Lowell, Massachusetts; Welles Hall
NARRATIVE OF EVENT: (See also lecture 73 below.) On 31 August 1860. Charles P. Ricker told Thoreau by letter, “If you could give us two lectures instead of one for the terms you state we shall be happy to hear you. Otherwise we shall be obliged to wait till we gain a stronger hold on the public mind, and chiefly increase or better our financial condition” (C, pp. 588-89). The phrase “a stronger hold on the public mind” apparently refers to the audience’s Spiritualist orientation, as indicated in one of the lecture advertisements cited below. A week later, on 6 September, Ricker again wrote to Thoreau, this time confirming his lecture(s) and making arrangements for his lodging:
Yours of the 31st. is received. We shall expect you to address our people next Sabbath. Arriving at Lowell, you will find me at No 21 Central Street, or at residence No. 123 Merrimack Street, or you can take a coach direct to Mr. Owen’s, No 52 East Merrimack Street, who will be in readiness to entertain you, and with whom you will find a pleasant home during your stay among us. (C, p. 589)
Thoreau’s journal includes his visit to Lowell but says nothing of his lecture. On a warm and rainy Saturday, 8 July, he took a train to Boston, where he stopped at the Society of Natural History, and then caught another train to Lowell. The next day, that of his lectures, was cooler and clear enough for him to enjoy a walk along the Merrimack River in the afternoon, reporting in his journal botanical and other observations. Thoreau left Lowell by the 7:00 a.m. train on 10 September, a morning touched by frost just two days after the eighty-degree temperature of his arrival day (J, 14:75-77). On his way home he checked out of the Harvard Library Gerard’s The Herball; or, Generall Histoire of plantes.1
Whatever Thoreau’s lecturing experience in Lowell he sought more engagements for the future. On 17 September, a week after his return to Concord, he wrote to the publishers of a newly organized New York newspaper, The World, announcing that “I should like to have my name included in your list” of available lecturers (C, p. 590).
ADVERTISEMENTS, REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: The two lectures Thoreau delivered in Lowell were advertised in each of that city’s four major newspapers. He was referred to in the Daily Citizen and the Daily Evening Advertiser on 8 September as “the naturalist,” and the Daily Journal and Courier of the same day referred to him as “a gentleman of marked ability and great originality.” On 7 September, two days before the lectures, the Weekly Journal ran the following lengthy notice:
HENRY D. THOREAU, one of the most original and radical thinkers and free-speakers that we know anything about, is expected to lecture at Welles Hall next Sunday. September 9th. Mr. Thoreau is the author of several volumes of some note, and is an attractive contributor to the Atlantic Monthly. One of his books relates his experience, while living one year solitary and alone, on the shores of Walden Pond, a body of water lying in the towns of Concord and Lincoln. During the period named, he proved to his own satisfaction that a man could live and have all the real necessaries of life, for $15 a-year. The volume is an entertaining one, and no contributor to the Atlantic writes more interestingly. We shall expect to hear something original at least in the two lectures he will read next Sunday before our Spiritualistic friends. We do not known [sic], however, that Thoreau is a Spiritualist; rather think he is not; but, the believers in that doctrine said that they did not employ Mr. Emerson to come here and talk their ideas and beliefs, but his own. The same, we suppose, is the condition on which Mr. Thoreau lectures to them.
DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: We know from advertisements in local newspapers that Thoreau lectured in both the morning and afternoon, and we know with reasonable certainty that one of the lectures he gave was “Life Misspent” (see lecture 73 below). Thoreau almost certainly did not split “Life Misspent” into two parts for the two Lowell sessions because this would not have fulfilled the stipulation by Charles P. Ricker quoted above. As for the other lecture, we conjecture it to have been “Walking,” but only for the reason discussed in our introduction to “Thoreau’s Lectures Before Walden: An Annotated Calendar”—that Thoreau regarded his early “Walking” and “Life Without Principle” lectures as lectures rather than as nascent essays or chapters, probably because they complemented one another so well and gave his audience a sort of stereoptical view of the lecturer. Because we have no record of Thoreau ever giving a lecture that had reached publication, the remaining candidates for this delivery are “Autumnal Tints,” “Wild Apples,” and “Moonlight.” Of these three, one of the first two we regard as likelier to have been delivered because they were more recent and because Thoreau had essentially laid the latter one aside after delivering it in Plymouth in 1854 (see lecture 44 above).
Reprinted with permission