Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Commentary by Van Wyck Brooks and E. B. White
Naturalist, philosopher, champion of self-reliance and moral independence, Henry David Thoreau remains not only one of our most influential writers but also one of our most contemporary. This unique and comprehensive edition gathers all of Thoreau's most significant works, including his masterpiece, "Walden" (reproduced in its entirety); "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers;" selections from "Cape Cod" and "The Maine Woods; "as well as "Walking," "Civil Disobedience," "Slavery in Massachusetts," "A Plea for Captain John Brown," and "Life Without Principle." Taken together, they reveal the astounding range, subtlety, artistry, and depth of thought of this true American original.
Includes a Modern Library Reading Group Guide.
About the Author
Henry David Thoreau was an American author, poet, and philosopher, who is best known for his works Walden--a treatise about living in concert with the natural world--and Civil Disobedience, in which he espoused the need to morally resist the actions of an unjust state. Thoreau's work heavily reflects the ideologies of the American transcendentalists, and he has long been considered a leading figure in the movement along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, and, at first, Nathaniel Hawthorne (who changed his views later in life). In addition to his writing, which totaled more than twenty volumes, Thoreau was an active abolitionist, and lectured regularly against the Fugitive Slave Law. Thoreau died in 1862, and is buried along with Louisa May Alcott, Ellery Channing, and other notable Americans in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 - April 27, 1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.
Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of Transcendentalism in his 1836 essay, Nature. Following this ground-breaking work, he gave a speech entitled "The American Scholar" in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. considered to be America's "Intellectual Declaration of Independence."
Emerson wrote most of his important essays as lectures first, then revised them for print. His first two collections of essays - Essays: First Series and Essays: Second Series, published respectively in 1841 and 1844 - represent the core of his thinking, and include such well-known essays as Self-Reliance, The Over-Soul, Circles, The Poet and Experience. Together with Nature, these essays made the decade from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s Emerson's most fertile period.
Emerson wrote on a number of subjects, never espousing fixed philosophical tenets, but developing certain ideas such as individuality, freedom, the ability for humankind to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world. Emerson's "nature" was more philosophical than naturalistic: "Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul."
His essays remain among the linchpins of American thinking, and his work has greatly influenced the thinkers, writers and poets that have followed him. When asked to sum up his work, he said his central doctrine was "the infinitude of the private man." Emerson is also well known as a mentor and friend of fellow Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau.
"This book is like an invitation to life's dance."
--E. B. White