Thursday 18 December 2014

Homes of famous writers - RW Emerson and CS Lewis - and the best reason for a pilgrimage to experience them

It is a strange thing to visit the home of a famous writer, and to be moved and inspired by the experience; because in many way, at many levels, the activity is clearly bogus.

To visit, decades or even centuries later, what is now a museum; a place mostly re-decorated, re-equipped and preserved rather than a working home... in a sense it shouldn't mean anything.

And of course, most of what it does mean is what we bring with us.

Most but not all.


The happy memorability of my visit to Ralph Waldo Emerson's house in Concord, Massachusetts is something that has stayed with me. The trick of memory makes me suppose Emerson standing in his hallway wearing his 'gaberlunzie' (a large dressing gown) - and I recollect the simple Aeolian harp placed near an open window (silent, at the time I saw it).

Partly this was from was a touching sincerity about the staff - who seemed very decent people, and who referred to 'Mr Emerson' as if he might at any moment return from a walk in the woods.


Or, The Kilns - home of CS Lewis. Although this was very straightforward suburban house of not so long ago; I nonetheless walked around it - and the grounds - in a kind of daydream. 

What was touching was the amount of love and work which had been put into rescuing and restoring the place - the actual house had been, for example, very dirty when inhabited by Lewis: ceilings and walls and soft furnishings stained with tobacco, and the carpets permeated with ash  - Jack and Warnie Lewis apparently did not use ashtrays, due to some belief that ash was 'good for' carpets.


So most of what is experienced is brought, much is a recreation rather than a survival of the past - but is there something more?

Does the actual stone, brick and wood - the architectural shapes, and landscape layouts - preserve memories of the past?

Yes, very obviously so - I would have thought. If the houses had been demolished and the materials removed to the foundations, or the building utterly lost but rebuilt as an accurate replica somewhere else, then visited - this magic would have been lacking.

But the continuous existence of the actual place itself sometimes preserves some residue of the people who had lived there for for many years.

This works for houses, villages, towns cities and even nations - in different degrees. The continuation of their structure in situ typically preserves the past in arcane ways - ways that may be available for us to experience, and this fact certainly can 'make a difference'. 

And that is what we travel on pilgrimages to experience.


1 comment:

drizzz said...

I've been to Concord three times and somehow managed to avoid Emerson's house although not really intentionally. However, I've always visited Walden and the Concord River and each time I've been there I've felt a overwhelming fondness for the place that is somewhat inexplicable even given the obvious literary connections.