Glossary entry for
Thoreau, Henry David

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) perhaps best known as the author of Walden, was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on the 12th of July, 1817. An American essayist, poet, and practical philosopher, he was renowned for having lived the doctrines of Transcendentalism as recorded in his masterwork, Walden (1854), and for having been a vigorous advocate of civil liberties, as evidenced in the essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849).

The picture at right was one of three daguerreotypes taken in June of 1856, after a Walden reader in Michigan had sent money and requested a picture. It shows Thoreau at age 39.

Van's song "Choppin Wood" features the phrase "quiet desperation", which is an obvious reference to the following passage from the Economy section of Walden:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.

Van's song "Someone Like You" contains the phrase "marching to the beat of a different drum", paraphrasing a passage from the Conclusion of Walden.

More information available at:

  • Wikipedia's page on Henry David Thoreau - is a good starting point more information.
  • The Thoreau Reader - has online versions of some of Thoreau's major works, including Walden and Civil Disobedience.
  • The Thoreau Society - the oldest and largest organization devoted to an American author, dedicated to promoting Thoreau's life and works through education, outreach, and advocacy.

Van references in:

Part of the unofficial website