Happy birthday to Henry David Thoreau

by Jeffrey Cramer

Cramer“You would find him well worth knowing.” These are the words Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about “a man of thought and originality,” Henry David Thoreau.

July 12th marks the 200th anniversary of Thoreau’s birth in Concord, Massachusetts. Although at the time of his death in 1862 he was little more than a Ralph Waldo Emerson wannabe, today he is known around the world for his thoughtful writings on our place in the world. His writings on social reform inspired Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and protesters against the war in Vietnam. His natural history writings were a great impetus to John Muir, Rachel Carson, and Bill McKibben, and he is considered by many to be the father of the American environmental movement. His words in support of John Brown or against the Fugitive Slave Law are as courageous and as forthright as any written by our founding fathers. And as the man who “hears a different drummer” he has emboldened many readers to pursue their own unique paths with independence and confidence.

The world in which Thoreau lived was not so very different from ours. It was a time in which everything he believed and everything for which his country stood was being challenged. We live in hard times of a different character, when our country, when the world, is being divided politically, morally, and ethically. It is a time of deep personal reflection, deliberate and attentive questioning, and perhaps the most necessary thing of all, open dialogue and conversation. “We are all schoolmasters,” Thoreau wrote, showing us that we all have something to share. But he also said that we should “seek to be fellow students,” reminding us that we all have something to learn.

Thoreau can teach and inspire and antagonize and outrage, but ultimately give us something against which to try our own lives and that is what great writing offers the reader. In reading Thoreau we may not always find the answer to our questions, but we find the question. We may find words we agree with or we may find words we cannot agree with, in part or at all, but we do find a challenge to our complacency.

When George Eliot reviewed Walden, she said she would “Let Mr. Thoreau speak for himself.” Following Eliot’s advice, here are a few phrases in which Thoreau speaks for himself.

 

Nothing is so much to be feared but fear.

It costs us nothing to be just.

How insufficient is all wisdom without love.

What does education often do! It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free meandering brook.

I have sometimes heard a conversation beginning again when it should have ceased for lack of fuel.

A government which deliberately enacts injustice, and persists in it, will at length ever become the laughingstock of the world.

Any truth is better than make-believe.

 

 

For the love of books

The Quotable Kierkegaard jacketFeynmanCalaprice_QuotableEinstein_pb_cvrthoraeu smalljefferson

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with a heartfelt declaration of our love of books? We offer up these quotes from our Quotable’s, as well as a special giveaway!

PUP Books

The Quotable Kierkegaard

“It is the most interesting time, the period of falling in love, where after the first touch of a wand’s sweeping sensation, from each encounter, every glance…one brings something home, just like a bird busily fetching one stick after the other to her nest, yet always feels overwhelmed by the great wealth.”

“What is it, namely, that connect the temporal and eternity, what else but love, which for that very reason is before everything and remains after everything is gone.”

The Quotable Feynman

“It’s necessary to fall in love with a theory, and like falling in love with a woman, it’s only possible if one does not completely understand her.”

The Quotable Thoreau

“How insufficient is all wisdom without love.”

“It is strange that men will talk of miracles, revelation, inspiration, and the like, as things past, while love remains.”

“What is the singing of birds, or any natural sound, compared with the voice of one we love?”

The Ultimate Quotable Einstein

“Love brings much happiness, much more so than pining for someone brings pain.”

The Quotable Jefferson

“If I love you more, it is because you deserve more.”

“We think last of those we love most.”

VB1

In Love’s Vision, Troy Jollimore puts forth a new way of thinking about love. For the most romantic holiday all year, we’re giving away three copies starting February 12. The entry period ends February 20. As you pay special attention to your loved ones let Troy Jollimore’s vision of love give you food for thought.

Weekly Wanderlust: Cape Cod

Over the next month, we’ll be highlighting various vacation destinations and the books that can assist in your planning or make your experience a little bit richer. Cape Cod, the first destination on our list, is also among the first places in North America to be settled by the pilgrims. Once a haven for artists like E.E. Cummings and Eugene O’Neill, who inhabited the spartan ‘dune shacks’ reputedly built from the timber of wrecked ships, Cape Cod with its 40 miles of protected seashore remains a national treasure. In describing the great Outer Beach in 1800, Henry Thoreau called it “another world”, and it’s still easy to see why.

Sunken Meadow Beach

Sunken Meadow Beach

Cape Cod jetty

Jetty in Falmouth

Whether you’re watching a glassblowing presentation at the enchanting Sandwich Glass Museum, going whale watching off Provincetown, or planning a day of birding at the Welfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where nature trails wind through salt marsh, pine woods, heathland, and freshwater ponds, Cape Cod is an unforgettable trip. While dreaming up your agenda, check out these books.

sealife The tides of the North Atlantic are the world’s highest, and they reveal a world of amazing seashore life–from jellies and sea anemones, to clams and crabs, to seaweeds and lichens. With some 300 crisp, vibrant color photographs and brief, precise descriptions, A Photographic Guide to Seashore Life in the North Atlantic: Canada to Cape Cod makes it easier than ever to identify Atlantic seashore life from Canada to Cape Cod.
j7112 Encounters with the ocean dominate Cape Cod, from the fatal shipwreck of the opening chapter to his later reflections on the Pilgrims’ landing and reconnaissance. Along the way, Thoreau relates the experiences of fishermen and oystermen, farmers and salvagers, lighthouse-keepers and ship captains, as well as his own intense confrontations with the sea as he travels the land’s outermost margins. Chronicles of exploration, settlement, and survival on the Cape lead Thoreau to reconceive the history of New England—and to recognize the parochialism of history itself.

BOOK FACT FRIDAY

BOOK FACT FRIDAY: July 4th, 1854, Henry David Thoreau delivered a heated statement against slavery.

From 1837 to 1861, Thoreau kept a Journal that began as a conventional record of ideas, grew into a writer’s notebook, and eventually became the principal imaginative work of his career. The source of much of his published writing, the Journal is also a record of his interior life and of his monumental studies of the natural history of his native Concord, Massachusetts. Unlike earlier editions, the Princeton edition reproduces the Journal in its original and complete form, in a reading text free of editorial interpolations but keyed to a comprehensive scholarly apparatus.

Journal 8: 1854 is edited from the 467-page notebook that Thoreau kept February 13-September 3, 1854. It reveals him as an increasingly confident taxonomist creating lists that distill his observations about plant leafing and seasonal birds. Two particularly significant public events took place in his life in the summer of 1854. On July 4, at an antislavery rally at Framingham, Massachusetts, Thoreau appeared for the first time in the company of prominent abolitionists, delivering as heated a statement against slavery as he had yet made. And on August 9, Ticknor and Fields published Walden, the book Thoreau had been working on since 1846. In Journal 8 Thoreau indicates that these public accomplishments, though satisfying, took a toll on his creative life and did not fully compensate him for the hours spent away from the woods.

The Writings of Henry David Thoreau:
Journal, Volume 8: 1854.
Henry David Thoreau
Edited by Sandra Harbert Petrulionis