Thoreau’s Walden is never out of print now and has gone through innumerable editions, but it was a long time getting started and it wasn’t a successful venture for the author, who produced it at his own expense and sold few copies of it. One of the nicest editions I’ve seen is this one by the Lakeside Press, Chicago, published in 1930 and designed by Rudolph Ruzika. It was printed in an edition of 1,000 copies and sold with a slip case (unfortunately absent in the copy I picked up at Camden Lock a few years ago).

It’s illustrated with Ruzika’s delicate and well-suited line drawings. They are numerous, most of them occupying a full page, with small illustrations over each chapter heading. It’s letterpress printed on a cream laid paper in Fournier type, with wide margins and perfect spacing, a really lovely book.

In a way the form is at odds with the content, because Walden is a very puritanical text. It’s remained popular because of Thoreau’s sharp barbs aimed at civilised society — where, as he says, a man cares more if he tears his trousers than if he breaks his leg — combined with his detailed observations of nature.

Thoreau’s advocacy of the simple life in the book is sometimes extreme: not only does he eschew alcohol and tobacco but he deprecates tea and coffee and says he prefers water; and not only does he eat a plain diet of vegetables with the addition of a few fish that he’s caught, but he finds the whole business of eating too gross and material and thinks it’s better that people shouldn’t work so hard because it makes them need food.

One thought on “THOREAU’S ‘WALDEN’

  1. Dear Marshall- several years ago I started The Hot Air Society-to read philosophical texts and discuss after a meal together. It worked for about 10 years, but in the end failed because most people did not read, just ate and talked! Anyway the second text was Thoreau’s Walden…such a wonderful read- he lived something for all of us, and the told us what it was like. In particular I have never forgotten him saying- there was always enough food whenever he had a visitor- if he had only one slice of bread, he could cut in half and each were satisfied. How things have changed and our waistlines grown. Jonathan.


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