THOREAU, Henry David (1817-1862). Autograph letter signed ("Henry D. Thoreau") to Reverend Andrew Bigelow of Taunton, Mass.; Concord, 6 October 1838. 1½ pages, 4to, integral address leaf in Thoreau's hand, circular postmark, in very fine condition. Red morocco folding case.
THOREAU APPLIES FOR A TEACHING POSITION, WITH R.W. EMERSON AS A REFERENCE
An extremely early Thoreau letter, in which the twenty-one-year-old writer respectfully applies for an instructor's position, offering Ralph Waldo Emerson as a reference. After graduating from Harvard in 1837, Thoreau accepted a teaching position at the Concord town school, but left after a conflict with the school committee over his reluctance to employ corporal punishment. In early 1838, Thoreau and his brother John, also a teacher, opened a private school in Concord and adopted a highly uncoventional curriculum.
Here, shortly after their school opened its doors, evidently in doubt about the viability of their venture, Thoreau responds to news of an available teaching post in Taunton: "I learn from my brother and sister, who were recently employed as teachers in your vicinity, that you are at present in quest of some one to fill the vacancy in your high school, occasioned by Mr. Bexlow's withdrawal. As my present school, which consists of a small number of well advanced pupils, is not sufficiently lucrative, I am advised to make application for the situation now vacant." Furnishing his credentials, Thoreau reports that "I was graduated at Cambridge in --37, and have since had my share of experience in school keeping. I can refer you to the President and Faculty of Harvard College -- to Rev. Dr. Ripley, or Rev. R.W. Emerson -- of this town, or to the parents of my present pupils, among whom I would mention -- Hon. Samuel Hoar -- Hon. John Keyes -- & Hon. Nathan Brooks. Written recommendations by these gentlemen will be procured if desired." Thoreau concludes: "If you will trouble yourself to answer this letter immediately, you will much oblige."
The new private school proved quite successful, for a time. During his last year at Harvard, Thoreau had been struck by Emerson's lecture "The American Scholar," delivered to his 1837 Harvard graduating class. In the next few years Emerson became a mentor to the younger man; it was Emerson who first suggested to Thoreau the value of keeping a journal. When John and Henry were ultimately forced to close their school in 1841 due to John's poor health, Henry resided for almost two years with the Emerson family, an intimacy which first brought him into contact with Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott and the Transcendental Club, which proved a key stimulus to his literary efforts.
The present is the earliest Thoreau letter offered at auction in at least 27 years, according to American Book Prices Current.