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Henry David Thoreau

(1817—1862) American essayist and poet

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American author, became a follower and friend of Emerson. He supported himself by a variety of occupations; a few of his poems were published in the Dial, but he made no money from literature, and published only two books in his lifetime. The first was A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849); the second, Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854), attracted little attention but has since been recognized as a literary masterpiece and as one of the seminal books of the century. It describes his two‐year experiment in self‐sufficiency (1845–7) when he built himself a wooden hut on the edge of Walden Pond, near Concord; he describes his domestic economy, his agricultural experiments, his visitors and neighbours, the plants and wild life, and the sense of the Indian past, with a deeply challenging directness that questions the materialism and the prevailing work ethic of the age. Walden is studded with apparently causal illuminations and with lines of poetic sensibility. Equally influential in future years was his essay ‘Civil Disobedience’ (1849; originally entitled ‘Resistance to Civil Government’), in which he argues the right of the individual to refuse to pay taxes when conscience dictates and describes the technique of passive resistance later adopted by Gandhi. Thoreau has also been hailed as a pioneer ecologist. His Journal (14 vols) and his collected Writings (20 vols) were both published in 1906.

Subjects: Literature

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