Henry David Thoreau

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Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862) was an American philosopher, naturalist, social critic, and writer who, along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, was a part of the New England transcendentalist movement of the mid 19th century.

He is most famous for his writings on nature, especially the semi-autobiographical Walden in which he recounts his days living in a cabin of his own building on the shores of Walden Pond near his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. In this work, as well as in other works on nature, Thoreau expounded his views on self-sufficiency and the need for man to live in essential harmony with the natural world. As a result, he has come to be regarded as one of the inspirations for today's conservation movement

Thoreau was also an unstinting social critic, especially with respect to the institution of slavery. Some of his most famous actions, as well as his most acerbic words were in support of the anti-slavery movement in the years leading up to the Civil War. At one point in his life, he served a brief stint in jail for his refusal to pay a poll tax because he felt that by doing so he would be supporting the Mexican War (1848) which he believed was being fought on behalf of pro-slavery interests. He also spoke out in support of John Brown, and wrote a tract on Civil Disobedience. This latter work was one of the seminal works on that subject and served to inspire both Gandhi and the American civil rights movements.

Underlying all his work and his life is the assertion that there needs to be an essential unity of thought and action in one's individual life; that one's philosophy of life was essentially expressed in how one lived his life, rather than in doctrine or abstract thought. At the early age of forty-five he died, on the 6th of May 1862. His grave is in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery at Concord, beside those of Hawthorne and Emerson.

Thoreau's fame will rest on Walden; or, Life in the Woods (Boston, 1854) and the Excursions (Boston, 1863). After Thoreau's death were also published: The Maine Woods (Boston, 1863); Cape Cod (Boston, 1865); A Yankee in Canada (Boston, 1866). In the Atlantic Monthly, in 1862, appeared Walking, Autumn Tints and Wild Apples ; in 1863, Night and Moonlight.