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Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

Part 2 out of 6

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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 experience, 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 inherited 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 proportionally more
expensive than a small one, since one roof may cover, one cellar
underlie, and one wall separate several apartments. But for my
part, I preferred the solitary dwelling. Moreover, it will commonly
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 co-operation which is commonly possible is
exceedingly partial and superficial; and what little true
co-operation there is, is as if it were not, being a harmony
inaudible to men. If a man has faith, he will co-operate with equal
faith everywhere; if he has not faith, he will continue to live like
the rest of the world, whatever company he is joined to. To
co-operate 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 plow,
the other carrying a bill of exchange in his pocket. It was easy to
see that they could not long be companions or co-operate, 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 today; but he who travels with another must
wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they
get off.
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 I 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
obligation 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 anything else. As for
Doing-good, that is one of the professions which 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 consciously 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 similar 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 meanwhile
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 houses 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 Newfoundland 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 proposed 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 torture 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
care 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 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 liberty for the
rest. Some show their kindness to the poor by employing them in
their kitchens. Would they not be kinder if they employed
themselves there? You boast of spending a tenth part of your income
in charity; maybe 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 sufficiently
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, he 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, Shakespeare, 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 greatest 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 anything 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 benevolence, 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
intercourse. His goodness must not be a partial and transitory act,
but a constant superfluity, which costs him nothing and of which he
is unconscious. This is a charity that hides a multitude of sins.
The philanthropist too often surrounds mankind with the remembrance
of his own castoff 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 this does not spread
by contagion. From what southern plains comes up the voice of
wailing? Under what latitudes reside the heathen to whom we would
send light? Who is that intemperate and brutal man whom we would
redeem? If anything 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 Esquimau and the Patagonian, and
embraces the populous Indian and Chinese villages; and thus, by a
few years of philanthropic activity, the powers in the meanwhile
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 companions 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 shoestrings. Take your
time, and set about some free labor.
Our manners have been corrupted by communication with the
saints. Our hymn-books resound with a melodious 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 irrepressible
satisfaction with the gift of life, any memorable 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 mankind 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 flourishing; and of this nature are the azads, or religious
independents. -- Fix not thy heart on that which is transitory; for
the Dijlah, 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."

The Pretensions of Poverty
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.

Where I Lived, and What I Lived For

At a certain season of our life we are accustomed to consider
every spot as the possible site of a house. I have thus surveyed
the country on every side within a dozen miles of where I live. In
imagination I have bought all the farms in succession, for all were
to be bought, and I knew their price. I walked over each farmer's
premises, tasted his wild apples, discoursed on husbandry with him,
took his farm at his price, at any price, mortgaging it to him in my
mind; even put a higher price on it -- took everything but a deed of
it -- took his word for his deed, for I dearly love to talk --
cultivated it, and him too to some extent, I trust, and withdrew
when I had enjoyed it long enough, leaving him to carry it on. This
experience entitled me to be regarded as a sort of real-estate
broker by my friends. Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the
landscape radiated from me accordingly. What is a house but a
sedes, a seat? -- better if a country seat. I discovered many a
site for a house not likely to be soon improved, which some might
have thought too far from the village, 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, wood-lot, 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 possession 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 release
him. Now, to speak the truth, I had but ten cents in the world, and
it surpassed my arithmetic to tell, if I was that man who had ten
cents, or who had a farm, or ten dollars, or all together. However,
I let him keep the ten dollars and the farm too, for I had carried
it far enough; or rather, to be generous, I sold him the farm for
just what I gave for it, and, as he was not a rich man, made him a
present of ten dollars, and still had my ten cents, and seeds, and
materials for a wheelbarrow left. I found thus that I had been a
rich man without any damage to my poverty. But I retained the
landscape, and I have since annually carried off what it yielded
without a wheelbarrow. With respect to landscapes,

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

I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most
valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he
had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for
many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable
kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed
it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed
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,
nawed by rabbits, showing what kind of neighbors I should have; but
above all, the recollection I had of it from my earliest voyages up
the river, when the house was concealed behind a dense grove of red
maples, through which I heard the house-dog bark. I was in haste to
buy it, before the proprietor finished getting out some rocks,
cutting down the hollow apple trees, and grubbing up some young
birches which had sprung up in the pasture, or, in short, had made
any more of his improvements. To enjoy these advantages I was ready
to carry it on; like Atlas, to take the world on my shoulders -- I
never heard what compensation he received for that -- and do all
those things which had no other motive or excuse but that I might
pay for it and be 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 discriminates between the good and the bad; and when
at last I shall plant, I shall be less likely to be disappointed.
But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible
live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether
you are committed to a farm or the county jail.
Old Cato, whose "De Re Rustica" is my "Cultivator," 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 convenience putting the experience
of two years into one. As I have said, I do not propose to write an
ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the
morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.
When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to
spend my nights as well as days there, which, by accident, was on
Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, 1845, my house was not
finished for winter, but was merely a defence against the rain,
without plastering or chimney, the 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, especially in the
morning, when its timbers were saturated with dew, so that I fancied
that by noon some sweet gum would exude from them. To my
imagination it retained throughout the day more or less of this
auroral character, reminding me of a certain house on a mountain
which I had visited a year before. This was an airy and unplastered
cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might
trail her garments. The winds which passed over my dwelling were
such as sweep over the ridges of mountains, bearing the broken
strains, or celestial parts only, of terrestrial music. The 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
The only house I had been the owner of before, if I except a
boat, was a tent, which I used occasionally when making excursions
in the summer, and this is still rolled up in my garret; but the
boat, after passing from hand to hand, has gone down the stream of
time. With this more substantial shelter about me, I had made some
progress toward settling in the world. This frame, so slightly
clad, was a sort of crystallization around me, and reacted on the
builder. It was suggestive somewhat as a picture in outlines. I
did not need to go outdoors to take the air, for the atmosphere
within had lost none of its freshness. It was not so much within
doors as behind a door where I sat, even in the rainiest weather.
The Harivansa says, "An abode without birds is like a meat without
seasoning." Such was not my abode, for I found myself suddenly
neighbor to the birds; not by having imprisoned one, but having
caged myself near them. I was not only nearer to some of those
which commonly frequent the garden and the orchard, but to those
smaller and more thrilling songsters of the forest which never, or
rarely, serenade a villager -- the wood thrush, the veery, the
scarlet tanager, the field sparrow, the whip-poor-will, and many
I was seated by the shore of a small pond, about a mile and a
half south of the village of Concord and somewhat higher than it, in
the midst of an extensive wood between that town and Lincoln, and
about two miles south of that our only field known to fame, Concord
Battle Ground; but I was so low in the woods that the opposite
shore, half a mile off, like the rest, covered with wood, was my
most distant horizon. For the first week, whenever I looked out on
the pond it impressed me like a tarn high up on the side of a
mountain, its bottom far above the surface of other lakes, and, as
the sun arose, I saw it throwing off its nightly clothing of mist,
and here and there, by degrees, its soft ripples or its smooth
reflecting surface was revealed, while the mists, like ghosts, were
stealthily withdrawing in every direction into the woods, as at the
breaking up of some nocturnal conventicle. The very dew seemed to
hang upon the trees later into the day than usual, as on the sides
of mountains.
This small lake was of most value as a neighbor in the intervals
of a gentle rain-storm in August, when, both air and water being
perfectly still, but the sky overcast, mid-afternoon had all the
serenity of evening, and the wood thrush sang around, and was heard
from shore to shore. A lake like this is never smoother than at
such a time; and the clear portion of the air above it being,
shallow and darkened by clouds, the water, full of light and
reflections, becomes a lower heaven itself so much the more
important. From a hill-top near by, where the wood had been
recently cut off, there was a pleasing vista southward across the
pond, through a wide indentation in the hills which form the shore
there, where their opposite sides sloping toward each other
suggested a stream flowing out in that direction through a wooded
valley, but stream there was none. That way I looked between and
over the near green hills to some distant and higher ones in the
horizon, tinged with blue. Indeed, by standing on tiptoe I could
catch a glimpse of some of the peaks of the still bluer and more
distant mountain ranges in the northwest, those true-blue coins from
heaven's own mint, and also of some portion of the village. But in
other directions, even from this point, I could not see over or
beyond the woods which surrounded me. It is well to have some water
in your neighborhood, to give buoyancy to and float the earth. One
value even of the smallest well is, that when you look into it you
see that earth is not continent but insular. This is as important
as that it keeps butter cool. When I looked across the pond from
this peak toward the Sudbury meadows, which in time of flood I
distinguished elevated perhaps by a mirage in their seething valley,
like a coin in a basin, all the earth beyond the pond appeared like
a thin crust insulated and floated even by this small sheet of
interverting water, and I was reminded that this on which I dwelt
was but dry land.
Though the view from my door was still more contracted, I did
not feel crowded or confined in the least. There was pasture enough
for my imagination. The low shrub oak plateau to which the opposite
shore arose stretched away toward the prairies of the West and the
steppes of Tartary, affording ample room for all the roving families
of men. "There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy
freely a vast horizon" -- said Damodara, when his herds required new
and larger pastures.
Both place and time were changed, and I dwelt nearer to those
parts of the universe and to those eras in history which had most
attracted me. Where I lived was as far off as many a region viewed
nightly by astronomers. We are wont to imagine rare and delectable
places in some remote and more celestial corner of the system,
behind the constellation of Cassiopeia's Chair, far from noise and
disturbance. I discovered that my house actually had its site in
such a withdrawn, but forever new and unprofaned, part of the
universe. If it were worth the while to settle in those parts near
to the Pleiades or the Hyades, to Aldebaran or Altair, then I was
really there, or at an equal remoteness from the life which I had
left behind, dwindled and twinkling with as fine a ray to my nearest
neighbor, and to be seen only in moonless nights by him. Such was
that part of creation where I had squatted;

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

What should we think of the shepherd's life if his flocks always
wandered to higher pastures than his thoughts?
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 Tchingthang to this effect:
"Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and
forever again." I can understand that. Morning brings back the
heroic ages. I was as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito
making its invisible and unimaginable tour through my apartment at
earliest dawn, when I was sitting with door and windows open, as I
could be by any trumpet that ever sang of fame. It was Homer's
requiem; itself an Iliad and Odyssey in the air, singing its own
wrath and wanderings. There was something cosmical about it; a
standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and
fertility of the world. The morning, which is the most memorable
season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least
somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes
which slumbers all the rest of the day and night. Little is to be
expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not
awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some
servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and
aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial
music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air --
to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness
bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light.
That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier,
more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has
despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.
After a partial cessation of his sensuous life, the soul of man, or
its organs rather, are reinvigorated each day, and his Genius tries
again what noble life it can make. All memorable events, I should
say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The
Vedas say, "All intelligences awake with the morning." Poetry and
art, and the fairest and most memorable of the actions of men, date
from such an hour. All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the
children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose
elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a
perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the
attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there
is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep.
Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have
not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they
had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed
something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but
only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual
exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life.
To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was
quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?
We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by
mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which
does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more
encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate
his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to
paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a
few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and
paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which
morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the
highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its
details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and
critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry
information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how
this might be done.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to
front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn
what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I
had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is
so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite
necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of
life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all
that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive
life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it
proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of
it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to
know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in
my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange
uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have
somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to
"glorify God and enjoy him forever."
Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that
we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with
cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best
virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness.
Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need
to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add
his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity,
simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a
hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and
keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this
chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and
quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man
has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not
make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great
calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of
three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a
hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. Our
life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its
boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you
how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its
so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external
and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown
establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own
traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation
and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the
only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and
more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It
lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have
commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride
thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but
whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little
uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and
devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our
lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads
are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay
at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not
ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what
those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man,
an Irishman, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they
are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They
are sound sleepers, I assure you. And every few years a new lot is
laid down and run over; so that, if some have the pleasure of riding
on a rail, others have the misfortune to be ridden upon. And when
they run over a man that is walking in his sleep, a supernumerary
sleeper in the wrong position, and wake him up, they suddenly stop
the cars, and make a hue and cry about it, as if this were an
exception. I am glad to know that it takes a gang of men for every
five miles to keep the sleepers down and level in their beds as it
is, for this is a sign that they may sometime get up again.
Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are
determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a
stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches
today to save nine tomorrow. As for work, we haven't any of any
consequence. We have the Saint Vitus' dance, and cannot possibly
keep our heads still. If I should only give a few pulls at the
parish bell-rope, as for a fire, that is, without setting the bell,
there is hardly a man on his farm in the outskirts of Concord,
notwithstanding that press of engagements which was his excuse so
many times this morning, nor a boy, nor a woman, I might almost say,
but would forsake all and follow that sound, not mainly to save
property from the flames, but, if we will confess the truth, much
more to see it burn, since burn it must, and we, be it known, did
not set it on fire -- or to see it put out, and have a hand in it,
if that is done as handsomely; yes, even if it were the parish
church itself. Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after dinner,
but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, "What's the news?"
as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels. Some give
directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other
purpose; and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed.
After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast.
"Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on
this globe" -- and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man
has had his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never
dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave
of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself.
For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think
that there are very few important communications made through it.
To speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters
in my life -- I wrote this some years ago -- that were worth the
postage. The penny-post is, commonly, an institution through which
you seriously offer a man that penny for his thoughts which is so
often safely offered in jest. And I am sure that I never read any
memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or
murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel
wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the
Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers
in the winter -- we never need read of another. One is enough. If
you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad
instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is
called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over
their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip. There was
such a rush, as I hear, the other day at one of the offices to learn
the foreign news by the last arrival, that several large squares of
plate glass belonging to the establishment were broken by the
pressure -- news which I seriously think a ready wit might write a
twelve-month, or twelve years, beforehand with sufficient accuracy.
As for Spain, for instance, if you know how to throw in Don Carlos
and the Infanta, and Don Pedro and Seville and Granada, from time to
time in the right proportions -- they may have changed the names a
little since I saw the papers -- and serve up a bull-fight when
other entertainments fail, it will be true to the letter, and give
us as good an idea of the exact state or ruin of things in Spain as
the most succinct and lucid reports under this head in the
newspapers: and as for England, almost the last significant scrap of
news from that quarter was the revolution of 1649; and if you have
learned the history of her crops for an average year, you never need
attend to that thing again, unless your speculations are of a merely
pecuniary character. If one may judge who rarely looks into the
newspapers, nothing new does ever happen in foreign parts, a French
revolution not excepted.
What news! how much more important to know what that is which
was never old! "Kieou-he-yu (great dignitary of the state of Wei)
sent a man to Khoung-tseu to know his news. Khoung-tseu caused the
messenger to be seated near him, and questioned him in these terms:
What is your master doing? The messenger answered with respect: My
master desires to diminish the number of his faults, but he cannot
come to the end of them. The messenger being gone, the philosopher
remarked: What a worthy messenger! What a worthy messenger!" The
preacher, instead of vexing the ears of drowsy farmers on their day
of rest at the end of the week -- for Sunday is the fit conclusion
of an ill-spent week, and not the fresh and brave beginning of a new
one -- with this one other draggle-tail of a sermon, should shout
with thundering voice, "Pause! Avast! Why so seeming fast, but
deadly slow?"
Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while
reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only,
and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with
such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian
Nights' Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and
has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets.
When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and
worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty
fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This
is always exhilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and
slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish
and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which
still is built on purely illusory foundations. Children, who play
life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who
fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by
experience, that is, by failure. I have read in a Hindoo book, that
"there was a king's son, who, being expelled in infancy from his
native city, was brought up by a forester, and, growing up to
maturity in that state, imagined himself to belong to the barbarous
race with which he lived. One of his father's ministers having
discovered him, revealed to him what he was, and the misconception
of his character was removed, and he knew himself to be a prince.
So soul," continues the Hindoo philosopher, "from the circumstances
in which it is placed, mistakes its own character, until the truth
is revealed to it by some holy teacher, and then it knows itself to
be Brahme." I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this
mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the
surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be. If a
man should walk through this town and see only the reality, where,
think you, would the "Mill-dam" go to? If he should give us an
account of the realities he beheld there, we should not recognize
the place in his description. Look at a meeting-house, or a
court-house, or a jail, or a shop, or a dwelling-house, and say what
that thing really is before a true gaze, and they would all go to
pieces in your account of them. Men esteem truth remote, in the
outskirts of the system, behind the farthest star, before Adam and
after the last man. In eternity there is indeed something true and
sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and
here. God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never
be more divine in the lapse of all the ages. And we are enabled to
apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual
instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us. The
universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions;
whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us. Let us
spend our lives in conceiving then. The poet or the artist never
yet had so fair and noble a design but some of his posterity at
least could accomplish it.
Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be
thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that
falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast,
gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company
go, let the bells ring and the children cry -- determined to make a
day of it. Why should we knock under and go with the stream? Let
us not be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool
called a dinner, situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this
danger and you are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With
unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another
way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it
whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why
should we run? We will consider what kind of music they are like.
Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward
through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition,
and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe,
through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord,
through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and
religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we
can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin,
having a point d'appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place
where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely,
or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future
ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had
gathered from time to time. If you stand right fronting and face to
face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces,
as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you
through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your
mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we
are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel
cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our
Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but
while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.
Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink
deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I
cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I
have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was
born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way
into the secret of things. I do not wish to be any more busy with
my hands than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all
my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my
head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout
and fore paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through
these hills. I think that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts;
so by the divining-rod and thin rising vapors I judge; and here I
will begin to mine.


With a little more deliberation in the choice of their pursuits,
all men would perhaps become essentially students and observers, for
certainly their nature and destiny are interesting to all alike. In
accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a
family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in
dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change nor
accident. The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner
of the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling
robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did,
since it was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that
now reviews the vision. No dust has settled on that robe; no time
has elapsed since that divinity was revealed. That time which we
really improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present,
nor future.
My residence was more favorable, not only to thought, but to
serious reading, than a university; and though I was beyond the
range of the ordinary circulating library, I had more than ever come
within the influence of those books which circulate round the world,
whose sentences were first written on bark, and are now merely
copied from time to time on to linen paper. Says the poet Mr
Udd, "Being seated, to run through the region of the
spiritual world; I have had this advantage in books. To be
intoxicated by a single glass of wine; I have experienced this
pleasure when I have drunk the liquor of the esoteric doctrines." I
kept Homer's Iliad on my table through the summer, though I looked
at his page only now and then. Incessant labor with my hands, at
first, for I had my house to finish and my beans to hoe at the same
time, made more study impossible. Yet I sustained myself by the
prospect of such reading in future. I read one or two shallow books
of travel in the intervals of my work, till that employment made me
ashamed of myself, and I asked where it was then that I lived.
The student may read Homer or AEschylus in the Greek without
danger of dissipation or luxuriousness, for it implies that he in
some measure emulate their heroes, and consecrate morning hours to
their pages. The heroic books, even if printed in the character of
our mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate
times; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and
line, conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits out of
what wisdom and valor and generosity we have. The modern cheap and
fertile press, with all its translations, has done little to bring
us nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity. They seem as
solitary, and the letter in which they are printed as rare and
curious, as ever. It is worth the expense of youthful days and
costly hours, if you learn only some words of an ancient language,
which are raised out of the trivialness of the street, to be
perpetual suggestions and provocations. It is not in vain that the
farmer remembers and repeats the few Latin words which he has heard.
Men sometimes speak as if the study of the classics would at length
make way for more modern and practical studies; but the adventurous
student will always study classics, in whatever language they may be
written and however ancient they may be. For what are the classics
but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles
which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern
inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave. We might as well
omit to study Nature because she is old. To read well, that is, to
read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that
will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the
day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent,
the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books
must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.
It is not enough even to be able to speak the language of that
nation by which they are written, for there is a memorable interval
between the spoken and the written language, the language heard and
the language read. The one is commonly transitory, a sound, a
tongue, a dialect merely, almost brutish, and we learn it
unconsciously, like the brutes, of our mothers. The other is the
maturity and experience of that; if that is our mother tongue, this
is our father tongue, a reserved and select expression, too
significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be born again in
order to speak. The crowds of men who merely spoke the Greek and
Latin tongues in the Middle Ages were not entitled by the accident
of birth to read the works of genius written in those languages; for
these were not written in that Greek or Latin which they knew, but
in the select language of literature. They had not learned the
nobler dialects of Greece and Rome, but the very materials on which
they were written were waste paper to them, and they prized instead
a cheap contemporary literature. But when the several nations of
Europe had acquired distinct though rude written languages of their
own, sufficient for the purposes of their rising literatures, then
first learning revived, and scholars were enabled to discern from
that remoteness the treasures of antiquity. What the Roman and
Grecian multitude could not hear, after the lapse of ages a few
scholars read, and a few scholars only are still reading it.
However much we may admire the orator's occasional bursts of
eloquence, the noblest written words are commonly as far behind or
above the fleeting spoken language as the firmament with its stars
is behind the clouds. There are the stars, and they who can may
read them. The astronomers forever comment on and observe them.
They are not exhalations like our daily colloquies and vaporous
breath. What is called eloquence in the forum is commonly found to
be rhetoric in the study. The orator yields to the inspiration of a
transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who
can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his
occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd
which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and health of
mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.
No wonder that Alexander carried the Iliad with him on his
expeditions in a precious casket. A written word is the choicest of
relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more
universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest
to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not
only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; -- not be
represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the
breath of life itself. The symbol of an ancient man's thought
becomes a modern man's speech. Two thousand summers have imparted
to the monuments of Grecian literature, as to her marbles, only a
maturer golden and autumnal tint, for they have carried their own
serene and celestial atmosphere into all lands to protect them
against the corrosion of time. Books are the treasured wealth of
the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on
the shelves of every cottage. They have no cause of their own to
plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common
sense will not refuse them. Their authors are a natural and
irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or
emperors, exert an influence on mankind. When the illiterate and
perhaps scornful trader has earned by enterprise and industry his
coveted leisure and independence, and is admitted to the circles of
wealth and fashion, he turns inevitably at last to those still
higher but yet inaccessible circles of intellect and genius, and is
sensible only of the imperfection of his culture and the vanity and
insufficiency of all his riches, and further proves his good sense
by the pains which be takes to secure for his children that
intellectual culture whose want he so keenly feels; and thus it is
that he becomes the founder of a family.
Those who have not learned to read the ancient classics in the
language in which they were written must have a very imperfect
knowledge of the history of the human race; for it is remarkable
that no transcript of them has ever been made into any modern
tongue, unless our civilization itself may be regarded as such a
transcript. Homer has never yet been printed in English, nor
AEschylus, nor Virgil even -- works as refined, as solidly done, and
as beautiful almost as the morning itself; for later writers, say
what we will of their genius, have rarely, if ever, equalled the
elaborate beauty and finish and the lifelong and heroic literary
labors of the ancients. They only talk of forgetting them who never
knew them. It will be soon enough to forget them when we have the
learning and the genius which will enable us to attend to and
appreciate them. That age will be rich indeed when those relics
which we call Classics, and the still older and more than classic
but even less known Scriptures of the nations, shall have still
further accumulated, when the Vaticans shall be filled with Vedas
and Zendavestas and Bibles, with Homers and Dantes and Shakespeares,
and all the centuries to come shall have successively deposited
their trophies in the forum of the world. By such a pile we may
hope to scale heaven at last.
The works of the great poets have never yet been read by
mankind, for only great poets can read them. They have only been
read as the multitude read the stars, at most astrologically, not
astronomically. Most men have learned to read to serve a paltry
convenience, as they have learned to cipher in order to keep
accounts and not be cheated in trade; but of reading as a noble
intellectual exercise they know little or nothing; yet this only is
reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and
suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to
stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours
I think that having learned our letters we should read the best
that is in literature, and not be forever repeating our a-b-abs, and
words of one syllable, in the fourth or fifth classes, sitting on
the lowest and foremost form all our lives. Most men are satisfied
if they read or hear read, and perchance have been convicted by the
wisdom of one good book, the Bible, and for the rest of their lives
vegetate and dissipate their faculties in what is called easy
reading. There is a work in several volumes in our Circulating
Library entitled "Little Reading," which I thought referred to a
town of that name which I had not been to. There are those who,
like cormorants and ostriches, can digest all sorts of this, even
after the fullest dinner of meats and vegetables, for they suffer
nothing to be wasted. If others are the machines to provide this
provender, they are the machines to read it. They read the nine
thousandth tale about Zebulon and Sophronia, and how they loved as
none had ever loved before, and neither did the course of their true
love run smooth -- at any rate, how it did run and stumble, and get
up again and go on! how some poor unfortunate got up on to a
steeple, who had better never have gone up as far as the belfry; and
then, having needlessly got him up there, the happy novelist rings
the bell for all the world to come together and hear, O dear! how he
did get down again! For my part, I think that they had better
metamorphose all such aspiring heroes of universal noveldom into man
weather-cocks, as they used to put heroes among the constellations,
and let them swing round there till they are rusty, and not come
down at all to bother honest men with their pranks. The next time
the novelist rings the bell I will not stir though the meeting-house
burn down. "The Skip of the Tip-Toe-Hop, a Romance of the Middle
Ages, by the celebrated author of `Tittle-Tol-Tan,' to appear in
monthly parts; a great rush; don't all come together." All this
they read with saucer eyes, and erect and primitive curiosity, and
with unwearied gizzard, whose corrugations even yet need no
sharpening, just as some little four-year-old bencher his two-cent
gilt-covered edition of Cinderella -- without any improvement, that
I can see, in the pronunciation, or accent, or emphasis, or any more
skill in extracting or inserting the moral. The result is dulness
of sight, a stagnation of the vital circulations, and a general
deliquium and sloughing off of all the intellectual faculties. This
sort of gingerbread is baked daily and more sedulously than pure
wheat or rye-and-Indian in almost every oven, and finds a surer
The best books are not read even by those who are called good
readers. What does our Concord culture amount to? There is in this
town, with a very few exceptions, no taste for the best or for very
good books even in English literature, whose words all can read and
spell. Even the college-bred and so-called liberally educated men
here and elsewhere have really little or no acquaintance with the
English classics; and as for the recorded wisdom of mankind, the
ancient classics and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will
know of them, there are the feeblest efforts anywhere made to become
acquainted with them. I know a woodchopper, of middle age, who
takes a French paper, not for news as he says, for he is above that,
but to "keep himself in practice," he being a Canadian by birth; and
when I ask him what he considers the best thing he can do in this
world, he says, beside this, to keep up and add to his English.
This is about as much as the college-bred generally do or aspire to
do, and they take an English paper for the purpose. One who has
just come from reading perhaps one of the best English books will
find how many with whom he can converse about it? Or suppose he
comes from reading a Greek or Latin classic in the original, whose
praises are familiar even to the so-called illiterate; he will find
nobody at all to speak to, but must keep silence about it. Indeed,
there is hardly the professor in our colleges, who, if he has
mastered the difficulties of the language, has proportionally
mastered the difficulties of the wit and poetry of a Greek poet, and
has any sympathy to impart to the alert and heroic reader; and as
for the sacred Scriptures, or Bibles of mankind, who in this town
can tell me even their titles? Most men do not know that any nation
but the Hebrews have had a scripture. A man, any man, will go
considerably out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are
golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and
whose worth the wise of every succeeding age have assured us of; --
and yet we learn to read only as far as Easy Reading, the primers
and class-books, and when we leave school, the "Little Reading," and
story-books, which are for boys and beginners; and our reading, our
conversation and thinking, are all on a very low level, worthy only
of pygmies and manikins.
I aspire to be acquainted with wiser men than this our Concord
soil has produced, whose names are hardly known here. Or shall I
hear the name of Plato and never read his book? As if Plato were my
townsman and I never saw him -- my next neighbor and I never heard
him speak or attended to the wisdom of his words. But how actually
is it? His Dialogues, which contain what was immortal in him, lie
on the next shelf, and yet I never read them. We are underbred and
low-lived and illiterate; and in this respect I confess I do not
make any very broad distinction between the illiterateness of my
townsman who cannot read at all and the illiterateness of him who
has learned to read only what is for children and feeble intellects.
We should be as good as the worthies of antiquity, but partly by
first knowing how good they were. We are a race of tit-men, and
soar but little higher in our intellectual flights than the columns
of the daily paper.
It is not all books that are as dull as their readers. There
are probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we
could really hear and understand, would be more salutary than the
morning or the spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on
the face of things for us. How many a man has dated a new era in
his life from the reading of a book! The book exists for us,
perchance, which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The
at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered. These
same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their
turn occurred to all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and
each has answered them, according to his ability, by his words and
his life. Moreover, with wisdom we shall learn liberality. The
solitary hired man on a farm in the outskirts of Concord, who has
had his second birth and peculiar religious experience, and is
driven as he believes into the silent gravity and exclusiveness by
his faith, may think it is not true; but Zoroaster, thousands of
years ago, travelled the same road and had the same experience; but
he, being wise, knew it to be universal, and treated his neighbors
accordingly, and is even said to have invented and established
worship among men. Let him humbly commune with Zoroaster then, and
through the liberalizing influence of all the worthies, with Jesus
Christ himself, and let "our church" go by the board.
We boast that we belong to the Nineteenth Century and are making
the most rapid strides of any nation. But consider how little this
village does for its own culture. I do not wish to flatter my
townsmen, nor to be flattered by them, for that will not advance
either of us. We need to be provoked -- goaded like oxen, as we
are, into a trot. We have a comparatively decent system of common
schools, schools for infants only; but excepting the half-starved
Lyceum in the winter, and latterly the puny beginning of a library
suggested by the State, no school for ourselves. We spend more on
almost any article of bodily aliment or ailment than on our mental
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
the fellows of universities, with leisure -- if they are, indeed, so
well off -- to pursue liberal studies the rest of their lives.
Shall the world be confined to one Paris or one Oxford forever?
Cannot students be boarded here and get a liberal education under
the skies of Concord? Can we not hire some Abelard to lecture to
us? Alas! what with foddering the cattle and tending the store, we
are kept from school too long, and our education is sadly neglected.
In this country, the village should in some respects take the place
of the nobleman of Europe. It should be the patron of the fine
arts. It is rich enough. It wants only the magnanimity and
refinement. It can spend money enough on such things as farmers and
traders value, but it is thought Utopian to propose spending money
for things which more intelligent men know to be of far more worth.
This town has spent seventeen thousand dollars on a town-house,
thank fortune or politics, but probably it will not spend so much on
living wit, the true meat to put into that shell, in a hundred
years. The one hundred and twenty-five dollars annually subscribed
for a Lyceum in the winter is better spent than any other equal sum
raised in the town. If we live in the Nineteenth Century, why
should we not enjoy the advantages which the Nineteenth Century
offers? Why should our life be in any respect provincial? If we
will read newspapers, why not skip the gossip of Boston and take the
best newspaper in the world at once? -- not be sucking the pap of
"neutral family" papers, or browsing "Olive Branches" here in New
England. Let the reports of all the learned societies come to us,
and we will see if they know anything. Why should we leave it to
Harper & Brothers and Redding & Co. to select our reading? As the
nobleman of cultivated taste surrounds himself with whatever
conduces to his culture -- genius -- learning -- wit -- books --
paintings -- statuary -- music -- philosophical instruments, and the
like; so let the village do -- not stop short at a pedagogue, a
parson, a sexton, a parish library, and three selectmen, because our
Pilgrim forefathers got through a cold winter once on a bleak rock
with these. To act collectively is according to the spirit of our
institutions; and I am confident that, as our circumstances are more
flourishing, our means are greater than the nobleman's. New England
can hire all the wise men in the world to come and teach her, and
board them round the while, and not be provincial at all. That is
the uncommon school we want. Instead of noblemen, let us have noble
villages of men. If it is necessary, omit one bridge over the
river, go round a little there, and throw one arch at least over the
darker gulf of ignorance which surrounds us.


But while we are confined to books, though the most select and
classic, and read only particular written languages, which are
themselves but dialects and provincial, we are in danger of
forgetting the language which all things and events speak without
metaphor, which alone is copious and standard. Much is published,
but little printed. The rays which stream through the shutter will
be no longer remembered when the shutter is wholly removed. No
method nor discipline can supersede the necessity of being forever
on the alert. What is a course of history or philosophy, or poetry,
no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most
admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking
always at what is to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student
merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk
on into futurity.
I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I
often did better than this. There were times when I could not
afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work,
whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life.
Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I
sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery,
amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude
and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless
through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or
the noise of some traveller's wagon on the distant highway, I was
reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in
the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would
have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much
over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals
mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most
part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to
light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening,
and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the
birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the
sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had
I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my
nest. My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any
heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the
ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is
said that "for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one
word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward
for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing
day." This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt; but
if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should
not have been found wanting. A man must find his occasions in
himself, it is true. The natural day is very calm, and will hardly
reprove his indolence.
I had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those
who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the
theatre, that my life itself was become my amusement and never
ceased to be novel. It was a drama of many scenes and without an
end. If we were always, indeed, getting our living, and regulating
our lives according to the last and best mode we had learned, we
should never be troubled with ennui. Follow your genius closely
enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every
hour. Housework was a pleasant pastime. When my floor was dirty, I
rose early, and, setting all my furniture out of doors on the grass,
bed and bedstead making but one budget, dashed water on the floor,
and sprinkled white sand from the pond on it, and then with a broom
scrubbed it clean and white; and by the time the villagers had
broken their fast the morning sun had dried my house sufficiently to
allow me to move in again, and my meditations were almost
uninterupted. It was pleasant to see my whole household effects out
on the grass, making a little pile like a gypsy's pack, and my
three-legged table, from which I did not remove the books and pen
and ink, standing amid the pines and hickories. They seemed glad to
get out themselves, and as if unwilling to be brought in. I was
sometimes tempted to stretch an awning over them and take my seat
there. It was worth the while to see the sun shine on these things,
and hear the free wind blow on them; so much more interesting most
familiar objects look out of doors than in the house. A bird sits
on the next bough, life-everlasting grows under the table, and
blackberry vines run round its legs; pine cones, chestnut burs, and
strawberry leaves are strewn about. It looked as if this was the
way these forms came to be transferred to our furniture, to tables,
chairs, and bedsteads -- because they once stood in their midst.
My house was on the side of a hill, immediately on the edge of
the larger wood, in the midst of a young forest of pitch pines and
hickories, and half a dozen rods from the pond, to which a narrow
footpath led down the hill. In my front yard grew the strawberry,
blackberry, and life-everlasting, johnswort and goldenrod, shrub
oaks and sand cherry, blueberry and groundnut. Near the end of May,
the sand cherry (Cerasus pumila) adorned the sides of the path with
its delicate flowers arranged in umbels cylindrically about its
short stems, which last, in the fall, weighed down with goodsized
and handsome cherries, fell over in wreaths like rays on every side.
I tasted them out of compliment to Nature, though they were scarcely
palatable. The sumach (Rhus glabra) grew luxuriantly about the
house, pushing up through the embankment which I had made, and
growing five or six feet the first season. Its broad pinnate
tropical leaf was pleasant though strange to look on. The large
buds, suddenly pushing out late in the spring from dry sticks which
had seemed to be dead, developed themselves as by magic into
graceful green and tender boughs, an inch in diameter; and
sometimes, as I sat at my window, so heedlessly did they grow and
tax their weak joints, I heard a fresh and tender bough suddenly
fall like a fan to the ground, when there was not a breath of air
stirring, broken off by its own weight. In August, the large masses
of berries, which, when in flower, had attracted many wild bees,
gradually assumed their bright velvety crimson hue, and by their
weight again bent down and broke the tender limbs.
As I sit at my window this summer afternoon, hawks are circling
about my clearing; the tantivy of wild pigeons, flying by two and
threes athwart my view, or perching restless on the white pine
boughs behind my house, gives a voice to the air; a fish hawk
dimples the glassy surface of the pond and brings up a fish; a mink
steals out of the marsh before my door and seizes a frog by the
shore; the sedge is bending under the weight of the reed-birds
flitting hither and thither; and for the last half-hour I have heard
the rattle of railroad cars, now dying away and then reviving like
the beat of a partridge, conveying travellers from Boston to the
country. For I did not live so out of the world as that boy who, as
I hear, was put out to a farmer in the east part of the town, but
ere long ran away and came home again, quite down at the heel and
homesick. He had never seen such a dull and out-of-the-way place;
the folks were all gone off; why, you couldn't even hear the
whistle! I doubt if there is such a place in Massachusetts now:--

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

The Fitchburg Railroad touches the pond about a hundred rods
south of where I dwell. I usually go to the village along its
causeway, and am, as it were, related to society by this link. The
men on the freight trains, who go over the whole length of the road,
bow to me as to an old acquaintance, they pass me so often, and
apparently they take me for an employee; and so I am. I too would
fain be a track-repairer somewhere in the orbit of the earth.
The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and
winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some
farmer's yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are
arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country
traders from the other side. As they come under one horizon, they
shout their warning to get off the track to the other, heard
sometimes through the circles of two towns. Here come your
groceries, country; your rations, countrymen! Nor is there any man
so independent on his farm that he can say them nay. And here's
your pay for them! screams the countryman's whistle; timber like
long battering-rams going twenty miles an hour against the city's
walls, and chairs enough to seat all the weary and heavy-laden that
dwell within them. With such huge and lumbering civility the
country hands a chair to the city. All the Indian huckleberry hills
are stripped, all the cranberry meadows are raked into the city. Up
comes the cotton, down goes the woven cloth; up comes the silk, down
goes the woollen; up come the books, but down goes the wit that
writes them.
When I meet the engine with its train of cars moving off with
planetary motion -- or, rather, like a comet, for the beholder knows
not if with that velocity and with that direction it will ever
revisit this system, since its orbit does not look like a returning
curve -- with its steam cloud like a banner streaming behind in
golden and silver wreaths, like many a downy cloud which I have
seen, high in the heavens, unfolding its masses to the light -- as
if this traveling demigod, this cloud-compeller, would ere long take
the sunset sky for the livery of his train; when I hear the iron
horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the
earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils
(what kind of winged horse or fiery dragon they will put into the
new Mythology I don't know), it seems as if the earth had got a race
now worthy to inhabit it. If all were as it seems, and men made the
elements their servants for noble ends! If the cloud that hangs
over the engine were the perspiration of heroic deeds, or as
beneficent as that which floats over the farmer's fields, then the
elements and Nature herself would cheerfully accompany men on their
errands and be their 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 stabler of the iron horse
was up early this winter morning by the light of the stars amid the
mountains, to fodder and harness his steed. Fire, too, was awakened
thus early to put the vital heat in him and get him off. If the
enterprise were as innocent as it is early! If the snow lies deep,
they strap on his snowshoes, and, with the giant plow, plow a furrow
from the mountains to the seaboard, in which the cars, like a
following drill-barrow, sprinkle all the restless men and floating
merchandise in the country for seed. All day the fire-steed flies
over the country, stopping only that his master may rest, and I am
awakened by his tramp and defiant snort at midnight, when in some
remote glen in the woods he fronts the elements incased in ice and
snow; and he will reach his stall only with the morning star, to
start once more on his travels without rest or slumber. Or
perchance, at evening, I hear him in his stable blowing off the
superfluous energy of the day, that he may calm his nerves and cool
his liver and brain for a few hours of iron slumber. If the
enterprise were as heroic and commanding as it is protracted and
Far through unfrequented woods on the confines of towns, where
once only the hunter penetrated by day, in the darkest night dart
these bright saloons without the knowledge of their inhabitants;
this moment stopping at some brilliant station-house in town or
city, where a social crowd is gathered, the next in the Dismal
Swamp, scaring the owl and fox. The startings and arrivals of the
cars are now the epochs in the village day. They go and come with
such regularity and precision, and their whistle can be heard so
far, that the farmers set their clocks by them, and thus one
well-conducted institution regulates a whole country. Have not men
improved somewhat in punctuality since the railroad was invented?
Do they not talk and think faster in the depot than they did in the
stage-office? There is something electrifying in the atmosphere of
the former place. I have been astonished at the miracles it has
wrought; that some of my neighbors, who, I should have prophesied,
once for all, would never get to Boston by so prompt a conveyance,
are on hand when the bell rings. To do things "railroad fashion" is
now the byword; and it is worth the while to be warned so often and
so sincerely by any power to get off its track. There is no
stopping to read the riot act, no firing over the heads of the mob,
in this case. We have constructed a fate, an Atropos, that never
turns aside. (Let that be the name of your engine.) Men are
advertised that at a certain hour and minute these bolts will be
shot toward particular points of the compass; yet it interferes with
no man's business, and the children go to school on the other track.
We live the steadier for it. We are all educated thus to be sons of
Tell. The air is full of invisible bolts. Every path but your own
is the path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.
What recommends commerce to me is its enterprise and bravery.
It does not clasp its hands and pray to Jupiter. I see these men
every day go about their business with more or less courage and
content, doing more even than they suspect, and perchance better
employed than they could have consciously devised. I am less
affected by their heroism who stood up for half an hour in the front
line at Buena Vista, than by the steady and cheerful valor of the
men who inhabit the snowplow for their winter quarters; who have not
merely the three-o'-clock-in-the-morning courage, which Bonaparte
thought was the rarest, but whose courage does not go to rest so
early, who go to sleep only when the storm sleeps or the sinews of
their iron steed are frozen. On this morning of the Great Snow,
perchance, which is still raging and chilling men's blood, I bear
the muffled tone of their engine bell from out the fog bank of their
chilled breath, which announces that the cars are coming, without
long delay, notwithstanding the veto of a New England northeast
snow-storm, and I behold the plowmen covered with snow and rime,
their heads peering, above the mould-board which is turning down
other than daisies and the nests of field mice, like bowlders of the
Sierra Nevada, that occupy an outside place in the universe.
Commerce is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert,
adventurous, and unwearied. It is very natural in its methods
withal, far more so than many fantastic enterprises and sentimental
experiments, and hence its singular success. I am refreshed and
expanded when the freight train rattles past me, and I smell the
stores which go dispensing their odors all the way from Long Wharf
to Lake Champlain, reminding me of foreign parts, of coral reefs,
and Indian oceans, and tropical climes, and the extent of the globe.
I feel more like a citizen of the world at the sight of the
palm-leaf which will cover so many flaxen New England heads the next
summer, the Manilla hemp and cocoanut husks, the old junk, gunny
bags, scrap iron, and rusty nails. This carload of torn sails is
more legible and interesting now than if they should be wrought into
paper and printed books. Who can write so graphically the history
of the storms they have weathered as these rents have done? They
are proof-sheets which need no correction. Here goes lumber from
the Maine woods, which did not go out to sea in the last freshet,
risen four dollars on the thousand because of what did go out or was
split up; pine, spruce, cedar -- first, second, third, and fourth
qualities, so lately all of one quality, to wave over the bear, and
moose, and caribou. Next rolls Thomaston lime, a prime lot, which
will get far among the hills before it gets slacked. These rags in
bales, of all hues and qualities, the lowest condition to which
cotton and linen descend, the final result of dress -- of patterns
which are now no longer cried up, unless it be in Milwaukee, as
those splendid articles, English, French, or American prints,
ginghams, muslins, etc., gathered from all quarters both of fashion
and poverty, going to become paper of one color or a few shades
only, on which, forsooth, will be written tales of real life, high
and low, and founded on fact! This closed car smells of salt fish,
the strong New England and commercial scent, reminding me of the
Grand Banks and the fisheries. Who has not seen a salt fish,
thoroughly cured for this world, so that nothing can spoil it, and
putting, the perseverance of the saints to the blush? with which you
may sweep or pave the streets, and split your kindlings, and the
teamster shelter himself and his lading against sun, wind, and rain
behind it -- and the trader, as a Concord trader once did, hang it
up by his door for a sign when he commences business, until at last
his oldest customer cannot tell surely whether it be animal,
vegetable, or mineral, and yet it shall be as pure as a snowflake,
and if it be put into a pot and boiled, will come out an excellent
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 constitutional vices. I confess,
that practically speaking, when I have learned a man's real
disposition, I have no hopes of changing it for the better or worse
in this state of existence. As the Orientals say, "A cur's tail may
be warmed, and pressed, and bound round with ligatures, and after a
twelve years' labor bestowed upon it, still it will retain its
natural form." The only effectual cure for such inveteracies as
these tails exhibit is to make glue of them, which I believe is what
is usually done with them, and then they will stay put and stick.
Here is a hogshead of molasses or of brandy directed to John Smith,
Cuttingsville, Vermont, some trader among the Green Mountains, who
imports for the farmers near his clearing, and now perchance stands
over his bulkhead and thinks of the last arrivals on the coast, how
they may affect the price for him, telling his customers this
moment, as he has told them twenty times before this morning, that
he expects some by the next train of prime quality. It is
advertised in the Cuttingsville Times.
While these things go up other things come down. Warned by the
whizzing sound, I look up from my book and see some tall pine, hewn
on far northern hills, which has winged its way over the Green
Mountains and the Connecticut, shot like an arrow through the
township within ten minutes, and scarce another eye beholds it;
"to be the mast
Of some great ammiral."

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

What's the railroad to me?
I never go to see
Where it ends.
It fills a few hollows,
And makes banks for the swallows,
It sets the sand a-blowing,
And the blackberries a-growing,

but I cross it like a cart-path in the woods. I will not have my
eyes put out and my ears spoiled by its smoke and steam and hissing.
Now that the cars are gone by and all the restless world with
them, and the fishes in the pond no longer feel their rumbling, I am
more alone than ever. For the rest of the long afternoon, perhaps,
my meditations are interrupted only by the faint rattle of a
carriage or team along the distant highway.
Sometimes, on Sundays, I heard the bells, the Lincoln, Acton,
Bedford, or Concord bell, when the wind was favorable, a faint,
sweet, and, as it were, natural melody, worth importing into the
wilderness. At a sufficient distance over the woods this sound
acquires a certain vibratory hum, as if the pine needles in the
horizon were the strings of a harp which it swept. All sound heard
at the greatest possible distance produces one and the same effect,
a vibration of the universal lyre, just as the intervening
atmosphere makes a distant ridge of earth interesting to our eyes by
the azure tint it imparts to it. There came to me in this case a
melody which the air had strained, and which had conversed with
every leaf and needle of the wood, that portion of the sound which
the elements had taken up and modulated and echoed from vale to
vale. The echo is, to some extent, an original sound, and therein
is the magic and charm of it. It is not merely a repetition of what
was worth repeating in the bell, but partly the voice of the wood;
the same trivial words and notes sung by a wood-nymph.
At evening, the distant lowing of some cow in the horizon beyond
the woods sounded sweet and melodious, and at first I would mistake
it for the voices of certain minstrels by whom I was sometimes
serenaded, who might be straying over hill and dale; but soon I was
not unpleasantly disappointed when it was prolonged into the cheap
and natural music of the cow. I do not mean to be satirical, but to
express my appreciation of those youths' singing, when I state that
I perceived clearly that it was akin to the music of the cow, and
they were at length one articulation of Nature.
Regularly at half-past seven, in one part of the summer, after
the evening train had gone by, the whip-poor-wills chanted their
vespers for half an hour, sitting on a stump by my door, or upon the
ridge-pole of the house. They would begin to sing almost with as
much precision as a clock, within five minutes of a particular time,
referred to the setting of the sun, every evening. I had a rare
opportunity to become acquainted with their habits. Sometimes I
heard four or five at once in different parts of the wood, by
accident one a bar behind another, and so near me that I
distinguished not only the cluck after each note, but often that
singular buzzing sound like a fly in a spider's web, only
proportionally louder. Sometimes one would circle round and round
me in the woods a few feet distant as if tethered by a string, when
probably I was near its eggs. They sang at intervals throughout the
night, and were again as musical as ever just before and about dawn.
When other birds are still, the screech owls take up the strain,
like mourning women their ancient u-lu-lu. Their dismal scream is
truly Ben Jonsonian. Wise midnight hags! It is no honest and blunt
tu-whit tu-who of the poets, but, without jesting, a most solemn
graveyard ditty, the mutual consolations of suicide lovers
remembering the pangs and the delights of supernal love in the
infernal groves. Yet I love to hear their wailing, their doleful
responses, trilled along the woodside; reminding me sometimes of
music and singing birds; as if it were the dark and tearful side of
music, the regrets and sighs that would fain be sung. They are the
spirits, the low spirits and melancholy forebodings, of fallen souls
that once in human shape night-walked the earth and did the deeds of
darkness, now expiating their sins with their wailing hymns or
threnodies in the scenery of their transgressions. They give me a
new sense of the variety and capacity of that nature which is our
common dwelling. Oh-o-o-o-o that I never had been bor-r-r-r-n!
sighs one on this side of the pond, and circles with the
restlessness of despair to some new perch on the gray oaks. Then --
that I never had been bor-r-r-r-n! echoes another on the farther
side with tremulous sincerity, and -- bor-r-r-r-n! comes faintly
from far in the Lincoln woods.
I was also serenaded by a hooting owl. Near at hand you could
fancy it the most melancholy sound in Nature, as if she meant by
this to stereotype and make permanent in her choir the dying moans
of a human being -- some poor weak relic of mortality who has left
hope behind, and howls like an animal, yet with human sobs, on
entering the dark valley, made more awful by a certain gurgling
melodiousness -- I find myself beginning with the letters gl when I
try to imitate it -- expressive of a mind which has reached the
gelatinous, mildewy stage in the mortification of all healthy and
courageous thought. It reminded me of ghouls and idiots and insane
howlings. But now one answers from far woods in a strain made
really melodious by distance -- Hoo hoo hoo, hoorer hoo; and indeed
for the most part it suggested only pleasing associations, whether
heard by day or night, summer or winter.
I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and
maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps
and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and
undeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They represent
the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have. All day
the sun has shone on the surface of some savage swamp, where the
single spruce stands hung with usnea lichens, and small hawks
circulate above, and the chickadee lisps amid the evergreens, and
the partridge and rabbit skulk beneath; but now a more dismal and
fitting day dawns, and a different race of creatures awakes to
express the meaning of Nature there.
Late in the evening I heard the distant rumbling of wagons over
bridges -- a sound heard farther than almost any other at night --
the baying of dogs, and sometimes again the lowing of some
disconsolate cow in a distant barn-yard. In the 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 distention. The most aldermanic,
with his chin upon a heart-leaf, which serves for a napkin to his
drooling chaps, under this northern shore quaffs a deep draught of
the once scorned water, and passes round the cup with the
ejaculation tr-r-r-oonk, tr-r-r--oonk, tr-r-r-oonk! and straightway
comes over the water from some distant cove the same password
repeated, where the next in seniority and girth has gulped down to
his mark; and when this observance has made the circuit of the
shores, then ejaculates the master of ceremonies, with satisfaction,
tr-r-r-oonk! and each in his turn repeats the same down to the least
distended, leakiest, and flabbiest paunched, that there be no
mistake; and then the howl goes round again and again, until the sun
disperses the morning mist, and only the patriarch is not under the
pond, but vainly bellowing troonk from time to time, and pausing for
a 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 cackling of the hens to fill the pauses
when their lords' clarions rested! No wonder that man added this
bird to his tame stock -- to say nothing of the eggs and drumsticks.
To walk in a winter morning in a wood where these birds abounded,
their native woods, and hear the wild cockerels crow on the trees,
clear and shrill for miles over the resounding earth, drowning the
feebler notes of other birds -- think of it! It would put nations
on the alert. Who would not be early to rise, and rise earlier and
earlier every successive day of his life, till he became unspeakably
healthy, wealthy, and wise? This foreign bird's note is celebrated
by the poets of all countries along with the notes of their native
songsters. All climates agree with brave Chanticleer. He is more
indigenous even than the natives. His health is ever good, his
lungs are sound, his spirits never flag. Even the sailor on the
Atlantic and Pacific is awakened by his voice; but its shrill sound
never roused me from my slumbers. I kept neither dog, cat, cow,
pig, nor hens, so that you would have said there was a deficiency of
domestic sounds; neither the churn, nor the spinning-wheel, nor even
the singing of the kettle, nor the hissing of the urn, nor children
crying, to comfort one. An old-fashioned man would have lost his
senses or died of ennui before this. Not even rats in the wall, for
they were starved out, or rather were never baited in -- only
squirrels on the roof and under the floor, a whip-poor-will on the
ridge-pole, a blue jay screaming beneath the window, a hare or
woodchuck under the house, a screech owl or a cat owl behind it, a
flock of wild geese or a laughing loon on the pond, and a fox to
bark in the night. Not even a lark or an oriole, those mild
plantation birds, ever visited my clearing. No cockerels to crow
nor hens to cackle in the yard. No yard! but unfenced nature
reaching up to your very sills. A young forest growing up under
your meadows, and wild sumachs and blackberry vines breaking through
into your cellar; sturdy pitch pines rubbing and creaking against
the shingles for want of room, their roots reaching quite under the
house. Instead of a scuttle or a blind blown off in the gale -- a
pine tree snapped off or torn up by the roots behind your house for
fuel. Instead of no path to the front-yard gate in the Great Snow
-- no gate -- no front-yard -- and no path to the civilized world.


This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense,
and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a
strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the
stony shore of the pond in my shirt-sleeves, though it is cool as
well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me,
all the elements are unusually congenial to me. The bullfrogs trump
to usher in the night, and the note of the whip-poor-will is borne
on the rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the
fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath; yet,
like the lake, my serenity is rippled but not ruffled. These small
waves raised by the evening wind are as remote from storm as the
smooth reflecting surface. Though it is now dark, the 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
complete. The wildest animals do not repose, but seek their prey
now; the fox, and skunk, and rabbit, now roam the fields and woods
without fear. They are Nature's watchmen -- links which connect the
days of animated life.
When I return to my house I find that visitors have been there
and left their cards, either a bunch of flowers, or a wreath of
evergreen, or a name in pencil on a yellow walnut leaf or a chip.
They who come rarely to the woods take some little piece of the
forest into their hands to play with by the way, which they leave,
either intentionally or accidentally. One has peeled a willow wand,
woven it into a ring, and dropped it on my table. I could always
tell if visitors had called in my absence, either by the bended
twigs or grass, or the print of their shoes, and generally of what
sex or age or quality they were by some slight trace left, as a
flower dropped, or a bunch of grass plucked and thrown away, even as
far off as the railroad, half a mile distant, or by the lingering
odor of a cigar or pipe. Nay, I was frequently notified of the
passage of a traveller along the highway sixty rods off by the scent
of his pipe.
There is commonly sufficient space about us. Our horizon is
never quite at our elbows. The thick wood is not just at our door,
nor the pond, but somewhat is always clearing, familiar and worn by
us, appropriated and fenced in some way, and reclaimed from Nature.
For what reason have I this vast range and circuit, some square
miles of unfrequented forest, for my privacy, abandoned to me by
men? My nearest neighbor is a mile distant, and no house is visible
from any place but the hill-tops within half a mile of my own. I
have my horizon bounded by woods all to myself; a distant view of
the railroad where it touches the pond on the one hand, and of the
fence which skirts the woodland road on the other. But for the most
part it is as solitary where I live as on the prairies. It is as
much Asia or Africa as New England. I have, as it were, my own sun
and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself. At night
there was never a traveller passed my house, or knocked at my door,
more than if I were the first or last man; unless it were in the
spring, when at long intervals some came from the village to fish
for pouts -- they plainly fished much more in the Walden Pond of
their own natures, and baited their hooks with darkness -- but they
soon retreated, usually with light baskets, and left "the world to
darkness and to me," and the black kernel of the night was never
profaned by any human neighborhood. I believe that men are
generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are
all hung, and Christianity and candles have been introduced.
Yet I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and tender, the
most innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural
object, even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man.
There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst
of Nature and has his senses still. There was never yet such a
storm but it was AEolian music to a healthy and innocent ear.
Nothing can rightly compel a simple and brave man to a vulgar
sadness. While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that
nothing can make life a burden to me. The gentle rain which waters
my beans and keeps me in the house today is not drear and
melancholy, but good for me too. Though it prevents my hoeing them,
it is of far more worth than my hoeing. If it should continue so
long as to cause the seeds to rot in the ground and destroy the
potatoes in the low lands, it would still be good for the grass on
the uplands, and, being good for the grass, it would be good for me.
Sometimes, when I compare myself with other men, it seems as if I
were more favored by the gods than they, beyond any deserts that I
am conscious of; as if I had a warrant and surety at their hands
which my fellows have not, and were especially guided and guarded.
I do not flatter myself, but if it be possible they flatter me. I
have never felt lonesome, or in the least oppressed by a sense of
solitude, but once, and that was a few weeks after I came to the
woods, when, for an hour, I doubted if the near neighborhood of man
was not essential to a serene and healthy life. To be alone was
something unpleasant. But I was at the same time conscious of a
slight insanity in my mood, and seemed to foresee my recovery. In
the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was
suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in
the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around
my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once
like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of
human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them
since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy
and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence
of something kindred to me, even in scenes which we are accustomed
to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to me
and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no
place could ever be strange to me again.

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

Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain-storms in
the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon
as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and
pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which
many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves. In those
driving northeast rains which tried the village houses so, when the
maids stood ready with mop and pail in front entries to keep the
deluge out, I sat behind my door in my little house, which was all
entry, and thoroughly enjoyed its protection. In one heavy
thunder-shower the lightning struck a large pitch pine across the
pond, making a very conspicuous and perfectly regular spiral groove
from top to bottom, an inch or more deep, and four or five inches
wide, as you would groove a walking-stick. I passed it again the
other day, and was struck with awe on looking up and beholding that
mark, now more distinct than ever, where a terrific and resistless
bolt came down out of the harmless sky eight years ago. Men
frequently say to me, "I should think you would feel lonesome down
there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and
nights especially." I am tempted to reply to such -- This whole
earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart,
think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star,
the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments?
Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This
which you put seems to me not to be the most important question.
What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows
and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs
can bring two minds much nearer to one another. What do we want
most to dwell near to? Not to many men surely, the depot, the
post-office, the bar-room, the meeting-house, the school-house, the
grocery, Beacon Hill, or the Five Points, where men most congregate,
but to the perennial source of our life, whence in all our
experience we have found that to issue, as the willow stands near
the water and sends out its roots in that direction. This will vary
with different natures, but this is the place where a wise man will
dig his cellar.... I one evening overtook one of my townsmen, who
has accumulated what is called "a handsome property" -- though I
never got a fair view of it -- on the Walden road, driving a pair of
cattle to market, who inquired of me how I could bring my mind to
give up so many of the comforts of life. I answered that I was very
sure I liked it passably well; I was not joking. And so I went home
to my bed, and left him to pick his way through the darkness and the
mud to Brighton -- or Bright-town -- which place he would reach some
time in the morning.
Any prospect of awakening or coming to life to a dead man makes
indifferent all times and places. The place where that may occur is
always the same, and indescribably pleasant to all our senses. For
the most part we allow only outlying and transient circumstances to
make our occasions. They are, in fact, the cause of our
distraction. Nearest to all things is that power which fashions
their being. Next to us the grandest laws are continually being
executed. Next to us is not the workman whom we have hired, with
whom we love so well to talk, but the workman whose work we are.
"How vast and profound is the influence of the subtile powers of
Heaven and of Earth!"
"We seek to perceive them, and we do not see them; we seek to
hear them, and we do not hear them; identified with the substance of
things, they cannot be separated from them."
"They cause that in all the universe men purify and sanctify
their hearts, and clothe themselves in their holiday garments to
offer sacrifices and oblations to their ancestors. It is an ocean
of subtile intelligences. They are everywhere, above us, on our
left, on our right; they environ us on all sides."
We are the subjects of an experiment which is not a little
interesting to me. Can we not do without the society of our gossips
a little while under these circumstances -- have our own thoughts to
cheer us? Confucius says truly, "Virtue does not remain as an
abandoned orphan; it must of necessity have neighbors."
With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense. By a
conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and
their consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a
torrent. We are not wholly involved in Nature. I may be either the
driftwood in the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down on it. I
may be affected by a theatrical exhibition; on the other hand, I may
not be affected by an actual event which appears to concern me much
more. I only know myself as a human entity; the scene, so to speak,
of thoughts and affections; and am sensible of a certain doubleness
by which I can stand as remote from myself as from another. However
intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism
of a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but
spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it, and that is
no more I than it is you. When the play, it may be the tragedy, of
life is over, the spectator goes his way. It was a kind of fiction,
a work of the imagination only, so far as he was concerned. This
doubleness may easily make us poor neighbors and friends sometimes.
I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.
To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and
dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that
was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more
lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our
chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be
where he will. Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that
intervene between a man and his fellows. The really diligent
student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as
solitary as a dervish in the desert. The farmer can work alone in
the field or the woods all day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel
lonesome, because he is employed; but when he comes home at night he
cannot sit down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but
must be where he can "see the folks," and recreate, and, as he
thinks, remunerate himself for his day's solitude; and hence he
wonders how the student can sit alone in the house all night and
most of the day without ennui and "the blues"; but he does not
realize that the student, though in the house, is still at work in
his field, and chopping in his woods, as the farmer in his, and in
turn seeks the same recreation and society that the latter does,
though it may be a more condensed form of it.
Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals,
not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We
meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of
that old musty cheese that we are. We have had to agree on a
certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this
frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war.
We meet at the post-office, and at the sociable, and about the
fireside every night; we live thick and are in each other's way, and
stumble over one another, and I think that we thus lose some respect
for one another. Certainly less frequency would suffice for all
important and hearty communications. Consider the girls in a
factory -- never alone, hardly in their dreams. It would be better
if there were but one inhabitant to a square mile, as where I live.
The value of a man is not in his skin, that we should touch him.
I have heard of a man lost in the woods and dying of famine and
exhaustion at the foot of a tree, whose loneliness was relieved by
the grotesque visions with which, owing to bodily weakness, his
diseased imagination surrounded him, and which he believed to be
real. So also, owing to bodily and mental health and strength, we
may be continually cheered by a like but more normal and natural
society, and come to know that we are never alone.
I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the
morning, when nobody calls. Let me suggest a few comparisons, that
some one may convey an idea of my situation. I am no more lonely
than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond
itself. What company has that lonely lake, I pray? And yet it has
not the blue devils, but the blue angels in it, in the azure tint of
its waters. The sun is alone, except in thick weather, when there
sometimes appear to be two, but one is a mock sun. God is alone --
but the devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of
company; he is legion. I am no more lonely than a single mullein or
dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly,
or a bumblebee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a
weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April
shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house.
I have occasional visits in the long winter evenings, when the
snow falls fast and the wind howls in the wood, from an old settler
and original proprietor, who is reported to have dug Walden Pond,
and stoned it, and fringed it with pine woods; who tells me stories
of old time and of new eternity; and between us we manage to pass a
cheerful evening with social mirth and pleasant views of things,
even without apples or cider -- a most wise and humorous friend,
whom I love much, who keeps himself more secret than ever did Goffe
or Whalley; and though he is thought to be dead, none can show where
he is buried. An elderly dame, too, dwells in my neighborhood,
invisible to most persons, in whose odorous herb garden I love to
stroll sometimes, gathering simples and listening to her fables; for
she has a genius of unequalled fertility, and her memory runs back
farther than mythology, and she can tell me the original of every
fable, and on what fact every one is founded, for the incidents
occurred when she was young. A ruddy and lusty old dame, who
delights in all weathers and seasons, and is likely to outlive all
her children yet.
The indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature -- of sun
and wind and rain, of summer and winter -- such health, such cheer,
they afford forever! and such sympathy have they ever with our race,
that all Nature would be affected, and the sun's brightness fade,
and the winds would sigh humanely, and the clouds rain tears, and
the woods shed their leaves and put on mourning in midsummer, if any
man should ever for a just cause grieve. Shall I not have
intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable
mould myself?
What is the pill which will keep us well, serene, contented?
Not my or thy great-grandfather's, but our great-grandmother
Nature's universal, vegetable, botanic medicines, by which she has
kept herself young always, outlived so many old Parrs in her day,
and fed her health with their decaying fatness. For my panacea,
instead of one of those quack vials of a mixture dipped from Acheron
and the Dead Sea, which come out of those long shallow
black-schooner looking wagons which we sometimes see made to carry
bottles, let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning
air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day,
why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for
the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to
morning time in this world. But remember, it will not keep quite
till noonday even in the coolest cellar, but drive out the stopples
long ere that and follow westward the steps of Aurora. I am no
worshipper of Hygeia, who was the daughter of that old herb-doctor
AEsculapius, and who is represented on monuments holding a serpent
in one hand, and in the other a cup out of which the serpent
sometimes drinks; but rather of Hebe, cup-bearer to Jupiter, who was
the daughter of Juno and wild lettuce, and who had the power of
restoring gods and men to the vigor of youth. She was probably the
only thoroughly sound-conditioned, healthy, and robust young lady
that ever walked the globe, and wherever she came it was spring.


I think that I love society as much as most, and am ready enough
to fasten myself like a bloodsucker for the time to any full-blooded
man that comes in my way. I am naturally no hermit, but might
possibly sit out the sturdiest frequenter of the bar-room, if my
business called me thither.
I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for
friendship, three for society. When visitors came in larger and
unexpected numbers there was but the third chair for them all, but
they generally economized the room by standing up. It is surprising
how many great men and women a small house will contain. I have had
twenty-five or thirty souls, with their bodies, at once under my
roof, and yet we often parted without being aware that we had come
very near to one another. Many of our houses, both public and
private, with their almost innumerable apartments, their huge halls
and their cellars for the storage of wines and other munitions of
peace, appear to be extravagantly large for their inhabitants. They
are so vast and magnificent that the latter seem to be only vermin
which infest them. I am surprised when the herald blows his summons
before some Tremont or Astor or Middlesex House, to see come
creeping out over the piazza for all inhabitants a ridiculous mouse,
which soon again slinks into some hole in the pavement.
One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house,
the difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest
when we began to utter the big thoughts in big words. You want room
for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two
before they make their port. The bullet of your thought must have
overcome its lateral and ricochet motion and fallen into its last
and steady course before it reaches the ear of the hearer, else it
may plow out again through the side of his head. Also, our
sentences wanted room to unfold and form their columns in the
interval. Individuals, like nations, must have suitable broad and
natural boundaries, even a considerable neutral ground, between
them. I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to
a companion on the opposite side. In my house we were so near that
we could not begin to 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 possibly hear each
other's voice in any case. Referred to this standard, speech is for
the convenience of those who are hard of hearing; but there are many
fine things which we cannot say if we have to shout. As the
conversation began to assume a loftier and grander tone, we
gradually shoved our chairs farther apart till they touched the wall
in opposite corners, and then commonly there was not room enough.
My "best" room, however, my withdrawing room, always ready for
company, on whose carpet the sun rarely fell, was the pine wood
behind my house. Thither in summer days, when distinguished guests
came, I took them, and a priceless domestic swept the floor and
dusted the furniture and kept the things in order.
If one guest came he sometimes partook of my frugal meal, and it
was no interruption to conversation to be stirring a hasty-pudding,
or watching the rising and maturing of a loaf of bread in the ashes,
in the meanwhile. But if twenty came and sat in my house there was
nothing said about dinner, though there might be bread enough for
two, more than if eating were a forsaken habit; but we naturally
practised abstinence; and this was never felt to be an offence
against hospitality, but the most proper and considerate course.

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