Henry David Thoreau quotations: Society


The doctors are all agreed that I am suffering from want of society. Was never a case like it. First, I did not know that I was suffering at all. Secondly, as an Irishman might say, I had thought it was indigestion of the society I got.

—Thoreau to H. G. O. Blake, 1 January 1859

Men talk to me about society as if I had none and they had some, as if it were only to be got by going to the sociable or to Boston.

Journal, 27 March 1857

The mind that perceives clearly any natural beauty is in that instant withdrawn from human society. My desire for society is infinitely increased — my fitness for any actual society is diminished.

Journal, 26 July 1852

I feel that my connection with and obligation to society are still very slight and transient.

—"Life Without Principle"

In obedience to an instinct of their nature men have pitched their cabins, and planted corn and potatoes within speaking distance of one another, and so formed towns and villages, but they have not associated, they have only assembled, and society has signified only a convention of men.

Journal, 14 March 1838

Society is always diseased, and the best is the most so.

—"Natural History of Massachusetts"

Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.


Man is not at once born into society — hardly into the world. The world that he is hides for a time is the world that he inhabits.

Journal, 14 March 1838

There is a coarse and boisterous money-making fellow in the outskirts of our town who is going to build a blank-wall under the hill along the edge of his meadow. The powers have put this into his head to keep him out of mischief, and he wishes me to spend three weeks digging there with him. The result will be that he will perhaps get some more money to hoard, and leave for his heirs to spend foolishly. If I do this, most will commend me as an industrious and hard-working man; but if I choose to devote myself to certain labors which yield more real profit, though but little money they may be inclined to look on me as an idler. Nevertheless, as I do not need the police of meaningless labor to regulate me, and do not see anything absolutely praiseworthy in this fellow’s undertaking any more than in many an enterprise of our own or foreign governments, however amusing it may be to him or them, I prefer to finish my education at a different school.

—"Life Without Principle"

Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other.