Henry David Thoreau walked the length of the Cape four times and said some snappy things about us
On this day in 1862, Henry David Thoreau died. He was born on July 12, 1817 and died on May 6, 1862 two months shy of his 46th birthday.
Thoreau was an American author, naturalist, transcendentalist, tax resister, development critic, and philosopher. Thoreau walked the length of Cape Cod on four separate occasions from 1849 to 1857.
"Cape Cod" - 1865
In Cape Cod, the book inspired by these visits, Thoreau heralds the seashore as a middle ground between nature and civilization where our vision of the human voyage can stretch beyond the horizon.
Here are a few examples of Thoreau's wry humor from that book...
The inhabitants, in general, are substantial livers - that is, I suppose, they do not live like philosophers; but, as the stage did not stop long enough for us to dine, we had no opportunity to test the truth of this statement. Another writer speaks of this as a beautiful village. ... Ours was but half a Sandwich at most, and that must have fallen on the buttered side some time.
We passed through the village of Suet, in Dennis, on Suet and Quivet Necks, of which it is said, "when compared with Nobscusset," - we had a misty recollection of having passed through, or near to, the latter, - "it may be denominated a pleasant village; but, in comparison with the village of Sandwich, there is little or no beauty in it." However, we liked Dennis well, better than any town we had seen on the Cape, it was so novel, and, in that stormy day, so sublimely dreary.
Late in the afternoon, we rode through Brewster, so named after Elder Brewster, for fear he would be forgotten else.
"In 1662, the town agreed that a part of every whale cast on shore be appropriated for the support of the ministry." ...Think of a whale having the breath of life beaten out of him by a storm, and dragging in over the bars and guzzles, for the support of the ministry! What a consolation it must have been to him!
His teachings also greatly influenced the New Thought movement of the mid 1800s. He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay, Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state.
He was associated with the Concord-based literary movement called New England Transcendentalism, and he embraced the Transcendentalist belief in the universality of creation and the primacy of personal insight and experience. Thoreau's advocacy of simple, principled living remains compelling, while his writings on the relationship between people and the environment helped define the nature essay.
After graduating from Harvard in 1837, Thoreau held a series of odd jobs. Encouraged by Concord neighbor and friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, he started publishing essays, poems, and reviews in the transcendentalist magazine The Dial. His essay "Natural History of Massachusetts" (1842) revealed his talent for writing about nature.
From 1845 to 1847, Thoreau lived in a cabin on the edge of Walden Pond, a small glacial lake near Concord. Guided by the maxim "Simplify, simplify," he strictly limited his expenditures, his possessions, and his contact with others. His goal: "To live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach."