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Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was an American writer, a dissenter, and, after Emerson, the outstanding transcendentalist. He is best known for his classic book, "Walden."

Though a minority of one, largely ignored in his own day, Henry David Thoreau has since become a world influence. His criticism of living only for money and material values apparently carries more conviction all the time. His advocacy of civil disobedience against an unjust government, though it caused hardly a ripple in his time, later influenced Mohandas Gandhi's campaign for Indian independence and still influences many of today's radicals. But Thoreau was not only a disseminator of major ideas. He was a superb literary craftsman and the most notable American nature writer.

Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, Mass., and lived there most of his life; it became, in fact, his universe. His parents were permanently poor. He attended Concord Academy, where his record was good but not outstanding. Nevertheless, he entered Harvard in 1833 as a scholarship student. Young as he was, he established a reputation at Harvard of being an individualist. He was friendly enough with his fellow students, yet he soon saw that many of their values could never become his.

After Thoreau graduated in 1837, he faced the problem of earning a living. He taught briefly in the town school, taught for a longer while at a private school his brother John had started, and also made unsuccessful efforts to find a teaching job away from home. Meanwhile, he was spending a good deal of time writing—he had begun a journal in 1837 which ran to 14 volumes of close-packed print when published after his death. He wanted, he decided, to be a poet.

But America starved its poets as a rule, and Thoreau spent much of his life attempting to do just what he wanted and at the same time to survive. For he wanted to live as a poet as well as to write poetry. He loved nature and could stay indoors only with effort. The beautiful woods, meadows, and waters of the Concord neighborhood attracted him like a drug. He wandered among them by day and by night, observing the world of nature closely and sympathetically. He named himself, half humorously, "inspector of snow-storms and rainstorms."

The town gossiped about this Harvard graduate who sauntered around instead of working 12 hours a day. However, Thoreau made few concessions either to opinion or to his economic needs. He did odd jobs; he helped from time to time in the pencil-making and graphite business his father had started but which barely kept them alive; he developed skill as a surveyor.

Thoreau's struggles were watched with compassion by an older Concord neighbor who was also one of America's great men, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson proved to be his best friend. He assisted Thoreau with all the tact at his command. In 1841 Emerson invited Thoreau to live at his home and to make himself useful there only when it would not interfere with his writing. In 1843 he got Thoreau a job tutoring in Staten Island, N.Y., so that he could be close to the New York City literary market. The idea was a failure, but the fault was not Emerson's. In 1847 he invited Thoreau to stay with his family again while Emerson himself went to Europe.

Most of the time, however, Thoreau lived at home. A small room was all he needed. He never married, and he required little. At one point he built a cabin at Walden Pond just outside Concord, on land owned by Emerson, and lived in it during 1845 and 1846. Here he wrote much of his book Walden.

Through these various expedients Thoreau managed to find time to do a substantial amount of other writing too. Some of his most interesting early work was poetry. But he gradually came to feel that the form of poetry was too confining and that prose was his proper medium. He wrote some philosophical and literary essays, especially for a little magazine Emerson was editing called the Dial. Of the philosophical essays the most famous nowadays is "Civil Disobedience." First printed in 1849 (after the demise of the Dial), it describes Thoreau's taxpayer's rebellion against the Federal government in protest against the war with Mexico, his brief imprisonment, and his rationale for resistance. He urges that conscience must be man's guide and that when one encounters a law he considers unjust he can disobey it if he is willing to accept the consequences.

Literary Works

Thoreau wrote nature essays both early and late in his career. They range from the "Natural History of Massachusetts" (1842), which is supposedly a review but is actually a delightful discussion on the world of nature around him, to the felicitous and poetic "Autumnal Tints" and "Walking" (both 1862), which appeared shortly after his death. He also wrote three rather slender volumes that might be termed travel books. Each was made up of essays and was first serialized in part in a magazine. They were published in book form after Thoreau's death: The Maine Woods (1864), Cape Cod (1865), and A Yankee in Canada (1866).

Thoreau's two most interesting books defy categorizing. They are not travel books; they are not polemics; they are not reflective essays. The first is A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), issued at his own expense. Using as a framework two river excursions he and his brother John had made, Thoreau drew heavily from his journal of that time. He filled out the book with other journalizing, bits of poetry, old college themes, and youthful philosophizing. The result was a book which a few enthusiasts hailed but which the public ignored.

Walden (1854), however, attracted disciples from the beginning, and today editions of it crowd the bookshelves of the world. Though basically it is an account of Thoreau's stay beside Walden Pond, it is also many other things, all combined in a cunning and, indeed, unique synthesis. It is a how-to-do-it book, for it tells how to live one's life with a minimum of distasteful labor. It is an apologia. It is a spiritual (or rather, philosophical) autobiography. It is a book of seasons. And it is a defiant cockcrow to the world, for Thoreau was crowing in triumph at his ability to live as he pleased; in fact, the original title page had a rooster on it.

Involment in Public Affairs

Writing Walden was the high point of Thoreau's life and his main manifesto. Yet there were other important things that involved him. He believed that a writer's work and his life should be one, though he sometimes asserted the opposite. At any rate, he devoted both his writing and his life increasingly to public issues. With word and deed he had fought against the Mexican-American war of the mid-1840s. And in the next decade he became totally involved in the struggle against slavery. In John Brown he found his only hero: he became Brown's friend and ardent defender, and after Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry Thoreau spoke out for him in the most fiery words he ever used.

Thoreau always marched to the sound of his own drum, as he said in one of his most enduring aphorisms, and yet the changing times had some effect on him. In the 1840s he was still advising the abolitionists to free themselves before trying to free the slaves, but by the time he stood up for John Brown, he had become a confirmed abolitionist himself. In the 1840s he still opposed war both in theory and practice. Yet when the Civil War came, he welcomed it. The thing that distinguished him was a matter of degree: he demonstrated, far more than most men, that his actions resulted from a consistent application of his personal philosophy.

The Transcendentalist

Thoreau was, so to speak, a working transcendentalist. He applied the rather vague philosophy of transcendentalism in a concrete and individual way. Transcendentalists believed in principles higher than the mundane ones that actuated the general run of Americans. Thoreau put his personal stamp on those higher principles and translated them into action. For example, when a neighbor wanted to hire him to build a wall, Thoreau asked himself whether this was the best way to use his time and decided it was much better to walk in the woods. Transcendentalists esteemed nature, both as symbol and actuality. Thoreau made Mother Nature into something like a deity, and he spent more time in the world of nature than any other transcendentalist.

As he grew into middle age, Thoreau inevitably made a few concessions. He had to take over the little family business after his father died, since there was no one else to do it. He did some surveying. He became more of a botanist and less of a transcendentalist; his later journal shows fewer references to philosophy and more descriptions of flora and fauna. He also had to make concessions to age itself. His spells of illness increased during the 1850s. By December 1861 he no longer left the Thoreau house; by the next spring he could hardly talk above a whisper. He died of consumption on May 6, 1862. In spite of the contentiousness of his life, his end was peaceful. "Never saw a man dying with so much pleasure and peace, " one of his townsmen observed.

Emerson's Assessment

The best analysis of Thoreau's character was Emerson's funeral elegy for him. Emerson was well aware of Thoreau's devotion to his principles and said that he "had a perfect probity." Emerson also realized, perhaps better than anyone else, that Thoreau gave an edge to his probity by his willingness to say no, to dispute, to deny. Thoreau was a born protestant: that was Emerson's way of putting it. He went on to observe that Thoreau had "interrogated every custom, and wished to settle all his practice on an ideal foundation."

Emerson characterized Thoreau as a hermit and stoic but added that he had a softer side which showed especially when he was with young people he liked. Furthermore, Thoreau was resourceful and ingenious; he had to be, to live the life he wanted. He was patient and tenacious, as a man had to be to get the most out of nature. He could have been a notable leader, given all those qualities, but, Emerson remarked sadly, Thoreau chose instead to be merely the captain of a huckleberry party. Nevertheless, Thoreau was a remarkable man, and Emerson gave him the highest possible praise by calling him wise. "His soul, " said Emerson in conclusion, "was made for the noblest society."

Further Reading

The best biography of Thoreau is Walter Harding, The Days of Henry Thoreau (1965). It can be supplemented by The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau (1958), edited by Harding and Carl Bode. The only book devoted exclusively to Walden is a good one: Charles R. Anderson, The Magic Circle of Walden (1968), which analyzes Thoreau's classic purely as literature. On Thoreau's writing in general there is a fine book by Sherman Paul, The Shores of America: Thoreau's Inward Exploration (1958). Thoreau's writing is seen in its literary context in Francis O. Matthiessen's remarkable study of the American literary impulse in the middle of the 19th century, American Renaissance (1941; repr. 1968). □

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Thoreau, Henry David

Henry David Thoreau

Born: July 12, 1817
Concord, Massachusetts
Died: May 6, 1862
Concord, Massachusetts

American writer

Henry David Thoreau was an accomplished American writer, as well as an outstanding transcendentalist, a person who seeks to rise above common thought or ideas. He is best known for his classic book, Walden.

New England childhood

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts, and lived there most of his life; it became, in fact, his universe. His parents were permanently poor, as his father failed in several business ventures. Thoreau was raised along with three siblings, but his brother's death in 1842 and a sister's death in 1849 deeply affected him. He attended Concord Academy, where his record was good but not outstanding. Nevertheless, he entered Harvard University in 1833 as a scholarship student. Young as he was he established a reputation at Harvard for being an individualist, one who follows his own will. He was friendly enough with his fellow students, yet he soon saw that many of their values could never become his.

After Thoreau graduated in 1837, he faced the problem of earning a living. He taught briefly in the town school, taught for a longer while at a private school his brother John had started, and also made unsuccessful efforts to find a teaching job away from home. Meanwhile, he was spending a good deal of time writinghe had begun a journal in 1837, which ran to fourteen volumes of close-packed print when published after his death. He wanted, he decided, to be a poet.

Enchanted by nature

America was not supportive of its poets as a rule. Thoreau spent much of his life attempting to do just what he wanted while at the same time surviving, for he wanted to live as a poet as well as to write poetry. He loved nature and could stay indoors only with effort. The beautiful woods, meadows, and waters of the Concord neighborhood attracted him like a drug. He wandered among them by day and by night, observing the world of nature closely and sympathetically. He named himself, half humorously, "inspector of snow-storms and rainstorms."

Thoreau's struggles were watched with compassion by an older Concord neighbor, who was also one of America's great menRalph Waldo Emerson (18031882). Emerson proved to be Thoreau's best friend. In 1841 Emerson invited Thoreau to live at his home and to make himself useful there only when it would not interfere with his writing. In 1843 he got Thoreau a job tutoring in Staten Island, New York, so that he could be close to the New York City literary market.

Most of the time, however, Thoreau lived at home. A small room was all he needed. He never married, and he required little. At one point he built a cabin at Walden Pond just outside Concord, on land owned by Emerson, and lived in it from 1845 to 1846. There, he wrote much of his book Walden.

Literary works

Thoreau wrote nature essays both early and late in his career. They range from the "Natural History of Massachusetts" (1842), which is supposedly a review but seems to be a delightful discussion on the world of nature around him, to the poetic "Autumnal Tints" and "Walking" (both 1862), which appeared shortly after his death. He also wrote three rather slender volumes that might be termed travel books: The Maine Woods (1864), Cape Cod (1865), and A Yankee in Canada (1866). Each was made up of essays and was first serialized (arranged and distributed at set times by a publisher) in a magazine. They were published in book form after Thoreau's death on May 6, 1862.

Thoreau's two most interesting books are hard to classify, or sort. They are not travel books, nor are they polemics (arguments to oppose an accepted opinion). The first is A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), issued at his own expense. As a framework he used two river adventures he and his brother John had made, and he drew heavily from his journal of that time. He filled out the book with other journalizing (keeping a record of), bits of poetry, old college themes, and youthful philosophizing (seeking knowledge). The result was a book that a few enthusiasts (people who follow a special interest) hailed but that the public ignored.

Walden (1854), however, attracted followers from the beginning, and today editions of it crowd the bookshelves of the world. Though basically it is an account of Thoreau's stay beside Walden Pond, it is also many other things. It is a how-to-do-it book, for it tells how to live one's life with a minimum of distasteful labor. It is an apologia, or formal defense. It is a spiritual (or rather, philosophical) autobiography (a book written about oneself). It is a book of seasons. And it is a defiant declaration to the world, for Thoreau was crowing in triumph at his ability to live as he pleased.

The transcendentalist

Thoreau was, so to speak, a working transcendentalist. Thoreau put his personal stamp on those higher ideals of transcendentalism and translated them into action. For example, when a neighbor wanted to hire him to build a wall, Thoreau asked himself whether this was the best way to use his time and decided it was much better to walk in the woods. Transcendentalists regarded nature, both as symbol and actuality. Thoreau made Mother Nature into something like a deity, or god, and he spent more time in the world of nature than any other transcendentalist.

As Thoreau grew into middle age, he inevitably made a few changes. He had to take over the little family business after his father died, since there was no one else to do it. He did some surveying (mapping out land for development) and he became more of a botanist (one who studies plants) and less of a transcendentalist. His spells of illness increased during the 1850s. By December 1861 he no longer left the Thoreau house. By the next spring he could hardly talk above a whisper. He died on May 6, 1862. In spite of the painful last years of his life, his end was peaceful. "Never saw a man dying with so much pleasure and peace," one of his townsmen observed.

During an elegy (a poem to praise the dead) for Thoreau, Emerson characterized him as a hermit and stoic (unaffected by pleasure or pain), but added that he had a softer side that showed especially when he was with young people he liked. Furthermore, Thoreau was resourceful and ingenioushe had to be, to live the life he wanted. He was patient and had to be to get the most out of nature. He could have been a notable leader, given all of those qualities, but, Emerson remarked sadly, Thoreau chose a different path. Nevertheless, Thoreau was a remarkable man, and Emerson gave him the highest possible praise by calling him wise. "His soul," said Emerson in conclusion, "was made for the noblest society."

For More Information

Anderson, Charles R. The Magic Circle of Walden. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1968.

Harding, Walter. The Days of Henry Thoreau. New York: Knopf, 1965. Reprint, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Paul, Sherman. The Shores of America: Thoreau's Inward Exploration. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1958. Reprint, New York, Russell & Russell, 1971.

Richardson, Robert D. Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

Salt, Henry Stephens. The Life of Henry David Thoreau. London: R. Bentley & Son, 1890.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862. Multiple reprints.

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Thoreau, Henry David

THOREAU, HENRY DAVID

Henry David Thoreau was a nineteenth-century philosopher and writer who denounced materialistic modes of living and encouraged people to act according to their own beliefs of right and wrong, even if doing so required breaking the law. His writings, especially his call for nonviolent resistance to government injustice, have inspired many later reformers.

Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard College in 1837. During his college years, he was greatly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the

leader of the transcendental movement. Thoreau became a personal friend of the eminent author and spent several years as Emerson's houseguest. Their long friendship was a significant influence on Thoreau's writing and philosophy.

Through Emerson, Thoreau met many other brilliant thinkers and writers of the time, including Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Amos Bronson Alcott. This group of transcendentalists supported a plain and simple lifestyle spent searching for the truth beyond one's taught beliefs. Unlike some of the other transcendentalists, Thoreau lived out many of their beliefs. Thoreau's first work, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, was published in 1849 and is considered the definitive statement of his transcendalist beliefs.

For several years in the 1830s and 1840s, Thoreau refused to pay poll taxes to the government as a way of protesting slavery, which the government permitted. The poll tax was levied on all men over the age of twenty. Thoreau was finally jailed overnight for this refusal in 1841 but was bailed out by his relatives who paid his back taxes for him.

From July 4, 1845, to September 6, 1847, Thoreau lived alone at Walden Pond, Massachusetts, on a plot of land owned by Emerson. There Thoreau devoted his time to studying nature and writing. While at Walden Pond, he wrote Walden, a collection of essays about nature and human nature that was published in 1854.

Later Thoreau became outraged by the Mexican War, which he believed was caused by greed for Mexican land, and by the fugitive slave act, which helped slave owners recover escaped slaves. As a result of this outrage, Thoreau wrote an essay that was published in 1849 under the title Civil Disobedience (Thoreau's original title was Resistance to Civil Government). The essay contended that each person owes a greater duty to his own conscience and belief system than is owed to the government. Thus, Thoreau encouraged people to refuse to obey laws that they believe are unjust.

Civil Disobedience also supported theories of anarchy based upon Thoreau's insistence that people misuse government. He argued that the Mexican War was started by just a few people who used the U.S. government as a tool. Thoreau maintained that because the U.S. system of government was slow to correct itself through the will of the majority, people should immediately withdraw their support from government and act according to their beliefs of what is right.

"I wish to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach."
—Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau did not approve of violent resistance to government, however. He advocated peaceful or passive resistance. In 1859, when john brown staged a violent revolt against

slavery, Thoreau believed that Brown was right in acting according to his beliefs even though his actions were against the law. Although Thoreau did not admire the violent method that Brown used in trying to stop slavery, Thoreau did admire Brown's commitment to doing what he believed was right. In 1859 Thoreau published The Last Days of John Brown, an essay describing how Brown's actions convinced many Northerners that slavery must be totally abolished.

Thoreau's writings and philosophy greatly influenced many important world figures. For example, the reformer Leo Tolstoy of Russia, mohandas gandhi of India, martin luther king jr., and other leaders of the U.S. civil rights movement were inspired by Thoreau's ideas. Thoreau died of tuberculosis on May 6, 1862, in Concord, Massachusetts.

further readings

Bennett, Jane. 1994. Thoreau's Nature: Ethics, Politics, and the Wild. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Lawry, Robert P. 2002. "Ethics in the Shadow of the Law: The Political Obligation of a Citizen." Case Western Reserve Law Review 52 (spring).

Thoreau, Henry David. 2000. Walden; and, Civil Disobedience: Complete Texts with Introduction, Historical Contexts, Critical Essays. Ed. by Paul Lauter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

cross-references

Anarchism.

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"Thoreau, Henry David." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Thoreau, Henry David

Thoreau, Henry David 18171862

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Writer, naturalist, theorist of civil disobedience, and anti-slavery activist, Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, and lived there most of his life. A graduate of Harvard College, his most formative intellectual experience was his friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882). The central figure of New England transcendentalism, Emerson famously called on individuals to dispense with traditional religious and intellectual authorities and seek truth and divinity for themselves. Thoreau spent his life answering Emersons call to establish an original relation to the universe (Emerson 1983, p. 7).

Thoreaus most concerted effort to connect directly with the universe was his two-year sojourn in the woods at Walden Pond. Thoreau lived in a cabin of his own making, sustained himself by his own labor, looked inward, and observed nature. He recounted his experience magisterially in Walden (1854): I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived (Thoreau 2004b, p. 90). Walden urges mental awakening and original perception; it also urges simple living so that one may free oneself from the relentless acquisition of material goods and the unquenchable thirst for riches.

In 1846, Thoreau had a brush with the law that spawned his other great contribution to American letters. Walking through town, he ran into the tax collector, who demanded that he pay his poll tax. Thoreau refused because he did not want his money going to support the Mexican War, which Thoreau saw as an indefensible attempt to extend the reach of American slavery. The tax collector threw Thoreau in jail; the next day an acquaintance paid the tax for Thoreau, much to Thoreaus irritation. Thoreaus night in jail became the occasion for Resistance to Civil Governmenthis 1849 essay defending his refusal to pay the tax and arguing that morally unconscionable laws are not binding. Eventually re-titled Civil Disobedience, Thoreaus essay is the foun-dational text of the modern doctrine of civil disobedience: Citizens may justifiably defy laws which break with higher moral laws or with the moral foundations of the polity. In the twentieth century, Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi and American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. drew inspiration from Thoreau in formulating their respective theories of nonviolent resistance. Unlike Gandhi and King, however, Thoreau was not a committed pacifist.

Thoreau gave three more noteworthy antislavery addresses before his death. In Slavery in Massachusetts (1854), Thoreau excoriated the recently passed Fugitive Slave Law, which required free states such as Massachusetts to assist slave-owners in the recovery of their property. In A Plea for Captain John Brown (1859) and The Last Days of John Brown (1860), Thoreau defended Browns failed raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, which was part of Browns broader attempt to incite a slave insurrection throughout the South. Despite his hatred of slavery, the carnage of the Civil War greatly disturbed Thoreau. Falling ill just before its outbreak in 1861, he said he could never recover while the war lasted (Harding 1992, p. 451). Thoreau never did, dying of tuberculosis at the age of forty-four.

SEE ALSO Citizenship; Civil Disobedience; Civil Rights; Gandhi, Mohandas K.; Human Rights; Inequality, Racial; King, Martin Luther, Jr.; Pacifism; Passive Resistance; U.S. Civil War

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1983. Essays & Lectures, ed. Joel Porte.

New York: Library of America. Harding, Walter. 1992. The Days of Henry Thoreau: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rosenblum, Nancy L. 1996. Introduction. In Thoreau: Political Writings, ed. Nancy L. Rosenblum, viixxxi. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Thoreau, Henry David. 2004a. The Higher Law: Thoreau on Civil Disobedience and Reform, ed. Wendell Glick. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Thoreau, Henry David. [1854] 2004b. Walden, ed. J. Lyndon Shanley. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jack Turner

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Thoreau, Henry David

Henry David Thoreau (thôr´ō, thərō´), 1817–62, American author and naturalist, b. Concord, Mass., grad. Harvard, 1837. Thoreau is considered one of the most influential figures in American thought and literature. A supreme individualist, he championed the human spirit against materialism and social conformity. His most famous book, Walden (1854), is an eloquent account of his experiment in near-solitary living in close harmony with nature; it is also an expression of his transcendentalist philosophy (see transcendentalism).

Thoreau grew up in Concord and attended Harvard, where he was known as a serious though unconventional scholar. During his Harvard years he was exposed to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who later became his chief mentor and friend. After graduation, Thoreau worked for a time in his father's pencil shop and taught at a grammar school, but in 1841 he was invited to live in the Emerson household, where he remained intermittently until 1843. He served as handyman and assistant to Emerson, helping to edit and contributing poetry and prose to the transcendentalist magazine, The Dial.

In 1845 Thoreau built himself a small cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord; there he remained for more than two years, "living deep and sucking out all the marrow of life." Wishing to lead a life free of materialistic pursuits, he supported himself by growing vegetables and by surveying and doing odd jobs in the nearby village. He devoted most of his time to observing nature, reading, and writing, and he kept a detailed journal of his observations, activities, and thoughts. It was from this journal that he later distilled his masterpiece, Walden. The journal, begun in 1837, was also the source of his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), as well as of his posthumously published Excursions (1863), The Maine Woods (1864), Cape Cod (1865), and A Yankee in Canada (1866).

One of Thoreau's most important works, the essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849), grew out of an overnight stay in prison as a result of his conscientious refusal to pay a poll tax that supported the Mexican War, which to Thoreau represented an effort to extend slavery. Thoreau's advocacy of civil disobedience as a means for the individual to protest those actions of his government that he considers unjust has had a wide-ranging impact—on the British Labour movement, the passive resistance independence movement led by Gandhi in India, and the nonviolent civil-rights movement led by Martin Luther King in the United States.

Thoreau is also significant as a naturalist who emphasized the dynamic ecology of the natural world. Above all, Thoreau's quiet, one-man revolution in living at Walden has become a symbol of the willed integrity of human beings, their inner freedom, and their ability to build their own lives. Thoreau's writings, including his journals, were published in 20 volumes in 1906.

Bibliography

See his collected poems, ed. by C. Bode (rev. ed. 1964); his letters, ed. by C. Bode and W. Harding (1958, repr. 1974); his journals, ed. by B. Torrey and F. H. Allen (14 vol., 1906, repr. 2 vol., 1963); biographies by H. S. Canby (1939, repr. 1965) and J. W. Krutch (1948, repr. 1973); E. H. Wagenknecht, Henry David Thoreau (1981); R. Lebeaux, Thoreau's Seasons (1984) and Young Man Thoreau (1989); R. D. Richardson, Jr., Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (1986); R. Schneider, Henry David Thoreau (1987); L. Buell, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture (1995); W. B. Maynard, Walden Pond: A History (2004).

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Thoreau, Henry David

Thoreau, Henry David (1817–1862), transcendentalist, writer, war protester.Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts. A shy, quiet boy who loved the outdoors, Thoreau graduated from Harvard College in 1837, taught school intermittently until 1841, then turned to writing as a career. He subsequently led a simple life as one of the New England transcendentalists, writing poems, essays, and two books while trying to earn a living.

Although Thoreau may well have been the best remembered antiwar dissenter of his time, his protest against the Mexican War had no discernible effect on public opinion, the antiwar effort, or the conduct of the war. In July 1846, Thoreau, who had not paid his Massachusetts poll tax for several years, denounced the war in his annual brush with the tax collector, refused again to pay, and spent one night in jail before one of his friends paid the tax without his consent and Thoreau was released. Though he believed the war an immoral conflict to extend slavery, Thoreau viewed his own dissent as an individual act of protest, not an effort to work with or mobilize others to end the war. To Thoreau, it was the duty of each honest citizen directly to resist his government when it condoned or perpetuated an evil such as slavery or war to extend slavery.

Thoreau immortalized his protest in the essay Resistance to Civil Government, popularly known as “Civil Disobedience,” which was published in 1849. Although his actions attracted only local attention at the time, his essay achieved fame as the clear, well‐reasoned justification of an honest citizen protesting an immoral policy of his government. As such, “Civil Disobedience” became an influential manifesto for subsequent antiwar protesters and freedom fighters such as Mohandas K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
[See also Conscientious Objection; Peace and Antiwar Movements.]

Bibliography

John H. Schroeder , Mr. Polk's War: An American Opposition and Dissent, 1846–1848, 1973.
Richard Lebeaux , Thoreau's Seasons, 1984.

John H. Schroeder

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"Thoreau, Henry David." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Thoreau, Henry David

Thoreau, Henry David (1817–62) US writer and naturalist. He was a friend of fellow transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who encouraged him to keep the journals from which he quarried much of his later work. An ardent individualist, he experimented in living a near-solitary life, rejecting materialism and finding fulfilment in observing plant and animal life. His essay Civil Disobedience (1849) influenced many passive resistance movements. See also transcendentalism

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"Thoreau, Henry David." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/thoreau-henry-david