On September 23, 1897, Frances Glessner sat down at her desk at The Rocks, her summer estate in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and paraphrased the popular poem “My Symphony” by William Henry Channing. She wrote:
“To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
And refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy not respectable and
Wealthy, not rich; to study hard,
Think quiet, talk gently, act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes
And sages with open heart;
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely;
Await occasion, hurry never;
In a word, to let the spiritual,
Unbidden and unconscious
Grow up through the common.”
Family friend Isaac Scott took the words and elegantly lettered them onto paper, surrounding the whole with a beautifully executed pen and watercolor border of leaves, and set the work within a simple mahogany frame. Frances Glessner added “F.G. Sept. 23, 1897” at the lower right hand corner.
What led Frances Glessner to paraphrase the popular poem is unknown. Her journal entry for the day consists of just one sentence noting the departure from The Rocks of her son’s friend Dwight Lawrence. In spite of the unknown motivation, the piece says a great deal about who Frances Glessner was and what she believed was important in her life. The words are so appropriate that if one did not know the origin of the poem, it could easily be believed that the poem was written for and about her.
The framed poem hangs on the wall of Frances Glessner’s dressing room and many visitors have noted the beautiful sentiment and requested copies through the years.
The original author of the poem was William Henry Channing, an American Unitarian clergyman, writer, and philosopher. Born in Boston, he was raised by his uncle William Ellery Channing, a prominent Unitarian theologian. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1833 and was ordained in the Unitarian church two years later. Throughout his life, he took a strong interest in social reorganization, Christian socialism, and Transcendentalism. After serving a Unitarian church in England, he returned to the U.S. during the Civil War where he took charge of a church in Washington, D.C. and served as Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1863 and 1864. A prolific writer and member of the Transcendental Club, he corresponded regularly with Ralph Waldo Emerson. He died in London in 1884. The poem “My Symphony” is his best known work today.