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Merrimack River, Concord, NH, 1853

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)

On July 4, 1845, Thoreau moved into a cabin at Walden Pond to find the seclusion he needed to write about the river trip that he and his late brother John had taken in 1839. In 1849, after completing the manuscript and searching in vain for a publisher, he arranged to have one thousand copies of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers printed at his own expense by James Munroe and Company. The book received high praise in prominent publications, but failed to sell. Four years later, when Munroe wanted to get rid of the unsold stock, Thoreau ruefully agreed to take all 706 of the remainders. He made light of this early setback, remarking in his journal that he had amassed “a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.” (October 28, 1853)

Walden, edited by Clifton Johnson

Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854)

During his two-year stay at Walden Pond, Thoreau not only finished his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, he also started a second that described what he termed his "experiment" in living. After progressing through seven draftsWalden; or, Life in the Woods was published by Ticknor & Fields in August 1854, and although it was not a best-seller, the first run sold out by 1859. He tried to convince Ticknor & Fields to undertake a second printing, but the publishing company chose to wait until mid-1862. By that time, Thoreau had succumbed to the tuberculosis that plagued the last years of his life. Walden has, however, remained in print since then, becoming ever more popular as it has been universally recognized as a landmark contribution to American literature and as the founding text of environmental thought.

Excursions, by H.D. Thoreau

Excursions (1863)

Edited by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Sophia Thoreau, Excursions was the first collection of Thoreau's essays published after his death. The book appeared at the height of the Civil War, after the Emancipation Proclamation signaled a general conversion to Thoreau's conviction that the Union could only be preserved by breaking the bonds of slavery. Nevertheless, the editors apparently decided to avoid potential controversy by reprinting a scattering of his natural history essays even though some had appeared less than a year earlier. Contents: "Natural History of Massachusetts" (1842); "The Landlord" (1843); "A Walk to Wachusett" (1843); "A Winter Walk" (1843); "The Succession of Forest Trees" (1860); "Walking" (1862); "Autumnal Tints" (1862); "Wild Apples" (1862); "Night and Moonlight" (1862).

Church, Katahdin

The Maine Woods (1864)

Thoreau composed several essays about his trips to Maine in 1846, 1853, and 1857, starting with "Ktaadn," which appeared Sartain's Union Magazine in 1848. A decade later, he submitted "Chesuncook" to James Russell Lowell, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, as the first in a series on his Maine excursions. But after the second installment appeared in July 1858, and it turned out that Lowell had cut a sentence on the pine tree, Thoreau shot him an angry note, cancelling the arrangement and calling the deletion "mean and cowardly" especially in view of the substance of the line, "[The pine] is as immortal as I am, and perchance will go to as high a heaven, there to tower above me still." The materials that Thoreau withheld in 1858 were later included in the Maine Woods, a three-part volume edited by his sister, Sophia Thoreau, and close friend, Ellery Channing, for publication by Ticknor and Fields in 1864, two years after Thoreau's death.

Cape Cod, by H.D. Thoreau

Cape Cod (1865)

Between 1849 and 1857, Thoreau walked the length of Cape Cod four times, passing through nearly every town on what he famously described as "the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts." Along the way, he recorded a wealth of observations that eventually evolved into a book-length travelogue published posthumously in 1864. The first four chapters, "The Shipwreck, "Stage Coach Views," "The Plains of Nanset [sic], and "The Beach," appeared in Putnam's Magazine in 1855 before the series abruptly ended. While the cut-off might have been due to Thoreau's resistance to editorial interference, Putnam's might have been responding to complaints from local residents such as a lengthy letter in the Boston Atlas in August 1855 castigating the author's ostensibly uninformed observations as the product of "a bewildered mind."  

A Yankee in Canada, by H.D. Thoreau

A Yankee in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers (1866)

Edited by Sophia Thoreau and Ellery Channing, this volume includes a five-part description of Thoreau’s 1850 trip to Canada, along with ten additional essays: "Slavery in Massachusetts," "Prayers" [which was actually written by Ralph Waldo Emerson but contained a Thoreau poem], "Civil Disobedience," "A Plea for Captain John Brown," "Paradise (To Be) Regained," "Herald of Freedom," "Thomas Carlyle and his Works," "Life without Principle," "Wendell Phillips before the Concord Lyceum," and "The Last Days of John Brown." Today, the book is best remembered for publicizing the essay that Thoreau originally titled "Resistance to Civil Government: A Lecture delivered in 1847," but which the editors retitled without explanation as "Civil Disobedience."

Wild Fruits

Faith in a Seed (1993) and Wild Fruits (2000)

Transcribed and edited by Bradley P. Dean, Faith in a Seed (Island Press) and Wild Fruits (W.W. Norton) both developed from lectures that Thoreau delivered in 1860. Faith in a Seed evolved from "The Succession of Forest Trees," which he gave at the annual meeting of the Middlesex County Agricultural Society, while Wild Fruits elaborates on themes introduced in "Wild Apples" the topic of his talk before the Bedford Lyceum.

 "The value of these wild fruits is not in the mere possession or eating of them, but in the sight and enjoyment of them. The very derivation of the word "fruit" would suggest this. It is from the Latin fructus, meaning "that which is used or enjoyed." If it were not so, then going a-berrying and going to market would be nearly synonymous experiences. Of course, it is the spirit in which you do a thing which makes it interesting, whether it is sweeping a room or pulling turnips," H.D. Thoreau, Wild Fruits, p. 1.


 Contributions to The Dial

The Dial, edited by R.W. Emerson, M. Fuller, G. Ripley

Founded by Ralph Waldo EmersonMargaret Fuller, and George Ripley in 1840, The Dial established Transcendentalism as a major force in American philosophy in the decades before the Civil War. Thoreau contributed six essays to the magazine during its four-year existence: "Aulus Persius Flaccus" (1840); "Natural History of Massachusetts" (1842); "Dark Ages" (1843); "A Winter Walk" (1843); "Homer. Ossian. Chaucer" (1844); and "Herald of Freedom" (1844).

"Amidst the downward tendency and proneness of things, when every voice is raised for a new road or another statute, or a subscription of stock, for an improvement in dress, or in dentistry, for a new house or a larger business, for a political party, or the division of an estate, — will you not tolerate one or two solitary voices in the land, speaking for thoughts and principles not marketable or perishable?," R.W. Emerson, "The Transcendentalist," a lecture read at the Masonic Temple, Boston, 1842.


Contributions to other publications 

Thoreau publications

"A Walk to Wachusett," The Boston Miscellany (1843).

"The Landlord," The United States Magazine and Democratic Review (1843).

"Paradise to be Regained," The United States Magazine and Democratic Review (1843).

"Thomas Carlyle and his Works,"Graham's Illustrated Magazine (1847).

"Resistance to Civil Government: A Lecture delivered in 1847," Aesthetic Papers, selected, edited, and published by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1849).

"The Iron Horse," Sartain's Union Magazine (July 1852) (excerpted from Walden manuscript)

"A Poet Buying a Farm," Sartain's Union Magazine (August 1852) (excerpted from Walden manuscript).

"Slavery in Massachusetts" (1854), a speech delivered in Framingham, July 4, 1854, printed in the Liberator, July 22, 1854.

"The Succession of Forest Trees" (1860), a lecture delivered to the Middlesex County Agricultural Society, first printed in the Transactions of the Middlesex Agricultural Society for the Year of 1860, then in the New York Tribune, then reprinted by Ticknor & Fields in 1863.


Essays on John Brown

John Brown, Echoes of Harper's Ferry cover

Thoreau delivered "A Plea for Captain John Brown" at Concord Town Hall on October 30, 1859, less than two weeks after Brown's failed attempt to foment a slave uprising in Harper's Ferry. While many abolitionists remained silent or even condemned Brown's actions, Thoreau followed up his speech in Concord with similar orations in Boston and Worcester.  A few weeks later, on December 2, 1859, the day that Brown was hanged for treason, when a handful of Concordians gathered to mark the occasion with hymns and poetry, Thoreau ignored an earlier agreement to forgo speeches by delivering a eulogy, "After the Death of John Brown."  Nine months later, on July 4, 1860, a memorial service was held at Brown's farm in North Elba, New York.  Thoreau could not attend, but he sent his final tribute, "The Last Days of John Brown," to be read at the ceremony.  By the time this set of reflections was published in the Liberator on July 27, 1860, both "A Plea" and his remarks on the day of Brown's execution had already appeared in James Redpath's Echoes of Harper's Ferry, which had been rushed into print in April.  


Essays in the Atlantic Monthly, 1862-1863

Thoreau, Atlantic Monthly, 1862

In 1858, after Atlantic editor James Russell Lowell cut a sentence from an essay on his travels in Maine, Thoreau vowed to have no further dealings with the magazine.  A few years later, however, James T. Fields of Ticknor & Fields, the publisher of Walden, replaced Lowell and, as a result, Thoreau responded positively when the Atlantic requested submissions.  In the months before his death on May 6, 1862, he managed to ready several lectures for publication including "Walking" (1862); "Autumnal Tints" (1862); "Wild Apples" (1862); "Life without Principle" (1863); and Night and Moonlight (1863). Thanks to this renewed relationship, the Atlantic also published "The Forester," an essay on Thoreau by Bronson Alcott (April 1862); "Thoreau," a remembrance by Ralph Waldo Emerson (August 1862); and "Thoreau's Flute," a poem by Louisa May Alcott (September 1863).



Thoreau's journals at the Morgan Library

After he began keeping a journal in 1837 at the age of twenty, Thoreau filled thousands of pages with observations of nature, literary notes, and commentary on history, politics, people, and events both near and far.  He left off only when he became too weak to write before his death in 1862.

Extended excerpts from the journals were first published by Houghton, Mifflin and Co. during the 1880's, edited by Thoreau's friend and correspondent, H.G.O. Blake.  These volumes included Early Spring in MassachusettsSummerAutumn, and Winter. Today, the Thoreau Edition at Princeton University Press is producing a complete set of the journals in sixteen volumes.  Uncorrected transcripts of the notebooks are currently available online at UC Santa Barbara Library.