THOREAU, Henry David (1817-1862). Walden; or, Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854.
8o (179 x 112 mm). 8-page publisher's catalogue at end dated June 1854 (no priority). Vignette of Thoreau's hut on title-page, map of Walden pond. (Some spotting, particularly to preliminaries.) Original brown cloth, decorated in blind, spine gilt-lettered (re cased preserving the original spine, corners strengthened). Provenance: J.J. Freed (contemporary signature); Fanny A Benjamin (near contemporary signatures to front free endpaper and title-page); William P. Shepard (early 20th-century bookplate).
"I WENT TO THE WOODS BECAUSE I WISHED TO LIVE DELIBERATELY, TO FRONT ONLY THE ESSENTIAL FACTS OF LIFE, AND SEE IF I COULD NOT LEARN WHAT IT HAD TO TEACH, AND NOT, WHEN I CAME TO DIE, DISCOVER THAT I HAD NOT LIVED" (page 98)
FIRST EDITION, FIRST PRINTING. In 1844 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau's great friend and mentor, bought a small parcel of land on Walden Pond near Concord to protect its wooded beauty. Thoreau persuaded Emerson to allow him to build a small cabin on the land, to which he retired to write in the Spring of 1845. "By simplifying his life, Thoreau found he was able to live comfortably on as little as twenty-seven cents a week, which he could earn by working only six weeks a year. Thus he was able to devote most of his mornings to writing at his desk, his afternoons to exploring the woods and fields of Concord, taking note of the circle of the seasons..." (DNB).
By 1849 Thoreau had completed a first draft of Walden, but it was not until seven drafts later and 1854 that it was published by Ticknor and Fields, in an edition of 2000 copies. "Although it took five years to sell off the first printing, the book gave him surprisingly widespread recognition. It received many favorable reviews around the country and even in England, where George Eliot, among others, praised it highly. The charm of its vignettes of nature was considered its most attractive feature at the time, but its telling satire of the American business economy, its advocacy of the virtues of the simple life, and its Transcendentalist endorsement of sturdy individualism have won it an ever-increasing number of readers. Brought back into print in 1862, a few weeks after Thoreau's death, it has never since been out of print. It has become one of the bestselling American nonfiction classics and has been translated into virtually every major modern language. The word 'Walden' has become a universal synonym for a personal utopia" (DNB). Borst A2.1a; BAL 20106; Grolier American 63; Johnson High Spots 72.