Description of the Walter Harding Collection

as prepared by Walter Harding

The Thoreau Library of Walter Harding is without question the largest collection—public, private, or institutional—of research materials on the life, works, and influence of Henry David Thoreau ever gathered together. No other collection even approaches it in size, coverage, and completeness. In fact it is doubtful if there is any other collection even a quarter of its size. It includes more than eleven thousand cataloged items plus many thousands more classified but uncataloged pieces. It includes books, pamphlets, periodical articles, newspaper clippings, photographs, microfilms, photocopies, and all sorts of miscellaneous Thoreauviana.

It is important to point out that it is primarily a research collection built up over a period of fifty years by a student obsessed with the idea of finding out everything possible about Thoreau. Out of the building of this collection have come more than twenty-five books and hundreds of articles on Thoreau written by that student. It is equally important to point out that it is not a “collector’s” collection. While it includes virtually every Thoreau first edition or limited edition, the emphasis has been upon “working copies” rather than on pristine copies. And while it includes a few Thoreau manuscripts and association items, the emphasis has not been there either.

The collection includes examples of every known book or pamphlet published about Thoreau in any language (two or three of the rarest pamphlets in facsimile copies; many of the books and pamphlets autographed presentation copies from the authors; a number in multiple, variant editions).

It includes almost every edition of any of Thoreau’s works in book or pamphlet printings—certainly more than 95% of them—including for example nearly two hundred editions of Walden, ranging from the first edition, through variant impressions of the early editions, through limited editions to current paperbacks.

It includes probably 85% of all translations of Thoreau’s works into foreign languages including virtually every major European language and fifteen or more Asiatic languages. The collection of Japanese translations is particularly outstanding and includes the extremely rare first Japanese translation of Walden of 1911.

As to Thoreau manuscript materials and association items, it includes a two-page fragment of an early draft of “Life without Principle,” a one-page testimony by Thoreau in a court case, and a unique Thoreau autograph labeled “Written with closed eyes.” There are also three books and a magazine from his personal library each containing his signature.

There is a book from his Aunt Jane’s library with her autograph, a bill of sale with his grandfather’s autograph, some fragments of stained glass painted by his sister Sophia, an oil portrait attributed to Sophia, a number of Thoreau pencils, an original Thoreau pencil box with all labels intact, a brick from the Walden cabin fireplace, a piece of wood from the cabin, and numerous nails, fragments of plaster, etc, excavated at the site of the cabin.

The heart of the collection includes virtually every scholarly or popular article on Thoreau ever published in English and nearly all published in a foreign language. Each of these is mounted in a separate file folder. To give some idea of the scope of this collection—there are more than seven hundred on Walden, two hundred and fifty on “Civil Disobedience,” two hundred and fifty on Walden Pond, 200 on Thoreau’s relationship with the Emersons, 200 on Cape Cod, 150 on Thoreau family history, 150 on Thoreau’s interest in or influence on the Orient, 100 on Thoreau’s religion, 75 on the Thoreau pencil business, 50 on Thoreau as a lecturer, and 40 on Thoreau as a surveyor (plus dozens of photocopies of his surveys). And this is to name only a tiny fraction of the categories covered.

There are copies of every known periodical devoted to Thoreau including complete runs of the Thoreau Society Bulletin, the Thoreau Society Booklets, the Concord Saunterer, the Thoreau Journal Quarterly, the Japanese Thoreau Society Bulletin and such rarities as Raymond Adams’ Thoreau Newsletter, the Walden Round Robin, the “Thoreauvian anarchist,” Mother Earth of the 1930s, and the British Eagle and the Serpent “dedicated to Thoreauvian idealism.” Also included are all known special issues devoted to Thoreau such as those of the London Bookman, Massachusetts Review, Europe, and the Colophon.

The collection includes every single bibliography of Thoreau, primary or secondary, with most of them annotated heavily with corrections and additions. (Many of the recent Thoreau bibliographies, such as Borst, have depended heavily on this collection.) There are also more than 200 bibliographical articles, checklists, Thoreau collection and exhibition catalogs.

It also contains the major works, particularly the journals, memoirs, and correspondences, of most of Thoreau’s well known friends such as Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott, Margaret Fuller and Orestes Brownson, and even such little-known friends as Daniel Ricketson, Richard Fuller and Theo Brown. There are also biographies (and in most cases multiple biographies) of all these figures and many more.

It includes Xerox, photoflow or microfilm copies of about half the doctoral dissertations done on Thoreau and in a number of cases copies of the originals, autographed and presented by the author. There are a number of master’s theses, a few undergraduate honors theses, and a number of outstanding undergraduate papers from colleges and universities all over the world.

There is a large collection of microfilms and Xeroxes of Thoreau manuscripts, including many of the manuscripts in private hands that are otherwise virtually inaccessible.

There is a collection of approximately 75 histories of American literature (including some in foreign languages) and probably as many more anthologies of American literature through which one can trace the curve of academic interest in Thoreau over the years.

There is a special collection of Thoreau’s correspondence including folders for every known letter written by or to him containing facsimiles of all the known extant manuscripts of these letters and of every significant publication of any of the letters plus annotated transcriptions and other pertinent materials. These were prepared for the 1958 and the forth-coming Princeton edition of his correspondence.

It includes nearly every reference made in print to Thoreau during his lifetime (some the originals, some in facsimile), no matter how minor the mention.

The section on Ellen Sewall, the girl to whom he proposed, contains transcripts of more than four hundred pages of family documents—letters, diaries, wills, etc.—the only such collection in private hands outside the Sewall family.

A section on Harvard University includes transcripts of all of Thoreau’s grades, the memorial history of his class of 1837, a number of college catalogs and of undergraduate publications of his time, a catalog of all Harvard officers, faculty and students from 1636 through the nineteenth century, the catalog of the Harvard Library of his day, and several histories of Harvard.

A section on the town of Concord includes most of the annual town reports of his day, microfilms of every Concord newspaper in his lifetime, a complete run of the rare Social Circle Memoirs, every nineteenth century map of Concord, every Concord history, Concord’s Births, Death and Marriages, nearly every guide books to the town from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, and hundreds of pamphlets and clippings related to Concord history.

There is a collection of more than a hundred volumes which are exact duplicates of books in Thoreau’s library or that he used frequently.

There is a collection of nearly 100 novels in which Thoreau is a character or in which one of the characters is influenced by Thoreau. It is apparently the only such collection of its kind. There is also a collection of every known volume of poems about Thoreau plus hundreds of individual poems about Thoreau.

A music collection includes scores and/or recordings of compositions inspired by Thoreau, a number of them unpublished, plus copies of Thoreau’s own favorite pieces of music. There are also seven letters from Charles Ives and a number of letters from John Cage on their personal interest in Thoreau.

The collection includes the Ricketson and Hoffman busts of Thoreau, the Wilde statue, several bas reliefs, a number of Thoreau medals, and almost countless drawings, prints, and photographs related to Thoreau, including copies of every known lifetime likeness of Thoreau. There are original drawings by Clare Leighton and Annie Dillard and a Sister Corita silkscreen. There are dozens of Thoreau posters and a hundred or more Thoreau greeting cards. There is a collection of several dozen Thoreau calendars, including all the rare ones and a collection of several hundred Thoreau cartoons including several originals.

There is a long run of the American Almanac, the almanac Thoreau most frequently refers to, for nearly every year of his lifetime, plus a number of business directories for Boston, Worcester, and the state of Massachusetts. A copy of Hill’s Meteorological Register gives the weather and temperature for eastern Massachusetts for every day of Thoreau’s life.

There is a collection of filmstrips, slide shows, recordings, lesson plans, course syllabi and other teaching materials on Thoreau from schools and colleges across the country.

There is a special collection of letters, many of them framed with appropriate photographs, from such individuals as President Carter, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Dewey, Charles Ives, Martin Luther King, Aldous Huxley, Upton Sinclair, Bertrand Russell, Bernard Malamud, C.P. Snow, Allen Ginsberg, Loren Eiseley, and Gene Tunney commenting on Thoreau. There are also thousands of letters from Thoreau scholars and enthusiasts from around the world, including virtually every outstanding Thoreau scholar of this century, discussing, arguing, and querying about Thoreau. The collection also includes about a hundred letters from Thoreau's friend Franklin B. Sanborn. There are also annotated and corrected proof sheets for many of the books by and about Thoreau of the past forty years. It also includes notes, drafts, proofs and corrections of all of Walter Harding’s books and articles on Thoreau.

There is an eleven-thousand-plus card catalog (author cards only) of the collection plus a rough draft “short title” catalog of the first ten thousand items in the collection.

A Note on the Text:

Source: Reproduced from a typescript in The Walter Harding Collection in the Thoreau Society Collections