This is one of my favorites of Henry David Thoreau’s journal entries for many reasons: it’s darkly funny, first of all. I think most writers can relate to the mixed feelings of pride and frustration he must have felt at having “a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.” If anyone doubts that Thoreau never found the audience he wished for his work, those doubts should be dispelled by this passage.
Another thing I keep in mind: if I ever luck into a first edition of A Week On The Concord and Merrimack Rivers, there is a 70.6% chance that it is one of the ones he had on his shelves in his Concord room.
This journal entry was written almost 164 years ago to the date I’m writing this blog post: October 28, 1853.
Rain in the night and this morning, preparing for winter.
For a year or two past, my publisher, falsely so called, has been writing from time to time to ask what disposition should be made of the copies of “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers” still on hand, and at last suggesting that he had use for the room they occupied in his cellar. So I had them all sent to me here, and they have arrived to-day by express, filling the man’s wagon, — 706 copies out of an edition of 1000 which I bought of Munroe four years ago and have been ever since paying for, and have not quite paid for yet. The wares are sent to me at last, and I have an opportunity to examine my purchase. They are something more substantial than fame, as my back knows, which has borne them up two flights of stairs to a place similar to that to which they trace their origin. Of the remaining two hundred and ninety and odd, seventy-five were given away, the rest sold. I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself. Is it not well that the author should behold the fruits of his labor? My works are piled up on one side of my chamber half as high as my head, my opera omnia [complete works]. This is authorship; these are the work of my brain. There was just one piece of good luck in the venture. The unbound were tied up by the printer four years ago in stout paper wrappers, and inscribed, —
So Munroe had only to cross out “River” and write “Mass.” and deliver them to the expressman at once. I can see now what I write for, the result of my labors.
Nevertheless, in spite of this result, sitting beside the inert mass of my works, I take up my pen to-night to record what thought or experience I may have had, with as much satisfaction as ever. Indeed, I believe that this result is more inspiring and better for me than if a thousand had bought my wares. It affects my privacy less and leaves me freer.
“A Basket of a Delicate Weave:” Thoreau and Walden
I’ve published my Goddard College MFA long critical paper about Henry David Thoreau’s Walden as a Kindle short, entitled A Basket of a Delicate Weave: Thoreau and Walden. It’s available for download now from the Amazon Kindle store for 99 cents.
The image that many have of Henry David Thoreau, based largely on Walden, is that he was a nature-loving misanthrope who built his cabin in the woods to escape a society with which he felt at odds, who eschewed contact with his fellow man, and who wanted nothing but to be left alone in the woods. While Walden is, on its surface, a record of that sojourn, it is, as Thoreau scholar Walter Harding wrote, “a book that impels its reader to action.”
In this paper, I argue that Walden is, in many ways, a book about action: not just an account of Thoreau’s own action against a society he felt at odds with, but a call for his neighbors to wake up and do something themselves.
A Basket of a Delicate Weave will give students and lovers of Thoreau’s work new insights into the book, its author, and its still-relevant message.