Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Spring Garden Institute
NARRATIVE OF EVENT: In a 21 September 1854 letter to H. G. O. Blake, Thoreau noted his plan to lecture in Philadelphia and elsewhere during the approaching lecture season. He also indicated his unpreparedness to do so, “As it is, I have agreed to go a-lecturing to Plymouth, Sunday after next (October 1) and to Philadelphia in November, and thereafter to the West, if they shall want me; and, as I have prepared nothing in that shape, I feel as if my hours were spoken for” (C, p. 339). Philadelphia, then, was to be his first extra-vagant, post-Walden jump over the cowyard fence of his familiar New England lecturing territory. As it turned out, however, he would not lecture outside New England again until late in 1856, when he gave three lectures in New Jersey during his Eagleswood surveying venture. Thoreau’s uncertainty about his lecture material is reflected in a 6 October 1854 letter from William B. Thomas, chairman of the committee in charge of the lecture series at Philadelphia’s Spring Garden Institute. Wrote Thomas:
You will please accept our thanks for your prompt response to our invitation.
We have entered you for the 21st Nov.
Please inform us as early as possible upon what subject you will speak.1
The Spring Garden Institute, located at the junction of Broad and Spring Garden Streets, was founded in 1850 to give technical training to young men. One of the earliest nineteenth-century mechanics’ institutes, it helped fill a need created by the breakdown of the apprentice system in this country2
On 19 November, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote from Concord to his Philadelphia friend William Henry Furness, announcing Thoreau’s impending visit and asking Furness to show Thoreau the Academy of Natural Sciences. He added that Thoreau would particularly like to see the Academy’s collection of birds. Furness. who had attended school with Emerson in Boston, was at this time and for the rest of his life the minister of the Unitarian Church in Philadelphia.l The following day Bronson Alcott noted in his journal, “Evening, with Emerson at the American House till 10 oclock. E. tells me that Thoreau left today for Philadelphia to lecture there.”4
Thoreau’s journal entry for 20 November begins, “To Philadelphia. 7 A. M., to Boston; 9 A. M., Boston to New York, by express train, land route.” Ever the observer, he noted, “Pleasantest part of the whole route between Springfield and Hartford, along the river; perhaps include the hilly region this side of Springfield. Reached Canal Street at 5 P. M., or candle-light.” Quickly, he was on another train, where, despite the invisibility of the nighttime landscape, he yet saw something worth recording:
Started for Philadelphia from foot of Liberty Street at 6 P. M., via Newark, etc., etc., Bordentown, etc., etc., Camden Ferry, to Philadelphia, all in the dark Saw only the glossy panelling of the cars reflected out into the dark, like the magnificent lit facade of a row of edifices reaching all the way to Philadelphia, except when we stopped and a lanthorn or two showed us a ragged boy and the dark buildings of some New Jersey town. Arrive at 10 P. M.; time, four hours from New York, thirteen from Boston, fifteen from Concord. Put up at Jones’s Exchange Hotel, 77 Dock Street; lodgings thirty-seven and a half cents per night, meals separate; not to be named with French’s in New York next door to the fair of the Franklin Institute, then open, and over against the Exchange, in the neighborhood of the printing-offices. (J, 7:72-73)
On the day of his lecture, the twenty-first. the journal notes Thoreau observing Philadelphia “from the cupola of the State-House, where the Declaration of Independence was declared. The best view of the city I got.” He also remarked the “Fine view from Fairmount water-works.” Emerson’s request to W. H. Furness did not go ignored, for the journal reports, “Was admitted into the building of the Academy of Natural Sciences by a Mr. Durand of the botanical department, Mr. Furness applying to him.”5 And, apropos of Emerson’s mentioning the Academy’s bird collection, Thoreau remarked in the journal, “It is said to be the largest collection of birds in the world.” Other Academy holdings also are mentioned, including “a male moose not so high as the female which we shot” in Maine. Tucked between an attempt to identify an ornamental tree that he supposed “the alianthus, or Tree of Heaven” and a description of “the neat-looking women marketers with full cheeks” is the intriguing comment, “The American Philosophical Society is described as a company of old women.” The day’s entry continues with this unintentionally humorous juxtaposition of natural phenomena: “Furness described a lotus identical with an Egyptian one as found somewhere down the river below Philadelphia; also spoke of a spotted chrysalis which he had also seen in Massachusetts. There was a mosquito about my head at night.” The entry, concludes, “Lodged at the United States Hotel, opposite the Girard (formerly United States) Bank.” For whatever reason, possibly the undistinguished accommodations at Jones’s Exchange Hotel Thoreau had changed addresses for his second night in Philadelphia (J, 7:73-75).
The next morning, according to the journal, Thoreau “Left at 7:30 A. M. for New York, by boat to Tacony and rail via Bristol, Trenton, Princeton (near by), New Brunswick, Rahway, Newark, etc.” He noted a few of the natural features he saw in passing but found the trip “Uninteresting, except the boat.” In New York he played the tourist, going to the Crystal Palace, where he saw a specimen of coal “fifty feet thick as it was cut from the mine, in the form of a square column.” He also saw “sculptures and paintings innumerable, and armor from the Tower of London, and some of the Eighth Century.” At Barnum’s Museum he examined the camelopard, which he found not so tall as claimed, and a diorama of the houses of the world, which he found looked much alike. He spent part of the day with his friend Horace Greeley, who “appeared to know and be known by everybody.” Greeley took him to the opera, where, Thoreau noted in his journal, Greeley “was admitted free” (J, 7:75-76). Whether Thoreau too got in for nothing is not mentioned. The journal also does not mention his trip home from New York. By far the most important of Thoreau’s journal omissions, however, is his lecture itself. Despite the career significance of his Philadelphia engagement, he said nothing at all of the event that had brought him so far from Concord.
Some three weeks after the lecture, Bronson Alcott noted in his diary entry for 11 December 1854, “I pass the morning and dine with Thoreau, who read me parts of his new Lecture lately read at Philadelphia and Providence.”6 Alcott, however, was referring to Thoreau’s “What Shall It Profit” lecture, which Thoreau had read only in Providence before 11 December, the date of Alcott’s entry (see lecture 46 below).
ADVERTISEMENTS, REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: The following advertisement appeared in the Philadelphia Public Ledger and Daily Transcript on 21 November 1854: “Spring Garden Institute Lectures—The Second Lecture will be delivered on Tuesday Evening, 21st instant, at 7 1/2 o’clock, at the Institute Building, Broad and Spring Garden Sts., by Henry D. Thoreau, Esq. of Concord, Mass. Subject “The Wild.” The same advertisement, minus the location, appeared in the Philadelphia Daily Pennsylvanian on both 20 and 21 November.
The only known response to Thoreau’s lecture is that of Miss Caroline Haven, reported by W. H. Furness in a 26 November 1854 letter to Emerson. Caroline was the daughter of Charles E. Haven, one of Furness’s parishioners.7 Furness wrote:
I was glad to see Mr. Thoreau. He was full of interesting talk for the little while that we saw him, &it was amusing to hear his intonations. And then he looked so differently from my idea of him…. He had a glimpse of the Academy [of Natural Sciences] as he will tell you—I could not hear him lecture for which I was sorry. Miss Caroline Haven heard him, & from her report I judge the audience was stupid & did not appreciate him.8
This letter is especially noteworthy because it contains a small pencil sketch of Thoreau made by Furness. Interestingly, the aforementioned 19 November 1854 letter from Emerson to Furness contains, drawn on the last of its four pages, two pencil sketches of Thoreau’s head in profile that are very similar to this Furness drawing. Charles Boewe, who located the Emerson letter at the Academy of Natural Sciences, suggests that these impressions of Thoreau are also Furness’s work, the prototype from which he drew the image on his 26 November reply to Emerson.9
DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: Aside from having extracted the passages about moonlit walks (see lecture 44 above), Thoreau seems not to have done much more with the second part of his two-part, 163-page version of “Walking, or the Wild”—the part on “The Wild,” which he had last delivered on the afternoon of 23 May 1852 in Plymouth, Massachusetts (see lectures 40–41 in the “Before Walden” calendar). Very likely, then, the text he read before the Spring Garden Institute was some seventy pages long, which would have taken him somewhat more than an hour to read. Interestingly, the title page of this draft of the lecture, acquired a few years ago by the library at the University of California, Santa Barbara, bears the following sentence, written in pencil, in Thoreau’s hand, in the upper-right corner: “I regard this as a sort of introduction to all I may write hereafter.” Bradley P. Dean has speculated that Thoreau wrote this highly provocative sentence sometime in late 1854 or early 1855, when he apparently began to contemplate more earnest, purposeful work on the natural history projects he would spend so much of his time on throughout the remainder of the 1850s and which resulted in such works as “Autumnal Tints,” “The Succession of Forest Trees,” “Wild Apples,” “Huckleberries,” The Dispersion of Seeds, and the as yet fully published Wild Fruits.10
2. Charles Boewe, “Thoreau’s 1854 Lecture in Philadelphia,” English Language Notes, 2 (December 1964); 118.
3. Emerson’s letter to Furness is summarized and its provenance discussed in Boewe, “Thoreau’s 1854 Lecture,” 120-21.
4. Alcott, MS “Diary for 1854.” entry of 20 November, MH (*59M-308).
5. According to Boewe, Elias Durand was a Philadelphia pharmacist and noted botanist (“Thoreau’s 1854 Lecture,” 119).
6. Alcott, MS “Diary for 1854,” entry of 11 December, MH (*59M-308).
7. Boewe, “Thoreau’s 1854 Lecture,” 121.
8. William Henry Furness, Records of a Lifelong Friendship, cd. Horace Howard Furness (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910), pp. 101-103.
9. Boewe, “Thoreau’s 1854 Lecture,” 120-21n14.
10. For Dean’s speculations about the sentence Thoreau wrote in the upper-right comer of this
lecture draft’s title-page, see his “‘A Sort of Introduction,'” Thoreau Research Newsletter, 1 ( January 1990): 1-2. Dean published the first portion of Thoreau’s “Wild Fruits manuscript, which is housed in the Berg Collection, NN, in his edition of Thoreau’s Faith in a Seed: The Dispersion of Seeds and Other Late Natural History Writings (Washington: Shearwater Books, Island Press, 1993), pp. 178-203. Dean is currently editing the remainder of the Wild Fruits manuscript.
Reprinted with permission