Was Thoreau a respected writer during his lifetime?
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I had to pare down the original question. There is much in way of clear evidence that Thoreau was well respected at his time of writing. Even though the full extent of Thoreau's ideas were probably not fully understood and comprehended until after his time had passed, Thoreau was seen as one of the leaders in the Transcendentalist movement at the time of his writing. Thoreau was seen as partners with Ralph Waldo Emerson in their articulation of the philosophical tenets of Transcendentalism. Thoreau never quite rose to the level of Emerson or beyond it. Yet, I do think that he was respected enough to be seen as a part of the movement that was seeking to create a significant change in American consciousness. At the same time, Thoreau was able to move his philosophical ideas into a realm of social action, as seen with his writings on slavery. Certainly, Thoreau was only able to find some level of success in this domain dur to his respect generated by his understanding at the time. It is here where I think that one could see that Thoreau was respected to a great extent during his time.
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