Thoreau’s Lectures Before Walden: Lecture 13



26 January 1848, Wednesday; 7:00 P.M.
Concord, Massachusetts; Unitarian Church, Vestry


NARRATIVE OF EVENT: No minutes were kept during the Concord Lyceum’s 1847-48 season; however, A. G. Fay, the secretary, did include “H D Thoreau of Concord” in a list of nine speakers who “During the Season … lectured before the Lyceum” (MassLyc, p. 163). In part to answer his townspeople’s curiosity about why he had spent a night in jail rather than pay his poll taxes, Thoreau pulled together his thoughts on the relation of the individual to the state into a lecture that he delivered in Concord on 26 January 1848. He lectured at the Concord Lyceum on the same general topic again on 16 February, although the scant evidence we have suggests that the two lectures were considerably different from one another.
ADVERTISEMENTS REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: In his diary entry of 26 January 1848, Bronson Alcott wrote:

Heard Thoreau’s lecture before the Lyceum on the relation of the individual to the State—an admirable statement of the rights of the individual to self-government, and an attentive audience.
 His allusions to the Mexican War, to Mr. Hoar’s expulsion from Carolina, his own imprisonment in Concord Jail for refusal to pay his tax, Mr. Hoar’s payment of mine when taken to prison for a similar refusal, were all pertinent, well considered, and reasoned. I took great pleasure in this deed of Thoreau’s.1

DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: Alcott’s reference to Thoreau’s allusions in this early lecture version of what was to become “Civil Disobedience” indicate that Thoreau included in this lecture at least some topics (for instance, Hoar’s expulsion from South Carolina and payment of Alcott’s taxes) that he deleted during the three weeks intervening between this version of the lecture and the one he delivered on 16 February. Given the probable length of the lecture (about fifty-five handwritten pages), the brief time Thoreau had between deliveries, and the relative paucity of early-draft manuscript leaves, we can assume that substantial portions of this lecture remained in Thoreau’s evolving lecture draft and were published in mid-May 1849, less than four months after this delivery of the lecture.

 1. Alcott. MS “Diary for 1848,” entry of 26 January. MH (*59M-308).


Copyright © by Joel Myerson
Reprinted with permission