Was Henry David Thoreau Entirely Self-Reliant?

Henry David Thoreau has an iconic status among introverts, environmentalists, and transcendentalists, but the essayist who wrote a beloved memoir about living in the midst of nature in the 1840s also knew a little something about exaggeration.

Henry David Thoreau wasn't entirely on his own throughout his stay in the woods near Walden Pond.
Henry David Thoreau wasn't entirely on his own throughout his stay in the woods near Walden Pond.

In Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Thoreau writes about divorcing himself from society for two years, boasting that "I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."

Although Thoreau discusses how he received visitors at his Massachusetts cabin on a regular basis, he isn't particularly forthcoming about the fact that his mother visited every few weeks, bringing him food and the clothes she washed for him.

Thoreau had built his cabin on the shores of Walden Pond, on land belonging to his friend and fellow author Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was only about a 20-minute walk from Thoreau's family home in Concord and sat in an area frequented in the summer by swimmers and in the winter by ice skaters. So while Thoreau espoused self-reliance and living in nature and gave the world what is now considered a classic text on individualism, he kept civilization well within reach.

More on Henry David Thoreau:

  • A year before his Walden adventure, Thoreau accidentally set fire to hundreds of acres of woods near Concord, Massachusetts.

  • Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" essay inspired many future leaders to oppose injustice, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

  • Thoreau was an early advocate of vegetarianism, arguing that people who ate animals lost more energy than they gained from the meat.

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