|[Page 8: Henry Thoreau]
Adobe Reader files which you are here perusing by way of the internet
have been generated out of a computer database called the "Kouroo
Contexture." They will fool you, because they are not so much written
by a human, as compiled by a machine. They make use of a new technology
called hypercontext. Hypercontext is to
hypertext as Star Trek's transporter is to a tricycle. (Basically, in
hypertext you press a button and you have gone somewhere
else, creating the "Lost in Hyperspace" effect, whereas in hypercontext
you press a button and you have gone nowhere, but everything around you
has been rearranged into a very different configuration.) Here is a
file that will provide you with an explanation of the agenda of this
new hypercontext tool:
The motivation for the creation of the Kouroo Contexture
show the range of information that may be computer-extrapolated from
the Kouroo Contexture merely by the push of a button, here are some
extrapolations about Henry David Thoreau, his life, his times, his
writings, and his associates. Also, this is your chance to place on record what you
consider should be of record in this context. Download the Acrobat PDF
file to your home computer --annotate your copy with your freebie
Acrobat Reader --and then quickly send off your annotated copy by email
enclosure, please, to email@example.com. Your remarks will be promptly incorporated, and attributed to you.
Henry David Thoreau's father John Thoreau, Senior
Henry's mother Cynthia Dunbar Thoreau
His relatives and ancestors
Nobody had bothered to write biographies of Henry David Thoreau's parents. -- What, were they nobodies?
Henry David Thoreau's big brother John Thoreau, Jr.
Henry's older sister Helen Louisa Thoreau
Henry's younger sister Sophia Elizabeth Thoreau
had bothered to write biographies of Henry David Thoreau's brother and
sisters and uncle and aunts. -- What, were they nobodies?
Henry David Thoreau's favorite uncle, Charles Dunbar
Henry David Thoreau's, and his Uncle Charles Dunbar's, narcolepsy
Henry had a medical condition, inherited evidently from the Jones side of his family of origin.
Henry's Aunt MariaThoreau
Henry's aunt, Miss Louisa Dunbar
Henry's aunt, Sweet Moon-Faced Jane Thoreau
There were a number of Thoreau relatives.
The iPod version of Thoreau's WALDEN
we purchased an iPod just to be able to listen to WALDEN, and
downloaded the voice file that was available on the internet. The
person who had read the text didn't even know how to pronounce the word
"slough." So, we have taken on the task of creating a properly prepared
script for the creation of an
iPod version of Thoreau's WALDEN, and are
presently in the process of marking it up to show proper word emphasis,
proper phrasing, and proper pronunciation. Please, if you want to help,
download this Adobe Acrobat file to your computer and mark it up to
show how you believe that this text ought to be read, and
email it to
us at Kouroo@brown.edu Your help will be greatly appreciated!
Places mentioned in WALDEN
upon a time Henry David Thoreau commented that he "traveled much in
Concord." It has turned out to be a worthy project to catalog all the
various places mentioned in WALDEN and tag their
locations onto a world map. Guess how many placenames such as
"Mildam," "Long Wharf," "Cuttingsville, Vermont," "Astor Place," "Great
Dismal Swamp," "Dead Sea," and "Aldebaran" occur in WALDEN: 50? --100?
Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy
had heard such marvelous stories about how Thoreau influenced Tolstoy,
that several years ago I began an
attempt to document that influence.
Quite frankly, this little study fell by the wayside, because instead of confirming these marvelous
stories, I found that I kept coming up
with evidence that disconfirmed them. --Evidence that suggested
they amounted to a potful of pious persiflage. Recently I have been asked to put the results of this
investigation on the web -- so for
what it is worth, or is not worth, here it is.
Henry David Thoreau's favorite song
Henry David Thoreau's favorite song was "Tom
Bowline," by Charles Didbin. Would you volunteer to send us an MP3
of you singing this song, by email to Kouroo@brown.edu? We'd put it up on the web! Your help will be greatly appreciated!
The Thoreau family business, the manufacture of fine pencils
Thoreau and Algebra
Henry Thoreau's father John Thoreau had made fine
pencils. Henry himself perfected, in a mill on the Assabet River
in Acton near Concord, an "air float" grinding apparatus
that freed impure local graphite ore of its grit. That was his major accomplishment
as a civil engineer, not either his writing or his
public speaking (for which he was rather poorly compensated). It was
that which, despite his early death due to TB at the age of 44, allowed
him to leave his surviving sister
Sophia Elizabeth Thoreau and his
surviving mother Cynthia Dunbar Thoreau in secure finances for the
remainder of their lives. (If the Concord bank had not later burned to
the ground, destroying all its financial records, we'd have a whole lot
more chapter and verse on these dollars and cents that kept his mother
and his sister afloat.)
It is impossible for a poet to know anything about
math, right? Do you suppose that Thoreau's life motto "Simplify, simplify" might have been a
generalization from the method taught in algebra class?
What was American Transcendentalism?
Waldo Emerson came down to Providence, Rhode Island to explain about
"Transcendentalism," one of our locals assured another that what the
word meant was "operations on the teeth." --So do you know
what "transcendentalism"really meant in New England back then?
The Reverend who presided at the funeral of Henry David Thoreau
Emerson requested that Henry Thoreau's funeral be staged at Concord's
Unitarian Church, and presided over by the Reverend Grindall Reynolds.
This wasn't such a poor choice. What sort of person, then, was the
Henry David Thoreau and Education
when Henry David Thoreau was a public school teacher in Concord, the
school board required that he whip his pupils. Well then, he did so
with abandon and immediately resigned. Soon after this incident, he
made a presentation at the town lyceum. Here I attempt to make a case
that the subject of this poorly documented first lyceum lecture by
Thoreau was a moral comment upon what had just gone down in the local
public school, and a considered derogation of the wisdom of the town
fathers who made up this local school board.
Henry Thoreau's tutor at Harvard was, well, a piece of work. There was
every chance that this young man's crazyness was going to discredit
Transcendentalism. Everyone was
on pins and needles. (It worked out OK in the end, for everyone except Jones Very that is.)
David Thoreau laid claim, in WALDEN, to having helped an escaping slave
"toward the North Star" -- and yet we do not see his name listed
on the lists of righteous white people who served actively on the
Thoreau watched the great splitting between the Hicksite Quakers and the Orthodox Quakers
A History of Accidents
we know, a great mysterious split occurred among American Friends early
in the 19th Century. The followers of Friend Elias Hicks got aholt of a
clerk’s table by one pair of legs, and the opponents of Friend Elias
Hicks got aholt of that clerk’s table by the other pair of legs, and
the unity of that table was no more.
Henry David Thoreau, in his
jottings, made various invidious remarks against Quakers, but also, we
discover, he worshiped with Quakers. If you check out the circumstances
of this, you discover that all of Henry’s negative remarks are in
regard to the Orthodox Friends, and you discover that Henry worshiped
with the Hicksites. Evaluating Henry’s reaction informs us of what this
great mysterious split had been all about.
The Quakers had just
freed themselves from involvement in human enslavement, a blot on our
national history, by manumitting their black slaves, and these people
who had used to worship with their masters had set up their own
churches such as the AME church. Some of the newly purified whitebread
Friends, such as Friend Moses Brown, then went off on a tangent of
Quietism that amounted to racial apartheid: race was an ongoing problem
in America, admittedly, but for them from then on it was going to be a
"not our problem" problem. "Don’t bother us, we’re worshiping God
here." These were the Orthodox. After the Civil War, a whole lot of
white Americans imitated them and the result was Jim Crow segregation,
another blot on our national history. Meanwhile, however, other of the
newly purified Friends, such as Friend Lucretia Coffin Mott, had been
going off on a different tangent, one of concern and of interracial
involvement, that amounted to integrationism or to what was then known
as "amalgamation." These were the Hicksites. For these Hicksites, the
answer to the question "Am I my brother’s keeper?" was simply "It is
what it is." The two groups of Quakers, going in very opposite
directions in regard to America’s number one problem, greatly got on
each others nerves, and it seems to have been this that tore the
Religious Society of Friends into two pieces.
Thoreau chose the Hicksites (this maybe was the right choice).
characteristics of an accident are that A.) it is unexpected, and that
B.) the impact is not only harmful but also disproportionate. Let's
take a look at some relevant historical accidents.
Would you have drunk a beer with this man?
you have drunk a beer with this man? The Reverend William Rounseville
Alger, the first person to purchase a copy of Thoreau's WALDEN, didn't
like the book as much as one might now have imagined.
Charles Ephraim Burchfield
artist Charles Ephraim Burchfield was very much influenced by Henry
David Thoreau, and was very much a predecessor of Walt Disney. May your
wallpaper be so lucky!
The Isle of Jersey in the English Channel
Thoreaus were religious refugees, French Huguenots who fled France
after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. They took refuge on the
Isle of Jersey in the English Channel. Here we attempt to look at the
story of the Thoreaus and a related family, the Guillets, from the
perspective of and within the context of the history of the Isle of
Henry Thoreau and the Origins of the American Tourist Industry
David Thoreau's literary career was more tied up with the early stages
of the development of the American tourist industry, than one might
presumably have, because of the Concord habit of
journalizing, more details about the life of Henry David
Thoreau than we have about the life of any other single human being in
the entire span of human history on this planet. Do we, then, know
whether or not he had been circumcised? --No, in fact we do not, but
let that not preserve us from speculation on such an intriguing topic.
Was Henry David Thoreau in his shanty at Walden Pond because of a masturbation problem?
Lawrence Buell of Harvard University has accused former Harvard College
student Henry David Thoreau of having fallen victim to a certain
Victorian "continence philosophy." Let us therefore
explore what that certain Victorian "continence philosophy" was,
to which allegedly Thoreau had fallen victim, and explore in depth
Buell's charge is merely yet another cheap shot out of the Harvard
University Press, at the former Harvard student that Harvard scholars
down through the decades have most loved to abuse. (During Thoreau's
lifetime, the cause of the pulmonary tuberculosis from which he
suffered and from which he eventually died was simply not understood.
One published theory was that this TB weakness was the result of
excessive, compulsive masturbation -- that this disease's many victims
were doing it to themselves through lack of sexual impulse control --
and therefore that they deserved no sympathy whatever. During Thoreau's
lifetime, sometimes the terms "bachelor" and "hermit" were deployed as
tropes (as "cover words") when the word the Victorian speaker actually
intended to suggest, the word which the Victorian audience actually
received, was masturbator.
Let us speculate: how many of the people of New England who were paying
admission money in order to attend young man Thoreau's evening lyceum
lectures about his solitary life at the pond, actually had this sort of thing going on at the back of their minds?)
Tom Neale, a real hermit of the 20th Century
What in hell is a "son of Tell?"
The legend of William Tell is alive and well.
Robert Voorhis, a real hermit of the 19th Century
One of the ways readers avoid Thoreau is by averring that he wasn't much of a hermit.
evade, of course, the fact that Henry declared that he was no sort of
hermit, and that his shanty on Walden Pond was no sort of hermitage.)
Let us consider, therefore, what areal hermit is like.
Piles of Rocks are, After All, Just Piles of Rocks
us compare the pile of rocks at Henry David Thoreau’s cabin site with
the piles of rocks at the graves of Edmund James Banfield, a Thoreau
wannabee on the other side of the world from New England, and of
Frederick Townsend Ward, a somebody wannabee who went from New
England to the other side of the world.
Thoreau reads Milton
a trick of the eye. When you read the poetry of John Milton through the
eyes of Henry David Thoreau, his poems are just as long --of course--
but they're not nearly as boring.
Thoreau reads the Bible
It's really amazing how many Bible references there are in Thoreau's Walden! --But you wouldn't know about that, or would you?
Doing WALDEN into Latvian
Recently, a new contributor to a WALDEN discussion list on the internet commented: "Thoreau's
writing seems to have quite a few cryptic statements. I would love to
find a book that explains things like this. Maybe you say that
people who can't understand things like this just should read simpler
things, like maybe comic books or John Grisham. Well, what can I
say: I want to read and understand WALDEN. When I was trying to
understand the 'curacy'-'sinecure' passages, I looked in several
annotated editions of WALDEN. That was of no help. None of them
had a footnote on these passages. I also looked at little academic
study guides for WALDEN published by Cliff's, Monarch and Barron.
They didn't discuss the 'curacy'-'sinecure' passages either. I have
looked at numerous other books and websites, and none of them discussed
those pages. Of course, there are very, very many books about
Thoreau and WALDEN. And I think I've looked at the most often read
of these. None of them seem to really focus in on interpreting or
explaining the text of WALDEN. Most the books about WALDEN
seem to be more of the order of reflections on its themes and/or a
discussion of some of literary/rhetorical techniques." In an attempt to
be helpful, I am here putting a series of commentaries on specific
sentences in WALDEN, on the Internet, in the hope that they will prove
useful.I need feedback. If you find these comments to be useful, or useless, please let me know at Kouroo@brown.edu.
Warmly remembered: Francis Henry Allen
Friend Luke Howard, the Quaker Meteorologist
You want to be warmly remembered? Here's a couple of pointers: edit Thoreau, do a good job.
Senator Charles Sumner, Henry David Thoreau, George H. Moore, and "Slavery in Massachusetts"
was assisting Dr. Bradley P. Dean in a piece of routine detective work
and, the day after I had emailed some further info from Rhode Island to
Indiana --he not having responded to this latest email message but I
not having begun to be concerned at the delay-- there came the general
bulletin that he had suddenly and unexpectedly died of a heart attack.
This then is a record of the point to which we had arrived at the time
of his death and is dedicated to Brad's memory. He will be missed.
did Henry David Thoreau choose to title a 4th-of-July oration of his
with the title "Slavery in Massachusetts" -- just after Senator Charles
Sumner had roundly declared there to be no such animule?
Citizens' Professor Leon Edel (edited)
of the worst Thoreau derogators ever has been Citizens' Professor Leon
Edel, now deceased. Edel had been in PsychOps during World War II
(PsychOps having been the people who told us during the war that Adolf
had only one testicle). They told us that because the Nazis were our
enemy and it is good for us to think bad of our enemy.
(It is an open question, why Professor Edel then needed to go on to say such horrid things about Henry Thoreau.)
1845 Thoreau’s cabin had two windows. What kind of panes would they
have had, would they have been small oblongs of crown glass? In 1857
Thoreau was walking through Concord's "Mildam" business district, and
there he inspected a plate glass shop window. Was that a great novelty?
How large could such a shop window have been in 1857 — and where was
plate glass coming from?
Thoreau of Concord and Plato of Athens
Did they have a relationship?
Thoreau and Ethics
Some notes on Professor Philip
Cafaro's understanding of Thoreau's ethical stance...
Thoreau on the Irish
From time to time someone comes
along and attempts to declare that Henry Thoreau was guilty of a
prejudice against the Irish....
Miss Timothy Tortoise and the Rev. Gilbert White of Shelburne
What influence did the most
frequently reprinted coffee-table book of all time have on Henry David
Thoreau as Philosopher
Pierre Hadot has identified three recent philosophers as continuing in
the ancient tradition of process rather than product, forming rather
than informing. The three are Rousseau for France, Goethe for Germany,
and Thoreau for America.
Thoreau opposed the "Death Penalty"
is not sufficiently understood that Henry Thoreau was an opponent of
the death penalty. The case of Washington Goode demonstrates,
however, a lack of unity on this subject within the Thoreau family
Just about the stupidest idea ever
once in awhile a publisher has an absolutely inane idea. In 1906
Thoreau's publisher had just about the most absolutely inane idea a
publisher has ever had: "Let's get rid of this guy's holographic
manuscript by tipping a page of it into the front of each set of books!"
New England's annoyances
to Henry David Thoreau's WALDEN, our forefathers did sing "we can make
liquor to sweeting our lips of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree
chips." Huh? What was that all about?