By Bradley P. Dean
Reprinted from Thoreau Research Newsletter, vol. 1, no. 1 (January 1990): 1–2, with the permission of Bradley P. Dean.
The manuscript, which was once mounted and bound into set 209 of the 1906 Manuscript Edition, is a full leaf of faintly lined, white-wove paper embossed with a “GOODWIN HARTFORD” (anchor in circle) press mark. The verso is blank; the recto is paged “1” and is written in black ink except the following sentence, which Thoreau wrote in pencil at the top of the recto just below and to the right of the title:
“I regard this as a sort of introduction to all that I may write hereafter.”
This, surely, is one of the most provocative sentences Thoreau ever wrote. Think of it: “Walking” as “a sort of introduction” to all that Thoreau expected to write after scrawling that sentence!
I won’t speculate here about what Thoreau may have meant by that sentence; all I will do is survey the history of the early “Walking” lectures and speculate about when he wrote the sentence.
Thoreau wrote the first version of “Walking, or the Wild” early in 1851 and read it on 23 April of that year. Just over a month later, on 31 May, he read the lecture again (probably the same draft, slightly revised) in Worcester. Some of the manuscripts from this draft are still extant, and he probably used most of them in his next draft — the one he read in Plymouth on 23 May 1852.
Thoreau next read a version of his early “Walking” lecture in Philadelphia on 21 November 1854, but he called this particular lecture “The Wild.” As I have shown elsewhere, he wrote this lecture in the weeks prior to his delivery in Philadelphia by splitting his earlier reading draft in half and supplementing one of the halves with new material and material from his journal (see my monograph on the early “Life without Principle” lectures in the 1987 SAR, pp. 286-94). He used the same process on the other half of his earlier reading draft in December 1854 to create a separate lecture, which he called “Walking.”
Splitting his earlier draft in half and writing two separate lectures involved substantial revision, of course, and Thoreau used a different type of paper (faintly lined, white-wove, embossed “G & Co.” [vertical-oval wreath border]) to incorporate new and heavily revised material into his two new reading drafts. His revisions and his reference to the pages he would read “this morning” led him to lay aside the title page (and several other pages as well) from his 1852 reading draft at this time.
Thoreau read one or another of his early “Walking” lectures on at least four occasions after splitting the earlier version of the lecture late in 1854, but apparently he did not undertake any substantive revisions during the 1855-1861 period. On his deathbed, he recombined the two lectures and revised the resulting text with the help of his sister Sophia before submitting the manuscript to Ticknor and Fields for publication in the Atlantic Monthly. Fields later donated the manuscript to the Concord Free Public Library, where it is today.
Thoreau must have written the sentence in question sometime after writing the text on the title page of his 1852 reading draft; that is, sometime after about mid-May 1852. When he was finished with his manuscripts generally, he stored them in a wooden box; and he seems to have rarely returned to the stored manuscripts, as would be expected since they were usually earlier, revised drafts of material in his current or “active” texts. When he laid aside the title page from his 1852 reading draft of “Walking, or the Wild,” he probably filed it in his box and, in all likelihood, never returned to it. If that was the case, he must have written the pencilled sentence sometime before January or February 1855.
Since it seems unlikely that he would write the sentence in question while the manuscript was his current or “active” reading draft, he probably wrote the sentence when he decided to split the lecture text and generate two new reading drafts. He seems to have made that decision in late August or early September 1854, when he planned to begin writing several lectures to deliver in the aftermath of Walden’s publication. In other words, he probably wrote the sentence sometime during the fall of 1854, in the weeks after Walden was published.
Writing such a sentence at such a time would seem reasonable. Having just completed a large literary project, Thoreau was probably thinking about taking on another large literary project, perhaps a project that (since he seems to have believed it would encompass all he would write thereafter) would be even more ambitious than the one he had just completed, and one to which “Walking, or the Wild” would apparently serve as “a sort of introduction.”
What might this more ambitious project have been? It may not be possible to know exactly, but various forms of evidence suggest that he began working in earnest on his seasonal calendars, most of which are now in the Morgan Library in New York City, during the strange illness he began suffering from in the spring of 1855. And his seasonal calendars themselves appear to have presaged his work on the “Fruits and Seeds” project(s). Might he have regarded his lecture “Walking, or the Wild” as “a sort of introduction” to the late natural history project(s), which he did not live to finish?
Copyright © 2000 Bradley P. Dean, All Rights Reserved