Thoreau's materialism: from Walden to Wild Fruits.
"Think of our life in nature--daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it,--rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense. Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?"
Thoreau's retrospective outburst about climbing Ktaadn is so etravagantly fractured that its argument can get lost. It begins with relaxed contemplation of the central Romantic idea, "our life in nature," and then descends rhythmically from the abstract to the concrete until it grounds that idea in the irreducible facticity, the thingness, of the planet. Having found a point d'appui, it rises again, the rhythm more insistent and confident now, opening outward from the actuality of the non-human "earth," to the materiality of the complete ecosocial "world," and finally to the patterns of human understanding that bind its communities. The climactic ejaculation--"Contact! Contact!"--occurs only now, with the thought that we live together not only with nature but with each other. We, people, and the earth, are in material fact a "we." (1)
The movement of this soliloquy mirrors Thoreau's intellectual growth over the course of his adult life. Beginning in the thin atmosphere of Romantic idealism, with its sharp distinctions between spirit and matter, "man" and nature, he came over time to see the natural and social worlds as inseparably integrated and concrete. His thinking about natural and human history developed in parallel until, in his final years, he connected issues of environmental and social justice into a synthetic critique of the priorities of capitalism. Moreover, rather than remain satisfied with attempting to reform ideas, he began to experiment with strategies for intervening materially to change the society around him. In other words, he moved gradually away from Transcendental idealism and individualism, becoming not only the scientific ecologist we see in the late natural history manuscripts but increasingly a political radical as well, one who stressed the need to make ideas into tools for collectively transforming the existing ecosocial order.
This essay begins by briefly surveying competing theories of Thoreau's ideas on the relations between mind and matter, and then turns to the critique of capitalism framed in the first chapter of Walden, showing that the recently published Wild Fruits proposes a second answer to the question of "Economy." Emerson famously scolded Thoreau for his habit of contradiction. And readers frequently encounter, as James McIntosh argues, "opposed attitudes vibrating against each other in the crucible of an essay, a poem, or a day's journal." Thoreau's writings are structured by a "programmed inconsistency" that reflects his constantly "shifting stance toward nature." (2) It has usually been thought that the axis along which this shifting occurs had Mind and Nature as its poles, so that the metaphysical question Thoreau faced was this: Which of these two forces dominates as they interact to create human experience of the world? Walden, the text on which most of our knowledge of its author has been built, suggests that he placed his final faith in the power of the imagination to make a new day dawn. However, recent readers describe Thoreau's dilemma as a complex choice between idealist and materialist accounts of the world and between intuitive and empiricist modes of knowing it. Thoreau died just as his later ways of thinking about mind and matter, about people and nature, had begun to reach maturity, and just as he was beginning to articulate a new way of thinking. He continued to deplore the alienation from both labor and nature produced by life under capitalism, but in his late natural history essays, and especially in the guidebook he left in manuscript, Wild Fruits, he had begun to envision a utopian alternative, an organic community living in daily communion with the physical body of the land.
After praising Thoreau for having "dedicated his genius with such entire love to the fields, hills and waters of his native town, that he made them known and interesting to all reading Americans," Emerson ended his eulogy on a note of disappointment: "The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost." The disappointment was not just that Thoreau had died young. Emerson saw his protege as a broken promise: "instead of engineering for all America, he was the captain of a huckleberry party." Instead of taking a leading role in the grand political experiment of republicanism, he had devoted himself to the relative triviality of natural history. Thoreau himself occasionally expressed anxiety along these lines: "I fear that the character of my knowledge is from year to year becoming more distinct & scientific--That in exchange for views as wide as heaven's cope I am being narrowed down to the field of the microscope--". (3) On the strength of this evidence, it is possible to read the trajectory of his life as a descent from high idealism and seriousness to a crabbed and narrow materialism, from truth to mere fact. Thoreau read both John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Emerson's Nature during his senior year at Harvard. And according to this way of thinking about him, Nature convinced him to reject Locke's empiricism and to see nature as "the present expositor of the divine mind." If nature is God's thought for America, rightly apprehended through intuition and sympathy, then the unrelenting facticity of the Journal in the 1850s may be read as evidence of a failure of Thoreau's imagination. (4)
On the other hand, readers who truly appreciate the richly detailed passages of nature description in the Journal often see the same trajectory but make the reverse evaluation. For instance, William Howarth reads Thoreau's career as "a continuous ascent, sustained by the Journal, and rising from youthful confusion into a triumphant maturity." Howarth argues that in his apprentice years as a writer, Thoreau operated according to a "Platonic bias" he had learned from Emerson, transforming "the particulars of nineteenth-century New England into universal symbols." But later Thoreau came to believe that "the mind must absorb facts and adjust to their complexity," so he used his Journal "as a place to test his powers of seeing and hearing." Gradually, his "entries on birds and plants became more precise and detailed" and he became "less fanciful in his reading of their metaphysical significance" and "gravitated in his writing from the ideal of mystery to that of truth." (5)
Perhaps the most important achievement of Howarth's transformative reading will be that it demonstrated the power of reinterpreting Thoreau from the perspective of texts other than Walden. This shift in emphasis has made possible, over the last two decades, a series of increasingly sensitive and accurate readings of Thoreau's relationship to the science of his day. These studies, all of which begin from the late natural history manuscripts, have shown that at the same time that he was strongly attracted to the idea of nature as a subject of systematic study, Thoreau rejected narrow forms of empiricism that emphasized objective observation of tightly limited phenomena. Instead, as Laura Dassow Walls has demonstrated, he participated in a protoecological "empirical holism" based on "relational knowing," a form of scientific practice typified especially by the work of Alexander von Humboldt, who saw mind or knowledge, not as supervening the world of particulars, but as an emergent property of their interrelationships. Thoreau saw his "task to be the joining of poetry, philosophy, and science into a harmonized whole that emerged from the interconnected details of natural facts." In order to come to understand such complex systems, Thoreau attempted to perfect what Donald Worster calls "a new, more intense empiricism" rooted in "day-to-day physical intimacy with nature." In other words, for much of his adult life he was actively mediating between idealist and materialist accounts of the world, as well as between intuitional and empiricist modes of investigating it. (6)
Thoreau's interest in science and the philosophy of science is recognizable as early as his first piece of environmental writing, "The Natural History of Massachusetts," which he ends by observing, "we do not learn by inference and deduction and the application of mathematics to philosophy, but by direct intercourse and sympathy." Thoreau is not rejecting empiricism here, but calling for a more wholly engaged mode of observation: "The true man of science will know nature better by his finer organization; he will smell, taste, see, hear, feel, better than other men. His will be a deeper and finer experience." (7) Despite this early manifestation, Thoreau's interest in natural history and science would remain largely undeveloped during the 1840s. After graduating from Harvard, he moved home to Concord where he struggled to shape his writing to Transcendentalist conventions, composing essays on literary and philosophical topics that would suit the needs of the Dial. During this time, probably in response to Emerson's encouragement, he thought of himself mainly as a poet. His verse was mostly quite abstract, though he did experiment with ways to make the conventionally idealist genre of Romantic lyric poetry open itself to the material particulars of Concord. (8) In 1849, Thoreau's relationship with Emerson cooled, and he turned wholeheartedly to interests and proclivities that he may formerly have suppressed in deference to his mentor. His reading shifted sharply, from the classics, philosophy, comparative religion, and poetry on one hand, to natural history, American history, ethnography, and travel writing on the other. By this time daily walks had become a routine and the Journal had shifted in the direction of systematic observation of natural phenomena. The 1850s, then, was a decade of renewed and intensified mediation between idealism and materialism for Thoreau. This philosophical conflict was concretized by the fierce competition between two models of the study of natural history. On one hand, there was the residual idealist notion of creation, principally defended in the United States by Harvard's Louis Agassiz, who posited multiple episodes of divine intervention. On the other, there was the emergent materialist theory of evolution, which would triumph with the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859, which Thoreau read eagerly as soon as it arrived in Concord. Over the course of the 1850s, Thoreau was clearly moving in Darwin's direction, as evidenced by his two essays in scientific ecology, "The Dispersion of Seeds" and "The Succession of Forest Trees." At the same time, he continued to think of nature as "an externalization of spirit" and of divine creation as an ongoing process in a continuous material present. In other words, he remained committed to the idealist notion of an active supernatural force driving natural processes, while at the same time his study of those processes, and the language he used to describe them, became increasingly materialist and empiricist. (9)
Now, to complicate this picture, Robert Sattelmeyer observes that Thoreau's overall "development ... was clearly in the direction of increasing interest in the study of and writing about nature on the one hand. and on the other the expression of increasingly sharp and outspoken views on sensitive social and political issues of his day." But after mapping Thoreau's reading in the sciences and the complexity of his ways of thinking about natural history, Sattelmeyer observes that Thoreau's "political writing ... is less susceptible to analysis in terms of specific intellectual debts than most other areas of his thought." His political thought, rather than responding directly to the political economists and philosophers of his day, "developed in a sort of organic way out of certain political pressure points of his age--the extension of slavery and the question of individual rights versus civil law in particular--coming into conflict with some of his most fundamental and strongly held convictions about the purposes and conduct of life." His increasing radicalism, that is, was partly a consequence of participating in the abolitionist movement's increasing willingness to go beyond moral suasion to various forms of direct political action. While this kind of historical pressure, the pressure of events, was surely decisive, it is also true that Thoreau's increasing radicalism found a theoretical warrant in his increasingly materialist understanding of ecosocial history. (10)
William Howarth observes that through the 1850s, Thoreau increasingly "moves away from problems of self-definition toward broader issues of history and culture" and that as this process goes on, Thoreau does not differentiate clearly between human and natural history. "By early 1857 Thoreau's studies in Concord had turned from detailed natural facts to the broader subject of community," so that his Journal became "an open history of his people and the land." More and more, he saw natural and human history as parts of an integrated ecosocial process, and he attempted, as Laura Dassow Walls puts it, "to read and tell a history of man and nature together, as and in one single, interconnected act." Howarth maintains that Thoreau draws quite conservative final political conclusions as a result of reasoning by analogy from his studies of natural cycles. Thoreau, he argues, arrived in his Journal at "a new vision of America's destiny: the country was not immortal, moving always onward and upward, but was caught in cycles of birth and death, the law of natural succession." But this conclusion cuts against the evidence of the increasing radicalism of the reform essays. Thoreau's first published political essay is, "Paradise (To Be) Regained," a review of J.A. Etzler's technological utopian manifesto, The Paradise within the Reach of all Men, without Labor, by Powers of Nature and Machinery (1842). The young Thoreau ridicules what he sees as the mechanical thinking behind Etzler's scheme, with its vision of planned collective transformation of the material basis of human social relations. As an alternative he endorses self-reliance, the idealist political philosophy of individual reform. However, by the end of the 1850s, in his later abolitionist essays, Thoreau has renounced his faith in the power of ideas to spontaneously reform individuals and through them, to organically transform whole societies. Instead he has recognized that ideas about reform become a force for material change in the world only when they inspire people to take direct action, to intervene in the course of history. The simultaneous changes in Thoreau's political and scientific thought suggest, in other words, that as he moved increasingly toward a materialist understanding of nature, he applied this same mode of analysis to the capitalist social order, and therefore was driven more and more toward radical political conclusions. (11)
Walden and Capitalism
Walden reflects Thoreau's ongoing process of mediation between idealism and materialism, between transcendentalism and science. On one hand, he achieves a new level, vis-a-vis his prior work, of detailed, representational accuracy in his descriptions of the woods around Concord. On the other, he still consistently pushes natural facts to become metaphors and symbols of human experience. On one hand, the book articulates a moral critique of social relations under capitalism based on a materialist analysis of economic relationships. On the other, it offers an idealist and individualist solution to this problem. Walden's first sentence frames the book's concerns: "When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only." (12) Rhetorically, the emphasis here is on the last phrase. The cabin is located in an intermediate space, just a short walk into the woods, and the pond is firmly contained in the township. Moreover, the string of miscellaneous descriptors that locate the cabin also foreground the definite assertion about who built it, an assertion that is repeated in the alliterative final phrase. This is not a book that is mainly about the woods. It is about earning a living there. Accounts of aesthetic experience of nature in Walden are meant mainly to demonstrate what gets lost--along with reading, introspection, and spirituality--when work dominates our lives. The book's introduction, the pages that precede its systematic discussion of the four basic necessities of life, "Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel," mount an analysis of the process whereby these forms of ideal experience have been cheapened (W 12).
"Economy" begins by announcing as its topic its audience's "outward condition or circumstances in this world, in this town, what it is, whether it is necessary that it be as bad as it is, whether it cannot be improved as well as not" (W 4). From this starting point, Thoreau describes the effects of capitalist property relations, labor relations, and competition on the lives of individual workers and farmers. On the one hand, there are those small farmers "whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of" (W 5). On the other, there are those who "are poor.., and have come to this page to spend borrowed or stolen time, robbing your creditors of an hour" (W 6). Both face the trap of debt and to escape it must "persuade your neighbor to let you make his shoes, or his hat, or his coat, or his carriage, or import his groceries for him" (W 7). Thoreau performs a delicate balancing act here, giving clear attention to the hard material reality of economic relationships between individuals, but then showing that these relationships have moral and social content that gets forgotten. The things that get done for money are the kinds of basic human tasks that carry individual lives forward and bind communities together, and they are demeaned, as human interactions, by their intrication in a cash economy. (13) Thoreau generalizes from his observations on the "outward condition" of his readers to an overall assessment of the effect of capitalist social relations on the character of human aesthetic and spiritual experience. Most people work so much that their inner lives are emptied out; they "are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them." He goes further, emphasizing that the moral character of individual human lives is compromised specifically because they occur within a constraining web of competitive economic relationships, a market: "the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain the manliest relations to men; his labor would depreciate in the market" (W 6). In other words, material relationships have aggregate moral effects across whole societies.
Much of the rest of "Economy," after this first framing section, sets out to document various forms of moral debility that are produced when basic human needs are transformed by competitive social relations. Thoreau deplores luxury as an accretion, a kind of plaque that comes with civilization, and focuses especially on the competitive acquisition and ostentatious display of luxury goods as a display of social and economic power: "It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes. Could you, in such a case, tell surely of any company of civilized men, which belonged to the most respected class?" (W 22). Thoreau describes how this kind of competition for cultural power entraps people so that they become "slave-drivers" of themselves. And he observes that this process is set in motion by the ruling class: "It is the luxurious and dissipated who set the fashion which the herd so diligently follow" (W 36). Thus, it is specifically in the context of class societies that "most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life [become] positive hinderances [sic] to the elevation of mankind" (W 14). Fine clothes, for instance, are hindrances not only because the hard labor required to get them prevents plucking life's finer fruits. But more, they require participation in an economic system based on exploitation, a "factory system" in which "the condition of the operatives is becoming every day more like that of the English" of Manchester and Birmingham (W 26). After all, in this degraded society, "the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably that the corporations may be enriched" (W 27). In other words, material structures at the level of whole social orders entangle people in moral relationships that must be taken seriously.
Thoreau recognizes most clearly that moral experience is rooted in materiality when he states that people "are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them." But this crucial sentence also reveals his conviction that "most men even in this comparatively free country" become entangled in capitalist economic relations "through mere ignorance and mistake" (W 6). After making such a clear assessment of the moral or ideal effects of these material relations, it may seem surprising that Thoreau adopts such a cavalierly individualist position about how to respond. It is worth remembering that it was far more plausible during his lifetime than now to imagine that it is possible to withdraw from the labor market. Even so, Thoreau is startlingly confident. He is astonished that people "honestly think there is no choice left" (W 8), for after all, "what a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate" (W 7). And he sets out to demonstrate just this possibility by renouncing all forms of luxury, choosing not to spend his time "in earning rich carpets or other fine furniture, or delicate cookery, or a house in the Grecian or the Gothic style just yet" (W 70). Moreover, because he acknowledges that the basic necessities must be secured before it is possible "to entertain the true problems of life with freedom" (W 12), he determines to secure them by his own labor outside the nexus of material social relationships.
Thoreau's individualism in Walden is part of a confrontational, aggressive persona designed to startle his audience into new ways of thinking. For the book's final goal is to engender wholesale social reform through individual acts of self-reform: "The only cooperation which is commonly possible is exceedingly partial and superficial.... If a man has faith, he will cooperate with equal faith everywhere; if he has not faith, he will continue to live like the rest of the world, whatever company he is joined to" (W 72). This jab at participants in the failed Brook Farm experiment is also a doctrinaire statement of the idealist philosophy of self-reliance. Thoreau carries this polemic through to the end, but he hints at a consciousness that his experiment has failed. Individual withdrawal from the market into the world of ideal beans is not as easy at it might seem, for "wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions" (W 170). (14) Walden's solution, in other words, is incommensurate with the problem as it is laid out in "Economy." Thoreau reveals this disjunction again in a passage that foreshadows the second solution he will propose to this problem: "When formerly I was looking about to see what I could do for a living ... I thought often and seriously of picking huckleberries." Like hoeing beans, berry picking would have been an attempt to negotiate an individual solution to a social crisis, and Thoreau acknowledges as much: "But I have since learned that trade curses everything it handles; and though you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business" (W 70). In his next major project, Wild Fruits, Thoreau would again experiment imaginatively with picking huckleberries, but no longer alone; this time he saw himself doing so together with a community.
Wild Fruits and Community
Thoreau spent his final winter putting his literary affairs in order. At the beginning of April 1862, a month before he died, he sent his last essay, "Wild Apples," to the Atlantic Monthly. He had excerpted the essay from a longer book-length manuscript that he left wrapped in a large sheet of paper. On this wrapper, he had written a rifle, Wild Fruits. This manuscript passed through several collections for the next century and a half and has only recently been published. (15) On its surface, the book is a botanical guide to the wild plants of New England. But it moves far beyond the work of cataloguing and identifying. "Most of us are still related to our native fields as the navigator to undiscovered islands in the sea. We can any afternoon discover a new fruit there which will surprise us by its beauty and sweetness" (WF 3). These are the book's first sentences. Most of us, it tunas out, are related to Thoreau's writings in the same way. To read Wild Fruits is to be surprised by a beauty and sweetness we do not at all associate with the antagonistic hermit of Walden. The manuscript is incomplete, fragmentary, and sometimes self-contradictory, so any reading of it necessarily amounts to a speculative construction of a possible book. Even so, Wild Fruits clearly confirms the trajectory of Thoreau's traverse from idealism and individualism to materialism and communalism. It is a guidebook, yes, but it is also a visionary portrait of a devotional life on the land. It not only envisions an organic community as an alternative to capitalism, it works to convoke such a community by modeling rituals of natural communion. (16)
Wild Fruits consists of more than a hundred entries, widely variable in length and completeness, each describing a variety of plant that produces recognizable fruits. The product of a decade of systematic natural history observation, the book is rich in botanical information. Some of the less finished entries consist of little more than the dates on which, from year to year, a particular species first produces fruit. Others work up this and other information into treatments of proto-ecological hypotheses. For instance, the entry for "Black Huckleberry," reflecting Thoreau's 1860 reading of Darwin, describes how speciation allows plants, "slightly modified by soil and climate," to exploit a variety of niches. "Corn, and potatoes, apples and pears, have comparatively a narrow range, but we can fill our basket with whortleberries on the summit of Mount Washington" (WF 45). The various species of huckleberry have evolved for different elevations, so that at least one species occurs in every available New England habitat.
Unlike most guidebooks, though, Thoreau organizes his entries chronologically by date of fruit production, so that Wild Fruits is in effect a botanical almanac. Like all almanacs, it contains not undifferentiated scientific information, but information relevant to the ongoing relationship between humans, plants, and the seasons. However, Thoreau focuses not on agriculture, but the human significance of uncultivated plants. The book's first entry is for "Elm," quoted here in its entirety:
Before the tenth of May (from the seventh to the ninth), the winged seeds or samarae of the elms give them a leafy appearance, or as if covered with little hops, before the leaf buds are opened. This must be the earliest of our trees and shrubs to go to seed. It is so early that most mistake the fruit before it falls for leaves, and we owe to it the first deepening of the shadows in our streets. (WF 6)
The opening sentence here deals in recognizably empirical botanical information, with matters of fact interrupted only briefly by a simile employed only to allow for accurate visualization. The second sentence, though, quietly introduces a plural subject of this knowledge. And the third flowers into truth, but not the kind of transcendental truth we might expect from Thoreau. Instead, he explains a truth about the experiential meaning of elms for the plural subject of which he is a part, his community. Elms are responsible for the sudden and mysterious transition from the hard white daylight of the New England winter to the warm green shade of summer. Similarly, the next entry, for "Dandelion," notes that at the same time that elms fruit, "we begin to see a dandelion gone to seed here and there in the greener grass of some more sheltered and moist bank, perhaps before we had detected its rich yellow disk--that little seedy spherical system which boys are wont to blow to see if their mothers want them" (WF 6). This sentence, like the entry as a whole, is structured around the relationship between an implied community and natural phenomena.
This emphasis on collective aesthetic and ritual experience of nature holds true throughout Wild Fruits, and it allows Thoreau to introduce a wide range of kinds of material including quotations from old herbariums and narratives by explorers and settlers, as well as anecdotes about both Native American and folk uses of plants. Of the "Black Cherry," for instance, he writes:
Some, I hear, make a spiritous drink with them, which they disguise under such names as 'cherry-bounce.' The common way of gathering them is to shake them down upon sheets spread beneath the tree. I remember once shaking a tree in this wise, and when I came to gather up the edges of the cloth, I found an old cent of the last century among the cherries. (WF 98-99)
Individual and collective experiences of this kind, collected across time and cultures, cohere to make up the longest entries. And it soon becomes clear that what determines the fullness of an entry is not the amount of botanical information Thoreau wishes to set down, but the relative cultural importance of the plant described. Thus, the names he chooses for many of the plants, especially those which produce edible berries, are not scientific, but common. Thoreau satirizes the irrationality of naming Black Huckleberry, "Gaylussacia resinosa, after the celebrated French chemist":
If he had been the first to distill its juices and put them in this globular bag, he would deserve this honor; or if he had been a celebrated picker of huckleberries, perchance paid for his schooling so, or only notoriously a lover of them, we should not so much object. But it does not appear that he ever saw one. What if a committee of Parisian naturalists had been appointed to break this important news to an Indian maiden who had just filled her basket on the shore of Lake Huron! (WF 37)
Thoreau's alternative to Linnean binomials is to differentiate between kinds of berry according to where and when they can be found by pickers: "Early Low Blueberry," "High Blueberry," "Late Low Blueberry," and so on. This pragmatic method of naming emphasizes the relevance of the book's information to those who wish not just to know abstractly about plants, but to live interactively with them. (17)
Interestingly, this interactivity is not only transcultural, but also transspecific. For instance, the entry for "Sweet Flag" describes the growth of that species in the spring, notes that it is a favorite food of muskrats, and then relates that the "Indians of British America" use it as a remedy for colic. Thoreau continues: "Who has not when a child had this same remedy administered to him for that complaint--though the medicine came recommended by a lump of sugar, which the Cree boys did not get .... Thus we begin our summer like the musquash. We take our first course at the same table with him.... He is so much like us; we are so much like him" (WF 8). The basic likeness across cultures and species that Thoreau emphasizes here is one of materiality, of a necessary rootedness in physical nature. This is a common motif throughout the text. Writing of the "Early Low Blueberry," he describes how two species, endemic to different areas, "pass into one another" in one location "by insensible degrees, so that it appears as if the seeds of the downy Canada blueberry carried far enough south would at length produce the smooth Pennsylvania one, and vice versa--just as men wear furs in the north, but linen in the south" (WF 26). Similarly, in the entry for "Thistle," Thoreau observes that "what is called the Canada thistle is the earliest, and the goldfinch or thistle-bird ... knows when it is ripe sooner than I. So soon as the heads begin to be dry, I see him pulling them to pieces and scattering the down, for he sets it a-flying regularly every year all over the country, just as I do once in a long while" (WF 100). For Thoreau, plants, animals, settlers, natives, all beings with physical bodies, share parallel experiences of accommodation to and interaction with nature, the ground of existence, the material world.
Thoreau consistently represents the collective experience of the material world in devotional terms. In his introduction to Wild Fruits, Bradley Dean rightly observes that Thoreau "would have been most interested in our reading the work as a uniquely American scripture," noting that he refers to it in the Journal as "my New Testament" (WF xiii). Thus the long entry for "Strawberry" describes picking and eating this fruit as an exercise in awareness. The first ripe berries of the season appear in spots well-exposed to sunlight and they "are at first hard to detect in such places amid the red lower leaves, as if Nature meant thus to conceal the fruit, especially if your mind is unprepared for it" (WF 11-12). Because they present such a challenge to our powers of concentration, wild strawberries can be found only by the initiated:
Only one in a hundred know where to look for these early strawberries. It is, as it were, a sort of Indian knowledge acquired by secret tradition. I know well what has called that apprentice, who has just crossed my path, to the hillsides this Sunday morning. In whatever factory or chamber he has his dwelling-place, he is ... sure to be by the side of the first strawberry when it reddens.... It is an instinct with him. (WF 13)
Once found, strawberries are a pantheist "manna" (WF 12): "They are the first blush of a country, its morning red, a sort of ambrosial food which grows only on Olympian soil" (WF 15-16). Similarly, in the entry for "Early Low Blueberry," Thoreau writes, "These berries have a very innocent ambrosial taste, as if made of the ether itself, as they plainly are colored with it" (WF 22). New England is "a land flowing with milk and huckleberries" (WF 54), and while only a few may now seek wild berries, they remain available to all as a sign of the Earth's covenant with the communities it supports: "They seem offered to us not so much for food as for sociality, inviting us to a picnic with Nature. We pluck and eat in remembrance of her. It is a sort of sacrament, a communion--the not forbidden fruits, which no serpent tempts us to eat. Slight and innocent savors which relate us to nature, make us her guests, and entitle us to her regard and protection" (WF 52). The theological language here is no accident; it marks Thoreau's quite serious sense of the millennial importance of the rituals he describes: "It would imply the regeneration of mankind if they were to become elevated enough to truly worship sticks and stones" (WF 168). The sacramental consumption of wild fruits, should it be taken up by the hundred instead of just the one, might well redeem a New England society that has modernized itself into an almost total ignorance of nature.
New England's debilitating ignorance brings with it a whole host of other ills. Berries grow "wild all over the country--wholesome, bountiful, and free, a real ambrosia. And yet men, the foolish demons that they are, devote themselves to the culture of tobacco, inventing slavery and a thousand other curses for that purpose" (WF 51). In Wild Fruits, Thoreau develops and makes even more explicit the materialist analysis that he begins to articulate in Walden of the way that capitalist social and economic relations have destroyed humankind's immediate collective relationship with nature. He describes much more particularly than in Walden the concrete ways in which the specific institutions of private property and competitive commerce prevent the citizens of a no longer classless republic from experiencing wild land either aesthetically or devotionally. First and foremost, there is the simple problem of decreasing access as more and more wild land is brought under private ownership: "But, ah, we have fallen on evil days! I hear of pickers ordered out of the huckleberry fields, and I see stakes set up with written notices forbidding any to pick there" (WF 57). Thoreau emphatically deplores the motive behind this ongoing process of enclosure:
What sort of a country is that where huckleberry fields are private property? When I pass such fields on the highway, my heart sinks within me. I see a blight on the land. Nature is under a veil there. I make haste away from the desecrated spot. Nothing could deform her fair face more. I cannot think of it ever after but as the place where fair and palatable berries are converted into money, where the huckleberry is desecrated. (WF 58)
Importantly, Thoreau does not single out the farmer who has fenced his fields, but immediately places the profit motive in a broader social context: "I do not mean to blame any, but all--to bewail our fates generally," for privatization shows "to what result our civilization and division of labor naturally tend" (WF 57, 58). This is a significant departure from the voluntarism of Walden, with its insistence that we each freely choose our own way of life. In Wild Fruits, Thoreau consistently places himself inside the community damaged by modernization, rather than haranguing it from afar: "It is my own way of living that I complain of as well as yours, and therefore I trust that my remarks will come home to you" (WF 235). The logic of this rhetorical shift is clear. For Thoreau, the "division of labor" is not a static fact, but an ongoing process whereby the relatively uniform population of the post-revolutionary agrarian republic has been divided into far more rigid economic classes. That process has produced a society that exerts a constant pressure on its members to make decisions according to the bottom line of profit. The aggregate result of these innumerable decisions is a privatized rural landscape where huckleberries are guarded by fences. Thoreau looks to post-enclosure England and sees a dismal prognosis: "I suspect that the inhabitants of England and the continent of Europe have thus lost in a measure their natural rights with the increase of population and monopolies" (WF 57). Thoreau was, in fact as well as in rhetoric, one of those whose access to the land was increasingly being limited by modernization under capitalism.
What is most important about these changes, for Thoreau, is not merely that people have lost access to natural resources formerly held in common. It is true that "in laying claim for the first time to the spontaneous fruit of our pastures, we are inevitably aware of a little meanness, and the merry berry party which we turn away naturally looks down on and despises us" (WF 59). But again, Thoreau is not making a moralistic attack on individual humans for participating in the low business of trade. In fact, he reports wryly on sending two and a half bushels of cranberries to Boston, where he got four dollars for them. This success led him to consider taking up the business on a larger scale, by shipping larger quantities to New York, but he was dissuaded by the discovery that they sold cheaper there than at Boston. Thoreau tells this story to illustrate not his own moral lassitude, but the vitiated taste of urbanites by contrast with "country people" (WF 104-5). The problem with privatization of the land is that when "we exclude mankind from gathering berries in our field, we exclude them from gathering health and happiness and inspiration.... We thus strike only one more blow at a simple and wholesome relation to nature" (WF 58). In other words, the majority of people have been forcibly excluded not just from gathering up some supplementary nutrition, but from entering into rich ideal relationships with the wild: "It is a grand fact that you cannot make the fairer fruits or parts of fruits matter of commerce; that is, you cannot buy the highest use and enjoyment of them" (WF 5). Human relations to nature under capitalism, for those now fenced off the land, have been stripped of their most fulfilling content. The growing numbers of landless workers and the poor in the cities have been, to be precise, alienated from nature: they confront nature, only in the marketplace as an alien object: "You cannot buy that pleasure which [a huckleberry] yields to him who truly plucks it. You cannot buy a good appetite, even. In short, you may buy a servant or a slave, but you cannot buy a friend" (WF 5). The comparison to slavery here is not accidental. Thoreau turns to this metaphor repeatedly. Of farmers who fence off their berry fields, he writes: "They have no other interest in berries but a pecuniary one. Such is the constitution of our society that we make a compromise and permit the berries to be degraded--to be enslaved, as it were" (WF 5859). In other words, what is tree of social relationships, is true of human relations with nature as well: the moral content of such relationships is rooted in, flowers from, the material structure of a whole ecosocial order.
Wild Fruits envisions a potential alternative to capitalist ecosocial relations. It recounts a body of natural knowledge and experience of which the implied subject is an organic community living "a simple and wholesome" life on the land, "gathering health and happiness and inspiration" in the woods of New England. And more than envisioning such a utopian community, the text attempts as well to convoke it, to call it into existence by inaugurating the ritual harvest and consumption of wild fruits. For Thoreau, gathering berries is an activity for a sacramental party, a collective aesthetic experience. In the entry for "Viburnum Nudum," he writes, "September 3. Now is the season for these comparatively rare but beautiful wild berries which are not food for man.... Now is the time for Beautiful Berrying, for which children have no vacation. They should have a vacation for their imaginations as much as for their bodies" (WF 121). Like gathering beautiful berries, eating wild apples demands a communal subject: "You cannot read at the same time, as when you are eating an apple. It is a social employment" (WF 219). Moreover, Thoreau's community of fruit pickers and eaters takes its identity and character from its particular environment: "The tropical fruits are for those who dwell in the tropics.... It is not the orange of Cuba but rather the checkerberry of the neighboring pasture that most delights the eye and the palate of the New England child" (WF 3). Not only is this community rooted in a specific place, its annual experience is tuned to the cycle of the year: "Our diet, like that of the birds, must answer to the season" (WF 107).
As utopian and apparently whimsical as this vision is, Thoreau recognizes that wild fruits can only take on the meaning he ascribes to them within an entirely new kind of society. Investing wild fruits with such rich meanings is a matter of artifice, of deliberately envisioning an alternative to the course of historical development he has described. This way of thinking is implied, for instance, in his description of the wild apple as "wild only like myself, perchance, who belong not to the aboriginal race here, but have strayed into the woods from the cultivated stock" (WF 79). Convoking such a community is a matter, then, of deliberately straying into the woods, of rewilding society, of collectively reviving lapsed ways of living on the land that were characteristic of native and agrarian cultures:
It would be well if we accepted these gifts [of wild apples] with more joy and gratitude, and did not think it enough simply to put a fresh load of compost about the tree. Some old English customs are suggestive at least. I find them described chiefly in Brand's Popular Antiquities. It appears that 'on Christmas eve the farmers and their men in Devonshire take a large bowl of cider, with a toast in it, and carrying it in state to the orchard, they salute the apple trees with much ceremony, in order to make them bear well the next season.' (WF 76)
Consciously reinhabiting such lost lifeways can, for Thoreau, transform human relations with the land. Thus, alter describing the experience of preparing and eating acorns for the first time, Thoreau concludes, "now that I have discovered the palatableness of this neglected nut, life has acquired a new sweetness for me, and I am related to the first men.... Nature seems the more friendly to me" (WF 182). Likewise, Thoreau reports with obvious pleasure on the new urban ritual of eating roasted chestnuts: "I have seen more chestnuts on the streets of New York than anywhere else this year--large and plump ones roasting in the street, and popping on the steps of banks and exchanges. Was surprised to see that the citizens made as much of the nuts of the wild wood as the squirrels. Not only the country boys--all New York goes a-nutting" (WF 213). Throughout the text, the suffix, "a-," designates the ritual activities that bind together Thoreau's imagined community: a-strawberrying, a-huckleberrying, a-nutting. Besides, Thoreau did more than write about berrying as a ritual of communion: his journal is filled with accounts of berrying and nutting excursions to the Concord and other local woods. These excursions organize in material reality what Thoreau envisions in Wild Fruits. (18)
Given the social forces that Thoreau saw as responsible for alienation from nature, it is not perhaps surprising that he saw eating wild fruits as a democratic activity. He not only celebrates the way that "all New York goes a-nutting" so that there are "chestnuts for cabmen and newsboys" (WF 213), but he also ridicules, in anti-elitist terms, what he represents as overly cultivated fruits. Pears, for instance, "are a more aristocratic fruit than apples." He describes the extraordinary care that is taken to bring them to market, wrapped in tissue for wealthy customers. "Yet they have neither the beauty nor the fragrance of apples. Their excellence is in their flavor, which speaks to a grosser sense. They are glout-morceaux. Hence, while children dream of apples, ex-judges realize pears." Hyper-cultivated fruits are for hyper-cultivated members of the ruling classes: "They are named after emperors, kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses. I fear I shall have to wait till we get to pears with American names, which a republican can swallow. The next French Revolution will correct all that" (WF 127). By contrast with the over-refined pear that vitiates tastes and appetites, wild fruits invigorate the democratic consumer: "It takes a savage or a wild taste to appreciate a wild fruit. What a healthy out-of-door appetite it takes to relish the apple of life, the apple of the world then!" (WF 87): Now, renewed vigor is not just a matter of individual well-being, though health was of course a matter of grave concern for Thoreau; renewal is also a communal, even a political concern. It is no rhetorical accident that he defiantly celebrates the eating of chestnuts "on the steps of banks and exchanges." These institutions operate as synecdoches for the profit-driven social order that produces the debilitating alienation from nature he hopes wild fruits will cure. More generally, the democratic community of wild fruit eaters will be fortified to bear the general malaise of modernity: "We require just so much acid as the cranberries afford in the spring.... They cut the winter's phlegm, and now you can swallow another year of this world without other sauce" (WF 106). (19)
In one entry, for the "European Cranberry," Thoreau does seem to suggest that going a-berrying is a form of political escapism, an "absorbing employment" that "drives Kansas out of your head, and actually and permanently occupies the only desirable and free Kansas against all border ruffians" (WF 165). This last sentence implies the possibility that Thoreau's community is a compensatory fantasy and introduces this remark: "The attitude of resistance is one of weakness, inasmuch as it only faces an enemy; it has its back to all that is truly attractive" (WF 165). Thoreau seems here to ventriloquize quite directly the idealist politics of non-resistant moral suasion that characterized Walden and the 1840s. He even goes so far in this entry as to satirize political reformers and utopian socialists, including himself: "Our employment generally is tinkering, mending the old worn-out teapot of society. Our stock in trade is solder. Better for me, says my genius, to go cranberrying this afternoon for the Vaceinium oxycoceus in Gowing's Swamp ... than go consul to Liverpool" (WF 166). It is tempting to conclude on the basis of this passage that gathering wild fruits is no more than another form of come-outerism, the isolato's way of abandoning modernity in hopes that it will collapse. But this is precisely the position Thoreau explicitly rejects not only in the contemporaneous John Brown essays, but also in much of the rest of the Wild Fruits manuscript, especially in its final pages. In effect, this anachronistic voicing of Thoreau's former individualism and idealism, localized as it is within a fragmentary manuscript, serves only to reinforce the text's overall communalism and materialism.
For some readers, the sweetest discovery in Wild Fruits will come in an untitled section that makes up the last six pages of the book. Leo Stoller combined this passage with material from several entries into an essay which was published in 1970 as a small book titled Huckleberries. (20) But it is in Wild Fruits that this material has been restored to its original textual environment, where its comes as a culminating peroration. The passage, which appears to be a draft of material for a lecture, is an explicit argument in support of collective action to preserve large tracts of land as wilderness. Its first paragraph contains a precise abstract of its overall argument. Thoreau begins with a lament: "How little we insist on truly grand and beautiful natural features. There may be the most beautiful landscapes in the world within a dozen miles of us, for aught we know--for their inhabitants do not value nor perceive them, and so have not made them known to others." The problem is identified as one of recognizing the importance of wilderness, but more than that, Thoreau implies that people have been blinded by something quite specific: "if a grain of gold were picked up there or a pearl found in a fresh-water clam, the whole state would resound with the news." So far, this is a consolidating restatement of themes Thoreau has developed throughout Wild Fruits. Next, though, he introduces a new thought: "Thousands annually seek the White Mountains to be refreshed by their wild and primitive beauty, but when the country was discovered a similar kind of beauty prevailed all over it--and much of this might have been preserved for our present refreshment if a little foresight and taste had been used" (WF 233). Thoreau is proposing explicitly here, what he has elsewhere in his work only hinted at: conscious decision-making by the community to preserve wild land.
Thoreau next describes a "noble oak wood" at the town of Boxboro: "Let it stand fifty years longer and men will make pilgrimages to it from all parts of the country" (WF 233). Nevertheless, "it is likely to be cut off within a few years for ship-timber" (WF 235). Arguing that the "rising generation" should have an opportunity to learn what an oak or a pine is by observing the "best specimens," Thoreau argues that "it would be wise for the state to purchase and preserve a few such forests. If the people of Massachusetts are ready to found a professorship of Natural History, do they not see the importance of preserving some portions of Nature herself unimpaired?" (WF 235). Thoreau immediately comes to the point that such a goal conflicts with the ongoing trend of privatization of wild lands and turns to Native American ecosocial relations for an alternative model of land ownership: "Among the Indians the earth and its productions generally were common and free to all the tribe, like the air and water, but among us who have supplanted the Indians, the public retain only a small yard or common in the middle of the village, with perhaps a graveyard beside it" (WF 235). He next turns to English common law for a second precedent: "In some countries precious metals belong to the crown; so here more precious objects of great natural beauty should belong to the public" (WF 236). On this basis, Thoreau argues that rivers, upon which "the town, as a corporation, has never turned any but the most utilitarian eyes" should be held too should be held as a "common possession forever" (WF 236). Not just rivers, but "central and commanding hilltop[s]" should likewise be preserved, for each is a "sacred place," a "temple" that should not be "private property" (WF 237). Thoreau concludes that "each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, either in one body or several, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, not for the navy, nor to make wagons, but stand and decay for higher uses" (WF 238). Repeating what is clearly a key phrase for him, he maintains that each such tract of land should be held as "a common possession forever" (WF 238). The navy and wagons here stand in for the modem state and the market it protects. And it is in opposition to these institutions that the land must be protected. Crucially, Thoreau recognizes that preservation will require concerted conscious action: "It is for the very reason that some do not care for these things that we need to combine to protect all from the vandalism of the few" (WF 237). By implication, the rituals Thoreau represents in Wild Fruits will produce devotional experience on the land, which will in turn motivate the community to combine and take action in defense of what they will now see as the basis of their collective identity.
Wild Fruits, then, offers a second answer to the question framed by the "Economy" chapter of Walden. Where Walden offers an idealist and individualist solution to that problem, Wild Fruits offers a process for transforming ideas into motivating collective experiences and therefore into material forces for change. In another of the moments in which Walden hints at Thoreau's future, he describes a transformative epiphany in which he merges his "intelligence with the earth" (W 138). This is a significant departure from the disembodied consciousness, the "transparent eyeball" of Transcendentalist orthodoxy. More and more, Thoreau saw understanding as a moment of active integration with the world, rather than one of contemplative separation or abstraction. And more and more, Nature was the material world of Concord and the Walden woods, rather than an ideal category, the Emersonian "NOT ME." On January 24, 1856, Thoreau meditated in his Journal on elms, the species that is the subject of the first entry in Wild Fruits: "I find that into my idea of the village has entered more of the elm that of the human being" for most people do not have "a tithe of the dignity, the true nobleness and comprehensiveness of view" that they do. This pessimistic assessment may seem to cut against his hopes for collective transformation of ecosocial relations, but it soon becomes clear that he has only certain human beings in mind. Elms "are free-soilers" for they "send their roots into many a conservative's Kansas and Carolina, who does not suspect such underground railroads." Not only are Thoreau's elms antislavery activists, but like the ecosocial historian of Wild Fruits and the community he hoped to call together, they take "a firmer hold on the earth that they may rise higher into the heavens." (21) Perhaps, Thoreau remembered this vision of the abolitionist elms of Concord on the day he drafted several pages Wild Fruits on the reverse sides of broadsheets he had printed to announce a memorial service for John Brown. And perhaps it was with a sense of the social and political importance of serious play that Thoreau inhabited the office of "captain of a huckleberry party." (22)
California State University, San Marcos Notes
(1) Henry David Thoreau, Essays, ed. Lewis Hyde (New York: North Point Press, 2002), 113.
(2) Walter Harding and Carl Bode, eds., The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau (New York UP, 1958), Ralph Waldo Emerson to Henry David Thoreau, Sept. 18, 1843, 137; James McIntosh, Thoreau as Romantic Naturalist: His Shifting Stance toward Nature (Cornell UP, 1974), 23, 17, 37.
(3) Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Thoreau," Atlantic Monthly 10 (August 1862), 248. Henry David Thoreau, Journal 3: 1848-1851, ed. Robert Sattelmeyer et al. (Princeton UP, 1990), 380. In his "Introduction" to Henry David Thoreau, The Natural History Essays (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1980), Robert Sattelmeyer identifies "the central debate over Thoreau's career--whether his late years form a record of declining power and a straying from the vision that led to Walden, or whether they furnish evidence of significant new directions and works which he did not live to complete" (xxvi).
(4) Robert Sattelmeyer, Thoreau's Reading: ,4 Study in Intellectual History (Princeton University Press, 1988), 19, 22. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Collected Works, vol. 1, ed. Robert E. Spiller and Alfred R. Ferguson (Harvard UP, 1971), 39. See Sherman Paul, The Shores of America: Thoreau's Inward Exploration (U of Illinois P, 1958), 3-16, for a brisk statement of this position. Paul, arguing in 1958 against what was already a truism, attempts to recuperate what he nevertheless concedes is the "barrenness" of the Journal by arguing that "instead of signifying failure, his reliance on science signified a greater maturity and success: to be scientific for Thoreau was not to abandon the ultimate poetic use of the fact but to be public and objective" (396). This was valiant, but Paul's logic, and his title, The Shores of America: Thoreau "s Inward Exploration, imply that had Thoreau truly turned outward, his significant exploration would have ended. See Laura Dassow Walls, Seeing New Worlds: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science (U of Wisconsin P, 1995), 15-52, for the best account of Thoreau's negotiation in the 1830s with the inheritance of European empiricist and idealist theories of knowledge.
(5) William Howarth, The Book of Concord (New York: Viking, 1982), ix, 20, 10, 20, 64, 80, 118. See Emerson and Thoreau: Transcendentalists in Conflict (Wesleyan UP, 1966), in which Joel Porte argues that Thoreau was in fact a Lockean empiricist. Victor Carl Friesen, The Spirit of the Huckleberry: Sensuousness in Thoreau (U of Alberta P, 1984), maintains that the key to Thoreau's thought is his lifelong immersion in sensory experience. In The Idea of Wilderness (Yale UP, 1991), Max Oelschlaeger argues that Thoreau learns an "Indian wisdom," a holistic knowledge of nature, by intuitively understanding the physical world through immersion in its particulars (133-71). In Writing Nature: Henry Thoreau's Journal (Oxford UP, 1985), Sharon Cameron argues that Thoreau came to see the Journal as his "central literary enterprise" and that in it "he is writing his life so that it actually comes to comprise alternate--natural phenomena" (3-4). Cameron reads the Journal as an extended meditation on how the mind apprehends nature, on the process of generalizing from a bewildering chaos of fragmentary information. See Robert Richardson, Henry David Thoreau." A Life of the Mind (U of California P, 1986), 362-84, for an account of Thoreau's intense engagement in the late 1850s with the Agassiz-Darwin controversy and his abandonment of Platonic idealism for Aristotelian empiricism. Perhaps the most unequivocal statement of this position comes in Robert Kuhn McGregor, A Wider View of the Universe: Henry Thoreau's Study of Nature (U of Illinois P, 1997), a hagiographical reading that sees Thoreau changing from "a classically and staidly trained transcendentalist into a radical naturalist" and makes him the inventor of "the principle ofbiocentrism and the science of ecology" (5, 3).
(6) Laura Dassow Walls, Seeing New Worlds, 18, 147, 76-93, 4; Donald Worster, Nature's Economy: The Roots of Ecology (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1977), 75, 78.
(7) Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples and Other Natural History Essays, ed. William Rossi (U of Georgia P, 2002), 23-24. Sustained analysis of Thoreau's attitudes toward science begins with Nina Baym, "Thorean's View of Science," Journal of the History of Ideas 26 (1965), 221-34.
(8) Lance Newman, "'Patrons of the World': Thoreau as Wordsworthian Poet," The Concord Saunterer N.S. 11 (Winter 2003): 155-72.
(9) Sattelmeyer, Thoreau's Reading, 78-92; William Rossi, "Thoreau's Transcendental Ecocriticism," in Thoreau "s Sense of Place: Essays in American Environmental Writing, ed. Richard Schneider (U of Iowa P, 2000), 28-43, argues that Thoreau maintains "twin commitment to the metaphysics of correspondence and to a densely empirical knowledge of nature" (32). Ronald Wesley Hoag, "Thoreau's Later Natural History Writings," in The Cambridge Companion to Henry David Thoreau, ed. Joel Myerson (Cambridge UP, 1995), 152-70, describes the kind of natural history that Thoreau practiced during this decade as a form of "humanistic science" that relied "on the personality and capacities of the observer" to illuminate "the human relationship to nature" (169). William Rossi, "Introduction" to Thoreau, Wild Apples and Other Natural History Essays, shows that in the late natural history essays, Thoreau "strikes at the root of an increasingly cultural as well as epistemological objectivism" (xix). Most recently, Alfred I. Tauber, Henry David Thoreau and the Moral Agency of Knowing (U of California P, 2001), argues that Thoreau was a "'hinge' character residing between an ebbing Romanticism and a rising positivism" (ix), and that he "regarded epistemology as a fundamentally moral problem of situating objective knowledge within a humane context" (140). Laura Dassow Walls, "Believing in Nature: Wilderness and Wildness in Thoreauvian Science," Thoreau's Sense of Place: Essays in American Environmental Writing, 15-27, argues that Thoreau developed "a radical view of nature as a self-generating, creative agent by incorporating Humboldtian protoecological science into traditional and romantic forms of natural theology" (17). Michael Benjamin Berger, Thoreau's Late Career and "The Dispersion of Seeds ": The Saunterer's Synoptic Vision (Rochester: Camden House, 2000), 76119, examines Thoreau's "epistemological mediations" in "The Dispersion of Seeds," concluding that he "critically examined, and to a significant degree productively reconciled, the claims of empiricism and idealism" (xii). H. Daniel Peck, Thoreau's Morning Work: Memory and Perception in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, The Journal, and Walden (Yale UP, 1990), 39-114, argues that Thoreau thought of observation as "relational seeing" in which each interaction of observer and observed produced a unique aesthetic phenomena that then required systematic categorization.
(10) Sattelmeyer, Thoreau's Reading, 78, 50, 15; Walter Harding and Michael Meyer, The New Thoreau Handbook (New York: The Gotham Library of New York UP, 1980), 135. Still the best account of Thoreau's radicalization in response to economic and political developments in New England is Leo Stoller, After Walden: Thoreau's Changing Views on Economic Man (Stanford UP, 1957). Stoller argues that, as with his ongoing negotiation between idealism and materialism, Thoreau made a long series of provisional compromises between perfectionism and direct action as theories of political action, "with the drift of the nation gradually modifying the proportions in favor of the direct assault" (36). Joan Burbick, Thoreau's Alternative History: Changing Perspectives on Nature, Culture, and Language (U of Pennsylvania P, 1987), demonstrates that by combining his interests in Romantic history and historiography with the insights provided by the natural sciences, Thoreau "placed history within the natural world, where he found records of a story more capable of redemption than those of civilization" (3). John Hildebidle, Thoreau: A Naturalist's Liberty (Harvard UP, 1983), shows that Thoreau "applies the methods of natural history to the reading and writing of history generally" (25).
(11) Howarth, Book of Concord, 134, 136, 139, 10; Laura Dassow Walls, Seeing New Worlds, 4; Henry David Thoreau, Essays, 43-60. Susan M. Lucas, "Counter Frictions: Writing and Activism in the Work of Abbey and Thoreau," Thoreau "s Sense of Place: Essays in American Environmental Writing, 266-79, argues from the evidence of the John Brown essays, that Thoreau came to see writing as a way to inspire political action from principle.
(12) Henry David Thoreau, Walden, ed. J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton UP, 1971), 3. All further citations of this text will be parenthetical, using the abbreviation "W." For an important discussion of "representational accuracy," see Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture (Harvard UP, 1994), 81-114; and Lance Newman, "Thoreau's Natural Community and Utopian Socialism," American Literature 75.3 (September 2003): 515-44.
(13) Michael T. Gilmore, American Romanticism and the Marketplace (U of Chicago P, 1985), 35-51.
(14) See Joseph J. Moldenhauer, "The Extravagant Maneuver: Paradox in Walden," in Critical Essays on Henry David Thoreau's Walden, ed. Joel Myerson (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988), 96-106, for a concise reading of Walden's rhetorical strategies. Stanley Cavell, The Senses of Walden (New York: The Viking Press, 1972), 3-34, reads Walden as a "heroic book" that represents itself as a modem scripture and prophecy, a jeremiad directed at a fallen America.
(15) Henry David Thoreau, Wild Fruits, ed. Bradley P. Dean (New York: Norton, 2000). All further citations of this text will be parenthetical, using the abbreviation "WF." For an account of the provenance of the manuscript, see 285-86, 287n. See Howarth, The Literary Manuscripts of Henry David Thoreau (Ohio State UP, 1974), 322-26, for a physical description of the manuscripts. Stephen Adams and Donald Ross, Jr., Revising Mythologies: The Composition of Thoreau's Major Works (U of Virginia P, 1988), 240-52, gives a brief account of Thoreau's work on the late natural history essays, but the authors "do not consider them major works," dismissing them as "pleasant" (241).
(16) The late natural history essays, "Autumnal Tints," "Wild Apples," and "Huckleberries," excerpted from the Wild Fruits manuscript, have only begun to receive serious critical attention in the past few decades, and even then only sporadically. John Hildebidle, Thoreau: A Naturalist's Liberty, 69-96, provides a generic analysis of these as modified natural history essays in which Thoreau attempts "to bring to natural history a sense of form and myth" (90). In Thoreau as Romantic Naturalist, James McIntosh observes that "in the last essays, Thoreau consistently presents nature as a familiar ally, no longer as a problem" (280). He theorizes that, in the context of stable economic growth in the 1850s, Thoreau no longer appeals to nature as an alternative to socio-economic crisis. Stephen Fink, on the other hand, in "The Language of Prophecy: Thoreau's 'Wild Apples,' NEQ 59 (September 1986): 212-30, maintains that "the apparent modesty of 'Wild Apples' is a calculated and richly subversive rhetorical stance" designed to engage "the materialist and utilitarian interests of the public" in order to undermine those interests (214). Similarly, in "Thoreau's Extravagant Economy of Nature," American Literary History 5 (1993): 30-50, Richard Grusin argues that Thoreau borrows the language of market exchange in order to subvert it by showing that the "economy of nature" is one of extravagant interconnection. Robert Milder, Reimagining Thoreau (Cambridge UP, 1995) observes that in these essays there is "a synthesis of the poet and the naturalist in [the] activity of the moralist" (184). While, in Seeing New Worlds, Laura Dassow Walls sees the essays as "a celebration of collective identity" in which "engagement with nature is a communal act" threatened by "the demands of the market" (215,221,222).
(17) See Peter Blakemore, "Thoreau, Literature, and the Phenomenon of Inhabitation," in Thoreau's Sense of Place: Essays in American Environmental Writing, 115-32, for a discussion of Thoreau's decision to ground his empirical observations of nature in a "reverence for home" (115).
(18) Henry D. Thoreau, Journal, vol. 14, ed. Bradford Torrey and Francis H. Allen (New York: Dover, 1906), 12, 13, 56-57. See also The Letters of Ellen Tucker Emerson, vol. I, ed. Edith Gregg (Kent State UP, 1982), 216. I am indebted to Sandy Petrulionis for pointing out the connection between Thoreau's imagined and actual berrying parties.
(19) See Laura Dassow Walls, Seeing New Worlds, 142-44, for a discussion of Thoreau's developing conception of knowledge production as a democratic and communal project.
(20) Henry David Thoreau, Huckleberries, ed. Leo Stoller (Iowa City: Windhover Press of the University of Iowa, 1970), 166-202. Stoller's version of "Huckleberries" has been reprinted in three Thoreau collections: Henry David Thoreau, The Natural History Essays, ed. Robert Sattelmeyer; Henry David Thoreau, Collected Essays and Poems, ed. Elizabeth Witherell (New York: The Library of America, 2001); and Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples and Other Natural History Essays, ed. William Rossi. A small sample of the Wild Fruits manuscript is included in Henry David Thoreau, Faith in a Seed: The Dispersion of Seeds and Other Late Natural History Writings, ed. Bradley P. Dean (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1993). See Robert Kulm McGregor, A Wider View of the Universe, 181-84, for a brief discussion of Thoreau's calls for forest preservation in "Huckleberries." Joan Burbick, Thoreau's Alternative History, 138-42, also discusses this essay, reading it as an articulation of "Thoreau's vision of the landscape as a new Eden, a utopian society that exists on the food nature provides" (139).
(21) Ralph Waldo Emerson, Collected Works, vols. 1, 10, 8. Henry David Thoreau, The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 14, ed. Bradford Torrey and Francis H. Allen (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906), 139-40.
(22) William Howarth, Book of Concord, 181; Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Thoreau," Atlantic Monthly 10 (August 1862): 248.