NARRATIVE OF EVENT: In her diary entry for 14 February 1860, Abigail Alcott, Bronson’s wife, wrote, “Mr Alcott goes to Bedford, with Mr Thoreau—“1 The account is embellished somewhat in Bronson’s own diary entry for that date:
I ride with Thoreau to Bedford and hear him read his lecture on Apples at the Lyceum. The company numbers a couple of hundred and are pleased and surprised by it. Mr Hosmer curator, and [ ] once minister of the place speak with us: and they invite me to come over and give them something in the way of or conversation and will arrange for me, perhaps for a Sunday meeting or more, with a circle who spend the day together reading something good and conversing about it. I tell them I will come and [speak?] in either way, give them a lecture before their Lyceum or a Conversation on Sunday.
We ride home after more talking about popular modes of teaching and especially of the Sounding Oracle the Lyceum now consulted by all people and fast becoming the university of the land.2
ADVERTISEMENTS, REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: Although Thoreau apparently left no comment on his Bedford experience, his journal entry for 13 February 1860, the day before the lecture, contains another in his series of exasperated comments on lecture audiences (see, for example, his comments recorded in lectures 55 and 61 above). If this entry was indeed penned on the thirteenth, then it suggests his trepidation about going off once again to cast pearls before swine. If, however, he wrote this indictment after the heading date, as was often the case, then it perhaps indicates that his own perception of his Bedford reception was considerably less sanguine than that of Alcott (see above), he wrote:
Always you have to contend with the stupidity of men. It is like a stiff soil, a hard-pan. If you go deeper than usual, you are sure to meet with a pan made harder even by the superficial cultivation, The stupid you have always with you. Men are more obedient at first to words than ideas. They mind names more than things. Read to them a lecture on “Education,” naming that subject, and they will think that they have heard something important, but call it “Transcendentalism,” and they will think it moonshine. Or halve your lecture, and put a psalm at the beginning and a prayer at the end of it and read it from a pulpit, and they will pronounce it good without thinking. (J, 13:145)
DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: See lecture 69 above.
2. Alcott, MS “Diary for 1860.” entry of 14 February, MH (*59M-308).
Reprinted with permission