Aug. 9, 1854: Thoreau publishes ‘Walden’

Teresa Mathew
CompassAugust 9, 2013

On this day—Aug. 9, 1854—Henry David Thoreau published "Walden." The book follows Thoreau’s life over two years, two months, and two days, while he lived in a cabin by Walden Pond in Concord, Mass. The book is divided into numerous sections, with the passage of the seasons also marking the stages of human development. The book was written as a self-examination, as Thoreau hoped that by personal introspection in nature he would gain a better understanding of society. He was greatly inspired by the transcendentalist philosophy during the American Romantic Period, a religious and philosophical movement that believed in the inherent goodness of people and nature.

Walden took five years to sell 2,000 copies but has since become one of the most celebrated novels in the American canon. The novel represents to many the guide for escape and living a better life. In the movie "Dead Poets Society," the character Neil reads this slightly altered passage from Walden, about Thoreau’s decision: "I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life ... to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."