Thoreau’s Lectures Before Walden: Lecture 14



16 February 1848, Wednesday; 7:00 P.M.
Concord, Massachusetts; Unitarian Church, Vestry


NARRATIVE OF EVENT: As Thomas Blanding has pointed out, Bronson Alcott’s diary entry of 13 February 1848 makes it highly unlikely that Thoreau’s 16 February lecture was simply a repetition of his 26 January lecture on the same topic.1 In that entry Alcott says: “Passed an hour or two with Thoreau at Emerson’s conversing on the State upon which he is now writing and preparing a Lecture for the Concord Lyceum.”2 If Thoreau was still working on his upcoming lecture some eighteen days after his late-January offering, the second lecture must have been at least somewhat different. On 23 February, Thoreau wrote in a letter to Emerson, “Lectures begin to multiply on my desk. I have one on Friendship which is new—and the materials of some others. I read one last week to the Lyceum on The Rights and Duties of the Individual in relation to Government much to Mr. Alcott’s satisfaction” (C, p. 208). As to the date of the second lecture, Alcott’s journal entry was recorded on Sunday, 13 February; Thoreau’s letter to Emerson was dated Wednesday, 23 February; and the Concord Lyceum nearly always met on Wednesday evenings—therefore, the lecture was almost certainly delivered on the date above.
ADVERTISEMENTS, REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: The following excerpt from editor Wendell Glick’s discussion of “Resistance to Civil Government” in RP indicates one very significant, however belated, response to Thoreau’s lecture:

Elizabeth Peabody heard of the lecture—perhaps from her sister, Sophia Hawthorne—and requested in the spring of 1849 that Thoreau submit a manuscript of it for publication in her projected periodical, Aesthetic Papers. Thoreau agreed to do so on April 5, though complaining, “I have so much writing to do at present, with the printers in the rear of me, that I have almost no time left” (C, p. 242). Throughout the month of April he was busy with the galley proofs of A Week that were coming in batches from James Munroe & Co. “Resistance to Civil Government” appeared in print, however, on 14 May 1849. (RP, p. 314)

DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: Because Thoreau was so busy revising and reading proof of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and because of the short period of time between his delivery of the lecture and publication of the essay, we can assume that Thoreau made relatively few changes to the lecture text before submitting it as printer’s copy to Elizabeth Peabody. Thoreau himself points out in a note inserted into the published essay that his “extracts” on Daniel Webster near the end of the essay “have been inserted since the Lecture was read” (RP, p. 88), which also argues that the changes between his lecture and the essay were negligible.

 1. “Notes & Queries,” Thoreau Society Bulletin, no. 109 (Fall 1969): 7.
 2. Alcott, MS “Diary for 1848,” entry of 13 February, MH (*59M-308).


Copyright © by Joel Myerson
Reprinted with permission