Henry David Thoreau was a complex man of many talents who worked hard to shape his craft and his life, seeing little difference between them. Born in 1817, one of his first memories was of staying awake at night “looking through the stars to see if I could see God behind them.” One might say he never stopped looking into nature for ultimate Truth.
Thoreau is sometimes cited as an individualist anarchist as well as an inspiration to anarchists. Though Civil Disobedience calls for improving rather than abolishing government — “I ask for, not at
once no government, but at once a better government” — the direction of this improvement aims at anarchism: “‘That government is best which governs not at all;’ and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.”
Henry read a small book by his Concord neighbor in his childhood, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, and in a sense he never finished exploring its ideas — although always definitely on his own terms, just as he explored everything!
He worked for several years as a surveyor and making pencils with his father, but at the age of 28 in 1845, wanting to write his first book, he went to Walden pond and built his cabin on land owned by Emerson.
Thoreau did an incredible amount of reading and writing at Walden, yet he also spent much time “sauntering” in nature. He gave a lecture and was imprisoned briefly for not paying his poll tax, but mostly he wrote a book as a memorial to a river trip he had taken with his brother, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Continue reading →