Though Henry David Thoreau was born and largely raised in Concord, Massachusetts, his family lived in Boston for a portion of his childhood, occupying the house at 4 Pinckney Street between 1821 and 1823. Though Thoreau was only a toddler at the time, it was during this period that he made his first visit to Walden Pond, site of his later retreat from society. In a journal, he reflected on that first visit:
“That sweet solitude my spirits seemed so early to require at once gave the preference to this recess among the pines, where almost sunshine and shadow were the only inhabitants that varied the scene…”
Thoreau was born David Henry Thoreau, only later reversing the order of his names. His father owned a pencil factory—where Thoreau worked at various points in his life—and his mother kept boarders in the family home. Thoreau attended Harvard, but took time off to work as a teacher in Concord with his brother, John. Around this time, Thoreau met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who introduced him to transcendentalism and encouraged Thoreau to write and publish in the transcendentalist journal The Dial. Emerson proved to be a good friend to Thoreau, introducing him to Bronson Alcott, Margret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others, encouraging him to journal—which became a lifelong practice—and later employing Thoreau as a tutor and handyman in his home. When Thoreau was ready to begin his experiment in living simply, he did so on Emerson’s property, on the bank of Walden Pond.
There, Thoreau built himself a small cabin and lived largely off the land in an attempt to become self-reliant both physically and spiritually (though he was said to still receive newspapers and letters, and to eat at both Emerson’s and his mother’s houses). These experiences led to Thoreau’s best-known publication, Walden; or, Life in the Woods. It famously opens,
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”