Misery Loves a Memoir

From The New York Times:Thoreau_1

The best and most Romantic memoir an American has produced is “Walden” — though nobody calls it one. But it is: Here is what I did with a few years of my life and how I feel about it now. What Thoreau has to overcome during his time in the woods is not a lapse in mental health. His great problem is to escape the mental health of his neighbors, their collection-plate opinions, their studious repetition of gossip. Thoreau isn’t against self-esteem (he admires a friend who has learned to “treat himself with ever increasing respect”); but his main task is to lose his esteem for society in which “trade curses everything it handles” and the singular natural resource of time is wasted in barren productivity. Maybe he had vices out there in the woods, but that’s not his concern, or ours. The overwhelming impression is of his philosophical ardor, which he tries to fuse with his practical ardor. There’s not a note in the book of self-pity, or nostalgia. And why did he quit his cabin in the end? “It seemed to me that I had several more lives to live.”

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