‘Dance to the beat of your own drummer:’; A piece of advice that I have been told my whole life, and have tried my hardest to follow. The words were taken from Thoreau’s quote, ‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.’;
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau changed our lives. How? Well, the answer is not so simple as the statement. To understand fully how they affected our lives, we have to understand the philosophy of Emerson and Thoreau, and the relationship between the two. So let’s begin with the relationship between Emerson and Thoreau.
Emerson was born in 1803, into a family of ministers. He went to Harvard where he studied theology and philosophy, among other subjects. It was at Harvard where Emerson discovered transendentalism, and his career shifted paths. He started to give lectures on his philosophy of life and the human spirit. It was at one of these lectures that a young, influential man by the name Thoreau first was introduced to Emerson.
Thoreau, born in 1817, was the son of a pencil maker. His mother ran a boarding house where she hosted many of the intellectuals of their time. Thoreau attended Harvard as well, and that was where he was introduced to Emerson. He became fascinated with Emerson’s philosophy while sitting in on one of his lectures. Emerson became Thoreau’s mentor and advisor. A relationship that soon deepened to a friendship. Many people claim that Thoreau’s ideas were simply taken from Emerson’s, in fact, some critics call Thoreau Emerson’s miror. And although their philosophies greatly reflected one another, they differed in many ways as well.
Emerson’s writing focused on nonconformity and individuality. In his essay “Self-Reliance,” he wrote, “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind,” and, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”
Emerson writings were also more focused on the self; philosophy of humanism and Independence from society are all things that Emerson wrote on frequently. Thoreau, while focusing on matters of the self in many of his essays, tended to have more of a political overtone to his writing.
In ‘Civil Disobedience’;, Thoreau’s most famous social protest, He explains that it is our civil right to disagree with laws. He believed that people must be free to act according to their own idea of right and wrong, without government interference. In “Civil Disobedience”, he said that people should refuse to obey any law they believe is unjust. Thoreau practiced this type of passive resistance when, in 1846, he refused to pay poll taxes. He did so to express his opposition to the Mexican War. Thoreau spent one night in jail for his refusal. The essay greatly influenced such reformers as Leo Tolstoy of Russia, Mohandas Gandhi of India, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other leaders of the American civil rights movement.
Emerson wrote about nature, saying that in order to find your true self, you must cut yourself off from society and retreat to nature. Thoreau did just this. In 1845, Thoreau moved to the shore of Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. It was there that he wrote one of his two novels ever published; Walden. The book was not only a celebration of people living in harmony with nature, but an example of withdrawing yourself from society to find yourself. An identity untainted by the modern day society. In his novel, he asked the readers to economize, to simplify their lives, and thus to save the time and energy that will allow them “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. …”
Thoreau was very much an activist. Whereas Emerson would simply write an essay on something that he felt strongly about, Thoreau would take it to the next level and participate. For example, in the anti-slavery movement. Emerson never took a stand on abolition; he never stated if he was for or against it. This angered Thoreau. Not only did Thoreau write several essay’s on the subject, attacking it in the essay “Slavery in Massachusetts”, and defending the violent abolitionist John Brown, and his raid at Harpers Ferry in “A Plea