Key Collecting Areas: Collecting Thoreau

47.  A Code of Gentoo Laws, or, Ordinations of the Pundits, from a Persian Translation, Made from the Original, Written in the Shanscrit Language (London: [no publisher], 1776).

Code ofGentoo laws

Inscribed in Thoreau’s hand: “Henry D. Thoreau / from / Thomas Cholmondeley.”  Beneath this (in another hand): “E. R. Hoar, / from / Henry D. Thoreau. / May 1862.”  From the Thoreau Books (part of the CFPL Concord Authors Collection).  Gift of E. R. Hoar, 1895.


In 1854, English gentleman Thomas Cholmondeley came to Concord to visit Emerson.  He boarded with the Thoreaus and became friendly with Henry, who arranged a hike up Mount Wachusett for H. G. O. Blake, Cholmondeley, and himself.  In 1855, after Cholmondeley had returned to England, he shipped Thoreau a rare collection of forty-four books on Oriental subjects, including the eighteenth-century volume shown here.  Thoreau valued this gift highly.  He had earlier had access in Emerson’s library to Eastern texts that fed into his Transcendentalism, but not to the extent that Cholmondeley’s books afforded.  Thoreau wrote Cholmondeley on November 8, 1855, “I must endeavor to thank you for your magnificent, your princely gift to me.”  He vowed to partake “a little at a time of these rich dishes.”  Although Thoreau declined Cholmondeley’s requests to visit him in England, Cholmondeley stopped in Concord again in 1858, and the two remained correspondents until Thoreau died.

Thoreau biographer Robert D. Richardson summarizes Cholmondeley’s gift thus: “Among the books Thoreau already knew were the Vishnu Purana, The Laws of Menu, the Bhagavadgita, the  Samkhya Karika, and the Sacontala.  There were other Hindu texts that were new to him, such as the Rig Veda, some Upanishads, two volumes of aphorisms, and two volumes of Hindoo drama.  There were three volumes of commentary by Thomas Colebrook.”

As revealed by one of the inscriptions in the Cholmondeley/Thoreau copy of A Code of Gentoo Laws, the book was passed to Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar in the month Thoreau died.  It came to the Concord Free Public Library from Judge Hoar, unlike most of the rest of the CFPL’s volumes from Thoreau’s personal collection, which were given by Sophia Thoreau (see items 11 and 12 in the display).  The Concord Free Public Library owns two other titles from the Cholmondeley gift, Cholmondeley’s own Ultima Thule (given by Sophia) and James Mill’s The History of British India (a Concord Town Library volume transferred to the Concord Free Public Library; see text accompanying item 31 in the display).


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