It Happened
in History!
(Go to It Happened in History Archives)

Henry David Thoreau

Born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Mass., on July 12, 1817, this American author and naturalist remains one of the most influential figures in American thought and literature.  An individualist often called a loner, he championed the human spirit against materialism and social conformity.  His most famous book, Walden (1854), is an elegantly penned account of his own experiment in near-solitary living in close harmony with nature.  It also reflects his feelings toward the transcendental school of philosophy. 

Thoreau was raised in Concord and attended Harvard, where he was known as a serious if unconventional scholar.  During his college years, he was exposed to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  When Emerson moved to Concord, he encouraged Thoreau's writing and grew to become his mentor. 

Thoreau was graduated in 1837 ninth in his class, but he refused a diploma, thinking that there were better ways to spend five dollars.  He changed his name to Henry David and became a teacher.  When criticized by the supervisor of the local public school for not using corporal punishment on his students, Thoreau thrashed a random group of his pupils to illustrate the senselessness of it all and resigned from the school.

In 1841, Emerson invited Thoreau to live in his household, where Thoreau remained intermittently until 1843.  While there, he served as a handyman and assistant, helping to edit and contributing poetry and prose to the transcendentalist magazine the two men founded, The Dial.

In 1845, at the age of 27, Thoreau built a small cabin on the shore of Walden Pond just outside of Concord, where he remained for two years and two months, “living deep and sucking out all the marrow of life.”  Anxious to lead a life free of materialistic pleasures, he supported himself by growing vegetables, surveying, and doing odd jobs around town.  He devoted most of his time to observing nature, reading, and writing; and he kept a detailed journal, begun in 1837, of his observations, activities, and thoughts. 

Thoreau's goal while at Walden was "To live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach."  He wrote his classics, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854), from his journal notes.  Other works posthumously published from the journal include Excursions (1863), The Maine Woods (1864), Cape Cod (1865), and A Yankee in Canada (1866).

One of Thoreau's most important works, his essay, Civil Disobedience (1849), grew out of an overnight stay in prison as a result of his conscientious refusal to pay a poll tax that supported the Mexican War.  The War, Thoreau felt, was simply an excuse for extending U.S. slavery.  Thoreau's advocacy of civil disobedience as a legitimate means of individual protest to those governmental actions that he considered unjust subsequently had wide-ranging impact—on the British Labor movement, on Mahatma Gandhi's passive-resistance independence movement in India, and on the nonviolent civil-rights movement led by Martin Luther King in the United States.

Today, Thoreau is recognized as a prominent naturalist who emphasized the dynamic ecology of the natural world around him.  Beyond that, his quiet, stoic, one-man revolution carried out at Walden remains a symbol of the strength and triumph of individual will over the daily temptations of society.  Thoreau's writings, including his journals, were published in 20 volumes in 1906.

Henry David Thoreau died in 1862.

Discover Henry David Thoreau

Search Now:

Indulge Yourself - Check Out Today's Best-Selling
Fiction - Nonfiction - DVDs

- HOME -

NOTE: All material on this site is copyright protected.  No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically,  mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author.  Contact the editors for right to reprint.  All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers.  Copyright 2006 by the American Society of Authors and Writers.







Hit Counter