Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Henry David Thoreau, born David Henry Thoreau

American Essayist, Naturalist, Poet, Abolitionist, Naturalist, Tax Resister, Development Critic, surveyor, Historian, Philosopher and Leading Transcendentalist

"You do not get a man's most effective criticism until you provoke him. Severe truth is expressed with some bitterness."

"What is morality but immemorial custom? Conscience is the chief of conservatives."

"What is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance?"

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment."

"A man’s real faith is never contained in his creed, nor is his creed an article of his faith. The last is never adopted. This it is that permits him to smile ever, and to live even as bravely as he does. And yet he clings anxiously to his creed, as to a straw, thinking that that does him good service because his sheet anchor does not drag."

"'Tis healthy to be sick sometimes."

"All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant."

"Good for the body is the work of the body, good for the soul is the work of the soul, and good for either the work of the other."

"However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names...cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends...Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thought. God will see that you do not want society... There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living."

"I do not know at first what it is that charms me. The men and things of today are wont to be fairer and truer in tomorrow’s memory."

"All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable."

"Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest egg, by the side of which more will be laid."

"All perception of truth is a perception of an analogy; we reason from our hands to our heads."

"Did you ever hear of a man who had striven all his life faithfully and singly towards an object, and in no measure obtained it? If a man constantly aspires, is he not elevated? Did ever a man try heroism, magnanimity, truth, sincerity, and find that there was no advantage in them - that it was a vain endeavor?"

"Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour."

"Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe."

"Every man casts a shadow; not his body only, but his imperfectly mingled spirit... It is widest at its base, which is no greater than his own capacity."

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; not did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and search out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and if it proved to be mean, when they to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."

"If we can listen we shall hear. By reverently listening to the inner voice, we may reinstate ourselves on the pinnacle of humanity."

"I think we may safely trust a good deal more than we do."

"I do not value any view of the universe into which man and the institutions of man enter very largely and absorb much of the attention. Man is but the place where I stand, and the prospect hence is infinite."

"In wildness is the preservation of the world."

"In dreams we see ourselves naked and acting out our real characters, even more clearly than we see others awake. But an unwavering and commanding virtue would compel even its most fantastic and faintest dreams to respect its ever wakeful authority; as we are accustomed to say carelessly, we should never have dreamed of such a thing."

"I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude."

"I have three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship and three for society."

"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours... If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; there is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

"If you wish to give a man a sense of poverty, give him a thousand dollars. The next hundred dollars he gets will not be worth more than ten that he used to get. Have pity on him. Withhold your gifts."

"Is life near the bone, where it is sweetest."

"Let us not underrate the value of a fact; it will one day flower into a truth."

"Love is a thirst that is never slaked."

"Live each season as it passes; breath the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each."

"Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it. It would not leave them narrow-minded and bigoted."

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

"Man is the artificer of his own happiness."

"No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof."

"Men are born to succeed, not to fail."

"Not by constraint or severity shall you have access to true wisdom, but by abandonment, and childlike mirthfulness. If you would know aught be gay before it."

"Nothing is so much to be feared as fear."

"Only he is successful in his business who makes that pursuit which affords him the highest pleasure sustain him."

"Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations."

"Only that day dawns to which we are awake."

"Only that traveling is good which reveals to me the value of home, and enables me to enjoy it better."

"One grain of instant life is equivalent to acres of the leaf of hope hammered out to gild our prospect."

"Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them."

"Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous."

"Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them all."

"Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk."

"Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul."

"Speech is fractional, silence is integral."

"Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it."