Authors We Love: Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau - Wikipedia

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 — May 6, 1862) was an American writer, philosopher, and representative of transcendentalism.

A graduate of Harvard University, he helped edit Emerson’s quarterly review of the Sundial. He was a lifelong supporter of the abolitionist movement. He preached abolitionism everywhere and attacked fugitive slave laws. Deeply influenced by Emerson, he advocated returning to the heart and getting close to nature. In 1845, he lived by Walden Pond, two miles away from Concord, as a recluse for two years, farming and eating by himself, experiencing a life of simplicity. Walden, a long essay on this subject, became a classic work of transcendentalism.

Thoreau was brilliant and wrote more than twenty first-class essays in his lifetime. Known as the founder of nature essays, Thoreau’s prose was concise and powerful, simple and natural, and full of thoughts, which was unique among the American prose in the 19th century. Walden is considered the most popular nonfiction in American literature. His other works include political treatise on Civil Disobedience, Life without Principle, Cape Cod, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack river, The Maine Woods, etc. Walden records his reclusive life in Walden, while Civil Disobedience discusses the injustices of government and power and justifies citizens’ voluntary refusal to obey certain laws.

Thoreau was not tall but very firm with pale skin and strong, serious blue eyes, and a solemn manner.Thoreau later in his life, had a beard that suited him. His features were sharp, his build strong, and his hands were strong and swift in the use of tools. He said that he used his feet better than his eyes to find his way through the woods at night, and that he could estimate the height of two trees with his eyes very accurately; he could estimate the weight of an ox or a pig as well as a cattle dealer. He was good at swimming, racing, skating and rowing, and could probably beat any countryman in the long walk from morning to night. The relationship between his body and his mind is even more subtle than we think. He said that every step of his leg was his. As usual, the longer he traveled, the longer he wrote. If you shut him in at home, he won’t write at all.

-Coreen C.

The works of Henry David Thoreau are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Written in the late 1800s, Henry David Thoreau’s essays tell of civil resistance in society. He believed that many laws were bound to be broken and the people had the right to protest. In his essays, he says that human laws overcome government laws.

As a transcendentalist writer, Thoreau believed that humans could live beyond reality and could not be limited by temporary worldly objects. He shuns the idea of materialism and embraces the power of nature. Thus, people must take advantage of their individual power given by nature and represent their opinions.

Surprisingly, the essays of Civil Disobedience still apply to society today. In the past, Thoreau created an act of civil disobedience by not paying his taxes in order to protest against slavery and the Mexican-American war.

Today, people around the world refuse to follow laws to stand for an issue they believe in. Similar to the nineteenth century, materialism has taken over many peoples’ minds and distracts them from politics, the environment, and other important things. The protests that happen in the twenty-first century go along with Thoreau’s words in his work. Just as Thoreau mentions, many protests and strikes need to create an act of civil disobedience to bring awareness to the matter at hand.

As written in the work, society cannot learn and fix their past mistakes without acts of civil resistance. Thoreau emphasizes how individuals must hold onto their personal beliefs and make a difference to advance their society. It is amazing to see how a series of essays from 200 years ago still accurately applies to our society today. This can also be a bit frightening as some negative aspects of governments around the world have not been changed.

-Zohal N.