The Variorum Walden

The Variorum Walden

The Variorum Walden

The Variorum Walden

Excerpt

Henry David Thoreau was a few days short of his twenty- eighth birthday when he moved into his cabin on Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1845, and began what was to become one of the most famous experiments in living in American history. Thoreau was born in Concord on July 12, 1817. Graduating from Harvard in 1837, he turned to teaching, first for a few weeks in the Concord public schools, and then in a highly successful private school which he and his brother John maintained for three years and in which they anticipated many of the techniques of twentieth-century education. But his brother's illness in 1841 forced abandonment of the school, and Thoreau's interest turned toward writing. With John's death in 1842, Thoreau determined to write a memorial tribute, an account of an excursion the two brothers had taken on the Concord and Merrimack rivers in 1839. But the necessity of earning a living kept Thoreau from accomplishing his task until he moved out to Walden with the avowed purpose of writing the book.

It is impossible to pinpoint exactly when Thoreau determined to adopt the simple life and live by himself. He tells us that at the age of five, when he first visited Walden Pond, he had told others he wanted to live on its shores. While he was a student at Harvard, his friend and classmate Charles Stearns Wheeler spent a vacation living in a cabin on Flint's Pond, only a few miles from Walden, and Thoreau, according to tradition, spent several weeks visiting with him there. Another close friend, Ellery Channing, spent some time living in a cabin alone on the Illinois prairies. So there was ample precedent for Thoreau's experiment.

In 1841 there was a special surge of interest on Thoreau's part in such a project. On April 5th, he wrote in his Journal (I, 244), "I will build my lodge on the southern slope of some hill, and take there the life the gods send me. Will it not be employment enough to accept gratefully all that is yielded me between sun and sun?" On October 18th, Margaret Fuller wrote him, Let me know whether you go to the lonely hut. And on December 24th, he wrote again in his Journal (I, 299), "I want to go soon and live away by the pond, where I shall hear only . . .

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