Introduction: Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau was a transcendentalist, and his book Walden, is a literary expression of transcendentalism, and an examination of nature. Thoreau’s mentor was Ralph Waldo Emerson – one of Napoleon Hill’s nine invisible mentors – who was one of the leading transcendentalists in the movement at the time. Dictionary.com defines transcendentalism,
“Also called transcendental philosophy, it is any philosophy based upon the doctrine that the principles of reality are to be discovered by the study of the processes of thought, or a philosophy emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual above the empirical: in the U.S., associated with Emerson.”
Related Post: Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Essayist, Poet, Lecturer
Content: Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Walden chronicles Thoreau’s experiences, thoughts and ideas while living for two years and two months, in a hut he built in a wooded area of Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. On Independence Day, July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into his hut. The day is significant and symbolic because he was celebrating his independence by cutting himself off from society.
One wouldn’t call him a hermit, an eccentric would be a better descriptor since he allowed others to visit him, and he would go into the village frequently to hear the gossip, but more importantly to study people.
There were instances when he had over 25 people in his little hut. If there were that many people, they would abstain from eating, but if there was one person, he would share his simple meal. If a visitor overstayed his welcome, Thoreau would go about his business, and talk while he was performing the activity.
You may be wondering why anyone would want to do something so radical – to consciously isolate himself from others.
According to Thoreau, “My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles; to be hindered from accomplishing which, for want of a little common-sense, a little enterprise, and business talent, appeared not so bad as foolish….
“I went to 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…”
Although he was not a carpenter or mason, Thoreau was able to build his little shanty, and he studied masonry so that he could build a chimney with used bricks he had purchased for $4 – he purchased a thousand used bricks in total. He adopted a very frugal lifestyle, and realized that he didn’t need a whole lot to survive.
Going back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, food, shelter, clothing and warmth will satisfy your most basic needs. Thoreau grew beans and potatoes, and he sold the extra to buy the other things that he needed. He ate a lot of bread which he made. He also discovered that he could make very good molasses either out of pumpkins or beets. He built himself a simple hut, had simple clothing, had a fire to keep warm and he also sealed the hut.
Related Post: Abraham Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs
Henry David Thoreau was criticized by his friends for not reading the newspaper, but as far as he was concerned, once you read about a certain event, there was no reason for you to read about it again, and all newspapers did was to rehash events. In Walden, Thoreau commented that he had only received two letters in his life that were worth the postage. That means that most people didn’t have anything interesting enough to say, that was worthy of the price of postage. He also refused to pay taxes, and one day while he was visiting the village, he was arrested, but was released the following day.
He had this to say about reading books, “The adventurous student will always study the classics… For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them…. To read well – that is, to read true books in a true spirit – is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem,” says Thoreau in Walden. He recommends that we read the right books because they enable us to converse with other about what we have read, and they elevate our thinking. One of his favorite books was the Bhagavad Gita, which teaches us that if we do our own work, we are free, but if we do the work of others, we are slaves.
You can also check out Standing on the Shoulder of Giants: The Essential Value of a Classic Education
During the two years and two months that Thoreau spent at Walden Pond, he got in touch with nature. Every day, during every season, throughout the day, he would record the temperature of the water in the pond. He would also observe the color of the water, and he even measured the depth of the pond, which he found to be 102 feet, and a few feet higher after winter when the ice thawed. He took pleasure in planting the beans, and he goes into great detail are plowing the land. While I was reading that part of the book, I was reminded of Jim Rohn’s book, The Seasons of Life. Thoreau took the time to plant his seeds, and was able to harvest his crops, which were so bountiful that he was able to sell some. He also spent time observing the most mundane things, for instance, he would spend an entire day watching bread bake.
You can also read Planting to Reap Full Rewards: Review of The Seasons of Life by Jim Rohn
Being in the “wilderness” was very good for Henry David Thoreau because he saw spring as he had never seen it before – everything came to life. Trees that were so dried up that they appeared dead, came back to life again. Spring is a time of rebirth, and it was also a time of rebirth, of renewal for Thoreau. This was also significant in the biblical sense because Easter also falls in the spring, and it’s the time of resurrection, which is another form of rebirth.
Conclusion: Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Walden by Henry David Thoreau is a fascinating read, and reminds us that we can live a simpler lifestyle, and that too many possessions can hold us hostage. After two years and two months he decided to reintegrate back into society, which tells us that it’s okay for us to change our minds and contradict ourselves. Life is about growing and evolving, not standing still.
I will end now with this quote from Walden by Henry David Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”
Henry David Thoreau Books
The Complete Works of Henry David ThoreauThe Portable Thoreau (Penguin Classics)Civil DisobedienceWalden: Life in the WoodsWalkingThe Illustrated Walden: Thoreau Bicentennial EditionThe Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861 (New York Review Books Classics)