Published 11 years before Thoreau’s masterpiece, Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854), this early essay explores many of the same transcendentalist themes. As the narrator embarks on a long walk, insights into human consciousness, nature, and spirituality emerge from vivid observations of the natural scene. He responds with particular energy to the reflective surface of a lake. The following comment about religion seems to anticipate his later experiment in living naturally:
We know of no scripture which records the pure benignity of the gods on a New England winter night. Their praises have never been sung, only their wrath deprecated. The best scripture, after all, records but a meagre faith. Its saints live reserved and austere. Let a brave, devout man spend the year in the woods of Maine or Labrador, and see if the Hebrew Scriptures speak adequately to his condition and experience, from the setting in of winter to the breaking up of the ice.
Boston Public Library, Rare Books & Manuscripts