Thoreau’s Lectures Before Walden: Lecture 30



22 January 1851, Wednesday
Medford, Massachusetts


NARRATIVE OF EVENT: All that is known of this lecture delivery is that on his way to Medford Thoreau stopped in Boston to visit Alcott, whose diary entry for 22 January 1851 is of interest:

Thoreau passed this morning and dined with me. He was on his way to read a paper at Medford this evening—his “Life in the Woods at Walden”; and as refreshing a piece as the Lyceum will get from any lecturer going at present in New England—a whole forest, with forester and all, imported into the citizen’s and villager’s brain. A sylvan man accomplished in the virtues of an aboriginal civility and quite superior to the urbanities of cities, Thoreau is himself a wood, and its inhabitants. There is more in him of sod and shade and sky lights, of the genuine mold and moistures of the green grey earth, than in any person I know. Self dependent and sagacious as any denizen of the elements, he has the key to every animal’s brain, every flower and shrub; and were an Indian to flower forth, and reveal the secrets hidden in the wilds of his cranium, it would not be more surprising than the speech of this Sylvanus.
 He belongs to the Homeric age, and is older than fields and gardens; as virile and talented as Homer’s heroes, and the elements. He seems alone, of all the men I have known, to be a native New Englander,—as much so as the oak, or granite ledge; and I would rather send him to London or Vienna or Berlin, as a specimen of American genius spontaneous and unmixed, than anyone else. I shall have occasion to use him presently in these portraits. We must grind him into paint to help brown and invigorate Channing’s profile, when we come to it. Here is coloring for half a dozen Socialisms. It stands out in layers and clots, like carbuncles, to give force and homeliness to the otherwise feminine lineaments. This man is the independent of independents—is, indeed, the sole signer of the Declaration, and a Revolution in himself—a more than ’76—having got beyond the signing to the doing it out fully. Concord jail could not keep him safely: Justice Hoar paid his tax, too; and was glad to forget thereafter, till now, his citizenship, and omit his existence, as a resident, in the poll list. Lately he has taken to surveying as well as authorship, and makes the compass pay for his book on “The Concord and Merrimac[k] Rivers,” which the public is slow to take off his hands. I went with him to his publishers, Monroe and Co., and learned that only about two hundred of an edition of a thousand copies were sold. But author and book can well afford to wait.”1

DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC: See lecture 15 above. We assume that this is the only time Thoreau delivered one of his “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” lectures in Medford and that he would therefore have delivered “Economy,” the first of the three lectures, the other two being more-or-less contextually dependent upon the first.

 1. Alcott, Journals, pp. 238-39.


Copyright © by Joel Myerson
Reprinted with permission