Question 3: Burroughs on Thoreau

Burroughs criticizes Thoreau on the lack of concern with fact in his writing. He talks about Thoreau’s relation to nature as being secondary, and the moral lessons which he creates through his interaction with nature are his main purpose. Yet he praises Thoreau for being a unique character. I have to agree with Burroughs Thoreau is a character, however, while Thoreau is concerned with loftier goals than just trying to get someone to be interested in nature some of his moral lessons get lost amongst all the things he is trying to say.

Thoreau wishes to “speak a word for Nature,” (Thoreau 260) however, he does not even know how things in nature work, like for example a rainbow   – “How Thoreau found himself standing in the [rainbow’s] abutment will always remain a mystery to me” (Burroughs 44-45). In some ways he does not understand nature, he is only worried about his message getting across. Nature is a vehicle for Thoreau that he reinvents to produce his desired effect. Thoreau “interpreted Nature entirely in the light of his own idiosyncrasies” (Burroughs 45). Thoreau gave nature the meaning he desired, not the one it already had. In Walking, walking is not about being in Nature, but a “crusade,” against civilization and for a return to wilderness (Thoreau 260). Thoreau may be a nature writer but nature is not what he is writing about, it is about the effects of nature on a human being, or at least the effect he believes it should have.

However, Thoreau knocks humans and civilization too much, to the point where nature takes a back seat. For Thoreau “villagers are liable to … degeneracy… wayworn by the travel that goes by and over them, without traveling themselves” (Thoreau 265). Nature is not important here traveling is – as well as how people are affecting other people.  Walking ends up being not about enjoying nature, but about why civilization is bad. You forget Thoreau is even talking about nature too.

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch/Art: Walden; Walking p. 260-287. pub. WW Norton 2008

Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art Excerpt p. 26-47. pub. University of Georgia Press 2001


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