Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862; born David Henry Thoreau) was an American author, naturalist, transcendentalist, pacifist, tax resister and philosopher who is famous for Walden, on simple living amongst nature, and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, on resistance to civil government and many other articles and essays. He was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive Slave Law while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending the abolitionist John Brown. Among his lasting contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy, where he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern day environmentalism.

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Thoreau Quotes

A broad margin of leisure is as beautiful in a man's life as in a book. Haste makes waste, no less in life than in housekeeping. Keep the time, observe the hours of the universe, not of the cars.

A kitten is so flexible that she is almost double; the hind parts are equivalent to another kitten with which the forepart plays. She does not discover that her tail belongs to her until you tread on it.

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.

A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure.

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.

Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.

All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one... characteristic we must posses if we are to face the future as finishers.

All this worldly wisdom was once the unamiable heresy of some wise man.

An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.

Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

As for doing good; that is one of the professions which is full. Moreover I have tried it fairly and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution.

As if we could kill time without injuring eternity!

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.

Be not simply good - be good for something.

Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.

Being is the great explainer.

Beware of all enterprises that require a new set of clothes.

Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.

Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.

Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.

Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.

Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends... Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.

Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Dreams are the touchstones of our character.

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.

Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.

For what are the classics but the noblest thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave. We might as well omit to study Nature because she is old.

Friends... they cherish one another's hopes. They are kind to one another's dreams.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Goodness is the only investment that never fails.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?

How does it become a man to behave towards the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.

How earthy old people become - moldy as the grave! Their wisdom smacks of the earth. There is no foretaste of immortality in it. They remind me of earthworms and mole crickets.

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book! The book exists for us, perchance, that will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered.

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.

However mean your life is, meet it and live it: do not shun it and call it hard names. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.

I am sorry to think that you do not get a man's most effective criticism until you provoke him. Severe truth is expressed with some bitterness.

I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.

I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.

I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.

I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.

I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.

I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.

I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

If a man constantly aspires is he not elevated?

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music in which he hears, however measured, or far away.

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.

If I seem to boast more than is becoming, my excuse is that I brag for humanity rather than for myself.

If misery loves company, misery has company enough.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.

If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.

If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.

If you give money, spend yourself with it.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. Men will believe what they see.

In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.

In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high.

It appears to be a law that you cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature.

It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.

It is never too late to give up our prejudices.

It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?

It is the greatest of all advantages to enjoy no advantage at all.

It is usually the imagination that is wounded first, rather than the heart; it being much more sensitive.

It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak, and another to hear.

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.

Law never made men a whit more just.

Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.

Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.

Men are born to succeed, not to fail.

Men have become the tools of their tools.

Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul.

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.

Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.

Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.

None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.

Not only must we be good, but we must also be good for something.

Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.

Nothing goes by luck in composition. It allows of no tricks. The best you can write will be the best you are.

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.

Only he is successful in his business who makes that pursuit which affords him the highest pleasure sustain him.

Only nature has a right to grieve perpetually, for she only is innocent. Soon the ice will melt, and the blackbirds sing along the river which he frequented, as pleasantly as ever. The same everlasting serenity will appear in this face of God, and we will not be sorrowful, if he is not.

Only that day dawns to which we are awake.

Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed by them.

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.

Our life is frittered away by detail... simplify, simplify.

Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them; for those experiences have left an indelible impression, and we are ever and anon reminded of them.

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

Politics is the gizzard of society, full of grit and gravel, and the two political parties are its opposite halves - sometimes split into quarters - which grind on each other. Not only individuals but states have thus a confirmed dyspepsia.

Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.

Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.

Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself.

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.

Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.

Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.

That man is rich whose pleasures are the cheapest.

Thaw with her gentle persuasion is more powerful than Thor with his hammer. The one melts, the other breaks into pieces.

The Artist is he who detects and applies the law from observation of the works of Genius, whether of man or Nature. The Artisan is he who merely applies the rules which others have detected.

The bluebird carries the sky on his back.

The Brahmins say that in their books there are many predictions of times in which it will rain. But press those books as strongly as you can, you can not get out of them a drop of water. So you can not get out of all the books that contain the best precepts the smallest good deed.

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.

The fibers of all things have their tension and are strained like the strings of an instrument.

The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time.

The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.

The heart is forever inexperienced.

The language of friendship is not words but meanings.

The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.

The man who is dissatisfied with himself, what can he do?

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.

The perception of beauty is a moral test.

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

The savage in man is never quite eradicated.

The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest.

The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.

There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.

There is no remedy for love but to love more.

There is no rule more invariable than that we are paid for our suspicions by finding what we suspect.

There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.

Things do not change; we change.

This world is but a canvas to our imagination.

Through our own recovered innocence we discern the innocence of our neighbors.

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.

To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.

To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

To have done anything just for money is to have been truly idle.

To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any other exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object.

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

Visit the Navy-Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts - a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniments.

We are always paid for our suspicion by finding what we suspect.

We know but a few men, a great many coats and breeches.

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.

We shall see but a little way if we require to understand what we see.

We should distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.

What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.

What is called genius is the abundance of life and health.

What is human warfare but just this; an effort to make the laws of God and nature take sides with one party.

What is once well done is done forever.

What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.

What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.

What you get by achieving your goals is to as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?

When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.

Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.

Quotes originally compiled by www.brainyquote.com

Henry David Thoreau Biography


1817 Henry David Thoreau (christened David Henry) is born on July 12 in Concord, Massachusetts, to John and Cynthia (Dunbar) Thoreau.

1820 The Missouri Compromise postpones a national crisis over slavery.

1821 At four or five, Henry sees Walden Pond for the first time. "One of the most ancient scenes stamped on the tablets of my memory, the oriental Asiatic valley of my world..."

1821 Envisioning a planned industrial community for efficient textile manufacture, entrepreneurs establish Lowell, Massachusetts, on the Merrimack River.

1823 After attending a private preschool and then public school, Thoreau attends the newly founded Concord Academy and prepares for college.

1826 Foundation of the Massachusetts General Colored Association, advocating immediate emancipation and racial equality.

1828 Inauguration of Andrew Jackson.

1829 Publication of David Walker, Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World. Two more editions before Walker's death in 1830. Furious efforts to suppress it in the South.

1831, January: In Boston, first issue of William Lloyd Garrison's weekly antislavery paper The Liberator. It will publish without interruption until the ratification of the XIII Amendment (1865).

1831, August: Nat Turner leads a slave revolt in Virginia. Turner is executed in December.

1832 In Boston, Garrison founds the New England Anti-Slavery Society.

1832 Ralph Waldo Emerson resigns his Unitarian ministry.

1833 Despite "barely getting in" to Harvard College, Thoreau maintains above-average grades, continues classical literature, and studies French, Italian, and German, as well as math, geology, zoology, botany, and natural and intellectual philosophy.

1833 The word "scientist" is coined by William Whewell in England. It will gain slow acceptance, replacing "natural historian" or "natural philosopher" only after Thoreau's death.

1834 Britain begins emancipation of slaves in all colonies, including the West Indies.

1835 Attacks against Boston abolitionists. Garrison is dragged through tbe streets. The Massachusetts legislature considers a law banning abolitionist activities.

1837 U.S. war against the Seminoles in Georgia and Florida. In Britain, Queen Victoria begins a reign that will last until her death in 1901.

1837 Thoreau reads Emerson's Nature, Goethe, and modern German philosophy. Emerson addresses his "American Scholar" to Thoreau's graduating class.

1837 Thoreau receives his degree from Harvard College, graduating 19th in a class of 44.

1837 He meets Emerson, who becomes his mentor and friend: "'What are you doing now?' he asked. 'Do you keep a journal?' So I make my first entry today." Thoreau's lifelong Journal will reach seven thousand pages.

1837 Thoreau accepts a teaching position at Concord's public school but, unwilling to administer routine corporal punishments, he resigns after two weeks.

1837 Thoreau's mother and sisters are among the founding members of the Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society.

1837 Financial panic launches the U.S.'s first nationwide economic depression. Henry's family's precarious finances will stabilize only with the success of John Thoreau Senior's pencil-manufacturing business.

1838 Thoreau reopens the defunct Concord Academy, joined by his older brother John, Jr. Their private school, featuring nature walks and reasoned discussion instead of rote learning and corporal punishment, is a success.

1838 Removed from their homeland, the Cherokees embark on the Trail of Tears. Frederick Douglass escapes from slavery. The British Empire completes full emancipation of slaves.

1839 Thoreau works in his father's home-based pencil factory; gives first lecture to Concord Lyceum; deepens his friendship with Emerson.

1839 Henry and his brother John take a boating trip on the Concord and Merrimack rivers -- the source of Thoreau's first book -- and both court 17-year-old Ellen Sewall. "There is no remedy for love but to love more."

1839 Educator Horace Mann establishes the first public teacher-training facility in Lexington, Massachusetts.

1839 Lowell, Mass., with its enormous complex of mills, has become New England's second largest city and the industrial center of America.

1839 Off Cuba, slaves aboard the Amistad revolt and seek refuge in the United States.

1841 First John and then Henry propose marriage to Ellen Sewall; both are rejected. Henry publishes poetry and essays in the Dial, the new Transcendentalist quarterly.

1841 Brook Farm is established west of Boston "to combine the thinker and the worker in the same individual." The utopian community, which Thoreau visits once but never joins, will last until 1847.

1841 Frederick Douglass begins 10-year association with W. L. Garrison.

1841 U.S. Supreme Court declares Amistad survivors free to return to Africa.

1842 The Thoreau brothers close their school due to John's poor health; Henry moves into Emerson's home as protégé and resident handyman.

1842 Thoreau climbs Mount Wachusett. "We have only to stand on the summit of our hour to command an uninterrupted horizon."

1843 The sudden death of brother John from lockjaw is a traumatic experience for Henry, who succumbs to a psychosomatic or "sympathetic" lockjaw even though he is not infected.

1843 Later in the year, Thoreau meets a new Concord arrival -- Nathaniel Hawthorne, who finds him "a genuine observer, which I suspect is almost as rare a character as even an original poet."

1843 For ten months, Thoreau lives at Staten Island, N.Y., as a tutor to William Emerson's children. He has no luck with New York publishers, but newspaper editor Horace Greeley offers help and the two become friends.

1843 In Concord, the last issue of the Dial is published.

1844 Thoreau assists in his father's pencil factory, where he makes profitable improvements in the manufacturing processes. In April, he and a friend accidentally start a fire in Walden Woods that consumes 300 acres. Some townsmen will never forgive this carelessness.

1844 On a midsummer excursion to northwestern Massachusetts, Thoreau climbs Mount Saddleback (Greylock) and hikes into the Catskills.

1844 In Concord, Emerson speaks publicly against slavery for the first time.

1844 Slicing through Walden Woods, a new railway runs four trains a day from Boston to Concord, making the town a suburb.

1844 Lewis Hayden escapes from slavery in Kentucky. He will settle in Boston in 1849, soon becoming a militant community leader.

1845 Publication of Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Publication of Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life...

1845 Thoreau builds and moves into a one-room house at Walden Pond.

1845 He begins to write journal entries destined for some literary work based on his life at Walden.

1846 President James K. Polk sends U.S. troops to the Rio Grande and declares war on Mexico.

1846 First year of famine in Ireland. Immigrants begin trickling to America, including the Irish railroad workers, serving-girls and shanty-dwellers Thoreau meets around Concord and will depict in Walden and his Journal.

1846 While living at Walden, Thoreau drafts A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers as a memorial to his brother. He takes his first trip to the Maine woods.

1846 He conceives the first version of Walden as lecture material "addressed to my townsmen."

1846, June: Thoreau spends one night in jail for refusing to support slavery by paying the poll tax: "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then?"

1846, August: The Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society holds its annual fair and rally in a grove at Walden Pond. Notable speakers (using Thoreau's front step as the platform) include Emerson and Hayden.

1847, Autumn: After two years, two months, and two days, Thoreau abandons the house at the pond, accepting an offer to live with the Emerson household while Ralph Waldo lectures in Europe. Here, Thoreau will bond with the Emerson children and experience an intense platonic affection for Lidian (Mrs. Emerson).

1847 Thoreau collects specimens for the eminent naturalist Louis Agassiz. He now writes every morning and takes long walks every afternoon. He reads Coleridge on using natural history to discover laws of creation, learns taxonomy, and buys botanical and zoological reference books. The top floor of the family's new house in Concord will become Henry's combination bedroom, study, and museum for specimens.

1847 In Boston, Frederick Douglass meets John Brown. Douglass now rejects Garrison's non-violent abolitionism in favor of political engagement.

1848 First Women's Rights Convention, Seneca Falls. In Rochester, Douglass begins publication of his antislavery periodical North Star. In Europe, The Communist Manifesto. Mexico yields two-fifths of its territory (including California) to the U.S.

1848 Emerson returns from Europe; advises Thoreau to risk underwriting the publication of his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, himself. The friendship cools on both sides.

1848 Thoreau's first essay on Maine, "Ktaadn," is published in Sartain's Union Magazine. He begins an intermittent career as a professional lecturer, enjoying a small wave of celebrity. He studies surveying, and begins revising Walden, a process that will occupy years.

1849 The publication of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is a commercial failure: "I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself."

1849 "Resistance to Civil Government" (later known as "Civil Disobedience") is published by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody in the first and only issue of Aesthetic Papers.

1849 Thoreau writes journal pages on the decline of his friendship with Emerson.

1849 Thoreau begins to mark a lightly revised Walden for printing, expecting publication soon. This early version of Walden, driven by Thoreau's satirical criticism of contemporary values and false reforms, still lacks many nature passages now considered central.

1849 Thoreau adopts a more intense, professional approach to nature study, beginning to sketch out a life's work in this field. He takes a first trip to Cape Cod.

1849 Death of Thoreau's sister Helen, a schoolteacher, from tuberculosis.

1849 Gold, discovered in California, triggers a massive westward rush: "That so many are ready to live by luck, and so get the means of commanding the labor of others less lucky, without contributing any value to society! And that is called enterprise!"

1850, February: U.S. enacts into law the Compromise of 1850, including the Fugitive Slave Law, authorizing slaveholders and slave-catchers to seize runaways in the free states.

1850 Publication of Emerson, Representative Men. Publication of Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter.

1850, July: Death of Margaret Fuller in a shipwreck; Thoreau travels to Fire Island to recover her personal effects, but finds little. "Once... it was my business to go in search of the relics of a human body..."

1850 Thoreau works frequently as a surveyor; visits Canada (Québec), reads natural history of Alexander von Humboldt. He is elected to the Boston Society of Natural History.
The bulk of Thoreau's writing -- more systematic, more detailed observations -- is now done in the Journal, which Thoreau shapes into a distinctive vehicle for multiple purposes, composing long entries from notes gathered during walks. This way he can preserve a new spontaneity and immediacy of style.
Thoreau ceases thinking of Walden as near completion.

1851, January: Thoreau tours steam-powered textile mills at Clinton, Mass.

1851, February: Boston becomes a testing ground of the Fugitive Slave Law. Virginia refugee Shadrach Minkins, arrested in Boston, is spirited into safety by African American activists led by Lewis Hayden with the support of an antislavery crowd. Hayden conceals Minkins and brings him to an Underground Railroad safe house in Concord, en route to freedom in Canada.

Refugees pass though Concord irregularly as a stop on their journey to Canada and freedom. One safe house is that of the Thoreaus, lifelong abolitionists. Henry is one of the town's most frequent conductors.

1850 Douglass lectures throughout Massachusetts, definitively splits from Garrison. Hayden leads an attempted rescue of arrested fugitive Thomas Sims, but pro-government forces are too vigilant this time.

1850 Thoreau increases his gathering of scientific and technical data during walks in the woods; he begins to read Darwin.

1850 Publication of Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale.

1852 Publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or, Life Among the Lowly, a best-seller that crystallizes wide public sentiment against slavery (but is criticized by Garrison in The Liberator).

1852 Thoreau begins using his Journal to revise Walden extensively. He develops Walden with less insistence on outward social reform and on displaying his alternative life style as a counterexample, and more as a personal journey involving uncertainty and discovery.

By developing the cycle of the seasons into the book's primary structure, Thoreau transforms Walden into the story of his quest, passing through various changes marked by the progress of the seasons and advancing towards self-knowledge. With less editorializing in the new sections, he writes less explicitly about himself, relying more on the perfect correspondence between man and nature to give his descriptions human significance. The storytelling takes on mythic and archetypal dimensions.

1853 Thoreau's friendship with Emerson reaches a low point.
Thoreau: "Talked, or tried to talk, to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lost my time nay, almost my identity."
Emerson: "Henry is militant... does not feel himself except in opposition."

1853 Thoreau takes a second trip to the Maine woods. He publishes the first parts of A Yankee in Canada, as well as pre-publication excerpts from Walden, in Putnam's Monthly.

1853 Harriet Beecher Stowe visits Hayden in Boston, includes his narrative in A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, Presenting the Original Facts and Documents...

1854 The Kansas-Nebraska Bill repeals the Missouri Compromise, leading to armed conflict in "bleeding Kansas."

1854 The Fugitive Slave Law is reaffirmed in Boston with the the arrest, trial, and rendition of Virginia refugee Anthony Burns, amid widespread protests. Hayden and others lead an ill-fated rescue effort that leaves one man dead. President Pierce orders troops to Boston.

1854 Thoreau reacts to the Burns affair with "Slavery in Massachusetts." Beyond nonviolent refusal, Thoreau begins to accept the need for violent resistance against slavery: "I need not say what match I would touch, what system endeavor to blow up, but as I love my life, I would side with the light, and let the dark earth roll from under me, calling my mother and my brother to follow."

1854 Publication of Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods. Thoreau notes only two words about it in his Journal, yet is seen walking through the town "in a tremble of great expectation, looking like the undoubted King of all American lions" (Emerson).

1855 First Cape Cod essays published in Putnam's Monthly; Thoreau takes a second trip to Cape Cod.

1855 Publication of Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass.

1856 Brief excursions by Thoreau to various parts of New England and to New Jersey; in Brooklyn, Thoreau meets Whitman and reads Leaves of Grass, second edition: "We ought to rejoice greatly in him."

1856 Massachusetts antislavery Senator Charles Sumner is attacked on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

1857 Thoreau makes a third trip to Cape Cod and a third trip to the Maine woods; his second Maine woods essay is published; he meets militant abolitionist John Brown in Concord.
Economic panic of 1857.

1857 U.S. Supreme Court finds against Missouri slave Dred Scott and declares citizenship impossible for African Americans, a decision sharply denounced in Northern antislavery groups.

1859 Death of Henry's father; Henry takes over pencil factory; lectures frequently.

1859 John Brown leads a disastrous antislavery raid on Harpers Ferry. Captured and tried, he is sentenced to death.

1859 Thoreau stirs controversy with a spirited defense of John Brown: "I do not wish to kill or be killed, but I can foresee circumstances in which both these things would be by me unavoidable." Publishes essays on Brown, who is executed in December.

1859 Publication of Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, a strong influence upon Thoreau's nature studies.

1860, September: Thoreau reads his lecture "The Succession of Forest Trees," his major contribution to science, in Concord.

1860, December: Thoreau aggravates a severe cold while counting tree rings in Walden Woods, the onset of his fatal illness.

1860 Thoreau's research notes on American Indians reach eleven volumes; declining health forces him to suspend plans for a book.

1861 Abraham Lincoln is elected President, sparking the Confederate secession.

1861 As his tuberculosis deepens into consumption, Thoreau visits Minnesota in search of drier climate.

1861, April: Confederates fire on Fort Sumter. Beginning of Civil War.

1862, April: 23,000 men die in the battle of Shiloh. Thoreau declares he can never recover while the war lasts, because he is "sick for his country."

1862, May 6: "For joy I could embrace the earth. I shall delight to be buried in it." Death of Thoreau at the family home.

1862, May 9: Thoreau is laid to rest in the New Burying Ground, his casket covered with wildflowers. "The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost." (Emerson)

1862, September: Lincoln proclaims emancipation of slaves in the free states. "We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky... we were watching by the dim light of the stars for the dawn of a new day," declares Douglass. "We were longing for the answer to the agonizing prayers of centuries."

Chronological biography originally compiled by http://www.calliope.org/thoreau/thorotime.html

(For more information see Wikipedia)


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