Hawthorne and His Mosses | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Hawthorne and His Mosses | Quotes

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1.

It may be, however, that all this while, the book, like wine, was only improving in flavor and body.


Herman Melville

Melville waited four years to read Mosses from an Old Manse after it was published, and he was so pleasantly surprised by what he read that he felt the book had become better over time. Melville had heard good things about the book and had seen it in stores but had never read it until right before writing this essay.

2.

Such touches are in this piece cannot proceed from any common heart.


Herman Melville

Melville demonstrates his admiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–64) by complimenting the details of his writing. He refers to Hawthorne's unique style and depth which are more than a reader could expect from a typical person.

3.

Where Nathaniel Hawthorne is known, he seems to be deemed a pleasant writer, with a pleasant style,—a sequestered, harmless man, from whom any deep and weighty thing would hardly be anticipated.


Herman Melville

Nathaniel Hawthorne was fairly well known in America in the mid-nineteenth century, but Melville claims most people misunderstand him. Most people considered Hawthorne to be pleasant and his writing not very deep, but Melville insists there is more to his writing than initially meets the eye.

4.

Indian-summer sunlight on the hither side of Hawthorne's soul, the other side—like the dark half of the physical sphere—is shrouded in a blackness, ten times black.


Herman Melville

Indian summer describes unusually warm weather in the autumn season. The image of "Indian-summer sunlight" produces a pleasant and light feeling which Melville states is one side of Nathaniel Hawthorne's soul. He claims that Hawthorne has a much darker side that sometimes appears in his writing and should be noticed and appreciated.

5.

But it is those deep far-away things in him; those occasional flashings-forth of the intuitive Truth in him; those short, quick probings at the very axis of reality;—these are the things that make Shakespeare, Shakespeare.


Herman Melville

Melville explains that William Shakespeare's unique style and occasional depth make him the world-renowned writer that he is. Melville writes that both men were exceptional writers due to their darker qualities and the sides of their writing that often are not as appreciated.

6.

And so, much of the blind, unbridled admiration that has been heaped upon Shakespeare, has been lavished upon the least part of him.


Herman Melville

William Shakespeare was known and loved for his work as a poet and playwright, but Melville insists that people admire him for the wrong reasons. There is more to Shakespeare than most people see, and the less apparent, darker, and more serious parts of him are the best parts. Melville feels that Hawthorne has received similar treatment.

7.

The great mistake seems to be, that even those Americans who look forward to the coming of a great literary genius among us, they somehow fancy he will come in the costume of Queen Elizabeth's day ...


Herman Melville

Many Americans still regarded old British authors to be the best writers. By 1850 when this essay was published, writers like William Shakespeare who was active during the 1558–1603 reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1503–1603) had been gone for over a century. Melville wanted Americans to realize that there would be more great literature produced but that the writers and the styles would be much different and potentially better than the old English tales they were used to.

8.

Whereas, great geniuses are parts of the times; they themselves are the times; and possess a correspondent coloring.


Herman Melville

Melville explains that people are a product of their time and that the next great writers will have a unique style that is created by current events and settings of the American experience. For example William Shakespeare's writing involved stories of English royalty and lifestyles of the time. Melville claims that modern American writers will develop their own style based on current events and experiences that will be relatable to many people.

9.

... while their Shiloh was meekly walking in their streets, were ... looking for him in a chariot, who was already among them on an ass.


Herman Melville

Many people during Melville's time in the mid-nineteenth century were familiar with religious stories such as that of Shiloh. Shiloh is a figure mentioned in the Bible that Melville references by stating that the Jews searched and prayed for Shiloh even though he was right in front of them. This example supports Melville's assertion that there are great American writers producing admirable work but that people were overlooking them in favor of older writing or British authors.

10.

This, too, I mean, that if Shakespeare has not been equalled, he is sure to be surpassed, and surpassed by an American born now or yet to be born.


Herman Melville

After Melville compares Nathaniel Hawthorne to William Shakespeare, he broadens the idea to include all American writers and the American public's attitude toward their writing. Melville claims that even though people still feel that Shakespeare is the best, there is or will soon be an American author who is just as talented and likely even better. Because this essay is focused on Hawthorne, Melville may be suggesting that Hawthorne is equally as talented or has the potential to be even better than Shakespeare.

11.

Nor has Nature been all over ransacked by our progenitors, so that no new charms and mysteries remain for this latter generation to find.


Herman Melville

Melville makes several references and metaphors involving nature in this essay. During the mid-nineteenth century, large cities were taking over nature in some areas of the United States, but there was still ample natural space that hadn't been "ransacked" or taken over by man-made structures. Melville compares this scenario to that of the literature field. He explains that there are still many things to inspire new writing and original ideas in future generations.

12.

And while she has good kith and kin of her own, to take to her bosom, let her not lavish her embraces upon the household of an alien.


Herman Melville

Melville encourages Americans to support American authors. He employs the use of a metaphorical woman as an example by writing that she should take care of her own friends and family before strangers.

13.

But it is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation.


Herman Melville

Melville suggests that American writers should focus on developing their own distinct style of writing with original ideas rather than trying to recreate or imitate British literature. Even if an American author's writing is not successful, it is better to have been original than to copy.

14.

The smell of your beeches and hemlocks is upon him; your own broad prairies are in his soul ... you will hear the far roar of his Niagara.


Herman Melville

Melville paints a picture of the American landscape with trees, prairies, and even Niagara Falls. Melville's focus on these uniquely American natural features is used as a metaphor for the originality of American writers. He claims that these parts of nature are part of American authors' souls to create their deep and noble nature.

15.

But already I feel that this Hawthorne has dropped germinous seeds into my soul.


Herman Melville

Melville uses nature to summarize the profound impact that reading Mosses from an Old Manse has on him. A germinous seed is a young plant about to sprout which means that Hawthorne's writing has caused new thoughts to develop and Melville's soul has grown.

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