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Henry David Thoreau: people live too fast.

Henry David Thoreau has contributed even more than Gilbert White to building awareness and love for nature in the English-speaking countries, mainly the United States. His 1849 book Walden, or Life in the Woods, which has grown steadily in popularity since the 1960s, has been greatly admired by those seeking a return to a simple life in contact with nature. As a work of literature, Walden ranks with the writings of Thoreau's American contemporaries such as Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) and Herman Melville (1819-1891). As the excerpt shows, it is full of both passion and sarcasm.

Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men is a little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I assure you.

Walden, or Life in the Woods

Henry D. Thoreau, Concord (1849)

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Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Words:420
Previous Article:Gilbert White: arcadian but rigorous.
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