The Emerson-Thoreau
Correspondence: Emerson In Europe

By F.B. Sanborn

The Atlantic Monthly, June 1892 

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Letters XI - XV:
LONDON, March 25, 1848.
DEAR HENRY, — Your letter was very welcome, and its introduction heartily accepted. In this city and nation of pomps, where pomps, too, are solid, I fall back on my friends with wonderful refreshment. It is pity, however, that you should not see this England, with its indescribable material superiorities of every kind; the just confidence which immense successes of all pasts have generated in the Englishman that he can do everything, and which his manners, though he is bashful and reserved, betray; the abridgment of all expression which dense population and the roar of nations enforce; the solidity of science and merit which in any high place you are sure to find (the Church and some effects of primogeniture excepted). But I cannot tell my story now. I admire the English, I think, never more than when I meet Americans; as, for example, at Mr. Bancroft’s American soirée, which he holds every Sunday night. Great is the aplomb of Mr. Bull. He is very short-sighted, and, without his eyeglass, cannot see as far as your eyes to know how you like him, so that he quite neglects that point. The Americans see very well, — too well, — and the traveling portion are very light troops. But I must not vent my ill humor on my poor compatriots. They are welcome to their revenge, and I am sure I have no weapon to save me if they, too, are at this hour writing letters to their gossips. 

    I have not gone to Oxford yet, though I still correspond with my friend there, Mr. [A. H.] Clough. I meet many young men here, who come to me simply as one of their school of thought; but not often in this class any giants. A Mr. Morell, who has written a History of Philosophy, and [J. G.] Wilkinson, who is a socialist now and gone to France, I have seen with respect. I went last Sunday, for the first time, to see at Hampstead, and dined with him. He was full of friendliness and hospitality; has a school of sixteen children, one lady as matron, then Oldham. That is all the household. They looked just comfortable. Mr. Galpin, tell the Shakers, has married. I spent the most of that day in visiting Hampton Court and Richmond, and went also into Pope’s Grotto at Twickenham, and saw Horace Walpole’s villa of Strawberry Hill. 

Ever your friend, WALDO E.
     If other letters passed between the two friends in 1848, they have not come into my hands. But here are letters of 1850, 1855, and 1856 which have an interest. The first relates to Emerson’s lawsuit with a neighbor; the second to the shipwreck in which Margaret Fuller was lost, near New York. 
CONCORD, March 11, 1850.

MY DEAR SIR, — I leave town tomorrow, and must beg you, if any question arises between Mr. Bartlett and me in regard to boundary lines, to act as my attorney, and I will be bound by any agreement you shall make. Will you also, if you have opportunity,. Warn Mr. Bartlett, on my part, against burning his wood-lot without having there present a sufficient number of hands to prevent the fire from spreading into my wood, which I think will be greatly endangered unless much care is used? Show him, too, if you can, where his cutting and his post-holes trench on our line, by plan, and, so doing, oblige, ever, Yours faithfully, 

Thursday Morning, July 25, 1850.
DEAR FRIEND, — I am writing this at the house of Smith Oakes, within one mile of the wreck. He is the one who rendered most assistance. William H. Channing came down with me, but I have not seen Arthur Fuller, nor Greeley, nor Marcus Spring. Spring and Charles Sumner were here yesterday, but left soon. Mr. Oakes and wife tell me (all the survivors came, or were brought, directly to their house) that the ship struck at ten minutes after four A. M., and all hands, being mostly in their night clothes, made haste to the forecastle, the water coming in at once. 

    There they remained; the passengers in the forecastle, the crew above it, doing what they could. Every wave lifted the forecastle roof and washed over those within. The first man got ashore at nine; many from nine to noon. At flood tide, about half past three o’clock, when the ship broke up entirely, they came out of the forecastle, and Margaret sat with her back to the foremast, with her hands on her knees, her husband and child already drowned. A great wave came and washed her aft. The steward (?) had just before taken her child and started for shore. Both were drowned. 

    The broken desk, in a bag, containing no very valuable papers; a large black leather trunk, with an upper and under compartment, the upper holding books and papers; a carpet-bag, probably Ossoli’s, and one of his shoes (?) are all the Ossoli effects known to have been found. Four bodies remain to be found: the two Ossolis, Horace Sumner, and a sailor. I have visited the child’s grave. Its body will probably be taken away to-day. The wreck is to be sold at auction, excepting the hull, to-day. 

    The mortar would not go off. Mrs. Hasty, the captain’s wife, told Mrs. Gakes that she and Margaret divided their money, and tied up the halves in handkerchiefs around their persons; that Margaret took sixty or seventy dollars. Mrs. Hasty, who can tell all about Margaret up to eleven o’clock on Friday, is said to be going to Portland, New England, to-day. She and Mrs. Fuller must, and probably will, come together. The cook, the last to leave, and the steward (?) will know the rest. I shall try to see them. In the mean while I shall do what I can to recover property and obtain particulars hereabouts. William H. Channing — did I write it? — has come with me. Arthur Fuller has this moment reached the house. He reached the beach last night. We got here yesterday noon. A good part of the wreck still holds together where she struck,  and something may come ashore with her fragments. The last body was found on Tuesday, three miles west. Mrs. Oakes dried the papers which were in the trunk, and she says they appeared to be of various kinds. “Would they cover that table?” (a small round one). “They would if spread out. Some were tied up. There were twenty or thirty books in the same half of the trunk. 

    Another smaller trunk, empty, came ashore, but there was no mark on it.” She speaks of Paulina as if she might have been a sort of nurse to the child I expect to go to Patchogue, whence the pilferers must have chiefly come, and advertise, etc. 

Yours,  H. D. THOREAU (c)
    Late in 1855, when Emerson’s English Traits, long delayed, was soon to appear, and when the author was setting forth for his annual lecture tour in the Northwest, he wrote to Thoreau requesting him to take charge of the last proof sheets of the volume. 
December 26, 1855.
DEAR HENRY, — It is so easy, at distance, or when going to a distance, to ask a great favor which one would haggle at near by. I have been ridiculously hindered, and my book is not out, and I must go westward. There is one chapter yet to go to the printer; perhaps two, if I decide to send the second. I must ask you to correct the proofs of this or these chapters. I hope you can and will, if you are not going away. The printer will send you the copy with the proof; and yet, ‘tis likely you will see good cause to correct copy as well as proof. The chapter is Stonehenge, and I may not send it to the printer a week yet, for I am very tender about the personalities in it, and of course you need not think of it till it comes. As we have been so unlucky as to overstay the market-day, — that is, New Year’s, — it is not important, a week or a fortnight, now. 

    If anything puts it out of your power to help me at this pinch, you must dig up Channing out of his earths, and hold him steady to this beneficence. Send the proofs, if they come, to Phillips, Sampson & Co., Winter Street. We may well go away, if, one of these days, we shall really come home. 

Yours,  R. W. EMERSON.
    This letter may fitly close an intimate correspondence. I have omitted a few notes of different dates,. usually asking Thoreau to perform some friendly hospitable service for Mrs. Emerson or her sister, Mrs. Brown. It seems to have been habitual for Thoreau to take tea at the Emerson house whenever a lecturer from Boston or Cambridge was to speak in Concord and be entertained by the Emersons. In February, 1854, there were two notes from Emerson, who expected to be absent, inviting Thoreau to take charge of Professor Horsford and Theodore Parker in successive weeks. 

    “They are both to come to my house for the night. Now I wish to your courtesy and counsel to receive these lonely pilgrims, to guide them to our house, and help the alarmed wife to entertain them; and see that they do not lose the way to the Lyceum, nor the hour. If you shall be in town, and can help these gentlemen so far, you will serve the whole municipality as well as 

Yours faithfully, 
     Such notes, which were always complied with, show how far Thoreau was from that unsocial mood in which it has pleased some writers to depict him. The same inference can be drawn from the latest letter I shall here give, addressed to Sophia Thoreau from a kind of educational community in New Jersey. Miss Thoreau submitted it to Mr. Emerson for publication, with other letters, in the volume of 1865; but he returned it, inscribed “Not printable at present.” The lapse of time has removed this objection. 


Saturday Eve, November 1, 1856.
DEAR SOPHIA, — I have hardly had time and repose enough to write to you before. I spent the afternoon of Friday (it seems some months ago) in Worcester, but failed to see [Harrison] Blake, he having “gone to the horse race” in Boston; to atone for which I have just received a letter from him, asking me to stop at Worcester and lecture on my return. I called on [Theo.] Brown and [T. W.] Higginson; in the evening came by way of Norwich to New York in the steamer Commonwealth, and, though it was so windy inland, had a perfectly smooth passage, and about as good a sleep as usually at home. Reached New York about seven A.M., too late for the John Potter (there wasn’t any Jonas), so I spent the forenoon there, called on Greeley (who was not in), met [F. A. T.] Bellew in Broadway and walked into his workshop, read at the Astor Library, etc. I arrived here, about thirty miles from New York, about five P.M. Saturday, in company with Miss E. Peabody, who was returning in the same covered wagon from the Landing to Eagleswood, which last place she has just left for the winter. 

    This is a queer place. There is one large long stone building, which cost some forty thousand dollars, in which I do not know exactly who or how many work (one or two familiar faces and more familiar names have turned up), a few shops and offices, an old farmhouse, and Mr. Spring’s perfectly private residence, within twenty rods of the main building. The city of Perth Amboy is about as big as Concord, and Eagleswood is one and a quarter miles southwest of it, on the Bay side. The central fact here is evidently Mr. [Theodore] Weld’s school, recently established, around which various other things revolve. Saturday evening I went to the schoolroom, hall, or what not, to see the children and their teachers and patrons dance. Mr. Weld, a kind-looking man with a long white beard, danced with them, and Mr. [E. J.] Cutler, his assistant (lately from Cambridge, who is acquainted with Sanborn), Mr. Spring, and others. This Saturday evening dance is a regular thing, and it is thought something strange if you don’t attend. They take it for granted that you want society! 

    Sunday forenoon I attended a sort of Quaker meeting at the same place (the Quaker aspect and spirit prevail here, — Mrs. Spring says, “Does thee not?”), where it was expected that the spirit would move me (I having been previously spoken to about it) ; and it, or something else, did, — an inch or so. I said just enough to set them a little by the ears and make it lively. I had excused myself by saying that I could not adapt myself to a particular audience; for all the speaking and lecturing here have reference to the children, who are far the greater part of the audience, and are not so bright as New England children. Imagine them sitting close to the wall, all around a hall, with old Quaker-looking men and women here and there. There sat Mrs. Weld [Grimké] and her sister, two elderly gray-headed ladies, the former in extreme Bloomer costume, which was what you may call remarkable; Mr. Buffum, with broad face and a great white beard, looking like a pier head made of the cork-tree with the bark on, as if he could buffet a considerable wave; James G. Birney, formerly candidate for the presidency, with another particularly white head and beard; Edward Palmer, the anti-money man (for whom communities were made), with his ample beard somewhat grayish. Some of them, I suspect, are very worthy people. Of course you are wondering to what extent all these make one family, and to what extent twenty. Mrs. Kirkland (and this a name only to me) I saw. She has just bought a lot here. They all know more about your neighbors and acquaintances than you suspected. 

    On Monday evening I read the Moose story to the children, to their satisfaction. Ever since I have been constantly engaged in surveying Eagleswood, — through woods, salt marshes, and along the shore, dodging the tide, through bushes, mud and beggar ticks, having no time to look up or think where I am. (It takes ten or fifteen minutes before each meal to pick the beggar ticks out of my clothes; burs and the rest are left, and rents mended at the first convenient opportunity.) I shall be engaged perhaps as much longer. Mr. Spring wants me to help him about setting out an orchard and vineyard, Mr. Birney asks me to survey a small piece for him, and Mr. Alcott, who has just come down here for the third Sunday, says that Greeley (I left my name for him) invites him and me to go to his home with him next Saturday morning and spend the Sunday. 

    It seems a twelvemonth since I was not here, but I hope to get settled deep into my den again erelong. The hardest thing to find here is solitude — and Concord. I am at Mr. Spring’s house. Both he and she and their family are quite agreeable. 

    I want you to write to me immediately (just left off to talk French with the servant man), and let father and mother put in a word. To them and to aunts, 

Love from HENRY
(At the Concord Library site: Thoreau's Eagleswood survey

    The date of this visit to Eagleswood is worthy of note, because in that November Thoreau made the acquaintance of the late Walt Whitman, in whom he ever after took a deep interest. Accompanied by Mr. Alcott, he called on Whitman, then living at Brooklyn;. and I remember the calm enthusiasm with which they both spoke of Whitman upon their return to Concord. “Three men,” said Emerson, in his funeral eulogy of Thoreau (May, 1862), “have of late years strongly impressed Mr. Thoreau, — John Brown, his Indian guide in Maine, Joe Polis, and a third person, not known to this audience.” This last was Whitman, who has since become well known to a larger audience. 

F. B. Sanborn.

Sanborn’s Note: It will readily be seen that this letter relates to the shipwreck on Fire Island, near New York, in which Margaret Fuller, Countess Ossoli, with her husband and child, was lost. A letter with no date of the year, but probably written February 15, 1840, from Emerson to Thoreau, represents them both as taking much trouble about a house in Concord for Mrs. Fuller, the mother of Margaret, who had just sold her Groton house, and wished to live with her daughter near Emerson. Emerson writes: “The dull weather and some inflammation still hold me in the house, and so may cost you some trouble. I wrote to Miss Fuller at Groton, a week ago, that as soon as Saturday  (to-morrow) I would endeavor to send her more accurate answers to her request for information in respect to houses likely to be let in Concord. I beg you to help me in procuring the information to-day, if your engagements leave you space for this charity.” He then asks four questions about houses in the village, and adds: “If, some time this evening, you can, without much inconvenience, give me an answer to these questions, you will greatly oblige your imprisoned friend,   R. W. EMERSON.” - back

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