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WALDEN Or Life In The Woods

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Author Topic: WALDEN Or Life In The Woods  (Read 990 times)
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« on: March 23, 2009, 01:39:08 am »



                              Or Life In The Woods

                             by Henry David Thoreau



  WHEN I WROTE the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I
lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house
which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord,
Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I
lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in
civilized life again.

  I should not obtrude my affairs so much on the notice of my
readers if very particular inquiries had not been made by my
townsmen concerning my mode of life, which some would call
impertinent, though they do not appear to me at all impertinent,
but, considering the circumstances, very natural and pertinent. Some
have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not
afraid; and the like. Others have been curious to learn what portion
of my income I devoted to charitable purposes; and some, who have
large families, how many poor children I maintained. I will
therefore ask those of my readers who feel no particular interest in
me to pardon me if I undertake to answer some of these questions in
this book. In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in
this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main
difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all,
always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much
about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.
Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my
experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or
last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely
what he has heard of other men's lives; some such account as he
would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived
sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me. Perhaps these
pages are more particularly addressed to poor students. As for the
rest of my readers, they will accept such portions as apply to them. I
trust that none will stretch the seams in putting on the coat, for
it may do good service to him whom it fits.

  I would fain say something, not so much concerning the Chinese and
Sandwich Islanders as you who read these pages, who are said to live
in New England; something about your condition, especially your
outward condition or circumstances in this world, in this town, what
it is, whether it is necessary that it be as bad as it is, whether
it cannot be improved as well as not. I have travelled a good deal
in Concord; and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the
inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand
remarkable ways. What I have heard of Bramins sitting exposed to
four fires and looking in the face of the sun; or hanging suspended,
with their heads downward, over flames; or looking at the heavens over
their shoulders "until it becomes impossible for them to resume
their natural position, while from the twist of the neck nothing but
liquids can pass into the stomach"; or dwelling, chained for life,
at the foot of a tree; or measuring with their bodies, like
caterpillars, the breadth of vast empires; or standing on one leg on
the tops of pillars- even these forms of conscious penance are
hardly more incredible and astonishing than the scenes which I daily
witness. The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison
with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only
twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or
captured any monster or finished any labor. They have no friend Iolaus
to burn with a hot iron the root of the hydra's head, but as soon as
one head is crushed, two spring up.
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« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2009, 01:40:00 am »

I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have
inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these
are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born
in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen
with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. Who made
them serfs of the soil? Why should they eat their sixty acres, when
man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt? Why should they begin
digging their graves as soon as they are born? They have got to live a
man's life, pushing all these things before them, and get on as well
as they can. How many a poor immortal soul have I met well-nigh
crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of
life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty, its
Augean stables never cleansed, and one hundred acres of land, tillage,
mowing, pasture, and woodlot! The portionless, who struggle with no
such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to
subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.

  But men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon
plowed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called
necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up
treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through
and steal. It is a fool's life, as they will find when they get to the
end of it, if not before. It is said that Deucalion and Pyrrha created
men by throwing stones over their heads behind them:

        Inde genus durum sumus, experiensque laborum,

        Et documenta damus qua simus origine nati.

Or, as Raleigh rhymes it in his sonorous way,

        "From thence our kind hard-hearted is, enduring pain and care,

         Approving that our bodies of a stony nature are."

So much for a blind obedience to a blundering oracle, throwing the
stones over their heads behind them, and not seeing where they fell.

  Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere
ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and
superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be
plucked by them. Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy
and tremble too much for that. Actually, the laboring man has not
leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain
the manliest relations to men; his labor would be depreciated in the
market. He has no time to be anything but a machine. How can he
remember well his ignorance- which his growth requires- who has so
often to use his knowledge? We should feed and clothe him gratuitously
sometimes, and recruit him with our cordials, before we judge of
him. The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can
be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat
ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.

  Some of you, we all know, are poor, find it hard to live, are
sometimes, as it were, gasping for breath. I have no doubt that some
of you who read this book are unable to pay for all the dinners which
you have actually eaten, or for the coats and shoes which are fast
wearing or are already worn out, and have come to this page to spend
borrowed or stolen time, robbing your creditors of an hour. It is
very evident what mean and sneaking lives many of you live, for my
sight has been whetted by experience; always on the limits, trying
to get into business and trying to get out of debt, a very ancient
slough, called by the Latins aes alienum, another's brass, for some of
their coins were made of brass; still living, and dying, and buried by
this other's brass; always promising to pay, promising to pay,
tomorrow, and dying today, insolvent; seeking to curry favor, to get
custom, by how many modes, only not state-prison offences; lying,
flattering, voting, contracting yourselves into a nutshell of civility
or dilating into an atmosphere of thin and vaporous generosity, that
you may persuade your neighbor to let you make his shoes, or his hat,
or his coat, or his carriage, or import his groceries for him; making
yourselves sick, that you may lay up something against a sick day,
something to be tucked away in an old chest, or in a stocking behind
the plastering, or, more safely, in the brick bank; no matter where,
no matter how much or how little.
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« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2009, 01:40:37 am »

I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous, I may almost say, as
to attend to the gross but somewhat foreign form of servitude called
Negro Slavery, there are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave
both North and South. It is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is
worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the
slave-driver of yourself. Talk of a divinity in man! Look at the
teamster on the highway, wending to market by day or night; does any
divinity stir within him? His highest duty to fodder and water his
horses! What is his destiny to him compared with the shipping
interests? Does not he drive for Squire Make-a-stir? How godlike, how
immortal, is he? See how he cowers and sneaks, how vaguely all the day
he fears, not being immortal nor divine, but the slave and prisoner of
his own opinion of himself, a fame won by his own deeds. Public
opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a
man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather
indicates, his fate. Self-emancipation even in the West Indian
provinces of the fancy and imagination- what Wilberforce is there to
bring that about? Think, also, of the ladies of the land weaving
toilet cushions against the last day, not to betray too green an
interest in their fates! As if you could kill time without injuring

  The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called
resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go
into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the
bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair
is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of
mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it
is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

  When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the
chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life,
it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living
because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there
is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun
rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of
thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What
everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to
be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted
for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields. What
old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds
for old people, and new deeds for new. Old people did not know enough
once, perchance, to fetch fresh fuel to keep the fire a-going; new
people put a little dry wood under a pot, and are whirled round the
globe with the speed of birds, in a way to kill old people, as the
phrase is. Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an
instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost.
One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of
absolute value by living. Practically, the old have no very important
advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial,
and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private
reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith
left which belies that experience, and they are only less young than
they were. I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have
yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from
my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me
anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent
untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If I
have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to reflect that
this my Mentors said nothing about.
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« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2009, 01:41:18 am »

One farmer says to me, "You cannot live on vegetable food solely,
for it furnishes nothing to make bones with"; and so he religiously
devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw
material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen,
which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow
along in spite of every obstacle. Some things are really necessaries
of life in some circles, the most helpless and diseased, which in
others are luxuries merely, and in others still are entirely unknown.

  The whole ground of human life seems to some to have been gone
over by their predecessors, both the heights and the valleys, and
all things to have been cared for. According to Evelyn, "the wise
Solomon prescribed ordinances for the very distances of trees; and the
Roman praetors have decided how often you may go into your
neighbor's land to gather the acorns which fall on it without
trespass, and what share belongs to that neighbor." Hippocrates has
even left directions how we should cut our nails; that is, even with
the ends of the fingers, neither shorter nor longer. Undoubtedly the
very tedium and ennui which presume to have exhausted the variety
and the joys of life are as old as Adam. But man's capacities have
never been measured; nor are we to judge of what he can do by any
precedents, so little has been tried. Whatever have been thy
failures hitherto, "be not afflicted, my child, for who shall assign
to thee what thou hast left undone?"

  We might try our lives by a thousand simple tests; as, for instance,
that the same sun which ripens my beans illumines at once a system
of earths like ours. If I had remembered this it would have
prevented some mistakes. This was not the light in which I hoed
them. The stars are the apexes of what wonderful triangles! What
distant and different beings in the various mansions of the universe
are contemplating the same one at the same moment! Nature and human
life are as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say what
prospect life offers to another? Could a greater miracle take place
than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant? We
should live in all the ages of the world in an hour; ay, in all the
worlds of the ages. History, Poetry, Mythology!- I know of no
reading of another's experience so startling and informing as this
would be.
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« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2009, 01:41:33 am »

The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul
to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my
good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well? You may
say the wisest thing you can, old man- you who have lived seventy
years, not without honor of a kind- I hear an irresistible voice which
invites me away from all that. One generation abandons the enterprises
of another like stranded vessels.

  I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. We may
waive just so much care of ourselves as we honestly bestow
elsewhere. Nature is as well adapted to our weakness as to our
strength. The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well-nigh
incurable form of disease. We are made to exaggerate the importance of
what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us! or, what if we
had been taken sick? How vigilant we are! determined not to live by
faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we
unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties.
So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing
our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way,
we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from
one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a
miracle which is taking place every instant. Confucius said, "To
know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not
know, that is true knowledge." When one man has reduced a fact of
the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that
all men at length establish their lives on that basis.

  Let us consider for a moment what most of the trouble and anxiety
which I have referred to is about, and how much it is necessary that
we be troubled, or at least careful. It would be some advantage to
live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward
civilization, if only to learn what are the gross necessaries of
life and what methods have been taken to obtain them; or even to
look over the old day-books of the merchants, to see what it was
that men most commonly bought at the stores, what they stored, that
is, what are the grossest groceries. For the improvements of ages have
had but little influence on the essential laws of man's existence:
as our skeletons, probably, are not to be distinguished from those
of our ancestors.
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« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2009, 01:41:53 am »

By the words, necessary of life, I mean whatever, of all that man
obtains by his own exertions, has been from the first, or from long
use has become, so important to human life that few, if any, whether
from savageness, or poverty, or philosophy, ever attempt to do without
it. To many creatures there is in this sense but one necessary of
life, Food. To the bison of the prairie it is a few inches of
palatable grass, with water to drink; unless he seeks the Shelter of
the forest or the mountain's shadow. None of the brute creation
requires more than Food and Shelter. The necessaries of life for man
in this climate may, accurately enough, be distributed under the
several heads of Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel; for not till we
have secured these are we prepared to entertain the true problems of
life with freedom and a prospect of success. Man has invented, not
only houses, but clothes and cooked food; and possibly from the
accidental discovery of the warmth of fire, and the consequent use
of it, at first a luxury, arose the present necessity to sit by it. We
observe cats and dogs acquiring the same second nature. By proper
Shelter and Clothing we legitimately retain our own internal heat; but
with an excess of these, or of Fuel, that is, with an external heat
greater than our own internal, may not cookery properly be said to
begin? Darwin, the naturalist, says of the inhabitants of Tierra del
Fuego, that while his own party, who were well clothed and sitting
close to a fire, were far from too warm, these naked savages, who were
farther off, were observed, to his great surprise, "to be streaming
with perspiration at undergoing such a roasting." So, we are told, the
New Hollander goes naked with impunity, while the European shivers
in his clothes. Is it impossible to combine the hardiness of these
savages with the intellectualness of the civilized man? According to
Liebig, man's body is a stove, and food the fuel which keeps up the
internal combustion in the lungs. In cold weather we eat more, in warm
less. The animal heat is the result of a slow combustion, and
disease and death take place when this is too rapid; or for want of
fuel, or from some defect in the draught, the fire goes out. Of course
the vital heat is not to be confounded with fire; but so much for
analogy. It appears, therefore, from the above list, that the
expression, animal life, is nearly synonymous with the expression,
animal heat; for while Food may be regarded as the Fuel which keeps up
the fire within us- and Fuel serves only to prepare that Food or to
increase the warmth of our bodies by addition from without- Shelter
and Clothing also serve only to retain the heat thus generated and
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« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2009, 01:42:13 am »

The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to
keep the vital heat in us. What pains we accordingly take, not only
with our Food, and Clothing, and Shelter, but with our beds, which are
our night-clothes, robbing the nests and breasts of birds to prepare
this shelter within a shelter, as the mole has its bed of grass and
leaves at the end of its burrow! The poor man is wont to complain that
this is a cold world; and to cold, no less physical than social, we
refer directly a great part of our ails. The summer, in some climates,
makes possible to man a sort of Elysian life. Fuel, except to cook his
Food, is then unnecessary; the sun is his fire, and many of the fruits
are sufficiently cooked by its rays; while Food generally is more
various, and more easily obtained, and Clothing and Shelter are wholly
or half unnecessary. At the present day, and in this country, as I
find by my own experience, a few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade,
a wheelbarrow, etc., and for the studious, lamplight, stationery,
and access to a few books, rank next to necessaries, and can all be
obtained at a trifling cost. Yet some, not wise, go to the other
side of the globe, to barbarous and unhealthy regions, and devote
themselves to trade for ten or twenty years, in order that they may
live- that is, keep comfortably warm- and die in New England at
last. The luxuriously rich are not simply kept comfortably warm, but
unnaturally hot; as I implied before, they are cooked, of course a
la mode.

  Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life,
are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the
elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the
wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.
The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were
a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so
rich in inward. We know not much about them. It is remarkable that
we know so much of them as we do. The same is true of the more
modern reformers and benefactors of their race. None can be an
impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground
of what we should call voluntary poverty. Of a life of luxury the
fruit is luxury, whether in agriculture, or commerce, or literature,
or art. There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not
philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once
admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle
thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live
according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence,
magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life,
not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars
and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not
manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as
their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a noble race
of men. But why do men degenerate ever? What makes families run out?
What is the nature of the luxury which enervates and destroys nations?
Are we sure that there is none of it in our own lives? The philosopher
is in advance of his age even in the outward form of his life. He is
not fed, sheltered, clothed, warmed, like his contemporaries. How
can a man be a philosopher and not maintain his vital heat by better
methods than other men?
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« Reply #7 on: March 23, 2009, 01:42:27 am »

When a man is warmed by the several modes which I have described,
what does he want next? Surely not more warmth of the same kind, as
more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and
more abundant clothing, more numerous, incessant, and hotter fires,
and the like. When he has obtained those things which are necessary to
life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities;
and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler
toil having commenced. The soil, it appears, is suited to the seed,
for it has sent its radicle downward, and it may now send its shoot
upward also with confidence. Why has man rooted himself thus firmly in
the earth, but that he may rise in the same proportion into the
heavens above?- for the nobler plants are valued for the fruit they
bear at last in the air and light, far from the ground, and are not
treated like the humbler esculents, which, though they may be
biennials, are cultivated only till they have perfected their root,
and often cut down at top for this purpose, so that most would not
know them in their flowering season.

  I do not mean to prescribe rules to strong and valiant natures,
who will mind their own affairs whether in heaven or hell, and
perchance build more magnificently and spend more lavishly than the
richest, without ever impoverishing themselves, not knowing how they
live- if, indeed, there are any such, as has been dreamed; nor to
those who find their encouragement and inspiration in precisely the
present condition of things, and cherish it with the fondness and
enthusiasm of lovers- and, to some extent, I reckon myself in this
number; I do not speak to those who are well employed, in whatever
circumstances, and they know whether they are well employed or not;-
but mainly to the mass of men who are discontented, and idly
complaining of the hardness of their lot or of the times, when they
might improve them. There are some who complain most energetically and
inconsolably of any, because they are, as they say, doing their
duty. I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly
impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not
how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden
or silver fetters.

  If I should attempt to tell how I have desired to spend my life in
years past, it would probably surprise those of my readers who are
somewhat acquainted with its actual history; it would certainly
astonish those who know nothing about it. I will only hint at some
of the enterprises which I have cherished.

  In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious
to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on
the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely
the present moment; to toe that line. You will pardon some
obscurities, for there are more secrets in my trade than in most
men's, and yet not voluntarily kept, but inseparable from its very
nature. I would gladly tell all that I know about it, and never
paint "No Admittance" on my gate.
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« Reply #8 on: March 23, 2009, 01:42:45 am »

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am
still on their trail. Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning
them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I
have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the
horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they
seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

  To anticipate, not the sunrise and the dawn merely, but, if
possible, Nature herself! How many mornings, summer and winter, before
yet any neighbor was stirring about his business, have I been about
mine! No doubt, many of my townsmen have met me returning from this
enterprise, farmers starting for Boston in the twilight, or
woodchoppers going to their work. It is true, I never assisted the sun
materially in his rising, but, doubt not, it was of the last
importance only to be present at it.

  So many autumn, ay, and winter days, spent outside the town,
trying to hear what was in the wind, to hear and carry it express! I
well-nigh sunk all my capital in it, and lost my own breath into the
bargain, running in the face of it. If it had concerned either of
the political parties, depend upon it, it would have appeared in the
Gazette with the earliest intelligence. At other times watching from
the observatory of some cliff or tree, to telegraph any new arrival;
or waiting at evening on the hill-tops for the sky to fall, that I
might catch something, though I never caught much, and that,
manna-wise, would dissolve again in the sun.

  For a long time I was reporter to a journal, of no very wide
circulation, whose editor has never yet seen fit to print the bulk
of my contributions, and, as is too common with writers, I got only my
labor for my pains. However, in this case my pains were their own

  For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snow-storms and
rain-storms, and did my duty faithfully; surveyor, if not of highways,
then of forest paths and all across- lot routes, keeping them open,
and ravines bridged and passable at all seasons, where the public heel
had testified to their utility.

  I have looked after the wild stock of the town, which give a
faithful herdsman a good deal of trouble by leaping fences; and I have
had an eye to the unfrequented nooks and corners of the farm; though I
did not always know whether Jonas or Solomon worked in a particular
field today; that was none of my business. I have watered the red
huckleberry, the sand cherry and the nettle-tree, the red pine and the
black ash, the white grape and the yellow violet, which might have
withered else in dry seasons.
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« Reply #9 on: March 23, 2009, 01:43:07 am »

In short, I went on thus for a long time (I may say it without
boasting), faithfully minding my business, till it became more and
more evident that my townsmen would not after all admit me into the
list of town officers, nor make my place a sinecure with a moderate
allowance. My accounts, which I can swear to have kept faithfully, I
have, indeed, never got audited, still less accepted, still less
paid and settled. However, I have not set my heart on that.

  Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house
of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. "Do you wish to buy any
baskets?" he asked. "No, we do not want any," was the reply. "What!"
exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, "do you mean to starve
us?" Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off- that the
lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and
standing followed- he had said to himself: I will go into business;
I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when
he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would
be the white man's to buy them. He had not discovered that it was
necessary for him to make it worth the other's while to buy them, or
at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else
which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of
basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one's
while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it
worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it
worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the
necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as
successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at
the expense of the others?

  Finding that my fellow-citizens were not likely to offer me any room
in the court house, or any curacy or living anywhere else, but I
must shift for myself, I turned my face more exclusively than ever
to the woods, where I was better known. I determined to go into
business at once, and not wait to acquire the usual capital, using
such slender means as I had already got. My purpose in going to Walden
Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact
some private business with the fewest obstacles; to be hindered from
accomplishing which for want of a little common sense, a little
enterprise and business talent, appeared not so sad as foolish.

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« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2009, 01:43:25 am »

I have always endeavored to acquire strict business habits; they are
indispensable to every man. If your trade is with the Celestial
Empire, then some small counting house on the coast, in some Salem
harbor, will be fixture enough. You will export such articles as the
country affords, purely native products, much ice and pine timber
and a little granite, always in native bottoms. These will be good
ventures. To oversee all the details yourself in person; to be at once
pilot and captain, and owner and underwriter; to buy and sell and keep
the accounts; to read every letter received, and write or read every
letter sent; to superintend the discharge of imports night and day; to
be upon many parts of the coast almost at the same time- often the
richest freight will be discharged upon a Jersey shore;- to be your
own telegraph, unweariedly sweeping the horizon, speaking all
passing vessels bound coastwise; to keep up a steady despatch of
commodities, for the supply of such a distant and exorbitant market;
to keep yourself informed of the state of the markets, prospects of
war and peace everywhere, and anticipate the tendencies of trade and
civilization- taking advantage of the results of all exploring
expeditions, using new passages and all improvements in navigation;-
charts to be studied, the position of reefs and new lights and buoys
to be ascertained, and ever, and ever, the logarithmic tables to be
corrected, for by the error of some calculator the vessel often splits
upon a rock that should have reached a friendly pier- there is the
untold fate of La Perouse;- universal science to be kept pace with,
studying the lives of all great discoverers and navigators, great
adventurers and merchants, from Hanno and the Phoenicians down to
our day; in fine, account of stock to be taken from time to time, to
know how you stand. It is a labor to task the faculties of a man- such
problems of profit and loss, of interest, of tare and tret, and
gauging of all kinds in it, as demand a universal knowledge.

  I have thought that Walden Pond would be a good place for
business, not solely on account of the railroad and the ice trade;
it offers advantages which it may not be good policy to divulge; it is
a good port and a good foundation. No Neva marshes to be filled;
though you must everywhere build on piles of your own driving. It is
said that a flood-tide, with a westerly wind, and ice in the Neva,
would sweep St. Petersburg from the face of the earth.

  As this business was to be entered into without the usual capital,
it may not be easy to conjecture where those means, that will still be
indispensable to every such undertaking, were to be obtained. As for
Clothing, to come at once to the practical part of the question,
perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty and a regard for the
opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility. Let him
who has work to do recollect that the object of clothing is, first, to
retain the vital heat, and secondly, in this state of society, to
cover nakedness, and he may judge how much of any necessary or
important work may be accomplished without adding to his wardrobe.
Kings and queens who wear a suit but once, though made by some
tailor or dressmaker to their majesties, cannot know the comfort of
wearing a suit that fits. They are no better than wooden horses to
hang the clean clothes on. Every day our garments become more
assimilated to ourselves, receiving the impress of the wearer's
character, until we hesitate to lay them aside without such delay
and medical appliances and some such solemnity even as our bodies.
No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his
clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to
have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to
have a sound conscience. But even if the rent is not mended, perhaps
the worst vice betrayed is improvidence. I sometimes try my
acquaintances by such tests as this- Who could wear a patch, or two
extra seams only, over the knee? Most behave as if they believed
that their prospects for life would be ruined if they should do it. It
would be easier for them to hobble to town with a broken leg than with
a broken pantaloon. Often if an accident happens to a gentleman's
legs, they can be mended; but if a similar accident happens to the
legs of his pantaloons, there is no help for it; for he considers, not
what is truly respectable, but what is respected. We know but few men,
a great many coats and breeches. Dress a scarecrow in your last shift,
you standing shiftless by, who would not soonest salute the scarecrow?
Passing a cornfield the other day, close by a hat and coat on a stake,
I recognized the owner of the farm. He was only a little more weather-
beaten than when I saw him last. I have heard of a dog that barked
at every stranger who approached his master's premises with clothes
on, but was easily quieted by a naked thief. It is an interesting
question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were
divested of their clothes. Could you, in such a case, tell surely of
any company of civilized men which belonged to the most respected
class? When Madam Pfeiffer, in her adventurous travels round the
world, from east to west, had got so near home as Asiatic Russia,
she says that she felt the necessity of wearing other than a
travelling dress, when she went to meet the authorities, for she
"was now in a civilized country, where... people are judged of by
their clothes." Even in our democratic New England towns the
accidental possession of wealth, and its manifestation in dress and
equipage alone, obtain for the possessor almost universal respect. But
they yield such respect, numerous as they are, are so far heathen, and
need to have a missionary sent to them. Beside, clothes introduced
sewing, a kind of work which you may call endless; a woman's dress, at
least, is never done.

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« Reply #11 on: March 23, 2009, 01:43:47 am »

A man who has at length found something to do will not need to get a
new suit to do it in; for him the old will do, that has lain dusty
in the garret for an indeterminate period. Old shoes will serve a hero
longer than they have served his valet- if a hero ever has a valet-
bare feet are older than shoes, and he can make them do. Only they who
go to soirees and legislative balls must have new coats, coats to
change as often as the man changes in them. But if my jacket and
trousers, my hat and shoes, are fit to worship God in, they will do;
will they not? Who ever saw his old clothes- his old coat, actually
worn out, resolved into its primitive elements, so that it was not a
deed of charity to bestow it on some poor boy, by him perchance to
be bestowed on some poorer still, or shall we say richer, who could do
with less? I say, beware of all enterprises that require new
clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new
man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any
enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not
something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to
be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or
dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in
some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain
it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles. Our moulting season,
like that of the fowls, must be a crisis in our lives. The loon
retires to solitary ponds to spend it. Thus also the snake casts its
slough, and the caterpillar its wormy coat, by an internal industry
and expansion; for clothes are but our outmost cuticle and mortal
coil. Otherwise we shall be found sailing under false colors, and be
inevitably cashiered at last by our own opinion, as well as that of

  We don garment after garment, as if we grew like exogenous plants by
addition without. Our outside and often thin and fanciful clothes
are our epidermis, or false skin, which partakes not of our life,
and may be stripped off here and there without fatal injury; our
thicker garments, constantly worn, are our cellular integument, or
cortex; but our shirts are our liber, or true bark, which cannot be
removed without girdling and so destroying the man. I believe that all
races at some seasons wear something equivalent to the shirt. It is
desirable that a man be clad so simply that he can lay his hands on
himself in the dark, and that he live in all respects so compactly and
preparedly that, if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old
philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety. While one
thick garment is, for most purposes, as good as three thin ones, and
cheap clothing can be obtained at prices really to suit customers;
while a thick coat can be bought for five dollars, which will last
as many years, thick pantaloons for two dollars, cowhide boots for a
dollar and a half a pair, a summer hat for a quarter of a dollar,
and a winter cap for sixty-two and a half cents, or a better be made
at home at a nominal cost, where is he so poor that, clad in such a
suit, of his own earning, there will not be found wise men to do him

  When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my tailoress tells me
gravely, "They do not make them so now," not emphasizing the "They" at
all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates, and I
find it difficult to get made what I want, simply because she cannot
believe that I mean what I say, that I am so rash. When I hear this
oracular sentence, I am for a moment absorbed in thought,
emphasizing to myself each word separately that I may come at the
meaning of it, that I may find out by what degree of consanguinity
'They' are related to me, and what authority they may have in an
affair which affects me so nearly; and, finally, I am inclined to
answer her with equal mystery, and without any more emphasis of the
"they"- "It is true, they did not make them so recently, but they do
now." Of what use this measuring of me if she does not measure my
character, but only the breadth of my shoulders, as it were a peg to
bang the coat on? We worship not the Graces, nor the Parcee, but
Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head
monkey at Paris puts on a traveller's cap, and all the monkeys in
America do the same. I sometimes despair of getting anything quite
simple and honest done in this world by the help of men. They would
have to be passed through a powerful press first, to squeeze their old
notions out of them, so that they would not soon get upon their legs
again; and then there would be some one in the company with a maggot
in his head, hatched from an egg deposited there nobody knows when,
for not even fire kills these things, and you would have lost your
labor. Nevertheless, we will not forget that some Egyptian wheat was
handed down to us by a mummy.
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« Reply #12 on: March 23, 2009, 01:44:11 am »

On the whole, I think that it cannot be maintained that dressing has
in this or any country risen to the dignity of an art. At present
men make shift to wear what they can get. Like shipwrecked sailors,
they put on what they can find on the beach, and at a little distance,
whether of space or time, laugh at each other's masquerade. Every
generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the
new. We are amused at beholding the costume of Henry VIII, or Queen
Elizabeth, as much as if it was that of the King and Queen of the
Cannibal Islands. All costume off a man is pitiful or grotesque. It is
only the serious eye peering from and the sincere life passed within
it which restrain laughter and consecrate the costume of any people.
Let Harlequin be taken with a fit of the colic and his trappings
will have to serve that mood too. When the soldier is hit by a
cannon-ball, rags are as becoming as purple.

  The childish and savage taste of men and women for new patterns
keeps how many shaking and squinting through kaleidoscopes that they
may discover the particular figure which this generation requires
today. The manufacturers have learned that this taste is merely
whimsical. Of two patterns which differ only by a few threads more
or less of a particular color, the one will be sold readily, the other
lie on the shelf, though it frequently happens that after the lapse of
a season the latter becomes the most fashionable. Comparatively,
tattooing is not the hideous custom which it is called. It is not
barbarous merely because the printing is skin-deep and unalterable.

  I cannot believe that our factory system is the best mode by which
men may get clothing. The condition of the operatives is becoming
every day more like that of the English; and it cannot be wondered at,
since, as far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is,
not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably,
that corporations may be enriched. In the long run men hit only what
they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they
had better aim at something high.

  As for a Shelter, I will not deny that this is now a necessary of
life, though there are instances of men having done without it for
long periods in colder countries than this. Samuel Laing says that
"the Laplander in his skin dress, and in a skin bag which he puts over
his head and shoulders, will sleep night after night on the snow... in
a degree of cold which would extinguish the life of one exposed to
it in any woollen clothing." He had seen them asleep thus. Yet he
adds, "They are not hardier than other people." But, probably, man did
not live long on the earth without discovering the convenience which
there is in a house, the domestic comforts, which phrase may have
originally signified the satisfactions of the house more than of the
family; though these must be extremely partial and occasional in those
climates where the house is associated in our thoughts with winter
or the rainy season chiefly, and two thirds of the year, except for
a parasol, is unnecessary. In our climate, in the summer, it was
formerly almost solely a covering at night. In the Indian gazettes a
wigwam was the symbol of a day's march, and a row of them cut or
painted on the bark of a tree signified that so many times they had
camped. Man was not made so large limbed and robust but that he must
seek to narrow his world and wall in a space such as fitted him. He
was at first bare and out of doors; but though this was pleasant
enough in serene and warm weather, by daylight, the rainy season and
the winter, to say nothing of the torrid sun, would perhaps have
nipped his race in the bud if he had not made haste to clothe
himself with the shelter of a house. Adam and Eve, according to the
fable, wore the bower before other clothes. Man wanted a home, a place
of warmth, or comfort, first of warmth, then the warmth of the

  We may imagine a time when, in the infancy of the human race, some
enterprising mortal crept into a hollow in a rock for shelter. Every
child begins the world again, to some extent, and loves to stay
outdoors, even in wet and cold. It plays house, as well as horse,
having an instinct for it. Who does not remember the interest with
which, when young, he looked at shelving rocks, or any approach to a
cave? It was the natural yearning of that portion, any portion of
our most primitive ancestor which still survived in us. From the
cave we have advanced to roofs of palm leaves, of bark and boughs,
of linen woven and stretched, of grass and straw, of boards and
shingles, of stones and tiles. At last, we know not what it is to live
in the open air, and our lives are domestic in more senses than we
think. From the hearth the field is a great distance. It would be
well, perhaps, if we were to spend more of our days and nights without
any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies, if the poet did
not speak so much from under a roof, or the saint dwell there so long.
Birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocence in
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« Reply #13 on: March 23, 2009, 01:44:37 am »

However, if one designs to construct a dwelling-house, it behooves
him to exercise a little Yankee shrewdness, lest after all he find
himself in a workhouse, a labyrinth without a clue, a museum, an
almshouse, a prison, or a splendid mausoleum instead. Consider first
how slight a shelter is absolutely necessary. I have seen Penobscot
Indians, in this town, living in tents of thin cotton cloth, while the
snow was nearly a foot deep around them, and I thought that they would
be glad to have it deeper to keep out the wind. Formerly, when how
to get my living honestly, with freedom left for my proper pursuits,
was a question which vexed me even more than it does now, for
unfortunately I am become somewhat callous, I used to see a large
box by the railroad, six feet long by three wide, in which the
laborers locked up their tools at night; and it suggested to me that
every man who was hard pushed might get such a one for a dollar,
and, having bored a few auger holes in it, to admit the air at
least, get into it when it rained and at night, and hook down the lid,
and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free. This did not
appear the worst, nor by any means a despicable alternative. You could
sit up as late as you pleased, and, whenever you got up, go abroad
without any landlord or house-lord dogging you for rent. Many a man is
harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box
who would not have frozen to death in such a box as this. I am far
from jesting. Economy is a subject which admits of being treated
with levity, but it cannot so be disposed of. A comfortable house
for a rude and hardy race, that lived mostly out of doors, was once
made here almost entirely of such materials as Nature furnished
ready to their hands. Gookin, who was superintendent of the Indians
subject to the Massachusetts Colony, writing in 1674, says, "The
best of their houses are covered very neatly, tight and warm, with
barks of trees, slipped from their bodies at those seasons when the
sap is up, and made into great flakes, with pressure of weighty
timber, when they are green.... The meaner sort are covered with
mats which they make of a kind of bulrush, and are also
indifferently tight and warm, but not so good as the former.... Some I
have seen, sixty or a hundred feet long and thirty feet broad.... I
have often lodged in their wigwams, and found them as warm as the best
English houses." He adds that they were commonly carpeted and lined
within with well-wrought embroidered mats, and were furnished with
various utensils. The Indians had advanced so far as to regulate the
effect of the wind by a mat suspended over the hole in the roof and
moved by a string. Such a lodge was in the first instance
constructed in a day or two at most, and taken down and put up in a
few hours; and every family owned one, or its apartment in one.

  In the savage state every family owns a shelter as good as the best,
and sufficient for its coarser and simpler wants; but I think that I
speak within bounds when I say that, though the birds of the air
have their nests, and the foxes their holes, and the savages their
wigwams, in modern civilized society not more than one half the
families own a shelter. In the large towns and cities, where
civilization especially prevails, the number of those who own a
shelter is a very small fraction of the whole. The rest pay an
annual tax for this outside garment of all, become indispensable
summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but
now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. I do not mean to
insist here on the disadvantage of hiring compared with owning, but it
is evident that the savage owns his shelter because it costs so
little, while the civilized man hires his commonly because he cannot
afford to own it; nor can he, in the long run, any better afford to
hire. But, answers one, by merely paying this tax, the poor
civilized man secures an abode which is a palace compared with the
savage's. An annual rent of from twenty-five to a hundred dollars
(these are the country rates) entitles him to the benefit of the
improvements of centuries, spacious apartments, clean paint and paper,
Rumford fireplace, back plastering, Venetian blinds, copper pump,
spring lock, a commodious cellar, and many other things. But how
happens it that he who is said to enjoy these things is so commonly
a poor civilized man, while the savage, who has them not, is rich as a
savage? If it is asserted that civilization is a real advance in the
condition of man- and I think that it is, though only the wise improve
their advantages- it must be shown that it has produced better
dwellings without making them more costly; and the cost of a thing
is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be
exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. An average house
in this neighborhood costs perhaps eight hundred dollars, and to lay
up this sum will take from ten to fifteen years of the laborer's life,
even if he is not encumbered with a family- estimating the pecuniary
value of every man's labor at one dollar a day, for if some receive
more, others receive less;- so that he must have spent more than
half his life commonly before his wigwam will be earned. If we suppose
him to pay a rent instead, this is but a doubtful choice of evils.
Would the savage have been wise to exchange his wigwam for a palace on
these terms?

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« Reply #14 on: March 23, 2009, 01:44:54 am »

It may be guessed that I reduce almost the whole advantage of
holding this superfluous property as a fund in store against the
future, so far as the individual is concerned, mainly to the defraying
of funeral expenses. But perhaps a man is not required to bury
himself. Nevertheless this points to an important distinction
between the civilized man and the savage; and, no doubt, they have
designs on us for our benefit, in making the life of a civilized
people an institution, in which the life of the individual is to a
great extent absorbed, in order to preserve and perfect that of the
race. But I wish to show at what a sacrifice this advantage is at
present obtained, and to suggest that we may possibly so live as to
secure all the advantage without suffering any of the disadvantage.
What mean ye by saying that the poor ye have always with you, or
that the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth
are set on edge?

  "As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any
more to use this proverb in Israel.

  "Behold all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the
soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die."

  When I consider my neighbors, the farmers of Concord, who are at
least as well off as the other classes, I find that for the most
part they have been toiling twenty, thirty, or forty years, that
they may become the real owners of their farms, which commonly they
have inherited with encumbrances, or else bought with hired money- and
we may regard one third of that toil as the cost of their houses-
but commonly they have not paid for them yet. It is true, the
encumbrances sometimes outweigh the value of the farm, so that the
farm itself becomes one great encumbrance, and still a man is found to
inherit it, being well acquainted with it, as he says. On applying
to the assessors, I am surprised to learn that they cannot at once
name a dozen in the town who own their farms free and clear. If you
would know the history of these homesteads, inquire at the bank
where they are mortgaged. The man who has actually paid for his farm
with labor on it is so rare that every neighbor can point to him. I
doubt if there are three such men in Concord. What has been said of
the merchants, that a very large majority, even ninety-seven in a
hundred, are sure to fail, is equally true of the farmers. With regard
to the merchants, however, one of them says pertinently that a great
part of their failures are not genuine pecuniary failures, but
merely failures to fulfil their engagements, because it is
inconvenient; that is, it is the moral character that breaks down. But
this puts an infinitely worse face on the matter, and suggests,
beside, that probably not even the other three succeed in saving their
souls, but are perchance bankrupt in a worse sense than they who
fail honestly. Bankruptcy and repudiation are the springboards from
which much of our civilization vaults and turns its somersets, but the
savage stands on the unelastic plank of famine. Yet the Middlesex
Cattle Show goes off here with eclat annually, as if all the joints of
the agricultural machine were suent.

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