n as an account of hisrebellion.
By the 1840’s, life had changed throughout New England, even in theheart of America’s rebellion, Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau wrote that “I havetraveled a good deal in Concord” (Krutch 108). He knew what he saw there, andwhat he saw, he began to despise. “The mass of men lead lives of quietdesperation” (111). In 1775, ordinary men had dared to take up arms of rebellionand strike a blow for independence and freedom (Bowes 123-124). Yet, in thespace of few decades, the combined forces of materialism and technology hadsubdued the children and grandchildren of these freedom fighters and reducedthem “to slave-drivers of themselves” (Krutch 110).
Henry rebelled anddeliberately sought a new life in which he could be free and independent. Hedecided to leave Concord and seek answers to the mysteries of life in the solitudeof the woods and the beauty of the pond. On July 4, 1845, the anniversary of theproclamation of the United States’ independence, Thoreau went to Walden pond toproclaim his own independence (Literary 397). If the people of Concord had beenswept up by the speed of technology and the lure of money and property, Henrywould separate himself from these attractive deceptions and seek out the reality ofnature’s truths, and “not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I didnot wish to live what was not life, living is so dear, nor did I wish to practiceresignation, unless it was quite necessary” (Krutch 172). The quality of life throughout America was rapidly changing when Henrycast his critical eye on Concord. Where others saw progress and prosperity, hesaw wastefulness and poverty. “We live meanly, like ants” (173).
The transcendentalists were deeply concerned about the quality of lifein America. A great tide of material prosperity, checked onlytemporarily by the crises of 1837 and 1839 and the ensuing Sweeney 2depression, had overtaken the country. Everything was expanding byleaps and bounds. Virgin territories were being opened to settlementfrom Illinois to Oregon. Turnpikes, canals, steamboats, railroads wererushed into being. The fur trade, overseas commerce, whaling, thecotton culture of the South, the factories of the North were bringingwealth to a happy nation.
It was an era of good feeling, a time whenthe common man seemed to be getting his share of creature comforts. Yet sensitive observers feared that all was not well. It appeared notlikely that care for man’s intellectual and spiritual nature might besubmerged into the rush for easy riches. What would be the profit inall this material advance if it were not matched by an equal progress inhumanity? So the transcendentalists pondered (Damrush et al. 6-7).
Thoreau’s response was to awaken from the deadly sleep brought on by thehum of the machine and the pillow of the dollar bills.Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need tocount more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his tentoes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, letyour affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; insteadof a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail.
In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are theclouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to beallowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to thebottom and make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be agreat calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead ofthree meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundreddishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. (Krutch 173) Thoreau believed life to be too complicated and such things as internalimprovements to be nothing but furniture cluttering up a room. Americans werebeing confused and believed the illusions of luxuries of life to be beneficiary totheir happiness, but the people of New England could not tell what an illusionlooked like.
They hadn’t the time to notice nature or to distinguish illusions from Sweeney 3the real thing (173). Unlike Thoreau, New Englanders lacked “a passion forobservation” (Literary 394) for focusing in on nature. Life in New England movedtoo fast to notice