The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau Dunshee Ambrotype of Thoreau, 1861 (Courtesy Concord Museum)
What's New About the Project About Thoreau's Writings About Thoreau Resources for Research
"Thoreau's Journals, at home of E. H. Russell, Worcester, February 26, 1901" (Courtesy Concord Free Public Library)
Thoreau's Manuscripts
Thoreau's Handwriting
Online Journal Transcripts
Thoreau's Correspondence
First Publications of Thoreau's Books and Essays
Recommended Editions of Thoreau's Works
Selected Editions of Thoreau's Works
  HDT's manscripts

"A written word is the choicest of relics."


When Henry David Thoreau died in 1862 he had published only two books (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and Walden) and a few essays and poems. This limited publication record belies the volume of manuscript material he left behind at his death: his legacy amounted to thousands of pages, including essays and drafts of essays that he clearly intended to publish; a number of commonplace books into which he copied excerpts from his reading; hundreds of pages of notes and charts recording his observations of the natural phenomena of Concord; letters; and forty-seven manuscript volumes containing his Journal, which he kept almost daily from October 1837 until November 1861.

Because he left behind such a trove of manuscript material, most of which was preserved in his Concord family home at the time of his death, his sister Sophia and friends, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Franklin B. Sanborn, and William Ellery Channing (1817-1901), were able to produce several books during the 1860s (Excursions, The Maine Woods, Cape Cod, A Yankee in Canada, and Letters to Various Persons). Edited by well-intentioned amateurs, these books are inaccurate and incomplete, but they did establish Thoreau's literary reputation in the last quarter of the 19th century. Early twentieth-century editions of Thoreau's writings, such as the twenty-volume "Walden" edition published by Houghton Mifflin Company in 1906, were based on the earlier printings.

In 1965, the establishment of the National Endowment for the Humanities made it possible to plan new, complete, accurate, annotated, and easily available editions of a number of American authors, including Thoreau. A group of Thoreau scholars headed by Walter Harding and supported by NEH joined forces with Princeton University Press to create The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau.

To produce a definitive edition, Thoreau manuscripts had to be located and copied, and many of them had to be transcribed. By now, we know the location of the bulk of the manuscript material, and for many years project editors and staff have been working with photocopies, as well as traveling to collections that hold the originals. Most of the transcription for the literary material; the correspondence, and the Journal has been completed.

An unusual circumstance in the publication of part of the 1906 edition resulted in the scattering of several hundred single leaves of Thoreau's manuscripts: these leaves were tipped in to the first volumes of each of over six hundred special sets, called the Manuscript Edition. For over thirty years, we have been tracking down these sets and the leaves of manuscript associated with them, and we continue to seek them.

Four major research libraries have the largest collections of Thoreau's manuscripts:

The Houghton Library
The Huntington Library
The New York Public Library, The Berg Collection of English and American Literature
The Morgan Library & Museum

As of March 2017, ten libraries have scanned and digitized some or all of their manuscripts by Thoreau, or of manuscript letters to him: the Abernethy Library at Middlebury College, the Beinecke Library at Yale University, the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, the Ella Strong Denison Library at Scripps College, the John Hay Library at Brown University, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, which provides access to digital images in several collections of Thoreau material--MS Am 278.5-278.5.25, MS Am 1280.214.1, MS Am 3032, and HEW 12.7.10, the William Munroe Special Collections at the Concord Free Public Library, the Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth-Century American Manuscripts, Images, and Ephemera at the University of South Carolina, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida.

For a more complete listing of repositories and their Thoreau manuscript holdings, see The Literary Manuscripts of Henry David Thoreau by William L. Howarth (Ohio State University Press, 1974). Elizabeth Witherell traced the history of the surviving manuscripts in her essay "The Availability of Thoreau's Texts and Manuscripts from 1862 to the Present," in Thoreau's World and Ours, edited by Edmund A. Schofield and Robert C. Baron (Golden, CO: North American Press, 1993).

In preparing our edition of Thoreau's work, information about the location of his manuscripts is crucial. If you know of manuscript pages or Manuscript Edition sets that you think we may not have been informed of, please e-mail Elizabeth Witherell or call her at (805) 893-4298.

Take a look at our sample of Thoreau's Handwriting