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henry david thoreau

Henry David Thoreau (1817-62), American writer, philosopher, and naturalist, whose work demonstrates how the abstract ideals of libertarianism and individualism can be effectively instilled in a person's life. Of the numerous volumes that make up the collected works of Thoreau, only two were published during his lifetime: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and

Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854), the account of two years' living in a self-built cabin
(illustrated right).

The material for the other volumes was edited posthumously by the author's friends from his journals, manuscripts, and letters.

thoreau's cabin at walden pond

Thoreau chose going to jail rather than supporting the Mexican War by paying his poll tax. He clarified his position in perhaps his most famous essay, “Civil Disobedience” (1849). In this essay he discussed passive resistance, a method of protest that later was adopted by the Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi as a tactic against the British, and by civil rights activists fighting racial segregation in the U.S.

Walden, Thoreau's most popular work, gives a plain and straightforward statement of the author's reasons for adopting the contemplative life and a graphic account of the principal details of that life. His journal entries and essays have great literary value and reflect Thoreau's pronounced gift for a careful, but refreshing writing style.

During his sojourn at Walden Pond and elsewhere in Concord, Thoreau supported himself by doing odd jobs, such as gardening, carpentry, and land surveying. The major portion of his time was devoted to the study of nature, to meditating on philosophical problems, to reading Greek, Latin, French, and English literature, and to long conversations with his neighbors.

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is the narrative of a boating trip taken in August 1839; it is a combination of nature study and metaphysical speculation and bears the distinctive impress of the author's engaging personality.

Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts, the son of a businessman, and educated at Harvard University. For some years he taught school and tutored in Concord, and on Staten Island, New York. From 1841 to 1843 he lived in the home of the American essayist and transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, where he met other American transcendentalists, such as the educator and philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller and George Ripley, both social reformers and literary critics. Two years later he moved to a crude hut on the shores of Walden Pond, a small body of water on the outskirts of Concord. He lived there until 1847, resided again with Emerson during 1847-48, and spent the years from 1849 with his parents and sister in Concord. Thoreau died on May 6, 1862.

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