Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.
– Henry David Thoreau
Though not the most often quoted words written by Henry David Thoreau, these few illuminate the timeless nature of the life and work of the writer philosopher. These words shape the thoughts of the man we celebrate today on the bicentennial of his birth on July 12, 1819.
Thoreau’s work is so encompassing, so timeless, that it is folly to focus on a single facet or phase of his thinking or of his legacy. For decades scholars have been gathering, interpreting and otherwise preparing for the grand bicentennial celebration by making Thoreau’s words and works better known, more accessible to more readers.
Locus of activity is The Thoreau Society, a scholarly beehive of academics and readers who study and discuss the thread of Thoreau that weaves through topics that range from civil disobedience to botany, from his years at Harvard to those he spent in the woods near his home in Concord, from travels to the “American West” to his discourses on the ills of slavery.
So much to learn, so little time, so many dimensions of one man’s life and contributions:
For the moment, the best way to stay in touch with a living legend is to follow the work of the Thoreau Society on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thoreaubicentennial/) Their great gathering begins this week in Concord.
In light of the times, Thoreau’s discourse on Civil Disobedience underscores the timeless and universal character of the writer’s thinking.
- Set the scene for Thoreau’s writing, view this commentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gugnXTN6-D4)
- Read the text of Thoreau’s words here: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
Readers of this tribute who are intrigued to learn of the Minnesota strand of the Thoreau story will want to read or re-read Dale Schwie’s great essay on “Thoreau in Minnesota.” http://www.thoreausociety.org/thoreau-country/thoreau-minnesota
So much to learn from Thoreau – know that you will soon find yourself immersed in words and ideas that endure. Here are just of a few of the countless reflections prompted by the bicentennial celebration of a great American:
As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. Henry David Thoreau
UPDATE: Writer’s Almanac, July 12, 2017:
|It’s the birthday of Henry David Thoreau (books by this author), born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts (1817). He went to Harvard, but he didn’t like it very much, nor did he enjoy his later job as a schoolteacher. He seemed destined for a career in his father’s pencil factory, and in fact, he came up with a better way to bind graphite and clay, which saved his father money. But in 1844, Thoreau’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson bought land on the shore of Walden Pond, a 61-acre pond, surrounded by woods, and Thoreau decided to build a cabin there. It was only two miles from the village of Concord, and he had frequent visitors. During the two years he lived there, Thoreau kept a journal that he later published as Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854). In the conclusion to Walden, Thoreau wrote, “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”|