“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 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”.
“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.”
“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 tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and who stood under a tree for shelter, a house keeper. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”
“The best works of art are the expression of man’s struggle to free himself from this condition, but the effect of our art is to make this low state comfortable and that higher state to be forgotten. There is actually no place in this village for a work of fine art, if any had come down to us, to stand, for our lives, our houses and streets, furnish no proper pedestal for it. There is not a nail to hang a picture on, nor a shelf to receive the bust of a hero or saint. When I consider how our houses are built and paid for, or not paid for, and their internal economy managed and sustained, I wonder that the floor does not give way under the visitor while he is admiring the gewgaws upon the mantel-piece, and let him through into the cellar, to some solid and honest though earthy foundation. I cannot but perceive
This was written by Henry David Thoreau and published as Walden: Life in the Woods, in 1854. One hundred and fifty six years later our economy and aspirations remain the same.