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.