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Essays: A Fully Annotated Edition

Edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This new selection of Thoreau's essays traces his trajectory as a writer for the outlets of his day-the periodical press, newspapers, and compendiums-and as a frequent presenter on the local lecture circuit. By arranging the writings chronologically, the volume re-creates the experience of Thoreau's readers as they followed his developing ideas over time.

    Jeffrey S. Cramer, award-winning editor of six previous volumes of works by Thoreau, offers the most accurate text available for each essay and provides convenient on-page annotations. He establishes context and guides the reader through unfamiliar allusions and references, plumbing the depths of Thoreau's writings with unprecedented insight.

    Among the essays in this book:· The Last Days of John Brown· Resistance to Civil Government [Civil Disobedience]· Thomas Carlyle and His Works· Natural History of Massachusetts· and many more

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16562-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-l)

    After Thoreau’s death Thomas Wentworth Higginson told the story about asking Thoreau’s sister Sophia “for leave to publish something from his numerous volumes of journals and natural observations, now so largely in print.” Sophia, Higginson recalled, “had refused, and I applied confidently to Judge Hoar. When I got through, the judge said placidly, between puffs of his cigar, ‘Whereunto? You have not yet unfolded the preliminary question. Why should any one wish to have a sentence of Henry Thoreau’s put in print?’ ”

    From a present-day perspective, which places Thoreau in the pantheon of masters of American prose, Hoar’s comments...

  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. li-lii)

    • Natural History of Massachusetts
      (pp. 1-26)

      Reports—on the Fishes, Reptiles, and Birds; the Herbaceous Plants and Quadrupeds; the Insects Injurious to Vegetation; and the Invertebrate Animals—of Massachusetts.

      Published agreeably to an Order of the Legislature, by the Commissioners on the Zoological and Botanical Survey of the State.¹

      We were thinking how we might best celebrate the good deed which the State of Massachusetts has done, in procuring the Scientific Survey of the Commonwealth, whose result is recorded in these volumes, when we found a near neighbor and friend of ours, dear also to the Muses, a native and an inhabitant of the town of...

    • A Winter Walk
      (pp. 27-45)

      The wind has gently murmured through the blinds,¹ or puffed with feathery softness against the windows, and occasionally sighed like a summer zephyr lifting the leaves along the livelong night. The meadow mouse has slept in his snug gallery in the sod, the owl has sat in a hollow tree in the depth of the swamp, the rabbit, the squirrel, and the fox have all been housed. The watch-dog has lain quiet on the hearth, and the cattle have stood silent in their stalls. The earth itself has slept, as it were its first, not its last sleep, save when...

    • A Walk to Wachusett
      (pp. 46-63)

      The needles of the pine,

      All to the west incline.

      Concord, July 19, 1842.

      Summer and winter our eyes had rested on the dim outline of the mountains, to which distance and indistinctness lent a grandeur not their own, so that they served equally to interpret all the allusions of poets and travellers; whether with Homer, on a spring morning, we sat down on the many-peaked Olympus,¹ or, with Virgil, and his compeers, roamed the Etrurian and Thessalian² hills, or with Humboldt measured the more modern Andes and Teneriffe.³

      With frontier strength ye stand your ground,

      With grand content ye...

    • Paradise (To Be) Regained
      (pp. 64-94)

      We learn that Mr. Etzler is a native of Germany,¹ and originally published his book in Pennsylvania, ten or twelve years ago;² and now a second English edition,³ from the original American one, is demanded by his readers across the water, owing, we suppose, to the recent spread of Fourier’s doctrines.⁴ It is one of the signs of the times. We confess that we have risen from reading this book with enlarged ideas, and grander conceptions of our duties in this world. It did expand us a little. It is worth attending to, if only that it entertains large questions....

    • Wendell Phillips Before Concord Lyceum
      (pp. 95-98)

      Concord, Mass. March 12th, 1845.

      Mr. Editor:

      We have now, for the third winter, had our spirits refreshed, and our faith in the destiny of the Commonwealth strengthened, by the presence and the eloquence of Wendell Phillips;¹ and we wish to tender to him our thanks and our sympathy. The admission of this gentleman into the Lyceum has been strenuously opposed by a respectable portion of our fellow-citizens, who themselves, we trust, whose descendants, at least, we know, will be as faithful conservers of the true order, whenever that shall be the order of the day,—and in each instance,...

    • Thomas Carlyle and His Works
      (pp. 99-144)

      Thomas Carlyle¹ is a Scotchman, born about fifty years ago, “at Ecclefechan, Annandale,” according to one authority.² “His parents ‘good farmer people,’ his father³ an elder in the Secession church⁴ there, and a man of strong native sense, whose words were said to ‘nail a subject to the wall.’ ” We also hear of his “excellent mother,”⁵ still alive, and of “her fine old covenanting accents, concerting with his transcendental tones.”⁶ He seems to have gone to school at Annan, on the shore of the Solway Frith, and there, as he himself writes, “heard of famed professors, of high matters...

    • Resistance to Civil Government [Civil Disobedience]
      (pp. 145-171)

      I heartily accept the motto,—“That government is best which governs least”;¹ and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—“That government is best which governs not at all”;² and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army,³ and they are many and weighty, and deserve...

    • Slavery in Massachusetts
      (pp. 172-189)

      I lately attended a meeting of the citizens of Concord,¹ expecting, as one among many, to speak on the subject of slavery in Massachusetts; but I was surprised and disappointed to find that what had called my townsmen together was the destiny of Nebraska,² and not of Massachusetts, and that what I had to say would be entirely out of order. I had thought that the house was on fire, and not the prairie; but though several of the citizens of Massachusetts are now in prison for attempting to rescue a slave from her own clutches,³ not one of the...

    • John Brown Essays

      • A Plea for Captain John Brown
        (pp. 190-216)

        Read to the citizens of Concord, Mass., Sunday Evening, October 30, 1859;¹also as the Fifth Lecture of the Fraternity Course, in Boston, November 1.²

        I trust that you will pardon me for being here. I do not wish to force my thoughts upon you, but I feel forced myself. Little as I know of Captain Brown, I would fain do my part to correct the tone and the statements of the newspapers, and of my countrymen generally, respecting his character and actions. It costs us nothing to be just. We can at least express our sympathy with, and admiration...

      • The Last Days of John Brown
        (pp. 217-224)

        John Brown’s career for the last six weeks¹ of his life was meteor-like, flashing through the darkness in which we live. I know of nothing so miraculous in our history.

        If any person, in a lecture or conversation at that time, cited any ancient example of heroism, such as Cato² or Tell³ or Winkelried,⁴ passing over the recent deeds and words of Brown, it was felt by any intelligent audience of Northern men to be tame and inexcusably far-fetched.

        For my own part, I commonly attend more to nature than to man, but any affecting human event may blind our...

    • An Address on the Succession of Forest Trees
      (pp. 225-242)

      Every man is entitled to come to Cattle-shows,¹ even a transcendentalist; and for my part I am more interested in the men than in the cattle.² I wish to see once more those old familiar faces, whose names I do not know, which for me represent the Middlesex country, and come as near being indigenous to the soil as a white man can; the men who are not above their business, whose coats are not too black, whose shoes do not shine very much, who never wear gloves to conceal their hands. It is true, there are some queer specimens...

    • Walking
      (pp. 243-280)

      I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil,—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister, and the school-committee, and every one of you will take care of that.

      I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that...

    • Autumnal Tints
      (pp. 281-316)

      Europeans coming to America are surprised by the brilliancy of our autumnal foliage.¹ There is no account of such a phenomenon in English poetry, because the trees acquire but few bright colors there. The most that Thomson says on this subject in his “Autumn” is contained in the lines,—

      “But see the fading many-colored woods,

      Shade deepening over shade, the country round

      Imbrown; a crowded umbrage, dusk and dun,

      Of every hue, from wan declining green

      To sooty dark”:—

      and in the line in which he speaks of

      “Autumn beaming o’er the yellow woods.”²

      The autumnal change of our woods...

    • Wild Apples
      (pp. 317-345)

      It is remarkable how closely the history of the Apple-tree is connected with that of man. The geologist tells us that the order of theRosaceae,¹ which includes the Apple, also the true Grasses, and theLabiatae, or Mints, were introduced only a short time previous to the appearance of man on the globe.²

      It appears that apples made a part of the food of that unknown primitive people whose traces have lately been found at the bottom of the Swiss lakes, supposed to be older than the foundation of Rome, so old that they had no metallic implements. An...

    • Life Without Principle
      (pp. 346-368)

      At a lyceum, not long since, I felt that the lecturer had chosen a theme too foreign to himself,¹ and so failed to interest me as much as he might have done.² He described things not in or near to his heart, but toward his extremities and superficies.³ There was, in this sense, no truly central or centralizing thought in the lecture. I would have had him deal with his privatest experience, as the poet does. The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me whatI thought, and attended to my answer.⁴ I am surprised,...

  7. Appendix: Excerpts from John Adolphus Etzler
    (pp. 369-382)
  8. Choice of Copy Text
    (pp. 383-383)
  9. Textual Notes and Emendations
    (pp. 384-400)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 401-408)
  11. Index
    (pp. 409-426)