William Ellery Channing, Friend of Thoreau


Born on November 29th, 1818 in Boston, Massachusetts, William Ellery Channing could very well be described as a wandering man. Throughout his life, he attempted to go to school and even live as a family man, but time and time again he found himself unable to settle down. Leaving his family in 1844 to resume his unanchored wandering, Channing first visited New York City, then Europe, and until finally returning to Concord in 1846.

Channing and Thoreau were close friends, and would regularly keep company on walks through the woods, admiring the sights of nature around them. In a letter to Thoreau, it is evident that the two are close. Channing writes:

“My dear Thoreau,

The hand-writing of your letter is so miserable that I am not sure I have made it out. If I have it seems to me you are the same old sixpence you used to be, rather rusty, but a genius piece.”

Channing was also the one to suggest Thoreau live in solitude. Previously, he himself had spent some time living alone in the woods, and in a letter suggesting Thoreau do the same, he wrote “I see nothing for you on this earth but that field which I once christened ‘Briars;’ go out upon that, build yourself a hut, and there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive. I see no alternative, no other hope for you.” Thoreau took this advice to heart and so began his stay in Walden, where he wrote on his experiences, creating the famous piece of literature we have today.

Eleven years after the passing of Henry David Thoreau, Channing published his biography Thoreau, the Poet-Naturalist in 1873.


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