Aug. 4, 1854: Henry David Thoreau publishes ‘Walden’
Almost every high schooler and college-aged student in the country knows the pain of having to analyze the thick text that is Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” However, while this classic novel is now praised and celebrated in literature, it wasn’t always a smash-hit in the literary world. In fact, despite Thoreau pouring his heart and soul into “Walden,” the original book sales just after publication were laughably low.
Thoreau’s trek into the woods
Could you imagine dropping every responsibility in your life, rejecting the material world, and trekking off into the forest for two-and-a-half years? At the age of 27, this is exactly what Thoreau did. Thoreau was a transcendentalist, meaning that he rejected the intellectuals of his time and believed that divinity was found in the nature of experience. In 1845, Thoreau abandoned classic society, relocated to a piece of land by Walden Pond, and immersed himself in the solitude of nature. While this may sound like it would get boring after a bit of time, Thoreau did more than kick around soil and lounge by the pond. In fact, Thoreau put in plenty of work to survive in his natural setting.
The writings of ‘Walden’
When Thoreau got to Walden, he had to make do with what was surrounding him to sustain himself in the woods. He built his own cabin using materials he located and farmed all of his own food, including producing a number of vegetables and legumes. Additionally, he returned to town to see his mother and friends quite frequently, so he wasn’t living in total isolation. His life may not sound completely thrilling, yet Thoreau managed to keep a pretty fascinating account of his time at Walden Pond in a number of journals and essays. Once he retired back to the real world, Thoreau compiled his writings together into his now-famous book, “Walden.” However, when it first hit shelves, it wasn’t super popular.
A flop at first publication
When “Walden” was first printed in 1854, it sold a whopping 2,000 copies…across the course of five years. The $1-value book sold 300-400 copies per year. The publishing company only managed to get 207 books into homes during the first year of publication. Fortunately, even after Thoreau’s death, the popularity of “Walden” continued to shoot up, and his monumental transcendentalist book didn’t lose traction. Considering that Thoreau was one of the most essential transcendentalists of the American movement, the publication of “Walden” was historic in more ways than one. The previously-flopped text is now widely celebrated as one of the most important pieces of early American literature.