Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 8, 2006
Henry David Thoreau has been called “a prophet without honour in his own time.”
According to an introduction to “Walden” written by Edward Hepburn, when Thoreau died in 1862 at the age of 44, he was virtually unknown to the reading public. He had had two books and a handful of essays published.
The first book, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” was a total failure. After a year or so the unsold copies – 706 out of an edition of 1,000 – were returned to the reluctant author, who wrote with wry humor, “I now have a library of nearly 900 volumes, over 700 of which I wrote myself. Is it not well that the author should behold the fruits of his labor?”
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His second book, “Walden,” published in 1854, had some small success, but attracted only a handful of readers.
Today, Thoreau is generally acknowledged as one of the greatest and most original of American writers. He is admired for his gem-like prose, his vigorous, salty image, his eloquently precise descriptions of nature, and above all for his forthright championing of the worth and dignity of the individual.
His essay, “Civil Disobedience,” was written after he went to jail for a night, rather than to pay the poll tax to finance the Mexican-American War with its “scarcely concealed aim of extending the slave-holding area into the Southwest.” This was Thoreau’s Vietnam.
Former Albert Lea High School English and humanities teacher Paul Goodnature said Thoreau also wrote about economy, and was a great influence on Frank Lloyd Wright with what he had to say
about organic architecture.
“Boy, if he could see what has happened in our time,” said Goodnature of Thoreau’s popularity and influence today.