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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,
Massachusetts, 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
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