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Henry Beston

Henry Beston, an American writer and Naturalist of some reputation, is best known for the classic work 'The Outermost House', published in 1925.

Born on June 1st in 1888, Beston was brought up in the family home in Quincy, Massachusetts, the son of Dr Joseph Sheahan and Marie Louise Beston Sheahan. He had one brother, George.

Henry Beston was well educated, and achieved both a B.A. - in 1909 - and an M.A. in 1911, at Harvard.

On leaving Harvard Beston moved to France and took up a position teaching at the University of Lyon, before returning to America, and Harvard, as an assistant in the English department. The First World War saw Beston enlist, unusually, in the French army where he saw service as an ambulance driver, and his first book - 'A Volunteer Poilu' - is a memoir of this period. By 1918 he had been requested as a press representative for the United States Navy, and he travelled aboard a destroyer that became engaged in much active combat. Again Beston wrote about the experience in his second book, entitled 'Full Speed Ahead'.

After the war he began to write fairy tales, a genre for which he would become renowned, and saw 'The Firelight Fairy Book' published in 1919, followed by 'The Starlet Wonder Book' in 1923. Around this time he met the woman who was to become his wife - Elizabeth Coatsworth, also a children's author - and edited a literary magazine.

His classic work - 'The Outermost House' - is rightly regarded as a modern classic. Written during a period of retreat to a house on the beach at Eastham, Cape Cod, Beston reflected on the spiritual awakening that his war action had brought to him, and attempted to find a level of peace in his new surroundings following the years of trauma and upheaval.

Beston developed great interest in the natural side of things - indeed, he is widely considered a founding father of the modern environmental movement - and the book became instrumental in drawing attention to the wonders, and tribulations, of nature and the natural cycle of things.

The house - a wooden framed building - had been built in 1925, and Beston would stay there over a period of around two years, with some interruptions. His experience of the severe and stunning storms that rage around Cape Cod during the winter months appear to have played a great part in shaping his experience, and with the only neighbours being the coastguards - a couple of miles away - Beston found the solitude he craved at The Outermost House.

First published in 1928, the book has rarely been out of print since and is a literary classic of the highest order, as well as an important work on nature and the environment.

Beston and Coatsworth married in 1929, and moved to Maine where they lived in a farmhouse. Henry Beston continued to write - notably the works 'Northern Farm' and 'Herbs and the Earth' - although it would prove difficult, maybe impossible, to reach the heights he had done with 'The Outermost House'.

He received honorary doctorates from a number of colleges and universities, and was also appointed honorary editor of a number of magazines.

Beston also edited a widely regarded book of writing on the State of Maine- 'White Pine and Blue Water' - in 1950, shortly after a twentieth anniversary edition of 'The Outermost House' had been published in 1949, thus keeping the book firmly in the public eye.

A regular lecturer at Dartmouth College, Beston also wrote for a number of magazines - Christian Science Monitor among them - during the 1950's, and published an anthology of fairy tales in 1952. A recipient of many notable literary awards, Henry Beston donated the 'Outermost House' - known by him as the 'Fo'castle' - at Cape Cod to the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1959, and further writers became tenants, carrying on the tradition that Beston had begun with his classic tome.

In October, 1964, Beston visited the Cape Cod beach house one final time, and saw it dedicated as a National Literary Landmark. He died, in Maine, on April 15th, 1968.

The passing of Henry Beston took from the world a literary giant, one of the few who have made an indelible impact by producing a work of true classic status. The final, most poignant moment, however, came ten years later when the house itself was swept away by a freak high tide - a result of one of the winter storms that had so captivated Henry Beston so many years before.