Thoreau: Emerson's Disciple
During the Romantic era in American literature, transcendentalism emerged as a great literary movement. When speaking of the transcendentalists it is almost impossible to avoid mentioning Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, probably the two most famous transcendentalists of all time. Emerson's ideas and thoughts are what inspired the entire movement and are also what inspired Thoreau. Many of his teachings and beliefs appear in Thoreau's actions and writings. Because of his great influence on Thoreau, Emerson is thought of as Thoreau's mentor.
An example of the parallel between Emerson's and Thoreau's ideas is the belief that nature is the cure for all of man's problems. They believe that during all the industrialization that has taken place, man has become separated from nature and is working too hard enjoy life. This is illustrated in Nature when Emerson writes, "To the body and mind which have been cramped by noxious work…nature…restores their tone" (468 Nature). He tries to say that man is working to hard, and nature is the cure for this condition. Thoreau draws from this concept when he writes, "men labor under a mistake…laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves will break and steal" (573 Walden, Economy). He is trying to say that the real treasure in life can be experienced in nature and not in material possessions. Another example of this idea is shown when Thoreau says what a "misfortune it is to inherit farms…better they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf…serfs of the soil" (573 Walden Economy). He is saying that man views property as a form of wealth but it is actually a burden that keeps him from fully living. It is better to be raised in nature and learn to appreciate it than it is to be a slave to it. To further demonstrate Emerson's principle, Thoreau goes off into the woods to live with nature at Walden Pond. Thoreau's belief that man is working too hard is directly drawn from Emerson's idea of nature being man's cure from the labors which society brings upon him.
Another example of parallelism between Thoreau and Emerson is that both men believe that man should not only learn about the world through one point of view but every perspective. This is illustrated by Emerson in his speech The American Scholar, "Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all" (492 The American Scholar). On another level it means that one cannot truly experience the world from one angle, it must be from many. Thoreau says in Walden that man is, "following blindly the principles of a division of labor to its extreme, a principle which should never be followed" (Walden Economy 596). Thoreau believes that if society divides up labor among everyone, then all men become one-dimensional and only have the knowledge of one aspect of life, their trade. His idea that every man should try to live and think for himself without the help of others corresponds exactly with Emerson. To illustrate this by actions, Thoreau builds his own house without any outside help from a mason, an architect, or an engineer. If one does not learn how to build a shelter for himself, he cannot truly experience life. One must not only read about something or watch someone do it, but he must also do it himself. This common opinion is another example of the similarity between Emerson and Thoreau.
"Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary" (The American Scholar 497). This is Emerson's belief from the American Scholar which shows that what man does with his knowledge is more important than how much he knows and possesses. If one does not apply what he already knows through thinking, he can never truly live. Thoreau declares exactly that when he says that schools teach children copious of information, but unless the student uses that knowledge, he cannot truly learn what he is being taught. "How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living" (Walden Economy 596). If children just read books about the world, they will never truly understand it; only have a superficial knowledge. He uses his graduation from Harvard