July 12, 2017

"There are also small changes to be made: not adding salt to food, so one then needs less water..."

"... finding enjoyment in housework (which [he] finds 'never ceases to be novel'). The writer rubbishes curtains and doormats as extravagances. He praises the self-restraint of vegetarianism, but admits to longing for small pleasures such as tea and coffee ('Ah, how low I fall when I am tempted by them!'). To a modern reader, [it] reads like a combination of how-to-do minimalism and an inspirational poster. It is the ancestor of all the modern guides on how to live and eat and think purely – not by an author with a minder and a splashy book deal, but by a man hellbent on reminding everyone that 'money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul.'... There has been a revival of interest in [his] ideas. A recent opinion article in the New York Times called the man the 'original declutterer,' connecting [him] to organising maven Marie Kondo’s prescriptions for culling belongings.... And, of course, corporate America has already adopted his philosophy, with construction companies offering stressed hipsters and city dwellers 'luxury' tiny homes.... Funnily, these primped-up cabins are not that far from [his] life back in 1845 – looks poor on the face of it, but not so much inside. With their folding tables for 10 and secret recesses for widescreen televisions, these cabins are made with the same imaginative flair [he] possessed, as he reimagined a bucolic suburban lot into wilderness, a two-mile walk from town as isolation...."

From "In Thoreau's footsteps: my journey to Walden for the bicentennial of the original de-clutterer" (in The Guardian).

Ah! I'm only just realizing that today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry David Thoreau. Click on my Thoreau tag for proof that I really have cared about him for a long time.

ADDED: I'm looking back into old posts in the "Thoreau" tag and noticed this one from 2005, on day 26 of a 35-day project I called "The Amsterdam Notebooks," which collected a set of drawings that I made in Amsterdam in 1993 (when I was traveling alone and had a fountain pen instead of a camera). The book I was reading was "Walden," and here are a couple pages I made in a museum:

Amsterdam Notebook

Enlarged: here and here.

33 comments:

Bob Ellison said...

My main memory of Thoreau is my 10th-grade English teacher pronouncing his name with accents on both syllables: THOR-O.

Fernandinande said...

Every thing in its place, and everything all over the place.

Which reminds me, every time I see "Dust Bunny Queen" I think of "The Handmaids Tale".

Sample Commenter said...

"That government is best which governs least." - HDT Tax Protester

Otto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gabriel said...

He had his mother do his laundry. He was a mile from town. No, he was not self-sufficient or anything close; his ability to live in his cabin in a civilized way was highly dependent on the work done by other people.

YoungHegelian said...

Oh, yeah, the New England Transcendentalists as the spiritual fathers of de-cluttering. That'll fly!

Oh, those pussy-ass pikers! St. Anthony, the father of monasticism, every two years would step outside his hut & burn it & everything in it to the ground so as to not get attached to worldly possessions.

Now, THAT'S de-cluttering.

Chris N said...

Me and Starchild have reached secular purity, and keep seeking it every day.

Vegan, environmentally accommodating, frugal, egalitarian, and hard-working, we have our own online craft bead business and a non-traditional co-parenting provison.

We make honey for the hive, and I realize now it's ok if Rasta Dale is the only breeding male in our group.

Ann Althouse said...

"Bronson Alcott noted the pronunciation of "thorough" in his journal, and Thoreau's aunt also wrote that their name is pronounced "thorough." The Concord schools teach their children that "Thoreau" rhymes with "furrow," which can be just slightly different, depending on how you pronounce "thorough," but either variation with the accented first syllable is acceptable."

Ann Althouse said...

"Oh, those pussy-ass pikers! St. Anthony, the father of monasticism, every two years would step outside his hut & burn it & everything in it to the ground so as to not get attached to worldly possessions."

He hadn't heard of the sin of the carbon footprint.

Ralph L said...

Thoreau was a category on Jeopardy! tonight.

If I read anything by him in HS, it must have been very short, thank goodness.

Ralph L said...

My 3rd grade teacher in SoCal pronounced Powhatan Poe hattan. My mother laughed.

Michael K said...

I read Thoreau's writings, not just Walden, many years ago. I visited Walden Pond which is still pretty pristine, or was 50 years ago.

Eleanor said...

I use to live down the street from Walden Pond. Gabriel is absolutely right. Thoreau was a fraud. He was also Nathaniel Hawthorne's landlord. Not exactly the "back to nature" guy.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

The very first Thoreau post from July 16, 2010 has Althouse saying, "Republicans will complain about anything." The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ambrose said...

Gabriel nails it - Thoreau was a fraud who sent his laundry home for his family's servants to take care of.

Ann Althouse said...

The laundry thing is at the article at the link and it is not used in the way that undermines Thoreau. Please read that part of the article and see that point, which strongly relates to the part I quorted.

Carter Wood said...

Thoreau was a category on Jeopardy! tonight. I didn't know Louisa May Alcott.

Sample Commenter said...

Thoreau left me a libertarian. My older brother, the lefty, gave me Walden and the essay On Civil Disobedience, I guess, to try to turn me into a lefty too. I don't think he ever read them very carefully. He also turned me on to Vonnegut, which later in life embarrassed me for him when I realized that he didn't read them ironically.

Paco Wové said...

When I was a young adult, I thought Thoreau was deep, man. Now, in late middle age, he just seems shallow, obvious, and self-satisfied.

Richard Dillman said...

Hawthorne in his Noteboks spelled Thoreau as Thoro. In Concord that detail is often cited as the basis of their preferred pronunciation.
Thoreau thought it a good idea for others to have an interest in his enterprise, such as Emerson. His cabin was more of a retreat than a
house. Anne McGrath , former manager of the Thoreau Lyceum, said it was a study. She was correct. He could walk home for dinner,
and he was frequently invited out for meals. Thoreau was really quite social as well, and he spent several days per week wandering about Concord as one of Middlesex County's most respected land surveyors. He sometimes worked for his family's pencil manufacturing
company.

His cabin was actually relatively liveable for one person. It had a fireplace, a dining table, small bed, and, of course, a writing desk.
It was tightly caulked and tightly joined. He was really a competent carpenter. In fact, he sometimes stayed in Emerson's house as a resident handyman when Emerson was traveling. Time at his cabin allowed him to do the meticulous observations of nature that appear in his journal. Much of his best writing is in his journal, and many natural observations are accompanied by hand drawn pictures,
diagrams, and illustrations. It is gold mine of natural history.

chuck said...

When my family first moved to Lincoln MA in the early 50's, Roland Robbins, who rediscovered the location of Thoreau's cabin, lived two houses down. I believe he had a sideline of working as a house painter at the time. That year I also learned to swim at Walden Pond, it had a beach and a pier. Used to be a fun place to spend time before it was turned into a place of worship.

Paddy O said...

In late 2003 I moved to the mountains to find renewal after a particularly hard season of dysfunctional church work. Here's something I wrote about Thoreau after a year of living there:

I’m not ashamed to admit it. It has taken me a year to finally get to really reading Thoreau. I started Walden a few times since it was given to me as a gift last year for my birthday, but haven’t had the spark to keep wading through. Thoreau is, of course, funny to me, as I reflect his thought like I was a disciple, without ever reading his words before. I’ve come to the same conclusions about a great deal of life and now meet him as a compatriot, reading his words that strangely reflect something similar to what I’ve written in the recent past. I picked up a selection of his journal entries the other day, again, but this time I was bit by it, coming up for air only after fifty pages.

It’s not that I couldn’t read the words or didn’t understand him. It is more that over the past year I’ve somehow gained insight that allows me to really be able to read Thoreau. I have more of the ‘ah, yes.. that’s it” moments rather than the “isn’t that interesting” kind of moments. I feel the words, with his observations raising within me the emotions and memories of fraternal experiences that I have found in my last year. I don’t have the east coast of the mid-19th century, but I have experienced related emotions in similar settings, and find myself resonating thoroughly with Thoreau.

He wrote in 1841:

"It does seem as though mine were a peculiarly wild nature, which so yearns toward all wildness. I know of no redeeming qualities in me but a sincere love for some things, and when I am reproved I have to fall back on to this ground. This is my argument in reserve for all cases. My love is invulnerable. Meet me on that ground, and you will find me strong. When I am condemned, and I condemn myself utterly, I think straightaway, “But I rely on my love for some things.” Therein I am whole and entire. Therein I am God-propped."

I know the feeling. I live the expression of this.

Paddy O said...

I also like this quote about his project:

"I do not mean to prescribe rules to strong and valiant natures, who will mind their own affairs whether in heaven or hell, and perchance build more magnificently and spend more lavishly than the richest, without ever impoverishing themselves, not knowing how they live if, indeed, there are any such, as has been dreamed; nor to those who find their encouragement and inspiration in precisely the present condition of things, and cherish it with the fondness and enthusiasm of lovers and, to some extent, I reckon myself in this number; I do not speak to those who are well employed, in whatever circumstances, and they know whether they are well employed or not; but mainly to the mass of men who are discontented, and idly complaining of the hardness of their lot or of the times, when they might improve them. There are some who complain most energetically and inconsolably of any, because they are, as they say, doing their duty. I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters."

Paddy O said...

But this one is my absolute favorite, expressing my own path quite perfectly:

"My desire for knowledge is intermittent; but my desire to commune with the spirit of the universe, to be intoxicated even with the fumes, call it, of that divine nectar, to bear my head through atmospheres and over heights unknown to my feet, is perennial and constant."

Titus said...

Walden pond is in mass. Fab.

Bob Ellison said...

My French teacher (he was really French, with the Frenchiest name imaginable, thorough I won't dox him here) taught that good, high French has only the mildest accented syllables. Je ne sais quois is almost a mumble. No accent on the quois. C'est la vie was an exception. There we were supposed to vigorously accent the la, which makes no sense at all.

Bob Ellison said...

Yes, Althouse, it strongly relates.

Richard Dillman said...

Readers find what they want in Walden. There are libertarian ideas throughout his work, but the environmental left takes Thoreau as inspiration for extreme governmental control of natural lands and draconian regulations. There is strong freedom agenda in Thoreae's
work. Look at "Slavery in Massachusetts" or A Plea for Captain John Brown," for example, as well as Walden.

Thoreau was on or the first writers to really push an ecological vision of nature wherein all elements of nature are related.
The transcendentalists encouraged self- culture to solve common problems, not government systems or regulation. Most of them were
very much against the scattered fourierist communes of their period. See Hawthorne's anti-socialist novel, "The Blithedale Romance", for a delicious send up of the utopian commune movement.

Margaret Fullers life and writings provide great examples of the self-culture theme.

Many people tend to read Thoreau, particularly "Walden," as scripture and unfortunately also tend to deify him.

Laslo Spatula said...

I'm just happy to get to see another of Althouse's drawings.

I am Laslo.

Richard Dillman said...

Thoreau's language (style, rhetoric, imagery, etc) is what truly makes him so influential. I refer to the way he expresses ideas that could easily be expressed tediously or blandly. He was a master of style and rhetoric. How many imitators does he have? Let me just mention a few. Edward Abbey in "Desert Solitaire," or Annie Dillard in "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" and many other books. There are many more. Annie Dillard, in fact, wrote her MA thesis on Thoreau. She must mention Thoreau at least 100 times in "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," while she also
Imitates him.

Loren Eiseley claims that he was powerfully influenced by Thoreau as does E.B. White, who argues that all college graduates should be given a copy of "Walden" with their diplomas.

Kirk Parker said...

Yeah Thoreau was a poseur... but still we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for Civil Disobedience.

poker1one said...

Good to see Thoreau thoroughly misunderstood two hundred years after his birth. That is something he would have been proud of. And yes, whoever mentioned it, he was the first ecologist or environmentalist, or at least the first person to write about it.

Bronson Alcott wasn't the only person to mispronounce Thoreau's name. I've never heard there is a choice. To those in Concord who do, well bless their hearts.

Someone mentioned that Thoreau was Hawthorne's landlord, well, please submit a copy of a deed that shows Thoreau's real estate. Thoreau owned no land or house.

Walter Harding has a wonderful biography of Thoreau, it's is well worth the read for anyone interested in Thoreau and his writings.

orthodoc said...

As is often the case, can't do better than PJ O'Rourke:

"In 1845 the twenty-eight-year-old Thoreau (having failed to read Rousseau closely enough) built himself a little cabin near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The land was owned by Emerson and was about as far out of twon as the average modern driving range. Thoreau frequently wen to dinners and parties in Concord, and, according to is list of household expenses in Walden, he sent his laundry out to be done. Theoreau lived in his shack for two years devoting his time to being full of baloney…

"We have hear the worst sort of person, the sanctimonious beatnik. Thoreau is the progenitor of the American hipster arrogance we’ve been enduring for the past century and a half. And he is the source of the loathsome self-righteousness that turns every kid who’s ever thought “a tree is better looking than a parking lot” into Saint Paul of the Recycling Bin."