Sunday, November 23, 2014

Henry David Thoreau Biography

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

"[Thoreau] is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and rustic, though courteous manners, corresponding very well with such an exterior. But his ugliness is of an honest and agreeable fashion, and becomes him much better than beauty." - Nathaniel Hawthorne

v     Thoreau was a transcendentalist philosopher, poet, and political activist, most famous for his essay Walden.

A replica of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, with a statue of Thoreau

v     Walden recounts Thoreau's two-year experiment in simple living, by himself in a little shack he built next to Walden Pond, in Concord. The experiment was meant to see if you could take out everything in society that was unnecessary, and see if life itself was "mean or sublime", in other words, if life is worth living.

v     Walden was a major influence to the poet Robert Frost, who said, " In one book ... he surpasses everything we have had in America."

v     Not everyone agreed. Hawthorne mocked his solitary lifestyle, and poet John Greenleaf Whittier said Thoreau wanted every man to, "...lower himself to the level of a woodchuck and walk on four legs."

v     In 2012, the University of Southern California began developing a video game based on Walden, which might just possibly be fun. Maybe. If and when it's finished.

v     He also wrote the essay Resistance to Civil Government, which was an inspiration for such figures as Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

v     Thoreau was a life-long abolitionist, criticizing slavery, and defending the abolitionist extremist John Brown, who led a rebellion in Kansas to end slavery, and was soon captured and hanged.

The Last Moments of John Brown, by Thomas Hovenden

v     Thoreau is sometimes considered an anarchist for his writings. For example, he said, "That government is best which governs not at all, and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have." In other words, never. But, he also said "I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."

Personal Life:

Thoreau grew up in Concord Massachusetts, near Boston. He attended Harvard, completing four years, but refused to pay five dollars for his diploma, because Harvard printed them on sheepskin vellum (pergamen), and Thoreau said, "Let every sheep keep its own skin."

After college, Thoreau taught for about a month at the Concord Public School. He soon quit, refusing to paddle or hit students. He and his brother set up their own, more progressive school, taking students on nature walks. But, when his brother died of an infection four years later, the school ended.

Thoreau met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who introduced him to Nathaniel Hawthorne and other intellectuals. Thoreau also tutored Emerson's children.

On the advice of poet Ellery Channing, Thoreau built a shack on Emerson's property by Walden Pond and lived there for two years, writing a collection of essays that he published as Walden, Life In The Woods. Although he lived there for two years, he compressed it into one year, with each season symbolizing a different phase of human development.

During that time, he was arrested and jailed for his failure to pay six years of taxes. Thoreau protested, stating he had no intention to contribute to the Mexican-American War, nor slavery. He was released when an anonymous donor, probably an aunt, paid it the next day.

Thoreau spent this rest of his life as a land surveyor (zememerač), writing detailed notes about the wildlife and ecology in his town, and elsewhere in New England. In 1859 he went out at night in the middle of a storm to count tree rings and got bronchitis, from which he never recovered. His health declined steadily, and he died three years later.

"I've have never yet met a man who was quite awake." This means people are blind, they only see what's in front of them, not the roots of things.

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