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Nature's Writers Trail: Thoreau

Library Guide for the Nature Writer's Trail.

Henry David Thoreau
July 12, 1817 - May 6, 1862

Henry David Thoreau was an American essayist, poet, and philosopher. A leading transcendentalist, he is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay "Civil Disobedience", an argument for disobedience to an unjust state. When Thoreau was sixteen, he entered Harvard College, where he was known as a serious though unconventional scholar. Following his graduation from Harvard, he became a protégé of his famous neighbor and an informal student of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendental ideas. Thoreau was an ardent and outspoken abolitionist, serving as a conductor on the underground railroad to help escaped slaves make their way to Canada.

  • "Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain."

  • "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."

  • "I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."

  • His essay Civil Disobedience was influential to both Gandhi when he liberated India from the British & to Martin Luther King Junior in hi efforts to promote non-violent protest.
  • He is considered the Founding Father of the Environmental Movement.
  • He kept such good records of the flora and fauna around his area in Concord that today scientist are using his data as a method to prove climate change. 
  • After Thoreau’s death, the Boston Society of Natural History got a huge gift.
    • Thoreau, a member, gave the society his collections of plants, Indian antiquities, and birds’ eggs and nests
  • He invented a machine to improve pencils - in the 1820's, Thoreau’s father started manufacturing black-lead pencils; After his father died, Thoreau ran the family’s pencil company.

  • Civil Disobedience (1849)
  • A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • Walden, or, Life in the Woods (1854)
  • Walking published posthumously (1862)
  • The Maine Woods published posthumously (1864)
  • Cape Cod published posthumously (1865)

  • Although he received no awards himself, often eking out a living - he is the inspiration of several awards:
    • The Emerson-Thoreau Medal is a literary prize awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to persons for their total literary achievement in the broad field of literature rather than for a specific work.
    • The Henry David Thoreau Prize for Literary Excellence in Nature Writing was established in 2010 to honor and promote nature writing and writers. 

Walden, or Life in the Woods

'Walden' is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and—to some degree—a manual for self-reliance.

In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World

In 1962, Porter created in "In Wildnerness Is the Preservation of the World," an immensely popular book combining his evocative, color photographs of New England woods with excerpts from the writings of Henry David Thoreau.

Consciousness in Concord

A short journal from the years 1840-41, with notes from the man who found it - Perry Miller.

A Year in Thoreau's Journal

Thoreau's journal of 1851 reveals profound ideas and observations in the making, including wonderful writing on the natural history of Concord.

Wood-Notes Wild (Franklin County Public Library)

Kullberg lights the way through these contemplative walks with an epigraph from the master himself: "I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home..."

The Maine Woods (Franklin County Public Library)

“The Maine Woods” is a captivating portrait of the largely unexplored region in the mid-1800s. Rich with the naturalistic detail that is common with Thoreau’s writing, readers will delight in the exquisiteness with which Thoreau relates his experiences in nature.

Henry David's House (Franklin County Public Library)

Henry David's House is a picturebook adaptation by Steven Schnur of a part of Henry David Thoreau's classic nature book "Walden", told with only a limited amount of editing.

The River: Selections from the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (Franklin County Public Library)

Dudley C. Lunt took excerpts from Henry David Thoreau's journals and assembled a volume of the transcendentalist's river musings and experiences. Selections are arranged by season and month, so that readers can better consult the book throughout the year.

Cape Cod (Franklin County Public Library)

Beautifully illustrated with atmospheric images from early editions, Cape Cod is a brilliant and unsentimental account of survival on a barren peninsula in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay.