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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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« Reply #15 on: March 23, 2009, 01:45:19 am »

The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by
a formula more complicated than the problem itself. To get his
shoestrings he speculates in herds of cattle. With consummate skill he
has set his trap with a hair springe to catch comfort and
independence, and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it.
This is the reason he is poor; and for a similar reason we are all
poor in respect to a thousand savage comforts, though surrounded by
luxuries. As Chapman sings,

        "The false society of men-

             -for earthly greatness

         All heavenly comforts rarefies to air."

  And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer
but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him. As I
understand it, that was a valid objection urged by Momus against the
house which Minerva made, that she "had not made it movable, by
which means a bad neighborhood might be avoided"; and it may still
be urged, for our houses are such unwieldy property that we are
often imprisoned rather than housed in them; and the bad
neighborhood to be avoided is our own scurvy selves. I know one or two
families, at least, in this town, who, for nearly a generation, have
been wishing to sell their houses in the outskirts and move into the
village, but have not been able to accomplish it, and only death
will set them free.

  Granted that the majority are able at last either to own or hire the
modern house with all its improvements. While civilization has been
improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to
inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create
noblemen and kings. And if the civilized man's pursuits are no
worthier than the savage's, if he is employed the greater part of
his life in obtaining gross necessaries and comforts merely, why
should he have a better dwelling than the former?

  But how do the poor minority fare? Perhaps it will be found that
just in proportion as some have been placed in outward circumstances
above the savage, others have been degraded below him. The luxury of
one class is counterbalanced by the indigence of another. On the one
side is the palace, on the other are the almshouse and "silent
poor." The myriads who built the pyramids to be the tombs of the
Pharaohs were fed on garlic, and it may be were not decently buried
themselves. The mason who finishes the cornice of the palace returns
at night perchance to a hut not so good as a wigwam. It is a mistake
to suppose that, in a country where the usual evidences of
civilization exist, the condition of a very large body of the
inhabitants may not be as degraded as that of savages. I refer to
the degraded poor, not now to the degraded rich. To know this I should
not need to look farther than to the shanties which everywhere
border our railroads, that last improvement in civilization; where I
see in my daily walks human beings living in sties, and all winter
with an open door, for the sake of light, without any visible, often
imaginable, wood-pile, and the forms of both old and young are
permanently contracted by the long habit of shrinking from cold and
misery, and the development of all their limbs and faculties is
checked. It certainly is fair to look at that class by whose labor the
works which distinguish this generation are accomplished. Such too, to
a greater or less extent, is the condition of the operatives of
every denomination in England, which is the great workhouse of the
world. Or I could refer you to Ireland, which is marked as one of
the white or enlightened spots on the map. Contrast the physical
condition of the Irish with that of the North American Indian, or
the South Sea Islander, or any other savage race before it was
degraded by contact with the civilized man. Yet I have no doubt that
that people's rulers are as wise as the average of civilized rulers.
Their condition only proves what squalidness may consist with
civilization. I hardly need refer now to the laborers in our
Southern States who produce the staple exports of this country, and
are themselves a staple production of the South. But to confine myself
to those who are said to be in moderate circumstances.

  Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are
actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think
that they must have such a one as their neighbors have. As if one were
to wear any sort of coat which the tailor might cut out for him, or,
gradually leaving off palm-leaf hat or cap of woodchuck skin, complain
of hard times because he could not afford to buy him a crown! It is
possible to invent a house still more convenient and luxurious than we
have, which yet all would admit that man could not afford to pay
for. Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not
sometimes to be content with less? Shall the respectable citizen
thus gravely teach, by precept and example, the necessity of the young
man's providing a certain number of superfluous glow- shoes, and
umbrellas, and empty guest chambers for empty guests, before he
dies? Why should not our furniture be as simple as the Arab's or the
Indian's? When I think of the benefactors of the race, whom we have
apotheosized as messengers from heaven, bearers of divine gifts to
man, I do not see in my mind any retinue at their heels, any carload
of fashionable furniture. Or what if I were to allow- would it not
be a singular allowance?- that our furniture should be more complex
than the Arab's, in proportion as we are morally and intellectually
his superiors! At present our houses are cluttered and defiled with
it, and a good housewife would sweep out the greater part into the
dust hole, and not leave her morning's work undone. Morning work! By
the blushes of Aurora and the music of Memnon, what should be man's
morning work in this world? I had three pieces of limestone on my
desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted
daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw
them out the window in disgust. How, then, could I have a furnished
house? I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on
the grass, unless where man has broken ground.
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« Reply #16 on: March 23, 2009, 01:45:43 am »

It is the luxurious and dissipated who set the fashions which the
herd so diligently follow. The traveller who stops at the best houses,
so called, soon discovers this, for the publicans presume him to be
a Sardanapalus, and if he resigned himself to their tender mercies
he would soon be completely emasculated. I think that in the
railroad car we are inclined to spend more on luxury than on safety
and convenience, and it threatens without attaining these to become no
better than a modern drawing-room, with its divans, and ottomans,
and sun-shades, and a hundred other oriental things, which we are
taking west with us, invented for the ladies of the harem and the
effeminate natives of the Celestial Empire, which Jonathan should be
ashamed to know the names of. I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have
it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion. I would rather
ride on earth in an ox cart, with a free circulation, than go to
heaven in the fancy car of an excursion train and breathe a malaria
all the way.

  The very simplicity and nakedness of man's life in the primitive
ages imply this advantage, at least, that they left him still but a
sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep, he
contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in
this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the
plains, or climbing the mountain-tops. But lo! men have become the
tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits
when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree
for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night,
but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven. We have adopted
Christianity merely as an improved method of agriculture. We have
built for this world a family mansion, and for the next a family tomb.
The best works of art are the expression of man's struggle to free
himself from this condition, but the effect of our art is merely to
make this low state comfortable and that higher state to be forgotten.
There is actually no place in this village for a work of fine art,
if any had come down to us, to stand, for our lives, our houses and
streets, furnish no proper pedestal for it. There is not a nail to
hang a picture on, nor a shelf to receive the bust of a hero or a
saint. When I consider how our houses are built and paid for, or not
paid for, and their internal economy managed and sustained, I wonder
that the floor does not give way under the visitor while he is
admiring the gewgaws upon the mantelpiece, and let him through into
the cellar, to some solid and honest though earthy foundation. I
cannot but perceive that this so-called rich and refined life is a
thing jumped at, and I do not get on in the enjoyment of the fine arts
which adorn it, my attention being wholly occupied with the jump;
for I remember that the greatest genuine leap, due to human muscles
alone, on record, is that of certain wandering Arabs, who are said
to have cleared twenty-five feet on level ground. Without factitious
support, man is sure to come to earth again beyond that distance.
The first question which I am tempted to put to the proprietor of such
great impropriety is, Who bolsters you? Are you one of the
ninety-seven who fail, or the three who succeed? Answer me these
questions, and then perhaps I may look at your bawbles and find them
ornamental. The cart before the horse is neither beautiful nor useful.
Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must
be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful
housekeeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation: now, a
taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors, where there
is no house and no housekeeper.

  Old Johnson, in his "Wonder-Working Providence," speaking of the
first settlers of this town, with whom he was contemporary, tells us
that "they burrow themselves in the earth for their first shelter
under some hillside, and, casting the soil aloft upon timber, they
make a smoky fire against the earth, at the highest side." They did
not "provide them houses," says he, "till the earth, by the Lord's
blessing, brought forth bread to feed them," and the first year's crop
was so light that "they were forced to cut their bread very thin for a
long season." The secretary of the Province of New Netherland, writing
in Dutch, in 1650, for the information of those who wished to take
up land there, states more particularly that "those in New Netherland,
and especially in New England, who have no means to build farmhouses
at first according to their wishes, dig a square pit in the ground,
cellar fashion, six or seven feet deep, as long and as broad as they
think proper, case the earth inside with wood all round the wall,
and line the wood with the bark of trees or something else to
prevent the caving in of the earth; floor this cellar with plank,
and wainscot it overhead for a ceiling, raise a roof of spars clear
up, and cover the spars with bark or green sods, so that they can live
dry and warm in these houses with their entire families for two,
three, and four years, it being understood that partitions are run
through those cellars which are adapted to the size of the family. The
wealthy and principal men in New England, in the beginning of the
colonies, commenced their first dwelling-houses in this fashion for
two reasons: firstly, in order not to waste time in building, and
not to want food the next season; secondly, in order not to discourage
poor laboring people whom they brought over in numbers from
Fatherland. In the course of three or four years, when the country
became adapted to agriculture, they built themselves handsome
houses, spending on them several thousands."
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« Reply #17 on: March 23, 2009, 01:46:10 am »

In this course which our ancestors took there was a show of prudence
at least, as if their principle were to satisfy the more pressing
wants first. But are the more pressing wants satisfied now? When I
think of acquiring for myself one of our luxurious dwellings, I am
deterred, for, so to speak, the country is not yet adapted to human
culture, and we are still forced to cut our spiritual bread far
thinner than our forefathers did their wheaten. Not that all
architectural ornament is to be neglected even in the rudest
periods; but let our houses first be lined with beauty, where they
come in contact with our lives, like the tenement of the shellfish,
and not overlaid with it. But, alas! I have been inside one or two
of them, and know what they are lined with.

  Though we are not so degenerate but that we might possibly live in a
cave or a wigwam or wear skins today, it certainly is better to accept
the advantages, though so dearly bought, which the invention and
industry of mankind offer. In such a neighborhood as this, boards
and shingles, lime and bricks, are cheaper and more easily obtained
than suitable caves, or whole logs, or bark in sufficient
quantities, or even well-tempered clay or flat stones. I speak
understandingly on this subject, for I have made myself acquainted
with it both theoretically and practically. With a little more wit
we might use these materials so as to become richer than the richest
now are, and make our civilization a blessing. The civilized man is
a more experienced and wiser savage. But to make haste to my own

  Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to
the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my
house, and began to cut down some tall, arrowy white pines, still in
their youth, for timber. It is difficult to begin without borrowing,
but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your
fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise. The owner of the
axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of
his eye; but I returned it sharper than I received it. It was a
pleasant hillside where I worked, covered with pine woods, through
which I looked out on the pond, and a small open field in the woods
where pines and hickories were springing up. The ice in the pond was
not yet dissolved, though there were some open spaces, and it was
all dark-colored and saturated with water. There were some slight
flurries of snow during the days that I worked there; but for the most
part when I came out on to the railroad, on my way home, its yellow
sand-heap stretched away gleaming in the hazy atmosphere, and the
rails shone in the spring sun, and I heard the lark and pewee and
other birds already come to commence another year with us. They were
pleasant spring days, in which the winter of man's discontent was
thawing as well as the earth, and the life that had lain torpid
began to stretch itself. One day, when my axe had come off and I had
cut a green hickory for a wedge, driving it with a stone, and had
placed the whole to soak in a pond-hole in order to swell the wood,
I saw a striped snake run into the water, and he lay on the bottom,
apparently without inconvenience, as long as I stayed there, or more
than a quarter of an hour; perhaps because he had not yet fairly
come out of the torpid state. It appeared to me that for a like reason
men remain in their present low and primitive condition; but if they
should feel the influence of the spring of springs arousing them, they
would of necessity rise to a higher and more ethereal life. I had
previously seen the snakes in frosty mornings in my path with portions
of their bodies still numb and inflexible, waiting for the sun to thaw
them. On the 1st of April it rained and melted the ice, and in the
early part of the day, which was very foggy, I heard a stray goose
groping about over the pond and cackling as if lost, or like the
spirit of the fog.

  So I went on for some days cutting and hewing timber, and also studs
and rafters, all with my narrow axe, not having many communicable or
scholar-like thoughts, singing to myself,

        Men say they know many things;

        But lo! they have taken wings-

        The arts and sciences,

        And a thousand appliances;

        The wind that blows

        Is all that anybody knows.

I hewed the main timbers six inches square, most of the studs on two
sides only, and the rafters and floor timbers on one side, leaving the
rest of the bark on, so that they were just as straight and much
stronger than sawed ones. Each stick was carefully mortised or tenoned
by its stump, for I had borrowed other tools by this time. My days
in the woods were not very long ones; yet I usually carried my
dinner of bread and butter, and read the newspaper in which it was
wrapped, at noon, sitting amid the green pine boughs which I had cut
off, and to my bread was imparted some of their fragrance, for my
hands were covered with a thick coat of pitch. Before I had done I was
more the friend than the foe of the pine tree, though I had cut down
some of them, having become better acquainted with it. Sometimes a
rambler in the wood was attracted by the sound of my axe, and we
chatted pleasantly over the chips which I had made.
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« Reply #18 on: March 23, 2009, 01:46:26 am »

By the middle of April, for I made no haste in my work, but rather
made the most of it, my house was framed and ready for the raising.
I had already bought the shanty of James Collins, an Irishman who
worked on the Fitchburg Railroad, for boards. James Collins' shanty
was considered an uncommonly fine one. When I called to see it he
was not at home. I walked about the outside, at first unobserved
from within, the window was so deep and high. It was of small
dimensions, with a peaked cottage roof, and not much else to be
seen, the dirt being raised five feet all around as if it were a
compost heap. The roof was the soundest part, though a good deal
warped and made brittle by the sun. Doorsill there was none, but a
perennial passage for the hens under the door-board. Mrs. C. came to
the door and asked me to view it from the inside. The hens were driven
in by my approach. It was dark, and had a dirt floor for the most
part, dank, clammy, and aguish, only here a board and there a board
which would not bear removal. She lighted a lamp to show me the inside
of the roof and the walls, and also that the board floor extended
under the bed, warning me not to step into the cellar, a sort of
dust hole two feet deep. In her own words, they were good boards
overhead, good boards all around, and a good window"- of two whole
squares originally, only the cat had passed out that way lately. There
was a stove, a bed, and a place to sit, an infant in the house where
it was born, a silk parasol, gilt-framed looking-glass, and a patent
new coffee-mill nailed to an oak sapling, all told. The bargain was
soon concluded, for James had in the meanwhile returned. I to pay four
dollars and twenty-five cents tonight, he to vacate at five tomorrow
morning, selling to nobody else meanwhile: I to take possession at
six. It were well, he said, to be there early, and anticipate
certain indistinct but wholly unjust claims on the score of ground
rent and fuel. This he assured me was the only encumbrance. At six I
passed him and his family on the road. One large bundle held their
all- bed, coffee-mill, looking-glass, hens- all but the cat; she
took to the woods and became a wild cat, and, as I learned
afterward, trod in a trap set for woodchucks, and so became a dead cat
at last.

  I took down this dwelling the same morning, drawing the nails, and
removed it to the pond-side by small cartloads, spreading the boards
on the grass there to bleach and warp back again in the sun. One early
thrush gave me a note or two as I drove along the woodland path. I was
informed treacherously by a young Patrick that neighbor Seeley, an
Irishman, in the intervals of the carting, transferred the still
tolerable, straight, and drivable nails, staples, and spikes to his
pocket, and then stood when I came back to pass the time of day, and
look freshly up, unconcerned, with spring thoughts, at the
devastation; there being a dearth of work, as he said. He was there to
represent spectatordom, and help make this seemingly insignificant
event one with the removal of the gods of Troy.

  I dug my cellar in the side of a hill sloping to the south, where
a woodchuck had formerly dug his burrow, down through sumach and
blackberry roots, and the lowest stain of vegetation, six feet
square by seven deep, to a fine sand where potatoes would not freeze
in any winter. The sides were left shelving, and not stoned; but the
sun having never shone on them, the sand still keeps its place. It was
but two hours' work. I took particular pleasure in this breaking of
ground, for in almost all latitudes men dig into the earth for an
equable temperature. Under the most splendid house in the city is
still to be found the cellar where they store their roots as of old,
and long after the superstructure has disappeared posterity remark its
dent in the earth. The house is still but a sort of porch at the
entrance of a burrow.

  At length, in the beginning of May, with the help of some of my
acquaintances, rather to improve so good an occasion for
neighborliness than from any necessity, I set up the frame of my
house. No man was ever more honored in the character of his raisers
than I. They are destined, I trust, to assist at the raising of
loftier structures one day. I began to occupy my house on the 4th of
July, as soon as it was boarded and roofed, for the boards were
carefully feather-edged and lapped, so that it was perfectly
impervious to rain, but before boarding I laid the foundation of a
chimney at one end, bringing two cartloads of stones up the hill
from the pond in my arms. I built the chimney after my hoeing in the
fall, before a fire became necessary for warmth, doing my cooking in
the meanwhile out of doors on the ground, early in the morning:
which mode I still think is in some respects more convenient and
agreeable than the usual one. When it stormed before my bread was
baked, I fixed a few boards over the fire, and sat under them to watch
my loaf, and passed some pleasant hours in that way. In those days,
when my hands were much employed, I read but little, but the least
scraps of paper which lay on the ground, my holder, or tablecloth,
afforded me as much entertainment, in fact answered the same purpose
as the Iliad.

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« Reply #19 on: March 23, 2009, 01:46:48 am »

It would be worth the while to build still more deliberately than
I did, considering, for instance, what foundation a door, a window,
a cellar, a garret, have in the nature of man, and perchance never
raising any superstructure until we found a better reason for it
than our temporal necessities even. There is some of the same
fitness in a man's building his own house that there is in a bird's
building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their
dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and
families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be
universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so
engaged? But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their
eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller
with their chattering and unmusical notes. Shall we forever resign the
pleasure of construction to the carpenter? What does architecture
amount to in the experience of the mass of men? I never in all my
walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation
as building his house. We belong to the community. It is not the
tailor alone who is the ninth part of a man; it is as much the
preacher, and the merchant, and the farmer. Where is this division
of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve? No doubt
another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable
that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.

  True, there are architects so called in this country, and I have
heard of one at least possessed with the idea of making
architectural ornaments have a core of truth, a necessity, and hence a
beauty, as if it were a revelation to him. All very well perhaps
from his point of view, but only a little better than the common
dilettantism. A sentimental reformer in architecture, he began at
the cornice, not at the foundation. It was only how to put a core of
truth within the ornaments, that every sugarplum, in fact, might
have an almond or caraway seed in it- though I hold that almonds are
most wholesome without the sugar- and not how the inhabitant, the
indweller, might build truly within and without, and let the ornaments
take care of themselves. What reasonable man ever supposed that
ornaments were something outward and in the skin merely- that the
tortoise got his spotted shell, or the shell-fish its
mother-o'-pearl tints, by such a contract as the inhabitants of
Broadway their Trinity Church? But a man has no more to do with the
style of architecture of his house than a tortoise with that of its
shell: nor need the soldier be so idle as to try to paint the
precise color of his virtue on his standard. The enemy will find it
out. He may turn pale when the trial comes. This man seemed to me to
lean over the cornice, and timidly whisper his half truth to the
rude occupants who really knew it better than he. What of
architectural beauty I now see, I know has gradually grown from within
outward, out of the necessities and character of the indweller, who is
the only builder- out of some unconscious truthfulness, and nobleness,
without ever a thought for the appearance and whatever additional
beauty of this kind is destined to be produced will be preceded by a
like unconscious beauty of life. The most interesting dwellings in
this country, as the painter knows, are the most unpretending,
humble log huts and cottages of the poor commonly; it is the life of
the inhabitants whose shells they are, and not any peculiarity in
their surfaces merely, which makes them picturesque; and equally
interesting will be the citizen's suburban box, when his life shall be
as simple and as agreeable to the imagination, and there is as
little straining after effect in the style of his dwelling. A great
proportion of architectural ornaments are literally hollow, and a
September gale would strip them off, like borrowed plumes, without
injury to the substantials. They can do without architecture who
have no olives nor wines in the cellar. What if an equal ado were made
about the ornaments of style in literature, and the architects of
our bibles spent as much time about their cornices as the architects
of our churches do? So are made the belles-lettres and the
beaux-arts and their professors. Much it concerns a man, forsooth, how
a few sticks are slanted over him or under him, and what colors are
daubed upon his box. It would signify somewhat, if, in any earnest
sense, he slanted them and daubed it; but the spirit having departed
out of the tenant, it is of a piece with constructing his own
coffin- the architecture of the grave- and "carpenter" is but
another name for "coffin-maker." One man says, in his despair or
indifference to life, take up a handful of the earth at your feet, and
paint your house that color. Is he thinking of his last and narrow
house? Toss up a copper for it as well. What an abundance of leisure
be must have! Why do you take up a handful of dirt? Better paint
your house your own complexion; let it turn pale or blush for you.
An enterprise to improve the style of cottage architecture! When you
have got my ornaments ready, I will wear them.

  Before winter I built a chimney, and shingled the sides of my house,
which were already impervious to rain, with imperfect and sappy
shingles made of the first slice of the log, whose edges I was obliged
to straighten with a plane.
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« Reply #20 on: March 23, 2009, 01:47:11 am »

I have thus a tight shingled and plastered house, ten feet wide by
fifteen long, and eight-feet posts, with a garret and a closet, a
large window on each side, two trap-doors, one door at the end, and
a brick fireplace opposite. The exact cost of my house, paying the
usual price for such materials as I used, but not counting the work,
all of which was done by myself, was as follows; and I give the
details because very few are able to tell exactly what their houses
cost, and fewer still, if any, the separate cost of the various
materials which compose them:

  Boards................................$  8.03 1/2, (mostly shanty


  Refuse shingles for roof and sides....   4.00

  Laths.................................   1.25

  Two second-hand windows with glass....   2.43

  One thousand old brick................   4.00

  Two casks of lime.....................   2.40 (That was high.)

  Hair..................................   0.31 (More than I needed.)

  Mantle-tree iron......................   0.15

  Nails.................................   3.90

  Hinges and screws.....................   0.14

  Latch.................................   0.10

  Chalk.................................   0.01

  Transportation........................   1.40 (I carried a good

                                                 part on my back.)


  In all................................$ 28.12 1/2

  These are all the materials, excepting the timber, stones, and sand,
which I claimed by squatter's right. I have also a small woodshed
adjoining, made chiefly of the stuff which was left after building the

  I intend to build me a house which will surpass any on the main
street in Concord in grandeur and luxury, as soon as it pleases me
as much and will cost me no more than my present one.

  I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain
one for a lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he
now pays annually. If I seem to boast more than is becoming, my excuse
is that I brag for humanity rather than for myself; and my
shortcomings and inconsistencies do not affect the truth of my
statement. Notwithstanding much cant and hypocrisy- chaff which I find
it difficult to separate from my wheat, but for which I am as sorry as
any man- I will breathe freely and stretch myself in this respect,
it is such a relief to both the moral and physical system; and I am
resolved that I will not through humility become the devil's attorney.
I will endeavor to speak a good word for the truth. At Cambridge
College the mere rent of a student's room, which is only a little
larger than my own, is thirty dollars each year, though the
corporation had the advantage of building thirty-two side by side
and under one roof, and the occupant suffers the inconvenience of many
and noisy neighbors, and perhaps a residence in the fourth story. I
cannot but think that if we had more true wisdom in these respects,
not only less education would be needed, because, forsooth, more would
already have been acquired, but the pecuniary expense of getting an
education would in a great measure vanish. Those conveniences which
the student requires at Cambridge or elsewhere cost him or somebody
else ten times as great a sacrifice of life as they would with
proper management on both sides. Those things for which the most money
is demanded are never the things which the student most wants.
Tuition, for instance, is an important item in the term bill, while
for the far more valuable education which he gets by associating
with the most cultivated of his contemporaries no charge is made.
The mode of founding a college is, commonly, to get up a
subscription of dollars and cents, and then, following blindly the
principles of a division of labor to its extreme- a principle which
should never be followed but with circumspection- to call in a
contractor who makes this a subject of speculation, and he employs
Irishmen or other operatives actually to lay the foundations, while
the students that are to be are said to be fitting themselves for
it; and for these oversights successive generations have to pay. I
think that it would be better than this, for the students, or those
who desire to be benefited by it, even to lay the foundation
themselves. The student who secures his coveted leisure and retirement
by systematically shirking any labor necessary to man obtains but an
ignoble and unprofitable leisure, defrauding himself of the experience
which alone can make leisure fruitful. "But," says one, "you do not
mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of
their heads?" I do not mean that exactly, but I mean something which
he might think a good deal like that; I mean that they should not play
life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this
expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could
youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of
living? Methinks this would exercise their minds as much as
mathematics. If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and
sciences, for instance, I would not pursue the common course, which is
merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor, where
anything is professed and practised but the art of life;- to survey
the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his
natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is
made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned; to discover new
satellites to Neptune, and not detect the motes in his eyes, or to
what vagabond he is a satellite himself; or to be devoured by the
monsters that swarm all around him, while contemplating the monsters
in a drop of vinegar. Which would have advanced the most at the end of
a month- the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which
he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for
this- or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the
Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rodgers penknife from
his father? Which would be most likely to cut his fingers?... To my
astonishment I was informed on leaving college that I had studied
navigation!- why, if I had taken one turn down the harbor I should
have known more about it. Even the poor student studies and is
taught only political economy, while that economy of living which is
synonymous with philosophy is not even sincerely professed in our
colleges. The consequence is, that while he is reading Adam Smith,
Ricardo, and Say, he runs his father in debt irretrievably.
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« Reply #21 on: March 23, 2009, 01:47:30 am »

As with our colleges, so with a hundred "modern improvements"; there
is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance. The
devil goes on exacting compound interest to the last for his early
share and numerous succeeding investments in them. Our inventions
are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from
serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an
end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads
lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a
magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may
be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a
predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a
distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of
her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the
main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager
to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer
to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into
the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide
has the whooping cough. After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in
a minute does not carry the most important messages; he is not an
evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts and wild honey. I
doubt if Flying Childers ever carried a peck of corn to mill.

  One says to me, "I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love
to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see
the country." But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the
swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend,
Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles;
the fare ninety cents. That is almost a day's wages. I remember when
wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road. Well, I
start now on foot, and get there before night; I have travelled at
that rate by the week together. You will in the meanwhile have
earned your fare, and arrive there some time tomorrow, or possibly
this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season.
Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater
part of the day. And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I
think that I should keep ahead of you; and as for seeing the country
and getting experience of that kind, I should have to cut your
acquaintance altogether.

  Such is the universal law, which no man can ever outwit, and with
regard to the railroad even we may say it is as broad as it is long.
To make a railroad round the world available to all mankind is
equivalent to grading the whole surface of the planet. Men have an
indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks
and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to
no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot,
and the conductor shouts "All aboard!" when the smoke is blown away
and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding,
but the rest are run over- and it will be called, and will be, "A
melancholy accident." No doubt they can ride at last who shall have
earned their fare, that is, if they survive so long, but they will
probably have lost their elasticity and desire to travel by that time.
This spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to
enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it
reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune
first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a
poet. He should have gone up garret at once. "What!" exclaim a million
Irishmen starting up from all the shanties in the land, "is not this
railroad which we have built a good thing?" Yes, I answer,
comparatively good, that is, you might have done worse; but I wish, as
you are brothers of mine, that you could have spent your time better
than digging in this dirt.

  Before I finished my house, wishing to earn ten or twelve dollars by
some honest and agreeable method, in order to meet my unusual
expenses, I planted about two acres and a half of light and sandy soil
near it chiefly with beans, but also a small part with potatoes, corn,
peas, and turnips. The whole lot contains eleven acres, mostly growing
up to pines and hickories, and was sold the preceding season for eight
dollars and eight cents an acre. One farmer said that it was "good for
nothing but to raise cheeping squirrels on." I put no manure
whatever on this land, not being the owner, but merely a squatter, and
not expecting to cultivate so much again, and I did not quite hoe it
all once. I got out several cords of stumps in plowing, which supplied
me with fuel for a long time, and left small circles of virgin
mould, easily distinguishable through the summer by the greater
luxuriance of the beans there. The dead and for the most part
unmerchantable wood behind my house, and the driftwood from the
pond, have supplied the remainder of my fuel. I was obliged to hire
a team and a man for the plowing, though I held the plow myself. My
farm outgoes for the first season were, for implements, seed, work,
etc., $14.72 1/2. The seed corn was given me. This never costs
anything to speak of, unless you plant more than enough. I got
twelve bushels of beans, and eighteen bushels of potatoes, beside some
peas and sweet corn. The yellow corn and turnips were too late to come
to anything. My whole income from the farm was

                                              $ 23.44

            Deducting the outgoes.............  14.72 1/2


            There are left....................$  8.71 1/2
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« Reply #22 on: March 23, 2009, 01:47:49 am »

beside produce consumed and on hand at the time this estimate was made
of the value of $4.50- the amount on hand much more than balancing a
little grass which I did not raise. All things considered, that is,
considering the importance of a man's soul and of today,
notwithstanding the short time occupied by my experiment, nay,
partly even because of its transient character, I believe that that
was doing better than any farmer in Concord did that year.

  The next year I did better still, for I spaded up all the land which
I required, about a third of an acre, and I learned from the
experience of both years, not being in the least awed by many
celebrated works on husbandry, Arthur Young among the rest, that if
one would live simply and eat only the crop which he raised, and raise
no more than he ate, and not exchange it for an insufficient
quantity of more luxurious and expensive things, he would need to
cultivate only a few rods of ground, and that it would be cheaper to
spade up that than to use oxen to plow it, and to select a fresh
spot from time to time than to manure the old, and he could do all his
necessary farm work as it were with his left hand at odd hours in
the summer; and thus he would not be tied to an ox, or horse, or
cow, or pig, as at present. I desire to speak impartially on this
point, and as one not interested in the success or failure of the
present economical and social arrangements. I was more independent
than any farmer in Concord, for I was not anchored to a house or farm,
but could follow the bent of my genius, which is a very crooked one,
every moment. Beside being better off than they already, if my house
had been burned or my crops had failed, I should have been nearly as
well off as before.

  I am wont to think that men are not so much the keepers of herds
as herds are the keepers of men, the former are so much the freer. Men
and oxen exchange work; but if we consider necessary work only, the
oxen will be seen to have greatly the advantage, their farm is so much
the larger. Man does some of his part of the exchange work in his
six weeks of haying, and it is no boy's play. Certainly no nation that
lived simply in all respects, that is, no nation of philosophers,
would commit so great a blunder as to use the labor of animals.
True, there never was and is not likely soon to be a nation of
philosophers, nor am I certain it is desirable that there should be.
However, I should never have broken a horse or bull and taken him to
board for any work he might do for me, for fear I should become a
horseman or a herdsman merely; and if society seems to be the gainer
by so doing, are we certain that what is one man's gain is not
another's loss, and that the stable-boy has equal cause with his
master to be satisfied? Granted that some public works would not
have been constructed without this aid, and let man share the glory of
such with the ox and horse; does it follow that he could not have
accomplished works yet more worthy of himself in that case? When men
begin to do, not merely unnecessary or artistic, but luxurious and
idle work, with their assistance, it is inevitable that a few do all
the exchange work with the oxen, or, in other words, become the slaves
of the strongest. Man thus not only works for the animal within him,
but, for a symbol of this, he works for the animal without him. Though
we have many substantial houses of brick or stone, the prosperity of
the farmer is still measured by the degree to which the barn
overshadows the house. This town is said to have the largest houses
for oxen, cows, and horses hereabouts, and it is not behindhand in its
public buildings; but there are very few halls for free worship or
free speech in this county. It should not be by their architecture,
but why not even by their power of abstract thought, that nations
should seek to commemorate themselves? How much more admirable the
Bhagvat-Geeta than all the ruins of the East! Towers and temples are
the luxury of princes. A simple and independent mind does not toil
at the bidding of any prince. Genius is not a retainer to any emperor,
nor is its material silver, or gold, or marble, except to a trifling
extent. To what end, pray, is so much stone hammered? In Arcadia, when
I was there, I did not see any hammering stone. Nations are
possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of
themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave. What if equal
pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners? One piece of good
sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon. I
love better to see stones in place. The grandeur of Thebes was a
vulgar grandeur. More sensible is a rod of stone wall that bounds an
honest man's field than a hundred-gated Thebes that has wandered
farther from the true end of life. The religion and civilization which
are barbaric and heathenish build splendid temples; but what you might
call Christianity does not. Most of the stone a nation hammers goes
toward its tomb only. It buries itself alive. As for the Pyramids,
there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many
men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a
tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and
manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the
dogs. I might possibly invent some excuse for them and him, but I have
no time for it. As for the religion and love of art of the builders,
it is much the same all the world over, whether the building be an
Egyptian temple or the United States Bank. It costs more than it comes
to. The mainspring is vanity, assisted by the love of garlic and bread
and butter. Mr. Balcom, a promising young architect, designs it on the
back of his Vitruvius, with hard pencil and ruler, and the job is
let out to Dobson & Sons, stonecutters. When the thirty centuries
begin to look down on it, mankind begin to look up at it. As for
your high towers and monuments, there was a crazy fellow once in
this town who undertook to dig through to China, and he got so far
that, as he said, he heard the Chinese pots and kettles rattle; but
I think that I shall not go out of my way to admire the hole which
he made. Many are concerned about the monuments of the West and the
East- to know who built them. For my part, I should like to know who
in those days did not build them- who were above such trifling. But to
proceed with my statistics.

  By surveying, carpentry, and day-labor of various other kinds in the
village in the meanwhile, for I have as many trades as fingers, I
had earned $13.34. The expense of food for eight months, namely,
from July 4th to March 1st, the time when these estimates were made,
though I lived there more than two years- not counting potatoes, a
little green corn, and some peas, which I had raised, nor
considering the value of what was on hand at the last date- was

      Rice......................$ 1.73 1/2

      Molasses..................  1.73     (Cheapest form of the


      Rye meal..................  1.04 3/4

      Indian meal...............  0.99 3/4 (Cheaper than rye.)

      Pork......................  0.22

  (All Experiments Which Failed)

      Flour.....................  0.88 (Costs more than Indian meal,

                                        both money and trouble.)

      Sugar.....................  0.80

      Lard......................  0.65

      Apples....................  0.25

      Dried apple...............  0.22

      Sweet potatoes............  0.10

      One pumpkin...............  0.06

      One watermelon............  0.02

      Salt......................  0.03
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« Reply #23 on: March 23, 2009, 01:48:06 am »

Yes, I did eat $8.74, all told; but I should not thus unblushingly
publish my guilt, if I did not know that most of my readers were
equally guilty with myself, and that their deeds would look no
better in print. The next year I sometimes caught a mess of fish for
my dinner, and once I went so far as to slaughter a woodchuck which
ravaged my bean-field- effect his transmigration, as a Tartar would
say- and devour him, partly for experiment's sake; but though it
afforded me a momentary enjoyment, notwithstanding a musky flavor, I
saw that the longest use would not make that a good practice,
however it might seem to have your woodchucks ready dressed by the
village butcher.

  Clothing and some incidental expenses within the same dates,
though little can be inferred from this item, amounted to

                                          $  8.40 3/4

  Oil and some household utensils.........   2.00

So that all the pecuniary outgoes, excepting for washing and
mending, which for the most part were done out of the house, and their
bills have not yet been received- and these are all and more than
all the ways by which money necessarily goes out in this part of the
world- were

  House...................................$ 28.12 1/2

  Farm one year...........................  14.72 1/2

  Food eight months.......................   8.74

  Clothing, etc., eight months............   8.40 3/4

  Oil, etc., eight months.................   2.00


  In all..................................$ 61.99 3/4

I address myself now to those of my readers who have a living to
get. And to meet this I have for farm produce sold

                                          $ 23.44

  Earned by day-labor.....................  13.34


  In all..................................$ 36.78

which subtracted from the sum of the outgoes leaves a balance of
$25.21 3/4 on the one side- this being very nearly the means with
which I started, and the measure of expenses to be incurred- and on
the other, beside the leisure and independence and health thus
secured, a comfortable house for me as long as I choose to occupy it.

  These statistics, however accidental and therefore uninstructive
they may appear, as they have a certain completeness, have a certain
value also. Nothing was given me of which I have not rendered some
account. It appears from the above estimate, that my food alone cost
me in money about twenty-seven cents a week. It was, for nearly two
years after this, rye and Indian meal without yeast, potatoes, rice, a
very little salt pork, molasses, and salt; and my drink, water. It was
fit that I should live on rice, mainly, who love so well the
philosophy of India. To meet the objections of some inveterate
cavillers, I may as well state, that if I dined out occasionally, as I
always had done, and I trust shall have opportunities to do again,
it was frequently to the detriment of my domestic arrangements. But
the dining out, being, as I have stated, a constant element, does
not in the least affect a comparative statement like this.

  I learned from my two years' experience that it would cost
incredibly little trouble to obtain one's necessary food, even in this
latitude; that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and
yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner,
satisfactory on several accounts, simply off a dish of purslane
(Portulaca oleracea) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and
salted. I give the Latin on account of the savoriness of the trivial
name. And pray what more can a reasonable man desire, in peaceful
times, in ordinary noons, than a sufficient number of ears of green
sweet corn boiled, with the addition of salt? Even the little
variety which I used was a yielding to the demands of appetite, and
not of health. Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently
starve, not for want of necessaries, but for want of luxuries; and I
know a good woman who thinks that her son lost his life because he
took to drinking water only.

  The reader will perceive that I am treating the subject rather
from an economic than a dietetic point of view, and he will not
venture to put my abstemiousness to the test unless he has a
well-stocked larder.
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« Reply #24 on: March 23, 2009, 01:48:35 am »

Bread I at first made of pure Indian meal and salt, genuine
hoe-cakes, which I baked before my fire out of doors on a shingle or
the end of a stick of timber sawed off in building my house; but it
was wont to get smoked and to have a piny flavor, I tried flour
also; but have at last found a mixture of rye and Indian meal most
convenient and agreeable. In cold weather it was no little amusement
to bake several small loaves of this in succession, tending and
turning them as carefully as an Egyptian his hatching eggs. They
were a real cereal fruit which I ripened, and they had to my senses
a fragrance like that of other noble fruits, which I kept in as long
as possible by wrapping them in cloths. I made a study of the
ancient and indispensable art of bread-making, consulting such
authorities as offered, going back to the primitive days and first
invention of the unleavened kind, when from the wildness of nuts and
meats men first reached the mildness and refinement of this diet,
and travelling gradually down in my studies through that accidental
souring of the dough which, it is supposed, taught the leavening
process, and through the various fermentations thereafter, till I came
to "good, sweet, wholesome bread," the staff of life. Leaven, which
some deem the soul of bread, the spiritus which fills its cellular
tissue, which is religiously preserved like the vestal fire- some
precious bottleful, I suppose, first brought over in the Mayflower,
did the business for America, and its influence is still rising,
swelling, spreading, in cerealian billows over the land- this seed I
regularly and faithfully procured from the village, till at length one
morning I forgot the rules, and scalded my yeast; by which accident
I discovered that even this was not indispensable- for my
discoveries were not by the synthetic but analytic process- and I have
gladly omitted it since, though most housewives earnestly assured me
that safe and wholesome bread without yeast might not be, and
elderly people prophesied a speedy decay of the vital forces. Yet I
find it not to be an essential ingredient, and after going without
it for a year am still in the land of the living; and I am glad to
escape the trivialness of carrying a bottleful in my pocket, which
would sometimes pop and discharge its contents to my discomfiture.
It is simpler and more respectable to omit it. Man is an animal who
more than any other can adapt himself to all climates and
circumstances. Neither did I put any sal-soda, or other acid or
alkali, into my bread. It would seem that I made it according to the
recipe which Marcus Porcius Cato gave about two centuries before
Christ. "Panem depsticium sic facito. Manus mortariumque bene
lavato. Farinam in mortarium indito, aquae paulatim addito,
subigitoque pulchre. Ubi bene subegeris, defingito, coquitoque sub
testu." Which I take to mean,- "Make kneaded bread thus. Wash your
hands and trough well. Put the meal into the trough, add water
gradually, and knead it thoroughly. When you have kneaded it well,
mould it, and bake it under a cover," that is, in a baking-kettle. Not
a word about leaven. But I did not always use this staff of life. At
one time, owing to the emptiness of my purse, I saw none of it for
more than a month.

  Every New Englander might easily raise all his own breadstuffs in
this land of rye and Indian corn, and not depend on distant and
fluctuating markets for them. Yet so far are we from simplicity and
independence that, in Concord, fresh and sweet meal is rarely sold
in the shops, and hominy and corn in a still coarser form are hardly
used by any. For the most part the farmer gives to his cattle and hogs
the grain of his own producing, and buys flour, which is at least no
more wholesome, at a greater cost, at the store. I saw that I could
easily raise my bushel or two of rye and Indian corn, for the former
will grow on the poorest land, and the latter does not require the
best, and grind them in a hand-mill, and so do without rice and
pork; and if I must have some concentrated sweet, I found by
experiment that I could make a very good molasses either of pumpkins
or beets, and I knew that I needed only to set out a few maples to
obtain it more easily still, and while these were growing I could
use various substitutes beside those which I have named. "For," as the
Forefathers sang,

            "we can make liquor to sweeten our lips

        Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips."

Finally, as for salt, that grossest of groceries, to obtain this might
be a fit occasion for a visit to the seashore, or, if I did without it
altogether, I should probably drink the less water. I do not learn
that the Indians ever troubled themselves to go after it.

  Thus I could avoid all trade and barter, so far as my food was
concerned, and having a shelter already, it would only remain to get
clothing and fuel. The pantaloons which I now wear were woven in a
farmer's family- thank Heaven there is so much virtue still in man;
for I think the fall from the farmer to the operative as great and
memorable as that from the man to the farmer;- and in a new country,
fuel is an encumbrance. As for a habitat, if I were not permitted
still to squat, I might purchase one acre at the same price for
which the land I cultivated was sold- namely, eight dollars and
eight cents. But as it was, I considered that I enhanced the value
of the land by squatting on it.

  There is a certain class of unbelievers who sometimes ask me such
questions as, if I think that I can live on vegetable food alone;
and to strike at the root of the matter at once- for the root is
faith- I am accustomed to answer such, that I can live on board nails.
If they cannot understand that, they cannot understand much that I
have to say. For my part, I am glad to bear of experiments of this
kind being tried; as that a young man tried for a fortnight to live on
hard, raw corn on the ear, using his teeth for all mortar. The
squirrel tribe tried the same and succeeded. The human race is
interested in these experiments, though a few old women who are
incapacitated for them, or who own their thirds in mills, may be

  My furniture, part of which I made myself- and the rest cost me
nothing of which I have not rendered an account- consisted of a bed, a
table, a desk, three chairs, a looking-glass three inches in diameter,
a pair of tongs and andirons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan, a
dipper, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one cup,
one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a japanned lamp.
None is so poor that he need sit on a pumpkin. That is
shiftlessness. There is a plenty of such chairs as I like best in
the village garrets to be had for taking them away. Furniture! Thank
God, I can sit and I can stand without the aid of a furniture
warehouse. What man but a philosopher would not be ashamed to see
his furniture packed in a cart and going up country exposed to the
light of heaven and the eyes of men, a beggarly account of empty
boxes? That is Spaulding's furniture. I could never tell from
inspecting such a load whether it belonged to a so-called rich man
or a poor one; the owner always seemed poverty-stricken. Indeed, the
more you have of such things the poorer you are. Each load looks as if
it contained the contents of a dozen shanties; and if one shanty is
poor, this is a dozen times as poor. Pray, for what do we move ever
but to get rid of our furniture, our exuviae; at last to go from
this world to another newly furnished, and leave this to be burned? It
is the same as if all these traps were buckled to a man's belt, and he
could not move over the rough country where our lines are cast without
dragging them- dragging his trap. He was a lucky fox that left his
tail in the trap. The muskrat will gnaw his third leg off to be
free. No wonder man has lost his elasticity. How often he is at a dead
set! "Sir, if I may be so bold, what do you mean by a dead set?" If
you are a seer, whenever you meet a man you will see all that he owns,
ay, and much that he pretends to disown, behind him, even to his
kitchen furniture and all the trumpery which he saves and will not
burn, and he will appear to be harnessed to it and making what headway
he can. I think that the man is at a dead set who has got through a
knot-hole or gateway where his sledge load of furniture cannot
follow him. I cannot but feel compassion when I hear some trig,
compact-looking man, seemingly free, all girded and ready, speak of
his "furniture," as whether it is insured or not. "But what shall I do
with my furniture?"- My gay butterfly is entangled in a spider's web
then. Even those who seem for a long while not to have any, if you
inquire more narrowly you will find have some stored in somebody's
barn. I look upon England today as an old gentleman who is
travelling with a great deal of baggage, trumpery which has
accumulated from long housekeeping, which he has not the courage to
burn; great trunk, little trunk, bandbox, and bundle. Throw away the
first three at least. It would surpass the powers of a well man
nowadays to take up his bed and walk, and I should certainly advise
a sick one to lay down his bed and run. When I have met an immigrant
tottering under a bundle which contained his all- looking like an
enormous well which had grown out of the nape of his neck- I have
pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all
that to carry. If I have got to drag my trap, I will take care that it
be a light one and do not nip me in a vital part. But perchance it
would be wisest never to put one's paw into it.
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« Reply #25 on: March 23, 2009, 01:49:07 am »

I would observe, by the way, that it costs me nothing for
curtains, for I have no gazers to shut out but the sun and moon, and I
am willing that they should look in. The moon will not sour milk nor
taint meat of mine, nor will the sun injure my furniture or fade my
carpet; and if he is sometimes too warm a friend, I find it still
better economy to retreat behind some curtain which nature has
provided, than to add a single item to the details of housekeeping.
A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the
house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it,
preferring to wipe my feet on the sod before my door. It is best to
avoid the beginnings of evil.

  Not long since I was present at the auction of a deacon's effects,
for his life had not been ineffectual:

        "The evil that men do lives after them."

As usual, a great proportion was trumpery which had begun to
accumulate in his father's day. Among the rest was a dried tapeworm.
And now, after lying half a century in his garret and other dust
holes, these things were not burned; instead of a bonfire, or
purifying destruction of them, there was an auction, or increasing
of them. The neighbors eagerly collected to view them, bought them
all, and carefully transported them to their garrets and dust holes,
to lie there till their estates are settled, when they will start
again. When a man dies he kicks the dust.

  The customs of some savage nations might, perchance, be profitably
imitated by us, for they at least go through the semblance of
casting their slough annually; they have the idea of the thing,
whether they have the reality or not. Would it not be well if we
were to celebrate such a "busk," or "feast of first fruits," as
Bartram describes to have been the custom of the Mucclasse Indians?
"When a town celebrates the busk," says he, "having previously
provided themselves with new clothes, new pots, pans, and other
household utensils and furniture, they collect all their worn out
clothes and other despicable things, sweep and cleanse their houses,
squares, and the whole town of their filth, which with all the
remaining grain and other old provisions they cast together into one
common heap, and consume it with fire. After having taken medicine,
and fasted for three days, all the fire in the town is extinguished.
During this fast they abstain from the gratification of every appetite
and passion whatever. A general amnesty is proclaimed; all malefactors
may return to their town."

  "On the fourth morning, the high priest, by rubbing dry wood
together, produces new fire in the public square, from whence every
habitation in the town is supplied with the new and pure flame."

  They then feast on the new corn and fruits, and dance and sing for
three days, "and the four following days they receive visits and
rejoice with their friends from neighboring towns who have in like
manner purified and prepared themselves."

  The Mexicans also practised a similar purification at the end of
every fifty-two years, in the belief that it was time for the world to
come to an end.

  I have scarcely heard of a truer sacrament, that is, as the
dictionary defines it,- outward and visible sign of an inward and
spiritual grace," than this, and I have no doubt that they were
originally inspired directly from Heaven to do thus, though they
have no Biblical record of the revelation.

  For more than five years I maintained myself thus solely by the
labor of my hands, and I found that, by working about six weeks in a
year, I could meet all the expenses of living. The whole of my
winters, as well as most of my summers, I had free and clear for
study. I have thoroughly tried school- keeping, and found that my
expenses were in proportion, or rather out of proportion, to my
income, for I was obliged to dress and train, not to say think and
believe, accordingly, and I lost my time into the bargain. As I did
not teach for the good of my fellow-men, but simply for a
livelihood, this was a failure. I have tried trade; but I found that
it would take ten years to get under way in that, and that then I
should probably be on my way to the devil. I was actually afraid
that I might by that time be doing what is called a good business.
When formerly I was looking about to see what I could do for a living,
some sad experience in conforming to the wishes of friends being fresh
in my mind to tax my ingenuity, I thought often and seriously of
picking huckleberries; that surely I could do, and its small profits
might suffice- for my greatest skill has been to want but little- so
little capital it required, so little distraction from my wonted
moods, I foolishly thought. While my acquaintances went unhesitatingly
into trade or the professions, I contemplated this occupation as
most like theirs; ranging the hills all summer to pick the berries
which came in my way, and thereafter carelessly dispose of them; so,
to keep the flocks of Admetus. I also dreamed that I might gather
the wild herbs, or carry evergreens to such villagers as loved to be
reminded of the woods, even to the city, by hay-cart loads. But I have
since learned that trade curses everything it handles; and though
you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches
to the business.

  As I preferred some things to others, and especially valued my
freedom, as I could fare hard and yet succeed well, I did not wish
to spend my time in earning rich carpets or other fine furniture, or
delicate cookery, or a house in the Grecian or the Gothic style just
yet. If there are any to whom it is no interruption to acquire these
things, and who know how to use them when acquired, I relinquish to
them the pursuit. Some are "industrious," and appear to love labor for
its own sake, or perhaps because it keeps them out of worse
mischief; to such I have at present nothing to say. Those who would
not know what to do with more leisure than they now enjoy, I might
advise to work twice as hard as they do- work till they pay for
themselves, and get their free papers. For myself I found that the
occupation of a day-laborer was the most independent of any,
especially as it required only thirty or forty days in a year to
support one. The laborer's day ends with the going down of the sun,
and he is then free to devote himself to his chosen pursuit,
independent of his labor; but his employer, who speculates from
month to month, has no respite from one end of the year to the other.
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« Reply #26 on: March 23, 2009, 01:49:23 am »

 In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to
maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime,
if we will live simply and wisely; as the pursuits of the simpler
nations are still the sports of the more artificial. It is not
necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his
brow, unless he sweats easier than I do.

  One young man of my acquaintance, who has inherited some acres, told
me that he thought he should live as I did, if he had the means. I
would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account; for,
beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out
another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different
persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very
careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father's or
his mother's or his neighbor's instead. The youth may build or plant
or sail, only let him not be hindered from doing that which he tells
me he would like to do. It is by a mathematical point only that we are
wise, as the sailor or the fugitive slave keeps the polestar in his
eye; but that is sufficient guidance for all our life. We may not
arrive at our port within a calculable period, but we would preserve
the true course.

  Undoubtedly, in this case, what is true for one is truer still for a
thousand, as a large house is not proportionally more expensive than a
small one, since one roof may cover, one cellar underlie, and one wall
separate several apartments. But for my part, I preferred the solitary
dwelling. Moreover, it will commonly be cheaper to build the whole
yourself than to convince another of the advantage of the common wall;
and when you have done this, the common partition, to be much cheaper,
must be a thin one, and that other may prove a bad neighbor, and
also not keep his side in repair. The only cooperation which is
commonly possible is exceedingly partial and superficial; and what
little true cooperation there is, is as if it were not, being a
harmony inaudible to men. If a man has faith, he will cooperate with
equal faith everywhere; if he has not faith, he will continue to
live like the rest of the world, whatever company he is joined to.
To cooperate in the highest as well as the lowest sense, means to
get our living together. I heard it proposed lately that two young men
should travel together over the world, the one without money,
earning his means as he went, before the mast and behind the plow, the
other carrying a bill of exchange in his pocket. It was easy to see
that they could not long be companions or cooperate, since one would
not operate at all. They would part at the first interesting crisis in
their adventures. Above all, as I have implied, the man who goes alone
can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that
other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.

  But all this is very selfish, I have heard some of my townsmen
say. I confess that I have hither- to indulged very little in
philanthropic enterprises. I have made some sacrifices to a sense of
duty, and among others have sacrificed this pleasure also. There are
those who have used all their arts to persuade me to undertake the
support of some poor family in the town; and if I had nothing to do-
for the devil finds employment for the idle- I might try my hand at
some such pastime as that. However, when I have thought to indulge
myself in this respect, and lay their Heaven under an obligation by
maintaining certain poor persons in all respects as comfortably as I
maintain myself, and have even ventured so far as to make them the
offer, they have one and all unhesitatingly preferred to remain
poor. While my townsmen and women are devoted in so many ways to the
good of their fellows, I trust that one at least may be spared to
other and less humane pursuits. You must have a genius for charity
as well as for anything else. As for Doing-good, that is one of the
professions which are full. Moreover, I have tried it fairly, and,
strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my
constitution. Probably I should not consciously and deliberately
forsake my particular calling to do the good which society demands
of me, to save the universe from annihilation; and I believe that a
like but infinitely greater steadfastness elsewhere is all that now
preserves it. But I would not stand between any man and his genius;
and to him who does this work, which I decline, with his whole heart
and soul and life, I would say, Persevere, even if the world call it
doing evil, as it is most likely they will.
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« Reply #27 on: March 23, 2009, 01:49:38 am »

 I am far from supposing that my case is a peculiar one; no doubt
many of my readers would make a similar defence. At doing something- I
will not engage that my neighbors shall pronounce it good- I do not
hesitate to say that I should be a capital fellow to hire; but what
that is, it is for my employer to find out. What good I do, in the
common sense of that word, must be aside from my main path, and for
the most part wholly unintended. Men say, practically, Begin where you
are and such as you are, without aiming mainly to become of more
worth, and with kindness aforethought go about doing good. If I were
to preach at all in this strain, I should say rather, Set about
being good. As if the sun should stop when he had kindled his fires up
to the splendor of a moon or a star of the sixth magnitude, and go
about like a Robin Goodfellow, peeping in at every cottage window,
inspiring lunatics, and tainting meats, and making darkness visible,
instead of steadily increasing his genial heat and beneficence till he
is of such brightness that no mortal can look him in the face, and
then, and in the meanwhile too, going about the world in his own
orbit, doing it good, or rather, as a truer philosophy has discovered,
the world going about him getting good. When Phaeton, wishing to prove
his heavenly birth by his beneficence, had the sun's chariot but one
day, and drove out of the beaten track, he burned several blocks of
houses in the lower streets of heaven, and scorched the surface of the
earth, and dried up every spring, and made the great desert of Sahara,
till at length Jupiter hurled him headlong to the earth with a
thunderbolt, and the sun, through grief at his death, did not shine
for a year.

  There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness
tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty
that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing
me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching
wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth
and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear
that I should get some of his good done to me- some of its virus
mingled with my blood. No- in this case I would rather suffer evil the
natural way. A man is not a good man to me because he will feed me
if I should be starving, or warm me if I should be freezing, or pull
me out of a ditch if I should ever fall into one. I can find you a
Newfoundland dog that will do as much. Philanthropy is not love for
one's fellow-man in the broadest sense. Howard was no doubt an
exceedingly kind and worthy man in his way, and has his reward; but,
comparatively speaking, what are a hundred Howards to us, if their
philanthropy do not help us in our best estate, when we are most
worthy to be helped? I never heard of a philanthropic meeting in which
it was sincerely proposed to do any good to me, or the like of me.

  The Jesuits were quite balked by those indians who, being burned
at the stake, suggested new modes of torture to their tormentors.
Being superior to physical suffering, it sometimes chanced that they
were superior to any consolation which the missionaries could offer;
and the law to do as you would be done by fell with less
persuasiveness on the ears of those who, for their part, did not
care how they were done by, who loved their enemies after a new
fashion, and came very near freely forgiving them all they did.

  Be sure that you give the poor the aid they most need, though it
be your example which leaves them far behind. If you give money, spend
yourself with it, and do not merely abandon it to them. We make
curious mistakes sometimes. Often the poor man is not so cold and
hungry as he is dirty and ragged and gross. It is partly his taste,
and not merely his misfortune. If you give him money, he will
perhaps buy more rags with it. I was wont to pity the clumsy Irish
laborers who cut ice on the pond, in such mean and ragged clothes,
while I shivered in my more tidy and somewhat more fashionable
garments, till, one bitter cold day, one who had slipped into the
water came to my house to warm him, and I saw him strip off three
pairs of pants and two pairs of stockings ere he got down to the skin,
though they were dirty and ragged enough, it is true, and that he
could afford to refuse the extra garments which I offered him, he
had so many intra ones. This ducking was the very thing he needed.
Then I began to pity myself, and I saw that it would be a greater
charity to bestow on me a flannel shirt than a whole slop-shop on him.
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is
striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest
amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of
life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. It is
the pious slave-breeder devoting the proceeds of every tenth slave
to buy a Sunday's liberty for the rest. Some show their kindness to
the poor by employing them in their kitchens. Would they not be kinder
if they employed themselves there? You boast of spending a tenth
part of your income in charity; maybe you should spend the nine tenths
so, and done with it. Society recovers only a tenth part of the
property then. Is this owing to the generosity of him in whose
possession it is found, or to the remissness of the officers of
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« Reply #28 on: March 23, 2009, 01:50:06 am »

Philanthropy is almost the only virtue which is sufficiently
appreciated by mankind. Nay, it is greatly overrated; and it is our
selfishness which overrates it. A robust poor man, one sunny day
here in Concord, praised a fellow-townsman to me, because, as he said,
he was kind to the poor; meaning himself. The kind uncles and aunts of
the race are more esteemed than its true spiritual fathers and
mothers. I once heard a reverend lecturer on England, a man of
learning and intelligence, after enumerating her scientific, literary,
and political worthies, Shakespeare, Bacon, Cromwell, Milton,
Newton, and others, speak next of her Christian heroes, whom, as if
his profession required it of him, he elevated to a place far above
all the rest, as the greatest of the great. They were Penn, Howard,
and Mrs. Fry. Every one must feel the falsehood and cant of this.
The last were not England's best men and women; only, perhaps, her
best philanthropists.

  I would not subtract anything from the praise that is due to
philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all who by their lives and
works are a blessing to mankind. I do not value chiefly a man's
uprightness and benevolence, which are, as it were, his stem and
leaves. Those plants of whose greenness withered we make herb tea
for the sick serve but a humble use, and are most employed by
quacks. I want the flower and fruit of a man; that some fragrance be
wafted over from him to me, and some ripeness flavor our
intercourse. His goodness must not be a partial and transitory act,
but a constant superfluity, which costs him nothing and of which he is
unconscious. This is a charity that hides a multitude of sins. The
philanthropist too often surrounds mankind with the remembrance of his
own castoff griefs as an atmosphere, and calls it sympathy. We
should impart our courage, and not our despair, our health and ease,
and not our disease, and take care that this does not spread by
contagion. From what southern plains comes up the voice of wailing?
Under what latitudes reside the heathen to whom we would send light?
Who is that intemperate and brutal man whom we would redeem? If
anything ail a man, so that he does not perform his functions, if he
have a pain in his bowels even- for that is the seat of sympathy- he
forthwith sets about reforming- the world. Being a microcosm
himself, he discovers- and it is a true discovery, and he is the man
to make it- that the world has been eating green apples; to his
eyes, in fact, the globe itself is a great green apple, which there is
danger awful to think of that the children of men will nibble before
it is ripe; and straightway his drastic philanthropy seeks out the
Esquimau and the Patagonian, and embraces the populous Indian and
Chinese villages; and thus, by a few years of philanthropic
activity, the powers in the meanwhile using him for their own ends, no
doubt, he cures himself of his dyspepsia, the globe acquires a faint
blush on one or both of its cheeks, as if it were beginning to be
ripe, and life loses its crudity and is once more sweet and
wholesome to live. I never dreamed of any enormity greater than I have
committed. I never knew, and never shall know, a worse man than

  I believe that what so saddens the reformer is not his sympathy with
his fellows in distress, but, though he be the holiest son of God,
is his private ail. Let this be righted, let the spring come to him,
the morning rise over his couch, and he will forsake his generous
companions without apology. My excuse for not lecturing against the
use of tobacco is, that I never chewed it, that is a penalty which
reformed tobacco-chewers have to pay; though there are things enough I
have chewed which I could lecture against. If you should ever be
betrayed into any of these philanthropies, do not let your left hand
know what your right hand does, for it is not worth knowing. Rescue
the drowning and tie your shoestrings. Take your time, and set about
some free labor.

  Our manners have been corrupted by communication with the saints.
Our hymn-books resound with a melodious cursing of God and enduring
Him forever. One would say that even the prophets and redeemers had
rather consoled the fears than confirmed the hopes of man. There is
nowhere recorded a simple and irrepressible satisfaction with the gift
of life, any memorable praise of God. All health and success does me
good, however far off and withdrawn it may appear; all disease and
failure helps to make me sad and does me evil, however much sympathy
it may have with me or I with it. If, then, we would indeed restore
mankind by truly Indian, botanic, magnetic, or natural means, let us
first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves, dispel the clouds
which hang over our own brows, and take up a little life into our
pores. Do not stay to be an overseer of the poor, but endeavor to
become one of the worthies of the world.

  I read in the Gulistan, or Flower Garden, of Sheik Sadi of Shiraz,
that "they asked a wise man, saying: Of the many celebrated trees
which the Most High God has created lofty and umbrageous, they call
none azad, or free, excepting the cypress, which bears no fruit;
what mystery is there in this? He replied: Each has its appropriate
produce, and appointed season, during the continuance of which it is
fresh and blooming, and during their absence dry and withered; to
neither of which states is the cypress exposed, being always
flourishing; and of this nature are the azads, or religious
independents.- Fix not thy heart on that which is transitory; for
the Dijlah, or Tigris, will continue to flow through Bagdad after
the race of caliphs is extinct: if thy hand has plenty, be liberal
as the date tree; but if it affords nothing to give away, be an
azad, or free man, like the cypress."

                        COMPLEMENTAL VERSES.

                     The Pretensions of Poverty.

        Thou dost presume too much, poor needy wretch,

        To claim a station in the firmament

        Because thy humble cottage, or thy tub,

        Nurses some lazy or pedantic virtue

        In the cheap sunshine or by shady springs,

        With roots and pot-herbs; where thy right hand,

        Tearing those humane passions from the mind,

        Upon whose stocks fair blooming virtues flourish,

        Degradeth nature, and benumbeth sense,

        And, Gorgon-like, turns active men to stone.

        We not require the dull society

        Of your necessitated temperance,

        Or that unnatural stupidity

        That knows nor joy nor sorrow; nor your forc'd

        Falsely exalted passive fortitude

        Above the active. This low abject brood,

        That fix their seats in mediocrity,

        Become your servile minds; but we advance

        Such virtues only as admit excess,

        Brave, bounteous acts, regal magnificence,

        All-seeing prudence, magnanimity

        That knows no bound, and that heroic virtue

        For which antiquity hath left no name,

        But patterns only, such as Hercules,

        Achilles, Theseus. Back to thy loath'd cell;

        And when thou seest the new enlightened sphere,

        Study to know but what those worthies were.

                                            T. CAREW
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« Reply #29 on: March 23, 2009, 01:50:42 am »


  AT A CERTAIN season of our life we are accustomed to consider
every spot as the possible site of a house. I have thus surveyed the
country on every side within a dozen miles of where I live. In
imagination I have bought all the farms in succession, for all were to
be bought, and I knew their price. I walked over each farmer's
premises, tasted his wild apples, discoursed on husbandry with him,
took his farm at his price, at any price, mortgaging it to him in my
mind; even put a higher price on it- took everything but a deed of it-
took his word for his deed, for I dearly love to talk- cultivated
it, and him too to some extent, I trust, and withdrew when I had
enjoyed it long enough, leaving him to carry it on. This experience
entitled me to be regarded as a sort of real-estate broker by my
friends. Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the landscape
radiated from me accordingly. What is a house but a sedes, a seat?-
better if a country seat. I discovered many a site for a house not
likely to be soon improved, which some might have thought too far from
the village, but to my eyes the village was too far from it. Well,
there I might live, I said; and there I did live, for an hour, a
summer and a winter life; saw how I could let the years run off,
buffet the winter through, and see the spring come in. The future
inhabitants of this region, wherever they may place their houses,
may be sure that they have been anticipated. An afternoon sufficed
to lay out the land into orchard, wood-lot, and pasture, and to decide
what fine oaks or pines should be left to stand before the door, and
whence each blasted tree could be seen to the best advantage; and then
I let it lie, fallow, perchance, for a man is rich in proportion to
the number of things which he can afford to let alone.

  My imagination carried me so far that I even had the refusal of
several farms- the refusal was all I wanted- but I never got my
fingers burned by actual possession. The nearest that I came to actual
possession was when I bought the Hollowell place, and had begun to
sort my seeds, and collected materials with which to make a
wheelbarrow to carry it on or off with; but before the owner gave me a
deed of it, his wife- every man has such a wife- changed her mind
and wished to keep it, and he offered me ten dollars to release him.
Now, to speak the truth, I had but ten cents in the world, and it
surpassed my arithmetic to tell, if I was that man who had ten
cents, or who had a farm, or ten dollars, or all together. However,
I let him keep the ten dollars and the farm too, for I had carried
it far enough; or rather, to be generous, I sold him the farm for just
what I gave for it, and, as he was not a rich man, made him a
present of ten dollars, and still had my ten cents, and seeds, and
materials for a wheelbarrow left. I found thus that I had been a
rich man without any damage to my poverty. But I retained the
landscape, and I have since annually carried off what it yielded
without a wheelbarrow. With respect to landscapes,

        "I am monarch of all I survey,

         My right there is none to dispute."

  I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most
valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he
had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for
many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable
kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed
it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.

  The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, were: its
complete retirement, being, about two miles from the village, half a
mile from the nearest neighbor, and separated from the highway by a
broad field; its bounding on the river, which the owner said protected
it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was nothing to
me; the gray color and ruinous state of the house and barn, and the
dilapidated fences, which put such an interval between me and the last
occupant; the hollow and lichen-covered apple trees, nawed by rabbits,
showing what kind of neighbors I should have; but above all, the
recollection I had of it from my earliest voyages up the river, when
the house was concealed behind a dense grove of red maples, through
which I heard the house-dog bark. I was in haste to buy it, before the
proprietor finished getting out some rocks, cutting down the hollow
apple trees, and grubbing up some young birches which had sprung up in
the pasture, or, in short, had made any more of his improvements. To
enjoy these advantages I was ready to carry it on; like Atlas, to take
the world on my shoulders- I never heard what compensation he received
for that- and do all those things which had no other motive or
excuse but that I might pay for it and be unmolested in my
possession of it; for I knew all the while that it would yield the
most abundant crop of the kind I wanted, if I could only afford to let
it alone. But it turned out as I have said.

  All that I could say, then, with respect to farming on a large
scale- I have always cultivated a garden- was, that I had had my seeds
ready. Many think that seeds improve with age. I have no doubt that
time discriminates between the good and the bad; and when at last I
shall plant, I shall be less likely to be disappointed. But I would
say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and
uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are
committed to a farm or the county jail.

  Old Cato, whose "De Re Rustica" is my "Cultivator," says- and the
only translation I have seen makes sheer nonsense of the passage-
"When you think of getting a farm turn it thus in your mind, not to
buy greedily; nor spare your pains to look at it, and do not think
it enough to go round it once. The oftener you go there the more it
will please you, if it is good." I think I shall not buy greedily, but
go round and round it as long as I live, and be buried in it first,
that it may please me the more at last.

  The present was my next experiment of this kind, which I purpose
to describe more at length, for convenience putting the experience
of two years into one. As I have said, I do not propose to write an
ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the
morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.

  When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to
spend my nights as well as days there, which, by accident, was on
Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, 1845, my house was not
finished for winter, but was merely a defence against the rain,
without plastering or chimney, the walls being of rough,
weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night.
The upright white hewn studs and freshly planed door and window
casings gave it a clean and airy look, especially in the morning, when
its timbers were saturated with dew, so that I fancied that by noon
some sweet gum would exude from them. To my imagination it retained
throughout the day more or less of this auroral character, reminding
me of a certain house on a mountain which I had visited a year before.
This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a
travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments. The
winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges
of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or celestial parts only,
of terrestrial music. The morning wind forever blows, the poem of
creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it.
Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere.
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