Tomorrow, July 12, is the birthday of Henry David Thoreau. Happy 196, Henry! To mark the occasion, here is a railroad-centric excerpt from chapter 4 of Walden, first published in 1854. This makes for a long blog post, but it’s too good a passage for chopping up. I should also say that I don’t post the excerpt meaning to imply that Thoreau was a fan of the railroad; this is the man who wrote, “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.” (And see D.B. Johnson’s Henry Hikes to Fitchburg for a picture book telling of what Thoreau thought of spending money on a ticket.) Still, even within Thoreau’s critique there’s an evocation of the grandeur of the engines and some marveling at their workings, and the passage presents a vivid contemporary view of the transformative and disruptive power of the railroads.
Just fifteen years after Walden was published, the first transcontinental railroad was completed; the changes that Thoreau was observing in his corner of New England then reached from coast to coast.