There is an old joke among Thoreauvians that most people know Thoreau as the man who spent half his life at Walden Pond and the other half in jail, but the reason that his brief time at Walden and his one night in jail have become such defining moments in his life can be summed up under one term: Writer. Thoreau was one of the most powerful and influential writers America has produced. His prose style was unequaled. And although only a small part of his work was published in his short lifetime, he was a prolific writer whose collected works filled twenty volumes when collected in 1906. The publication of his journal of over two million words in 1906, the first time an American author had his journal published in full, showed the recognition afforded him by his publisher, Houghton Mifflin.
The proper use of Walden Pond and Walden Woods has been the subject of debate for over a century. Should it serve as a public park with full access for swimming, fishing, hunting, and camping? Should it be preserved in a pristine state? Should commercial development be allowed? For several decades, the area has been open to the public for swimming and fishing. Those who have felt that the pond was threatened by overuse have been very vocal in Concord, and during the 1980s the number of users per day was limited by closing the parking area when a certain capacity was reached. During the same period, though, the town made it possible for some of the land around the pond to be developed. When the door to development opened, two projects were proposed: a large office building and a condominium complex. These plans were brought to the attention of Don Henley, lead singer of the rock group the Eagles, by a group of concerned local residents. Henley spearheaded a campaign to preserve the area, and rallied political figures such as Senators Ted Kennedy and Paul Tsongas, as well as a number of actors and musicians, to the support of the Walden Woods Project (WWP). WWP arranged a number of fund-raising events, including rock concerts, movie premieres, and a "Walk for Walden Woods," and successfully negotiated with the developers to purchase the endangered land, as well as additional land in Walden Woods. THE LEGACY OF WALDEN In order to continue the process of education about the need for preservation, the Walden Woods Project turned to the Thoreau Society and its half-century of experience and knowledge. The Society and WWP collaborated to found the Thoreau Institute , which is owned and managed by WWP and hosts seminars and forums on Thoreau, Transcendentalism, and the environment. The Institute is also the repository of the world's largest collection of Thoreau-related research material. The Thoreau Institute and the Thoreau Society promote continued interest in and research on Thoreau and his work. This essay was written in 1995 for an exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of Thoreau's move to Walden Pond and his writing of the American classic, Walden ; it has been updated for inclusion here. All references are to Walden , ed. J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971).
Afford but the single nucleus of a system of administration of justice between man and man, and, under the sure operation of this principle, the floating atoms will distribute and combine themselves, as we see in the beautiful natural process of crystallization, into a far more perfect and harmonious result than if the government, with its ‘fostering hand,’ undertake to disturb, under the plea of directing, the process. The natural laws which will establish themselves and find their own level are the best laws. The same hand was the Author of the moral, as of the physical world; and we feel clear and strong in the assurance that we cannot err in trusting, in the former, to the same fundamental principles of spontaneous action and self-regulation which produce the beautiful order of the latter