He spent his life in voluntary poverty, enthralled by the study of nature. Two
years, in the prime of his life, were spent living in a shack in the woods near
a pond. Who would choose a life like this? Henry David Thoreau did, and he
enjoyed it. Who was Henry David Thoreau, what did he do, and what did others
think of his work? Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts on

July 12, 1817 ("Thoreau" 96), on his grandmother's farm. Thoreau, who
was of French-Huguenot and Scottish-Quaker ancestry, was baptized as David Henry

Thoreau, but at the age of twenty he legally changed his name to Henry David.

Thoreau was raised with his older sister Helen, older brother John, and younger
sister Sophia (Derleth 1) in genteel poverty (The 1995 Grolier Multimedia

Encyclopedia 1). It quickly became evident that Thoreau was interested in
literature and writing. At a young age he began to show interest writing, and he
wrote his first essay, "The Seasons," at the tender age of ten, while
attending Concord Academy (Derleth 4). In 1833, at the age of sixteen, Henry

David was accepted to Harvard University, but his parents could not afford the
cost of tuition so his sister, Helen, who had begun to teach, and his aunts
offered to help. With the assistance of his family and the beneficiary funds of

Harvard he went to Cambridge in August 1833 and entered Harvard on September
first. "He [Thoreau] stood close to the top of his class, but he went his
own way too much to reach the top" (5). In December 1835, Thoreau decided
to leave Harvard and attempt to earn a living by teaching, but that only lasted
about a month and a half (8). He returned to college in the fall of 1836 and
graduated on August 16, 1837 (12). Thoreau's years at Harvard University gave
him one great gift, an introduction to the world of books. Upon his return from
college, Thoreau's family found him to be less likely to accept opinions as
facts, more argumentative, and inordinately prone to shock people with his own
independent and unconventional opinions. During this time he discovered his
secret desire to be a poet (Derleth 14), but most of all he wanted to live with
freedom to think and act as he wished. Immediately after graduation from

Harvard, Henry David applied for a teaching position at the public school in

Concord and was accepted. However, he refused to flog children as punishment. He
opted instead to deliver moral lectures. This was looked down upon by the
community, and a committee was asked to review the situation. They decided that
the lectures were not ample punishment, so they ordered Thoreau to flog
recalcitrant students. With utter contempt he lined up six children after school
that day, flogged them, and handed in his resignation, because he felt that
physical punishment should have no part in education (Derleth 15). In 1837 Henry

David began to write his Journal (16). It started out as a literary notebook,
but later developed into a work of art. In it Thoreau record his thoughts and
discoveries about nature (The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1). Later
that same year, his sister, Helen, introduced him to Lucy Jackson Brown, who
just happened to be Ralph Waldo Emerson's sister-in-law. She read his Journal,
and seeing many of the same thoughts as Emerson himself had expressed, she told

Emerson of Thoreau. Emerson asked that Thoreau be brought to his home for a
meeting, and they quickly became friends (Derleth 18). On April 11, 1838, not
long after their first meeting Thoreau, with Emerson's help, delivered his first
lecture, "Society" (21). Ralph Waldo Emerson was probably the single
most portentous person in Henry David Thoreau's life. From 1841 to 1843 and
again between 1847 and 1848 Thoreau lived as a member of Emerson's household,
and during this time he came to know Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and many
other members of the "Transcendental Club" ("Thoreau" 696).

On August 31, 1839 Henry David and his elder brother, John, left Concord on a
boat trip down the Concord River, onto the Middlesex Canal, into the Merrimack

River and into the state of New Hampshire. Out of this trip came Thoreau's first
book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (25). Early in 1841, John

Thoreau, Henry's beloved older brother, became very ill, most likely with
tuberculosis, and in early May a poor and distraught Henry David moved into the
upstairs of Ralph Waldo Emerson's house (35). On March 11, 1842 John died, and

Henry's life