Henry David Thoreau along with a select group of people propelled the short movement of transcendentalism during the 1830s to the 1850s and was later brought up during the Vietnam War. Many of the transcendentalist ideas came from student who attended Harvard University during this time period. Henry David Thoreau’s individualistic anarchist views on society were developed throughout his early life and later refined in his years of solitude; these views on society and government are directly expressed in much of his work.
Much of Henry David Thoreau’s work was affected by his early life and education. Henry David Thoreau was born into a normal middle class family in Concord Massachusetts on July 12, 1817. Thoreau’s family were shopkeepers and later operated a small but profitable business making pencils and selling graphite that later turned out to be very prosperous (Sattelmeyer 1). The fact that Henry’s family had money made it possible for him to get a good education. Instead of following the family business which could have been a prosperous decision, Henry went to better his education in high hopes of making something of himself. This decision marks the starting point of Thoreau’s educational adventure.
Thoreau enrolled in Harvard University in 1833, but with a “certain level of distain for this institution”, says James Leonard and Allison Lindstrom, researchers at California State University. At one point Thoreau placed as high as 6th in his class. This shows his dedication to absorb every aspect of the education to the fullest. Upon his graduation Thoreau refused to pay the five dollar processing fee for his diploma because it was made of sheepskin, a tradition at Harvard University. This shows Thoreau’s respect for nature and the individual which is shown in much of his work.
While studying at Harvard Thoreau was “influenced by Greek and Latin curriculum and developed a love of classical writers such as Homer who is reflected in the “reader” chapter of Walden” (Sattelmeyer 1). These classical writers served as great inspiration for the young writer. Like many other transcendentalists “Thoreau was an avid reader of Hindu scriptures and he quotes them often in Walden”, “The Hindu and transcendentalist belief in the imminence of god leads to the doctrine that every person can, without the need for an intermediary, experience the divine within himself or herself” (Norvell 1). Thoreau captured a lot of these moral values and brought them with him throughout his life. This is a perfect comparison to Thoreau’s individualistic ideas and appeal to institution. Years after graduating Harvard, Thoreau submitted many essays to the transcendentalist magazine, the dial. These essays greatly reflected his college education in literature. Emerson’s speech at Thoreau’s graduation also was reflected in much of his essays. Thoreau was greatly impacted by this speech, from then on Emerson was a life mentor for the young writer.