Essays By Henry David Thoreau

S., with Thoreau even recognizing it as doing some good, as when he acknowledges paying the “highway tax:” “to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but a better government.” As much as Thoreau bases his radical individualism and anarchist tendencies in his transcendentalist philosophy, then, he is most concerned with the specific American government of his time and its policies. I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue [my pursuits] sitting upon another man’s shoulders.

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For the next 27 months, Thoreau would live there, contemplating nineteenth-century American life and the world as a whole as it passed by, compiling notes and thoughts that would eventually form the basis of what has been considered his masterpiece consolidates Thoreau’s two-year experience into one calendrical cycle, but it is far more than a memoir or a naturalist’s report, moving from philosophical and political considerations to short sketches of the people and animals that move in and out of his life to rhapsodic celebrations of the pond and its environs to scientific data on its depth and its climate.

To an extent none of his other writings do, balances Thoreau’s various interests and themes—understanding nature from a scientific and spiritual perspective, criticizing nineteenth-century U. materialism and inequality on the basis of natural laws and spiritual truth, and experimenting with language as a way of conveying those laws and truths in order to transform himself and his society.

was an infamous publishing failure—fewer than 300 of the original edition of 1000 books sold—but it helped to establish Thoreau’s ability to weave philosophical insights and meditations, commentary on nature and history, into a narrative structure.

Written during his time at Walden Pond, the book ostensibly chronicles the trip Thoreau and his brother John took in 1839.

While many of Emerson’s essays and lectures tend to focus on abstract ideas, principles, and social positions as indicated by their very titles—“Self-Reliance,” “Compensation,” and “The Poet”—Thoreau’s writings ground themselves in specific experience and particular locales, as indicated by the two books he published during his life time: .

Essays By Henry David Thoreau

Also unlike Emerson, who would achieve great fame as a lecturer and essayist, Thoreau would remain relatively obscure during his lifetime, even as he circulated among the most important literary circles of his age.

While Emerson’s influence can be felt in many of Thoreau’s writings, their relationship was not always easy and Thoreau departs from Emerson in significant ways.

Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond and the experience he records of being jailed for not paying taxes in “Resistance to Civil Government” (“Civil Disobedience”) can be readily understood as putting Emerson’s philosophy of self-reliance into material practice.

But Thoreau uses their journey both to mourn and remember his brother and to explore the philosophical and social questions at the core of his thought, the relationship between the self and nature, the history of Euro-American exploitation of American nature and its native inhabitants, and the connection between specific locales and times and the eternal and the universal.

During the same year of the publication , Thoreau produced his most famous essay, “Resistance to Civil Government,” better known now by the title “Civil Disobedience.” “Resistance to Civil Government,” with its argument that the individual conscience trumps man-made laws when those laws become the machinery of injustice, has influenced a number of important political activists, most famously Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.


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