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ON THOREAU'S DEVELOPMENT
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
PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE
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
ON THOREAU'S STYLE
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
WAS THOREAU A SENTIMENTALIST?
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
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
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts