The Clothes That Got Away

This afternoon, the staff of the Thoreau You Don't Know, on break, stepped outside to happen upon this rack of clothes, which is not just any rack of clothes but a rack of clothes at a dry cleaners—a rack of clothes, in other words, that no one ever picked up, whether by accident or on purpose. It's almost to much to bear, the rack of clothes that no one picked up, by accident or on purposed. What were people thinking? What were these clothes to them? Nothing or everything, and they were, in the case of the latter, momentarily forgotten, or forgotten for the alloted three months, the time period in which one is typically required to remember clothes that mean at least something to them? Which reminds us of something that people always say about Thoreau, which is that he brought his clothes home every day, for washing, which is a problematic assertion in many ways, not the least of which, it paints a picture of the Thoreau You (Maybe) Know, which brings us to Richard Smith:

We’ve hear this comment many times: Thoreau was a hermit at Walden Pond. Of all the mythology and stories that surround Thoreau, this one story is the most persistent. And no matter how much Thoreauvians protest, the story continues to circulate. I even had a teacher say to me recently, “You know, Thoreau was a hypocrite – he told everyone he was a hermit, but he came home every day to get his laundry done!”

It should be obvious to anyone who’s read Walden that Thoreau was not a hermit. Just the chapter called “Visitors” is enough to put the myth to rest. So the question in my mind is not “Was he or was he not a hermit,” but how did the rumor start in the first place? In Walden itself, Thoreau declares, “I am naturally no hermit.” So if someone tells me Thoreau was a hermit, I'm inclined is to suspect that this person hasn’t read Walden very closely.