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I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the 
morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up. — Page 92. 




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ECONOMY, ... 5 



SOUNDS, . * . . 121 













SPRING, 320 




When I wrote the following pages, or rather the 
bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from 
any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on 
the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, 
and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. 
I lived there two years and two months. At present I 
am a sojourner in civilized life again. 

I should not obtrude my affairs so much on the 
notice of my readers if very particular inquiries had 
not been made by my townsmen concerning my mode 
of life, which some would call impertinent, though they 
do not appear to me at all impertinent, but, considering 
the circumstances, very natural and pertinent. Some 
have asked what I got to eat ; if I did not feel lone- 
some ; if I was not afraid ; and the like. Others have 
been curious to learn what portion of my income I 
devoted to charitable purposes ; and some, who have 
large families, how many poor children I maintained. 
I will therefore ask those of my readers who feel no 
particular interest in me to pardon me if I undertake 
to answer some of these questions in this book. In 



most books, the I, or first person, is omitted ; in this it 
will be retained ; that, in respect to egotism, is the 
main difference. We commonly do not remember that 
it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. 
I should not talk so much about myself if there were 
any body else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I 
am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my 
experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every 
writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his 
own life, and not merely what he has heard of other 
men's lives ; some such account as he would send to his 
kindred from a distant land ; for if he has lived sin- 
cerely, it must have been in a distant land to me. Per- 
haps these pages are more particularly addressed to 
poor students. As for the rest of my readers, they 
will accept such portions as apply to them. I trust 
that none will stretch the seams in putting on the coat, 
for it may do good service to him whom it fits. 

I would fain say something, not so much concerning 
the Chinese and Sandwich Islanders as you who read 
these pages, who are said to live in New England; 
something about your condition, especially your outward 
condition or circumstances in this world, in this town, 
what it is, whether it is necessary that it be as bad as it 
is, whether it cannot be improved as well as not. I 
have travelled a good deal in Concord ; and every where, 
in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have 
appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand 
remarkable ways. What I have heard of Bramins 
sitting exposed to four fires and" looking in the face of 
the sun ; or hanging suspended, with their heads down- 
ward, over flames ; or looking at the heavens over their 
shoulders " until it becomes impossible for them to 


resume their natural position, while from the twist of 
the neck nothing but liquids can pass into the stomach;" 
or dwelling, chained for life, at the foot of a tree ; or 
measuring with their bodies, like caterpillars, the breadth 
of vast empires ; or standing on one leg on the tops of 
pillars, — even these forms of conscious penance are 
hardly more incredible and astonishing than the scenes 
which I daily witness. The twelve labors of Hercules 
were trifling in comparison with those which my neigh- 
bors have undertaken ; for they were only twelve, and 
had dn end ; but I could never see that these men slew 
or captured any monster or finished any labor. They 
have no friend Iolas to burn with a hot iron the root of 
the hydra's head, but as soon as one head is crushed, 
two spring up. 

I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it 
is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and 
farming tools ; for these are more easily acquired than 
got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open 
pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have 
seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to 
labor in. Who made them serfs of the soil ? Why 
should they eat their sixty acres, when man is con- 
demned to eat only his peck of dirt? Why should 
they begin digging their graves as soon as they are 
born ? They have got to live a man's life, pushing all 
these things before them, and get on as well as they can. 
How many a poor immortal soul have I met well nigh 
crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down 
the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five 
feet by forty, its Augean stables never cleansed, and one 
hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and 
wood-lot ! The portionless, who struggle with no such 


unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough 
to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh. 

But men labor under a mistake. The better part of 
the man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost. By a 
seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are em- 
ployed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures 
which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break 
through and steal. It is a fool's life, as they will find 
when they get to the end of it, if not before. It is said 
that Deucalion and Pyrrha created men by throwing 
stones over their heads behind them : — 

Inde genus durum sumus, experiensque laborum, 
Et documenta damus qua simus origine nati. 

Or, as Raleigh rhymes it in his sonorous way, — 

"From thence our kind hard-hearted is, enduring pain and care, 
Approving that our bodies of a stony nature are." 

So much for a blind obedience to a blundering oracle, 
throwing the stones over their heads behind them, and 
not seeing where they fell. 

Most men, even in this comparatively free country, 
through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied 
with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors 
of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. 
Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy and 
tremble too much for that. Actually, the laboring man 
has not leisure for a true integrity day by day ; he can- 
not afford to sustain the manliest relations to men ; his 
labor would be depreciated in the market. He has no 
time to be any thing but a machine. How can he 
remember well his ignorance — which his growth re- 
quires — who has so often to use his knowledge ? We 


should feed and clothe him gratuitously sometimes, and 
recruit him with our cordials, before we judge of him. 
The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on 
fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate han- 
dling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another 
thus tenderly. 

Some of you, we all know, are poor, find it hard to 
live, are sometimes, as it were, gasping for breath. I 
have no doubt that some of you who read this book are 
unable to pay for all the dinners which you have actual- 
ly eaten, or for the coats and shoes which are fast wear- 
ing or are already worn out, and have come to this page 
to spend borrowed or stolen time, robbing your creditors 
of an hour. It is very evident what mean and sneak- 
ing lives many of you live, for my sight has been whet- 
ted by experience ; always on the limits, trying to get 
into business and trying to get out of debt, a very an- 
cient slough, called by the Latins ces alienum, another's 
brass, for some of their coins were made of brass ; still 
living, and dying, and buried by this other's brass ; al- 
ways promising to pay, promising to pay, to-morrow, 
and dying to-day, insolvent ; seeking to curry favor, to 
get custom, by how many modes, only not state-prison 
offences ; lying, flattering, voting, contracting yourselves 
into a nutshell of civility, or dilating into an atmosphere 
of thin and vaporous generosity,- that you may per- 
suade your neighbor to let you make his shoes, or his 
hat, or his coat, or his carriage, or import his groceries 
for him ; making yourselves sick, that you may lay up 
something against a sick day, something to be tucked 
away in an old chest, or in a stocking behind the plas- 
tering, or, more safely, in the brick bank ; no matter 
where, no matter how much or how little. 


I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous, I 
may almost say, as to attend to the gross but somewhat 
foreign form of servitude called Negro Slavery, there 
are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave both 
north and south. It is hard to have a southern over- 
seer ; it is worse to have a northern one ; but worst of all 
when you are the slave-driver of yourself. Talk of a 
divinity in man ! Look at the teamster on the high- 
way, wending to market by day or night ; does any 
divinity stir within him ? His highest duty to fodder 
and water his horses ! What is his destiny to him com- 
pared with the shipping interests ? Does not he drive 
for Squire Make-a-stir ? How godlike, how immortal, is 
he ? See how he cowers and sneaks, how vaguely all 
the day he fears, not being immortal nor divine, but the 
slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself, a 
fame won by his own deeds. Public opinion is a weak 
tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a 
man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or 
rather indicates, his fate. Self- emancipation even in 
the West Indian provinces of the fancy and imagina- 
tion, — what Wilberforce is there to bring that about ? 
Think, also, of the ladies of the land weaving toilet 
cushions against the last day, not to betray too green an 
interest in their fates ! As if you could kill time without 
injuring eternity. 

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. 
What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. 
From the desperate city you go into the desperate coun- 
try, and have to console yourself with the bravery of 
minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious 
despair is concealed even under what are called the 
games and amusements of mankind. There is no play 


in them, for this comes after work. But it is a char- 
acteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. 

When we consider what, to use the words of the cate- 
chism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true 
necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had 
deliberately chosen the common mode of living because 
they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think 
there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures 
remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late L 
to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, 
however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What 
every body echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day 
may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow, mere smoke of 
opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would 
sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields. What old peo- 
ple say you cannot do you try and find that you can. Old 
deeds for old people, and new deeds for new. Old peo- 
ple did not know enough once, perchance, to fetch fresh 
fuel to keep the fire a-going ; new people put a little dry 
wood under a pot, and are whirled round the globe with 
the speed of birds, in a way to kill old people, as the 
phrase is. Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for 
an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as 
it has lost. One may almost doubt if the wisest man 
has learned any thing of absolute value by living. 
Practically, the old have no very important advice to 
give the young, their own experience has been so par- 
tial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, 
for private reasons, as they must believe ; and it may be 
that they have some faith left which belies that experi- 
ence, and they are only less young than they were. I 
have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have 
yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest 

12 WALDEN". 

advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, 
and probably cannot tell me any thing, to the purpose. 
Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by 
me ; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If 
I have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure 
to reflect that this my Mentors said nothing about. 

One farmer says to me, " You cannot live on vegeta- 
ble food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones 
with ; " and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to 
supplying his system with the raw material of bones ; 
walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, 
with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumber- 
ing plough along in spite of every obstacle. Some 
things are really necessaries of life in some circles, the 
most helpless and diseased, which in others are luxuries 
merely, and in others still are entirely unknown. 

The whole ground of human life seems to some to 
have been gone over by their predecessors, both the 
heights and the valleys, and all things to have been 
cared for. According to Evelyn, " the wise Solomon 
prescribed ordinances for the very distances of trees ; 
and the Roman praetors have decided how often you 
may go into your neighbor's land to gather the acorns 
which fall on it without trespass, and what share belongs 
to that neighbor." Hippocrates has even left directions 
how we should cut our nails ; that is, even with the ends 
of the fingers, neither shorter nor longer. Undoubted- 
ly the very tedium and ennui which presume to have 
exhausted the variety and the joys of life are as old as 
Adam. But man's capacities have never been meas- 
ured; nor are we to judge of what he can do by 
any precedents, so little has been tried. Whatever 
have been thy failures hitherto, "be not afflicted, my 


child, for who shall assign to thee what thou hast left 
undone ? " 

We might try our lives by a thousand simple tests ; 
as, for instance, that the same sun which ripens my 
beans illumines at once a system of earths like ours. 
If I had remembered this it would have prevented some 
mistakes. This was not the light in which I hoed 
them. The stars are the apexes of what wonderful tri- 
angles ! What distant and different beings in the various 
mansions of the universe are contemplating the same 
one at the same moment ! Nature and human life are 
as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say 
what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater 
miracle take place than for us to look through each 
other's eyes for an instant ? We should live in all the 
ages of the world in an hour ; ay, in all the worlds of 
the ages. History, Poetry, Mythology ! — I know of no 
reading of another's experience so startling and inform- 
ing as this would be. 

The greater part of what my neighbors call good I 
believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of any 
thing, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What 
demon possessed me that I behaved so well ? You may 
say the wisest thing you can old man, — you who have 
lived seventy years, not without honor of a kind, — I 
hear an irresistible voice which invites me away from 
all that. One generation abandons the enterprises of 
another like stranded vessels. 

I think that we may safely trust a good deal more 
thou we do. We may waive just so much care of our- 
selves as we honestly bestow elsewhere. Nature is as 
well adapted to our weakness as to our strength. The 
incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well nigh 


incurable form of disease. We are made to exagger- 
ate the importance of what work we do ; and yet how 
much is not done by us ! or, what if we had been 
taken sick ? How vigilant we are ! determined not to 
live by faith if we can avoid it ; all the day long on the 
alert, at night we unwillingly say our prayers and com- 
mit ourselves to uncertainties. So thoroughly and sin- 
cerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, 
and denying the possibility of change. This is the only 
way, we say ; but there are as many ways as there can 
be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a mira- 
cle to contemplate ; but it is a miracle which is taking 
place every instant. Confucius said, " To know that we 
know what we know, and that we do not know what we 
do not know, that is true knowledge." When one man 
has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his 
understanding, I foresee that all men will at length 
establish their lives on that basis. 

Let us consider for a moment what most of the trou- 
ble and anxiety which I have referred to is about, and 
how much it is necessary that we be troubled, or, at least, 
careful. It would be some advantage to live a primi- 
tive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward 
civilization, if only to learn what are the gross necessa- 
ries of life and what methods have been taken to obtain 
them ; or even to look over the old day-books of the 
merchants, to see what it was that men most commonly 
bought at the stores, what they stored, that is, what 
are the grossest groceries. For the improvements of 
ages have had but little influence on the essential 
laws of man's existence ; as our skeletons, proba- 


bly, are not to be distinguished from those of our 

By the words, necessary of life, I mean whatever, of 
all that man obtains by his own exertions, has been 
from the first, or from long use has become, so im- 
portant to human life that few, if any, whether from 
savageness, or poverty, or philosophy, ever attempt to 
do without it. To many creatures there is in this 
sense but one necessary of life, Food. To the bison of 
the prairie it is a few inches of palatable grass, with 
water to drink ; unless he seeks the Shelter of the forest 
or the mountain's shadow. None of the brute creation 
requires more than Food and Shelter. The necessaries 
of life for man in this climate may, accurately enough, 
be distributed under the several heads of Food, Shelter, 
Clothing, and Fuel ; for not till we have secured these are 
we prepared to entertain the true problems of life with 
freedom and a prospect of success. Man has invented, 
not only houses, but clothes and cooked food ; and pos- 
sibly from the accidental discovery of the warmth of 
fire, and the consequent use of it, at first a luxury, 
arose the present necessity to sit by it. We observe 
cats and dogs acquiring the same second nature. By 
proper Shelter and Clothing we legitimately retain our 
own internal heat ; but with an excess of these, or of 
Fuel, that is, with an external heat greater than our own 
internal, may not cookery properly be said to begin ? 
Darwin, the naturalist, says of the inhabitants of Tierra* 
del Fuego, that while his own party, who were well 
clothed and sitting close to a fire, were far from too 
warm, these naked savages, who were farther off, were 
observed, to his great surprise, " to be streaming with 
perspiration at undergoing such a roasting." So, we 


are told, the New Hollander goes naked with impunity, 
while the European shivers in his clothes. Is it impos- 
sible to combine the hardiness of these savages with the 
intellectualness of the civilized man ? According to 
Liebig, man's body is a stove, and food the fuel which 
keeps up the internal combustion in the lungs. In cold 
weather we eat more, in warm less. The animal heat 
is the result of a slow combustion, and disease and death 
take place when this is too rapid ; or for want of fuel, or 
from some defect in the draught, the fire goes out. Of 
course the vital heat is not to be confounded with fire ; 
but so much for analogy. It appears, therefore, from 
the above list, that the expression, animal life, is nearly 
synonymous with the expression, animal heat; for while 
Food may be regarded as the Fuel which keeps up the 
fire within us, — and Fuel serves only to prepare that 
Food or to increase the warmth of our bodies by addi- 
tion from without, — Shelter and Clothing also serve 
only to retain the heat thus generated and absorbed. 

The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep 
warm, to keep the vital heat in us. What pains we 
accordingly take, not only with our Food, and Clothing, 
and Shelter, but with our beds, which are our night- 
clothes, robbing the nests and breasts of birds to pre- 
pare this shelter within a shelter, as the mole has its 
bed of grass and leaves at the end of its burrow ! The 
poor man is wont to complain that this is a cold world ; 
and to cold, no less physical than social, we refer direct- 
ly a great part of our ails. The summer, in some cli- 
mates, makes possible to man a sort of Elysian life. 
Fuel, except to cook his Food, is then unnecessary; the 
sun is his fire, and many of the fruits are sufficiently 
cooked by its rays ; while Food generally is more vari- 


ous, and more easily obtained, and Clothing and Shelter 
are wholly or half unnecessary. At the present day, 
and in this country, as I find by my own experience, a 
few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade, a wheelbar- 
row, &c, and for the studious, lamplight, stationery, and. 
access to a few books, rank next to necessaries, and can 
all be obtained at a trifling cost. Yet some, not wise, 
go to the other side of the globe, to barbarous and un- 
healthy regions, and devote themselves to trade for ten 
or twenty years, in order that they may live, — that is, 
keep comfortably warm, — and die in New England at 
last. The luxuriously rich are not simply kept comfort- 
ably warm, but unnaturally hot ; as I implied before, 
they are cooked, of course a la mode. 

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called com- 
forts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive 
hinderances to the elevation of mankind. With respect 
to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a 
more simple and meagre life than the poor. The 
ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and 
Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer 
in outward riches, none so rich in inward. We know 
not much about them. It is remarkable that we know 
so much of them as we do. The same is true of the 
more modern reformers and benefactors of their race. 
None can be an impartial or wise observer of human 
life but from the vantage ground of what we should call 
voluntary poverty. Of a life of luxury the fruit is 
luxury, whether in agriculture, or commerce, or litera- 
ture, or art. There are nowadays professors of philos- 
ophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to 
profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a 
philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor 


even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live 
according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independ- 
ence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of 
the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practi- 
cally. The success of great scholars and thinkers is 
commonly a courtier-like success, ndt kingly, not manly. 
They make shift to live merely by conformity, practi- 
cally as their fathers did, and are in no sense the pro- 
genitors of a nobler race of men. But why do men 
degenerate ever ? "What makes families run out ? 
What is the nature of the luxury which enervates and 
destroys nations ? Are we sure that there is none of it 
in our own lives ? The philosopher is in advance of his 
age even in the outward form of his life. He is not 
fed, sheltered, clothed, warmed, like his contemporaries. 
How can a man be a philosopher and not maintain his 
vital heat by better methods than other men ? 

When a man is warmed by the several modes which 
I have described, what does he want next ? Surely not 
more warmth of the same kind, as more and richer 
food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more 
abundant clothing, more numerous incessant and hotter 
fires, and the like. When he has obtained those things 
which are necessary to life, there is another alternative 
than to obtain the superfluities ; and that is, to adven- 
ture on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having 
commenced. The soil, it appears, is suited to the seed, 
for it has sent its radicle downward, and it may now 
send its shoot upward also with confidence. Why has 
man rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he 
may rise in the same proportion into the heavens above ? 
— for the nobler plants are valued for the fruit they 
bear at last in the air and light, far from the ground, and 


are not treated like the humbler esculents, which, 
though they may be biennials, are cultivated only till 
they have perfected their root, and often cut down at 
top for this purpose, so that most would not know them 
in their flowering season. 

I do not mean to prescribe rules to strong and valiant 
natures, who will mind their own affairs whether in 
heaven or hell, and perchance build more magnificently 
and spend more lavishly than the richest, without ever 
impoverishing themselves, not knowing how they live, 

— if, indeed, there are any such, as has been dreamed ; 
nor to those who find their encouragement and inspira- 
tion in precisely the present condition of things, and 
cherish it with the fondness and enthusiasm of lovers, 

— and, to some extent, I reckon myself in this number ; 
I do not speak to those who are well employed, in 
whatever circumstances, and they know whether they 
are well employed or not ; — but mainly to the mass of 
men who are discontented, and idly complaining of the 
hardness of their lot or of the times, when they might 
improve them. There are some who complain most 
energetically and inconsolably of any, because they are, 
as they say, doing their duty. I also have in my mind 
that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished 
class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not 
how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged 
their own golden or silver fetters. 

If I should attempt to tell how I have desired to 
spend my life in years past, it would probably surprise 
those of my readers who are somewhat acquainted with 
its actual history ; it would certainly astonish those who 


know nothing about it. I will only hint at some of the 
enterprises which I have cherished. 

In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I 
have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and 
notch it on my stick too ; to stand on the meeting of two 
eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the 
present moment ; to toe that line. You will pardon 
some obscurities, for there are more secrets in my trade 
than in most men's, and yet not voluntarily kept, but 
inseparable from its very nature. I would gladly tell 
all that I know about it, and never paint " No Admit- 
tance " on my gate. 

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

To anticipate, not the sunrise and the dawn merely, 
but, if possible, Nature herself ! How many mornings, 
summer and winter, before yet any neighbor was stirring 
about his business, have I been about mine ! No doubt, 
many of my townsmen have met me returning from 
this enterprise, farmers starting for Boston in the 
twilight, or woodchoppers going to their work. It is 
true, I never assisted the sun materially in his rising, 
but, doubt not, it was of the last importance only to be 
present at it. 

So many autumn, ay, and winter days, spent outside 
the town, trying to hear what was in the wind, to hear 
and carry it express ! I well-nigh sunk all my capital 


in it, and lost my own breath into the bargain, running 
in the face of it. If it had concerned either of the po- 
litical parties, depend upon it, it would have appeared 
in the Gazette with the earliest intelligence. At other 
times watching from the observatory of some cliff or 
tree, to telegraph any new arrival ; or waiting at even- 
ing on the hill-tops for the sky to fall, that I might catch 
something, though I never caught much, and that, manna- 
wise, would dissolve again in the sun. 

For a long time I was reporter to a journal, of no 

very wide circulation, whose editor has never yet seen 

fit to print the bulk of my contributions, and, as is too 

^common with writers, I got only my labor for my pains. 

Jlowever, in this case my pains were their own reward. 

For many years I was self-appointed inspector of 
snow storms and rain storms, and did my duty faithful- 
ly ; surveyor, if not of highways, then of forest paths 
and all across-lot routes, keeping them open, and ravines 
bridged and passable at all seasons, where the public 
heel had testified to their utility. 

I have looked after the wild stock of the town, which 
gi^je a faithful herdsman a good deal of trouble by leap- 
ing* fences ; and I have had an eye to the unfrequented 
nooks and corners of the farm ; though I did not always 
know whether Jonas or Solomon worked in a particular 
field to-day ; that was none of my business. I have 
watered the red huckleberry, the sand cherry and the 
nettle tree, the red pine and the black ash, the white 
grape and the yellow violet, which might have withered 
else in dry seasons. 

In short, I went on thus for a long time, I may say it 
without boasting, faithfully minding my business, till it 
became more and more evident that my townsmen 


would not after all admit me into the list of town 
officers, nor make my place a sinecure with a moderate 
allowance. My accounts, which I can swear to have 
kept faithfully, I have, indeed, never got audited, still 
less accepted, still less paid and settled. However, I 
have not set my heart on that. 

Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets 
at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighbor- 
hood. " Do you wish to buy any baskets ? " he asked. 
" No, we do not want any," was the reply. " What ! " 
exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, " do you 
mean to starve us ? " Having seen his industrious white 
neighbors so well off, — that the lawyer had only to 
weave arguments, and by some magic wealth and stand- 
ing followed, he had said to himself; I will go into busi- 
ness ; I will weave baskets ; it is a thing which I can 
do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he 
would have done his part, and then it would be the white 
man's to buy them. He had not discovered that it was 
necessary for him to make it worth the other's while to 
buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or 
to make something else which it would be worth his 
while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a 
delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one's 
while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I 
think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of 
studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my 
baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of 
selling them. The life which men praise and regard as 
successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate 
any one kind at the expense of the others ? 

Finding that my fellow-citizens were not likely to 
offer me any room in the court house, or any curacy or 


living any where else, but I must shift for myself, I 
turned my face more exclusively than ever to the woods, 
where I was better known. I determined to go into 
business at once, and not wait to acquire the usual capi- 
tal, using such slender means as I had already got. My 
purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheap- 
ly nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private 
business with the fewest obstacles ; to be hindered from 
accomplishing which for want of a little common sense, 
a little enterprise and business talent, appeared not so 
sad as foolish. 

I have always endeavored to acquire strict business 
habits ; they are indispensable to every man. If your 
trade is with the Celestial Empire, then some small count- 
ing house on the coast, in some Salem harbor, will be 
fixture enough. You will export such articles as the 
country affords, purely native products, much ice and 
pine timber and a little granite, always in native bot- 
toms. These will be good ventures. To oversee all the 
details yourself in person ; to be at once pilot and cap- 
tain, and owner and underwriter ; to buy and sell and 
keep the accounts ; to read every letter received, and 
write or read every letter sent ; to superintend the dis- 
charge of imports night and day ; to be upon many 
parts of the coast almost at the same time ; — often the 
richest freight will be discharged upon a Jersey shore ; 
— to be your own telegraph, unweariedly sweeping the 
horizon, speaking all passing vessels bound coastwise ; 
to keep up a steady despatch of commodities, for the 
supply of such a distant and exorbitant market ; to keep 
yourself informed of the state of the markets, prospects 
of war and peace every where, and anticipate the ten- 
dencies of trade and civilization, — taking advantage of 


the results of all exploring expeditions, using new pas- 
sages and all improvements in navigation ; — charts to 
be studied, the position of reefs and new lights and 
buoys to be ascertained, and ever, and ever, the loga- 
rithmic tables to be corrected, for by the error of some 
calculator the vessel often splits upon a rock that should 
have reached a friendly pier, — there is the untold fate 
- of La Perouse ; — universal science to be kept pace 
with, studying the lives of all great discoverers and 
navigators, great adventurers and merchants, from Han- 
no and the Phoenicians down to our day ; in fine, ac- 
count of stock to be taken from time to time, to know 
how you stand. It is a labor to task the faculties of a 
man, — such problems of profit and loss, of interest, of 
tare and tret, and gauging of all kinds in it, as demand 
a universal knowledge. 

I have thought that "Walden Pond would be a good 
place for business, not solely on account of the railroad 
and the ice trade ; it offers advantages which it may not 
be good policy to divulge ; it is a good post and a good 
foundation. No Neva marshes to be filled ; though you 
must every where build on piles of your own driving. 
It is said that a flood-tide, with a westerly wind, and ice 
in the Neva, would sweep St. Petersburg from the face 
of the earth. 

As this business was to be entered into without the 
usual capital, it may not be easy to conjecture where 
those means, that will still be indispensable to every 
such undertaking, were to be obtained. As for Clothing, 
to come at once to the practical part of the question, 
perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and 


a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than 
by a true utility. Let him who has work to do recol- 
lect that the object of clothing is, first, to retain the vital 
heat, and secondly, in this state of society, to cover 
nakedness, and he may judge how much of any neces- 
sary or important work may be accomplished without 
adding to his wardrobe. Kings and queens who wear a 
suit but once, though made by some tailor or dress- 
maker to their majesties, cannot know the comfort of 
wearing a suit that fits. They are no better than wooden 
horses to hang the clean clothes on. Every day our 
garments become more assimilated to ourselves, receiv- 
ing the impress of the wearer's character, until we hesi- 
tate to lay them aside, without such delay and medical 
appliances and some such solemnity even as our bodies. 
No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for hav- 
ing a patch in his clothes ; yet I am sure that there is 
greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at 
least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound 
conscience. But even if the rent is not mended, perhaps 
the worst vice betrayed is improvidence. I sometimes try 
my acquaintances by such tests as this; — who could wear 
a patch, or two extra seams only, over the knee? Most 
behave as if they believed that their prospects for life 
would be ruined if they should do it. It would be easier 
for them to hobble to town with a broken leg than with 
a broken pantaloon. Often if an accident happens to a 
gentleman's legs, they can be mended ; but if a similar 
accident happens to the legs of his pantaloons, there is 
no help for it ; for he considers, not what is truly re- 
T spectable, but what is respected. We know but few 
men, a great many coats and breeches. Dress a scare- 
crow in your last shift, you standing shiftless by, who 


would not soonest salute the scarecrow? Passing a 
cornfield the other day, close by a hat and coat on a 
stake, I recognized the owner of the farm. He was 
only a little more weather-beaten than when I saw him 
last. I have heard of a dog that barked at every 
stranger who approached his master's premises with 
clothes on, but was easily quieted by a naked thief. It 
is an interesting question how far men would retain their 
relative rank if they were divested of their clothes. 
Could you, in such a case, tell surely of any company 
of civilized men, which belonged to the most respected 
; class ? When Madam Pfeiffer, in her adventurous travels 
round the world, from east to west, had got so near home 
as Asiatic Russia, she says that she felt the necessity of 
wearing other than a travelling dress, when she went to 
meet the authorities, for she " was now in a civilized 

country, where — people are judged of by their 

clothes." Even in our democratic New England towns 
the accidental possession of wealth, and its manifestation 
in dress and equipage alone, obtain for the possessor 
almost universal respect. But they who yield such re- 
spect, numerous as they are, are so far heathen, and need 
to have a missionary sent to them. Beside, clothes in- 
troduced sewing, a kind of work which you may call 
endless ; a woman's dress, at least, is never done. 

A man who has at length found something to do will 
not need to get a new suit to do it in ; for him the old 
will do, that has lain dusty in the garret for an indeter- 
minate period. Old shoes will serve a hero longer than 
they have served his valet, — if a hero ever has a valet, 
— bare feet are older than shoes, and he can make them 
do. Only they who go to soirees and legislative halls 
must have new coats, coats to change as often as the 


man changes in them. But if my jacket and trousers, 
my hat and shoes, are fit to worship God in, they will 
do ; will they not ? Who ever saw his old clothes, — 
his old coat, actually worn out, resolved into its primi- 
tive elements, so that it was not a deed of charity to be- 
stow it on some poor boy, by him perchance to be be- 
stowed on some poorer still, or shall we say richer, who 
could do with less ? I say, beware of all enterprises that 
require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of 
clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new 
clothes be made to fit ? If you have any enterprise be- 
fore you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not 
something to do with, but something to do, or rather 
something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a 
new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have 
so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that 
we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it 
would be like keeping new wine in old bottles. Our 
moulting season, like that of the fowls, must be a crisis in 
our lives. The loon retires to solitary ponds to spend 
it. Thus also the snake casts its slough, and the cater- 
pillar its wormy coat, by an internal industry and ex- 
pansion; for clothes are but our outmost cuticle and 
mortal coil. Otherwise we shall be found sailing under 
false colors, and be inevitably cashiered at last by our 
own opinion, as well as that of mankind. 

We don garment after garment, as if we grew like 
exogenous plants by addition without. Our outside and 
often thin and fanciful clothes are our epidermis or false 
skin, which partakes not of our life, and may be stripped 
off here and there without fatal injury ; our thicker gar- 
ments, constantly worn, are our cellular integument, or 
cortex ; but our shirts are our liber or true bark, which 


cannot be removed without girdling and so destroying 
the man. I believe that all races at some seasons wear 
something equivalent to the shirt. It is desirable that a 
man be clad so simply that he can lay his hands on him- 
self in the dark, and that he live in all respects so com- 
pactly and preparedly, that, if an enemy take the town, 
he can, like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty- 
handed without anxiety. While one thick garment is, 
for most purposes, as good as three thin ones, and cheap 
clothing can be obtained at prices really to suit custom- 
ers ; while a thick coat can be bought for five dollars, 
which will last as many years, thick pantaloons for two 
dollars, cowhide boots for a dollar and a half a pair, a 
summer hat for a quarter of a dollar, and a winter cap 
for sixty-two and a half cents, or a better be made at 
home at a nominal cost, where is he so poor that, clad 
in such a suit, of his own earning, there will not be 
found wise men to do him reverence ? 

When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my 
tailoress tells me gravely, " They do not make them so 
now," not emphasizing the " They" at all, as if she quoted 
an authority as impersonal as the Fates, and I find it dif- 
ficult to get made what I want, simply because she cannot 
believe that I mean what I say, that I am so rash. When 
I hear this oracular sentence, I am for a moment ab- 
sorbed in thought, emphasizing to myself each word 
separately that I may come at the meaning of it, that I 
may find out by what degree of consanguinity They 
are related to me, and what authority they may have 
in an affair which affects me so nearly ; and, finally, 
I am inclined to answer her with equal mystery, and 
without any more emphasis of the " they," — " It is 
true, they did not make them so recently, but they do 


now." Of what use this measuring of me if she does 
not measure my character, but only the breadth of my 
shoulders, as it were a peg to hang the coat on ? We 
worship not the Graces, nor the Parcae, but Fashion. 
She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. 
The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller's cap, and 
all the monkeys in America do the same. I sometimes 
despair of getting any thing quite simple and honest 
done in this world by the help of men. They would 
have to be passed through a powerful press first, to 
squeeze their old notions out of them, so that they would 
not soon get upon their legs again, and then there would 
be some one in the company with a maggot in his head, 
hatched from an egg deposited there nobody knows 
when, for not even fire kills these things, and you would 
have lost your labor. Nevertheless, we will not forget 
that some Egyptian wheat was handed down to us by a 

On the whole, I think that it cannot be maintained 
that dressing has in this or any country risen to the dig- 
nity of an art. At present men make shift to wear 
what they can get. Like shipwrecked sailors, they put 
on what they can find on the beach, and at a little dis- 
tance, whether of space or time, laugh at each other's 
masquerade. Every generation laughs at the old fash- 
ions, but follows religiously the new. We are amused 
at beholding the costume of Henry VIIL, or Queen 
Elizabeth, as much as if it was that of the King and 
Queen of the Cannibal Islands. All costume off a man 
is pitiful or grotesque. It is only the serious eye peer- 
ing from and the sincere life passed within it, which re- 
strain laughter and consecrate the costume of any peo- 
ple. Let Harlequin be taken with a fit of the colic and 


his trappings will have to serve that mood too. When 
the soldier is hit by a cannon ball rags are as becoming 
as purple. 

The childish and savage taste of men and women for 
new patterns keeps how many shaking and squinting 
through kaleidoscopes that they may discover the par- 
ticular figure which this generation requires to-day. 
The manufacturers have learned that this taste is mere- 
ly whimsical. Of two patterns which differ only by a 
few threads more or less of a particular color, the one 
will be sold readily, the other lie on the shelf, though it 
frequently happens that after the lapse of a season the 
latter becomes the most fashionable. Comparatively, 
tattooing is not the hideous custom which it is called. 
It is not barbarous merely because the printing is skin- 
deep and unalterable. 

I cannot believe that our factory system is the best 
mode by which men may get clothing. The condition 
of the operatives is becoming every day more like that 
of the English ; and it cannot be wondered at, since, as 
far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is, 
not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, 
unquestionably, that the corporations may be enriched. 
In the long run men hit only what they aim at. There- 
fore, though they should fail immediately, they had bet- 
ter aim at something high. 

As for a Shelter, I will not deny that this is now a 
necessary of life, though there are instances of men 
having done without it for long periods in colder coun- 
tries than this. Samuel Laing says that " The Laplander 
in his skin dress, and in a skin bag which he puts over 


his head and shoulders, will sleep night after night on 
the snow in a degree of cold which would ex- 
tinguish the life of one exposed to it in any woollen 
clothing." He had seen them asleep thus. Yet he 
adds, " They are not hardier than other people." But, 
probably, man did not live long on the earth without dis- 
covering the convenience which there is in a house, the 
domestic comforts, which phrase may have originally 
signified the satisfactions of the house more than of the 
family ; though these must be extremely partial and oc- 
casional in those climates where the house is associated 
in our thoughts with winter or the rainy season chiefly, 
and two thirds of the year, except for a parasol, is un- 
necessary. In our climate, in the summer, it was for- 
merly almost solely a covering at night. In the Indian 
gazettes a wigwam was the symbol of a day's march, and 
a row of them cut or painted on the bark of a tree 
signified that so many times they had camped. Man 
was not made so large limbed and robust but that he 
must seek to narrow his world, and wall in a space such 
as fitted him. He was at first bare and out of doors ; 
but though this was pleasant enough in serene and warm 
weather, by daylight, the rainy season and the winter, to 
say nothing of the torrid sun, would perhaps have 
nipped his race in the bud if he had not made haste 
to clothe himself with the shelter of a house. Adam and 
Eve, according to the fable, wore the bower before 
other clothes. Man wanted a home, a place of warmth, 
or comfort, first of physical warmth, then the warmth 
of the affections. 

We may imagine a time when, in the infancy of the 
human race, some enterprising mortal crept into a hol- 
low in a rock for shelter. Every child begins the world 


again, to some extent, and loves to stay out doors, even 
in wet and cold. It plays house, as well as horse, hav- 
ing an instinct for it. Who does not remember the 
interest with which when young he looked at shelving 
rocks, or any approach to a cave ? It was the natural 
yearning of that portion of our most primitive ancestor 
which still survived in us. From the cave we have ad- 
vanced to roofs of palm leaves, of bark and boughs, of 
linen woven and stretched, of grass and straw, of 
boards and shingles, of stones and tiles. At last, we 
know not what it is to live in the open air, and our 
lives are domestic in more senses than we think. From 
the hearth to the field is a great distance. It would be 
well perhaps if we were to spend more of our days and 
nights without any obstruction between us and the 
celestial bodies, if the poet did not speak so much from 
under a roof, or the saint dwell there so long. Birds 
do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their inno- 
cence in dovecots. 

However, if one designs to construct a dwelling 
house, it behooves him to exercise a little Yankee shrewd- 
ness, lest after all he find himself in a workhouse, a 
labyrinth without a clew, a museum, an almshouse, a 
prison, or a splendid mausoleum instead. Consider first 
how slight a shelter is absolutely necessary. I have 
seen Penobscot Indians, in this town, living in tents of 
thin cotton cloth, while the snow was nearly a foot deep 
around them, and I thought that they would be glad to 
have it deeper to keep out the wind. Formerly, when 
how to get my living honestly, with freedom left for my 
proper pursuits, was a question which vexed me even 
more than it does now, for unfortunately I am become 
somewhat callous, I used to see a large box by the rail- 



road, six feet long by three wide, in which the laborers 
locked up their tools at night, and it suggested to me 
that every man who was hard pushed might get such a 
one for a dollar, and, having bored a few auger holes 
in it, to admit the air at least, get into it when it rained 
and at night, and hook down the lid, and so have freedom 
in his love, and in his soul be free. This did not ap- 
pear the worst, nor by any means a despicable alterna- 
tive. You could sit up as late as you pleased, and, when- 
ever you got up, go abroad without any landlord of 
house-lord dogging you for rent. Many a man is har- 
assed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more 
luxurious box who would not have frozen to death in 
such a box as this. I am far from jesting. Economy 
is a subject which admits of being treated with levity, 
but it cannot so be disposed of. A comfortable house 
for a rude and hardy race, that lived mostly out of doors, 
was once made here almost entirely of such materials 
as Nature furnished ready to their hands. Gookin, who 
was superintendent of the Indians subject to the Massa- 
chusetts Colony, writing in 1G74, says, "The best of 
their houses are covered very neatly, tight and warm, 
with barks of trees, slipped from their bodies at those 
seasons when the sap is up, and made into great flakes, 
with pressure of weighty timber, when they are green. 
. . . The meaner sort are covered with mats whjfji they 
make of a kind of bulrush, and are also indifferently 
tight and warm, but not so good as the former. . . . Some 
I have seen, sixty or a hundred feet long and thirty 
feet broad. ... I have often lodged in their wigwams, and 
found them as warm as the best English houses." He 
adds, that they were commonly carpeted and lined with- 
in with well-wrought embroidered mats, and were fur- 

nished with various utensils. The Indians had advanced 
so far as to regulate the effect of the wind by a mat 
suspended over the hole in the roof and moved by 
a string. Such a lodge was in the first instance con- 
structed in a day or two at most, and taken down and 
put up in a few hours ; and every family owned one, or 
its apartment in one. 

In the savage state every family owns a shelter as 
good as the best, and sufficient for its coarser and sim- 
pler wants ; but I think that I speak within bounds 
when I say that, though the birds of the air have their 
nests, and the foxes their holes, and the savages their 
wigwams, in modern civilized society not more than one 
half the families own a shelter. In the large towns and 
cities, where civilization especially prevails, the number 
of those who own a shelter is a very small fraction of 
the whole. The rest pay an annual tax for this outside 
garment of all, become indispensable summer and win- 
ter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but 
now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. I do 
not mean to insist here on the disadvantage of hiring 
compared with owning, but it is evident that the savage 
owns his shelter because it costs so little, while the civil- 
ized man hires his commonly because he cannot afford 
to own it ; nor can he, in the long run, any better afford 
to hire. But, answers one, by merely paying this tax 
the poor civilized man secures an abode which is a pal- 
ace compared with the savage's. An annual rent of 
from twenty-five to a hundred dollars, these are the 
country rates, entitles him to the benefit of the improve- 
ments of centuries, spacious apartments, clean paint and 
paper, Eumford fireplace, back plastering, Venetian 
blinds, copper pump, spring lock> a commodious cellar, 


and many other things. But how happens it that ho 
who is said to enjoy these things is so commonly a poor 
civilized man, while the savage, who has them not, is 
rich as a savage ? If it is asserted that civilization is a 
real advance in the condition of man, — and I think 
that it is, though only the wise improve their advan- 
tages, — it must be shown that it has produced better 
dwellings without making them more costly; and the 
cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life 
which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately 
or in the long run. An average house in this neighbor- 
hood costs perhaps eight hundred dollars, and to lay up 
this sum will take from ten to fifteen years of the labor- 
er's life, even if he is not encumbered with a family ; — 
estimating the pecuniary value of every man's labor at 
one dollar a day, for if some receive more, others re- 
ceive less ; — so that he must have spent more than half 
his life commonly before his wigwam will be earned. 
If we suppose him to pay a rent instead, this is but a 
doubtful choice of evils. Would the savage have been 
wise to exchange his wigwam for a palace on these 
terms ? 

It may be guessed that I reduce almost the whole ad- 
vantage of holding this superfluous property as a fund 
in store against the future, so far as the individual is 
concerned, mainly to the defraying of funeral expenses. 
But perhaps a man is not required to bury himself. Nev- 
ertheless this points to an important distinction between 
the civilized man and the savage ; and, no doubt, they 
have designs on us for our benefit, in making the life of 
a civilized people an institution, in which the life of the 
individual is to a great extent absorbed, in order to pre- 
serve and perfect that of the race. But I wish to show 


at what a sacrifice this advantage is at present obtained, 
and to suggest that we may possibly so live as to secure 
all the advantage without suffering any of the disadvan- 
tage. What mean ye by saying that the poor ye have 
always with you, or that the fathers have eaten sour 
grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge ? 

" As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have oc- 
casion any more to use this proverb in Israel." 

" Behold all souls are mine ; as the soul of the father, 
so also the soul of the son is mine : the soul that sinneth 
it shall die." 

When I consider my neighbors, the farmers of Con- 
cord, who are at least as well off as the other classes, I 
find that for the most part they have been toiling twenty, 
thirty, or forty years, that they may become the real 
owners of their farms, which commonly they have in- 
herited with encumbrances, or else bought with hired 
money, — and we may regard one third of that toil as 
the cost of their houses, — but commonly they have not 
paid for them yet. It is true, the encumbrances some- 
times outweigh the value of the farm, so that the farm 
itself becomes one great encumbrance, and still a man is 
found to inherit it, being well acquainted with it, as he 
says. On applying to the assessors, I am surprised to 
learn that they cannot at once name a dozen in the 
town who own their farms free and clear. If you would 
know the history of these homesteads, inquire at the 
bank where they are mortgaged. The man who has 
actually paid for his farm with labor on it is so rare that 
every neighbor can point to him. I doubt if there are 
three such men in Concord. What has been said of the 
merchants, that a very large majority, even ninety-seven 
in a hundred, are sure to fail, is equally true of the 


farmers. With regard to the merchants, however, one 
of them says pertinently that a great part of their 
failures are not genuine pecuniary failures, but merely 
failures to fulfil their engagements, because it is incon- 
venient ; that is, it is the moral character that breaks 
down. But this puts an infinitely worse face on the 
matter, and suggests, beside, that probably not even the 
other three succeed in saving their souls, but are per- 
chance bankrupt in a worse sense than they who fail hon- 
estly. Bankruptcy and repudiation are the spring-boards 
from which much of our civilization vaults and turns its 
somersets, but the savage stands on the unelastic plank 
of famine. Yet the Middlesex Cattle Show goes off 
here with eclat annually,, as if all the joints of the agri- 
cultural machine were suent. 

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

" The false society of men — 

— for earthly greatness 
All heavenly comforts rarefies to air." 

And when the farmer has got his house, he may not 
be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house 
that has got him. As I understand it, that was a valid 
objection urged by Momus against the house which Mi- 
nerva made, that she " had not made it movable, by 


which means a bad neighborhood might be avoided ; n and 
it may still be urged, for our houses are such unwieldy 
property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed 
in them ; and the bad neighborhood to be avoided is our 
own scurvy selves. I know one or two families, at 
least, in this town, who, for nearly a generation, have 
been wishing to sell their houses in the outskirts and 
move into the village, but have not been able to accom- 
plish it, and only death will set them free. 

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

But how do the poor minority fare? Perhaps it 
will be found, that just in proportion as some have 
been placed in outward circumstances above the savage, 
others have been degraded below him. The luxury of 
one class is counterbalanced by the indigence of another. 
On the one side is the palace, on the other are the alms- 
house and " silent poor." The myriads who built the 
pyramids to be the tombs of the Pharaohs were fed on 
garlic, and it may be were not decently buried them- 
selves. The mason who finishes the cornice of the 
palace returns at night perchance to a hut not so good 
as a wigwam. It is a mistake to suppose that, in a coun- 
try where the usual evidences of civilization exist, the 
condition of a very large body of the inhabitants may 


not be as degraded as that of savages. I refer to the 
degraded poor, not now to the degraded rich. To know 
this I should not need to look farther than to the shan- 
ties which every where border our railroads, that last im- 
provement in civilization; where I see in my daily 
walks human beings living in sties, and all winter with 
an open door, for the sake of light, without any visible, 
often imaginable, wood pile, and the forms of both old 
and young are permanently contracted by the long 
habit of shrinking from cold and misery, and the de- 
velopment of all their limbs and faculties is checked. It 
certainly is fair to look at that class by whose labor the 
works which distinguish this generation are accom- 
plished. Such too, to a greater or less extent, is the 
condition of the operatives of every denomination in 
England, which is the great workhouse of the world. 
Or I could refer you to Ireland, which is marked as one 
of the white or enlightened spots on the map. Contrast 
the physical condition of the Irish with that of the 
North American Indian, or the South Sea Islander, or 
any other savage race before it was degraded by contact 
with the civilized man. Yet I have no doubt that that 
people's rulers are as wise as the average of civilized 
rulers. Their condition only proves what squalidness 
may consist with civilization. I hardly need refer now 
to the laborers in our Southern States who produce 
the staple exports of this country, and are themselves 
a staple production of the South. But to confine my- 
self to those who are said to be in moderate circum- 

Most men appear never to have considered what a 
house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all 
their lives because they think that they must have such 


a one as their neighbors have. As if one were to wear 
any sort of coat which the tailor might cut out for him, 
or, gradually leaving off palmleaf hat or cap of wood- 
chuck skin, complain of hard times because he could 
not afford to buy him a crown ! It is possible to invent 
a house still more convenient and luxurious than we 
have, which yet all would admit that man could not af- 
ford to pay for. Shall we always study to obtain more 
of these things, and not sometimes to be content with 
less ? Shall the respectable citizen thus gravely teach, 
by precept and example, the necessity of the young 
man's providing a certain number of superfluous glow- 
shoes, and umbrellas, and empty guest chambers for 
empty guests, before he dies? Why should not our 
furniture be as simple as the Arab's or the Indian's ? 
When I think of the benefactors of the race, whom we 
have apotheosized as messengers from heaven, bearers 
of divine gifts to man, I do not see in my mind any reti- 
nue at their heels, any car-load of fashionable furniture. 
Or what if I were to allow — would it not be a singu- 
lar allowance ? — that our furniture should be more 
complex than the Arab's, in proportion as we are moral- 
ly and intellectually his superiors ! At present our 
houses are cluttered and defiled with it, and a good house- 
wife would sweep out the greater part into the dust hole, 
and not leave her morning's work undone. Morning 
work ! By the blushes of Aurora and the music of 
Memnon, what should be man's morning work in this 
world ? I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, 
but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted 
daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted 
still, and I threw them out the window in disgust. 
How, then, could I have a furnished house ? I would 


rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the 
grass, unless where man has broken ground. 

It is the luxurious and dissipated who set the fashions 
which the herd so diligently follow. The traveller who 
stops at the best houses, so called, soon discovers this, 
for the publicans presume him to be a Sardanapalus, 
and if he resigned himself to their tender mercies he 
would soon be completely emasculated. I think that in 
the railroad car we are inclined to spend more on lux- 
ury than on safety and convenience, and it threatens 
without attaining these to become no better than a 
modern drawing room, with its divans, and ottomans, 
and sunshades, and a hundred other oriental things, 
which we are taking west with us, invented for the la- 
dies of the harem and the effeminate natives of the 
Celestial Empire, which Jonathan should be ashamed to 
know the names of. 1 would rather sit on a pumpkin 
and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet 
cushion. I would rather ride on earth in an ox cart 
with a free circulation, than go to heaven in the fancy 
car of an excursion train and breathe a malaria all 
the way. ) 

The very simplicity and nakedness of man's life in 
the primitive ages imply this advantage at least, that 
they left him still but a sojourner in nature. When he 
was refreshed with food and sleep he contemplated his 
journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in this 
world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing 
the plains, or climbing the mountain tops. But lo ! 
men have become the tools of their tools. The man 
who independently plucked the fruits when he was hun- 
gry is become a farmer ; and he who stood under a tree 
for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as 


for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgot- 
ten heaven. We have adopted Christianity merely as 
an improved method of agri-culture. We have built 
for this world a family mansion, and for the next a fami- 
ly tomb. The best works of art are the expression of 
man's struggle to free himself from this condition, but 
the effect of our art is merely to make this low state 
comfortable and that higher state to be forgotten. There 
is actually no place in this village for a work of fine art, 
if any had come down to us, to stand, for our lives, our 
houses and streets, furnish no proper pedestal for it. 
There is not a nail to hang a picture on, nor a shelf to 
receive the bust of a hero or a saint. When I consider 
how our houses are built and paid for, or not paid for, and 
their internal economy managed and .sustained, I wonder 
that the floor does not give way under the visitor while 
he is admiring the gewgaws upon the mantel-piece, and 
let him through into the cellar, to some solid and honest 
though earthy foundation. I cannot but perceive that this 
so called rich and refined life is a thing jumped at, and I 
do not get on in the enjoyment of the fine arts which 
adorn it, my attention being wholly occupied with the 
jump ; for I remember that the greatest genuine leap, 
due to human muscles alone, on record, is that of certain 
wandering Arabs, who are said to have cleared twenty- 
five feet on level ground. Without factitious support, 
man is sure to come to earth again beyond that distance. 
The first question which I am tempted to put to the 
proprietor of such great impropriety is, Who bolsters 
you ? Are you one of the ninety-seven who fail, or 
the three who succeed ? Answer me these questions, 
and then perhaps I may look at your bawbles and find 
them ornamental. The cart before the horse is neither 


beautiful nor useful. Before we can adorn our houses 
with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our 
lives must be stripped, and beautiful housekeeping and 
beautiful living be laid for a foundation : now, a taste 
for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors, where 
there is no house and no housekeeper. 

Old Johnson, in his " Wonder- Working Providence,''* 
speaking of the first settlers of this town, with whom ho 
was contemporary, tells us that " they burrow themselves 
in the earth for their first shelter under some hillside, and, 
casting the soil aloft upon timber, they make a smoky 
fire against the earth, at the highest side." They did 
not " provide them houses," says he, " till the earth, by 
the Lord's blessing, brought forth bread to feed them," 
and the first year's crop was so light that " they were 
forced to cut their bread very thin for a long season." 
The secretary of the Province of New Netherland, 
writing in Dutch, in 1650, for the information of those 
who wished to take up land there, states more particu- 
larly, that " those in New Netherland, and especially in 
New England, who have no means to build farm houses 
at first according to their wishes, dig a square pit in the 
ground, cellar fashion, six or seven feet deep, as long and 
as broad as they think proper, case the earth inside with 
wood all round the wall, and line the wood with the bark 
of trees or something else to prevent the caving in of the 
earth; floor this cellar with plank, and wainscot it 
overhead for a ceiling, raise a roof of spars clear up, 
and cover the spars with bark or green sods, so that 
they can live dry and warm in these houses with their 
entire families for two, three, and four years, it being 
understood that partitions are run through those cellars 
which are adapted to the size of the family. The 


wealthy and principal men in New England, in the be- 
ginning of the colonies, commenced their first dwelling 
houses in this fashion for two reasons ; firstly, in order 
not to waste time in building, and not to want food the 
next season ; secondly, in order not to discourage poor 
laboring people whom they brought over in numbers from 
Fatherland. In the course of three or four years, when 
the country became adapted to agriculture, they built 
themselves handsome houses, spending on them several 

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

Though we are not so degenerate but that we might 
possibly live in a cave or a wigwam or wear skins to- 
day, it certainly is better to accept the advantages, 
though so dearly bought, which the invention and indus- 
try of mankind offer. In such a neighborhood as this, 
boards and shingles, lime and bricks, are cheaper and 
more easily obtained than suitable caves, or whole logs, 
or bark in sufficient quantities, or even well-tempered 


clay or flat stones. I speak understanding^ on this 
subject, for I have made myself acquainted with it both 
theoretically and practically. With a little more wit 
we might use these materials so as to become richer 
than the richest now are, and make our civilization a 
blessing. The civilized man is a more experienced 
and wiser savage. But to make haste to my own ex- 

Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe 
and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, nearest 
to where I intended to build my house, and began to cut 
down some tall arrowy white pines, still in their youth, 
for timber. It is difficult to begin without borrowing, 
but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to per- 
mit your fellow-men to have an interest in your enter- 
prise. The owner of the axe, as he released his hold 
on it, said that it was the apple of his eye ; but I returned 
it sharper than I received it. It was a pleasant hillside 
where I worked, covered with pine woods, through 
which I looked out on the pond, and a small open field 
in the woods where pines and hickories were springing 
up. The ice in the pond was not yet dissolved, though 
there were some open spaces, and it was all dark colored 
and saturated with water. There were some slight flur- 
ries of snow during the days that I worked there ; but 
for the most part when I came out on to the railroad, on 
my way home, its yellow sand heap stretched away 
gleaming in the hazy atmosphere, and the rails shone in 
the spring sun, and I heard the lark and pewee and 
other birds already come to commence another year 
with us. They were pleasant spring days, in which the 


winter of man's discontent was thawing as well as the 
earth, and the life that had lain torpid began to stretch 
itself. One day, when my axe had come off and I had 
cut a green hickory for a wedge, driving it with a stone, 
and had placed the whole to soak in a pond hole in 
order to swell the wood, I saw a striped snake run into 
the water, and he lay on the bottom, apparently without 
inconvenience, as long as I staid there, or more than a 
quarter of an hour; perhaps because he had not yet 
fairly come out of the torpid state. It appeared to me 
that for a like reason men remain in their present low 
and primitive condition ; but if they should feel the in- 
fluence of the spring of springs arousing them, they 
would of necessity rise to a higher and more ethereal life. 
I had previously seen the snakes in frosty mornings in 
my path with portions of their bodies still numb and in- 
flexible, waiting for the sun to thaw them. On the 1st of 
April it rained and melted the ice, and in the early part 
of the day, which was very foggy, I heard a stray goose 
groping about over the pond and cackling as if lost, or 
like the spirit of the fog. 

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

Men say they know many things ; 

But lo ! they have taken wings, *— 

The arts and sciences, 

And a thousand appliances ; 

The wind that blows 

Is all that any body knows. 

I hewed the main timbers six inches square, most of the 
etuds on two sides only, and the rafters and floor tim- 


bers on one side, leaving the rest of the bark on, so that 
they were just as straight and much stronger than sawed 
ones. Each stick was carefully mortised or tenoned by 
its stump, for I had borrowed other tools by this time. 
My days in the woods were not very long ones ; yet I 
usually carried my dinner of bread and butter, and 
read the newspaper in which it was wrapped, at noon, 
sitting amid the green pine boughs which I had cut off, 
and to my bread was imparted some of their fragrance, 
for my hands were covered with a thick coat of pitch. 
Before I had done I was more the friend than the foe 
of the pine tree, though I had cut down some of them, 
having become better acquainted with it. Sometimes 
a rambler in the wood was attracted by the sound of my 
axe, and we chatted pleasantly over the chips which I 
had made. 

By the middle of April, for I made no haste in my 
work, but rather made the most of it, my house was 
framed and ready for the raising. I had already bought 
the shanty of James Collins, an Irishman who worked on 
the Fitchburg Railroad, for boards. James Collins' 
shanty was considered an uncommonly fine one. When 
I called to see it he was not at home. I walked about 
the outside, at first unobserved from within, the window 
was so deep and high. It was of small dimensions, with 
a peaked cottage roof, and not much else to be seen, the 
dirt being raised five feet all around as if it were a 
compost heap. The roof was the soundest part, though 
a good deal warped and made brittle by the sun. Door- 
sill there was none, but a perennial passage for the 
hens under the door board. Mrs. C. came to the door 
and asked me to view it from the inside. The hens 
were driven in by my approach. It was dark, and had 


a dirt floor for the most part, dank, clammy, and aguish, 
only here a board and there a board which would not 
bear removal. She lighted a lamp to show me the in- 
side of the roof and the walls, and also that the board floor 
extended under the bed, warning me not to step into 
the cellar, a sort of dust hole two feet deep. In her 
own words, they were "good boards overhead, good 
boards all around, and a good window," — of two whole 
squares originally, only the cat had passed out that way 
lately. There was a stove, a bed, and a place to sit, an 
infant in the house where it was born, a silk parasol, 
gilt-framed looking-glass, and a patent new coffee mill 
nailed to an oak sapling, all told. The bargain was 
soon concluded, for James had in the mean while re- 
turned. I to pay four dollars and twenty-five cents to- 
night, he to vacate at five to-morrow morning, selling to 
nobody else meanwhile : I to take possession at six. 
It were well, he said, to be there early, and anticipate 
certain indistinct but wholly unjust claims on the score 
of ground rent and fuel. This he assured me was the 
only encumbrance. At six I passed him and his family 
on the road. One large bundle held their all, — bed, 
coffee-mill, looking-glass, hens, — all but the cat, she 
took to the woods and became a wild cat, and, as I 
learned afterward, trod in a trap set for woodchucks, 
and so became a dead cat at last. 

I took down this dwelling the same morning, drawing 
the nails, and removed it to the pond side by small cart- 
loads, spreading the boards on the grass there to bleach 
and warp back again in the sun. One early thrush 
gave me a note or two as I drove along the woodland 
path. I was informed treacherously by a young Patrick 
that neighbor Seeley, an Irishman, in the intervals of 


the carting, transferred the still tolerable, straight, and 
drivable nails, staples, and spikes to his pocket, and then 
stood when I came back to pass the time of day, and 
look freshly up, unconcerned, with spring thoughts, at 
the devastation ; there being a dearth of work, as he**, 
said. He was there to represent spectatordom, and 
help make this seemingly insignificant event one with 
the removal of the gods of Troy. 

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

At length, in the beginning of May, with the help 
of some of my acquaintances, rather to improve so 
good an occasion for neighborliness than from any 
necessity, I set up the frame of my house. No man 
was ever more honored in the character of his raisers 
than I. They are destined, I trust, to assist at the rais- 
ing of loftier structures one day. I began to occupy 
my house on the 4th of July, as soon as it was boarded 
and roofed, for the boards were carefully feather-edged 


and lapped, so that it was perfectly impervious to rain ; 
but before boarding I laid the foundation of a chimney 
at one end, bringing two cartloads of stones up the 
hill from the pond in my arms. I built the chimney 
after my hoeing in the fall, before a fire became neces- 
sary for warmth, doing my cooking in the mean while out 
of doors on the ground, early in the morning : which 
mode I still think is in some respects more convenient 
and agreeable than the usual one. When it stormed 
before my bread was baked, I fixed a few boards over 
the fire, and sat under them to watch my loaf, and passed 
some pleasant hours in that way. In those days, when 
my hands were much employed, I read but little, but 
the least scraps of paper which lay on the ground, my 
holder, or tablecloth, afforded me as much entertain- 
ment, in fact answered the same purpose as the Iliad. 

It would be worth the while to build still more de- 
liberately than I did, considering, for instance, what 
foundation a door, a window, a cellar, a garret, have in 
the nature of man, and perchance never raising any 
superstructure until we found a better reason for it than 
our temporal necessities even. There is some of the 
same fitness in a man's building his own house that 
there is in a bird's building its own nest. Who knows 
but if men constructed their dwellings with their own 
hands, and provided food for themselves and families 
simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would 
be universally developed, as birds universally sing 
when they are so engaged ? But alas ! we do like 
cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests 
which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller 


with their chattering and unmusical notes. Shall we 
forever resign the pleasure of construction to the car- 
penter? What does architecture amount to in the 
experience of the mass of men? I never in all my 
walks came across a man engaged in so simple and 
natural an occupation as building his house. We belong 
to the community. It is not the tailor alone who is the 
ninth part of a man ; it is as much the preacher, and 
the merchant, and the farmer. Where is this division 
of labor to end ? and what object does it finally serve ? 
No doubt another may also think for me ; but it is not 
therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion 
of my thinking for myself. 

True, there are architects so called in this country, 
and I have heard of one at least possessed with the idea 
of making architectural ornaments have a core of truth, 
a necessity, and hence a beauty, as if it were a revela- 
tion to him. All very well perhaps from his point of 
view, but only a little better than the common dilettan- 
tism. A sentimental reformer in architecture, he be- 
gan at the cornice, not at the foundation. It was only 
how to put a core of truth within the ornaments, that 
every sugar plum in fact might have an almond or car- 
away seed in it, — though I hold that almonds are most 
wholesome without the sugar, — and not how the inhabit- 
ant, the indweller, might build truly within and without, 
and let the ornaments take care of themselves. What 
reasonable man ever supposed that ornaments were 
something outward and in the skin merely, — that the 
tortoise got his spotted shell, or the shellfish its mother- 
o' -pearl tints, by such a contract as the inhabitants of 
Broadway their Trinity Church? But a man has no 
more to do with the style of architecture of his house 


than a tortoise with that of its shell: nor need the 
soldier be so idle as to try to paint the precise color of 
his virtue on his standard. The enemy will find it out. 
He may turn pale when the trial comes. This man 
seemed to me to lean over the cornice, and timidly 
whisper his half truth to the rude occupants who really 
knew it better than he. What of architectural beauty 
I now see, I know has gradually grown from within 
outward, out of the necessities and character of the in- 
dweller, who is the only builder, — out of some un- 
conscious truthfulness, and nobleness, without ever a 
thought for the appearance ; and whatever additional 
beauty of this kind is destined to be produced will be 
preceded by a like unconscious beauty of life. The 
most interesting dwellings in this country, as the painter 
knows, are the most unpretending, humble log huts and 
cottages of the poor commonly ; it is the life of the in- 
habitants whose shells they are, and not any peculiar- 
ity in their surfaces merely, which makes them pic- 
turesque; and equally interesting will be the citizen's 
suburban box, when his life shall be as simple and 
as agreeable to the imagination, and there is as lit- 
tle straining after effect in the style of his dwelling. A 
great proportion of architectural ornaments are literally 
hollow, and a September gale would strip them off, like 
borrowed plumes, without injury to the substantials. 
They can do without architecture who have no olives 
nor wines in the cellar. "What if an equal ado were 
made about the ornaments of style in literature, and the 
architects of our bibles spent as much time about their 
cornices as the architects of our churches do ? So are 
made the belles-lettres and the beaux-arts and their pro- 
fessors. Much it concerns a man, forsooth, how a few 


sticks are slanted over him or under him, and what colors 
are daubed upon his box. It would signify somewhat, 
if, in any earnest sense, he slanted them and daubed it ; 
but the spirit having departed out of the tenant, it is of 
a piece with constructing his own coffin, — the archi- 
tecture of the grave, and " carpenter," is but another 
name for " coffin-maker." One man says, in his despair 
or indifference to life, take up a handful of the earth at 
your feet, and paint your house that color. Is he think- 
ing of his last and narrow house ? Toss up a copper for 
it as well. What an abundance of leisure he must have ! 
Why do you take up a handful of dirt ? Better paint 
your house your own complexion ; let it turn pale or 
blush for you. An enterprise to improve the style of 
cottage architecture! When you have got my orna- 
ments ready I will wear them. 

Before winter I built a chimney, and shingled the sides 
of my house, which were already impervious to rain, with 
imperfect and sappy shingles made of the first slice of 
the log, whose edges I was obliged to straighten with a 

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


Boards, $8 03|, mostly shanty boards. 

Refuse shingles for roof and sides, . 4 00 

Laths, 1 25 

Two second-hand windows with glass, 2 43 
One thousand old brick, . . . 4 00 
Two casks of lime, . . . . 2 40 That was high. 

Hair, 31 More than I needed. 

Mantle-tree iron, . . . . • 15 

Nails, 3 90 

Hinges and screws, . . • . 14 

Latch, 10 

Chalk, 01 

I carried a good part on my 

Transportation, 1 40 > 

In all, $28 12| 

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

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

I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter 
can obtain one for a lifetime at an expense not greater 
than the rent which he now pays annually. If I seem 
to boast more than is becoming, my excuse is that I 
brag for humanity rather than for myself; and my short- 
comings and inconsistencies do not affect the truth of 
my statement. Notwithstanding much cant and hy- 
pocrisy, — chaff winch I find it difficult to separate 
from my wheat, but for which I am as sorry as any 
man, — I will breathe freely and stretch myself in this 
respect, it is such a relief to both the moral and phys- 


ical system ; and I am resolved that I will not through 
humility become the devil's attorney. I will endeavor 
to speak a good word for the truth. At Cambridge 
College the mere rent of a student's room, which is only 
a little larger than my own, is thirty dollars each year, 
though the corporation had the advantage of building 
thirty-two side by side and under one roof, and the oc- 
cupant suffers the inconvenience of many and noisy 
neighbors, and perhaps a residence in the fourth story. 
I cannot but think that if we had more true wisdom in 
these respects, not only less education would be needed, 
because, forsooth, more would already have been ac- 
quired, but the pecuniary expense of getting an educa- 
tion would in a great measure vanish. Those con- 
veniences which the student requires at Cambridge or 
elsewhere cost him or somebody else ten times as great 
a sacrifice of life as they would with proper management 
on both sides. Those things fcr which the most money 
is demanded are never the things which the student 
most wants. Tuition, for instance, is an important item 
in the term bill, while for the far more valuable educa- 
tion which he gets by associating with the most culti- 
vated of his contemporaries no charge is made. The 
mode of founding a college is, commonly, to get up a sub- 
scription of dollars and cents, and then following blindly 
the principles of a division of labor to its extreme, a 
principle which should never be followed but with cir- 
cumspection, — to call in a contractor who makes this a 
subject of speculation, and he employs Irishmen or 
other operatives actually to lay the foundations, while 
the students that are to be are said to be fitting them- 
selves for it ; and for these oversights successive gener- 
ations have to pay. I think that it would be letter than 


this, for the students, or those who desire to be bene- 
fited by it, even to lay the foundation themselves. The 
student who secures his coveted leisure and retirement 
by systematically shirking any labor necessary to man 
obtains but an ignoble and unprofitable leisure, defraud- 
ing himself of the experience which alone can make leis- 
ure fruitful. " But," says one, " you do not mean that 
the students should go to work with their hands instead 
of their heads ?" I do not mean that exactly, but I mean 
something which he might think a good deal like that ; I 
mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, 
while the community supports them at this expensive 
game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How 
could youths better learn to live than by at once trying 
the experiment of living? Methinks this would exer- 
cise their minds as much as mathematics. If I wished 
a boy to know something about the arts and sciences, 
for instance, I would not pursue the common course, 
which is merely to send him into the neighborhood of 
some professor, where any thing is professed and prac- 
tised but the art of life ; — to survey the world through a 
telescope or a microscope, and never with his natural 
eye ; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is 
made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned ; to 
discover new satellites to Neptune, and not detect the 
motes in his eyes, or to what vagabond he is a satellite 
himself ; or to be devoured by the monsters that swarm 
all around him, while contemplating the monsters in a 
drop of vinegar. Which would have advanced the 
most at the end of a month, — the boy who had made 
his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and 
smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this, 
— or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy 


at the Institute in the mean while, and had received a 
Rogers' penknife from his father ? Which would be 
most likely to cut his fingers ? ... To my astonishment 
I was informed on leaving college that I had studied 
navigation ! — why, if I had taken one turn down the 
harbor I should have known more about it. Even the 
'poor student studies and is taught only 'political econo- 
my, while that economy of living which is synonymous 
with philosophy is not even sincerely professed in our 
colleges. The consequence is, that while he is reading 
Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Say, he runs his father in 
debt irretrievably. 

As with our colleges, so with a hundred " modern im- 
provements ; " there is an illusion about them ; there is 
not always a positive advance. The devil goes on ex- 
acting compound interest to the last for his early share 
and numerous succeeding investments in them. Our 
inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our 
attention from serious things. They are but improved 
means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already 
but too easy to arrive at ; as railroads lead to Boston 
or New York. We are in great haste to construct a 
magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas ; but Maine 
and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to com- 
municate. Either is in such a predicament as the man 
who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished 
deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of 
her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to 
say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to 
talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the At- 
lantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to 
the new; but perchance the first news that will leak 
through into the broad, flapping American ear will be 


that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. 
After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute 
does not carry the most important messages ; he is not 
an evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts 
and wild honey. I doubt if Flying Childers ever car- 
ried a peck of corn to mill. 

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

Such is the universal law, which no man can ever 
outwit, and with regard to the railroad even we may 
say it is as broad as it is long. To make a railroad 
round the world available to all mankind is equivalent 
to grading the whole surface of the planet. Men have 
an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of 
joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length 


ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing ; 
but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conduct- 
or shouts " All aboard ! " when the smoke is blown away 
and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few 
are riding, but the rest are run over, — and it will 
be called, and will be, " A melancholy accident." No 
doubt they can ride at last who shall have earned 
their fare, that is, if they survive so long, but they will 
probably have lost their elasticity and desire to travel 
by that time. This spending of the best part of one's life 
earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty 
during the least valuable part of it, reminds me of the 
Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, 
in order that he might return to England and live the 
life of a poet. He should have gone up garret at once. 
" What ! " exclaim a million Irishmen starting up from 
all the shanties in the land, "is not this railroad 
which we have built a good thing ? " Yes, I answer, 
comparatively good, that is, you might have done worse ; 
but I wish, as you are brothers of mine, that you could 
have spent your time better than digging in this dirt. 

Before I finished my house, wishing to earn ten or 
twelve dollars by some honest and agreeable method, in 
order to meet my unusual expenses, I planted about two 
acres and a half of light and sandy soil near it chiefly 
with beans, but also a small part with potatoes, corn, 
peas, and turnips. The whole lot contains eleven acres, 
mostly growing up to pines and hickories, and was sold 
the preceding season for eight dollars and eight cents 
an acre. One farmer said that it was " good for nothing 
but to raise cheeping squirrels on/ 5 I put no manure 


whatever on this land, not being the owner, but merely 
a squatter, and not expecting to cultivate so much 
again, and I did not quite hoe it all once. I got out 
several cords of stumps in ploughing, which supplied me 
with fuel for a long time, and left small circles of virgin 
mould, easily distinguishable through the summer by the 
greater luxuriance of the beans there. The dead and 
for the most part unmerchantable wood behind my house, 
and the driftwood from the pond, have supplied the re- 
mainder of my fuel. I was obliged to hire a team and a 
man for the ploughing, though I held the plough myself. 
My farm outgoes for the first season were, for imple- 
ments, seed, work, &c, $14 72£. The seed corn was 
given me. This never costs any thing to speak of, unless 
you plant more than enough. I got twelve bushels of 
beans, and eighteen bushels of potatoes, beside some 
peas and sweet corn. The yellow corn and turnips 
were too late to come to any thing. My whole income 
from the farm was 

$23 44. 
Deducting the outgoes, .... 14 72| 

There are left, $8 71£, 

beside produce consumed and on hand at the time this 
estimate was made of the value of $4 50, — the amount 
on hand much more than balancing a little grass which 
I did not raise. All things considered, that is, con- 
sidering the importance of a man's soul and of to-day, 
notwithstanding the short time occupied by my experi- 
ment, nay, partly even because of its transient character, 
I believe that that was doing better than any farmer in 
Concord did that year. 

The next year I did better still, for I spaded up all 
the land which I required, about a third of an acre, and 


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

I am wont to think that men are not so much the 
keepers of herds as herds are the keepers of men, the 
former are so much the freer. Men and oxen exchange 
work ; but if we consider necessary work only, the oxen 
will be seen to have greatly the advantage, their farm is 
so much the larger. Man -does some of his part of the 
exchange work in his six weeks of haying, and it is no 
boy's play. Certainly no nation that lived simply in all 
respects, that is, no nation of philosophers, would com- 
mit so great a blunder as to use the labor of animals. 
True, there never was and is not likely soon to be a 


nation of philosophers, nor am I certain it is desirable that 
there should be. However, /should never have broken 
a horse or bull and taken him to board for any work he 
might do for me, for fear I should become a horse-man 
or a herds-man merely ; and if society seems to be the 
gainer by so doing, are we certain that what is one 
man's gain is not another's loss, and that the stable-boy 
Ms equal cause with his master to be satisfied? Granted 
that some public works would not have been constructed 
without this aid, and let man share the glory of such 
with the ox and horse ; does it follow that he could 
not have accomplished works yet more worthy of him- 
self in that case ? When men begin to do, not merely 
unnecessary or artistic, but luxurious and idle work, with 
their assistance, it is inevitable that a few do all the ex- 
change work with the oxen, or, in other words, become 
the slaves of the strongest. Man thus not only works for 
the animal within him, but, for a symbol of this, he works 
for the animal without him. Though we have many 
substantial houses of brick or stone, the prosperity of 
the farmer is still measured by the degree to which the 
barn overshadows the house. This town is said to have 
the largest houses for oxen, cows, and horses hereabouts, 
and it is not behindhand in its public buildings; but 
there are very few halls for free worship or free speech 
in this county. It should not be by their architecture, 
but why not even by their power of abstract thought, that 
nations should seek to commemorate themselves ? How 
much more admirable the Bhagvat-Geeta than all the 
ruins of the East ! Towers and temples are the luxury 
of princes. A simple and independent mind does not 
toil at the bidding of any prince. Genius is not a re- 
tainer to any emperor, nor is its material silver, or gold, 



or marble, except to a trifling extent. To what end, pray, 
is so much stone hammered ? In Arcadia, when I was 
there, I did not see any hammering stone. Nations are 
possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the 
memory of themselves by the amount of hammered 
stone they leave. What if equal pains were taken to 
smooth and polish their manners ? One piece of go^ 
sense would be more memorable than a monument W 
high as the moon. I love better to see stones in place. 
• The grandeur of Thebes was a vulgar grandeur. More 
sensible is a rod of stone wall that bounds an honest 
man's field than a hundred-gated Thebes that has wan- 
dered farther from the true end of life. The religion 
and civilization which are barbaric and heathenish build 
splendid temples ; but what you might call Christianity 
does not. Most of the stone a nation hammers goes to- 
ward its tomb only. It buries itself alive. As for the 
Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so 
much as the fact that so many men could be found de- 
graded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb 
for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been 
wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then 
given his body to the dogs. I might possibly invent 
some excuse for them and him, but I have no time for 
it. As for the religion and love of art of the builders, 
it is much the same all the world over, whether the 
building be an Egyptian temple or the United States 
Bank. It costs more than it comes to. The mainspring 
is vanity, assisted by the love of garlic and bread and 
butter. Mr. Balcom, a promising young architect, de- 
signs it on the back of his Vitruvius, with hard pencil 
and ruler, and the job is let out to Dobson & Sons, 
stonecutters. When the thirty centuries begin to look 


down on it, mankind begin to look up at it. As for 
your high towers and monuments, there was a crazy fel- 
low once in this town who undertook to dig through to 
China, and he got so far that, as he said, he heard the 
Chinese pots and kettles rattle ; but I think that I shall 
not go out of my way to admire the hole which he made. 
Many are concerned about the monuments of the 
^f est and the East, — to know who built them. For 
my part, I should like to know who in those days did 
not build them, — who were above such trifling. But to 
proceed with my statistics. 

By surveying, carpentry, and day-labor of various 
other kinds in the village in the mean while, for I have 
as many trades as fingers, I had earned $13 34. The 
expense of food for eight months, namely, from July 4th 
to March 1st, the time when these estimates were made, 
though I lived there more than two years, — not count- 
ing potatoes, a little green corn, and some peas, which I 
had raised, nor considering the value of what was on 
hand at the last date, was 

Rice, . 

$1 73£ 


1 73 Cheapest form of the saccharine. 

Rye meal, 

1 04| 

Indian meal, 

99$ Cheaper than rye. 

Pork, . 


Flour, . 

) Costs more than Indian meal, * 
) both money and trouble. 

Sugar, . 


Lard, . 


Apples, . . 


Dried apple, 


Sweet potatoes, 


One pumpkin, 


One watermelon 

,0 2 

Salt, . 

. 3 

Yes, I did eat $8 74, all told; but I should not thus 


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

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

Oil and some household utensils, . . . 2 00 

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

House, $28 12£ 

Farm one year, . . . . . . 14 72| 

Food eight months, 8 74 

Clothing, &c., eight months, 8 40| 

Oil, &c., eight months, .... 2 00 

Tn all, $61 99| 

I address myself now to those of my readers who have 


a living to get. And to meet this I have for farm 
produce sold 

$23 44 
Earned by day-labor, 13 34 

In all, $36 78, 

which subtracted from the sum of the outgoes leaves a 
balance of $25 21f on the one side, — this being very 
nearly the means with which I started, and the meas- 
ure of expenses to be incurred, — and on the other, 
beside the leisure and independence and health thus 
secured, a comfortable house for me as long as I choose 
to occupy it. 

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

I learned from my two years' experience that it would 
cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one's necessary food, 

BREAD. 67 

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

The reader will perceive that I am treating the sub- 
ject rather from an economic than a dietetic point of 
view, and he will not venture to put my abstemiousness 
to the test unless he has a well-stocked larder. 

Bread I at first made of pure Indian meal and salt, 
genuine hoe-cakes, which I baked before my fire out of 
doors on a shingle or the end of a stick of timber sawed 
off in building my house ; but it was wont to get smoked 
and to have a piny flavor. I tried flour also ; but have 
at last found a mixture of rye and Indian meal most 
convenient and agreeable. In cold weather it was no 
little amusement to bake several small loaves of this in 
succession, tending and turning them as carefully as an 
Egyptian his hatching eggs. They were a real cereal 
fruit which I ripened, and they had to my senses a 
•fragrance like that of other noble fruits, which I kept in 
as long as possible by wrapping them in cloths. I made 


a study of the ancient and indispensable art of bread- 
making, consulting such authorities as offered, going 
back to the primitive days and first invention of the un- 
leavened kind, when from the wildness of nuts and 
meats men first reached the mildness and refinement of 
this diet, and travelling gradually down in my studies 
through that accidental souring of the dough which, it 
is supposed, taught the leavening process, and through 
the various fermentations thereafter, till I came to " good, 
sweet, wholesome bread," the staff of life. Leaven, 
which some deem the soul of bread, the spiritas which 
fills its cellular tissue, which is religiously preserved 
like the vestal fire, — some precious bottle-full, I sup- 
pose, first brought over in the Mayflower, did the bus- 
iness for America, and its influence is still rising, swell- 
ing, spreading, in cerealian billows over the land, — 
this seed I regularly and faithfully procured from the 
village, till at length one morning I forgot the rules, 
and scalded my yeast ; by which accident I discovered 
that even this was not indispensable, — for my discov- 
eries were not by the synthetic but analytic process, — 
and I have gladly omitted it since, though most house- 
wives earnestly assured me that safe and wholesome 
bread without yeast might not be, and elderly people 
prophesied a speedy decay of the vital forces. Yet I 
find it not to be an essential ingredient, and after going 
without it for a year am still in the land of the living ; 
and I am glad to escape the trivialness of carrying a 
bottle-full in my pocket, which would sometimes pop and 
discharge its contents to my discomfiture. It is simpler 
and more respectable to omit it. Man is an animal 
who more than any other can adapt himself to all cli- 
mates and circumstances. Neither did I put any sal 

BREAD. 69 

soda, or other acid or alkali, into my bread. It would 
seem that I made it according to the recipe which 
Marcus Porcius Cato gave about two centuries before 
Christ. " Panem depsticium sic facito. Manus morta- 
riumque bene lavato. Farinam in mortarium indito, 
aquce paulatim addito, subigitoque pulchre. Ubi bene 
subegeris, defingito, coquitoque sub testu." Which I 
take to mean — " Make kneaded bread thus. Wash your 
hands and trough well. Put the meal into the trough, 
add water gradually, and knead it thoroughly. When 
you have kneaded it well, mould it, and bake it under a 
cover," that is, in a baking-kettle. Not a word about 
leaven. But I did not always use this staff of life. At 
one time, owing to the emptiness of my purse, I saw 
none of it for more than a month. 

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


easily still, and while these were growing I could use 
various substitutes beside those which I have named. 
" For," as the Forefathers sang, — 

" we can make liquor to sweeten our lips 
Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips." 

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

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

There is a certain class of unbelievers who sometimes 
ask me such questions as, if I think that I can live on 
vegetable food alone ; and to strike at the root of the 
matter at once, — for the root is faith, — I am accus- 
tomed to answer such, that I can live on board nails. If 
they cannot understand that, they cannot understand 
much that I have to say. For my part, I am glad to 


hear of experiments of this kind being tried ; as that a 
young man tried for a fortnight to live on hard, raw corn 
on the ear, using his teeth for all mortar. The squirrel 
tribe tried the same and succeeded. The human race 
is interested in these experiments, though a few old wo- 
men who are incapacitated for them, or who own their 
thirds in mills, may be alarmed. 

My furniture, part of which I made myself, and the 
rest cost me nothing of which I have not rendered an 
account, consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs, 
a looking-glass three inches in diameter, a pair of tongs 
and andirons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan, a dip- 
per, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one 
cup, one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a ja- 
panned lamp. None is so poor that he need sit on a 
pumpkin. That is shiftlessness. There is a plenty of 
such chairs as I like best in the village garrets to be had 
for taking them away. Furniture ! Thank God, I can sit 
and I can stand without the aid of a furniture warehouse. 
"What man but a philosopher would not be ashamed to see 
his furniture packed in a cart and going up country ex- 
posed to the light of heaven and the eyes of men, a 
beggarly account of empty boxes ? That is Spaulding's 
furniture. I could never tell from inspecting such a 
load whether it belonged to a so called rich man or a 
poor one; the owner always seemed poverty-stricken. 
Indeed, the more you have of such things the poorer 
you are. Each ldad looks as if it contained the con- 
tents of a dozen shanties ; and if one shanty is poor, this 
is a dozen times as poor. Pray, for what do we move 
ever but to get rid of our furniture, our exuvice ; at last 


to go from this world to another newly furnished, and 
leave this to be burned ? It is the same as if all these 
traps were buckled to a man's belt, and he could not move 
over the rough country where our lines are cast without 
dragging them, — dragging his trap. He was a lucky 
fox that left his tail in the trap. The muskrat will 
gnaw his third leg off to be free. No wonder man 
has lost his elasticity. How often he is at a dead set ! 
" Sir, if I may be so bold, what do you mean by a 
dead set?" If you are a seer, whenever you meet 
a man you will see all that he owns, ay, and much 
that he pretends to disown, behind him, even to his 
kitchen furniture and all the trumpery which he saves 
and will not burn, and he will appear to be harnessed to 
it and making what headway he can. I think that the 
man is at a dead set who has got through a knot hole 
or gateway where his sledge load of furniture cannot 
follow him. I cannot but feel compassion when I hear 
some trig, compact-looking man, seemingly free, all girded 
and ready, speak of his " furniture," as whether it is in- 
sured or not. " But what shall I do with my furniture ?" 
My gay butterfly is entangled in a spider's web then. 
Even those who seem for a long while not to have any, 
if you inquire more narrowly you will find have some 
stored in somebody's barn. I look upon England to- 
day as an old gentleman who is travelling with a great 
deal of baggage, trumpery which has accumulated from 
long housekeeping, which he has not the courage to 
burn ; great trunk, little trunk, bandbox and bundle. 
Throw away the first three at least. It would surpass 
the powers of a well man nowadays to take up his bed 
and walk, and I should certainly advise a sick one to 
lay down his bed and run. When I have met an im- 


migrant tottering under a bundle which contained his 
all — looking like an enormous wen which had grown out 
of the nape of his neck — I have pitied him, not because 
that was his all, but because he had all that to carry. 
If I have got to drag my trap, I will take care that it 
be a light one and do not nip me in a vital part. But 
perchance it would be wisest never to put one's paw 
into it. 

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

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

" The evil that men do lives after them." 

As usual, a great proportion was trumpery which had 
begun to accumulate in his father's day. Among the 
rest was a dried tapeworm. And now, after lying half 
a century in his garret and other dust holes, these things 
were not burned ; instead of a bonfire, or purifying de- 
struction of them, there was an auction, or increasing 
of them. The neighbors eagerly collected to view them, 


bought them all, and carefully transported them to their 
garrets and dust holes, to lie there till their estates are 
settled, when they will start again. When a man dies 
he kicks the dust. 

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

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

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


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

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

For more than five years I maintained myself thus 
solely by the labor of my hands, and I found, that by 
working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the 
expenses of living. The whole of my winters, as well 
as most of my summers, I had free and clear for study. 
I have thoroughly tried school-keeping, and found that 
my expenses were in proportion, or rather out of pro- 
portion, to my income, for I was obliged to dress and 
train, not to say think and believe, accordingly, and I 
lost my time into the bargain. As I did not teach for 
the good of my fellow-men, but simply for a livelihood, 
this was a failure. I have tried trade ; but I found that 
it would take ten years to get under way in that, and s 
that then I should probably be on my way to the devil. 
I was actually afraid that I might by that time be doing 
what is called a good business. When formerly I was 
looking about to see what I could do for a living, some 
sad experience in conforming to the wishes of friends 
being fresh in my mind to tax my ingenuity, I thought 
often and seriously of picking huckleberries ; that sure- 
ly I could do, and its small profits might suffice, — for 
my greatest skill has been to want but little, — so little 


capital it required, so little distraction from my wonted 
moods, I foolishly thought. While my acquaintances 
went unhesitatingly into trade or the professions, I con- 
templated this occupation as most like theirs ; ranging 
the hills all summer to pick the berries which came in 
my way, and thereafter carelessly dispose of them ; so, 
to keep the flocks of Admetus. I also dreamed that I 
might gather the wild herbs, or carry evergreens to such 
villagers as loved to be reminded of the woods, even to 
the city, by hay-cart loads. But I have since learned 
that trade curses every thing it handles ; and though you 
trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade 
attaches to the business. 

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


labor ; but his employer, who speculates from month to 
month, has no respite from one end of the year to the 

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

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

Undoubtedly, in this case, what is true for one is 
truer still for a thousand, as a large house is not pro- 
portionally more expensive than a small one, since one 
roof may cover, one cellar underlie, and one wall sep- 
arate several apartments. But for my part, I pre- 
ferred the solitary dwelling. Moreover, it will com- 


monly be cheaper to build the whole yourself than to 
convince another of the advantage of the common wall ; 
and when you have done this, the common partition, to 
be much cheaper, must be a thin one, and that other 
may prove a bad neighbor, and also not keep his side in 
repair. The only cooperation which is commonly pos- 
sible is exceedingly partial and superficial; and what 
little true cooperation there is, is as if it were not, being 
a harmony inaudible to men. If a man has faith he 
will cooperate with equal faith every where ; if he has 
not faith, he will continue to live like the rest of the 
world, whatever company he is joined to. To cooperate, 
in the highest as well as the lowest sense, means to get 
our living together. I heard it proposed lately that two 
young men should travel together over the world, the 
one without money, earning his means as he went, before 
the mast and behind the plough, the other carrying a 
bill of exchange in his pocket. It was easy to see that 
they could not long be companions or cooperate, since 
one would not operate at all. They would part at the 
first interesting crisis in their adventures. Above all, 
as I have implied, the man who goes alone can start 
to-day ; but he who travels with another must wait till 
that other is ready, and it may be a long time before 
they get off. 

But all this is very selfish, I have heard some of my 
townsmen say. I confess that I have hitherto indulged 
very little in philanthropic enterprises. I have made 
some sacrifices to a sense of duty, and among others 
have sacrificed this pleasure also. There are those who 
have used all their arts to persuade me to undertake 


the support of some poor family in the town ; and if 1 
had nothing to do, — for the devil finds employment for 
the idle, — I might try my hand at some such pastime as 
that. However, when I have thought to indulge myself 
in this respect, and lay their Heaven under an obliga- 
tion by maintaining certain poor persons in all respects 
as comfortably as I maintain myself, and have even 
ventured so far as to make them the offer, they have 
one and all unhesitatingly preferred to remain poor. 
While my townsmen and women are devoted in so many 
ways to the good of their fellows, I trust that one at least 
may be spared to other and less humane pursuits. You 
must have a genius for charity as well as for any thing 
else. As for Doing-good, that is one of the professions 
w r hich are full. Moreover, I have tried it fairly, and, 
strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not 
agree with my constitution. Probably I should not con- 
sciously and deliberately forsake my particular calling 
to do the good which society demands of me, to save the 
universe from annihilation ; and I believe that a like but 
infinitely greater steadfastness elsewhere is all that now 
preserves it. But I would not stand between any man 
and his genius ; and to him who does this work, which 
I decline, with his whole heart and soul and life, I would 
say, Persevere, even if the world call it doing evil, as it 
is most likely they will. 

I am far from supposing that my case is a peculiar 
one ; no doubt many of my readers would make a sim- 
ilar defence. At doing something, — I will not engage 
that my neighbors shall pronounce it good, — I do not 
hesitate to say that I should be a capital fellow to hire ; 
but what that is, it is for my employer to find out. 
What good I do, in the common sense of that word, must 


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

There is no odor so bad as that which arises from 
goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If 
I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my 
house with the conscious design of doing me good, I 
should run for my life, as from that dry and parching 
wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which 
fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till 
you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of 


his good done to me, — some of its virus mingled with 
my blood. No, — in this case I would rather suffer evil 
the natural way. A man is not a good man to me 
because he will feed me if I should be starving, or warm 
me if I should be freezing, or pull me out of a ditch if 
I should ever fall into one. I can find you a New- 
foundland dog that will do as much. Philanthropy is 
not love for one's fellow-man in the broadest sense. 
Howard was no doubt an exceedingly kind and worthy 
man in his way, and has his reward ; but, comparatively 
speaking, what are a hundred Howards to us, if their 
philanthropy do not help us in our best estate, when we 
are most worthy to be helped ? I never heard of a 
philanthropic meeting in which it was sincerely pro- 
posed to do any good to me, or the like of me. 

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

Be sure that you give the poor the aid they most 
need, though it be your example which leaves them far 
behind. If you give money, spend yourself with it, and 
do not merely abandon it to them. We make curious 
mistakes sometimes. Often the poor man is not so 
cold and hungry as he is dirty and ragged and gross. 
It is partly his taste, and not merely his misfortune. 
If you give him money, he will perhaps buy more rags 

8*2 WALDEN. 

with it. I was wont to pity the clumsy Irish laborers 
who cut ice on the pond, in such mean and ragged 
clothes, while I shivered in my more tidy and somewhat 
more fashionable garments, till, one bitter cold day, one 
who had slipped into the water came to my house to 
warm him, and I saw him strip off three pairs of pants 
and two pairs of stockings ere he got down to the skin, 
though they were dirty and ragged enough, it is true, 
and that he could afford to refuse the extra garments 
which I offered him, he had so many intra ones. 
This ducking was the very thing he needed. Then I 
began to pity myself, and I saw that it would be a greater 
charity to bestow on me a flannel shirt than a whole 
slop-shop on him. There are a thousand hacking at the 
branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and 
it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of 
time and money on the needy is doing the most by his 
mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in 
vain to relieve. It is the pious slave-breeder devoting 
the proceeds of every tenth slave to buy a Sunday's lib- 
erty for the rest. Some show their kindness to the 
poor by employing them in their kitchens. Would they 
not be kinder if they employed themsel\fcs there ? You 
boast of spending a tenth part of your income in char- 
ity ; may be you should spend the nine tenths so, and 
done with it. Society recovers only a tenth part of the 
property then. Is this owing to the generosity of him 
in whose possession it is found, or to the remissness of 
the officers of justice ? 

Philanthropy is almost the only virtue which is suf- 
ficiently appreciated by mankind. Nay, it is greatly 
overrated ; and it is our selfishness which overrates it. 
A robust poor man, one sunny day here in Concord, 


praised a fellow-townsman to me, because, as he said, 
lie was kind to the poor ; meaning himself. The kind 
uncles and aunts of the race are more esteemed than its 
true spiritual fathers and mothers. I once heard a 
reverend lecturer on England, a man of learning and 
intelligence, after enumerating her scientific, literary, 
and political worthies, Shakspeare, Bacon, Cromwell, 
Milton, Newton, and others, speak next of her Christian 
heroes, whom, as if his profession required it of him, he 
elevated to a place far above all the rest, as the great- 
est of the great. They were Penn, Howard, and Mrs. 
Fry. Every one must feel the falsehood and cant of 
this. The last were not England's best men and 
women ; only, perhaps, her best philanthropists. 

I would not subtract any thing from the praise that is 
due to philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all 
who by their lives and works are a blessing to mankind. 
I do not value chiefly a man's uprightness and benev- 
olence, which are, as it were, his stem and leaves. 
Those plants of whose greenness withered we make 
herb tea for the sick, serve but a humble use, and are 
most employed by quacks. I want the flower and 
fruit of a man; that some fragrance be wafted over 
from him to me, and some ripeness flavor our inter- 
course. His goodness must not be a partial and tran- 
sitory act, but a constant superfluity, which costs him 
nothing a,nd of which he is unconscious. This is a 
charity that hides a multitude of sins. The philan- 
thropist too often surrounds mankind with the remem- 
brance of his own cast-off griefs as an atmosphere, and 
calls it sympathy. "We should impart our courage, and 
not our despair, our health and ease, and not our disease, 
and take care that thi3 does not spread by contagion. 


From what southern plains comes up the voice of wail- 
ing ? Under what latitudes reside the heathen to whom 
we would send light? Who is that intemperate and 
brutal man whom we would redeem ? If any thing ail 
a man, so that he does not perform his functions, if 
he have a pain in his bowels even, — for that is the seat 
of sympathy, — he forthwith sets about reforming — 
the world. Being a microcosm himself, he discovers, and 
it is a true discovery, and he is the man to make it, — that 
the world has been eating green apples ; to his eyes, in 
fact, the globe itself is a great green apple, which there 
is danger awful to think of that the children of men will 
nibble before it is ripe ; and straightway his drastic 
philanthropy seeks out the Esquimaux and the Pata- 
gonian, and embraces the populous Indian and Chinese 
villages ; and thus, by a few years of philanthropic ac- 
tivity, the powers in the mean while using him for their 
own ends, no doubt, he cures himself of his dyspepsia, 
the globe acquires a faint blush on one or both of its 
cheeks, as if it were beginning to be ripe, and life loses its 
crudity and is once more sweet and wholesome to live. 
I never dreamed of any enormity greater than I have 
committed. I never knew, and never shall know, a 
worse man than myself. 

I believe that what so saddens the reformer is not his 
sympathy with his fellows in distress, but, though he 
be the holiest son of God, is his private ail. Let this 
be righted, let the spring come to him, the morning rise 
over his couch, and he will forsake his generous com- 
panions without apology. My excuse for not lecturing 
against the use of tobacco is, that I never chewed it ; 
that is a penalty which reformed tobacco-chewers have to 
pay; though there are things enough I have chewed, 


which I could lecture against. If you should ever be 
betrayed into any of these philanthropies, do not let 
your left hand know what your right hand does, for it is 
not worth knowing. Rescue the drowning and tie your 
shoe-strings. Take your time, and set about some free 

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

I read in the Gulistan, or Flower Garden, of Sheik 
Sadi of Shiraz, that " They asked a wise man, saying ; 
Of the many celebrated trees which the Most High God 
has created lofty and umbrageous, they call none azad, 
or free, excepting the cypress, which bears no fruit; 
what mystery is there in this ? He replied ; Each has 
its appropriate produce, and appointed season, during 
the continuance of which it is fresh and blooming, and 
during their absence dry and withered ; to neither of 


which states is the cypress exposed, being always flour- 
ishing; and of this nature are the azads, or religious 
independents. — Fix not thy heart on that which is 
transitory ; for the Dijiah, or Tigris, will continue to 
flow through Bagdad after the race of caliphs is extinct : 
if thy hand has plenty, be liberal as the date tree ; but 
if it affords nothing to give away, be an azad, or free 
man, like the cypress." 



"Thou dost presume too much, poor needy wretch, 
To claim a station in the firmament, 
Because thy humble cottage, or thy tub, 
Nurses some lazy or pedantic virtue 
In the cheap sunshine or by shady springs, 
With roots and pot-herbs ; where thy right hand, 
Tearing those humane passions from the mind, 
Upon whose stocks fair blooming virtues flourish, 
Degradeth nature, and benumbeth sense, 
And, Gorgon-like, turns active men to stone. 
"We not require the dull society 
Of your necessitated temperance, 
Or that unnatural stupidity 
That knows nor joy nor sorrow; nor your forc'd 
Falsely exalted passive fortitude 
Above the active. This low abject brood, 
That fix their seats in mediocrity, 
Become your servile minds ; but we advance 
Such virtues only as admit excess, 
Brave, bounteous acts, regal magnificence, 
All-seeing prudence, magnanimity 
That knows no bound, and that heroic virtue 
For which antiquity hath left no name, 
But patterns only, such as Hercules, 
Achilles, Theseus. Back to thy loath'd cell ; 
And when thou seest the new enlightened sphere, 
Study to know but what those worthies were.' , 

T. Carew. 



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 every thing 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, leav- 
ing 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 im- 
proved, which some might have thought too far from the 
village, but to my eyes the village was too far from it. 



"Well, there I might live, I said ; and there I did live, 
for an hour, a summer and a winter life ; saw how I 
could let the years run off, buffet the winter through, 
and see the spring come in. The future inhabitants of 
this region, wherever they may place their houses, may 
be sure that they have been anticipated. An afternoon 
sufficed to lay out the land into orchard, 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 proportion 
to the number of things which he can afford to let alone. 
My imagination carried me so far that I even had 
the refusal of several farms, — the refusal was all I 
wanted, — but I never got my fingers burned by actual 
possession. The nearest that I came to actual posses- 
sion was when I bought the Hollowell place, and had 
begun to sort my seeds, and collected materials with 
which to make a wheelbarrow to carry it on or off with ; 
but before the owner gave me a deed of it, his wife — 
every man has such a wife — changed her mind and 
wished to keep it, and he offered me ten dollars to re- 
lease him. Now, to speak the truth, I had but ten 
cents in the world, and it surpassed my arithmetic to 
tell, if I was that man who had ten cents, or who had a 
farm, or ten dollars, or all together. However, I let 
him keep the ten dollars and the farm too, for I had 
carried it far enough ; or rather, to be generous, I sold 
him the farm for just what I gave for it, and, as he was 
not a rich man, made him a present of ten dollars, and 
still had my ten cents, and seeds, and materials for 
a wheelbarrow left. I found thus that I had been a 
rich man without any damage to my poverty. But I 


retained the landscape, and I have since annually car- 
ried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow. With 
respect to landscapes, — 

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

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

The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, 
were; its complete retirement, being about two miles 
from the village, half a mile from the nearest neighbor, 
and separated from the highway by a broad field ; its 
bounding on the river, which the owner said protected 
it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was 
nothing to me ; the gray color and ruinous state of the 
house and barn, and the dilapidated fences, which put 
such an interval between me and the last occupant ; the 
hollow and lichen-covered apple trees, gnawed by rab- 
bits, showing what kind of neighbors I should have ; 
but above all, the recollection I had of it from my ear- 
liest voyages up the river, when the house was concealed 
behind a dense grove of red maples, through which I 
heard the house-dog bark. I was in haste to buy it, 
before the proprietor finished getting out some rocks, 
cutting down the hollow apple trees, and grubbing up 
some young birches which had sprung up in the pasture, 
or, in short, had made any more of his improvements. 


To enjoy these advantages I was ready to carry it on ; 
like Atlas, to take the world on my shoulders, — I never 
heard what compensation he received for that, — and do 
all those things which had no other motive or excuse 
but that I might pay for it and be unmolested in my 
possession of it ; for I knew all the while that it would 
yield the most abundant crop of the kind I wanted if I 
could only afford to let it alone. But it turned out as I 
have said. 

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

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

The present was my next experiment of this kind, 
which I purpose to describe more at length ; for con- 


venience, putting the experience of two years into one. 
As I have said, I do not propose to write an ode to de- 
jection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morn- 
ing, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neigh- 
bors 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 plaster- 
ing or chimney, the walls being of rough weather-stained 
boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night. 
The upright white hewn studs and freshly planed door 
and window casings gave it a clean and airy look, espe- 
cially 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 auro- 
ral character, reminding me 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 gar- 
ments. 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 ter- 
restrial music. The morning wind forever blows, the 
poem of creation is uninterrupted ; but few are the ears 
that hear it. Olympus is but the outside of the earth 
every where. 

The only house I had been the owner of before, if I 
except a boat, was a tent, which I used occasionally 
when making excursions in the summer, and this is still 
rolled up in my garret ; but the boat, after passing from 


hand to hand, has gone down the stream of time. With 
this more substantial shelter about me, I had made some 
progress toward settling in the world. This frame, so 
slightly clad, was a sort of crystallization around me, 
and reacted on the builder. It was suggestive somewhat 
as a picture in outlines. I did not need to go 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 Harivansa says, " An abode without birds is like 
a meat without seasoning." Such was not my abode, 
for I found myself suddenly neighbor to the birds ; not 
by having imprisoned one, but having caged myself near 
them. I was not only nearer to some of those which 
commonly frequent the garden and the orchard, but to 
those wilder and more thrilling songsters of the forest 
which never, or rarely, serenade a villager, — the wood- 
thrush, the veery, the scarlet tanager, the field-sparrow, 
the whippoorwill, 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 some- 
what 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 

This small lake was of most value as a neighbor in 
the intervals of a gentle rain storm in August, when, 
both air and water being perfectly still, but the sky over- 
cast, mid-afternoon had all the serenity of evening, and 
the wood-thrush sang around, and was heard from shore 
to shore. A lake like this is never smoother than at 
such a time ; and the clear portion of the air above it 
being shallow and darkened by clouds, the water, full of 
light and reflections, becomes a lower heaven itself so 
much the more important. From a hill top near by, 
where the wood had been recently cut off, there was a 
pleasing vista southward across the pond, through a wide 
indentation in the hills which form the shore there, 
where their opposite sides sloping toward each other 
suggested a stream flowing out in that direction through a 
wooded valley, but stream there was none. That way 
I looked between and over the near green hills to some 
distant and higher ones in the horizon, tinged with blue. 
Indeed, by standing on tiptoe I could catch a glimpse of 
some of the peaks of the still bluer and more distant 
mountain ranges in the 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 sur- 
rounded me. It is well to have some water in your 
neighborhood, to give buoyancy to and float the earth. 
One value even of the smallest well is, that when you 
look into it you see that earth is not continent but insu- 


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

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

Both place and time were changed, and I dwelt nearer 
to those parts of the universe and to those eras in his- 
tory which had most attracted me. Where I lived was 
as far off as many a region viewed nightly by astron- 
omers. 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 with as 
fine a ray to my nearest neighbor, and to be seen only 


in moonless nights by him. Such was that part of crea- 
tion where I had squatted ; — 

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

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

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 : " Eenew thyself completely each day ; 
do it again, and again, and forever again." I can un- 
derstand 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 advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlast- 
ing vigor and fertility of the world. The morning, 
which is the most memorable season of the day, is the 
awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us ; 
and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which 
slumbers all the rest of the day and night. Little is to be 


expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which 
we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechani- 
cal nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our 
own newly-acquired force and aspirations from within, 
accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, in- 
stead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air — 
to a higher life than we fell asleep from ; and thus the 
darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no 
less than the light. That man who does not believe 
that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and au- 
roral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of 
life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way. 
After a partial cessation of his sensuous life, the soul 
of man, or its organs rather, are reinvigorated each day, 
and his Genius tries again what noble life it can make. 
All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morn- 
ing time and in a morning atmosphere. The Ve- 
das say, "All intelligences awake with the morning." 
Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable of 
the actions of men, date from such an hour. All poets 
and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, 
and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic 
and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day 
is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks 
say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is 
when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral 
reform is the effort to throw off sleep. "Why is it that 
men give so poor an account of their day if they have 
not been slumbering ? They are not such poor calcula- 
tors. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness 
they would have performed something. The millions 
are awake enough for physical labor ; but only one in a 
million is awake enough for effective intellectual exer- 


tion, 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 expec- 
tation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our 
soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact 
than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his 
life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able 
to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so 
to make a few objects beautiful ; but it is far more glori- 
ous to carve and paint the very atmosphere and me- 
dium 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 dis- 
tinctly inform us how this might be done. 

I 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 dear ; 
nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite 
necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the 
marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to 
put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and 
shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to 
its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then 
to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish 
its meanness to the world ; or if it were sublime, to 


know it by experience, and be able to give a true ac- 
count 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 some- 
what 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 pyg- 
mies we light with cranes ; it is error upon error, and 
clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion 
a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frit- 
tered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need 
to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases 
he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, 
simplicity, simplicity ! I say, let your affairs be as two 
or three, and not a hundred or a thousand ; instead of a 
million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on 
your thumb nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of 
civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quick- 
sands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a 
man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the 
bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, 
and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. 
Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it 
be necessary eat but one ; instead of a hundred dishes, 
five ; and reduce other things in proportion. Our life i3 
like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, 
with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a 
German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any mo- 
ment. 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 es- 
tablishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by 

100 WALDEN. 

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 Spar- 
tan 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 tele- 
graph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, 
whether they do or not ; but whether we should live like 
baboons or like men, is a little uncertain. If we do not 
get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and 
nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to 
improve them, who will build railroads ? And if railroads 
are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season ? But 
if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want 
railroads ? We do not ride on the railroad ; it rides upon 
us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that 
underlie the railroad ? Each one is a man, an 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 ? 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 conse- 
quence. We have the Saint Vitus' dance, and cannot 
possibly keep our heads still. If I should only give a 
few pulls at the parish bell-rope, as for a fire, that is, with- 
out setting the bell, there is hardly a man on his farm 
in the outskirts of Concord, notwithstanding that press 
of engagements which was his excuse so many times 
this morning, nor a boy, nor a woman, I might almost 
say, but would forsake all and follow that sound, not 
mainly to save property from the flames, but, if we will 
confess the truth, much more to see it burn, since 
burn it must, and we, be it known, did not set it on fire, 
— or to see it put out, and have a hand in it, if that is 
done as handsomely ; yes, even if it were the parish 
church itself. Hardly a man takes a half hour's nap 
after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head 
and asks, " What's the news ? " as if the rest of mankind 
had stood his sentinels. Some give directions to be 
waked every half hour, doubtless for no other purpose ; 
and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed. 
After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the 
breakfast. " Pray tell me any thing new that has hap- 
pened 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 un- 
fathomed 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 communica- 

102 WALDEN. 

tions made through it. To speak critically, I never re- 
ceived 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 mur- 
dered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one 
vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow 
run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog 
killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, — we 
never need read of another. One is enough. If you I 
are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for 
a myriad instances and applications? To a philoso- 
pher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who 
edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet 
not a few are greedy after this gossip. There was' 
such a rush, as I hear, the other day at one of the 
offices to learn the foreign news by the last arrival, that 
several large squares of plate glass belonging to the 
establishment were broken by the pressure, — news 
which I seriously think a ready wit might write a 
twelvemonth or twelve years beforehand with suf- 
ficient 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 suc- 
cinct and lucid reports under this head in the news- 


papers : and as for England, almost the last significant 
scrap of news from that quarter was the revolution of 
1G49 ; 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 pecu- 
niary character. If one may judge who rarely looks 
into the newspapers, nothing new does ever happen in 
foreign parts, a French revolution not excepted. 

What news ! how much more important to know 
what that is which was never old ! " Kieou-he-yu 
(great dignitary of the state of Wei) sent a man to 
Khoung-tseu to know his news. Khoung-tseu caused 
the messenger to be seated near him, and questioned 
him in these terms : What is your master doing ? The 
messenger answered with respect : My master desires 
to diminish the number of his faults, but he cannot 
come to the end of them. The messenger being gone, 
the philosopher remarked : What a worthy messenger ! 
What a worthy messenger ! " The preacher, instead of 
vexing the ears of drowsy farmers on their day of rest 
at the end of the week, — for Sunday is the fit conclu- 
sion of an ill-3pent week, and not the fresh and brave 
beginning of a new one, — with this one other draggle- 
tail of a sermon, should shout with thundering voice, — 
" Pause ! Avast ! Why so seeming fast, but deadly 

Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, 
while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily ob- 
serve realities only, and not allow themselves to be de- 
luded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, 
would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights' En- 
tertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable 
and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound 

104 WALDEtf. 

along the streets. "When we are unhurried and wise, 
we perceive that only great and worthy things have any 
permanent and absolute existence, — that petty fears 
and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. 
This is always exhilarating and sublime. By closing 
the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived 
by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of 
routine and habit every where, which still is built on 
purely illusory foundations. Children, who play life, 
discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, 
who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are 
wiser by experience, that is, by failure. I have read 
in a Hindoo book, that " there was a king's son, who, 
being expelled in infancy from his native city, was 
brought up by a forester, and, growing up to maturity 
in that state, imagined himself to belong to the bar- 
barous 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 char- 
acter, until the truth is revealed to it by some holy 
teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahme" I per- 
ceive that we inhabitants of New England live this 
mean life that we do because our vision does not pene- 
trate the surface of things. We think that that is which 
appears to be. If a man should walk through this 
town and see only the reality, where, think you, would 
the " Mill-dam " go to ? If he should give us an ac- 
count of the realities he beheld there, we should not 
recognize the place in his description. Look at a 
meeting-house, or a court-house, or a jail, or a shop, or 


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

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and 
not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mos- 
quito's wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early 
and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation ; 
let company come and let company go, let the bells 
ring and the children cry, — determined to make a day 
of it. "Why should we knock under and go with the 
stream ? Let us not be upset and overwhelmed in that 
terrible rapid and whirlpool called a dinner, situated in 
the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you 
are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With 
unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, look- 
ing another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the 
engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its 
pains. If the bell rings, why should we run ? We 
will consider what kind of music they are like. Let us 

106 WALDEN. 

settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet down- 
ward through the mud and slush of opinion, and pre- 
judice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that 
alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and Lon- 
don, through New York and Boston and Concord, 
through church and state, through poetry and philoso- 
phy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and 
rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, 
and no mistake ; and then begin, having a point d'appui, 
below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you 
might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, 
or perhaps a gauge, not a Kilometer, 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 extremi- 
ties ; 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; 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 dis- 
cerns 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 crea- 
tures use their snout and fore-paws, and with it I would 
mine and burrow my way through these hills. I think 
that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts ; so by 
the divining rod and thin rising vapors I judge ; and 
here I will begin to mine. 


With a little more deliberation in the choice of their 
pursuits, all men would perhaps become essentially 
students and observers, for certainly their nature and 
destiny are interesting to all alike. In accumulating 
property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a 
family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal ; 
but in dealing with truth we are immortal, and need 
fear no change nor accident. The oldest Egyptian or 
Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the 
statue of the divinity ; and still the trembling robe re- 
mains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he 
did, since it was I in him that was then so bold, and it is 
he in me that now reviews the vision. No dust has set- 
tled on that robe ; no time has elapsed since that divinity 
was revealed. That time which we really improve, or 
which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future. 
My residence was more favorable, not only to 
thought, but to serious reading, than a university ; and 
though I was beyond the range of the ordinary circu- 
lating library, I had more than ever come within the in- 
fluence of those books which circulate round the world, 



whose sentences were first written on bark, and are now 
merely copied from time to time on to linen paper. 
Says the poet Mir Camar Uddin Mast, " Being seated 
to run through the region of the spiritual world ; I have 
had this advantage in books. To be intoxicated by a 
single glass of wine ; I have experienced this pleasure 
when I have drunk the liquor of the esoteric doctrines/ 5 
I kept Homer's Iliad on my table through the summer, 
though I looked at his page only now and then. Inces- 
sant labor with my hands, at first, for I had my house 
to finish and my beans to hoe at the same time, made 
more study impossible. Yet I sustained myself by the 
prospect of such reading in future. I read one or two 
shallow books of travel in the intervals of my work, 
till that employment made me ashamed of myself, and 
I asked where it was then that / lived. 

The student may read Homer or .ZEschylus in the 
Greek without danger of dissipation or luxuriousness, 
for it implies that he in some measure emulate their 
heroes, and consecrate morning hours to their pages. 
The heroic books, even if printed in the character of 
our mother tongue, will always be in a language dead 
to degenerate times ; and we must laboriously seek the 
meaning of each word and line, conjecturing a larger 
sense than common use permits out of what wisdom 
and valor and generosity we have. The modern cheap 
and fertile press, with all its translations, has done little 
to bring us nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity. 
They -seem as solitary, and tfye letter in which they are 
printed as rare and curious, as ever./^It is worth the 
expense of youthful days and costly hours, if you learn 
only some words of an ancient language, which are 
raised out of the trivialness of the street, to be per- 

110 WALDEN. 

petual suggestions and provocations. It is not in vain that 
the farmer remembers and repeats the few Latin words 
which he has heard. Men sometimes speak as if the 
study of the classics would at length make way for more 
modern and practical studies ; but the adventurous stu- 
dent will always study classics, in whatever language they 
may be written and however ancient they may be. For 
what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts 
of man ? They are the only oracles which are not de- 
cayed, and there are such answers to the most modern 
inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave. 
We might as well omit to study Nature because she is 
old. To read well, that is, to read true books in a true 
spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the 
reader more than any exercise which the customs of the 
day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes 
underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole 
life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately 
and reservedly as they were written. It is not enough 
even to be able to speak the language of that nation by 
which they are written, for there is a memorable 
interval between the spoken and the written lan- 
guage, the language heard and the language read. 
The one is commonly transitory, a sound, a tongue, 
a dialect merely, almost brutish, and we learn it un- 
consciously, like the brutes, of our mothers. The 
other is the maturity and experience of that ; if that is 
our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved 
and select expression, too significant to be heard by the 
ear, which we must be born again in order to speak. The 
crowds of men who merely spoke the Greek and Latin 
tongues in the middle ages were not entitled by the ac- 
cident of birth to read the works of genius written in 


those languages; for these were not written in that 
Greek or Latin which they knew, but in the select lan- 
guage of literature. They had not learned the nobler 
dialects of Greece and Rome, but the very materials on 
which they were written were waste paper to them, 
and they prized instead a cheap contemporary literature. 
But when the several nations of Europe had acquired 
distinct though rude written languages of their own, 
sufficient for the purposes of their rising literatures, 
then first learning revived, and scholars were enabled to 
discern from that remoteness the treasures of antiquity. 
What the Roman and Grecian multitude could not hear, 
after the lapse of ages a few scholars read, and a few 
scholars only are still reading it. 

However much we may admire the orator's occasional 
bursts of eloquence, the noblest written words are com- 
monly as far behind or above the fleeting spoken lan- 
guage as the firmament with its stars is behind the 
clouds. There are the stars, and they who can may 
read them. The astronomers forever comment on and 
observe them. They are not exhalations like our daily 
colloquies and vaporous breath. What is called elo- 
quence in the forum is commonly found to be rhetoric 
in the study. The orator yields to the insjnration of a 
transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, 
to those who can hear him ; but the writer, whose more 
equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted 
by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, 
speaks to the intellect and heart of mankind, to all in 
any age who can understand him. 

No wonder that Alexander carried the Iliad with him 
on his expeditions in a precious casket. A written 
Word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once 

112 WALDEN, 

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

Those who have not learned to read the ancient 


classics in the language in which they were written 
must have a very imperfect knowledge of the history 
of the human race ; for it is remarkable that no tran- 
script of them has ever been made into any modern 
tongue, unless our civilization itself may be regarded as 
such a transcript. Homer has never yet been printed 
in English, nor -ZEschylus, nor Virgil even, — works as 
refined, as solidly done, and as beautiful almost as the 
morning itself; for later writers, say what we will of 
their genius, have rarely, if ever, equalled the elaborate 
beauty and finish and the lifelong and heroic literary 
labors of the ancients. They only talk of forgetting 
them who never knew them. It will be soon enough 
to forget them when we have the learning and the 
genius which will enable us to attend to and appreciate 
them. That age will be rich indeed when those relics 
which we call Classics, and the still older and more than 
classic but even less known Scriptures of the nations, 
shall have still further accumulated, when the Vatican s 
shall be filled with Vedas and Zendavestas and Bibles, 
with Homers and Dantes and Shakspeares, and all the 
centuries to come shall have successively deposited their 
trophies in the forum of the world. By such a pile we 
may hope to scale heaven at last. 

The works of the great poets have never yet been 
read by mankind, for only great poets can read them. 
They have only been read as the multitude rend the 
stars, at most astrologically, not astronomically. Most 
men have learned to read to serve a paltry convenience, 
as they have learned to cipher in order to keep ac- 
counts and not be cheated in trade ; but of reading as 
a noble intellectual exercise they know little or nothing ; 
yet this only is reading, in a high sense, not that which 

114 WALDEN. 

lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to 
sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tip- 
toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful 
hours to. 

I think that having learned our letters we should read 
the best that is in literature, and not be forever repeat- 
ing our a b abs, and words of one syllable, in the fourth 
or fifth classes, sitting on the lowest and foremost form 
all our lives. Most men are satisfied if they read or 
hear read, and perchance have been convicted by the 
wisdom of one good book, the Bible, and for the rest of 
their lives vegetate and dissipate their faculties in what 
is called easy reading. There is a work in several 
volumes in our Circulating Library entitled Little Read- 
ing, which I thought referred to a town of that name 
which I had not been to. There are those who, like 
cormorants and ostriches, can digest all sorts of this, 
even after the fullest dinner of meats and vegetables, 
for they suffer nothing to be wasted. If others are the 
machines to provide this provender, they are the ma- 
chines to read it. They read the nine thousandth tale 
about Zebulon and Sephronia, and how they loved as 
none had ever loved before, and neither did the course 
of their true love run smooth, — at any rate, how it did 
run and stumble, and get up again and go on ! how 
some poor unfortunate got up on to a steeple, who had 
better never have gone up as far as the belfry ; and 
then, having needlessly got him up there, the happy nov- 
elist rings the bell for all the world to come together and 
hear, O dear ! how he did get down again ! For my 
part, I think that they had better metamorphose all such 
aspiring heroes of universal noveldom into man weather- 
cocks, as they used to put heroes among the constella- 


tions, and let them swing round there till they are rusty, 
and not come down at all to bother honest men with 
their pranks. The next time the novelist rings the bell 
I will not stir though the meeting-house burn down. 
"The Skip of the Tip-Toe-Hop, a Romance of the 
Middle Ages, by the celebrated author of ' Tittle-Tol- 
Tan,' to appear in monthly parts ; a great rush ; don't 
all come together.'' All this they read with saucer 
eyes, and erect and primitive curiosity, and with un- 
wearied gizzard, whose corrugations even yet need no 
sharpening, just as some little four-year-old bencher his 
two-cent gilt-covered edition of Cinderella, — without 
any improvement, that I can see, in the pronunciation, 
or accent, or emphasis, or any more skill in extracting 
or inserting the moral. The result is dulness of sight, 
a stagnation of the vital circulations, and a general de- 
liquium and sloughing off of all the intellectual facul- 
ties. This sort of gingerbread is baked daily and more 
sedulously than pure wheat or rye-and-Indian in almost 
every oven, and finds a surer market. 

The best books are not read even by those who are 
called good readers. What does our Concord culture 
amount to ? There is in this town, with a very few ex- 
ceptions, no taste for the best or for very good books even 
in English literature, whose words all can read and 
spell. Even the college-bred and so called liberally 
educated men here and elsewhere have really little or 
no acquaintance with the English classics ; and as for 
the recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient classics 
and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will know 
of them, there are the feeblest efforts any where made 
to become acquainted with them. I know a woodchop- 
per, of middle age, who takes a French paper, not for 

116 WALDEN. 

news as he says, for he is above that, but to "keep 
himself in practice," he being a Canadian by birth ; and 
when I ask him what he considers the best thing he can 
do in this world, he says, beside this, to keep up and 
add to his English. This is about as much as the col- 
lege bred generally do or aspire to do, and they take an 
English paper for the purpose. One who has just 
come from reading perhaps one of the best English 
books will find how many with whom he can converse 
about it ? Or suppose he comes from reading a Greek 
or Latin classic in the original, whose praises are fa- 
miliar even to the so called illiterate ; he will find no- 
body at all to speak to, but must keep silence about it. 
Indeed, there is hardly the professor in our colleges, 
who, if he has mastered the difficulties of the language, 
has proportionally mastered the difficulties of the wit 
and poetry of a Greek poet, and has any sympathy to 
impart to the alert and heroic reader : and as for the 
sacred Scriptures, or Bibles of mankind, who in this 
town can tell me even their titles ? Most men do not 
know that any nation but the Hebrews have had a 
scripture. A man, any man, will go considerably out 
of his way to pick up a silver dollar ; but here are 
golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have 
uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding 
age have assured us of; — and yet we learn to read only 
as far as Easy Reading, the primers and class-books, 
and when we leave school, the " Little Reading," and 
story books, which are for boys and beginners ; and our 
reading, our conversation and thinking, are all on a very 
low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins. 

I aspire to be acquainted with wiser men than this 
our Concord soil has produced, whose names are hardly 


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

It is not all books that are as dull as their readers. 
There are probably words addressed to our condition 
exactly, which, if we could really hear and under- 
stand, would be more salutary than the morning or 
the spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect 
on the face of things for us. How many a man has 
dated a new era in his life from the reading of a 
book. The book exists for us perchance which will 
explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at 
present unutterable things we may find somewhere ut- 
tered. These same questions that disturb and puzzle 
and confound us have in their turn occurred to all 
the wise men ; not one has been omitted ; and each has 
answered them, according to his ability, by his words 
and his life. Moreover, with wisdom we shall learn 
liberality. The solitary hired man on a farm in the 
outskirts of Concord, who has had his second birth and 

118 WALDEN. 

peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he be- 
lieves into silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, 
may think it is not true ; but Zoroaster, thousands of 
years ago, travelled the same road and had the same 
experience ; but he, being wise, knew it to be universal, 
and treated his neighbors accordingly, and is even said 
to have invented and established worship among men. 
Let him humbly commune with Zoroaster then, and, 
through the liberalizing influence of all the worthies, 
with Jesus Christ himself, and let " our church " go by 
the board. 

We boast that we belong to the nineteenth century 
and are making the most rapid strides- of any nation. 
But consider how little this village does for its own cul- 
ture. I do not wish to natter my townsmen, nor to be 
flattered by them, for that will not advance either of us. 
We need to be provoked, — goaded like oxen, as we are, 
into a trot. We have a comparatively decent system 
of common schools, schools for infants only ; but except- 
ing the half-starved Lyceum in the winter, and latterly 
the puny beginning of a library suggested by the state, 
no school for ourselves. We spend more on almost 
any article of bodily aliment or ailment than on our 
mental aliment. It is time that we had uncommon 
schools, that we did not leave off our education when 
we begin to be men and women. It is time that 
/villages were universities, and their elder inhabitants 
1 the fellows of universities, with leisure — if they are 
indeed so well off — to pursue liberal studies the rest 
of their ljjes. Shall the world be confined to one Paris 
or one Oxford forever? Cannot students be boarded 
here and get a liberal education under the skies of 
Concord ? Can we not hire some Abelard to lecture to 


us ? Alas ! what with foddering the cattle and tending 
the store, we are kept from school too long, and our 
education is sadly neglected. In this country, the vil- 
lage should in some respects take the place of the 
nobleman of Europe. It should be the patron of the 
fine arts. It is rich enough. It wants only the mag- 
nanimity and refinement. It can spend money enough 
on such things as farmers and traders value, but it is 
thought Utopian to propose spending money for things 
which more intelligent men know to be of far more 
worth. This town has spent seventeen thousand dol- 
lars on a town-house, thank fortune or politics, but 
probably it will not spend so much on living wit, the 
true meat to put into that shell, in a hundred years. 
The one hundred and twenty-five dollars annually sub- 
scribed for a Lyceum in the winter is better spent than 
any other equal sum raised in the town. If we live in 
the nineteenth century, why should we not enjoy the 
advantages which the nineteenth century offers ? Why 
should our life be in any respect provincial ? If we 
will read newspapers, why not skip the gossip of Bos- 
ton and take the best newspaper in the world at once ? 

— not be sucking the pap of "neutral family" papers, 
or browsing "Olive-Branches" here in New England. 
Let the reports of all the learned societies come to us, 
and we will see if they know any thing. Why should 
we leave it to Harper & Brothers and Redding & Co. 
to select our reading ? As the nobleman of cultivated 
taste surrounds himself with whatever conduces to his 
culture, — genius — learning — wit — books — paintings 

— statuary — music — philosophical instruments, and 
the like ; so let the village do, — not stop short at a 
pedagogue, a parson, a sexton, a parish library, and 

120 WALDEN. 

three selectmen, because our pilgrim forefathers got 
through a cold winter once on a bleak rock with these. 
To act collectively is according to the spirit of our in- 
stitutions ; and I am confident that, as our circumstances 
are more, flourishing, our means are greater than the 
nobleman's. New England can hire all the wise men 
in the world to come and teach her, and board them 
round the while, and not be provincial at all. That is 
the uncommon school we want. Instead of noblemen, 
let us have noble villages of men. If it is necessary, 
omit one bridge over the river, go round a little there, 
and throw one arch at least over the darker gulf of 
ignorance which surrounds us. 


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

I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. 
Nay, I often did better than this. There were times 
when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the 
present moment to any work, whether of the head or 


122 WALDEN. 

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

SOUNDS. 123 

must find his occasions in himself, it is true. The 
natural day is very calm, and will hardly reprove his 

I had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over 
those who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, 
to society and the theatre, that my life itself was be- 
come my amusement and never ceased to be novel. It 
was a drama of many scenes and without an end. If 
we were always indeed getting our living, and regulat- 
ing our lives according to the last and best mode we had 
learned, we should never be troubled with ennui. Fol- 
low your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to 
show you a fresh prospect every hour. Housework 
was a pleasant pastime. When my floor was dirty, I 
rose early, and, setting all my furniture out of doors on 
the grass, bed and bedstead making but one budget, 
dashed water on the floor, and sprinkled white sand 
from the pond on it, and then with a broom scrubbed 
it clean and white ; and by the time the villagers had 
broken their fast the morning sun had dried my house 
sufficiently to allow me to move in again, and my medi- 
tations were almost uninterrupted. It was pleasant to 
see my whole household effects out on the grass, mak- 
ing a little pile like a gypsy's pack, and my three- 
legged table, from which I did not remove the books 
and pen and ink, standing amid the pines and hickories. 
They seemed glad to get out themselves, and as if un- 
willing to be brought in. I was sometimes tempted to 
stretch an awning over them and take my seat there. 
It was worth the while to see the sun shine on these 
things, and hear the free wind blow on them ; so much 
more interesting most familiar objects look out of 
doors than in the house. A bird sits on the next bough, 


124 WALDEtf. 

life-everlasting grows under the table, and blackberry 
vines run round its legs ; pine cones,, chestnut burs, and 
strawberry leaves are strewn about. It looked as if 
this was the way these forms came to be transferred to 
our furniture, to tables, chairs, and bedsteads, — because 
they once stood in their midst. 

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

SOUNDS. 125 

berries, which, when in flower, had attracted many wild 
bees, gradually assumed their bright velvety crimson 
hue, and by their weight again bent down and broke the 
tender limbs. 

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

" In truth, our village has become a butt 
For one of those fleet railroad shafts, and o'er 
Our peaceful plain its soothing sound is — Concord." 

The Fitchburg Eailroad touches the pond about a 
hundred rods south of where I dwell. I usually go 
to the village along its causeway, and am, as it were, 

126 tVALDEN. 

related to society by this link. The men on the freight 
trains, who go over the whole length of the road, bow 
to me as to an old acquaintance, they pass me so often, 
and apparently they take me for an employee ; and so I 
am. I too would fain be a track-repairer somewhere 
in the orbit of the earth. 

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

When I meet the engine with its train of cars moving 
off with planetary motion, — or, rather, like a comet, for 
the beholder knows not if with that velocity and with 
that direction it will ever revisit tins system, since its 
orbit does not look like a returning curve, — with its 

SOUNDS. 127 

steam cloud like a banner streaming behind in golden 
and silver wreaths, like many a downy cloud which I 
have seen, high in the heavens, unfolding its masses to 
the light, — as if this travelling demigod, this cloud- 
compeller, would ere long take the sunset sky for the 
livery of his train ; when I hear the iron horse make 
the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the 
earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from 
his nostrils, (what kin<? of winged horse or fiery dragon 
they will put into the new Mythology I don't know,) it 
seems as if the earth had got a race now worthy to in- 
habit it. If all were as it seems, and men made the 
elements their servants for noble ends ! If the cloud 
that hangs over the engine were the perspiration of 
heroic deeds, or as beneficent as that which floats over 
the farmer's fields, then the elements and Nature her- 
self would cheerfully accompany men on their errands 
and be their escort. 

I watch the passage of the morning cars with the 
same feeling that I do the rising of the sun, which is 
hardly more regular. Their train of clouds stretching 
far behind and rising higher and higher, going to heaven 
while the cars are going to Boston, conceals the sun for 
a minute and casts my distant field into the shade, a 
celestial train beside which the petty train of cars which 
hugs the earth is but the barb of the spear. The sta- 
bler of the iron horse was up early this winter morning by 
the light of the stars amid the mountains, to fodder and 
harness his steed. Fire, too, was awakened thus early 
to put the vital heat in him and get him off. If the en- 
terprise were as innocent as it is early ! If the snow 
lies deep, they strap on his snow-shoes, and with the 
giant plough plough a furrow from the mountains to the 

128 WALDEN. 

seaboard, in which the cars, like a following drill- 
barrow, sprinkle all the restless men and floating mer- 
chandise in the country for seed. All day the fire-steed 
flies over the country, stopping only that his master may 
rest, and I am awakened by his tramp and defiant snort 
at midnight, when in some remote glen in the woods 
he fronts the elements incased in ice and snow ; and he 
will reach his stall only with the morning star, to start 
once more on his travels without rest or slumber. Or 
perchance, at evening, I hear him in his stable blow- 
ing off the superfluous energy of the day, that he 
may calm his nerves and cool his liver and brain for 
a few hours of iron slumber. If the enterprise were as 
heroic and commanding as it is protracted and un- 
wearied ! 

Far through unfrequented woods on the confines of 
towns, where once only the hunter penetrated by day, 
in the darkest night dart these bright saloons without 
the knowledge of their inhabitants ; this moment stop- 
ping at some brilliant station-house in town or city, 
where a social crowd is gathered, the next in the Dis- 
mal Swamp, scaring the owl and fox. The startings 
and arrivals of the cars are now the epochs in the vil- 
lage day. They go and come with such regularity and 
precision, and their whistle can be heard so far, that the 
farmers set their clocks by them, and thus one well con- 
ducted institution regulates a whole country. Have 
not men improved somewhat in punctuality since the 
railroad was invented ? Do they not talk and think 
faster in the depot than they did in the stage-office ? 
There is something electrifying in the atmosphere of the 
former place. I have been astonished at the miracles 
it has wrought ; that some of my neighbors, who, I 

SOUNDS. 129 

should have prophesied, once for all, would never get to 
Boston by so prompt a conveyance, are on hand when 
the bell rings. To do things " railroad fashion " is now 
the by-word ; and it is worth the while to be warned so 
often and so sincerely by any power to get off its track. 
There is no stopping to read the riot act, no firing over 
the heads of the mob, in this case. We have constructed 
a fate, an Atropos, that never turns aside. (Let that 
be the name of your engine.) Men are advertised that 
at a certain hour and minute these bolts will be shot to- 
ward particular points of the compass ; yet it interferes 
with no man's business, and the children go to school on 
the other track. We live the steadier for it. We are 
all educated thus to be sons of Tell. The air is full of 
invisible bolts, Every path but your own is the path 
of fate. Keep on your own track, then 

What recommends commerce to me is its enterprise 
and bravery. It does not clasp its hands and pray to 
Jupiter. I see these men every day go about their busi- 
ness with more or less courage and content, doing more 
even than they suspect, and perchance better employed 
than they could have consciously devised. I am less 
affected by their heroism who stood up for half an hour 
in the front line at Buena Vista, than by the steady and 
cheerful valor of the men who inhabit the snow-plough 
for their winter quarters ; who have not merely the 
three-o'-clock in the morning courage, which Bonaparte 
thought was the rarest, but whose courage does not 
go to rest so early, who go to sleep only when the storm 
sleeps or the sinews of their iron steed are frozen. On 
this morning of the Great Snow, perchance, which is 
still raging and chilling men's blood, I hear the muffled 
tone of their engine bell from out the fog bank of their 

130 WALDEN. 

chilled breath, which announces that the cars are com- 
ing, without long delay, notwithstanding the veto of a 
New England north-east snow storm, and I behold the 
ploughmen covered with snow and rime, their heads 
peering above the mould-board which is turning down 
other than daisies and the nests of field-mice, like bowl- 
ders of the Sierra Nevada, that occupy an outside place 
in the universe. 

Commerce is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert, 
adventurous, and unwearied. It is very natural in its 
methods withal, far more so than many fantastic enter- 
prises and sentimental experiments, and hence its sin- 
gular success. I am refreshed and expanded when the 
freight train rattles past me, and I smell the stores 
which go dispensing their odors all the way from Long 
Wharf to Lake Champlain, reminding me of foreign 
parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical 
climes, and the extent of the globe. I feel more like a 
citizen of the world at the sight of the palm-leaf which 
will cover so many flaxen New England heads the next 
summer, the Manilla hemp and cocoa-nut husk^ the 
old junk, gunny bags, scrap iron, and rusty nails. This 
car-load of torn sails is more legible and interesting now 
than if they should be wrought into paper and printed 
books. Who can write so graphically the history of the 
storms they have weathered as these rents have done ? 
They are proof-sheets which need no correction. Here 
goes lumber from the Maine woods, which did not go out 
to sea in the last freshet, risen four dollars on the thou- 
sand because of what did go out or was split up ; pine, 
spruce, cedar, — first, second, third and fourth qualities, 
so lately all of one quality, to wave over the bear, and 
moose, and caribou. Next rolls Thomaston lime, a 

BOUNDS. 131 

prime lot, which will get far among the hills before it 
gets slacked. These rags in bales, of all hues and 
qualities, the lowest condition to which cotton and linen 
descend, the final result of dress, — of patterns which 
are now no longer cried up, unless it be in Milwaukie, 
as those splendid articles, English, French, or American 
prints, ginghams, muslins, &c, gathered from all quar- 
ters both of fashion and poverty, going to become 
paper of one color or a few shades only, on which for- 
sooth will be written tales of real life, high and low, 
and founded on fact ! This closed car smells of salt 
fish, the strong New England and commercial scent, re- 
minding me of the Grand Banks and the fisheries. 
Who has not seen a salt fish, thoroughly cured for this 
world, so that nothing can spoil it, and putting the per- 
severance of the saints to the blush ? with which you 
may sweep or pave the streets, and split your kindlings, 
and the teamster shelter himself and his lading against 
sun wind and rain behind it, — and the trader, as a 
Concord trader once did, hang it up by his door for a 
sign when he commences business, until at last his old- 
est customer cannot tell surely whether it be animal, 
vegetable, or mineral, and yet it shall be as pure as a 
snowflake, and if it be put into a pot and boiled, will 
come out an excellent dun fish for a Saturday's dinner. 
Next Spanish hides, with the tails still preserving their 
twist and the angle of elevation they had when the 
oxen that wore them were careering over the pampas 
of the Spanish main, — a type of all obstinacy, and 
evincing how almost hopeless and incurable are all con- 
stitutional vices. I confess, that practically speaking, 
when I have learned a man's real disposition, I have no 
hopes of changing it for the better or worse in this state of 

132 WALDEN. 

existence. As the Orientals say, " A cur's tail may be 
warmed, and pressed, and bound round with ligatures, 
and after a twelve years' labor bestowed upon it, still it 
will retain its natural form." The only effectual cure 
for such inveteracies as these tails exhibit is to make 
glue of them, which I believe is what is usually done 
with them, and then they will stay put and stick. Here 
is a hogshead of molasses or of brandy directed to John 
Smith, Cuttings ville, Vermont, some trader among the 
Green Mountains, who imports for the farmers near his 
clearing, and now perchance stands over his bulk-head 
and thinks of the last arrivals on the coast, how they 
may affect the price for him, telling his customers this 
moment, as he has told them twenty times before this 
morning, that he expects some by the next train of 
prime quality. It is advertised in the Cuttingsville 

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

" to be the mast 
Of some great ammiral." 

And hark ! here comes the cattle-train bearing the 
cattle of a thousand hills, sheepcots, stables, and cow- 
yards in the air, drovers with their sticks, and shep- 
herd boys in the midst of their flocks, all but the 
mountain pastures, whirled along like leaves blown 
from the mountains by the September gales. The 

80UNDS. 133 

air is filled with the bleating of calves and sheep, 
and the hustling of oxen, as if a pastoral valley were 
going by. When the old bell-weather at the head rat- 
tles his bell, the mountains do indeed skip like rams and 
the little hills like lambs. A car-load of drovers, too, 
in the midst, on a level with their droves now, their vo- 
cation gone, but still clinging to their useless sticks as 
their badge of office. But their dogs, where are they ? 
It is a stampede to them ; they are quite thrown out ; 
they have lost the scent. Methinks I hear them bark- 
ing behind the Peterboro' Hills, or panting up the west- 
ern slope of the Green Mountains. They will not be 
in at the death. Their vocation, too, is gone. Their 
fidelity and sagacity are below par now. They will 
slink back to their kennels in disgrace, or perchance 
run wild and strike a league with the wolf and the fox. 
So is your pastoral life whirled past and away. But 
the bell rings, and I must get off the track and let 
the cars go by; — 

What's the railroad to me ? 

I never go to see 

Where it ends. 

It fills a few hollows, 

And makes banks for the swallows, 

It sets the sand a-blowing, 

And the blackberries a-growing, 

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

Now that the cars are gone by and all the restless 
world with them, and the fishes in the pond no longer 

134 WALDEN. 

feel their rumbling, I am more alone than ever. For 
the rest of the long afternoon, perhaps, my meditations 
are interrupted only by the faint rattle of a carriage 
or team along the distant highway. 

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

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

FNDS. 135 

youths' singing, when I state that I perceived clearly 
that it was akin to the music of the cow, and they were 
at length one articulation of Nature. 

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

When other birds are still the screech owia take up 
the strain, like mourning women their ancient u-lu-lu. 
Their dismal scream is truly Ben Jonsonian. Wise 
midnight hags ! It is no honest and* blunt tu-whit 
tu-who of the poets, but, without jesting, a most solemn 
graveyard ditty, the mutual consolation- of suicide lov- 
ers remembering the pangs and the delights of supernal 
love in the infernal groves. Yet I love to hear their 
wailing, their doleful r 58, trilled along the wood- 

side ; reminding me sometimes of music and singing 
birds ; as if it were the dark and tearful side of music, 
the regrets and sighs that would fain be sung. They 

136 WALDEN. 

are the spirits, the low spirits and melancholy fore- 
bodings, of fallen souls that once in human shape night- 
walked the earth and did the deeds of darkness, now 
expiating their sins with their wailing hymns or thren- 
odies in the scenery of their transgressions. They give 
me a new sense of the variety and capacity of that na- 
ture which is our common dwelling. Oh-o-o-o-o that I 
never had been bor-r-r-r-n! sighs one on this side of 
the pond, and circles with the restlessness of despair to 
some new perch on the gray oaks. Then — that I 
never had been bor-r-r-r-n ! echoes another on the far- 
ther side with tremulous sincerity, and — bor-r-r-r-n ! 
comes faintly from far in the Lincoln woods. 

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

I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the 
idiotic and maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound 
admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which 

SOUNDS. 137 

no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and undeveloped 
nature which men have not recognized. They represent 
the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all 
have. All day the sun has shone on the surface of 
some savage swamp, where the single spruce stands hung 
with usnea lichens, and small hawks circulate above, 
and the chicadee lisps amid the evergreens, and the 
partridge and rabbit skulk beneath ; but now a more 
dismal and fitting day dawns, and a different race 
of creatures awakes to express the meaning of Nature 

Late in the evening I heard the distant rumbling of 
wagons over bridges, — a sound heard farther than almost 
any other at night, — the baying of dogs, and sometimes 
again the lowing of some disconsolate cow in a distant 
barn-yard. In the mean while all the shore rang with 
the trump of bullfrogs, the sturdy spirits of ancient wine- 
bibbers and wassailers, still unrepentant, trying to sing 
a catch in their Stygian lake, — if the Walden nymphs 
will pardon the comparison, for though there are almost 
no weeds, there are frogs there, — who would fain keep 
up the hilarious rules of their old festal tables, though 
their voices have waxed hoarse and solemnly grave, 
mocking at mirth, and the wine has lost its flavor, and 
become only liquor to distend their paunches, and sweet 
intoxication never comes to drown the memory of the 
past, but mere saturation and waterloggedness and dis- 
tention. The most aldermanic, with his chin upon a 
heart-leaf, which serves for a napkin to his drooling 
chaps, under this northern shore quaffs a deep draught 
of the once scorned water, and passes round the cup 
with the ejaculation tr-r-r-oonk, tr-r-r-oo?ik, tr-r-r- 
oonk ! and straightway comes over the water from some 

138 WALDEN. 

distant cove the same password repeated, where the 
next in seniority and girth has gulped down to his 
mark ; and when this observance has made the circuit 
of the shores, then ejaculates the master of ceremonies, 
with satisfaction, tr-r-r-oonk ! and each in his turn re- 
peats the same down to the least distended, leakiest, and 
flabbiest paunched, that there be no mistake ; and then 
the bowl goes round again and again, until the sun dis- 
perses the morning mist, and only the patriarch is not 
under the pond, but vainly bellowing troonh from time 
to time, and pausing for a reply. 

I am not sure that. I ever heard the sound of cock- 
crowing from my clearing, and I thought that it might 
be worth the while to keep a cockerel for his music 
merely, as a singing bird. The note of this once wild 
Indian pheasant is certainly the most remarkable of any 
bird's, and if they could be naturalized without being 
domesticated, it would soon become the most famous 
sound in our woods, surpassing the clangor of the goose 
and the hooting of the owl ; and then imagine the cac- 
kling of the hens to fill the pauses when their lords' 
clarions rested ! No wonder that man added this bird 
to his tame stock, — to say nothing of the eggs and drum- 
sticks. To walk in a winter morning in a wood where 
these birds abounded, their native woods, and hear the 
wild cockerels crow on the trees, clear and shrill for 
miles over the resounding earth, drowning the feebler 
notes of other birds, — think of it ! It would put na- 
tions on the alert. Who would not be early to rise, 
and rise earlier and earlier every successive day of his 
life, till he became unspeakably healthy, wealthy, and 
wise? This foreign bird's note is celebrated by the 
poets of all countries along with the notes of their na- 

SOUNDS. 139 

tive songsters. All climates agree with brave Chan- 
ticleer. He is more indigenous even than the natives. 
His health is ever good, his lungs are sound, his spirits 
never flag. Even the sailor on the Atlantic and Pacific 
is awakened by his voice ; but its shrill sound never 
roused me from my slumbers. I kept neither dog, cat, 
cow, pig, nor hens, so that you would have said there 
was a deficiency of domestic sounds ; neither the churn, 
nor the spinning wheel, nor even the singing of the ket- 
tle, nor the hissing of the urn, nor children crying, to 
comfort one. An old-fashioned man would have lost 
his senses or died of ennui before this. Not even rats 
in the wall, for they were starved out, or rather were 
never baited in, — only squirrels on the roof and under 
the floor, a whippoorwill on the ridge pole, a blue-jay 
screaming beneath the window, a hare or woodchuck 
under the house, a screech-owl or a cat-owl behind it, a 
flock of wild geese or a laughing loon on the pond, and 
a fox to bark in the night. Not even a lark or an 
oriole, those mild plantation birds, ever visited my clear- 
ing. No cockerels to crow nor hens to cackle in the 
yard. No yard ! but unfenced Nature reaching up to 
your very sills. A young forest growing up under 
your windows, and wild sumachs and blackberry vines 
breaking through into your cellar ; sturdy pitch-pines 
rubbing and creaking against the shingles for want of 
room, their roots reaching quite under the house. In- 
stead of a scuttle or a blind blown off in the gale, — a 
pine tree snapped off or torn up by the roots behind 
your house for fuel. Instead of no path to the front- 
yard gate in the Great Snow, — no gate — no front- 
yard, — and no path to the civilized world ! 


This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is 
one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I 
go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of 
herself. As I walk along the stony shore of the pond 
in my shirt sleeves, though it is cool as well as cloudy 
and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all 
the elements are unusually congenial to me. The bull- 
frogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of 
the whippoorwill is borne on the rippling wind from 
over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder 
and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath ; yet, 
like the lake, my serenity is rippled but not ruffled. 
These small waves raised by the evening wind are as 
remote from storm as the smooth reflecting surface. 
Though it is now dark, the wind still blows and roars in 
the wood, the waves still dash, and some creatures lull 
the rest with their notes. The repose is never com- 
plete. The wildest animals do not repose, but seek 
their prey now ; the fox, and skunk, and rabbit, now 
roam the fields and woods without fear. They are Na- 
ture's watchmen, — links which connect the days of 
animated life. (140) 


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

There is commonly sufficient space about us. Our 
horizon is never quite at our elbows. The thick wood 
is not just at our door, nor the pond, but somewhat is 
always clearing, familiar and worn by us, appropriated 
and fenced in some way, and reclaimed from Nature. 
For what reason have I this vast range and circuit, 
some square miles of unfrequented forest, for my pri- 
vacy, abandoned to me by men ? My nearest neighbor 
is a mile distant, and no house is visible from any place 
but the hill-tops within half a mile of my own. I have 
my horizon bounded by woods all to myself; a distant 
view of the railroad where it touches the*pond on the one 
hand, and of the fence which skirts the woodland road 
on the other. But for the most part it is as solitary 
where I live as on the prairies. It is as much Asia 

142 WALDEN. 

or Africa as New England. I have, as it were, my own 
sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself. 
At night there was never a traveller passed my house, 
or knocked at my door, more than if I were the first or 
last man ; unless it were in the spring, when at long in- 
tervals some came from the village to fish for pouts, — 
they plainly fished much more in the Walden Pond of 
their own natures, and baited their hooks with dark- 
ness, — but they soon retreated, usually with light bas- 
kets, and left " the world to darkness and to me," and 
the black kernel of the night was never profaned by 
any human neighborhood. I believe that men are gen- 
erally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches 
are all hung, and Christianity and candles have been 

Yet I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and 
tender, the most innocent and encouraging society may 
be found in any natural object, even for the poor mis- 
anthrope and most melancholy man. There can be no 
very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of 
Nature and has his senses still. There was never yet 
such a storm but it was iEolian music to a healthy and 
innocent ear. Nothing can rightly compel a simple and 
brave man to a vulgar sadness. While I enjoy the 
friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make 
life a burden to me. The gentle rain which waters my 
beans and keeps me in the house to-day is not drear 
and melancholy, but good for me too. Though it pre- 
vents my hoeing them, it is of far more worth than my 
hoeing. If it should continue so long as to cause the 
seeds to rot in the ground and destroy the potatoes in 
the low lands, it would still be good for the grass on the 
uplands, and, being good for the grass, it would be good 


for me. Sometimes, when I compare myself with other 
men, it seems as if I were more favored by the gods than 
they, beyond any deserts that I am conscious of; as 
if I had a warrant and surety at their hands which my 
fellows have not, and were especially guided and 
guarded. I do not flatter myself, but if it be possible 
they flatter me. I have never felt lonesome, or in the 
least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but once, and 
that was a few weeks after I came to the woods, when, 
for an hour, I doubted if the near neighborhood of man 
was not essential to a serene and healthy life. To be 
alone was something unpleasant. But I was at the 
same time conscious of a slight insanity in my mood, and 
seemed to foresee my recovery. In the midst of a gen- 
tle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly 
sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, 
in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and 
sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable 
friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining 
me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighbor- 
hood insignificant, and I have never thought of them 
since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled 
with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly 
made aware of the presence of something kindred to 
me, even in scenes which we are accustomed to call 
wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to 
me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that 
I thought no place could ever be strange to me again. — 

"Mourning untimely consumes the sad ; 
Few are their days in the land of the living, 
Beautiful daughter of Toscar.' , 

Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long 

144 WALDEN. 

rain storms in the spring or fall, which confined me to 
the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, 
soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting ; when an 
early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many 
thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves. 
In those driving north-east rains which tried the village 
houses so, when the maids stood ready with mop and 
pail in front entries to keep the deluge out, I sat behind 
my door in my little house, which was all entry, and 
thoroughly enjoyed its protection. In one heavy thun- 
der shower the lightning struck a large pitch-pine 
across the pond, making a very conspicuous and perfect- 
ly regular spiral groove from top to bottom, an inch or 
more deep, and four or ^.ve inches wide, as you would 
groove a walking-stick. I passed it again the other 
day, and was struck with awe on looking up and behold- 
ing that mark, now more distinct than ever, where a 
terrific and resistless bolt came down out of the harm- 
less sky eight years ago. Men frequently say to me, 
" I should think you would feel lonesome down there, 
and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and 
nights especially." I am tempted to reply to such, — 
This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in 
space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most 
distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose 
disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments ? Why 
should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky 
Way ? This, which you put seems to me not to be the 
most important question. What sort of space is that 
which separates a man from his fellows and makes 
him solitary ? I have found that no exertion of the 
legs can bring two minds much nearer to one an- 
other. What do we want most to dwell near to ? 


Not to many men surely, the depot, the post-office, 
the bar-room, the meeting-house, the school-house, the 
grocery, Beacon Hill, or the Five Points, where men 
most congregate, but to the perennial source of "our life, 
whence in all our experience we have found that to 
issue, as the willow stands near the water and sends out 
its roots in that direction. This will vary with different 
natures, but this is the place where a wise man will dig 
his cellar. ... I one evening overtook one of my towns- 
men, who has accumulated what is called "a handsome 
property," — though I never got a fair view of it, — 
on the Walden road, driving a pair of cattle to market, 
who inquired of me how I could bring my mind to give 
up so many of the comforts of life. I answered that I 
was very sure I liked it passably well ; I was not joking. 
And so I went home to my bed, and left him to pick 
his way through the darkness and the mud to Brighton, 
— or Bright-town, — which place he would reach some 
time in the morning. 

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

" How vast and profound is the influence of the sub- 
tile powers of Heaven and of Earth !" 

" We seek to perceive them, and we do not see them ; 

146 WALDEN. 


we seek to hear them, and we do not hear them ; iden- 
tified with the substance of things, they cannot be sepa- 
rated from them." 

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

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

With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane 
sense. By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand 
aloof from actions and their consequences ; and all things, 
good and bad, go by us like a torrent. We are not 
wholly involved in Nature. I may be either the drift- 
wood in the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down 
on it. I may be affected by a theatrical exhibition ; on 
the other hand, I may not be affected by an actual event 
which appears to concern me much more. I only know 
myself as a human entity ; the scene, so to speak, of 
thoughts *and affections ; and am sensible of a certain 
doubleness by which I" can stand as remote from myself 
as from another. However intense my experience, I 
am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of 
me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but specta- 
tor, sharing no experience, but taking note of it ; and 
that is no more I than it is you. When the play, it 


may be the tragedy, of life is over, the spectator goes 
his way. It was a kind of fiction, a work of the imagi- 
nation only, so far as he was concerned. This double- 
ness may easily make us poor neighbors and* friends 

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of 
the time. To be in company, even with the best, is 
soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I 
never found the companion that was so companionable 
as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely 
when we go abroad among men than when we stay in 
our chambers. A man thinking or working is always 
alone, let him be where he will. Solitude is not meas- 
ured by the miles of space that intervene between a 
man and his fellows. The really diligent student in 
one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as 
solitary as a dervis in the desert. The farmer can 
work alone in the field or the woods all day, hoeing or 
chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is em- 
ployed ; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit 
down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, 
but must be where he can " see the folks," and recreate, 
and as he thinks remunerate, himself for his day's soli- 
tude*; and hence he wonders how the student can sit 
alone in the house all night and most of the day with- 
out ennui and " the blues ; " but he does not realize that 
the student, though in the house, is still at work in his 
field, and chopping in his woods, as the farmer in his, 
and in turn seeks the same recreation and society that 
the latter does, though it may be a more condensed form 
of it. 

Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very 
short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new 

148 WALDEN. 

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

I have heard of a man lost in the woods and dying 
of famine and exhaustion at the foot of a tree, whose 
loneliness was relieved by the grotesque visions with 
which, owing to bodily weakness, his diseased imagina- 
tion surrounded him, and which he believed to be real. 
So also, owing to bodily and mental health and strength, 
we may be continually cheered by a like but more nor- 
mal and natural society, and come to know that we are 
never alone. 

I have a great deal of company in my house; es- 
pecially in the morning, when nobody calls. Let me 
suggest a few comparisons, that some one may convey 
an idea of my situation. I am no more lonely than the 
loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden 
Pond itself. What* company has that lonely lake, I 
pray ? And yet it has not the blue devils, but the blue 
angels in it, in the azure tint of its waters. The sun is 
alone, except in thick weather, when there sometimes 


appear to be two, but one is a mock sun. God is 
alone, — but the devil, he is far from being alone ; he 
sees a great deal of company ; he is legion. I am no 
more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pas- 
ture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a hum- 
ble-bee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a 
weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an 
April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in 
a new house. 

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

The indescribable innocence and beneficence of Na- 

150 WALDEN. 

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

What is the pill which will keep us well, serene, con- 
tented ? Not my or thy great-grandfather's, but our 
great-grandmother Nature's universal, vegetable, bo- 
tanic medicines, by which she has kept herself young 
always, outlived so many old Parrs in her day, and fed 
her health with their decaying fatness. For my pana- 
cea, instead of one of those quack vials of a mixture 
dipped from Acheron and the I)ead Sea, which come 
out of those long shallow black-schooner looking wagons 
which, we sometimes see made to carry bottles, let me 
have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning 
air ! If men will not drink of this at the fountain-head 
of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and 
sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have 
lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this 
world. But remember, it will not keep quite till noon- 
day even in the coolest cellar, but drive out the stop- 
ples long ere that and follow westward the steps of Au- 
rora. I am no worshipper of Hygeia, who was the 
daughter of that old herb-doctor JEsculapius, and who 
is represented on monuments holding a serpent in one 
hand, and in the other a cup out of which the serpent 


sometimes drinks; but rather of Hebe, cupbearer to 
Jupiter, who was the daughter of Juno and wild let- 
tuce, and who had the power of restoring gods and 
men to the vigor of youth. She was probably the only 
thoroughly sound-conditioned, healthy, and robust young 
lady that ever walked the globe, and wherever she came 
it was spring. 


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

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



surprised when the herald blows his summons before 
some Tremont or Astor or Middlesex House, to see 
come creeping out over the piazza for all inhabitants a 
ridiculous mouse, which soon again slinks into some hole 
in the pavement. 

One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so 
small a house, the difficulty of getting to a sufficient dis- 
tance from my guest when we began to utter the big 
thoughts in big words. You want room for your 
thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or 
two before they make their port. The bullet of your 
thought must have overcome its lateral and ricochet 
motion and fallen into its last and steady course before 
it reaches the ear of the hearer, else it may plough out 
again through the side of his head. Also, our sen- 
tences wanted room to unfold and form their columns in 
the interval. Individuals, like nations, must have suit- 
able broad and natural boundaries, even a considerable 
neutral ground, between them. I have found it a sin- 
gular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on 
the opposite side. In my house we were so near that 
we could not begin to hear, — we could not speak low 
enough to be heard; as when you throw two stones 
into calm water so near that they break each other's 
undulations. If we are merely loquacious and loud 
talkers, then we can afford to stand very near together, 
cheek by jowl, and feel each other's breath ; but if 
we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want to be 
farther apart, that all animal heat and moisture may 
have a chance to evaporate. If we would enjoy the 
most intimate society with that in each of us which is 
without, or above, being spoken to, we must not only be 
silent, but commonly so far apart bodily that we cannot 

154 WALDEN. 

possibly hear each other's voice in any case. Referred 
to this standard, speech is for the convenience of those 
who are hard of hearing ; but there are many fine 
things which we cannot say if we have to shout. As 
the conversation began to assume a loftier and grander 
tone, we gradually shoved our chairs farther apart till 
they touched the wall in opposite corners, and then 
commonly there was not room enough. 

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

If one guest came he sometimes partook of my frugal 
meal, and it was no interruption to conversation to be 
stirring a hasty-pudding, or watching the rising and ma- 
turing of a loaf of bread in the ashes, in the mean while. 
But if twenty came and sat in my house there was 
nothing said about dinner, though there might be bread 
enough for two, more than if eating were a forsaken 
habit ; but we naturally practised abstinence ; and this 
was never felt to be an offence against hospitality, but 
the most proper and considerate course. The waste 
and decay of physical life, which so often needs repair, 
seemed miraculously retarded in such a case, and the 
vital vigor stood its ground. I could entertain thus a 
thousand as well as twenty ; and if any ever went away 
disappointed or hungry from my house when they found 
me at home, they may depend upon it that I sympa- 
thized with them at least. So easy is it, though many 
housekeepers doubt it, to establish new and better cus- 
toms in the place of the old. You need not rest your 


reputation on the dinners you give. For my own part, 
I was never so effectually deterred from frequenting a 
man's house, by any kind of Cerberus whatever, as by 
the parade one made about dining me, which I took to be 
a very polite and roundabout hint never to trouble him 
so again. I think I shall never revisit those scenes. I 
should be proud to have for the motto of my cabin those 
lines of Spenser which one of my visitors inscribed on 
a yellow walnut leaf for a card : — 

" Arrived there, the little house they fill, 

Ne looke for entertainment where none was ; 
Rest is their feast, and all things at their will : 
The noblest mind the best contentment has." 

When Winslow, afterward governor of the Plymouth 
Colony, went with a companion on a visit of ceremony 
to Massassoit on foot through the woods, and arrived 
tired and hungry at his lodge, they were well received 
by the king, but nothing was said about eating that day. 
When the night arrived, to quote their own words, — 
" He laid us on the bed with himself and his wife, they 
at the one end and we at the other, it being only 
plank, laid a foot from the ground, and a thin mat upon 
them. Two more of his chief men, for want of room, 
pressed by and upon us ; so that we were worse weary 
of our lodging than of our journey." At one o'clock 
the next day Massassoit " brought two fishes that he had 
shot," about thrice as big as a bream; "these being 
boiled, there were at least forty looked for a share in 
them. The most ate of them. This meal only we had 
in two nights and a day ; and had not one of us bought 
a partridge, we had taken our journey fasting." Fear- 
ing that they would be light-headed for want of food 

156 "NVALDEN. 

and also sleep, owing to " the savages' barbarous singing, 
(for they used to sing themselves asleep,) " and that 
they might get home while they had strength to travel, 
they departed. As for lodging, it is true they were but 
poorly entertained, though what they found an incon- 
venience was no doubt intended for an honor ; but as far 
as eating was concerned, I do not see how the Indians 
could have done better. They had nothing to eat them- 
selves, and they were wiser than to think that apolo- 
gies could supply the place of food to their guests ; so 
they drew their belts tighter and said nothing about it. 
Another time when Winslow visited them, it being a 
season of plenty with them, there was no deficiency in 
this respect. 

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

Who should come to my lodge this morning but a 
true Homeric or Paphlagonian man, — he had so suit- 
able and poetic a name that I am sorry I cannot print 
it here, — a Canadian, a wood-chopper and post-maker, 
who can hole fifty posts in a day, who made his last 
supper on a woodchuck which his dog caught. He, too, 


has heard of Horner, and, u if it were not for books," 
would u not know what to do rainy day-."' though per- 
haps lie has not read holly through for m 
rainy season*. Some priest who could pronounce the 
Greek itself taught him to read hi- verse in the te 
rnent in his native parish far away; and now I n. 
translate to him, while he holds the book. Achilles' re- 
proof to Patroclus for his sad countenance — "T! 
are you in tears, Patroelu:-, like a young girl ?" — 

" Or have you alone :. :om Phthia ? 

Ar. g the Mvr 

Either of whom havi; ..ould greatly grieve." 

He That'.-; good." He has a great bundle of white- 

oak bark under his arm for a siek man, gathered this 
Sunday morning. i; I suppose there's no harm in going 
after such a thing to- he. To him Homer 

- a great writer, though wl writing was about 

he did not know. A more simple and natural man it 
would be hard to find. Yiee and disease, which i 
Bach a -ombre moral hue over the world, seemed to 
have hardly any existence for him. He was about 

-eight year- old. and had left Canada and 
father'-; house a dozen years before to work in the 
States, and earn money to buy a farm with at last, per- 
haps in his native country. He •< - east in the i 
mould; a stout but sluggish body, yet gracefully carried, 
with a thick sunburnt neck, dark bushy hair, and dull 

epy blue eye-, which were occasionally lit up with 
expression. He wore a flat gray eloth cap, a di 
wool-colored greatcoat, and cowhide boots. He was a 
great consumer of meat, usually carrying his dinner to 

158 WALDEN. 

his work a couple of miles past my house, — for he 
chopped all summer, — in a tin pail ; cold meats, often 
cold woodchucks, and coffee in a stone bottle which dan- 
gled by a string from his belt ; and sometimes he offered 
me a drink. He came along early, crossing my bean- 
field, though without anxiety or haste to get to his 
work, such as Yankees exhibit. He wasn't a-going to 
hurt himself. He didn't care if he only earned his 
board. Frequently he would leave his dinner in the 
bushes, when his dog had caught a woodchuck by the 
way, and go back a mile and a half to dress it and leave 
it in the cellar of the house where he boarded, after de- 
liberating first for half an hour whether he could not 
sink it in the pond safely till nightfall, — loving to dwell 
long upon these themes. He would say, as he went by 
in the morning, " How thick the pigeons are ! If 
working every day were not my trade, I could get all 
the meat I should want by hunting, — pigeons, wood- 
chucks, rabbits, partridges, — by gosh ! I could get all 
I should want for a week in one day." 

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

He interested me because he was so quiet and soli- 
tary and so happy withal ; a well of good humor and 
contentment which overflowed at his eyes. His mirth 
was without alloy. Sometimes I saw him at his work 
in the woods, felling trees, and he would greet me with 


a laugh of inexpressible satisfaction, and a salutation in 
Canadian French, though he spoke English as well. 
When I approached him he would suspend his work, 
and with half-suppressed mirth lie along the trunk of 
a pine which he had felled, and, peeling off the inner 
bark, roll it up into a ball and chew it while he laughed 
and talked. Such an exuberance of animal spirits had 
he that he sometimes tumbled down and rolled on the 
ground with laughter at any thing which made him 
think and tickled him. Looking round upon the trees 
he would exclaim, — " By George ! I can enjoy myself 
well enough here chopping ; I want no better sport." 
Sometimes, when at leisure, he amused himself all day 
in the woods with a pocket pistol, firing salutes to him- 
self at regular intervals as he walked. In the winter 
he had a fire by which at noon he warmed his coffee in 
a kettle ; and as he sat on a log to eat his dinner the 
chicadees would sometimes come round and alight on 
his arm and peck at the potato in his fingers ; and he 
said that he " liked to have the little fellers about 

In him the animal man chiefly was developed. In 
physical endurance and contentment he was cousin to 
the pine and the rock. I asked him once if he was not 
sometimes tired at night, after working all day ; and he 
answered, with a sincere and serious look, " Gorrappit, 
I never was tired in my life." But the intellectual and 
what is called spiritual man in him were slumbering as 
in an infant. He had been instructed only in that in- 
nocent and ineffectual way in which the Catholic priests 
teach the aborigines, by which the pupil is never edu- 
cated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the de- 
gree of trust and reverence, and a child is not made a 

160 WALDEN. 

man, but kept a child. When Nature made him, she 
gave him a strong body and contentment for his portion, 
and propped him on every side with reverence and re- 
liance, that he might live out his threescore years and 
ten a child. He was so genuine and unsophisticated 
that no introduction would serve to introduce him, more 
than if you introduced a woodchuck to your neighbor. 
He had got to find him out as you did. He would not 
play any part. Men paid him wages for work, and so 
helped to feed and clothe him; but he never exchanged 
opinions with them. He was so simply and naturally 
humble — if he can be called humble who never as- 
pires — that humility was no distinct quality in him, 
nor could he conceive of it. Wiser men were demi- 
gods to him. If you told him that such a one was com- 
ing, he did as if he thought that any thing so grand 
would expect nothing of himself, but take all the re- 
sponsibility on itself, and let him be forgotten still. He 
never heard the sound of praise. He particularly rev- 
erenced the writer and the preacher. Their perform- 
ances were miracles. When I told him that I wrote 
considerably, he thought for a long time that it was 
merely the handwriting which I meant, for he could 
write a remarkably good hand himself. I sometimes 
found the name of his native parish handsomely written 
in the snow by the highway, with the proper French 
accent, and knew that he had passed. I asked him if 
he ever wished to write his thoughts. He said that he 
had read and written letters for those who could not, but 
he never tried to write thoughts, — no, he could not, he 
could not tell what to put first, it would kill him, and then 
there was spelling to be attended to at the same time ! 
I heard that a distinguished wise man and reformer 


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

His only books were an almanac and an arithmetic, 
in which last he was considerably expert. The former 
was a sort of cyclopaedia to him, which he supposed to 
contain an abstract of human knowledge, as indeed it 
does to a considerable extent. I loved to sound him on 
the various reforms of the day, and he never failed to 
look at them in the most simple and practical light. He 
had never heard of such things before. Could he do 
without factories? I asked. He had worn the home- 
made Vermont gray, he said, and that was good. Could 
he dispense with tea and coffee ? Did this country afford 
any beverage beside water ? He had soaked hemlock 
leaves in water and drank it, and thought that was bet- 
ter than water in warm weather. "When I asked him 
if he could do without money, he showed the con- 
venience of money in such a way as to suggest and 
coincide with the most philosophical accounts of the 
origin of this institution, and the very derivation of the 

162 WALDEN. 

word pecunia. If an ox were his property, and he 
wished to get needles and thread at the store, he thought 
it would be inconvenient and impossible soon to go on 
mortgaging some portion of the creature each time to 
that amount. He could defend many institutions better 
than any philosopher, because, in describing them as 
they concerned him, he gave the true reason for their 
prevalence, and speculation had not suggested to him 
any other. At another time, hearing Plato's definition 
of a man, — a biped without feathers, — and that one ex- 
hibited a cock plucked and called it Plato's man, he 
thought it an important difference that the knees bent 
the wrong way. He would sometimes exclaim, " How 
I love to talk ! By George, I could talk all day ! " I 
asked him once, when I had not seen him for many 
months, if he had got a new idea this summer. " Good 
Lord," said he, " a man that has to work as I do, if he 
does not forget the ideas he has had, he will do well. 
May be the man you hoe with is inclined to race ; then, 
by gorry, your mind must be there ; you think of weeds." 
He would sometimes ask me first on such occasions, if 
I had made any improvement. One winter day I asked 
him if he was always satisfied with himself, wishing to 
suggest a substitute within him for the priest without, 
and some higher motive for living. " Satisfied ! " said 
he ; " some men are satisfied with one thing, and some 
with another. One man, perhaps, if he has got enough, 
will be satisfied to sit all day with his back to the fire 
and his belly to the table, by George ! " Yet I never, 
by any manoeuvring, could get him to take the spiritual 
view of things ; the highest that he appeared to con- 
ceive of was a simple expediency, such as you might 
expect an animal to appreciate ; and this, practically, is 


true of most men. If I suggested any improvement in 
his mode of life, he merely answered, without express- 
ing any regret, that it was too late. Yet he thorough- 
ly believed in honesty and the like virtues. 

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

Many a traveller came out of his way to see me and 
the inside of my house, and, as an excuse for calling, 
asked for a glass of water. I told them that I drank at 
the pond, and pointed thither, offering to lend them a 
dipper. Far off as I lived, I was not exempted from 
that annual visitation which occurs, methinks, about the 
first of April, when every body is on the move ; and I 
had my share of good luck, though there were some 
curious specimens among my visitors. Half-witted men 
from the almshouse and elsewhere came to see me ; but 

164 WALDEN. 

I endeavored to make them exercise all the wit they 
had, and make their confessions to me ; in such cases 
making wit the theme of our conversation ; and so was 
compensated. Indeed, I found some of them to be wiser 
than the so called overseers of the poor and fplectmen 
of the town, and thought it was time that the tables 
were turned. With respect to wit, I learned that 
there was not much difference between the half and 
the whole. One day, in particular, an inoffensive, 
simple-minded pauper, whom with others I had often 
seen used as fencing stuff, standing or sitting on a bushel 
in the fields to keep cattle and himself from straying, 
visited me, and expressed a wish to live as I did. He 
told me, with the utmost simplicity and truth, quite 
superior, or rather inferior, to any thing that is called 
humility, that he was " deficient in intellect." These 
were his words. The Lord had made him so, yet he 
supposed the Lord cared as much for him as for 
another. " I have always been so," said he, " from my 
childhood ; I never had much mind ; I was not like other 
children ; I am weak in the head. It was the Lord's 
will, I suppose." And there he was to prove the truth 
of his words. He was a metaphysical puzzle to me. I 
have rarely met a fellow-man on such promising ground, 
— it was so simple and sincere and so true all that he 
said. And, true enough, in proportion as he appeared 
to humble himself was he exalted. I did not know at 
first but it was the result of a wise policy. It seemed 
that from such a basis of truth and frankness as the poor 
weak-headed pauper had laid, our intercourse might go 
forward to something better than the intercourse of sages. 
I had some guests from those not reckoned commonly 
among the town's poor, but who should be; who are 


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

" Christian, will you send me back ? " 

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


I could not but notice some of the peculiarities of 
my visitors. Girls and boys and young women gen- 
erally seemed glad to be in the woods. They looked 
in the pond and at the flowers, and improved their 
time. Men of business, even farmers, thought only of 
solitude and employment, and of the great distance at 
which I dwelt from something or other; and though 
they said that they loved a ramble in the woods occa- 
sionally, it was obvious that they did not. Restless 
committed men, whose time was all taken up in getting 
a living or keeping it ; ministers who spoke of God as 
if they enjoyed a monopoly of the subject, who could 
not bear all kinds of opinions ; doctors, lawyers, uneasy 
housekeepers who pried into my cupboard and bed 

when I was out, — how came Mrs. to know that 

my sheets were not as clean as hers? — young men 
who had ceased to be young, and had concluded that 
it was safest to follow the beaten track of the profes- 
sions, — all these generally said that it was not possible 
to do so much good in my position. Ay! there was 
the rub. The old and infirm and the timid, of whatever 
age or sex, thought most of sickness, and sudden acci- 
dent and death ; to them life seemed full of danger, — 
what danger is there if you don't think of any ? — and 
they thought that a prudent man would carefully select 
the safest position, where Dr. B. might be on hand at a 
moment's warning. To them the village was literally 
a com-munity, a league for mutual defence, and you 
would suppose that they would not go a-huckleberrying 
without a medicine chest. The amount of it is, if a 
man is alive, there is always danger that he may die, 
though the danger must be allowed to be less in pro- 
portion as he is dead-and-alive to begin with. A man 


sits as many risks as he runs. Finally, there were the 
self-styled reformers, the greatest bores of all, who 
thought that I was forever singing, — 

This is the house that I built ; 

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

but they did not know that the third line was, — 

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

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

I had more cheering visitors than the last. Children 
come a-berrying, railroad men taking a Sunday morning 
walk in clean shirts, fishermen and hunters, poets and 
philosophers, in short, all honest pilgrims, who came 
out to the woods for freedom's sake, and really left the 
village behind, I was ready to greet with, — " Wel- 
come, Englishmen ! welcome, Englishmen ! " for I had 
had communication with that race. 


Meanwhile my beans, the length of whose rows, 
added together, was seven miles already planted, were 
impatient to be hoed, for the earliest had grown consid- 
erably before the latest were in the ground ; indeed they 
were not easily to be put off. What was the meaning 
of this so steady and self-respecting, this small Hercu- 
lean labor, I knew not. I came to love my rows, my 
beans, though so many more than I wanted. They at- 
tached me to the earth, and so I got strength like An- 
taeus. But why should I raise them ? Only Heaven 
knows. This was my curious labor all summer, — to 
make this portion of the earth's surface, which had 
yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort, and the 
like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers, pro- 
duce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans 
or beans of me ? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and 
late I have an eye to them ; and this is my day's work. 
It is a fine broad leaf to look on. My auxiliaries are 
the dews and rains which water this dry soil, and what 
fertility is in the soil itself, which for the most part is 
lean and effete. My enemies are worms, cool days, and 



most of all woodchucks. The last have nibbled for me 
a quarter of an acre clean. But what right had I to 
oust johnswort and the rest, and break up their ancient 
herb garden? Soon, however, the remaining beans 
will be too tough for them, and go forward to meet new 

When I was four years old, as I well remember, 
I was brought from Boston to this my native town, 
through these very woods and this field, to the pond. 
It is one of the oldest scenes stamped on my memory. 
And now to-night my flute has waked the echoes over 
that very water. The pines still stand here older than 
I ; or, if some have fallen, I have cooked my supper with 
their stumps, and a new growth is rising all around, pre- 
paring another aspect for new infant eyes. Almost the 
same johnswort springs from the same perennial root in 
this pasture, and even I have at length helped to clothe 
that fabulous landscape of my infant dreams, and one 
of the results of my presence and influence is seen in 
these bean leaves, corn blades, and potato vines. 

I planted about two acres and a half of upland ; and 
as it was only about fifteen years since the land was 
cleared, and I myself had got out two or three cords 
of stumps, I did not give it any manure ; but in the 
course of the summer it appeared by the arrow-heads 
which I turned up in hoeing, that an extinct nation had 
anciently dwelt here and planted corn and beans ere 
white men came to clear the land, and so, to some ex- 
tent, had exhausted the soil for this very crop. 

Before yet any woodchuck or squirrel had run 
across the road, or the sun had got above the shrub- 
oaks, while all the dew was on, though the farmers 
warned me against it, — I would advise you to do all 

170 WALDEN. 

your work if possible while the dew is on, — I began 
to level the ranks of haughty weeds in my bean-field 
and throw dust upon their heads. Early in the morning 
I worked barefooted, dabbling like a plastic artist in the 
dewy and crumbling sand, but later in the day the sun 
blistered my feet. There the sun lighted me to hoe 
beans, pacing slowly backward and forward over that 
yellow gravelly upland, between the long green rows, 
fifteen rods, the one end terminating in a shrub oak 
copse where I could rest in the shade, the other in a 
blackberry field where the green berries deepened their 
tints by the time I had made another bout. Removing 
the weeds, putting fresh soil about the bean stems, and 
encouraging this weed which I had sown, making the 
yellow soil express its summer thought in bean leaves 
and blossoms rather than in wormwood and piper and mil- 
let grass, making the earth say beans instead of grass, 
— this was my daily work. As I had little aid from 
horses or cattle, or hired men or boys, or improved im- 
plements of husbandry, I was much slower, and became 
much more intimate with my beans than usual. But 
labor of the hands, even when pursued to the verge of 
drudgery, is perhaps never the worst form of idleness. 
It has a constant and imperishable moral, and to the 
scholar it yields a classic result. A very agricola laho- 
riosus was I to travellers bound westward through Lin- 
coln and Wayland to nobody knows where ; they sitting 
at their ease in gigs, with elbows on knees, and reins 
loosely hanging in festoons ; I the home-staying, laborious 
native of the soil. But soon my homestead was out of 
their sight and thought. It was the only open and cul- 
tivated field for a great distance on either side of the 
road ; so they made the most of it ; and sometimes the 


man in the field heard more of travellers' gossip and 
comment than was meant for his ear : " Beans so late ! 
peas so late ! " — for I continued to plant when others 
had began to hoe, — the ministerial husbandman had 
not suspected it. " Corn, my boy, for fodder ; corn 
for fodder." " Does he live there ? " asks the black 
bonnet of the gray coat ; and the hard-featured farm- 
er reins up his grateful dobbin to inquire what you 
are doing where he sees no manure in the furrow, 
and recommends a little chip dirt, or any little waste 
stutf, or it may be ashes or plaster. But here were 
two acres and a half of furrows, and only a hoe 
for cart and two hands to draw it, — there being an aver- 
sion to other carts and horses, — and chip dirt far away. 
Fellow-travellers as they rattled by compared it aloud 
with the fields which they had passed, so that I came 
to know how I stood in the agricultural world. This 
was one field not in Mr. Coleman's report. And, by the 
way, who estimates the value of the crop which Nature 
yields in the still wilder fields unimproved by man? 
The crop of English hay is carefully weighed, the 
moisture calculated, the silicates and the potash; but in all 
dells and pond holes in the woods and pastures and 
swamps grows a rich and various crop only unreaped by 
man. Mine was, as it were, the connecting link be- 
tween wild and cultivated fields ; as some states are 
civilized, and others half-civilized, and others savage or 
barbarous, so my field was, though not in a bad sense, 
a half-cultivated field. They were beans cheerfully 
returning to their wild and primitive state that I culti- 
vated, and my hoe played the Bans des Vaches for them. 
Near at hand, upon the topmost spray of a birch, 
sings the brown-thrasher — or red mavis, as some love to 

172 WALDEN. 

call him — all the morning, glad of your society, that 
would find out another farmer's field if yours were not 
here. While you are planting the seed, he cries, — 
" Drop it, drop it, — cover it up, cover it up, — pull it 
up, pull it up, pull it up." But this was not corn, and so 
it was safe from such enemies as he. You may wonder 
what his rigmarole, his amateur Paganini performances 
on one string or on twenty, have to do with your planting, 
and yet prefer it to leached ashes or plaster. It was a 
cheap sort of top dressing in which I had entire faith. 

As I drew a still fresher soil about the rows with my 
hoe, I disturbed the ashes of unchronicled nations who 
in primeval years lived under these heavens, and their 
small implements of war and hunting were brought to 
the light of this modern day. They lay mingled with 
other natural stones, some of which bore the marks of 
having been burned by Indian fires, and some by the 
sun, and also bits of pottery and glass brought hither 
by the recent cultivators of the soil. When my hoe 
tinkled against the stones, that music echoed to the 
woods and the sky, and was an accompaniment to my 
labor which yielded an instant and immeasurable crop. 
It was no longer beans that I hoed, nor I that hoed 
beans ; and I remembered with as much pity as pride, 
if I remembered at all, my acquaintances who had gone 
to the city to attend the oratorios. The night-hawk cir- 
cled overhead in the sunny afternoons — for I sometimes 
made a day of it — like a mote in the eye, or in heav- 
en's eye, falling from time to time with a swoop and a 
sound as if the heavens were rent, torn at last to very 
rags and tatters, and yet a seamless cope remained; 
small imps that fill the air and lay their eggs on the 
ground on bare sand or rocks on the tops of hills, where 


few have found them; graceful and slender like rip- 
ples caught up from the pond, as leaves are raised by 
the wind to float in the heavens ; such kindredship is in 
Nature. The hawk is aerial brother of the wave which 
he sails over and surveys, those his perfect air-inflated 
wings answering to the elemental unfledged pinions of 
the sea. Or sometimes I watched a pair of hen-hawks 
circling high in the sky, alternately soaring and descend- 
ing, approaching and leaving one another, as if they 
were the imbodiment of my own thoughts. Or I was 
attracted by the passage of wild pigeons from this wood 
to that, with a slight quivering winnowing sound and 
carrier haste ; or from under a rotten stump my hoe 
turned up a sluggish portentous and outlandish spotted 
salamander, a trace of Egypt and the Nile, yet our con- 
temporary. When I paused to lean on my hoe, these 
sounds and sights I heard and saw any where in the 
row, a part of the inexhaustible entertainment which 
the country offers. 

On gala days the town fires its great guns, which 
echo like popguns to these woods, and- some waifs of 
martial music occasionally penetrate thus far. To me, 
away there in my bean-field at the other end of the 
town, the big guns sounded as if a puff ball had burst ; 
and when there was a military turnout of which I was 
ignorant, I have sometimes had a vague sense all the 
day of some sort of itching and disease in the horizon, 
as if some eruption would break out there soon, either 
scarlatina or canker-rash, until at length some more 
favorable puff of wind, making haste over the fields and 
up the Wayland road, brought me information of the 
" trainers." It seemed by the distant hum as if some- 
body's bees had swarmed, and that the neighbors, 

174 WALDEN. 

according to Virgil's advice, by a faint tintinnabulum 
upon the most sonorous of their domestic utensils, were 
endeavoring to call them down into the hive again. 
And when the sound died quite away, and the hum 
had ceased, and the most favorable breezes told no tale, 
I knew that they had got the last drone of them all 
safely into the Middlesex hive, and that now their 
minds were bent on the honey with which it was 

I felt proud to know that the liberties of Massachu- 
setts and of our fatherland were in such safe keeping ; 
and as I turned to my hoeing again I was filled with an 
inexpressible confidence, and pursued my labor cheer- 
fully with a calm trust in the future. 

"When there were several bands of musicians, it 
sounded as if all the village was a vast bellows, and 
all the buildings expanded and collapsed alternately 
with a din. But sometimes it was a really noble and 
inspiring strain that reached these woods, and the 
trumpet that sings of fame, and I felt as if I could 
spit a Mexican with a good relish, — for why should we 
always stand for trifles? — and looked round for a wood- 
chuck or a skunk to exercise my chivalry upon. These 
martial strains seemed as far away as Palestine, and 
reminded me of a march of crusaders in the horizon, 
with a slight tantivy and tremulous motion of the elm- 
tree tops which overhang the village. This was one 
of the great days ; though the sky had from my clearing 
only the same everlastingly great look that it wears 
daily, and I saw no difference in it. 

It was a singular experience that long acquaintance 
which I cultivated with beans, what with planting, and 
hoeing, and harvesting, and threshing, and picking over, 


and selling them, — the last was the hardest of all, — 
I might add eating, for I did taste. I was deter- 
mined to know beans. When they were growing, I 
used to hoe from five o'clock in the morning till noon, 
and commonly spent the rest of the day about other 
affairs. Consider the intimate and curious acquaintance 
one makes with various kind* of weeds, — it will bear 
some iteration in the account, for there was no little 
iteration in the labor, — disturbing their delicate organi- 
zations so ruthlessly, and making such invidious dis- 
tinctions with his hoe, levelling whole ranks of one 
species, and sedulously cultivating another. That's 
Roman wormwood, — that's pigweed, — that's sorrel, — 
that's piper-grass, — have at him, chop him up, turn his 
roots upward to the sun, don't let him have a fibre in 
the shade, if you do he'll turn himself t'other side up 
and be as green as a leek in two days. A long war, 
not with cranes, but with weeds, those Trojans who had 
sun and rain and dews on their side. Daily the beans 
saw me come to their rescue armed with a hoe, and 
thin the ranks of their enemies, filling up the trenches 
with weedy dead. Many a lusty crest-waving Hector, 
that towered a whole foot above his crowding comrades, 
fell before my weapon and rolled in the dust. 

Those summer days which some of my contempora- 
ries devoted to the fine arts in Boston or Rome, and 
others to contemplation in India, and others to trade in 
London or New York, I thus, with the other farmers 
of New England, devoted to husbandry. Not that I 
wanted beans to eat, for I am by nature a Pythagorean, 
so far as beans are concerned, whether they mean por- 
ridge or voting, and exchanged them for rice; but, 
perchance, as some must work in fields if only for the 

176 WALDEN. 

sake of tropes and expression, to serve a parable-maker 
one day. It was on the whole a rare amusement, 
which, continued too long, might have become a dissipa- 
tion. Though I gave them no manure, and did not hoe 
them all once, I hoed them unusually well as far as I 
went, and was paid for it in the end, " there being in 
truth," as Evelyn says, " no compost or lsetation what- 
soever comparable to this continual motion, repastina- 
tion, and turning of the mould with the spade." " The 
earth/' he adds elsewhere, "especially if fresh, has a 
certain magnetism in it, by which it attracts the salt, 
power, or virtue (call it either) which gives it life, and 
is the logic of all the labor and stir we keep about it, 
to sustain us ; all dungings and other sordid temperings 
being but the vicars succedaneous to this improvement." 
Moreover, this being one of those " worn-out and ex- 
hausted lay fields which enjoy their sabbath," had 
perchance, as Sir Kenelm Digby thinks likely, attracted 
" vital spirits " from the air. I harvested twelve bushels 
of beans. 

But to be more particular, for it is complained that 
Mr. Coleman has reported chiefly the expensive ex- 
periments of gentlemen farmers, my outgoes were, — 

For a hoe, $ 54 

Ploughing, harrowing, r.nd furrowing, . . . 7 50, Too much. 

Beans for seed, . . . . . . . . 3 12£ 

Potatoes " 1 33 

Peas " 40 

Turnip seed, 06 

White line for crow fence, 02 

Horse cultivator and boy three hours, ... 1 00 

Horse and cart to get crop, 75 

In all, $14 72£ 

My income was, (patrem familias vendacem, non 
emacem esse oportet,) from 


Nine bushels and twelve quarts of beans sold, . . $16 94 

Five " large potatoes, 2 50 

Nine " small, 2 25 

Grass, 1 00 

Stalks, 75 

In all, $23 44 

Leaving a pecuniary profit, as I have elsewhere said, of $8 71|. 

This is the result of my experience in raising beans. 
Plant the common small white bush bean about the 
first of June, in rows three feet by eighteen inches 
apart, being careful to select fresh round and unmixed 
seed. First look out for worms, and supply vacancies 
by planting anew. Then look out for woodchucks, if 
it is an exposed place, for they will nibble off the 
earliest tender leaves almost clean as they go ; and again, 
when the young tendrils make their appearance, they 
have notice of it, and will shear them off with both 
buds and young pods, sitting erect like a squirrel. 
But above all harvest as early as possible, if you would 
escape frosts and have a fair and salable crop; you 
may save much loss by this means. 

This further experience also I gained. I said to 
myself, I will not plant beans and corn with so much 
industry another summer, but such seeds, if the seed is 
not lost, as sincerity, truth, simplicity, faith, innocence, 
and the like, and see if they will not grow in this soil, 
even with less toil and manurance, and sustain me, for 
surely it has not been exhausted for these crops. Alas ! 
I said this to myself; but now another summer is gone, 
and another, and another, and I am obliged to say to 
you, Eeader, that the seeds which I planted, if indeed 
they were the seeds of those virtues, were wormeaten or 
had lost their vitality, and so did not come up. Com- 
monly men will only be brave as their fathers were 

178 WALDEN. 

brave, or timid. This generation is very sure to plant 
corn and beans each new year precisely as the Indians 
did centuries ago and taught the first settlers to do, as 
if there were a fate in it. I saw an old man the other 
day, to my astonishment, making the holes with a hoe 
for the seventieth time at least, and not for himself to 
lie down in ! But why should not the New Englander 
try new adventures, and not lay so much stress on his 
grain, his potato and grass crop, and his orchards, — 
raise other crops than these ? Why concern ourselves 
so much about our beans for seed, and not be concerned 
at all about a new generation of men ? We should real- 
ly be fed and cheered if when we met a man we were 
sure to see that some of the qualities which I have 
named, which we all prize more than those other pro- 
ductions, but which are for the most part broadcast and 
floating in the air, had taken root and grown in him. 
Here comes such a subtile and ineffable quality, for in- 
stance, as truth or justice, though the slightest amount 
or new variety of it, along the road. Our ambassadors 
should be instructed to send home such seeds as these, 
and Congress help to distribute them over all the land. 
We should never stand upon ceremony with sincerity. 
We should never cheat and insult and banish one an- 
other by our meanness, if there were present the kernel 
of worth and friendliness. We should not meet thus in 
haste. Most men I do not meet at all, for they seem 
not to have time ; they are busy about their beans. We 
would not deal with a man thus plodding ever, leaning 
on a hoe or a spade as a staff between his work, not as 
a mushroom, but partially risen out of the earth, some- 
thing more than erect, like swallows alighted and walk- 
ing on the ground : — 


" And as he spake, his wings would now and then 
Spread, as he meant to fly, then close again," 

so that we should suspect that we might be conversing 
with an angel. Bread may not always nourish us ; but 
it always does us good, it even takes stiffness out of our 
joints, and makes us supple and buoyant, when we knew 
not what ailed us, to recognize any generosity in man 
or Nature, to share any unmixed and heroic joy. 

Ancient poetry and mythology suggest, at least, that 
husbandry was once a sacred art ; but it is pursued with 
irreverent haste and heedlessness by us, our object being 
to have large farms and large crops merely. We have 
no festival, nor procession, nor ceremony, not except- 
ing our Cattle-shows and so called Thanksgivings, by 
which the farmer expresses a sense of the sacredness 
of his calling, or is reminded of its sacred origin. It is 
the premium and the feast which tempt him. He sac- 
rifices not to Ceres and the Terrestrial Jove, but to the 
infernal Plutus rather. By avarice and selfishness, 
and a grovelling habit, from which none of us is free, of 
regarding the soil as property, or the means of acquir- 
ing property chiefly, the landscape is deformed, hus- 
bandry is degraded with us, and the farmer leads the 
meanest of lives. He knows Nature but as a robber, 
Cato says that the profits of agriculture are particularly 
pious or just, (maximeque pius qacestus,) and according 
to Varro the old Romans " called the same earth Moth- 
er and Ceres, and thought that they who cultivated it 
led a pious and useful life, and that they alone were 
left of the race of King Saturn." 

We are wont to forget that the sun looks on our cul- 
tivated fields and on the prairies and forests without 

180 WALDEN. 

distinction. They all reflect and absorb his rays alike, 
and the former make but a small part of the glorious 
picture which he beholds in his daily course. In his 
view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden. 
Therefore we should receive the benefit of his light 
and heat with a corresponding trust and magnanimity. 
What though I value the seed of these beans, and har- 
vest that in the fall of the year ? This broad field which 
I have looked at so long looks not to me as the principal 
cultivator, but away from me to influences more genial to 
it, which water and make it green. These beans have 
results which are not harvested by me. Do they not 
grow for woodchucks partly? The ear of wheat, (in 
Latin spica, obsoletely speca, from spe, hope,) should not 
be the only hope of the husbandman; its kernel or 
grain (granum, from gerendo, bearing,) is not all that 
it bears. How, then, can our harvest fail ? Shall I not 
rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds 
are the granary of the birds ? It matters little com- 
paratively whether the fields fill the farmer's barns. 
The true husbandman will cease from anxiety, as the 
squirrels manifest no concern whether the woods will 
bear chestnuts this year or not, and finish his labor with 
every day, relinquishing all claim to the produce of his 
fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only his first but 
his last fruits also. 


After hoeing, or perhaps reading and writing, in the 
forenoon, I usually bathed again in the pond, swimming 
across one of its coves for a stint, and washed the dust 
of labor from my person, or smoothed out the last wrin- 
kle which study had made, and for the afternoon was ab- 
solutely free. Every day or two I strolled to the vil- 
lage to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly 
going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, 
or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in 
homoeopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way 
as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs. As I 
walked in the woods to see the birds and squirrels, so I 
walked in the viBage to see the men and boys ; instead 
of the wind among the pines I heard the carts rattle. 
In one direction from my house there was a colony of 
muskrats in the river meadows ; under the grove of 
elms and buttonwoods in the other horizon was a vil- 
lage of busy men, as curious to me as if they had been 
prairie dogs, each sitting at the mouth of its burrow, or 
running over to a neighbor's to gossip. I went there 
frequently to observe their habits. The village ap- 


182 WALDEN. 

peared to me a great news room ; and on one side, to 
support it, as once at Redding & Company's on State 
Street, they kept nuts and raisins, or salt and meal and 
other groceries. Some have such a vast appetite for 
the former commodity, that is, the news, and such sound 
digestive organs, that they can sit forever in public 
avenues without stirring, and let it simmer and whisper 
through them like the Etesian winds, or as if inhaling 
ether, it only producing numbness and insensibility to 
pain, — otherwise it would often be painful to hear, — 
without affecting the consciousness. I hardly ever 
failed, when I rambled through the village, to see a row 
of such worthies, either sitting on a ladder sunning them- 
selves, with their bodies inclined forward and their eyes 
glancing along the line this way and that, from time to 
time, with a voluptuous expression, or else leaning 
against a barn with their hands in their pockets, like 
caryatides, as if to prop it up. They, being commonly 
out of doors, heard whatever was in the wind. These 
are the coarsest mills, in which all gossip is first rudely 
digested or cracked up before it is emptied into finer 
and more delicate hoppers within doors. I observed that 
the vitals of the village were the grocery, the bar-room, 
the post-office, and the bank ; and, as a necessary part 
of the machinery, they kept a bell, a big gun, and a fire- 
engine, at convenient places ; and the houses were so ar- 
ranged as to make the most of mankind, in lanes and 
fronting one another, so that every traveller had to run 
the gantlet, and every man, woman, and child might get a 
lick at him. Of course, those who were stationed near- 
est to the head of the line, where they could most see 
and be seen, and have the first blow at him, paid the 
highest prices for their places ; and the few straggling 


inhabitants in the outskirts, where long gaps in the line 
began to occur, and the traveller could get over walls 
or turn aside into cow paths, and so escape, paid a very 
slight ground or window tax. Signs were hung out 
on all sides to allure him ; some to catch him by the 
appetite, as the tavern and victualling cellar ; some by 
the fancy, as the dry goods store and the jeweller's ; and 
others by the hair or the feet or the skirts, as the bar- 
ber, the shoemaker, or the tailor. Besides, there was a 
still more terrible standing invitation to call at every 
one of these houses, and company expected about these 
times. For the most part I escaped wonderfully from 
these dangers, either by proceeding at once boldly and 
without deliberation to the goal, as is recommended to 
those who run the gantlet, or by keeping my thoughts 
on high things, like Orpheus, who, " loudly singing the 
praises of the gods to his lyre, drowned the voices of 
the Sirens, and kept out of danger." Sometimes I 
bolted suddenly, and nobody could tell my whereabouts, 
for I did not stand much about gracefulness, and never 
hesitated at a gap in a fence. I was even accustomed 
to make an irruption into some houses, where I was well 
entertained, and after learning the kernels and very last 
sieve-ful of news, what had subsided, the prospects of 
war and peace, and whether the world was likely to hold 
together much longer, I was let out through the rear 
avenues, and so escaped to the woods again. 

It was very pleasant, when I staid late in town, to 
launch myself into the night, especially if it was dark 
and tempestuous, and set sail from some bright village 
parlor or lecture room, with a bag of rye or Indian meal 
upon my shoulder, for my snug harbor in the woods, 
having made all tight without and withdrawn under 

184 WALDEN. 

hatches with a merry crew of thoughts, leaving only my 
outer man at the helm, or even tying up the helm when 
it was plain sailing. I had many a genial thought by 
the cabin fire " as I sailed." I was never cast away 
nor distressed in any weather, though I encountered 
some severe storms. It is darker in the woods, even in 
common nights, than most suppose. I frequently had to 
look up at the opening between the trees above the path 
in order to learn my route, and, where there was no cart- 
path, to feel with my feet the faint track which I had 
worn, or steer by the known relation of particular trees 
which I felt with my hands, passing between two pines 
for instance, not more than eighteen inches apart, in the 
midst of the woods, invariably in the darkest night. 
Sometimes, after coming home thus late in a dark and 
muggy night, when my feet felt the path which my eyes 
could not see, dreaming and absent-minded all the way, 
until I was aroused by having to raise my hand to lift 
the latch, I have not been able to recall a single step of 
my walk, and I have thought that perhaps my body 
would find its way home if its master should forsake it, 
as the hand finds its way to the mouth without assist- 
ance. Several times, when a visitor chanced to stay into 
evening, and it proved a dark night, I was obliged to 
conduct him to the cart-path in the rear of the house, 
and then point out to him the direction he was to pur- 
sue, and in keeping which he was to be guided rather 
by his feet than his eyes. One very dark night I di- 
rected thus on their way two young men who had been 
fishing in the pond. They lived about a mile off through 
the woods, and were quite used to the route. A day or 
two after one of them told me that they wandered 
about the greater part of the night, close by their own 


premises, and did not get home till toward morning, by 
which time, as there had been several heavy showers in 
the mean while, and the leaves were very wet, they were 
drenched to their skins. I have heard of many going 
astray even in the village streets, when the darkness 
was so thick that you could cut it with a knife, as the 
saying is. Some who live in the outskirts, having come 
to town a-shopping in their wagons, have been obliged 
to put up for the night; and gentlemen and ladies making 
a call have gone half a mile out of their way, feeling the 
sidewalk only with their feet, and not knowing when 
they turned. It is a surprising and memorable, as well 
as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time. 
Often in a snow storm, even by day, one will come 
out upon a well-known road and yet find it impossible 
to tell which way leads to the village. Though he 
knows that he has travelled it a thousand times, he can- 
not recognize a feature in it, but it is as strange to him 
as if it were a road in Siberia. By night, of course, the 
perplexity is infinitely greater. In our most trivial 
walks, we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering 
like pilots by certain well-known beacons and head- 
lands, and if we go beyond our usual course we still car- 
ry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape ; 
and not till we are completely lost, or turned round, — 
for a man needs only to be turned round once with his 
eyes shut in this world to be lost, — do we appreciate 
the vastness and strangeness of Nature. Every man 
has to learn the points of compass again as often as 
he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction. Not 
till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the 
world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where 
we are and the infinite extent of our relations. 

186 WALDEN. 

One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, 
when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cob- 
bler's, I was seized and put into jail, because, as I have 
elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax to, or recognize 
the authority of, the state which buys and sells men, 
women, and children, like cattle at the door of its senate- 
house. I had gone down to the woods for other pur- 
poses. But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and 
paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, 
constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow 
society. It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with 
more or less effect, might have run " amok " against 
society ; but I preferred that society should run " amok" 
against me, it being the desperate party. However, I was 
released the next day, obtained my mended shoe, and 
returned to the woods in season to get my dinner of 
huckleberries on Fair-Haven Hill. I was never mo- 
lested by any person but those who represented the 
state. I had no lock nor bolt but for the desk which 
held my papers, not even a nail to put over my latch or 
windows. I never fastened my door night or day, 
though I was to be absent several days ; not even when 
the next fall I spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine. 
And yet my house was more respected than if it had 
been surrounded by a file of soldiers. The tired ram- 
bler could rest and warm himself by my fire, the liter- 
ary amuse himself with the few books on my table, or 
the curious, by opening my closet door, see what was 
left of my dinner, and what prospect I had of a supper. 
Yet, though many people of every class came this way 
to the pond, I suffered no serious inconvenience from 
these sources, and I never missed any thing but one 
small book, a volume of Homer, which perhaps was im- 


properly gilded, and this I trust a soldier of our camp 
has found by this time. I am convinced, that if all men 
were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery 
would be unknown. These take place only in communi- 
ties where some have got more than is sufficient while 
others have not enough. The Pope's Homers would 
soon get properly distributed. — 

" Nee bella fuerunt, 
Faginus astabat dum scyphus ante dapes." 

" Nor wars did men molest, 
When only beechen bowls were in request." 

" You who govern public affairs, what need have you 
to employ punishments ? Love virtue, and the people 
will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are 
like the wind ; the virtues of a common man are like 
the grass ; the grass, when the wind passes over it, 


Sometimes, having had a surfeit of human society 
and gossip, and worn out all my village friends, I ram- 
bled still farther westward than I habitually dwell, into 
yet more unfrequented parts of the town, " to fresh 
woods and pastures new," or, while the sun was setting, 
made my supper of huckleberries and blueberries on 
Fair Haven Hill, and laid up a store for several days. 
The fruits do not yield their true flavor to the purchaser 
of them, nor to him who raises them for the market. 
There is but one way to obtain it, yet few take that 
way. If you would know the flavor of huckleberries, 
ask the cow-boy or the partridge. It is a vulgar error 
to suppose that you have tasted huckleberries who never 
plucked them. A huckleberry never reaches Boston ; 
they have not been known there since they grew on her 
three hills. The ambrosial and essential part of the 
fruit is lost with the bloom which is rubbed off in the 
market cart, and they become mere provender. As 
long as Eternal Justice reigns, not one innocent huc- 
kleberry can be transported thither from the country's 



Occasionally, after my hoeing was done for the day, I 
joined some impatient companion who had been fish- 
ing on the pond since morning, as silent and motion- 
less as a duck or a floating leaf, and, after practising 
various kinds of philosophy, had concluded commonly, 
by the time I arrived, that he belonged to the ancient 
sect of Coenobites. Theresas one older man, an ex- 
cellent fisher and skilled in all kinds of woodcraft, 
who was pleased to look upon my house as a building 
erected for the convenience of fishermen ; and I was 
equally pleased when he sat in my doorway to arrange 
his lines. Once in a while we sat together on the pond, 
he at one end of the boat, and I at the other ; but not 
many words passed between us, for he had grown deaf 
in his later years, but he occasionally hummed a psalm, 
which harmonized well enough with my philosophy. 
Our intercourse was thus altogether one of unbroken 
harmony, far more pleasing to remember than if it had 
been carried on by speech. When, as was commonly 
the case, I had none to commune with, I used to raise 
the echoes by striking with a paddle on the side of my 
boat, filling the surrounding woods with circling and di- 
lating sound, stirring them up as the keeper of a mena- 
gerie his wild beasts, until I elicited a growl from every 
wooded vale and hill-side. 

In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat play- 
ing the flute, and saw the perch, which I seemed to 
have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon travel- 
ling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the 
wrecks of the forest. Formerly I*had come to this 
pond adventurously, from time to time, in dark summer 
nights, with a companion, and making a fir^e close to the 
water's edge, which we thought attracted the fishes, we 

190 WALDEN. 

caught pouts with a bunch of worms strung on a thread ; 
and when we had done, far in the night, threw the 
burning brands high into the air like skyrockets, which, 
coming down into the pond, were quenched with a loud 
hissing, and we were suddenly groping in total dark- 
ness. Through this, whistling a tune, we took our way 
to the haunts of men again. But now I had made my 
home by the shore. 

Sometimes, after staying in a village parlor till the 
family had all retired, I have returned to the woods, and, 
partly with a view to the next day's dinner, spent the 
hours of midnight fishing from a boat by moonlight, sere- 
naded by owls and foxes, and hearing, from time to time, 
the creaking note of some unknown bird close at hand. 
These experiences were very memorable and valuable 
to me, — anchored in forty feet of water, and twenty or 
thirty rods from the shore, surrounded sometimes by 
thousands of small perch and shiners, dimpling the sur- 
face with their tails in the moonlight, and communicat- 
ing by a long flaxen line with mysterious nocturnal 
fishes which had their dwelling forty feet below, or 
sometimes dragging sixty feet of line about the pond as 
I drifted in the gentle night breeze, now and then feel- 
ing a slight vibration along it, indicative of some life 
prowling about its extremity, of dull uncertain blunder- 
ing purpose there, and slow to make up its mind. At 
length you slowly raise, pulling hand over hand, some 
horned pout squeaking and squirming to the upper air. 
It was very queer, especially in dark nights, when your 
thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes 
in other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to 
interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again. 
It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into 


the air, as well as downward into this element which 
was scarcely more dense. Thus I caught two fishes as 
it were with one hook. 

The scenery of Walden is on a humble scale, and, 
though very beautiful, does not approach to grandeur, 
nor can it much concern one who has not long fre- 
quented it or lived by its shore ; yet this pond is so 
remarkable for its depth and purity as to merit a par- 
ticular description. It is a clear and deep green well, 
half a mile long and a mile and three quarters in cir- 
cumference, and contains about sixty-one and a half 
acres ; a perennial spring in the midst of pine and oak 
woods, without any visible inlet or outlet except by the 
clouds and evaporation. The surrounding hills rise 
abruptly from the water to the height of forty to eighty 
feet, though on the south-east and east they attain to 
about one hundred and one hundred and fifty feet re- 
spectively, within a quarter and a third of a mile. 
They are exclusively woodland. All our Concord wa- 
ters have two colors at least, one when viewed at a dis- 
tance, and another, more proper, close at hand. The 
first depends more on the light, and follows the sky. In 
clear weather, in summer, they appear blue at a little 
distance, especially if agitated, and at a great distance 
all appear alike. In stormy weather they are some- 
times of a dark slate color. The sea, however, is said 
to be blue one day and green another without any per- 
ceptible change in the atmosphere. I have seen our 
river, when, the landscape being covered with snow, 
both water and ice were almost as green as grass. 
Some consider blue " to be the color of pure water, 

192 WALDEN. 

whether liquid or solid." But, looking directly down 
into our waters from a boat, they are seen to be of very 
different colors. Walden is blue at one time and green 
at another, even from the same point of view. Lying 
between the earth and the heavens, it partakes of the 
color of both. Viewed from a hill-top it reflects the 
color of the sky, but near at hand it is of a yellowish 
tint next the shore where you can see the sand, then a 
light green, which gradually deepens to a uniform dark 
green in the body of the pond. In some lights, viewed 
even from a hill-top, it is of a vivid green next the 
shore. Some have referred this to the reflection of the 
verdure ; but it is equally green there against the rail- 
road sand-bank, and in the spring, before the leaves are 
expanded, and it may be simply the result of the prevail- 
ing blue mixed with the yellow of the sand. Such is the 
color of its iris. This is that portion, also, where in the 
spring, the ice being warmed by the heat of the sun 
reflected from the bottom, and also transmitted through 
the earth, melts first and forms a narrow canal about 
the still frozen middle. Like the rest of our waters, 
when much agitated, in clear weather, so that the sur- 
face of the waves may reflect the sky at the right angle, 
or because there is more light mixed with it, it appears 
at a little distance of a darker blue than the sky itself; 
and at such a time, being on its surface, and looking 
with divided vision, so as to see the reflection, I have 
discerned a matchless and indescribable light blue, 
such as watered or changeable silks and sword blades 
suggest, more cerulean than the &\y itself, alternating 
with the original dark green on the opposite sides of the 
waves, which last appeared but muddy in comparison. 
It is a vitreous greenish blue, as I remember it, like 


those patches of the winter sky seen through cloud vis- 
tas in the west before sundown. Yet a single glass of 
its water held up to the light is as colorless as an equal 
quantity of air. It is well known that a large plate of 
glass will have a green tint, owing, as the makers say, 
to its " body," but a small piece of the same will be col- 
orless. How large a body of Walden water would be 
required to reflect a green tint I have never proved. 
The water of our river is black or a very dark brown to 
one looking directly down on it, and, like that of most 
ponds, imparts to the body of one bathing in it a yellow- 
ish tinge ; but this water is of such crystalline purity that 
the body of the bather appears of an alabaster white- 
ness, still more unnatural, which, as the limbs are mag- 
nified and distorted withal, produces a monstrous effect, 
making fit studies for a Michael Angelo. 

The water is so transparent that the bottom can easi- 
ly be discerned at the depth of twenty-five or thirty feet. 
Paddling over it, you may see many feet beneath the 
surface the schools of perch and shiners, perhaps only 
an inch long, yet the former easily distinguished by their 
transverse bars, and you think that they must be ascetic 
fish that find a subsistence there. Once, in the winter, 
many years ago, when I had been cutting holes through 
the ice in order to catch pickerel, as I stepped ashore I 
tossed my axe back on to the ice, but, as if some evil 
genius had directed it, it slid four or five rods directly 
into one of the holes, where the water was twenty-five 
feet deep. Out of curiosity, I lay down on the ice and 
looked through the hole, until I saw the axe a little on 
one side, standing on its head, with its helve erect and 
gently swaying to and fro with the pulse of the pond ; 
and there it might have stood erect and swaying till in 


the course of time the handle rotted off, if I had not dis- 
turbed it. Making another hole directly over it with 
an ice chisel which I had, and cutting down the longest 
birch which I could find in the neighborhood with my 
knife, I made a slip-noose, which I attached to its end, 
and, letting it down carefully, passed it over the knob of 
the handle, and drew it by a line along the birch, and 
so pulled the axe out again. 

The shore is composed of a belt of smooth rounded 
white stones like paving stones, excepting one or two 
short sand beaches, and is so steep that in many places 
a single leap will carry you into water over your head ; 
and were it not for its remarkable transparency, that 
would be the last to be seen of its bottom till it rose on 
the opposite side. Some think it is bottomless. It is 
nowhere muddy, and a casual observer would say that 
there were no weeds at all in it ; and of noticeable plants, 
except in the little meadows recently overflowed, which 
do not properly belong to it, a closer scrutiny does not 
detect a flag nor a bulrush, nor even a lily, yellow or 
white, but only a few small heart-leaves and potamoge- 
tons, and perhaps a water-target or two ; all which how- 
ever a bather might not perceive ; and these plants are 
clean and bright like the element they grow in. The 
stones extend a rod or two into the water, and then the 
bottom is pure sand, except in the deepest parts, where 
there is usually a little sediment, probably from the de- 
cay of the leaves which have been wafted on to it so 
many successive falls, and a bright green weed is brought 
up on anchors even in midwinter. 

We have one other pond just like this, White Pond 
in Nine Acre Corner, about two and a half miles wes- 
terly; but, though I am acquainted with most of the 


ponds within a dozen miles of this centre, I do not know 
a third of this pure and well-like character. Successive 
nations perchance have drank at, admired, and fathomed 
.it, and passed away, and still its water is green and pel- 
lucid as ever. Not an intermitting spring! Perhaps 
on that spring morning when Adam and Eve were 
driven out of Eden Walden Pond was already in exist- 
ence, and even then breaking up in a gentle spring rain 
accompanied with mist and a southerly wind, and cov- 
ered with myriads of ducks and geese, which had not 
heard of the fall, when still such pure lakes sufficed 
them. Even then it had commenced to rise and fall, 
and had clarified its waters and colored them of the hue 
they now wear, and obtained a patent of heaven to be 
the only Walden Pond in the world and distiller of ce- 
lestial dews. Who knows in how many unremembered 
nations' literatures tins has been the Castalian Fountain? 
or what nymphs presided over it in the Golden Age ? 
It is a gem of the first water which Concord wears in 
her coronet. 

Yet perchance the first who came to this well have 
left some trace of their footsteps. I have been surprised 
to detect encircling the pond, even where a thick wood 
has just been cut down on the shore, a narrow shelf-like 
path in the steep hill-side, alternately rising and falling, 
approaching and receding from the water's edge, as old 
probably as the race of man here, worn by the feet of 
aboriginal hunters, and still from time to time unwit- 
tingly trodden by the present occupants of the land. 
This is particularly distinct to one standing on the mid- 
dle of the pond in winter, just after a light snow has 
fallen, appearing as a clear undulating white line, unob- 
scured by weeds and twigs, and very obvious a quarter 

196 WALDEN. 

of a mile off in many places where in summer it is hard- 
ly distinguishable close at hand. The snow reprints it, 
as it were, in clear white type alto-relievo. The orna- 
mented grounds of villas which will one day be built 
here may still preserve some trace of this. 

The pond rises and falls, but whether regularly or 
not, and within what period, nobody knows, though, as 
usual, many pretend to know. It is commonly higher 
in the winter and lower in the summer, though not cor- 
responding to the general wet and dryness. I can re- 
member when it was a foot or two lower, and also when 
it was at least five feet higher, than when I lived by it. 
There is a narrow sand-bar running into it, with very 
deep water on one side, on which I helped boil a kettle 
of chowder, some six rods from the main shore, about 
the year 1824, which it has not been possible to do for 
twenty-five years ; and on the other hand, my friends 
used to listen with incredulity when I told them, that a 
few years later I was accustomed to fish from a boat in 
a secluded cove in the woods, fifteen rods from the only 
shore they knew, which place was long since converted 
into a meadow. But the pond has risen steadily for 
two years, and now, in the summer of '52, is just five 
feet higher than when I lived there, or as high as it was 
thirty years ago, and fishing goes on again in the mead- 
ow. This makes a difference of level, at the outside, 
of six or seven feet ; and yet the water shed by the sur- 
rounding hills is insignificant in amount, and this over- 
flow must be referred to causes which affect the deep 
springs. This same summer the pond has begun to fall 
again. It is remarkable that this fluctuation, whether 
periodical or not, appears thus to require many years 
for its accomplishment. I have observed one rise and a 


part of two falls, and I expect that a dozen or fifteen 
years hence the water will again be as low as I have 
ever known it. Flints' Pond, a mile eastward, allowing 
for the disturbance occasioned by its inlets and outlets, 
and the smaller intermediate ponds 3ftso, sympathize 
with Walden, and recently attained their greatest height 
at the same time with the latter. The same is true, as 
far as my observation goes, of White Pond. 

This rise and fall of Walden at long intervals serves 
this use at least ; the water standing at this great height 
for a year or more, though it makes it difficult to walk 
round it, kills the shrubs and trees which have sprung 
up about its edge since the last rise, pitch-pines, birches, 
alders, aspens, and others, and, falling again, leaves an 
unobstructed shore ; for, unlike many ponds and all wa- 
ters which are subject to a daily tide, its shore is clean- 
est when the water is lowest. On the side of the pond 
next my house, a row of pitch pines fifteen feet high has 
been killed and tipped over as if by a lever, and thus a 
stop put to their encroachments ; and their size indicates 
how many years have elapsed since the last rise to this 
height. By this fluctuation the pond asserts its title to 
a shore, and thus the shore is shorn, and the trees can- 
not hold it by right of possession. These are the lips 
of the lake on winch no beard grows. It licks its chaps 
from time to time. When the water is at its height, the 
alders, willows, and maples send forth a mass of fibrous 
red roots several feet long from all sides of their stems 
in the water, and to the height of three or four feet 
from the ground, hi the effort to maintain themselves ; 
and I have known the high-blueberry bushes about the 
shore, which commonly produce no fruit, bear an abun- 
dant crop under these circumstances. 

198 WALDEN. 

Some have been puzzled to tell how the shore be- 
came so regularly paved. My townsmen have all heard 
the tradition, the oldest people tell me that they heard 
it in their youth, that anciently the Indians were hold- 
ing a pow-wow i?rpon a hill here, which rose as high into 
the heavens as the pond now sinks deep into the earth, 
and they used much profanity, as the story goes, though 
this vice is one of which the Indians were never guilty, 
and while they were thus engaged the hill shook and 
suddenly sank, and only one old squaw, named Walden, 
escaped, and from her the pond was named. It has 
been conjectured that when the hill shook these stones 
rolled down its side and became the present shore. It 
is very certain, at any rate, that once there was no pond 
here, and now there is one ; and this Indian fable does 
not in any respect conflict with the account of that an- 
cient settler whom I have mentioned, who remembers 
so well when he first came here with his divining rod, 
saw a thin vapor rising from the sward, and the hazel 
pointed steadily downward, and he concluded to dig a 
well here. As for the stones, many still think that they 
are hardly to be accounted for by the action of the 
waves on these hills ; but I observe that the surround- 
ing hills are remarkably full of the same kind of stones, 
so that they have been obliged to pile them up in walls 
on both sides of the railroad cut nearest the pond ; and, 
moreover, there are most stones where the shore is most 
abrupt ; so that, unfortunately, it is no longer a mystery 
to me. I detect the paver. If the name was not de- 
rived from that of some English locality, — Saffron Wal- 
den, for instance, — one might suppose that it was called, 
originally, Walled-in Pond. 

The pond was my well ready dug. For four months 


in the year its water is as cold as it is pure at all times ; 
and I think that it is then as good as any, if not the 
best, in the town. In the winter, all water which is 
exposed to the air is colder than springs and wells 
which are protected from it. The temperature of the 
pond water which had stood in the room where I sat 
from five o'clock in the afternoon till noon the next day, 
the sixth of March, 1846, the thermometer having been 
up to 65° or 70° some of the time, owing partly to the 
sun on the roof, was 42°, or one degree colder than 
the water of one of the coldest wells in the village just 
drawn. The temperature of the Boiling Spring the 
same day was 45°, or the warmest of any water tried, 
though it is the coldest that I know of in summer, when, 
beside, shallow and stagnant surface water is not min- 
gled with it. Moreover, in summer, Walden never be- 
comes so warm as most water which is exposed to the 
sun, on account of its depth. In the warmest weather 
I usually placed a pailful in my cellar, where it became 
cool in the night, and remained so during the day; 
though I also resorted to a spring in the neighborhood. 
It was as good when a week old as the day it was 
dipped, and had no taste of the pump. Whoever camps 
for a week in summer by the shore of a pond, needs 
only bury a pail of water a few feet deep in the shade 
of his camp to be independent on the luxury of ice. 

There have been caught in Walden, pickerel, one 
weighing seven pounds, to say nothing of another which 
carried off a reel with great velocity, which the fisher- 
man safely set down at eight pounds because he did not 
see him, perch and pouts, some of each weighing over 
two pounds, shiners, chivins or roach, (Leuciscus pulchel- 
lus,) a very few breams, and a couple of eels, one weigh- 

200 WALDEN. 

ing four pounds, — I am thus particular because the 
weight of a fish is commonly its only title to fame, and 
these are the only eels I have heard of here ; — also, I 
have a faint recollection of a little fish some five inches 
long, with silvery sides and a greenish back, somewhat 
dace-like in its character, which I mention here chiefly 
to link my facts to fable. Nevertheless, this pond is 
not very fertile in fish. Its pickerel, though not abun- 
dant, are its chief boast. I have seen at one time lying 
on the ice pickerel of at least three different kinds ; a 
long and shallow one, steel-colored, most like those 
caught in the river ; a bright golden kind, with green- 
ish reflections and remarkably deep, which is the most 
common here ; and another, golden-colored, and shaped 
like the last, but peppered on the sides with small dark 
brown or black spots, intermixed with a few faint blood- 
red ones, very much like a trout. The specific name 
reticulatus would not apply to this ; it should be gutta- 
tus rather. These are all very firm fish, and weigh 
more than their size promises. The shiners, pouts, and 
perch also, and indeed all the fishes which inhabit this 
pond, are much cleaner, handsomer, and firmer fleshed 
than those in the river and most other ponds, as the 
water is purer, and they can easily be distinguished 
from them. Probably many ichthyologists would make 
new varieties of some of them. There are also a clean 
race of frogs and tortoises, and a few muscles in it ; 
muskrats and minks leave their traces about it, and oc- 
casionally a travelling mud-turtle visits it. Sometimes, 
when I pushed off my boat in the morning, I disturbed a 
great mud-turtle which had secreted himself under the 
boat in the night. Ducks and geese frequent it in the 
spring and fall, the white-bellied swallows (Hirundo 


licolor) skim over it, and the peetweets ( Totanus macu- 
larins) " teter " along its stony shores all summer. I 
have sometimes disturbed a fishhawk sitting on a white- 
pine over the water ; but I doubt if it is ever profaned 
by the wing of a gull, like Fair Haven. At most, it 
tolerates one annual loon. These are all the animals 
of consequence which frequent it now. 

You may see from a boat, in calm weather, near the 
sandy eastern shore, where the water is eight or ten 
feet deep, and also in some other parts of the pond, 
some circular heaps half a dozen feet in diameter by 
a foot in height, consisting of small stones less than a 
hen's egg in size, where all around is bare sand. At 
first you wonder if the Indians could have formed them 
on the ice for any purpose, and so, when the ice melted, 
they sank to the bottom ; but they are too regular and 
some of them plainly too fresh for that. They are 
similar to those found in rivers ; but as there are no 
suckers nor lampreys here, I know not by what fish 
they could be made. Perhaps they are the nests of the 
chivin. These lend a pleasing mystery to the bottom. 

The shore is irregular enough not to be monotonous. 
I have in my mind's eye the western indented with 
deep bays, the bolder northern, and the beautifully 
scolloped southern shore, where successive capes over- 
lap each other and suggest unexplored coves between. 
The forest has never so good a setting, nor is so dis- 
tinctly beautiful, as when seen from the middle of a 
small lake amid hills which rise from the water's edge ; 
for the water in which it is reflected not only makes the 
best foreground in such a case, but, with its winding 
shore, the most natural and agreeable boundary to it. 
There is no rawness nor imperfection in its edge there, 

202 WALDEN. 

as where the axe has cleared a part, or a cultivated 
field abuts on it. The trees have ample room to ex- 
pand on the water side, and each sends forth its most 
vigorous branch in that direction. There Nature has 
woven a natural selvage, and the eye rises by just 
gradations from the low shrubs of the shore to the 
highest trees. There are few traces of man's hand to 
be seen. The water laves the shore as it did a thou- 
sand years ago. 

A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expres- 
sive feature. It is earth's eye ; looking into which the 
beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The 
fluviatile trees next the shore are the slender eyelashes 
which fringe it, and the wooded hills and cliffs around 
are its overhanging brows. 

Standing on the smooth sandy beach at the east end 
of the pond, in a calm September afternoon, when a 
slight haze makes the opposite shore line indistinct, I 
have seen whence came the expression, "the glassy 
surface of a lake." When you invert your head, it 
looks like a thread of finest gossamer stretched across 
the valley, and gleaming against the distant pine woods, 
separating one stratum of the atmosphere from another. 
You would think that you could walk dry under it to 
the opposite hills, and that the swallows which skim 
over might perch on it. Indeed, they sometimes dive 
below the line, as it were by mistake, and are unde- 
ceived. As you look over the pond westward you are 
obliged to employ both your hands to defend your eyes 
against the reflected as well as the true sun, for they are 
equally bright ; and if, between the two, you survey its 
surface critically, it is literally as smooth as glass, ex- 
cept where the skater insects, at equal intervals scat- 


tered over its whole extent, by their motions in the 
sun produce the finest imaginable sparkle on it, or, per- 
chance, a duck plumes itself, or, as I have said, a swal- 
low skims so low as to touch it. It may be that in the 
distance a fish describes an arc of three or four feet in 
the air, and there is one bright flash where it emerges, 
and another where it strikes the water ; sometimes the 
whole silvery arc is revealed ; or here and there, per- 
haps, is a thistle-down floating on its surface, which the 
fishes dart at and so dimple it again. It is like molten 
glass cooled but not congealed, and the few motes in it 
are pure and beautiful like the imperfections in glass. 
You may often detect a yet smoother and darker water, 
separated from the rest as if by an invisible cobweb, 
boom of the water nymphs, resting on it. From a hill- 
top you can see a fish leap in almost any part ; for not 
a pickerel or shiner picks an insect from this smooth 
surface but it manifestly disturbs the equilibrium of the 
whole lake. It is wonderful with what elaborateness 
this simple fact is advertised, — this piscine murder 
will out, — and from my distant perch I distinguish the 
circling undulations when they are half a dozen rods in 
diameter. You can even detect a water-bug ( Gtyrinus) 
ceaselessly progressing over the smooth surface a quar- 
ter of a mile off; for they furrow the water slightly, 
making a conspicuous ripple bounded by two diverging 
lines, but the skaters glide over it without rippling it 
perceptibly. When the surface is considerably agitated 
there are no skaters nor water-bugs on it, but apparent- 
ly, in calm days, they leave their havens and adventu- 
rously glide forth from the shore by short impulses till 
they completely cover it. It is a soothing employment, 
on one of those fine days in the fall when all the warmth 

204 WALDEN. 

of the sun is fully appreciated, to sit on a stump on such 
a height as this, overlooking the pond, and study the 
dimpling circles which are incessantly inscribed on its 
otherwise invisible surface amid the reflected skies and 
trees. Over this great expanse there is no disturbance 
but it is thus at once gently smoothed away and as- 
suaged, as, when a vase of water is jarred, the trembling 
circles seek the shore and all is smooth again. Not a 
fish can leap or an insect fall on the pond but it is thus 
reported in circling dimples, in lines of beauty, as it 
were the constant welling up of its fountain, the gentle 
pulsing of its life, the heaving of its breast. The thrills 
of joy and thrills of pain are undistinguishable. How 
peaceful the phenomena of the lake ! Again the works 
of man shine as in the spring. Ay, every leaf and 
twig and stone and cobweb sparkles now at mid-after- 
noon as when covered with dew hi a spring morning. 
Every motion of an oar or an insect produces a flash of 
light ; and if an oar falls, how sweet the echo ! 

In such a day, in September or October, Walden is a 
perfect forest mirror, set round with stones as precious 
to my eye as if fewer or rarer. Nothing so fair, so 
pure, and at the same time so large, as a lake, perchance, 
lies on the surface of the earth. Sky water. It needs 
no fence. Nations come and go without defiling it. It 
is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver 
will never wear off, whose gilding Nature continually 
repairs; no storms, no dust, can dim its surface ever 
fresh ; — a mirror in which all impurity presented to it 
sinks, swept and dusted by the sun's hazy brush, — this 
the light dust-cloth, — which retains no breath that is 
breathed on it, but sends its own to float as clouds high 
above its surface, and be reflected in its bosom still. 


A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air. 
It is continually receiving new life and motion from 
above. It is intermediate in its nature between land 
and sky. On land only the grass and trees wave, but 
the water itself is rippled by the wind. I see where the 
breeze dashes across it by the streaks or flakes of light. 
It is remarkable that we can look down on its surface. 
We shall, perhaps, look down thus on the surface of air 
at length, and mark where a still subtler spirit sweeps 
over it. 

The skaters and water-bugs finally disappear in the 
latter part of October, when the severe frosts have 
come; and then and in November, usually, in a calm 
day, there is absolutely nothing to ripple the surface. 
One November afternoon, in the calm at the end of a 
rain storm of several days' duration, when the sky was 
still completely overcast and the air was full of mist, I 
observed that the pond was remarkably smooth, so that 
it was difficult to distinguish its surface ; though it no 
longer reflected the bright tints of October, but the som- 
bre November colors of the surrounding hills. Though 
I passed over it as gently as possible, the slight undula- 
tions produced by my boat extended almost as far as I 
could see, and gave a ribbed appearance to the reflec- 
tions. But, as I was looking over the surface, I saw 
here and there at a distance a faint glimmer, as if some 
skater insects which had escaped the frosts might be 
collected there, or, perchance, the surface, being so 
smooth, betrayed where a spring welled up from the 
bottom. Paddling gently to one of these places, I was 
surprised to find myself surrounded by myriads of small 
perch, about five inches long, of a rich bronze color in 
the green water, sporting there and constantly rising to 

206 WALDEN. 

the surface and dimpling it, sometimes leaving bubbles 
on it. In such transparent and seemingly bottomless 
water, reflecting the clouds, I seemed to be floating 
through the air as in a balloon, and their swimming 
impressed me as a kind of flight or hovering, as if they, 
were a compact flock of birds passing just beneath my 
level on the right or left, their fins, like sails, set all 
around them. There were many such schools in the 
pond, apparently improving the short season before win- 
ter would draw an icy shutter over their broad sky- 
light, sometimes giving to the surface an appearance as 
if a slight breeze struck it, or a few rain-drops fell there. 
When I approached carelessly and alarmed them, they 
made a sudden plash and rippling with their tails, as if 
one had struck the water with a brushy bough, and in- 
stantly took refuge in the depths. At length the wind 
rose, the mist increased, and the waves began to run, 
and the perch leaped much higher than before, half out 
of water, a hundred black points, three inches long, at 
once above the surface. Even as late as the fifth of 
December, one year, I saw some dimples on the surface, 
and thinking it was going to rain hard immediately, the 
air being full of mist, I made haste to take my place at 
the oars and row homeward ; already the rain seemed 
rapidly increasing, though I felt none on my cheek, and 
I anticipated a thorough soaking. But suddenly the 
dimples ceased, for they were produced by the perch, 
which the noise of my oars had scared into the depths, 
and I saw their schools dimly disappearing ; so I spent 
a dry afternoon after all. 

An old man who used to frequent this pond nearly 
sixty years ago, when it was dark with surrounding for- 
ests, tells me that in those days he sometimes saw it all 


alive with ducks and other water fowl, and that there 
were many eagles about it. He came here a-fishing, 
and used an old log canoe which he found on the shore. 
It was made of two white-pine logs dug out and pinned 
together, and was cut off square at the ends. It was 
very clumsy, but lasted a great many years before it 
became water-logged and perhaps sank to the bottom. 
He did not know whose it was ; it belonged to the pond. 
He used to make a cable for his anchor of strips of hick- 
ory bark tied together. An old man, a potter, who lived 
by the pond before the Revolution, told him once that 
there was an iron chest at the bottom, and that he had 
seen it. Sometimes it would come floating up to the 
shore ; but when you went toward it, it would go back 
into deep water and disappear. I was pleased to hear 
of the old log canoe, which took the place of an Indian 
one of the same material but more graceful construction, 
which perchance had first been a tree on the bank, and 
then, as it were, fell into the water, to float there for a 
generation, the most proper vessel for the lake. I re- 
member that when I first looked into these depths there 
were many large trunks to be seen indistinctly lying on 
the bottom, which had either been blown over formerly, 
or left on the ice at the last cutting, when wood was 
cheaper ; but now they have mostly disappeared. 

When I first paddled a boat on Walden, it was com- 
pletely surrounded by thick and lofty pine and oak 
woods, and in some of its coves grape vines had run 
over the trees next the water and formed bowers under 
which a boat could pass. The hills which form its 
shores are so steep, and the woods on them were then 
so high, that, as you looked down from the west end, it 
had the appearance of an amphitheatre for some kind 

208 WALDEN. 

of sylvan spectacle. I have spent many an hour, when 
I was younger, floating over its surface as the zephyr 
willed, having paddled my boat to the middle, and lying 
on my back across the seats, in a summer forenoon, 
dreaming awake, until I was aroused by the boat touch- 
ing the sand, and I arose to see what shore my fates had 
impelled me to ; days when idleness was the most attrac- 
tive and productive industry. Many a forenoon have I 
stolen away, preferring to spend thus the most valued 
part of the day ; for I was rich, if not in money, in sun- 
ny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly; 
nor do I regret that I did not waste more of them in the 
workshop or the teacher's desk. But since I left those 
shores the woodchoppers have still further laid them 
waste, and now for many a year there will be no more 
rambling through the aisles of the wood, with occasional 
vistas through which you see the water. My Muse 
may be excused if she is silent henceforth. How can 
you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut 
down ? 

Now the trunks of trees on the bottom, and the old 
log canoe, and the dark surrounding woods, are gone, 
and the villagers, who scarcely know where it lies, in- 
stead of going to the pond to bathe or drink, are think- 
ing to bring its water, which should be as sacred as the 
Ganges at least, to the village in a pipe, to wash their 
dishes with ! — to earn their Walden by the turning of a 
cock or drawing of a plug ! That devilish Iron Horse, 
whose ear-rending neigh is heard throughout the town, 
has muddied the Boiling Spring with his foot, and he it 
is that has browsed off all the woods on Walden shore ; 
that Trojan horse, with a thousand men in his belly, in- 
troduced by mercenary Greeks ! Where is the coun- 


try's champion, the Moore of Moore Hall, to meet him 
at the Deep Cut and thrust an avenging lance between 
the ribs of the bloated pest ? 

Nevertheless, of all the characters I have known, 
perhaps Walden wears best, and best preserves its pu- 
rity, Many men have been likened to it, but few de- 
serve that honor. Though the woodchoppers have laid 
bare first this shore and then that, and the Irish have 
built their sties by it, and the railroad has infringed on 
its border, and the ice-men have skimmed it once, it is 
itself unchanged, the same water which my youthful 
eyes fell on ; all the change is in me. It has not ac- 
quired one permanent wrinkle after all its ripples. It 
is perennially young, and I may stand and see a swallow 
dip apparently to pick an insect from its surface as of 
yore. It struck me again to-night, as if I had not seen 
it almost daily for more than twenty years, — Why, here 
is Walden, the same woodland lake that I discovered so 
many years ago ; where a forest was cut down last win- 
ter another is springing up by its shore as lustily as 
ever ; the same thought is welling up to its surface that 
was then ; it is the same liquid joy and happiness to it- 
self and its Maker, ay, and it may be to me. It is the 
work of a brave man surely, in whom there was no 
guile ! He rounded this water with his hand, deepened 
and clarified it in his thought, and in his will bequeathed 
it to Concord. I see by its face that it is visited by the 
same reflection ; and I can almost say, Walden, is it you ? 

It is no dream of mine, 
To ornament a line ; 

I cannot come nearer to God and Heaven 
Than I live to Walden even. 
I am its stony shore, 
And the breeze that passes o'er ; 

210 WALDEN. 

In the hollow of my hand 
Are its water and its sand, 
And its deepest resort 
Lies high in my thought. 

The cars never pause to look at it ; yet I fancy that 
the engineers and firemen and brakemen, and those pas- 
sengers who have a season ticket and see it often, are 
better men for the sight. The engineer does not forget 
at night, or his nature does not, that he has beheld this 
vision of serenity and purity once at least during the 
day. Though seen but once, it helps to wash out State- 
street and the engine's soot. One proposes that it be 
called " God's Drop." 

I have said that Walden has no visible inlet nor out- 
let, but it is on the one hand distantly and indirectly re- 
lated to Flints' Pond, which is more elevated, by a 
chain of small ponds coming from that quarter, and on 
the other directly and manifestly to Concord River, 
which is lower, by a similar chain of ponds through 
which in some other geological period it may have 
flowed, and by a little digging, which God forbid, it can 
be made to flow thither again. If by living thus re- 
served and austere, like a hermit in the woods, so long, 
it has acquired such wonderful purity, who would not 
regret that the comparatively impure waters of Flints' 
Pond should be mingled with it, or itself should ever go 
to waste its sweetness in the ocean wave ? 

Flints', or Sandy Pond, in Lincoln, our greatest lake 
and inland sea, lies about a mile east of "Walden. It is 
much larger, being said to contain one hundred and 
ninety-seven acres, and is more fertile in fish ; but it is 


comparatively shallow, and not remarkably pure. A 
walk through the woods thither was often my recreation. 
It was worth the while, if only to feel the wind blow on 
your cheek freely, and see the waves run, and remem- 
ber the life of mariners. I went a-chestnutting there in 
the fall, on windy days, when the nuts were dropping 
into the water and were washed to my feet; and one 
day, as I crept along its sedgy shore, the fresh spray 
blowing in my face, I came upon the mouldering wreck 
of a boat, the sides gone, and hardly more than the im- 
pression of its flat bottom left amid the rushes ; yet its 
model was sharply defined, as if it were a large decayed 
pad, with its veins. It was as impressive a wreck as 
one could imagine on the sea-shore, and had as good a 
moral. It is by this time mere vegetable mould and 
undistinguishable pond shore, through which rushes and 
flags have pushed up. I used to admire the ripple 
marks on the sandy bottom, at the north end of this 
pond, made firm and hard to the feet of the wader by 
the pressure of the water, and the rushes which grew in 
Indian file, in waving lines, corresponding to these 
marks, rank behind rank, as if the waves had planted 
them. There also I have found, in considerable quanti- 
ties, curious balls, composed apparently of fine grass or 
roots, of pipewort perhaps, from half an inch to four 
inches in diameter, and perfectly spherical. These 
wash back and forth in shallow water on a sandy bot- 
tom, and are sometimes cast on the shore. They are 
either solid grass, or have a little sand in the middle. 
At first you would say that they^vere formed by the ac- 
tion of the waves, like a pebble ; yet the smallest are 
made of equally coarse materials, half an inch long, and 
they are produced only at one season of the year. 

212 WALDEN. 

Moreover, the waves, I suspect, do not so much con- 
struct as wear down a material which has already ac- 
quired consistency. They preserve their form when 
dry for an indefinite period. 

Flints' Pond! Such is the poverty of our nomencla- 
ture. What right had the unclean and stupid farmer, 
whose farm abutted on this sky water, whose shores he 
has ruthlessly laid bare, to give his name to it ? Some 
skin-flint, who loved better the reflecting surface of a 
dollar, or a bright cent, in which he could see his own 
brazen face ; who regarded even the wild ducks which 
settled in it as trespassers ; his fingers grown into crook- 
ed and horny talons from the long habit of grasping har- 
py-like ; — so it is not named for me. I go not there to 
see him nor to hear of him ; who never saw it, who nev- 
er bathed in it, who never loved it, who never pro- 
tected it, who never spoke a good word for it, nor 
thanked God that he had made it. Eather let it be 
named from the fishes that swim in it, the wild fowl or 
quadrupeds which frequent it, the wild flowers which 
grow by its shores, or some wild man or child the thread 
of whose history is interwoven with its own ; not from 
him who could show no title to it but the deed which a 
like-minded neighbor or legislature gave him, — him 
who thought only of its money value ; whose presence 
perchance cursed all the shore ; who exhausted the land 
around it, and would fain have exhausted the waters 
within it ; who regretted only that it was not English hay 
or cranberry meadow, — there was nothing to redeem it, 
forsooth, in his eyes, — and would have drained and sold 
it for the mud at its bottom. It did not turn his mill, 
and it was no privilege to him to behold it. I respect 
not his labors, his farm where every thing has its price ; 


who would carry the landscape, who would carry his 
God, to market, if he could get any thing for him ; who 
goes to market for his god as it is ; on whose farm noth- 
ing grows free, whose fields bear no crops, whose mead- 
ows no flowers, whose trees no fruits, but dollars ; who 
loves not the beauty of his fruits, whose fruits are not 
ripe for him till they are turned to dollars. Give me 
the poverty that enjoys true wealth. Farmers are re- 
spectable and interesting to me in proportion as they are 
poor, — poor farmers. A model farm ! where the house 
stands like a fungus in a muck-heap, chambers for men, 
horses, oxen, and swine, cleansed and uncleansed, all 
contiguous to one another ! Stocked with men ! A great 
grease-spot, redolent of manures and buttermilk ! Un- 
der a high state of cultivation, being manured with the 
hearts and brains of men ! As if you were to raise your 
potatoes in the church-yard ! Such is a model farm. 

No, no ; if the fairest features of the landscape are 
to be named after men, let them be the noblest and 
worthiest men alone. Let our lakes receive as true 
names at least as the Icarian Sea, where " still the 
shore " a " brave attempt resounds." 

Goose Pond, of small extent, is on my way to Flints' ; 
Fair-Haven, an expansion of Concord Kiver, said to 
contain some seventy acres, is a mile south-west ; and 
White Pond, of about forty acres, is a mile and a half 
beyond Fair-Haven. This is my lake country. These, 
with Concord River, are my water privileges ; and night 
and day, year in year out, they grind such grist as I 
carry to them. 

Since the woodcutters, and the railroad, and I myself 

214 WALDEN. 

have profaned Walden, perhaps the most attractive, 
if not the most beautiful, of all our lakes, the gem of 
the woods, is White Pond ; — a poor name from its com- 
monness, whether derived from the remarkable purity 
of its waters or the color of its sands. In these as in 
other respects, however, it is a lesser twin of Walden. 
They are so much alike that you would say they must 
be connected under ground. It has the same stony 
shore, and its waters are of the same hue. As at Wal- 
den, in sultry dog-day weather, looking down through 
the woods on some of its bays which are not so deep 
but that the reflection from the bottom tinges them, its 
waters are of a misty bluish-green or glaucous color. 
Many years since I used to go there to collect the sand 
by cart-loads, to make sand-paper with, and I have con- 
tinued to visit it ever since. One who frequents it pro- 
poses to call it Yirid Lake. Perhaps it might be called 
Yellow-Pine Lake, from the following circumstance. 
About fifteen years ago you could see the top of a pitch- 
pine, of the kind called yellow-pine hereabouts, though 
it is not a distinct species, projecting above the surface 
in deep water, many rods from the shore. It was even 
supposed by some that the pond had sunk, and this was 
one of the primitive forest that formerly stood there. I 
find that even so long ago as 1792, in a " Topograph- 
ical Description of the Town of Concord," by one of its 
citizens, in the Collections of the Massachusetts His- 
torical Society, the author, after speaking of Walden 
and White Ponds, adds : " In the middle of the latter 
may be seen, when the water is very low, a tree which 
appears as if it grew in the place where it now stands, 
although the roots are fifty feet below the surface of the 
water ; the top of this tree is broken off, and at that 


place measures fourteen inches in diameter." In the 
spring of '49 I talked with the man who lives nearest 
the pond in Sudbury, who told me that it was he who 
got out this tree ten or fifteen years before. As near 
as he could remember, it stood twelve or fifteen rods 
from the shore, where the water was thirty or forty feet 
deep. It was in the winter, and he had been getting 
out ice in the forenoon, and had resolved that in the 
afternoon, with the aid of his neighbors, he would take 
out the old yellow-pine. He sawed a channel in the ice 
toward the shore, and hauled it over and along and out 
on to the ice with oxen ; but, before he had gone far in 
his work, he was surprised to find that it was wrong end 
upward, with the stumps of the branches pointing down, 
and the small end firmly fastened in the sandy bottom. 
It was about a foot in diameter at the big end, and he 
had expected to get a good saw-log, but it was so rotten 
as to be fit only for fuel, if for that. He had some of it 
in his shed then. There were marks of an axe and of 
woodpeckers on the but. He thought that it might have 
been a dead tree on the shore, but was finally blown 
over into the pond, and after the top had become water- 
logged, while the but-end was still dry and light, had 
drifted out and sunk wrong end up. His father, eighty 
years old, could not remember when it was not there. 
Several pretty large logs may still be seen lying on the 
bottom, where, owing to the undulation of the surface, 
they look like huge water snakes in motion. 

This pond has rarely been profaned by a boat, for 
there is little in it to tempt a fisherman. Instead of the 
white lily, which requires mud, or the common sweet 
flag, the blue flag {Iris versicolor) grows thinly in the 
pure water, rising from the stony bottom all around the 

216 WALDEN. 

shore, where it is visited by humming birds in June, 
and the color both of its bluish blades and its flowers, 
and especially their reflections, are in singular harmony 
with the glaucous water. 

White Pond and Walden are great crystals on the 
surface of the earth, Lakes of Light. If they were per- 
manently congealed, and small enough to be clutched, 
they would, perchance, be carried off by slaves, like 
precious stones, to adorn the heads of emperors ; but 
being liquid, and ample, and secured to us and our suc- 
cessors forever, we disregard them, and run after the 
diamond of Kohinoor. They are too pure to have a 
market value ; they contain no muck. How much more 
beautiful than our lives, how much more transparent 
than our characters, are they ! We never learned mean- 
ness of them. How much fairer than the pool before 
the farmer's door, in which his ducks swim ! Hither 
the clean wild ducks come. Nature has no human in- 
habitant who appreciates her. The birds with their 
plumage and their notes are in harmony with the flow- 
ers, but what youth or maiden conspires with the wild 
luxuriant beauty of Nature ? She flourishes most alone, 
far from the towns where they reside. Talk of heaven ! 
ye disgrace earth. 


Sometimes I rambled to pine groves, standing like 
temples, or like fleets at sea, full-rigged, with wavy 
boughs, and rippling with light, so soft and green and 
shady that the Druids would have forsaken their oaks . 
to worship in them ; or to the cedar wood beyond Flints' 
Pond, where the trees, covered with hoary blue berries, 
spiring higher and higher, are fit to stand before Val- ; 
halla, and the creeping juniper covers the ground with 
wreaths full of fruit ; or to swamps where the usnea lichen 
hangs in festoons from the white-spruce trees, and toad- 
stools, round tables of the swamp gods, cover the ground, 
and more beautiful fungi adorn the stumps, like butter- 
flies or shells, vegetable winkles ; where the swamp-pink 
and dogwood grow, the red alder-berry glows like eyes 
of imps, the waxwork grooves and crushes the hardest 
woods in its folds, and the wild-holly berries make the 
beholder forget his home with their beauty, and he is 
dazzled and tempted by nameless other wild forbidden 
fruits, too fair for mortal taste. Instead of calling on 
some scholar, I paid many a visit to particular trees, of 
kinds which are rare in this neighborhood, standing far 


218 WALDEK. 

away in the middle of some pasture, or in the depths of 
a wood or swamp, or on a hill-top ; such as the black- 
birch, of which we have some handsome specimens two 
feet in diameter ; its cousin the yellow-birch, with its 
loose golden vest, perfumed like the first ; the beech, 
which has so neat a bole and beautifully lichen-painted, 
perfect in all its details, of which, excepting scattered 
specimens, I know but one small grove of sizable trees 
left in the township, supposed by some to have been 
planted by the pigeons that were once baited with beech 
nuts near by ; it is worth the while to see the silver 
grain sparkle when you split this wood ; the bass ; the 
hornbeam ; the celtis occidentalism or false elm, of which 
we have but one well-grown ; some taller mast of a pine, 
a shingle tree, or a more perfect hemlock than usual, 
standing like a pagoda in the midst of the woods ; and 
many others I could mention. These were the shrines 
I visited both summer and winter. 

Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of 
a rainbow's arch, which filled the lower stratum of the 
atmosphere, tinging the grass and leaves around, and 
dazzling me as if I looked through colored crystal. It 
was a lake of rainbow light, in which, for a short while, 
I lived like a dolphin. If it had lasted longer it might 
have tinged my employments and life. As I walked on 
the railroad causeway, I used to wonder at the halo of 
light around my shadow, and would fain fancy myself 
one of the elect. One who visited me declared that the 
shadows of some Irishmen before him had no halo 
about them, that it was only natives that were so dis- 
tinguished. Benvenuto Cellini tells us in his memoirs, 
that, after a certain terrible dream or vision which he 
had during his confinement in the castle of St. Angelo, 


a resplendent light appeared over the shadow of his 
head at morning and evening, whether he was in 
Italy or France, and it was particularly conspicuous 
when the grass was moist with dew. This was proba- 
bly the same phenomenon to which I have referred, 
which is especially observed in the morning, but also at 
other times, and even by moonlight. Though a con- 
stant one, it is not commonly noticed, and, in the case of 
an excitable imagination like Cellini's, it would be basis 
enough for superstition. Beside, he tells us that he 
showed it to very few. But are they not indeed dis- 
tinguished who are conscious that they are regarded 
at all? 

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

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

I thought of living there before I went to Walden. 
I "hooked" the apples, leaped the brook, and scared the 
musquash and the trout. It was one of those after- 
noons which seem indefinitely long before one, in which 
many events may happen, a large portion of our natural 
life, though it was already half spent when I started. By 

220 WALDEN. 

the way there came up a shower, which compelled me 
to stand half an hour under a pine, piling boughs over 
my head, and wearing my handkerchief for a shed ; and 
when at length I had made one cast over the pickerel- 
weed, standing up to my middle in water, I found myself 
suddenly in the shadow of a cloud, and the thunder 
began to rumble with such emphasis that I could do 
no more than listen to it. The gods must be proud, 
thought I, with such forked flashes to rout a poor un- 
armed fisherman. So I made haste for shelter to the 
nearest hut, which stood half a mile from any road, but 
so much the nearer to the pond, and had long been 
uninhabited : — 

" And here a poet builded, 
In the completed years, 
For behold a trivial cabin 
That to destruction steers.'* 

So the Muse fables. But therein, as I found, dwelt 
now John Field, an Irishman, and his wife, and several 
children, from the broad-faced boy who assisted his fa- 
ther at his work, and now came running by his side 
from the bog to escape the rain, to the wrinkled, sibyl- 
like, cone-headed infant that sat upon its father's knee 
as in the palaces of nobles, and looked out from its 
home in the midst of wet and hunger inquisitively upon 
the stranger, with the privilege of infancy, not knowing 
but it was the last of a noble line, and the hope and cy- 
nosure of the world, instead of John Field's poor starve- 
ling brat. There we sat together under that part of 
the roof which leaked the least, while it showered and 
thundered without. I had sat there many times of old 
before the ship was built that floated this family to 


America. An honest, hard-working, but shiftless man 
plainly was John Field ; and his wife, she too was brave 
to cook so many successive dinners in the recesses of 
that lofty stove ; with round greasy face and bare breast, 
still thinking to improve her condition one day ; with 
the never absent mop in one hand, and yet no effects 
of it visible any where. The chickens, which had also 
taken shelter here from the rain, stalked about the room 
like members of the family, too humanized methought 
to roast well. They stood and looked in my eye or 
pecked at my shoe significantly. Meanwhile my host 
told me his story, how hard he worked " bogging " for a 
neighboring farmer, turning up a meadow with a spade 
or bog hoe at the rate of ten dollars an acre and the use 
of the land with manure for one year, and his little 
broad-faced son worked cheerfully at his father's side 
the while, not knowing how poor a bargain the latter 
had made. I tried to help him with my experience, 
telling him that he was one of my nearest neighbors, 
and that I too, who came a-fishing here, and looked like 
a loafer, was getting my living like himself; that I lived 
in a tight, light, and clean house, which hardly cost more 
than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly 
amounts to ; and how, if he chose, he might in a month 
or two build himself a palace of his own ; that I did not 
use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, 
and so did not have to work to get them ; again, as I 
did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard, and it cost 
me but a trifle for my food ; but as he began with tea, 
and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to 
work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked 
hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his 
system, — and so it was as broad as it was long, indeed 

222 WALDEN, 

it was broader than it was long, for he was discontented 
and wasted his life into the bargain ; and yet he had 
rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you 
could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day. But the 
only true America is that country where you are at lib- 
erty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to 
do without these, and where the state does not endeavor 
to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other 
superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result 
from the use of such things. For I purposely talked to 
him as if he were a philosopher, or desired to be one. 
I should be glad if all the meadows on the earth were 
left in a wild state, if that were the consequence of men's 
beginning to redeem themselves. A man will not need 
to study history to find out what is best for his own cul- 
ture. But alas ! the culture of an Irishman is an enter- 
prise to be undertaken with a sort of moral bog hoe. I 
told him, that as he worked so hard at bogging, he re- 
quired thick boots and stout clothing, which yet were 
soon soiled and worn out, but I wore light shoes and 
thin clothing, which cost not half so much, though he 
might think that I was dressed like a gentleman, (which, 
however, was not the case,) and in an hour or two, with- 
out labor, but as a recreation, I could, if I wished, catch 
as many fish as I should want for two days, or earn 
enough money to support me a week. If he and his 
family would live simply, they might all go a-huckle- 
berrying in the summer for their amusement. John 
heaved a sigh at this, and his wife stared with arms 
a-kimbo, and both appeared to be wondering if they had 
capital enough to begin such a course with, or arithme- 
tic enough to carry it through. It was sailing by dead 
reckoning to them, and they saw not clearly how to 


make their port so ; therefore I suppose they still take 
life bravely, after their fashion, face to face, giving it 
tooth and nail, not having skill to split its massive col- 
umns with any fine entering wedge, and rout it in de- 
tail; — thinking to deal with it roughly, as one should 
handle a thistle. But they fight at an overwhelming 
disadvantage, — living, John Field, alas! without arith- 
metic, and failing so. 

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

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

As I was leaving the Irishman's roof after the rain, 
bending my steps again to the pond, my haste to catch 
pickerel, wading in retired meadows, in sloughs and 
bog-holes, in forlorn and savage places, appeared for an 

224 WALDEN. 

instant trivial to me who had been sent to school and 
college ; but as I ran down the hill toward the redden- 
ing west, with the rainbow over my shoulder, and some 
faint tinkling sounds borne to my ear through the cleansed 
air, from I know not what quarter, my Good Genius 
seemed to say, — Go fish and hunt far and wide day 
by day, — farther and wider, — and rest thee by many 
brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving. Remember 
thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from 
care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the 
noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake 
thee every where at home. There are no larger fields 
than these, no worthier games than may here be played. 
Grow wild according to thy nature, like these sedges 
and brakes, which will never become English hay. Let 
the thunder rumble ; what if it threaten ruin to farmers 
crops ? that is not its errand to thee. Take shelter un- 
der the cloud, while they flee to carts and sheds. Let 
not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport. Enjoy 
the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise 
and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, 
and spending their lives like serfs. 
O Baker Farm ! 

." Landscape where the richest element 
Is a little sunshine innocent." * * 

" No one runs to revel 
On thy rail-fenced lea." * * 

" Debate with no man hast thou, 

With questions art never perplexed, 
As tame at the first sight as now, 
In thy plain russet gabardine dressed." * * 

" (lome ye who love, 
And ye who hate, 


Children of the Holy Dove, 

And Guy Faux of the state, 
And hang conspiracies 
From the tough rafters of the trees ! " 

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

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


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 woodchuck 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 rever- 
ence them both. I love the wild not less than the good. 
The wildness and adventure that are in fishing still rec- 
ommended it to me. I like sometimes to take rank hold 
on life and spend my day more as the animals do. Per- 
haps I have owed to this employment and to hunting, 
when quite young, my closest acquaintance with Nature. 



They early introduce us to and detain us in scenery with 
which otherwise, at that age, we should have little ac- 
quaintance. 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 favorable mood for observing her, in the inter- 
vals of their pursuits, than philosophers or poets even, 
who approach her with expectation. She is not afraid 
to exhibit herself to them. The traveller on the prairie 
is naturally a hunter, on the head waters of the Mis- 
souri 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 re- 
ports what those men already know practically or in- 
stinctively, 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 and the like have not yet 
given place to the former. Almost every New England 
boy among my contemporaries 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, that he did 
not oftener stay to play on the common. But already a 
change is taking place, owing, not to an increased human- 
ity, but to an increased scarcity of game, for perhaps the 
hunter is the greatest friend of the animals hunted, not 
excepting the Humane Society. 

228 WALDEN. 

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 hu- 
mane than others, but I did not perceive that my feel- 
ings 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 notwithstanding the ob- 
jection 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 of my education, — make them 
hunters, though sportsmen 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 wilder- 
ness, — hunters as well as fishers of men. Thus far I 
am of the opinion of Chaucer's nun, who 

" yare 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 boy- 
hood, 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 phil- 
anthropic distinctions. 

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 uncommon sight. 
Such a one might make a good shepherd's dog, but is 
far from being the Good Shepherd. I have been sur- 
prised 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 

230 WALDEN. 

doubt such a clarifying process would be going on all 
the while. The governor and his council faintly remem- 
ber 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 forever. Yet 
even they expect to go to heaven at last. If the legis- 
lature 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 
civilized 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 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 unques- 
tionably 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 wis- 
dom ; 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. Be- 
side, there is something essentially unclean about this 
diet and all flesh, and I began to see where housework 
commences, and whence the endeavor, which costs so 
much, to wear a tidy and respectable appearance each 
day, to keep the house sweet and free from all ill odors 
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 insignifi- 
cant 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 ani- 
mal food, or tea, or coffee, &c. ; not so much because of 
any ill effects which I had traced to them, as because they 
were not agreeable to my imagination. The repugnance to 
animal food is not the effect of experience, but is an in- 
stinct. It appeared 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 larvae. 
The voracious caterpillar when transformed into aBut- 
terfly," . . "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 

232 WALDEN. 

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 body ; 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 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 civilized, 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 carniverous 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 whole- 
some 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 improvement, to leave off eating an- 
imals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating 
each other when they came in contact with the more civ- 

If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions 


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 argu- 
ments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed 
his genius till it misled him. 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 fragrance 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 farthest from being appre- 
ciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We 
soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Per- 
haps 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 indescriba- 
ble as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little 
star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have 

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 sober 
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 

234 WALDEN. 

evening with a dish of tea ! Ah, how low I fall when 
I am tempted by them ! Even music may be intoxicat- 
ing. Such apparently 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 labors 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. Never- 
theless I am far from regarding myself as one of those 
; privileged ones to whom the Ved refers when it says, 
that " he who has true faith in the Omnipresent Su- 
preme 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 sat- 
isfaction from his food in which appetite had no share ? 
I have been thrilled to think that I owed a mental per- 
ception to the commonly gross sense of taste, that I have 
been inspired through the palate, that some berries which 
I had eaten on a hill-side had fed my genius. " The 
soul not being mistress of herself," says Thseng-tseu, ^ 
" one looks, and one does not see ; one listens, and one 
does not hear; one eats, and one does not know the 


savor of food." He who distinguishes the true savor 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 devo- 
tion to sensual savors ; 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 hunt- 
er has a taste for mud-turtles, muskrats, 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. There 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 us. 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 forever on the side of the most sen- 
sitive. Listen to every zephyr for some reproof, for it 
is surely there, and he is unfortunate 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 rep- 
tile and sensual, and perhaps cannot be wholly expelled ; 
like the worms winch, even in life and health, occupy 
our bodies. Possibly we may withdraw 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 sug- 
gested that there was an animal health and vigor dis- 
tinct 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 ? If I knew so wise a man as could teach me 
purity I would go to seek him forthwith. " A com- 
mand over our passions, and over the external senses 
of the body, and good acts, are declared by the Yed 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, which, when we are 
loose, dissipates and makes us unclean, when we are con- 
tinent invigorates and inspires us. Chastity is the flow- 
ering of man ; and what are called Genius, Heroism, 
Holiness, and the like, are but various fruits which suc- 
ceed 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 as- 
sured 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 disgrace. — 

" How nappy'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 purity. When 
the reptile is attacked at one mouth of his burrow, he 
shows himself at another. If you would be chaste, you 
must be temperate. What is chastity ? How shall a 
man know if he is chaste ? He shall not know it. We 
have heard of this virtue, but we know not what it is. 
We speak conformably to the rumor which we have 
heard. From exertion come wisdom and purity ; from 
sloth ignorance and sensuality. In the student sensual- 
ity 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 without 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 over- 

238 WALDEN. 

come. 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 en- 
deavors, 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 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 nobleness begins at 
once to refine a man's features, any meanness or sen- 
suality to imbrute them. 

John Farmer sat at his door one September evening, 
after a hard day's work, his mind still running on his 
labor more or less. Having bathed he sat down to rec- 
reate his intellectual man. It was a rather cool even- 
ing, and some of his neighbors were apprehending a 
frost. He had not attended to the train of his thoughts 


long when he heard some one playing on a flute, and 
that sound harmonized 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 him- 
self 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 off* 
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 stars twinkle over other fields than these. — 
But how to come out of this condition and actually mi- 
grate thither ? 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. 


Sometimes I had a companion in my fishing, who 
came through the village to my house from the other 
side of the town, and the catching of the dinner was as 
much a social exercise as the eating of it. 

Hermit I wonder what the world is doing now. I 
have not heard so much as a locust over the sweet-fern 
these three hours. The pigeons are all asleep upon 
their roosts, — no flutter from them. Was that a farm- 
er's noon horn which sounded from beyond the woods 
just now ? The hands are coming in to boiled salt beef 
and cider and Indian bread. Why will men worry 
themselves so ? He that does not eat need not work. 
I wonder how much they have reaped. Who would 
live there where a body can never think for the barking 
of Bose ? And O, the housekeeping ! to keep bright the 
devil's door-knobs, and scour his tubs this bright day ! 
Better not keep a house. Say, some hollow tree ; and 
then for morning calls and dinner-parties ! Only a wood- 
pecker tapping. O, they swarm ; the sun is too warm 
there ; they are born too far into life for me. I have 
water from the spring, and a loaf of brown bread on the 



shelf. — Hark! I hear a rustling of the leaves. Is it 
some ill-fed village hound yielding to the instinct of the 
chase? or the lost pig which is said to be in these 
woods, whose tracks I saw after the rain ? It comes on 
apace ; my sumachs and sweet-briers tremble. — Eh, Mr. 
Poet, is it you ? How do you like the world to-day ? 

Poet. See those clouds ; how they hang ! That's the 
greatest thing I have seen to-day. There's nothing like 
it in old paintings, nothing like it in foreign lands, — un- 
less when we were off the coast of Spain. That's a true 
Mediterranean sky. I thought, as I have my living to 
get, and have not eaten to-day, that I might go a-fish- 
ing. That's the true industry for poets. It is the only 
trade I have learned. Come, let's along. 

Hermit. I cannot resist. My brown bread will soon 
be gone. I will go with you gladly soon, but I am just 
concluding a serious meditation. I think that I am 
near the end of it. Leave me alone, then, for a while. 
But that we may not be delayed, you shall be digging 
the bait meanwhile. Angle-worms are rarely to be met 
with in these parts, where the soil was never fattened 
with manure ; the race is nearly extinct. The sport of 
digging the bait is nearly equal to that of catching the 
fish, when one's appetite is not too keen ; and this you 
may have all to yourself to-day. I would advise you to 
set in the spade down yonder among the ground-nuts, 
where you see the Johns wort waving. I think that I 
may warrant you one worm to every three sods you 
turn up, if you look well in among the roots of the 
grass, as if you were weeding. Or, if you choose to go 
farther, it will not be unwise, for I have found the in- 
crease of fair bait to be very nearly as the squares of 
the distances. 


242 WALDEN. 

Hermit alone. Let me see; where was I? Me- 
thinks I was nearly in this frame of mind ; the world 
lay about at this angle. Shall I go to heaven or a-fish- 
ing ? If I should soon bring this meditation to an end, 
would another so sweet occasion be likely to offer ? I 
was as near being resolved into the essence of things as 
ever I was in my life. I fear my thoughts will not 
come back to me. If it would do any good, I would 
whistle for them. When they make us an offer, is it 
wise to say, We will think of it ? My thoughts have 
left no track, and I cannot find the path again. What 
was it that I was thinking of? It was a very hazy day. 
I will just try these three sentences of Con-fut-see; 
they may fetch that state about again. I know not 
whether it was the dumps or a budding ecstasy. Mem. 
There never is but one opportunity of a kind. 

Poet. How now, Hermit, is it too soon ? I have got 
just thirteen whole ones, beside several which are im- 
perfect or undersized ; but they will do for the smaller 
fry ; they do not cover up the hook so much. Those 
village worms are quite too large ; a shiner may make a 
meal off one without finding the skewer. 

Hermit. Well, then, let's be off. Shall we to the 
Concord ? There's good sport there if the water be not 
too high. 

Why do precisely these objects which we behold 
make a world ? Why has man just these species of an- 
imals for his neighbors ; as if nothing but a mouse could 
have filled this crevice ? I suspect that Pilpay & Co. 
have put animals to their best use, for they are all 
beasts of burden, in a sense, made to carry some por- 
tion of our thoughts. 


The mice which haunted my house were not the com- 
mon ones, which are said to have been introduced into 
the country, but a wild native kind not found in the vil- 
lage. I sent one to a distinguished naturalist, and it in- 
terested him much. When I was building, one of these 
had its nest underneath the house, and before I had laid 
the second floor, and swept out the shavings, would 
come out regularly at lunch time and pick up the 
crums at my feet. It probably had never seen a man 
before; and it soon became quite familiar, and would 
run over my shoes and up my clothes. It could readily 
ascend the sides of the room by short impulses, like a 
squirrel, which it resembled in its motions. At length, 
as I leaned with my elbow on the bench one day, it 
ran up my clothes, and along my sleeve, and round and 
round the paper which held my dinner, while I kept the 
latter close, and dodged and played at bo-peep with it ; 
and when at last I held still a piece of cheese between 
my thumb and finger, it came and nibbled it, sitting in 
my hand, and afterward cleaned its face and paws, like 
a fly, and walked away. 

A phoebe soon built in my shed, and a robin for pro- 
tection in a pine which grew against the house. In 
June the partridge, (Tetrao umbelhis,) which is so shy 
a bird, led her brood past my windows, from the woods 
in the rear to the front of my house, clucking and call- 
ing to them like a hen, and in all her behavior proving 
herself the hen of the woods. The young suddenly dis- 
perse on your approach, at a signal from the mother, as 
if a whirlwind had swept them away, and they so exact- 
ly resemble the dried leaves and twigs that many a 
traveller has placed his foot in the midst of a brood, and 
heard the whir of the old bird as she flew off, and her 

244 WALDEN. 

anxious calls and mewing, or seen her trail her wings to 
attract his attention, without suspecting their neighbor- 
hood. The parent will sometimes roll and spin round 
before you in such a dishabille, that you cannot, for a 
few moments, detect what kind of creature it is. The 
young squat still and flat, often running their heads un- 
der a leaf, and mind only their mother's directions given 
from a distance, nor will your approach make them run 
again and betray themselves. You may even tread on 
them, or have your eyes on them for a minute, without 
discovering them. I have held them in my open hand 
at such a time, and still their only care, obedient to their 
mother and their instinct, was to squat there without 
fear or trembling. So perfect is this instinct, that once, 
when I had laid them on the leaves again, and one acci- 
dentally fell on its side, it was found with the rest in 
exactly the same position ten minutes afterward. They 
are not callow like the young of most birds, but more 
perfectly developed and precocious even than chickens. 
The remarkably adult yet innocent expression of their 
open and serene eyes is very memorable. All intelli- 
gence seems reflected in them. They suggest not mere- 
ly the purity of infancy, but a wisdom clarified by expe- 
rience. Such an eye was not born when the bird was, 
but is coeval with the sky it reflects. The woods do 
not yield another such a gem. The traveller does not 
often look into such a limpid well. The ignorant or 
reckless sportsman often shoots the parent at such a 
time, and leaves these innocents to fall a prey to some 
prowling beast or bird, or gradually mingle with the de- 
caying leaves which they so much resemble. It is said 
that when hatched by a hen they will directly disperse 
on some alarm, and so are lost, for they never hear the 


mother's call which gathers them again. These were 
my hens and chickens. 

It is remarkable how many creatures live wild and 
free though secret in the woods, and still sustain them- 
selves in the neighborhood of towns, suspected by hunt- 
ers only. How retired the otter manages to live here ! 
He grows to be four feet long, as big as a small boy, 
perhaps without any human being getting a glimpse of 
him. I formerly saw the raccoon in the woods behind 
where my house is built, and probably still heard their 
whinnering at night. Commonly I rested an hour or 
two in the shade at noon, after planting, and ate my 
lunch, and read a little by a spring which was the source 
of a swamp and of a brook, oozing from under Brister's 
Hill, half a mile from my field. The approach to this 
was through a succession of descending grassy hollows, 
full of young pitch-pines, into a larger wood about the 
swamp. There, in a very secluded and shaded spot, 
under a spreading white-pine, there was yet a clean firm 
sward to sit on. I had dug out the spring and made a 
well of clear gray water, where I could dip up a pailful 
without roiling it, and thither I went for this purpose 
almost every day in midsummer, when the pond was 
warmest. Thither too the wood-cock led her brood, to 
probe the mud for worms, flying but a foot above them 
down the bank, while they ran in a troop beneath ; but 
at last, spying me, she would leave her young and circle 
round and round me, nearer and nearer till within four 
or five feet, pretending broken wings and legs, to attract 
my attention, and get off her young, who would already 
have taken up their march, with faint wiry peep, single 
file through the swamp, as she directed. Or I heard 
the peep of the young when I could not see the parent 

246 - WALBEN. 

bird. There too the turtle-doves sat over the spring, or 
fluttered from bough to bough of the soft white-pines 
over my head ; or the red squirrel, coursing down the 
nearest bough, was particularly familiar and inquisitive. 
You only need sit still long enough in some attractive 
spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit 
themselves to you by turns. 

I was witness to events of a less peaceful character. 
One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather 
my pile of stumps, I observed two large ants, the one 
red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch long, and 
black, fiercely contending with one another. Having 
once got hold they never let go, but struggled and 
wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly. Looking 
farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were cov- 
ered with such combatants, that it was not a duellum, 
but a helium, a war between two races of ants, the red 
always pitted against the black, and frequently two red 
ones to one black. The legions of these Myrmidons 
covered all the hills and vales in my wood-yard, and 
the ground was already strewn with the dead and dying, 
both red and black. It was the only battle which I 
have ever witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod 
while the battle was raging ; internecine war ; the red 
republicans on the one hand, and the black imperialists 
on the other. On every side they were engaged in 
deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, 
and human soldiers never fought so resolutely. I 
watched a couple that were fast locked in each other's 
embraces, in a little sunny valley amid the chips, now at 
noon-day prepared to fight till the sun went down, or 
life went out. The smaller red champion had fastened 
himself like a vice to his adversaries front, and through 


all the tumblings on that field never for an instant 
ceased to gnaw at one of his feelers near the root, hav- 
ing already caused the other to go by the board ; while 
the stronger black one dashed him from side to side, 
and, as I saw on looking nearer, had already divested 
him of several of his members. They fought with more 
pertinacity than bull-dogs. Neither manifested the 
least disposition to retreat. It was evident that their 
battle-cry was Conquer or die. In the mean w T hile 
there came along a single red ant on the hill-side of this 
valley, evidently full of excitement, who either had de- 
spatched his foe, or had not yet taken part in the battle ; 
probably the latter, for he had lost none of his limbs ; 
whose mother had charged him to return with his shield 
or upon it. Or perchance he was some Achilles, who 
had nourished his wrath apart, and had now come to 
avenge or rescue his Patroclus. He saw this unequal 
combat from afar, — for the blacks were nearly twice 
the size of the red, — he drew near with rapid pace till 
he stood on his guard within half an inch of the com- 
batants ; then, watching his opportunity, he sprang upon 
the black warrior, and commenced his operations near 
the root of his right fore-leg, leaving the foe to select 
among his own members ; and so there were three unit- 
ed for life, as if a new kind of attraction had been in- 
vented which put all other locks and cements to shame. 
I should not have wondered by this time to find that 
they had their respective musical bands stationed on 
some eminent chip, and playing their national airs the 
while, to excite the slow and cheer the dying combat- 
ants. I was myself excited somewhat even as if they 
had been men. The more you think of it, the less the 
difference. And certainly there is not the fight recorded 

248 WALDEN. 

in Concord history, at least, if in the history of America, 
that will bear a moment's comparison with this, whether 
for the numbers engaged in it, or for the patriotism 
and heroism displayed. For numbers and for carnage 
it was an Austerlitz or Dresden. Concord Fight ! Two 
killed on the patriots' side, and Luther Blanchard 
wounded! Why here every ant was a Buttrick, — 
"Fire! for God's sake fire!" — and thousands shared 
the fate of Davis and Hosmer. There was not one 
hireling there. I have no doubt that it was a principle 
they fought for, as much as our ancestors, and not to 
avoid a three-penny tax on their tea ; and the results of 
this battle will be as important and memorable to those 
whom it concerns as those of the battle of Bunker Hill, 
at least. 

I took up the chip on which the three I have particu- 
larly described were struggling, carried it into my house, 
and placed it under a tumbler on my window-sill, in or- 
der to see the issue. Holding a microscope to the first- 
mentioned red ant, I saw that, though he was assiduous- 
ly gnawing at the near fore-leg of his enemy, having 
severed his remaining feeler, his own breast was all 
torn away, exposing what vitals he had there to the 
jaws of the black warrior, whose breast-plate was appar- 
ently too thick for him to pierce ; and the dark carbun- 
cles of the sufferer's eyes shone with ferocity such as 
war only could excite. They struggled half an hour 
longer under the tumbler, and when I looked again the 
black soldier had severed the heads of his foes from 
their bodies, and the still living heads were hanging on 
either side of him like ghastly trophies at his saddle- 
bow, still apparently as firmly fastened as ever, and he 
was endeavoring with feeble struggles, being without 


feelers and with only the remnant of a leg, and I know 
not how many other wounds, to divest himself of them ; 
which at length, after half an hour more, he accom- 
plished. I raised the glass, and he went off over the 
window-sill in that crippled state. Whether he finally 
survived that combat, and spent the remainder of his 
days in some Hotel des Invalides, I do not know ; but I 
thought that his industry would not be worth much 
thereafter. I never learned which party was victorious, 
nor the cause of the war ; but I felt for the rest of that 
day as if I had had my feelings excited and harrowed 
by witnessing the struggle, the ferocity and carnage, of a 
human battle before my door. 

Kirby and Spence tell us that the battles of ants have 
long been celebrated and the date of them recorded, 
though they say that Huber is the only modern author 
who appears to have witnessed them. "JEneas Syl- 
vius," say they, " after giving a very circumstantial ac- 
count of one contested with great obstinacy by a great 
and small species on the trunk of a pear tree," adds that 
" ' This action was fought in the pontificate of Eugenius 
the Fourth, in the presence of Nicholas Pistoriensis, an 
eminent lawyer, who related the whole history of the bat- 
tle with the greatest fidelity.' A similar engagement 
between great and small ants is recorded by Olaus Mag- 
nus, in which the small ones, being victorious, are said to 
have buried the bodies of their own soldiers, but left those 
of their giant enemies a prey to the birds. This event 
happened previous to the expulsion of the tyrant Chris- 
tiern the Second from Sweden." The battle which I wit- 
nessed took place in the Presidency of Polk, five years 
before the passage of Webster's Fugitive-Slave Bill. 

Many a village Bose, fit only to course a mud-turtle 

250 WALDEN. 

in a victualling cellar, sported his heavy quarters in the 
woods, without the knowledge of his master, and inef- 
fectually smelled at old fox burrows and woodchucks* 
holes ; led perchance by some slight cur which nimbly 
threaded the wood, and might still inspire a natural ter- 
ror in its denizens ; — now far behind his guide, bark- 
ing like a canine bull toward some small squirrel which 
had treed itself for scrutiny, then, cantering off, bending 
the "bushes with his weight, imagining that he is on the 
track of some stray member of the jerbilla family. 
Once I was surprised to see a cat walking along the 
stony shore of the pond, for they rarely wander so far 
from home. The surprise was mutual. Nevertheless 
the most domestic cat, which has lain on a rug all her 
days, appears quite at home in the woods, and, by her 
sly and stealthy behavior, proves herself more native 
there than the regular inhabitants. Once, when berry- 
ing, I met with a cat with young kittens in the woods, 
quite wild, and they all, like their mother, had their 
backs up and were fiercely spitting at me. A few 
years before I lived in the woods there was what was 
called a " winged cat " in one of the farm-houses in 
Lincoln nearest the pond, Mr. Gilian Baker's. When 
I called to see her in June, 1842, she was gone a-hunt- 
ing in the woods, as was her wont, (I am not sure 
whether it was a male or female, and so use the more 
common pronoun,) but her mistress told me that she 
came into the neighborhood a little more than a year 
before, in April, and was finally taken into their house ; 
that she was of a dark brownish-gray color, with a 
white spot on her throat, and white feet, and had a large 
bushy tail like a fox ; that in the winter the fur grew 
thick and flatted out along her sides, forming strips ten 


or twelve inches long by two and a half wide, and under 
her chin like a muff, the upper side loose, the under 
matted like felt, and in the spring these appendages 
dropped off. They gave me a pair of her "wings," 
which I keep still. There is no appearance of a mem- 
brane about them. Some thought it was part flying- 
squirrel or some other wild animal, which is not impos- 
sible, for, according to naturalists, prolific hybrids have 
been produced by the union of the marten and domes- 
tic cat. This would have been the right kind of cat for 
me to keep, if I had kept any ; for why should not a 
poet's cat be winged as well as his horse ? 

In the fall the loon ( Colymhus glacialis) came, as 
usual, to moult and bathe in the pond, making the 
woods ring with his wild laughter before I had risen. 
At rumor of his arrival all the Mill-dam sportsmen are 
on the alert, in gigs and on foot, two by two and three 
by three, with patent rifles and conical balls and spy- 
glasses. They come rustling through the woods like 
autumn leaves, at least ten men to one loon. Some 
station themselves on this side of the pond, some on that, 
for the poor bird cannot be omnipresent ; if he dive here 
he must come up there. But now the kind October 
wind rises, rustling the leaves and rippling the surface 
of the water, so that no loon can be heard or seen, 
though his foes sweep the pond with spy-glasses, and 
make the woods resound with their discharges. The 
waves generously rise and dash angrily, taking sides 
with all waterfowl, and our sportsmen must beat a re- 
treat to town and shop and unfinished jobs. But they 
were too often successful. When I went to get a pail 
of water early in the morning I frequently saw this 
stately bird sailing out of my cove within a few rods. 

252 WALDEN. 

If I endeavored to overtake him in a boat, in order to 
see how he would manoeuvre, he would dive and be 
completely lost, so that I did not discover him again, 
sometimes, till the latter part of the day. But I was 
more than a match for him on the surface. He com- 
monly went off in a rain. 

As I was paddling along the north shore one very 
calm October afternoon, for such days especially they 
settle on to the lakes, like the milkweed down, having 
looked in vain over the pond for a loon, suddenly one, 
sailing out from the shore toward the middle a few rods 
in front of me, set up his wild laugh and betrayed him- 
self. I pursued with a paddle and he dived, but when 
he came up I was nearer than before. He dived again, 
but I miscalculated the direction he would take, and we 
were fifty rods apart when he came to the surface this 
time, for I had helped to widen the interval ; and again 
he laughed long and loud, and with more reason than 
before. He manoeuvred so cunningly that I could not 
get within half a dozen rods of him. Each time, when 
he came to the surface, turning his head this way and 
that, he coolly surveyed the water and the land, and ap- 
parently chose his course so that he might come up 
where there was the widest expanse of water and at 
the greatest distance from the boat. It was surprising 
how quickly he made up his mind and put his resolve 
into execution. He led me at once to the widest part 
of the pond, and could not be driven from it. While he 
was thinking one thing in his brain, I was endeavoring 
to divine his thought in mine. It was a pretty game, 
played on the smooth surface of the pond, a man against 
a loon. Suddenly your adversary's checker disappears 
beneath the board, and the problem is to place yours 


nearest to where his will appear again. Sometimes he 
would come up unexpectedly on the opposite side of me, 
having apparently passed directly under the boat. So 
long-winded was he and so unweariable, that when he 
had swum farthest he would immediately plunge again, 
nevertheless ; and then no wit could divine where in the 
deep pond, beneath the smooth surface, he might be 
speeding his way like a fish, for he had time and ability 
to visit the bottom of the pond in its deepest part. It 
is said that loons have been caught in the New York 
lakes eighty feet beneath the surface, with hooks set for 
trout, — though Walden is deeper than that. How sur- 
prised must the fishes be to see this ungainly visitor from 
another sphere speeding his way amid their schools ! 
Yet he appeared to know his course as surely under 
water as on the surface, and swam much faster there. 
Once or twice I saw a ripple where he approached the 
surface, just put his head out to reconnoitre, and instant- 
ly dived again. I found that it was as well for me to 
rest on my oars and wait his reappearing as to endeavor 
to calculate where he would rise ; for again and again, 
when I was straining my eyes over the surface one 
way, I would suddenly be startled by his unearthly 
laugh behind me. But why, after displaying so much 
cunning, did he invariably betray himself the moment 
he came up by that loud laugh ? Did not his white 
breast enough betray him ? He was indeed a silly loon, 
I thought. I could commonly hear the plash of the 
water when he came up, and so also detected him. But 
after an hour he seemed as fresh as ever, dived as 
willingly and swam yet farther than at first. It was 
surprising to see how serenely he sailed off with unruf- 

254 WALDEN. 

fled breast when he came to the surface, doing all the 
work with his webbed feet beneath. His usual note 
was this demoniac laughter, yet somewhat like that of a 
water-fowl ; but occasionally, when he had balked me 
most successfully and come up a long way off, he uttered 
a long-drawn unearthly howl, probably more like that of 
a wolf than any bird ; as when a beast puts his muzzle 
to the ground and deliberately howls. This was his 
looning, — perhaps the wildest sound that is ever heard 
here, making the woods ring far and wide. I con- 
cluded that he laughed in derision of my efforts, confi- 
dent of his own resources. Though the sky was by this 
time overcast, the pond was so smooth that I could see 
where he broke the surface when I did not hear him. 
His white breast, the stillness of the air, and the smooth- 
ness of the water were all against him. At length, 
having come up fifty rods off, he uttered one of those 
prolonged howls, as if calling on the god of loons to aid 
him, and immediately there came a wind from the east 
and rippled the surface, and filled the whole air with 
misty rain, and I was impressed as if it were the prayer 
of the loon answered, and his god was angry with me ; 
and so I left him disappearing far away on the tumultu- 
ous surface. 

For hours, in fall days, I watched the ducks cunning- 
ly tack and veer and hold the middle of the pond, far 
from the sportsman ; tricks which they will have less 
need to practise in Louisiana bayous. When compelled 
to rise they would sometimes circle round and round 
and over the pond at a considerable height, from which 
they could easily see to other ponds and the river, 
like black motes in the sky ; and, when I thought they 


had gone off thither long since, they would settle down 
by a slanting flight of a quarter of a mile on to a dis- 
tant part which was left free ; but what beside safety 
they got by sailing in the middle of Walden I do not 
know, unless they love its water for the same reason 
that I do. 


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 ad- 
mired, 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 Na- 
ture there. So butchers rake the tongues of bison out 
of the prairie grass, regardless of the torn and droop- 
ing 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 
travellers had overlooked. When chestnuts were ripe 
I laid up half a bushel for winter. It was very ex- 
citing at that season to roam the then boundless chest- 
nut 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 not always 

- (256) 


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 neighborhood, 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 substi- 
tutes might, perhaps, be found. Digging one day for 
fish-worms I discovered the ground-nut (Apios tube- 
rosa) 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 frostbitten 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 only by its flowering vine ; 
but let wild Nature reign here once more, and the ten- 
der and luxurious English grains will probably disap- 
pear before a myriad of foes, and without the care of 

258 WALDEM. 

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 In- 
dian Ceres or Minerva must have been the inventor and 
bestower of it; and when the reign of poetry com- 
mences here, its leaves and string of nuts may be repre- 
sented 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 di- 
verged, at the point of a promontory, next the water. 
Ah, many a tale their color 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 sub- 
stituted some new picture, distinguished by more bril- 
liant or harmonious coloring, for the old upon the walls. 

The wasps came by thousands to my lodge in Octo- 
ber, as to winter quarters, and settled on my windows 
within and on the walls over-head, sometimes deterring 
visitors from entering. Each morning, when they were 
numbed with cold, I swept some of 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 desira- 
ble 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 
unspeakable 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 artifi- 
cial 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 mor- 
tar on them was fifty years old, and was said to be still 
growing harder j'Dut 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 
still. However that may be, I was struck by the^ pecu- 
liar 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 fire- 
place bricks as I could find, to save work and waste, and 
I filled the spaces between the bricks about the fire- 
place 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 

260 WALDEN. 

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 labors 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 calcu- 
lated 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 pond, 
though it took many weeks of steady blowing to accom- 
plish 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 even- 
ings in that cool and airy apartment, surrounded by 
the rough brown boards full 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 over-head, where flick- 


ering shadows may play at evening about the rafters ? 
These forms are more agreeable to the fancy and imagi- 
nation than fresco paintings or other the most expen- 
sive 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 neighbors. 
All the attractions of a house were concentrated in one 
room; it was kitchen, chamber, parlor, 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 (patremfamili- 
as) must have in his rustic villa " cellam oleariam, vina- 
riam, dolia multa, uti lubeat caritatem expectare, et rei, 
et virtuti, et glorice 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 In- 
dian meal a peck 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 

262 WALDEN. 

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 fire-place, 
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 trav- 
eller may wash, and eat, and converse, and sleep, with- 
out further journey; such a shelter as you would be 
glad to reach in a tempestuous 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, parlor, 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 uten- 
sils are the chief ornaments ; where the washing is not 
put out, nor the fire, nor the mistress, and perhaps you 
are sometimes requested 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 mani- 
fest as a bird's nest, and you cannot go in at the front 
door and out at the back without seeing some of its in- 
habitants ; where to be a guest is to be presented with 
the freedom of the house, and not to be carefully ex- 
cluded 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 ad- 
mit 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, 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. 

It would seem as if the very language of our parlors 
would lose all its nerve and degenerate into parlaver 
wholly, our lives pass at such remoteness from its sym- 
bols, and its metaphors and tropes are necessarily so far 
fetched, through slides and dumb-waiters, as it were ; in 
other words, the parlor is so far from the kitchen and 
workshop. The dinner even is only the parable of a din- 
ner, commonly. As if only the savage dwelt near enough 
to Nature and Truth to borrow a trope from them. 
How can the scholar, who dwells away in the North 
West Territory or the Isle of Man, tell what is par- 
liamentary in the kitchen ? 

However, only one or two of my guests were ever 
bold enough to stay and eat a hasty-pudding with me ; 
but when they saw that crisis approaching they beat a 
hasty retreat rather, as if it would shake the house to 
its foundations. Nevertheless, it stood through a great 
many hasty-puddings. 

I did not plaster till it was freezing weather. I brought 

264 WALDEN. 

over some whiter and cleaner sand for this purpose from 
the opposite shore of the pond in a boat, a sort of con- 
veyance which would have tempted me to go much far- 
ther if necessary. My house had in the mean while 
been shingled down to the ground on every side. In 
lathing I was pleased to be able to send home each nail 
with a single blow of the hammer, and it was my ambi- 
tion to transfer the plaster from the board to the wall 
neatly and rapidly. I remembered the story of a con- 
ceited fellow, who, in fine clothes, was wont to lounge 
about the village once, giving advice to workmen. Ven- 
turing one day to substitute deeds for words, he turned 
up his cuffs, seized a plasterer's board, and having load- 
ed his trowel without mishap, with a complacent look 
toward the lathing overhead, made a bold gesture thith- 
erward ; and straightway, to his complete discomfiture, 
received the whole contents in his ruffled bosom. I ad- 
mired anew the economy and convenience of plastering, 
which so effectually shuts out the cold and takes a hand- 
some finish, and I learned the various casualties to 
which the plasterer is liable. I was surprised to see 
how thirsty the bricks were which drank up all the 
moisture in my plaster before I had smoothed it, and 
how many pailfuls of water it takes to christen a new 
hearth. I had the previous winter made a small quan- 
tity of lime by burning the shells of the Unio jluviatilis, 
which our river affords, for the sake of the experiment ; 
so that I knew where my materials came from. I might 
have got good limestone within a mile or two and burned 
it myself, if I had cared to do so. 

The pond had in the mean while skimmed over in the 


shadiest and shallowest coves, some days or even weeks 
before the general freezing. The first ice is especially 
interesting and perfect, being hard, dark, and transpar- 
ent, and affords the best opportunity that ever offers for 
examining the bottom where it is shallow ; for you can 
lie at your length on ice only an inch thick, like a ska- 
ter insect on the surface of the water, and study the bot- 
tom at your leisure, only two or three inches distant, like 
a picture behind a glass, and the water is necessarily al- 
ways smooth then. There are many furrows in the 
sand where some creature has travelled about and 
doubled on its tracks ; and, for wrecks, it is strewn with 
the cases of cadis worms made of minute grains of white 
quartz. Perhaps these have creased it, for you find 
some of their cases in the furrows, though they are deep 
and broad for them to make. But the ice itself is the 
object of most interest, though you must improve the 
earliest opportunity to study it. If you examine it 
closely the morning after it freezes, you find that the 
greater part of the bubbles, which at first appeared to 
be within it, are against its under surface, and that more 
are continually rising from the bottom ; while the ice is 
as yet comparatively solid and dark, that is, you see the 
water through it. These bubbles are from an eightieth 
to an eighth of an inch in diameter, very clear and beau- 
tiful, and you see your face reflected in them through 
the ice. There may be thirty or forty of them to a 
square inch. There are also already within the ice nar- 
row oblong perpendicular bubbles about half an inch 
long, sharp cones with the apex upward ; or oftener, if 
the ice is quite fresh, minute spherical bubbles one di- 
rectly above another, like a string of beads. But these 
within the ice are not so numerous nor obvious as those 

266 WALDEN. 

beneath. I sometimes used to cast on stones to try the 
strength of the ice, and those which broke through car- 
ried in air with them, which formed very large and con- 
spicuous white bubbles beneath. One day when I came 
to the same place forty-eight hours afterward, I found 
that those large bubbles were still perfect, though an inch 
more of ice had formed, as I could see distinctly by the 
seam in the edge of a cake. But as the last two days 
had been very warm, like an Indian summer, the ice 
was not now transparent, showing the dark green color 
of the water, and the bottom, but opaque and whitish or 
gray, and though twice as thick was hardly stronger 
than before, for the air bubbles had greatly expanded 
under this heat and run together, and lost their regular- 
ity ; they were no longer one directly over another, but 
often like silvery coins poured from a bag, one overlap- 
ping another, or in thin flakes, as if occupying slight 
cleavages. The beauty of the ice was gone, and it was 
too late to study the bottom. Being curious to know 
what position my great bubbles occupied with regard to 
the new ice, I broke out a cake containing a middling 
sized one, and turned it bottom upward. The new ice 
had formed around and under the bubble, so that it was 
included between the two ices. It was wholly in the 
lower ice, but close against the upper, and was flattish, 
or perhaps slightly lenticular, with a rounded edge, a 
quarter of an inch deep by four inches in diameter ; and 
I was surprised to find that directly under the bubble the 
ice was melted with great regularity in the form of a sau- 
cer reversed, to the height of iive eighths of an inch in 
the middle, leaving a thin partition there between the 
water and the bubble, hardly an eighth of an inch thick ; 
and in many places the small bubbles in this partition had 


burst out downward, and probably there was no ice at all 
under the largest bubbles, which were a foot in diameter. 
I inferred that the infinite number of minute bubbles 
which I had first seen against the under surface of the 
ice were now frozen in likewise, and that each, in its 
degree, had operated like a burning glass on the ice be- 
neath to melt and rot it. These are the little air-guns 
which contribute to make the ice crack and whoop. 

At length the winter set in in good earnest, just as I 
had finished plastering, and the wind began to howl 
around the house as if it had not had permission to do 
so till then. Night after night the geese came lumber- 
ing in in the dark with a clangor and a whistling of 
wings, even after the ground was covered with snow, 
some to alight in Walden, and some flying low over the 
woods toward Fair Haven, bound for Mexico. Several 
times, when returning from the village at ten or eleven 
o'clock at night, I heard the tread of a flock of geese, or 
else ducks, on the dry leaves in the woods by a pond- 
hole behind my dwelling, where they had come up to 
feed, and the faint honk or quack of their leader as they 
hurried off. In 1845 Walden froze entirely over for 
the first time on the night of the 2 2d of December, 
Flints' and other shallower ponds and the river having 
been frozen ten days or more ; in '46, the 16th ; in '49, 
about the 31st; and in '50, about the 27th of December; 
in '52, the 5th of January ; in '53, the 31st of December. 
The snow had already covered the ground since the 
25th of November, and surrounded me suddenly with 
the scenery of winter. I withdrew yet farther into my 
shell, and endeavored to keep a bright fire both within 

268 WALDEN. 

my house and within my breast. My employment out 
of doors now was to collect the dead wood in the forest, 
bringing it in my hands or on my shoulders, or some- 
times trailing a dead pine tree under each arm to my 
shed. An old forest fence which had seen its best days 
was a great haul for me. I sacrificed it to Vulcan, for 
it was past serving the god Terminus. How much more 
interesting an event is that man's supper who has just 
been forth in the snow to hunt, nay, you might say, steal, 
the fuel to cook it with ! His bread and meat are sweet. 
There are enough fagots and waste wood of all kinds 
in the forests of most of our towns to support many fires, 
but which at present warm none, and, some think, hin- 
der the growth of the young wood. There was also the 
drift-wood of the pond. In the course of the summer I 
had discovered a raft of pitch-pine logs with the bark 
on, pinned together by the Irish when the railroad was 
built. This I hauled up partly on the shore. After 
soaking two years and then lying high six months it 
was perfectly sound, though waterlogged past drying. 
I amused myself one winter day with sliding this piece- 
meal across the pond, nearly half a mile, skating behind 
with one end of a log fifteen feet long on my shoulder, 
and the other on the ice ; or I tied several logs together 
with a birch withe, and then, with a longer birch or al- 
der which had a hook at the end, dragged them across. 
Though completely waterlogged and almost as heavy 
as lead, they not only burned long, but made a very hot 
fire; nay, I thought that they burned better for the 
soaking, as if the pitch, being confined by the water, 
burned longer as in a lamp. 

Gilpin, in his account of the forest borderers of Eng- 
land, says that " the encroachments of trespassers, and 


the houses and fences thus raised on the borders of the 
forest/' were " considered as great nuisances by the old 
forest law, and were severely punished under the name 
of purprestures, as tending ad terrorem ferarum — ad 
nocumentum forestce, &c," to the frightening of the game 
and the detriment of the forest. But I was interested 
in the preservation of the venison and the vert more 
than the hunters or wood-choppers, and as much as 
though I had been the Lord Warden himself; and if 
any part was burned, though I burned it myself by acci- 
dent, I grieved with a grief that lasted longer and was 
more inconsolable than that of the proprietors ; nay, I 
grieved when it was cut down by the proprietors them- 
selves. I would that our farmers when they cut down 
a forest felt some of that awe which the old Romans did 
when they came to thin, or let in the light to, a conse- 
crated grove, (lucum conlucare,) that is, would believe 
that it is sacred to some god. The Roman made an 
expiatory offering, and prayed, Whatever god or god- 
dess thou art to whom this grove is sacred, be propitious 
to me, my family, and children, &c. 

It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood 
even in this age and in this new country, a value more 
permanent and universal than that of gold. After all 
our discoveries and inventions no man will go by a pile 
of wood. It is as precious to us as it was to our Saxon 
and Norman ancestors. If they made their bows of it, 
we make our gun-stocks of it. Michaux, more than 
thirty years ago, says that the price of wood for fuel in 
New York and Philadelphia " nearly equals, and some- 
times exceeds, that of the best wood in Paris, though 
this immense capital annually requires more than three 
hundred thousand cords, and is 'surrounded to the dis- 

270 WALDEN. 

tance of three hundred miles by cultivated plains." In 
this town the price of wood rises almost steadily, and the 
only question is, how much higher it is to be this year 
than it was the last. Mechanics and tradesmen who 
come in person to the forest on no other errand, are 
sure to attend the wood auction, and even pay a high 
price for the privilege of gleaning after the wood-chop- 
per. It is now many years that men have resorted to 
the forest for fuel and the materials of the arts; the 
New Englander and the New Hollander, the Parisian 
and the Celt, the farmer and Robinhood, Goody Blake 
and Harry Gill, in most parts of the world the prince 
and the peasant, the scholar and the savage, equally re- 
quire still a few sticks from the forest to warm them and 
cook their food. Neither could I do without them. 

Every man looks at' his wood-pile with a kind of af- 
fection. I loved to have mine before my window, and 
the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing 
work. I had an old axe which nobody claimed, with 
which by spells in winter days, on the sunny side of the 
house, I played about the stumps which I had got out of 
my bean-field. As my driver prophesied when I was 
ploughing, they warmed me twice, once while I was split- 
ting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that 
no fuel could give out more heat. As for the axe, I was 
advised to get the village blacksmith to "jump " it ; but 
I jumped him, and, putting a hickory helve from the 
woods into it, made it do. If it was dull, it was at least 
hung true. 

A few pieces of fat pine were a great treasure. It is ■ 
interesting to remember how much of this food for fire 
is still concealed in the bowels of the earth. In pre- 
vious years I had often gone " prospecting " over some 


bare hill-side, where a pitch-pine wood had formerly 
stood, and got out the fat pine roots. They are almost 
indestructible. Stumps thirty or forty years old, at 
least, will still be sound at the core, though the sap- 
wood has all become vegetable mould, as appears by 
the scales of the thick bark forming a ring level with 
the earth four or five inches distant from the heart. 
With axe and shovel you explore this mine, and follow 
the marrowy store, yellow as beef tallow, or as if you 
had struck on a vein of gold, deep into the earth. But 
commonly I kindled my fire with the dry leaves of the 
forest, which I had stored up in my shed before the 
snow came. Green hickory finely split makes the wood- 
chopper's kindlings, when he has a camp in the woods. 
Once in a while I got a little of this. When the vil- 
lagers were lighting their fires beyond the horizon, I too 
gave notice to the various wild inhabitants of Walden 
vale, by a smoky streamer from my chimney, that I wa3 
awake. — 

Light-winged Smoke, Tcarian bird, 
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight, 
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn, 
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest ; 
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form 
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts ; 
By night staf -veiling, and by day 
Darkening the light and blotting out the sun ; 
Go thou my incense upward from this hearth, 
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame. 

Hard green wood just cut, though I used but little 
of that, answered my purpose better than any other. I 
sometimes left a good fire when I went to take a walk 
in a, winter afternoon; and when I returned, three or 
four hours afterward, it would be still alive and glowing. 


272 WALBEN. 

My house was not empty though I was gone. It was as 
if I had left a cheerful housekeeper behind. It was I 
and Fire that lived there ; and commonly my house- 
keeper proved trustworthy. One day, however, as I was 
splitting wood, I thought that I would just look in at the 
window and see if the house was not on fire ; it was the 
only time I remember to have been particularly anxious 
on this score ; so I looked and saw that a spark had 
caught my bed, and I went in and extinguished it when 
it had burned a place as big as my hand. But my house 
occupied so sunny and sheltered a position, and its roof 
was so low, that I could afford to let the fire go out in 
the middle of almost any winter day. 

The moles nested in my cellar, nibbling every third 
potato, and making a snug bed even there of some hair 
left after plastering and of brown paper ; for even the 
wildest animals love comfort and warmth as well as 
man, and they survive the winter only because they are 
so careful to secure them. Some of my friends spoke 
as if I was coming to the woods on purpose to freeze 
myself. / The animal merely makes a bed, which he 
warms with his body in a sheltered place; but man, 
having discovered fire, boxes up some air in a spacious 
apartment, and warms that, instead of robbing himself, 
makes that his bed, in which he can move about divest- 
ed of more cumbrous clothing, maintain a kind of sum- 
mer in the midst of winter, and by means of windows 
even admit the light, and with a lamp lengthen out the 
day. Thus he goes a step or two beyond instinct, and 
saves a little time for the fine arts./ Though, when I 
had been exposed to the rudest blasts a long time, my 
whole body began to grow torpid, when I reached the 
genial atmosphere of my house I soon recovered my 


faculties and prolonged my life. But the most luxuri- 
ously housed has little to boast of in this respect, nor 
need we trouble ourselves to speculate how the human 
race may be at last destroyed. It would be easy to cut 
their threads any time with a little sharper blast from 
the north. We go on dating from Cold Fridays and 
Great Snows ; but a little colder Friday, or greater snow, 
would put a period to man's existence on the globe. 

The next winter I used a small cooking-stove for 
economy, since I did not own the forest ; but it did not 
keep fire so well as the open fire-place. Cooking was 
then, for the most part, no longer a poetic, but merely a 
chemic process. It will soon be forgotten, in these days 
of stoves, that we used to roast potatoes in the ashes, 
after the Indian fashion. The stove not only took up 
room and scented the house, but it concealed the fire, 
and I felt as if I had lost a companion. You can al- 
ways see a face in the fire. The laborer, looking into 
it at evening, purifies his thoughts of the dross and 
earthiness which they have accumulated during the 
day. But I could no longer sit and look into the fire, 
and the pertinent words of a poet recurred to me with 
new force. — 

"Never, bright flame, may be denied to me 
Thy dear, life imaging, close sympathy. 
What but my hopes shot upward e'er so bright ? 
What but my fortunes sunk so low in night ? 

Why art thou banished from our hearth and hall, 
Thou who art welcomed and beloved by all ? 
Was thy existence then too fanciful 
For our life's common light, who are so dull ? 
Did thy bright gleam mysterious converse hold 
With our congenial souls ? secrets too bold ? 


274 WALDEN. 

Well, we are safe and strong, for now we sit 
Beside a hearth where no dim shadows flit, 
Where nothing cheers nor saddens, but a fire 
Warms feet and hands — nor does to more aspire; 
By whose compact utilitarian heap 
The present may sit down and go to sleep, 
Nor fear the ghosts who from the dim past walked, 
And with us by the unequal light of the old wood fire 


I weathered some merry snow storms, and spent 
some cheerful winter evenings by my fire-side, while the 
snow whirled wildly without, and even the hooting of the 
owl was hushed. For many weeks I met no one in my 
walks but those who came occasionally to cut wood and 
sled it to the village. The elements, however, abetted 
me in making a path through the deepest snow in the 
woods, for when I had once gone through the wind blew 
the oak leaves into my tracks, where they lodged, and 
by absorbing the rays of the sun melted the snow, and 
so not only made a dry bed for my feet, but in the night 
their dark line was my guide. For human society I 
was obliged to conjure up the former occupants of these 
woods. Within the memory of many of my townsmen 
the road near which my house stands resounded with 
the laugh and gossip of inhabitants, and the woods which 
border it were notched and dotted here and there with 
their little gardens and dwellings, though it was then 
much more shut in by the forest than now. In some 
places, within my own remembrance, the pines would 


276 WALDEN. 

scrape both sides of a chaise at once, and women and 
children who were compelled to go this way to Lincoln 
alone and on foot did it with fear, and often ran a good 
part of the distance. Though mainly but a humble 
route to neighboring villages, or for the woodman's 
team, it once amused the traveller more than now by its 
variety, and lingered longer in his memory. Where 
now firm open fields stretch from the village to the 
woods, it then ran through a maple swamp on a founda- 
tion of logs, the remnants of which, doubtless, still un- 
derlie the present dusty highway, from the Stratten, 
now the Alms House, Farm, to Brister's Hill. 

East of my bean-field, across the road, lived Cato In- 
graham, slave of Duncan Ingraham, Esquire, gentleman 
of Concord village ; who built his slave a house, and 
gave him permission to live in Walden Woods ; — Cato, 
not Uticensis, but Concordiensis. Some say that he 
was a Guinea Negro. There are a few who remember 
his little patch among the walnuts, which he let grow up 
till he should be old and need them ; but a younger and 
whiter speculator got them at last. He too, however, 
occupies an equally narrow house at present. Cato's 
half-obliterated cellar hole still remains, though known 
to few, being concealed from the traveller by a fringe 
of pines. It is now filled with the smooth sumach, 
(Rhus glabra,) and one of the earliest species of golden- 
rod ( Solidago stricta) grows there luxuriantly. 

Here, by the very corner of my field, still nearer to 
town, Zilpha, a colored woman, had her little house, 
where she spun linen for the townsfolk, making the 
Walden Woods ring with her shrill singing, for she had 
a loud and notable voice. At length, in the war of 
1812, her dwelling was set on fire by English soldiers, 


prisoners on parole, when she was away, and her cat 
and dog and hens were all burned up together. She 
led a hard life, and somewhat inhumane. One old fre- 
quenter of these woods remembers, that as he passed her 
house one noon he heard her muttering to herself over 
her gurgling pot, — " Ye are all bones, bones ! " I have 
seen bricks amid the oak copse there. 

Down the road, on the right hand, on Brister' s Hill, 
lived Brister Freeman, " a handy Negro," slave of 
Squire Cummings once, — there where grow still the 
apple-trees which Brister planted and tended ; large old 
trees now, but their fruit still wild and ciderish to my 
taste. Not long since I read his epitaph in the old Lin- 
coln burying-ground, a little on one side, near the un- 
marked graves of some British grenadiers who fell in 
the retreat from Concord, — where he is styled " Sippio 
Brister," — Scipio Africanus he had some title to be 
called, — "a man of color," as if he were discolored. 
It also told me, with staring emphasis, when he died ; 
which was but an indirect way of informing me that 
he ever lived. With him dwelt Fenda, his hospitable 
wife, who told fortunes, yet pleasantly, — large, round, 
and black, blacker than any of the children of night, 
such a dusky orb as never rose on Concord before or 

Farther down the hill, on the left, on the old road in 
the woods, are marks of some homestead of the Strat- 
ten family ; whose orchard once covered all the slope of 
Brister's Hill, but was long since killed out by pitch- 
pines, excepting a few stumps, whose old roots furnish 
still the wild stocks of many a thrifty village tree. 

Nearer yet to town, you come to Breed's location, on 
the other side of the way, just on the edge of the wood ; 

278 WALDEN. 

ground famous for the pranks of a demon not distinctly 
named in old mythology, who has acted a prominent 
and astounding part in our New England life, and de- 
serves, as much as any mythological character, to have 
his biography written one day ; who first comes in the 
guise of a friend or hired man, and then robs and mur- 
ders the whole family, — New-England Rum. But his- 
tory must not yet tell the tragedies enacted here ; let 
time intervene in some measure to assuage and lend 
an azure tint to them. Here the most indistinct and 
dubious tradition says that once a tavern stood; the 
well the same, which tempered the traveller's beverage 
and refreshed his steed. Here then men saluted one 
another, and heard and told the news, and went their 
ways again. 

Breed's hut was standing only a dozen years ago, 
though it had long been unoccupied. It was about the 
size of mine. It was set on fire by mischievous boys, 
one Election night, if I do not mistake. I lived on the 
edge of the village then, and had just lost myself over 
Davenant's Gondibert, that winter that I labored with a 
lethargy, — which, by the way, I never knew whether to 
regard as a family complaint, having an uncle who goes 
to sleep shaving himself, and is obliged to sprout pota- 
toes in a cellar Sundays, in order to keep awake and 
keep the Sabbath, or as the consequence of my attempt 
to read Chalmers' collection of English poetry without 
skipping. It fairly overcame my Nervii. I had just 
sunk my head on this when the bells rung fire, and in 
hot haste the engines rolled that way, led by a strag- 
gling troop of men and boys, and I among the foremost, 
for I had leaped the brook. We thought it was far south 
over the woods, — we who had run to fires before, — 


barn, shop, or dwelling-house, or all together. " It's Ba- 
ker's barn," cried one. " It is the Codman Place," af- 
firmed another. And then) fresh sparks went up above 
the wood, as if the roof fell in, and we all shouted 
" Concord to the rescue ! " Wagons shot past with fu- 
rious speed and crushing loads, bearing, perchance, 
among the rest, the agent of the Insurance Company, 
who was bound to go however far ; and ever and anon 
the engine bell tinkled behind, more slow and sure, and 
rearmost of all, as it was afterward whispered, came 
they who set the fire and gave the alarm. Thus we 
kept on like true idealists, rejecting the evidence of our 
senses, until at a turn in the road we heard the crackling 
and actually felt the heat of the fire from over the wall, 
and realized, alas ! that we were there. The very 
nearness of the fire but cooled our ardor. At first we 
thought to throw a frog-pond on to it ; but concluded to 
let it burn, it was so far gone and so worthless. So we 
stood round our engine, jostled one another, expressed 
our sentiments through speaking trumpets, or in lower 
tone referred to the great conflagrations which the world 
has witnessed, including Bascom's shop, and, between 
ourselves, we thought that, were we there in season with 
our " tub," and a full frog-pond by, we could turn that 
threatened last and universal one into another flood. 
We finally retreated without doing any mischief, — re- 
turned to sleep and Gondibert. But as for Gondibert, 
I would except that passage in the preface about wit 
being the soul's powder, — " but most of mankind are 
strangers to wit, as Indians are to powder." 

It chanced that I walked that way across the fields 
the following night, about the same hour, and hearing a 
low moaning at this spot, I drew near in the dark, and 

280 WALDEN. 

discovered the only survivor of the family that I know, 
the heir of both its virtues and its vices, who alone was 
interested in this burning, lying on his stomach and 
looking over the cellar wall at the still smouldering cin- 
ders beneath, muttering to himself, as is his wont. He 
had been working far off in the river meadows all day, 
and had improved the first moments that he could 
call his own to visit the home of his fathers and his 
youth. He gazed into the cellar from all sides and 
points of view by turns, always lying down to it, as if 
there was some treasure, which he remembered, con- 
cealed between the stones, where there was absolutely 
nothing but a heap of bricks and ashes. The house 
being gone, he looked at what there was left. He was 
soothed by the sympathy which my mere presence im- 
plied, and showed me, as well as the darkness permitted, 
where the well was covered up ; which, thank Heaven, 
could never be burned ; and he groped long about the 
wall to find the well-sweep which his father had cut and 
mounted, feeling for the iron hook or staple by which a 
burden had been ^fastened to the heavy end, — all that 
he could now cling to, — to convince me that it was no 
common " rider." I felt it, and still remark it almost 
daily in my walks, for by it hangs the history of a 

Once more, on the left, where are seen the well and 
lilac bushes by the wall, in the now open field, lived 
Nutting and Le Grosse. But to return toward Lincoln. 

Farther in the woods than any of these, where the 
road approaches nearest to the pond, Wyman the pot- 
ter squatted, and furnished his townsmen with earthen 
ware, and left descendants to succeed him. Neither 
were they rich in worldly goods, holding the land by 


sufferance while they lived ; and there often the sheriff 
came in vain to collect the taxes, and " attached a chip," 
for form's sake, as I have read in his accounts, there 
being nothing else that he could lay his hands on. One 
day in midsummer, when I was hoeing, a man who was 
carrying a load of pottery to market stopped his horse 
against my field and inquired concerning Wyman the 
younger. He had long ago bought a potter's wheel of 
him, and wished to know what had become of him. I 
had read of the potter's clay and wheel in Scripture, 
but it had never occurred to me that the pots we use 
were not such as had come down unbroken from those 
days, or grown on trees like gourds somewhere, and I 
was pleased to hear that so fictile an art was ever prac- 
tised in my neighborhood. 

The last inhabitant of these woods before me was 
an Irishman, Hugh Quoil, (if I have spelt his name 
with coil enough,) who occupied Wyman's tenement, — 
Col. Quoil, he was called. Rumor said that he had been 
a soldier at Waterloo. If he had lived I should have 
made him fight his battles over again.* His trade here 
was that of a ditcher. Napoleon went to St. Helena ; 
Quoil came to Walden Woods. All I know of him is 
tragic. He was a man of manners, like one who had 
seen the world, and was capable of more civil speech 
than you could well attend to. Pie wore a great coat in 
mid-summer, being affected with the trembling delirium, 
and his face was the color of carmine. He died in the 
road at the foot of Brister's Hill shortly after I came to 
the woods, so that I have not remembered him as" a 
neighbor. Before his house was pulled down, when his 
comrades avoided it as " an unlucky castle," I visited it. 
There lay his old clothes curled up by use, as if they 

282 WALDEN. 

were himself, upon his raised plank bed. His pipe lay 
broken on the hearth, instead of a bowl broken at the 
fountain. The last could never have been the symbol 
of his death, for he confessed to me that, though he had 
heard of Brister's Spring, he had never seen it ; and 
soiled cards, kings of diamonds spades and hearts, 
were scattered over the floor. One black chicken which 
the administrator could not catch, black as night and as 
silent, not even croaking, awaiting Reynard, still went 
to roost in the next apartment. In the rear there was 
the dim outline of a garden, which had been planted 
but had never received its first hoeing, owing to those 
terrible shaking fits, though it was now harvest time. 
It was over-run with Roman wormwood and beggar- 
ticks, which last stuck to my clothes for all fruit. The 
skin of a woodchuck was freshly stretched upon the 
back of the house, a trophy of his last Waterloo ; but 
no warm cap or mittens would he want more. 

Now only a dent in the earth marks the site of these 
dwellings, with buried cellar stones, and strawberries, 
raspberries, thimble-berries, hazel-bushes, and sumachs 
growing in the sunny sward there ; some pitch-pine or 
gnarled oak occupies what was the chimney nook, and 
a sweet-scented black-birch, perhaps, waves where the 
door-stone was. Sometimes the well dent is visible, 
where once a spring oozed ; now dry and tearless grass ; 
or it was covered deep, — not to be discovered till some 
late day, — with a flat stone under the sod, when the 
last of the race departed. What a sorrowful act must 
that be, — the covering up of wells ! coincident with the 
opening of wells of tears. These cellar dents, like de- 
serted fox burrows, old holes, are all that is left where 
once were the stir and bustle of human life, and " fate, 


free-will, foreknowledge absolute," in some form and di- 
alect or other were by turns discussed. But all I can 
learn of their conclusions amounts to just this, that 
" Cato and Brister pulled wool ; " .which is about as edi- 
fying as the history of more famous schools of philos- 

Still grows the vivacious lilac a generation after the 
door and lintel and ^he sill are gone, unfolding its sweet- 
scented flowers each spring, to be plucked by the mus- 
ing traveller ; planted and tended once by children's 
hands, in front-yard plots, — now standing by wall-sides 
in retired pastures, and giving place to new-rising for- 
ests ; — the last of that stirp, sole survivor of that fam- 
ily. Little did the dusky children think that the puny 
slip with its two eyes only, which they stuck in the 
ground in the shadow of the house and daily watered, 
would root itself so, and outlive them, and house itself 
in the rear that shaded it, and grown man's garden 
and orchard, and tell their story faintly to the lone 
wanderer a half century after they had grown up and 
died, — blossoming as fair, and smelling as sweet, as in 
that first spring. I mark its still tender, civil, cheerful, 
lilac colors. 

But this small village, germ of something more, why 
did it fail while Concord keeps its ground ? Were there 
no natural advantages, — no water privileges, forsooth ? 
Ay, the deep Walden Pond and cool Brister's Spring, — 
privilege to drink long and healthy draughts at these, 
all unimproved by these men but to dilute their glass. 
They were universally a thirsty race. Might not the 
basket, stable-broom, mat-making, corn-parching, linen- 
spinning, and pottery business have thrived here, 
making the wilderness to blossom like the rose, and a 

284 WALDEN. 

numerous posterity have inherited the land of their 
fathers ? The sterile soil would at least have been 
proof against a low-land degeneracy. Alas ! how little 
does the memory of these human inhabitants enhance 
the beauty of the landscape ! Again, perhaps, Nature 
will try, with me for a first settler, and my house raised 
last spring to be the oldest in the hamlet. 

I am not aware that any man has ever built on the 
spot which I occupy. Deliver me from a city built on 
the site of a more ancient city, whose materials are 
ruins, whose gardens cemeteries. The soil is blanched 
and accursed there, and before that becomes necessary 
the earth itself will be destroyed. With such reminis- 
cences I repeopled the woods and lulled myself asleep. 

At this season I seldom had a visitor. When the 
snow lay deepest no wanderer ventured near my house 
for a week or fortnight at a time, but there I lived as 
snug as a meadow mouse, or as cattle and poultry which 
are said to have Survived for a long time buried in 
drifts, even without food ; or like that early settler's fam- 
ily in the town of Sutton, in this state, whose cottage 
was completely covered by the great snow of 1717 
when he was absent, and an Indian found it only by the 
hole which the chimney's breath made in the drift, and 
so relieved the family. But no friendly Indian con- 
cerned himself about me ; nor needed he, for the master 
of the house was at home. The Great Snow ! How 
cheerful it is to hear of ! When the farmers could not 
get to the woods and swamps with their teams, and 
were obliged to cut down the shade trees before their 
houses, and when the crust was harder cut off the trees 


in the swamps ten feet from the ground, as it appeared 
the next spring. 

In the deepest snows, the path which I used from 
the highway to my house, about half a mile long, might 
have been represented by a meandering dotted line, 
with wide intervals between the dots. For a week of 
even weather I took exactly the same number of steps, 
and of the same length, coming and going, stepping de- 
liberately and with the precision of a pair of dividers in 
my own deep tracks, — to such routine the winter re- 
duces us, — yet often they were filled with heaven's 
own blue. But no weather interfered fatally with my 
walks, or rather my going abroad, for I frequently 
tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to 
keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow- 
birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines ; when 
the ice and snow causing their limbs to droop, and so 
sharpening their tops, had changed the pines into fir- 
trees ; wading to the tops of the highest hills when the 
snow was nearly two feet deep on a level, and shaking 
down another snow-storm on my head at every step ; 
or sometimes creeping and floundering thither on my 
hands and knees, when the hunters had gone into winter 
quarters. One afternoon I amused myself by watching 
a barred owl (Strix nebulosd) sitting on one of the 
lower dead limbs of a white-pine, close to the trunk, in 
broad daylight, I standing within a rod of him. He 
could hear me when I moved and cronched the snow 
with my feet, but could not plainly see me. When I 
made most noise he would stretch out his neck, and erect 
his neck feathers, and open his eyes wide ; but their lids 
soon fell again, and he began to nod. I too felt a slum- 
berous influence after watching him half an hour, as he 

286 WALDEN. 

sat thus with his eyes half open, like a cat, winged 
brother of the cat. There was only a narrow slit left 
between their lids, by which he preserved a peninsular 
relation to me; thus, with half-shut eyes, looking out 
from the land of dreams, and endeavoring to realize me, 
vague object or mote that interrupted his visions. At 
length, on some louder noise or my nearer approach, he 
would grow uneasy and sluggishly turn about on his 
perch, as if impatient at having his dreams disturbed; 
and when he launched himself off and flapped through the 
pines, spreading his wings to unexpected breadth, I could 
not hear the slightest sound from them. Thus, guided 
amid the pine boughs rather by a delicate sense of their 
neighborhood than by sight, feeling his twilight way as it 
were with his sensitive pinions, he found a new perch, 
where he might in peace await the dawning of his day. 
As I walked over the long causeway made for the 
railroad through the meadows, I encountered many a 
blustering and nipping wind, for nowhere has it freer 
play ; and when the frost had smitten me on one cheek, 
heathen as I was, I turned to it the other also. Nor 
was it much better by the carriage road from Brister's 
Hill. For I came to town still, like a friendly Indian, 
when the contents of the broad open fields were all 
piled up between the walls of the Walden road, and 
half an hour sufficed to obliterate the tracks of the last 
traveller. And when I returned new drifts would have 
formed, through which I floundered, where the busy 
north-west wind had been depositing the powdery snow 
round a sharp angle in the road, and not a rabbit's track, 
nor even the fine print, the small type, of a meadow 
mouse was to be seen. Yet I rarely failed to find, even 
in mid-winter, some warm and springy swamp where 


the grass and the skunk-cabbage still put forth with 
perennial verdure, and some hardier bird occasionally 
awaited the return of spring. 

Sometimes, notwithstanding the snow, when I re- 
turned from my walk at evening I crossed the deep 
tracks of a woodchopper leading from my door, and found 
his pile of whittlings on the hearth, and my house filled 
with the odor of his pipe. Or on a Sunday afternoon, 
if I chanced to be at home, I heard the cronching of 
the snow made by the step of a long-headed farmer, 
who from far through the woods sought my house, to 
have a social " crack ; " one of the few of his vocation 
who are " men on their farms ; " who donned a frock in- 
stead of a professor's gown, and is as ready to extract 
the moral out of church or state as to haul a load of 
manure from his barn-yard. We talked of rude and 
simple times, when men sat about large fires in cold 
bracing weather, with clear heads ; and when other des- 
sert failed, we tried our teeth on many a nut which wise 
squirrels have long since abandoned, for those which 
have the thickest shells are commonly empty. 

The one who came from farthest to my lodge, through 
deepest snows and most dismal tempests, was a poet. 
A farmer, a hunter, a soldier, a reporter, even a philoso- 
pher, may be daunted ; but nothing can deter a poet, for 
he is actuated by pure love. Who can predict his 
comings and goings ? His business calls him out at all 
hours, even when doctors sleep. We made that small 
house ring with boisterous mirth and resound with the 
murmur of much sober talk, making amends then to 
Walden vale for the long silences. Broadway was still 
and deserted in comparison. At suitable intervals there 
were regular salutes of laughter, which might have 

288 WALDEN. 

been referred indifferently to the last uttered or the 
forth-coming jest. We made many a " bran new " theory 
of life over a thin dish of gruel, which combined the 
advantages of conviviality with the clear-headedness 
which philosophy requires. 

I should not forget that during my last winter at the 
pond there was another welcome visitor, who at one 
time came through the village, through snow and rain 
and darkness, till he saw my lamp through the trees, 
and shared with me some long winter evenings. One 
of the last of the philosophers, — Connecticut gave him to 
the world, — he peddled first her wares, afterwards, as he 
declares, his brains. These he peddles still, prompting 
God and disgracing man, bearing for fruit his brain only, 
like the nut its kernel. I think that he must be the 
man of the most faith of any alive. His words and 
attitude always suppose a better state of things than 
other men are acquainted with, and he will be the last 
man to be disappointed as the ages revolve. He has no 
venture in the present. But though comparatively dis- 
regarded now, when his day comes, laws unsuspected by 
most will take effect, and masters of families and rulers 
will come to him for advice. — 

" How blind that cannot see serenity ! " 

A true friend of man ; almost the only friend of hu- 
man progress. An Old Mortality, say rather an Immor- 
tality, with unwearied patience and faith making plain 
the image engraven in men's bodies, the God of whom 
they are but defaced and leaning monuments. With 
his hospitable intellect he embraces children, beggars, 
insane, and scholars, and entertains the thought of all, 
adding to it commonly some breadth and elegance. I 


think that he should keep a caravansary on the world's 
highway, where philosophers of all nations might put 
up, and on his sign should be printed, " Entertainment 
for man, but not for his beast. Enter ye that have lei- 
sure and a quiet mind, who earnestly seek the right road." 
He is perhaps the sanest man and has the fewest 
crotchets of any I chance to know ; the same yester- 
day and to-morrow. Of yore we had sauntered and 
talked, and effectually put the world behind us ; for he 
was pledged to no institution in it, freeborn, ingenuus. 
Whichever way we turned, it seemed that the heavens 
and the earth had met together, since he enhanced the 
beauty of the landscape. A blue-robed man, whose 
fittest roof is the overarching sky which reflects his 
serenity. I do not see how he can ever die ; Nature 
cannot spare him. 

Having each some shingles of thought well dried, we 
sat and whittled them, trying our knives, and admiring 
the clear yellowish grain of the pumpkin pine. We 
waded so gently and reverently, or we pulled together 
so smoothly, that the fishes of thought were not 
scared from the stream, nor feared any angler on the 
bank, but came and went grandly, like the clouds which 
float through the western sky, and the mother-o'-pearl 
flocks which sometimes form and dissolve there. There 
we worked, revising mythology, rounding a fable here 
and there, and building castles in the air for which 
earth offered no worthy foundation. Great Looker! 
Great Expecter ! to converse with whom was a New 
England Night's Entertainment. Ah ! such discourse 
we had, hermit and philosopher, and the old settler I 
have spoken of, — we three, — it expanded and racked 
my little house ; I should not dare to say how many 

290 WALDEN. 

pounds' weight there was above the atmospheric press- 
ure on every circular inch ; it opened its seams so that 
they had to be calked with much dulness thereafter to 
stop the consequent leak ; — but I had enough of that 
kind of oakum already picked. 

There was one other with whom I had " solid sea- 
sons," long to be remembered, at his house in the vil- 
lage, and who looked in upon me from time to time ; but 
I had no more for society there. 

There too, as every where, I sometimes expected the 
Visitor who never comes. The Vishnu Purana says, 
" The house-holder is to remain at eventide in his court- 
yard as long as it takes to milk a cow, or longer if he 
pleases, to await the arrival of a guest." I often per- 
formed this duty of hospitality, waited long enough to 
milk a whole herd of cows, but did not see the man 
approaching from the town. 


When the ponds were firmly frozen, they afforded 
not only new and shorter routes to many points, but 
new views from their surfaces of the familiar landscape 
around them. When I crossed Flints' Pond, after it 
was covered with snow, though I had often paddled 
about and skated over it, it was so unexpectedly wide and 
so strange that I could think of nothing but Baffin's 
Bay. The Lincoln hills rose up around me at the ex- 
tremity of a snowy plain, in which I did not remember 
to have stood before ; and the fishermen, at an indeter- 
minable distance over the ice, moving slowly about with 
their wolfish dogs, passed for sealers or Esquimaux, or 
in misty weather loomed like fabulous creatures, and I 
did not know whether they were giants or pygmies, 
I took this course when I went to lecture in Lincoln in 
the evening, travelling in no road and passing no house 
between my own hut and the lecture room. In Goose 
Pond, which lay in my way, a colony of muskrats 
dwelt, and raised their cabins high above the ice, though 
none could be seen abroad when I crossed it. Walden, 
being like the rest usually bare of snow, or with only 


292 WALDEN. 

shallow and interrupted drifts on it, was my yard, 
where I could walk freely when the snow was nearly 
two feet deep on a level elsewhere and the villagers 
were confined to their streets. There, far from the vil- 
lage street, and except at very long intervals, from the 
jingle of sleigh-bells, I slid and skated, as in a vast 
moose-yard well trodden, overhung by oak woods and 
solemn pines bent down with snow or bristling with 

For sounds in winter nights, and often in winter 
days, I heard the forlorn but melodious note of a 
hooting owl indefinitely far ; such a sound as the 
frozen earth would yield if struck with a suitable 
plectrum, the very lingua vernacula of Walden Wood, 
and quite familiar to me at last, though I never 
saw the bird while it was making it. I seldom opened 
my door in a winter evening without hearing it; 
Hoo hoo hoo, hoorer hoo, sounded sonorously, and the 
first three syllables accented somewhat like how der do ; 
or sometimes hoo hoo only. One night in the beginning 
of winter, before the pond froze over, about nine o'clock, 
I was startled by the loud honking of a goose, and, step- 
ping to the door, heard the sound of their wings like a 
tempest in the woods as they flew low over my house. 
They passed over the pond toward Fair Haven, seem- 
ingly deterred from settling by my light, their commo- 
dore honking all the while with a regular beat. Sud- 
denly an unmistakable cat-owl from very near me, 
with the most harsh and tremendous voice I ever heard 
from any inhabitant of the woods, responded at regular 
intervals to the goose, as if determined to expose and 
disgrace this intruder from Hudson's Bay by exhibiting 
a greater compass and volume of voice in a native, and 


boo-hoo him out of Concord horizon. What do you 
mean by alarming the citadel at this time of night con- 
secrated to me ? Do you think I am ever caught nap- 
ping at such an hour, and that I have not got lungs and 
a larynx as well as yourself? Boo-hoo, boo-hoo, boo- 
hoo ! It was one of the most thrilling discords I ever 
heard. And yet, if you had a discriminating ear, there 
were in it the elements of a concord such as these plains 
never saw nor heard. 

I also heard the whooping of the ice in the pond, my 
great bed-fellow in that part of Concord, as if it were 
restless in its bed and would fain turn over, were 
troubled with flatulency and bad dreams ; or I was 
waked by the cracking of the ground by the frost, as if 
some one had driven a team against my door, and in 
the morning would find a crack in the earth a quarter 
of a mile long and a third of an inch wide. 

Sometimes I heard the foxes as they ranged over the 
snow crust, in moonlight nights, in search of a partridge 
or other game, barking raggedly and demoniacally like 
forest dogs, as if laboring with some anxiety, or seeking 
expression, struggling for light and to be dogs outright 
and run freely in the streets ; for if we take the ages 
into our account, may there not be a civilization going 
on among brutes as well as men ? They seemed to me 
to be rudimental, burrowing men, still standing on their 
defence, awaiting their transformation. Sometimes one 
came near to my window, attracted by my light, barked 
a vulpine curse at me, and then retreated. 

Usually the red squirrel (Schimis Hudsonius) waked 
me in the dawn, coursing over the roof and up and 
down the sides of the house, as if sent out of the woods 
for this purpose. In the course of the winter I threw 

294 WALDEN. 

out half a bushel of ears of sweet-corn, which had not 
got ripe, on to the snow crust by my door, and was 
amused by watching the motions of the various animals 
which were baited by it. In the twilight and the night 
the rabbits came regularly and made a hearty meal. 
All day long the red squirrels came and went, and 
afforded me much entertainment by their manoeuvres. 
One would approach at first warily through the shrub- 
oaks, running over the snow crust by fits and starts like 
a leaf blown by the wind, now a few paces this way, 
with wonderful speed and waste of energy, making in- 
conceivable haste with his " trotters," as if it were for a 
wager, and now as many paces that way, but never get- 
ting on more than half a rod at a time ; and then sud- 
denly pausing with a ludicrous expression and a gratui 
tous somerset, as if all the eyes in the universe were 
fixed on him, — for all the motions of a squirrel, even 
in the most solitary recesses of the forest, imply specta- 
tors as much as those of a dancing girl, — wasting more 
time in delay and circumspection than would have suf- 
ficed to walk the whole distance, — I never saw one 
walk, — and then suddenly, before you could say Jack 
Robinson, he would be in the top of a young pitch-pine, 
winding up his clock and chiding all imaginary specta- 
tors, soliloquizing and talking to all the universe at the 
same time, — for no reason that I could ever detect, or 
he himself was aware of, I suspect. At length he 
would reach the corn, and selecting a suitable ear, brisk 
about in the same uncertain trigonometrical way to the 
top-most stick of my wood-pile, before my window, 
where he looked me in the face, and there sit for hours, 
supplying himself with a new ear from time to time, 
nibbling at first voraciously and throwing the half-naked 


cobs about ; till at length he grew more dainty still and 
played with his food, tasting only the inside of the ker- 
nel, and the ear, which was held balanced over the stick 
by one paw, slipped from his careless grasp and fell to 
the ground, when he would look over at it with a ludi- 
crous expression of uncertainty, as if suspecting that it 
had life, with a mind not made up whether to get it 
again, or a new one, or be off; now thinking of corn, 
then listening to hear what was in the wind. So the 
little impudent fellow would waste many an ear in a 
forenoon ; till at last, seizing some longer and plumper 
one, considerably bigger than himself, and skilfully bal- 
ancing it, he would set out with it to the woods, like a 
tiger with a buffalo, by the same zig-zag course and 
frequent pauses, scratching along with it as if it were 
too heavy for him and falling all the while, making its 
fall a diagonal between a perpendicular and horizon- 
tal, being determined to put it through at any rate ; — 
a singularly frivolous and whimsical fellow ; — and so 
he would get off with it to where he lived, perhaps 
carry it to the top of a pine tree forty or fifty rods dis- 
tant, and I would afterwards find the cobs strewn about 
the woods in various directions. 

At length the jays arrive, whose discordant screams 
were heard long before, as they were warily making 
their approach an eighth of a mile off, and in a stealthy 
and sneaking manner they flit from tree to tree, nearer 
and nearer, and pick up the kernels which the squirrels 
have dropped. Then, sitting on a pitch-pine bough, 
they attempt to swallow in their haste a kernel which 
is too big for their throats and chokes them ; and after 
great labor they disgorge it, and spend an hour in 
the endeavor to crack it by repeated blows with their 

296 WALBEN. 

bills. They were manifestly thieves, and I had not 
much respect for them ; but the squirrels, though at first 
shy, went to work as if they were taking what was 
their own. 

Meanwhile also came the chicadees in flocks, which, 
picking up the crums the squirrels had dropped, flew 
to the nearest twig, and, placing them under their 
claws, hammered away at them with their little bills, 
as if it were an insect in the bark, till they were 
sufficiently reduced for their slender throats. A little 
flock of these tit-mice came daily to pick a dinner out 
of my wood-pile, or the crums at my door, with faint 
flitting lisping notes, like the tinkling of icicles in the 
grass, or else with sprightly day day day, or more 
rarely, in spring-like days, a wiry summery phe-be from 
the wood-side. They were so familiar that at length 
one alighted on an armful of wood which I was carry- 
ing in, and pecked at the sticks without fear. I once 
had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a mo- 
ment while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt 
that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than 
I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn. 
The squirrels also grew at last to be quite familiar, and 
occasionally stepped upon my shoe, when that was the 
nearest way. 

When the ground was not yet quite covered, and 
again near the end of winter, when the snow was melted 
on my south hill-side and about my wood-pile, the par- 
tridges came out of the woods morning and evening to 
feed there. Whichever side you walk in the woods the 
partridge bursts away on whirring wings, jarring the 
snow from the dry leaves and twigs on high, which 
comes Bifting down in the sun-beams like golden dust ; 


for this brave bird is not to be scared by winter. It is 
frequently covered up by drifts, and, it is said, " some- 
times plunges from on wing into the soft snow, where it 
remains concealed for a day or two/' I used to start 
them in the open land also, where they had come out of 
the woods at sunset to "bud" the wild apple-trees. 
They will come regularly every evening to particular 
trees, where the cunning sportsman lies in wait for them, 
and the distant orchards next the woods suffer thus not 
a little. I am glad that the partridge gets fed, at any 
rate. It is Nature's own bird which lives on buds and 

In dark winter mornings, or in short winter afternoons, 
I sometimes heard a pack of hounds threading all the 
woods with hounding cry and yelp, unable to resist the 
instinct of the chase, and the note of the hunting horn 
at intervals, proving that man was in the rear. The 
woods ring again, and yet no fox bursts forth on to the 
open level of the pond, nor following pack pursuing their 
Actaeon. And perhaps at evening I see the hunters re- 
turning with a single brush trailing from their sleigh for 
a trophy, seeking their inn. They tell me that if the 
fox would remain in the bosom of the frozen earth he 
would be safe, or if he would run in a straight line 
away no fox-hound could overtake him ; but, having left 
his pursuers far behind, he stops to rest and listen till 
they come up, and when he runs he circles round to his 
old haunts, where the hunters await him. Sometimes, 
however, he will run upon a wall many rods, and 
then leap off far to one side, and he appears to know 
that water will not retain his scent. A hunter told me 
that he once saw a fox pursued by hounds burst out on 
to Walden when the ice was covered with shallow pud- 

298 WALDEN. 

dies, run part way across, and then return to the same 
shore. Ere long the hounds arrived, but here they lost 
the scent. Sometimes a pack hunting by themselves 
would pass my door, and circle round my house, and 
yelp and hound without regarding me, as if afflicted 
by a species of madness, so that nothing could divert 
them from the pursuit. Thus they circle until they fall 
upon the recent trail of a fox, for a wise hound will for- 
sake every thing else for this. One day a man came to 
my hut from Lexington to inquire after his hound that 
made a large track, and had been hunting for a week 
by himself. But I fear that he was not the wiser for 
all I told him, for every time I attempted to answer his 
questions he interrupted me by asking, " What do you 
do here ? " He had lost a dog, but found a man. 

One old hunter who has a dry tongue, who used to 
come to bathe in Walden once every year when the 
water was warmest, and at such times looked in upon 
me, told me, that many years ago he took his gun one 
afternoon and went out for a cruise in Walden Wood ; 
and as he walked the Wayland road he heard the cry 
of hounds approaching, and ere long a fox leaped the wall 
into the road, and as quick as thought leaped the other 
wall out of the road, and his swift bullet had not touched 
him. Some way behind came an old hound and her 
three pups in full pursuit, hunting on their own account, 
and disappeared again in the woods. Late in the 
afternoon, as he was resting in the thick woods south of 
Walden, he heard the voice of the hounds far over 
toward Fair Haven still pursuing the fox ; and on they 
came, their hounding cry which made all the woods ring 
sounding nearer and nearer, now from Well-Meadow, 
now from the Baker Farm. For a long time he stood 


still and listened to their music, so sweet to a hunter's 
ear, when suddenly the fox appeared, threading the 
solemn aisles with an easy coursing pace, whose sound 
was concealed by a sympathetic rustle of the leaves, 
swift and still, keeping the ground, leaving his pursuers 
far behind ; and, leaping upon a rock amid the woods, he 
sat erect and listening, with his back to the hunter. For 
a moment compassion restrained the latter's arm ; but 
that was a short-lived mood, and as quick as thought can 
follow thought his piece was levelled, and whang! — 
the fox rolling over the rock lay dead on the ground. 
The hunter still kept his place and listened to the hounds. 
Still on they came, and now the near woods resounded 
through all their aisles with their demoniac cry. At 
length the old hound burst into view with muzzle to the 
ground, and snapping the air as if possessed, and ran di- 
rectly to the rock ; but spying the dead fox she suddenly 
ceased her hounding, as if struck dumb with amaze- 
ment, and walked round and round him in silence ; and 
one by one her pups arrived, and, like their mother, were 
sobered into silence by the mystery. Then the hunter 
came forward and stood in their midst, and the mystery 
was solved. They waited in silence while he skinned 
the fox, then followed the brush a while, and at length 
turned off into the woods again. That evening a Wes- 
ton Squire came to the Concord hunter's cottage to in- 
quire for his hounds, and told how for a week they had 
been hunting on their own account from Weston woods. 
The Concord hunter told him what he knew and offered 
him the skin ; but the other declined it and departed. 
He did not find his hounds that night, but the next day 
learned that they had crossed the river and put up at a 

300 WALDEN. 

farm-house for the night, whence, having been well fed, 
they took their departure early in the morning. 

The hunter who told me this could remember one 
Sana Nutting, who used to hunt bears on Fair Haven 
Ledges, and exchange their skins for rum in Concord 
village ; who told him, even, that he had seen a moose 
there. Nutting had a famous fox-hound named Burgoyne, 
— he pronounced it Bugine, — which my informant used 
to borrow. In the " Wast Book * of an old trader of this 
town, who was also a captain, town-clerk, and represen- 
tative, I find the following entry. Jan. 18th, 1742-3, 
" John Melven Cr. by 1 Grey Fox — 2 — 3 ; " they 
are not now found here; and in his leger, Feb. 7th, 
1743, Hezekiah Stratton has credit " by 4 a Catt skin 
— 1 — 4£ ; " of course, a wild-cat, for Stratton was a 
sergeant in the old French war, and would not have got 
credit for hunting less noble game. Credit is given for 
deer skins also, and they were daily sold. One man still 
preserves the horns of the last deer that was killed in 
this vicinity, and another has told me the particulars of 
the hunt in which his uncle was engaged. The hunters 
were formerly a numerous and merry crew here. I re- 
member well one gaunt Nimrod who would catch up a 
leaf by the road-side and play a strain on it wilder and 
more melodious, if my memory serves me, than any 
hunting horn. 

At midnight, when there was a moon, I sometimes 
met with hounds in my path prowling about the woods, 
which would skulk out of my way, as if afraid, and 
stand silent amid the bushes till I had passed. 

Squirrels and wild mice disputed for my store of nuts. 
There were scores of pitch-pines around my house, from 


one to four inches in diameter, which had been gnawed 
by mice the previous winter, — a Norwegian winter for 
them, for the snow lay long and deep, and they were 
obliged to mix a large proportion of pine bark with their 
other diet. These trees were alive and apparently flour- 
ishing at mid-summer, and many of them had grown a 
foot, though completely girdled ; but after another win- 
ter such were without exception dead. It is remarka- 
ble that a single mouse should thus be allowed a whole 
pine tree for its dinner, gnawing round instead of up and 
down it ; but perhaps it is necessary in order to thin 
these trees, which are wont to grow up densely. 

The hares (Lepus Americanus) were very familiar. 
One had her form under my house all winter, separated 
from me only by the flooring, and she startled me each 
morning by her hasty departure when I began to stir, — 
thump, thump, thump, striking her head against the floor 
timbers in her hurry. They used to come round my 
door at dusk to nibble the potato parings which I had 
thrown out, and were so nearly the color of the ground 
that they could hardly be distinguished when still. 
Sometimes in the twilight I alternately lost and recov- 
ered sight of one sitting motionless under my window. 
When I opened my door in the evening, off they would 
go with a squeak and a bounce. Near at hand they 
only excited my pity. One evening one sat by my door 
two paces from me, at first trembling with fear, yet un- 
willing to move ; a poor wee thing, lean and bony, with 
ragged ears and sharp nose, scant tail and slender paws. 
It looked as if Nature no longer contained the breed of 
nobler bloods, but stood on her last toes. Its large eyes 
appeared young and unhealthy, almost dropsical. I 
took a step, and lo, away it scud with an elastic spring 

302 WALDEN. 

over the snow crust, straightening its body and its limbs 
into graceful length, and soon put the forest between me 
and itself, — the wild free venison, asserting its vigor 
and the dignity of Nature. Not without reason was its 
slenderness. Such then was its nature. (Lepus, levipes, 
light-foot, some think.) 

What is a country without rabbits and partridges ? 
They are among the most simple and indigenous animal 
products ; ancient and venerable families known to an- 
tiquity as to modern times ; of the very hue and sub- 
stance of Nature, nearest allied to leaves and to the 
ground, — and to one another ; it is either winged or it 
is legged. It is hardly as if you had seen a wild crea- 
ture when a rabbit or a partridge bursts away, only a 
natural one, as much to be expected as rustling leaves. 
The partridge and the rabbit are still sure to thrive, 
like true natives of the soil, whatever revolutions occur. 
If the forest is cut off, the sprouts and bushes which 
spring up afford them concealment, and they become 
more numerous than ever. That must be a poor coun- 
try indeed that does not support a hare. Our woods 
teem with them both, and around every swamp may be 
seen the partridge or rabbit walk, beset with twiggy 
fences and horse-hair snares, which some cow-boy tends. 


After a still winter night I awoke with the impres- 
sion that some question had been put to me, which I 
had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep, as 
what — how — when — where? But there was dawning 
Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my 
broad windows with serene and satisfied face, and no 
question on her lips. I awoke to an answered question, 
to Nature and daylight. The snow lying deep on the 
earth dotted with young pines, and the very slope of the 
hill on which my house is placed, seemed to say, For- 
ward! Nature puts no question and answers none 
which we mortals ask. She has long ago taken her 
resolution. " Prince, our eyes contemplate with ad- 
miration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and va- 
ried spectacle of this universe. The night veils without 
doubt a part of this glorious creation ; but day comes to 
reveal to us this great work, which extends from earth 
even into the plains of the ether." 

Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and 
pail and go in search of water, if that be not a dream. 
After a cold and snowy night it needed a divining rod 


304 WALDEN. 

to find it. Every winter the liquid and trembling 
surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every 
breath, and reflected every iight and shadow, becomes 
solid to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half, so that 
it will support the heaviest teams, and perchance the 
snow covers it to an equal depth, and it is not to be dis- 
tinguished from any level field. Like the marmots in 
the surrounding hills, it closes its eye-lids and becomes 
dormant for three months or more. Standing on the 
snow-covered plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I 
cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot 
of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneel- 
ing to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the 
fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a win- 
dow of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the 
same as in summer ; there a perennial waveless seren- 
ity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding 
to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. 
Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. 
Early in the morning, while all things are crisp with 
frost, men come with fishing reels and slender lunch, 
and let down their fine lines through the snowy field to 
take pickerel and perch ; wild men, who instinctively fol- 
low other fashions and trust other authorities than their 
townsmen, and by their goings and comings stitch towns 
together in parts where else they would be ripped. 
They sit and eat their luncheon in stout fear-naughts on 
the dry oak leaves on the shore, as wise in natural lore 
as the citizen is in artificial. They never consulted 
with books, and know and can tell much less than they 
have done. The things which they practise are said 
not yet to be known. Here is one fishing for pickerel 
with grown perch for bait. You look into his pail with 


wonder as into a summer pond, as if he kept summer 
locked up at home, or knew where she had retreated. 
How, pray, did he get these in mid- winter ? O, he got 
worms out of rotten logs since the ground froze, and so 
he caught them. His life itself passes deeper in Nature 
than the studies of the naturalist penetrate ; himself a 
subject for the naturalist. The latter raises the moss 
and bark gently with his knife in search of insects ; the 
former lays open logs to their core with his axe, and 
moss and bark fly far and wide. He gets his living by 
barking trees. Such a man has some right to fish, and 
I love to see Nature carried out in him. The perch 
swallows the grub-worm, the pickerel swallows the 
perch, and the fisherman swallows the pickerel ; and so 
all the chinks in the scale of being are filled. 

When I strolled around the pond in misty weather I 
was sometimes amused by the primitive mode which 
some ruder fisherman had adopted. He would perhaps 
have placed alder branches over the narrow holes in 
the ice, which were four or five rods apart and an equal 
distance from the shore, and having fastened the end of 
the line to a stick to prevent its being pulled through, 
have passed the slack line over a twig of the alder, a 
foot or more above the ice, and tied a dry oak leaf to it, 
which, being pulled down, would show when he had a 
bite. These alders loomed through the mist at regular 
intervals as you walked half way round the pond. 

Ah, the pickerel of Walden ! when I see them lying 
on the ice, or in the well which the fisherman cuts in 
the ice, making a little hole to admit the water, I am 
always surprised by their rare beauty, as if they were 
fabulous fishes, they are so foreign to the streets, even 
to the woods, foreign as Arabia to otfr Concord life. 

306 WALDEN. 

They possess a quite dazzling and transcendent beauty 
which separates them by a wide interval from the ca- 
daverous cod and haddock whose fame is trumpeted in 
our streets. They are not green like the pines, nor gray 
like the stones, nor blue like the sky ; but they have, to 
my eyes, if possible, yet rarer colors, like flowers and 
precious stones, as if they were the pearls, the annual- 
ized nuclei or crystals of the Walden water. They, of 
course, are Walden all over and all through ; are them- 
selves small Waldens in the animal kingdom, WaJ- 
denses. It is surprising that they are caught here, — 
that in this deep and capacious spring, far beneath the 
rattling teams and chaises and tinkling sleighs that trav- 
el the Walden road, this great gold and emerald fish 
swims. I never chanced to see its kind in any market ; 
it would be the cynosure of all eyes there. Easily, with 
a few convulsive quirks, they give up their watery 
ghosts, like a mortal translated before his time to the 
thin air of heaven. 

As I was desirous to recover the long lost bottom of 
Walden Pond, I surveyed it carefully, before the ice 
broke up, early in '46, with compass and chain and 
sounding line. There have been many stories told 
about the bottom, or rather no bottom, of this pond, 
which certainly had no foundation for themselves. It 
is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottom- 
lessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it. 
I have visited two such Bottomless Ponds in one walk 
in this neighborhood. Many have believed that Walden 
reached quite through to the other side of the globe. 
Some who have lain flat on the ice for a long time, look- 



ing down through the illusive medium, perchance with 
watery eyes into the bargain, and driven to hasty con- 
clusions by the fear of catching cold in their breasts, 
have seen vast holes " into which a load of hay might 
be driven," if there were any body to drive it, the un- 
doubted source of the Styx and entrance to the Infernal 
Regions from these parts. Others have gone down 
from the village with a " fifty-six " and a wagon load of 
inch rope, but yet have failed to find any bottom ; for 
while the " fifty-six " was resting by the way, they were 
paying out the rope in the vain attempt to fathom their 
truly immeasurable capacity for marvellousness. But I 
can assure my readers that Walden has a reasonably 
tight bottom at a not unreasonable, though at an unusual, 
depth. I fathomed it easily with a cod-line and a stone 
weighing about a pound and a half, and could tell accu- 
rately when the stone left the bottom, by having to pull 
so much harder before the water got underneath to help 
me. The greatest depth was exactly one hundred and 
two feet ; to which may be added the iive feet which it 
has risen since, making one hundred and seven. This 
is a remarkable depth for so small an area ; yet not an 
inch of it can be spared by the imagination. What if 
all ponds were shallow? Would it not react on the 
minds of men ? I am thankful that this pond was made 
deep and pure for a symbol. While men believe in the 
infinite some ponds will be thought to be bottomless. 

A factory owner, hearing what depth I had found, 
thought that it could not be true, for, judging from his 
acquaintance with dams, sand would not lie at so steep 
an angle. But the deepest ponds are not so deep in 
proportion to their area as most suppose, and, if drained, 
would not leave very remarkable valleys. They are 

308 WALDEN. 

not like cups between the hills ; for this one, which is so 
unusually deep for its area, appears in a vertical section 
through its centre not deeper than a shallow plate. 
Most ponds, emptied, would leave a meadow no more 
hollow than we frequently see. William Gilpin, who is 
so admirable in all that relates to landscapes, and usual- 
ly so correct, standing at the head of Loch Fyne, in 
Scotland, which he describes as " a bay of salt water, 
sixty or seventy fathoms deep, four miles in breadth," 
and about fifty miles long, surrounded by mountains, 
observes, " If we could have seen it immediately after 
the diluvian crash, or whatever convulsion of Nature 
occasioned it, before the waters gushed in, what a horrid 
chasm it must have appeared ! 

So high as heaved the tumid hills, so low 
Down sunk a hollow bottom, broad, and deep, 
Capacious bed of waters ." 

But if, using the shortest diameter of Loch Fyne, we ap- 
ply these proportions to Walden, which, as we have seen, 
appears already in a vertical section only like a shallow 
plate, it will appear four times as shallow. So much for 
the increased horrors of the chasm of Loch Fyne when 
emptied. No doubt many a smiling valley with its 
stretching cornfields occupies exactly such a "horrid 
chasm," from which the waters have receded, though it 
requires the insight and the far sight of the geologist 
to convince the unsuspecting inhabitants of this fact. 
Often an inquisitive eye may detect the shores of a 
primitive lake in the low horizon hills, and no subse- 
quent elevation of the plain have been necessary to 
conceal their history. But it is easiest, as they who 
work on the highways know, to find the hollows by the 


puddles after a shower. The amount of it is, the im- 
agination, give it the least license, dives deeper and 
soars higher than Nature goes. So, probably, the 
depth of the ocean will be found to be very inconsider- 
able compared with its breadth. 

As I sounded through the ice I could determine the 
shape of the bottom with greater accuracy than is pos- 
sible in surveying harbors which do not freeze over, and 
I was surprised at its general regularity. In the deep- 
est part there are several acres more level than almost 
any field which is exposed to the sun wind and plough. 
In one instance, on a line arbitrarily chosen, the depth did 
not vary more than one foot in thirty rods ; and generally, 
near the middle, I could calculate the variation for each 
one hundred feet in any direction beforehand within 
three or four inches. Some are accustomed to speak of 
deep and dangerous holes even in quiet sandy ponds 
like this, but the effect of water under these circum- 
stances is to level all inequalities. The regularity of 
the bottom and its conformity to the shores and the 
range of the neighboring hills were so perfect that a dis- 
tant promontory betrayed itself in the soundings quite 
across the pond, and its direction could be determined 
by observing the opposite shore. Cape becomes bar, and 
plain shoal, and valley and gorge deep water and 

When I had mapped the pond by the scale of ten 
rods to an inch, and put down the soundings, more than 
a hundred in all, I observed this remarkable coincidence. 
Having noticed that the number indicating the greatest 
depth was apparently in the centre of the map, I laid a 
rule on the map lengthwise, and then breadthwise, and 
found, to my surprise, that the line of greatest length 

310 WALDEN. 

intersected the line of greatest breadth exactly at the 
point of greatest depth, notwithstanding that the mid- 
dle is so nearly level, the outline of the pond far from 
regular, and the extreme length and breadth were got 
by measuring into the coves ; and I said to myself, Who 
knows but this hint would conduct to the deepest part of 
the ocean as well as of a pond or puddle ? Is not this 
the rule also for the height of mountains, regarded as the 
opposite of valleys ? We know that a hill is not high- 
est at its narrowest part. 

Of five coves, three, or all which had been sounded, 
were observed to have a bar quite across their mouths 
and deeper water within, so that the bay tended to be 
an expansion of water within the land not only horizon- 
tally but vertically, and to form a basin or independent 
pond, the direction of the two capes showing the course 
of the bar. Every harbor on the sea-coast, also, has 
its bar at its entrance. In proportion as the mouth of 
the cove was wider compared with its length, the water 
over the bar was deeper compared with that in the 
basin. Given, then, the length and breadth of the cove, 
and the character of the surrounding shore, and you 
have almost elements enough to make out a formula for 
all cases. 

In order to see how nearly I could guess, with this 
experience, at the deepest point in a pond, by observing 
the outlines of its surface and the character of its shores 
alone, I made a plan of White Pond, which contains 
about forty-one acres, and, like this, has no island in it, 
nor any visible inlet or outlet ; and as the line of great- 
est breadth fell very near the line of least breadth, 
where two opposite capes approached each other and 
two opposite bays receded, I ventured to mark a point 


a short distance from the latter line, but still on the 
line of greatest length, as the deepest. The deepest 
part was found to be within one hundred feet of this, 
still farther in the direction to which I had inclined, and 
was only one foot deeper, namely, sixty feet. Of course, 
a stream running through, or an island in the pond, 
would make the problem much more complicated. 

If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need 
only one fact, or the description of one actual phenome- 
non, to infer all the particular results at that point. 
Now we know only a few laws, and our result is viti- 
ated, not, of course, by any confusion or irregularity in 
Nature, but by our ignorance of essential elements in the 
calculation. Our notions of law and harmony are com- 
monly confined to those instances which we detect ; but 
the harmony which results from a far greater number 
of seemingly conflicting, but really concurring, laws, 
which we have not detected, is still more wonderful. 
The particular laws are as our points of view, as, to the 
traveller, a mountain outline varies with every step, and 
it has an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely 
but one form. Even when cleft or bored through it 
is not comprehended in its entireness. 

What I have observed of the pond is no less true in 
ethics. It is the law of average. Such a rule of the 
two diameters not only guides us toward the sun in the 
system and the heart in man, but draw lines through 
the length and breadth of the aggregate of a man's par- 
ticular daily behaviors and waves of life into his coves 
and inlets, and where they intersect will be the height 
or depth of his character. Perhaps we need only to 
know how his shores trend and his adjacent coun- 
try or circumstances, to infer his depth and concealed 

312 WALDEN. 

bottom. If he is surrounded by mountainous circum- 
stances, an Achillean shore, whose peaks overshad- 
ow and are reflected in his bosom, they suggest a 
corresponding depth in him. But a low and smooth 
shore proves him shallow on that side. In our bodies, 
a bold projecting brow falls off to and indicates a cor- 
responding depth of thought. Also there is a bar across 
the entrance of our every cove, or particular inclina- 
tion ; each is our harbor for a season, in which we are 
detained and partially land-locked. These inclinations 
are not whimsical usually, but their form, size, and di- 
rection are determined by the promontories of the shore, 
the ancient axes of elevation. When this bar is gradu- 
ally increased by storms, tides, or currents, or there is a 
subsidence of the waters, so that it reaches to the sur- 
face, that which was at first but an inclination in the 
shore in which a thought was harbored becomes an 
individual lake, cut off from the ocean, wherein the 
thought secures its own conditions, changes, perhaps, 
from salt to fresh, becomes a sweet sea, dead sea, or a 
marsh. At the advent of each individual into this life, 
may we not suppose that such a bar has risen to the 
surface somewhere ? It is true, we are such poor navi- 
gators that our thoughts, for the most part, stand off and 
on upon a harborless coast, are conversant only with the 
bights of the bays of poesy, or steer for the public ports 
of entry, and go into the dry docks of science, where 
they merely refit for this world, and no natural currents 
concur to individualize them. 

As for the inlet or outlet of Walden, I have not dis- 
covered any but rain and snow and evaporation, though 
perhaps, with a thermometer and a line, such places 
may be found, for where the water flows into the pond 


it will probably be coldest in summer and warmest in 
winter. When the ice-men were at work here in 
'46-7, the cakes sent to the shore were one day rejected 
by those who were stacking them up there, not being 
thick enough to lie side by side with the rest ; and the 
cutters thus discovered that the ice over a small space 
was two or three inches thinner than elsewhere, which 
made them think that there was an inlet there. They 
also showed me in another place what they thought was 
a "leach hole," through which the pond leaked out under 
a hill into a neighboring meadow, pushing me out on a 
cake of ice to see it. It was a small cavity under ten 
feet of water ; but I think that I can warrant the pond 
not to need soldering till they find a worse leak than 
that. One has suggested, that if such a "leach hole" 
should be found, its connection with the meadow, if any 
existed, might be proved by conveying some colored 
powder or sawdust to the mouth of the hole, and then 
putting a strainer over the spring in the meadow, which 
would catch some of the particles carried through by 
the current. 

While I was surveying, the ice, which was sixteen 
inches thick, undulated under a slight wind like water. 
It is well known that a level cannot be used on ice. At 
one rod from the shore its greatest fluctuation, when 
observed by means of a level on land directed toward 
a graduated staff on the ice, was three quarters of an 
inch, though the ice appeared firmly attached to the 
shore. It was probably greater in the middle. Who 
knows but if our instruments were delicate enough we 
might detect an undulation in the crust of the earth ? 
When two legs of my level were on the shore and the 
third on the ice, and the sights were directed over the 

314 WALDEN. 

latter, a rise or fall of the ice of an almost infinitesimal 
amount made a difference of several feet on a tree across 
the pond. When I began to cut holes for sounding, 
there were three or four inches of water on the ice un- 
der a deep snow which had sunk it thus far ; but the 
water began immediately to run into these holes, and 
continued to run for two days in deep streams, which 
wore away the ice on every side, and contributed es- 
sentially, if not mainly, to dry the surface of the pond ; 
for, as the water ran in, it raised and floated the ice. 
This was somewhat like cutting a hole in the bottom of 
a ship to let the water out. When such holes freeze, 
and a rain succeeds, and finally a new freezing forms a 
fresh smooth ice over all, it is beautifully mottled inter- 
nally by dark figures, shaped somewhat like a spider's 
web, what you may call ice rosettes, produced by tho 
channels worn by the water flowing from all sides to a 
centre. Sometimes, also, when the ice was covered 
with shallow puddles, I saw a double shadow of myself, 
one standing on the head of the other, one on the ice, 
the other on the trees or hill-side. 

While yet it is cold January, and snow and ice are 
thick and solid, the prudent landlord comes from the vil- 
lage to get ice to cool his summer drink ; impressively, 
even pathetically wise, to foresee the heat and thirst of 
July now in January, — wearing a thick coat and mit- 
tens ! when so many things are not provided for. 
It may be that he lays up no treasures in this world 
which will cool his summer drink in the next. He cuts 
and saws the solid pond, unroofs the house of fishes, and 
carts off their very element and air, held fast by chains 


and stakes like corded wood, through the favoring winter 
air, to wintry cellars, to underlie the summer there. It 
looks like solidified azure, as, far off, it is drawn through 
the streets. These ice-cutters are a merry race, full of 
jest and sport, and when I went among them they were 
wont to invite me to saw pit-fashion with them, I stand- 
ing underneath. 

In the winter of '46-7 there came a hundred men 
of Hyperborean extraction swoop down on to our pond 
one morning, with many car-loads of ungainly-looking 
farming tools, sleds, ploughs, drill-barrows, turf-knives, 
spades, saws, rakes, and each man was armed with a 
double-pointed pike-staff, such as is not described in 
the New-England Farmer or the Cultivator. I did not 
know whether they had come to sow a crop of winter 
rye, or some other kind of grain recently introduced 
from Iceland. As I saw no manure, I judged that they 
meant to skim the land, as I had done, thinking the soil 
was deep and had lain fallow long enough. They said 
that a gentleman farmer, who was behind the scenes, 
wanted to double his money, which, as I understood, 
amounted to half a million already ; but in order to cover 
each one of his dollars with another, he took off the only 
coat, ay, the skin itself, of Walden Pond in the midst of 
a hard winter. They went to work at once, ploughing, 
harrowing, rolling, furrowing, in admirable order, as if 
they were bent on making this a model farm ; but when I 
was looking sharp to see what kind of seed they dropped 
into the furrow, a gang of fellows by my side suddenly 
began to hook up the virgin mould itself, with a pecu- 
liar jerk, clean down to the sand, or rather the water, — 
for it was a very springy soil, — indeed all the terra fir ma 
there was, — and haul it away on sleds, and then I guessed 

316 WALDEN. 

that they must be cutting peat in a bog. So they came 
and went every day, with a peculiar shriek from the lo- 
comotive, from and to some point of the polar regions, as 
it seemed to me, like a flock of arctic snow-birds. But 
sometimes Squaw Walden had her revenge, and a hired 
man, walking behind his team, slipped through a crack 
in the ground down toward Tartarus, and he who 
was so brave before suddenly became but the ninth part 
of a man, almost gave up his animal heat, and was glad 
to take refuge in my house, and acknowledged that there 
was some virtue in a stove ; or sometimes the frozen 
soil took a piece of steel out of a ploughshare, or a 
plough got set in the furrow and had to be cut out. 

To speak literally, a hundred Irishmen, with Yankee 
overseers, came from Cambridge every day to get out 
the ice. They divided it into cakes by methods too well 
known to require description, and these, being sledded to 
the shore, were rapidly hauled off on to an ice platform, and 
raised by grappling irons and block and tackle, worked 
by horses, on to a stack, as surely as so many barrels 
of flour, and there placed evenly side by side, and row 
upon row, as if they formed the solid base of an obelisk 
designed to pierce the clouds. They told me that in 
a good day they could get out a thousand tons, which 
was the yield of about one acre. Deep ruts and " cradle 
holes " were worn in the ice, as on terra Jlrma, by the 
passage of the sleds over the same track, and the horses 
invariably ate their oats out of cakes of ice hollowed 
out like buckets. They stacked up the cakes thus in 
the open air in a pile thirty-five feet high on one side 
and six or seven rods square, putting hay between the 
outside layers to exclude the air ; for when the wind, 
though never so cold, finds a passage through, it will 


wear large cavities, leaving slight supports or studs only 
here and there, and finally topple it down. At first it 
looked like a vast blue fort or Valhalla ; but when they 
began to tuck the coarse meadow hay into the crevices, 
and this became covered with rime and icicles, it looked 
like a venerable moss-grown and hoary ruin, built of 
azure-tinted marble, the abode of Winter, that old man 
we see in the almanac, — his shanty, as if he had a de- 
sign to estivate with us, They calculated that not 
twenty-five per cent, of this would reach its destination, 
and that two or three per cent, would be wasted in the 
cars. However, a still greater part of this heap had a 
different destiny from what was intended ; for, either be- 
cause the ice was found not to keep so well as was ex- 
pected, containing more air than usual, or for some other 
reason, it never got to market. This heap, made in the 
winter of '46-7 and estimated to contain ten thousand 
tons, was finally covered with hay and boards ; and 
though it was unroofed the following July, and a part 
of it carried off, the rest remaining exposed to the 
sun, it stood over that summer and the next winter, and 
was not quite melted till September 1848. Thus the 
pond recovered the greater part. 

Like the water, the Walden ice, seen near at hand, 
has a green tint, but at a distance is beautifully blue, 
and you can easily tell it from the white ice of the river, 
or the merely greenish ice of some ponds, a quarter of a 
mile off. Sometimes one of those great cakes slips from 
the ice-man's sled into the village street, and lies there for 
a week like a great emerald, an object of interest to all 
passers. I have noticed that a portion of Walden which 
in the state of water was green will often, when frozen, 
appear from the same point of view blue. So the hoi- 

318 WALDEN. 

lows about this pond will, sometimes, in the winter, 
be filled with a greenish water somewhat like its own, 
but the next day will have frozen blue. Perhaps the 
blue color of water and ice is due to the light and air 
they contain, and the most transparent is the bluest. 
Ice is an interesting subject for contemplation. They 
told me that they had some in the ice-houses at Fresh 
Pond five years old which was as good as ever. Why 
is it that a bucket of water soon becomes putrid, but 
frozen remains sweet forever? It is commonly said 
that this is the difference between the affections and the 

Thus for sixteen days I saw from my window a hun- 
dred men at work like busy husbandmen, with teams 
and horses and apparently all the implements of farm- 
ing, such a picture as we see on the first page of the 
almanac ; and as often as I looked out I was reminded 
of the fable of the lark and the reapers, or the parable 
of the sower, and the like ; and now they are all gone, 
and in thirty days more, probably, I shall look from the 
same window on the pure sea-green Walden water 
there, reflecting the clouds and the trees, and sending 
up its evaporations in solitude, and no traces will appear 
that a man has ever stood there. Perhaps I shall hear a 
solitary loon laugh as he dives and plumes himself, or 
shall see a lonely fisher in his boat, like a floating leaf, 
beholding his form reflected in the waves, where lately 
a hundred men securely labored. 

Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of 
Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay 
and Calcutta, drink at my well. In the morning I bathe 
my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philoso- 
phy of the Bhagvat Geeta, since whose composition 


years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with 
which our modern world and its literature seem puny 
and trivial ; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to 
be referred to a previous state of existence, so re- 
mote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down 
the book and go to my well for water, and lo ! there I 
meet the servant of the Bramin, priest of Brahma and 
Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the 
Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a 
tree with his crust and water jug. I meet his servant 
come to draw water for his master, and our buckets 
as it were grate together in the same well. The pure 
Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the 
Ganges. "With favoring winds it is wafted past the site 
of the fabulous islands of Atlantis and the Hesperides, 
makes the periplus of Hanno, and, floating by Ternate 
and Tidore and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, melts 
in the tropic gales of the Indian seas, and is landed in 
ports of which Alexander only heard the names. 


The opening of large tracts by the ice-cutters com- 
monly causes a pond to break up earlier ; for the water, 
agitated by the wind, even in cold weather, wears away 
the surrounding ice. But such was not the effect on 
Walden that year, for she had soon got a thick new gar- 
ment to take the place of the old. This pond never 
breaks up so soon as the others in this neighborhood, on 
account both of its greater depth and its having no stream 
passing through it to melt or wear away the ice. I never 
knew it to open in the course of a winter, not excepting 
that of '52-3, which gave the ponds so severe a trial. 
It commonly opens about the first of April, a week or 
ten days later than Flints' Pond and Fair-Haven, be- 
ginning to melt on the north side and in the shallower 
parts where it began to freeze. It indicates better than 
any water hereabouts the absolute progress of the sea- 
son, being least affected by transient changes of temper- 
ature. A severe cold of a few days' duration in March 
may very much retard the opening of the former ponds, 
while the temperature of Walden increases almost un- 
interruptedly. A thermometer thrust into the middle 


SPRING. 321 

of Walden on the 6th of March, 1847, stood at 32°, or 
freezing point ; near the shore at 33° ; in the middle of 
Flints' Pond, the same day, at 32£° ; at a dozen rods 
from the shore, in shallow water, under ice a foot thick, 
at 36°. This difference of three and a half degrees be- 
tween the temperature of the deep water and the shal- 
low in the latter pond, and the fact that a great propor- 
tion of it is comparatively shallow, show why it should 
break up so much sooner than Walden. The ice in the 
shallowest part was at this time several inches thinner 
than in the middle. In mid- winter the middle had been 
the warmest and the ice thinnest there. So, also, every 
one who has waded about the shores of a pond in sum- 
mer must have perceived how much warmer the water 
is close to the shore, where only three or four inches 
deep, than a little distance out, and on the surface where 
it is deep, than near the bottom. In spring the sun 
not only exerts an influence through the increased tem- 
perature of the air and earth, but its heat passes through 
ice a foot or more thick, and is reflected from the bottom 
in shallow water, and so also warms the water and melts 
the under side of the ice, at the same time that it is 
melting it more directly above, making it uneven, and 
causing the air bubbles which it contains to extend 
themselves upward and downward until it is complete- 
ly honey-combed, and at last disappears suddenly in a 
single spring rain. Ice has its grain as well as wood, 
and when a cake begins to rot or " comb," that is, assume 
the appearance of honey-comb, whatever may be its 
position, the air cells are at right angles with what was 
the water surface. Where there is a rock or a log rising 
near to the surface the ice over it is much thinner, and 
is frequently quite dissolved by this reflected heat ; and 

822 WALDEN. 

I have been told that in the experiment at Cambridge 
to freeze water in a shallow wooden pond, though the 
cold air circulated underneath, and so had access to both 
sides, the reflection of the sun from the bottom more 
than counterbalanced this advantage. When a warm 
rain in the middle of the winter melts off the snow-ice 
from Walden, and leaves a hard dark or transparent 
ice on the middle, there will be a strip of rotten though 
thicker white ice, a rod or more wide, about the shores, 
created by this reflected heat. Also, as I have said, the 
bubbles themselves within the ice operate as burning 
glasses to melt the ice beneath. 

The phenomena of the year take place every day in 
a pond on a small scale. Every morning, generally 
speaking, the shallow water is being warmed more rap- 
idly than the deep, though it may not be made so warm 
after all, and every evening it is being cooled more rap- 
idly until the morning. The day is an epitome of the 
year. The night is the winter, the morning and even- 
ing are the spring and fall, and the noon is the summer. 
The cracking and booming of the ice indicate a change 
of temperature. One pleasant morning after a cold 
night, February 24th, 1850, having gone to Flints' 
Pond to spend the day, I noticed with surprise, that 
when I struck the ice with the head of my axe, it re- 
sounded like a gong for many rods around, or as if I 
had struck on a tight drum-head. The pond began to 
boom about an hour after sunrise, when it felt the influ- 
ence of the sun's rays slanted upon it from over the 
hills ; it stretched itself and yawned like a waking man 
with a gradually increasing tumult, which was kept up 
three or four hours. It took a short siesta at noon, and 
boomed once more toward night, as the Sun was with- 

SPRING. 323 

drawing his influence. In the right stage of the weath- 
er a pond fires its evening gun with great regularity. 
But in the middle of the day, being full of cracks, and 
the air also being less elastic, it had completely lost its 
resonance, and probably fishes and muskrats could not 
then have been stunned by a blow on it. The fisher- 
men say that the " thundering of the pond " scares the 
fishes and prevents their biting. The pond does not 
thunder every evening, and I cannot tell surely when to 
expect its thundering ; but though I may perceive no 
difference in the weather, it does. Who would have 
suspected so large and cold and thick-skinned a thing to 
be so sensitive ? Yet it has its law to which it thunders 
obedience when it should as surely as the buds expand 
in the spring. The earth is all alive and covered with 
papillae. The largest pond is as sensitive to atmos- 
pheric changes as the globule of mercury in its tube. 

One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that 
I should have leisure and opportunity to see the spring 
come in. The ice in the pond at length begins to be 
honey-combed, and I can set my heel in it as I walk. 
Fogs and rains and warmer suns are gradually melting 
the snow ; the days have grown sensibly longer ; and I 
see how I shall get through the winter without adding 
to my wood-pile, for large fires are no longer necessary. 
I am on the alert for the first signs of spring, to hear 
the chance note of some arriving bird, or the striped 
squirrel's chirp, for his stores must be now nearly ex- 
hausted, or see the woodchuck venture out of his win- 
ter quarters. On the 13th of March, after I had heard 
the bluebird, song-sparrow, and red-wing, the ice was 


still nearly a foot thick. As the weather grew warmer, 
it was not sensibly worn away by the water, nor broken 
up and floated off as in rivers, but, though it was com- 
pletely melted for half a rod in width about the shore, 
the middle was merely honey-combed and saturated 
with water, so that you could put your foot through it 
when six inches thick ; but by the next day evening, 
perhaps, after a warm rain followed by fog, it would 
have wholly disappeared, all gone off with the fog, spir- 
ited away. One year I went across the middle only 
five days before it disappeared entirely. In 1845 Wal- 
den was first completely open on the 1st of April ; in 
'46, the 25th of March ; in '47, the 8th of April ; in '51, 
the 28th of March ; in '52, the 18th of April ; in '53, the 
23d of March ; in '54, about the 7th of April. 

Every incident connected with the breaking up of the 
rivers and ponds and the settling of the weather is par- 
ticularly interesting to us who live in a climate of so 
great extremes. When the warmer days come, they 
who dwell near the river hear the ice crack at night 
with a startling whoop as loud as artillery, as if its icy 
fetters were rent from end to end, and within a few days 
see it rapidly going out. So the alligator comes out of 
the mud with quakings of the earth. One old man, who 
has been a close observer of Nature, and seems as thor- 
oughly wise in regard to all her operations as if she had 
been put upon the stocks when he was a boy, and he 
had helped to lay her keel, — who has come to his 
growth, and can hardly acquire more of natural lore if 
he should live to the age of Methuselah, — told me, and 
I was surprised to hear him express wonder at any of 
Nature's operations, for I thought that there were no se- 
crets between them, that one spring day he took his gun 

SPRING. 325 

and boat, and thought that he would have a little sport 
with the ducks. There was ice still on the meadows, 
but it was all gone out of the river, and he dropped 
down without obstruction from Sudbury, where he lived, 
to Fair-Haven Pond, which he found, unexpectedly, 
covered for the most part with a firm field of ice. It 
was a warm day, and he was surprised to see so great a 
body of ice remaining. Not seeing any ducks, he hid 
his boat on the north or back side of an island in the 
pond, and then concealed himself in the bushes on the 
south side, to await them. The ice was melted for three 
or four rods from the shore, and there was a smooth and 
warm sheet of water, with a muddy bottom, such as the 
ducks love, within, and he thought it likely that some 
would be along pretty soon. After he had lain still 
there about an hour he heard a low and seemingly very 
distant sound, but singularly grand and impressive, un- 
like any thing he had ever heard, gradually swelling and 
increasing as if it would have a universal and memora- 
ble ending, a sullen rush and roar, which seemed to him 
all at once like the sound of a vast body of fowl coming 
in to settle there, and, seizing his gun, he started up in 
haste and excited ; but he found, to his surprise, that the 
whole body of the ice had started while he lay there, 
and drifted in to the shore, and the sound he had heard 
was made by its edge grating on the shore, — at first 
gently nibbled and crumbled off, but at length heaving 
up and scattering its wrecks along the island to a con- 
siderable height before it came to a stand still. 

At length the sun's rays have attained the right an- 
gle, and warm winds blow up mist and rain and melt 
the snow banks, and the sun dispersing the mist smiles 
on a checkered landscape of russet and white smoking 

326 WALDEN. 

with incense, through which the traveller picks his way 
from islet to islet, cheered by the music of a thousand 
tinkling rills and rivulets whose veins are filled with the 
blood of winter which they are bearing off. 

Few phenomena gave me more delight than to ob- 
serve the forms which thawing sand and clay assume in 
flowing down the sides of a deep cut on the railroad 
through which I passed on my way to the village, a 
phenomenon not very common on so large a scale, 
though the number of freshly exposed banks of the right 
material must have been greatly multiplied since rail- 
roads were invented. The material was sand of every 
degree of fineness and of various rich colors, commonly 
mixed with a little clay. When the frost comes out in 
the spring, and even in a thawing day in the winter, the 
sand begins to flow down the slopes like lava, sometimes 
bursting out through the snow and overflowing it where 
no sand was to be seen before. Innumerable little 
streams overlap and interlace one with another, exhibit- 
ing a sort of hybrid product, which obeys half way the 
law of currents, and half way that of vegetation. As it 
flows it takes the forms of sappy leaves or vines, mak- 
ing heaps of pulpy sprays a foot or more in depth, and 
resembling, as you look down on them, the laciniated 
lobed and imbricated thalluses of some lichens ; or you 
are reminded of coral, of leopards' paws or birds' feet, 
of brains or lungs or bowels, and excrements of all kinds. 
It is a truly grotesque vegetation, whose forms and color 
we see imitated in bronze, a sort of architectural foliage 
more ancient and typical than acanthus, chiccory, ivy, 
vine, or any vegetable leaves ; destined perhaps, under 
some circumstances, to become a puzzle to future geolo- 
gists. The whole cut impressed me as if it were a cave 

SPRING. 327 

with its stalactites laid open to the light. The various 
shades of the sand are singularly rich and agreeable, 
embracing the different iron colors, brown, gray, yellow- 
ish, and reddish. When the flowing mass reaches the 
drain at the foot of the bank it spreads out flatter into 
strands, the separate streams losing their semi-cylindri- 
cal form and gradually becoming more flat and broad, 
running together as they are more moist, till they form 
an almost flat sand, still variously and beautifully shaded, 
but in which you can trace the original forms of vegeta- 
tion ; till at length, in the water itself, they are convert- 
ed into banks, like those formed off the mouths of rivers, 
and the forms of vegetation are lost in the ripple marks 
on the bottom. 

The whole bank, which is from twenty to forty feet 
high, is sometimes overlaid with a mass of this kind of 
foliage, or sandy rupture, for a quarter of a mile on one 
or both sides, the produce of one spring day. What 
makes this sand foliage remarkable is its springing into 
existence thus suddenly. When I see on the one side 
the inert bank, — for the sun acts on one side first, — 
and on the other this luxuriant foliage, the creation of 
an hour, I am affected as if in a peculiar sense I stood 
in the laboratory of the Artist who made the world and 
me, — had come to where he was still at work, sporting 
on this bank, and with excess of energy strewing his 
fresh designs about. I feel as if I were nearer to the 
vitals of the globe, for this sandy overflow is something 
such a foliaceous mass as the vitals of the animal body. 
You find thus in the very sands an anticipation of the 
vegetable leaf. No wonder that the earth expresses 
itself outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea in- 
wardly. The atoms have already learned this law, and 

828 WALDEN. 

are pregnant by it. The overhanging leaf sees here 
its prototype. Internally, whether in the globe or ani- 
mal body, it is a moist thick lobe, a word especially ap- 
plicable to the liver and lungs and the leaves of fat, 
(Xelfico, labor, lapsus, to flow or slip downward, a laps- 
ing ; lofiog, globus, lobe, globe ; also lap, flap, and 
many other words,) externally a dry thin leaf, even as 
the / and v are a pressed and dried b. The radicals of 
lobe are lb, the soft mass of the b (single lobed, or B, 
double lobed,) with a liquid I behind it pressing it for- 
ward. In globe, gib, the guttural g adds to the mean- 
ing the capacity of the throat. The feathers and wings 
of birds are still drier and thinner leaves. Thus, also, 
you pass from the lumpish grub in the earth to the airy 
and fluttering butterfly. The very globe continually 
transcends and translates itself, and becomes winged in 
its orbit. Even ice begins with delicate crystal leaves, 
as if it had flowed into moulds which the fronds of water 
plants have impressed on the watery mirror. The 
whole tree itself is but one leaf, and rivers are still 
vaster leaves whose pulp is intervening earth, and towns 
and cities are the ova of insects in their axils. 

When the sun withdraws the sand ceases to flow, but 
in the morning the streams will start once more and 
branch and branch again into a myriad of others. You 
here see perchance how blood vessels are formed. If 
you look closely you observe that first there pushes for- 
ward from the thawing mass a stream of softened sand 
with a drop-like point, like the ball of the finger, feeling 
its way slowly and blindly downward, until at last with 
more heat and moisture, as the sun gets higher, the most 
fluid portion, in its effort to obey the law to which the 
most inert also yields, separates from the latter and 

SPRING. 329 

forms for itself a meandering channel or artery within 
that, in which is seen a little silvery stream glanc- 
ing like lightning from one stage of pulpy leaves or 
branches to another, and ever and anon swallowed up 
in the sand. It is wonderful how rapidly yet perfectly 
the sand organizes itself as it flows, using the best ma- 
terial its mass affords to form the sharp edges of its chan- 
nel. Such are the sources of rivers. In the silicious 
matter which the water deposits is perhaps the bony 
system, and in the still finer soil and organic matter the 
fleshy fibre or cellular tissue. What is man but a mass 
of thawing clay ? The ball of the human finger is but 
a drop congealed. The fingers and toes flow to their 
extent from the thawing mass of the body. Who knows 
what the human body would expand and flow out to 
under a more genial heaven ? Is not the hand a spread- 
ing palm leaf with its lobes and veins ? The ear may 
be regarded, fancifully, as a lichen, umbilicaria, on the 
side of the head, with its lobe or drop. The lip — labi- 
um, from labor (?) — laps or lapses from the sides of the 
cavernous mouth. The nose is a manifest congealed 
drop or stalactite. The chin is a still larger drop, the 
confluent dripping of the face. The cheeks are a slide 
from the brows into the valley of the face, opposed and 
diffused by the cheek bones. Each rounded lobe of the 
vegetable leaf, too, is a thick and now loitering drop, larg- 
er or smaller ; the lobes are the fingers of the leaf; and 
as many lobes as it has, in so many directions it tends to 
flow, and more heat or other genial influences would 
have caused it to flow yet farther. 

Thus it seemed that this one hillside illustrated the 
principle of all the operations of Nature. The Maker 
of this earth but patented a leaf. What Champollion 

330 WALDEN. 

will decipher this hieroglyphic for us, that we may 
turn over a new leaf at last ? This phenomenon is 
more exhilarating to me than the luxuriance and fertility 
of vineyards. True, it is somewhat excrementitious in 
its character, and there is no end to the heaps of liver 
lights and bowels, as if the globe were turned wrong 
side outward ; but this suggests at least that Nature has 
some bowels, and there again is mother of humanity. 
This is the frost coming out of the ground ; this is Spring. 
It precedes the green and flowery spring, as mythology 
precedes regular poetry. I know of nothing more pur- 
gative of winter fumes and indigestions. It convinces 
me that Earth is still in her swaddling clothes, and 
stretches forth baby fingers on every side. Fresh curls 
spring from the baldest brow. There is nothing inor- 
ganic. These foliaceous heaps lie along the bank like 
the slag of a furnace, showing that Nature is " in full 
blast" within. The earth is not a mere fragment of 
dead history, stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a 
book, to be studied by geologists and antiquaries 
chiefly, but living poetry like the leaves of a tree, which 
precede flowers and fruit, — not a fossil earth, but a 
living earth ; compared with whose great central life all 
animal and vegetable life is merely parasitic. Its throes 
will heave our exuviae from their graves. You may 
melt your metals and cast them into the most beautiful 
moulds you can ; they will never excite me like the 
forms which this molten earth flows out into. And not 
only it, but the institutions upon it, are plastic like clay 
in the hands of the potter. 

Ere long, not only on these banks, but on every hill 

SPRING. 331 

and plain and in every hollow, the frost comes out of 
the ground like a dormant quadruped from its burrow, 
and seeks the sea with music, or migrates to other climes 
in clouds. Thaw with his gentle persuasion is more 
powerful than Thor with his hammer. The one melts, 
the other but breaks in pieces. 

When the ground was partially bare of snow, and a 
few warm days had dried its surface somewhat, it was 
pleasant to compare the first tender signs of the infant 
year just peeping forth with the stately beauty of the 
withered vegetation which had withstood the winter, — 
life-everlasting, golden-rods, pinweeds, and graceful 
wild grasses, more obvious and interesting frequently 
than in summer even, as if their beauty was not ripe 
till then ; even cotton-grass, cat-tails, mulleins, johns- 
wort, hard-hack, meadow-sweet, and other strong 
stemmed plants, those unexhausted granaries which en- 
tertain the earliest birds, — decent weeds, at least, which 
widowed Nature wears. I am particularly attracted by 
the arching and sheaf-like top of the wool-grass ; it 
brings back the summer to our winter memories, and is 
among the forms which art loves to copy, and which, in 
the vegetable kingdom, have the same relation to types 
already in the mind of man that astronomy has. It is 
an antique style older than Greek or Egyptian. Many 
of the phenomena of Winter are suggestive of an inex- 
pressible tenderness and fragile delicacy. We are ac- 
customed to hear this king described as a rude and bois- 
terous tyrant ; but with the gentleness of a lover he 
adorns the tresses of Summer. 

At the approach of spring the red-squirrels got under 
my house, two at a time, directly under my feet as I sat 
reading or writing, and kept up the queerest chuckling 

332 WALDEN. 

and chirruping and vocal pirouetting and gurgling 
sounds that ever were heard ; and when I stamped they 
only chirruped the louder, as if past all fear and respect 
in their mad pranks, defying humanity to stop them. 
No you don't — chickaree — chickaree. They were whol- 
ly deaf to my arguments, or failed to perceive their force, 
and fell into a strain of invective that was irresistible. 

The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning 
with younger hope than ever ! The faint silvery war- 
blings heard over the partially bare and moist fields from 
the blue-bird, the song-sparrow, and the red-wing, as if 
the last flakes of winter tinkled as they fell ! What at 
such a time are histories, chronologies, traditions, and all 
written revelations ? The brooks sing carols and glees 
to the spring. The marsh-hawk sailing low over the 
meadow is already seeking the first slimy life that 
awakes. The sinking sound of melting snow is heard 
in all dells, and the ice dissolves apace in the ponds. 
The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire, — 
" et primitus oritur herba imbribus primoribus evocata," 
— as if the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the 
returning sun ; not yellow but green is the color of its 
flame ; — the symbol of perpetual youth, the grass-blade, 
like a long green ribbon, streams from the sod into the 
summer, checked indeed by the frost, but anon pushing 
on again, lifting its spear of last year's hay with the 
fresh life below. It grows as steadily as the rill oozes 
out of the ground. It is almost identical with that, for 
in the growing days of June, when the rills are dry, the 
grass blades are their channels, and from year to year 
the herds drink at this perennial green stream, and the 
mower draws from it betimes their winter supply. So 
our human life but dies down to its root, and still puts 
forth its green blade to eternity. 

SPRING. 333 

Walden is melting apace. There is a canal two rods 
wide along the northerly and westerly sides, and wider 
still at the east end. A great field of ice has cracked 
off from the main body. I hear a song-sparrow singing 
from the bushes on the shore, — olit, olit, olit, — chip, 
chip, chip, che char, — die wiss, wiss, wiss. He too is 
helping to crack it. How handsome the great sweeping 
curves in the edge of the ice, answering somewhat to 
those of the shore, but more regular ! It is unusually 
hard, owing to the recent severe but transient cold, and 
all watered or waved like a palace floor. But the wind 
slides eastward over its opaque surface in vain, till it 
reaches the living surface beyond. It is glorious to be- 
hold this ribbon of water sparkling in the sun, the bare 
face of the pond full of glee and youth, as if it spoke the 
joy of the fishes within it, and of the sands on its shore, 
— a silvery sheen as from the scales of a leuciscus, as it 
were all one active fish. Such is the contrast between 
winter and spring. Walden was dead and is alive again. 
But this spring it broke up more steadily, as I have 

The change from storm and winter to serene and mild 
weather, from dark and sluggish hours to bright and 
elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things pro- 
claim. It is seemingly instantaneous at last. Suddenly 
an influx of light filled my house, though the evening 
was at hand, and the clouds of winter still overhung it, 
and the eaves were dripping with sleety rain. I looked 
out the window, and lo ! where yesterday was cold gray 
ice there lay the transparent pond already calm and full of 
hope as in a summer evening, reflecting a summer even- 
ing sky in its bosom, though none was visible overhead, 
as if it had intelligence with some remote horizon. I 

334 WALDEN. 

heard a robin in the distance, the first I had heard for 
many a thousand years, methought, whose note I shall 
not forget for many a thousand more, — the same sweet 
and powerful song as of yore. O the evening robin, at 
the end of a New England summer day ! If I could 
ever find the twig he sits upon ! I mean he ; I mean 
the twig. This at least is not the Turdus migratorius. 
The pitch-pines and shrub-oaks about my house, which 
had so long drooped, suddenly resumed their several 
characters, looked brighter, greener, and more erect and 
alive, as if effectually cleansed and restored by the rain. 
I knew that it would not rain any more. You may tell 
by looking at any twig of the forest, ay, at your very 
wood-pile, whether its winter is past or not. As it grew 
darker, I was startled by the honking of geese flying 
low over the woods, like weary travellers getting in late 
from southern lakes, and indulging at last in unre- 
strained complaint and mutual consolation. Standing 
at my door, I could hear the rush of their wings ; when, 
driving toward my house, they suddenly spied my light, 
and with hushed clamor wheeled and settled in the pond. 
So I came in, and shut the door, and passed my first 
spring night in the woods. 

In the morning I watched the geese from the door 
through the mist, sailing in the middle of the pond, fifty 
rods off, so large and tumultuous that Walden appeared 
like an artificial pond for their amusement. But when 
I stood on the shore they at once rose up with a great 
flapping of wings at the signal of their commander, and 
when they had got into rank circled about over my 
head, twenty-nine of them, and then steered straight to 
Canada, with a regular 'honk from the leader at inter- 
vals, trusting to break their fast in muddier pools. A 

SPRING. 335 

"plump" of ducks rose at the same time and took 
the route to the north in the wake of their noisier 

For a week I heard the circling groping clangor of 
some solitary goose in the foggy mornings, seeking its 
companion, and still peopling the woods with the sound 
of a larger life than they could sustain. In April the 
pigeons were seen again flying express in small flocks, 
and in due time I heard the martins twittering over my 
clearing, though it had not seemed that the township 
contained so many that it could afford me any, and I 
fancied that they were peculiarly of the ancient race 
that dwelt in hollow trees ere white men came. In al- 
most all climes the tortoise and the frog are among the 
precursors and heralds of this season, and birds fly with 
song and glancing plumage, and plants spring and bloom, 
and winds blow, to correct this slight oscillation of the 
poles and preserve the equilibrium of Nature. 

As every season seems best to us in its turn, so the 
coming in of spring is like the creation of Cosmos out of 
Chaos and the realization of the Golden Age. — 

" Eurus ad Auroram, Nabathacaque regna recessit, 
Persidaque, et radiis juga subdita matutinis." 

11 The East-Wind withdrew to Aurora and the Nabathaean kingdom, 
And the Persian, and the ridges placed under the morning rays. 

* * * * 

Man was born. Whether that Artificer of things, 
The origin of a better world, made him from the divine seed ; 
Or the earth being recent and lately sundered from the high 
Ether, retained some seeds of cognate heaven." 

A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades 
greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of 

336 WALDEN. 

better thoughts. "We should be blessed if we lived in 
the present always, and took advantage of every acci- 
dent that befell us, like the grass which confesses the in- 
fluence of the slightest dew that falls on it ; and did not 
spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past oppor- 
tunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in 
winter while it is already spring. In a pleasant spring 
morning all men's sins are forgiven. Such a day is a 
truce to vice. While such a sun holds out to burn, the 
vilest sinner may return. Through our own recovered 
innocence we discern the innocence of our neighbors. 
You may have known your neighbor yesterday for a 
thief, a drunkard, or a sensualist, and merely pitied or 
despised him, and despaired of the world ; but the sun 
shines bright and warm this first spring morning, re- 
creating the world, and you meet him at some serene 
work, and see how his exhausted and debauched veins 
expand with still joy and bless the new day, feel the 
spring influence with the innocence of infancy, and all 
his faults are forgotten. There is not only an atmos- 
phere of good will about him, but even a savor of holi- 
ness groping for expression, blindly and ineffectually 
perhaps, like a new-born instinct, and for a short hour 
the south hill-side echoes to no vulgar jest. You see 
some innocent fair shoots preparing to burst from his 
gnarled rind and try another year's life, tender and 
fresh as the youngest plant. Even he has entered into 
the joy of his Lord. Why the jailer does not leave 
open his prison doors, — why the judge does not dis- 
miss his case, — why the preacher does not dismiss his 
congregation ! It is because they do not obey the hint 
which God gives them, nor accept the pardon which he 
freely offers to all. 

SPRING. 337 

"A return to goodness produced each day in the 
tranquil and beneficent breath of the morning, causes 
that in respect to the love of virtue and the hatred of 
vice, one approaches a little the primitive nature of 
man, as the sprouts of the forest which has been felled. 
In like manner the evil which one does in the interval 
of a day prevents the germs of virtues which began to 
spring up again from developing themselves and de- 
stroys them. 

" After the germs $f virtue have thus been prevented 
many times from developing themselves, then the be- 
neficent breath of evening does not suffice to preserve 
them. As soon as the breath of evening does not suf- 
fice longer to preserve them, then the nature of man 
does not differ much from that of the brute. Men 
seeing the nature of this man like that of the brute, 
think that he has never possessed the innate faculty of 
reason. Are those the true and natural sentiments 
of man ? " 

" The Golden Age was first created, which without any avenger 
Spontaneously without law cherished fidelity and rectitude. 
Punishment and fear were not ; nor were threatening words read 
On suspended brass ; nor did the suppliant crowd fear 
The words of their judge ; but were safe without an avenger. 
Not yet the pine felled on its mountains had descended 
To the liquid waves that it might see a foreign world, 
And mortals knew no shores but their own. 

* * * * 

There was eternal spring, and placid zephyrs with warm 
Blasts soothed the flowers born without seed." 

On the 29th of April, as I was fishing from the bank 
of the river near the Nine- Acre- Corner bridge, standing 
on the quaking grass and willow roots, where the muskrats 

338 WALDEN. 

lurk, I heard a singular rattling sound, somewhat like 
that of the sticks which boys play with their fingers, 
when, looking up, I observed a very slight and graceful 
hawk, like a night-hawk, alternately soaring like a rip- 
ple and tumbling a rod or two over and over, showing 
the underside of its wings, which gleamed like a satin 
ribbon in the sun, or like the pearly inside of a shell. 
This sight reminded me of falconry and what nobleness 
and poetry are associated with that sport. The Merlin 
it seemed to me it might be called : but I care not for 
its name. It was the most ethereal flight I had ever 
witnessed. It did not simply flutter like a butterfly, nor 
soar like the larger hawks, but it sported with proud re- 
liance in the fields of air; mounting again and again 
with its strange chuckle, it repeated its free and beauti-* 
ful fall, turning over and over like a kite, and then re- 
covering from its lofty tumbling, as if it had never set 
its foot on terra jirma. It appeared to have no com- 
panion in the universe, — sporting there alone, — and 
to need none but the morning and the ether with which 
it played. It was not lonely, but made all the earth 
lonely beneath it. Where was the parent which hatched 
it, its kindred, and its father in the heavens ? The 
tenant of the air, it seemed related to the earth but by an 
egg hatched some time in the crevice of a crag ; — or 
was its native nest made in the angle of a cloud, woven 
of the rainbow's trimmings and the sunset sky, and 
lined with some soft midsummer haze caught up from 
earth ? Its eyry now some cliffy cloud. 

Beside this I got a rare mess of golden and silver 
and bright cupreous fishes, which looked like a string of 
jewels. Ah! I have penetrated to those meadows on 
the morning of many a first spring day, jumping from 

SPRING. 339 

hummock to hummock, from willow root to willow root, 
when the wild river valley and the woods were bathed 
in so pure and bright a light as would have waked the 
dead, if they had been slumbering in their graves, as 
some suppose. There needs no stronger proof of im- 
mortality. All things must live in such a light. O 
Death, where was thy sting ? O Grave, where was thy 
victory, then ? 

Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the 
unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. "We 
need the tonic of wildness, — to wade sometimes in 
marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, 
and hear the booming of the snipe ; to smell the whis- 
pering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary 
fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly 
close to the ground. At the same time that we are 
earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that 
all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and 
sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us 
because unfathomable. We can never have enough of 
Nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inex- 
haustible vigor, vast and Titanic features, the sea-coast 
with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its de- 
caying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts 
three weeks and produces freshets. We need to wit- 
ness our own limits transgressed, and some life pastur- 
ing freely where we never wander. We are cheered 
when we observe the vulture feeding on the carrion 
which disgusts and disheartens us and deriving health 
and strength from the repast. There was a dead horse 
in the hollow by the path to my house, which compelled 
me sometimes to go out of my way, especially in the 
night when the air was heavy, but the assurance it gave 

340 WALDEN. 

me of the strong appetite and inviolable health of Na- 
ture was my compensation for this. I love to see that 
Nature is so rife with life that myriads can be afforded 
to be sacrificed and suffered to prey on one another ; 
that tender organizations can be so serenely squashed 
out of existence like pulp, — tadpoles which herons gob- 
ble up, and tortoises and toads run over in the road ; 
and that sometimes it has rained flesh and blood ! With 
the liability to accident, we must see how little account 
is to be made of it. The impression made on a wise 
man is that of universal innocence. Poison is not poi- 
sonous after all, nor are any wounds fatal. Compassion 
is a very untenable ground. It must be expeditious. 
Its pleadings will not bear to be stereotyped. 

Early in May, the oaks, hickories, maples, and other 
trees, just putting out "amidst the pine woods around 
the pond, imparted a brightness like sunshine to the 
landscape, especially in cloudy days, as if the sun were 
breaking through mists and shining faintly on the 
hill-sides here and there. On the third or fourth 
of May I saw a loon in the pond, and during the 
first week of the month I heard the whippoorwill, 
the brown-thrasher, the veery, the wood-pewee, the che- 
wink, and other birds. I had heard the wood-thrush 
long before. The phoebe had already come once more 
and looked in at my door and window, to see if my 
house was cavern-like enough for her, sustaining herself 
on humming wings with clinched talons, as if she held by 
the air, while she surveyed the premises. The sulphur- 
like pollen of the pitch-pine soon covered the pond and 
the stones and rotten wood along the shore, so that you 
could have collected a barrel-ful. This is the " sulphur 
showers " we hear of. Even in Calidas' drama of Sa- 

SPRING. 341 

contala, we read of " rills dyed yellow with the golden 
dust of the lotus." And so the seasons went rolling on 
into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher 

Thus was my first year's life in the woods completed ; 
and the second year was similar to it. I finally left 
Walden September 6th, 1847. 


To the sick the doctors wisely recommend a change 
of air and scenery. Thank Heaven, here is not all the 
world. The buck-eye does not grow in New England, 
and the mocking-bird is rarely heard here. The wild- 
goose is more of a cosmopolite than we ; he breaks his 
fast in Canada, takes a luncheon in the Ohio, and 
plumes himself for the night in a southern bayou. 
Even the bison, to some extent, keeps pace with the 
seasons, cropping the pastures of the Colorado only till 
a greener and sweeter grass awaits him by the Yellow- 
stone. Yet we think that if rail-fences are pulled down, 
and stone-walls piled up on our farms, bounds are 
henceforth set to our lives and our fates decided. If 
you are chosen town-clerk, forsooth, you cannot go to 
Tierra del Fuego this summer : but you may go to the 
land of infernal fire nevertheless. The universe is 
wider than our views of it. 

Yet we should oftener look over the tafFerel of our 
craft, like curious passengers, and not make the voyage 
like stupid sailors picking oakum. The other side of 
the globe is but the home of our correspondent. Our 



voyaging is only great-circle sailing, and the doctors 
prescribe for diseases of the skin merely. One hastens 
to Southern Africa to chase the giraffe ; but surely that 
is not the game he would be after. How long, pray, 
would a man hunt giraffes if he could? Snipes and 
woodcocks also may afford rare sport ; but I trust it 
would be nobler game to shoot one's self. — 

" Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find 
A thousand regions in your mind 
Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be 
Expert in home-cosmography." 

What does Africa, — what does the West stand for? 
Is not our own interior white on the chart? black 
though it may prove, like the coast, when discovered. 
Is it the source of the Nile, or the Niger, or the Missis- 
sippi, or a North-West Passage around this continent, 
that we would find? Are these the problems which 
most concern mankind? Is Franklin the only man 
who is lost, that his wife should be so earnest to find 
him ? Does Mr. Grinnell know where he himself is ? 
Be rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clarke and 
Frobisher, of your own streams and oceans; explore 
your own higher latitudes, — with shiploads of preserved 
meats to support you, if they be necessary ; and pile the 
empty cans sky-high for a sign. Were preserved meats 
invented to preserve meat merely ? Nay, be a Colum- 
bus to whole new continents and worlds within you, 
opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought. 
Every man is the lord of a realm beside which the 
earthly empire of the Czar is but a petty state, a hum- 
mock left by the ice. Yet some can be patriotic who 
have no self-vested, and sacrifice the greater to the less. 



They love the soil which makes their graves, but have 
no sympathy with the spirit which may still animate 
their clay. Patriotism is a maggot in their heads. 
What was the meaning of that South-Sea Exploring 
Expedition, with all its parade and expense, but an in- 
direct recognition of the fact, that there are continents 
and seas in the moral world, to which every man is an 
isthmus or an inlet, yet unexplored by him, but that it 
is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and 
storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five 
hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to ex- 
plore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean 
of one's being alone. — 

"Erret, et extremos alter scrutetur Iberos. 
Plus habet hie vitse, plus habet ille viae." 

Let them wander and scrutinize the outlandish Australians. 
I have more of God, they more of the road. 

It is not worth the while to go round the world to count 
the cats in Zanzibar. Yet do this even till you can do 
better, and you may perhaps find some " Symmes' 
Hole " by which to get at the inside at last. England 
and France, Spain and Portugal, Gold Coast and Slave 
Coast, all front on this private sea ; but no bark from 
them has ventured out of sight of land, though it is 
without doubt the direct way to India. If you would 
learn to speak all tongues and conform to the customs 
of all nations, if you would travel farther than all trav- 
ellers, be naturalized in all climes, and cause the Sphinx 
to dash her head against a stone, even obey the precept 
of the old philosopher, and Explore thyself. Herein are 
demanded the eye and the nerve. Only the defeated 


and deserters go to the wars, cowards that run away 
and enlist. Start now on that farthest western way, 
which does not pause at the Mississippi or the Pacific, 
nor conduct toward a worn-out China or Japan, but leads 
on direct a tangent to this sphere, summer and winter, 
day and night, sun down, moon down, and at last earth 
down too. 

It is said that Mirabeau took to highway robbery " to 
ascertain what degree of resolution was necessary in or- 
der to place one's self in formal opposition to the most 
sacred laws of society." He declared that "a soldier 
who fights in the ranks does not require half so much 
courage as a foot-pad," — "that honor and religion have 
never stood in the way of a well-considered and a firm 
resolve." This was manly, as the world goes ; and yet 
it was idle, if not desperate. A saner man would have 
found himself often enough "in formal opposition" to 
what are deemed "the most sacred laws of society," 
through obedience to yet more sacred laws, and so have 
tested his resolution without going out of his way. It 
is not for a man to put himself in such an attitude to 
society, but to maintain himself in whatever attitude he 
find himself through obedience to the laws of his being, 
which will never be one of opposition to a just govern- 
ment, if he should chance to meet with such. 

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. 
Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives 
to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. 
It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into 
a particular route, and make a beaten track for our- 
selves. I had not lived there a week before my feet* 
wore a path from my door to the pond-side ; and though 
it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite 

346 WALDEN. 

distinct. It is true, I fear that others may have fallen 
into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the 
earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men ; and so 
with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and 
dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep 
the ruts of tradition and conformity ! I did not wish to 
take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast 
and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see 
the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to 
go below now. 

I learned this, at least, by my experiment ; that if one 
advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and 
endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will 
meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He 
will put some things behind, will pass an invisible bound- 
ary ; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin 
to establish themselves around and within him ; or the 
old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a 
more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of 
a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simpli- 
fies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less 
complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty 
poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built 
castles in the. air, your work need not be lost; that is 
where they should be. Now put the foundations under 

It is a ridiculous demand which England and Amer- 
ica make, that you shall speak so that they can under- 
stand you. Neither men nor toad-stools grow so. As 
if that were important, and there were not enough to 
understand you without them. As if Nature could 
support but one order of understandings, could not sus- 
tain birds as well as quadrupeds, flying as well as creep- 


ing things, and hush and who, which Bright can under- 
stand, were the best English. As if there were safety 
in stupidity alone. I fear chiefly lest my expression may 
not be extra- vagant enough, may not wander far enough 
beyond the narrow limits of my daily experience, so as to 
be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced. 
Extra vagance I it depends on how you are yarded. 
The migrating buffalo, which seeks new pastures in 
another latitude, is not extravagant like the cow which 
kicks over the pail, leaps the cow-yard fence, and 
runs after hejc-ealf, in milking time. I desire to speak 
somewhere without bounds; like a man in a waking 
moment, to men in their waking moments ; for I am 
convinced that I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay 
the foundation of a true expression. Who that has 
heard a strain of music feared then lest he should 
speak extravagantly any more forever ? In view of the 
future or possible, we should live quite laxly and unde- 
fined in front, our outlines dim and misty on that side ; 
as our shadows reveal an insensible perspiration toward 
the sun. The volatile truth of our words should con- 
tinually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement. 
Their truth is instantly translated ; its literal monument 
alone remains. The words which express our faith and 
piety are not definite ; yet they are significant and fra- 
grant like frankincense to superior natures. 

Why level downward to our dullest perception al- 
ways, and praise that as common sense ? The com- 
monest sense is the sense of men asleep, which they ex- 
press by snoring. Sometimes we are inclined to class 
those who are once-and-a-half witted with the half- 
witted, because we appreciate only a third part of their 
wit. Some would find fault with the morning-red, if 

348 WALDEN. 

they ever got up early enough. " They pretend," as I 
hear, "that the verses of Kabir have four different 
senses; illusion, spirit, intellect, and the exoteric doc- 
trine of the Vedas;" but in this part of the world it is 
considered a ground for complaint if a man's writings 
admit of more than one interpretation. While England 
endeavors to cure the potato-rot, will not any endeavor 
to cure the brain-rot, which prevails so much more 
widely and fatally ? 

I do not suppose that I have attained to obscurity, 
but I should be proud if no more fatal fault were found 
with my pages on this score than was found with the 
Walden ice. Southern customers objected to its blue 
color, which is the evidence of its purity, as if it were 
muddy, and preferred the Cambridge ice, which is white, 
but tastes of weeds. The purity men love is like the 
mists which envelop the earth, and not like the azure 
ether beyond. 

Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, 
and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared 
with the ancients, or even the Elizabethan men. But 
what is that to the purpose? A living dog is better 
than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang himself be- 
cause he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the 
biggest pygmy that he can ? Let every one mind his 
own business, and endeavor to be what he was made. 

Why should we be in such desperate haste to suc- 
ceed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man 
does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is 
because he hears a different drummer. Let him step 
to the music which he hears, however measured or 
far away. It is not important that he should mature 
as soon as an apple-tree or an oak. Shall he turn his 


spring into summer ? If the condition of things which 
we were made for is not yet, what were any reality 
which we can substitute ? We will not be shipwrecked 
on a vain reality. Shall we with pains erect a heaven 
of blue glass over ourselves, though when it is done 
we shall be sure to gaze still at the true ethereal heaven 
far above, as if the former were not ? 

There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was 
disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came 
into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that 
in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a 
perfect work time doe's not enter, he said to himself, It 
shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do noth- 
ing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the 
forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be 
made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for 
and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually de- 
serted him, for they grew old in their works and died, 
but he grew not older by a moment. His singleness of 
purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed 
him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As 
he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of 
his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could 
not overcome him. Before he had found a stock in all 
respects suitable the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, 
and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Be- 
fore he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of 
the Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the 
stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the 
sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had 
smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer 
the pole-star ; and ere he had put on the ferule and the 
head adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke 

350 WALDEN. 

and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to men- 
tion these things ? When the finishing stroke was put 
to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the 
astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of 
Brahma. He had made a new system in making a 
staff, a world with full and fair proportions ; in which, 
though the old cities and dynasties had passed away, 
fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. 
And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at 
his feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse 
of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had 
elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from 
the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder 
of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art 
was pure ; how could the result be other than wonderful ? 

No face which we can give to a matter will stead us 
so well at last as the truth. This alone wears well. 
For the most part, we are not where we are, but in a 
false position. Through an infirmity of our natures, we 
suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and hence are 
in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult 
to get out. In sane moments we regard only the facts, 
the case that is. Say what you have to say, not what you 
ought. Any truth is better than make-believe. Tom 
Hyde, the tinker, standing on the gallows, was asked if he 
had any thing to say. " Tell the tailors," said he, "to re- 
member to make a knot in their thread before they take 
the first stitch." His companion's prayer is forgotten. 

However mean your life is, meet it and live it ; do 
not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as 
you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The 
fault- finder will find faults even in paradise. Love 
your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some 


pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor-house. 
The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the 
alms-house as brightly as from the rich man's abode; 
the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I 
do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly 
there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. 
The town's poor seem to me often to live the most inde- 
pendent lives of any. May be they are simply great 
enough to receive without misgiving. Most think that 
they are above being supported by the town ; but it 
oftener happens that they are not above supporting 
themselves by dishonest means, which should be more 
disreputable. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, 
like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new 
things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; re- 
turn to them. Things do not change ; we change. Sell 
your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see 
that you do not want society. If I were confined to a 
corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world 
would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts 
about me. The philosopher said : " From an army of 
three divisions one can take away its general, and put it 
in disorder ; from the man the most abject and vulgar one 
cannot take away his thought." Do not seek so anx- 
iously to be developed, to subject yourself to many in- 
fluences to be played on ; it is all dissipation. Hu- 
mility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. The 
shadows of poverty and meanness gather around us, 
" and lo ! creation widens to our view." We are often 
reminded that if there were bestowed on us the wealth 
of Croesus, our aims must still be the same, and our 
means essentially the same. Moreover, if you are re- 
stricted in your range by poverty, if you cannot buy 

352 WALDEN. 

books and newspapers, for instance, you are but con- 
fined to the most significant and vital experiences ; you 
are compelled to deal with the material which yields the 
most sugar and the most starch. It is life near the bone 
where it is sweetest. You are defended from being a 
trifler. No man loses ever on a lower level by mag- 
nanimity on a higher. Superfluous wealth can buy su- 
perfluities only. Money is not required to buy one 
necessary of the soul. 

I live in the angle of a leaden wall, into whose com- 
position was poured a little alloy of bell metal. Often, 
in the repose of my mid-day, there reaches my ears a 
confused tintinnabulum from without. It is the noise 
of my contemporaries. My neighbors tell me of their 
adventures with famous gentlemen and ladies, what no- 
tabilities they met at the dinner-table ; but I am no 
more interested in such things than in the contents of the 
Daily Times. The interest and the conversation are 
about costume and manners chiefly ; but a goose is a 
goose still, dress it as you will. They tell me of Cali- 
fornia and Texas, of England and the Indies, of the 

Hon. Mr. of Georgia or of Massachusetts, all 

transient and fleeting phenomena, till I am ready to 
leap from their court-yard like the Mameluke bey. I 
delight to come to my bearings, — not walk in proces- 
sion with pomp and parade, in a conspicuous place, but 
to walk even with the Builder of the universe, if I may, 
— not to live in this restless, nervous, bustling, trivial 
Nineteenth Century, but stand or sit thoughtfully while 
it goes by. What are men celebrating ? They are all 
on a committee of arrangements, and hourly expect a 
speech from somebody. God is only the president of 
the day, and Webster is his orator. I love to weigh, to 


settle, to gravitate toward that which most strongly and 
rightfully attracts me ; — not hang by the beam of the 
scale and try to weigh less, — not suppose a case, but 
take the case that is ; to travel the only path I can, 
and that on which no power can resist me. It affords 
me no satisfaction to commence to spring an arch before 
I have got a solid foundation. Let us not play at kit- 
tlybenders. There is a solid bottom every where. We 
read that the traveller asked the boy if the swamp be- 
fore him had a hard bottom. The boy replied that 
it had. But presently the traveller's horse sank in up 
to the girths, and he observed to the boy, " I thought 
you said that this bog had a hard bottom." " So it has," 
answered the latter, " but you have not got half way to 
it yet." So it is with the bogs and quicksands of so- 
ciety ; but he is an old boy that knows it. Only what 
is thought said or done at a certain rare coincidence is 
good. I would not be one of those who will foolishly 
drive a nail into mere lath and plastering ; such a deed 
would keep me awake nights. Give me a hammer, and 
let me feel for the furrowing. Do not depend on the 
putty. Drive a nail home and clinch it so faithfully 
that you can wake up in the night and think of your 
work with satisfaction, — a work at which you would 
not be ashamed to invoke the Muse. So will help you 
God, and so only. Every nail driven should be as 
another rivet in the machine of the universe, you car- 
rying on the work. 

Kather than love, than money, than fame, give me 

truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine 

in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity 

and truth were not ; and I went away hungry from the 


354 WALDEN. 

inhospitable board. The hospitality was as cold as tho 
ices. I thought that there was no need of ice to freeze 
them. They talked to me of the age of the wine and 
the fame of the vintage ; but I thought of an older, a 
newer, and purer wine, of a more glorious vintage, 
which they had not got, and could not buy. The style, 
the house and grounds and " entertainment " pass for 
nothing with me. I called on the king, but he made me 
wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated 
for hospitality. There was a man in my neighborhood 
who lived in a hollow tree. His manners were truly 
regal. I should have done better had I called on 

How long shall we sit in our porticoes practising idle 
and musty virtues, which any work would make imper- 
tinent ? As if one were to begin the day with long- 
suffering, and hire a man to hoe his potatoes ; and in 
the afternoon go forth to practise Christian meekness 
and charity with goodness aforethought ! Consider the 
China pride and stagnant self-complacency of mankind. 
This generation reclines a little to congratulate itself on 
being the last of an illustrious line ; and in Boston and 
London and Paris and Rome, thinking of its long de- 
scent, it speaks of its progress in art and science and 
literature with satisfaction. There are the Records of 
the Philosophical Societies, and the public Eulogies of 
Great Men ! It is the good Adam contemplating his 
own virtue. " Yes, we have done great deeds, and sung 
divine songs, which shall never die," — that is, as long 
as we can remember them. The learned societies and 
great men of Assyria, — where are they ? What youth- 
ful philosophers and experimentalists we are ! There is 


not one of my readers who has yet lived a whole hu- 
man life. These may be but the spring months in the 
life of the race. If we have had the seven-years' itch, 
we have not seen the seventeen-year locust yet in Con- 
cord. We are acquainted with a mere pellicle of the 
globe on which we live. Most have not delved six feet 
beneath the surface, nor leaped as many above it. We 
know not where we are. Beside, we are sound asleep 
nearly half our time. Yet we esteem ourselves wise, 
and have an established order on the surface. Truly, 
we are deep thinkers, we are ambitious spirits ! As I 
stand over the insect crawling amid the pine needles on 
the forest floor, and endeavoring to conceal itself from 
my sight, and ask myself why it will cherish those hum- 
ble thoughts, and hide its head from me who might, 
perhaps, be its benefactor, and impart to its race some 
cheering information, I am reminded of the greater 
Benefactor and Intelligence that stands over me the 
human insect. 

There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, 
and yet we tolerate incredible dulness. I need only 
suggest what kind of sermons are still listened to in the 
most enlightened countries. There are such words as 
joy and sorrow, but they are only the burden of a psalm, 
sung with a nasal twang, while we believe in the ordi- 
nary and mean. We think that we can change our 
clothes only. It is said that the British Empire is 
very large and respectable, and that the United States 
are a first-rate power. We do not believe that a tide 
rises and falls behind every man which can float the 
British Empire like a chip, if he should ever harbor it 
in his mind. Who knows what sort of seventeen-year 


locust will next come out of the ground ? The gov- 
ernment of the world I live in was not framed, like 
that of Britain, in after-dinner conversations over the 

The life in us is like the water in the river. It may 
rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and 
flood the parched uplands ; even this may be the event- 
ful year, which will drown out all our muskrats. It was 
not always dry land where we dwell. I see far inland 
the banks which the stream anciently washed, before 
science began to record its freshets. Every one has 
heard the story which has gone the rounds of New 
England, of a strong and beautiful bug which came out 
of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-tree wood, which 
had stood in a farmer's kitchen for sixty years, first in 
Connecticut, and afterward in Massachusetts, — from an 
egg deposited in the living tree many years earlier still, 
as appeared by counting the annual layers beyond it ; 
which was heard gnawing out for several weeks, hatched 
perchance by the heat of an urn. Who does not feel his 
faith in a resurrection and immortality strengthened by 
hearing of this ? Who knows what beautiful and 
winged life, whose egg has been buried for ages un- 
der many concentric layers of woodenness in the dead 
dry life of society, deposited at first in the alburnum of 
the green and living tree, which has been gradually con- 
verted into the semblance of its well-seasoned tomb, — 
heard perchance gnawing out now for years by the as- 
tonished family of man, as they sat round the festive 
board, — may unexpectedly come forth from amidst so- 
ciety's most trivial and handselled furniture, to enjoy its 
perfect summer life at last ! 


I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all 
this ; but such is the character of that morrow which 
mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light 
which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that 
day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day 
to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.