The First and Last Journeys of Thoreau, Volume 1/Introduction
F. B. SANBORN
No one who has not examined the various drafts of manuscript which finally issued in the printed page, can fully appreciate the pains taken by Thoreau to make his published writings conform to his peculiar standard of excellence. The Sir Walter , lately printed for the members of The Bibliophile Society, was made up by him from three such drafts, each omitting and inserting something which the others had not.
Two drafts of Thoreau's earlier material which, with copious additions, came forth, after ten years of amendment and revision, as A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers, now lie before me. The first, though a fragment, is the earliest diary of the voyage noted down in 1839, in the boat or tent, and afterwards written out more fully in the Concord home. The second draft is also fragmentary, but covers "Sunday" and "Tuesday," which are omitted from the other, and contains many passages that he left out, or materially changed, when making his final copy for Munroe to print,—at the author's cost. This third and final draft, which would be very precious to collectors if extant, was probably destroyed as waste paper by the printers, or went to the paper-mill to be refashioned into sheets for other scribes. The present editor has followed mainly the first of these two tentative drafts, because it contains more unprinted matter; but he has also occasionally used passages from the second draft, which were omitted in printing the volume of 1849. Thus the charming portrayal of "a natural Sabbath,—a celestial day" in The Week (page 56), goes on in this second draft:
"The air was as elastic and crystalline as if it were a glass to the picture of the world, and explained the artifice of the picture-dealer, who does not regard his picture as finished until it is glassed. It was like the landscape seen through the bottom of a tumbler in my youth; when it appeared clothed in a vivid, quiet light, in which the barns and fences checquer and partition it with new regularity, and rough and uneven fields stretch away with lawn-like smoothness to the horizon. The clouds, finely distinct and picturesque,—the light blue sky contrasting with their feathery softness,—so ethereal that they seemed a fit drapery to hang over Persia; and the smith s shop resting in the Greek light was worthy to stand beside the Parthenon. Not only has that foreground of a picture its glass of transparent crystal spread over it, but the picture itself must be a glass to a remote background. We demand, chiefly of all, of pictures, that they be perspicuous in this sense, and the laws of perspective duly observed; that so, we may see through them to the reality or thing painted. It is not the oasis in the foreground of the desert, but the infinite level and roomy horizon, where the sky meets the sand, and into which leads the path of the pilgrim, that detains the eye and the imagination.
"Such a background do all our lives want, and such Character always secures to itself. For the most part only the life of the anchorite will bear to be so considered; but all our motions should be as impressive as objects in the desert, a broken shaft or crumbling mound against a limitless horizon. All character is thus unrelated, and of distinct outline. Men nowhere live as yet a natural life, around which the vine clings, and which the elm willingly shadows,—a life of equal simplicity and sincerity with Nature, and in harmony with her grandeur and beauty. The natural world has no inhabitant."
The verse, too, on the first page of "Sunday" (54) stands thus in the manuscript, with the name
Thou unconverted Saint,
Early Christian without taint!
Heathen without reproach,
Who dost upon the evil day encroach;
Who, ever since thy birth,
Hast trod the outskirts of the earth!
Strict anchorite! who dost simply feast
On freshest dews, I'll be thy guest,
And daily bend my steps to the East,
While the late-risen world goes West.
This strikes me as better than the shorter version previously printed.
At the opening of "Tuesday." too, after the high wind of Monday night, the two brothers were astir long before three A.M., and we have a passage never before printed, except a few words; it runs thus:
"At length, when all our effects were aboard, we launched our boat on the ever-wakeful river, and so shaking the clay from our feet we pushed into the fog. Buonaparte exaggerates the three o'clock in the morning courage; fear does not awake so early. Few men are so degenerate as to baulk Nature by not beginning the day well. In the morning we do not believe in expediency, but will start afresh without botching. By afternoon man has an interest in the past, and sees indifferently well either way. The morning dew breeds no cold. Disease is a sluggard that overtakes, never encounters us: we have the start each day, and may fairly distance him before the dew is off; but if we recline in the bowers of noon, he will come up with us after all. I have found an early morning walk to be a blessing for the whole day. To our neighbors who have risen in mist and rain we tell of a clear sunrise and the singing of birds, as some traditionary mythus. We look back to those fresh but now remote hours, as to the dawn of time, when a solid and blooming health reigned, and every deed was simple and heroic."
Again, at the opening of "Wednesday," the sound of the farmyard chanticleer leads to one of those irregular poems that Thoreau often wrote, but seldom printed in full, though he liked to quote from them an occasional stanza or a couplet.
Upon the bank at early dawn
I hear the cocks proclaim the day,
Though the moon shines securely on,
As if her course they could not stay.
The stars withhold their shining not,
Or singly or in scattered crowds,
But seem like Parthian arrows shot
By yielding Night mid the advancing clouds.
Far in the east the larum rings,
As if a wakeful host were there;
And now its early clarion sings
To warn us sluggard knights beware.
One, on more distant perch, more clear
But fainter, brags him still;
But ah! he promises, I fear,
More than his master's household will fulfil.
The sound invades each silent wood,
Awakes each slumbering bird,
Till every fowl leads forth her brood,
Which in her nest the tuneful summons heard.
Methinks that Time has reached his prime;
Eternity is in the flower;
And this the faint, confused chime
That ushers in the sacred hour.
And has Time got so forward then?
From what perennial fount of joy
Dost thou inspire the hearts of men,
And teach them how the daylight to employ?
From thy abundance pray impart,
Who dost so freely spill,
Some bravery unto my heart,
And let me taste of thy perennial rill.
There is such health and length of years
In the elixir of thy note,
That God himself more young appears
From the rare bragging of thy throat.
These rough and daring verses have less value as poems than as quaint expressions of Thoreau's delicate perceptions. In the same day's record we find a passage about guns (also omitted in printing), which gives a glimpse of Thoreau's boyhood, like the letter of Indian rhetoric to his brother John, in 1837, turning on the delights of hunting:
"There are few tools to be compared with a gun for efficiency and compactness. I do not know of another so complete an arm. It is almost a companion, like a dog. The hunter has an affection for his gun which no laborer has for the tool which he uses,—his axe or spade. I have seen the time when I could carry a gun in my hand all day on a journey, and not feel it to be heavy, though I did not use it once. In the country a boy's love is apt to be divided between a gun and a watch; but the more active and manly choose the gun. Like the first settlers, who rarely went to the field—hardly even to church—without their guns, we, their descendants, have not yet quite outgrown this habit of pioneers; and to-day the villager whose way leads him through a piece of wood, or over a plain where game is sometimes met with, will deliberate whether he shall not take his gun, because, as he says, he 'may see something.' If the Indian and the bear are exterminated, the partridge and the rabbit are left."
In contrast with the poetry and philosophy of this young stoic, we find in the manuscript this legend:
"I have been told (a tradition in our family) that when my grandmother with her second husband, the Captain [Minott], first went into Kearsarge Gore in her chaise,—where, by the way, the inhabitants had baked a pig in expectation of their coming, which, as they did not come immediately, was kept baking for three days,—her chaise so frightened the geese in the road that they actually rose and flew half a mile. And the sheep all ran over the hills, with the pigs after them; and some of the horses they met broke their tackling or threw their riders; so that they had to put their chaise down several times to save life. When they drove up to the meeting-house, snap, snap, went the bridles of several of the horses that were tied there, and they scattered without a benediction. Though it was in the middle of sermon-time, the whole congregation rushed out; 'for they thought it was a leather judgment a-coming.' The people about the door got hold of and got into the vehicle, so that they 'liked to have shaken it all to pieces' with curiosity. The minister's wife, too, got in and 'teetered up and down a little;' but she thought it was 'a darn tottlish thing' and said she 'wouldn't ride in it for nothin' in the world.' There was no service in the afternoon. The next day some old women took their knitting-work and sat in the chaise. As my grandfather had a lawsuit with a witch-woman there, the people prophesied that she would upset his chaise, till they remembered that there was silver-plating enough about it and the harness to lay all the witches in the country.
"My grandmother also instructed that people how to make coffee, which was pounded in a mortar; and by the time she went out of town the sound of the mortar was heard in all that land. By this time, no doubt, she and Ceres are equally regarded as mythological by their posterity. She also found that the young ladies there 'were taking on' because some that had been to Boston and provided themselves with umbrellas (since called parasols) were unable to unfurl them, they frightened the horses so; and they were a dead loss on their hands. So that they 'wanted to get some young man of confidence' to go round among the horses with them a spell, to get them used to it."
This is plainly a Dunbar story, slightly embroidered by the dramatic talent of Mrs. Thoreau, whose mother, the grandmother of the tale, and widow of Rev. Asa Dunbar, afterwards married Captain Minott, of Concord. The Rev. Asa Dunbar's children had the "Lust zu fabuliren" which Goethe ascribes to his mother, and could "set out" an adventure to its full value. Oddly at variance with this rustic jest is the next omitted passage which follows the mention of the "mediterranean sea," on page 314 of The Week, and precedes what is said of Staten Island, where indeed these observations of the ocean-strand were first made in 1843.
"The most inland shore is seashore. What is the world but seashore everywhere? Aye, all men live upon this line in their daily experience, humming this vast rhyme,— always on the verge of unexplored oceans. We crawl along the endless beach, the product of sea slime, with here and there a wreck or fisher’s house and a few pikes and shad poles, the waves, like sea monsters, ever rolling to the land, spotted with oranges and limes, the waste of a demonic commerce. It is a vast, rank, lusty place, this beach of ours, strewn with horseshoes and crabs, and razor-clams, and whatever wrecks the sea casts up; corpses of men and beasts bleaching and rotting in the sun and waves,—and each tide turns them in their beds, and brings fresh sand to be their pillows.
Between the traveller and the setting sun,
Upon some drifting sand heap of the shore,
A hound stands o’er the carcass of a man.
"Yet there are some delicate ocean flowers and fragile mosses which, if you wade in, you may lift up gently upon a paper, and prick out painfully with a needle."
In the "Sunday" at page 95 of The Week, there is mention of a reproof given to Thoreau by a "minister driving a poor beast to some horse-sheds." This was not on the Merrimac, but in New Boston not far away, and when Ellery Channing was his companion, perhaps in 1846. In the second draft before me is a passage omitted in printing, which relates to the same journey, as follows:
"On the rocky shore in front of Moore’s Falls I have since prepared a rather sumptuous but somewhat more innocent repast than our last, when travelling this way one summer's day with another companion. It was composed of crusts of bread which the farmers had refused, hens' eggs, for one of which we waited till it was laid, and a hasty pudding boiled on the rocks, amidst the roar of the rapids, and almost sprinkled with the foam. For our means were small, though our appetites were great, and we studied economy as well as the landscape. We saw a raft of logs, sixty or seventy feet long, go down these rocky rapids, which are a hundred rods in length. It was managed by two men, one at each end, with an oar fixed into the logs; and they were obliged to exert all their strength to incline it to the right or left, and avoid the rocks,—all the while half concealed and wet with the waves and foam which dashed on them, and communicating by signs amid the roar of the rapids."
It was in this same tour with Channing that they climbed to the top of Uncannunuc, and saw the hills described in this omitted passage:
"Far in the East is seen Agamenticus Hill, in Maine, four miles from the sea, a noted landmark for sailors, on which Saint Aspenquid is said to have died in 1682, whose funeral was celebrated by the Indians 'by the sacrifice of 6,711 wild animals;' and, besides the more southern New Hampshire hills, Gunstock and Kearsarge in the north; and further yet some dim peaks which perhaps are the White Mountains themselves. A few miles further west is Joe English Hill in New Boston, which, seen from the road in Bedford, is a dark-looking eminence, very abrupt on one side, and shaped like a whale. Joe English was an Indian, grandson of Mascononomet of Agawam (Ipswich) who fought on the side of the whites, and of whose exploits in their behalf many stories are told. He was finally shot by his own race in 1706, and a grant was made to his widow and children by the Province, 'because he died in the service of his country.'"
Thoreau was for years striving to express in words what music signified to him. He attempted it in that paradoxical fragment called The Service, written out for The Dial in 1840, but not published in full till sixty years later. He attempted it again in the various drafts of The Week, and printed one or two such pages. But there remains in the manuscript before me a passage of which some lines were printed, but which deserves to be given as it stands. It was suggested by the rude drumming of the tyro calling men together for a country muster; but it rose far above that or any real music, into the ideal region where Thoreau was most at home. He said:
"Man should have an accompaniment of music through Nature. It relieves the scenery, which is seen through it as a subtler element, like a very clear morning air in autumn. A man s life should be a steady march to an inaudible but sweet and all-pervading music; and when he seems to halt, he will still be marching on his post. His heart will sharpen and attune his ear, and he will never take a false step, even in the most arduous circumstances; for then the music will swell into corresponding sweetness and volume, and rule the movement it inspired.
"One music seems to be superior to another chiefly in its more perfect time, to use this word in a liberal sense. In its steadiness and equanimity lies its divinity. Music is the sound of the universal laws promulgated. It is the only assured tone. When men attain to speak with as settled a faith, and as firm assurance, their voices will ring and their feet march as the hero's. I feel a sad cheer when I hear these lofty strains, because there must be something in me as lofty that hears. But ah, I hear them not always! The clear morning notes seem to come through a veil of sadness to me; for possibly they are only the echo which my life makes.
Therefore a current of sadness deep
Through the strains of thy triumph is heard to sweep.
These cadences plainly proceed out of a very deep meaning, and a sustained soul. They are perhaps the expression of the perfect knowledge which the saints attain. There are in music such strains as far surpass any faith which man ever had in the loftiness of his destiny. Things are to be learned which it will be sweet to learn, and worth the while. This cannot be all rumor.
"Here the woodcutters have felled an ancient pine forest, and brought to light, to those distant hills, a fair lake in the south west. One wonders if the very bare earth did not experience emotion at beholding so fair a prospect. This gleam reflected by the evening sky will sow flowers here of various hues, with its slanted rays. That water lies there in the sun, revealed to those hills, as if it needed not to be seen. Its beauty seems yet lonely—sufficient."
After the fragmentary journal of the voyage of 1839, interspersed as it is with extracts from later journals, comes a long series of extracts from the autumn journals kept at Staten Island, but ending in Concord, to which beloved home he returned at some date in November, 1843, now hard to fix. Probably it was during the interval between the dates, November 9 and 20; for he had engaged to read a lecture on Poetry on the 29th, before the Concord Lyceum, and it was for that he made the selections from Ossian which appear briefly indicated in the journal. In publishing this lecture, as he did in The Dial for January 1844, he gave the extracts in full. They were taken from a work then recent and now almost forgotten, The Genuine Remains of Ossian, Literally Translated, with a Preliminary Dissertation, by Patrick MacGregor. This was published in London in 1841, under the patronage of the Highland Society of London; and it revived the interest in the Gaelic bards, which the inventions and mystifications of MacPherson in the eighteenth century had finally discouraged. The controversy over this Celtic poesy is not yet ended, and Thoreau's treating Ossian seriously has caused his critics some amusement.
It should be remembered that we are here dealing with an actual copy, in Thoreau's handwriting, of a journal no longer extant; and that the entries were made on the general subject of Poetry, which he was then studying for his lecture. Many of these entries did not appear at all in the discourse; others were abridged or expanded, and most of them were varied in literary expression before appearing in The Dial, or afterward in The Week. A comparison of the three forms of the same criticism will throw light (as all the extracts from destroyed journals will, when compared with the finished page as Thoreau printed it) on his method of working. The passages here given will be found to differ from the same description or meditation elsewhere published, and the difference will usually be due to alterations made later by the author; but now and then, perhaps, to the difficulty experienced in reading his hasty chirography, often in faint penciling, and without much care in arrangement or punctuation.
The date of the passages on Love and Friendship and on Conversation cannot be fixed with certainty, but all were written before The Week was published in 1849, and most of them years before that.
Thoreau did not reach the age of thirty until July 1847, and most of the passages of affectionate sentiment were certainly written before that age, and apparently between the beginning of 1839, when he was twenty-one, and 1845, when he built his Walden hermitage. He had just passed his twenty-second birthday (July 12) when preparing for his river voyage, and most of the passages quoted in this volume were written before he was twenty-seven. His youth was the season of paradox and social revolt,—the latter never proceeding so far as many of his critics have been ill-informed enough to declare. Even in college, before he was twenty, President Quincy, that sturdy mixture of conformity and non-conformity, had to defend him a little against the misconstruction of his professors, a class apt to be intolerant of originality, when they are keen enough to discover it. Writing to Emerson in June 1837, Quincy said:
"Your view concerning Thoreau is entirely in consent with that which I entertain. I was willing and desirous that whatever falling off there had been in his scholarship should be attributable to his sickness. He had, however, imbibed some notions concerning emulation and college rank which had a natural tendency to diminish his zeal, if not his exertions. His instructors were impressed with the conviction that he was indifferent, even to a degree that was faulty. I have always entertained a respect for and interest in him, and was willing to attribute any apparent neglect or indifference to his ill-health rather than to wilfulness. . . . There is no doubt that, from some cause, an unfavorable opinion has been entertained of his disposition to exert himself. To what it has been owing may be doubtful. I appreciate very fully the goodness of his heart and the strictness of his moral principle; and have done as much for him as under the circumstances was possible."
No doubt an element of wilfulness entered into Thoreau's opinions and actions in his earlier life; such is wont to be the case with men of marked originality. His religious dissent, his literary and political heresies, appear sufficiently in this volume, and were seldom suppressed by him in publication. Emerson well said of him in his funeral eulogy, given in that old Concord meeting house which Thoreau seldom entered,— "Whilst he used in his writings a certain petulance of remark in reference to churches or churchmen, he was a person of a rare, tender, and absolute religion,—a person incapable of any profanation, by act or thought." This must be borne in mind in reading the ensuing pages; and also the further remark of Emerson, that "a certain habit of antagonism defaced his earlier writings,—a trick of rhetoric never quite out grown."
Nothing of this appears in the Notes of the last of his journeys here developed and published without the aid of his interpolations. How much these would have added to the interest of the book when published, need not here be remarked. Thoreau would have introduced those characters of humor or adventure, like Martin Scott, Marquette, and La Salle, in the early and the more recent story of the Mississippi Valley; whose names merely occur in these Notes, but of whom a thousand anecdotes and adventures are known. He would doubtless have expanded his slight allusion to the Gascon Baron Lahontan (as the name is now written) into some pages of the biography of that lively enemy of the Jesuits; and his keenness of insight might have lighted up the obscure question whether Lahontan ever saw the Minnesota River, on which Thoreau floated for days. Very likely he would have come to the same conclusion with that other French explorer, Nicollet, the Savoyard savant, who, in his report to the United States Government in 1841, of explorations made some years earlier, said:
"Having procured a copy of Lahontan's book, in which is a roughly made map of his Long River, I was struck with the remembrance of its course as laid down with that of the Cannon River, which I had previously sketched. I soon convinced myself that the principal statements of the Baron, and the few details he gives of the physical character of the river, coincide remarkably account of the mouth of the river is particularly accurate: 'We entered the mouth of Long River, a sort of lake almost covered with bulrushes,—I say almost, for there was exactly in its middle a small channel which we followed till evening.'"what I had found as belonging to Cannon River. Thus the lakes and swamps corresponded, and traces of Indian villages mentioned by him might be found in the growth of a wild grass that propagates itself around all old Indian settlements. His
Upon this account by Nicollet, E. D. Neill added in 1850 (a paper read in 1861 by Thoreau): "The supposition that Lahontan passed through Cannon River is not improbable; its sources are within four or five miles of an eastern branch of the Blue Earth River, and the intervening ground is a perfect level. The communication at the time of the voyage may have been complete, or been made so by a freshet, and he would thus have passed through the Blue Earth into St. Peter's River."
Minnesota, which now has nearly two million people, had at Thoreau's visit less than two hundred thousand, and a property valuation of less than forty million dollars, while now the aggregate exceeds seven hundred million dollars. It was therefore in a relatively primitive condition, and even its history had not been very carefully studied, though its Historical Society, whose scanty publications Thoreau sought and mastered, had existed for some ten years. Its botany and zoology were better known; but the terminology and classification of botany have so much changed in forty-four years that the scientific reader must look with charity on the lists of plants so industriously noted down by Thoreau. The text-books used by him were chiefly Asa Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, and Alphonso Wood's Class-Book of Botany, illustrated by a Flora of the Northern, Middle and Western States. Both have been superseded by later works or newer editions; while for Minnesota alone the diligent researches of Professor Conway MacMillan and others have supplied a mass of details which make Thoreau's doubts and suggestions look at times almost puerile. But he was a naturalist who was also, like Linnæus, a poet, and even more profoundly poetic than the epoch-making Swede, whom he greatly admired, while viewing the mob of naturalists with humorous aversion. Their Latin and Greek terminology he styled "dead words with a tail," and yet few writers knew better than he how to introduce the graceful Latin of Linnaeus with rhetorical effect. Channing said, "He spared no pains to make out his bird by Wilson and Nuttall;" and adds, "When he went to Minnesota in 1861 and found the crab-apple native, and native Indians, he pleased himself with a new friend,—the gopher with thirteen stripes;" Lahontan's "Swiss squirrel" with Swiss doublet and something like a Switzer's cap marked out on his thighs.
Probably the chief disappointment of Thoreau, in connection with his Minnesota Notes, was that he had not strength left him to elaborate his many observations on the American Indian into a volume. In 1859-60 he had declined the request of Mrs. Stearns, an ardent friend of John Brown, to write that hero's life, because he had his own manuscripts to edit, and specially those relating to the red man. The passages in this volume taken from the journal of 1839 had been supplemented by many hundred observations in Maine, in Canada, and now a few in Minnesota; he had read zealously, and with pencil in hand, hundreds of Jesuit Relations and other books dealing with our problematical savages; yet now, when the work was almost ready to be commenced in methodical earnest,—
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life.
How well Thoreau bore this frustration of his plans and hopes, all those who saw him during his long and fatal illness know and bear witness. Ellery Channing, who had been more with him than any other comrade in his many rambles, sums up the matter pathetically at the close of his Thoreau the Poet-Naturalist." when he says:
"His habit of engrossing his thoughts in a journal, which had lasted for a quarter-century; his out-of-door life, of which he used to say, if he omitted that, all his living ceased,—all this became so incontrovertibly a thing of the past that he said to me once, standing at the window, 'I cannot see on the outside at all; we thought ourselves great philosophers in those wet days, when we used to go out and sit down by the wall-sides.’ This was absolutely all he was ever heard by me to say of that outward world, during his illness; neither could a stranger in the least infer that he had ever a friend in field or wood. . . . He now concentrated all his force, caught the shreds of his fleeting physical strength, the moment when the destinies accorded to him a long breath,—to complete his stories of the Maine woods, then in press; endeavoring vainly to finish his lists of birds and flowers, and arrange his papers on Night and Moonlight. . . . Thirteen days before his death he said he could not fairly rouse himself for work,—could not see to correct his Allegash paper; 'it is in a knot I cannot untie.' His every instant now, his least thought and work, sacredly belonged to them, dearer than his rapidly perishing life, whom he should so quickly leave behind."
It has been a pleasure to his surviving friends, of whom but few now remain, to do for his memory and his fame what he could not do for himself, and so present to the world, which he too early abandoned, the profound or witty thoughts and the delicate observations that every page of his manuscripts could show. We have perhaps published much that he would have withheld; and certainly in connections that he would not have chosen. But the world has become eager for every word he wrote.