Discipline: Literature

Henry Beston

Discipline: Literature
MacDowell fellowships: 1922
Henry Beston (1888–1968) was an American writer and naturalist, best known as the author of The Outermost House, written in 1928. Born Henry Beston Sheahan, he attended Adams Academy in Quincy, MA, before earning his B.A. (1909) and M.A. (1911) from Harvard College. While at Harvard, he lived at the historic Parson Capen House in Topsfield, Massachusetts. In 1912, Beston took up teaching at the University of Lyon. In 1914 he returned to Harvard as an English department assistant. Beston joined the French army in 1915 and served as an ambulance driver. His service in le Bois le Pretre and at the Battle of Verdun was described in his first book, A Volunteer Poilu. In 1918, Beston became a press representative for the U.S. Navy. Highlights from this period include being the only American correspondent to travel with the British Grand Fleet and to be aboard an American destroyer during combat engagement and sinking. His second book of journalistic work, Full Speed Ahead, described these experiences. In 1919, The Firelight Fairy Book was published, followed by The Starlight Wonder Book in 1923. The Outermost House, now considered a Cape Cod nature literary classic, was written after Beston spent what he called "a year of life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod." Spiritually shaken by his experiences in World War I, Beston retreated to the outer beach at Eastham in search of peace and solitude, and wrote The Outermost House has been called one of the motivating factors behind the establishment of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Author Rachel Carson said that Beston was the only author who ever influenced her writing. Beston wrote several more books while living in Maine (Northern Farm and Herbs and the Earth among them), but never again approached the overall quality that he achieved in The Outermost House. In the 1940s, Beston received honorary doctorates from Bowdoin College, Dartmouth College, and University of Maine and was made honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard. He was also made honorary editor of National Audubon Magazine. Beston lectured regularly at Dartmouth College and wrote for publications like The Atlantic and Christian Science Monitor throughout the 1950s. He also revised his earlier work in children's literature and published Henry Beston's Fairy Tales in 1952. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) in 1954. In 1959, he was the third recipient of the AAAS' Emerson-Thoreau Medal, previously awarded to only Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot. Beston donated the "Fo'castle" to the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1959. One of its tenants was a woman from Sharon, Massachusetts named Nan Turner Waldron, who would spend several weeks each year there from 1961 to 1977. Her experiences are chronicled in the book Journey to Outermost House. With his health deteriorating, Beston returned to the beach in Eastham one last time on October 11, 1964, when his famous house was dedicated as a National Literary Landmark. Beston died on April 15, 1968 in Nobleboro, Maine, and is buried in a small cemetery at Chimney Farm. Chimney Farm was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. The outermost house was carried away by extreme tides during a winter hurricane in February 1978.