Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and made his ambition to be a writer while still a teenager. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, where the poet Longfellow was also a student, and spent several years travelling in New England and writing short stories before his best-known novel The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850. His writing was not at first financially rewarding and he worked as measurer and surveyor in the Boston and Salem Custom Houses. In 1853 he was sent to Liverpool as American consul and then lived in Italy before returning to the US in 1860, where he died in his sleep four years later.
His interest in Greek mythology led him to suggest to Longfellow in 1838 that they collaborate on a story for children based on the legend of Pandora's Box, but this never materialized. He wrote A Wonder-Book between April and July 1851, adapting six legends most freely from Charles Anton's A Classical Dictionary (1842). He set out deliberately to 'modernize' the stories, freeing them from what he called 'cold moonshine' and using a romantic, readable style that was criticized by adults but proved universally popular with children.