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HALE, EDWARD EVERETT

HALE, EDWARD EVERETT (1822–1909). Born in Boston, Edward Everett Hale belonged to an old New England family. His great-uncle, Captain Nathan Hale, uttered the memorable cry, “I only regret that I have but one
life to lose for my country,” just before the British hanged him as a spy
during the Revolutionary War. A prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction,
Hale was by vocation a Unitarian minister. His essays include “The Naval
History of the American Revolution” (1888) and “Paul Jones* and Denis
Duval” (1857), an account of “the father of the American Navy.”
The work for which Hale is best known is his historical short story “The
Man without a Country” (1863), first published in The Atlantic Monthly,
later appearing in a collection of Hale’s fiction, If, Yes, and Perhaps . . .
(1868), and adapted into three films of the same name (1917, 1925, 1937).
The story’s narrator is a retired navy captain, Frederic Ingham, who with
the same name but in different guises narrates a number of Hale’s stories.
Ingham traces the career of Philip Nolan, an army officer whom Aaron Burr
entices into joining his treasonous plot. At his court-martial, Nolan rejects
the United States and is sentenced to a life of exile aboard American ships
where he will never again see or hear of his native land. Metaphorically,
Nolan is doomed to be forever adrift, forever at sea with himself.
An officer named Philip Nolan did exist, but he bore only superficial
resemblance to Hale’s protagonist. Nevertheless, many have assumed Hale’s
fictional narrative to be rooted in fact: a sermon on patriotism, on nationalism, and even (through incidents such as an encounter with a ship bearing
enchained Africans) on the evil of slavery. The numerous references to actual
people and events, as well as the absence of traditional techniques, such as
a turning point or plot surprises, create this verisimilitude.