September 6, 2010

Guest post: Thoreau leaves Walden

The second to last chapter of Walden ends:

Thus was my first year's life in the woods completed; and the second year was similar to it. I finally left Walden September 6th, 1847.

After 2 years, 2 months and 2 days, Henry Thoreau left his house at Walden Pond and moves back home in Concord.

Thoreau's stay at Walden was a great success and he would never again have such a productive literary period. He finished two drafts of the book he went to the Pond to write, A Week on The Concord and Merrimack Rivers, which would be published in 1849. He wrote a lecture and had it published as an essay, "Thomas Carlyle and His Works," and also began another essay on his 1846 trip to Maine. And he also started a lecture entitled "A History of Myself," an account of his "housekeeping" at Walden Pond. This lecture would eventually become Thoreau's masterpiece, Walden; or, Life in The Woods — but that wouldn't be for another seven years!

Why did Thoreau leave the Pond? In the conclusion of Walden he writes, "I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one." And Thoreau did accomplish a great deal in those two years, and not just in a literary sense. He grew up in those two years. He lived a relatively self-reliant life and discovered what it meant to "be alive." At Walden, Thoreau lived his life on his terms and and, in his words, endeavored to live the life that he imagined.

When Thoreau left the Pond he moved back into his parents house for about a month. In October, Ralph Waldo Emerson began a one year lecture tour in England. Thoreau would move into Emerson's house as a caretaker/handy man in order to watch over the Emerson family and handle RWE's business affairs while he was gone. Near the end of 1848 Thoreau would move home to his parents' house and would remain with them for the rest of his life.

*Richard Smith is an independent historian specializing in the Antebellum period, with a special interest in the Transcendentalists. He has been involved in Living History for 20 years and for the last 11 years has portrayed Henry David Thoreau in and around Concord, Massachusetts. For more on today's guest blogger, visit


  1. Such an independent spirit. I probably would have been tongue tied in his company having been brought up by nuns and a repressive father. Still, I enjoy reading about him.

  2. Went back home to live with his parents the rest of his life? The original boomerang kid!


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