ENVR 102 Lecture 2 (b) Henry David Thoreau. Craig Callender Naomi Oreskes Winter 2008. Two major understandings of issues at stake in environmental protection…. Beauty. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). American writer, essayist, poet
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ENVR 102Lecture 2 (b)Henry David Thoreau
Two major understandings of issues at stake in environmental protection…
Thoreau would champion the value of leaving things alone…
Home to numerous influential American writers, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Emerson, Hawthorne
Nature elicited all that was best in man, all that mattered most in life
Wildness source of vigor, inspiration, strengthCities and towns made men weak and dull.Excess of civilization perhaps even explained collapse of civilizations (Rome: Romulus and Remus suckled by wolves…)
Wildness source of beauty, inspiration“Not only for strength but beauty the poet must, from time to time, travel the logger’s path and the Indian’s trail…”
Wilderness source of inner strengthBy traveling outwards into nature, away from distractions of civilization, man could traveled inward into his own soul. Peace and solitude of nature allowed one to find oneself.Thomas Wolfe: To find oneself one had to leave the world.
Wilderness as reality checkIn nature, away from towns and cities, we “settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slosh of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion…till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we call reality.”
Extremely influentialWalden, or Life in Woods, sold wellThoreau became famous. Paid off his debts, earned reasonable living from writing (essays, poetry)Survey in 1990, Walden most commonly taught book in American literature courses
Also supported justness of breaking law actively when moral situation made it clearly right
Inspiration to war resisters in 1960s:Reverend William Sloane Coffin (1967) quoted Thoreau“I would remind my countrymen that they are to be men first, and Americans only at a late and convenient hour.”
Most famously, Martin Luther King"I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest." - Martin Luther King, Jr, Autobiography, Chapter 2
What does environmentalism have to do with abolitionism?
A man who could live independently could also think independently
Thoreau’s fame tied to his identity as independent thinker, but also as a reflection of his age, and a uniquely American spirit, tied to American land
But it seemed radical at the time… because of the dominant ideology that civilization = “improvement”That wilderness was bad, scary, nasty, punishment…And, because of the connection between independent living and independent thinking