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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter – tale

of adultery and obsession –

was published in 1850. In the year

the Crimean War began, he became

the U.S. Consul in Liverpool,

a post gifted by his friend the President.

He did not like the job despite the fees

from the cargoes of cotton and molasses

hoisted ashore. Whether in a Hansom cab

home to his family in lodgings in the town,

on the steam ferry to the rented villa

in the gated park on the Wirral,

or on the train to the rented house

on Southport’s Esplanade he felt too close

to the piratical-looking tars,

who washed up on the consulate steps.

His friend, Herman Melville – whose Moby Dick (tale

of arrogance and obsession) was published

in 1851 – had once been

a young sailor lost in the town’s quayside stews.


When he and his family did the Grand Tour

they set off from Liverpool, staying a week

with the Hawthornes in Southport. One evening

the writers took their cigars among the dunes

and, facing west across the twilight waves

of Liverpool Bay, spoke of providence,

eternity. Courageous innovators

that they were, no doubt each secretly,

that night, thought the other might have penned

the supreme fiction of their elusive land.

But the dark fields of the Republic

were rolling towards them – Little Bighorn

and Wounded Knee, Shiloh and Gettysburg.




© Copyright David Selzer
7 Responses
  • Alex Cox
    June 27, 2020

    Very nice! 20 years ago I borrowed a book from Frank Cottrell Boyce called Hawthorne’s Liverpool Diaries, intending to write a script about Melville’s visit and their passionate (what does that mean? I’m not sure) relationship. Never wrote the script and really must return the book to Frank.

    Have you read Redburn? It’s a cracking tale about a sea voyage to Liverpool, the desperate poverty of the city, and a mysterious detour to London.

    • David Selzer
      June 27, 2020

      Thanks, Alex. Yes, I’ve read Redburn, a ‘cracking tale, indeed – and plan, some day, to bring it and Moby Dick – a favourite novel – into a poem

    • David Selzer
      June 27, 2020

      Many thanks, Alex. That would have been an interesting Alex Cox movie! Did you have a working title?

      Redburn is indeed ‘a cracking tale’. I plan, some day, to include it and Moby Dick in a poem.

  • Ashen Venema
    June 28, 2020

    I did the main still photography to a film version of THE SCARLET LETTER by Wim Wenders. An early work, but not his most successful film. It was, however, a wonderful experience with some great actors, among them Senta Berger and Lour Castell, on the wild coast of Galicia. Also great camera work by Robby Muller. G
    My name was Heidemaria Weiss at the time 🙂 I should be mentioned under crew.

  • Alex Cox
    June 28, 2020

    Never came up with a title but I wrote twenty pages or so. This was back in the last century. If I can find them I shall send them to you for your amusement!

    Around 2008 Cain’s Brewery came up with Liverpool literary themed beermats and were going to issue a Redburn one. I am not sure that they did. Redburn and Last and First Men beermats would be collectors’ items.

  • John Huddart
    July 10, 2020

    To have lived in that gated park in Rock Ferry is one of the few distinctions I can presently claim. It was a ruin, with a bypass scheduled, which now runs free. Grandeur never so faded!

    And a great poem, with your usual sweep of literature and history thrown together with insight. And to have attracted such a fine array of admirers – I feel humbled in their presence!

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