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Henry David Thoreau




It [Walden] is a recapitulation of Thoreau's development (and the artistic reason he put the experience of two years into one)- a development from the sensuous, active, external (unconscious and out-of-doors) summer of life, through the stages of autumnal consciousness and the withdrawal inward to the self- reflection of winter, to the promise of ecstatic rebirth in the spring.

Sherman Paul, "Resolution at Walden," in Thoreau, 1962


But if Thoreau's retirement was rather a gesture than an adventure, it was also what gestures at their most striking must become- namely, a symbol, and to his often very downright mind the importance of the symbol lay in part in the fact that it involved certain acts which, however unspectacular, were nevertheless visible and concrete attempts to put into some sort of actual practice theories which could not honorably be allowed to remain merely theories. Emerson might talk about plain living and about breaking with convention, but there was nothing in his outward way of life capable of shocking the most conventional. He did not do anything. He did not take even a first step. He was, as a matter of fact, always to hold himself aloof from the experiments in which other Transcendentalists, even finally Hawthorne, were to become involved in. Thoreau wanted to begin to live some special kind of life, not merely to think about one.

Joseph Wood Krutch, Henry David Thoreau, 1948


Thoreau was perhaps more precise about his own style and more preoccupied generally with literary craft than any American writer except Henry James. He rewrote endlessly, not only, like James, for greater precision, but unlike James, for greater simplicity. "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify," he gave as the three cardinal principles of both life and art. Emerson had said of Montaigne: "Cut these words and they would bleed" and Thoreau's is perhaps the only American style in his century of which this is true. Criticizing De Quincey, he stated his own prose aesthetic, "the art of writing," demanding sentences that are concentrated and nutty, that suggest far more than they say, that are kinked and knotted into something hard and significant, to be swallowed like a diamond without digesting.

Stanley Edgar Hyman, "Henry Thoreau in Our Time," 1963

It was Thoreau's conviction that by reducing life to its primitive conditions, he had come to the roots from which healthy art must flower.... The light touch of his detachment allows the comparison of his small things with great, and throughout the book enables him to possess the universe at home.

F. O. Matthiessen, "Walden: Craftsmanship vs. Technique," 1948


To seek to be natural implies a consciousness that forbids all naturalness forever. It is as easy- and no easier- to be natural in a salon as in a swamp, if one does not aim at it, for what we call unnaturalness always has its spring in a man's thinking too much about himself.... To a man of wholesome constitution the wilderness is well enough for a mood or a vacation, but not for the habit of life. Those who have most loudly advertised their passion for seclusion and their intimacy with nature... have been mostly sentimentalists, unreal men, misanthropes on the spindle side, solacing an uneasy suspicion of themselves by professing contempt for their kind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Thoreau," 1862

[Walden Contents]


We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.

Murray Bromberg, Principal
Wang High School of Queens, Holliswood, New York

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Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
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Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

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National Council of Teachers of English
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Guilderland Central School District, New York

Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois

[Walden Contents]



Derleth, August. Concord Rebel: A Life of Henry D. Thoreau. Philadelphia: Chilton, 1962. A biography for young readers.

Harding, Walter. The Days of Henry Thoreau. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965. A biography of Thoreau by a notable scholar, and the editor of his correspondence.

_____. ed. The Thoreau Centennial. Yellow Springs, Ohio: Antioch Press, 1965. A collection of essays about the author compiled some one hundred years after his death.

_____. A Thoreau Handbook. New York: New York University Press, 1959. Essays about the life and work of Thoreau, and a complete guide to research on this topic.

_____. Thoreau: A Century of Criticism. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1954. A selection of criticism written in the one hundred years since the publication of Walden.

_____. Thoreau: Man of Concord. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960. An anthology of profiles of the author by those who knew him.

Krutch, Joseph Wood. Henry David Thoreau. New York: William Sloane, 1948. A biography.

Lane, Luriat, Jr., ed. Approaches to Walden. San Francisco: Wadsworth, 1961. A comprehensive introduction to the study of Walden, including a bibliography, criticism, essays, and information about the author.

Matthiessen, F. O. The American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1948. A very readable critical approach to influences in literature in Thoreau's time and among writers he admired. It includes the often quoted essay, "Walden: Craftsmanship vs. Technique."

Paul, Sherman, ed. Thoreau: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. A collection of some of the more well-known essays by critics of our time.


Walden is not Thoreau's only famous work, although it may be the one people think of most often in connection with his name. Civil Disobedience (1849) has had great influence the world over as a political tract, and to some people it is better known than Walden itself. A list of Thoreau's other works and their dates of publication follows.

    A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1849
    The Maine Woods, 1864
    Cape Cod, 1864
    Letters to Various Persons, 1865
    A Yankee in Canada, 1866
    Journals (14 volumes), 1906
    Collected Poems of Henry David Thoreau, 1943
    The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 1958


ECC [Walden Contents] []
[The Duty of Civil Disobedience]

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