Thoreau’s Lectures Before Walden: Lecture 12



3 January 1848, Monday; 7:00 P.M.
Concord, Massachusetts; Unitarian Church, Vestry


NARRATIVE OF EVENT: Although minutes of individual meetings of the Concord Lyceum were not recorded during the 1847-48 lecture season, a retrospective summary of the course by the Lyceum secretary, A. G. Fay, lists Thoreau along with eight other speakers (MassLyc, p. 163). Thoreau, in fact, lectured three times before the Concord Lyceum during the season, on 3 January, 26 January, and 16 February. On 29 December 1847 he wrote to Emerson, then traveling in England: “Next week I am going to give an account to the Lyceum of my expedition to Maine. Theodore Parker lectures tonight—We have had [E. P.] Whipple on Genius—too weighty a subject for him…. [H. N.] Hudson too has been here with a dark shadow in the core of him, and his desperate wit so much indebted to the surface of him” (C, p. 199). On 12 January 1848, Thoreau reported on his lecture in another letter to Emerson: “I read a part of the story of my excursion to Ktadn to quite a large audience of men and boys, the other night, whom it interested. It contains many facts and some poetry” (C, p. 204). Thoreau’s brief description of the lecture’s content belies the seriousness with which he may have regarded this lecture, the first “excursion” he delivered after saying a year earlier in the first of the two “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” lectures he delivered before his neighbors: “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life … to drive life into a corner, and … if it were sublime to know it by experience and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”1
ADVERTISEMENTS, REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: In his diary entry of 3 January 1848, Bronson Alcott also alluded to the success of Thoreau’s lecture: “Evening—Mrs. A. accompanied me to the Lyceum where we heard a lecture from Thoreau on a jaunt of his to Kotarden, the highest mountain in Maine.—The lecture drew a lively picture of these wild scenes and of his adventures in ascending the rivers to reach the summit of Kotarden.—“2 Alcott’s “Kotarden” spelling, if it reflects Thoreau’s pronunciation, suggests the same New England accent that prompted Emerson to seek a name change from Lydia to Lidian for his wife so as to avoid hearing her called “Lidier” by his neighbors. But the spelling may just as well reflect Alcott’s New England ear (compare the New England pronunciation and spelling of “Harvard,” for instance).
DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: The relative paucity of surviving leaves from the lecture manuscript, as well as the relatively brief interval between Thoreau’s delivery of the lecture and his submission to Horace Greeley (early or mid April 1848) of the printer’s copy manuscript for the essay, suggests that Thoreau used most or all of his lecture manuscript in his printer’s copy manuscript.

 1. Shanley. Making of Walden, p. 141.
 2. Alcott. MS “Diary for 1848,” entry of 3 January, MH (*59M-308).


Copyright © by Joel Myerson
Reprinted with permission