One of America's most prominent writers, abolitionist, author of 'Disobedience' and the father of environmentalism, Henry David Thoreau was best known for his theological and philosophical writings. Out of his works, one of his biggest masterpieces was called, 'Walden'. A strong believer of the 'Transcendentalist movement', he wrote on a variety of subjects such as economy, nature and slavery that were often revolutionary and ground breaking. This earned him the label of 'anarchist'. When his contemporaries faded into obscurity, it was the relevance of these works, which made him a renowned name in the world. His works touched the lives of millions, and the popular essay 'Civil disobedience', inspired and motivated countless political movements around the world. Thoreau, despite his few, prominent successes, failed to receive adequate recognition during his lifetime. The world slowly began to recognize his genius works by the latter half of the 19th century. Read on to know more about Henry David Thoreau and his life.
Childhood And early Life
Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. He was raised along with his siblings, John, Helen and Sonia. His father was the owner of a pencil factory and his mother rented portions of their house to boarders and paying guests. Henry was an intelligent boy and went to Harvard University where he studied Greek, Latin and German. In 1837, he graduated from the University and established a Grammar school with his brother John in 1838. The venture became a failure after Thoreau's brother; John, fell critically ill with tetanus in 1842. John died in Thoreau's arms the same year. Thoreau returned to Concord after his brother's death and worked in his family's pencil factory.
It was upon graduation from Harvard, when Thoreau met Ralph Waldo emerson, who was a prolific writer and concord resident. At this time, Thoreau was inspired by 'Transcendentalism', which is a school of thought that stresses the need for religious matters and pragmatic thinking. This school of thought also urges people to channel their energies towards academics.
During the course of his early years, Thoreau had the opportunity to meet Branson Alcott and Margaret Fuller, who were the pioneers of this school of thought. In the meantime, emerson, who played the role of a mentor to Thoreau, provided both, moral and emotional support as the latter stayed with emerson in his house for a long time. It was in a way, a blessing for Thoreau, as emerson influenced and encouraged Thoreau to produce more of his literary works. Thoreau's works were first published in a transcendalist magazine known as the 'Dial', under the guidance of emerson.
Contributions And Long Lasting Influences
In 1845, Thoreau lived in Walton Pond, which was a property owned by emerson. After deciding to lead a simple life, Thoreau took up odd jobs as a land surveyor and also worked part-time in his family's pencil factory. As a result, he could contribute more time to his literary works. The first essay that he completed was 'A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers' (1849), for which he took inspiration from a boating trip that he had gone for, with his brother. Thereafter, he started writing about his experiments in Walton Pond. The curiosity that people nurtured about his experimental lifestyle was the stimulating force for Thoreau, which sparked a huge collection of essays from him.
It was here that he started working on the famous book 'Walden', which influenced and inspired plenty of writers and environmentalists. Though the book received tepid reviews, it touched the lives of many. The stay at Walden Pond also equipped Thoreau with a jail experience, as he was imprisoned for a night, after refusing to pay the toll tax. This incident led him to write one of his most influential essays called, 'Civil Disobedience'. Possessing a strong and powerful political view, he was strongly against slavery and Civil War. According to him, one had to act on his own conscience instead of following laws and government policies blindly. Published in 1849, Civil Disobedience inspired plenty of political movements all over the world. Thoreau's 'non-violence' ideology to social and political confrontations motivated and influenced non-violent activists such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
A Strict Abolitionist
Towards the later years of his life Thoreau left Walton Pond and shifted to emerson's house, while the latter was on an england tour. Captivated by the beauty of nature, he often noted down his observations on the diversity of flora and fauna. Thoreau remained a strict abolitionist all his life that culminated into deep-seated essays such as "Slavery in Massachusetts", in 1854.
List Of Prominent Works