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'lately, all of my own composition.'' His second venture, Walden, was more fortunate. He printed a few articles in the 'Boston Miscellany,' Putnam's 'Magazine,' the 'New York Tribune,' 'Graham's 'Magazine,' and the 'Atlantic Monthly,' but at no time could he be said to live by literature.
His income from his lectures must have been small, and apparently he made no effort to obtain engagements. He had an exalted idea of what constitutes a good lecture, and was suspicious of oratory. He told his English acquaintance Cholmondeley that he was from time to time congratulating himself on his 'general want of success 'as a lecturer. . . . I do my work clean as I go 'along, and they will not be likely to want me any'where again.'
When Hawthorne was corresponding secretary of the Salem Lyceum, he invited Thoreau in behalf of the managers to give them a lecture. The invitation was accepted. The lecture must have had the fatal defect of being 'interesting,' for Thoreau was asked to speak before the Lyceum a second time the same winter.
Thoreau was a radical Abolitionist and for six years refused to pay his poll-tax, on the ground that the tax went indirectly to the support of slavery. For this delinquency he was once lodged in the town-jail over night. In 1857 he made the acquaintance of one John Brown' as a SouthernF. B. Sanborn: The Personality of Thoreau, p. 30.
born president of a Northern college naïvely describes that terrible old man. When two years later news came of the desperate attempt at Harper's Ferry, Thoreau gave in a church vestry at Concord his impassioned 'Plea for Captain John Brown,' which one of his admirers regards as the most significant of his utterances.
Of the twelve volumes forming his collected writings two only were seen by Thoreau in book form. The remaining ten have been made up of reprinted magazine articles or selections from journals and letters. The list is as follows: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1849; Walden; or, Life in the Woods, 1854; Excursions (edited by R. W. Emerson and Sophia Thoreau), 1863; The Maine Woods, 1864; Cape Cod, 1865; Letters to Various Persons [with Poems], 1865; A Yankee in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 1866; Early Spring in Massachusetts, 1881; Summer, 1884; Winter, 1888; Autumn, 1892; Miscellanies, 1894; Familiar Letters of Henry David Thoreau, 1894.
Thoreau travelled widely' in Concord and made a few trips elsewhere. Aside from his excursions to the Maine woods, the White Mountains, Cape Cod, and Staten Island, he took no long journey until 1861, when he went as far west as Minnesota. He was in ill health then, and a violent cold terminating in pulmonary consumption brought about his death (May 6, 1862). It
has been often mentioned as a strange fact that this man who almost symbolized the out-of-door existence, who chanted its praises, and who was unhappy unless he had at least four hours a day ' in the woods and fields,' should have died, at the age of forty-five, of exposure to the elements which (according to his whimsical philosophy) were more friendly than man.
WITHOUT posing, Thoreau contrived somehow to gain the reputation of a poseur. Because his nose was more Emersonian than Emerson's, because he lived for a time at Emerson's house (where he was beloved by every member of the family), and because he affected the Orphic and seer-like mode of expression, he was called an imitator. Because he was a recluse and a stoic, and because his letters were edited in a way to emphasize his stoicism, he has been thought to lack the human and friendly qualities.
The charge of imitation has been refuted by those who knew him best. Doubtless his growth was stimulated by kindred ideas. This is all that can be granted. Utter independence, strong individuality distinguished him. His one foible
was, not subserviency, but combativeness, mainly 'from mere love of fence when he found a worthy 'adversary, as his best friends knew almost too 'well.' '
In many ways Thoreau was much like other men. He was a devoted son, a brotherly brother, a helpful neighbor, a genial companion. We have his own word for it that he could out-sit the longest sitter in the village tap-room if there were occasion.
On the other hand, he was not ' approachable' in the common meaning of the word. He puzzled many people. He could be angular, stiff, remote, encrusted. Howells saw him in 1860, 'a quaint 'stump figure of a man.' He sat on one side of the room, having first placed his visitor in a chair on the other side. It was more difficult to get near him spiritually than physically. He seemed almost unconscious of his caller's presence.
Emerson edited Thoreau's letters so as to present a most perfect piece of stoicism.' It was the side of his friend's character in which he most rejoiced. The book should be read exactly as Emerson intended it to be read. Later it should be supplemented by the Familiar Letters, which brings into relief the affectionate and winning side of Thoreau's character.
1 Edward W. Emerson in the Centenary' Emerson, vol. x, p. 607.
2 Literary Friends and Acquaintance, p. 59.
THOREAU was a painstaking student of the art of expression, but never for its own sake, always as a means to an end. One may conclude that it was not mere author's vanity which led him to resent editorial tampering with his manuscript. He had good reasons for believing that neither Curtis of Putnam's' nor Lowell of The Atlantic' could change his text to advantage. The question was not one of mere nicety of phrase, but of that subtile quality of style due to the inextricable interweaving of the thought and the language in which the thought is expressed.
An out-of-doors writer, Thoreau's power to produce was in direct ratio of his intercourse with Nature. If shut up in the house he could not write at all. When he walked he stored up literary virtue. He believed that nothing was so good for the man of letters as work with the hands. It cleared the style of 'palaver and sentimentality.'
The fresh wild beauty of Thoreau's style (when he is at his best) may be praised without reserve. There is no danger of exaggerating its perfect novelty and attractiveness; the danger is that we may take the hint of these qualities for the reality. Thoreau could be commonplace when he chose.