Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Science
Robert M. Thorson
Harvard University Press
Robert M. Thorson is interested in Thoreau the rock and mineral collector, interpreter of landscapes, and field scientist whose compass and measuring stick were as important to him as his plant press. In Walden’s Shore he examines Thoreau’s understanding of the geodynamics of the living earth and the ways in which his understanding informed the writing of Walden.
The story unfolds against the ferment of natural science in the nineteenth century, as Natural Theology gave way to modern secular science. That era saw one of the great blunders in the history of American science—the rejection of glacial theory. Thorson demonstrates just how close Thoreau came to discovering a “theory of everything” that could have explained most of the landscape he saw from the doorway of his cabin at Walden Pond.
At pivotal moments in his career, Thoreau encountered the work of the geologist Charles Lyell and that of his protégé Charles Darwin. Thorson concludes that the inevitable path of Thoreau’s thought was descendental, not transcendental, as he worked his way downward through the complexity of life to its inorganic origin, the living rock.