Henry David Thoreau
Emerson and Thoreau had great correspondence and Emerson dedicated large passages in his journal to writing about Thoreau.
February 17, 1838: “My good Henry Thoreau made this else solitary afternoon sunny with his simplicity and clear perception. How comic is simplicity in this double-dealing, quacking world. Everything that boy says makes merry with society, though nothing can be graver than his meaning. I told him he should write out the history of his college life, as Carlyle has his tutoring. We agreed that the seeing the stars through a telescope would be worth all the astronomical lectures.”
April 26, 1838: “Yesterday afternoon I went to the Cliff with Henry Thoreau. Warm, pleasant, misty weather, which the great mountain amphitheatre seemed to drink in with gladness. A crow’s voice filled all the miles of air with sound. A bird’s voice, even a piping frog, enlivens a solitude and makes world enough for us. At night I went out into the dark and saw a glimmering star and heard a frog, and Nature seemed to say, Well do not these suffice? Here is a new scene, a new experience. Ponder it, Emerson, and not like the foolish world, hanker after thunders and multitudes and vast landscapes, the sea or Niagara.”
August 1, 1839: “Last night came to me a beautiful poem from Henry Thoreau, ‘Sympathy.’ The purest strain, and the loftiest, I think, that has yet pealed from this unpoetic American forest. I hear his verses with as much triumph as I point to my Guido when they praise half-poets and half-painters.”
September 1841: “I told Henry Thoreau that his freedom is in the form, but he does not disclose new matter. I am very familiar with all his thoughts, - they are my own quite originally drest. But if the question be, what new ideas has he thrown into circulation, he has not yet told what that is which he was created to say.”
October 1842: “Henry Thoreau made, last night, the fine remark that, as long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way, governments, society, and even the sun and moon and stars, as astrology may testify.”
November 11, 1842: “Last night Henry Thoreau read me verses which please, if not by beauty of particular lines, yet by the honest truth, and by the length of flight and strength of wing; for most of our poets are only writers of lines or of epigrams. These of Henry’s at least have rude strength, and we do not come to the bottom of the mine. Their fault is, the gold does not yet flow pure, but is drossy and crude.”
August 25, 1843: “Henry Thoreau sends me a paper with the old fault of unlimited contradiction. The trick of his rhetoric is soon learned: it consists in substituting for the obvious word and thought its diametrical antagonist. He praises wild mountains and winter forests for their domestic air; snow and ice for their warmth; villagers and wood-choppers for their urbanity, and the wilderness for resembling Rome and Paris. With the constant inclination to dispraise cities and civilization, he yet can find no way to know woods and woodmen except by paralleling them with towns and townsmen. Channing declared the piece is excellent: but it makes me nervous and wretched to read it, with all its merits.”
August 1848: “Henry Thoreau is like the wood-god who solicits the wandering poet and draws him into antres vast and desarts idle, and bereaves him of his memory, and leaves him naked, plaiting vines and with twigs in his hand….
I spoke of friendship, but my friends and I are fishes in our habit. As for taking Thoreau’s arm, I should as soon take the arm of an elm tree.”
October 1848: “American Literature. We have not had since ten years a pamphlet which I have saved to bind! and here at last is Bushnell’s; and now, Henry Thoreau’s Ascent of Katahdin.”
June 1851: “Thoreau wants a little ambition in his mixture. Fault of this, instead of being the head of American engineers, he is captain of huckleberry party.”
July 1852: “…Thoreau gives me, in flesh and blood and pertinacious Saxon belief, my own ethics. He is far more real, and daily practically obeying them, than I.”
June 1853 “Henry [Thoreau] is military. He seemed stubborn and implacable; always manly and wise, but rarely sweet. One would say that, as Webster could never speak without an antagonist, so Henry does not feel himself except in opposition. He wants a fallacy to expose, a blunder to pillory, requires a little sense of victory, a roll of the drums, to call his powers into full exercise."
February 29, 1856: “If I knew only Thoreau, I should think cooperation of good men impossible. Must we always talk for victory, and never once for truth, for comfort, and joy? Centrality he has, and penetration, strong understanding, and the higher gifts, - the insight of the real, or from the real, and the moral rectitude that belongs to it; but all this and all his resources of wit and invention are lost me, in every experiment, year after year, that I make, to hold intercourse with his mind. Always some weary captious paradox to fight you with, and the time and temper wasted.”
May 21, 1856: “Yesterday to the Sawmill Brook with Henry. He was in search of yellow violet (pubescens) and menyanthes which he waded into the water for; and which he concluded, on examination, had been out five days. Having found his flowers, he drew out of his breast pocket his diary and read the names of all the plants that should bloom this day, May 20; whereof he keeps account as a banker when his notes fall due; Rubus triflora, Quercus, Vaccinium, etc. The Cypripedium not due till to-morrow….He thinks he could tell by the flowers what day of the month it is, within two days.”
February 1862: “Thoreau. Perhaps his fancy for Walt Whitman grew out of his taste for wild nature, for an otter, a woodchuck, or a loon.”
June 1862: “Henry Thoreau remains erect, calm, self-subsistent, before me, and I read him not only truly in his Journal, but he is not long out of mind when I walk, and, as to-day, row upon the pond. He chose wisely no doubt for himself to be the bachelor of thought and nature that he was, - how near to the old monks in their ascetic religion!”
June 1862: “If we should ever print Henry’s journals, you may look for a plentiful crop of naturalists. Young men of sensibility must fall an easy prey to the charming of Pan’s pipe.”
June 24, 1863: “In reading Henry Thoreau’s journal, I am very sensible of the vigour of his constitution. That oaken strength which I noted whenever he walked, or worked, or surveyed wood-lots, the same unhesitating hand with which a field-labourer accosts a piece of work, which I should shun as a waste of strength, Henry shows in his literary task. He has muscle, and ventures on and performs feats which I am forced to decline. In reading him, I find the same thought, the same spirit that is in me, but he takes a step beyond, and illustrates by excellent images that which I should have conveyed in a sleepy generality. ‘Tis as if I went into a gymnasium, and saw youths leap, climb, and wring with a force unapproachable, - though their feats are only continuations of my initial grapplings and jumps.”
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Heart of Emerson's Journals. Ed. Bliss Perry. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1926. Print.