“Simplify! was Thoreau’s motto” in his life (Stanley 20). He showed people how to live simple life by living a simple life in Walden. Due to Thoreau’s efforts and works on nature people considers a nature an important part in their lives, as a result nature became one of the top topics in 21st century.
Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts (Meltzer 11). His parents were John Thoreau and Cynthia Dunbar Thoreau (12). Henry had three siblings named Helen, John Jr. and Sophia (12). The Thoreau family continuously moved to different places in search for better living conditions (11). Henry’s father John had difficulties finding a job (13). He eventually started a very famous pencil making business (13).
Henry’s parents named him David Henry Thoreau, “after his uncle David Thoreau” (Stanley 16). Thoreau changed his name to Henry David Thoreau (Olson 14). He changed his name because “people called him Henry” (Stanley 16).
Henry and his siblings went to same school (Stanley 16). First, they went to school called “Concord’s Public Grammar School” (16). At his school all students for all grades, “sat together on hard benches” (16). Although Henry’s family could not really afford a private school, Henry still went to private school named “Concord academy” (16). He went to Concord academy from age eleven until sixteen (16). He was very quite child at school, as he often did not play games with children (Olson 30). Henry had many nicknames like “Judge” and “the fine scholar with big nose” (30-32). These nicknames came from children at his school because he did not join in their play (30-32).
Since he was born, he was very interested in nature and natural phenomena (Olson 33). At age eleven, he wrote famous piece of writing about seasons (Meltzer 15). The writing about the seasons stated like this: The Seasons
Why do the seasons change? And Why
Does Winter’s stormy brow appear?
Is it the word of him on high?
Who rules the changing varied year? (15)
Henry went to Harvard University for college education (Olson 34). He was not interested in going to college as he barely passes his entrance exams for Harvard; he thought he might work as a carpenter (34). In college, his interest in writing and poetry grew especially with poems of English poets such John Milton, William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer (35). In Harvard university, William Ellery Channing became Henry’s one of the best friend (35). Later Henry realized that William Ellery Channing was the one who helped him towards his writing (35). In college, Henry started to read many books from college library (Stanley 17). On August 30, 1837, Henry graduated from Harvard University (Olson 37).
After graduating from Harvard University Henry did not knew what to do for living (Stanley 18). He was usually was call upon to do land surveying but he thought it was not a great profession although he had a skill to do land surveying (17). Ralph Waldo Emerson was Henry’s great friend and mentor as Henry got many ideas from Emerson towards his writing (Olson 9). Emerson also allowed Henry to live in his house until Henry has some job to do (Stanley 18). While living with Emerson, Henry was introduced to,” Concord’s elite circle of writers and philosophers” (18). While living with Emerson, Henry thought, he needed to do something in order for living so he did, “odd jobs like gardening and fence mending” (8).
Emerson held informal meeting at his house in which the group of writers and philosophers were welcomed to attend (Olson 27). Henry was also present during these meetings (27). Transcendentalists were the people who used to attend these meeting (Stanley 18). They talked about topics such as political, cultural and regional etc (Olson 27). These Transcendentalists were concerned about, “society’s materialism” (Stanley 18). “They believed each person is born with an inner voice, or conscience, and those who live simple lives, close to nature, can hear the inner voice more clearly” (18). These Transcendentalists people keep their journals with them for writing their ideas and works (19). The Transcendentalists influenced Henry so much that he came up with this famous quote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears however measured or far away” (19).
After college, Thoreau gave many lectures in Concord Lyceum (Stanley 87). On April 11, 1838, Thoreau made his first lecture in Concord Lyceum (Olson 43). His topic of first lecture was “Society” (43). On 1838, Lyceum elected Henry as secretary and curator but due to various reasons, he only held these positions until December 1840 (43). Thoreau wrote and read many lectures about Nature while working in Concord Lyceum (Stanley 8). Thoreau disliked slavery as in Concord Lyceum he lectured against it in his lecture, “Slavery in Massachusetts” (Woodlief).
Thoreau also supported John Brown efforts in ending slavery as he told in front of Concord Lyceum in his lecture, “A Plea for Captain John Brown” (Woodlief). Henry David Thoreau gave nineteen lectures in Concord Lyceum (Stanley 87-88). Henry was not paid anything for lecturing in Concord Lyceum (88). When Emerson said town and people of Concord Lyceum about fees people started giving fees (88). Due to Emerson help, fifty dollars was paid to Thoreau because of his lectures that he spoke (88). Thoreau’s fees in Concord Lyceum were always low (88). Thoreau did not care about fees in Concord Lyceum, as he only wanted to help people and show them right path (88).
In 1847, Thoreau worked as land surveyor (Meltzer 86). Thoreau was appointed surveyor-in-chief by Concord (86). As a surveyor-in-chief, Thoreau has to do many jobs such as, “to lay out roads, walk the bounds with town officials, and supply the technical documents for lawsuits involving his craft” (86). Thoreau left his land surveying paper after his death. (86). His land paper were so complete that it included every farm in town (87). Most of Thoreau’s surveys were made between 1849 and 1861 (87). According to Meltzer the survey made between 1849 and 1861 were about two hundred. These surveys are still found in Concord Free Public Library (87). Thoreau was able to make more than one hundred and fifty land surveys (87).
Most of the Thoreau’s surveys were made in Concord but some were in different cities (87). Even modern land surveyors who use modern technologies and tools appreciate Thoreau’s work (87). They said his work as a land surveyor was phenomenal (87). Modern surveyors made surveys of Walden Pond could not disproves, “Thoreau conclusion” about Walden Pond, “made only from a string and a stone” (87). Thoreau as a talent land surveyor he made the map of Walden (Olson 80). Thoreau was very conservative when it came to land and because of him, government made the, “National Park Service (NPS) in 1916” (81). The National Park Service was more than fifty million acres (81). It, “became important part of America’s conservative effort” (81). The National Park Service “preserves natural resources and save the nation’s forest for future generations” (81).
After studying in college, Henry David Thoreau tried to teach schools in Concord (Stanley 18). After two weeks of teaching schools, Henry David Thoreau was fired because, “he was expected to flog children if they were bad” (18). So as a teacher Henry David Thoreau was not successful”(18). After college, Thoreau also worked in his father’s pencil making business (Woodlief). Although Thoreau worked in his father’s pencil, making business he really did not wanted to join him in his pencil making business due to various reasons (Stanley 18).
In 1838 Henry’s brother John and he himself, “took over Concord Academy” (18). In Concord academy they started to teach students as they,” introduced many new ideas in education” (18). In Concord academy, “John and Henry took students for weekly nature walks to observe animals and plants so that they would learn through discoveries and firsthand experience” (18). Henry and his brother were very profitable in running Concord Academy (18). The academy closed in 1840 due to John’s sickness (18). The Concord Academy was very successful when John and Henry ran it (18).
In 1843, when Henry David Thoreau was twenty-six years old, “he believed he was ready to make literature his profession” (Meltzer 53). Henry’s first writing work came in the periodical named Dial published by Hedge Club (Olson 48). In his first work, he wrote a poem named “Sympathy” (48). The poem was about Thoreau’s friend Edmund Sewall, “a young friend whose free and pure spirit Thoreau admired” (48). Margaret Fuller was the first editor of Dial (48). She remained editor of Dial from 1840 to 1842 (50). Tension between Thoreau and the editor Margaret Fuller began as later Margaret Fuller rejected many essays and articles written by Thoreau (48).
Margaret Fuller also rejected Thoreau’s essay, which was about, “four-day walk Thoreau took with Fuller brother, Richard” (48). Thoreau was rumored to like Margaret Fuller and wanted to marry her (48-50). In 1842, Emerson became editor of Dial as a result Thoreau’s essay was more published in Dial (50). Henry David Thoreau wrote an essay on nature in an edition of Dial called “Natural History of Massachusetts” (50). In 1844, Thoreau wrote his last essay in the edition of Dial (97).
In 1839, Henry and his brother went for a trip together (Olson 53). Their trip was to sail from Concord River to Merrimack River (53). For going on this trip, they needed transportation system, so they made a boat called Musketaquid (53). Musketaquid is a Native American name for Concord River (53). The boat they made was fifteen ft in length and three feet in width. This trip provides material was Thoreau’s book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (53). On the trip Henry went with his journal to write down ideas and notes about the trip (Stanley 15). Henry David Thoreau published his notes for the book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers ten years after the trip (16). During the trip, the friendship between Henry and John grew, as they became more and more close (Olson 55).
For the past few years, Henry and John used to hate each other, as they wanted to marry same woman named Ellen Sewall (55). Although Henry wanted to marry Ellen Sewall, he never got married to anyone (6). In 1849 Henry’s, book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers was published. The book was not that popular when it was published as only two hundred twenty copies of that book was sold when it was published but in the modern times the book got more and more popular (53). Shortly after the trip, Henry’s brother John died on January 11, 1842, from lockjaw, which was caused by cut while John was shaving (Woodlief). After John’s death Henry was, “freed to become what he really wanted to be: a writer who embraced the transcendentalist notion of the self-reliant man” (Olson 57).
On July 4, 1845, when Thoreau was 27 years old he started living near Walden Pond (Stanley 20). The Walden Pond became the sight of his famous book Walden or Life in the Woods (Olson 58). Henry David Thoreau admired Walden Pond and it beauty when he was very young (Burleigh 6). Thoreau book Walden or Life in the Woods was based on the beauty of nature as many of Thoreau’s work came from nature (6). Near Walden Pond, “he often walk and sees the animals, river and trees, all beauties of nature and writes it’s down in his journal” (6). Walden or Life in the Woods was a book that described lifestyle of Henry after returning from Concord to Walden Pond and how he spent his life near Walden Pond (Olson 60). Near Walden Pond Thoreau built up his own cabin (Woodlief).
Thoreau’s cabin was built on the land owned by Emerson (Woodlief). While living in Walden Thoreau did extensive amount of reading and writing (Woodlief). While living in Walden Thoreau looked up the nature very closely (Woodlief). While living in Walden Thoreau just saw the nature all day long (Burleigh 10). While living near Walden Thoreau, “wanted to get so close to nature that he became one with it” (10). Henry went to Walden because he wanted to prove himself (14). “He wanted to show that someone could live very, very simply” (14). Thoreau went to Walden, as he wanted to enjoy his life (16).
Thoreau didn’t like any luxuries in his life, as he wanted to be as simple as he could (16). At Walden, he lived very simple life as he with only forty-seven dollars he provided himself with food, clothing and shelter (Olson 60). In Walden, Thoreau made a desk for himself in which he wrote Walden or Life in the Woods and his famous essay “Civil Disobedience” (Meltzer 85). Thoreau got his intelligence from, “natural world and the experiences of his life” (13). Walden or Life in the Woods was the last book that he published and it was the last book published before his death (61). Walden or Life in the Woods was not that popular on its publication and did not make a lot of money but it was one of the famous works of American literature (12).
After returning from Walden Thoreau had very tough time in Concord (Olson 65). Henry David Thoreau got imprisonment for not paying his poll tax for last several years (66). He refused to pay his poll taxes because he was against Mexican War as he thought it was another way to extend slavery in U.S (Meltzer 77).Sam Staples was the constable who arrested Thoreau (66). Sam offered to give money for Thoreau but he rejected (Olson 66). Thoreau got so angry that he asked Staples to quit from his job as a constable (66). Thoreau was surprised to find out the conditions of jail in which he was (68). He said, “it was the neatest apartment in town” (68). While Thoreau was in the jail, that night a woman came and paid poll taxes for Thoreau (Meltzer 76). The woman who came neither told who she was nor shared her identity (76). Some people thought that woman who came was the Thoreau’s aunt Marla (76).
When Thoreau was free to go, he refused it and was “mad as the devil!” (77). In the jail, Thoreau started to write his essay called “Resistance to Government” later called “Civil Disobedience” (77). Many of Thoreau ideas in his essay were shares by many abolitionists (Olson 71). As always Thoreau essay got little popularity in the beginning (Meltzer 79). In 1866, four years after Thoreau’s death his essay was renamed as “Civil Disobedience (79). In his essay he said, “that a law should be respected not because it is a law, but only if it is just and right. If unjust laws exist, civil disobedience, such as refusing to pay taxes, is an effective way to oppose and change them” (80). Thoreau thought there were two types of laws, conscience laws and government laws and “when these two laws conflict, it’s citizen duty to obey the voice of conscience rather than that of government” (81).
Many people were influenced by Thoreau because his essay “Civil Disobedience” and not paying his poll taxes (“Part Way with Thoreau”). Among these people were two great leaders known as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. (Meltzer 81). As people were influenced by Thoreau, during Vietnam War four hundred and forty eight writers didn’t pay their poll taxes and protested against them (“Part Way with Thoreau”). During their protest, they had two major points (“Part Way with Thoreau”). The first point was, “None of us voluntarily will pay the proposed ten percent surcharged or any war designated tax increase” (“Part Way with Thoreau”). Their second point was, “Many of us will not pay that twenty three percent of our current income tax which is being used to finance the war” (“Part Way with Thoreau”).
In Thoreau’s last twenty years, he began his observation about vegetation in Concord (Gray). Thoreau’s goal was, “to find God in nature” (Gray). Henry got his goal about nature from his mind and from Emerson (Gray). After leaving Walden, Thoreau tried to find scientific things in nature (Gray). In 1999, Thoreau book Wild Fruit was published (Gray). The book was imprint because of Thoreau’s friend Bradley Dean (Gray). The manuscript of this book was “neatly stacked and wrapped at time of his death” (Gray).
The manuscript of the book was lost many times because of change of owners of Thoreau’s house and due to it bad handwriting (Gray). This book was written as Thoreau took notes on each plant in order, which they grew (Gray). In that book, the sentences were mainly poetic (Gray). In the book, he asks people to pay close attention to fruit grown by nature (Gray). In the book he take stand against destruction of environment especially wilderness (Gray). The advised Thoreau made during the book was to, “let us try to keep the New World new” (Gray). His advised is being taken a century later (Gray).
After writing this book Thoreau traveled to Main Woods and Cape Cod very often as traveling there he was interested in Native American and their frontiers (Woodlief). In 1860, Thoreau got a cold as the symptoms of tuberculosis such as cold created problems for him (Olson 84). Tuberculosis also created problems for his family as Henry’s elder sister who was a schoolteacher died of tuberculosis (Meltzer 12). Even with cold, he lectured in lyceum in Waterbury, Connecticut (Olson 84). Thoreau’ cold felt worse after the lecture “as he found that his deepened into bronchitis” (84). Later his cold and health got much worse (84). On May 1861, he planned to go to trip to Minnesota in order to study plants (84). The trip was not fully completed due to Thoreau’s bad health (86).
Thoreau thought his end of his live was very near (86). In September 1861, he made his last visit to Walden (86). On November 3, 1861, Thoreau made his one last final entry in his journal (86). Thoreau last words before his death was, “Moose and Indian” (Woodlief). Henry David Thoreau died on May 6, 1862 at the age of forty-four years (Meltzer 145). Henry left his essays and his two books after his death (Woodlief). Henry also left his huge journal after his death, which was later published in twenty volumes (Woodlief).
After Thoreau’s death, his friend Emerson and Luisa May Alcott wrote memorials for him (Woodlief). Emerson memorial was, “Emerson eulogy” and May’s memorial was, “Thoreau’s Flute” (Woodlief). “Thoreau is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. The cemetery also contains the graves of authors such as Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Thoreau long time friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson is also buried in the cemetery” (Olson 87).
Although Henry David Thoreau was very simple, he gave many things to people in this world that people can benefit from. His works on nature forced people to realize that our nature was something as people benefited from Thoreau’s work almost a century later (Olson 88).
Burleigh, Robert. A Man Named Thoreau. New York: Atheneum, 1985. Gray, Paul. “Unregarded Berries.” Time 29 November 1999. 18 May 2009 <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,992699,00.html> Meltzer, Milton. A Biography Henry David Thoreau. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2007. Olson, Steven P. Henry David Thoreau American Naturalist, Writer, And Transcendentalists. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc, 2006. “Part Way with Thoreau.” Time 9 February 1968. 5 May 2009 <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,844391,00.html> Stanley, Phyllis M. American Environmental Heroes. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc, 1996. Woodlief, Ann. “Henry David Thoreau.” American Transcendentalism Web. 26 June 2007. 19 May 2009 <http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/thoreau/>
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