From New Age Village
What happened to the cabin Thoreau built at Walden?
On September 6, 1847, Thoreau left the cabin which he himself had built and in which he had lived for two years, two months, and two days. Emerson then bought the cabin from Thoreau and resold it to his own gardener, Hugh Whelan, who intended to convert it into a cottage for his family. Whelan's drinking problems, however, prevented him from completing the necessary modifications and the cabin remained abandoned until 1849, when it was purchased by William Clark, who then moved it across town to his own farm and used it for grain storage. The roof was removed in 1868 and used as part of a pig sty, and in 1875 the remaining timber was used to patch up the Clark barn. A replica of the cabin has been erected across Route 126 from Walden Pond.
Source: Harding, Walter. The Days of Henry Thoreau (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1970), pp. 222-23.
Are there any photographs of Henry D. Thoreau?
Thoreau is known to have sat for two photographers. On June 18, 1856, in response to a request by an admirer named Calvin Greene, Thoreau sat for a daguerreotype image at the Benjamin D. Maxham studio in Worcester, Massachusetts. In addition to Greene's daguerreotype, Thoreau had two other images made for friends H.G.O. Blake and Theophilus Brown. Today, Blake's copy is in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. The Greene copy is in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The third image is owned by the Thoreau Society and exhibited at the Thoreau Institute in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
In 1861 Thoreau sat for another photographic image, this time for friend Daniel Ricketson, at the establishment of E. S. Dunshee. Two ambrotypes were made at that time, one of which is owned by the Concord Museum. The other has been lost since it was sold at auction in 1924.
Another daguerreotype, which could possibly be a sixth image of Thoreau, was discovered in an antique shop in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1993. Although there are similarities between this image and those known to be Thoreau, much research and testing remains to be done before we can be certain the likeness is indeed Thoreau's. Is there a time line available for the life of Henry D. Thoreau?
The most extensive time line of Thoreau's life is Ray Borst's The Thoreau Log: A Documentary Life of Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862 (New York: G.K. Hall, 1992), over 600 pages of information about day-by-day events in Thoreau's life. You can find shorter time lines in a number of books about Thoreau, such as: The Cambridge Companion to Henry David Thoreau, edited by Joel Myerson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. xv-xvi; The New Thoreau Handbook, edited by Walter Harding and Michael Meyer (New York: New York University Press, 1980), pp. xiii-xv.
How did he die? Where is he buried?
Thoreau died on May 6, 1862, at the age of 44. He had contracted a bad cold while counting tree rings in December of 1861; he died of tuberculosis. Funeral services were held in the First Parish Church in Concord, MA, and he was buried in the New Burying Ground, at the foot of Bedford Street, where his brother John, his sister Helen, and his father were also buried. Between 1863 and 1874, the graves of all of the members of the immediate family, Henry's included, were moved to "Author's Ridge" in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
Sources: Robert Richardson, Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 385-389, and Raymond Adams, "Thoreau's Burials," in American Literature 12 (March 1940):105-107.
Was Thoreau involved in the Underground Railroad?
Yes. Although there is no direct evidence that Thoreau's cabin at Walden was a "station" for runaway slaves fleeing the South, it is quite certain that the Thoreau family home in Concord was part of the Underground Railroad. Thoreau's mother--and all of the relatives who resided at the house--were active in the local anti-slavery movement. In his Journal, Thoreau writes about a number of times he assisted fugitive slaves on their way north. He hid them, drove them to the train station, bought their tickets, and sometimes even accompanied them to the next station. Professor Sandra Petrulionis (Penn State, Altoona), the editor of Journal 8: 1854, is currently writing a book entitled "Murder to the State": The Abolitionist Career of Henry D. Thoreau, which explores the history and ramifications of Thoreau's involvement in the anti-slavery movement. Could you suggest ideas and sources for studying Thoreau's philosophy of living a spiritual life?
The chapter called "Visitors" in Walden is a good place to begin. Also, The New Thoreau Handbook by Walter Harding and Michael Meyer (New York: New York University Press, 1980) offers many insights into this topic, particularly chapter 4, "Thoreau's Ideas." A more recent work, Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1986), is a helpful source as well. Other suggestions: David Lyttle, Studies in Religion in Early American Literature: Edwards, Poe, Channing, Emerson, Some Minor Transcendentalists, Hawthorne and Thoreau (Lanham: University Press of America, 1983); Kenneth Walter Cameron, Emerson and Thoreau as Mythologists: Or Building One's Spiritual World (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1997); Catherine Albanese, ed., The Spirituality of the American Transcendentalists: Selected Writings of Emerson, Alcott, Parker, and Thoreau (Mercer University Press, 1988); Arthur Versluis, American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions (New York: Oxford, 1993).
Did Thoreau ever write about his first love? Is there any indication that he fell in love more than once in his lifetime?
Thoreau did write about love in general, and a love in particular in his Journal, especially during 1839-1840 when he was quite smitten with, and eventually proposed to, Ellen Sewall. Prior to his meeting Sewall in July 1839, he wrote a short poem about love which he included in his Journal entry for January 20, 1839 (p. 66 of the Princeton University Press Edition of Journal 1).
Meeting Ellen Sewall on the 20th of July, 1839, gave him more to write about. As Thoreau scholar Walter Harding wrote, "By July 25 he was beyond poetry." On that day he wrote in his Journal, "There is no remedy for love but to love more" (p. 81 of Princeton Edition). Early in November of 1840 Thoreau wrote a letter to Ellen Sewall, in which he proposed (she said "no"). The letter no longer survives, but it is likely that his November 1, 1840, Journal entry was related to that letter. It reads:
I thought that the sun of our love should have risen as noiselessly as the sun out of the sea, and we sailors have found ourselves steering between the tropics as if the broad day had lasted forever. You know how the sun comes up from the sea when you stand on the cliff, and does'nt startle you, but every thing, and you too are helping it. (Princeton Edition, Journal 1, p. 193).
Thoreau's daily Journal from July 1839 to November 1840 includes many entries related to his feelings of love for Ellen Sewall. Walter Harding reported that Thoreau carried Ellen Sewall's memory with him to the end. In 1862, shortly before he died, Thoreau is reported to have said to his sister, Sophia: "I have always loved her."
As to whether Thoreau fell in love more than once, a good source of information is Walter Harding's The Days of Henry Thoreau (New York: Knopf, 1970), chapter six of which deals with this very topic. In that chapter, Harding discusses others for whom Thoreau developed great affection, including Lucy Jackson Brown and Mary Russell. Henry Seidel Canby also wrote of the Sewall episode and others in his Thoreau (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1939).
There has been speculation as to whether Thoreau was homosexual. The best discussion of this is found in Walter Harding, "Thoreau's Sexuality," in Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 21, no. 3 (1991), pp. 23-45. Another question on this list deals with this topic as well.
What is the complete quote about "a different drummer"?
This quote is from Walden: "Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 326.
Did Thoreau really start a major forest fire accidentally, and how old was he at that time?
Yes, Thoreau did accidentally set a fire that he says burned over a hundred acres. It was on April 30, 1844; he was 26 at the time. Thoreau and Edward Hoar, son of Concord's leading lawyer and wealthiest citizen, were cooking a dinner of fish they had caught. They made their fire by the shore of Fair Haven Pond, and the surrounding grass caught and spread the fire, which was quickly out of control.
For more information, see Henry D. Thoreau, Journal 3: 1848-1851 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), pp. 75-78 and Annotation 75.16-78.19; see also Walter Harding, The Days of Henry Thoreau (New York: A. Knopf, 1965), pp. 159-162. Thoreau's description in Walden of the inhabitants of Concord following the fire bell owes something to his journal account of his own experience (Princeton University Press, 1971, p. 93).
What is the correct pronunciation of "Thoreau"? Is the emphasis on the first or the second syllable?
If you go to Concord today, you can hear people pronounce Thoreau's name as he and his family almost certainly did--they put the accent on the first syllable, and the "o" is short, so it sounds like "thorough." The current pronunciation in Thoreau's home town is significant because the community has not undergone a big linguistic change or huge influx of people since Thoreau's time, and the long-time residents are likely to have learned their pronunciation from those who learned it from those who knew the family.
Another piece of evidence is the fact that one of Thoreau's correspondents, Daniel Ricketson, sometimes addressed him in letters as "Mr. Thorough" or "Mr. Thoroughly Good," apparently playing on the pronunciation as an indication of character.
Where can I find the quote "if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams . . ."?
This frequently quoted passage is from Walden. In full, the passage reads:
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. 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. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Source: Henry D. Thoreau, Walden (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971) pp. 323-324.
Was Thoreau fluent in any language other than English?
Thoreau was quite fluent in French, read it as easily as he read English, and also knew German, Italian, Spanish, and Latin. Mostly, we know that he read these languages well, but his fluency in the spoken language is not as well known.
Source: Walter Harding and Michael Meyer, The New Thoreau Handbook (New York: New York University Press, 1980).
What is the Thoreau quote about Harvard and the "roots of knowledge"?
According to Walter Harding's The Days of Henry Thoreau (New York: Knopf, 1970), Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted that most of the branches of learning were taught at Harvard, to which Thoreau replied: "Yes, indeed, all the branches and none of the roots."
Did Thoreau ever witness a game of baseball being played?
Thoreau refers in his Journal to baseball games played on the fields around Concord:
"Fast day-- Some fields are dried sufficiently for the games of ball--with which this season is commonly ushered in. I associate this day, when I can remember it, with games of baseball played over behind the hill in the russet fields toward Sleepy Hollow where the snow was just melted & dried up. --& also with the uncertainty I always experienced whether the shops would be shut-- Whether one should have an ordinary dinner an extraordinary one--or none at all-- and whether there would be more than one service at the meeting house--this last uncertainty old folks share with me.-- This is a windy day drying up the fields-- The first we have had for a long time"
[10 April 1856, from a copy of the manuscript].
Whether the ball games that Thoreau is remembering are what we today call "baseball" is a point open to debate; one cannot be certain about the period of time to which he is here referring.
Was "Henry David Thoreau" his real name?
Yes . . . and no. Thoreau was actually christened "David Henry Thoreau" on October 12, 1817, three months after his birth on July 12. Between his birth and christening, his paternal uncle David died, and so the new Thoreau was named after him. Thoreau reversed the order of his names after graduating from Harvard in 1837. Although he never filed the legal petitions to make the change formal, he persisted in signing himself "Henry David" until his death--often to the amusement of his neighbors.
Source: Harding, Walter. The Days of Henry Thoreau. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1970. pp. 11, 54.
Was Thoreau gay?
Thoreau's sexuality has long been a subject of speculation; even his contemporaries commented on his apparent lack of interest in conventional romance. The most exhaustive examination of the evidence on both sides of this question is Professor Walter Harding's article, "Thoreau's Sexuality," published in the Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 21, no. 3 (1991). Basing his conclusions mostly on evidence from Thoreau's Journal, Harding suggests that Thoreau's affectional orientation was probably homosexual, though there is no evidence that he was physically intimate with either sex. Although Thoreau proposed marriage to one woman (and was proposed to by another), Harding suggests that the preponderance of the evidence indicates that he had a fundamental attraction to other men, one sublimated through his writing and nature observation.
What did Thoreau do for a living?
Thoreau's first work after graduating from Harvard was in his father's Concord pencil factory. Concerted efforts to find a teaching position having failed, he began his own school, first out of his mother's house and then, with his brother, at the Concord Academy. The Academy closed three years after its opening due to John Thoreau's failing health. In 1843, Thoreau spent a short time on Staten Island trying, with little success, to make a living writing for the New York periodicals. He returned to his family and to the pencil factory, and was able to effect a number of improvements in the family's manufacturing concern. In the early 1850s, Thoreau's facility as a land surveyor became widely known and he supported himself by surveying through the 50s. Thoreau published two books in his lifetime and often gave lectures, but these were never profitable enough for him to give up his surveying. He saw surveying as an opportunity to pursue his real interest: observing the natural world around him. "Surveying," he writes in the Journal, "seems a noble employment which brings you within hearing of [the birds]" (29 April 1856). In 1847, Thoreau described his life for the members of his Harvard class this way: "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-Laborer, a Pencil-Maker, a Glass-paper Maker, a Writer, and sometimes a Poetaster."
The PBS documentary "The West" uses a Thoreau quote. Where is it from?
The full text of the quotation is "Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free. . . . I should not lay so much stress on this fact, if I did not believe that something like this is the prevailing tendency of my countrymen. I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe." These lines are from Thoreau's essay "Walking."
What poem did Thoreau write in jail?
As is well known, Thoreau was jailed on July 23rd and 24th, 1846 for refusing to pay his poll tax. There is no documentary evidence that he wrote a poem (or anything else) during the one night he spent in the Concord jail and none of the poems he wrote that year relates to that experience. He does discuss his night in jail in the famous "Resistance to Civil Government," and mentions the fact that other prisoners had written verses in the jail, a circular of which his cellmate shows him. See his private Journal (Princeton Edition, Vol. 2, pp. 262-65) where he discusses the matter further.
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