This their way is their folly:
yet their posterity approve their sayings.
"In Concord, Massachusetts this year, on July 11, a bicentennial celebration will be held for Henry David Thoreau, a giant American literary figure known for advocating the romantic ideal of a simple life surrounded by the beauty of nature. In an article in Nature, Randall Fuller traces Thoreau’s debt to Darwin after Walden, watching him fall from the grace of nature’s sublime design to a material world of chance.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was one of the most important American writers. He is best
known today for his book Walden, that stressed the benefits of simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay Civil Disobedience, an argument for disobeying unjust actions of government. He was a prolific author whose works have been a staple of American education from high school to college for decades. Along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott (the father of Louisa May Alcott), Thoreau and his circle of friends were writers with wide influence. But another writer would come to heavily influence them all: Charles Darwin.
For example, up to this time Thoreau accepted transcendentalism, the view that asserts the primacy of the spiritual and transcendental over the material. But then, his reading of Darwin’s Origin began to severely challenge this worldview for which he was best known, Fuller says. Many other leading early American writers and clergy, after they understood “Darwin’s theory of natural selection … discover[ed] that it also posed enormous threats to their other beliefs, including their faith in God and their trust that America was a country divinely chosen for the regeneration of the world.”
Thoreau had to face these issues head on just five years after he had published Walden in 1854. (He died of tuberculosis in 1862 at age 45, three years after Darwin’s Origin had arrived in America.)
Due to the influence of Darwin, Thoreau moved “close to Darwin’s position. He assumed the universe was governed by laws, but he also believed that the products of those laws occurred in a more or less random way. He hovered between design and chance, between idealism and materialism.”
In the end, Thoreau rejected the transcendentalism for which he had been famous, and placed the mystery and wonder of life within the worldview of materialism." CEH