EN 209 Lecture Notes - Lecture 20: Henry David Thoreau, Transcendentalism

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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
big chunks.
- 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
real-life practice.
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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Document Summary

How to tell the di(cid:300)(cid:300)eren(cid:262)e in their writin(cid:301): Goes into natu(cid:389)e mentally in o(cid:389)de(cid:389) to (cid:262)lim(cid:261) into his o(cid:442)n thou(cid:301)hts. E(cid:447)plains mostly philosoph(cid:448) and in (cid:261)i(cid:301) (cid:262)hunks. He doesn(cid:789)t a(cid:262)tuall(cid:448) (cid:301)o that deep into ph(cid:448)si(cid:262)al natu(cid:389)e o(cid:389) put his (cid:442)o(cid:389)ds into mu(cid:262)h p(cid:389)a(cid:262)ti(cid:262)e. Goes into natu(cid:389)e physi(cid:262)ally and talks mo(cid:389)e a(cid:261)out a(cid:262)tual animals and (cid:442)ildli(cid:300)e. 2peaks a(cid:261)out philosoph(cid:448) in smalle(cid:389), mo(cid:389)e mana(cid:301)ea(cid:261)le mo(cid:389)sels. Wanted to put eme(cid:389)son(cid:789)s ideas into (cid:389)eal-li(cid:300)e p(cid:389)a(cid:262)ti(cid:262)e. This is a mi(cid:447) o(cid:300) tho(cid:389)eau(cid:789)s a(cid:262)tual jou(cid:389)nals and o(cid:300) (cid:262)tional pie(cid:262)es. He (cid:442)(cid:389)ites that he (cid:442)as out (cid:300)o(cid:389) (cid:681) (cid:448)ea(cid:389)s, (cid:261)ut it (cid:442)as a(cid:262)tuall(cid:448) just (cid:680). Tho(cid:389)eau takes eme(cid:389)son(cid:789)s t(cid:389)ans(cid:262)endentalist philosoph(cid:448) and t(cid:389)ies to li(cid:441)e this (cid:442)a(cid:448). Walden is (cid:261)asi(cid:262)all(cid:448) a (cid:389)epo(cid:389)t o(cid:300) his ndin(cid:301)s. Tho(cid:389)eau has the attitude o(cid:300) a s(cid:262)ientist that uses empiri(cid:262)ism (cid:772)test a h(cid:448)pothesis and (cid:389)epo(cid:389)t the (cid:389)esults(cid:773) I did not (cid:442)ish to li(cid:441)e (cid:442)hat (cid:442)as not li(cid:300)e no(cid:389) did i (cid:442)ish to p(cid:389)a(cid:262)ti(cid:262)e (cid:389)esi(cid:301)nation, unless it (cid:442)as (cid:388)uite ne(cid:262)essa(cid:389)(cid:448).

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