Henry Thoreau

Born in 1817, in Concord, Henry David Thoreau became one of the greatest writers among the American Renaissance. Thoreau based his whole philosophy on the fact that man needed to get rid of material things in order to be an individual. An exquisitely educated man, Thoreau went to Harvard, which placed heavy emphasis on the classics. Thoreau studied a curriculum that included grammar and composition, mathematics, English, history, and various philosophies.

He also spoke fluently in Italian, French, German, and Spanish. After his graduation in 1837, Thoreau became a teacher. He and his brother John, however, closed the school in 1841, for Thoreau knew writing was his passion. He kept a journal beginning in 1837, and most think he wrote way before that time. Thoreaus love for writing pushed him to make it a driving force in his life.

Thoreau was also a big part of the Transcendentalists Movement. The Transcendentalists assumed that the soul and nature were the two essential parts of the universe. “Transcendentalism started as a radical religious movement, opposed to the rationalist, conservative institution that Unitarianism had become.” Unitarians had expressed the need for and conviction of a more personal and intuitive experience of the divine.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companion, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Individuality was a big part of Thoreaus life; he believed that independent, well-thought action arose naturally from a curious mind. Although many people visited him at Walden Pond, Thoreau preferred to be alone. “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” Thoreau liked solitude, a time when he wrote from his soul and was truly alone. Thoreaus love for nature was one of the most powerful aspects evident in Walden. Considered by some to be the father of the environmental movement, Thoreau referred back to nature in everything he wrote from essays to political speeches.

As a simple man, Thoreau did not own many material things. For he believed that to own material objects were an obstacle, rather than an advantage. He saw that most people measured self-worth in terms of what they owned, rather than their spiritual and intellectual gifts. Thoreau proposed to live as simply as possible and determine what he needed for basic human survival. “My greatest skill is to want but little.” He grew his own food, cleaned his own cabin, and often arranged his affairs so he had to work as little as possible.

Published on August 9, 1854, Walden sold two thousand copies. For one dollar, people read into the depths of Thoreaus life at Walden Pond and all his views on everything from the anti-slavery movement to his environmental ideas. Walden sold moderately well during Thoreaus lifetime, but his greatest respects came posthumously.

Through the reading of Walden, many people have discovered the magic of Henry David Thoreaus pen. Just a man from Concord, Massachusetts, he lived an extraordinary life as a simple man. That, however, was all Thoreau ever wanted to accomplish, to show people that a person could be an individual, live simple, and do without material things. With the publication of Walden, Thoreau showed the world that it was indeed possible; he had lived “to the beat of his own drummer.”


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