Thoreau’s last journal


From age 20 on, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) copiously kept a journal in which he recorded his observations about nature and his thoughts. The journal provided the grist for some of his finest writings.

The following is from “This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal,” an exhibition currently at The Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan.



“What’s in Thoreau’s Last Journal?”

“Here are a few of the things Thoreau did in November 1860 and wrote about in his final notebook:”

Built a new fence in his family’s yard

Weighed the merits of imported and native fruits

Measured acorns, tree stumps, and a raccoon skeleton

Counted the rings in a spruce plank

Studied the history of local berries

Looked up the Abenaki word for “bluets”

Argued that slavery exists wherever a man “surrenders his inalienable rights of conscience and reason”

Imagined a town committed to preserving nature

Analyzed the contents of a crow’s stomach

Cited Pliny, Gosse, and Herodotus

Paid tribute to the slowness of Nature

Examined an owl and a salamander a friend brought over

Mused on the extreme flexibility of a cat’s body

Copied extracts from Carolina Sports by Land and Water

Heard the twitter of spring’s first bluebird

Logged childhood memories of his 80-year-old Aunt Sophia

Talked to friends about slavery, turtle eggs, and the price of wood

Noticed the river’s level after the snow had melted

Listened to sparrow in March (“the finest singers I have heard yet”)

Observed water bugs, frogs, butterflies, and mouse droppings

Took a train trip to Minnesota

Watched a kitten scratch its ear for the first time


–Roger W. Smith

  June 2017



Note: Thoreau died on May 6, 1862.

Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888) was an English naturalist and well known writer.

Thoreau notebook page.jpg

page from one of Thoreau’s notebooks

Thoreau notebook page (2).jpg

page from one of Thoreau’s notebooks

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