Henry David Thoreau

OF distant French extraction, David Henry-he renamed himself Henry David twenty years later-was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1817. It was then a small town surrounded by fields and woods. The boy's mother taught him to enjoy and love everything about nature: sunshine and rain, swimming and exploring the neighborhood, watching butterflies and birds, listening to wind and all kinds of sounds, and eventually fishing and hunting. During childhood and adolescence he naturally spent much time outdoors, often by himself. Subsequently, he never could be completely happy away from the countryside.

Time passed in the usual way, and when Thoreau grew up, he entered Harvard College ( 1834). He did it somewhat reluctantly, wanting to study and willing to spend long hours in the library, yet repelled by the red-tape of registration, routine of classes, regular assignments, and inevitable examinations. He felt as if he were a pawn pushed around, deprived of freedom, no longer an individual. His autobiographical Journals date back to this period ( 1837).

On graduation he tried to teach, but could not get along with school authorities. Finally his brother John and he contrived to open a school of their own and practised some educational methods far ahead of their time. The school was very successful and would probably have continued for a long time, were it not for John's health. John died in 1842, and the school closed its doors.

It was at this time that Thoreau and Emerson became friends; shortly afterwards Henry joined the transcendentalist group and built himself a hut on the shore of Walden Pond ( 1845). But at the end of two years he was back in his father's house, much matured physically and mentally, and joined the rest of the family in helping his father in his trade, that is, in making lead pencils. However, Walden, or Life in the Woods, was published much later ( 1854) and contained in addition to many lyrical observations of nature some very pertinent social criticisms.


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