Walden; Or, Life in the Woods (1854); with a manuscript leaf from Thoreau’s memoirs bound in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1906)
“In this one book […] he surpasses everything we have had in America.”
– Robert Frost, on Walden
FIRST EDITION OF A SEMINAL WORK OF AMERICAN LITERATURE WITH MANUSCRIPT LEAF FROM THOREAU’S MEMOIRS.
First published in a run of two-thousand copies in Thoreau’s native Massachusetts, Walden; Or, Life in the Woods (1854) synthesises the thematic core of the Transcendentalist movement: a simple life with immediate connection to the natural world. During the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Thoreau cloistered himself in a cabin built by himself within the acreage of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s woodland in Concord, Massachusetts. From this isolated sojourn emerged Thoreau’s most prolific work, which encapsulates his ideas on self-reliance and humankind’s relationship with nature. “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer,” writes Thoreau, continuing, “Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” (Walden, p. 348).
At the turn of the century and following the author’s death in 1862, Thoreau’s collected works were published in twenty volumes by Houghton Mifflin. The project including a limited run of highly sought-after Manuscript Editions—which contained a leaf from Thoreau’s manuscripts mounted and bound into the first volume of each set. The present copy is one such first volume, and its leaf constitutes an excerpt in Thoreau’s hand from his posthumously-published 1866 memoir A Yankee in Canada. The work details his travels in Montreal and the present passage, from the chapter “The Walls of Quebec”, describes his encounter with a Scots emigré in Quebec as they walk from a barrack along the famous walls of the city. A Yankee in Canada documented the only excursion Thoreau made outside of the United States, with this particular passage featuring a conversation with an individual he meets there, thus providing a thematic counterpoint to the hermitic life recorded in Walden—as attested by the timeless line “I want the flower and fruit of a man” (Walden, p. 83).
Another insight offered by this unique holograph of A Yankee in Canada concerns how Thoreau modulates his celebrated style natural observation to a mode of recounting human interaction. “Thus being naturally drawn together”, he pens while recalling how he meets the Scots-Canadian, whereas the authorised editions of the work read, “being thus mutually drawn together” (A Yankee in Canada, p. 75). The alteration is slight, and whether it is an authorial emendation or one from an editor is uncertain. But, of the two word, “naturally” better reflects Thoreau’s sensibilities towards the certain idées fixes which inspired much of his literary engagement with the Transcendental movement: environmentalism and natural history. Yet, with “mutually” Thoreau perhaps affords a closer, more sympathetic bond to the stranger in contrast to the relationships he forages with the environment, recognising in a fellow human motivations better described as mutual than natural.
THOREAU, HENRY DAVID. Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1854. First edition. Octavo. [ii], 357, , 8 (advertisements dated June 1854); original sepia cloth with gilt spine and boards stamped in blind, custom presentation box. Cancelled bookplate of Universalist Sabbath School. Inscribed: “Beatrice Criss Cullum”. Bottom page creased with misaligned type on p. 50; some foxing; tear in the margin of one leaf (p. 69/70), light wear to spine ends, stab-holes visible through cloth. Exceptionally well-preserved copy of a book difficult to find in collectible edition and with unrestored, original cloth. Grolier American 63.
THOREAU, HENRY DAVID. The Writings of Henry David Thoreau. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1906. Manuscript edition, no. 307 of 600. Tall octavo, xlvii, 435 pp.; first of twenty volumes (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers). Frontispiece portrait of Thoreau in daguerreotype. Original sage pebble cloth with paper label. With a manuscript leaf from Thoreau’s diaries mounted on a fold out sheet (24 x 19 mm).
And here for a short time I lost sight of the wall, but I recovered it again on emerging from the barrack yard. [deleted: And t] There I met with a Scotchman who appeared to have business with the wall like myself. Thus being naturally drawn together by a similarity of dates, we had a little conversation sub moenibus, that is, by an angle of the wall which sheltered us. He lived about 30 miles north-west of Quebec, had been 19 years in the country; said he was disappointed that he was not brought to America after all, but found himself still under British rule, and where his own language was not spoken. – that many Scotch, Irish, & English were disappointed in like manner, and either went to the States, or pushed up the river to Canada West, nearer to the States, and where their language was spoken. He talked of visiting the States sometime and as he seemed ignorant of geography, I warned [end of folio]
Frost, Robert, “Letter to Wade Van Dore, June 24, 1922”, in Richard Ruland (ed.), Twentieth-Century Interpretations of Walden (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1968), p. 8
Thoreau, Henry David, A Yankee in Canada (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1866).
Price: $22,000 .