Helena Adell Snyder.

Thoreau's philosophy of life, with special consideration of the influence of Hindoo philosophy online

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Dedicated to my dear parents,

14 & \t$

Table of Contents.

Biographical Sketch i



I. Introductory , 7

II. Acquaintance with Hindoo Literature 9

III. Conception of God 12

1. God as First Cause 12

2. God as Preserver 12

3. God as Immanent Creator 13

4. God Identical with Nature 14

5. God without Limitations of Personality 16

IV. Conception of Man 18

1 . Relation to Nature 18

a. One with Nature 18 -

b. Respect for Plants and Animals 19

c. Abstinence from Meat Eating 20

2. Relation to God 21

a. One with God 22

b. Dualism 24

c. Original Sinlessness 25

d. Sin 26

3. Purpose of Life 27

4. Conditions of Fulfilling Life s Purpose 28

a. Negation of Self 28 ?

b. Renunciation of the World 30

Avoidance of Disturbing Influences 31 ~

c. Solitude 31 *~

f. Silence 32*

c. Negation of Desire 33

d. Negation of Works 34

a. Faith 36

b. The Yoga 37

V. Immortality 38

1. Death Metamorphosis -38

2. Transmigration of Souls 39




3. Form of the Soul Eternal 40

4. Death of the Body its Reunion with Nature 40

5- Sleep 41

a. Dreams 41

b. Deep Sleep 42

6. Wind, the Breath of Spirit 43

7. Unconcern Regarding the Future State 43


Significance of Art Introductory 47

1 . Music a Revelation of the Universal 48

a. Transcends Reason 49

b. Speaks with Assurance 49

2. Ethical Value of Music 50

a. Reveals Unreality of the Apparent World 50

b. Reveals Possibility of Harmony with Eternal De

signs 50

c. Lifts above the Limits of Personality 52

d. Effects Oneness with the Universal 52

3. Hearing of Music a Religious Act 53

a. Music only for the Virtuous 53

4. Music Universal and Perpetual 54

a. Nature and Music One 54

b. Music of the Spheres 55

5. Best Music Worldless 55

a. Silence the most Perfect Music 56

6. Music and the Yoga Practice 56


I. Thoreau and the English Pantheistic Poets Introductory ... 59

i . Love to Nature *59

2. Relationship to Natural Objects 59

3. Nature-love a Passion 60

4. Manifestation of the Divine in Nature the source of Love

to Nature 61

5. The Spirit of Nature is the Spirit of Love 62

6. Love the Atmosphere of Life in Nature 63

II. Love to Man : Friendship 64

1. Platonic Love 64

2. Love, Community of Ideals 65

a. Love Detects Faults 65

b. The Place of Hate . . 66



3. Love is Universal not Personal 66

a. Death cannot Interrupt Love s Course ... 67

4. Ethical Value of Love 67

III. Love and Marriage 67

IV. Love to Mankind 68

1. Not Philanthropy 68

2. Universal in Character 68

V. The Goal of Love Oneness with the Spirit of Love Itself .... 69


1. Introductory 73

2. Civilization Corrupt 73

a. Return to Nature 74

3. Thoreau and Rousseau 74

4. Basis of Government the Individual 75

5. Democratic the Best Form of Government 7 6

a. Danger of Perversion to Serve Individual Ends . . 76

b. Against Government by Majorities 77

6. Object of Government "! 78

a. Kant and Emerson : Morality the Object of Govern
ment 78

7. j Character of the Best Government 79

a. The Best Men its Members 79

b. Representation of the Best Elements of the Nation . 79

8. Relation of the Citizen to the Government 80

a. Duty of Obedience to the Laws of His Own Being

only 80

b. Right of Resistance 81

c. Individual Responsibility 82

d. Power of One Man 82

9. Thoreau s Attitude toward Socialism " . . . 83

10. Ideal Government No Government 83


I. Chronological Table 87

II. Bibliography 91

! ^



Ich, Helena Adell Snyder, bin zu Port Elmsley, Ontario,
Canada, geboren. Ich bin englische Unterthanin und wurde
Protestantisch erzogen. Ich besuchte das Gymnasium zu
Smith s Falls und nachher zu Perth welches ich mit dem Zeug-
niss der Reife im Zahre 1890 verliess. Ich widmete mich
hierauf dem Studium der Englischen Litteratur und Philologie,
Gechichte und Philosophic an der Universitat Queen s zu
Kingston wo ich im Jahre 1895 den Magister liberalium artium
erhielt. In demselben Jahre legte ich mein Staatse^amfin bei
der Canadischen (Ontario) Regierung ab.

Zur Forsetzung meiner Studien begab ich mich an die
hiesige Universitat woselbst ich im Jahre 1899 als Horerin der
philosophischen Fakultat inscribiert wurde. Ich horte vorzugs-
weise die Vorlesungen der Herrn Professoren Hoops, Fischer,
Thode, Braune, von Duhn und Ihne und bin alien diesen
Herren fur reiche wissenschaftliche Anregung und Forderung
zu herzlichem Dank verbunden.

Biographical Sketch,

Henry David Thoreau was born at Concord, Massachu
setts, on the 1 2th of July, 1817, and with the exception of
a few years which the family spent in Chelmsford and Boston,
he passed there his childhood and youth up to the time of en
tering college in 1833. At Harvard he does not seem to have
distinguished himself in his studies or to have obtained very
high standing in his classes. So much time did he devote to
outside, general, classical reading, so little did he work to the
satisfaction of his professors that he obtained only about half
of the bursary which would otherwise have been given him
out of the fund for the assistance of poor students. His es
says, however, excited considerable comment and were the
means of his becoming acquainted with Emerson. Shortly
after his graduation, he, with his brother, founded a private
school in Concord, and as Emerson was then residing in that
village, their friendship became strong and intimate.

Emerson and Margaret Fuller were joint editors of the
" Dial," a magazine on much the same plan as the German
" Horen," and to which almost all the better talent of the
United States contributed. Thoreau was invited to write for
it and consented. His first published paper, " Aulus Perseus
Flaccus," appeared in it in 1840, and he was a regular, though
unpaid, contributor until it suspended publication in 1844.

But the private school did not pay expenses, so in 1843
the brothers abandoned it, and Henry went to Staten Island
as tutor to the sons of Mr. William Emerson. He seems to
have done so unwillingly however, and to have felt that he
could only find his true life in withdrawing from a life of mean

cares and constant anxiety concerning the merely physical
and temporal. He expressed his dissatisfaction in a letter to
his friend Kllery Channing, who replied :

I see nothing for you on this earth but that field which I once
christened Briars ; go out upon that, build yourself a hut, and then
begin the process of devouring yourself alive."

The next year, /i 844 JThoreau resigned his position and
returned to Concoro>

"I have thoroughly tried school-keeping," he writes, " but was
obliged to dress and train, not to say think and believe accordingly, and
I lost my thpe into the bargain."

In 1843 lie retired to Walden Woods, where he built him
self wittHlis own hands a hut on the shore of the pond.

Wonderful stories, resembling those told of St. Francis
/ of Assissi, are told of his intimacy with the wild animals in
the wood : The fishes swam into his hand ; the mice would
come and playfully e at out of his fingers, and the very mole
paid him friendly visits ; sparrows alighted on his shoulder at
his call . . . snakes coiled round his leg ... he
pulled the woodchuck out of his hole by the tail and took the
foxes under his protection from the hunters."

It was while living at Walden, too, that he was seized
and put in goal for refusing to pay the taxes imposed by a
wholly iniquitous government.

For two years and a half he lived alone in his cabin ;
then when Mr. Emerson went to England, in 1847, he yielded
to the claims of friendship and went to stay with Mrs. Emer
son and the children. His letters to Emerson during this
period are very interesting, and permit us to see how he was
held in esteem by the older members of the family and loved
by the children. After Emerson s return home towards the
end of the next year Thoreau felt it his duty to assist in the
support of his own mother and sisters. He took up his
father s trade of pencil-making, and continued to reside in the
town instead of returning to Walden. He lived, however, in
as absolute retirement and almost as much in Walden Woods
and at the heart of Nature as he had in his Walden cabin.

In this year he published his first book written ten years
earlier " A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers,"
an account of a week s trip in a row-boat taken by him in
company with his brother John. The book did not sell very
well, and the publishers requested him to remove the unsold
copies from their warehouse, as they had no room to store
them. He complied with their request, and in his diary of
October 28, 1853, thus humorously describes his plight :

" I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes,
over seven hundred of which I wrote myself. Is it not
well that the author should behold the fruits of his labor ?
My works are piled up on one side of my chamber half as
high as my head, my Opera Omnia. This was authorship,
these are the works of my brain !

But this did not in the least discourage him : " Indeed,"
he continues in the same record in his diary, " I believe
that the result is more inspiring and better for me than if a
thousand had bought my wares. It affects my privacy less
and leaves me freer."

His second book, "Walden,"* which describes his life
in the woods, was not published until 1854. It is, perhaps,
the most widely read of his works, and has been translated
into several European languages.

In 1856 Thoreau made the acquaintance of Horace
Greeley at Chappaqua, who offered him the tutorship of his
sons. He considered the proposition for a time for the sake
of his family, but at last refused, holding that " the life is
more than meat and the body more than raiment."

He continued, however, to write for several magazines,
for the most part articles descriptive of trips he occasionally
took during the summer, as, for instance, two walking tours
about Cape Cod, three visits to the forests of Maine and a
longer journey into Lower Canada. These excursions were
made on foot, alone or with one single friend (with in Maine
an Indian for a guide), and so were entirely in keeping with
the still privacy of his whole life. His last trip was taken in

Translated into German by Emma Emmerich. (Palm, Miinchen.)

1 86 1, when his friends, concerned about his failing health,
persuaded him to go to Minnesota, hoping that in the dry,
clear climate of that State he would be able to shake off the
disease of the lungs which had attacked him. It was not of
any lasting benefit, however. Not long after his return to
Concord he wrote to his young friend Benton :

"You ask particularly about n?y health. I suppose I
have not many months to live, but of course I know nothing
about it. I may add that I am enjoying existence as much as
ever and regret nothing.

" His patience was unfailing," writes Channing. "He
knew not aught save resignation ; he did mightily cheer and
console those whose strength was less .

He died on the 6th of May, 1862, and was buried in the
peaceful "Sleepy Hollow" cemetery at Concord. The in
scription was written by Channing :

Hail to thee, O man ! who has come from the transi
tory place to the imperishable !



I. Introductory.

The world has in all ages found it marvellous when a

man, contra^ to the natural desire for life and self-realization
in the world, has withdrawn himself from it ; and that in the
nineteenth century, in practical, Protestant America, Tho-
reau, young, physically robust and highly educated, should
renounce, not only worldly pleasure, but practically the whole
struggle for existence, could not fail to excite especial wonder
and much speculation as to his motives.

Few lives contain so many renunciations," writes
Emerson. " He was bred to no profession; he never mar
ried ; he lived alone ; he never went to church ; he never
voted ; he refused to pay a tax to the State ; he ate no flesh ; *
he drank no wine ; he never knew the use of tobacco, and,
though a naturalist, he used neither trap nor gun. \ He chose,
wisely, no doubt, for himself, to be the bachelor of thought
and nature " *

Naturally, such a life met with little sympathy from <7^-
Thoreau s fellow-countrymen, who, for the most part, attrib
uted his course to selfishness, a lack of energy and the desire
to shirk all responsibility as a citizen of the State and a man
among men. His whole life demonstrated, however, that
these accusations were without foundation and that such mo
tives could play no part in influencing his decision. Yet even
Emerson, his great contemporary and friend, who himself led
a singularly unworldly and free imaginative life, did not see
the full significance of Thoreau s negation of life, and could

* From the address delivered by R. W. Emerson at Thoreau s fu
neral and printed in the " Atlantic Monthly," August, 1862. See Preface,
" Miscellanies."


not but bemoan the loss of his splendid talents to the world :
" Had his Genius been only contemplative," wrote Emer
son in his biographical sketch, "he had been fitted for his
life, but with his energy and practical ability he seemed born
for great enterprise and for command ; and I so much regret
the loss of his rare powers of action that I cannot help count
ing it a fault in him that he had no ambition. Wanting
this, instead of engineering for all America, he was captain
of a huckleberry party. . . .

( Pounding beans is good to the end of pounding empires
one of these days ; but if at the end of the years it is still
only beans! "*

But though withdrawal from the world is induced in per
haps the greater number of cases by lack of energy to engage
in its conflicts, or lack of inner strength to support its ever-
recurring disappointments and deep sadness, the motive often
bears a positive character, is of a religious or philosophical
nature. The realization of the triviality and transitoriness of
this life leads to the decision to negate the present for the con
sideration of the inner life and of an eternal world. This
ideal has found its fullest expression in the anchorites of the
Roman Catholic Church and the ascetics of the Orient. Yet,
though the institution of monasticism in the East and in the
West alike has its origin in the conception of the significance
of Life, of Time and Eternity, of the Divine and His relation
to man, there is a marked difference between the conception
of the Christian monk and that of the Brahman. To the
Catholic recluse God is a distinct personality, so concrete,
indeed, that he can be represented in images which become
objects of passionate and personal love. For the Brahman,
on the contrary, God is the Impersonal, the All-prevading,
the whole world, himself the All. The next world, for the sake
of which the Catholic saint renounces this, is almost tangible,
a world like this world but without sorrow, perfect and end
less. For the Brahman the very thought of such a heaven is
error and sin. For between the ideals themselves a ftinda-

* H. A. Page, " Thoreau, His Life and Aims." P. 257.

mental difference exists. The Christian ascetic mortifies the /
flesh that the soul may win the upper hand and develop itself
into perfection fit for fellowship with the Divine throughout
Eternity. He conceives of this purified soul as retaining its I
identity and existing in individual form in the next world, /
possibly even in the same body, after the Resurrection from
the dead. The Brahman, on the other hand, seeks not to de- /
velop his personality in any sense, but to lose it ; to free him- /
self from everything pertaining to individual existence, and \
so at last be absorbed into the Principle of Existence itself;
to lose all consciousness of separate personality in perfect
oneness with the Universal.

Thoreau s motive for withdrawal from the world was ofl \ x
such a religious or it may be called philosophical character,
as that which led the Brahman to find his highest realization
in self-negation ; and the study of Hindoo philosophy was an
important factor in framing Thoreau s whole conception of

It will be the purpose of this study to present a system
atic consideration of his philosophy of life, together with an
examination into its points of correspondence with Hindoo

II. Acquaintance with Hindoo I/iterature.

In 1837 Thoreau became acquainted with Emerson,* who
first drew his attention to the literature of the Orient, f

His first book, " A Week on the Concord and Merrimac
Rivers," written in 1839, contains many such references to
Hindoo Philosophy as the following :

" In comparison with the philosophy of the East, we may
say that modern Europe has yet given birth to none. Beside
the vast and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat Geeta, even
our Shakespeare seems sometimes youthfully green and com
monplace merely. . . . Ex Oriente lux may still be the

* v. F. B. Sanborn, " Henry D. Thoreau." P. 180.

t v. J. R. Lowell, Thoreau," "My Study Windows." P. 144.


motto of scholars, for the Western world has not yet derived
from the East all the light which it is destined to receive
thence." *

Concerning the lack of understanding in the modern
world of the profound thought of the Hast, he writes :

Tried by a New England eye or the mere practical wis
dom of modern times, they (the Hindoo Scriptures) are the
oracles of a race already in its dotage ; but held up to the sky ,
which is the only impartial and incorruptible appeal, they are
of a piece with its depth and serenity, and I am assured that
they will have a place and significance as long as there is a
sky to test them by." f

During the years of his life alone in Walden Woods, he
gave much time to the study of the Hindoo Scriptures , as such
records as the following in " Walden" show :

In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous
and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat Geeta, since whose
composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in compari
son with which our modern world and its literature seem puny ;
and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a pre-
ll vious state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our
conceptions." t

So great was his interest in Hindoo literature that his
friend Cholmondely on returning to England, sent him from
there, as the most acceptable gift, forty-four volumes, " in
English, French, Latin and Sanskrit," concerning which
Thoreau wrote to his friend Mr. Daniel Ricketson :

<( But I wish now above all to inform you that Cholmon
dely has gone to the Crimea, but that before he left he busied
himself in buying, and has caused to be forwarded to me by
Chapman, a royal gift in the shape of twenty-one distinct
works (one in nine volumes -forty-four volumes in all) almost
exclusively relating to ancient Hindoo literature and scarcely

* " Week," p. 186. (The "Week" was, however, not published
till 1849.) Cf., also " Week," p. 184.
f " Weeks," p. 196.

J" Walden, "p. 459-

Written Dec. 25, 1855 ; v. " Letters," p. 320.


one of them to be bought in America. I am familiar with
many of them and know how to prize them. I send you in
formation of this as I might of the birth of a child."

It was inevitable that this constant study of Hindoo
philosophy, this very living and breathing in its atmosphere,
should influence Thoreau s manner of thought and be an im
portant factor in moulding his philosophy of life.

He himself acknowledges that the life of the Brahman
possesses a fascination for him^

It is the attitude of/this men^xhiore than any communi
cation which they make that attracts us. The very austerity
of the Brahmans is tempting to a devotional soul . *

He found a certain satisfaction in the thought that his
own mode of life at Walden, in its details, would bear com
parison with theirs :

" It was fit that I should live on rice mainly, who loved
so well the philosophy of India." f

He recognizes, too, the tremendous influence of the Hin
doo manner of thought on his mind and spirit in such a
record as the following in " Walden: "

To be intoxicated with a single glass of wine ! I have
experienced that pleasure when I have drunk the liquor of the
esoteric doctrines." J

We have, farther, a clue to those works which made the
greatest impression upon him. In a letter to Mrs. B. B. Wiley,
of Chicago, dated Dec. i2th, 1856, he specifies :

" The best, I think, are the Bhagvat Geeta (an episode in
an ancient heroic poem called the Mahabarat ) , the Vedas,
the Vishnu Purana and the Institutes of Menu. II

* "Week," p. 198.

t "Walden," p. 97.

t Cited by Thoreau from Mir Camar Uddin Mast. Walden, p. 157.

Written by Krishna Dwaipayna, the arranger of the Vedas.

II Letters, p. 351.


III. Conception of God.


In common with all formulated religions, the Brahmini-
cal held the conception of a First cause, a Creator of the
world, from which the All derives its life."* The God
Krishna announces concerning himself :

" I am the creation of the Universe.

" I am the eternal seed of all nature." f

In the Vishnu Purana God is designated as :

" The cause of the cause, the cause of the cause of the
cause, the cause of them all " J

Thoreau also conceives of God as Creator of the world,
man s maker :

" I delight to come to my bearings, not walk with pomp
and parade in a conspicuous place, but to walk even with the
Builder of the Universe if I may." " Has not he (God) done
his work and made man ? " 1 1


The creator of the Universe is, in its existence, its pre
server. In the Vishnu Purana praise is offered " To him who
as Brahma, creates the Universe, who in its existence is its
preserver. *[[

He regards his creation with love. The race of men is
denominated in the Vedas, "Sons of the Immortal."** The
All-Knowing First Being is not our enemy, but our relative
and father, who cares for us. ft "As friends we pray to thee.
We, mortals, to God."tt In the Bhagvat Geeta the young
Arjoon thus addresses the God :

* Rigveda, 10, 12, p. 90; cf. also Yajtir v. Maha"-Nara Upan, n, 4,
p. 241.

t Bhagvat Geeta, p. 36.

% Vishnu Purana, p. 73.

Walden, p. 508.

II Autumn, p. 100.

\ Vishnu Purana, p. 141.

** Max Miiller, Sacred Books, vol xv., ii, 5, p. 240.

ft Deussen, Yajur-Veda, Qvet-Upan, p. 295.

JJHymnen des Sama-Veda, p. 216 (i, 8). "Als Freunde flehen wir zu
dir. Zum Gotte Menschen wir. "


For thou shouldst bear with me even as a father with
his son, a friend with his friend, a lover with his beloved, O
Krishna, Jadava, Friend." *

The idea of the loving care of God for his creation finds
frequent expression in Thoreau :

1 As a mother loves to see her children take nourishment
and expand, so God loves to see his children thrive on the nu
triment he has provided for them." f

. The discerning will not fail to recognize his relationship
to the all-pervacfirig spirit :

The seer will speak of the Earths and his father who
is in them . " \


This First Cause of the Universe is not, however, con
ceived of by the Hindoo philosopher as something apart from
his creation. The world is but a manifestation of him and
he exists in it.

" Alles was ist, das Weltganze. Was sichtbar und was
horbar ist. Dies Alles aussen und innen umfasst, durchdringt
Narayama . " 1 1 God is immanent in his creation :

Thou art the heart of all creatures and all that has been
or will be emanates from thee, O universal Spirit ! This whole
world from Brahma to a tree thou art.

Every natural phenomena) is but an expression of God,
the All.

" The God who is in the fire, the God who is in the water,
the God who has entered into the whole world, the God who
is in the plants, the God who is the trees, adoration be to that
God, adoration !"**

* Bhagvat Geeta, p. 58.

t Winter, p. 228.

t Week, p. 504.

|| Yajur-ved. Maha-Naray-Up, n, 4. Deussen, p. 251. All that exists,
the entire Universe, all that is visible and audible, Narajama envelopes
and penetrates.

Vishnu Purana, p. 559.

** Yajur-ved. vet-Upan, ii t 21, n. Max Miiller, Vol. XV, p. 243.

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