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The Old Manse July 1, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
Tags: , , , ,

I recently visited The Old Manse in Concord. This museum provides its visitors a glimpse into the lives of its two most famous inhabitants, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Here are three nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. In 1780, Ezra Ripley married Phebe Emerson, the widow of William Emerson – who had died in 1776 after falling ill on his return trip to Massachusetts after addressing the colonial troops at Fort Ticonderoga. Phebe already had five children with Emerson, and she would have three more with Ripley. Ripley was an extremely assiduous minister who wrote approximately three thousand sermons during his 63-year career in the pulpit at Concord. He spent about five hours writing each sermon in his study while standing at his desk; he would then spend two hours every Sunday at church.

2. Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, were very much in love. For the first year-and-a-half of their marriage, they wrote nightly love letters to each other; they continued writing love letters to each other, albeit less frequently, for the rest of their marriage. Sophia used her diamond-encrusted ring to carve out love notes on the glass windowpanes of the Old Manse; she carved one of these notes – featuring a reference to Endymion – while holding their first daughter, Una. Tragically, Una contracted a combination of typhoid fever and malaria on a family trip to Italy; she was treated with arsenic and mercury, which led to her premature death.

3. Ralph Waldo Emerson was inculcated with an intellectual mindset at an early age. When he was eight, his aunt, Mary Moody, wrote him letters replete with debate-stirring queries, and he responded in kind; they would discuss issues including abolition and womens’ rights in the process. He also experienced many tragedies, including the premature deaths of two siblings and the loss of his first love, Ellen Tucker. These heart-wrenching events drove him into a period of soul-searching in Europe, and he earnestly sought a proper understanding of his relationship with God. Eventually he formulated Transcendental ideas on this subject that spurred him to write Nature.

The museum housed a treasure trove of historical artifacts, including the desk that Hawthorne used to compose Mosses from an Old Manse, a fragment of wallpaper that was sold while the Stamp Act was being enforced, and a clock from the Revolutionary War era that, amazingly, still worked. The tour guide was quite informative and was clearly passionate about Transcendentalism and the history of the Old Manse, which was neat.

The one quibble that I had concerned the fact that the house is only shown by guided tours that begin on the hour; the impression that I got from the website was that these hourly restrictions did not apply to the summer months. I arrived about ten minutes after a tour had commenced, causing me to miss the tour guide’s descriptions of the first two rooms on the first floor.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would definitely recommend it to history buffs and those with a keen interest in the Transcendental movement.



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