Henry David Thoreau
"If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."-Henry David Thoreau
"He is a keen and delicate observer of nature - a genuine observer - which, I suspect, is almost as rare a character as even an original poet; and Nature, in return for his love, seems to adopt him as her especial child, and shows him secrets which few others are allowed to witness."-Nathaniel Hawthorne, from his journal, September 1, 1842
Born in Concord, MA, on July 12, 1817, Concord's most famous native son was a quintessentially American essayist and naturalist. He graduated from Harvard College at age 20 and worked briefly in the Thoreau (pronounced like "thorough," with the accent on the first syllable) family's pencil factory before taking up life as a teacher. With his brother John, he established a school in Concord based on Transcendentalism, a philosophy he learned from Concord friend and neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson. When John died of lockjaw in 1842, Thoreau closed the school and moved in with Emerson, working as his handyman. With Emerson's encouragement, he continued to keep a journal and published a few pieces in the Dial, a Transcendentalist journal.
In 1845, Thoreau built himself a one-room cabin on Walden Pond where he set out to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." He lived in the cabin on and off for two years, faithfully recording the experience in his journal. Seven years later, he would publish Walden; or Life in the Woods, a collection of essays based on his journal and describing his personal philosophy of self-sufficiency and antimaterialism. An ardent abolitionist and staunch defender of John Brown, during his stay on Walden Pond, Thoreau was arrested and jailed for one night for failing to pay his poll tax, which he did to protest slavery and the government's "imperialist" Mexican-American war. That experience would become the basis for his essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience."
In the early 1850s, he moved back to his family home in Concord, working again in the family pencil business and as a surveyor, an outdoor job that would provide the basis for numerous essays and publications on natural history, ecology, and man's place in nature. In 1860, while working outdoors he caught a cold that quickly turned into bronchitis. Already suffering from tuberculosis (from which his older sister Helen had apparently died in 1849), his health steadily deteriorated, and on May 6, 1862, shy of his forty-fifth birthday, he died at home in Concord. He is buried on Author's Ridge next to the graves of Emerson, Alcott, and Hawthorne in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.