Walden – by Henry David Thoreau
Date read: 5/21/17. Recommendation: 8/10.
Another classic. Thoreau documents his two years of simple living in a cabin near Walden Pond outside Concord, Massachusetts. He discusses themes of minimalism and self-sufficiency. Along the way he emphasizes the value of reconnecting with the natural world, and hints at stoic themes with his disdain for modern luxuries and comforts. His motivation for the book? Ensuring he was not wasting his life on trivialities, and instead living in a more deliberate, meaningful fashion.
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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...Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born?
But men labor under a mistake...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 will 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.
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.
One generation abandons the enterprises of another like stranded vessels.
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 necessities of life and what methods have been taken to obtain them.
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.
Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind.
As for clothing...perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinion of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility.
I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.
Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.
Every child begins the world again, to some extent, and loves to stay out doors, even in wet and cold.
The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself.
A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors, where there is no house and no housekeeper.
I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?
All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, "All intelligences awake with the morning." Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable actions of men, date from such an hour.
The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive.
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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.
And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked...we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad of instances and applications?
When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence–that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit every where, which is still built on purely illusory foundations.
My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that "for yesterday, today, and tomorrow, they have only one word..."
I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while other have not enough.
The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.
Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change.