One of the most welcome visitors to the Hosmer farm was Henry D. Thoreau. There have been many opinions of this quiet man who wore coarse shoes and homespun raiment, which he considered best fitted for his long walks and close study of nature. Some said that because except to make a few lead pencils, survey a neighbor’s field, or teach a term of school he had no regular occupation he was an idle, lazy sort of fellow. Others, that he was an eccentric citizen who refused to pay his poll tax. His. friends knew him as a rare soul, of feminine purity and of keen intellect. A few readers found in him an original and daring thinker, bringing them into touch with those things which make for the sours eternal progress. Some discovered in him the closest of observers, a wonderful painter of things he had seen, so accurate a describer of bird or flower that the description needed no name to enlighten it.
His intense love of nature was like a sixth sense which won from her secrets hidden from others. As Velasquez reproduced the life of his time, so Concord has been reproduced in his writings. Concord’s gentle landscapes are painted with colors that glow with the intensity of his love for the town. He used to say that he had been born in just the right place at just the right time. Again, he wrote, “Concord is my old coat, my morning gown, my study gown, my working dress, and at last will be my night gown.” It has also become a monument to him. As long as Walden Pond remains or Concord River flows, the name of Thoreau will be associated with them. He taught hearing to those who before had only ears, and sight to those who had never seen. He said he would not know the river or the fields if he awoke some morning with someone else’s eyes. Channing called Concord a bare town, but Thoreau made it teem on every side with beauty.
The cuckoo-pint was brought to Concord by Thoreau’s grandfather. This grandfather was a wealthy merchant, but the father did not succeed in the business and failed, so that although he was not really poor he always felt so.
Graduated from Harvard, in after years the only part of college life he appears to have remembered with joy were the hours he spent at the library. He won and kept a scholarship and earned some money while an undergraduate by teaching school in Canton, Massachusetts. His life at Cambridge was interrupted by a serious illness, although he went back to college for his senior year. Whether on account of this illness or not, we find him more and more determined to travel his own path, unmindful of the broad highway made popular by usage. In discrediting the value of study for the sake of high rank we note the beginning of that distrust for the learning acquired in college which grew more intense in later years.
On finishing his course he taught school in Concord. His pupils always testified to the excellence of his discipline, but the story is that the school committee were not satisfied because he never resorted to corporal punishment. Thoreau therefore flogged six boys one afternoon, but resigned the next day from a profession too brutal to suit him.
He and John then opened a private school in their own home. Henry taught French, Greek and Latin, physics, and mathematics. The school prospered, outgrew the house, and they moved to larger quarters. They were much beloved by the pupils, who were managed without resort to flogging or threats. They were original in their methods; surveying was taught and open air walks taken for nature studies. The non-resident pupils boarded with the Thoreaus. The school had twenty-five pupils enrolled when John’s illness became too serious and Henry refused to go on alone.
Mr. Thoreau, senior, being financially embarrassed, Henry came to his aid in the manufacture of lead pencils. My aunts well remembered the parcels of these pencils with the label, “Thoreau and Son, Concord, Mass.” These were peddled from Boston to New York and Thoreau speaks of his satisfaction in knowing that their pencils were the finest on the market. Our family used them and I still have several of them among my treasures. Afterwards he invented a machine for making a flne lead dust to be used in electrotyping, which brought in considerable money for the family. This machine spun round like a top inside of a box set on a table. It was wound up to run itself and was easily operated by a woman. After Henry’s death Sophia kept on with the business and orders came directed to S. Thoreau, Esq., customers supposing her to be a man.
The family being provided for, Henry was free to carry on his true business, that of “Living.” Now, surveying a neighbor’s field, or doing some odd job for a farmer was sufficient to supply his personal needs while off on a tramp or a boating cruise, or for acquiring leisure to write.
From boyhood the river had a strong attraction for him. When sixteen he built a boat called “The Rover,” of the style or seaworthiness of which we have no record. While in college, the Red Jacket was made, not much of a craft according to his own notes. He writes in his log book of its casting him ashore on Nashawtuc Beach, whence he says, “Got her off at twenty minutes of four, and after a pleasant passage of ten minutes, arrived safely in port with a valuable cargo,”-the precious cargo being himself.
After leaving college his brother John and he built on land near the present public library a fifteen foot dory, which they named “The Musketaquid” after the Indian name of the river. This was, he said, “strongly built but heavy,” and was painted green with a border of blue.
On the evening of August thirtieth it was packed ready for the trip. The next day the sailors set forth, their sisters and some friends waving good-byes from the shore till the boat was out of sight.
Part way down the river they met a man from Concord and thoughtfully sent a radio message to their mother, in the shape of an hibiscus which the man promised to deliver to Mrs. Thoreau at church.
The incidents of this voyage are told in Thoreau’s first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers.
His enjoyment of the river was tragically interrupted by the sudden death of his brother who cut his finger while shaving and died of lockjaw.
Those who thought of Thoreau as cold or indifferent little understood the depth of feeling that lay beneath his undemonstrative exterior. During his father’s illness his devotion was such that Mrs. Thoreau in recalling it said, “If it hadn’t been for my husband’s illness, I should never have known what a tender heart Henry had.” He mourned deeply for this beloved brother. He laid aside his flute and for years refused to speak his name. A friend told me that twelve years later Thoreau started, turned pale, and could hardly overcome his emotion when some reference to John was made.
For nearly two years after John’s death he lived with the Emersons. Mr. Emerson, who was away much of the time on lecture tours, liked to leave Thoreau in charge. There was a strong tie of grief that joined Mrs. Emerson, who had lost little Waldo, and this young man who mourned so deeply his beloved brother, and a warm affection arose between them. Henry’s capable ways were a great comfort to her. The loose bolts were tightened, the hens well cared for, the garden bloomed in luxuriant beauty, the vegetables and fruit trees were tended by skillful hands. The children held him as a boon companion and recognized the youthful heart that could make evenings pass in merriment. No wonder that Mrs. Emerson loved him or that he found an abiding corner in the heart of that spinster as uncompromising as himself, Emerson’s Aunt Mary.
Later he accepted an offer to go to Staten Island as tutor for Judge Emerson. The Musketaquid was sold to Hawthorne, who had just come with his bride to the Old Manse and wanted a boat. Hawthorne writes amusingly in his journal of the antics of the craft. Finally by dint of practice under Thoreau’s instruction, he acquired the knack of managing it. Mrs. Hawthorne always insisted that the boat became tameable only because she changed its name to the “Pond-lily.” Be that as it may, the Pond-lily gave Hawthorne some delightful outings which his pen most charmingly describes. It was in this boat that he and Channing brought back the body of a girl who in a fit of depression had thrown herself into the river, which incident he later embodied in the Blithedale Romance. Just before leaving for Staten Island, on a cold day in April with ice still floating on the river, Thoreau appeared at the Old Manse and begged for one last ride. The two went down to the landing, bailed out the water, and rowed to the foot of Nashawtuc. On coming back to the Manse, Hawthorne writes, “We boarded a large cake of ice which was floating down the river and were borne by it directly to our own landing place with the boat towing behind.” When Hawthorne left the Manse, the Pond-lily became the property of Channing and at length passed into oblivion. From Staten Island Thoreau wrote, “My thoughts revert to those dear hills and that river which so fills up the world to its brim.” Most of the time at Staten Island he was restless and homesick, so in six months he returned to Concord. From now on he pursued the real desire of his heart, to test a life lived closed to nature and record the results of his observations.
For some years he had vaguely dreamed of having a sylvan shelter fitted for his purpose. He made some attempts to buy an isolated farm, but finally decided to build a hut at Walden on land owned by Emerson, the latter at the time planning to erect a similar one across the pond to be used for himself as a “literary retreat.” With a borrowed axe he felled “some tall, arrowy white pines, still in their youth” for the cabin, which he planned to be ten feet wide and fifteen feet long.
Early in the morning of July fourth, Thoreau stopped at the farm, for this was the day chosen I: for the raising. Grandfather shouldered his axe and together with his three oldest sons, John, Edmund, and Andrew, went down the turnpike to Emerson’s and across the fields and woods to the chosen site. By dint of hard work the shack was raised by nightfall and Thoreau’s dream of a wood-. land study was made a reality. Here he lived for two years and another name was added to Concord’s calendar of famous places, that of Walden Pond.
In Walden he writes of the friends who had thus assisted him; among whom were Channing and Alcott. “No man was ever more honored in the character of his raisers than I. They are destined, I trust, to assist at the raising of loftier structures one day.”
Before he left his cabin for good, he planted in rows where his beans had been, trees which should in after years recompense Emerson for the use of his land. These trees later were destroyed by fire.
His life at Walden was never intended by him to be that of a hermit, nor was his sojourn there a very lonely one. When actually writing he refused to be disturbed; otherwise a chair set outside the door proclaimed his readiness for company. He went into the woods to live near nature, to be a neighbor to the birds, “not,” as he says, “by having imprisoned them, but having caged myself near them.”
Being such an adept at tramping, the distance to the village meant moderate exertion for him and he was a frequent visitor at his own house, sometimes to please his mother carrying back a homemade pie, which doubtless was not included in his cost of living accounts, but was considered an unessential luxury. Often, also, he walked over to the Emerson’s. On stormy days his familiar step was wont to be heard on our doorstep. He knew that if the weather was bad farm duties must be suspended and that Grandfather would probably be at leisure.
The children hailed his coming with delight. It was better than any fairy tale to listen to his stories of the woods or the river. To hear him talk they . would gather around as still as mice. What marvelous ways the birds and squirrels had which no one else had discovered. Who but Mr. Thoreau could tame the fishes in the pond, feed the little mice from his fingers, keep up a whistling fire of conversation with the birds till they alighted on his head and shoulders, wondering what friend could be so very familiar with bird language. Who else received calls from the moles, — and how the children’s eyes would brighten as he told them of the tamed partridge so proud of her family that she brought them all to show him and how in return for her kindness he shared his breakfast with the brood. He knew every spot where the wild flowers grew, every sheltered nook where the maidenhair or climbing fern hid their treasures of gracefulness. One day he came in with a rare nettle which he could not place. Aunt Abby was immediately sent for the botany. Nothing could be said till the nettle problem was settled.
He liked to read to the children from the Canterbury Tales. Often he would stop and think about a line, saying, “You can sometimes catch the sense better by listening than by reading.”
In later life when my Aunt Jane became a teacher and read these same tales to her pupils, she said she could distinctly recall that melodious voice and the wonderful sense of rhythm he could impart as he read.
Unlike Emerson, Thoreau was a natural musician. He played the flute well and had a musical voice for singing. His ears were so keenly attuned to the various melodies of nature that sounds unheard by others were easily distinguished by him. It was this musical sense that enabled him to discern so accurately the notes of birds and the calls of other animals.
He had fitted a lyre in one of his windows and he noticed that in a deep cut in the woods certain trees formed a natural aeolian lyre when the wind blew through them. Aunt Eliza, when a small girl, tried to make an aeolian lyre and was quite disconsolate because it wouldn’t work as the one at the Thoreau home did.
Who but a musical naturalist could have written the following after listening to the bells on New Year’s day?
“I heard the bells of Concord town, a faint, sweet, and, as it were, natural melody, worth importing into the wilderness. Over the woods this sound acquired a certain vibratory hum, as if the pine needles in the horizon were the strings of a harp which the bell-tones swept. There came to me a melody which the air had strained, and which had conversed with every dead leaf and needle of the wood; that portion of the sound which the elements had taken up and modulated and echoed from vale to vale.”
On a Sunday afternoon the children loved to go to the Walden shack. Thoreau sat at his desk, Grandfather was given a chair, while they arranged themselves along the edge of the cot bed, the youngest child still remembering that her feet couldn’t quite reach the floor. If the conversation grew too abstruse or they were tired of sitting still, one by one they slipped out to amuse themselves in the woods. They might be rewarded lat~r by a glimpse of friendly animals, or Mr. Thoreau would give them a row on the pond.
To take a walk with Thoreau, one must rigidly adhere to the manners of the woods. He could lead one to the ripest berries, the hidden nest, the rarest flowers, but no plant life could be carelessly destroyed, no mother bird lose her eggs.
First he would give a curious whistle and a woodchuck would appear — a different whistle and two squirrels would run to him. A different note yet and birds would fly and even so shy a bird as a crow would alight on his shoulder. The children must be mute and very motionless till each pet was fed from his pocket and had departed. Thus the children were introduced to his family, as he called them.
When boating, he could name all the lilies of the pond or the wood lilies, and he could delight them with stories of the Indians who once lived around Walden.
When someone asked him why he did not shoot the birds and make a collection of them if he wished to study them, “If I wanted to study you would I shoot you?” was the quick reply. “A gun gives you the body only, but the field glass gives you the bird.”
The tenderness of his heart was shown in this unvarying love for all life. St. Francis of Assissi admitted that the destinies of animals required our Christian sympathy. Thoreau said, “The best part of an animal is its anima (its soul), but the scientists never get any further than its shell.”
Even winter brought its quota of visitors. In his journal he writes, “On a Sunday morning I heard the crunching of the snow” — which announced Grandfather’s approach. Grandfather was a short man and light in weight, but he always walked with a slow, deliberate step, as though meditating, a step easily distinguished by keen ears from that of other frequent callers like Channing or Sanborn.
Sometimes the owner of that familiar grey homespun suit, made by his aunt to suit the needs of a perennial tramper, would appear at the farm late in the afternoon. That meant a simple supper with the ten children and a long evening for talk.
Aunt Jane said that Thoreau and her father discussed Scandinavian mythology so much that she became an adept in those legends. Such a deep impression was made on her mind that in later life she was compelled to translate Greek and Roman myths back into her early models of Thor, Woden, and Igdrasil. Grandmother told me that sometimes the two men would get into a lively discussion over some vital question. Neither would give in, each could well sustain his own side of the argument, time would pass unheeded and the hour of midnight strike before they realized it. If however Thoreau departed unconvinced or unconvincing and could think during the following day of a fresh argument wherewith to overwhelm Grandfather’s point of view, he would come back and they would go at it again the next night.
After the trips to Maine or Canada there were fascinating evenings when no child wanted to go to bed, so interesting were the new experiences in forest lore and the stories about the Indians.
There was one Indian expression, current in the family, which I often say silently to myself when I hear anyone stretching the truth. The Maine campers would invite the Indians to come over and have a supper of deer meat around the camp fire. Sometimes, though, the hunting was poor and other meat was substituted, the deer not being available. After a while the Indians became suspicious and when they were asked to have deer meat one Indian would grunt to another, “Mebbe so, mebbe woodchuck.”
The children all loved Mr. Thoreau and had no fear of him. Doubtless no liberties were taken, for “seen and not heard” was Grandfather’S motto for them. Thoreau himself resented too great familiarity. Emerson said he should as soon think of taking the arm of an elm tree as that of Henry. Once when some clergymen were calling at his mother’s, one of them slapped him on the shoulders, saying, “Here is the fellow who camps i~ the woods.” “And here is the fellow who camps ill the pulpit,” replied Henry.
His love for simplicity may have been a legacy from his Quaker greatgrandmother who refused to marry her lover until he had laid aside his too foppish ruffles. In his quiet way he was always deferential at home and courteous to all who met him sincerely.
Edna D. Cheney tells the following story: “Channing, the poet, was noted for his oddity. One day he asked Henry to tell his mother (whom he did not like) not to appear when he came. Thoreau refused, saying, ‘No indeed I shall not; it is my mother’s house.’ The next time Channing went there Mrs. Thoreau opened the door, and the poet turned his back to her while he inquired if Henry were at home. Mrs. Thoreau immediately turned hers and there they stood, back to back.” Mrs. Thoreau was a bright woman and equal to any occasion. She loved nature and her daughters were enthusiastic botanists.
When I was quite a small girl I used to be taken to the Thoreau house with my aunt. That was when the mother and Sophia were living alone after Henry’s death. Mrs. Thoreau did not care particularly to amuse children, but she suffered me for the sake of my aunt, for whom she had much affection. As soon as we came she placed me in a child’s rocking chair. Then Sophia must find the cat and deposit it in my lap. How much I would give now to remember the conversations of those three interesting women, but alas, I only recall that enormous maltese cat that purred so loudly as I stroked her.
Sophia was devoted to her brother, spoke of him as being very lovable, and both she and Mrs. Thoreau always regretted having him regarded as indifferent.
It is said that the Thoreau brothers were fond of the same young lady (a cousin, by the way, of my husband’s mother), but that neither one would express his affection, fearing to become a rival to the other. Some of Henry’s poems seem to indicate some such experience. The lines
Still will I strive to be
As though thou wert with me.
Whatever path I take
It shall be for thy sake.
are supposed to refer to the object of this affection.
The Puritan flavor was so strong in Concord in the early years of the nineteenth century that the habits of Thoreau were disapproved by many. All must go to the meeting house twice if possible on Sunday. No horse was taken out except for church or a funeral. That a young man, just out of college, should not choose a profession but prefer to spend his Sabbaths in a boat on the river seemed to the good villagers quite sacrilegious. In these days of Sunday golf and canoeing it would have attracted
One forenoon Thoreau and a companion went by boat to explore the sources of the Sudbury river. In cooking their lunch on the bank in some way the dry grass got on fire and in spite of their efforts spread so fast that a hundred cords of wood belonging to a Mr, Wheeler were burned. A few years ago the latter’s daughter was calling at our house and in the course of the conversation Thoreau’s name was mentioned. “Don’t talk to me about Henry Thoreau,” she said. “Didn’t I all that winter have to go to school with a smootched apron or dress because I had to pitch in and help fill the wood box with partly charred wood.”
The desire to carve his own way produced an intense egoism by which he sought to discover the greatest assets to be added to man’s supreme possession, “his own personality.” Yet having found them he writes, “I would fain communicate the wealth of my life to men, would really give them what is most precious in my gift.”
Indifferent he might seem on the exterior but how close to the surface lay his warm sympathy for the runaway slave, his courageous facing of ostracism in publicly defending John Brown and the anxiety of those sleepless nights when Brown lay in prison. Did those things betoken the indifference of a cold heart?
He refused to pay state taxes as a protest against Massachusetts’ adoption of the infamous fugitive slave law, but he gladly paid his road tax, for that was for a worthy purpose.
An instance of his kindness of heart was his observance of a ragged boy: “Leonidas and the Spartans dared at Thermopylæ to die, but this little Irish boy dares to face the bitter cold in ragged clothes for a schooling.” Mrs. Thoreau took pity on this boy and made him a suit out of an old one of Henry’s. She evidently was not much of a seamstress for the neighbors declared that the clothes sat on Johnny as if fitted to a tea kettle.
Thoreau was a skillful gardener, often supplementing Emerson’s lack of ability. He planted trees and shrubs around the house and also beautified the terraces back of the Orchard House with fruit trees to suit Alcott’s vegetarian taste.
If he seemed different from other men it was because, as he wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” It was just this that gave value to his contributions to the world. Whatever notes he heard from that “different drummer” he listened to intently and recorded honestly.
Once the Chicago speculator, kllown then as “Old Hutch,” came to the house to talk with Grandmother about Thoreau. That was after Grandfather’s death. He seemed deeply interested in all she told him. Soon after the press was full of the account of some deal whereby he had cleaned up millions. When Grandmother read of it she shook her head and said, “He had better read his Thoreau all over again.”
A severe cold brought on the family malady from which three generations had suffered. Yet he bore his suffering as well as his loss of the out-of-door life with great patience and serenity. Toward the last he wrote, “I am enjoying existence as much as ever and regret nothing.” When his mother’s sister asked him if he had made his peace with God, he replied, “Why, Aunt, I didn’t know we had ever quarrelled!” He kept on with his manuscripts up to the last days. When very weak, he was found by a neighbor writing. “You know it is the fashion to leave an estate behind you,” he said.
The afternoon before he died, as one of my aunts was passing the house, Sophia called her in. “Mr. B– ,” she said, “has offered to sit up with my brother tonight, but Henry wants your father.” So after supper Grandfather walked over to spend the night with him.
The next day he passed on, trustfully expectant of renewed vision. When Grandfather said, “I heard the robins sing as I came along,” Thoreau answered, “This is a beautiful world. but soon I shall see one that is fairer,” and again he said to him, “I have so loved nature.”
When Grandfather started to go home in the morning Thoreau called Sophia and asked her to give him a copy of one of his first editions. On the fly leaf she pinned a lock of John’s hair which today is as black and glossy as it was then. In this autographed copy Thoreau copied in writing several lines left out by the printer, which makes the book especially valuable.
Thoreau never pretended to analyze nature technically, but it was this deep love, human, intuitive, subtle rather than scientific, that made him the pioneer naturalist of his country. When a well known writer made a remark about Thoreau to John Burroughs, the latter replied, “But I couldn’t hold a candle to Thoreau.”
Froude wrote to Thoreau, September third, 1839, “I have the right to tell you that there is no man living on this earth at present whose friendship or whose notice I value more than yours. I have gone near despair. I am growing not to despair and I thank you for the helping hand.”
Through Thoreau’s message to the world rings out the note, “Simplify your lives.” Mr. Thomas Cholmondely, nephew of Bishop Heber, was very fond of Thoreau. The first time he came to Concord, being a thorough Englishman and reared in luxury, he brought with him a valet, a bath tub, and ten boxes. Thoreau taught him the value of a more simple way of living, so the next time he arrived alone with very little luggage. Later he sent some East Indian books, translated into both English and French, to add to Thoreau’s library, which according to an intimate friend of the family was the finest collection of Persian and Indian poetry in the America of that day. When the announcement of Cholmondeley’s death in the Crimean War came, it surprised the simple Concord folk to learn that Thoreau’s friend possessed such a long list of titles.
“Where there is knowledge, where there is virtue, where there is beauty, where there is progress, there is now his home,” Emerson wrote to Sophia, and at the funeral he said, “Concord will some time know how great a son she has lost.”
Of the Thoreau relics, his chair, writing desk, quill pen, buckskin suit, and walking stick, thought lingers longest over the stick. A plain but sturdy stick, like its owner unadorned with trappings of vanity. A cane for use not only in walking, but for measuring, since it was notched on a flat surface to twenty-four inches.
Could it speak, what a medley of deep mystical musings and practical knowledge it could reveal, from its long wanderings with such a combination of seer and surveyor, scholar and naturalist as was Thoreau. What marvellous commingling of the spirit of nature and the soul of that intrepid seeker for truth who listened so closely to Mother Earth’s revelations and pondered so deeply on their meanings. We might discover just how much of the real Thoreau is still lost to us; we might learn more of the wondrous glory of the near by and familiar and perceive in greater degree “just how much civilization is necessary for the serenity of the soul.”
The portrait expressing best the real man is the crayon by Rawse. The artist was staying at Thoreau’s house while making a portrait of Emerson. He became fascinated by Henry’s face and wished to make one of him, but what he wanted eluded him. Over and over he would say, “I can’t get it; I can’t get it.” Finally one day he jumped up from the dinner table exclaiming, “Now I have it!” and went to work with a satisfied spirit. Rawse liked best to work as much as possible away from the sitter.
Thoreau was tall and straight and gave the impression of an independent pine tree. The kindness of his eye and the strong nose added to this impression of self reliance and strength.
No writer was ever more loyal to principle. “I would remind my countrymen that they are to be men first, and Americans only at a late and convenient hour.”
“There is no such thing as accomplishing a righteous reform by the use of expediency. There is no such thing as sliding up hill. In morals the only sliders are blacksliders.”
“The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls-the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind of a man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.”
How much those eyes of his saw in a few minutes! Looking from a train as it stops briefly at Keene, New Hampshire, he notices the wide street and moralizes quaintly on the wisdom of making broad plans in youth when land is cheap and ends thus, “I trust that every New England boy will begin by laying out a Keene street through his head, eight rods wide.”
He wrote once, “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or perchance a palace or temple on earth, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a wood-shed of them.” Thoreau never descended to wood-sheds, but built a temple to the eternal spirit, rough hewn in places perhaps, but its windows were golden with light. Within he set up an altar on which there burned steadily the sacred fire of truth. Passing by churches, never bothering about creeds, he demanded not only purity of thought, but he extolled excellence in conduct. He says, “Be not simply good. Be good for something.” And again, “It is not enough that we are truthful, we must cherish and carry out high purposes to be truthful about.”
No one who understood Thoreau could possibly think of him as an idler, as some have done. All that we know about him contradicts that idea.
The beautiful accuracy of his drawings, the exactness of his writing, the excellent quality of his pencils, and his masterly skill at gardening testify to his industry. As a scholar most justice has been done him by Channing the poet. He amused himself by translating two dramas of Æschylus and parts of Homer, to which he added a number of lesser Greek poets. He was familiar with all the early English poets, read Latin as easily as English, and read Greek classics in the original. He was also a student of oriental literature, extracting from it, as did Emerson, whatever appealed to him as true.
From his seemingly inactive hours, many have learned how to find glory in the near by and familiar. Well for us all if we listened more to his ideas Of life and men, for that dauntless apostle of truth was not mild as to our shortcomings.
Once he wrote, “The pathway toward heaven lies south or southwest along the Old Marlborough Road.” So those who follow in Thoreau’s footsteps will find many “Lanes of Happiness.”
These quotations from Thoreau I have always cherished as revealing the peculiar quality of the man:
I do believe that the outward and the inward life correspond. The outward is only the outside of that which is within.
Man cannot conceive of a state of things so fair that it cannot be realized.
Let nothing come between you and the light.
When we would rest our spirits we must recline on the great spirit, as we rest our bodies by reClining on the earth.
Let love be purified and all the rest will follow.
How prompt we are to satisfy the hunger and thirst of our bodies, but how slow to satisfy the hunger and thirst of our souls.
You must make tracks into the unknown. That is what you have your board and clothes for.
Nature is goodness crystallized.
What business have you, if you are an angel of light to be pondering over the deeds of darkness, reading the New York Herald and the like?
God could not be unkind to me if He tried.
The only way to speak the truth is to speak lovingly.
I will not doubt the love untold
Which not my worth nor want hath bought
Which woos me young and woos me old
And to this evening hath me brought.
Soon after Thoreau died, a poem appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, called Thoreau!s Flute. It was
at first attributed to Emerson, but was written by Louisa Alcott and expresses well her thought of
We sighing said our Pan is dead.
His pipe hangs mute beside the river,
Around it wistful sunbeams quiver,
But music’s airy voice is fled.
Spring mourns as for untimely frost,
The bluebird chants a requiem,
The willow blossom waits for him,
The genius of the wood is lost.
Then from the flute untouched by hands
There came a low harmonious breath,
For’such as he there is no death.
His life the eternal life commands.
Above man’s aims his nature rose.
The wisdom of a just content
Made one small spot a continent
And turned to poetry life’s prose.
Haunting the hills, the stream, the wild
Swallow and aster, lake and pine
To him grew human or divine
Fit mates for this large hearted Child.
Such homage nature ne’er forgets,
And yearly on the coverlid
Neath which her darling lieth hid,
Will write his name in violets.
Source: Brown, Mary Hosmer. Memories of Concord (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1926) pp. 88-111