Henry David Thoreau Essay

4217 words - 17 pages

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau was a man who expressed his beliefs of society, government, and
mankind while living under his own self-criticism. Thoreau believed he had many
weaknesses which made him a failure. This strong disapproval of himself contrasted with
his powerful words and strong actions. These contradictions led to some of Thoreau's
greatest pieces of literature.
Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts on July 12, 1817, in his
grandmother's house. Thoreau believed that Concord was, "the most estimable place in all
the world, and in the very nick of time, too" (Harding 4). Though Thoreau was born in
"the era of good feeling," his family experienced many misfortunes, politically, physically,
and financially (4). Thoreau's father, John, was a small, quiet, man who got along with
Henry on the surface, but it seems that the two never quite understood each other's
desires. He had weakening health and this caused the family's financial strain (11). As for
John and Henry's relationship, Harding says, "Their relationship was one based more on
toleration than on enthusiasm" (9). Cynthia Thoreau, Henry's mother, was more of an
outspoken dynamic person. Though the family was poor, she was known to always have
enough for her children and her neighbors as well. It is apparent that both parents passed
on their love of nature to their children (9,10).
After Henry's birth, John was forced to sign over the family home in Boston. The family
was forced to move as they would many more times to come. On October 12, 1817,
Henry was christened after his uncle David Thoreau, who had recently died (11). At the
age of five Henry started school. This was the age that he went to visit his grandmother
for first time and had his first visit to Walden Pond. Thoreau remembers, "...one of the
most ancient scenes stamped on the tablets of my memory.... That sweet solitude my spirit
seemed so early to require at once gave the preference to this recess among the pines,
where almost sunshine and shadow were the only inhabitants that varied the scene, over
the tumultuous and varied city, as if it had found its proper nursery" (13-14). It is apparent
that Thoreau associates Walden Pond with his happiest memories.
Thoreau was a deeply religious man, but disliked church. He was very serious as a child
and loved his solitude (Schneider 4). Thoreau says he was truly happiest when he could be
by himself (25). In 1828, Thoreau and his older brother John, to whom he was closest,
went to Concord Academy. Henry was the smarter of the two and in 1833, was sent to
Harvard University, where he did very well. It was there that Thoreau was first exposed to
writing publicly when the Editor of the Dial, which is a periodical for a transcendentalist
group, gave him a job. In 1837, Thoreau graduated form Harvard and this is where he first
heard Ralph Waldo Emerson speak. It was at this time that he began writing his journal.

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