Henry David Thoreau
October 17, 2021
Henry David Thoreau, born David Henry Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862 in Concord, Massachusetts), was an American essayist, teacher, social philosopher, naturalist, and poet. During Thoreau's lifetime, his writings were known only to a small group of people. Today, however, he is a big name in 19th-century American literature. With two symbolic actions—a two-year retreat in the cabin at Walden Pond and a night in jail for civil disobedience—Thoreau put into practice his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson's teachings of transcendentalism. Thoreau was a prolific writer: his articles, essays, diaries and poems make up more than twenty books. He was also an enthusiastic nature observer. This combination earned him the nickname "The Poet-Naturalist" from his friend William Ellery Channing. Especially in his later years, Thoreau studied phenomena such as the flowering period of the plants and the distribution of tree species in detail. With his commitment to nature conservation and his pursuit of living in harmony with nature, he became a forerunner and inspirer of ecology as a science. In his masterpiece Walden, or Life in the Woods, published in 1854, he described how to live a simple life in the woods, secluded from "civilized" society. The theme of Civil Disobedience of 1849 is an individual's well-founded resistance to an unjust government; this book became an inspiration for later forms of nonviolent resistance. Thoreau opposed slavery on principle, lecturing against the laws for escaped slaves and convicts as an activist, and praising the work of the abolitionists—particularly that of John Brown. Thoreau's philosophy of nonviolent resistance would later influence political, spiritual and literary figures such as Lev Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.