I wish to say something tonight not of and concerning the Chinese and Sandwich-Islanders, but to and concerning you who hear me, 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 necessarily as bad as it is, whether it can’t be improved as well as not.
It is generally admitted that some of you are poor, find it hard to get a living, haven’t always something in your pockets, haven’t paid for all the dinners you’ve actually eaten, or all your coats and shoes, some of which are already worn out. All this is very well known to all by hearsay and by experience. It is very evident what a mean and sneaking life you live, always in the hampers, always on the limits, trying to get into business and try to get out of debt, a very ancient slough, called by the Latins aes alienum, another’s brass,–some of their coins being made of brass,– and still so many living and dying and buried today by another’s brass; always promising to pay, promising to pay, with interest, tomorrow perhaps, and die today, insolvent; seeking to curry favor, to get custom, lying, flattering, voting, contracting yourselves into a nutshell of civility or dilating into a world of thin and vaporous generosity, that you may persuade your neighbor to let you make his shoes, or his hat or his coat or his carriage etc.
Thoreau’s Journal 12/23/1846