During my New England road trip, I’ve visited several literary places. Now these are my own way of storing my memories. Whatever site I’ve been that relates to a literary figure, I categorize it as such. And it’s interesting to note the different sources of inspiration.
Thoreau went for the minimal, the Spartan way of existence. So he built a log cabin in the woods and kept only the simplest furniture. Why he only stayed for two years two months and two days may be self-explanatory. But no matter, we’re glad he had tasted the bare minimum for us so we can read all about it in his book.
By comparison, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, who owned those woods where Thoreau had his experiment, lived in relative luxury and comfort. Here’s his residence, not a mansion but still a handsome house.
And inside the Concord Museum I saw his study with a flashy fuchsia decor which Thoreau might not have raved about. Just might not, but one never knows. They were friends.
Ralph Waldo’s grandfather The Rev. William Emerson’s house, The Old Manse (Scottish term for ‘Minister’s House’), wasn’t shabby either. Quietly situated by the river, a historic residence where literary figures gathered and where Ralph Waldo had lived for a while and wrote Nature, which sparked the Transcendental Movement (1834-35).
Nathaniel Hawthorne had lived in the same house too for a few years (1842-45), writing a book called Mosses from an Old Manse. He enjoyed the garden immensely; it was planted by Thoreau in 1842 to celebrate Hawthorne’s marriage to Sophia Peabody. Hawthorne could have found inspiration right there among the beets.
Longfellow, on the other hand, was intrigued by an old tavern and boarding house he had stayed one time in 1862. A homestead made into a lodge for itinerant farmers and transient guests had put stories in the mind of the creative, hence the publication of the Poet’s Tales of a Wayside Inn. For its namesake, the premises had since been named Longfellow’s Wayside Inn.
Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House looks like a warm haven for story brewing too, even though the family could have used more material goods than their philosophically-minded father had provided:
Back to Nature, the aspiring young poet Edna St. Vincent Millay climbed to the top of Mt. Battie in Camden and beheld the magnificent bird’s eye view of Penobscot Bay. Sky and water pressed close into the impressionable mind of young Edna, triggering a catalyst reaction of permanent change.
For another, it’s the connection with the land, the toiling of the soil, the gathering of its fruits that inspired. He might have many roads to choose, but aren’t we glad Robert Frost had chosen orchard tending in Vermont and not the ones he did not; we get plenty of thoughts.
And for those born into affluence and wed into more, life was a choice of how to use the resources one gets. I’m glad that Edith Wharton had spent her fortune on something that can be left behind for me to set foot on, yes, The Mount.
I learned too that her legacy had been more than literary pleasures and architectural delights, but something more altruistic after she moved to Paris.
As WWI broke out, Wharton could have gone back to America for safe haven. But she stayed in France, and poured herself in the war efforts, which was inspiration in itself. Here I quote from The Mount’s webpage:
“She set up workrooms for unemployed seamstresses, convalescent homes for tuberculosis sufferers, hostels for refugees, and schools for children fleeing war-torn Belgium. In the first seven months of her efforts, nearly 900 refugees were cared for, “including the nuns and about 200 infirm old men and women, who are ‘children’ too … and could not be left alone in the ruins.” (Edith Wharton, New York Times, 1915)”
and the story didn’t end there… Click on the above link to read more.
Where does one find inspiration, motivation? The answer can vary as much as asking what I should eat today. But one thing I’d experienced on this trip was that life can be lived in myriads of ways, and with it comes inspiration; it could be as simple as a leaf on the ground, or as huge as a war. But I’ll choose the leaf, thank you.
Wherever I am, that’s a good start.
My New England Road Trip Series: