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On Naturalists Henry David Thoreau And Thomas Cole

2711 words - 11 pages

The early to mid-nineteenth century in America was a time of rapid social change and enlightenment that permeated into many of the humanities of the time including art, poetry, lecturing, and literature; and two major contributors, who also advocated well ahead of their time the preservation and interpretation of Nature in her relationship with humankind, were Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and Thomas Cole (1801-1848). Thoreau, a philosopher and versed writer of Nature, was a contemporary of Cole’s for a brief period in the 1830’s; however he was not influenced by Cole as much as he was congruently advancing his naturalistic theories. Thomas Cole, a painter, poet, and essay writer, was a key figure that led the budding art movement known as the Hudson River School and popularized landscape painting in the United States. Both of these men expressed the inherited duty of humans, with the tools of social action and individualistic drive, to preserve Nature from the exponentially industrial growth of humans and to understand the embodiment of God through the beauty of Nature. Interestingly, Thoreau and Cole, although somewhat contemporaries, led drastically different lives while delivering a similar message when looking at the aggregate of their lives’ works.
Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts in July of 1817 to a somewhat destitute family of six (two sisters and one brother). Although his ancestry had been more affluent, by the time Henry was born his family was essentially poor. It wasn’t until the mid 1820’s that the Thoreau family finally settled down with a successfully pencil-making business that could give them some prosperity. As Thoreau matured, his mother would chaperone (eventually he went alone) long walks or trips into the depths of their natural surroundings and impress on him the majesty of his natural world. These activities were obviously the foundation for his philosophies and writings, and his love of Nature was clearly an early trait rather than a later revelation. Thoreau was fortunate enough to attend Harvard College, and after graduating in 1837, he delivered a stunning address at his commencement that would foreshadow the majority of his work:"The order of things should be somewhat reversed; the seventh should be man's day of toil, wherein to earn his living by the sweat of his brow; and the other six his Sabbath of the affections and the soul,--in which to range this widespread garden, and drink in the soft influences and sublime revelations of nature.”(Henry David Thoreau, 2)When Thoreau returned from Harvard, he and his brother John formed a private school after Henry could not find any work as a teacher (The United States was in a deep economic depression at the time). However, Thoreau had to close their small school when his brother John came down with lockjaw, and Henry did not want to continue teaching alone. During this time (1839-1841), Henry had come under the apprenticeship of Ralph...

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