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The art of living well
May 9, 2014 12:52 AM   Subscribe

Fuck Yeah, Thoreau is a Tumblr dispensing Thoreau quotes and Thoreau-themed art - "Everything Henry David Thoreau". A good place to begin is Ralph Waldo Emerson's powerhouse biographical essay, the conclusion of which perhaps still rings true more than 150 years after Thoreau's death: "The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost."
posted by paleyellowwithorange (30 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Maybe they overlooked this one?

"[Thoreau's hideous neck beard] will most assuredly deflect amorous advances and preserve the man’s virtue in perpetuity."
- Louisa May Alcott

posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:58 AM on May 9 [14 favorites]


Well, she liked women and he, if he liked anyone, liked men, so I wouldn't be surprised if there was zero spark between them, beard or no beard.

Anyway, that was no neck beard, that was that dratted woodchuck's transmigrated soul.
...once I went so far as to slaughter a woodchuck which ravaged my bean-field—effect his transmigration, as a Tartar would say—and devour him, partly for experiment's sake; but though it afforded me a momentary enjoyment, notwithstanding a musky flavor, I saw that the longest use would not make that a good practice, however it might seem to have your woodchucks ready dressed by the village butcher.
posted by pracowity at 4:01 AM on May 9




These comments are giving me the image of Thoreau as a man of utmost barbarity.

Say it isn't so, Thoreau!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:10 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Barbarity? Try this:
As I came home through the woods with my string of fish, trailing my pole, it being now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw; not that I was hungry then, except for that wildness which he represented.
Again, the woodchuck.
posted by pracowity at 5:28 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]


As I came home through the woods with my string of fish, trailing my pole, it being now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw; not that I was hungry then, except for that wildness which he represented.

I picture time traveling Thoreau as transitioning perfectly to running a terrible blog.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:36 AM on May 9 [8 favorites]


I was looking for the classic, "Fuck yeah, Mom did my laundry again!"
posted by Dip Flash at 5:47 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]


Yeah, Thoreau may have been America's First Hipster.
posted by maryr at 6:09 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]


Is this something I would have to repurpose a jam jar to understand?







/couldn't resist; sorry
posted by Kitteh at 6:19 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I've alwasy felt that for all the good things he wrote, his biggest fan has always been Thoreau.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:26 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Back when I was in high school, I had the great fortune of reading Martha Saxton's biography of Louisa May Alcott at the exact same time that I was learning about the Transcendentalists. It was so delightful to be reading Walden and Self-Reliance at the same time as reading about how incredibly quirky Thoreau and Emerson actually were when they intersected Alcott's life. There's such a disconnect between the ideals and the reality, but it isn't because they're hypocritical, it's just because they're human. Or in some cases, such as Emerson giving money to the Alcotts so they can eat, a good kind of hypocritical.

I started reading all the biographies on the Trancendentalists that I could find and many are full of fun little stories like Louisa May Alcott mocking Thoreau's neck beard or Emerson's accounts of his Aunt Mary Moody Emerson, "who finds out what you love and throws broken crockery at it." Because there's so much correspondence available (though not everything -- Emerson did edit Margaret Fuller's journals, which yuck), you get to see a really thorough picture of all these American literati as people. Who do write great things, but also burn down forests. Or make their own paths through the woods to avoid using the street so that they can avoid conversations with Bronson Alcott. Or leave graffiti on the windows of the houses that they're renting.

I ended up writing a play about Louisa May Alcott in college, which had a little notoriety and a few productions, but has mostly been sitting untouched for the past six years. I miss writing about these people. I don't miss writing the characters for any other plays I've written since. Mainly because they're delightfully messy.

I still pick up new biographies when they come out.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 6:48 AM on May 9 [8 favorites]




Yeah, Thoreau may have been America's First Hipster.


This is so beautiful I just wrote a short book about it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:13 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately [off of Ralph Waldo Emerson], to front only the essential facts of life [and get the rest from Concord when I needed it], and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived... I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life [and woodchucks].
posted by ChuraChura at 7:25 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]


Only Henry David Thoreau has been tried in the popular imagination and found wanting for his cleaning arrangements, though the true nature of those arrangements are not so clear.

That's because Thoreau has such a funny gap between his writings (living with nature! self sufficiency!) and his life (mooching off of family), and that gap is funny not just on its own terms but because of how uncritically he tends to be received, especially when people read him for the first time in college. Its a gift that keeps giving.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:26 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]


Actually on looking at a picture of him, with that glorious neckbeard, he may be the proto-internet libertarian, too.

I took to the woods to mine Bitcoin (by stealing electricity from Emerson) and be a self-sufficient captain of industry!
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:39 AM on May 9


Well, if you read the article I linked to, you'll see that Thoreau contributed significantly to the family household in many ways, and in fact lived there (paying rent!) for the majority of his adult life, so I don't think it's at all fair to characterize him as "mooching." And while it's been a long time since I've read Walden, I don't remember his ever claiming that he'd severed all social and economic ties with the world, or that he wanted to, or that anyone ought to. People are taking their own ideas about what "living in the woods" should look like, and judging Thoreau for not living up to that, which seems frankly silly.
posted by enn at 7:40 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]


I haven't read a word by Thoreau. All I know of his work is the quotation "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Given the way he lived his life, how would he know anything of "most men" ?
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 7:45 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I haven't read a word by Thoreau.

Then you don't know that he wasn't a recluse all his life. He lived in his cabin a couple of years.
posted by pracowity at 8:19 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]


I've always felt that for all the good things he wrote, his biggest fan has always been Thoreau.

Thoreau: "I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:57 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


> Then you don't know that he wasn't a recluse all his life. He lived in his cabin a couple of years

And that cabin was a short walk to Concord, which had people, stores, restaurants, a public library, etc. He wasn't isolated even in his cabin years.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:18 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


I remember reading him in high school, with a teacher who never really got into the laundry, the mooching, and all. Just, hey, read this, you might find it interesting. In college, when we got to Thoreau, it was pretty much the opposite, having all of his failings pointed out, and listening to arguments that, as he hadn't himself lived up to what he wrote, what he wrote was meaningless.

Personally, I've long ago stopped expecting people to live up to their own self-promoted image. If they say something worth listening to, but don't themselves adhere to it, it doesn't mean it's not worth listening to.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:58 AM on May 9


What I find admirable about H.D. Thoreau is that he not only was a great stylist, but that he also after Walden became more and more immersed in nature, its details and its place in our world. Then there was the interest he and his fellow trancendentalists had in Eastern thought--something we too often imagine grew out of the hippies of Woodstock and the 60s. And if that is enough, there is the very practical side--the inventiveness and business sense of the man--who gave us THIS, something that every school kid has used.
posted by Postroad at 11:16 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


How he actually lived at Walden Pond and whether his life there was pure enough for all the purists out there has little to do with whether Walden is a good book.
posted by pracowity at 11:32 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Bingo. It's beautiful writing.
posted by maryr at 11:34 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


(Even today, you can make great art and still live in a loft half-funded by your parents.)
posted by maryr at 11:36 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


>How he actually lived at Walden Pond and whether his life there was pure enough for all the purists out there has little to do with whether Walden is a good book.

Sure, but the question isn't just "is it a good book?" but also "do I want to learn from/adhere to the philosophy it espouses," and in matters of prescription (those transcendentalists were definitely not just describing themselves or their isolated preferences!), the hypocrisy of the prescriber is not an unreasonable factor.

It's a factor that may not matter to some people, but it certainly does matter to others. For me, it doesn't matter much for Thoreau's thought, but why shouldn't it matter for other people's opinions of Thoreau?

(The other good Thoreau bit is that the specific "civil disobedience" Thoreau hangs "Resistance to Civil Government" (Civil Disobedience) upon resulted in but a single night in jail, from which he was released when someone kindly paid the tax for him. Now does this weaken the ideas? Maybe, depending on who's reading, what they care about. Does it weaken his influence or importance? Of course not: as we all know, that tract was a major inspiration to Gandhi and MLK.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:28 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


the hypocrisy of the prescriber is not an unreasonable factor.

What is this great hypocrisy? Are you beating a straw man?

People who haven't read Thoreau complain, for example, that Thoreau supposedly pretended to be a hermit when he really was no such thing. But Thoreau didn't pretend to be a hermit. He even says as much:
I think that I love society as much as most, and am ready enough to fasten myself like a bloodsucker for the time to any full-blooded man that comes in my way. I am naturally no hermit, but might possibly sit out the sturdiest frequenter of the bar-room, if my business called me thither.
That quote is from the "Visitors" chapter of Walden describing the very many people who visited him in his cabin.

And in a chapter called "The Village" Thoreau says:
Every motherfucking day or two I strolled to the village...
OK, I added the "motherfucking" to make sure you were paying attention, but that's one whole chapter on enjoying the company of frequent visitors and another whole chapter on enjoying frequent trips into the village to see other people. He loved company and he makes that very clear.

As Emerson might have said for all anyone knows, what the fuck?
posted by pracowity at 9:30 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


OK, you've convinced me that he was just hiding out from the "woods burner" label.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:25 AM on May 10




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