Faith in a Seed Analysis

Faith in a Seed (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The publication of FAITH IN A SEED will prompt thoughtful readers to reconsider the place of Thoreau’s late writings in both the natural and intellectual world. In the introduction, Robert D. Richardson, Jr. contrasts the author of WALDEN, the poet-naturalist, with the later Thoreau, the writer-scientist. While there is merit in considering such phases in Thoreau’s career, the distinction is a fine one. He was always both naturalist and philosopher, and no amount of scientific observation could obscure the larger issues which he always found orbiting the trajectories of nature.

FAITH IN A SEED may at one level serve as a guide to Thoreau’s status as a cult figure, for few authors have had their rough drafts so elegantly produced. These articles are based upon Thoreau’s meticulous observations of Concord’s natural history, recorded between 1852 and 1862, and upon extracts which he drew from the writings of a wide variety of naturalists, including Charles Darwin. In the late 1850’s, he began to review these materials in preparation for production of a vast statistical survey of the natural world of Concord. Exactly the form this was to take is unclear. Thoreau himself, shortly before his death, did not feel that he had made much progress toward the goal. As a result, earlier scholars found little of worth in Thoreau’s “technical writing.”

As a work of science, Thoreau’s project was both ambitious and ahead of its time. As...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Faith in a Seed (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

This publication of Henry David Thoreau’s late writings will prompt thoughtful readers to reconsider their places in both the natural and the intellectual world. In the introduction, Robert D. Richardson, Jr., contrasts the poet-naturalist author of Walden: Or Life in the Woods (1854) with the later Thoreau, the writer-scientist. While there is merit in considering such phases in Thoreau’s career, the distinction is a fine one. He was always both naturalist and philosopher, and no amount of scientific observation could obscure the larger issues that he always found orbiting the trajectories of nature.

Faith in a Seed: The Dispersion of Seeds and Other Late Natural History Writings may at one level serve as a guide to Thoreau’s status as a cult figure, for few authors have had their rough drafts so elegantly produced. Throughout adulthood Thoreau was a prescient observer of nature. Between 1852 and 1862, he recorded enormous amounts of primary material, principally in three sets of notebooks—a journal, notes on aboriginal North America, and a pair of large notebooks containing extracts from and annotations to a wide variety of writings on natural history. In the late 1850’s, he began rereading these materials in preparation for production of a vast statistical survey of the natural world of Concord. Exactly what form this was to take is unclear. Thoreau himself, shortly before his death, did not consider that he had made much progress toward the goal. As a result, earlier scholars found little of worth in Thoreau’s “technical writing.” It is clear, however, that the articles included in Faith in a Seed were at least initial attempts to narrate the statistical record of the natural life of his home within a broadly philosophic base.

The composition of this volume is in spirit a reflection of Thoreau’s philosophy. There is no thesis, no authority, no authoritative form, but rather a loose collection from which one may randomly be edified. The personal and ecologically informed foreword was written by Gary Paul Nabhan, cofounder and research director of Native Seeds/SEARCH and vice president of the international Seed Savers Exchange. The biographical introduction was penned by Richardson, professor at Wesleyan College and author of Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (1986). The volume is graced with illustrations from Thoreau’s notes and with Abigail Rorer’s line art, the latter so subdued, tasteful, and perfectly suited to its subject as to suggest perfection.

The main course around which this eclectic array of supplemental material is drawn is the collection of Thoreau’s writing, selected and expertly annotated by Bradley P. Dean, secretary of the Thoreau Society and editor of the Thoreau Society Bulletin and the Thoreau Research Newsletter. The focal point of the collection is “The Dispersion of Seeds,” the most finished of the pieces, which makes up some seventy percent of the space devoted to Thoreau’s works. Twenty-five pages of “Wild Fruits” was the beginning of a book-length manuscript that he put aside in 1861 in order to work full-time on “The Dispersion of Seeds.” “Weeds and Grasses” and “Forest Trees” are tiny fragments that might in time have been incorporated into a finished product.

The meticulous care given to the preservation and dissemination of these pieces should not obscure the fact that this is a collection built around “a very early draft” of a book- length study. For Nabhan, Richardson, and Dean, the master’s voice is clear, even in draft, and deserves the widest audience. The question is, does the content warrant such devotion?

Thoreau’s work must be considered at several levels. First, as a work of scientific inquiry, it is a remarkably thorough and acute piece of mid-nineteenth century observation. Thoreau’s goal was to refute the popular notion that trees “spontaneously” regenerate themselves, and in this he brilliantly succeeded. First, he developed an unprecedented knowledge of his Concord laboratory, which enabled him to elucidate “most of the dominant patterns of seed dispersal” there. Between 1852 and 1862, he kept lists—the dates of fruit’s...

(The entire section is 1738 words.)