This essay was originally published in Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations, Volume 13.1 (April 2009) 3–20
Topics and Keywords
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Wales, Druids, Celts, the picturesque, ‘wild Wales’, Thomas Pennant. William Gilpin, William Sotheby, William Wordsworth, George Borrow
A little less than a year after Nathaniel Hawthorne assumed his post as American Consul to Liverpool, the celebrated author made the first of three weekend tours into neighbouring North Wales. First with his young British friend, Henry Bright, in July 1854, and then some two months later with his family—wife Sophia, and children Una, Julian and Rose—Hawthorne saw the celebrated sites and landscapes of this ancient home of Druids, Britons, and Celts. Terming the first visit with Bright a ‘very delightful tour,’ Hawthorne found the mountain scenery and sea vistas ‘picturesque,’ while medieval castles like Beaumaris ‘quite [came] up to my idea of what an old castle should be’ (21: 102, 99). Later, he would rhapsodize of Conway Castle that ‘nothing ever can have been so perfect in its own style, and for its own purposes, when it was first built; and now nothing else can be so perfect as a picture of ivy-grown, peaceful ruin.’ Sophia Hawthorne noted to James Fields, as she edited Hawthorne’s journals for publication over a decade later, that Nathaniel ‘was more enchanted with Conway than with any other ruin or place’ (21: 121, 737).
In sojourning in and writing about Wales, Hawthorne revealed himself alive, as ever, to the intellectual currents of the times, for Wales was of increasing interest to travelers and writers alike in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hawthorne’s beloved Samuel Johnson toured Wales in 1774; Thomas Pennant (an author with whom Hawthorne was familiar3) published A Tour in Wales, 1778–81, followed by a two-part Journey to Snowdon, 1781–83; and William Gilpin brought out Observations on the River Wye and Several Parts of South Wales in 1782, in which he popularized his theories of the picturesque and established Tintern Abbey as a premier picturesque destination. Additionally, Thomas Gray, William Sotheby, and William Wordsworth all published works that made prominent literary use of Welsh tours and sites and less than a decade after Hawthorne’s excursions, English author, linguist, and Welsh enthusiast George Borrow published his account of his journeys there, entitled Wild Wales (1863)….
About the author
Julie Hall, Sam Houston State University