Henry David Thoreau 1817 1862

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Henry David Thoreau 1817---1862

  • The Doer
  • 1817---1862

Why is Thoreau different from others?

  • If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
  • --- Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau, The Great

  • 1. Dismissed as an idler, and a drifter and a minor writer and a wasted Harvard graduate, and almost forgotten in his day, and yet in our day, he is one of few writers who deserve the appellation “ great”.
  • 2. He put into practice of principles of plain living and high thinking.
  • 3. His journal of nearly 7000 pages transcribed his daily thoughts, observations, readings and encounters with nature and men.

Relationship with Emerson

  • 14 years younger than RWE
  • Friendship bloomed in late 1830s, after T’s graduation from Harvard
  • Throughout the 1840s, E encouraged T as a writer, particularly praising his poetry and getting him started on the topic of Nature

Relationship with Emerson

  • Shared political attitudes about slavery
  • Friendship cooled some in the 1850s, with T resenting E’s patronage & E critical of what he saw as T’s lack of ambition
  • RWE delivered the eulogy at T’s funeral: “No truer American existed than Thoreau

His life

  • 1. Born in Concord, Massachusetts, July 12, 1817
  • 2. In Harvard College in 1833, and graduated in 1837 as one of the honor students
  • 3. Opened a school, where he taught with his brother John
  • 4. 1839, made a trip on Concord and Merrimack rivers with John
  • 5. Helped Emerson edit The Dial and tutored Emerson’s children
  • 6. In March 1845 ( when 28)began to work on a cabin at Walden Pond, and on July 4, moved into the Walden cabin
  • 7. 1846, arrested for nonpayment of poll tax
  • 8. Published Walden on August 9, 1856
  • 9. Met Walt Whitman in Brooklyn 1856
  • 10. In 1860, contracted the cold that led to his fatal illness, and died in Concord on May 6, 1862
  • 11.In 1906, 20 volumes of Thoreau’s writings were published, including 14 volumes of his journal
  • Walden lake, where Thoreau found the real meaning of life.
  • A reproduction of the cabin where Thoreau lived for
  • two years and two months
  • The nameless and timeless Henry
  • Beauty originates from simplicity.

His major works

  • 1.Walden , known for its modern style, simplicity of diction and figures of speech, has 200 different editions and been translated into every major modern language.
  • 2. Walden was revised 8 times, and is read as the 19th century Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
  • 3. Civil Disobedience is the result of his jailed experience in 1846, embodying the pioneering spirit of the American frontiersman and a development of the philosophy in the Declaration of Independence, having a great impact on Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King.

“By working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the expenses of living.”

  • Growing his own food and building his own shelter gave him freedom to work productively as a writer and thinker
  • Profound connection between self reliance, meaningful labor, and thought

An age of social experimentation

  • Like the 1960s, the 1840s saw a number of experiments with communes. Hawthorne lived for a time at Brook Farm, the Alcotts at Fruitlands.
  • T’s stay at Walden Pond is a more solitary response to this same impulse towards social experimentation.

I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

  • While living at Walden Pond, T was arrested and briefly jailed for not paying his poll tax.
  • His essay on the experience, “Civil Disobedience,” explores the question of what a person should do when he or she feels that his government is acting immorally.


  • Like RWE, T avidly studied the Hindu scriptures of India.
  • Mahatma Gandhi studied T’s writings on civil disobedience as he led India’s struggle for independence.
  • MLK based many of his ideas on nonviolent action on the work of Gandhi.

Thoreau and Emerson

  • A frog was made to live in a swamp, but a man was not made to live in a swamp.
  • I had tenderly cherished the flower of our friendship till one day my friend treated it as a weed.
  • Emerson refused to recognize Thoreau as a writer, but a hermit.

The American literary tradition

  • 1. Natty Bumpo---Civilized city and savaged woods. Character – Last of the Mohicans
  • 2.Ahab ---Civilized ship and savaged sea-
  • 3. Hester---Civilized village and savaged forest
  • 4. Huckleberry Finn---Civilized village and savaged river
  • Thoreau---Civilized Concord and the wild Walden lake
  • The American Cultural Tradition
  • Puritans Civilized England The New World
  • 1. Freedom
  • 2. Human rights
  • 3. Democracy
  • 4. Wealth
  • The main character The unknown
  • world
  • The frontiers
  • The American Dream
  • The West

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