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T H A T’S WHAT I CALL A HORSE WORTH HAVING,’ SAID TED." Frontispiece by Clara M. Burd, from Jo’s Boys. THOREAU, a l c o t t , AND t h e My t h ic W e s t F r e d E r is m a n N o one challenges Henry David Thoreau’s part in shaping the Am erican sense of the mythic W est. A s Robert D. Richardson sug­ gests in Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind, Thoreau’s lifelong adm i­ ration of the Am erican Indian adds resonance to our consciousness of the N ative A m erican peoples; his dying words (“M oose . . . Indian” ) confirm his comm itm ent and his belief; and his posthu­ mously published essay, “W alking” (1862), expresses for all time his vision of the W est. It is here that he speaks of strolling eastward only by force but freely walking westward. It is here that he speaks of the W est as engendering an “Am erican mythology.” It is here he speaks of the Am erican nation’s steady movem ent westward, and it is here that he links the West to primordial energy with his ringing assev­ eration, “in W ildness is the preservation of the world” (665). His voice, his words, and his beliefs are inseparable from our conscious­ ness of the western region. For all its importance, however, Thoreau’s vision of the W est has a still greater significance in the extent to which it affects the works of an author far more popular than he in her day, and one who still commands a large and faithful readership. This author is Louisa May A lcott (1832-1888).1 Closely associated with Thoreau in her child­ hood and young womanhood, after his death A lcott echoes and elab­ orates upon his portrayal of the W est in a cluster of works written for young readers. In these works she pays homage to the man and his ideas, basing at least one character upon him, making explicit refer­ ence to his thinking, and, most significantly, offering her youthful audience a view of the West Thoreauvian in its scope and nature. Although she, like Thoreau, is a New Englander through and through, the two together offer a “West of the mind, of the spirit” that helps pre­ pare the way to the mythic West of the twentieth century, where a person can “[breathe] the air that made men, and [feel] the uplifting influences of [the] moral climate” (Athearn 10, 7). The ties between Thoreau and the A lcotts are more extensive than one might expect of the Hermit of W alden Pond. From the time 3 0 4 WAL 3 4 .3 FALL 1999 of the A lcott family’s move to Concord, M assachusetts, in March 1840, until Thoreau’s death in May 1862, he was in almost daily con­ tact with one or another of their number. He was a frequent guest in the A lcott home, taking dinner or tea with Bronson A lcott and the family. Bronson A lcott, who admired the younger m an’s intellect, visited him regularly during the sojourn at W alden and appears as a “welcome visitor” and “almost the only friend of human progress” in the “Former Inhabitants; and W inter Visitors” chapter of Walden (Walden 268-69; see also B. A lcott 193-94)- Thoreau was a pall­ bearer at the funeral of Elizabeth A lcott (the “Beth” of Little Women) and a guest at the wedding of A nna A lcott (“M eg”) and John Pratt. The intimacy implicit in these events extends to Thoreau’s last days, for Bronson A lcott arranged his funeral and spoke as a part of the ser­ vice (L. A lcott, Selected Letters 33; B. A lcott 326, 347-48). If the bond between Thoreau and the A lcott family was strong, that between Thoreau and Louisa May A lcott was even stronger. A s a child she attended the Concord A cadem y operated by Henry and his brother, John; as a teenager, she visited the W alden cabin and...


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