Emersonian self-reliance is not just a matter of supporting oneself financially (as many people believe) but a much loftier doctrine about the active role that every soul plays in its experience of reality.
He concludes on a sermonizing note, urging all of us to sludge through our existence until we hit rock bottom and can gauge truth on what he terms our “Realometer,” our means of measuring the reality of things The title of this chapter combines a practical topic of residence (“Where I Lived”) with what is probably the deepest philosophical topic of all, the meaning of life (“What I Lived For”).
Thoreau thus reminds us again that he is neither practical do-it-yourself aficionado nor erudite philosopher, but a mixture of both at once, attending to matters of everyday existence and to questions of final meaning and purpose.
Thoreau’s building of a house on Walden Pond is, for him, a miniature re-enactment of God’s creation of the world.
He describes its placement in the cosmos, in a region viewed by the astronomers, just as God created a world within the void of space.
He says it is no wonder that Alexander the Great carried a copy of the Iliad around with him on his military campaigns.
Thoreau also urges us to read widely, gently mocking those who limit their reading to the Bible, and to read great things, not the popular entertainment books found in the library.
He has grand claims for the benefits of reading, which he compares, following ancient Egyptian or Hindu philosophers, to “raising the veil from the statue of divinity.” Whether or not Thoreau is ironic in such monumental reflections about books is open to debate, but it is certain that reading is one of his chief pastimes in the solitude of the woods, especially after the main construction work is done.
During the busy days of homebuilding, he says he kept Homer’s Iliad on his table throughout the summer, but only glanced at it now and then.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life . (See Important Quotations Explained) Thoreau recalls the several places where he nearly settled before selecting Walden Pond, all of them estates on a rather large scale.
and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.