December 22, 2000

Mr. Richard Devlin, President
American General
2929 Allen Parkway
Houston, TX 77019

Dear Sir:

We write to inquire why you feel it is fair for your company to appropriate the words of Henry David Thoreau as a way of advertising the services that your company offers. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined!”-- these are the supposedly Thoreauvian words that your advertising messages highlight, in what is apparently a rough paraphrase of the author’s far more eloquent words toward the end of his book, Walden.

The problem with using his words--whether correctly quoted or not--to augment your company’s profit line is simply this: in almost everything he wrote, Thoreau denigrated the importance of money, or of living one’s life in order to make money, in favor of living simply. Indeed, he warned in his essay “Life Without Principle” that “the ways by which you may get money almost without exception lead downward” and he urged instead that we “sink a the gold” within us.

Thoreau was a man who took ideas and principles seriously. It seems wrong to bend his life around 180 degrees to suit your company’s purposes, particularly as he is no longer here to defend himself. Wouldn’t your company perform more of a service, in addition to its other good works, by helping to educate a new generation of Americans to the enduring, powerful, and challenging ideas of this great American writer?


The “Meet Mr. Thoreau” class
Lincoln-Sudbury Regional H.S.
Sudbury, MA. 01776
(just five miles from Walden Pond)

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