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MonkeyNotes-Walden by Henry David Thoreau
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

HENRY DAVID THOREAU

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, on a farm outside of Concord, Massachusetts. He was the third of four children born to an average family that claimed little social recognition. Although his grandfather had been successful, his own father lost most of his inheritance. He finally became a pencil manufacturer, a business that adequately provided for the family.

A bright and eager child, Thoreau was educated first at Concord Academy and then at Harvard. There he read extensively and prepared himself to be a representative of the Transcendentalist movement.

Thoreau's education at Harvard trained him to become a lawyer, a minister, a businessman, or a teacher; however, none of these professions appealed to him for long. He tried for a while to teach in Concord, but found that he was against any system that allowed corporal punishment and prevented an individual from growing creatively. As a result, he resigned and opened his own private school with his brother John. In 1841, the school was closed, due to John's poor health. Although Thoreau's teaching career was over, he never stopped teaching himself. He acquired a great knowledge of literature from Greece, Germany, and Elizabethan England; he also gained a working knowledge of Hindu classics. Because of his interest in literature, Thoreau met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had just come to Concord from Boston. While Emerson inspired Thoreau, Thoreau impressed Emerson. The two became fast friends, to the degree that Thoreau moved to Emerson's household and became his handyman. He lived there from 1841 to 1843.


During the early 1840's, Thoreau experienced two great losses. In 1839, he met and fell in love with the only love of his life, Ellen Sewall. When he proposed to her, Ellen's father, a Unitarian minister, forbid his daughter to marry Thoreau, whom he considered to be a radical. Thoreau was crushed when she married another man in 1844. He never saw Ellen again after her marriage, and he never had another romantic relationship with a woman. Equally as devastating to Thoreau was the loss of his dear brother John in 1842. Since John's ill health had forced Thoreau to close the private school where he taught, he accepted a position in 1943 as a tutor on Staten Island, near New York City. There he began to write in earnest, and Horace Greeley became his agent. Thoreau, however, found that he missed New England greatly and returned to Concord within the year.

Thoreau worked regularly and with commitment on a journal that he maintained until the end of his life. Although he preferred writing to any career, whenever he needed money he earned it by making pencils or surveying land. Since he was easily satisfied with the barest essentials of life, he never felt compelled to seek a regular career for himself in order to amass a fortune. His first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, was based on a boat trip that he had taken with his brother John; the book was finally published in 1849, ten years after it was begun. Thoreau also helped Emerson to edit the Transcendentalists' magazine, The Dial; he also helped his friend in the publication of his early works. Despite the great regard Thoreau had for Emerson, he managed to remain independent in his thought and action. When Emerson made some attempts to introduce Thoreau to high-society, Thoreau made no effort to join in.

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