HAWTHORNE , Nathaniel  [1804 -1864]

On 18th July 1853 the SS Niagara dropped anchor in the River Mersey, its passengers including one of America’s most eminent writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne. (He was actually born Hathorne, adding the W in his early years, possibly to dissociate himself from an ancestor who had been a judge at the Salem with trials.) He had by this time published several novels, most notably the enduring work of 1850, The Scarlet Letter, and a biography of his good friend, the politician Franklin Pierce. A contemporary said of the latter work that “if he makes out Pierce to be a great man then it will indeed be his greatest work of fiction”. Nonetheless, the work must have been sufficiently positive to consolidate their friendship as when Pierce was elected President of the USA in 1853 he appointed Hawthorne to be US Consul in Liverpool, considered a diplomatic post second only to London, and one which was also believed to be financially lucrative and thus much welcome to a relatively poor author.

After a short stay in a seedy hotel the Hawthorne family moved to Mrs Blodgett’s boarding-house at 153 Duke Street L1. This accommodation was much to their liking, Hawthorne writing that it was

“the most comfortable, reasonable, hospitable, and delightful boarding-house that ever existed before or since; nor has nature been able to afford such another boarding-house keeper as Mrs. Blodgett,--so kind, so hearty, so generous, so unobtrusive, so friendly, so motherly. Never, certainly, has the present writer consumed so much food (in proportion to his weight and size) or of better quality than it was his good fortune to do during his sojourn beneath this excellent lady's roof. She was stout and rotund of figure, rosy and smiling of countenance, with brown curls on each side of her face, a clean white cap, a black dress, and (for the most part) a white apron. She also wore spectacles. Her cuisine was superb; her servants perfectly disciplined, everything went with the regularity and certainty of the solar system; she loved all her boarders, and they all loved her”

Hawthorne spent most of his sojourn in Liverpool living on the banks of the Mersey at Rock Ferry, commuting daily by steam ferry to his work in Liverpool. However, when his wife and daughters went on a visit to Madeira he and his son returned to Mrs Blodgett’s and lived there for the best part of a year.

We are fortunate that both Hawthorne’s lodgings in Duke Street and the American Consulate are still standing each having been at one time quite derelict. The Consulate stood on the edge of Steers Dock, the building is now to be found in the Liverpool One development. After the consulate closed it was put to various uses and is probably best known as the onetime Eagle pub. The decorative bald eagle which dominates the frontage has, in recent years, undergone major renovation but should, according to its renovator, now be good for another 200 years.

Despite the fact that Hawthorne could earn $2 for each export invoice he signed (and there could be as many as 25 per day) he did not generally relish his time in the job. He was not known as a sociable man, reflected in his comment that “I have received and been civil to at least 10,000 visitors and I never wish to be civil to anyone again”. Of the fellow citizens he was supposed to be serving, he lamented the preponderance of “brutal ships’ masters, drunken sailors, vagrant Yankees, sick people and dead people”.

When Franklin Pierce left office in 1857 Hawthorne too lost his post. He stayed on in the city for another couple of years, taking the advantage of touring Europe before returning to the USA in 1860.

Born on 4th July 1804 at Salem, Massachusetts, he died aged 59 at Plymouth, New Hampshire on May 19th 1864.

153 Duke Street  L1

The picture on the left shows the house as it was about 5 years ago - virtually derelict. On the right the building in 2022. An excellent example of saving a building that is not only appealing to look at but has a bit of history worth saving.  A permanent reminder of the excellence of Mrs Blodgett.

US Consulate to Sony Centre via Eagle pub.

The picture om the left shows the building after the Eagle pub has closed. On the right as it is in 2022 with renovated bald eagle in place.


The Wikipedia entry is a reasonable summary of his life. The Atlantic magazine website has an interesting article on the English Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I have an interesting extract from a book on Hawthorne (Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, By Julian Hawthorne, 1884 Chapter 1 First Months in England) but this no longer appears to be on the web. If anyone would like a copy please email me - it is about 12 pages long.