THOREAU, Henry David (1817-1862). Autograph manuscript, a two-page leaf from the manuscript of Walden (published Boston, 1854). No date [1849?], no place [Concord, Massachusetts]. 2 pages, oblong (part of a larger sheet), 110 x 200mm, in dark ink on pale cream paper, a small strip pasted along one short side (from an old mount?), inscription in purple ink in one margin "Thoreau's handwriting," several interlinear notes in pencil.
A LEAF FROM THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT OF THOREAU'S WALDEN: ONE OF A FEW STILL IN PRIVATE OWNERSHIP
Thoreau's working methods during his nine-year laborious composition of Walden (from 1846 to 1854), were unique. "Instead of compiling a large and amorphous draft [as he did for A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)], for Walden [Thoreau] eventually wrote a series of drafts, each one overlapping, but not duplicating, its predecessors and extending the book's dimensions...The early drafts (1846-1849) coincide with his writing of A Week; thus, some of the notebooks and lecture fragments contain interchangeable portions of the two texts..." (William L. Howarth in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Princeton, 1971, vol. 5, p. 184). Portions of the manuscript of Walden are very rare on the market, even though Thoreau generated at least seven separate drafts, totaling 630 pages. All but a very few of these are in the Huntington Library. William L. Howarth, The Literary Manuscripts of Henry David Thoreau (1974), located 18 leaves in permanent institutional collections. A small handful of leaves were bound into sets of the Thoreau Manuscript Edition; at least half of these or better are now held in institutions. While fragments from Thoreau's journals are occasionally located, only a diminishing number of leaves from the manuscript of Walden--this quintessential American classic--remain in private hands. (A similar leaf was sold here, 21 June 2010, lot 315, $68,500).
The text segments featured here are from early in the book's first chapter, entitled "Economy." In it, Thoreau famously observes that "the mass of lead lives of quiet desperation," uncertain as to what truly constitutes the four necessities of human life: food, shelter, clothing and fuel. The farmer, laboriously plowing his field, he writes, is held in a form of bondage not dissimilar from that of the ox; so most men are chained to the exhausting drudgery of providing material possessions that they do not even need. He writes as follows (pencil in italic):
Recto: "It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of doing or thinking, however ancient, can be trusted. What everybody echoes, or in silence passes by as true today, may turn out to be sheer falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion falling back in cinders, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertile rain on their fields. What old people say you can't do..."
Verso: "profited so much as it has lost. One may almost doubt if the wisest farmer has learned anything of absolute value by living. The wisest reformers necessarily do not remember children....One farmer says to me, you can't live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with,- and so religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bone - walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, whose vegetable-made bones jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle..."
Published in Walden, ed. J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton: PUP, 1971). We are grateful to Elizabeth Witherall, Editor-in-Chief of The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau for assistance in the cataloguing of this manuscript.