— Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Happy birthday to Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau! The man who made Walden Pond famous by building a house on its shores and living there for over two years was born on July 12, 1817, inConcord,Massachusetts, to John and Cynthia Thoreau.
Christened “David Henry” in October 1817, Thoreau was named after a recently deceased uncle. Excelling at academics, Thoreau attended both public and private schools inConcord. He graduated from Harvard in 1837 and changed his name to “Henry David”.
Trying his hand first at teaching inConcord, he experienced a falling out with his superiors over student disciplinary issues. Returning to his family’s home to work in his father’s pencil factory, Thoreau soon tried teaching again in aConcordschool his older brother, John, and he founded. Successful for a few years, the school closed when John became severely ill and Henry subsequently felt overwhelmed.
Once again laboring in the family’s pencil factory, Thoreau was taken under the wing of neighbor and longtime friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, serving as his handyman while Emerson mentored him. An embracer of Emerson’s Transcendental philosophy (placing spiritual concerns over material success), Thoreau became a writer and published essays and poems in The Dial, a Transcendental journal. Needing privacy to work, Emerson gave Thoreau permission to build a house on the banks ofWalden Pond on land Emerson owned. Thoreau lived there for over two years; during that time, he spent a night in jail for refusing to pay his poll tax. That experience of imprisonment turned into his essay, “Resistance to Civil Government”, later famously renamed “Civil Disobedience”.
After leaving Walden Pond, Thoreau published Walden in 1854 to celebratory reviews and a new following. Although never wealthy, he spent the rest of his days earning a modest income working in the pencil factory, as well as surveying, lecturing, and publishing essays.
Thoreau died in 1862 of tuberculosis, leaving behind volumes of unfinished work. At his funeral, Emerson delivered a eulogy, noting Thoreau’s quest for knowledge, virtue, and beauty in nature.
Know someone who shares Henry David Thoreau’s birthday? Send them a birthday ecard to wish them a happy and prosperous birthday.