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Canoeing the Concord and Merrimack Rivers with Henry David Thoreau

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A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers by Henry David Thoreau

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A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers by Henry David Thoreau
(Edited by Carl F. Hovde, William L. Howarth, and Elizabeth Hall Witherell
With a new introduction by John McPhee), New Jersey: Princeton Classics Editions, Princeton University Press (June 13, 2004), Paperback: 440 pages, $11.44, Reviewed by John G Hall

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It has been 165 years since the publication of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers by Henry David Thoreau. Published in 1849, the book tells the story of a canoe trip taken by Thoreau and his older brother John from Concord, Massachusetts to Concord, New Hampshire in 1839.

Thoreau was twenty-two and John was twenty-five.

This was Thoreau’s first published book. He wrote in tribute to his brother John, who died of tetanus on 11 January1842.

Thoreau completed the first draft of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, while living at Walden Pond. However, he was unable to find a publisher and published the book at his own expense. Of the 1000 published copies, Thoreau sold less than 300.

“A slightly revised version of the book, based on corrections Thoreau made himself, was published in 1868, six years after his death.”

Although A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers did not attract an audience, even among some of Thoreau’s man now consider it one of his classic works. Part of the reason is that

“Thoreau was an early advocate of recreational hiking and canoeing, of conserving natural resources on private land, and of preserving wilderness as public land,” according to Susan Cheever.

There are several editions of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers available. However, the 2004 paperback edition published by Princeton University Press is the best choice.

Part of the attraction other than presenting Thoreau to a new generation of readers is the lengthy introduction by John McPhee.

Mr. McPhee retraces the canoe journey taken by Thoreau and his brother John in 1839.

The two brothers launched their canoe on 31 August 1849. According to McPhee: “ON THE THIRTY-FIRST of August, 1839, John and Henry Thoreau – brothers, aged twenty-five and twenty-two – set out from their home in Concord, Massachusetts, in a small skiff on the Sudbury River.

“They were bound for Hooksett, New Hampshire, about fifty-five water miles north. The boat was fifteen long, styled like a dory, and new. They made it in a week. They carried two sets of oars and a sail.”

Over a century and a half later McPhee writes, “On the thirty-first of August 2003, with a college roommate who has long live in Concord, I set out in a sixteen-foot Old Town canoe at a put-in site on the Sudbury that is Thoreau scholars’’ best guess as the place where the Thoreaus took off.

“It is now the backyard of a couple named Kate and Pete Funkhouser, who live at the intersection of Thoreau and Main Streets. Across Main is the house where Henry David Thoreau died.”

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