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Thoreau Sayings

Henry David Thoreau (1817–62) was born David Henry Thoreau, in Concord, Massachusetts. He was an American author, poet, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, philosopher, and transcendentalist. In 1841, Thoreau moved into the Emerson house. There, from 1841 to 1844, he served as the children's tutor, editorial assistant, and repair man/gardener.

He advocated recreational hiking, conserving natural resources on private land, and preserving wilderness as public land. He neither rejected civilisation nor fully embraced wilderness, as he realised the necessity of balance.

Thoreau's last words before he died were "Now comes good sailing." And in the years up till that moment, he wrote much. His writings influenced many public figures, like Mohandas Gandhi.

Gandhi first read Thoreau's Walden in 1906 while working as a civil rights activist in Johannesburg, South Africa. He told the American reporter Webb Miller that Thoreau's ideas "influenced me greatly. I adopted some of them and recommended the study of Thoreau to all of my friends who were helping me in the cause of Indian Independence. Why I actually took the name of my movement from Thoreau's essay 'On the Duty of Civil Disobedience'.

Thoreau Quotations

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new. ["Walden" (1854)]

I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.

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. ["Walden"]

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost, that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.

It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes. ["Walden"]

It is not worthwhile to go around the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.

Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.

The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. [Walden, Chapter 1: Economy]

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. ["Walden"]

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is in prison.

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.

Be not simply good, be good for something.

Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.

Do what nobody else can do for you.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.

It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.

[Some] have become the tools of their tools.

Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity.

Inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.

What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?


Thoreau quotations, Literature  

Blake, G. H. O., ed. Thoreau's Thought: Selections from the Writings of Henry David Thoreau. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1890.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Henry David Thoreau. Updated ed. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007.

Childs, Christopher, comp., ed. Encounters with Henry David Thoreau: Clear Sky, Pure Light.. Lincoln, MA. Penmaen, 1978.

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden. Ed. Jeffrey S. Cramer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

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