"his sketch of official life, introductory to THE SCARLET LETTER, has created an unprecedented excitement in the respectable community"
Public Domain"I again seize the public by the button" - illustration for The Custom-House (1920) - Credit: Hugh Thomson

When The Scarlet Letter was first published on March 16, 1850, the immediate response amongst the inhabitants of Hawthorne’s native Salem was outrage at his depiction of local characters in the introductory essay, ‘The Custom-House.’ A review in the Salem Register declared, “We were almost induced to throw down the book in disgust, without venturing on The Scarlet Letter, so atrocious, so heartless, so undisguised, so utterly inexcusable seemed his calumnious caricatures of inoffensive men, who could not possibly have given occasion for such wanton insults.”

Elsewhere, however, ‘The Custom-House’ was lauded for its demonstration of “how rich and exhaustless a fountain of mirth Hawthorne has at his command,” (Graham’s Magazine). The North American Review went further, averring that “this naughty chapter is more piquant than any thing in the book.” A range of contemporary opinion can be found here.