Essays of Henry David Thoreau Selected and Edited by Lewis Hyde

ISBN-10: 0865476462
ISBN-13: 9780865476462
Edition: N/A
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Description: Thoreau's major essays annotated and introduced by one of our most vital intellectuals. With The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau, Lewis Hyde gathers thirteen of Thoreau's finest short prose works and, for the first time in 150 years, presents them fully  More...

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Book details

List price: $16.00
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Publication date: 5/5/2002
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 448
Size: 6.00" wide x 9.00" long x 1.00" tall
Weight: 1.298
Language: English

Thoreau's major essays annotated and introduced by one of our most vital intellectuals. With The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau, Lewis Hyde gathers thirteen of Thoreau's finest short prose works and, for the first time in 150 years, presents them fully annotated and arranged in the order of their composition. This definitive edition includes Thoreau's most famous essays, "Civil Disobedience" and "Walking," along with lesser-known masterpieces such as "Wild Apples," "The Last Days of John Brown," and an account of his 1846 journey into the Maine wilderness to climb Mount Katahdin, an essay that ends on a unique note of sublimity and terror. Hyde diverges from the long-standing and dubious editorial custom of separating Thoreau's politics from his interest in nature, a division that has always obscured the ways in which the two are constantly entwined. "Natural History of Massachusetts" begins not with fish and birds but with a dismissal of the political world, and "Slavery in Massachusetts" ends with a meditation on the water lilies blooming on the Concord River. Thoreau's ideal reader was expected to be well versed in Greek and Latin, poetry and travel narrative, and politically engaged in current affairs. Hyde's detailed annotations clarify many of Thoreau's references and re-create the contemporary context wherein the nation's westward expansion was bringing to a head the racial tensions that would result in the Civil War.

In September 1842, Nathaniel Hawthorne noted this social encounter in his journal: "Mr. Thorow dined with us yesterday. He is a singular character---a young man with much of wild original nature still remaining in him; and so far as he is sophisticated, it is in a way and method of his own. He is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and somewhat rustic, although courteous manners, corresponding very well with such an exterior. But his ugliness is of an honest and agreeable fashion, and becomes him much better than beauty. On the whole, I find him a healthy and wholesome man to know." Most responses to Thoreau are as ambiguously respectful as was Hawthorne's. Thoreau was neither an easy person to like nor an easy writer to read. Thoreau described himself as a mystic, a Transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher. He is a writer of essays about nature---not of facts about it but of his ideals and emotions in its presence. His wish to understand nature led him to Walden Pond, where he lived from 1845 to 1847 in a cabin that he built. Though he was an educated man with a Harvard degree, fluent in ancient and modern German, he preferred to study nature by living "a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust." Knowing this, we should beware of misreading the book that best reflected this great experience in Thoreau's life: Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854). It is not a handbook of the simple life. Though there are elements in the book of a "whole-earth catalogue" mentality, to focus on the radical "economic" aspects of Thoreau's work is to miss much in the book. Nor is it an autobiography. The right way to read Walden is as a "transcendental" narrative prose poem, whose hero is a man named Henry, a modern Odysseus in search of a "true America." Thoreau left Walden Pond on September 6, 1846, exactly two years, two months, and two days after he had settled there. As he explained in the pages of Walden: "I left the woods for as good a reason as I went to live there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one." Growth, change, and development were essential to his character. One should not overlook the significance of his selecting July 4 as the day for taking possession of his residence at Walden Pond, a day that celebrates the establishment of a new government whose highest ideal is individual freedom. In terms of Thoreau's redefinition of the nation-idea, "the only true America" is that place where one may grow wild according to one's nature, where one may "enjoy the land, but own it not." Thoreau believed that each person should live according to individual conscience, willing to oppose the majority if necessary. An early proponent of nonviolent resistance, he was jailed briefly for refusing to pay his poll tax to support the Mexican War and the slave system that had promoted that war. His essay "On Civil Disobedience" (1849), which came from this period of passive resistance, was acknowledged by Mahatma Gandhi (who read it in a South African jail) as the basis for his campaign to free India. Martin Luther King, Jr. later attributed to Thoreau and Gandhi the inspiration for his leadership in the civil rights movement in the United States. Thoreau contracted tuberculosis in 1835 and suffered from it sporadically afterwards. His health declined over three years with brief periods of remission, until he eventually became bedridden. Recognizing the terminal nature of his disease, Thoreau spent his last years revising and editing his unpublished works, particularly The Maine Woods and Excursions, and petitioning publishers to print revised editions of A Week and Walden. He died on May 6, 1862 at age 44.

Introduction: Prophetic Excursions A Note on the Selection
Acknowledgements
The Essays
""Natural History of Massachusetts""
""A Winter Walk""
""Paradise (to be) Regained""
""Ktaadn""
""Civil Disobedience""
""Walking""
""Slavery in Massachusetts""
""Life Without Principle""
""Autumnal Tints""
""The Succession of Forest Trees""
""A Plea for Captain John Brown""
""The Last Days of John Brown""
""Wild Apples""
Annotations
Bibliography
Index

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