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The bicentennial of Henry David Thoreau’s birth culminated with the opening of the most comprehensive exhibition ever created about one of the world’s most original writers and thinkers. This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal brought together remarkable holdings from the world’s two most significant Thoreau collections: journals, manuscripts, letters, books, and field notes from the Morgan Library & Museum; and, from the Concord Museum, unique personal items which included the simple green desk on which Thoreau wrote Walden and “Civil Disobedience.”
The exhibit featured nearly one hundred items and united for the first time the only two photographs for which Thoreau sat during his lifetime. The show centered on the journal Thoreau kept throughout his life and its importance in understanding the essential Thoreau. More than twenty of Thoreau’s journal notebooks were shown along with letters and manuscripts, books from his library, pressed plants from his herbarium, and important personal artifacts like his walking stick.
Margaret Burke, Executive Director of the Concord Museum, explained, “Fresh from its extraordinary success at New York’s Morgan Library & Museum, This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal is one of the most important exhibits the Concord Museum has had the privilege to present. We are excited to reunite – in his hometown – Henry David Thoreau’s personal items and journals. Nearly two centuries after Thoreau’s birth, we are just beginning to appreciate the enormous impact he has had on our culture, our thinking, and our appreciation of our world. We are proud to share those insights with the people of Concord and with admirers from around the world.”
Throughout 2017, Concord celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of writer and thinker Henry Thoreau (1817-1862). The Concord Museum, along with program partners, developed a year-long initiative, “Be Thoreau,” which encouraged us to explore the writer’s work from a historical and contemporary perspective.
Every private journal tells the story of self. For his entire adult life, Thoreau filled notebook after notebook with his observations and reflections, strong in the belief that a closely examined life would yield infinite riches. His journal was his everyday companion, an essential tool for a mindful existence, and grist for Walden. The exhibition took Thoreau’s manuscript journal as a point of departure to introduce the many facets of this extraordinary man – the student, reader, writer, worker, thinker, Concord neighbor, and above all, keen observer of the inner and outer world. It revealed how Thoreau used his journal as a place to cultivate – and constantly renew – his very self.
“It is a wonderful highlight of the bicentennial to have Thoreau’s journal back in Concord for the first time in more than a century. I am one of the many who believe that the place to find the real historical Thoreau is in his journal, and this exhibition is the first ever to successfully view it in that light.” David Wood, Concord Museum Curator