Talk:Henry David Thoreau

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This is the talk page for discussing improvements to the Henry David Thoreau page.

"Anyone in a free society..."[edit]

"Anyone in a free society where the laws are unjust has an obligation to break the law." - does anyone know the source of this quote which is often attributed to Thoreau

This appears to be a distortion of Thoreau's statement: "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison." from Civil Disobedience. ~ Kalki 01:30, 22 May 2005 (UTC)Reply

Split the page?[edit]

This page has a lot of stuff on it-- should we create separate pages for "Civil Disobedience" and "Walden"? Personally I'd trim some of the longer quotes, although some of them do benefit from having some context around them.

I don't have a user account here (yet), but if nobody beats me to it (and nobody objects) I'll come back in a couple of weeks and do some real editing.

Don't pare down Thoreau quotes. They're all gorgeous. Leave them alone.

Someone has now created a separate page for Walden. Since the Thoreau page is 80KB, it seems that the best thing would be to remove the Walden quotes from the Thoreau page and incorporate them into the Walden page. - InvisibleSun 12:27, 3 June 2006 (UTC)Reply

The quotes should be identical as of this writing, since I pretty much just copied them from here to there. I think some of the best Walden quotes should be left here, but the bulk of them should be kept on the Walden page. --Teabeard 14:00, 3 June 2006 (UTC)Reply

Normally, what I recommend when there are separate pages for works by an author is to have a clear link at the top, for the benefit of those who might be seeking quotes from that work, and to optionally retain just a very few quotes from that work on the body of the author's page, to provide a few choice samplings and further links. I have made an edit which does this, but others are welcome to weigh in on other choices than mine. ~ Kalki 14:47, 3 June 2006 (UTC)Reply

"Go confidently ... dreams ..."[edit]

The following quote is, as far as i can determine, universally attributed to Thoreau (thousands of hits on the web) -- but not to any particular work/source. And i'm not seeing anything close to it on this page. Does anyone know if it's Thoreau? If not, where might it be from? But what most surprises me is to not have it addressed at all on this page -- eg, if only as an "attribution in question" (which invites research). Seems to me this page is incomplete so long as it does not even address such a popular attribution: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler."

It's a paraphrase of a section from Walden, cut down and converted to imperative mood:
"I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favour in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. 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." Gordonofcartoon 13:18, 16 September 2009 (UTC)Reply


The above quote is an exerption from his book "Walden, A life in the Woods"

Popular quotes not in the page[edit]

I'm not sure of the exact quoting, but I don't see the following ones in the page:

"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth."
"Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."

Any reason for this? RichN 19:51, 19 February 2010 (UTC)Reply

The first is at the Walden page; the second [1] probably just didn't come to anyone's attention. Gordonofcartoon 19:59, 19 February 2010 (UTC)Reply

What about the exchange between Thoreau and Emerson when Thoreau was in jail for refusing to pay taxes:

"David, what are you doing in jail?"
"Ralph, what are you doing outside?"

It was cited by Emma Goldman in her 1917 address to the jury, so if it's not authentic, it has been in circulation for a long time. ABehrens (talk) 16:29, 20 May 2013 (UTC)Reply

Edit: It doesn't seem likely that Emerson visited Thoreau in jail. He was arrested close to sundown, and the jail was closed for the night shortly thereafter. I read somewhere that the above exchange originates from an anecdote one of Thoreau's relatives used to tell.


Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.

Another one I can't find an original citation for:

If you see a man approaching you with the obvious intent of doing you good, run for your life.

"The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams" Jbgfour (talk) 19:49, 19 May 2017 (UTC)Reply

The earliest usage, which is not a direct quotation, seems to be in the 1956 book The Organization Man[2]. A quick search hasn't found earlier sourcing. --DeeJF (talk) 20:14, 11 May 2015 (UTC)Reply

The idea goes back to St. Bernard or Virgil: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." --IIBewegung (talk) 22:23, 1 January 2016 (UTC)Reply

The quotation is found in the Economy chapter of Walden:

"If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me — some of its virus mingled with my blood."


Almost every photo on this page seems to violate the [image policy on relevance], points 1-3. The photos and the attached quotations are more like trite calendar illustrations than "illustrating the subject of a page or a quote"... except for a few which are "expressing an opinion... by introducing ... comparisons". I plan to remove them all. --Macrakis (talk) 00:06, 4 March 2014 (UTC)Reply

We are constantly invited to be who we are.[edit]

I find a lot of websites that say Thoreau wrote this. The source is given as either Walden or his journals. I've searched the online text of Walden and can't find it. Can't find the online text of his journals. Can anyone verify the source of this quote? DBlomgren (talk) 00:11, 11 March 2014 (UTC)Reply

Verified, here, p. 191. Journal, "Feb. 3. Wednesday." 1841. Cheers, DanielTom (talk) 00:20, 11 March 2014 (UTC)Reply

The obedient must be slaves[edit]

I cannot find a print source for this quote, FYI. Apparently only some of Thoreau's journal from that year is extant; the two places I looked I saw didn't seem to have it.