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Full text of "Selections from Thoreau"

CORNELL 

UNIVERSITY 

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born^i universny Liorary 
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Selections from Thoreau / 



3 1924 022 198 521 




Cornell University 
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SELECTIONS FEOM THOKEAU 




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SELECTIONS FEOM 

THOEEAU 



EDITED, WITH AN INTRODUCTION 



HENEY S. SALT 

AUTHOR OF ' THK LIFE OP HENRY DAVID THOBEAU ' 



Honlion 

MACMILLAN AISTD CO. 
1895 



INTEODUCTION 

We are most of us familiar with one or another of 
the many legendary apparitions of the alter ego, or 
second self, a manifestation which must have entailed 
considerable inconvenience on the parties whom it 
principally concerned. It could hardly be agreeable 
to a person of strong distinctive personality to feel 
that his astral counterpart was travelling at large 
about the country, and compromising him by grant- 
ing unauthorised interviews to all sorts of busy- 
bodies; still less, perhaps, would he relish such a 
startling experience as that of the magus Zoroaster, 
who, if the poet is to be credited, "met his own 
image walking in the garden." But it should be 
noted that the annals of literature present equally 
interesting, and better authenticated examples of a 
somewhat similar phenomenon. Authors, and especi- 
ally those of new and unappreciated genius, are not 
unfrequently subject to the same annoyance as 
Zoroaster ; nay, worse, for whereas the second self in 
the legend was at least an exact image of its original, 



VI SELECTIONS FUOM THOEEAU 

the literary phantom can seldom boast more than a 
very superficial resemblance. In a word, there are 
often two personalities who stand junder the same 
name before the eyes of the public^the author him- 
self, as represented in his actual character and writ- 
ings, and the current idea of the auihor, as misrepre- 
sented in the critical analysis and exposition of him. 
And it often goes hard for a time with the reputation 
of a writer who is thus dogged and superseded by his 
ghostly rival, for these spectral illusions, flimsy and 
hollow though they may be, are by no means easy to 
exorcise, and many years, or even generations, must 
sometimes elapse before they are finally consigned to 
their appointed resting-place with the hippogriff, the 
chimsera, and other kindred superstitions. 

If ever there was a man of genius who was fore- 
ordained by the peculiarity of his doctrines and the 
eccentricity of his actions to be misjudged by critics, 
it was Thoreau. It is not in the least surprising that 
I his true character should to this day remain unknown 
i to the majority of readers, while his place is usurped 
by a mysterious personage of whose origin I will 
presently speak. But first let us turn our attention 
to the real Thoreau, and in particular to that much- 
maligned gospel of naturalness and simplicity which 
it is so easy to comprehend if it be studied with sym- 
pathetic interest, and so easy to distort and miscon- 
I strue if regarded from a hostile standpoint. Having 



INTRODUCTION VU 

seen how Thoreau himself lived and wrote and acted, 
we shall be better able to appreciate what his carica- 
turists have erroneously attributed to him; having 
made ourselves acquainted with the characteristic 
features of the man, we shall know what to think 
of the more shadowy lineaments of the phantom. 

Henry David Thoreau was born at the village of 
Concord, Massachusetts, on 12th July 1817, his 
father, John Thoreau, being a pencil -maker, of 
French extraction, and his mother, whose maiden 
name was Cynthia Dunbar, the daughter of a New 
Hampshire minister. His debt to his parents, and 
especially to his mother, has perhaps been somewhat 
underrated, for it is probable that his sturdy uncom- 
promising temperament, and shrewd mordant humour, 
were a direct inheritance. " The best parts of Mrs. 
Thoreau's character," so I learn from one who was 
born and bred in Concord, "have not been given. 
She was a woman of commanding presence, never 
to be ignored in any company. She had a keen 
sense of humour, and would give an account of a 
journey to Boston in a stage-coach, or even a walk 
to the post-office, which, although perhaps tinged a 
little with romance, would convulse her hearers with 
laughter, her manner was so dramatic. Of her 
generosity it was said that no matter how much she I 
might complain of poverty, she always had something: 
of value to give to her poorer neighbours.'' Still 



Vlll SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

more important, in its bearing on Henry Thoreau's 
.character, was the fact that both his parents were 
/great lovers of nature, and earnest workers for the 
abolition of negro slavery. " They were twenty 
years ahead of their time," is the verdict of one who 
knew them. 

From 1833 to 1837 "Thoreau was a student at 
Harvard University, but though he became in this 
■^way a good classical scholar, his intellect, so free and 
' self-reliant in its scope, was not one which could 
! greatly profit by an academical education. It was 
' in the school of wild nature that he was destined to 
graduate. " Though bodily," he wrote, " I have been 
a member of Harvard University, heart and soul I 
have been far away among the scenes of my boyhood. 
Those hours that should have been devoted to study 
have been spent in scouring the woods and exploring 
the lakes and streams of my native village. Im- ■ 
mured within the dark but classic walls, my spirit ' 
yearned for the sympathy of my old and almost for- 
gotten friend. Nature/' 

During the last twenty- five years of his life he 
indulged this instinctive sympathy to the utmost, in 
his devoted attachment to the fields and forests of 
his native Concord. After leaving Harvard he 
became a prominent member of that transcendentalist 
circle of which Emerson was the chief, and a personal 
friend and associate of Bronson Alcott, Ellery Chan- 



INTKODUCTION ix 

ning, Margaret Fuller, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. 
By Emerson in particular he was powerfully and 
beneficially influenced in his youth and early man- 
hood, when his hitherto unsuspected genius was 
somewhat suddenly awakened ; though, in view of 
the originality and greater practicalness of mind 
which in later life carried him apart from and 
beyond the Emersonian theories, it is a complete 
mistake to regard him as an "imitator" of his 
friend. I have been assured on good authority that 
Emerson was in his turn considerably influenced by 
Thoreau, in the direction of a simpler and austerer 
mode of thought and living, at a time when the 
elder man was leaning in a somewhat contrary 
direction. An amusing story is told that when 
Thoreau was a mere youth, and some one remarked 
to his mother on the similarity of his thought to 
that of the great Concord philosopher, Mrs. Thoreau 
replied, "Well, you see, Mr. Emerson has been a 
good deal with David Henry, and may have got 
ideas from him." What was said as a jest in 1837 
might have been said in all truth and seriousness 
some ten years later. 

Thoreau's personal appearance is thus described 
by EUery Channing, the most intimate of his Con- 
cord friends. " His face once seen could not be for- 
gotten. The features were quite marked ; the nose 
aquiline or very Roman, like one of the portraits of 



X SELECTIONS FKOM THOREAU 

Ceesar (more like a beak, as was said) ; huge over- 
hanging brows above the deepest-set blue eyes that 
could be seen, in certain lights, and in others gray- 
eyes expressive of all shades of feeling, but never 
weak or near-sighted; the forehead not unusually 
broad or high, full of concentrated energy or pur- 
pose; the mouth with prominent lips, pursed up 
with meaning and thought when silent, and giving 
out when open a stream of the most varied and 
unusual and instructive sayings. His whole figure 

' had an active earnestness, as if he had no moment to 
waste." 

A good idea of Thoreau's wayward independent 
mode of living, and of the paradoxical humour which 
covered, and in some cases concealed, his profound 

' sincerity of purpose,J may be gathered from the 
highly characteristic answer which he returned in 
1847 to a Harvard University circular, issued in 
order to collect statistics concerning the Uves of 
former students. This remarkable letter runs as 
follows : — 

"Am not married. I don't know whether mine is a 
profession, or a trade, or what not. It is not yet learned, 
and in every instance has been practised before being 
studied. The mercantile part of it was begun by myself 
alone. It is not one but legion. I will give you some 
of the monster's heads. I am a schoolmaster, a private 
tutor, a surveyor, a gardener, a farmer, a painter (I mean 
a house-painter), a carpenter, a mason, a day-labourer a 



INTRODUCTION xi 

pencil-maker, a glass-paper-maker, a writer, and some- 
times a poetaster. If you will act the part of lolus, and 
apply a hot iron to any of these heads, I shall be greatly 
obliged to yon. My present employment is to answer 
such orders as may be expected from so general an 
advertisement as the above. That is, if I see fit, which 
is not always the case, for I have found out a way to live 
without what is commonly called employment or industry, 
attractive or otherwise. Indeed my steadiest employment, 
if such it can be called, is to keep myself^t^the top of my . 
condition, and ready for whatever may turn up in heaven 
or on_earth. The last two or three years I lived in 
Concord woods alone, something more than a mile from 
any neighbour, in a house built entirely by myself. 

P.S. — I beg that the class will not consider me an 
object of charity, and if any of them are in want of any 
pecuniary assistance, and will make known their case to 
me,(I will engage to give them some advice of more 
worth than money^ 

The residence in Walden woods, referred to in the 
above letter, and narrated in the most popular of his 
books, was the one episode in Thoreau's career which 
attracted popular attention, but it should be re- 
membered that it was an episode only , occupying but 
two and a half years out of his whole active life. To 
label him "misanthrope" or_^ermit" on account of 
the Walden experiment is to misunderstand him 
completely. (JHe was a hermit when it suited his 
purposes to be one — a misanthrope never.j A man 

1 From " Memorials of the Class of 1837 of Harvard Uni- 
versity," by Henry Williams, Boston, Mass. 



xii SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

\pf deep sp iritual instincts, he needed large j),eiiQds_of 
solitude and retirement ; butTEeTdeaT'tliat he had no 
regard for human interests and human aspirations is 
the very reverse of the truth. At that critical and 
supreme moment in the abolitionist movement when 
John Brown was arrested and condemned for the 
insurrection at Harper's Ferry the first voice publicly 
raised on the convict's behalf was the voice of Thoreau, 
in the magnificent "Plea for Captain John Brown." 
" For my own part," he wrote in a second oration on 
the same subject, '{l commonly attend more to nature 
than to man, but any affecting human event may 
blind our eyes to natural objects.^ This is scarcely 
the sentiment of a misanthrope. 

A great injustice has been done to Thoreau's 
memory by the common notion^ hat h e was devoid of 
huin an symp athies. For this notion the responsibility 
must partly rm~5n Emerson, who, when editing the 
posthumous volume oi Tetters in 1865, made the 
unfortunate mistake of omitting the domestic cgr- 



respondence which showed Thoreau in his most neigh- 
bourly and affectionate mood, in order to exhibit in the 
more formal epistles " a perfect piece of stoicism." The 
recent publication of Thoreau's F amiliar Lette rs has 
now corrected- tliis„im.ppess}pn, but it will doubtless 
be many years before it is finally removed. The truth 
is that Thoreau, despite his sternness of temperament 
and bluntness of speech, was at heart a man of 



INTRODUCTION xiii 

profound sensibility and_feeling, as was proved, for 
example, in the extreme tenderness of his relations 

MiMiiiiiii I III! Ill miir'iWiiiwifi' -III 

with hi s broth er John, the brother who was his 
companion in the famous "Week on the Concord 
Eiver," and whose early death was a cause of lifelong 
grief to the survivor. A discerning reader will not 
fail to note the true^humanityj)f__Thoreau, although 
there" is, be it admitted, a complete absence of t he 
" am iability " that needs to be expressed in words. 
Such are the readers for whom he lived and wrote. 
('I think of those amongst men," he say s, "wh o will 
know that I love th^m, though I tell them not.'' 

It is unnecessary here to relate the details of his 
life at Concord, so uneventful in external incidents, 
so full of spiritual adventure and inner experience. 
His Walden and JVeek on the Concord cund Merrimack 
Rivers have already been referred to ; the other most 
notable "Excursions'' are those described in The 
Maine Woods and Cape Cod. With the exception of 
such brief absences, his years were wholly spent at 
Concord, where he lived in his father's house, and 
supported himself by( land-surveying, pencil-making, 
or one of the many crafts of which he had made him- 
self master. He died from consumption on 6th May 
1862, and the family, which was never a robust stock, 
is now extinct. It is probable that nothing but simple 
living and open-air habits could have prolonged his 
life to the term of forty-five years. 



xiv SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

Let us now turn to tlia ^philosophy of Thoreau's 
writings. It has been recorded that when Dr. Samuel 
Johnson was invited to take a country walk he 
replied, "Sir, one green field is like another green 
field; I like to look at men." Thoreau's attitude 
towards nature and natural scenery was the exact 
opposite of this. He found in nature not the dull, 
uniform, inanimate thing which most town-dwellers, 
and it is to be feared some country-dwellers, too often 
conceive it to be, but a living entity, possessing its 
own distinctive moods and affections, and animated j 
with as conscious and active a spirit as himself. ' He 
rejoiced in the belief that mankind is not the sole' 
object of concern to the spirit of the universe. Like 
St. Francis, he could never look on the animals as 
divided from man by some arbitrary line of demarca- 
tion, but sympathised with them as his " townsmen 
and fellow-creatures," who, as he said, possessed the 
" character and importance of another order of men." 

Accordingly his whole relation to nature and 
natural history differed widely from that of the 
collector and scientist, whose dominant impulse on 
seeing a beautiful bird or beast is to kill and stuff it 
— to knock it down first, and then, as the taxider- 
mists say, to " set it up " afterwards. Thoreau was 
distinctly not a professor of this anatomical method 
of classification. "I think," he said, ("the mos_t 
important requisite in describing an animal is to be 



INTRODUCTION XV 

sure that you give its character and spirit, for in that 
you have, without error, the sum and effect of all its 
parts, known and unknown. J You must tell what it 
is to man ; surely the most important part of an 
animal is its anima, its vital spirit, on which is based 
its character and all the particulars by which it most 
concerns us. Yet most scientific books which treat 
of animals leave this out altogether, and what they 
describe are, as it were, phenomena of dead matter." 

That aspect of natural scenery which especially 
attracted Thoreau's temperament was the wild. He 
turned back from the vanities and disappointments 
of social intercourse to draw (renewed Jiealth and 
vitality from the far recesses of nature) Alike in 
ethics, in science, and in literature, he looked to 
wildness as(supplying the most essentiaL element of 
genius); a creed which may be summed up in one of 
those incomparably terse and suggestive images 
which lie scattered through his pages. " As the wild 
duck is more swift and beautiful than the tame, so is 
the wild — the mallard — thought, which 'mid falling 
dews, wings it way above the fens." 

The simplicity which Thoreau preached and 
(/practised was intimately connected with this love of 
the wild. An instinctive persona l preference afforded 
the primary reason for his simplification of life — it 
was as natural to him to be frugal in his habits as to 
prefer the wildness of the Concord woods to the 
6 



XVI SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

academic coteries of Boston. This should be sufficient 
answer to the charge of "asceticism" which is some- 
times brought against him by critics who cannot 
believe that an abstinence from their comforts and 
their luxuries can be due to any other cause.) It 
would be difficult, perhaps, to instance a man who 
was less of an ascetic than Thoreau -yht knew his own 
mind, he determined from the first to live his own 
life, and when he renounced certain things which 
custom proclaims to be necessary, we may be quite 
sure that he did so from a wish to vivify, not mortify, 
the keenness of his enjoyment. 

And here arises an important objection which has 
been urged, from time to time, against every apostle 
of simplicity — against Rousseau in France, and 
Thoreau in America, and Edward Carpenter in Eng- 
land. Does not the " return to nature," it is asked, 
imply a corresponding relapse from civilisation toj 
savagery 1 Is it not retrogressive, reactionary, unJ 
scientific — in a word, impossible ? To which it may at 
once be answered that the naturalness which Thoreau 
advocates cannot, if one takes the trouble to note his 
own clear definition of it, be mistaken for a state 
akin to barbarism or incompatible with the highest 
and truest culture. He explicitly avows his belief 
that civilisation is " a real advance in the condition 
ofjman," but adds that he wishes " to show at what a I 
( sacrifice this advantage is at present obtained, and to 



INTRODUCTION xvii 

suggest that we may possibly so live as to secure all 
the advantage without suffering any of the disadvan- 
tage^ The destructive side of Thoreau's teaching 
consists in a prolonged, deliberate, and merciless ex- 
position of these disadvantages of civilisation, and of 
the numerous sophisms that underlie so large a portion 
of modern society. But he is no advocate of a mere 
return to barbarism, the question proposed by him 
being whether it is possible r to combine the hardi- 
ness of the savage with the intellectualness of the 
civilised man." 

I have spoken of the destructive side of Thoreau's! 
teaching, but his teaching was not destructive only. ! 
In an age ot^ increasing artificiality and restless self- 
indulgence he preached a gospel of healthfulness, 
simplicity, and contentment — the gospel of natural 
living, 'of the open air.y(^He taught men to trust 
their real native instincts, and to distrust the in- 
numerable artificial wants with which custom and 
tradition have everywhere surrounded us J to distin- 
guish betweer^^genuine taste and acquired habitj As 
the Greek philosopher exclaimed, " How many things 
there are that I do not desire ! " so Thoreau insisted 
that_!i£Liaaii-is rich in proportion to the number of 
things which he can afford to let alone." It may be 
said that a savage also is content to let alone those 
things ; but it must be remembered that a savage 
spends the leisure thus obtained in sleeping on a mat, 



xviii SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

whereas Thoreau had other means for the disposal of 
his spare hours. " To what end," he says in his 
Letters, "do I lead a simple life at all? That I may 
teach others to simplify their lives, and so all our 
lives be 'simplified' merely, like an algebraic/ 
formula? Or not, rather, that I may make use of 
the ground I have cleared, to live more worthily \ 
and profitably ? " 

This gospel of naturalness, strange enough in 
itself to the ordinary member of society, was made 
still stranger by the manner in which Thoreau intro- 
duced it. His peculiarities of character and speech, 
the keen thrifty incisiveness of his paradoxical utter- 
ances — barbed like his favourite Indian arrow-heads 
— all militated against the early acceptance of his 
novel principles, and Thoreau was not the man to 
explain himself to his puzzled audience. For the 
time, therefore, his pointed epigrams had the efiect, 
and still have the effect, of making society look and 
feel like the fretful porcupine in its attitude towards 
him. Local prejudice was strong against this pre- 
sumptuous village moralist, this "Yankee Diogenes" 
or " Eural Humbug," as contemporary critics styled 
him, who dared call in/ question the utility of nine- 
tenths of the most cherished institutions of mankind' ; 
and, as it is always cheering to believe that uncom- 
fortable prophets whose admonitions trouble us are 
themselves the victims of depravity or madness, a 



INTRODUCTION XIX 

phantom Thoreau was soon forthcoming (under the 
usual working of the law of demand and supply), 
who was so contrived as to fit in precisely with the 
preconceived ideas of the Boston public. Insincerity 
and self-conceit, cynicism and misanthropy, were 
the qualities with which this unhappy lay figure was 
most liberally endowed. If this were Thoreau, we 
might well join with Mr. Lowell and the other critics 
who have mistaken the phantom for the man in their 
contempt for a personality so contemptible — a mix- 
ture of indolence, misanthropy, and self-conceit. CBut 
fortunately the writings of Thoreau^hemselves pro- 
vide the most specific refutation of the error. 

It is hoped that the following Selections, which, 
though moderate in compass, are typical of Thoreau 
in almost all his moods and aspects, and contain 
much that is new to English readers, may be instru- 
mental in quickening a more just and liberal appre- 
ciation. I have endeavoured so to choose and 
arrange the passages as to make them representative 
not only of their author's strongly-marked opinions 
on morals, society, politics, literature, and natural 
history, but also of the various influences and 
incidents that chiefly aff"ected his life — the scenery 
of Concord, his study of Indian lore,(his_sojourn at 
'sWaldem his daily walks, his longer excursions by 
river, forest, or sea-coast, his solitary moods, and his 
genial moods (as in his friendly " crack " with the 



XX SELECTIONS FIIOM THOKEA.U 

Wellfleet oysterman), his revolt against the State of 
Massachusetts for its sanction of slavery, his unhesi- 
tating championship of John Brown at a moment 
which tried as in a fiery furnace the mettle of human 
character. As a writer, Thoreau's great qualities 
stand consjiicuous on every page, admitted even by 
those critics who, like Mr. Lowell, are least in sym- 
pathy with his aims. Not less remarkable, though 
as yet but half recognised by the public, are his noble 

qualities as a man. 

H. S. Salt. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

Introduction . . . . . v 

Prom The Week on the Concord and Merrimack 
Rivers— 

CoNOOED River . . . . 1 

Sunday Thoushts . .... 13 

Friendship 29 

From Walden, or Life in the Woods — 

Where I Lived and what I Lived for . 42 
Higher Laws . . . .64 

House Warming . . ... 80 

Prom The Maine Woods — 

Primeval Nature . . 89 

The Murder of the Moose . . 103 

Forest Phenomena . . 118 

Prom Gape God — 

The Shipwreck . . . 124 
The Beach .... .136 

The Wellfleet Oysterman . 151 



xxii SELECTIONS FEOM THOBEAU 

From Excursions — page 

Natural History of Massachusetts . 168 

Walking .198 

From Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers — 

Civil Disobedience 238 

A Plea fok Captain John Brown . . 267 

Life without Principle .... 301 



Portrait of Thoreau, from a Daguerreotype made about 
1857, and photograplied by Mr. A. W. Hosmer of Con- 
cord, Mass. . . Frontispiece 



coNCOED eivp:e 

The Musketaquid, or Grass-ground Eiver, though 
probably as old as the Nile or Euphrates, did not begin 
to have a place in civilised history until the fame 
of its grassy meadows and its iish attracted settlers 
out of England in 1635, when it received the other 
but kindred name of Concord from the first planta- 
tion on its banks, which appears to have been 
commenced in a spirit of peace and harmony. It 
will be Grass-ground Eiver as long as grass grows and 
water runs here ; it will be Concord Eiver only while 
men lead peaceable lives on its banks. To an extinct 
race it was grass-ground, where they hunted and 
fished, and it is still perennial grass-ground to Con- 
cord farmers, who own the Great Meadows, and get 
the hay from year to year. " One branch of it," 
according to the historian of Concord, for I love to 
quote so good authority, " rises in the south part of 
Hopkinton, and another from a pond and a large 
cedar-swamp in Westborough," and flowing between 
Hopkinton and Southborough, through Framingham, 
and between Sudbury and Wayland, where it is 
S> B 



2 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

sometimes called Sudbury Eiver, it enters Concord 
at the south part of the town, and after receiving the 
North or Assabeth Eiver, which has its source a little 
farther to the north and west, goes out at the north- 
east angle, and flowing between Bedford and Carlisle, 
and through Billerica, empties into the Merrimack ' 
at Lowell. In Concord it is, in summer, from four 
to fifteen feet deep, and from one hundred to three 
hundred feet wide, but in the spring freshets, when 
it overflows its banks, it is in some places nearly 
a mile wide. Between Sudbury and Wayland the 
meadows acquire their greatest breadth, and when 
covered with water, they form a handsome chain of 
shallow vernal lakes, resorted to by numerous gulls 
and ducks. Just above Sherman's Bridge, between 
these towns, is the largest expanse, and when the 
wind blows freshly in a raw March day, heaving up 
the surface into dark and sober billows or regular 
swells, skirted as it is in the distance with alder- 
swamps and smoke-like maples, it looks like a smaller 
Lake Huron, and is very pleasant and exciting for 
a landsman to row or sail over. The farm-houses 
along the Sudbury shore, which rises gently to a 
considerable height, command fine water prospects at 
this season. The shore is more flat on the Wayland 
side, and this town is the greatest loser by the flood. 
Its farmers tell me that thousands of acres are flooded 
now, since the dams have been erected, where they 
remember to have seen the white honeysuckle or 
clover growing once, and they could go dry with 
shoes only in summer. Now there is nothing but 



CONCORD EITEE 3 

blue-joint and sedge and cut-grass there, standing in 
water all the year round. For a long time, they 
made the most of the driest season to get their hay, 
working sometimes till nine o'clock at night, sedu- 
lously paring with their scythes in the twilight round 
the hummocks left by the ice; but now it is not 
worth the getting when they can come at it, and 
they look sadly round to their wood-lots and upland 
as a last resource. 

It is worth the while to make a voyage up this 
stream, if you go no farther than Sudbury, only to 
see how much country there is in the rear of us; 
great hills, and a hundred brooks, and farm-houses, 
and barns, and haystacks, you never saw before, and 
men everywhere — Sudbury, that is Southhorough men, 
and Wayland, and Mne-Acre-Corner men, and Bound 
Eock, where four towns bound on a rock in the river, 
Lincoln, Wayland, Sudbury, Concord. Many waves 
are there agitated by the wind, keeping nature fresh, 
the spray blowing in your face, reeds and rushes 
waving ; ducks by the hundred, all uneasy in the surf, 
in the raw wind, just ready to rise, and now going 
off with a clatter and a whistling like riggers straight 
for Labrador, flying against the stiff gale with reefed 
wings, or else circling round first, with all their 
paddles briskly moving, just over the surf, to recon- 
noitre you before they leave these parts ; gulls 
wheeling overhead, musk-rats swimming for dear life, 
wet and cold, vidth no fire to warm them by that 
you know of ; their laboured homes rising here and 
there like haystacks ; and countless mice and moles 



4 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEBAU 

and winged titmice along the sunny windy shore; 
cranberries tossed on the waves and heaving up on 
the beach, their little red skiffs beating about among 
the alders; — such healthy natural tumult as proves 
the last day is not yet at hand. And there stand all 
around the alders, and birches, and oaks, and maples 
full of glee and sap, holding in their buds until the 
waters subside. You shall perh'apsTun aground on 
Cranberry Island, only some spires of last year's pipe- 
grass above water, to show where the danger is, and 
get as good a freezing there as anywhere on the 
North-west Coast. I never voyaged so far in all my 
life. You shall see men you never heard of before, 
whose names you don't know, going away down 
through the meadows with long ducking-guns, with 
water-tight boots wading through the fowl-meadow 
grass, on bleak, wintry, distant shores, with guns at 
half-cock ; and they shall see teal, blue-winged, green- 
winged sheldrakes, whistlers, black ducks, ospreys, 
and many other wild and noble sights, before night, 
such as they who sit in parlours never dream of. 
You shall see rude and sturdy, experienced and wise 
men, keeping their castles, or teaming up their sum- 
mer's wood, or chopping alone in the woods, — men 
fuller of talk and rare adventure in the sun and wind 
and rain, than a chestnut is of meat ; who were out 
not only in '75 and 1812, but have been out every 
day of their lives ; greater men than Homer, or 
Chaucer, or Shakespeare, only they never got time to 
say so ; they never took to the way of writing. Look 
at their fields, and imagine what they might write, if 



CONCORD EIVBR 5 

ever they should put pen to paper. Or what have 
they not written on the face of the earth already, 
clearing, and burning, and scratching, and harrowing, 
and ploughing, and subsoiling, in and in, and out 
and out, and over and over, again and again, erasing 
what they had already written for want of parchment. 
As yesterday and the historical ages are past, as 
the work of to-day is present, so some flitting per- 
spectives and demi-experiences of the life that is in 
nature are in time veritably future, or rather outside 
to time, perennial, young, divine, in the wind and 
rain which never die. 

The respectable folks, — 

Where dwell they 1 

They whisper in the oaks, 

And they sigh in the hay ; 

Summer and winter, night and day, 

Out on the meadow, there dwell they. 

They never die. 

Nor snivel, nor cry, 

Nor ask our pity 

With a wet eye. 

A sound estate they ever mend, 

To every asker readily lend ; 

To the ocean wealth, 

To the meadow health, 

To Time his length, 

To the rooks strength, 

To the stars light. 

To the weary night. 

To the busy day, 

To the idle play ; 

And so their good cheer never ends, 

For all are their debtors, and all their friends.^ 

' It should be stated, with reference to the poems with which 



6 SELECTIONS FKOM THOBBAU 

Concord Eiver is remarkable for the gentleness of 
its current, which is scarcely perceptible, and some 
have referred to its influence the proverbial modera- 
tion of the inhabitants of Concord, as exhibited in the 
Revolution, and on later occasions. It has been pro- 
posed that the town should adopt for its coat of arms 
a field verdant, with the Concord circling nine times 
round. I have read that a descent of an eighth of an 
inch in a mile is suflacient to produce a flow. Our 
river has, probably, very near the smallest allowance. 
The story is current, at any rate, though I believe 
that strict history will not bear it out, that the only 
bridge ever carried away on the main branch, within 
the limits of the town, was driven up stream by the 
wind. But wherever it makes a sudden bend it is 
shallower and swifter, and asserts its title to be called 
a river. Compared with the other tributaries of the 
Merrimack, it appears to have been properly named 
Musketaquid, or Meadow River, by the Indians. For 
the most part, it creeps through broad meadows, 
adorned with scattered oaks, where the cranberry 
is found in abundance, covering the ground like a 
moss-bed. A row of sunken dwarf willows borders 
the stream on one or both sides, while at a greater 
distance the meadow is skirted with maples, alders, 
and other fluviatile trees, overrun with the grape- 
vine, which bears fruit in its season, purple, red, 
white, and other grapes. Still farther from the 
stream, on the edge of the firm land, are seen the 

Thoreau frequently interspersed his essays, that those which are 
distinguished by inverted commas are quotations from other 
writers, the rest by Thoreau himself. 



CONCORD EIVER 7 

gray and white dwellings of the inhabitants. Ac- 
cording to the valuation of 1831, there were in 
Concord two thousand one hundred and eleven acres, 
or about one seventh of the whole territory in 
meadow ; this standing next in the list after pastur- 
age and unimproved lands, and, judging from the 
returns of previous years, the meadow is not re- 
claimed so fast as the woods are cleared. 

Let us here read what old Johnson says of these 
meadows in his Wonder-workinfj Providence, which 
gives the account of New England from 1628 to 1652, 
and see how matters looked to him. He says of the 
Twelfth Church of Christ gathered at Concord : " This 
town is seated upon a fair fresh river, whose rivulets 
are filled with fresh marsh, and her streams with fish, 
it being a branch of that large river of Merrimack. 
Allwifes and shad in their season come up to this 
town, but salmon and dace cannot come up, by reason 
of the rocky falls, which causeth their meadows to 
lie much covered with water, the which these people, 
together with their neighbour town, have several 
times essayed to cut through but cannot, yet it may 
be turned another way with an hundred pound charge 
as it appeared.'' As to their farming he says : " Hav- 
ing laid out their estate upon cattle at 5 to 20 pound 
a cow, when they came to winter them with inland 
hay, and feed upon such wild fother as was never 
cut before, they could not hold out the winter, but, 
ordinarily the first or second year after their coming 
up to a new plantation, many of their cattle died." 
And this from the same author Of the Planting 



8 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAD 

of the I9th Church in the Mattachusets' Government, 
called Sudbury: "This year [does he mean 1654] 
the town and church of Christ at Sudbury began to 
have the first foundation stones laid, taking up her 
station in the inland country, as her elder sister 
Concord had formerly done, lying further up the 
same river, being furnished with great plenty of fresh 
marsh, but, it lying very low is much indamaged with 
land floods, insomuch that when the summer proves 
wet they lose part of their hay ; yet are they so suffi- 
ciently provided that they take in cattle of other 
towns to winter." 

The sluggish artery of the Concord meadows steals 
thus unobserved through the town, without a murmur 
or a pulse-beat, its general course from south-west to 
north-east, and its length about fifty miles ; a huge 
volume of matter, ceaselessly rolling through the 
plains and valleys of the substantial earth with the 
moccasined tread of an Indian warrior, making haste 
from the high places of the earth to its ancient 
reservoir. The murmurs of many a famous river 
on the other side of the globe reach even to us here, 
as to more distant dwellers on its banks ; many a 
poet's stream floating the helms and shields of heroes 
on its bosom. The Xanthus or Scamander is not a 
mere dry channel and bed of a mountain torrent, but 
fed by the everflowing springs of fame — 

" And thou Simois, that as an arrowe, clere 
Through Troy rennest, aie downward to the sea " ; 

and I trust that I may be allowed to associate our 



CONCOED KIVEE 9 

muddy but much abused Concord River with the 
most famous in history. 

" Sure there are poets which did never dream 
Upon Parnassus, nor did taste the stream 
Of Helicon ; we therefore may suppose 
Those made not poets, but the poets those. " 

The Mississippi, the Ganges, and the Nile, those 
journeying atoms from the Rocky Mountains, the 
Himmaleh, and Mountains of the Moon, have a kind 
of personal importance in the annals of the vrorld. 
The heavens are not yet drained over their sources, 
but the Mountains of the Moon still send their annual 
tribute to the Pasha without fail, as they did to the 
Pharaohs, though he must collect the rest of his 
revenue at the point of the sword. Rivers must 
have been the guides which conducted the footsteps 
of the first travellers. They are the constant lure, 
when they flow by our doors, to distant enterprise 
and adventure, and, by a natural impulse, the 
dwellers on their banks will at length accompany 
their currents to the lowlands of the globe, or explore 
at their invitation the interior of continents. They 
are the natural highways of all nations, not only 
levelling the ground and removing obstacles from 
the path of the traveller, quenching his thirst and 
bearing him on their bosoms, but conducting him 
through the most interesting scenery, the most 
populous portions of the globe, and where the animal 
and vegetable kingdoms attain their greatest per- 
fection. 

I had often stood on the banks of the Concord, 



10 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

watching the lapse of the current, an emblem of all 
progress, following the same law with the system, 
with time, and all that is made; the weeds at the 
bottom gently bending down the stream, shaken by 
the watery wind, still planted where their seeds had 
sunk, but ere long to die and go down likewise ; the 
shining pebbles, not yet anxious to better their 
condition, the chips and weeds, and occasional logs 
and stems of trees that floated past, fulfilling their 
fate, were objects of singular interest to me, and at 
last I resolved to launch myself on its bosom and 
float whither it would bear me. 

At length, on Saturday, the last day of August, 
1839, we two, brothers, and natives of Concord, 
weighed anchor in this river port ; for Concord, too, 
lies under the sun, a port of entry and departure for 
the bodies as well as the souls of men ; one shore at 
least exempted from all duties but such as an honest 
man will gladly discharge. A warm drizzling rain 
had obscured the morning, and threatened to delay 
our voyage, but at length the leaves and grass were 
dried, and it came out a mild afternoon, as serene 
and fresh as if Nature were maturing some greater 
scheme of her own. After this long dripping and 
oozing from every pore, she began to respire again 
more healthily than ever. So with a vigorous shove 
we launched our boat from the bank, while the flags 
and bulrushes courtesied a God-speed, and dropped 
silently down the stream. 

Our boat, which had cost us a week's labour in 



CONCOED EIVEE 11 

the spring, was in form like a fisherman's dory, fifteen 
feet long by three and a half in breadth at the widest 
part, painted green below, with a border of blue, with 
reference to the two elements in which it was to 
spend its existence. It had been loaded the evening 
before at our door, half a mile from the ri-ver, with 
potatoes and melons from a patch which we had 
cultivated, and a few utensils, and was provided with 
wheels in order to be rolled around falls, as well as 
with two sets of oars, and several slender poles for 
shoving in shallow places, and also two masts, one 
of which served for a tent-pole at night; for a 
bufialo-skin was to be our bed, and a tent of cotton 
cloth our roof. It was strongly built, but heavy, 
and hardly of better model than usual. If rightly 
made, a boat would be a sort of amphibious animal, 
a creature of two elements, related by one half its 
structure to some swift and shapely fish, and by the 
other to some strong-winged and graceful bird. The 
fish shows where there should be the greatest breadth 
of beam and depth in the hold ; its fins direct where 
to set the oars, and the tail gives some hint for the 
form and position of the rudder. The bird shows 
how to rig and trim the sails, and what form to give 
to the prow that it may balance the boat, and divide 
the air and water best. These hints we had but 
partially obeyed. But the eyes, though they are no 
sailors, will never be satisfied with any model, how- 
ever fashionable, which does not answer all the 
requisitions of art. However, as art is all of a ship 
but the wood, and yet the wood alone will rudely 



12 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

serve the purpose of a ship, so our boat, being of 
wood, gladly availed itself of the old law that the 
heavier shall float the lighter, and though a dull 
water-fowl, proved a sufficient buoy for our purpose. 

" Were it the will of Heaven, an osier bough 
Were vessel safe enough the seas to plough. " 

Some village friends stood upon a promontory 
lower down the stream to wave us a last farewell ; 
but we, having already performed these shore rites, 
with excusable reserve, as befits those who are 
embarked on unusual enterprises, who behold but 
speak not, silently glided past the firm lands of 
Concord, both peopled cape and lonely summer 
meadow, with steady sweeps. And yet we did 
unbend so far as to let our guns speak for us, 
when at length we had swept out of sight, and thus 
left the woods to ring again with their echoes ; and 
it may be many russet-clad children, lurking in those 
broad meadows, with the bittern and the woodcock 
and the rail, though wholly concealed by brakes and 
hard-hack and meadow-sweet, heard our salute that 
afternoon. 



SUNDAY THOUGHTS 

As we passed under the last bridge over the canal, 
just before reaching the Merrimack, the people 
coming out of church paused to look at us from 
above, and apparently, so strong is custom, indulged 
in some heathenish comparisons ; but we were the 
truest observers of this sunny day. According to 
Hesiod, 

"The seventh is a holy day, 
For then Latona hrought forth golden-rayed Apollo, " 

and by our reckoning this was the seventh day of the 
week, and not the first. I find among the papers of 
an old Justice of the Peace and Deacon of the town 
of Concord, this singular memorandum, which is 
worth preserving as a relic of an ancient custom. 
After reforming the spelling and grammar, it runs 
as follows : " Men that travelled with teams on the 
Sabbath, Dec. 18th, 1803, were Jeremiah Eichardson 
and Jonas Parker, both of Shirley. They had teams 
with rigging such as is used to carry barrels, and 
they were travelling westward. Eichardson was 
questioned by the Hon. Ephraim Wood, Esq., and he 



14 SBLEOTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

said that Jonas Parker was his fellow-traveller, and 
he further said that a Mr. Longley was his employer, 
who promised to bear him out." We were the men 
that were gliding northward, this 1st September 1839, 
with still team, and rigging not the most convenient 
to carry barrels, unquestioned by any Squire or 
Church Deacon and ready to bear ourselves out if 
need were. In the latter part of the seventeenth 
century, according to the historian of Dunstable, 
"Towns were directed to erect 'a cage' near the 
meeting-house, and in this all offenders against the 
sanctity of the Sabbath were confined." Society has 
relaxed a little from its strictness, one would say, but 
I presume that there is not less religion than formerly. 
If the ligature is found to be loosened in one part, it 
is only drawn the tighter in another. 

You can hardly convince a man of an error in a 
lifetime, but must content yourself with the reflection 
that the progress of science is slow. If he is not 
convinced, his grandchildren may be. The geologists 
tell us that it took one hundred years to pi'ove that 
fossils are organic, and one hundred and fifty more, 
to prove that they are not to be referred to the 
Noachian deluge. I am not sure but I should betake 
myself in extremities to the liberal divinities of 
Greece, rather than to my country's God. Jehovah, 
though with us he has acquired new attributes, is 
more absolute and unapproachable, but hardly more 
divine, than Jove. He is not so much of a gentle- 
man, not so gracious and catholic, he does not exert 
so intimate and genial an influence on nature, as 



SUNDAY THOUGHTS 15 

many a god of the Greeks. I should fear the infinite 
power and inflexible justice of the almighty mortal 
hardly as yet apotheosised, so wholly masculine, with 
no sister Juno, no Apollo, no Venus, nor Minerva, 
to intercede for me, dvfim (j)vX,^ovaa re, Kr^Zofiivrj 
re. The Grecian are youthful and erring and fallen 
gods, with the vices of men, but in many important 
respects essentially of the divine race. In my 
Pantheon, Pan still reigns in his pristine glory, with 
his ruddy face, his flowing beard, and his shaggy 
body, his pipe and his crook, his nymph Echo, and 
his chosen daughter lambe ; for the great god Pan 
is not dead, as was rumoured. No god ever dies. 
Perhaps of all the gods of New England and of 
ancient Greece, I am most constant at his shrine. 

It seems to me that the god that is commonly 
worshipped in civilised countries is not at all divine, 
though he bears a divine name, but is the overwhelm- 
ing authority and respectability of mankind com- 
bined. Men reverence one another, not yet God. 
If I thought that I could speak with discrimination 
and impartiality of the nations of Christendom, I 
should praise them, but it tasks me too much. They 
seem to be the most civil and humane, but I may be 
mistaken. Every people have gods to suit their cir- 
cumstances ; the Society Islanders had a god called 
Toahitu, " in shape like a dog ; he saved such as 
were in danger of falling from rocks and trees." I 
think that we can do without him, as we have not 
much climbing to do. Among them a man could 
make himself a god out of a piece of wood in a 



16 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

few minutes, whicli would frighten him out of his 
wits. 

I fancy that some indefatigable spinster of the old 
school, who had the supreme felicity to be bom in 
" days that tried men's souls," hearing this, may say 
with Nestor, another of the old school, "But you 
are younger than I. For time was when I conversed 
with greater men than you. For not at any time 
have I seen such men, nor shall see them, as 
Perithous, and Dryas, and Troi/Meva Xawv," that is 
probably Washington, sole " Shepherd of the People." 
And when Apollo has now six times rolled westward, 
or seemed to roll, and now for the seventh time 
shows his face in the east, eyes well-nigh glazed, long 
glassed, which have fluctuated only between lamb's 
wool and worsted, explore ceaselessly some good 
sermon book. For six days shalt thou labour and 
do all thy knitting, but on the seventh, forsooth, thy 
reading. Happy we who can bask in this warm 
September sun, which illumines all creatures, as well 
when they rest as when they toil, not without a 
feeling of gratitude ; whose life is as blameless, how 
blameworthy soever it may be, on the Lord's Mona- 
day as on his Suna-day. 

There are various, nay, incredible faiths; why 
should we be alarmed at any of them ? What man 
believes, G-od believes. Long as I have lived, and 
many blasphemers as I have heard and seen, I have 
never yet heard or witnessed any direct and conscious 
blasphemy or irreverence ; but of indirect and habit- 
ual, enough. Where is the man who is guilty of 



SUNDAY THOUGHTS 17 

direct and personal insolence to Him that made 
him? 

One memorable addition to the old mythology is 
due to this era, — the Christian fable. With what 
pains, and tears, and blood these centuries have 
woven this and added it to the mythology of man- 
kind. The new Prometheus. With what miraculous 
consent, and patience, and persistency has this mythus 
been stamped on the memory of the race ! It would 
seem as if it were in the progress of our mythology 
to dethrone Jehovah, and crown Christ in his stead. 

If it is not a tragical life we live, then I know not 
what to call it. Such a story as that of Jesus Christ, 
— the history of Jerusalem, say, being a part of the 
Universal History. The naked, the embalmed, un- 
buried death of Jerusalem amid its desolate hills,^ 
think of it. In Tasso's poem I trust some things are 
sweetly buried. Consider the snappish tenacity with 
which they preach Christianity still. What are time 
and space to Christianity, eighteen hundred years, 
and a new world ? — that the humble life of a Jewish 
peasant should have force to make a New York bishop 
so bigoted. Forty-four lamps, the gift of kings, now 
burning in a place called the Holy Sepulchre ; — a 
church-bell ringing; — some unaffected tears shed by 
a pilgrim on Mount Calvary within the week. — 

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, when I forget thee, may 
my right hand forget her cunning." 

" By the waters of Babylon there we sat down, and 
we wept when we remembered Zion." 

I trust that some may be as near and dear to 




18 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

Buddha, or Christ, or Swedenborg, who are without 
the pale of their churches. It is not necessary to be 
Christian to appreciate the beauty and significance of 
the life of Christ. I know that some will have hard 
thoughts of me, when they hear their Christ named 
beside my Buddha, yet I am sure that I am willing 
they should love their Christ more than my Buddha, 
for the love is the main thing, and I like him too. 
"God is the letter Ku, as well as Khu." Why need 
Christians be still intolerant and superstitious ? The 
simple-minded sailors were unwilling to cast over- 
board Jonah at his own request. — 

" Where is this love become in later age ? 
Alas ! 'tis gone in endless pilgrimage 
From hence, and never to return, I doubt, 
Till revolution wheel those times about. " 

One man says, — 

" The world's a popular disease, that reigns 
Within the froward heart and frantic brains 
Of poor distempered mortals." 

Another, that 

" all the world's a stage, 
And all the men and women merely players." 

The world is a strange place for a playhouse to stand 
within it. Old Drayton thought that a man that 
lived here, and would be a poet, for instance, should 
have in him certain " brave, translunary things," and 
a "fine madness " should possess his brain. Certainly 
it were as well, that he might be up to the occasion. 
That is a superfluous wonder, which Dr. Johnson 
expresses at the assertion of Sir Thomas Browne that 
"his life has been a miracle of thirty years, which to 



SUNDAY THOUGHTS 19 

relate, were not history but a piece of poetry, and 
would sound like a fable." The wonder is, rather, 
that all men do not assert as much. That would be 
a rare praise, if it were true, which was addressed to 
Francis Beaumont, — "Spectators sate part in your 
tragedies.'' 

Think what a mean and wretched place this world 
is ; that half the time we have to light a lamp that 
we may see to live in it. This is half our life. Who 
would undertake the enterprise if it were all ? And, 
pray, what more has day to offer 1 A lamp that burns 
more clear, a purer oil, say winter-strained, that so 
we may pursue our idleness with less obstruction. 
Bribed with a little sunlight and a few prismatic tints, 
we bless our Maker, and stave off his wrath with 
hymns. 

I make ye an offer, 

Ye gods, hear the scoffer, 

The scheme will not hurt you, 

If ye will find goodness, I will find virtue. 

Though I am your creature, 

And child of your nature, 

I have pride still unbended, 

And blood undescended. 

Some free independence, 

And my own descendants. 

I cannot toil blindly, 

Though ye behave kindly. 

And I swear by the rood, 

I'll be slave to no God. 

If ye will deal plainly, 

I will strive mainly, 

If ye w.ill discover, 

Great plans to your lover. 

And give him a sphere' 

Somewhat larger than here. 



20 SELECTIONS FEOM THOKBAU 

" Verily, my angels ! I was abashed on account of 
my servant, who had no Providence but me ; there- 
fore did I pardon him." — The Gulistan of Sadi. 

Most people with whom I talk, men and women 
even of some originality and genius, have their 
scheme of the universe all cut and dried, — very dry, 
I assure you, to hear, dry enough to burn, dry-rotted 
and powder-post, methinks, — which they set up be- 
tween you and them in the shortest intercourse ; an 
ancient and tottering frame with all its boards blown 
off. They do not walk without their bed. Some, to 
me, seemingly very unimportant and unsubstantial 
things and relations, are for them everlastingly 
settled, — as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and the 
like. These are like the everlasting hills to them. 
But in all my wanderings I never came across the 
least vestige of authority for these things. They 
have not left so distinct a trace as the delicate flower 
of a remote geological period on the coal in my grate. 
The wisest man preaches no doctrines; he has no 
scheme ; he sees no rafter, not even a cobweb, against 
the heavens. It is clear sky. If I ever see more 
clearly at one time than at another, the medimi] 
through which I see is clearer. To see from earth tc 
heaven, and see there standing, still a fixture, that 
old Jewish scheme ! What right have you to hold 
up this obstacle to my understanding you, to youi 
understanding me ! You did not invent it ; it was 
imposed on you. Examine your authority. Ever 
Christ, we fear, had his scheme, his conformity t( 



SUNDAY THOUGHTS 21 

tradition, which slightly vitiates his teaching. He 
had not swallowed all formulas. He preached some 
mere doctrines. As for me, Abraham, Isaac, and 
Jacob are now only the subtilest imaginable essences, 
which would not stain the morning sky. Your 
scheme must be the framework of the universe; all 
other schemes will soon be ruins. The perfect Grod 
in his revelations of himself has never got to the 
length of one such proposition as you, his prophets, 
state. Have you learned the alphabet of heaven and 
can count three 1 Do you know the number of God's 
family? Can you put mysteries into words? Do 
you presume to fable of the ineffable? Pray, what 
geographer are you, that speak of heaven's topo- 
graphy 1 Whose friend are you that speak of God's 
personality? Do you. Miles Howard, think that he 
has made you his confidant ? Tell me of the height 
of the mountains of the moon, or of the diameter of 
space, and I may believe you, but of the secret history 
of the Almighty, and I shall pronounce thee mad. 
Yet we have a sort of family history of our God, — 
so have the Tahitians of theirs, — and some old poet's 
grand imagination is imposed on us as adamantine 
everlasting truth, and God's own words. Pythagoras 
says, truly enough, "A true assertion respecting God, 
is an assertion of God " ; but we may well doubt if 
there is any example of this in literature. 

The New Testament is an invaluable book, though 
I confess to having been slightly prejudiced against it 
in my very early days by the church and the Sabbath 
school, so that it seemed, before I read it, to be the 



22 SELECTIONS EEOM THOEEAU 

yellowest book in the catalogue. Yet I early escaped 
from their meshes. It was hard to get the comment- 
aries out of one's head and taste its true flavour.— 
I think that Pilgrim's Progress is the best sermon 
which has been preached from this text ; almost all 
other sermons that I have heard, or heard of, have 
been but poor imitations of this. — It would be a poor 
story to be prejudiced against the Life of Christ 
because the book has been edited by Christians. In 
fact, I love this book rarely, though it is a sort of 
castle in the air to me, which I am permitted to 
dream. Having come to it so recently and freshly, 
it has the greater charm, so that I cannot find any to 
talk with about it. I never read a novel, they have 
so little real life and thought in them. The reading 
which I love, best is the scriptures of the several 
nations, though it happens that I am better ac- 
quainted with those of the Hindoos, the Chinese, 
and the Persians, than of the Hebrews, which I have 
come to last. Give me one of these Bibles and you 
have silenced me for a while. When I recover the 
use of my tongue, I am wont to worry my neighbours 
with the new sentences ; but commonly they cannot 
see that there is any wit in them. Such has been my 
experience with the New Testament. I have not 
yet got to the crucifixion, I have read it over so many 
times. I should love dearly to read it aloud to my 
friends, some of whom are seriously inclined ; it is so 
good, and I am sure that they have never heard it, 
it fits their case exactly, and we should enjoy it so 
much together, — but I instinctively despair of getting 



SUNDAY THOUGHTS 23 

their ears. They soon show, by signs not to be mis- 
taken, that it is inexpressibly wearisome to them. I 
do not mean to imply that I am any better than my 
neighbours ; for, alas ! I know that I am only as good, 
though I love better books than they. 

It is remarkable that, notwithstanding the univer- 
sal favour with which the New Testament is out- 
wardly received, and even the bigotry with which it 
is defended, there is no hospitality shown to, there is 
no appreciation of, the order of truth with which it 
deals. I know of no book that has so few readers. 
There is none so truly strange, and heretical, and un- 
popular. To Christians, no less than Greeks and 
Jews, it is foolishness and a stumbling-block. There 
are, indeed, severe things in it which no man should 
read aloud more than once. — " Seek first the kingdom 
of heaven." — "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on 
earth." — "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that 
thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have 
treasure in heaven." — "For what is a man profited, 
if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own 
soul ? or what shall a man give in exchange for his 
soul?" — Think of this, Yankees! — "Verily, I say 
unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, 
ye shall say unto this mountain, Eemove hence to 
yonder place ; and it shall remove ; and nothing shall 
be impossible unto you." — Think of repeating these 
things to a New England audience ! thirdly, fourthly, 
fifteenthly, till there are three barrels of sermons ! 
Who, without cant, can read them aloud? Who, 
without cant, can hear them, and not go out of the 



24 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEATJ 

meeting-house? They never were read, they never 
were heard. Let but one of these sentences be rightly - 
read from any pulpit in the land, and there would 
not be left one stone of that meeting-house upon 
another. 

Yet the New Testament treats of man and man's 
so-called spiritual affairs too exclusively, and is too 
constantly moral and personal, to alone content me, 
who am not interested solely in man's religious or 
moral nature, or in man even. I have not the most 
definite designs on the future. Absolutely speaking, 
Do unto others as you would that they should do 
unto you, is by no means a golden rule, but the best 
of current silver. An honest man would have but 
little occasion for it. It is golden not to have any 
rule at all in such a case. The book has never been 
written which is to be accepted without any allow- 
ance. Christ was a sublime actor on the stage of the 
world. He knew what he was thinking of when he 
said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my 
words shall not pass away." I draw near to him at 
such a time. Yet he taught mankind but imperfectly 
how to live ; his thoughts were all directed toward 
another world. There is another kind of success 
than his. Even here we have a sort of living to get, 
and must buffet it somewhat longer. There are 
various tough problems yet to solve, and we must 
make shift to live, betwixt spirit and matter, such a 
human life as we can. 

A healthy man, with steady employment, as wood- 
chopping at fifty cents a cord, and a camp in the 



SUNDAY THOUGHTS 25 

woods, will not be a good subject for Christianity. 
The New Testament may be a choice book to him on 
some, but not on all or most of his days. He will 
rather go a-fishing in his leisure hours. The Apostles, 
though they were fishers too, were of the solemn race 
of sea-fishers, and never trolled for pickerel on inland 
streams. 

Men have a singular desire to be good without 
being good for anything, because, perchance, they 
think vaguely that so it will be good for them in the 
end. The sort of morality which the priests inculcate 
is a very subtle policy, far finer than the politicians, 
and the world is very successfully ruled by them as the 
policemen. It is not worth the while to let our im- 
perfections disturb us always. The conscience really 
does not, and ought not^to monopolise the whole of 
our lives, any more than the heart or the head. It 
is as liable to disease as any other part. I have seen 
some whose consciences, owing undoubtedly to former 
indulgence, had grown to be as irritable as spoilt 
children, and at length gave them no peace. They 
did not know when to swallow their cud, and their 
lives of course yielded no milk. 

I was once reproved by a minister who was driving 
a poor beast to some meeting-house horse-sheds among 
the hills of New Hampshire, because I was bending 
my steps to a mountain-top on the Sabbath, instead 
of a church, when I would have gone farther than he 
to hear a true word spoken on that or any day. He 
declared that I was "breaking the Lord's fourth 
commandment," and proceeded to enumerate, in a 



26 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

sepulchral tone, the disasters which had befallen him 
whenever he had done any ordinary work on the 
Sabbath. He really thought that a god was on the 
watch to trip up those men who followed any secular 
work on this day, and did not see that it was the evil 
conscience of the workers that did it. The country 
is full of this superstition, so that when one enters a 
village, the church, not only really but from associa- 
tion, is the ugliest looking building in it, because it 
is the one in which human nature stoops the lowest 
and is most disgraced. Certainly, such temples as 
these shall ere long cease to deform the landscape. 
There are few things more disheartening and dis- 
gusting than when you are walking the streets of a 
strange village on the Sabbath, to hear a preacher 
shouting like a boatswain in a gale of wind, and thus 
harshly profaning the quiet atmosphere of the day. 
You fancy him to have taken oflf his coat, as when 
men are about to do hot and dirty work. 

If I should ask the minister of Middlesex to let 
me speak in his pulpit on a Sunday, he would object, 
because I do not pray as he does, or because I am not 
ordained. What under the sun are these things ? 

Really, there is no infidelity, nowadays, so great 
as that which prays, and keeps the Sabbath, and 
rebuilds the churches. The sealer of the South 
Pacific preaches a truer doctrine. The church is a 
sort of hospital for men's souls, and as full of quack- 
ery as the hospital for their bodies. Those who are 
taken into it live like pensioners in their Retreat or 
Sailor's Snug Harbour, where you may see a row of 



SUNDAY THOUGHTS 27 

religious cripples sitting outside in sunny weather. 
Let not the apprehension that he may one day have 
to occupy a ward therein, discourage the cheerful 
labours of the able-souled man. While he remembers 
the sick in their extremities, let him not look thither 
as to his goal. One is sick at heart of this pagoda 
worship. It is like the beating of gongs in a Hindoo 
subterranean temple. In dark places and dungeons 
the preacher's words might perhaps strike root and 
grow, but not in broad daylight in any part of the 
world that I know. The sound of the Sabbath bell 
far away, now breaking on these shores, does not 
awaken pleasing associations, but melancholy and 
sombre ones rather. One involuntarily rests on his 
oar, to humour his unusually meditative mood. It is 
as the sound of many catechisms and religious books 
twanging a canting peal round the earth, seeming to 
issue from some Egyptian temple and echo along the 
shore of the Nile, right opposite to Pharaoh's palace 
and Moses in the bulrushes, startling a multitude of 
storks and alligators basking in the sun. 

Everywhere "good men" sound a retreat, and the 
word has gone forth to fall back on innocence. Fall 
forward rather on to whatever there is there. Chris- 
tianity only hopes. It has hung its harp on the 
willows, and cannot sing a song in a strange land. 
It has dreamed a sad dream, and does not yet 
welcome the morning with joy. The mother tells 
her falsehoods to her child, but, thank Heaven, the 
child does not grow up in its parent's shadow. Our 
mother's faith has not grown with her experience. 



28 SELECTIONS FROM THOKEAU 

Her experience has been too much for her. The 
lesson of life was too hard for her to learn. 

It is remarkable that almost all speakers and 
writers feel it to be incumbent on them, sooner or 
later, to prove or to acknowledge the personality of 
God. Some Earl of Bridgewater, thinking it better 
late than never, has provided for it in his will. It is 
a sad mistake. In reading a work on agriculture, we 
have to skip the author's moral reflections, and the 
words "Providence" and "He" scattered along tha 
page, to come at the profitable level of what he has 
to say. What he calls his religion is for the most 
part offensive to the nostrils. He should know better 
than expose himself, and keep his foul sores covered 
till they are quite healed. There is more religion in 
men's science than there is science in their religion. 
Let us make haste to the report of the committee on 
swine. 

A man's real faith is never contained in his creed, 
nor is his creed an article of his faith. The last is 
never adopted. This it is that permits him to smile 
ever, and to live even as bravely as he does. And 
yet he clings anxiously to his creed, as to a straw, 
thinking that that does him good service because his 
sheet anchor does not drag. 



PEIENDSHIP 

No word is oftener on the lips of men than Friend- 
ship, and indeed no thought is more famihar to their 
aspirations. Ml men are dreaming of it, and its 
drama, which is always a tragedy, is enacted daily. 
It is the secret of the universe. You may thread the 
town, you may wander the country, and none shall 
ever speak of it, yet thought is everywhere busy 
about it, and the idea of what is possible in this 
respect affects our behaviour toward all new men 
and women, and a great many old ones. Neverthe- 
less, I can remember only two or three essays on this 
subject in all literature. No wonder that the Myth- 
ology, and Arabian Nights, and Shakespeare, and 
Scott's novels, entertain us, — we are poets and fablers 
and dramatists and novelists ourselves. We are 
continually acting a part in a more interesting drama 
than any written. We are dreaming that our Friends 
are our Friends, and that we are our Friends' Friends. 
Our actual Friends are but distant relations of those 
to whom we are pledged. We never exchange more 
than three words with a Friend in our lives on that 
level to which our thoughts and feelings almost 



30 SELECTIONS FROM THOKEAU 

habitually rise. One goes forth prepared to say, 
"Sweet Friends!" and the salutation is, "Damn 
your eyes ! " But never mind ; faint heart never won 
true Friend. my Friend, may it come to pass 
once, that when you are my Friend I may be yours. 

Of what use the friendliest dispositions even, if 
there are no hours given to Friendship, if it is for- 
ever postponed to unimportant duties and relations 1 
Friendship is first. Friendship last. But it is equally 
impossible to forget our Friends, and to make them 
answer to our ideal. When they say farewell, then 
indeed we begin to keep them company. How often 
we find ourselves turning our backs on our actual 
Friends, that we may go and meet their ideal cousins. 
I would that I were worthy to be any man's Friend. 

What is commonly honoured with the name of 
Friendship is no very profound or powerful instinct. 
Men do not, after all, love their Friends greatly. I 
do not often see the farmers made seers and wise to 
the verge of insanity by their Friendship for one 
another. They are not often transfigured and trans- 
lated by love in each other's presence. I do not 
observe them purified, refined, and elevated by the 
love of a man. If one abates a little the price of 
his wood, or gives a neighbour his vote at town- 
meeting, or a barrel of apples, or lends him his 
waggon frequently, it is esteemed a rare instance of 
Friendship. Nor do the farmers' wives lead lives 
consecrated to Friendship. I do not see the pair of 
farmer Friends of either sex prepared to stand against 
the world. There are only two or three couples in 



FRIENDSHIP 31 

history. To say that a man is your Friend, means j 
commonly no more than this, that he is not your "f 
enemy. Most contemplate only what would be the i 
accidental and trifling advantages of Friendship, as 
that the Friend can assist in time of need, by his 
substance, or his influence, or his counsel ; but he 
who foresees such advantages in this relation proves 
himself blind to its real advantage, or indeed wholly 
inexperienced in the relation itself. Such services 
are particular and menial, compared with the per- 
petual and all-embracing service which it is. Even 
the utmost good-will and harmony and practical 
kindness are not suflBcient for Friendship, for Friends 
do not live in harmony merely, as some say, but in 
melody. We do not wish for Friends to feed and 
clothe our bodies, — neighbours are kind enough for , 
that, — but to do the like office to our spirits. For 1 
this few are rich enough, however well disposed they 
may be. For the most part we stupidly confound 
one man with another. The dull distinguish only 
races or nations, or at most classes, but the wise man, 
individuals. To his Friend a man's peculiar character 
appears in every feature and in every action, and it 
is thus drawn out and improved by him. 

Think of the importance of Friendship in the 
education of men. 

"He that hath love and judgment too, 
Sees more than any other doe. " 

It will make a man honest; it will make him a 
hero; it will make him a saint. It is the state of 
the just dealing with the just, the magnanimous 



32 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

with the magnanimous, the sincere with the sincere, 
man with man. 
y And it is well said by another poet, 

"Why love among the virtues is not known, 
Is that love is them all contract in one.''~\ 

All the abuses which are the object of reform with 
the philanthropist, the statesman, and the house- 
keeper are unconsciously amended in the intercourse 
of Friends. A Friend is one who incessantly pays us 
the compliment of expecting from us all the virtues, 
and who can appreciate them in us. It takes two to 
speak the truth, — one to speak, and another to hear. 
How can one treat with magnanimity mere wood and 
stone 1 If we dealt only with the false and dishonest, 
we should at last forget how to speak truth. Only 
lovers know the value and magnanimity of truth, 
while traders prize a cheap honesty, and neighbours 
and acquaintance a cheap civility. In our daily 
intercourse with men, our nobler faculties are dor- 
mant and suffered to rust. None will pay us the 
compliment to expect nobleness from us. Though 
we have gold to give, they demand only copper. 
We ask our neighbour to sufifer himself to be dealt 
with truly, sincerely, nobly; but he answers no by 
his deafness. He does not even hear this prayer. 
He says practically, I will be content if you treat me 
as "no better than I should be," as deceitful, mean, 
dishonest, and selfish. For the most part, we are con- 
tented so to deal and to be dealt with, and we do not 
think that for the mass of men there is any truer and 
nobler relation possible. A man may have good 



FRIENDSHIP 33 

neighbours, so called, and acquaintances, and even 
companions, wife, parents, brothers, sisters, children, 
who meet himself and one another on this ground 
only. The State does not demand justice of its 
members, but thinks that it succeeds very well with 
the least degree of it, hardly more than rogues 
practise ; and so do the neighbourhood and the 
family. What is commonly called Friendship even 
is only a little more honour among rogues. 

But sometimes we are said to love another, that is, 
to stand in a true relation to him, so that we give the 
best to, and receive the best from, him. Between 
whom there is hearty truth, there is love; and in 
proportion to our truthfulness and confidence in one 
another, our lives are divine and miraculous, and 
answer to our ideal. There are passages of affection 
in our intercourse with mortal men and women, such 
as no prophecy had taught us to expect, which 
transcend our earthly life, and anticipate Heaven for 
us. What is this Love that may come right into the 
middle of a prosaic Goffstown day, equal to any of 
the gods ? that discovers a new world, fair and fresh 
and eternal, occupying the place of the old one, when 
to the common eye a dust has settled on the universe ? 
which world cannot else be reached, and does not 
exist. What other words, we may almost ask, are 
memorable and worthy to be repeated than those 
which love has inspired ? It is wonderful that they 
were ever uttered. They are few and rare, indeed, 
but, like a strain of music, they are incessantly 
repeated and modulated by the memory. All other 
D 



34 SELECTIONS FROM THOBEAU 

words crumble off with the stucco which overHes the 
heart. We should not dare to repeat these now 
aloud. We are not competent to hear them at all 
^ , tiHies.3 
' I The books for young people say a great deal about 
the selection of Friends ; it is because they really have 
nothing to say about Friends. They mean associates 
and confidants merely. " Know that the contrariety 
of foe and Friend proceeds from God." Friendship 
takes place between those who have an affinity for 
one another, and is a perfectly natural and inevitable 
result. No professions nor advances will avail. Even 
speech, at first, necessarily has nothing to do with it ; 
but it follows after silence, as the buds in the graft 
do not put forth into leaves till long after the graft 
has taken. It is a drama in which the parties have 
no part to act. We are aU Mussulmen and fatalists 
in this respect. Impatient and uncertain lovers 
think that they must say or do something kind 
whenever they meet ; they must never be cold. But 
they who are Friends do not do what they think they 
must, but what they nvust. Even their Friendship is 
to some extent but a sublime phenomenon to them. 

The true and not despairing Friend will address 
his Friend in some such terms as these. 

" I never asked thy leave to let me love thee,— I 
have a right. I love thee not as something private 
and personal, which is your own, but as something 
universal and worthy of love, loliich I liave fmird. 0, 
how I think of you ! You are purely good, — you are 
infinitely good. I can trust you forever. I did not 



FEIENDSHIP 35 

think that humanity was so rich. Give me an oppor- 
tunity to live." 

" You are the fact in a fiction, — you are the truth 
more strange and admirable than fiction. Consent 
only to be what you are. I alone will never stand- in 
your way." 

"This is what I would like, — to be as intimate 
with you as our spirits are intimate, — respecting you 
as I respect my ideal. Never to profane one another 
by word or action, even by a thought. Between us, 
if necessary, let there be no acquaintance." 

" I have discovered you ; how can you be concealed 
from me ? " 

The Friend asks no return but that his Friend will 
religipusly accept and wear and not disgrace his 
'■^apoclfeosiis of him. They cherish each other's hopes. 
They are kind to each other's dreams. 

Though the poet says, '"Tis the pre-eminence of 
Friendship to impute excellence,'' yet we can never 
praise our Friend, nor esteem him praiseworthy, nor 
let him think that he can please us by any behamour, 
or ever treat us well enough. That kindness which 
has so good a reputation elsewhere can least of all 
consist with this relation, and no such affront can be 
offered to a Friend, as a conscious good-will, a friend- 
liness which is not a necessity of the Friend's nature. 
\~The sexes are naturally most strongly attracted to 
one another, by constant constitutional diflFerences, 
and are most commonly and surely the complements 
of each other How natural and easy it is for man 



36 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

to secure the attention of woman to what interests 
himself. Men and women of equal culture, thrown 
together, are sure to be of a certain value to one 
another, more than men to men. There exists 
already a natural disinterestedness and liberality in 
such society, and I think that any man will more 
confidently carry his favourite books to read to some 
circle of intelligent women, than to one of his own 
sex. The visit of man to man is wont to be an inter- 
ruption, but the sexes naturally expect one another. 
Yet Friendship is no respecter of sex ; and perhaps it 
is more rare between the sexes than between two of 
the same sex. '^ 

F" Friendship "Ts, at any rate, a relation of perfect 
equality. It cannot well spare any outward sign of 
equal obligation and advantage. The nobleman can 
never have a Friend among his retainers, nor the 
king among his subjects. Not that the parties to it 
are in all respects equal, but they are equal in all 
that respects or affects their Friendship. The one's 
love is exactly balanced and represented by the 
other's. Persons are only the vessels which contain 
the nectar, and the hydrostatic paradox is the symbol 
of love's law. It finds its level and rises to its 
fountain-head in all breasts, and its slenderest column 
balances the ocean. 

"And love as well the shepherd can 
As can the mighty nobleman." 

The one sex is not, in this respect, more tender than 
the other. A hero's love is as delicate as a maiden's. J 



FKIENDSHIP 37 

Confucius said, "Never contract Friendship with 
a man who is not better than thyself." It is the 
merit and preservation of Friendship, that it takes 
place on a level higher than the actual characters of 
the parties would seem to warrant. The rays of 
light come to us in such a curve that every man whom 
we meet appears to be taller than he actually is. 
Such foundation has civility. My Friend is that one 
whom I can associate with my choicest thought. P I 
always assign to him a nobler employment in my 
absence than I ever find him engaged in; /and I 
imagine that the hours which he devotes to me were 
snatched from a higher society. The sorest insult 
which I ever received from a Friend was, when he 
behaved with the license which only long and cheap 
acquaintance allows to one's faults, in my presence, 
without shame, and still addressed me in friendly 
accents. Beware, lest thy Friend learn at last to 
tolerate one frailty of thine, and so an obstacle be 
raised to the progress of thy love. There are times 
when we have had enough even of our Friends, when 
we begin inevitably to profane one another, and must 
withdraw religiously into solitude and silence, the 
better to prepare ourselves for a loftier intimacy. 
Silence is the ambrosial night in the intercourse of 
Friends, in which their sincerity is recruited and 
takes deeper root. 

Friendship is never established as an understood 
relation. Do you demand that I be less your Friend 
that you may know it 'i Yet what right have I to 
think that another cherishes so rare a sentiment for 



38 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

me t It is a miracle which requires constant proofs. 
It is an exercise of the purest imagination and the 
rarest faith. It says by a silent but eloquent 
behaviour, — "I will be so related to thee as thou 
canst imagine ; even so thou mayest believe. I will 
spend truth, — all my wealth on thee," — and the 
Friend responds silently through his nature and life, 
and treats his Friend with the same divine courtesy. 
He knows us literally through thick and thin. He 
never asks for a sign of love, but can distinguish it 
by the features which it naturally wears. We never 
need to stand upon ceremony with him with regard 
to his visits. Wait not till I invite thee, but observe 
that I am glad to see thee when thou comest. It 
would be paying too dear for thy visit to ask for it. 
Where my Friend lives there are all riches and every 
attraction, and no slight obstacle can keep me from 
him. Let me never have to teU thee what I have 
not to teU. Let our intercourse be wholly above 
ourselves, and draw us up to it. 

The language of Friendship is not words, but 
meanings. It is an intelligence above language. 
One imagines endless conversations with his Friend, 
in which the tongue shall be loosed, and thoughts be 
spoken without hesitancy or end ; but the experience 
is commonly far otherwise. Acquaintances may 
come and go, and have a word ready for every 
occasion ; but what puny word shall he utter whose 
very breath is thought and meaning 1 Suppose you 
go to bid farewell to your Friend who is setting out 
on a journey ; what other outward sign do you know 



FRIENDSHIP 39 

than to shake his hand? Have you any palaver 
ready for him then ? any box of salve to commit to 
his pocket 1 any particular message to send by him 1 
any statement which you had forgotten to make 1 — 
as if you could forget anything. — No, it is much that 
you take his hand and say Farewell ; that you could 
easily omit ; so far custom has prevailed. It is even 
painful, if he is to go, that he should linger so long. 
If he must go, let him go quickly. Have you any 
last words 1 Alas, it is only the word of words, which 
you have so long sought and found not; you have 
not a first word yet. There are few even whom I 
should venture to call earnestly by their most proper 
names. A name pronounced is the recognition of 
the individual to whom it belongs. He who can 
pronounce my name aright, he can call me, and is 
entitled to my love and service. Yet reserve is the 
freedom and abandonment of lovers. It is the reserve 
of what is hostile or indifferent in their natures, to 
give place to what is kindred and harmonious. 

The violence of love is as much to be dreaded as 
that of hate. When it is durable it is serene and 
equable. Even its famous pains begin only with the 
ebb of love, for few are indeed lovers, though all 
would fain be. It is one proof of a man's fitness for 
Friendship that he is able to do without that which 
is cheap and passionate. A true Friendship is as 
wise as it is tender. The parties to it yield implicitly 
to the guidance of their love, and know no other law 
nor kindness. It is not extravagant and insane, but 
what it says is something established henceforth, and 



40 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

will bear to be stereotyped. It is a truer truth, it is 
better and fairer news, and no time will ever shame 
it, or prove it false. This is a plant which thrives 
best in a temperate zone, where summer and winter 
alternate with one another. The Friend is a neces- 
sa/riws, and meets his Friend on homely ground ; not 
on carpets and cushions, but on the ground and on 
rocks they will sit, obeying the natural and primitive 
laws. They will meet without any outcry, and part 
without loud sorrow. Their relation implies such 
qualities as the warrior prizes ; for it takes a valour 
to open the hearts of men as well as the gates of 
castles. It is not an idle sympathy and mutual 
consolation merely, but a heroic ' sympathy of aspirar 
tion and endeavour. 

As surely as the sunset in my latest November 
shall translate me to the ethereal world, and remind 
me of the ruddy morning of youth ; as surely as the 
last strain of music which falls on my decaying ear 
shall make age to be forgotten, or, in short, the mani- 
fold influences of nature survive during the term of 
our natural life, so surely my Friend shall for ever he 
my Friend, and reflect a ray of God to me, and time 
shall foster and adorn and consecrate our Friendship, 
no less than the ruins of temples. As I love nature, 
as I love singing birds, and gleaming stubble, and 
flowing rivers, and morning and evening, and summer 
and winter, I love thee, my Friend. 

But all that can be said of Friendship is like 



FEIENDSHIP 41 

botany to flowers. How can the understanding take 
account of its friendliness ■? 

Even the death of Friends will inspire us as much 
as their lives. They will leave consolation to the 
mourners, as the rich leave money to defray the 
expenses of their funerals, and their memories will be 
incrusted over with sublime and pleasing thoughts, 
as monuments of other men are overgrown with moss ; 
for our Friends have no place in the graveyard. | 

This to our cis-Alpine and cis-Atlantic Friends. 



WHEEE I LIVED AND WHAT I 
LIVED FOE 

At a certain season of our life we are accustomed 
to consider every spot as the possible site of a house. 
I have thus surveyed the country on every side within 
a dozen miles of where I live. In imagination I have 
bought all the farms in succession, for all were to be 
bought, and I knew their price. I walked over each 
farmer's premises, tasted his wild apples, discoursed on 
husbandry with him, took his farm at his price, at any 
price, mortgaging it to him in my mind ; even put a 
higher price on it, — took everything but a deed of 
it, — took his word for his deed, for I dearly love to 
talk, — cultivated it, and him too to some extent, I 
trust, and withdrew when I had enjoyed it long 
enough, leaving him to carry it on. This experience 
entitled me to be regarded as a sort of real-estate 
broker by my friends. Wherever I sat, there I 
might live, and the landscape radiated from me 
accordingly. What is a house but a sedes, a seat ?— 
better if a country-seat. I discovered many a site- 
for a house not likely to be soon improved, which 
some might have thought too far from the village, 



WHERE I LIVED 43 

but to my eyes the village was too far from it. 
Well, there I might live, I said ; and there I did live, 
for an hour, a summer and a winter life ; saw how I 
could let the years run off, buffet the winter through, 
and see the spring come in. The future inhabitants of 
this region, wherever they may place their houses, may 
be sure that they have been anticipated. An afternoon 
sufficed to lay out the land into orchard, woodlot, and 
pasture, and to decide what fine oaks or pines should be 
left to stand before the door, and whence each blasted 
tree could be seen to the best advantage ; and then I 
let it lie, fallow perchance, for a man is rich in pro- 
portion to the number of things which he can afford 
to let alone. 

My imagination carried me so far that I even had 
the refusal of several farms, — the refusal was all I 
wanted, — ^but I never got my fingers burned by actual 
possession. The nearest that I came to actual posses- 
sion was when I bought the HoUowell place, and had 
begun to sort my seeds, and collected materials with 
which to make a wheelbarrow to carry it on or off 
with ; but before the owner gave me a deed of it, his 
wife — every man has such a wife — changed her mind 
and wished to keep it, and he offered me ten dollars 
to release him. Now, to speak the truth, I had but 
ten cents in the world, and it surpassed my arithmetic 
to tell, if I was that man who had ten cents, or who 
had a farm, or ten dollars, or all together. However, 
I let him keep the ten dollars and the farm too, for I 
had carried it far enough ; or rather, to be generous, 
I sold him the farm for just what I gave for it, and, 



44 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEA.XT 

as he was not a rich man, made him a present of ten 
dollars, and still had my ten cents, and seeds, and 
materials for a wheelbarrow left. I found thus that 
I had been a rich man without any damage to my 
poverty. But I retained the landscape, and I have 
since annually carried off what it yielded without a 
wheelbarrow. With respect to landscapes, — 

" I am monarch of all I survey, 
My right there is none to dispute. " 

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

The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, 
were — its complete retirement, being about two miles 
from the village, half a mile from the nearest neigh- 
bour, and separated from the highway by a broad 
field ; its bounding on the river, which the owner 
said protected it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, 
though that was nothing to me; the gray colour 
and ruinous state of the house and barn, and the 
dilapidated fences, which put such an interval 
between me and the last occupant; the hollow 
and lichen-covered apple trees, gnawed by rabbits, 
showing what kind of neighbours I should have; 



WHEKE I LIVED 45 

but above all, the recollection I had of it from my 
earliest voyages up the river, when the house was 
concealed behind a dense grove of red maples, 
through which I heard the house-dog bark. I was 
in haste to buy it, before the proprietor finished 
getting out some rocks, cutting down the hollow 
apple trees, and grubbing up some young birches 
which had sprung up in the pasture or, in short, 
had made any more of his improvements. To enjoy 
these advantages I was ready to carry it on; like 
Atlas, to take the world on my shoulders, — I never 
heard what compensation he received for that, — and 
do all those things which had no other motive or 
excuse but that I might pay for it and be un- 
molested in my possession of it ; for I knew all the 
while that it would yield the most abundant crop 
of the kind I wanted if I could only afford to let it 
alone. But it turned out as I have said. 

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

Old Cato, whose De Be Busticd is my "Cultiva- 
tor," says, and the only translation I have seen makes 



46 SELECTIONS FEOM THOKEAU 

sheer nonsense of the passage, " When you think of 
getting a farm, turn it thus in your mind, not to buy 
greedily ; nor spare your pains to look at it, and do 
not think it enough to go round it once. The oftener 
you go there the more it will please you, if it is 
good." I think I shall not buy greedily, but go 
round and round it as long as I live, and be buried 
in it first, that it may please me the more at last. 

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

When first I took up my abode in the woods, 
that is, began to spend my nights as well as days 
there, which, by accident, was on Independence day, 
or the fourth of July 1845, my house was not 
finished for winter, but was merely a defence against 
the rain, without plastering or chimney, the waUs 
being of rough weather-stained boards, with wide 
chinks, which made it cool at night. The upright 
white hewn studs and freshly-planed door and 
window casings gave it a clean and airy look, 
especially in the morning, when its timbers were 
saturated with dew, so that I fancied that by 
noon some sweet gum would exude from them. 
To my imagination it retained throughout the day 
more or less of this auroral character, reminding me 



WHEEE I LIVED 47 

of a certain house on a mountain which I had visited 
the year before. This was an airy and unplastered 
cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a 
goddess might trail her garments. The winds which 
passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the 
ridges of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or 
celestial parts only, of terrestrial music. The morn- 
ing wind for ever blows, the poem of creation is un- 
interrupted; but few are the ears that hear it. 
Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere. 
The only house I had been the owner of before, if 
I except a boat, was a tent, which I used occasionally 
when making excursions in the summer, and this is 
still rolled up in my garret ; but the boat, after 
passing from hand to hand, has gone down the 
stream of time. With this more substantial shelter 
about me, I had made some progress toward settling 
in the world. This frame, so slightly clad, was a 
sort of crystallisation around me, and reacted on the 
builder. It was suggestive somewhat as a picture in 
outlines. I did not need to go out doors to take the 
air, for the atmosphere within had lost none of its 
freshness. It was not so much within doors as 
behind a door where I sat, even in the rainiest 
weather. The Earivansa says, "An abode without 
birds is like a meat without seasoning." Such was 
not my abode, for I found myself suddenly neighbour 
to the birds; not by having imprisoned one, but 
having caged myself near them. I was not only 
nearer to some of those which commonly frequent 
the garden and the orchard, but to those wilder and 



48 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

more thrilling songsters of the forest which never, or 
rarely, serenade a villager, — the wood-thrush, the 
veery, the scarlet tanager, the field-sparrow, the 
whip-poor-will, and many others. 

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

This small lake was of most value as a neighbour 
in the intervals of a gentle rainstorm in August, 
when, both air and water being perfectly still, but 
the sky overcast, mid-afternoon had all the serenity 
of evening, and the wood-thrush sang around, and 
was heard from shore to shore. A lake like this is 
never smoother than at such a time ; and the clear 



WHEEE I LIVED 49 

portion of the air above it being shallow and 
darkened by clouds, the water, full of light and 
reflections, becomes a lower heaven itself so much 
the more important. From a hill -top near by, 
where the wood had been recently cut off, there 
was a pleasing vista southward across the pond, 
through a wide indentation in the hills which form 
the shore there, where their opposite sides sloping 
toward each other suggested a stream flowing out 
in that direction through a wooded valley, but 
stream there was none. That way I looked between 
and over the near green hills to some distant and 
higher ones in the horizon, tinged with blue. Indeed, 
by standing on tiptoe I could catch a glimpse of 
some of the peaks of the still bluer and more 
distant mountain ranges in the north-west, those 
true-blue coins from heaven's own mint, and also of 
some portion of the village. But in other directions, 
even from this point, I could not see over or beyond 
the woods which surrounded me. It is well to have 
some water in your neighbourhood, to give buoyancy 
to and float the earth. One value even of the 
smallest well is, that when you look into it you see 
that earth is not continent but insular. This is as 
important as that it keeps butter cool. When I 
looked across the pond from this peak toward the 
Sudbury meadows, which in time of flood I distin- 
guished elevated perhaps by a mirage in their 
seething valley, like a coin in a basin, all the earth 
beyond the pond appeared like a thin crust insulated 
and floated even by this small sheet of intervening 
E 



50 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

water, and I was reminded that this on which I 
dwelt was but dry land. 

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

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



WHAT I LIVED FOR 51 

"There was a shepherd that did live, 
And held his thoughts as high 
As were the mounts whereon his flocks 
Did hourly feed him by." 

What should we think of the shepherd's life if his 
flocks always wandered to higher pastures than his 
thoughts 1 

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make 
my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, 
with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a 
worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up 
early and bathed in the pond ; that was a religious 
exercise, and one of the best things which I did. 
They say that characters were engraven on the 
bathing tub of King Tching-thang to this effect : 
" Renew thyself completely each day ; do it again, 
and again, and forever again.'' I can understand 
that. Morning brings back the heroic ages. I was 
as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito 
making its invisible and unimaginable tour through 
my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sitting 
with door and windows open, as I could be by any 
trumpet that ever sang of fame. It was Homer's 
requiem; itself an Iliad and Odyssey in the air, 
singing its own wrath and wanderings. There was 
something cosmical about it; a standing advertise- 
ment, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigour and 
fertility of the world. The morning, which is the 
most memorable season of the day, is the awakening 
hour. Then there is least somnolence in us ; and for 
an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which 



52 SELECTIONS FEOM THOREAU 

slumbers all the rest of the day and night. Little is 
to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, 
to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by 
the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not 
awakened by oui' own newly -acquired force and 
aspirations from within, accompanied by the undula- 
tions of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and 
a fragrance filling the air — to a higher life than we 
fell asleep from ; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, 
and prove itself to be good, no less than the Hght. 
That man who does not believe that each day 
contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour 
than he has yet profaned, has despaired of Ufe, and 
is pursuing a descending and darkening way. After 
a partial cessation of his sensuous life, the soul of 
man, or its organs rather, are reinvigorated each day, 
and his Genius tries again what noble life it can 
make. All memorable events, I should say, transpire 
in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. 
The Vedas say, " All intelligences awake with the 
morning." Poetry and art, and the fairest and 
most memorable of the actions of men, date from 
such an hour. All poets and heroes, like Memnon, 
are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at 
sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought 
keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual 
morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the 
attitudes and labours of men. Morning is when I 
am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform 
is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men 
give so poor an account of their day if they have 



WHAT I LIVED FOE 53 

not been slumbering ^ Tbey are not such poor 
calculators. If they had not been overcome with 
drowsiness they would have performed something. 
The millions are awake enough for physical labour ; 
but only one in a million is awake enough for effective 
intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions 
to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be 
alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite 
awake. How could I have looked him in the face ? 

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

/ 1 went to the woods because I wished to live de- 
liberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and 
see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, 
when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I 
did not wish to live what was not life, living is so 



54 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

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

Still we live meanly, like ants ; though the fable 
tells us that we were long ago changed into men ; 
like pygmies we fight with cranes ; it is error upon 
error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has 
for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretched- 
ness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest 
man has hardly need to count more than his ten 
fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, 
and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity ! 
I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a 
hundred or a thousand ; instead of a million count 
half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb 
nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilised 
life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands 
and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a 
man has to live, if he would not founder and go to 



■WHAT I LIVED FOR 55 

the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead 
reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed 
who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of thrde 
meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one ; instead 
of a hundred dishes, five ; and reduce other things in 
proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy, 
made up of petty states, with its boundary for ever 
fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you 
how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, 
with all its so-called internal improvements, which, 
by the way, are all external and superficial, is just 
such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, 
cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own 
traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by 
want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million 
households in the land ; and the only cure for it as 
for them is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than 
Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. 
It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that 
the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk 
through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, 
without a doubt, whether fhey do or not ; but whether 
we should live like baboons or like men, is a little 
uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge 
rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go 
to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will 
build railroads ? And if railroads are not built, how 
shall we get to heaven in season ? But if we stay at 
home and mind our business, who will want railroads 1 
We do not ride on the railroad ; it rides upon us. 
Did you ever think what those sleepers are that 



56 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

underlie the railroad ? Each one is a man, an Irish- 
man, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, 
and they are covered with sand, and the cars run 
smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I 
assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid 
down and run over ; so that, if some have the pleasure 
of riding on a rail, others have the misfortune to be 
ridden upon. And when they run over a man that 
is walking in his sleep, a supernumerary sleeper in 
the wrong position, and wake him up, they suddenly 
stop the cars, and make a hue and cry about it, as if 
this were an exception. I am glad to know that it 
takes a gang of men for every five miles to keep the 
sleepers down and level in their beds as it is, for this 
is a sign that they may sometime get up again. 

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of 
life t We are determined to be starved before we are 
hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, 
and so they take a thousand stitches to-day to save 
nine to-morrow. As for work, we haven't any of any 
consequence. We have the Saint Vitus's dance, and 
cannot possibly keep our heads still. If I should only 
give a few pulls at the parish bell-rope, as for a fire, 
that is, without setting the bell, there is hardly a man 
on his farm in the outskirts of Concord, notwith- 
standing that press of engagements which was his 
excuse so many times this morning, nor a boy, nor a 
woman, I might almost say, but would forsake all 
and follow that sound, not mainly to save property 
from the flames, but, if we will confess the truth, 
much more to see it burn, since burn it must, and we. 



WHAT I LIVED FOR 57 

be it known, did not set it on fire, — or to see it put 
out, and have a hand in it, if that is done as hand- 
somely ; yes, even if it were the parish church itself. 
Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after dinner, 
but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, 
" What's the news ? " as if the rest of mankind had 
stood his sentinels. Some give directions to be waked 
every half-hour, doubtless for no other purpose ; and 
then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed. 
After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as 
the breakfast. " Pray tell me anything new that has 
happened to a man anywhere on this globe," — and he 
reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had 
his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito 
River ; never dreaming the while that he lives in the 
dark unfathomed mammoth cave of this world, and 
has but the rudiment of an eye himself. 

For my part, I could easily do without the post- 
office. I think that there are very few important 
communications made through it. To speak critically, 
I never received more than one or two letters in my 
life — I wrote this some years ago — that were worth 
the postage. The penny-post is, commonly, an 
institution through which you seriously offer a man 
that penny for his thoughts which is so often safely 
offered in jest. And I am sure that I never read any 
memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one 
man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or 
one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one 
steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the 
Western Eailroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot 



58 SELECTIONS FfiOM THOKBAU 

of grasshoppers in the winter, — we never need read 
of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted 
with the principle, what do you care for a myriad 
instances and applications? To a philosopher all 
news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and 
read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few 
are greedy after this gossip. There was such a rush, 
as I hear, the other day at one of the ofi&ces to learn 
the foreign news by the last arrival, that several large 
squares of plate glass belonging to the establishment 
were broken by the pressure, — news which I seriously 
think a ready wit might write a twelvemonth or 
twelve years beforehand with sufficient accuracy. As 
for Spain, for instance, if you know how to throw in 
Don Carlos and the Infanta, and Don Pedro and 
Seville and Granada, from time to time in the right 
proportions, — they may have changed the names a 
little since I saw the papers, — and serve up a bull- 
fight when other entertainments fail, it will be true 
to the letter, and give us as good an idea of the exact 
state or ruin of things in Spain as the most succinct 
and lucid reports under this head in the newspapers ; 
and as for England, almost the last significant scrap 
of news from that quarter was the revolution of 
1649 ; and if you have learned the history of her 
crops for an average year, you never need attend to 
that thing again, unless your speculations are of a 
merely pecuniary character. If one may judge who 
rarely looks into the newspapers, nothing new does 
ever happen in foreign parts, a French revolution 
not excepted. 



WHAT I LIVED FOK 59 

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

/..§hams and delusions are esteemed for soundest 
truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would 
steadily observe realities only, and not allow them- 
selves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such 
things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and 
the Arabian Nights' Entertainments. \If we respected 
only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music 
and poetry would resound along the streets. When 
we are unhurried and wise we perceive that only 
great and worthy things have any permanent and 
absolute existence, — that petty fears and petty 
pleasures are but the shadow of the realityj This 



60 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEBAU 

is always exhilarating and sublimej By closing 
the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be 
deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their 
daily hfe of routine and habit everywhere, which 
still is built on purely illusory foundations. Children, 
who play life, discern its true law and relations 
more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, 
but who think that they are wiser by experience — 
that is, by failure^ I have read in a Hindoo book, 
that "there was a Mng's son, who, being erpelled in 
infancy from his native city, was brought up by a 
forester, and, growing up to maturity in that state, 
imagined himself to belong to the barbarous race 
with which he lived. One of his father's ministers 
having discovered him, revealed to him what he was, 
and the misconception of his character was removed, 
and he knew himself to be a prince. So soul," 
continues the Hindoo philosopher, "from the cir- 
cumstances in which it is placed, mistakes its own 
character, until the truth is revealed to it by some 
holy teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahme." 
I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live 
this mean life that we do because our vision does not 
penetrate the surface of things. We think that that 
is which appears to be. If a man should walk through 
this town and see only the reality, where, think you, 
would the " Mill-dam " go to 1 If he should give us 
an account of the realities he beheld there, we should 
not recognise the place in his description. Look at 
a meeting-house, or a court-house, or a jail, or a shop, 
or a dwelling-house, and say what that thing really 



"WHAT I LIVED FOE 61 

is before a true gaze, and they would all go to pieces 
in your account of them. /Men esteem truth remote, 
in the outskirts of the sy^em, behind the farthest 
star, before Adam and after the last man. In 
eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. 
But all these times and places and occasions are now 
and here. God himself culminates in the present 
moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse 
of all the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend 
at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual 
instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds 
us. The universe constantly and obediently answers 
to our conceptions ; whether we travel fast or slow, 
the track is laid for us. Let us spend our lives in 
conceiving then. The poet or the artist never yet 
had so fair and noble a design but some of his 
posterity at least could accomplish it.\ 

Let us spend one day as delibemely as Nature, 
and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell 
and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails. Let us 
rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without 
perturbation ; let company come and let company 
go, let the bells ring and the children cry, — 
determined to make a day of it. Why should we 
knock under and go with the stream? Let us not 
be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and 
whirlpool called a dinner, situated in the meridian 
shallows. Weather this danger and you are safe, 
for the rest of the way is down hill. With un- 
relaxed nerves, with morning vigour, sail by it, 
looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. 



62 SELECTIONS FEOM THOREAU 

If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse 
for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run 1 
We will consider what kind of music they are like. 
Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet 
downward through the mud and slush of opinion, 
and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and 
appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, 
through Paris and London, through New York and 
Boston and Concord, through church and state, 
through poetry and philosophy and religion, tiU we 
come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we 
can call reality, and say. This is, and no mistake ; and 
then begin, having a point d'appui, below freshet and 
frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall 
or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a 
gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that 
future ages might know how deep a freshet of 
shams and appearances had gathered from time to 
time. If you stand right fronting and face to face 
to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its 
surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet 
edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, 
and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. 
Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are 
really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and 
feel cold in the extremities ; if we are alive, let us go 
about our business. 

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink 
at it ; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and 
detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides 
away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper ; 



WHAT I LIVED FOR 63 

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



HIGHEE LAWS 

As I came home through the woods with my string 
of fish, trailing my pole, it being now quite dark, I 
caught a glimpse of a wood-chuck stealing across my 
path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and 
was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw ; 
not that I was hungry then, except for that wildness 
which he represented. Once or twice, however, 
while I lived at the pond, I found myself ranging 
the woods, like -a half-starved hound, with a strange 
abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I 
might devour, and no morsel could have been too 
savage for me. The wildest scenes had become 
unaccountably familiar. I found in myself, and 
still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is 
named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another 
toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I 
reverence them both. I love the wild not less 
than the good. The wildness and adventure that 
are in fishing still recommended it to me. I like 
sometimes to take rank hold on life and spend my 
day more as the animals do. Perhaps I have owed 
to this employment and to hunting, when quite 



HIGHER LAWS 65 

young, my closest acquaintance with Nature. They 
early introduce us to and detain us in scenery with 
which otherwisej__at that age, we should have little 
acquaintance. \ Fishermen, hunters, woodchoppers, 
and others, spending their lives in the fields and 
woods, in a peculiar sense a part of Nature themselves, . 
are often in a more favourable mood for observing her, '^ 
in the intervals of their pursuits, than philosophers 
or poets even, who approach her with expectationTD 
She is not afraid to exhibit herself to them. The 
traveller on the prairie is naturally a hunter, on the 
head-waters of the Missouri and Columbia a trapper, 
and at the Falls of St. Mary a fisherman. He who is 
only a traveller learns things at second-hand and by 
the halves, and is poor authority. We are most 
interested when science reports what those men 
already know practically or instinctively, for that,/ 
alone is a true humanity, or account of human 
experience. 

They mistake who assert that the Yankee has few 
amusements, because he has not so many public 
holidays, and men and boys do not play so many 
games as they do in England, for here the more 
primitive but solitary amusements of hunting, fishing, i/ 
and the like, have not yet given place to the former. 
Almost every New England boy among my con- 
temporaries shouldered a fowling-piece between 
the ages of ten and fourteen ; and his hunting and 
fishing grounds were not limited like the preserves 
of an English nobleman, but were more boundless 
even than those of a savage. No wonder, then, 

F 



66 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

that he did not oftener stay to play on the common. 
But already a change is taking place, owing, not to 
an increased humanity, but to an increased scarcity 
of game, for perhaps the hunter is the greatest 
friend of the animals hunted, not excepting the 
Humane Society. 

Moreover, when at the pond, I wished sometimes 
to add fish to my fare for variety. I have actually 
fished from the same kind of necessity that the first 
fishers did. Whatever humanity I might conjure 
up against it was all factitious, and concerned my 
philosophy more than my feelings. I speak of 
fishing only now, for I had long felt differently 
about fowling, and sold my gun before I went to 
the woods. Not that I am less humane than others, 
but I did not perceive that my feehngs were much 
affected. I did not pity the fishes nor the worms. 
This was habit. As for fowling, during the last 
years that I carried a gun my excuse was that I 
was studying ornithology, and sought only new or 
rare birds. But I confess that I am now inclined to 
think that there is a finer way of studying ornithology 
than this. It requires so much closer attention to 
the habits of the birds, that, if for that reason only, 
I have been willing to omit the gun. Yet not- 
withstanding the objection on the score of humanity, 
I am compelled to doubt if equally valuable sports 
are ever substituted for these ; and when some of my 
friends have asked me anxiously about their boys, 
whether they should let them hunt, I have answered, 
yes, — remembering that it was one of the best parts 



HIGHEE LAWS 67 

of my education, — make them tunters, though sports- 
men only at first, if possible, mighty hunters at last, 
so that they shall not find game large enough for 
them in this or any vegetable wilderness, — hunters 
as well as fishers of men. Thus far I am of the opinion 
of Chaucer's nun, who 

" yave not of the text a pulled hen 
That saith that hunters ben not holy men." 

There is a period in the history of the individual, as 
of the race, when the hunters are the " best men," as 
the Algonquins called them. We cannot but pity 
the boy who has never fired a gun ; he is no more , 
humane, while his education has been sadly neglected.'' 
This was my answer with respect to those youths 
who were bent on this pursuit, trusting that they 
would soon outgrow it. No humane being, past the 
thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder 
any creature, which holds its life by the same tenure 
that he does. The hare in its extremity cries like 
a child. I warn you, mothers, that my sympathies 
do not always make the usual phU-anihropic distinc- 
tions. 

Such is oftenest the young man's introduction to 
the forest, and the most original part of himself. He 
goes thither at first as a hunter and fisher, until at 
last, if he has the seeds of a better life in him, he 
distinguishes his proper objects, as a poet or naturalist"^ 
it may be, and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind. 
The mass of men are still and always young in this 
respect. In some countries a hunting parson is no 



68 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

uncommon sight. Such a one might make a good 
shepherd's dog, but is far from being the Good 
Shepherd. I have been surprised to consider that 
the only obvious employment, except wood-chopping, 
ice-cutting, or the like business, which ever to my 
knowledge detained at Walden Pond for a whole 
half day any of my fellow-citizens, whether fathers 
or children of the town, with just one exception, was 
fishing. Commonly they did not think that they 
were lucky, or well paid for their time, unless they 
got a long string of fish, though they had the 
opportunity of seeing the pond all the while. They 
might go there a thousand times before the sediment 
of fishing would sink to the bottom and leave their 
purpose pure; but no doubt such a clarifying 
process would be going on aU the while. The 
governor and his councU faintly remember the 
pond, for they went a-fishing there when they were 
boys ; but now they are too old and dignified to go 
a-fishing, and so they know it no more for ever. Yet 
even they expect to go to heaven at last. If the 
legislature regards it, it is chiefly to regulate the 
number of hooks to be used there ; but they know 
nothing about the hook of hooks with which to angle 
for the pond itself, impaling the legislature for a 
bait. Thus, even in civilised communities, the 
embryo man passes through the hunter stage of 
development. 

I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot 
fish without falling a little in self-respect. I have 
tried it again and again. I have skill at it, and, like 



HIGHER LAWS 69 

many of my fellows, a certain instinct for it, which 
revives from time to time, but always when I have 
done I feel that it would have been better if I had 
not fished. I think that I do not mistake. It is a 
faint intimation, yet so are the first streaks of morning. 
There is unquestionably this instinct in me which 
belongs to the lower orders of creation; yet with 
every year I am less a fisherman, though without 
more humanity or even wisdom ; at present I am no 
fisherman at all. But I see that if I were to live in 
a wilderness I should again be tempted to become a 
fisher and hunter in earnest. Beside, there is some- 
thing essentially unclean about this diet and all flesh, 
and I began to see where housework commences, and 
whence the endeavour, which costs so much, to wear 
a tidy and respectable appearance each day, to keep 
the house sweet and free from all ill odours and 
sights. Having been my own butcher and scullion 
and cook, as well as the gentleman for whom the 
dishes were served up, I can speak from an unusually 
complete experience. The practical objection to 
animal food in my case was its uncleanness ; and, 
besides, when I had caught and cleaned and cooked 
and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me 
essentially. It was insignificant and unnecessary, 
and cost more than it came to. A little bread or a 
few potatoes would have done as well, with less 
trouble and filth. Like many of my contemporaries, 
I had rarely for many years used animal food, or tea, 
or coffee, etc. ; not so much because of any ill effects < 
which I had traced to them, as because they were not 



70 SELECTIONS FROM THOREA.U 

t' agreeable to my imagination. The repugnance to 
animal food is not the effect of experience, but is an 
instinct. It appealed more beautiful to live low and 
fare hard in many respects ; and though I never did 
so, I went far enough to please my imagination. I 
believe that every man who has ever been earnest to 
preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best 
condition has been particularly inclined to abstain 
from animal food, and from much food of any kind. 
It is a significant fact, stated by entomologists, — I find 
it in Kirby and Spence, — that " some insects in their 
perfect state, though furnished with organs of feeding, 
make no use of them ; " and they lay it down as " a 
general rule, that almost all insects in this state eat 
much less than in that of larvse. The voracious 
caterpillar when transformed into a butterfly,'' . . . 
"and the gluttonous maggot when become a fly,'' 
content themselves with a drop or two of honey or 
some other sweet liquid. The abdomen under the 
wings of the butterfly still represents the larva. 
This is the tid-bit which tempts his insectivorous fate. 
The gross feeder is a man in the larva state; and 
there are whole nations in that condition, nations 
without fancy or imagination, whose vast abdomens 
betray them. 

It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean 

^ a diet as will not offend the imagination ; but this, I 
think, is to be fed when we feed the bodyj they 
should both sit down at the same table. Yet perhaps 
this may be done. The fruits eaten temperately need 
not make us ashamed of our appetites, nor interrupt 



HIGHER LAWS 71 

the worthiest pursuits. But put an extra condiment 
into your dish, and it will poison you. It is not 
worth the while to live by rich cookery. Most men 
would feel shame if caught preparing with their own 
hands precisely such a dinner, whether of animal or 
vegetable food, as is every day prepared for them by 
others. Yet till this is otherwise we are not civilised, 
and, if gentlemen and ladies, are not true men and 
women. This certainly suggests what change is to 
be made. It may be vain to ask why the imagination 
will not be reconciled to flesh and fat. I am satisfied 
that it is not. Is it not a reproach that man is a 
carnivorous animal ? True, he can and does live, in 
a great measure, by preying on other animals ; but 
this is a miserable way, — as any one who will go to 
snaring rabbits, or slaughtering lambs, may learn, — 
and he will be regarded as a benefactor of his race 
who shall teach man to confine himself to a more 
innocent and wholesome diet. Whatever my own 
practice may be, I have no doubt that it is a part of 
the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improve- 
ment, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the 
savage tribes have left off eating each other when 
they came in contact with the more civilised. 

If one listens to the faintest but constant sugges- 
tions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees 
not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead 
him ; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute 
and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured 
objection which one healthy man feels will at length 
prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind. 



72 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

No man ever followed his genius till it misled Hm. 
Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps 
no one can say that the consequences were to be 
regretted, for these were a life in conformity to 
higher principles. If the day and the night are such 
that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fra- 
grance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more 
elastic, more starry, more immortal, — ^that is your 



success. ^All nature is your congratulation, and you 
have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The 
greatest gains and values are furthest from being 
appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. 
We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. 
Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are 
never communicated by man to man. The true 
harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible 
and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. 
It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rain- 
bow which I have clutched. ) 

Yet, for my part, I was never unusually squeamish ; 
I could sometimes eat a fried rat with a good relish, 
if it were necessary. I am glad to have drunk water 
so long, for the same reason that I prefer the natural 
^sky to an opium-eater's heaven. I would fain keep 
jsober always ; and there are infinite degrees of 
/drunkenness. I believe that water is the only drink 
for a wise man ; wine is not so noble a liquor ; and 
think of dashing the hopes of a morning with a cup 
of warm coffee, or of an evening with a dish of tea ! 
Ah, how low I fall when I am tempted by them ! 
Even music may be intoxicating. Such apparently 



HIGHER LAWS 73 

slight causes destroyed Greece and Rome, and will 
destroy England and America. Of all ebriosity, who 
does not prefer to be intoxicated by the air he 
breathes? I have found it to be the most serious 
objection to coarse labours long continued, that they 
compelled me to eat and drink coarsely also. But to 
tell the truth, I find myself at present somewhat less 
particular in these respects. I carry less religion to 
the table, ask no blessing; not because I am wiser 
than I was, but, I am obliged to confess, because, 
however much it is to be regretted, with years I have 
grown more coarse and indifferent. Perhaps these 
questions are entertained only in youth, as most 
believe of poetry. My practice is "nowhere,'' my 
opinion is here. Nevertheless I am far from regarding 
myself as one of those privileged ones to whom the 
C5£d>ref ers when it says, that " he who has true faith 
in the Omnipresent Supreme Being may eat all that 
exists," — that is, is not bound to inquire what is his 
food, or who prepares it ; and even in their case it is 
to be observed, as a Hindoo commentator has 
remarked, that the Vedant limits this privilege to 
"the time of distress." 

Who has not sometimes derived an inexpressible 
satisfaction from his food in which appetite had no 
share 1 I have been thrilled to think that I owed a 
mental perception to the commonly gross sense of 
taste, that I have been inspired through the palate, 
that some berries which I had eaten on a hillside had 
fed my genius. " The soul not being mistress of her- 
self," says Thseng-tseu, " one looks, and one does not 



74 SELECTIONS FROM THORBAU 

see ; one listens, and one does not hear ; one eats, 
and one does not know the savour of food." He who 
distinguishes the true savour of his food can never be 
a glutton ; he who does not cannot be otherwise. A 
puritan may go to his brown-bread crust with as 
gross an appetite as ever an alderman to his turtle. 
Not that food which entereth into the mouth defileth 
a man, but the appetite with which it is eaten. It is 
neither the quality nor the quantity, but the devotion 
to sensual savours ; when that which is eaten is not 
a viand to sustain our animal, or inspire our spiritual 
life, but food for the worms that possess us. If the 
hunter has a taste for mud-turtles, musk-rats, and 
other such savage tid-bits, the fine lady indulges a 
taste for jelly made of a calf's foot, or for sardines from 
over the sea, and they are even. He goes to the 
mill-pond, she to her preserve-pot. The wonder is 
how they, how you and I, can live this slimy beastly 
life, eating and drinking. 

Our whole life is startlingly moral. Thejp is never 
an instant's truce between virtue and vice^ Goodness 
is the only investment that never fails. In the music 
of the harp which trembles round the world it is the 
insisting on this which thrills usi^The harp is the 
travelling patterer for the Universe's Insurance Com- 
pany, recommending its laws, and our little goodness 
is all the assessment that we pay. Though the youth 
at last grows indifferent, the laws of the universe are 
not indifferent, but are for ever on the side of the 
most sensitive. Listen to every zephyr for some 
reproof, for it is surely there, and he is unfortunate 



HIGHER LAWS 75 

who does not hear it. We cannot touch a string or 
move a stop but the charming moral transfixes us. 
Many an irksome noise, go a long way off, is heard 
as music, a proud sweet satire on the meanness of 
our lives. 

We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens 
in proportion as our higher nature slumbers. It is 
reptile and sensual, and perhaps cannot be wholly 
expelled; like the worms which, even in life and 
health, occupy our bodies. Possibly we may with- 
draw from it, but never change its nature. I fear 
that it may enjoy a certain health of its own ; that 
we may be well, yet not pure. The other day I 
picked up the lower jaw of a hog, with white and 
sound teeth and tusks, which suggested that there 
was an animal health and vigour distinct from the 
spiritual. This creature succeeded by other means 
than temperance and purity. " That in which men 
differ from brute beasts,'' says Mencius, " is a thing 
very inconsiderable; the common herd lose it very 
soon; superior men preserve it carefully.'' Who 
knows what sort of life would result if we had attained 
to purity 1 If I knew so wise a man as could teach 
me purity I would go to seek him forthwith. "Ai 
command over our passions, and over the external 
senses of the body, and good acts, are declared by the 
Ved to be indispensable in the mind's approximation 
to God." Yet the spirit can for the time pervade 
and control every member and function of the body, 
and transmute what in form is the grossest sensuality 
into purity and devotion. The generative energy. 



76 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

which, when we are loose, dissipates and makes us 
unclean, when we are continent invigorates and 
inspires us. Chastity is the flowering of man ; and 
what are called Genius, Heroism, Holiness, and the 
like, are but various fruits which succeed it. Man 
flows at once to God when the channel of purity is 
open. By turns our purity inspires and our impurity 
casts us down. He is blessed who is assured that 
the animal is dying out in him day by day, and the 
divine being established. Perhaps there is none but 
has cause for shame on account of the inferior and 
brutish nature to which he is allied. I fear that we 
are such gods or demigods only as fauns and satyrs, 
the divine allied to beasts, the creatures of appetite, 
' and that, to some extent, our very life is our dis- 



' ' How happy's he who hath due place assigned 
To his beasts and disaforested his mind ! 

Can use his horse, goat, wolf, and ev'ry beast, 
And is not ass himself to all the rest ! 
Else man not only is the herd of swine, 
But he's those devils too which did incline 
Them to a headlong rage, and made them worse." 

All sensuality is one, though it takes many forms ; 
all purity is one. It is the same whether a man eat, 
or drink, or cohabit, or sleep sensually. They are 
but one appetite, and we only need to see a person 
do any one of these things to know how great a 
sensualist he is. The impure can neither stand nor 
sit with pui'ity. When the reptile is attacked at one 
mouth of his burrow, he shows himself at another. 



HIGHEE LAWS 77 

If you would be chaste, you must be temperate, l/ 
What is chastity ? How shall a man know if he is 
chaste 1 He shall not know it. We have heard of 
this virtue, but we know not what it is. We speak 
conformably to the rumour which we have heard. 
From exertion come wisdom and purity ; from sloth 
ignorance and sensuality. In the student sensuality 
is a sluggish habit of mind. An unclean person is 
universally a slothful one, — one who sits by a stove, 
whom the sun shines on prostrate, who reposes with- 
out being fatigued. If you would avoid uncleanness, 
and all the sins, work earnestly, though it be at 
cleaning a stable. Nature is hard to be overcome, 
but she must be overcome. What avails it that you 
are Christian, if you are not purer than the heathen, 
if you deny yourself no more, if you are not more ]/' 
religious? I know of many systems of religion 
esteemed heathenish whose precepts fill the reader 
with shame, and provoke him to new endeavours, 
though it be to the performance of rites merely. '' 

I hesitate to say these things, but it is not because 
of the subject, — I care not how obscene my words 
are, — but because I cannot speak of them without 
betraying my impurity. We discourse freely without 
shame of one form of sensuality, and are silent about 
another. We are so degraded that we cannot speak ,, 
simply of the necessary functions of human nature. ' 
In earlier ages, in some countries, every function was 
reverently spoken of and regulated by law. Nothing 
was too trivial for the Hindoo lawgiver, however 
offensive it may be to modern taste. He teaches 



78 SELECTIONS EKOM THOEEAU 

how to eat, drink, cohabit, void excrement and urine, 
and the like, elevating what is mean, and does not 
falsely excuse himself by calling these things trifles. 
/ Every man is the builder of a temple, called his 
body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his 
own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead. 
We are all sculptors and painters, and our material 
is our own flesh and blood and bones. Any noble- 
ness begins at once to refine a man's features, any 
meanness or sensuality to imbrute them. 

John Farmer sat at his door one September evening, 
after a hard day's work, his mind stUl running on his 
labour more or less. Having bathed he sat down to 
recreate his intellectual man. It was a rather cool 
evening, and some of his neighbours were apprehend- 
ing a frost. He had not attended to the train of his 
thought;. 1 3ng when he heard some one playing on a 
flute, and that sound harmonised with his mood. 
Still he thought of his work ; but the burden of his 
thought was, that though this kept running in his 
head, and he found himself planning and contriving 
it against his will, yet it concerned him very little. 
It was no more than the scurf of his skin, which was 
constantly shuffled ofi'. But the notes of the flute 
came home to his ears out of a different sphere from 
that he worked in, and suggested work for certain 
faculties which slumbered in him. They gently did 
away with the street, and the village, and the state 
in which he lived. A voice said to him, — Why do 
you stay here and live this mean moiling life, when 
a glorious existence is possible for you ? Those same 



HIGHER LAWS 79 

stars twinkle over other fields than these.- — But how 
to come out of this condition and actually migrate 
thither "i All that he could think of was to practise 
some new austerity, to let his mind descend into his 
body and redeem it, and, treat himself with ever-in- 
creasing respect. 



HOUSE-WAEMING 

In October I went a-graping to the river meadows, 
and loaded myself with clusters more precious for 
their beauty and fragrance than for food. There too 
I admired, though I did not gather, the cranberries, 
small waxen gems, pendants of the meadow grass, 
pearly and red, which the farmer plucks with an 
ugly rake, leaving the smooth meadow in a snarl, 
heedlessly measuring them by the bushel and the 
dollar only, and sells the spoils of the meads to 
Boston and New York, destined to be jammed, to 
satisfy the tastes of lovers of Nature there. So 
butchers rake the tongues of bison out of the prairie 
grass, regardless of the torn and drooping plant. The 
barberry's brilliant fruit was likewise food for my 
eyes merely; but I collected a small store of wild 
apples for coddling, which the proprietor and tra- 
vellers had overlooked. When chestnuts were ripe 
I laid up half a bushel for winter. It was very 
exciting at that season to roam the then boundless 
chestnut woods of Lincoln, — they now sleep their long 
sleep under the railroad, — with a bag on my shoulder, 
and a stick to open burrs with in my hand, for I did 



HOUSE-WARMING 81 

not always wait for the frost, amid the rustling of 
leaves and the loud reproofs of the red squirrels and 
the jays, whose half-consumed nuts I sometimes stole, 
for the burrs which they had selected were sure to 
contain sound ones. Occasionally I climbed and 
shook the trees. They grew also behind my house, 
and one large tree which almost overshadowed it, 
was, when in flower, a bouquet which scented the 
whole neighbourhood, but the squirrels and the jays 
got most of its fruit ; the last coming in flocks early 
in the morning and picking the nuts out of the burrs 
before they fell. I relinquished these trees to them 
and visited the more distant woods composed wholly 
of chestnut. These nuts, as far as they went, were a 
good substitute for bread. Many other substitutes 
might, perhaps, be found. Digging one day for ilsh- 
worms I discovered the ground-nut {Apios tuherosa) 
on its string, the potato of the aborigines, a sort of 
fabulous fruit, which I had begun to doubt if I had 
ever dug and eaten in childhood, as I had told, and 
had not dreamed it. I had often since seen its 
crimpled red velvety blossom supported by the stems 
of other plants without knowing it to be the same. 
Cultivation has well-nigh exterminated it. It has a 
sweetish taste, much like that of a frost-bitten potato, 
and I found it better boiled than roasted. This tuber 
seemed like a faint promise of Nature to rear her own 
children and feed them simply here at some future 
period. In these days of fatted cattle and waving 
grain -fields, this humble root, which was once the 
totem of an Indian tribe, is quite forgotten, or known 
G 



82 SELECTIONS EEOM THOREAU 

only'by its flowering vine ; but let wild Nature reign 
here once more, and the tender and luxurious English 
grains will probably disappear before a myriad of 
foes, and without the care of man the crow may 
carry back even the last seed of corn to the great 
corn-field of the Indian's God in the south-west, 
whence he is said to have brought it ; but the now 
almost exterminated ground-nut will perhaps revive 
and flourish in spite of frosts and wildness, prove 
itself indigenous, and resume its ancient importance 
and dignity as the diet of the hunter tribe. Some 
Indian Ceres or Minerva must have been the in- 
ventor and bestower of it; and when the reign of 
poetry commences here, its leaves and string of nuts 
may be represented on our works of art. 

Already, by the first of September, I had seen two 
or three small maples turned scarlet across the pond, 
beneath where the white stems of three aspens 
diverged, at the point of a promontory, next the water. 
Ah, many a tale their colour told ! And gradually 
from week to week the character of each tree came 
out, and it admired itself reflected in the smooth 
mirror of the lake. Each morning the manager of 
this gallery substituted some new picture, distin- 
guished by more brilliant or harmonious colouring, 
for the old upon the walls. 

The wasps came by thousands to my lodge in 
October, as to winter quarters, and settled on my 
windows within and on the walls overhead, sometimes 
deterring visitors from entering. Each morning, 
when they were numbed with cold, I swept some of 



HOUSE-WAEMING 83 

them out, but I did not trouble myself much to get 
rid of them ; I even felt complimented by their 
regarding my house as a desirable shelter. They 
never molested me seriously, though they bedded 
with me ; and they gradually disappeared, into what 
crevices I do not know, avoiding winter and unspeak- 
able cold. 

Like the wasps, before I finally went into winter 
quarters in November, I used to resort to the north- 
east side of Walden, which the sun, reflected from the 
pitch-pine woods and the stony shore, made the fire- 
side of the pond; it is so much pleasanter and 
wholesomer to be warmed by the sun while you can 
be, than by an artificial fire. I thus warmed myself 
by the still glowing embers which the summer, like a 
departed hunter, had left. 

When I came to build my chimney I studied 
masonry. My bricks being second-hand ones required 
to be cleaned with a trowel, so that I learned more 
than usual of the qualities of bricks and trowels. 
The mortar on them was fifty years old, and was 
said to be still growing harder; but this is one of 
those sayings which men love to repeat whether they 
are true or not. Such sayings themselves grow 
harder and adhere more firmly with age, and it 
would take many blows with a trowel to clean an 
old wiseacre of them. Many of the villages of 
Mesopotamia are built of second-hand bricks of a 
very good quality, obtained from the ruins of Babylon, 
and the cement on them is older and probably harder 



84 SELECTIONS FROM THOREA0 

still. However that may be, I was struck by the 
peculiar toughness of the steel which bore so many 
violent blows without being worn out. As my bricks 
had been in a chimney before, though I did not read 
the name of Nebuchadnezzar on them, I picked out 
as many fireplace bricks as I could find, to save work 
and waste, and I filled the spaces between the bricks 
about the fireplace with stones from the pond shore, 
and also made my mortar with the white sand from 
the same place. I lingered most about the fireplace, 
as the most vital part of the house. Indeed, I 
worked so deliberately, that though I commenced 
at the ground in the morning, a course of bricks 
raised a few inches above the floor served for my 
pillow at night ; yet I did not get a stiff neck for it 
that I remember ; my stiff neck is of older date. I 
took a poet to board for a fortnight about those 
times, which caused me to be put to it for room. 
He brought his own knife, though I had two, and we 
used to scour them by thrusting them into the earth. 
He shared with me the labours of cooking. I was 
pleased to see my work rising so square and solid by 
degrees, and reflected, that, if it proceeded slowly, it 
was calculated to endure a long time. The chimney 
is to some extent an independent structure, standing 
on the ground and rising through the house to the 
heavens ; even after the house is burned it still stands 
sometimes, and its importance and independence are 
apparent. This was toward the end of summer. 
It was now November. 

The north wind had already begun to cool the 



HOUSE-WAEMING 85 

pond, though it took many weeks of steady blowing 
to accomplish it, it is so deep. When I began to 
have a fire at evening, before I plastered my house, 
the chimney carried smoke particularly well, because 
of the numerous chinks between the boards. Yet I 
passed some cheerful evenings in that cool and airy 
apartment, surrounded by the rough brown boards 
fuU of knots, and rafters with the bark on high over- 
head. My house never pleased my eye so much 
after it was plastered, though I was obliged to 
confess that it was more comfortable. Should not 
every apartment in which man dwells be lofty 
enough to create some obscurity overhead, where 
flickering shadows may play at evening about the 
rafters? These forms are more agreeable to the 
fancy and imagination than fresco paintings or other 
the most expensive furniture. I now first began to 
inhabit my house, I may say, when I began to use it 
for warmth as well as shelter. I had got a couple of 
old fire-dogs to keep the wood from the hearth, and 
it did me good to see the soot form on the back of 
the chimney which I had built, and I poked the fire 
with more right and more satisfaction than usual. My 
dwelling was small, and I could hardly entertain an 
echo in it ; but it seemed larger for being a single 
apartment and remote from neighbours. All the 
attractions of a house were concentrated in one 
room ; it was kitchen, chamber, parlour, and keeping- 
room; and whatever satisfaction parent or child, 
master or servant, derive from living in a house, I 
enjoyed it all. Cato says, the master of a family 



86 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

(patremfamilias) must have in his rustic villa " cellam 
oleariam, vinaraim, dolia multa, uti lubeat caritatem 
expectare, et rei, et virtuti, et glorias erit,"— that is, 
" an oil and wine cellar, many casks, so that it may 
be pleasant to expect hard times ; it will be for his 
advantage, and virtue, and glory." I had in my 
cellar a firkin of potatoes, about two quarts of peas 
with the weevil in them, and on my shelf a little 
rice, a jug of molasses, and of rye and Indian meal a 
peek each. 

I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous 
house, standing in a golden age, of enduring materials, 
and without ginger-bread work, which shall still 
consist of only one room, a vast, rude, substantial, 
primitive hall, without ceiling or plastering, with 
bare rafters and purlins supporting a sort of lower 
heaven over one's head, — useful to keep off rain and 
snow ; where the king and queen posts stand out to 
receive your homage, when you have done reverence 
to the prostrate Saturn of an older dynasty on 
stepping over the sill ; a cavernous house, wherein 
you must reach up a torch upon a pole to see the 
roof ; where some may live in the fireplace, some in 
the recess of a window, and some on settles, some at 
one end of the hall, some at another, and some aloft 
on rafters with the spiders, if they choose ; a house 
which you have got into when you have opened the 
outside door, and the ceremony is over ; where the 
weary traveller may wash, and eat, and converse, 
and sleep, without further journey ; such a shelter 
as you would be glad to reach in a tempestuous 



HOUSE-WARMING 87 

night, containing all the essentials of a house, and 
nothing for house-keeping; where you can see all 
the treasures of the house at one view, and every- 
thing hangs upon its peg that a man should use ; 
at once kitchen, pantry, parlour, chamber, store- 
house, and garret ; where you can see so necessary 
a thing as a barrel or a ladder, so convenient a thing 
as a cupboard, and hear the pot boil, and pay your 
respects to the fire that cooks your dinner and the 
oven that bakes your bread, and the necessary 
furniture and utensils are the chief ornaments; 
where the washing is not put out, nor the fire, nor 
the mistress, and perhaps you are sometimes re- 
quested to move from off the trap-door, when the 
cook would descend into the cellar, and so learn 
whether the ground is solid or hollow beneath you 
without stamping. A house whose inside is as open 
and manifest as a bird's nest, and you cannot go in 
at the front door and out at the back without seeing 
some of its inhabitants ; where to be a guest is to be 
presented with the freedom of the house, and not to 
be carefully excluded from seven-eighths of it, shut 
up in a particular cell, and told to make yourself at 
home there, — in solitary confinement. Nowadays 
the host does not admit you to his hearth, but has 
got the mason to build one for yourself somewhere 
in his alley, and hospitality is the art of keeping you 
at the greatest distance. There is as much secrecy 
about the cooking as if he had a design to poison 
you. I am aware that I have been on many a man's 
premises, and might have been legally ordered off". 



88 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

but I am not aware that I have been in many men's 
houses. I might visit in my old clothes a king and 
queen who lived simply in such a house as I have 
described, if I were going their way; but backing 
out of a modern palace will be all that I shall desire 
to learn, if ever I am caught in one. 



PEIMEVAL NATUEEi 

Pekhaps I most fully realised that this was primeval, 
untamed, and for ever untamable Natwe, or whatever 
else men call it, while coming down this part of the 
mountain. We were passing over "Burnt Lands," 
burnt by lightning, perchance, though they showed 
no recent marks of fire, hardly so much as a charred 
stump, but looked rather like a natural pasture for 
the moose and deer, exceedingly wild and desolate, 
with occasional strips of timber crossing them, and 
low poplars springing up, and patches of blueberries 
here and there. I found myself traversing them 
familiarly, like some pasture run to waste, or partially 
reclaimed by man ; but when I reflected what man, 
what brother or sister or kinsman of our race made it 
and claimed it, I expected the proprietor to rise up 
and dispute my passage. It is difficult to conceive of 
a region uninhabited by man. We habitually pre- 
sume his presence and influence everywhere. And 
yet we have not seen pure Nature, unless we have 
seen her thus vast and drear and inhuman, though in 

* Thoreau visited the Maine Woods in 1846, 1853, and 1857, 
chiefly to gratify his interest in wild nature and the Indians. 



90 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEBAU 

the midst of cities. Nature was here something 
savage and awful, though beautiful. I looked with 
awe at the ground I trod on, to see what the Powers 
had made there, the form and fashion and material of 
their work. This was that Earth of which we have 
heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night. Here was 
no man's garden, but the unhandselled globe. It was 
not lawn, nor pasture, nor mead, nor woodland, nor 
lea, nor arable, nor waste-land. It was the fresh and 
natural surface of the planet Earth, as it was made 
for ever and ever, — to be the dwelling of man, we 
say, — so Nature made it, and man may use it if he 
can. Man was not to be associated with it. It was 
Matter, vast, terrific, — not his Mother Earth that we 
have heard of, not for him to tread on, or be buried 
in, — no, it were being too familiar even to let his 
bones lie there, — the home, this, of Necessity and 
Fate. There was there felt the presence of a force 
not bound to be kind to man. It was a place for 
heathenism and superstitious rites,- — to be inhabited 
by men nearer of kin to the rocks and to wild 
animals than we. We walked over it with a certain 
awe, stopping, from time to time, to pick the blue- 
berries which grew there, and had a smart and spicy 
taste. Perchance where our wild pines stand, and 
leaves lie on their forest floor, in Concord, there were 
once reapers, and husbandmen planted grain; but 
here not even the surface had been scarred by man, 
but it was a specimen of what God saw fit to make 
this world. What is it to be admitted to a museum, 
to see a myriad of particular things, compared with 



PRIMEVAL NATURE 91 

being shown some star's surface, some hard matter in 
its home ! I stand in awe of my body, this matter 
to which I am bound has become so strange to me. 
I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one, — that my 
body might, — but I fear bodies, I tremble to meet 
them. What is this Titan that has possession of me ? 
Talk of mysteries ! — Think of our life in nature, 
— daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with 
it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks ! the solid earth ! 
the actual world ! the common sense ! Contact ! Con- 
tact I WTio are we 1 where are we ? 

About four o'clock, the same afternoon, we com- 
menced our return voyage, which would require but 
little if any poling. In shooting rapids the boatmen 
use large and broad paddles, instead of poles, to guide 
the boat with. Though we glided so swiftly, and 
often smoothly, down, where it had cost us no slight 
effort to get up, our present voyage was attended 
with far more danger : for if we once fairly struck 
one of the thousand rocks by which we were sur- 
rounded the boat would be swamped in an instant. 
When a boat is swamped under these circumstances, 
the boatmen commonly find no difficulty in keeping 
afloat at first, for the current keeps both them and 
their cargo up for a long way down the stream ; and 
if they can swim, they have only to work their way 
gradually to the shore. The greatest danger is of 
being caught in an eddy behind some larger rock, 
where the water rushes up stream faster than else- 
where it does down, and being carried round and 
round under the surface till they are drowned. 



92 SELECTIONS FKOM THOREAU 

M'Causlin pointed out some rocks which had been 
the scene of a fatal accident of this kind. Sometimes 
the body is not thrown out for several hours. He 
himself had performed such a circuit once, only his 
legs being visible to his companions; but he was 
fortunately thrown out in season to recover his 
breath. In shooting the rapids, the boatman has 
this problem to solve : to choose a circuitous and safe 
course amid a thousand sunken rocks, scattered over 
a quarter or half a mile, at the same time that he is 
moving steadily on at the rate of fifteen miles an 
hour. Stop he cannot ; the only question is, where 
will he go? The bow-man chooses the course with 
all his eyes about him, striking broad off with his 
paddle, and drawing the boat by main force into her 
course. The stern-man faithfully follows the bow. 

We were soon at the Aboljacarmegus Falls. 
Anxious to avoid the delay, as well as the labour, of 
the portage here, our boatmen went forward first to 
reconnoitre, and concluded to let the batteau down 
the falls, carrying the baggage only over the portage. 
Jumping from rock to rock until nearly in the middle 
of the stream, we were ready to receive the boat and 
let her down over the first fall, some six or seven feet 
perpendicular. The boatmen stand upon the edge of 
a shelf of rock, where the fall is perhaps nine or ten 
feet perpendicular, in from one to two feet of rapid 
water, one on each side of the boat, and let it shde 
gently over, till the bow is run out ten or twelve feet 
in the air; then, letting it drop squarely, while one 
holds the painter, the other leaps in, and his compan- 



PRIMEVAL NATURE 93 

ion following, they are whirled down the rapids to a 
new fall, or to smooth water. In a very few minutes 
they had accomplished a passage in safety, which 
would be as foolhardy for the unskilful to attempt as 
the descent of Niagara itself. It seemed as if it 
needed only a little familiarity, and a little more 
skill, to navigate down such falls as Niagara itself 
with safety. At any rate, I should not despair of 
such men in the rapids above table-rock, until I saw 
them actually go over the falls, so cool, so collected, 
so fertile in resources are they. One might have 
thought that these were falls, and that falls were not 
to be waded through with impunity, like a mud- 
puddle. There was really danger of their losing 
their sublimity in losing their power to harm us. 
Familiarity breeds contempt. The boatman pauses, 
perchance, on some shelf beneath a table-rock under 
the fall, standing in some cove of back-water two feet 
deep, and you hear his rough voice come up through 
the spray, coolly giving directions how to launch the 
boat this time. 

Having carried round Pockwockomus Falls, our 
oars soon brought us to the Katepskonegan, or Oak 
Hall carry, where we decided to camp half way over, 
leaving our batteau to be carried over in the morning 
on fresh shoulders. One shoulder of each of the 
boatmen showed a red spot as large as one's hand, 
worn by the batteau on this expedition; and this 
shoulder, as it did all the work, was perceptibly 
lower than its fellow, from long service. Such toil 
soon wears out the strongest constitution. The 



94 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

drivers are accustomed to work in the cold water in 
the spring, rarely ever dry; and if one falls in all 
over he rarely changes his clothes till night, if then, 
even. One who takes this precaution is called by a 
particular nickname, or is turned off. None can lead 
this life who are not almost amphibious. M'Causlin 
said soberly, what is at any rate a good story to tell, 
that he had seen where six men were wholly under 
water at once, at a jam, with their shoulders to hand- 
spikes. If the log did not start, then they had to put 
out their heads to breathe. The driver works as long 
as he can see, from dark to dark, and at night has 
not time to eat his supper and dry his clothes fairly, 
before he is asleep on his cedar bed. We lay that 
night on the very bed made by such a party, 
stretching our tent over the poles which were still 
standing, but reshingling the damp and faded bed 
with fresh leaves. 

In the morning we carried our boat over and 
launched it, making haste lest the wind should rise. 
The boatmen ran down Passamagamet, and, soon 
after, Ambejijis Falls, while we walked round with 
the baggage. We made a hasty breakfast at the 
head of Ambejijis Lake, on the remainder of our 
pork, and were soon rowing across its smooth surface 
again, under a pleasant sky, the mountain being now 
clear of clouds, in the north-east. Taking turns at 
the oars, we shot rapidly across Deep Cove, the foot 
of Pamadumcook, and the North Twin, at the rate of 
six miles an hour, the wind not being high enough to 
disturb us, and reached the Dam at noon. The boat- 



PRIMEVAL NATURE 95 

men went through one of the log sluices in the 
batteau, where the fall was ten feet at the bottom, 
and took us in below. Here was the longest rapid 
in our voyage, and perhaps the running this was as 
dangerous and arduous a task as any. Shooting down 
sometimes at the rate, as we judged, of fifteen miles 
an hour, if we struck a rock we were split from end 
to end in an instant. Now, like a bait bobbing for 
some river monster, amid the eddies, now darting to 
this side of the stream, now to that, gliding swift and 
smooth near to our destruction, or striking broad off 
with the paddle and drawing the boat to right or left 
with all our might, in order to avoid a rock. I 
suppose that it was like running the rapids of the 
Saute de St. Marie, at the outlet of Lake Superior, 
and our boatmen probably displayed no less dexterity 
than the Indians there do. We soon ran through 
this mile, and floated in Quakish Lake. 

After such a voyage, the troubled and angry 
waters, which once had seemed terrible and not to be 
trifled with, appeared tamed and subdued ; they had 
been bearded and worried in their channels, pricked 
and whipped into submission with the spike-pole and 
paddle, gone through and through with impunity, 
and all their spirit and their danger taken out of 
them, and the most swollen and impetuous rivers 
seemed but playthings henceforth. I began, at 
length, to understand the boatman's familiarity with, 
and contempt for, the rapids. " Those Fowler boys," 
said Mrs. M'Causlin, " are perfect ducks for the water." 
They had run down to Lincoln, according to her, 



96 SELECTIONS FROM THOREA.U 

thirty or forty miles, in a batteau, in the night, for 
a doctor, when it was so dark that they could not see 
a rod before them, and the river was swollen so as to 
be almost a continuous rapid, so that the doctor cried, 
when they brought him up by daylight, " Why, Tom, 
how did you see to steer?" "We didn't steer 
much, — only kept her straight." And yet they met 
with no accident. It is true, the more difficult rapids 
are higher up than this. 

When we reached the Millinocket, opposite to 
Tom's house, and were waiting for his folks to set 
us over, for we had left our batteau above the Grand 
Falls, we discovered two canoes, with two men in 
each, turning up this stream from Shad Pond, one 
keeping the opposite side of a small island before us, 
while the other approached the side where we were 
standing, examining the banks carefully for musk-rats 
as they came along. The last proved to be Louis 
Neptune and his companion, now, at last, on their 
way up to Chesuncook after moose ; but they were 
so disguised that we hardly knew them. At a little 
distance they might have been taken for Quakers, 
with their broad-brimmed hats, and overcoats with 
broad capes, the spoils of Bangor, seeking a settlement 
in this Sylvania, — or, nearer at hand, for fashionable 
gentlemen the morning aiter a spree. Met face to 
face, these Indians in their native woods looked like 
the sinister and slouching fellows whom you meet 
picking up strings and paper in the streets of a city. 
There is, in fact, a remarkable and unexpected resem- 
blance between the degraded savage and the lowest 



PRIMEVAL NATURE 97 

classes in a great city. The one is no more a child of 
nature than the other. In the progress of degradation 
the distinction of races is soon lost. Neptune at first 
was only anxious to know what we "kill," seeing 
some partridges in the hands of one of the party, but 
we had assumed too much anger to permit of a reply. 
We thought Indians had some honour before. But — 
"Me been sick. 0, me unwell now. You make 
bargain, then me go." They had in fact been de- 
layed so long by a drunken frolic at the Five Islands, 
and they had not yet recovered from its effects. 
They had some young musquash in their canoes, 
which they dug out of the banks with a hoe, for food, 
not for their skins, for musquash are their principal 
food on these expeditions. So they went on up the 
Millinocket, and we kept down the bank of the 
Penobscot, after recruiting ourselves with a draught 
of Tom's beer, leaving Tom at his home. 

Thus a man shall lead his life away here on the 
edge of the wilderness, on Indian Millinocket stream, 
in a new world, far in the dark of a continent, and 
have a flute to play at evening here, while his strains 
echo to the stars, amid the howling of wolves; shall 
live, as it were, in the primitive age of the world, 
a primitive man. Yet he shall spend a sunny day, 
and in this century be my contemporary ; perchance 
shall read some scattered leaves of literature, and 
sometimes talk with me. Why read history, then, 
if the ages and the generations are now 1 He lives 
three thousand years deep into time, an age not yet 
described by poets. Can you well go further back in 
H 



98 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

history than this 1 Ay ! ay ! — for there turns up but 
now into the mouth of Millinooket stream a still 
more ancient and primitive man, whose history is not 
brought down even to the former. In a bark vessel 
sewn with the roots of the spruce, with hornbeam 
paddles, he dips his way along. He is but dim and 
misty to me, obscured by the aeons that lie between 
the bark-canoe and the batteau. He builds no house 
of logs, but a wigwam of skins. He eats no hot 
bread and sweet cake, but musqflash and moose-meat 
and the fat of bears. He glides up the Millinocket 
and is lost to my sight, as a more distant and misty 
cloud is seen flitting by behind a nearer, and is lost 
in space. So he goes about his destiny, the red face 
of man. 

After having passed the night, and buttered our 
boots for the last time, at Uncle George's, whose 
dogs almost devoured him for joy at his return, we 
kept on down the river the next day, about eight 
miles on foot, and then took a batteau, with a man to 
pole it, to Mattawamkeag, ten more. At the middle 
of that very night, to make a swift conclusion to a 
long story, we dropped our buggy over the half- 
finished bridge at Oldtown, where we heard the 
confused din and clink of a hundred saws, which 
never rest, and at six o'clock the next morning one 
of the party was steaming his way to Massachusetts. 

What is most striking in the Maine wilderness is 
the continuousness of the forest, with fewer open 
intervals or glades than you had imagined Except 



PRIMEVAL NATURE 99 

the few burnt-lands, the narrow intervals on, the 
rivers, the bare tops of the high mountainSj^ and the 
lakes and streams, the forest is uninterrupted. It is 
even more grim and wild than you had anticipated, 
a damp and intricate wilderness; in the spring every- 
where wet and miry. The" aspect of the country, 
indeed, is universally stern and savage, excepting the 
distant views of the forest from hills, and the lake 
prosfcsct?, which are mild and civilising in a degree. 
The lakes are something which you are unprepared 
for ; they lie up so high, exposed to the light, and the 
forest is diminished to a fine fringe on their edges, 
with here and there a blue mountain, like amethyst 
jewels set around some jewel of the first water, — so 
anterior, so superior, to all the changes that are to 
take place on their shores, even now civil and 
refined, and fair as they can ever be. These are not 
the artificial forests of an English king, — a royal 
preserve merely. Here prevail no forest laws but 
those of nature. The aborigines have never been 
dispossessed, nor nature disforested. 

It is a country full of evergreen trees, of mossy 
silver birches and watery maples, the ground dotted 
with insipid, small, red berries, and strewn with damp 
and moss-grown rocks, — a country diversified with 
innumerable lakes and rapid streams, peopled with 
trout and various species of leucisci, with salmon, 
shad, and pickerel, and other fishes ; the forest 
resounding at rare intervals with the note of the 
chicadee, the blue-jay, and the woodpecker, the 
scream of the fish-hawk and the eagle, the laugh of 



'**^ylOO SELECTIONS FKOM THOREAU 

the loon, and the whistle of ducks along the solitary 
streard^jcat night, with the hooting of owls and 
howling OTv wolves; in summer, swarming with 
myriads of blaxsk flies and mosquitoes, more formid- 
able than wolves iS^^the white man. Such is the 
home of the moose, the'lbsM', the caribou, the wolf, 
the beaver, and the Indian. T^ho shall describe the 
inexpressible tenderness and immQrtal life of the 
grim forest, where Nature, though it be'^i(i-wkiter, 
is ever in her spring, where the moss-grown and 
decaying trees are not old, but seem to enjoy a per- 
petual youth ; and blissful, innocent Nature, like a 
serene infant, is too happy to make a noise, except 
by a few tinkling, lisping birds and trickling rills ? 

What a place to live, what a place to die and be 
buried in ! There certainly men would live for ever, 
and laugh at death and the grave. There they could 
have no such thoughts as are associated with the 
village graveyard, — that make a grave out of one of 
those moist evergreen hummocks ! 

Die and be buried who will, 

I mean to live here stUl ; 
My nature grows ever more young 

The primitive pines among. 

I am reminded by my journey how exceedingly 
new this country still is. You have only to travel 
for a few days into the interior and back parts even 
of many of the old States, to come to that very 
America which the Northmen, and Cabot, and 
Gosnold, and Smith, and Ealeigh visited. If 
Columbus was the first to discover the islands, 



PKIMEVAL NATUEB 101 

Americus Vespucius and Cabot, and the Puritans, and 
we their descendants, have discovered only the shores 
of America. While the republic has already acquired 
a history world-wide, America is still unsettled and 
unexplored. Like the English in New Holland, we 
live only on the shores of a continent even yet, and 
hardly know where the rivers come from which float 
our navy. The very timber and boards and shingles 
of which our houses are made, grew but yesterday in 
a wilderness where the Indian still hunts and the 
moose runs wild. New York has her wilderness 
within her own borders ; and though the sailors of 
Europe are familiar with the soundings of her 
Hudson, and Fulton long since invented the steam- 
boat on its waters, an Indian is still necessary to 
guide her scientific men to its head-waters in the 
Adirondac country. 

Have we even so much as discovered and settled 
the shores? Let a man travel on foot along the 
coast, from the Passamaquoddy to the Sabine, or to 
the Eio Bravo, or to wherever the end is now, if he 
is swift enough to overtake it, faithfully following 
the windings of every inlet and of every cape, and 
stepping to the music of the surf, — ^with a desolate 
fishing-town once a week, and a city's port once a 
month to cheer him, and putting up at the light- 
houses, when there are any, — and tell me if it looks 
like a discovered and settled country, and not rather, 
for the most part, like a desolate island, and No- 
man's Land. 

We have advanced by leaps to the Pacific, and 



102 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEBAU 

left many a lesser Oregon and California unexplored 
behind us. Though the railroad and the telegraph 
have been established on the shores of Maine, the 
Indian still looks out from her interior mountains 
over all these to the sea. There stands the city of 
Bangor, fifty miles up the Penobscot, at the head of 
navigation for vessels of the largest class, the principal 
lumber depot on this continent, with a population of 
twelve thousand, like a star on the edge of night, still 
hewing at the forests of which it is buUt, already 
overflowing with the luxuries and refinement of 
Europe, and sending its vessels to Spain, to England, 
and to the West Indies, for its groceries, — and yet 
only a few axe-men have gone " up river," into the 
howling wilderness which feeds it. The bear and 
deer are still found within its limits ; and the moose, 
as he swims the Penobscot, is entangled amid its 
shipping, and taken by foreign sailors in its harbour. 
Twelve miles in the rear, twelve miles of railroad, are 
Orono and the Indian Island, the home of the Penob- 
scot tribe, and then commence the batteau and the 
canoe, and the military road ; and sixty miles above, 
the country is virtually unmapped and unexplored, 
and there still waves the virgin forest of the New 
World. 



THE MUEDEE OF THE MOOSE 

Here, about two o'clock, we turned up a small 
branch three or four rods wide, which comes in on 
the right from the south, called Pine-Stream, to look 
for moose signs. We had gone but a few rods before 
we saw very recent signs along the water's edge, the 
mud lifted up by their feet being quite fresh, and Joe 
declared that they had gone along there but a short 
time before. We soon reached a small meadow on 
the east side, at an angle in the stream, which was, 
for the most part, densely covered with alders. As 
we were advancing along the edge of this, rather 
more quietly than usual, perhaps, on account of the 
freshness of the signs, — the design being to camp up 
this stream, if it promised well, — I heard a slight 
crackling of twigs deep in the alders, and turned 
Joe's attention to it ; whereupon he began to push 
the canoe back rapidly ; and we had receded thus half 
a dozen rods, when we suddenly spied two moose 
standing just on the edge of the open part of the 
meadow which we had passed, not more than six or 
seven rods distant, looking round the alders at us. 
They made me think of great frightened rabbits, with 



104 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

their long ears and half-inquisitive, half-frightened 
looks ; the true denizens of the forest (I saw at once), 
tilling a vacuum which now first I discovered had not 
been filled for me, — moose-men, wood-eaters, the word 
is said to mean, — clad in a sort of Vermont gray, or 
homespun. Our Nimrod, owing to the retrograde 
movement, was now the farthest from the game ; but 
being warned of its neighbourhood, he hastily stood 
up, and, while we ducked, fired over our heads one 
barrel at the foremost, which alone he saw, though 
he did not know what kind of creature it was; 
whereupon this one dashed across the meadow and 
up a high bank on the north-east, so rapidly as to 
leave but an indistinct impression of its outlines on 
my mind. At the same instant, the other, a young 
one, but as tall as a horse, leaped out into the stream, 
in full sight, and there stood cowering for a moment, 
or rather its disproportionate lowness behind gave it 
that appearance, and uttering two or three trumpeting 
squeaks. I have an indistinct recollection of seeing 
the old one pause an instant on the top of the bank 
in the woods, look toward its shivering young, and 
then dash away again. The second barrel was levelled 
at the calf, and when we expected to see it drop in 
the water, after a little hesitation, it, too, got out of 
the water, and dashed up the hill, though in a some- 
what different direction. All this was the work of a 
few seconds, and our hunter, having never seen a 
moose before, did not know but they were deer, for 
they stood partly in the water, nor whether he had 
fired at the same one twice or not. From the style 



THE MUBDEE OF THE MOOSE 105 

in which they went off, and the fact that he was not 
used to standing up and firing from a canoe, I judged 
that we should not see anything more of them. The 
Indian said that they were a cow and her calf, — a 
yearling, or perhaps two years old, for they accom- 
pany their dams so long ; but, for my part, I had not 
noticed much difference in their size. It was but two 
or three rods across the meadow to the foot of the 
bank, which, like all the world thereabouts, was 
densely wooded ; but I was surprised to notice that, 
as soon as the moose had passed behind the veil of 
the woods, there was no sound of footsteps to be 
heard from the soft, damp moss which carpets that 
forest, and long before we landed, perfect silence 
reigned. Joe said, "If you wound 'em moose, me 
sure get 'em." 

We all landed at once. My companion reloaded ; 
the Indian fastened his birch, threw off his hat, 
adjusted his waistband, seized the hatchet, and set 
out. He told me afterward, casually, that before we 
landed he had seen a drop of blood on the bank, when 
it was two or three rods off. He proceeded rapidly 
up the bank and through the woods, with a peculiar, 
elastic, noiseless, and stealthy tread, looking to right 
and left on the ground, and stepping in the faint 
tracks of the wounded moose, now and then pointing 
in silence to a single drop of blood on the handsome, 
shining leaves of the Clintonia Borealis, which, on 
every side, covered the ground, or to a dry fern-stem 
freshly broken, all the while chewing some leaf or 
else the spruce gum. I followed, watching his 



106 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

motions more than the trail of the moose. After 
following the trail about forty rods in a pretty direct 
course, stepping over fallen trees and winding between 
standing ones, he at length lost it, for there were 
many other moose-tracks there, and, returning once 
more to the last blood-stain, traced it a little way 
and lost it again, and, too soon, I thought, for a good 
hunter, gave it up entirely. He traced a few steps, 
also, the tracks of the calf ; but, seeing no blood, soon 
relinquished the search. 

I observed, while he was tracking the moose, a 
certain reticence or moderation in him. He did not 
communicate several observations of interest which 
he made, as a white man would have done, though 
they may have leaked out afterward. At another 
time, when we heard a slight crackling of twigs and 
he landed to reconnoitre, he stepped lightly and 
gracefully, stealing through the bushes with the 
least possible noise, in a way in which no white 
man does, — as it were, finding a place for his foot 
each time. 

About half an hour after seeing the moose, we 
pursued our voyage up Pine-Stream, and soon, coming 
to a part which was very shoal and also rapid, we 
took out the baggage, and proceeded to carry it 
round, while Joe got up with the canoe alone. We 
were just completing our portage and I was absorbed 
in the plants, admiring the leaves of the aster macro- 
phyllus, ten inches wide, and plucking the seeds of 
the great round-leaved orchis, when Joe exclaimed 
from the stream that he had killed a moose. He had 



THE MURDER OF THE MOOSE 107 

found the cow-moose lying dead, but quite warm, in 
the middle of the stream, which was so shallow that 
it rested on the bottom, with hardly a third of its 
body above water. It was about an hour after it 
was shot, and it was swollen with water. It had run 
abovit a hundred rods and sought the stream again, 
cutting off a slight bend. No doubt, a better hunter 
would have tracked it to this spot at once. I was 
surprised at its great size, horse-like, but Joe said it 
was not a large cow-moose. My companion went in 
search of the calf again. I took hold of the ears of 
the moose, while Joe pushed his canoe down stream 
toward a favourable shore, and so we made out, 
though with some difficulty, its long nose frequently 
sticking in the bottom, to drag it into still shallower 
water. It was a brownish black, or perhaps a dark 
iron-gray, on the back and sides, but lighter beneath 
and in front. I took the cord which served for the 
canoe's painter, and with Joe's assistance measured it 
carefully, the greatest distances first, making a knot 
each time. The painter being wanted, I reduced 
these measures that night with equal care to lengths 
and fractions of my umbrella, beginning with the 
smallest measures, and untying the knots as I pro- 
ceeded ; and when we arrived at Chesuncook the 
next day, finding a two-foot rule there, I reduced the 
last to feet and inches ; and, moreover, I made myself 
a two-foot rule of a thin and narrow strip of black 
ash, which would fold up conveniently to six inches. 
All this pains I took because I did not wish to be 
obliged to say merely that the moose was very large. 



108 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

Of the various dimensions which I obtained I will 
mention only two. The distance from the tips of 
the hoofs of the fore-feet, stretched out, to the top of 
the back between the shoulders, was seven feet and 
five inches. I can hardly believe my own measure, 
for this is about two feet greater than the height of 
a tall horse. (Indeed, I am now satisfied that this 
measurement was incorrect, but the other measures 
given here I can warrant to be correct, having proved 
them in a more recent visit to those woods.) The 
extreme length was eight feet and two inches. 
Another cow-moose, which I have since measured in 
those woods with a tape, was just six feet from the 
tip of the hoof to the shoulders, and eight feet long 
as she lay. 

When afterward I asked an Indian at the carry 
how much taller the male was, he answered, " Eighteen 
inches," and made me observe the height of a cross- 
stake over the fire, more than four feet from the 
ground, to give me some idea of the depth of his 
chest Another Indian, at Oldtown, told me that 
they were nine feet high to the top of the back, and 
that one which he tried weighed eight hundred 
pounds. The length of the spinal projections between 
the shoulders is very great. A white hunter, who 
was the best authority among hunters that I could 
have, told me that the male was not eighteen inches 
taller than the female ; yet he agreed that he was 
sometimes nine feet high to the top of the back, and 
weighed a thousand pounds. Only the male has 
horns, and they rise two feet or more above the 



MUKDEK OF THE MOOSE 109 

shoulders, — spreading three or four, and sometimes 
six feet, — which would make him in all, sometimes, 
eleven feet high ! According to this calculation, the 
moose is as tall, though it may not be as large, as the 
great Irish elk, Megaceros Hibernicus, of a former 
period, of which Mantell says that it "very far 
exceeded in magnitude any living species, the skele- 
ton " being " upward of ten feet high from the ground 
to the highest point of the antlers." Joe said, that, 
though the moose shed the whole horn annually, each 
new horn has an additional prong ; but I have noticed 
that they sometimes have more prongs on one side 
than on the other. I was struck with the delicacy 
and tenderness of the hoofs, which divide very far 
up, and the one half could be pressed very much 
behind the other, thus probably making the animal 
surer-footed on the uneven ground and slippery moss- 
covered logs of the primitive forest. They were 
very unlike the stiff and battered feet of our horses 
and oxen. The bare, horny part of the fore-foot was 
just six inches long, and the two portions could be 
separated four inches at the extremities. 

The moose is singularly grotesque and awkward 
to look at. Why should it stand so high at the 
shoulders ? Why have so long a head ? Why have 
no tail to speak of? for in my examination I over- 
looked it entirely. Naturalists say it is an inch and 
a half long. It reminded me at once of the camelo- 
pard, high before and low behind, — and no wonder, 
for, like it, it is fitted to browse on trees. The upper 
lip projected two inches beyond the lower for this 



110 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

purpose. This was the kind of man that was at 
home there; for, as near as I can learn, that has 
never been the residence, but rather the hunting- 
ground of the Indian. The moose will perhaps one 
day become extinct ; but how naturally then, when 
it exists only as a fossil relic, and unseen as that, 
may the poet or sculptor invent a fabulous animal 
with similar branching and leafy horns, — a sort of 
fucus or lichen in bone, — to be the inhabitant of such 
a forest as this ! 

Here, just at the head of the murmuring rapids, 
Joe now proceeded to skin the moose with a pocket- 
knife, while I looked on ; and a tragical business it 
was, — to see that still warm and palpitating body 
pierced with a knife, to see the warm milk stream 
from the rent udder, and the ghastly naked red 
carcass appearing from within its seemly robe, which 
was made to hide it. The ball had passed through 
the shoulder-blade diagonally and lodged under the 
skin on the opposite side, and was partially flattened. 
My companion keeps it to show to his grandchildrea 
He has the shanks of another moose which he has 
since shot, skinned and stuffed, ready to be made into 
boots by putting in a thick leather sole. Joe said, if 
a moose stood fronting you, you must not fire, but 
advance toward him, for he will turn slowly and give 
you a fair shot. In the bed of this narrow, wild, and 
rocky stream, between two lofty walls of spruce and 
firs, a mere cleft in the forest which the stream had 
made, this work went on. At length Joe had stripped 
off the hide and dragged it trailing to the shore, 



MUEDEE OF THE MOOSE 111 

declaring that it weighed a hundred pounds, though 
probably fifty would have been nearer the truth. 
He cut off a large mass of the meat to carry along, 
and another, together with the tongue and nose, he 
put with the hide on the shore to lie there all night, 
or till we returned. I was surprised that he thought 
of leaving this meat thus exposed by the side of the 
carcass, as the simplest course, not fearing that any 
creature would touch it; but nothing did. This 
could hardly have happened on the bank of one of 
our rivers in the eastern part of Massachusetts ; 
but I suspect that fewer small wild animals are 
prowling there than with us. Twice, however, in 
this excursion I had a glimpse of a species of large 
mouse. 

This stream was so withdrawn, and the moose- 
tracks were so fresh, that my companions, still bent 
on hunting, concluded to go farther up it and camp, 
and then hunt up or down at night. Half a mile 
above this, at a place where I saw the aster puniceus 
and the beaked hazel, as we paddled along, Joe, 
hearing a slight rustling amid the alders, and seeing 
something black about two rods off, jumped up and 
whispered, " Bear ! " but before the hunter had dis- 
charged his piece, he corrected himself to " Beaver ! " 
— " Hedgehog ! " The bullet killed a large hedgehog 
more than two feet and eight inches long. The quills 
were rayed out and flattened on the hinder part of 
its back, even as if it had lain on that part, but were 
erect and long between this and the tail. Their 
points, closely examined, were seen to be finely 



112 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

bearded or barbed, and shaped like an awl, that is, a 
little concave, to give the barbs effect. After about 
a mile of still water, we prepared our camp on the 
right side, just at the foot of a considerable fall. 
Little chopping was done that night, for fear of 
scaring the moose. We had moose-meat fried for 
supper. It tasted like tender beef, with perhaps 
more flavour, — sometimes like veal. 

After supper, the moon having risen, we proceeded 
to hunt a mile up this stream, first " carrying " about 
the falls. We made a picturesque sight, wending 
single-file along the shore, climbing over rocks and 
logs, — Joe, who brought up the rear, twirling his 
canoe in his hands as if it were a feather, in places 
where it was difi&cult to get along without a burden. 
We launched the canoe again from the ledge over 
which the stream fell, but after half a mile of still 
water, suitable for hunting, it became rapid again, 
and we were compelled to make our way along the 
shore, while Joe endeavoured to get up in the birch 
alone, though it was still very difficult for him to 
pick his way amid the rocks in the night. We on 
the shore found the worst of walking, a perfect chaos 
of fallen and drifted trees, and of bushes projecting 
far over the water, and now and then we made our 
way across the mouth of a small tributary on a kind 
of network of alders. So we went tumbling on in 
the dark, being on the shady side, effectually scaring 
all the moose and bears that might be thereabouts. 
At length we came to a standstill, and Joe went 
forward to reconnoitre ; but he reported that it was 



MURDER OF THE MOOSE 113 

still a continuous rapid as far as he went, or half a 
mile, with no prospect of improvement, as if it were 
coming down from a mountain. So we turned about, 
hunting back to the camp through the still water. 
It was a splendid moonlight night, and I, getting 
sleepy as it grew late, — for I had nothing to do, — 
found it difficult to realise where I was. This stream 
was much more unfrequented than the main one, 
lumbering operations being no longer carried on in 
this quarter. It was only three or four rods wide, 
but the firs and spruce through which it trickled 
seemed yet taller by contrast. Being in this dreamy 
state, which the moonlight enhanced, I did not clearly 
discern the shore, but seemed, most of the time, to 
be floating through ornamental grounds, — for I asso- 
ciated the fir-tops with such scenes ; — very high up 
some Broadway, and beneath or between their tops, 
I thought I saw an endless succession of porticoes and 
columns, cornices and fa9ades, verandas and churches. 
I did not merely fancy this, but in my drowsy state 
such was the illusion. I fairly lost myself in sleep 
several times, still dreaming of that architecture and 
the nobility that dwelt behind and might issue from 
it ; but all at once I would be aroused and brought 
back to a sense of my actual position by the sound 
of Joe's birch horn in the midst of all this silence 
calling the moose, ugh, ugh, oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo, and I 
prepared to hear a furious moose come rushing and 
crashing through the forest, and see him burst out on 
to the little strip of meadow by our side. 

But, on more accounts than one, I had had enough 



114 SELECTIONS FROM THOKEAU 

of moose-hunting. I had not come to the woods for 
this purpose, nor had I foreseen it, though I had been 
willing to learn how the Indian manoeuvred ; but one 
moose killed was as good, if not as bad, as a dozen. 
The afternoon's tragedy, and my share in it, as it 
affected the innocence, destroyed the pleasure of my 
adventure. It is true, I came as near as is possible 
to come to being a hunter and miss it, myself ; and 
as it is, I think that I could spend a year in the 
woods, fishing and hunting, just enough to sustain 
myself, with satisfaction. This would be next to 
living like a philosopher on the fruits of the earth 
which you had raised, which also attracts me. But 
this hunting of the moose merely for the satisfaction 
of killing him, — not even for the sake of his hide, — 
without making any extraordinary exertion or run- 
ning any risk yourself, is too much like going out by 
night to some wood-side pasture and shooting your 
neighbour's horses. These are God's own horses, 
poor, timid creatures, that will run fast enough as 
soon as they smell you, though they are nine feet 
high. Joe told us of some hunters who a year or 
two before had shot down several oxen by night, 
somewhere in the Maine woods, mistaking them for 
moose. And so might any of the hunters; and 
what is the difference in the sport, but the name? 
In the former case, having killed one of God's and 
your own oxen, you strip off its hide, — because that is 
the common trophy, and, moreover, you have heard 
that it may be sold for moccasins, — cut a steak from 
its haunches, and leave the huge carcass to smell to 



MURDER OF THE MOOSE 115 

heaven for you. It is no better, at least, than to 
assist at a slaughter-house. 

This afternoon's experience suggested to me how 
base or coarse are the motives which commonly carry 
men into the wilderness. The explorers and lum- 
berers generally are all hirelings, paid so much a day 
for their labour, and as such they have no more love 
for wild nature than wood-sawers have for forests. 
Other white men and Indians who come here are for 
the most part hunters, whose object is to slay as 
many moose and other wild animals as possible. 
But, pray, could not one spend some weeks or years 
in the solitude of this vast wilderness with other 
employments than these, — employments perfectly 
sweet and innocent and ennobling? For one that 
comes with a pencil to sketch or sing, a thousand 
come with an axe or rifle. What a coarse and 
imperfect use Indians and hunters make of Nature ! 
No wonder that their race is so soon exterminated. 
I already, and for weeks afterward, felt my nature 
the coarser for this part of my woodland experience, 
and was reminded that our life should be lived as 
tenderly and daintily as one would pluck a flower. 

With these thoughts, when we reached our camp- 
ing-ground, I decided to leave my companions to 
continue moose-hunting down the stream, while I 
prepared the camp, though they requested me not to 
chop much nor make a large fire, for fear I should 
scare their game. In the midst of the damp fir-wood, 
high on the mossy bank, about nine o'clock of this 
bright moonlight night, I kindled a fire, when they 



116 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

were gone, and, sitting on the fir-twigs, within sound of 
the falls, examined by its light the botanical specimens 
which I had collected that afternoon, and wrote down 
some of the reflections which I have here expanded ; 
or I walked along the shore and gazed up the stream, 
where the whole space above the falls was filled with 
mellow light. As I sat before the fire on my fir-twig 
seat, without walls above or around me, I remembered 
how far on every hand that wilderness stretched, 
before you came to cleared or cultivated fields, and 
wondered if any bear or moose was watching the 
light of my fire ; for Nature looked sternly upon me 
on account of the murder of the moose. 

Strange that so few ever come to the woods to 
see how the pine lives and grows and spires, lifting 
its evergreen arms to the light, — to see its perfect 
success; but most are content to behold it in the 
shape of many broad boards brought to market, and 
deem that its true success ! But the pine is no more 
lumber than man is, and to be made into boards and 
houses is no more its true and highest use than the 
truest use of a man is to be cut down and made into 
manure. There is a higher law afi'ecting our relation 
to pines as well as to men. A pine cut down, a dead 
pine, is no more a pine than a dead human carcass is 
a man. Can he who has discovered only some of the 
values of whalebone and whale oil be said to have 
discovered the true use of the whale ? Can he who 
slays the elephant for his ivory be said to have " seen 
the elephant " ? These are petty and accidental uses ; 
just as if a stronger race were to kill us in order to 



MUEDEE OF THE MOOSE 117 

make buttons and flageolets of our bones ; for every- 
thing may serve a lower as well as a higher use. 
Every creature is better alive than dead, men and 
moose and pine-trees, and he who understands it 
aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it. 

Is it the lumberman, then, who is the friend and 
lover of the pine, stands nearest to it, and understands 
its nature best ? Is it the tanner who has barked it, 
or he who has boxed it for turpentine, whom posterity 
will fable to have been changed into a pine at last ? 
No ! no ! it is the poet ; he it is who makes the 
truest use of the pine, — who does not fondle it with 
an axe, nor tickle it with a saw, nor stroke it with a 
plane, — who knows whether its heart is false without 
cutting into it, — ^who has not bought the stumpage 
of the township on which it stands. All the pines 
shudder and heave a sigh when that man steps on the 
forest floor. No, it is the poet, who loves them as 
his own shadow in the air, and lets them stand. I 
have been into the lumber-yard, and the carpenter's 
shop, and the tannery, and the lampblack-factory, 
and the turpentine clearing ; but when at length I 
saw the tops of the pines waving and reflecting the 
light at a distance high over all the rest of the forest, 
I realised that the former were not the highest use of 
the pine. It is not their bones or hide or tallow that 
I love most. It is the living spirit of the tree, not 
its spirit of turpentine, with which I sympathise, and 
which heals my cuts. It is as immortal as I am, and 
perchance will go to as high a heaven, there to tower 
above me still. 



FOKEST PHENOMENA 

When we got to the camp, the canoe was taken 
out and turned over, and a log laid across it to 
prevent its being blown away. The Indian cut 
some large logs of damp and rotten hard-wood to 
smoulder and keep fire through the night. The 
trout was fried for supper. Our tent was of thin 
cotton cloth and quite small, forming with the ground 
a triangular prism closed at the rear end, six feet 
long, seven wide, and four high, so that we could 
barely sit up in the middle. It required two forked 
stakes, a smooth ridge-pole, and a dozen or more pins 
to pitch it. It kept off dew and wind, and an 
ordinary rain, and answered our purpose well enough. 
We reclined within, it till bedtime, each with his 
baggage at his head, or else sat about the fire, having 
hung our wet clothes on a pole before the fire for the 
night. 

As we sat there, just before night, looking out 
through the dusky wood, the Indian heard a noise 
which he said was made by a snake. He imitated it 
at my request, making a low whistling note, — pheet — 



FOREST PHENOMENA 119 

pheet, — two or three times repeated, somewhat like 
the peep of the hylodes, but not so loud. In answer 
to my inquiries, he said that he had never seen them 
while making it, but going to the spot he iinds the 
snake. This, he said on another occasion, was a sign 
of rain. When I had selected this place for our 
camp, he had remarked that there were snakes there,- — 
he saw them. "But they won't do any hurt," I said. 
" no," he answered, " just as you say, it makes no 
difference to me." 

He lay on the right side of the tent, because, as 
he said, he was partly deaf in one ear, and he wanted 
to lie with his good ear up. As we lay there, he 
inquired if I ever heard "Indian sing.'' I replied 
that I had not often, and asked him if he would not 
favour us with a song. He readily assented, and 
lying on his back, with his blanket wrapped around 
him, he commenced a slow, somewhat nasal, yet 
musical chant, in his own language, which probably 
was taught his tribe long ago by the Catholic mis- 
sionaries. He translated it to us, sentence by 
sentence, afterward, wishing to see if we could 
remember it. It proved to be a very simple religious 
exercise or hymn, the burden of which was, that 
there was only one God who ruled all the world. 
This was hammered (or sung) out very thin, so that 
some stanzas well-nigh meant nothing at all, merely 
keeping up the idea. He then said that he would 
sing us a Latin song; but we did not detect any 
Latin, only one or two Greek words in it, — the rest 
may have been Latin with the Indian pronunciation. 



120 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

His singing carried me back to the period of the 
discovery of America, to San Salvador and the Incas, 
when Europeans first encountered the simple faith of 
the Indian. There was, indeed, a beautiful simplicity 
about it ; nothing of the dark and savage, only the 
mild and infantile. The sentiments of humility and 
reverence chiefly were expressed. 

It was a dense and damp spruce and fir wood in 
which we lay, and, except for our fire, perfectly dark ; 
and when I awoke in the night, I either heard an owl 
from deeper in the forest behind us, or a loon from a 
distance over the lake. Getting up some time after 
midnight to collect the scattered brands together, 
while my companions were sound asleep, I observed, 
partly in the fire, which had ceased to blaze, a per- 
fectly regular elliptical ring of light, about five inches 
in its shortest diameter, six or seven in its longer, 
and from one eighth to one quarter of an inch wide. 
It was fully as bright as the fire, but not reddish or 
scarlet like a coal, but a white and slumbering light, 
like the glowworm's. I could tell it from the fire 
only by its whiteness. I saw at once that it must be 
phosphorescent wood, which I had so often heard of, 
but never chanced to see. Putting my finger on it, 
with a little hesitation, I found that it was a piece of 
dead moose-wood {Acer striatum) which the Indian 
had cut off' in a slanting direction the evening before. 
Using my knife, I discovered that the light proceeded 
from that portion of the sap-wood immediately under 
the bark, and thus presented a regular ring at the 
end, which, indeed, appeared raised above the level 



FOREST PHENOMENA 121 

of the wood, and when I pared off the bark and cut 
into the sap, it was all aglow along the log. I was 
surprised to find the wood quite hard and apparently 
sound, though probably decay had commenced in the 
sap, and I cut out some little triangular chips, and 
placing them in the hollow of my hand, carried them 
into the camp, waked my companion, and showed 
them to him. They lit up the inside of my hand, 
revealing the lines and wrinkles, and appearing 
exactly like coals of fire raised to a white heat, and I 
saw at once how, probably, the Indian jugglers had 
imposed on their people and on travellers, pretending 
to hold coals of fire in their mouths. 

I also noticed that part of a decayed stump within 
four or five feet of the fire, an inch wide and six 
inches long, soft and shaking wood, shone with equal 
brightness. 

I neglected to ascertain whether our fire had any- 
thing to do with this, but the previous day's rain 
and long-continued wet weather undoubtedly had. 

I was exceedingly interested by this phenomenon, 
and already felt paid for my journey. It could 
hardly have thrilled me more if it had taken the 
form of letters, or of the human face. If I had met 
with this ring of light while groping in this forest 
alone, away from any fire, I should have been still 
more surprised. I little thought that there was 
such a light shining in the darkness of the wilderness 
for me. 

The next day the Indian told me their name for 
this light, — Artoosogu', — and on my inquiring concern- 



122 SELECTIONS FROM THOKEAU 

ing the will-o'-the-wisp, and the like phenomena, he 
said that his "folks" sometimes saw fires passing 
along at various heights, even as high as the trees, 
and making a noise. I was prepared after this to 
hear of the most startling and unimagined phenomena 
witnessed by " his folks," they are abroad at all hours 
and seasons in scenes so unfrequented by white men. 
Nature must have made a thousand revelations to 
them which are still secrets to us. 

I did not regret my not having seen this before, 
since I now saw it under circumstances so favourable. 
I was in just the frame of mind to see something 
wonderful, and this was a phenomenon adequate to 
my circumstances and expectation, and it put me on 
the alert to see more like it. I exulted like " a pagan 
suckled in a creed " that had never been worn at all, 
but was bran new, and adequate to the occasion. I 
let science slide, and rejoiced in that light as if it had 
been a fellow-creature. I saw that it was excellent, 
and was very glad to know that it was so cheap. A 
scientific explanation, as it is called, would have been 
altogether out of place there. That is for pale day- 
light. Science with its retorts would have put me to 
sleep ; it was the opportunity to be ignorant that I 
improved. It suggested to me that there was some- 
thing to be seen if one had eyes. It made a believer 
of me more than before. I belie\'ed that the woods 
were not tenantless, but choke-full of honest spirits 
as good as myself any day, — not an empty chamber, 
in which chemistry was left to work alone, but an 
inhabited house, — and for a few moments I enjoyed 



FOREST PHENOMENA 123 

fellowship with them. Your so-called wise man goes 
trying to persuade himself that there is no entity 
there but himself and his traps, but it is a great deal 
easier to believe the truth. It suggested, too, that 
the same experience always gives birth to the same 
sort of belief or religion. One revelation has been 
made to the Indian, another to the white man. I 
have much to learn of the Indian, nothing of the 
missionary. I am not sure but all that would tempt 
me to teach the Indian my religion would be his 
promise to teach me his. Long enough I had heard 
of irrelevant things ; now at length I was glad to 
make acquaintance with the light that dwells in rotten 
wood. Where is all your knowledge gone to ? It 
evaporates completely, for it has no depth. 

I kept those little chips and wet them again the 
next night, but they emitted no light. 



THE SHIPWEECK 

Wishing to get a better view than I had yet had of 
the ocean, which, we are told, covers more than two- 
thirds of the globe, but of which a man who lives a 
few miles inland may never see any trace, more than 
of another world, I made a visit to Cape Cod in 
October 1849, another the succeeding June, and 
another to Truro in July 1855; the first and last 
time with a single companion, the second time alone. 
I have spent, in all, about three weeks on the Cape ; 
walked from Eastham to Provincetown twice on the 
Atlantic side, and once on the Bay side also,, except- 
ing four or five miles, and crossed the Cape half a 
dozen times on my way ; but having come so fresh 
to the sea, I have got but little salted. My readers 
must expect only so much saltness as the land breeze 
acquires from blowing over an arm of the sea, or is 
tasted on the windows and the bark of trees twenty 
miles inland, after Septembei' gales. I have been 
accustomed to make excursions to the ponds within 
ten miles of Concord, but latterly I have extended 
my excursions to the seashore. 



THE SHIPWEECK 125 

I did not see why I might not make a book on 
Cape Cod, as well as my neighbour on Human 
Culture. It is but another name for the same 
thing, and hardly a sandier phase of it. As for my 
title, I suppose that the word Cape is from the 
French cap ; which is from the Latin caput, a head ; 
which is, perhaps, from the verb capere, to take, — 
that being the part by which we take hold of a 
thing : — Take Time by the forelock. It is also the 
safest part to take a serpent by. And as for Cod, 
that was derived directly from that "great store of 
cod-fish" which Captain Bartholomew Gosnold caught 
there in 1602; which fish appears to have been so 
called from the Saxon word codde, " a case in which 
seeds are lodged," either from the form of the fish, 
or the quantity of spawn it contains ; whence also, 
perhaps, codling ("pomum coctile " ?) and coddle, — to 
cook green like peas. (V. Die.) 

Cape Cod is the bared and bended arm of Massa- 
chusetts : the shoulder is at Buzzard's Bay ; the 
elbow, or crazy-bone, at Cape Mallebarre; the wrist 
at Truro ; and the sandy fist at Provincetown, — 
behind which the State stands on her guard, with 
her back to the Green Mountains, and her feet 
planted on the floor of the ocean, like an athlete 
protecting her Bay, — boxing with north-east storms, 
and, ever and anon, heaving up her Atlantic adver- 
sary from the lap of earth, — ready to thrust forward 
her other fist, which keeps guard the while upon her 
breast at Cape Ann. 

On studying the map, I saw that there must be 



126 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

an uninterrupted beach on the east or outside of the 
forearm of the Cape, more than thirty miles from 
the general line of the coast, which would afford a 
good sea view, but that, on account of an opening in 
the beach, forming the entrance to Nauset Harbour, 
in Orleans, I must strike it in Eastham, if I approached 
it by land, and probably I could walk thence straight 
to Eace Point, about twenty -eight miles, and not 
meet with any obstruction. 

We left Concord, Massachusetts, on Tuesday, 
9th October 1849. On reaching Boston, we found 
that the Provincetown steamer, which should have 
got in the day before, had not yet arrived, on account 
of a violent storm ; and, as we noticed in the streets 
a handbill headed, " Death ! one hundred and forty- 
five lives lost at Cohasset," we decided to go by way 
of Cohasset. We found many Irish in the cars, going 
to identify bodies and to sympathise with the sur- 
vivors, and also to attend the funeral which was to 
take place in the afternoon ; — and when we arrived 
at Cohasset, it appeared that nearly all the passengers 
were bound for the beach, which was about a mile 
distant, and many other persons were flocking in 
from the neighbouring country. There were several 
hundreds of them streaming oflF over Cohasset common 
in that direction, some on foot and some in waggons, 
— and among them were some sportsmen in their 
hunting-jackets, with their guns, and game-bags, and 
dogs. As we passed the graveyard we saw a large 
hole, like a cellar, freshly dug there, and, just before 
reaching the shore, by a pleasantly winding and 



THE SHIPWRECK 127 

rocky road, we met several hay-riggings and farm- 
waggons coming away toward the meeting-house, 
each loaded with three large, rough deal boxes. We 
did not need to ask what was in them. The owners 
of the waggons were made the undertakers. Many 
horses in carriages were fastened to the fences near 
the shore, and, for a mile or more, up and down, the 
beach was covered with people looking out for bodies, 
and examining the fragments of the wreck. There 
was a small island called Brook Island, with a hut on 
it, lying just off the shore. This is said to be the 
rockiest shore in Massachusetts, from Nantasket to 
Scituate, — hard sienitic rocks, which the waves have 
laid bare, but have not been able to crumble. It 
has been the scene of many a shipwreck. 

The brig St. John, from Galway, Ireland, laden 
with emigrants, was wrecked on Sunday morning; 
it was now Tuesday morning, and the sea was still 
breaking violently on the rocks. There were eighteen 
or twenty of the same large boxes that I have men- 
tioned, lying on a green hillside, a few rods from the 
water, and surrounded by a crowd. The bodies 
which had been recovered, twenty-seven or eight in 
all, had been collected there. Some were rapidly 
nailing down the lids, others were carting the boxes 
away, and others were lifting the lids, which were 
yet loose, and peeping under the cloths, for each 
body, with such rags as still adhered to it, was 
covered loosely with a white sheet. I witnessed no 
signs of grief, but there was a sober dispatch of 
business which was affecting. One man was seeking 



128 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

to identify a particular body, and one undertaker or 
carpenter was calling to another to know in what 
box a certain child was put. I saw many marble 
feet and matted heads as the cloths were raised, and 
one livid, swollen, and mangled body of a drowned 
girl, — who probably had intended to go out to 
service in some American family, — to which some 
rags still adhered, with a string, half concealed by 
the flesh, about its swollen neck ; the coiled-up wreck 
of a human hulk, gashed by the rocks or fishes, so 
that the bone and muscle were exposed, but quite 
bloodless, — merely red and white, — with wide-open 
and staring eyes, yet lustreless, deadlights ; or like 
the cabin windows of a stranded vessel, filled with 
sand. Sometimes there were two or more children, 
or a parent and child, in the same box, and on the 
lid would perhaps be written with red chalk, " Bridget 
such-a-one, and sister's child." The surrounding 
sward was covered with bits of sails and clothing. 
I have since heard, from one who lives by this beach, 
that a woman who had come over before, but had 
left her infant behind for her sister to bring, came 
and looked into these boxes, and saw in one — prob- 
ably the same whose superscription I hare quoted 
— her child in her sister's arms, as if the sister had 
meant to be found thus ; and within three days after, 
the mother died from the effect of that sight. 

We turned from this and walked along the rocky 
shore. In the first cove were strewn what seemed 
the fragments of a vessel, in small pieces mixed with 
sand and seaweed, and great quantities of feathers ; 



THE SHIPWRECK 129 

but it looked so old and rusty, that I at first took it 
to be some old wreck which had lain there many 
years. I even thought of Captain Kidd, and that 
the feathers were those which sea-fowl had cast 
there ; and perhaps there might be some tradition 
about it in the neighbourhood. I asked a sailor if 
that was the St. John. He said it was. I asked 
him where she struck. He pointed to a rock in 
front of us, a mile from the shore, called the Grampus 
Rock, and added, — 

" You can see a part of her now sticking up ; it 
looks like a small boat." 

I saw it. It was thought to be held by the chain- 
cables and the anchors. I asked if the bodies which 
I saw were all that were drowned. 

" Not a quarter of them," said he. 

" Where are the rest 1 " 

"Most of them right underneath that piece you 
see." 

It appeared to us that there was enough rubbish 
to make the wreck of a large vessel in this cove 
alone, and that it would take many days to cart it 
off. It was several feet deep, and here and there 
was a bonnet or a jacket on it. In the very midst 
of the crowd about this wreck, there were men with 
carts busily collecting the seaweed which the storm 
had cast up, and conveying it beyond the reach of 
the tide, though they were often obhged to separate 
fragments of clothing from it, and they might at 
any moment have found a human body under it. 
Drown who might, they did not forget that this 
K 



130 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

weed was a valuable manure. This shipwreck had 
not produced a visible vibration in the fabric of 
society. 

About a mile south we could see, rising above the 
rocks, the masts of the British brig which the St. 
John had endeavoured to follow, which had slipped 
her cables, and, by good luck, run into the mouth 
of Cohasset Harbour. A little farther along the 
shore we saw a man's clothes on a rock; farther, a 
woman's scarf, a gown, a straw bonnet, the brig's 
caboose, and one of her masts high and dry, broken 
into several pieces. In another rocky cove, several 
rods from the water, and behind rocks twenty feet 
high, lay a part of one side of the vessel, still hanging 
together. It was, perhaps, forty feet long, by four- 
teen wide. I was even more surprised at the power 
of the waves, exhibited on this shattered fragment, 
than I had been at the sight of the smaller fragments 
before. The largest timbers and iron braces were 
broken superfluously, and I saw that no material 
could withstand the power of the waves ; that iron 
must go to pieces in such a case, and an iron vessel 
would be cracked up like an egg-shell on the rocks. 
Some of these timbers, however, were so rotten that 
I could almost thrust my umbrella through them. 
They told us that some were saved on this piece, and 
also showed where the sea had heaved it into this 
cove which was now dry. When I saw where it had 
come in, and in what condition, I wondered that any 
had been saved on it. A little farther on a crowd 
of men was collected around the mate of the St. John, 



THE SHIPWRECK 131 

who was telling his story. He was a slim-looking 
youth, who spoke of the captain as the master, and 
seeined a little excited. He was saying that when 
they jumped into the boat, she filled, and, the vessel 
lurching, the weight of the water in the boat caused 
the painter to break, and so they were separated. 
Whereat one man came away, saying, — 

"Well, I don't see but he tells a straight story 
enough. You see, the weight of the water in the 
boat broke the painter. A boat full of water is very 
heavy," — and so on, in a loud and impertinently 
earnest tone, as if he had a bet depending on it, but 
had no humane interest in the matter. 

Another, a large man, stood near by upon a rock, 
gazing into the sea, and chewing large quids of 
tobacco, as if that habit were for ever confirmed with 
him. 

"Come," says another to his companion, "let's be 
off. We've seen the whole of it. It's no use to stay 
to the funeral." 

Further, we saw one standing upon a rock, who, we 
were told, was one that was saved. He was a sober- 
looking man, dressed in a jacket and gray pantaloons, 
with his hands in the pockets. I asked him a few 
questions, which he answered j but he seemed un- 
willing to talk about it, and soon walked away. By 
his side stood one of the lifeboat men, in an oil-cloth 
jacket, who told us how they went to the relief of 
the British brig, thinking that the boat of the St. 
John, which they passed on the way, held all her 
crew, — for the waves prevented their seeing those 



132 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEBATT 

who were on the vessel, though they might have 
saved some had they known there were any there. 
A little farther was the flag of the St. John spread 
on a rock to dry, and held down by stones at the 
corners. This frail, but essential and significant 
portion of the vessel, which had so long been the 
sport of the winds, was sure to reach the shore. 
There were one or two houses visible from these 
rocks, in which were some of the survivors recover- 
ing from the shock which their bodies and minds 
had sustained. One was not expected to live. 

"We kept on down the shore as far as a promontory 
called Whitehead, that we might see more of the 
Cohasset Rocks. In a little cove, within half a mile, 
there were an old man and his son collecting, with 
their team, the seaweed which that fatal storm had 
cast up, as serenely employed as if there had never 
been a wreck in the world, though they were within 
sight of the Grrampus Rock, on which the St. John 
had struck. The old man had heard that there was 
a wreck and knew most of the particulars, but he 
said that he had not been up there since it happened. 
It was the wrecked weed that concerned him most, 
rockweed, kelp, and seaweed, as he named them, 
which he carted to his barnyard; and those bodies 
were to him but other weeds which the tide cast up, 
but which were of no use to him. We afterwards 
came to the lifeboat in its harbour, waiting for 
another emergency, — and in the afternoon we saw 
the funeral procession at a distance, at the head of 
which walked the captain with the other survivors. 



THE SHIPWRECK 133 

On the whole, it was not so impressive a scene as 
I might have expected. If I had found one body 
cast upon the beach in some lonely place, it would 
have affected me more. I sympathised rather with 
the winds and waves, as if to toss and mangle these 
poor human bodies was the order of the day. If 
this was the law of Nature, why waste any time in 
awe or pity "! If the last day were come, we should 
not think so much about the separation of friends or 
the blighted prospects of individuals. I saw that 
corpses might be multiplied, as on the field of battle, 
till they no longer affected us in any degree, as 
exceptions to the common lot of humanity. Take 
all the graveyards together, they are always the 
majority. It is the individual and private that 
demands our sympathy. A man can attend but one 
funeral in the course of his life, can behold but one 
corpse. Yet I saw that the inhabitants of the shore 
would be not a little affected by this event. They 
would watch there many days and nights for the 
sea to give up its dead, and their imaginations and 
sympathies would supply the place of mourners far 
away, who as yet knew not of the wreck. Many 
days after this, something white was seen floating on 
the water by one who was sauntering on the beach. 
It was approached in a boat, and found to be the 
body of a woman, which had risen in an upright 
position, whose white cap was blown back with the 
wind. I saw that the beauty of the shore itself was 
wrecked for many a lonely walker there, until he 
could perceive, at last, how its beauty was enhanced 



134 SELECTIONS FROM THOEBAU 

by wrecks like this, and it acquired thus a rarer and 
sublimer beauty still. 

Why care for these dead bodies? They really 
have no friends but the worms or fishes. Their 
owners were coming to the New World, as Columbus 
and the Pilgrims did, — they were within a mile of 
its shores ; but, before they could reach it, they 
emigrated to a newer world than ever Columbus 
dreamed of, yet one of whose existence we believe 
that there is far more universal and convincing 
evidence — though it has not yet been discovered by 
science — than Columbus had of this: not merely 
mariners' tales and some paltry driftwood and sea- 
weed, but a continual drift and instinct to all our 
shores. I saw their empty hulks that came to land ; 
but they themselves, meanwhile, were cast upon some 
shore yet farther west, toward which we are all 
tending, and which we shall reach at last, it may be 
through storm and darkness, as they did. No doubt, 
we have reason to thank God that they have not 
been "shipwrecked into life again." The mariner 
who makes the safest port in heaven, perchance, 
seems to his friends on earth to be shipwrecked, for 
they deem Boston Harbour the better place ; though 
perhaps invisible to them, a skilful pilot comes to 
meet him, and the fairest and balmiest gales blow 
off that coast, his good ship makes the land in hal- 
cyon days, and he kisses the shore in rapture there, 
while his old hulk tosses in the surf here. It is 
hard to part with one's body, but, no doubt, it is easy 
enough to do without it when once it is gone. All 



THE SHIPWRECK 135 

their plans and hopes burst like a bubble ! Infants 
by the score dashed on the rocks by the enraged 
Atlantic Ocean ! No, no ! If the St. John did not 
make her port here, she has been telegraphed there. 
The strongest wind cannot stagger a Spirit ; it is a 
Spirit's breath. A just man's purpose cannot be 
split on any Grampus or material rock, but itself 
will split rocks till it succeeds. 



THE BEACH 

At length we reached the seemingly retreating bound- 
ary of the plain, and entered what had appeared at a 
distance an upland marsh, but proved to be dry sand 
covered with beach -grass, the bearberry, bayberry, 
shrub -oaks, and beach -plum, slightly ascending as 
we approached the shore ; then, crossing over a belt 
of sand on which nothing grew, though the roar of 
the sea sounded scarcely louder than before, and we 
were prepared to go half a mile farther, we suddenly 
stood on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Atlantic. 
Far below us was the beach, from half a dozen to a 
dozen rods in width, with a long line of breakers 
rushing to the strand. The sea was exceedingly 
dark and stormy, the sky completely overcast, the 
clouds still dropping rain, and the wind seemed to 
blow not so much as the exciting cause, as from 
sympathy with the already agitated ocean. The 
waves broke on the bars at some distance from the 
shore, and curving green or yellow as if over so 
many unseen dams, ten or twelve feet high, like a 
thousand waterfalls, rolled in foam to the sand. 



THE BEACH 137 

There was nothing but that savage ocean between 
us and Europe. 

Having got down the bank, and as close to the 
water as we could, where the sand was the hardest, 
leaving the Nauset Lights behind us, we began to 
walk leisurely up the beach, in a north-west direction, 
toward Provincetown, which was about twenty-five 
miles distant, still sailing under our umbrellas with a 
strong aft wind, admiring in silence, as we walked, 
the great force of the ocean stream, — 

The white breakers were rushing to the shore; the 
foam ran up the sand, and then ran back as far as we 
could see (and we imagined how much farther along 
the Atlantic coast, before and behind us), as regularly, 
to compare great things with, small, as the master of 
a choir beats time with his white wand ; and ever 
and anon a higher wave caused us hastily to deviate 
from our path, and we looked back on our tracks 
filled with water and foam. The breakers looked 
Kke droves of a thousand wild horses of Neptune, 
rushing to the shore, with their white manes stream- 
ing far behind ; and when, at length, the sun shone 
for a moment, their manes were rainbow-tinted. 
Also, the long kelp-weed was tossed up from time to 
time, like the tails of sea-cows sporting in the brine. 
There was not a sail in sight, and we saw none 
that day, — ^for they had all sought harbours in the 
late storm, and had not been able to get out again ; 
and the only human beings whom we saw on the 



138 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

beach for several days were one or two wreckers 
looking for drift-wood, and fragments of wrecked 
vessels. After an easterly storm in the spring, this 
beach is sometimes strewn with eastern wood from 
one end to the other, which, as it belongs to him who 
saves it, and the Cape is nearly destitute of wood, is 
a godsend to the inhabitants. We soon met one of 
these wreckers, — a regular Cape Cod man, with whom 
we parleyed, with a bleached and weather-beaten face, 
within whose wrinkles I distinguished no particular 
feature. It was like an old sail endowed with life, 
— a hanging-cliff of weather-beaten flesh, — like one of 
the clay boulders which occurred in that sand-bank. 
He had on a hat which had seen salt water, and a 
coat of many pieces and colours, though it was 
mainly the colour of the beach^ as if it had been 
sanded. His variegated back — for his coat had many 
patches, even between the shoulders — was a rich 
study to us when we had passed him and looked 
round. It might have been dishonourable for him to 
have so many scars behind, it is true, if he had not 
had many more and more serious ones in front. He 
looked as if he sometimes saw a dough-nut, but never 
descended to comfort ; too grave to laugh, too tough 
to cry ; as indiff'erent as a clam, — like a sea-clam with 
hat on and legs, that was out walking the strand. 
He may have been one of the Pilgrims, — Peregrine 
White, at least, — who has kept on the back side of 
the Cape, and let the centuries go by. He was 
looking for wrecks, old logs, water-logged and covered 
with barnacles, or bits of boards and joists, even 



THE BEACH 139 

chips which he drew out of the reach of the tide, and 
stacked up to dry. When the log was too large to 
carry far, he cut it up where the last wave had left 
it, or rolling it a few feet, appropriated it by sticking 
two sticks into the ground crosswise above it. Some 
rotten trunk, which in Maine cumbers the ground, 
and is, perchance, thrown into the water on purpose, 
is here thus carefully picked up, split and dried, and 
husbanded. Before vnnter the wrecker painfully 
carries these things up the bank on his shoulders by 
a long diagonal slanting path made with a hoe in the 
sand, if there is no hollow at hand. You may see 
his hooked pike-staff always lying on the bank, ready 
for use. He is the true monarch of the beach, whose 
" right there is none to dispute," and he is as much 
identified with it as a beach-bird. 

Crantz, in his account of Greenland, quotes 
Dalagen's relation of the ways and usages of the 
Grreenlanders, and says, " Whoever finds drift-wood, 
or the spoils of a shipwreck on the strand, enjoys it 
as his own, though he does not live thera But he 
must haul it ashore and lay a stone upon it, as a 
token that some one has taken possession of it, and 
this stone is the deed of security, for no other Green- 
lander will offer to meddle with it afterwards," 
Such is the instinctive law of nations. We have 
also this account of drift-wood in Orantz : "As he 
(the Founder of Nature) has denied this frigid rocky 
region the growth of trees, he has bid the streams of 
the Ocean to convey to its shores a great deal of 
wood, which accordingly comes floating thither, part 



140 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

without ice, but the most part along with it, and lodges 
itself between the islands. Were it not for this, we 
Europeans should have no wood to burn there, and the 
poor Greenlanders (who, it is true, do not use wood, 
but train, for burning) would, however, have no wood 
to roof their houses, to erect their tents, as also to build 
their boats, and to shaft their arrows (yet there grew 
some small but crooked alders, etc.), by which they 
must procure their maintenance, clothing and train 
for warmth, light, and cooking. Among this wood 
are great trees torn up by the roots, which, by driving 
up and down for many years and rubbing on the ice, are 
quite bare of branches and bark, and corroded with 
great wood-worms. A small part of this drift-wood 
are willows, alder and birch trees, which come out of 
the bays in the south (i.e. of Greenland) ; also large 
trunks of aspen trees, which must come from a greater 
distance ; but the greatest part is pine and fir. We 
find also a good deal of a sort of wood finely veined, 
with few branches ; this I fancy is larch-wood, which 
likes to decorate the sides of lofty, stony mountains. 
There is also a solid, reddish wood, of a more 
agreeable fragrance than the common fir, with visible 
cross-veins ; which I take to be the same species as 
the beautiful silver-firs, or zirbel, that have the smell 
of cedar, and grow on the high Grison hills, and the 
Switzers wainscot their rooms with them." The 
wrecker directed us to a slight depression, called 
Snow's Hollow, by which we ascended the bank,^ — for 
elsewhere, if not difiicult, it was inconvenient to climb 
it on account of the sliding sand which filled our shoes. 



THE BEACH 141 

This sand-bank — the backbone of the Cape — rose 
directly from the beach to the height of a hundred 
feet or more above the ocean. It was with singular 
emotions that we first stood upon it and discovered 
what a place we had chosen to walk on. On our 
right, beneath us, was the beach of smooth and gently- 
sloping sand, a dozen rods in width ; next, the endless 
series of white breakers ; farther still, the light green 
water over the bar, which runs the whole length of 
the fore-arm of the Cape, and beyond this stretched 
the unwearied and illimitable ocean. On our left, 
extending back from the very edge of the bank, was 
a perfect desert of shining sand, from thirty to eighty 
rods in width, skirted in the distance by small sand- 
hills fifteen or twenty feet high; between which, 
however, in some places, the sand penetrated as much 
farther. Next commenced the region of vegetation, 
— a succession of small hills and valleys covered with 
shrubbery, now glowing with the brightest imaginable 
autumnal tints ; and beyond this were seen, here and 
there, the waters of the bay. Here, in Wellfleet, 
this pure sand plateau, known to sailors as the Table 
Lands of Eastham, on account of its appearance, as 
seen from the ocean, and because it once made a 
part of that town, — full fifty rods in width, and in 
many places much more, and sometimes full one 
hundred and fifty feet above the ocean, — stretched 
away northward from the southern boundary of the 
town, without a particle of vegetation, — as level 
almost as a table, — for two and a half or three miles, 
or as far as the eye could reach ; slightly rising to- 



142 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

wards the ocean, then stooping to the beach, by as 
steep a slope as sand could lie on, and as regular as a 
military engineer could desire. It was like the 
escarped rampart of a stupendous fortress, whose 
glacis was the beach, and whose champaign the ocean. 
From its surface we overlooked the greater part of 
the Cape. In short, we were traversing a desert, 
with the view of an autumnal landscape of extra- 
ordinary brilliancy, a sort of Promised Land, on the 
one hand, and the ocean on the other. Yet, though 
the prospect was so extensive, and the country for 
the most part destitute of trees, a house was rarely 
visible, — we never saw one from the beach, — and the 
solitude was that of the ocean and the desert com- 
bined. A thousand men could not have seriously 
interrupted it, but would have been lost in the vast- 
ness of the scenery as their footsteps in the sand. 

The whole coast is so free from rocks, that we saw 
but one or two for more than twenty miles. The 
sand was soft like the beach, and trying to the eyes, 
when the sun shone. A few piles of drift-wood, which 
some wreckers had painfully brought up the bank and 
stacked up there to dry, being the only objects in 
the desert, looked indefinitely large and distant, even 
like wigwams, though, when we stood near them, 
they proved to be insignificant little " jags " of wood. 

For sixteen miles, commencing at the Nauset 
Lights, the bank held its height, though farther 
north it was not so level as here, but interrupted by 
slight hollows, and the patches of beach-grass and 
bayberry frequently crept into the sand to its edge. 



THE BEACH 143 

There are some pages entitled A Description of the 
Eastern Coast of the County of Barnstable, printed 
in 1802, pointing out the spots on which the Trustees 
of the Humane Society have erected huts called 
Charity or Humane Houses, "and other places where 
shipwrecked seamen may look for shelter." Two 
thousand copies of this were dispersed, that every 
vessel which frequented this coast might be provided 
with one. I have read this Shipwrecked Seaman's 
Manual with a melancholy kind of interest, — for the 
sound of the surf, or, you might say, the moaning of 
the sea, is heard all through it, as if its author were 
the sole survivor of a shipwreck himself. Of this 
part of the coast he says : " This highland approaches 
the ocean with steep and lofty banks, which it is 
extremely difficult to climb, especially in a storm. 
In violent tempests, during very high tides, the sea 
breaks against the foot of them, rendering it then 
unsafe to walk on the strand which lies between 
them and the ocean. Should the seaman succeed in 
his attempt to ascend them, he must forbear to 
penetrate into the country, as houses are generally so 
remote that they would escape his research during the 
night ; he must pass pn to the valleys by which the 
banks are intersected. These valleys, which the inhab- 
itants call Hollows, run at right angles with the shore, 
and in the middle or lowest part of them a road leads 
from the dwelling-houses to the sea." By the word 
road must not always be understood a visible cart-track. 
There were these two roads for us, — an upper 
and a lower one, — the bank and the beach ; both 



144 SELECTIONS FROM THOBEAU 

stretching twenty-eight miles north-west, from Nauset 
Harbour to Race Point, without a single opening into 
the beach, and with hardly a serious interruption of 
the desert. If you were to ford the narrow and 
shallow inlet at Nauset Harbour, where there is not 
more than eight feet of water on the bar at full sea, 
you might walk ten or twelve miles farther, which 
would make a beach forty miles long, — and the bank 
and beach, on the east side of Nantucket, are but a 
continuation of these. I was comparatively satisfied. 
There I had got the Cape under me, as much as if I 
were riding it barebacked. It was not as on the 
map, or seen from the stage-coach ; but there I found 
it all out of doors, huge and real. Cape Cod ! as it 
cannot be represented on a map, colour it as you 
will; the thing itself, than which there is nothing 
more like it, no truer picture or account ; which you 
cannot go farther and see. I cannot remember what 
I thought before that it was. They commonly 
celebrate those beaches only which have a hotel on 
them, not those which have a humane house alone. 
But I wished to see that seashore where man's works 
are wrecks; to put up at the true Atlantic House, 
where the ocean is land-lord as well as sea-lord, and 
comes ashore without a wharf for the landing ; where 
the crumbling land is the only invalid, or at best is 
but dry land, and that is all you can say of it. 

We walked on quite at our leisure, now on the 
beach, now on the bank, — sitting from time to time 
on some damp log, maple, or yellow birch, which had 
long followed the seas, but had now at last settled on 



THE BEACH 145 

land; or under the lee of a sand-hill, on the bank, 
that we might gaze steadily on the ocean. The bank 
was so steep, that, where there was no danger of its 
caving, we sat on its edge as on a bench. It was 
difficult for us landsmen to look out over the ocean 
without imagining land in the horizon; yet the 
clouds appeared to hang low over it, and rest on the 
water as they never do on the land, perhaps on 
account of the great distance to which we saw. The 
sand was not without advantage, for, though it was 
" heavy " walking in it, it was soft to the feet ; and, 
notwithstanding that it had been raining nearly two 
days, when it held up for half an hour, the sides of 
the sand-hills, which were porous and sliding, afforded 
a dry seat. All the aspects of this desert are beauti- 
ful, whether you behold it in fair weather or foul, 
or when the sun is just breaking out after a storm, 
and shining on its moist surface in the distance, it is 
so white, and pure, and level, and each slight in- 
equality and track is so distinctly revealed ; and when 
your eyes slide off this, they fall on .the ocean. In 
summer the mackerel-gulls — which here have their 
nests among the neighbouring sand-hills — pursue the 
traveller anxiously, now and then diving close to his 
head with a squeak, and he may see them, like 
swallows, chase some crow which has been feeding on 
the beach, almost across the Cape. 

Though for some time I have not spoken of the 

roaring of the breakers, and the ceaseless flux and 

reflux of the waves, yet they did not for a moment 

cease to dash and roar, with such a tumult that, if 

L 



146 SELECTIONS FEOM THOREA.XJ 

you had been there, you could scarcely have heard my 
voice the while; aud they are dashing and roaring 
this very moment, though it may be with less din 
and violence, for there the sea never rests. We were 
wholly absorbed by this spectacle and tumult, and 
like Chryses, though in a different mood from him, 
we walked silent along the shore of the resounding 
sea. 

Bij S* aKcoiv Trapa diva, 7roAi;^A,ot(r/8oio 6aXacr(r»)s.l 

I put in a little Greek now and then, partly 
because it sounds so much like the ocean, — though I 
doubt if Homer's Mediterranean Sea ever sounded so 
loud as this. 

The attention of those who frequent the camp- 
meetings at Eastham is said to be divided between 
the preaching of the Methodists and the preaching 
of the billows on the back side of the Cape, for they 
all stream over here in the course of their stay. I 
trust that in this case the loudest voice carries it. 
With what effect may we suppose the ocean to say, 
"My hearers !" to the multitude on the bank ! On 
that side some John N. Maffit ; on this, the Eeverend 
Poluphloisboios Thalassa. 

There was but little weed cast up here, and that 
kelp chiefly, there being scarcely a rock for rock-weed 
to adhere to. Who has not had a vision from some 
vessel's deck, when he had still his land legs on, of 

■' We have no word iu English to express the sound of many 
waves dashing at once, whetlier gently or violently ToXvipXoiiT^ows 
to the car, and, iu the ocean's gentle moods, an dvdpiff/iov ^Aacr/ui 
to the eye. 



THE BEACH 147 

this great brown apron, drifting half upright, and 
quite submerged through the green water, clasping a 
stone or a deep-sea mussel in its unearthly fingers? 
I have seen it carrying a stone half as large as my 
head. We sometimes watched a mass of this cable- 
like weed, as it was tossed up on the crest of a 
breaker, waiting with interest to see it come in, as if 
there was some treasure buoyed up by it; but we 
were always surprised and disappointed at the insig- 
nificance of the mass which had attracted us. As 
we looked out over the water, the smallest objects 
floating on it appeared indefinitely large, we were so 
impressed by the vastness of the ocean, and each one 
bore so large a proportion to the whole ocean, which 
we saw. We were so often disappointed in the size 
of such things as came ashore, the ridiculous bits of 
wood or weed, with which the ocean laboured, that 
we began to doubt whether the Atlantic itself would 
bear a still closer inspection, and would not turn out 
to be but a small pond, if it should come ashore to us. 
This kelp, oar-weed, tangle, devil's apron, sole-leather, 
or ribbon -weed, — as various species are called, — ■ 
appeared to us a singularly marine and fabulous 
product, a fit invention for Neptune to adorn his car 
with, or a freak of Proteus. All that is told of the 
sea has a fabulous sound to an inhabitant of the land, 
and all its products have a certain fabulous quality, 
as if they belonged to another planet, from seaweed 
to a sailor's yarn, or a fish story. In this element 
the animal and vegetable kingdoms meet and are 
strangely mingled. One species of kelp, according to 



148 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

Bory St. Vincent, has a stem fifteen hundred feet 
long, and hence is the longest vegetable known, and 
a brig's crew spent two days to no purpose collecting 
the trunks of another kind cast ashore on the Falk- 
land Islands, mistaking it for driftwood. ^ This 
species looked almost edible ; at least, I thought that 
if I were starving, I would try it. One sailor told me 
that the cows ate it. It cut like cheese ; for I took 
the earliest opportunity to sit down and deliberately 
whittle up a fathom or two of it, that I might become 
more intimately acquainted with it, see how it cut, 
and if it were hollow all the way through. The 
blade looked like a broad belt, whose edges had been 
quilled, or as if stretched by hammering, and it was 
also twisted spirally. The extremity was generally 
worn and ragged from the lashing of the waves. A 
piece of the stem which I carried home shrunk to one 
quarter of its size a week afterward, and was com- 
pletely covered with crystals of salt like frost. The 
reader will excuse my greenness, — though it is not 
sea-greenness, like his, perchance, — for I live by 
a river shore, where this weed does not wash up. 
When we consider in what meadows it grew, and 
how it was raked, and in what kind of hay weather 
got in or out, we may well be curious about it. 

The beach was also strewn with beautiful sea- 
jellies, which the wreckers called Sun-squall, one of 
the lowest forms of animal life, some white, some 
wine-coloured, and a foot in diameter. I at first 

' See Harvey on AIqw. 



THE BEACH 149 

thought that they were a tender part of some marine 
monster, which the storm or some other foe had 
mangled. What right has the sea to bear in its 
bosom such tender things as sea-jellies and mosses, 
when it has such a boisterous shore, that the stoutest 
fabrics are wrecked against it? Strange that it 
should undertake to dandle such delicate children in 
its arm. I did not at iirst recognise these for the 
same which I had formerly seen in myriads in Boston 
Harbour, rising, with a waving motion, to the surface, 
as if to meet the sun, and discolouring the waters far 
and wide, so that I seemed to be sailing through a 
mere sun-fish soup. They say that when you en- 
deavour to take one up, it will spill out the other 
side of your hand like quicksilver. Before the land 
rose out of the ocean, and became dry land, chaos 
reigned; and between high and low water mark, 
where she is partially disrobed and rising, a sort of 
chaos reigns still, which only anomalous creatures 
can inhabit. Mackerel-gulls were all the while flying 
over our heads and amid the breakers, sometimes 
two white ones pursuing a black one ; quite at home 
in the storm, though they are as delicate organisations 
as sea-jellies and mosses ; and we saw that they were 
adapted to their circumstances rather by their spirits 
than their bodies. Theirs must be an essentially 
wilder, that is less human, nature, than that of larks 
and robins. Their note was like the sound of some 
vibrating metal, and harmonised well with the scenery 
and the roar of the surf, as if one had rudely touched 
the strings of the lyre, which ever lies on the shore ; 



150 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

a ragged shred of ocean music tossed aloft on the 
spray. But if I were required to name a sound, the 
remembrance of which most perfectly revives the 
impression which the beach has made, it would be 
the dreary peep of the piping plover (Oharadrius 
melodus) which haunts there. Their voices, too, are 
heard as a fugacious part in the dirge which is ever 
played along the shore for those mariners who have 
been lost in the deep since first it was created. But 
through all this dreariness we seem to have a pure 
and unqualified strain of eternal melody, for always the 
same strain which is a dirge to one household is a 
morning song of rejoicing to another. 



THE WELLFLEET OYSTEEMAN 

Having walked about eight miles since we struck 
the beach, and passed the boundary between Wellfleet 
and Truro, a stone post in the sand, — for even this 
sand comes under the jurisdiction of one town or 
another, — we turned inland over barren hills and 
valleys, whither the sea, for some reason, did not 
follow us, and, tracing up a Hollow, discovered two 
or three sober-looking houses within half a mile, 
uncommonly near the eastern coast. Their garrets 
were apparently so full of chambers, that their roofs 
could hardly lie down straight, and we did not doubt 
that there was room for us there. Houses near the 
sea are generally low and broad. These were a story 
and a half high; but if you merely counted the 
windows in their gable ends, you would think that 
there were many stories more, or, at any rate, that 
the half-story was the only one thought worthy of 
being illustrated. The great number of windows in 
the ends of the houses, and their irregularity in size 
and position, here and elsewhere on the Cape, struck 
us agreeably, — as if each of the various occupants 



152 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

who had their cunabula behind had punched a hole 
where his necessities required it, and according to his 
size and stature, without regard to outside effect. 
There were windows for the grown folks, and windows 
for the children, — three or four apiece ; as a certain 
man had a large hole cut in his barn-door for the 
cat, and another smaller one for the kitten. Some- 
times they were so low under the eaves that I thought 
they must have perforated the plate beam for another 
apartment, and I noticed some which were triangular, 
to fit that part more exactly. The ends of the houses 
had thus as many muzzles as a revolver, and, if the 
inhabitants have the same habit of staring out the 
windows that some of our neighbours have, a traveller 
must stand a small chance with them. 

Generally, the old-fashioned and unpainted houses 
on the Cape looked more comfortable, as well as 
picturesque, than the modern and more pretending 
ones, which were less in hai'mony with the scenery, 
and less firmly planted. 

These houses were on the shores of a chain of 
ponds, seven in number, the source of a small stream 
called Herring River, which empties into the Ba}^ 
There are many Herring Rivers on the Cape ; they 
will, perhaps, be more numerous than herrings soon. 
We knocked at the door of the first house, but its 
inhabitants were all gone away. In the meanwhile, 
we saw the occupants of the next one looking out the 
window at us, and before we reached it an old woman 
came out and fastened the door of her bulkhead, and 
went in again. Nevertheless, we did not hesitate to 



THE WELLFLEET OYSTEEMAN 153 

knock at her door, wken a grizzly-looking man 
appeared, whom we took to be sixty or seventy years 
old. He asked us, at first, suspiciously, where we 
were from, and what our business was ; to which we 
returned plain answers. 

" How far is Concord from Boston ? " he inquired. 

"Twenty miles by railroad." 

" Twenty miles by railroad," he repeated. 

"Didn't you ever hear of Concord of Revolu- 
tionary fame ? " 

" Didn't I ever hear of Concord ? Why, I heard 
guns fire at the battle of Bunker Hill. [They hear 
the sound of heavy cannon across the Bay.] I am 
almost ninety ; I am eighty-eight year old. I was 
fourteen year old at the time of Concord Fight, — 
and where were you then 1 " 

We were obliged to confess that we were not in 
the fight. 

" Well, walk in, we'll leave it to the women," said 
he. 

So we walked in, surprised, and sat down, an old 
woman taking our hats and bundles, and the old 
man continued, drawing up to the large, old-fashioned 
fire-place, — 

"I am a poor, good-for-nothing ciittur, as Isaiah 
says ; I am all broken down this year. I am under 
petticoat government here." 

The family consisted of the old man, his wife, and 
his daughter, who appeared nearly as old as her 
mother, a fool, her son (a brutish-looking, middle- 
aged man, with a prominent lower face, who was 



154 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEA.U 

standing by the hearth when we entered, but immedi- 
ately went out), and a little boy of ten. 

While my companion talked with the women, I 
talked with the old man. They said that he was old 
and foolish, but he was evidently too knowing for 
them. 

"These women," said he to me, "are both of them 
poor good-for-nothing critturs. This one is my wife. 
I married her sixty-four years ago. She is eighty- 
four years old, and as deaf as an adder, and the other 
is not much better." 

He thought well of the Bible, or at least he spoke 
well, and did not think ill, of it, for that would not 
have been prudent for a man of his age. He said 
that he had read it attentively for many years, and 
he had much of it at his tongue's end. He seemed 
deeply impressed with a sense of his own nothingness, 
and would repeatedly exclaim, — • 

" I am a nothing. What I gather from my Bible is 
just this ; that man is a poor good-for-nothing crittur, 
and everything is just as God sees fit and disposes." 

" May I ask your name % " I said. 

"Yes," he answered, "I am not ashamed to tell 

my name. My name is • . My great-grandfather 

came over from England and settled here." 

He was an old Wellfleet oysterman, who had 
acquired a competency in that business, and had sons 
still engaged in it. 

Our host told us that the sea-clam, or hen, was 
not easily obtained ; it was raked up, but never on 



THE WELLFLEET OYSTEEMAN 155 

the Atlantic side, only cast ashore there in small 
quantities in storms. The fisherman sometimes wades 
in water several feet deep, and thrusts a pointed 
stick into the sand before him. When this enters 
between the valves of a clam, he closes them on it, 
and is drawn out. It has been known to catch and 
hold coot and teal which were preying on it. I 
chanced to be on the bank of the Acushnet at New 
Bedford one day since this, watching some ducks, 
when a man informed me that, having let out his 
young ducks to seek their food amid the samphire 
(Salicornia) and other weeds along the riverside at 
low tide that morning, at length he noticed that one 
remained stationary, amid the weeds, something 
preventing it from following the others, and going to 
it he found its foot tightly shut in a quahog's shell. 
He took up both together, carried them to his home, 
and his wife opening the shell with a knife released 
the duck and cooked the quahog. The old man said 
that the great clams were good to eat, but that they 
always took out a certain part which was poisonous, 
before they cooked them. "People said it would 
kill a cat." I did not tell him that I had eaten a 
large one entire that afternoon, but began to think 
that I was tougher than a cat. He stated that pedlers 
came round there, and sometimes tried to sell the 
women folks a skimmer, but he told them that their 
women had got a better skimmer than they could 
make, in the shell of their clams ; it was shaped jusf 
right for this purpose.-^They call them " skim-alls " 
in some places. He also said that the sun-squall 



156 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

was poisonous to handle, and when the sailors came 
across it, they did not meddle with it, but heaved it 
out of their way. I told him that I had handled 
it that afternoon, and had felt no ill effects as yet. 
But he said it made the hands itch, especially if 
they had previously been scratched, or if I put it 
into my bosom, I should find out what it was.- 

At length the fool, whom my companion called 
the wizard, came in, muttering between his teeth, 
" Damn book-pedlers, — all the time talking about 
books. Better do something. Damn 'em. I'll shoot 
'em. Got a doctor down here. Damn him, I'll get 
a gun and shoot him ; " never once holding up his 
head. Whereat the old man stood up and said in a 
loud voice, as if he was accustomed to command, and 
this was not the first time he had been obliged to exert 
his authority there : "John, go sit down, mind your 
business, — we've heard you talk before, ^precious 
little you'll do, — your bark is worse than your bite." 
But, without minding, John muttered the same 
gibberish over again, and then sat down at the table 
which the old folks had left. He ate aU there was 
on it, and then turned to the apples, which his aged 
mother was paring, that she might give her guests 
some apple-sauce for breakfast, but she drew them 
away and sent him off. 

When I approached this house the next summer, 
(jver the desolate hills between it and the shore, which 
arc worthy to have been the birthplace of Ossian, I saw 
the wizard in the midst of a cornfield on the hillside, 



THE WELLFLBET OYSTBEMAN 157 

but, as usual, he loomed so strangely, that I mistook 
him for a scarecrow. 

This was the merriest old man that we had ever seen, 
and one of the best preserved. His style of con- 
versation was coarse and plain enough to have suited 
Kabelais. He would have made a good Panurge. 
Or rather he was a sober Silenus, and we were the 
boys Ohromis and Mnasilus, who listened to his story. 

" Not by Hsemonian hills the Thraoiaii bard, 
Nor awful Phcebiis was on Pindus heard 
With deeper silence or with more regard. " 

There was a strange mingling of past and present 
in his conversation, for he had lived under King 
George, and might have remembered when Napoleon 
and the moderns generally were born. He said that 
one day, when the troubles between the Colonies 
and the mother country first broke out, as he, a boy 
of fifteen, was pitching hay out of a cart, one Donne, 
an old Tory, who was talking with his father, a good 
Whig, said to him, "Why, Uncle Bill, you might as 
well undertake to pitch that pond into the ocean with a 
pitchfork, as for the Colonies to undertake to gain 
their independence." He remembered well General 
Washington, and how he rode his horse along the 
streets of Boston, and he stood up to show us how 
he looked. 

"He was a r — a — ther large and portly-looking 
man, a manly and resolute-looking officer, with a 
pretty good leg as he sat on his horse." — "There, I'll 
tell you, this was the way with Washington.'' Then 
he jumped up again, and bowed gracefully to right 



158 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

and left, making show as if he were waving his hat. 
Said he, " That was Washington." 

He told us many anecdotes of the Revolution, and 
was much pleased when we told him that we had 
read the same in history, and that his account agreed 
with the written. 

" Oh," he said, " I know, I know ! I was a young 
fellow of sixteen, with my ears wide open; and a 
fellow of that age, you know, is pretty wide awake, 
and likes to know everything that's going on. Oh, I 
know ! " 

He told us the story of the wreck of the Franklin 
which took place there the previous spring; how a 
boy came to his house early in the morning to know 
whose boat that was by the shore, for there was a 
vessel in distress, and he, being an old man, first ate 
his breakfast, and then walked over to the top of the 
hill by the shore, and sat down there, having found 
a comfortable seat, to see the ship wrecked. She 
was on the bar, only a quarter of a mile from him, 
and still nearer to the men on the beach, who had 
got a boat ready, but could render no assistance on 
account of the breakers, for there was a pretty high 
sea running. There were the passengers all crowded 
together in the forward part of the ship, and some 
were getting out of the cabin windows and were 
drawn on deck by the others. 

"I saw the captain get out his boat," said he; 
" he had one little one ; and then they jumped into 
it one after another, down as straight as an arrow. 
I counted them. There were nine. One was a 



THE WELLFLEBT OYSTEEMAN 159 

woman, and she jumped as straight as any of them. 
Then they shoved off. The sea took them back, one 
wave went over them, and when they came up there 
were six still clinging to the boat ; I counted them. 
The next wave turned the boat bottom upward, and 
emptied them all out. None of them ever came 
ashore alive. There were the rest of them all crowded 
together on the forecastle, the other parts of the ship 
being under water. They had seen all that happened 
to the boat. At length a heavy sea separated the 
forecastle from the rest of the wreck, and set it inside 
of the worst breaker, and the boat was able to reach 
them, and it saved all that were left, but one woman." 

He also told us of the steamer Cambria's getting 
aground on this shore a few months before we were 
there, and of her English passengers who roamed 
over his grounds, and who, he said, thought the pro- 
spect from the high hill by the shore, "the most 
delightsome they had ever seen," and also of the 
pranks which the ladies played with his scoop-net in 
the ponds. He spoke of these travellers with their 
purses full of guineas, just as our provincial fathers 
used to speak of British bloods in the time of King 
George the Third. 

Quid loguar ? Why repeat what he told us ? 

" Aut Scyllam Nisi, quam fama secuta est, 
Candida sucoinotam latrantibus inguina monstris, 
DiilioHas vexasse rates, et gurgite in alto 
Ah ! timidos uautas canibus lacerasse marinis ? " 

In the course of the evening I began to feel the 
potency of the clam which I had eaten, and I was 



160 SKLEOTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

obliged to confess to our host that I was no tougher 
than the cat he told of; but he answered, that he 
was a plain-spoken man, and he could tell me that it 
was all imagination. At any rate, it proved an 
emetic in my case, and I was made quite sick by it 
for a short time, while he laughed at my expense. I 
was pleased to read afterward, in Mourt's Belation 
of the landing of the Pilgrims in Provincetown 
Harbour, these words : " We found great muscles (the 
old editor says that they were undoubtedly sea-clams) 
and very fat and full of sea-pearl ; but we could not 
eat them, for they made us all sick that did eat, as 
well sailors as passengers, . . . but they were soon 
well again." It brought me nearer to the Pilgrims 
to be thus reminded by a similar experience that I 
was so like them. Moreover, it was a valuable 
confirmation of their story, and I am prepared now 
to believe every word of Mourt's Relation. I was 
also pleased to find that man and the clam lay still 
at the same angle to one another. But I did not 
notice sea-pearl. Like Cleopatra, I must have 
swallowed it. I have since dug these clams on a flat 
in the Bay and observed them. They could squirt 
full ten feet before the wind, as appeared by the 
marks of the drops on the sand. 

"Now I am going to ask you a question," said 
the old man, " and I don't know as you can tell me ; 
but you are a learned man, and I never had any 
learning, only what I got by natur." — It was in vain 
that we reminded him that he could quote Josephus 
to our confusion. — "I've thought, if I ever met 



THE WELLFLEET OYSTEEMAN 161 

a learned man I should like to ask him this question. 
Can you tell me how Axy is spelt, and what it means? 
Axy," says he; "there's a girl over here is named 
Axy. Now what is it ? What does it mean ? Is it 
Scripture? I've read my Bible twenty-five years 
over and over, and I never came across it." 

" Did you read it twenty-five years for this object?" 
I asked. 

" Well, how is it spelt ? Wife, how is it spelt ? " 

She said, " It is in the Bible ; I've seen it." 

" Well, how do you spell it ? " 

" I don't know. A c h, ach, s e h, seh, — 
Achseh." 

" Does that spell Axy ? Well, do you know what 
it means ? " asked he, turning to me. 

" No," I replied, " I never heard the sound before." 

"There was a schoolmaster down here once, and 
they asked him what it meant, and he said it had no 
more meaning than a bean-pole." 

I told him that I held the same opinion with the 
schoolmaster. I had been a schoolmaster myself, 
and had had strange names to deal with. I also 
heard of such names as Zoheth, Beriah, Amaziah, 
Bethuel, and Shearjashub, hereabouts. 

At length the little boy, who had a seat quite in 
the chimney-corner, took off his stockings and shoes, 
warmed his feet, and having had his sore leg freshly 
salved, went off to bed ; then the fool made bare his 
knotty-looking feet and legs, and followed him ; and 
finally the old man exposed his calves also to our 
gaze. We had never had the good fortune to see an 

M 



162 SELECTIONS FEOM THOREAU 

old man's legs before, and were surprised to find 
them fair and plump as an infant's, and we thought 
that he took a pride in exhibiting them. He then 
proceeded to make preparations for retiring, dis- 
coursing meanwhile with Panurgic plainness of speech 
on the ills to which old humanity is subject. We 
were a rare haul for him. He could commonly get 
none but ministers to talk to, though sometimes ten 
of them at once, and he was glad to meet some of the 
laity at leisure. The evening was not long enough 
for him. As I had been sick, the old lady asked if I 
would not go to bed, — ^it was getting late for old 
people ; but the old man, who had not yet done his 
stories, said, " You ain't particular, are you "i " 

" Oh no," said I, " I am in no hurry. I believe I 
have weathered the Clam cape.'' 

" They are good," said he ; "I wish I had some of 
them now.'' 

" They never hurt me,'' said the old lady. 

"But then you took out the part that killed a 
cat," said I. 

At last we cut him short in the midst of his stories, 
which he promised to resume in the morning. Yet, 
after all, one of the old ladies who came into our 
room in the night to fasten the fire-board, which 
rattled, as she went out took the precaution to fasten 
us in. Old women are by nature more suspicious 
than old men. However, the winds howled around 
the house, and made the fire-boards as well as the 
casements rattle well that night. It was probably a 
windy night for any locality, but we could not dis- 



THE WBLLFLBBT OYSTEEMAN 163 

tinguish the roar which was proper to the ocean from 
that which was due to the wind alone. 

The sounds which the ocean makes must be very 
significant and interesting to those who live near it. 
When I was leaving the shore at this place the next 
summer, and had got a quarter of a mile distant, 
ascending a hill, I was startled by a sudden, loud 
sound from the sea, as if a large steamer were letting 
off steam by the shore, so that I caught my breath 
and felt my blood run cold for an instant, and I 
turned about, expecting to see one of the Atlantic 
steamers thus far out of her course, but there was 
nothing unusual to be seen. There was a low bank 
at the entrance of the Hollow, between me and the 
ocean, and suspecting that I might have risen into 
another stratum of air in ascending the hill, — which 
had wafted to me only the ordinary roar of the sea, 
— I immediately descended again, to see if I lost 
hearing of it ; but, without regard to my ascending 
or descending, it died away in a minute or two, and 
yet there was scarcely any wind all the while. The 
old man said that this was what they called the " rut," 
a peculiar roar of the sea before the wind changes, 
which, however, he could not account for. He 
thought that he could tell all about the weather from 
the sounds which the sea made. 

Old Josselyn, who came to New England in 1638, 
has it among his weather-signs, that " the resounding 
of the sea from the shore, and murmuring of the 
winds in the woods, without apparent wind, showeth 
wind to follow." 



164 SELECTIONS FEOM THOKEAU 

Being on another part of the coast one night since 
this, I heard the roar of the surf a mile distant, and 
the inhabitants said it was a sign that the wind 
would work round east, and we should have rainy 
weather. The ocean was heaped up somewhere at 
the eastward, and this roar was occasioned by its 
effort to preserve its equilibrium, the wave reaching 
the shore before the wind. Also the captain of a 
packet between this country and England told me 
that he sometimes met with a wave on the Atlantic 
coming against the wind, perhaps in a calm sea, 
which indicated that at a distance the wind was 
blowing from an opposite quarter, but the undulation 
had travelled faster than it. Sailors teU of "tide- 
rips" and "ground-swells," which they suppose to 
have been occasioned by hurricanes and earthquakes, 
and to have travelled many hundred, and sometimes 
even two or three thousand miles. 

Before sunrise the next morning they let us out 
again, and I ran over to the beach to see the sun 
come out of the ocean. The old woman of eighty- 
four winters was already out in the cold morning 
wind, bare-headed, tripping about like a young girl, 
and driving up the cow to milk. She got the break- 
fast with dispatch, and without noise or bustle ; and 
meanwhile the old man resumed his stories, standing 
before us, who were sitting, with his back to the 
chimney, and ejecting his tobacco-juice right and left 
into the fire behind him, without regard to the 
various dishes which were there preparing. At 
breakfast we had eels, buttermilk cake, cold bread. 



THE WELLFLEET OYSTEEMAN 165 

green beans, doughnuts, and tea. The old man talked 
a steady stream ; and when his wife told him he had 
better eat his breakfast, he said : "Don't hurry me; 
I have lived too long to be hurried." I ate of the 
apple-sauce and the doughnuts, which I thought had 
sustained the least detriment from the old man's shots, 
but my companion refused the apple-sauce, and ate 
of the hot cake and green beans, which had appeared 
to him to occupy the safest part of the hearth. But 
on comparing notes afterward, I told him that the 
buttermilk cake was particularly exposed, and I saw 
how it suffered repeatedly, and therefore I avoided 
it ; but he declared that, however that might be, he 
witnessed that the apple-sauce was seriously injured, 
and had therefore declined that. After breakfast we 
looked at his clock, which was out of order, and 
oUed it with some "hen's grease," for want of sweet 
oil, for he scarcely could believe that we were not 
tinkers or pedlers ; meanwhile, he told a story about 
visions, which had reference to a crack in the clock- 
case made by frost one night. He was curious to 
know to what religious sect we belonged. He said 
that he had been to hear thirteen kinds of preaching 
in one month, when he was young, but he did not 
join any of them, — he stuck to his Bible. There was 
nothing like any of them in his Bible. While I was 
shaving in the next room, I heard him ask my com- 
panion to what sect he belonged, to which he 
answered, — 

"Oh, I belong to the Universal Brotherhood." 
"What's that?" he asked, "Sons o' Temperance?" 



166 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

Finally, filling our pockets with doughnuts, which 
he was pleased to find that we called by the same 
name that he did, and paying for our entertainment, 
we took our departure; but he followed us out of 
doors, and made us tell him the names of the vege- 
tables which he had raised from seeds that came out 
of the Franklin. They were cabbage, broccoli, and 
parsley. As I had asked him the names of so many 
things, he tried me in turn with aU the plants which 
grew in his garden, both wild and cultivated. It was 
about half an acre, which he cultivated whoUy him- 
self. Besides the common garden vegetables, there 
were yellow-dock, lemon balm, hyssop, Gill-go-over- 
the-ground, mouse-ear, chick-weed, Eoman wormwood, 
elecampane, and other plants. As we stood there, I 
saw a fish-hawk stoop to pick a fish out of his pond. 

"There," said I, "he has got a fish." 

" Well," said the old man, who was looking all the 
while, but could see nothing, "he didn't dive, he 
just wet his claws." 

And, sure enough, he did not this time, though it 
is said that they often do, but he merely stooped low 
enough to pick him out with his talons ; but as he 
bore his shining prey over the bushes, it fell to the 
ground, and we did not see that he recovered it. 
That is not their practice. 

Thus, having had another crack with the old 
man, he standing bareheaded under the eaves, he 
directed us " athwart the fields," and we took to the 
beach again for another day, it being now late in the 
morning. 



THE WELLFLEET OYSTEEMAN 167 

It was but a day or two after this that the safe 
of the Provincetown Bank was broken open and 
robbed by two men from the interior, and we 
learned that our hospitable entertainers did at least 
transiently harbour the suspicion that we were the 



N"ATUEAL HISTOEY OF 
MASSACHUSETTS^ 

[1842] 

Books of natural history make the most cheerful 
winter reading. I read in Audubon with a thrill of 
delight, when the snow covers the ground, of the 
magnolia, and the Florida keys, and their warm sea- 
breezes; of the fence-rail, and the cotton tree, and 
the migrations of the rice-bird ; of the breaking up 
of winter in Labrador, and the melting of the snow 
on the forks of the Missouri ; and owe an accession 
of health to these reminiscences of luxuriant nature. 

WitMn tlie circuit of this plodding life, 
There enter moments of an azure hue, 
Untarnished fair as is the violet 
Or anemone, when the spring strews them 
By some meandering rivulet, which make 
The hest philosophy untrue that aims 

' Reports — on the Fishes, Reptiles, and Birds ; the Herhaeeous 
Plants and Quad,rupeds ; the Insects injurious to Vegetation ; and 
the Invertebrate Animals of Massachusetts. Published agreeably 
to an Order of the Legislature, by the Commissioners on the 
Zoological and Botanical Survey of the State. 



NATUKAL HISTORY OF MASSACHUSETTS 169 

But to console man for his grievances. 

I have remembered when the winter came, 

High in my chamber in the frosty nights, 

When in the still light of the cheerful moon, 

On every twig and rail and jutting spout, 

The icy spears were adding to their length 

Against the arrows of the coming sun. 

How in the shimmering noon of summer past 

Some unrecorded beam slanted across 

The upland pastures where the Johnswort gi-ew ; 

Or heard, amid the verdure of my mind, 

The bee's long smothered hum, on the blue flag 

Loitering amidst the mead ; or busy rill, 

Which now through all its course stands still and dumb 

Its own memorial, — purling at its play 

Along the slopes, and through the meadows next, 

Until its youthful sound was hushed at last 

In the staid current of the lowland stream ; 

Or seen the furrows shine hut late upturned. 

And where the fieldfare followed in the rear. 

When all the fields around lay bound and hoar 

Beneath a thick integument of snow. 

So by God's cheap economy made rich 

To go upon my winter's task again. 

I am singularly refreshed in winter when I hear of 
service-berries, poke-weed, juniper. Is not heaven 
made up of these cheap summer glories ? There is a 
singular health in those words, Labrador and East 
Main, which no desponding creed recognises. How 
much more than Federal are these States. If there 
were no other vicissitudes than the seasons, our in- 
terest would never tire. Much more is adoing than 
Congress wots of. What journal do the persimmon 
and the buckeye keep, and the sharp-shinned hawk 1 
What is transpiring from summer to winter in the 
Carolinas, and the Great Pine Forest, and the Valley 



170 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

of the Moliawk 1 The merely political aspect of the 
land is never very cheering ; men are degraded when 
considered as the members of a political organisation. 
On this side all lands present only the symptoms of 
decay. I see but Bunker Hill and Sing-Sing, the 
District of Columbia and Sullivan's Island, with a 
few avenues connecting them. But paltry are they 
all beside one blast of the east or the south wind 
which blows over them. 

In society you will not find health, but in nature. 
Unless our feet at least stood in the midst of nature, 
all our faces would be pale and livid. Society is 
always diseased, and the best is the most so. There 
is no scent in it so wholesome as that of the pines, 
nor any fragrance so penetrating and restorative as 
the life-everlasting in high pastures. I would keep 
some book of natural history always by me as a sort 
of elixir, the reading of which should restore the 
tone of the system. To the sick, indeed, nature is 
sick, but to the well, a fountain of health. To him 
who contemplates a trait of natural beauty no harm 
nor disappointment can come. The doctrines of 
despair, of spiritual or political tyranny or servitude, 
were never taught by such as shared the serenity of 
nature. Surely good courage will not flag here on 
the Atlantic border, as long as we are flanked by the 
Fur Countries. There is enough in that sound to 
cheer one under any circumstances. The spruce, the 
hemlock, and the pine will not countenance despair. 
Methinks some creeds in vestries and churches do 
forget the hunter wrapped in furs by the Great Slave 



NATUKAL HISTORY OF MASSACHUSETTS 171 

Lake, and that the Esquimaux sledges are drawn by 
dogs, and in the twilight of the northern night the 
hunter does not give over to follow the seal and walrus 
on the ice. They are of sick and diseased imagina- 
tions who would toll the world's knell so soon. Can- 
not these sedentary sects do better than prepare the 
shrouds and write the epitaphs of those other busy 
living men's The practical faith of all men belies 
the preacher's consolation. What is any man's dis- 
course to me, if I am not sensible of something in it 
as steady and cheery as the creak of crickets ? In it 
the woods must be relieved against the sky. Men 
tire me when I am not constantly greeted and refreshed 
as by the flux of sparkling streams. Surely joy is 
the condition of life. Think of the young fry that 
leap in ponds, the myriads of insects ushered into 
being on a summer evening, the incessant note of the 
hyla with which the woods ring in the spring, the 
nonchalance of the butterfly carrying accident and 
change painted in a thousand hues upon its wings, 
or the brook minnow stoutly stemming the current, 
the lustre of whose scales worn bright by the attrition 
is reflected upon the bank. 

We fancy that this din of religion, literature, and 
philosophy, which is heard in pulpits, lyceums, and 
parlours, vibrates through the universe, and is as catholic 
a sound as the creaking of the earth's axle ; but if a 
man sleep soundly, he will forget it all between sun- 
set and dawn. It is the three-inch swing of a pen- 
dulum in a cupboard, which the great pulse of nature 
vibrates by and through each instant. When we lift 



172 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

our eyelids and open our ears, it disappears with 
smoke and rattle like the cars on a railroad. When 
I detect a beauty in any of the recesses of nature, I 
am reminded, by the serene and retired spirit in 
which it requires to be contemplated, of the inex- 
pressible privacy of a life, — how silent and unam- 
bitious it is. The beauty there is in mosses must be 
considered from the holiest, quietest nook. What an 
admirable training is science for the more active war- 
fare of life. Indeed, the unchallenged bravery, which 
these studies imply, is far more impressive than the 
trumpeted valour of the warrior. I am pleased to 
learn that Thales was up and stirring by night not 
unfrequently, as his astronomical discoveries prove. 
Linnaeus, setting out for Lapland, surveys his " comb " 
and "spare shirt," "leathern breeches "and "gauze 
cap to keep oif gnats,'' with as much complacency as 
Bonaparte a park of artillery for the Russian campaign. 
The quiet bravery of the man is admirable. His eye 
is to take in fish, flower, and bird, quadruped and 
biped. Science is always brave, for to know, is to 
know good ; doubt and danger quail before her eye. 
What the coward overlooks in his hurry, she calmly 
scrutinises, breaking ground like a pioneer for the 
array of arts that follow in her train. But cowardice 
is unscientific ; for there cannot be a science of ignor- 
ance. There may be a science of bravery, for that 
advances ; but a retreat is rarely well conducted ; if 
it is, then is it an orderly advance in the face of 
circumstances. 

But to draw a little nearer to our promised topics. 



NATUKAL HISTOEY OF MASSACHUSETTS 173 

Entomology extends the limits of being in a new 
direction, so that I walk in nature with a sense of 
greater space and freedom. It suggests besides, that 
the universe is not rough-hewn, but perfect in its 
details. Nature will bear the closest inspection ; she 
invites us to lay our eye level with the smallest leaf, 
and take an insect view of its plain. She has no 
interstices ; every part is full of life. I explore, too, 
with pleasure, the sources of the myriad sounds which 
crowd the summer noon, and which seem the very 
grain and stuff of which eternity is made. Who 
does not remember the shrill roll-call of the harvest 
fly? There were ears for these sounds in Greece 
long ago, as Anacreon's ode will show. 

" We pronounce thee happy, Cicada, 
For on the tops of the trees, 
Drinking a little dew, 
Like any king thou singest, 
For thine are they all, 
Whatever thou seest in the fields, 
And whatever the woods bear. 
Thou art the friend of the husbandmen, 
In no respect injuring any one ; 
And thou art honoured among men, 
Sweet prophet of summer. 
The Muses love thee, 
And Phcebus himself loves thee, 
And has given thee a shrill song ; 
Age does not wrack thee, 
Thou skilful, earthborn, song-loving, 
Unsuffering, bloodless one ; 
Almost thou art like the gods. " 

In the autumn days, the creaking of crickets is 
heard at noon over aU the land, and as in summer 



174 SELECTIONS EKOM THOREAU 

they are heard chiefly at nightfall, so then by their 
incessant chirp they usher in the evening of the year. 
Nor can all the vanities that vex the world alter one 
whit the measure that night has chosen. Every pulse- 
beat is in exact time with the cricket's chant and the 
tickings of the deathwatch in the wall. Alternate 
with these if you can. 

About two hundred and eighty birds either reside 
permanently in the State, or spend the summer only, 
or make us a passing visit. Those which spend the 
winter with us have obtained our warmest sympathy. 
The nut-hatch and chicadee flitting in company through 
the dells of the wood, the one harshly scolding at the 
intruder, the other with a faint lisping note enticing 
him on ; the jay screaming in the orchard ; the crow 
cawing in unison with the storm ; the partridge, like 
a russet link extended over from autumn to spring, 
preserving unbroken the chain of summers ; the 
hawk with warrior-like firmness abiding the blasts of 
winter ; the robin ^ and lark lurking by warm springs 
in the woods ; the familiar snow-bird culling a few 
seeds in the garden, or a few crumbs in the yard; 
and occasionally the shrike, with heedless and unfrozen 
melody bringing back summer again ; — 

His steady sails he never furls 

At any time o' year, 

And perching now on Winter's curls, 

He whistles in his ear. 

^ A white robin and a white quail have occasionally been seen. 
It is mentioned in Audubon as remarkable that the nest of a robin 
should be found on the ground ; but this bird seems to be less 
particular than most in the choice of a building spot. I have seen 



NATURAL HlSTOfiY OF MASSACHUSETTS 175 

As the spring advances, and the ice is melting in 
the river, our earliest and straggling visitors make 
their appearance. Again does the old Teian poet 
sing, as well for New England as for Greece, in the 

RETURN OF SPRING 

" Behold how, Spring appearing, 
The Graces send forth roses ; 
Behold, how the wave of the sea 
Is made smooth hy the calm ; 
Behold, how the dnck dives ; 
Behold, how the crane travels ; 
And Titan shines constantly bright. 
The shadows of the clouds are moving ; 
The works of man shine ; 
The earth puts forth fruits ; 
The fruit of the olive puts forth. 
The cup of Bacchus is crowned, 
Along the leaves, along the branches. 
The fruit, bending them down, flourishes." 

The ducks alight at this season in the still water, 
in company with the gulls, which do not fail to im- 
prove an east wind to visit our meadows, and swim 
about by twos and threes, pluming themselves, and 
diving to peck at the root of the lily, and the cran- 
berries which the frost has not loosened. The first 
flock of geese is seen beating to north, in long harrows 
and waving lines; the gingle of the song-sparrow 
salutes us from the shrubs and fences ; the plaintive 

its nest placed under the thatched roof of a deserted barn, and in 
one instance, where the adjacent country was nearly destitute of 
trees, together with two of the phcebe, upon the end of a board in 
the loft of a saw-mill, but a few feet from the saw, which vibrated 
several inches with the motion of the machinery [Thoreau's note]. 



176 SELECTIONS FROM THORBAU 

note of the lark comes clear and sweet from the 
meadow ; and the bluebird, like an azure ray, glances 
past us in our walk. The fish-hawk, too, is occasion- 
ally seen at this season sailing majestically over the 
water, and he who has once observed it will not soon 
forget the majesty of its flight. It sails the air like a 
ship of the line, worthy to struggle with the elements, 
falling back from time to time like a ship on its beam 
ends, and holding its talons up as if ready for the 
arrows, in the attitude of the national bird. It is a 
great presence, as of the master of river and forest. 
Its eye would not quail before the owner of the soil, 
but make him feel like an intruder on its domains. 
And then its retreat, sailing so steadily away, is a 
kind of advance. I have by me one of a pair of 
ospreys, which have for some years fished in this 
vicinity, shot by a neighbouring pond, measuring more 
than two feet in length, and six in the stretch of its 
wings. Nuttall mentions that "The ancients, par- 
ticularly Aristotle, pretended that the ospreys taught 
their young to gaze at the sun, and those who were 
unable to do so were destroyed. Linnseus even 
believed, on ancient authority, that one of the feet 
of this bird had all the toes divided, while the other 
was partly webbed, so that it could swim with one 
foot, and grasp a fish with the other." But that 
educated eye is now dim, and those talons are nerve- 
less. Its shrill scream seems yet to linger in its 
throat, and the roar of the sea in its wings. There 
is the tyranny of Jove in its claws, and his wrath in 
the erectile feathers of the head and neck. It re- 



NATURAL HISTOEY OF MASSACHUSETTS 177 

minds me of the Argonautic expedition, and 
would inspire the diillest to take flight over 
Parnassus. 

The booming of the bittern, described by Gold- 
smith and Nuttall, is frequently heard in our fens, 
in the morning and evening, sounding like a pump, 
or the chopping of wood in a frosty morning in some 
distant farm-yard. The manner in which this sound 
is produced I have not seen anywhere described. On 
one occasion, the bird has been seen by one of my 
neighbours to thrust its bill into the water, and suck 
up as much as it could hold, then raising its head, it 
pumped it out again with four or five heaves of the 
neck, throwing it two or three feet, and making the 
sound each time. 

At length the summer's eternity is ushered in by 
the cackle of the flicker among the oaks on the hill- 
side, and a new dynasty begins with calm security. 

In May and June the woodland quire is in full 
tune, and given the immense spaces of hollow air, 
and this curious human ear, one does not see how 
the void could be better filled. 

Each summer sound 
Is a summer round. 

As the season advances, and those birds which 
make us but a passing visit depart, the woods become 
silent again, and but few feathers ruffle the drowsy 
air. But the solitary rambler may still find a response 
and expression for every mood in the depths of the 
wood. 

N 



178 SELECTIONS FEOM THOREAU 

Sometimes I hear the veery's ' clarion, 

Or brazen trump of the impatient jay, 

And in secluded woods the chicadee 

Doles out her scanty notes, which sing the praise 

Of heroes, and set forth the loveliness 

Of virtue evermore. 

The phcBbe still sings in harmony with the sultry 
weather by the brink of the pond, nor are the de- 
sultory hours of noon in the midst of the village 
without their minstrel. 

Upon the lofty elm-tree sprays 

The vireo rings the changes sweet, 

During the trivial summer days, 

Striving to lift our thoughts above the street. 

With the autumn begins in some measure a new 
spring. The plover is heard whistling high in the 
air over the dry pastures, the finches flit from tree 
to tree, the bobolinks and flickers fly in flocks, and 
the goldfinch rides on the earliest blast, like a winged 
hyla peeping amid the rustle of the leaves. The 
crows, too, begin now to congregate ; you may stand 
and count them as they fly low and straggling over 
the landscape, singly or by twos and threes, at in- 
tervals of half a mile, until a hundred have passed. 

I have seen it suggested somewhere that the crow 

^ This bird, which is so well described by Nuttall, but is 
apparently unknown by the author of the Report, is one of the 
most common in the woods in this vicinity, and in Cambridge I 
have heard the college yard ring with its trill. The boys call it 
yorrick, from the sound of its querulous and chiding note, as it 
flits near the traveller through the underwood. The cowbird's 
egg is occasionally found in its nest, as mentioned by Audubon 
[Thoreau's note]. 



NATURAL HISTORY OF MASSACHUSETTS 179 

was brought to this country by the white man ; but 
I shall as soon believe that the white man planted 
these pines and hemlocks. He is no spaniel to follow 
our steps ; but rather flits about the clearings like 
the dusky spirit of the Indian, reminding me oftener 
of Philip and Powhatan, than of Winthrop and Smith. 
He is a relic of the dark ages. By just so slight, by 
just so lasting a tenure does superstition hold the 
world ever; there is the rook in England, and the 
crow in New England. 

Thou dusky spirit of the wood, 

Bird of an ancient brood, 

Flitting thy lonely way, 

A meteor in the summer's day. 

From wood to wood, from hill to hill, 

Low over forest, field, and rill, 

What wouldst thou say ? 

Why shouldst thou haunt the day ? 

What makes thy melancholy float ? 

What bravery inspires thy throat. 

And bears thee up above the clouds, 

Over desponding human crowds, 

Which far below 

Lay thy haunts low ? 

The late walker or sailor, in the October evenings, 
may hear the murmurings of the snipe, circling over 
the meadows, the most spirit-like sound in nature; 
and still later in the autumn, when the frosts have 
tinged the leaves, a solitary loon pays a visit to our 
retired ponds, where he may lurk undisturbed till 
the season of moulting is passed, making the woods 
ring with his wild laughter. This bird, the Great 
Northern Diver, well deserves its name; for when 



180 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

pursued with a boat, it will dive, and swim like a 
fish under water, for sixty rods or more, as fast as a 
boat can be paddled, and its pursuer, if he would 
discover his game again, must put his ear to the 
surface to hear where it comes up. When it comes 
to the surface, it throws the water off with one shake 
of its wings, and calmly swims about until again 
disturbed. 

These are the sights and sounds which reach our 
senses oftenest during the year. But sometimes one 
hears a quite new note, which has for background 
other Carolinas and Mexicos than the books describe, 
and learns that his ornithology has done him no 
service. 

It appears from the Beport that there are about 
forty quadrupeds belonging to the State, and among 
these one is glad to hear of a few bears, wolves, 
lynxes, and wildcats. 

When our river overflows its banks in the spring, 
the wind from the meadows is laden with a strong 
scent of musk, and by its freshness advertises me of 
an unexplored wildness. Those backwoods are not 
far off then. I am affected by the sight of the cabins 
of the musk-rat, made of mud and grass, and raised 
three or four feet along the river, as when I read of 
the barrows of Asia. The musk-rat is the beaver of 
the settled States. Their number has even increased 
within a few years in this vicinity. Among the 
rivers which empty into the Merrimack, the Concord 
is known to the boatmen as a dead stream. The 
Indians are said to have called it Musketaquid, or 



NATURAL HISTORY OF MASSACHUSETTS 181 

Prairie River. Its current being much more sluggish, 
and its water more muddy than the rest, it abounds 
more in fish and game of every kind. According to 
the History of the town, " The fur-trade was here once 
very important. As early as 1641, a company was 
formed in the colony, of which Major Willard of 
Concord was superintendent, and had the exclusive 
right to trade with the Indians in furs and other 
articles ; and for this right they were obliged to pay 
into the public treasury one twentieth of all the furs 
they obtained." There are trappers in our midst 
still, as well as on the streams of the far West, who 
night and morning go the round of their traps, with- 
out fear of the Indian. One of these takes from one 
hundred and fifty to two hundred musk-rats in a 
year, and even thirty-six have been shot by one man 
in a day. Their fur, which is not nearly as valuable 
as formerly, is in good condition in the winter and 
spring only ; and upon the breaking up of the ice, 
when they are driven out of their holes by the water, 
the greatest number is shot from boats, either swim- 
ming or resting on their stools, or slight supports of 
grass and reeds, by the side of the stream. Though 
they exhibit considerable cunning at other times, they 
are easily taken in a trap, which has only to be placed 
in their holes, or wherever they frequent, without 
any bait being used, though it is sometimes rubbed 
with their musk. In the winter the hunter cuts 
holes in the ice, and shoots them when they come 
to the surface. Their burrows are usually in the 
high banks of the river, with the entrance under 



182 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

water, and rising within to above the level of high 
water. Sometimes their nests, composed of dried 
meadow grass and flags, may be discovered where the 
bank is low and spongy, by the yielding of the ground 
under the feet. They have from three to seven or 
eight young in the spring. 

Frequently, in the morning or evening, a long 
ripple is seen in the still water, where a musk-rat 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 neighbourhood 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 them 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 



NATUEAL HISTORY OF MASSACHUSETTS 183 

musk-rat, with the legs and tail dangling and the 
head caught under his girdle, for a pouch, into which 
he puts his iishing-tackle, and essences to scent his 
traps with. 

The bear, wolf, lynx, wildcat, 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 
tas obtained the widest and most familiar reputation, 
from the time of Pilpay and ^sop 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 were 
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 on the snow, 
with the carelessness of freedom, or at intervals trace 
his course in the sunshine along the ridge of a hill, I 



184 SELECTIONS FROM THOEBAU 

give up to him sun and earth as to their true pro- 
prietor. 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 expres- 
sion that it would not be quite inaudible at any 
distance. 

Of fishes, seventy-five genera and one hundred 
and seven species are described in the Repmt. The 
fisherman will be startled to learn that there are but 
about a dozen kinds in the ponds and streams of any 
inland town ; and almost nothing is known of their 
habits. Only their names and residence make one 



NATaEAL HISTOKY OF MASSACHUSETTS 185 

love fishes. I would know even the number of their 
fin-rays, and how many scales compose the lateral 
line. I am the wiser in respect to all knowledges, 
and the better qualified for all fortunes, for knowing 
that there is a minnow in the brook. Methinks I 
have need even of his sympathy, and to be his fellow 
in a degree. 

I have experienced such simple delight in the 
trivial matters of fishing and sporting, formerly, as 
might have inspired the muse of Homer or Shakespeare ; 
and now, when I turn the pages and ponder the plates 
of the Angler's Souvenir, I am fain to exclaim, — 

' ' Can these things be, 
And overcome us like a summer's cloud ? " 

Next to nature, it seems as if man's actions were 
the most natural, they so gently accord with her. 
The small seines of flax stretched across the shallow 
and transparent parts of our river, are no more in- 
trusion than the cobweb in the sun. I stay my boat 
in midcurrent, and look down in the sunny water to 
see the civil meshes of his nets, and wonder how the 
blustering people of the town could have done this 
elvish work. The twine looks like a new river weed, 
and is to the river as a beautiful memento of man's 
presence in nature, discovered as silently and delicately 
as a footprint in the sand. 

When the ice is covered with snow, I do not suspect 
the wealth under my feet ; that there is as good as 
a mine under me wherever I go. How many pickerel 
are poised on easy fin fathoms below the loaded wain. 



186 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

The revolution of the seasons must be a curious 
phenomenon to them. At length the sun and wind 
brush aside their curtain, and they see the heavens 
again. 

Early in the spring, after the ice has melted, is the 
time for spearing fish. Suddenly the wind shifts 
from north-east and east to west and south, and every 
icicle, which has tinkled on the meadow grass so 
long, trickles down its stem, and seeks its level un- 
erringly with a million comrades. The steam curls 
up from every roof and fence. 

I see tlie civil sun drying eartt's tears, 
Her tears of joy, whicli only faster flow. 

In the brooks is heard the slight grating sound of 
small cakes of ice, floating with various speed, full of 
content and promise, and where the water gurgles 
under a natural bridge, you may hear these hasty 
rafts hold conversation in an undertone. Every riU 
is a channel for the juices of the meadow. In the 
ponds the ice cracks with a merry and inspiriting 
din, and down the larger streams is whirled grating 
hoarsely, and crashing its way along, which was so 
lately a highway for the woodman's team and the 
fox, sometimes with the tracks of the skaters still 
fresh upon it, and the holes cut for pickerel. Town 
committees anxiously inspect the bridges and cause- 
ways, as if by mere eye-force to intercede with the 
ice, and save the treasury. 

The river swolleth more and more, 
Like some sweet influence stealing o'er 
The passive town ; and for a while 



NATUKAL mSTOKY OF MASSACHUSETTS 187 

Each tussuok makes a tiny isle, 
Where, on some friendly Ararat, 
Resteth the weary water-rat. 

No ripple shows Musketaquid, 

Her very current e'en is hid, 

As deepest souls do calmest rest. 

When thoughts are swelling in the breast, 

And she that in the summer's drought 

Doth make a rippUng and a rout, 

Sleeps from Nahshawtuok to the Cliff, 

UnrufSed by a single skiff. 

But by a thousand distant hills 

The louder roar a thousand rills, 

And many a spring which now is dumb, 

And many a stream with smothered hum. 

Doth swifter well and faster glide. 

Though buried deep beneath the tide. 

Our village shows a rural Venice, 
Its brood lagoons where yonder fen is ; 
As lovely as the Bay of Naples 
Yon placid cove amid the maples ; 
And in my neighbour's field of corn 
I recognise the Golden Horn. 

Here Nature taught from year to year. 
When only red men came to hear, 
Methinks 'twas in this school of art 
Venice and Naples learned their part ; 
But still their mistress, to my mind, 
Her young disciples leaves behind. 

The fisherman now repairs and launches his boat. 
The best time for spearing is at this season, before 
the weeds have begun to grow, and while the fishes 
lie in the shallow water, for in summer they prefer 
the cool depths, and in the autumn they are still more 
or less concealed by the grass. The first requisite is 



188 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

fuel for your crate ; and for this purpose the roots 
of the pitch-pine are commonly used, found under 
decayed stumps, where the trees have been felled 
eight or ten years. 

With a crate, or jack, made of iron hoops, to 
contain your fire, and attached to the bow of your 
boat about three feet from the water, a fish-spear 
with seven tines, and fourteen feet long, a large 
basket, or barrow, to carry your fuel and bring back 
your fish, and a thick outer garment, you are equipped 
for a cruise. It should be a warm and still evening ; 
and then with a fire crackling merrily at the prow, 
you may launch forth like a cucullo into the night. 
The dullest soul cannot go upon such an expedition 
without some of the spirit of adventure ; as if he had 
stolen the boat of Charon and gone down the Styx 
on a midnight expedition into the realms of Pluto. 
And much speculation does this wandering star afibrd 
to the musing nightwalker, leading him on and on, 
jack-o'lantern-like, over the meadows ; or, if he is 
wiser, he amuses himself with imagining what of 
human life, far in the silent night, is flitting mothlike 
round its candle. The silent navigator shoves his 
craft gently over the water, with a smothered pride 
and sense of benefaction, as if he were the phosphor, 
or light-bringer, to these dusky realms, or some sister 
moon, blessing the spaces with her light. The waters, 
for a rod or two on either hand and several feet in 
depth, are lit up with more than noonday distinctness, 
and he enjoys the opportunity which so many have 
desired, for the roofs of a city are indeed raised, and 



NATDEAL HISTORY OF MASSACHUSETTS 189 

he surveys the midnight economy of the fishes. There 
they lie in every variety of posture ; some on their 
back, with their white bellies uppermost, some sus- 
pended in midwater, some sculling gently along with 
a dreamy motion of the fins, and others quite active 
and wide-awake, — a scene not unlike what the human 
city would present. Occasionally he will encounter 
a turtle selecting the choicest morsels, or a musk-rat 
resting on a tussuck. He may exercise his dexterity, 
if he sees fit, on the more distant and active fish, or 
fork the nearer into his boat, as potatoes out of a 
pot, or even take the sound sleepers with his hands. 
But these last accomplishments he will soon learn to 
dispense with, distinguishing the real object of his 
pursuit, and find compensation in the beauty and 
never-ending novelty of his position. The pines 
growing down to the water's edge will show newly as 
in the glare of a conflagration ; and as he floats under 
the willows with his light, the song-sparrow will often 
wake on her perch, and sing that strain at midnight, 
which she had meditated for the morning. And 
when he has done, he may have to steer his way 
home through the dark by the north star, and he will 
feel himself some degrees nearer to it for having lost 
his way on the earth. 

The fishes commonly taken in this way are pickerel, 
suckers, perch, eels, pouts, breams, and shiners, — from 
thirty to sixty weight in a night. Some are hard to 
be recognised in the unnatural light, especially the 
perch, which, his dark bands being exaggerated, 
acquires a ferocious aspect. The number of these 



190 SELECTIONS FROM THOKEAU 

transverse bands, which the Report states to be seven, 
is, however, very variable, for in some of our ponds 
they have nine and ten even. 

It appears that we have eight kinds of tortoises, 
twelve snakes, — but one of which is venomous, — nine 
frogs and toads, nine salamanders, and one lizard, for 
our neighbours. 

I am particularly attracted by the motions of the 
serpent tribe. They make our hands and feet, the 
wings of the bird, and the fins of the fish seem very 
superfluous, as if nature had only indulged her fancy 
in making them. The black snake will dart into a 
bush when pursued, and circle round and round with 
an easy and graceful motion, amid the thin and bare 
twigs, five or six feet from the ground, as a bird fiits 
from bough to bough, or hang in festoons between 
the forks. Elasticity and flesdbleness in the simpler 
forms of animal life are equivalent to a complex 
system of limbs in the higher ; and we have only to 
be as wise and wUy as the serpent, to perform as 
difficult feats without the vulgar assistance of hands 
and feet. 

In May, the snapping tm:\l&,Emysau'msserpentina,\s, 
frequently taken on the meadows and in the river. 
The fisherman, taking sight over the calm surface, 
discovers its snout projecting above the water, at the 
distance of many rods, and easily secures his prey 
through its unwillingness to disturb the water by 
swimming hastily away, for, gradually drawing its 
head under, it remains resting on some limb or clump 



NATURAL HISTORY OF MASSACHUSETTS 191 

of grass. Its eggs, which are buried at a distance 
from the water, in some soft place, as a pigeon-bed, are 
frequently devoured by the skunk. It will catch fish 
by daylight, as a toad catches flies, and is said to emit 
a transparent fluid from its mouth to attract them. 

Nature 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 vapour, 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, and your household orna- 
ments 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. 

In the winter, I stop short in the path to admire 
how the trees grow up without forethought, regardless 
of the time and circumstances. They do not wait as 
man does, but now is the golden age of the sapling. 



192 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

Earth, air, sun, and rain, are occasion enough ; they 
were no better in primeval centuries. The " winter 
of their discontent " never comes. Witness the buds 
of the native poplar standing gayly out to the frost 
on the sides of its bare switches. They express a 
naked confidence. With cheerful heart one could be 
a sojourner in the wilderness, if he were sure to find 
there the catkins of the willow or the alder. When 
I read of them in the accounts of northern adven- 
turers, by Baffin's Bay or Mackenzie's river, I see 
how even there too I could dwell. They are our little 
vegetable redeemers. Methinks our virtue will hold 
out till they come again. They are worthy to have 
had a greater than Minerva or Ceres for their inventor. 
Who was the benignant goddess that bestowed them 
on mankind 1 

Nature is mythical and mystical always, and works 
with the licence and extravagance of genius. She 
has her luxurious and florid style as well as art. 
Having a pilgrim's cup to make, she gives to the 
whole, stem, bowl, handle, and nose, some fantastic 
shape, as if it were to be the car of some fabulous 
marine deity, a Nereus or Triton. 

In the winter, the botanist needs not confine him- 
self to his books and herbarium, and give over his 
out-door pursuits, but may study a new department 
of vegetable physiology, what may be called crystal- 
line botany, then. The winter of 1837 was unusu- 
ally favourable for this. In December of that year, 
the Genius of vegetation seemed to hover by night 
over its summer haunts with unusual persistency. 



NATUEAL HISTORY OF MASSACHUSETTS 193 

Such a hoar-frost, as is very uncommon here or any- 
where, and whose full effects can never be witnessed 
after sunrise, occurred several times. As I went 
forth early on a still and frosty morning, the trees 
looked like airy creatures of darkness caught napping ; 
on this side huddled together with their gray hairs 
streaming in a secluded valley, which the sun had 
not penetrated ; on that hurrying off in Indian file 
along some watercourse, while the shrubs and grasses, 
like elves and fairies of the night, sought to hide 
their diminished heads in the snow. The river, viewed 
from the high bank, appeared of a yellowish green 
colour, though all the landscape was white. Every 
tree, shrub, and spire of grass, that could raise its 
head above the snow, was covered with a dense ice- 
foliage, answering, as it were, leaf for leaf to its 
summer dress. Even the fences had put forth leaves 
in the night. The centre, diverging, and more minute 
fibres were perfectly distinct, and the edges regularly 
indented. These leaves were on the side of the twig 
or stubble opposite to the sun, meeting it for the 
most part at right angles, and there were others 
standing out at all possible angles upon these and 
upon one another, with no twig or stubble supporting 
them. When the first rays of the sun slanted over 
the scene, the grasses seemed hung with innumerable 
jewels, which jingle^ merrily as they were brushed 
by the foot of the traveller, and reflected all the hues 
of the rainbow as he moved from side to side. It 
struck me that these ghost leaves, and the green ones 
whose forms they assume, were the creatures of but 




194 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

one law; that in obedience to the same law the 
vegetable juices swell gradually into the perfect leaf, 
on the one hand, and the crystalline particles troop 
to their standard in the same order, on the other. 
As if the material were indifferent, but the law one 
and invariable, and every plant in the spring but 
pushed up into and filled a permanent and eternal 
mould, which, summer and winter for ever, is waiting 
to be filled. 

This foliate structure is common to the coral and 
the plumage of birds, and to how large a part of 
animate and inanimate nature. The same independ- 
ence of law on matter is observable in many other 
instances, as in the natural rhymes, when some 
animal form, colour, or odour, has its counterpart 
in some vegetable. As, indeed, all rhymes imply 
an eternal melody, independent of any particular 
sense. 

As confirmation of the fact, that vegetation is but 
a kind of crystallisation, every one may observe how, 
upon the edge of the melting frost on the window, 
the needle-shaped particles are bundled together so 
as to resemble fields waving \vith grain, or shocks 
rising here and there from the stubble; on one 
side the vegetation of the torrid zone, high-towering 
palms and wide-spread banyans, such as are seen in 
pictures of oriental scenery ; on the other, arctic pines 
stiff frozen, with downcast branches. 

Vegetation has been made the type of all growth ; 
but as in crystals the law is more obvious, their- 
material being more simple, and for the most part 



NATURAL HISTORY OF MASSACHUSETTS 195 

more transient and fleeting, would it not be as philo- 
sophical as convenient to consider all growth, all 
filling up within the limits of nature, but a crystallisa- 
tion more or less rapid 1 

On this occasion, in the side of the high bank of 
the river, wherever the water or other cause had 
formed a cavity, its throat and outer edge, like the 
entrance to a citadel, bristled with a glistening ice- 
armour. In one place you might see minute ostrich- 
feathers, which seemed the waving plumes of the 
warriors filing into the fortress ; in another, the 
glancing, fan-shaped banners of the Lilliputian host ; 
and in another, the needle-shaped particles collected 
into bundles, resembling the plumes of the pine, 
might pass for a phalanx of spears. From the under 
side of the ice in the brooks, where there was a thicker 
ice below, depended a mass of crystallisation, four or 
five inches deep, in the form of prisms, with their 
lower ends open, which, when the ice was laid on its 
smooth side, resembled the roofs and steeples of a 
Gothic city, or the vessels of a crowded haven under 
a press of canvas. The very mud in the road, where 
the ice had melted, was crystallised with deep recti- 
linear fissures, and the crystalline masses in the sides 
of the ruts resembled exactly asbestos in the disposi- 
tion of their needles. Around the roots of the stubble 
and flower-stalks, the frost was gathered into the 
form of irregular conical shells, or fairy rings. In 
some places the ice-crystals were lying upon granite 
rocks, directly over crystals of quartz, the frost-work 
of a longer night, crystals of a longer period, but to 



196 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

some eye unprejudiced by the short term of human 
life, melting as fast as the former. 

In the Report on the Invertebrate Animals, this 
singular fact is recorded, which teaches us to put a 
new value on time and space. "The distribution of 
the marine shells is well worthy of notice as a geologi- 
cal fact. Cape Cod, the right arm of the Common- 
wealth, reaches out into the ocean, some fifty or sixty 
miles. It is nowhere many miles wide; but this 
narrow point of land has hitherto proved a barrier 
to the migrations of many species of MoUusca. 
Several genera and numerous species, which are 
separated by the intervention of only a few miles of 
land, are effectually prevented from mingling by the 
Cape, and do not pass from one side to the other. , 
... Of the one hundred and ninety-seven marine 
species, eighty-three do not pass to the south shore, 
and fifty are not found on the north shore of the 
Cape." 

That common muscle, the Unio complanatus, or 
more properly fluviatilis, left in the spring by the 
musk-rat upon rocks and stumps, appears to have 
been an important article of food with the Indians. 
In one place, where they are said to have feasted, 
they are found in large quantities, at an elevation of 
thirty feet above the river, iilling the soil to the 
depth of a foot, and mingled with ashes and Indian 
remains. 

The works we have placed at the head of our 
chapter, with as much license as the preacher selects 
his text, are such as imply more labour than enthusiasm. 



NATUKAL HISTORY OF MASSACHUSETTS 197 

The State wanted complete catalogues of its natural 
riches, with such additional facts merely as would be 
directly useful. 

The reports on Fishes, Keptiles, Insects, and In- 
vertebrate Animals, however, indicate labour and re- 
search, and have a value independent of the object 
of the legislature. 

Those on Herbaceous Plants and Birds cannot be 
of much value, as long as Bigelow and Nuttall are 
accessible. They serve but to indicate, with more or 
less exactness, what species are found in the State. 
We detect several errors ourselves, and a more prac- 
tised eye would no doubt expand the list. 

The Quadrupeds deserved a more final and in- 
structive report than they have obtained. 

These volumes deal much in measurements and 
minute descriptions, not interesting to the general 
reader, with only here and there a coloured sentence 
to allure him, like those plants growing in dark forests, 
which bear only leaves without blossoms. But the 
ground was comparatively unbroken, and we will not 
complain of the pioneer, if he raises no flowers with 
his first crop. Let us not underrate the value of a 
fact ; it will one day flower in a truth. It is astonish- 
ing how few facts of importance are added in a 
century to the natural history of any animal. The 
natural history of man himself is still being gradually 
written. Men are knowing enough after their fashion. 
Every countryman and dairymaid knows that the 
coats of the fourth stomach of the calf will curdle 
milk, and what particular mushroom is a safe and 



198 SELECTIONS FEOM THOREAU 

nutritious diet. You cannot go into any field or 
wood, but it will seem as if every stone had been 
turned, and the bark on every tree ripped up. But, 
after all, it is much easier to discover than to see 
when the cover is off. It has been well said that 
" the attitude of inspection is prone." Wisdom does 
not inspect, but behold. We must look a long time 
before we can see. Slow are the beginnings of philo- 
sophy. He has something demoniacal in him, who 
can discern a law or couple two facts. We can 
imagine a time when, — " Water runs dovm hill," — 
may have been taught in the schools. The true man of 
science will know nature better by his finer organisa- 
tion ; he will smell, taste, see, hear, feel, better than 
other men. His will be a deeper and finer experience. 
We do not learn by inference and deduction, and the 
application of mathematics to philosophy, but by 
direct intercourse and sympathy. It is with science 
as with ethics, — we cannot know truth by contrivance 
and method ; the Baconian is as false as any other, 
and with all the helps of machinery and the arts, the 
most scientific will still be the healthiest and friend- 
liest man, and possess a more perfect Indian wisdom. 



WALKING 

[1862] 

I WISH to speak a word for Nature, for absolute 
freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom 
and culture merely civil, — to regard man as an in- 
habitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than 
a member of society. I wish to make an extreme 
statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for 
there are enough champions of civilisation : the 
minister and the school-committee, and every one of 
you will take care of that. 

I have met with but one or two persons in the 
course of my life who understood the art of Walking, 
that is, of taldng walks, — who had a genius, so to 
speak, for sauntering: which word is beautifully 
derived "from idle people who roved about the 
country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under 
pretence of going A la Sainte Terre," to the Holy 
Land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a 
Sainte- Terr er," a Saunterer, — a Holy-Lander. They 
who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as 



'W"^ 



200 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEBAU 

they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds ; 
but they who do go there are saunterers in the good 
sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive 
the word from sans terre, without land or a home, 
which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having 
no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. 
For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He 
who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest 
vagrant of all ; but the saunterer, in the good sense, 
is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which 
is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course 
to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is 
the most probable derivation. For every walk is a 
sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit 
in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from 
the hands of the Infidels. 

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even 
the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, 
never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but 
tours, and come round again at evening to the old 
hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is 
but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the 
shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying 
adventure, never to return, — prepared to send back 
our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate 
kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and 
mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child 
and friends, and never see them again, — 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. 



WALKING 201 

To come down to my own experience, my companion 
and I, for I sometimes have a companion, take pleasure 
in fancying ourselves knights of a new, or rather an 
old, order, — not Equestrians or Chevaliers, not Eitters 
or riders, but Walkers, a still more ancient and 
honourable class, I trust. The chivalric and heroic 
spirit which once belonged to the Eider seems now 
to reside in, or perchance to have subsided into, the 
Walker, — not the Knight, but Walker Errant. He 
is a sort of fourth estate, outside of Church and State 
and People. 

We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts 
practised this noble art ; though, to tell the truth, at 
least, if their own assertions are to be received, most 
of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I do, 
but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite 
leisure, freedom, and independence, which are the 
capital in this profession. It comes only by the grace 
of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven 
to become a walker. You must be born into the 
family of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit. 
Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember and 
have described to me some walks which they took 
ten years ago, in which they were so blessed as to 
lose themselves for half an hour in the woods ; but I 
know very well that they have confined themselves 
to the highway ever since, whatever pretensions they 
may make to belong to this select class. No doubt 
they were elevated for a moment as by the remin- 
iscence of a previous state of existence, when even 
they were foresters and outlaws. 



202 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAXJ 

' ' When he came to grene wode, 
In a mery mornynge, 
There he herde the notes small 
Of byrdes mery syngynge. 

" It is feiTe gone, sayd Robyn, 
That I was last here ; 
Me lyste a lytell for to shote 
At the donne dere." 

I think that I cannot preserve my health and 
spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least, — and 
it is commonly more than that, — sauntering through 
the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely 
free from all worldly engagements. You may safely 
say, A penny for your thoughts or a thousand pounds. 
When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics 
and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the 
forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed 
legs so many of them, — as if the legs were made to 
sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon, — I think 
that they deserve some credit for not having all com- 
mitted suicide long ago. 

I, who cannot stay in my chamber for a single 
day without acquiring some rust, and when sometimes 
I have stolen forth for a walk at the eleventh hour 
of four o'clock in the afternoon, too late to redeem 
the day, when the shades of night were already be- 
ginning to be mingled with the daylight, have felt as 
if I had committed some sin to be atoned for, — I 
confess that I am astonished at the power of endurance, 
to say nothing of the moral insensibility, of my 
neighbours who confine themselves to shops and offices 
the whole day for weeks and months, ay, and years 



WALKING 203 

almost together. I know not what manner of stuff 
they are of, — sitting there now at three o'clock in the 
afternoon, as if it were three o'clock in the morning. 
Bonaparte may talk of the three-o'clock-in-the-morning 
courage, but it is nothing to the courage which can 
sit down cheerfully at this hour in the afternoon over 
against one's self whom you have known all the 
morning, to starve out a garrison to whom you are 
bound by such strong ties of sympathy. I wonder 
that about this time, or say between four and five 
o'clock in the afternoon, too late for the morning 
papers and too early for the evening ones, there is 
not a general explosion heard up and down the street, 
scattering a legion of antiquated and house -bred 
notions and whims to the four winds for an airing, — 
and so the evil cure itself. 

How womankind, who are confined to the house 
still more than men, stand it I do not know ; but I 
have ground to suspect that most of them do not 
staiid it at all. When, early in a summer afternoon, 
we have been shaking the dust of the village from 
the skirts of our garments, making haste past those 
houses with purely Doric or Gothic fronts, which 
have such an air of repose about them, my companion 
whispers that probably about these times their occu- 
pants are all gone to bed. Then it is that I appreciate 
the beauty and the glory of architecture, which itself 
never tiu'ns in, but for ever stands out and erect, 
keeping watch over the slumberers. 

No doubt temperament, and, above all, age, have 
a good deal to do with it. As a man grows older. 



204 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

his ability to sit still and follow indoor occupations 
increases. He grows vespertinal in his habits as the 
evening of life approaches, till at last he comes forth 
only just before sundown, and gets all the walk that 
he requires in half an hour. 

But the walking of which I speak has nothing in 
it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick 
take medicine at stated hours, — as the swinging of 
dumb-bells or chairs ; but is itself the enterprise and 
adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go 
in search of the springs of life. Think of a man's 
swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs 
are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him ! 

Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is 
said to be the only beast which ruminates when 
walking. When a traveller asked Wordsworth's 
servant to show him her master's study, she answered, 
" Here is his library, but his study is out of doors." 

Living much out of doors, in the sun and wind, 
will no doubt produce a certain roughness of character, 
— will cause a thicker cuticle to grow over some of 
the finer qualities of our nature, as on the face and 
hands, or as severe manual labour robs the hands of 
some of their delicacy of touch. So staying in the 
house, on the other hand, may produce a softness and 
smoothness, not to say thinness of skin, accompanied 
by an increased sensibility to certain impressions. 
Perhaps we should be more susceptible to some 
influences important to our intellectual and moral 
growth, if the sun had shone and the wind blown on 
us a little less ; and no doubt it is a nice matter to 



WALKING 205 

proportion rightly the thick and thin skin. But 
methinks that is a scurf that will fall off fast enough, 
— that the natural remedy is to be found in the 
proportion which the night bears to the day, the 
winter to the summer, thought to experience. There 
will be so much the more air and sunshine in our 
thoughts. The callous palms of the labourer are con- 
versant with finer tissues of self-respect and heroism, 
whose touch thrills the heart, than the languid fingers 
of idleness. That is mere sentimentality that lies 
abed by day and thinks itself white, far from the 
tan and callus of experience. 

When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and 
woods : what would become of us, if we walked only 
in a garden or a mall 1 Even some sects of philo- 
sophers have felt the necessity of importing the 
woods to themselves, since they did not go to the 
woods. "They planted groves and walks of Platanes," 
where they took subdiales ambulationes in porticoes 
open to the air. Of course it is of no use to direct 
our steps to the woods, if they do not carry us thither. 
I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a 
mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in 
spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget 
all my morning occupations and my obligations to 
society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot 
easily shake off the village. The thought of some work 
will run in my head and I am not where my body is, 
—I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain 
return to my senses. What business have I in the 
woods, if 1 am thinking of something out of the 



206 SELECTIONS FEOM THOREAU 

woods 1 I suspect myself, and cannot help a shudder, 
when I find myself so implicated even in what are 
called good works, — for this may sometimes happen. 

My vicinity affords many good walks ; and though 
for so many years I have walked almost every day, 
and sometimes for several days together, I have not 
yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect 
is a great happiness, and I can still get this any after- 
noon. Two or three hours' walking will carry me 
to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A 
single farmhouse which I had not seen before is some- 
times as good as the dominions of the King of 
Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony dis- 
coverable between the capabilities of the landscape 
within a circle of ten miles' radius, or the limits of 
an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten 
of human life. It will never become quite familiar 
to you. 

Nowadays almost all man's improvements, so 
called, as the building of houses, and the cutting 
down of the forest and of all large trees, simply deform 
the landscape, and make it more and more tame and 
cheap. A people who would begin by burning the 
fences and let the forest stand ! I saw the fences 
half consumed, their ends lost in the middle of the 
prairie, and some worldly miser with a surveyor look- 
ing after his bounds, while heaven had taken place 
around him, and he did not see the angels going to 
and fro, but was looking for an old post-hole in the 
midst of paradise. I looked again, and saw him 
standing in the middle of a boggy, stygian fen, 



WALKING 207 

surrounded by devils, and he had found his bounds 
without a doubt, three httle stones, where a stake 
had been driven, and looking nearer, I saw that the 
Prince of Darkness was his surveyor. 

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number 
of miles, commencing at my own door, without going 
by any house, without crossing a road except where 
the fox and the mink do : first along by the river, 
and then the brook, and then the meadow and the 
wood-side. There are square miles in my vicinity 
which have no inhabitant. From many a hill I can 
see civilisation and the abodes of man afar. The 
farmers and their works are scarcely more obvious 
than woodchucks and their burrows. Man and his 
affairs, church and state and school, trade and com- 
merce, and manufactures and agriculture, even politics, 
the most alarming of them all, — I am pleased to see 
how little space they occupy in the landscape. Politics 
is but a narrow field, and that still narrower highway 
yonder leads to it. I sometimes direct the traveller 
thither. If you would go to the political world, 
follow the great road, — follow that market-man, keep 
his dust in your eyes, and it will lead you straight 
to it ; for it, too, has its place merely, and does not 
occupy all space. I pass from it as from a bean-field 
into the forest, and it is forgotten. In one half-hour 
I can walk off to some portion of the earth's surface 
where a man does not stand from one year's end to 
another, and there, consequently, politics are not, for 
they are but as the cigar-smoke of a man. 



208 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the 
land is not private property; the landscape is not 
owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom. 
But possibly the day will come when it will be parti- 
tioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a 
few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only, — 
when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and 
other engines invented to confine men to the public 
road, and walking over the surface of God's earth 
shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentle- 
man's grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is 
commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoy- 
ment of it. Let us improve our opportunities, then, 
before the evil days come. 

What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to 
determine whither we will walk 1 I believe that there 
is a subtile magnetism in Nature, which, if we un- 
consciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is 
not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a 
right way ; but we are very liable from heedlessness 
and stupidity to take the wrong one. We would fain 
take that walk, never yet taken by us through this 
actual world, which is perfectly symbolical of the 
path which we love to travel in the interior and ideal 
world ; and sometimes, no doubt, we find it difiicult 
to choose our direction, because it does not yet exist 
distinctly in our idea. 

When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain 
as yet whither I will bend my steps, and submit 
myself to my instinct to decide for me, I find, strange 



WALKING 209 

and whimsical as it may seem, that I finally and 
inevitably settle south-west, toward some particular 
wood or meadow or deserted pasture or hill in that 
direction. My needle is slow to settle, — varies a few 
degrees, and does not always point due south-west, it 
is true, and it has good authority for this variation, 
hut it always settles between west and south-south- 
west. The future lies that way to me, and the earth 
seems more unexhausted and richer on that side. The 
outline which would bound my walks would be, not 
a circle, but a parabola, or rather like one of those 
cometary orbits which have been thought to be non- 
returning curves, in this case opening westward, in 
which my house occupies the place of the sun. I 
turn round and round irresolute sometimes for a 
quarter of an hour, until I decide, for a thousandth 
time, that I will walk into the south-west or west. 
Eastward I go only by force ; but westward I go free. 
Thither no business leads me. It is hard for me to 
believe that I shall find fair landscapes or suflS.cient 
wildness and freedom behind the eastern horizon. I 
am not excited by the prospect of a walk thither ; 
but I believe that the forest which I see in the western 
horizon stretches uninterruptedly toward the setting 
sun, and there are no towns nor cities in it of enough 
consequence to disturb me. Let me live where I 
will, on this side is the city, on that the wilderness, 
and ever I am leaving the city more and more, and 
withdrawing into the wilderness. I should not lay so 
much stress on this fact, if I did not believe that 
something like this is the prevailing tendency of my 



210 SELECTIONS FROM THOEBATJ 

countrymen. I must walk toward Oregon, and not 
toward Europe. And that way the nation is moving, 
and I may say that mankind progress from east to 
west. Within a few years we have witnessed the 
phenomenon of a south-eastward migration, in the 
settlement of Australia ; but this affects us as a retro- 
grade movement, and, judging from the moral and 
physical character of the first generation of Australians, 
has not yet proved a successful experiment. The 
eastern Tartars think that there is nothing west 
beyond Thibet. " The world ends there," say they, 
"beyond there is nothing but a shoreless sea." It is 
unmitigated East where they live. 

We go eastward to realise history and study the 
works of art and literature, retracing the steps of the 
race ; we go westward as into the future, with a spirit 
of enterprise and adventure. The Atlantic is a 
Lethean stream, in our passage over which we have 
had an opportunity to forget the Old World and its 
institutions. If we do not succeed this time, there 
is perhaps one more chance for the race left before it 
arrives on the banks of the Styx ; and that is in the 
Lethe of the Pacific, which is three times as wide. 

I know not how significant it is, or how far it is 
an evidence of singularity, that an individual should 
thus consent in his pettiest walk with the general 
movement of the race ; but I know that something 
akin to the migratory instinct in birds and quadrupeds, 
— which, in some instances, is known to have affected 
the squirrel tribe, impelling them to a general and 
mysterious movement, in which they were seen, say 



WALKING 211 

somBj crossing the broadest rivers, each on its par- 
ticular chip, with its tail raised for a sail, and bridging 
narrower streams with their dead,- — that something 
like the fwror which aflFects the domestic cattle in the 
spring, and which is referred to a worm in their 
tails, — affects both nations and individuals, either 
perennially or from time to time. Not a flock of 
wild geese cackles over our town, but it to some 
extent unsettles the value of real estate here, and, if 
I were a broker, I should probably take that disturb- 
ance into account. 

" Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages, 
And palmeres for to seken sti-ange strondes." 

Every sunset which I witness inspires me with 
the desire to go to a West as distant and as fair as 
that into which the sun goes down. He appears to 
migrate westward daily, and tempt us to follow him. 
He is the Great Western Pioneer whom the nations 
follow. We dream all night of those mountain-ridges 
in the horizon, though they may be of vapour only, 
which were last gilded by his rays. The island of 
Atlantis, and the islands and gardens of the Hesperides, 
a sort of terrestrial paradise, appear to have been 
the Great West of the ancients, enveloped in mystery 
and poetry. Who has not seen in imagination, 
when looking into the sunset sky, the gardens 
of the Hesperides, and the foundation of all those 
fables? 

Columbus felt the westward tendency more strongly 
than any before. He obeyed it, and found a New 



212 SELECTIONS FROM THOEBAU 

World for Castile and Leon. The herd of men in 
those days scented fresh pastures from afar. 

" And now the sun had stretched out all the hlUs, 
And now was dropped into the western bay ; 
At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue ; 
To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new." 

Where on the globe can there be found an area of 
equal extent with that occupied by the bulk of our 
States, so fertile and so rich and varied in its produc- 
tions, and at the same time so habitable by the 
European, as this is ? Michaux, who knew but part 
of them, says that "the species of large trees are 
much more numerous in North America than in 
Europe ; in the United States there are more than one 
hundred and forty species that exceed thirty feet in 
height; in France there are but thirty that attain 
this size." Later botanists more than confirm his 
observations. Humboldt came to America to realise 
his youthful dreams of a tropical vegetation, and he 
beheld it in its greatest perfection in the primitive 
forests of the Amazon, the most gigantic wilderness 
on the earth, which he has so eloquently described. 
The geographer Guyot, himself a European, goes 
further, — further than I am ready to foUow him ; yet 
not when he says, — "As the plant is made for the 
animal, as the vegetable world is made for the animal 
world, America is made for the man of the Old World. 
. . . The man of the Old World sets out upon his 
way. Leaving the highlands of Asia, he descends 
from station to station towards Europe. Each of 
his steps is marked by a new civilisation superior to 



WALKING 213 

the preceding, by a greater power of development. 
Arrived at the Atlantic, he pauses on the shore of 
this unknown ocean, the bounds of which he knows 
not, and turns upon his footprints for an instant." 
"When he has exhausted the rich soil of Europe, and 
reinvigorated himself, " then recommences his adven- 
turous career westward as in the earliest ages.'' So 
far Guyot. 

From this western impulse coming in contact with 
the barrier of the Atlantic sprang the commerce 
and enterprise of modern times. The younger 
Michaux, in his Travels West of the AUeghanies in 1802, 
says that the common inquiry in the newly settled 
West was, " ' From what part of the world have you 
come"!' As if these vast and fertile regions would 
naturally be the place of meeting and common country 
of all the inhabitants of the globe." 

To use an obsolete Latin word, I might say, Ex 
Oriente Iwx, ; ex Occidente FRUX. From the East light ; 
from the West fruit. 

The West of which I speak is but another name 
for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to 
say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the 
World. Every tree sends its fibres forth in search of 
the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men 
plough and sail for it. From the forest and wilder- 
ness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind. 
Our ancestors were savages. The story of Eomulus 
and Remus being suckled by a wolf is not a meaning- 
less fable. The founders of every State which has 



214 SELECTIONS FEOM THOREAU 

risen to eminence have drawn their nourishment and 
vigour from a similar wild source. It was because the 
children of the Empire were not suckled by the 
wolf that they were conquered and displaced by the 
children of the Northern forests who were. 

I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in 
the night in which the corn grows. We require an 
infusion of hemlock-spruce or arbor-vitse in our tea. 
There is a difference between eating and drinking for 
strength and from mere gluttony. The Hottentots 
eagerly devour the marrow of the koodoo and other ante- 
lopes raw, as a matter of course. Some of our Northern 
Indians eat raw the marrow of the Arctic reindeer, 
as well as various other parts, including the summits 
of the antlers, as long as they are soft. And herein, 
perchance, they have stolen a march on the cooks of 
Paris. They get what usually goes to feed the fire. 
This is probably better than stall-fed beef and 
slaughter-house pork to make a man of. Give me 
a wildness whose glance no civilisation can endure, 
— as if we lived on the marrow of koodoos devoured 
raw. 

There are some intervals which border the strain 
of the wood-thrush, to which I would migrate, — wild 
lands where no settler has squatted; to which, 
methinks, I am already acclimated. 

The African hunter Cummings tells us that the 
skin of the eland, as well as that of most other ante- 
lopes just killed, emits the most delicious perfume of 
trees and grass. I would have every man so much 
like a wild antelope, so much a part and parcel of 



WALKING 215 

Nature, that his very person should thus sweetly 
advertise our senses of his presence, and remind us 
of those parts of Nature which he most haunts. I 
feel no disposition to be satirical, when the trapper's 
coat emits the odour of musquash even ; it is a sweeter 
scent to me than that which commonly exhales from 
the merchant's or the scholar's garments. When I 
go into their wardrobes and handle their vestments, 
I am reminded of no grassy plains and flowery meads 
which they have frequented, but of dusty merchants' 
exchanges and libraries rather. 

A tanned skin is something more than respectable, 
and perhaps olive is a fitter colour than white for a 
man, — a denizen of the woods. "The pale white 
man ! " I do not wonder that the African pitied him. 
Darwin the naturalist says, "A white man bathing 
by the side of a Tahitian was like a plant bleached by 
the gardener's art, compared with a fine, dark green 
one, growing vigorously in the open fields." 

Ben Jonson exclaims, — • 

" How near to good is what is fair!" 

So I would say, — 

How near to good is what is wild ! 

Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the 
wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence re- 
freshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly 
and never rested from his labours, who grew fast and 
made infinite demands on life, would always find 
himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded 



216 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEATJ 

by the raw material of life. He would be climbing 
over the prostrate stems of primitive forest-trees. 

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and 
cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the 
impervious and quaking swamps. When, formerly, 
I have analysed my partiality for some farm which 
I had contemplated purchasing, I have frequently 
found that I was attracted solely by a few square 
rods of impermeable and unfathomable bog, — a natural 
sink in one corner of it. That was the jewel which 
dazzled me. I derive more of my subsistence from 
the swamps which surround my native town than 
from the cultivated gardens in the village. There 
are no richer parterres to my eyes than the dense 
beds of dwarf andromeda (Cassandra calyculata) which 
cover these tender places on the earth's surface. 
Botany cannot go further than tell me the names of 
the shrubs which grow there, — the high -blueberry, 
panicled andromeda, lamb-kiU, azalea, and rhodora, 
— all standing in the quaking sphagnum. I often 
think that I should like to have my house front on 
this mass of dull red bushes, omitting other flower 
plots and borders, transplanted spruce and trim box, 
even gravelled walks, — to have this fertile spot under 
my windows, not a few imported barrow-fuUs of soil 
only to cover the sand which was thrown out in 
digging the cellar. Why not put my house, my 
parlour, behind this plot, instead of behind that meagre 
assemblage of curiosities, that poor apology for a 
Nature and Art, which I call my front-yard ? It is 
an effort to clear up and make a decent appearance 



WALKING 217 

when the carpenter and mason have departed, though 
done as much for the passer-by as the dweller within. 
The most tasteful front -yard fence was never an 
agreeable object of study to me ; the most elaborate 
ornaments, acorn -tops, or what not, soon wearied 
and disgusted me. Bring your sills up to the very 
edge of the swamp, then (though it may not be the 
best place for a dry cellar), so that there be no access 
on that side to citizens. Front-yards are not made 
to walk in, but, at most, through, and you could go 
in the back way. 

Yes, though, you may think me perverse, if it 
were proposed to me to dwell in the neighbourhood 
of the most beautiful garden that ever human art 
contrived, or else of a dismal swamp, I should cer- 
tainly decide for the swamp. How vain, then, have 
been all your labours, citizens, for me ! 

My spirits infallibly rise in proportion to the 
outward dreariness. Give me the ocean, the desert 
or the wilderness ! In the desert, pure air and solitude 
compensate for want of moisture and fertility. The 
traveller Burton says of it, — " Your morale improves ; 
you become frank and cordial, hospitable and single- 
minded. ... In the desert, spirituous liquors excite 
only disgust. There is a keen enjoyment in a mere 
animal existence." They who have been travelling 
long on the steppes of Tartary say, — " On reentering 
cultivated lands, the agitation, perplexity, and turmoil 
of civilisation oppressed and suffocated us ; the air 
seemed to fail us, and we felt every moment as if 
about to die of asphyxia." When I would recreate 



218 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEATJ 

myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most 
interminable, and, to the citizen, most dismal swamp. 
I enter a swamp as a sacred place, — a sandwn sa/nctorum. 
There is the strength, the marrow of Nature. The 
wild -wood covers the virgin mould, — and the same 
soil is good for men and for trees. A man's health 
requires as many acres of meadow to his prospect as 
his farm does loads of muck. There are the strong 
meats on which he feeds. A town is saved, not more 
by the righteous men in it than by the woods and 
swamps that surround it. A township where one 
primitive forest waves above while another primitive 
forest rots below, — such a town is fitted to raise not 
only corn and potatoes, but poets and philosophers 
for the coming ages. In such a soil grew Homer and 
Confucius and the rest, and out of such a wilderness 
comes the Reformer eating locusts and wild honey. 

To preserve wild animals implies generally the 
creation of a forest for them to dwell in or resort to. 
So it is with man. A hundred years ago they sold 
bark in our streets peeled from our own woods. In 
the very aspect of those primitive and rugged 
trees, there was, methinks, a tanning principle which 
hardened and consolidated the fibres of men's thoughts. 
Ah ! already I shudder for these comparatively de- 
generate days of my native village, when you cannot 
collect a load of bark of good thickness, — and we no 
longer produce tar and turpentine. 

The civilised nations — Greece, Rome, England — 
have been sustained by the primitive forests which 
anciently rotted where they stand. They survive 



■WALKING 219 

as long as the soil is not exhausted. Alas for human 
culture ! little is to be expected of a nation, when the 
vegetable mould is exhausted, and it is compelled to 
make manure of the bones of its fathers. There the 
poet sustains himself merely by his own superfluous 
fat, and the philosopher comes down on his marrow- 
bones. 

It is said to be the task of the American " to work 
the virgin soil," and that " agriculture here already 
assumes proportions unknown everywhere else.'' I 
think that the farmer displaces the Indian even be- 
cause he redeems the meadow, and so makes himself 
stronger and in some respects more natural. I was 
surveying for a man the other day a single straight 
line one hundred and thirty-two rods long, through 
a swamp, at whose entrance might have been written 
the words which Dante read over the entrance to 
the infernal regions, — "Leave all hope, ye that enter," 
— that is, of ever getting out again ; where at one 
time I saw my employer actually up to his neck and 
swimming for his life in his property, though it was 
still winter. He had another similar swamp which I 
could not survey at all, because it was completely 
under water, and nevertheless, with regard to a third 
swamp, which I did survey from a distance, he re- 
marked to me, true to his instincts, that he would 
not part with it for any consideration, on account of 
the mud which it contained. And that man intends 
to put a girdling ditch round the whole in the course 
of forty months, and so redeem it by the magic of 
his spade. I refer to him only as the type of a class. 



220 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

The weapons with which we have gained our 
most important victories, which should be handed 
down as heirlooms from father to son are not the 
sword and the lance, but the bush-whack, the turf- 
cutter, the spade, and the bog-hoe, rusted with the 
blood of many a meadow, and begrimed with the 
dust of many a hard-fought field. The very winds 
blew the Indian's corn-field into the meadow, and 
pointed out the way which he had not the skill to 
follow. He had no better implement with which to 
intrench himself in the land than a clam-sheU. But 
the farmer is armed with plough and spade. 

In Literature it is only the wild that attracts us. 
Dulness is but another name for tameness. It is the 
uncivilised free and wild thinking in Hamlet and 
the Iliad, in all the Scriptures and Mythologies, 
not learned in the schools, that delights us. As the 
wild duck is more swift and beautiful than the 
tame, so is the wild — the mallard — thought, which 
'mid falling dews wings its way above the fens. A 
truly good book is something as natural, and as un- 
expectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a 
wild flower discovered on the prairies of the West or 
in the jungles of the East. Genius is a light which 
makes the darkness visible, like the lightning's flash, 
which perchance shatters the temple of knowledge 
itself, — and not a taper lighted at the hearth-stone of 
the race, which pales before the light of common day. 

English literature, from the days of the minstrels 
to the Lake Poets, — Chaucer and Spenser and Milton, 
and even Shakespeare, included — breathes no quite 



WALKING 221 

fresh and in this sense wild strain. It is an essentially 
tame and civilised literature, reflecting Greece and 
Eome. Her wilderness is a green wood, — her wild 
man a Eobin Hood. There is plenty of genial love 
of Nature, but not so much of Nature herself. Her 
chronicles inform us when her wild animals, but not 
when the wild man in her, became extinct. 

The science of Humboldt is one thing, poetry is 
another thing. The poet to-day, notwithstanding all 
the discoveries of science, and the accumulated learning 
of mankind, enjoys no advantage over Homer. 

Where is the literature which gives expression to 
Nature 1 He would be a poet who could impress the 
winds and streams into his service, to speak for him ; 
who nailed words to their primitive senses, as farmers 
drive down stakes in the spring, which the frost has 
heaved ; who derived his words as often as he used 
them, — transplanted them to his page with earth 
adhering to their roots; whose words were so true 
and fresh and natural that they would appear to 
expand like the buds at the approach of spring, though 
they lay half-smothered between two musty leaves in 
a library, — ay, to bloom and bear fruit there, after 
their kind, annually, for the faithful reader, in sym- 
pathy with surrounding Nature. 

I do not know of any poetry to quote which 
adequately expresses this yearning for the Wild. 
Approached from this side, the best poetry is tame. 
I do not know where to find in any literature, ancient 
or modern, any account which contents me of that 
Nature with which even I am acquainted. You will 



222 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

perceive that I demand sometliing whicli no Augustan 
nor Elizabethan age, which no culture, in short, can 
give. Mythology comes nearer to it than anything. 
How much more fertile a Nature, at least, has Grecian 
mythology its root in than English literature ! 
Mythology is the crop which the Old World bore 
before its soil was exhausted, before the fancy and 
imagination were affected with blight ; and which it 
still bears, wherever its pristine vigour is unabated. 
All other literatures endure only as the elms which 
overshadow our houses ; but this is like the great 
dragon-tree of the Western Isles, as old as mankind, 
and, whether that does or not, will endure as long ; 
for the decay of other literatures makes the soil in 
which it thrives. 

The West is preparing to add its fables to those 
of the East. The valleys of the Ganges, the NUe, 
and the Rhine, having yielded their crop, it remains 
to be seen what the valleys of the Amazon, the Plate, 
the Orinoco, the St. Lawrence, and the Mississippi 
will produce. Perchance, when, in the course of 
ages, American liberty has become a fiction of the 
past, — as it is to some extent a fiction of the present, — 
the poets of the world will be inspired by American 
mythology. 

The wildest dreams of wild men, even, are not 
the less true, though they may not recommend them- 
selves to the sense which is most common among 
Englishmen and Americans to-day. It is not every 
truth that recommends itself to the common sense. 
Nature has a place for the wild clematis as well as 



WALKING 223 

for the cabbage. Some expressions of truth are 
reminiscent, — others raerely sensible, as the phrase is, 
— others prophetic. Some forms of disease, even, 
may prophesy forms of health. The geologist has 
discovered that the figures of serpents, griffins, flying 
dragons, and other fanciful embellishments of heraldry, 
have their prototypes in the forms of fossil species 
which were extinct before man was created, and hence 
"indicate a faint and shadowy knowledge of a 
previous state of organic existence.'' The Hindoos 
dreamed that the earth rested on an elephant, and 
the elephant on a tortoise, and the tortoise on a 
serpent; and though it may be an unimportant 
coincidence, it will not be out of place here to state, 
that a fossil tortoise has lately been discovered in 
Asia large enough to support an elephant. I confess 
that I am partial to these wild fancies, which transcend 
the order of time and development. They are the 
sublimest recreation of the intellect. The partridge 
loves peas, but not those that go with her into the pot. 
In short, all good things are wild and free. There 
is something in a strain of music, whether produced 
by an instrument or by the human voice, — take the 
sound of a bugle in a summer night, for instance,- — 
which by its wildness, to speak without satire, reminds 
me of the cries emitted by wild beasts in their native 
forests. It is so much of their wildness as I can 
understand. Give me for my friends and neighbours 
wild men, not tame ones. The wildness of the savage 
is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity with which 
good men and lovers meet. 



224 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

I love even to see the domestic animals reassert 
their native rights, — any evidence that they have not 
wholly lost their original wild habits and vigour ; as 
when my neighbour's cow breaks out of her pasture 
early in the spring and boldly swims the river, a cold, 
gray tide, twenty-five or thirty rods wide, swollen by 
the melted snow. It is the buffalo crossing the 
Mississippi. This exploit confers some dignity on 
the herd in my eyes, — already dignified. The seeds 
of instinct are preserved under the thick hides of 
cattle and horses, like seeds in the bowels of the 
earth, an indefinite period. 

Any sportiveness in cattle is unexpected. I saw 
one day a herd of a dozen bullocks and cows running 
about and frisking in unwieldy sport, like huge rats, 
even like kittens. They shook their heads, raised 
their tails, and rushed up and down a hill, and I 
perceived by their horns, as well as by their activity, 
their relation to the deer tribe. But, alas ! a sudden 
loud TFJioa ! would have damped their ardour at once, 
reduced them from venison to beef, and stiffened 
their sides and sinews like the locomotive. Who 
but the Evil One has cried, " Whoa ! " to mankind ? 
Indeed, the life of cattle, like that of many men, is 
but a sort of locomotiveness ; they move a side at a 
time, and man, by his machinery, is meeting the 
horse and the ox half-way. Whatever part the whip 
has touched is thenceforth palsied. Who would ever 
think of a sids of any of the supple cat tribe, as we 
speak of a side of beef % 

I rejoice that horses and steers have to be broken 



WALKING 225 

before they can be made tbe slaves of men, and that 
men themselves have some wild oats still left to sow 
before they become submissive members of society. 
Undoubtedly, all men are not equally fit subjects for 
civilisation ; and because the majority, like dogs and 
sheep, are tame by inherited disposition, this is no 
reason why the others should have their natures 
broken that they may be reduced to the same level. 
Men are in the main alike, but they were made several 
in order that they might be various. If a low use 
is to be served, one man will do nearly or quite as 
well as another ; if a high one, individual excellence 
is to be regarded. Any man can stop a hole to keep 
the wind away, but no other man could serve so rare 
a use as the author of this illustration did. Confucius 
says, — " The skins of the tiger and the leopard, when 
they are tanned, are as the skins of the dog and the 
sheep tanned." But it is not the part of a true culture 
to tame tigers, any more than it is to make sheep 
ferocious ; and tanning their skins for shoes is not 
the best use to which they can be put. 

When looking over a list of men's names in a 
foreign language, as of military officers, or of authors 
who have written on a particular subject, I am re- 
minded once more that there is nothing in a name. 
The name MenschikofF, for instance, has nothing in 
it to my ears more human than a whisker, and it may 
belong to a rat. As the names of the Poles and 
Russians are to us, so are ours to them. It is as if 
they had been named by the child's rigmarole, — lery 
Q 



226 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

wiery ichery van, tittle-tol-tan. I see in my mind a herd 
of wild creatures swarming over the earth and to each 
the herdsman has affixed some barbarous sound in his 
own dialect. The names of men are of course as 
cheap and meaningless as Bose and Tray, the names 
of dogs. 

Methinksit would be some advantage to philosophy, 
if men were named merely in the gross, as they are 
known. It would be necessary only to know the 
genus and perhaps the race or variety, to know the 
individual. We are not prepared to believe that 
every private soldier in a Eoman army had a name 
of his own, — because we have not supposed that he 
had a character of his own. At present our only 
true names are nicknames. I knew a boy who, 
from his peculiar energy, was called "Buster" by 
his playmates, and this rightly supplanted his Chris- 
tian name. Some travellers tell us that an Indian 
had no name given him at first, but earned it, and 
his name was his fame ; and among some tribes he 
acquired a new name with every new exploit. It is 
pitiful when a man bears a name for convenience 
merely, who has earned neither name nor fame. 

I will not allow mere names to make distinctions 
for me, but still see men in herds for all them. A 
familiar name cannot make a man less strange to me. 
It may be given to a savage who retains in secret his 
own wild title earned in the woods. We have a wild 
savage in us and a savage name is perchance some- 
where recorded as* ours. I see that my neighbour, 
who bears the familiar epithet William, or Edwin, 



WALKING 227 

takes it off with his jacket. It does not adhere to 
him when asleep or in anger, or arouse(J by any 
passion or inspiration. I seem to hear pronounced by 
some of his kin at such a time his original wild name 
in some jaw-breaking or else melodious tongue. 

Here is this vast, savage, howling mother of ours. 
Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such 
affection for her children, as the leopard ; and yet we 
are so early weaned from her breast to society, to 
that culture which is exclusively an interaction of 
man on man, — a sort of breeding in and in, which 
produces at most a merely English nobility, a civilisa- 
tion destined to have a speedy limit. 

In society, in the best institutions of men, it is 
easy to detect a certain precocity. When we should 
still be growing children, we are already little men. 
Give me a culture which imports much muck from 
the meadows, and deepens the soil, — not that which 
trusts to heating manures, and improved implements 
and modes of culture only ! 

Many a poor sore-eyed student that I have heard 
of would grow faster, both intellectually and physic- 
ally, if, instead of sitting up so very late, he honestly 
slumbered a fool's allowance. 

There may be an excess even of informing light. 
Niepce, a Frenchman, discovered "actinism," that 
power in the sun's rays which produces a chemical 
effect, — that granite rocks, and stone structures, and 
statues of metal, "are all alike destructively acted 
upon during the hours of sunshine, and, but for pro- 



228 SELECTIONS FKOM THOKEAU 

visions of Nature no less wonderful, would soon 
perish under the delicate touch of the most subtile of 
the agencies of the universe." But he observed that 
"those bodies which underwent this change during 
the daylight possessed the power of restoring them- 
selves to their original conditions during the hours of 
night, when this excitement was no longer influencing 
them." Hence it has been inferred that " the hours 
of darkness are as necessary to the inorganic creation 
as we know night and sleep are to the organic king- 
dom." Not even does the moon shine every night, 
but gives place to darkness. 

I would not have every man nor every part of a 
man cultivated, any more than I would have every 
acre of earth cultivated : part will be tiUage, but the 
greater part will be meadow and forest, not only serv- 
ing an immediate use, but preparing a mould against 
a distant future, by the annual decay of the vegeta- 
tion which it supports. 

There are other letters for the child to learn than 
those which Cadmus invented. The Spaniards have 
a good term to express this wild and dusky know- 
ledge, — Gramdtica parda, tawny grammar, — a kind 
of mother-wit derived from that same leopard to 
which I have referred. 

We have heard of a Society for the Diffusion of 
Useful Knowledge. It is said that knowledge is 
power ; and the like. Methinks there is equal need 
of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance, 
what we will call Beautiful Knowledge, a knowledge 
useful in a higher sense : for what is most of our 



WALKING 229 

boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit ttat we 
know something, which robs us of the advantage of 
our actual ignorance ? What we call knowledge is 
often our positive ignorance ; ignorance our negative 
knowledge. By long years of patient industry and 
reading of the newspapers, — for what are the libraries 
of science but files of newspapers 'i — a man accumu- 
lates a myriad facts, lays them up in his memory, and 
then when in some spring of his life he saunters abroad 
into the Great Fields of thought, he, as it were, goes 
to grass like a horse and leaves all his harness behind 
in the stable. I would say to the Society for the 
Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, sometimes, — Go to 
grass. You have eaten hay long enough. The spring 
has come with its green crop. The very cows are 
driven to their country pastures before the end of 
May ; though I have heard of one unnatural farmer 
who kept his cow in the barn and fed her on hay all 
the year round. So, frequently, the Society for the 
Diffasion of Useful Knowledge treats its cattle. 

A man's ignorance sometimes is not only useful, 
but beautiful, — while his knowledge, so called, is 
oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly. 
Which is the best man to deal with, — he who knows 
nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, 
knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows 
something about it, but thinks that he knows all. 

My desire for knowledge is intermittent ; but my 
desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to 
my feet is perennial and constant. The highest that 
we can attain to is not Knowledge, but Sympathy 



230 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

with Intelligence. I do not know that this higher 
knowledge amounts to anything more definite than a 
novel and grand surprise on a sudden revelation of 
the insufficiency of all that we caUed Knowledge 
before, — a discovery that there are more things in 
heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philo- 
sophy. It is the lighting up of the mist by the sun. 
Man cannot know in any higher sense than this, any 
more than he can look serenely and with impunity in 
the face of sun : 'O9 t\ voSiV ov KeZvov vorjaei'i, — 
" You will not perceive that, as perceiving a particular 
thing," say the Chaldean Oracles. 

There is something servile in the habit of seeking 
after a law which we may obey. We may study the 
laws of matter at and for our convenience, but a suc- 
cessful life knows no law. It is an unfortunate dis- 
covery certainly, that of a law which binds us where 
we did not know before that we were bound. Live 
free, child of the mist, — and with respect to know- 
ledge we are all children of the mist. The man who 
takes the liberty to live is superior to all the laws, by 
virtue of his relation to the law -maker. " That is 
active duty," says the Vishnu Purana, "which is not 
for our bondage ; that is knowledge which is for our 
liberation : all other duty is good only unto weariness ; 
all other knowledge is only the cleverness of an artist." 

It is remarkable how few events or crises there 
are in our histories; how little exercised we have 
been in our minds; how few experiences we have 
had. I would fain be assured that I am growing 



WALKING 231 

apace and rankly, though my very growth disturb 
this dull equanimity, — though it be with struggle 
through long, dark muggy nights or seasons of gloom. 
It would be well, if all our lives were a divine tragedy 
even, instead of this trivial comedy or farce. Dante, 
Bunyan, and others, appear to have been exercised in 
their minds more than we : they were subjected to a 
kind of culture such as our district schools and colleges 
do not contemplate. Even Mahomet, though many 
may scream at his name, had a good deal more to 
live for, ay, and to die for, than they have commonly. 
When, at rare intervals, some thought visits one, 
as perchance he is walking on a railroad, then indeed 
the cars go by without his hearing them. But soon, 
by some inexorable law, our life goes by and the cars 
return. 

" Gentle breeze, that wanderest unseen, 
And bendest the thistles round Loira of storms, 
Traveller of the windy glens, 
Why hast thou left my ear so soon ? " 

While almost all men feel an attraction drawing 
them to society, few are attracted strongly to Nature. 
In their relation to Nature men appear to me for 
the most part, notwithstanding their arts, lower than 
the animals. It is not often a beautiful relation, as 
in the case of the animals. How little appreciation of 
the beauty of the landscape there is among us ! We 
have to be told that the Greeks called the world 
Kotr/(,o9, Beauty, or Order, but we do not see clearly 
why they did so, and we esteem it at best only a 
curious philological fact. 



232 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

For my part, I feel that with regard to Nature I 
live a sort of border life, on the confines of a world 
into which I make occasional and transitional and tran- 
sient forays only, and my patriotism and allegiance 
to the State into whose territories I seem to retreat 
are those of a moss-trooper. Unto a life which I call 
natural I would gladly follow even a will-o'-the-wisp 
through bogs and sloughs unimaginable, but no moon 
nor fire-fly has shown me the causeway to it. Nature 
is a personality so vast and universal that we have 
never seen one of her features. The walker in the 
familiar fields which stretch around my native town 
sometimes finds himself in another land than is de- 
scribed in their owners' deeds, as it were in some far- 
away field on the confines of the actual Concord, where 
her jurisdiction ceases, and the idea which the word 
Concord suggests ceases to be suggested. These 
farms which I have myself surveyed, these bounds 
which I have set up, appear dimly still as through a 
mist ; but they have no chemistry to fix them ; they 
fade from the surface of the glass ; and the picture 
which the painter painted stands out dimly from 
beneath. The world with which we are commonly 
acquainted leaves no trace, and it will have no 
anniversary. 

I took a walk on Spaulding's Farm the other after- 
noon. I saw the setting sun lighting up the opposite 
side of a stately pine wood. Its golden rays straggled 
into the aisles of the wood as into some noble hall. 
I was impressed as if some ancient and altogether 
admirable and shining family had settled there in 



WALKING 233 

that part of the land called Concord, unknown to me, 
— to whom the sun was servant, — who had not gone 
into society in the village, — who had not been called 
on. I saw their park, their pleasure-ground, beyond 
through the wood, in Spaulding's cranberry-meadow. 
The pines furnished them with gables as they grew. 
Their house was not obvious to vision ; the trees grew 
through it. I do not know whether I heard the 
sounds of a suppressed hilarity or not. They seemed 
to recline on the sunbeams. They have sons and 
daughters. They are quite well. The farmer's cart- 
path, which leads directly through their hall, does 
not in the least put them out, — as the muddy bottom 
of a pool is sometimes seen through the reflected skies. 
They never heard of Spaulding, and do not know 
that he is their neighbour, — notwithstanding I heard 
him whistle as he drove his team through the house. 
Nothing can equal the serenity of their lives. Their 
coat of arms is simply a lichen. I saw it painted on 
the pines and oaks. Their attics were in the tops of 
the trees. They are of no politics. There was no 
noise of labour. I did hot perceive that they were 
weaving or spinning. Yet I did detect, when the 
wind lulled and hearing was done away, the finest 
imaginable sweet musical hum, — as of a distant hive 
in May, which perchance was the sound of their 
thinking. They had no idle thoughts, and no one 
without could see their work, for their industry was 
not as in knots and excrescences embayed. 

But I find it difficult to remember them. They 
fade irrevocably out of my mind even now while I 



234 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

speak and endeavour to recall them, and recollect 
myself. It is only after a long and serious effort to 
recollect my best thoughts that I become again aware 
of their cohabitancy. If it were not for such families 
as this, I think I should move out of Concord. 

We are accustomed to say in New England that 
few and fewer pigeons visit us every year. Our 
forests furnish no mast for them. So, it would seem, 
few and fewer thoughts visit each growing man from 
year to year, for the grove in our minds is laid waste, 
— sold to feed unnecessary fires of ambition, or sent to 
mill, and there is scarcely a twig left for them to perch 
on. They no longer build nor breed with us. In 
some more genial season, perchance, a faint shadow 
flits across the landscape of the mind, cast by the 
tilings of some thought in its vernal or autumnal migra- 
tion, but, looking up, we are unable to detect the 
substance of the thought itself. Our winged thoughts 
are turned to poultry. They no longer soar, and they 
attain only to a Shanghai and Cochin-China grandeur. 
Those gra-a-ate thoughts, those gra-a-ate men you hear of ! 

We hug the earth, — how rarely we mount ! Me- 
thinks we might elevate ourselves a little more. We 
might climb a tree, at least. I found my account in 
climbing a tree once. It was a tall white pine, on the 
top of a hill ; and though I got well pitched, I was 
well paid for it, for I discovered new mountains in 
the horizon which I had never seen before, — so much 
more of the earth and the heavens. I might have 



WALKING 235 

walked about the foot of the tree for threescore years 
and ten, and yet I certainly should never have seen 
them. But, above all, I discovered around me, — it 
was near the end of June, — on the ends of the topmost 
branches only, a few minute and delicate red cone-like 
blossoms, the fertile flower of the white pine looking 
heavenward. I carried straightway to the village the 
topmost spire, and showed it to stranger jurymen who 
walked the streets, — for it was court-week, — and to 
farmers and lumber-dealers and wood-choppers and 
hunters, and not one had ever seen the like before, but 
they wondered as at a star dropped down. Tell of 
ancient architects finishing their works on the tops of 
columns as perfectly as on the lower and more visible 
parts ! Nature has from the first expanded the minute 
blossoms of the forest only toward the heavens, above 
men's heads and unobserved by them. We see only 
the flowers that are under our feet in the meadows. 
The pines have developed their delicate blossoms on 
the highest twigs of the wood every summer for ages, 
as well over the heads of Nature's red children as of 
her white ones ; yet scarcely a farmer or hunter in 
the land has ever seen them. 

Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the 
present. He is blessed over all mortals who loses no 
moment of the passing life in remembering the past. 
Unless our philosophy hears the cock crow in every 
barnyard within our horizon, it is belated. That 
sound commonly reminds us that we are growing 
rusty and antique in our employments and habits of 



236 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

thought. His philosophy comes down to a more 
recent time than ours. There is something suggested 
by it that is a newer testament, — the gospel according 
to this moment. He has not fallen astern ; he has 
got up early and kept up early and to be where he is 
to be in season, in the foremost rank of time. It is 
an expression of the health and soundness of Nature, 
a brag for all the world, — healthiness as of a spring 
burst forth, a new fountain of the Muses, to celebrate 
this last instant of time. Where he lives no fugitive 
slave laws are passed. Who has not betrayed his 
master many times since last he heard that note 1 

The merit of this bird's strain is in its freedom 
from all plaintiveness. The singer can easily move 
us to tears or to laughter, but where is he who can 
excite in us a pure morning joy ? When, in doleful 
dumps, breaking the awful stillness of our wooden 
sidewalk on a Sunday, or, perchance, a watcher in the 
house of mourning, I hear a cockerel crow far or near, 
I think to myself, " There is one of us well, at any 
rate," — and with a sudden gush return to my senses. 

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 leaves of the shrub-oaks on the 
hill-side, while our shadows stretched long over the 
meadow eastward, as if we are the only motes in its 



WALKING 237 

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 splendour 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 mus- 
quash 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 decay- 
ing 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. 

So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day 
the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has 
done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, 
and light up our whole lives with a great awakening 
light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bank- 
side in autumn. 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 

I HEARTILY accept the motto, — "That government 
is best which governs least " ; and I should like to 
see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. 
Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I 
believe, — "That government is best which governs 
not at all " ; and when men are prepared for it, that 
will be the kind of government which they will have. 
Government is at best but an expedient ; but most 
governments are usually, and all governments are 
sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have 
been brought against a standing army, and they are 
many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also 
at last be brought against a standing government. 
The standing army is only an arm of the standing 
government. "^ The government itself, which is only 
the mode which the people have chosen to execute 
their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted 
before the people can act through it." Witness the 
present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a 
few individuals using the standing government as 
their tool ; for, in the outset, the people would not 
have consented to this measure. 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 239 

This American government, — what is it but a tra- 
dition, though a recent one, endeavouring to transmit 
itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing 
some of its integrity 1 It has not the vitality and 
force of a single living man; for a single man can 
bend it to his 'will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the 
people themselves. But it is not the less necessary 
for this ; for the people must have some complicated 
machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that 
idea of government which they have. Governments 
show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, 
even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. 
It is excellent, we must all allow. Yet this govern- 
ment never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by 
the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It 
does not keep the country free. It does not settle 
the West. It does not educate. The character in- 
herent in the American people has done all that 
has been accomplished; and it would have done 
somewhat more, if the government had not some- 
times got in its way. For government is an ex- 
pedient by which men would fain succeed in letting 
one another alone ; and, as has been said, when it is 
most expedient, the governed are most let alone 
by it. Trade and commerce, if they were not 
made of India-rubber, would never manage to 
bounce over the obstacles which legislators are 
continually putting in their way ; and, if one were to 
judge these men wholly by the effects of their actions 
and not partly by their intentions, they would de- 
serve to be classed and punished with those mis- 



240 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAIT 

chievous persons who put obstructions on the 
railroads. 

But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike 
those who call themselves no-government men, I ask 
for, not at once no government, but at once a better 
government. Let every man make known what kind 
of government would command his respect, and that 
will be one step toward obtaining it. 

After all, the practical reason why, when the 
power is once in the hands of the people, a majority 
are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule, 
is not because they are most likely to be in the right, 
nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but 
because they are physically the strongest. But a 
government in which the majority rule in all cases 
cannot be based on justice, even as far as men 
understand it. Can there not be a government in 
which majorities do not virtually decide right and 
wrong, but conscience? — in which majorities decide 
only those questions to which the rule of expediency 
is applicable ? Must the citizen ever for a moment, 
or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the 
legislator ? Why has every man a conscience, then 1 
I think that we should be men first, and subjects 
afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect 
for the law, so much as for the right. The only 
obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at 
any time what I think right, d It is truly enough said, 
that a corporation has no conscience; but a cor- 
poration of conscientious men is a corporation with a 
conscience. Law never made men a whit more just ; 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 241 

and, by means of their respect for it, even the well- 
disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A 
common and natural result of an undue respect for 
law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, 
captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, 
marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the 
wars, against their wills, ay, against their common 
sense and consciences, which makes it very steep 
marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the 
heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable 
business in which they are concerned ; they are all 
peaceably inclined. Now, what are they 1 Men at 
all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the 
service of some unscrupulous man in power f Visit 
the Navy- Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as 
an American government can make, or such as it can 
make a man with its black arts, — a mere shadow and 
reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and 
standing, and already, as one may say, buried under 
arms with funeral accompaniments, though it may 
be— 

" Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, 
As his corse to the rampart we hurried ; 
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot 
O'er the grave where our hero we buried. " 

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men 
mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They 
are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, 
constables, posse cmnitatus, etc. In most cases there 
is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of 
the moral sense ; but they put themselves on a level 
K 



242 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

with -wood and earth and stones; and wooden men 
can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the 
purpose as well. Such command no more respect 
than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the 
same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet 
such as these even are commonly esteemed good 
citizens. Others, — as most legislators, politicians, 
lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, — serve the 
state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely 
make any moral distinctions, they are as hkely to 
serve the Devil, without intending it, as God. A 
very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in 
the great sense, and men, serve the state with their 
consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the 
most part ; and they are commonly treated as 
enemies by it. A wise man wiU only be useful as a 
man, and will not submit to be "clay," and "stop 
a hole to keep the wind away," but leave that office 
to his dust at least : — 

" I am too Mgh-born to be propertied, 
To be a secondary at control, 
Or useful serving-man and instrument 
To any sovereign state throughout the world." 

He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men 
appears to them useless and selfish ; but he who 
gives himself partially to them is pronounced a 
benefactor and philanthropist. 

How does it become a man to behave toward 
this American government to-day 1 I answer, that 
he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I 
cannot for an instant recognise that political organ- 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 243 

isation as my government which is the slave's govern- 
ment also. 

All men recognise the right of revolution; that 
is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the 
government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are 
great and unendurable. But almost all say that such 
is not the case now. But such was the case, they 
think, in the Revolution of '75. If one were to tell 
me that this was a bad government because it taxed 
certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it 
is most probable that I should not make an ado 
about it, for I can do without them. All machines 
have their friction ; and possibly this does enough 
good to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a 
great evil to make a stir about it. But when the 
friction comes to have its machine, and oppression 
and robbery are organised, I say, let us not have 
such a machine any longer. In other words, when 
a sixth of the population of a nation which has 
undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, 
and a whole country is unjustly overrun and con- 
quered by a foreign army, and subjected to military 
law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men 
to rebel and revolutionise. What makes this duty 
the more urgent is the fact, that the country so 
overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading 
army. 

Paley, a common authority with many on moral 
questions, in his chapter on the "Duty of Submission 
to Civil Government," resolves all civil obligation 
into expediency ; and he proceeds to say, " that so 



244 SELECTIONS FEOM THOREAU 

long as the interest of the whole society requires it, 
that is, so long as the established government cannot 
be resisted or changed without public inconveniency, 
it is the will of God that the established government 
be obeyed, and no longer. . . This principle being 
admitted, the justice of every particular case of resist- 
ance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the 
danger and grievance on the one side, and of the 
probability and expense of redressing it on the other." 
Of this, he says, every man shall judge for himself. 
But Paley appears never to have contemplated those 
cases to which the rule of expediency does not apply, 
in which a people, as well as an individual, must do 
justice, cost what it may. If I have unjustly wrested 
a plank from a drowning man, I must restore it to 
him though I drown myseK. This, according to 
Paley, would be inconvenient. But he that would 
save his life, in such a case, shall lose it. This people 
must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, 
though it cost them their existence as a people. 

In their practice, nations agree with Paley; but 
does any one think that Massachusetts does exactly 
what is right at the present crisis 1 

" A drab of state, a cloth-o' -silver slut, 
To have her train borne up, and her soul trail in the dirt" 

Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in 
Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians 
at the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and 
farmers here, who are more interested in commerce 
and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 245 

not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, 
cost what it may. I quarrel not with far-off foes, but 
with those who, near at home, co-operate with, and 
do the bidding of, those far away, and without whom 
the latter would be harmless. We are accustomed 
to say, that the mass of men are unprepared ; but 
improvement is slow, because the few are not 
materially wiser or better than the many. It is not 
so important that many should be as good as you, as 
that there be some absolute goodness somewhere ; for 
that will leaven the whole lump. There are 
thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery 
and to the war, who yet in effect -do nothing to put 
an end to them ; who, esteeming themselves children 
of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their 
hands in their pockets, and say that they know not 
what to do, and do nothing ; who even postpone the 
question of freedom to the question of free-trade, 
and quietly read the prices-current along with the 
latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may 
be, fall asleep over them both. What is the price- 
current of an honest man and patriot to-day? 
They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes 
they petition; but they do nothing in earnest 
and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, 
for others to remedy the evil, that they may no 
longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a 
cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and God-speed, 
to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine 
hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one 
virtuous man. But it is easier to deal with the 



24:6 SELECTIONS FEOM THOKEAU 

real possessor of a thing than with the temporary 
guardian of it. 

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or 
backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a 
playing with right and wrong, with moral questions ; 
and betting naturally accompanies it. The character 
of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, per- 
chance, as I think right; but I am not vitally 
concerned that that right should prevail. I am 
willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, 
therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even 
voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only 
expressing to meil feebly your desire that it should 
prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the 
mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the 
power of the majority. There is but little virtue in 
the action of masses of men. When the majority 
shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it 
will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or 
because there is but little slavery left to be abolished 
by their vote. They wiU then be the only slaves. 
Only his vote can hasten the aboHtion of slavery 
who asserts his own freedom by his vote. 

I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore, or 
elsewhere, for the selection of a candidate for the 
Presidency, made up chiefly of editors, and men 
who are politicians by profession; but I think, 
what is it to any independent, intelligent, and 
respectable man what decision they may come to 1 
Shall we not have the advantage of his wisdom and 
honesty, nevertheless'? Can we not count upon 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 247 

some independent votes? Are there not many 
individuals in the country who do not attend con- 
ventions 1 But no : I find that the respectable man, 
so called, has immediately drifted from his position, 
and despairs of his country, when his country has 
more reason to despair of him. He forthwith 
adopts one of the candidates thus selected as the 
only available one, thus proving that he is himself 
available for any purposes of the demagogue. His 
vote is of no more worth than that of any un- 
principled foreigner or hireling native, who may 
have been bought. O for a man who is a man, and, 
as my neighbour says, has a bone in his back which 
you cannot pass your hand through ! Our statistics 
are at fault : the population has been returned too 
large. How many men are there to a square 
thousand miles in this country ? Hardly one. 
Does not America offer any inducement for men 
to settle here? The American has dwindled into 
an Odd Fellow, — one who may be knovm by the 
development of his organ of gregariousness, and 
a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance ; 
whose first and chief concern, on coming into the 
world, is to see that the Almshouses are in good 
repair ; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the 
virile garb, to collect a fund for the support of the 
widows and orphans that may be ; who, in short, 
ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insur- 
ance company, which has promised to bury him 
decently. 

It is not a man's duty, as a matter of course, to 



248 SELECTIONS FKOM THOREAU 

devote himself to the eradication of any, even the 
most enormous vs^rong; 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 gives 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 another man's shoulders. 
I must get off him first, that he may pursue his con- 
templations too. See what gross inconsistency is 
tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, 
" I should like to have them order me out to help 
put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to 
march to Mexico ; — see if I would go " ; and yet 
these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, 
and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished 
a substitute. The soldier is applauded who refuses 
to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse 
to sustain the unjust government which makes the 
war; is applauded by those whose own act and 
authority he disregards and sets at naught ; as if the 
State were penitent to that degree that it hired one 
to scourge it while it sinned, but not to that degree 
that it left off sinning for a moment. Thus, under 
the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all 
made at last to pay homage to and support our own 
meanness. After the first blush of sin comes its 
indifference ; and from immoral it becomes, as it were, 
Mjimoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which 
we have made. 

The broadest and most prevalent error requires 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 249 

the most disinterested virtue to sustain it. The 
slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is 
commonly liable, the noble are most likely to incur. 
Those who, while they disapprove of the character 
and measures of a government, yield to it their 
allegiance and support, are undoubtedly its most 

■ conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most 
serious obstacles to reform. Some are petitioning 
the State to dissolve the Union, to disregard the 
requisitions of the President. Why do they not 
dissolve it themselves, — the union between them- 
selves, and the State, — and refuse to pay their 
quota into its treasury ? Do not they stand in the 
same relation to the State, that the State does to the 
Union ? And have not the same reasons prevented 
the State from resisting the Union, which have pre- 
vented them from resisting the State ? 

How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion 
merely, and enjoy it ? Is there any enjoyment in it, 
if his opinion is that he is aggrieved? If you are 
cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbour, you 
do not rest satisfied with knowing that you are 
cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even 
with petitioning him to pay you your due ; but you 
take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount, 
and see that you are never cheated again. Action 

-from principle, the perception and the performance 
of right, changes things and relations ; it is essentially 
revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with any- 
thing which was. It not only divides states and 
churches, it divides families ; ay, it divides the 



250 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

individual, separating the diabolical in him from the 
divine. 

Unjust laws exist : shall we be content to obey 
them, or shall we endeavour to amend them, and 
obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we 
transgress them at once? Men generally, under 
such a government as this, think that they ought to 
wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter 
them. They think that, if they should resist, the 
remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the 
fault of the government itself that the remedy is 
worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it 
not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform ? 
Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why 
does it cry and resist before it is hurt 1 Why does 
it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to 
point out its faults, and do better than it would have 
them ? Why does it always crucify Christ, and ex- 
communicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce 
Washington and Franklin rebels ? 

One would think, that a deliberate and practical 
denial of its authority was the only offence never 
contemplated by government; else, why has it not 
assigned its definite, its suitable and proportionate 
penalty ? If a man who has no property refuses but 
once to earn nine shillings for the State, he is put in 
prison for a period unlimited by any law that I 
know, and determined only by the discretion of those 
who placed him there ; but if he should steal ninety 
times nine shillings from the State, he is soon per- 
mitted to go at large again. 



CiViL DISOBEDIENCE 251 

If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of 
the machine of government, let it go, let it go : per- 
chance it will wear smooth, — certainly the machine 
will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a 
pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself 
then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy 
will not be worse than the evil ; but if it is of such a 
nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice 
to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life 
be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I 
have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend 
myself to the wrong which I condemn. 

As for adopting the ways which the State has 
provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such 
ways. They take too much time, and a man's life 
will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I 
came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good 
place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. 
A man has not everything to do, but something ; and 
because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary 
that he should do something wrong. It is not my 
business to be petitioning the Governor or the Legis- 
lature any more than it is theirs to petition me ; and, 
if they should not hear my petition, what should I 
do then ? But in this case the State has provided no 
way: its very Constitution is the evil. This may 
seem to be harsh and stubborn and unconciliatory ; 
but it is to treat with the utmost kindness and con- 
sideration the only spirit that can appreciate or 
deserves it. So is all change for the better, like 
birth and death, which convulse the body. 



252 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

I do not hesitate to say, that those who call them- 
selves Abolitionists should at once effectually with- 
draw their support, both in person and property, 
from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait 
till they constitute a majority of one, before they 
suffer the right to prevail through them. I think 
that it is enough if they have God on their side, 
without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any 
man more right than his neighbours constitutes a 
majority of one already. 

I meet this American government, or its repre- 
sentative, the State government, directly, and face to 
face, once a year — no more — in the person of its tax- 
gatherer ; this is the only mode in which a man 
situated as I am necessarily meets it ; and it then 
says distinctly, Eecognise me ; and the simplest, the 
most effectual, and, in the present posture of affairs, 
the indispensablest mode of treating with it on this 
head, of expressing your little satisfaction with and 
love for it, is to deny it then. My civil neighbour, 
the tax-gatherer, is the very man I have to deal with, 
— for it is, after all, with men and not with parch- 
ment that I quarrel, — and he has voluntarily chosen 
to be an agent of the government. How shall he 
ever know well what he is and does as an officer of 
the government, or as a man, until he is obliged to 
consider whether he shall treat me, his neighbour, for 
whom he has respect, as a neighbour and well-disposed 
man, or as a maniac and disturber of the peace, and 
see if he can get over this obstruction to his neigh- 
bourliness without a ruder and more impetuous 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 253 

thought or speech corresponding with his action. I 
know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, 
if ten men whom I could name, — if ten honest men 
only, — ay, if one honest man, in this State of 
Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to 
withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up 
in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition 
of slavery in America. For it matters not how small 
the beginning may seem to be : what is once well 
done is done foij ever. But we love better to talk 
about it : that we say is our mission. Reform keeps 
many scores of newspapers in its service, but not one 
man. If my esteemed neighbour, the State's am- 
bassador, who will devote his days to the settlement 
of the question of human rights in the Council 
Chamber, instead of being threatened with the 
prisons of Carolina, were to sit down the prisoner of 
Massachusetts, that State which is so anxious to foist 
the sin of slavery upon her sister, — though at present 
she can discover only an act of inhospitality to be 
the ground of a quarrel with her, — the Legislature 
would not wholly waive the subject the following 
winter. 

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, 
the true place for a just man is also a prison. The 
proper place to-day, the only place which Massachu- 
setts has provided for her freer and less desponding 
spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out 
of the State by her own act, as they have already 
put themselves out by their principles. It is there 
that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on 



254 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of 
his race, should find them ; on that separate, but more 
free and honourable ground, where the State places 
those who are not tdth her, but against her, — the only- 
house in a slave State in which a free man can abide 
with honour. If any think that their influence 
would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict 
the ear of the State, that they would not be as an 
enemy within its walls, they do not know by how 
much truth is stronger than error, nor how much 
more eloquently and effectively he can combat in- 
justice who has experienced a little in his own person. 
Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but 
your whole influence. A minority is powerless while 
it conforms to the majority ; it is not even a minority 
then ; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole 
weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in 
prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not 
hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were 
not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be 
a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay 
them, and enable the State to commit violence and 
shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition 
of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If 
the tax-gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me, 
as one has done, "But what shall I do ?" my answer 
is, " If you really wish to do anything, resign your 
office." When the subject has refused allegiance, and 
the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution 
is accomplished. But even suppose blood should flow. 
Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 255 

is wounded ? Through this wound a man's real man- 
hood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an 
everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now. 

I have contemplated the imprisonment of the 
offender, rather than the seizure of his goods, — 
though both will serve the same purpose, — because 
they who assert the purest right, and consequently 
are most dangerous to a corrupt State, commonly 
have not spent much time in accumulating property. 
To such the State renders comparatively small 
service, and a slight tax is wont to appear exorbitant, 
particularly if they are obliged to earn it by special 
labour with their hands. If there were one who lived 
wholly without the use of money, the State itself 
would hesitate to demand it of him. But the rich 
man, — not to make any invidious comparison, — is 
always sold to the institution which makes him rich. 
Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue ; 
for money comes between a man and his objects, and 
obtains them for him ; and it was certainly no great 
virtue to obtain it. It puts to rest many questions 
which he would otherwise be taxed to answer ; while 
the only new question which it puts is the hard but 
superfluous one, how to spend it. Thus his moral 
ground is taken from under his feet. The oppor- 
tunities of living are diminished in proportion as 
what are called the "means" are increased. The 
best thing a man can do for his culture when he is 
rich is to endeavour to carry out those schemes which 
he entertained when he was poor. Christ answered 
the Herodians according to their condition. " Show 



256 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

me the tribute-money," said he; — and one took a 
penny out of his pocket ; — if you use money which 
has the image of Caesar on it, and which he has made 
current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the State, 
and gladly enjoy the advantages of Csesar's govern- 
ment, then pay him back some of his own when he 
demands it; "Eender therefore to Caesar that which 
is Caesar's, and to G-od those things which are God's, " 
— leaving them no wiser than before as to which was 
which ; for they did not wish to know. 

When I converse with the freest of my neighbours, 
I perceive that, whatever they may say about the 
magnitude and seriousness of the question, and their 
regard for the public tranquillity, the long and the 
short of the matter is, that they cannot spare the 
protection of the existing government, and they 
dread the consequences to their property and 
families of disobedience to it. For my own part, 
I should not like to think that I ever rely on the 
protection of the State. But, if I deny the authority 
of the State when it presents its tax-bill, it will soon 
take and waste all my property, and so harass me 
and my children without end. This is hard. This 
makes it impossible for a man to live honestly, and 
at the same time comfortably, in outward respects. 
It will not be worth the while to accumulate pro- 
perty ; that would be sure to go again. You must 
hire or squat somewhere, and raise but a small crop, 
and eat that soon. You must live within yourself, 
and depend upon yourself, always tucked up and 
ready for a start, and not have many affairs. A 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 257 

man may grow rich in Turkey even, if he will be in 
all respects a good subject of the Turkish govern- 
ment. Confucius said : " If a state is governed by 
the principles of reason, poverty and misery are 
subjects of shame ; if a state is not governed by the 
principles of reason, riches and honours are the 
subjects of shame." No : until I want the pro- 
tection of Massachusetts to be extended to me in 
some distant Southern port, where my liberty is 
endangered, or until I am bent solely on building up 
an estate at home by peaceful enterprise, I can afford 
to refuse allegiance to Massachusetts, and her right 
to my property and life. It costs me less in every 
sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the 
State, than it would to obey. I should feel as if I 
were worth less in that case. 

Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of 
the Church, and commanded me to pay a certain 
sum toward the support of a clergyman whose 
preaching my father attended, but never I myself. 
"Pay,'' it said, "or be locked up in the jail." I 
declined to pay. But, unfortunately, another man 
saw fit to pay it. I did not see why the school- 
master should be taxed to support the priest, and 
not the priest the schoolmaster; for I was not the 
State's schoolmaster, but I supported myself by 
voluntary subscription. I did not see why the 
lyceum should not present its tax-bill, and have the 
State to back its demand, as well as the Church. 
However, at the request of the selectmen, I con- 
descended to make some such statement as this in 
S 



258 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

writing : — " Know all men by these presents, that I, 
Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a 
member of any incorporated society which I have 
not joined." This I gave to the town clerk; and 
he has it. The State, having thus learned that I 
did not wish to be regarded as a member of that 
church, has never made a like demand on me since ; 
though it said that it must adhere to its original 
presumption that time. If I had known how to 
name them, I should then have signed off in detail 
from all the societies which I never signed on to ; 
but I did not know where to find a complete list. 

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 soHd 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 it could put me to, and had 
never thought to avail itself of my services in some 
way. I saw that, if there was a wall of stone be- 
tween 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 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 259 

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 medi- 
tations, which followed them out again without let or 
hindrance, and tJiey were really all that was danger- 
ous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved 
to punish my body ; just as boys, if they cannot come 
at some person against whom they have a spite, will 
abuse his dog. I saw that the State was half-witted, 
that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver 
spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its 
foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and 
pitied it. 

Thus the State never intentionally confronts a 
man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, 
his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or 
honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was 
not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own 
fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What 
force has a multitude 1 They only can force me who 
obey a higher law than I. They force me to become 
like themselves. I do not hear of rmn being forced 
to live this way or that by masses of men. What 
sort of life were that to live? When I meet a 
government which says to me, " Your money or your 
Ufe," why should I be in haste to give it my money ? 
It may be in a great strait, and not know what to 
do : I cannot help that. It must help itself ; do as 
I do. It is not worth the while to snivel about it 



260 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

I am not responsible for the successful working of 
the machinery of society. I am not the son of the 
engineer. I perceive that, when an acorn and a 
chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain 
inert to make way for the other, but both obey their 
own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best 
they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys 
the other. If a plant cannot live according to its 
nature, it dies ; and so a man. 

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 
jailer 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 jailer, 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 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 believe 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 prob- 
ably 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 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 on, and heard the history of 
the various occupants of that 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 

' This refers to Thoreau's imprisonment in 1845 for his refusal 
to pay the poll-tax. 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 261 

town where verses are composed, whioli are afterward printed 
in a 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 fellow-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 Rhine 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 audi- 
tor 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 com- 
prehend 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 lunch or dinner. 
Soon after he was let out to work at haying in a neighbouring 
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. 

When I came out of prison, — for some one interfered, and 
paid that tax,' — I did not perceive that great changes had 
taken place on the common, such as he observed who went 
in a youth, and emerged a tottering and gray-headed man ; 
and yet a change had to my eyes come over the scene, — the 
town, and State, and country, — greater than any that mere 
time could effect. I saw yet more distinctly the State in 
which I lived. I saw to what extent the people among whom 
I lived could be trusted as good neighbours and friends ; that 
their friendship was for summer weather only ; that they did 
not greatly propose to do right ; that they were a distinct race 

■^ This was not Emerson, as has been supposed, but Thoreau's 
mother and aunts. The jailer, who is still living, says the pay- 
ment of the tax made Thoreau "mad as the devil." 



262 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

from me by their prejudices and superstitions, as the Chinamen 
and Malays are ; that, in their sacrifices to humanity, they ran 
no risks, not even to their property ; that, after all, they were 
not so noble but they treated the thief as he had treated them, 
and hoped, by a certain outward observance and a few prayers, 
and by walking in a particular straight though useless path 
from time to time, to save their souls. This may be to judge my 
neighbours harshly ; for I believe that many of them are not 
aware that they have such an institution as the jail in their village. 

It was formerly 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 neighbours 
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 pro- 
ceeded to finish my errand, and having put on my mended shoe, 
joined a huckleberry party, who were impatient to put them- 
selves under my conduct ; and in half an hour, — for the horse 
was soon tackled, — was in the midst of a huckleberry field, on 
one of our highest hills, two miles off, and then the State was 
nowhere to be seen. 

This is the whole history of " My Prisons." 

I have never declined paying the highway tax, 
because I am as desirous of being a good neighbour 
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 is for no particular item in the 
tax-bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to 
refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand 
aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the 
course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or 
a musket to shoot one with, — the dollar is innocent, 
— but I am concerned to trace the effects of my 
allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the 
State, after my fashion, though I will still make what 
use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual 
in such cases. 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 263 

If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, 
from a sympathy with the State, they do but what 
they have already done in their own case, or rather 
they abet injustice to a greater extent than the State 
requires. If they pay the tax from a mistaken in- 
■ terest in the individual taxed, to save his property, 
or prevent his going to jail, it is because they have 
not considered wisely how far they let their private 
feelings interfere with the public good. 

This, then, is my position at present. But one 
cannot be too much on his guard in such a case, lest 
his action be biassed by obstinacy, or an undue regard 
for the opinions of men. Let him see that he does 
only what belongs to himself and to the hour, 

I think sometimes. Why, this people mean well ; 
they are only ignorant ; they would do better if they 
knew how : why give your neighbours this pain to 
treat you as they are not inclined to ? But I think 
again, this is no reason why I should do as they do, 
or permit others to suffer much greater pain of a 
different kind. Again, I sometimes say to myself, 
When many millions of men, without heat, without 
ill will, without personal feeling of any kind, demand 
of you a few shillings only, without the possibility, 
such is their constitution, of retracting or altering 
their present demand, and without the possibility, on 
your side, of appeal to any other millions, why 
expose yourself to this overwhelming brute force? 
You do not resist cold and hunger, the winds and the 
waves, thus obstinately; you quietly submit to a 
thousand similar necessities. You do not put your 



264 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

head into the fire. But just in proportion as I 
regard this as not wholly a brute force, but partly a 
human force, and consider that I have relations to 
those millions as to so many millions of men, and not 
of mere brute or inanimate things, I see that appeal 
is possible, first and instantaneously, from them to 
the Maker of them, and, secondly, from them to 
themselves. But, if I put my head deliberately into 
the fire, there is no appeal to fire or to the Maker of 
fire, and I have only myself to blame. If I could 
convince myself that I have any right to be satisfied 
with men as they are, and to treat them accordingly, 
and not according, in some respects, to my requisi- 
tions and expectations of what they and I ought 
to be, then, like a good Mussulman and fatalist, I 
should endeavour to be satisfied with things as they 
are, and say it is the will of God. And, above all, 
there is this difference between resisting this and 
a purely brute or natural force, that I can resist this 
with some effect ; but I cannot expect like Orpheus, 
to change the nature of the rocks and trees and 
beasts. 

I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. 
I do not wish to split hairs, to make fine distinctions, 
or set myself up as better than my neighbours. I 
seek rather, I may say, even an excuse for conform- 
ing to the laws of the land. I am but too ready to 
conform to them. Indeed, I have reason to suspect 
myself on this head ; and each year, as the tax- 
gatherer comes round, I find myself disposed to re- 
view the acts and position of the general and State 



? 



CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 265 

governments, and the spirit of the people, to discover 
a pretext for conformity. 

" "We must affect our country as our parents, 
And if at any time we alienate 
Our love or industry from doing it honour, 
We must respect effects and teach the soul 
Matter of conscience and religion, 
And not desire of rule or benefit." 

I believe that the State will soon be able to take all 
my work of this sort out of my hands, and then I 
shall be no better a patriot than my fellow-countrymen. 
Seen from a lower point of view, the Constitution, 
with all its faults, is very good; the law and the 
courts are very respectable ; even this State and this 
American government are, in many respects, very 
admirable and rare things, to be thankful for, such as 
a great many have described them ; but seen from a 
point of view a little higher, they are what I have 
described them ; seen from a higher still, and 
the highest, who shall say what they are, or that 
they are worth looking at or thinking of at all 1 r 

However, the government does not concern me 
much, and I shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts 
on it. It is not many moments that I live under a 
government, even in this world. If a man is thought- 
free, fancy-free, imagination-free, that which is not 
never for a long time appearing to be to him, unwise 
rulers or reformers cannot fatally interrupt him. 

The authority of government, even such as I am 
willing to submit to, — for I will cheerfully obey those 
who know and can do better than I, and in many 



266 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

things even those who neither know nor can do so 
well, — is still an impure one : to be strictly just, it 
must have the sanction and consent of the governed. 
It can have no pure right over my person and pro- 
perty but what I concede to it. The progress from 
an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited 
monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true 
respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philo- 
sopher was wise enough to regard the individual as 
the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, such as we 
know it, the last improvement possible in govern- 
ment 1 Is it not possible to take a step further towards 
recognising and organising the rights of man?^There 
will never be a really free and enlightened State, until 
the State comes to recognise the individual as a higher 
and independent power, from which all its own power 
and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. 
I please myself with imagining a State at last which 
can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the 
individual with respect as a neighbour ; which even 
would not think it inconsistent with its own repose, 
if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with 
it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of 
neighbours and fellow-men. A State which bore this 
kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it 
ripened, would prepare the way for a still more 
perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, 
but not yet anywhere seen. CK 



A PLEA FOR CAPTAIN JOHN BEOWN^ 

I TRUST that you will pardon me for being here. I 
do not wish to force my thoughts upon you, but I 
feel forced myself. Little as I know of Captain 
Brown, I would fain do my part to correct the tone 
and the statements of the newspapers, and of my 
countrymen generally, respecting his character and 
actions. It costs us nothing to be just. We can at 
least express our sympathy with, and admiration of, 
him and his companions, and that is what I now 
propose to do. 

First, as to his history. I will endeavour to omit, 
as much as possible, what you have already read. I 
need not describe his person to you, for probably 
most of you have seen and will not soon forget him. 
I am told that his grandfather, John Brown, was an 
officer in the Eevolution ; that he himself was born 
in Connecticut about the beginning of this century, 
but early went with Tais father to Ohio. I heard him 
say that his father was a contractor who furnished 
beef to the army there, in the war of 1812 ; that he 

1 Eead to the citizens of Concord, Mass., Sunday evening, 
October 30, 1859. 



268 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

accompanied him to the camp, and assisted him in 
that employment, seeing a good deal of military life, 
— more, perhaps, than if he had been a soldier ; for 
he was often present at the councils of the officers. 
Especially, he learned by experience how armies are 
supplied and maintained in the field, — a work which, 
he observed, requires at least as much experience and 
skill as to lead them in battle. He said that few 
persons had any conception of the cost, even the 
pecuniary cost, of firing a single bullet in war. He 
saw enough, at any rate, to disgust him with a 
military life ; indeed, to excite in him a great abhor- 
rence of it ; so much so, that though he was tempted 
by the offer of some petty office in the army, when 
he was about eighteen, he not only declined that, 
but he also refused to train when warned, and was 
fined for it. He then resolved that he would never 
have anything to do withfany war, unless it were a 
war for liberty, f 

When the troubles in Kansas began, he sent 
several of his sons thither to strengthen the party of 
the Free State men, fitting them out with such 
weapons as he had ; telling them that if the troubles 
should increase, and there should be need of him, he 
would follow, to assist them with his hand and 
counsel. This, as you all know, he soon after did ; 
and it was through his agency, far more than any 
other's, that Kansas was made free. 

For a«Jart of his life he was a surveyor, and at 
one time he was engaged in wool-growing, and he 
went to Europe as an agent about that business. 



A PLEA FOR CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN 269 

There, as everywhere, he had his eyes about him, and 
made many original observations. He said, for in- 
stance, that he saw why the soil of England was so 
rich, and that of Germany (I think it was) so poor, 
and he thought of writing to some of the crowned 
heads about it. It was because in England the 
peasantry live on the soil which they cultivate, but 
in G-ermany they are gathered into villages, at night. 
It is a pity that he did not make a book of his obser- 
vations. 

I should say that he was an old-fashioned man in 
his respect for the Constitution, and his faith in the 
permanence of this Union. Slavery he deemed to be 
wholly opposed to these, and he was its determined foe. 

He was by descent and birth a New England 
farmer, a man of great common-sense, deliberate and 
practical as that class is, and tenfold more so. He 
was like the best of those who stood at Concord 
Bridge once, on Lexington Common, and on Bunker 
Hill, only he was firmer and higher principled than 
any that I have chanced to hear of as there. It was 
no abolition lecturer that converted him. Ethan 
Allen and Stark, with whom he may in some respects 
be compared, were rangers in a lower and less im- 
portant field. They could bravely face their country's j 
foes, but he had the courage to face his country her- / 
self, when she was in the wrong. A "Western writer 
says, to account for his escape from so many perils, 
that he was concealed under a " rural exterior '' ; as 
if, in that prairie land, a hero should, by good rights, 
wear a citizen's dress only. 



270 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

He did not go to the college called Harvard, good 
old Alma Mater as she is. He was not fed on the 
pap that is there furnished. As he phrased it, "I 
know no more of grammar than one of your calves.'' 
But he went to the great university of the West, 
where he sedulously pursued the study of Liberty, 
for which he had early betrayed a fondness, and 
having taken many degrees, he finally commenced 
the public practice of Humanity in Kansas, as you all 
know. Such were his humanities and not any study 
of grammar. He would have left a Greek accent 
slanting the wrong way, and righted up a falling 
man. 

He was one of that class of whom we hear a great 
deal, but, for the most part, see nothing at all, — the 
Puritans. It would be in vain to kill him. He died 
lately in the time of Cromwell, but he reappeared 
here. Why should he not ? Some of the Puritan 
stock are said to have come over and settled in New 
England. They were a class that did something else 
than celebrate their forefathers' day, and eat parched 
corn in remembrance of that time. They were 
neither Democrats nor Eepublicans, but men of 
simple habits, straightforward, prayerful ; not think- 
ing much of rulers who did not fear God, not making 
many compromises, nor seeking after available can- 
didates. 

"In his camp," as one has recently written, and 
as I have myself heard him state, " he permitted no 
profanity; no man of loose morals was suffered to 
remain there, unless, indeed, as a prisoner of war. 



A PLEA FOE CAPTAIN JOHN BKOWN 271 

'1 would rather,' said he, 'have the small-pox, yellow- 
fever, and cholera, all together in my camp, than a 
man without principle. ... It is a mistake, sir, 
that our people make, when they think that bullies 
are the best fighters, or that they are the fit men to 
oppose these Southerners. Give me men of good 
principles, — God-fearing men, — men who respect 
themselves, and with a dozen of them I will oppose 
any hundred such men as these Buford rufiians.' " 
He said that if one offered himself to be a soldier 
under him, who was forward to tell what he could 
or would do, if he could only get sight of the enemy, 
he had but little confidence in him. 

He was never able to find more than a score or so 
of recruits whom he would accept, and only about a 
dozen, among them his sons, in whom he had perfect 
faith. When he was here, some years ago, he showed 
to a few a little manuscript book, — his "orderly 
book " I think he called it, — containing the names of 
his company in Kansas, and the rules by which they 
bound themselves ; and he stated that several of 
them had already sealed the contract with their blood. 
When some one remarked that, with the addition of 
a chaplain, it would have been a perfect Cromwellian 
troop, he observed that he would have been glad to 
add a chaplain to the list, if he could have found one 
who could fill that office worthily. It is easy enough 
to find one for the United States army. I believe 
that he had prayers in his camp morning and evening, 
nevertheless. 

He was a man of Spartan habits, and at sixty was 



272 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

scrupulous about his diet at your table, excusing 
himself by saying that he must eat sparingly and 
fare hard, as became a soldier, or one who was fitting 
himself for diflficult enterprises, a life of exposure. 

A man of rare common -sense and directness of 
speech, as of action ; a transcendentalist above all, a 
man of ideas and principles, — that was what dis- 
tinguished him. Not yielding to a whim or transient 
impulse, but carrying out the purpose of a life. I 
noticed that he did not overstate anything, but spoke 
within bounds. I remember, particularly, how, in 
his speech here, he referred to what his family had 
suffered in Kansas, without ever giving the least vent 
to his pent-up fire. It was a volcano with an 
ordinary chimney-flue. Also referring to the deeds 
of certain Border RufiSans, he said, rapidly paring 
away his speech, like an experienced soldier, keeping 
a reserve of force and meaning, " They had a perfect 
right to be hung." He was not in the least a 
rhetorician, was not talking to Buncombe or his con- 
stituents anywhere, had no need to Invent anything 
j but to tell the simple truth, and communicate his own 
resolution ; therefore he appeared incomparably 
strong, and eloquence in Congress and elsewhere 
seemed to me at a discount. It was like the speeches 
of Cromwell compared with those of an ordinary 
king. 

As for his tact and prudence, I will merely say, 
that at a time when scarcely a man from the Free 
States was able to reach Kansas by any direct route, 
at least without having his arms taken from him, he, 



A PLEA FOR CAPTAIN JOHN BEOWN 273 

carrying what imperfect guns and other weapons he 
could collect, openly and slowly drove an ox- cart 
through Missouri, apparently in the capacity of a 
surveyor, with his surveying compass exposed in it, 
and so passed unsuspected, and had ample opportunity 
to learn the designs of the enemy. For some time 
after his arrival he still followed the same profession. 
When, for instance, he saw a knot of the ruflBans on 
the prairie, discussing, of course, the single topic 
which then occupied their minds, he would, perhaps, 
take his compass and one of his sons, and proceed to 
run an imaginary line right through the very spot on 
which that conclave had assembled, and when he 
came up to them, he would naturally pause and have 
some talk with them, learning their news, and, at 
last, all their plans perfectly ; and having thus com- - 
pleted his real survey he would resume his imaginary 
one, and run on his line till he was out of sight. 

When I expressed surprise that he could live in 
Kansas at all, with a price set upon his head, and so 
large a number, including the authorities, exasperated 
against him, he accounted for it by saying, " It is 
perfectly well understood that I will not be taken." 
Much of the time for some years he has had to skulk 
in swamps, suffering from poverty and from sickness, 
which was the consequence of exposure, befriended 
only by Indians and a few whites. But though it 
might be known that he was lurking in a particular 
swamp, his foes commonly did not care to go in after 
him. He could even come out into a town where 
there were more Border Euffians than Free State 
T 



274 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

men, and transact some business, without delaying 
long, and yet not be molested ; for, said he, " No 
little handful of men were willing to undertake it, 
and a large body could not be got together in season." 

As for his recent failure, we do not know the facts 
about it. It was evidently far from being a wild and 
desperate attempt. His enemy, Mr. Vallandigham, 
is compelled to say, that "it was among the best 
planned and executed conspiracies that ever failed." 

Not to mention his other successes, was it a failure, 
or did it show a want of good management, to dehver 
from bondage a dozen human beings, and walk off 
with them by broad daylight, for weeks if not months, 
at a leisurely pace, through one State after another, 
for half the length of the North, conspicuous to aU 
parties, with a price set upon his head, going into a 
court-room on his way and telling what he had done, 
thus convincing Missouri that it was not profitable to 
try to hold slaves in his neighbourhood ? — and this, 
not because the government menials were lenient, but 
because they were afraid of him. 

Yet he did not attribute his success, foolishly, to 
" his star,'' or to any magic. He said, truly, that the 
reason why such greatly superior numbers quailed 
before him was, as one of his prisoners confessed, 
because they lacked a cause, — a kind of armour which 
he and his party never lacked. When the time came, 
few men were found willing to lay down their lives 
in defence of what they knew to be wrong ; they did 
not like that this should be their last act in this 
world. 



A PLEA FOE CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN 275 

But to make haste to his last act, and its effects. 

The newspapers seem to ignore, or perhaps are 
really ignorant of the fact, that there are at least as 
many as two or three individuals to a town through- 
out the North who think much as the present speaker 
does about him and his enterprise. I do not hesitate 
to say that they are an important and growing party. 
We aspire to be something more than stupid and 
timid chattels, pretending to read history and our 
Bibles, but desecrating every house and every day 
we breathe in. Perhaps anxious politicians may 
prove that only seventeen white men and five negroes 
were concerned in the late enterprise ; but their very 
anxiety to prove this might suggest to themselves 
that all is not told. Why do they still dodge the 
truth ? They are so anxious because of a dim 
consciousness of the fact, which they do not distinctly 
face, that at least a million of the free inhabitants of 
the United States would have rejoiced if it had 
succeeded. They at most only criticise the tactics. 
Though we wear no crape, the thought of that man's 
position and probable fate is spoiling many a man's 
day here at the North for other thinking. If any 
one who has seen him here can pursue successfully 
any other train of thought, I do not know what he is 
made of. If there is any such who gets his usual 
allowance of sleep, I will warrant him to fatten easily 
under any circumstances which do not touch his body 
or purse. I put a piece of paper and a pencil under 
my pillow, and when I could not sleep, I wrote in 
the dark. 



276 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

On the whole, my respect for my fellow-men, 
except as one may outweigh a million, is not being 
increased these days. I have noticed the cold-blooded 
way in which newspaper writers and men generally 
speak of this event, as if an ordinary malefactor, 
though one of unusual " pluck," — as the Governor of 
Virginia is reported to have said, using the language 
of the cock-pit, " the gamest man he ever saw," — had 
been caught, and were about to be hung. He was 
not dreaming of his foes when the governor thought 
he looked so brave. It turns what sweetness I have 
to gall, to hear, or hear of, the remarks of some of my 
neighbours. When we heard at first that he was 
dead, one of my townsmen observed that " he died as 
the fool dieth"; which, pardon me, for an instant 
suggested a likeness in him dying to my neighbour 
living. Others, craven -hearted, said disparagingly, 
that "he threw his life away," becaiise he resisted 
the government. Which way have they thrown their 
lives, pray "i — such as would praise a man for attack- 
ing singly an ordinary band of thieves or murderers. 
I hear another ask, Yankee-like, " What will he gain 
by it 1 " as if he expected to fill his pockets by this 
enterprise. Such a one has no idea of gain but in 
this wordly sense. If it does not lead to a " surprise " 
party, if he does not get a new pair of boots, or a 
vote of thanks, it must be a failure. " But he won't 
gain anything by it." Well, no, I don't suppose he 
could get four-and- sixpence a day for being hung, 
take the year round ; but then he stands a chance to 
save a considerable part of his soul, — and such a soul ! — 



A PLEA FOE CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN 277 

when you do not. No doubt you can get more in your 
market for a quart of milk than for a quart of blood, but 
that is not the market that heroes carry their blood to. 

Such do not know that like the seed is the fruit, 
and that, in the moral world, when good seed is 
planted, good fruit is inevitable, and does not depend 
on our watering and cultivating; that when you 
plant, or bury a hero in his field, a crop of heroes is 
sure to spring up. This is a seed of such force and 
vitality, that it does not ask our leave to germinate. 

The momentary charge at Balaclava, in obedience 
to a blundering command, proving what a perfect 
machine the soldier is, has, properly enough, been 
celebrated by a poet laureate ; but the steady, and 
for the most part successful, charge of this man, for 
some years, against the legions of Slavery, in obed- 
ience to an infinitely higher command, is as much 
more memorable than that, as an intelligent and con- 
scientious man is superior to a machine. Do you 
think that that will go unsung ? 

"Served him right," — "A dangerous man," — "He 
is undoubtedly insane.'' So they proceed to live 
their sane, and wise, and altogether admirable lives, 
reading their Plutarch a little, but chiefly pausing at 
that feat of Putnam, who was let down into a wolf's 
den; and in this wise they nourish themselves for 
brave and patriotic deeds some time or other. The 
Tract Society could aiFord to print that story of Put- 
nam. You might open the district schools with the 
reading of it, for there is nothing about Slavery or 
the Church in it : unless it occurs to the reader that 



278 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

some pastors are wolves in sheep's clothing. "The 
American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mis- 
sions " even, might dare to protest against that wolf. 
I have heard of boards, and of American boards, but 
it chances that I never heard of this particular lumber 
till lately. And yet I hear of Northern men, and 
women, and children, by families, buying a "life- 
membership " in such societies as these. A life- 
membership in the grave ! You can get buried 
cheaper than that. 

Our foes are in our midst and all about us. 
There is hardly a house but is divided against itself, 
for our foe is the all but universal woodenness of both 
head and heart, the want of vitality in man, which is 
the effect of our vice ; and hence are begotten fear, 
superstition, bigotry, persecution, and slavery of aU 
kinds. We are mere figure-heads upon a hulk, with 
livers in the place of hearts. The curse is the worship 
of idols, which at length changes the worshipper into 
a stone image himself; and the New-Englander is 
just as much an idolater as the Hindoo. This man 
was an exception, for he did not set up even a 
political graven image between him and his God. 

A church that can never have done with excom- 
municating Christ while it exists ! Away with your 
broad and flat churches, and your narrow and tall 
churches ! Take a step forward, and invent a new 
style of out-houses. Invent a salt that will save you, 
and defend our nostrils. 

The modern Christian is a man who has consented 
to say all the prayers in the liturgy, provided you 



A PLEA FOR CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN 279 

will let him go straight to bed and sleep quietly after- 
ward. All his prayers begin with " Now I lay me 
down to sleep," and he is for ever looking forward to 
the time when he shall go to his "long rest." He has 
consented to perform certain old-established charities, 
too, after a fashion, but he does not wish to hear of 
any new-fangled ones ; he doesn't wish to have any 
supplementary articles added to the contract, to fit it 
to the present time. He shows the whites of his 
eyes on the Sabbath, and the blacks all the rest of the 
week. The evil is not merely a stagnation of blood, 
but a stagnation of spirit. Many, no doubt, are weU 
disposed, but sluggish by constitution and by habit, 
and they cannot conceive of a man who is actuated by 
higher motives than they are. Accordingly they pro- 
nounce this man insane, for they know that they could 
never act as he does, as long as they are themselves. 
We dream of foreign -countries, of other times and 
races of men, placing them at a distance in history or 
space ; but let some significant event like the present 
occur in our midst, and we discover, often, this 
distance and this strangeness between us and our 
nearest neighbours. They are our Austrias, and 
Chinas, and South Sea Islands. Our crowded society 
becomes well spaced all at once, clean and handsome 
to the eye, — a city of magnificent distances. We 
discover why it was that we never got beyond com- 
pliments and surfaces with them before ; we become 
aware of as many versts between us and them as 
there are between a wandering Tartar and a Chinese 
town. The thoughtful man becomes a hermit in the 



280 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

thoroughfares of the market-place. Impassable seas 
suddenly find their level between us, or dumb steppes 
stretch themselves out there. It is the difference of 
constitution, of intelligence, and faith, and not streams 
and mountains, that make the true and impassable 
boundaries between individuals and between states. 
None but the like-minded can come plenipotentiary 
to our court. 

I read all the newspapers I could get within a 
week after this event, and I do not remember in them 
a single expression of sympathy for these men. I 
have since seen one noble statement, in a Boston 
paper, not editorial. Some voluminous sheets decided 
not to print the full report of Brown's words to the 
exclusion of other matter. It was as if a publisher 
should reject the manuscript of the New Testament, 
and print Wilson's last speech. The same journal 
which contained this pregnant news, was chiefly filled, 
in parallel columns, with the reports of the political 
conventions that were being held. But the descent 
to them was too steep. They should have been 
spared this contrast, — been printed in an extra, at 
least. To turn from the voices and deeds of earnest 
men to the cackling of political conventions ! Office- 
seekers and speech-makers, who do not so much as 
lay an honest egg, but wear their breasts bare upon 
an egg of chalk ! Their great game is the game of 
straws, or rather that universal aboriginal game of 
the platter, at which the Indians cried hub, hub! 
Exclude the reports of religious and political con- 
ventions, and publish the words of a living man. 



A PLEA FOE CAPTAIN JOHN BEOWN 281 

But I object not so much to what they have 
omitted, as to what they have inserted. Even the 
Liberator called it " a misguided, wild, and apparently 
insane effort." As for the herd of newspapers and 
magazines, I do not chance to know an editor in the 
country who will deliberately print anything which 
he knows will ultimately and permanently reduce the 
number of his subscribers. They do not believe that 
it would be expedient. How then can they print 
truth 1 If we do not say pleasant things, they argue, 
nobody will attend to us. And so they do like some 
travelling auctioneers, who sing an obscene song, in 
order to draw a crowd around them. Eepublican 
editors, obliged to get their sentences ready for the 
morning edition, and accustomed to look at every- 
thing by the twilight of politics, express no admira- 
tion, nor true sorrow even, but call these men 
" deluded fanatics," — '' mistaken men," — " insane," 
or " crazed." It suggests what a sane set of editors 
we are blessed with, not " mistaken men " ; who know 
very well on which side their bread is buttered, at 
least. 

A man does a brave and humane deed, and at 
once, on all sides, we hear people and parties declar- 
ing, " I didn't do it, nor countenance him to do it, in 
any conceivable way. It can't be fairly inferred from 
my past career." I, for one, am not interested to 
hear you define your position. I don't know that I 
ever was, or ever shall be. I think it is mere egotism, 
or impertinent at this time. Ye needn't take so 
much pains to wash your skirts of him. No intelli- 



282 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

gent man will ever be convinced that lie was any 
creature of yours. He went and came, as he himself 
informs us, " under the auspices of John Brown and 
nobody else." The Republican party does not per- 
ceive how many his failure will make to vote more 
correctly than they would have them. They have 
counted the votes of Pennsylvania & Co., but they 
have not correctly counted Captain Brown's vote. 
He has taken the wind out of their sails, — the little 
wind they had, — and they may as well lie to and 
repair. 

What though he did not belong to your clique ! 
Though you may not approve of his method or his 
principles, recognise his magnanimity. Would you 
not like to claim kindredship with him in that, 
though in no other thing he is like, or likely, to you? 
Do you think that you would lose your reputation so ? 
What you lost at the spUe, you would gain at the 
bung. 

If they do not mean all this, then they do not 
speak the truth, and say what they mean. They are 
simply at their old tricks still. 

"It was always conceded to him," says one who 
calls him crazy, " that he was a conscientious man, very 
modest in his demeanour, apparently inoffensive, untD 
the subject of Slavery was introduced, when he 
would exhibit a feeling of indignation unparalleled." 

The slave-ship is on her way, crowded with its 
dying victims ; new cargoes are being added in mid- 
ocean ; a small crew of slaveholders, countenanced by 
a large body of passengers, is smothering four miUions 



A PLEA FOE CAPTAIN JOHN BEOWN 283 

under the hatches, and yet the politician asserts 
that the only proper way by which deliverance is to 
be obtained, is by " the quiet diffusion of the senti- 
ments of humanity," without any " outbreak." As if 
the sentiments of humanity were ever found unac- 
companied by its deeds, and you could disperse them, 
all finished to order, the pure article, as easily as 
water with a watering-pot, and so lay the dust. 
What is that that I hear cast overboard ? The bodies 
of the dead that have found deliverance. That is 
the way we are " diffusing " humanity, and its senti- 
ments with it. 

Prominent and influential editors, accustomed to 
deal with politicians, men of an infinitely lower 
grade, say, in their ignorance, that he acted " on the 
principle of revenge." They do not know the man. 
They must enlarge themselves to conceive of him. I 
have no doubt that the time will come when they 
will begin to see him as he was. They have got to 
conceive of a man of faith and of religious principle, 
and not a politician or an Indian ; of a man who did 
not wait till he was personally interfered with or 
thwarted in some harmless business before he gave 
his life to the cause of the oppressed. 

If Walker may be considered the representative 
of the South, I wish I could say that Brown was the 
representative of the North. He was a superior man. 
He did not value his bodily life in comparison with 
ideal things. He did not recognise unjust human 
laws, but resisted them as he was bid. For once we 
are lifted out of the trivialness and dust of politics 



284 SELECTIONS FROM THOEBAU 

into the region of truth and manhood. No man in 
America has ever stood up so persistently and effec- 
tively for the dignity of human nature, knowing 
himself for a man, and the equal of any and all 
governments. In that sense he was the most Ameri- 
can of us all. He needed no babbling lawyer, making 
false issues, to defend him. He was more than a 
match for all the judges that American voters, or 
office-holders of whatever grade, can create. He 
could not have been tried by a jury of his peers, 
because his peers did not exist. When a man stands 
up serenely against the condemnation and vengeance 
of mankind, rising above them literally ly a whole 
body, — even though he were of late the vilest 
murderer who has settled that matter with himself, 
— the spectacle is a sublime one, — didn't ye know 
it, ye Liberators, ye Tribunes, ye Republicans? — and 
we become criminal in comparison. Do yourselves 
the honour to recognise him. He needs none of your 
respect. 

As for the Democratic journals, they are not 
human enough to affect me at aU. I do not feel 
indignation at anything they may say. 

I am aware that I anticipate a little, — that he was 
still, at the last accounts, alive in the hands of his 
foes ; but that being the case, I have all along found 
myself thinking and speaking of him as physically 
dead. 

I do not believe in erecting statues to those who 
still live in our hearts, whose bones have not yet 
crumbled in the earth around us, but I would rather 



A PLEA FOR CAPTAIN JOHN BEOWN 285 

see the statue of Captain Brown in the Massachusetts 
State-House yard, than that of any other man whom 
I know. I rejoice that I live in this age, that I am 
his contemporary. 

What a contrast, when we turn to that political 
party which is so anxiously shuffling him and his 
plot out of its way, and looking around for some 
available slaveholder, perhaps, to be its candidate, at 
least for one who will execute the Fugitive Slave Law, 
and all those other unjust laws which he took up 
arms to annul ! 

Insane ! A father and six sons, and one son-in- 
law, and several more men besides, — as many at 
least as twelve disciples, — all struck with insanity at 
once; while the same tyrant holds with a firmer 
gripe than ever his four millions of slaves, and a 
thousand sane editors, his abettors, are saving their 
country and their bacon ! Just as insane were his 
efforts in Kansas. Ask the tyrant who is his most 
dangerous foe, the sane man or the insane ! Do the 
thousands who know him best, who have rejoiced at 
his deeds in Kansas, and have afforded him material 
aid there, think him insane 1 Such a use of this word 
is a mere trope with most who persist in using it, 
and I have no doubt that many of the rest have 
already in silence retracted their words. 

Eead his admirable answers to Mason and others. 
How they are dwarfed and defeated by the contrast ! 
On the one side, half-brutish, half-timid questioning ; 
on the other, truth, clear as lightning, crashing into 
their obscene temples. They are made to stand with 



286 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEBAU 

Pilate, and Gesler, and the Inquisition. How ineffec- 
tual their speech and action ! and what a void their 
silence ! They are but helpless tools in this great 
work. It was no human power that gathered them 
about this preacher. 

What have Massachusetts and the North sent a 
few sane representatives to Congress for, of late 
years ? — to declare with effect what kind of. senti- 
ments ? All their speeches put together and boiled 
down, — and probably they themselves will confess it, 
— do not match for manly directness and force, and 
for simple truth, the few casual remarks of crazy John 
Brown, on the floor of the Harper's Ferry engine- 
house, — that man whom you are about to hang, to 
send to the other world, though not to represent you 
there. No, he was not our representative in any 
sense. He was too fair a specimen of a man to 
represent the like of us. Who, then, were his constitu- 
ents? If you read his words understandingly you 
will find out. In his case there is no idle eloquence, 
no made, nor maiden speech, no compliments to the 
oppressor. Truth is his inspirer, and earnestness the 
polisher of his sentences. He could afford to lose 
his Sharpe's rifles, while he retained his faculty of 
speech, — a Sharpe's rifle of infinitely surer and longer 
range. 

And the New York Herald reports the conversa- 
tion verbatim ! It does not know of what undying 
words it is made the vehicle. 

I have no respect for the penetration of any man 
who can read the report of that conversation, and 



A PLEA FOK CAPTAIN JOHN BllOWN 287 

still call the principal in it insane. It has the ring 
of a saner sanity than an ordinary discipline and 
habits of life, than an ordinary organisation, secure. 
Take any sentence of it, — "Any questions that I can 
honourably answer, I will ; not otherwise. So far as 
I am myself concerned, I have told everything truth- 
fully. I value my word, sir." The few who talk 
about his vindictive spirit, while they really admire 
his heroism, have no test by which to detect a noble 
man, no amalgam to combine with his pure gold. 
They mix their own dross with it. 

It is a relief to turn from these slanders to the 
testimony of his more truthful, but frightened jailers 
and hangmen. Governor Wise speaks far more justly 
and appreciatingly of him than any Northern editor, 
or politician, or public personage, that I chance to 
have heard from. I know that you can afford to 
hear him again on this subject. He says : " They 
are themselves mistaken who take him to be a mad- 
man. ... He is cool, collected, and indomitable, 
and it is but just to him to say, that he was humane 
to his prisoners. . . . And he inspired me with 
great trust in his integrity as a man of truth. He is 
a fanatic, vain and garrulous " (I leave that part to 
Mr. Wise), "but firm, truthful, and intelligent. His 
men, too, who survive, are like him. . . Colonel 
Washington says that he was the coolest and firmest 
man he ever saw in defying danger and death. With 
one son dead by his side, and another shot through, 
he felt the pulse of his dying son with one hand, and 
held his rifle with the other, and commanded his men 



288 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEA0 

with the utmost composure, encouraging them to be 
firm, and to sell their lives as dear as they could. Of 
the three white prisoners, Brown, Stephens, and 
Coppic, it was hard to say which was most firm." 

Almost the first Northern men whom the slave- 
holder has learned to respect ! 

The testimony of Mr. Vallandigham, though less 
valuable, is of the same purport, that " it is vain to 
underrate either the man or his conspiracy. . . . 
He is the furthest possible removed from the ordin- 
ary ruflSan, fanatic, or madman." 

"All is quiet at Harper's Ferry," say the journals. 
What is the character of that calm which follows 
when the law and the slaveholder prevail ? I regard 
this event as a touchstone designed to bring out, with 
glaring distinctness, the character of this government. 
We needed to be thus assisted to see it by the light 
of history. It needed to see itself. When a govern- 
ment puts forth its strength on the side of injustice, 
as ours to maintain slavery and kill the liberators of 
the slave, it reveals itself a merely brute force, or 
worse, a demoniacal force. It is the head of the Plug- 
Uglies. It is more manifest than ever that tyranny 
rules. I see this government to be efiectually allied 
with France and Austria in oppressing mankind. 
There sits a tyrant holding fettered four millions of 
slaves ; here comes their heroic liberator. This most 
hypocritical and diabolical government looks up from 
its seat on the gasping foiu- millions, and inquires 
with an assumption of innocence : " What do you 
assault me for "! Am I not an honest man 1 Cease 



A PLEA FOR CAPTAIN JOHN BKOWN 289 

agitation on this subject, or I will make a slave of 
you, too, or else hang you." 

We talk about a representative government; but 
what a monster of a government is that where the 
noblest faculties of the mind, and the whole heart, are 
not represented. A semi -human tiger or ox, stalk- 
ing over the earth, with its heart taken out and the 
top of its brain shot away. Heroes have fought well 
on their stumps when their legs were shot oif, but I 
never heard of any good done by such a government 
as that. 

The only government that I recognise, — and it 
matters not how few are at the head of it, or how 
small its army, — is that power that establishes justice 
in the land, never that which establishes injustice. 
What shall we think of a government to which all 
the truly brave and just men in the land are enemies, 
standing between it and those whom it oppresses? 
A government that pretends to be Christian and 
crucifies a million Christs every day ! 

Treason ! Where does such treason take its rise ? 
I cannot help thinking of you as you deserve, ye 
governments. Can you dry up the fountains of 
thought? High treason, when it is resistance to 
tyranny here below, has its origin in, and is first 
committed by, the power that makes and for ever 
recreates man. When you have caught and hung all 
these human rebels, you have accomplished nothing 
but your own guilt, for you have not struck at the 
fountain-head. You presume to contend with a foe 
against whom West Point cadets and rifled cannon 
U 



290 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

point not. Can all the art of the cannon-founder 
tempt matter to turn against its maker ? Is the form 
in which the founder thinks he casts it more essential 
than the constitution of it and of himself 1 

The United States have a coffle of four millions of 
slaves. They are determined to keep them in this 
condition ; and Massachusetts is one of the confeder- 
ated overseers to prevent their escape. Such are not 
all the inhabitants of Massachusetts, but such are 
they who rule and are obeyed here. It was Massa- 
chusetts, as well as Virginia, that put down this insur- 
rection at Harper's Ferry. She sent the marines 
there, and she will have to pay the penalty of her sin. 

Suppose that there is a society in this State that 
out of its own purse and magnanimity saves aU 
the fugitive slaves that run to us, and protects 
our coloured fellow -citizens, and leaves the other 
work to the government, so-called. Is not that 
government fast losing its occupation, and becoming 
contemptible to mankind ? If private men are obliged 
to perform the offices of government, to protect the 
weak and dispense justice, then the government be- 
comes only a hired man, or clerk, to perform menial 
or indifferent services. Of course, that is but the 
shadow of a government whose existence necessitates 
a Vigilant Committee. What should we think of the 
Oriental Cadi even, behind whom worked in secret a 
vigilant committee 1 But such is the character of our 
Northern States generally ; each has its Vigilant 
Committee. And, to a certain extent, these crazy 
governments recognise and accept this relation. 



A PLEA FOK CAPTAIN JOHN BEOWN 291 

They say, virtually, " We'll be glad to work for you 
on these terms, only don't make a noise about it." 
And thus the government, its salary being insured, 
withdraws into the back shop, taking the Constitution 
with it, and bestows most of its labour on repairing 
that. When I hear it at work sometimes, as I go by, 
it reminds me, at best, of those farmers who in winter 
contrive to turn a penny by following the coopering 
business. And what kind of spirit is their barrel 
made to hold 1 They speculate in stocks, and bore 
holes in mountains, but they are not competent to 
lay out even a decent highway. The only free road, 
the Underground Eailroad, is owned and managed 
by the Vigilant Committee. They have tunnelled 
under the whole breadth of the land. Such a 
government is losing its power and respectability as 
surely as water runs out of a leaky vessel, and is 
held by one that can contain it. 

I hear many condemn these men because they 
were so few. When were the good and the brave 
ever in a majority 1 Would you have had him wait 
till that time came'! — till you and I came over to 
him 1 The very fact that he had no rabble or troop 
of hirelings about him would alone distinguish him 
from ordinary heroes. His company was small in- 
deed, because few could be found worthy to pass 
muster. Each one who there laid down his life for 
the poor and oppressed was a picked man, culled out 
of many thousands, if not millions ; apparently a man 
of principle, of rare courage, and devoted humanity ; 
ready to sacrifice his life at any moment for the 



292 SELECTIONS FKOM THOKEAU 

benefit of his fellow-man. It may be doubted if 
there were as many more their equals in these 
respects in all the country ; — I speak of his followers 
only; — for their leader, no doubt, scoured the land 
far and wide, seeking to swell his troop. These alone 
were ready to step between the oppressor and the 
oppressed. Surely they were the very best men you 
could select to be hung. That was the greatest com- 
pliment which this country could pay them. They 
were ripe for her gallows. She has tried a long time, 
she has hung a good many, but never found the 
right one before. 

When I think of him, and his six sons, and his 
son-in-law, not to enumerate the others, enlisted for 
this fight, proceeding coolly, reverently, humanely to 
work, for months if not years, sleeping and waking 
upon it, summering and wintering the thought, with- 
out expecting any reward but a good conscience, 
while almost all America stood ranked on the other 
side, — I say again that it affects me as a sublime 
spectacle. If he had had any journal advocating " his 
cause,'' any organ, as the phrase is, monotonously and 
wearisomely playing the same old tune, and then 
passing round the hat, it would have been fatal to 
his efficiency. If he had acted in any way so as to 
be let alone by the government, he might have been 
suspected. It was the fact that the tyrant must give 
place to him, or he to the tyrant, that distinguished 
him from all the reformers of the day that I know. 

It was his peculiar doctrine that a man has a per- 
fect right to interfere by force with the slaveholder, 



A PLEA FOB CAPTAIN JOHN BEOWN 293 

in order to rescue the slave. I agree with him. 
They who are continually shocked by slavery have 
some right to be shocked by the violent death of 
the slaveholder, but no others. Such will be more 
shocked by his life than by his death. I shall not be 
forward to think him mistaken in his method who 
quickest succeeds to liberate the slave. I speak for 
the slave when I say, that I prefer the philanthropy 
of Captain Brown to that philanthropy which neither 
shoots me nor liberates me. At any rate, I do not 
think it is quite sane for one to spend his whole life 
in talking or writing about this matter, unless he is 
continuously inspired, and I have not done so. A 
man may have other affairs to attend to. I do not 
wish to kill nor to be killed, but I can foresee circum- 
stances in which both these things would be by me 
unavoidable. We preserve the so-called peace of our 
community by deeds of petty violence every day. 
Look at the policeman's billy and handcuffs ! Look 
at the jail ! Look at the gallows ! Look at the 
chaplain of the regiment ! We are hoping only to 
live safely on the outskirts of this provisional army. 
So we defend ourselves and our hen-roosts, and main- 
tain slavery. I know that the mass of my country- 
men think that the only righteous use that can be 
made of Sharpe's rifles and revolvers is to fight duels 
with them, when we are insulted by other nations, or 
to hunt Indians, or shoot fugitive slaves with them, 
or the like. I think that for once the Sharpe's rifles 
and the revolvers were employed in a righteous cause. 
The tools were in the hands of one who could use them. 



294 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

The same indignation that is said to have cleared 
the temple once will clear it again. The question is 
not about the weapon, but the spirit in which you 
use it. No man has appeared in America, as yet, 
who loved his fellow-man so well, and treated him so 
tenderly. He lived for him. He took up his life 
and he laid it down for him. What sort of violence 
is that which is encouraged, not by soldiers, but by 
peaceable citizens, not so much by laymen as by 
ministers of the Gospel, no't so much by the fighting 
sects as by the Quakers, and not so much by Quaker 
men as by Quaker women 1 

This event advertises me that there is such a fact 
as death, — the possibility of a man's dying. It seems 
as if no man had ever died in America before ; for 
in order to die you must first have lived. I don't 
believe in the hearses, and palls, and funerals that 
they have had. There was no death in the case, 
because there had been no life ; they merely rotted 
or sloughed oif, pretty much as they had rotted or 
sloughed along. No temple's veil was rent, only a 
hole dug somewhere. Let the dead bury their dead. 
The best of them fairly ran down like a clock. 
Franklin, ^ — Washington, — they were let off without 
dying ; they were merely missing one day. I hear 
a good many pretend that they are going to die; 
or that they have died, for aught that I know. 
Nonsense ! I'll defy them to do it. They haven't 
got life enough in them. They'll deliquesce like 
fungi, and keep a hundred eulogists mopping the spot 
where they left off. Only half a dozen or so have 



A PLEA FOE CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN 295 

died since the world began. Do you think that you 
are going to die, sir ? No ! there's no hope of you. 
You haven't got your lesson yet. You've got to stay 
after school. We make a needless ado about capital 
punishment, — taking lives, when there is no life to take. 
Memento mori! We don't understand that sublime 
sentence which some worthy got sculptured on his 
gravestone once. We've interpreted it in a grovelling 
and snivelling sense; we've wholly forgotten how to die. 

But be sure you do die nevertheless. Do your 
work, and finish it. If you know how to begin, you 
will know when to end. 

These men, in teaching us how to die, have at the 
same time taught us how to live. If this man's acts 
and words do not create a revival, it will be the 
severest possible satire on the acts and words that do. 
It is the best news that America has ever heard. It 
has already quickened the feeble pulse of the North, 
and infused more and more generous blood into her 
veins and heart, than any number of years of what 
is called commercial and political prosperity could. 
How many a man who was lately contemplating 
suicide has now something to live for ! 

One writer says that Brown's peculiar monomania 
made him to be " dreaded by the Missourians as a 
supernatural being.'' Sure enough, a hero in the 
midst of us cowards is always so dreaded. He is just 
that thing. He shows himself superior to nature. 
He has a spark of divinity in him. 

" Unless above himself he can 
Erect himself, how poor a thing is man ! " 



296 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

Newspaper editors argue also that it is a proof of 
his insanity that he thought he was appointed to do 
this work which he did, — that he did not suspect 
himself for a moment ! They talk as if it were im- 
possible that a man could be "divinely appointed" 
in these days to do any work whatever ; as if vows 
and religion were out of date as connected with any 
man's daily work ; as if the agent to abolish slavery 
could only be somebody appointed by the President, 
or by some political party. They talk as if a man's 
death were a failure, and his continued life, be it of 
whatever character, were a success. 

When I reflect to what a cause this man devoted 
himself, and how religiously, and then reflect to what 
cause his judges and all who condemn him so angrily 
and fluently devote themselves, I see that they are 
as far apart as the heavens and earth are asunder. 

The amount of it is, our "leading men" are a 
harmless kind of folk, and they know well enough 
that they were not divinely appointed, but elected by 
the votes of their party. 

Who is it whose safety requires that Captain 
Brown be hung '! Is it indispensable to any Northern 
man ? Is there no resource but to cast this man also 
to the Minotaur? If you do not wish it, say so 
distinctly. While these things are being done, 
beauty stands veiled and music is a screeching lie. 
Think of him, — of his rare qualities ! — such a man as 
it takes ages to make, and ages to understand; no 
mock hero, nor the representative of any party. A 
man such as the sun may not rise upon again in this 



A PLEA FOE CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN 297 

benighted land. To whose making went the costhest 
material, the finest adamant ; sent to be the redeemer' 
of those in captivity ; and the only use to which you 
can put him is to hang him at the end of a rope ! 
You who pretend to care for Christ crucified, consider 
what you are about to do to him who offered him- 
self to be the saviour of four millions of men. 

Any man knows when he is justified, and all the 
wits in the world cannot enlighten him on that 
point. The murderer always knows that he is justly 
punished ; but when a government takes the life of 
a man without the consent of his conscience, it is an 
audacious government, and is taking a step towards 
its own dissolution. Is it not possible that an indi- 
vidual may be right and a government wrong 1 Are 
laws to be enforced simply because they were made 1 
or declared by any number of men to be good, if they 
are not good? Is there any necessity for a man's 
being a tool to perform a deed of which his better 
nature disapproves 1 Is it the intention of law-makers 
that good men shall be hung ever 1 Are judges to in- 
terpret the law according to the letter, and not the 
spirit ? What right have you to enter into a compact 
with yourself that you will do thus or so, against the 
light within you 1 Is it for you to maJce up your mind, 
• — to form any resolution whatever, — and not accept 
the convictions that are forced upon you, and which 
ever pass your understanding ? I do not believe in 
lawyers, in that mode of attacking or defending a 
man, because you descend to meet the judge on his 
own ground, and, in cases of the highest importance. 



298 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEATJ 

it is of no consequence whether a man breaks a 
human law or not. Let lawyers decide trivial cases. 
Business men may arrange that among themselves. 
If they were the interpreters of the everlasting laws 
which rightfully bind man, that would be another 
thing. A counterfeiting law-factory, standing half in 
a slave land and half in a free ! What kind of laws 
for free men can you expect from that 1 

I am here to plead his cause with you. I plead 
not for his life, but for his character, — his immortal 
life ; and so it becomes your cause wholly, and is not 
his in the least. Some eighteen hundred years ago 
Christ was crucified ; this morning, perchance. Captain 
Brown was hung. These are the two ends of a chain 
which is not without its links. He is not Old Brown 
any longer ; he is an angel of light. 

I see now that it was necessary that the bravest 
and humanest man in all the country should be hung. 
Perhaps he saw it himself. I almost fear that I may 
yet hear of his deliverance, doubting if a prolonged 
life, if any life, can do as much good as his death. 

"Misguided"! "Garrulous"! "Insane"! "Vin- 
dictive " ! So ye write in your easy-chairs, and thus 
he, wounded, responds from the floor of the Armoury, 
clear as a cloudless sky, true as the voice of nature 
is : " No man sent me here ; it was my own prompt- 
ing and that of my Maker. I acknowledge no master 
in human form." 

And in what a sweet and noble strain he proceeds, 
addressing his captors, who stand over him : " I 
think, my friends, you are guilty of a great wrong 



A PLEA FOR CAPTAIN JOHN BEOWN 299 

against God and humanity, and it would be perfectly 
right for any one to interfere with you so far as to 
free those you wilfully and wickedly hold in bond- 
age." 

And, referring to his movement: "It is, in my 
opinion, the greatest service a man can render to 
God." 

"I pity the poor in bondage that have none to 
help them ; that is why I am here ; not to gratify 
any personal animosity, revenge, or vindictive spirit. 
It is my sympathy with the oppressed and the 
wronged, that are as good as you, and as precious in 
the sight of God." 

You don't know your testament when you see it. 

"I want you to understand that I respect the 
rights of the poorest and weakest of coloured people, 
oppressed by the slave power, just as much as I do 
those of the most wealthy and powerful. 

" I wish to say, furthermore, that you had better, 
all you people at the South, prepare yourselves for a 
settlement of that question, that must come up for 
settlement sooner than you are prepared for it. The 
sooner you are prepared the better. You may 
dispose of me very easily. I am nearly disposed of 
now; but this question is still to be settled, — this 
negro question, I mean; the end of that is not 
yet." 

I foresee the time when the painter will paint that 
scene, no longer going to Rome for a subject ; the 
poet will sing it ; the historian record it ; and, with 
the Landing of the Pilgrims and the Declaration of 



300 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEBAU 

Independence, it will be the ornament of some future 
national gallery, wten at least the present form of 
slavery shall be no more here. We shall then be at 
liberty to weep for Captain Brown. Then, and not 
till then, we will take our revenge. 



LIFE WITHOUT PEINOIPLE 

At a lyceum, not long since, I felt that the lecturer 
had chosen a theme too foreign to himself, and so 
failed to interest me as much as he might have done. 
He described things not in or near to his heart, but 
toward his extremities and superficies. There was, 
in this sense, no truly central or centralising thought 
in the lecture. I would have had him deal with his 
privatest experience, as the poet does. The greatest 
compliment that was ever paid me was when one 
asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer. 
I am surprised, as well as delighted, when this 
happens, it is such a rare use he would make of me, 
as if he were acquainted with the tool. Commonly, 
if men want anything of me, it is only to know how 
many acres I make of their land, — since I am a 
surveyor, — or, at most, what trivial news I have 
burdened myself with. They never will go to law for 
my meat ; they prefer the shell. A man once came a 
considerable distance to ask me to lecture on Slavery ; 
but on conversing with him, I found that he and his 
clique expected seven-eighths of the lecture to be 



302 SELECTIONS FEOM THOKEAU 

theirs, and only one-eighth mine; so I declined. I 
take it for granted, when I am invited to lecture any- 
where, — for I have had a little experience in that 
business, — that there is a desire to hear what I think 
on some subject, though I may be the greatest fool 
in the country, — and not that I should say pleasant 
things merely, or such as the audience wiU assent to ; 
and I resolve, accordingly, that I will give them a 
strong dose of myself. They have sent for me, and 
engaged to pay for me, and I am determined that 
they shall have me, though I bore them beyond aU 
precedent. 

So now I would say something similar to you, my 
readers. Since you are my readers, and I have not 
been much of a traveller, I will not talk about people 
a thousand miles off, but come as near home as I can. 
As the time is short, I will leave out all the flattery, 
and retain all the criticism. 

Let us consider the way in which we spend our 
lives. 

This world is a place of business. What an in- 
finite bustle ! I am awaked almost every night by 
the panting of the locomotive. It interrupts my 
dreams. There is no sabbath. It would be glorious 
to see mankind at leisure for once. It is nothing 
but work, work, work. I cannot easily buy a blank- 
book to write thoughts in; they are commonly 
ruled for dollars and cents. An Irishman, seeing 
me making a minute in the fields, took it for granted 
that I was calculating my wages. If a man was tossed 
out of a window when an infant, and so made a 



LIFE WITHOUT PEINCIPLE 303 

cripple for life, or scared out of his wits by the 
Indians, it is regretted chiefly because he was thus 
incapacitated for — business ! I think that there is 
nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to 
philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant 
business. 

There is a coarse and boisterous money-making 
fellow in the outskirts of our town, who is going to 
build a bank-wall under the hill along the edge of his 
meadow. The powers have put this into his head to 
keep him out of mischief, and he wishes me to spend 
three weeks digging there with him. The result will 
be that he will perhaps get some more money to 
hoard, and leave for his heirs to spend foolishly. If 
I do this, most will commend me as' an industrious 
and hard-working man ; but if I choose to devote 
myself to certain labours which yield more real 
profit, though but little money, they may be inclined 
to look on me as an idler. Nevertheless, as I do 
not need the police of meaningless labour to regulate 
me, and do not see anything absolutely praiseworthy 
in this fellow's undertaking, any more than in 
many an enterprise of our own or foreign govern- 
ments, however amusing it may be to him or them, 
I prefer to finish my education at a dififerent 
school. 

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 specu- 
lator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald 
before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and 



304 SELECTIONS FROM THOKBAU 

enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in 
its forests but to cut them down ! 

Most men would feel insulted, if it were proposed 
to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and 
then in throwing them back, merely that they might 
earn their wages. But many are no more worthily 
employed now. For instance : just after sunrise, one 
summer morning, I noticed one of my neighbours 
walking beside his team, which was slowly drawing a 
heavy hewn stone swung under the axle, surrounded 
by an atmosphere of industry, — his day's work begun, 
— his brow commenced to sweat, — a reproach to all 
sluggards and idlers, — pausing abreast the shoulders 
of his oxen, and half turning round with a flourish of 
his merciful whip, while they gained their length on 
him. And I thought. Such is the labour which the 
American Congress exists to protect, — honest, manly 
toil, — honest as the day is long, — that makes his 
bread taste sweet, and keeps society sweet, — which 
all men respect and have consecrated ; one of the 
sacred band, doing the needful but irksome drudgery. 
Indeed, I felt a slight reproach, because I observed 
this from a window, and was not abroad and stirring 
about a similar business. The day went by, and at 
evening I passed the yard of another neighbour, who 
keeps many servants, and spends much money fool- 
ishly, while he adds nothing to the common stock, 
and there I saw the stone of the morning lying beside 
a whimsical structure intended to adorn this Lord 
Timothy Dexter's premises, and the dignity forth- 
with departed from the teamster's labour, in my eyes. 



LIFE WITHOUT PKINCIPLE 305 

In my opinion, the sun was made to light worthier 
toil than this. I may add, that his employer has 
since run off, in debt to a good part of the town, and, 
after passing through Chancery, has settled some- 
where else, there to become once more a patron of 
the arts. 

The ways by which you may get money almost 
without exception lead downward. To have done 
anything by which you earned money merely is to 
have been truly idle or worse. If the labourer gets 
no more than the wages which his employer pays 
him, he is cheated, he cheats himself. If you would 
get money as a writer or lecturer, you must be 
popular, which is to go down perpendicularly. 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 cele- 
brate the accidents of royalty. He must be bribed 
with a 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 survey- 
ing which I could do with most satisfaction, my em- 
ployers 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 
X 



306 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

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. 

The aim of the labourer should be, not to get his 
living, to get "a good job," but to perform well a 
certain work; and, even in a pecuniary sense, it 
would be economy for a town to pay its labourers so 
well that they would not feel that they were working 
for low ends, as for a livelihood merely, but for 
scientific, or even moral ends. Do not hire a man 
who does your work for money, but him who does it 
for love of it. 

It is remarkable that there are few men so well 
employed, so much to their minds, but that a little 
money or fame would commonly buy them off from 
their present pursuit. I see advertisements for adive 
young men, as if activity were the whole of a young 
man's capital. Yet I have been surprised when one 
has with confidence proposed to me, a grown man, to 
embark in some enterprise of his, as if I had abso- 
lutely nothing to do, my life having been a complete 
failure hitherto. What a doubtful compliment this 
is to pay me ! As if he had met me half-way across 
the ocean beating up against the wind, but bound 
nowhere, and proposed to me to go along with him ! 
If I did, what do you think the underwriters would 
say 1 No, no 1 I am not without employment at this 
stage of the voyage. To tell the truth, I saw an 
advertisement for able-bodied seamen, when I was a 



LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE 307 

boy, sauntering in my native port, and as soon as I 
came of age I embarked. 

The community has no bribe that will tempt a 
wise man. You may raise money enough to timnel 
a mountain, but you cannot raise money enough to 
hire a man who is minding his own business. An 
efficient and valuable man does what he can, whether 
the community pay him for it or not. The inefficient 
offer their inefficiency to the highest bidder, and are 
for ever expecting to be put into office. One would 
suppose that they were rarely disappointed. 

Perhaps I am more than usually jealous with re- 
spect to my freedom. I feel that my connection with 
and obligation to society are still very slight and 
transient. Those slight labours which afford me a 
livelihood, and by which it is allowed that I am to 
some extent serviceable to my contemporaries, are as 
yet commonly a pleasure to me, and I am not often 
reminded that they are a necessity. So far I am 
successful. But I foresee, that, if my wants should be 
much increased, the labour required to supply them 
would become a drudgery. 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. All great enterprises 
are self -supporting. The poet, for instance, must 



308 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEATJ 

sustain his body by his poetry, as a steam planing- 
mill feeds its boilers with the shavings it makes. 
You must get your living by loving. But 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 be surely 
prophesied. 

Merely to come into the world the heir of a for- 
tune is not to be born, but to be stiU-born, rather. 
To be supported by the charity of friends, or a 
government -pension, — provided you continue to 
breathe, — by whatever fine synonymes you describe 
these relations, is to go into the almshouse. On 
Sundays the poor debtor goes to church to take an 
account of stock, and finds, of course, that his out- 
goes have been greater than his income. In the 
Catholic Church, especially, they go into Chancery, 
make a clean confession, give up all, and think to 
start again. Thus men wiU lie on their backs, talk- 
ing about the fall of man, and never make an eflfort 
to get up. 

As for the comparative demand which men make 
on life, it is an important difference between two, 
that the one is satisfied with a level success, that his 
marks can all be hit by point-blank shots, but the 
other, however low and unsuccessful his life may be, 
constantly elevates his aim, though at a very slight 
angle to the horizon. I should much rather be the 
last man, — though, as the Orientals say, " Greatness 
doth not approach him who is for ever looking down ; 
and all those who are looking high are growing poor." 



LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE 309 

It is remarkable that there is little or nothing to 
be remembered written on the subject of getting a 
living : how to make getting a living not merely 
honest and honourable, but altogether inviting and 
glorious ; for if getting a living is not so, then living 
is not. One would think, from looking at literature, 
that this question had never disturbed a solitary 
individual's musings. Is it that men are too much 
disgusted with their experience to speak of it "i The 
lesson of value which money teaches, which the 
Author of the Universe has taken so much pains to 
teach us, we are inclined to skip altogether. As for 
the means of living, it is wonderful how indifferent 
men of all classes are about it, even reformers, so 
called, — whether they inherit, or earn, or steal it. I 
think that Society has done nothing for us in this 
respect, or at least has undone what she has done. 
Cold and hunger seem more friendly to my nature 
than those methods which men have adopted and 
advise to ward them off. 

The title wise is, for the most part, falsely applied. 
How can one be a wise man, if he does not know 
any better how to live than other men? — if he is 
only more cunning and intellectually subtle ? Does 
Wisdom work in a tread-milH or does she teach how 
to succeed hy her example 1 Is there any such thing as 
wisdom not applied to life % Is she merely the miller 
who grinds the finest logic % It is pertinent to ask if 
Plato got his living in a better way or more success- 
fully than his contemporaries, — or did he succumb to 
the difficulties of life like other men % Did he seem 



310 SELECTIONS FROM THOKEAU 

to prevail over some of them merely by indifference, 
or by assuming grand airs 1 or find it easier to live, 
because his aunt remembered him in her will 1 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, any better. 

The rush to California, for instance, and the atti- 
tude, not merely of merchants, but of philosophers 
and prophets, so called, in relation to it, reflect the 
greatest disgrace on mankind. That so many are 
ready to live by luck, and so get the means of com- 
manding the labour of others less lucky, without 
contributing any value to society ! And that is 
called enterprise ! I know of no more startling 
development of the immorality of trade, and all the 
common modes of getting a hving. The philosophy 
and poetry and religion of such a mankind are not 
worth the dust of a puff-ball. The hog that gets his 
living by rooting, stirring up the soil so, would be 
ashamed of such company. If I could command the 
wealth of all the worlds by lifting my finger, I would 
not pay such a price for it. Even Mahomet knew 
that God did not make this world in jest. It makes 
God to be a moneyed gentleman who scatters a hand- 
ful of pennies in order to see mankind scramble for 
them. The world's raffle ! A subsistence in the 
domains of Nature a thing to be raflled for ! What 
a comment, what a satire, on our institutions ! The 
conclusion will be, that mankind will hang itself 
upon a tree. And have all the precepts in all the 



LIFE WITHOUT PKINCIPLE 311 

Bibles taught men only this? and is the last and 
most admirable invention of the human race only an 
improved muck-rake 1 Is this the ground on which 
Orientals and Occidentals meet ? Did God direct us 
so to get our living, digging where we never planted, 
— and He would, perchance, reward us with lumps 
of gold "i 

God gave the righteous man a certiiicate entitling 
him to food and raiment, but the unrighteous man 
found a, facsimile of the same in God's coffers, and 
appropriated it, and obtained food and raiment like 
the former. It is one of the most extensive systems 
of counterfeiting that the world has seen. I did not 
know that mankind were suffering for want of gold. 
I have seen a little of it. I know that it is very 
malleable, but not so malleable as wit. A grain of 
gold will gild a great surface, but not so much as a 
grain of wisdom. 

The gold-digger in the ravines of the mountains is 
as much a gambler as his fellow in the saloons of 
San Francisco. What difference does it make, whether 
you shake dirt or shake dice 1 If you win, society 
is the loser. The gold-digger is the enemy of the 
honest labourer, whatever checks and compensations 
there may be. It is not enough to tell me that you 
worked hard to get your gold. So does the Devil 
work hard. The way of transgressors may be hard 
in many respects. The humblest observer who goes 
to the mines sees and says that gold-digging is of the 
character of a lottery ; the gold thus obtained is not 
the same thing with the wages of honest toil. But, 



312 SELECTIONS FEOM THOEEAU 

practically, he forgets what he has seen, for he has 
seen only the fact, not the principle, and goes into 
trade there, that is, buys a ticket in what commonly 
proves another lottery, where the fact is not so 
obvious. 

After reading Howitt's account of the Australian 
gold-diggings one evening, I had in my mind's eye, 
all night, the numerous valleys, with their streams, 
all cut up with foul pits, from ten to one hundred 
feet deep, and half a dozen feet across, as close as 
they can be dug, and partly filled with water, — the 
locality to which men furiously rush to probe for 
their fortunes, — uncertain where they shall break 
ground, — not knowing but the gold is under then- 
camp itself, — sometimes digging one hundred and 
sixty feet before they strike the vein, or then missing 
it by a foot, — turned into demons, and regardless of 
each other's rights, in their thirst for riches, — whole 
valleys, for thirty miles, suddenly honeycombed by 
the pits of the miners, so that even hundreds are 
drowned in them, — standing in water, and covered 
with mud and clay, they work night and day, dying 
of exposure and disease. Having read this, and 
partly forgotten it, I was thinking, accidentally, of 
my own unsatisfactory life, doing as others do ; and 
with that vision of the diggings stiU before me, I 
asked myself, why /might not be washing some gold 
daily, though it were only the finest particles, — why 
/ might not sink a shaft down to the gold within 
me, and work that mine. There is a Ballarat, a Ben- 
digo for }'ou, — what though it were a sulky-gully? 



LIFE WITHOUT PKINCIPLE 313 

At any rate, I might pursue some path, however 
solitary and narrow and crooked, in which I could 
walk with love and reverence. Wherever a man 
separates from the multitude, and goes his own way 
in this mood, there indeed is a fork in the road, 
though ordinary travellers may see only a gap in the 
paling. His solitary path across-lots will turn out 
the higher way of the two. 

Men rush to California and Australia as if the 
true gold were to be found in that direction; but 
that is to go to the very opposite extreme to where 
it lies. They go prospecting farther and farther away 
from the true lead, and are most unfortunate when 
they think themselves most successful. Is not our 
Tuitive soil auriferous 1 Does not a stream from the 
golden mountains flow through our native valley 1 
and has not this for more than geologic ages been 
bringing down the shining particles and forming the 
nuggets for us ? Yet, strange to tell, if a digger steal 
away, prospecting for this true gold, into the un- 
explored solitudes around us, there is no danger that 
any will dog his steps, and endeavour to supplant 
him. He may claim and undermine the whole valley 
even, both the cultivated and the uncultivated 
portions, his whole life long in peace, for no one will 
ever dispute his claim. They will not mind his 
cradles or his toms. He is not confined to a claim 
twelve feet square, as at Ballarat, but may mine any- 
where, and wash the whole wide world in his tom. 

Howitt says of the man who foimd the great 
nugget which weighed twenty-eight pounds, at the 



314 SELECTIONS FfiOM THOEBAU 

Beiidigo diggings in Australia : "He soon began to 
drink ; got a horse, and rode all about, generally at 
full gallop, and, when he met people, called out to 
inquire if they knew who he was, and then kindly 
informed them that he was ' the bloody wretch that 
had found the nugget.' At last he rode full speed 
against a tree, and nearly knocked his brains out." 
I think, however, there was no danger of that, for 
he had already knocked his brains out against the 
nugget. Howitt adds, " He is a hopelessly ruined 
man." But he is a type of the class. They are all 
fast men. Hear some of the names of the places 
where they dig: "Jackass Flat," — " Sheep's-Head 
Gully," — "Murderer's Bar," etc. Is there no satire 
in these names ? Let them carry their ill-gotten 
wealth where they will, I am thinking it wiU still be 
"Jackass Fiat,'' if not "Murderer's Bar," where they 
live. 

The last resource of our energy has been the rob- 
bing of graveyards on the Isthmus of Darien, an 
enterprise which appears to be but in its infancy ; 
for, according to late accounts, an act has passed its 
second reading in the legislature of New Granada, 
regulating this kind of mining ; and a correspondent 
of the Trilune writes : " In the dry season, when 
the weather will permit of the country being properly 
prospected, no doubt other rich guacas [that is, grave- 
yards] will bo found." To emigrants he says: "Do 
not come before December ; take the Isthmus route 
in preference to the Boca del Toro one ; bring no 
useless baggage, and do not cumber yourself with a 



LIFE WITHOUT PEINOIPLE 315 

tent ; but a good pair of blankets will be necessary ; 
a pick, shovel, and axe of good material will be 
almost all that is required " : advice which might 
have been taken from the Burker's Guide. And 
he concludes with this line in italics and small 
capitals : "If you are doing well at home, stay there," 
which may fairly be interpreted to mean, " If you are 
getting a good living by robbing graveyards at home, 
stay there." 

But why go to California for a text ? She is the 
child of New England, bred at her own school and 
church. 

It is remarkable that among all the preachers 
there are so few moral teachers. The prophets are 
employed in excusing the ways of men. Most rever- 
end seniors, the illuminati of the age, tell me, with a 
gracious, reminiscent smile, betwixt an aspiration and 
a shudder, not to be too tender about these things, 
— to lump all that, that is, make a lump of gold of it. 
The highest advice I have heard on these subjects 
was grovelling. The burden of it was, — It is not 
worth your while to undertake to reform the world 
in this particular. Do not ask how your bread 
is buttered ; it will make you sick, if you do, — and 
the like. A man had better starve at once than 
lose his innocence in the process of getting his bread. 
If within the sophisticated man there is not an un- 
sophisticated 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 we should be 



316 SELECTIONS FROM THOREATJ 

fastidious to the extreme of sanity, disregarding the 
gibes of those who are more unfortunate than our- 
selves. 

In our science and philosophy, even, there is 
commonly no true and absolute account of things. 
The spirit of sect and bigotry has planted its hoof 
amid the stars. You have only to discuss the prob- 
lem, whether the stars are inhabited or not, in order 
to discover it. Why must we daub the heavens as 
well as the earth 1 It was an unfortunate discovery 
that Dr. Kane was a Mason, and that Sir John 
Franklin was another. But it was a more cruel 
suggestion that possibly that was the reason why the 
former went in search of the latter. There is not a 
popular magazine in this country that would dare to 
print a child's thought on important subjects without 
comment. It must be submitted to the D.D.s. I 
would it were the chickadee-dees. 

You come from attending the funeral of mankind 
to attend to a natural phenomenon. A little thought 
is sexton to all the world. 

I hardly know an intellectual man, even, who is so 
broad and truly liberal that you can think aloud in 
his society. Most with whom you endeavour to talk 
soon come to a stand against some institution in 
which they appear to hold stock, — that is, some 
particular, not universal, way of viewing things. 
They will continually thrust their own low roof, 
with its narrow skylight, between you and the sky, 
when it is the unobstructed heavens you would view. 
Get out of the way mth your cobwebs, wash your 



LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE 317 

windows, I say ! In some lyceums they tell me that 
they have voted to exclude the subject of religion. 
But how do I know what their religion is, and when 
I am near to or far from it ? I have walked into 
such an arena and done my best to make a clean 
breast of what religion I have experienced, and the 
audience never suspected what I was about. The 
lecture was as harmless as moonshine to them. 
Whereas, if I had read to them the biography of the 
greatest scamps in history, they might have thought 
that I had written the lives of the deacons of their 
church. Ordinarily, the inquiry is. Where did you 
come from ? or. Where are you going ? That was a 
more pertinent question which I overheard one of 
my auditors put to another once, — "What does he 
lecture for 1 " It made me quake in my shoes. 

To speak impartially, the best men that I know 
are not serene, a world in themselves. For the most 
part, they dwell in forms, and flatter and study effect 
only more finely than the rest. We select granite for 
the underpinning of our houses and barns ; we build 
fences of stone ; but we do not ourselves rest on an 
underpinning of granitic truth, the lowest primitive 
rock. Our sills are rotten. What stuff is the man 
made of who is not coexistent in our thought with 
the purest and subtilest truth? I often accuse my 
finest acquaintances 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 steadi- 
ness and solidity that the rocks do. The fault is 



318 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

commonly mutual, however ; for we do not habitually 
demand any more of each other. 

That excitement about Kossuth, consider how 
characteristic, but superficial, it was ! — only another 
kind of politics or dancing. Men were making 
speeches to him all over the country, but each ex- 
pressed only the thought, or the want of thought, of 
the multitude. No man stood on truth. They were 
merely banded together, as usual, one leaning on 
another, and all together on nothing ; as the Hindoos 
made the world rest on an elephant, the elephant on 
a tortoise, and the tortoise on a serpent, and had 
nothing to put under the serpent. For all fruit of 
that stir we have the Kossuth hat. 

Just so hollow and ineffectual, for the most part, 
is our ordinary conversation. Surface meets surface. 
When our life ceases to be inward and private, con- 
versation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely 
meet a man who can tell us any news which he has 
not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neigh- 
bour ; and, for the most part, the only difference 
between us and our fellow is, that he has seen the 
newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In 
proportion as our inward life fails, we go more con- 
stantly and desperately to the post-office. You may 
depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away 
with the greatest number of letters, proud of his 
extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself 
this long while. 

I do not know but it is too much to read one news- 
paper a week. I have tried it recently, and for so 



LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE 319 

long it seems to me that I have not dwelt in my 
native region. The sun, the clouds, the snow, the 
trees say not so much to me. You cannot serve two 
masters. It requires more than a day's devotion to 
know and to possess the wealth of a day. 

We may well be ashamed to tell what things we 
have read or heard in our day. I do not know why 
my news should be so trivial, — considering what one's 
dreams and expectations are, why the developments 
should be so paltry. The news we hear, for the most 
part, is not news to our genius. It is the stalest 
repetition. You are often tempted to ask, why such 
stress is laid on a particular experience which you 
have had, — that, after twenty-five years, you should 
meet Hobbins, Eegistrar of Deeds, again on the side- 
walk. Have you not budged an inch, then ? Such is 
the daily news. Its facts appear to float in the atmo- 
sphere, insignificant as the sporules of fungi, and 
impinge on some neglected thallus, or surface of our 
minds, which affords a basis for them, and hence a 
parasitic growth. We should wash ourselves clean of 
such news. Of what consequence, though our planet 
explode, if there is no character involved in the 
explosion ? In health we have not the least curiosity 
about such events. We do not live for idle amuse- 
ment. I would not run round a corner to see the 
world blow up. 

All summer, and far into the autumn, perchance, 
you unconsciously went by the newspapers and the 
news, and now you find it was because the morning 
and the evening were full of news to you. Your 



320 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

walks were full of incidents. You attended, not to 
the affairs of Europe, but to your own affairs in 
Massachusetts fields. If you chance to live and move 
and have your being in that thin stratum in which 
the events that make the news transpire, — thinner 
than the paper on which it is printed, — then these 
things will fiU the world for you; but if you soar 
above or dive below that plane, you cannot remember 
nor be reminded of them. Really to see the sun rise 
or go down every day, so to relate ourselves to a 
universal fact, would preserve us sane for ever. 
Nations ! What are nations 1 Tartars, and Huns, 
and Chinamen ! Like insects, they swarm. The 
historian strives in vain to make them memorable. 
It is for want of a man that there are so many men. 
It is individuals that populate the world. Any man 
thinking may say with the Spirit of Lodin — 

" I look down from my height on nations, 
And they become ashes before me ; — 
Calm is my dwelling in the clouds ; 
Pleasant are the great fields of my rest." 

Pray, let us Hve without being drawn by dogs, 
Esquimaux-fashion, tearing over hill and dale, and 
biting each other's ears. 

Not without a slight shudder at the danger, I 
often perceive how near I had come to admitting 
into my mind the details of some trivial affair, — the 
news of the street ; and I am astonished to observe 
how willing men are to lumber their minds with 
such rubbish, — to permit idle rumours and incidents 
of the most insignificant kind to intrude on ground 



LIFE WITHOUT PKINCIPLE 321 

which should be sacred to thought. Shall the mind 
be a public arena, where the affairs of the street and 
the gossip of the tea-table chiefly are discussed 1 Or 
shall it be a quarter of heaven itself, — an hypsethral 
temple, consecrated to the service of the gods? I 
find it so difficult to dispose of the few facts which 
to me are significant that I hesitate to burden my 
attention with those which are insignificant, which 
only a divine mind could illustrate. Such is, for the 
most part, the news in newspapers and conversation. 
It is important to preserve the mind's chastity in this 
respect. Think of admitting the details of a single 
ease of the criminal court into our thoughts, to stalk 
profanely through their very sanctum sanctorum for an 
hour, ay, for many hours ! to make a very bar-room 
of the mind's inmost apartment, as if for so long the 
dust of the street had occupied us, — the very street 
itself, with all its travel, its bustle, and filth, had 
passed through our thoughts' shrine ! Would it not 
be an intellectual and moral suicide 1 When I have 
been compelled to sit spectator and auditor in a court- 
room for some hours, and have seen my neighbours, 
who were not compelled, stealing in from time to 
time, and tiptoeing about with washed hands and 
faces, it has appeared to my mind's eye, that, when 
they took ofif their hats, their ears suddenly expanded 
into vast hoppers for sound, between which even their 
narrow heads were crowded. Like the vanes of wind- 
mills, they caught the broad, but shallow stream of 
sound, which, after a few titillating gyrations in their 
coggy brains, passed out the other side. I wondered 

T 



322 SELECTIONS FKOM THOEEAU 

if, when they got home, they were as careful to wash 
their ears as before their hands and faces. It had 
seemed to me, at such a time, that the auditors and 
the witnesses, the jury and the counsel, the judge and 
the criminal at the bar, — ^if I may presume him guilty 
before he is convicted, — were aU equally criminal, 
and a thunderbolt might be expected to descend and 
consume them all together. 

By all kinds of traps and signboards, threatening 
the extreme penalty of the divine law, exclude such 
trespassers from the only ground which can be sacred 
to you. It is so hard to forget what it is worse than 
useless to remember ! If I am to be a thoroughfare, 
I prefer that it be of the mountain-brooks, the 
Parnassian streams, and not the town-sewers. There 
is inspiration, that gossip which comes to the ear of 
the attentive mind from the courts of heaven. There 
is the profane and stale revelation of the bar-room 
and the police court. The same ear is fitted to 
receive both communications. Only the character 
of the hearer determines to which it shall be open, 
and to which closed. I believe that the mind can be 
permanently profaned by the habit of attending to 
trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged 
with triviality. Our very intellect shall be mac- 
adamised, as it were, — its foundation broken into 
fragments for the wheels of travel to roll over ; and 
if you would know what will make the most durable 
pavement, surpassing rolled stones, spruce blocks, and 
asphaltum, you have only tolook into some of our minds 
which have been subjected to this treatment so long. 



LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE 323 

If we have thus desecrated ourselves, — as who has 
not?— the remedy will be by wariness and devotion 
to reconsecrate ourselves, and make once more a fane 
of the mind. We should treat our minds, that is, 
ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose 
guardians we are, and be careful what objects and 
what subjects we thrust on their attention. Read 
not the Times. Read the Eternities. Convention- 
alities are at length as bad as impurities. Even the 
facts of science may dust the mind by their dryness, 
unless they are in a sense effaced each morning, or 
rather rendered fertile by the dews of fresh and living 
truth. Knowledge does not come to us by details, 
but in flashes of light from heaven. Yes, every 
thought that passes through the mind helps to wear 
and tear it, and to deepen the ruts, which, as in the 
streets of Pompeii, evince how much it has been used. 
How many things there are concerning which we 
might well deliberate whether we had better know 
them, — had better let their peddling-carts be driven, 
even at the slowest trot or walk, over that bridge of 
glorious span by which we trust to pass at last from 
the farthest brink of time to the nearest shore of 
eternity ! Have we no culture, no refinement, — but 
skill only to live coarsely and serve the Devil 1 — to 
acquire a little worldly wealth, or fame, or liberty, 
and make a false show with it, as if we were all husk 
and shell, with no tender and living kernel to us? 
Shall our institutions be like those chestnut-burrs 
which contain abortive nuts, perfect only to prick the 
fingers 1 

Y 2 



324 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

America is said to be the arena on which the 
battle of freedom is to be fought ; but surely it can- 
not be freedom in a merely political sense that is 
meant. Even if we grant that the American has 
freed himself from a political tyrant, he is still the 
slave of an economical and moral tyrant. Now that 
the republic, — the res-puUica, — has been settled, it is 
time to look after the res-privata, — the private state, 
— to see, as the Roman senate charged its consuls, 
"ne quid res-PBiVATA detrimenti caper et," that the 
private state receive no detriment. 

Do we call this the land of the free 1 What is it 
to be free from King George and continue the slaves 
of King Prejudice 1 What is it to be born free and 
not to live free ? What is the value of any political 
freedom, but as a means to moral freedom 1 Is it a 
freedom to be slaves, or a freedom to be free, of 
which we boast ? We are a nation of politicians, con- 
cerned about the outmost defences only of freedom. 
It is our children's children who may perchance be 
really free. We tax ourselves unjustly. There is a 
part of us which is not represented. It is taxation 
without representation. We quarter troops, we 
quarter fools and cattle of all sorts upon ourselves. 
We quarter our gross bodies on our poor souls, till 
the former eat up all the latter's substance. 

With respect to a true culture and manhood, we 
are essentially pro^ancial still, not metropolitan, — 
mere Jonathans. We are provincial, because we do 
not find at home our standards, — because we do not 
worship truth, but the reflection of truth, — because 



LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE 325 

we are warped and narrowed by an exclusive devo- 
tion to trade and commerce and manufactures and 
agriculture and the like, which are but means, and 
not the end. 

So is the English Parliament provincial. Mere 
country-bumpkins, they betray themselves, when any 
more important question arises for them to settle, 
the Irish question, for instance, — the English question 
why did I not say ? Their natures are subdued to 
what they work in. Their "good breeding " respects 
only secondary objects. The finest manners in the 
world are awkwardness and fatuity, when contrasted 
with a finer intelligence. They appear but as the 
fashions of past days, — mere courtliness, knee-buckles 
and small-clothes, out of date. It is the vice, but 
not the excellence of manners, that they are continu- 
ally being deserted by the character ; they are cast- 
off clothes or shells, claiming the respect which 
belonged to the living creature. You are presented 
with the shells instead of the meat, and it is no 
excuse generally, that, in the case of some fishes, 
the shells are of more worth than the meat. The 
man who thrusts his manners upon me does as if he 
were to insist on introducing me to his cabinet of 
curiosities, when I wished to see himself. It was 
not in this sense that the poet Decker called Christ 
"the first true gentleman that ever breathed." I 
repeat, that in this sense the most splendid court 
in Christendom is provincial, having authority to 
consult about Transalpine interests only, and not 
the affairs of Eome. A praetor or proconsul would 



326 SELECTIONS FROM THOEEAU 

suffice to settle the questions which absorb the atten- 
tion of the English Parliament and the American 
Congress. 

Government and legislation ! these I thought were 
respectable professions. We have heard of heaven- 
born Numas, Lycurguses, and Solons, in the history 
of the world, whose names at least may stand for 
ideal legislators ; but think of legislating to regulate 
the breeding of slaves, or the exportation of tobacco ! 
What have divine legislators to do with the exporta- 
tion or the importation of tobacco? what humane 
ones vnth the breeding of slaves ? Suppose you were 
to submit the question to any son of God, — and has 
He no children in the nineteenth century? is it a 
family which is extinct? — in what condition would 
you get it again ? What shall a State like Virginia 
say for itself at the last day, in which these have 
been the principal, the staple productions? What 
ground is there for patriotism in such a State? I 
derive my facts from statistical tables which the 
States themselves have published. 

A commerce that whitens every sea in quest of 
nuts and raisins, and makes slaves of its sailors for 
this purpose ! I saw, the other day, a vessel which 
had been wrecked, and many lives lost, and her 
cargo of rags, juniper-berries, and bitter almonds 
were strewn along the shore. It seemed hardly 
worth the while to tempt the dangers of the sea 
between Leghorn and New York for the sake of a 
cargo of juniper-berries and bitter almonds. America 
sending to the Old World for her bitters ! Is not the 



LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE 327 

sea-brine, is not shipwreck, bitter enough to make 
the cup of life go down here ? Yet such, to a great 
extent, is our boasted commerce ; and there are those 
who style themselves statesmen and philosophers who 
are so blind as to think that progress and civilisation 
depend on precisely this kind of interchange and 
activity, — the activity of ilies about a molasses- 
hogshead. Very well, observes one, if men were 
oysters. And very well, answer I, if men were mos- 
quitoes. 

Lieutenant Herndon, whom our Government sent 
to explore the Amazon, and, it is said, to extend the 
area of slavery, observed that there was wanting 
there "an industrious and active population, who 
know what the comforts of life are, and who have 
artificial wants to draw out the great resources of 
the country." But what are the "artificial wants" 
to be encouraged? Not the love of luxuries, like 
the tobacco and slaves of, I believe, his native 
Virginia, nor the ice and granite and other material 
wealth of our native New England; nor are "the 
great resources of a country " that fertility or barren- 
ness of soil which produces these. The chief want, 
in every State that I have been into, was a high and 
earnest purpose in its inhabitants. This alone draws 
out " the great resources " of Nature, and at last taxes 
her beyond her resources; for man naturally dies 
out of her. When we want culture more than 
potatoes, and illumination more than sugar -plums, 
then the great resources of a world are taxed and 
drawn out, and the result, or staple production, is, 



328 SELECTIONS PEOM THOEEAU 

not slaves, nor operatives, but men, — those rare 
fruits called heroes, saints, poets, philosophers, and 
redeemers. 

In short, as a snow-drift is formed where there is 
a lull in the wind, so, one would say, where there is 
a lull of truth, an institution springs up. But the 
truth blows right on over it, nevertheless, and at 
length blows it down. 

What is called politics is comparatively something 
so superficial and inhuman, that, practically, I have 
never fairly recognised that it concerns me at all. 
The newspapers, I perceive, devote some of their 
columns specially to politics or government without 
charge ; and this, one would say, is all that saves 
it ; but, as I love literature, and, to some extent, the 
truth also, I never read those columns at any rate. 
I do not wish to blunt my sense of right so much. 
1 have not got to answer for having read a single 
President's Message. A strange age of the world 
this, when empires, kingdoms, and republics come 
a-begging to a private man's door, and utter their 
complaints at his elbow ! I cannot take up a news- 
paper but I find that some wretched government or 
other, hard pushed, and on its last legs, is interced- 
ing with me, the reader, to vote for it, — more im- 
portunate than an Italian beggar; and if I have a 
mind to look at its certificate, made, perchance, by 
some benevolent merchant's clerk, or the skipper 
that brought it over, for it cannot speak a word of 
English itself, I shall probably read of the eruption of 
some Vesuvius, or the overflowing of some Po, true 



LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE 329 

or forged, which brought it into this condition. I 
do not hesitate, in such a case, to suggest work, or 
the almshouse ; or why not keep its castle in silence, 
as I do commonly ? The poor President, what with 
preserving his popularity and doing his duty, is com- 
pletely bewildered. The newspapers are the ruling 
power. Any other government is reduced to a few 
marines at Fort Independence. If a man neglects to 
read the Daily Times, government will go down on 
its knees to him, for this is the only treason in these 
days. 

Those things which now most engage the atten- 
tion of men, as politics and the daily routine, are, it 
is true, vital functions of human society, but should 
be unconsciously performed, like the corresponding 
functions of the physical body. They are ivfra- 
human, a kind of vegetation. I sometimes awake 
to a half-consciousness of them going on about me, 
as a man may become conscious of some of the pro- 
cesses of digestion in a morbid state, and so have 
the dyspepsia, as it is called. It is as if a thinker 
submitted himself to be rasped by the great gizzard 
of creation. Politics is, as it were, the gizzard of 
society, full of grit and gravel, and the two political 
parties are its two opposite halves, — sometimes split 
into quarters, it may be, which grind on each other. 
Not only individuals, but states, have thus a con- 
firmed dyspepsia, which expresses itself, you can 
imagine by what sort of eloquence. Thus our life is 
not altogether a forgetting, but also, alas ! to a great 
extent, a remembering, of that which we should never 



330 SELECTIONS FROM THOREAU 

have been conscious of, certainly not in our waking 
hours. Why should we not meet, not always as 
dyspeptics, to tell our bad dreams, but sometimes as 
«Mpeptics, to congratulate each other on the ever- 
glorious morning? I do not make an exorbitant 
demand, surely. 



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