Henry David Thoreau.

The writings of Henry David Thoreau : with bibliographical introductions and full indexes (Volume 11) online

. (page 1 of 28)
Online LibraryHenry David ThoreauThe writings of Henry David Thoreau : with bibliographical introductions and full indexes (Volume 11) → online text (page 1 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


3RA,
OF THB



<&ition



FAMILIAR LETTERS OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU

EDITED, WITH AN INTRODUCTION
AND NOTES, BY

F. B. SANBORN



*e




W.RLck&tson. Sc.-



FAMILIAR LETTERS OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU



EDITED, WITH AN INTRODUCTION AND NOTES

BY

F. B. SANBORN




CAMBRIDGE

at ttje Htoersio*

1894



Copyright, 1894,
Br HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.

All rights reserved.



Ounbtcfo iin&
/Fiftp Copied printed
Jflumftet






MAtAJ

CONTENTS.



PAGE

INTRODUCTION v

I. YEARS OF DISCIPLINE.

SKETCH OF THOREAU S LIFE FROM BIRTH TO TWENTY
YEARS 1

LETTERS TO HIS BROTHER JOHN AND SISTER HELEN 12

EARLY FRIENDSHIP AND CORRESPONDENCE WITH EM
ERSON AND HIS FAMILY 39

STATEN ISLAND AND NEW YORK LETTERS TO THE
THOREAUS AND EMERSONS 76

II. THE GOLDEN AGE OF ACHIEVEMENT.

CORRESPONDENCE WITH C. LANE, J. E. CABOT, EMER
SON, AND BLAKE 146

HI. FRIENDS AND FOLLOWERS.

THE SHIPWRECK OF MARGARET FULLER 220

AN ESSAY ON LOVE AND CHASTITY 237

MORAL EPISTLES TO HARRISON BLAKE OF WORCESTER 251
EXCURSIONS TO CAPE COD, NEW BEDFORD, NEW

HAMPSHIRE, NEW YORK, AND NEW JERSEY . , . 302
EXCURSIONS TO MONADNOC AND MINNESOTA .... 421

LAST ILLNESS AND DEATH 460

INDEX . . 465



INTRODUCTION.



THE fortune of Henry Thoreau as an author
of books has been peculiar, and such as to indi
cate more permanence of his name and fame
than could be predicted of many of his contem
poraries. In the years of his literary activity
(twenty-five in all), from 1837 to 1862, when
he died, not quite forty-five years old, he pub
lished but two volumes, and those with much
delay and difficulty in finding a publisher. But
in the thirty-two years since his death, nine vol
umes have been published from his manuscripts
and fugitive pieces, the present being the
tenth. Besides these, two biographies of Tho
reau have appeared in America, and two others
in England, with numerous reviews and sketches
of the man and his writings, enough to make
several volumes more. At present, the sale of
his books and the interest in his life are greater
than ever; and he seems to have grown early



vi INTRODUCTION.

into an American classic, like his Concord neigh
bors, Emerson and Hawthorne. Pilgrimages
are made to his grave and his daily haunts, as
to theirs, and those who come find it to be
true, as was said by an accomplished woman
(Miss Elizabeth Hoar) soon after his death,
that " Concord is Henry s monument, adorned
with suitable inscriptions by his own hand."

When Horace wrote of a noble Roman fam
ily*

Crescit occulto velut arbor aevo
Fama Marcelli,

he pointed in felicitous phrase to the only fame
that posterity has much regarded, the slow-
growing, deep-rooted laurel of renown. And
Shakespeare, citing the old English rhyming
saw,

Small herbs have grace,
Great weeds do grow apace,

signified the same thing in a parable, the pop
ularity and suddenness of transient things, con
trasted with the usefully permanent. There
were plenty of authors in Thoreau s time (of
whom Willis may be taken as the type) who
would have smiled loftily to think that a rustic



INTRODUCTION. vn

from the Shawsheen and Assabet could compete
with the traveled scholar or elegant versifier
who commanded the homage of drawing-rooms
and magazines, for the prize of lasting remem
brance; yet who now are forgotten, or live a
shadowy life in the alcoves of libraries, piping
forth an ineffective voice, like the shades in
Virgil s Tartarus. But Thoreau was wiser when
he wrote at the end of his poem, " Inspiration,"

Fame cannot tempt the bard
Who s famous with his God ;
Nor laurel him reward
Who has his Maker s nod.

He strove but little for glory, either immediate
or posthumous, well knowing that it is the inevi
table and unpursued result of what men do or
say,

Our fatal shadow that walks by us still.

The Letters of Thoreau, though not less re
markable in some aspects than what he wrote
carefully for publication, have thus far scarcely
had justice done them. The selection made for
a small volume in 1865 was designedly done to
exhibit one phase of his character, the most
striking, if you will, but not the most native



viii INTRODUCTION.

or attractive. " In his own home," says Ellery
Channing, who knew him more inwardly than
any other, " he was one of those characters who
may be called household treasures ; always on
the spot, with skillful eye and hand, to raise the
best melons in the garden, plant the orchard
with choicest trees, or act as extempore me
chanic ; fond of the pets, his sister s flowers, or
sacred Tabby ; kittens were his favorites, he
would play with them by the half-hour. No
whim or coldness, no absorption of his time by
public or private business, deprived those to
whom he belonged of his kindness and affec
tion. He did the duties that lay nearest, and
satisfied those in his immediate circle ; and
whatever the impressions from the theoretical
part of his writings, when the matter is probed
to the bottom, good sense and good feeling will
be detected in it." This is preeminently true ;
and the affectionate conviction of this made his
sister Sophia dissatisfied with Emerson s rule of
selection among the letters. This she confided
to me, and this determined me, should occasion
offer, to give the world some day a fuller and
more familiar view of our friend.



INTRODUCTION. ix

For this purpose I have chosen many letters
and mere notes, illustrating his domestic and
gossipy moods, for that element was in his
mixed nature, inherited from the lively maternal
side, and even the colloquial vulgarity (using
the word in its strict sense of "popular speech")
that he sometimes allowed himself. In his last
years he revolted a little at this turn of his
thoughts, and, as Channing relates, " rubbed out
the more humorous parts of his essays, origi
nally a relief to their sterner features, saying, I
cannot bear the levity I find ; " to which Chan
ning replied that he ought to spare it, even to
the puns, in which he abounded almost as much
as Shakespeare. His friend was right, the
obvious incongruity was as natural to Thoreau
as the grace and French elegance of his best
sentences. Thus I have not rejected the com
mon and trivial in these letters ; being well as
sured that what the increasing number of Tho-
reau s readers desire is to see this piquant original
just as he was, not arrayed in the paradoxical
cloak of the Stoic sage, nor sitting complacent
in the cynic earthenware cave of Diogenes, and
bidding Alexander stand out of his sunshine.



x INTRODUCTION.

He did those acts also ; but they were not the
whole man. He was far more poet than cynic
or stoic; he had the proud humility of those
sects, but still more largely that unconscious
pride which comes to the poet when he sees that
his pursuits are those of the few and not of the
multitude. This perception came early to Tho-
reau, and was expressed in some unpublished
verses dating from his long, solitary rambles, by
night and day, on the seashore at Staten Island,
where he first learned the sombre magnificence
of Ocean. He feigns himself the son of what
might well be one of Homer s fishermen, or the
shipwrecked seaman of Lucretius,

Saevis projectus ab undis
Cui tantum in vita restet transire malorum,

and then goes on thus with his parable :

Within a humble cot that looks to sea
Daily I breathe this curious warm life,

Beneath a friendly haven s sheltering lea
My noiseless day with mystery still is rife.

T is here, they say, my simple life began,

And easy credence to the tale I lend,
For well I know t is here I am a man,

But who will simply tell me of the end ?



INTRODUCTION. XI

These eyes, fresh-opened, spied the far-off Sea,

That like a silent godfather did stand,
Nor uttered one explaining word to me,

While introducing straight godmother Land.

And yonder still stretches that silent Main,
With many glancing ships besprinkled o er :

And earnest still I gaze and gaze again

Upon the selfsame waves and friendly shore.

Infinite work my hands find there to do,

Gathering the relicts which the waves upcast :

Each storm doth scour the sea for something new,
And every time the strangest is the last.

My neighbors sometimes come with lumbering carts,
As if they wished my pleasant toil to share ;

But straight they go again to distant marts,
For only weeds and ballast are their care.

"Only weeds and ballast?" that is exactly
what Thoreau s neighbors would have said he
was gathering, for the most of his days ; yet now
he is seen to have collected something more du
rable and precious than they with their imple
ments and market-carts. If they viewed him
with a kind of scorn and pity, it must be said
that he returned the affront ; only time seems
to have sided with the poet in the controversy
that he maintained against his busy age.



xii INTRODUCTION.

Superiority, moral elevation, without peev
ishness or condescension, this was Thoreau s
distinguishing quality. He softened it with hu
mor, and sometimes sharpened it with indigna
tion ; but he directed his satire and his censure
as often against himself as against mankind ;
men he truly loved, if they would not obstruct
his humble and strictly-chosen path. The let
ters here printed show this, if I mistake not,
and the many other epistles of his, still uncol-
lected, would hardly vary the picture he has
sketched of himself, though they would add new
facts. Those most to be sought for are his re
plies to the generous letters of his one English
correspondent.

The profile-portrait engraved for this volume
is less known than it should be, for it alone
of the four likenesses extant shows the aquiline
features as his comrades of the wood and moun
tain saw them, not weakened by any effort to
bring him to the standard of other men in garb
or expression. The artist, Mr. Walton Eicket-
son, knew and admired him.

F. B. S.

CONCOKD, MASS., March 1, 1894.



FAMILIAR LETTERS OF THOREAU.



I. YEARS OF DISCIPLINE.

IT was a happy thought of Thoreau s friend
Ellery Charming, himself a poet, to style our
Concord hermit the " poet-naturalist ; " for there
seemed to be no year of his life, and no hour of
his day when Nature did not whisper some secret
in his ear, so intimate was he with her from
childhood. In another connection, speaking of
natural beauty, Channing said, " There is Tho-
reau, he knows about it; give him sunshine
and a handful of nuts, and he has enough." He
was also a naturalist in the more customary
sense, one who studied and arranged methodi
cally in his mind the facts of outward nature ; a
good botanist and ornithologist, a wise student
of insects and fishes ; an observer of the winds,
the clouds, the seasons, and all that goes to make
up what we call " weather " and " climate." Yet
he was in heart a poet, and held all the accumu
lated knowledge of more than forty years not so
much for use as for delight. As Gray s poor
friend West said of himself, " Like a clear-flow-



2 YEARS OF DISCIPLINE. [1817-1855.

ing stream, he reflected the beauteous prospect
around ; " and Mother Nature had given Thoreau
for his prospect the meandering Indian River of
Concord, the woodland pastures and fair lakes
by which he dwelt or rambled most of his life.
Born in the East Quarter of Concord, July 12,
1817, he died in the village, May 6, 1862 ; he
was there fitted for Harvard College, which he
entered in 1833, graduating in 1837; and for
the rest of his life was hardly away from the
town for more than a year in all. Consequently
his letters to his family are few, for he was
usually among them ; but when separated from
his elder brother John, or his sisters Helen and
Sophia, he wrote to them, and these are the
earliest of his letters which have been pre
served. Always thoughtful for others, he has
left a few facts to aid his biographer, respecting
his birth and early years. In his Journal of
December 27, 1855, he wrote :

"Recalled this evening, with the aid of
Mother, the various houses (and towns) in
which I have lived, and some events of my life.
Born in the Minott house on the Virginia Road,
where Father occupied Grandmother s thirds ,
carrying on the farm. The Catherines had the
other half of the house, Bob Catherine, and
[brother] John threw up the turkeys. Lived
there about eight months ; Si Merriam the next



BIOGRAPHICAL FACTS. 3

neighbor. Uncle David [Dunbar] died when I
was six weeks old. 1 I was baptized in the old
Meeting-house, by Dr. Ripley, when I was three
months, and did not cry. In the Red House,
where Grandmother lived, we had the west side
till October, 1818, hiring of Josiah Davis,
agent for the Woodwards; there were uncle
Charles and cousin Charles (Dunbar), more or
less. According to the Day-Book first used by
Grandfather (Thoreau), 2 dated 1797 (his part
cut out and then used by Father in Concord in
1808-9, and in Chehnsford in 1818-21), Father
hired of Proctor (in Chehnsford), and shop of
Spaulding. In Chehnsford till March, 1821;
last charge there about the middle of March,
1821. Aunt Sarah taught me to walk there,
when fourteen months old. We lived next the
meeting-house, where they kept the powder in
the garret. Father kept shop and painted
signs, etc. . . .

1 He was named David for this uncle ; Dr. Ripley was the
minister of the whole town in 1817. The Red House stood
near the Emerson house on the Lexington road ; the Wood
wards were a wealthy family, afterwards in Quincy, to which
town Dr. Woodward left a large bequest.

2 John Thoreau, grandfather of Henry, born at St. Helier s,
Jersey, April, 1754, was a sailor on board the American priva
teer General Lincoln, November, 1779, and recognized La
Terrible, French frigate, which carried John Adams from
Boston to France. See Thorean s Summer, p. 102. This John
Thoreau, son of Philip, died in Concord, 1800.



4 YEARS OF DISCIPLINE. [1821-1844.

"In Pope s house, South End of Boston (a
ten-footer) five or six months, moved from
Chelmsford through Concord, and may have
tarried in Concord a little while.

"Day-book says, Moved to Pinkney Street
(Boston), September 10, 1821, on Monday;
Whitwell s house, Pinkney Street, to March,
1823 ; then brick house, Concord, to spring of
1826 ; Davis house (next to Samuel Hoar s) to
May 7, 1827 ; Shattuck house (now W. Mun-
roe s) to spring of 1835 ; Hollis Hall, Cam
bridge, 1833 ; Aunts house to spring of 1837.
[This was what is now the inn called Thoreau
House. ] At Brownson s (Canton) while teach
ing in winter of 1835. Went to New York with
Father peddling in 1836."

This brings the date down to the year in which
Henry Thoreau left college, and when the family
letters begin. The notes continue, and now
begin to have a literary value.

" Parkman house to fall of 1844 ; was gradu
ated in 1837 ; kept town school a fortnight that
year ; began the big red Journal, October, 1837 ;
found my first arrow-head, fall of 1837 ; wrote a
lecture (my first) on Society, March 14, 1838,
and read it before the Lyceum, in the Masons
Hall, April 11, 1838 ; went to Maine for a school
in May, 1838 ; commenced school in the Park-



BIOGRAPHICAL FACTS. 5

man house l in the summer of that year ; wrote an
essay on 4 Sound and Silence December, 1838 ;
fall of 1839 up the Merrimack to the White
Mountains ; Aulus Persius Flaccus (first
printed paper of consequence), February 10,
1840 ; the Ked Journal of 596 pages ended
June, 1840 ; Journal of 396 pages ended Janu
ary 31, 1841.

"Went to K. W. Emerson s in spring of
1841 (about April 25), and stayed there till
summer of 1843 ; went to William Emerson s,
Staten Island, May, 1843, and returned in De
cember, or to Thanksgiving, 1843 ; made pen
cils in 1844 ; Texas house to August 29, 1850 ;
at Walden, July, 1845, to fall of 1847 ; then at
E. W. Emerson s to fall of 1848, or while he
was in Europe ; then in the Yellow house (re
formed) till the present."

1 This had been the abode of old Deacon Parkman, a grand-
uncle of the late Francis Parkman, the historian, and son of
the Westborough clergyman from whom this distinguished
family descends. Deacon Parkman was a merchant hi Con
cord, and lived in what was then a good house. It stood in
the middle of the village, where the Public Library now is.
The "Texas" house was built by Henry Thoreau and his
father John ; it was named from a section of the village then
called " Texas," because a little remote from the churches and
schools ; perhaps the same odd fancy that had bestowed the
name of "Virginia" on the road of Thoreau s birthplace.
The " Yellow house re-formed " was a small cottage rebuilt
and enlarged by the Thoreaus in 1850 ; in this, on the main
street, Henry and his father and mother died.



6 YEARS OF DISCIPLINE. [1700-1787.

As may be inferred from this simple record of
the many mansions, chiefly small ones, in which
he had spent his first thirty-eight years, there
was nothing distinguished in the fortunes of
Thoreau s family, who were small merchants,
artisans, or farmers, mostly. On the father s
side they were from the isle of Jersey, where a
French strain mingled with his English or Scan
dinavian blood; on the other side he was of
Scotch and English descent, counting Jones,
D unbar, and Burns among his feminine ances
tors. Liveliness and humor came to him from
his Scotch connection ; from father and grand
father he inherited a grave steadiness of mind
rather at variance with his mother s vivacity.
Manual dexterity was also inherited ; so that he
practiced the simpler mechanic arts with ease
and skill; his mathematical training and his
outdoor habits fitted him for a land-surveyor;
and by that art, as well as by pencil-making, lec
turing, and writing, he paid his way in the world,
and left a small income from his writings to those
who survived him. He taught pupils also, as
did his brother and sisters ; but it was not an
occupation that he long followed after John s
death in 1842. With these introductory state
ments we may proceed to Thoreau s first corre
spondence with his brother and sisters.

As an introduction to the correspondence, and



JRT. 20.] COMMENCEMENT CONFERENCE. 7

a key to the young man s view of life, a passage
may be taken from Thoreau s " Part " at his col
lege commencement, August 16, 1837. He was
one of two to hold what was called a " Confer
ence " on " The Commercial Spirit," his alter
native or opponent in the dispute being Henry
Vose, also of Concord, who, in later years, was
a Massachusetts judge. Henry Thoreau, 1 then
just twenty, said :

" The characteristic of our epoch is perfect
freedom, freedom of thought and action. The
indignant Greek, the oppressed Pole, the jealous
American assert it. The skeptic no less than
the believer, the heretic no less than the faithful
child of the Church, have begun to enjoy it. It
has generated an unusual degree of energy and
activity ; it has generated the commercial spirit.
Man thinks faster and freer than ever before.
He, moreover, moves faster and freer. He is
more restless, because he is more independent
than ever. The winds and the waves are not
enough for him; he must needs ransack the
bowels of the earth, that he may make for
himself a highway of iron over its surface.

"Indeed, could one examine this beehive of

1 During the greater part of his college course he signed
himself D. H. Thoreau, as he was christened (David Henry) ;
but being constantly called " Henry," he put this name first
about the time he left college, and was seldom afterwards
known by the former initials.



8 YEARS OF DISCIPLINE. [1837,

ours from an observatory among the stars, he
would perceive an unwonted degree of bustle in
these later ages. There would be hammering
and chipping in one quarter ; baking and brew
ing, buying and selling, money-changing and
speechmaking in another. What impression
would he receive from so general and impartial
a survey. Would it appear to him that mankind
used this world as not abusing it ? Doubtless
he would first be struck with the profuse beauty
of our orb ; he would never tire of admiring its
varied zones and seasons, with their changes of
living. He could not but notice that restless
animal for whose sake it was contrived ; but
where he found one man to admire with him his
fair dwelling-place, the ninety and nine would be
scraping together a little of the gilded dust upon
its surface. . . . We are to look chiefly for the
origin of the commercial spirit, and the power
that still cherishes and sustains it, in a blind and
unmanly love of wealth. Wherever this exists,
it is too sure to become the ruling spirit ; and,
as a natural consequence, it infuses into all our
thoughts and affections a degree of its own selfish
ness ; we become selfish in our patriotism, selfish
in our domestic relations, selfish in our religion.
" Let men, true to their natures, cultivate the
moral affections, lead manly and independent
lives ; let them make riches the means and not



a:T.20.] COMMENCEMENT CONFERENCE. 9

the end of existence, and we shall hear no more
of the commercial spirit. The sea will not stag
nate, the earth will be as green as ever, and the air
as pure. This curious world which we inhabit
is more wonderful than it is convenient ; more
beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be
admired and enjoyed than used. The order of
things should be somewhat reversed ; the seventh
should be man s day of toil, wherein to earn his
living by the sweat of his brow ; and the other
six his Sabbath of the affections and the soul,
in which to range this widespread garden, and
drink in the soft influences and sublime revela
tions of Nature. . . . The spirit we are consider
ing is not altogether and without exception bad.
We rejoice in it as one more indication of the
entire and universal freedom that characterizes
the age in which we live, as an indication that
the human race is making one more advance in
that infinite series of progressions which awaits
it. We glory in those very excesses which are
a source of anxiety to the wise and good ; as an
evidence that man will not always be the slave
of matter, but erelong, casting off those earth-
born desires which identify him with the brute,
shall pass the days of his sojourn in this his
nether Paradise, as becomes the Lord of Crea
tion." 1

1 The impression made on one classmate and former room-



10 YEARS OF DISCIPLINE. [1837,

This passage is noteworthy as showing how
early the philosophic mind was developed in
Thoreau, and how much his thought and expres
sion were influenced by Emerson s first book,

mate (" chum ") of Thoreau, by this utterance, will be seen
by this fragment of a letter from James Richardson of Ded-
hani (afterwards Reverend J. Richardson), dated Dedham,
September 7, 1837:

" FRIEND THOREAU, After you had finished your part in
the Performances of Commencement (the tone and sentiment of
which, by the way, I liked much, as being of a sound philoso
phy), I hardly saw you again at all. Neither at Mr. Quincy s
levee, neither at any of our classmates evening entertainments,
did I find you ; though for the purpose of taking a farewell,
and leaving you some memento of an old chum, as well as on
matters of business, I much wished to see your face once more.
Of course you must be present at our October meeting,
notice of the time and place for which will be given in the
newspapers. I hear that you are comfortably located, in your
native town, as the guardian of its children, in the immediate
vicinity, I suppose, of one of our most distinguished apostles
of the future, R. W. Emerson, and situated under the minis
try of our old friend Reverend Barzillai Frost, to whom please
make my remembrances. I heard from you, also, that Con
cord Academy, lately under the care of Mr. Phineas Allen of
Northfield, is now vacant of a preceptor; should Mr. Hoar
find it difficult to get a scholar college-distinguished, perhaps
he would take up with one, who, though in many respects a
critical thinker, and a careful philosopher of language among
other things, has never distinguished himself in his class as a
regular attendant on college studies and rules. If so, could
you do me the kindness to mention my name to him as of one
intending to make teaching his profession, at least for a part
of his life. If recommendations are necessary, President
Quincy has offered me one, and I can easily get others."



J5T.20.] EMERSON AND THOREAU. 11

" Nature." But the soil in which that germina
ting seed fell was naturally prepared to receive
it; and the wide diversity between the master



Online LibraryHenry David ThoreauThe writings of Henry David Thoreau : with bibliographical introductions and full indexes (Volume 11) → online text (page 1 of 28)