Henry David Thoreau was an American 19th century writer and thinker, one of the transcendentalists, a great lover and observer of nature, one of the forerunners of ecology and wildlife conservation.
Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817. He spent most of his life in Concord, Massachusetts. When young, both he and his older brother John fell in love with the same girl, Ellen Sewall. John and later Henry proposed to her but both were rejected and never got married. After graduating from Harvard University, Henry started working as a teacher at a Concord school, but as he had other views on education than his employers, he resigned after two weeks. The two brothers founded their own school, which was quite successful but was closed three years later, after John’s health deteriorated. His sudden death in the following year affected Henry very much.
In the spring of 1845, when he was 28, Henry D. Thoreau built himself a wooden cabin in the woods by Walden Pond, near Concord. He lived there alone for two years. He was not a hermit, though, as he often visited his family and friends or had guests.
During that time, he was arrested and spent one night in jail, because he had refused to pay the tax to the state, which he considered an unjust institution (he was against slavery and war). He was released the following day, as an anonymous person had paid the tax for him (against his will). That event became the inspiration for his best known essay Civil Disobedience. All his life, Thoreau supported the movement for abolishing slavery in the US (e.g. he helped runaway slaves).
Thoreau never had a regular job, because he valued independence and wanted to have enough time for his observations, reflections, and writing. He did not care about his financial and social status and preferred leading a modest life to devoting his whole life to earning money. He did various temporary jobs, including manual labor, but his main occupation was that of a surveyor, which combined business with pleasure: he could work and stay in the fields and woods at the same time. He also helped his father in manufacturing pencils. He improved the production of lead, which made it possible to make pencils of different hardness. Thoreau’s pencils were considered the best in America.
He made some journeys (to Cape Cod, Maine, and Canada), which he later described. However, he spent most of his life walking in the vicinity of Concord. Gradually, he began spending more and more time observing and describing local nature. He was one of the first naturalists to perceive and study local nature as a whole, i.e. a system of interrelated elements and processes.
Thoreau died on May 6, 1862 in Concord, at the age of 44. He died of tuberculosis, which was incurable in those times.