Thoreau’s Latin Letter

I was on a field trip at the Concord (MA) Museum today for a non-Latin class; it and the Pierpont Morgan are exhibiting Thoreau’s journals alongside his possessions. The Concord Museum has the possessions and the Morgan has the journals; the exhibit just left the Morgan and is now at the Museum. Our guide said that this is the first time that they have been together and, likely, the last time in our lifetime that they will be together.

The exhibit was great, of course. But I was pleasantly surprised to see some Latin in the exhibit, and I decided that my Latin class and I would look at these documents for class today (right when I got back from the field trip).

There is a flyer for Harvard’s commencement (in which Thoreau is featured) and a letter that he wrote to his sister. The plan was for the students to transcribe the letter (and deal with the handwriting), and then we’ll read it and the flyer together. My students, of course, quickly found a transcription online but, to their credit, largely ignored it and worked with the handwriting. It also took longer than I thought (as it often does).

I Googled Thoreau’s Latin letters and found this quick entry but that seems to be about it, at least at the top level of a Google search. The entry references a volume that reproduces both the Latin and the English (which is what my students found); you can download those pages here (though you do have to skip around a bit) and here is the title page for citation purposes:


I hadn’t even noticed too when I first saw the letter that he includes a local variant of Horace’s Mt. Soracte poem.

But it was a cool thing to do and to read. I reproduce them here, as well as the placards for the letter.

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2016 FT to BPL’s Rare Book Room

Going through some old pictures and found these from last year’s trip to BPL’s Rare Book Room. This was a trip that I had always wanted to do and last year everything came together and I pulled it off. As usual (with me), the deciding factor was logistical: school had purchased two mini-buses and I had fewer than 15 in the class, so we could use the mini-bus and take the T in from there.

I lucked out too because, in my correspondence with BPL, they connected me with Lisa Fagin Davis, a Medievalist and Paleographer, who showed us some cool stuff and knew her stuff from a Medieval standpoint; the BPL person would have been, I suspect, a bit like a docent at a museum: perfectly knowledgeable but lacking subject-specific expertise.

In any case, here are some pictures I took from the day (with one of them in a Tweet from Lisa).

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