Biography Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

photo of Henry David Thoreau
  • Time Period1817 - 1862
  • PlaceBoston
  • CountryUnited States

Poet Biography

Thoreau was born in Massachusetts and after an education at Harvard became a school teacher with his brother in their home town of Concord, following the teachings of Bronson Alcott.

From 1841-3 Thoreau lived in Emerson's house, employed as a general handyman, and became a disciple of his. Indeed he has been described as the answer to Emerson's plea for an American Scholar. During this period he got to know members of the Transcendental Club and published a few poems in The Dial and other magazines. Returning to Concord, Thoreau built himself a hut at nearby Walden pond with the intention of following the ideals of Transcendentalism. Rather than becoming part of a co-operative community as some of his contemporaries had, he sought solitude to enable himself to return to the natural simplicity of life. He lived alone on Walden pond from 4 July 1845 to 6 September 1847, significantly choosing to leave society on Independence Day. Making a pun of his name he called himself a thorough man and occupied each day carefully observing and recording experiences and thoughts in his journals. At this time he wrote his most famous work, Walden. His one day away from the pond was due to imprisonment for refusing to pay his poll tax in protest against the government's involvement in the Mexican War. His essay Civil Disobedience put forward ideas of passive resistance later adopted by Gandhi.

After two years, two months and two days, Thoreau returned to "civilisation". He died of tuberculosis whilst making a last attempt to edit his journals for publication.