Thoreau’s Lectures After Walden: Appendix A




Concord, Massachusetts; Home of Ralph W. and Lidian (Jackson) Emerson


Although very busy writing and revising lectures during the month of October 1854, Thoreau may have given Emerson’s aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, a private reading of “Moonlight,” which he had delivered in Plymouth on 8 October 1854. We base this possibility on the following undated letter from Mary Moody Emerson to Thoreau (see lecture 44, note 7, above):

If Mr. Thoreau took the least dislike at the close of his last visit to me—why it is not the home of genius to notice trifles. Why not have visited my deeper solitude? Why not bring me the Plymouth lecture? And a budget of literary news? Are you under no obligation to benefit or gratify your neighbours? Age loves the old fashion of chastising the young. Love to your parents & Aunts & forget not




On 17 November 1854, Thoreau wrote to William E. Sheldon, “Thinking it possible that you might be expecting me [to] lecture before your Society on the 5th of December as I offered—I write to ask if it is so” (C, p. 351). Sheldon was the principal of a high school in East Abington, Massachusetts, and owned a first edition of Walden (anonymous, undated note citing an unspecified auction catalog and laid into folder titled “Notes on Fruits,” Berg Collection, NN). But Thoreau’s journal for 5 December and the letter he wrote to Senator Charles Sumner the same day, datelined “Concord,” both imply that he remained in his hometown that day (J, 7:78-79; C, p. 353).


JUNE 1856


Sometime before 21 May 18.56, H. G. O. Blake wrote to Thoreau asking him to visit Worcester, apparently to give a parlor lecture, for Thoreau wrote in his response:

I have not for a long time been putting such thoughts together as I should like to read to the company you speak of. I have enough of that sort to say, or even read, but not time now to arrange it. Something I have prepared might prove for their entertainment or refreshment perchance, but I would not like to have a hat carried round for it. I have just been reading some papers to see if they would do for your company; but though I thought pretty well of them as long as I read them to myself, when I got an auditor to try them on, I felt that they would not answer. How could I let you drum up a company to hear them?—In fine, what I have is either too scattered or loosely arranged, or too light, or else is too scientific and matter of fact (I run a good deal into that of late) for so hungry a company.
 I am still a learner, not a teacher, feeding somewhat omnivorously browsing both stalk & leaves—but I shall perhaps be enabled to speak with the more precision & authority by & by—if philosophy & sentiment are not buried under a multitude of details.
 I do not refuse, but accept your invitation—only changing the time-I consider myself invited to Worcester once for all—& many thanks to the inviter. (C, pp. 423-24)

Thoreau visited Blake in Worcester on 13-19 June 1856 (J, 8:377-82) and may have lectured at that time; we have discovered nothing, however, to indicate that he may have changed his mind about not having a text suitable enough to read to Blake and other friends in Worcester.


Perth Amboy, New Jersey; Unionist’s Hall, Eagleswood, Community


In “A Thoreau Mystery,” Thoreau Society Bulletin, no. 183 (Spring 1988): 1, Elizabeth Hall Witherell traces as far as she can the provenance of a tantalizing piece of paper headed “H. D. Thoreau (through Mary Mansfield, Lynnfield) to Mrs. Jonathan Buffum.)” and containing the Following text:

Quality, fineness, durability, is the test of unity. Thus it is like attracts like; thus it is, friends, in my ever-seeking, ever yearning for truth, I have chanced to intrude upon your quiet retreat, and the path is so clear, so crystal in its attraction, I slipped into recognition. It is a pleasure to me as exquisite as when I chanced to meet some friendly moss or lichen, that answered to the vacant spot in my soul on earth.
 O friends, to such, with pure, noble, truthful spirits, the world is a vast field of action; too large to admit of langour or repining, too glorious to be an aimless labor.
 I love your blessed spirit, and quietly I will withdraw, lest I become overpowered by the delicious calmness and unity, and forget to leave my [quest?]. But I shall come again, and hope you will greet me kindly.
Henry David Thoreau

We have not been able to identify Mary Mansfield of Lynnfield, but Mrs. Jonathan Buffum is no doubt the wife of the Jonathan Buffum that Thoreau spent considerable time with while on his two lecture trips to Lynn—or Lynnfield—Massachusetts (see lectures 57 and 63 above). Also, in a letter to his sister Sophia dated 1 November 1856, Thoreau mentions Arnold Buffum, possibly a relative of Jonathan, as being present at the Eagleswood Community when he visited there (see lecture 51 above). We believe, but cannot prove, that Mary Mansfield carried the paper quoted above to Mrs. Jonathan Buffum in Lynn from Eagleswood and that the paper contains a close summary of what Thoreau said during “a sort of Quaker meeting” he spoke at on Sunday morning, 26 October 1856. We further believe that Thoreau, having been “spoken to” in advance about the spirit moving him to say a few words during the meeting, probably thought about what he might say beforehand. (Bradley P. Dean argues these points in “A Thoreau Mystery—Solved?” Thoreau Research Newsletter, 1 [April 1990]: 3-4.) The following is a portion of Thoreau’s account of the event, for the remainder of which, see lecture 51 above:

Sunday forenoon, I attended a sort of Quaker meeting at the same place—(The Quaker aspect & spirit prevails here—Mrs Spring says “—does thee not?”) where it was expected that the spirit would move me (I having been previously spoken to about it) & it, or something else, did, an inch or so. I said just enough to set them a little by the ears & make it lively. I had excused myself by saying that I could not adapt myself to a particular audience, for all the speaking & lecturing here has reference to the children, who are far the greater part of the audience, & they are not so bright as N.E. children[.] (C, pp. 439-40)




Almost certainly F. B. Sanborn’s mention of a Thoreau lecture in Philadelphia during November 1856 (The Life of Henry David Thoreau, p. 382) is a misstated or mistaken reference to Thoreau’s 21 November 1854 delivery of “The Wild” in that city (see lecture 45 above). Recalling that Thoreau had delivered a lecture in Philadelphia, Sanborn probably assumed that the lecture took place at some point during Thoreau’s trip to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in October-November 1856.




On Tuesday, 21 September 1858, Thoreau traveled to Salem, where he met the lichenist John Russell. That afternoon the two set off on foot to Cape Ann, where they stayed until Friday, 24 September. Thoreau’s journal record of the excursion gives no indication that he may have delivered a lecture while at Salem or while on the cape (J, 11:170-80). But in a long, blustery, phlegmatic entry in his journal on 16 November, he railed against (among other things) his inability to get a fair hearing as a lecturer. After mentioning “One of our New England towns” that “is sealed up hermetically like a molasses hogshead” and “a cape which runs six miles into the sea that has not a man of moral courage upon it”—the latter clearly a reference to Cape Ann—Thoreau wrote:

I have been into the town, being invited to speak to the inhabitants, not valuing, not having read even, the Assembly’s Catechism, and I try to stimulate them by reporting the best of my experience. I see the craven priest looking round for a hole to escape at, alarmed because it was he that invited me thither, and an awful silence pervades the audience. They think they will never get me there again. But the seed has not all fallen in stony and shallow ground. (J, 11:326-327)

A little later in the entry, Thoreau writes, “It is no compliment to be invited to lecture before the rich Institutes and Lyceums”; and later still he mentions Boston’s “Lowell Institute with its restrictions, requiring a certain faith in the lecturers” and “the Philomathean Institute in the next large town,” which kept a list of unoffending lecturers (J, 11:327, 328). All of this suggests that Thoreau had delivered a lecture recently, and most likely while on his excursion to Salem and Cape Ann, but we have found no record of such a lecture.


Concord, Massachusetts; Town Hall


Bronson Alcott wrote in his diary on this date, “Evening, at Town Hall. A meeting called there to make arrangements for celebrating by appropriate services that day of Capt. Brown’s execution. Simon Brown, Dr. Bartlett, Keyes, Emerson, and Thoreau address the meeting … ” (Alcott, Journals, p. 322). Very likely Thoreau’s remarks, as well as those of the other four speakers at this meeting, were not prepared in advance and thus would not constitute a lecture.


Concord, Massachusetts; Town Hall


On 17 February 1860, the Mason Commission, which had been established by the U.S. Senate to investigate Capt. John Brown’s raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, issued an order for Franklin B. Sanborn to appear in Washington, D.C., to testify on the part he played in the affair. More than six weeks later, on 3 April, a deputy U.S. marshall and four assistants, armed with a subpoena, attempted to abduct Sanborn but were delayed when Sanborn’s sister and another woman raised the alarm while Sanborn struggled against his would-be abductors, who were trying to shove him into a waiting coach. Soon someone rang some alarm bells, and more than one hundred Concordians, including Thoreau, arrived straightaway to foil the attempt. A writ of habeus corpus hastily prepared by Judge Hoar was served on the abductors, who refused to release Sanborn until Concord’s deputy sheriff, Mr. Moore, threatened to call on the assembled citizens to take Sanborn by force. The next day the Massachusetts Supreme Court met in a special session to discharge Sanborn from arrest, and that evening Concordians assembled in their Town Hall to celebrate their success (Days, pp. 423-24). An article in the Boston Journal of 5 April reported the meeting:

Mr. Sanborn’s Case.


Speeches by Mr. Sanborn, Mr. Thoreau,
Rev. Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Emerson,
Rev. T. W. Higginson
and others.


[Special Dispatch to the Boston Journal].

CONCORD, Mass. April 4.
The Town Hall was crowded at 8 o’clock to consider the events of the day and last night. Great enthusiasm was manifested at the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Mr. F. B. Sanborn.
 Mr. Bowers called the meeting to order, and Dr. Josiah Bartlett was chosen Chairman.
 After a warm tribute to the two women, who saved the town from the disgrace of the kidnapping of Mr. Sanborn, he introduced Mr. Sanborn to the audience which received him with shouts of applause. He appeared with the manacles on his hands, which were on them last night; and after expressing his thanks to his townsmen for their prompt action of last night, drew from these late events the lesson of increasing hatred to slavery, whatever disguises it may assume, and whatever persons it may lay claim to.
 Rev. Mr. Reynolds followed Mr. Sanborn, and congratulated his townsmen on the result of the day,
 Mr. Thoreau next spoke, advocating resistance even to law, when it opposed justice.
 He was followed by Mr. A. G. Fay, a dealer in gunpowder, who seemed to think a little of his commodity was needed.
 Mr. R. W. Emerson spoke briefly and pointedly against centralization, and in favor of the two women who had behaved so heroically.
 Mr. Bowers, Mr. Henry’ Warren, and E. W. Bull, Esq., also spoke, and finally T. W. Higginson of Worcester, who had come late to the meeting from Boston, spoke of the importance of what had been done, and the necessity of organization to guard against future outrages. The suggestion was accepted by the meeting, and a committee of seven was chosen to secure such an organization.
 Mr. Sanborn closed the meeting by stating his present position, and his determination to resist the Senate’s usurpation to the last. The entire proceedings were full of resolute enthusiasm, and a determination was expressed to defend Sanborn at all hazards.
 The following resolutions were adopted:
Resolved, That the fame of old Concord for its spirit of noble daring on the nineteenth of April 1775, is glorious, and only equaled by the chivalrous rescue of one of our most honored citizens from a band of kidnappers, who had forceably seized and manacled him, and were hurrying him away from his home and friends, on the third of April, 1860.
Resolved, That the doctrine of the Revolution, that “resistance to tyrants is obedience to God,” is our doctrine, and that we proclaim our unswaying determination to resist all attempts to abridge the rights of any citizen to all privileges and guarantees of constitutional liberty
Resolved, That the attempt of United States officers, by false pretenses, and under cover of darkness, to rob a man of his freedom, is base, mean and cowardly.

Thoreau’s remarks, which we assume were impromptu and therefore do not qualify as a lecture, were more fully reported in an unidentified newspaper (from a clipping pasted into Bronson Alcott’s MS diary):

Henry D. Thoreau, a genius and a philosopher, and reputed to be a man of practical sense and tact—his business a surveyor said he had heard the bells ringing last night, as he supposed for fire, but it proved to be the hottest fire he ever witnessed in Concord. He denounced what he termed the mean and sneaking method the United States officials took to accomplish their purpose. Early in the evening there appeared a poor boy, under a forged name, seeking aid. This is the course the Senate of the United States took to arrest one of their own citizens. The kidnappers, he said, should have been in their place. (Applause.) He thought somebody should have taken the responsibility to arrest them at the time of the arrest of Sanborn. That was a mistake. Many had been congratulated because the affair had been conducted in a lawful and orderly manner, and their friend was now free according to the law. He did not agree with them. No. The Concord people didn’t ring the fire alarm bells according to law—they didn’t cheer according to law—they didn’t groan according to law—(loud applause)—and as he didn’t talk according to law, he thought he would stop and give way to some other speaker.


Copyright © by Joel Myerson
Reprinted with permission