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Henry David Thoreau's Walden

Owning Institution: Huntington Library

About this Collection

For two years, two months, and two days—beginning on July 4, 1845—Henry David Thoreau lived in a ten-by-fifteen-foot cabin that he built facing the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, on property that had been purchased by Ralph Waldo Emerson in fall 1844.

Thoreau went to the pond to write a book memorializing an 1839 river trip he took with his brother, John, who died in 1842. While living at Walden he finished a draft of that book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), and in 1846 be began a second writing project based on his life at the pond. Eight years and seven versions later, Ticknor & Fields brought out Walden; or Life in the Woods on August 9, 1854.

The Huntington Library holds the bulk of the seven versions of Walden (HM 924), which comprise over 1200 pages. The eighth and final version, which Thoreau sent to the printer, is no longer extant, but it is represented in the Huntington’s collection by the page proofs for the book (HM 925), marked for correction both at the printing house and by Thoreau.

Henry E. Huntington purchased the manuscript drafts and page proofs from St. Louis collector William Keeney Bixby in 1918. Before Bixby acquired this material, some of the leaves of the Walden drafts had been dispersed; an earlier owner had sold them to Houghton Mifflin, the firm that published the first collected edition of Thoreau’s works in 1906, as well as special sets of the collected edition into which they inserted one or more of the manuscript leaves. Today about fifty of the dispersed leaves are extant. They are owned by private individuals as well as by a number of libraries across the country.

This digital resource represents HM 925 as well as all of the manuscript leaves in HM 924, as arranged by J. Lyndon Shanley in the 1950s. Shanley assigned the leaves in HM 924 to seven separate drafts (labelled A-G; see list below) based on an analysis of the text as well as the handwriting, ink color, and paper. In The Making of Walden (1957) Shanley presented a text of the first, most complete version, but until Ronald E. Clapper created a genetic text in the 1960s, it was not possible to understand how the work developed in versions B through G. None of the versions that follow A is complete in itself; each one represents Thoreau’s revisions and additions to versions that precede it. Clapper’s edition is the basis for the fluid text edition of Walden created by the Digital Thoreau initiative at SUNY Geneseo under the direction of Paul Schacht.
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