Edward Everett Hale’s father was editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser, his uncle was the distinguished orator Edward Everett, and his great-uncle was the legendary patriot Nathan Hale. His own career reflected the patriotic zeal, religious devotion, and humanitarian interests with which his family name had long been associated. Hale graduated from Harvard University in 1839, taught at the Boston Latin School, studied theology, and then entered the ministry as a Unitarian clergyman. Hale married Emily Perkins in 1852; one of their children was Edward Everett Hale, Jr., who later collaborated with his father.
Hale was a moralist and reformer who worked indefatigably as a preacher and as a founder and organizer of charitable societies, seeking to correct what he felt to be injustices in the American scene. He was most highly regarded as a writer of short stories, which often appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, though he also produced innumerable essays, novels, tracts, travel books, histories, children’s books, and sermons. His short story “The Man Without a Country,” probably his best-known work, was first published in 1863 and later appeared in If, Yes, and Perhaps; it was written to arouse patriotic sentiments and thus rally people to the faltering Union cause. The same volume also featured the story “My Double, and How He Undid Me.” The moral import of Hale’s stories and their pedagogical approach to social and moral problems is perhaps best indicated by the fact that several of them led to the formation of religious and charitable organizations; paradoxically, those same qualities may make his stories less compelling to modern readers. Another story, “The Brick Moon,” which appeared in His Level Best, and Other Stories, later attracted attention for being the first science-fiction story to describe an inhabited artificial satellite.
In Hale’s later years, he earned many honors, including honorary degrees from Harvard, Dartmouth, and Williams, and he served as chaplain of the United States Senate.