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

"That virtue we appreciate is as much ours as another’s. We see so much only as we possess."

"The eye is the jewel of the body."

"The heavens are as deep as our aspirations are high."

"The church is a sort of hospital for men’s souls, and as full of quackery as the hospital for their bodies."

"The government does not concern me much, and I shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts on it. It is not many moments that I live under a government, even in this world. If a man is thought-free, fancy-free, imagination-free, that which is not never for a long time appearing to be to him, unwise rules or reformers cannot fatally interrupt him."

"The human soul is a silent harp in God's quire, whose strings need only to be swept by the divine breath to chime in with the harmonies of creation."

"The intellect of most men is barren. They neither fertilize or are fertilized. It is the marriage of the soul with Nature that makes the intellect fruitful, that gives birth to imagination."

"The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till the other is ready."

"The language of friendship is not words but meanings."

"The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend."

"The only way to speak the truth is to speak lovingly."

"The smallest seed of faith is better than the largest fruit of happiness."

"The poet is a man who lives... by watching his moods."

"The spirit abhors a vacuum more than nature."

"There is more religion in men's science than there is science in their religion."

"The ways by which you may get money almost without exception lead downward."

"There is no remedy for love but to love more."

"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things. I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts; so by the divining-rod and thin rising vapors I judge; and here I will begin to mine."

"There will never be a really free and enlightened state until the state comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power an authority are derived, and treats him accordingly."

"The wisest man preaches no doctrines; he has no scheme; he sees no rafter, not even a cobweb, against the heavens. It is clear sky."

"There are thousands hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."

"Time measures nothing but itself."

"To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake."

"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? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse."

"We perceive and are affected by changes too subtle to be described."

"We hear and apprehend only what we already half know."

"Water is the only drink for the wise man."

"You cannot kill time without injuring eternity."

"You may raise money enough to tunnel a mountain, but you cannot raise money enough to hire a man who is minding his own business. An efficient and valuable man does what he can, whether the community pay him for it or not."

"We should treat our minds as innocent and ingenious children whose guardians we are - be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention."

"Action from principle, the perception and performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine."

"[Friends] They cherish each other’s hopes. They are kind to each other’s dreams."

"All our life… is a persistent dreaming awake."

"But what is quackery? It is commonly an attempt to cure the diseases of a man by addressing his body alone."

"Every human being is the artificer of his own fate… Events, circumstances, etc., have their origin in ourselves. They spring from seeds which we have sown."

"Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it."

"Friends will not only live in harmony, but in melody."

"Do not hire the man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love, and pay him well."

"Friendship is… a relation of perfect equality.. Not that the parties to it are in all respects equal, but they are equal in all that respects or affects their Friendship."

"God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages. And we are able to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us."

"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."

"Happy the man who observes the heavenly and the terrestrial law in just proportion; whose every faculty, from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head, obeys the law of its level; who neither stoops nor goes on tiptoe, but lives a balanced life, acceptable to nature and God."

"I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor."

"In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here. God Himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us."

"In a world of peace and love, music would be the universal language."

"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."

"If the day and night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, that is your success."

"Men esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of the system, behind the farthest star, before Adam and after the last man. In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here. God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages."

"It is characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."

"It is a gift to be able to paint a particular picture or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look. To affect the quality of the day - that is the highest of the arts."