Henry David Thoreau’s Walden was published 167 years ago today. In short, Walden is a collection of eighteen essays that “reflect upon simple living in natural surroundings.” Within this transcendentalist piece, Thoreau discusses scientific observations of nature and utilizes poetical and metaphorical language to describe natural phenomena.
Walden can be characterized as a social experiment, a declaration for personal independence, a reflective journey of self-discovery/self-realization, a little bit satirical at times, and a guide for self-determination or autonomy.
It’s been 150+ years since its publication, and Walden remains an esteemed work of American literature and is regarded as a classic. In celebration of Walden’s publication anniversary, here are ten interesting facts you may not know about Walden and Henry David Thoreau!
Spoiler alert: Thoreau wasn’t “roughing it” as much as readers may think.
Although reading Walden might lead one to think Thoreau lived a highly solitary life during his stay in the woods, the author wasn’t actually that far from civilization. Walden Pond was located less than two miles from Concord. Thoreau frequently saw his friends and family; his mother even provided him with food and laundry! Sometimes, Thoreau would spend a few days with his loved ones. People he knew also visited him fairly often too.
Walden Pond was located on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Emerson, another iconic American writer, was both a friend and mentor to Thoreau. He owned the land where Thoreau stayed during the time Thoreau spent in the woods. The two made a deal. Emerson allowed Thoreau to build his cabin and live on the property, while Thoreau held up his end of the bargain by performing labor such as clearing the land.
Thoreau lived at Walden for two years, two months, and two days.
Walden is divided into four seasons, and Thoreau’s stay amounted to twice that long.
However, Thoreau spent over nine years writing Walden.
Thoreau went through many drafts of Walden upon leaving his cabin. He left the pond in 1847, but his book wouldn’t get published until 1854.
Thoreau spent under $30 building his cabin.
Thoreau cut down pine trees using a borrowed axe to make room for his cabin. He purchased a shanty from someone else and repurposed the boards. Some of his friends helped him structure the roof. His cabin ended up being 10 feet wide by 15 feet long, with two windows, a closet, fireplace, and garret. Using scraps, he also built a woodshop and an outhouse. Thoreau bathed in the pond and used a spring for drinking water. The total cost, which Thoreau calculated, amounted to $28.12.
A friend prompted Thoreau to build his cabin in the woods.
We might have poet William Emery Channing to thank for giving us Walden. Thoreau was plagued with feelings of guilt and trying to rebuild a “damaged” reputation. In a letter to his friend, Channing told Thoreau: “I see nothing for you in this earth but that field which I once christened ‘Briars’; go out upon that, build yourself a hut, & there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive. … Eat yourself up; you will eat nobody else, nor anything else.”
Walden was published under a (very non-creative) pseudonym.
Thoreau was actually born as David Henry Thoreau. No one knows why he decided to change his name.
Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, visited Thoreau at Walden as a young girl.
Apparently, Thoreau was quite fond of children and liked taking them on nature hikes, boating, and describing the natural world to them.
In 1989, The Eagles’ drummer Don Henley helped save sixty-eight acres of Walden Woods from being bulldozed down and turned into an office complex and condominium.
As a Thoreau admirer, he founded the Walden Woods Project, a fundraising group dedicated to preventing development on the land.
A Walden video game exists.
The University of Southern California’s Game Innovation Lab received a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to develop a video game based on Walden. It’s entitled Walden, A Game and through a first-person POV, you can “follow in his footsteps, surviving in the woods by finding food and fuel and maintaining their shelter and clothing.”