Posted by Vale
150 years ago yesterday Henry David Thoreau died.
I’ve loved him ever since I came across his views on the first transatlantic telegraph cable. Emerson had written in praise of it, but Thoreau – with something of the prophet in him – refused to be enthusiastic simply noting that “perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”
He invented an improved pencil, but, having done it once could see no purpose in doing it again, even though its manufacture would have made him a fortune. Instead, he lived by his hands and his wits working out in the world how best to live in it.
Emerson’s eulogy is worth reading as a shrewd record of the man and an introduction to his thought and unique life. Emerson finishes with:
‘The scale on which his studies proceeded was so large as to require longevity, and we were the less prepared for his sudden disappearance. The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost. It seems an injury that he should leave in the midst of his broken task which none else can finish, a kind of indignity to so noble a soul that he should depart out of Nature before yet he has been really shown to his peers for what he is. But he, at least, is content. His soul was made for the noblest society; he had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.’
The full text can be found here.
Thoreau’s final words are wonderfully enigmatic: ‘Now comes good sailing’, he said, followed by ‘Moose…Indian’.