Henry David Thoreau

Chapter 1: Economy

When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I
lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house
which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord,
, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only.
I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner
in civilized life again.
I should not obtrude my affairs so much on the notice of my
readers if very particular inquiries had not been made by my
townsmen concerning my mode of life, which some would call
impertinent, though they do not appear to me at all impertinent,
but, considering the circumstances, very natural and pertinent.
Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I
was not afraid; and the like. Others have been curious to learn
what portion of my income I devoted to charitable purposes; and
some, who have large families, how many poor children I maintained.
I will therefore ask those of my readers who feel no particular
interest in me to pardon me if I undertake to answer some of these
questions in this book. In most books, the I, or first person, is
omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism,
is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is,
after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not
talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as
well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness
of my experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer,
first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not
merely what he has heard of other men's lives; some such account as
he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has
lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me. Perhaps
these pages are more particularly addressed to poor students. As
for the rest of my readers, they will accept such portions as apply
to them. I trust that none will stretch the seams in putting on the
coat, for it may do good service to him whom it fits.
I would fain say something, not so much concerning the Chinese
and Sandwich Islanders as you who read these pages, who are said to
live in New England; something about your condition, especially your
outward condition or circumstances in this world, in this town, what
it is, whether it is necessary that it be as bad as it is, whether
it cannot be improved as well as not. I have travelled a good deal
in Concord; and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the
inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand
remarkable ways. What I have heard of Bramins sitting exposed to
four fires and looking in the face of the sun; or hanging suspended,
with their heads downward, over flames; or looking at the heavens
over their shoulders "until it becomes impossible for them to resume
their natural position, while from the twist of the neck nothing but
liquids can pass into the stomach"; or dwelling, chained for life,
at the foot of a tree; or measuring with their bodies, like
caterpillars, the breadth of vast empires; or standing on one leg on
the tops of pillars -- even these forms of conscious penance are
hardly more incredible and astonishing than the scenes which I daily
witness. The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison
with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only
twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or
captured any monster or finished any labor. They have no friend
Iolaus to burn with a hot iron the root of the hydra's head, but as
soon as one head is crushed, two spring up.
I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have
inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these
are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been
born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have
seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. Who
made them serfs of the soil? Why should they eat their sixty acres,
when man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt? Why should they
begin digging their graves as soon as they are born? They have got
to live a man's life, pushing all these things before them, and get
on as well as they can. How many a poor immortal soul have I met
well-nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the
road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty,
its Augean stables never cleansed, and one hundred acres of land,
tillage, mowing, pasture, and woodlot! The portionless, who
struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it
labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.
But men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is
soon plowed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly
called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book,
laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves
break through and steal
. It is a fool's life, as they will find
when they get to the end of it, if not before. It is said that
Deucalion and Pyrrha created men by throwing stones over their heads
behind them:--

Inde genus durum sumus, experiensque laborum,
Et documenta damus qua simus origine nati.

Or, as Raleigh rhymes it in his sonorous way,--

"From thence our kind hard-hearted is, enduring pain and care,
Approving that our bodies of a stony nature are."

So much for a blind obedience to a blundering oracle, throwing the
stones over their heads behind them, and not seeing where they fell.
Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere
ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and
superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be
plucked by them. Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy
and tremble too much for that. Actually, the laboring man has not
leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain
the manliest relations to men; his labor would be depreciated in the
market. He has no time to be anything but a machine. How can he
remember well his ignorance -- which his growth requires -- who has
so often to use his knowledge? We should feed and clothe him
gratuitously sometimes, and recruit him with our cordials, before we
judge of him. The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on
fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we
do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.
Some of you, we all know, are poor, find it hard to live, are
sometimes, as it were, gasping for breath. I have no doubt that
some of you who read this book are unable to pay for all the dinners
which you have actually eaten, or for the coats and shoes which are
fast wearing or are already worn out, and have come to this page to
spend borrowed or stolen time, robbing your creditors of an hour.
It is very evident what mean and sneaking lives many of you live,
for my sight has been whetted by experience; always on the limits,
trying to get into business and trying to get out of debt, a very
ancient slough, called by the Latins aes alienum, another's brass,
for some of their coins were made of brass; still living, and dying,
and buried by this other's brass; always promising to pay, promising
to pay
, tomorrow, and dying today, insolvent; seeking to curry
favor, to get custom, by how many modes, only not state-prison
offenses; lying, flattering, voting, contracting yourselves into a
nutshell of civility or dilating into an atmosphere of thin and
vaporous generosity, that you may persuade your neighbor to let you
make his shoes, or his hat, or his coat, or his carriage, or import
his groceries for him; making yourselves sick, that you may lay up
something against a sick day, something to be tucked away in an old
chest, or in a stocking behind the plastering, or, more safely, in
the brick bank; no matter where, no matter how much or how little.
I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous, I may almost
say, as to attend to the gross but somewhat foreign form of
servitude called Negro Slavery, there are so many keen and subtle
masters that enslave both North and South. It is hard to have a
Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of
all when you are the slave-driver of yourself. Talk of a divinity
in man! Look at the teamster on the highway, wending to market by
day or night; does any divinity stir within him? His highest duty
to fodder and water his horses! What is his destiny to him compared
with the shipping interests? Does not he drive for Squire
Make-a-stir? How godlike, how immortal, is he? See how he cowers
and sneaks, how vaguely all the day he fears, not being immortal nor
divine, but the slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself, a
fame won by his own deeds. Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared
with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it
is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.
Self-emancipation even in the West Indian provinces of the fancy and
imagination -- what Wilberforce is there to bring that about?
Think, also, of the ladies of the land weaving toilet cushions
against the last day, not to betray too green an interest in their
fates! As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called
resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you
go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the
bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious
despair is concealed even under what are called the games and
amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes
after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do
desperate things.
When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the
chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of
life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode
of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly
think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures
remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up
our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can
be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence
passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow,
mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would
sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields. What old people say you
cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people,
and new deeds for new. Old people did not know enough once,
perchance, to fetch fresh fuel to keep the fire a-going; new people
put a little dry wood under a pot, and are whirled round the globe
with the speed of birds, in a way to kill old people, as the phrase
is. Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor
as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost. One may
almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute
value by living. Practically, the old have no very important advice
to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and
their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons,
as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith left
which belies that experience, and they are only less young than they
were. I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet
to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from
my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me
anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great
extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried
it. If I have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to
reflect that this my Mentors said nothing about.
One farmer says to me, "You cannot live on vegetable food
solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with"; and so he
religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with
the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his
oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering
plow along in spite of every obstacle. Some things are really
necessaries of life in some circles, the most helpless and diseased,
which in others are luxuries merely, and in others still are
entirely unknown.
The whole ground of human life seems to some to have been gone
over by their predecessors, both the heights and the valleys, and
all things to have been cared for. According to Evelyn, "the wise
Solomon prescribed ordinances for the very distances of trees; and
the Roman praetors have decided how often you may go into your
neighbor's land to gather the acorns which fall on it without
trespass, and what share belongs to that neighbor." Hippocrates has
even left directions how we should cut our nails; that is, even with
the ends of the fingers, neither shorter nor longer. Undoubtedly
the very tedium and ennui which presume to have exhausted the
variety and the joys of life are as old as Adam
. But man's
capacities have never been measured; nor are we to judge of what he
can do by any precedents, so little has been tried. Whatever have
been thy failures hitherto, "be not afflicted, my child, for who
shall assign to thee what thou hast left undone?"
We might try our lives by a thousand simple tests; as, for
instance, that the same sun which ripens my beans illumines at once
a system of earths like ours. If I had remembered this it would
have prevented some mistakes. This was not the light in which I
hoed them. The stars are the apexes of what wonderful triangles!
What distant and different beings in the various mansions of the
universe are contemplating the same one at the same moment! Nature
and human life are as various as our several constitutions. Who
shall say what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater
miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for
an instant? We should live in all the ages of the world in an hour;
ay, in all the worlds of the ages. History, Poetry, Mythology! -- I
know of no reading of another's experience so startling and
informing as this would be.
The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my
soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be
my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?
You may say the wisest thing you can, old man -- you who have lived
seventy years, not without honor of a kind -- I hear an irresistible
voice which invites me away from all that. One generation abandons
the enterprises of another like stranded vessels.
I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do.
We may waive just so much care of ourselves as we honestly bestow
elsewhere. Nature is as well adapted to our weakness as to our
strength. The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well-nigh
incurable form of disease. We are made to exaggerate the importance
of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us! or, what if
we had been taken sick? How vigilant we are! determined not to live
by faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night
we unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to
uncertainties. So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to
live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change.
This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there
can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to
contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every
instant. Confucius said, "To know that we know what we know, and
that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge."
When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to
his understanding, I foresee that all men at length establish their
lives on that basis.
Let us consider for a moment what most of the trouble and
anxiety which I have referred to is about, and how much it is
necessary that we be troubled, or at least careful. It would be
some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the
midst of an outward civilization, if only to learn what are the
gross necessaries of life and what methods have been taken to obtain
them; or even to look over the old day-books of the merchants, to
see what it was that men most commonly bought at the stores, what
they stored, that is, what are the grossest groceries. For the
improvements of ages have had but little influence on the essential
laws of man's existence; as our skeletons, probably, are not to be
distinguished from those of our ancestors.
By the words, necessary of life, I mean whatever, of all that
man obtains by his own exertions, has been from the first, or from
long use has become, so important to human life that few, if any,
whether from savageness, or poverty, or philosophy, ever attempt to
do without it. To many creatures there is in this sense but one
necessary of life, Food. To the bison of the prairie it is a few
inches of palatable grass, with water to drink; unless he seeks the
Shelter of the forest or the mountain's shadow. None of the brute
creation requires more than Food and Shelter. The necessaries of
life for man in this climate may, accurately enough, be distributed
under the several heads of Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel; for
not till we have secured these are we prepared to entertain the true
problems of life with freedom and a prospect of success. Man has
invented, not only houses, but clothes and cooked food; and possibly
from the accidental discovery of the warmth of fire, and the
consequent use of it, at first a luxury, arose the present necessity
to sit by it. We observe cats and dogs acquiring the same second
nature. By proper Shelter and Clothing we legitimately retain our
own internal heat; but with an excess of these, or of Fuel, that is,
with an external heat greater than our own internal, may not cookery
properly be said to begin? Darwin, the naturalist, says of the
inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, that while his own party, who were
well clothed and sitting close to a fire, were far from too warm,
these naked savages, who were farther off, were observed, to his
great surprise, "to be streaming with perspiration at undergoing
such a roasting." So, we are told, the Aboriginal goes naked
with impunity, while the European shivers in his clothes. Is it
impossible to combine the hardiness of these savages with the
intellectualness of the civilized man? According to Liebig, man's
body is a stove, and food the fuel which keeps up the internal
combustion in the lungs. In cold weather we eat more, in warm less.
The animal heat is the result of a slow combustion, and disease and
death take place when this is too rapid; or for want of fuel, or
from some defect in the draught, the fire goes out. Of course the
vital heat is not to be confounded with fire; but so much for
analogy. It appears, therefore, from the above list, that the
expression, animal life, is nearly synonymous with the expression,
animal heat; for while Food may be regarded as the Fuel which keeps
up the fire within us -- and Fuel serves only to prepare that Food
or to increase the warmth of our bodies by addition from without --
Shelter and Clothing also serve only to retain the heat thus
generated and absorbed.
The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to
keep the vital heat in us. What pains we accordingly take, not only
with our Food, and Clothing, and Shelter, but with our beds, which
are our night-clothes, robbing the nests and breasts of birds to
prepare this shelter within a shelter, as the mole has its bed of
grass and leaves at the end of its burrow! The poor man is wont to
complain that this is a cold world; and to cold, no less physical
than social, we refer directly a great part of our ails. The
summer, in some climates, makes possible to man a sort of Elysian
life. Fuel, except to cook his Food, is then unnecessary; the sun
is his fire, and many of the fruits are sufficiently cooked by its
rays; while Food generally is more various, and more easily
obtained, and Clothing and Shelter are wholly or half unnecessary.
At the present day, and in this country, as I find by my own
experience, a few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade, a
wheelbarrow, etc., and for the studious, lamplight, stationery, and
access to a few books, rank next to necessaries, and can all be
obtained at a trifling cost. Yet some, not wise, go to the other
side of the globe, to barbarous and unhealthy regions, and devote
themselves to trade for ten or twenty years, in order that they may
live -- that is, keep comfortably warm -- and die in New England at
last. The luxuriously rich are not simply kept comfortably warm,
but unnaturally hot; as I implied before, they are cooked, of course
a la mode.
Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of
life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the
elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the
wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.
The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were
a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so
rich in inward. We know not much about them. It is remarkable that
we know so much of them as we do. The same is true of the more
modern reformers and benefactors of their race. None can be an
impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground
of what we should call voluntary poverty. Of a life of luxury the
fruit is luxury, whether in agriculture, or commerce, or literature,
or art. There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not
philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once
admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle
thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to
live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence,
magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of
life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great
scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not
kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity,
practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the
progenitors of a noble race of men. But why do men degenerate ever?
What makes families run out? What is the nature of the luxury which
enervates and destroys nations? Are we sure that there is none of
it in our own lives? The philosopher is in advance of his age even
in the outward form of his life. He is not fed, sheltered, clothed,
warmed, like his contemporaries. How can a man be a philosopher and
not maintain his vital heat by better methods than other men?
When a man is warmed by the several modes which I have
described, what does he want next? Surely not more warmth of the
same kind, as more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses,
finer and more abundant clothing, more numerous, incessant, and
hotter fires, and the like. When he has obtained those things which
are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain
the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his
vacation from humbler toil having commenced. The soil, it appears,
is suited to the seed, for it has sent its radicle downward, and it
may now send its shoot upward also with confidence. Why has man
rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he may rise in the
same proportion into the heavens above? -- for the nobler plants are
valued for the fruit they bear at last in the air and light, far
from the ground, and are not treated like the humbler esculents,
which, though they may be biennials, are cultivated only till they
have perfected their root, and often cut down at top for this
purpose, so that most would not know them in their flowering season.
I do not mean to prescribe rules to strong and valiant natures,
who will mind their own affairs whether in heaven or hell, and
perchance build more magnificently and spend more lavishly than the
richest, without ever impoverishing themselves, not knowing how they
live -- if, indeed, there are any such, as has been dreamed; nor to
those who find their encouragement and inspiration in precisely the
present condition of things, and cherish it with the fondness and
enthusiasm of lovers -- and, to some extent, I reckon myself in this
number; I do not speak to those who are well employed, in whatever
circumstances, and they know whether they are well employed or not;
-- but mainly to the mass of men who are discontented, and idly
of the hardness of their lot or of the times, when they
might improve them. There are some who complain most energetically
and inconsolably of any, because they are, as they say, doing their
duty. I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most
terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but
know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their
own golden or silver fetters.
If I should attempt to tell how I have desired to spend my life
in years past, it would probably surprise those of my readers who
are somewhat acquainted with its actual history; it would certainly
astonish those who know nothing about it. I will only hint at some
of the enterprises which I have cherished.
In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been
anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too;
to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future,
which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line. You will
pardon some obscurities, for there are more secrets in my trade than
in most men's, and yet not voluntarily kept, but inseparable from
its very nature. I would gladly tell all that I know about it, and
never paint "No Admittance" on my gate.
I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle dove, and am
still on their trail. Many are the travellers I have spoken
concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they
answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the
tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud,
and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them
To anticipate, not the sunrise and the dawn merely, but, if
possible, Nature herself! How many mornings, summer and winter,
before yet any neighbor was stirring about his business, have I been
about mine! No doubt, many of my townsmen have met me returning
from this enterprise, farmers starting for Boston in the twilight,
or woodchoppers going to their work. It is true, I never assisted
the sun materially in his rising, but, doubt not, it was of the last
importance only to be present at it.
So many autumn, ay, and winter days, spent outside the town,
trying to hear what was in the wind, to hear and carry it express!
I well-nigh sunk all my capital in it, and lost my own breath into
the bargain, running in the face of it. If it had concerned either
of the political parties, depend upon it, it would have appeared in
the Gazette with the earliest intelligence. At other times watching
from the observatory of some cliff or tree, to telegraph any new
arrival; or waiting at evening on the hill-tops for the sky to fall,
that I might catch something, though I never caught much, and that,
manna-wise, would dissolve again in the sun.
For a long time I was reporter to a journal, of no very wide
circulation, whose editor has never yet seen fit to print the bulk
of my contributions, and, as is too common with writers, I got only
my labor for my pains. However, in this case my pains were their
own reward.
For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snow-storms and
rain-storms, and did my duty faithfully; surveyor, if not of
highways, then of forest paths and all across-lot routes, keeping
them open, and ravines bridged and passable at all seasons, where
the public heel had testified to their utility.
I have looked after the wild stock of the town, which give a
faithful herdsman a good deal of trouble by leaping fences; and I
have had an eye to the unfrequented nooks and corners of the farm;
though I did not always know whether Jonas or Solomon worked in a
particular field to-day; that was none of my business. I have
watered the red huckleberry, the sand cherry and the nettle-tree,
the red pine and the black ash, the white grape and the yellow
, which might have withered else in dry seasons.
In short, I went on thus for a long time (I may say it without
boasting), faithfully minding my business, till it became more and
more evident that my townsmen would not after all admit me into the
list of town officers, nor make my place a sinecure with a moderate
allowance. My accounts, which I can swear to have kept faithfully,
I have, indeed, never got audited, still less accepted, still less
paid and settled. However, I have not set my heart on that.
Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the
house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. "Do you wish to
buy any baskets?" he asked. "No, we do not want any," was the
reply. "What!" exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, "do
you mean to starve us?
" Having seen his industrious white neighbors
so well off -- that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by
some magic, wealth and standing followed -- he had said to himself:
I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I
can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have
done his part, and then it would be the white man's to buy them. He
had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth
the other's while to buy them, or at least make him think that it
was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while
to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but
I had not made it worth any one's while to buy them. Yet not the
less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and
instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my
baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling
them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one
kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the
Finding that my fellow-citizens were not likely to offer me any
room in the court house, or any curacy or living anywhere else, but
I must shift for myself, I turned my face more exclusively than ever
to the woods, where I was better known. I determined to go into
business at once, and not wait to acquire the usual capital, using
such slender means as I had already got. My purpose in going to
Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to
transact some private business with the fewest obstacles; to be
hindered from accomplishing which for want of a little common sense,
a little enterprise and business talent, appeared not so sad as
I have always endeavored to acquire strict business habits; they
are indispensable to every man. If your trade is with the Celestial
then some small counting house on the coast, in some Salem
harbor, will be fixture enough. You will export such articles as
the country affords, purely native products, much ice and pine
timber and a little granite, always in native bottoms. These will
be good ventures. To oversee all the details yourself in person; to
be at once pilot and captain, and owner and underwriter; to buy and
sell and keep the accounts; to read every letter received, and write
or read every letter sent; to superintend the discharge of imports
night and day; to be upon many parts of the coast almost at the same
time -- often the richest freight will be discharged upon a Jersey
shore; -- to be your own telegraph, unweariedly sweeping the
horizon, speaking all passing vessels bound coastwise; to keep up a
steady despatch of commodities, for the supply of such a distant and
exorbitant market; to keep yourself informed of the state of the
markets, prospects of war and peace everywhere, and anticipate the
tendencies of trade and civilization -- taking advantage of the
results of all exploring expeditions, using new passages and all
improvements in navigation; -- charts to be studied, the position of
reefs and new lights and buoys to be ascertained, and ever, and
ever, the logarithmic tables to be corrected, for by the error of
some calculator the vessel often splits upon a rock that should have
reached a friendly pier -- there is the untold fate of La Prouse;
-- universal science to be kept pace with, studying the lives of all
great discoverers and navigators, great adventurers and merchants,
from Hanno and the Phoenicians down to our day; in fine, account of
stock to be taken from time to time, to know how you stand. It is a
labor to task the faculties of a man -- such problems of profit and
loss, of interest, of tare and tret, and gauging of all kinds in it,
as demand a universal knowledge.
I have thought that Walden Pond would be a good place for
business, not solely on account of the railroad and the ice trade;
it offers advantages which it may not be good policy to divulge; it
is a good port and a good foundation. No Neva marshes to be filled;
though you must everywhere build on piles of your own driving. It
is said that a flood-tide, with a westerly wind, and ice in the
Neva, would sweep St. Petersburg from the face of the earth.
As this business was to be entered into without the usual
capital, it may not be easy to conjecture where those means, that
will still be indispensable to every such undertaking, were to be
obtained. As for Clothing, to come at once to the practical part of
the question, perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty and
a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true
utility. Let him who has work to do recollect that the object of
clothing is, first, to retain the vital heat, and secondly, in this
state of society, to cover nakedness, and he may judge how much of
any necessary or important work may be accomplished without adding
to his wardrobe. Kings and queens who wear a suit but once, though
made by some tailor or dressmaker to their majesties, cannot know
the comfort of wearing a suit that fits
. They are no better than
wooden horses to hang the clean clothes on. Every day our garments
become more assimilated to ourselves, receiving the impress of the
wearer's character, until we hesitate to lay them aside without such
delay and medical appliances and some such solemnity even as our
bodies. No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a
patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety,
commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched
clothes, than to have a sound conscience. But even if the rent is
not mended, perhaps the worst vice betrayed is improvidence. I
sometimes try my acquaintances by such tests as this -- Who could
wear a patch, or two extra seams only, over the knee? Most behave
as if they believed that their prospects for life would be ruined if
they should do it. It would be easier for them to hobble to town
with a broken leg than with a broken pantaloon. Often if an
accident happens to a gentleman's legs, they can be mended; but if a
similar accident happens to the legs of his pantaloons, there is no
help for it; for he considers, not what is truly respectable, but
what is respected. We know but few men, a great many coats and
breeches. Dress a scarecrow in your last shift, you standing
shiftless by, who would not soonest salute the scarecrow? Passing a
cornfield the other day, close by a hat and coat on a stake, I
recognized the owner of the farm. He was only a little more
weather-beaten than when I saw him last. I have heard of a dog that
barked at every stranger who approached his master's premises with
clothes on, but was easily quieted by a naked thief. It is an
interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if
they were divested of their clothes. Could you, in such a case,
tell surely of any company of civilized men which belonged to the
most respected class? When Madam Pfeiffer, in her adventurous
travels round the world, from east to west, had got so near home as
Asiatic Russia, she says that she felt the necessity of wearing
other than a travelling dress, when she went to meet the
authorities, for she "was now in a civilized country, where ...
people are judged of by their clothes." Even in our democratic New
England towns the accidental possession of wealth, and its
manifestation in dress and equipage alone, obtain for the possessor
almost universal respect. But they yield such respect, numerous as
they are, are so far heathen, and need to have a missionary sent to
them. Beside, clothes introduced sewing, a kind of work which you
may call endless; a woman's dress, at least, is never done.
A man who has at length found something to do will not need to
get a new suit to do it in; for him the old will do, that has lain
dusty in the garret for an indeterminate period. Old shoes will
serve a hero longer than they have served his valet -- if a hero
ever has a valet -- bare feet are older than shoes, and he can make
them do. Only they who go to soires and legislative balls must
have new coats, coats to change as often as the man changes in them.
But if my jacket and trousers, my hat and shoes, are fit to worship
God in, they will do; will they not? Who ever saw his old clothes
-- his old coat, actually worn out, resolved into its primitive
elements, so that it was not a deed of charity to bestow it on some
poor boy, by him perchance to be bestowed on some poorer still, or
shall we say richer, who could do with less? I say, beware of all
enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of
clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made
to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old
clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to
do, or rather something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a
new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so
conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like
new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new
wine in old bottles. Our moulting season, like that of the fowls,
must be a crisis in our lives. The loon retires to solitary ponds
to spend it. Thus also the snake casts its slough, and the
caterpillar its wormy coat, by an internal industry and expansion;
for clothes are but our outmost cuticle and mortal coil. Otherwise
we shall be found sailing under false colors, and be inevitably
cashiered at last by our own opinion, as well as that of mankind.
We don garment after garment, as if we grew like exogenous
plants by addition without. Our outside and often thin and fanciful
clothes are our epidermis, or false skin, which partakes not of our
life, and may be stripped off here and there without fatal injury;
our thicker garments, constantly worn, are our cellular integument,
or cortex; but our shirts are our liber, or true bark, which cannot
be removed without girdling and so destroying the man. I believe
that all races at some seasons wear something equivalent to the
shirt. It is desirable that a man be clad so simply that he can lay
his hands on himself in the dark, and that he live in all respects
so compactly and preparedly that, if an enemy take the town, he can,
like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without
. While one thick garment is, for most purposes, as good as
three thin ones, and cheap clothing can be obtained at prices really
to suit customers; while a thick coat can be bought for five
dollars, which will last as many years, thick pantaloons for two
dollars, cowhide boots for a dollar and a half a pair, a summer hat
for a quarter of a dollar, and a winter cap for sixty-two and a half
cents, or a better be made at home at a nominal cost, where is he so
poor that, clad in such a suit, of his own earning, there will not
be found wise men to do him reverence?
When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my tailoress
tells me gravely, "They do not make them so now," not emphasizing
the "They" at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as
the Fates, and I find it difficult to get made what I want, simply
because she cannot believe that I mean what I say, that I am so
rash. When I hear this oracular sentence, I am for a moment
absorbed in thought, emphasizing to myself each word separately that
I may come at the meaning of it, that I may find out by what degree
of consanguinity They are related to me, and what authority they
may have in an affair which affects me so nearly; and, finally, I am
inclined to answer her with equal mystery, and without any more
emphasis of the "they" -- "It is true, they did not make them so
recently, but they do now." Of what use this measuring of me if she
does not measure my character, but only the breadth of my shoulders,
as it were a peg to bang the coat on? We worship not the Graces,
nor the Parcae, but Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with
full authority. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller's cap,
and all the monkeys in America do the same. I sometimes despair of
getting anything quite simple and honest done in this world by the
help of men. They would have to be passed through a powerful press
first, to squeeze their old notions out of them, so that they would
not soon get upon their legs again; and then there would be some one
in the company with a maggot in his head, hatched from an egg
deposited there nobody knows when, for not even fire kills these
things, and you would have lost your labor. Nevertheless, we will
not forget that some Egyptian wheat was handed down to us by a
On the whole, I think that it cannot be maintained that dressing
has in this or any country risen to the dignity of an art. At
present men make shift to wear what they can get. Like shipwrecked
sailors, they put on what they can find on the beach, and at a
little distance, whether of space or time, laugh at each other's
masquerade. Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but
follows religiously the new. We are amused at beholding the costume
of Henry VIII, or Queen Elizabeth, as much as if it was that of the
King and Queen of the Cannibal Islands. All costume off a man is
pitiful or grotesque. It is only the serious eye peering from and
the sincere life passed within it which restrain laughter and
consecrate the costume of any people. Let Harlequin be taken with a
fit of the colic and his trappings will have to serve that mood too.
When the soldier is hit by a cannonball, rags are as becoming as
The childish and savage taste of men and women for new patterns
keeps how many shaking and squinting through kaleidoscopes that they
may discover the particular figure which this generation requires
today. The manufacturers have learned that this taste is merely
whimsical. Of two patterns which differ only by a few threads more
or less of a particular color, the one will be sold readily, the
other lie on the shelf, though it frequently happens that after the
lapse of a season the latter becomes the most fashionable.
Comparatively, tattooing is not the hideous custom which it is
called. It is not barbarous merely because the printing is
skin-deep and unalterable.
I cannot believe that our factory system is the best mode by
which men may get clothing. The condition of the operatives is
becoming every day more like that of the English; and it cannot be
wondered at, since, as far as I have heard or observed, the
principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad,
but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched. In the long
run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should
fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.
As for a Shelter, I will not deny that this is now a necessary
of life, though there are instances of men having done without it
for long periods in colder countries than this. Samuel Laing says
that "the Laplander in his skin dress, and in a skin bag which he
puts over his head and shoulders, will sleep night after night on
the snow ... in a degree of cold which would extinguish the life of
one exposed to it in any woollen clothing." He had seen them asleep
thus. Yet he adds, "They are not hardier than other people." But,
probably, man did not live long on the earth without discovering the
convenience which there is in a house, the domestic comforts, which
phrase may have originally signified the satisfactions of the house
more than of the family; though these must be extremely partial and
occasional in those climates where the house is associated in our
thoughts with winter or the rainy season chiefly, and two thirds of
the year, except for a parasol, is unnecessary. In our climate, in
the summer, it was formerly almost solely a covering at night. In
the Indian gazettes a wigwam was the symbol of a day's march, and a
row of them cut or painted on the bark of a tree signified that so
many times they had camped. Man was not made so large limbed and
robust but that he must seek to narrow his world and wall in a space
such as fitted him. He was at first bare and out of doors; but
though this was pleasant enough in serene and warm weather, by
daylight, the rainy season and the winter, to say nothing of the
torrid sun, would perhaps have nipped his race in the bud if he had
not made haste to clothe himself with the shelter of a house. Adam
and Eve, according to the fable, wore the bower before other
clothes. Man wanted a home, a place of warmth, or comfort, first of
warmth, then the warmth of the affections.
We may imagine a time when, in the infancy of the human race,
some enterprising mortal crept into a hollow in a rock for shelter.
Every child begins the world again, to some extent, and loves to
stay outdoors, even in wet and cold. It plays house, as well as
horse, having an instinct for it. Who does not remember the
interest with which, when young, he looked at shelving rocks, or any
approach to a cave? It was the natural yearning of that portion,
any portion of our most primitive ancestor which still survived in
us. From the cave we have advanced to roofs of palm leaves, of bark
and boughs, of linen woven and stretched, of grass and straw, of
boards and shingles, of stones and tiles. At last, we know not what
it is to live in the open air, and our lives are domestic in more
senses than we think. From the hearth the field is a great
. It would be well, perhaps, if we were to spend more of
our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the
celestial bodies, if the poet did not speak so much from under a
roof, or the saint dwell there so long. Birds do not sing in caves,
nor do doves cherish their innocence in dovecots
However, if one designs to construct a dwelling-house, it
behooves him to exercise a little Yankee shrewdness, lest after all
he find himself in a workhouse, a labyrinth without a clue, a
museum, an almshouse, a prison, or a splendid mausoleum instead.
Consider first how slight a shelter is absolutely necessary. I have
seen Penobscot Indians, in this town, living in tents of thin cotton
cloth, while the snow was nearly a foot deep around them, and I
thought that they would be glad to have it deeper to keep out the
wind. Formerly, when how to get my living honestly, with freedom
left for my proper pursuits, was a question which vexed me even more
than it does now, for unfortunately I am become somewhat callous, I
used to see a large box by the railroad, six feet long by three
, in which the laborers locked up their tools at night; and it
suggested to me that every man who was hard pushed might get such a
one for a dollar, and, having bored a few auger holes in it, to
admit the air at least, get into it when it rained and at night, and
hook down the lid, and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul
be free. This did not appear the worst, nor by any means a
despicable alternative. You could sit up as late as you pleased,
and, whenever you got up, go abroad without any landlord or
house-lord dogging you for rent. Many a man is harassed to death to
pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box who would not have
frozen to death in such a box as this. I am far from jesting.
Economy is a subject which admits of being treated with levity, but
it cannot so be disposed of. A comfortable house for a rude and
hardy race, that lived mostly out of doors, was once made here
almost entirely of such materials as Nature furnished ready to their
hands. Gookin, who was superintendent of the Indians subject to the
Massachusetts Colony, writing in 1674, says, "The best of their
houses are covered very neatly, tight and warm, with barks of trees,
slipped from their bodies at those seasons when the sap is up, and
made into great flakes, with pressure of weighty timber, when they
are green.... The meaner sort are covered with mats which they make
of a kind of bulrush, and are also indifferently tight and warm, but
not so good as the former.... Some I have seen, sixty or a hundred
feet long and thirty feet broad.... I have often lodged in their
wigwams, and found them as warm as the best English houses." He
adds that they were commonly carpeted and lined within with
well-wrought embroidered mats, and were furnished with various
utensils. The Indians had advanced so far as to regulate the effect
of the wind by a mat suspended over the hole in the roof and moved
by a string. Such a lodge was in the first instance constructed in
a day or two at most, and taken down and put up in a few hours; and
every family owned one, or its apartment in one.
In the savage state every family owns a shelter as good as the
best, and sufficient for its coarser and simpler wants; but I think
that I speak within bounds when I say that, though the birds of the
air have their nests, and the foxes their holes, and the savages
their wigwams, in modern civilized society not more than one half
the families own a shelter. In the large towns and cities, where
civilization especially prevails, the number of those who own a
shelter is a very small fraction of the whole. The rest pay an
annual tax for this outside garment of all, become indispensable
summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but
now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. I do not mean to
insist here on the disadvantage of hiring compared with owning, but
it is evident that the savage owns his shelter because it costs so
little, while the civilized man hires his commonly because he cannot
afford to own it; nor can he, in the long run, any better afford to
hire. But, answers one, by merely paying this tax, the poor
civilized man secures an abode which is a palace compared with the
savage's. An annual rent of from twenty-five to a hundred dollars
(these are the country rates) entitles him to the benefit of the
improvements of centuries, spacious apartments, clean paint and
paper, Rumford fire-place, back plastering, Venetian blinds, copper
, spring lock, a commodious cellar, and many other things. But
how happens it that he who is said to enjoy these things is so
commonly a poor civilized man, while the savage, who has them not,
is rich as a savage? If it is asserted that civilization is a real
advance in the condition of man -- and I think that it is, though
only the wise improve their advantages -- it must be shown that it
has produced better dwellings without making them more costly; and
the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is
required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. An
average house in this neighborhood costs perhaps eight hundred
dollars, and to lay up this sum will take from ten to fifteen years
of the laborer's life, even if he is not encumbered with a family --
estimating the pecuniary value of every man's labor at one dollar a
day, for if some receive more, others receive less; -- so that he
must have spent more than half his life commonly before his wigwam
will be earned. If we suppose him to pay a rent instead, this is
but a doubtful choice of evils. Would the savage have been wise to
exchange his wigwam for a palace on these terms?
It may be guessed that I reduce almost the whole advantage of
holding this superfluous property as a fund in store against the
future, so far as the individual is concerned, mainly to the
defraying of funeral expenses. But perhaps a man is not required to
bury himself. Nevertheless this points to an important distinction
between the civilized man and the savage; and, no doubt, they have
designs on us for our benefit, in making the life of a civilized
people an institution, in which the life of the individual is to a
great extent absorbed, in order to preserve and perfect that of the
race. But I wish to show at what a sacrifice this advantage is at
present obtained, and to suggest that we may possibly so live as to
secure all the advantage without suffering any of the disadvantage.
What mean ye by saying that the poor ye have always with you, or
that the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth
are set on edge?
"As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any
more to use this proverb in Israel.
"Behold all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also
the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die."
When I consider my neighbors, the farmers of Concord, who are at
least as well off as the other classes, I find that for the most
part they have been toiling twenty, thirty, or forty years, that
they may become the real owners of their farms, which commonly they
have inherited with encumbrances, or else bought with hired money --
and we may regard one third of that toil as the cost of their houses
-- but commonly they have not paid for them yet. It is true, the
encumbrances sometimes outweigh the value of the farm, so that the
farm itself becomes one great encumbrance, and still a man is found
to inherit it, being well acquainted with it, as he says. On
applying to the assessors, I am surprised to learn that they cannot
at once name a dozen in the town who own their farms free and clear.
If you would know the history of these homesteads, inquire at the
bank where they are mortgaged. The man who has actually paid for
his farm with labor on it is so rare that every neighbor can point
to him. I doubt if there are three such men in Concord. What has
been said of the merchants, that a very large majority, even
ninety-seven in a hundred, are sure to fail, is equally true of the
farmers. With regard to the merchants, however, one of them says
pertinently that a great part of their failures are not genuine
pecuniary failures, but merely failures to fulfil their engagements,
because it is inconvenient; that is, it is the moral character that
breaks down. But this puts an infinitely worse face on the matter,
and suggests, beside, that probably not even the other three succeed
in saving their souls, but are perchance bankrupt in a worse sense
than they who fail honestly. Bankruptcy and repudiation are the
springboards from which much of our civilization vaults and turns
its somersets, but the savage stands on the unelastic plank of
famine. Yet the Middlesex Cattle Show goes off here with eclat
annually, as if all the joints of the agricultural machine were
The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood
by a formula more complicated than the problem itself. To get his
shoestrings he speculates in herds of cattle. With consummate skill
he has set his trap with a hair spring to catch comfort and
independence, and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it.
This is the reason he is poor; and for a similar reason we are all
poor in respect to a thousand savage comforts, though surrounded by
luxuries. As Chapman sings,

"The false society of men --
-- for earthly greatness
All heavenly comforts rarefies to air."

And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer
but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him. As I
understand it, that was a valid objection urged by Momus against the
house which Minerva made, that she "had not made it movable, by
which means a bad neighborhood might be avoided"; and it may still
be urged, for our houses are such unwieldy property that we are
often imprisoned rather than housed in them; and the bad
neighborhood to be avoided is our own scurvy selves. I know one or
two families, at least, in this town, who, for nearly a generation,
have been wishing to sell their houses in the outskirts and move
into the village, but have not been able to accomplish it, and only
death will set them free.
Granted that the majority are able at last either to own or hire
the modern house with all its improvements. While civilization has
been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who
are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy
to create noblemen and kings. And if the civilized man's pursuits
are no worthier than the savage's, if he is employed the greater
part of his life in obtaining gross necessaries and comforts merely,
why should he have a better dwelling than the former?
But how do the poor minority fare? Perhaps it will be found
that just in proportion as some have been placed in outward
circumstances above the savage, others have been degraded below him.
The luxury of one class is counterbalanced by the indigence of
another. On the one side is the palace, on the other are the
almshouse and "silent poor." The myriads who built the pyramids to
be the tombs of the Pharaohs were fed on garlic, and it may be were
not decently buried themselves. The mason who finishes the cornice
of the palace returns at night perchance to a hut not so good as a
wigwam. It is a mistake to suppose that, in a country where the
usual evidences of civilization exist, the condition of a very large
body of the inhabitants may not be as degraded as that of savages.
I refer to the degraded poor, not now to the degraded rich. To know
this I should not need to look farther than to the shanties which
everywhere border our railroads, that last improvement in
civilization; where I see in my daily walks human beings living in
sties, and all winter with an open door, for the sake of light,
without any visible, often imaginable, wood-pile, and the forms of
both old and young are permanently contracted by the long habit of
shrinking from cold and misery, and the development of all their
limbs and faculties is checked. It certainly is fair to look at
that class by whose labor the works which distinguish this
generation are accomplished. Such too, to a greater or less extent,
is the condition of the operatives of every denomination in England,
which is the great workhouse of the world. Or I could refer you to
Ireland, which is marked as one of the white or enlightened spots on
the map. Contrast the physical condition of the Irish with that of
the North American Indian, or the South Sea Islander, or any other
savage race before it was degraded by contact with the civilized
man. Yet I have no doubt that that people's rulers are as wise as
the average of civilized rulers. Their condition only proves what
squalidness may consist with civilization. I hardly need refer now
to the laborers in our Southern States who produce the staple
exports of this country, and are themselves a staple production of
the South. But to confine myself to those who are said to be in
moderate circumstances.
Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and
are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they
think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have. As if
one were to wear any sort of coat which the tailor might cut out for
him, or, gradually leaving off palm-leaf hat or cap of woodchuck
skin, complain of hard times because he could not afford to buy him
a crown! It is possible to invent a house still more convenient and
luxurious than we have, which yet all would admit that man could not
afford to pay for. Shall we always study to obtain more of these
things, and not sometimes to be content with less? Shall the
respectable citizen thus gravely teach, by precept and example, the
necessity of the young man's providing a certain number of
superfluous glow-shoes, and umbrellas, and empty guest chambers for
empty guests, before he dies? Why should not our furniture be as
simple as the Arab's or the Indian's? When I think of the
benefactors of the race, whom we have apotheosized as messengers
from heaven, bearers of divine gifts to man, I do not see in my mind
any retinue at their heels, any carload of fashionable furniture.
Or what if I were to allow -- would it not be a singular allowance?
-- that our furniture should be more complex than the Arab's, in
proportion as we are morally and intellectually his superiors! At
present our houses are cluttered and defiled with it, and a good
housewife would sweep out the greater part into the dust hole, and
not leave her morning's work undone. Morning work! By the blushes
of Aurora and the music of Memnon, what should be man's morning work
in this world? I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I
was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when
the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out
the window in disgust. How, then, could I have a furnished house?
I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the
grass, unless where man has broken ground.
It is the luxurious and dissipated who set the fashions which
the herd so diligently follow. The traveller who stops at the best
houses, so called, soon discovers this, for the publicans presume
him to be a Sardanapalus, and if he resigned himself to their tender
mercies he would soon be completely emasculated. I think that in
the railroad car we are inclined to spend more on luxury than on
safety and convenience, and it threatens without attaining these to
become no better than a modern drawing-room, with its divans, and
ottomans, and sun-shades, and a hundred other oriental things, which
we are taking west with us, invented for the ladies of the harem and
the effeminate natives of the Celestial Empire, which Jonathan
should be ashamed to know the names of. I would rather sit on a
pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet
cushion. I would rather ride on earth in an ox cart, with a free
circulation, than go to heaven in the fancy car of an excursion
train and breathe a malaria all the way.
The very simplicity and nakedness of man's life in the primitive
ages imply this advantage, at least, that they left him still but a
sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep, he
contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in
this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the
plains, or climbing the mountain-tops. But lo! men have become the
tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits
when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree
for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night

E*con"o*my (?), n.; pl. Economies (#). [F. 'economie, L. oeconomia household management, fr. Gr. , fr. one managing a household; house (akin to L. vicus village, E. vicinity) + usage, law, rule, fr. to distribute, mange. See Vicinity, Nomad.]


The management of domestic affairs; the regulation and government of household matters; especially as they concern expense or disbursement; as, a careful economy.

Himself busy in charge of the household economies. Froude.


Orderly arrangement and management of the internal affairs of a state or of any establishment kept up by production and consumption; esp., such management as directly concerns wealth; as, political economy.


The system of rules and regulations by which anything is managed; orderly system of regulating the distribution and uses of parts, conceived as the result of wise and economical adaptation in the author, whether human or divine; as, the animal or vegetable economy; the economy of a poem; the Jewish economy.

The position which they [the verb and adjective] hold in the general economy of language. Earle.

In the Greek poets, as also in Plautus, we shall see the economy . . . of poems better observed than in Terence. B. Jonson.

The Jews already had a Sabbath, which, as citizens and subjects of that economy, they were obliged to keep. Paley.


Thrifty and frugal housekeeping; management without loss or waste; frugality in expenditure; prudence and disposition to save; as, a housekeeper accustomed to economy but not to parsimony.

Political economy. See under Political.

Syn. -- Economy, Frugality, Parsimony. Economy avoids all waste and extravagance, and applies money to the best advantage; frugality cuts off indulgences, and proceeds on a system of saving. The latter conveys the idea of not using or spending superfluously, and is opposed to lavishness or profusion. Frugality is usually applied to matters of consumption, and commonly points to simplicity of manners; parsimony is frugality carried to an extreme, involving meanness of spirit, and a sordid mode of living. Economy is a virtue, and parsimony a vice.

I have no other notion of economy than that it is the parent to liberty and ease. Swift.

The father was more given to frugality, and the son to riotousness [luxuriousness]. Golding.


© Webster 1913.

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