Henry David Thoreau, 1817 - 1862

Henry David Thoreau was a writer, philosopher, and naturalist who was born and lived in Concord, Massachusetts.  From 1841 to 1843, he resided in the home of essayist and Transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He had a lifelong friendship and association with Emerson, who introduced him to other writers and nonconformist thinkers who were making Concord the center of new ideas.  Among them were Amos Bronson Alcott, W. Ellery Channing, Margaret Fuller, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Essentially a philosopher of individualism, Thoreau placed nature above materialism in private life and ethics above conformity in politics.  He published essays, poems, and reviews in various magazines, including the Dial, whose editorship he assumed briefly in 1843 when Emerson was away.  In 1845, in what has become a much-celebrated experiment, Thoreau built and lived in a crude hut on the shore of Walden Pond.  Here he devoted his time to studying nature, meditating on philosophical problems, reading classic literature, and holding long conversations with his neighbors.  By no means a hermit, he frequently walked to the village, entertained visitors at his house, and hired himself out as a surveyor.  After his Walden experience, Thoreau plied his skills as a surveyor to earn what little money he needed for the things that he could not "grow or make or do without."  He spent his free time walking, studying, and writing.  Like John Muir, Thoreau derived inspiration and spiritual sustenance from exploring the wilderness and was quite adept and inventive at woodcraft.  He lectured at the Concord Lyceum and elsewhere in New England, and once traveled as far west as Philadelphia.  He became increasingly involved with social and political issues, often speaking out against economic injustice and slavery.  In 1846, following Alcott's example, he chose to go to jail rather than support the Mexican War (1846 - 1848) by paying his poll tax.  Thoreau clarified his position in his essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849), in which he also discussed passive resistance--a method of protest that later was adopted by Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi as well as by civil rights activists in the United States.  At the age of 44, the "self-appointed inspector of snowstorms" died of tuberculosis.
Only two of Thoreau's major works were published during his lifetime: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854).  His two major posthumous works are The Maine Woods and Cape CodA Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is the narrative of a boating trip that Thoreau took with his brother John in 1839.  In Walden, his most enduring and popular work, Thoreau explained his motives for living apart from society and devoting himself to a simple lifestyle including the observation of nature.