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A few words of preface are needed to explain the relation 
of this Life of Thoreau to the original edition issued by 
Messrs. Bentley in 1890. In that volume, which was 
published in England only, and at a time when Thoreau's 
writings, with the exception of Walden, were compara- 
tively little known, there were included a number of 
quotations from the Letters, Diaries, Excursions, etc., 
then inaccessible to the mass of English readers. In the 
new form of the book, abridged to meet the requirements 
of. a popular series, most of these passages have been 
omitted; but, on the other hand, I have been able to 
make some important corrections and additions, — thanks 
to the courtesy of Mr. F. B. Sanborn and other American 
friends, who have supplied me, during the past five years, 
with a large amount of information. I am especially 
indebted to Dr. S. A. Jones, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, 
and Mr. A. W. Hosmer, of Concord, from both of whom 
I have received most friendly aid and encouragement. 
By his invaluable Bibliography, and other labours full of 
sympathy and insight, Dr. Jones has earned the gratitude 
of all Thoreau-students ; and to him, as a slight acknow- 
ledgment of personal obligation, I take the liberty of 
inscribing this book. 

H. S. S. 

"(Breat Writers." 









The artificial and the natural; Henry Thoreau's birth and 
parentage ; the village of Concord : its inhabitants, 
scenery, climate, and traditions; Thoreau's boyhood; 
influences of heredity and association ; the Thoreau 
family ; his career at Harvard University : character and 
appearance ; opinion of college system ; early tendency 
to idealism ; devotion to Concord I 1 


Choice of a profession ; keeps the Concord "Academy"; the 
Transcendental movement ; effect on Thoreau ; abandon- 
ment of professional pursuits ; ,.^^4;iUMfttv.,qpe.u-i4rJife.; 
early writings ; youthful love and self-sacrifice ; his 
brother John ; week on the Concord River ; friendship 
with R. W. Emerson; connection with the Dial; the 
Concord transcendentalists ; Thoreau's residence with the 
Emersons ; friendship with Alcott, Margaret Fuller, 
Ellery Channing ; death of John Thoreau . . .30 




Influence of Emerson on Thoreau ; acquaintance with Haw- 
thorne; contributions to the Dial; the "Walk to 
Wachusett"; solitude and society; life in Emerson's 
family; tutorship in Staten Island; letters to the Emer- 
sons; visits to New York; new acquaintances; the Brook 
Farm community; Thoreau's individualism; plans for 
living in retirement; why he went to Walden . . .51 


^Walden Pond; site of Thoreau's hut ; building and furnishing; 
mode of life in the woods; simplicity of dress and diet; 
solitude; visitors from the village; fugitive slaves; refusal 
to pay poll-tax ; imprisonment; studies in natural history; 
reasons for leaving Walden ; value of Thoieat?s^p€RESSifrf" 66 


Thoreau's personal appearance ; mode of dress ; fitness of 
body and mind ; keenness of senses ; idealism ; its effect 
on his friendships ; dislike of society ; not a misanthrope ; 
*** sympathy with children; a Yankee Stoic; favourite 
2 authors; Oriental books; Greek and Latin classics; 
I Indian studies; love^of the wild; his walks; familiarity 
1 with wild animals ; a poet-naturalist ; magnetism of his 
^"^ character ~ r ^r""-* 86 


Second residence with the Emersons ; publication of the 
Week; domestic life at Concord; friendship with Harrison 
Blake; pencil-making, surveying, and lecturing; meets 
A. H, Clough; a fugitive slave assisted; publication of 



Walden ; new friends, Thomas Cholmondeley, Daniel 
Ricketson, F. B. Sanborn; meeting with Walt Whit- 
man; John Brown; visits to "Brooklawn"; Mr. Ricket- 
son's testimony 105 


Thoreau's mode of travelling ; excursions to Cape Cod ; the 
Yankee in Canada ; three excursions to the Maine Woods ; 
letter to T. W. Higginson ; love ofmountains ; the White 
Mountains; Monadnock . 122 


Signs of ill-health ; relations with editors ; death of Thoreau's 
father ; the Harper's Ferry incident ; Thoreau's " Plea 
for John Brown " ; a touchstone of his character ; appre- 
ciated by his townsmen; his confidence in the future; 
commencement of illness ; visit to Minnesota ; the Civil 
War ; Thoreau's last winter ; his courage and cheerfulness ; 
his death ; burial in " Sleepy Hollow" . . . 134 


Thoreau's aveision to system; idealism combined with practi- 
calness; originality; optimistic nature- worship ; views on 
religion; insistence on self-culture and self-respect ; dislike 
of "business"; a champion of individuality; his gospel 
of Simplicity ; his attitude towards civilisation, science, and 
art; misunderstandings of his doctrine; his tenderness; 
\ humanitarian views; sympathy with animals; peculiar 
position among naturalists; powers of observation; ideal- 
ism the : secleTorEis^cfeeS 152 




Thoreau's disregard of "style"; combination of literary work 
and manual ; conscientious workmanship ; idealisation of 
common themes ; poetical images and metaphors ; his love 
of concentration and paradox; his humour; open-air 
sketches; essays; diaries; letters; poems . . .170 



Uniqueness of Thoreau's personality; c ompared wjth other 
y naturalists ; erroneous criticisms of his doctrines by Lowell 

^. and others; their true significance; final estimate of his 

character 186 

Index 201 




/~\F the various perils which beset the path of our 
modern civilisation, none perhaps are more subtle 
and dangerous than those which may be summed up 
under the term artificiality. As life becomes more com- 
plex, and men of culture are withdrawn farther and 
farther from touch with wild nature, there is a corre- 
sponding sacrifice of hardihood and independence — there 
is less individuality, less mastery over circumstance, less 
probity of conduct and candour of speaking, less faith 
in one's self and in the leading of one's destiny. These 
may be but incidental disadvantages, outweighed by the 
general improvement in the condition of the race ; yet 
they are serious enough to demand thoughtful recog- 
nition, and to make us welcome any signs of a contrary 

The enormous increase which the present age has 
witnessed in material wealth and mechanical invention 
has accentuated both the magnitude of the evil and the 
necessity of relieving it. A century ago, it might have 


occurred to those who were living on the threshold of the 
new era, and who foresaw (as some must have foreseen) 
the coming rush of civilisation, with its fretful hurry and 
bustle of innumerable distractions, to wonder whether 
the very prevalence of the malady would work out its 
own reformation. Must society ever be divorced from 
simplicity ? Must intellect and wildness be incompatible ? 
Must we lose in the deterioration of the physical senses 
what we gain in mental culture ? Must perfect com- 
munion with Nature be impossible? Or would there 
arise a man capable of showing us in his own character 
— whatever its shortcomings and limitations — that it 
is still possible and profitable to live, as the Stoics 
strove to live, in accordance with Nature, with absolute 
serenity and self-possession; to follow out one's own 
ideal, in spite of every obstacle, with unfaltering devotion; 
and so to simplify one's life, and clarify one's senses, as 
to master many of the inner secrets of that book of 
Nature which to most men remains unintelligible and 
unread. Such anticipation — if we may imagine it to 
have been entertained — was amply fulfilled in the life 
and character of Henry David Thoreau. 

In the year 1823 there was living in the village of 
Concord, Massachusetts, with his wife and four children, 
one John Thoreau, a pencil-maker by employment, 
whose father, a younger son in a well-to-do Jersey family 
of French extraction, had emigrated from St. Helier to 
New England in 1773, married a Scotch wife, established 
a mercantile business in Boston, and died at Concord in 
1 80 1. 1 John Thoreau, who at the time of which I speak 

1 It is said that the name Thoreau was common in the annals 
of Tours several hundred years ago. The earliest known ancestors 


was thirty-six years old, had begun life as a merchant, 
but having failed in business and lost whatever property 
he inherited from his father, he had recently turned his 
attention to pencil-making, a trade which had been in- 
troduced into Concord some ten or twelve years earlier, 
from which he not only derived a competent livelihood, 
but gained distinction by the excellence of his workman- 
ship. He is described by those who knew him as a 
small, quiet, plodding, unobtrusive man, thoroughly 
genuine and reliable, occupying himself for the most 
part in his own business, though he could be friendly 
and sociable when occasion invited. His wife, whose 
maiden name was Cynthia Dunbar, 1 was very different in 
character, being remarkable, like the other members of 
her family, for her keen dramatic humour and intellectual 
sprightliness ; she was tall, handsome, quick-witted; she 
had a good voice and sang well, and often monopolised 
the conversation by her unfailing flow of talk. 

Henry David Thoreau, the third child of these parents, 
was born at Concord, 12 th July 181 7, in a quaint, old- 
fashioned house on the Virginia Road, surrounded by 
pleasant orchards and peat-meadows, and close to an 
extensive tract known as "Bedford levels." In this 

of Henry Thoreau are his great-grandparents, Philip Thoreau and 
Marie le Galais, the parents of the emigrant above mentioned. The 
family is now extinct both in Jersey and New England. 

1 Her father, the Rev. Asa Dunbar of Keene, New Hampshire, 
died in 1787, and his widow afterwards married a Concord farmer 
named Minott. In Mrs. Thoreau's brother, Charles Dunbar, the 
ready wit, characteristic of the Dunbar family, had run to eccen- 
tricity. He led a strange vagabond life, roving from town to town, 
and winning a pot-house notoriety by his waggish speeches and 
dexterity in wrestling and conjuring. 


house, the home of his grandmother, Mrs. Minott, he 
lived for eight months; then for another period of the 
same length in a house on the Lexington Road, on the 
outskirts of the village. In 1818 his parents left Concord 
for five years, and lived first at Chelmsford, a town ten 
miles distant, and afterwards at Boston, where Henry first 
went to school But as their business did not prosper 
in either place, the family returned in 1823 to Concord, 
which thenceforth continued to be their home. They 
little thought, however, that the name of Concord and 
the name of Thoreau were destined in later years to be 
so inseparably associated. 

This village of Concord, which lies twenty miles to the 
north-west of Boston, and must be distinguished from 
the capital of New Hampshire, which bears the same 
name, was at the time of Henry Thoreau's boyhood the 
centre of a scattered township of about two thousand 
inhabitants. Under the name of Musketaquid it 
had been an ancient settlement of the Indians, its 
attraction, in earlier as in later ages, consisting in 
the rich meadows which border the Musketaquid, or 
"Grass-ground" river. "When I walk in the fields of 
Concord," so Thoreau afterwards wrote in his diary, 
"I forget that this which is now Concord was once 
Musketaquid. Everywhere in the fields, in the corn and 
grain land, the earth is strewn with the relics of a race 
which has vanished as completely as if trodden in with 
the earth. Wherever I go I tread in the tracks of the 
Indian." In 1635 tne district was purchased from the 
Indians by the Massachusetts colony, which there made 
its first inland plantation; and it was from the peaceful 
settlement then effected that the place received its name 


of Concord. At the beginning of the present century 
Concord, though not yet associated with any of the great 
literary names which have since made it famous, was not 
unknown to the world; for there, in 1775, na< ^ been 
struck the first blow for American independence, when 
the English troops, after some desultory fighting, were 
repulsed by the "rebel" farmers. Lafayette visited 
Concord in 1824, and the following year, half a century 
after the battle, there was a celebration of that event, at 
which Henry Thoreau, then a child of seven, is said to 
have been present. 

The inhabitants of Concord were mostly agriculturists 
— sturdy farmers, living in comfortable old-fashioned 
homesteads; but there was a considerable sprinkling 
also of mechanics and men of business; and as the town 
lay on the high-road between the uplands of New Hamp- 
shire and the port of Boston, it w r as to some extent a 
centre of trade; it was also at that time one of the places 
appointed for the holding of the county assizes. A 
frank and natural equality was one of the traditional 
characteristics of Concord society, extreme wealth and 
extreme poverty being alike rare; so that its citizens, 
a plain and frugal folk, quite unostentatious in their 
manners and mode of life, yet prizing literature and 
learning, were saved from the evils of either luxury or 
destitution; while the well-known Concord families — 
the Hosmers and Barretts and Hey woods — preserved and 
handed on from generation to generation their sterling 
hereditary qualities. The two leading personages at 
Concord at the time of Henry Thoreau's birth, and for 
many years afterwards, were Dr. Ripley, the Unitarian 
pastor of the village, who lived in the "old Manse" 


which Hawthorne subsequently inhabited, and Samuel 
Hoar, a man of senatorial rank, who exemplified in his 
character some of the best New England qualities of 
dignity, justice, and simplicity. Dr. Ripley, quaint, 
humorous, and patriarchal, was minister at Concord for 
over half a century, and was regarded by his parishioners 
as a friend and teacher to whom they could look for 
advice and assistance in all matters that concerned them. 
Henry Thoreau was one of the many Concord children 
who had been baptised by him into the Unitarian 
Church, and in whose welfare the kindly pastor con- 
tinued to take an affectionate interest. 

The dominant features of the natural scenery of 
Concord are its waters and its woods; it has been 
described as " a village surrounded by tracts of wood- 
land and meadows, abounding in convenient yet retired 
paths for walking. " The two rivers of Concord, the 
slow-flowing Musketaquid and the swifter Assabet, which 
meet close to the north of the village, have been immor- 
talised by both Hawthorne and Thoreau. "The sluggish 
artery of the Concord meadows," says the latter, "steals 
thus unobserved through the town, without a murmur 
or a pulse-beat, its general course from south-west to 
north-east, and its length about fifty miles; a huge 
volume of matter, ceaselessly rolling through the plains 
and valleys of the substantial earth, with the mocassined 
tread of an Indian warrior, making haste from the high 
places of the earth to its ancient reservoir." 1 As for 
the Assabet, we have it on Hawthorne's authority that 
" a lovelier stream than this, for a mile above its junction 

1 Introduction to The Week, Compare Hawthorne's account in 
Mosses from an Old Manse, 


with the Concord, never flowed on earth — nowhere, 
indeed, except to lave the interior regions of a poet's 
imagination." Of the Ponds, Walden, Sandy, and 
White Pond to the south of the village, and Bateman's 
to the north, are the most considerable; moreover, after 
the heavy rains, which are usual at two periods of the 
year, the lowlands adjacent to the river are converted 
by the floods into a chain of shallow lakes; so that 
there is no portion of the township of Concord which 
is not more or less in proximity to some lake or stream. 

And if well watered, Concord is also well wooded, 
its sandy soil being covered in almost every direction 
by thick groves of oak, pine, chestnut, maple, and other 
forest trees, which even to this day retain much of their 
primeval severity. "I saw nothing wilder," wrote a 
visitor to Concord, 1 "among the unbroken solitudes of 
the Upper Ottawa tributaries than these woods that fringe 
the bank of Walden. Not a human habitation, not a 
cleared farm, not a sign of life or civilised occupation 
anywhere broke the unvaried expanse of wild woodland." 
The hills which surround Concord — Anursack, Nashaw- 
tuck, Ball's Hill, Brister's Hill, and the rest — are of no 
great height; but they command fine prospects, west- 
ward and northward, in the direction of loftier ranges, 
Wachusett, Monadnock, and the White Mountains of 
New Hampshire. 

" Thoreau's country," says a picturesque writer, 2 " has the broad 
effects and simple elements that 'compose' well in the best 
landscape art. It is a quiet bit of country that under the seeing' eye 
can be made to yield a store of happiness. Its resources for the 

i Grant Allen, in Fortnightly Review, May 1888. 

2 "A. L.," in New York Evening Post, October 10th, 1890. 



naturalist, at first scarcely suspected, are practically inexhaustible. 
It is not tame, as an English landscape is tame. It keeps its 
memories and traditions of the red man along with his flint-flakes 
and arrow-heads, and its birds and wild-flowers are varied and 
abundant. A country of noble trees, wide meadow-expanses— and 
the little river, quiet almost to stagnation, with just current enough 
to keep it pure, in places much overgrown with water- weed, in 
other places thick strewn with lily-pads, the banks umbrageous and 
grassy, fringed with ferns and wild-flowers, and here and there 
jutting into a point of rocks, or expanding into placid lake-like 
stretches — these are the main elements of Thoreau's country. 
Then we must add a clean, sandy soil, through which water per- 
colates with great rapidity, leaving paths pleasant to the feet. 
Then come the low ranges of hills, the marshes, the ponds, and the 
forests, fit home for a rich varied wild flora. And then the weather 
influences maist be taken into account. This small district of 
country, though it feels the breath of the sea twenty miles away, is 
still somewhat sheltered from the asperities of the east wind. The 
summer nights are cool and refreshing, though the day may have 
a heart of fire, and the autumn has stretches of bright, cool, 
resplendent weather. Owing to the dry soil, the ways seem more 
open and cheery in winter than in other places, and the roads are 
good for walking all the year round." 

Among such scenes and surroundings did Henry 
Thoreau grow up and receive his earliest impressions of 
nature and society. From the first he was inured to a 
hardy outdoor life, driving his mother's cow to pasture 
when he was a child of six, and going barefoot like the 
other village boys. School games and athletic sports 
formed no part of his youthful amusements, but at as 
early an age as ten or twelve, after the habit of New 
England boys, he was permitted to shoulder a fowling- 
piece or fishing-rod and betake himself to the wildest 
and most solitary recesses of wood or river. The 
water-side seems to have had a special fascination for 


him at an early date, one of his childish reminiscences 
being a visit to Walden Pond, which excited a desire in 
him to live there, and as he grew older he was fond of 
bathing and boating on the Concord river in company 
with his schoolmates, making himself acquainted with 
all the rocks and soundings of that placid stream. Now 
and then the news would spread like wildfire that a 
canal-boat, laden with lime, or bricks, or iron-ore, was 
gliding mysteriously along the river, and the village 
children would eagerly flock out to gaze with wonder 
on these " fabulous river-men," who came and went so 
unaccountably. Still more interesting were the annual 
visits of the remnants of some Indian tribes, who used 
to pitch their tents in the rich meadows which had 
belonged of old to their forefathers, and there string 
their beads and weave their baskets, or initiate the 
Concord youths into the art of paddling an Indian 

We are surprised to learn that, as a child, Henry 
Thoreau was afraid of thunderstorms, and at such times 
would creep to his father for protection; for most of the 
anecdotes related of his school-days are indicative of the 
fearlessness, self-reliance, and laconic brevity of speech 
for which he was afterwards conspicuous. At the age of 
three years he was informed that, like the godly men of 
whom he read in his religious exercise-book, he too 
would some day have to die ; he received the news with 
equanimity, asserting, however, that he "did not want 
to go to heaven, because he could not carry his sled 
with him, for the boys said it was not shod with iron, 
and therefore not worth a cent" — a characteristic re- 
nouncement of a paradise in which, as he surmised 


outer appearances would be unduly regarded. When 
charged with taking a knife belonging to another boy he 
replied briefly, " I did not take it ; " and steadily refused 
to exculpate himself by further explanation until after 
the true offender was discovered. All being made clear, 
the natural inquiry put to him was why he did not 
sooner explain himself. " I did not take it," was again 
his reply. When ten years old he carried some pet 
chickens for sale to a neighbouring innkeeper, who, in 
order to return the basket promptly, took them out one 
by one and wrung their necks before the eyes of the 
boy, who let no word betray the agony of his outraged 
feelings. His gravity had already earned him among his 
schoolfellows the title of "the judge"; of that spright- 
liness of intellect which subsequently showed itself in 
such a marked degree in his conversation and writings 
there seems at this time to have been no trace, at any 
rate no early instance has been recorded. 

On the important question of Thoreau's hereditary 
traits, I quote the following from an interesting article 
by Dr. S. A. Jones on " Thoreau's Inheritance " : — 

" His inheritance included also the endowment of heredity : a 
potent factor which has not yet had just and due consideration from 
any of his biographers. A gentleman who attended the school 
kept by the Thoreau brothers once wrote to me : ' Henry Thoreau 
was not a superior scion upon an inferior stock, neither was he 
begotten by a north-west wind, as many have supposed. There 
were good and sufficient reasons for the Thoreau children's love of, 
and marked taste for, Botany and Natural History. John Thoreau 
and his wife were to be seen, year after year, enjoying the pleasures 
of nature, in their various seasons, on the banks of the Assabet, at 
Fairhaven, Lee's Hill, Walden, and elsewhere ; and this too with- 
out neglecting the various duties of their humble sphere. Indeed, 


such was Mrs. Thoreau's passion for these rambles that one of her 
children narrowly escaped being born in a favourite haunt on Lee's 

" c The father was a very cautious and secretive man, a close 
observer, methodical and deliberate in action, and he produced 
excellent results. His marbled paper and his pencils were the best in 
the market, while his stove polish and his plumbago for electrotyping 
have never, to my knowledge, been excelled. He was a French 
gentleman rather than a Yankee, and once having his confidence, 
you had a very shrewd and companionable friend to commune with. 
Then, when there were no unauthorised listeners about, the other- 
wise quiet man, who had such a faculty for "minding his own 
business," would sit with you by the stove in his little shop and 
chat most delightfully. '" 1 

The preponderance of the Saxon, the maternal ele- 
ment in Henry's character, was a matter of observation 
and comment among his townsfolk. He was a complete 
New Englander, and prided himself on being " autoch- 
thonous" at Concord. "I think the characteristics 
which chiefly impressed those of us who knew Mrs. 
Thoreau," says one who was intimate with her, "were 
the activity of her mind and the wideness of her sym- 
pathy. She was an excellent mother and housewife. 
In the midst of poverty she brought up her children to 
all the amenities of life, and if she had but a crust of 
bread for dinner she would see that it was properly 
served. She was never so poor or so busy that she did 
not find means of helping those poorer than herself.'' 2 

We see then that Thoreau was indebted to both his 
parents for some of his best qualities — to his mother for 

1 The Inlander, February 1893. 

2 E. M. F., in Boston Daily Advertiser, February 18th, 1883. 
I must plead guilty to having done less than justice to Thoreau's 
parents in the first edition of this book. 


a quick-witted spirit and passionate love of Nature, to 
his father for the counterbalance of a calm, sane, indus- 
trious temperament, with absolute honesty of purpose 
and performance. " The marriage of quiet John Thoreau 
and the vivacious Cynthia Dunbar was a happy conjunc- 
tion (so it has been well said) of diverse temperaments 
and opposite traits, of substantial virtues and of simple 
habits; and with bodies undefiled by luxury, and minds 
unsophisticated by social dissimulation, they made a 
home, and its lowly hearth became a shrine whose 
incense brought blessings to their offspring." It must 
be added that they entered with such zeal into the 
agitation for the abolition of slavery, that when that 
question began to be debated in Massachusetts, they 
were willing to make their house a rendezvous for 
abolitionist conspirators. 

The younger members of the Thoreau household were 
also possessed of an unusual strength of will and serious- 
ness of purpose. Both his sister Helen and his brother 
John, who were Henry's elders by five and three years 
respectively, were earnest and lovable natures; so too 
was his younger sister Sophia; and it was remarked by 
those friends who were intimately associated with the 
family, that they each possessed a distinctive and unmis- 
takable personality. At this period, when new ideas 
were permeating American society and* preparing men's 
minds for the great intellectual and social awakening 
that was shortly to follow, the Thoreaus had won 
general respect among their neighbours at Concord by 
their humanity, thoughtfulness, and unaffected simplicity 
of living. 

Here is an early glimpse of Thoreau. It seems that in 


1828 they had a Concord Academic Debating Society, 
and the report of the secretary for November 5th, 1828, 
runs thus : — "The discussion of the question selected for 
debate next followed : Is a good memory preferable to a 
good understanding in order to be a distinguished scholar at 
school? E. Wright, affirmative; Henry Thoreau, negative. 
The affirmative disputant, through negligence, had pre- 
pared nothing for debate, and the negative not much 
more. Accordingly, no other member speaking, the 
president decided in the negative. His decision was 
confirmed by a majority of four." 

In 1833, when sixteen years old, Henry Thoreau was 
sent to Harvard University, 1 where he occupied a room 
in Hollis Hail, in which, if we may trust a chance 
reference in one of his volumes, he experienced the in- 
convenience of "many and noisy neighbours, and a 
residence in the fourth storey." He had been prepared 
for college at the Concord "Academy," an excellent 
school famous for its successful teaching of Greek, 
where he had already exhibited a strong liking for the 
classics, though his reading was not confined to the 
prescribed course, but began to embrace a considerable 
extent of English literature. His expenses at Harvard 
were a serious matter in a family whose means were very 
limited; the difficulty, however, was surmounted partly 
by his own carefulness and economy, partly by the help 
of his aunts and his elder sister, herself a school-teacher 
at this time. During the college vacations he took 
pupils, or assisted in school-teaching in several country 

1 He is entered in the Harvard register as he was christened, 
David Henry Thoreau; but he afterwards put the more familiar 
name first. 


towns, one of those engagements being at Canton, near 
Boston, where in 1835, his "sophomore year," he 
boarded and studied German with a minister named 
Brownson, at the same time teaching in the "district 
school." Meantime his interests at Harvard were being 
promoted by his future friend, R. W. Emerson, who in 
1834 had gone to live at Concord, where his forefathers 
had held the ministry for generations. Emerson pre- 
sumably was informed by Dr. Ripley, with whom he was 
staying, of the promise shown by Thoreau, and it seems 
to have been due to his good offices that the young 
man received some small pecuniary assistance from the 
beneficiary funds of the college. 

We are fortunate in having a graphic account of 
Thoreau's personal appearance and mode of life at 
Harvard from the pen of one of his class-mates. 1 It 
seems that he passed for nothing among his companions, 
taking little share in their studies and amusements, 
shunning their oyster suppers and wine parties, and 
mysteriously disappearing from the scene when, as occa- 
sionally happened, the course of college discipline was 
temporarily interrupted by a " rebellion." 

" He was cold and unimpressible. The touch of his hand was 
moist and indifferent, as if he had taken up something when he 
saw your hand coming, and caught your grasp upon it. How the 
prominent grey-blue eyes seemed to rove down the path,, just in 
advance of his feet, as his grave Indian stride carried him down to 
University Hall. He did not care for people; his class-mates 
seemed very remote. This reverie hung always about him, and not 
so loosely as the odd garments which the pious household care 
furnished. Thought had not yet awakened his countenance; it 
was serene, but rather dull, rather plodding. The lips were not yet 

1 Rev. John Weiss, Christian Examiner ; Boston, July 1865. 


firm ; there was almost a look of smug satisfaction lurking round 
their corners. It is plain now that he was preparing to hold his 
future views with great setness and personal appreciation of their 
importance. The nose was prominent, but its curve fell forward 
without firmness over the upper lip, and we remember him as look- 
ing very much like some Egyptian sculptures of faces, large-featured, 
but brooding, immobile, fixed in a mystic egoism. Yet his eyes 
were sometimes searching as if he had dropped, or expected to find, 
something. In fact his eyes seldom left the ground, even in his 
most earnest conversations with you. 

" He would smile to hear the word * collegiate career' applied to 
the reserve and inaptness of his college life. He was not signalised 
by the plentiful distribution of the parts and honours which fall to 
the successful student. Of his private tastes there is little of conse- 
quence to recall, except that he was devoted to the old English 
literature, and had a good many volumes of the poetry from Gower 
and Chaucer down through the era of Elizabeth. In this mine he 
worked with a quiet enthusiasm." 

These traits of aloofness and self-seclusion are attributed 
by his class-mate^oTT6^*any conceil of superciliousness, 
still less to shyness, but to a sort of homely " com- 
placency," which, though quite natural and inevitable, 
had the effect of putting him out of sympathy with his 
surroundings at Harvard. His complacency was "per- 
fectly satisfied with its own ungraciousness, because that 
was essential to its private business." This determined 
concentration on his own life-course was, as we shall see, 
very characteristic of Thoreau in his mature career, and 
it is interesting to find that it was thus early developed. 

" In college Thoreau had made no great impression,' ' 
says another of his contemporaries; 1 "he was far from 
being distinguished as a scholar, was not known to have 

1 The Rev. D. G. Haskins, in his Ralph Waldo Emerson, 
Boston, 1887. 



any literary tastes, was never a contributor to the college 
periodical, Harvardiana ; he was not conspicuous in 
any of the literary or scientific societies of the under- 
graduates, and withal was of an unsocial disposition, and 
kept himself very much aloof from his class-mates. At 
the time we graduated, I doubt whether any of his 
acquaintances regarded him as giving promise of future 
distinction." Against this, however, must be set what 
the historian of Thoreau's college class wrote in 1887, 
that "notwithstanding what he himself says of his entrance 
to the college, and the impression that one gets from 
some of his biographers that he was rather under the 
ban of the authorities, Thoreau maintained a very fair 
rank in his class, and at graduation took part in a Con- 
ference on the c Commercial Spirit of Modern Times.' ,?1 
This was somewhat of an honour; and there is no reason 
to suppose that Thoreau had any part in the " rebellions " 
and other irregularities of the students, as has sometimes 
been suggested. 

We can well believe, however, that his strong indi- 
vidualist tendencies had even now begun to manifest 
themselves; indeed it is apparent from his youthful 
"themes" that he was already a fearless thinker and 
questioner on various matters, social and religious — a 
quality which would not be likely to conciliate the good 
opinion of the college authorities. His integrity, how- 
ever, and high moral principle were clearly recognised ; 
and from the first he seems to have practised a simple 
and abstemious mode of living. " He had been so 
wisely nourished at the collegiate fount," says Channing, 

1 Memorials of the Class of 1837 % by Henry Williams, Boston, 
1 38;. 


" as to come forth undissipated, not digging his grave in 
tobacco and coffee — those two perfect causes of paralysis." 
Thoreau has himself stated that he never smoked any- 
thing more noxious than dried lily-stems, from which 
indulgence he had a faint recollection of deriving pleasure 
before he was a man. 

It has been said that Thoreau's debt to his College 
was important ; but this is a statement which it will be 
prudent to accept with some reservation. It is true 
that although not " successful," in the ordinary sense of 
the word, he had become a good classical scholar, and 
had derived intellectual benefit from the teaching of at 
least one of the lecturers, Professor Channing, whose 
nephew, Ellery Channing, afterwards became his most 
intimate friend. He himself says in a letter of 1843 tnat 
what he learned in College was chiefly " to express him- 
self," and this, in his case, was certainly no unimportant 
gift. But, on the whole, we shall probably be safe in 
concluding that the advantages which Thoreau obtained 
from his college career were mainly of the indirect kind, 
and that he profited far less by the actual instruction 
there given him than by the opportunities afforded fbr 
wide reading and self-culture. 

Meantime his love of outdoor life and open-air pur- 
suits had in nowise diminished during his residence at 
Harvard ; on the contrary, he was as diligent a student 
of natural history as of rhetoric or rhathematics, and felt 
as much veneration for Indian relics as for Greek classics; 
more so, if we are to believe what he wrote subsequently 
in a letter to the Class Secretary. "Though bodily I 
have been a member of Harvard University, heart and 
soul I have been far away among the scenes of my boy- 


hood. Those hours that should have been devoted to 
study have been spent in scouring the woods and explor- 
ing the lakes and streams of my native village. Immured 
within the dark but classic walls of a Stoughton or a 
Hollis, my spirit yearned for the sympathy of my old and 
almost forgotten friend, Nature." It is stated that his 
first experiment in camping-out took place during his 
senior year at college, when he made an excursion of 
this sort to Lincoln Pond, a few miles from Walden. On 
this occasion his companion was Stearns Wheeler, one of 
his school-mates both at Concord and Harvard, whose 
early death in 1843 is lamented in one of his letters. 

But undoubtedly it was in his conception of ethical 
principles, together with a kind of mystic nature-worship, 
that he had made the greatest progress towards maturity 
of thought. We are told that he resolved at an early 
period of his life, probably during his college career, " to 
read no book, take no walk, undertake no enterprise, but 
such as he could endure to give an account of to him- 
self; and live thus deliberately for the most part," When 
only seventeen he had become convinced of the utility 
of " keeping a private journal or record of thoughts, 
feelings, studies, and daily experience," with a view to 
"settling accounts with one's mind" — an introspective 
tendency which grew stronger and stronger with increas- 
ing years. Already, too, his intense ideality of tempera- 
ment was clearly developing itself; while still a boy he 
had w T ritten that " the principle Which prompts us to pay 
an involuntary homage to the infinite, the incomprehen- 
sible, the sublime, forms the very basis of our religion." 
It was his delight, as he tells us, to monopolise a little 
Gothic window overtaking the garden at the back of his 


father's house, which stood on the main street of Concord 
village, and there, especially on Sunday afternoons, to 
muse in undisturbed reverie. Often in the early dawn 
he would stroll with his brother John, to whom he was 
devotedly attached, to the " Cliffs," a rocky ridge which 
overhangs the river Concord, and there watch the sunrise 
over the expanse of Fairhaven Bay. 

His devotion to Concord was already a fixed and 
unalterable sentiment, which sometimes showed him in 
a softer and more emotional mood than was usual to his 
self-repressed nature. While he was still at college he 
happened one day to ask his mother what profession she 
would advise him to choose. She replied that he could 
buckle on his knapsack and roam abroad to seek his 
fortune in the world. The tears rose to his eyes at this 
suggestion, and his sister Helen, who was standing by, 
tenderly put her arm round him, and said, " No, Henry, 
you shall not go ; you shall stay at home and live with 
us." So fully were these words verified that twenty years 
later we find him still living at Concord, and writing to 
one of his friends that he had " a real genius for staying 
at home." 


YVTHEN Thoreau left the University he was just twenty 
years old, and the first question which occupied 
his mind was naturally the choice of a profession by which 
he might gain his living. Like the other members of 
his family he became a teacher, an occupation of which 
he had, as we have seen, already made trial during his 
vacations at college. In the spring of 1838 he went on 
a visit to Maine, where his mother had relatives, on the 
look-out for some educational appointment, bearing with 
him testimonials signed by Dr. Ripley, R. W. Emerson, 
and the President of Harvard University, all of whom 
spoke in the highest terms of his intellectual and moral 
character. He seems, however, to have been unsuccess- 
ful in this particular quest; for in the same year we find 
him engaged with his brother in keeping the "Academy" 
at Concord, the private school for boys and girls at 
which he himself had been educated, and which had 
been established about twenty years before by some of 
the leading Concord citizens. How long Thoreau held 
this post is not precisely recorded, but it is evident that 
he did not find his tutorial position at all congenial to 
his tastes ; indeed, it is difficult nowadays to conceive of 
this champion of individuality discharging the functions 
of teacher under the supervision of a visiting committee. 


If we may trust the humorous account given by Ellery 
Channing of Thoreau's pedagogic experiences, the im- 
mediate cause of the resignation of his office was the 
question of corporal punishment. He at first announced 
that he should not flog, but should substitute the punish- 
ment of "talking morals" to his pupils; but after a 
time one of the School Committee remonstrated against 
this novel system, and protested that the welfare of the 
school was being endangered by the undue leniency of 
its master. Mr. Thoreau must use the ferule, or the 
school would spoil. "So he did, by feruling six of his 
pupils after school, one of whom was the maid-servant 
in his own house. But it did not suit well with his 
conscience, and he reported to the Committee that he 
should no longer keep their school, as they interfered 
with his arrangements." School-keeping seems to have 
been practised by Thoreau for about two years in all ; 
then, as more congenial subjects occupied his attention, 
he gave it up altogether, and betook himself to his fore- 
ordained and inevitable profession — the study of nature. 
The ferule of the schoolmaster was laid by for the her- 
barium and spy-glass of the poet-naturalist. 

This brings us to the mention of a movement which 
was gathering force in New England during Thoreau's 
youth and early manhood, and had a marked influence 
on the whole development of his character. Trans- 
cendentalism (i.e., the study of the pure reason which 
transcends the finite senses, the " feeling of the infinite," 
as Emerson expressed it), which originated in the philo- 
sophy of Kant, and was revived by Coleridge and 
Carlyle in England, had now begun to be a disturbing 
and regenerating power in American thought, and to 


find its chief exponents in such men as George Ripley, 
Alcott, and Emerson; though there had long before 
been a vein of native transcendentalist doctrine in the 
quietism and quakerism of Penn, John Woolman, and 
others. The transcendentalism of New England was 
simply a fresh outburst of ideal philosophy; it was a 
renaissance in religion, morals, art, and politics; a 
period of spiritual questioning and awakening. " The 
transcendental movement," says Lowell, "was the pro- 
testant spirit of Puritanism seeking, a new outlet and an 
escape from forms and creeds which compressed rather 
than expressed it." The "apostles of the newness," 
or "realists," as the transcendentalists were variously 
styled, aimed at a return from conventionality to nature, 
from artifice to simplicity; they held that every one 
should not only think for himself, but should labour 
with his own hands ; and the exaltation of the individual, 
as opposed to the State and the territorial immensity of 
America, was one of their most cherished purposes. 

It was not to be expected that this transcendentalist 
revival, which by its very nature was vague, misty, and 
ill-defined, would be exempt from the extravagances and 
absurdities which almost inevitably accomp^py such a 
movement. But if certain members of the transcendent- 
alist party were deservedly the butt for a good deal of 
ridicule, the main purpose of the movement was too 
important to be laughed down, and fully justified itself 
in the light of subsequent events. Originating in the 
meetings of a few friends, of whom Emerson was one, at 
George Ripley's house in Boston, this New England 
transcendentalism proved to be one of the most power- 
ful forces in American literature and politics. 


Concord, where Thoreau was born and bred, became, 
as we shall see, one of the centres of the transcendental 
movement, which aimed at carrying its doctrines into 
every branch of social life ; it is not surprising, therefore, 
that a mind already naturally predisposed to idealism 
should have been strongly affected by the congenial 
gospel of an inner intellectual awakening. His diaries, 
poems, and early letters are full of this transcendental 
tone; and it was doubtless in great part owing to the 
same influence that he felt so marked a disinclination to 
settle down in the ordinary groove of business. 

It was not only school-keeping that was given up by 
Thoreau, under the stress of this new faith. In 1838, 
or thereabouts, while he was still a school teacher, he 
had quietly but definitely seceded from Dr. Ripley's 
congregation, to the grief and disappointment, it must 
be feared, of the venerable pastor, who looked with 
suspicion and alarm on the gospel of the transcendent- 
alists, which he saw promulgated all around him towards 
the close of his long career. The youthful secessionist 
had moreover run the risk of imprisonment by his 
refusal to pay the church-tax, on the ground that he did 
not see why the schoolmaster should support the priest 
more than the priest the schoolmaster. The difficulty 
was finally settled by his signing a statement in which he 
testified that he was not a member of any congregational 
body. That so fearless and independent a thinker as 
Thoreau should maintain his adherence to any religious 
formula was not to be expected, for the very reason that 
the natural piety of his mind was so simple and sincere. 
If a name be sought for the faith which he henceforth 
field and practised, he should probably be styled a 



pantheist. Never was there a more passionately devout 

worshipper of the beauty and holiness of Life, and it 

was on this instinctive belief in the eternal goodness of 

\ Nature that he based the optimistic creed which we shall 

( find to be the central point of his philosophy. 

School-keeping being abandoned, the question of a 
profession, it may well be supposed, was still pressed on 
the youthful enthusiast by anxious relatives and friends. 
As we have already seen, pencil-making was the regular 
employment of the Thoreau family, and Henry, like his 
father, had acquired much skill in this handicraft, to 
which, for a time at any rate, he applied himself with 
great diligence. Mr. John Thoreau's secret consisted in 
his process for making the lead The levigated plum- 
bago was made into a paste by using Fuller's earth and 
water. This ingredient was John Thoreau's device. 
The paste was rolled into sheets, cut into strips, and 
burned. Henry Thoreau made the levigated plumbago 
long after the pencil-making had ceased. The story 
goes that when he had entirely mastered the secrets of 
the trade, had obtained certificates from the recognised 
connoisseurs in Boston of the excellence of his work- 
manship, and was being congratulated by his friends on 
having now secured his way to fortune: — he suddenly 
declared his intention of making not another pencil, 
since " he would not do again what he had done once." 
True or not, the anecdote is happily characteristic of 
Thoreau's whimsical manner of expressing his most 
serious convictions. 

He had early discovered, by virtue of that keen 
insight which looked through the outer husk of con- 
ventionality, that what is called " profit " in the bustle 


of commercial life is often far from being, in the true 
sense, profitable; that the just claims of leisure are 
fully as important as the just claims of business; and 
that the surest way of becoming rich is to need little : 
in his own words, " a man is rich in proportion to the 
number of things which he can afford to let alone." 
This being so, why should he, at the outset of his 
career, pledge himself irrevocably, after the manner of 
young men, to some professional treadmill, and for the 
sake of imaginary "comforts" sacrifice the substantial 
happiness of life? "No, no," he exclaims, at a later 
period, in reply to a well-meant suggestion that, being 
without a definite profession, he should engage in some 
commercial enterprise; "I am not without employment 
at this stage of the voyage. To tell the truth, I saw an 
advertisement for able-bodied seamen, when I was a 
boy, sauntering in my native port, and as soon as I 
came of age, I embarked." This enterprise was none 
other than the study of wild nature; his "business" 
was to w be,a^ or "saunterer," as he 

called it; to spend at least one half of each day in the 
open air; to watch the dawns and the sunsets; to carry 
express what was in the wind; to secure the latest news 
from, fprest and hill-top, and to be "self-appointed 
msp^ctjpr of snow storms and rain storms." These 

duties he subsequently declared that he had faithfully 

<v«— „., ' 

and regularly performed; if his friends were disappointed, 

he at least was not. Witness his own lines in his 

41 Prayer"— 

i( Great God, I ask thee for no meaner pelf 
Than that I may not disappoint myself, 
That in my action I may soar as high 
As I can now discern with this clear eye. 


And next in value, which thy kindness lends, 
That I may greatly disappoint my friends, 
Howe'er they think or hope that it may be, 
They may not dream how thou'st distinguished me." 

Idleness, however, formed no part of Thoreau's 
" loitering " ; he was not one who would permit himself 
to be dependent on the labour of others; for he was, 
well aware that one of the most significant questions as 
to a man's life is "how he gets his living, what pro- 
portion of his daily bread he earns by day labour or job 
work with his pen, what he inherits, what steals." Apart 
from the chosen occupation of his lifetime, to which he 
devoted himself with unflagging industry and zeal, he 
conscientiously supported himself by such occasional 
labour as his position required, toiling from time to time 
(to quote an illustration which he was fond of using) 
like Apollo in the service of Admetus. During the first 
ten years of his mature life, that is from 1837 to 1847, 
he earned what little he needed chiefly by manual work, 
his remarkable mechanical skill enabling him to do this 
with readiness. At the family business of pencil-making, 
in spite of his reported youthful abjuration, he worked at 
intervals during the greater portion of his life, chiefly by 
way of rendering aid to his father and sisters. Land- 
surveying was another employment in which he incident- 
ally busied himself; and here too, owing to his adroit- 
ness in mensuration, and his intimate acquaintance with 
the Concord hill-sides and " wood-lots," his services were 
highly valued. 

He also began at this time, though but slightly and 
tentatively at first, to give his attention to lecturing and 
literary work. His first lecture, the subject of which 


was "Society," was delivered in April 1838, at the 
Concord "Lyceum," where he afterwards lectured 
almost every year during the remainder of his life. His 
' earliest poems were composed about 1837. While in 
residence at Harvard University he had been a constant 
reader of verse, had mastered Chalmers' Collection, and 
become acquainted with a quaint and old-fashioned 
school of poetry little known to his neighbours and con- 
temporaries. The influence of Herbert, who was one 
of his early favourites, is very discernible in Thoreau's 
youthful poems, and Cowley, Davenant, and Donne 
were most attentively studied by him, Quarles also at 
a somewhat later period. One of the most remarkable 
of these early poems is the piece entitled " Sic Vita," 
of which the first stanza runs thus — 

" I am a parcel of vain strivings, tied 
By a chance bond together, 
Dangling this way and that, their links 
Were made so loose and wide, 
For milder weather." 

This poem was written on a strip of paper which bound 
together a bunch of violets, and so thrown in by 
Thoreau at the window of Mrs. Brown, of Plymouth, 
a lady with whom he corresponded, and who was the 
means, as will be related, of his being introduced to 
Emerson. In 1837 a strong stimulus was given to his 
prose writing by the commencement of a regular series 
,of diaries, the first of which, the Red Journal^ ran on to 
some six hundred long pages in less than three years. 
Here : he systematically noted his daily walks, adventures, 


and meditations, so that as the diary was revised and 

corrected witnconsiderable minuteness, its author was 
able to draw direct from this literary store whenever he 
needed the materials for a poem or essay. This was 
the case with his contributions to the Dia/, when that 
transcendentalist organ was started in 1840 by certain 
of Thoreau's friends. 

At this time there were living in the Thoreaus' house 
at Concord a Mrs. Ward, widow of Colonel Joseph 
Ward, an officer who distinguished himself in the War of 
Independence, and her daughter, Miss Prudence Ward, 
who is referred to in an early passage of Thoreau's first 
volume, The Week, as the friend to whom the two 
voyagers sent news of the whereabouts of the rare 
hibiscus. The Wards and the Thoreaus had been old 
friends in Boston, when both families were living there ; 
and Mrs. and Miss Ward had come to Concord in 1833, 
living first with Henry Thoreau's aunts, Jane and Maria 
Thoreau, and afterwards at the house of his father. 
This led to an incident which must have affected 
Thoreau very deeply at the time, and may possibly 
furnish a key to some otherwise obscure traits in his 
writings — his love for the girl to whom his brothe/ John 
is also said to have been attached. This was Ellen 
Sewall, a granddaughter of Mrs. Ward, and daughter of 
the Rev. E. Sewall, pastor of Scituate. Her brother, 
then a boy of eleven, was at school at Concord under 
John and Henry Thoreau, and Ellen, a beautiful girl of 
seventeen, used to visit the Thoreaus in order to be 
near her relatives. These visits were much enjoyed by 
all the party, as the four younger members of the 
Thoreau household were then at home; and many 


hours were pleasantly spfinLinJtong country walks or 
boating-excursions, or in reading aloud and discussing, 
according to a custom then popular in Concord, some 
book in which they were interested. 

Hence it happened that the two brothers fell in love 
with Miss Sewall; and the story has been told that 
Henry, in a rare spirit of self-sacrifice, abstained from 
urging his own claims, so as to avoid placing himself in 
any rivalry with his brother. There is, however, no 
reason to believe that the girl felt anything more than 
friendship for either of them, and shortly after John 
Thoreau's death she married the man of her choice, a 
clergyman, with whom she lived happily to a good old 
age. Thoreau's elegiac stanzas, published in the Dial 
in 1840 under the title of- "Sympathy," are said, on 
Emerson's authority, to contain a reference, under a 
thin disguise, to his love for Ellen Sewall, the "gentle 
boy" of the poem being in truth a gentle girl; but, 
according to another statement, the verses were dedicated 
to her brother, a boy of great promise and most lovable 
disposition, who bore a strong likeness to his sister. 
At any rate it seems probable that Ellen Sewall was to 
som£ extent in Thoreau's mind when he wrote the poem 
u Sympathy," and it is said that certain sonnets which 
he addressed to her will some day see the light. It is 
to be regretted that, from a false notion of propriety, 
such extreme reticence has so long been maintained 
concerning the story of Thoreau's love, and that facts 
which have much interest for his readers, and can cause 
no pain to his survivors, should even now be very 
imperfectly known. 


" Irately, alas ! I knew a gentle boy 
Whose features all were cast in Virtue's mould, 
As one she had designed for Beauty's toy, 
But after manned him for her own stronghold. 

So was I taken unawares by this, 

I quite forgot my homage to confess j 

Yet now am forced to know, though hard it is, 

I might have loved him, had I loved him less. 

Each moment as we nearer drew to each, 
A stern respect withheld us further yet, 
So that we seemed beyond each other's reach, 
And less acquainted than when first we met. 

Eternity may not the chance repeat ; 
But I must tread my single way alone, 
In sad remembrance that we once did meet, 
And know that bliss irrevocably gone.". 

To those who are acquainted with even the outline of 
this story of Thoreau's youthful passion, it becomes less 
difficult to understand the somewhat severe and remotely 
ideal tone that pervades his utterances on friendship 
and love. "In the light of this new fact," says Mr, 
R. L. Stevenson in his essay on Thoreau, " those pages, 
so seemingly cold, are seen to be alive with feeling. " 
In this relation we see that there is a peculiar appro- 
priateness in the title which Emerson first applied to 
Thoreau — the " Bachelor of Nature." 

That Thoreau would have been willing to make any 
sacrifice of his personal happiness for the sake of his 
brother, we can well believe; for this brother was, as he 
has gratefully recorded, his " good genius," a " cheerful 
spirit " by whose sunny presence he was ever invigorated 


and reassured. The two had been intimately associated 
from childhood, had worked together and played to- 
gether, and roamed in company over all the hills and 
woodlands of Concord. It was with his brother John 
that Henry made, in 1839, that famous holiday-trip 
on the waters of the Concord and Merrimac rivers, an 
account of which was published, ten years later, in The 
Week, Starting from Concord on the last day of 
August, in their boat, the Musketaquid^ which they 
had made with their own hands in the spring, and 
taking with them their tent, and guns, and fishing- 
tackle, and various provisions for the voyage, they 
journeyed down the slow-flowing Concord river, till 
they came to its confluence with the larger and swifter 
Merrimac at Lowell. Thence they rowed up the stream 
of the Merrimac, which, by comparison with that which 
they had left, seemed like "a silver cascade which falls 
all the way from the White Mountains to the sea," until 
they arrived within a few miles of the New Hampshire 
capital, which bears the same name as their native 
village. Here they were compelled to leave their boat, 
while they proceeded on foot along the bank of the 
narrowing stream, and so traced the Merrimac river to 
its source among the White Mountains. This was one 
of the first of the " Excursions " to which Thoreau was 
afterwards so much addicted, and from which he often 
derived benefit both in health and enlarged experiences. 
The boat in which the brothers made their voyage 
came subsequently into the possession of Nathaniel 
Hawthorne, and is the one referred to in the Introduc- 
tion to the Mosses from an Old Manse. 

Up to the date of which we are speaking Thoreau 


had no very intimate companion except his brother 
John, for he had made no close friendships at college, 
such as should last him for a lifetime. One friendship, 
however, had already commenced, which was of extreme 
importance to him both in itself and as being the means 
of introducing him to a larger circle of friends, Emerson, 
as has been stated, had settled in Concord in 1834, and 
had at once manifested a kindly interest in the welfare 
of his young neighbour, fifteen years his junior, " r ho was 
then studying at Harvard University. It was probably 
in 1837 that their first personal meeting, which could 
not long have been delayed, was brought about through 
the agency of a lady who was a relative of Emerson's 
family and a friend of the Thoreaus, the Mrs. Brown to 
whom the stanzas headed * * Sic Vita " were dedicated by 
their youthful author. This lady, having been informed 
by Helen Thoreau that there was a passage in her 
brother Henry's diary which contained some ideas 
similar to those expressed by Emerson in a recent 
lecture, reported the matter to Emerson, and at his 
request brought Henry Thoreau to his house. Thus 
began an intercourse which continued unbroken during 
the rest of Thoreau's life, and was productive of much, 
pleasure and profit on both sides, to the elder mani 
as well as to the younger. "I delight much in my 
young friend," wrote Emerson in 1838, "who seems to 
have as free and erect a mind as any I have ever met." 

The value to Thoreau of this admission into the 
Emersonian circle, exactly at the time when he was able 
to derive from it the most advantage and encouragement, 
can hardly be over-estimated; for not only did it draw 
out the latent energies of his character, but gave him an 


opportunity of expressing and publishing his thoughts. 
Ajeriodical which should be the accredited organ of 
the new ideas had for some time been in contemplation 
among the members of the transcendental " symposium," 
and in 1840 this project was carried into effect by the 
establishment of the quarterly Dial, the management of 
which was chiefly in the hands of Emerson, Margaret 
Fuller, and George Ripley. Its chances of success, in 
the commercial sense, were from the first very precarious, 
for the number of original subscribers was small, and a 
transcendental magazine was not likely to attain to much 
popularity; but the Dial was nevertheless the means of 
uniting the advocates of the new philosophy, and of 
affording an opening for many writers of merit who had 
been hitherto unknown. Commencing in July 1840, it 
continued to be issued for four years, the editorship 
during the first half of tr;at time being entrusted to 
Margaret Fuller and George Ripley, while among the 
contributors were Emerson, Alcott, Margaret Fuller, 
Ripley, Theodore Parker, Elizabeth Peabody, Lowell, 
Thoreau, Ellery Channing, Jones Very, W. H. Channing, 
and many others of more or less note. Each of the 
four volumes of the Dial contained essays and poems 
from Thoreau's pen, his poem on "Sympathy" in the 
first number being his earliest appearance in print. 
This, however, was but his novitiate in literary work, 
and several of his papers were rejected by Margaret 
Fuller, during the term of her editorship, with a candid 
criticism of what she judged to be their crudities and 

The presence of Emerson at Concord, to which place 
he was bound by family ties and early associations — 


four of his ancestors having been Concord ministers and 
Dr. Ripley being his step-grandfather — was an event 
of no slight importance in the history of that some- 
what secluded township. After resigning his Unitarian 
pastorate at Boston in 1832, and spending the next 
year in England, he had married his second wife, Miss 
Lydia Jackson, and taken up his permanent residence 
at Concord in 1835, where he was so clearly recognised 
as its most illustrious citizen that in 1836, when a 
monument was erected on the site of the battlefield of 
1775, he was chosen to commemorate the occasion by 
those stanzas which have since become celebrated — 

" By the rude bridge that arched the flood, 

Their flag to April's breeze unfurled, < 

Here once the embattled farmers stood, 
And fired the shot heard round the world." 

Through the rise of transcendentalism and the rapid 
spread of Emerson's literary fame, Concord — such is the 
attraction of genius — became more and more a place of 
note and the resort of poets and philosophers; it was 
the beginning of a new era for the quiet country town 
whose sturdy farmers were no longer to be its most 
prominent representatives, but were to see their placid 
region invaded by a host of eager enthusiasts from every 
part of New England. 

N^ But of far more importance than these restless visitors 
was the permanent circle of friends and fellow-workers 
who, as old Dr. Ripley was passing away from his ministry, 
were gathering round the acknowledged seer of Concord. 
Prominent among these was Amos Bronson Alcott, who 
came to Concord with his wife and daughters in 1840, 


tall, slender, white-headed, one of the gentlest and most 

lovable of men, and highly valued by Emerson, as by all 

who knew him (smile though they might at his mysticism 

and lack of worldly prudence), for his lofty aims and 

disinterested zeal for humanity. Two years later came 

Nathaniel Hawthorne, a mystic of a gloomier type, who 

brought his bride, Sophia Peabody, to the seclusion of 

the Old Manse which had been Dr. Ripley's residence. 

Hawthorne's sister-in-law, the talented Elizabeth Peabody, 

had already settled in Concord; and Margaret Fuller, 

the Zenobia of his famous romance, plain indeed in her 

personal appearance as compared with that brilliant 

heroine, yet exercising no less marvellous fascination by 

her learning, genius, versatility, and rich sympathetic 

nature, was a frequent visitor for weeks together in the 

village, where her sister, Ellen Fuller, who had married 

Ellery Channing, the poet, was then living. Here too 

resided Elizabeth Hoar, another of those earnest, 

* thoughtful women by whom the Concord society was 

rendered remarkable. 

These, with Henry Thoreau, were the chief members 
of that transcendentalist company of which Concord was 
the meeting-place, and it cannot be doubted that the 
course of his speculations, however stubborn his in- 
dividuality, must have been appreciably affected by his 
introduction into so distinguished a group. As early 
as 1840 he was fully admitted into the inner circle 
of which Emerson, Alcott, and Margaret Fuller were the 
chief representatives, and used to be present at Alcott's 
philosophical "conversations," held at Emerson's house, 
which were attended by many advanced thinkers from 
Boston, Cambridge, and other neighbouring towns. 


Early in 1841 Thoreau was invited by Emerson to 
become an inmate of his household, and for two years 
from that time he lived under his friend's roof. " He is 
to have his board, etc., for what labour he chooses to 
do," wrote Emerson, "and he is thus far a great bene- 
factor and physician to me, for he is an indefatigable and 
skilful labourer." Emerson's house was a square, sub- 
stantial building on the Boston Road, at the outskirts 
of the village. The ground was low-lying, and at first 
somewhat bare and open, but some fruit-treeS were 
planted by Thoreau in which Emerson afterwards 
delighted. Emphatic testimony to Thoreau's helpfulness 
and kindness of heart has been borne by Emerson's son 
in some recently published memoirs of his father. 1 " He 
was as little troublesome a member of the household, 
with his habits of plain living and high thinking, as could 
well have been, and in the constant absences of the 
master of the house in his lecturing trips, the presence 
there of such a friendly and sturdy inmate was a great 
comfort. He was handy with tools, and there was no 
limit to his usefulness and ingenuity about the nouse 
and garden." That Emerson at times felt a little out of 
sympathy with the rather pugnacious and contradictory 
temperament of his young friend, as shown in his 
suggestive remark, " Thoreau is, with difficulty, sweet," 
is probable enough, and does not necessarily conflict 
With the above statement It appears that John Thoreau, 
Henry's brother, was also intimate with Emerson's family 
at this time, and was in the habit of performing similar 
friendly services. On one occasion he fixed a blue-bird's 
box on Emerson's barn, a gift which remained for years, 
1 Emerson in Concord^ 1889, by Dr. E. W. Emerson. 


as Emerson notes, "with every summer a melodious 
family in it, adorning the place and singing his praises." 
It was by John Thoreau's arrangement, too, that a 
daguerreotype portrait was taken of little Waldo Emerson 
only a few months before the child's death. 

Thoreau's friendship with Alcott, though less intimate 
than with Emerson, was very constant and sincere, and 
Alcott himself has borne grateful testimony to the worth 
of Thoreau as a friend. Margaret Fuller, whose con- 
nection with the Dial brought her into association and 
correspondence with Thoreau, also seems to have felt 
considerable interest in his character at this time, and 
expressed herself in her letters with her wonted candour 
^1 and freedom. In rejecting some verses which Thoreau 
had offered for publication, she thus sketches the out- 
lines, as they appear to her, of his personality : — 

" He is healthful, rare, of open eye, ready hand, and noble scope. 
He sets no limit to his life, nor to the invasions of nature ; he is 
not wilfully pragmatical, cautious, ascetic, or fantastical. But he 
is as yet a somewhat bare hill, which the warm gales of spring have 
not visited. Yet what could a companion do at present, unless to 
tame the guardian of the Alps too early ? Leave him at peace amid 
his native snows. He is friendly ; he will find the generous office 
that shall educate him. It is not a soil for the citron and the rose, 
but for the whortleberry, the pine, or the heather." 

In this same year Thoreau made another acquaintance 
which soon ripened into the warmest and most intimate 
friendship of his life. Ellery Channing, the nephew of 
the great Unitarian minister, Dr. W. E. Channing, and 
the brother-in-law of Margaret Fuller, came to Concord 
in 1 841, and lived for a time in a cottage near Emerson's 
house. He was a poet and a man of genius, though of 


so whimsical, moody, and unstable a character that 
he never won the popularity which his friends were 
constantly anticipating for him, " Could he have drawn 
out that virgin gold," says Hawthorne of Channing's 
talent, "and stamped it with the mint-mark that alone 
gives currency, the world might have had the profit and 
he the fame." Between him and Thoreau, whose junior 
he was by one year, there was quickly established a 
strong bond of sympathy and mutual understanding, 
which perhaps originated in the fact that each stood in 
a position of antagonism towards the canons of society. 
Channing, who was as impatient of routine as Thoreau 
himself, had not graduated at the University ; and while 
his new friend had been keeping school at Concord he 
r had been living in a log-hut in the wilds of Illinois. In 
his ^unwearying devotion to nature and natural scenery 
his pastes exactly coincided with Thoreau's, and many 
were the rambling walks and talks they had together at 
all houj^an^seBons, while the good folk of Concord 
were intent on their more sober business. 

It was well for Henry Thoreau that at this period of his 
early manhood he had formed these lasting friendships 
with such men as Emerson, Alcott, and Channing; for 
a blow was impending which might otherwise have left 
him lonely and friendless on the very threshold of active 
life. We have seen how his natural self-control and 
fortitude of character enabled him to perform an act of 
self-renunciation for the sake of the brother to whom he 
was so closely attached; he was now to be subjected 
to a still severer trial by the unexpected death of the 
companion of his youthful days. In February 1842 
John Thoreau died from lock-jaw, caused by an injury 


done to his hand in shaving — a death so sudden and 
painful that his brother could rarely endure to hear 
mention of it in after-life, and is said to have turned pale 
and faint when narrating the circumstances to a friend 
more than twelve years later. " After the sad and un- 
fortunate death of his brother," says one who knew them 
both, "he seemed to have no earthly companion in 
whom he could confide and love; he appeared in- 
different to all about him, and sometimes I thought he 
even hated himself." When he visited Cohasset in 1849, 
and witnessed a terrible death-scene after the shipwreck 
of an Irish brig, he remarked that if he had found one 
body cast upon the beach in some lonely place it would 
have affected him more. "A man," he adds, "can 
attend but one funeral in the course of his life, can 
behold but one corpse;" in which saying there is a 
reference to his own bereavement. It is noticeable that 
in his Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers % his 
brother, though necessarily often alluded to, is not once 
mentioned by name. 

For this heavy blow Thoreau sought and found the\ 
needed comfort in that strong belief in the immutable \ 
goodness of Nature, which was the basis of his whole Sf 
intellectual creed. "I find these things," he wrote, J 
" more strange than sad to me. What right have I to ; 
grieve, who have not ceased to wonder ? " He had lost x, ^ 
the loved companion of his daily pilgrimage ; but one f 
effect of his brother's death was to incline him still more I 
strongly towards a close study of nature and the trans- ( 
cendental manner of thought; he might indeed have beerf 
in danger of lapsing into that vague mysticism which was 
the besetting weakness of some of the transcendentalists, 



had it not been for the sound practical frame of mind 
which was as much a part of him as his idealism. It 
was this solid element of good sense that kept the balance 
in his character; soar as he might in his transcendental 
reveries, and scoff as he might at the absurdities of con- 
ventional habit, he never lost hold on the simple essential 
facts of everyday life. 


A FTER his brother's death in 1842 Thoreau con- 
tinued to live in Emerson's house, the bereavement 
which each of the two friends had recently undergone 
(for little Waldo, Emerson's favourite child, had died 
early in the same year) being doubtless instrumental in 
bringing them more closely together. Thoreau's regard 
for Emerson and Mrs. Emerson was very deep, and it 
was natural that a young man, even when possessed of 
Thoreau's strength of character, should be lastingly in- 
fluenced by so commanding a personality as Emerson's. 
It has been remarked by several of those who knew both 
men, that Thoreau unconsciously caught certain of the 
traits of Emerson's voice and expression, and even of 
his personal appearance — that he deliberately imitated 
Emerson is declared on the best authority to be an " idle 
and untenable" assertion. The following account of 
Thoreau's receptivity in this respect is given by one of 
his college class-mates, whom I have already quoted : — 

" Not long after I happened to meet Thoreau in Mr. Emerson's 
study at Concord — the first time we had come together after leaving 
college. I was quite startled by the transformation that had taken 
place in him. His short figure and general cast of countenance 
were of course unchanged; but in his manners, in the tones of his 
voice, in his modes of expression, even in the hesitations and 


pauses of his speech, he had become the counterpart of Mr. 
Emerson. Thoreau's college voice bore no resemblance to Mr. 
Emerson's, and was so familiar to my ear that I could have readily 
identified him by it in the dark, I was so much struck by the 
change that I took the opportunity, as they sat near together 
talking, of listening with closed eyes, and I was unable to deter- 
mine with certainty which was speaking. I do not know to what 
subtle influences to ascribe it, but after conversing with Mr. 
Emerson for even a brief time, I always found myself able and 
inclined to adopt his voice and manner of speaking." 1 

The change noticed in Thoreau was not due only 
to the stimulating influence of Emerson's personality, 
though that doubtless was the immediate means of 
effecting his awakening. Underneath the sluggish and 
torpid demeanour of his life at the University there had 
been developing, as his school-mates afterwards recog- 
nised, the strong stern qualities which were destined to 
make his character remarkable, and these had now been 
called into full play both by the natural growth of his 
mind, and by the opportunities afforded in the brilliant 
circle of which he was a member. " In later years,"* 
says John Weiss, who knew him well at Harvard, " his 
chin and mouth grew firmer, as his resolute and audacious, 
opinions developed, the eyes twinkled with the latent 
humour of his criticisms of society." It was a veritable 
transformation — an awakening of the dormant intellectual 
fire — and it has been ingeniously suggested that the 
" transformation" of Donatello in Hawthorne's novel may 
have been founded in the first place on this fact in the 
life of Thoreau. 

So too with regard to his social and ethical opinions; 
it would have been strange if the youth of twenty-five 
1 Ralph Waldo Emerson, by Rev. D. G. Haskins. 


had not been in some degree affected and influenced by 
the philosopher of forty ; but the freshness and originality 
of his genius, in all essential respects, is none the less 
incontestable. Thoreau, in fact, was one of the very 
few men by whom Emerson was himself in some degree 
impressed. We are told by Dr. E. W. Emerson that 
his father " delighted in being led to the very inner 
shrines of the wood-god by this man, clear-eyed and 
true and stern enough to be trusted with their secrets;" 
and there is no doubt that Thoreau influenced him per- 
ceptibly in the direction of a more diligent and minute 
study of nature, and a simpler and austerer mode of life. 
He differed in one important respect both from Emerson 
and from the other members of the Emersonian circle 
of transcendentalists — in his aboriginal hardihood and 
vigour. To them Concord was a suitable place of 
adoption; to him it was the place of his birth. The 
simplicity of living, personal independence, and intimacy 
with wild nature, which to the others involved more or 
less a deliberate effort, were in his case an innate and 
unconscious instinct. 

With Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was the latest 
addition to the society of Concord, Thoreau had 
perhaps little in common except his friendship with 
Ellery Channing, though courteous relations seem to 
have subsisted between them. Some of the references 
to Thoreau in Hawthorne's journal have a touch of the 
petulance and harshness of judgment to which Hawthorne 
was rather prone when recording his impressions of his 
acquaintances; but on the whole he speaks of Thoreau 
with unusual admiration and respect. "Mr. Thoreau 
dined with us yesterday," he writes on ist September 


1842. " He is a singular character — a young man with 
much of wild original nature still remaining in him; 
and so far as he is sophisticated, it is in a way and 
method of his own. He is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, 
queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and somewhat rustic 
though courteous manners corresponding very well with 
such an exterior. But his ugliness is of an honest arivl 
agreeable fashion, and becomes him much better than 
beauty." No reliance is to be placed in some further 
remarks of Hawthorne's, to the effect that Thoreau's 
sojourn in Emerson's household had been burdensome 
to his host, for all the facts point strongly in the other 

On another occasion we learn that Thoreau rowed 
Hawthorne on the Concord river in the boat built and 
used by himself and his brother in their week's excursion 
to the Merrimac in 1839, and Hawthorne, delighted at 
Thoreau's skill in paddling, decided to purchase the 
boat and change its name from Musketaquid to Pond- 
lily. But the art of managing a canoe, which Thoreau 
had learnt from some Indians who had visited Concord 
a few years previously, was not to be acquired in a 
day. " Mr. Thoreau had assured me," writes Hawthorne 
plaintively, " that it was only necessary to will the boat 
to go in any particular direction, and she would immedi- 
ately take that course, as if imbued with the spirit of the 
steersman. It may be so with him, but it is certainly 
not so with me." The difficulty once mastered, Haw- 
thorne took much pleasure in his new purchase, and 
seems to have been inspired by something of Thoreau's 
enthusiasm for the wildness of open-air life. " Oh that 
I could run wild," he exclaims, when recording his first 


successful voyage in the Pond-lily ; "that is, that I could 
put myself in a true relation with nature, and be on 
friendly terms with all congenial elements." 

By the middle of 1842 the Dial, which had never 
been prosperous from a pecuniary point of view, was in 
severe straits, and the editorship having been resigned 
by Margaret Fuller, was undertaken by Emerson himself, 
in which work he was largely assisted by Thoreau, who 
was then living in his house. It is said that Thoreau 
not only canvassed for new subscribers, read proof- 
sheets, and selected passages from the " Ethnical Scrip- 
tures" of the Oriental philosophers, which formed one 
of the features of the Dial under Emerson's manage- 
ment, but also acted as sole editor on one or two 
occasions during his friend's absence. 1 A large number 
of Thoreau's writings were inserted by Emerson, whose 
estimate of his ability was far higher than that held by 
Margaret Fuller; so that the young author was now 
becoming recognised as one of the leaders of transcen- 
dental thought. The Dial for July 1842 contained his 
delightful essay on "The Natural History of Massa- 
chusetts," to which Emerson prefixed an introductory 
note in which he hinted that Izaak Walton and 
White of Selbome had now a worthy successor. The 
"Winter Walk," another essay of the same character 
and of almost equal merit, appeared in the Dial sl 
year later. 

In July 1842 Thoreau, accompanied by a friend, 

went on a three days' excursion to Wachusett, a 

mountain to the west of Concord ("the blue wall," he 

calls it, "which bounds the western horizon"), which, 

1 VoL iii., No. 3, is said to have been edited by Thoreau. 


from its isolated position, forms a conspicuous feature 
in the landscape, and is familiar by name to all readers 
of his writings. More than once he expresses a feeling 
of sympathy with this solitary height— 

" But special I remember thee, 
Wachusett, who like me 
Standest alone without society." 

His account of the walk, and how they camped a night 
on the mountain, was published the following year in 
the Boston Miscellany », under the title of "A Walk to 
Wachusett." "Wachusett," he wrote, in describing the 
view from the summit, "is, in fact, the observatory of 
the State. There lay Massachusetts spread out before 
us in length and breadth like a map." Thoreau's love 
of mountains is exemplified in many passages of his 
diary, and the occasional excursions which he made to 
the lofty outlying ranges visible from the Concord hills 
formed some of the most pleasing episodes in his life. 
" A mountain chain," he says, "determines many things 
for the statesman and philosopher. The improvements 
of civilisation rather creep along its sides than cross its 
summit. How often is it a barrier to prejudice and 
fanaticism! In passing over these heights of landi 
through their thin atmosphere, the follies of the plain 
are refined and purified; and as many species of plants 
do not scale their summits, so many species of folly no 
doubt do not cross the Alleghanies." 

Thoreau's predilection for solitude, and indifference 
or dislike to "society," in the ordinary sense of the 
word, may be gathered from a good deal of what has 
already been related of him. There was an aloofness 


and reserve in his nature which, together with his stern 
and lofty ideals, made him appear at times somewhat 
unbending and unapproachable. It was no question of 
being better, or worse, than the generality of men — he 
was different; and the sympathy which he could not 
find in civilised man he sought in wild nature, though 
well aware that Nature herself is nothing except in her 
relation to man. "I feel," he said, "that my life is 
very homely, my pleasures very cheap. Joy and sorrow, 
success and failure, grandeur and meanness, and indeed 
most words in the English language, do not mean for 
me what they do for my neighbours. I see that my 
neighbours look with compassion on me, that they think 
it is a mean and unfortunate destiny which makes me to 
walk in these fields and woods so much, and sail on this 
river alone. But so long as I find here the only real 
Elysium, I cannot hesitate in my choice." To say, as 
is often said, that Thoreau was unsocial is, however, 
incorrect, except in a limited and qualified degree. 
"He enjoyed common people," says Channing; "he 
relished strong acrid characters." The rough honest 
farmers of Concord were his especial favourites, and in 
their company he could show plenty of that good fellow- 
ship of which he appeared, under some conditions, to 
be deficient. The impression which he left on his 
friends in Emerson's household, after his two years' 
residence there, was a wholly agreeable one. "He was 
by no means unsocial," says Dr. E. W. Emerson, " but 
a kindly and affectionate person, especially to children, 
whom he could endlessly amuse and charm in most 
novel and healthful ways. With grown persons he had 
tact and high courtesy, though with reserve. But folly, 


or pretence, or cant, or subserviency, excited his formid- 
able attack." 

Early in 1843 Thoreau ceased to live in Emerson's 
house, having accepted the offer of a tutorship in the 
family of Judge Emerson, the brother of the Concord 
philosopher, who was then living in Staten Island, near 
New York. Before leaving Concord to take up this 
duty, he wrote as follows to Emerson, who was lecturing 
at New York : — 

1 ' At the end of this strange letter I will not write what alone 
I had to say — to thank you and Mrs. Emerson for your long 
kindness to me. It would be more ungrateful than my constant 
thought. I have been your pensioner for nearly two years, and 
still left free as the sky. It has been as free a gift as the sun or the 
summer, though I have sometimes molested you with my mean 
acceptance of it — I, who have failed to render even those slight 
services of the hand which would have been for a sign at least; 
and, by the fault of my nature, have failed of many better and 
higher services. But I will trouble you no more with this, but for 
once thank you and Heaven. " 

It is probable that some stanzas of Thoreau's entitled 
" The Departure" were written about this time, when he 
had just left with regret the friends whose house had for 
two years been his home. 

Several months were spent by Thoreau in Staten 
Island. Here, in his spare hours during the spring 
and summer of 1843, he continued his walking ex- 
cursions as regularly as at Concord, and was frequently 
mistaken by the inhabitants for a busy surveyor, who 
was studying every yard of the ground with a view to 
some extensive speculation. From an old ruined fort 
he used to watch the emigrant vessels pass up the 


narrow channel from the wide outer bay and go on their 
course to New York, or, as the case might be, remain in 
quarantine at Staten Island, when the passengers would 
be allowed to go ashore and refresh themselves on that 
"artificial piece of the land of liberty." From the low 
hills in the interior of the island, among the homesteads 
where the Huguenots had been the first settlers, he 
could see the long procession of out-going ships, stretch- 
ing far as the eye could reach, "with stately march and 
silken sails," as he describes it; at other times he roamed 
along the desolate sandy shore, where packs of half-wild 
dogs were on the look-out for carcases of horses or oxen 
washed up by the tide. " An island," he says, in his 
Week, "always pleases my imagination, even the smallest, 
as a continent and integral portion of the globe. I have 
a fancy for building my hut on one. Even a bare, 
grassy isle, which I can see entirely over at a glance, has 
some undefined and mysterious charms for me." 

It was at Staten Island that Thoreau wrote those 
beautiful and highly characteristic stanzas on the sea : — 

* ' My life is like a stroll upon the beach, 
As near the ocean's edge as I can go ; 
My tardy steps its waves sometimes o'erreach, 
Sometimes I stay to let them overflow. 

My sole employment 'tis, and scrupulous care, 
To place my gains beyond the reach of tides, 

Each smoother pebble, and each shell more rare, 
Which Ocean kindly to my hand confides. 

I have but few companions on the shore : 
They scorn the strand who sail upon the sea ; 

Yet oft I think the ocean they've sailed o'er 
Is deeper known upon the strand to me. 


The middle sea contains no crimson dulse, 
Its deeper waves cast up no pearls to view ; 

Along the shore my hand is on its pulse, 
And I converse with many a shipwrecked crew." 

During the sojourn in Staten Island, Thoreau was 
frequently in New York, where he made the acquaint- 
ance of W. H. Channing, Edward Palmer, Lucretia 
Mott, Henry James, Horace Greeley, and other persons 
of note. "In this city," he wrote to his sister on 21st 
July, " I have seen, since I last wrote, W. H. Channing, 
at whose house in Fifteenth Street I spent a few pleasant 
hours, discussing the all-absorbing question — what to 
do for the race. Also Horace Greeley, editor of the 
Tribune, who is cheerfully in earnest at his office of 
all work, a hearty New Hampshire boy as one could 
wish to meet, and says, ' Now be neighbourly.'" With 
Greeley, who was at this time preaching Fourierism in 
the New York Tribune, in conjunction with Margaret 
Fuller and George Ripley, Thoreau established a firm 
friendship; and it will be seen that Greeley was able, 
a few years later, to render him valuable service in 
securing publication for his writings. In a letter 
addressed to Emerson from Staten Island, 23rd May 
1843, Thoreau thus relates his impressions of New 
York :— 

l " You must not count much upon what I can do or learn in New 
tyork. Everything there disappoints me but the crowd, rather, I 
was disappointed with the rest before I came. I have no eyes for 
their churches, and what else they have to brag of. Though I 
know but little about Boston, yet what attracts me in a quiet way 
seems much meaner and more pretending than there — libraries, 
pictures, and faces in the street. You don't know where any 


respectability inhabits. The crowd is something new and to be 
attended to. It is worth a thousand Trinity Churches and 
Exchanges, while it is looking at them ; and it will run over them 
and trample them underfoot. There are two things I hear and am 
aware I live in the neighbourhood of — the roar of the sea and the / 
hum of the city." 

Though literary work had not yet come to be regarded 
by Thoreau as his principal employment, his pen was 
not idle during his visit to Staten Island. He wrote 
some articles for the Democratic Review and Dial, and 
made some translations from the Greek of ^schylus 
and Pindar. The Dial, in spite of the fact that its con- 
tributors wrote gratuitously, was unable to pay its way, 
and the difficulties in which it was already involved led 
to its discontinuance in the spring of 1844. But although 
the transcendentalist organ thus failed to win the neces- 
sary public support, transcendentalism as a movement 
was now in the hejday of its vigour. It was, as we 
have seen, part of the creed that every one should 
labour with his own hands, and that men should 
endeavour to revert, as much as possible, from an 
artificial to a simple mode of living. When these 
thoughts began to be embodied in deeds the move- 
ment took two directions, the one towards collective 
action, and the other towards individualism. It was in 
reference to the former that Emerson wrote to Carlyle 
in 1840: "We are all a little wild with numberless 
projects of social reform; not a reading man but has a 
draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket." 
The most important of such communal projects was the 
famous Brook Farm experiment, which was commenced 
in the spring of 1841, and came to an end in 1847, on 


which subject the opinion of the chief transcendentalists 
was divided, Margaret Fuller and George Ripley joining 
in the enterprise, while Emerson, Alcott, and Thoreau 
stood aloof. The spread of Fourierism in New England 
during these same years had led to the establishment of 
"Phalansteries," in which Horace Greeley and W. H. 
Channing took a leading part. Yet another attempt at 
transcendental colonisation was that made by Alcott 
and one or two friends in 1843, on an estate near 
Harvard, which was purchased by them and named 
" Fruitlands." This small colony, to which Thoreau 
paid a visit, though he declined the offer of membership, 
was, like most of the rest, a failure; and in less than a 
year Alcott gave it up and returned to Concord. 

Of the second, or individualist, method of practising 
the "return to nature," Thoreau himself was destined to 
be the most successful exponent. His utter distrust of 
communities is very characteristic of his independent 
and self-assertive temperament. "As for these com- 
munities," he wrote in his journal, " I think I had rather 
keep bachelor's hall in hell than go to board in heaven." 
But, though he had no intention of sacrificing one iota' 
of his individuality by joining a community at Brook 
Farm or elsewhere, he had for some time been con- 
sidering the feasibility of putting his principles into 
practice by a temporary and tentative withdrawal from 
the society of his fellow-townsmen, a plan which was 
possibly suggested to him by his friend Stearns Wheeler, 
who lived for some months, in 1841 or 1842, in a hut 
near Flint's Pond, where he was visited by Thoreau. 
This desire appears in his journal as early as 1841. " I 
want to go soon and live away by the pond," he wrote 


on December 24th, " where I shall hear only the wind 
whispering among the reeds. It will be success if I 
shall have left myself behind. But my friends ask what 
I will do when I get there. Will it not be employment 
enough to watch the progress of the seasons?" A 
couple of months before the date of this entry Margaret 
Fuller had written to Thoreau : "Let me know whether 
you go to the lonely hut, and w T rite to me about Shake- 
speare if you read him there." It has already been 
mentioned that Walden Pond was associated with his 
earliest reminiscences; as a child he had thought he 
would like to live there, and as a boy he had been 
accustomed to come to its shores on dark nights, and 
fish for the " pouts " which were supposed to be attracted 
by the glare of a fire lit close to the water's edge, or, on 
a summer morning, to sit and muse for hours in his 
boat, as it drifted where the wind took it. 

There was, however, another spot with which he was 
also familiar, which came very near being the scene of 
his projected hermitage. In his youthful voyages up 
the Concord river he had noticed, at a distance of about 
two miles from the village, an old-fashioned ruinous 
farm-house, concealed behind a dense grove of red 
maples, through which was heard the barking of the 
house-dog. This was the Hollowell Farm, the seclusion 
of which, if we may trust a passage in Walden, so 
tempted Thoreau that, at some period in his early man- 
hood, he actually agreed to become its possessor. But 
before the purchase was effected and the contract signed, 
the owner of the place changed his mind, and had no 
difficulty in inducing Thoreau to release him from the 


We may surmise that in 1844, after the conclusion of 
his educational engagement in Staten Island, he was 
still more decidedly bent on putting his favourite plan 
into execution; and that his thoughts now reverted to 
Walden woods as the place most suitable for his pur- 
pose. Alcott's experiment at " Fruitlands," although 
unsuccessful in a pecuniary sense, had doubtless stimu- 
lated Thoreau's inclination to a forest life; and Emerson 
himself, while sceptical, in the main, as to the wisdom 
of such enterprises, had bought land on both sides of 
Walden Pond, with the idea of building a summer-house. 
Ellery Channing, who in his youth had made trial of a 
rough backwoods life, was of course taken into his 
friend's confidences respecting this retirement to the 
woods. "I see nothing for you in this earth," he 
wrote in 1845, "but that field which I once christened 
'Briers'; go out upon that, build yourself a hut, and 
there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive. 
I see no alternative, no other hope for you. Eat your- 
self up ; you will eat nobody else, nor anything else." 

Encouraged by these exhortations, and firmly trusting 
the promptings of his own destiny, Thoreau determined 
in the spring of 1845, being now in his twenty-eigbtk. 
Jgar T rn build himsHf a hut c-n the sfrorg of Walden. 
Pond and there live for such time, and in such a 
manner, as might best conduce to his intellectual and 
spiritual advantage. The objects of his retirement have 
been so often misunderstood that they will bear repeti- 
tion in his own words : — 

"Finding that my fellow-citizens were not likely to offer me any 
room in the court-house, or any curacy or living anywhere else, but 
that I must shift for myself, I turned my face more exclusively than 


ever towards the woods, where I was better known. I determined 
to go into business at once, and not wait to acquire the usual 
capital, using such slender means as I had already got. My purpose 
in going to Waiden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly 
there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles. 
... I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to 
front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what 
it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had 
not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear ; 
nor did I wish to practise resignation unless it was quite necessary. 
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so 
sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to 
cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and 
reduce it to its lowest terms, and if it proved to be mean, why then 
to get the w r hole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its mean- 
ness to the world ; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, 
and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion." 

Waiden was, in fact, to Thoreau what Brook Farm \ 
was to others of the transcendentalists — a retreat suitable j 
for philosophic meditation, and the practice of a simpler, 
hardier, and healthier life. 


TVTALDEN POND, on the shore of which Thoreau 
determined to make his hermitage, is a small 
lake, about a mile and a half south of the village of 
Concord, surrounded by low thickly-wooded hills. Its 
water, which is of a greenish-blue colour, is so brilliantly 
transparent that the bottom is visible at a depth of thirty 
feet 7 in which respect it is unrivalled by the other ponds 
of 'the neighbourhood, except by White Pond, which lies 
some two miles westward, on the other side of the 
Concord river. Walden had doubtless in primitive ages 
been frequented by the Indians, as was testified by 
arrow-heads discoverable on its shores, and by dim 
traces of a narrow shelf-like path, " worn by the feet of 
aboriginal hunters," which ran round the steeply-sloping 
bank. In the early days of the Massachusetts colony, 
the dense woods, which even in Thoreau's memory com- 
pletely surrounded the pond, had been the haunt of 
fugitives and outlaws; but, at a later period, the road 
from Concord to Lincoln, which skirts the east shore of 
Walden, had been dotted by the cottages and gardens of 
a small hamlet, and had resounded, as Thoreau tells us, 
" with the laugh and gossip of inhabitants." Drink had 
been the ruin of these former settlers; and the hardy 
water-drinker who now came to make his home in 


Walden woods took care to choose a new and unpol- 
luted spot for his dwelling. 

The ground chosen by Thoreau for the building of 
his hut was on a wood-lot belonging to Emerson — a 
sloping bank at the outskirts of the forest, on the north 
shore of the pond, and some thirty or forty yards from 
the water-edge. No house could be seen from this 
point, the horizon being bounded by the woods on the 
opposite shore, half a mile distant; and although the 
village was within easy reach, and the newly-constructed 
railway was visible on one hand, and the woodland road 
on the other, there was no neighbour within a mile, and 
the solitude was usually as complete as the strictest 
anchorite could have desired. This position exactly 
suited Thoreau's requirements, since he could either 
pursue his meditations undisturbed, or, if the mood took 
him, pay a visit to his friends in the village, from whose 
society he had no intention of permanently banishing 

So one morning towards the end of March 1845, 

when the approach of spring was already heralded by 
the voice of song-birds and the thawing of the ice on 
Walden, the " Bachelor j)£Jtfature " addressed himself to 
the pleasurable task of " squatting" on the selected spot. 
Having borrowed the favourite axe of his friend Alcott, 
who warned him that it was " the apple of his eye," he 
began to cut down pine-trees and hew the timber into 
shape fqr the frame of his hut, working leisurely each 
day, so as to get the full enjoyment of his occupation, 
and returning betimes to the village to sleep. After two 
or three weeks spent in this labour, when the hduse was 
framed and ready for raising, he dug his cellar in the-- 


sand of the sloping bank, six feet square by seven deep; 
and having bought the planks of a shanty belonging to 
an Irishman who worked on the Fitchburg railroad, he 
transported them to the site of the hut. Early in May 
he set up the frame of his house, on which occasion — 
for the sake of neighbourliness, as he is careful to tell us, 
rather than of necessity — he accepted the assistance of 
some of his friends, among whom were Alcott (to whom 
he returned the axe sharper than he had received it), 
George William Curtis, 1 who was then spending a year 
or two at Concord, having hired himself out as an agri- 
cultural labourer, and Edmund Hosmer, one of the 
leading farmers of Concord, with whom Thoreau Was 
on intimate terms. The hut, which was ten feet wide 
by fifteen long, with a garret and a closet, a large 
window at the side, a door at one end, and a brick fire- 
place at the other, was then boarded and roofed so as to 
be quite rain-proof, but during the summer months it 
remained without plastering or chimney. It was the 
4th of July, or Independence Day — a significant and 
auspicious date for the commencement of such an 
undertaking — when Thoreau, who previously had been 
owner of no habitations but a boat and a tent, took up 
his residence in this house, which he could call his own 
property, and which, as he proudly records, had cost 
him but twenty-eight dollars in the building. 

The question of "furnishing," which is a cause of 
such anxious consideration to so many worthy house- 

1 In his contribution to Homes of American Authors he refers 
to Thoreau's hut. " One pleasant afternoon a small party of us 
helped him raise it — a bit of life as Arcadian as any at Brook 


holders, was solved by Thoreau with his usual boldness 
and expedition. "Furniture!" he exclaims, in an out- 
burst of pitying wonder at the spectacle of men who are 
enslaved by their own chattels. " Thank God, I can sit 
and I can stand without the aid of a furniture warehouse." 
His furniture at Walden, which was partly of his own 
manufacture, consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three 
chairs, a looking-glass three inches in diameter, a pair of 
tongs and andirons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan, 
a dipper, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, 
one cup, one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and 
a japanned lamp. Curtains he did not need, since there 
were no gazers to look in on him except the sun and 
moon, and he had no carpet in danger of fading, nor 
meat and milk to be guarded from sunshine or moon- 
beam. When a lady offered him a mat, he declined it 
as being too cumbrous and troublesome an article; he 
preferred to wipe his feet on the sod outside his door. 
Finding that three pieces of limestone which lay upon 
his desk required to be dusted daily, he threw them out 
of the window, determined that if he had any furniture 
to dust, it should be " the furniture of his mind." With 
a house thus organised, housework, instead of being an 
exhausting and ever-recurring labour, was a pleasant 

" When my floor was dirty I rose early, and setting all my 
furniture out of doors on the grass, bed and bedstead making but 
one budget, dashed water on the floor, and sprinkled white sand 
from the pond on it, and then with a broom scrubbed it clean and 
white; and by the time the villagers had broken their fast, the 
morning sun had dried my house sufficiently to allow me to move 
in again, and my meditations were almost uninterrupted. It was 
pleasant to see my whole household effects on the grass, making 


a little pile like a gipsy's pack, and my three-legged table, from 
which I did not remove the books and pen and ink, standing amidst 
the pines and hickories." 

Having thus chosen his surroundings, he was free to 
choose also the most congenial manner of life. He 
rose early, and took his bath in the pond, a habit which 
he regarded as nothing less than "a religious exercise." 
After the morning bath came the work — or the leisure — 
of the day. In the early summer, before the building 
was finished, he had ploughed and planted about two 
and a half acres of the light sandy soil in the neighbour- 
hood of his hut, the crop chiefly consisting of beans, 
with a few potatoes, peas, and turnips; and during this 
first summer at Walden the bean-field was the chief 
scene of his labours, from five o'clock till noon being 
the hours devoted to the work. Day after day the 
travellers on the road from Concord to Lincoln would 
rein in their horses and pause to look with wonder on 
this strange husbandman, who cultivated a field where 
all else was wild upland, who put no manure on the soil, 
and continued to sow beans at a time when others had 
begun to hoe. 

Meantime the husbandman himself was deriving from 
his rough matter-of-fact occupation a sort of sublime 
transcendental satisfaction; it was agriculture and mys- 
ticism combined to which he was devoting his bodily and 
mental energies. What matter if, when the pecuniary 
gains and losses of the season came to be estimated, he 
found himself with a balance of but eight dollars in his 
favour, which represented his year's income from the 
farm ? Was he not less anxious and more contented 
than his fellow-agriculturists of the village ? The follow- 


ing season he improved on these results by cultivating 
only a third of an acre, and using the spade instead of 
the plough. Whatever money was further needed for 
his food and personal expenses, he earned by occasional 
day-labour in the village, for he had, as he tells us, " as 
many trades as fingers." 

After a morning thus spent in work, whether manual 
or literary, he would refresh himself by a second plunge 
in the pond, and enjoy an afternoon of perfect freedom, 
rambling, according to his wont, by river or forest, 
wherever his inclination led him. He had also his entire 
days of leisure, when he could not afford "to sacrifice 
the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether 
of the head or hands." " Sometimes," he says, "in a 
summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I 
sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in 
a reverie, amidst the pines, and hickories, and sumachs, 
in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang 
around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by 
the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of 
some traveller's waggon on the distant highway, I was 
reminded of the lapse of time." He was well aware 
that these day-dreams must be accounted sheer idleness 
by his enterprising townsmen ; but of that he himself 
was the best and only judge. On moonlit evenings 
he would walk on the sandy beach of the pond, and t 
wake the echoes of the surrounding woods with his 

We have seen what amount of shelter Thoreau thought 
needful for his comfort ; his estimate of what is necessary 
in the way of food and clothing was conceived in the 
same spirit. His costume was habitually coarse, shabby, 


and serviceable ; he would wear corduroy, Channing tells 
us, but not shoddy. His drab hat, battered and weather- \ 
stained, his clothes often torn and as often mended, his } 
dusty cow-hide boots, all told of hard service in field ^ 
and forest, and of the unwillingness of their wearer to ] 
waste a single dollar on the vanities of outward appear-^ 7 
ance. He wished his garments to become assimilated 
to himself, and to receive a true impress of his character; 
he would not be, like some king or nobleman, a wooden 
horse on which clean clothes might be hung for a day's 
ornament. His diet was fully as simple and economical 
as his clothing; his food, while he stayed at Walden, 
consisted of rice, Indian meal, potatoes, and very rarely 
salt pork, and his drink was water. He baked his own 
bread of rye and Indian meal, at first procuring yeast 
from the village, but afterwards coming to the conclusion 
that it was " simpler and more respectable " to omit the 
process of leavening. He had a strong preference at all 
times for a vegetarian diet, though he would occasionally 
catch a mess of fish for his dinner from Walden Pond, 
and pleads guilty on one occasion to having slaughtered 
and devoured a wood-chuck which had made inroads on 
his bean field. 

Here is an anecdote of Thoreau, by one who visited 
him at Walden : — 

\ u One of the axioms of his philosophy had been to take the life of 
V 'nothing that breathed, if he could avoid it; but it had now become 
a serious question with him whether to allow the wood-chucks and 
rabbits to destroy his beans, or to fight. Having determined on the 
latter, he procured a steel trap, and soon caught a venerable old 
fellow ' to the manor born,' and who had held undisputed posses- 
sion there for all time. After re|aimng the enemy of all beans ' in 
durance. m1© 'for a few hours, he pressed his foot on the spring o 


the trap and let him go — expecting and hoping never to see him 
more. Vain delusion ! 

"A few days after, on returning from the village post-office and 
looking in the direction of his bean field, to his disgust and 
apprehension he saw the same old grey-back disappear behind some 
brush just outside the field. Accordingly he set the trap and again 
caught the thief. 

" Now it so happened that those old knights of the shot-gun, hook 
and line, Wesson, Pratt and Co. , were on a piscatorial visit to the 
Pond. A council of war was thereupon held to determine what 
should be done with the wood-chuck. 

"A decision was rendered immediately by the landlord of the 
Middlesex Hotel in his terse and laconic manner : * Knock his 
brains out ! ' 

" This, however, was altogether too severe on the wood-chuck, 
thought Henry ; even wood-chucks had some rights that * Squatter 
Sovereigns' should respect. Was he not the original occupant 
there; and had not he * jumped' the wood-chuck's * claim,' de- 
stroyed his home and built the 'hut' upon the ruins? 

"After considering the question carefully he took the wood-chuck 
in his arms and carried him some two miles away, and then, with a 
severe admonition at the end of a good stick, he opened the trap 
and again let him depart in peace, — and he never saw him more." 1 

In November, when the summer weather was ended 
and frost coming on apace, he put the finishing touches 
to his house by shingling its sides, building a fire-place 
and chimney, and finally plastering the walls. Hardly 
was this last process over when the winter set in with full 
severity, and by the middle of December the pond was 
completely frozen and the ground covered with snow. 
He now began, in the full sense, to inhabit his hermitage, 
his outdoor employments being limited to collecting and 
chopping firewood, while dining the long evening hours 

3 Some Recollections and Incidents concerning Tkoreau, by Joseph 


he occupied himself with the journal, which he still kept 
with unfailing regularity, and which formed the basis of 
his Walden and the Week on the Concord and Merrimac 
Rivers^ the latter of which was now in course of pre- 
paration. Now, too, he had full leisure to weigh the 
respective merits of society and solitude. Of the solitude 
thus offered him he availed himself with gratitude and 
profit; it was during this period that he matured his 
thoughts and perfected his literary style, so that having 
come to Walden with still somewhat of the crudeness of 
youth, he might leave it with the firmness and dignity of 
\ In this connection may be quoted the pleasant stanzas 
of the "Winter Walk," written at Walden, though at a 
somewhat earlier date : — 

" When Winter fringes every bough 
With his fantastic wreath, 
And puts the seal of silence now 
Upon the leaves beneath ; 

When every stream in its pent-house 

Goes gurgling on its way, 
And in his gallery the mouse 

Nibbleth the meadow hay ; 

Methinks the summer still is nigh, 

And lurketh underneath, 
As that same meadow-mouse doth he 

Snug in that last year's heath. 

Eager I hasten to the vale, 

As if I heard brave news, 
How nature held high festival, 

Which it were hard to lose. 


I gambol with my neighbour ice, 

And sympathising quake, 
As each new crack darts in a trice 

Across the gladsome lake. 

One with the cricket in the ground, 

And fagot on the hearth, 
Resounds the rare domestic sound 

Along the forest path." 

It is, however, a mistake to suppose that Thoreau was 
entirely isolated from society during his seclusion at 
Walden — such had never been his intention, and such 
was not, in fact, the case. Every day or two, in winter 
as well as in summer, he strolled to the village to see his 
relatives and friends, and to hear the gossip of the hour, 
sometimes returning late at night after supper at a friend's 
house, and steering his way with difficulty through the 
darkness of the Walden woods. The Fitchburg railroad 
often provided him with a pathway on these occasions ; 
indeed, so well known was he along the line, that the 
drivers of the trains were accustomed to bow to him as 
to an old acquaintance. Nor was the visiting altogether 
on Thoreau's side; for, as may well be believed, the 
news of his strange retirement brought him numerous 
unbidden guests, whom he received with such hospitality 
as was possible in his sylvan abode. To the simple 
holiday folk, who came to enjoy themselves and make 
the best of their time, such as children and railroad 
men, wood-choppers, fishermen, hunters, and even idiots 
from the almshouse, he seems invariably to have extended 
a hearty welcome and good fellowship ; not so, perhaps, 
to the dilettante reformers, prying gossips, and sham 
philanthropists, whose advances he characteristically 


resented, men who " did not know when their visit had 
terminated," though he sought to indicate this fact to 
them by going about his business again, and answering 
them " from greater and greater remoteness." 

He also received welcome visits from Emerson, on 
whose land he was "squatting," and from his other per- 
sonal friends. Ellery Channing spent a fortnight with 
him in his hut at Walden, at the time when he was 
building his fireplace, and was a frequent visitor at all 
seasons of the year. Alcott w T as another of his regular 
guests, and it is he who is referred to in the pages of 
Walden as "one of the last of the philosophers," the 
man "of the most faith of any alive." On a Sunday 
afternoon he would sometimes be cheered by the approach 
of the " long-headed farmer," Edmund Hosmer, one of 
the firmest and heartiest of his friends, and the talk 
would then be of "rude and simple times, when men 
sat about large fires in cold bracing weather, with clear 

The following is a record of a visit paid to Thoreau 
by Joseph Hosmer, the son of his farmer friend : — 

" Early in September 1845, on his invitation, I spent a Sunday at 
his lake-side retreat. His hospitality and manner of entertainment 
were unique, and peculiar to the time and place. The cooking 
apparatus was primitive, and consisted of a hole made in the earth 
and inlaid with stones, upon which the fire was made, after the 
manner at the sea-shore when they have a clam-bake. When suffi- 
ciently hot, remove the embers and place on the fish, frog, etc. 

" Our bill-of-fare included horned pout, corn, bread, beans, salt, 
etc. The beans had been previously cooked. Tfre meal for our 
bread was mixed with lake water only, and when prepared it was 
spread upon the surface of a thin stone used for that purpose, and 
baked. When the bread had been sufficiently baked the stone was 


removed, then the fish was placed over the hot stones and roasted — 
some in wet paper and some without — and when seasoned with salt 
they were delicious." 

It will be seen from these instances that Thoreau was 
by no means the misanthropic anchorite that some have 
imagined him. He well knew the value of social inter- 
course ; but, on the other hand, he knew also that 
" society is commonly too cheap"; he loved at times to 
be alone, and confesses that he " never found the com- 
panion that was so companionable as solitude." 

It has been supposed that the Walden hermitage was 
occasionally a refuge to quite other visitors than those 
who have been enumerated, and that Thoreau's hut was 
a station in the great "Underground Railway" for run- 
away slaves, though Thoreau himself only mentions one 
visitor of this kind, whom he had helped " to forward 
toward the north star." 

I am informed, however, on good authority, that of 
Colonel Wentworth Higginson, that Thoreau's hut can 
have had little, if anything, to do with the Underground 
Railway. " Massachusetts did not, like Ohio, lie in the 
shortest line between the slave-states and Canada ; hence 
fewer fugitives passed through, and those who did were 
less hotly pursued, so that the Underground Railway, 
which was a pretty definite chain of houses in Ohio, was 
rather a vague figure of speech hereabouts. In one or 
two cases fugitives were expressly taken to Concord, and 
may have been in Thoreau's hut, but it must have been 
quite exceptional." " I have made this a matter of 
special investigation," says Dr. S. A. Jones, 1 "and the 

1 Lippincotfs Magazine, August 1 89 1. In the first edition of this 
book I was in error on this point. 


truth is that there were specially prepared houses in 
'Old Concord' which afforded infinitely more secure 
resting and hiding-places for the fugitive slave. More- 
over, the survivors who managed Concord 'station' 
declare that Thoreau's hut was not used for such a 

It was in connection with Thoreau's abolitionist enthu- 
siasm that a remarkable incident befell him during his 
first autumn at Walden. His individualistic view of life 
had naturally led him, as it led Alcott and some other 
transcendentalists, to the adoption of anarchist doctrines, 
and he heartily accepted and endorsed the dictum that 
" that government is best which governs not at all." His 
deep disapproval of the foreign policy of the United 
States in their war with Mexico, and his still stronger 
detestation of the sanction given by Government to 
negro slavery at home, had the effect of spurring his 
latent discontent into a sense of active personal anta- 
gonism to the State and its representatives, and he felt 
that something more than a verbal protest was demanded 
from those who, like himself, were required to show their 
allegiance in the form of taxes. " I meet this American 
Government, or its representative the State Government, 
directly, and face to face, once a year — no more — in the 
person of its tax-gatherer. ... If a thousand men were 
not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a 
violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, 
and enable the State to commit violence and shed inno- 
cent blood." 1 

So when his " civil neighbour," the tax-gatherer, came 
to Thoreau for the poll-tax, it was refused (as the church- 
1 Essay on Civil Disobedience, 1 849. 


tax had been refused by him in 1838) on the ground that 
he did not care to trace the course of his dollar " till it 
buys a man, or a musket to shoot one with." To the 
anxious inquiry of the tax-gatherer what he was to do 
under these perplexing circumstances, the answer returned 
was that if he really wished to do anything, he should 
resign his office. The first difficulty of this kind had 
arisen in 1843, when Alcott, who was probably acting in 
conjunction with Thoreau, was arrested for his refusal to 
pay the tax; but it was not till 1845 1 that the State pro- 
ceeded against the younger and, as it was presumably 
thought, less important offender. One afternoon, when 
Thoreau chanced to have gone in from Walden to the 
village to get a shoe from the cobbler's, he was inter- 
cepted and lodged in the town gaol. " Henry, why are 
you here ? " were the words of Emerson, when he came 
to visit his friend in this new place of retirement. "Why 
are you not here?" was the significant reply of the 
prisoner, in allusion to the characteristic caution of 
Emerson. A humorous account of the night he spent 
in prison, and of the fellow-criminals he met there, was 
afterwards written by Thoreau. " It was like travelling/' 
he tells us, "into a far country, such as I had never 
expected to behold, to lie there for one night. It seemed 
to me that I had never heard the town-clock strike before, 
nor the evening sounds of the village, for we slept with 
the windows open, which were inside the grating. It 
was a closer view of my native town. I was fairly inside 
of it. I never had seen its institutions before. I began 
to comprehend what its inhabitants were about." The 
next morning he was discharged, his mother and aunts 
1 The date is wrongly given in Emerson's Memoir as 1847. 


having paid the tax without his consent — a somewhat 
tame conclusion of the dispute on which he had not 
reckoned. 1 He proceeded straight from the prison door, 
among the meaning glances of his fellow-townsmen, to 
finish the errand in which he had been interrupted over- 
night, and having put on his mended shoe, was soon in 
command of a huckleberry party, on a hill two miles 
from Concord, from which spot, as he characteristically 
remarked, "the State was nowhere to be seen." 

During all his walks over the fields and forests of the 

Walden neighbourhood, in which he was absent for hours, 

and sometimes days together, he never fastened the 

door of his hut; yet he never missed anything but a 

volume of Homer, and "was never molested by any 

person but those who represented the State." His 

longest absence from Walden seems to have been the 

fortnight he spent in Maine, in September 1846, when, 

v in company with a cousin who was residing at Bangor, 

he explored the recesses of the Maine woods, ascended 

the mountain Ktaadn, and made personal acquaintance,} 

with some of the native Indian hunters, whose habits) 

Jie was never weary of studying. 

/ In 1847 he had some correspondence and personal 

S intercourse with Agassi^ who had come to the States 

' in the preceding autumn, and paid more than one 

visit to Concord. On several occasions collections of 

s fishes, turtles, and various local fauna were sent to 

1 The payment of the tax has been wrongly ascribed to Emerson. 
The money was\ actually handed to the gaoler by Miss Maria 
Thoreau, disguised\by wrapping something round her head. The 
gaoler, who is still giving (1894), says that the payment made 
Thoreau "mad as the devil." 


Agassiz by Thoreau, of whose knowledge and observa- 
tion the great^juatoalist formed a high opinion. In 
one way, however, Thoreau differed widely from other 
members of the same profession, for, though a naturalist, 
he had discarded the use of the gun and the trap before 
he lived in the woods, his field-glass being the sole 
weapon of attack which he now carried in his excursions. 
Fishing was the only sport which he did not abandon, 
and even on this point his conscience was already 
uneasy, and he had discovered that he could not fish 
("without falling a little in self-respect." 

Thus two summers and two winters passed by, 
fruitful in quiet meditation and ripening experience, 
though offering few incidents which call for special 
remark. When the summer of 1847 had arrived, he 
began to feel that the object for which he retired to 
Walden was now sufficiently accomplished, and that 
it was time for him to return to the more social atmo- 
sphere of the village. His period of retirement had 
not been wasted or misspent, for he had learnt by his 
experiment two great lessons concerning the practical 
life and the spiritual. First, "that to maintain one's 
self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if 
we will live simply and wisely," it being his own ex- 
perience that he could meet all the expenses of the year 
by six weeks of work. Secondly, "that if one 
advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, 
and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, 
he will meet with a success unexpected in common 
hours; in proportion as he simplifies his life the laws 
of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude 
will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty nor weakness 


weakness." He had put his transcendental philosophy 
to the test, and the result had not disappointed him; he 
was no longer the " parcel of vain strivings " which he 
had pictured himself in his youthful poem, but he had 
now firm ground beneath his feet, and a clear object 
towards which to direct his course in the future. 
H^ ^ O n 6tl1 September 1847 ne left Walden, and again 
^ took up his residence in his father's household at 

Concord. The hut in which he had spent so many 
pleasant hours became the habitation of a Scotch 
gardener; a few years later it was bought by a farmer, 
and removed to another quarter of the Concord 
township, where it was used as a small granary and 
tool-house till some time after the death of its architect 
and original inhabitant. 

"I left the woods," he says, "for as good a reason as I went 
there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to 
live, and could not spare any more time for that one." "Why 
did I leave the woods ? " he wrote in his journal a few years later. 
" I do not think that I can tell. I do not know any better how I 
came to go there. I have often wished myself back. Perhaps I 
wanted change. There was a little stagnation, it may be, about 
two o'clock in the afternoon. Perhaps if I lived there much longer, 
I might live there for ever. One might think twice before he 
accepted heaven on such terms." 

Walden, the most famous of Thoreau's volumes, which 
contains the account of his life in the woods, was not 
published till 1834. That this most characteristic 
episode of his life should be a cause of wonder and 
misunderstanding to the majority of his readers and 
fellow-citizens, was, perhaps, only to be expected Men- 
tion is made in one of the later diaries of an acquaintance 


of Emerson's, who was much interested in Walden, but 
who was convinced that the book was nothing more than 
a satire and jeu (Fesprit, written solely for the amuse- 
ment of the passing moment, — a misconception of the 
whole spirit of Thoreau's life, which is scarcely more 
wide of the mark than are some of the judgments passed 
on the Walden experiment in more recent criticism. 
" His shanty life," says Mr. Lowell, " was a mere im- 
possibility, so far as his own conception of it goes, as an 
entire independency of mankind. The tub of Diogenes 
had a sounder bottom." l But there is not a word to 
indicate that Thoreau was thinking of an "entire in- 
dependency of mankind," or of abjujiag~ft- single product 
of civilisation which is of real use to men. The fact 
that this enterprise of Thoreau's, as described in his 
Walden, has been an encouragement and help to many 
persons, both in America and England, to live a simpler 
and saner life, is of itself sufficient testimony to the 
success of his endeavours. Yet Mr. Lowell's most un- 
justifiable confusion of simplicity with barbarism has 
again and again been quoted by later critics as an 
exposure of Thoreau's fallacies ! 

" Thoreau," says Dr. E. W. Emerson, "is absurdly 
misconceived by most people. He did not wish that 
every one should live in isolated cabins in the woods, 
on Indian corn and beans and cranberries. His own 
Walden camping was but a short experimental episode, 

1 The author of the article on Thoreau in the Eficyclofiiedia 
Britantiica falls into a similar error, when he states that Thoreau 
was " desirous of proving to himself and others that man could be 
as independent of mankind as the nest-building bird." So, too, 
Professor Nichol, in his American Literature. 



and even then this really very human and affectionate 
man constantly visited his friends in the village, and was 
a most dutiful son and affectionate brother. It is idle 
for cavilling Epicureans to announce as a great discovery 
that he sometimes took supper comfortably at a friend's 
house, or was too good a son to churlishly thumb back 
the cake that his good mother had specially made for 
him. He was not like the little men of that day who 
magnified trifles of diet until they could think of little 

It is necessary, if we would understand Thoreau aright, 
to appreciate carefully the importance of his sojourn at 
Walden in relation to the rest of his career. It seems to 
be sometimes forgotten that the period of his retirement 
was only two years out of the twenty of his adult life, 
and that it is therefore an injustice to him to connect 
his work too exclusively with Walden, or to speak 
of that episode as containing the sum and sub- 
stance of his philosophical belief. It was a time of 
self- probation rather than an attempt to influence 
others, a trial rather than an expression of his trans- 
cendental ideas ; he was under thirty years of age when 
he went to Walden, had published no volumes, and was 
altogether unknown except to a limited circle of his 
fellow-townsmen. On the other hand, it must be noted 
that this was the time when his t houghts ripe ned, and 
his ethical creed assumed a definite form, and that his 
residence in the woods was riot only the most striking, 
because the most picturesque, incident in his life, but 
also gave a determining direction to his later career. 
He was a student when he came to Walden ; when he 
returned to Concord he was a teacher. 


And now, at this critical point in Thoreau's story, it 
may be well to interrupt for a time the external narrative 
of his life, in order to show what manner of man he was, 
in appearance, character, sympathies, studies, and other 
personal traits, when he thus came forward to preach to 
an inattentive world his gospel of simplicity. 


HP HE personality of Thoreau was one which seldom 
failed to arrest the attention of those who met him. 
" He was short of stature," says Mr. Moncure Conway, 
who visited him a few years after he left Walden, " well 
built, and such a man as I have fancied Julius Caesar to 
have been. Every movement was full of courage and 
repose ; the tones of his voice were those of Truth her- 
self ; and there was in his eye the pure bright blue of 
the New England sky, as there was sunshine in his flaxen 
hair. He had a particularly strong aquiline Roman 
nose, which somehow reminded me of the prow of a 
ship." This description is fully corroborated by that 
^ given in Thoreau^ the Potf-Naturalist, by Ellery Channing, 
/ who, from his long and intimate acquaintance with 
\ Thoreau, could speak with peculiar authority : — 

41 His face, once seen, could not be forgotten. The features were 
quite marked : the nose aquiline, or very Roman, like one of the 
portraits of Caesar (more like a beak, as was said); large overhanging 
brows above the deepest-set blue eyes that could be seen, in certain 
lights, and in others grey — eyes expressive of all shades of feeling, 
but never weak or near-sighted ; the forehead not unusually broad 
or high, full of concentrated energy or purpose ; the mouth with 
prominent lips, pursed up with meaning and thought when silent, 
and giving out when open a stream of the most varied and unusual 
and instructive sayings. His whole figure had an active earnestness, 


as if he had no moment to waste* Even in the boat he had a wary, 
transitory air, his eyes on the outlook — perhaps there might be 
ducks, or the Blondin turtle, or an otter, or sparrow." 

From 1840 to i860 Thoreau's figure must have been 

a very familiar one to his fellow-townsmen of Concord, 

since he was abroad in all weathers and at all hours, a 

( noticeable man with his sloping shoulders, " his eyes 

<( bent on the ground, his long swinging gait, his hands 

) perhaps clasped behind him, or held closely at his side, 

the fingers made into a fist." The indomitable spirit 

that animated his whole character was written unmistak- 

5* ably in his personal appearance. " How deep and clear 

*is the mark that thought sets upon a man's face!" was 

the exclamation of one who saw him for the first time. 1 

The homeliness of Thoreau's mode of dress has 
already been noticed, and this, during his more lengthy 
walks or excursions, often led to strange errors as to his 
object and vocation. In Cape Cod and elsewhere he 
was several times mistaken for a pedlar, and on board a 
steamboat on the Hudson river he was once asked for a 
"chaw o' baccy" by a bystander, who took him for a 

1 There are three portraits of Thoreau which have been repro- 
duced in various forms. (1) A crayon done by S. W. Rowse (a 
young artist who stayed with the Thoreaus) in 1854, before the 
time when Thoreau wore a beard. (2) A photograph by Critcher- 
son, taken at Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1857 or 1858 (not in 
1861, as has been wrongly stated). Thoreau here appears with a 
fringe of beard on his throat. (3) An ambrotype photograph, 
taken by Dunshee at New Bedford, at the request of Mr. Daniel 
Ricketson, in August 186 1, when Thoreau was wearing a full 
beard and moustache. From this photograph a bas-relief medallion 
head, in profile, life-size, was produced by Mr. Walton Ricketson, 
the son of Thoreau's friend. 


shipmate. It is said that his speech "had always a burr < 
in it," owing to his peculiar pronunciation of the letter r;} 
but all his oddities of appearance and manner were soon 
forgotten under the singular charm of his conversation,! 
the power of which is attested By"a1t "who TSiew him. 
He MmlseTHsays^ in a passage of his diary, that his bon- 
mots were the " ripe, dry fruit of long past experience,^ 
which fell from him easily without giving him either pain 
or pleasure. This experiejocft was j& q% gather ed, as is 

Usually the case, by foreign travel or a varied manner 

[ of life, but by ^ hrew3 nativ e sense^ and keen practical 
insig ht. There was a wonderful fitness, Emerson tells 
us, between his body and mind. He was expert as a 
walker, swimmer, runner, rower, and in all outdoor 
employments; he could measure any given distance or 
height by foot or eye with extraordinary precision, could 
estimate the exact weight of anything put into his hands, 

! and from a box containing a bushel or more of loose 
pencils could take up just a dozen pencils at every 


In 1847, in answer to a circular which was issued at 
the time for the purpose of collecting facts in the lives 
of the Harvard class of 1837, Thoreau wrote the follow- 
ing highly characteristic letter : — 

" Am not married. I don't know whether mine is a profession, 
or a trade, or what not. It is not yet learned, and in every instance 
has been practised before being studied. The mercantile part of it 
was begun by myself alone. It is not one but legion. I will give 
you some of the monster's heads. I am a Schoolmaster, a private^ 
Tutor, a Surveyor, a Gardener, a Farmer, a Painter (I mean a < 
House Painter), a Carpenter, a Mason, a Day-labourer, a Pencil- K > 
maker, a Glass-paper-maker, a Writer, and sometimes a Poetaster. J 
If you will act the part of Iolus, and apply a hot iron to any of 



these heads, I shall be greatly obliged to you. My present employ- 
ment is to answer such orders as may be expected from so general 
an advertisement as the above. That is, if I see fit, which is not 
always the case, for I have found out a way to live without what is 
commonly called employment or industry, attractive or otherwise. 
^Indeed, my steadiest employment, if such it can be called, is to 
.keep myself at the top of my condition, and ready for whatever 
' may turn up in heaven or on earth. The last two or three years I 
lived in Concord woods, alone, something more than a mile from 
any neighbour, in a house built entirely by myself. 

"P.S. — I beg that the class will not consider me an object of 
charity, and if any of them are in want of any pecuniary assistance 
and will make known their case to me, I will engage to give them 
some advice of more worth than money." 1 

He has sometimes been called an_as££Jicj but if he 
seldom used flesh or wine, tea or coffee, and other 
supposed "necessaries" of diet, this abstinence was 
assuredly due to the fact that he found he thus 
increased, rather than diminished, the pleasure of 
existence. The rare delicacy of his nature showed 
itself in his abhorrence of every form of sensuality or 
grossness, and in his expressed desire to live "as 
tenderly and daintily as one would pluck a flower." 
\Yet seldom has there been a greater lover of healthy 
\ physical life. The keenness of his senses was extra- 
ordinary, and the perceptions of colour, sound, smell, 
and taste are always spoken of in his diaries as luxuries 

Sbr which he can never be sufficiently grateful. Music 
lad at all times a peculiar attraction for him (he was 
dm self a skilful player on the flute), and is repeatedly 
mentioned in the diaries and letters as one of the 

1 From " Memorials of the Class of 1837, prepared for the 
Fiftieth Anniversary of the Graduation," by Henry Williams, 
Boston, 1887. 


supreme delights of life. But, if we wish to discover 
the central and distinctive quality of Thoreau's character, 
we must look beyond the above-mentioned faculties to 
<qthe inner secret of his power — the ideality that domin- 
ated all his thoughts and actions. He was a transcend- 
entalist in a far deeper and more literal sense than the 
majority of those who bore that name. 

It was this ideality that gave to his character a certain 
external coldness and remoteness. " I love Henry," 
said one of his friends, " but I cannot like him; and as 
for taking his arm, I should as soon think of taking 
the arm of an elm-tree." The misunderstandings thus 
generated were keenly felt by Thoreau himself, who 
rightly attributes them to his own extreme sensibility 
and exacting disposition. There are a number of 
passages in the .diaries (perhaps not to be taken very 
literally), in which his over-sensitive nature seems to be 
tormented by unnecessary doubts as to his relations 
with his friends, and this rigid strictness of ideal is 
especially observable in his essays on Love and Friend- 
ship, the latter of which forms a portion of one of the 
best known chapters in The Week, Thus it was that 
the very value which Thoreau set on his friendships 
was his chief difficulty in maintaining them, their 
rarity being to him the measure of their worth; so 
that, with a few exceptions, he turned to nature for / 
what he could not find in man. It is only fair to add "^ 
that Ellery Channing, who, as Thoreau's most intimate 
friend, should be an authority on this point, asserts 
positively that the essay on Friendship was "poetical 
and romantic," and that to read it literally would be to 
accuse its author of stupidity. "The living actual 


friendship and affection," says Channing, " which makes 
time a reality, no one knew better. He meant friend- 
ship, and meant nothing else, and stood by it without 
the slightest abatement." 

To a man of this temperament, who needed leisure, 
breathing-space, and elbow-room, and could not endure 
to be shut up in polite drawing-rooms and dining-rooms, 
where the guests jostled each other, mentally and bodily, 
and where all true individuality was hidden and wasted, 
the frivolities and formalities of conventional society 
could not be otherwise than a burden and an irritant. 
Under such conditions he became contradictory and 
pugnacious, and marred the course of conversation by 
the promptitude with which he negatived every pro- 
position that might be advanced, most of all when he 
detected any signs of hypocrisy, foppishness, or dilet- 
tantism. The sharp sayings, and still more~ u aTcTRTrig 
suences^ as Emerson terms them, which Thoreau dealt 
out to all pretentious personages, had, of course, the 
effect of getting him the reputation of cynicism and 
misanthropy; those readers, however, who> rightly appre- 
ciate his character, will distinguish between the normal 
churlishness, which certainly was not one of his failings, 
and the occasional acridity of speech which he deliber- 
ately adopted in his intercourse with his fellow-citizens. 
" If he had any affectation in his sincere and aspiring 
nature," wrote one who knew him well, Mr. Edward 
Hoar, of Concord, " it was a sort of inherited petulance, 
that covered a sensitive and affectionate nature, easily 
wounded by the scornful criticism which his new de- 
parture sometimes brought upon him." 

To style Thoreau a misanthrope is to misunderstand 



his whole nature, and to do him a great injustice. He 
loved to study all forms of innocent and healthy char- 
acter, and in one of his works he quotes, as specially 
applicable to himself, Terence's famous maxim of regard 
for our common humanity. Had he been the mere 
fastidious recluse that some critics have supposed 
him, he could not have drawn his sympathetic and 
humorous sketches of the sturdy Concord farmers, or 
of the hearty unsophisticated wood-chopper by whom he 
was visited at Walden, or of the aged brown-coated 
fisherman who haunted the banks of the Musketaquid, 
or of the drunken Dutchman on board a New York 
steamboat, or of the merry old oysterman who gave him 
hospitality at Cape Cod. For idealist and enthusiast 
f though he was, he possessed a true vein of humour, 
which is none the less piquant because it is expressed in 
?a manner so dry, pithy, and laconic. It is pleasant, 
too, to note that the gravity which was habitual with the 
hermit and philosopher could melt, when occasion arose, 
£into merriment and good-fellowship, and that when he 
Vaughed " the operation was sufficient to split a pitcher." 
JHe was fond of playing on his flute, and would at times 
/sing "Tom Bowling" and other nautical songs with 
/much gusto and animation; and it is even recorded that 
(he once or twice startled his friends by performing an 
improvised dance. 

S Reference has already been made to his sympathy 
/with children, and his remarkable power of interesting 
land amusing them. He would tell them stories, sing to 
them, and play on his flute, or perform various pieces 
of jugglery for their entertainment — an accomplishment 
which he had probably learnt from his eccentric uncle, 


Charles Dunbar, in whose oddities he always took much 
interest. But it was in the huckleberry expeditions that 
his services were in greatest request, for then he would 
drive the hay-cart in which the children journeyed to the 
hills where the berries abounded, — and who knew each 
knoll and dingle so intimately as Thoreau? — "leading 
the frolic with his jokes and laughter as they jolted 
along." When we read the delightful accounts of his 
kindness and helpfulness on these occasions, we know 
how to estimate the charges of misanthropy and 

''Though shy of general society," says the writer of the re- 
miniscences in Fraser, " Thoreau was a hero among children, and 
the captain of their excursions. He was the sine qud 11011 of the 
Concord huckleberry party, which is in that region something of an 
institution. To have Thoreau along with them was to be sure of 
finding acres of bushes laden with the delicious fruit. ... A child 
stumbles and falls, losing his carefully gathered store of berries ; 
^Thoreau kneels beside the weeping unfortunate, and explains to 
^ him and to the group that nature has made these little provisions 
")for next year's crop. If there were no obstacles, and little boys did 
i not fall occasionally, how would berries be scattered and planted ? 
\ and what would become of huckleberryings ? He will then arrange 
that he who has thus suffered for the general good shall have the 
first chance at the next pasture." 

The severity of Thoreau J s ideal was not less con- 
spicuous in matters of business than in his relations 
towards his friends. He was absolutely and austerely 

> faithful to his inner sense of right, keeping his engage- 

> ments with stern regularity, and never failing in the full 
(^discharge of his duty to those who engaged him as 

surveyor or handicraftsman. Himself thus inflexible in 
his probity, he expected and exacted a corresponding 



^uprightness in others; and where this was not exhibited, 
< he made no polite pretence of concealing his dissatisfac- 
tion. No meanness, hypocrisy, or dishonesty, whether 
£on the part of rich or poor, could escape the rigorous 
£ censure of " that terrible Thoreau," as his acquaintances 
* called him ; nor would he waste on thriftless applicants 
one cent of the money which he had earned by his own 
conscientious labours. He maintained sincerity to be^ 
the chief of all virtues. O 

/" A Yankee stoic " is a term that has been applied to 
Thoreau. Though cosmopolitan in his philosophical 
views, he was American to the backbone in sentiment 
and manner, and did not study to conceal his indifference 
or aversion for English and European fashions. Hex 
- possessed in large measure the American qualities of > 
self- consciousness and self-assertion, and avows in J 
Walden his intention "to bra^ as lustily as chanticleer 
fo tll ft ^ftimfoffi" m order to wake up his neighbours. 
And as America was the most favoured of countries, so 
did he extol his native Concord as the most favoured of 
towns. This preference, however, was not due, as some 
have supposed, to mere parochialism and narrowness of 
mind — for parochialism, the study of the little instead 
of the great, was certainly not one of Thoreau's failings 
— but was, as Emerson has pointed out, a half-serious, 
half-humorous way of reasserting the old stoical maxim 
that all places are the same to a wise man, and that "the 
best place for each is where he stands." On the same 
principle, being asked at table what dish he preferred, 
he is said to have answered, " The nearest."/ 

Not even the suspicion of provincial prejudice can 
attach to Thoreau's literary tastes. It is true that his 


earnest practical mind could not relish the subtleties of 
metaphysical works, the dulness of moral treatises, or 
the floweriness of romance; and he was usually averse 
to reading the magazines and journals of the day, the 
" news " in which he was interested being other than 
that which newspapers report. But he read largely and 
widely nevertheless, and his discrimination never deterior- 
ated into fastidiousness and partiality. The class of 
books which he most highly valued was undoubtedly 
the " sacred scriptures, " as he calls them, of the poets 
and philosophers of Persia^ and India — the "KhflgYflt 

Geeta^ '^^^^^^l^S^^ i$£mvi^dL&^ 
'" bibles^ of the old Orien tal relig ions. These he studied 
chiefly in French and German translations, which he 
accumulated with such zeal that he is said to have had 
the best library of, such books in the country; and this 
w*as supplemented, in 1855, by a handsome present of 
volumes in English, French, Latin, Greek, and Sanscrit, 
sent him by Mr. Cholmondeley, a young English 
friend. There are numerous citations from these 
ancient writings in Thoreau's, own works, and so great 
was his reverence for them that he jealously asserted 
their claim to the title of "scriptures" in common 
with those of Jewish origin. When a young visitor 
from Harvard College informed him that he was 
studying "the Scriptures," Thoreau quickly retorted, 
"But which?" 

Thoreau's classical studies were not confined to his 
early years, but were fully maintained in after-life, 
Homer, ^Eschylus, Virgil, and the poets of the Greek 
Anthology being his chief favourites. Classical learning P 
is eulogised in both the Week and Walden % as being the ) 


most heroic and tranquillising of all branches of reading. 
"The value of the classic languages," says Wentworth 
Higginson, " was never better exemplified than in their 
influence on his training. They were real ' humanities ' 
to him, linking him with the great memories of the race, 
and with high intellectual standards, so that he could 
never, like some of his imitators, treat literary art as a 
thing unmanly and trivial. I remember how that fine 
old classical scholar, the late John Glen King, of Salem, 
used to delight in Thoreau as being ' the only man who 
thoroughly loved both nature and Greek.'" His reading 
in Greek and Latin included not only the "classics" 
proper, but many old-fashioned authorities on agriculture 
and natural history, such as Aristotle, ^Eiian, Theo- 
phrastus, Cato, Varro, and Pliny. 

His respect for Linnaeus was, according to Channing, 
" transcendent." He loved to study Froissart and the 
old-fashioned chronicles, and such voyages as those of 
Drake and Purchas, with any books of travel that came 
in his way. Among poets the old English writers were 
most to his liking; he read and appreciated old ballad- 
writers, Chaucer, Spenser, Ossian, Herbert, Cowley, 
Quarles, and, above all others, Milton, whose "Lycidas" 
was often on his lips. For the moderns he cared com- 
paratively little, the chief exceptions being Goethe, 
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Ruskin, and Carlyle. He 
admired Ruskin, but thought him somewhat bigoted, 
finding in him, as he expressed it, "too much about 
art for me and the Hottentots." For Carlyle he felt 
and expressed the sincerest admiration, as may be seen 
in the essay which he contributed to Graham's Maga- 
zine in 1847. 


There was another and wholly different branch of 
reading to which Thoreau devoted a considerable 
portion of his time — the records of the native Indian 
tribes, which he extracted with much labour and research 
from the histories of the Jesuit missionaries, the early 
New England chroniclers, and various other sources of 
information. Everything connected with the Indians 
had a strange interest and fascination for him ; he noted 
and admired their natural instinct of woodcraft, their * 
immobility and self-possession, and their mysterious " 
sense of remoteness from the white man; he several 
times visited Maine in order to study their language 
and habits, and never failed to converse with the 
wandering parties who sometimes pitched their tents 
for a few weeks on the banks of the Concord river. 
His collection of Indian relics had been commenced 
while he was still a youth, for the soil of Concord — an 
old settlement of Indian tribes — was rich in these 
treasures, arrow-heads, pottery, and stone implements 
being often turned up by the plough. Regularly every 
spring, when the fields had been washed bare by rains 
and thawing snow, would Thoreau set out to gather his 
crop of arrow-heads, and his extraordinary keenness of 
sight in detecting these relics was often a cause of 
wonder to less observant minds. " I do not see where 
you find your Indian arrow-heads," once remarked the 
companion of his walk. " Here is one," replied Thoreau 
on the instant, picking one up and presenting it to his 
astonished friend. 

This remarkable sympathy, on the part of one of the 
most advanced of modern thinkers, with the spirit of a 
savage and decaying race is accounted for by Thoreau's 





<* strong natural inclination to the uncultivated and wild. 
"He loved the sea and all desert places ; preferred the 
wild apple to the cultured orchard, and the dreariest 
swamp to the most fragrant garden; and it cheered him 
to see the young forest-pines springing up anew in the 
fertile corn-land. The Indian, the human representative 
S of wild life in New England, thus attracted his sym- 
pathies, just as the sympathies of George Borrow were 
attracted to the roaming gipsy tribes. 
\ This inclination of Thoreau to wild nature was not, 
^as some critics have suggested, a symptom of an un- 
healthy temperament, but rather a method of retaining 
the excellent soundness of his mind. " His whole life," 
says Lowell, " was a search for the doctor." This was 

jatit the case. He went to nature, . not^JUS a, sickly 

valetudinarian, seeking a cure for his ailments, but as a 
? sane and hjalth^onan, the secret of whose health lay in 
^ thi§jvjgrx£a.n Walking was a 

/necessity of Thoreau's existence; he demanded four 
\ hours at least each day for sauntering at leisure over 
3 hills, and woods, and fields, taking short cuts when he 
could, and avoiding for the most part the grit and noise 
of the busier high-roads. The old Marlboro' road which 
led south-west from Concord, through a spacious tract 
of open country abounding in patches of scrub-oak and 
wild apples, was one of his favourite haunts; so, too, 
were Walden woods and the " Cliffs " which overhang 
Fairhaven, the wide bay formed by a bend of the river 
two miles south of the village. The river was much ) 
frequented by him at all seasons of the year; for in / 
summer he made almost daily voyages in his boat, \ 
which he kept moored in Ellery Channing's riverside / 


garden, and in winter the frozen stream offered a 
convenient pathway. 

On these expeditions Thoreau was generally un- 
accompanied, unless Ellery Channing or one of his 
few chosen friends happened to be with him. Offers 
of companionship were not rarely forthcoming, but 
these he for the most part declined with that frankness 
which was all his own. "Would he not walk with 
them?" some acquaintances would ask. "He did not 
know; there was nothing so important to him as his 
w T alk; he had no walks to throw away on company." 
But for those who succeeded in gaining this privilege 
a rare treat was assured. Here is a reminiscence of 
Thoreau from a private letter of G. W. Curtis : — 

" It always seems to me one of the good fortunes of 
my life that I knew Concord when Emerson, Hawthorne, 
and Thoreau were citizens there, and that I personally 
knew them. If in personal intercourse Thoreau some- 
times seemed to be, as Hawthorne said, £ a cast-iron 
man/ he was after all no more rigid than the oak which 
holds fast by its own roots whatever betides. One of 
my most vivid recollections of my life in Concord is 
that of an evening upon the shallow river with Thoreau 
in his boat. We lighted a huge fire of fat pine in an 
iron crate beyond the bow of the boat and drifted slowly 
through an illuminated circle of the ever-changing aspect 
of the river bed. In that house beautiful you can fancy 
what an interpreter he was." 

f " His powers of conversation," says another who was 
fthus favoured, " were extraordinary. I remember being 
surprised and delighted at every step with revelations of 
laws and significant attributes in common things. . . . 

100 LIFE OF 

£ The acuteness of his senses was marvellous; no hound 
*) could scent better, and he could hear the most faint and 
(distant sound without even laying his ear to the ground 
aike an Indian. As we penetrated farther and farther 
^nto the woods he seemed to gain a certain transforma- 
tion, and his face shone with a light that I had not seen 
'in the village." The account of Thoreau's skilful and 
genial leadership of the Concord huckleberry-parties has 
already been quoted, and from the same authority we 
have an equally charming description of how he would 
guide his friends to the haunts of the water-lily. 1 

"Upon such occasions his resources for our entertainment were 
inexhaustible. He would tell stories of the Indians who once 
dwelt thereabouts, till the children almost looked to see a red man 
skulking with his arrow on shore ; and every plant or flower qn the 
bank or in the -water, and every fish, turtle, frog, lizard about us, 
was transformed by the wand of his knowledge from the low form 
into which the spell of our ignorance had reduced it, into a mystic 
beauty. One of his surprises was to thrust his hand softly into the 
water, and as softly raise up before our astonished eyes a large 
bright fish, which lay as contentedly in his hand as if they were old 

' i|lfThis fish was probably the Bream, whose nest-guarding 
hatnts ar6 described by Thoreau in The Week. " The^ 
Breams are so careful of their charge that you may stand / 
close by in the water and examine them at your leisure* K - 
I have stood over them half-an-hour at a time, and / 
stroked them familiarly without frightening them, . . .. 
and have even taken them gently out of the water with " 
my hand." 
Pis extraordinary sympathy with animals was one of 

1 Moncure Conway, Fraser, April 1866. 


the most singular and pleasing features in Thoreau's 
character. Like St. Francis, he felt a sense of love 
and brotherhood towards the lower races, and regarded 
them not as " brute beasts," without sensibility or soul"," 
but as possessing " the character and importance of 
another order of men." He protested against the con- 
ceited self-assurance with which man sets down the 
intelligence of animals as mere " instinct," while over- 
looking their real wisdom and fitness of behaviour. 
They were his " townsmen and fellow-creatures," whose 
individuality must be recognised as much as his own, 
and who must be treated with courtesy and gentleness. 

The strange influence which Thoreau was able to 

exercise over beasts, and birds, and fishes was doubtless 

chiefly due to the power of his humane sympathy, partly, 

also, to his habits of patient silence and watchfulness, 

in which he resembled the hermits of the Middle Ages. 

His hut at Walden was inhabited by other creatures 

besides himself; the birds would flit fearlessly through 

the room ; the red squirrel raced over the roof, while 

moles and hares stabled in the cellar; and chickadees 

perched on the armfuls of wood which he carried across 

his threshold. Once, as he was hoeing in a garden, a 

sparrow alighted on his shoulder, which he regarded as 

"a greater honour than any epaulet he could have worn." 

Nor was this all, for his mingled firmness and sympathy 

enabled him to take all sorts of liberties with the wildest 

/ of wild creatures. A story is told how a squirrel, which 

r he had taken home for a few days in order to observe its 

^ habits, refused to be set at liberty, returning again and 

V again to its new friend with embarrassing persistence, 

climbing up his knee, sitting on his hand, and at last 

102 LIFE OF 

gaining the day by hiding its head in the folds of his 
waistcoat — an appeal which Thoreau was not able to 

\ Thoreau was essentially a "goet -naturalist," as Ellery 
vChanning entitled him, and not a man of science. He 
was, indeed, an honorary member and correspondent of 
the Boston Natural History Society; but he declined, as 
a rule, to write memoirs of his experiences in this branch 
of study, on the ground that he could not properly 
detach the mere external record of observation from the 
inner associations with which such facts were connected 
in his mind— -Sri a word, the natural history of the subject 
- could not be separated from the poetry.j His whole 
method, as we have se^n, was different from that of the 
scientific anatomist; he observed but he did not kill, 
making it his object to hold his bird "in the affections " 
rather than in the hand. It is said that when some 
Concord loafers mockingly asked Thoreau if he really 
did not shoot a bird when he wanted to study it, he 
replied, " Do you think I should shoot you if I wanted 
to study you?" 

£ His diaries testify to the jmmense diligence, and keen- 
•^jKJSSof his communion with nature, and his unflagging 
interest in the seasons and all they bring with them. 
He noted and recorded the habits of animals, the tracks 
l of the fox and otter, the migrations and song of birds, 
the croak of frogs and chirp of crickets, the spawning 
and nests of fishes, the blossoming of flowers, the fall of 
leaves, the height of the river, the temperature of ponds 
/ and springs, and innumerable other phenomena of out- 
door life. Like all true naturalists, he loved birds, and 
many are the entries in his journal respecting the kinds 


that are native at Concord — the bobolink, the robin, the 
song-sparrow, the whip-poor-will, the cat-bird, and the 
blue-bird, which, as he beautifully said of it, "carries 
the sky on its back." He loved to be awakened in/ 
the early summer mornings by the song of birds, and 
nothing cheered him so much in the midst of a winter 
storm as a bird's chirp or whistle. 

The neighbourhood of Concord, with its wide tracts 
of meadow and woodland, was a fine field for the 
naturalist; and Thoreau, in his characteristic love of 
paradox, was fond of asserting that it surpassed all other 
places as a centre of observation — ajjoibl^ for which he 
was gently bantered by Emerson. He talked about 
nature, it waswittilyremarked, "as if she had been born 
and brought up at Concord." Ne quid qucesiveris extra 
te Concordiamque was his humorous maxim. He con- 
tended that all the important plants of America were 
included in the flora of Massachusetts, and after reading 
Kane's Arctic Voyage he expressed his conviction that 
most of the Arctic phenomena might be noted at 
Concord — an assertion which he partly substantiated 
by the discovery of red snow and one or two Labrador 
plants. He had thoughts of constructing a complete 
calendar for the natural phenomena of Concord, and 
believed that if he waked up from a trance the time of 
year would be as plain to him from the plants as the 
time of day from a dial. Of all flowers the water-lily 
was his favourite, but there were none that he did not 
know and love ; even the growth of the sturdy aboriginal 
weeds gave him a sense of satisfaction. He often 
walked miles to note the condition of some rare tree or 
shrub, and congratulated himself that the time thus spent 



was more profitably laid out than in a good many social 
visits. "On one occasion," says a friend who visited 
him at Concord, "he mentioned the hibiscus beside the 
river — a rare flower in New England — and when I 
desired to see it, told me it would open ' about Monday 
r and not stay long.' I went on Tuesday afternoon and 
^was a day too late — the petals lay on the ground." 

Such were the points in Thoreau's personality which 
made him an object of interest and wonder from the 
first to his own friends and acquaintances, and after- 
wards to a far wider circle. We can well believe that a 
man gifted with such an intense and genuine individu- 
ality often found himself, as Emerson tells us, in 
" dramatic situations," and that in any debatable matter 
there was no person whose judgment was awaited by his 
townsmen with keener expectation. As his fame spread 
he gained an increasing number of admiring friends, 
some of whom travelled long distances to see and 
converse with him, in the belief that "this was the 
man they were in search of, the man of men, who could 
\ tell them all they should do." 


TN the autumn of 1847, shortly after leaving the hut 
at Walden, Thoreau again took up his residence at 
Emerson's house, and lived there a year during his 
friend's absence in Europe, in order to keep Mrs. 
Emerson company and take charge of the garden. He 
was in the habit of assisting Mr. Alcott in garden work 
on his estate at "Hillside/' and in 1847 the two friends 
and fellow- workers had built Emerson a summer-house, 
to be used as a study. Early in October Thoreau 
accompanied Emerson to Boston to see him start on 
his voyage, and in a letter to his sister Sophia he feelingly 
described the appearance and dimensions of the philo- 
sopher's cabin, and how, instead of a walk in Walden 
woods, he would be compelled to promenade on deck, 
" where the few trees, you know, are stripped of their 
bark." Emerson, on his part, was not forgetful of 
Thoreau during his visit to England, and we find him 
planning, in 1848, a new joint American and English 
magazine, to which Thoreau was to be one of the chief 
contributors. After Emerson's return to Concord in 
1849 Thoreau lived at his father's house in the village, 
and this continued to be his home for the rest of his 

He had now begun to consider literature his regular 

106 LIFE OF 

occupation, and it was as a writer and lecturer that he 
was henceforth xhiefly known. We have seen that 
during his literary novitiate he had contributed articles 
(unpaid, for the most part) to the Dial and other 
journals; and in 1847, by the kind services of Horace 
Greeley, his essay on Carlyle was printed in Graham's 
Magazine. This was followed in 1849 by the essay on 
"Civil Disobedience," an expression of his anarchist 
views, which found place in the Boston ^Esthetic Papers. 
In the spring of the same year he took a more daring 
and important step by the publication of his first volume, 
the Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers^ which 
was issued, at the author's expense, by Munroe, a Boston 
bookseller. The book was well reviewed, but did not 
sell, and the result was that Thoreau was compelled to 
raise money to pay off the debt by devoting his time for 
an unusually long period to the more remunerative but 
less congenial task of surveying. An edition of one 
thousand copies had been printed, and for several years 
the bulk of these lay idle on the publisher's shelves, 
until, in 1853, the remaining seven hundred volumes 
were returned en masse to the author. This event was 
recorded by Thoreau in his characteristic vein of dry 
humour, and with a manly courage and self-reliance not 
to be surpassed in the history of literary authorship. 

" The wares are sent to me at last, and I have an opportunity to 
examine my purchase. They are something more substantial than 
fame, as my back knows, which has borne them up two flights of 
stairs to a place similar to that to which they trace their origin. 
Of the remaining two hundred ninety and odd, seventy-five were 
given away, the rest sold. I have now a library of nearly nine 
hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself. 


Is it not well that the author should behold the fruits of his labour ? 
My works are piled up in my chamber, half as high as my head, my 
opera omnia. This is authorship. These are the work of my brain. 
There was just one piece of good luck in the venture. The un- 
bound were tied up by the printer four years ago in stout paper 
wrappers, and inscribed ' H. D. Thoreau's Concord River, fifty 
copies/ So Munroe had only to cross out * River' and write 
'Mass.,' and deliver them to the express-man at once. I can see 
now what I write for, and the result of my labours. Nevertheless, 
in spite of this result, sitting beside the inert mass of my works, I 
take up my pen to-night, to record what thought or experience I 
may have had, with as much satisfaction as ever. Indeed, I believe 
that this result is more inspiring and better than if a thousand had 
bought my wares. It affects my privacy less, and leaves me 

That The Week should at first have failed to win the 
favour of any but a few sympathetic readers can hardly 
be a matter of surprise, since its intense idealism and 
strongly pantheistic tone were ill calculated to conciliate 
the ordinary American mind. Purporting to be a record 
of the trip made by the two brothers in 1839, it was in 
reality an outpouring of its author's ideal philosophy on 
a great variety of topics, a number of essays and poems 
(mostly reprints from the Dial) being interwoven, in the 
most arbitrary manner, w r ith the thread of the nominal 
subject. The book is thus rendered vague, disjointed, 
and discursive; and is, moreover, almost arrogant in its 
transcendental egoism. Yet, with all its deficiencies, it 
has, and must ever have, a great and indefinable charm 
for the lovers of Thoreau's genius. Its very lack of 
cohesion and entire disregard of method contribute to 
enhance the effect of its poetical mysticism and brilliant 
descriptive power, while several of the discourses intro- 
duced into it — notably those on Friendship and Religion 

108 LIFE OF 

— are written in Thoreau's most admirable and telling 
style. 1 

In the autumn of 1849 Thoreau accompanied a friend 
on an excursion to the wild sandy tract of Cape Cod, 
for which he conceived so great a liking that he visited 
it again on several occasions; in like manner he spent 
a week in Canada, with Ellery Channing as his fellow- 
traveller, in September 1850. Each of these excursions 
provided material for a series of articles in Putnam's 
Magazine; but both came to an abrupt conclusion 
owing to misunderstandings between author and pub- 
lisher — a mishap to which Thoreau's outspoken tone 
and uncompromising temper made him peculiarly liable. 
His visit to the Maine Woods in 1846 was described in 
the Union Magazine two years later; and he again went 
to Maine in 1853 and 1857. 2 These occasional excur- 
sions were a great pleasure to Thoreau, as extending the 
circle of his observations, without putting any restriction 
on his freedom; but he still resolutely declined to 
extend his travels to more distant regions, in spite of the 
offers he sometimes received from admirers and friends, 
who wished to take him round the world at their own 
cost. Believing that " the far-fetched is of least value," 
he asserted that the sight of a marsh-hawk in the Con- 
cord meadows was of more interest to him than the 
entry of the allies into Paris. It is easy to laugh at 

1 The AthmcEum of 27th October 1849 contained a brief notice 
of The Week. "The matter is for the most part poor enough," 
said the reviewer, " but there are a few things in the volume, 
scattered here and there, which suggest that the writer is a man 
with a habit of original thinking." 

2 For an account of these excursions, see Chapter VII. 


this deliberate concentration of thought on a particular 
locality; but a study of Thoreau's life inclines one to 
believe that he gauged correctly the peculiar strength 
and the peculiar weakness of his shy and sensitive 

The course of his life at Concord was singularly quiet 
and uneventful. Always an affectionate son and brother, 
he lived contentedly as a member of the household 
of his father, who, with his assistance, had now built 
himself a dwelling of his own and was no longer a 
tenant. Thoreau's study was in the garret, where he 
stored his collections of birds' eggs, botanical specimens, 
and Indian relics, and carried on his literary work, His 
regard for his father was in nowise diminished by the 
dissimilarity of their characters, a contrast which is 
illustrated by some suggestive passages in the journal. 
On one occasion we find a protest made by the quiet, 
unobtrusive, but eminently practical old man against 
what he considered a waste of time on the part of his 
more imaginative son, who was busying himself in 
making sugar from a neighbouring maple-grove when 
^>he could have bought it cheaper at the village shop. 
('To his father's remark that it took him from his studies, 
^Thoreau made the characteristic answer that it was his 
('study, and that after being engaged in this pursuit he 
4 felt "as if he had been to a university." Mrs. Thoreau, 
who was of the same age as her husband, retained all 
her dramatic vivacity of manner, love of society, and 
extraordinary power of talk. It is said that when his 
mother began to talk at table, Thoreau would patiently 
remain silent until she had finished, and then, with a 
courteous obeisance, resume the thread of his conversa- 


110 LIFE OF 

tion at the point where it had been interrupted In 
1849 the family circle suffered a heavy loss in the death 
of Helen, Thoreau's elder sister, whose character, like 
that of the brother who died seven years earlier, was full 
of ability and promise. 

It was about this time that Thoreau became acquainted 
with Mr. Harrison G. O. Blake, a clergyman and tutor 
residing at Worcester, Massachusetts, with whom he 
corresponded largely from 1848 onwards, chiefly on 
subjects connected with his ideal method of thought. 
Mr. Blake has kindly furnished me with the following 
reminiscences of his friendly intercourse with Thoreau : — 

' ' I was introduced to him first by Mr. Emerson more than forty 
years ago, though I had known him by sight before at college. I 
recall nothing of that first interview unless it be some remarks upon 
astronomy, and his want of interest in the study as compared with 
studies relating more directly to this world — remarks such as he 
has made here and there in his writings. My first real introduction 
was from the reading of an article of his in the Dial on 'Aulus 
Persius Flaccus,' which appears now in the Week. That led to my 
first writing to him, and to his reply, which is published in the 
volume of letters. Our correspondence continued for more than 
twelve years, and we visited each other at times, he coming here to 
Worcester, commonly to read something in public, or being on his 
way to read somewhere else. 

" As to the outward incidents of our intercourse, I think of little 
or nothing that it seems worth while to write. Our conversation, 
or rather his talking, when we were together, was in the strain of 
his letters and cf his books. Our relation, as I look back on it, 
seems almost an impersonal one, and illustrates well his remark 
that * our thoughts are the epochs in our lives ; all else is but as a 
journal of the winds that blew while we were here.' His personal 
appearance did not interest me particularly, except as the associate 
of his spirit, though I felt no discord between them. When to- 
gether, we had little inclination to talk of personal matters. His 


aim was directed so steadily and earnestly towards what is essential 
in our experience, that beyond all others of whom I have known, 
he made but a single impression on me. Geniality, versatility, 
personal familiarity are, of course, agreeable in those about us, and 
seem necessary in human intercourse, but I did not miss them in 
Thoreau, who was, while living, and is still in my recollection and 
in what he has left to us, such an effectual witness to what is 
highest and most precious in life. As I re-read his letters from 
time to time, which I never tire of doing, I am apt to find new 
significance in them, am still warned and instructed by them, with 
more force occasionally than ever before ; so that in a sense they 
are still in the mail, have not altogether reached me yet, and 
will not probably before I die. They may well be regarded as 
addressed to those who can read them best." 

In addition to his pedestrian excursions, Thoreau 
paid occasional visits to Cambridge and Boston, the 
attraction at the former place being the University 
£ Library, from which, owing to the insistence with which 
%he petitioned the librarian and president, he was per- 
mitted unusual privileges in the taking out of books. 
At Boston he was fond of studying the books of the 
Natural History Society and walking on the Long 
Wharf; the rest "was barrels." Salem, too, he some- 
times visited as the guest of Hawthorne, who had left 
Concord in 1846, and he lectured once or twice at the 
Salem Lyceum, of which Hawthorne was the secretary. 
One other journey he had about this time of a more 
mournful character. In July 1850, when Margaret 
Fuller, who had become the wife of the Marquis of 
Ossoli, was shipwrecked on her return from Italy and 
drowned off the coast of Fire Island, near New York, 
Thoreau with her other friends hurried to the scene of 
the disaster, to assist in the vain attempt to recover her 

112 LIFE OF 

Though Thoreau had now attained a certain recog- 
nised position as a writer, he was still compelled to earn 
the greater part of his means of subsistence by pencil- 
making or land-surveying. This last employment — or 
rather the company into which his employment brought 
him — was very far from being a congenial one; on 
such occasions he was no longer the poet-naturalist 
and idealist, but " merely Thoreau the surveyor/' as he 
informs his friend Blake. Lecturing was probably a 
more agreeable occupation, though here, too, he speaks 
of himself as "simply their hired man"; while his 
candour occasionally placed him in strained relations 
towards his audience. Though he several times made 
his mark on the platform, the more usual result was to 
puzzle and bewilder those who heard him. " He was a 
poor lecturer," says Joseph Hosmer. "He had no 
magnetism, and only gave simple dry details, as though 
he was before a jury to give his evidence under oath. 
Hence he never succeeded as a platform or lyceum 
speaker, which I think he desired to be." 

In the autumn of 1852 Thoreau met Arthur Hugh 
Clough, who had come over to Boston with Thackeray 
and thence paid Emerson a visit at Concord. " Walk 
with Emerson to a wood with a prettyish pool," writes 
Clough in his diary for 14th November, the pool being 
presumably Walden. "Concord is very bare; it is a 
small sort of village, almost entirely of wood houses, 
painted white, with Venetian blinds, green outside, with 
two white wooden churches. There are some American 
elms and sycamores, i.e. planes ; but the wood is mostly 
pine — white pine and yellow pine —somewhat scrubby, 
occupying the tops of the low banks and marshy hay- 


land between. A little brook runs through to the 
Concord river. At 6.30, tea and Mr. Thoreau; and 
presently Mr. Ellery Channing, Miss Channing, and 
others." It was in this same year that Nathaniel 
Hawthorne returned to Concord, and took up his 
residence at " Hillside" — now renamed "Wayside" — 
an estate which had been for some years in Alcott's 
possession, and on which Thoreau and Alcott had done 
a great deal of manual work in constructing terraces 
and summer-houses. 

v It has already been stated that Thoreau's sympathies 
\were enlisted from his earliest manhood in the cause 
of abolition, and that he was himself instrumental in 
furthering the escape of a fugitive slave. Another * 
instance of this kind has been recorded by Mr. Conway,^ ^ w, 
who was introduced to Thoreau by Emerson in the 
summer of 1853 : — 1 

" When I went to the house next morning I found them all in a 
state of excitement by reason of the arrival of a fugitive negro from 
the South, who had come fainting to their door about daybreak, 
and thrown himself on their mercy. ... I sat and watched the 
singularly lowly and tender devotion of the scholar to the slave. 
He must be fed, his swollen feet bathed, and he must think of 
nothing but rest. Again and again this coolest and calmest of men 
drew near to the trembling negro, and bade him feel at home, and 
have no fear that any power should again wrong him. He could 
not walk this day, but must mount guard over the fugitive, for 
slave-hunters were not extinct in those days, and so I went away 
after a while, much impressed by many little traits that I had seen 
as they appeared in this emergency, and not much disposed to cavil 
at their source, whether Bible or Bhaghavat." 

At this time Thoreau's mind was a good deal occupied 

1 Fraser, April 1 866, 


114 LIFE OF 

with the question of slavery, for in 1850 the iniquitou s 
Fugitive Slave Law had been passed by Act of Congress, 
and in the spring of 1854 the heart of Massachusetts had 
been stirred by the case of Anthony Burns, an escaped 
slave, who was sent back by the authorities of the State 
in compliance with the demand of his owner. This 
event formed the main topic of Thoreau's essay on 
" Slavery in Massachusetts," which was delivered as an 
address at the anti-slavery celebration at Framingham in 
1854, on which occasion the Constitution of the United 
States was publicly burned by Lloyd Garrison, an incident 
which may explain the passionate tone of Thoreau's 
paper. " For my part," he said, " my oldest and worthiest 
pursuits have lost I cannot say how much of their 
attraction, and I feel that my investment in life here 
is worth many per cent, less since Massachusetts last 
deliberately sent back an innocent man, Anthony Burns, 
to slavery." In his kindred essay on "Civil Dis- 
obedience," when dealing with this same subject of 
state-supported slavery, he had expressed the conviction 
that if but one honest man in the State of Massachusetts 
were to withdraw his allegiance as a protest against this 
iniquity, and to be imprisoned therefor, "it would be 
the abolition of slavery in America." This was written 
before the appearance of John Brown. 

In 1854 occurred the most memorable event of 
Thoreau's literary life — the publication of Walden by 
Messrs. Ticknor & Co. of Boston. The greater part of 
the book was drawn from the journal kept by Thoreau 
during his residence in the woods, but there are also 
passages which were written at a later date, when he was 
working his materials into their ultimate form. The 


inducement to Thoreau to give the story of his sojourn 
at Walden to the world was, he tells us, that very 
particular inquiries had been made by his townsmen 
concerning the manner of his life, and that he felt he 
had something to say which bore not remotely on the 
social condition of the inhabitants of Concord. The 
result justified the expectations of the author in writing 
the book, and of the publishers in printing it, for in 
spite of the ridicule and hostility of some critics, a great 
deal of interest was aroused by Walden, and the edition 
appears to have been sold out in the course of a few 
years, in marked contrast to the unsaleableness of its 
predecessor, The Week. 1 From whatever point of view 
it be regarded, Walden is undoubtedly Thoreau's master- 
piece; it contains the sum and essence of his ideal 
philosophy; it is written in his most powerful and 
incisive style, while by the freshness and naivete of its 
narrative it excites the sympathy and imagination of 
the reader, and wins a popularity far exceeding that of 
his other writings. 

"Welcome, Englishmen! welcome, Englishmen!" 
Thoreau exclaimed in Walden, "for I had had com- 
munication with that race." "A young Englishman, 
Mr. Cholmondeley, is just now waiting for me to take 
a walk with him," he writes in a letter dated ist October 
1854. This was Mr. Thomas Cholmondeley, of Over- 

1 In March 1855 the New York Knickerbocker devoted an article, 
entitled " Town and Rural Humbugs," to a comparison of Barnum 
and Thoreau, and declared Walden to be the antidote of Barnum's 
autobiography. Walden was reviewed in Putnam's Magazine in 
1854, and was noticed in this country in Chambers's Journal for 
.November 1857, under the title of " An American Diogenes." 

116 LIFE OF 

leigh, Cheshire, a nephew of Bishop Heber, and six 
years Thoreau's junior in age, the only Englishman, it 
appears, with whom Thoreau ever became intimate. He 
spent some time with Thoreau at Concord, accompanying 
him on a visit to Mr. Ricketson, a friend who lived at 
New Bedford; and the strong personal admiration which 
this travelled English gentleman conceived for the Con- 
cord hermit is one of many testimonies to Thoreaq/s 
singularly impressive character. A correspondence was 
maintained after Mr. Cholmondeley's return to Europe 
in 1855, and towards the end of that year Thoreau 
received a splendid gift of Oriental books from his 
English friend, who knew how deep an interest he felt 
in Buddhist literature. Mr. Cholmondeley again visited 
Concord in 1859. In later years he took the name of 
Owen. He succeeded to the Condover estate, near 
Shrewsbury, in 1863, and died in the following year. 

Increasing fame brought Thoreau an increasing 
number of friends, while his intimacy with Emerson, 
Alcott, and Channing continued as close as ever. One 
of these later friends and correspondents was Mr. Daniel 
Ricketson. Their first meeting was at Christmas 1854, 
when Thoreau, then on his way to lecture at Nantucket, 
paid a passing visit to New Bedford, and spent a day or 
two in Mr. Ricketson's house. On presenting himself 
to his host, he was at first mistaken, as on several other 
occasions, for "a pedlar of small wares," but this un- 
favourable impression was quickly corrected when he 
gave proof of his singular conversational powers. The 
points in his personal appearance which particularly 
arrested Mr. Ricketson's attention were his keen blue 
eyes, "full of the greatest humanity and intelligence," 


\ and, next to these, his sloping shoulders (in which he 
f resembled Emerson), long arms, and short sturdy legs, 
\ which generally enabled him to outwalk his companions 
in his daily excursions. 

In Mr. F. B. Sanborn, who as a young man came to 
live at Concord early in 1855, Thoreau found another 
friend with whom he gradually became intimate. The 
first impressions of Thoreau, as recorded at the time by 
one who was destined to be his biographer a quarter of 
a century later, are extremely interesting. "Thoreau 
£iooks eminently sagacious, like a sort of wise wild beast. 
5He dresses plainly, wears a beard in his throat, and has 
a brown complexion." Thoreau's beard, which is here 
for the first time mentioned, must have been of quite 
recent growth, for in the crayon portrait of 1854 he 
appears as beardless. 

Thoreau's friendship with Horace Greeley, editor of 
the New York Tribune, had been kept up since his 
visit to Staten Island chiefly by letter, for Thoreau 
was seldom at New York; but Greeley had done him 
valuable service at a critical period in obtaining publica- 
tion for several of his articles in Graham, Putnam, and 
other magazines, and in acting generally as a literary 
friend and adviser. Greeley had a farm at Chappaqua, 
thirty-six miles north of New York, and in the early part 
of 1856 he pressed Thoreau to come to reside at this 
place and act as tutor to his children, which offer seems 
to have been for a time seriously entertained. 

It was in the following November, when Thoreau 
accompanied Alcott on a short visit to Chappaqua, 
that he had a memorable interview with an even more 
powerful and remarkable personality than his own. The 

118 LIFE OF 

meeting of Thoreau with Walt Whitman, of the author 
of Walden with the author of Leaves of Grass, is told 
by Thoreau in his letters to Mr. Blake. It is remark- 
able, when one considers the strong dissimilarity between 
the two men — types as they are of different sides of 
human nature, the thrifty, simple, self-complete type, as 
opposed to the largely inclusive and sympathetic— that 
Thoreau should have so rightly appreciated, after one 
short conversation, the breadth of Whitman's genius, 
and should have recognised in him "the greatest democrat 
the world has seen," one who suggested " something a 
little more than human." 

" To be sure," wrote Thoreau, " I sometimes feel a little imposed 
on. By his heartiness and broad generalities he puts me into a 
liberal frame of mind, prepared to see wonders— as it were, sets me 
upon a hill or in the midst of a plain — stirs me well up, and then — 
throws in a thousand of brick. Though rude and sometimes in- 
effectual, it is a great primitive poem, an alarum or trumpet-note 
ringing through the American camp. Wonderfully like the 
Orientals, too, considering that when I asked him if he had read 
them, he answered, 'No ; tell me about them.' 

" I did not get far in conversation with him — two more being 
present — and among the few things I chanced to say, I remember 
that one was, in answer to him as representing America, that I did 
not think much of America, or of politics, and so on, which may 
have been somewhat of a damper to him. 

" Since I have seen him I find that I am not disturbed by any 
brag or egoism in his book. He may turn out the least of a 
braggart of all, having a better right to be confident. He is a 
great fellow." 

We can only regret that Whitman, on his part, left 
no record of his impressions of Thoreau; but it is 
interesting, in this connection, to note the mention of 


Thoreau in Specimen Days in America. On 1 7 th Sep- 
tember 1 88 1, when visiting Concord, Whitman met 
Emerson, Alcott, Louisa Alcott, and other Concord 
friends. "A good deal of talk," he records, "the 
subject Henry Thoreau — some new glints of his life 
and fortunes, with letters to and from him — one of 
the best by Margaret Fuller, others by Horace 
Greeley, Channing, etc. — one from Thoreau himself, 
most quaint and interesting." Mr. Sanborn informs me 
that on this occasion Whitman expressed a high opinion 
of Thoreau. 

In the following year Thoreau had the satisfaction of 
meeting another of the great figures of American demo- 
cracy. John Brown, then fresh from his anti-slavery 
struggle in Kansas, was a guest at Mr. Sanborn's house 
in March 1857, and was introduced by his host to 
Emerson, Alcott, Thoreau, and other Concord friends. 
It was arranged that Brown should address a meeting in 
the Town Hall on the subject of slave-holding. " On 
the day appointed," says Mr. Sanborn, 1 "Brown went 
up from Boston at noon, and dined with Mr. Thoreau, 
then a member of his father's family, and residing not 
far from the railroad station. The two idealists, both of 
them in revolt against the civil government because of 
its base subservience to slavery, found themselves friends 
from the beginning of their acquaintance. They sat 
after dinner discussing the events of the border w r arfare 
in Kansas, and Brown's share in them, when, as it often 
happened, Mr. Emerson called at Mr. Thoreau's door 
on some errand to his friend. Thus the three men met 

1 Memoirs of John Brown , 1878. 

120 LIFE OF 

under the same roof, and found that they held the same 
opinion of what was uppermost in the mind of Brown." 
Emerson and Thoreau were both present at the meeting 
in the evening, when Brown produced a thrilling effect 
on his audience by his earnestness and eloquence, and 
by the display of the very chain worn by one of his 
sons who had been made prisoner and tortured by the 
champions of slavery. From that time there were 
many people in Concord who were favourable to 
Brown's cause. 

On the occasion of one of his visits to Mr. Ricketson 
at "Brooklawn," New Bedford, Thoreau surprised the 
company by an unexpected outburst of hilarity, under 
which impulse he sang "Tom Bowling,'* and finally 
entered upon an improvised dance. Mr. Ricketson, 
" not being able to stand what appeared at the time the 
somewhat ludicrous appearance of our Walden hermit," 
retreated to his shanty, a short distance from his house, 
whilst the more "humour-loving" Alcott remained to 
see the entertainment. Thoreau afterwards told his 
sister Sophia that in the excitement of this dance he had 
made a point of treading on the toes of the guileless 

Here is an extract from Alcott's diary in 1857 : — 

" 1st April 1857. — At Mr. Ricketson's, two and a half miles from 
New Bedford, a neat country residence, surrounded by wild pastures 
and low woods ; the little stream Achushnet flowing east of the 
house and into Fair Haven Bay at the City, Ricketson's tastes are 
pastoral, simple even to wildness, and he passes a good part of his 
day in the fields and woods, or in his rude shanty near his house, 
where he writes and reads his favourite authors, Cowper having the 
first place in his affections. He is in easy circumstances, and has 
the manners of an English gentleman — frank, hospitable, and with 


positive persuasions of his own ; a man to feel on good terms with, 
and reliable as to the things good and true — mercurial, perhaps, and 
wayward a little sometimes. 

1 * yd Aj>ri/ f a. M. — In house and shanty. Thoreau and Ricketson 
treating of nature and the wild. Thoreau has visited Ricketson be- 
fore, and won him as a disciple, though not in the absolute way he 
has Blake of Worcester, whose love for his genius partakes of the 
exceeding tenderness of woman, and is a pure Platonism to the 
fineness and delicacy of the devotee's sensibility. But Ricketson 
is himself, and plays the manly part in the matter, defending 
himself against the master's tough ' thoroughcraft ' with spirit and 

Mr. Blake's estimate of Thoreau's character has already 
been quoted ; equally interesting is that given me by Mr. 
Ricketson, with which this chapter may fitly conclude. 

" On this point I can bear my own testimony, that without any 
formality he was remarkable in his uprightness and honesty ; indus- 
trious and frugal ; simple though not fastidious in his tastes, 
whether in food, dress, or address ; an admirable conversationist, 
and a good story-teller, not wanting in humour. His full blue eye, 
aquiline nose, and peculiarly puxsed lips added much to the effect 
of the descriptive powers. He was a man of rare courage, physi- 
cally and intellectually. In the way of the former, he arrested two 
young fellows on the lonely road leading to his hermitage by Walden - 
Pond, who were endeavouring to entrap a young woman on her / 
way home, and took them to the village. Intellectually his was"a^ 
strong manly mind, enriched by a classical education, and extensive s 
knowledge of history, ancient and modern, and English literature — 
himself a good versifier, if not true poet, whose poetic character 
often seen in his prose works." 



*T0 avoid the need of too frequently breaking the con- 
tinuity of the story of Thoreau's Concord life, it is 
convenient to group together some of the chief excur- 
sions made by him between 1846 and i860. And first 
as to his mode of journeying. The perfection of travel- 
ling, he thought, was to travel without luggage; and 
after considerable experience he decided that "the best 
bag for the foot-traveller is made with a handkerchief, or, 
if he study appearances, a piece of stiff brown paper well 
tied up." He would travel as a common man, and not 
as a gentleman, for he had no wish to spend a moment 
more than was necessary in the railway-carriage, among 
the sedentary travellers, "whose legs hang dangling the 
while," or to be a prey to the civility and rapacity of the 
landlords of hotels ; he preferred to journey on foot, and 
to spend the night in the homes of farmers and fisher- 
men, where he could sit by the kitchen fire, and hear the 
sort of conversation in which he was always interested. 
" The cheapest way to travel," he wrote in The Wee%;\ 
"and the way to travel the farthest in the shortest 
distance, is to go afoot, carrying a dipper, a spOon, and , 
a fish-line, some Indian meal, some salt, and some sugar. \ 
When you come to a brook or pond, you can catch fish 
and cook them; or you can boil a hasty-pudding; or 


you can buy a loaf of bread at a farmer's house for four- 
pence, moisten it in the next brook that crosses the road, 
and dip it into your sugar — this alone will last you a 
whole day." He wore a shabby grey coat and a drab 
hat, and carried with him a piece of tallow for greasing 
his boots, for he no more thought of blacking these than 
his face; and "many an officious shoe-black," he tells 
us, who carried off his shoes while he w r as slumbering, 
mistaking him for a gentleman, " had occasion to repent 
it before he produced a gloss on them." He was better 
pleased when the farmers called out to him, as he passed 
their fields, to come and help in the hay-making ; or 
when he was mistaken for a travelling mechanic, and 
asked to do tinkering jobs, and repair clocks or um- 
brellas ; or when, as once happened, a man wished to buy 
the tin cup which he carried strapped to his belt. 

Before starting on an expedition it was his habit to 
procure all the available information from maps and 
guide-books, and he often took with him a part of the 
large Government map of Massachusetts. His pack was 
quickly made up, for he kept a list of the few necessaries ; 
that he carried, among which were sewing materials, a ! 
book for pressing plants, spy-glass, compass, and measur- 
ing-tape. He had learnt the art of camping out in his 
earlier excursions, and was well skilled in pitching a tent 
or constructing a hut at the shortest possible notice. 
On these occasions his favourite drink was tea, which he 
made strong and sweet in his tin cup, so that, as Chan- 
ning hints, the traveller was not only refreshed but "grew 
intimate with tea-leaves." He was fond of carrying with 
him a large slice of cake, with plums in it, for he found 
that this furnished him with dinner and dessert at the 

124 LIFE OF 

same time. Thus simply equipped, he was practically 
independent of time-tables and hotel-lists, could roam 
wherever the fancy took him, and take his own time in 
his observation of the fauna and flora of the districts 
which he visited. Such expeditions were not only an 
agreeable change in themselves, but were a means of 
adding to his various collections and suggesting new 
subjects for his pen; so that it was natural that the 
pleasant experience which he gained in his week's jaunt 
in 1839 should have been repeated more frequently in 
later years. 

Cape Cod, the long sandy spit which was visited by 
Thoreau in 1849, and on several later occasions, is 
described by him as "the bared and bended arm of 
Massachusetts, behind which the State stands on her 
guard, with her back to the Green Mountains, and her 
feet planted on the floor of the ocean, like an athlete 
protecting her Bay." All wild and desolate landscapes 
had an attraction for him, and he delighted in the dreary 
expanse of this long monotonous tract of shore, with its , 
drift-wood and kelp-weed, flocks of gulls and plovers, 
and incessant din of waves. His accounts of these vast 
sandy tracts are extremely vivid and picturesque; the 
very dash and roar of the waves seem to be reproduced, 
as though we were reading, as the author suggests, " with 
a large conch-shell at our ear." 

It was amidst these surroundings that Thoreau, after 
witnessing the pathetic scenes that followed the wreck of 
an Irish brig at Cohasset, walked and meditated with a 
companion (Ellery Channing, presumably, though the 
name is not recorded) in the wet, windy days of a stormy 
October. "Day by day," it has been said, "with his 


stout pedestrian shoes, he plodded along that level beach 
— the eternal ocean on one side, and human existence 
reduced to its simplest elements on the other — and he 
pitilessly weighing each." They journeyed northward, 
on the Atlantic side of the Cape, till they came to 
Provincetown at its upper extremity, avoiding towns and 
villages on their route, and spending the nights in the 
cottages of fishermen and lighthouse-keepers, where 
Thoreau was several times mistaken for a travelling 
pedlar. " Well," said an old fisherman, unconvinced by 
the explanations that had been offered, "it makes no 
odds what it is you carry, so long as you carry truth 
along with you." At Wellfleet, where the wayfarers were 
entertained in the hut of an aged oysterman, an idiot son 
of their host expressed his determination to get a gun 
and shoot the "damned book-pedlars, all the time talk- 
ing about books." What might have been a more 
serious misunderstanding was caused by a robbery of the 
Provincetown Bank about the time of their visit to Cape 
Cod, for Thoreau learnt afterwards that the suspicion of 
the police had centred on him and his companion, and 
that their journey had been traced the whole length of 
the Cape. 

The volume on Cape Cod, parts of which appeared in 
Putnanis Magazine in 1855, and in the Atlantic Monthly 
in 1864, is deliberately formless in style, being inter- 
spersed with quotations from old histories and records of 
merely local interest; it abounds, however, in its author's 
dry sententious humour and sparkling paradoxes. It has 
been said that Cape Cod is in one sense the most human 
of Thoreau's books, and has more tenderness of tone 
than Waldeii) as if the sea had exercised a mellowing 

126 LIFE OF 

influence on his mind. Especially good are the Dutch 
pictures of the Wellfleet oysterman and the "sea- 
captains " of Provincetown. " It is worth the while," 
says Thoreau, "to talk with one whom his neighbours 
address as Captain, though his craft may have long been 
sunk, and he may be holding by his teeth to the shattered 
mast of a pipe alone, and only gets half-seas-over in a 
figurative sense now. He is pretty sure to vindicate his 
right to the title at last — can tell one or two good stories 
at least." In Cape Cod the experiences of several visits 
are condensed into one account. 

On 25th September 1850, Thoreau and Ellery Chan- 
ning started on a week's tour in Canada, equipped each 
of them in the simple fashion which Thoreau adopted on 
his excursions (he avows that he wore his "bad weather 
clothes" on this occasion), and styling themselves, accord- 
ingly, the "Knights of the Umbrella and the Bundle." 
They first visited Montreal, where the Church of Notre 
Dame made a great impression on Thoreau's imagination, 
as described by him in a very characteristic passage — 

" It was a great cave in the midst of a city, — and what were the 
altars and the tinsel but the sparkling stalactites ? — into which you 
entered in a moment, and where the still atmosphere and the sombre 
light disposed to serious and profitable thought. Such a cave at 
hand, which you can enter any day, is worth a thousand of our 
churches which are open only Sundays, hardly long enough for an 
airing, and then filled with a bustling congregation — a church where 
the priest is the least part, where you do your own preaching, where 
the universe preaches to you and can be heard. In Concord, to be 
sure, we do not need such. Our forests are such a church, far 
grander and more sacred, I think of its value not only to religion, 
but to philosophy and to poetry ; besides a reading-room, to have a 
thinking-room in every city I Perchance the time will come when 
every house even will have not only its sleeping-rooms, and dining- 


room, and talking-room or parlour, but its thinking-room also, and 
the architects will put it in their plans. Let it be furnished and 
ornamented with whatever conduces to serious and creative thought. 
I should not object to the holy water, or any other simple symbol, 
if it were consecrated by the imagination of the worshippers." 1 

From Montreal they went on to Quebec, and thence 
to the Falls of St. Anne, thirty miles lower down the 
St. Lawrence. In the latter district they obtained lodging 
in a house where their French host and his family could 
speak but a few words of English, and they concluded 
that " a less crime would be committed on the whole if 
they spoke French with him, and in no respect aided or 
abetted his attempts to speak English," a resolve which 
they carried into effect with some amusing difficulties — 
for in spite of his Gallic extraction, a knowledge of the 
French tongue was not one of Thoreau's accomplish- 
ments — solving their frequent misunderstandings by 
writing on the table with a piece of chalk. What chiefly 
impressed Thoreau, during his brief visit to Canada, was 
the contrast between the imperialism of the Canadian 
cities, whose inhabitants appeared to him " to be suffer- 
ing between two fires — the soldiery and the priesthood, " 
and the more homely free-thinking independence of 
American life. 

The Excursion to Canada % in which his experiences 
and impressions are related, was partly published in 
Putnam in 1853. It is certainly one of the least suc- 
cessful of its author's writings ; for though it contains a 
few fine passages and interesting touches, it is overladen 
with description, the cities being, as Horace Greeley 
expressed it, "described to death." " I fear that I have 
1 Putnam* s Magazine , 1853. 

128 LIFE OF 

not got much to say about Canada," says Thoreau, in 
his opening sentence, "not having seen much; what I 
got by going to Canada was a cold." 

The object of Thoreau's three excursions to the Maine 
Woods, the wild district which lies at the extreme north- 
east of New England, was chiefly to gratify his strong 
curiosity and interest in the habits and character of the 
Indians. In September 1846, during his fortnight's 
absence from the Walden hermitage, he visited Maine 
and in company with a cousin, who was employed in the 
Bangor lumber trade, made a voyage up the western 
branch of the Penobscot river, and ascended Ktaadn, 
one of the loftiest mountains of New England, over 5000 
feet in height. The paper on " Ktaadn and the Maine 
Woods," which appeared in the Union Magazine in 1848, 
is a record of this expedition, and contains some vivid 
descriptions of the outlying lumber-farms and log-huts ; 
the manufacture and management of the batieau^ or * 
" bark-canoe," by which they navigated the rapids of the 
Penobscot ; their trout-fishing extraordinary in the clear 
swift streams which descend from the heights of Ktaadn ; 
and, above all, the primitive solitudes of the Maine 
forests, which were still the haunt of the bear, the moose, 
the deer, the wolf, and other wild animals. 

" Perhaps I most fully realised that this was primeval, untamed, 
and for ever untamable Nature^ or whatever else men call it, while 
coming down this part of the mountain. We were passing over 
6 Burnt Lands,' burnt by lightning, perchance, though they showed 
no recent marks of fire, hardly so much as a charred stump, but 
looked rather like a natural pasture for the moose and deer, 
exceedingly wild and desolate, with occasional strips of timber 
crossing them, and low poplars springing up, and patches of blue- 
berries here and there. I found myself traversing them familiarly. 


like some pasture run to waste, or partially reclaimed by man ; but 
when I reflected what man, what brother or sister or kinsman of 
our race made it and claimed it, I expected the proprietor to rise 
up and dispute my passage. It is difficult to conceive of a region 
uninhabited by man. We habitually presume his presence and 
influence everywhere. And yet we have not seen pure Nature, 
unless we have seen her thus vast and drear and inhuman, though 
in the midst of cities. . . . 

"What is most striking in the Maine wilderness is the con- 
tinuousness of the forest, with fewer open intervals or glades than 
you had imagined. Except the few burnt-lands, the narrow inter- 
vals on the rivers, the bare tops of the high mountains, and the 
lakes and streams, the forest is uninterrupted. It is even more grim 
and wild than you had anticipated, a damp and intricate wilderness, 
in the spring everywhere wet and miry. . . . Who shall describe 
the inexpressible tenderness and immortal life of the grim forest, 
where nature, though it be mid- winter, is ever in her spring, where 
the moss-grown and decaying trees are not old, but seem to enjoy a 
perpetual youth ; and blissful, innocent nature, like a serene infant, 
is too happy to make a noise, except by a few tinkling, lisping birds 
and trickling rills ? " 

In the autumn of 1853 Thoreau, accompanied by the 
same relative, and by an Indian hunter named Joe 
Aitteon, paid his second visit to the Maine Woods, the 
lake of Chesuncook being this time his destination. The 
paper entitled "Chesuncook," which was published in 
the Atlantic Monthly in 1858, is occupied in great 
measure with the subject of moose-hunting, and contains, 
among other things, some characteristic reflections on 
the "murder of the moose," in which Thoreau had been 
a witness and to some extent a participator. 

" The Allegash and East Branch," the account of his 
third and final excursion to Maine, in July 1857, at which 
time he had been in weak health for two years, forms the 
concluding portion of the volume afterwards published 



130 LIFE OF 

under the title of The Maine Woods, and is chiefly con- 
cerned with geographical topics, botanical specimens, and 
the character of Joe Polis, an intelligent Indian guide, 
from whom Thoreau derived much valuable information. 
"As to Thoreau's courage and manliness," says Mr. 
Edward Hoar, of Concord, who was his fellow-traveller 
on this expedition, " nobody who had seen him among 
the Penobscot rocks and rapids, the Indian trusting his 
life and his canoe to his skill, promptitude, and nerve, 
would ever doubt it." 

The following extracts from a letter addressed by 
Thoreau to Colonel Wentworth Higginson, in reference 
to a projected tour through the Maine forests to Canada, 
are interesting as showing w T ith what precision and 
practical acuteness his expeditions were planned: — 

" Concord, 2%th January 1858. 

"Dear Sir, — It would be perfectly practicable to go to the 
Madawaska the way you propose. As for the route to Quebec, I 
do not find the ' Sugar Loaf Mts. ' on my maps. The most direct 
and regular way, as you know, is substantially Montresor's and 
Arnold's and the younger John Smith's — by the Chaudiere ; but this 
is less wild. If your object is rather to see the St. Lawrence River 
below Quebec, you will probably strike it at the Riviere du Loup 
{v. Hodge's account of his excursion thither vid the Allegash. I 
believe it is in the second Report en the Geology of the Public 
Lands of Maine and Mass. in '37). I think that our Indian last 
summer, when we talked of going to the St. Lawrence, named 
another route, near the Madawaska — perhaps the St. Francis, 
which would save the long portage which Hodge made. 

" I do not know whether you think of ascending the St. Lawrence 
in a canoe — but if you should, you might be delayed not only by the 
current, but by the waves, which frequently run too high for a canoe 
on such a mighty stream. It would be a grand excursion to go to 
Quebec by the Chaudiere — descend the St. Lawrence to the Riviere 


du Loup— and return by the Madawaska and St. John's to 
Frederickton, or further — almost all the way down stream — a very 
important consideration. . . . 

11 Perhaps you would like a few more details. We used (three of 
us) exactly 26 lbs. of hard bread, 14 lbs. of pork, 3 lbs. of coffee, 
12 lbs. of sugar (and could have used more), besides a little tea, 
Indian meal and rice, and plenty of berries and moose-meat. This 
was faring very luxuriously. I had not formerly carried coffee, 
sugar, or rice. But for solid food, I decide that it is not worth 
the while to carry anything but hard bread and pork, whatever 
your tastes and habits may be. These wear best, and you have no 
time nor dishes in which to cook anything else. Of course you 
will take a little Indian meal to fry fish in, and half-a-dozen lemons 
also, if you have sugar, will be very refreshing, for the water is 

"To save time, the sugar, coffee, tea, salt, etc., etc., should be 
in separate watertight bags, labelled and tied with a leathern 
string ; and all the provisions and blankets should be put into two 
large india-rubber bags, if you can find them watertight. Ours 
were not. 

" A four-quart tin pail makes a good kettle for all purposes, and 
tin plates are portable and convenient. Don't forget an india- 
rubber knapsack, with a large flap, plenty of dish cloths, old news- 
papers, strings, and twenty-five feet of strong cord. 

" Of india-rubber clothing the most you can wear, if any, is a 
very light coat, and that you cannot work in. 

" I could be more particular, but perhaps have been too much 
so already. — Yours truly, 

" Henry D. Thoreau." 

Mention has already been made of Thoreau's fond- 
ness for mountains. He possessed in a marked degree 
} the instinct of topography, and with map and compass 
/ would make out his way unerringly through the 
/ wildest regions, and could run up the steepest places 
\ without losing breath. " He ascended such hills as 
\Monadnock or Saddleback mountains," says Channing, 

132 LIFE OF 

j " by his own path, and would lay down his map on the 
\ x summit and draw a line to the point he proposed to visit 
v below, perhaps forty miles away in the landscape, and 
set off bravely to make the short cut. The lowland 
people wondered to see him scaling the heights as if he 
had lost his way, or at his jumping over their cow-yard 
fences, asking if he had fallen from the clouds." 

In July 1858 he made another expedition with his 
friend Edward Hoar, this time to the White Mountains 
of New Hampshire, the Switzerland of New England, 
which he had visited with his brother nineteen years 
earlier. They travelled by carriage, and Thoreau com- 
plains in his journal of the loss of independence, as 
regards choice of camping-stations, which this method 
involved; it was not simple and adventurous enough to 
suit his tastes. He also disliked the " mountain houses" 
which were already erected in New Hampshire, with 
large saloons, and other appurtenan gfis. of the city, for 
the supposed convenience of the tourist ; " give me," he 
says, "a spruce-house made in the rain." Their chief 
exploit during the fortnight they spent in New Hamp- 
shire was the ascent of Mount Washington, the highest 
mountain in New England, where, in descending to- 
wards Tuckerman's Ravine, Thoreau lost his footing 
on the steep crust of a snow-slope, and was only saved 
by digging his finger-nails into the snow. They camped 
for several days in a plantation of dwarf firs near the 
foot of the ravine, and by the carelessness of their guide 
in lighting a fire several acres of brushwood were burnt. 
The next afternoon Thoreau sprained his ankle while 
scrambling on the rocks, and was laid up in the camp 
for two or three days. 


Monadnock, a mountain of nearly four thousand feet, 
which is visible from Concord on the north-west horizon, 
had been visited by Thoreau, like Wachusett, in his early 
manhood. In 1858, a month before his excursion to 
the White Mountains, he camped a couple of nights on 
its summit in company with Mr. Blake, and two years 
later he again ascended it with Ellery Channing, who, 
being unaccustomed to mountain life, did not relish its 
inconveniences as much as his friend, but complains 
pathetically of the fatigue, "the blazing sun, the face 
getting broiled ; the pint-cup never scoured ; shaving 
unutterable; your stockings dreary, having taken to 
\ peat," and other similar discomforts. This visit to Mon- 
adnock was the last excursion of Thoreau's in which he 
camped out. The reasons which compelled the dis- 
continuance of a practice in which he found such 
pleasure will appear when we resume the story of his 
life at Concord. 


A S early as 1855 Thoreau's health had begun to be a 
*^ matter of some anxiety to himself and to his friends. 
Frequent mention has been made by those who knew 
him personally of the iron endurance and sturdy strength 
of limb which enabled him to outstrip the companions 
of his walks and open-air pursuits. Emerson, who was 
himself little qualified for an outdoor life, marvelled 
at his friend's indefatigable energy in tree-felling and 
field-work ; while Channing and others who accompanied 
him to the mountains suffered acutely from the exposure 
Thoreau seemed not to feel. Nevertheless, this power 
of prolonged endurance was due, there is reason to 
believe, far more to an indomitable spirit than to a 
natural strength of constitution ; for, idealist as he was, 
he was too apt to compel his body at all times to keep 
pace with his mind, and if he was somewhat exacting in 
his demands on his friends, he had still less consideration 
for his own weaknesses. " The physique given him at 
birth," says Dr. E. W. Emerson, " was unusually slight. 
I have never seen a person with more sloping shoulders, 
and seldom a narrower chest. Yet he made his frame 
ail that it could be made." It is on record that his 
college career was interrupted by an illness which kept 
him for some time from his studies; and as early as 1841 


there is reference in the journal to a bronchial attack, 
which is significant when read in connection with the 
story of his closing years. 

In the autumn of 1855 we find him writing of the 
"months of feebleness" that had preceded, and of his 
satisfaction at partly regaining his health, though he 
would have liked " to know first what it was that ailed 
him." During the winter that followed he was able to 
walk afield as usual, and boasts that he had made it 
a part of his business " to wade in the snow and take the 
measure of the ice," and that, in spite of his recent ill- 
health, he was probably the greatest walker in Concord. 
In the spring of 1857 he refers to his "two-year-old 
invalidity," from which we see that the disquieting 
symptoms had not wholly abated; and it cannot be 
doubted that he at all times subjected himself to 
considerable risks both by the severity of his ex- 
ertions in carrying heavy loads and taking long walks, 
and also in the recklessness with which he exposed 
himself to all extremes of weather, and all changes of 
season, regardless alike of frost and sun, wind and snow, 
the chills of midnight and the mists of the early morning. 
For the present, however, we hear no more of his illness, 
and he continued to lead the same equable contented 
state of life which has already been described. 

After the appearance of Walden in 1854, Thoreau did 
not publish any further volume, though he was busily 
engaged in various literary plans, chief among which was 
his projected book on the Indians. His relations with 
editors and publishers, partly no doubt owing to his own 
unaccommodating temperament, had not always been 
of the most amicable kind ; his essays were repeatedly 

136 LIFE OF 

refused by papers and magazines on account of their 
religious unorthodoxy, and it is said an editor once 
begged Emerson to persuade Thoreau to write an article 
containing no allusion to God. In 1858, when, at 
Emerson's suggestion, he contributed his paper on 
"Chesuncook" (the Maine Woods) to the Atlantic 
Monthly^ of which Mr. Lowell was then editor, a fresh 
point of difference arose. A sentence in which Thoreau 
had spoken in his idealistic style of the "living spirit" of 
the pine tree ("it is as immortal as I am, and perchance 
will go to as high a heaven, there to tower above me 
still ") was struck out under editorial censorship, without 
the permission of the author, and this being an indignity 
to which Thoreau would never submit, he sent no more 
of his essays to the Atlantic Monthly until the editorship 
had passed into other hands. The sentence in question 
was of course restored when the article on "Chesuncook" 
was included in the volume on The Maine Woods. 

On 3rd February 1857 Thoreau records in his diary 
the death of his father, who had lived to the age of 
seventy-two. This was the third time he had mourned 
the loss of a near relative, his brother having died, as 
narrated, in 1842, and his sister Helen in 1849. ^ n tne 
following letter to Mr. Daniel Ricketson he gives an 
interesting account of his father's character : — 

" Concord, 12M February 1859* 
" Friend Ricketson, — I thank you for your kind letter. I 
sent you the notice of my father's death as much because you knew 
him as because you know me. I can hardly realise that he is dead. 
He had been sick about two years, and at last declined rather rapidly 
though steadily. Till within a week or ten days before he died he 
was hoping to see another spring, but he then discovered that this 


was a vain expectation, and thinking that he was dying, he took 
his leave of us several times within a v/eek before his departure. 
Once or twice he expressed a slight impatience at the delay. - He 
was quite conscious to the last, and his death was so easy that 
though we had all been sitting around the bed for an hour or more 
expecting that event, as we had sat before, he was gone at last 
almost before we were aware of it. 

" I am glad to read what you say about his social nature. I 
think I may say that he was wholly unpretending, and there was 
this peculiarity in his aim, that though he had pecuniary difficulties 
to contend with the greater part of his life, he always studied 
merely how to make a good article, pencil or other (for he practised 
various arts), and was never satisfied with what he had produced. 
Nor was he ever in the least disposed to put off a poor one for the 
sake of pecuniary gain, as if he laboured for a higher end. 

" Though he was not very old, and was not a native of Concord, 
I think that he was, on the whole, more identified with Concord 
street than any man now alive, having come here when he was 
about twelve years old, and set up for himself as a merchant here at 
the age of twenty-one, fifty years ago. 

"As I sat in a circle the other evening with my mother and 
sister, my mother's two sisters, and my father's two sisters, it 
occurred to me that my father, though seventy-one, belonged to the 
youngest four of the eight who recently composed our family. 

" How swiftly at last, but unnoticed, a generation passes away ! 
Three years ago I was called, with my father, to be a witness to 
the signing of our neighbour Mr. Frost's will. Mr. Samuel Hoar, 
who was there writing it, also signed it. I w T as lately required to 
go to Cambridge to testify to the genuineness of the will, being the 
only one of the four who could be there, and now I am the only 
one alive. 

" My mother and sister thank you heartily for your sympathy. 
The latter in particular agrees with you in thinking that it is com- 
munion with still living and healthy nature alone which can restore 
to sane and cheerful views. I thank you for your invitation to 
New Bedford, but I feel somewhat confined here for the present. 
I did not know but we should see you the day after Alger was 
here. It is not too late for a winter walk in Concord. It does me 

138 LIFE OF 

good to hear of spring birds and singing ones too, for spring seems 
far away from Concord yet. I'm going to Worcester to read a 
parlour lecture on the 22nd, and shall see t BIake and Brown. 
What if you were to meet me there ? or go with me from here ? 
You would see them to good advantage. Cholmondeley has been 
here again, after going as far south as Virginia, and left for Canada 
about three weeks ago. He is a good soul, and I am afraid that I 
did not sufficiently recognise him. 

" Please remember me to Mrs. Ricketson, and to the rest of your 
family.— Yours, Henry David Thoreau." 

After his father's death Thoreau carried on the family 
business, pencil-making and the preparation of plumbago, 
on behalf of his mother and his younger sister Sophia. 
This same year, 1859, was destined to be one of the 
most memorable in his experience. We have seen how 
he was, from the first, an ardent abolitionist, how he had 
withdrawn his allegiance from the State of Massachusetts 
owing to its sanction of slavery, and had delivered 
lectures and published essays on the subject at a time 
when the outspoken profession of abolitionist principles 
was neither safe nor comfortable ; and how he had himself 
assisted escaped slaves in their flight to Canada, True- 
hearted American though he was, he had little respect 
for the patriotic feelings of those of his fellow-countrymen 
who could combine a pride in their national liberties 
with an indifference to negro slavery ; and on one of the 
occasions when a runaway was surrendered to his owners 
by the Massachusetts Government, he is said to have 
proposed to his townsmen at Concord that the monu- 
ment which commemorated American independence 
should be coated with black paint. 

When he was introduced to John Brown in 1857 he 
doubtless recognised in him the "one righteous man" 


whose advent he had heralded in the essay on Slavery 
in Massachusetts^ which he had written and published 
several years before, and it is not difficult to imagine 
the intensity of admiration with which he must have 
followed the phases of the great emancipator's career. 
Himself an individualist, and, as regards politics, less a 
man of action than a man of thought, he reverenced 
in Brown the very qualities in which he was himself 
deficient. The final effort of Brown's heroism was now 
at hand, and the events that followed proved to be in 
some respects the crowning point of Thoreau's life also. 

In October 1859 John Brown, who was just entering 
on his sixtieth year, was again in Concord, and it was 
from Mr. Sanborri's house that he started on his last and 
fateful expedition against the Virginian slaveholders. On 
1 6th October Brown was arrested at Harper's Ferry, and 
then ensued those seven weeks of suspense and anxiety 
and vituperation which ended in his trial and death. 
To Thoreau — the anchorite and idealist — belongs the 
lasting honour of having spoken the first public utterance 
on behalf of John Brown, at a time when a torrent of 
ridicule and abuse was being poured by the American 
press on the so-called crazy enthusiast whose life was 
to pay forfeit for his boldness. Notice was given by 
Thoreau that he would speak in the Town Hall on 
Sunday evening, 30th October, on the subject of John 
Brown's condition and character; and when this course 
was deprecated by certain republicans and abolitionists 
as hasty and ill-advised, they received the emphatic 
assurance that he had not sent to them for advice, but 
to announce his intention of speaking. A large and 
attentive audience, composed of men of all parties, 

140 LIFE OF 

assembled to hear Thoreau's address, — the "Plea for 
Captain John Brown," which is in every respect one of 
the very finest of his writings. In the plainest and most 
unequivocal terms, and with all his accustomed incisive- 
ness of style and expression, he avowed his absolute 
approval of the conduct of a man who was indicted as 
a rebel and traitor. When we read the magnificent and 
heart-stirring passages in which he eulogised the heroic 
character of John Brown, we can well believe Emerson's 
statement that the address was heard "by all respect- 
fully, by many with a sympathy that surprised them- 

On November ist Thoreau read the same lecture at 
Boston, an event which was reported in the Liberator of 
November 4. " This exciting theme," it says, " seemed 
to have awakened 'the hermit of Concord' from his 
usual state of philosophic indifference, and he spoke 
with real enthusiasm for an hour and a half. A very 
large audience listened to this lecture, crowding the hall 
half-an-hour before the time of its commencement, and 
giving hearty applause to some of the most energetic 
expressions of the speaker." 

The time was short, and from the first it could 
scarcely have been hoped that Brown's life would be 
spared. Those few weeks were probably the only period 
in Thoreau's career when he turned in vain to nature for 
the customary comfort and repose; and he has put on 
record the stunned, incredulous feelings with which he 
received, on 2nd December, the news of the execution. 
On that day a solemn service in commemoration of 
Brown's martyrdom was held in the Town Hall at 
Concord, when addresses were delivered by Thoreau, 


Alcott, Emerson, and other abolitionists, and a funeral- 
hymn, composed by Sanborn, was sung by those 
assembled. 1 

Thoreau regarded the whole episode of Brown's 
capture and trial as a touchstone designed to bring 
out into a strong light the nature of the American 
Government. That it afforded a touchstone of his own 
character few will deny. It has been well remarked 
by John Burroughs that " this instant and unequivocal 
indorsement of Brown by Thoreau, in the face of the 
most overwhelming public opinion even among anti- 
slavery men, throws a flood of light upon him. It is 
the most significant act of his life. It clinches him. 
It makes the colours fast." The " Plea for Captain 
John Brown," which bears in every sentence unmis- 
takable signs of the intensity of feeling under which it 
was written, must have convinced even those of Thoreau's 
hearers who were least in accord with him that they saw 
before them no cynical misanthrope who had placed 
himself in unreasonable antagonism to the social opinions 
of his townsmen, but a man of humaner sympathies and 
larger aspirations than their own. 2 

And indeed the judgment of the good people of Con- 
cord had already changed concerning the eccentric recluse 
who some twelve years before, had excited their con- 

1 These speeches may be read in Echoes from Harper's Ferry, 
Boston, i860. 

2 Yet Professor Nichol {American Literature) speaks of Thoreau 
as " lethargic, self-complacently defiant, and too nearly a stoico- 
epicurean adiaphorist (!) to discompose himself in party or even in 
national strifes." Full justice is done to this zeal in the anti-slavery 
cause by Dr. Japp (" H« A. Page ") in his book on Thoreau. 


142 LIFE OF 

temptuous surprise by his sojourn in the Walden woods; 
they had learnt to appreciate the kindness and courtesy 
that underlay his rough exterior, and the shrewd wisdom 
which found expression in his trenchant and out-spoken 
words. He thus cante to be respected and honoured 
in the very quarter where honour is proverbially most 
difficult to attain for the prophet who is not willing to 
prophesy smooth things; and his fellow-citizens recog- 
nised the superiority of character " which addressed all 
men with a native authority." 

Nor had the lapse of years and the increase of ex- 
perience failed to exercise a mellowing effect on Thoreau's 
own temperament; and his intimate friends have noted 
how the foibles and crudeness which marked the less 
pleasing side in his distinctive and self-assertive per- 
sonality were gradually losing their sharpness as he 
grew older, while he still retained all the freshness and 
originality of his genius, and looked forward to the 
future with the same unbounded confidence as ever. 
This prospect, unhappily, was not destined to be 
realised; but there is satisfaction in the thought that it 
was his championship of John Brown which formed, the 
last public act of Thoreau's career, and that no act could 
possibly have been more characteristic and significant. 

It was in November i860 that his fatal illness had its 
beginning. He took a severe cold while counting the 
rings on trees, at a time when the ground was covered 
with a deep snow; this led to a bronchial affection, , 
which was increased by his persistence in keeping a 
lecturing engagement at Waterbury, and the precautions 
which he afterwards exercised were too late, as con- 
sumption had then set in. It is to be noted that his 


grandfather, the emigrant from St. Helier, had died of 
consumption; so that it is possible that Thoreau inherited 
consumptive tendencies from that source. In the spring 
of 1 86 1 he was advised by his doctor to travel, and he 
was now willing to do in sickness what he had always 
refused to do in health, though even now he preferred to 
remain within the boundaries of the States. 

Mr. Blake being unable to accompany him in this 
journey to Minnesota, his place was taken by Horace 
Mann, a connection of Nathaniel Hawthorne's. In a 
letter addressed to Mr. Sanborn from Minnesota, on 
26th June, Thoreau speaks of himself as better in health 
than when he left home, but still far from well, having 
performed the journey in a very dead-and-alive manner, 
though he much enjoyed the weeks they spent in the 
neighbourhood of St. Paul's and the novel sights of the 
Mississippi. From St. Paul's Thoreau and his com- 
panion made a further expedition some three hundred 
miles up the Minnesota or St. Peter's River, in order to 
witness a gathering of the Sioux Indians at Redwood, 
where an annual payment was made to the tribe by the 
United States Government. One of the sights which 
most interested Thoreau, during this tour in the West, 
was that of the aboriginal crab-apple, as told by him in 
the essay on "Wild Apples," which appeared in the 
Atlantic Monthly in 1862. 

Meantime the spark which had been kindled by John 
Brown's heroism had not been quenched by his death, and 
the war between the northern and southern States had 
already commenced in the spring of 1861. The mis- 
fortunes of the North in the first months of the war 
affected Thoreau so powerfully that he used to say he 

144 LIFE OF 

could never recover while the war lasted, and he told his 
friends in these dark days that he was "sick for his 
country." There is not the least justification for Lowell's 
statement that Thoreau "looked with utter contempt on 
the august drama of destiny, of which his country was 
the scene, and on which the curtain had already risen." 
"Was it Thoreau or Lowell," asks Wentworth Higgin- 
son, " who found a voice when the curtain fell, after the 
first act of that drama, upon the scaffold of John Brown? 
Had Thoreau retained health and "life, there is no telling 
but what the civil war might have brought out a wholly 
new aspect of him, as it did for so many." 

The journey to Minnesota was not productive of any 
lasting improvement in Thoreau's health. When he 
visited Mr. Ricketson at New Bedford a few weeks later 
(on which occasion an ambrotype portrait was taken at 
Mr. Ricketson's request), his racking cough impressed 
his friend with the conviction that his strength was fast 
failing, though his face, "except for a shade of sadness 
in the eyes," did not betray the change. But in the 
course of the winter that followed it became evident 
that the disease had reached a point at which it could 
not be arrested, and that there was no longer any hope 
of saving his life. " It was my good fortune to see him 
again last November," wrote G. W. Curtis (Harper's 
Magazine, July 1862), " when he came into the library of 
a friend to borrow a volume of Pliny's Letters. He was 
much wasted, and his doom was clear. But he talked 
in the old strain of wise gravity without either sentiment 
or sadness." Then it was that the exaltation of spirit 
ovjer matter, of the mind over the body, which had 
throughout his life been one of Thoreau's prominent 


characteristics, was still more strongly manifested as he 
neared his death; whatever his friends might feel, he 
himself appeared to be unaffected by his illness; he 
looked at himself, as it were, from an outer standpoint, 
surveying, without alarm and without anxiety, this in- 
trusion into his bodily system of a weakness to which 
his mind at least should never be subject. 

It was one of Thoreau's maxims that work of some 
kind is as necessary for those who are sick as for those 
who are strong, and it is recorded by his sister Sophia, 
who, with their mother's help, tenderly nursed him in 
his illness, that to the last day of his life he never ceased 
to call for the manuscripts on which he was engaged. 
He was about to become a contributor to the Atlantic 
Monthly magazine, which was now edited by Mr. Fields 
in the place of Mr. Lowell, and during the last few 
months of his life he accomplished, in his sister's words, 
"a vast amount of labour," in preparing these papers 
for the press, and in completing the records of his visits 
to the Maine Woods. There was something fitting in 
the fact that in this closing scene of his life his thoughts 
should be occupied with the Indian, whom he resembled 
not only in his sympathy with wild nature, but also in 
his stoical reserve, unfaltering self-command, and passive 
acquiescence in whatever his destiny had in store for 

His unfailing patience and fortitude are described as 
wonderful by those who witnessed them; it was impos- 
sible to be sad in his presence, or to realise that one 
so cheerful and contented was on the verge of death. 
When he could not sleep he would ask his sister to 

arrange the furniture so as to cast weird shadows on the 




walls, and he expressed the wish that his bed were in 
spiral form, that he might curl up in it as in a shell; at 
other times, when rest was not altogether denied him, he 
would interest his friends by a narration of his strange 
and fantastic dreams, saying that "sleep seemed to hang 
round his bed i nfestoons* " As long as sufficient strength 
remained to him, he resolutely took his seat at table 
with his mother and sister, insisting that " it would not 
be social to take his meals alone," and when he could no 
longer walk, his bed was brought down into the front 
parlour of the house, where he was visited by many of 
his neighbours and townsmen, from whom, during the 
whole course of his illness, he received such touching 
and gratifying tokens of kindness and affection that he 
would sometimes protest he would be ashamed to stay 
in the world after so much had been done for him. 

Several of the remarks which he made on these 
occasions were very characteristic. When Channing, 
the faithful and intimate companion of his walks and 
studies, hinted at the weary change that had now come 
over his life, and how "solitude began to peer out 
curiously from the dells and wood-roads," he whispered 
in reply, "It is better some things should end." He 
said to Alcott that he " should leave the world without a 
regret" Nor in these last weary months of suffering did 
he lose his shrewd humour and native incisiveness of 
speech. " Well, Mr. Thoreau, we must all go," said a 
well-meaning visitor, who thought to comfort the dying 
man by the ordinary platitudes. " When I was a boy," 
answered Thoreau, " I learnt that I must die, so I am 
not disappointed now; death is as near to you as it is to 
me." When asked whether he "had made his peace 


with God," he quietly replied that "he had never 
quarrelled with him." He was invited by another 
acquaintance to enter into a religious conversation con- 
cerning the next world. "One world at a time," was 
the prompt retort. 

It would, however, be an injustice to Thoreau to 
represent his death-bed as nothing but a scene of stoical 
fortitude and iron self-restraint — there are other and not 
less admirable traits of tenderness and love. From his 
window, which looked out on the village street, he saw 
passing and repassing some of his favourite children, 
whom he had so often conducted in their merry expedi- 
tions after the huckleberry or water-lily. " Why don't 
they come to see me?" he said to his sister. "I love 
them as if they were my own;" and it is pleasant to 
read that they often visited him, and enjoyed these last 
meetings scarcely less than the first. The sound of 
music had the same charm for him to the end, and on 
hearing a street musician play some old tune that had 
been familiar to him in childhood, he is said to have 
shed tears and asked his mother to give the man some 

The thought of death was never a cause of anxiety to 
him; but terrible indeed to a man of Thoreau's tem- 
perament must have been the death-in-life of that long 
and dreary winter, when the daily walk and converse 
with nature, which had seemed necessities of his exist- 
ence, were but memories of the past, and even the 
carefully kept journal must needs be discontinued, 
since there was in fact nothing to record. Yet of this 
outer life, in which for twenty-five years he had so faith- 
fully and unremittingly busied himself, he now spoke 

148 LIFE OF 

no word, and we are told that no stranger could have 
imagined from his manner that " he ever had a friend in 
field or wood." Once only, as he stood at his window, 
did he allude to what must have been so constantly in 
his thoughts. "I cannot see on the outside at all," 
he said to his friend Channing. "We thought our- 
selves great philosophers in those wet days, when we 
used to go out and sit down by the wall-sides." There 
is on this point a singular and pathetic similarity between 
Thoreau's last illness and that of Richard Jefferies, who 
of all men was nearest to him in passionate devotion to 
open-air life; but Thoreau's sterner and more r eticen t 
nature would not give his thoughts the expression in 
which Jefferies found relief. 

It was on 6th May 1862, a beautiful spring morning, 
that the end came. At eight o'clock, shortly after 
enjoying the odour of a bunch of hyacinths from a friend's 
c$^y$\ garden, he asked to be raised upright in his bed; his 

y ">\ breathing became gradually fainter and fainter, until he 

died without pain or struggle in the presence of his 
mother and sister, his last audible words being " moose " 
and "Indian" — the thought still intent on the scenes 
that had detained it so long. 

He was buried, near his brother and sister, in " Sleepy 
Hollow," the quiet Concord burial-ground, close to the 
spot which became the grave of Nathaniel Hawthorne 
two years later. An address was given at the funeral by 
Emerson, 1 and one of Thoreau's poems, " Sic Vita," was 

1 Afterwards published in the Atlantic Monthly, August 1862, 
and prefixed to Excursions, 1863. A few sentences were omitted, 
at Sophia Thoreau's request, when the address was printed. Among 
these was one in which Emerson enumerated the persons whom 



read by Alcott. " While we walked in procession up to 
the church," says one who was present, 1 "though the bell 
tolled the forty-four years he had numbered, we could 
not deem that he was dead whose ideas and sentiments 
were so vivid in our souls. As the fading image of 
pathetic clay lay before us, strewn with wild-flowers and 
forest sprigs, thoughts of its former occupant seemed 
blent with all the local landscapes. We still recall with 
emotion the tributary words so fitly spoken by friendly 
and illustrious lips. The hands of friends reverently 
lowered the body of the lonely poet into the bosom of 
the earth, on the pleasant hill-side of his native village, 
whose prospects will long wait to unfurl themselves to 
another observer so competent to discriminate their 
features, and so attuned to their moods." His grave was 
marked by a red stone, which bore no inscription but his 
name and date of death. That stone is now gone. Its 
successor bears the names, and dates of birth and death, 
of every member of the family, except John, whose 
birthday no one could recall. 

Thoreau's collections of plants, Indian relics, and the 
like, were bequeathed by him to the Society of Natural 
History at Boston, of which he was an honorary member. 
The family business of pencil-making was carried on for 
some years after his death by his sister Sophia, w r ho 
herself lived till 1876. The last remaining member of 
the family was Miss Maria Thoreau, the sister of 
Thoreau's father, who outlived her brother and her 

Thoreau specially admired — viz., John Brown, the abolitionist; 
Joe Polis, an Indian guide; and "one who is not known to those 
here assembled," i.e., Walt Whitman. 

1 W. R. Alger: Solitudes of Nature and of Man. 

150 LIFE OF 

brother's children, and died in Maine at an advanced 
age in 1881. But though the family is thus extinct in 
New England, the name of Thoreau is indelibly associated 
with the scenes amidst which he lived and died ; and it 
has been well remarked that "the village of Concord 
is his monument, covered with suitable inscriptions 
by himself." A cairn of stones marks the site of 
the hut on the shore of Walden Pond, where the poet- 
naturalist spent the two most memorable years of his 
life, and wrote the greater part of his most memorable 
volume. 1 

"My greatest skill," says Thoreau himself, in words 
that might stand as his epitaph, "has been to want 
but little. For joy I could embrace the earth. I 
shall delight to be buried in it. And then I think 
of those amongst men who will know that I love 
them, though I tell them not." Truly there is a love 
that needs not telling — that is deepest and tenderest 
untold. And those who understand this love will 
understand the secret of Thoreau's story, and will never 
fail to own and reverence the sincerity and heroism of 
his lifel 

1 The following is an extract from the journal of the greatest of the 
many pilgrims who have since visited these scenes: — ft A half-hour 
at Hawthorne's and Thoreau's graves. I got out and went up, of 
course, on foot, and stood a long while and pondered. They lie close 
together in a pleasant wooded spot well up the cemetery hill, * Sleepy 
Hollow.' . . , Then to Walden Pond, that beautifully embower'd 
sheet of water, and spent over an hour there. On the spot in the 
woods where Thoreau had his solitary house is now quite a cairn 
of stones, to mark the place ; I too carried one and deposited on 
the heap." — Walt Whitman's Specimen Days in America, September 


" He kept the temple as divine 

Wherein his soul abided ; 
He heard the Voice within the shrine, 

And followed as it guided ; 
He found no bane of bitter strife, 

But laws of His designing ; 
He quaffed the brimming cup of Life, 

And went forth unrepining." x 

1 From a poem on Thoreau by S. A. Jones. 


A DELIBERATE intent of advocating any particular 
class of doctrines is more than once disclaimed by 
Thoreau. He was an independent thinker, who put his 
theories into practice with unusual courage, and expressed 
himself in his books with unusual frankness, but he had 
no preconceived designs on the opinions of his fellow- 
men; he lived his life and said his say, and if he sought 
to exercise any influence on others, it was by no direct 
persuasion of argument or proselytism, but indirectly by 
the example of his own personality. He once asked a 
friend, who had entered the ministry, whether he had ever 
yet in preaching been " so fortunate as to say anything." 
On being answered in the affirmative, he remarked, 
" Then your preaching days are over. Can you bear to 
say it again?" By nature and temperament he was 
averse to any elaborate "system" of philosophy or 
ethics; he questioned everything, and would accept no 
philosophical formula for himself, nor offer any to his 
readers. This constitutional unwillingness to be tram- 
melled by any intellectual tenet left its mark very 
distinctly both on the substance and the form of 
Thoreau's writings, and should be borne in mind, when 
he is spoken of as the preacher of an ethical gospel; 


nevertheless, since he did in truth dwell with much 
insistence on certain important truths, intellectual and 
moral, which are too generally overlooked, we arc justi- 
fied, with this reservation, in formulating as "doctrines" 
the views which he most frequently expressed. 

We have already seen that he was before everything 
an idealist — his transcendentalism was not an adopted 
creed, but an innate habit of mind from which he never 
swerved, and which dominated all his philosophy. So 
iar, it may be said, he did not differ to any remarkable 
degree from other idealists, who have all more or less- 
recognised and followed the guiding light of the inner 
consciousness. But here we come to that distinctive 
quality which sets Thoreau on a separate footing from 
Emerson and other transcendentalist writers — the resolute 
practicalness which shows itself as clearly in his doctrines 
as in his actions. Though the ideal was always before 
Mm, he had no taste for the subtleties of mere meta- 
physical abstractions, but made a strong actuality^ the 
basis of his reasoning : there were thus two sides to his 
character and philosophy, the one the mystical and 
transcendental, w r hich faced the boundless possibilities of 
the future, the other the practical and terrestrial, which 
was concerned with the realities of the present and the 

It is true that these two qualities did not always work 
^mile harmoniously together; for Thoreau was not care- 
itti to be systematic and verbally consistent ; as he 
hfettself says, "How can I communicate with the gods, 
who am a pencil-maker on earth, and not be insane ? " 
But, as a rule, the successful combination of common 
sense with transcendental sense is the characteristic 

154 LIFE OF 

feature of his doctrines; and this very dreamer and 
mystic who boasted that he built his castles in the air 
and then put the foundations under them, could also 
assert with equal truth, in another connection, that " it 
afforded him no satisfaction to commence to spring an 
arch before he had got a solid foundation." His philo- 
sophy of life is eminently keen-sighted, sound, and 

It has been asserted that Thoreau " is Emerson 
without domestic ties, or wish for them; save for a 
streak of benevolence, without those of humanity." 1 
But this subordination of Thoreau as a mere pupil and 
follower of Emerson is not warranted by the facts of 
their relationship. The greater practicalness of Thoreau 
is frankly recognised by Emerson himself in a passage of 
his diary. "In reading Henry Thoreau's journal," he 
wrote, a year after his friend's death, "lam very sensible 
of the vigour of his constitution. That oaken strength 
which I noted whenever he walked or worked or sur- 
veyed wood-lots, the same unhesitating hand with which 
a field-labourer accosts a piece of work which I should 
shun as a waste of strength, he shows in his literary 
task. He has muscle, and ventures on and performs 
feats which I am forced to decline. In reading him I 
find the same thoughts, the same spirit that is in me, 
but he takes a step beyond and illustrates by excellent 
images that which I should have conveyed in a sleepy 
generalisation." "The resemblance of Thoreau to 
Emerson," says Mr. Conway, " was as superficial as that 
of a leaf-like creature to a leaf. Thoreau was quite as 
original as Emerson. He was not an imitator of any_^ 
1 Professor Nichol's American Literature. 

THOREAU. 155 / 

mortalj his thoughts and expressions are suggestions of 
a Thoreau-principle at work in the universe." 1 

This practical tendency in Thoreau was fostered and 
strengthened by his firm belief in the freedom of the 
human will. "I know of no more encouraging fact," 
he says, "than the unquestionable ability of man to 
elevate his life by a conscious endeavour." His religious / 
and moral creed was founded on a fixed optimistic con- 
viction that nature is working to some wise and bene- 
volent end; joy was for him "the condition of life, " and 
despondency nothing more than a senseless and idle! 
aberration. ' 

Inspired by this optimistic faith, Thoreau inculcates, 
more strongly perhaps than any other writer, a sense of 
content in one's own personality; he would have each ^ 
individual develop quietly according to his own capacity 
and conditions. To waste no time in brooding over the 
past, but to live in the present, and nourish unbounded 
confidence in the future — this was the essence of his 
practical philosophy; and for support in this creed, and 
refreshment in the weaker moments of life, he looked to 
the unfailing health and beneficence, as he considered 
it, of wild nature. 

This calm, optimistic nature-worship mainly deter- 
mined Thoreau's attitude towards the religious sects, 
whose " snappish tenacity," and faint-hearted craving for 
external comfort and grace, w r ere in direct contrast to 
his own absolute self-possession. " Really there is no 
infidelity nowadays," he wrote in The Week, " so great 
as that which prays, and keeps the Sabbath, and rebuilds 
the churches. The church is a sort of hospital for men's 
1 Emerson at Home and Abroad. 

156 LIFE OF 

souls, and as full of quackery as the hospital for their 
bodies. Those who are taken into it live like pensioners 
in their Retreat or Sailors' Snug Harbour, where you 
may see a row of religious cripples sitting outside in 
sunny weather. Let not the apprehension that he may 
one day have to occupy a ward therein discourage the 
cheerful labours of the able-souled man." It may be 
imagined that the spirit of "defiant pantheism," as 
Horace Greeley called it, which breathes through all 
Thoreau's utterances on the subject of religion, and 
especially through the magnificent passage in the chapter 
on " Sunday " in The Week, must have caused him, and 
still causes him, to be mistrusted and misunderstood in 
so-called religious circles. It has been truly remarked 
of him that " he creates as much consternation among 
the saints as the sinners." Yet his unsparing candour 
and incisiveness of speech ought not to blind his readers 
to the fact that it was the very depth and sincerity of his 
religious sentiment that caused him to set all forms and 
dogmas at defiance. 

What, then, is the practical outcome of Thoreau's 
ethical teac hing ? In the first place, he is an earnest 
and unwearied advocate of self-cult ur^anx^^df-respect. 
and insists again and again on the need of preserving 
our higher and nobler instincts from the contamination 
of what is base, trivial, and worldly; the body must 
be exercised into purity and vigour, and carefully safe- 
guarded against sloth, vice, and disease, and in like 
manner, from an intellectual point of view, the mind 
must be kept secure from the harmful and distracting 
influences of conventionality and gossip. The extreme 
delicacy of Thoreau's nature — a delicacy which was 


sensitive almost to fastidiousness — may be seen in the 
sharp and perhaps too arbitrary contrast which he some- 
times draws between the spiritual and the animal instincts, 
and especially in the tone of his remarks on the subject 
of love. "The intercourse of the sexes," he says, "I 
have dreamed, is incredibly beautiful, too fair to be 
remembered. I have had thoughts about it, but they 
are among the most fleeting and irrecoverable in my 
experience. It is strange that men will talk of miracles, 
revelation, inspiration, and the like, as things past while 
love remains. Some have asked if the stock of men 
could not be improved — if they could not be bred as 
cattle. Let Love be purified, and all the rest will follow. 
A pure love is thus indeed the panacea for all the ills of 
the world." 

The eager self-seeking restlessness of modern society, 
with its ignorance or disregard of the claims of thoughtful 
repose, was summed up for Thoreau in the word " busi- 
ness." Nothing, in his opinion, not even crime, is so 
much opposed to the poetry of life as "business," — it is 
" a negation " of life itself. Yet, as has already been said, 
the leisure which he advocated as essential to the well- 
being of every man was very different from idleness; 
indeed there have been few writers who, both in word 
and deed, have exhibited the value of time more power- 
fully than Thoreau. If he rejected "business " in its com- 
mercial and money-making aspect, he none the less 
recognised that hard work is as important a discipline 
for the mind and morals as exercise is for the body, and 
that those who fail to support themselves by their own 
labour are doing a wrong both to themselves and others. 
For the same reason he urges on students and men of 

158 LIFE OF 

sedentary habits the advisability of taking a share in the 
simple common labours of everyday life, asserting that 
" the student who secures his coveted leisure and retire- 
ment by systematically shirking any labour necessary to 
man obtains but an ignoble and unprofitable leisure, 
defrauding himself of the experience which alone can 
make leisure fruitful." 

We see, then, that Thoreau's first demand is for 
leisure and elbow-room, tnat each individual mind, 
instead of being crushed and warped in the struggle 
of life, may have space to develop its own distinctive 
qualities and follow the bent of its own natural tempera- 
ment. Never has there lived a more deter m ine d and 
unalterable individualis t. Everything, according to his 
maxims, must be examined; nothing must be taken on 
trust; he was, as Emerson calls him, "a protestant a 
Foutrance" and unhesitatingly rejected many customs 
which are supposed to have the sanction of experience 
and tradition. He declared that after living some thirty 
years on this planet he had yet to hear a word of valuable 
advice from his elders. When a young man of his 
/acquaintance professed a desire to adopt his mode of 
>life, his answer was that he would have each one find 
S out and pursue his own way, and not that of his father 
( or his neighbour. 

It must not be supposed, however, that he wholly 
ignored the possibility of wise co-operation — on the 
contrary, he expressly states in Walden, when advocating 
the adoption of a better system of village education, that 
"to act collectively is according to the spirit of our 
institutions;" and in the account of his Canadian tour, 
when he describes the machine-like regularity with which 


the troops at Montreal went through their drill in the 
Champ de Mars, he exclaims that a true co-operation 
and harmony might be possible, " if men could combine 
thus earnestly and patiently and harmoniously to some 
really worthy end." But this seems to have been 
nothing more than a distant anticipation; under present 
conditions he considered that the best hope of society 
lay in the progress and gradual perfecting of the indi- 
vidual man by his own personal effort At a time when 
Fourier's doctrines had obtained great hold in New 
England, and when various schemes of co-operative 
associations, by which society was to be entirely re- 
organised and regenerated, were being eagerly discussed, 
it was inevitable that so shrewd and practical a thinker 
as Thoreau should — in spite of his idealism — fall back 
more and more on what he considered the solid basis 
of individual independence. This view is stated very 
clearly in his criticism of a volume entitled The Paradise 
within the Reach of All Men, in which the magical 
results of co-operation had been depicted in glowing 
colours — 

" Alas ! this is the crying sin of the age, this want of faith in the 
prevalence of a man. Nothing can be effected but by one man. 
He who wants help wants everything. True, this is the condition of 
our weakness, but it can never be the means of our recovery. We 
must first succeed alone, that we may enjoy our success together. 
We trust that the social movements which we witness indicate an 
aspiration not to be thus cheaply satisfied. In this matter of 
reforming the world we have little faith in corporations ; not thus 
was it first formed. " 1 

Closely connected with this strong individualism are 
Thoreau's anarchist doctrines. He regards all estab- 
1 Democratic Review > November 1843. 

160 LIFE OF 

j lished government as, at best, a necessary evil, which 
we must tolerate as we can during the present tran- 
sitional phase of human society, in the belief that the 
ultimate condition of mankind will be, like the primitive, 
one of individual liberty. Politics he set aside as 
" unreal, incredible, and insignificant." " Blessed are the 
young," was his new version of the Beatitudes, "for 
they do not read the President's Message." For the 
same reasons he expressed a strong dislike of the* general 
tone of the American press, which he considered, with a 
few exceptions, to be venal and time-serving. In at 
least two of his essays, the "Plea for Captain John 
Brown" and "Slavery in Massachusetts," this feeling 
finds an outlet in a fierce philippic against the hireling 
journals which did not scruple to use their utmost 
influence in the service of the slave-holding party. 
~> Yet here too, as elsewhere, there is a danger of ex- 
n aggerating the extent of Thoreau's lack of sympathy 
with contemporary modes of thought. It is true he 
preaches anarchism and civil disobedience; yet, under a 
rough exterior, he loved his country well, and in his 
peculiar way was perhaps as patriotic a citizen as any 
to be found in Massachusetts. He admits that the 
American Government, though not an ideal one, is 
good enough when viewed from a lower than the ideal 
standpoint, and more than once expresses his own 
desire to be a peaceable and law-abiding citizen. More- 
over, in spite of his contempt for politics and politicians, 
he does not deny that " countless reforms are called for," 
and shows that he is aware that the condition of the 
working classes is destined to be the paramount question 
of the age. But all his social doctrines point finally to 


this end — that the path must be left clear for the free 
development of individual character. 

"There will never be a really free and enlightened State," he 
says, " until the State comes to recognise the individual as a higher 
and independent power, from which all its own power and authority 
are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with 
imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, 
and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbour; which 
even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose, if a few 
were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by 
it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbours and fellow-men. A 
State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as 
fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect 
and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet any- 
where seen." 1 

Society then is to be reformed, according to Thoreau's 
doctrine, by individual ^ ejfort, and the gosp el which he 
preaches to the individual is that of s im plicity. Simpli- 
fication of life (by which is meant a questioning, and 
perhaps rejection, of the various artificial " comforts " 
and luxuries, and a dependence only on the actual 
necessaries — food, shelter, clothing, and fuel) is re- 
peatedly advocated by Thoreau, from his own practical 
experience, as lending strength, courage, and self-reliance 
to the individual character, and so, in proportion to the 
extent of its practice, to the State. It must be repeated 
that this doctrine, however strange and unpalatable it 
may be to the popular mood, is not that of an ascetic. 
The simplicity which Thoreau inculcates does not, like 
asceticism, renounce the luxuries of life by way of a 
religious penance, but because it is convinced that life, 

1 " Resistance to Civil Government, " JEsthetic Papers, Boston, 


162 ^ LIFE OF 

on the whole, is healthier and happier without them. 
What he urges is not that men should deny themselves 
certain comforts while they still believe them to be 
comforts, but that in each case they sho uld test the 
truth b y p ractical experienc e, and not continue to regard 
as necessaries many things which a day's trial would 
prove to be superfluous and perhaps actually harmful. 
This distinction between a natural taste and an acquired 
habit is a vital one, yet it is generally overlooked by the 
opponents of Thoreau's philosophy. He laughs at the 
absurdity of those writers who talk of the usefulness of 
" artificial wants " in drawing out the resources of nature, 
since every artificial want must of necessity bring with 
it its own Nemesis of proportionally increased toil; 
whereas, on the~contrary, the practice of hardihood and 
frugality is productive of health, independence, and 
restfulness both to body and mind. In a word, the 
simplicity which he preaches is based not on the repres- 
sion, but rather on the better gratification, of the true 
pleasure s of .existence. Which is the more enjoyable to 
indulge — the spiritual instinct or the sensual ? Let each 
man make his own choice; but let him at least be sure 
that he is r eally following his own tastes, and not merely 
conforming to the dictates of custom and tradition: " 
""""The chaTjpToften made against Tnoreau, that he is in 
opposition to the course of modern progress, and prefers 
savagery to civilisation, is only tenable on a very short- 
sighted and perfunctory view of the meaning of his 
gospel. He himself notes in his diary that his lectures 
used to call forth such inquiries as " Would you have us 
return to the savage state?" — a misconception of his 
meaning which was doubtless rendered more general 


by his brevity of speech, epigrammatic tone, and char- 
acteristic unwillingness to explain himself. But a careful 
study of his writings as a whole, and of Walden in parti- 
cular, can leave us in no doubt as to his true position on 
this point. He expressly states his belief that civilisation 
is a real advance in the condition of mankind, and that 
the farmer displaces the Indian "because he redeems 
the meadow, and so makes himself stronger and in some 
respects more natural." But, while making this admis- 
sion, he points out what is too often overlooked by com- 
fortable statisticians, that, though the majority of civilised 
men are better situated than the savage, there is a 
minority which is not so. He asserts, then, that the 
problem to which we should apply ourselves is how "to 
combine the hardiness of the savage with the intellectual- 
ness of the^ civilised man." When he inveighs against 
the numerous follies, and defects, and diseases observable 
in civilisation, he does so, not because he doubts or 
denies its superiority to the savage state, but because 
(to quote his own words) he wishes " to show at what a 
sacrifice this advantage is at present obtained, and to 
suggest that we may possibly so live as to secure all the 
advantage without suffering any of the disadvantage." x 
In the same connection it should be noted that 
Thoreau exhibits no reactionary feeling against the 
strides made by science and modern mechanical inven- 
tion, however strongly he may protest against the un- 
necessary desecration of natural scenery. He descants 
on the enterprise, courage, and alertness of commerce, 
which goes steadily on its path undismayed and un- 
hindered by the obstacles of climate and season, and 
declares that it cheered him in his Walden hermitage 


164 LIFE OF 

when he heard the train rattle past each morning on its 
road to Boston. All he desiderates is a worthier object 
as the end and aim of so much toil and industry. Nor 
was he, as some have supposed, an enemy to art, though 
he may have been, as Emerson says, " insensible to some 
fine traits of culture." He did not wish to banish 
ornament from our dwellings, except such as is external 
and superficial, a mere conventional and fashionable 
appendage, instead of what it should be, a simple and 
natural growth. 

It may here be worth while to inquire how far these 
principles of individualism and simplicity were meant by 
Thoreau to be applied, and how far they were j rightly 
applicable, to the social question of his time. There is 
no indication whatever in any of his writings that he 
intended his doct r i nes to be understood, directly and 
literally, as containing a panacea for human ills; he 
did not wish his fellow-beings to leave their towns and 
villages in order to live in shanties, nor was he under 
the impression, as some of his critics would have us 
believe, that the inhabitants of crowded cities were free 
to march out and live in blissful seclusion in some neigh- 
bouring wood. Thoreau, whatever the limitations of 
his genius may have been, was a shrewd and clear- 
sighted man; and if any of his readers find themselves 
attributing to him such ineptitudes as those just men- 
tioned, they may feel assured that the misunderstanding 
is on their own side, and that by lack of sympathy they 
have failed to grasp his true meaning. It should be 
remembered that he wrote primarily and immediately 
for his own fellow-citizens of Concord and a limited 
New England audience; and, further, that the social 

THOREAU. 165 /" 

problem was far less difficult and complex at that time 
in New England than it is now after a lapse of thirty or 
forty years. Extreme poverty was a rare exception and 
not a normal condition among the peasantry of Concord; 
there was more elbow-room and opportunity for indi- 
vidual effort than in an English country town, so that 
an example such as that set by Thoreau was not by any 
means the impossibility which it would have been in 
other places and under other circumstances. As a 

-matter of fact, he seldom recommended his own way 
of living to his neighbours or fellow-tqwnsmen, .being 

K convinced that jeach , JSan. JfSH?t J&3PS .. l 1 J § .Q w Ii ^career ; 
though in one or two cases, as in the conversation with 
a thriftless Irish labourer, recorded in Walden, we find 
him pointing out the advantages of a frugal diet, since 
those who can dispense with tea, coffee, butter, milk, 
and flesh-meat can also spare themselves the heavy 
labour which is required to purchase these unnecessary 
"comforts." But in so far as Thoreau addressed his 
doctrines to the general public, it was distinctly not with 
the intent of persuading them to live as he did, but f & 
in the hope of stimulating independent thought by the 
force of his example and admonition, and of drawing 
attention to those simple common-sense principles 
without which there can be no lasting health or con- 
tentment either for individual or community. 

Mr. Stevenson has remarked of Thoreau that in his 
whole works one can find no trace of pity. If it were 
possible at all to maintain this assertion, it could only be 
in the limited sense that he dwells usually on the iniquity 
of the wrong-doer rather than on the feelings of the 
sufferer; he does not, for instance, express his pity for 


166 LIFE OF 

the slave (though we know from the accounts already 
quoted how strong his pity was), but he shows it in a 
more practical form by his attitude towards the slave- 
holder. It is true that, with his characteristic dislike of 
system, he disclaims any distinct theory of compassion, 
while his optimistic belief in the beneficence of nature 
prevents him from repining at the mere existence of 
suffering and wrong. Nevertheless, Thoreau is himself 
one of the humanest of writers, and has contributed to the 
literature of humanitarianism some of its most striking 
protests. His detestation of war was shown in his refusal 
to pay the poll-tax at the time when the United States 
made an unjustifiable attack on Mexico^ He declares 
| fighting to be "a damnable business," and at variance 
I with the will and conscience of those compelled to 
I engage in it — "soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, 
powder-monkeys, and all." Of his opinions concerning 
slaveholding it is not necessary to say more; but there 
is a remarkable saying of his about John Brown which 
deserves to be quoted in this connection. Noting the 
fact that Brown had not received a college education, 
but had studied Liberty in " the great University of the 
West," he adds : "Such were his humanities, and not any 
study of grammar. He would have left a Greek accent 
slanting the wrong way, and righted up a falling man/ 
It would be well if all our professors and students of 
iiierce humaniores would lay this admirable sentiment to 
heart. / 

Humanity to animals was one of the most conspicuous / 
virtues in Thoreau's character, and is constantly, 
indirectly, advocated in his writings. His conception of 
the animal races has been described as " a sort of mystic^/ 



evolution." Thus he regards the foxes as "rudimental 
burrowing men, still standing on their defence, awaiting 
their transformation ; " while the dog is to the fox as the 
white man to the red. The horse appears to him as a 
human being in a humble state of existence, and the 
human way in which the oxen behave when loosed from 
the yoke at evening affects him pathetically. The wild 
shaggy moose in the Maine forests are " moose-men, clad 
in a sort of Vermont gray or homespun," and he expresses 
respect even for the skunk, for its suggested resemblance 
to one of the human aborigines of the country. In- 
dividuality is recognised and respected by him in the 
non-human no less than the human races ; he complains 
of man's " not educating the horse, not trying to develop 
his nature, but merely getting work out of him." It was 
this sense of brotherhood, as I have already remarked, 
which gave Thoreau his extraordinary power over beasts 
and birds ; and his singular humanity to animals is due 
to the same source. During the greater part of his life^ 
he was a vegetarian in practice, and in Walden has made ' 
profession of his faith in the humanities of diet. 

His position as a naturalist was strongly influenced by 
the same humane sentiments. His methods were not 
those of the anatomist and man of science ; he held that 
"nature must be viewed humanly to be viewed at all, 
that is, her scenes must be associated with humane 
affections ; " she was to him a living entity, to be loved 
and reverenced, and not a subject for cold and unim- 
passioned observation. Accordingly, in his remarks on 
nature and natural history there is a decided prevalence 
of that peculiarly introspective and moralising mood, 
characteristic of the poet^naturalist as distinct from the 


168 LIFE OF 

scientist, which seeks to transmute the mere facts and 
results of external observation into symbolical thoughts 
\ and images which may illustrate the life of man. It is 
\ this human self-consciousness that differentiates Thoreau 
from the naturalist and observer pure and simple, such 
as Gilbert White. It has been remarked by Mr. John 
Burroughs that it was super-natural rather than natural 
history that Thoreau studied, and that he made no 
discoveries of importance in the scientific field because 
he looked through nature instead of at he r, and was 
" more intent on the natural history of his own thought 
than on that of the bird." 

It is no doubt true that Thoreau's keenness of vision 
was generally in proportion to the interest of the subject 
with which he had to deal ; he saw what he already had 
in mind. His observations, however, are not the less 
important because they differ from those acquired by 
the ordinary method; on the contrary, they are more 
valuable on that account, inasmuch as the poet is higher 
and rarer than the naturalist. Nathaniel Hawthorne 
has recorded how Thoreau was enabled by this inner 
faculty to see the water-lily as few others could see it ; 
"he has beheld beds of them unfolding in due suc- 
cession as the sunrise stole gradually from flower to 
flower — a sight not to be hoped for, unless when a poet 
adjusts his inward eye to a proper focus with the outward 
organ." This idealist quality constitutes the peculiar pro- 
perty of Thoreau's teaching on the subject of nature \ 
but that it did not disqualify him from doing good service 
as a scientific observer may be gathered from the remark- 
able tribute which has been paid to him by one of 
Darwin's interpreters: — 


/ " Like no one else, he knew the meaning of every note and 
[ movement of bird and beast, and fish and insect. Born out of due 
, time, just too early for the great change in men's views of nature 
which transferred all interest in outer life from the mere dead 
things one sees in museums to their native habits and modes of 
living, he was yet in some sort a vague and mystical anticipatory 
precursor of the modern school of functional biologists. . . . Page 
after page of his diary notes facts about the pollen showers of pine- 
trees, the fertilisation of skunk-cabbage, the nesting of birds, the 
preferences of mink or musk-rat, the courtship of butterflies, all of 
a piece with those minute observations on which naturalists now- 
adays build their most interesting theories." 1 

The conclusion of our view of Thoreau's doctrines 
thus brings us back to the contention with which we 
started. He was an ^idealist who .looked through the 
outer husk and surface of life, and saw the true reality in 
what to most men is but a vision and a dream. He had 
in large measure what Emerson calls " the philosopher's 
perception of identity"; the phenomena of time and 
space did not affect him — Walden Pond was to him an 
Atlantic Ocean, a moment was eternity. The means on 
which he relies for the correction of popular delusions 
are the independence of the individual mind, and those 
simple, practical modes of living which alone can keep a 
man independent. Finally, for all his asperity of tone 
in the reproof of what he considered to i5e blameworthy, 
he was a firm believer in the gradual progress and 
ultimate renovation of mankind, being convinced that 
improvement is "the only excuse for reproduction." It 
was no cynical or misanthropic faith that found ex- 
pression in his writings. 

1 Grant Allen, Fortnightly Review ', May 1888. 


T^HE lack of system which is noticeable in Thoreau's 
character may be traced in the style of his writings 
as plainly as in his philosophical views. He was not 
careful as to the outer form and finish of his works, for 
he believed that the mere literary contour is of quite 
secondary importance in comparison with the inner 
animating spirit; let the worthiness of the latter once be 
assured, and the former will fall naturally into its proper 
shape. Furthermore, although, as we have seen, writing 
was more and more recognised by him as his profession 
in his later years, he was at all times conscious of a fuller 
and higher calling than that of the literary man — as he 
valued nature before art, so he valued life before litera- 
ture. He both preached and practised a combination of 
literary work and manual; of the pen and of the spade; 
of the study and of the open sky. He protested against 
that tendency in our civilisation which carries division of 
labour to such an extent that the student is deprived of 
healthy out-door work, while the labourer is deprived 
of opportunity for self-culture. He imagines the case of 
"some literary professor, who sits in his library writing 
a treatise on the huckleberry, while hired huckleberry- 
pickers and cooks are engaged in the task of preparing 
him a pudding of the berries. A book written under 


such conditions will be worthless. " There will be none 
of the spirit of the huckleberry in it. I believe in a 
different kind of division of labour, and that the professor 
should divide himself between the library and the huckle- 
berry field." His opinions on the subject of literary 
style are clearly stated in The Week y and are no doubt 
in great measure a record of his own practice : 

"Can there be any greater reproach than an idle learning? 
Learn to split wood at least. The necessity of labour and conver- 
sation with many men and things to the scholar is rarely well 
remembered; steady labour with the hands, which engrosses the 
attention also, is unquestionably the best method of removing 
palaver and sentimentality out of one's style, both of speaking and 
writing. If he has worked hard from morning till night, though 
he may have grieved that he could not be watching the train of his 
thoughts during that time, yet the few hasty lines which at evening 
record his day's experience will be more musical and true than his 
freest but idle fancy could have furnished. Surely t he writer is to 
address a w orld of lab jOjLirers ? and such therefore must be his own 
disciplin es^ He will not idly dance at his "work whoTms^wooct to 
cut and cord before nightfall in the short days of winter, but every 
stroke will be husbanded, and ring soberly through the wood ; and 
so will the strokes of that scholar's pen, which at evening record the 
story of the day, ring soberly, yet cheerily, on the ear of the reader, 
long after the echoes of his axe have died away." 

Such were, in fact, the conditions under which Thoreau 
wrote many of the pages of the journal from which his 
own essays were constructed; and, whatever may be 
thought of the force of his general principle, there can be 
no doubt that in his particular case the result was very 
felicitous. It was his pleasure and his determination 
that his writing should be redolent of the open-air 
scenery by which it was primarily inspired. "I trust," 

172 LIFE OF 

he says of The Week (and the same may be said of all 
his volumes), " it does not smell so much of the study 
f and library, even of the poet's attic, as of the fields and 
[ woods; that it is a hypsethral or unroofed book, lying 
j open under the ether, and permeated by it, open to all 
weathers, not easy to be kept on a shelf." In this way 
[ Thoreau added a new flavour to literature by the un- 
V ^v*-^ Y studied freshness and wildness of his tone, and succeeded 

>v rt,U l vVV best where he made least effort to be successful. "It is 

iw^i^K *' on ly out °f ^ e fulness of thinking," says Mr. R. L. 

iyjr*^ Stevenson, "that expression drops perfect like a ripe 

fruit; and when Thoreau wrote so nonchalantly at his 
desk, it was because he had been vigorously active 
during his walk." Even Mr. ^Lowell, a far less friendly 
critic, is compelled, on this point, to express his admira- 
tion. "With every exception, there is no writing 
comparable with Thoreau's in kind that is comparable 
with it in degree, where it is best. His range was 
narrow, but to be a master is to be a master. There are 
sentences of his as perfect as anything in the language, 
and thoughts as clearly crystallised; his metaphors and 
images are always fresh from the soil." 

This success, although naturally and unconsciously 
attained, had of course been rendered possible in the 
first instance by an honest course of study; for Thoreau, 
like every other master of literary expression, had passed 
through his strict apprenticeship of intellectual labour. 
Though comparatively indifferent to modern languages, 
he was familiar with the best classical writers of Greece 
and Rome, and his style was partly formed on models 
drawn from one of the great eras in English literature, 
the post-Elizabethan period. It is a noticeable fact that 


" mother-tongue" was a word which he loved to use even 
in his college days; and the homely native vigour of his 
own writings was largely due to the sympathetic industry 
with which he had laboured in these quiet but fertile 
fields. Nor must it be supposed, because he did not 
elaborate his w T ork according to the usual canons, that 
he was a careless or indolent writer — on the contrary, 
it was his habit to correct his manuscripts with unfailing 
diligence. He deliberately examined and re-examined 
eachsenten^e of his journal before admitting it into the 
essays which he sent to the printer, finding that a certain 
lapse of time was necessary before he could arrive at 
a satisfactory decision. His absolute sincerity showed 
itself as clearly in the style of his writing as in the 
manner of his life. " The one great rule of composition 
— and if I were a professor of rhetoric I should insist 
on this — is to speak the truth. This first, this second, 
this third." 

In his choice of subjects it was the common that 
most often enlisted his sympathy and attention. " The 
theme," he says, "is nothing; the life is everything. 
Give me simple, cheap, and homely themes. I omit 
the unusual — the hurricanes and earthquakes, and de- 
scribe the common. This has the greatest charm, and 
is the true theme of poetry. Give me the obscure life, 
the cottage of the poor and humble, the work-days of 
the world, the barren fields." But while he took these 
as the subjects for his pen, he so idealised and trans- 
formed them by the power of his imagination as to 
present them in aspects altogether novel and unsus- 
pected ; it being his delight to bring to view the latent 
harmony and beauty of all existent things, and thus 

174 LIFE OF 

indirectly to demonstrate the unity and perfection of 

Numerous passages might be quoted from Thoreau's 
works which exhibit these picturesque and suggestive 
qualities. He had a poet's eye for all forms of beauty, 
moral and material alike, and for the subtle analogies 
that exist between the one class and the other — in a 
word, he was possessed of a most vivid and quickening 
imagination. His images and metaphors are bold, 
novel, and impressive — as when, to take but a couple 
of instances, he alludes to the lost anchors of vessels 
wrecked off the coast of Cape Cod as " the sunken faith 
and hope of mariners, to which they trusted in vain ; " 
or describes the autumnal warmth on the sheltered 
side of Walden as " the still glowing embers which the 
summer, like a departing hunter, had left." And, with 
all his simplicity and directness of speech, he has an 
unconscious, almost mystic, eloquence which stamps 
him unmistakably as an inspired writer, a man of true 
and rare genius; so that it has been well said of him 
that "he lived and died to transfuse external nature 
into human words." In this respect his position among 
prose-writers is unique; no one, unless it be Richard 
Jefferies, can be placed in the same category with him. 

In so far as he studied the external form of his 
writings, the aim and object which Thoreau set before 
him may be summed up in one word — concentration; 
He avows his delight in sentences which are " concen- 
trated and nutty." The distinctive feature of his own 
literary style could not have been more accurately de- 
scribed. The brief, barbed, epigrammatic sentences 
which bristle throughout his writings, pungent with 


shrewd wisdom and humour, are the appropriate 
expression of his keen thrifty nature; there is not a 
superfluous word or syllable, but each passage goes 
straight to the mark, and tells its tale, as the work of a 
man who has some more urgent duty to perform than to 
adorn his pages with artificial tropes and embellishments. 
He is fond of surprising and challenging his readers by 
the piquancy and strangeness of his sayings, and his 
use of paradox is partly due to the same desire to 
stimulate and awaken curiosity, partly to his wayward 
and contradictory nature. The dangers and demerits 
of a paradoxical style are sufficiently obvious ; and no 
writer has ever been less careful than Thoreau to safe- 
guard himself against misunderstandings on this score. 
He has consequently been much misunderstood, and will 
always be "so, save where the reader brings to his task 
a certain amount of sympathy and kindred sense of 

To those who are not gifted with the same sense of 
the inner identity which links together many things that 
are externally unlike, some of Thoreau's thoughts and 
sayings must necessarily appear to be a fair subject for 
ridicule. Yet that he should have been charged with 
possessing no " humour " would be inexplicable, save for 
the fact that the definitions of that quality are so various 
and so vague. Broad wit and mirthful genial humour 
he certainly had not, and he confessedly disliked writings 
in which there is a conscious and deliberate attempt to 
be amusing. He found Rabelais, for instance, intolerable; 
" it may be sport to him," he says, " but it is death to us; 
a mere humorist, indeed, is a most unhappy man, and 
his readers are most unhappy also." But though he 


176 LIFE OF 

would not or could not recognise humour as a distinct 
and independent quality, and even attempted, as we are 
told, to eliminate what he considered " levity " from some 
of his essays, he none the less enjoyed keenly — and him- 
self unmistakably exhibited — the quiet, latent, unobtru- 
sive humour which is one of the wholesome and saving 
principles of human life. / //Among Thoreau's own writings, 
Walden is especially pervaded by this subtle sense of 
humour, grave, dry, pitl^ sentent ious, almost s aturnin e 
in its tone, yet perhaps for thatvery reason the more 
racy and suggestive to those readers who have the faculty 
for appreciating it. 

It has been remarked that it is impossible to classify 
Thoreau — "he cannot be called a man of science, he 
cannot be called a poet, he cannot even be called a 
prose poet." 1 If classification of any kind be desirable 
in the case of such a protestant and free-lance, he should 
probably be called an essayist with a strong didactic 
tendency. He could not, as his friend Channing 
observes, "mosaic" his essays, but preferred to give 
himself free play by throwing them into the narrative \ 
and autobiographical form. The Week and Walden, * 
the two volumes which were published in his lifetime, 
are both framed on this principle, a more or less slight 
record of personal experience being made the peg on 
■-*" Which fo"Tiahg"a great deal of ethical moralising and 
/speculation. Apart from all question of the value of 

\ the opinions advanced, the charm of those books lies 
mainly in their intellectual alertness, keen spiritual 
insight, and brilliant^tBu^ri eisr-eHjictare 4fia?xip^^" 

/ Few authors have createcTsuch a rich store* of terse 
""^ l Atkenceum, October 1882. 

THOREAU. \y\ll 

felicitous juocjjae^ms, or have drawn such vivid and 
sympathetic sketches of natural scenery. Numerous 
examples of his laconic incisive utterances have already 
been incidentally quoted. Here is a characteristic open- 
air picture of a bright breezy day on the Concord river, 
where he spent so much of his time — 

"Many waves are there agitated by the wind, keeping nature 
fresh, the spray blowing in your face, reeds and rushes waving; 
ducks by the hundred, all uneasy in the surf, in the raw wind, just 
ready to rise, and now going off with a clatter and a whistling like 
riggers straight for Labrador, flying against the stiff gale with 
reefed wings, or else circling round first with all their paddles 
briskly moving, just over the surf, to reconnoitre you before they 
leave these parts ; gulls wheeling overhead ; musk-rats swimming 
for dear life, wet and cold, with no lire to warm them by that you 
know of, their laboured homes rising here and there like haystacks; 
and countless mice and moles and winged titmice along the sunny 
windy shore ; cranberries tossed on the waves and heaving up on 
the beach, their little red skiffs beating about among the alders ; — 
such healthy natural tumult as proves the last day is not yet at 
hand. And there stand all around the alders and birches and oaks 
and maples full of glee and sap, holding in their buds until the 
paters subside." 

Here, too, to show the more human side of Thoreau's 
genius, is one of the picturesque character-sketches which 
are far from uncommon in his writings — 

" I can just remember an old brown-coated man who was the 
Walton of this stream, who had come over from Newcastle, Eng- 
land, with his son — the latter a stout and hearty man who had lifted 
an anchor in his day. A straight old man he was, who took his 
way in silence through the meadows, having passed the period of 
communication with his fellows ; his old experienced coat, hanging 
long and straight and brown as the yellow-pine bark, glittering 
with so much smothered sunlight, if you stood near enough, no 
work of art but naturalised at length. I often discovered him 


178 LIFE OF 

unexpectedly amid the pads and the gray willows when he moved, 
fishing in some old country method — for youth and age then went 
a-fishing together — full of incommunicable thoughts, perchance 
about his own Tyne and Northumberland. He was always to be 
seen in serene afternoons haunting the river, and almost rustling 
with the sedge ; so many sunny hours in an old man's life, entrap- 
ping silly fish ; almost grown to be the sun's familiar ; what need 
had he of hat or raiment any, having served out his time, and seen 
through such thin disguises. I have seen how his coeval fates 
rewarded him with the yellow perch, and yet I thought his luck 
was not in proportion to his years; and I have seen when, with 
slow steps and weighed down with aged thoughts, he disappeared 
with his fish under his low-roofed house on the skirts of the village. 
I think nobody else saw him ; nobody else remembers him now, for 
he soon after died, and migrated to new Tyne streams. His fishing 
was not a sport, not solely a means of subsistence, but a sort of 
solemn sacrament and withdrawal from the world, just as the aged 
read their Bibles." 

Those of Thoreau's shorter essays which deal with 
natural history and outdoor life are to be found reprinted 
in Excursions, a volume published the year after his 
death, with the well-known prefatory memoir by Emerson. 
These Excursions have been described as "landscapes in 
/ miniature, embracing every feature of New England 
\-summers and winters." 1 There is a wild, racy, inde- 
finable charm about them which is all their own; they 
are by no means well "finished " and rounded off, when 
viewed from an artistic — or shall we say artificial — 
standpoint; for Thoreau here loves to gossip on without 
regard to the laws of essay-writing, and will not deny 
himself the pleasure of quoting largely, when the whim 
takes him, from his favourite poets, or from the old 
prose chroniclers who wrote of the places which he 
1 Professor Nichol's American Literature, 


visited, nor will he spare the minutest details which 
concern his own experiences. Yet the final effect is 
altogether delightful; and no reader who has once 
caught and appreciated the rare mystic flavour of these 
wildlings of literature could ever regret that they were 
not subjected to the conventional pruning. They can 
no more be taken to the literary market and weighed 
in the critical balance than their prototype the "wild 
apple," which furnished Thoreau with some of his 
choicest themes. 

The " Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers," which were 
first included in the Yankee in Canada volume, and 
afterwards in the Miscellanies, are more direct and 
didactic in aim than the Excursions. Some of 
Thoreau's most brilliant and pungent sayings are to 
be found in these essays, of which the very best are 
the " Plea for John Brown," the most impassioned of 
all his writings, and " Life without Principle," which 
conveys in brief form the substance of his protest against 
the follies of modern society. 

The original source which provided material for all 
these essays and volumes was the daily journal, which 
was kept by Thoreau with great fulness and regularity 
from 1837, the year when he left college, to a short time 
before his death in 1862, and amounted in all to no less 
than thirty large volumes. This diary formed a complete 
chronicle of his outward and inward life, and was not a 
mere collection of chance jottings, but a private auto- 
biography, written throughout with the utmost serious- 
ness and devotion, useful not only as a record of facts 
and thoughts, but also as a means of stimulating further 

180 LIFE OF 

We have seen, in the story of Thoreau's life, how his 
daily walks were not, as with most men, a time of leisure 
and recreation, but an essential part of his day's work 
and of his duties as poet-naturalist. He went to hill-top, 
or forest, or swamp, or river-bank, not as an aimless 
wanderer seeking to while away an afternoon, but as 
an inspector going his rounds; and he paid his visits 
deliberately and on principle to such animals, birds, 
nests, trees, or flowers as he happened to have under 
observation. He took notes on the spot, even when he 
walked, as was frequently the case, in the night-time; 
and on his return home he expanded these notes into 
graphic descriptions, interspersed with appropriate medi- 
tations, which sometimes, in the earlier volumes of the 
journal, took the form of verse. His notes on natural 
history constitute a large portion of the diary, and are 
often tinged with that tone of mysticism which so largely 
dominated his character. 

From this journal Thoreau drew freely when preparing 
his essays or lectures, as the case might be; but, before 
being given to the world, every passage and sentence 
underwent further careful revision. After his death 
the unpublished manuscripts and diaries remained for 
fourteen years in the charge of his sister Sophia, who, 
at her death in 1876, bequeathed them to her brother's 
friend and correspondent, Mr. Blake. 1 Portions of the 
journal have since been edited by Mr. Blake in four 

1 Soon after Thoreau's death there was a talk of publishing the 
complete journal, but Sophia Thoreau could not make up her mind 
to it, and the plan was dropped. In 1866 she wrote to a friend : 
" These papers are very sacred to me, and I feel inclined to defer 
giving them to the public for the present." 

THOREAU. , lbf" 

volumes, under the titles of Early Spring in Massachusetts, 
Summer, Autumn, and Winter, various passages, written 
in different years, being grouped together according to the 
days on which they were written, so as to give a connected 
picture of the seasons. This arrangement was apparently 
foreshadowed by Thoreau, who makes a note in his 
journal of " a book of the seasons, each page of which 
should be written in its own season and out of doors, or 
in its own locality, wherever it may be." The years 
represented in these volumes are mostly between 1850 
and i860, the Walden period having presumably been 
almost exhausted by Thoreau himself. It has been 
noticed by a writer in the Academy, 1884, that the pub- 
lished journal contains no dates between 10th April and 
1 st June. This deficiency is, however, to some extent 
supplied by the extracts given in the Atlantic Monthly 
in 1878 under the titles "April Days" and "May Days." 
A volume of Thoreau's Letters was edited by Emerson 
in 1865. He was not what is known as a "regular" 
correspondent, and the number of his extant letters is 
not very great. " Not to have written a note for a year," 
he said, "is with me a very venial o ffence. Some are 
accustomed to write many letters, others very few; I am 
one of the last." The letters included in the volume of 
1865 are, as a rule, much more severely transcendental 
in tone than the essays and diaries — "abominably 
didactic," Channing called them — and their seriousness 
is seldom relieved by the keen humour of Walden, It 
seems that Emerson, in selecting them, made it his 
object to exhibit a "perfect piece of stoicism," and 
therefore inserted only a few of the domestic letters, 
which showed the other and tenderer side of Thoreau's 

182 ZIIE OF 

character — an arrangement which was justly described 
by Sophia Thoreau as not quite fair to her brother. 
This one-sided impression has now been corrected by 
the volume of Familiar Letters, edited by Mr, Sanborn 
in 1894, which gives a far wider and fairer idea of the 
scope of Thoreau's character. 

Last in the list of Thoreau's writings there remains 
to be considered his poetry. Strictly speaking, he can 
hardly be called a poet at all, for, though he had a 
large gift of the poetic inspiration, he lacked the lyrical 
fire and melodious utterance which are at least equally 
indispensable to the creation of a true poem; his verses 
are therefore interesting less for their own intrinsic 
value than for the light they indirectly throw on his 
personality and genius. The description which Emerson 
gave of his own poetic talent may be applied iotidetn 
verbis to that of Thoreau. " I am born a poet — of a low 
class without a doubt, yet a poet. My singing, be sure, 
is very husky, and is for the most part in prose. Still, 
I am a poet in the sense of a perceiver and dear lover 
of the harmonies that are in the soul and in matter, 
and specially of the correspondence between these and 

Thoreau's poems were mostly written from 1837 to 
1847, when he was between twenty and thirty years of 
age. It was his method to jot down in his journal 
a stanza or two from time to time, and afterwards to 
combine these scattered pieces into a connected poem, 
each verse of which would thus be brief, pointed, and 
sententious. He had been strongly influenced by his 
early readings in the seventeenth-century school, and the 
resemblance in his style to that of Herbert, Cowley, and 


other writers of that era is very striking, his poetry being 
distinctly of the same gnomic order, abounding in quaint 
conceits, thrifty maxims, and elaborate antitheses, with 
here and there a dainty stanza or series of stanzas, 
marked by deep insight and felicitous expression. His 
idea of the poet's vocation is characteristic. The poet is 
" no tender slip of fairy stock, but the toughest son of 
earth and heaven, and by his greater strength and 
endurance his fainting companions will recognise the 
god in him. He will hit the nail on the head, and we 
shall not know the strength of his hammer." Thus in 
his poems he is less the artist than the moralist; but the 
delicacy and nobility of the thought often lift the rough 
unpolished lines out of the region of commonplace, and 
make them pleasing and memorable. Take, for instance, 
this fine piece of blank verse from the " Natural History 
of Massachusetts'' (1842) — 

" Within the circuit of this plodding life, 
There enter moments of an azure hue, 
Untarnished fair as is the violet 
Or anemone, when the spring strews them 
By some meandering rivulet, which make 
The best philosophy untrue that aims 
But to console man for his grievances. 
I have remembered when the winter came, 
High in my chamber in the frosty nights, 
When in the still light of the cheerful moon, 
On every twig and rail and jutting spout, 
The icy spears were adding to their length 
Against the arrows of the coming sun, — 
How in the shimmering noon of summer past 
Some unrecorded beam slanted across 
The upland pastures where the Johnswort grew ; 
Or heard, amid the verdure of my mind, 

184 LIFE OF 

The bee's long smothered hum, on the blue flag 

Loitering amidst the mead ; or busy rill, 

Which now through all its course stands still and dumb, 

Its own memorial, — purling at its play 

Along the slopes, and through the meadows next, 

Until its youthful sound was hushed at last 

In the staid current of the lowland stream ; 

Or seen the furrows shine but late upturned, 

And where the fieldfare followed in the rear, 

When all the fields around lay bound and hoar 

Beneath a thick integument of snow. 

So by God's cheap economy made rich, 

To go upon my winter's task again." 

Many of Thoreau's early poems found publication in 
the Dial, and met with much ridicule in critical and 
anti-transcendental circles; we are told that an un- 
quenchable laughter, " like that of the gods at Vulcan's 
limping, went up over his ragged and halting lines." 
He afterwards included some of these pieces in Tte 
Week and other prose volumes, preferring, after the dis- 
continuance of the Dial, not to publish them separately, 
but " as choruses or hymns or word-pictures, to illustrate 
the movement of his thought." He told a friend during 
his last illness that he had destroyed many of his verses 
because Emerson did not praise them, an act which he 
afterwards regretted. A large number of Thoreau's 
poems may be found in The Week, and a few were 
reprinted by Emerson in an appendix to the volume of 
Letters; but the first collection that can at all claim to 
be a representative one is that published in 1895 under 
the title of Poems of Nature. 

The final conclusion of the reader will probably be 
that the best poetry of Thoreau's nature found expression 


in his prose. "Great prose of equal elevation," he 
thinks, " commands our respect more than great verse, 
since it implies a more permanent and level height, and 
a life pervaded with the grandeur of the thought. The 
poet only makes an irruption, like a Parthian, and is off 
again, shooting while he retreats; but the prose writer 
has conquered, like a Roman, and settled colonies." 


THHUS, as we have seen, the most vigorous protest 
ever raised against that artificiality in life and 
literature which is one of the chief dangers of our com- 
plex civilisation, proceeded not from some sleepy old- 
world province, which might have been expected to be 
unable to keep pace with a progressive age, but from the 
heart of the busiest and most advanced nation on the 
globe — it is to Yankeeland that we owe the example and 
the teaching of the " Bachelor of Nature." The person- 
ality of Thoreau is so singular and so unique that it 
seems useless to attempt, as some have done, to draw 
out any elaborate parallel between his character and that 
of other social, or un-social, reformers, who have pro- 
tested against some prevalent tendency in the age in 
which they lived. Those who are interested in seeking 
for literary prototypes may perhaps, in this case, find one 
in Abraham Cowley, a member of that school of gnomic 
poets with which Thoreau was so familiar, and moreover 
a zealous lover of the peace and solitude of nature. He 
lived in close retirement during the later years of his life, 
and his death, which, like Thoreau's, was due to a cold 
caught while he was botanising, is attributed by his 
biographer to " his very delight in the country and the 
fields, which he had long fancied above all other plea- 


sures." Some of Cowley's remarks in his essays on 
solitude are conceived in a spirit very similar to that of 
Thoreau. " The First Minister of State," he says, "has 
not so much business in public as a wise man in private; 
if the one has little leisure to be alone, the other has less 
leisure to be in company; the one has but part of the 
affairs of one nation, the other all the works of God and 
nature under his consideration;" and elsewhere he ex- 
presses the wish that men could " unravel all they have 
woven, that w r e might have our woods and our innocence 
again, instead of our castles and our policies." But 
these parallels, between two men of widely different 
periods and purposes, can contain nothing more than 
slight and superficial resemblances. Nor, except for 
his general connection with Emerson and the trans- 
cendentaiists, is it more easy to match Thoreau with any 
ethical writer of his own generation. 

As a " poet-naturalist," however, Thoreau is distinctly 
akin to Richard Jefferies and other writers of that school. 
Jefferies' character was richer and more sensuous than 
Thoreau's, but they had the same mystic religious tem- 
perament, the same impatience of tradition and con<^ 
ventionality, the same passionate love of woods anck^ 
fields and streams, and the same gift of brilliant language \ 
in which to record their observations. It is curious to J 
compare these modern devotees of country life with the 
old-fashioned naturalists of whom Izaak Walton and 
Gilbert White are the most illustrious examples. While 
the honest old angler prattles on contentedly, like the 
babbling streams by which he spent his days, with here 
and there a pious reflection on the beneficence of . 
Providence and the adaptation of means to ends, and 


188 LIFE OF 

while the kindly naturalist of Selborne devotes himself 

absolutely and unreservedly to the work of chronicling 

the fauna and flora of the district about which he writes, 

' these later authors have brought to the treatment of 

similar subjects a far deeper insight into the beauty and 

pathos of nature, and a power of poetical description 

which was not dreamed of by their simple yet not less 

devoted predecessors. It is mainly to Thoreau in 

/"America, and to Jefferies in England, that we owe the 

| recognition and study of what may be called the poetrjr > 

\ of natu ral history — a style of thought and writing which li 

\ is pecuhaTlcTthe last thirty or forty years. The study 

of nature has, of course, been from time immemorial 

/ y one of the great subjects of poetry, but, so far, it was 

( nature in its more general aspects; it was not till com- 

^paratively recent years that there was discovered to be 

/poetry also in the accurate and patient observation of 

natural phenomena. We have now learnt that natural 

; history, which was formerly regarded as a grave and 

f meritorious study of a distinctly prosaic kind, may be 

made to yield material for the most imaginative and 

\ poetical reflections. 

When Thoreau died in 1862, Richard Jefferies was a 
boy of fourteen, busily engaged among his native Wilt- 
shire Downs in laying the foundation of his wonderful 
knowledge of outdoor life. £As far as I am aware, there 
is no mention of Thoreau in his writings, nor any indi- 
cation that he had read him; yet one is often struck 
by suggestive resemblances in their manner of thought. 
Take, for instance, that half-serious, half-whimsical con- 
tention of Thoreau's, which has probably been more 
misunderstood than any other of his sayings — that 


Concord, in its natural features, contains all the 
phenomena that travellers have noted elsewhere — and 
compare it with the following opinion expressed by 
Jefferies: — "It has long been one of my fancies that 
this country is an epitome of the natural world, and that 
if any one has come really into contact with its produc- 
tions, and is familiar with them, and what they mean 
and represent, then he has a knowledge of all that 
exists on the earth." In reading these words, one has a 
difficulty in remembering that they were not written by 

The association of Thoreau's name with the district 
in which he lived and died is likely to become closer 
and closer as the years go on. Great nature-lovers, it 
has been truly remarked, have the faculty of stamping 
the impress of their own character on whole regions of 
country, so that there are certain places which belong 
by supreme and indisputable right to certain persons 
who have made them peculiarly and perpetually their 
own. As the Lake District is inseparably connected 
with the names of the poets who dwelt and wrote there; 
as the Scotch border-land owns close allegiance to Scott, 
and the Ayrshire fields to Burns; and as the little 
Hampshire village of Selborne is the inalienable property 
of Gilbert White — so the thoughts of those who vfe 
Concord turn inevitably to Thoreau. " Thoreau's affec- 
tions and genius," says one of his admirers, "were so J 
indissolubly bound up with this country that now he i( 
gone he presents himself to my mind as one of these 
local genii or deified men whom the Scandinavian / 
mythology gave as guardians to the northern coasts and *• 
mountains. These beings kept off murrain from they 


190 LIFE OF 

cattle and sickness from men. They made the nights 
sweet and salubrious, and the days productive. If 
Thoreau had lived in the early ages of Greece, he would 
have taken his place in the popular imagination along 
with his favourite god Pan." 

That a personality so stubbornly and aggressively 
independent as Thoreau's would be a stumbling-block 
to many critics, good and bad alike, might have been 
» foreseen, and indeed was foreseen, from the first. 
I " What an easy task it would be," said one who under- 
f stood him unusually well, 1 "for a lively and not entirely 
f scrupulous pen to ridicule his notions, and raise such a 
cloud of ink in the clear medium as entirely to obscure 
his true and noble traits ! " Just three months after these 
j prophetic words were written appeared Mr. Lowell's 
t well-known criticism of Thoreau in the North American 
Review^ afterwards reprinted in My Study TVindozvs, an 
essay which was a masterpiece of hostile innju£iidii^and 
ingenious misrepresentation, written with all the clever- 
ness and brilliancy of which its author was capable. 
Mr. Lowell, who had been one of Thoreau's fellow- 
students at Harvard University, and had held friendly 
relations with him after the close of their college career, 
had certainly not made the discovery of his intellectual 
feebleness at the time of the publication of the Week on 
the Concord River in 1849, for in that same year he 
highly eulogised him in the Massachusetts Quarterly as 
one of those rare persons who, in a utilitarian age, can 
still feel and express the almost indefinable charm of 
wild nature, and further spoke of him in a tone of much 
personal friendliness. Ten years later, however, this 
1 John Weiss, Christian Examiner, July 1865. 


friendly acquaintance was sharply terminated by a 
difference which arose, as already mentioned, about 
an article contributed by Thoreau to the Atlantic 
Monthly ', then under Mr. Lowell's editorship; and we 
have had it stated, on Emerson's authority, that Mr. 
Lowell " never forgave Thoreau for having wounded his 
self-consciousness" — presumably in a correspondence 
that arose on this subject. I make no apology for 
calling attention to this nexus of events, because it 
furnishes the explanation of the otherwise strange 
animus which underlies Lowell's article. Brilliant as 
is the view obtained from My Study Windows^ it ought 
to be more generally known that there is at least one 
pane therein which is discoloured and distorted, and 
which cannot be trusted by those literary students who 
would keep an unprejudiced outlook. 

"A skulker" is the phrase in which Mr. R. L. I 
Stevenson summed up Thoreau's character in his essay 
in Men and Books ; but as he himself admits in the 
later-written preface that he had quite misread Thoreau 
through lack of sufficient knowledge of his life, there is 
no reason why admirers of Walden should feel disturbed 
at the bestowal of that singularly inappropriate epithet. 
Other critics, again, while enjoying much of Thoreau's 
writing, have been haunted by a suspicion that he was 
the victim of a theatrical self-consciousness, and that he 
became a hermit rather to attract attention than to 
avoid it. " We have a mistrust of the sincerity of the 
St. Simeon Stylites," said a contemporary reviewer of 
Walden^ " and suspect that they come down from the 
pillars in the night-time when nobody is looking at them. 
Diogenes placed his tub where Alexander would be sure 

192 LIFE OF 

of seeing it, and Mr. Thoreau ingenuously confesses that 
he went out to dine." So inconceivable does it seem to 
those who have not considered, much less practised, a 
simple and frugal life, that a man should deliberately, 
and for his own pleasure, abandon what they believe to 
be luxuries and comforts, that critics are always dis- 
covering some far-fetched and non-existent object in the 
Walden experiment, while they miss its true and salutary 

I It seems scarcely necessary nowadays to rebut the 

I absurd charge of " selfishness " which used once to be 

I brought against Thoreau. But the charge still crops 

up now and then in belated circles of thought " The 

general impression of the reader," says the Church 

Quarterly Review^ "is that, while the descriptions of 

scenery are extremely beautiful, and the notes about 

animal life and plants are most interesting, yet the man 

himself is thoroughly selfish, quite out of sympathy with 

men and their sufferings, barbaric, if not animal, in his 

tastes, and needlessly profane." 

/ Thoreau's "lack of ambition" is another point that 

/ has caused him to be much misunderstood — even Emer- 

/ son gave his sanction to this rather futile complaint. " I 

* cannot help counting it a fault in him," he said, " that 

he had no ambition. Wanting this, instead of engineering 

for all America, he was the captain of a huckleberry 

party. Pounding beans is good to the end of pounding 

empires one of these days; but if, at the end of years, it 

is still only beans!" But the obvious answer to this 

criticism is that, in Thoreau's case, it was not only beans. 

The chapter on " The Bean Field," in Walden, is one of 

1 October 1895. 


the most imaginative and mystic in all his works — "it ( 
was no longer beans that I hoed," he says, " nor I that J 
hoed beans " — for the object of his quest and labour was 
not the actual huckleberry nor the tangible bean, but the 
glorified and idealised fruit of a lifetime spent in com- 
munion with nature, which imparted to his writings a 
freshness and fragrance as of nature itself. In this 
matter Thoreau was the wiser judge of his own powers, 
and conferred a far greater benefit on the human race 
by writing Walden than he could have done by engineer- 
ing for all America. 

After all that has been said in this book of Thoreau's 
great debt to Emerson, it may, I think, be added without 
prejudice or ingratitude that the common misappre- 
hension of Thoreau's character must be partly traced 
back to Emerson's "Biographical Sketch," and to his. 
unfortunate manner of editing the Letters and Poems. * 
That excessive insistence on Thoreau's "stoicism," to* 
the subordination of his gentler and more affectionate 
traits, has done much to postpone a general recognition 
of the deep tenderness that underlay the rugged nature 
and rough sayings of the author of Walden. It is said 
that as Thoreau's character matured and hardened, his 
friendship with Emerson grew somewhat " Roman " and 
austere; and we may be permitted to doubt whether 
Emerson had really gauged his friend's mind as fully as 
he imagined. That Thoreau, on his side, was sensible 
of Emerson's limitations, is proved by the opinion which 
he expressed to a friend that Emerson would be classed 
by posterity with Sir Thomas Browne — an estimate far 
lower than the usual one. 

And here I would hazard the suggestion (though 


194 LIFE OF 

well aware that it must at present seem fantastic) that 
Thoreau's genius will eventually be at least as highly 
valued as Emerson's. No sane critic could for a moment 
doubt the mighty influence which Emerson's great 
and beneficent intellect wielded among his contem- 
poraries, or dream of comparing Thoreau with him as 
a nineteenth-century power. But the class of mind 
which has the most lasting hold on men's interest and 
homage is not always, and not often, the same as that 
which rules contemporary thought; and in the long 
run the race is to the most brilliant rather than to the 
most balanced of writers, to the poet rather than to the 
philosopher, to h im who mo st keenly challenges the 
curiosity and^magination o f hisTea^efs! Of all the 
Concord group, by far the most inspired, stimulating, 
and vital personality is Thoreau's; and when time has 
softened down the friction caused by superficial blemishes 
and misunderstandings, the world will realise that it was 
no mere Emersonian disciple, but a master-mind and/~ 
heart of hearts who left that burning message to his ] 

The sum of the whole matter is, that Thoreau had a 
clear and definite object before him which he followed 
with inflexible earnestness, and that his very faults and 
oddities subserved the main purpose of his life. "There 
is a providence in his writings," says John Weiss, "which 
ought to protect him from the complaint that he was not 
somebody else. No man ever lived who paid more 
ardent and unselfish attention to his business. If pure 
minds are sent into the world upon errands, with strict 
injunction not to stray by other paths, Thoreau certainly 
was one of these elect. A great deal of criticism is 


inspired by the inability to perceive the function and 
predestined quality of the man who passes in review. 
It only succeeds in explaining the difference between 
him and the critic. Such a decided fact as a man of 
genius is, ought to be gratefully accepted and inter- 

That Thoreau's doctrines, no less than his character, 
have their shortcomings and imperfections, few will be 
disposed to deny. He could not realise, or perhaps 
did not care to realise, the immense scope and com- 
plexity of the whole social problem; he had scarcely 
the data or opportunities for doing so; and in any case 
his intensely individualistic nature would probably have 
incapacitated him. We therefore cannot look to himj 
for any full and satisfactory solution of the difficulties by: 
which our modern civilisation is surrounded, but it 
would be a great error to conclude that we are not to 
look to him at all. If it is true that the deadlock! 
resulting from the antagonism of labour and capital 
can never be relieved without external legislation, it is 
equally true that there can be no real regeneration of 
society without the self-improvement of the individual 
man ; it is idle to assert that the one or the other must 
come first — both are necessary, and the two must be 
carried on side by side. In Thoreau the social instinct 
was deficient or undeveloped; but, on the other hand, 
he has set forth the gospel of the higher intellectual 
individualism with more force and ability than any 
modern writer; if it be but a half-truth that he preaches, 
it is none the less a half-truth of the utmost moment and 
significance. "As to Thoreau," says Edward Carpenter, 
in England's Ideal, a volume worthy to rank with 

196 LIFE OF 

/ Walden in the literature of plain living and high 

( thinking, "the real truth about him is that he was a 

'■ , thorough economist. He reduced life to its simplest *■ 

j terms, and having, so to speak, labour in his right hand 

and its reward in his left, he had no difficulty in seeing 

>what was worth labouring for and what was not, and no 

hesitation in discarding things which he did not think 

worth the time or trouble of production." 

We have seen that he was not, like Emerson, a 

philosopher of wide far-reaching sympathies and cautious 

judicial temperament, but rather a prophet and monitor 

— outspoken, unsparing, irreconcilable. He addressed 

\ himself to the correction of certain popular tendencies 

\ which he perceived to be mischievous and delusive, and 

\ preached what may be comprehensively termed a gospel 

\ of simplicity, in direct antagonism to the prevailing tone 

j of a self-indulgent and artificial society. Who will 

\ venture to say that the protest was not needed then — 

that it is not still more needed now? "The years 

which have passed," says a well-known writer, 1 "since 

Thoreau came back out of Walden wood, to attend 

to his father's business of pencil-making, have added 

more than the previous century to the trappings and 

baggage of social life, which he held, and taught by 

precept and example, that men would be both better 

and happier for doing without. And while we succumb 

and fall year by year more under the dominion of these 

trappings, and life gets more and more overlaid with one 

kind and another of upholsteries, the idea of something 

simpler and nobler probably never haunted men's minds 

more than at this time." Herein lies the strength of 

1 Mr. T. Hughes, Academy, 17 th November 1877. 




Thoreau's position, that the very excess of the evilj 
which turns our supposed comforts into discomforts and 
our luxuries into burdens, must at last induce us to 
listen to the voice of sobriety^and reason. 

As to the manner in which Thoreau expresses his 
convictions nothing more need here be said, except that 
his style is justly adapted to his sentiments. His " knock* 
down blows at current opinion " are likened by Mr. R. L. 
Stevenson to the "posers" of a child, "which leave the 
orthodox in a kind of speechless agony." " They know 
the thing is nonsense — they are sure there must be an 
answer, yet somehow they cannot find it." We may 
shrewdly doubt whether the conclusive answer will ever 
be forthcoming; but it is something that people should 
be at ail aroused from the complacent lethargy of custom 
and tradition. Thoreau is thus seen to have a quicken- 
ing, stimulating, and, at times, exasperating effect as an 
ethical teacher; it is no part of his object to prophesy 
smooth things, to deal tenderly with the weaknesses of 
his readers, or even to explain those features of his 
doctrine which, from their novelty or unpopularity, are 
most likely to be misunderstood. This being so, his 
character and writings were certain to prove as distasteful 
to some readers as they are attractive to others; if he is 
a good deal misapplied at present, time will set that 
right. ^ . 

In conclusion, we see in Thoreau the extraordinary 
product of an extraordinary era — his strange, self-centred, 
solitary figure, unique in the annals of literature, chal- 
lenges attention by its originality, audacity, and inde- 
pendence. He had, it has been well remarked, "a 
constitutional No in him"; he renounced much that 



198 LIFE OF 

other men held dear, and set his heart on objects which 
to the world seemed valueless; it was part of his mission 
to question, to deny, to contradict. But his genius was 
not only of the negative and destructive order. In an 
age when not one man in a thousand had a real sympaFhy 

f with nature, he attained to an almost miraculous acquaint- 

fance with her most cherished secrets; in an age of 
pessimism, when most men, as he himself expresses it, 
" lead lives of quiet desperation," he was filled with an 
absolute confidence in the justice and benevolence of his 
destiny; in an age of artificial complexity, when the ideal 
is unduly divorced from the practical, and society stands 
in false antagonism to nature, he, a devout pantheist, 
saw everywhere simplicity, oneness, relationship. JLCL , 

ihis view, God was not to be considered apart from they/ 
material world, nor was man to be set above and aloof ^ * 
■rom the rest of creation and the lower forms of lifej^^ 
. e tracked everywhere the same divine intelligence — 
V inanimate" nature there was none, since all was 

/instinct with the same universal spirit. It was his 
I purpose, in a word, " to civilise nature with the highest 
^ \ intuitions of the mind, which show her simplicity to 

\testless and artificial men." 

This ideal he pursued, as we have seen, with a rare 
courage, sincerity, and self-devotion. Whether he sue* 
ceeded or failed in his endeavour is a question which 
time alone can fully answer. His example and doctrines 
were coldly and incredulously received during his life- 
time by most of those with whom he came in contact, 
and his comparatively early death cut him off, in the 
prime of his vigour, from reaping the harvest he had 
sown with such patience and assiduity; so far his career, 


like that of most idealists, must be confessed a failure. 
But these are not the tests by which idealists, least of ail 
Thoreau, can be judged. For he enjoyed, in the firstT^ 
place, that priceless and inalienable success which con-^3 
sists in perfect serenity of mind and contentment withS 
one's own fortunes. " If the day and night/' he says in 
Wedded "are such that you greet them with joy, and 
life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented 
herbs — is more elastic, starry, and immortal — that is 
your success." And, secondly, he had the assurance^ 
which is seldom denied to a great man, that the true > 
value of his work would ultimately be recognised and^ 
appreciated. During the period that has passed since 
his death his fame has steadily increased both in 
America and England, and is destined to increase 
yet further. 

l The blemishes and mannerisms of Thoreau's character 
are written on its surface, easy to be read by the in- 
different passer-by who may miss the strong and sterling 
faculties that underlie them. His lack of geniality, his \ 
rusticity, his occasional littleness of tone and temper, his 
impatience of custom, degenerating sometimes into in- ,;' 
justice, his too sensitive self-consciousness, his trick of ) 
over-statement in the expression of his views — these \ 
were incidental failings which did not mar the essential j 
nobility of his nature. We shall do wisely in taking 
him just as he is, neither shutting our eyes to his defects 
nor greatly deploring their existence, but remembering 
that in so genuine and distinctive an individuality the^ 
"faults" have their due place and proportion no less than \ 
the "virtues." Had he added the merits he lacked to 
those which he possessed, had he combined the social \ 



with the individual qualities, had he been more catholic 
in his philosophy and more guarded in his expression, 
then we might indeed have admired him more, but 
should scarcely have loved him so well, for his character, 
whal £y_er it g ained in fulness, wo uld have missed the 
peculiar freshness ancl 

which are now its chief 

-whatever else he might have been, he would 
not have been Thoreau. 



Abolition, Thoreau's zeal for, 
22, 77> 78, 113, 114, 138- 
141, 166 

Academy at Concord, Thoreau's 
connection with, 23, 30 

^Esthetic Papers^ Thoreau's 
contribution to, 106, 161 

Agassiz, Louis, correspondence 
with Thoreau, 80, 81 

Aitteon, Joe, Indian hunter, 

Alcott, Amos Bronson, a pro- 
minent transcendentalist, 32, 
43, 44, 78; his "conversa- 
tions " at Concord, 45 ; inti- 
macy with Thoreau, 47, 67, 
68, 76, 105, 113, 116, 117, 
119, 120; colony at Fruit- 
lands, 62, 64 ; refusal to pay 
poll-tax, 79; quoted, 120, 
121, 146, 149 

Alger, W. R., his account of 
Thoreau's funeral, 149 

"Allegash and East Branch," 
third excursion to Maine 
Woods, 129 

Allen, Grant, his article on 
Thoreau quoted, 169 

Anarchism, Thoreau's advocacy 

OI » I S9» x 6°; his refusal to 

pay taxes, 79, 80 
Animals, Thoreau's sympathy 

with, 72, 101, 169 
" Anti-Slavery and Reform 

Papers," 179 
" April Days," 181 
Arrow-heads, collection of, 97, 

Artificiality and nature, n, 12, 

65> 157, 158, 186 
Assabet River, 16, 17 
Atlantic Monthly^ Thoreau's 

contributions to, 125, 129, 

136, 143, 181; change of 

editors, 145, 191 
Autumn, 181 


"Bachelor of Nature," name 
applied to Thoreau, 40, 67, 

Blake, Harrison G, O., of 
Worcester, Mass., no; his 
reminiscences of Thoreau, 
no, in, ii2; Thoreau's 
letter to, quoted, 117, 133; 
edits the journal, 180 



Boston, Thoreau's visits to, 14, 
105, in, 112, 140 

Boston Miscellany, Thoreau's 
contribution to, 56 

Boston Natural History Society, 
102, in; Thoreau's bequest 
to, 149 

Brook Farm community, 61, 65 

" Brooklawn," New Bedford, 
Thoreau's visit to, 120 

Brown, John, the abolitionist, 
Thoreau's acquaintance with, 
119; Thoreau's admiration 
for, 1 38- 141 ; death, 139, 166 

Brown, Mrs., of Plymouth, 
introduces Thoreau to Emer- 
son, 37, 42 

Brownson, Rev. O., 24 

Burns, Anthony, 114 

Burroughs, John, quoted, 141 


Cambridge (Mass.), Thoreau's 
visits to, 1 1 1 

Canada, Thoreau's visits to, 
108, 126, 127; A Yankee in 
Canada, 179 

Cape Cod, Thoreau's visit to, 
108, 124, 125 

"Cape Cod" volume, 125, 126 

Carlyle, 31 ; Emerson's letter 
to, 61 ; Thoreau's admiration 
for, 96; Thoreau's essay on, 

Carpenter, Edward, his Eng- 
land 's Ideal quoted, 195, 196 

Channing, William Ellery, the 
poet, description of Thoreau, 
26, 27, 31, 43, 57, 86, 87, 
102, 131, 132 ; friendship 

with Thoreau, 47, 48, 53, ?6, 

99, 108, 113, 116, 124, 126, 
133, 134, 146, 148 

Channing, W. H., 43; meets 
Thoreau at New York, 6o, 62 

Chappaqua, Thoreau's visit toi 

" Chesuncook," paper in the 
Atlantic Monthly, 129, 136 

Children, Thoreau's sympathy 
with, 92, 93, 147 

Cholmondeley, Thomas, Tho- 
reau's English friend, his gift 
to Thoieau, 95, 115, 116 

" Civil Disobedience," essay 
quoted, 78, 106, 114 

Civilisation, Thoreau's attitude 
towards, 11, 12, 161- 165 

Classical studies, Thoreau's 
mastery of, 23, 95, 172 

Clough, Arthur Hugh, meets 
Thoreau, quoted, 112, 113 

Cohasset, Thoreau's visit to, 49, 

Communities in New England, 
Thoreau's view of, 61, 62 

Concord, Massachusetts, Tho- 
reau's birthplace, 12, 13; its 
traditions, inhabitants, sce- 
nery, etc., 14-18, 24; Tho- 
reau's devotion to, 29, 94, 
103, 108, 189 ; the centre of 
the transcendentalist move- 
ment, 33, 38, 44-48 ; Thoreau 
returns to, 82, 99, 109 

Concord River, 14, 16, 19, 54, 
63. 66, 97 '» 98. 177 

Conway, Moncure D., descrip- 
tion of Thoreau quoted, 86, 

100, 113, 154 
Co-operation, Thoreau's views 

on, 61, 62, 159 



Cowley, Abraham, 37 ; com- 
pared with Thoreau, 186, 187 

Curtis, George William, assists 
in raising Thoreau's hut, 68 ; 
quoted, 99, 144 


Democratic Review* Thoreau's 
contributions to, 61 ; quoted, 


" Departure," the, 58 

Via?, the, organ of transcen- 
dentalists, 38, 39, 43 ; change 
of editors, 55; its discon- 
tinuance, 61, 106, 107, no, 

Diaries, Thoreau's, 28, 33, 37 > 
quoted, 63, 74, 82, 88, 90, 
102, 109, 114, 132, 135, 136, 
147, 154, 162, 171, 173, 179; 
portions of published, 180, 
181, 182 

Doctrines, Thoreau's, 156, 169, 
170, 195-198 

Dunbar, Charles, Thoreau's 
uncle, 13 

Dunbar, Cynthia. See Thoreau, 


Early Spring in Massachusetts, 

Emerson, Dr. E. W., quoted, 
46, 53» 83, 134 

Emerson, R. W., assists Tho- 
reau at Harvard, 24, 30, 
3 2 » 37> 39 > quoted, 40; his 
friendship with Thoreau, 42, 
43, 48 ; effects of his presence 
at Concord, 44, 45 ; his in- 
fluence on Thoreau, 51-53, 
184; edits Dial, 55; Tho- 

reau's letters to, 58, 60; 
letter to Carlyle quoted, 61, 
62, 67, 76, 79, 88, 91, 99, 
105, no, ii2, 116, 119, 134, 
136, 148; compared to Tho- 
reau, 153, 154, 193, 194; 
writes memoir to Exmrsions, 
178; edits Thoreau's letters, 
181, 193; quoted, 182 

Emerson, Mrs., 44, 51, 105 

Emerson, Waldo, 47, 51 

Emerson, Judge, Thoreau's 
tutorship in his family, 58- 

Essays, Thoreau's, 178- 181 

Evening Post, the New York, 
article on Thoreau's country 
quoted, 17, 18 

Excursions made by Thoreau, 
41, 55, 56, 122-133 

Excursions, 178 

Excursions to Canada, 127 


Familiar Letters, Thoreau's, 
published, 182 

Fields, James, editor of Atlantic 
Monthly, 145 

Fire Island, New York, scene 
of Margaret Fuller's death, 

Fitchburg Railway, construction 
of, 75 

Flint's Pond, Thoreau's visit to, 

Fourier, his doctrines in New 
England, 60, 62, 159 

" Fruitlands," Alcott's experi- 
ment at, 62, 64 

Fuller, Margaret, transcen- 
dentalism edits Dial, 43, 45; 
quoted, 47 ; resigns editorship 



of Dial, 55, 60, 62, 63. 
death, 111 


Graham's Magazine, Thoreau's 
contributions to, 96, 106 

Greeley, Horace, editor of the 
Tribune, friendship with 
Thoreau, 60, 62, 106, 117, 


Harvard University, Thoreau's 
residence at, 23-29, 37 

Haskins, Rev. D. G. , Thoreau's 
class-mate, quoted, 25, 51, 

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, at Con- 
cord, 41, 45, 48, 52 ; quoted, 
53, 54, 168; at Salem, m ; 
returns to Concord, 113; 
buried near Thoreau, 148 

Herbert, George, his poems 
studied by Thoreau, 37 

Higginson, Colonel Wentworth, 
77; quoted, 96, 144; Tho- 
reau's letter to, quoted, 130, 

Hoar, Edward, describes Tho- 
reau, 91, 131 ; travels with 
Thoreau, 132 
Hoar, Elizabeth, 45 
Hoar, Samuel, 16 
Hollowell Farm, the, 63 
Hosmer, Edmund, friendship 

with Thoreau, 68, 76 
Hosmer, Joseph, quoted, 72, 

73>76, 112 
Huckleberry picking, 93 
Hughes, T., quoted, 196 


Indians, Thoreau's interest in, 
97, 135, I43> H5» 148, 162, 


JefTeries, Richard, compared 
with Thoreau, 148, 174, 187, 
188, 189 

Jones, Dr. S. A., article on 
Thoreau quoted, 20, 21, 77, 


Journal, Thoreau's. See Diaries 


c ' Ktaadn and the Maine Woods," 
128 ; quoted, 128, 129 

Lafayette, at Concord, 15 

Land-surveying, Thoreau's oc- 
cupation, 36, 106, 112 

Lectures, Thoreau's, 36, 37, 
106, in, 112, 139, 142, 162 

Letters, Thoreau's, published 
and unpublished, 136-138, 
182, 184 

Liberator, the, quoted, 140 

" Life without Principle," essay 
on, 179 

Lowell, J. R., his criticism of 
transcendentalists, 32, 43 ; 
criticism of Thoreau's shanty 
life quoted, S3, 98 ; criticisms 
of Thoreau, 144, 172; criti- 
cism in My Study Windows, 
190, 191 

Lyceum at Concord, Thoreau's 
lectures at, 37 



Lyceum, Salem, Thoreau lectures 
at, in 


Maine, Thoreau's visits to, 31, 

80, 97, 108, 128-130 
"Maine Woods," 130, 136, 

Mann, Horace, accompanies 

Thoreau to Minnesota, 143 
" May Days," 181 
Merrimac River, Thoreau's week 

on, 41, 49, 54 
Minnesota, Thoreau's visit to, 

143, 144 

Minott, Mrs., Thoreau's grand- 
mother, 14 

Miscellanies, 179 

Mississippi, the, Thoreau's visit 
to, 143 

Monadnock, mountain seen from 
Concord, 17; ascent of, 131, 


Montreal, Thoreau's visit to its 

cathedral, 126, 127 
Mountains, Thoreau's love of, 

56, 131, 132 
Music, Thoreau's love of, 89, 

Musketaquid River. See Con- 
cord River 


Nature and civilisation, n, 12, 
61 ; Thoreau's nature- worship, 
22, 27, 28, 29, 49, 57> 62-65, 
70, 71, 81, 98, 128, 129, 189; 
the "Bachelor of Nature," 
40, 186 

Natural history, Thoreau's know- 
ledge of, 28, 81, 99, 100, 102, 

103, 169, 180, 198; essays 
on, 178 ; his peculiar position 
among naturalists, 102, 103, 
167, 168; the "poet-natural- 
ist," 102 

Natural History Society of 
Boston, 102, in; Thoreau's 
bequest to, 149 

" Natural History of Massachu- 
setts," 55; quoted, 183, 184 

New Bedford, Thoreau's visits 
to, 120, 144 

New York, Thoreau's visits to, 


Parker, Theodore, writes in 

Dial, 43 
Pencil- making, Thoreau's occu- 
pation, 34, 36, 112, 138, 149 
" Plea for Captain John Brown," 

141, 160, 179 
Poems, Thoreau's, 37, 42, 148, 

Poems of Nature , 184 
"Poet-naturalist," the, 87, 102, 

180, 187, 188 
Polis, Joe, Indian guide, 130 
Portraits of Thoreau, Sy f 144 
Putnam's Magazine^ Thoreau's 

contributions to, 108, 125 ; 

quoted, 126, 127 

Quarles, studied by Thoreau, y] 


Red Journal^ Thoreau's diary, 

" Resistance to Civil Govern- 
ment," 161 



Ricketson, Daniel, of New 
Bedford, his friendship with 
Thoreau, 116, 120, 144; de- 
scription of Thoreau, 121 ; 
Thoreau's letter to, quoted, 

Ripley, Dr. Ezra, Unitarian 
pastor of Concord, 15, 16, 

24> 30> 33> 43> 44, 45 

Ripley, George, transcendenta- 
lism 32, 43, 60, 62 

Ruskin, Thoreau's view of, 96 


Salem, Thoreau's visits to, 1 1 1 
Sanborn, Frank B., friendship 
for Thoreau, 117; introduces 
him to John Brown, 119, 139, 
143 ; edits Familiar Letters 
of Thoreau, 182 
Sewall, Ellen, Thoreau's love 

for, 38, 39 
•' Sic Vita," poem, 37, 42, 148 
Simplicity of living advocated 
by Thoreau, 35, 61, 83, 84, 
122-124, 161-165, 169, 196; 
misunderstood by critics, 82- 

85, 90, 190-193 

Sioux Indians, gathering of, 143 

Slavery. See Abolition 

fc Slavery in Massachusetts," 
114, 139, 160 

Slaves, fugitive, assisted by 
Thoreau, 77, 113 

Sleepy Hollow, Concord burial- 
place, 148 

Society, when disliked by Tho- 
reau, 57, 91 ; when enjoyed 
by him, 57, 75, 92 

St. Helier, Jersey, birthplace of 
Thoreau's grandfather, 12 

St. Paul's, Minnesota, Thoreau's 
visit to, 143 

Staten Island, Thoreau's stay 
on, 58, 59, 64 

Stevenson, R. L., his remarks 
on Thoreau, 40, 165, 172; his 
essay on Thoreau in Men and 
Books, 191, 197 

Stoicism of Thoreau's nature, 
89, 181, 193 

Style, Thoreau's view of, 170- 
173, 174, 175, 178, 182, 183, 

Summer ", 1 81 

Surveying, Thoreau's occupa- 
tion, 36, 106, 112 

" Sympathy," poem on, 39, 43 


Thoreau, Helen, elder sister of 
Henry, 22, 29, 42; death, 

Thoreau, Henry David, birth 
and parentage, 12, 13 ; child- 
hood, 18-20; influence of 
heredity and association, 20- 
22 ; educated at Concord and 
Harvard College, 23-29; be- 
comes a schoolmaster, 30, 31; 
resigns his post, 31 ; affected 
by transcendentalist move- 
ment, 31-34; secedes from 
the church, 33 ; question of 
a profession, 34-36 ; the study 
of wild nature, 35 ; pencil- 
making, land surveying, litera- 
ture, 34, 36-37; early love, 
38-40; a week's boating ex- 
cursion, 41 ; introduced to 
Emerson, 42 ; the Dial and 
the transcendentalists, 43-48 ; 



resides in Emerson's family, 
46; friendship with Alcott, 
Margaret Fuller, Ellery Chan- 
ging, 47-49; death of his 
brother John, 48, 49; how 
far influenced by Emerson, 
5 I "53 > acquaintance with 
Hawthorne, 53-55; contribu- 
tions to the Dial, 55 ; the 
"Walk to Wachusett," 55, 
56; predilection for solitude, 
57; tutorship in Staten Island, 
58-64; friendships made in 
New York, 60; Individualism, 
62 ; plan of retirement to the 
woods, 62-65; building and 
furnishing his hut, 67-69; 
his two years at Walden, 70- 
82 ; arrested for refusal to 
pay poll-tax, 78, 79; leaves 
Walden, 82 ; criticisms on 
his life there, 82-85; his 
personality, S6-94 ; literary 
tastes, 95-97 ; sympathy with 
Indians, 97 ; love of Nature, 
98-104; second residence at 
Emerson's, 105 ; lives at 
home, 105 ; publication of 
The Week, 106-107; friend- 
ship with Harrison Blake, 
1 10 ; life at Concord, hi; 
surveying and lecturing, 112; 
meets A. H. Clough and M. 
D. Conway, 112, 113; oc- 
cupied with question of slavery, 

113, 114; publishes Walden, 

114, 115; friendship with 
Thos. Cholmondeley, Daniel 
Ricketson, F. B. Sanborn, 
116, 117; meets Walt Whitman 
and John Brown, 11 8, 119; 
visit to New Bedford, 120; 

excursions to Cape Cod, 
Canada, Maine Woods, etc., 
122-133 \ signs of ill-health, 
134-136; death of his father, 
136- 138; his "Plea for John 
Brown," 138-141; fatal illness 
begins, 142, 143; visit to 
Minnesota, 143, 144; the 
civil war, 144; his last winter, 
144-148; death and funeral, 
148, 149; his dress, 72, 87, 
123; death, 72, 89, 165; 
appearance, 24, 25, 86, 87, 
116; physique, 134; fitness 
of body and mind, 88; in- 
dustry, 34, 70, 71, 145; dis- 
like of system, 62, 152, 171 ; 
humanity, 166 ; humour, 92 ; 
imagination, 168; delicacy of 
mind, 89; love of children, 
93, 147 J love of music, 89, 
147 J his doctrines, 156, 169 
170, 195-198; style, 170; 
final estimate of his genius, 

Thoreau, John, grandfather of 
Henry, emigrated from Jersey, 
12, 143 

Thoreau, John, father of 
Henry, 12; character, 20, 21 ; 
skill in pencil-making, 34, 
109 ;. death, 136 

Thoreau, John, elder brother of 
Henry, 22, 29 ; love for Ellen 
Sewall, 38, 40, 41, 46; death, 

Thoreau, Maria, last surviving 
member of the family in New 
England, 23, 38, 79, 149 

Thoreau, Mrs. {nee Cynthia 
Dunbar), 13; character, 21, 79, 
109, 138, 145, 146 



Thoreau, Sophia, younger sister 

of Henry, 22, 105, 120, 138, 

145, 149, 180, 182 
Transcendentalism, its influence 

on Thoreau, 31-34, 61-65 
Transcendentalists of Concord, 

32, 43-48, 51-55, 61-65 
Tuckerman's Ravine, on Mount 

Washington, 132 


Union Magazine, Thoreau's con- 
tribution to, 108, 128 

Vegetarianism practised by 
Thoreau, 72 


Wachusett, mountain in Massa- 
chusetts, 17; the "Walk to 
Wachusett," 56 

Walden Pond, Thoreau's asso- 
ciations with, 17, 19, 6^, 64, 
112, 150 

Walden Woods, Thoreau's her- 
mitage in, 64, 67-82, 98, 

Walden, 63, 74, 76, 82, 94, 95 ; 
published, 114, 115, 158, 163, 
165, 167, 176, 191, 192, 199 

Walton, Izaak, Thoreau com- 
pared with, 55, 187 

Washington, Mount, ascent of, 

Week on the Concord and Merri- 
mac Rivers, 38, 41, 49, 59, 
74, 90i 95, 100; published, 
106, 107, no, 115, 184; 
quoted, 122, 123, 155, 156, 
171, 172, 176 

Weiss, Rev. John, fellow-col- 
legian of Thoreau, quoted, 
24, 25, 52, 190, 194 

Wheeler, Stearns, 28; Tho- 
reau's visit to, 62 

White, Gilbert, the naturalist, 
Thoreau compared with, 55, 
168, 187, 188, 189 

White Mountains of New Hamp- 
shire, Thoreau's visits to, 17, 
41, 132 

White Pond, the, 17, 66 

Whitman, Walt, Thoreau's meet- 
ing with and impressions of, 
118; his description of Tho- 
reau's grave quoted, 150 

" Wild Apples," 143 

Winter, 181 

"Winter Walk," 55; quoted, 



Yankee in Canada, 179 



{British Museum), 

I. Works. 
II. Selections. 
HI. Contributions to Magazines. 

IV. Appendix— 

Biography, Criticism, etc, 
Magazine Articles. 

V. Chronological List oj 



A Week on the Concord and 

Merrimack Rivers. Boston, 

1849, 12mo. 
Another edition. Boston, 

1862, 12mo. 
New and revised edition. 

Boston, 1867, 16mo. 
Another edition. With a Pre- 
fatory Note by Will H. Dircks. 

London [1889], 12mo. 
-Riverside edition. Yol. i. 

Boston and New York, 1894, 

Walden; or, Life in the Woods. 

Boston, 1854, 12mo. 
Re-issued in 1864. 
Another edition. Edinburgh, 

1884, 8vo. 

Another edition. With an 

Introductory Note by Will H. 

Dircks. London, 1886, 12mo. 

Part of the " Camelot Series." 

Another edition. 2 vols. 

Boston, 1889, 12mo. 

Part of the *' Riverside Aiding 

Riverside edition, vol. ii. 

Boston and New York, 1894, 

Another edition. With an 

Introductory Note by Will H. 
Dircks. London [1895], 8vo. 

Excursions. Boston, 1863, 12ino, 
[Edited by R. W. Emerson and 
Sophia Thoreau, with a bio- 
graphical sketch by the former.] 

Riverside edition, vol. ix. 

Boston and New York, 1894, 



The Maine Woods. Boston, 1864, 

Riverside edition, vol. iii. 

Boston and New York, 1894, 

Cape Cod. [Edited by Sophia 

Thoreau and William Ellery 

Channing.] Boston, 1865, 

Another edition. London, 

1865, 12mo. 
Another edition. Boston, 

1892, 8vo. 
—Riverside edition, vol. iv. 

Boston and New York, 1894, 

Letters to Various Persons. 

[Edited by R. W. Emerson.] 

Boston, 1865, 12mo. 
A Yankee in Canada, with Anti- 
Slavery and Reform Papers. 

[Edited by Sophia Thoreau 

and William Ellery Channing.] 

Boston, 1866, 12mo. 
Early Spring in Massachusetts. 

From the Journal of Henry D. 

Thoreau. [Edited by H. G. 0. 

Blake.] Boston, 1881, 12mo. 
—Riverside edition, vol. v. 

Boston and New York, 1894, 

Summer: From the Journal of 

Henry D. Thoreau. Edited by 

H. G. O. Blake. Boston, 1884, 

Another edition. London, 

1884, 8vo. 
Riverside edition, vol. vi. 

Boston and New York, 1894, 

Winter: From the Journal of 

Henry D. Thoreau. Edited by 

H. G. 0. Blake. Boston, 1888, 

- Riverside edition, vol. viii. 

Edited by H. G. 0. Blake. 

Boston and New York, 1894, 


Autumn: From the Journal of 
Henry D. Thoreau. Edited by 
H. G. 0. Blake. Boston, 1892, 

Riverside edition, vol. vii. 

Edited by H. G. O. Blake. 
Boston and New York, 1894, 

Miscellanies. With a biographical 
sketch, by Ralph Waldo Emer- 
son, and a general index to the 
writings. Boston and New 
York, 1894, 8vo. 
Vol. x. of the Riverside edition. 

Familiar Letters of Henry David 
Thoreau. Edited, with an 
Introduction and Notes, by F. 
B. Sanborn. Boston and New 
York, 1894, 8vo. 
Vol. xi. of the Riverside edition. 


The Succession of Forest Trees, 
Wild Apples, and Sounds. With 
a biographical sketch by Ralph 
Waldo Emerson. Boston, 1887, 

No. 27 of the "Riverside litera- 
ture Series." The first two papers 
and Emerson's sketch are from 
Excursions; the third paper is 
from Walden. 

Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers 
by Henry D. Thoreau. Selected 
and edited by H. S. Salt. Lon- 
don, 1890, 8vo. 

Essays and other Writings of 
Henry Thoreau. Edited, with 
a Prefatory Note, by Will H. 
Dircks. London [1891], 8vo. 
Part of the " Camelot Series." 

Thoreau's Thoughts. Selections 
from the Writings of Henry 
David Thoreau. Edited by H. 
G. 0. Blake. [With a biblio- 
graphy.] Boston and New 
York, 1894, 12mo. 



Selections from Thoreau. Edited, 

with an introduction, by H. S. 

Salt. London, 1895, 8vo. 
Poems of Nature. Edited by 

H. S. Salt and F. B. Sanborn. 

London, Boston and New York, 

1895, 8vo. 



Dial, vol. i., 1840. — Sympathy, 
" Lately alas ! I knew a gentle 
boy," pp. 71, 72; reprinted in A 
Week on the Concord and Merri- 
mack Elvers, 

Aulus Persius Flaccus, pp. 

117-121 ; reprinted in A Week 
on the Concord and Merrimack 

—Stanzas, "Nature doth have 
her dawn each day ; " reprinted 
in A Week on the Concord and 
Merrimack Rivers. 

Vol. ii., 1841.— Sic Vita, " I 

am a parcel of vain strivings 
tied," p. 81 ; reprinted in A 
Week on the Concord and Merri- 
mack Rivers. 

Friendship, "Let such pure 

hate still under-prop," pp. 204, 
205 ; reprinted in A Week on the 
Concord and Merrimack Rivers. 

. Vol. iii., 1842. — Natural 

History of Massachusetts, pp. 
19-40 ; reprinted in Excursions. 

*> Stanzas, "Great God, I ask 

Thee for no meaner pelf," pp. 
79, 80 ; reprinted in A Yankee 
in Canada. 

. The Black Knight, " Be sure 

your fate," p. 180; reprinted in 
Riverside edition, vol. x. 

— ~ The Inward Morning, 
" Packed in my mind lie all the 
clothes," p. 198; reprinted in 
A Week on the Concord and 
Merrimack Rivers. 

Free Love, "My love must 

be as free," p. 19;? ; reprinted 
in A Week on the Concord and 
Merrimack Rivers. 

The Poet's Delay, "In vain 

I see the morning rise," p. 200 ; 
reprinted in A Week on the 
Concord and Merrimack Rivers. 

Rumours from an iEolian 

Harp, p. 200 ; repiinted in A 
Week on the Concord and 
Merrimack Rivers. 

The Moon, "The fuli-oibed 

moon with unchanging ray," 
p. 222 ; reprinted in Riverside 
edition, vol. x. 

To the Maiden in the East, 

" Low in the Eastern sky," pp. 
222-224 ; reprinted in A Week 
on the Concord and Merrimack 

The Summer Rain, "My 

books I'd fain cast off, 1 cannot 
read," pp. 22*, 225; reprinted 
in A Week on the Concord and 
Merrimack Rivers. 

The Laws of Menu, selected 

by Thoreau, pp. 331-340. 

The Prometheus Bound, a 

translation, pp. 363-386 ; re- 
printed in Riverside edition, 
vol. x. 

Anacreon, eleven poems tians- 

lated, pp. 484-490 ; reprinted 
in A Week on the Concord and 
Merrimack Rivers. 

Sayings of Confucius, selected, 

pp. 493, 494. 

To a Stray Fowl, " Poor bird ! 

destined to lead thy life," p. 
£05 ; reprinted in Riverside 
edition, vol. x. 

Orpines, i. Smoke ; ii. Haze, 

pp. 505, 506 ; reprinted in 
Letters to Various Persons. 

Dark Ages, pp. 527-529 ; 

reprinted in A Week on the 
Concord and Merrimack Rivets. 



Friendship. From Chaucer's 

"Romaunt of the Kose," pp. 

7ol. iv., 1843. — Ethnical 

Scriptures. Chinese four books, 
selected by Thoreau, pp. 205- 

A Winter Walk, pp. 211-223; 

reprinted in Excursions, 

Homer, Ossian, Chaucer, pp. 

290-303, reprinted in A Week 
on the Concord and Merrimack 

Pindar, note and translations, 

pp. 379-390 ; reprinted in River- 
side edition, vol. x. 

The Preaching of Buddha, 

selections, pp. 391-404. 

Ethnical Scriptures. Hermes 

Trismegistus, selections, pp. 

Herald of Freedom, pp. 507- 

512 ; reprinted in A Yankee in 

Fragments of Pindar, pp. 513, 

514; reprinted in Riverside 
edition, vol. x. 

The Boston Miscellany, 1843. — 
A Walk to Wachusett, vol. Hi., 
p. 51 ; reprinted in Excursions, 

The Democratic Review, 1843.^- 
The Landlord, vol. xiii., pp. 
427-480; reprinted in Excur- 

Paradise (to be) Regained, 

vol. xiii., pp. 451-463; re- 
printed in A Yankee in Canada. 

The Liberator. — Wendell Phillips 
before the Concord Lyceum, 
March 28, 1845 ; reprinted in 
A Yankee in Canada, 

Slavery in Massachusetts, an 

address delivered (July 4) at the 
Anti-Slavery Celebration at 
Framingham, July 21, 1854; 
reprinted in A Yankee in 

The Last Days of John Brown, 

Read (July 4) at North Elba, 
N.Y., July 27, 1860. 

Graham's Magazine, 1845. — 
Thomas Carlyle and his Works, 
vol. xxx., pp. 145, 238; re- 
printed in A Yankee in Canada. 

The Union Magazine, 1845. — « 
Ktaadn and the Maine Woods r 
vol. iii., Dp. 29, 73, 132, 177, 
216 ; reprinted in The Maine 

JEsthctie Papers* 1849. — Resist- 
ance to Civil Government, pp. 
189-211; reprinted in A Yankee- 
in Canada, 

Putnam's Magazine, 1853-55. — 
An Excursion to Canada, vol. i., 
pp. 54-59, 179-184,321-329; re- 
printed in A Yankee in Canada. 

Cape Cod, vol. v., pp. 632- 

640; vol. vi M pp. 59-66, 157- 
164 ; reprinted in Cape Cod. 

The New York Tribune, I860.— 
The Succession of Forest Trees- 
(read before the Middlesex 
Agricultural Society, Concord r 
Sept. 1860) ;, reprinted in Ex- 

Echoes of Harper's Ferry % by 
James Redpath, I860.— A Plea* 
for Captain John Brown, read 
to the citizens of Concord, 
Mass., Oct. 30, 1859, pp. 16-42; 
reprinted in A Yankee iw 

Remarks at Concord on the 

day of the Execution of John 
Brown (Dec. 2, 1860), pp. 439- 
445 ; reprinted in Riverside- 
edition, vol. x. 

Atlantic Monthly, 1858-93. — 
Chesuncook, vol. ii., 1858, pp, 
2-12, 224-233, 305-317; re- 
printed in The Maine Woods. 

Walking, vol. ix., 162, pp. 

657-674; reprinted in Excur- 


Autumnal Tints, vol. x., 

1862, pp. 385402; reprinted 
in Excursions. 

Wild Apples, vol. x., 1862, 

pp. 513-526 ; reprinted in Ex- 

Life without Piinciple, vol. 

xii., 1863, pp. 484-495; re- 
printed in A Yankee in 

Night and Morning, vol. xii., 

1863, pp. 579-583 ; reprinted in 

The Wellfleet Oysterman, 

vol. xiv., 1864, pp. 470-478; 
reprinted in Cape Cod. 

The Highland Light, vol. 

xiv., 1864, pp. 649-659; re- 
printed in Cape Cod. 

• April Days, vol. xii., 1878, 

pp. 445-454; reprinted in River- 
side edition, vol. v. 

May Days, vol. xii., 1878, 

pp. 567-576 ; reprinted in 
Riverside edition, vol. ix. 

Days in June, vol. xii., 1878, 

pp. 711-719 ; reprinted in River- 
side edition, vol. v. 

Winter Days, vol. lv., 1885, 

pp. 79-88 ; reprinted in River- 
side edition, vol. viii. 

The Boston Commonwealth, 1863. 
Poems. — Inspiration, vol. i., 
No. 42; The Funeral Bell, vol. 
i., No. 44 ; Travelling: Greece, 
vol. i., No. 47 ; The Departure, 
vol. i., No. 52; The Fall of 
the Leaf, vol. ii., No. 58 ; 
Independence, vol. ii., No. 61; 
Ihe Soul's Season, vol. ii., No. 



Alcott, A. Bronson. — Concord 
Davs. Boston, 1872, 8vo. 

Thoreau, pp. 11-20; Walden Pond, 
pp. 259-264. 

Sonnets and Canzonets. 

Boston, 1882, 8vo. 
Thoreau, Sonnet xiv., p. 121. 
Alger, William R.— The Solitudes 

of Nature and of Man. Boston, 

1867, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 329-338. 
Allibone, S. Austin. — A critical 

dictionary of English Litera- 
ture, etc. London, 1871. 8vo. 
Thoreau, vol. iii., pp. 2406,'2407. 
Barton, W. G.— Thoreau, Flagg, 

and Burroughs. {Essex Institute , 

Historical Collections, vol. xxii., 

pp. 53-80.) Salem, Mass., 1885, 

Beers, Henry A. — An outline 

sketch of American Literature. 

New York, 1887, 12mo. 
Numerous references to Thoreau. 
Besant, Walter. — The Eulogy of 

Richard JefTeries. London, 

1888, 8vo. 
Reference to Thoreau, pp. 221- 

Brown, John. — The Life and 

Letters of John Brown. Edited 

by F. B. Sanborn. London, 

1885, 8vo. 
Numerous references to Thoreau. 
Burroughs, John. — Indoor 

Studies. Boston, 1889, 8vo. 
Henry D. Thoreau, pp. 1-42. 
Channing, William Ellery. — 

Thoreau: the poet-naturalist. 

Boston, 1873, 8vo. 
Conway, Moncure Daniel. — 

Emerson at Home and Abroad. 

Boston, 1882, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 279-289. 
Cooke, George Willis. — Ralph 

Waldo Emerson : his life, 

writings, and philosophy. 

London, 1882, 8vo. 
Numerous references to Thoreau. 
Critic. — Essays from " The 

Critic." Boston, 1882, 12mo. 
Thoreau's Wildness, by John 

Burroughs, pp. 9-18; Thoreau's 

unpublished poetry, by F. B. 

Sanborn, pp. 71-78, 




Curtis, George William. - 
of American Authors, 
York, 1857, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 247, 248, 250, 251. 
From the Easy Chair. Lon- 
don, 1892, 12mo. 

Thoreau and my Lady Cavaliere, 
pp. 62-73. 
Duyckinck, Evert A., and George 
L. — Cyclopaedia of American 
Literature. 2 vols. Phila- 
delphia, 1877, 8vo. 

Henry David Thoreau, vol. it, pp. 
Ellis, Havelock.— The New Spirit. 
London, 1890, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 90-99. 
Emerson, Edward Waldo.— Emer- 
son in Concord: a Memoir 
written for the " Social Circle" 
in Concord, Massachusetts. 
London, 1883, 8vo. 
Numerous references to Thoreau. 
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. — Lectures 
and Biographical Sketches. 
London, 1884, 8vo. 

Thoreau, pp. 419-452; prefixed 
also to Thoreau's Excursions. 

Encyclopaedia Britannica. — En- 
cyclopaedia Britannica, 9th 
edition. Edinburgh, 1888, 4to. 
Henry D. Thoreau, by William 
Sharp, vol. 23, pp. 313, 314. 

Essays. — Essays from " The 
Critic/' Boston, 1882, 8vo. 

Thoreau's Wildness. By John 
Burroughs, pp. 9-18. Thoreau's 

unpublished poetry. 
Sanborn, pp. 71-78. 

By F. B. 

Flagg, Wilson.— The Woods and 
By-ways of New England. 
Boston, 1872, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 392-396. 

Halcyon Days. Boston, 

1881, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 164-168. 
Garnett, Richard.— Life of Ralph 
Waldo Emerson. London, 1888, 
Thoreau, pp. 157-159. 
Graham, P. Anderson. — Nature 

in Books; some Studies in 
Biography. London, 1891, 8vo. 
The Puilosophy of Idleness 
(Henry David Thoreau), pp. 66-93. 
Griswold, R. W. — Prose Writers 
of Ameiica. Philadelphia [1870], 
Thoreau, p. 657. 
Haskins, David Greene. — Ralph 
Waldo Emerson ; his maternal 
ancestors, etc. London [1887], 
Henry D. Thoreau, pp. 119-122. 
Hawthorne, Julian. — Nathaniel 
Hawthorne and his wife : a 
biography. 2 vols. London, 
' 1885, 8vo. 

References to Thoreau. 
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. — Passages* 
from the American Note-Books. 
2 vols. Boston, 1868, 8vo. 

References to Thoreau, vol ii., pp, 
96-99, 110-113, 123. 

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth.— 
Short Studies of American 
Authors. Boston, 1888, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 22-31. 

Holmes, Oliver Wendell.— Ameri- 
can Men of Letters, Ralph 
Waldo Emerson. Boston, 1885, 
Numerous references to Thoreau. 

Hubert, Philip G. — Liberty and a 
Living. New York, 1889, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 171-190. 

James, Henry. — Hawthorne. 
(English Men of Letters.) 
London, 1879, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 96-99. 

Jones, Samuel Arthur. — Thoreau: 
a Glimpse. Ann Arbor, Mich., 
1890, 8vo. 
Privately printed. 

Bibliography of Henry David 

Thoreau, with an outline of his 
life. Compiled and chrono- 
logically arranged by S. A. 
Jones. New York, 1894, 8vo. 

Lowell, James Russell. A Fable 



for Critics. [New York] 1848, 
Tb >au, p. 32. 

ifry Study Windows. Second 

edition. London, 1871, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 145-156. 

Nichol, John. — American Litera- 
ture: an historical sketch. 
Edinburgh, 1882, 8vo. 
Henry D. Thoreau, pp. 313-321. 

Page, H. A., i.e. A. H. Japp. — 
Thoreau, his Life and Aims. 
London, 1878, 8vo. 

Richardson, Charles F. — American 
Literature, 1607-1885. 2 vols. 
New York, 1887-89, 8vo. 
[References to Thoreau. 

Salt, H. S. — Literary Sketches. 
London, 1888, 8vo. 

Henry D. Thoreau, pp. 124-166. 
Appeared originally in Temple Bar, 
Nov. 1886. 

The Life of Henry David 

Thoreau. London, 1890, 8vo. 

Sanborn, F. B. — American Men 
of Letters. Henry D. Thoreau. 
Boston, 1882, 8vo. 

The Genius and character of 

Emerson; lectures at the Con- 
cord School of Philosophy. 
Boston, 1885, 8vo. 
References to Thoreau. 

Scudder, Horace E. — American 
Prose. Boston, 1880, 8vo. 
Henry David Thoreau, pp. 296-301. 

Stedman, Edmund Clarence. — A 
Library of American Literature. 
New York, 1891, 8vo. 
Thoreau, vol. xi., p. 594. 

Stevenson, Robert Louis. — Fami- 
liar Studies of Men and Books. 
London, 1882, 8vo. 

Henry David Thoreau : his char- 
acter and opinions, pp. 129-171; a 
reprint of article in Ctornhill, June 

Stewart, George. — Thoreau; the 
Hermit of Walden. A paper 
read before the Society, March 
2nd, 1882. {Trans, of the 
Literary and EisU Soc of Quebec, 

No. 16, 1882, pp. 121-151.) 
Quebec, 1882, 8vo. 
Triggs, Oscar L. — Browning and 
Whitman. London, 1893, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 35-37. 
Underwood, Francis H. — The 
Builders of American Literature. 
First Series. London, 1893, 
Henry David Thoreau, pp. 213-216. 
Welsh, Alfred H. — Development 
of English Literature and 
Language. 2 vols. Chicago, 
1882, 8vo. 
Thoreau, vol. ii. pp. 409-414. 
Woodbury, Charles J. — Talks with 
Ralph Waldo Emerson. London, 
1890, 8vo. 
Thoreau, pp. 76-95. 
Wilson, James Grant, and Fiske, 
John.— Appleton's Cyclopsedia 
of American Biography. 6 vols. 
New York, 1887-89, 8vo. 
Thoreau, vol. vi,, pp. 100, 101. 
Wolfe, Theodore F. — Literary 
Shrines ; the haunts of some 
famous American authors. 
Philadelphia, 1895, 8vo. 
Numerous references to Thoreau. 

Magazine Articles, Etc. 

Thoreau, Henry David. — Atlantic 
Monthly, by R. W. Emerson, 
vol. 10, 1862, pp. 239-249.— 
Boston Commonwealth, vol. 1, 
No. 33, 1863.— Monthly Re- 
ligious Magazine, by W. R. 
Alger, vol. 35, 1865, p. 382.— 
Christian Examiner, by J. 
Weiss, vol. 79, 1865, pp. 96-117. 
— Fraser's Magazine, by Mon- 
cure D. Conway, vol. 73, 1866, 
pp. 447-465 ; same article, 
Eclectic Magazine, vol. 4 N.S., 
1866, pp. 180-195. — Every 
Saturday, by J. R. Lowell, 
vol. 10, 1870, p. 166.— British 
Quarterly Review, by Dr. A. 



Thoreau, Henry David. 

1L Japp, vol. 59, 1874, pp. 
181-194; same article, Littell's 
Living Age, vol. 120, pp. 643- 
650, and Eclectic Magazine, vol. 
19 N.S., pp. 305-312.— Harper's 
New Monthly Magazine, by 
Miss H. R. Hudson, vol. 51, 
1875, pp. 28-31.— Dublin Uni- 
versity Magazine, by M. Collins, 
vol. 90, 1877, pp. 610-621.— 
Harvard Register (with por- 
trait), by F. B. Sanborn, vol. 
3, 1881, pp. 214-217.— Century 
(with portrait), by J. Bur- 
roughs, vol.2 N.S., 1882, pp. 
368-379.— Dial (Chicago),, by 
H. N. Powers, vol. 3, 1882, 
pp % 70, 71. — Spectator, vol. 56, 
1883, pp. 239, 240; vol. 56, 
1885, pp. 122, 123.— Temple 
Bar, by H. S. Salt, vol. 78, 
1386, pp. 369-383 ; same article 
in Critic, vol. 8 N.S., pp. 276- 
278, 289-291; and Eclectic Maga- 
zine, vol. 45 N.S., pp. 89-98.— 
Welcome, by A. H. Japp, vol. 14, 
1887, pp. 652-656.— Academy, 
by W. Lewin, October 25, 1890, 
pp. 357, 358. — Chautauquan, by 
John Burroughs, vol. 9, 1889, 
pp. 530-533.— Good Words, by 
F. H. Underwood, vol. 29, 1888, 
pp. 445-452. — Belgravia, vol. 
81, 1893, pp. 375-383.— Labour 
Prophet (with portrait), by John 
Trevor, vol. 2, 1893, p. 190.— 
Lippincott's Magazine, by C. C. 
Abbott, June 1895, pp. 852-855. 
—Great Thoughts, by W. J. 
Jupp, January 19 and 26, 1895, 
pp. 256-258, 268, 287. 

An American Diogenes. 

Chambers's Journal, vol. 8, 
1858, pp. 330-332. 

An American Rousseau. 

Saturday Review, Vol. 18, 
1864, pp. 694, 695. 

Thoreau, Henry David. 

and his Biographers, Lippin 

cott's Magazine, by S. A. Jones, 
vol. 48, 1891, pp. 224-228. 

and his Books. Harvard 

Magazine, by Edwin Morton, 
vol. 1, 1855, p. 87, etc. 

and his Works. Inlander, by 

S, A. Jones, vol. 4, 1894, p. 234. 

and Kew England Transcen- 
dentalism. Catholic World, by 
J. V. O'Conor, vol. 27, 1878, pp. 

and Thomas Cholmondeley. 

Atlantic Monthly, by F. B. 
Sanborn, vol. 72, 1893, pp. 741- 

Anti-Slavery and Reform 

Papers. Lippincott's Magazine, 
by H. S. Salt, vol. 46, 1890, pp. 

a Rural Humbug. Knicker- 
bocker, vol. 45, 1855, pp. 235- 

Autumn. Vassar Miscellany, 

vol. 22, 1892, p. 92. 

Cape Cod. Boston Common- 
wealth, vol. 3, No. 30, 1865. 

(Manning's Life of. Nation, 

vol. 18, 1874, pp. 29, 30. 

Character and Opinions of. 

Cornhill Magazine, by R. L. 
Stevenson, vol. 41, 1880, pp. 
665-682; same article, Eclectic 
Magazine, vol. 95, pp. 257-270, 
and Littell's Living Age, vol. 
146, pp. 179-190. 

Correspondence with Emerson. 

Atlantic Monthly, by F. B. 
Sanborn, vol. 69, 1892, pp. 577- 
596, 736-753. 

Days and Nights in Concord. 

Scribner's Monthly, by W. E. 
Channing, vol. 16, 1878, pp. 

Excursions. Boston Common- 
wealth, vol. 2, No. 60, 1863. 



Tboreau, Henry David. 

* A Faithful Lover of Nature. 

Frank R. Leslie's Popular 
Monthly, by W. Lincoln J. 
Adams, vol. 33, 1892, p. 574. 

* Flute (Poem). Atlantic 

Monthly, by Louisa M. Alcott, 
vol. 12, 1863, pp. 280, 281. 

The Forrester. Atlantic 

Monthly, by A. B. Alcott, 
vol. 9, pp. 443445. 

A Glimpse. Unitariau, by 

S. A. Jones, vol. 5, February- 

Gospel of Simplicity. Pater- 
noster Review, by H. S. Salt, 
vol. 1, 1891, pp. 461-468. 

— Inheritance of. Inlander, by 
S. A. Jones, vol. 3, 1892, p. 

Letters to Various Persons. 
Atlantic Monthly, by T. W. 
Higginson, vol. 16, 1865, pp. 
504, 505. — North American 
Review, by J. R. Lowell, vol. 
101, 1865, pp. 597-608. 

. Life of, by H. S. Salt. 

Spectator, by A. H. Japp, 
Oct. 18, 1890, pp. 526, 527.— 
Animal World, Dec. 1890. pp. 
186, 187. 

The Maine Woods. Boston 

Commonwealth, vol. 3, No. 30, 
1864.— Atlantic Monthly, by 
T. W. Higginson, vol. 14, 1864, 
pp. 386, 387. 

•——Nature Notes. Selborne 
Society's Journal, by J. L. 
Otter, vol. 1, 1890, p. 185. 

New Estimate of. Penn 
Monthly, by W. S. Kennedy, 
vol. 11, pp. 794, etc. 

• Page's Life of. Academy, by 

Thomas Hughes, Nov. 17, 1877, 
pp. 462, 463. 

■—Philosophy at Concord. 
Nation, Sept. 2, 1880, pp. 

Thoreau, Henry David. 

Pity and Humour of (from 

the Spectator). Littell's Living 
Age, vol. 146, 1880, pp. 190, 

Poems of Nature. Seribner's 

Magazine, by F. B. Sanborn, 
March 1895, pp. 352-355.— 
Saturday Review, Jan. 18, 
1896; Star, Jan. 23, 1896, by 
Richard Le Gallienne. 

Poetry of. Lippincott's 

Magazine, by J. Benton, vol. 
37, 1886, pp. 491-500. — Art 
Review, by H. S. Salt, May 
1890, pp. 153-155. 

Portrait of, by Himself. 

Literary World (Boston), 
March 26, 1881. 

Portraits of, with a Beard. 

Critic, vol. 1, 1881, p. 95. 

Sanborn's Life of. Nation, 

by A. G. Sedgwick, vol. 35, 
1882, pp. 34, 35. — Literary 
World (Boston), vol. 13, 1882, 
pp. 227, 228. — Athenaeum, 
Oct. 28, 1882, pp. 558-560.— 
Academy, by J. Purves, Oct. 
14, 1882, pp. 271, 272.— Ameri- 
can, by T. A. Janvier, vol. 4, 
1882, p. 218. 

Selections from, H. S. Salt's. 

Academy, by Walter Lewin, 
May 4, 1895, p. 377. 

Some Recollections and Inci* 

dents concerning. Concord 
Freeman, by Joseph Hosmer, 
October 1880. 

Study of. Eclectic Magazine 

(from the Academy), by Thomas 
Hughes, vol. 27 N.S., 1878, 
pp. 114-116. 

Summer. Academy, by 

Walter Lewin, Sept. 27, 1884, 
pp. 193, 194.— Literary World 
(Boston), July 12, 1884, p. 223. 
—The Nation, vol. 39, 1884, 
pp. 98-99. 


Thoreau, Henry David. 

Sunday at Concord. Fort- 
nightly Review, by Grant 
Allen, vol. 43 N.S., 1888, pp. 

Ten Volumes of. New Eng- 

lander, by Joshua W. Caldwell, 
vol. 55, 1891, pp. 404-424. 

Unpublished Poetry of (with 
portrait). Critic, by F. B. 
Sanborn, March 26, 1881, pp. 
75, 76. 

Visit to Walden Pond. Natural 
Food, by Hector Waylen, July 
1895, pp. 438, 439. 

— - Walden. Putnam's Monthly, 
by C. F. Briggs, vol. 4, 1854, 

Thoreau, Henry David, 
pp. 443-448. — Boston Common* 
wealth, vol. 1, No. 56, 1863. 

Walden Pond. Boston 

Commonwealth, vol. 3, No. 
47, 1865. 

Week on the Concord, Massa- 
chusetts Quarterly Review, 
by J. R. Lowell, vol. 3, 1849, 
pp. 40-51. — Saturday Review, 
August 17, 1889, pp. 195, 196. 

Wildness of. Critic, by J. 

Burroughs, March 26, 1881, 
p. 74. 

Works of. New Englander, 

by J. W. Caldwell, vol. 55, 
1891, pp. 404-424. 


A Week on the Concord and 

Merrimack Rivers 
Walden ; or, Life in the 

Woods .... 

The Maine Woods 
Cape Cod .... 
Letters to Various Persons 
A Yankee in Canada 
Early Spring in Massa- 
chusetts ; From the 

Journal of Henry D. 


Summer: From the 



Journal of Henry D. 



Winter : From the Journal 


of Henry D. Thoreau . 



Autumn : From the 


Journal of Henry D. 


Thoreau , . . 





Familiar Letters 


Poems of Nature 



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