HENRY DAVID THOREAU
|A rendering of Thoreau's cabin as it stood by Walden Pond from 1845-1847.|
Quicktime video, 992 K|
Thomas Hampson on Thoreau's work
|On Walden Pond in Concord, MA.|
Thoreau also made regular forays from Walden; not only did he walk into town frequently to visit his family or purchase supplies, but he took an extended study trip to the Maine woods in 1846, and he even spent a night in jail in 1846 for refusing to pay taxes to support what he considered the immoral Spanish-American War. When he left Walden in 1847, it was not because the experiment had failed or because he had tired of the simple life, but rather because, for Thoreau, it had been a completely fulfilling success, and it was now time to move on: "I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one," he wrote in the conclusion of Walden, which he published in 1854. And, assessing the value of what he had accomplished, added: "I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success in uncommon hours."
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Thomas Hampson on Thoreau at Walden Pond
In addition to his ongoing passions and pursuits: boating, hiking, gardening, pencil-making, handiwork, surveying, studying Native American culture, wandering the woods like Pan with his flute, reading, conversing, and lecturing, Thoreau devoted himself increasingly to activist social concerns. The philosophical stance he articulated in CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE--that of passive resistance--was to have far-reaching repercussions on world thought, profoundly influencing both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. From his Walden days, when he offered his cabin as a stop on the Underground Railway, to 1851, when he publically aligned himself with the Anti-Slavery Movement, Thoreau became a passionate advocate for abolition and one of the most outspoken defenders of John Brown.
|Charles Ives's song, inspired by a passage in WALDEN.|
PASSAGES FROM HENRY DAVID THOREAU'S WRITINGS
"Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. The very simplicity and nakedness of man's life in the primitive ages imply this advantage, at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature. To be awake is to be alive. Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. Every man is a builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones. Any nobleness begins at once to refine a man's features, any meanness or sensuality to imbrute them. Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth."
From CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
"The government is best that governs least...That government is best which governs not at all--and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. I think we should be men first, and subjects afterward.....The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right. All men recognize the right of revolution; that is the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever."
From A SUCCESSION OF FOREST TREES
"Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed... Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."
From THE JOURNALS
"There comes up with a deafening crash to these rocks, advertising you that even trees do not die without a groan. It rushes to embrace the earth, and mingle its elements with the dust. And now all is still once more and forever, both to eye and ear....Why does not the village bell sound a knell?" (DEATH OF A PINE TREE, December 30, 1851)
"My advice to the State is simply this: to dissolve her union with the slaveholder instantly. She can find no respectable law or precedent which sanctions its continuance. And to each inhabitant of Massachusetts, to dissolve his union with the State, as long as she hesitates to do her duty." (SLAVERY IN MASSACHUSETTS, June 18, 1854)
"The Indian's earthly life was as far off from us as heaven is." (LANGUAGE OF INDIANS, March 5, 1858)