Quotes about Henry David Thoreau
40 Sourced Quotes
Somehow it is the male's duty to put the best years of his life into work he doesn't like in order that he may "retire" and enjoy himself as soon as he is too old to do so. This is more than just the system - it is the credo. It is the same thing that prompted Thoreau to say, in 1839: 'The majority of men lead lives of quiet desperation.'
It happens from time to time in every complex and active society, that certain persons feel the complexity and insistence as a tangle, and seek freedom in retirement, as Thoreau sought at Walden Pond. They do not, however, in this manner escape from the social institutions of their time, nor do they really mean to do so; what they gain, if they are successful, is a saner relation to them.
There is an intense but simple thrill in setting off in the morning on a mountain trail, knowing that everything you need is on your back. It is a confidence in having left the inessentials behind and of entering a world of natural beauty that has not been violated, where money has no value, and possessions are a dead weight. The person with the fewest possessions is the freest. Thoreau was right.
The strongest natures, when they are influenced, submit the most unreservedly: it is perhaps a sign of their strength. But that Thoreau lost any of his own force in the process, or took on permanently any colours not natural to himself the readers of his books will certainly deny. The Transcendentalist movement, like most movements of vigour, represented the effort of one or two remarkable people to shake off the old clothes which had become uncomfortable to them and fit themselves more closely to what now appeared to them to be the realities.
Thoreau said: "I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestioned ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor." That is not only an encouraging statement, it is also an empowering one. It means you can accomplish a lot by applying your brainpower and then moving forward with it.
A land ethic for tomorrow should be as honest as Thoreau's Walden, and as comprehensive as the sensitive science of ecology. It should stress the oneness of our resources and the live-and-help-live logic of the great chain of life. If, in our haste to "progress," the economics of ecology are disregarded by citizens and policy makers alike, the result will be an ugly America.
What the earliest utopians—Montaigne, Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella—understood was that they fought not for a place but for a new set of ideas through which to recognize what would count as Real: Equality, not hierarchical authority. Individual dignity, not slavish subservience. Our preeminent problem is that we recognize the Real in what is most deadly: a culture of duty to legalities that are, finally, cruel and destructive. We need to work inventively—as Christ did, as Thoreau did—in the spirit of disobedience for the purpose of refusing the social order into which we happen to have been born and putting in its place a culture of life-giving things.
I like that saying of Thoreau's that in wildness is the preservation of the world. Settlers on this continent from the beginning have been seeking that wilderness and its wildness. The explorers and pioneers were out on the edge, seeking that wildness because they could sense that in Europe everything had become locked tight with things. The things were owned by all the same people and all of the roads went in the same direction forever. When we got here there was a sense of possibility and new direction, and it had to do with wildness.
In contrasting the temperaments, the points of view, the philosophy, and the methods of these two antagonistic minds, I have been forced to take two extremes, the Bakouninist anarchist and the Marxian socialist. In the case of the former, it has been necessary to present the views of a particular school of anarchism, more or less regardless of certain other schools. Proudhon, Stirner, Warren, and Tucker do not advocate violent measures, and Tolstoi, Ibsen, Spencer, Thoreau, and Emerson—although having the anarchist point of view—can hardly be conceived of as advocating violent measures.... I have not dealt with the philosophical anarchism, or whatever one may call it, of these last.