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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)
Superhero Member
Posts: 1663

« Reply #75 on: March 23, 2009, 02:10:20 am »

 I do not suppose that I have attained to obscurity, but I should
be proud if no more fatal fault were found with my pages on this score
than was found with the Walden ice. Southern customers objected to its
blue color, which is the evidence of its purity, as if it were
muddy, and preferred the Cambridge ice, which is white, but tastes
of weeds. The purity men love is like the mists which envelop the
earth, and not like the azure ether beyond.

  Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns
generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even
the Elizabethan men. But what is that to the purpose? A living dog
is better than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang himself because he
belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he
can? Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he
was made.

  Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such
desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his
companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let
him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It
is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or
an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the condition of
things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality
which we can substitute? We will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality.
Shall we with pains erect a heaven of blue glass over ourselves,
though when it is done we shall be sure to gaze still at the true
ethereal heaven far above, as if the former were not?

  There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive
after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff.
Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but
into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It
shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in
my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved
that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he
searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually
deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew
not older by a moment. His singleness of purpose and resolution, and
his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial
youth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way,
and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him.
Before he had found a stock in all respects suitable the city of
Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the
stick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the
Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrote
the name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed his
work. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was
no longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferule and the head
adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many
times. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishing
stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of
the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma.
He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with fun and
fair proportions; in which, though the old cities and dynasties had
passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. And
now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that,
for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion,
and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single
scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the
tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure;
how could the result be other than wonderful?

  No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well at
last as the truth. This alone wears well. For the most part, we are
not where we are, but in a false position. Through an infinity of
our natures, we suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and hence
are in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult to get
out. In sane moments we regard only the facts, the case that is. Say
what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than
make-believe. Tom Hyde, the tinker, standing on the gallows, was asked
if he had anything to say. "Tell the tailors," said he, "to remember
to make a knot in their thread before they take the first stitch." His
companion's prayer is forgotten.

  However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and
call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when
you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise.
Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant,
thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor-house. The setting sun is
reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the
rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the
spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there,
and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. The town's poor seem to
me often to live the most independent lives of any. Maybe they are
simply great enough to receive without misgiving. Most think that they
are above being supported by the town; but it oftener happens that
they are not above supporting themselves by dishonest means, which
should be more disreputable. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb,
like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether
clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not
change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God
will see that you do not want society. If I were confined to a
corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just
as large to me while I had my thoughts about me. The philosopher said:
"From an army of three divisions one can take away its general, and
put it in disorder; from the man the most abject and vulgar one cannot
take away his thought." Do not seek so anxiously to be developed, to
subject yourself to many influences to be played on; it is all
dissipation. Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. The
shadows of poverty and meanness gather around us, "and lo! creation
widens to our view." We are often reminded that if there were bestowed
on us the wealth of Croesus, our aims must still be the same, and
our means essentially the same. Moreover, if you are restricted in
your range by poverty, if you cannot buy books and newspapers, for
instance, you are but confined to the most significant and vital
experiences; you are compelled to deal with the material which
yields the most sugar and the most starch. It is life near the bone
where it is sweetest. You are defended from being a trifler. No man
loses ever on a lower level by magnanimity on a higher. Superfluous
wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one
necessary of the soul.

  I live in the angle of a leaden wall, into whose composition was
poured a little alloy of bell-metal. Often, in the repose of my
mid-day, there reaches my ears a confused tintinnabulum from
without. It is the noise of my contemporaries. My neighbors tell me of
their adventures with famous gentlemen and ladies, what notabilities
they met at the dinner-table; but I am no more interested in such
things than in the contents of the Daily Times. The interest and the
conversation are about costume and manners chiefly; but a goose is a
goose still, dress it as you will. They tell me of California and
Texas, of England and the Indies, of the Hon. Mr.-- of Georgia or of
Massachusetts, all transient and fleeting phenomena, till I am ready
to leap from their court-yard like the Mameluke bey. I delight to come
to my bearings- not walk in procession with pomp and parade, in a
conspicuous place, but to walk even with the Builder of the
universe, if I may- not to live in this restless, nervous, bustling,
trivial Nineteenth Century, but stand or sit thoughtfully while it
goes by. What are men celebrating? They are all on a committee of
arrangements, and hourly expect a speech from somebody. God is only
the president of the day, and Webster is his orator. I love to
weigh, to settle, to gravitate toward that which most strongly and
rightfully attracts me;- not hang by the beam of the scale and try
to weigh less- not suppose a case, but take the case that is; to
travel the only path I can, and that on which no power can resist
me. It affords me no satisfaction to commerce to spring an arch before
I have got a solid foundation. Let us not play at kittly-benders.
There is a solid bottom everywhere. We read that the traveller asked
the boy if the swamp before him had a hard bottom. The boy replied
that it had. But presently the traveller's horse sank in up to the
girths, and he observed to the boy, "I thought you said that this
bog had a hard bottom." "So it has," answered the latter, "but you
have not got half way to it yet." So it is with the bogs and
quicksands of society; but he is an old boy that knows it. Only what
is thought, said, or done at a certain rare coincidence is good. I
would not be one of those who will foolishly drive a nail into mere
lath and plastering; such a deed would keep me awake nights. Give me a
hammer, and let me feel for the furring. Do not depend on the putty.
Drive a nail home and clinch it so faithfully that you can wake up
in the night and think of your work with satisfaction- a work at which
you would not be ashamed to invoke the Muse. So will help you God, and
so only. Every nail driven should be as another rivet in the machine
of the universe, you carrying on the work.

  Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a
table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious
attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry
from the inhospitable board. The hospitality was as cold as the
ices. I thought that there was no need of ice to freeze them. They
talked to me of the age of the wine and the fame of the vintage; but I
thought of an older, a newer, and purer wine, of a more glorious
vintage, which they had not got, and could not buy. The style, the
house and grounds and "entertainment" pass for nothing with me. I
called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted
like a man incapacitated for hospitality. There was a man in my
neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree. His manners were truly regal.
I should have done better had I called on him.

  How long shall we sit in our porticoes practising idle and musty
virtues, which any work would make impertinent? As if one were to
begin the day with long-suffering, and hire a man to hoe his potatoes;
and in the afternoon go forth to practise Christian meekness and
charity with goodness aforethought! Consider the China pride and
stagnant self-complacency of mankind. This generation inclines a
little to congratulate itself on being the last of an illustrious
line; and in Boston and London and Paris and Rome, thinking of its
long descent, it speaks of its progress in art and science and
literature with satisfaction. There are the Records of the
Philosophical Societies, and the public Eulogies of Great Men! It is
the good Adam contemplating his own virtue. "Yes, we have done great
deeds, and sung divine songs, which shall never die"- that is, as long
as we can remember them. The learned societies and great men of
Assyria- where are they? What youthful philosophers and
experimentalists we are! There is not one of my readers who has yet
lived a whole human life. These may be but the spring months in the
life of the race. If we have had the seven-years' itch, we have not
seen the seventeen-year locust yet in Concord. We are acquainted
with a mere pellicle of the globe on which we live. Most have not
delved six feet beneath the surface, nor leaped as many above it. We
know not where we are. Beside, we are sound asleep nearly half our
time. Yet we esteem ourselves wise, and have an established order on
the surface. Truly, we are deep thinkers, we are ambitious spirits! As
I stand over the insect crawling amid the pine needles on the forest
floor, and endeavoring to conceal itself from my sight, and ask myself
why it will cherish those humble thoughts, and bide its head from me
who might, perhaps, be its benefactor, and impart to its race some
cheering information, I am reminded of the greater Benefactor and
Intelligence that stands over me the human insect.

  There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we
tolerate incredible dulness. I need only suggest what kind of
sermons are still listened to in the most enlightened countries. There
are such words as joy and sorrow, but they are only the burden of a
psalm, sung with a nasal twang, while we believe in the ordinary and
mean. We think that we can change our clothes only. It is said that
the British Empire is very large and respectable, and that the
United States are a first-rate power. We do not believe that a tide
rises and falls behind every man which can float the British Empire
like a chip, if he should ever harbor it in his mind. Who knows what
sort of seventeen-year locust will next come out of the ground? The
government of the world I live in was not framed, like that of
Britain, in after-dinner conversations over the wine.

  The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year
higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even
this may be the eventful year, which will drown out all our
muskrats. It was not always dry land where we dwell. I see far
inland the banks which the stream anciently washed, before science
began to record its freshets. Every one has heard the story which
has gone the rounds of New England, of a strong and beautiful bug
which came out of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-tree wood,
which had stood in a farmer's kitchen for sixty years, first in
Connecticut, and afterward in Massachusetts- from an egg deposited
in the living tree many years earlier still, as appeared by counting
the annual layers beyond it; which was heard gnawing out for several
weeks, hatched perchance by the heat of an urn. Who does not feel
his faith in a resurrection and immortality strengthened by hearing of
this? Who knows what beautiful and winged life, whose egg has been
buried for ages under many concentric layers of woodenness in the dead
dry life of society, deposited at first in the alburnum of the green
and living tree, which has been gradually converted into the semblance
of its well-seasoned tomb- heard perchance gnawing out now for years
by the astonished family of man, as they sat round the festive
board- may unexpectedly come forth from amidst society's most
trivial and handselled furniture, to enjoy its perfect summer life
at last!

  I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this; but such
is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never
make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us.
Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to
dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

                                    THE END
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