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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 #30 on: March 23, 2009, 01:50:53 am »

The only house I had been the owner of before, if I except a boat,
was a tent, which I used occasionally when making excursions in the
summer, and this is still rolled up in my garret; but the boat,
after passing from hand to hand, has gone down the stream of time.
With this more substantial shelter about me, I had made some
progress toward settling in the world. This frame, so slightly clad,
was a sort of crystallization around me, and reacted on the builder.
It was suggestive somewhat as a picture in outlines. I did not need to
go outdoors to take the air, for the atmosphere within had lost none
of its freshness. It was not so much within doors as behind a door
where I sat, even in the rainiest weather. The Harivansa says, "An
abode without birds is like a meat without seasoning." Such was not my
abode, for I found myself suddenly neighbor to the birds; not by
having imprisoned one, but having caged myself near them. I was not
only nearer to some of those which commonly frequent the garden and
the orchard, but to those smaller and more thrilling songsters of
the forest which never, or rarely, serenade a villager- the wood
thrush, the veery, the scarlet tanager, the field sparrow, the
whip-poor-will, and many others.

  I was seated by the shore of a small pond, about a mile and a half
south of the village of Concord and somewhat higher than it, in the
midst of an extensive wood between that town and Lincoln, and about
two miles south of that our only field known to fame, Concord Battle
Ground; but I was so low in the woods that the opposite shore, half
a mile off, like the rest, covered with wood, was my most distant
horizon. For the first week, whenever I looked out on the pond it
impressed me like a tarn high up on the side of a mountain, its bottom
far above the surface of other lakes, and, as the sun arose, I saw
it throwing off its nightly clothing of mist, and here and there, by
degrees, its soft ripples or its smooth reflecting surface was
revealed, while the mists, like ghosts, were stealthily withdrawing in
every direction into the woods, as at the breaking up of some
nocturnal conventicle. The very dew seemed to hang upon the trees
later into the day than usual, as on the sides of mountains.

  This small lake was of most value as a neighbor in the intervals
of a gentle rain-storm in August, when, both air and water being
perfectly still, but the sky overcast, mid-afternoon had all the
serenity of evening, and the wood thrush sang around, and was heard
from shore to shore. A lake like this is never smoother than at such a
time; and the clear portion of the air above it being, shallow and
darkened by clouds, the water, full of light and reflections,
becomes a lower heaven itself so much the more important. From a
hill-top near by, where the wood had been recently cut off, there
was a pleasing vista southward across the pond, through a wide
indentation in the hills which form the shore there, where their
opposite sides sloping toward each other suggested a stream flowing
out in that direction through a wooded valley, but stream there was
none. That way I looked between and over the near green hills to
some distant and higher ones in the horizon, tinged with blue. Indeed,
by standing on tiptoe I could catch a glimpse of some of the peaks
of the still bluer and more distant mountain ranges in the
northwest, those true-blue coins from heaven's own mint, and also of
some portion of the village. But in other directions, even from this
point, I could not see over or beyond the woods which surrounded me.
It is well to have some water in your neighborhood, to give buoyancy
to and float the earth. One value even of the smallest well is, that
when you look into it you see that earth is not continent but insular.
This is as important as that it keeps butter cool. When I looked
across the pond from this peak toward the Sudbury meadows, which in
time of flood I distinguished elevated perhaps by a mirage in their
seething valley, like a coin in a basin, all the earth beyond the pond
appeared like a thin crust insulated and floated even by this small
sheet of interverting water, and I was reminded that this on which I
dwelt was but dry land.

  Though the view from my door was still more contracted, I did not
feel crowded or confined in the least. There was pasture enough for my
imagination. The low shrub oak plateau to which the opposite shore
arose stretched away toward the prairies of the West and the steppes
of Tartary, affording ample room for all the roving families of men.
"There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy freely a
vast horizon"- said Damodara, when his herds required new and larger

  Both place and time were changed, and I dwelt nearer to those
parts of the universe and to those eras in history which had most
attracted me. Where I lived was as far off as many a region viewed
nightly by astronomers. We are wont to imagine rare and delectable
places in some remote and more celestial corner of the system,
behind the constellation of Cassiopeia's Chair, far from noise and
disturbance. I discovered that my house actually had its site in
such a withdrawn, but forever new and unprofaned, part of the
universe. If it were worth the while to settle in those parts near
to the Pleiades or the Hyades, to Aldebaran or Altair, then I was
really there, or at an equal remoteness from the life which I had left
behind, dwindled and twinkling with as fine a ray to my nearest
neighbor, and to be seen only in moonless nights by him. Such was that
part of creation where I had squatted;

        "There was a shepherd that did live,

          And held his thoughts as high

        As were the mounts whereon his flocks

          Did hourly feed him by."

What should we think of the shepherd's life if his flocks always
wandered to higher pastures than his thoughts?
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« Reply #31 on: March 23, 2009, 01:51:12 am »

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal
simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have
been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early
and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of
the best things which I did. They say that characters were engraven on
the bathing tub of King Tching-thang to this effect: "Renew thyself
completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again." I can
understand that. Morning brings back the heroic ages. I was as much
affected by the faint burn of a mosquito making its invisible and
unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was
sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet
that ever sang of fame. It was Homer's requiem; itself an Iliad and
Odyssey in the air, singing its own wrath and wanderings. There was
something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden,
of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world. The morning,
which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening
hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least,
some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and
night. Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a
day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical
nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly
acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the
undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a
fragrance filling the air- to a higher life than we fell asleep
from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be
good, no less than the light. That man who does not believe that
each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he
has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a
descending and darkening way. After a partial cessation of his
sensuous life, the soul of man, or its organs rather, are
reinvigorated each day, and his Genius tries again what noble life
it can make. All memorable events, I should say, transpire in
morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, "All
intelligences awake with the morning." Poetry and art, and the fairest
and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour.
All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and
emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought
keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters
not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is
when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the
effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an
account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not
such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with
drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are
awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake
enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred
millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I
have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have
looked him in the face?

  We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by
mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which
does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more
encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his
life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a
particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects
beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very
atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can
do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.
Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of
the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we
refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the
oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.

  I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to
front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn
what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had
not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so
dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite
necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of
life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that
was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into
a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be
mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and
publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it
by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next
excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange
uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have
somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to
"glorify God and enjoy him forever."

  Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we
were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes;
it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue
has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life
is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count
more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten
toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say,
let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a
thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your
accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of
civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and
thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if
he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at
all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who
succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be
necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce
other things in proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy,
made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so
that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment.
The nation itself, with all its so- called internal improvements,
which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an
unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and
tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by
want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the
land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy,
a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of
purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the
Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph,
and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or
not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a
little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails,
and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our
lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads
are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at
home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on
the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers
are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a
Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with
sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers,
I assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid down and run over;
so that, if some have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have
the misfortune to be ridden upon. And when they run over a man that is
walking in his sleep, a supernumerary sleeper in the wrong position,
and wake him up, they suddenly stop the cars, and make a hue and cry
about it, as if this were an exception. I am glad to know that it
takes a gang of men for every five miles to keep the sleepers down and
level in their beds as it is, for this is a sign that they may
sometime get up again.

  Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are
determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch
in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save
nine tomorrow. As for work, we haven't any of any consequence. We have
the Saint Vitus' dance, and cannot possibly keep our heads still. If I
should only give a few pulls at the parish bell-rope, as for a fire,
that is, without setting the bell, there is hardly a man on his farm
in the outskirts of Concord, notwithstanding that press of engagements
which was his excuse so many times this morning, nor a boy, nor a
woman, I might almost say, but would forsake all and follow that
sound, not mainly to save property from the flames, but, if we will
confess the truth, much more to see it burn, since burn it must, and
we, be it known, did not set it on fire- or to see it put out, and
have a hand in it, if that is done as handsomely; yes, even if it were
the parish church itself. Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after
dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, "What's the
news?" as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels. Some give
directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other
purpose; and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed.
After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast.
"Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this
globe"- and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had
his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never
dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave
of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself.
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« Reply #32 on: March 23, 2009, 01:51:33 am »

For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that
there are very few important communications made through it. To
speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters in
my life- I wrote this some years ago- that were worth the postage. The
penny-post is, commonly, an institution through which you seriously
offer a man that penny for his thoughts which is so often safely
offered in jest. And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in
a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by
accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat
blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad
dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter- we never need
read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the
principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?
To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who
edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are
greedy after this gossip. There was such a rush, as I hear, the
other day at one of the offices to learn the foreign news by the
last arrival, that several large squares of plate glass belonging to
the establishment were broken by the pressure- news which I
seriously think a ready wit might write a twelve-month, or twelve
years, beforehand with sufficient accuracy. As for Spain, for
instance, if you know how to throw in Don Carlos and the Infanta,
and Don Pedro and Seville and Granada, from time to time in the
right proportions- they may have changed the names a little since I
saw the papers- and serve up a bull-fight when other entertainments
fail, it will be true to the letter, and give us as good an idea of
the exact state or ruin of things in Spain as the most succinct and
lucid reports under this head in the newspapers: and as for England,
almost the last significant scrap of news from that quarter was the
revolution of 1649; and if you have learned the history of her crops
for an average year, you never need attend to that thing again, unless
your speculations are of a merely pecuniary character. If one may
judge who rarely looks into the newspapers, nothing new does ever
happen in foreign parts, a French revolution not excepted.

  What news! how much more important to know what that is which was
never old! "Kieou-he-yu (great dignitary of the state of Wei) sent a
man to Khoung-tseu to know his news. Khoung-tseu caused the
messenger to be seated near him, and questioned him in these terms:
What is your master doing? The messenger answered with respect: My
master desires to diminish the number of his faults, but he cannot
come to the end of them. The messenger being gone, the philosopher
remarked: What a worthy messenger! What a worthy messenger!" The
preacher, instead of vexing the ears of drowsy farmers on their day of
rest at the end of the week- for Sunday is the fit conclusion of an
ill-spent week, and not the fresh and brave beginning of a new one-
with this one other draggle-tail of a sermon, should shout with
thundering voice, "Pause! Avast! Why so seeming fast, but deadly

  Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while
reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and
not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such
things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian
Nights' Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and
has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets.
When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy
things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and
petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always
exhilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and slumbering, and
consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their
daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on
purely illusory foundations. Children, who play life, discern its true
law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily,
but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by
failure. I have read in a Hindoo book, that "there was a king's son,
who, being expelled in infancy from his native city, was brought up by
a forester, and, growing up to maturity in that state, imagined
himself to belong to the barbarous race with which he lived. One of
his father's ministers having discovered him, revealed to him what
he was, and the misconception of his character was removed, and he
knew himself to be a prince. So soul," continues the Hindoo
philosopher, "from the circumstances in which it is placed, mistakes
its own character, until the truth is revealed to it by some holy
teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahme." I perceive that we
inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because
our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that
that is which appears to be. If a man should walk through this town
and see only the reality, where, think you, would the "Mill-dam" go
to? If he should give us an account of the realities he beheld
there, we should not recognize the place in his description. Look at a
meeting-house, or a court-house, or a jail, or a shop, or a
dwelling-house, and say what that thing really is before a true
gaze, and they would all go to pieces in your account of them. Men
esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of the system, behind the
farthest star, before Adam and after the last man. In eternity there
is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places
and occasions are now and here. God himself culminates in the
present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all
the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and
noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality
that surrounds us. The universe constantly and obediently answers to
our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for
us. Let us spend our lives in conceiving then. The poet or the
artist never yet had so fair and noble a design but some of his
posterity at least could accomplish it.

  Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown
off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on
the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and
without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the
bells ring and the children cry- determined to make a day of it. Why
should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us not be upset
and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a
dinner, situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you
are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With unrelaxed nerves,
with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the
mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is
hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will
consider what kind of music they are like. Let us settle ourselves,
and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of
opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance,
that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London,
through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State,
through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard
bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This
is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d'appui, below
freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or
a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a
Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a
freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If
you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see
the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and
feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and
so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or
death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear
the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we
are alive, let us go about our business.

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« Reply #33 on: March 23, 2009, 01:51:58 am »

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I
drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin
current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper;
fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count
one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been
regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect
is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things.
I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than is necessary.
My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated
in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as
some creatures use their snout and fore paws, and with it I would mine
and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein
is somewhere hereabouts; so by the divining-rod and thin rising vapors
I judge; and here I will begin to mine.


  WITH A LITTLE more deliberation in the choice of their pursuits, all
men would perhaps become essentially students and observers, for
certainly their nature and destiny are interesting to all alike. In
accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a
family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in
dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change nor
accident. The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of
the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling robe
remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did, since it
was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that now
reviews the vision. No dust has settled on that robe; no time has
elapsed since that divinity was revealed. That time which we really
improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future.

  My residence was more favorable, not only to thought, but to serious
reading, than a university; and though I was beyond the range of the
ordinary circulating library, I had more than ever come within the
influence of those books which circulate round the world, whose
sentences were first written on bark, and are now merely copied from
time to time on to linen paper. Says the poet Mir Camar Uddin Mast,
"Being seated, to run through the region of the spiritual world; I
have had this advantage in books. To be intoxicated by a single
glass of wine; I have experienced this pleasure when I have drunk
the liquor of the esoteric doctrines." I kept Homer's Iliad on my
table through the summer, though I looked at his page only now and
then. Incessant labor with my hands, at first, for I had my house to
finish and my beans to hoe at the same time, made more study
impossible. Yet I sustained myself by the prospect of such reading
in future. I read one or two shallow books of travel in the
intervals of my work, till that employment made me ashamed of
myself, and I asked where it was then that I lived.

  The student may read Homer or Aeschylus in the Greek without
danger of dissipation or luxuriousness, for it implies that he in some
measure emulate their heroes, and consecrate morning hours to their
pages. The heroic books, even if printed in the character of our
mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate
times; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and line,
conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits out of what wisdom
and valor and generosity we have. The modern cheap and fertile
press, with all its translations, has done little to bring us nearer
to the heroic writers of antiquity. They seem as solitary, and the
letter in which they are printed as rare and curious, as ever. It is
worth the expense of youthful days and costly hours, if you learn only
some words of an ancient language, which are raised out of the
trivialness of the street, to be perpetual suggestions and
provocations. It is not in vain that the farmer remembers and
repeats the few Latin words which he has heard. Men sometimes speak as
if the study of the classics would at length make way for more
modern and practical studies; but the adventurous student will
always study classics, in whatever language they may be written and
however ancient they may be. For what are the classics but the noblest
recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not
decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them
as Delphi and Dodona never gave. We might as well omit to study Nature
because she is old. To read well, that is, to read true books in a
true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader
more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It
requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady
intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be
read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. It is not
enough even to be able to speak the language of that nation by which
they are written, for there is a memorable interval between the spoken
and the written language, the language heard and the language read.
The one is commonly transitory, a sound, a tongue, a dialect merely,
almost brutish, and we learn it unconsciously, like the brutes, of our
mothers. The other is the maturity and experience of that; if that
is our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved and select
expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be
born again in order to speak. The crowds of men who merely spoke the
Greek and Latin tongues in the Middle Ages were not entitled by the
accident of birth to read the works of genius written in those
languages; for these were not written in that Greek or Latin which
they knew, but in the select language of literature. They had not
learned the nobler dialects of Greece and Rome, but the very materials
on which they were written were waste paper to them, and they prized
instead a cheap contemporary literature. But when the several
nations of Europe had acquired distinct though rude written
languages of their own, sufficient for the purposes of their rising
literatures, then first learning revived, and scholars were enabled to
discern from that remoteness the treasures of antiquity. What the
Roman and Grecian multitude could not hear, after the lapse of ages
a few scholars read, and a few scholars only are still reading it.

  However much we may admire the orator's occasional bursts of
eloquence, the noblest written words are commonly as far behind or
above the fleeting spoken language as the firmament with its stars
is behind the clouds. There are the stars, and they who can may read
them. The astronomers forever comment on and observe them. They are
not exhalations like our daily colloquies and vaporous breath. What is
called eloquence in the forum is commonly found to be rhetoric in
the study. The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient
occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him;
but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would
be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator,
speaks to the intellect and health of mankind, to all in any age who
can understand him.
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« Reply #34 on: March 23, 2009, 01:52:20 am »

No wonder that Alexander carried the Iliad with him on his
expeditions in a precious casket. A written word is the choicest of
relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more
universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to
life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be
read but actually breathed from all human lips;- not be represented on
canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life
itself. The symbol of an ancient man's thought becomes a modern
man's speech. Two thousand summers have imparted to the monuments of
Grecian literature, as to her marbles, only a maturer golden and
autumnal tint, for they have carried their own serene and celestial
atmosphere into all lands to protect them against the corrosion of
time. Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit
inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the
best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every
cottage. They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they
enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse
them. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in
every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on
mankind. When the illiterate and perhaps scornful trader has earned by
enterprise and industry his coveted leisure and independence, and is
admitted to the circles of wealth and fashion, he turns inevitably
at last to those still higher but yet inaccessible circles of
intellect and genius, and is sensible only of the imperfection of
his culture and the vanity and insufficiency of all his riches, and
further proves his good sense by the pains which be takes to secure
for his children that intellectual culture whose want he so keenly
feels; and thus it is that he becomes the founder of a family.

  Those who have not learned to read the ancient classics in the
language in which they were written must have a very imperfect
knowledge of the history of the human race; for it is remarkable
that no transcript of them has ever been made into any modern
tongue, unless our civilization itself may be regarded as such a
transcript. Homer has never yet been printed in English, nor
Aeschylus, nor Virgil even- works as refined, as solidly done, and
as beautiful almost as the morning itself; for later writers, say what
we will of their genius, have rarely, if ever, equalled the
elaborate beauty and finish and the lifelong and heroic literary
labors of the ancients. They only talk of forgetting them who never
knew them. It will be soon enough to forget them when we have the
learning and the genius which will enable us to attend to and
appreciate them. That age will be rich indeed when those relics
which we call Classics, and the still older and more than classic
but even less known Scriptures of the nations, shall have still
further accumulated, when the Vaticans shall be filled with Vedas
and Zendavestas and Bibles, with Homers and Dantes and Shakespeares,
and all the centuries to come shall have successively deposited
their trophies in the forum of the world. By such a pile we may hope
to scale heaven at last.

  The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind,
for only great poets can read them. They have only been read as the
multitude read the stars, at most astrologically, not
astronomically. Most men have learned to read to serve a paltry
convenience, as they have learned to cipher in order to keep
accounts and not be cheated in trade; but of reading as a noble
intellectual exercise they know little or nothing; yet this only is
reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and
suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to
stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours

  I think that having learned our letters we should read the best that
is in literature, and not be forever repeating our a-b-abs, and
words of one syllable, in the fourth or fifth classes, sitting on
the lowest and foremost form all our lives. Most men are satisfied
if they read or hear read, and perchance have been convicted by the
wisdom of one good book, the Bible, and for the rest of their lives
vegetate and dissipate their faculties in what is called easy reading.
There is a work in several volumes in our Circulating Library entitled
"Little Reading," which I thought referred to a town of that name
which I had not been to. There are those who, like cormorants and
ostriches, can digest all sorts of this, even after the fullest dinner
of meats and vegetables, for they suffer nothing to be wasted. If
others are the machines to provide this provender, they are the
machines to read it. They read the nine thousandth tale about
Zebulon and Sophronia, and how they loved as none had ever loved
before, and neither did the course of their true love run smooth- at
any rate, how it did run and stumble, and get up again and go on!
how some poor unfortunate got up on to a steeple, who had better never
have gone up as far as the belfry; and then, having needlessly got him
up there, the happy novelist rings the bell for all the world to
come together and hear, O dear! how he did get down again! For my
part, I think that they had better metamorphose all such aspiring
heroes of universal noveldom into man weather-cocks, as they used to
put heroes among the constellations, and let them swing round there
till they are rusty, and not come down at all to bother honest men
with their pranks. The next time the novelist rings the bell I will
not stir though the meeting-house burn down. "The Skip of the
Tip-Toe-Hop, a Romance of the Middle Ages, by the celebrated author of
'Tittle-Tol-Tan,' to appear in monthly parts; a great rush; don't
all come together." All this they read with saucer eyes, and erect and
primitive curiosity, and with unwearied gizzard, whose corrugations
even yet need no sharpening, just as some little four-year-old bencher
his two-cent gilt-covered edition of Cinderella- without any
improvement, that I can see, in the pronunciation, or accent, or
emphasis, or any more skill in extracting or inserting the moral.
The result is dulness of sight, a stagnation of the vital
circulations, and a general deliquium and sloughing off of all the
intellectual faculties. This sort of gingerbread is baked daily and
more sedulously than pure wheat or rye-and-Indian in almost every
oven, and finds a surer market.
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« Reply #35 on: March 23, 2009, 01:52:51 am »

The best books are not read even by those who are called good
readers. What does our Concord culture amount to? There is in this
town, with a very few exceptions, no taste for the best or for very
good books even in English literature, whose words all can read and
spell. Even the college-bred and so-called liberally educated men here
and elsewhere have really little or no acquaintance with the English
classics; and as for the recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient
classics and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will know of
them, there are the feeblest efforts anywhere made to become
acquainted with them. I know a woodchopper, of middle age, who takes a
French paper, not for news as he says, for he is above that, but to
"keep himself in practice," he being a Canadian by birth; and when I
ask him what he considers the best thing he can do in this world, he
says, beside this, to keep up and add to his English. This is about as
much as the college-bred generally do or aspire to do, and they take
an English paper for the purpose. One who has just come from reading
perhaps one of the best English books will find how many with whom
he can converse about it? Or suppose he comes from reading a Greek
or Latin classic in the original, whose praises are familiar even to
the so-called illiterate; he will find nobody at all to speak to,
but must keep silence about it. Indeed, there is hardly the
professor in our colleges, who, if he has mastered the difficulties of
the language, has proportionally mastered the difficulties of the
wit and poetry of a Greek poet, and has any sympathy to impart to
the alert and heroic reader; and as for the sacred Scriptures, or
Bibles of mankind, who in this town can tell me even their titles?
Most men do not know that any nation but the Hebrews have had a
scripture. A man, any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick
up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of
antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding
age have assured us of;- and yet we learn to read only as far as
Easy Reading, the primers and class-books, and when we leave school,
the "Little Reading," and story-books, which are for boys and
beginners; and our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all
on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins.

  I aspire to be acquainted with wiser men than this our Concord
soil has produced, whose names are hardly known here. Or shall I
hear the name of Plato and never read his book? As if Plato were my
townsman and I never saw him- my next neighbor and I never heard him
speak or attended to the wisdom of his words. But how actually is
it? His Dialogues, which contain what was immortal in him, lie on
the next shelf, and yet I never read them. We are underbred and
low-lived and illiterate; and in this respect I confess I do not
make any very broad distinction between the illiterateness of my
townsman who cannot read at all and the illiterateness of him who
has learned to read only what is for children and feeble intellects.
We should be as good as the worthies of antiquity, but partly by first
knowing how good they were. We are a race of tit-men, and soar but
little higher in our intellectual flights than the columns of the
daily paper.

  It is not all books that are as dull as their readers. There are
probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we
could really bear and understand, would be more salutary than the
morning or the spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on
the face of things for us. How many a man has dated a new era in his
life from the reading of a book! The book exists for us, perchance,
which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present
unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered. These same questions
that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to
all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered
them, according to his ability, by his words and his life. Moreover,
with wisdom we shall learn liberality. The solitary hired man on a
farm in the outskirts of Concord, who has had his second birth and
peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he believes into the
silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, may think it is not
true; but Zoroaster, thousands of years ago, travelled the same road
and had the same experience; but he, being wise, knew it to be
universal, and treated his neighbors accordingly, and is even said
to have invented and established worship among men. Let him humbly
commune with Zoroaster then, and through the liberalizing influence of
all the worthies, with Jesus Christ himself, and let "our church" go
by the board.

  We boast that we belong to the Nineteenth Century and are making the
most rapid strides of any nation. But consider how little this village
does for its own culture. I do not wish to flatter my townsmen, nor to
be flattered by them, for that will not advance either of us. We
need to be provoked- goaded like oxen, as we are, into a trot. We have
a comparatively decent system of common schools, schools for infants
only; but excepting the half-starved Lyceum in the winter, and
latterly the puny beginning of a library suggested by the State, no
school for ourselves. We spend more on almost any article of bodily
aliment or ailment than on our mental ailment. It is time that we
had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when
we begin to be men and women. It is time that villages were
universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows of universities,
with leisure- if they are, indeed, so well off- to pursue liberal
studies the rest of their lives. Shall the world be confined to one
Paris or one Oxford forever? Cannot students be boarded here and get a
liberal education under the skies of Concord? Can we not hire some
Abelard to lecture to us? Alas! what with foddering the cattle and
tending the store, we are kept from school too long, and our education
is sadly neglected. In this country, the village should in some
respects take the place of the nobleman of Europe. It should be the
patron of the fine arts. It is rich enough. It wants only the
magnanimity and refinement. It can spend money enough on such things
as farmers and traders value, but it is thought Utopian to propose
spending money for things which more intelligent men know to be of far
more worth. This town has spent seventeen thousand dollars on a
town-house, thank fortune or politics, but probably it will not
spend so much on living wit, the true meat to put into that shell,
in a hundred years. The one hundred and twenty-five dollars annually
subscribed for a Lyceum in the winter is better spent than any other
equal sum raised in the town. If we live in the Nineteenth Century,
why should we not enjoy the advantages which the Nineteenth Century
offers? Why should our life be in any respect provincial? If we will
read newspapers, why not skip the gossip of Boston and take the best
newspaper in the world at once?- not be sucking the pap of "neutral
family" papers, or browsing "Olive Branches" here in New England.
Let the reports of all the learned societies come to us, and we will
see if they know anything. Why should we leave it to Harper & Brothers
and Redding & Co. to select our reading? As the nobleman of cultivated
taste surrounds himself with whatever conduces to his culture- genius-
learning- wit- books- paintings- statuary- music- philosophical
instruments, and the like; so let the village do-not stop short at a
pedagogue, a parson, a sexton, a parish library, and three
selectmen, because our Pilgrim forefathers got through a cold winter
once on a bleak rock with these. To act collectively is according to
the spirit of our institutions; and I am confident that, as our
circumstances are more flourishing, our means are greater than the
nobleman's. New England can hire all the wise men in the world to come
and teach her, and board them round the while, and not be provincial
at all. That is the uncommon school we want. Instead of noblemen,
let us have noble villages of men. If it is necessary, omit one bridge
over the river, go round a little there, and throw one arch at least
over the darker gulf of ignorance which surrounds us.
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« Reply #36 on: March 23, 2009, 01:53:06 am »


  BUT WHILE we are confined to books, though the most select and
classic, and read only particular written languages, which are
themselves but dialects and provincial, we are in danger of forgetting
the language which all things and events speak without metaphor, which
alone is copious and standard. Much is published, but little
printed. The rays which stream through the shutter will be no longer
remembered when the shutter is wholly removed. No method nor
discipline can supersede the necessity of being forever on the
alert. What is a course of history or philosophy, or poetry, no matter
how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable
routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at
what is to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer?
Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.

  I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often
did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to
sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of
the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a
summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny
doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and
hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while
the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by
the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller's
wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I
grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better
than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time
subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual
allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the
forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours
went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was
morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is
accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled
at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on
the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble
which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week,
bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into
hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri
Indians, of whom it is said that "for yesterday, today, and tomorrow
they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by
pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for
the passing day." This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no
doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard,
I should not have been found wanting. A man must find his occasions in
himself, it is true. The natural day is very calm, and will hardly
reprove his indolence.

  I had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those who
were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre,
that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be
novel. It was a drama of many scenes and without an end. If we were
always, indeed, getting our living, and regulating our lives according
to the last and best mode we had learned, we should never be
troubled with ennui. Follow your genius closely enough, and it will
not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour. Housework was a
pleasant pastime. When my floor was dirty, I rose early, and,
setting all my furniture out of doors on the grass, bed and bedstead
making but one budget, dashed water on the floor, and sprinkled
white sand from the pond on it, and then with a broom scrubbed it
clean and white; and by the time the villagers had broken their fast
the morning sun had dried my house sufficiently to allow me to move in
again, and my meditations were almost uninterupted. It was pleasant to
see my whole household effects out on the grass, making a little
pile like a gypsy's pack, and my three-legged table, from which I
did not remove the books and pen and ink, standing amid the pines
and hickories. They seemed glad to get out themselves, and as if
unwilling to be brought in. I was sometimes tempted to stretch an
awning over them and take my seat there. It was worth the while to see
the sun shine on these things, and hear the free wind blow on them; so
much more interesting most familiar objects look out of doors than
in the house. A bird sits on the next bough, life-everlasting grows
under the table, and blackberry vines run round its legs; pine
cones, chestnut burs, and strawberry leaves are strewn about. It
looked as if this was the way these forms came to be transferred to
our furniture, to tables, chairs, and bedsteads- because they once
stood in their midst.

  My house was on the side of a hill, immediately on the edge of the
larger wood, in the midst of a young forest of pitch pines and
hickories, and half a dozen rods from the pond, to which a narrow
footpath led down the hill. In my front yard grew the strawberry,
blackberry, and life-everlasting, johnswort and goldenrod, shrub
oaks and sand cherry, blueberry and groundnut. Near the end of May,
the sand cherry (Cerasus pumila) adorned the sides of the path with
its delicate flowers arranged in umbels cylindrically about its
short stems, which last, in the fall, weighed down with goodsized
and handsome cherries, fell over in wreaths like rays on every side. I
tasted them out of compliment to Nature, though they were scarcely
palatable. The sumach (Rhus glabra) grew luxuriantly about the
house, pushing up through the embankment which I had made, and growing
five or six feet the first season. Its broad pinnate tropical leaf was
pleasant though strange to look on. The large buds, suddenly pushing
out late in the spring from dry sticks which had seemed to be dead,
developed themselves as by magic into graceful green and tender
boughs, an inch in diameter; and sometimes, as I sat at my window,
so heedlessly did they grow and tax their weak joints, I heard a fresh
and tender bough suddenly fall like a fan to the ground, when there
was not a breath of air stirring, broken off by its own weight. In
August, the large masses of berries, which, when in flower, had
attracted many wild bees, gradually assumed their bright velvety
crimson hue, and by their weight again bent down and broke the
tender limbs.

  As I sit at my window this summer afternoon, hawks are circling
about my clearing; the tantivy of wild pigeons, flying by two and
threes athwart my view, or perching restless on the white pine
boughs behind my house, gives a voice to the air; a fish hawk
dimples the glassy surface of the pond and brings up a fish; a mink
steals out of the marsh before my door and seizes a frog by the shore;
the sedge is bending under the weight of the reed-birds flitting
hither and thither; and for the last half-hour I have heard the rattle
of railroad cars, now dying away and then reviving like the beat of
a partridge, conveying travellers from Boston to the country. For I
did not live so out of the world as that boy who, as I hear, was put
out to a farmer in the east part of the town, but ere long ran away
and came home again, quite down at the heel and homesick. He had never
seen such a dull and out-of-the-way place; the folks were all gone
off; why, you couldn't even hear the whistle! I doubt if there is such
a place in Massachusetts now:

        "In truth, our village has become a butt

        For one of those fleet railroad shafts, and o'er

        Our peaceful plain its soothing sound is- Concord."

  The Fitchburg Railroad touches the pond about a hundred rods south
of where I dwell. I usually go to the village along its causeway,
and am, as it were, related to society by this link. The men on the
freight trains, who go over the whole length of the road, bow to me as
to an old acquaintance, they pass me so often, and apparently they
take me for an employee; and so I am. I too would fain be a
track-repairer somewhere in the orbit of the earth.
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« Reply #37 on: March 23, 2009, 01:53:31 am »

The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter,
sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer's yard,
informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the
circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other
side. As they come under one horizon, they shout their warning to
get off the track to the other, heard sometimes through the circles of
two towns. Here come your groceries, country; your rations,
countrymen! Nor is there any man so independent on his farm that he
can say them nay. And here's your pay for them! screams the
countryman's whistle; timber like long battering-rams going twenty
miles an hour against the city's walls, and chairs enough to seat
all the weary and heavy-laden that dwell within them. With such huge
and lumbering civility the country hands a chair to the city. All
the Indian huckleberry hills are stripped, all the cranberry meadows
are raked into the city. Up comes the cotton, down goes the woven
cloth; up comes the silk, down goes the woollen; up come the books,
but down goes the wit that writes them.

  When I meet the engine with its train of cars moving off with
planetary motion- or, rather, like a comet, for the beholder knows not
if with that velocity and with that direction it will ever revisit
this system, since its orbit does not look like a returning curve-
with its steam cloud like a banner streaming behind in golden and
silver wreaths, like many a downy cloud which I have seen, high in the
heavens, unfolding its masses to the light- as if this traveling
demigod, this cloud- compeller, would ere long take the sunset sky for
the livery of his train; when I hear the iron horse make the bills
echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and
breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils (what kind of winged
horse or fiery dragon they will put into the new Mythology I don't
know), it seems as if the earth had got a race now worthy to inhabit
it. If all were as it seems, and men made the elements their
servants for noble ends! If the cloud that hangs over the engine
were the perspiration of heroic deeds, or as beneficent as that
which floats over the farmer's fields, then the elements and Nature
herself would cheerfully accompany men on their errands and be their

  I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I
do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular. Their train of
clouds stretching far behind and rising higher and higher, going to
heaven while the cars are going to Boston, conceals the sun for a
minute and casts my distant field into the shade, a celestial train
beside which the petty train of cars which bugs the earth is but the
barb of the spear. The stabler of the iron horse was up early this
winter morning by the light of the stars amid the mountains, to fodder
and harness his steed. Fire, too, was awakened thus early to put the
vital beat in him and get him off. If the enterprise were as
innocent as it is early! If the snow lies deep, they strap on his
snowshoes, and, with the giant plow, plow a furrow from the
mountains to the seaboard, in which the cars, like a following
drill-barrow, sprinkle all the restless men and floating merchandise
in the country for seed. All day the fire-steed flies over the
country, stopping only that his master may rest, and I am awakened
by his tramp and defiant snort at midnight, when in some remote glen
in the woods he fronts the elements incased in ice and snow; and he
will reach his stall only with the morning star, to start once more on
his travels without rest or slumber. Or perchance, at evening, I
hear him in his stable blowing off the superfluous energy of the
day, that he may calm his nerves and cool his liver and brain for a
few hours of iron slumber. If the enterprise were as heroic and
commanding as it is protracted and unwearied!

  Far through unfrequented woods on the confines of towns, where
once only the hunter penetrated by day, in the darkest night dart
these bright saloons without the knowledge of their inhabitants;
this moment stopping at some brilliant station-house in town or
city, where a social crowd is gathered, the next in the Dismal
Swamp, scaring the owl and fox. The startings and arrivals of the cars
are now the epochs in the village day. They go and come with such
regularity and precision, and their whistle can be heard so far,
that the farmers set their clocks by them, and thus one well-conducted
institution regulates a whole country. Have not men improved
somewhat in punctuality since the railroad was invented? Do they not
talk and think faster in the depot than they did in the
stage-office? There is something electrifying in the atmosphere of the
former place. I have been astonished at the miracles it has wrought;
that some of my neighbors, who, I should have prophesied, once for
all, would never get to Boston by so prompt a conveyance, are on
hand when the bell rings. To do things "railroad fashion" is now the
byword; and it is worth the while to be warned so often and so
sincerely by any power to get off its track. There is no stopping to
read the riot act, no firing over the heads of the mob, in this
case. We have constructed a fate, an Atropos, that never turns
aside. (Let that be the name of your engine.) Men are advertised
that at a certain hour and minute these bolts will be shot toward
particular points of the compass; yet it interferes with no man's
business, and the children go to school on the other track. We live
the steadier for it. We are all educated thus to be sons of Tell.
The air is full of invisible bolts. Every path but your own is the
path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.

  What recommends commerce to me is its enterprise and bravery. It
does not clasp its hands and pray to Jupiter. I see these men every
day go about their business with more or less courage and content,
doing more even than they suspect, and perchance better employed
than they could have consciously devised. I am less affected by
their heroism who stood up for half an hour in the front line at Buena
Vista, than by the steady and cheerful valor of the men who inhabit
the snowplow for their winter quarters; who have not merely the
three-o'-clock-in-the-morning courage, which Bonaparte thought was the
rarest, but whose courage does not go to rest so early, who go to
sleep only when the storm sleeps or the sinews of their iron steed are
frozen. On this morning of the Great Snow, perchance, which is still
raging and chilling men's blood, I bear the muffled tone of their
engine bell from out the fog bank of their chilled breath, which
announces that the cars are coming, without long delay,
notwithstanding the veto of a New England northeast snow-storm, and
I behold the plowmen covered with snow and rime, their heads
peering, above the mould-board which is turning down other than
daisies and the nests of field mice, like bowlders of the Sierra
Nevada, that occupy an outside place in the universe.
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« Reply #38 on: March 23, 2009, 01:53:52 am »

Commerce is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert, adventurous,
and unwearied. It is very natural in its methods withal, far more so
than many fantastic enterprises and sentimental experiments, and hence
its singular success. I am refreshed and expanded when the freight
train rattles past me, and I smell the stores which go dispensing
their odors all the way from Long Wharf to Lake Champlain, reminding
me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical
climes, and the extent of the globe. I feel more like a citizen of the
world at the sight of the palm-leaf which will cover so many flaxen
New England heads the next summer, the Manilla hemp and cocoanut
husks, the old junk, gunny bags, scrap iron, and rusty nails. This
carload of torn sails is more legible and interesting now than if they
should be wrought into paper and printed books. Who can write so
graphically the history of the storms they have weathered as these
rents have done? They are proof-sheets which need no correction.
Here goes lumber from the Maine woods, which did not go out to sea
in the last freshet, risen four dollars on the thousand because of
what did go out or was split up; pine, spruce, cedar- first, second,
third, and fourth qualities, so lately all of one quality, to wave
over the bear, and moose, and caribou. Next rolls Thomaston lime, a
prime lot, which will get far among the hills before it gets
slacked. These rags in bales, of all hues and qualities, the lowest
condition to which cotton and linen descend, the final result of
dress- of patterns which are now no longer cried up, unless it be in
Milwaukee, as those splendid articles, English, French, or American
prints, ginghams, muslins, etc., gathered from all quarters both of
fashion and poverty, going to become paper of one color or a few
shades only, on which, forsooth, will be written tales of real life,
high and low, and founded on fact! This closed car smells of salt
fish, the strong New England and commercial scent, reminding me of the
Grand Banks and the fisheries. Who has not seen a salt fish,
thoroughly cured for this world, so that nothing can spoil it, and
putting, the perseverance of the saints to the blush? with which you
may sweep or pave the streets, and split your kindlings, and the
teamster shelter himself and his lading against sun, wind, and rain
behind it- and the trader, as a Concord trader once did, bang it up by
his door for a sign when he commences business, until at last his
oldest customer cannot tell surely whether it be animal, vegetable, or
mineral, and yet it shall be as pure as a snowflake, and if it be
put into a pot and boiled, will come out an excellent dunfish for a
Saturday's dinner. Next Spanish hides, with the tails still preserving
their twist and the angle of elevation they had when the oxen that
wore them were careering over the pampas of the Spanish Main- a type
of all obstinacy, and evincing how almost hopeless and incurable are
all constitutional vices. I confess, that practically speaking, when I
have learned a man's real disposition, I have no hopes of changing
it for the better or worse in this state of existence. As the
Orientals say, "A cur's tail may be warmed, and pressed, and bound
round with ligatures, and after a twelve years' labor bestowed upon
it, still it will retain its natural form." The only effectual cure
for such inveteracies as these tails exhibit is to make glue of
them, which I believe is what is usually done with them, and then they
will stay put and stick. Here is a hogshead of molasses or of brandy
directed to John Smith, Cuttingsville, Vermont, some trader among
the Green Mountains, who imports for the farmers near his clearing,
and now perchance stands over his bulkhead and thinks of the last
arrivals on the coast, how they may affect the price for him,
telling his customers this moment, as he has told them twenty times
before this morning, that he expects some by the next train of prime
quality. It is advertised in the Cuttingsville Times.

  While these things go up other things come down. Warned by the
whizzing sound, I look up from my book and see some tall pine, hewn on
far northern hills, which has winged its way over the Green
Mountains and the Connecticut, shot like an arrow through the township
within ten minutes, and scarce another eye beholds it; going

                      "to be the mast

              Of some great ammiral."

And hark! here comes the cattle-train bearing the cattle of a thousand
hills, sheepcots, stables, and cow-yards in the air, drovers with
their sticks, and shepherd boys in the midst of their flocks, all
but the mountain pastures, whirled along like leaves blown from the
mountains by the September gales. The air is filled with the
bleating of calves and sheep, and the hustling of oxen, as if a
pastoral valley were going by. When the old bellwether at the head
rattles his bell, the mountains do indeed skip like rams and the
little hills like lambs. A carload of drovers, too, in the midst, on a
level with their droves now, their vocation gone, but still clinging
to their useless sticks as their badge of office. But their dogs,
where are they? It is a stampede to them; they are quite thrown out;
they have lost the scent. Methinks I hear them barking behind the
Peterboro' Hills, or panting up the western slope of the Green
Mountains. They will not be in at the death. Their vocation, too, is
gone. Their fidelity and sagacity are below par now. They will slink
back to their kennels in disgrace, or perchance run wild and strike
a league with the wolf and the fox. So is your pastoral life whirled
past and away. But the bell rings, and I must get off the track and
let the cars go by;

            What's the railroad to me?

            I never go to see

            Where it ends.

            It fills a few hollows,

            And makes banks for the swallows,

            It sets the sand a-blowing,

            And the blackberries a-growing,

but I cross it like a cart-path in the woods. I will not have my
eyes put out and my ears spoiled by its smoke and steam and hissing.

  Now that the cars are gone by and all the restless world with
them, and the fishes in the pond no longer feel their rumbling, I am
more alone than ever. For the rest of the long afternoon, perhaps,
my meditations are interrupted only by the faint rattle of a
carriage or team along the distant highway.
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« Reply #39 on: March 23, 2009, 01:54:17 am »

Sometimes, on Sundays, I heard the bells, the Lincoln, Acton,
Bedford, or Concord bell, when the wind was favorable, a faint, sweet,
and, as it were, natural melody, worth importing into the
wilderness. At a sufficient distance over the woods this sound
acquires a certain vibratory hum, as if the pine needles in the
horizon were the strings of a harp which it swept. All sound heard
at the greatest possible distance produces one and the same effect,
a vibration of the universal lyre, just as the intervening
atmosphere makes a distant ridge of earth interesting to our eyes by
the azure tint it imparts to it. There came to me in this case a
melody which the air had strained, and which had conversed with
every leaf and needle of the wood, that portion of the sound which the
elements had taken up and modulated and echoed from vale to vale.
The echo is, to some extent, an original sound, and therein is the
magic and charm of it. It is not merely a repetition of what was worth
repeating in the bell, but partly the voice of the wood; the same
trivial words and notes sung by a wood-nymph.

  At evening, the distant lowing of some cow in the horizon beyond the
woods sounded sweet and melodious, and at first I would mistake it for
the voices of certain minstrels by whom I was sometimes serenaded, who
might be straying over hill and dale; but soon I was not
unpleasantly disappointed when it was prolonged into the cheap and
natural music of the cow. I do not mean to be satirical, but to
express my appreciation of those youths' singing, when I state that
I perceived clearly that it was akin to the music of the cow, and they
were at length one articulation of Nature.

  Regularly at half-past seven, in one part of the summer, after the
evening train had gone by, the whip-poor-wills chanted their vespers
for half an hour, sitting on a stump by my door, or upon the
ridge-pole of the house. They would begin to sing almost with as
much precision as a clock, within five minutes of a particular time,
referred to the setting of the sun, every evening. I had a rare
opportunity to become acquainted with their habits. Sometimes I
heard four or five at once in different parts of the wood, by accident
one a bar behind another, and so near me that I distinguished not only
the cluck after each note, but often that singular buzzing sound
like a fly in a spider's web, only proportionally louder. Sometimes
one would circle round and round me in the woods a few feet distant as
if tethered by a string, when probably I was near its eggs. They
sang at intervals throughout the night, and were again as musical as
ever just before and about dawn.

  When other birds are still, the screech owls take up the strain,
like mourning women their ancient u-lu-lu. Their dismal scream is
truly Ben Jonsonian. Wise midnight bags! It is no honest and blunt
tu-whit tu- who of the poets, but, without jesting, a most solemn
graveyard ditty, the mutual consolations of suicide lovers remembering
the pangs and the delights of supernal love in the infernal groves.
Yet I love to hear their wailing, their doleful responses, trilled
along the woodside; reminding me sometimes of music and singing birds;
as if it were the dark and tearful side of music, the regrets and
sighs that would fain be sung. They are the spirits, the low spirits
and melancholy forebodings, of fallen souls that once in human shape
night-walked the earth and did the deeds of darkness, now expiating
their sins with their wailing hymns or threnodies in the scenery of
their transgressions. They give me a new sense of the variety and
capacity of that nature which is our common dwelling. Oh-o-o-o-o
that I never had been bor-r-r-r-n! sighs one on this side of the pond,
and circles with the restlessness of despair to some new perch on
the gray oaks. Then- that I never had been bor-r-r-r-n! echoes another
on the farther side with tremulous sincerity, and- bor-r-r-r-n!
comes faintly from far in the Lincoln woods.

  I was also serenaded by a hooting owl. Near at hand you could
fancy it the most melancholy sound in Nature, as if she meant by
this to stereotype and make permanent in her choir the dying moans
of a human being- some poor weak relic of mortality who has left
hope behind, and howls like an animal, yet with human sobs, on
entering the dark valley, made more awful by a certain gurgling
melodiousness- I find myself beginning with the letters gl when I
try to imitate it- expressive of a mind which has reached the
gelatinous, mildewy stage in the mortification of all healthy and
courageous thought. It reminded me of ghouls and idiots and insane
howlings. But now one answers from far woods in a strain made really
melodious by distance- Hoo hoo hoo, hoorer hoo: and indeed for the
most part it suggested only pleasing associations, whether heard by
day or night, summer or winter.

  I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and
maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and
twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and
undeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They represent the
stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have. All day the
sun has shone on the surface of some savage swamp, where the single
spruce stands hung with usnea lichens, and small hawks circulate
above, and the chickadee lisps amid the evergreens, and the
partridge and rabbit skulk beneath; but now a more dismal arid fitting
day dawns, and a different race of creatures awakes to express the
meaning of Nature there.

  Late in the evening I heard the distant rumbling of wagons over
bridges- a sound heard farther than almost any other at night- the
baying of dogs, and sometimes again the lowing of some disconsolate
cow in a distant barn-yard. In the meanwhile all the shore rang with
the trump of bullfrogs, the sturdy spirits of ancient wine-bibbers and
wassailers, still unrepentant, trying to sing a catch in their Stygian
lake- if the Walden nymphs will pardon the comparison, for though
there are almost no weeds, there are frogs there- who would fain
keep up the hilarious rules of their old festal tables, though their
voices have waxed hoarse and solemnly grave, mocking at mirth, and the
mine has lost its flavor, and become only liquor to distend their
paunches, and sweet intoxication never comes to drown the memory of
the past, but mere saturation and waterloggedness and distention.
The most aldermanic, with his chin upon a heart-leaf, which serves for
a napkin to his drooling chaps, under this northern shore quaffs a
deep draught of the once scorned water, and passes round the cup
with the ejaculation tr-r-r-oonk, tr-r-r--oonk, tr-r-r-oonk! and
straightway comes over the water from some distant cove the same
password repeated, where the next in seniority and girth has gulped
down to his mark; and when this observance has made the circuit of the
shores, then ejaculates the master of ceremonies, with satisfaction,
tr-r-r-oonk! and each in his turn repeats the same down to the least
distended, leakiest, and flabbiest paunched, that there be no mistake;
and then the howl goes round again and again, until the sun
disperses the morning mist, and only the patriarch is not under the
pond, but vainly bellowing troonk from time to time, and pausing for a
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« Reply #40 on: March 23, 2009, 01:54:47 am »

I am not sure that I ever heard the sound of ****-crowing from my
clearing, and I thought that it might be worth the while to keep a
cockerel for his music merely, as a singing bird. The note of this
once wild Indian pheasant is certainly the most remarkable of any
bird's, and if they could be naturalized without being domesticated,
it would soon become the most famous sound in our woods, surpassing
the clangor of the goose and the hooting of the owl; and then
imagine the cackling of the hens to fill the pauses when their
lords' clarions rested! No wonder that man added this bird to his tame
stock- to say nothing of the eggs and drumsticks. To walk in a
winter morning in a wood where these birds abounded, their native
woods, and hear the wild cockerels crow on the trees, clear and shrill
for miles over the resounding earth, drowning the feebler notes of
other birds- think of it! It would put nations on the alert. Who would
not be early to rise, and rise earlier and earlier every successive
day of his life, till he became unspeakably healthy, wealthy, and
wise? This foreign bird's note is celebrated by the poets of all
countries along with the notes of their native songsters. All climates
agree with brave Chanticleer. He is more indigenous even than the
natives. His health is ever good, his lungs are sound, his spirits
never flag. Even the sailor on the Atlantic and Pacific is awakened by
his voice; but its shrill sound never roused me from my slumbers. I
kept neither dog, cat, cow, pig, nor hens, so that you would have said
there was a deficiency of domestic sounds; neither the chum, nor the
spinning-wheel, nor even the singing of the kettle, nor the hissing of
the urn, nor children crying, to comfort one. An old-fashioned man
would have lost his senses or died of ennui before this. Not even rats
in the wall, for they were starved out, or rather were never baited
in- only squirrels on the roof and under the floor, a whip-poor-will
on the ridge-pole, a blue jay screaming beneath the window, a hare
or woodchuck under the house, a screech owl or a cat owl behind it,
a flock of wild geese or a laughing loon on the pond, and a fox to
bark in the night. Not even a lark or an oriole, those mild plantation
birds, ever visited my clearing. No cockerels to crow nor hens to
cackle in the yard. No yard! but unfenced nature reaching up to your
very sills. A young forest growing up under your meadows, and wild
sumachs and blackberry vines breaking through into your cellar; sturdy
pitch pines rubbing and creaking against the shingles for want of
room, their roots reaching quite under the house. Instead of a scuttle
or a blind blown off in the gale- a pine tree snapped off or torn up
by the roots behind your house for fuel. Instead of no path to the
front-yard gate in the Great Snow- no gate- no front-yard- and no path
to the civilized world.


  THIS IS A delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and
imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange
liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the stony
shore of the pond in my shirt-sleeves, though it is cool as well as
cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the
elements are unusually congenial to me. The bullfrogs trump to usher
in the night, and the note of the whip-poor-will is borne on the
rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering
alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath; yet, like the
lake, my serenity is rippled but not ruffled. These small waves raised
by the evening wind are as remote from storm as the smooth
reflecting surface. Though it is now dark, the mind still blows and
roars in the wood, the waves still dash, and some creatures lull the
rest with their notes. The repose is never complete. The wildest
animals do not repose, but seek their prey now; the fox, and skunk,
and rabbit, now roam the fields and woods without fear. They are
Nature's watchmen- links which connect the days of animated life.

  When I return to my house I find that visitors have been there and
left their cards, either a bunch of flowers, or a wreath of evergreen,
or a name in pencil on a yellow walnut leaf or a chip. They who come
rarely to the woods take some little piece of the forest into their
hands to play with by the way, which they leave, either
intentionally or accidentally. One has peeled a willow wand, woven
it into a ring, and dropped it on my table. I could always tell if
visitors had called in my absence, either by the bended twigs or
grass, or the print of their shoes, and generally of what sex or age
or quality they were by some slight trace left, as a flower dropped,
or a bunch of grass plucked and thrown away, even as far off as the
railroad, half a mile distant, or by the lingering odor of a cigar
or pipe. Nay, I was frequently notified of the passage of a
traveller along the highway sixty rods off by the scent of his pipe.

  There is commonly sufficient space about us. Our horizon is never
quite at our elbows. The thick wood is not just at our door, nor the
pond, but somewhat is always clearing, familiar and worn by us,
appropriated and fenced in some way, and reclaimed from Nature. For
what reason have I this vast range and circuit, some square miles of
unfrequented forest, for my privacy, abandoned to me by men? My
nearest neighbor is a mile distant, and no house is visible from any
place but the hill-tops within half a mile of my own. I have my
horizon bounded by woods all to myself; a distant view of the railroad
where it touches the pond on the one hand, and of the fence which
skirts the woodland road on the other. But for the most part it is
as solitary where I live as on the prairies. It is as much Asia or
Africa as New England. I have, as it were, my own sun and moon and
stars, and a little world all to myself. At night there was never a
traveller passed my house, or knocked at my door, more than if I
were the first or last man; unless it were in the spring, when at long
intervals some came from the village to fish for pouts- they plainly
fished much more in the Walden Pond of their own natures, and baited
their hooks with darkness- but they soon retreated, usually with light
baskets, and left "the world to darkness and to me," and the black
kernel of the night was never profaned by any human neighborhood. I
believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark,
though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have
been introduced.

  Yet I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and tender, the most
innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural object,
even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man. There can be no
very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature and
has his senses still. There was never yet such a storm but it was
Aeolian music to a healthy and innocent ear. Nothing can rightly
compel a simple and brave man to a vulgar sadness. While I enjoy the
friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a
burden to me. The gentle rain which waters my beans and keeps me in
the house today is not drear and melancholy, but good for me too.
Though it prevents my hoeing them, it is of far more worth than my
hoeing. If it should continue so long as to cause the seeds to rot
in the ground and destroy the potatoes in the low lands, it would
still be good for the grass on the uplands, and, being good for the
grass, it would be good for me. Sometimes, when I compare myself
with other men, it seems as if I were more favored by the gods than
they, beyond any deserts that I am conscious of; as if I had a warrant
and surety at their hands which my fellows have not, and were
especially guided and guarded. I do not flatter myself, but if it be
possible they flatter me. I have never felt lonesome, or in the
least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but once, and that was a few
weeks after I came to the woods, when, for an hour, I doubted if the
near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy
life. To be alone was something unpleasant. But I was at the same time
conscious of a slight insanity in my mood, and seemed to foresee my
recovery. In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts
prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent
society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every
sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable
friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the
fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have
never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and
swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made
aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes which
we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest
of blood to me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I
thought no place could ever be strange to me again.

        "Mourning untimely consumes the sad;

        Few are their days in the land of the living,

        Beautiful daughter of Toscar."

  Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain-storms in the
spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as
well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting;
when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many
thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves. In those driving
northeast rains which tried the village houses so, when the maids
stood ready with mop and pail in front entries to keep the deluge out,
I sat behind my door in my little house, which was all entry, and
thoroughly enjoyed its protection. In one heavy thunder-shower the
lightning struck a large pitch pine across the pond, making a very
conspicuous and perfectly regular spiral groove from top to bottom, an
inch or more deep, and four or five inches wide, as you would groove a
walking-stick. I passed it again the other day, and was struck with
awe on looking up and beholding that mark, now more distinct than
ever, where a terrific and resistless bolt came down out of the
harmless sky eight years ago. Men frequently say to me, "I should
think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to
folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially." I am tempted to
reply to such- This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in
space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant
inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be
appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our
planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be
the most important question. What sort of space is that which
separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have
found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer
to one another. What do we want most to dwell near to? Not to many men
surely, the depot, the post-office, the bar-room, the meeting-house,
the school-house, the grocery, Beacon Hill, or the Five Points,
where men most congregate, but to the perennial source of our life,
whence in all our experience we have found that to issue, as the
willow stands near the water and sends out its roots in that
direction. This will vary with different natures, but this is the
place where a wise man will dig his cellar.... I one evening
overtook one of my townsmen, who has accumulated what is called "a
handsome property"- though I never got a fair view of it- on the
Walden road, driving a pair of cattle to market, who inquired of me
how I could bring my mind to give up so many of the comforts of
life. I answered that I was very sure I liked it passably well; I
was not joking. And so I went home to my bed, and left him to pick his
way through the darkness and the mud to Brighton- or Bright-town-
which place he would reach some time in the morning.
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« Reply #41 on: March 23, 2009, 01:55:11 am »

Any prospect of awakening or coming to life to a dead man makes
indifferent all times and places. The place where that may occur is
always the same, and indescribably pleasant to all our senses. For the
most part we allow only outlying and transient circumstances to make
our occasions. They are, in fact, the cause of our distraction.
Nearest to all things is that power which fashions their being. Next
to us the grandest laws are continually being executed. Next to us
is not the workman whom we have hired, with whom we love so well to
talk, but the workman whose work we are.

  "How vast and profound is the influence of the subtile powers of
Heaven and of Earth!"

  "We seek to perceive them, and we do not see them; we seek to hear
them, and we do not hear them; identified with the substance of
things, they cannot be separated from them."

  "They cause that in all the universe men purify and sanctify their
hearts, and clothe themselves in their holiday garments to offer
sacrifices and oblations to their ancestors. It is an ocean of subtile
intelligences. They are everywhere, above us, on our left, on our
right; they environ us on all sides."

  We are the subjects of an experiment which is not a little
interesting to me. Can we not do without the society of our gossips
a little while under these circumstances- have our own thoughts to
cheer us? Confucius says truly, "Virtue does not remain as an
abandoned orphan; it must of necessity have neighbors."

  With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense. By a
conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their
consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent.
We are not wholly involved in Nature. I may be either the driftwood in
the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down on it. I may be
affected by a theatrical exhibition; on the other hand, I may not be
affected by an actual event which appears to concern me much more. I
only know myself as a human entity; the scene, so to speak, of
thoughts and affections; and am sensible of a certain doubleness by
which I can stand as remote from myself as from another. However
intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of
a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator,
sharing no experience, but taking note of it, and that is no more I
than it is you. When the play, it may be the tragedy, of life is over,
the spectator goes his way. It was a kind of fiction, a work of the
imagination only, so far as he was concerned. This doubleness may
easily make us poor neighbors and friends sometimes.

  I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To
be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and
dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that
was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely
when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man
thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.
Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene
between a man and his fellows. The really diligent student in one of
the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervis in
the desert. The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all
day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is
employed; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room
alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but must be where he can "see the
folks," and recreate, and, as he thinks, remunerate himself for his
day's solitude; and hence he wonders how the student can sit alone
in the house all night and most of the day without ennui and "the
blues"; but he does not realize that the student, though in the house,
is still at work in his field, and chopping in his woods, as the
farmer in his, and in turn seeks the same recreation and society
that the latter does, though it may be a more condensed form of it.

  Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals,
not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet
at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that
old musty cheese that we are. We have had to agree on a certain set of
rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent
meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war. We meet at
the post-office, and at the sociable, and about the fireside every
night; we live thick and are in each other's way, and stumble over one
another, and I think that we thus lose some respect for one another.
Certainly less frequency would suffice for all important and hearty
communications. Consider the girls in a factory- never alone, hardly
in their dreams. It would be better if there were but one inhabitant
to a square mile, as where I live. The value of a man is not in his
skin, that we should touch him.

  I have heard of a man lost in the woods and dying of famine and
exhaustion at the foot of a tree, whose loneliness was relieved by the
grotesque visions with which, owing to bodily weakness, his diseased
imagination surrounded him, and which he believed to be real. So also,
owing to bodily and mental health and strength, we may be
continually cheered by a like but more normal and natural society, and
come to know that we are never alone.

  I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the
morning, when nobody calls. Let me suggest a few comparisons, that
some one may convey an idea of my situation. I am no more lonely
than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond
itself. What company has that lonely lake, I pray? And yet it has
not the blue devils, but the blue angels in it, in the azure tint of
its waters. The sun is alone, except in thick weather, when there
sometimes appear to be two, but one is a mock sun. God is alone- but
the devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of
company; he is legion. I am no more lonely than a single mullein or
dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly,
or a bumblebee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a
weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower,
or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house.

  I have occasional visits in the long winter evenings, when the
snow falls fast and the wind howls in the wood, from an old settler
and original proprietor, who is reported to have dug Walden Pond,
and stoned it, and fringed it with pine woods; who tells me stories of
old time and of new eternity; and between us we manage to pass a
cheerful evening with social mirth and pleasant views of things,
even without apples or cider- a most wise and humorous friend, whom
I love much, who keeps himself more secret than ever did Goffe or
Whalley; and though he is thought to be dead, none can show where he
is buried. An elderly dame, too, dwells in my neighborhood,
invisible to most persons, in whose odorous herb garden I love to
stroll sometimes, gathering simples and listening to her fables; for
she has a genius of unequalled fertility, and her memory runs back
farther than mythology, and she can tell me the original of every
fable, and on what fact every one is founded, for the incidents
occurred when she was young. A ruddy and lusty old dame, who
delights in all weathers and seasons, and is likely to outlive all her
children yet.
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« Reply #42 on: March 23, 2009, 01:55:37 am »

The indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature- of sun and
wind and rain, of summer and winter- such health, such cheer, they
afford forever! and such sympathy have they ever with our race, that
all Nature would be affected, and the sun's brightness fade, and the
winds would sigh humanely, and the clouds rain tears, and the woods
shed their leaves and put on mourning in midsummer, if any man
should ever for a just cause grieve. Shall I not have intelligence
with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?

  What is the pill which will keep us well, serene, contented? Not
my or thy great-grandfather's, but our great-grandmother Nature's
universal, vegetable, botanic medicines, by which she has kept herself
young always, outlived so many old Parrs in her day, and fed her
health with their decaying fatness. For my panacea, instead of one of
those quack vials of a mixture dipped from Acheron and the Dead Sea,
which come out of those long shallow black-schooner looking wagons
which we sometimes see made to carry bottles, let me have a draught of
undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at
the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some
and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their
subscription ticket to morning time in this world. But remember, it
will not keep quite till noonday even in the coolest cellar, but
drive out the stopples long ere that and follow westward the steps of
Aurora. I am no worshipper of Hygeia, who was the daughter of that old
herb-doctor Esculapius, and who is represented on monuments holding
a serpent in one hand, and in the other a cup out of which the serpent
sometimes drinks; but rather of Hebe, cup-bearer to Jupiter, who was
the daughter of Juno and wild lettuce, and who had the power of
restoring gods and men to the vigor of youth. She was probably the
only thoroughly sound-conditioned, healthy, and robust young lady
that ever walked the globe, and wherever she came it was spring.


 I THINK THAT I love society as much as most, and am ready enough to
fasten myself like a bloodsucker for the time to any full-blooded
man that comes in my way. I am naturally no hermit, but might possibly
sit out the sturdiest frequenter of the bar-room, if my business
called me thither.

  I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for
friendship, three for society. When visitors came in larger and
unexpected numbers there was but the third chair for them all, but
they generally economized the room by standing up. It is surprising
how many great men and women a small house will contain. I have had
twenty-five or thirty souls, with their bodies, at once under my roof,
and yet we often parted without being aware that we had come very near
to one another. Many of our houses, both public and private, with
their almost innumerable apartments, their huge halls and their
cellars for the storage of wines and other munitions of peace,
appear to be extravagantly large for their inhabitants. They are so
vast and magnificent that the latter seem to be only vermin which
infest them. I am surprised when the herald blows his summons before
some Tremont or Astor or Middlesex House, to see come creeping out
over the piazza for all inhabitants a ridiculous mouse, which soon
again slinks into some hole in the pavement.

  One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house, the
difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest when we
began to utter the big thoughts in big words. You want room for your
thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before
they make their port. The bullet of your thought must have overcome
its lateral and ricochet motion and fallen into its last and steady
course before it reaches the ear of the bearer, else it may plow out
again through the side of his head. Also, our sentences wanted room to
unfold and form their columns in the interval. Individuals, like
nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries, even a
considerable neutral ground, between them. I have found it a
singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite
side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to bear-
we could not speak low enough to be heard; as when you throw two
stones into calm water so near that they break each other's
undulations. If we are merely loquacious and loud talkers, then we can
afford to stand very near together, cheek by jowl, and feel each
other's breath; but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want
to be farther apart, that all animal heat and moisture may have a
chance to evaporate. If we would enjoy the most intimate society
with that in each of us which is without, or above, being spoken to,
we must not only be silent, but commonly so far apart bodily that we
cannot possibly hear each other's voice in any case. Referred to
this standard, speech is for the convenience of those who are hard
of hearing; but there are many fine things which we cannot say if we
have to shout. As the conversation began to assume a loftier and
grander tone, we gradually shoved our chairs farther apart till they
touched the wall in opposite corners, and then commonly there was
not room enough.

  My "best" room, however, my withdrawing room, always ready for
company, on whose carpet the sun rarely fell, was the pine wood behind
my house. Thither in summer days, when distinguished guests came, I
took them, and a priceless domestic swept the floor and dusted the
furniture and kept the things in order.

  If one guest came he sometimes partook of my frugal meal, and it was
no interruption to conversation to be stirring a hasty-pudding, or
watching the rising and maturing of a loaf of bread in the ashes, in
the meanwhile. But if twenty came and sat in my house there was
nothing said about dinner, though there might be bread enough for two,
more than if eating were a forsaken habit; but we naturally
practised abstinence; and this was never felt to be an offence against
hospitality, but the most proper and considerate course. The waste and
decay of physical life, which so often needs repair, seemed
miraculously retarded in such a case, and the vital vigor stood its
ground. I could entertain thus a thousand as well as twenty; and if
any ever went away disappointed or hungry from my house when they
found me at home, they may depend upon it that I sympathized with them
at least. So easy is it, though many housekeepers doubt it, to
establish new and better customs in the place of the old. You need not
rest your reputation on the dinners you give. For my own part, I was
never so effectually deterred from frequenting a man's house, by any
kind of Cerberus whatever, as by the parade one made about dining
me, which I took to be a very polite and roundabout hint never to
trouble him so again. I think I shall never revisit those scenes. I
should be proud to have for the motto of my cabin those lines of
Spenser which one of my visitors inscribed on a yellow walnut leaf for
a card:

        "Arrived there, the little house they fill,

          Ne looke for entertainment where none was;

        Rest is their feast, and all things at their will:

          The noblest mind the best contentment has."

  When Winslow, afterward governor of the Plymouth Colony, went with a
companion on a visit of ceremony to Massasoit on foot through the
woods, and arrived tired and hungry at his lodge, they were well
received by the king, but nothing was said about eating that day. When
the night arrived, to quote their own words- "He laid us on the bed
with himself and his wife, they at the one end and we at the other, it
being only planks laid a foot from the ground and a thin mat upon
them. Two more of his chief men, for want of room, pressed by and upon
us; so that we were worse weary of our lodging than of our journey."
At one o'clock the next day Massasoit "brought two fishes that he
had shot," about thrice as big as a bream. "These being boiled,
there were at least forty looked for a share in them; the most eat
of them. This meal only we had in two nights and a day; and had not
one of us bought a partridge, we had taken our journey fasting."
Fearing that they would be light-headed for want of food and also
sleep, owing to "the savages' barbarous singing, (for they use to sing
themselves asleep,)" and that they might get home while they had
strength to travel, they departed. As for lodging, it is true they
were but poorly entertained, though what they found an inconvenience
was no doubt intended for an honor; but as far as eating was
concerned, I do not see how the Indians could have done better. They
had nothing to eat themselves, and they were wiser than to think
that apologies could supply the place of food to their guests; so they
drew their belts tighter and said nothing about it. Another time
when Winslow visited them, it being a season of plenty with them,
there was no deficiency in this respect.

  As for men, they will hardly fail one anywhere. I had more
visitors while I lived in the woods than at any other period in my
life; I mean that I had some. I met several there under more favorable
circumstances than I could anywhere else. But fewer came to see me
on trivial business. In this respect, my company was winnowed by my
mere distance from town. I had withdrawn so far within the great ocean
of solitude, into which the rivers of society empty, that for the most
part, so far as my needs were concerned, only the finest sediment
was deposited around me. Beside, there were wafted to me evidences
of unexplored and uncultivated continents on the other side.

  Who should come to my lodge this morning but a true Homeric or
Paphlagonian man- he had so suitable and poetic a name that I am sorry
I cannot print it here- a Canadian, a woodchopper and post-maker,
who can hole fifty posts in a day, who made his last supper on a
woodchuck which his dog caught. He, too, has heard of Homer, and,
"if it were not for books," would "not know what to do rainy days,"
though perhaps he has not read one wholly through for many rainy
seasons. Some priest who could pronounce the Greek itself taught him
to read his verse in the Testament in his native parish far away;
and now I must translate to him, while he holds the book, Achilles'
reproof to Patroclus for his sad countenance.- "Why are you in
tears, Patroclus, like a young girl?"

        "Or have you alone heard some news from Phthia?

        They say that Menoetius lives yet, son of Actor,

        And Peleus lives, son of Aeacus, among the Myrmidons,

        Either of whom having died, we should greatly grieve."
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« Reply #43 on: March 23, 2009, 01:56:03 am »

He says, "That's good." He has a great bundle of white oak bark
under his arm for a sick man, gathered this Sunday morning.- I suppose
there's no harm in going after such a thing today," says he. To him
Homer was a great writer, though what his writing was about he did not
know. A more simple and natural man it would be hard to find. Vice and
disease, which cast such a sombre moral hue over the world, seemed
to have hardly any existance for him. He was about twenty-eight
years old, and had left Canada and his father's house a dozen years
before to work in the States, and earn money to buy a farm with at
last, perhaps in his native country. He was cast in the coarsest
mould; a stout but sluggish body, yet gracefully carried, with a thick
sunburnt neck, dark bushy hair, and dull sleepy blue eyes, which
were occasionally lit up with expression. He wore a flat gray cloth
cap, a dingy wool-colored greatcoat, and cowhide boots. He was a great
consumer of meat, usually carrying his dinner to his work a couple
of miles past my house- for he chopped all summer- in a tin pail; cold
meats, often cold woodchucks, and coffee in a stone bottle which
dangled by a string from his belt; and sometimes he offered me a
drink. He came along early, crossing my bean-field, though without
anxiety or haste to get to his work, such as Yankees exhibit. He
wasn't a-going to hurt himself. He didn't care if he only earned his
board. Frequently he would leave his dinner in the bushes, when his
dog had caught a woodchuck by the way, and go back a mile and a half
to dress it and leave it in the cellar of the house where he
boarded, after deliberating first for half an hour whether he could
not sink it in the pond safely till nightfall- loving to dwell long
upon these themes. He would say, as he went by in the morning, "How
thick the pigeons are! If working every day were not my trade, I could
get all the meat I should want by hunting-pigeons, woodchucks,
rabbits, partridges- by gosh! I could get all I should want for a week
in one day."

  He was a skilful chopper, and indulged in some flourishes and
ornaments in his art. He cut his trees level and close to the
ground, that the sprouts which came up afterward might be more
vigorous and a sled might slide over the stumps; and instead of
leaving a whole tree to support his corded wood, he would pare it away
to a slender stake or splinter which you could break off with your
hand at last.

  He interested me because he was so quiet and solitary and so happy
withal; a well of good humor and contentment which overflowed at his
eyes. His mirth was without alloy. Sometimes I saw him at his work
in the woods, felling trees, and he would greet me with a laugh of
inexpressible satisfaction, and a salutation in Canadian French,
though he spoke English as well. When I approached him he would
suspend his work, and with half-suppressed mirth lie along the trunk
of a pine which he had felled, and, peeling off the inner bark, roll
it up into a ball and chew it while he laughed and talked. Such an
exuberance of animal spirits had he that he sometimes tumbled down and
rolled on the ground with laughter at anything which made him think
and tickled him. Looking round upon the trees he would exclaim - "By
George! I can enjoy myself well enough here chopping; I want no better
sport." Sometimes, when at leisure, he amused himself all day in the
woods with a pocket pistol, firing salutes to himself at regular
intervals as he walked. In the winter he had a fire by which at noon
he warmed his coffee in a kettle; and as he sat on a log to eat his
dinner the chickadees would sometimes come round and alight on his arm
and peck at the potato in his fingers; and he said that he "liked to
have the little fellers about him."

  In him the animal man chiefly was developed. In physical endurance
and contentment he was cousin to the pine and the rock. I asked him
once if he was not sometimes tired at night, after working all day;
and he answered, with a sincere and serious look, "Gorrappit, I
never was tired in my life." But the intellectual and what is called
spiritual man in him were slumbering as in an infant. He had been
instructed only in that innocent and ineffectual way in which the
Catholic priests teach the aborigines, by which the pupil is never
educated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the degree of
trust and reverence, and a child is not made a man, but kept a
child. When Nature made him, she gave him a strong body and
contentment for his portion, and propped him on every side with
reverence and reliance, that he might live out his threescore years
and ten a child. He was so genuine and unsophisticated that no
introduction would serve to introduce him, more than if you introduced
a woodchuck to your neighbor. He had got to find him out as you did.
He would not play any part. Men paid him wages for work, and so helped
to feed and clothe him; but he never exchanged opinions with them.
He was so simply and naturally humble- if he can be called humble
who never aspires- that humility was no distinct quality in him, nor
could he conceive of it. Wiser men were demigods to him. If you told
him that such a one was coming, he did as if he thought that
anything so grand would expect nothing of himself, but take all the
responsibility on itself, and let him be forgotten still. He never
heard the sound of praise. He particularly reverenced the writer and
the preacher. Their performances were miracles. When I told him that I
wrote considerably, he thought for a long time that it was merely
the handwriting which I meant, for he could write a remarkably good
hand himself. I sometimes found the name of his native parish
handsomely written in the snow by the highway, with the proper
French accent, and knew that he had passed. I asked him if he ever
wished to write his thoughts. He said that he had read and written
letters for those who could not, but he never tried to write thoughts-
no, he could not, he could not tell what to put first, it would kill
him, and then there was spelling to be attended to at the same time!

  I heard that a distinguished wise man and reformer asked him if he
did not want the world to be changed; but he answered with a chuckle
of surprise in his Canadian accent, not knowing that the question
had ever been entertained before, "No, I like it well enough." It
would have suggested many things to a philosopher to have dealings
with him. To a stranger he appeared to know nothing of things in
general; yet I sometimes saw in him a man whom I had not seen
before, and I did not know whether he was as wise as Shakespeare or as
simply ignorant as a child, whether to suspect him of a fine poetic
consciousness or of stupidity. A townsman told me that when he met him
sauntering through the village in his small close-fitting cap, and
whistling to himself, he reminded him of a prince in disguise.

  His only books were an almanac and an arithmetic, in which last he
was considerably expert. The former was a sort of cyclopaedia to
him, which he supposed to contain an abstract of human knowledge, as
indeed it does to a considerable extent. I loved to sound him on the
various reforms of the day, and he never failed to look at them in the
most simple and practical light. He had never heard of such things
before. Could he do without factories? I asked. He had worn the
home-made Vermont gray, he said, and that was good. Could he
dispense with tea and coffee? Did this country afford any beverage
beside water? He had soaked hemlock leaves in water and drank it,
and thought that was better than water in warm weather. When I asked
him if he could do without money, he showed the convenience of money
in such a way as to suggest and coincide with the most philosophical
accounts of the origin of this institution, and the very derivation of
the word pecunia. If an ox were his property, and he wished to get
needles and thread at the store, he thought it would be inconvenient
and impossible soon to go on mortgaging some portion of the creature
each time to that amount. He could defend many institutions better
than any philosopher, because, in describing them as they concerned
him, he gave the true reason for their prevalence, and speculation had
not suggested to him any other. At another time, hearing Plato's
definition of a man- a biped without feathers- and that one
exhibited a **** plucked and called it Plato's man, he thought it an
important difference that the knees bent the wrong way. He would
sometimes exclaim, "How I love to talk! By George, I could talk all
day!" I asked him once, when I had not seen him for many months, if he
had got a new idea this summer. "Good Lord"- said he, "a man that
has to work as I do, if he does not forget the ideas he has had, he
will do well. May he the man you hoe with is inclined to race; then,
by gorry, your mind must be there; you think of weeds." He would
sometimes ask me first on such occasions, if I had made any
improvement. One winter day I asked him if he was always satisfied
with himself, wishing to suggest a substitute within him for the
priest without, and some higher motive for living. "Satisfied!" said
he; "some men are satisfied with one thing, and some with another. One
man, perhaps, if he has got enough, will be satisfied to sit all day
with his back to the fire and his belly to the table, by George!"
Yet I never, by any manoeuvring, could get him to take the spiritual
view of things; the highest that he appeared to conceive of was a
simple expediency, such as you might expect an animal to appreciate;
and this, practically, is true of most men. If I suggested any
improvement in his mode of life, he merely answered, without
expressing any regret, that it was too late. Yet he thoroughly
believed in honesty and the like virtues.
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« Reply #44 on: March 23, 2009, 01:56:22 am »

There was a certain positive originality, however slight, to be
detected in him, and I occasionally observed that he was thinking
for himself and expressing his own opinion, a phenomenon so rare
that I would any day walk ten miles to observe it, and it amounted
to the re-origination of many of the institutions of society. Though
he hesitated, and perhaps failed to express himself distinctly, he
always had a presentable thought behind. Yet his thinking was so
primitive and immersed in his animal life, that, though more promising
than a merely learned man's, it rarely ripened to anything which can
be reported. He suggested that there might be men of genius in the
lowest grades of life, however permanently humble and illiterate,
who take their own view always, or do not pretend to see at all; who
are as bottomless even as Walden Pond was thought to be, though they
may be dark and muddy.

  Many a traveller came out of his way to see me and the inside of
my house, and, as an excuse for calling, asked for a glass of water. I
told them that I drank at the pond, and pointed thither, offering to
lend them a dipper. Far off as I lived, I was not exempted from the
annual visitation which occurs, methinks, about the first of April,
when everybody is on the move; and I had my share of good luck, though
there were some curious specimens among my visitors. Half-witted men
from the almshouse and elsewhere came to see me; but I endeavored to
make them exercise all the wit they had, and make their confessions to
me; in such cases making wit the theme of our conversation; and so was
compensated. Indeed, I found some of them to be wiser than the
so-called overseers of the poor and selectmen of the town, and thought
it was time that the tables were turned. With respect to wit, I
learned that there was not much difference between the half and the
whole. One day, in particular, an inoffensive, simpleminded pauper,
whom with others I had often seen used as fencing stuff, standing or
sitting on a bushel in the fields to keep cattle and himself from
straying, visited me, and expressed a wish to live as I did. He told
me, with the utmost simplicity and truth, quite superior, or rather
inferior, to anything that is called humility, that he was
"deficient in intellect." These were his words. The Lord had made
him so, yet he supposed the Lord cared as much for him as for another.
"I have always been so," said he, "from my childhood; I never had much
mind; I was not like other children; I am weak in the head. It was the
Lord's will, I suppose." And there he was to prove the truth of his
words. He was a metaphysical puzzle to me. I have rarely met a
fellow-man on such promising ground- it was so simple and sincere
and so true all that he said. And, true enough, in proportion as he
appeared to humble himself was he exalted. I did not know at first but
it was the result of a wise policy. It seemed that from such a basis
of truth and frankness as the poor weak-headed pauper had laid, our
intercourse might go forward to something better than the
intercourse of sages.

  I had some guests from those not reckoned commonly among the
town's poor, but who should be; who are among the world's poor, at any
rate; guests who appeal, not to your hospitality, but to your
hospitality; who earnestly wish to be helped, and preface their appeal
with the information that they are resolved, for one thing, never to
help themselves. I require of a visitor that he be not actually
starving, though he may have the very best appetite in the world,
however he got it. Objects of charity are not guests. Men who did
not know when their visit had terminated, though I went about my
business again, answering them from greater and greater remoteness.
Men of almost every degree of wit called on me in the migrating
season. Some who had more wits than they knew what to do with; runaway
slaves with plantation manners, who listened from time to time, like
the fox in the fable, as if they heard the hounds a-baying on their
track, and looked at me beseechingly, as much as to say,

        "O Christian, will you send me back?

One real runaway slave, among the rest, whom I helped to forward
toward the north star. Men of one idea, like a hen with one chicken,
and that a duckling; men of a thousand ideas, and unkempt heads,
like those hens which are made to take charge of a hundred chickens,
all in pursuit of one bug, a score of them lost in every morning's
dew- and become frizzled and mangy in consequence; men of ideas
instead of legs, a sort of intellectual centipede that made you
crawl all over. One man proposed a book in which visitors should write
their names, as at the White Mountains; but, alas! I have too good a
memory to make that necessary.

  I could not but notice some of the peculiarities of my visitors.
Girls and boys and young women generally seemed glad to be in the
woods. They looked in the pond and at the flowers, and improved
their time. Men of business, even farmers, thought only of solitude
and employment, and of the great distance at which I dwelt from
something or other; and though they said that they loved a ramble in
the woods occasionally, it was obvious that they did not. Restless
committed men, whose time was an taken up in getting a living or
keeping it; ministers who spoke of God as if they enjoyed a monopoly
of the subject, who could not bear all kinds of opinions; doctors,
lawyers, uneasy housekeepers who pried into my cupboard and bed when I
was out- how came Mrs.- to know that my sheets were not as clean as
hers?- young men who had ceased to be young, and had concluded that it
was safest to follow the beaten track of the professions- all these
generally said that it was not possible to do so much good in my
position. Ay! there was the rub. The old and infirm and the timid,
of whatever age or sex, thought most of sickness, and sudden
accident and death; to them life seemed full of danger- what danger is
there if you don't think of any?- and they thought that a prudent
man would carefully select the safest position, where Dr. B. might
be on hand at a moment's warning. To them the village was literally
a com-munity, a league for mutual defence, and you would suppose
that they would not go a-huckleberrying without a medicine chest.
The amount of it is, if a man is alive, there is always danger that he
may die, though the danger must be allowed to be less in proportion as
he is dead-and-alive to begin with. A man sits as many risks as he
runs. Finally, there were the self-styled reformers, the greatest
bores of all, who thought that I was forever singing,

        This is the house that I built;

        This is the man that lives in the house that I built;

but they did not know that the third line was,

        These are the folks that worry the man

        That lives in the house that I built.

I did not fear the hen-harriers, for I kept no chickens; but I
feared the men-harriers rather.
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