Today is the birthday of Henry David Thoreau. So let us take a few moments to celebrate this great American. He was, of course the author of the classic: Walden; or Life in the Woods. What makes Walden a masterpiece is its combination of a transcendental appreciation of nature and a surprisingly humorous flinty-dry wit. Many of these witticisms seem particularly relevant today. Such as:
We are in great haste to build a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.
In addition to being a great writer, many consider Henry David Thoreau to be the father of the environmental movement. He was a vegetarian. A gentle soul who could pick up a frog and pet it like a cat.
Mr. Thoreau was part of a group of American writers who clustered together in the small landlocked town of Concord, Massachusetts. These writers included: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott. How these literary giants came together and how they related to each other is entertainingly explored in Susan Cheever’s gently evocative: American Bloomsbury.
So now it’s time to ask that question: Was Henry David Thoreau gay? Well we know that in 1991 the Journal of Homosexuality published an article concluding that Henry David Thoreau was gay. But I suspect that if there were a Journal of Heterosexuality it would have reached the opposite conclusion. Some scholars have commented on the fact that the popular press of the time referred to Mr. Thoreau as “eccentric”–and this was often a code word for homosexual. Maybe they’re onto something. I’m not sure.
For my part I think Susan Cheever put it best.
It’s a twenty-first-century question directed at an emphatically nineteenth-century personality. What is to be said about a man whose connections to birds and fish and all living things sustained him in a way that his connections to other people could never do?
Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work is published by Simon and Schuster.