Attacked by hostile critics such as James Russell Lowell for his nonconformity, Thoreau in some ways anticipated what came to be called the “counterculture.” Despite his criticism of a materialistic society, he did not “propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up” to the Transcendental belief that they can elevate themselves to a fuller, simpler, more intense life.
America’s greatest nature writer, Thoreau is a forefather of John Muir, Edward Abbey, and Aldo Leopold. Politically, he influenced William Morris and leaders of the British labor movement in the late nineteenth century. Leo Tolstoy called Walden one of the great books, and Robert Frost wrote that it “surpasses everything we have in America.” Frank Lloyd Wright spoke of its positive impact on American architecture, and President John F. Kennedy spoke of “Thoreau’s pervasive and universal influence on social thinking and political action.” Thoreau unquestionably wrote one of the indispensable classics of American literature.
Henry David Thoreau (christened David Henry Thoreau) was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1817, the third of four children of John Thoreau and Cynthia Thoreau. His father was a quiet man whose seeming lack of ambition had led to a series of unsuccessful attempts to establish himself as a shopkeeper prior to his finally establishing a very successful pencil factory in Concord. His mother was an outgoing, talkative woman who took in boarders to supplement the family’s income. Both parents were fond of nature and could often be seen taking the children picnicking in the Concord woods.
Thoreau received a good grammar school education at the Concord Academy and seems to have had an essentially pleasant and...
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Whether the words of Walden and “Resistance to Civil Government” (“Civil Disobedience”) or the actions on which they are based have had greater influence, it is clear that Thoreau’s life refutes the notion that the Transcendentalists spent their time in the clouds rather than on earth. A skilled observer of nature as well as a citizen who spoke his mind on current ethical questions, Thoreau made the idealism of Transcendental philosophy a part of his daily life. At Walden Pond, he put into practice Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice to be self-reliant and self-directed. He built his own house, planted his own garden, and lived without a conventional job for more than two years quite...
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Thoreau was an adherent of Transcendentalism, a nineteenth century New England movement that emphasized self-examination, religious feelings toward nature, individualism, and social reform. In order to come closer to nature so that he might arrive at a deeper understanding of himself, Thoreau withdrew from society in the 1840’s to live at Walden Pond. He stayed there for two years and supported himself in solitude. The experience provided the background for his most famous work, Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854). On one level this book was a response to the utopian communes that had become popular in the nineteenth century. Alone at Walden Pond, Thoreau felt free of the self-styled...
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Henry David Thoreau (thuh-ROH), defier of labels, was born before his time. If written thirty or forty years later, Walden might have surged to success on the tide of nature interest which benefited such writers as John Burroughs and John Muir. As it was, Thoreau was largely ignored by his own generation, which dismissed him as an impractical reformer. It was only later that he was recognized as one of the most original thinkers and one of the best prose writers of his time.
Along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thoreau is often referred to as a member of the “Concord Group”; of this trio, however, Thoreau alone could claim the town as his birthplace. The second son of John and Cynthia...
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Many of Henry David Thoreau’s writings are autobiographical, for he thought that the poet’s noblest work was his life. Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts, the third of four children of John and Cynthia Thoreau. The family name is French, and Henry’s paternal grandfather was a Protestant emigrant from Jersey, an island in the English Channel. His maternal grandfather was a Congregationalist minister. Thoreau was baptized David Henry but later reversed his first two names. His father, a quiet, subdued person, after failing as a shopkeeper, moved to Boston to teach school but returned to Concord when Henry was six and began to manufacture lead pencils. His mother was more energetic; active in community...
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