Life After Walden

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For consumers of conventional history, it is easy enough to fall into the impression that Thoreau was the only person at Walden, that the pond was a pristine tract of wilderness. Walden was just beyond the bounds of civilized convention — which meant that it was a place for outcasts. Thoreau knew this, and willingly lived among them, those who had been barred from the inner life of many wealthy suburbs of Boston. As Lemire and Walls discovered in researching Thoreau, these individuals embodied the fraught history of race in the Americas. Lemire explains that Zilpah White did it without fanfare.

She wove linen and made brooms for a living.


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Arsonists burned her house down in She managed to escape the fire, but her dog, cat and chickens died. She rebuilt her home. The Irish immigrants who came to the United States in the first half of the 19th century were, for the most part, ghettoized in the borderlands of society. Thoreau, however, sustained long and meaningful relationships with the many Irish immigrants who came to live and work on the railroad line near Walden. But the old man was too sick to make the short trip.

He, like so many Irish near slaves, drank himself to death in abject poverty. By that time, Breed himself was already dead: he too died drunk on Walden Road in Ralph Waldo Emerson purchased the cheap, mostly unoccupied and abandoned land around Walden where Thoreau would make his famous home from Thomas Wyman, a potter. Thoreau family pencils, produced behind the family house on Main Street, were generally recognized as America's best pencils, largely because of Henry's research into German pencil-making techniques.

In , he decided to start his own school in Concord, eventually asking John to help him.

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The two brothers worked well together and vacationed together during holidays. In September , they spent a memorable week together on a boating trip up the Concord and Merrimack rivers to Mount Washington in New Hampshire. About the same time both brothers became romantically interested in Ellen Sewall, a frequent visitor to Concord from Cape Cod. In the fall of the next year, both brothers -- first John and then Henry -- proposed marriage to her. But because of her father's objections to the Thoreaus' liberal religious views, Ellen rejected both proposals. When John endured a lengthy illness in , the school became too much for Henry to handle alone, so he closed it.

Life and Legacy

He returned to work in the pencil factory but was soon invited to work as a live-in handyman in the home of his mentor, neighbor, and friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was by then already one of the most famous American philosophers and men of letters. Transcendentalism was an American version of Romantic Idealism, a dualistic Neoplatonic view of the world divided into the material and the spiritual.


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  • For Emerson, "Mind is the only reality, of which all other natures are better or worse reflectors. Nature, literature, history, are only subjective phenomena. Thoreau must have imbibed Transcendentalism through almost every pore during his two years living with Emerson, though he would modify it to suit his own temperament by granting nature more reality than Emerson did.

    But life in his parents' home held problems for the budding writer.

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    Work in the pencil factory was tedious and tiring, and, since his mother took in boarders, there was little quiet or privacy in the house. Remembering a summer visit to the retreat cabin of college friend Charles Stearns Wheeler, Thoreau developed a plan to build such a house for himself where he could find privacy to write. About the same time both brothers became romantically interested in Ellen Sewall, a frequent visitor to Concord from Cape Cod.

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    In the fall of the next year, both brothers -- first John and then Henry -- proposed marriage to her. But because of her father's objections to the Thoreaus' liberal religious views, Ellen rejected both proposals.

    Walden - Wikipedia

    When John endured a lengthy illness in , the school became too much for Henry to handle alone, so he closed it. He returned to work in the pencil factory but was soon invited to work as a live-in handyman in the home of his mentor, neighbor, and friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was by then already one of the most famous American philosophers and men of letters. Transcendentalism was an American version of Romantic Idealism, a dualistic Neoplatonic view of the world divided into the material and the spiritual.


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    • For Emerson, "Mind is the only reality, of which all other natures are better or worse reflectors. Nature, literature, history, are only subjective phenomena. Thoreau must have imbibed Transcendentalism through almost every pore during his two years living with Emerson, though he would modify it to suit his own temperament by granting nature more reality than Emerson did.

      But life in his parents' home held problems for the budding writer. Work in the pencil factory was tedious and tiring, and, since his mother took in boarders, there was little quiet or privacy in the house. Remembering a summer visit to the retreat cabin of college friend Charles Stearns Wheeler, Thoreau developed a plan to build such a house for himself where he could find privacy to write.

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      In , he received permission from Emerson to use a piece of land that Emerson owned on the shore of Walden Pond. He bought building supplies and a chicken coop for the boards , and built himself a small house there, moving in on the Fourth of July. Thoreau stayed in the house at Walden Pond for two years, from July to September That same year he also took a trip to Maine to see and climb Mount Katahdin, a place with a much wilder nature than he could find around Concord.