Inexhaustible Thoreau

Forty-seven manuscript volumes, seven thousand pages, two million words: the journals of Henry David Thoreau have been edited, extracted, and analyzed over and over again. Beginning with himself, since he used his journals for notes and drafts of articles, books, and speeches. It was his practice to write every day (life, of course, made exceptions); it could be a fine practice to read from him everyday, because he is quite inexhaustible. Let’s admit his published books sometimes make for hard reading; but not so the journals.

These voluminous writings serve as the basis of the exhibit at The Morgan Library and Museum, running until September 10th, entitled This Ever New Self. It’s moving to the Concord Museum, source of more than a few of the items on display, in late September and staying there until 1/21/18. See it!

The words are the things here, but you can also see such stuff as his walking stick, incised by the inch as a handy reference; his desk, pictured above, of Shaker-like simplicity; his ruler, inscribed D.H.T.; samples of the famous Thoreau & Co. pencils, and a lovely blue display box they would have been sold from; and two of his herbarium sheets. Above all, the flowing hand of his writing across pages of notebooks. This liquid scrawl is really quite difficult to read now. But judging from the finely-chiseled clarity of a letter sent to him, it was probably difficult to read Thoreau’s handwriting in his own time. Yet the words make an admirable pattern, a trace of vitality. It scootles across the page.
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156 years after his death, we are still reading. Some people don’t get this; wowza, are they missing out!

1 Response to “Inexhaustible Thoreau”


  1. 1 Geoff Wisner (@geoffwisner) July 27, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    That’s the wonderful thing about the Journal. It keeps breeding new ideas and new books (I’ve made two of them myself) like a giant ball of sourdough.


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