“this Is A Beautiful World; But I Shall See A Fairer”

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Emerson read an extensive eulogy. It started off on a negative note: He was a protestant à l’outrance , and few lives contain so many renunciations. He was bred to no profession; he never married; he lived alone; he never went to church; he never voted; he refused to pay a tax to the State; he ate no flesh, he drank no wine, he never knew the use of tobacco; and, though a naturalist, he used neither trap nor gun.…

It cost him nothing to say No; indeed he found it much easier than to say Yes.

But it ended on a more appropriate, more positive note: The scale on which his studies proceeded was so large as to require longevity, and we were the less prepared for his sudden disappearance. The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost. It seems an injury that he should leave in the midst his broken task, which none else can finish,—a kind of indignity to so noble a soul, that it should depart out of Nature before yet he has been really shown to his peers for what he is. But he, at least, is content. His soul was made for the noblest society; he had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.

Alcott read some passages from Thoreau’s writings, and the service closed with a prayer by the Reverend Mr. Reynolds.

A new procession was formed to follow the coffin as it was carried by six fellow townsmen to the grave. Most of the town’s four hundred schoolchildren walked in that procession. Thoreau was buried in the New Burying Ground, at the foot of Bedford Street. As Emerson turned away from the newly filled grave, he murmured, “He had a beautiful soul, he had a beautiful soul.”

Louisa May Alcott afterward wrote to Sophia Foord (who many years before had proposed marriage to Thoreau): It seemed as if Nature wore her most benignant aspect to welcome her dutiful & loving son to his long sleep in her arms. As we entered the church yard birds were singing, early violets blooming in the grass & the pines singing their softest lullaby, & there between his father 8c his brother we left him, feeling that though his life seemed too short, it would blossom & bear fruit for us long after he was gone, & that perhaps we should know a closer relationship now than even while he lived.