Henry David Thoreau Writes about Politics and Society

Here are some interesting bits excerpted from a letter from Henry David Thoreau to Harrison Blake, dated :

[William Ellery] Channing… says now, seriously, that he is sorry to find by my letters that I am “absorbed in politics,” and adds, begging my pardon for his plainness, “Beware of an extraneous life!” and so he does his duty, and washes his hands of me. I tell him that it is as if he should say to the sloth, that fellow that creeps so slowly along a tree, and cries ai from time to time, “Beware of dancing!”

The doctors are all agreed that I am suffering for 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.

I met Mr. [Henry] James the other night at [Ralph Waldo] Emerson’s, at an Alcottian conversation, at which, however, [Amos Bronson] Alcott did not talk much, being disturbed by James’s opposition. The latter is a hearty man enough, with whom you can differ very satisfactorily, on account of both his doctrines and his good temper. He utters quasi philanthropic dogmas in a metaphysic dress; but they are for all practical purposes very crude. He charges society with all the crime committed, and praises the criminal for commiting it. But I think that all the remedies he suggests out of his head — for he goes no farther, hearty as he is — would leave us about where we are now. For, of course, it is not by a gift of turkeys on Thanksgiving Day that he proposes to convert the criminal, but by a true sympathy with each one, — with him, among the rest, who lyingly tells the world from the gallows that he has never been treated kindly by a single mortal since he was born. But it is not so easy a thing to sympathize with another, though you may have the best disposition to do it. There is Dobson over the hill. Have not you and I and all the world been trying, ever since he was born, to sympathize with him? (as doubtless he with us), and yet we have got no farther than to send him to the house of correction once at least; and he, on the other hand, as I hear, has sent us to another place several times. This is the real state of things, as I understand it, at least so far as James’s remedies go. We are now, alas! exercising what charity we actually have, and new laws would not give us any more. But, perchance, we might make some improvements in the house of correction. You and I are Dobson; what will James do for us?

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