12 Jul 2017, (♣) Henry David Thoreau: 200th birthday

Henry David Thoreau, 12 Jul 1817 – 6 May 1862

1845-1847: Life in the woods near Concord (MA), in a wooden cabin (built on the premises owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson), near Walden Pond

Visited in 1988: Walden pond, near Concord (MA)

Wooden sign #1: “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.” Thoreau. Sheltered within a house he built on the 10 x 15 marked area, Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden from July 4, 1845 to September 6, 1847.

Wooden sign #2: Thoreau’s cairn follows an ancient tradition of erecting stone pile markers. In June, 1872, Mrs. Mary Adams, a visitor from Iowa, and Bronson Alcott of Concord, placed the first stones to mark the site of Henry Thoreau’s small house. Admirers continue to add stones in tribute to Thoreaus’s achievements as a writer, naturalist, philosopher, and individualist.

See below / siehe unten:

  • Frank Schäfer, Taz 24.12.16: Leben lernen
  • Randall Fuller, Nature 15.6.17: Natural history: Thoreau’s debt to Darwin
  • Willy Hochkeppel, SZ 28.6.17: Er aß kein Fleisch, heiratete nie
  • Sylvia Prahl, Taz 10.7.17: Dem eigenen Begehren folgen und Bohnen züchten
  • Jutta Person, SZ 12.7.17: Fische schwammen ihm in die Hand.

HD Thoreau (1854): Walden.

1981 edition: Peregrine Smith Book, Gibbs M Smith, Inc., Salt Lake City (UT) – With an introductory essay “Down the river with Henry Thoreau” by Edward Abbey.

[Text portions selected in mid-1980s / Meine Textauswahl: Mitte 1980er Jahre]


I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. (p.5) … What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate. … The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. (p.7) … We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us! (p.10) … necessary of life … The necessaries of life … may, accurately enough, be distributed under the several heads of Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel … (p.11) … at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time… to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future … (p.15) Shall we always study to obtain more of … things, and not sometimes to be content with less? (pp.32-3) … students … should not play life, or study it merely, … but earnestly live it from beginning to end. (p.46) … We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. (p.47) … the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. (p.48) … Thank God, I can sit and I can stand without the aid of a furniture warehouse. (p.59) … I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely… (p.63)

Where I lived, and what I lived for

… a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone. (p.74) … Old Cato, whose “De Re Rusticâ” is my “Cultivator” (p.76) … It is well to have some water in your neighbourhood. (p.78) (cf. 21 Jan 2017) … “There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy a vast horizon” – said Damodara (p.79) … The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. (p.80) … 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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. (p.82) … Our life is frittered away by detail. …. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! … Simplify, simplify. (p.82) … Why should we live with such hurry, and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. … As for work, we haven’t any of consequence. We have the Saint Vitus’ dance, and cannot possibly keep our heads still. (p.84) … I am sure that I never read any memorable news in the newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered … or one cow run over on the Western Railroad … – we never need read of another. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? (p.85) … Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. (p.88)


My residence was more favourable, not only to thought, but to serious reading, than a university … (p.90) … what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? (p.91) … Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. (p.92) … Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. (p.93)


Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk out into futurity. (p.101) … I am refreshed and expanded when the freight train rattles past me … reminding me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical climes, and the extent of the globe. (p.108) … serenaded by a hooting owl. Near at hand you could fancy it the most melancholy sound in Nature … (p.113) … owls … represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have. (p.114)


I believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have been introduced. (p.118) … I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. (p.122) … I am no worshipper of Hygeia, who was the daughter of that old herb-doctor Aesculapius, and who is represented on monuments holding a serpent in one hand, and in the other a cup out of which the serpent sometimes drinks; but rather of Hebe, cup-bearer to Jupiter, who was the daughter of Juno and wild lettuce, and who had the power of restoring gods and men to the vigor of youth. (p.125)


Individuals, like nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries … between them. (p.128)

The bean field

Ancient poetry and mythology suggest, at least, that husbandry was once a sacred art. (p.150) … By avarice and selfishness … the landscape is deformed, husbandry is degraded with us … Cato says that the profits of agriculture are particularly pious or just … (p.151)

The village

Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip … (p.153) … One afternoon … I was seized and put into jail, because … I did not pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the state which buys and sells men, women, and children … (p.157)

The ponds

… in September or October, Walden is a perfect forest mirror, set round with stones … Sky water …a mirror which no stone can crack … (p.173)

Baker farm

Enjoy the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise … men are what they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs. (p.190)

Higher laws

I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race … to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized. (p.197) … I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man … (p.198)

Brute neighbors

… battle of ants … (p.209ff)


Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. (p.229)

Former inhabitants, and winter visitors

Winter animals

… muskrats … foxes … red squirrels …jays …  hounds … hares … rabbits (p.247ff) … Squirrels and wild mice disputed for my store of nuts. (p.255)

The pond in winter

Ice is an interesting subject for contemplation (pp.269-70) … The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges. With favouring winds it is wafted past the site of the fabulous islands of Atlantis and the Hesperides … (p.271)


The earth is … living poetry like the leaves of a tree … a living earth … (pp.280-1) … As every season seems best to us in its turn, so the coming in of spring is like the creation of Cosmos out of Chaos and the realization of the Golden Age. (p.285) … I finally left Walden September 6th, 1847. (p.290)


In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex. (p.294) … If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. (p.296) … Love your life, poor as it is. (p.298) … The sun is but a morning-star. (p.303)

Introductory essay “Down the river with Henry Thoreau” by Edward Abbey [written in Oracle, AZ]

Thoreau’s mind has been haunting mine for most of my life. (p.ix) … Henry was not a hermit. … His celebrated cabin … was two miles from Concord common. A half-hour walk from pond to post-office. Henry lived in it for only two years and two months. (p.xiii) … Spirit both forms and informs the universe, thought the New England transcendentalists, of whom Thoreau was one; all Nature, they believed, is but symbolic of a grretaer spiritual reality within us. (p.xiv) … I do not approve of his fastidious puritanism. (p.xv) … When a publisher shipped back to Thoreau 706 unsellable copies of A week on the Concord & Merrimack Rivers … Henry noted in his Journal, “I now have a library 900 volumes, over 700 of which I wrote myself.” (p.xv) … The man seemingly composed wisecracks  and epigrams even in his sleep. Even on his deathbed. “Henry, have you made your peace with God?” asked a relative. “I am not aware that we have ever quarreled, Aunt,” said Henry. To another visitor, attempting to arouse in Henry a decent Christian concern with the next world, he said, “One world at a time, please.” (p.xxx) … at a time when the giants of New England literature were thought to be Emerson, Hawthorne, … Thoreau was but a minor writer. Not even a major minor writer. Today we see it differently. In the ultimate democracy of time, Henry has well outlived his contemporaries. Hawthorne and Emerson are still read, at least in university English departments, but as for the others, they are forgotten by everyone but specialists in American literature. Thoreau however becomes more significant with each passing decade. (p.xxx) … Henry had many words for every subject, and no last word for any. (p. xl)

Frank Schäfer, taz 24.12.16: Leben lernen. Selbstversuch. Neue Ausgaben von Henry David Thoreau, dem Mitbegründer der US-Literatur.

… ein halsstarriges Landei, das … doch kosmopolitischer und progressiver dachte als die meisten Weltbürger Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts. …kein Provinzler aus Zwang, sondern aus Neigung. Er gehörte dem Kreis der Transzendentalisten … an. Nach deren Lehren spiegelt sich sowieso im kleinsten Detail die große spirituelle Idee … Insofern konnte man ruhig zu Hause bleiben – und konnte Thoreau ganz ohne Ironie von sich behaupten: „Ich habe in Concord große Reisen unternommen.“ … die Imagination seiner märchenhaften Walden-Existenz war … so suggestiv und schön, dass sich die Ökofreaks, Landkommunarden, Waldläufer und Naturapostel zu allen Zeiten gern von ihm anfixen ließen.

Randall Fuller, Nature 15.6.17: Natural history: Thoreau’s debt to Darwin. On the naturalist’s bicentenary, Randall Fuller traces his empirical journey after Walden.

“Transcendentalism emerged in the mid-1830s as an intoxicating set of philosophical, literary and spiritual tendencies unified by discontent with American life. Its core tenet, derived from Romantic philosophy, was that God permeated everything. As the movement’s best-known spokesperson, philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, put it, ‘behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present’. Transcendent divinity could be perceived … was best found in nature. This set of beliefs fuelled the experiment in self-reliance and simple living on Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, in the mid-1840s that led to Thoreau’s masterpiece, Walden … But something happened to Thoreau before his best-known book was finished, subtly changing its final form, making it more empirical, and thus scientific … In 1860, he encountered Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, published the previous year … Throughout 1860, he carefully recorded the ways in which oaks and pines advanced, retreated and produced hundreds of thousands of acorns and pinecones to gain a foothold. He marvelled that Darwin’s theory ‘implies a greater vital force in nature, … equivalent to a sort of constant new creation’. This declaration marks an epoch in American intellectual life. In one short year, Darwin had propelled Thoreau to a new understanding: that nature just was — and that was enough.”

Willy Hochkeppel, SZ 28.6.17: Er aß kein Fleisch, heiratete nie. Frank Schäfer erzählt das Leben des Waldgängers und Rebellen Henry David Thoreau.

“Die knappste Biografie Thoreaus stammt von … Emerson: ‘Er aß kein Fleisch, trank keinen Wein, wußte nichts über Tabak, er hatte keinen Beruf, er heiratete nie, ging nie in die Kirche und nie zur Wahl, lehnte es ab, Steuern zu zahlen.’ … Sein Name fehlt nach wie vor selbst in renommierten philosophischen Nachschlagewerken. Zweifellos hatte er auch etwas von einem Waldschrat, einem Kauz und maverick … 1862 erschien in der Bostoner Zeitschrift Atlantic Monthly ein schöner Aufsatz mit dem Titel “Walking” … Frank Schäfer durchschaut seinen Helden als einen ‘souveränen Synkretisten’ …

Sylvia Prahl, taz 10.7.17: Dem eigenen Begehren folgen und Bohnen züchten. Naturverbunden. Am 12. Juli feiert US-Denker Henry David Thoreau 200. Geburtstag. Frank Schäfer stellt Leben und Werk in einer neuen Biografie vor.

… kauzige Wesensart – die ihm den Beinamen „der furchtbare Thoreau“ einbrachte … konsumkritische Eassay „Walden“ … fortschrittsskeptisches Denken …

Jutta Person, SZ 12.7.17: Fische schwammen ihm in die Hand. Am 12. Juli 1817 wurde Henry David Thoreau geboren. Geburtstagsständchen für einen Flussphilosophen, Beerensammler, Hüttenbauer, Sklavenfluchthelfer, Steuerverweigerer und Neinsager.

… einem der wichtigsten Wortführer der Zivilisationskritik … sein Blockhütten-Bericht „Walden…“ gehört noch heute in jede alternativ-konsumkritische Basisbibliothek … Mitbegründer des amerikanischen „nature writing“ …