Saturday, June 28, 2008


Two Quotations Attributed to Thoreau

Chris Dodge, Thoreau Today (June/July 2008):
"Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around." Does that sound like Thoreau to you? No. But it's attributed to him in a chapter 4 epigraph to Joelle Jay and Amy Kovarick's Baby on Board: Becoming a Mother Without Losing Yourself—A Guide for Moms-to-Be (AMACOM, 2007). And over 3,000 Google hits, though none (that I could see) with a source cited. How about a contest for the most trite and inane "quotes" attributed to Thoreau? Starting now, send me your nominations.
In addition to Baby on Board, the following books attribute the quotation to Thoreau, apparently without bibliographical information:This is not a complete list. I can see that there are broad areas of contemporary literature that will forever remain closed to me.

Chris Dodge, ibid.:
Where do people get these lines? Here's the latest "quotation" I've seen attributed to Thoreau, with no source given: "The smallest seed of faith is better than the largest fruit of happiness." It sounds rather banal and unequivocal, to me, not very Thoreauvian. Can anyone find its source? On the morning of May 13, 2008, there were 339 Google hits for this exact line, 275 when Thoreau's name was included. Stacey Lawson begins her essay "What is Faith?" published on Huffington Post, "Henry David Thoreau once wrote, 'The smallest seed of faith is better than the largest fruit of happiness.'" Did he? Where?
Thoreau did say this, or something similar, in a letter to Lydia Emerson's sister, Lucy Jackson Brown (Jan. 25, 1843):
I do not venture to say anything about your griefs, for it would be unnatural for me to speak as if I grieved with you, when I think I do not. If I were to see you, it might be otherwise. But I know you will pardon the trivialness of this letter; and I only hope — as I know that you have reason to be so — that you are still happier than you are sad, and that you remember that the smallest seed of faith is of more worth than the largest fruit of happiness. I have no doubt that out of S——'s death you sometimes draw sweet consolation, not only for that, but for long-standing griefs, and may find some things made smooth by it, which before were rough.
Anyone who has tried to console someone after the death of a loved one knows how difficult it is to avoid the trivial and banal.

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