Life in the Woods Henry David Thoreau Walden; or Criticism - Essay

John Sullivan Dwight (review date 1854)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Walden, in Critical Essays on Henry David Thoreau's "Walden," edited by Joel Myerson, G. K. Hall & Co., 1988, pp. 19-20.

[In this review, originally published in Dwight's Journal of Music, the critic praises Walden for its originality and common-sense approach to life and nature.]

For indoor reading, in the interims of physical fatigue and the lull of social excitement, say, for a few minutes after the evening company have dispersed and left us to our thoughts which will not sleep without some soothing efficacy of thoughts printed and impersonal, we have another book:—kindly placed in our hands upon the eve of starting on...

(The entire section is 692 words.)

The Albion (review date 1854)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Walden, in Albion, Vol. 13, No. 36, September 9, 1854, p. 429.

[This review's anonymous author recommends Walden as an entertaining work.]

One of those rare books that stand a part from the herd of new publications under which the press absolutely groans; moderate in compass but eminently suggestive, being a compound of thought, feeling, and observation. Its author, it seems, during 1845, 6, and 7, played the philosophic hermit in a wood that overlooks Walden Pond, in the neighbourhood of Concord, Massachusetts. Here he tested at how cheap a rate physical existence may healthfully be maintained, and how, apart from the factitious...

(The entire section is 1557 words.)

The National Era (review date 1854)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Walden, in The National Era, Vol. 8, No. 404, September 28, 1854, p. 155.

[In this anonymous review, the author is concerned about the consequences for civilization if every man were to follow Thoreau's example and live a simple solitary life.]

In its narrative, this book [Walden] is unique, in its philosophy quite Emersonian. It is marked by genius of a certain order, but just as strongly, by pride of intellect. It contains many acute observations on the follies of mankind, but enough of such follies to show that its author has his full share of the infirmities of human nature, without being conscious of it. By precept and example he clearly shows how very little is absolutely necessary to the subsistence of a man, what a Robinson Crusoe life he may lead in Massachusetts, how little labor he need perform, if he will but reduce his wants to the philosophical standard, and how much time he may then have for meditation and study. To go out and squat, all alone, by a pretty pond in the woods, dig, lay the foundation of a little cabin, and put it up, with borrowed tools, furnish it, raise corn, beans, and potatoes, and do one's own cooking, hermit like, so that the total cost of the whole building, furnishing, purchasing necessaries, and living for eight months, shall not exceed forty or fifty dollars, may do for an experiment, by a highly civilized man, with Yankee versatility, who has had the full benefit of the best civilization of the age. All men are not "up to" everything. But, if they were, if they all had the universal genius of the "Yankee nation," how long would they remain civilized, by squatting upon solitary duck-ponds, eschewing matrimony, casting off all ties of family, each one setting his wits to work to see how little he could do with, and how much of that little he could himself accomplish? At the end of eight months, Mr. Thoreau might remain a ruminating philosopher, but he would have few but ruminating animals to write books for.

But, with all its extravagances, its sophisms, and its intellectual pride, the book is acute and suggestive, and contains passages of great beauty.

National Anti-Slavery Standard (review date 1854)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thoreau's Walden," in Thoreau: A Century of Criticism, edited by Walter Harding, Southern Methodist University Press, 1954, pp. 8-11.

[This anonymous reviewer answers Walden's earlier critics by suggesting that Thoreau's example provides an appealing alternative to the widespread pursuit of material gain.]

These books [Walden and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers] spring from a depth of thought which will not suffer them to be put by, and are written in a spirit in striking contrast with that which is uppermost in our time and country. Out of the heart of practical, hard-working, progressive New England come...

(The entire section is 1589 words.)

R. W. B. Lewis (essay date 1955)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Case against the Past," in The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century, The University of Chicago Press, 1955, pp. 13-27.

[In this excerpt, Lewis discusses Thoreau's prescription for casting off tradition and convention and immersing oneself in the world of nature. Only those footnotes pertaining to the excerpt below have been reprinted.]

"We have the Saint Vitus dance." This was Thoreau's view of the diversion of energies to material expansion and of the enthusiastic arithmetic by which expansion was constantly being measured. Miles of post roads and millions of tons of domestic export did not convince Thoreau that first...

(The entire section is 3507 words.)

J. Lyndon Shanley (essay date 1957)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Developing the Structure," in The Making of Walden with the Text from the First Version, The University of Chicago Press, 1957, pp. 74-91.

[In this excerpt, Shanley examines the successive versions of the Walden manuscript to determine the development of the work's structure.]

In some respects the most valuable insight we gain from the manuscript is that which it gives us into the structure of Walden. We would know something of Thoreau's revising and adding to his material simply from a comparison of his journals with the published text, but without the manuscript we would know nothing of the way in which he found out how he could best...

(The entire section is 6808 words.)

Sherman Paul (essay date 1958)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Walden: Or, the Metamorphoses," in The Shores of America: Thoreau's Inward Exploration, University of Illinois Press, 1958, pp. 293-353.

[In this excerpt, Paul examines Walden's numerous images of renewal and transformation.]

My mind is bent to tell of bodies changed into new forms. Ye gods, for you yourselves have wrought the changes, breathe on these my undertakings, and bring down my song in unbroken strains from the world's very beginning even unto the present time.

—Ovid, Metamorphoses, I, 1-4

. . . there is but one great poetic idea...

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Walter Harding (essay date 1962)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Five Ways of Looking at Walden," in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. IV, No. 1, Autumn, 1962, pp. 149-62.

[In this excerpt, Harding reflects on the variety of reasons why readers enjoy Walden and considers five possible ways of reading it; as a nature book, as a practical guide, as satire, as philosophy, and as a model of good prose.]

Although Walden was not exactly a roaring success when it was published in 1854—it took five years to sell out the first edition of only two thousand copies—it has become, in the century since, one of the all-time best sellers of American literature. It has been issued in more than one hundred and fifty...

(The entire section is 5937 words.)

Thomas Woodson (essay date 1968)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Two Beginnings of Walden: A Distinction of Styles," in ELH, Vol. 35, No. 3, September, 1968, pp. 440-73.

[In this excerpt, Woodson discusses Walden as a dialectical work with beginnings in both the private journal entries for July, 1845, and the public lecture delivered at the Concord Lyceum in February, 1847.]

July 5. Saturday. Walden—Yesterday I came here to live. My house makes me think of some mountain homes I have seen, which seemed to have a fresher auroral atmosphere about them, as I fancy of the halls of Olympus. I lodged at the house of a saw-miller last summer, on the Caatskill Mountains, high up as Pine...

(The entire section is 14097 words.)

Charles R. Anderson (essay date 1968)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Web," in The Magic Circle of Walden, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968, pp. 13-92.

[This excerpt deals with Walden's style and structure, which Anderson claims is both circular and web-like.]

Walden is a unique book. There is nothing quite like it in literature. Though it made its way slowly at first, after publication in 1854, by the turn of our century it had found a small but ardent audience. This has been steadily increasing and will probably continue to do so in the future because, once "discovered," it has proved to be a book with unusual drawing power. It may never be widely popular, but it attracts devotees of many kinds in...

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Walter Benn Michaels (essay date 1977)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Walden's False Bottoms," in GLYPH, Vol. 1, 1977, pp. 132-49.

[In this excerpt, Michaels explores the strategies employed by Walden's readers in order to deal with the text's many contradictions.]

Walden has traditionally been regarded as both a simple and a difficult text, simple in that readers have achieved a remarkable unanimity in identifying the values Thoreau is understood to urge upon them, difficult in that they have been persistently perplexed and occasionally even annoyed by the form his exhortations take. Thoreau's Aunt Maria (the one who bailed him out of jail in the poll tax controversy) understood this as a problem in...

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William Gleason (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Re-Creating Walden: Thoreau's Economy of Work and Play," in American Literature, Vol. 65, No. 4, December, 1993, pp. 673-701.

[In this article, Gleason looks at Thoreau's treatment of leisure, labor, and self-culture within the social and cultural context of widespread industrialization and Irish immigration.]

It is in obedience to an uninterrupted usage in our community that, on this Sabbath of the Nation, we have all put aside the common cares of life, and seized respite from the never-ending toils of labour. . . . —Charles Sumner, The True Grandeur of Nations

On 4 July 1845, as Thoreau...

(The entire section is 11671 words.)