Another one of Thoreau’s immersive reading projects centered on early English literature. Thoreau dabbled in writing verse himself, especially in his younger years, and seems to have set out to create his own personal anthology of the best English poetry ever penned. To begin, he drew up a list of eminent English poets, and then took short trips to Cambridge where he fairly camped out at Harvard’s library, working his way through collections of poems for each name on the list. He read early Anglo-Saxon verse, Chaucer, and just about everything he could get his hands on up to Milton. He also read books on the history of the times, cultures, and peoples this poetry had emerged from, as well as existing anthologies. Even after Thoreau’s project on early English poetry was through he continued to enjoy reading verse throughout his life, including that of the prominent Romantic poets of his day.
After leaving Walden in 1847, Thoreau continued to find ways to support himself while writing. His principal paying employments after 1849 were pencil making and surveying. His parents’ house on Main Street in Concord remained Thoreau's home from 1850 until his death in 1862. He made several excursions, from a few days to a few weeks in duration, to Cape Cod, Maine, and Canada. These provided material for essays published in periodicals during his lifetime and gathered posthumously into three books, Cape Cod, The Maine Woods, and A Yankee in Canada. Most of Thoreau’s writing, except for two books, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and Walden, and more than a dozen essays, including “Civil Disobedience” and “A Yankee in Canada,” was published after his death.
The proper use of Walden Pond and Walden Woods has been the subject of debate for over a century. Should it serve as a public park with full access for swimming, fishing, hunting, and camping? Should it be preserved in a pristine state? Should commercial development be allowed? For several decades, the area has been open to the public for swimming and fishing. Those who have felt that the pond was threatened by overuse have been very vocal in Concord, and during the 1980s the number of users per day was limited by closing the parking area when a certain capacity was reached. During the same period, though, the town made it possible for some of the land around the pond to be developed. When the door to development opened, two projects were proposed: a large office building and a condominium complex. These plans were brought to the attention of Don Henley, lead singer of the rock group the Eagles, by a group of concerned local residents. Henley spearheaded a campaign to preserve the area, and rallied political figures such as Senators Ted Kennedy and Paul Tsongas, as well as a number of actors and musicians, to the support of the Walden Woods Project (WWP). WWP arranged a number of fund-raising events, including rock concerts, movie premieres, and a "Walk for Walden Woods," and successfully negotiated with the developers to purchase the endangered land, as well as additional land in Walden Woods. THE LEGACY OF WALDEN In order to continue the process of education about the need for preservation, the Walden Woods Project turned to the Thoreau Society and its half-century of experience and knowledge. The Society and WWP collaborated to found the Thoreau Institute , which is owned and managed by WWP and hosts seminars and forums on Thoreau, Transcendentalism, and the environment. The Institute is also the repository of the world's largest collection of Thoreau-related research material. The Thoreau Institute and the Thoreau Society promote continued interest in and research on Thoreau and his work. This essay was written in 1995 for an exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of Thoreau's move to Walden Pond and his writing of the American classic, Walden ; it has been updated for inclusion here. All references are to Walden , ed. J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971).