Thoreau isn’t a big fan of chaplains and other purveyors of religion and here he takes a swipe at three visiting ‘ultra-reformers’, one of whom he describes as ‘a sort of travelling pattern-working chaplain’, which I take to mean someone trotting out a standard formula because his audience is always new and so his preachings don’t need to be.

If you were in any doubt about Thoreau’s distaste for these do-gooders, he adds that they ‘rubbed you continually with the greasy cheeks of their kindness’.

One in particular gets too close for comfort: ‘I was awfully pestered with his benignity; feared I should get greased all over with it past restoration; tried to keep some starch in my clothes’. 17 June 1853

This made me laugh, though I can’t tell if Thoreau himself intended to be humorous.  But ‘greasy cheeks of kindness’ is a masterstroke.

Source: Henry David Thoreau, The Journal 1837-1861, Damion Searls (ed.), preface by John R. Stilgoe (New York: New York Review Books, 2009), p. 211

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