Location: Bowdoin / Magazine / Features / 2011 / A Down East Huck Finn?: Samuel Pickard, Hawthorne's First Diary and Bowdoin College

A Down East Huck Finn?: Samuel Pickard, Hawthorne's First Diary and Bowdoin College

Story posted March 17, 2011

Author: Edward Little Professor of the English Language and Literature William Watterson and Devon B. Shapiro ’13
Illustration: Chelée Ross ’12

In the late nineteenth century Nathaniel Hawthorne’s reputation as the greatest American writer of romances and short fiction was uncontested. Hawthorne (1804-1864) spent some of his early teenage years in Raymond, Maine, and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825. In 1897 Houghton Mifflin published a small volume entitled Hawthorne’s First Diary, “edited” by Samuel T. Pickard. Divided into two sections, the first tells the story of how knowledge of the diary came into the hands of Pickard via one William Symmes, while the second offers excerpts from a diary allegedly written by Nathaniel Hawthorne between the years 1816 and 1819. From the time it was first published, however, family members as well as scholars have doubted its authenticity.

Samuel Pickard (1828-1915), the “editor” of the diary, was trained as a printer and became a journalist for, and part owner of, the Portland Transcript: An Independent Family Journal of Literature, Science, and News. In 1870 Pickard wrote a piece about the house Richard Manning built for his sister, Elizabeth Hawthorne and her children, in Raymond, Maine, sometime between 1813 and 1816. Pickard knew about the dilapidated condition of the house, and wanted it preserved as a literary shrine because of his great admiration for Hawthorne as a writer with a youthful connection both to Maine and to Bowdoin College. There is no record of the two ever having met. Mrs. Hawthorne, Nathaniel’s mother, left Raymond in 1822, but her “rich furniture,” including a bookcase supposedly containing the diary, was moved to a house nearby (“Manning’s Folly”), also belonging to her brother, in 1824. The Hawthorne house in Raymond served for some years as a tavern and eventually became the Radoux Meeting House. It was not until 1921 that summer residents created the Hawthorne Community Association and raised money to rescue the old building, as per Pickard’s original suggestion. It now houses the Raymond-Casco Historical Society.

The account of how the diary came into Pickard’s hands is tortuous and highly suspect. His preface proclaims the discovery of “a diary kept by Nathaniel Hawthorne during his residence at Raymond, Maine, [which] came to light in Virginia during the late civil war, and fell into the hands of a colored man named William Symmes, who, by a curious chance, was a companion of Hawthorne in his fishing and gunning sports on Lake Sebago.” Symmes, living in Virginia during the civil war, Pickard reports, came into contact with the twenty-fifth Maine regiment there in 1863. A soldier named Small fell ill and found himself in the care of Symmes, who, upon learning that Small was raised in Raymond, asked him if he knew the Hawthorne family. Small replied that he had not known the Hawthornes himself, but that he had seen that name on a book he acquired when moving furniture out of the old Manning house many years earlier in 1824. When Small returned to Maine in 1864, he supposedly sent the manuscript via the Sanitary Commission Express to Symmes at Camp Distribution in Fairfax County, Virginia. If Small had valued the diary enough to purloin it in 1824, one wonders why he would have surrendered it to a relative stranger in 1864 with no apparent consideration of either its literary importance or its potential monetary value. Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, Hawthorne, the only person who could have vouched definitively for the authenticity of the diary, died in April of the same year.

Symmes allegedly established contact with Pickard in a letter dated June 25, 1870, because he had somehow got hold of the article in the Portland Transcript about the Manning house and the Hawthornes’ three-year sojourn in Raymond. In his letter he recollected the names of some of the people who might remember “Nat.” Only in a second letter dated December 31, 1870, does Symmes mention the existence of a diary. Subsequently, he is said to have copied excerpts of the diary and sent them to Pickard, who published them in three installments (February 4, 1871, April 22, 1871, and June 21, 1873). Thirty years later, Pickard edited and published all of the entries in Hawthorne’s First Diary.

That William Symmes was a real person is incontestable, but the correspondence was almost certainly the invention of Pickard, who seems to have fabricated Symmes’ role as middle man to disguise the hoax. A mulatto raised in Raymond, Maine, Symmes lost his father as a baby of two, and for unknown reasons was put into the care of Captain Jonathon Britton. His foster father was an acquaintance of Richard Manning, and when Britton paid visits to the Manning house, he occasionally brought Symmes with him. According to Pickard, William and Nathaniel sometimes played together. Symmes was probably illiterate and seems to have died in Pensacola, Florida, in the fall of 1871, shortly before the second entry of the diary was published in the Portland Transcript, curiously with no mention of Symmes at all. Pickard claims to have searched for Symmes through intermediaries in Alexandria, Virginia, where the letters were postmarked, but never found him so the alleged holograph was conveniently unavailable. The absence of the original manuscript exonerates Pickard of forgery per se, but still leaves him open to charges of historical misrepresentation.

No doubt in part because of his earlier writing about Hawthorne and Maine, Samuel T. Pickard was awarded an honorary degree from Bowdoin, along with thirty-seven others in the College’s centennial year. Although not himself an alumnus, Pickard also came from a Bowdoin “family.” His father, brother, nephew, and great-nephew were all overseers of the College, and the latter two went on to become trustees. The great-nephew, John Coleman Pickard, graduated from Bowdoin in 1922, and Pickard Theatre is named in his honor. Why Pickard waited from 1871 until 1897 to publish the diary in its entirety must remain a matter of speculation, but most likely he was busy composing it himself piecemeal. His recent honorary degree from Bowdoin may have served as the primary impetus for his renewed interest in Hawthorne and the Maine connection, but there seems to have been a pecuniary motive as well.

Julian, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s only son, roundly condemned Pickard’s sensational “finding” as a hoax in Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife (1891), and most twentieth-century biographers have acknowledged serious problems with the diary. In the absence of information concerning Hawthorne’s early years, however, some continue to rely on it as a colorful account of Hawthorne’s childhood in Maine. Newton Arvin (1929) quotes the diary without commenting on its controversial status. Robert Cantwell (1948) offers the most detailed information about the diary’s problematical nature, and rehearses the skepticism surrounding it in a footnote. The most definitive article on the subject so far, Gloria Erlich’s “Who Wrote Hawthorne’s First Diary” which appeared in the “The Nathaniel Hawthorne Journal” in 1977, concludes that most biographers have handled the diary in a cavalier fashion at best. In spite of the strong case Erlich makes to discredit the diary, opinions still vary. Edwin Haviland Miller (1991), unlike Arvin, never mentions the diary in his chapter on Hawthorne’s boyhood, but nevertheless cites it in his selected bibliography. Brenda Wineapple (2003), Hawthorne’s most recent biographer, recognizes the doubts surrounding the diary, but concedes that “we, like Ebe [Nathaniel’s sister], can’t discard it out of hand. If not by Hawthorne himself, the passages were written by someone who knew him and his family.” Without the diary we know next to nothing about this period in Hawthorne’s life beyond the author’s own much later reminiscences about his idyllic years in Raymond, also attested to by his college classmate and life-long friend and patron, Horatio Bridge in Personal Recollections of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1887). Biographers have to work with what they have, or think they have.

Pickard collaborated with a man named Robinson Cook on matters of historical detail. Cook had lived in Raymond during Hawthorne’s sojourn there, along with Symmes and Jacob Dingley—the three main characters mentioned in the diary. Cook affirms many of the entries in the diary in anecdotes appended by Pickard as “proofs” of authenticity. Dingley, on the other hand, “remembered a mulatto boy named Sims brought up in Otisfield by Captain Britton, but denied that this boy ever knew Nathaniel Hawthorne.” More tellingly, the marginally literate Dingley wrote to Richard Clark Manning on April 15, 1871, emphatically denying the existence of the diary: “There is a Great deal wrote About his keeping A Notebook or diary he kep no such A thing when we went to School to Gether [in Stroudwater]. Nor was he in Raymond much of the time“ (sic). Although Cook validates many of the diary entries via his own memory, Dingley denies that Symmes even knew Hawthorne in testimony which Pickard chose to suppress.

To lend credibility to his “discovery,” Pickard invented a physical description of a volume that never existed. The diary is described as being about two hundred and fifty pages, six by eight inches, and having the ends of pages eaten away by mice and moths, so that most of the dates of the entries are missing. Pickard quotes an inscription from Richard Manning, telling the boy Hawthorne to write in it every day, in his best possible language, dated June 1, 1816. Hawthorne would have been almost twelve at the time the diary was given to him, and entries continue sporadically for about three years, ending in 1819.

Both internal and external evidence point to the transcripts of the diary as fabrications of a later date. Internal evidence focuses on transcriptional matters — those having to do with scribal copying and transmission of the text — and on matters of style, vocabulary, and content which are conjectural rather than factual. As we have already seen, the complicated paper trail surrounding the so-called recovery of the diary rests on Pickard’s authority alone, as does the text itself. Again, Symmes the copyist is conveniently used as a middle man: “Every word of the Diary, preserved by the copying of Symmes, is given in these pages, and I have added explanatory and confirmatory notes.” In a further effort to cover his tracks, Pickard ultimately claims that it was a man named Dickenson who transcribed the diary, because Symmes had hurt his hand; “his [symmes’] right arm was disabled, and… [Dickinson] had acted as the amanuensis.”

Many of the passages of the diary are plausible in content, but the prose style is too mature to be that of a young adolescent. Pickard’s defensive tone in writing about the diary is itself strongly suggestive of deception; numerous times he claims that if readers are not initially convinced of the legitimacy of the diary, they need only look at the excerpts to become so. “I [Pickard] believe, however, that the internal evidence of the master’s hand will convince all who read these pages that they have before them a genuine work by one of the greatest of American authors.” Consider the following narrative:

This morning I saw at the grist-mill a solemn faced old horse, hitched to the trough. He had brought for his owner some bags of corn to be ground, who, after carrying them to the mill, walked up to his uncle Richard’s store, leaving his half-starved animal in the cold wind, with nothing to eat, while the corn was being turned to meal. I felt sorry, and nobody being near, thought it best to have a talk with the old nag, and said, ‘Good-morning, Mr. Horse, how are you to-day?’  ‘Good–morning youngster,’ said he, just as plain as a horse can speak, and then said, ‘I am almost dead, and I wish I was quite. I am hungry, have had no breakfast, and must stand here tied by the head while they are grinding the corn, and until master drinks two or three glasses of rum at the store, and then drag him and the meal up the Ben Ham hill, and home, and am so weak that I can hardly stand. Oh, dear, I am in a bad way,’ and the old creature cried—I almost cried myself.
Just then the miller went downstairs to the meal trough. I heard his feet on the steps, and, not thinking much what I was doing, ran into the mill, and taking the four quart toll-dish nearly full of corn out of the hopper, carried it out and poured it into the trough before the horse, and placed the dish back before the miller came up from below. When I got out, the horse was laughing, but he had to eat slowly, because the bits were in his mouth. I told him that I was sorry, but did not know how to take them out, and should not dare to, if I did, for his master might come out of the store suddenly and see what I was about.

The story goes on to relate how the boy finds and then discards the master’s favorite whipping stick, and how the horse eventually walks away. The subject matter is puerile and the narrative naïve in tone, but the syntax, subordination, and punctuation suggest the sophistication of parody.

The few authentic early specimens of Hawthorne’s juvenile prose sound stilted by comparison, and reveal a writer trying to sound older than he is, not younger, as in the excerpt above.  Consider the sixteen-year-old Hawthorne’s stuffy announcement of intent regarding a newspaper for family members which he and his sister Ebe published in August and September of 1820:

To commence a periodical publication at a time in which the Press is already overflowing with them may appear to many to be unnecessary, and to raise it to eminence among the crowd of its rivals, is certainly a work requiring both industry & talents. The personal inducements to such an attempt must be inconsiderable; for wealth does not lie in the path of literature; and the wreath of Genius is not bestowed upon efforts so humble as these. Although we would not insinuate that in commencing this Publication we are guided solely by disinterested motives, yet the consideration that we may reform the morals, and instruct and amuse the minds of our Readers, that we may advance the cause of Religion, and give to truth and justice a wider sway, has been of the greatest weight with us (57).

At the same time, informal letters written by Hawthorne in 1819, with their lapses in grammar and punctuation, look about right for someone in his early to mid teens. Consider the short letter Hawthorne wrote to his Uncle Richard on May 16th, 1819 recounting quotidian details of life in Raymond:

Dear Uncle

We have received your letters and are all very well. The grass and some of the trees look very green. the roads are very good. there is no snow on Lymington Mountains.  the Fences are all finished and the garden is laid out and planted. Two of the goats are on the island and we keep the other one for her milk. the ram threatened to kill Louisa without any provocation and has behaved so bad that Mother did not think it safe to keep him and Mr Ham has got him. I have shot a partridge and a henhawke, and caught 18 large trout out of our brooke I am sorry you intend to send me to school again. Mother says she can hardly spare me We hear nothing of Dr Brown and expect he is lost in the woods. I hope you will soon recover your health as I wish to see you very much.

Nath Hawthorne

It seems impossible that the excerpt from the diary and this letter were written by the same person during the same time period. Stylistic evidence is convincing only in so far as passages in the diary “sound like” the mature Hawthorne to scholars steeped in his oeuvre, but here again we are almost certainly dealing with Pickard’s skill as a parodist of the mature Hawthorne

External evidence takes into account the accuracy of textual details measured against known historical facts and/or references, and here again there are major problems. With the diary several notable – and egregious – discrepancies come into play. The most glaring are matters of chronology, one of which concerns the drowning incident described on pages 61-62. “A young man named Henry Jackson, Jr., was drowned two days ago, up in Crooked River.” A Henry Jackson Jr. did in fact drown in the Crooked River, but in the year 1828, when Hawthorne was twenty-four. He was long gone from Raymond, had graduated from Bowdoin College, and had just published his first romance, Fanshawe. A second chronological problem concerns orthography. Pickard claims that the true spelling of the Hawthorne name at the time was `Hawthorne’ rather than `Hathorne’; “He [Hawthorne] had found that the proper spelling was Hawthorne, and himself made the change.” In fact, Hawthorne did not change his name from `Hathorne’ to Hawthorne until he attended Bowdoin College, possibly to distance himself from his notorious ancestor, John Hathorne, one of the judges at the Salem witch trials. The diary refers to Hawthorne’s mother as “Mrs. Hawthorne,” but Hawthorne’s mother went by her husband’s name, “Hathorne,” all her life. The diary claims that Hawthorne had learned to swim in 1818, but chose not to because of his mother’s disapproval; “she [mother] will not consent to my swimming any more in the mill-pond…” Yet in a letter to his mother known to be authentic and dated July 11, 1820, Hawthorne explicitly states that he has just learned to swim: “I have just learned to swim, which I suppose you will be glad of.”  It is not only impossible that Hawthorne had learned to swim when the diary says he had, it is also unlikely that, if is mother truly did disapprove of swimming, Hawthorne would have said that she would “be glad of" his learning to swim. Finally, the diary presents Hawthorne’s mother as being “somewhat superstitious.” This assertion is refuted by Ebe Hawthorne, Nathaniel’s sister, who, in a letter to a cousin dated February 1, 1871, says, ‘She [their mother, Elizabeth C. Hathorne] not only did not believe in the supernatural, she never thought about it, and had no taste for ghost stories, or any thing of the sort. None of grandmother’s children ever had.” Although human memory is fallible, inconsistencies between the text of the diary and testimony by surviving members of the Hawthorne family is critical if not decisive.

Increasingly defensive in his attribution of the diary to the youthful Hawthorne, Pickard addresses the possibility of the diary being a hoax perpetrated by Symmes in an article published in The Dial dated September 6, 1901. “I have found that one of the items could not have possibly been written by Hawthorne, while it may have been forged by Symmes.” Again, this is Pickard’s way of conveniently shifting guilt to a shadowy figure long dead. As late as 1915, however, Pickard was still capable of flirting with the authenticity of the diary.

What were Pickard’s motives for faking the diary? Certainly one was his desire as a popular journalist to be taken seriously as a man of letters. Pickard had published a book-length biography of his wife’s uncle, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, in 1894, three year’s before the appearance of the Hawthorne diary. He labored over a revised version of that work in two volumes in 1907. Another motive may have been the perverse joy of deception. In his 1993 discrediting of a diary allegedly written by Jack the Ripper, noted autograph expert Kenneth Rendell observed: “forgers are not always motivated by money or fame – it can be the simple satisfaction of fooling the experts.” With respect to the Hawthorne diary, fabricated rather than forged, some or all of the following motives may also have come into play. 1.) Pickard’s genuine respect for Hawthorne the writer and a desire to connect his formative years with the State of Maine; 2.) Pickard’s professed desire to preserve the Manning house in Raymond as a literary shrine, though he never saw the project through; 3.) Pickard’s connection to Bowdoin, Hawthorne’s alma mater, and his gratitude for the honorary degree he had received three years earlier and; 4.) Pickard’s apparent need to earn some money. Even after he felt compelled to take the diary out of print in 1902, Pickard put out fliers to “puff the availability of ‘a few copies’ of the diary, ‘a most remarkable curiosity of literature.'” The flier vaunts: “I have a few copies of the book in my possession, which, so long as they last, will be sent to any address for $1.00, with 8 cents for postage.”

The diary is perhaps best seen as a harmless hoax which cleverly simulates Hawthorne’s mature prose style and weds it convincingly to the naïve point of view of a precocious boy of about Huck Finn’s age. The diary, in effect, created a supply of “information” for which there was a demand given Hawthorne’s largely undocumented early years in Maine. Pickard rode on Hawthorne’s stellar reputation at the close of the nineteenth century, and in a charming bit of literary legerdemain in his own small way magnified it.
Works cited:

Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Pearce, Roy Harvey. “Hawthorne as a Collector’s Item” Hawthorne Centenary Essays. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1964.

Erlich, Gloria C. “Who Wrote Hawthorne’s First Diary?” The Nathaniel Hawthorne Journal. (1977): 36-71.

Harrison, Shirley. The Diary of Jack the Ripper. New York: Hyperion. 1993.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Thomas Woodson, L. Neal Smith, and Norman Holmes Pearson. The Letters. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1984.

Miller, Edward Haviland. Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life Of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991.

Pickard, Samuel Thomas. Hawthorne’s First Diary, With an Account of Its Discovery and Loss. Boston and: Houghton, Mifflin and Co, 1897.

Pickard, Samuel Thomas. “Is Hawthorne’s First Diary a Forgery?” The Dial. (1901): 155.

Wineapple, Brenda. Hawthorne: A Life. New York: Alfred C. Knopf, 2003.


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"We, like Ebe, can't discard it out of hand. If not by Hawthorne himself, the passages were written by someone who knew him and his family."

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