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Henry David Thoreau: Death

Walden was published in 1854. The book was a success, earning Thoreau praise and followers. Thoreau continued to speak out on the things that he felt passionate about. In October 1859, the abolitionist zealot John Brown led a raid on the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in the hopes of sparking a slave rebellion. The rebellion was quashed and Brown was imprisoned and later hanged. Thoreau wrote both a speech and an essay supporting Brown, despite the fact that the raid had been largely unpopular. That was just Thoreau. "No opposition or ridicule had any weight with him," Emerson wrote. "He coldly and fully stated his opinion without affecting to believe that it was the opinion of the company. It was of no consequence, if every one present held the opposite opinion."14

Thoreau had suffered from tuberculosis since 1835. By the 1860s, his health was beginning to fail. During a trip to count tree-rings in the woods in late 1861, he caught a bad cold. Knowing the end was near, he made arrangements to have his book The Maine Woods and other writings published after his death. Henry David Thoreau died at home in Concord on 6 May 1862 at the age of 48. He was buried in the family plot at Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, in a casket draped with wildflowers. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave the eulogy at his funeral.

As his illness worsened in the final months of his life, it was clear that he was approaching death. Friends and neighbors were amazed by how serene he was in the face of his mortality. They needn't have wondered why. As Thoreau wrote in his journal, "For joy I could embrace the earth. I shall delight to be buried in it."15

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