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I'm having a hard time parsing this phrase from H.D. Thoreau's Walden, chapter I, Economy:

I would fain say something, not so much concerning the Chinese and Sandwich Islanders as you who read these pages, who are said to live[1] in New England; something about your condition, especially your outward condition or circumstances in this world[2], in this town, what it is, whether it is necessary that it be as bad as it is, whether it cannot be improved as well as not[3].

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/205/205-h/205-h.htm)

My main question refers to [3]: when he says whether it cannot be improved as well as not, does he mean it in the sense of I wonder if it's possible that you just might be able to improve your condition as easy as it is to not improve it? I'm confused about his usage of as well, which can mean as easily or can mean and.

Secondary questions: [1] are said to live = I'm told that's where my readers live, or They call the place you live New England? [2] is it (outward condition) or (circumstances in the world), or outward (condition or circumstances) in this world?

Thank you!

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    Yes, you understood Thoreau's meaning. First I'll note that even to native speakers, this is somewhat of an arcane usage, probably because it Walden is now dated. However, the phrase to focus on is as well as not, i.e. including the not, which has a bit of a life of its own, and it means precisely what you took away from it: doing X is no more effort to me than not doing X. As in should you improve your life?, well, why not?. Finally, since he's addressing Concord (MA) specifically, he's saying "Concord is in a place called New England". – Dan Bron Jul 2 '16 at 12:58
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    site.uit.no/english/grammar/aswellas -----------------------------------------------------------------------------the link above shows that 'as well as' places stronger emphasis on what precedes it, so in Thoreau's sentence the improvement of the town is given precedence over its degradation. – user180089 Jul 2 '16 at 12:59
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    In re your parenthesization question, I'd lean towards (outward condition) and (circumstances in this world), because both those phrases independently appear in common use, but I'll also note that it doesn't matter, because if you evaluate both parenthesizing options you presented, you'll see hey mean the same thing. – Dan Bron Jul 2 '16 at 13:00
  • Thank you Dan, that makes a lot of sense! Being exposed to many instances of as well as to simply mean and and not taking the time to look it up, I was not aware of this subtlety in usage. – Dan Burzo Jul 2 '16 at 13:06
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    @Dan No problem, happy to help. We Dans have to stick together! – Dan Bron Jul 2 '16 at 14:04
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As explained in the comments by Dan Bron:

Yes, you understood Thoreau's meaning. First I'll note that even to native speakers, this is somewhat of an arcane usage, probably because it Walden is now dated. However, the phrase to focus on is as well as not, i.e. including the not, which has a bit of a life of its own, and it means precisely what you took away from it: doing X is no more effort to me than not doing X. As in should you improve your life?, well, why not?. Finally, since he's addressing Concord (MA) specifically, he's saying "Concord is in a place called New England". – Dan Bron

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