Thoreau on News, Spiritual Life

Last week I read “Life Without Principle” by Henry David Thoreau on the YouTube channel. It’s a fairly short essay (text here) and, from what I could tell, gives a good overview of his outlook on the world if you haven’t read Walden in entirety yet (*cough* guilty).

He has a lot of good thoughts and hot takes, but the main idea that’s lingered with me is the need to keep your inner self as pure as possible from news and other negativity. He’s not saying to go live under a rock—or is he? 😆 —but rather emphasizing how useless it can be to obsess over current events. He even extends this warning to personal correspondence!

When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is, that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.

I can’t imagine what he would say about the “poor fellow” addicted to social media…

Thoreau goes on to speak of preserving “the mind’s chastity” as an antidote to “intellectual and moral suicide.” Similar to Sherlock Holmes’s cautions about filling your brain-attic with junk (although of a different context), Thoreau warns against filling your head with sordid contemplations, even if they are of the real world.

This is similar to what James writes in the first chapter of his letter:

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
(James 1:27, emphasis added)

I have been feeling pretty convicted about this already, and reading Thoreau’s essay amplified the message. I want to make some positive changes in my life towards this end, but I am not sure what form they will take yet.

11 responses to “Thoreau on News, Spiritual Life”

  1. I am headed in the same direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful thoughts, Marian, from both you and Thoreau. Wise and well-spoken!


  3. i really like your conflation of Sherlock and Thoreau! if i was still in school i’d write a paper about that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ironically, Holmes filled his brain attic with the things Thoreau warned against – details of criminal cases! I guess it’s all about what’s important to you… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s interesting about Sherlock and Thoreau. I could never get into the American mystics of the 19th century. I’m not sure I will, but I enjoyed your review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My biggest barrier to Thoreau so far is his style – it’s a bit ponderous at times. So far I’m finding him to be pretty down-to-earth though!


  5. “Read not The Times, but the Eternities.” One of my favorite Thoreau aphorisms, and one dwelt upon further by your post. I don’t know if I’ve read “Life Without Principle” over the years, but I plan on remedying that! I started unplugging from distractions in college. Thoreau knew the value of simplifying one’s life….not just physical clutter, but mental as well. He didn’t have all the answers, but he’s been a guiding light to me for years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mental clutter…my biggest woe. 😆 I remembered you liked Walden. I do feel motivated by this to give it another try!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s not an easy book! I read it in college when I had more time and access to an annotated version, I believe.


  6. It’s a sort of pollution – like complaining all the time about things. I haven’t read Thoreau yet & possibly won’t but I liked your thoughts & comparisons & the attic of the brain is such an apt phrase!

    Liked by 1 person

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About Me

Hi, I’m Marian—sharing a fondness for classics and other books here and on my YouTube channel. I’m a Christian, designer, and avid tea drinker, and my home is the beautiful Pacific Northwest, US.


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