Thoreau-ly Unattractive

We recently noted the sexual prowess of Walt Whitman, but what about his fellow 19th century writer, Henry David Thoreau? He wasn’t so lucky:

His close friend and fellow transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson mentioned that Thoreau Henry_David_Thoreaulived alone and never married, but it’s the journal of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, a Concord, Massachusetts neighbor, that might explain why: “[Thoreau] is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed….” Nathaniel’s son Julian is as kind in his own memoir, calling Thoreau a “short, dark, unbeautiful man.” Even nearly 20 years after Thoreau’s death, the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson noted Thoreau’s “thin, penetrating, big-nosed face.” …

Despite his distaste for fashion, Thoreau did have some flair — if you could call it that. In the winter of 1855, Thoreau grew a neckbeard, which he claimed was for protection against “throat colds,” but also, he insisted, was quite popular with the ladies. Fellow author and Concord resident Louisa May Alcott reportedly pointed out the impossibility of this, mentioning to Emerson that Thoreau’s neckbeard “will most assuredly deflect amorous advances and preserve the man’s virtue in perpetuity.”

(Portrait of Thoreau in 1856, via Wikimedia Commons)