“As for doing good; that is one of the professions which is full. Moreover I have tried it fairly and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution.”–Henry David Thoreau
There are people who do not realize that one of the main influences of historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Leo Tolstoy was Henry David Thoreau. It was Thoreau who evolved the modern concept of civil disobedience. If you have any doubt about this fact, consider that one of Thoreau’s most famous essays is, in fact, named “Civil Disobedience”.
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”–Thoreau
I remember reading this quote while studying the life of Sri Gandhi who compared “Civil Disobedience” with the concept of “Satyahraha” or exclusively pacifist, nonviolent political resistance.
“God reigns when we take a liberal view, when a liberal view is presented to us.”–Thoreau
The roots of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” were deep and impassioned. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 infuriated Thoreau. The lifelong abolitionist detested the requirement that slaves who had escaped from the South were to be returned to their masters by Federal order. Thoreau gave an emotional speech dealing with the issues of slavery and American imperialism, especially the Mexican-American War. That speech was distilled into the “Civil Disobedience” essay.
“Generally speaking, a howling wilderness does not howl: it is the imagination of the traveler that does the howling.”–Thoreau
Among his other contributions to contemporary thought, Thoreau’s ideas about environmentalism are important. He was endlessly fascinated with nature. He loved to read about botany and also wrote about his personal observations regarding plants and forestry. He was a great admirer of Charles Darwin. Thoreau enjoyed reading Darwin’s “Voyage Of The Beagle”.
Thoreau loved to travel. His writings include his journeys to Philadelphia and New York. Milwaukee, Saint Paul and Michigan were also on his itinerary. In his readings, he mentally travelled wherever new discoveries were being made. His readings included those of Magellan and Cook. David Livingstone along with Lewis and Clark. Thoreau indulged his curiosity about people, culture, religions and natural history.
There’s much more about Thoreau than this outline sketch can provide. I think there is something valuable for everyone in the works of Henry David Thoreau.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this Thoreau quotation, too: “All this worldly wisdom was once the unamiable heresy of some wise man.”