Thoreau’s relation to print culture was complicated and at times contradictory, but from his writing life to his family business, he was shaped by it. Scholars note that he was both successful and a failure as a professional author. He published books and articles made possible by technological changes in papermaking and printing to his west on the Housatonic River, and business and market developments in publishing to his east in Boston. Some of these changes brought him a measure of money and renown, and others left him surrounded in his own home by an “inert mass” of unsold paper and print. He wanted to publish in the periodical press and with successful book publishers, and he sold graphite to printers to supply the making of plates. Yet, at the same time he also argued that print offered an insufficient secondhand experience of the world of bodies and things. Nineteenth-century American print culture offered challenges and openings to Transcendentalist thinkers. Noting the ever-expanding scale of print production of print in their lifetimes, Emerson lamented that one could no longer hope to read everything printed, and Thoreau argued against reading anything except the world itself. Both continued to publish their work in books and periodicals. “Much is published, but little printed,” Thoreau writes in “Sounds,” leaving readers to wonder what it meant to leave an impression on the world in the middle of the nineteenth century (W 111).”
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