Though Emerson and Thoreau say incredibly similar things about society in their writings, their lives looked somewhat different in terms of how they appeared to embrace or reject society at large. Emerson wrote, in his essay called Self Reliance, "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members . . . Self-reliance is its aversion . . . Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist." He believed in society’s corrupting influence on the individual, so much so that he advocated for self-reliance as the most important quality an individual could possess. He championed nonconformity and urged people, in the dozens of lectures he would give each year, to think and act for themselves, with little regard for how they might be perceived by others. However, Emerson did not withdraw from society or even keep a distance; in fact, when his house caught fire, Emerson first ran to his neighbors for help. After the damage was done, society actually collected some $12,000 to send him and his wife and family on a long international trip so that their house could be repaired and set back to rights in their absence. Emerson maintained a high social standing despite his somewhat unorthodox beliefs, and he entertained people quite often in his home, playing host to all kinds of important personages of the day.
Thoreau, as I mentioned, made similar statements about society in his writings. In his essay called Resistance to Civil Government (often referred to simply as Civil Disobedience), he wrote, "There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men." In his view, the individual is too easily influenced by society, and for the worse. People find themselves wanting to keep up with their friends and neighbors, acquiring bigger and bigger houses, more land, and more possessions, which tie them down and make them captive to their work. His beliefs are not so different from Emerson’s, right? However, Thoreau seemed to walk the walk, so to speak, more than his friend did. He moved to Emerson’s property at Walden Pond, to live alone and in nature—away from society—for two years, two months, and two days. He was not a hermit, as he frequently interacted with local children and even went to friends’ and family’s houses for dinner. But he did spend the bulk of his time in solitude; while Emerson had a wife (two, actually, though not at the same time) and family, Thoreau remained a bachelor. Thoreau seems to have lived a somewhat more set-apart existence than Emerson did, interacting less with society than Emerson.