Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Walden: Purpose and Method
"the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation"
Thoreau lived most of his life in the town where he was born, Concord, Massachusetts. He is remembered as a naturalist, a conservationist, and an abolitionist. In one famous incident, Thoreau publicly acclaimed John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry. He refused to pay taxes that year in protest against the government's prosecution of Brown, and he spent time in jail. He wrote of the citizen's duty to protest unjust laws peacefully in "On Civil Disobedience". Years later Mahatma Gandhi would cite Thoreau as one of the originators of his own tactic of peaceful protest.
Thoreau earned his reputation as a nature writer. He took many expeditions into the wilderness; famously, he was among the first Americans to explore the Maine Woods and he canoed the Allagash and St. Johns Rivers. But he was probably most famous for the expedition he took into his own backyard.
"Walden; or, Life in the Woods described a two-year period in Thoreau's life from March 1845 to September 1847. From the Fourth of July, the author retired from the town to live alone at Walden Pond. Much of Walden's material was derived from his journals." (Henry David Thoreau)
The text, though, was published in 1854: during the interval Thoreau revised and added to his original journal entries (although he left the impression that his responses are examples of "free writing" improvised while he was living at Walden.)
Our task in class today is to learn more about Thoreau's central purpose, both as a person and as a writer, in his experiment in living on Walden Pond.