Thoreau's declaration of independence from Emerson in Walden.
In a passage on hospitality in his essay on "Manners" (1844), Ralph Waldo Emerson admits that he, like many of his contemporaries, is an imperfect host.
For what is it that we seek, in so many visits and hospitalities? Is it your draperies, pictures, and decorations? Or, do we not insatiably ask, Was a man in the house? I may easily go into a great household where there is much substance, excellent provision for comfort, luxury, and taste, and yet not encounter there any Amphitryon, who shall subordinate these appendages. I may go into a cottage, and find a farmer who feels that he is the man I have come to see, and fronts me accordingly. It was therefore a very natural point of old feudal etiquette, that a gentleman who received a visit, though it were of his sovereign, should not leave his roof, but should wait his arrival at the door of his house. No house, though it were the Tuileries, or the Escurial, is good for anything without a master. And yet we are not often gratified by this hospitality. Every body we know surrounds himself with a fine house, fine books, conservatory, gardens, equipage, and all manner of toys, as screens to interpose between himself and his guest. Does it not seem as if man was of a very sly, elusive nature, and dreaded nothing so much as a full rencontre front to front with his fellow? It were unmerciful, I know, quite to abolish the use of these screens, which are of eminent convenience, whether the guest is too great, or too little. We call together many friends who keep each other in play, or, by luxuries and ornaments we amuse the young people, and guard our retirement. Or if, perchance, a searching realist comes to our gate, before whose eye we have no care to stand, then again we run to our curtain, and hide ourselves as Adam at the voice of the Lord God in the garden.... But.... the first point of courtesy must always be truth, as really all the forms of good-breeding point that way. (1)
True hospitality, Emerson claims, would not consist in the "appendages" a host has to offer his guest--his "draperies, pictures, and decorations" along with ample provisions for "comfort, luxury, and taste"--but in a host's offering himself to his guest. And yet, he owns that "a full rencontre front to front" with visitors is not always tolerable, and thus at times one cannot help interposing "screens" between oneself and one's guests to "guard" one's own "retirement."
With the publication of Nature (1836), "The American Scholar" (1837), the Divinity School "Address" (1838), and the Essays: First Series (1841), Emerson became one of the most well-known American writers of his time. As a result, during the early 1840s, his home in Concord, Massachusetts was besieged by visitors who wished to meet him. At first, Emerson eagerly welcomed the intellectuals, reformers, students, neighbors, and numerous others who called upon him and often spent the night. He and his wife Lidian Jackson Emerson owned a spacious home staffed by three servants and could afford to be generous. But Emerson was soon overwhelmed by the constant presence of guests in the house and found it necessary to avoid them for several hours each day in order to work or to simply be alone: he called in neighbors to keep his visitors "in play," (2) he locked himself in his study, he escaped to inns, and he deployed a number of other strategies to secure his "retirement." (3) It is needless to say, then, that Emerson speaks from experience in "Manners," which appears in the Essays: Second Series (1844), when he notes the difficulty of maintaining ideal standards of hospitality in actual practice. As he would put it years later in a lecture on hospitality and homes: "In inviting a friend to your house, you invite him not only to your bread and fire, household, shelter and conveniences, but to your books and pictures, to your family and friends, to your landscape and surroundings near and far, to your thoughts and experiences." (4)
Of the many guests Emerson entertained in these years, however, Henry David Thoreau in particular must have been on his mind when he wrote the lines cited above. For, the "searching realist" who drives his host into hiding as Adam at the voice of the Lord strongly resembles Emerson's depiction of Thoreau in other writings. And recent events would have made it virtually impossible for Emerson not to think of Thoreau when describing such a guest.
In April of 1841, Thoreau left his parents' home on Concord's Main Street to live across town with Emerson and his family as a gardener, a general handyman, and an editor of Emerson's and Margaret Fuller's journal, The Dial. Both Emerson and Thoreau were thrilled at the prospect of communal living and the creative opportunities it might afford them. For Emerson, whose friendship with Fuller had cooled considerably in the previous year, it was a chance to start anew, this time with a highly promising, yet still unformed thinker only four years out of college and fourteen years his junior. For Thoreau, who was already a devotee of Emerson's work before he had gotten to know the man himself, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Things seem to have gotten off to a good start and Thoreau's invitation, which had been fixed for a term of one year, was extended indefinitely. But, in April of 1843, Emerson arranged for Thoreau to live with his brother William in Staten Island. Emerson orchestrated Thoreau's move so that his young protege might make a name for himself on the New York literary scene while tutoring William's son. Yet, it appears his actions were also prompted by a desire to be relieved of Thoreau's company for a time. (5) Commenting on Thoreau's impending departure in his journal of April 8, 1843 after a conversation with Emerson on the subject, neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: "Mr. Emerson appears to have suffered some inconveniency from his experience of Mr. Thoreau as an inmate. It may well be that such a sturdy and uncompromising person is fitter to meet occasionally in the open air, than to have as a permanent guest at table and fireside." (6)
Hawthorne does not say precisely what Thoreau might have done to inconvenience Emerson, but it seems clear that he was a challenging guest to entertain for much of his stay. He would come and go without speaking to anyone and at times he neglected his chores. (7) In conversation, Thoreau, whom Emerson eulogized as "a searching judge of men" and a "realist," (8) was often antagonistic; particularly, when he detected a hint of exaggeration in his interlocutor's remarks. "H. does not feel himself except in opposition," Emerson noted in a journal entry of 1853, "he wants a fallacy to expose, a blunder to pillory, requires a little sense of victory, a roll of the drums, to call his powers into full exercise." (9) Though this "corrective" (JMN 8.237) side of Thoreau's character had initially attracted Emerson, he eventually found it taxing when encountered on a daily basis at such close quarters. While Emerson could and did screen himself from Thoreau, along with his other guests, for much of the day, as a member of the household Thoreau could not be avoided for long.
To make matters worse, by the summer of 1842, Emerson had begun to have doubts about Thoreau's future as a writer. When the two men became friends in the fall of 1837, (10) Emerson immediately assumed the role of Thoreau's mentor and patron. And over the next few years he solicited, revised and critiqued Thoreau's writings and lobbied tirelessly with editors and publishers on his behalf. In return, he expected results in the form of literary achievement. Having made a considerable investment in Thoreau's career, Emerson, who used the possessive adjective when referring to Thoreau in the first few years of their friendship, (11) felt as though he were a shareholder of it. Early on, Emerson was encouraged by Thoreau's progress. In a letter to Margaret Fuller of February 7, 1839, for instance, he reported that "my Henry Thoreau has broke out into good poetry & better prose." (12) Later that year, in a letter to his brother William, he mentioned Thoreau as a potential contributor to The Dial, saying: "My Henry Thoreau will be a great poet for such a company, & one of these days for all companies" (L 2.225). Emerson was probably still convinced that Thoreau was on the verge of greatness when he invited him to live at his home in 1841. But by July of 1842, Emerson had grown impatient. Responding to Fuller's criticism of Thoreau's essay on the "Natural History of Massachusetts," Emerson wrote:
I am sorry that you, & the world after you, do not like my brave Henry any better. I do not like his piece very well, but I admire this perennial threatening attitude, just as we like to go under an overhanging precipice It is wholly his natural relation & no assumption at all. But I have now seen so many threats incarnated which "delayed to strike" & finally never struck at all, that I begin to think our American subsoil must be lead or chalk or whatever represents in geology the phlegmatic. (L 3.75)
Emerson, who seems to have had a penchant for discovering and promoting promising young writers who ultimately failed, in his estimation, to realize their potential, (13) was preparing himself for yet another disappointment. "Young men like H[enry]. T[horeau]. owe us a new world & they have not acquitted the debt," he wrote in his journal during the final weeks of Thoreau's stay, "for the most part, such die young, & so dodge the fulfilment." (14)
Undoubtedly, therefore, Emerson's growing sense that Thoreau would not repay him for his patronage with success as a writer added to his frustration with the younger man's conduct as a houseguest. In January of 1843, he lost his temper and attacked Thoreau for a book review he had written for The Dial just before leaving on a lecture tour. Though Emerson apologized in a letter of February 12 for his "rude & snappish speech" (15) regarding the review, it was obvious to Thoreau that he had overstayed his welcome. On March 1, a week before Emerson's tour ended in New York, Thoreau wrote asking him to keep an eye out for a suitable position for himself there. Emerson seized the opportunity, returning to Concord with William's offer, and Thoreau was never again invited back to "Bush" (16) as a "permanent guest" while Emerson was in residence.
Thus, as Emerson prepared "Manners" for publication in 1844, he had at last managed to put some distance between himself and his "sturdy and uncompromising" friend. And though he sympathizes in the essay with visitors who do not receive true hospitality from their hosts, Emerson underscores the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of offering it to guests like Thoreau. (17)
A decade later, in the "Conclusion" of Walden (1854), Thoreau answered Emerson with a pointed revision of "Manners":
Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board. The hospitality was as cold as the ices. I thought that there was no need of ice to freeze them. They talked to me of the age of the wine and the fame of the vintage; but I thought of an older, a newer, and purer wine, of a more glorious vintage, which they had not got, and could not buy. The style, the house and grounds and "entertainment" pass for nothing with me. I called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality. There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree. His manners were truly regal. I should have done better had I called on him. (18)
In Thoreau's version of the passage from "Manners," hospitality is viewed entirely from the "searching realist's" point of view. While Emerson says it would be "unmerciful" to "abolish" the "screens" a host uses to shield himself from his guests, "a fine house, fine books, conservatory, gardens, equipage, and all manner of toys," Thoreau declares categorically that "the style, the house and grounds and 'entertainment' pass for nothing" with him. While Emerson confesses to hiding behind a curtain when people like Thoreau come to his gate, Thoreau dismisses the "king" who makes him "wait in his hall" as a man "incapacitated for hospitality." In short, in the "Conclusion" of Walden, Thoreau finds the host of "Manners" guilty of inhospitality.
Evidently, in 1854 Thoreau was still unhappy about Emerson's unfriendly allusion to him in "Manners," and in Walden he took the opportunity to respond in kind. It appears, however, that there is more to these lines than their expression of lingering resentment, for the discussion of hospitality in the "Conclusion" is one of several interrelated passages in Walden that refer to Emerson, though neither Emerson nor any of Thoreau's other personal acquaintances alluded to in the book are named explicitly. And when these passages are read together with Thoreau's biography in mind, it seems clear that one of his primary aims in writing Walden was to declare his independence from Emerson.
Although Thoreau is critical of Emersonian hospitality in Walden, he seems to have had no complaints about Emerson's reception of him during the two years they lived together. In September of 1841, after his first summer with the Emersons, he wrote to Lucy Brown of his experience: "I do not know what right I have to so much happiness" (CT 46). And even as it became clear to him in early 1843 that it was time to move on, his letters do not suggest that his feelings had changed. On January 24, for instance, Thoreau wrote a letter to Brown saying that he was "very happy" in his "present environment" (CT 75), and another to Emerson thanking him for his "long kindness" and exemplary hospitality--proffered, he admitted, in spite of his "mean acceptance of it" (CT 78) at times. On February 15, he wrote Emerson again, remarking that "they all look well and happy in this house, where it gives me much pleasure to dwell" (CT 88). In a journal entry of March 1842, Thoreau noted that Emerson had become less friendly towards him, but he claimed it was a positive development in their relationship:
My friend is cold and reserved because his love for me is waxing and not waning These are the early processes--the particles are just beginning to shoot in crystals. If the mountains came to me I should no longer go to the mountains--So soon as that consummation takes place which I wish--it will be past--Shall I not have a friend in reserve? Heaven is to come I hope this is not it. (19)
Only once, to my knowledge, was Thoreau openly hostile toward Emerson when, in late 1841, he told him that it "destroyed his reverence for a great man to come near him" (JMN 8.140).
But the Staten Island venture proved to be a personal and professional setback for Thoreau and it seems to have brought about a change in his attitude toward Emerson. In the first place, though he acquiesced in Emerson's plan, Thoreau was not enthusiastic about going to New York. "I expect to leave Concord," he announced in a letter to Richard Fuller of April 2, 1843, "which is my Rome, and its people, who are my Romans, in May, and go to New York, to be a tutor in Mr. William Emerson's family" (CT 94). On Staten Island, Thoreau was never comfortable with his hosts, whom he felt were not his "kith and kin" (CT 100, 114), and he strongly disliked Manhattan, where he was supposed to be making an impact. A month after his arrival, he told Emerson: "I don't like the city better, the more I see it, but worse. It is a thousand times meaner than I could have imagined" (CT 111). Though Emerson had arranged for Thoreau to meet Giles Waldo and William Tappan, promising young men with whom he hoped Thoreau would develop a friendship, little seems to have come of the introduction. (20) Lonely, homesick, and ill at ease with William Emerson and his family, Thoreau had trouble working. He submitted a review of J.A. Etzler's The Paradise within the Reach of All Men to the Democratic Review that was not accepted at first by the editor, John O'Sullivan. He worked on a translation of Aeschylus's Seven against Thebes, but found that publishers were uninterested. In October, he finally managed to get an original essay entitled "The Landlord" published in the Democratic Review, but was so displeased with the piece that he did not purchase a copy for his family to read. (21) Unable to supplement his tutorial salary as a writer, for a brief period Thoreau tried selling subscriptions to the American Agriculturist door to door in Manhattan. (22) When he returned home at Thanksgiving to give a lecture on "The Ancient Poets" at the Concord Lyceum, Thoreau decided he could not face another stint on Staten Island and he resigned from his post and moved back in with his parents.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, during his sojourn in New York, Thoreau began to voice less favorable views of Emerson and his hospitality than he had before--it was Emerson, after all, who had directed him there. In "The Landlord," for instance, an essay devoted to describing an ideal innkeeper, Thoreau contrasts the generosity of his protagonist with the inhospitality of a "man of genius" (23) who is reminiscent of Emerson. While Thoreau's Landlord grants his guests "free range" (WE 5.156) of his home, tirelessly meeting their needs and keeping them company, the "man of genius" jealously guards his solitude, telling visitors "by all possible hints and signs, I wish to be alone,--good-by,--farewell" (WE 5.157). Unlike Thoreau's "man of genius," Emerson was, on the whole, quite hospitable to visitors. Yet, he prized his solitude and, as was noted earlier in the discussion of "Manners," he regularly avoided his guests in order to obtain it--which, for the Thoreau of "The Landlord," is irredeemably rude.
The most revealing commentary on Emerson's hospitality in Thoreau's writings of the New York period is in "The Departure," a poetic narrative of his two years at Bush written sometime after his arrival on Staten Island. (24) Thoreau begins the poem by saying that when he first came to live at the Emersons', his hosts' "warm-hearted" hospitality and "good-will" had made him feel at home (WE 5.414). "The stranger moored him to their pier," Thoreau recalls, "without anxiety or fear," roaming the "sloping land" of Concord by day and exploring the "gentle heavens" by night (WE 5.414). As time passed, however, he confesses that the Emersons' "kindness" to him became a burden, a debt he felt an increasingly urgent need to "repay" (WE 5.415). Thus, despite a growing sense that he ought to leave, Thoreau claims that he prolonged his visit in the hope of settling his account. But "the more he stayed," Thoreau says of himself, "the less his debt was paid" (WE 5.415). So, finally, seeing no other way out of his dilemma, he indicates that he left his hosts in order to cut his losses. And the poem ends with a brief description of his melancholy sea voyage to New York (WE 5.415).
Although he did not mention it at the time, "The Departure" suggests that Thoreau was well-aware that Emerson's hospitality, like his patronage in general, was not a free gift and that he would have to become an accomplished writer, if not, as Emerson put it, the architect of a "new world," in order to be quits with his host. It implies, furthermore, that as the months went by and Thoreau did not make the kind of progress that was expected of him, he felt as if he were buying time at the Emersons on credit, only to fall deeper into debt.
Occasionally, in his journals of 1841-43, one can sense that Thoreau was struggling with the feelings of indebtedness he describes in "The Departure." On September 2, 1841, for instance, he wrote:
There is but one obligation and that is the obligation to obey the highest dictate.--None can lay me under another which will supersede this. The Gods have given me these years without any incumbrance--society has no mortgage on them. If any man assist me in the way of the world, let him derive satisfaction from the deed itself--for I think I never shall have dissolved my prior obligations to God.
Kindness repaid is thereby annulled I would let his deed lie as fair and generous as it was intended. The truly beneficent never relapses into a creditor--his great kindness is still extended to me and is never done. Of those noble deeds which have me for their object I am only the most fortunate spectator, And would rather be the abettor of their nobleness, than stay their tide with the obstructions of impatient gratitude.... If any have been kind to me, what more do they want--I cannot make them richer than they are--(PJ 1.327-28)
In Nature, Emerson had suggested that individuals, in their interactions with others, are engaged in a more fundamental "correspondence" (CW 1.19) with the God or Spirit that gives them being. For Thoreau, who adopted Emersonian correspondence as the central doctrine of his Transcendentalism, this meant that in gift-giving the recipient of a gift is indebted first and foremost to God rather than his or her earthly benefactor. As he put it in a journal entry of May 14, 1840: "A kind act or gift lays us under obligation not so much to the giver as to Truth and Love" (PJ 1.123). In the lines above, however, Thoreau alters his earlier view to assert that the recipient of a gift has no obligation whatsoever to the human donor and is therefore "only the most fortunate spectator" of any kindness extended to him. Moreover, he rebuffs those who would claim to be his creditor, saying that "if any have been kind to me, what more do they want--I cannot make them richer than they are." When placed in the context of "The Departure," Thoreau's apparent use of Transcendentalism in this passage as a means of repudiating all debts to those who had been "kind" to him reads like an attempt to quell his anxiety over his debt to the Emersons, who, at this point in his life, were his principal benefactors.
For the most part, however, allusions to Thoreau's sense of indebtedness are rare in his writings prior to "The Departure." Undoubtedly, Thoreau was reluctant to affirm the existence of the rift that was growing between himself and Emerson over the quality of his work. Emerson was, as Robert Sattlemeyer observes, "the great companion" of Thoreau's "early years" (25) and, with the exception of his brother John, who died in January 1842, the closest friend he had had. Perhaps, too, in refusing to acknowledge his indebtedness to Emerson, Thoreau felt he was keeping open the possibility that he might eventually meet his mentor's expectations. Whatever his reasons may have been, on Staten Island Thoreau was able to speak more frankly about his relationship with Emerson and, significantly, he suggested that the friendship had been tarnished by debt.
Emerson must have guessed Thoreau's feelings, for in "Gifts," the short essay that follows "Manners" in Essays: Second Series, he argues that gift-giving is injurious to the recipient because it burdens him or her with debt:
He is a good man who can receive a gift well. We are either glad or sorry at a gift, and both emotions are unbecoming. Some violence, I think, is done, some degradation borne, when I rejoice or grieve at a gift. I am sorry when my independence is invaded.... How can you give me this pot of oil, or this flagon of wine, when all your oil and wine is mine, which belief of mine this gift seems to deny? Hence the fitness of beautiful, not useful things for gifts. This giving is flat usurpation, and therefore when the beneficiary is ungrateful, as all beneficiaries hate all Timons, not at all considering the value of the gift, but looking back to the greater store it was taken from, I rather sympathize with the beneficiary, than with the anger of my lord Timon. For, the expectation of gratitude is mean, and is continually punished by the total insensibility of the obliged person. It is a great happiness to get off without injury and heart-burning, from one who has had the ill luck to be served by you. It is a very onerous business, this of being served, and the debtor naturally wishes to give you a slap. A golden text for these gentlemen is that which I so admire in the Buddhist, who never thanks, and who says, "Do not flatter your benefactors." (26)
According to Emerson, gifts, especially "useful" ones like oil and wine, are not free. (27) While it might seem that a donor surrenders her property in giving a gift to another person, she actually reaffirms her possession of it in doing so and retains its value in the indebtedness of her beneficiary. Meanwhile, the recipient of a gift becomes a dependent and is thereby demeaned in the exchange.
It is unclear whether Thoreau had come to resent Emerson's patronage and hospitality at the time "Gifts" was published in 1844, but as the "The Departure" shows, he certainly felt that his "independence" had been "invaded." Notably, although Emerson professes sympathy for "the total insensibility of the obliged person" in "Gifts," in his eulogy for Thoreau, he seems to have been at pains to curb his annoyance with his friend on this score. In the published version of this text, Emerson says of Thoreau: "An iconoclast in literature, he seldom thanked colleges for their service to him, holding them in small esteem, whilst yet his debt to them was important" (C 10.451). And in at least one manuscript of the oration, one finds that the word "never" was initially in the place of "seldom." (28)
On Independence Day of 1845, Thoreau moved into a 10'x15'x8' one-room house he had built on the northern shore of Walden Pond, became a bean farmer and day laborer, and immersed himself in writing the book that would become A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849). Rejuvenated by his life in the woods and inspired by his new project, which memorialized a two-week boating and hiking trip he had made to New Hampshire with his brother John in 1839, Thoreau was happier than he had been in years and he seems to have put aside his differences with his mentor. "There is no such general critic of men & things," Thoreau wrote of Emerson during his first winter at the Pond, "no such trustworthy & faithful man.--More of the divine realized in him than in any" (PJ 2.223).
As usual, Emerson assisted his protege in important ways. The land on which Thoreau lived free of charge at Walden was Emerson's, as were many of the tools he used to build and maintain his home there. Emerson, furthermore, helped Thoreau stay afloat financially by supplying him with paying jobs around his house. (29) Occasionally, Thoreau's eccentricities annoyed Emerson. His habit of "coining ... the present moment into a sentence" in conversation seemed facile and immature: "I compared it to a boy who from the universal snow lying on the earth gathers up a little in his hand, rolls it into a ball, and flings it at me" (JMN 9.101-2). But, for the most part, the two men seem to have gotten along fairly well--well enough, in fact, that Emerson changed his will to leave the Walden property to Thoreau. (30) And in July of 1846, when Emerson heard Thoreau read portions of A Week he was genuinely impressed, calling the book "spicy as flagroot" yet "broad and deep" (L 3.338). For the first time in their nine-year relationship, Thoreau had met Emerson's expectations for him.
The very next week, however, Thoreau was arrested and jailed for a night for refusing to pay his poll tax in protest of slavery. (31) To Emerson, Thoreau's now-famous gesture was "mean and skulking, and in bad taste." (32) The two men met to discuss the issue, but Emerson was thoroughly displeased with his pupil's conduct and remained so for some time afterwards. He continued to aid Thoreau professionally, sending a strong recommendation of A Week to Evert Duyckinck at Wiley and Putnam in New York as the book neared completion, but his reservations about the younger man were now as pronounced as they had ever been. In the summer of 1847, as Emerson was getting ready to leave for a tour of England and France, he wrote of Thoreau in his journal: "T. sometimes appears only as a gen d'arme[,] good to knock down a cockney with, but without that power to cheer & establish, which makes the value of a friend" (JMN 10.106-7).
A month before Emerson left for England in October 1847, Thoreau ended his "experiment" (W 323) at Walden Pond and moved into Bush to take up the role of "surrogate father and husband" to Lidian Emerson and the children, Ellen, Edith, and Edward, during his absence. (33) As their correspondence shows, Emerson and Thoreau got along much better while Emerson was away. Their relationship began to deteriorate again, however, as soon as Emerson returned to Concord in July of 1848. Emerson's tour had been a triumph and it had changed him in ways that quickly alienated his younger friend. In England, Emerson had lectured to large audiences, he had been sought out by nobles and he had been entertained by luminaries--including, among others, Frederic-Francois Chopin, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and William Wordsworth. Emerson had been treated like royalty abroad and his success as a writer and speaker encouraged him to act the part at home. He purchased a chaise, he increased his staff of servants and he took up smoking cigars after dinner. A decade earlier, Emerson had dedicated himself to founding The Dial with Margaret Fuller; now he worked to establish a town and country club for Boston's Brahmins. He had less time than ever for Thoreau and he had even begun to assume a condescending demeanor toward his friend, who at thirty-one lived in the garret of his parents' home and was still not done with the Week.
In October of 1848, James Russell Lowell published "A Fable for Critics," a poem that satirized Thoreau for his dependence upon Emerson for his ideas. (34) Emerson himself had once accused Thoreau of imitating him, saying that the young man's thoughts were at bottom his own "quite originally drest" (JMN 8.96). And Thoreau could not have been unaware of the fact that friends and acquaintances mocked him for adopting Emerson's mannerisms and way of speaking to the point where he was even accused of "getting up a nose like Emerson's." (35) For a man who subscribed wholeheartedly to Emerson's belief that "imitation is suicide" (CW 2.27), these gibes must have been hard to swallow. But Lowell's popular poem was particularly damaging in that it discredited Thoreau in front of a large audience before he had had a chance to publish his first major work. If Thoreau had felt uneasy about his debt to Emerson earlier, as "The Departure" suggests, he must have felt overwhelmed by it now.
The point of no return for Emerson and Thoreau seems to have come when A Week, a deeply Emersonian text whose cost of production Emerson had advised Thoreau to underwrite, did not sell, leaving Thoreau utterly demoralized and in dire straits financially--in its first four years on the market, roughly 200 of the 1,000 copies of A Week originally printed by James Munroe were sold, saddling Thoreau with a debt of $300. (36) Already, in the months preceding its release by Munroe on May 26, 1849, Emerson had surprised Thoreau by critiquing the book, which had been expanded substantially since he first heard portions of it 1846. Then, when Theodore Parker asked Emerson to review A Week for the Massachusetts Quarterly a few days after its publication, he declined, saying that it would be inappropriate for him to offer a critical opinion of the work of one of his own "clan & parish." (37) As a result, Parker wound up asking James Russell Lowell to write the review. "Now," as Harmon Smith observes, "Thoreau had a real injustice on which to focus the hostile feelings toward Emerson aroused in him by the sense of rejection he felt due to their growing apart." (38) And the book's subsequent commercial failure, which must have seemed like an official verdict on the success of Thoreau's apprenticeship to Emerson, sealed his disappointment in himself and his mentor.
Since Emerson's return from Europe, Thoreau had said nothing about the negative turn their friendship had taken. But, in the summer and fall of 1849, he broke his silence. Sometime after September 11, 1849 he wrote in his journal:
I had a friend, I wrote a book, I asked my friend's criticism, I never got but praise for what was good in it--my friend became estranged from me and then I got blame for all that was bad,--& so I got at last the criticism which I wanted.
While my friend was my friend he flattered me, and I never heard the truth from him, but when he became my enemy he shot it to me on a poisoned arrow. (PJ 3.26)
Although Emerson and Thoreau were ultimately reconciled in the late 1850s, (39) their friendship was never the same, as Thoreau predicted in a journal entry written between May 26 and September 11, 1849: "I had tenderly cherished the flower of our friendship till one day my friend treated it as a weed. It (did not survive the shock but) drooped & withered from that hour" (PJ 3.20).
Over the next four years, as Thoreau was expanding and revising Walden, a philosophical account of his two-year sojourn at the Pond, he struggled to come to terms with the loss of the most important friendship of his life. He felt betrayed, and though he still saw Emerson regularly, he no longer trusted him: "Ah I yearn toward thee my friend," Thoreau wrote in his journal of October 10, 1851, "but I have not confidence in thee.'"
We do not believe in the same God. I am not thou--Thou art not I. We trust each other today but we distrust tomorrow. Even when I meet thee unexpectedly I part from thee with disappointment. Though I enjoy thee more than other men yet I am more disappointed with thee than with others. I know a noble man what is it hinders me from knowing him better? I know not how it is that our distrust our hate is stronger than our love. Here I have been on what the world would call friendly terms with one for 14 years, have pleased my imagination sometimes with loving him--and yet our hate is stronger than our love. Why are we related--yet thus unsatisfactorily. We are almost a sore to one another. (PJ 4.137)
Obviously, a lot was at stake for Thoreau in Walden. For personal, professional, and financial reasons, he wanted the book to be both successful and unequivocally original. He hoped to erase the public's perception of him as a derivative thinker while acquitting his debt to Emerson for his patronage. It seems no coincidence, then, that in the long introductory chapter of Walden on "Economy," Thoreau indicates that the first goal he wished to achieve at the Pond was to free himself from indebtedness. For Thoreau, "trade curses every thing it handles" (W 70). All around him, people live "mean and sneaking lives" (W 6) because they are "always on the limits, trying to get into business and trying to get out of debt" (W 6). Working, stealing, borrowing or begging, he feels that nearly everyone leads a life of "quiet desperation" (W 8), enslaved by "another's brass" (W 7). Thus, keeping a careful account of all he spent, borrowed, and earned, Thoreau says he built his one-room house with a stove and six pieces of furniture on a piece of uninhabited land at Walden Pond. There, on the outskirts of town, (40) he hoped to emancipate himself from economic entanglement and to engage other people and nature in a more authentic fashion.
To this end, Thoreau claims that he insisted on free interpersonal exchanges with those he encountered during his two years at Walden. In the "Visitors" chapter, for instance, where Thoreau describes the guests he entertained at his cabin, he writes:
I had some guests from those not reckoned commonly among the town's poor, but who should be; who are among the world's poor, at any rate; guests who appeal, not to your hospitality, but to your hospitalality; who earnestly wish to be helped, and preface their appeal with the information that they are resolved, for one thing, never to help themselves. I require of a visitor that he be not actually starving, though he may have the very best appetite in the world, however he got it. Objects of charity are not guests. (W 152)
"Hospitalality," giving food and shelter to those who require help, is not hospitality as Thoreau understands it, a free gift, as the guest's request insinuates an economy of debt and recompense into the exchange. The host is obliged as a compassionate human being to help one of his or her fellows in need and the guest, being in need of hospitality, is not free to receive it. Afterwards, the guest is relieved and grateful for the hospitality and the host is gratified by his or her thanks. Or, even if the guest shows no gratitude, the host still knows he or she has done a good deed and is compensated by that knowledge alone. "Hospitalality" is, in other words, a matter of economy. Thus, Thoreau says that visitors "who came out to the woods for freedom's sake, and really left the village [and its commerce] behind, I was ready to greet with--'Welcome Englishmen! welcome Englishmen!'" (W 154). But if anyone called on him in need of assistance, one is left to imagine, he or she was either turned away or received with reluctance.
As the discussion of "hospitalality" suggests, in Thoreau's opinion, one may interact with others without burdening them with debt if one is willing to maintain one's standards at the cost of being unkind--by refusing to receive visitors who need help, for instance. Indeed, a host might be "as rude as a fabled satyr," as is the farmer Rice in A Week, and still be the purveyor of "true hospitality" (41) if he or she abstains from charity. Thoreau distinguishes himself sharply, therefore, from the Emerson of "Gifts," for whom gifts are unfree and degrading.
While perfecting his interpersonal relations at Walden, Thoreau also tried to keep his interactions with nature from being contaminated by financial interests. In "The Bean-Field," where Thoreau describes his experience farming beans, he laments that farmers of his day, himself included, tend to view their occupation only as a way of making money: "Ancient poetry and mythology suggest, at least, that husbandry was once a sacred art; but it is pursued with irreverent haste and heedlessness by us, our object being to have large farms and large crops merely" (W 165). What is more, Thoreau adds, farmers are destroying the natural "landscape" (W 165) because, in their efforts to make their land yield the maximum profit, they wind up using any means at their disposal without respect for the natural order of things. Farming had become a competitive business in antebellum New England, (42) meaning that a farmer's relation to his or her land was thoroughly mediated by the demands of commerce. The pressure on farmers to maintain high levels of productivity just to avoid falling into debt was great, and, according to Thoreau, once one was in the trade, it was difficult to get out of it (W 5). Nevertheless, Thoreau has no pity for his fellow husbandmen because he feels that if they could simplify their needs, they would not live under the constant threat of financial ruin. Thoreau therefore challenges himself and others to farm in a more environmentally conscientious fashion, to "cease from anxiety" (W 166) about making a profit, and to accept with gratitude whatever harvest God sends.
As many critics have observed, Thoreau's discussions of economy in Walden constitute a response to the momentous social, political, and economic changes that industrialization had brought about in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century. (43) But the fact that Thoreau addresses the matter of economy and indebtedness at such length in Walden also suggests that his relationship with Emerson is a crucial subtext of the book. For this intense interest of Thoreau's in liberating himself from indebtedness and of relating freely to others is unique to Walden. Neither A Week nor Thoreau's two major posthumous books, The Maine Woods (1864) and Cape Cod (1865), concern themselves with the problem of economy or indebtedness. Economy is not one of the major themes of the Journal, and of Thoreau's shorter works, only "Life Without Principle," a lecture he delivered the same year he published Walden, deals with the issue in any substantive way. Clearly, therefore, Walden is in no small part the expression of a pressing need of Thoreau's in the late 1840s and early 1850s to engage the problem of personal indebtedness. (44) Given that it was Emerson from whom Thoreau most urgently wished to emancipate himself in writing Walden, it is difficult to imagine that this desire is not to a significant extent both the origin and subject of the book.
At times, Thoreau simply does not acknowledge his debts to Emerson in Walden, though he proudly proclaims in "Economy" that "nothing was given me of which I have not rendered some account" (W 60). He does not mention, for instance, that the land he claims to have squatted on was Emerson's and that Emerson gave him permission to live there. He does not note that Emerson regularly found work for him or that he often dined at Bush during his stay at Walden. (45) And at the end of the book, when Thoreau says he left the woods because he had "several more lives to lead" (W 323), he does not indicate that he went to live at the Emersons' and that Emerson purchased his cabin to provide him with some additional income. (46)
More often, however, Thoreau confronts his indebtedness to Emerson in Walden, declaring his independence from him in two distinct ways. In his discussions of hospitality, Thoreau deals with his debt to Emerson by attacking the inhospitality of unnamed contemporaries whose manners resemble Emerson's. In the chapter on "HouseWarming," for instance, Thoreau reformulates his critique of "the man of genius" who avoids his guests in "The Landlord," complaining that hosts of his acquaintance act as though "hospitality is the art of keeping you at the greatest distance" (W 244). Hospitality, he says, should be offered without restriction; the host should be available to guests at all times and the house should be "as open and manifest as a bird's nest ... where to be a guest is to be presented with the freedom of the house" (W 244). In the "Conclusion" of Walden, cited earlier, Thoreau rearticulates Emerson's excursus on hospitality in "Manners," criticizing the "entertainment" of a wealthy host whose table lacks "sincerity" and "truth" and praising the "truly regal" manners of a neighbor "who lived in a hollow tree." (47) Here, Thoreau's words are reminiscent of his journal entries describing Emerson's manners after his return from Europe in 1848. On January 31, 1852, for example, he wrote:
Emerson is too grand for me He belongs to the nobility & wears their cloak & manners--is attracted to Plato not to Socrates--I fear partly because the latters life & associates were too humble. I am a commoner. To me there is something devilish in manners--The best manners is nakedness of manners. I should value E's praise more which is always so discriminating, if there were not some alloy of patronage & hence of flattery about--in that respect he is like (MS erased)--they flatter you, but themselves more. (PJ 4.309-10)
Like his other "screens," Emerson's manners kept his guests, friends and acquaintances at arm's length. For Thoreau, however, Emerson's post-1848 manners were also condescending and dishonest. To cite an entry of February 23, 1857: "You cheat me, you keep me at a distance with your manners. I know of no other dishonesty, no other devil. Why this doubleness, these compliments? They are the worst of lies. A lie is not worse between traders than a compliment between friends" (WE 15.277).
One can see why critiquing Emerson for his shortcomings as a host would have been one of Thoreau's aims in the sections of Walden devoted to hospitality. First, he could exact a little revenge and establish himself as a superior host. Second, he could disqualify Emerson as a host, thereby excusing himself from his obligation to him: if Emerson had not really offered him hospitality, there was nothing for Thoreau to repay. He could attribute his sense of indebtedness to the fact that he had received "hospitalality" and not hospitality from Emerson--after all, if he had been given "true hospitality," he wouldn't have been left with feelings of indebtedness. Along these lines, shortly after the publication of Walden, Thoreau wrote: "[My friend] offered me friendship on such terms that I could not accept it, without a sense of degradation. He would not meet me on equal terms, but only be to some extent my patron. He would not come to see me, but was hurt if I did not visit him. He would not readily accept a favor, but would gladly confer one" (WE 14.199).
The second way that Thoreau declares himself free of his debt to Emerson in Walden is by appropriating and transforming his theory of "correspondence," (48) the cornerstone of his early Transcendentalism. In Nature, Emerson's first and only systematic treatment of the doctrine, he says that "man" is fallen, that he has become alienated from God and the natural world, but that he can reunite with them by learning to see things in their right divine order. Consequently, Emerson calls upon his readers to seek "an original relation to the universe" in the opening paragraph of the book, a "radical correspondence" between themselves and "Nature" (CW 1.7, 8, 19); and as his discussion progresses, he weaves philosophy, mythology, poetry, and religion into an allegory of man's journey towards such a relation, marked by chapters ordered to intimate a spiritual ascent from "Nature" to "Spirit" and "Prospects," from Fall to Redemption. (49)
In the first chapter of Walden, Thoreau claims that he "went to the woods" in order to "front only the essential facts of life" (W 90). First, his plan seems to go, he will purge his relations of debt. Then, he will enter into a more fundamental exchange with God through his free encounters with other individuals and nature. And as this process unfolds, Walden's chapters mimic Nature's figural ascent towards divine correspondence. In Sherman Paul's words:
Like Emerson in Nature [Thoreau] began with the prudential, rising through the progressive uses of nature to spirit. Indeed, most of Emerson's treatise was embodied in Walden: "Commodity" in "Economy"; "Nature" and "Beauty" in "Sounds" and "Solitude"; "Language" in "Brute Neighbors"; "Discipline" in "Reading," "The Beanfield," and "Higher Laws"; "Idealism," "Spirit," and "Prospects" in "The Pond in Winter," "Spring," and "Conclusion." (50)
Thus, in Walden, Thoreau borrows both the doctrine and structure of Nature. But there is a crucial difference between the two books in their treatment of human relations with nature. Thoreau, who dedicated most of his adult life to the study and enjoyment of Concord's natural environment, was an extraordinarily gifted naturalist. "It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him," Emerson wrote in his eulogy for Thoreau: "He knew the country like a fox or a bird, and passed through it as freely by paths of his own. He knew every track in the snow or on the ground, and what creature had taken this path before him. One must submit abjectly to such a guide, and the reward was great" (C 10.469). As even his greatest detractor, James Russell Lowell, admitted, Thoreau also possessed an "exquisite mechanical skill in the shaping of sentences and paragraphs, or (more rarely) short bits of verse for the expression of a detached thought, sentiment or image." (51) "In reading [Thoreau]," Emerson said, "I find the same thought, the same spirit that is in me, but he takes a step beyond, and illustrates by excellent images that which I should have conveyed in a sleepy generality." (52) Not surprisingly, therefore, in Walden, Thoreau distinguishes himself from the Emerson of Nature in his depictions of correspondence through his use of precise and affecting natural imagery.
A comparison of two of the most powerful passages in Nature and Walden will make this difference between the two Transcendentalists clear. In the first chapter of Nature, Emerson famously recalls a personal experience of correspondence:
Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. Almost I fear to think how glad I am. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befal me in life,--no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,--my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,--all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. (CW 1.10)
Although the specific location is not named, Emerson's narrative begins with a concrete visual image of the speaker "crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky." The discussion then shifts, however, to general statements about man's experience in "the woods" and does not provide any further details about the scene of inspiration. In the concluding lines of the passage, natural imagery disappears altogether in favor of the astonishing metaphor of "a transparent eye-ball" for the speaker's ecstatic experience of being immersed within "the currents of Universal Being."
The opening paragraph of Walden's chapter on "Solitude" reveals an entirely different approach to representing a human encounter with nature:
This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the stony shore of the pond in my shirt sleeves, though it is cool as well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me. The bullfrogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of the whippoorwill is borne on the rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath; yet, like the lake, my serenity is tippled but not ruffled. These small waves raised by the evening wind are as remote from storm as the smooth reflecting surface. Though it is now dark, the wind still blows and roars in the wood, the waves still dash, and some creatures lull the rest with their notes. The repose is never complete. The wildest animals do not repose, but seek their prey now; the fox, and skunk, and rabbit, now roam the fields and woods without fear. They are Nature's watchmen,--links which connect the days of animated life." (W 129)
Like Emerson, Thoreau recounts an experience of divine correspondence in rhapsodic terms. Unlike Emerson, he weaves together visual, aural and tactile imagery throughout the account, giving his readers a rich sense of the scene from start to finish.
Significantly, Thoreau's greater emphasis on natural imagery in the passage is accompanied by a markedly different illustration of the way correspondence works. While Emerson's twilight crossing of the common transforms him into a "transparent eye-ball" seemingly devoid of all sensory perception or bodily existence, Thoreau's walk along the "stony shore of the pond" at nightfall turns him into a body that appears to be immediately aware of nothing but sense impressions. Emerson's encounter with nature ultimately effaces nature leaving him a consciousness alone with or within God but, by the end of Thoreau's passage, the "small waves raised by the evening wind," the mating sound of the wind "in the wood," "the fox, and skunk and rabbit" are so exclusively the focus of the narrative that one barely notices the presence of the speaker and God is nowhere to be seen. Thoreau's speaker senses his divinely appointed correspondence with the world surrounding him, intimated by his "sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves" that nearly leaves him breathless, but God or the "Universal Being" remains beyond the horizon of awareness; its presence can only be inferred by the unusual congeniality of the "elements" to the man who walks in their midst.
Thus, by letting his considerable talent as a naturalist and artificer of natural imagery shape his understanding and presentation of divine correspondence, Thoreau was able to rewrite Emerson's theory in his own terms in Walden. As H. Daniel Peck puts it, Thoreauvian correspondence, though it is ultimately "a vision of nature spiritualized" like Emersonian correspondence, is "grounded in the horizontal framework of the natural world rather than in the vertical framework of transcendence." (53) The result is an "ecocentric" (54) and highly original portrayal of nature that has helped to make Walden as famous and as influential a work of literature as any ever produced in America.
Critics of Thoreau might argue that in refashioning the correspondence theory, Thoreau was still stealing "strawberries" from Emerson's "garden," (55) to use an expression of Lowell's, no matter how different the outcome. Yet, as Emerson points out in "Quotation and Originality" (1859), all writers borrow from their predecessors; originality comes of "being one's self' while borrowing (C 8.191). In fact, if Thoreau wished to declare his independence from Emerson in writing Walden, borrowing so manifestly from Nature was actually a very effective strategy for doing so. It is, after all, precisely the obviousness of Thoreau's reliance on Nature that allows his readers to appreciate differences between the two books. And if one considers that Thoreau had never attempted to rewrite one of Emerson's books before Walden and never did again, it seems patent that in this particular book he wanted both to propose a new theory of correspondence and to call attention to the difference between his doctrine and Emerson's.
To conclude, Thoreau declares his independence from Emerson in Walden by disqualifying Emerson's patronage and hospitality as "hospitalality" and by constructing a new theory of correspondence upon the foundations Emerson had built in Nature. It might be said, then, that Thoreau's declaration of independence is at once a denial and an acknowledgement of his indebtedness to Emerson; for, though he absolves himself of his debt to his mentor in his discussions of hospitality, Thoreau repays it in his discussions of nature with the kind of originality that had always been expected of him.
The University of Memphis
(1) Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Robert Spiller, Alfred Ferguson, et al (Harvard UP, 1971-) 3.79-80; cited hereafter parenthetically as CW.
(2) Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. William Gillman et al, 16 volumes (Harvard UP, 1960-1982), 8.44; cited hereafter as JMN.
(3) Ralph L. Rusk The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1949), pp. 415, 449, 423.
(4) This passage is quoted from an unpublished lecture, entitled "Hospitality. Homes," that Emerson read between 1868 and 1871. The fragmentary manuscript is held at the Houghton Library and is listed as Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Meionaon. V. Hospitality. Homes. [9 Nov 1868]" and catalogued as bMS Am 1280.210 (10). I would like to thank the Houghton Library and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association for permission to quote from this text.
(5) See Harmon Smith, My Friend, My Friend (U of Massachusetts P, 1999), pp. 75-79.
(6) Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, ed. William Charvat et al, 23 vols. to date (Ohio State UP, 1962-1997), 8.371.
(7) Smith, p. 59.
(8) Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Edward Waldo Emerson, 12 volumes, Centenary Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1903-1904), 10.464, 479; subsequent references to this edition are cited as C.
(9) JMN 13.183. This entry also appears in Emerson's funeral address for Thoreau. See C 10.455-56.
(10) Emerson and Thoreau probably saw one another for the first time in Concord after Emerson moved there in 1834. On February 25, 1835, Emerson, a member of a committee of the Harvard Board of Overseers, examined Thoreau, along with a number of other Harvard sophomores, on Richard Whately's Rhetoric. They became acquainted on April 9, 1837 when Thoreau visited Emerson at his home, having obtained an invitation through the intervention of Lucy Brown, Lidian Emerson's sister. Not long after their meeting, Emerson wrote a letter of recommendation to Josiah Quincy, the president of Harvard, on Thoreau's behalf. But it was not until the fall of 1837, when Thoreau returned to live in Concord after his graduation, that the two became friends. See Walter Harding, The Days of Henry Thoreau (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), pp. 60-61, and Smith, pp. 5-8.
(11) Robert Sattlemeyer first noted this, adding that Emerson adopted "from the start a patronizing and somewhat proprietary attitude towards Thoreau." Robert Sattlemeyer, "When He Became My Enemy: Emerson and Thoreau, 1848-9," New England Quarterly, Volume 62, No. 2 (1989), p. 192.
(12) Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Ralph L. Rusk and Eleanor M. Tilton, 9 volumes (Columbia UP, 1939-94), 2.182; cited as L hereafter.
(13) See William M. Moss, "'So Many Promising Youths': Emerson's Disappointing Discoveries of New England Seer-Poets," New England Quarterly, Volume 49, No. 1 (1976), pp. 46-64.
(14) JMN 8.375. Emerson included part of this entry in "Experience," which, like "Manners," appears in the Essays: Second Series. See CW 3.30-31.
(15) Walter Harding and Carl Bode, eds., The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau (New York UP, 1958), p. 85; subsequent passages from this work are cited as CT.
(16) The Emersons referred to their Concord home as "Bush."
(17) According to Edward Emerson, the essay on "Manners" in Essays: Second Series grew out of a lecture of the same title that Emerson first delivered in Boston in December of 1841 as part of his course on "The Times." The lecture manuscript is not extant and it is not clear how much of the essay is derived from the lecture. If the allusion to Thoreau was present in the text of the lecture, it would suggest to me that Emerson's feelings about his friend had begun to change earlier than has been thought. See Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen Whicher et al, 3 volumes (Harvard UP, 1960-72), 3.341-43.
(18) Henry David Thoreau, Walden, ed. J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton UP, 1971), 330-31; cited hereafter as W.
(19) Henry David Thoreau, Journal, ed. John C. Broderick, Robert Sattlemeyer, et al, 8 volumes to date (Princeton UP, 1981-), 1.383; cited as PJ in the rest of this text.
(20) See Smith, pp. 80-82, 87-89, 93.
(21) Smith, p. 92.
(22) Smith, p. 91.
(23) Henry David Thoreau, The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Walden Edition, 20 volumes (New York: AMS Press, 1968), 5.157; subsequent references to this edition are cited as WE.
(24) F.B. Sanborn and Henry S. Salt suggest that Thoreau refers to his sojourn with the Emersons in the poem, which they believe he wrote in New York. See F.B. Sanborn's editorial remarks in WE 6.50. See also Henry S. Salt, Life of Henry David Thoreau (New York: Archon Books, 1968), p. 58.
(25) Sattlemeyer, p. 187.
(26) CW 3.95. The Buddhist's command in this passage that one not flatter one's benefactors is called "the true law of hospitality" (JMN 7.363) in the journal entry of 1840 from which Emerson culled the sentence for "Gifts."
(27) For this reason, in his classic essay on "The Gift" (1924), Marcel Mauss writes that the Emersonian gift is an instance of "potlatch," the dominant "pre-modern" form of exchange, where there is no such thing as a "free gift" and where "charity is wounding for him who has accepted it." Marcel Mauss, The Gift, tr. W.D.Halls (London: Routledge, 1990), pp. vii, 65.
(28) The manuscript is held at the Huntington Library and is listed as HM 187 Emerson, Ralph Waldo "Thoreau" [ca. 1866]. I would like to thank the Huntington Library and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association for allowing me to peruse and refer to this piece.
(29) Smith, pp. 101-2.
(30) Smith, p. 102.
(31) Thoreau remained in jail only one night because a friend (in all likelihood, his Aunt Maria) paid his back taxes for him.
(32) Quoted in Smith, p. 106.
(33) Here and throughout the rest of this paragraph I follow Harmon Smith's excellent account of these events in My Friend, My Friend, pp. 118-19, 127-32. See also Sattlemeyer pp. 201-3 and Robert D. Richardson, Emerson: The Mind on Fire (U of California P, 1995), pp. 443-44.
(34) See Smith, p. 133.
(35) Quoted in Harding, p. 66.
(36) Linck C. Johnson, "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers" in Joel Myerson, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Henry David Thoreau (Cambridge UP, 1995), p. 54.
(37) Quoted in Sattlemeyer, p. 203.
(38) Smith, p. 135.
(39) Smith, p. 166.
(40) Thoreau did not, as legend would have it, move to the woods in order to escape society altogether; Walden Pond is roughly 1 1/4 miles from the center of Concord.
(41) Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, ed. Carl F. Hovde (Princeton UP, 1980), pp. 206, 168.
(42) See Leonard Neufeldt, The Economist: Henry Thoreau and Enterprise (Oxford UP, 1989), pp. 3-15.
(43) Leonard Neufeldt's extraordinary The Economist: Henry Thoreau and Enterprise is the most comprehensive and informative study of Thoreau and economy of which I am aware, incorporating and expanding upon Richard Poirier's and Stanley Cavell's groundbreaking insights about Thoreau's "extra-vagant" use of economic language in Walden. See also Judith P. Saunders, "Economic Metaphor Redefined: The Transcendental Capitalist at Walden" in Harold Bloom, ed., Henry David Thoreau's Walden (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987), pp. 59-67.
(44) Thoreau worked on Walden from 1846 until 1854, and though the first draft of the book contained a substantial portion of the final version of "Economy," economy actually became more central to the work as a whole in later drafts. In Neufeldt's words: "In the successive versions of Walden one of the emerging patterns is the gradual extension of the theme of economy and profitable business to materials other than the 'Economy' pages but also the expansion of the 'Economy' material (only some of these additions, particularly the latter, survived to the final version)." The Economist: Henry Thoreau and Enterprise, p. 62. See also J. Lyndon Shanley, The Making of Walden (U of Chicago P, 1957).
(45) Smith, p. 101.
(46) Smith, p. 112.
(47) At least part of the passage from the "Conclusion" was taken from a journal entry of April 1, 1850 that reads: "with me--I called on the king but he made me wait in his hall & he conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality--" (PJ 3.53). The rest of the passage is missing, but the entry appears in the midst of a long sequence of entries in which Thoreau is trying to cope with the loss of his friendship with Emerson by speaking negatively of friendship itself in abstract philosophical terms. Perry Miller describes his experience of reading these entries in the following manner: "One who reads much (or little) in the Journal after 1850 must be impressed--indeed, appalled--not only by the obviously insatiable drive that brings Thoreau back, again and again, to 'friendship,' but by the monotony of his rhetorical devices for translating friendship into no friendship.... with Thoreau a luxuriating in friendship and its inadequacies becomes simply monstrous." Perry Miller, Consciousness in Concord (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1958), pp. 90-92.
(48) Claiming that "correspondence" is the principal tenet of Emersonian Transcendentalism, Clarence Hotson, in a series of four articles published in The New-Church Review, identifies 173 passages of Emerson's containing the idea of correspondence, stretching from his first use of the term in his journal of October 1826 to an entry late in 1873. Hotson notes that Emerson derives the term "correspondence" from Emmanuel Swedenborg and explores the extent to which Swedenborg is Emerson's principal intellectual "benefactor." See Clarence Hotson, "Emerson and Swedenborg," The New-Church Review, Volume 36 (1929), pp. 47-59, 173-86, 304-16, 435-48. Instead, for Perry Miller, who links correspondence to American Puritanism, the doctrine is European in name alone: "it is truly strange that the generation of Emerson and Alcott should have had to go to Emmanuel Swedenborg for a doctrine of 'correspondence,' since something remarkably like it had been embedded in their own tradition for two hundred years." Perry Miller, The New England Mind, The Seventeenth Century (New York: Macmillan, 1939), p. 213. Perhaps with this comment in mind, Sherman Paul says that "if (Emerson) had had available Edwards' treatise on Images or Shadows of Divine Things, he might not have had to turn from New England to Continental mystics like Swedenborg and Boehme." Sherman Paul, Emerson's Angle of Vision (Harvard UP, 1952), pp. 2-3. Paul, however, goes on to propose a much more complex genealogy of Emerson's thought than either Hotson or Miller does, with particular emphasis on the Transcendentalist's debt to Coleridge and to his mentor, Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing, who employs a doctrine of correspondence in his sermons as early as 1824. It would seem safe to conclude, therefore, as Lawrence Buell does in Literary Transcendentalism, that a belief in something like correspondence was "in the air" on both sides of the Atlantic. Lawrence Buell, Literary Transcendentalism (Cornell UP, 1973), p. 150.
(49) The overall design of Nature resembles that of G.W.F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). As critics from Alexandre Kojeve to Judith Butler have noted, the Phenomenology, in its movement from "Consciousness" to "Absolute Knowing," performs or enacts the dialectic it describes. The dialectical movement, however, is by no means teleological but, as Hegel says, a "'course that generates itself, going forth from, and returning to, itself." G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, tr. A.V. Miller (Oxford UP, 1977), p. 40. Emerson had not yet read Hegel when he wrote Nature and it is not known how he acquired his thought prior to reading J.B. Stallo's General Principles of the Philosophy of Nature (1848) shortly after its release. But the path of thinking in Nature, where, as Emerson put it in 1844, "the journey's end" is "in every step of the road" (CW 3.35), strongly suggests Hegel's influence. Emerson probably picked up Hegelian echoes in his readings of the English and Jena Romantics and through his conversations with local Germanists and students who had studied in Berlin, where Hegel lectured from 1818 until his death in 1831. Although I am not aware of any studies of Nature's relation to the Phenomenology, what little is known with certainty about Hegel's influence on Emerson can be found in Henry Pochmann, German Culture in America, 1600-1900 (U of Wisconsin P, 1957) and Rene Wellek, Confrontations (Princeton UP, 1965).
(50) Sherman Paul, The Shores of America: Thoreau's Inward Exploration (U of Illinois P, 1958), p. 301.
(51) James Russell Lowell, "Thoreau," in Walter Harding, ed., Thoreau: A Century of Criticism (Southern Methodist UP, 1954), p. 45.
(52) Quoted in Joel Myerson, ed., Critical Essays on Henry David Thoreau "s Walden (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1988), p. 91.
(53) H. Daniel Peck, Thoreau's Morning Work (Yale UP, 1990), p. 60.
(54) Lawrence Buell suggests an increasingly "ecocentric" approach to nature in Thoreau's work after 1850, when Thoreau, combining both empiricist and idealist thinking, began to explore "human accountability to the environment." Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination (Harvard UP, 1995), pp. 117, 6.
(55) Lowell, p. 44.
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|Title Annotation:||Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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