In the first chapter of Walden; or Life in the Woods, Thoreau says:

What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields. What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new. Old people did not know enough once, perchance, to fetch fresh fuel to keep the fire a-going; new people put a little dry wood under a pot, and are whirled round the globe with the speed of birds, in a way to kill old people, as the phrase is. Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost.

My question pertains to the part of the quote that is bolded. What does he mean by this quote?

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    Besides quoting the pertinent text, have you done any other research? What do you think he means? – user59 Feb 8 '17 at 21:37
  • @Cascabel I have done some thinking and I have looked for some stuff, but I haven't really found anything and I haven't had any very good thoughts. – Benjamin Feb 9 '17 at 1:44
  • I think the context makes it self explanatory? What previous people say is impossible merely means you have to be inventive to find a way to make it possible. No? – Mikey Feb 9 '17 at 3:31

From the context, it appears that the quote is saying that everything progresses - what was good for the ancient people is not necessarily good for us now. For instance, a house is for people today, and we're fine with that. A cave was for the cavemen, and he was fine with that. What your grandparents used is not necessarily what you want to use.

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    I downvoted this answer (way back last year, but realised now I should explain my vote) because it's not really supported properly. It might be correct, but it's not really a good answer by current site standards. In fact, I don't even think it's correct: the quote in the question is about "deeds", and living in a house or a cave isn't really a deed. So, my downvote stands. – Rand al'Thor Oct 1 '18 at 4:30
  • @Randal'Thor I would be open to moving the accepted answer, if a better answer appears. – Benjamin Oct 1 '18 at 14:12

Have you heard Bob Dylan's "The times they are a-changing?" I think it means just that. As we grow and progress, we must embrace the new great ideas that come with progress as a society instead of blindly sticking to old ways just because we've done them before

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