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on Persius, on Friendship, and we know not what. We come upon them like snags, jolting us headforemost out of our places as we are rowing placidly up stream, or drifting down. Mr. Thoreau becomes so absorbed in these discussions that he seems as it were to catch a crab and disappears uncomfortably from his seat at the bow oar. We could forgive them all, especially that on Books and that on Friendship (which is worthy of one who has so long communed with Nature and with Emerson), we could welcome them all were they put by themselves at the end of the book. But, as it is, they are out of proportion and out of place and mar our Merrimacking dreadfully. We were bid to a river-party, — not to be preached at." After distributing praise and blame over the poetical interludes, Lowell closes his review with the words: "Since we have found fault with what we may be allowed to call worsification, we should say that the prose work is done conscientiously and neatly. The style is compact, and the language has an antique purity like wine grown colorless with age."
In spite of the generous reception which the book had thus at the hands of men like Alcott, Ripley, and Lowell, the public was indifferent enough. Thoreau recounts the issue of the venture with grim humor in an entry in his
diary, October 28, 1853, after the book had been in the bookstores for four years. "For a year or two past my publisher, falsely so called, has been writing from time to time to ask what disposition should be made of the copies of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers still on hand, and at last suggesting that he had use for the room they occupied in his cellar. So I had them all sent to me here, and they have arrived to-day by express, filling the man's wagon, 706 copies out of an edition of 1000, which I bought of Munroe four years ago, and have been ever since paying for, and have not quite paid for yet. The wares are sent to me at last, and I have an opportunity to examine my purchase. They are something more substantial than fame, as my back knows, which has borne them up two flights of stairs to a place similar to that to which they trace their origin.
"Of the remaining 290 and odd, 75 were given away, the rest sold. I have now a library of nearly 900 volumes, over 700 of which I wrote myself. Is it not well that the author should behold the fruits of his labor? My works are piled up on one side of my chamber half as high as my head, my opera omnia. This is authorship, these are the work of my brain. There was just one piece of good luck in the
venture. The unbound were tied up by the printer four years ago in stout paper wrappers, and inscribed,
"H. D. Thoreau,
so Munroe had only to cross out 'River' and write 'Mass.,' and deliver them to the expressman at once. I can see now what I write for, the result of my labors. Nevertheless, in spite of this result, sitting beside the inert mass of my works, I take up my pen to-night to record what thought or experience I may have had, with as much satisfaction as ever. Indeed, I believe that this result is more inspiring and better for me than if a thousand had bought my wares. It affects my privacy less and leaves. me freer." 1
We have quoted from the judgments of Alcott and Lowell on the book because one is curious to know how the contemporaries of Thoreau regarded his work; later critics have the advantage and disadvantage of seeing such writing through an atmosphere charged with many men's breathing of criticism and appreciation. Lowell himself, when he returned to Thoreau sixteen years later, had in a measure
1 Autumn: from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau, pp. 163,
re-formed his appreciation. But, after all, no judgment of an author is quite so interesting as that which the author himself passes, even though one has to correct this estimate by other observations on the author and his work. At any rate, Thoreau shall be the last here to comment on this book:
"I thought that one peculiarity of my 'Week' was its hypæethral character, to use an epithet applied to those Egyptian temples which are open to the heavens above, under the ether. I thought that it had little of the atmosphere of the house about it, but it might have been written wholly, as in fact it was to a great extent, out of doors. It was only at a late period in writing it, as it happened, that I used any phrases implying that I lived in a house or led a domestic life. I trust it does not smell so much of the study and library, even of the poet's attic, as of the fields and woods, that it is a hypæethral or unroofed book, lying open under the ether, and permeated by it, open to all weathers, not easy to be kept on a shelf."1
1 Summer: from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau, p. 261.