Thoreau’s Lectures Before Walden: Lecture 3



8 February 1843, Wednesday; 7:30 P.M.
Concord, Massachusetts; Masonic Hall


NARRATIVE OF EVENT: On 18 November 1842, Thoreau, despite his protest, was elected curator of the Concord Lyceum. As such, he had a shaping hand in the course of twenty-five lectures delivered on Wednesday evenings at 7:30 over the six-month season that began the night of his election with a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson and that concluded on 26 April 1843 with another Emerson offering (MassLyc, p. 156-57; see complete list below). Thoreau later wrote, “How much might be done for a town with $100: I myself have provided a select course of twenty-five lectures for a winter, together with room, fuel, and lights, for that sum,—which was no inconsiderable benefit to every inhabitant.”1 Indeed, with a working budget of $109.20. Thoreau spent exactly one hundred dollars, persuading many of the speakers to lecture for free. His own unpaid lecture was the thirteenth presentation of the season, noted in the Lyceum records with the entry, “Feby. 8th H. D. Thoreau lectured. Charles W G[oodnow]. [Secretary]” (MassLyc, p. 157). Unfortunately, the records of the Concord Lyceum do not indicate where lectures for the 1842-43 season were delivered. Our conjecture above is based on suggestions in the records that lectures for the 1841-42 season were delivered at Masonic Hall and that those for the 1843-44 season were delivered in the vestry of the Unitarian Church (MassLyc, pp. 156, 157).
ADVERTISEMENTS, REVIEWS, AND RESPONSES: The following unidentified newspaper clipping pasted in the back of Thoreau’s college notebook2 identifies the lecturers for the 1842-43 season, including the introductory lecture by Emerson on the evening Thoreau was elected curator:

There is a Lecture before this Institution every Wednesday Evening, at 7 1/2 o’clock precisely. The course for the present season, as far as ascertained, is as follows:






(Introductory) R. W. Emerson, Concord.
R. W. Emerson, Concord.
James Richardson, Cambridge.
James Freeman Clarke, Boston.
(Extra lecture) Horace Greeley, N. York.
Wendell Phillips, Boston.
O. A. Brownson, Chelsea.
Charles Lane, England.
M. B. Prichard, Concord.
John S. Keyes, Cambridge.
J. F. Barrett, Boston.
C. T. Jackson, ”
H. D. Thoreau, Concord.
Mr. Knapp, Lexington.
Edward Jarvis, Louisville.
E. H. Chapin, Charlestown.
Charles Bowers, Concord.
(Thursday) Henry Giles, Ireland.
Theodore Parker, Roxbury.
E. W. Bull, Concord.
Extra Lecture, R. W. Emerson, Concord.
George Bancroft, Boston.
Charles Lane, England.
Barzillai Frost, Concord, and Conversation.
R. W. Emerson, Concord.
All are invited to attend. By order of the Curators.
January 6, 1843

The success of Thoreau’s lecture is testified to both by the local newspaper and by Lidian Jackson Emerson in a letter to her husband. On 10 February 1843, the Concord Freeman reported, “Mr. Thoreau’s Lecture, delivered last Wednesday evening, before the Lyceum, is spoken of as a production very creditable to its author. The subject was the life and character of Sir Walter Raleigh.” An eleven-sentence summary of the lecture followed. Mrs. Emerson, who had postscripted an earlier letter to Waldo with the notice, “Henry lectures the week after next on Sir Walter R.,” wrote to him on 12 February 1843:

Henrys Lecture pleased me much—and I have reason to believe others liked it. Henry tells me he is so happy as to have received Mr [John S.] Keyes’s suffrage and the Concord paper has spoken well of it. I think you would have been a well pleased listener. Henry ought to be known as a man who can give a Lecture. You must advertise him to the extent of your power. A few Lyceum fees would satisfy his moderate wants—to say nothing of the improvements and happiness it would give both him & his fellow creatures if he could utter what is “most within him”—and be heard.3

DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: Generally, the “Raleigh” manuscripts can be divided into three categories, each representing a fairly discrete stage in Thoreau’s composition process: working notes, lecture draft, and essay draft. What was apparently the lecture-draft manuscript, which had “disappeared without a trace and without confirming documentation for its ever having existed” (EEM, p. 392), re-surfaced in the summer of 1990 and
was sold by Chapel Hill Rare Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to an unidentified collector.4 This manuscript was available to Henry A. Metcalf and Franklin B. Sanborn in 1905 when they worked on the Bibliophile Edition of the essay,5 and some of their “amplifications” of the essay no doubt derive from the lecture draft. Until that draft can be examined, however, we must assume that Thoreau used in his lecture an earlier version of substantial portions of the essay, the authoritative text of which is in EEM (pp. 178-218).

 1. Quoted in “Walter Harding. The Days of Henry Thoreau (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), p. 143. Hereafter cited in the text as Days.
 2. The notebook is at NNPM (MA 594). A facsimile of the clipping appears in Kenneth Walter Cameron, “Thoreau’s Newspaper Clippings in the Morgan College Notebook,” Emerson Society Quarterly. no. 7 (3rd Quarter 1957): 52.
 3. The Selected Letters of Lidian Jackson Emerson, ed. Delores Bird Carpenter (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987). pp. 123, 128.
 4. Undated postcard in the Collection of Bradley P. Dean (received 16 July 1990).
 5. Sir Walter Raleigh, ed. Henry A. Metcalf and Franklin B. Sanborn (Boston: Bibliophile Society 1905).


Copyright © by Joel Myerson
Reprinted with permission