August 9, 2010

Walden published; waxwork yellowing

According to an 1854 journal entry by Henry David Thoreau:

Wednesday Aug 9th To Boston Walden Published. Elder berries XXX. Waxwork yellowing X.

Thoreau may have been understating his excitement over the first publication of what became his most famous book. In the week between receiving his sample copy and the official publication date, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson noted Thoreau was "walking up & down Concord, firm-looking, but in a tremble of great expectation."

The slender book was published by Ticknor & Fields; Thoreau went into Boston that day for the personal copies he was given for his own distribution to friends. Copies were given to Bronson Alcott, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and others.

Contrary to popular assumption, Thoreau did not write Walden at Walden Pond. His two year, two month, and two day-long stay at his modest cabin was, in fact, the period in which he wrote about his excursions on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. He began writing Walden as early as 1846 and spent the winter of 1854 correcting his manuscript.Thoreau intended his time at the cabin by the pond to be an exploration of nature — both the world around him, and the world within. From his chapter "Where I lived and what I lived for":

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry,—determined to make a day of it. Why should we knock under and go with the stream ? Let us not be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a dinner, situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigour, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses... Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that allusion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is.


  1. Why does This Day in History say the publication date was Aug. 4?

    1. I suppose we'd have to ask them, but my guess is that the answer is that they're wrong.


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