Form and Content
Henry David Thoreau is an extended critical essay depending, according to Joseph Wood Krutch, more than usual upon the experiences and predicaments of Thoreau’s life. Thus, although generally following a chronological pattern, the book is everywhere infused with a richly textured criticism looking backward and forward for echoes and resonance. Although the biography lacks notes, there is a brief introductory bibliography, and Krutch carefully identifies sources as he presents both biographical commentary and critical assessment.
The first chapter, “When the Smoke Is Blown Away,” is a view of Thoreau’s essential philosophy. “Simplify” was his constant injunction, so that one may live a joyous life. Thoreau’s life was the attempt of an individual to live the ideal of simplicity and enjoyment, proceeding from the realization that one’s circumstances would always argue for the bland conformity that served as a basis for society.
“A Joy Which Knew Not Its Origin” is a brief account of Thoreau’s life to the age of twenty-four, from 1817 to 1841, focusing on the intellectual and psychological factors that influenced the emerging author. Although Thoreau’s creative life clearly blossomed after he read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature (1836) shortly after its publication, Krutch argues that Thoreau was less wedded philosophically to Emerson’s thought than outward circumstances might suggest. Thoreau’s early venture into private education was less unsuccessful than uncongenial to his developing temperament...
(The entire section is 640 words.)