Henry David Thoreau: Voluntary Poverty

Topics: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Concord, Massachusetts Pages: 5 (1641 words) Published: November 21, 2005
Henry David Thoreau spent his life in voluntary poverty, fascinated by the study of nature. Two years, in the prime of his life, were spent living in a shack in the woods near a pond. Who would choose a life like this? Henry David Thoreau did, and he enjoyed it.

Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts on July 12, 1817, on his grandmother's farm. Thoreau, who was of French-Huguenot and Scottish-Quaker ancestry, was baptized as David Henry Thoreau, but at the age of twenty he legally changed his name to Henry David. He was raised with his older sister Helen, older brother John, and younger sister Sophia in an impoverished home. It quickly became evident that Thoreau was interested in literature and writing. At a young age he began to show interest writing, and he wrote his first essay, "The Seasons," at the tender age of ten, while attending Concord Academy. In 1833, at the age of sixteen, Henry David was accepted to Harvard University, but his parents could not afford the cost of tuition so his sister, Helen, who had begun to teach, and his aunts offered to help. With the assistance of his family and the beneficiary funds of Harvard he went to Cambridge in August 1833 and entered Harvard on September first. In December 1835, Thoreau decided to leave Harvard and attempt to earn a living by teaching, but that only lasted about a month and a half. He returned to college in the fall of 1836 and graduated in 1837. Thoreau's years at Harvard University gave him one great gift, an introduction to the world of literature.

Upon his return from college, Thoreau's family found him to be less likely to accept opinions as facts, more argumentative, and extremely prone to shock people with his own independent and unconventional opinions. During this time he discovered his secret desire to be a poet, but most of all he wanted to live with freedom to think and act as he wished. Immediately after graduation from Harvard, he applied for a teaching position at the public school in Concord and received the position. However, he refused to lash children as punishment. He opted instead to deliver moral lectures to help with the children‘s behavior. This was looked down upon by the community, and a committee was asked to review the situation. They decided that the lectures were not punishment enough, so they ordered Thoreau to lash disobedient students. With utter contempt he lined up six children after school that day, flogged them, and handed in his resignation, because he felt that physical punishment should have no part in education.

In 1837 Henry David began to write his Journal. It started out as a literary notebook, but later developed into a work of art. In it Thoreau record his thoughts and discoveries about nature and different forms of wildlife. Later that same year, his sister, Helen, introduced him to Lucy Jackson Brown, who just happened to be Ralph Waldo Emerson's sister-in-law. She read his Journal, and seeing many of the same thoughts as Emerson himself had expressed, she told Emerson of Thoreau. Emerson asked that Thoreau be brought to his home for a meeting, and they quickly became friends. On April 11, 1838, not long after their first meeting Thoreau, with Emerson's help, delivered his first lecture, "Society". Ralph Waldo Emerson was probably the single most proud person in Henry David Thoreau's life. From 1841 to 1843 and again between 1847 and 1848 Thoreau lived as a member of Emerson's household, and during this time he came to know Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and many other members of Emerson's "Transcendental Club".

On August 31, 1839 Henry David and his elder brother, John, left Concord on a boat trip into the state of New Hampshire. Out of this trip came Thoreau's first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Early in 1841, John Thoreau, Henry's beloved older brother, became very ill, most likely with tuberculosis, and in early May a poor and distraught Henry...

Bibliography: 1. Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology. American Literature Fifth Edition/ Volume One: Henry David Thoreau pgs. 1749-1752.
2. www.transcendentalists.com/1thorea.html Henry DavidThoreau (1816-1862) A Guide TO Resources on Henry David Thoreau.
3. www.online-literature.com/Thoreau Henry David Thoreau: Biography and Works
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