Power of Place
Slam Poetry

Thoreau’s Views & Charity

Thoreau’s take on Philanthropy


There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.

-Henry David Thoreau 


        Many consider philanthropy a great thing.  In the chapter “Economy” from Walden, Henry David Thoreau believes giving to those in need is important, but when people actually participate in philanthropy it is usually out of selfishness and feeling good about themselves, not helping people.  Thoreau argues consciously going out of your way to do something good for another is evil because your intent is really to do good for yourself.  He believes you don’t actually care about that person, you just care about feeling good about yourself.  On page 41 Thoreau rips into the philanthropists who only give to the poor as means of having their conscious cleared.  He knows many people give to charity (back then and present day) for their own personal assurance or happiness.

There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me- some of its virus mingled with my blood. No—in this case I would rather suffer evil the natural way.

For many people, Henry David Thoreau’s views on charity would not correspond with their own.  In fact, Thoreau’s ideas could be controversial to some.  Regardless of opinion on Thoreau’s take on charity, it challenges societal norms and customs.  This theme is greatly shown throughout the book, and this particular section of “Economy” truly emphasizes to that theme.  Thoreau’s takes on life prove to be controversial, but truthful.