1817: born in Concord, Massachusetts
1833: attends Harvard, majored in English literature
1838: begins lecturing in Concord
1842: Henry's brother John dies of lockjaw
1843: tutors at Emerson's brother's house on Staten Island
1845: moves to Walden Pond
1847: leaves Walden Pond
1849: writes A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers
1854: wrote Walden or Life in the Woods
1857: starts writing The Maine Woods
1859: Thoreau's father dies, and he carries on business
1860: writes A Plea for Captain John Brown
1862: dies in Concord of tuberculosis
1864: The Maine Woods published posthomously
1865: Cape Cod published posthomously
Though Thoreau was not really recognized in his own time, he is known today as the most challenging major American author. He is also known as a transcendentalist along with other great writers, such as Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
His conception of nature is informed by a syncretic appropriation of Greek, Roman, Indian, and other sources, and the result is an eclectic vision that is uniquely his own. For this reason it is difficult to situate Thoreau within the history of modern philosophy, but he might be described as articulating a version of transcendental idealism.
Needless to say, Thoreau is not the type of idealist who encourages us to go around “rejecting the evidence of our senses” (Walden, XIV). On the other hand, he has nothing but scorn for the sort of materialism that fails to penetrate the inner mystery of things, discovering “nothing but surface” in its mechanistic observations (Journal, 3/7/59).
Thoreau declares that he would be happy “if all the meadows on the earth were left in a wild state,” since in tampering with nature we know not what we do and sometimes end up doing harm as a result (Walden, X). In many cases we find that “unhandselled nature is worth more even by our modes of valuation than our improvements are” (Journal, 11/10/60).
Thoreau remarks upon the “much grander significance” of any natural phenomenon “when not referred to man and his needs but viewed absolutely” (Journal, 11/10/51). The world is rich with value that is not of our making, and “whatever we have perceived to be in the slightest degree beautiful is of infinitely more value to us than what we have only as yet discovered to be useful and to serve our purpose” (Faith in a Seed, 144).
he seems to have wanted most to use words to force his readers to rethink their own lives creatively, different though they may be, even as he spent his life rethinking his, always asking questions, always looking to nature for greater intensity and meaning for his life.
Thoreau died of tuberculosis in 1862, at the age of 44. His last words were said to be "Moose" and "Indian." Not only did he leave his two books and numerous essays, but he also left a huge Journal Web Site, published later in 20 volumes, which may have been his major work-in-progress.
His style of prose is exhibited in such works as The Maine Woods, "Resistance to Civil Government," and Walden. These pieces of literature focus on the importance of nature and individualism. Thoreau tried to convey the idea to live life, not just walk through it. He wanted people to reevaluate their lives and see what was really important.
It is a rousing summons to the examined life and to the realization of one's potential, while at the same time it develops what might be described as a religious vision of the human being and the universe.
His experience bore fruit in the 1854 publication of his literary masterpiece Walden, a work that almost defies categorization: it is a work of narrative prose which often soars to poetic heights, combining philosophical speculation with close observation of a concrete place.
Emerson was by then already one of the most famous American philosophers and men of letters. Since Thoreau's graduation from Harvard, he had become a protégé of his famous neighbor and an informal student of Emerson's Transcendental ideas. Transcendentalism was an American version of Romantic Idealism, a dualistic Neoplatonic view of the world divided into the material and the spiritual.
When John endured a lengthy illness in 1841, the school became too much for Henry to handle alone, so he closed it. He returned to work in the pencil factory but was soon invited to work as a live-in handyman in the home of his mentor, neighbor, and friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Thoreau found himself temperamentally unsuited for three of the four usual professions open to Harvard graduates: the ministry, the law, and medicine. The fourth, teaching, was one he felt comfortable with, since both of his elder siblings, Helen and John, were already teachers. He was hired as the teacher of the Concord public school, but resigned after only two weeks because of a dispute with his superintendent over how to discipline the children.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was born and lived nearly all his life in Concord, Massachusetts, a small town about twenty miles west of Boston. He received his education at the public school in Concord and at the private Concord Academy.
He was a very well read thinker with an excellent knowledge base from ancient Greek thought, passing through Asian traditions, and the western philosophy of his time.
Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 in Massachusetts, USA. A graduate from Harvard, Thoreau was a prolific writer who left behind a vast body of work from poetry to philosophy, from transcendentalism to history, from resistance against unjust states to abolitionism, compiling in over 20 volumes of work.