NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, Grandfather’s Chair, Boston: Tappan and Dennet, 1841

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNEGrandfather’s Chair, Boston: Tappan and Dennet, 1841

This little treasure is an 1841 edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Grandfather’s Chair, the first of three books he wrote in the early 1840s about America’s early history. In it, four children crowd around their grandfather’s chair as he tells them about the Puritan settlers and their descendants who supposedly owned it. This narrative technique is a prime example of Hawthorne’s idea of what he termed “imaginative authority”: the use of invented elements (such as the chair) to interest children in history lessons. The book is open to a passage in the preface that highlights both Hawthorne’s objectives and his misgivings:

The author’s great doubt is, whether he has succeeded in writing a book which will be readable by the class for whom he intends it. To make a lively and entertaining narrative for children, with such unmalleable material as is presented by the sombre, stern, and rigid characteristics of the Puritans, is quite as difficult an attempt, as to manufacture delicate playthings out of the granite rocks on which New England is founded.

Boston Public Library, Rare Books & Manuscripts