Who influenced Henry David Thoreau? Though Thoreau's main influence was nature, he was also deeply affected by the transcendentalist author Ralph Waldo Emerson. In fact, Emerson became Thoreau's mentor and friend. Together they helped lead the transcendentalist movement in American literature.
While attending Harvard University Henry David Thoreau read Ralph Waldo Emerson's Nature, a short book considered to be the birth of the American transcendentalist movement. Emerson's Nature awakened a calling in Thoreau that transformed him into a major advocate and life-long student of the movement.
The transcendentalist movement was based on the theory that man's relationship with God should be defined through an ideal spiritual reality and not just physical perceptions. It valued thought and knowledge over physical manifestations. It reasoned that people should trust their own intuition and logic over societal rules and customs. It also involved becoming one with nature and gaining a deeper understanding of one's own soul.
Transcendentalism's strongest supporters tended to be authors in the New England area of America during the mid to late 1800s. Many transcendentalist followers were also social advocates who pushed for women's rights and the abolishment of slavery. Ralph Waldo Emerson was an abolitionist and Henry David Thoreau is now known to have been involved in the Underground Railroad, a secret network used to hide and transport runaway slaves.
In 1845, at the age of 25, Henry David Thoreau decided he wanted to focus on writing. Ralph Waldo Emerson's family let him stay on their land at a place called "Walden pond," where he built a cabin and learned how to live as one with nature. During the little over two years Thoreau spent at Walden, he used his time for reading, writing and studying nature.
Though he wrote the journals that would later become his famous book Walden, Thoreau spent most of his time at Walden Pond writing an account of a canoe trip he and his brother had undertaken. When he finally returned home, Thoreau could not find anyone to publish his works. He returned to his family's pencil making business and authored several lectures. After nine years and several revisions, Thoreau was able to sell his book, Walden, a factual and philosophical account of his time living at the pond.