Of Interest


About Thoreau: Obituaries

Daily Citizen & News (Lowell), 8 May 1862

Death of Henry D. Thoreau.  The Boston Transcript of last evening announces the death of this charming writer, yesterday morning, at his home in Concord . . . Mr. Thoreau was an original thinker and had become widely known and esteemed in literary circles.  He has for many years shown unfaultering devotion to the anti-slavery cause. His departure, in the prime of manhood, will be greatly lamented.  Mr. Thoreau was 44 years of age.

Boston Daily Advertiser, 9 May 1861

Henry D. Thoreau.
          Died at Concord, on Tuesday, 6 May, Henry D. Thoreau, aged 44 years.
          The premature death of Mr. Thoreau is a bitter disappointment to many friends who had set no limit to their confidence in his power and future performance. He is known to the public as the author of two remarkable books, "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers," published in 1849, and "Walden, or Life in the Woods," published in 1854. These books have never had a wide circulation, but are well known to the best readers, and have exerted a powerful influence on an important class of earnest and contemplative persons.
          Mr. Thoreau was born in Concord, in 1817; was graduated at Harvard University, in 1837. Resisting the example of his companions, and the advice of friends, he declined entering either of the learned professions, and for a long time pursued his studies as his genius led him, without apparent method. But being a good mathematician and with an early and controlling love of nature, he afterwards came by imperceptible steps into active employment as a land-surveyor, — whose art he had first learned in the satisfaction of his private questions, — a profession which gave him lucrative work, and not too much of it, and in the running of town lines and the boundaries to farms and woodlands, carried him precisely where he wished to go, — to the homes of new plants, and of swamp and forest birds, as well as of wild landscape, and Indian relics. A man of simple tastes, hardy habits, and of preternatural powers of observation, he became a patient and successful student of nature in every aspect, and obtained an acquaintance with the history of the river on whose banks he lived, and with the habits of plants and animals, which made him known and valued by naturalists. He gathered a private museum of natural curiosities, and has left a large collection of manuscript records of his varied experiments and observations, which are of much more than scientific value. His latest studies were in forest trees, the succession of forest growths, and the annual increment of wood. He knew the literature of natural history, from Aristotle and Pliny, down to the English writers on his favorite departments.
          But his study as a naturalist, which went on increasing, and had no vacations, was less remarkable than the power of his mind and the strength of his character. He was a man of stoic temperament, highly intellectual, of a perfect probity, full of practical skill, an expert woodsman and boatman, acquainted with the use of tools, a good planter and cultivator, when he saw fit to plant, but without any taste for luxury, without the least ambition to be rich, or to be popular, and almost without sympathy in any of the common motives of men around him. He led the life of a philosopher, subordinating all other pursuits and so-called duties to his pursuit of knowledge and to his own estimate of duty. He was a man of firm mind and direct dealing, never disconcerted, and not to be bent by any inducement from his own course. He had a penetrating insight into men with whom he conversed, and was not to be deceived or used by any party, and did not conceal his disgust at any duplicity. As he was incapable of any the least dishonesty or untruth, he had nothing to hide, and kept his haughty independence to the end. And when we now look back at the solitude of this erect and spotless person, we lament that he did not live long enough for all men to know him.
                                                                                                   E. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]


Boston Journal, 9 May 1862


Death of an Author.   Henry D. Thoreau, the eccentric author of "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers," and "Walden, or Life in the Woods," dies at Concord, Mass., on Tuesday, aged forty-four years.

The Liberator, 9 May 1862

We regret to hear of the death of Henry D. Thoreau, of Concord, Mass. He was esteemed and beloved by many.

New-York Daily Tribune, 10 May 1862

Henry D. Thoreau, the genial writer on the natural scenery of New-England, died at Concord, Mass., on Tuesday, May 6, after a protracted illness of more than eighteen months. He was a native of Boston, but removed with his family at the age of five years to Concord, where he has since resided. He graduated at Harvard College in 1837, and was nearly forty-five years old at the time of his death. His writings include A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers; Walden, or Life in the Woods; and various contributions to the periodical literature of the day. They are remarkable for their freedom and orginality of thought, their quaint humor, and their warm sympathy with all the manifold aspects of nature. His disease was consumption, and, as we are informed, "his humor and cheerful courage did not forsake him during his sickness, and he met death as gayly as Theramenes in Xenophon's story." Mr. Thoreau, in spite of the racy individuality of his character, was much beloved and respected by his townsmen, and his writings have numerous admirers. He was honored with a public funeral from the Town Hall of Concord, on Friday, the 9th inst.

Boston Transcript, 10 May 1862

The funeral of Thoreau, which took place in Concord yesterday, drawing together a large company of his townspeople, with some votive pilgrims from parts beyond, was an occasion mire impressive and memorable, by much, than is the wont of such scenes. It derived uncommon interest from the remarkable character of the man whose earthly life was ended, and from the weight and worth of the tributary words so fitly, so tenderly spoken there by friendly and illustrious lips. As that fading image of pathetic clay, strewn with wild flowers and forest sprigs, lay awaiting interment, thoughts of its former occupant seemed blent with all the local landscapes. And though the church bell — after affecting old custom — tolled the forty-four years he had numbered, we could not deem that he was dead whose ideas and sentiments were so vividly alive in our souls.

          Selections from the Bible were read by the minister. A brief ode, written for the purpose by William Ellery Channing, was plaintively sung. Mr. Emerson read an address of considerable length, marked by all his felicity of conception and diction — an exquisite appreciation of the salient and subtle traits of his friend's genius — a high strain of sanitive thoughts, full of beauty and cheerfulness, chastened by the gentle sorrow of the hour. Referring to the Alpine flower adelweiss, or noble purity, which the young Switzers sometimes lose their lives in plucking from perilous heights, Mr. Emerson said, "Could we pierce to where he is we would see him wearing profuse chaplets of it; for it belongs to him. Where there is knowledge, where there is virtue, where ther eis beauty, where there is progress, there is now his home."
          Mr. Alcott read some very appropriate passages from the writings of teh deceased, and the service closed with a prayer by the Rev. Mr. Reynolds. A long procession was then formed to follow the body to the grave. The hands of friends reverently lowered it inot the bosom of the earth, on the pleasant hillside 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. And now that it is too late for any further boon amidst his darling haunts below,
                           There will yet his mother yield,
                           A pillow in her greenest field,
                           Nor the June flowers scorn to cover
                           The clay of their departed lover.

Salem Observer, 10 May 1862

Death of Henry D. Thoreau. We regret to notice the death of this charming writer at Concord on Wednesday. The Transcript remarks that his disease was consumption, and his last hours were among the calmest of his life. Thus has passed away one of the most original thinkers our country has produced. His works will always be read with profound attention, as no man ever lived closer to Nature, and reported her secrets more eloquently. His “Walden” and “Week on the Concord River” are striking marks of his genius. A writer in the April “Atlantic Monthly,” in an article called “The Forester,” gives a fine estimate of the rich qualities of his mind, and now that the “white-winged reaper” has come to bear him hence, that paper will be studied with a new interest. Henry Thoreau’s place in American literature is among the best.

Daily Citizen & News (Lowell), 12 May 1862

The funeral of Henry D. Thoreau, which took place in Concord on Friday, was attended by a large company of citizens of that and neighboring towns, and the services are described as unusually impressive. Selections of Scripture were read, and a brief ode, prepared for the occasion by W.E. Channing, was sung, when Mr. Emerson read an address, amrked, says the Transcript, by all his felicity of conception amd diction — an exquisite appreiation of the salient and subtle traits of his freind's genius.

The National Almanac and Annual Record for the Year 1863 (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1863), 1863

THOREAU, DAVID HENRY, died in Concord, Mass., May 6. He was born in that town, July 12, 1817, graduated at Harvard College in 1837, taught school for three years altogether, was a member of the family of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and, after giving up teaching, supported himself by manual labor as a farmer, pencil-maker, painter, surveyor, and carpenter. He made frequent pedestrian excursions to the woods and mountains of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, &c., lived for more than two years in a solitary hut constructed by himself in the woods near Concord, acquired considerable fame as an eccentric philosopher, and was the author of two remarkable works,—“A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers” (1849), and “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” (1854), and some posthumous works since published. He was never married.

Necrology of Alumni of Harvard College, 1851-52 to 1862-63 (Boston: John Wilson and Son, 1864)

[Class of] 1837. — David Henry Thoreau died in Concord, Mass., 6 May, 1862, aged 44 years. He was son of John and Cynthia (Dunbar) Thoreau, and was born in Concord, 12 July, 1817. His father, who was a pencil-maker, son of John and Jeannie (Burns) Thoreau, was born in Boston. His grandfather came from St. Helier, on the Island of Jersey, and was of French origin. A Burns left property in Sterling, Scotland, to his wife, the said Jeannie Burns, and said it was worth attending to; but the papers to obtain it, though three attempts were made, never reached Scotland. This was about fifty years ago. His grandfather had a brother Philip in the Island of Jersey. he was a cooper; but business was dull; and he shipped as a sailor on board a vessel in which John Adams went to France, in the American revolution. He came to this country about 1773. After the termination of the war, he went into business at No. 45, Long Wharf, Boston, in a very small way, in company with a Mr. Phillips, under the firm of Thoreau and Phillips. He accumulated a large property, and removed to Concord, where he died of consumption about one year afterwards, in consequence of a cold caught in patrolling the streets in Boston, in a heavy rain in the night, when a Catholic riot was expected, about 1801. His first wife died not long before he did; and he married a Miss Kettle, of Concord, sometimes spelled Kettell, by whom he had no children. Mr. Thoreau’s mother was daughter of Asa and Mary (Jones) Dunbar and was born in Keene, N.H. Her mother belonged to the Jones family of Weston. Her father, Rev. Asa Dunbar (H.C. 1767), was a minister in Salem, and afterwards a lawyer in Keene, an eminent freemason; died 22 june, 1787, aged 42 years, and was buried with masonic honors. Young Thoreau was fitted for college at Concord Academy by Phineas Allen (H.C. 1825). While in college, he kept school six weeks in Canton, and boarded with Orestes A. Brownson. They studied the German reader together very industriously, and talked philosophy till eleven o’clock, nights. Thoreau became sick, and was obliged to leave his school. This was in his junior year. After graduating, he taught the public school a few weeks; then a private school in Concord two or three years. Not long afterwards, he spent six months as a private tutor in the family of William Emerson (H.C. 1818), on Staten Island, N.Y. For two years at one time, and one year at another, he was a member of the family of Ralph Waldo Emerson (H.C. 1821) in Concord. With the exception of the six months at Staten Island, he resided constantly in Concord, leading chiefly an agricultural and literary life; supporting himself by his own hands, being a pencil-maker; often employed as a painter, surveyor, and carpenter. Nearly every year, he made an excursion on foot to the woods and mountains in Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and other places. For two years and two months continuously, he lived by himself in a small house or hut of his own building, about a mile and a half from Concord village. He was well known to the public as the author of two remarkable books, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” published in 1849; and “Walden, or Life in the Woods,” published in 1854. These books have never had a wide circulation, but are well known to the best readers, and have exerted a powerful influence on an important class of earnest and contemplative persons. He led the life of a philosopher, subordinating all other pursuits and so-called duties to his pursuit of knowledge, and to his own estimate of duty. He was a man of firm mind and direct dealing; never disconcerted, and not to be turned, by any inducement, from his own course. He had a penetrating insight into men with whom he conversed, and was not to be deceived or used by any party, and did not conceal his disgust at any duplicity. As he was incapable of the least dishonesty or untruth, he had nothing to hide; and kept his haughty independence to the end. He was never married.

Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History, Vol. IX (Boston: Printed for the Society, 1865)

May 21, 1862.
Dr. C. T. Jackson read the following notice of the death of Mr. Thoreau: —

          Henry D. Thoreau, of Concord, Mass., died, at the age of 44 years, of pulmonary consumption.
          His grandfather was a French emigrant from the island of Guernsey, and settled in Concord. His father was well known as a manufacturer of black-lead pencils, an art which young Thoreau learned, but never practised as a business, his tastes leading him wholly into the field of science, while he abhorred trade.
          Henry D. Thoreau was distinguished for the great accuracy of his observations, and for the thoroughness with which he executed every research upon which he entered. He was esteemed as an accurate land surveyor, the only business upon which he ever entered for pay. As a botanist he was highly esteemed by those who are the best judges of the subject.
          As an observer of the habits of animals he was unrivalled. He would wait all day, if it was necessary, for a bird to approach him. He said their curiosity would bring them to examine him if he would remain quiet long enough ; and he generally managed to make familiar acquaintance with all living creatures he met with in his rambles through the forest. Thoreau had a genuine love of nature, and pursued natural history for his own gratification, and not with any ambitious views. He was greatly troubled to find that anything had escaped the observation of eminent naturalists, and seemed to be surprised that anything should have been left by them for him to discover.
          Thoreau was a man of original genius, and very peculiar in his views of society and the ways of life. He was conscientiously scrupulous, and waa opposed to aiding or abetting, even by a poll-tax, measures which he did not approve of, and therefore got into trouble occasionally with the constituted authorities of the town, who could not indulge him in his opposition to a tax because any part of it might go to support the militia; so they twice shut him up in the jail, from whence his friends took him by paying his tax against his protest.
          His published works are full of knowledge of the secrets of nature, and are enlivened by much quaint humor, and warmed with kindness towards all living beings. Those who knew Thoreau best loved and appreciated him most.

Dr. Jackson proposed the following resolutions, which were adopted: —

         Resolved, That the Boston Society of Natural History has learned with profound regret the premature decease of their corresponding member, Henry D. Thoreau, of Concord, who was a most faithful and devoted student of nature, a keen and appreciating observer, whose researches, had longer life been granted him, promised important acquisitions to science.
          Resolved, That a copy of this resolution be transmitted to the mother and sister of this eminent naturalist, with expressions of the warm sympathy of this Society in their great loss.

Dr. Jackson announced the donation of Mr. Thoreau's collections to the Society. These consisted of

  1. His collection of New England pressed plants, numbering more than one thousand species, arranged by himself, together with those western plants collected in his journey of 1861.
  2. His collection of birds' eggs and nests, carefully identified by himself, composed of New England species.
  3. The collection of Indian antiquities, consisting of stone implements and weapons (chiefly) found by himself in Concord.

Supplement: Cyclopedia of American Literature, Obituaries of Authors, Conintuation of Former Articles, Notices of Earlier and Later Writers Omitted from Previous Editions (New York: Charles Scribner and Company, 1866)

HENRY D. THOREAU. [Vol . II., p. 658-6S6.] Mr. Thoreau died of consumption, at Concord, Massachusetts, May 7, 1862. Several volumes of his writings have been published from his manuscripts and uncollected essays since his death: Excursions in Field and Forest, the Maine Woods, Cape Cod, Letters to Various Persons. A biographical notice of the author, by his friend Mr. R. W. Emerson, is prefixed to the volume entitled "Excursions" (Boston, 1863). It is a pleasing sketch of the thoughtful scholar and original student of nature, whose peculiarities and humors of character, love of independence, kindly vein of observation, and happy talent of description will long cause his writings to be cherished. 


Thoreau's grave (Photographer: Herbert Gleason, from The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, 1906)

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. — Journal, 5 August 1851

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