Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Walden Pond

Another stop during the Boston visit was at Walden Pond just outside of Concord Massachusetts. Author Henry David Thoreau made it famous.

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) was an author, poet, naturalist, tax resister, surveyor, philosopher, and transcendentalist. He is best known for his book Walden (1854), a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay Civil Disobedience (1849), an argument for individual resistance to civil government on grounds of moral opposition to an unjust state.

Thoreau was born in Concord Massachusetts. After attending college Thoreau moved back home to Concord where he met writer Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) (below left)(essayist, philosopher and poet, best remembered for leading the Transcendentalist movement of the early 19th century).

Emerson introduced him to a number of other local writers, which appears to have included Louisa May Alcott (1833 – 1888) (a novelist best known for the novel Little Women), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864) (seated below) (novelist and short story writer) and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) (below right) (educator and poet whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", "The Song of Hiawatha" and "Evangeline").

On July 4, 1845, Thoreau moved into a small house he built himself on land owned by Emerson in a forest around the shores of Walden Pond. The house was not in the wilderness but at the edge of town and within walking distance to his old family home, so his existence at the pond wasn’t exactly a test in raw survival. Thoreau earned money by surveying and was able to walk into town for meals. His mother also lived nearby in the old family home and would provide food.

Thoreau spent a little over two years at Walden Pond. He would later publish Walden, or Life in the Woods in 1854. In the book he compressed the two years into a single calendar year, using the passage of four seasons to symbolize human development. In it, Thoreau explores natural simplicity, harmony, and beauty as models for just social and cultural conditions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_David_Thoreau

Thoreau was an early advocate of hiking and canoeing and conserving natural resources on private land and preserving wilderness as public land.

He was not a strict vegetarian, but preferred that diet and advocated it as a means of self-improvement. He wrote in Walden:

“The practical objection to animal food in my case was its uncleanness; and besides, when I had caught and cleaned and cooked and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me essentially. It was insignificant and unnecessary and cost more than it came to. A little bread or a few potatoes would have done as well, with less trouble and filth."

While living at Walden Pond, Thoreau ran into the local tax collector who asked him to pay six years of delinquent poll taxes. Thoreau refused (as opposing slavery and the Mexican-American War) and spent a night in jail. He was freed the next day after his aunt paid his taxes. While it wasn’t very long, the incarceration appears to have made a strong impact on Thoreau. The incident started him thinking, lecturing and writing about civil disobedience. His essay entitled “Resistance to Civil Government” (also known as “Civil Disobedience) was published in 1849.

The essay argues that people should not permit governments to overrule their consciences, and that people have a duty to avoid allowing their implied consent to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice.

“That government is best which governs least.” This statement is sometimes attributed to Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, but its essential wording appears to have been first found in Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Disobedience_(Thoreau

Thoreau’s philosophy of civil disobedience is said to have influenced the political thoughts and actions of such later figures as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Henry David Thoreau was a Transcendentalist, a philosophy advocated by Emerson, which holds that an ideal spiritual state transcends, or goes beyond, the physical state and that a person achieves that insight through personal intuition rather than religious doctrine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendentalism