Thoreau as Natural Scientist Essay

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Thoreau as Natural Scientist

Henry Thoreau’s relationship to nature underwent many changes throughout the course of his life. He especially made a much discussed shift from Emersonian Transcendentalism, to scientific data collection. Thoreau followed varied paths on his quest to understand the world in which he lived. As he grew older he managed to amass a huge collection of information about the plants and animals in the Concord region of Massachusetts. But his greatest contribution to the world is not his scientific research; rather it is the example of respect and thoughtfulness with which he approached nature. This individualistic and spiritual approach to nature differentiates him from modern day ecologists. Thoreau’s quest was
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They started keeping ornithological notebooks together for the Concord region in 1836, and Sophia even kept an herbarium. All of their work was generally quite amateur however, particularly Sophia’s herbarium, which seemed to focus more on artistic layout than on scientific usefulness (McGregor 29).

Thoreau met Ralph Waldo Emerson soon after graduating from Harvard in 1837. Emerson quickly took on the role of mentor for Thoreau, arguably acting as the most influential force regarding the young Thoreau’s views on nature (McGregor 34). Emerson, a dynamic speaker and motivational force, had a strong impact on the minds of the New England youth in general. His essay Nature expresses a philosophy of Transcendentalism. A simple definition of Transcendentalism is “belief in the Higher Law of God” (Wolf 125). Emerson and his contemporaries understood this practically in the sense that in order “to know God, each individual must set aside reason and fall back on intuitive perception” (McGregor 36).

This is the framework within which Thoreau observed nature in his early years. The conventional ways of looking at or defining nature, he felt, must be stripped away in order to see the great truth behind it. Understanding nature is not the point for the young Thoreau, it is rather to commune with it and see the reality beyond it (Cameron 49). Thoreau felt that this approach to nature was the approach of the Poet, a person who combines

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