Walden — Henry David Thoreau on House-Cosmography

Walden — Henry David Thoreau on Simplicity and Home-Cosmography

Hypocrisy at Walden Pond

Many nice thinkers, from Mohandas Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr, had been influenced by the nineteenth century thinker and poet Henry David Thoreau. His penetrating insights, consultants say, have “rippled into time.” At this time, as a “cornerstone” of American nonfiction, tens of millions of scholars find out about his ruminations on civil disobedience and the solitary life. 

But his writings are sometimes bathed in hypocrisy. “Thoreau didn’t dwell as he described” in his basic ebook Walden, writes Kathryn Schulz in her essay for The New Yorker. Thoreau tells us, for one, that he sought solitude and ease within the woods as a result of he wished to “suck out all of the marrow of life.” However Walden Pond, the place he resided in seclusion for simply over two years, was not practically as distant as he made it appear. As Schulz factors out, “Thoreau might stroll from his cabin to his household house, in Harmony, in twenty minutes.” In reality, “he made that stroll a number of instances every week, lured by his mom’s cookies or the possibility to dine with buddies.”

I’d argue, nonetheless, that Thoreau’s hypocrisy isn’t solely humorous in hindsight, it’s emblematic of contemporary life and the social situation. Thoreau even says it himself. All of us “exaggerate the significance of what work we do; and but how a lot isn’t carried out by us.” Certainly, we learn, have a good time and idolize his musings, however return the subsequent day to our desks and workplaces to perpetuate the identical asinities that he wrote towards. A studying of Walden within the twenty-first century reveals to us that little or no in regards to the human impulse has modified. 

Garment after garment

This a lot is true. Many people, Thoreau notes, stay “occupied with the factitious cares [of life].” We neglect that “superfluous wealth can purchase superfluities solely.” Most symbolic of this, maybe, is in our clothes. “Each technology laughs on the outdated fashions, however follows religiously the brand new”, he writes. Right here, our decisions are pushed not solely by utility or heat, however by the eyes and judgments of others. So “we don garment after garment”—amassing fabric and garb to no good finish.

Thoreau wonders if we might inform who was deserving of rank and respect if we had been stripped of all embellishment and adornment. Opulence and luxurious, he suspects, are “hindrances to the elevation” of humankind. He factors to the philosophers of historic Greece and early India who lived “a extra easy and meager life.” For his or her wealth rests not of their pockets or houses however within the interiors of the thoughts.

“Solely they who go to soirées and legislative halls will need to have new coats, coats to alter as usually as the person modifications in them… I say, watch out for all enterprises that require new garments… A person who has at size discovered one thing to do is not going to have to get a brand new swimsuit to do it in; for him the outdated will do.”

Henry David Thoreau. (1854). Walden. 

Luxurious bins and papers

Certainly, “whereas civilization has been enhancing our homes, it has not equally improved the [people] who’re to inhabit them”, writes Thoreau. Many are “needlessly poor all their lives as a result of they suppose that they will need to have one as their neighbors have.” Individuals construct miniature castles on the greenest pastures with “empty visitor chambers for empty visitors”, contracting themselves unwittingly to a lifetime of servitude to their banks. 

“Even the poor scholar… is taught solely political financial system, whereas [the] financial system of residing… isn’t even sincerely professed in our schools. The consequence is that whereas he’s studying Adam Smith, [David] Ricardo, and [Jean-Baptiste] Say, he runs his father in debt irretrievably… As with our schools, so with 100 ‘trendy enhancements:’ there’s an phantasm about them; there’s not at all times a constructive advance.”

Henry David Thoreau. (1854). Walden. 

Thoreau reminds us that “it’s the luxurious and dissipated who set the fashions which the herd so diligently comply with.” At this time, it’s a frenzy of haste and waste. Staff, companies, and nations in every single place discover themselves locked in an irresistible, inescapable dilemma to earn, accumulate, and succeed over the remainder. “We dwell meanly, like ants”, Thoreau writes—“error upon error… clout upon clout… our life is frittered away by element.” 

“The floor of the earth is delicate and impressible by the toes of males; and so with the paths which the thoughts travels. How worn and dusty, then, have to be the highways of the world—how deep the ruts of custom and conformity.”

Henry David Thoreau. (1854). Walden. 

Simplify, simplify

Happily, we wouldn’t have to comply with the plenty and their mirages to the ends of the Earth. Fulfilment could lay elsewhere. And whereas he didn’t dwell precisely to his personal lofty beliefs, Thoreau proffers a remedy for the ills of self and society. The primary is to simplify our lives. That’s to seek out extra with much less, and to undertake the “experiment of residing” with much less materials want. Such a rule, he assures, will make our day by day issues simpler. It is going to permit us to see additional and deeper.

Of every of us, Thoreau solely asks that we be “cautious to seek out out and pursue [our] personal method.” That we select our paths as a result of it’s ours, and never merely one that’s amenable to the whims and fancies of our households, neighbors, companies, and society. Such a life, after all, requires some daring and alternative. A willingness to stray from the crushed observe. For these of us who’re fortunate sufficient to have the selection, we’d do properly to not squander it. 

“If a person doesn’t preserve tempo together with his companions, maybe it’s as a result of he hears a special drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, nonetheless measured or far-off. It isn’t vital that he ought to mature as quickly as an apple-tree or an oak.”

Henry David Thoreau. (1854). Walden.


I’ve, nonetheless, interpreted Thoreau relatively selectively to focus on the excesses of society that persist to this present day. This regardless of the manifold advances now we have claimed to have made over the past two centuries. I want solely that we would stumble much less mindlessly into our day by day struggles, and that we use our time extra properly. “It’s true”, Thoreau writes, “we’re such poor navigators that our ideas, for probably the most half, stand on and off upon a harbourless coast”, constricted by the “narrowness of [our] expertise.”

Nonetheless, he encourages us to: 

“Be relatively the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clarke and Frobisher, of [our] personal streams and oceans; discover [our] personal greater latitudes… Be a Columbus to complete new continents and worlds inside [us], opening new channels, not of commerce, however of thought.”

Henry David Thoreau. (1854). Walden.

Say what you’ll in regards to the man, however certainly you have to agree that some quantity of quiet introspection is important to the furthering of oneself and society. Maybe that’s the reason the reminiscence of Thoreau survives to this present day, as egotistical or elitist or hypocritical as he could appear. A lot of what he professes seems to ring true.

So allow us to finish then with this poem and prescription from Thoreau himself:

‘Direct your eye proper inward, and also you’ll discover
A thousand areas in your thoughts
But undiscovered. Journey them, and be
Skilled in home-cosmography.’

Henry David Thoreau. (1854). Walden.

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