Walt Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island, May 31, 1819, in a farm-house overlooking the sea. While still a child his parents moved to Brooklyn, where he acquired his education. He learned type-setting at thirteen years of age. Two years later he taught in a country school. At thirty he traveled through the Western States, and spent one year in New Orleans editing a newspaper. Returning home he took up his father's occupation of carpenter and builder, which he followed for a while. During the War of the Rebellion he spent most of his time in hospitals and camps, helping the sick and disabled soldiers. For a time he was a department clerk in Washington.
In 1856 he published a volume entitled "Leaves of Grass." This volume shows unquestionable power, and great originality. His labors among the sick and wounded necessarily made great impressions; these took form in his mind and were published under the title of "Drum Taps."
His poems lack much of the standard of recognized poetic measure. He has a style peculiar to himself, and his writings are full of meaning, beauty and interest. Of his productions, Underwood says: "Pupils who are accustomed to associate the idea of poetry with regular classic measure in rhyme, or in ten-syllabled blank verse or elastic hexameters, will commence these short and simple prose sentences with surprise, and will wonder how any number of them can form a poem. But let them read aloud with a mind in sympathy with the picture as it is displayed, and they will find by nature's unmistakable responses, that the author was a poet, and possessed the poet's incommunicable power to touch the heart." He died in Camden, N. J., March 20, 1892.
Thoreau is considered one of the most influential figures in American thought and literature. A supreme individualist, he championed the human spirit against materialism and social conformity. His most famous book, Walden (1854), is an eloquent account of his experiment in near-solitary living in close harmony with nature; it is also an expression of his transcendentalist philosophy.
Thoreau grew up in Concord and attended Harvard, where he was known as a serious though unconventional scholar. During his Harvard years he was exposed to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who later became his chief mentor and friend. After graduation, Thoreau worked for a time in his father's pencil shop and taught at a grammar school, but in 1841 he was invited to live in the Emerson household, where he remained intermittently until 1843. He served as handyman and assistant to Emerson, helping to edit and contributing poetry and prose to the transcendentalist magazine, The Dial.
In 1845 Thoreau built himself a small cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord; there he remained for more than two years, "living deep and sucking out all the marrow of life." Wishing to lead a life free of materialistic pursuits, he supported himself by growing vegetables and by surveying and doing odd jobs in the nearby village. He devoted most of his time to observing nature, reading, and writing, and he kept a detailed journal of his observations, activities, and thoughts. It was from this journal that he later distilled his masterpiece, Walden. The journal, begun in 1837, was also the source of his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), as well as of his posthumously published Excursions (1863), The Maine Woods (1864), Cape Cod (1865), and A Yankee in Canada (1866).
One of Henry David Thoreau's most important works, the essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849), grew out of an overnight stay in prison as a result of his conscientious refusal to pay a poll tax that supported the Mexican War, which to Thoreau represented an effort to extend slavery. Thoreau's advocacy of civil disobedience as a means for the individual to protest those actions of his government that he considers unjust has had a wide-ranging impact—the British Labor movement, the passive resistance independence movement led by Gandhi in India, and the nonviolent civil-rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States.
John Wesley was one of 19 children born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. His father was an Anglican clergyman and his mother was devoted both to God and to her children. John attended Christ Church College at Oxford, was ordained an Anglican minister, and was made a Fellow of Lincoln College. While he was at Oxford, he and a group of friends banded together to encourage one another to live a holy life. Their methodical approach to holiness led other a the college to refer to them as "Methodists."
Although Wesley grew up a deeply religious man, something was lacking in his heart. On May 24, 1738, he attended a prayer meeting at which the leader read Luther's preface to the book of Galatians. It was then, Wesley embarked on an unusual preaching ministry, especially to the common folk of the English countryside.
Historians have said that by evangelizing the common people of eighteenth-century England, Wesley saved the country from a bloody revolution. His impact upon England was dramatic during his lifetime, and even more dramatic on America after his death as many Methodist preachers crisscrossed the frontier with his message.