New Hampshire

Thoreau, Emerson & Transcendentalism in Concord & on Walden Pond

Learn about Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and other New England authors, and see why charming Concord and tranquil Walden Pond inspired their works and philosophy.
Rating (4)
Program No. 23451RJ
6 days
Starts at

At a Glance

Your tranquil retreat on the shores of Swanzey Lake in New Hampshire is the perfect home base for a foray into transcendentalism and its central figures: Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Do a deep dive into the work of these two legendary writers and the history of the Town of Concord as you learn about the pillars of this philosophical and social movement from experts and living history presentations. Plus, explore the quintessential New England town of Concord to find how the area influenced the writings of Thoreau, Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Fuller and other New England writers — and the influence they had on Concord. Stroll around Walden Pond to understand why this beautiful setting inspired Thoreau and his transcendental philosophies.
Activity Level
On Your Feet
Walking around Concord and historic sites. Optional outdoor activities during free time.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • On a field trip to historic Concord, Massachusetts, visit Emerson’s home and take time to soak up the tranquility of nature that inspired Thoreau at Walden Pond.
  • Enjoy a presentation from a Living History Presenter that will bring you face to face with Henry David Thoreau.
  • Drive around the region to see the most outstanding views of Mount Monadnock, loved by both Emerson and Thoreau.

General Notes

The Retreat Difference: This unique, often basic and no-frills experience at a Road Scholar Retreat includes opportunities for early morning exercise, interaction with the local community for insight into local life, an authentic farm-to-table or locally sourced meal, a live performance or event, and a value-priced single room.
Featured Expert
All Experts
Profile Image
Jayne Gordon
Jayne was executive director of the Thoreau Society before becoming the first director of education and public programs at the Massachusetts Historical Society. She also served as director of the Alcotts' Orchard House and director of education for the Concord Museum and the Walden Woods Project, and taught in the graduate museum studies program at Tufts. Jayne led classes and seminars on the Concord Authors (Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and the Alcotts) for decades. Now retired to Damariscotta, Maine, she teaches Thoreau at Coastal Senior College.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image
David Wichland
View biography
<%= Bio %>
Profile Image
Jayne Gordon
View biography
<%= Bio %>
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Solid Seasons: The Friendship of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Solid Seasons: The Friendship of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo EmersonWaldo Emerson
by Jeffery Cramer
by Henry David Thoreau
Sharing two years, two months, and two days in a small cabin on the shores of Walden Pond. An awesome read to revisit over a lifetime for its wisdom, wit, energy and enthusiasm, all centered around a life lived in its most simple form, with its enormous impact on future generations.
Elevating Ourselves: Thoreau on Mountains
by Parker J. Huber
"On tops of mountains, as everywhere to hopeful souls, it is always morning," Thoreau wrote. J. Parker Huber is along for the climb, comparing what Thoreau say in his era to what we can see today.
The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years
by Robert Thorson
As a backyard naturalist and river enthusiast, Henry David Thoreau was keenly aware of the many ways in which humans had altered the waterways and meadows of his beloved Concord River Valley. A land surveyor by trade, he recognized that he was as complicit in these transformations as the bankers, builders, and elected officials who were his clients. The Boatman reveals the depth of his knowledge about the river as it elegantly chronicles his move from anger to lament to acceptance of how humans had changed a place he cherished even more than Walden Pond.
Emerson: The Mind on Fire
by Robert Richardson
Robert D. Richardson Jr. brings to life an Emerson very different from the old stereotype of the passionless Sage of Concord. Drawing on a vast amount of new material, including correspondence among the Emerson brothers, Richardson gives us a rewarding intellectual biography that is also a portrait of the whole man. These pages present a young suitor, a grief-stricken widower, an affectionate father, and a man with an abiding genius for friendship. The great spokesman for individualism and self-reliance turns out to have been a good neighbor, an activist citizen, a loyal brother. Here is an Emerson who knew how to laugh, who was self-doubting as well as self-reliant, and who became the greatest intellectual adventurer of his age. Richardson has, as much as possible, let Emerson speak for himself through his published works, his many journals and notebooks, his letters, his reported conversations. This is not merely a study of Emerson's writing and his influence on others; it is Emerson's life as he experienced it. We see the failed minister, the struggling writer, the political reformer, the poetic liberator. The Emerson of this book not only influenced Thoreau, Fuller, Whitman, Dickinson, and Frost, he also inspired Nietzsche, William James, Baudelaire, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, and Jorge Luis Borges. Emerson's timeliness is persistent and striking: his insistence that literature and science are not separate cultures, his emphasis on the worth of every individual, his respect for nature. Throughout this book, Emerson's unquenchable vitality reaches across the decades, and his hold on us endures.
Civil Disobedience and Other Essays
by Henry David Thoreau
America’s greatest nature writer and a political thinker of international renown, Henry David Thoreau crafted essays that reflect his speculative and probing cast of mind. In his poems, he gave voice to his private sentiments and spiritual aspirations in the plain style of New England speech. The Library of America now brings together these indispensable works in one authoritative volume. Spanning his entire career, the twenty-seven essays gathered here chart the range of Thoreau’s interests and the evolution of his thinking, particularly on nature and politics. They vary in style from the ambling rhythm of “Natural History of Massachusetts” and “A Winter Walk” to the concentrated moral outrage of “Slavery in Massachusetts” and “A Plea for Captain John Brown.” Included are “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau’s great exploration of the conflict between individual conscience and state power that continues to influence political thinkers and activists; “Walking,” a meditation on “wildness” and civilization; and “Life Without Principle,” a passionate critique of American materialism and conformity. Also here are literary essays, including pieces on Homer, Chaucer, and Carlyle; the travel essay “A Yankee in Canada”; speeches in defense of John Brown; and works on natural history written during the last years of Thoreau’s life, such as “The Succession of Forest Trees,” “Wild Apples,” and “Huckleberries.” Many of the poems are presented here in versions based on Thoreau’s journal and manuscripts. Poems he excerpted for A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and Walden appear in their entirety. Included are “Sic Vita,” with Thoreau’s searching characterization of himself as “a parcel of vain strivings,” and the visionary “Inspiration.”
The Guide to Walden Pond: An Exploration of the History, Nature, Landscape, and Literature of One of America’s Most Iconic Places.
by Robert Thorson
This is the first guidebook to Henry David Thoreau’s most defining place, visited by half a million people each year and widely known as the fountainhead of America's environmental consciousness. Using this guide, both armchair readers and trail-walkers alike can amble around the pond’s shoreline, pausing at fifteen special places to learn about people, historic events, and the natural world. Thoreau will be a constant companion via quotes from Walden. Stop by stop, the place of his book will merge with the book of his place. Abundantly illustrated with photographs, drawings, and maps, this guide is a must-have for a meaningful, engaging tour of Walden Pond as well as a souvenir of a visit.
Margaret Fuller: A New American Life
by Megan Marshall
"Thoroughly absorbing, lively . . . Fuller, so misunderstood in life, richly deserves the nuanced, compassionate portrait Marshall paints." — Boston Globe
The Oxford Handbook on Transcendentalism
by Joel Myerson and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis and Laura Dassow Walls, eds.
The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism offers an eclectic, comprehensive interdisciplinary approach to the immense cultural impact of the movement that encompassed literature, art, architecture, science, and politics.
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Through his writing and his own personal philosophy, Ralph Waldo Emerson unburdened his young country of Europe's traditional sense of history and showed Americans how to be creators of their own circumstances. His mandate, which called for harmony with, rather than domestication of, nature, and for a reliance on individual integrity, rather than on materialistic institutions, is echoed in many of the great American philosophical and literary works of his time and ours, and has given an impetus to modern political and social activism. Larzer Ziff's introduction to this collection of fifteen of Emerson's most significant writings provides the important backdrop to the society in which Emerson lived during his formative years. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
Henry David Thoreau: A Life
by Laura Dassow Walls
“Walden. Yesterday I came here to live.” That entry from the journal of Henry David Thoreau, and the intellectual journey it began, would by themselves be enough to place Thoreau in the American pantheon. His attempt to “live deliberately” in a small woods at the edge of his hometown of Concord has been a touchstone for individualists and seekers since the publication of Walden in 1854. But there was much more to Thoreau than his brief experiment in living at Walden Pond. A member of the vibrant intellectual circle centered on his neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was also an ardent naturalist, a manual laborer and inventor, a radical political activist, and more. Many books have taken up various aspects of Thoreau’s character and achievements, but, as Laura Dassow Walls writes, “Thoreau has never been captured between covers; he was too quixotic, mischievous, many-sided.” Two hundred years after his birth, and two generations after the last full-scale biography, Walls restores Henry David Thoreau to us in all his profound, inspiring complexity. Walls traces the full arc of Thoreau’s life, from his early days in the intellectual hothouse of Concord, when the American experiment still felt fresh and precarious, and “America was a family affair, earned by one generation and about to pass to the next.” By the time he died in 1862, at only forty-four years of age, Thoreau had witnessed the transformation of his world from a community of farmers and artisans into a bustling, interconnected commercial nation. What did that portend for the contemplative individual and abundant, wild nature that Thoreau celebrated? Drawing on Thoreau’s copious writings, published and unpublished, Walls presents a Thoreau vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions. “The Thoreau I sought was not in any book, so I wrote this one,” says Walls. The result is a Thoreau unlike any seen since he walked the streets of Concord, a Thoreau for our time and all time.
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
This 1841 essay is the quintessence of Emerson, imploring non-conformity, and encouraging individual instincts and ideas. This essay is the source of one of Emerson's most famous quotations: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

Click here to provide website feedback
Website Feedback