Book Reviews

Walden by Henry David Thoreau -Book Notes, Summary, and Review

47. Walden - Henry David Thoreau

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Rating: 9/10

Date of reading: 7th – 18th of December, 2017

Description: Your purpose for life is always bigger than you and it involves you doing something for the sake of others. But you only find what you want to do in others when you look deep within you. And that is almost impossible in a hectic and noisy world. Thoreau figured that out back in the 1840s so he secluded himself, alone, in a forest for two years to figure his life out. And what came out of that seclusion was Walden, one of the best self-reliance texts ever written in the history. 


My notes:


“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.” ( :6)

“What old people say you cannot do you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.” ( :10)

“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 any thing, to the purpose.” ( :11)

“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 plough along in spite of every obstacle.” ( :11)

“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.”” ( :13)

“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.” ( :13)

“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” ( :15)

“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.” ( :19)

“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.” ( :22)

“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?” ( :22)

“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.” ( :27)

“I know one or two families, at least, in this town, who, for nearly a generation, have been wishing to sell their houses in the outskirts and move into the village, but have not been able to accomplish it, and only death will set them free.” ( :30)

“dig a square pit in the ground, cellar fashion, six or seven feet deep, as long and as broad as they think proper, case the earth inside with wood all round the wall, and line the wood with the bark of trees or something else to prevent the caving in of the earth; floor this cellar with plank, and wainscot it overhead for a ceiling, raise a roof of spars clear up, and cover the spars with bark or green sods, so that they can live dry and warm in these houses with their entire families for two, three, and four years, it being understood that partitions are” ( :34)

“Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my house, and began to cut down some tall arrowy white pines, still in their youth, for timber” ( :35)

“I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain one for a lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he now pays annually.” ( :42)

“”But,” says one, “you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?” I do not mean that exactly, but I mean something which he might think a good deal like that; 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.” ( :43)

“One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon.” ( :48)

“House, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $28 12 1\2 Farm one year, . . . . . . . . . . . 14 72 1\2 Food eight months, . . . . . . . . . 8 74 Clothing, &c., eight months, . . . . 8 40 ¾ Oil, &c., eight months, . . . . . . 2 00 In all, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$61 99 3/4 I address myself now to those of my readers who have a living to get. And to meet this I have for farm produce sold $23 44 Earned by day-labor, . . . . . . . . $13 34 In all, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..$36 78,” ( :51)

“For more than five years I maintained myself thus solely by the labor of my hands, and I found, that by working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the expenses of living.” ( :58)

“For myself I found that the occupation of a day-laborer was the most independent of any, especially as it required only thirty or forty days in a year to support one. The laborer’s day ends with the going down of the sun, and he is then free to devote himself to his chosen pursuit, independent of his labor; but his employer, who speculates from month to month, has no respite from one end of the year to the other.” ( :59)

“They say that characters were engraven on the bathing tub of king Tching-thang to this effect: “Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.”” ( :74)

“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 have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?” ( :75)

“An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.” ( :76)

“So soul,” continues the Hindoo philosopher, “from the circumstances in which it is placed, mistakes its own character, until the truth is revealed to it by some holy teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahme.”” ( :80)

“We think that that is which appears to be. If a man should walk through this town and see only the reality, where, think you, would the “Mill-dam” go to? If he should give us an account of the realities he beheld there, we should not recognize the place in his description.” ( :80)

“Says the poet Mîr Camar Uddîn Mast, “Being seated to run through the region of the spiritual world; I have had this advantage in books. To be intoxicated by a single glass of wine; I have experienced this pleasure when I have drunk the liquor of the esoteric doctrines.”” ( :83)

“For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave.” ( :84)

“e crowds of men who merely spoke the Greek and Latin tongues in the middle ages were not entitled by the accident of birth to read the works of genius written in those languages; for these were not written in that Greek or Latin which they knew, but in the select language of literature.” ( :85)

“The astronomers forever comment on and observe them. They are not exhalations like our daily colloquies and vaporous breath. What is called eloquence in the forum is commonly found to be rhetoric in the study. The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and heart of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.” ( :85)

“No wonder that Alexander carried the Iliad with him on his expeditions in a precious casket. A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to 85” ( :85)

“life itself.” ( :86)

“I aspire to be acquainted with wiser men than this our Concord soil has produced, whose names are hardly known here. Or shall I hear the name of Plato and never read his book? As if Plato were my townsman and I never saw him,—my next neighbor and I never heard him speak or attended to the wisdom of his words. But how actually is it?” ( :89)

“I confess I do not make any very broad distinction between the illiterateness of my townsman who cannot read at all, and the illiterateness of him who has learned to read only what is for children and feeble intellects.” ( :89)

“We are a race of tit-men, and soar but little higher in our intellectual flights than the columns of the daily paper.” ( :89)

“We spend more on almost any article of bodily aliment or ailment than on our mental aliment.” ( :90)

“Shall the world be confined to one Paris or one Oxford forever? Cannot students be boarded here and get a liberal education under the 90” ( :90)

“skies of Concord?” ( :91)

“I am confident that, as our circumstances are more flourishing, our means are greater than the nobleman’s. New England can hire all the wise men in the world to come and teach her, and board them round the while, and not be provincial at all. That is the uncommon school we want. Instead of noblemen, let us have noble villages of men” ( :91)

“men. If it is necessary, omit one bridge over the 91” ( :91)

“river, go round a little there, and throw one arch at least over the darker gulf of ignorance which surrounds us.” ( :92)

“love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway,” ( :93)

“that “for yesterday, to-day, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday, forward for to-morrow, and overhead for the passing day.”” ( :94)

“As the Orientals say, “A cur’s tail may be warmed, and pressed, and bound round with ligatures, and after a twelve years’ labor bestowed upon it, still it will retain its natural form.”” ( :101)

“My nearest neighbor is a mile distant, and no house is visible from any place but the hill-tops within half a mile of my own.” ( :109)

“But for the most part it is as solitary where I live as on the prairies. It is as much Asia or Africa as New England.” ( :109)

“There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses still.” ( :109)

“I passed it again the other day, and was struck with awe on looking up and beholding that mark, now more distinct than ever, where a terrific and resistless bolt came down out of the harmless sky eight years ago.” ( :111)

“This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the Milky Way?” ( :111)

“I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.” ( :111)

“A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will. Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows.” ( :113)

“The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is employed; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but must be where he can “see the folks,” and recreate, and as he thinks remunerate, himself for his day’s solitude; and hence he wonders how the student can sit alone in the house all night and most of the day without ennui and “the blues;” but he does not realize that the student, though in the house, is still at work in his field, and chopping in his woods, as the farmer in his, and in turn seeks the same recreation and society that the latter does, though it may be a more condensed form of it.” ( :113)

“”And as he spake, his wings would now and then Spread, as he meant to fly, then close again,”” ( :137)

“One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cobbler’s, I was seized and put into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related,” ( :142)

“I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown.” ( :143)

“nknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.” ( :143)

“”You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ punishments? Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass; the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends.”” ( :143)

“I detect the paver. If the name was not derived from that of some English locality,—Saffron Walden, for 151” ( :151)

“instance,—one might suppose that it was called, originally, Walled-in Pond.” ( :152)

“pring and fall, the white-bellied swallows (Hirundo bicolor)” ( :153)

“Give me the poverty that enjoys true wealth.” ( :162)

“I had rarely for many years used animal food, or tea, or coffee, &c.; not so much because of any ill effects which I had traced to them, as because they were not agreeable to my imagination.” ( :176)

“The gross feeder is a man in the larva state; and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without fancy or imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them.” ( :177)

“I would fain keep sober always; and there are infinite degrees of drunkenness. I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man; wine is not so noble a liquor; and think of dashing the hopes of a morning with a cup of warm coffee, or of an evening with a dish of tea!” ( :178)

“A phoebe soon built in my shed, and a robin for protection in a pine which grew against the house. In June the partridge, (Tetrao umbellus,) which is so shy a bird,” ( :186)

“Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change.” ( :268)

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board.” ( :269)

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