wrote to the editor of that volume, Samuel G. Goodrich, proposing a collection titled Provincial Tales. The next year’s volume of The Token contained two sketches unquestionably by Hawthorne, and he wrote more for later volumes—so many that in one year Goodrich worried about publishing too many pieces by one author.

Hawthorne never claimed “The Young Provincial,” but he left some hints about not wanting some of his early literary output rediscovered. And he suppressed his 1828 novel Fanshawe altogether.

In 1890 Moncure D. Conway published a biography of Hawthorne stating positively that “The Young Provincial” was one of his early stories that had “escaped the attention” of scholars. He repeated that claim in an 8 June 1901 article in the New York Times Saturday Review.

Franklin B. Sanborn also argued that Hawthorne wrote seven previously unrecognized stories, including “The Young Provincial,” in the New England Magazine in 1898 and elsewhere. George Edward Woodbury discussed the sketch as likely Hawthorne in his 1902 biography of the author, and John Erskine accepted that possibility in Leading American Novelists (1910).

There were some doubters. Nina E. Browne said the sketch “probably was not written by Hawthorne” in her 1905 bibliography of his work. But there was enough consensus about “The Young Provincial” that variously titled editions of Hawthorne’s collected works published in 1900 included it in an appendix.

However, back in late 1829, when The Token, for 1830 first appeared for sale, the author of “The Young Provincial” was named. The 25 November Springfield Republican reprinted the story and reported:
The Token, for 1830.—This elegant little work, published S. G. Goodrich, Boston, has been before the public some weeks. We have had opportunity to read only the following story; but if this may be considered a specimen of the merits of the other articles, the book must be interesting. Its typographical execution exceeds any thing of the kind we ever saw. It will doubtless be gratifying to our readers in this vicinity, to know that the following story was written by a gentlemen of this town who has contributed much to elevate the standard of American literature; and that all the narrative parts of it are facts, in the life of a Mr. FROST, now living in Norway, Maine, and brother of Dr. JOSHUA FROST of this town. Dr. Frost, who was then about nine years of age, was “the little brother who ran to the meeting-house” to carry the tidings of the young provincial’s return from captivity.
That item was reprinted in the Essex Register, and then in the 13 Feb 1830 Columbian Centinel. Those newspapers added a phrase to the Republican’s identification of the author as a Springfield local: “[meaning, we presume, the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody.]” The Essex Register was published in Salem, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home town, but he didn’t object to crediting the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody with “The Young Provincial.”

The Rev. William Bourn Oliver Peabody (1799-1847, shown above) was a Unitarian minister in Springfield. He wrote poems, hymns, book reviews, and short biographies for Jared Sparks’s Library of American Biography as well as sermons. The Token, for 1828 contained his poem “To an Aged Elm,” so he was definitely in touch with Goodrich.

After Peabody died in 1847, his twin brother Oliver William Bourn Peabody started to write a biography to be published with his literary work. “A few of his productions may be found in ‘The Token’,” Oliver wrote about his brother William. Oliver also dabbled in literary pursuits, publishing a poem in The Token, for 1831 himself, while working as a Boston lawyer, legislator, bureaucrat, and college professor. But in 1845 the pull of parallelism had become too strong, and Oliver became a Unitarian minister like his twin, preaching in Vermont.

In fact, that parallelism was so strong that Oliver died in 1848, just one year after his brother. The biography of William had to be completed by a friend before being published in a collection of William’s sermons. In 1850, Everett Peabody edited The Literary Remains of the Late William B. O. Peabody, D.D. He chose only reviews and poetry from the North American Review, leaving out “The Young Provincial” and everything like it.

As a result, no book credited W. B. O. Peabody with that sketch until Volume XI of the Centenary Edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne. That scholarly edition of Hawthorne’s tales cited the newspaper articles I quoted above about “The Young Provincial.” It also took four other tales that Conway and Sanborn had attributed to Hawthorne and showed they had been written by Lydia Maria Child, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edward Everett.

Ironically, the 1900 collections of Hawthorne that include “The Young Provincial” are now in the public domain and thus available on Google Book and as digital texts. The more reliable Centenary Edition is protected by copyright and priced for research libraries. Therefore, people looking into “The Young Provincial” are once again apt to come across statements that it was most likely written by Hawthorne—I did so at first. This book dealer is even selling The Token, for 1830 on the possibility that it might contain an early Hawthorne story.

But all that literary investigation is just in service of the question of whether “The Young Provincial” has historical value. Is it a reliable narration of a certain private’s experiences in the first year and a half of the Revolutionary War?

TOMORROW: Back to Jacob Frost.

1 comment:

G. Lovely said...

"A good story well told." And impeccably researched. That is why I read this blog every day.

Thank you Mr. Bell