Western European Romanticism: Thoreau's Walden

Read Complete Research Material

Western European Romanticism: Thoreau's Walden


In 1848 Thoreau transcribed sections of Coleridge`s Hints towards the Formation of a More Comprehensive Theory of Life which had just been published. At the same time he made a copy of Spenser`s "Muiopotmos or the Fate of the Butterflie," where the life of the insects is viewed by the reader from as great a distance as the Olympians look down upon humanity, akin to that doublet Thoreau identified in his own character watching his active self (134-35). Coleridge`s Hints is "a treatise on the use of natural history as means to the discovery of underlying laws of creation" and was an essential literary starting-point for Thoreau`s more technical exploration of what is today cladistics.


For Coleridge, had nature progressed no further than the flora and fauna, "the whole vegetable, together with the whole insect creation, would have formed within themselves an entire and independent system of life." He draws on Heinrich Steffens (1773-1845) for the adage "THE INSECT WORLD IS THE EXPONENT OF IRRITABILITY, AS THE VEGETABLE IS OF REPRODUCTION." What Coleridge crucially provided Thoreau with was the encouragement, even perhaps in terms of authorial authority, the right, to merge a scientific approach to nature with his kaleidoscopic imaginative sweep over the living ecology of Walden. William Ellery Channing, poet and a walking companion, gives an indication of the day-to-day life of the writer in his Concord habitat:

"Insects were fascinating [to Thoreau], from the first gray little moth, the perla, born in February`s deceitful glare, and the `fuzzy gnats` that people the gay sunbeams, to the luxuriating Vanessa antiopa, that gorgeous purple-velvet butterfly somewhat wrecked amid November`s champaign breakers. He sought for and had honey-bees in the close spathe of marsh-cabbage, when the eye could detect no opening of the same; water-bugs, skaters, carrion beetles, devil`s needles (`the French call them demoiselles, the artist loves to paint them, and paint must be cheap`); the sap-green, glittering, iridescent cicindelas, those lively darlings of Newbury sandbanks and Professor Peck, he lingered over as heaven`s never-to-be repainted Golconda. Hornets, wasps, bees and spiders, and their several nests, he carefully attended. The worms and caterpillars, washed in the spring-freshets from the meadow-grass, filled his soul with hope at the profuse vermicular expansion of Nature."

Thoreau took on his identity, in one sense, from the systole and diastole of his natural surroundings. The fluidity of that identity was his principal trait, because through this he could, almost immediately via his Journal, transfer to the pulse of his writing the transitoriness of nature and its progressions. Like the bees he recorded which had arrived at the spring plants with unerring instinct prior to his own observations, he sought out nature in its formative metamorphoses, so that he could "make a chart of our life — know how its shores trend — that butterflies reappear and when — know why just this circle of creatures completes the world. Can I not by expectation affect the revolutions of nature — make a ...
Related Ads