The Cost of Busyness

Even before moving to Nantucket to write my “Waldenesque guidebook to simpler living,” as I am describing it, I recalled that Henry David Thoreau had spoken at the local library here called the Atheneum. As it turns out, it was on December 28, 1854, the same year that Walden was published, and my research indicates that Thoreau typically charged enough for such lectures to cover his annual expenditures in one speech.

According to the January 1, 1855 edition of the Nantucket Inquirer, “A large audience assembled to listen to the man who has rendered himself notorious by living, as his book asserts, in the woods, at an expense of about sixty dollars per year, in order that he might there hold free communion with Nature, and test for himself the happiness of a life without manual labor or conventional restraints.”

Thoreau is reported to have opened his lecture by saying, “I will only lecture on what I think, not for the sake of saying pleasant things. I wish to give you a strong dose of myself. You have sent for me, and will pay me, and you shall have me, even if I bore you beyond all precedent.” Afterward, the Nantucket Inquirer noted, “His lecture may have been desultory and marked by simplicity of manner, but not by paucity of ideas.”

Thoreau expounded his thoughts by adding, “I shall take for my text these words, ‘What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?’ This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! I cannot buy a blank book to write thoughts in but it is ruled for dollars and cents.” Of course, it was none other than Jesus Christ himself who originally posed the question, as recorded in Mark 8:36, and we would do well to count the cost of all our “busyness.”