Wednesday, May 3, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #25

Image result for ice-skating
Book Recommendation: The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man’s Unlikely Path to Walden Pond by Michael Sims

A must read for anyone who has strong feelings about Thoreau, negative or positive, or for those who are intrigued or puzzled or challenged by him. A wonderful book: an important, humanizing account.

“When I found a young Henry Thoreau ice-skating through the correspondence of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, it was like running into a long-lost friend. In the decades since first encountering Walden in my late teens, I had often glimpsed Thoreau as the bearded sage of literature, natural history or civil liberties. Except in his own writings, however, I had seldom met the awkward young man who loved to sing, who ran a private school and applied his engineering skills to the pencil business, who popped popcorn and performed magic tricks for Ralph Waldo Emerson’s children, faced his own illness and the deaths of loved ones, and tried to make it as a freelance writer in New York City.
            Sophia Hawthorne described a lively afternoon in Concord in December 1842 that captured my imagination: a twenty-five-year old Thoreau skating on the Concord River with both Emerson and Sophia’s own newlywed husband, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Emerson skated earnestly and Hawthorne grandly. Thoreau cavorted in what Sophia described to a friend as “dithyrambic dances and Bacchic leaps.” In ancient Greece a dithyramb was a wild choral hymn and dance, especially one dedicated to Bacchus. Thoreau didn’t drink alcohol, but otherwise Sophia Hawthorne found the perfect terms for his response to being outdoors, which was indeed ecstatic and pagan.
            Thoreau was not an ivory-tower thinker sitting with chin in hand. Contrary to myth, he was not a hermit. Caught up with his friends and his era, he lived most of his life in a busy village and admitted that he considered “homeopathic doses” of local gossip “as refreshing, in its way, as the rustle of leaves and the pepping of frogs.” He spent relatively little time in the wilderness – a few weeks here and there. His Walden Pond cabin provided a solitary working space away from his family’s boardinghouse, not escape from all society.
            Over the years, I found that some books about Thoreau sharpened rather than assuaged my hunger for more about the real-life young man. As I began writing my own book about him, I realized that I didn’t want to admire the marble bust of an icon. I wanted to gambol with a sarcastic radical who could translate Pindar and Goethe, track a fox to its lair and host an abolitionist rally beside a tiny cabin he had built himself. I didn’t want to applaud Thoreau, I wanted to find Henry.”

From The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man’s Unlikely Path to Walden Pond by Michael Sims

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