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American essayist, poet, and practical philosopher, Henry David Thoreau was a New England Transcendentalist and author of the book Walden.
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Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts. He began writing nature poetry in the 1840s, with poet Ralph Waldo Emerson as a mentor and friend. In 1845 he began his famous two-year stay on Walden Pond, which he wrote about in his master work, Walden. He also became known for his beliefs in Transcendentalism and civil disobedience, and was a dedicated abolitionist.
One of America's most famous writers, Henry David Thoreau is remembered for his philosophical and naturalist writings. He was born and raised in Concord, Massachusetts, along with his older siblings John and Helen and younger sister Sophia. His father operated a local pencil factory, and his mother rented out parts of the family's home to boarders.
A bright student, Thoreau eventually went to Harvard College (now Harvard University). There he studied Greek and Latin as well as German. According to some reports, Thoreau had to take a break from his schooling for a time because of illness. He graduated from college in 1837 and struggled with what do to next. At the time, an educated man like Thoreau might pursue a career in law or medicine or in the church. Other college graduates went into education, a path he briefly followed. With his brother John, he set up a school in 1838. The venture collapsed a few years later after John became ill. Thoreau then went to work for his father for a time.
After college, Thoreau befriended writer and fellow Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson. Through Emerson, he became exposed to Transcendentalism, a school of thought that emphasized the importance of empirical thinking and of spiritual matters over the physical world. It encouraged scientific inquiry and observation. Thoreau came to know many of the movement's leading figures, including Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller.
Emerson acted as a mentor to Thoreau and supported him in many ways. For a time, Thoreau lived with Emerson as a caretaker for his home. Emerson also used his influence to promote Thoreau's literary efforts. Some of Thoreau's first works were published in The Dial, a Transcendentalist magazine. And Emerson gave Thoreau access to the lands that would inspire one of his greatest works.
In 1845, Thoreau built a small home for himself on Walden Pond, on property owned by Emerson. He spent more than two years there. Seeking a simpler type of life, Thoreau flipped the standard routine of the times. He experimented with working as little as possible rather than engage in the pattern of six days on with one day off. Sometimes Thoreau worked as a land surveyor or in the pencil factory. He felt that this new approach helped him avoid the misery he saw around him. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," Thoreau once wrote.
His schedule gave him plenty of time to devote to his philosophical and literary interests. Thoreau worked on A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849). The book drew from a boating trip he took with his brother John in 1839. Thoreau eventually started writing about his Walden Pond experiment as well.
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