Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau Picture

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau is best known as an American author, poet, philosopher, naturalist, abolitionist, historian, and one of the leading transcendentalists of his time. Henry David Thoreau was born to John Thoreau, a pencil maker and Cynthia Dunbar. Included in the family were his older siblings Helen and John Jr. as well as younger sibling Sophia. Between 1833 and 1837 Thoreau studied at Harvard University taking courses in classics, mathematics, science, and philosophy. In 1835, Thoreau took a leave of absence from university studies to teach a school in Canton, Massachusetts. Upon graduation in 1837 he joined the faculty of Concord public school, only to resign a few weeks later due to his disdain and opposition to corporal punishment. By the time of 1838, both John and Henry opened a grammar school called Concord Academy introducing progressive teaching concepts there. These included visits to local businesses and markets as well as nature walks. However, the school was shut done in 1842 due to the fatal illness of John Thoreau from tetanus which then led to his death.

On returning to Concord after graduation, Thoreau met Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson began urging Thoreau to contribute essays, and literary works to a quarterly periodical known as The Dial. Thoreau’s first essay to be published in The Dial was Aulus Pesius Flaccus, based on a play of the same name which was published in 1849. Thoreau became a philosopher of nature and how it relates to the human condition. He started following the idealist philosophy of Transcendentalism advocated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller at that time.  They believed that an ‘ideal’ spiritual state goes beyond the physical state when one achieves that insight through personal instinct. From 1841 to 1844, Thoreau served as a tutor to children, editorial assistant and repairman for the House of Emerson. Later on he moved back to Concord to work in the family pencil factory. There he rediscovered the procedure of making a good pencil out of substandard graphite by using clay as the binding component. Later Thoreau converted the pencil factory into a factory for production of graphite which was used to ink typesetting machines.

Returning to Concord brought about a period of restlessness in Thoreau. On July of 1845, he began an experiment that would last for 2 years in regards to “simple living”. In 1854 Thoreau published Walden, or Life in the Woods which recounted his two year experiment living at the Walden Pond. In the book time is compressed into a single year symbolizing human development by using the course of the four seasons. The book is a mix, part memoir and part spiritual quest. At the time of its publication, very few people had admired the literary work. However, later on many critics began to regard the literary piece as an American classic that examines social and cultural conditions through the models of exploring harmony, beauty, and natural minimalism.

Civil Disobedience was another famous work by Thoreau in he explains his resistance to pay tax at the Concord Lyceum due to his opposition of the Mexican-American War and slavery. He died on May 6, 1862  from contraction of tuberculosis and bronchitis.

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