Henry David Thoreau

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Under Emerson's influence, Thoreau developed reformist ideas. On July 4, 1845, Independence Day , Thoreau moved into a self-built log cabin (Walden Hut) near Concord on Lake Walden on a property in Emerson. Here he lived alone and independently for about two years, but not isolated. In his work Walden . Or Life in the Woods - he described his simple lifeat the lake and its nature and also integrated topics such as economy and society. The “Walden” experiment made it clear to Thoreau that six weeks of wage labor a year is enough to make a living.

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Henry David Thoreau





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“The evil that men do lives after them.”


Where I Lived, and What I Lived For





The Bean-Field

The Village

The Ponds

Baker Farm

Higher Laws

Brute Neighbors

Former Inhabitants and Winter Visitors

Winter Animals

The Pond in Winter

Walden pond map




Impressum neobooks





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


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 Brahmins 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 Iolas to burn with a hot iron the root of

the hydra’s head, but as soon as one head is crushed, two spring up.

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

wood-lot! 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 quâ 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 _æs 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


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 eternity.

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 to-day may turn out to

be falsehood to-morrow, 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 any thing 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 any thing 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.

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. 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 prætors 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.

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.

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 absorbed.

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, &c., 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 _à 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 nobler 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?

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


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

to-day; 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.

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


Finding that my fellow-citizens were not likely to offer me any room in

the court house, or any curacy or living any where 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.

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 every where, 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 Phœnicians 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 every where 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.

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 soirées and legislative halls 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 mankind.

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 reverence?

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 hang the coat on? We

worship not the Graces, nor the Parcæ, 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.

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 physical

warmth, then the warmth of the affections.

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 out

doors, 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 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 to 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 dovecots.

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?

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 _éclat_ annually, as if all the joints

of the agricultural machine were suent.

The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a

formula more complicated than the problem itself. To get his

shoestrings he speculates in herds of cattle. With consummate skill he

has set his trap with a hair spring to catch comfort and independence,

and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it. This is the

reason he is poor; and for a similar reason we are all poor in respect

to a thousand savage comforts, though surrounded by luxuries. As

Chapman sings,—

“The false society of men—

—for earthly greatness

All heavenly comforts rarefies to air.”

And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the

poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him. As I understand