Hendrick - The Influence of Thoreaus Civil Disobedience on Gandhis Satyagraha

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The Influence of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience on Gandhi's Satyagraha Author(s): George Hendrick Reviewed work(s): Source: The New England Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Dec., 1956), pp. 462-471 Published by: The New England Quarterly, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/362139 . Accessed: 27/10/2012 17:32 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR is a not-for-pro
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  The Influence of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience on Gandhi's SatyagrahaAuthor(s): George HendrickReviewed work(s):Source: The New England Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Dec., 1956), pp. 462-471Published by: The New England Quarterly, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/362139 . Accessed: 27/10/2012 17:32 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.  . The New England Quarterly, Inc.  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The New England Quarterly. http://www.jstor.org  THE INFLUENCE OF THOREAIU'S CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE ON GANDHI'S SA TYAGRAHA GEORGE HENDRICK THE influence of Henry Thoreau upon Mahatma Gandhi, now universally recognized, is generally treated perfunc- torily; almost all popular articles on Thoreau usually devote at least one sentence to Gandhi's indebtedness to Civil Dis- obedience. Since Indian Opinion, the South African news- paper published by Gandhi from 1903 to 1914, is now available for study, much new material on Gandhi's knowledge of Tho- reau has come to light. Before Indian Opinion could be studied, information about Gandhi's indebtedness to Thoreau was scat- tered and fragmentary. For example, Gandhi, in his 1942 ap- peal To American Friends, wrote, You have given me a teacher in Thoreau, who furnished me through his essay on the 'Duty of Civil Disobedience' scientific confirmation of what I was doing in South Africa. 1 Similarly, Gandhi had written to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942, I have profited greatly by the writings of Thoreau and Emerson. 2 Roger Baldwin, chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union, rode with Gandhi on a train trip through France in 1931 and noticed that the only visible book was Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. Baldwin remarked on the extremeness of Thoreau's doctrine, and Gandhi replied that the essay contained the essence of his political philosophy, not only as India's struggle related to the British, but as to his own views of the relation of citizens to government. 3 At the Second Round Table Conference in London that same year, the American reporter Webb Miller, a long-time ad- mirer of Thoreau, asked Gandhi, Did you ever read an Ameri- 1 D. G. Tendulkar, Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Bom- bay, 1951-1954), VI, 177. 2 Tendulkar, Mahatma . . ., VI, 144. 3 Thoreau Society Bulletin, xi, 2 (April, 1945). 462  INFLUENCE OF THOREAU ON GANDHI 463 can named Henry D. Thoreau? Gandhi replied, Why, of course I read Thoreau. I read Walden first in Johannesburg in South Africa in 1906 and his ideas influenced me greatly. I adopted some of them and recommended the study of Tho- reau to all my friends who were helping me in the cause of Indian independence. Why, I actually took the name of my movement from Thoreau's essay, 'On the Duty of Civil Dis- obedience,' written about eighty years ago. 4 Miller noticed that Gandhi, a Hindu mystic, adopted from Thoreau the philosophy which was to affect millions of Indians and inspire them to defy the powerful British Empire. It would seem, Miller concluded, that Gandhi received back from America what was fundamentally the philosophy of India after it had been distilled and crystallized in the mind of Thoreau. 5 Because of lack of information, however, inaccuracies have been perpetuated. Henry Seidel Canby wrote in the Yale Re- view that Civil Disobedience came to Gandhi's attention while he was studying law in London in 1go7.B The New York Evening Post used this information in an editorial and then received a letter of correction and amplification from Henry S. L. Polak, Gandhi's co-worker n South Africa, stating, I cannot recall whether, early in 1907, he or I first came across the volume of Thoreau's Essays published, I believe, in Scott's Li- brary) but we were both of us enormously mpressed by the con- firmation of the rightness of the principle of passive resistence and civil disobedience hat had already been started against the objec- tionable laws, contained in the essay 'On the Duty of Civil Dis- obedience.' 7 Gandhi's letter to Henry S. Salt on Thoreau's influence con- tradicts some of Polak's statement. Salt, one of Thoreau's earli- est biographers, was interested in writing the life of Gandhi 4 Webb Miller, I Found No Peace (Garden City, 1938), 238-239. 5 Miller, I Found No Peace, 238-239. 6 Henry Seidel Canby, Thoreau and the Machine Age, Yale Review, xx, 517 (March, 1931). ? New York Evening Post, May 1n, 1931, p. 8.  THE NEW ENGLAND QUARTERLY and undoubtedly would have studied Gandhi's indebtedness to Thoreau but was discouraged from writing by G. B. Shaw, who said that there was nothing more to be said about saints after his play on Joan.8 Salt, however, did write to Gandhi, whom he had first met in London in the 1890go's, asking about the influence of Thoreau. Gandhi replied, in a letter which has often been reprinted, that Civil Disobedience had left a deep impression upon him and that he had ... translated a portion for the readers of Indian Opinion in South Africa, which I was then editing, and I made copious extracts for the English part of the paper. The essay seemed to be so convinc- ing and truthful that I felt the need of knowing more of Thoreau, and I came across your Life of him, his 'Walden,' and other essays, all of which I read with great pleasure and equal profit.9 The extracts were made, not from the volume from Scott's Li- brary, but from Arthur C. Fifield's Simple Life edition of the essay and presented under the headline, For Passive Re- sisters. The extracts began with a quotation from Tolstoy, The principle of State necessity can bind only those men to dis- obey God's law, who, for the sake of worldly advantages try to reconcile the irreconcileable; but a Christian, who sincerely believes that the fulfilment of Jesus' teaching shall bring him salvation, cannot attach any importance to this principle, and then gave a short biographical sketch of Thoreau who taught nothing he was not prepared to practice in himself. Thoreau was extolled as one who went to jail for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity. The five columns of extracts from Civil Disobedience present Thoreau's argu- ment forcefully and accurately, emphasizing that the essay's incisive logic is unanswerable. 10 The extracts present in brief the main ideas of Thoreau's closely argued essay; the following passage fundamental in 8 Stephen Winsten, Salt and His Circle (London, 1951), 170. 9 Henry S. Salt, Company I Have Kept (London, 1930), loo-sos. 10 Indian Opinion, October 26, 1907, p. 438. 464
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