Home ➨ Ripples From Walden Pond: Suggested Reading and Original Source Material
Like Newton, I have seen by standing on the shoulders of giants. These are the giants.
First, I am indebted to Henry. No one yet has told his story as well. I have used the following texts of his exquisitely wrought prose for my original source material:
Walden, or, Life In The Woods, is my cornerstone. For this I have used the 1906 reprint of the 1893 printing of the Walden Edition of Thoreau's Works; for A Week On The Concord And Merrimack Rivers, the Houghton Mifflin revised edition of 1883; for Thoreau's Journals, edited by Bradford Torrey and Francis H. Allen, the 1949 reprint of the 1906 Walden Edition.
The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, New York University press, 1958, edited by Walter Harding and Carl Bode, is a work of painstaking and indispensable scholarship. From it I have derived most of the material on Thoreau's opinion of Whitman, my understanding of Thoreau's relationship with Ralph Waldo and Lidian Emerson, as well as two of the three quotes used as epigraphs.
Extracts from the essays "Autumnal Tints" and "Walking" are taken from the texts of the original Atlantic Monthly articles, and "The Succession of Forest Trees" from the original New York Weekly Tribune article, all of which are reprinted in the Library of America volume of Thoreau's Collected Essays and Poems, edited by Elizabeth Hall Witherell.
The material on John Brown is derived from "A Plea For Captain John Brown" and "The Last Days Of John Brown." I have used the 1972 Gordon Press reprint of the 1892 edition of A Yankee in Canada With Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. It is from this volume that I have also taken extracts from "Life Without Principle," and "Paradise (to be) Regained."
For "Resistance To Civil Government" I have used the text of the 1967 AMS Press reprint of Elizabeth P. Peabody's original 1849 edition of The Aesthetic Papers.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's thoughts on his friend are taken from Hawthorne's American Notebooks, every fascinating page of which exhibits the astute perceptions of a master novelist, reprinted by Yale University Press, 1943.
Thoreau's works are available in countless editions. Currently in production at Princeton University Press is a complete and what will surely be a definitive edition of Thoreau's writings. A more affordable and beautifully produced edition of the best of Thoreau, excluding his Journal, is produced in two volumes by The Library of America. For the thrifty, www.doverpublications.com offers the most affordable editions of Thoreau. Meriting special acknowledgement are the handsomely produced, meticulously annotated editions of Walden, The Maine Woods, and a selection from Thoreau's journals, I To Myself, edited by Jeffrey Cramer, published by Yale University Press.
All Thoreau scholarship begins with F. B. Sanborn's Henry D. Thoreau. A personal friend of Thoreau's, who actually lived for a time with the Thoreau family, Sanborn is a standard primary source. Unfortunately, he is also a master of the endless digression. To profit from him and mine the real gold to be found there requires a trudging and sifting perseverance; it is not recreation, but if you burn to know who Thoreau's neighbors' grandparents were, Sanborn is your man.
A contemporary of Sanborn who could also write elegant prose, William Ellery Channing was Thoreau's closest friend, and his insightful and indispensable Thoreau, The Poet-Naturalist is sympathetic without fawning, and particularly good concerning Thoreau's religious beliefs and his attempts to use nature as an analog, or a path, to come to terms with eternal truths and the existence of God.
Edward Emerson, the youngest child of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was seventeen years old when Thoreau died. He loved Thoreau without adoration, and admired him while being fully aware of his faults. His memoir, Henry Thoreau as Remembered by a Young Friend is a brief, engaging, and fair-minded primary source.
A short, very readable account of Thoreau's life and thought, though superseded by modern scholarship, is Joseph Wood Krutch's Henry David Thoreau. Krutch, a professional literary scholar and amateur naturalist who authored a number of entertaining books on natural history, brings a unique perspective to Thoreau that is perfectly in harmony with his subject.
There are three fine modern biographies of Thoreau. The first is Walter Harding's The Days Of Henry David Thoreau. Harding is the great Thoreau scholar of the twentieth century. Anyone who wants to know Thoreau is indebted to him. To walk in Thoreau's steps is to walk in Harding's as well. Harding is also the author of A Thoreau Handbook, a dated though still highly useful guide to published material on Thoreau.
A second great modern study of Thoreau, and the more readable, is Henry David Thoreau: A Life Of The Mind, by Robert D. Richardson, Jr. Richardson is wonderfully free of the pseudo-scientific lit-speak jargon that is the hallmark of modern literary criticism. This is a model of literary biography.
The most recent, and perhaps the definitive study of Thoreau's life and work is Henry David Thoreau: A Life, by Laura Dassow Walls.