Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)
While many of his contemporaries saw Henry Thoreau as little more than one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalist disciples, many scholars now trace the roots of modern environmentalism back to Thoreau. After Thoreau returned to his native village of Concord, Massachusetts following his graduation from Harvard in 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson became his spiritual and literary mentor. Unlike Emerson, however, Thoreau’s studies of natural history were far more systematic, and resulted in a body of work—particularly that contained in his remarkable journals—that anticipates the science of ecology. Thoreau’s intimate knowledge of natural history distinguishes his work from that of Emerson in both content and style. After reading Thoreau’s journals in 1863, Emerson wrote in his own: “I find the same thought, the same spirit that is in me, but he takes a step beyond, & illustrates by excellent images that which I should have conveyed in sleepy generalities.”
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