Like Walden Pond, the Old Manse in Concord, MA is another American literary shrine just minutes away from where I work. I visited it decades ago, but a couple of weeks ago the entire company got to go there.
Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in the place. Emerson wrote his essay “Nature” there; Hawthorne wrote the pieces he later collected in the book Mosses from an Old Manse.
The main feature of the house for me (the only thing I remembered from my first visit decades ago) is the little messages and sayings that Sophia Hawthorne etched on the window panes with her diamond ring; these give me a shivery sense of stepping into her long-ago life.
The original garden was planted by Thoreau, and it’s still maintained:
(The people handing out cider are new.)
The Old Manse overlooks Concord’s Old North Bridge. If you happened to be hanging out there on April 19, 1775, you would have heard “the shot heard round the world.” Here is Emerson’s poem “Concord Hymn,” which he wrote for the dedication of the Battle monument there in 1837:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
That first stanza still packs a wallop, doesn’t it?