“this Is A Beautiful World; But I Shall See A Fairer”


His old Worcester friends, H. G. O. Blake and Theophilus Brown, skated down the river from Framingham to visit Thoreau in midJanuary—a journey they repeated several times in the succeeding months. Brown said of the visit: We found him pretty low, but well enough to be up in his chair. He seemed glad to see us. Said we had not come much too soon.…There was a beautiful snowstorm going on the while which I fancy inspired him, and his talk was up to the best I ever heard from him,—the same depth of earnestness and the same infinite depth of fun going on at the same time.

…Blake asked him how the future seemed to him. “Just as uninteresting as ever,” was his characteristic answer. A little while after he said, “You have been skating on this river; perhaps I am going to skate on some other.” And again, “Perhaps I am going upcountry.”…

He seemed to be in an exalted state of mind for a long time before his death. He said it was just as good to be sick as to be well…

About this time Thoreau received a letter from Myron Benton, a young poet from Leedsville, New York, saying that news of Thoreau’s illness had affected him as if it were that of a personal friend whom he had known a long time. He said he had read and reread Thoreau’s books with ever fresh delight and asked what progress he had made on a work in “some way connected with natural history,” which Emerson had mentioned in a short interview in Poughkeepsie two years before. (This was probably Thoreau’s never-completed Atlas of Concord .)

It was mid-March before Thoreau was able to answer Benton’s letter, and then, dictating to his sister, he said: I have intended to answer before I died, however briefly. I am encouraged to know, that, so far as you are concerned, I have not written my books in vain.…You ask particularly after my health. I suppose that I have not many months to live; but, of course, I know nothing about it. I may add that I am enjoying existence as much as ever, and regret nothing.

As ill as he was, Thoreau nevertheless continued his literary work. Early in February a request came from James T. Fields for Thoreau to submit some of his writings to the Atlantic Monthly . Ticknor & Fields, the publishers of Walden , had purchased the Atlantic in 1859. In June, 1861, Fields had taken over its editorial direction. Since James Russell Lowell, who had arbitrarily censored one of Thoreau’s essays earlier, no longer had any connection with the magazine, Thoreau was happy to accede to Fields’ request. But, remembering his unpleasant experience with Lowell, he said, “Of course, I should expect that no sentiment or sentence be altered or omitted without my consent,” and carefully asked how much Fields would be willing to pay.

He apparently received a satisfactory answer and on February 20 submitted a manuscript based on his lecture on “Autumnal Tints.” Fields accepted it and asked for another essay more appropriate to the spring season. He also suggested that he would be interested in bringing Walden back into print. (It had been out-of-print for several years.) Thoreau immediately replied that he would soon send along another essay, and that not only would he be very happy to see Walden back in print, but that he had 146 bound copies and 450 unbound copies of his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers , in his attic—a hint to Fields that he would like to see the earlier book republished too.

On February 28 Thoreau submitted an essay which he had entitled “The Higher Law.” It was derived from a lecture that he had been delivering for nearly a decade, sometimes under the title of “Getting a Living” and sometimes as “What Shall It Profit [a man if he gain the whole world but lose his own soul]?” After paying Thoreau one hundred dollars for the essay, Fields, perhaps fearing that it might be confused with the chapter entitled “Higher Laws” in Walden , complained that he did not like the title. They soon agreed on a new title—“Life without Principle”—but the essay was not published in the Atlantic until October of 1863. They also agreed to the reprinting of Walden in a new edition of 250 copies (actually 280 were printed just a few weeks after Thoreau’s death), and Thoreau’s request that the subtitle or Life in the Woods be dropped was followed.

On March 11 Thoreau returned the proofs of “Autumnal Tints” (published in the October, 1862, Atlantic ) and submitted his essay on “Walking.” It was immediately accepted and published in the June, 1862, Atlantic . On April 2 Thoreau submitted “Wild Apples” (published in November, 1862), and asked Fields if he had come to any decision about republishing A Week . On April 12 Fields purchased all the unsold copies—bound and unbound—of the book and two months later reissued them with a new title page as a second edition. (Oddly enough he neglected to remove the advertisement at the rear announcing that Walden would “soon be published.”)