English Literature
Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

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The Remarkable Life and Enduring Influence of Henry David Thoreau

Have you ever pondered the purpose of living? Or sought solace in the untouched beauty of nature? These were the musings of Henry David Thoreau, an American poet, author, philosopher, and naturalist. Thoreau's renowned works, including "Walden, or Life in the Woods" (1854) and "Sic Vita" (1841), established him as a leading figure in American naturalism and transcendental literature.

Early Years

Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts, where he spent most of his childhood. Despite not being fond of the town of Concord, he was captivated by the surrounding natural landscape of forests, rivers, and meadows. Thoreau's deep connection with nature, developed during his formative years, would greatly influence his writing and philosophy.

At 16, Thoreau enrolled in Harvard College, studying various subjects such as classics, philosophy, and science. He notably declined to pay the five-dollar fee for his diploma, and therefore never formally graduated. After leaving Harvard, Thoreau taught in Massachusetts for a short time.

The Concord Academy and Teaching

Thoreau left his teaching position due to his refusal to use physical punishment on students. He then opened the Concord Academy with his brother John, emphasizing the significance of nature and community, core aspects of Thoreau's beliefs. Sadly, the school closed after John's passing a few years later.

Upon his return to Concord, Thoreau met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who became his lifelong mentor. Emerson introduced Thoreau to influential figures in New England's literary and philosophical circles, and Thoreau adopted the transcendentalist philosophy. He began publishing essays and poems, many derived from his journal.

The Transcendentalist Movement

Transcendentalism emerged in New England in the 1830s, centering around the belief in the inherent divinity of nature and humanity, and the necessity of balance and connection between the two.

Living in the Woods

For some time, Thoreau lived with the Emerson family, tutoring their children. In the 1840s, he returned to Concord and worked in his family's pencil factory. Then, he embarked on a transformative experience, relocating to a small cabin in the woods to practice "simple living." This cabin, situated on Emerson's property near Walden Pond, became Thoreau's dwelling for two years, two months, and two days.

During his time in the cabin, Thoreau was arrested for not paying the poll tax for six years in protest against the United States' involvement in the Mexican-American War and slavery. He was released when someone, possibly his aunt, paid the tax. This experience inspired Thoreau to give a lecture and write the essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849), one of his most influential works.

After his time in the cabin, Thoreau wrote "Walden, or Life in the Woods" (1854), a book chronicling his experiences and spiritual philosophies. Initially, it did not receive much praise, but "Walden" now stands as one of the most significant works in American literature.

Later Years and Legacy

In his later years, Thoreau occasionally worked for his family's pencil factory while also pursuing his passion for nature by working as a surveyor. He continued to observe and record his findings in a journal, and his observations became increasingly scientific with age. Thoreau also published essays on nature and politics, along with his creative works, such as poetry.

Thoreau passed away in 1862 at 44 years old after battling tuberculosis for many years. His legacy lives on through his influential writing and philosophy, which continue to inspire and impact readers and environmentalists in the present day.


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