Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, and spent most of his life in Concord, Massachusetts. He did well in school, and was able to go to Harvard. After graduation, he tried his hand at teaching, but a dispute with the superintendent led to his dismissal. After that, he worked in his father’s pencil factory, until he and his brother John started their own school. This did well, until John’s lengthy illness, when it became too much for Henry and he closed it.

After that, he went to work for his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was part of the transcendentalist movement. Thoreau began his writing career at that time, getting some poems and essays published. In 1845, he built a house on Walden Pond, on property owned by Emerson. He lived there two years, where he put together his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and later Walden. He enjoyed only modest success in his lifetime, and actually worked in the pencil factory to make money.

Thoreau was an ardent abolitionist, serving as a conductor on the underground railroad. He died much too early in 1862 of tuberculosis. At his funeral, his friend Emerson said, “The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost. … His soul was made for the noblest society; he had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.”

He left behind some great writing and many memorable quotations. Here is a sampling. You can find many more at QuoteLady.com.


As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

Be yourself – not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.

Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.

Dreams are the touchstones of our character.

Goodness is the only investment that never fails.

The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!

I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

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

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them!

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

None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.

Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify!

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

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.

What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

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