The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau Dunshee Ambrotype of Thoreau, 1861 (Courtesy Concord Museum)
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"Thoreau's Journals, at home of E. H. Russell, Worcester, February 26, 1901" (Courtesy Concord Free Public Library)
Thoreau's Manuscripts
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  HDT's handwriting

"the hand-writing of your letter is so miserable, that I am not sure I have made it out. If I have it seems to me you are the same old sixpence you used to be, rather rusty, but a genuine piece."

----Letter, William Ellery Channing (1817-1901) to Thoreau, 5 March 1845

Can you read Thoreau's handwriting? This is a sample from an 1851 Journal entry. Here are some hints. Thoreau wrote with a heavy right slant, so the dots on his i's and the crosses to his t's often appear to the right of the actual letters. Also, some of his letters look alike, especially r and s and z. To make matters worse, Thoreau often made mistakes in spelling or grammar, most of which we reproduce in our edition. He also runs words together, so it can be hard to tell where one word stops and another begins. Finally, keep an eye out for stray marks: random dots and lines, ink splotches, fingerprints.


This manuscript is reproduced courtesy of The Pierpont Morgan Library. Further distribution is prohibited.

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.[Sample page from Thoreau's Journal]


Feb 13th

Skated to Sudbury. A beautiful
summerlike day. The meadows
were frozen just enough
to bear-- -- Examined now the
fleets of ice flakes close at
hand. They are a very singu-
lar & interesting phenomenon
which I do not remember to
have seen I should say that
when the water was frozen about
as thick as pasteboard--a
violent gust had here & there
broken it up & while the
wind & waves held it up on
its edge--the increasing cold
froze it in firmly. So it
seemed for the flakes were
for the most part turned
one way--i.e. standing on
one side you saw only their
edges on another--the N E
or S W--their--sides-- They
were for the most part of a
triangular form--like a shoul-
der of mutton? sail slightly
scolloped--{drawing} like
shells They looked like a
fleeet of a thousand mack-
eral fishers under a press of

This passage appears in The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, Journal 3: 1848-1851 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 190.


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