Franklin Pierce Describes Nathaniel Hawthorne's Last Night Alive on Their Trip to New England

May 19, 1864

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Franklin Pierce Describes Nathaniel Hawthorne's Last Night Alive on Their Trip to New England
Autograph Letter Signed
4 pages | SMC 583

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      Background

      Strange, that one of America’s worst presidents, Franklin Pierce, and one of America’s greatest novelists, Nathaniel Hawthorne, were best friends. Stranger, that Hawthorne died while sleeping just a few feet away from Pierce – who, in fact, discovered him dead. And strangest, perhaps, is that Hawthorne choose Pierce, and Pierce alone, to be with him when he died, by proposing, though sick and weak, that they take a trip together, knocking about New England. In this, life – and its cessation - followed art. “Happy the man that has such a friend when he comes to die!” Hawthorne wrote in The Blithdale Romance. “How many men, I wonder, does one meet with, in a lifetime, whom he would choose for his death-bed companions!” Hawthorne, clearly, had met just one.

      Pierce tells the story of his friend’s demise, detailing their last trip and the epic moment of Pierce’s discovery of his death.



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      Pemigewasset House

      Plymouth

      May 19, 1864

      I sent a letter to you, dearest Sister, from South Harbor yesterday in which my apprehensions for dear Hawthorne were partially expressed-

      What I said would perhaps prepare you to some extent for the intelligence which may reach you by telegraph before you receive this. We came here yesterday afternoon. At about 9 oclock [sicHawthorne retired, & soon fell into a quiet slumber. He changed his position in about half an hour, but

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      continued to sleep-  I retired before 11 thinking that he would have a quiet night, I awoke between 1 & 2 oclock [sicand went to his bed side.  (There was a light in my room & a door between it and that of H, which was left open [,] our beds were near each other)  He had again changed his position but was laying naturally upon his side with his face toward me and I supposed was in quiet repose.  I returned to my bed, but waking between 3 & 4 oclock [sicI was surprized [sic] to observe that his position was unchanged[,] and placing my hand upon his temple found that life 

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      was extinct. I sent immediately for a Physician & called Father B[...], Thom. Hillard who are here at a [...] of the Court and occupying rooms near our's- [sic] When he observed the disposition of the limbs so perfectly natural, the repose of that noble face with the eyes closed, it was evident that he had passed away without the slightest movement and without suffering - One could hardly realize that he had passed from natural sleep to that sleep which knows no waking-

      Mr Hillard [,] who knows dear Hawthorne[,] had gone to Boston this morning- Poor Mrs Hawthorne & the children. I am full of sorrow of course, but my heart literally

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      aches for them.

      Love to all

      yr affectionate Brother

      FRANKLIN PIERCE