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Henry David Thoreau was born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts, into the "modest New England family" of John Thoreau, a pencil maker, and Cynthia Dunbar. His paternal grandfather had been born on the UK crown dependency island of Jersey . 
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Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817 and died there in1862, at the age of forty-four. Like that of his near-contemporarySøren Kierkegaard, Thoreau’s intellectual career unfoldedin a close and polemical relation to the town in which he spent almosthis entire life. After graduating from Harvard in 1837, he struck up afriendship with fellow Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson, whoseessay “Nature” he had first encountered earlier that year.Although the two American thinkers had a turbulent relationship due toserious philosophical and personal differences, they had a profoundand lasting effect upon one another. It was in the fall of 1837 thatThoreau, aged twenty, made his first entries in the multivolumejournal he would keep for the rest of his life. Most of his publishedwritings were developed from notes that first appeared on these pages,and Thoreau subsequently revised many entries, so his journal can beconsidered a finished work in itself. During his lifetime he publis...
In his essay “Nature,” Emerson asserts that there can befound in the natural world “a sanctity which shames ourreligions.” Thoreau would agree completely with this statement.But in the same essay Emerson also inclines toward Platonism, statingthat nature is “emblematic” of higher truths, andsuggesting that the material world has value by virtue of being asubsidiary product of mental reality: each natural object is therefore“a symbol of some spiritual fact.” For the most part,Thoreau recoils from the idea that we could find some kind of higherreality by looking beyond nature: in the “Friday” chapterof A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, he asks:“Is not Nature, rightly read, that of which she is commonlytaken to be the symbol merely?” As he sees it, the realm ofspirit is the physical world, which has a sacred meaning thatcan be directly perceived. Accordingly, he seeks “to be alwayson the alert to find God in nature” (Journal, 9/7/51),and to hear “the language which all things...
If one were asked to name the cardinal virtue of Thoreau’sphilosophy, it would be hard to identify a better candidate thanawareness. He attests to the importance of “beingforever on the alert,” and of “the discipline of lookingalways at what is to be seen” (Walden, IV). Thisexercise may enable one to create remarkably minute descriptions of asunset, a battle between red and black ants, or the shapes taken bythawing clay on a sand bank: but its primary value lies in the way itaffects the quality of our experience. “It is something to beable to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so tomake a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve andpaint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look”(Walden, II). Awareness cannot be classified as exclusively amoral or an intellectual virtue, either, since knowing is aninescapably practical and evaluative activity—not to mention, anembodied practice. Thoreau portrays himself not from a presumablyneutral or...
Thoreau’s ethic of personal flourishing is focused upon theproblem of how to align one’s daily life in accordance withone’s ultimate ideals. What was enthusiasm in the youth, heargues, must become temperament in the mature person: the “merevision is little compared with the steady corresponding endeavorthitherward” (Journal, 11/1/51 & 11/24/57). Much ofour time ought to be spent “in carrying out deliberately andfaithfully the hundred little purposes which every man’s geniusmust have suggested to him… . The wisely conscious life springsout of an unconscious suggestion” (Wild Fruits, 166).Character, then, can be defined as “geniussettled”—the promptings of conscience in themselves areonly potentially moral, until we have integrated them intothe fabric of our everyday existence and begun to hold ourselvesresponsible for living up to them (Journal, 3/2/42). Hence,we need to cherish and nurture our capability to discern thedifference between the idea and the reality, between what isand w...
Thoreau has somewhat misleadingly been classified as a New Englandtranscendentalist, and—even though he never rejected thislabel—it does not fit in many ways. Some of his majordifferences from Emerson have already been discussed, and furtherdifferences appear when Thoreau is compared to such figures as OrestesBrownson, Margaret Fuller, and Bronson Alcott. A history oftranscendentalism in New England which appeared in the late nineteenthcentury mentions Thoreau only once, in passing (Frothingham 1886,133). And a more recent history of the movement concludes that Thoreauhad little in common with this group of thinkers, who were for themost part committed to some version of Christianity, to a dualisticunderstanding of mind and matter, and to the related idea that senseexperience is unreliable (Boller 1974, 29–35 & 176). Acrucial step in Thoreau’s intellectual development occurred whenhe “disassociated himself from Emerson’s Transcendentalistview of nature as symbol” (Slicer 2013, 181),...
Henry David Thoreau lived in the mid-nineteenth century during turbulent times in America. He said he was born “in the nick of time” in Concord, Massachusetts, during the flowering of America when the transcendental movement was taking root and when the anti-slavery movement was rapidly gaining momentum.
If a man walks half a day in the woods out of love for them, writes the American Henry David Thoreau, he risks being considered a wanderer – but if he uses his whole day as a speculator, he mows these woods and these Bare Earth in advance,
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Though not a professional philosopher, Henry David Thoreau is recognized as an important contributor to the American literary and philosophical movement known as New England Transcendentalism. His essays, books, and poems weave together two central themes over the course of his intellectual career: nature and the conduct of life. The continuing importance of these two themes is well illustrated by the fact that the last two essays Thoreau published during his lifetime were The Last Days of John Brown and The Succession of Forest Trees (both in 1860). In his moral and political work Thoreau aligned himself with the post-Socratic schools of Greek philosophyin particular, the Cynics and Stoicsthat used philosophy as a means of addressing ordinary human experience. His naturalistic writing integrated straightforward observation and cataloguing with Transcendentalist interpretations of nature and the wilderness. In many of his works Thoreau brought these interpretations of nature to bear on how people live or ought to live. Thoreaus argument in Civil Disobedience is sometimes read as a libertarian tract, like Emersons Self-Reliance (1841). From this point of view it is considered a defense of rugged individualism, if not anarchy. But such interpretations miss the central Transcendentalism of the piece. What both Thoreau and Emerson require is a careful turning to ones moral intuition, or conscience, as a guide when confronted by issues of major consequence. The aim is not to be left alone by the state to do as one pleases but to get the state, as well as oneself, to act in concert with human and divine conscience. Finally, in a more practical vein, nature as wilderness provides an extreme against which one may measure ones own aliveness. Thoreau sees his time at Walden as a border life between the numbing overcivilization of the town and an untempered and unthoughtful existence in the wilderness. The border life, he suggests, is fruitful precisely because it allows one to grow, to participate in the recivilizing of ones own life. As in his earlier essays, he focuses on championing human agency and creativity. This theme of the wilderness becomes even more explicit in later essays. In philosophical termsterms that Thoreau did not himself useThoreaus Transcendentalism is fundamentally idealistic, with higher laws serving as the measure of human endeavors. But it is at the same time a philosophy of nature, though not a reductive naturalism. For Thoreau, Emersons self-reliance needs natures inspiration, example, and effects. To undertake the task of self-cultivation one must, as Thoreau sees it, work with and through nature. Thoreaus focus on nature brings him closer than most of his Transcendentalist colleagues to the later philosophy of pragmatism. His idealism is not the remote operation of mind in the world but the working of higher laws into ones own private thoughts and public practices. This position is his generic answer to lives of quiet desperation. That Thoreau took his own philosophical journey seriously was exemplified several days before he died. An old friend, knowing that Thoreau was close to death, asked if he had any sense of what was to come. Thoreaus famous reply was, One world at a time. He died on 6 May 1862. Thoreau was a philosophical provocateur. He had a sense of philosophical system derived from the Transcendentalist movement and its various German and British influences. But he was neither an analytic philosopher nor an idealist system builder. He saw the practical import of the Transcendentalist movement and staked his claim there. He was a harbinger of the social, political, and poetical dimensions of American pragmatism, and his work did, indeed, become practically useful in the twentieth century. The influence of Civil Disobedience on Gandhi and King are the most notable instances, but they are not the only ones. Selective reading of Walden and of various of the nature essays has identified a dimension of Thoreaus thinking that helps underwrite environmentalism; for Thoreau the importance of wilderness was both metaphorical and actual. Moreover, in his responses to overreliance on technology and wealth as cures for the human condition, one sees hints of the ideas of Martin Heidegger and other existentialists. Thoreaus place in American philosophy is only now being given serious consideration; it seems likely that his influence will continue to flourish.
Thoreaus importance as a philosophical writer was little appreciated during his lifetime, but his two most noted works, Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) and Civil Disobedience (1849), gradually developed a following and by the latter half of the twentieth century had become classic texts in American thought. Not only have these texts been used widely to address issues in political philosophy, moral theory, and, more recently, environmentalism, but they have also been of central importance to those who see philosophy as an engagement with ordinary experience and not as an abstract deductive exercise. In this vein, Thoreaus work has been recognized as having foreshadowed central insights of later philosophical movements such as existentialism and pragmatism. Thoreaus working life began with a teaching job at Concord Center School that lasted only a few weeks because he was unwilling to use corporal punishment on his students. He and his brother, John, ran their own school from 1838 to 1841; their teaching techniques foreshadowed the pragmatic educational philosophy of John Dewey. During these years Thoreau developed a close relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who served as his friend and mentor. Traces of Emersons philosophical influence appear in all of Thoreaus writings, even after their friendship cooled.
David Henry Thoreau was born on 12 July 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts, to John and Cynthia Dunbar Thoreau. He had two older siblings, Helen and John, and a younger sister, Sophia. The family moved to Chelmsford in 1818, to Boston in 1821, and back to Concord in 1823. Thoreau had two educations in Concord. The first occurred through his explorations of the local environment, which were encouraged by his mothers interest in nature. The second was his preparation at Concord Academy for study at Harvard University. He entered Harvard in 1833 and graduated in 1837. The year he graduated he began the journal that was a primary source for his lectures and published work throughout his life. At this time, too, he inverted his names and began to refer to himself as Henry David.
In 1839 Thoreau met Ellen Sewall, the daughter of a Unitarian minister. At least partly on her fathers advice, she rejected Thoreaus proposal of marriage. Thoreaus writing career was launched the following year when he began publishing essays and poems in Emerson and Margaret Fullers new journal, The Dial, which became the home of much Transcendentalist writing. In July 1842 Thoreau published in The Dial Natural History of Massachusetts, which established the basic direction and style of his naturalistic writings. The essay displays both his scientific interest and his Transcendentalist vision of the meanings to be found in human encounters with nature. In two essays published in 1843, A Winter Walk and A Walk to Wachusett, Thoreau develops his naturalistic writing in the direction it later took in Walden. Although these early essays can be read as somewhat romantic literary descriptions, Thoreau has already begun to inject a philosophical edge into his writings. Walking becomes a metaphor for various other features of human existence. Also, natures presence is not merely accepted passively; Thoreau focuses on its agency as an analogue and inspiration for human agency. Like other Transcendentalists, he was an idealist and believed divinity to be immanent in nature. This indwelling of the divine, he thought, allows nature to serve as a vehicle for human insight. Consequently, the central issue at stake in many of his early nature essays is the awakening of humans to their own powers and possibilities through encounters with nature. By early 1862 Thoreau seemed to know that he was dying. He continued to work on his scientific studies, but with the help of his sister Sophia he also prepared several essays for publication in The Atlantic Monthly. They are among the best of his writings, and because they had been given as talks in the 1850s, they display a mature version of his Transcendentalism. They include Life without Principle, Walking, and Wild Apples, all of which were published posthumously. In each, the self is treated as an agent in transition seeking ways to cultivate itself and learning to grow. There is no fixed Cartesian ego, only a questing Walker, Errant, as he puts it in Walking. The quest is itself motivated by a hope of discovering higher laws and of learning to live through them, of finding a practical wisdom. In Life without Principle Thoreau considers the Gold Rush and remarks that a grain of gold will gild a great surface, but not so much as a grain of wisdom.
Thoreau worked off and on at his fathers pencil-making business, and in 1843 he served for a short time as tutor for Emersons brother Edwards children on Staten Island, New York. Then, in 1845, he built a small cabin near Walden Pond on land that Ralph Waldo Emerson had purchased to preserve its beauty. During his two-year stay at the pond Thoreau completed the manuscript for A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849); it was based on a trip he had taken with his brother, John, in 1839 and was intended as a memorial to John, who had died of tetanus in 1842. Thoreau also, of course, had the experiences that became the basis for Walden, and he began writing this work while he was still living at the pond. Also during his sojourn at Walden Pond, Thoreau spent a night in jail for not having paid his poll tax in protest of slavery. This episode laid the foundation for Civil Disobedience.
After leaving Walden, Thoreau spent a year living in Emersons home, helping with handiwork and the children while Emerson was lecturing in Europe. In January 1848 he gave a two-part lecture at the Concord Lyceum titled The Relation of the Individual to the State. The lecture was published in revised form as Resistance to Civil Government in Elizabeth Peabodys Aesthetic Papers in May 1849. Later retitled Civil Disobedience, it became his best-known and most influential essay.
In Resistance to Civil Government Thoreau works out his conception of the self-reliant individuals relationship to the state. The essay begins with an idealistic Transcendentalist hope for a government which governs not at all. But it quickly takes a practical turn, asking what one can doand what one ought to dowhen the state acts in a systematically immoral way. Thoreaus immediate target is state-supported slavery in the United States. He chides his fellow citizens for directly and indirectly enabling slavery to continue in the Southern states, and he suggests that they find ways to act in resistance to the government on this score. He offers as one example of resistance the route that he and others had already taken of not paying taxes that might be used to sustain slavery. He also argues that economic support for slave states should be abandoned, even if it hurt commerce in the North. His suggestion that one can resist a government without resorting to violence gave the essay its notoriety; Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. cited it as an influence on their own acts of resistance.
After the cool reception of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Thoreau traveled to Maine, Cape Cod, New Hampshire, and Canada. His excursions provided the material for future writing projects. He also continued to revise Walden; it appeared in 1854, the second and last book Thoreau published during his lifetime. Walden is unquestionably Thoreaus major work. He condenses the two years he had actually spent in the cabin into a single year, and, beginning with summer, takes the reader through the seasons at the pond. The central theme of the book is the cultivation of the self. Thoreau has in mind a specific audience: those who have become disenchanted with their everyday lives, the mass of men who are discontented, and idly complaining of the hardness of their lot or of the times. His aim is not to have others imitate his move to Walden but to have them consider their own possibilities for improving their situations, for overcoming their lives of quiet desperation. To this extent the book is like a Stoic treatise on life. It is, however, replete with irony, humor, and a philosophical and literary integrity that make it much more than a straightforward enchiridion.
To bring readers to their own awakenings, Thoreau first raises the question of a lifes economy. He experiments with living deliberately, paying attention to what he owns and what owns him, as well as to how he spends his time. An explicit antimaterialism underwrites much of the first two chapters. Thoreau does not dogmatically endorse an economic minimalism, however; the experiment in poverty is an attempt to find out what is important in a lifeit is, in other words, a way of testing ones life. The post-Socratic theme is that simplifying ones life frees one to see more clearly. One will better perceive the world around one, will see what constrains ones life, and, most important, will be freer to explore ones inner self for divine insight. Because Thoreau sees himself as having been engaged in an experiment in living, leaving Walden is not a problem for or a contradiction of his philosophical outlook. When the experiment comes to an end, he looks forward without concern: Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. Thoreau seeks in Walden and many of his other writings to effect an awakening in a variety of ways. Nature plays a central role in most of these writings. On the one hand, it serves as a mirror and metaphor of human existence. It reflects the way one lives and provides exemplars of how one might live. In chapters such as Brute Neighbors, Sounds, and Solitude Thoreau asks his reader to attend to what is immediately present in nature: the actions of birds and chipmunks, the sounds of night and morning, silences both inner and outer. The effect is twofold: the reader learns from this attentiveness what he or she has not before perceived, and, more important, in the process Thoreau slows down the readers world so that he or she might understand what it would be like to undertake his or her own experiment in attentiveness. In these late essays the themes of Walden return, but they are now expressed with the strength and poetic insight of a man facing death. Thoreau again focuses on how people might remain awake and alive when their daily business so often leads them toward sleep and living deathtoward lives of quiet desperation. In each of the essays nature resides in the background as a measure of what humans do. Thoreaus Transcendentalist idealism is ever present, though seldom stated. The world is a world of truth and moral force; the individuals task is to awaken to that truth and bring it to bear on peoples lives. This life of principle might be found in the moral energy of a John Brown, in the poetic insight of a Ralph Waldo Emerson, or in the living of a simple if unnoticed life. For Thoreau, any of these might be a philosophical life in his sense; philosophy, for him, is not a project of reclusive understanding and scholarship. His antimaterialism, his focus on natures wildness, his emphasis on transition and the novelty of each day and season are all instrumental in bringing people to themselves and in finding ways to live sincere lives. As he states in Life without Principle, there is no such thing as wisdom not applied to life.
Nature also provides a metaphor for human growth. As many commentators have pointed out, the seasons of the text reveal the continuing possibilities for self-cultivation; one need not accept any routinized existence as final. Moreover, throughout the work Thoreau treats the reader to shifting focuses on morning, afternoon, and evening, revealing the possibilities of organic development even in short spans of existence. In attending to natures inner energies for self-recovery, one begins to notice ones own possibilities for the same. This notion is good Transcendentalist doctrine: nature is a vehicle for and catalyst of self-reliance. It is a source of intuitions of higher laws.
Thoreaus nature study became more scientifically serious and less Transcendentalist in his later works. The Succession of Forest Trees, which he delivered as a lecture to the Middlesex Agricultural Society on 20 September 1860 and published in The New York Weekly Tribune, marks this turn in Thoreaus career. Like many others, he had purchased and read Charles Darwins On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life when it was published in 1859. This book, together with other readings in forestry and natural history, provided the basis for the new studies. The Succession of Forest Trees still bears the mark of Thoreaus character; it is written with the usual irony and humor. Nevertheless, it deals seriously with seed dispersal and the growth of Northeastern forests. Its systematic philosophical import is to be found in Thoreaus continued emphasis on a cosmos of growth, cultivation, and change. Nature again establishes the basis by which human beings must gauge their own lives.
During much of the last third of his life Thoreau earned his living by helping in the family business and by working as a surveyor. His surveying provided ample opportunity to continue his studies of nature. But these years were marred by recurring bouts of tuberculosis, a disease common to the time and to Thoreaus family. In 1861 Thoreau suffered a difficult bout with the disease, and it was suggested that he travel as a treatment. He went west to Minnesota by boat and train. He returned home as sick as when he left.
Henry David Thoreau was a complex man of many talents who worked hard to shape his craft and his life, seeing little difference between them. Born in 1817, one of his first memories was of staying awake at night "looking through the stars to see if I could see God behind them." One might say he never stopped looking into nature for ultimate Truth.
Jul 08, 2021 · Henry David Thoreau, (born July 12, 1817, Concord, Massachusetts, U.S.—died May 6, 1862, Concord), American essayist, poet, and practical philosopher renowned for having lived the doctrines of Transcendentalism as recorded in his masterwork, Walden (1854), and for having been a vigorous advocate of civil liberties, as evidenced in the essay “Civil Disobedience” (1849).
Apr 02, 2014 · Henry David Thoreau began writing nature poetry in the 1840s, with poet Ralph Waldo Emerson as a mentor and friend. In 1845 he began his famous two-year stay on Walden Pond, which he wrote about in...
- “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
- “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
- “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” ― Henry David Thoreau.
- “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.
- It's the beauty within us that makes it possible for us to recognize the beauty around us. The question is not what you look at but what you see. Henry David Thoreau.
- Simplify your life. Don't waste the years struggling for things that are unimportant. Don't burden yourself with possessions. Keep your needs and wants simple and enjoy what you have.
- Think for yourself, or others will think for you without thinking of you. Henry David Thoreau. Thinking Of You, Thinking, Think For Yourself.
- If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined... Henry David Thoreau. Inspirational, Life, Motivational.
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