Walden: Biography: Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. He went on to study at Harvard University and graduated in 1837. He supported himself briefly as a teacher before going on to work at his father’s pencil factory. He also worked occasionally as a surveyor. His friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson made a significant impact on his life and is known as a fellow Transcendentalist.

Thoreau had some poems published in Dial, which was the Transcendentalists’ journal, and two books came out in his lifetime. These are A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River (1849), which is concerned with a journey he took with his brother in 1839, and Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854). In 1845, he moved to the home he built on Walden Pond and stayed there for two years and this latter work is a condensed version of his time spent there.

The impact that his ideas have had on others is now legendary. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, for example, were both influenced by his essay ‘Civil Disobedience’ (1849), which was originally entitled ‘Resistance to Civil Government’. It should also be noted that Thoreau lived by his ideals, as exemplified in his two year stay at Walden, and was imprisoned briefly for not paying poll tax as he made a stand against the war in Mexico and slavery. He died in 1862 from tuberculosis.