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...
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