Henry David Thoreau: A Rant

I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau has always struck me as one of the most buffoonish and over-rated characters in American history. His aunt paying his taxes for him so his great tax protest over the Mexican War lasted all of one night, his accidental setting of a fire that consumed 300 acres of Walden woodlands, Thoreau contracting the tuberculosis that would kill him as a result of a middle of the night excursion to count tree rings and the pacifist Thoreau writing a pamphlet in which he claimed that John Brown, a murderer, embezzler, cattle thief and congenital liar, was humane are only a few of the many episodes in his life that are worthy of a great satirical novel. 

His vapid writings are best suited for college undergrads who have seen little of life and who have read few of the great philosophers.  I will cheerfully read the comments of any defender of Mr. Thoreau who wishes to respond.  :)

10 Responses to Henry David Thoreau: A Rant

  • Mack Hall says:

    Nicely said.

    HDT is a pretty good writer about nature, and is certainly quotable (I esp. like his bit about Paris fashions), but when he attempts poetry he lapses into a bizarre and obscure formalism. An amusing man, and, yes, highly overrated, but that’s not his fault.

  • Joe Green says:

    Edward Abbey, my favorite naturalist writer (his ‘Desert Solitaire’ is a masterpiece), sneeringly called Thoreau the “poet-spinster” and raked him pretty good.

    But Abbey, in one of his essays written while on a river trip, wound up saying this: “The deeper our United States sinks into industrialism, urbanism, militarism–with the rest of the world doing its best to emulate America–the more poignant, strong, and appealing becomes Thoreau’s demand for the right of every man, every woman, every child, every dog, every tree, every snail darter, every lousewort, every living thing, to live its own life in its own way at its own pace in its own square mile of home. Or in its own stretch of the river.”

    For my part, there is much wisdom to be found in Walden and Civil Disobedience and on balance I’d still rate him as one of the great thinkers. On his death bed he was asked if he had made peace with God and he answered: “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

    To read more on Abbey’s view of Thoreau click on the following link (better yet pick up his essay book; a great read)

    http://downandout.wordpress.com/2007/02/06/literature-abbey-on-thoreau/

  • “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

    He made that typical Thoreau glib-comment-substitute-for-wisdom to an inquiry from his aunt Louisa, the same aunt who bailed him out of jail during his great one night anti-Mexican War protest. She had bailed Thoreau out of several scrapes during his life as a feckless grown child, and she was attempting to do it one last time.

  • Joe Green says:

    Don, uncharacteristic of you to come out of the chute in a new week by dumping on an American icon. Get up on the wrong side this morning or lose a case? : )

  • Joe Green says:

    Well, Don, when you’re out in the woods or wherever enjoying nature, try to give ol’ Henry some kind thoughts and hug a tree for him.

  • Art Deco says:

    the right of every man, every woman, every child, every dog, every tree, every snail darter, every lousewort, every living thing, to live its own life in its own way at its own pace in its own square mile of home. Or in its own stretch of the river.”

    Nonsense which perhaps explains how the late Mr. Abbey burned through four marriages (or was it five?).

  • Joe Green says:

    Art, what do his marriages have to do with anything Abbey wrote or his brilliance as a writer? He was a complex conflicted man and what you consider “nonsense” I and many others find quite profound when taken in context. Suggest you read Desert Solitaire or his essay about nature and tell me he was a man lacking a good soul.

  • Art Deco says:

    Life is lived socially, and properly so. There is an inherent conflict between freedom and community. One generally assumes one’s thoughts have some effect on one’s acts. That Edward Abbey was intent (apparently) to ‘live his own life in his own way’ appears to have been rather incongruent with creating and maintaining a zone of well-being for those entrusted to his care.

    Suggest you read Desert Solitaire or his essay about nature and tell me he was a man lacking a good soul.

    Sorry, nature writing bores me blank. What James Wolcott said, “I prefer to be in town, where the people are”.

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