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Friday, 7 October 2011

Thoreau's position on charity and caring for poor as in 'Walden'


Thoreau has some peculiar impressions on charity, caring for the poor and philanthropy. He feels that philanthropy is the only virtue more than any other virtue which is sufficiently appreciated by mankind. He goes to the extent of saying that it is overrated due to our selfishness. He quotes the example of a robust poor man in his town concord who praised a fellow townsman because that man was kind to him (the poor man). By this Thoreau meant that the selfishness of the poor man made him praise the townsman for his kindness. He expresses surprise that kind people are treated with more regard than the spiritual people, who have done more for the mankind. For this he quotes the example of a lecturer on England who spoke about the great people of England like Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Oliver Cromwell, John Milton and Isaac Newton. But she also spoke of her Christian heroes like William Penn, Howard and Mrs. Elizabeth Fry and placed them on higher place regarding their greatness than the former ones. Thoreau says that such a comparison is wrong because the latter are best philanthropists and not great in the same vein as the former ones(Thoreau 1985).

While insisting that he would not like to detract in anyway the appreciation for philanthropy, Thoreau says that justice should be done to all those, whose lives and works are a blessing to humanity. Thoreau compares uprightness and philanthropy of people to leaves and stem of plants. He says that it is not the stem and leaves of a plant that mankind want but its flowers and fruits. Thoreau says that philanthropy is bud from one angle in the sense that it is being doled by the philanthropist out of sympathy for the recipients of his philanthropic donation. The entire process gives an impression that the recipients are grief-stricken for want of something which the philanthropist doles out(Thoreau 1985).

On closer analysis, Thoreau’s impression about philanthropy and charity are absolutely right. Philanthropists all over the world receive immediate recognition and appreciation, whereas the great inventors, scientists and discoverers, whose works facilitated the wonderful evolution of mankind, appear to pale into insignificance compared to these people. One reason maybe that people feel that philanthropist is earning something by hard work and then by act of philanthropy is depriving himself of his hard-earned possessions, whereas a scientist or an explorer is considered to have achieved something to prove his greatness. The utility of his invention, discovery or exploration to the society does not mean anything to majority of the people, while an act of philanthropy attracts the attention of even the lowest placed man in the society. It is this difference in recognition that should be set right according to Thoreau (Thoreau 1985).

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