Henry David Thoreau

American essayist, poet, and philosopher (1817–1862)

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862)[1] was an American author, naturalist and philosopher. His friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson had a great impact on him, and supported him in many ways. Emerson provided a place for Thoreau to live at Walden Pond, which inspired his book, Walden.[2] He is best known for his book, Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay, Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state. 

Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau in 1856
Born(1817-07-12)July 12, 1817
DiedMay 6, 1862(1862-05-06) (aged 44)
Concord, Massachusetts, US
Alma materHarvard College
Era19th century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Notable ideas

Early life


Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. He spent his childhood with his three brothers and sisters: John, Helen, and younger sister Sophia. His father owned a local pencil factory, and his mother rented out parts of the family home to boarders - people who come from other places. Thoreau received his education at the public school in Concord, the private Concord Academy, and graduated from Harvard College.[2]

How he became an author


One day in the summer of 1841, Henry David Thoreau was worried about money after leaving his job at his father's pencil factory. Suddenly, the most famous writer at the time, Ralph Waldo Emerson, knocked on his door. Emerson asked him to work as a live-in handyman at his house. During the days he lived with Emerson, Thoreau began to have dreams of becoming a writer.[3]

Protest against the government


As the government needed money for the Mexican-American War, Henry David Thoreau refused to pay a direct tax for the war. This was his first protest against the government. He thought war was a bad thing, so it was necessary to resist government.  That led to him being put into jail. Although people gave him advice to pay the tax, he still didn't pay it. He didn't fear the government and at the same time inspired other people to join this protest. The night in the jail allowed him to start writing his essay, Civil Disobedience,[4] In the notes, he talked about the thought process of active, stated refusal of a citizen to obey certain laws or demands, orders of the state, and commands of a government.[5] After twenty years, the notes were printed into a book by the same name, and read by many people, including Martin Luther King Jr.

Later years


On May 6, 1862, Thoreau died of tuberculosis, a disease, which had been affecting him for many years. After he died, he left behind many unfinished notes. Some of them were later printed.[3] When Thoreau died, Ralph Waldo Emerson said of him in his funeral speech: "The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost.... His soul was made for the noblest society; he had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home." He was first buried in the Dunbar family plot at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. However, in 1870, his grave was moved to Author's Ridge towards the back of the cemetery to be closer to the graves of his writer friends Emerson, Alcott, Hawthorne, and Channing.

Influence on American society


Henry David Thoreau became successful because Ralph Waldo Emerson helped Thoreau spread his work in England. Thoreau's ideas were about nature. He was heavily influenced by Emerson, who also introduced him to transcendentalism . He set an example by doing things that inspired people during his lifetime. He is someone who didn’t follow normal social rules .His ideas made him stand out during that time. He also had concerns about the environment and helped to build a canal. [6]

Major works


Walden was printed in 1854, and it seemed to be one of the most well-liked books during that time. The book is about his stay in the woods by a pond in 1845 for two years, two months, two weeks, and two days.[5] During this time, he learned many things like how to get in touch with nature and spend time with himself. The books, The Maine Woods, A Week on the Concord, and Merrimack Rivers also supported these ideas of trying to have a more natural and non-material life-style.

Name of Work Year Written or Published
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers 1849
Civil Disobedience 1849
Slavery in Massachusetts 1854
Walden 1854
A Plea for Captain John Brown 1859
Walking 1861
The Maine Woods 1864
Cape Cod 1865


  1. Biography of Henry David Thoreau, American Poems (2000-2007 Gunnar Bengtsson).
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Henry David Thoreau Biography".
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Life and Legacy | The Thoreau Society". www.thoreausociety.org. Retrieved 2018-05-23.
  4. McElroy, Wendy (2005). "Henry Thoreau and 'Civil Disobedience'". The Thoreau Reader. Iowa State University. Archived from the original on 18 September 2015. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Henry David Thoreau – The Walden Woods Project". The Walden Woods Project. Retrieved 2018-05-23.
  6. "Meet Thoreau: Henry's Global Impact". World Wide Waldens.org. The Walden Woods Project. 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2016.