From: Thoreau: His Life and Aims. A Study. (1877)
Author: Alexander Hay Japp
Published: James R. Osgood & Company 1877 Boston


THE retreat to Walden has led to much misunderstanding,—to the charge that Thoreau was a morbid egotist, a sentimentalist, a solitary; a charge which has been boldly repeated, recently, by high authorities, who should have known better. Nothing could well be further from the truth. He was not always logically consistent in his utterances, and, indeed, did not aim at being so; but, amid all his brusquerie, we detect the note of real interest in humanity and in human affairs. Only, you must not bore him with minor details of tap-room gossip, or with the news of the cliques. It was, indeed, against cliquerie and all forms of false and half-hearted association that he had taken up his parable; and when he retired to Walden he almost tells in his own words that he unconsciously acted on the axiom of Goethe, “When I need to recruit my strength I must retire into solitude.” But neither with Thoreau nor with Goethe could that solitude be a period of inertia, of weak self-pity, or of brooding discontent; it must have its own activities, its own interests with a genuine restoring charm caught from Nature. Were this missed, all was missed. The Walden episode is not seen truly until it is viewed in relation to the whole scope and purpose of Thoreau’s life. What led him to Walden determined his attitude to human institutions; and the same experiment, in a less striking form, was carried on to the end. Thoreau went to Walden not to escape men, but to prepare himself for them, and, as far as he could, for the artificial conventions on which society necessarily rests; not to brood, but to act—only to act in lines that would enable him to stand for ever after-free, vigorous, independent. There is a strange, close-packed realism in his writing, in large measure derived from this, a realism thoroughly symptomatic of the man and his character, as though he specially followed Nature in her economy of seed-packing; and it should be observed that you never get a hint of the recluse, who speedily falls to dreaming and vain pitying of himself. There is no self-pity in Thoreau, rather a robust self-sufficiency that could claim the privilege of rendering manly help, though never seeking or accepting any, and that loves to administer readily what Emerson calls ‘shocks of effort.’ But there was in him nothing of the rebel proper; he delighted above all things to be at home, and to reverence, only you must allow him something of his own way. When he refused to pay taxes after Government followed him to the forest, it was out of no abstract opposition or dislike to society,—he was the last man to act from sentiment; he asserted that there was still a sphere where Government had no right to follow if a man could only find and fix it, and where it did despite to itself by the assertion of its power.

  Something is also to be said for the circumstances amid which .he was cast. Instead of being a solitary, he was more than usually sensitive to influences operating around him. Indeed, it is the consciousness of a. necessity to resist that imparts the tone which has been mistaken for morbid. When the wave of transcendentalism met that of ultra-practicalism,—intensified by the expansion of territory which presented a wider sphere for it to act in,—and threatened to be swallowed up by it, what was left for a faithful disciple but to bear his witness for the individuality which he had learned to value through transcendentalism, but which was now well nigh threatened with extinction? Thoreau’s retreat to Walden may have a meaning in this light also. Witnesses, many and powerful, transcendentalism has had; Thoreau is its hermit, if you will, but a hermit who consciously carries society in all its higher interests with him. While his own countrymen with fatal inconsistency have too largely regarded him as a morbid solitary, we in England, if we had not followed them, have erred by conceiving of him as a kind of semi-wild man of the woods, with no reason or order in his procedure, though now and then throwing out fine thoughts, and saved from being a wild man altogether only by a dash of rarer instinct, which made him influential with the lower creatures, but divorced him from human society, if it did not even make him its enemy. Thoreau, instead of being divorced from the spirit of his day, in a special way interpreted it. He would not spend time in trying or experimenting with conventions, which he held had been already sufficiently tested; he would go to the heart of Nature and try to learn for himself some new law there, or at least to see the old laws in direct and clear relation to his own spirit. As others tried it in various forms of association, so he in his convention with Nature, the one experiment, as he held it, being just as valuable as the other. Democracy in a new country must ever be as hard on individuality as aristocracy in an old one: the problem is to maintain that intact, and do no despite to others in the process. The very presence of society limits your freedom of action; it may be well to learn freedom apart, that even the self-control due to society may have real value in it, and not be automatic merely. Mechanical arrangements are the death of all true society: let us learn to dispense with them, or to consider them at least non-essential.

  There is a social and moral regeneration, for the want of which it may be said that, at certain crises, the world becomes inert and sick. For this disease there may be many medicines: socialism may contribute its quota of relief; and practical political reforms rightly directed may do a little. Let us one and all be true to ourselves first, said Thoreau, and cherish whatever instincts and impulses are sent to us direct from Nature. Then we may return to practical and social life, pure if not strong, with a capacity as of genius, to relieve ourselves from the tyranny of social pre-occupations and self-occupying thoughts, of which thousands daily die, or doom themselves to a living death, strangled as if by Lilliputian cords. He believed with his whole soul, like Wordsworth, in the fountains that are within. Returning thus to the demands of busy life, he held that we should have capacities of enjoyment and service more than doubled,—fitted to be at once true citizens, true to ourselves, faithful reformers, very jealous of what is accepted merely by authority or for its newness; ready to return on the simplest principles of right and to defend them. In this way Thoreau, the morbid solitary, quite consistently became the champion of John Brown, of Harper’s Ferry. Many were much disap1minted when Thoreau did what they would have clamorously praised in any other public man. Thoreau was consistent, and their insight had been at fault. He waged a war with the power of mere wealth and perverted authority, whether in the North or in the South, and was at a crisis on the side of humanity because he reasoned that, in the last resort, the cause of humanity and the cause of individuality were identical. The teeming wealth of a new and illimitable country must ever, in the outset, oppose itself to the assertion of the individual genius, and essay (if we may speak so) to break it down to its own level, as the trees, growing freely yet closely together in the forest, preserve and foster each other, but rise very much of one size and all alike in form. Society in such conditions in no slight measure exists by the very reaction it breeds, for it is quite impossible to calculate the benefit to American life of the inconsistent deference practically paid by its professed Republican members to royalty and aristocracy in every form. Hawthorne, Emerson, and Thoreau have all used this reaction in favor of true progress and brotherhood, as against the ‘almighty dollar’ and spread-eagleism. Hawthorne’s works, are they not in essence a protest against every kind of Republican levelling down? He sought, in the puritan sentiment which was supplied to American history with its relations to old English life, for traditions that recalled the inherited mysteries and dooms of life,—breeding distinctions,—and from that root what a tree grew up in the atmosphere of his quaint genius! Emerson, again, found compensating forces in the solitude and the occupations possible only in a country which is new, and not yet pressed for breathing space; and Thoreau, perhaps more than either, in the testimony which a real retirement from society could render to the highest idea of individuality, as the foundation stone of a truly cultured and progressive society.

  It was not civilization, as has been very stupidly said, that he was at odds with. It was the special evils induced by civilization which, he held, could be cured by a general or even an extensive return to simplicity of life and habit. He looked at the savages, and he saw that among them the—poorest enjoyed as good a shelter as the richest, and that none were starving while others were in luxury. Then he looked first at the city palace, and next at the squalid disease breeding cellars that lay wide around it on the right and on the left, and he inquired whether “we might not, with a little more wit, use the accumulated material so as to become richer than the richest now are, and to make our civilization a blessing.” Therefore he did not creep into a wigwam, or try to wear skins in Walden, but built a house there of boards and shingle, wood and bricks. He delights to think that he practised the generous course of “giving his fellowmen an interest in his enterprise,” by borrowing an axe to hew down the tall, arrowy white pines for timber.

  “The owner of the axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of his eye; but I returned it sharper than I received it,”—the true idea of reciprocity on which society is primarily founded. In the beginning of May, when he was ready to set up the frame of the house, it was with the help of some acquaintances, rather to improve so good an occasion for neighborliness than from necessity. He listens to the sound of the Sunday bells,—“faint and sweet, a melody worth importing into the wilderness” and is soothed to a mood of worship and brotherliness. He hears the scream of the locomotive, softened down by distance, and reflects that commerce, truly pursued, is healthy, and recommends itself by enterprise and bravery; is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert, adventurous, and unwearied. It brings the palm leaf, the sight of which makes him feel a citizen of the world. “I see men,” he exclaims, “every day go about their business with more or less courage or content, doing more even than they suspect, and perchance better employed than they could have consciously devised.” Nor did society fail him. “As for men, they will hardly fail one anywhere. I had more visitors while I lived in the woods than at any other period of my life: I mean that I had some. I met several there under more favorable circumstances than I could any where else. But fewer came to see me upon 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. Besides, there were wafted to me evidences of unexplored and uncultivated continents on either side.”

  And thus, as he confesses, he gains discoveries in Man, as in Nature, by his ability to view them from a new stand-point. He found the downright sense and naturalness of the farmer refreshing to his spirit,” like the sweetness of a nut, like the toughness of hickory.” Nay, he avows his indebtedness in words that, coming from such a man, seem high-pitched:—

  “He, too, is a redeemer for me. How superior actually to the faith he professes! He is not an office seeker. What an institution, what a revelation is a man! We want foolishly to think the creed a man professes a more significant fact than the man he is.”

  He rejoices in fit visitors at fit times; all are welcome,—save, indeed, the man who affectedly pretends to enjoyment of Nature and the woods when his pre-occupation is ill-concealed and betrays him. Heartily he writes about a different kind of visitors:—

  “Children come a-berrying, railroad men taking a Sunday morning walk in clean shirts, fishermen and hunters, poets and philosophers; in short, all honest pilgrims, who came out to the woods for freedom’s sake and really left the village and town behind, I was ready to greet with—‘Welcome, Englishmen, welcome, Englishmen!’ for I had had communication with that race.”

  Several of his visitors and neighbors he celebrates; but there is one in especial,—‘a true Homeric or Paphlagonian man’ whom he sets before us with such impartial, healthy, and loving touches, so absolutely suited to the subject, as to rebut forever the charge of Mr. Lowell in the North American Review that he had no humor:—

  “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 wood chopper 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 beard 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 Testa,r.1ont, 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 Menœtius lives yet, son of Actor,
And Peleus lives, son of Æscus, among the Myrmidons,
Either of whom having died, we should greatly grieve,’

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 hue over the world, seemed to have hardly any existence 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 county. He was cast in the coarsest mould,—a stout but sluggish body, yet gracefully carried, with a thick sun-burnt 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 great coat, 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 bolt; 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 agoing to hurt himself. He did n’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 those 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 skillful 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 that 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, a noon, he warmed his coffee in a kettle; and as he sat on a log to eat his dinner, the chicadees 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 three score 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 had 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 ecyclopædia 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 or 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 account. 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 cock 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. Maybe the man you boo 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 manœuvering, 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.

  “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 walk ten miles any day to observe it, and it amounted to the reorganization 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 as Walden Pond was thought to be, though they may be dark and muddy.”

  The following picture of Baker Farm will, no doubt, be taken to illustrate the same characteristics:—

  “I set out one afternoon to go a-fishing to Fairhaven, through the woods, to eke out my scanty fare of vegetables. My way led through Pleasant Meadow, an adjunct of the Baker Farm, that retreat of which a poet has since sung, beginning—

‘Thy entry is a pleasant field,
Which some mossy fruit trees yield
Partly to a ruddy brook,
By gliding musquash undertook,
And mercurial trout,
Darting about.’

I thought of living there before I went to Walden. I ‘hooked’ the apples, leaped the brook, and seared the musquash and the trout. It was one of those afternoons which seem indefinitely long before one, in which many events may happen, a large portion of our natural life, though it was already half spent when I started. By the way there came up a shower, which compelled me to stand half an hour under a pine, piling boughs over my head, and wearing my handkerchief for a shed; and when at length I had made one cast over the pickerel-weed, standing up to my middle in water, I found myself suddenly in the shadow of a cloud, and the thunder began to rumble with such emphasis that I could do no more than listen to it. ‘The gods must be proud, thought I, with such forked flashes to rout a poor unarmed fisherman. So I made haste for shelter to the nearest hut, which stood half a mile from any road, but so much the nearer to the pond, and had long been uninhabited:—

‘And here & poet builded,
In the completed years,
For behold & trivial cabin
That to destruction steers.’

So the Muse fables. But therein, as I found, dwelt now John Field, an Irishman, and his wife, and several children, from the broad-faced boy who had assisted his father at his work, and now came running to his side from the bog to escape the rain, to the wrinkled, Sibyl-like, cone-headed infant that sat upon its father’s knee as in the palaces of nobles, and looked out from its home in the midst of wot and hunger inquisitively upon the stranger, with the privilege of infancy, not knowing but it was the last of a noble line, and the hope and cynosure of the world, instead of John Field’s poor starveling brat. There we sat together under that part of the roof which leaked the least, while it showered and thundered without. I had sat there many times of old before the ship was built that floated this family to America. An honest, hardworking, but shiftless man plainly was John Field; and his wife, she too was brave to cook so many successive dinners in the recesses of that lofty stove; with round greasy face and bare breast, still thinking to improve her condition one day; with the never absent mop in one hand, and yet no effects of it visible anywhere. The chickens, which had also taken shelter here from the rain, stalked about the room like members of the family, too humanized, methought, to roast well. They stood and looked in my eye or pecked at my shoe significantly. Meanwhile my host told me his story, how hard he worked ‘bogging’ for a neighboring farmer, turning up a meadow with a spade or bog-hoe at the rate of ten dollars an acre and the use of the land with manure for one year, and his little broad-faced son worked cheerfully at his father’s side the while, not knowing how poor a bargain the latter had made. I tried to help him with my experience, telling him that he was one of my nearest neighbors, and that I too, who came a-fishing here, and looked like a loafer, was getting my living like himself; that I lived in a tight, light, and clean house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own; that I did not we tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard, and it cost me but a trifle for my food; but as he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his system,—and so it was as broad as it was long; indeed, it was broader than it was long, for he was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain; and yet he had rated ft as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day. But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the State does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things. For I purposely talked to him as if he were a philosopher, or desired to be one. I should be glad if all the meadows on the earth were left in a wild state, if that were the consequence of men’s beginning to redeem themselves. A man will not need to study history to find out what is best for his own culture. But, alas! the culture of an Irishman is an enterprise to be undertaken with a sort of moral bog hoe. I told him that, as he worked so hard at bogging, he required thick boots and stout clothing, which yet were soon soiled and worn out, but I wore light shoes and thin clothing, which cost not half so much, though he might think that I was dressed like a gentleman (which, however, was not the case), and in an hour or two, without labor, but as a recreation, I could, if I wished, catch as many fish as I should want for two days, or earn enough money to support me a week. If he and his family would live simply, they might all go a huckleberrying in the summer for their amusement. John heaved a sigh at this, and his wife stared with arms akimbo, and both appeared to be wondering if they had capital enough to begin such a course with, or arithmetic enough to carry it through. It was sailing by dead reckoning to them, and they saw not clearly how to make their port so; therefore, I suppose they still take life bravely, after their fashion, face to face, giving it tooth and nail, not having skill to split its massive columns with any fine entering wedge, and route it in detail; thinking to deal with it roughly, as one should handle a thistle. But they fight at an overwhelming disadvantage,—living; John Field, alas! without arithmetic, and failing so.

  “‘Do you ever fish?’ I asked. ‘Oh, yes, I catch a mess now and then when I am lying by; good perch I catch.’ ‘What’s your bait?’ ‘I catch shiners with fish worms, and bait the perch with them.’ ‘You’d better go now, John,’ said his wife, with glistening and hopeful face; but John demurred.

  “The shower was now over, and a rainbow above the eastern woods promised a fair evening; so I took my departure. When I had got without I asked for a dish, hoping to get sight of the well bottom, to complete my survey of the premises; but there, alas I are shallows and quicksands, and rope broken withal, and bucket irrecoverable. Meanwhile, the right culinary vessel was selected, water was seemingly distilled, and after consultation and long delay passed out to the thirsty one,—not yet suffered to cool, not yet to settle. Such gruel sustains life here, I thought; so, shutting my eyes, and excluding the motes by a skillfully directed under-current, I drank to genuine hospitality the heartiest draught I could. I am not squeamish in such cases when manners are concerned.

  “As I was leaving the Irishman’s roof after the rain, bending my steps again to the pond, my haste to catch pickerel, wading in retired meadows, in sloughs and bog holes, in forlorn and savage places, appeared for an instant trivial to me who had been sent to school and college. But as I ran down the hill toward the reddening west, with the rainbow over my shoulder, and some faint tinkling sounds borne to my ear through the cleansed air, from I know not what quarter, my Good Genius seemed to ray, Go fish and hunt far and wide day by day,—farther and wider,—and rest thee by many brooks and hearth sides without misgiving. Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee Ly other lakes, and the night overtake thee everywhere at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played. Grow wild according to thy nature, like these sedges and brakes, which will never become English hay. Let the thunder rumble; what if it threaten ruin to farmers’ crops? that is not its errand to thee. Take shelter under the cloud, while they flee to carts and sheds. Let not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport. Enjoy the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs.

“O Baker Farm!
‘Landscape where the richest element
Is a little sunshine innocent.’ * *

‘Noone runs to revel
On thy rail-fenced lea.’ * *

‘Debate with no man hast thon,
With questions art never perplexed,
As tame at the first sight as now,
In thy plain russet gabardine dressed.’ * *

‘Come ye who love,
And ye who hate
Children of the Holy Dove,
And Guy Faux of the State,
And hang conspiracies
From the tough rafters of the trees.’

  “Men come tamely home at night only from the next field or street, where their household echoes haunt, and their life pines because it breathes its own breath over again; their shadows morning and evening reach farther than their daily steps. We should come home from far, from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experiences and character.

  “Before I had reached the pond some fresh impulse had brought out John Field, with altered mind, letting go ‘bogging’ ere this sunset. But he, poor man, disturbed only a couple of fins while I was catching a fair string, and he said it was his luck; but when we changed seats in the boat luck changed seats too. Poor John Field!—I trust he does not read this, unless he will improve by it,—thinking to live by some derivative old-country mode in this primitive new country,—to catch perch with shiners. It is good bait sometimes, I allow. With his horizon all his own, yet he a poor man, born to be poor, with his inherited Irish poverty or poor life, his Adam’s grandmother and boggy ways, not to rise in this world, he nor his posterity, till their wading, webbed, bog-trotting feet get talaria to their heels.”

  His character of the ‘landlord,’ generalized from observation and contact with many specimens of the class, may be cited here, as it might in itself suffice to render nugatory henceforth the charges of asceticism, morbidity, and lack of humor and healthy sympathy:—

  “Who has not imagined to himself a country inn, where the traveller shall really feel in, and at home, and at his public house, who was before at his private house; whose host is indeed a host, and a lord of the land, a self appointed brother of his race; called to this place, besides, by all the winds of heaven and his good genius, as truly as the preacher is called to preach; a man, of such universal sympathies, and so broad and genial a human nature, that he would fain sacrifice the tender but narrow ties of private friendship to a broad, sunshiny, fair-weather-and-foul friendship for his race; who loves men, not as a philosopher, with philanthropy, nor as an overseer of the poor, with charity, but by a necessity of his nature, as he loves dogs and horses; and, standing at his open door from morning till night, would fain see more and more of them come along the highway, and is never satiated. To him the sun and moon are but travellers, the one by day and the other by night; and they, too, patronize his house. To his imagination all things travel save his sign-post and himself; and though you may be his neighbor for years, he will show you only the civilities of the road. But on the other hand, while nations and individuals are alike selfish and exclusive, he loves all men equally; and if he treats his nearest neighbor as a stranger, since he has invited all nations to share his hospitality, the farthest travelled is in some measure kindred to him who takes him into the bosom of his family.

  “He keeps a house of entertainment at the sign of the Black Horse or the Spread Eagle, and is known far and wide, and his fame travels with increased radius every year. All the neighborhood is in his interest, and if the traveller ask how far to a tavern, he receives some such answer as this: ‘Well, sir, there’s a house about three miles from here, where they haven’t taken down their sign yet; but it’s only ten miles to Slocum’s, and that’s a capital house both for man and beast.’ At three miles he passes a cheerless barrack, standing desolate behind its sign-post, neither public nor private, and has glimpses of a discontented couple who have mistaken their calling. At ten miles see where the tavern stands,—really an entertaining prospect,—so public and inviting that only the rain and snow do not enter. It is no gay pavilion, made of bright stuffs, and furnished with nuts and gingerbread, but as plain and sincere as a caravansary; located in no Tarrytown, where you receive only the civilities of commerce, but far in the fields it exercises a primitive hospitality, amid the fresh scant of new hay and raspberries, if it be summer time, and the tinkling of cowbells from invisible pastures; for it is a land flowing with milk and honey, and the newest milk courses in a broad, deep stream across the premises.

  “In these retired places the tavern is first of all a house,—elsewhere, last of all,—or never, and warms and shelters its inhabitants. It is as simple and sincere in its essentials as the caves in which the first men dwelt, but it is also as open and public. The traveller steps across the threshold, and lo! he, too, is master, for he only can be called proprietor of the house here who behaves with most propriety in it. The landlord stands clear back in nature, to my imagination, with his axe and spade, felling trees and raising potatoes with the vigor of a pioneer; with Promethean energy making nature yield her increase to supply the wants of so many; and he is not so exhausted nor of so short a stride that that he comes forward even, to the highway to this wide hospitality and publicity. Surely, he has solved some of the problems of life. He comes in at his back door, holding a log, fresh cut for the hearth, upon his shoulder with one hand, while he greets the newly arrived traveller with the other.

  “Here at length we have free range, as not in palaces, nor cottages, nor temples, and intrude nowhere. All the secrets of housekeeping are exhibited to the eyes of men, above and below, before and behind. This is the necessary way to live, men have confessed, in these days, and shall he skulk and hide? and why should we have any serious disgust at kitchens? Perhaps they are the holiest recess of the house. There is the hearth, after all,—and the settle, and the fagots, and the kettle, and the crickets. We have pleasant reminiscences of these. They are the heart, the left ventricle, the very vital part of the house. Here the real and sincere life which we meet in the streets was actually fed and sheltered. Here burns the taper that cheers the lonely traveller by night, and from this hearth ascend the smokes that populate the valley to his eyes by day. On the whole, a man may not be so little ashamed of any other part of his house, for here is his sincerity and earnest, at least. It may not be here that the besoms are plied most,—it is not here that they need to be, for dust will not settle on the kitchen floor more than in nature.

  “Hence it will not do for the landlord to possess too fine a nature. He must have health above the common accidents of life, subject to no modem fashionable diseases; but no taste, rather a vast relish or appetite. His sentiments on all subjects will be delivered as freely as the wind blows; there is nothing private or individual in them, though still original, but they are public, and of the hue of the heavens over his house,—a certain out-of-door obviousness and transparency not to be disputed. What he does, his manners are not to be complained of, though abstractly offensive, for it is what man docs, and in him the race is exhibited. When he eats, he is liver and bowels, and the whole digestive apparatus to the company, and so all admit the thing is done. He must have no idiosyncrasies, no particular bent or tendencies to this or that, but a general, uniform, and healthy development, such as his portly person indicates, offering himself equally on all sides to men. Ile is not one of your peaked and inhospitable men of genius, with particular tastes, but, as we said before, has one uniform relish, and taste which never aspires higher than a tavern sign, or the cut of a weather cock. the man of genius, like a dog with a bone, or the slave who has swallowed a diamond, or a patient with the gravel, sits afar and retired, off the road, hangs out no sign of refreshment for man and beast, but says, by all possible hints and signs, I wish to be alone-goodbye—farewell. But the landlord can afford to live without privacy. He entertains no private thought, he cherishes no solitary hour, no Sabbath day, but thinks,—enough to assert the dignity of reason,—and talks, and reads the newspaper. What he does not tell to one traveller, he tells to another. He never wants to be alone, but sleeps, wakes, cats, drinks, sociably, still remembering his race. He walks abroad through the thoughts of men, and the Iliad and Shakespeare are tame to him, who hears the rude but homely incidents of the road from every traveller. The mail might drive through his brain in the midst of his most lonely soliloquy without disturbing his equanimity, provided it brought plenty of news and passengers. There can be no pro-fanity whore there is no fane behind, and the whole world may see quite round him. Perchance his lines have fallen to him in dustier places, and he has heroically sat down where two roads meet, or at the Four Corners, or the Five Points, and his life is sublimely trivial for the good of men the dust of travel blows over in his eyes, and they preserve their clear, complacent look. The hourlies and half-hourlies, the dailies and weeklies, whirl on well-worn tracks, round and round his house, as if it were the goal in the stadium, and still he sits within in unruffled serenity, with no show of retreat. His neighbor dwells timidly behind a screen of poplars and willows, and a fence with sheaves of spears at regular intervals, or defended against the tender palms of visitors by sharp spikes,—but the traveller’s wheels rattle over the door-step of the tavern, and he cracks his whip in the entry. He is truly glad to see you, and sincere as the bull’s-eye over the door. The traveller seeks to find, wherever he goes, some one who will stand in this broad and catholic relation to him, who will be an inhabitant of the land to him a stranger, and represent its human nature, as the rook stands for its inanimate nature; and this is be. As his crib furnishes provender for the traveller’s horse, and his larder provisions for his appetite, so his conversation furnishes the necessary aliment to his spirits. He knows very well what a man wants, for he is a man himself, and, as it were, the farthest travelled, though he has never stirred from his door. He understands his needs and destiny. He would be well fed and lodged, there can be no doubt, and have the transient sympathy of a cheerful companion, and of a heart which always prophesies fair weather. And, after all, the greatest men even want much more of the sympathy which every honest fellow can give than that which the great only can impart. If he is not the most upright, let us allow him this praise, that he is the most downright of men. He has a hand to shake and to be shaken, and takes a sturdy and unquestionable interest in you, as if he had assumed the—care of you; but if you will break your neck, he will even give you the best advice as to the method.

  “The great poets have not been ungrateful to their landlords. Mine host of the Tabard Inn, in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, was an honor to his profession:—

‘A semely man our Hoste was with alle,
For to han been an marshal in an halle.
A large man he was, with eyen stepe;
A fairer burgeis is ther non in Chepe:
Bold of his speche, and wise, and well ytanght,
And of manhood him lacked righte naught.
Eke thereto, was he right a mery man,
And after souper plaien he began,
And spake of mirthe amonges other thinges,
Whan that we hadden made our reckoninges.’

He is a true house-band, and the centre of the company,—of greater fellowship and practical social talent than any. He it is that proposes that each shall tell a tale to wile away the time to Canterbury, and leads them himself, and concludes with his own tale:—

‘Now by my fader’s soule that is ded,
But ye be mery, smiteth of my hed;
Hold up your hondes withouten more speche.’

  “If we do not look up to the landlord, we look round for him on all emergencies, for he is a man of infinite experience, who unites hands with wit. He is a more public character than a statesman, a publican, and not consequently a sinner; and surely he, if any, should be exempted from taxation and military duty;

  “Talking with our host is next best and instructive to talking with one’s self. It is a more conscious soliloquy, as it were, to speak generally, and try what we would say provided we had an audience. He has indulgent and open ears and does not require petty and particular statements. ‘Heigho!’ exclaims the traveller. ‘Them’s my sentiments,’ thinks mine host, and stands ready for what may come next, expressing the purest sympathy by his demeanor. ‘Hot as blazes!’ says the other. ‘Hard weather, sir,—not much stirring nowadays,’ says he. He is wiser than to contradict his guest in any case; he lets him go on, he lets him travel

  “The latest sitter leaves him standing far in the night, prepared to live right on, while suns rise and set, and his ‘good night’ has as brisk a sound as his ‘good morning;’ and the earliest riser finds him tasting his liquors in the bar ere flies begin to buz, with a countenance fresh as the morning star over the sanded floor,—and not as one who had watched all night for travellers. And yet, if beds be the subject of conversation, it will appear that no man has been a sounder sleeper in his time.

  “Finally, as for his moral character, we do not hesitate to say that he has no grain of vice or meanness in him, but represents just that degree of virtue which all men relish without being obliged to respect. He is a good man, as his bitters are good,—an unquestionable goodness. Not what is called a good man,—good to be considered, as a work of art in galleries and museums,—but a good fellow, that is good to be associated with. Who ever thought of the religion of an inn-keeper;—whether he was joined to the church, partook of the sacrament, said his prayers, feared God, or the like? No doubt he has had his experience, has felt a change, and is a firm believer in the perseverance of the saints. In this last, we suspect, does the peculiarity of his religion consist. But he keeps an inn, and not a conscience. How many fragrant charities and sincere social virtues are implied in this daily offering of himself to the public. He cherishes good will to all, and gives the wayfarer as good and honest advice to direct him on his road as the priest.”

  There is humor, too, in the account of that poor inoffensive pauper who figures among his visitors at Walden, declaring with effusive honesty that he is deficient in intellect, always was, and the Lord made him so; no less than in that of the bores, of whom he declares:—

“These are the folks that worry the man
That lives in the house that I built.”

Nor should the picture of the drunken Dutchman at Patchogue be forgotten for its humorous touches.

  As he walked along the woodpaths, picking the varied berries that adorn nature’s untrimmed hedges, men were not thrust from his thoughts; his imagination was ever finding symbols for a truer and deeper union of man and nature. The simplest hint sufficed:—

  “Along the wood—paths wines of all kinds and qualities, of noblest vintages, are bottled up in the skins of countless berries, for the taste of men and animals. To men they seem offered not so much for food as for sociality, that they may pic-nic with nature. Diet drinks, cordial wines we pluck and eat in remembrance of her; the not-forbidden fruits which no serpent tempts us to taste.”

  If Thoreau was an egotist, a stoic, disgusted with society and escaping from it, does he not admirably recover tone at the touch of genuine human nature? To him, too, had come the utter weariness of frivolity and interchange of compliments that mean nothing,—‘the greetings whore no kindness is,’ of which Wordsworth expressed such horror;—the sad repulsion from life in its manifold disguises, and from individual character in its duplicities and perversities;—the hopeless desire to escape into some solitude apart, which has been the craving, at one time or other, of the greater and tenderer souls in all ages. Some, in a fever of despair, have finally escaped into fixed cynicism and hate, venturing no more or desiring no more, to climb up and to gaze, as it were, through the narrow prison bars if perchance another heart would for a moment reveal itself in sympathy and helpfulness; some, again, have settled down on the lees, and, hopelessly accepting the world as it is, have made it an instrument to work with, and to rise up by, to a more dreary isolation still; and some, by faithful converse with Nature, have found a restoring charm by which they have been able to fortify themselves,—the sweet belief that in every man, however muffled and concealed by sophistications, there lies the ‘unsophisticated man’ with possibilities of late unfolding and renewal. Thoreau was pre-eminently such. He believed in the unsophisticated man, and was unwearied in the search after him. What if such should be his meaning in this fine passage,—a bit of experience disguised in parable?—

  “I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.”

  Thus he figures naively the ideal for which he seeks. But he embodies his thought in plainest words also: “If within the sophisticated man there is not an unsophisticated one, then he is but one of the devil’s angels. As we grow old we live more coarsely, we relax a little in our disciplines, and to some extent cease to obey our finest instincts.” But he never lost faith,—he persisted in his search; and when he “helped a runaway slave on the way to the North star,” he confessed that it stirred a finer thrill in him than even the reading of Homer. The simple and unaffected revelation of genuine and honest impulse he welcomed wherever he could find it. But he always wished to take the straitest road, and to shun by-paths, to use which was altogether against his principle. He celebrates, with the finest enthusiasm, the manner in which his simplicity and self-chosen poverty protected him, precisely as St. Francis might have done six centuries before:—

  “I was never molested by any person. . . . I had no lock or bolt but for the desk which held my papers, nor even a nail put over my latch or windows. I never fastened the door night or day, though I was to be absent several days; not even when I spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine. And yet my house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers. The tired rambler could rest and warm himself by my fire, the literary amm1c himself with the few books on my table, or the curious-by opening my closet door—see what was left of my dinner, and what prospect I had of a supper. Yet, though many people of every class came this way to the pond, I suffered no serious inconvenience from these sources, and I never missed anything but one small book—a volume of Homer,—which, perhaps, was improperly gilded, and this I trust a soldier of our camp has found by this time. I am convinced that, if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown.”

  But the evil lies precisely here, that men will, by the excitements of unreal pleasure and thirst for fame or gain, unfit themselves for his society, and for sharing his delights. Therefore he condemns society for the demands it thus makes on that which is sacred to the individual. Surely, the note of sincerity sounds clearly through this passage:—

  “Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy, and tremble too much for that. . . . The laboring man has no time to be anything but a machine. How can he remember well his ignorance—which his growth requires—who has so often to use his knowledge? We should feed and clothe him gratuitously sometimes, and recruit him with our cordials before we judge of him. The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.”

  He would have given his fullest and most unqualified assent to Mr. Matthew Arnold’s suggestive verses in “Obermann Once More”:—

“But we, brought forth and reared in hours
Of change, alarm, surprise—
What shelter to grow ripe is ours?
What leisure to grow wise?

Like children bathing on the shore,
Buried a wave beneath,
The second wave succeeds before
We have had time to breathe.”

  Only, for himself, Thoreau escaped from the crowd, from the wave, from the change, the alarm, the surprise, to find the “leisure to grow wise,” if some would say he failed to find the “shelter to grow ripe.”

  The morbid or sentimental temper is quite alien from all this. It effects a desire for simplicity and solitude; but it shrinks from the touch of rude natures. It loves them not. It is, at basis, full of self-pity, and is subject to reactions. Steady, agreeable, self-sufficing effort is strange to it. It dotes on the opinion of those whom it professes to hold in slight esteem. It is capricious, touchy, seldom associated with healthy frankness of speech. It is the poor slave of a sympathy which yet it would fain appear to set aside and despise. Brusqueness it dislikes; and it is now affectedly subdued and now violent. It regards no superior; but is mock-humble in self-revelation, and is at the very antipodes of hero-worship. The sentimentalist is his own hero, and to find another were to yield up his claims and character. Rousseau shows us all this in fullest measure he is the typical sentimentalist,—morbid, concerned with himself as subject; if he ever objectifies his own mind, it is—at once to admire and to pity himself in it. How different is all this from Thoreau, who escaped from the very influences which Rousseau courted, intent only on reaching those truer laws of human relation, of which all social customs and legislative enactments are but the symbols, and without contact with which they wither and die, like flowers cut from their roots in the earth. Rousseau confessed to a “delight in the world of imagination, and a disgust with the real world, that gave rise to that love of solitude which never left him. This disposition, apparently so misanthropic and so melancholy, he thought in reality proceeded from a heart all too fond, too loving, too tender; a heart which, failing to find real beings with whom to sympathize, was fain to feed on fictions.” “The beings of my imagination,” he wrote, “disgust me with all the society I have left.”

  Thoreau did not much regard the beings of imagination, and certainly his retreat from society was not due to their fascinations. He had considerable humor, but little phantasy, and loved those traits that told of the honest earth, and revealed the links between the human and the brute. These were lost through the pressure of mechanical and artificial conventions, and life was sacrificed. Whatever of worth there was in man could best unfold itself amid freedom from such restraints; and therefore he waged war against all social conventions, however honored, that tended to make men machines, and to efface those natural instincts which rendered possible the enjoyments that in more primitive times were shared by all alike. But here he is not alone. Nearly all the poets and thinkers, to whom humanity owes most, have been subject to the same thought and influence, and not all of them have wrought it out to such clear and practical issues as he did.

  Thus we see how Thoreau, the so-called egotist and morbid solitary, could become the faithful champion of Captain John Brown. That heroic spirit had stood between the laws and the spirit of the law, in view of which the Fathers of American Independence had drawn up their famous Declaration and the Constitution; and, instead of Thoreau being untrue to any particular deliverance, his action on John Brown’s behalf simply illumined and reconciled all that had before seemed contradictory in his utterances.

  Thoreau went to the woods, as he says, because he wished to live deliberately, and to front only the essential facts of life, and see if he could learn what it had to teach. In great measure he realized what he desired. The following passage exhibits his own view of his purposes:—

  “It would be some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward civilization, if only to learn what are the gross necessaries of life, and what methods have been taken to obtain them; or even to look over the old daybooks of the merchants, to see what it was that men most commonly bought at the stores, what they stored; that is, what are the grossest groceries. For the improvements of ages have had but little influence on the essential law of man’s existence; as our skeletons probably are not to be distinguished from those of our ancestors. . . . Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor. . . The luxuriously rich are not simply kept comfortably warm, but unnaturally hot; they are cooked, of course à la mode. Of a life of luxury the fruit is luxury. There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but no philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a nobler race of men.”

  Elsewhere he exclaims:—

  “We underpin our houses with granite; what of our habits, our lives? They rest on a rotten structure, and we all confess it. I often accuse my finest acquaintance of an immense frivolity; for, while there are manners and compliments we do not meet, we do not teach one another the lessons of honesty and sincerity that the brutes do, or of steadiness and solitude that the rocks do. The fault is commonly mutual, however; for we do not habitually demand any more of each other.”

  And yet he is resolutely economic,—combines with his transcendental manner of viewing things a rigorous economical practice which would please Mr. Carlyle. He never throws a thing away till he has tried it for every purpose he can think of. His economic hints, indeed, have sometimes a special value, at once commercial and physiological. At one place, for example, he says:—

  “Every New Englander might easily raise all his own breadstuffs in this land of rye and Indian corn, and not depend on distant or fluctuating markets for them. Yet so far are we from simplicity and independence that, in Concord, fresh and sweet meal is rarely sold in the shops, and hominy and corn, in a still coarser form, are hardly used—by any. For the most part, the farmer gives to his cattle and hogs the grain of his own producing, and buys flour—which is, at least, no more wholesome—at greater cost, at the store.”

  But these inferior economics he himself would be the first to denounce were they followed for themselves alone, and for what he thinks the mad whim of accumulation merely. He values his savings, because by them he can purchase higher pleasures. He works with his hand for one day a week, and rejoices in his wages, because with them he can command the leisure to observe and meditate and study for the other six. If you earn money and nothing else by your work, he holds that you are neither happy nor fortunate. In his essay on “Life without Principle” he writes: “To have done anything by which you earned money merely is to have been truly idle or worse. If the laborer gets no more than the wages which his employer pays him, he is cheated, he cheats himself. . . Those services which the community will most readily pay for, it is most disagreeable to render. You are paid for being something less than a man. The State does not commonly reward a genius any more wisely. Even the poet laureate would rather not have to celebrate the accidents of royalty. He must have his pipe of wine, and perhaps another poet is called away from his muse to gauge that very pipe. As for my own business, even that kind of surveying which I could do with most satisfaction, my employers do not want. They would prefer that I should do my work coarsely and not too well, ay, not well enough. When I observe that there are different ways of surveying, my employer commonly asks which will give him the most land, not which is most correct. I once invented a rule for measuring cord-wood, and tried to introduce it in Boston; but the measurer there told me that the sellers did not wish to have their wood measured correctly,—that he was already too accurate for them, and therefore they commonly got their wood measured in Charlestown before crossing the bridge. . . . If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!

  “If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for. I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage. I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living. You must get your living by loving, else your life is at least half a failure. As it is said of the merchants that ninety-seven in a hundred fail, so the life of men generally, tried by this standard, is a failure, and bankruptcy may he surely prophesied. . . . . The ways in which most men get their living, that is, live, are mere make-shifts, and a shirking of the real business of life,—chiefly because they do not know, but partly because they do not mean ‘better.’”

  His was a protest against all the artificialities through which men become hypocrites to gain some immediate end; and, like Thackeray, he was apt at finding out the weak point,—only, instead of prolonging observation for purposes of art, he was consistent, and said he would have none of it.

  He held that continual compliance unnerved men in general, acting on them precisely as certain kinds of artificial life act on animals, and rendering them torpid, unequal to face the open air, and incapable of true and genuine attachments:—

  “If you seek the warmth of affection from a similar motive to that from which cats and dogs and slothful persons hug the fire, because your temperature is lost through sloth, you are on the downward road. Better the cold affection of the sun, reflected from fields of ice and snow, or his warmth in some still wintry dell. Warm your body by healthful exercise, not by cowering over a stove. Warm your spirit by performing independently noble deeds, not by ignobly seeking the sympathy of your fellows who are no better than yourself.”

  The greatest danger to society itself, in his idea, lay in the increase of this artificializing and hot-bed process. Even to exist, it must be continually recruited and strengthened by fresh streams poured into it. Whenever society in a crisis has needed regeneration, it has come, if it has come at all, from those who had been despised or reckoned contemptible under its degenerate form. In his essay on “Civil Disobedience” he mourns that men serve the State merely as machines,—not with their souls, but with their bodies; that a judge who draws his pension and pronounces unjust judgment on the innocent is but like a miserable wretch who, in his last extreme of need, sells himself to be shot at. And yet how sane and clear he is on the practical reserves and compromises that may consist with conscience. His reformers are men with no reserves. He says:—

  “It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous, wrong,—he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it; and, if he give it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon other men’s shoulders. I must get off him first that he may pursue his contemplations.”

  And as he did not retire to Walden to escape men, but to learn the secrets of essential relationship, so he escaped from the atmosphere of the circulating library to read in a truer mood, and in the light of a simpler experience, the few great books which circulate round the world. It would indeed be wholly wrong to leave on the reader’s mind an impression that in this respect his interests narrowed as he got more and more en rapport with nature. The great masterpieces, ancient and modem, he hold in truest regard. Indeed, it has been urged against him as a fault, that he allowed himself to be too directly influenced by Carlyle and by Emerson. Considering the keen social instinct,—the passion for dealing directly with the minus and sympathies of men, which informs the writings of both, causing them in a special way to rank as social and moral reformers, this is an odd charge to raise at the same time that Thoreau is blamed for morbidity and lack of interest in ordinary human concerns. The variety of his interests, indeed, surprises one who comes fresh from the perusal of these criticisms to his books. He did not forget his classics even; and though he had an utter horror of pedantry and dry facts, one of his works begun at Walden, and finished immediately after his return from it, was a prose translation of the “Prometheus Bound,” which was published in the Dial, in 1849, and which, as Professor Felton urges, has peculiar merits of its own.

  “To read well,” he says, “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. Books must be read as deliberately as they were written.” A large and liberal simplicity and escape from pre-occupation is essential to it. So, at Walden, he had Homer before him, but he read only a page or two at a time; for he says, “the works of the great poets have only been read for most part as the multitude read the stars, at most, astrologically, not astronomically.”

  Of fine sayings his own books are literally full. No more dainty fancy, or power of exactly presenting the image of what lay in his own mind, has any recent writer possessed in greater measure. And a sudden humor, like summer lightning, often plays over his writings. We could easily fill many pages; let these few sentences suffice:—

  “The keeping of bees is like the directing of sunbeams.” (“Paradise [to be] Regained.”)

  “I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”

  “You must have stout legs to get noticed at all by Carlyle. . . . . He indicates a depth which he neglects to fathom.”

  “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”

  “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a wood shed with them.”

  “The blue bird carries the sky on his back.”

  “The tanager flies through the green foliage as if he would ignite the leaves.”

  “If I wish for a horse hair for my compass sight, I must go to the stable; but the hair bird, with her sharp eyes, goes to the road.”

  “Nature made ferns for pure leaves, to show what she could do in that line.”

  “No tree has so fair a hole and so handsome an instep as the beech.”

  “How did these beautiful rainbow tints get into the shell of the fresh-water clam, buried in the mud at the bottom of our dark river?”

  “Of what significance the things you can forget?”

  “How can we expect a harvest of thought who have not had a seed time of character? “

  “Only he can be trusted with gifts who can present a face of bronze to expectations.”

  “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 heart of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.”

  “The art of composition is as simple as the discharge of a bullet from a rifle, and its masterpieces imply an infinitely greater force behind them. . . . We seem to have forgotten that the expression, a liberal education, originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely was considered worthy of slaves only. But taking a hint from the word, I would go a step farther, and say, that it is not the man of wealth, or science, or literature, who in a true sense is liberally educated, but only the earnest and free man.”

  “Nothing is so difficult as to help a friend in matters which do not require the aid of friendship, but only a cheap and trivial service, if your friendship wants the basis of a thorough, practical acquaintance. I stand in the friendliest relation, on social and spiritual grounds, to one who does not perceive what practical skill I have, but when he seeks my assistance in such matters, is wholly ignorant of that one whom he deals with: does not use my skill, which in such matters is much greater than his, but only my hands. I know another who, on the contrary, is remarkable for his discrimination in this respect; who knows how to make use of the talents of others, when he does not possess the same; knows when not to look after or oversee, and stops short at his man. It is a rare pleasure to serve him, which all laborers know. I am not a little pained by the other kind of treatment. It is as if, after the friendliest and most ennobling intercourse, your friend should use you as a hammer, and drive a nail with your head, all in good faith; notwithstanding that you are a tolerable carpenter, as well as his good friend, and would use a hammer cheerfully in his service. The want of perception is a defect which all the virtues of the heart cannot supply. . . . I have a friend who wishes me to see that to be right which I know to be wrong. But if friendship is to rob me of my eyes, if it is to darken the day, I will have none of it. It should be expansive and inconceivably liberalizing in its effects. True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not, depend on darkness and ignorance. A want of discernment cannot be an ingredient in it.”

  In the essay on walking he says:—

  “We are but faint-hearted crusades; even the walkers nowadays undertake no persevering world’s-end enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half of the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walks, perchance, in the spirit of stirring adventure, never to return,—prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. . . . If you have paid your debts and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.”

  In his Poems there is often a rarity and chastity of expression and a quality such as we seldom meet with. Of their general character this may be said. They have the freshness of flowers with the earth still at their roots, though with a purity that recalls the skies, they seem inspired by real occasions, and are far from affectedly finished. He is very free in his way of treating old metres or inventing new ones, having actually come close on anticipating Walt Whitman’s peculiar movements, which he relieves by irregularly recurrent rhymes. For reasons easily guessed, however, we prefer to give here one or two cast on models more like those we are familiar with. Our first specimen is—

[I have seen a bunch of violets in a glass case, tied loosely with a straw, which reminded me of myself. It is but thin soil where we stood; I have put my roots in a richer than this.]

I am a parcel of vain strivings tied
By a chance band together,
Dangling this way and that, their links
Were made too loose and wide,
For milder weather.

A bunch of violets without their roots,
And sorrel intermixed,
Encircled by a wisp of straw
Once coiled about their shoots—
The law
By which I’m fixed.

A nosegay which I’ve clutched from out
Those fair Elysian fields,
With woods and broken stems, in haste,
Doth make the rabble rout
That waste
The day he yields.

And here I bloom for a short hour unseen,
Drinking my juices up,
With no root in the land
To keep my branches green,
But stand
In a bare cup.

Some tender buds were left upon my stem
In mimicry of life;
But, ah! the children will not know
Till time has withered them
The woe
With which they ‘re rife.

But now I see I was not plucked for nought,
And after in Life’s vase
Of glass set white I might survive,
But by a kind hand brought
To a strange place.

That stock thus thinned will soon redeem its hours,
And by another year,
Such as God knows, with freer air,
More fruits and fairer flowers
Will bear,
While I droop here.

  The next shall be—


When Winter fringes every bough
With his fantastic wreath,
And puts the seal of silence now
Upon the leaves beneath;

When every stream In Its pent-house
Goes gurgling on its way,
And in his gallery the mouse
Nibbleth the meadow hay;

Methinks the summer still is nigh,
And lurketh underneath,
As that same meadow-mouse doth lie
Snug in that last year’s heath.

And if perchance the chickadee
Lisp a faint note anon,
The snow is summer’s canopy,
Which she herself put on.

Fair blossoms deck the cheerful trees,
And dazzling fruits depend,
The north wind sighs a summer breeze,
The nipping frosts to fend,

Bringing glad tidings unto me,
The while I stand all ear,
Of a serene eternity,
Which need not winter fear.

Out on the silent pond straightway
The restless ice doth crack,
And pond sprites merry gambols play
Amid the deafening rack.

Eager I hasten to the vale,
As if I heard brave news,
How nature held high festival,
Which it were hard to lose.

I gambol with my neighbor lee,
And sympathizing quake,
As each new crack darts in a trice
Across the gladsome lake.

One with the cricket in the ground,
And fagot on the hearth,
Resounds the rare domestic sound
Along the forest path.

There is a bright little song to—


Salmon brook,
Ye sweet waters of my brain,
When shall I look,
Or cast the hook,
In your waves again?

Silver eels,
Wooden creels,
These the baits that still allure,
And dragon fly
That floated by,—
May they still endure.

  The next is more pensive, if more suggestive, in striking a deeper note of experience:—


Nature doth have her dawn each day,
But mine are far between:
Content I cry, for sooth to say,
Mine brightest are, I ween!

For when my sun doth deign to rise,
Though it be her noontide,
Her fairest field in shadow lies,
Nor can my light abide.

Sometimes I bask me in her day,
Conversing with my mate;
But if we interchange one ray
Forth with her heats abate.

Through this discourse I climb and see,
As from some eastern hill,
A brighter morrow rise to me
Than lieth in her skill.

As ‘t were two summer days in one,
Two Sundays come together,
Our rays united make one sun
With fairest summer weather.”

  The following amplifies and reinforces one of the ideas developed in the above:—


“Away! away! away! away!
Ye have not kept your secret well,
I will abide that other day,
Those other lands ye tell.

Has time no leisure left for these
The acts that ye rehearse?
Is not eternity a lease
For better deeds than verse?

‘Tis sweet to hear of heroes dead,
To know them still alive,
But sweeter if we earn their bread,
And In us they survive.

Our life should feed the springs of fame
With a perennial wave,
As ocean feeds the babbling founts
Which find In It their grave.

Ye skies, drop gently round my breast,
And be my corslet blue.
Ye earth, receive my lance in rest,
My faithful charger you.

Ye stars, my spear heads in the sky,
My arrow tips ye are,—
1 see the routed foemen fly,
My bright spears fixed are.

Give me an angel for a foe,
Fix now the place and time,
And straight to meet him I will go
Above the starry clime;

And with our clashing buckler’s clang
The heavenly spheres shall ring,
While bright the northern lights shall hang
Beside our tourneying.

And if she lose her champion true,
Tell Heaven not despair,
For I will be her champion new,
Her fame l will repair.”

  The appendices to his books,—especially those to the Maine Wood,—specifying and naming every tree, shrub, and animal he met with, will be valuable to students.

  Some deductions have to be made from the mere style of his speech, which is now and then too extreme. He was so intent on putting forcibly the idea that was fresh from his experience that it sometimes seemed to throw other expressions out of relation; and the only reconciling point is to be found by a reference to what he did. We find Mr. Channing writing:—

  “In one or two of his later articles expressions crept in which might lead the reader to suspect him of moroseness, or that his old trade of school-master stuck to him. He rubbed out as perfectly as he could the more humorous part of these articles, originally a relief to their sterner features, and said, ‘I cannot bear the levity, I find.’ To which it was replied that it was hoped he would spare them, even to the puns; for he sometimes indulged. As when a farmer drove up with a strange pair of long-tailed ponies, his companion asked whether such a person would not carry a Colt’s revolver to protect him in the solitude, Thoreau replied that ‘he did not know about that, but he saw he had a pair of revolving colts before him.’ As to laughing, no one did that more or better. One was surprised to see him dance,—he had been well taught, and was a vigorous dancer; and any one who ever heard him sing ‘Tom Bowling’ will agree that in time and in tone he answered, and went far beyond, all expectation.”

  On this particular point of humor it needs but to be said that what humor he had was of quite a different order from that of the “Biglow Papers;” but the critic who could read Thoreau and not discover trace of the self-restraint that had been exercised in relation to it, and the possibility of the gentlest fun flowing from sympathy with genuine traits and contradictions in human character, wherein lies the source of humor, may certainly be recommended, with safety, to read him again.

  Too much has been made of Walden as a separate episode. His experiment could have been carried on anywhere. Walden was an accident: he still carried forward his enterprise after he had left Walden, and applied his principles in manufacture, in politics, in anti-slavery agitation. It was several years after he had left Walden that he wrote:—

  “I am often reminded that if I had bestowed on me the wealth of Crœsus, my aims must be still the same, and my means essentially the same.”

  He tells us at the same time plainly, “It is not for a man to put himself in opposition to society, but to maintain himself in whatever attitude he finds himself through obedience to the laws of his own being, which will never be one of opposition to a just government.

  I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond side. . . . I learned this, at least, by my experiment,—that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

  Which as distinctly indicates, as words of man could, that Thoreau never regarded the Walden life as final or permanent, but only as a preparation for return to other forms of life and activity.

  It is beyond measure laughable to find that some of the men who are most severe on Thoreau for his stoicism and his retreat to Walden are also most severe on him for his earnest anti-slavery efforts. They blame him in one breath for being uninterested in society and his fellow-men,—nay, even disgusted with them,—and for being too earnest and too much concerned about them; for being at once a denouncer of philanthropy, and a philanthropist; for setting himself against gossip, and yet becoming an agitator. It is evident that Thoreau himself perceived some relations which they have missed, else, with his keen sense of inconsistency, he must have become his own laughing stock. And, assuredly, no man would have laughed more heartily than Thoreau at such deliverances as the following had he lived to read them,—unless, perchance, it may be Mr. Emerson who does still live to read them, and who must laugh a very sardonic laugh indeed, as of one who is praised at his dear dead friend’s expense:—

  “Thoreau was, or is, one of the admirers or disciples of Mr. Emerson,—a man worthy of all the respect and admiration which have been showered upon his name in his own country and in England,—and of another philosopher, whom Mr. Emerson used to call the ‘ Purple Plato,’ who had taken it into his head that men were too highly civilized,—that we none of us did justice to the primitive savageness of our nature; that we were all too much beholden to artificial aids for our comfort and happiness; and that we ran the imminent risk of losing many of the best qualities of our human nature—our watchfulness, our self-respect, our self-reliance, and our independence of mind and body—by too thick and close companionship with one another, and our dependence upon paid and other help, for offices which required no help, or which could be altogether dispensed with, with great advantage to our physical and mental health. Thoreau, it appears, went out from Boston in Massachusetts, disgusted, or fancying that he was disgusted, with the trammels and habits of civilized life, longing to be free of fine clothes and of ceremony, to build his own wigwam among the trees,—if he required a wigwam,—to produce from the soil all that was necessary for the sustenance of life, to hunt his own game, sew his own fig leaves together as Adam and Eve did, and generally to be independent of the aid or companionship of his fellow-men. He carried out his idea to a large extent, and his book ‘Walden’ contained the history of his experiment, written in very choice English, and not only full of rare experience of solitary life but of admirable description of scenery and the habits of animals.”

  On the contrary, Thoreau never tried to rid himself of society or to be independent of human companionship. He only found out a characteristically better way than we imagine the writer of the above has yet found out of being ‘not at home’ to those whom he did not want to see. His intimate friends give us very different testimony. Mr. Channing assures us—

  “Those who loved him never had reason to regret it. He made no useless professions, never asked one of those questions which destroy all relation; but he was on the spot at the time, and had so much of human life in his keeping that he could spare a breathing place for a friend. . . . He served his friends sincerely and practically. In his own home he was one of those characters who may be called household treasures; always on the spot with skillful eye and hand to raise the best melons in the garden, plant the orchard with the choicest trees, act as extempore mechanic; fond of the pets, the sister’s flowers, or sacred tabby;—kittens being his favorites, he would play with them by the half hour.

  “A great comfort in him, he was eminently reliable. No whim of coldness, no absorption of his time by public or private business, deprived those to whom he belonged of his kindness and affection. He was at the mercy of no caprice: of a reliable will and uncompromising sternness in his moral nature, he carried the same qualities into his relation with others, and gave them the best he had without stint.”

  And so Thoreau throughout life, by consistent labor and self denial, justified these words which he wrote near the close:—

  “My greatest skill has been to want but little. For joy I could embrace the earth. I shall delight to be buried in it. And then I think of those among men who will know that I love them though I tell them not.”

  Thoreau was a naturalist because he was primarily a poet,—and hence the fitness of the title given him by Mr. Channing of’ ‘Poet-Naturalist.’ He hold things by inner affinities rather than by hard classifications. Instincts and habits were ever of more account with him than the mere organs and functions whose expressions he held that these were, and nothing more. Yet he was observant of these also, and was seldom out in a matter of fact or calculation. Correctness in details, surprising patience, and a will that nothing could defeat or embarrass, held in closest union with fine imagination, without sense of contradiction,—this was his first characteristic. His grand quality was sympathy.

  He came to everything with the poet’s feeling, the poet’s heart, the poet’s eye. To observe was his joy. What pictures he can draw of wholly uninteresting places and things! What loving rapture he falls into over the commonest appearances! What new metaphors he finds lurking in ordinary sylvan occurrences! The common ongoings of nature were to him a mighty parable, and he sat some part of it to adequate music, to which we may listen with delight, and learn wisdom. And as he brought sympathy with him towards every person he met and every object he examined, so he demanded it in those he encountered, though he had an utter horror of false professions of it. Therefore, like a Scotchman in this, he was prone to hide it under brusqueness till you knew him. But, as flowers expand in the sun, his soul expanded in the glow of innocent delights till even his senses seemed transfigured and benignantly endowed with special sensibilities and attractions. He was fond of children, and had unusual tact with them, as is attested by every one who attended his parties. “Hermit and stoic as he was,” says Emerson, “he was really fond of sympathy and threw himself heartily and child-like into the company of young people whom he loved and whom he delighted to entertain, as he only could, with the varied and endless anecdotes of his experience in field and river. And he was always ready to lead a huckleberry party or a search fur chestnuts and grapes.” Yet he is always self-restrained and self-respecting. He can make a poem out of the most ordinary object, event, or incident, but he will be the last to celebrate it as such; and, while some men seek a climax, he despised rhetoric and all conscious aims at effect. This passage on telegraph posts may be taken as a specimen of his finest vein, showing his keen interest in all that concerned human progress:—

  “What a recipe for preserving wood, to fill its pores with music! How this wild tree from the forest, stripped of its bark and set up here, rejoices to transmit this music. When no melody proceeds from the wire, I hear the hum within the entrails of the wood, the oracular tree, rejoicing, accumulating the prophetic, fury. The resounding wood,—how much the ancients would have made of it! To have had a harp on so great a scale, girding the very earth, and played on by the winds of every latitude and longitude, and that harp were (so to speak) the manifest blessing of Heaven on a work of man’s. Shall we not now add a tenth Muse to those immortal Nine, and consider that this invention was most divinely honored and distinguished upon which the Muse has thus condescended to smile,— this magic medium of communication to mankind? To read that the ancients stretched a wire round the earth, attaching it to trees of the forest, on which they sent messages by one named Electricity, father of Lightning and Magnetism, swifter far than Mercury,—the stem commands of war and news of peace; and that the winds caused this wire to vibrate so that it emitted harp-like and Æolian music in all the lands through which it passed, as if to express the satisfaction of God in the invention! And this is fact, and yet we have attributed the instrument to no God. I hear the sound of the wood working terribly within. When I put my ear to it, anon it swells into a clear tone, which seems to concentrate in the core of the tree, for all the sound seems to proceed from the wood. It is as if you had entered some world-cathedral, resounding to some vast organ. The fibre of all things have their tension and are strained like the strings of a lyre. I feel the very ground tremble underneath my feet as I stand near the post. The wire vibrates with great force, as if it would strain and rend the wood. What an awful and fateful music it must be to the worms in the wood! No better vermifuge were needed. As the wood of an old cremona, its every fibre, perchance, harmoniously tempered, and educated to resound melody, has brought a great price; so, methinks, these telegraph posts should bear a great price with musical-instrument makers. It is prepared to be the material of harps for ages to come,—as it were, put a-soak, a-seasoning, in music.”

  In this remarkable passage it is not evident how keen Thoreau’s instincts were for the points at which nature and human civilization meet each other with wonderful and secret but apparently long-prepared adaptations. The tree taken from the forest, stripped of its leaves, of its bark even, standing there,—straight, bare, gaunt, and clear against the sunset light,—what beauty could have lain in it for the mere naturalist? It was a relic which even his comparative anatomy could not have effectually reclothed and set in its place again. But Thoreau, because he was a poet, and a lover of man and man’s progress, reclothes it with leaves of promise and prophesy,—fairer and more divine than those it had borne but for a season. He is rapt in the imagination of its possibilities; for now, like the reed which the great god Pan took from the bed of the river, and tore and cut, and pulled the pith out of, it breathes a music that hints of the sighs and tears, the joys, the aspirations, the loves and longings of men. How could a ‘morbid hermit,’ who had escaped, in disgust and aversion, not merely from cities, and their vices, their chicanery and their craft, but from the very fellowship of men, have written that? The telegraph is civilization’s epitome, all men are represented in it, mystically but not less individually, in its possibility of conveying the record of what lies realest in their thoughts and purposes; and this ‘hermit’ could celebrate it; hear its prophetic music, and write a poem upon it. Nothing, indeed, that has been written shows more of penetration into modem progress and scientific law, as it bears on human well-being,—on one side it might seem philistinic, indeed; but how choice, how elevated, how touched with the imagination that rarifies, spiritualizes, and raises altogether above the touch of earth and the profit of the present moment! If it celebrates the last material or scientific conquest of the century, could even Mr. Matthew Arnold find fault with it, as with the self-celebrations of Mr. Bright, Mr. Roebuck and the rest, over our ‘progress? ‘That idea of what the ancients would have made of it, and their attribution of it to some god, is full of Thoreau’s character, and Mr. Matthew Arnold would accept it gladly, we firmly believe, as just and adequate.

  As a piece of elevated noble natural description, with lights of true poetry interfusing it, scarce anything could be finer than this picture of a snowfall:—

  “Did you ever admire the steady, silent, windless fall of the snow in some lead-colored sky, silent save the little ticking of the flakes as they touched the twigs? It is chased silver, moulded over the pines and oak leaves. Soft shades hang like curtains along the closely draped wood-paths. Frozen apples become little cider-vats. The old, crooked apple trees, frozen stiff in the pale, shivering sunlight, that appears to be dying of consumption, gleam forth like the heroes of one of Dante’s cold hells: we would mind any change in the mercury of the dream. The snow crunches under the feet; the chopper’s axe rings funereally through the tragic air. At early mom the frost on button-bushes and willows was silvery, and every stem and minutest twig and filamentary weed came up a silver thing, while the cottage smoke rose salmon-colored into that oblique day. At the base of ditches were shooting crystals, like the blades of an ivory-handled penknife, and rosettes and favors fretted of silver on the flat ico. The little cascades in the brook were ornamented with transparent shields, and long candelabrums and spermaceti-colored fools’ caps and plated jellies and white globes, with the black water whirling along transparently underneath. The sun comes out, and all at a glance, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and emeralds start into intense life on the angles of the snow crystals.”

  Again, see how Thoreau, in a kind of implied protest against a too hard scientific prescription for man’s development from lower to higher, can wrap up his doctrine in humor. The following could as little have come from the mere hermit as the other but for a slightly different reason:—

  “As the woodchuck dines chiefly on crickets, he—will not be at much expense in seats for his winter quarters. Since the anatomical discovery that the thymoid gland, whose use in man is nihil, is for the purpose of promoting digestion during the hibernating jollifications of the woodchuck, we sympathize less at the retreat. Darwin, who hibernates in science, cannot yet have heard of this use of the above gland, or he would have derived the human race from our woodchuck, instead of landing him flat on the Simiadœ, or monkey.”

  “Nature,” he says in another place, “has taken more care than the fondest parent for the education and refinement of her children. Consider the silent influence which flowers exert, no less upon the ditcher in the meadow than the lady in the bower. When I walk in the woods, I am reminded that a wise Purveyor has been there before me; my most delicate experience is typified there. I am struck with the pleasing friendships and unanimities of nature, as when the lichen on the trees takes the form of their leaves. In the most stupendous scenes you will see delicate and fragile features, as slight wreaths of vapor, dewlines, feathery sprays, which suggest a high refinement, a noble blood and breeding, as it were. It is not hard to account for elves and fairies; they represent this light grace, this ethereal gentility. Bring a spray from the wood, or a crystal from the brook, and place it on your mantel-shelf, and your household ornaments will seem plebeian beside its nobler fashion and bearing. It will wave superior there, as if used, to a more refined and polished circle. It has a salute and a response to all your enthusiasm and heroism.”

  He notes the face of the heavens, and exults in a fine sunset, as Turner might have done. Nay, he paints a subtle Turner word picture, as in this passage:—

  “We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. I was walking in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun at last, just before setting, after a cold gray day, reached a clear stratum in the horizon, and the softest, brightest morning sunlight fell on the dry grass and on the stems of the trees in the opposite horizon, and on the loaves of the shrub oaks on the hill side, while our shadows stretched long over the meadow eastward, as if we wore the only motes in its beams. It was such a light as we could not have imagined a moment before, and the air also was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that meadow. When we reflected that this was not a solitary phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen for ever and ever an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious still.

  “The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible, with all the glory and splendor that it lavishes on cities, and, perchance, as it has never set before,—where there is but a solitary marsh hawk to have his wings gilded by it, or only a musquash looks out from his cabin, and there is some little black-veined brook in the midst of the marsh, just beginning to meander, winding slowly round a decaying stump. We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright, I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of Elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman driving us home at evening.”

  He is like Charles Kingsley in his respect for the east wind, and almost worships Winter, as the great purifier and health-bringer. He is robust; has no weakness for artificial warmth, or the dull repose that comes of it.

  “The wonderful purity of Nature at this season is a most pleasing fact. Every decayed stump and moss-grown stone and rail, and the dead leaves of autumn, are concealed by a clean napkin of snow. In the bare fields and tinkling woods, see what virtue survives. In the coldest and bleakest places, the warmest charities still maintain a foothold. A cold and searching wind drives away all contagion, and nothing can withstand it but what has a virtue in it; and accordingly whatever we meet with in cold and bleak places, as the tops of mountains, we respect for a sort of sturdy innocence, a Puritan toughness. All things besides seem to be called in for shelter, and what stays out must be part of the original frame of the universe, and of such valor as God himself. It is invigorating to breathe the cleansed air. Its greater fineness and purity are visible to the eye, and we would fain stay out long and late, that the gales may sigh through us, too, as through the leafless trees, and fit us for the winter,— as if we hoped so to borrow some pure and steadfast virtue, which will stead us in all seasons.

  “There is a slumbering subterranean fire in Nature which never goes out, and which no cold can chill. It finally melts the great snow, and in January or July is only buried under a thicker or thinner covering. In the coldest day it flows somewhere, and the snow melts around every tree. This field of winter rye, which sprouted late in the fall, and now speedily dissolves the snow, is where the fire is very thinly covered. We feel warmed by it. In the winter, warmth stands for all virtue, and we resort in thought to a trickling rill, with its bare stones shining in the sun, and to warm springs in the woods, with as much eagerness as rabbits and robins. The steam which rises from swamps and pools is as dear and domestic as that of our own kettle. What fire could ever equal the sunshine of a winter’s day, when the meadow mice come out by the wallsides, and the chickadee lisps in the defiles of the wood? The warmth comes directly from the sun, and is not radiated from the earth, as in summer; and when we feel his beams on our backs as we are treading some snowy dell, we are grateful as for a special kindness, and bless the sun which has followed us into that by-place.

  “This subterranean fire has its altar in each man’s breast, for in the coldest day, and on the bleakest hill, the traveller cherishes a warmer fire within the folds of his cloak than is kindled on any hearth. A healthy man, indeed, is the complement of the seasons, and in winter summer is in his heart. There is the south. Thither have all birds and insects migrated, and around the warm springs in his breast are gathered the robin and the lark.

  “At length, having reached the edge of the woods, and shut out the gadding town, we enter within their covert as we go under the roof of a cottage, and cross its threshold, all ceiled and banked up with snow. They are glad and warm still, and as genial and cheery in winter as in summer. As we stand in the midst of the pines, in the flickering and checkered light which straggles but little way into their maze, we wonder if the towns have ever heard their simple story. It seems to us that no traveller has ever explored them, and notwithstanding the wonders which science is elsewhere revealing every day, who would not like to hear their annals? Our humble villages in the plain are their contribution. We borrow from the forest the boards which shelter and the sticks which warm us. How important is their evergreen to the winter, that portion of the summer which does not fade, the permanent year, the unwithered grass. Thus simply, and with little expense of altitude, is the surface of the earth diversified. What would human life be without forests, those natural cities? From the tops of mountains they appear like smooth shaven lawns, yet whither shall we walk but in this taller grass?

  “In this glade, covered with bushes of a year’s growth, see how the silvery dust lies on every seared leaf and twig, deposited in such infinite and luxurious forms as by their very variety atone for the absence of color. Observe the tiny tracks of mice around every stem, and the triangular tracks of the rabbit. A pure elastic heaven hangs over all, as if the impurities of the summer sky, refined and shrunk by the chaste winter’s cold, had been winnowed from the heavens upon the earth.

  “Nature confounds her summer distinctions at this season. The heavens seem to be nearer the earth. The elements are less reserved and distinct. Water turns to ice, rain to snow. The clay is but a Scandinavian night. The winter is an Arctic summer.

  “How much more living is the life that is in Nature, the furred life which still survives the stinging nights, and, from amidst fields and woods covered with frost and snow, sees the sun rise.

‘The foodless wilds
Pour forth their brown inhabitants.’

  The gray squirrel and rabbit are brisk and playful in the remote glens, even on the morning of the cold Friday. Here is our Lapland and Labrador, and for our Esquimaux and Knistenaux, Dogribbed Indians, Novazemblaites, and Spitzbergeners, are there not the ice cutter and wood chopper, the fox, muskrat, and mink?

  “Still, in the midst of the Arctic day, we may trace the summer to its retreats, and sympathize with some contemporary life. Stretched over the brooks, in the midst of the frost-bound meadows, we may observe the submarine cottages of the caddice worms, the larvæ of the Plicipennes; their small cylindrical cases built around themselves, composed of flags, sticks, grass, and withered leaves, shells, and pebbles, in form and color like the wrecks which strew the bottom,—now drifting along over the pebbly bottom, now whirling in tiny eddies and dashing down steep falls, or sweeping rapidly along with the current, or else swaying to and fro at the end of some grass blade or root. Anon they will leave their sunken habitations, and, crawling up the stems of plants, or the surface, like gnats, as perfect insects henceforth, flutter over the surface of the water, or sacrifice their short lives in the flame of our candles at evening. Down yonder little glen the shrubs are drooping under their burden, and the red alder-berries contrast with the white ground. Here are the marks of a myriad feet which have already been abroad. The sun rises as proudly over such a glen as over the valley of the Seine or the Tiber, and it seems the residence of a pure and self-subsistent valor, such as they never witnessed, which never knew defeat nor fear. Here reign the simplicity and purity of a primitive age, and a health and hope far remote from towns and cities. Standing quite alone, far in the forest, while the wind is shaking down snow from the trees, and leaving the only human tracks behind us, we find our reflections of a richer variety than the life of cities. The chickadee and nuthatch are more inspiring society than statesmen and philosophers, and we shall return to these last as to more vulgar companions. In this lonely glen, with its brook draining the slopes, its creased ice and crystals of all hues, where the spruces and hemlocks stand up on either side, and the rush and sere wild oats in the rivulet itself, our lives are more serene and worthy to contemplate.

  “As the day advances, the heat of the sun is reflected by the hill-sides, and we hear a faint but sweet music, where flows the rill released from its fetters, and the icicles are melting on the trees; and the nuthatch and partridge are hoard and seen. The south wind melts the snow at noon, and the bare ground appears with its withered grass and leaves, and we are invigorated by the perfume which exhales from it as by the scent of strong meats.

  “Let us go into this deserted woodman’s hut and see how ho has passed the long winter nights and the short and stormy days. For here man has lived under this south hill-side, and it seems a civilized and public spot. We have such associations as when the traveller stands by the ruins of Palmyra or Hecatompolis. Singing birds and flowers perchance have begun to appear here, for flowers as well as weeds follow in the footsteps of man. These hemlocks whispered over his head, these hickory logs were his fuel, and these pitch-pine roots kindled his fire; yonder fuming rill in the hollow, whose thin and airy vapor still ascends as busily as ever, though he is far off now, was his well. These hemlock boughs and the straw upon this raised platform were his bed, and this broken dish held his drink. But he has not been here this season, for the phœbes built their nest upon this shelf last summer. I find some embers left, as if he had but just gone out, where he baked his pot of beans; and while at evening he smoked his pipe, whose stemless bowl lies in the ashes, chatted with his only companion, if perchance he had any, about the depth of the snow on the morrow, already falling fast and thick without, or disputed whether the last sound was the screech of an owl, or the creak of a. bough, or imagination only; and through this broad chimney throat, in the late winter evening, ere he stretched himself upon the straw, he looked up to learn the progress of the storm, and seeing the bright stars of Cassiopeia’s chair shining brightly down upon him fell contentedly asleep.

  “See how many traces from which we may learn the chopper’s history. From this stump we may guess the sharpness of his axe, and from the slope of the stroke on which side he stood, and whether he cut down the tree without going round it or changing hands; and from the flexure of the splinters we may know which way it fell. This one chip contains inscribed on it the whole history of the wood-chopper and of the world. On this scrap of paper, which held his sugar or salt, perchance, or was the wadding of his gun, sitting on a log in the forest, with what interest we read the tattle of cities, of those larger huts, empty and to let, like this, in High streets and Broadways. The eves are dripping on the south side of this simple roof, while the titmouse lisps in the pine, and the genial warmth of the sun around the door is somewhat kind and human.

  “After two seasons this rude dwelling does not deform the scene. Already the birds resort to it to build their nests, and you may track to it a door the feet of many quadrupeds. Thus, for a long time, Nature overlooks the encroachment and profanity of man. The wood still cheerfully and unsuspiciously echoes the strokes of the axe that fells it, and while they are few and seldom they enhance its wildness, and all the elements strive to naturalize the sound.

  “Now our path begins to ascend gradually to the top of this high hill, from whose precipitous south side we can look over the broad country, of forest and field and river, to the distant snowy mountains. See yonder thin column of smoke curling up through the woods from some invisible farm house, the standard raised over some rural homestead. There must be a warmer and more genial spot there below, as where we detect the vapor from a stream forming a cloud above the trees. What fine relations are established between the traveller who discovers this airy column from some eminence in the forest and him who sits below. Up goes the smoke as silently and naturally as the vapor exhales from the leaves, and as busy disposing itself in wreaths as the housewife on the hearth below. It is a hieroglyphic of man’s life, and suggests more intimate and important things than the boiling of a pot. Where its fine column rises above the forest like an ensign some human life has planted itself,—and such is the beginning of Rome, the establishment of the arts, and the foundation of empires, whether on the prairies of America or the steppes of Asia.

  “And now we descend again to the brink of this woodland lake which lies in the hollow of the hills, as if it were their expressed juice, and that of the leaves, which are annually steeped in it. Without outlet or inlet to the eye, it has still its history, in the lapse of its waves, in the rounded pebbles on the shore, and in the pines which grow down to its brink. It has not been idle, though sedentary, but, like Abu Musa, teaches that ‘sitting still at home is the heavenly way; the going out is the way of the world.’ Yet in its evaporation it travels as far as any. In summer it is the earth’s liquid eye, a mirror in the breast of Nature. The sins of the wood are we shed out in it. See how the woods form on amphitheatre about it, and it is on arena for all the genialness of nature. All trees direct the traveller to its brink, all paths seek it out, birds fly to it, quadrupeds flee to it, and the very ground inclines towards it. It is Nature’s saloon, where she has sat down to her toilet. Consider her silent economy and tidiness; how the sun comes with his evaporation to sweep the dust from its surface each morning, and a fresh surface is constantly welling up; and annually, after whatever impurities have accumulated herein, its liquid transparency appears again in the spring. In summer o. hushed music seems to sweep across its surface. But now a plain sheet of snow conceals it from our eyes, except where the wind has swept the ice bare, and the sere leaves are gliding from side to side, tacking and veering on their tiny voyages. Here is one just keeled up against a pebble on shore, a dry beach leaf, rocking still, as if it would start again. A skillful engineer, methinks, might project its course since it fell from the parent stem. Here are all the elements for such a calculation. Its present position, the direction of the wind, the level of the pond, and how much more is given. In its scarred edges and veins is its log rolled up.

  “We fancy ourselves in the interior of a larger house. The surface of the pond is a deal table or sanded floor, and the woods rise abruptly from its edge, like the walls of a cottage. The lines set to catch pickerel through the ice look like a larger culinary preparation, and the men stand about on the white ground like pieces of forest furniture. The actions of these men, at a distance of half a mile over the ice and snow impress us as when we read the exploits of Alexander in history. They seem not unworthy of the scenery and as momentous as the conquest of kingdoms.

  “Again we have wandered through the arches of the wood, until from its skirts we hear the distant booming of ice from yonder bay of the river, as if it were moved by some other and subtler tide than oceans know. To me it has a strange sound of home, thrilling as the voice of one’s distant and noble kindred. A mild summer sun shines over forest and lake, and though there is but one green leaf for many rods, yet nature enjoys a serene health. Every sound is fraught with the same mysterious assurance of health, as well now the creaking of the boughs in January, as the soft sough of the wind in July.”

  This is how he accounts for the transportation of pine seeds:—

  “In all the pines, a very thin membrane, in appearance much like an insect’s wing, grows over and around the seed, and independent of it, while the latter is being developed within its base. Indeed, this is often perfectly developed, though the seed is abortive, Nature being, you would say, more sure to provide the means of transporting the seed than to provide the seed to be transported. In other words, a beautiful thin sack is woven around the seed, with a handle to it such as the wind can take hold of, and it is then committed to the wind, expressly that it may transport the seed and extend the range of the species; and this it does as effectually as when seeds are sent by mail in a different kind of sack from the patent office. There is a patent office at the seat of government of the universe, whose managers are as much interested in the dispersion of seeds as anybody at Washington can be, and their operations are infinitely more extensive and regular.

  “There is, then, no necessity for supposing that the pines have sprung up from nothing, and I am aware that I am not at all peculiar in assorting that they come from seeds, though the mode of their propagation by Nature has been but little attended to. They are very extensively raised from the seed in Europe, and are beginning to be here.

  “When you cut down an oak wood, a pine wood will not at once spring up there unless there are, or have been, quite recently, seed-bearing pines near enough for the seeds to be blown from them. But, adjacent to a forest of pines, if you prevent other crops from growing there, you will surely have an extension of your pine forest, provided the soil is suitable.

  “As for the heavy seeds and nuts which are not furnished with wings, the notion is still a very common one that, when the trees which bear these spring up where none of their kind were noticed before, they have come from seeds or other principles spontaneously generated there in an unusual manner, or which have lain dormant in the soil for centuries, or perhaps been called into activity by the heat of a burning. I do not believe these assertions, and I will state some of the ways in which, according to my observation, such forests are planted and raised.

  “Every one of these seeds, too, will be found to be winged or legged in another fashion. Surely, it is not wonderful that cherry trees of all kinds are widely dispersed, since their fruit is well known to be the favorite food of various birds. Many kinds are called bird cherries, and they appropriate many more kinds which are not so called. Eating cherries is a bird-like employment, and unless we disperse the seeds occasionally, as they do, I shall think that the birds have the best right to them. See how artfully the seed of a cherry is placed in order that a bird may be compelled to transport it,—in the very midst of a tempting pericarp, so that the creature that would devour this must commonly take the stone also into its mouth or bill. If you ever ate a cherry, and did not make two bites of it, you must have perceived it,—right in the centre of the luscious morsel, a large earthy residuum left on the tongue. We thus take into our mouths cherry stones as big as peas, a dozen at once, for Nature can persuade us to do almost anything when she would compass her ends. Some wild men and children instinctively swallow these, as the buds do when in a hurry, it being the shortest way to get rid of them. Thus, though these seeds are not provided with vegetable wings, nature has impelled the thrush tribe to take them into their bills and fly away with them; and they are winged in another sense, and more effectually than the seeds of pines, for these are carried even against the wind. The consequence is that cherry trees grow not only here but there the same is true of a great many other seeds.”

  And he finds also the agencies of animals in the transportation of seeds, and thus signalizes it:—

  “As I walk amid hickories, even in August, I hear the sound of green pig nuts falling from time to time, cut off by the chickadee over my head. In the fall I noticed on the ground, either within or in the neighborhood of oak woods, on all sides of the town, stout oak twigs three or four inches long, bearing half a dozen empty acorn cups, which twigs have been gnawed off by squirrels, on both sides of the nuts, in order to make them more portable. The jays scream and the red squirrels scold while you are clubbing and shaking the chestnut trees, for they are there on the same errand, and two of a trade never agree. I frequently see a red or gray squirrel cast down a green chestnut bur, ns I am going through the woods, and I used to think, sometimes, that they were cast at me. In fact, they are so busy about it, in the midst of the chestnut season, that you cannot stand long in the woods without hearing one fall. A sportsman told me that he had, the day before,—that was in the middle of October,—seen a green chestnut bur dropt on our great river meadow, fifty rods from the nearest wood, and much further from the nearest chestnut tree, and he could not tell how it came there. Occasionally, when chestnutting in midwinter, I find thirty or forty nuts in a pile, left in its gallery just under the leaves, by the common wood mouse (mus leucopus).

  “But especially, in the winter, the extent to which this transportation and planting of nuts is carried on is made apparent by the snow. In almost every wood you will see where the red or gray squirrels have pawed down through the snow in a hundred places, sometimes two feet deep, and almost always directly to a nut or a pine-cone, as directly as if they had started from it and bored upward,—which you and I could not have done. It would be difficult for us to find one before the snow falls. Commonly, no doubt, they had deposited them there in the fall. You wonder if they remember the localities, or discover them by the scent. The red squirrel commonly has its wint.cr abode in the earth under a thicket of evergreens, frequently under a small clump of evergreens in the midst of a deciduous wood. If there are any nut-trees, which still retain their nuts, standing at a distance without the wood, their paths often lead directly to and from them. We, therefore, need not suppose an oak standing here and there in the wood in order to seed it, but if a few stand within twenty or thirty rods of it, it is sufficient.

  “I think that I may venture to say that every white-pine cone that falls to the earth naturally in this town, before opening and losing its seeds, and almost every pitch-pine one that falls at all, is cut off by a squirrel, and they begin to pluck them long before they are ripe, so that when the crop of white-pine cones is a small one, as it commonly is, they cut off thus almost every one of these before it fairly ripens. I think, moreover, that their design, if I may so speak, in cutting them off green, is, partly, to prevent their opening and losing their seeds, for these are the ones for which they dig through the snow, and the only white-pine cones which contain anything then. I have counted in one heap, within a diameter of four feet, the cores of 239 pitch-pine cones which had been cut off and stripped by the red squirrel the previous winter.

  “The nuts thus left on the surface, or buried just beneath it, are placed in the most favorable circumstances for germinating. I have sometimes wondered how those which merely fell on the surface of the earth got planted; but, by the end of December, I find the chestnut of the same year partially mixed with the mould, as it were, under the decaying and mouldy leaves, where there is all the moisture and manure they want, for the nuts fall first. In a plentiful year a large proportion of the nuts are thus covered loosely an inch deep, and are, of course, somewhat concealed from squirrels. One winter, when the crop had been abundant, I got, with the aid of a rake, many quarts of these nuts as late as the tenth of January, and though some bought at the store the same day were more than half of them mouldy, I did not find a single mouldy one among these which I picked from under the wet and mouldy leaves, where they had been snowed on once or twice. Nature knows how to pack them best. They were still plump and tender. Apparently, they do not heat there, though wet. In the spring they were all sprouting.

  “Loudon says that ‘when the nut [of the common walnut of Europe] is to be preserved through the winter for the purpose of planting in the following spring, it should be laid in a rot-heap, as soon as gathered, with the husk on; and the heap should be turned over frequently in the course of the winter.’

  “Here, again, he is stealing Nature’s ‘thunder.’ How can a poor mortal do otherwise? for it is she that finds fingers to steal with, and the treasure to be stolen. In the planting of the seeds of most trees, the best gardeners do no more than follow Nature, though they may not know it. Generally, both large and small ones are most sure to germinate and succeed best, when only beaten into the earth with the back of a spade, and then covered with leaves or straw. These results to which planters have arrived remind us of the experience of Kano and his companions at the North, who, when learning to live in that climate, were surprised to find themselves steadily adopting the customs of the natives, simply becoming Esquimaux. So, when we experiment in planting forests, we find ourselves at last doing as Nature docs. Would it not be well to consult with Nature in the outset? for she is the most extensive and experienced planter of us all, not excepting the Dukes of Athol.

  “In short, they who have not attended particularly to this subject are but little aware to what an extent quadrupeds and birds are employed, especially in the fall, in collecting, and so disseminating and planting the seeds of trees. It is the almost constant employment of the squirrels at that season, and you rarely meet with one that has not a nut in its mouth, or is not just going to get one. One squirrel hunter of this town told me that he knew of a walnut tree which bore particularly good nuts, but that on going to gather them one fall, he found that he had been anticipated by a family of a dozen red squirrels. He took out of the tree, which was hollow, one bushel and three pecks by measurement, without the husks, and they supplied him and his family for the winter. It would be easy to multiply instances of this kind. How commonly in the fall you see the cheek-pouches of the striped squirrel distended by a quantity of nuts! This species gets its scientific name Tamias, or the steward, from its habit of storing up nuts and other seeds. Look under a nut tree a month after the nuts have fallen, and see what proportion of sound nuts to the abortive ones and shells you will find ordinarily. They have been already eaten, or dispersed far and wide. The ground looks like a platform before a grocery, where the gossips of the village sit to crack nuts and less savory jokes. You have come, you would say, after the feast was over, and are presented with the shells only.

  “Occasionally, when threading the woods in the fall, you will hear a sound as if some one had broken a twig, and looking up see a jay pecking at an acorn, or you will see a flock of them at once about it, in the top of an oak, and hear them break them off. They then fly to a suitable limb, and placing the acorn under one foot, hammer away at it busily, making a sound like a woodpecker’s tapping, looking round from time to time to see if any foe is approaching, and soon reach the meat, and nibble at it, holding up their heads to swallow, while they hold the remainder very firmly with their claws. Nevertheless, it often drops to the ground before the bird has done with it. I can confirm what Wm. Bartram wrote to Wilson, the ornithologist, that ‘The jay is one of the most useful agents in the economy of nature for disseminating forest trees and other nuciferous and hard seeded vegetables of which they feed. Their chief employment during the autumnal season is foraging to supply their winter stores. In performing this necessary duty they drop abundance of seed in their flight over fields, hedges, and by fences, where they alight to deposit them in the post-holes, etc. It is remarkable what numbers of young trees rise up in fields and pastures after a wet winter and spring. These birds alone are capable, in a few years’ time, to replant all the cleared lands.’

  “I have noticed that squirrels also frequently drop their nuts in open land, which will still further account for the oaks and walnuts which spring up in pastures, for, depend on it, every new tree comes from a seed. When I examine the little oaks, one or two years old, in such places, I invariably find the empty acorn from which they sprung.

  “So far from the seed having lain dormant in the soil since oaks grew there before, as many believe, it is well known that it is difficult to preserve the vitality of acorns long enough to transport them to Europe; and it is recommended in London’s ‘Arboretum,’ as the safest course, to sprout them in pots on the voyage. The same authority states that ‘very few acorns of any species will germinate after having been kept a year,’ that beechmast ‘only retains its vital properties one year,’ and the black walnut ‘seldom more than six months after it has ripened.’ I have frequently found that in November almost every acorn loft on the ground had sprouted or decayed. What with frost, drouth, moisture, and worms, the greater part are soon destroyed. Yet it is stated by one botanical writer that ‘acorns that have lain for centuries, on being ploughed up, have soon vegetated.’

  “Mr. George B. Emerson, in his valuable Report on the Trees and Shrubs of this State (Massachusetts), says of the pines: ‘The tenacity of life of the seeds is remarkable. They will remain for many years unchanged in the ground, protected by the coolness and deep shade of the forest above them. But when the forest is removed, and the warmth of the sun admitted, they immediately vegetate.’ Since he does not tell us on what observation his remark is founded, I must doubt its truth. Besides, the experience of nurserymen makes it the more questionable.

  “The stories of wheat raised from seed buried with an ancient Egyptian, and of raspberries raised from seed found in the stomach of a man in England, who is supposed to have died sixteen or seventeen hundred years ago, are generally discredited, simply because the evidence is not conclusive.

  “Several men of science, Dr. Carpenter among them, have used the statement that beach plums sprang up in sand which was dug up forty miles inland in Maine, to prove that the seed had lain there a very long time, and some have inferred that the coast has receded so far. But it seems to me necessary to their argument to show, first, that beach plums grow only on a beach. They are not uncommon here, which is about half that distance from the shore; and I remember a dense patch a few miles north of us, twenty-five miles inland, from which the fruit was annually carried to market. How much farther inland they grow, I know not. Dr. Chas. T. Jackson speaks of finding ‘beach plums’ (perhaps they were this kind) more than one hundred miles inland in Maine.”

  His close observation of the wildest animals implies a kind of real brotherhood,—a patient self-identifying sympathy, as rare amongst naturalists as any other class. A passage on the muskrat and the fox may be cited in this light:—

  “Frequently, in the morning or evening, a long ripple is seen in the still water, where a. muskrat is crossing the stream, with only its nose above the surface, and sometimes a green bough in its mouth to build its house with. When it finds itself observed, it will dive and swim five or six rods under water, and at length conceal itself in its hole, or the weeds. It will remain under water for ten minutes at a time, and on one occasion has been seen, when undisturbed, to form an air bubble under the ice, which contracted and expanded as it breathed at leisure. When it suspects danger on shore, it will stand erect like a squirrel, and survey its neighborhood for several minutes, without moving.

  “In the fall, if a meadow intervene between their burrows and the stream, they erect cabins of mud and grass, three or four feet high, near its edge. These are not their breeding places, though young are sometimes found in late freshets, but rather their hunting lodges, to which they resort in the winter with their food, and for shelter. Their food consists chiefly of flags and fresh-water muscles, the shells of the latter being left in large quantities around their lodges in the spring.

  “The Penobscot Indian wears the entire skin of a muskrat, with the legs and tail dangling, and the head caught under his girdle, for a pouch, into which he puts his fishing tackle and essences to scent his traps with.

  “The bear, wolf, lynx, wild-cat, deer, beaver, and marten have disappeared; the otter is rarely if ever seen here at present; and the mink is less common than formerly.

  “Perhaps of all our untamed quadrupeds, the fox has obtained the widest and most familiar reputation, from the time of Pilpay and Æsop to the present day. His recent tracks still give variety to a winter’s walk. I tread in the steps of the fox that has gone before me by some hours, or which perhaps I have started, with such a tiptoe of expectation, as if I wore on the trail of the spirit itself which resides in the wood, and expected soon to catch it in its lair. I am curious to know what has determined its graceful curvatures, and how surely they were coincident with the fluctuations of some mind. I know which way a mind wended, what horizon it faced, by the setting of these tracks, and whether it moved slowly or rapidly, by their greater or less intervals and distinctness; for the swiftest step leaves yet a lasting trace. Sometimes you will see the trails of many together, and where they have gambolled and gone through a hundred evolutions, which testify to a singular listlessness and leisure in nature.

  “When I see a fox run across the pond in the snow, with the carelessness of freedom, or at intervals trace his course in the sunshine along the ridge of a hill, I give up to him sun and earth as to their true proprietor. He does not go in the sun, but it seems to follow him, and there is a visible sympathy between him and it. Sometimes, when the snow lies light, and but five or six inches deep, you may give chase and come up with one on foot. In such a case he will show a remarkable presence of mind, choosing only the safest direction, though he may lose ground by it. Notwithstanding his fright, he will take no step which is not beautiful. His pace is a sort of leopard canter, as if he were in nowise impeded by the snow, but were husbanding his strength all the while. When the ground is uneven, the course is a series of graceful curves, conforming to the shape of the surface. He runs as though there were not a bone in his back. Occasionally dropping his muzzle to the ground for a rod or two, and then tossing his head aloft, when satisfied of his course. When he comes to a declivity, he will put his forefeet together, and slide swiftly down it, shoving the snow before him. He treads so softly that you would hardly hear it from any nearness, and yet with such expression that it would not be quite inaudible at any distance.”

  Surely there is a fine eye for color here, as well as an instinct for that unity in which lies the proof of artistic conception:—

  “By the twenty-fifth of September, the red maples generally are beginning to be ripe. Some large ones have been conspicuously changing for a week, and some single trees are now very brilliant. I noticed a small one, half a mile oft’ across a meadow, against the green wood-side there, a far brighter red than the blossoms of any tree in summer, and more conspicuous. I have observed this tree for several autumns invariably changing earlier than its fellows, just as one tree ripens its fruit earlier than another; It might serve to mark the season, perhaps. I should be sorry, if it were cut down. I know of two or three such trees in different parts of our town, which might, perhaps, be propagated from, as early ripeners or September trees, and their seed be advertised in the market, as well as that of radishes, if we cared as much about them.

  “At present these burning bushes stand chiefly along the edge of the meadows, or I distinguish them afar on the hill-sides here and there. Sometimes you will see many small ones in a swamp turned quite crimson when all other trees around are still perfectly green, and the former appear so much the brighter for it. They take you by surprise, as you are going by on one side, across the fields, thus early in the season, as if it were some gay encampment of the red men, or other foresters, of whose arrival you had not heard.

  “Some single trees, wholly bright scarlet, seen against others of their kind still freshly green, or against evergreens, are more memorable than whole groves will be by-and-by. How beautiful, when a whole tree is like one great scarlet fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf, from lowest limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun! What more remarkable object can there be in the landscape? Visible for miles, too fair to be believed. If such a phenomenon occurred but once, it would be handed down by tradition to posterity, and get into the mythology at last.

  “The whole tree thus ripening in advance of its fellows attains a singular pre-eminence, and sometimes maintains it for a week or two. I am thrilled at the sight of it, bearing aloft its scarlet standard for the regiment of green-clad foresters around, and I go half a mile out of my way to examine it. A single tree becomes thus the crowning beauty of some meadowy vale, and the expression of the whole surrounding forest is at once more spirited for it.

  “A small red maple has grown, perchance, far away at the head of some retired valley, a mile from any road, unobserved. It has faithfully discharged the duties of a maple there, all winter and summer, neglected none of his economics, but added to its stature in the virtue which belongs to a maple, by a steady growth for so many months, never having gone gadding abroad, and is nearer heaven than it was in the spring. It has faithfully husbanded its sap, and afforded a shelter to the wandering bird, has long since ripened its seeds and committed them to the winds, and has the satisfaction of knowing, perhaps, that a thousand little well-behaved maples are already settled in life somewhere. It deserves well of Mapledom. Its leaves have been asking it from time to time, in a whisper, ‘When shall we redden?’ And now, in this month of September, this month of travelling, when men are hastening to the sea side, or the mountains, or the lakes, this modest maple, still without budging an inch, travels in its reputation runs up its scarlet flag on that hill-side, which shows that it has finished its summer’s work before all other trees, and withdraws from the contest. At the eleventh hour of the year, the tree which no scrutiny could have detected here when it was most industrious is thus, by the tint of its maturity, by its very blushes, revealed at last to the careless and distant traveller, and leads his thoughts away from tl1e dusty road into those brave solitudes which it inhabits. It flashes out conspicuous with all the virtue and beauty of a maple,—Acer rubrum.

*           *           *           *

  “Notwithstanding the red maple is the most intense scarlet of any of our trees, the sugar maple has been the most celebrated, and Michaux in his ‘Sylva’ does not speak of the autumnal color of the former. About the second of October these trees, both large and small, are most brilliant, though many are still green. In ‘sprout-lands’ they seem to vie with one another, and over some particular one in the midst of the crowd will be of a peculiarly pure scarlet, and by its more intense color attract our eye even at a distance, and carry off the palm. A large red maple swamp, when at the height of its change, is the most obviously brilliant of all tangible things, where I dwell, so abundant is this tree with us. It varies much both in form and color. A great many are merely yellow, more scarlet, others scarlet deepening into crimson, more rod and common. Look at yonder swamp of maples mixed with pines at the base of a pine-clad bill, a quarter of a mile off, so that you get the full effect of the bright colors without detecting the imperfections of the leaves, and see their yellow, scarlet, and crimson-fires, of all tints, mingled and contrasted with the green. Some maples are yet green, only yellow or crimson-tipped on the edges of their flakes, like the edges of a hazelnut bur; some are wholly brilliant scarlet, raying out regularly and finely every way bilaterally, like the veins of a leaf; others, of a more irregular form, when I turn my head slightly, emptying out some of its earthiness and concealing the trunk of the tree, seem to rest heavily flake on flake, like yellow and scarlet clouds, wreath upon wreath, or like snowdrifts driving through the air, stratified by the wind. It adds greatly to the beauty of such a swamp at this season that, even though there may be no other trees interspersed, it is not seen as a simple mass of color, but different trees being of different colors and hues, the outline of each crescent tree top is distinct, and where one laps on to another. Yet a painter would hardly venture to make them thus distinct a quarter of a mile off.

  “As I go across a meadow directly toward a low rising ground this bright afternoon, I see, some fifty rods off toward the sun, the top of a maple swamp just appearing over the sheeny russet edge of the hill, a stripe apparently twenty rods long by ten feet deep, of the most intensely brilliant scarlet, orange and yellow, equal to any flowers or fruits or any tints ever painted. As I advance, lowering the edge of the hill which makes the firm foreground or lower frame of the picture, the depth of the brilliant grove revealed steadily increases, suggesting that the whole of the enclosed valley is filled with such color. One wonders that the tithingmen and fathers of the town are not out to see what the trees mean by their high colors and exuberance of spirits, fearing that some mischief is brewing. I do not see what the Puritans did at this season when the maples blaze out in scarlet. They certainly could not have worshipped in groves then. Perhaps that is what they built meeting-houses and fenced them round with horse sheds for.”

  With Thoreau, in one word, everything is seen in relation to human sentiment and fitness. He is a reconciler. His great aim is to recommend Nature to man; to prove her worthy of the recommendation, and so induce and enhance the idea of individuality, which, in midst of all her masses and mighty generalities, she everywhere faithfully celebrates. Thoreau went to Nature an individualist, and came back the prophet of society, as truly reconstructed, with liberty for its groundwork,—but liberty which would give no quarter to license of any kind. Sobriety, severity, and self-respect, foundation of all true sociality, are his motto. He himself says:—

  “I think 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.”

  It was quite consistent with this that he should hate slavery,—should speak nobly and unceasingly for the valiant John Brown, of Harper’s Ferry. His heart beat true for human rights, though he was wont to speak depreciatingly of professed philanthropists, who were apt to ignore broad distinctions, where he maintained them,—distinctions, too, which he held were essential to be recognized in view at once of social well-being and true individuality. In fact Thoreau was a man of ready public spirit, though he declined to be interested in the petty machinery of forced and over-heated local politics, just as Emerson tells us that he listened impatiently to news or bon mots gleaned from London circles; and that though he tried to be civil, these anecdotes fatigued him. Wrapt up with his apparent disregard of elegance, he had with him a marked air of elegance which could consist without accessories. “He was short of stature, firmly built, of light complexion, serious blue eyes [right well-opened], and a grave aspect.” So says Emerson, and the portrait given at the opening of the ‘Excursions’ justifies the words. The expression is at once shrewd and spiritual,—the Yankee traits really there, yet refined away in earnest thought and wise foresight. The eyes soft and thoughtful, yet wondrously penetrating, expressive of sharp mother-wit and kindliness and generosity without stint; the nose full, and yet sensitive in the nostril; the mouth expressive of resolution and self-respecting calmness; and the forehead a round, rising arch, bespeaking fervid emotions. Such was Thoreau,—one of the most vigorous, independent, and true-hearted of Americans, who would easily have been turned into a martyr, notwithstanding that he held so lightly by formulas.

  His cutting brusqueness, of which even his dearest friends sometimes made mention, arose out of the seriousness and severity of his nature, which made him abhor all triviality and vain conversation, and which, combined with such keen imagination and fiery hatred of wrong as characterized him, is always a main ingredient in heroism. What could be finer than his own account of himself, when he was cast into the county prison, because of that quarrel over the taxes, which he would not pay:—

  “I have paid no poll tax for six years. I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up. I wondered that it should have concluded at length that this was the best use to put me to, and had never thought to avail itself of my services in any way. I saw that if there was a stone wall between me and my townsmen there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through before they could get to be as free as I was. I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax. They plainly did not know how to treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. In every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder, for they thought that my chief desire was to stand on the other side of that stone wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously they locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out again without let or hindrance, and they were really all that was dangerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body; just as boys, if they cannot come at any person at whom they have a grudge, will abuse his dog.

  Seldom has the Puritan idea of freedom of soul been better illustrated,-unless perhaps by John Bunyan, in Bedford jail. Thoreau drew from his Saxon ancestors, on the female side, a dash of the Puritan blood, and, on a point of right, he would have fought, and borne all indignity. In this case his friends came to his rescue, and he went free.

  But amidst his earnestness, his dignified humor does not forsake him. He lays his eye level to circumstances, and looks along them to a fuller result.

  Philosophic he is, and more, as the following account of his jail experiences will prove:—

  “The night in prison was novel and interesting enough; the prisoners in their shirt-sleeves were enjoying a chat and the evening air in the doorway when I entered. But the jailor said, ‘Come, boys, it is time to lock up;’ and so they dispersed, and I heard the sound of their steps returning into the hollow apartments. My room-mate was introduced to me by the jailor as ‘a first-rate fellow, and a clever man.’ When the door was locked, he showed me where to hang my hat, and how he managed matters there. The rooms were whitewashed once a month; and this one, at least, was the whitest, most simply furnished, and probably the neatest apartment in the town. He naturally wanted to know where I came from, and what had brought me there; and when I had told him, I asked him, in my turn, how he came there, presuming him to be an honest man, of course; and as the world goes, I believed he was.’ ‘Why,’ said he, they accuse me of burning a barn; but I never did it.’ As near as I could discover, he had probably gone to bed in a barn when drunk, and smoked his pipe there; and so a barn was burnt. He had the reputation of being a clever man, had been there some three months waiting for his trial to come on, and would have to wait as much longer; but he was quite domesticated and contented, since he got his board for nothing, and thought that he was well treated.

  “He occupied one window, and I the other; and I saw that, if one stayed there long, his principal business would be to look out at the window. I had soon read all the tracts that were left there, and examined where former prisoners had broken out, and where a grate had been sawed off, and heard the history of the various occupants of the room; for I found that even here there was a history and a gossip, which never circulated beyond the walls of the jail. Probably this is the only house in the town where verses are composed, which are afterwards printed in circular form, but not published. I was shown quite a long list of verses, which were composed by some young men who had been detected in an attempt to escape, who avenged themselves by singing them.

  “I pumped my follow-prisoner as dry as I could, for fear I should never see him again; but at length he showed me which was my bed, and left me to blow out the lamp.

  “It was like travelling into a far country, such as I had never expected to behold, to lie there for one night. It seemed to me that I never had heard the town clock strike before, nor the evening sounds of the village; for we slept with the windows open, which were inside the grating. It was to see my native village in the light of the Middle Ages; and our Concord was turned into a Rhino stream, and visions of knights and castles passed before me. They were the voices of old burghers that I heard in the streets. I was an involuntary spectator and auditor of whatever was done and said in the kitchen of the adjacent village inn,—a wholly new and rare experience to me. It was a closer view of my native town. I was fairly inside of it. I never had seen its institutions before. This is one of its peculiar institutions, for it is a shire town. I began to comprehend what its inhabitants were about.

  “In the morning our breakfasts were put through the hole in the door, in small, oblong, square tin pans, made to fit, and holding a pint of chocolate, with brown bread, and an iron spoon. When they called for the vessels again, I was green enough to return what bread I had left; but my comrade seized it, and said that I should lay that up for a lunch or dinner. Soon after he was let out for haying in a neighboring field, whither he went every day, and would not be back till noon, so he bade me good day, saying that he doubted if he should see me again. . . .

  “It was formally the custom in our village, when a poor debtor came out of jail, for his acquaintances to salute him, looking through their fingers, which were crossed to represent the grating of a jail window, ‘How do ye do?’ My neighbors did not thus salute me, but first looked at me, and then at one another, as if I had returned from a long journey. I was put into jail as I was going to the shoemaker’s to get a shoe which was mended. When I was let out the next morning I proceeded to finish my errand, and having put on my mended shoe, joined a huckleberry party, who were impatient to put themselves under my conduct; and in half an hour—for the horse was soon tackled-was in the midst of a huckleberry field, in one of our highest hills, two miles off, and then the State was nowhere to be seen.

  “I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject; and, as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my fellow-countrymen now. It was for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refused to pay it. I simply wished to withdraw and for a time stand apart from it effectually.”

  Probably it was this quality of self-sufficience, associated as it was with such wonderful clearness of aim and skill in finding easy means to attain the end in view, which made Mr. Emerson signalize his practical ability in this regretful strain:—

  “Had his genius been only contemplative, he had been fitted for his life; but with his energy and practical ability he seemed born for a great enterprise and for command; and I so much regret the loss of his rare powers of action that I cannot help counting it a fault in him that he had no ambition. Wanting this, instead of engineering for all America, he was the captain of a huckleberry party. Pounding beans is good to the end of pounding empires one of these days; but if at the end of the years it is still only beans! . . .”

  Thoreau has been too absolutely claimed by the transcendentalists and treated as a mere disciple of Emerson. This has led in large me11Sure to his being rejected all too decisively by the purely scientific men, for whom, nevertheless, he has many hints that are equally original and valuable. It must be admitted, however, that if he had been less of a poet, he would have recommended himself better to the scientific class, precisely as he would have been a better Emersonian, if his eye for concrete facts had been less keen. He is impatient of certain forms of analysis,—more concerned to gain insight into the inner nature than to anatomize and win knowledge of the mere details of structure.

  Both these circumstances have tended to deprive Thoreau of the credit that belongs to him. After you deduct in the most exacting manner all that is due to Emerson and Transcendentalism, and allow that in some points he failed under the most rigid reckonings of science, much remains to establish hill claims on our sympathy and deference. His instincts were true; his patience was unbounded; he never flinched from pain or labor when it lay in the way of his object; and complaint he was never known to utter on his own account.

  No hard logical line ought to be laid to his utterances in the sphere of personal opinion or liking. He confessedly wrote without regard to abstract consistency. His whole life was determined by sympathy, though he sometimes seemed cynical. We are fain to think, indeed, that under his brusqueness there lay a suppressed humorous questioning of his reader’s capacity and consequent right to understand him and to offer sympathy. If, on this account, he may be said to have sacrificed popularity, he paid the penalty, which people often pay in actual life for too consciously hiding their true feelings under a veil of indifference; and it is much if we find that the cynical manner seldom intruded on the real nature.

  The story of Thoreau’s life has a value, too, inasmuch as we see in him how the tendency of culture, and of theoretic speculation towards rationalistic indifference, and n general unconcern in the fate of others, may be checked by a genuine love of Nature, and by the self-denials she can prompt in the regard that she conveys and enforces for the individual life and for freedom. The practical lesson of a true Transcendentalism, faithfully applied, must issue thus,—and it is the same whether we see it in St. Francis, in the saintly Eckhart, in William Law or in the naturalist Thoreau. All life is sanctified by the relation in which it is seen to the source of life,—an idea which lies close to the Christian spirit, however much a fixed and rationalized dogmatic relation to it may tend to dessicate and render bare and arid those spaces of the individual nature which can bloom and blossom only through sympathy and emotions that ally themselves with what is strictly mystical.

  It was through Nature, to which he retreated, that Thoreau recovered his philanthropic interests,—his love of mankind, which he might have come near to losing through the spirit of culture which can only encourage cynicism and weariness in view of artificial conventions and pretexts. Thoreau would have shrunk with loathing horror from the touch of that savant who, as Agassiz seriously assures us, said to him that the age of real civilization would have begun when you could go out and shoot a man for scientific purposes. This seems very awful when put baldly on paper: it is but the necessary expression of the last result of culture coldly rationalistic, of science determinately materialistic, since both alike must operate towards loosening the bonds of natural sympathy. Thoreau was saved from the ‘modern curse of culture’ by his innocent delights, and his reverence for all forms of life so stimulated. His strong faith in the higher destiny of humanity through the triumph of clearer moral aims, and ‘the apprehension of a good beyond the individual or even the national interest, would have linked him practically with the Christian philanthropist rather than with the cultured indifferentists or worshipper of artistic beauty or knowledge for their own sakes.

  In this view Thoreau, in spite of his transcendentalism, or as some would say, professed pantheism, was a missionary. His testimony bears in the direction of showing that the study of Nature, when pursued in such a way as to keep alive individual affection and the sentiments of reverence, is one that practically must work in alliance with enlightened Christian conceptions, and that in a moment of real peril, when cruelty and wrong and disorder else would triumph, the true votary of nature will be on the side of the Christian hero who suffers wrong to redeem the weak. Thoreau thus exhibits to us one way of uplifting science, in relieving her from the false associations which would disconnect her from common humanity and set her in opposition to its strongest instincts,—the science falsely so called, which by baseless assumptions would demoralize, materialize, and brutify, and refuse scope to the exorcise of the more ideal and beneficent part, of man because it fails to comprehend it or to cover it adequately by its exacting definitions.

  It would be ungrateful in us, who are so deeply indebted to Emerson for many benefits, to analyze at length the deteriorating effect which his teachings had, in certain directions on Thoreau. But they are too outstanding to be wholly passed over without notice. It is patent that Thoreau’s peculiar gifts led him to deal with outward things. He was an observer, a quick-eyed and sympathetic recorder of the inner life of nature. Emerson’s teaching developed a certain self-conscious and theorizing tendency far from natural to Thoreau. He is often too concerned to seek justification for certain facts in purely ideal conceptions which nevertheless have not been reduced to coherency with a general scheme. He is too indifferent to the ordinary scientific order, too much intent on giving us a cosmology in fragments, in which paradox shall startle, if it does not enlighten. Whenever Thoreau proceeds to air abstract statements he is treading on insecure ground; his love of Emersonian philosophy leads him some strange dances. Above all, this foreign element is seen in the effusive egotism which constantly appears when he leaves the ground of facts for general disquisition. He would fain attract us by forced freshness and by the effort to utter paradoxical and startling statements. No man could be more clear, simple, direct, incisive than be is when he has a real nature object before his eye or his mind; for memory never fails him. But when he is abstract and oracular, he is oftentimes more puzzling than his master. When Thoreau is telling his own story,—what he saw, what he heard, what he did,—be is simply delightful. His pantheism, so far as it was a conscious thing with him, is not inviting; and would often be very hard and unattractive, we’re it not that his instincts were far truer than his mind was exact on the logical side, and saved him from the natural effects of such vagary and paradoxical assertions. But we can dissociate Thoreau’s merits from these adhesions. His Emersonian pantheism did not destroy his finer sensibilities and sympathies, which made him, as be certainly was, one of Nature’s diviners and reconcilers,—a pantheist as all true poets have been, as Christ himself was. Like many others, be brought a double gift; but that which is truest and most available is that of which he made but little account. So it is that we believe we can detach from his writings what will serve to illustrate the better side of his genius. Fitly and fully done, this cannot but prove a service; for we can ill afford wholly to miss the benefit of the record of such a peculiar experience,-a discerning and divining instinct, on the whole wisely directed to its true purpose, and revealing rare possibilities in human life, new relationships and sources of deep joy.

  It is very striking to trace out the varied ways by which different minds reach an identical practical result. The quietism of John Woolman, the Quaker, would hardly have met with sympathy from Thoreau in many points; and yet how the lines of their thought and mysticism, variant as they seem, meet in one point. Thoreau would have sympathized with and endorsed these remarkable records, which we cite with the more pleasure as they will be found to illustrate the law to which we were just giving expression as to the preparation a true communion with Nature must ever give for genuine philanthropic interests:—

  “I was early convinced in my mind,” says Woolman, in his journal, “that true religion consisted in I an inward life, wherein the heart doth love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness, not only towards all men, but also towards brute creatures; that as the mind was moved by an inward principle to love God as an invisible, incomprehensible Being, by the same principle it was moved to love Him in all His manifestations in the visible world; that as by his breath the flame of life was kindled in all animal sensible creatures, to say we Jove God as unseen, and at the same time to exercise cruelty towards the least creature moving by His life, or by life derived from Him, was a contradiction in itself. . . . I looked upon the works of God in this visible world, and an awfulness covered me; my heart was tender and often contrite, and universal love to my fellow-creatures increased in me; this will be understood by those who have trodden in the same path. Some glances of real beauty may be seen in their faces who dwell in true meekness.” So when during his brief peregrination through England he was saddened by the dire development of the slave trade, “under the weight of this exercise,” he says, “the sight of innocent birds among the branches, and sheep in their pastures, who act according to the will of their Creator, hath at times tended to mitigate my trouble.”

  Indeed the idea is forced upon us that all true Christians, in spite of variety of dogmatic forms, must be Transcendentalists in the sense that Thoreau was. They must see all life as flowing from the Source of life,—God manifesting Himself richly in the works of Nature,—casting over all the evidences of His grace, of which the creature makes himself the conscious partaker by the temporary sense of separation in the independent effort of will towards harmonizing his immediate surroundings with this vast unity. Thus in the return to Nature, his idea of God’s presence is intensified and deepened.

  Madame Sand, at one place, writes as follows:—

  “Nature is eternally young, beautiful, bountiful. She pours out beauty and poetry for all that live. She pours it out on all plants, and the plants are permitted to expand in it freely. She possesses the secret of happiness, and no man has been able to take it away from her. The happiest of men would he be, who, possessing the science of his labor and working with his hands, earning his comfort and his freedom by the exercise of his intelligent force, found time to live by the heart and by the brain, to understand his own work, and to love the work of God. The artist has satisfaction of this kind in the contemplation and reproduction of nature’s beauty; but when he sees the affliction of those who people this paradise of earth, the upright and human hearted artist feels a trouble in the midst of his enjoyment. The happy day will be when mind, heart, and hands shall be alive together, and shall work in concert; when there shall be a harmony between God’s munificence and man’s delight in it. Then instead of the piteous and frightful figure of Death, stepping whip in hand by the peasant’s side in the field, the allegorical painter will place there a radiant angel, sowing with full hands the blessed grain in the smoking furrow.

  “And the dream of a kindly, free, poetic, laborious, and simple existence for the tiller of the field is not so hard to realize that it must be sent away into the world of chimeras. Virgil’s sweet and sad cry, ‘O happy peasants, if they but knew their own blessings!’ is a regret; but like all regrets, it is at the same time a prediction. The day will come, when the laborer may be also an artist, not in the sense of rendering Nature’s beauty,-a matter which will be then of much loss importance,—but in the sense of feeling it. Does not this mysterious intuition of poetic beauty exist in him already in the form of instinct and vague reverie.”

  Mr. Matthew Arnold1 is quite right in founding on Madame Sand’s sympathy, purified and strengthened by the true love of Nature, an element which will give her influence in the coming time. This is, in the words of Mrs. Browning,—

“The True Pan
Who by low creatures leads to heights of love.”

  “Here,” says Mr. Matthew Arnold, “lies the strength of George Sand, and of her second movement after the first movement of energy and revolt was over, towards nature and beauty, towards the country, primitive life, the peasant. She regarded not with the selfish and solitary joy of the artist who but seeks to appropriate them for his own purposes, she regarded them as a treasure of immense and hitherto unknown application, as a vast -power of healing and delight for all.”

  This complete brotherhood of sympathy is the bright prophecy of a union as yet but dreamt of. When men shall cease to define things that lie beyond the intellect, and fear to debate and to dogmatize because they directly realize the presences that ‘disturb with the joy of elevated thought,’—when Nature shall be but a medium of purer communion, and all her beauty and terror only bespeak undeveloped possibilities of human love and fellowship,—then the era of true toleration shall have begun. Already we see hints and prophecies of it, travelling through enlarging spaces of life far apart from each other. As the sun at his first rising strikes the distant mountains, that seem to be further separated from each other than they really are by the dark mists that linger in the valleys, which by and by shall be radiant also; so in the moral and spiritual life of man. St. Francis, in the Middle Ages, speaks a word that awakes the same echo in minds so diverse as those of Thoreau, Woolman, and Madame Sand. Nature enforces simplicity; simplicity must erase conventional distinctions or the sense of them, in the line of a culture whose elements are open to all; hence a reverence for human effort and human suffering, and an endeavor to unite the poor and the rich, the ignorant and the learned, the thinker and the worker in one bond. This is the true return to Nature and simplicity, of which Rousseau presented but a perverted image of vague promise, which a bankrupt society, in its despair, for a moment tried to find happiness in, while it carried all its interested artificiality along with it. This was the poison that lay at basis of that eighteenth century effort at reconstruction, so sincere and earnest in many respects. But it claimed no real self-denial, no surrender to the presences that demand escape from the jarring fetters of conventionalism. In destroying one series, it but created another; and in the effusive sensibility it sanctioned and demanded, it raised anew and in a more dangerous form the very distinctions which it professed to have erased. The worker, as precluded from the luxury of a strained sensibility was, in the last result, relegated to a class apart; equality became a sentiment, a rapture, an æsthetic luxury; Rousseauism returned upon itself, and ended in” the very evils which it began by contesting. We wait a new return upon Nature and simplicity, enforcing a fuller and more intimate sympathy of man with man; Thoreau and Madame Sand, with their kindred, are its prophets.

“The man,
Who in this spirit, communes with the forms
Of Nature, who, with understanding heart,
Doth know and love such objects as excite
No morbid passions, no disquietude,
No vengeance, and no hatred, needs must feel
The joy of that pure principle of love
So deeply, that, unsatisfied with aught
Less pure and exquisite, he cannot choose
But seek for objects of a kindred love
In fellow-natures and a kindred joy.”

1 Fortnightly Review for June, 1877.

All Sub-Works of Thoreau: His Life and Aims. A Study. (1877):
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