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In A Brown Study, 16 B

September 13, 2016

“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree”, a maxim long noted, but often forgotten. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s and Edgar Allan Poe’s childhoods remind us that the twigs of childhood become the trees of maturity.

After the three young children became orphans, Edgar, the middle child, became the foster child of John and Fanny Allan. John, a successful merchant in Richmond, Virginia, promised to give little Edgar, age 3, a liberal education and take care of him. The Allans gave Edgar their name, which he kept as his middle name, but they never adopted him and never understood his nature. John Allan required obedience, industry, and self control. His wife was a hypochondriac and accident-prone. They were not suited to be his parents.

When Edgar was six, John Allan took his business and his family to Europe, where Edgar was educated for six years. As business declined and his wife’s health worsened, John Allen returned to Richmond in debt, placing the lad in the academy of a local scholar. Edgar revealed a natural aptitude for language, and was competitive in sports. His foster father saw a fifteen year old’s capacity to turn moody, sulky and ill-tempered.

When John Allan inherited a fortune from an uncle in 1825, he sent Edgar to the University of Virginia where Poe received high marks in Latin and French, but was appalled by the general disregard for rules there. He began drinking peach brandy and gambling, seeming to his friends sad and melancholy. Poe accused his foster father of being parsimonious. He was found burning his furniture in his room to keep warm. He dropped out after his freshman year and enlisted in the army.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s uncles did not have money to send him to Harvard, but sent him to the newer Bowdoin College in Maine. For four years Hawthorne complained he was short of funds. He was not fond of studying, but enjoyed Latin and English. There he formed a few close friends, but began gambling at cards, drinking, smoking, and cutting classes. Later he wrote, “I was an idle student, negligent of college rules and the boring details of college life, rather choosing to nurse my own fancies.” He graduated in 1825, but left feeling unhappy and depressed. He had no profession and no livelihood, and realized authorship and starvation were synonymous.

Although they both desired to write, their childhood experiences and education influenced the remainder of their lives.

to be contd.


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