Henry D. Thoreau

American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian

Henry D. Thoreau (1817-1862)

American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian

Henry D. Thoreau (1817-1862)

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was born and lived nearly all his life in Concord, Massachusetts, a small town about twenty miles west of Boston. He received his education at the public school in Concord and at the private Concord Academy. Proving to be a better scholar than his more fun-loving and popular elder brother John, he was sent to Harvard. He did well there and, despite having to drop out for several months for financial and health reasons, was graduated in the top half of his class in 1837.

Thoreau's graduation came at an inauspicious time. In 1837, America was experiencing an economic depression and jobs were not plentiful. Furthermore, Thoreau found himself temperamentally unsuited for three of the four usual professions open to Harvard graduates: the ministry, the law, and medicine. The fourth, teaching, was one he felt comfortable with, since both of his elder siblings, Helen and John, were already teachers. He was hired as the teacher of the Concord public school, but resigned after only two weeks because of a dispute with his superintendent over how to discipline the children. For a while he and John considered seeking their fortunes in Kentucky, but at last he fell back onto working in his father's pencil factory.

Thoreau's family participated in the "quiet desperation" of commerce and industry through the pencil factory owned and managed by his father. Thoreau family pencils, produced behind the family house on Main Street, were generally recognized as America's best pencils, largely because of Henry's research into German pencil-making techniques.

Henry D. Thoreau

Thoreau stayed in the house at Walden Pond for two years, from July 1845 to September 1847.Walden condenses the experiences of those two years into one year for artistic unity. During these two years he also spent one night in jail, an incident which occurred in the summer of 1846 and which became the subject of his essay "Resistance to Civil Government" (later known as "Civil Disobedienceā€). That same year he also took a trip to Maine to see and climb Mount Katahdin, a place with a much wilder nature than he could find around Concord.

In the years after leaving Walden Pond, Thoreau published A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854). A Week sold poorly, leading Thoreau to hold off publication ofWalden, so that he could revise it extensively to avoid the problems, such as looseness of structure and a preaching tone unalleviated by humor, that had put readers off in the first book. Walden was a modest success: it brought Thoreau good reviews, satisfactory sales, and a small following of fans.

Ivo Valkenburg

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