Thursday, July 12, 2012

Never Stop Looking into Nature - Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
On July 12, 1817, philosopher and author Henry David Thoreau was born. He is probably best known today for his book 'Walden', a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, as well as for his essay 'Civil Disobedience', an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state.

Thoreau may be the most quoted American author. Excerpts from his writings surface in American thought, conversation, even on t-shirts, posters and greeting cards. Henry David Thoreau was born and lived nearly throughout all his life in Concord, Massachusetts, a small town about twenty miles west of Boston. He received his education at the public school in Concord and at the private Concord Academy. He was sent to Harvard, where he did well and, despite having to drop out for several months for financial and health reasons, was graduated in the top half of his class in 1837.

Henry and his elder brother John taught school for a while but in 1842, John cut himself while shaving and died of lockjaw in his brother's arms, an untimely death which traumatized the 25 year old Henry. He worked for several years as a surveyor and making pencils with his father, but at the age of 28 in 1845, wanting to write his first book, he went to Walden pond and built his cabin on land owned by his Concord neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson to live in the woods for 2 years. two years. This “experiment” in living on the outskirts of town was an intensive time of examination for Thoreau, as he drew close to nature and contemplated the final ends of his own life, which was otherwise at risk of ending in quiet desperation. Thoreau viewed his existential quest as a venture in philosophy, in the ancient Greek sense of the word, because it was motivated by an urgent need to find a reflective understanding of reality that could inform a life of wisdom.

The Walden Pond
(© ptwo from Allahabad, India)
Walden pond was a place for him to find solitude while he wrote, but for his ever-questioning mind it was also an experiment in self-reliance and living close to nature, which bore fruit in the 1854 publication of his literary masterpiece - obviously also entitled 'Walden'. All in all, Thoreau wrote on countless topics, often including poetry and anecdotes. In 1846 Thoreau was arrested and imprisoned in Concord for one night for nonpayment of his poll tax. This act of defiance, which later resulted in his 'Civil Disobedience',  was a protest against slavery and against the Mexican War, which Thoreau and other abolitionists regarded as a means to expand the slave territory. In principal, Thoreau had no objection to government taxes for highways and schools, which make good neighbors. But government, he charged, is too often based on expediency, which can permit injustice in the name of public convenience. The individual, as he insisted, is never obliged to surrender conscience to the majority or to the State. Therefore today Thoreau is more relevant than ever.

Henry David Thoreau died of tuberculosis on 6 May 1862. He never stopped looking into nature for ultimate Truth.

At yovisto you can learn more about Henry David Thoreau and his life around the shores of Walden Pond in Dr. Barry Wood's (University of Houston) lecture.

 

References and further Readings:

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