I was doing some research on Thoreau, and now that I look more carefully at his past, it would seem that his modern reputation is unlike it was when he was alive.
To begin, it seems publications and mining of his journals after his death elevated him greatly in fame. And to my surprise, it seems few admired him during his life. Most people of that time found Thoreau to be argumentative and and a bit rude. Of course, he was a man who spoke his mind, so I guess that’s no surprise.
Emerson’s influence was a boon to him, and helped promote first publication of his work in Dial. However that magazine was not that widely circulated, and really a vehicle of the Transcendentalist Club. Because much of his early publications are mainly there, it is hard for me to determine he was well established.
Now it is true that Thoreau did write his journal’s with some intent on future publication, but that doesn’t seem to have been his primary motivation. He seems to have written them mostly because, well he enjoyed it. The funny thing is that he was working on a book while at Walden Pond. But it wasn’t the Walden book we know. It was A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. He ended up self publishing that book, but the whole thing turned out to be a disaster for him.
Likewise, his famous essay on Civil Disobedience came out in 1849, but because it too was republished in later years, I can’t tell what notoriety he had at that time.
Finally, the Walden period journal’s were converted into his classic book in mid 1850’s, but it is not clear to me how big a success it was. Sadly, I think it really gained moment in later years. In some bios I looked at, it claims he was not recognized until 1875 or so. Many years after his death.