Quotes about Henry David Thoreau
40 Sourced Quotes
We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau's dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.
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.
I had before me the product of two mutually exclusive philosophies. Economism would insist that having made the perfect pencil, Thoreau should make more pencils and sell them for money with which to buy more material to make still more pencils to sell for money to buy still more material, and so on, because the making and selling of pencils is the whole content of life. Thoreau did not believe it is the whole content of life. It was clear that economism's philosophy was the only one which my companion was capable of accepting. Detach him from his particular specialised practice of it, and existence would have no further meaning for him; and in this he was representative of the great bulk of society in this present age.
Solitary. But not in the sense of being alone. Not solitary in the way Thoreau was, for example, exiling himself in order to find out where he was; not solitary in the way Jonah was, praying for deliverance in the belly of the whale. Solitary in the sense of retreat. In the sense of not having to see himself, of not having to see himself being seen by anyone else.
Two opposing world-views — the technological and the traditional — coexisted in uneasy tension. The technological was the stronger, of course, but the traditional was there — still functional, still exerting influence... This is what we find documented not only in Mark Twain but in the poetry of Walt Whitman, the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, the prose of Thoreau, the philosophy of Emerson, the novels of Hawthorne and Melville, and, most vividly of all, in Alexis de Tocqueville's monumental Democracy in America. In a word, two distinct thought-worlds were rubbing against each other in nineteenth-century America.