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WALDEN Or Life In The Woods

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Author Topic: WALDEN Or Life In The Woods  (Read 990 times)
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Posts: 1663

« Reply #75 on: March 23, 2009, 02:09:52 am »


  TO THE sick the doctors wisely recommend a change of air and
scenery. Thank Heaven, here is not all the world. The buckeye does not
grow in New England, and the mockingbird is rarely heard here. The
wild goose is more of a cosmopolite than we; he breaks his fast in
Canada, takes a luncheon in the Ohio, and plumes himself for the night
in a southern bayou. Even the bison, to some extent, keeps pace with
the seasons cropping the pastures of the Colorado only till a
greener and sweeter grass awaits him by the Yellowstone. Yet we
think that if rail fences are pulled down, and stone walls piled up on
our farms, bounds are henceforth set to our lives and our fates
decided. If you are chosen town clerk, forsooth, you cannot go to
Tierra del Fuego this summer: but you may go to the land of infernal
fire nevertheless. The universe is wider than our views of it.

  Yet we should oftener look over the tafferel of our craft, like
curious passengers, and not make the voyage like stupid sailors
picking oakum. The other side of the globe is but the home of our
correspondent. Our voyaging is only great-circle sailing, and the
doctors prescribe for diseases of the skin merely. One hastens to
southern Africa to chase the giraffe; but surely that is not the
game he would be after. How long, pray, would a man hunt giraffes if
he could? Snipes and woodcocks also may afford rare sport; but I trust
it would be nobler game to shoot one's self.

        "Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find

         A thousand regions in your mind

         Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be

         Expert in home-cosmography."

What does Africa- what does the West stand for? Is not our own
interior white on the chart? black though it may prove, like the
coast, when discovered. Is it the source of the Nile, or the Niger, or
the Mississippi, or a Northwest Passage around this continent, that we
would find? Are these the problems which most concern mankind? Is
Franklin the only man who is lost, that his wife should be so
earnest to find him? Does Mr. Grinnell know where he himself is? Be
rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher, of your
own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes- with
shiploads of preserved meats to support you, if they be necessary; and
pile the empty cans sky-high for a sign. Were preserved meats invented
to preserve meat merely? Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents
and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of
thought. Every man is the lord of a realm beside which the earthly
empire of the Czar is but a petty state, a hummock left by the ice.
Yet some can be patriotic who have no self-respect, and sacrifice
the greater to the less. They love the soil which makes their
graves, but have no sympathy with the spirit which may still animate
their clay. Patriotism is a maggot in their heads. What was the
meaning of that South-Sea Exploring Expedition, with all its parade
and expense, but an indirect recognition of the fact that there are
continents and seas in the moral world to which every man is an
isthmus or an inlet, yet unexplored by him, but that it is easier to
sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a
government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it
is to explore the private seal the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's
being alone.

        "Erret, et extremos alter scrutetur Iberos.

         Plus habet hic vitae, plus habet ille viae."

         Let them wander and scrutinize the outlandish Australians.

         I have more of God, they more of the road.

It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in
Zanzibar. Yet do this even till you can do better, and you may perhaps
find some "Symmes' Hole" by which to get at the inside at last.
England and France, Spain and Portugal, Gold Coast and Slave Coast,
all front on this private sea; but no bark from them has ventured
out of sight of land, though it is without doubt the direct way to
India. If you would learn to speak all tongues and conform to the
customs of all nations, if you would travel farther than all
travellers, be naturalized in all climes, and cause the Sphinx to dash
her bead against a stone, even obey the precept of the old
philosopher, and Explore thyself. Herein are demanded the eye and
the nerve. Only the defeated and deserters go to the wars, cowards
that run away and enlist. Start now on that farthest western way,
which does not pause at the Mississippi or the Pacific, nor conduct
toward a wornout China or Japan, but leads on direct, a tangent to
this sphere, summer and winter, day and night, sun down, moon down,
and at last earth down too.

  It is said that Mirabeau took to highway robbery "to ascertain
what degree of resolution was necessary in order to place one's self
in formal opposition to the most sacred laws of society." He
declared that "a soldier who fights in the ranks does not require half
so much courage as a foot-pad"- "that honor and religion have never
stood in the way of a well-considered and a firm resolve." This was
manly, as the world goes; and yet it was idle, if not desperate. A
saner man would have found himself often enough "in formal opposition"
to what are deemed "the most sacred laws of society," through
obedience to yet more sacred laws, and so have tested his resolution
without going out of his way. It is not for a man to put himself in
such an attitude to society, but to maintain himself in whatever
attitude he find himself through obedience to the laws of his being,
which will never be one of opposition to a just government, if he
should chance to meet with such.

  I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it
seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not
spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and
insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track
for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path
from my door to the pond-side; and though it is Eve or six years since
I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others
may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of
the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with
the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be
the Highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and
conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go
before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best
see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

  I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances
confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live
the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected
in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an
invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin
to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be
expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he
will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In
proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will
appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty
poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the
air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put
the foundations under them.

  It is a ridiculous demand which England and America make, that you
shall speak so that they can understand you. Neither men nor
toadstools grow so. As if that were important, and there were not
enough to understand you without them. As if Nature could support
but one order of understandings, could not sustain birds as well as
quadrupeds, flying as well as creeping things, and hush and whoa,
which Bright can understand, were the best English. As if there were
safety in stupidity alone. I fear chiefly lest my expression may not
be extra-vagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow
limits of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of
which I have been convinced. Extra vagance! it depends on how you
are yarded. The migrating buffalo, which seeks new pastures in another
latitude, is not extravagant like the cow which kicks over the pail,
leaps the cowyard fence, and runs after her calf, in milking time. I
desire to speak somewhere without bounds; like a man in a waking
moment, to men in their waking moments; for I am convinced that I
cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a true
expression. Who that has heard a strain of music feared then lest he
should speak extravagantly any more forever? In view of the future
or possible, we should live quite laxly and undefined in front our
outlines dim and misty on that side; as our shadows reveal an
insensible perspiration toward the sun. The volatile truth of our
words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual
statement. Their truth is instantly translated; its literal monument
alone remains. The words which express our faith and piety are not
definite; yet they are significant and fragrant like frankincense to
superior natures.

  Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise that
as common sense? The commonest sense is the sense of men asleep, which
they express by snoring. Sometimes we are inclined to class those
who are once-and-a-half-witted with the half-witted, because we
appreciate only a third part of their wit. Some would find fault
with the morning red, if they ever got up early enough. "They
pretend," as I hear, "that the verses of Kabir have four different
senses; illusion, spirit, intellect, and the exoteric doctrine of
the Vedas"; but in this part of the world it is considered a ground
for complaint if a man's writings admit of more than one
interpretation. While England endeavors to cure the potato-rot, will
not any endeavor to cure the brain-rot, which prevails so much more
widely and fatally?
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