The Best of Beston:

The Natural World of Henry Beston from Cape Cod to the St. Lawrence

Henry Beston, whose Outermost House is generally considered an imperishable classic of nature writing, was a poet who just happened to write prose. He was a meticulous observer, an early (and unsung) conservationist, and a prolific writer of letters, essays, and poetry, as well as books. Here, selected by his wife, Elizabeth Coatsworth (no mean writer herself), is a selection of his best — from The Outermost House to lengthy pieces from Northern Farm, Herbs and the Earth, and American Memory (one of the first studies to give the proper perspective on the role of the American Indian). The last section, “North of Maine,” contains portions of The St. Lawrence, one of the most memorable of the “Rivers of America” series. Beston was as close as this past century came to Henry David Thoreau. Anyone involved with nature, its protection and its celebration, should know his work.

One of the few writers who can match his prose to the mood of nature. —The New York Times

Henry Beston Sheahan was in born in Boston in 1888, and grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts with his parents, Dr. Joseph Sheahan and Marie Louise (Maurice) Beston Sheahan, and brother George. Beston attended Adams Academy in Quincy before earning his B.A. (1909) and M.A. (1911) from Harvard College.

After leaving Harvard, 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.

Following the end of World War I, Beston began writing fairy tales under the name “Henry Beston”. In 1919, The Firelight Fairy Book was published, followed by The Starlight Wonder Book in 1923. During this time, he worked as an editor of The Living Age, an offshoot of The Atlantic Monthly. He also met his future wife Elizabeth Coatsworth, a fellow author of children’s literature, during this time. They were married in 1929, and in 1932, had a daughter, Kate Barnes.

Beston died on April 15, 1968 in Nobleboro, Maine, and is buried in a small cemetery at Chimney Farm.

Elizabeth Coatsworth was born in Buffalo, New York on May 31, 1893, but she lived in Massachusetts and Maine for most of her life. At the young age of 5, she lived both in the Alps and the Egyptian deserts. Coatsworth authored more than one hundred books. While it is the stories she wrote for children that have gathered the most attention and are best remembered today, she also wrote adult fiction and poetry, as well as memoirs. There is a common thread running through all of Coatsworth’s writing though, and that is the reverence she had for her home state of Maine. She began her career publishing her poetry in magazines. Her first book was a poetry collection for adults, Fox Footprints, in 1912. Coatsworth graduated from Vassar College in 1915 as Salutatorian. In 1916, she received a Master of Arts from Columbia University. In 1929, Elizabeth was married to the author of The Outermost House, Henry Beston, and with him had a daughter, Kate Barnes. After the marriage, the couple divided their time between an old house overlooking the harbor of Hingham, Massachusetts, and “Chimney Farm” located in Maine. Elizabeth was very accomplished in the area of literature and writing. Not only did she write poetry, but was also a novelist and an author of children’s stories, winning the Newbury Medal in 1931 for The Cat Who Went to Heaven.