Thoreau’s Lectures Before Walden: Lecture 26



18 February 1850, Monday
South Danvers, Massachusetts


NARRATIVE OF EVENT: On 6 February 1850, Emerson wrote to Thoreau as follows from Saco, Maine:

I was at South Danvers on Monday Evening, & promised Mr C. Northend, Secretary of the Lyceum, to invite you for Monday 18th Feb. to read a lecture to his institution. I told him there were two lectures to describe Cape Cod, which interested him & his friends, & they hoped that the two might somehow be rolled into one to give them some sort of complete story of the journey. I hope it will not quite discredit my negotiation if I confess that they heard with joy that Concord people laughed till they cried, when it was read to them. I understand Mr N., that there is a possibility but no probability that his absent colleague of the Lyceum has filled up that evening by an appointment But Mr N. will be glad to hear from you that you will come, & if any cause exist why not, he will immediately reply to you. They will pay your expenses, & $10.00. You will go from the Salem depot in an omnibus to Mr N.’s house. Do go if you can. Address Charles Northend, Esq. South Danvers. (C, p. 255)

Thoreau accepted the invitation to lecture in South Danvers, possibly in an 8 February 1850 letter that was offered for sale by Boston’s Goodspeed’s Bookshop in 1985, when it was described as mentioning Emerson and offering to give a lecture about Cape Cod. In any case, Thoreau began rolling his two lectures into one. When he finished, instead of a course of three or even two lectures on Cape Cod, he had only one lecture on the subject. But, as it turned out, that was all he needed. He delivered one or another version of this single lecture three times after reading it in South Danvers—first in Newburyport, then in Clinton, and finally in Portland, Maine. Specifically for South Danvers, and to comply with the request for a single lecture, Thoreau drafted the following preface to his lecture: “I purpose to read this evening as many extracts as the time “will permit from a long account of a visit to Cape Cod made last October, particularly those parts relating to Nauset beach. As I had already condensed three lectures into two and I am now invited to roll those two into one so as to give some sort of connected account of my journey, you can imagine how unconnected and incomplete this lecture must be.”1
ADVERTISEMENTS, REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: There are no known accounts of the South Danvers lecture delivery; however, a comment from Bronson Alcott’s 1 March 1850 journal entry on the popularity of public lectures probably refers to this event as well as to the two Concord lectures of the month before. Wrote Alcott, “Thoreau has read papers quite recently before the people in our cities and towns with a decided acceptance.”2
DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: Thoreau apparently collapsed the three main narrative components of his earlier three- and then two-lecture course—the shipwreck of the St. John, his and his companion Ellery Channing’s walk along Nauset Beach, and their visit to Newcomb’s house—into one apparently somewhat “unconnected and incomplete” lecture, which must have been a condensed version of the first five chapters in Cape Cod.

 1. CSmH (HM 13206).
 2. Alcott, Journals, p. 227.


Copyright © by Joel Myerson
Reprinted with permission