But, above all, this everlasting mountain is forever lowering over the village, shortening the day and wearing a misty cap each morning. You look up to its top at a steep angle from the village streets. A great part belongs to the Insane Asylum. This town will be convicted of folly if they ever permit this mountain to be laid bare (Journal, 9:70-4).
On 5 September 1856 Thoreau left Concord for Walpole, New Hampshire to visit Amos Bronson Alcott who was residing there at the time. Before meeting up with Alcott Thoreau spent four days with Addison Brown and his family in Brattleboro, Vermont. It was during his stay in Brattleboro that Thoreau climbed Wantastiquet, then called Chesterfield Mountain, located just across the boarder in Chesterfield, New Hampshire. Two of Addison’s five children, Frances and Mary Brown, accompanied Thoreau to the mountain’s summit—about 1,335 feet (407 m). Thoreau and Mary would continue to correspond years later, often sending each other botanical specimens not native to the other’s area.
Thoreau writes to A. Bronson Alcott 1 September 1856:
I remember that in the spring you invited me to visit you. I feel inclined to spend a day or two with you and on your hills at this season, returning perhaps by way of Brattleboro. What if I should take the cars for Walpole next Friday morning? Are you at home? And will it be convenient and agreeable to you to see me then?—I will await an answer.
I am but poor company, and it will not be worth the while for you to put yourself out on my account; yet from time to time I have some thoughts which would be the better for an airing. I also wish to get some hints from September on the Connecticut to help me understand that season on the Concord;—to snuff the musty fragrance of the decaying year in the primitive woods. There is considerable cellar room in my nature for such stores, a whole row of bins waiting to be filled before I can celebrate my Thanksgiving. Mould is the richest of soils, yet I am not mould. It will always be found that one flourishing institutions exists & battens on another mouldering one. The Present itself is parasitic to this extent.
Your fellow traveller
Henry D. Thoreau
52 years after Thoreau visited Brattleboro and Wantastiquet, Elizabeth B. Davenport writes about his 1856 trip in her essay “Thoreau in Vermont in 1856. (Abstract.)”—which appears in the third issue of the 1908 publication of the Vermont Botanical Club Bulletin:
In 1856 Bronson Alcott was living in Walpole, N. H. In the Riverside edition of Thoreau a letter was published in which Thoreau arranged for a visit at Alstead, and spoke of a possible stop over in Brattleboro. The editor said the visit was made to Alcott, but was silent as to any stay in Vermont.
In the Walden edition of Thoreau the full text of his Journal is available, and we learn the particulars relative to his days in Brattleboro. As his time was largely spent collecting, and as he was in daily communication with C. C. Frost, these entries have a special interest for the Vermont Botanical Club.
Mr. Thoreau did not state definitely who was his host while he was in Brattleboro, and in my efforts to settle this question, I was so fortunate as to have placed in my hands extracts from three unpublished letters of Thoreau, with permission to make such use of them as seemed desirable. These extracts I will give in full, following the citations from Thoreau’s Journal.
While in Brattleboro, Thoreau was the guest of Addison Brown, a name beloved and reverenced by many in Vermont, who remember him as editor of the Vermont Phoenix, always championing the cause of right. To his fellow citizens he was endeared by his untiring efforts for the advancement of every measure which looked to the upbuilding of a righteous community. Mrs. Brown was one of the few women of her day thoroughly conversant with the progress of botanical research. After Mr. Frost became absorbed in the study of Cryptogams, it was his custom to refer to her, specimens of the higher orders which came to his hand. Mrs. Brown lived until 1906, and though in her one hundredth year, retained her mental ability and full interest in scientific research. In this home, Mr. Thoreau must have had hours always held in remembrance.
Mrs. Mary Brown Dunton, now of Sheboygan, Wis., writes as follows:
Henry D. Thoreau, at the time he visited Brattleboro, September 1856, was the guest of Rev. Addison Brown’s family in their home on Chase St., now owned by Mrs. Tucker. At the time none of the family had met him, but my father had some correspondence with him previously, and had invited him then to our home, if he should come to Brattleboro. When he did so, it was to look up an Aster which did not grow in Concord, if I remember correctly.
He struck me as being very odd, very wise and exceedingly observing. He roamed about the country at his own sweet will, and I was fortunate enough to be his companion on a walk up Wantastiquet Mt. I was well acquainted with the flora and could meet him understandingly there, but was somewhat abashed by the numerous questions he asked about all sorts of things, to which I could only reply “I do not know.” It appealed to my sense of humor that a person with such a fund of knowledge should seek information from a young girl like myself, but I could not see that he had any fun in him. The only question I can now recall is this. As we stood on the summit of Wantastiquet, he fixed his earnest gaze on a distant point in the landscape, which he designated, asking “How far is it in a bee line to that spot?” (pp. 36-8).