Emerson’s Influence of Thoreau
Amateur naturalist, essayist, lover of solitude and poet, Henry David Thoreau was a student and protégé of the great American philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau’s construction of a cabin on Emerson’s land at Walden Pond is a fitting symbol of the intellectual debt that Thoreau owed to Emerson. In “Nature,” Emerson wrote, “In the woods, we return to reason and faith….” However, it was Thoreau who took this literally and tests Emerson’s ideas about nature by living at Walden Pond. Strongly influenced by Transcendentalism, Thoreau believed in the “perfectibility of mankind through education, self-exploration and spiritual awareness.” (cite). It could be argued that ideas about learning and growing intellectually and spiritually, education, in a word, are the heart of American transcendentalism. Even the transcendentalists' most literary works are explorations, open-ended and suggestive, both conducted by the author and, as they always hoped, the reader
As usual with this group, Ralph Waldo Emerson set the tone for discussions about education, especially with his Harvard lecture, "The American Scholar " which has had endless "rewritings" by Phi Beta Kappa lecturers and writers; his later unfinished" Essay on Education" shows his lifelong interest in the subject. Krystyna Grocholski shares her responses to Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau. Another response is the on-line essay, "Emerson's Philosophy of Education" by Sanderson Beck. Henry David Thoreau tried to carry out some of his own revolutionary ideas, teaching several years in Concord. An excellent overview of his ideas may be found in Martin Bickman's essay, "Thoreau and the Tradition of the Active Mind"in Uncommon Learning: Thoreau on Education.
Thoreau describes thinking as a retreat into the self, but it is hardly a passive retreat. Self-exploration can occur and may even be promoted by action; indeed, the best sources of employment are one's...
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