Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau

Ralph Waldo Emerson & Henry David Thoreau
Introduction by John Elder, Illustrations by Thomas W. Nason

Nature and Walking

"I have no hostility to nature, but a child's love to it. I expand and live in the warm day like corn and melons. Let us speak her fair. I do not wish to fling stones at my beautiful mother, nor soil my gentle nest." -- Emerson (p. 51)

"He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea." -- Thoreau (p. 72)

This compilation is a fun little volume that is guaranteed to change your outlook the next time you head out to explore the great earth. The introduction could not have been written much better either. Elder pulls the texts together and gives just the right amount of background information so that all can be prepared to enjoy what lies after without wading through an overly lengthy preface.

Nature was Emerson's first book. It spells out his earlier thoughts on Transcendentalism (now frequently referred to as Pantheism). The sentences are packed with meaning. I found myself reading the sentences over and over again to spark additional thoughts within myself. Emerson's poetic abilities paint wonderful pictures in the mind.

Emerson's God is nature, the world, and the universe. When he says, "There are innocent men who worship God after the tradition of their fathers, but their sense of duty has not yet extended to the use of all their faculties"(p. 64), he is not condemning others. Emerson is trying to get others to think--to expand their horizons and not limit themselves strictly to the society, culture, and traditions and teachings they happened to be raised in and with. The means to knowledge is dispelled on the condition that "when a faithful thinker, resolute to detach every object from personal relations, and see it in the light of thought, shall, at the same time, kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections, then will God go forth anew into the creation." (p. 65) Even us atheists can't disagree here.

"A man's ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful, -- while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly. Which is the best man to deal with, -- he who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows something about it, but thinks that he knows all?"
-- Henry David Thoreau (p. 113)
Thoreau's Walking sets him apart as an eloquent, "wild" hippie. He speaks to the wildness in all of us--encouraging thought and exploration rather than complacency and merely going along with the flow of society. Emerson's influence on him is evident. Like Emerson, Thoreau emphasizes the present. "It is too late to be studying Hebrew; it is more important to understand even the slang of to-day". (p. 93)

The references to the "fresh ruins of Nauvoo" and "Darwin the naturalist" will send your mind back in time for a moment of reflection before the remainder of the text rivets your actions to a more fulfilling experience of the here and now.

For an exhilarating adventure, take this volume on a camping trip or hike. You'll be glad you did.

"I love even to see the domestic animals reassert their native rights, -- any evidence that they have not wholly lost their original wild habits and vigor; as when my neighbor's cow breaks out of her pasture early in the spring and boldly swims the river, a cold, gray tide, twenty-five or thirty rods wide, swollen by the melted snow. It is the buffalo crossing the Mississippi. This exploit confers some dignity on the herd in my eyes, -- already dignified."
-- Henry David Thoreau (p. 107)
from the publisher:
Together in one volume, Emerson's
Nature and Thoreau's Walking, is writing that defines our distinctly American relationship to nature.

"Certain writings should be read together, and these two make perfect partners. A beautiful new volume." --Walking