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5. Thoreau's
Personalized Facts

The problem of restoring integration and cooperation between man's beliefs about the world in which he lives and his beliefs about the values and purposes that should direct his conduct is the deepest problem of modern life. It is the problem of any philosophy that is not isolated from that life.

John Dewey [1929] 1984, p. 204


I have already intimated that Thoreau regarded epistemology as fundamentally a moral problem of situating objective knowledge within a humane context. The value one placed on kinds of knowledge and their respective placement in a hierarchy of significance were key issues that undergird all of the Romantics' reaction to science.Meaning, they insisted, must be sought outside of an objective knowledge of nature, that activity which we call science or natural history. Science in its origins embraced an epistemology whose ideal—the separation of the subject (the scientist) from his or her object of study—was itself potentially alienating. Science thereby stratified along a continuum between “objective” and “subjective” poles of experience. In the 1840s and 1850s, this fragmentation of knowledge was only in its infancy; a century later, the transformation of culture and forms of understanding it wrought were well evident. C. P. Snow named the widening schism between the worlds of the humanities and of science/technology in The Two Cultures (1959). There he argued that the two different intellectual modalities echoed a broad cultural conflict, wherein the analytical, mechanical, and abstract qualities of science displaced the elements of the primary encounter characterized in terms of the personal, emotional, or aesthetic. When the poet communes with nature, the artist does so almost always in rejection of the scientific stance.

Contemporary culture has been riven by the schism between the Two Cultures, and their partition remains deeply problematic. But in his day, Thoreau could still believe in some grand synthesis, wherein science might “enchant” through the aesthetic dimension of the observer's experience. From his vantage, the scientific view might be extended to encompass beyond nature more elusive dimensions—the emotional, the subjective. Not


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all scientists would regard these as properly or even possibly within the province of science, but for Thoreau the scrutiny of nature entailed multiple levels of knowledge, and consideration of the aesthetic facet of science provided him a way to attend to these nebulous dimensions of human experience. The issue for him was not how the scientist attempts to be objective but rather how knowledge of the world becomes personally meaningful. The import of that synthesis concerns the very nature of objectified knowledge itself, which is transformed into personal knowledge, wherein “events are not counted but weighed, and past events not explained but interpreted” (Heisenberg 1979, p. 68). Thoreau is a paradigmatic example of this perspective at work.

Although Thoreau matured beyond a youthful disdain of science, he nevertheless subordinated that form of knowledge relative to a more personalized experience.[1] On the one hand, he sought to “capture” nature through meticulous observation of natural processes; and on the other hand, he sought in nature a “personalized” reality so that he might situate himself in the order and beauty of the natural world. This, of course, is a traditional Romantic project, and Thoreau assumed a typically Romantic persona in viewing nature as a sacred source of human moral direction. But in so doing, he put himself at odds both with the idealist moralizing philosophy of Emersonian Transcendentalism and with ascendant professionalized positivistic science which divorced nature from the knowing subject. Thoreau instead sought to reenchant nature while employing certain scientific methods to do so—a synthetic approach that pursued the unification of objective and subjective experience. He thus appears as a powerful practitioner of the aestheticization of science which, he demonstrated, need not be at odds with careful, albeit unorthodox, methods of scientific inquiry. More than a literary naturalist (the way we tend to see him now), Thoreau was able to straddle the literary/scientific divide in an attempt to place science within its broadest humanistic tradition. This orientation undergirds the discussion of this chapter.

Thoreau was suspicious of science's efforts to objectify to the extent that such fragmentation of experience would interfere with his experience of nature, specifically, the personal significance that observation might yield.[2] Science does not attend to humane significance. The poetic power of imagination, however, transforms the inert fact into personal meaning, an emotional category. Thoreau stated the issue quite plainly:

I think that the man of science makes this mistake, and the mass of mankind along with him: that you should coolly give your chief attention to the phenomenon which excites you as something independent on you, and not as it is related to you.The important fact is its effect on


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me. He thinks that I have no business to see anything else but just what he defines the rainbow to be, but I do not care whether my vision of truth is a waking thought or dream remembered, whether it is seen in the light or in the dark. It is the subject of the vision, the truth alone, that concerns me. The philosopher for whom rainbows, etc., can be explained away never saw them. With regard to such objects, I find that it is not they themselves (with which the men of science deal) that concern me; the point of interest is somewhere between me and them (i.e. the objects). (November 5, 1857,Journal, [1906] 1962, 10: 164–65; first emphasis added)

How are we to understand Thoreau's efforts to remove this uneasy relation between science and poetry?[3] I might agree with Loren Eiseley that Thoreau “never resolved his philosophical difficulties” (1978, pp. 229–30), if we understand by that pronouncement that no one philosophical argument or doctrine might account for his epistemology in a formal sense. But Thoreau illustrates a way by which splintered experience—objective and subjective—might be knit together by recognizing the full legitimacy of each. He arrived at this position primarily by acknowledging the limitations of rationality and the proper placement of scientific knowledge. To “see” fully, other faculties of knowing must be enlisted:

We shall see but little way if we require to understand what we see–How few things can a man measure with the tape of his understanding—how many greater things might he be seeing in the meanwhile. (February 14, 1851,Journal 3, 1990, p. 192)

In his view, man's supposed autonomous aloofness as scientific observer actually mirrors his own personal fragmentation. This might be mended by engaging the full panoply of various forms of knowing. Instead of relegating experience to one domain or another, Thoreau “simply” allowed the free integration of various kinds of understanding and admitted that there are different forms of knowledge that may, indeed must, be selfconsciously regarded. His concern with becoming too “scientific” seemed to rest primarily on the fear of fragmenting experience, of losing the whole:

I fear that the character of my knowledge is from year to year becoming more distinct & scientific–That in exchange for views as wide as heaven's cope I am being narrowed down to the field of the microscope–I see details not wholes nor the shadow of the whole. I count some parts, & say ‘I know’. (August 19, 1851,Journal 3, 1990, p. 380)

Thoreau's daunting challenge—how to unify the aesthetic, scientific, and moral universes—remains our own. Let us examine how he proceeded.


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THOREAU'S SCIENCE

It is hard for the least philosophic intellect to conceive of a value in science which is not potentially a human value also…. Yet the researcher knows that the end must never overshadow the means. The goal may be the subjective wish, but the research must be conducted as if it were an end in itself, otherwise we get no science but the results of wish psychology. This was Thoreau's weakness as a scientist. Fearing that he would lose his sense of the living reality behind the appearance, he never gave his whole mind to the discipline of observation.

Canby [1939] 1958, pp. 329–30


In the context of American science's exponential growth during the nineteenth century, its rapid and effective application to technology with its attendant mechanization of a pastoral world (Marx 1965), and its implicit assault on subjectivity, Thoreau's consistently focused and clear conviction about his own mission is indeed remarkable in light of his own ambivalence toward scientific inquiry. On the one hand, he held fast to his own naturalist tradition; on the other, he remained intellectually engaged with and receptive to new scientific discoveries. In short, despite competing interests, Thoreau was able to follow his own path in studying nature, guided by the same fierce independence that marked both his experimentation in personal economy and his political advocacy.

An important example of Thoreau's relationship to science is offered by the case of the bream.[4] At Walden Pond in late November 1858, Thoreau discovered frozen fish previously unencountered, which were “shaped like bream, but had the transverse bars of perch” (November 25, 1858,Journal, [1906] 1962, 11:345). He made meticulous notes of their appearance, took careful measurements (ibid., pp. 346–47, 348–49, 363–64, 368), drew a profile of his discovery, and exclaimed in obvious excitement, “Are they not a new species?” (ibid., p. 347). Thoreau presented the fish at the Boston Society of Natural History, and several members concurred that he had indeed made a discovery. The Boston newspapers reported the findings and the expert disagreements, and upon further study announced that the putative new species had been previously identified (notes to November 27, 1858, entry, ibid., pp. 348–49). Irrespective of the final adjudication, his Journal records Thoreau's extraordinary exhilaration as a result of this scientific adventure. Dominant is the metaphysical import of his relation to the fish. I quote a large portion of his reflection, because perhaps more clearly than any other evidence, it reveals Thoreau's enthusiastic appreciation of the


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organism's part in the cosmic whole, as opposed to the meager meaning permitted by the isolated scientific fact:

[I]n my account of this bream I cannot go a hair's breadth beyond the mere statement that it exists,—the miracle of its existence, my contemporary and neighbor, yet so different from me! I can only poise my thought there by its side and try to think like a bream for a moment. I can only think of precious jewels, of music, poetry, beauty, and the mystery of life. I only see the bream in its orbit, as I see a star, but I care not to measure its distance or weight. The bream, appreciated, floats in the pond as the centre of the system, another image of God. Its life no man can explain more than he can his own. I want you to perceive the mystery of the bream. I have a contemporary in Walden. It has fins where I have legs and arms. I have a friend among fishes, at least a new acquaintance. Its character will interest me, I trust, not its clothes and anatomy. I do not want it to eat. Acquaintance with it is to make my life more rich and eventful. It is as if a poet or an anchorite had moved into the town, whom I can see from time to time and think of yet oftener. Perhaps there are a thousand of these striped bream which no one had thought of in that pond,—not their mere impressions in stone, but in the full tide of the bream life. (November 30, 1858,Journal, [1906] 1962, 11:358–59)

Thoreau goes on to decry scientific knowledge as prideful and mortiferous:

Though science may sometimes compare herself to a child picking up pebbles on the seashore, that is a rare mood with her; ordinarily her practical belief is that it is only a few pebbles which are not known, weighed and measured. A new species of fish signifies hardly more than a new name. See what is contributed in the scientific reports. One counts the finrays, another measures the intestines, a third daguerreotypes a scale, etc., etc.; otherwise there's nothing to be said. As if all but this were done, and these were very rich and generous contributions to science. Her votaries may be seen wandering along the shore of the ocean of truth, with their backs to the ocean, ready to seize on the shells which are cast up. You would say that the scientific bodies were terribly put to it for objects and subjects. A dead specimen of an animal, if it is only well preserved in alcohol, is just as good for science as a living one preserved in its native element. (Ibid., pp. 359–60)

Thoreau is most critical of a science that cannot, because of its very method, examine the specimen in its living context, a part of the greater whole. This is the early ecologic sensitivity that such critics as Buell (1995) have emphasized. But I suspect that Thoreau is at least equally, probably more, concerned by the necessary distortion demanded by the reductive methodology


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of science. Only by inference could a scientific assessment be related to the world of the living—for Thoreau, the only true frame of relevance. The dead specimen is as worthy and useful to Thoreau's scientistpeer as the living animal, and the process of accruing tiny bits of information is deadening to both object and subject, who each suffer death throes in the alcohol of preservation.

Thoreau, rather, explores the metaphysical wonder of the natural world as the source of scientific inquiry. He sees science itself as achieving its motive power from this sense of awe:

What is the amount of my discovery to me? It is not that I have got one in a bottle, that it has got a name in a book, but that I have a little fishy friend in the pond. How was it when the youth first discovered fishes? Was it the number of their finrays or their arrangement, or the place of the fish in some system that made the boy dream of them? Is it these things that interest mankind in the fish, the inhabitant of the water? No, but a faint recognition of a living contemporary, a provoking mystery. One boy thinks of fishes and goes afishing from the same motive that his brother searches the poets for rare lines. It is the poetry of the fishes which is their chief use; their flesh is their lowest use. The beauty of the fish, that is what it is best worth the while to measure. Its place in our systems is of comparatively little importance. Generally the boy loses some of his perception and his interest in the fish; he degenerates into a fisherman or an ichthyologist. (Ibid., p. 360)

Particularly interesting in this entry is Thoreau's juxtaposition of his metaphysical musings with the scientific knowledge that triggered his excitement. The contrast is stark and absolute: the fish as a living creature is a microcosm of an entire cosmos; the scientific appreciation of that organism is essentially devoid of human meaning and significance. The image of the scientist standing at the ocean's edge—with his back to the water and picking up mere scraps of the sea's bounty—stands in contradistinction to Newton's peering at the horizon in realization of how little he knew or understood. The majesty of nature's beauty and its beguiling mystery are lost to the ichthyologist, while Thoreau exuberantly regards the bream as “another image of God.”

We might well regard Thoreau's excitement as an expression of what may be called his pastoral sensibility. That Romantic view of harmony and beauty was, of course, balanced by the awesome and terrifying power of nature that he experienced on Mount Ktaadn (1846) or at Margaret Fuller's shipwreck death (1850).[5] Within that complex continuum, Thoreau would gather facts, sometimes with the view toward aesthetic construction, at other


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times toward a more formal description of nature, one tinged less with emotion and directed toward a particular scientific description—that is, the soundings of Walden Pond, the dating of the appearance of flora, the meteorological descriptions. As attested by his Journal entries, the listing of “facts” in his later years became more of a preoccupation (Foerster 1923, pp. 92–93), which reflects a changed character in his scientific work (Walls 1995). But Thoreau's personalized musings on nature would never be eclipsed, and his basic assessment of science and its relationship to other modes of knowing did not significantly change during his adulthood.

What unsettled Thoreau's relationship to science was fundamentally his need to find value. His last systematic investigations well illustrate this point. Concurrent with his “discovery” of the bream, Thoreau worked on two comprehensive studies which have been regarded as the most systematic, if not the most scientific, of his nature observations: the dispersion of seeds to uncover the mechanisms of forest succession and a thorough compendium of wild fruits in the Concord environs. Both projects represented compilations from observations begun in the early 1850s and, while incomplete, offer a unique amalgam of science and Romantic interpretation.

Wild Fruits (2000) is basically a complex catalogue, whose descriptions of various botanical details of the fruit and their supporting plants is supplemented with discussions of nomenclature and listing of phenological data, geographical range, local growth characteristics, and history of use and discovery. Interspersed with these more orthodox descriptions are heavy doses of Thoreauvian commentary about personal encounters with the vegetation, most often aesthetic descriptions and reflections on the respect these plants command for their contribution both to natural order and to human wellbeing. The catalogue is obviously incomplete and erratic: some plants are extensively discussed (e.g., the black huckleberry receives twentythree pages [pp. 37–59]), whereas others, like the black ash, are cited with one line (p. 175). While the text has bountiful scientific data, it is clear from Thoreau's introductory remarks that Wild Fruits was intended to sensitize the reader to the natural world, specifically the ready opportunity to become intimate with an aspect of the wild:

The value of these wild fruits is not in the mere possession or eating of them, but in the sight and enjoyment of them…. Of course, it is the spirit in which you do a thing which makes it interesting, whether it is sweeping a room or pulling turnips. Peaches are unquestionably a very beautiful and palatable fruit, but the gathering of them for the market is not so interesting to the imagination of men as the gathering of huckleberries for your own use….


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It is a grand fact that you cannot make the fairer fruits or parts of fruits matter of commerce; that is, you cannot buy the highest use and enjoyment of them. You cannot buy that pleasure which it yields to him who truly plucks it. You cannot buy a good appetite, even. In short, you may buy a servant or slave, but you cannot buy a friend. (Pp. 4–5)

Wild Fruits then would serve both as a contribution to the ambitious Kalendar project and as a userfriendly field guide. The text ends with a plea for the establishment of natural parks or primitive forests for “instruction and recreation” (p. 238).[6] And then in the closing paragraph, Thoreau draws a direct correspondence between human health and receptivity to nature, so that the wild fruit becomes the elixir of civilization's discontent:

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of each. Let those be your only dietdrink and botanical medicines…. Open all your pores and bathe in all the tides of Nature, in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons. Miasma and infection are from within, not without…. For all Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well. She exists for no other end. Do not resist her. With the least inclination to be well, we should not be sick. Men have discovered, or think that they have discovered, the salutariness of a few wild things only, and not of all Nature. Why, Nature is but another name for health. (Pp. 238–39)

A similar fusion of personal sensibility and scientific discourse marks Thoreau's other major project of his last years. Although he pursued studies of plant propagation in the late 1850s, Thoreau actually first noted seeming anomalies concerning the growth of trees and the possible role of animals and wind in dispersing seeds in 1850. Concentrating on the growth of oaks on land cleared of pine trees, Thoreau, by 1856, was meticulously noting forest succession. Stimulated by reading On the Origin of Species in early 1860, he modeled his research on the full character of a scientific study. His work on seeds is fairly accounted as scientific not only because of its careful observations but also because of the structure of his inquiry that tested a hypothesis framed by Darwin's theory. The bulk of the manuscript has only recently been published (1993), but a portion of this larger work, “The Succession of Forest Trees” (1980f), was delivered in 1860 at the annual Concord Middlesex County Cattle Show and published soon after in the New York Weekly Tribune.

“The Succession of Forest Trees” is Thoreau's only published scientific account and was part of a larger project (The Dispersion of Seeds [1993]), a treatise concerning the propagation of plants written very much as Darwin would write The Fertilization of Orchids (1862),Climbing Plants (1875), or


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Insectivorous Plants (1875). Thoreau, of course, had long been committed to documenting the distribution of wildlife around Concord, but in this book he explicitly extended his observations to promote the Darwinian argument against spontaneous generation of plants and animals and to show how plants were propagated by seeds and sought their appropriate ecological niche. The power of Thoreau's observations, careful measurement, and meticulous notekeeping afforded him the tools to now turn his naturalist descriptions from a catalogue project to one brought into service to promote a biological theory. Indeed, he selfconsciously observed, “my theory was confirmed by observation” (Thoreau 1993, p. 29).

On the Origin of Species presented nature's evolution as a materialistic, blind process governed by a force Darwin saw as analogous to a Newtonian cause, natural selection (Depew and Weber 1995). While this theory presented a challenge to theology, Thoreau's enthusiastic reception suggests that he understood it to be conducive to his own view of nature.[7] In many respects Thoreau had anticipated the Darwinian paradigm (Harding 1965; Richardson 1985) in the sense that he regarded all of nature as integrated and of a whole, so descent by differentiation from a common ancestor was readily accepted. Darwin's theory offered Thoreau a grand foundation upon which he might finally have rested not only his scientific endeavors but also the metaphysical queries which dominated his concerns.[8] Thoreau was attracted to those elements which addressed the organic world as a vastly intricate unit, one that beautifully intertwined each element in the most complex, yet harmonious, order. Adaptation to ecological opportunity explored the constructive expansiveness of life. Presented in terms of adaptation, this vision of the natural world posed a naturalistic response to the metaphysical quandary that framed Thoreau's own pursuits, namely, how to situate himself within nature. By deliberate choice and selfwilled direction, man might not only find his place but work to create it.

Thus even in Thoreau's most scientific endeavors, he continued to celebrate the integration and order of nature, which in turn reflected both aesthetic splendor and transcendental higher laws. Man must be included in that divine structure. In this sense he was most taken by nature as community, and at times he had expressed an almost pantheist euphoria (“Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?” [Walden, 1971, p. 138]). This is not to say that Thoreau did not recognize his own savagery (“We have a wild savage in us” [“Walking,” 1980b, p. 125]), but “the Wild” Thoreau celebrated was the natural, the appreciation of man in nature, indeed, integral to nature. Thoreau sought both to know nature (a cognitive enterprise) and to be one with it (a mystical aspiration). This was, in


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fact, a single enterprise, for these two faculties—epistemological and metaphysical—were joined by the desire both to understand and to be existentially part of nature's flux—life in its ceaseless movement.

Critics usually designate the seed study the most “scientific” of Thoreau's research, and it represents the best effort he made to synthesize science with his own more idiosyncratic naturalist style. In coining the term “succession,” Thoreau was the first to emphasize the importance of seed dispersal in plant succession. This contribution is of scientific significance, not withstanding that twentieth-century ecologists might regard his focus as too narrow (studying only a few tree species as opposed to the full botanic context) and his description oversimplified (Caswell 1974; history of the idea and significance for modern ecologists reviewed by Foster 1999, pp. 134 ff., 186–91, 244–46). But whatever its shortcomings, this work was Thoreau's most systematic and conventional effort.

The paper's presentation is respectably scientific, its ethos not. Even in this most “respectable” scientific essay, Thoreau begins with an ironic identification: “Every man is entitled to come to Cattle-Show, even a transcendentalist; and for my part I am more interested in the men than in the cattle” (1980f, p. 72). He might just as easily have said, “than in the trees,” for even though he gives an eloquent account of how animals disperse seeds and the natural succession of hardwoods and pines, he ends the introductory portion of the essay with a most Thoreauvian invitation, “Let me lead you back into your woodlots again” (ibid., p. 74). Even in this ostensibly scientific report, what Walter Harding has called “Thoreau's major contribution to scientific knowledge” (1965, p. 439), he could not resist the opportunity to sensitize his audience to the wonders of nature and the pleasure of an intimate knowledge of its workings. Thoreau in his full maturity has finally forged an alliance between scientific and moral discourses: science, like all knowledge, must be in the employ of human—that is, humane—sensibility. There were economic benefits to Thoreau's observation (the rational cultivation of the woodlands), but the principal issue is the metaphorical meaning offered by his studies: “I have great faith in a seed,—a, to me, equally mysterious origin for it. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders” (Thoreau 1980f, p. 91). Just as with the bream, paramount for Thoreau is life's mystery and the meaning of that mystery for knowledge.

Ultimately, Thoreau explored nature for the spiritual treasures it held. Science was simply another way to dig for bounty, as he ends this essay with the admonition of the seer:

Perfect alchemists I keep who can transmute substances without end, and thus the corner of my garden is an inexhaustible treasurechest.


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Here you can dig, not gold, but the value which gold merely represents…. Yet farmers' sons will stare by the hour to see a juggler draw ribbons from his throat, though he tells them it is all deception. Surely, men love darkness rather than light. (Ibid., p. 92)

Thoreau might dress his message in different guises—categorical scientific description, poetic revelry, self-contemplation, aesthetic portrait—but the essential lesson was the same: nature and man are of a single piece, and one must seek their essential nexus.[9] His quest led him to formulate a new genre of nature writing. Indeed, natural history as a scientific discipline was passing him by.

Walter Harding and others have attempted to salvage Thoreau's scientific standing by invoking him as a founding father of ecology:

Nearly a century ahead of his time, he was fundamentally an ecologist. He would have had fewer complaints about the narrowness of the scientific view if he could have read some of our twentieth-century ecological studies. And, reciprocally, twentieth-century scientists have begun to realize the values of his broader approach. (1959, p. 138)

This is not a unique view (Buell 1995, pp. 362–64), and recent biographies have emphasized Thoreau's late naturalhistory investigations (e.g., Howarth 1982; Richardson 1993; Rossi 1993; McGregor 1997) and his scientific sophistication and interactions with other scientists (Richardson 1986).[10] Indeed, Walls (1995) would like to assign Thoreau a role as a scientist, albeit with a unique identity.[11] I am not sanguine about any such attempt. We need not legitimate Thoreau's efforts by calling them “scientific.” Clearly, Thoreau was breaking a new path. “Natural history, as Thoreau found it in Gilbert White's letters and in Darwin's journal, was an open form, what Emerson called an ‘unclosed genre’” (Paul 1992, p. 24), and Thoreau made that genre his own. While Thoreau followed a literary tradition of naturalist history (Hicks 1926, pp. 81–99), he stamped this literary form with his unique vision, establishing a literary genre that grew in influence and became the foundation of twentieth-century environmentalism (Buell 1995, n. 19, pp. 429–30).[12] Indeed, Thoreau's first biographer, his friend William Ellery Channing, entitled his work Thoreau: The Poet-Naturalist (1873) in an attempt to place him in a singular category, and literary critics have refined the point. Thoreau's place in the American pantheon is not as a scientist.

He is better placed with the naturalists if we accept that “The true naturalist … is interested in explaining the marvelous; Thoreau's concern is to make the ordinary marvelous” (Hildebidle 1983, p. 25). Unlike even those


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naturalists doing lifehistory studies (which might be construed as also including Thoreau's own endeavor), Thoreau sought parables, selfmade myths, mystical insights, which strove not so much for clarity as for an evocative obscurity (ibid., p. 47). Thoreau's oeuvre is not necessarily consonant with that of other practitioners of the naturalist's art, but he shares with them the broad commitment to encompass greater wholes to allow the observer to extract personal meaning from his scrutiny. And here is where the great divide with science occurs:

The danger of solipsism is clear; the reading of nature as a reflection of the self can easily be a misreading. But to the natural historian— Romantic or pre-Romantic—there is really no choice but to risk the danger. The only alternative would be as pointless as observing stuffed birds in order to understand the migration of the sparrow…. Rather than abandon this principle, the naturalist usually abandons the name of scientist, and along with it the respect which is more and more commonly accorded that name. (Hildebidle 1983, pp. 58–59)

But Thoreau cannot rest easily in the world of naturalists, either. His practice of natural history has been attacked on the basis of its own professional standards, so that those who would place him within the naturalist tradition do so at the risk of exposing him to charges of being secondrate. For instance, John Burroughs, demonstrating the numerous ornithological mistakes in Thoreau's Journal, comments:

What he saw in this field everybody may see who looks; it is patent. He had not the detective eye of the great naturalist; he did not catch the clews and hints dropped here and there, the quick, flashing movements, the shy but significant gestures by which new facts are disclosed, mainly because he was not looking for them…. He was more intent on the natural history of his own thought than on that of the bird. To the last, his ornithology was not quite sure, not quite trustworthy. (Burroughs 1904, pp. 38–39; quoted by Hildebidle 1983, p. 53)

This opinion is hardly unique,[13] but to argue the “professionalism” of Thoreau's naturalist observations is only to move him from the stocks of science critics to those of the naturalists. With due respect to those who would credit or discredit Thoreau's scientific sensibility or his naturalist skills, I do not believe his importance rests on his observational abilities. We forgive his lapses—perhaps we are oblivious to them—because, his flaws notwithstanding, we understand that he was writing for purposes other than scientific accuracy alone. While he respected the objective frame of mind, individual vision was paramount.


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Thoreau, beholden to Kant, found Reality in the interplay of mind and world. On this view, the world is known only insofar as our mental faculties allow, so that perception depends on the particular character of the mind. Objectivity universalizes many minds into a single, universalized vision, so that individual perceptions are made uniform. The Romantic attempted to hold objectivity at bay, arguing instead that there is no single, objective Reality we all share. That is not to say that if confronted with an object or a panorama, we might not all agree on its basic characteristics and share a common, general description. But at the next level of cognition, the bestowing of significance on that object, each of us has a deeper or more superficial “understanding,” placing that object in a constellation of knowledge and experience that must differ from individual to individual.Meaning in this sense is singular. Unique vision—the opportunity of discovering and creating a world of individual standing—was Thoreau's key insight and moral claim. His was no fantasy, for he probed in order to see what others had missed or ignored. To see is to see dialectically, where the mind actively selects and orders the world according to prior values of signification. This is the moral attitude at work—the valuing of experience. As important as objectifying nature might have been, it would be subordinated to Thoreau's greater purpose. Thus naturalist observations were in service to intimate experience. Observing nature—qua scientist, qua naturalist—was only a tool in that personal project.

For Thoreau, objectification captured only a part of nature, serving certain ends but ultimately requiring a second arm upon which to lean to present some semblance of reality. He records this early lesson in his Journal:

I learned today that my ornithology had done me no service–The birds I heard, which fortunately did not come within the scope of my science—sung as freshly as if it had been the first morning of creation, and had for background to their song an untrodden wilderness—stretching through many a Carolina and Mexico of the soul. (March 4, 1840, Journal 1, 1981, p. 115)

Not only would Thoreau be unable to capture the birds' song; science (he seems to stress here) in some insidious manner would have interfered with his appreciation. To hear melody required a listening soul, as fresh as the wilderness from which the music emanated. As he wrote in A Week, “A true account of the actual is the rarest poetry” (1980a, p. 325), which means, plainly, to know nature requires both observation (science) and sympathy (poesis). This sentiment appears again and again in Thoreau's musings on the relationship of “knowing” to “Knowing” aesthetically, morally, spiritually.


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The visual nature of Thoreau's work, the “aesthetic of nature” which he sought (Peck 1990, pp. 49 ff.), dominated his epistemology. He did, after all, write that “the humblest weed is indescribably beautiful” (January 11, 1854,Journal, [1906] 1962, 6:63); and as he fervently attempted to live deliberately—which entails this aesthetic and spiritual embrace of nature— Thoreau was ever vigilant in order to be true to his project. His just standing as a seer of our contemporary ecological self-consciousness was achieved by this aesthetic sensitivity to nature and, more profoundly through this recognition, by his understanding that human relationship to the earth and all therein was essentially an ethical relationship. Seeking the real—aesthetically and spiritually—was Thoreau's life's work, and as his Journal attests, he proceeded tirelessly. I will argue that, ultimately, Thoreau's nature writing was motivated by his acceptance of an overarching mission to integrate the scientific, aesthetic, and spiritual components of his appreciation of nature. So let us now turn to the aesthetic dimension of this enterprise and to how such poesis expressed Thoreau's deepest concerns.

THE CONUNDRUM OF BEAUTY

The rain bow … What form of beauty could be imagined more striking & conspicuous … Plainly thus the maker of the Universe sets the seal of his covenant with men … Designed to impress man[.] All men beholding it begin to understand the significance of the Greek epithet applied to the world—name for the world–Kosmos [?Kalos] or beauty. It was designed to impress man. We live as it were within the calyx of a flower.

Thoreau, August 6, 1852, Journal 5, 1997, pp. 284–85


Thoreau's natural history was a history of a world of his own making, one guided by a powerful aesthetic. To grasp this dimension of Thoreau's project, consider again the sand bank he describes in the “Spring” chapter of Walden. There Thoreau not only uses evocative descriptions, free and poetic, but selfconsciously regards the scene as the work of a divine artist, the sand and clay the medium of His handiwork. Turning to the spring 1848 Journal entry from which this passage derives, we perhaps more clearly see the aesthetic dimension in the raw:

These little streams & ripples of lava like clay over flow & interlace one another like some mythological vegetation—like the forms which I seem to have seen initiated in bronze–What affects me is the presence of the law—between the inert mass and the luxuriant vegetation what interval


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is there? Here is an artist at work—as it were not at work but—aplaying designing– –(Journal 2, 1984, p. 383)

In these few lines we see Thoreau associating freely: clay is the medium of the sculptor; the interlacing is the weaving of a tapestry; the mythological vegetation is evocative of fantasy; forms are like bronze statues, again evoking sculpture. Then he raises a theme that is repeated throughout the rest of the entry (and later included in the published passage of Walden—e.g., “There is nothing inorganic” [1971, p. 308])—namely, the seamless continuity of a shared life that encompasses the organic and the inorganic. The greatest of artists molded a seemingly inanimate sand bank into movement replete with color (“bluish clay now clay mixed with reddish sand—now pure iron sand—and sand and clay of every degree of fineness and every shade of color” [Journal 2, 1984, p. 383]) to present to the discerning eye a veritable life form.[14] This is a rush of insight. Thoreau sees the connectedness of all nature and places himself within that verdure wherein he shares the complete interrelatedness of nature: “I perceive that there is the same power that made me my brain my lungs my bowels my fingers & toes working in other clay this very day–I am in the studio of an artist” (ibid., p. 384).

The splendor of nature always dominates. As he ends the sand bank passage in Walden, Thoreau perceives the earth as a great living entity, “with whose great central life all animal and vegetable life is merely parasitic” (1971, p. 309). We see only the most superficial expressions of a throbbing earth whose inhabitants are but “plastic in the hands of the potter” (ibid.). The artistic trope is more than metaphor for Thoreau. He wants to capture the essence of his own understanding through aesthetic sympathy with nature, which he sees as “living poetry” (ibid.). But a certain knowledge haunts his reverie. Whereas the Artist effectively works the “soil,” Thoreau can present no such vehicle—music or image—to his reader. He is constrained by lexicon and grammar when portraying his perception, and we sense his own artistic frustration. As he confided to his Journal in the year of Walden' s publication, and published in somewhat different form in its “Conclusion” (p. 324):

I fear only lest my expressions may not be extravagant enough,—may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limits of our ordinary insight and faith, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced. I desire to speak somewhere without bounds, in order that I may attain to an expression in some degree adequate to truth of which I have been convinced. From a man in a waking moment, to men in their waking moments. Wandering toward the more distant boundaries of a wider pasture. Nothing is so truly bounded and obedient to law as


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music, yet nothing so surely breaks all petty and narrow bonds. Whenever I hear any music I fear that I may have spoken tamely and within bounds. And I am convinced that I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a true expression. As for books and the adequateness of their statements to the truth, they are as the tower of Babel to the sky. (Thoreau, February 5, 1854,Journal, [1906] 1962, 6:100)[15]

Nevertheless, Thoreau regarded himself as an artist committed to perfection—an ideal that he could never attain. He comes as close to a confession as we possess in Walden's Kouroo artist fable.[16]

I close these short comments on Thoreau's aesthetic venture by drawing a circle back to Goethe and commenting on Thoreau's relation to him—his indebtedness and, perhaps more saliently, their differences. In this latter case, we clearly discern how Thoreau thought of himself as a poet. First, as already noted, Thoreau endorsed the universality of the Primal Plant image Goethe discovered as the basis of botanical variation. But Thoreau would take that insight a step further. In the sand bank passage, the leaf not only fulfills the botanic role Goethe assigned it, but also assumes a universal significance, serving as the template of rivers, feathers, wings, ice, because all of nature—inanimate and animate—follows a selfsame law. In the erupting sand, one finds

an anticipation of the vegetable leaf. No wonder that the earth expresses itself outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea inwardly. The atoms have already learned this law, and are pregnant by it. The overhanging leaf sees here its prototype. (Walden, 1971, p. 306; emphasis added)

In a sense, Thoreau would go one step further than Goethe. The Young Turk can make this move because of a complex reading he gives Goethe. The clues are offered in testimonials made before Walden was published. In A Week, Thoreau devotes several pages to Goethe, appreciating his descriptions,[17] and he goes on to laud Goethe as a writer, indeed as the possessor of characteristics we might well imagine that Thoreau himself wished to have. Perhaps Thoreau modeled himself in part on Goethe's own example of power and thoroughness in the descriptions found in his notebooks of the Italian Journey (1786–1788).

But then a fascinating critique emerges, one that sets the stakes much higher, for Thoreau proceeds to assess Goethe as an artist. A distancing now emerges: “Goethe's whole education and life were those of the artist.He lacks the unconsciousness of the poet” (A Week, 1980a, p. 327; emphasis added). Thoreau explains that Goethe was hampered by living in the city,


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surrounded by artists and cultural refinement, where neither nature nor a more primal life might have been experienced. “He was defrauded of much which the savage boy enjoys” (ibid.)—obviously a liability given Thoreau's own orientation toward the value of the wild, the celebration of the common man, his pride in American democratic ideals (too often unfulfilled in his opinion), and the general disparagement of effete Europe relative to the rigor and promise of the West. But beyond Goethe's “cultural deprivation,” which one might well imagine Thoreau thought devastating for a poet, the American takes a potentially lancing cut at the German's character: “The Man of Genius may at the same time be, indeed is commonly, an Artist, but the two are not to be confounded” (ibid., p. 328). The former is original, inspired, producing “a perfect work in obedience to laws yet unexplored,” while the Artist follows in his wake, applying “rules which others have detected” (ibid.). And so who is who?

Thoreau offered a critical clue in a lecture on poetry (“Homer. Ossian. Chaucer.”), which he delivered to the Concord Lyceum in 1843. In his lecture, Thoreau takes pains to describe true poetry (“distinguished … by the atmosphere which surrounds it”) and poets: “There are two classes of men called poets. The one cultivates life, the other art,” and correspondingly there are two kinds of writing, “one that of genius or the inspired, the other of intellect and taste.” The former

is above criticism, always correct…. It vibrates and pulsates with life forever. It is sacred, and to be read with reverence, as the works of nature are studied…. We do not take his words on our lips, but his sense into our hearts. It is the stream of inspiration…. The other is selfpossessed and wise. It is reverent of genius, and greedy of inspiration…. The train of thought moves with subdued and measured step, like a caravan. But the pen is only an instrument in its hand, and not instinct with life…. The works of Goethe furnish remarkable instances of the latter. (Thoreau 1975b, pp. 171–72)

Thoreau, the man of nature, thus contrasts himself with the refined European court functionary. Goethe is conversant with “life” but hardly in intimate step with the rhythm of nature, is unable to participate in the exuberance of inspiration, and therefore must, by implication, follow the true poet, the man of true genius, the individual immersed in nature who might traverse the barrier of experience to truly communicate the awesome splendor and unity of nature. Although Thoreau attests that “there has been no man of pure Genius” (A Week, 1980a, p. 328), there are indeed a select few who are so gifted— “only one in a hundred millions [is awake enough for] a poetic or divine life” (Walden, 1971, p. 90). The true poet's standards are,


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indeed, Thoreau's thinly disguised descriptions of his own work. Regardless of the poems actually composed—and Thoreau certainly wrote a lot of poetry—the true work of the poet, of the genius, was to place himself within the pulse of life, to commune with nature intimately, and then to “brag [of his findings] as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up” (Walden, 1971, p. 84; epigraph on title page of first edition). Thoreau's writings—the works of a true poet in his view—testify to this mandate.

Thoreau thus distinguished himself primarily by his acute sense of nature. But interestingly, he failed to acknowledge the deeper source of his indebtedness to Goethe. Goethe's influence on Emerson (Van Cromphout 1990) and Thoreau, indeed on nineteenth-century thought generally, can hardly be overestimated: “Goethe was simply the paramount intellectual influence upon the age…. [I]n a very real sense, his achievement defined modernity” (ibid., p. 9). Van Cromphout uses “modernity” to refer to an awareness of self, a sense of disrupted tradition, and a rejection of authority. Most saliently, nineteenth-century modernity was in a state of “perpetual crisis and an unceasing exercise in selfdefinition” (ibid., p. 14).[18] The “definition” of the self resulted in a selfconscious ego peering at itself in bewilderment. Any form of knowledge—whether history, science, poetry— arose from a consciousness divided against itself in endless reappraisal, but deliberate “selfdefinition,” the effort of defining applied to “the self,” was endlessly recursive (Taylor 1989). Emerson was well aware that Faust was the exemplar text of such selfawareness (ibid., p. 18), and Thoreau too faced this fundamental divide in every aspect of his intellectual and spiritual pursuits. Indeed, this is the critical key for understanding Thoreau's projects, each of which was in service to mending the self's division.

THOREAU'S COORDINATES OF THE KNOWING SELF

I think that the existence of man in nature is the divinest and most startling of facts–It is a fact which few have realized.

Thoreau, May 21, 1851, Journal 3, 1990, p. 229


Thoreau's nature writing, stemming from his “scientific” observations of natural phenomena, must be seen as of one piece with his poetry, for there is no division either in his sensibilities or even in his method. Closing the circle with the Journal entry with which the previous chapter opened (June 21, 1852), we can now more fully appreciate the three perspectives which have framed our consideration of Thoreau's nature writing: imperative of


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attention, aesthetic imagination, and self-consciousness. As mentioned in the Introduction, this entry is from the period in which Thoreau was involved in various pursuits: surveying, lecturing on various subjects (including chapters from Walden and what became “Walking,” first presented in April 1851 [1980b, pp. 93–136]), collecting and classifying botanical specimens, and turning to his Journal more and more as a focus of his literary interests and the repository of an increasingly rich trove of observation and selfreflection. By June 1852 Thoreau had fully embraced his Romanticism (or completed his Romantic turn [Adams and Ross 1988, chap. 9) and was devoting increasing attention to nature in the ways detailed above. This typical report—given here in its entirety—describes an ordinary summer evening hike, commencing about two miles southwest of Concord and proceeding southerly for another couple of miles (from map of Concord area, Journal 5, 1997, pp. 536–37):

7 Pm. To Cliffs via Hubbard Bathing Place. Cherry birds—I have not seen though I think I have heard them before—their fine seringo note—like a vibrating spring in the air. They are a handsome bird with their crest–& chestnut breasts. They are ready for cherries, when they shall be ripe. The adders tongue arethusa smells exactly like a snake. How singular that in nature too beauty & offensiveness should be thus combined. In flowers as well as in men we demand a beauty pure & fragrant—which perfumes the air. The flower which is showy—but has no or an offensive odor—expresses the character of too many mortals.

The swamp pink bushes have many whitish spongey excrescences–Elder is blossoming. flowers opening now where black berries will be by & by. Panicled and romeda—or Privet andromeda. Nature has looked uncommonly bare & dry to me for a day or two. With our senses applied to the surrounding world we are reading our own physical & corresponding moral revolutions. Nature was so shallow all at once I did not know what had attracted me all my life. I was therefore encouraged when going through a field this evening, I was unexpectedly struck with the beauty of an apple tree–The perception of beauty is a moral test. When in bathing I rush hastily into the river the clamshells cut my feet.

It is dusky now–Men are fishing on the Corner bridge–I hear the veery & the huckleberry bird–& the catbird. It is a cool evening past 820 [8:20] o'clock. I see the tephrosia out through the dusk—a handsome flower[.] What rich crops this dry hill side has yielded. First I saw the v. pedata here–& then the Lupines & the Snap-Dragon covered it–& now the Lupines are done & their pods are left—the tephrosia has taken their place. This small dry hill is thus a natural garden–I omit other flowers which grow here & name only those which to some extent cover it or possess it. No eighth of an acre in a cultivated garden could


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be better clothed or with a more pleasing variety from month to month–& while one flower is in bloom you little suspect that which is to succeed & perchance eclipse it. It is a warmly placed dry hill side beneath a wall—very thinly clad with grass. Such spots there are in nature—natural flower gardens.–Of this succession I hardly know which to admire the most. It would be pleasant to write the history of one hill side for one year. First and last you have the colors of the rainbow & more–& the various fragrances which it has not. Blackberries–roses–& dogs bane are now in bloom here–I hear neither toads nor bull frogs at present—they want a warmer night. I hear the sound of distant thunder though no cloud is obvious. muttering like the roar of artillery. That is a phenomena of this season–As you walk at evening you see the light of the flashes in the horizon & hear the muttering of distant thunder wher some village is being refreshed with the rain denied Concord. We say that showers avoid us—that they go down the river—i.e. go off down the Merrimack—or keep to the south. Thunder and lightening are remarkable accompaniments to our life–

The dwarf orchis O. herbiola Big (P. flava Gray) at the bathing place in Hubbards meadow, not remarkable. The purple orchis is a good flower to bring home–it will keep fresh many day & its buds open at last in a pitcher of water. Obtuse galium. I observe a rose (called by some moss rose) with a bristly reddish stem, another with a smooth red stem & but few prickles—another with many prickles & bristles.

Found the single flowered broom rape in Love lane under the oak. (June 21, 1852,Journal 5, 1997, pp. 120–22)

This entry begins and ends with selfawareness. Thoreau clearly situates himself in time and place. He notes the route, the data, and the exact time of his observations. In fact, in the manuscript he changes the original “8 o'clock” to “820” to be exact (ibid., Textual Notes, p. 601). But a second level of self-consciousness is at play, and this resides in selfreflection. There are three obvious examples to cite and at least one other, more obscure. The first is the plain comparison of flowers with human character. Thoreau assigns human value to a flower (adder'stongue arethusa)—beauty (the visual appearance of the flower) and offensiveness (its smell)—and notes how one would not expect their combination. Why? Because he has indulged in a subjective projection, in which humans associate fairness and fragrance. And then he goes on with a disingenuous comment about flowers that are “showy” (this particular orchid has a striking rosepurple color and distinctive bearded appearance of its lip) but have no odor: they express the “character of too many mortals.” Presumably Thoreau does not include himself in this class of men, but the importance of the remark is that he sees the human dimension—himself and others—in nature, in particular as personified


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by an orchid. If there is any doubt, consider the paragraph following, where he selfconsciously acknowledges his own recent lapse in interest in nature and recognizes his state as one reflecting physical wellbeing and, more importantly, the state of moral alertness. Again, in attending nature, Thoreau reads his own character. The selfconscious placement of himself in nature is his route to selfawareness.

Next, note the juxtaposition of his insight regarding the nexus of beauty and morality (“I was unexpectedly struck with the beauty of an apple tree–The perception of beauty is a moral test”) with an obscure, almost free association: “When in bathing I rush hastily into the river the clamshells cut my feet.” Here, Thoreau reminds himself that conventional reality, the world of the everyday, harshly imposes itself to interrupt his poetic reverie. He realizes, even as he jots down what is indisputably a critical insight— the very fulcrum of his entire project that allows the self to “lift” the world to capture experience in a moral, indeed spiritual, frame—that he cannot reside too long to rejoice in a tree's beauty. Awakened, he pursues his work of observing and reporting, in this case the flora of a hillside. And then again, he cannot withhold his personalized judgment. As with a wellcultivated garden, he “admires” the hill and contemplates that “it would be pleasant to write the history of one hill side for one year.” Pleasant! Hardly a scientific project that would place his eye to the magnifying glass in the drudgery of careful scientific observation. That indeed may be enjoyable, but work in a conventional sense is not what Thoreau had in mind. No, Thoreau would admire and enjoy the vegetation's rich colors and fragrances. Again, the poetic reverie appears in the midst of the minutiae he recalls—the particular flowers, sounds, temperature—and he relates nature to himself as an aesthetic experience. Finally in this regard, note the last line of the entry: “Found the single flowered broom rape in Love lane under the oak.” It is unclear which plant he has identified (there are 180 species), but the entire family is a herbaceous root parasite that lacks chlorophyll and thus receives nourishment from the roots of other plants. What is the relation of this plant to Love lane? Is this a simple observation or a veiled comment about love as a parasitic relationship? If the latter, what then is Thoreau saying about his own solitude? We cannot say, but our interest is pricked.

Briefly, let us consider other themes, namely the attention to detail and the aesthetic dimensions. Note that his description is hardly scientific in any usual fashion. He makes no attempt to compile a complete catalogue of wild life; indeed, he admits that he lists only those hillside plants “which to some extent cover it or possess it.” In other words, he surveys the scene as a whole and its details are of little consequence. He, in fact, offers an impression, the


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image that most readily falls under his attention. Neither the number of a given species (plant or animal) nor their distribution nor their variation is given. Only in passing does Thoreau remark on the appearance of blooming or otherwise notable plants, the striking cherry birds' song (likened to a vibrating string), or thunder in the distance. In almost every case, when he presents a detail, he uses it as a dab of paint to compose a prose portrait of the hike. In capturing the highlights, Thoreau has effectively offered a coherent picture of what it was like on that June evening just outside Concord, the town of consonance. Indeed, the aesthetic “wholeness” and integrity of the scenes he conjures represent both the harmonized vision of nature itself and Thoreau's ability to perceive and appreciate that harmony.

Thus Thoreau effectively employs detail to present an image—the cultivated, integrated, and successive order of the hillside. This coordinated splendor of variation reflects the grand “design” of the Artist who bestowed this beauty for us to enjoy and contemplate. Thoreau's attention to particulars is in service of two other faculties, the aesthetic and the spiritual, each reflections of a selfconscious awareness so that this man might know his place and his time. But a conceit looms over this passage—indeed, a pretense. The “nowness” of this journal entry, the supposed immediacy of experience, unmediated and direct, is actually a reworking of a memory, an attempt to capture an inner life or its seemingly accessible sensations. But ultimately the description is locked into a conventional “space” by the confines of writing which must, by its very nature, translate private experience into a public tongue, a language foreign to the soul. As he writes, presumably to and for himself, we see Thoreau creating a poetic world under the guise of recreating the scene that he witnessed. This scene is idealized, and represents a vivid example of the world romanticized and in the process “created.”[19]

Thoreau is offering a code here, clues of overlapping fragments of experience, whose piecemeal impressions and contemplative reflections conjure a literary portrait of that evening. The extent to which Thoreau is successful in leading us back through his experience depends on our following with him what he called the “scent,” which he regarded as “more primitive … and trustworthy” than the eye, or his critical faculty (May 9, 1852, ibid., p. 45). I would suggest that “scent” is a form of intuition that guides the outward eye to nature's images. And in the frame in which I see Thoreau, this deepest sense of guidance is “moral,” that is, seeking value. The meeting ground of these two faculties—the guiding ethos and the perceiving eye—is “contemplation,” those few moments of reverie which quell Thoreau's deep disquiet. Whatever understanding we might share of


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Thoreau's experience depends on sharing this vision of his innermost moral perception. We do so by picking up the “scent” of the experience—the clues he leaves for us—the very same he used himself.

So at one level, through his aesthetic faculty, Thoreau is able to see nature, specifically “the beauty of an apple tree,” and recognize again how nature holds spiritual value for him as his gaze integrates him into nature's order. But from another perspective, the scene is composed of the hillside and its flora, on the one hand; and on the other, there is Thoreau, who stands attentive, yet fundamentally separate, outside, observing. He must be aware that he is in some fashion constructing the scene, that it is he, as sensitive observer, who confers meaning and significance, a function of his poesis. So we witness the inherent tension of the detached self, observing the world, and at the same time—through sympathetic Imagination—a poetic, spiritualized self which communes with or perhaps is incorporated into that microcosm. And then there is a second divide: the metaphysics of selfawareness, a keen and ceaseless vigilance of the self's place within its world. This bespeaks a profound irony: even as Thoreau would bury himself into the bosom of Mother Nature, he does so acutely aware of his selfness, of his discreteness, of his irreducible individuality, and it is his self-consciousness that makes him “other,” a resident alien. This essentially irreconcilable Janusquality of the self is the tension inherent in Romanticism. The self always and simultaneously peers at the world while scrutinizing its own inquiry in an endlessly recursive spiral of self-contemplation. Thoreau is trapped: attempting to integrate himself into nature, he cannot release himself from the self-consciousness of his own effort. This posture will both support and destabilize his efforts to establish his moral agency.


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