It was pure brag on young Henry Thoreau’s part to say that he had gone to Walden Pond in order “to front only the essential facts of life,” to take a Spartanlike stance against its demands on us, to cut a broad swath and shave close. In point of fact, Thoreau went to Walden to write the book later published as A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and to gather raw materials for the volume which became his masterpiece. Writing was what most concerned him, as the Journals amply testify, and so it is enough for us to pay homage to that and not remain obsequiously bound to him as a type of pastoral philosopher in the New Eden. A somewhat simplistic social critic, Thoreau’s own quirky presence as an individualist and his forceful grace and clarity as a writer have held us in thrall these many years. To be sure, he was one of a kind. But not the only kind of writer-on-nature we need today.
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