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1. For example, in 1841 Thoreau read Coleridge's Aids to Reflection (1829), which carefully explained the difference between Understanding and Reason,

“perhaps the key epistemological concept of the Romantic age” (Sattelmeyer 1988, p. 30). Thoreau's philosophical education began at Harvard but flourished in the first years of his friendship with Emerson (Richardson 1986; Sattelmeyer 1988). [BACK]

2. Walden was to reflect this overtly Romantic shift, and while some regard A Week as also a Transcendental treatise (Buell 1973, p. 207), it is far less well articulated and clear, for Thoreau has achieved in Walden a sense of selfrealization absent from the earlier work. Lynden Shanley, who was the first to make an extensive study of Walden's creative evolution (completed by Clapper's comprehensive genetic text [1967]), maintained that its essential nature did not change from the first to the last (eighth) version of 1854 (Shanley 1957, p. 6), a critical opinion vigorously contested by many more recent studies (e.g., Adams and Ross 1988; Sattelmeyer 1990).Walden's structure or theme need not be detailed here otherwise than to note certain key features of its architecture: As Charles Anderson (1968) argues, “The Ponds” is a central focus of the finished work, for it expresses Thoreau's mystical union with Walden Pond, which had evolved into a symbol of the ultimate reality, the limitless bounds of man's mind, and the potential of nature. With this vision Thoreau narrates, in the three chapters that follow, his attempted ascent to purity and perfection very much in keeping with the Journal entry just cited (Adams and Ross 1988, p. 183). A second climax occurs in the penultimate chapter, “Spring,” where Thoreau witnesses an epiphany of natural renewal that he translates into personal rejuvenescence. Thus from this reading, the first half of the book attempts to illustrate a new moral and psychological perspective on the material world, with an emphasis on personal economy and a critique of competing social values. The critique is informed by the use of heightened imagination guided by an appreciation of the divine character of nature. In the second half of the text, Thoreau then espouses his own role as mythmaker, the prophet heralding the organicism of the world, and the mystical transcendence available to the cognizant individual. And in the “Conclusion,” Thoreau calls us to live courageously—a life guided by the imagination is to live the life one has dreamed. As Adams and Ross document (1988, pp. 166 ff.), the substantive material added to the second half of the book in version IV (written during 1852) places this structure in the text. [BACK]

3. Perhaps surprisingly, this is the first use of “transcendental” in Thoreau's Journal, and he uses it in three contexts in this same entry. The others refer to the intuition concerning time— “We review the past with the commonsense—but we anticipate the future with transcendental senses” (June 7, 1851,Journal 3, 1990, p. 245)—and the second refers to himself, “I am too transcendental to serve you in your way” (ibid.), referring to a practical social mission. [BACK]

4. Harold Bloom schematizes them as an early phase Prometheus struggling against nature, society, and all orthodoxies, to be followed by a laterstage Real Man, the Imagination, who in crisis steps back and internalizes the quest, now recentered in the self. In this latter mode, the Romantic hero is no longer “a seeker after nature but after his own mature powers,” turning away, not from

society to nature, “but from nature to what was more integral than nature, within himself” (1971, p. 26). The widened consciousness seeks not a union with nature or the divine, but rather with the “selfless self” (ibid.). [BACK]

5. This is a widespread view. Hicks was of the opinion that “his [Thoreau's] object was never scientific knowledge, nor, for that matter was nature his true subject” (1925, p. 72). This perspective was reiterated by Walter Harding (1959, p. 136) and Roderick Nash: “The crucial environment was within. Wilderness was ultimately significant to Thoreau for its beneficial effect on thought. Much of Thoreau's writing was only superficially about the natural world. Following Emerson's dictum that “the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind,” he turned to it repeatedly as a figurative tool (1967, p. 89). Thoreau's putative “ecocentric” vision has been contested, reflecting the complex cultural trajectory of modern environmentalism (Buell 1995, pp. 364–69). Buell, more thoroughly and carefully than any other critic, has attempted to recast the ego centrist Thoreau—the Thoreau of Marx (1964) and Nash (1967)—into an eco centrist portrait (1995) (further discussed in chapter 7). This may well be a meaningful reading for those concerned with the environmental movement who wish to use Thoreau, as Buell writes, as a “point of reference.” Taylor vehemently criticizes this position:

Buell's analysis is, of course, remarkably patronizing toward Thoreau as a thinker. The unargued assumption is that our (Buell's) ideas are correct, and that the task is to legitimate these ideas by tracing them back to Thoreau, even though the fit is certainly less than perfect. In the process, Thoreau is made to look like little more than an immature, imperfect vision of ourselves…. Instead of discovering in Thoreau a powerful thinker, Buell instead finds only an “environmental saint,” a symbol we can exploit in promoting our own views and fighting our own battles. Here Thoreau has been completely drained of his critical and philosophical power. (1996, pp. 141–42)

I have attempted to interpret Thoreau's maturation strictly within his own cultural moment—the mid-nineteenth century—as fulfilling a personal agenda, of which nature was an important element, a vehicle, as it were, to another consciousness. While Thoreau may be enlisted in our ideological wars of environmentalism, this question seems to me to be framed by a post-Thoreauvian audience, whose own program is enriched by his odyssey. To be sure, Thoreau's nature writing is a fecund resource for current sensibility, but such an interpretation is to a large degree a projection of our own concerns framed by our own time. Thus an ecocentric environmentalism does not fall within my purview, and, for that matter, I doubt it was a primary concern of Thoreau's either. [BACK]

6. We may safely conclude that some “vision” inspired Thoreau deeply, sustaining much of his aesthetic and spirtual project. As he confided to his friend Harrison Blake, “I have had but one spiritual birth (excuse the word,) and now whether it rains or snows, whether I laugh or cry, fall farther below or approach nearer to my standard, whether Pierce or Scott is elected, … the same surprising & everlastingly new light dawns to me” (letter to Blake, February 27, 1853,

Correspondence, 1958, pp. 296–97). But as will be clear from this discussion, Thoreau lived easily in the world of fact and in the transcendental climes. To put him into one camp or the other is to restrict him inappropriately from the diverse arenas of his identity, a duality generally disregarded for at least half a century (Matthiessen 1941, pp. 92–93). [BACK]

7. So in the end, unmediated, direct, mystical experience remains in its own domain, not to be conflated with the refined literary product, or even the intermediate Journal musings and recollections. Despite their intimacy, Thoreau would not confuse writing with the experience writing sought to capture, and this tension extended to all areas of his writing. After all, this is the fundamental conundrum of literary theory: “its skepticism about how texts can purport to represent environments in the first place when, after all, a text is obviously one thing and the world another” (Buell 1995, p. 82). This tension reflects the deeper impasse that has become a central theme in contemporary nature writing. As Edward Abbey writes in Desert Solitaire, “I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a nonhuman world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, and separate” (1968, p. 6). Buell draws out the inner conflict: “This is a dream that cannot be fulfilled, partly because the dreamer does not unequivocally want it to be fulfilled” (1995, p. 72). [BACK]

8. Olaf Hansen, in reference to this Journal entry, explicitly poses the issue in terms of selfhood:

The clear view of the unattainable lends identity to our existence in this world because we cannot integrate the cosmos. So then, whatever shape each individual's existence will have, its identity is derivative of a purity of vision which can only be defined in terms of its unworldliness. Hence the worldly, practical consequences of our quest for identity. (1990, p. 4) [BACK]

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