This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal

Exhibition Website

Jun 2 2017 - Sep 10 2017

This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal is the most comprehensive exhibition 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.”

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.

Whether or not you go, Thoreau and the Art of Life: Reflections on Nature and the Mystery of Existence features nearly 100 luminous watercolor illustrations and eloquent passages from the writings of the seminal author and philosopher. Drawn mainly from his journals, the short excerpts provide fascinating insight into his thought processes by presenting his raw, unedited feelings about the things that meant the most to him. The book reflects Thoreau’s deep beliefs and ideas about nature, relationships, creativity, spirituality, aging, simplicity, and wisdom. By eloquently expressing his thoughts about life and what gives it value, he leads the reader to a closer examination of life. Thoreau’s work asks us to live our own truths with joy and discipline and to recognize that we live in a universe of extraordinary beauty, mystery, and wonder.

“It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful, but it is more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.”
—Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau and the Art of Life: Reflections on Nature and the Mystery of Existence

  • American
  • 19th Century
  • Thoreau

Exhibition Venues & Dates