Geoff Wisner at The Quarterly Conversation:
Few of Thoreau’s best-known quotations take the form of a question. Yet those that do cut deep. They get under our skin. “Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises?” Thoreau asks in Walden. “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” he writes in a letter to H.G.O. Blake.
One of the few Thoreau scholars to recognize the importance of Henry’s questions is Jeffrey Cramer, whose collection The Quotable Thoreau devotes a section to questions. In doing so, he recognizes that Thoreau was not necessarily the man with all the answers.
“Thoreau,” writes Cramer, “was the vegetarian who ate meat; the conservationist who surveyed woodlots in Walden Woods; the pacifist who endorsed violence; the hermit who loved gossip.” Thoreau was no hypocrite, as he has often been painted: he was “a questioner of the very concepts we have come to associate with his name.”