Happy Birthday, Henry David Thoreau

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It’s Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday! You can practically feel the perturbation of the spheres.

Christopher Lydon is devoting three episodes of his Radio Open Source podcast to Concord’s most famous sociopath, celebrating the “American gospel” of the “prophet Thoreau.” Broadcasting from a canoe afloat in the Concord River (“the headwaters of American thinking”), Lydon ejaculates: “It looks like heaven! It’s the river primeval!”

Over at the New York Times, historian Douglas Brinkley argues that Thoreau, who died in 1862, influenced the creation of our national parks. Thoreau certainly was an inspiration for Smokey the Bear. His neighbors called Thoreau “the woods burner” for setting fire to 300 acres of local woodlands, almost eradicating Concord in the process.

Here is Thoreau’s classic, unrepentant response: “I have set fire to the forest, but I have done no wrong therein . . . it was a glorious spectacle, and I was the only one there to enjoy it.”

Pyromaniac, prude, hypocrite, layabout, mooch, scold, a graphomanic overwriter of densely forested, unreadable prose; Happy Birthday, Henry! Did I leave anything out?




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