Henry David Thoreau
Emerson vs. Thoreau
How to tell the difference in their writing:
- Goes into nature mentally in order
to climb into his own thoughts.
- Explains mostly philosophy and in
- He doesn’t actually go that deep
into physical nature or put his
words into much practice.
- Goes into nature physically and
talks more about actual animals and
- Speaks about philosophy in smaller,
more manageable morsels.
- Wanted to put Emerson’s ideas into
Background Information on Walden:
- This is a mix of Thoreau’s actual journals and of ﬁctional pieces.
- E.g. He writes that he was out for 2 years, but it was actually just 1.
- Thoreau takes Emerson’s transcendentalist philosophy and tries to live this way.
- Walden is basically a report of his ﬁndings.
- Thoreau has the attitude of a scientist that uses empiricism (test a hypothesis and
report the results)
Important Quotes and Explanations:
“I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential
facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life… nor did I wish to
practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all
the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not
life… if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and
publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be
able to give a true account of it in my next excursion” (1017).
●Essentially, Thoreau wants to simplify his life.
●He states his hypothesis: maybe it’s unspiritual and base. Or, maybe it’s sublime.
●He wants to ﬁnd out by his own experience, and not just accept it because of what
someone else had told him.
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