Thoreau

.. , Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bronson Alcott (The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 2). Thoreau never earned a livelihood by writing, but his works fill twenty volumes. His first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, was a huge failure selling only 219 of the original 1,000 copies (“Thoreau” 697), but his doctrine of passive resistance impacted many powerful people such as Mahatma Gahndi and Martin Luther King, Jr. (The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1). Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience,” accentuated personal ethics and responsibility. It urged the individual to follow the dictates of conscience in any conflict between itself and civil law, and to violate unjust laws to invoke their repeal. Throughout his life, Thoreau protested against slavery by lecturing, by abetting escaped slaves in their decampment to freedom in Canada, and by outwardly defending John Brown when he made his hapless attack on Harpers Ferry in 1859 (2). Walden is conceivably Thoreau’s most famous work, however, for nearly a century after it’s publication it was considered to be only a collection of nature essays, as social criticism, or as a literal autobiography.

Walden is now looked upon as a created work of art (“Thoreau” 697). In Walden Thoreau expresses his sentiments on varying subjects such as, the attitudes of society, age, and work. Thoreau felt that society had no right to judge people on the basis of their appearance: No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, of at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience (Thoreau 27). Thoreau believed in relaxation and simplicity, and he said: “As for work, we haven’t any of any consequence” (78). Thoreau also believed that older people should not tell younger people how to live because: Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost.

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One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living (16). Walden is filled with sarcasm, criticism, and observations of nature, life, and society, and is written in a very unique style. Walden has been described as an elaborate system of circular imagery which centers on Walden Pond as a symbol of heaven, the ideal of perfection that should be striven for (“Thoreau” 697). Thoreau has been called America’s greatest prose stylist, naturalist, pioneer ecologist, conservationist, visionary, and humanist (The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 2). It has also been said that Thoreau’s style shows an unconscious, but very pointed degree of Emerson’s influence. However, there is often a rudeness, and an inartistic carelessness in Thoreau’s style that is not at all like the style of Emerson. Thoreau possessed an amazing forte for expressing his many observations in vivid color: No one has ever excelled him in the field of minute description. His acute powers of observation, his ability to keep for a long time his attention upon one thing, and his love of nature and of solitude, all lend a distinct individuality to his style (Pattee 226). Thoreau’s good friend Bronson Alcott described his style as: More primitive and Homeric than any American, his style of thinking was robust, racy, as if Nature herself had built his sentences and seasoned the sense of his paragraphs with his own vigor and salubrity.

Nothing can be spared from them; there is nothing superfluous; all is compact, concrete, as nature is (Alcott 16). Most of Thoreau’s writings had to do with Nature which caused him to receive both positive and negative criticism. Paul Elmer More said that Thoreau was”The greatest by far of our writers on Nature and the creator of a new sentiment in literature,” but he then does a complete turn around to say: Much of his [Thoreau’s] writing, perhaps the greater part, is the mere record of observation and classification, and has not the slightest claim on our remembrance, — unless, indeed, it posses some scientific value, which I doubt (More 860). Thoreau was always very forthright in everything he said. Examples of this can be found throughout Walden, one of which being his statement in chapter two”To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea” (Thoreau 79).

There is certainly no ersatz sentiment, nor simulation of reverence of benevolence in Walden (Briggs 445). Thoreau was a philosopher of individualism, who placed nature above materialism in private life, and ethics above conformity in politics (The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1). His life was marked by whimsical acts and unusual stands on public issues (“Thoreau” 697). These peculiar beliefs led to a lot of criticism of Thoreau and his work. James Russell Lowell complained the Thoreau exalted the constraints of his own dispositions and insisted upon accepting his shortcomings and debilities as virtues and powers.

Lowell considered: “a great deal of the modern sentimentalism about Nature..a mark of disease” (Wagenknecht 2). In some ways Walden is deluding. It consists of eighteen essays in which Thoreau condenses his twenty-six month stay at Walden Pond into the seasons of a single year. Also, the idea is expressed in Magill’s Survey of American Literature that: Walden was not a wilderness, nor was Thoreau a pioneer; his hut was within two miles of town, and while at Walden, he made almost daily visits to Concord and to his family, dined out often, had frequent visitors, and went off on excursions. Walden is a testament to the renewing power of nature, to the need of respect and preservation of the environment, and to the belief that”in wildness is the salvation of the world” (Magill 1949).

Walden is simply an experience recreated in words for the purpose of getting rid of the world and discovering the self (“Thoreau” 697). Henry David Thoreau strived for freedom and equality. He was opinionated and argumentative. He stood up for what he believed in and was willing to fight for it. His teachings and writings had an amazing affect on people and the world, and will have for centuries to come.

affect on people and the world, and will have for centuries to come.