Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau

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Lisel Ashlock

After coming across the Emerson item, and linking it to my own experience as a lapsed researcher, now entrepreneur, I went back and looked at some of the posts Seth wrote while taking coursework last autumn. The courses were remarkable for their relevance to what we do at La Paz Group: Environmental History; Environmental Archaeology; Ecology and the Environment; and Environmental Governance.  The history course, in particular, had a syllabus that I appreciated for acquainting or re-acquainting me with some of the roots of thought underlying my chosen occupation (whatever that is).

Now a few days later I have discovered that on today’s date in 1817 Henry David Thoreau was born.  A little more digging, and I see he serialized some of his writings in a magazine that still publishes today. He apparantly wanted his ideas spread as far and wide as technology would enable.  Surprisingly modern for a man who embodies “back to nature” more than most.  Would he have blogged in today’s world?

No need to speculate on silly questions: his writing speaks for itself. On June 1, 1858 he published his first of three tracts in The Atlantic Monthly.  It is a lovely meditation on the true nature of pine trees, poetic insight, and moose meat, among other things nineteenth-century.  Four years later to the day the same magazine posthumously (he had just died weeks earlier) published his second tract, called Walking, which has about as fine a statement as I can find anywhere:

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.  I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that.

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la SainteTerre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes aSainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation.

4 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau

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