Thoreau’s Lectures Before Walden: Lecture 19



6 MARCH 1849, TUESDAY; 6:30 P.M.
Lincoln, Massachusetts; Centre School House


NARRATIVE OF EVENT: Lincoln Lyceum records note that on 6 March 1849, “The Lyceum met according to Adjournment and was called to order by the President [Calvin Weston]. They then listened to a lecture from Mr. Henry Thoreau, of Concord, taken from his journal of a life in the woods. There was no discussion after the lecture. Adjourned for a week” (MassLyc, p. 220). The lecture was the seventh of nine that season (MassLyc, pp. 218-20). A series of journal entries by Lincoln resident James Lorin Chapin delineate the events leading to this presentation by Thoreau.1 On 11 December 1848, Chapin wrote, “Another pleasant day. Came home in the morning stopping in town to see Mr. Henry D. Thoreau and see if he would go and lecture before the Lyceum at Lincoln to morrow evening. He could not go and gave as a reason ill health. Said he would go at some future time.” On 2 February 1849, he noted, “I came down to Mr. Thoreau’s to see if H. D. Thoreau would come and lecture before the Lincoln Lyceum next Tuesday evening. He said if nothing occurred more than he expected he would come.” Something must have occurred because the speaker for that evening was “the Rev. Mr. Hill, of Waltham” (MassLyc, p. 219). Finally, on 6 March, he entered, “This evening I have been to the Lyceum here in Lincoln and have listened to a curious lecture from Henry D. Thoreau of Concord. Subject, his reflections when hoeing beans when he lived alone in the woods near Waldron Pond in Concord.”
ADVERTISEMENTS, REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: Chapin’s entry of 6 March says of Thoreau’s lecture:

He had a strange mixture of sense and folly[,] of poetry and halting prose, of science and fable, of physics and ethics. He touched on the pond[,] the woods, the rail road, the cars, the church bells, the distant roar of cannons, the sound of martial music, and the conversation of travellers on the highway, and more fully on the morals of ho[e]ing beans. I was very much interested with the lecture, perhaps not so much with the logic and beauty of the subject as the novelty of the style.

DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: See lecture 17 above.

 1. For the relevant entries from Chapin’s journal, see Blanding, “Thoreau’s Local Lectures,” 21-26.


Copyright © by Joel Myerson
Reprinted with permission