If Henry David Thoreau were around today, do you think he would blog?
I began thinking about this after reading an interview with Greg Perry, editor of The Blog of Henry David Thoreau. The article leaves that impression that there’s a kind of natural correspondence between the Journals and the blog format:
Thoreau’s journal seems particularly well-suited to the blogging format. What similarities and differences do you see between his 19th-century paper journal and our 21st-century electronic blogs?
The similarities are obvious. Daily entries. Personal notes. Natural observations. Runs the gamut really. I don’t think there are any differences except the obvious one. Thoreau wrote his journal as if others would read it eventually. So other than the immediacy of a blog, there isn’t that much different.
One of the joys of reading The Blog of Henry David Thoreau is realizing that some things haven’t changed since his time. What continuities do you see between his era and ours?
Actually, that’s the thing. Most things are the same. He is living in a technological age as well as we are. The railroad and the telegraph are changing the world he knows. The country that he lives in has changed from the primeval days of his ancestors. There is a buried past there as well. And people are people. Politicians are especially politicians. Commerce is commerce. Even farmers are joining that business.
But I wanted to get a few other thoughts on the subject, so I posed the question to a few of my friends who have spent time with Thoreau. Their initial responses are below.
Great question, Tim!
I think he’d blog, but I think he’d equivocate about why he was doing it.
Much like his famous ambivalence with the train that abutted Walden Pond (he
admired the energy of the industry as human accomplishment, but resented the
intrusion on nature and philosophic solitude for the mere sake of
connectedness), I think he’d find the Web a vexing friend.
And I don’t think he’d give up journaling, at all–he might publish his
journals on his blog, in fact, in addition to whatever timely entries he was
And, of course, he’d be doing all of this on a borrowed computer, using a
DSL connection paid for by his parents.
What’s a blog?
Ha ha. I’m not that ignorant.
He would not. His journals were reservoirs of material for his polished, longer work. I don’t think he’d have made his writing process public. Of course, the blog form could have changed his composition process–maybe he’d still keep a journal, and write “publically” in a blog more often. But I think his informal writing/journaling was important as a place of refuge.
I also think he was fairly class-conscious–a naysayer, and one who loved to tweak the establishment, but I think he liked to do so from within, rather than from without. I would guess that a part of him would see blogging as too democratic: that is, unreferreed, lacking true craft. Of course, there’s some good writing online, but he was anal about drafting and language.
Hmmm, would Thoreau blog. An interesting question.
We know that Thoreau was involved with The Dial for some time, and did publish there, so maybe today he would be a contributor to something like n+1.
But what makes me doubtful that Thoreau would be a blogger is precisely the ‘timeliness’ of blogging – the genre of rushed thoughts rapidly written down before their shelf life expires is something that would not appeal to him (cf. “Reading”).
And yet, Thoreau did give talks at the Lyseum, “A Plea for John Brown,” etc., and so perhaps today he would find The Blog to be the successor of the public talk / lecture. I’m not sure.
But if the specific question is: would Thoreau have blogged rather than kept his journal, or would he do his journaling on a blog, I think the answer is no. The journal was a writer’s journal (as you know, most of Walden comes out of it), not something that existed for the sake of public perusal. Near the end of his life, however, he was going back to revise portions of the journal, seemingly deciding that they would be worth preserving.
So, in sum, I don’t know. But I’d be interested to hear what others have thought.
Their responses offer a more nuanced take on what Thoreau’s attitude toward blogging might be.
Anyone else want to weigh in with opinions?