BY THE SPRING of 1844 Henry David Thoreau had accomplished almost nothing. He was 26 years old and had spent the better part of his life more or less adrift. In the seven years after graduating from Harvard, Thoreau tried to support himself in a variety of ways, as a teacher, tutor, writer, surveyor, and as a general handyman. He lived for a time with his friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and later in New York City with Emerson’s brother, only to return to Concord to reside once again with his own family. Then, in the summer of 1845, Thoreau built a solitary cabin at Walden Pond, and set about the great venture in simplified living for which he would become famous. Over the course of the next two years – some of the most productive of Thoreau’s life – he recorded meticulous observations of nature in his journal, revised the manuscript of his first major work, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” and completed the first draft of his magnum opus, “Walden, or Life in the Woods.”
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