Faith in a Seed
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 art, the value of these articles is more problematic. There are flashes of brilliance reminiscent of WALDEN, but on the whole too little craft. It is perhaps unfair to criticize the author for a draft which he was not yet prepared to publish, but the reader should be aware that the very real merits of this work are almost always embryonic, suggestive of what the finished product might have been. Having been forewarned, however, no aspiring naturalist will be sorry to have spent some time with Thoreau in the rough. One will hardly be able to read FAITH IN A SEED without a heightened awareness, both aesthetic and scientific, of the fragile rhythms of life which are too often taken for granted.
Thoreau’s gift to humanity was a subtle but irresistible warning to slow down, to observe, to take pleasure in the rich complexity of the garden in which you grow. Even unfinished, FAITH IN A SEED is an important part of that legacy.
Sources for Further Study
American Horticulturalist. LXXII, July, 1993, p.26.
The Economist. CCCXXVII, May 1, 1993, p.97.
Library Journal. CXVIII, May 15, 1993, p.93.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 18, 1993, p.1.
The Nation. CCLVI, June 7, 1993, p.768.
Natural History. CII, October, 1993, p.36.
Nature. CCCLXIII, June 10, 1993, p.507.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, May 23, 1993, p.12.
Publishers Weekly. CCXL, March 15, 1993, p.79
The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, April 4, 1993, p.11.
Faith in a Seed
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...
(The entire section is 2,206 words.)