Thoreau’s Lectures Before Walden: Lecture 10



10 February 1847, Wednesday; 7:00 P.M.
Concord, Massachusetts; Unitarian Church, Vestry


NARRATIVE OF EVENT: As discussed in the entry on lecture 8 above at least some of Thoreau’s neighbors on the evening of 4 February 1846 were more interested in hearing about his life at Walden Pond than about Carlyle’s graces as a writer. Thus, in a preliminary journal draft of this 10 February 1847 lecture, he remarked, “When I lectured here before [last] winter I heard that some of my towns men had expected of me some account of my life at the pond—this I will endeavor to give tonight” (PEJ1, p. 142). The Concord Lyceum’s record of the event is typically brief: “Concord Feb 10 1847 A lecture was delivered by H. D. Thoreau of Concord. Subject—History of Himself A. G. Fay Sec[retary]” (MassLyc, p. 162). His lecture was the eleventh of sixteen at the Concord Lyceum that season (MassLyc, p. 162).
ADVERTISEMENTS, REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: Walter Harding says that this lecture “was received so well that, quite out of keeping with the regular practice of the lyceum, he was asked to repeat it a week later for those who had missed it” (Days, p. 187). Indeed, Prudence Ward reported in a letter later that month, “Henry repeated his lecture to a very full audience….It was an uncommonly excellent lecture—tho, of course few would adopt his notions—I mean as they are shown forth in his life. Yet it was a very useful lecture, and much needed” (quoted in Days, pp. 187-88). Thoreau did, in fact, give a lecture on the same topic one week later, on 17 February 1847. Whether it was a repetition of the first lecture or a continuation of the topic in a different lecture is not clear. Although Ward’s remark would appear to support the notion that the first early Walden lecture was simply repeated, Thoreau almost certainly had in hand by this date the second of what was already or what was soon to become his three-lecture “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” course. If he did not deliver that second lecture on 17 February 1847, he did not deliver it to his fellow townspeople at all. Yet he refers directly to “we inhabitants of Concord” in the surviving manuscript of the second lecture.1 We conjecture, therefore, that Harding’s remark about Thoreau being asked to repeat the first lecture was extrapolated solely from Ward’s remark but that Ward misspoke and actually meant that Thoreau delivered a lecture on the same topic as he had the previous week: his life in the woods. In any event, it appears that both lectures were well received.
DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: See entry to lecture 9 above.

 1. Shanley, Making of Walden, p. 155. Also, see the quotation cited in note 4 of lecture 11 below.


Copyright © by Joel Myerson
Reprinted with permission