Henry David Thoreau


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Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862) was an essayist, poet, and philosopher. He came from a typical family and was the third child of a small businessman. He attended Concord Academy 1828 and attended Harvard University after graduating from Concord in 1833. He was a good student and often used the school library to study for his own purposes. He graduated in 1887 and found a teaching job at Concord. He quit after just two weeks because he had difficulty disciplining the children and worked for his father's pencil making business. He started a small school with his brother John in 1838, but it fell three years later when his brother became sick.

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In 1839, Thoreau decided he was not meant to be a teacher and took up poetry in the early 1840s.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau were good friends. Emerson had settled in Concord during Thoreau's sophomore year at Harvard when they met. They both believed in the individual over masses, in nature over man, and in emotion over reason. They believed in transcendentalism, meaning they believed that observations come from senses and intuition, acknowledging both matter and spirit, claiming that the spiritual self transcends matter.

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In 1845 at the age of 27 Thoreau moved to Walden Pond to live a solitary life. He grew his own fruits and vegetables and fished for food. He spent long hours observing nature, meditating, reading, and writing. He kept a journal, some of which he included in Walden. Thoreau wanted to live simply and self-sufficiently and lived at Walden Pond for two years. He left when Emerson invited him to live with him and his family in 1847, and his literary career slowed down. He worked as a surveyor to support himself and took over his father's pencil-making business when his father died.

He became less of a transcendentalist and more of an activist. He was an abolitionist and actively participated in the Underground Railroad. He wrote and lectured against slavery. He went into shock after John Brown, a man who had a father-like influence on him, was hanged during a raid he conducted on Harper's Fairy in 1854.

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Thoreau died of tuberculosis in 1862.

(Sarah Collins)