Society's Reactions to Walden

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When Walden was published during the nineteenth century, the reactions of people were exceedingly different than they are of modern society. These reactions were towards every aspect of Thoreau and altered with every change in time. The foremost reactions toward Henry David Thoreau occurred when he went to live on his own at Walden Pond. As strange as it may seem, some critics think that Thoreau's choice to live at Walden Pond was simply because he was a hermit. However, his sheltered life was the result of his brother's death, which promoted Henry to go to Walden Pond (Life 1). Henry explains in Walden, "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" (Life 1). As anyone may obviously see, Thoreau did not choose a life on the pond simply because he was a hermit. He left his nearby town of Concord for the life at the pond on July 4, 1845, which was Independence Day (Life 1). By leaving for Walden on July 4th Independence Day, Henry would have spent his first full day at Walden Pond on the anniversary of his brother's birthday (Life 1). Although many believe Henry was a recluse, Henry was no stranger to society while he lived at the pond (Life 1). As he himself said, "I had more visitors while I lived in the woods than at any other period in my life; I mean that I had some" (Thoreau 119). These visitors Henry had at the pond included both his family and his friends, who he had, frequent dinners with (Life 1). The reactions of the people during Thoreau's time were very diverse, some were positive while others were negative. John Burroughs was one of the few people who wrote frequently on Thoreau. He points out quite rightly that Thoreau was more interested in natural philosophy than natural science (Harding 87). In later years he forgot that and devoted most of his criticism to pointing out Thoreau's many errors in scientific identification of species, and thus lost the broader concept of Thoreau's work (Hendrick 87). Meanwhile, the reactions of Thoreau's neighbors weren't all that bad. In Thoreau's Journal, Thoreau states, "How I love the simple reserved countrymen my neighbors who mind their own business and let me alone who never waylaid nor shot at me to my knowledge when I crossed their fields though each one has a gun in his house" (Harding 47). It is written that the people who lived around Thoreau thought of him "as stoical and indifferent and unsympathetic as a veritable Indian; and how he hunted without trap or gun, and fished without hook or snare" (Hendrick 89). A young girl once complained that having taken her to the top of a mountain, he fixed his earnest gaze on a distant point in the landscape and remarked, "How fare is it in a bee-line to that spot (Hendrick 119). In 1862, when Thoreau died, it would have been easy to predict that he and his works would soon be forgotten (Hendrick 154). After his death various friends, including both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott, borrowed the manuscript volumes of the journal from Thoreau's sister Sophia to read for their own personal pleasure (Torrey vi). Wentworth Higginson, inspired by such a reading, made an effort to have the journal published, but he ran into the determined opposition of Sophia Thoreau who thought it too personal to be opened to the gaze of the general public (Torrey vi). When Higginson attempted to enlist the aid of Judge Hoar, Concord's leading citizen, in persuading her otherwise, he met with the withering reply, "why should anyone care to have Thoreau's journal put into print" (Torrey vi)? Still unmined is a wealth of material on political and social attitudes of the time. The journal is a veritable gold mine with its ore still virtually untouched (Torrey vii). It is now seen that the impression Thoreau made on his friends was the right one; he was not...
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