Who is Henry David Thoreau?

Jessica Hobby

Henry David Thoreau is revered by many scholars as a significant contributor to American literature and American political thought. Thoreau’s most famous works include his book, Walden and his essay, "Civil Disobedience." Henry David Thoreau’s works have been referenced by many scholars and world leaders throughout history.

Henry David Thoreau graduated from Harvard.
Henry David Thoreau graduated from Harvard.

After graduating from Harvard in 1837, Henry David Thoreau returned to his home in Concord where he met transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson took him under his wing and introduced him to the other transcendentalist thinkers of the time. History has recorded the most popular of the transcendentalists as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathanial Hawthorne and Bronson Alcott. Thoreau’s individualistic and naturalistic transcendental beliefs led him to live a life of subsistence in a small home he built on Walden Pond, which was on Emerson’s property.

Henry David Thoreau's most famous work is Walden.
Henry David Thoreau's most famous work is Walden.

During his time at Walden, Henry David Thoreau decided not to pay his taxes in protest to the Mexican-American War and slavery. He was put in the jail for a night. The experience propelled him to give a lecture on "The Rights and Duties of the Individual in Relation to Government,” which Thoreau later formatted into an essay. This essay was published as "Civil Disobedience," which has been most notably referred to by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as a means of peaceful protesting. Additionally, Thoreau published a book about his two years at Walden Pond, called Walden, which has been regarded as an American classic by many literary scholars.

India's Mahatma Gandhi referenced Henry David Thoreau when protesting British rule.
India's Mahatma Gandhi referenced Henry David Thoreau when protesting British rule.

Later on in his life, Henry David Thoreau became interested in natural history. He fed his passion by becoming a land surveyor and writing about his observations. In addition, Thoreau was an early advocate of environmental protectionism and conservationism. He took time to travel to New York, Philadelphia and many locations throughout the Great Lakes area of the United States. He was known to be an American supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution and was also a known vegetarian.

Henry David Thoreau lived in a cabin on Walden Pond for two years.
Henry David Thoreau lived in a cabin on Walden Pond for two years.

After a three year struggle with bronchitis on top of a life-long nuisance of tuberculosis, Henry David Thoreau died at the age of 44. Thoreau, fully aware that the end was near, spent his final days writing and revising journal entries and letters until he was too weak to continue. Many of his unpublished works and journal entries were eventually published in 1906, long after his death in 1862. It was not until these works were released that modern writers, leaders and scholars took notice of the style and substance of Henry David Thoreau’s writings.

Thoreau spent his final days writing and revising journal entries and letters until he was too weak to continue.
Thoreau spent his final days writing and revising journal entries and letters until he was too weak to continue.

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Discussion Comments

googie98

@:GrumpyGuppy: Thoreau had been living with Ralph Waldo Emerson, when Emerson allowed him to build a cabin on his property, next to a pond. Thoreau loved the outdoors and nature. He wanted to experiment with a life of solitary. He built the cabin by hand. Emerson thought it would help Thoreau with his writing and give him inspiration.

Most people think Thoreau was totally isolated; however, he had several visitors over his two years and two months on Walden Pond. He wrote several other pieces while staying there, but his most well-known was “Walden”.

Some believe he wrote the essay “Resistance to Civil Government”, also known as “Civil Disobedience”, while living at the pond, but he just revised his essay. This revision stemmed from his arrest for unpaid taxes, because he refused to pay them. He spent one night in jail and his Aunt paid his taxes for him.

GrumpyGuppy

Why did Henry Thoreau move to Walden Pond?

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