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Talley, S. (2005). Following Thoreau's “Tracks in the Sand”: Tactile Impressions in Cape Cod. Am. Imago, 62(1):7-34.

(2005). American Imago, 62(1):7-34

Following Thoreau's “Tracks in the Sand”: Tactile Impressions in Cape Cod

Sharon Talley

In the published version of the eulogy he gave for his best friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1862) praised Henry David Thoreau's acute senses:

His power of observation seemed to indicate additional senses. He saw as with microscope, heard as with ear-trumpet, and his memory was a photographic register for all he saw and heard. And yet none knew better than he that it is not the fact that imports, but the impression or effect of the fact on your mind. Every fact lay in glory in his mind, a type of the order and beauty of the whole. (245)

Throughout his writings, Thoreau is, as Emerson indicates, a meticulous observer and recorder of sensory perceptions and natural facts. However, while glorying in the beauty of nature in and of itself, he believed that such observations and facts are important only as they lead to the truths that illuminate one's relationship to the environment and to God. Like most of the people labeled transcendentalists, Thoreau rejected Locke's theory that all knowledge is gained directly through the senses. Instead, Thoreau believed that people are born with innate knowledge, which he, like Emerson, equated with the voice of God within. As people mature from the innocence of childhood to the experience of adulthood, however, they tend to lose touch with this spiritual consciousness. To prevent the corruption of this intuitive faculty, Thoreau believed people must continually strive to renew themselves by seeking the spiritual truths available in nature.

In describing Thoreau's use of sensory perceptions in his writings, F. O.

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