Saturday, May 06, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1862 ~ Henry David Thoreau dies in Concord, Massachusetts. His last words are "Moose. Indian."

I find Thoreau's last words to be a fitting end for this writer whom I can never teach with an entirely straight face. For while Thoreau addresses issues that most certainly should be considered (the role of civil disobedience, the rush and distractions of life that keep us from self-examination), my students - and I - find the more amusing aspects of his life to be more memorable.

- A year before Thoreau moves to Walden Pond (an experiment which will earn him his reputation as the quintessential nature boy), he accidentally sets fire to the woods near Concord, burning 300 acres and causing $2000 in damages.

- During his time at Walden Pond, he writes his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. He sells only about 200 copies of this work, and the unsold volumes are returned to him (he had paid for their publication). He writes in his journal, “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.”

Less amusing are his other deathbed comments. Asked by his aunt if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau replied, "I did not know that we had quarreled."


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