It was on this day in 1849 that Henry David Thoreau (books by this author) self-published A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, his first book. It was an account of the two-week boating trip Thoreau had taken with his brother, John, 10 years before, from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and back.
Thoreau had always been the introverted and studious one, while John was gregarious and fun-loving. They were close; John helped pay his brother’s tuition to Harvard, and helped Thoreau open his own school when he got fired from his teaching job over his objection to corporal punishment. A few years after their boat trip, John died in his brother’s arms, unexpectedly, from tetanus. Thoreau decided to seclude himself and began building a cabin by the banks of Walden Pond. He lived there for two years, completing the drafts of both his A Week, often seen as a memorial to his brother, John, and a series of lectures that would eventually become the classic Walden. Since A Week was initially rejected, Thoreau was only able to publish it by paying for its printing from its sales. Four years later, after paying off the printing debt, Thoreau wrote in his journal that his publisher had delivered the remaining unsold copies to his home. He wrote, “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.”
Thoreau said: “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.
And, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”