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Dear Mr. Thoreau…

Published: July 12, 2017

What would Henry David Thoreau, born 200 years ago today, make of our modern society, brimming with on-demand, instant-response, electronic incivilities at every turn? In 1854, Thoreau believed that “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”  And so he did, living alone in the woods to think, write, and step to the music he alone heard.

In 1968, the Post editors similarly speculated what Thoreau would make of their modern era, and whipped up this faux-correspondence between the philosopher and an ambitious book editor hungry for a bestseller.

From the October 5, 1968, issue of the Post.

In 1854, when Henry David Thoreau’s Walden was first printed, fewer than 2,000 copies were sold. Would his book fail today? Probably not. A modern publisher’s correspondence with Mr. Thoreau might read:

Dear Mr. Thoreau:

I am pleased to inform you that Flimbind and Shipp is accepting Walden for publication. Please sign and return the enclosed contract. Your book should be a real seller, as back-to-nature books are big this season.

Sincerely yours,

JAMES TRUSLOW FLIMBIND

 

Dear Mr. Thoreau:

Thank you for the prompt return of the contract. Your check for $200 advance payment is enclosed.

Work on Walden is moving ahead. I have assigned “Slash” Hartman, one of our best rewrite men, to you.

Sincerely yours,

JAMES TRUSLOW FLIMBIND

 

Dear Mr. Thoreau:

I regret that my last letter upset you. We rewrite all our manuscripts before publication, but only to heighten effect and tighten up the prose. As to your fears concerning Mr. Hartman: “Slash” refers not to Mr. Hartman’s editing technique, but to a scar on his face, a souvenir of his reporting days.

I am enclosing a preliminary cover for your inspection. We feel that the woman in the mist will enhance the book’s pull.

Sincerely,

JAMES TRUSLOW FLIMBIND

 

Dear Mr. Thoreau:

My patience is wearing thin, H.T., after your last diatribe. I do not rewrite books out of malice but because I know what the American public wants. I feel that your comment, “flaunting a naked woman on the cover of a serious philosophic work,” is unjust. The mist covers her up pretty well. If you wish, I’ll have the artist thicken up the fog around the breasts.

Sincerely yours,

JAMES TRUSLOW FLIMBIND

 

Dear Mr. Thoreau:

Hank, I’m not going to attempt to answer the charges in your last letter. The revised version of Walden has been sold to Amalgamated Films for $50,000. A check for your share, $2,500, is enclosed. That should keep you in Indian meal for a while.

Amalgamated will probably title the musical either I Was a Teen-age Recluse or Walden, Baby. Verna Lush has been signed for the female lead.

Sincerely yours,

JAMES TRUSLOW FLIMBIND

 

Dear Mr. Thoreau:

I think that the near hysteria of your last letter is unjustified. Verna Lush will play the barmaid, an addition made by Slash to give the book more impact. However, the love scene in the woods will not be in the film, as every effort is being made to keep it a family picture. The big dance number on ice, Walden Is a Winter Wonderland, will be filmed on location at your pond. As for the payment, five percent on movie rights is standard for new authors.

To quote a line from your original manuscript, “Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.”

Sincerely yours,

JAMES TRUSLOW FLIMBIND

 

Dear Mr. Emerson: I appreciate your writing so frankly about Mr. Thoreau’s tragic death. Although none of us at Flimbind ever met him, we felt that we knew him well.

The movie-making activities on the ice of Walden Pond could not have hastened Mr. Thoreau’s death. Any author having the opportunity to see his work come to life as an Amalgamated production should have been spurred to recovery rather than lapsing into the decline that you described.

One final matter. I have scanned a couple of your latest books, and I think that Anemia Press has not done well by you. There is now a slot open at Flimbind for one philosophy author. Why not come aboard, Ralph?

Sincerely yours,

JAMES TRUSLOW FLIMBIND

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  • Ima Ryma

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Thoreau,
    July twelfth, twenty seventeen,
    New born two hundred years ago.
    Is Walden Pond still on the scene?
    Yes – in a Massachusetts park,
    Where on a hot day in July
    Bunches of people do embark
    To have fun at the beach – or try!
    Backed up traffic causes delay.
    A lot of noise and trash around.
    A simpler life – there is no way,
    If today you’re Walden Pond bound.

    Check back another hundred years.
    Odds are Walden Pond disappears.

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