By Henry David Thoreau
This book is known as a “classic.”
It’s an autobiography of Henry David Thoreau and he is writing about the 2 years he spent living in a cabin in the woods near Walden Pond.
This story is reputed to be about how the author lived isolated in natural surroundings, a social experiment to see how a man could live with only basic necessities. It was also an experiment on self-reliance and spiritual discovery.
Thoreau lived in the cabin from 1845 to 1847. The book was originally published in 1854 with the title ‘Walden Pond’ or ‘Life in the Woods.’
Thoreau stated that if you own more property than you need, the property owns you because you’re chained to it and have to pack it and drag it with you wherever you move to.
He believed that people worked more than they needed to because they wanted to own more stuff, but the stuff didn’t enhance their life.
He considered owning a big house full of far too much stuff, as “trumpeting.”
He said that most things in life are not necessities, and all you really need is clothing, basic food, and shelter.
“One farmer says to me, ‘you cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with,’ and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bones, walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerks him and his lumbering plough along in spite of every obstacle.”
Originally, Thoreau wanted to be a council man, but he was never accepted. “…it became more and more evident that my townsmen would not after all admit me into the list of town officers, or make my place a sinecure with a moderate allowance.”
“Finding that my fellow citizens were not likely to offer me any room in the courthouse, or any curacy or living anywhere else, but I must shift for myself, I turned my face more exclusively than ever to the woods, where I was better known.”
Thoreau went to live at Walden Pond to start a business and earn money, “to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles.” His idea was always that everything should be minimal and basic, even clothes and housing, anything more than that was frivolous and unnecessary.
While others at Walden Pond rented land and built their own cabins to live in, Thoreau was fortunate to live on a few acres of land for free because it was owned by his family, and he bought a cabin from a couple who were moving away and he paid some local men to move the cabin to his land. While he lived rent-free on borrowed land, those around him struggled to pay their rent.
For one season, Thoreau tried produce farming but after paying for seeds, fertiliser, farm equipment and the wages for the men he employed at harvest time, he found that there was little profit and not worth all the work that went into earning it.
Instead, he grew enough food for himself and sold the rest. He also hunted small mammals, and bought from the nearby stores, anything he needed that he couldn’t grow or catch.
Thoreau had been visiting the woods and the pond since he was a child, so he knew the area well.
His experiment to live in isolation, wasn’t as isolating as it could have been. He was in walking distance to town where he bought supplies, and he often had so many guests in his home at once, that they all had to stand up to make enough room. He also complained about too many people dropping in to visit him when they passed by.
Although he owned minimal furniture (a desk, 3 chairs, and a bed), he had plenty to eat, he used the pond for bathing, and fishing, and he had his neighbours for company.
So although he wasn’t as reclusive and isolated as many people later believed, the book is a fascinating look into life the 1840s, and his attitude and political incorrectness, made me smile.
It also made me appreciate how lucky we are to live as we do now. Even the poorest people today have a lot more than people back then.
Walden is a book that’s easy to read and the fascinating insights make you want to read it again, which is probably why it is still a popular classic.
Note: I couldn’t find an exact copy of the edition of the book that I read, so instead I’ve provided a cover image and a link to the 2023 edition. 😊
This review was written on 23rd March 2023