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Henry David Thoreau

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Henry David Thoreau spent his life in voluntary poverty, fascinated by the study

of nature. Two years, in the prime of his life, were spent living in a shack in the woods near a pond. Who would choose a life like this? Henry David Thoreau did, and he enjoyed it.

Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts on July 12, 1817, on his grandmother's farm. Thoreau, who was of French-Huguenot and Scottish-Quaker ancestry, was baptized as David Henry Thoreau, but at the age of twenty he legally changed his name to Henry David. He was raised with his older sister Helen, older brother John, and younger sister Sophia in an impoverished home. It quickly became evident that Thoreau was interested in literature and writing. At a young age he began to show interest writing, and he wrote his first essay, "The Seasons," at the tender age of ten, while attending Concord Academy. In 1833, at the age of sixteen, Henry David was accepted to Harvard University, but his parents could not afford the cost of tuition so his sister, Helen, who had begun to teach, and his aunts offered to help. With the assistance of his family and the beneficiary funds of Harvard he went to Cambridge in August 1833 and entered Harvard on September first. In December 1835, Thoreau decided to leave Harvard and attempt to earn a living by teaching, but that only lasted about a month and a half. He returned to college in the fall of 1836 and graduated in 1837. Thoreau's years at Harvard University gave him one great

gift, an introduction to the world of literature.

Upon his return from college, Thoreau's family found him to be less likely to accept opinions as facts, more argumentative, and extremely prone to shock people with his own independent and unconventional opinions. During this time he discovered his secret

desire to be a poet, but most of all he wanted to live with freedom to think and act as he wished. Immediately after graduation from Harvard, he applied for a teaching position at the public school in Concord and received the position. However, he refused to lash children as punishment. He opted instead to deliver moral lectures to help with the children's behavior. This was looked down upon by the community, and a committee was asked to review the situation. They decided that the lectures were not punishment enough, so they ordered Thoreau to lash disobedient students. With utter contempt he lined up

six children after school that day, flogged them, and handed in his resignation, because he felt that physical punishment should have no part in education.

In 1837 Henry David began to write his Journal. It started

out as a literary notebook, but later developed into a work of art. In it Thoreau record his thoughts and discoveries about nature and different forms of wildlife. Later that same year, his sister, Helen, introduced him to Lucy Jackson Brown, who just happened to be Ralph Waldo Emerson's sister-in-law. She read his Journal, and seeing many of the same thoughts as Emerson himself had expressed, she told Emerson of Thoreau. Emerson asked that Thoreau be brought to his home for a meeting, and they quickly became friends. On April 11, 1838, not long after their first meeting Thoreau, with Emerson's help, delivered his first lecture, "Society". Ralph Waldo Emerson was probably the single most proud person in Henry David Thoreau's life. From 1841 to 1843 and again between 1847 and 1848 Thoreau lived as a member of Emerson's household, and during this time he came to know Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and many other members of Emerson's "Transcendental Club".

On August 31, 1839 Henry David and his elder brother, John, left

Concord on a boat trip into the state of New Hampshire. Out of this trip came Thoreau's first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Early in 1841, John Thoreau, Henry's beloved older brother, became very ill, most likely with tuberculosis, and in early May a poor and distraught Henry David moved into the upstairs of Ralph Waldo Emerson's house. On March 11, 1842 John died, and Henry's life long friend and brother was gone. In early 1845 Thoreau decided to make a stopover to nearby Walden Pond, where Emerson had recently purchased a plot of land. He built a small cabin overlooking the pond, and from July 4, 1845 to September 6, 1847 Thoreau lived at Walden Pond.

One night in July 1846, during his stay at Walden, Thoreau was walking into Concord from the pond when he was approached by Sam Staples, the Concord jailer, and charged with not having paid his poll tax. Thoreau had not paid a poll tax since 1843 when his friend Bronson Alcott spent a night in jail for not paying his. He didn't see why he should

have to pay the tax, he had never voted, and he knew that such a purely political tax had to be affiliated with the funding of the Mexican War and the continuation of slavery, both of which he strongly objected to. The following morning Thoreau was released because someone, probably his Aunt Maria Thoreau, had paid his back taxes. This imprisonment compelled Thoreau to write "Civil Disobedience," one of his most famous essays. On May 6,1862, after an unassuming journey to Minnesota in 1861 in search of better health, Henry David Thoreau died of tuberculosis. Thoreau was buried in Sleep Hollow Cemetery in Concord near his friends Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bronson Alcott. Thoreau never earned an income by writing, but his works fill twenty volumes. His first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, was a huge failure selling only 219 of the original 1,000 copies, but his doctrine of passive resistance impacted many powerful people such as Mahatma Gahndi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Thoreau's essay, "Civil

Disobedience," showed personal ethics and responsibility. It urged the individual to follow the dictates of conscience in any conflict between itself and civil law,



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