Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1862, oil on canvas by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze
One of the enduring myths of America is that it has no history but exists in the liberating freedom of the present moment. Nathaniel Hawthorne's novels, fables, and "tales" were a cautionary lesson to Americans who ignored the past. (Hawthorne knew the more optimistic writers represented in this room but was friends with none of them.) His writings secularized the harsh Puritan worldview of his Salem birthplace to remind Americans that actions had consequences, both for individuals and communities. His novels turn on the clash of the individual will-from the lovers in The Scarlet Letter (1850) to the naive philanthropist of The Blithedale Romance (1852)-against the implacability of society and nature. Hawthorne's sympathies are often with his rebels, but his philosophy requires their defeat. It was perhaps the irreconcilability of these viewpoints that led to his artistic decline in the 1850s.