Thoreau’s Lectures Before Walden: Appendix



13 July 1835, Monday
Cambridge, Massachusetts; Harvard University

Walter Harding reports that Thoreau, at the end of his sophomore year at Harvard College, was awarded twenty-five dollars “exhibition money” for high grades and participated in a class honors exhibition on 13 July 1835 (Days, p. 36). The program for that exhibition (“Order of Performances for Exhibition, Monday, July 13, 1835” [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard College, 1835]) lists eleven presentations involving a total of sixteen students. The third event is described as follows:

A Greek Dialogue. “Decius and Cato.”

We assume, based on the order of their names in the program, that Clarke recited the part of Decius and Thoreau the part of Cato. The manuscript Clarke and Thoreau read from is at MH-Ar (6834.37), and the authoritative text appears in Transl, pp. 145-47. Ethel Seybold has published on the sources of this dialogue (“The Sources of Thoreau’s ‘Cato-Decius Dialogue,'” STUDIES IN THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE 1994, pp. 245-50).


27 January 1841, Wednesday; 7:00 P.M.
Concord, Massachusetts; Masonic Hall


Having no speaker for its meeting of 13 January 1841, the Concord Lyceum passed the evening by debating the propriety of forcible resistance. The evening’s record, kept by secretary John C. Nourse, states: “The Curators having been unable to procure a lecturer, the following question was discussed. Is it ever proper to offer forcible resistance? Rev B. Frost Hon S. Hoar in the affirmative; Mr. A. B. Alcott in the negative. On motion, voted that Mr. Alcott be admitted a member of the Lyceum without the payment of the usual fee. The question was postponed for farther consideration until some evening when we should be unprovided with a lecture; and the Lyceum adjourned” (MassLyc, p. 155).
The following week, on 20 January, the Reverend John Russell of Chelmsford (later to become Thoreau’s friend and an eminent botanist) lectured “On the Science of Geology in Its Economical and Topographical Characters” (MassLyc, p. 155), but on 27 January 1841, apparently once again lacking a speaker, the debate over forcible resistance was resumed, with both Thoreau brothers arguing in the affirmative against Bronson Alcott’s negative. This was the seventh in a course of thirteen Lyceum meetings that season (MassLyc, pp. 155-56). Secretary Nourse reported: “The Lyceum, having been called to order by the President [Timothy Prescott], proceeded to the discussion of the following question: Is it ever proper to offer forcible resistance? Mr. J. Thoreau Jr. and Mr D. H. Thoreau in the affirmative; Mr A. B. Alcott in the negative. On motion of Mr J. Thoreau Jr, Ordered, that this question lie over for farther discussion till some evening when the Lyceum is unprovided with a lecturer. Adjourned” (MassLyc, p. 155). The next day, 28 January, Thoreau wrote in his journal, “Resistance is a very wholesome and delicious morsel at times” (PEJ1, p. 233). In the days following the debate he added several journal comments about resistance, often employing martial images. He remarked as well about the hurt feelings of friends and about dispensing with apologies—indications, presumably, that the debate with Alcott had touched nerves (PEJ1, pp. 233ff).
A week later, on 5 February, the continuing debate over forcible resistance ended, apparently without an audience vote to determine the question. On this occasion there was also a speaker, and a most appropriate one. The Reverend Adin Ballou was for many years the principal propagandist for—and may even have begun—the non-resistance movement in the United States. John Nourse reported on the evening’s activities: “The Lyceum was called to order by the President. On motion of Mr. [John?] Thoreau—Voted—that, after the lecture, the Lyceum discuss the question of Non-Resistance. A lecture was then delivered by Rev. Mr. Ballou of Mendon on Non-Resistance. This question was then discussed by Mr. Ballou, Mr. S. Hoar, Mr. Alcott, Mr. Jenkins & the President. The Lyceum adjourned, without taking the question” (MassLyc, p. 155). The next day Thoreau wrote in his journal a comment on the daunting responsibility of rising to perform in public, a comment that, even if a response to Ballou’s lecture, perhaps suggests both the significance Thoreau attached to lecturing and the self-conscious trepidation he experienced upon mounting the lecture platform: “In a public performer, the simplest actions—which at other times are left to unconscious nature—as the ascending a few steps in front of an audience—acquire a fatal importance—and become arduous deeds” (PEJ1, p. 253).


3 February 1847, Wednesday
Concord, Massachusetts


The only mention of this lecture is in Franklin B. Sanborn’s typescript titled “Thoreau at Concord Lyceum,” which is part of the Abernethy Collection at VtMiM. The typescript states that Prudence Ward wrote in her diary that Thoreau was to lecture in Concord on this evening. According to Concord Lyceum records, however, C. C. Hazewell of Concord lectured before the Lyceum on this date (MassLyc, p. 162). The Lincoln Lyceum did not meet on the date and is not a possibility (MassLyc, p. 213). Thoreau did lecture once on each of the two following weeks, on 10 February and again on 17 February. Either Thoreau had to reschedule his lecture to accommodate Hazewell or, much more likely, the Ward-Sanborn report represents a misunderstanding.


14 January 1848, Friday
Concord, Massachusetts


Bronson Alcott, in a January 1848 diary entry presumably penned on the fourteenth, noted as follows:

Henry Thoreau came in after my hours with the children, and we had a good deal of talk on the modes of popular lecture.
He read me a MS. essay of his on Friendship which he had just written and which I thought superior to any thing I have heard. (MS “Diary for 1848,” entry of 14 January, MH [*59M-308])


March 1848 (?)
Lexington, Massachusetts; Robbins Building (?)


In his article “Thoreau and the Lexington Lyceum,” Walter Harding transcribes a letter dated 1 March 1848 from Abigail Alcott to Mrs. Eli Robbins of East Lexington, Massachusetts, in which Alcott wrote:

I mentioned to Mr. Thoreau the possibility of our application from the “Lexington Lyceum” for his lecture—He said he should have no objection to reading it if it could be generally understood that the subject matter was local and personal in its character—His experience has been a peculiar and interesting one—He may truly be called the “Diogenes” of the 19th century—so humble—true and wise—His hut being literally a Tub with a roof—but so comfortable—rural and classic. (Thoreau Society Bulletin, no. 161 [Fall 1982]: 2)

Walter Harding speculates that “Since Thoreau gave his lecture on civil disobedience at the Concord Lyceum on February 16, 1848, it seems quite likely that that was the lecture he was asked to give in Lexington” (2). But the letter suggests Thoreau would have been asked to lecture on his Walden experience—which Thoreau had delivered the preceding winter in Concord and, perhaps, in neighboring Lincoln, and which the Lexington Lyceum audience likely would have been curious to hear. Harding also points out that in 1833-34 Mrs. Robbins’ husband had built “a public building where lectures, preaching and other meetings could be held, and where freedom of speech could be allowed” (2). The building, which Thoreau once “came from Concord to get a lease of,” is now the East Lexington Branch Library (2). The records of the Lincoln Lyceum are not extant, and other proof that Thoreau delivered the requested lecture has not been found. However, Thoreau rarely turned down an opportunity to lecture, especially so conveniently close to home; the odds that he gave this lecture, therefore, seem quite good.


1 June 1850 (?)
Worcester, Massachusetts
“CAPE COD” (?)


On 28 May 1850, Thoreau wrote as follows in a letter to H. G. O. Blake:

I shall be glad to read my lecture to a small audience in Worcester, such as you describe, and will only require that my expenses be paid. If only the parlor be large enough for an echo, and the audience will embarrass themselves with hearing as much as the lecturer would otherwise embarrass himself with reading. But I warn you that this is no better calculated for a promiscuous audience than the last two which I read to you. It requires in every sense a concordant audience.
I will come on Saturday next and spend Sunday with you, if you wish it. Say so if you do. (C, p. 260)

The letter is interesting for its implications: first, that Thoreau apparently still took umbrage at an unfavorable newspaper response to his Walden lectures in Worcester during April and May of 1849 (see lectures 21, 22, and 23 above); and, second, that he found his hometown audiences more in concord with what he had to say. Raymond Borst gives the date of this lecture as 1 June 1850 and suggests that Thoreau may have delivered his “Cape Cod” lecture in Worcester on that occasion, but Borst only cites Thoreau’s letter to Blake as evidence for the attribution (The Thoreau Log: A Documentary Life of Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862 [New York: C. K. Hall, 1992], p. 166).
We have found no evidence that Thoreau either gave or did not give the requested lecture, although Walter Harding indicates that he rejected the invitation (Days, p. 273). Joseph J. Moldenhauer, editor of CC, speculates that, if Thoreau did lecture in Worcester that June, he may have read his “one-installment Cape Cod lecture.” He cautions, however, that “The comic aspects of the Cape Cod lecture would seem … to obviate Thoreau’s concern to have a specifically sympathetic assembly, and the lecture mentioned in Thoreau’s letter may have been on another subject” (CC, pp. 254, 254n6).


April 1851 (?)
Bedford, Massachusetts (?)


“Will you please give us an answer—and your subject—if you consent to come—by Mr. Charles Bowers, who is to lecture here tomorrow evening.” This letter, without date or place of origin, is signed by one “W. Cushing” as “Chairman Ex. Comtee—” (C, p. 653). On 2 April 1851, Charles Bowers, who was a curator of the Concord Lyceum during the 1850-51 season, lectured before the Concord Lyceum on the topic of “Shoemakers” (MassLyc, p. 165). According to the Thoreau Textual Center at CU-SB, a William Cushing lived in Bedford at that time. If Thoreau did lecture in Bedford in or around April 1851, he would likely have read “Economy,” “Cape Cod,” or “Walking.”


10 August 1851, Sunday
Concord, Massachusetts; Home of John and Cynthia (Dunbar) Thoreau
Passages from “WALKING”


In his diary entry of 10 August 1851, Bronson Alcott, visiting from Boston, wrote, “Thoreau read me some passages from his paper on ‘Walking’ as I passed the evening with him, and slept at Emerson’s again afterwards” (Journals, p. 252).


31 December 1851, Tuesday
Concord, Massachusetts; Home of John and Cynthia (Dunbar) Thoreau


In his diary entry for 31 December 1851, Bronson Alcott, visiting from Boston, wrote, “Pass the forenoon with Thoreau, who reads me passages from his ‘Canadian Tour,’ which he is now compiling from notes, for Lyceum Readings” (MS “Diary for 1851,” MH [*59M-308]).


6 January 1852
Lincoln, Massachusetts


Thoreau wrote in his journal entry for 7 January 1852, “Last evening walked to Lincoln to lecture in a driving snow storm” (PEJ4, p. 242), which several earlier commentators had mistakenly assumed meant that he had lectured in Lincoln that evening, when actually he had walked to Lincoln that evening to listen to a lecture. For commentary, see lecture 33 above.


8 January 1852
Concord, Massachusetts; Home of Ralph Waldo and Lidian (Jackson) Emerson (?)


In his journal entry for 8 January 1852, Thoreau wrote, “Reading from my MSS to Miss Emerson this evening & using the word God in one instance in perchance a merely heathenish sense—she inquired hastily in a tone of dignified anxiety—‘Is that god spelt with a little g?’ Fortunately it was” (PEJ4, p. 242). Because Thoreau had delivered “An Excursion to Canada” at the Concord Lyceum the day before (see lecture 34 above), and because the word “god” appears several times in the later, published version of the lecture, we conjecture that the “MSS” he read to Mary Moody Emerson were from that text. In his Thoreau Log, however, Raymond Borst suggests that Thoreau may have read from his “Walden” manuscripts (p. 206).


1 August 1852
Framingham, Massachusetts


James J. Buckley, a school superintendent and correspondent for the Middlesex News, wrote an article for the News on 30 July 1988 entitled “Framingham’s ‘August Firsts,’ Statewide Abolitionist Festivals,” in which he asserted that “Concord’s Henry Thoreau was the main speaker during the oratorical segment of the [1 August 1852] festivities” at Harmony Grove in Framingham. Buckley’s attribution is clearly an error, for we learn from Thoreau’s journal that on the afternoon of the preceding day, 31 July 1852, he walked “To Assabet over Nawshawtuct” in Concord and that on the following afternoon he walked “To Conantum” (J, 4:269, 271). He would not have had sufficient time the morning of 1 August 1852 to travel to Framingham, deliver a speech, and return to Concord. Buckley had no doubt confused the 1852 anti-slavery celebration of the anniversary of Emancipation in the British West Indies with the 1854 anti-slavery Fourth of July celebration at Harmony Grove, where Thoreau delivered “Slavery in Massachusetts” (see lecture 43 above).


28 March 1853, Monday
Concord, Massachusetts


In a letter to Higginson dated 30 March 1853, Alcott wrote, “Last Sunday I was at Emersons and found the sage in fine spirits: on Monday Thoreau read me parts of ‘The Walden Life’ which you will be pleased to learn is now printing for us, and its publick” (Alcott, Letters, p. 165).


December 1853
Concord, Massachusetts; Home of Ralph Waldo and Lidian (Jackson) Emerson

On 23 January 1858, Thoreau wrote a letter to James Russell Lowell, who at the time was editor of the newly formed Atlantic Monthly and who had recently contacted Thoreau about submitting one of his papers for publication. “The most available paper which I have,” Thoreau responded, “is an account of an excursion into the Maine woods in ’53; the subjects of which are the Moose, the Pine Tree & the Indian. Mr. Emerson could tell you about it, for I remember reading it to his family, after reading it as a lecture to my townsmen. It consists of about one hundred manuscript pages, or a lecture & a half, as I measure” (C, p. 504). Thoreau clearly refers to his second Maine woods lecture, “An Excursion to Moosehead Lake,” which he had delivered before the Concord Lyceum on 14 December 1853 (see lecture 42 above), while Emerson had been in Maine lecturing. We conjecture, therefore, that Thoreau must have given a private reading of the lecture to Emerson’s family in late December, after Emerson returned from Maine.