Concord, Massachusetts; Brick or Centre School House, High School Room
NARRATIVE OF EVENT: Bronson Alcott noted in his diary that on 28 January 1860 he called on Thoreau and they discussed composition. Thoreau, Alcott recorded, was preparing his lecture on “Wild Apples.”1 Subsequently, Abigail Alcott, Bronson’s wife, reported in her diary entry for 8 February, “Mr Thoreau lectures on ‘Wild Apples.'”2 Not untypically, Thoreau himself did not mention his lecture in his own journal, instead devoting a long entry for the day to a nature walk up the frozen river to Fair Haven Hill and elsewhere. His entry for the next day, however, contains this veiled reference to his activities on the evening of his lecture: “A hoar frost on the ground this morning—for the open fields are mostly bare—was quite a novel sight. I had noticed some vapor in the air late last evening” (J, 13:133). Presumably he did this noticing on the way home from his lecture. That the lecture did not go completely without comment by Thoreau is attested to by Bronson Alcott’s journal entry for 11 February, in which he states, “Thoreau takes tea with us and talks pleasantly till 9.—speaks of his Lecture &c.”3 Thoreau’s lecture was the ninth of fifteen in the Lyceum’s course that season (MassLyc, p. 175). It was also the last lecture Thoreau would ever give before the Concord Lyceum.
ADVERTISEMENTS, REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: Evaluative comments by several of Thoreau’s auditors that 8 February 1860 evening indicate that this, his final appearance before the hometown Lyceum, was very well received. In his journal entry for the same day Bronson Alcott wrote:
Thoreau and his lecture on “Wild Apples” before the Lyceum. It is a piece of exquisite sense, a celebrating of the infinity of Nature, exemplified with much learning and original observation, beginning with the apple in Eden and down to the wildings in our woods. I listened with uninterrupted interest and delight, and it told on the good company present.4
In a letter dated 10 February 1860, Annie Bartlett, daughter of the Thoreau family physician, Dr. Josiah Bartlett, wrote to her brother Ned, “I went to hear Henry Thoreau’s lecture last night on Wild Apples. I liked it pretty well but I was very sleepy as I very naturally should be, being out till after two the night before.” She explained that the late night referred to was the occasion of a ball at Franklin B. Sanborn’s school.5
Said ball notwithstanding, Sanborn himself attended Thoreau’s lecture and remarked, in a 12 February letter to Theodore Parker, that Thoreau lectured on “‘Wild Apples’—full of juice and queer wit.”6 Finally, Frank Preston Steams, then a Concord schoolboy, recalled: “[Thoreau] delivered a lecture one winter before the Concord lyceum on wild apple-trees. The subject made his audience laugh, but their laughter was of short duration. The man who had lived there so long unknown was at last revealed before them. It was the best lecture of the season, and at its close there was long continued applause.”7
DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: Like “Autumnal Tints,” “Wild Apples” is a by-product of one of the larger projects Thoreau worked on during his last years. He planned to use “Wild Apples” as a section in Wild Fruits, most of the leaves of which are in the Berg Collection, NN. (Just prior to his death, Thoreau worked on, but never completed, a lecture text to be called “Huckleberries,” which was yet another section of Wild Fruits.8 Because so few of Thoreau’s “Wild Fruits” manuscripts are extant, the manuscript of the essay he sent to the editors of the Atlantic Monthly on 2 April 1862 almost certainly consisted primarily of the same sheets he had used for the reading draft for this lecture (C, p. 645). Very likely, then, the lecture was very similar to the published essay.
2. Abigail Alcott, MS diary, entry of 8 February 1860, MH (*59M-311).
3. Alcott, MS “Diary for 1860,” entry of 11 February, MH (*59M-308).
4. Alcott, Journals, p. 326.
5. Mary Fenn, “Some New Concord Manuscripts,” Thoreau Society Bulletin, no. 101 (Fall 1967): 8.
7. Frank Preston Stearns, Sketches from Concord and Appledore (New York: Putnam, 1895), pp. 27-28.
13. For the text of this uncompleted lecture, see Henry D. Thoreau, Huckleberries, ed. Leo
Stoller (Iowa City: Windhover Press, University of Iowa, 1971): rpt., Henry D. Thoreau, “Huckleberries,”
in The Natural History Essays, ed. Robert Sattelmeyer (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1980), pp. 211-62.
Reprinted with permission