5 March 2019
While many scholars have argued aesthetics was the key component of the early
preservation movement, there are details in primary sources including Henry David Thoreau,
Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, and Roderick Nash, that hint at a deeper appreciation of the
natural world. Nature influenced these four men in a profound way, from their experiences to
their connections with others, transcending the alluring appeal of their time.
To elaborate, transcendentalists Thoreau and Emerson used Nature as a guiding force in
their lives, dictating their habits, morals, and lifestyle. While there are noticeable differences in
Thoreau and Emerson’s ideals about Nature and human connection to it in their respective
essays, there are a plethora of similarities as well. To start with, Thoreau explains, “I have met
with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is,
of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, . . .,” (Walking, 1861). Thoreau
feels himself to be less of human society, and much more aligned with Nature, almost as if it is a
physical entity or companion to him. Thoreau finds solace and tranquility in nature and that is
where one finds their true self. Thoreau goes on to confess that his bond with that of Nature and
his true self is so potent, that if he does not spend at least four hours a day sauntering through
various Wilderness and Nature, it negatively effects his health and spirits. This mere, yet
persistent thought process and routine are what eclipse the argument that aesthetics played a
large role in the early preservation movement, as opposed to those who openly shared their
appreciation of the natural world.
On the other hand with Emerson, he strongly believes the universe to be “composed of
Nature and the Soul,” (Nature, 1836). To Emerson, Nature is more holy, almost a sacred and
heavenly place. Emerson expresses that one is never truly in solitude, even when they are alone.
The stars, the flowers, and the animals are always present. Emerson especially has a reverence
with the stars as they are, “The rays that come from those heavenly worlds,” and, “The stars
awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural
objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears
a mean appearance,” (Nature, 1836). Both Thoreau and Emerson exhibited a love of nature and
simplicity, while disagreeing on governmental views and individualism.
Moreover, Thoreau concluded that the government should not be involved of the business
of others and wished to longed to live a life off the grid, he discouraged people from acting
against the government as well. Alternatively, Emerson dejected the idea of the government
possessing control over peoples’ lives, but understood that the government should have authority.
This concept both transcendentali...