Henry David Thoreau

From the Editor's Note from Henry David's House:

Author Henry David ThoreauIn the spring of 1845 twenty-seven-year-old Henry David Thoreau borrowed an axe from his neighbor, Bronson Alcott, walked tow miles from his family's house in Concord, Massachusetts, tot he shores of Walden Pond, and began to build himself a house. He had tried to live as others lived—as "a schoolmaster, a private tutor, a surveyor, a gardener, a farmer, a house painter, a carpenter, a mason, a day-laborer, a pencil-maker, a glass-paper maker, a writer," but had found each of those careers disappointing. "The mass of men," he wrote, "lead lies of quiet desperation." He was determined not to be one of them.

So he set off for the woods to build himself a house that would allow the same easy relationship with the wilderness that the American Indians, whom he greatly admired, once enjoyed. There he intended to reflect on nature, society, and the human spirit, to read widely, to keep his journal, and to write. The daily act of setting down in words one's thoughts, observations, and actions elevates and orders those moments, separating them from the great mass of unexamined life. Keeping a daily journal was central to Thoreau's life and art—the very heart of his artistic process. "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately," he declared "to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had tot each, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." That singular act produced one of the most influential books of nineteenth-century American literature, Walden, or Life in the Woods a volume full of prickly prejudices and invaluable insights that, as another great American writer, E.B. White, observed, "is like an invitation to life's dance."

Thoreau forever changed the way we think about nature and our place in it. Despite Thoreau's lack of recognition during his lifetime, Walden became one of the most widely read books of American literature, influencing minds as diverse as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Robert Frost. The unique product of a unique mind, Walden is part memoir, part nature study, part do-it-yourself manual, part economic and political treatise, part philosophical tract, part poem, part dream.

Today, Thoreau's cabin lingers int eh American consciousness as an image of perfection, the ideal home—modest, spare, uninhibiting, a place in harmony with nature. In our restless search for meaning we return repeatedly to that vision of a man with nothing but an axe walking into the woods and fashioning for himself all that he needs to live honestly and completely: a simple house, Henry David's house.

Steven Schnur

Walden Pond is in Concord, Massachusetts, about 20 miles outside of Boston. The National Park Service designated Walden Pond as an historic landmark in 1965. In the 1980s, developers had plans to build an office building and condominiums in Walden Woods. Thanks to the efforts of the Walden Woods Project, the endangered lands surrounding the pond were purchased from the developers. Walden Pond State Reservation is open to the public. A replica of Thoreau's house stands there today.

Books by Henry David Thoreau