I am attaching the introduction from my soon to be published book:
"Henry David Thoreau as a Surveyor -Myth versus Reality"
"We falsely attribute to men a determined character; putting together all
their yesterdays and averaging them, we presume we know them. Pity the
man who has a character to support."
Henry David Thoreau, April 28, 1841
The subtitle of this book, The Myth versus the Reality, is, by itself, an ironic statement about Thoreau's life. Throughout his adult life, he wrote about both mythology and real life.
At first glance, much of his thoughts expressed in writing seem to be mixed metaphors; more mythical than real. He often would speak of both in the same sentence or paragraph in such a way that the reader would not see the irony.
In the first chapter of “Walden,” titled “Economy,” Thoreau compares the poetry of the Greek mythical husband and wife Deucalion and Pyrrha with that of the real life Sir Walter Raleigh. By the time he had finished the chapter he had mentioned well over 50 mythological and real person, places and things. He even created a character name “Squire Make a stir.” His ability to create a “world of his own imagination” while living in the real world made him a great writer and philosopher. His own words seem to
express it well, when he said: “History, Poetry, Mythology! - I know of no reading of another's experience so startling and informing as this would be.”
After more than 50 years as a land surveyor, and spending part of my surveying career in Concord, Massachusetts, I have chosen to write about Henry David Thoreau as a surveyor.
Land surveying is a wonderful profession, and Thoreau was well suited to it.
When Thoreau surveyed he was choosing to practice a profession that had many unsung heroes who were excellent examples for him; they were hard working, very intelligent, and above all, had integrity. It was and still is a profession that would not exist were it not for one thing which Thoreau especially appreciated: Land!
The roots and foundation of the profession in America began in the New England area in the early 1600's. The desire to be freemen and own land was the driving force that prompted land owners to need the talents of land surveyors. The first known land survey in New England had been done in 1607 at Popham Colony in Maine. More than 235 years of land surveying had been done in the colonies when Thoreau began surveying in 1845. He was “born into” a profession that demanded an understanding of the land, of the requirements for the legal ownership of land, and of the methods needed to provide accurate and reliable plans of the land.
Much of what has been written about Thoreau's ability as a surveyor are either embellished or wrong. Much of this commentary has been in existence for so many years that it is now accepted as truth. As one writer has said, Thoreau has become a “polished icon.”
How grateful we all should be to Ralph Waldo Emerson for encouraging Thoreau to keep a journal and to lecture. We also should be grateful to Thoreau's sister, Sophia, for keeping some of his surveying records and giving them to the Concord Public Library. Thoreau's ability to observe his surroundings has touched millions of readers. His eloquence and plain speaking have given resonance to his profound thoughts, and made it easy for so many to appreciate his writing.
As Bronson Alcott said when he was trying to get the Concord School Board to have Thoreau produce a local geography, Thoreau knew the people, the terrain, the natural environment, and the the farms of Concord. Alcott attempted to create a succinct, complimentary title for Thoreau by telling the School Board he was the “Surveyor-General of Concord.” Thoreau was not the “Town Surveyor” or “Surveyor General” of Concord. Alcott's referral to Thoreau as Surveyor-General is the only time I can find that title applied . There are no records to substantiate that claim. This is an example of how a subjective comment becomes a “fact” with the passage of time. He did, however, like many private surveyors before and after him, perform two or three surveys for the Town.
It is more than 156 years since Thoreau's last survey and more than 400 years since the first land survey was performed on the New England coast.
The history of New England, its land, its people and how Thoreau and the practice of surveying fit into it all is a wonderful story.
An experienced surveyor should tell the story of how Thoreau practiced the surveying profession. That person would have to do extensive research and verify all of the facts of the story, and at the same time make the story interesting and understandable. It has meant that I have written many drafts and many edits and been given valuable advice by my wife (a writer), some of my peers, and friends.
I have noticed that most of the examinations of Thoreau as a surveyor have been very subjective. I have written this story with the intention of being objective about Thoreau as a surveyor and bringing the story to life with all the surrounding background.
It is my hope to tell the story of Thoreau as a land surveyor in a way that is honest and compelling. This is the story about a noble profession and how Henry David Thoreau practiced it and fit into it.
My hope is that after you have read this book, you will know more about Thoreau as a surveyor, and also more about the land surveying profession.
After all, I too, am a surveyor.
This Content Originally Published by a land surveyor to Land Surveyors United Network
Interesting, I remember Thoreau & Emerson from literature classes but never knew Thoreau was a