Quotations by Thoreau, Henry David


If the government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong I condemn.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
“Civil Disobedience” (1849)
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Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
“Civil Disobedience” (1849)
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There is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
“Life without Principle,” Atlantic (Oct 1863)
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It is not enough to tell me you worked hard to get your gold.  So does the Devil work hard.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
“Life Without Principle,” Atlantic (Oct 1863)
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The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls — the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
“Slavery in Massachussets,” Speech, Framingham, Mass. (4 Jul 1854)

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The effect of a good government is to make life more valuable; of a bad one, to make it less valuable.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
“Slavery in Massachussetts,” speech, Farmingham (4 Jul 1854)
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We seem to have forgotten that the expression “a liberal education” originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely, was considered worthy of slaves only.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
“The Last Days of John Brown” (1860)
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Also known as "A Plea for Captain John Brown".
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The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
(Attributed)
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I did not know that we had ever quarreled, Aunt.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
(Attributed)

On his deathbed, when asked by his Aunt Louisa if he'd made his peace with God.
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That is mine which none can steal from me.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
(Attributed)

In Bronson Alcott, Concord Days, 5 Apr 1869 (1872)
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None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
(Attributed)

First attributed in Kate Sanborn, A Year of Sunshine; Cheerful Extracts for Every Day in the Year (1886), but not found in his writings.
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Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
(Misattributed)

Actually from James Jeffrey Roche, "Rules of the Road" (1891):

Be silent and safe — silence never betrays you;
Be true to your word and your work and your friend;
Put least trust in him who is foremost to praise you,
Nor judge of a road till it draw to the end.

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You can hardly convince a man of an error in a lifetime, but must content yourself with the reflection that the progress of science is slow. If he is not convinced, his grandchildren may be.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
A Week on the Concord and Marrimack Rivers (1849)

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It takes two to speak the truth, — one to speak, and another to hear.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
A Week on the Concord and Marrimack Rivers, “Wednesday” (1849)

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True Friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
A week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers (1849)
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Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Civil Disobedience (1849)
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We should be men first, and subjects afterward.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849)
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The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden (1854)
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If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Conclusion” (1854)
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Only that day dawns to which we are awake.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Conclusion” (1854)
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Why should we be in such a desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different rummer. Let him step to the music that he hears, however measured or far away.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Conclusion” (1854)
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In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Economy” (1854)
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Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Economy” (1854)
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There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root ….

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Economy” (1854)
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It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Economy” (1854)
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Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Economy” (1854)
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There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Economy” (1854)
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We may not arrive at our port within a calculable period, but we would preserve the true course.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Economy” (1854)
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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.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Economy” (1854)
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The self-styled reformers, the greatest bores of all.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Visitors” (1854)
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How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, ch. 1 “Reading” (1854)
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Drive a nail home and clinch it so faithfully that you can wake up in the night and think of your work with satisfaction, — a work at which you would not be ashamed to invoke the Muse.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, ch. 18 (1854)
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If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

thoreau-different-drummer-wist_info-quote

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, ch. 18 (1854)
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Go where we will, we discover infinite change in particulars only, not in generals.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden,”Conclusion” (1854)
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Let us know and conform only to the fashion of eternity.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (1 Sep 1841)
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Write while the heat is in you. When the farmer burns a hole in his yoke, he carries the hot iron quickly from the fire to the wood, for every moment is less effectual to penetrate (pierce) it. It must be used instantly or it is useless. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (10 Feb 1852)
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The stupid you have always with you.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (13 Feb 1860)
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The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or perchance a palace or a temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (14 Jul 1852)
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In enthusiasm we undulate to the divine spiritus — as the lake to the wind.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (16 Dec 1840)
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Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (18 Oct 1855)
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The truly beneficent never relapses into a creditor.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (2 Sep 1841)
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I have not succeeded if I have an antagonist who fails. It must be humanity’s success.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (22 Mar 1842)
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Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (23 Aug 1853)
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You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (24 Apr 1859)
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There is no remedy for love but to love more.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (25 Jul 1839)
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In my experience, at least of late years, all that depresses a man’s spirits is the sense of remissness — duties neglected, unfaithfulness — or shamming, impurity, falsehood, selfishness, inhumanity, and the like.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (28 Aug 1854)
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Let us make distinctions, call things by the right names.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (28 Nov 1860)
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I know of no rule which holds so true as that we are always paid for our suspicion by finding what we suspect.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (31 Mar 1842)

Full text.

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Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (5 Jan 1856)
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Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (7 Sep 1851)
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And the cost of a thing it will be remembered is the amount of life it requires to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (after 6 Dec 1845)
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It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Letter to Harrison Blake (16 Nov 1857)
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