I’ve written about Thoreau at Walden Pond and about the book that came from his time there, but it was this week in 1847, that Henry David Thoreau left Walden Pond. On September 6, he left the little place at the pond that had on the land that Ralph Waldo Emerson had bought there. In Thoreau’s one-room cabin, he tried to live up to Transcendentalist principles. He simplified his life, spent time alone in nature as a spiritual practice, and lived off his own labor.
It sounds very basic but he was only a couple of miles from the village of Concord, Massachusetts, and Thoreau often went into town to get cookies from his mother, have dinner with friends or spend time with the Emersons.
He also spent a night in jail because he refused to pay taxes because he didn’t want to support slavery or the United States’ war with Mexico. That would eventually became the basis for his essay “Civil Disobedience,” which was first published in 1849 as “Resistance to Civil Government.”
He lived at Walden Pond for two years, two months, and two days. I suppose he liked that 2-2-2 as a good time to leave. Though he wrote while he was there, it wasn’t the book that would be Walden. During that time, he wrote A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849).
Why did he leave his cabin? Emerson asked him to come and stay with his wife and children while he, Emerson, was away in Europe. Thoreau later wrote: “I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.”
He also journaled that he missed the woods and wished he could go back. I’ve never read he didn’t just walk back sometimes or return to the cabin. Did anyone else make use of it?
Pre-Walden, in 1841, he had moved in with his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, and did odd jobs for the family to earn his room and board. He had earlier tried working in his father’s pencil factory. He also ran a school with his brother for a short time, but neither felt right to him. He had decided he wanted to devote his life to poetry. That’s something very few parents want to hear from their children.
He lived at the pond to “live deliberately” and figure out what kind of life he should be living. I think it was his two “gap years” and he had learned something about nature but more importantly he knew he was going to be a writer. After living simply at Walden Pond, Thoreau went on to travel widely as an amateur naturalist, and he wrote prolifically.
He left Walden Pond, but he would work on Walden; or, A Life in the Woods for another seven years, publishing it in 1854.