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Henry Thoreau
(12 Jul 1817 - 6 May 1862)

American writer, naturalist, philosopher and poet who is best known for his study of nature, while retired to live in a hut beside Walden Pond at Concord (4 Jul 1845-6 Sep 1847). Thereafter, he wrote two books: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854).


Science Quotes by Henry Thoreau (31 quotes)

Henry Thoreau
Henry Thoreau
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Even the facts of science may dust the mind by their dryness, unless they are ... rendered fertile by the dews of fresh and living truth. Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.
— Henry Thoreau
Yankee in Canada, Etc., 167. Excerpt in H.G.O. Blake (ed.), Thoreau's Thoughts: Selections From the Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1890,2005), 102.
Science quotes on:  |  Detail (33)  |  Dew (2)  |  Dust (20)  |  Fact (325)  |  Fertile (5)  |  Flash (8)  |  Fresh (8)  |  Heaven (55)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Light (117)  |  Living (24)  |  Mind (272)  |  Render (9)  |  Truth (450)

Every man will be a poet if he can; otherwise a philosopher or man of science. This proves the superiority of the poet.
— Henry Thoreau
Odell Shepard (Ed.), The Heart of Thoreau's Journals (1961), 84.
Science quotes on:  |  Men Of Science (90)  |  Poet (26)

First, there is the power of the Wind, constantly exerted over the globe.... Here is an almost incalculable power at our disposal, yet how trifling the use we make of it! It only serves to turn a few mills, blow a few vessels across the ocean, and a few trivial ends besides. What a poor compliment do we pay to our indefatigable and energetic servant!
— Henry Thoreau
In 'Paradise (To Be) Regained', Democratic Review (Nov 1848). Collected in A Yankee in Canada: with Anti-slavery and Reform Papers (1866), 188-89.
Science quotes on:  |  Energy (103)  |  Wind Power (6)

Fishing has been styled 'a contemplative man's recreation,' … and science is only a more contemplative man's recreation.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1921), 15.
Science quotes on:  |  Science (875)

He is not a true man of science who does not bring some sympathy to his studies, and expect to learn something by behaviour as well as application.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1873), 383.
Science quotes on:  |  Men Of Science (90)

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
— Henry Thoreau
Walden (1854), 143.
Science quotes on:  |  Death (183)  |  Deliberately (3)  |  Discovery (360)  |  Essential (41)  |  Fact (325)  |  Front (3)  |  Learning (130)  |  Life (460)  |  Teaching (64)  |  Woods (4)

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
— Henry Thoreau
Walden (1854), 143.

If a man walked in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer, but if he spends his whole day as a speculator shearing of those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is estimated as an industrious and enterprising citizen—as if a town had no interest in forests but to cut them down.
— Henry Thoreau
Walden. Quoted in Dr. N Sreedharan, Quotations of Wit and Wisdom (2007), 19.
Science quotes on:  |  Ecology (21)  |  Forestry (5)  |  Industry (49)

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
— Henry Thoreau
In last chapter 'Conclusion', from Walden: or, Life in the Woods (1854), collected in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1894), Vol. 2, 499.
Science quotes on:  |  Air (84)  |  Building (34)  |  Foundation (31)  |  Hypothesis (150)  |  Loss (44)  |  Research (360)  |  Work (198)

Is not disease the rule of existence? There is not a lily pad floating on the river but has been riddled by insects. Almost every shrub and tree has its gall, oftentimes esteemed its chief ornament and hardly to be distinguished from the fruit. If misery loves company, misery has company enough. Now, at midsummer, find me a perfect leaf or fruit.
— Henry Thoreau
In The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1893), Vol. 9, 458.
Science quotes on:  |  Disease (170)  |  Existence (150)  |  Fruit (31)  |  Insect (38)  |  Leaf (22)  |  Lily (2)  |  Misery (11)  |  Ornament (9)  |  Perfection (43)  |  River (34)  |  Tree (88)

It is childish to rest in the discovery of mere coincidences, or of partial and extraneous laws.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1873), 383.
Science quotes on:  |  Childish (3)  |  Coincidence (6)  |  Discovery (360)  |  Extraneous (2)  |  Law (273)  |  Mere (9)  |  Part (55)  |  Rest (28)

Lo! Men have become the tools of their tools.
— Henry Thoreau
Walden: or, Life in the Woods (1906), 41
Science quotes on:  |  Become (11)  |  Man (258)  |  Tool (30)

Man cannot afford to be a naturalist, to look at Nature directly, but only with the side of his eye. He must look through and beyond her.
— Henry Thoreau
From Journal entry (23 Mar 1953), in Henry David Thoreau and Bradford Torrey (ed.), Journal (1906), Vol. 5, 45.
Science quotes on:  |  Afford (2)  |  Beyond (19)  |  Directly (5)  |  Eye (67)  |  Looking (15)  |  Man (258)  |  Naturalist (27)  |  Nature (534)  |  Only (2)  |  Side (16)  |  Through (3)

Men are probably nearer the essential truth in their superstitions than in their science.
— Henry Thoreau
Journal, 27 Jun 1852, in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1906), Vol. 10, 158.
Science quotes on:  |  Superstition (33)  |  Truth (450)

Much is said about the progress of science in these centuries. I should say that the useful results of science had accumulated, but that there had been no accumulation of knowledge, strictly speaking, for posteriry; for knowledge is to be aquired only by corresponding experience. How can be know what we are told merely? Each man can interpret another's experience only by his own.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1921), 270.
Science quotes on:  |  Experience (132)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Progress (200)

Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I can only walk with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled.
— Henry Thoreau
Early Spring, 52. Excerpt in H.G.O. Blake (ed.), Thoreau's Thoughts: Selections From the Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1890,2005), 112.
Science quotes on:  |  Abhorrence (6)  |  Carelessness (3)  |  Nature (534)  |  Sufficient (8)  |  Sure (12)  |  Vacuum (16)  |  Walk (24)

Observation is so wide awake, and facts are being so rapidly added to the sum of human experience, that it appears as if the theorizer would always be in arrears, and were doomed forever to arrive at imperfect conclusion; but the power to perceive a law is equally rare in all ages of the world, and depends but little on the number of facts observed.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1921), 270.
Science quotes on:  |  Fact (325)  |  Law (273)  |  Observation (264)  |  Theory (353)

The eye which can appreciate the naked and absolute beauty of a scientific truth is far more rare than that which is attracted by a moral one.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1873), 382.
Science quotes on:  |  Absolute (32)  |  Appreciation (12)  |  Attraction (19)  |  Beauty (88)  |  Eye (67)  |  Moral (38)  |  Naked (5)  |  Rare (14)  |  Science (875)  |  Truth (450)

The fact which interests us most is the life of the naturalist. The purest science is still biographical. Nothing will dignify and elevate science while it is sundered so wholly from the moral life of its devotee.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1873), 383.
Science quotes on:  |  Biography (199)  |  Devotee (2)  |  Dignity (7)  |  Elevation (4)  |  Fact (325)  |  Interest (82)  |  Life (460)  |  Moral (38)  |  Naturalist (27)  |  Nothing (89)  |  Purest (2)  |  Science (875)  |  Wholly (3)

The most distinct and beautiful statement of any truth [in science] must take at last the mathematical form.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1873), 383.
Science quotes on:  |  Beauty (88)  |  Distinct (12)  |  Form (70)  |  Mathematical (9)  |  Statement (28)  |  Truth (450)

The process of discovery is very simple. An unwearied and systematic application of known laws to nature, causes the unknown to reveal themselves. Almost any mode of observation will be successful at last, for what is most wanted is method.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1873), 384.
Science quotes on:  |  Application (72)  |  Discovery (360)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Law (273)  |  Method (73)  |  Mode (8)  |  Nature (534)  |  Observation (264)  |  Process (97)  |  Revelation (24)  |  Simplicity (92)  |  Success (114)  |  System (66)  |  Unknown (40)  |  Want (32)  |  Weariness (3)

The study of geometry is a petty and idle exercise of the mind, if it is applied to no larger system than the starry one. Mathematics should be mixed not only with physics but with ethics; that is mixed mathematics.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1873), 383.
Science quotes on:  |  Application (72)  |  Astronomy (105)  |  Ethics (23)  |  Exercise (26)  |  Geometry (68)  |  Idleness (4)  |  Larger (2)  |  Mathematics (367)  |  Mind (272)  |  Mix (5)  |  Petty (2)  |  Physics (156)  |  Star (132)  |  Study (157)  |  System (66)

The universe is wider than our views of it.
— Henry Thoreau
In 'Conclusion', Walden (1892), Vol. 2, 493.
Science quotes on:  |  Universe (291)  |  View (48)  |  Wide (3)

The works of the great poets have only been read for most part as the multitude read the stars, at most, astrologically, not astronomically.
— Henry Thoreau
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 464:3.
Science quotes on:  |  Science And Poetry (4)

There is more religion in men's science than there is science in their religion.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1921), 54.
Science quotes on:  |  Science And Religion (159)

Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom, and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebby with stars.
— Henry Thoreau
Walden (1882), Vol. 1, 155.
Science quotes on:  |  Fishing (5)  |  Sky (32)  |  Star (132)  |  Time (170)

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.
— Henry Thoreau
Walden (1882), Vol. 1, 84.
Science quotes on:  |  Communication (37)  |  Telegraph (25)

What are the libraries of science but files of newspapers?
— Henry Thoreau
Excursions, 203. Excerpt in H.G.O. Blake (ed.), Thoreau's Thoughts: Selections From the Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1890,2005), 91.
Science quotes on:  |  File (2)  |  Library (22)  |  Newspaper (18)  |  Science (875)

Where there is an observatory and a telescope, we expect that any eyes will see new worlds at once.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1873), 384.
Science quotes on:  |  Expectation (26)  |  Eye (67)  |  New (107)  |  Observatory (7)  |  Seeing (29)  |  Telescope (44)  |  World (231)

Who could believe in the prophecies ... that the world would end this summer, while one milkweed with faith matured its seeds.
— Henry Thoreau
In William Ellery Channing, Thoreau, the Poet-Naturalist: with Memorial Verses (1873), 205. Also identified as Journal entry (24 Sep 1851), collected in Bradford Torrey (ed.), The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Journal (1906), Vol. 3, 18.
Science quotes on:  |  Believe (14)  |  End (51)  |  Faith (73)  |  Matured (2)  |  Prophesy (5)  |  Seed (19)  |  Summer (10)  |  World (231)

You can hardly convince a man of error in a life-time, but must content yourself with the reflection that the progress of science is slow. If he is not convinced, his grand-children may be. The geologists tell us that it took one hundred years to prove that fossils are organic, and one hundred and fifty more, to prove that they are not to be referred to the Noachian deluge.
— Henry Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1921), 44.
Science quotes on:  |  Error (152)  |  Fossil (73)  |  Progress (200)


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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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