A Free Merman
Thoreau's Journal: 23-Apr-1857

They told me at New Bedford that one of their whalers came in the other day with a black man aboard whom they had picked up swimming in the broad Atlantic, without anything to support him, but nobody could understand his language or tell where he came from. He was in good condition and well-behaved. My respect for my race rose several degrees when I heard this, and I thought they had found the true merman at last. “What became of him?” I inquired. “I believe they sent him to the State Almshouse,” was the reply. Could anything have been more ridiculous? That he should be beholden to Massachusetts for his support who floated free where Massachusetts with her State Almshouse could not have supported herself for a moment. They should have dined him, then accompanied him to the nearest cape and bidden him good-by.


Anonymous said...

I hope you will post more items from Henry's Journal regarding his views on other races and women, even and especially if they are not what we would consider to be pollitically correct these days.

I want to get to know the man beyond his obvious love for nature. Henry was far more than that, and he would be the first to agree that you cannot know someone or something unless you see everything, even the warts.

Anonymous said...

I agree not only to the above, but that you should also include the journal entries that indicate his homosexual leanings. I hope you aren't afraid of the fact that Thoreau probably was gay.

He wasn't just all about nature, you know. In fact one of his big biographers even said he probably delved into nature to focus his energies away from his preference for men.

The point is, please do more than just the nature entries, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Much is made by a few about Thoreau's possible homosexuality. Why does one carry the brand of homosexual (or lesbian) if they prefer the company of the same sex? Thoreau was a peevish, opinionated and exacting man, who was thwarted in love by a woman at least once in his life.
I just think that too often people of our own time tend to intimate that one who doesn't live with or marry the opposite sex, but chooses to do otherwise must be homosexual or lesbian. There is something perverse in this modern perspective...
And after all, what does it matter if Thoreau had leanings toward homosexuality? He never wrote or commented on this. He wasn't too impressed with Walt Whitman's lifestyle when he visited him; Thoreau's sexuality (or lack of it) was his own private matter. Thoreau's writing and interests stand above idle speculation by those 150 years later.

Anonymous said...

I have noticed that "traditional" scholars and fans of HDT recoil in horror at the notion that their beloved Henry was anything other than a lover of Nature. They want to imagine that HDT spent his days exploring Walden Woods and having no urges of any other kind, especially about men (gasp!).

If you had any true understanding of desiring and loving other men, you would see that Henry was drawn to his own gender far more than any woman. The traditionalists love to play up his failed romance with the same woman his brother also failed to win over as proof that he was heterosexual and just felt heartbroken afterwards.

Henry actually had another woman propose to him, and his reaction to this was as if he had just been confronted with a king cobra on one of his favorite walking paths.

Read the research on HDT's writings. Women he had little regard for, while men he praised to the skies. And by men I mean men, not man as in all of humanity.
Henry even commented on what he called his "peculiar" desires in this regard, though it is a shame that then as now he had to consider his desire for men to be abnormal. I wonder if he knew how many creatures of the animal kingdom often pair up with the same gender of their own species.

HDT was likely gay by any standards, so it is time the traditionalists got over it and just accepted him as such. He was not asexual, he was a human being with feelings and needs - they just happen not to conform with what society thinks is normal, but that is society's problem.

The gay community needs its heroes just as much as anyone. Are you going to deny them that just because you are squeamish about two men in love? Funny, but the Greeks considered it to be the highest form of being, something HDT knew and admired deeply.

Time for the scholars who hid HDT's true nature to come out of the closet and we start discussing HDT beyond his nature insights over and over.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that many scholars "recoil in horror" at Thoreau being more than a lover of nature. Thoreau was involved in many issues: abolition of slavery,westward and industrial expansion, as well as issues of civil disobedience; lecturing on these and other issues were all part of his life.
Thoreau's later journals reflect an increasing obsession with natural history observations on his daily walks.

Yes, I can agree with you on your observation about Thoreau's low opinion of many women, though there were a number of women (Emerson's wife being one) who he enjoyed intellectually socializing with. But again I say that Thoreau's sexuality was never an issue that was more than his own private business. Sexuality in general was not a topic that concerned him in his journals or published writings.

I think you are a bit over-the- top stating that I may be denying homosexuals their heroes and am squeamish about two men in love. I am more concerned with agape and philos than eros love between men, but that is my opinion.

Years ago I read Harding's speculations about Thoreau's possible homosexual tendencies. Interesting but not conclusive or definitive.

I like to spend my time reading Thoreau's journals nowadays. It is all there - his thoughts and observations on his life. I see little there that indicates that he was gay and I scarcely think it would matter to me if he was. The bulk of his journals are on nature and it is interesting to me that his seasonal observations are being utilized by climate scientists to measure changes in seasonal blooming of flora brought on by global warming.

If you are so intrigued with what you think are Thoreau's gay tendencies, you should start your own blog and post quotations from his writings that you think indicate this. I don't think that it would be a very long blog.

I agree with you that Thoreau had a high regard for classical Greek culture. He would have probably been in favor of gay rights as inherent human rights. But that is my own idle speculation.