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Henry David Thoreau

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Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau lived from 1817 to 1862 in the northeastern United States. His older sister and brother, who were both schoolteachers, saved enough money for his college education to send him to Harvard. That is also the college his grandfather went to many years earlier.

At Harvard, he studied English, mathematics, history, and mental, natural, and intellectual philosophy. Thoreau enhanced his education by choosing to take foreign languages, such as French, Italian, German, and Spanish (Withrell). He graduated from Harvard University in 1837 and started keeping a journal, which was later published, depicting his seriousness, determination, and elevation of moral values (Jacobus 141).

His family business was pencil making. He used his education from Harvard to improve the engineering that went to manufacturing pencils. His improved process made his families pencils equal to those manufactured by the previously superior Farber Company from Germany. Thoreau was a man of many talents and held many different professions in his lifetime. He was a gardener, house painter, carpenter, laborer, mason, schoolmaster, private tutor, surveyor, and sometimes a writer. Actually, all of those jobs were only used to fund his passion for writing (Withrell).

Thoreau lived in Concord Massachusetts but being a loner, he moved to the country for a while. His good friend Ralph Waldo Emerson owned some land in the country near Walden Pond, and Thoreau moved into the woods and built a log cabin. In the rural area of Walden Pond, Thoreau planted a garden and lived a simple life. This allowed ample time for reading, thinking, walking, observing, and of course writing. Thoreau was revitalized by the experience and wrote of the spiritual uplift that came from communing with nature (Jacobs 141). He loved the solitude of roaming in the woods alone as reflected in this quote. "I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude" (Thoreau 135).

The time he spent at Walden Pond was the inspiration for Thoreau's best-known work, Walden, written in 1854. While living on Walden Pond, Thoreau became disenchanted with civilization's comforts (Jacobs 141). Thoreau states his thoughts on technologies progress in Walden, "Perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for options of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility" (Thoreau 21). He expressed concern that those creature comforts allow one to lose their independence, integrity and conscience (Jacobus 141).

The two good friends, Thoreau and Emerson, were part of a group of young writers and thinkers called the transcendentalists. The Transcendental movement allows for the possibility that some things transcend the limits of sensory experience, or beyond materialism. This philosophy was based on works of poets, philosophers, and thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Johann Wolfgang von G'ertah. These writers felt strongly about human intuition and the ability to expand on experiences (Jacobus 141). Although Thoreau took part in the group of meetings, his desire for individualism led him to more private meditation (Withrell).

Transcendentalism assumed that the universe was comprised of two essential parts, the soul and nature. Transcendentalism can be identified by a religious and intellectual expression (Withrell). His outspoken belief led him to write the key quote to his philosophy, "The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think is right" (Thoreau qtd. In Jacobus 141).

Thoreau was a very strong willed and independent person. He encouraged others to assert their individuality. This was reflected in this very famous quotation, "If man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away" (Thoreau 326).

Many that lived in Thoreau's time felt the way he did but few demonstrated their beliefs more consistently and vigorously. He spoke the words as well as executed in his behavior even if he was the only the power of one. His individualism was evident when he befriended outcasts in Concord. Thoreau never married and lived alone in the woods at Walden Pond for two years. His neighbors rumored and admired his loner life on the pond. In this reflection from Walden, Thoreau said:

I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account; for beside that he has fairly learned it may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father's or his mother's or his neighbor's instead. The youth may build or plant or sail, only let him not be hindered from doing that which he tells me he would like to do. It is by a mathematical point only that we are wise, as the sailor or the fugitive slave keeps the polestar in his eye; but that is sufficient guidance for all or life. We may not arrive at our port within a calculable period, but we would preserve the true course. (Thoreau 71)

This is a perfect example of Thoreau's ideas on individualism for himself and his belief that others should pursue their own individualism.

Thoreau became a philosopher on social and political obstacles of his time. He had strong opinions on slavery and actually helped the escaped slaves by assisting their safe arrival into the freedom of Canada. The entire Transcendentalists movement was strongly opposed to slavery (Jacobus 141). He expressed his feelings about slavery in this quote from Walden:

(indent) I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous, I may almost say, as to attend to the gross but somewhat foreign from of servitude called Negro Slavery, there are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave both north and south. It is hard to have a southern overseer; it is worse to have a northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave driver of yourself. (Thoreau 7)

Slavery is only but one aspect of government that Thoreau did not agree with and expressed his beliefs freely.

His strong onions also carried over to the U.S - Mexican war. He had a stance of non-violence, did not back this war activity, and once spent a night in a Concord jail for not paying a tax that funded the Mexican war effort (Jacobus 141).

Thoreau was a writer by trade but he made more money lecturing on the Lyceum circuit. In New England, the Lyceum brought together successful speakers from local and abroad. At that time without radio, Nintendo, or television, this was good entertainment for a reasonable cost. There was only a



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