Thoreau

Walden

Starts off by describing how his neighbors have made themselves slaves, working and toiling their whole lives, and the mass of mankind lead lives of quiet desperation and they think there is no other choice of mode of living. But it is never too late to give up our prejudices, and no way of thinking or doing however old can be trusted without proof. Age is no better qualified for an instructor as youth for it has not profited as much as it has lost, and one may doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living. The old's own experience has been so partial and their lives failures. If I have any experience which I feel valuable, I am sure to reflect that this is something my mentors said nothing about. Man's capacitites have never been measured, nor should be judge them from our precedents, so little has been tried. Nature and human life are as various as our constitutions, so who shall say what prospect life offers to another. 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. I think we may safely trust a good deal more than we do, nature is as well adapted to our weakness as to our strength. This is the only way we say, but there are as many ways as there are radii from the center. Let's consider how much it is necessary that we be troubled or at least careful. By "necessary of life", I mean all that man obtains by his own exertions has become so important to human life that few, if any, whether from savageness, poverty, or philosophy ever attempted to do without it. These are food, shelter, clothing, and fuel all which is for our bodies to keep warm. In warmer climates fuel is unnecessary except to cook, and clothing or shelter are wholly or half unnecessary. I find in this country in this age a knife, an axe, a spade, a wheel barrow, and for the studious a lamp light, stationary, and access to books are close to necessities. As for clothing we are lead more often to the love of novelty and by the regard for the opinions of men than by a true utility. Kings and queens who only wear a suit once will never know the comfort of a shirt that fits. 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. For a gentlemen considers not what is truly respectable, but what is respected. It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes. I sometimes despair of getting anything quite simple and honest done in this world by the help of men. Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new. All costume off a man is pitiful or grotesque, it is only the serious eye peering from the life within that restrains laughter and consecrate the costume. 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. Many a man is harrassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box who would not have frozen to death in a box like this. In modern civilized society those who own a shelter are a very small fraction of the whole, and they pay an annual tax for it which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. If it is asserted that civilization is a real advance in the condition of man, 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. So a man must have spent more than half his life in general before his wigwam is earned. Would the savage have been wise to exchange his wigwam for a palace on these terms.

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2009