Keep Up with Essay and Memoir One Paragraph at a Time
A New Feature Every Friday
from “If the Injustice Is”
in “Civil Disobedience”
by Henry David Thoreau
“Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”—Henry David Thoreau
We begin year six—as we have each year since The Humble Essayist began in 2014—with the writer who started it all for us, Henry David Thoreau. On Independence Day in 1845 he moved to Walden Pond to live deliberately and work on his book Walden. In honor of his masterpiece we created our website on July 4, 169 years later.
On this sad Fourth of July week, as Americans suffer a pandemic, struggle with economic collapse, and are stirred to confront racial injustice, Thoreau seems to be particularly relevant. His personal manifesto, “Civil Disobedience,” has probably done more to change the world for the better than any other single essay, inspiring many leaders including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
In our current grappling with racial injustice it is important to remember that the essay was written because Thoreau “could not for an instant recognize as my government [that] which is the slave's government also."
In the Paragraph of the Week, Thoreau makes a succinct argument for when civil disobedience is justified. For our commentary we have transformed his paragraph into a video essay called “If the Injustice Is.” Please read the paragraph, watch the video, and spread the word. You can read Thoreau’s complete essay here.
The Paragraph of the Week
If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth,—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.
—Henry David Thoreau
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Folly Beach, Steven Harvey's newest book, is a personal essay about easing fears of mortality and loss through creativity, certainly a message for our frightening times. It never loses sight of the inevitable losses that life brings, but doesn't let loss have the last word. In the face of the grim, Folly Beach holds up the human capacity to create as our sufficient joy.
“In a world of loss, creativity is the best revenge.”
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You can learn more about the recent work of Steven Harvey at his author's page here.
We at The Humble Essayist are in love with the paragraph, that lowliest of literary techniques. A sentence stands out as a noble thing: a complete thought. But what is a paragraph? And what, in particular, is a good one? You know it when you read it--that is our article of faith. So on Friday of each week, beginning on Independence Day 2014, the very day 169 years earlier that Henry Thoreau moved to Walden Pond, we will select a single paragraph from an essay or a reflective memoir and print it here along with a paragraph of commentary. We will choose paragraphs that are surprising, beautifully written, and, above all, thematic--illuminating the author's comment on life. Each paragraph of the week is, in short, a concise review of the writer's work. We hope that this page will introduce you to many exciting authors and their ideas.
The Humble Essayist thanks Clipartpal for the public domain artwork that is the logo for the site.