Unpublished Poems by Bryant and Thoreau/Godfrey of Boulogne Introduction
The ballad here printed for the first time, through the liberality of Mr. Bixby, is probably the earliest of the extant verses of the author. No date can with certainty be given it; but very likely it was written during his college life, which ended in the summer of 1837. It was during those years at Harvard that he read Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, and still earlier, like many young poets, he had delighted in the easy, flowing verse of Mrs. Hemans.
This ballad (perhaps the only one he ever wrote) savors of both Tasso and Mrs. Hemans. In The Service, written in 1840, are traces of this early interest in Godfrey of Boulogne and the Crusades; and portions of The Service may have been written a year or two before it was offered to Margaret Fuller for The Dial, in 1840, and by her declined.
This ballad was never offered anywhere for printing, I fancy, but cherished by some aunt or cousin into whose hands it fell, and thus preserved in the Thatcher family at Bangor, Maine, where Mr. Bixby found it in 1906, along with later verses unknown to the public, which appeared in The Bibliophile Society's recent Thoreau publication.
The poetical product of Thoreau's youth was much larger than he ever allowed to appear in print; nor did the whole of it fall into the hands of his literary executors,—his sister Sophia, Emerson, Ellery Channing, Harrison Blake, E. H. Russell and myself. I name these six persons, because all of us have, first or last, had a hand in the work of presenting his writings to the public. To these might be added Mr. Henry Salt, his English biographer, who edited in London the only collection of his poems aiming at completeness which has yet appeared. Several persons aided Mr. Salt in this collection, notably, Mr. Blake, myself and Miss Anna Ward, of Spenser, Mass. But none of these eight persons ever had all Thoreau's verses in hand, or even within their knowledge. Sophia Thoreau may possibly be the exception, but I doubt it.
January 28, 1907.