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The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Manuscript Edition

20 Volumes, Complete

Published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1906

No. 558 of 600 numbered sets of the Manuscript Edition of Thoreau’s Writings.

Signed by publisher Houghton Mifflin on the limitation page and with an inlaid Manuscript Leaf from Thoreau’s Journals tipped in at the front of Volume I. Written on both sides, Thoreau copies from, and comments on, the Heimskringla, a collection of medieval Norse sagas, at one point noting that the hero goes dreaming into battle and conquers the world by ignoring it.


Binding: Bound in original publisher's green-brown buckram with paper labels on spine. Spines are aged to tan. Chip on label of Volume I (see photo) and front hinge of Volume I is beginning to loosen.  Occasional minor spotting or scuffing to the other bindings, and a dampstain that affects the label of Volume XVIII.  Otherwise, overall set condition is Good/Very Good condition, with very little wear. The manuscript leaf is Fine.


About the document:  Written by Thoreau in his Journal, the writing is a mix of Thoreau's own thoughts and the old Norse saga "Heimskringla". Regarded as the best known of the Old Norse Kings' sagas, Heimskringla was written in Old Norse in Iceland by poet and historian Snorre Sturlason c. 1230. 


From 1833 through 1837, Thoreau attended Harvard College. In his Senior Year he attended lectures taught by new faculty member Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. After six years teaching at Bowdoin College in Maine, Longfellow had come to Harvard to be the Smith Professor of Modern Language. Attended by Thoreau, Longfellow's classes included lecutures on Northern Literature.  Longfellow could have shared the "Heimskringla"  with his students as the sagas were well known to him; indeed, in his 1863 Tales of A Wayside Inn, Longfellow includes his own long version of this poem in a version called "The Saga of King Olaf". 


The Thoreau document in this set's Volume I reads:


"The hero goes dreaming into battle & conquers the world by ignoring it. King Olaf before his last battle leaned down and laid his head upon Fin Arneson’s knee. There was a slumber came upon him and he slept a little while; but at the same time the bonders' army was seen advancing with raised banners, and the multitude of these was very great.

Then Fin awakened the king, and said that the bonder-army advanced against them.

The king awoke, and said, "Why did you waken me, Fin, and did not allow me to enjoy my dream?"

Fin [answered?]: "Thou must not be dreaming; but rather thou shouldst be awake, and preparing thyself against the host which is coming down upon us; or, dost thou not see that the whole bonde-crowd is coming?"

The king replies, "They are not yet so near to us, and it would have been better to have let me sleep.”

Then said Fin, "What was the dream, sire, of which the loss appears to thee so great that thou wouldst rather have been left to waken of thyself?"

Now the king told his dream, — that he seemed to see a high ladder, upon which he went so high in the air that heaven was open: for so high reached the ladder. "And when you awoke me, I was come to the highest step towards heaven."

His body was killed in this battle, but he had made himself immortal & the character of his life & his sanctity produced [such?] an excitement throughout [the north?] that you would have said he had but just begun to live."


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The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Manuscript Edition

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