Concord: The Heart of Transcendentalism
"The marble walk that leads up to [Emerson's] door has
been trodden by the feet of many pilgrims from all parts of the world, drawn
thither by their love and reverence for him. In that famous study, his
townspeople have had the privilege of seeing many of the great and good men and
women of our time, and learning of their gracious host the finest lessons of
true courtesy. I have often seen him turn from distinguished guests, to say a
wise or kindly word to some humble worshipper sitting modestly in a corner,
content merely to look and listen, and who went away to cherish that memorable
moment long and gratefully."
~Louisa May Alcott, from an article in The Youth's Companion
While much of the exchange
Transcendentalists occurred in Boston, without a doubt the
heart of the movement was in the nearby small town of Concord. Located just twenty miles west of Boston, Concord was the birthplace for
Henry David Thoreau and a long-time home for members of Ralph Waldo
Emerson's extended family. Having spent boyhood summers in the town,
Emerson settled here as an adult. The Hawthornes and Alcotts also lived in
the small town for some years.
By the 1850s, Concord had become a pilgrimage destination, as people from
all over the United Statesóand indeed the worldócame to pay homage to
the great sage, Ralph
Waldo Emerson. This timeline
of events provides an excellent overview of the Transcendentalist
movement in Concord. To visualize the area, see this excellent
collection of historical maps of Concord.
Map of Concord (Library of Congress Geography and Maps
Earlier in its history, Concord had been the
site of the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Visitors to Concord should
consider the factors that contributed to the small
town's emergence as a crucial place in American history and culture.
Useful in getting oriented in Concord is the Minute Man National Historical
Park. To explore Concord with more "virtual depth," see the back
issues of Concord Magazine.
And before you take an actual trip to Concord, be sure you can talk
like a local! Take a look at two "virtual booklets":
in Images and Nature
Concord River from the North Bridge (Library of Congress, Prints and
Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection, det 4a22974).
a doubt, the place to stop in Concord is the
Concord Museum, built on part
of the Emerson apple orchard. Here visitors can see Emerson's study,
brought in full from the Emerson House (across the street from the
museum), as well as Thoreau's desk, walking stick, and bedstead from his cabin at
Left: "Henry David Thoreau" (Richard
Smith, center), with Shepherd College class, Concord Museum, Concord,
Massachusetts (collection of Linda Tate).
The most famous home within
Concord proper is the home Nathaniel Hawthorne dubbed "The
Old Manse." Inhabited by several generations of ministers in
Emerson's family, the Old Manse was both the
home of Ralph Waldo Emerson and, later, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife,
Sophia Peabody Hawthorne.
Visitors can learn more about the Old Manse by watching this 11-minute
video about the house.
It was here that Emerson wrote
"Nature," the 1836 essay that marked the start of the
Transcendentalist movement. Here also, Hawthorne wrote a famed collection
of prose pieces, Mosses from an Old Manse, in which he describes
garden. The Hawthornes got to know Thoreau while they lived in this
home. Read Hawthorne's description of Thoreau in his journal.
Later, Emerson moved to another house across from the Concord Museum,
and the Hawthornes moved to the Wayside (next door to Orchard House). Read Linda's thoughts about the Old
Left, top: The Old Manse, Concord, Massachusetts
(photo by Anna Hughes).
Left, bottom: The Wayside (Library of Congress, Prints and
Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection, det 4a31668).
Located nearby is Orchard House,
where the Bronson
Alcott family lived for some time. Orchard House is open to the
public, and visitorsóincluding cyber visitorsócan tour the rooms of Orchard
House. The rooms still feature daughter May Alcott's drawings. Because the
family had little money for art supplies, the Alcotts allowed their gifted
daughter to draw directly on the walls. The drawings are still preserved
exactly as May first drew them. Particularly notable in this family were the father, Bronson
Alcott, and his daughter, Louisa
May Alcott, called by one source the "daughter
Directly next to Orchard House is Bronson Alcott's School of
Philosophy, part of his effort to reform education. Read
Catherine's thoughts on
Bronson Alcott, and then be sure to read what
Tiffany has to say about him.Read Linda's reflections on Louisa
Left, top: Orchard House (photo by Catherine Hall).
Left, bottom: School of Philosophy (photo by Catherine Hall).
After leaving the Old Manse,
established his own home in Concord. It was here that many visitors
came to talk with the great founder of Transcendentalism. Margaret
the leading woman in the Transcendentalist movement and the editor of the
Transcendentalist magazine, The Dial, said this in an 1842 letter
to Emerson: "I like to be in your library when you are out of it.
It seems a sacred place. I came here to find a book, that I might feel
more life and be worthy to sleep, but there is so much soul here I do not
need a book. . . ."
Left: Emerson House, Concord, Massachusetts
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing
Company Collection, LC-D4-11360 DLC).