Townspeople were active promoters of social and cultural reform
In the first half of 19th century, people all over America were experimenting to reshape society. Concord men and women joined organizations for improving the appearance of the village center, promoting reduced alcohol consumption, improving education, and taking action against slavery.
Thoreau and his Town
Henry David Thoreau surveyed Concord in many ways
Thoreau's interaction with Concord --- the place and its people --- were central to his life, shaping his thinking and writing. Thoreau was a writer, a teacher, a naturalisit and a surveyor. His keen eye, sharp mind, and sence of humor allowed him to "survey" his town in a myriad of ways.
The Civil Engineer
To supplement his income from writing, Thoreau took surveying jobs in Concord and further afield. He therefore probably knew the town's nooks and crannies better than anyone at the time. Thoreau mapped his community with the precision of an engineer. But he worried that a surveyor's mindset limits his ability to view nature and society from a more imaginative vantage point.
I have lately been surveying the Walden woods so extensively and minutely that now I see it mapped in my mind's eye, -- as, indeed, on paper--,as so many men's wood-lots, and am aware that when I walk there I am at a given moment from such a one's wood-lots to another's. I fear this particular dry knowledge may affect my imagination and fancy, that it will not be easy to see so much wildness and native vigor there as formerly.
Henry D. Thoreau, Journal (January 1, 1858)
Emerson & Thoreau
These two authors became friends shortly after Thoreau's graduation from Harvard in 1837.
My good Henry Thoreau made this else solitary afternoon sunny with his simplicity and clear perception....Every thing that boy says makes merry with society though nothing can be graver than his meaning...
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal (February 1838)
...(Emerson's) personal influence upon young person (is) greater than any man's. In his world, every man would be a poet. Love would reign, Beauty would take place, Man and Nature would harmonize.
Henry D. Thoreau, Journal (undated, 1845-1847)
Gift of Commings E. Davis
Thoreau made this desk in 1839 at the time he established a school and taught with his brother, John: he kept it with him the rest of his life. At this desk Thoreau wrote his most influential works including Walden.
Worcester County, about 1820
Modyfied by Henry Thoreau about 1845
Pine, maple ash
Gift of Commings E. Davis or George Talman
(before 1909) Th38
China, about 1810
Modified by Henry Thoreau about 1845
Tropical Hardwood, ratten, maple basswood
Gift of Commings E. Davis or George Talman
(before 1909) Th2
Thoreau put legs on the bedstead (originally a seat from a Chinese export sofa-bed) and the rockers on the chairs and painted them both brown. With the desk, they comprise the majority of the furniture Thoreau had in his house at Walden Pond and are only items to survive.
With the keen observational skills of a naturalist, Thoreau documented the living and inanimate features of Concord's landscape.
Thoreau used a poet's sensibility to celebrate the nature's gentle beauty and exhilarating wildness.
Henry David Thoreau walked in Concord for several hours everyday looking carefully at the plant life around him. He had trained himself to recognize the different species of grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees he encountered. He took notes on when their leaves emerged, when they flowered, and when their leaves turned color. This study of the cycles of nature is called phenology.
For the last ten years of his life, Thoreau devoted much of his time to a large-scale phenology project to gather and analyze data on the changing phenomena of the seasons. He measured snow depth, watched for the day when the ice melted off Walden Pond, noted the spring arrival of songbirds, and, above all, recorded the first flowering time for hundreds of plants in Concord.
Near the end of his life, Thoreau gathered his notes into charts with a goal of creating a calendar of seasonal events. The charts compiled the observations of many individual species over a number of years, allowing for comparison of flowering times and other phenomena from year to year.