North’s biography of Thoreau concentrates on the theme of human interaction with nature, and, as a corollary, individualism. The book describes Thoreau’s quiet, pensive nature and his appreciation of the outdoors. Although he was a good student, Thoreau actually received most of his education from the natural world, which Transcendentalists call the “Academy of the Universe.” North shows how Thoreau’s individualism brought him closer to the natural world, rather than pulling him away from society.
Emerson exerted a profound influence on Thoreau and his philosophy. As Concord’s most prominent citizen and the “father” of New England Transcendentalism, he did more than simply allow Thoreau to live on his land and become involved in his circle of friends: He encouraged and inspired young Thoreau to live a life of thrift and utility. North credits Thoreau’s fascination with Emerson’s Nature (1836) as the motivation behind the 1837 Harvard commencement address in which Thoreau proclaimed that people should spend most of their days enjoying the “sublime revelations of nature.” Transcendental philosophy champions the idea of nature over the city, the individual over the masses, and intuition over reason. Although Thoreau’s literary philosophy was distinctly his own, it reflected the ideas of these Transcendentalists. Emerson thus plays an important part in North’s biography, serving as Thoreau’s friend, occasional employer, and frequent philosophical...
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