Key Collecting Areas: Collecting Emerson

39.  Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Autograph letter, signed, Concord, Mass., to “My dear Thoreau,” May 11, 1861.

ALS, Emerson to Thoreau

Ink on paper.  From the Ralph Waldo Emerson Papers (part of the CFPL Vault Collection).  Letter deposited in the library by the Concord Antiquarian Society in 1971; converted to gift 1973/1974.

Emerson here writes a note of introduction for his friend Henry David Thoreau, who is preparing to travel to Minnesota in the hope of regaining his health.  (Thoreau died of tuberculosis a year after the note was written.)

This letter comes from a large accession of manuscript and printed items deposited by the Concord Antiquarian Society (today known as the Concord Museum) in the Concord Free Public Library in 1971 and formally given to the library several years later (see also item 49 in the display).  The Concord Antiquarian Society was established in 1886 to preserve and promote local history.  Recognition of its primary focus on the collection, display, and interpretation of material culture and the library’s more documentary mission guided the transfer of these materials.  Later, the library transferred rich collections of Native American artifacts to the Concord Museum.

The library and the museum work cooperatively, each according to its mission, to collect in all subject areas relating to Concord, including its Transcendental authors.  While the library highlights the lives and work of Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott through a variety of documentary collections (including papers and records uniquely reflecting the place of Concord’s authors in local life), the museum showcases Emerson’s study, for example, and the furniture Thoreau used at Walden Pond.  Joint programming sometimes brings the holdings of the two together to tell a better story than either can tell individually.


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