The Maine Woods

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From The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Volume III (of 20)


Introductory Note:

The Maine Woods was the second volume collected
from his writings after Thoreau's death. Of the material
which composed it, the first two divisions were already
in print. "Ktaadn and the Maine Woods" was the title
of a paper printed in 1848 in The Union Magazine,
and "Chesuncook" was published in The Atlantic
in 1858. The book was edited by his friend
William Ellery Channing. It was during his second summer at Walden that
Thoreau made his first visit to the Maine woods. It was
probably in response to a request from Horace Greeley
that he wrote out the narrative from his journal, for
Mr. Greeley had shown himself eager to help Thoreau
in putting his wares on the market. In a letter to Emerson,
January 12, 1848, Thoreau writes: "I read a part
of the story of my excursion to Ktaadn to quite a large
audience of men and boys, the other night, whom it
interested. It contains many facts and some poetry."
He offered the paper to Greeley at the end of March,
and on the 17th of April Greeley responded: "I inclose
you $25 for your article on Maine scenery, as promised.
I know it is worth more, though I have not yet found
time to read it; but I have tried once to sell it without
success. It is rather long for my columns, and too fine
for the million; but I consider it a cheap bargain, and
shall print it myself if I do not dispose of it to better
advantage. You will not, of course, consider yourself
under any sort of obligation to me, for my offer was in
the way of business, and I have got more than the worth
of my money." But this generous, high-minded friend
was thinking of Thoreau's business, not his own, for in
October of the same year he writes, "I break a silence
of some duration to inform you that I hope on Monday
to receive payment for your glorious account of 'Ktaadn
and the Maine Woods,' which I bought of you at a
Jew's bargain and sold to The Union Magazine. I am
to get $75 for it, and as I don't choose to exploiter you
at such a rate, I shall insist on inclosing you $25 more
in this letter, which will still leave me $25 to pay various
charges and labors I have incurred in selling your articles
and getting paid for them,—the latter by far the
most difficult portion of the business." The third of Thoreau's excursions in the Maine woods
was made very largely for the purpose of studying Indian
life and character in the person of his guide. He
had all his life been interested in the Indians, and Mr.
Sanborn tells us—what is also evident from his journal—that
it was his purpose to expand his studies into a
separate work on the subject, for which he had collected
a considerable amount of material from books
as well as from his own observations. After his return
from the Allegash and East Branch he wrote as follows
to Mr. Blake under date of August 18, 1857: "I
have now returned, and think I have had a quite profitable
journey, chiefly from associating with an intelligent
Indian.... Having returned, I flatter myself that the
world appears in some respects a little larger, and not
as usual smaller and shallower for having extended my
range. I have made a short excursion into the new
world which the Indian dwells in, or is. He begins
where we leave off. It is worth the while to detect new
faculties in man, he is so much the more divine; and
anything that fairly excites our admiration expands us.
The Indian who can find his way so wonderfully in the
woods possesses so much intelligence which the white
man does not, and it increases my own capacity as
well as faith to observe it. I rejoice to find that intelligence
flows in other channels than I knew. It redeems
for me portions of what seemed brutish before. It is a
great satisfaction to find that your oldest convictions
are permanent. With regard to essentials I have never
had occasion to change my mind. The aspect of the
world varies from year to year as the landscape is differently
clothed, but I find that the truth is still true, and
I never regret any emphasis which it may have inspired.
Ktaadn is there still, but much more surely my old
conviction is there, resting with more than mountain
breadth and weight on the world, the source still of fertilizing
streams, and affording glorious views from its
summit if I can get up to it again."

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