This provided a degree of stability both financially and emotionally for the family. Thoreau attended Concord's public primary school and went on to Concord Academy. Thoreau was not an extraordinary student in any regard.
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It is not difficult to imagine that the mind that would create some of the most influential writings on freedom might have been unwilling to conform to the authoritarian 's New England education system. However, Thoreau was enough of a scholar to be accepted to Harvard in , just after his sixteenth birthday. It was a financial struggle for the Thoreau family to send Henry to college, but through a combination of Yankee frugality, family contributions, a minor scholarship from Harvard, and a program that allowed latter-day financial aid students to take semesters off to work, Thoreau completed his studies at Harvard in Although today Thoreau is honored and studied as a scholar, writer, philosopher, and social activist, there was nothing remarkable about him as a student.
Walking by Henry David Thoreau
He graduated 19th out of 44 students, and did nothing in his scholastic endeavors to distinguish himself. What is perhaps most notable about Thoreau's time at Harvard is that his future mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was a noted Transcendental scholar, spoke at Thoreau's graduation. After Harvard, Thoreau returned to Concord and taught briefly at the public school. He accepted the teaching position on the condition that he would not implement any form of corporal punishment.
The school board did not agree with the young teacher's alternative ideas of education, and Thoreau left after only two weeks. He worked alternately in his father's pencil shop, which was operating in the back wing of the family house, but felt called to teach. Thoreau applied for a teaching job in Maine, but when he wasn't hired, he and his brother started a school in the Thoreau house in The Thoreau brothers' alternative style of teaching, which featured nature walks and discussions rather than memorization and corporal punishment, became popular with Concord residents and other nearby parents wishing for a different sort of education for their children.
Due to the popularity of their methods, the school outgrew the Thoreau house, and the brothers moved their school to the grounds of the then defunct Concord Academy.
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The Thoreau family home itself was far from the idyllic solitude "Walden" and Thoreau have come to symbolize. Not only was the pencil-making operation run out of the house, but several of Thoreau's aunts also lived there. Thoreau's mother took in boarders, including John and Henry's pupils. The house was also a hotbed of abolitionist activities.
Thoreau's mother and both sisters were founding and active members of the Concord Women's Anti-Slavery Society, formed in Not surprisingly, there are accounts that Thoreau himself was active in the Underground Railroad, Cain, p. In , following Emerson's speech at Harvard and Thoreau's return to Concord, the two men struck up a friendship.
The exact details of their meeting remain obscure. Thoreau may have worked briefly as a gardener for Emerson, or mutual friends may have introduced young Thoreau to the elder Emerson based on similarities between Thoreau's journals and Emerson's lectures. In any case they enjoyed, for a time, a mutually beneficial and harmonious friendship.
While their love and respect for each other was constant, in the nearly 30 years of their friendship, they had many intellectual and social differences of opinion. Emerson was thirty-four years old when he and Thoreau became friends and he admired the younger man, who seemed to live out so many of the Transcendental ideals that he was writing about and lecturing on at the time.
It is possible that it was Emerson who encouraged Thoreau to keep a daily journal. Thoreau, somehow between teaching at the school, helping with the pencil business, and doing other odd jobs around Concord, found time for nearly daily walks where he recorded both his natural history observations and his commentaries on society.
This was a practice that Thoreau would keep for his entire life-the full collection of his journals and diaries is well over pages.
The journals and observations that Thoreau made over those two weeks comprised his first book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Thoreau's writing conveys an infectious and passionate enthusiasm for the wildness he found along the two populated rivers. This enthusiasm is almost tangible, even reading his accounts years after the fact. It is a symbol of anything outside the sameness of urban society and collectivity. A savage is born with no name. His name is conquered, it is given by what others see in him, by that aspect of his character that most impresses the eyes of his fellows.
He will be named Intrepid if he is intrepid. Become a member.
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