Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were both born in Massachusetts. Emerson was born in Boston in 1803. Thoreau was born in Concord in 1817. Emerson attended Harvard and then became a Unitarian minister just like his father had been. Thoreau also attended Harvard but upon graduating, became a teacher and opened up a school. Both Emerson and Thoreau gave up their careers to pursue Transcendentalist philosophy.
Emerson was one of the first to start the Transcendental Club. Thoreau became Emerson's student after he had moved into his house. Thoreau simplified his needs and began to experiment with Transcendentalism through experience. Although Emerson's writings achieved national recognition during his lifetime, Thoreau did not see such fame during his own life. They were both active Transcendentalists, but their philosophies and methods differed slightly.
Emerson believed one should live in harmony with nature. One of his essays, appropriately titled, 'Nature,' was the first published essay on Transcendentalist philosophy. Emerson theorized that man was one and the same with nature and he wrote about his experiences with nature. In 'Nature,' Emerson wrote that, 'In the woods, we return to reason and faith. 'Although he was the one to write this, it was Thoreau who went to extremes and took this literally.
Though Emerson and Thoreau both believed in living in harmony with something, they differed on what it was they were to live in harmony with. While Emerson lectured about Transcendentalist philosophy, Thoreau thoroughly practiced it. Emerson believed in living in harmony with nature. Thoreau believed in living in peace and harmony with ourselves.
Thoreau took Transcendentalism to the extremes. He simplified every aspect of his live and went' back to nature' to test the experiences of Transcendentalism. He focused on how he could live in peace and harmony with himself in nature while Emerson lectured about living in harmony with nature. Thoreau took Emerson's teachings and expanded on them. Emerson played his role as teacher and Thoreau played his role as student. They did this both while living in the same household and throughout their lives.
Emerson taught Transcendentalist philosophy and Thoreau not only expanded on those teachings, he used them for experimenting with Transcednetalism. They both had a similar goal in common; nature. They wanted to live in harmony with nature. Emerson said that man is part of nature and should live in harmony with it. Thoreau said man should be in harmony with himself. One could say that to be in harmony with oneself is to be in harmony with nature.
Together, Emerson an Thoreau shaped a whole new way of thinking in America. This way of thinking, lives on today.