Review, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA
Thoreau's journal entry for August 9, 1854, the notation is recorded in The Thoreau Log (G. K. Hall & Co.), a day-by-day account that covers the author's life from his birth in 1817 to his untimely death (from the lingering effects of a cold that he may have caught from Bronson Alcott) in 1862.
The 650-page log was compiled by Thoreau scholar Raymond Borst '33, who drew on Thoreau's own writings, primarily his voluminous journals, supplementing them with whatever scraps of further information could be gleaned from secondary sources. The resulting log documents where Thoreau was, what he did, and, frequently, what he was thinking about, on every day for which a record exists.
Thus we learn, from the chapter covering the period that saw the publication of Walden, that the weather that summer was very hot, forcing the author from his "attic chamber" in the Thoreau homestead "to sit below with the family at evening for a month." "I must cultivate privacy," he muses. "I am inclined now to go for a pensive evening walk." This journal entry concludes with the note that his publisher has that day sent him the first "specimen copy" of the book.
Subsequent entries indicate that sales, at $1.00 retail, are relatively good (although his first year's royalty check amounts to a less than royal $51.60)-- and most reviews, relatively kind. Typical is the Providence Journal's:
"The author of this book, having his own ideas about life, built him a shanty on the banks of Walden Pond, in Concord, Mass., and lived there upon the labor of his hands for more than two years. This book is the story of his life, and as the incidents were not remarkably stirring, he filled up the pages with his philosophy, which is shrewd and eccentric; and altogether, the book is worth reading, which is saying a good deal in these times."
(Less typical is a brusque dismissal from The New York Times: "As a contribution to the Comic Literature of America, Walden is worthy of some attention, but in no other respect.")
As indicated by that August 9th entry ("'Walden' published. Elder-berries. Waxwork yellowing"), the fortunes of the book were not a major concern of the naturalist/philosopher, who among other pursuits that summer was engaged in the study of a nest of tortoise eggs he'd been observing since the middle of June. Here he is on September 3:
"To my great surprise I find this morning that the little unhatched turtle, which I thought was sickly and dying, and left out on the grass in the rain yesterday morn, thinking it would be quite dead in a few minutes -- I find the shell alone and the turtle a foot or two off vigorously crawling. . . . It climbs up [the] nearly perpendicular side of a basket with yolk attached. They thus not only continue to live after they are dead, but they begin to live before they are alive."
Copyright 1997, University of Rochester