Give me the old familiar walk, post office and all, with this ever new self,
with this infinite expectation and faith. . . .
–Thoreau’s journal, November 1, 1858
This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal is the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to the life of one of America’s most influential authors and thinkers. It brings 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 that have never before left Thoreau’s hometown, including the very desk on which he wrote much of his journal.
Every private journal tells the story of a self. For his entire adult life, Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) 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 mindful existence, and grist for Walden, one of the world’s most influential books. This exhibition, which marks the two hundredth anniversary of Thoreau’s birth, takes his 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 reveals how Thoreau used his journal as a place to cultivate—and constantly renew—his very self.
After Thoreau’s death, his friend Louisa May Alcott expressed confidence that “though his life seemed too short, it would blossom & bear fruit for as long after he was gone.” Her letter reminds us that Thoreau’s writings (both private and published) still challenge us to confront fundamental questions: What constitutes a meaningful life? How does our understanding of the past inform our present choices? What is our relationship to the natural world? And what practical steps may individuals take to live in accordance with their convictions? Much as Alcott predicted, we continue to find Thoreau “ever new.