the Thoreau Log.
Æt. 20.
January 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau writes an essay on Charles Milton’s poems “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” (Early Essays and Miscellanies, 73-78; MS, Abernethy Collection of American Literature. Middlebury College Special Collections, Middlebury, Vt.).

9 January 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out The works of the English poets, from Chaucer to Cowper, volume 3 edited by Alexander Chalmers and Essays on the formation and publication of opinions, and on other subjects by Samuel Bailey from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

12 January 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Adventures on the Columbia river, including the narrative of a residence of six years on the western side of the Rocky mountains among various tribes of Indians hitherto unknown by Ross Cox from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

15 January 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau writes an untitled (and apparently unassigned) essay on “madness” (Early Essays and Miscellanies, 79; The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:183).

16 January 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Journal of a voyage up the river Missouri, performed in eighteen hundred eleven by Henry Marie Brackenridge from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288; The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:184).

19 January 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Terra australis cognita, volume 1 by Charles de Brosses from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

20 January 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau submits an essay on the “Characteristics of the Speeches of the Devils in Paradise Lost, Book II,” for a class assignment given him on 16 December 1836 (Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 2:12; The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:184; Early Essays and Miscellanies, 79-83).

25 January 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out The Roman history, from the foundation of the city of Rome, to the destruction of the Western empire, volume 2 by Oliver Goldsmith from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

30 January 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Gentleman’s Magazine, volume 5 from Harvard Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

6 February 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out The poetical works of John Milton, volume 5 from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

9 February 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out The prose works of John Milton, volume 7 from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

17 February 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau submits an essay on the prompt “Speak of the characteristics which, whether humorously or reproachfully, we are in the habit of ascribing to the people of different sections of our own country,” for an assignment given him on 3 February (Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 2:13; Early Essays and Miscellanies, 83-86; MS, Abernethy Collection of American Literature. Middlebury College Special Collections, Middlebury, Vt.).

20 February 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Ornithological biography, or An account of the birds of the United States of America, volumes 1–3 by John James Audubon from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

3 March 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau submits a college essay on the prompt “Compare some of the Methods of gaining or exercising public Influence: as, Lectures, the Pulpit, Associations, the Press, Political Office,” for a class assignment given him on 17 February (Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 2:13; Early Essays and Miscellanies, 86-88; MS, Abernethy Collection of American Literature. Middlebury College Special Collections, Middlebury, Vt.).

9 March 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Specimens of the British poets, with biographical and critical notices and an essay on English poetry, volume 1 by Thomas Campbell from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

13 March 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out The history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire, volume 1 by Edward Gibbon, The Italian sketchbook by Henry Theodore Tuckerman, and Reliques of ancient English poetry, volume 2 edited by Thomas Percy from the library of the Institute of 1770.

(The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:86)

Thoreau also checks out The works of the English poets, from Chaucer to Cowper, volume 1 edited by Alexander Chalmers from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

17 March 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau submits an essay on the prompt “Name, and speak of Titles of Books, either as pertinent to the matter, or merely ingenious and attractive,” for a class assignment given him on 3 March (Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 2:13; Early Essays and Miscellanies, 88-93).

20 March 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau finishes his second term of his senior year. He earns 650 points to give him a cumulative total of 12,112 and ranking him twenty-third in his class of forty-four students. He also starts his final term at Harvard with the following classes:

  • Intellectual Philosophy taught by Francis Bowen; reading A treatise on political economy by Jean Baptiste Say and Commentaries on the constitution of the United States by Joseph Story
  • Natural History taught by Thaddeus William Harris; reading The philosophy of natural history by William Smellie
  • English with bi-weekly themes and monthly forensics taught by Edward T. Channing
  • German taught by Hermann Bokum
  • Spanish taught by Francis Sales
  • Lectures on German and Northern Literature with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Lectures on Mineralogy with John White Webster
  • Lectures on Anatomy with John C. Warren
  • Lectures on Natural History (Zoology and Botany) with Thaddeus William Harris
(Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 1:18)
23 March 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out an unidentified item recorded as “Book of Shipwrecks” from the library of the Institute of 1770 (The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:86).

Thoreau also checks out Lectures on the English poets by William Hazlitt and Philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful by Edmund Burke from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

30 March 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Letters on demonology and witchcraft by Sir Walter Scott from the library of the Institute of 1770 (The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:86).

Thoreau also checks out Poems on several occasions: and two critical essays by Samuel Say and Lives of the most eminent English poets, volume 1 by Samuel Johnson from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

31 March 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau submits an essay on the prompt “‘The Thunder’s roar, the Lightning’s flash, the billows’ roar, the earthquake’s shock, all derive their dread sublimity from death.’ The Inheritance, ch. 56. Examine this theory,” for a class assignment given him on 17 March (Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 2:13; Early Essays and Miscellanies, 93-99).

3 April 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. Trans. by Thomas Carlyle by Johann Goethe and renews The history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire, volume 1 by Edward Gibbon from the library of the Institute of 1770.

(The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:86)
24 April 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Narrative of the Arctic land expedition to the mouth of the Great Fish River and along the shores of the Arctic Ocean, in the years 1833, 1834, and 1835 by Sir George Back and Poems of Mr. Gray; To which are added memoirs of his life and writings, volumes 1-4 by Thomas Gray from Harvard College Library.

(Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288)
27 April 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out The works of John Milton, historical, political, and miscellaneous, volume 1 and De la religion, considérée dans sa source, ses formes et ses développements, volume 1 by Henri Benjamin Constant de Rebecque from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

28 April 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau writes an essay on “the opinions of Dymond and Mrs. Opie respecting the general obligation to tell the truth; are they sound and applicable? Vide Dymond’s ‘Essays on Morality’ and Mrs. Opie’s ‘Illustrations of Lying’” (Early Essays and Miscellanies, 99-101; MS, Albert Edgar Lownes collection on Henry David Thoreau, John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, R.I.).

May 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thaddeus William Harris and Henry David Thoreau, along with some other friends, found Harvard’s Natural History Society

(Henry David Thoreau: A life, 68)

1 May 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out a book by Robert Burns from the library of the Institute of 1770, though the title is unidentified. At the time, the library held Works in 3 volumes, The life of Robert Burns, and Poems (The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:86).

5 May 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau submits an essay on the prompt “Paley in his Natural Theology, chap. 23, speaks of minds utterly averse to ‘the flatness of being content with common reasons’—and considers the highest minds ‘most liable to this repugnancy.’ See the passage, and explain the moral or intellectual defect,” for a class assignment given him on 31 March.

(Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 2:13; Early Essays and Miscellanies, 101-6)
18 May 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out An introduction to physiological and systematical botany by Sir James Edward Smith from Harvard College University (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

19 May 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau submits an essay on the prompt “‘The clock sends me to bed at ten, & makes me rise at eight. I go to bed awake, and arise asleep; but I have ever held conformity one of the best arts of life, and though I might choose my own hours, I think it proper to follow theirs.’ E. Montague’s Letters. Speak of the duty, inconvenience and dangers of conformity, in little things and great,” for a class assignment given him on 5 May.

(Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 2:13; Early Essays and Miscellanies, 105-106; MS, Abernethy collection of American Literature. Middlebury College Special Collections, Middlebury, Vt.).
25 May 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Robin Hood: A collection of all the ancient poems, songs, and ballads, volume 1 by Joseph Ritson from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

26 May 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau writes an essay on the prompt “Whether Moral Excellence tend directly to increase Intellectual Power?” (Early Essays and Miscellanies, 106-108; MS, Abernethy collection of American Literature. Middlebury College Special Collections, Middlebury, Vt.).

ca. June 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau writes an autobiography for his class book (Early Essays and Miscellanies, 113-115; MS, pp. 105 and 106, Harvard University Archives, Cambridge, Mass.).

1 June 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out De la religion, considérée dans sa source, ses formes et ses développements, volumes 2 and 3 by Henri Benjamin Constant de Rebecque from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

2 June 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau writes an essay on the prompt “The mark or standard by which a nation is judged to be barbarous or civilized. Barbarities of civilized states,” for a class assignment given him on 19 May (Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 2:13; Early Essays and Miscellanies, 108-111; MS, Abernethy collection of American Literature. Middlebury College Special Collections, Middlebury, Vt.).

15 June 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau earns $25 from the exhibition money granted to Seniors (Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 1:19).

22 June 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon poetry by John Josias Conybeare and Elements of Anglo-Saxon grammar by Joseph Bosworth from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

25 June 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau gives a farewell gift of a first edition of Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson to William Allen and inscribes it:

To William Allen from his friend and classmate

  D. H. Thoreau

“I long hae thought, my youthfu’ friend,
  A something to have sent you,
Tho’ it should serve nae other end,
  Than just a kind memento!
But how the subject-theme may gang
  Ane hardly can determine;
I’m sure its not an empty sang,
  Nor yet is it a sermon.”
True it is neither a sang nor a sermon, but the author has evidently hit upon that happy medium, that pleasant debateable ground, Nature, into which the former makes frequent irruptions, without ever settling down upon it in good earnest.
(Emerson Society Quarterly 7 (2nd quarter 1957):2, 18)

Thoreau also checks out Introduction to the history of philosophy by Victor Cousin and John Milton: his life and times, religious and political opinions by Joseph Ivimey from the library of the Institute of 1770, and renews Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which he checked out on 3 April.

(The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:86)

Josiah Quincy, president of Harvard University, writes to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

My dear Sir,

  Your view concerning Thoreau is entirely in consent with that which I entertain. His general conduct has been satisfactory and I am willing and desirous that whatever falling off there had been in his scholarship should be attributable to his sickness. He had, however, imbibed some notions concerning emulation & college rank, which had a natural tendency to diminish his zeal, if not his exertion. His instructors were impressed with the conviction that he was indifferent, even to a degree that was faulty and that they could not recommend him consistent with the rule, by which they are usually governed in relation to beneficiaries. I have, always, entertained a respect for, and interests in him, and was willing to attribute any apparent neglect, or indifference to his ill health rather than to wilfulness. I obtained from the instructors the authority to state all the facts to the Corporation, and submit the result to their discretion. This I did, and that body granted twenty-five dollars, which was within ten, or at most fifteen dollars of any sum, he would have received had no objection been made. There is no doubt that, from some cause, an unfavorable opinion has been entertained, since his return after his sickness, of his disposition to exert himself. To what it has been owing may be doubtful. I appreciate very fully the goodness of his heart and the strictness of his moral principle; and have done as much for him as, under the circumstances, was possible.

Very respectfully, your humble servant,
Josiah Quincy

(Henry D. Thoreau (1882), 53-54)
26 June 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Chronicle of Scottish poetry; from the 13th century to the union of the crowns, volume 2 by James Sibbald and Vitæ excellentium imperatorium: cum versione Anglicâ by Cornelius Nepos from Harvard College Library (Companion to Thoreau’s Correspondence, 288).

30 June 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau writes an essay on Titus Pomponius Atticus:

  One cannot safely imitate the actions, as such, even of the wise and good. Truth is not exalted, but rather degraded and soiled by contact with humanity. We may not conform ourselves to any mortal pattern, but should conform our every act and thought to Truth.

  Truth is what whole of which Virtue, Justice, Benevolence and the like are the parts, the manifestations; she includes and runs through them all. She is continually revealing herself. Why, then, be satisfied with the mere reflection of her genial warmth and light? why dote upon her faint and fleeting echo, if we can bask in her sunshine, and hearken to her revelations when we will? No man is so situated that he may not, if he choose, find her out; and when he has discovered her, he may without fear go all lengths with her; but if he take her at second hand, it must be done cautiously; else she will not be pure and unmixed.

  Wherever she manifests herself, whether in God, in man, or in nature, by herself considered, she is equally admirable, equally inviting; though to our view she seems, from her relations, now stern and repulsive, now mild and persuasive. We will then consider Truth by herself, so that we may the more heartily adore her, and more confidently follow her.

  Next, how far was the life of Atticus a manifestation of Truth? According to Nepos, his Latin biographer: “He so carried himself as to seem level with the lowest, and yet equal to the highest. He never sued for any preferment in the State, because it was not to be obtained by fair and honorable means. He never went to law about anything. He never altered his manner of life, though his estate was greatly increased. His compliance was not a strict regard to truth.”

  Truth neither exalteth nor humbleth herself. She is not too high for the low, nor yet too low for the high. She never stoops to what is mean or dishonorable. She is persuasive, not litigious, leaving Conscience to decide. Circumstances do not affect her. She never sacrificeth her dignity that she may secure for herself a favorable reception. Thus far the example of Atticus may safely be followed. But we are told, on the other hand: “That, finding it impossible to live suitably to his dignity at Rome, without offending one party or the other, he withdrew to Athens. That he left Italy that he might not bear arms against Sylla. That he so managed by taking no active part, as to secure the good will of both Cæsar and Pompey. Finally, that he was careful to avoid even the appearance of crime.”

  It is not a characteristic of Truth to use men tenderly, nor is she over-anxious about appearances. The honest man, according to George Herbert,-is

“He that doth still and strongly good pursue,
To God, his neighbor and himself most true;
  Whom neither fear nor fawning can
Unpin, or wrench from giving all their due.
  Who rides his sure and even trot,
While the World now rides by, now lags behind.
  Who, when great trials come,
Nor seeks nor shuns them, but doth always stay
Till he the thing, and the example weigh;
  All being brought into a sum,
What place or person calls for, he doth pay.”
Atticus seems to have well understood the maxim applied to him by his biographer,—“Sui cuique mores fingunt fortunam.” (Character shapes his lot for each of us.)
(The Life of Henry David Thoreau (1917), 183-185)
2 July 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau completes his senior year with a final ranking of nineteenth in a class of forty-four students. With a grand total of 14,397 points, he qualifies for a part in the Commencement Exercises on 30 August (Thoreau’s Harvard Years, part 1:18).

4 July 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau probably attends the dedication of the monument commemorating the battle of 19 April 1775 (The Days of Henry Thoreau, 48). John Shepard Keyes recalls the day:

. . . it was a very hot sunny July day, after the noon salute and bell ringing the village became as quiet as of a Sunday. About three oclock the procession escorted by the military companies, but a straggling advance, consisting mainly of the townspeople men women and children came slowly along the common and passed up the road to the Old North Bridge, there were assembled about the monument two or three hundred seated on the grass, who listened to a prayer by Mr [Barzillai] Frost an oration by Samuel Hoar and then Mr. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson’s hymn was sung by all who could join, in full chorus. This hymn was printed on slips of paper about 6 inches square and plentifully supplied to the audience . . . Rev. John Wilder prayed and Dr [Ezra] Ripley gave a very solemn benediction, for was not his life’s work and effort accomplished in this monument erected and dedicated on the spot he had selected.
(MS, “The Autobiography of John Shepard Keyes,” John Shepard Keyes papers (Series I). Special Collections, Concord (Mass) Free Public Library.)
10 July 1837. Cambridge, Mass.?

Thoreau performs a mathematical proof:

Question: How can 1/a=a-1?

  This will be manifest if the student but attends to the manner of forming a series of power or a retrograde order. If, for instance, in the series a0, a1, a2, a3, a4, a5, a6, we commence with a6, we may obtain the preceding term, either by dividing by a, or by diminishing the exponent by unity. Thus, if we divide aaaaaa by a, we shall have aaaaa. If we prefer to diminish the exponent by unity, we shall have a5. Now we may, in the same manner, make our series extend to powers having negative exponents, i.e. either by dividing always the preceding term by a, or by diminishing its exponent by unity. If we divide by a, commencing with a0 or 1, we obtain 1/a, or 1/a1 and so on. If we diminish the exponent of the same term by unity, we shall have a-1. Hence a-1=1/a.

  1/a=a0/ai now as we divide by subtracting one exponent from the other, we have a0/a1=a-1.

(MS, Albert Edgar Lownes collection on Henry David Thoreau. John Hay Library, Brown University)
11 July 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out The works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke from the library of the Institute of 1770 (The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:86).

Thoreau also inscribes Charles Theodore Russell’s class book with his poem, “I love a careless streamlet” (Emerson Society Quarterly 7 (2nd quarter 1957):2):

  “Long life and success to you.”


I love a careless streamlet,
That takes a mad-clap leap,
And like a sparkling beamlet
Goes dashing down the steep.
Like torrents of the mountain
We’ve coursed along the lea,
From many a crystal fountain
Toward the far-distant sea.

And now we’ve gained life’s valley,
And through the lowlands roam,
No longer may’st thou dally,
No longer spout and foam.

May pleasant meads await thee,
Where thou may’st freely roll
Towards that bright heavenly sea,
Thy resting place and goal.

And when thou reach’st life’s down-hill,
So gentle be thy stream,
As would not turn a grist-mill
Without the aid of steam.

(Collected Poems, 87)
14 July 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau checks out Letters, conversations, & recollections of S. T. Coleridge, volumes 1 and 2, Memorials of Mrs. Hemans, with illustrations of her literary character from her private correspondence, volumes 1 and 2 by Henry Fothergill Chorley, Library of the old English prose writers, volume 2 edited by Alexander Young, and either Goetz of Berlichingen, with the iron hand by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or Dramatic works by John Ford (it’s unclear from the record which is referred to) from the library of the Institute of 1770, and renews Introduction to history of philosophy by Victor Cousin, which he checked out on 25 June.

(The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:86)
ca. 15 July to 25 August 1837. Lincoln, Mass.

Thoreau and Charles Stearns Wheeler live in a hut by Flints Pond that Wheeler had previously built. They spend their time reading and recuperating at the hut, but take their dinners at the Wheelers (The Days of Henry Thoreau, 49).

18 July 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Harvard’s Class of 1837 holds its (apparently raucous) Valedictory Exercises, or Class Day. It’s not certain whether Thoreau attended (The Days of Henry Thoreau, 49; Emerson Society Quarterly 7 (2nd quarter 1957):2).

27 August 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

John Shepard Keyes recalls spending several days with Thoreau in Stoughton Hall at Harvard University:

  The Monday before Commencement then the last Wednesday in August was the appointed time. To reach Cambridge in season involved then going down Sunday night and my arrangements to spend the nights with David Henry Thoreau as we all called him then, had all been comfortably agreed upon. Armed with Parson Frost’s certificate of good moral character, (precious little he knew about mine) and a carpet bag well stored with lunches and books I gladly mounted the mail stage about 5 PM & rode off. Nothing memorable can I remember happened on that momentous ride bearing a green boy to the first of his decisive trials in real life and I was dropped at the yard gate where Thoreau met me and took me to his room in Stoughton. I was anxious of the morrow’s fate overawed by the dull old college walls, and not a little inclined to be over-thoughtful at the sudden change it all implied. But these fancies were soon dispelled, a burst of Thoreau’s classmates into his room, headed by Chas. Theodore Russell, Trask, and others who chaffed Thoreau and his freshman in all sorts of amusing ways, and took down some of our local pride, and Concord self conceit for which I soon found out that my host was as distinguished in college as afterwards These roaring seniors fresh from vacation’s fun and with no more college duties to worry about made a sharp contrast with a Sunday evening at home. It was seeing something of the end before even the beginning. There had been some kind of a row with the faculty and the trouble was carried into the Criminal Court and I had heard the county side of it at home, and now was told the students side by some of the actors or sympathizers and got some ideas of college discipline that varied essentially from the home notion It was startling and novel to hear “Old Prex” and other nicknames familiarly applied to such dignitaries as Concord had almost worshipped, and I fear that the introduction wasnt of the most useful sort to just such a boy as I was.
(MS, “The Autobiography of John Shepard Keyes,” John Shepard Keyes papers (Series I). Special Collections, Concord (Mass) Free Public Library)
30 August 1837. Cambridge, Mass.

Thoreau graduates from Harvard University.

Thoreau’s Diploma (Courtesy of David T. Sewall)

Thoreau participates as one of the speakers of a conference on “The Commercial Spirit of Modern Times, Considered in its influence on the Political, Moral, and Literary Character of a Nation”:

  The history of the world, it has been justly observed, is the history of the progress of humanity; each epoch is characterized by some peculiar development; some element or principle is continually being evolved by the simultaneous, though unconscious and involuntary, workings and struggles of the human mind. Profound study and observation have discovered, that the characteristic of our epoch is perfect freedom—freedom of thought and action. The indignant Greek, the oppressed Pole, the zealous 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, for the reason that 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 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, baking and brewing, in one quarter; buying and selling, money-changing and speech-making, in another. What impression would he receive form 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 livery. He could not but notice that restless animal for whose sake it was contrived, but where he found one 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.

  In considering the influence of the commercial spirit on the moral character of a nation, we have only to look at its ruling principle. We are to look chiefly for its origin, and the power that still cherishes and sustains it, in a blind and unmanly love of wealth. And it is seriously asked, whether the prevalence of such a spirit can be prejudicial to a community? Wherever it 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 selfishness; 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 the end of existence, and we shall hear no more of the commercial spirit. The sea will not stagnate, 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 then, 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 wide-spread garden, and drink in the soft influences and sublime revelations of Nature.

  But the veriest slave of avarice, the most devoted and selfish worshipper of Mammon, is toiling and calculating to some other purpose than the mere acquisition of the good things of this world; he is preparing, gradually and unconsciously it may be, to lead a more intellectual and spiritual life. Man cannot if he will, however degraded or sensual his existence, escape Truth. She makes herself to be heard above the din and bustle of commerce, by the merchant at his desk, or the miser counting his gains, as well as in the retirement of the study, by her humble and patient follower.

  Our subject has its bright as well as its dark side. The spirit we are considering is not altogether and without exception bad. We rejoice in it as one more indication of the entire and universal freedom which 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 rejoice that the history of our epoch will not be a barren chapter in the annals of the world,—that the progress which it shall record bids fair to be general and decided. 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 Creation.

(The Transcendentalists and Minerva, 1:235)
“Order of Exercises for Commencement” (The Thoreau Collection of Kevin Mac Donnell)

“Hard times came to the court in 1837. They were not the new president’s fault, but Van Buren inherited the blame for them nevertheless. People wanted a scapegoat, perhaps, and in Van Buren they soon found one. State Street, the Boston financial section, was hard hit.

Newly graduated from Harvard, Thoreau looked for a job and started a journal. The first item still preserved is short. “ ‘What are you doing now?’ he asked. ‘Do you keep a journal?’ So I make my first entry to-day.” Thoreau was already looking for solitude and the opportunity to live his own life. The panic of 1837 find no place in his journal. Thoreau camped by Flint’s Pond for some weeks with his Harvard friend Sterns Wheeler, thus anticipating the Walden experiment.”

(The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 10)

ca. early September 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau teaches at the Concord Center School for about two weeks, but resigns abruptly when Deacon Nehemiah Ball orders corporal punishment as a means to quiet an unruly class. The incident is recalled by several sources:

  Another early experience was the town school in Concord, which he took after leaving college, announcing that he should not flog, but would talk morals as a punishment instead. A fortnight sped glibly along, when a knowing deacon, one of the School Committee, walked in and told Mr. Thoreau that he must flog and use the ferule, or the school would spoil. So he did,—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, if they interfered with his arrangements; and they could keep it.
(Thoreau, the poet-naturalist (1902), 32-3)
  To teach was the work that usually offered itself to the hand of a country youth fresh from college. Failing to find at once a better opportunity afar, Thoreau took charge of the Town School in Concord, but, it is said, proving heretical as to Solomon’s maxim concerning the rod, did not satisfy the Committeeman, who was a deacon. Deacon —– sat through one session with increasing disapproval, waiting for corporal chastisement, the corner-stone of a sound education, and properly reproved the teacher. The story which one of Thoreau’s friends told me was, that with a queer humour,—he was very young,—he, to avoid taking the town’s money, without giving the expected equivalent, in the afternoon punished six children, and that evening resigned the place where such methods were required. One of the pupils, then a little boy, who is still living, all through life has cherished his grievance, not understanding the cause. But we may be sure his punishment would not have been cruel, for Henry Thoreau always liked and respected children. Later this pupil came to know and like him. He said “he seemed the sort of a man that wouldn’t willingly hurt a fly,” and, except on this occasion, had shown himself mild and kindly.
(Henry Thoreau, as Remembered by a Young Friend (1917), 20-1)
. . . I’d just come from the district school, where I had a woman teacher. Now the women teachers taught, when we’d finished with a lesson, to put away our books and fold our arms . . . Well, the rule at the Academy was that a boy should always have a book before him. First thing I knew, Henry Thoreau called me up and thrashed me. He thrashed 12 other boys that day, 13 in all, and resigned the day after.

  I didn’t understand the reason for this then, but I found out later. It seems he’d been taken to task by someone—I think it was Deacon Ball—for not using the rod enough. So Thoreau thought he’d give the other way a thorough trial, and he did, for one day. The next day he said he wouldn’t keep the school any longer, if that was the way he had to do it.

  When I went to my seat, I was so mad that I said to myself: “When I’m grown up, I’ll whip you for this, old feller.” But . . . I never saw the day I wanted to do it.—why Henry Thoreau was the kindest hearted of men.

(Allen French, Interview with Daniel F. Potter)

The incident is also alluded to in an annual school committee report, published the following year:

  In regard to schools generally, the past year your Committee have the satisfaction to report favorably. While some have been eminently successful, and are models for any schools of the kind, none have fallen below mediocrity. We would however mention an interruption in the Fall term of the centre grammar school, and the winter term, of district No. 4, which was occasioned by a change of masters and produced the usual evil attendant on that event.
(Yeoman’s Gazette, 14 April 1838:2)

Prudence Ward writes to her sister Caroline Ward Sewall on 25 September:

  Henry only kept the School a week or two and gave it up. The Committee thinks that a school cannot be governed without occasional resort to corporeal punishment, and H.—whipped one or two, but finding it against his conscience and thinking the surveillance of such a Committee wouldn’t be comfortable—as it would be impossible at first, and perhaps never, to keep the school as still as they would require on his plan—he gave up, and means to get an academy or private school where he can have his own way.
(transcription in The Thoreau Society Archives at the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods; MS, private owner)
7 September 1837. Dedham, Mass.

James Richardson Jr. writes to Thoreau:

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 philosophy,) I hardly saw you again at all. Neither at Mr. [Josiah] 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 ministry of our old friend Rev Barzillai Frost, to whom please make my remembrances. I heard from you, also, that Concord Academy, lately under the care of Mr Phineas Allen of Northfield, is now vacant of a preceptor; should Mr. [Samuel] 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, would 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. My old instructor Mr [Daniel] Kimball gave, and gives me credit for having quite a genius for Mathematics, though I studied them so little in College, and I think that Dr. [Charles] Beck will approve me as something of a Latinist.—I did intend going to a distance, but my father’s and other friends’ wishes, beside my own desire of a proximity to Harvard and her Library, has constrained me. I have had the offer and opportunity of several places, but the distance or smallness of salary were objections. I should like to hear about Concord Academy from you, if it is not engaged. Hoping that your situation affords you every advantage for continuing your mental education and development I am

with esteem & respect
Yr classmate & friend
James Richardson Jr

P.S. I hope you will tell me something about your situation, state of mind, course of reading, &c; and any advice you have to offer will be gratefully accepted. Should the place, alluded to above, be filled, any place, that you may hear spoken of, with a reasonable salary, would perhaps answer for your humble serv’t


(The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 11; MS, Henry David Thoreau collection. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library)

ca. 17 to 30 September 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal on 29 October:

  A curious incident happened some four or six weeks ago which I think it worth the while to record. John and I had been searching for Indian relics, and been successful enough to find two arrowheads and a pestle, when, of a Sunday evening, with our heads full of the past and its remains, we strolled to the mouth of Swamp Bridge Brook. As we neared the brow of the hill forming the bank of the river, inspired by my theme, I broke forth into an extravagant eulogy on those savage times, using most violent gesticulations by way of illustration. “There on Nawshawtuct,” said I, “was their lodge, the rendezvous of the tribe, and yonder, on Clamshell Hill, their feasting ground. This was, no doubt, a favorite haunt; here on this brow was an eligible lookout post. How often have they stood on this very spot, at this very hour, when the sun was sinking behind yonder woods and gilding with his last rays the waters of the Musketaquid, and pondered the day’s success and the morrow’s prospects, or communed with the spirit of their fathers gone before them to the land of shades!

  “Here,” I exclaimed, “stood Tahatawan; and there.” (to complete the period) “is Tahatawan’s arrowhead.”

  We instantly proceeded to sit down on the spot I had pointed to, and I, to carry out the joke, to lay bare an ordinary stone which my whim had selected, when lo! the first I laid hands on, the grubbing stone that was to be, proved a most perfect arrowhead, as sharp as if just from the hands of the Indian fabricator!!!

(Journal, 1:7-8)
13 October 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes to Henry Vose:

Friend Vose

  You don’t know how much I envy you your comfortable settlement—almost sine-cure—in the region of Butternuts. How art thou pleased with the lay of the land and the look of the people? Do the rills tinkle and fume, and bubble and purl, and trickle and meander as thou expectedest, or are the natives less absorbed in the pursuit of gain than the good clever homespun and respectable people of New England?

  I presume that by this time you have commenced pedagogueizing in good earnest. Methinks I see thee, perched on learning’s little stool, thy jet black boots luxuriating upon a well-polished fender, while round thee are ranged some half dozen small specimens of humanity, thirsting for an idea:

Pens to mend, and hands to guide.
  Oh who would a schoolmaster be?
Why I to be sure. The fact is, here I have been vegetating for the last three months. “The clock sends to bed at then, and calls me again at eight.” Indeed I deem “conformity one of the best arts of life.” Now should you hear of any situation in your neighborhood, or indeed any other, which you think would suit me, such as your own, for instance, you will much oblige me by dropping a line on the subject, or, I should rather say, by making mention of it in your answer to this.

  I received a catalogue from Harvard, the other day, and therein found Classmate [Samuel Tenney] Hildreth set down as assistant instructor in Elocution, Chas Dall divinity student—[Manlius Stimson] Clarke and [Richard Henry] Dana law d[itt]o, and C. S. W[heeler] resident graduate. How we apples Swim! Can you realize that we too can now moralize about College pranks, and reflect upon the pleasures of a college life, as among the things that are past? Mays’t thou ever remember as a fellow soldier [in] the campaign of 37

Yr friend and classmate

PS I have no time for apologies

(The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 12-13; MS, Henry David Thoreau collection. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library)

Vose replies on 22 October.

22 October 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau starts his journal:

  “What are you doing now?” he asked. “Do you keep a journal?” So I make my first entry today (Journal, 1:3).

Butternuts, N.Y. Henry Vose writes to Thoreau in reply to his letter of 13 October:

Friend Thoreau

  I received by yesterday’s mail your favor of the 13th. with great pleasure, and proceed at once to indite you a line of condolence on your having nothing to do. I suspect you wrote that letter during a fit of ennui or the blues. You begin at once by expressing your envy of my happy situation, and mourn over your fate, which condemns you to loiter about Concord, and grub among clamshells. If this were your only source of enjoyment while in C. you would truly be a pitiable object. But i know that it is not. I well remember that “antique and fishlike” office of Major Nelson, [to whom and Mr Dennis and Bemis, and J Thoreau I wish to be remembered]; and still more vividly do I remember the fairer portion of the community in C. If from these two grand fountainheads of amusement in that ancient town, united with its delightful walks and your internal resources, you cannot find an ample fund of enjoyment, while waiting for a situation, you deserve to be haunted by blue devils for the rest of your days.

  I am surprised that, in writing a letter of two pages and a half to a friend and “fellow soldier of the -37th” at a distance of 300 miles, you should have forgotten to say a single word of the news of C. In lamenting your own fate you have omitted to even hint at any of the events that have occurred since I left. However this must be fully rectified in your next. Say something of the Yeoman’s Gazette and of the politics of the town and county, of the events, that are daily transpiring there, &c.

  I am sorry I know of no situation whatever at present for you. I, in this little, secluded town of B. am the last person in the world to hear of one. But If I do, you may be assured that I will inform you of it at once, and do all in my power to obtain it for you.

  With my own situation I am highly pleased. My duties afford me quite as much labor as I wish for, and are interesting and useful to me. Out of school hours I find a great plenty to do, and time passes rapidly and pleasantly.

  Please request friend W. Allen to drop me a line and to inform of his success with his school. You will please excuse the brevity of this: but as it is getting late, and everybody has been long in bed but myself, and I am deuced sleepy I must close. Write soon and long, and I shall try to do better in my next.

Yours truly,
Henry Vose.

(The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 14-15; MS, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, N.Y.; MA 920)
24 October 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  Every part of nature teaches that the passing away of one life is the making room for another. The oak dies down to the ground, leaving within its rind a rich virgin mould, which will impart a vigorous life to an infant forest. The pine leaves a sandy and sterile soil, the harder woods a strong and fruitful mould.

  So this constant abrasion and decay makes the soil of my future growth. As I live now so shall I reap. If I grow pines and birches, my virgin mould will not sustain the oak; but pines and birches, or, perchance, weeds and brambles, will constitute my second growth.

(Journal, 1:3-4)
25 October 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal: 

  She appears [Spring], and we are once more children; we commence again our course with the new year. Let the maiden no more return, and men will become poets for very grief. No sooner has winter left us time to regret her smiles, than we yield to the advances of poetic frenzy (Journal, 1:4).
26 October 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  A noble man has not to thank a private circle for his culture. Fatherland and world must work upon him. Fame and infamy must he learn to endure. He will be constrained to know himself and others. Solitude shall no more lull him with her flattery. The foe will not, the friend dares not, spare him. Then, striving, the youth puts forth his strength, feels what he is, and feels himself soon a man.
(Journal, 1:4-6)
27 October 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  The prospect is limited to Nobscot and Annursnack. The trees stand with boughs downcast like pilgrims beaten by a storm, and the whole landscape wears a sombre aspect.

  So when thick vapors cloud the soul, it strives in vain to escape from its humble working-day valley, and pierce the dense fog which shuts out from view the blue peaks in its horizon, but must be content to scan its near and homely hills.

(Journal, 1:6)
Thoreau also writes to his sister Helen:

Dear H.

  Please you, let the defendant say a few words in defense of his long silence. You know we have hardly done our own deeds, thought our own thoughts, or lived our own lives, hitherto. For a man to act himself, he must be perfectly free; otherwise, he is in danger of losing all sense of responsibility or of self-respect. Now when such a state of things exists, that the sacred opinions one advances in argument are apologized for by his friends, before his face, lest his hearers receive a wrong impression of the man,—when such gross injustice is of frequent occurrence, where shall we look, & not look in vain, for men, deeds, thoughts? As well apologize for the grape that it is sour,—or the thunder that it is noisy, or the lightning that it tarries not. Farther, letterwriting too often degenerates into a communing of facts, & not of truths; of other men’s deeds, & not our thoughts. What are the convulsions of a planet compared with the emotions of the soul? or the rising of a thousand suns, if that is not enlightened by a ray?

Your affectionate brother,

(The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 15; MS missing, copy in the Henry David Thoreau collection. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library)
29 October 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  Two ducks, of the summer or wood species, which were merrily dabbling in their favorite basin, struck up a retreat on my approach, and seemed disposed to take French leave, paddling off with swan-like majesty. They are first-rate swimmers, beating me at a round pace, and—what was to me a new trait in the duck character—dove every minute or two and swam several feet under water, in order to escape our attention. Just before immersion they seemed to give each other a significant nod, and then, as if by a common understanding, ’t was heels up and head down in the shaking of a duck’s wing. When they reappeared, it was amusing to observe with what a self-satisfied, darn-it-how-he-nicks-’em air they paddled off to repeat the experiment.
(Journal, 1:6-7)
30 October 1837. Concord, Mass.
Thoreau writes in his journal:
  First we have the gray twilight of the poets, with dark and barry clouds diverging to the zenith. Then glows the intruding cloud in the east, as if it bore a precious jewel in its bosom; a deep round gulf of golden gray indenting its upper edge, while slender rules of fleecy vapor, radiating from the common centre, like light-armed troops, fall regularly into their places.
(Journal, 1:8)
3 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  If one would reflect, let him embark on some placid stream, and float with the current. He cannot resist the Muse. As we ascend the stream, plying the paddle with might and main, snatched the impetuous thoughts course through the brain. We dream of conflict, power, and grandeur. But turn the prow down stream, and rock, tree, kine, knoll, assuming new and varying positions, as wind and water shift the scene, favor the liquid lapse of thought, far-reaching and sublime, but ever calm and gently undulating.
(Journal, 1:8)
5 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  Truth strikes us from behind, and in the dark, as well as from before and in broad daylight (Journal, 1:8).
9 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  It is the rill whose “silver sands and pebbles sing eternal ditties with the spring.” The early frosts bridge its narrow channel, and its querulous note is hushed. Only the flickering sunlight on its sandy bottom attracts the beholder. But there are souls whose depths are never fathomed,—on whose bottom the sun never shines. We get a distant view from the precipitous banks, but never a draught from their mid-channels. Only a sunken rock or fallen oak can provoke a murmur, and their surface is a stranger to the icy fetters which bind fast a thousand contributory rills.
(Journal, 1:8)
11 and 14 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes to his brother John:

  Musketaquid two hundred and two summers—two moons—eleven suns since the coming of the Pale Faces. Tahatawan—[Sachimaupan]—to his brother sachem—Hopeful-of Hopewell—hoping that he is well.  Brother, it is many suns that I have not seen the print of thy moccasins by our council fires, the Great Spirit has blown more leaves from the trees and many clouds from the land of snows have visited our lodge—the earth has become hard like a frozen buffalo skin, so that the trampling of many herds is like the Great Spirit’s thunder—the grass on the great fields is like the old man of eight winters—and the small song-sparrow prepares for his flight to the land whence the summer comes.Brother—I write thee these things because I know that thou lovest the Great Spirit’s creatures, and wast wont to sit at thy lodge door – when the maize was green—to hear the bluebird’s song. So shalt thou in the land of spirits, not only find good hunting grounds and sharp arrowheads—but much music of birds.Brother. I have been thinking how the Pale Faces have taken away our lands—and was a woman. You are fortunate to have pitched you wigwam nearer to the great salt lake, where the pale-Face can never plant corn.Brother—I need not tell thee how we hunted on the lands of the Dundees—a great war-chief never forgets the bitter taunts of his enemies. Our young men called for strong water—they painted their faces and dug up the hatchet. But their enemies the Dundees were women—they hastened to cover their hatchets with wampum. our braves are not many—our enemies took a few strings from the eharp their fathers left them, and our hatchets were buried.—But not Tahatawan’s—his heart is of rock when the Dundees sing—his hatchet cuts deep into the Dundee braves.Brother—there is dust on my moccasins—I have journeyed to the White lake in the country of the Ninares. The Long-knife has been there—like a woman I paddled his war-canoe. But the spirits of my fathers were angered.—the waters were ruffled and the Bad Spirit troubled the air.

The hearts of the Lee-vites are gladdened—the young Peacock has returned to his lodge by Nawshawtuck. He is the medicine of his tribe, but his heart is like the dry leaves when the whirlwind breathes. He has come to help choose new chiefs for the tribe in the great council house when two suns are past.—There is no seat for Tahatawan in the council-house. He lets the squaws talk—his voice is heard above the warwhoop of his tribe, piercing the hearts of his foes—his legs are stiff, he cannot sit.

Brother, art thou waiting for spring that the geese may fly low over they wigwam? Thy arrows are sharp, thy bow is strong. Has Anawan killed all the eagles? The crows fear not the winter. Tahatawans eyes are sharp—he can track a snake in the grass, he knows a friend form a foe—he welcomes a friend to his lodge though the ravens croak.

Brother hast thou studied much in the medicine books of the Pale-Faces? Dost thou understand the long talk of the great medicine whose words are like the music of the mocking bird? But our chiefs have not ears to hear him—they listen like squaws to council of old men—they understand not his words. But Brother, he never danced the war-dance, nor heard the warwhoop of his enemies.

He was a squaw—he staid by the wigwam when the braves were out, and tended the tame buffaloes.

Fear not, the Dundees have faint hearts, and much wampum. When the grass is green on the great fields, and the small titmouse returns again we will hunt the buffaloe to gether.

Our old men say they will send the young chief of the Karlisles who lives in the green wigwam and is a great medicine, that his words may be heard in the long talk which the wise men are going to hold at Shawmut by the salt-lake. He is a great talk—and will not forget the enemies of his tribe.

14th Sun.

The fire has gone out in the council house. The words of our old men have been like the vaunts of the Dundees. The Eaglebeak was moved to talk like a silly Pale-Face, and not as becomes a great war-chief in a council of braves. The young Peacock is a woman among braves—he heard not the words of the old men—like a squaw, he looked at his medicine paper. The young chief of the green wigwam has hung up his moccasins, he will not leave his tribe till after the buffaloe have come down on to the plains.

Brother this is a long talk—but there is much meaning to my words. they are not like the thunder of canes when the lightening smites them.

Brother I have just heard thy talk and am well pleased thou are getting to be a great medicine.

The Great Spirit confound the enemies of thy tribe.

his mark


Publisher’s rendition of Thoreau’s sketch (The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 18)

(The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 16-18; MS, Henry David Thoreau collection. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library)
12 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  I yet lack discernment to distinguish the whole lesson of to-day; but it is not lost,—it will come to me at last. My desire is to know what I have lived, that I may know how to live henceforth (Journal, 1:9).
13 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  This shall be the test of innocence—if I can hear a taunt, and look out on this friendly moon, pacing the heavens in queen-like majesty, with the accustomed yearning (Journal, 1:9).
16 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  There goes the river, or rather is, “in serpent error wandering,” the jugular vein of Musketaquid. Who knows how much of the proverbial moderation of the inhabitants was caught from its dull circulation?

  The snow gives the landscape a washing-day appearance,—here a streak of white, there a streak of dark; it is spread like a napkin over the hills and meadows. This must be a rare drying day, to judge from the vapor that floats over the vast clothes-yard.

  A hundred guns are firing and a flag flying in the village in celebration of the whig victory. Now a short dull report,—the mere disk of a sound, shorn of its beams,—and then a puff of smoke rises in the horizon to join its misty relatives in the skies.

(Journal, 1:10-11)
17 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  Now the king of day plays at bo-peep round the world’s corner, and every cottage window smiles a golden smile,—a very picture of glee. I see the water glistening in the eye. The smothered breathings of awakening day strike the car with an undulating motion; over hill and dale, pasture and woodland, come they to me, and I am at home in the world.
(Journal, 1:11)
18 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  Nature makes no noise. The howling storm, the rustling leaf, the pattering rain are no disturbance, there is an essential and unexplored harmony in them. Why is it that thought flows with so deep and sparkling a current when the sound of distant music strikes the ear? When I would muse I complain not of a rattling tune on the piano—a Battle of Prague even—if it be harmony, but an irregular, discordant drumming is intolerable.
(Journal, 1:11-12)
20 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  I would read Virgil, if only that I might be reminded of the identity of human nature in all ages. I take satisfaction in “jam laeto turgent in palmite gemmae,” or “Strata jacent passim sua quaeque sub arbore laonaa.” It was the same world, and the same men inhabited it.

(Journal, 1:12)
21 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  One must needs climb a hill to know what a world he inhabits. In the midst of this Indian summer I am perched on the topmost rock of Nawshawtuct, a velvet wind blowing from the southwest. I seem to feel the atoms they strike my cheek. Hills, mountains, steeples stand out in bold relief in the horizon, while I am resting on the rounded boss of an enormous shield, the river like a vein of silver encircling its edge, and thence the shield gradually rises to its rim, the horizon. Not a cloud is to be seen, but villages, villas, forests, mountains, one above another, till they are swallowed up in the heavens. The atmosphere is such that, as I look abroad upon the length and breadth of the land, it recedes from my eye, and I seem to be looking for the threads of velvet. Thus I admire the grandeur of my emerald carriage, with its border of blue, in which I am rolling through space.
(Journal, 1:12-13)
25 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

The Yeoman’s Gazette publishes Thoreau’s obituary for Anna Jones:

  In this town, on the 12th inst. Miss Anna Jones, aged 86.

  When a fellow being departs for the land of spirits, whether that spirit take its flight from a hovel or a palace, we would fain know what was its demeanor in life—what of beautiful it lived.

  We are happy to state, upon the testimony of those who knew her best, that the subject of this notice was an upright and exemplary woman, that her amiableness and benevolence were such as to win all hearts, and, to her praise be it spoken, that during a long life, she was never known to speak ill of any one. After a youth passed amid scenes of turmoil and war, she has lingered thus long amongst us a bright sample of the Revolutionary woman. She was as it were, a connecting link between the past and the present—a precious relic of days which the man and patriot would not willingly forget.

  The religious sentiment was strongly developed in her. Of her last years it may truly be said, that they were passed in the society of the apostles and prophets; she lived as in their presence; their teachings were meat and drink to her. Poverty was her lot, but she possessed those virtues without which the rich are but poor. As her life had been, so was her death.

(Yeoman’s Gazette, 25 Nov 1837:3; MS, Henry David Thoreau manuscripts. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.)
26 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  I look around for thoughts when I am overflowing myself. While I live on, thought is still in embryo,—it stirs not within me. Anon it begins to assume shape and comeliness, and I deliver it, and clothe it in its garment of language. But alas! how often when thoughts choke me do I resort to a spat on the back, or swallow a crust, or do anything but expectorate them!
(Journal, 1:13)

28 November 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  Every tree, fence, and spire of grass that could raise its head above the snow was this morning covered with a dense hoar frost. The trees looked like airy creatures of darkness caught napping. On this side they were huddled together, their gray hairs streaming, in a secluded valley which the sun had not yet penetrated, and on that they went hurrying off in Indian file by hedgerows and watercourses, while the shrubs and grasses, like elves and fairies of the night, sought to hide their diminished heads in the snow.

  The branches and taller greasses were covered with a wonderful ice-foliage, answering leaf for leaf to their summer dress. The centre, diverging, and even more minute fibres were perfectly distinct and the edges regularly indented.

  These leaves were on the side of the twig or stubble opposite to the sun (when it was not bent toward the east), meeting it for the most part at right angles, and there were others standing out at all possible angles upon these, and upon one another.
  It struck me that these ghost leaves and the green ones whose forms they assume were the creatures of the same law. It could not be in obedience to two several laws that the vegetable juices swelled gradually into the perfect leaf on the one hand, and the crystalline particles trooped to their standard in the same admirable order on the other.

  The river, viewed from the bank above, appeared of a yellowish-green color, but on a nearer approach this phenomenon vanished; and yet the landscape was covered with snow.

(Journal, 1:13-14)
5 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  My friend tells me he has discovered a new note in nature, which he calls the Ice-Harp. Chancing to throw a handful of pebbles upon the pond where there was an air chamber under the ice, it discoursed a pleasant music to him. Herein resides a tenth muse, and as he was the man to discover it probably the extra melody is in him.
(Journal, 1:14-15)
8 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  He [Goethe] is generally satisfied with giving an exact description of objects as they appear to him, and his genius is exhibited in the points he seizes upon and illustrates. His description of Venice and her environs as seen from the Marcusthurm is that of an unconcerned spectator, whose object is faithfully to describe what he sees, and that, too ,for the most part, in the order in which he saw it. It is this trait which is chiefly to be prized in the book; even there flections of the author do not interfere with his descriptions. It would thus be possible for inferior minds to produce invaluable books.
(Journal, 1:15)

10 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  Not the carpenter alone carries his rule in his pocket. Space is quite subdued to us. The meanest peasant finds in a hair of his head, or the white crescent upon his nail, the unit of measure for the distance of the fixed stars. His middle finger measures how many digits into space; he extends a few times his thumb and finger, and the continent is spanned; he stretches out his arms, and the sea is fathomed.
(Journal, 1:15)

12 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  When we speak of a peculiarity in a man or a nation we think to describe only one part, a mere mathematical point; but it is not so. It pervades all. Some parts may be further removed than others from this centre, but not a particle so remote as not to be either shined on or shaded by it.
(Journal, 1:15)

15 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  As further confirmation of the fact that vegetation is a kind of crystallization. I observe that upon the edge of the melting frost on the windows, Jack is playing singular freaks,—now bundling together his needle-shaped leaves so as to resemble fields waving with grain, or shocks of wheat rising here and there from the stubble. On one side the vegetation of the torrid zone is presented you,—high-towering palms, and widespread banyans, such as we see in pictures of Oriental scenery; on the other are arctic pines, stiff-frozen, with branches downcast, like the arms of tender men in frosty weather. In some instances the panes are covered with little feathery flocks, where the particles radiate from a common centre, the number of radii varying from three to seven or eight. The crystalline particles are partial to the creases and flaws in the glass, and, when these extend from sash to sash, form complete hedgerows, or miniature watercourses, where dense masses of crystal foliage “high over-arched imbower.”
(Journal, 1:16-17)
16 December 1837. Concord, Mass.
Thoreau writes in his journal:

  The woods were this morning covered with thin bars of vapor,—the evaporation of the leaves according to Sprengel,—which seemed to have been suddenly stiffened by the cold. In some places it was spread out like gauze over the tops of the trees, forming extended lawns, where elves and fairies held high tournament;
“before each van
Prick forth the aery knights, and couch their spears,
Till thickest legions close.”
The east was glowing with a narrow but ill-defined crescent of light, the blue of the zenith mingling in all possible proportions with the salmon-color of the horizon. And now the neighboring hilltops telegraph to us poor crawlers of the plain the Monarch’s golden ensign in the east, and anon his “long levelled rules” fall sectorwise, and the humblest cottage windows greet their lord.
(Journal, 1:17-18)
17 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  In all ages and nations we observe a leaning towards a right state of things. This may especially be seen in the history of the priest, whose life approaches most nearly to that of the ideal man. The Druids paid no taxes, and “were allowed exemption from warfare and all other things.” The clergy are even now a privileged class. In the last stage of civilization Poetry, Religion, and Philosophy will lie one; and this truth is glimpsed in the first.
(Journal, 1:18-19)
18 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  Men are pleased to be called the sons of their fathers,—so little truth suffices them,—and whoever addresses them by this or a similar title is termed a poet. The orator appeals to the sons of Greece, of Britannia, of France, or of Poland; and our fathers’ homely name acquires some interest from the fact that Sakai-suna means sons-of-the-Sakai.
(Journal, 1:19)
19 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  I observed this morning that the ice at Swamp Bridge was checkered with a kind of mosaic-work of white creases or channels; and when I examined the under side, I found it to be covered with a mass of crystallizations from three to five inches deep, standing, or rather depending, at right angles to the true ice, which was about an eighth of an inch thick. There was a yet older ice six or eight inches below this. The crystals were for the most part triangular prisms with the lower end open, though, in some cases, they had run into each other so as to form four or five sided prisms. When the ice was laid upon its smooth side, they resembled the roofs and steeples of a Gothic city, or the vessels of a crowded haven under a press of canvas.

  I noticed also that where the ice in the road had melted and left the mud bare, the latter, as if crystallized, discovered countless rectilinear fissures, an inch or more in length—a continuation, as it were, of the checkered ice.

(Journal, 1:20-21)
22 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  About a year ago, having set aside a bowl which had contained some rhubarb grated in water, without wiping it, I was astonished to find, a few days afterward, that the rhubarb had crystallized, covering the bottom of the bowl with perfect cubes, of the color and consistency of glue, and a tenth of an inch in diameter.
(Journal, 1:21)
23 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  Crossed the river to-day on the ice. Though the weather is raw and wintry and the ground covered with snow, I noticed a solitary robin, who looked as if he needed to have his services to the Babes in the Woods speedily requited.

  In the side of the high bank by the Leaning Hemlocks, there were some curious crystallizations. Wherever the water, or other causes, had formed a hole in the bank, its throat and outer edge, like the entrance to a citadel of the olden time, bristled with a glistening ice armor. In one place you might see minute ostrich feathers, which seemed the waving plumes of the warriors filing into the fortress, in another the glancing fan-shaped banners of the Lilliputian host, and in another the needle-shaped particles, collected into bundles resembling the plumes of the pine, might pass for a phalanx of spears. The whole hill was like an immense quartz rock, with minute crystals sparkling form innumerable crannies. I tried to fancy that there was a disposition in these crystallizations to take the forms of the contiguous foliage.

(Journal, 1:21-22)
27 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  In 449 three Saxon cyules arrived on the British coast,—”Three scipen gode comen mid than flode, three hundred enihten.” The pirate of the British coast was no more the founder of a state than the scourge of the German shore.
(Journal, 1:22-24)
30 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes to Orestes Brownson:

Dear Sir—

  I have never ceased to look back with interest, not to say satisfaction, upon the short six weeks which I passed with you. They were an era in my life—the morning of a new Lebenstag. They are to me as a dream that is dreamt, but which returns from time to time in all its original freshness. Such a one as I would dream a second and a third time, and then tell before breakfast.

  I passed a few hours in the city, about a month ago, with the intention of calling on you, but not being able to ascertain, from the directory or other sources, where you had settled, was fain to give up the search and return home.

  My apology for this letter is to ask your assistance in obtaining employment. For, say what you will, this frostbitten ‘forked carrot’ of a body must be fed and clothed after all. It is ungrateful, to say the least, to suffer this much abused case to fall into so dilapidated a condition that every nothwester may luxuriate through its chinks and crevices, blasting the kindly affections it should shelter, when a few clouts would save it. Thank heaven, the toothache occurs often enough to remind me that I must be out patching the roof occasionally, and not be always keeping up a blaze upon the hearth within, with my German and metaphysical cat-sticks.

  But my subject is not postponed sine die. I seek a situation as teacher of a small school, or assistant in a large one, or, what is more desirable, as private tutor in a gentleman’s family.

  Perhaps I should give some account of myself. I would make education a pleasant thing both to the teacher and the scholar. This discipline, which we allow to be the end of life, should not be one thing in the schoolroom, and another in the street. We should seek to be fellow students with the pupil, and we should learn of, as well as with him, if we would be most helpful to him. But I am not blind to the difficulties of the case; it supposes a degree of freedom which rarely exists. It hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive the full import of that word—Freedom—not a paltry Republican freedom, with a posse comitatus at his heels to administer it in doses as to a sick child—but a freedom proportionate to the dignity of his nature—a freedom that shall make him feel that he is a man among men, and responsible only to that Reason of which he is a particle, for his thoughts and his actions.

  I have even been disposed to regard the cowhide as a nonconductor. Methinks that, unlike the electric wire, not a single spark of truth is ever transmitted through its agency to the slumbering intellect it would address. I mistake, it may teach a truth in physics, but never a truth in morals.

  I shall be exceedingly grateful if you will take the trouble to inform me of any situation of the kind described that you may hear of. As referees I could mention Mr [Ralph Waldo] Emerson—Mr [Samuel] Hoar—and Dr [Ezra] Ripley.

  I have perused with pleasure the first number of the ‘Boston Review.’ I like the spirit of independence which distinguishes it. It is high time that we knew where to look for the expression of American thought. It is vexatious not to know beforehand whether we shall find our account in the perusal of an article. But the doubt speedily vanishes, when we can depend upon having the genuine conclusions of a single reflecting man.

  Excuse this cold business letter. Please remember me to Mrs Brownson, and dont forget to make mention to the children of the stern pedagogue that was—

[Sincerely and truly yours,
Henry D. Thoreau.]

P.S. I add this postscript merely to ask if I wrote this formal epistle. It absolutely freezes my fingers.

“Brownson was a vigorous and aggressive minister who believed that moral reform should be accompanied by political reform. Without, he affirmed, changing his basic position, he went through several religious conversions before ending as a Roman Catholic. He was a social radical in his early thirties when Thoreau came to stay at his house late in 1835. Thoreau had been allowed a brief leave of absence from his studies at Harvard that he might teach school for a term and make a little money. Brownson was living in Canton, Massachusetts, and Thoreau was sent there to see about an opening. He was interviewed and recommended by Brownson, whose children were attending the Canton school, and Brownson liked him so well that he took him into his home.”

(The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 19-21; MS, Orestes Augustus Brownson papers. University of Notre Dame Archives, Notre Dame, Ind.)
31 December 1837. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  As the least drop of wine tinges the whole goblet, so the least particle of truth colors our whole life. It is never isolated, or simply added as treasure to our stock. When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before. We go picking up from year to year and laying side by side the disjecta membra of truth, as he who picked up one by one a row of a hundred stones, and returned with each separately to his basket.
(Journal, 1:24)

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