Thoreau in Twenty Volumes

Thoreau in Twenty Volumes

It is a little over fifty years since an obscure American writer recorded in his private journal that he had just received a wagon load of his unsaleable volumes from the publisher. “They are something more substantial thin fame,” he wrote, “as my back knows, which has borne them up two flights of stairs. My works are now piled tip 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. Nevertheless, in spite of this result, sitting beside the inert mass of my works, I take up my pen to-night with as much satisfaction as ever.”

What would Thoreau have said, could lie have been forewarned, on that evening, that within half-a-century the foremost of American publishing firms would be planning all edition of his works in twenty volumes; that an original copy of his rejected look, the Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, would sell for ten guineas; and that scraps of his handwriting would fetch more than their weight it gold—for this is literally what has happened to the reputation of the “Yankee Diogene;” and the “Rural Humbug,” as his contemporaries styled him? Of fall the Concord group it is beginning to be seen that Thoreau, the least regarded in his lifetime, will live the longest in the end, by virtue of that rare, pungent, aboriginal flavor of his, which may attract or repel, according to the taste of the reader, but will in no wise suffer itself to be forgotten.

Henry S. Salt

Fortnightly Review, Vol. 83, June 1908

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