Category Archives: On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

I am currently reading  On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau and would like to share this excerpt from the chapter of Solitude.

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How vast and profound is the influence of the subtile powers of Heaven and of Earth!”  We seek to perceive them, and we do not see them; we seek to hear them, and we do not hear them; identified with the substance of things, they cannot be separated from them.”

They cause that in all the universe men purify and sanctify their hearts, and clothe themselves in their holiday garments to offer sacrifices and oblations to their ancestors.  It is an ocean of subtile intelligences.  They are everywhere, above us, on our left, on our right; they environ us on all sides.”

We are the subjects of an experiment which is not a little interesting to me.  Can we not do without the society of our gossips a little while under these circumstances,–have our own thoughts to cheer us?  Confucius says truly, “Virtue does not remain as an abandoned orphan; it must of necessity have neighbors.”

With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense.  By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent.  We are not wholly involved in Nature.  I may be either a driftwood in the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down on it.  I may be affected by a theatrical exhibition; on the other hand, I may not be affected by an actual event which appears to concern me much more.  I only know myself as a human entity; the scene, so to speak, of thoughts and affections; and am sensible of a certain doubleness by which I can stand as remote from myself as from another.  However intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which as it were, is not a part of me, but a spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it, and that is no more I than it is you.  When the play, it may be the tragedy, of life is over, the spectator goes his way.  It was a kind of fiction, a work of the imagination only, so far as he was concerned.  This doubleness may easily make us poor neighbors and friends sometimes.

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.  To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating.  I love to be alone.  I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.  We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our own chambers.  A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.  Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows.