Perth Amboy, New Jersey; Unionists’ Hall, Eagleswood Community
“WALKING, OR THE WILD”
NARRATIVE OF EVENT: (See also lecture 51 above and lecture 53 below.) Thoreau, in his journal and recovered correspondence, had little to say about his surveying at Eagleswood; he had even less to say about his lecturing. His journal entry for 27 October 1856 opens, “Began to survey along the shore and through the woods,” followed by botanical observations. His next entry, for Sunday, 2 November, is entirely devoted to botanizing, with no mention of his talk that day (J, 9: 136–37). Indeed, Thoreau’s only known mention of this lecture is in his 19 November letter to H. G. O. Blake, where he reports having “read three of my old lectures … to the Eagleswood people, and,unexpectedly, with rare success—i.e., I was aware that what I was saying was silently taken in by their ears” (C, p. 441).
For the precise date and subject of Thoreau’s second Eagleswood lecture, the journal kept by a visiting Bronson Alcott and a related letter from Alcott to his wife are the extant sources. Alcott, who was spending the winter in New York, wrote in his journal entry for Saturday, 1 November, “I take the boat Thomas Hunt for Perth Amboy, and dine with Thoreau at the Springs, Eagleswood, where I sleep. Thoreau is here surveying Eagleswood Estate for Mr. Spring and Company” And in his 2 November entry, Alcott recorded, “Evening: Thoreau reads his lecture on ‘Walking,’ and interests his company deeply in his treatment of nature. Never had such a walk as this been taken by any one before, and the conversation so flowing and lively and curious—the young people enjoying it particularly.1 One wonders if this enthusiastically received second reading improved Thoreau’s opinion of the brightness of the Eagleswood children as reported in his letter to Sophia the previous evening (see lecture 51 above). A 13 November 1856 letter from Bronson to Abigail Alcott, then in Walpole, New Hampshire, gives day-by-day accounts of his recent activities, The account for 2 November confirms both Thoreau’s successful lecture and the flagging fortunes of the Raritan Bay Unionists:
Sunday 2.—This morning see Edward Palmer at the Union Buildings. He tells me that my friend Barker of Providence offers me a building lot at Eaglewood if I will come here to reside. We walk over the domain and look at scites [sic] for gardens and cottages. At 10 1/2 we meet at the Union Hall and discuss Liberty and Responsibility to good effect: Mr and Mrs Weld, the Springs, Mr Reed, Dr. Redfield, Thoreau, Mr Cutler, and others taking parts in the Conversation. After dinner, take a walk with Mr. Weld, and talk of the present condition and prospects of the Union and School. He waits to see whether they can maintain themselves and win the public favour: wishes myself and family were here but dares not recommend our coming under the circumstances. The present season will determine matters.—Returning, I have some conversation with Mrs. Weld who expressed freely her doubts of the final success of the enterprize and dissuaded our coming for the present. Company at Mr. Spring’s at supper, and flowing talk. Evening, Thoreau reads his lecture on Walking to the whole company, and interests all. It was the first and only walk anyone had ever taken, and a signal success.—I discuss Eaglewood as a residence with Mr. and Mrs. Spring till late bed time. They also speak cautiously, and approve waiting a little.2
2. Alcott, Letters, p. 209.
Reprinted with permission