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America’s greatest nature writer and a political thinker of international renown, Henry David Thoreau crafted essays that reflect his speculative and probing cast of mind. In his poems, he gave voice to his private sentiments and spiritual aspirations in the plain style of New England speech. The Library of America now brings together these indispensable works in one authoritative volume.
Spanning his entire career, the twenty-seven essays gathered here chart the range of Thoreau’s interests and the evolution of his thinking, particularly on nature and politics. They vary in style from the ambling rhythm of “Natural History of Massachusetts” and “A Winter Walk” to the concentrated moral outrage of “Slavery in Massachusetts” and “A Plea for Captain John Brown.” Included are “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau’s great exploration of the conflict between individual conscience and state power that continues to influence political thinkers and activists; “Walking,” a meditation on “wildness” and civilization; and “Life Without Principle,” a passionate critique of American materialism and conformity. Also here are literary essays, including pieces on Homer, Chaucer, and Carlyle; the travel essay “A Yankee in Canada”; speeches in defense of John Brown; and works on natural history written during the last years of Thoreau’s life, such as “The Succession of Forest Trees,” “Wild Apples,” and “Huckleberries.”
Many of the poems are presented here in versions based on Thoreau’s journal and manuscripts. Poems he excerpted for A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and Walden appear in their entirety. Included are “Sic Vita,” with Thoreau’s searching characterization of himself as “a parcel of vain strivings,” and the visionary “Inspiration.”
About the Author
Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817. He graduated from Harvard in 1837, the same year he began his lifelong Journal. Inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau became a key member of the Transcendentalist movement that included Margaret Fuller and Bronson Alcott. The Transcendentalists' faith in nature was tested by Thoreau between 1845 and 1847 when he lived for twenty-six months in a homemade hut at Walden Pond. While living at Walden, Thoreau worked on the two books published during his lifetime: Walden (1854) and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849). Several of his other works, including The Maine Woods, Cape Cod, and Excursions, were published posthumously. Thoreau died in Concord, at the age of forty-four, in 1862.
Date of Birth:July 12, 1817
Date of Death:May 6, 1862
Place of Birth:Concord, Massachusetts
Place of Death:Concord, Massachusetts
Education:Concord Academy, 1828-33); Harvard University, 1837