Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)

American philosopher, essayist, naturalist, and poet. A graduate of Harvard University, Thoreau worked at a number of jobs—schoolmaster, house painter, employee in his father’s pencil factory— before becoming a writer. He befriended Emerson and joined the Transcendental Club, contributing frequently to its journal, the Dial. Drawn to the natural world, he wrote his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers (1849), about a canoe trip with his brother. Thoreau’s abolitionist stance against slavery led to his arrest for refusing to pay the Massachusetts poll tax (an act of protest against the Mexican War, which he viewed as serving the interests of slaveholders). His eloquent essay defending this act, “Civil Disobedience” (1849); his probing meditation on the solitary life, Walden (1854); and his speech “A Plea for Captain John Brown” (1859) are classics of American literature. See also vcu.edu.