Nor can you do so when surrounded by the beeps and dings and hums of any number of devices. The author and journalist Richard Louv has thought a lot about technological distractions. Mr. Louv has long studied and proclaimed the benefits that humans can reap from being in nature. His wildly popular “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” includes evidence that exposure to nature is essential not just to children’s mental and physical health, but to everyone’s. Adults are just as susceptible to a “Vitamin N” deficiency he explains in his more recent “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age.” I asked him about my writing-outside theory.
Another one of Thoreau’s immersive reading projects centered on early English literature. Thoreau dabbled in writing verse himself, especially in his younger years, and seems to have set out to create his own personal anthology of the best English poetry ever penned. To begin, he drew up a list of eminent English poets, and then took short trips to Cambridge where he fairly camped out at Harvard’s library, working his way through collections of poems for each name on the list. He read early Anglo-Saxon verse, Chaucer, and just about everything he could get his hands on up to Milton. He also read books on the history of the times, cultures, and peoples this poetry had emerged from, as well as existing anthologies. Even after Thoreau’s project on early English poetry was through he continued to enjoy reading verse throughout his life, including that of the prominent Romantic poets of his day.
Thoreau also remained a devoted abolitionist until the end of his life. To support his cause, he wrote several works, including the 1854 essay "Slavery in Massachusetts." Thoreau also took a brave stand for Captain John Brown, a radical abolitionist who led an uprising against slavery in Virginia. He and his supporters raided a federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry to arm themselves in October 1859, but their plan was thwarted. An injured Brown was later convicted of treason and put to death for his crime. Thoreau rose to defend him with the speech "A Plea for Capt. John Brown," calling him "an angel of light" and "the bravest and humanest man in all the country."