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Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

Part 5 out of 6

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while the "fifty-six" was resting by the way, they were paying out
the rope in the vain attempt to fathom their truly immeasurable
capacity for marvellousness. But I can assure my readers that
Walden has a reasonably tight bottom at a not unreasonable, though
at an unusual, depth. I fathomed it easily with a cod-line and a
stone weighing about a pound and a half, and could tell accurately
when the stone left the bottom, by having to pull so much harder
before the water got underneath to help me. The greatest depth was
exactly one hundred and two feet; to which may be added the five
feet which it has risen since, making one hundred and seven. This
is a remarkable depth for so small an area; yet not an inch of it
can be spared by the imagination. What if all ponds were shallow?
Would it not react on the minds of men? I am thankful that this
pond was made deep and pure for a symbol. While men believe in the
infinite some ponds will be thought to be bottomless.
A factory-owner, hearing what depth I had found, thought that it
could not be true, for, judging from his acquaintance with dams,
sand would not lie at so steep an angle. But the deepest ponds are
not so deep in proportion to their area as most suppose, and, if
drained, would not leave very remarkable valleys. They are not like
cups between the hills; for this one, which is so unusually deep for
its area, appears in a vertical section through its centre not
deeper than a shallow plate. Most ponds, emptied, would leave a
meadow no more hollow than we frequently see. William Gilpin, who
is so admirable in all that relates to landscapes, and usually so
correct, standing at the head of Loch Fyne, in Scotland, which he
describes as "a bay of salt water, sixty or seventy fathoms deep,
four miles in breadth," and about fifty miles long, surrounded by
mountains, observes, "If we could have seen it immediately after the
diluvian crash, or whatever convulsion of nature occasioned it,
before the waters gushed in, what a horrid chasm must it have

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

But if, using the shortest diameter of Loch Fyne, we apply these
proportions to Walden, which, as we have seen, appears already in a
vertical section only like a shallow plate, it will appear four
times as shallow. So much for the increased horrors of the chasm of
Loch Fyne when emptied. No doubt many a smiling valley with its
stretching cornfields occupies exactly such a "horrid chasm," from
which the waters have receded, though it requires the insight and
the far sight of the geologist to convince the unsuspecting
inhabitants of this fact. Often an inquisitive eye may detect the
shores of a primitive lake in the low horizon hills, and no
subsequent elevation of the plain have been necessary to conceal
their history. But it is easiest, as they who work on the highways
know, to find the hollows by the puddles after a shower. The amount
of it is, the imagination give it the least license, dives deeper
and soars higher than Nature goes. So, probably, the depth of the
ocean will be found to be very inconsiderable compared with its
As I sounded through the ice I could determine the shape of the
bottom with greater accuracy than is possible in surveying harbors
which do not freeze over, and I was surprised at its general
regularity. In the deepest part there are several acres more level
than almost any field which is exposed to the sun, wind, and plow.
In one instance, on a line arbitrarily chosen, the depth did not
vary more than one foot in thirty rods; and generally, near the
middle, I could calculate the variation for each one hundred feet in
any direction beforehand within three or four inches. Some are
accustomed to speak of deep and dangerous holes even in quiet sandy
ponds like this, but the effect of water under these circumstances
is to level all inequalities. The regularity of the bottom and its
conformity to the shores and the range of the neighboring hills were
so perfect that a distant promontory betrayed itself in the
soundings quite across the pond, and its direction could be
determined by observing the opposite shore. Cape becomes bar, and
plain shoal, and valley and gorge deep water and channel.
When I had mapped the pond by the scale of ten rods to an inch,
and put down the soundings, more than a hundred in all, I observed
this remarkable coincidence. Having noticed that the number
indicating the greatest depth was apparently in the centre of the
map, I laid a rule on the map lengthwise, and then breadthwise, and
found, to my surprise, that the line of greatest length intersected
the line of greatest breadth exactly at the point of greatest depth,
notwithstanding that the middle is so nearly level, the outline of
the pond far from regular, and the extreme length and breadth were
got by measuring into the coves; and I said to myself, Who knows but
this hint would conduct to the deepest part of the ocean as well as
of a pond or puddle? Is not this the rule also for the height of
mountains, regarded as the opposite of valleys? We know that a hill
is not highest at its narrowest part.
Of five coves, three, or all which had been sounded, were
observed to have a bar quite across their mouths and deeper water
within, so that the bay tended to be an expansion of water within
the land not only horizontally but vertically, and to form a basin
or independent pond, the direction of the two capes showing the
course of the bar. Every harbor on the sea-coast, also, has its bar
at its entrance. In proportion as the mouth of the cove was wider
compared with its length, the water over the bar was deeper compared
with that in the basin. Given, then, the length and breadth of the
cove, and the character of the surrounding shore, and you have
almost elements enough to make out a formula for all cases.
In order to see how nearly I could guess, with this experience,
at the deepest point in a pond, by observing the outlines of a
surface and the character of its shores alone, I made a plan of
White Pond, which contains about forty-one acres, and, like this,
has no island in it, nor any visible inlet or outlet; and as the
line of greatest breadth fell very near the line of least breadth,
where two opposite capes approached each other and two opposite bays
receded, I ventured to mark a point a short distance from the latter
line, but still on the line of greatest length, as the deepest. The
deepest part was found to be within one hundred feet of this, still
farther in the direction to which I had inclined, and was only one
foot deeper, namely, sixty feet. Of course, a stream running
through, or an island in the pond, would make the problem much more
If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only one fact,
or the description of one actual phenomenon, to infer all the
particular results at that point. Now we know only a few laws, and
our result is vitiated, not, of course, by any confusion or
irregularity in Nature, but by our ignorance of essential elements
in the calculation. Our notions of law and harmony are commonly
confined to those instances which we detect; but the harmony which
results from a far greater number of seemingly conflicting, but
really concurring, laws, which we have not detected, is still more
wonderful. The particular laws are as our points of view, as, to
the traveller, a mountain outline varies with every step, and it has
an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely but one form.
Even when cleft or bored through it is not comprehended in its
What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics. It
is the law of average. Such a rule of the two diameters not only
guides us toward the sun in the system and the heart in man, but
draws lines through the length and breadth of the aggregate of a
man's particular daily behaviors and waves of life into his coves
and inlets, and where they intersect will be the height or depth of
his character. Perhaps we need only to know how his shores trend
and his adjacent country or circumstances, to infer his depth and
concealed bottom. If he is surrounded by mountainous circumstances,
an Achillean shore, whose peaks overshadow and are reflected in his
bosom, they suggest a corresponding depth in him. But a low and
smooth shore proves him shallow on that side. In our bodies, a bold
projecting brow falls off to and indicates a corresponding depth of
thought. Also there is a bar across the entrance of our every cove,
or particular inclination; each is our harbor for a season, in which
we are detained and partially land-locked. These inclinations are
not whimsical usually, but their form, size, and direction are
determined by the promontories of the shore, the ancient axes of
elevation. When this bar is gradually increased by storms, tides,
or currents, or there is a subsidence of the waters, so that it
reaches to the surface, that which was at first but an inclination
in the shore in which a thought was harbored becomes an individual
lake, cut off from the ocean, wherein the thought secures its own
conditions -- changes, perhaps, from salt to fresh, becomes a sweet
sea, dead sea, or a marsh. At the advent of each individual into
this life, may we not suppose that such a bar has risen to the
surface somewhere? It is true, we are such poor navigators that our
thoughts, for the most part, stand off and on upon a harborless
coast, are conversant only with the bights of the bays of poesy, or
steer for the public ports of entry, and go into the dry docks of
science, where they merely refit for this world, and no natural
currents concur to individualize them.
As for the inlet or outlet of Walden, I have not discovered any
but rain and snow and evaporation, though perhaps, with a
thermometer and a line, such places may be found, for where the
water flows into the pond it will probably be coldest in summer and
warmest in winter. When the ice-men were at work here in '46-7, the
cakes sent to the shore were one day rejected by those who were
stacking them up there, not being thick enough to lie side by side
with the rest; and the cutters thus discovered that the ice over a
small space was two or three inches thinner than elsewhere, which
made them think that there was an inlet there. They also showed me
in another place what they thought was a "leach-hole," through which
the pond leaked out under a hill into a neighboring meadow, pushing
me out on a cake of ice to see it. It was a small cavity under ten
feet of water; but I think that I can warrant the pond not to need
soldering till they find a worse leak than that. One has suggested,
that if such a "leach-hole" should be found, its connection with the
meadow, if any existed, might be proved by conveying some, colored
powder or sawdust to the mouth of the hole, and then putting a
strainer over the spring in the meadow, which would catch some of
the particles carried through by the current.
While I was surveying, the ice, which was sixteen inches thick,
undulated under a slight wind like water. It is well known that a
level cannot be used on ice. At one rod from the shore its greatest
fluctuation, when observed by means of a level on land directed
toward a graduated staff on the ice, was three quarters of an inch,
though the ice appeared firmly attached to the shore. It was
probably greater in the middle. Who knows but if our instruments
were delicate enough we might detect an undulation in the crust of
the earth? When two legs of my level were on the shore and the
third on the ice, and the sights were directed over the latter, a
rise or fall of the ice of an almost infinitesimal amount made a
difference of several feet on a tree across the pond. When I began
to cut holes for sounding there were three or four inches of water
on the ice under a deep snow which had sunk it thus far; but the
water began immediately to run into these holes, and continued to
run for two days in deep streams, which wore away the ice on every
side, and contributed essentially, if not mainly, to dry the surface
of the pond; for, as the water ran in, it raised and floated the
ice. This was somewhat like cutting a hole in the bottom of a ship
to let the water out. When such holes freeze, and a rain succeeds,
and finally a new freezing forms a fresh smooth ice over all, it is
beautifully mottled internally by dark figures, shaped somewhat like
a spider's web, what you may call ice rosettes, produced by the
channels worn by the water flowing from all sides to a centre.
Sometimes, also, when the ice was covered with shallow puddles, I
saw a double shadow of myself, one standing on the head of the
other, one on the ice, the other on the trees or hillside.
While yet it is cold January, and snow and ice are thick and
solid, the prudent landlord comes from the village to get ice to
cool his summer drink; impressively, even pathetically, wise, to
foresee the heat and thirst of July now in January -- wearing a
thick coat and mittens! when so many things are not provided for.
It may be that he lays up no treasures in this world which will cool
his summer drink in the next. He cuts and saws the solid pond,
unroofs the house of fishes, and carts off their very element and
air, held fast by chains and stakes like corded wood, through the
favoring winter air, to wintry cellars, to underlie the summer
there. It looks like solidified azure, as, far off, it is drawn
through the streets. These ice-cutters are a merry race, full of
jest and sport, and when I went among them they were wont to invite
me to saw pit-fashion with them, I standing underneath.
In the winter of '46-7 there came a hundred men of Hyperborean
extraction swoop down on to our pond one morning, with many carloads
of ungainly-looking farming tools -- sleds, plows, drill-barrows,
turf-knives, spades, saws, rakes, and each man was armed with a
double-pointed pike-staff, such as is not described in the
New-England Farmer or the Cultivator. I did not know whether they
had come to sow a crop of winter rye, or some other kind of grain
recently introduced from Iceland. As I saw no manure, I judged that
they meant to skim the land, as I had done, thinking the soil was
deep and had lain fallow long enough. They said that a gentleman
farmer, who was behind the scenes, wanted to double his money,
which, as I understood, amounted to half a million already; but in
order to cover each one of his dollars with another, he took off the
only coat, ay, the skin itself, of Walden Pond in the midst of a
hard winter. They went to work at once, plowing, barrowing,
rolling, furrowing, in admirable order, as if they were bent on
making this a model farm; but when I was looking sharp to see what
kind of seed they dropped into the furrow, a gang of fellows by my
side suddenly began to hook up the virgin mould itself, with a
peculiar jerk, clean down to the sand, or rather the water -- for it
was a very springy soil -- indeed all the terra firma there was --
and haul it away on sleds, and then I guessed that they must be
cutting peat in a bog. So they came and went every day, with a
peculiar shriek from the locomotive, from and to some point of the
polar regions, as it seemed to me, like a flock of arctic
snow-birds. But sometimes Squaw Walden had her revenge, and a hired
man, walking behind his team, slipped through a crack in the ground
down toward Tartarus, and he who was so brave before suddenly became
but the ninth part of a man, almost gave up his animal heat, and was
glad to take refuge in my house, and acknowledged that there was
some virtue in a stove; or sometimes the frozen soil took a piece of
steel out of a plowshare, or a plow got set in the furrow and had to
be cut out.
To speak literally, a hundred Irishmen, with Yankee overseers,
came from Cambridge every day to get out the ice. They divided it
into cakes by methods too well known to require description, and
these, being sledded to the shore, were rapidly hauled off on to an
ice platform, and raised by grappling irons and block and tackle,
worked by horses, on to a stack, as surely as so many barrels of
flour, and there placed evenly side by side, and row upon row, as if
they formed the solid base of an obelisk designed to pierce the
clouds. They told me that in a good day they could get out a
thousand tons, which was the yield of about one acre. Deep ruts and
"cradle-holes" were worn in the ice, as on terra firma, by the
passage of the sleds over the same track, and the horses invariably
ate their oats out of cakes of ice hollowed out like buckets. They
stacked up the cakes thus in the open air in a pile thirty-five feet
high on one side and six or seven rods square, putting hay between
the outside layers to exclude the air; for when the wind, though
never so cold, finds a passage through, it will wear large cavities,
leaving slight supports or studs only here and there, and finally
topple it down. At first it looked like a vast blue fort or
Valhalla; but when they began to tuck the coarse meadow hay into the
crevices, and this became covered with rime and icicles, it looked
like a venerable moss-grown and hoary ruin, built of azure-tinted
marble, the abode of Winter, that old man we see in the almanac --
his shanty, as if he had a design to estivate with us. They
calculated that not twenty-five per cent of this would reach its
destination, and that two or three per cent would be wasted in the
cars. However, a still greater part of this heap had a different
destiny from what was intended; for, either because the ice was
found not to keep so well as was expected, containing more air than
usual, or for some other reason, it never got to market. This heap,
made in the winter of '46-7 and estimated to contain ten thousand
tons, was finally covered with hay and boards; and though it was
unroofed the following July, and a part of it carried off, the rest
remaining exposed to the sun, it stood over that summer and the next
winter, and was not quite melted till September, 1848. Thus the
pond recovered the greater part.
Like the water, the Walden ice, seen near at hand, has a green
tint, but at a distance is beautifully blue, and you can easily tell
it from the white ice of the river, or the merely greenish ice of
some ponds, a quarter of a mile off. Sometimes one of those great
cakes slips from the ice-man's sled into the village street, and
lies there for a week like a great emerald, an object of interest to
all passers. I have noticed that a portion of Walden which in the
state of water was green will often, when frozen, appear from the
same point of view blue. So the hollows about this pond will,
sometimes, in the winter, be filled with a greenish water somewhat
like its own, but the next day will have frozen blue. Perhaps the
blue color of water and ice is due to the light and air they
contain, and the most transparent is the bluest. Ice is an
interesting subject for contemplation. They told me that they had
some in the ice-houses at Fresh Pond five years old which was as
good as ever. Why is it that a bucket of water soon becomes putrid,
but frozen remains sweet forever? It is commonly said that this is
the difference between the affections and the intellect.
Thus for sixteen days I saw from my window a hundred men at work
like busy husbandmen, with teams and horses and apparently all the
implements of farming, such a picture as we see on the first page of
the almanac; and as often as I looked out I was reminded of the
fable of the lark and the reapers, or the parable of the sower, and
the like; and now they are all gone, and in thirty days more,
probably, I shall look from the same window on the pure sea-green
Walden water there, reflecting the clouds and the trees, and sending
up its evaporations in solitude, and no traces will appear that a
man has ever stood there. Perhaps I shall hear a solitary loon
laugh as he dives and plumes himself, or shall see a lonely fisher
in his boat, like a floating leaf, beholding his form reflected in
the waves, where lately a hundred men securely labored.
Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston
and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my
well. In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and
cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat-Geeta, since whose composition
years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our
modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt
if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of
existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay
down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the
servant of the Bramin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who
still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells
at the root of a tree with his crust and water jug. I meet his
servant come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it
were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is
mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges. With favoring winds it
is wafted past the site of the fabulous islands of Atlantis and the
Hesperides, makes the periplus of Hanno, and, floating by Ternate
and Tidore and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, melts in the tropic
gales of the Indian seas, and is landed in ports of which Alexander
only heard the names.


The opening of large tracts by the ice-cutters commonly causes a
pond to break up earlier; for the water, agitated by the wind, even
in cold weather, wears away the surrounding ice. But such was not
the effect on Walden that year, for she had soon got a thick new
garment to take the place of the old. This pond never breaks up so
soon as the others in this neighborhood, on account both of its
greater depth and its having no stream passing through it to melt or
wear away the ice. I never knew it to open in the course of a
winter, not excepting that of '52-3, which gave the ponds so severe
a trial. It commonly opens about the first of April, a week or ten
days later than Flint's Pond and Fair Haven, beginning to melt on
the north side and in the shallower parts where it began to freeze.
It indicates better than any water hereabouts the absolute progress
of the season, being least affected by transient changes of
temperature. A severe cold of a few days duration in March may very
much retard the opening of the former ponds, while the temperature
of Walden increases almost uninterruptedly. A thermometer thrust
into the middle of Walden on the 6th of March, 1847, stood at 32x,
or freezing point; near the shore at 33x; in the middle of Flint's
Pond, the same day, at 32+x; at a dozen rods from the shore, in
shallow water, under ice a foot thick, at 36x. This difference of
three and a half degrees between the temperature of the deep water
and the shallow in the latter pond, and the fact that a great
proportion of it is comparatively shallow, show why it should break
up so much sooner than Walden. The ice in the shallowest part was
at this time several inches thinner than in the middle. In
midwinter the middle had been the warmest and the ice thinnest
there. So, also, every one who has waded about the shores of the
pond in summer must have perceived how much warmer the water is
close to the shore, where only three or four inches deep, than a
little distance out, and on the surface where it is deep, than near
the bottom. In spring the sun not only exerts an influence through
the increased temperature of the air and earth, but its heat passes
through ice a foot or more thick, and is reflected from the bottom
in shallow water, and so also warms the water and melts the under
side of the ice, at the same time that it is melting it more
directly above, making it uneven, and causing the air bubbles which
it contains to extend themselves upward and downward until it is
completely honeycombed, and at last disappears suddenly in a single
spring rain. Ice has its grain as well as wood, and when a cake
begins to rot or "comb," that is, assume the appearance of
honeycomb, whatever may be its position, the air cells are at right
angles with what was the water surface. Where there is a rock or a
log rising near to the surface the ice over it is much thinner, and
is frequently quite dissolved by this reflected heat; and I have
been told that in the experiment at Cambridge to freeze water in a
shallow wooden pond, though the cold air circulated underneath, and
so had access to both sides, the reflection of the sun from the
bottom more than counterbalanced this advantage. When a warm rain
in the middle of the winter melts off the snow-ice from Walden, and
leaves a hard dark or transparent ice on the middle, there will be a
strip of rotten though thicker white ice, a rod or more wide, about
the shores, created by this reflected heat. Also, as I have said,
the bubbles themselves within the ice operate as burning-glasses to
melt the ice beneath.
The phenomena of the year take place every day in a pond on a
small scale. Every morning, generally speaking, the shallow water
is being warmed more rapidly than the deep, though it may not be
made so warm after all, and every evening it is being cooled more
rapidly until the morning. The day is an epitome of the year. The
night is the winter, the morning and evening are the spring and
fall, and the noon is the summer. The cracking and booming of the
ice indicate a change of temperature. One pleasant morning after a
cold night, February 24th, 1850, having gone to Flint's Pond to
spend the day, I noticed with surprise, that when I struck the ice
with the head of my axe, it resounded like a gong for many rods
around, or as if I had struck on a tight drum-head. The pond began
to boom about an hour after sunrise, when it felt the influence of
the sun's rays slanted upon it from over the hills; it stretched
itself and yawned like a waking man with a gradually increasing
tumult, which was kept up three or four hours. It took a short
siesta at noon, and boomed once more toward night, as the sun was
withdrawing his influence. In the right stage of the weather a pond
fires its evening gun with great regularity. But in the middle of
the day, being full of cracks, and the air also being less elastic,
it had completely lost its resonance, and probably fishes and
muskrats could not then have been stunned by a blow on it. The
fishermen say that the "thundering of the pond" scares the fishes
and prevents their biting. The pond does not thunder every evening,
and I cannot tell surely when to expect its thundering; but though I
may perceive no difference in the weather, it does. Who would have
suspected so large and cold and thick-skinned a thing to be so
sensitive? Yet it has its law to which it thunders obedience when
it should as surely as the buds expand in the spring. The earth is
all alive and covered with papillae. The largest pond is as
sensitive to atmospheric changes as the globule of mercury in its
One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should
have leisure and opportunity to see the Spring come in. The ice in
the pond at length begins to be honeycombed, and I can set my heel
in it as I walk. Fogs and rains and warmer suns are gradually
melting the snow; the days have grown sensibly longer; and I see how
I shall get through the winter without adding to my wood-pile, for
large fires are no longer necessary. I am on the alert for the
first signs of spring, to hear the chance note of some arriving
bird, or the striped squirrel's chirp, for his stores must be now
nearly exhausted, or see the woodchuck venture out of his winter
quarters. On the 13th of March, after I had heard the bluebird,
song sparrow, and red-wing, the ice was still nearly a foot thick.
As the weather grew warmer it was not sensibly worn away by the
water, nor broken up and floated off as in rivers, but, though it
was completely melted for half a rod in width about the shore, the
middle was merely honeycombed and saturated with water, so that you
could put your foot through it when six inches thick; but by the
next day evening, perhaps, after a warm rain followed by fog, it
would have wholly disappeared, all gone off with the fog, spirited
away. One year I went across the middle only five days before it
disappeared entirely. In 1845 Walden was first completely open on
the 1st of April; in '46, the 25th of March; in '47, the 8th of
April; in '51, the 28th of March; in '52, the 18th of April; in '53,
the 23d of March; in '54, about the 7th of April.
Every incident connected with the breaking up of the rivers and
ponds and the settling of the weather is particularly interesting to
us who live in a climate of so great extremes. When the warmer days
come, they who dwell near the river hear the ice crack at night with
a startling whoop as loud as artillery, as if its icy fetters were
rent from end to end, and within a few days see it rapidly going
out. So the alligator comes out of the mud with quakings of the
earth. One old man, who has been a close observer of Nature, and
seems as thoroughly wise in regard to all her operations as if she
had been put upon the stocks when he was a boy, and he had helped to
lay her keel -- who has come to his growth, and can hardly acquire
more of natural lore if he should live to the age of Methuselah --
told me -- and I was surprised to hear him express wonder at any of
Nature's operations, for I thought that there were no secrets
between them -- that one spring day he took his gun and boat, and
thought that he would have a little sport with the ducks. There was
ice still on the meadows, but it was all gone out of the river, and
he dropped down without obstruction from Sudbury, where he lived, to
Fair Haven Pond, which he found, unexpectedly, covered for the most
part with a firm field of ice. It was a warm day, and he was
surprised to see so great a body of ice remaining. Not seeing any
ducks, he hid his boat on the north or back side of an island in the
pond, and then concealed himself in the bushes on the south side, to
await them. The ice was melted for three or four rods from the
shore, and there was a smooth and warm sheet of water, with a muddy
bottom, such as the ducks love, within, and he thought it likely
that some would be along pretty soon. After he had lain still there
about an hour he heard a low and seemingly very distant sound, but
singularly grand and impressive, unlike anything he had ever heard,
gradually swelling and increasing as if it would have a universal
and memorable ending, a sullen rush and roar, which seemed to him
all at once like the sound of a vast body of fowl coming in to
settle there, and, seizing his gun, he started up in haste and
excited; but he found, to his surprise, that the whole body of the
ice had started while he lay there, and drifted in to the shore, and
the sound he had heard was made by its edge grating on the shore --
at first gently nibbled and crumbled off, but at length heaving up
and scattering its wrecks along the island to a considerable height
before it came to a standstill.
At length the sun's rays have attained the right angle, and warm
winds blow up mist and rain and melt the snowbanks, and the sun,
dispersing the mist, smiles on a checkered landscape of russet and
white smoking with incense, through which the traveller picks his
way from islet to islet, cheered by the music of a thousand tinkling
rills and rivulets whose veins are filled with the blood of winter
which they are bearing off.
Few phenomena gave me more delight than to observe the forms
which thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the sides of a
deep cut on the railroad through which I passed on my way to the
village, a phenomenon not very common on so large a scale, though
the number of freshly exposed banks of the right material must have
been greatly multiplied since railroads were invented. The material
was sand of every degree of fineness and of various rich colors,
commonly mixed with a little clay. When the frost comes out in the
spring, and even in a thawing day in the winter, the sand begins to
flow down the slopes like lava, sometimes bursting out through the
snow and overflowing it where no sand was to be seen before.
Innumerable little streams overlap and interlace one with another,
exhibiting a sort of hybrid product, which obeys half way the law of
currents, and half way that of vegetation. As it flows it takes the
forms of sappy leaves or vines, making heaps of pulpy sprays a foot
or more in depth, and resembling, as you look down on them, the
laciniated, lobed, and imbricated thalluses of some lichens; or you
are reminded of coral, of leopard's paws or birds' feet, of brains
or lungs or bowels, and excrements of all kinds. It is a truly
grotesque vegetation, whose forms and color we see imitated in
bronze, a sort of architectural foliage more ancient and typical
than acanthus, chiccory, ivy, vine, or any vegetable leaves;
destined perhaps, under some circumstances, to become a puzzle to
future geologists. The whole cut impressed me as if it were a cave
with its stalactites laid open to the light. The various shades of
the sand are singularly rich and agreeable, embracing the different
iron colors, brown, gray, yellowish, and reddish. When the flowing
mass reaches the drain at the foot of the bank it spreads out
flatter into strands, the separate streams losing their
semi-cylindrical form and gradually becoming more flat and broad,
running together as they are more moist, till they form an almost
flat sand, still variously and beautifully shaded, but in which you
can trace the original forms of vegetation; till at length, in the
water itself, they are converted into banks, like those formed off
the mouths of rivers, and the forms of vegetation are lost in the
ripple marks on the bottom.
The whole bank, which is from twenty to forty feet high, is
sometimes overlaid with a mass of this kind of foliage, or sandy
rupture, for a quarter of a mile on one or both sides, the produce
of one spring day. What makes this sand foliage remarkable is its
springing into existence thus suddenly. When I see on the one side
the inert bank -- for the sun acts on one side first -- and on the
other this luxuriant foliage, the creation of an hour, I am affected
as if in a peculiar sense I stood in the laboratory of the Artist
who made the world and me -- had come to where he was still at work,
sporting on this bank, and with excess of energy strewing his fresh
designs about. I feel as if I were nearer to the vitals of the
globe, for this sandy overflow is something such a foliaceous mass
as the vitals of the animal body. You find thus in the very sands
an anticipation of the vegetable leaf. No wonder that the earth
expresses itself outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea
inwardly. The atoms have already learned this law, and are pregnant
by it. The overhanging leaf sees here its prototype. Internally,
whether in the globe or animal body, it is a moist thick lobe, a
word especially applicable to the liver and lungs and the leaves of
fat (jnai, labor, lapsus, to flow or slip downward, a lapsing;
jiais, globus, lobe, globe; also lap, flap, and many other words);
externally a dry thin leaf, even as the f and v are a pressed and
dried b. The radicals of lobe are lb, the soft mass of the b
(single lobed, or B, double lobed), with the liquid l behind it
pressing it forward. In globe, glb, the guttural g adds to the
meaning the capacity of the throat. The feathers and wings of birds
are still drier and thinner leaves. Thus, also, you pass from the
lumpish grub in the earth to the airy and fluttering butterfly. The
very globe continually transcends and translates itself, and becomes
winged in its orbit. Even ice begins with delicate crystal leaves,
as if it had flowed into moulds which the fronds of waterplants have
impressed on the watery mirror. The whole tree itself is but one
leaf, and rivers are still vaster leaves whose pulp is intervening
earth, and towns and cities are the ova of insects in their axils.
When the sun withdraws the sand ceases to flow, but in the
morning the streams will start once more and branch and branch again
into a myriad of others. You here see perchance how blood-vessels
are formed. If you look closely you observe that first there pushes
forward from the thawing mass a stream of softened sand with a
drop-like point, like the ball of the finger, feeling its way slowly
and blindly downward, until at last with more heat and moisture, as
the sun gets higher, the most fluid portion, in its effort to obey
the law to which the most inert also yields, separates from the
latter and forms for itself a meandering channel or artery within
that, in which is seen a little silvery stream glancing like
lightning from one stage of pulpy leaves or branches to another, and
ever and anon swallowed up in the sand. It is wonderful how rapidly
yet perfectly the sand organizes itself as it flows, using the best
material its mass affords to form the sharp edges of its channel.
Such are the sources of rivers. In the silicious matter which the
water deposits is perhaps the bony system, and in the still finer
soil and organic matter the fleshy fibre or cellular tissue. What
is man but a mass of thawing clay? The ball of the human finger is
but a drop congealed. The fingers and toes flow to their extent
from the thawing mass of the body. Who knows what the human body
would expand and flow out to under a more genial heaven? Is not the
hand a spreading palm leaf with its lobes and veins? The ear may be
regarded, fancifully, as a lichen, umbilicaria, on the side of the
head, with its lobe or drop. The lip -- labium, from labor (?) --
laps or lapses from the sides of the cavernous mouth. The nose is a
manifest congealed drop or stalactite. The chin is a still larger
drop, the confluent dripping of the face. The cheeks are a slide
from the brows into the valley of the face, opposed and diffused by
the cheek bones. Each rounded lobe of the vegetable leaf, too, is a
thick and now loitering drop, larger or smaller; the lobes are the
fingers of the leaf; and as many lobes as it has, in so many
directions it tends to flow, and more heat or other genial
influences would have caused it to flow yet farther.
Thus it seemed that this one hillside illustrated the principle
of all the operations of Nature. The Maker of this earth but
patented a leaf. What Champollion will decipher this hieroglyphic
for us, that we may turn over a new leaf at last? This phenomenon
is more exhilarating to me than the luxuriance and fertility of
vineyards. True, it is somewhat excrementitious in its character,
and there is no end to the heaps of liver, lights, and bowels, as if
the globe were turned wrong side outward; but this suggests at least
that Nature has some bowels, and there again is mother of humanity.
This is the frost coming out of the ground; this is Spring. It
precedes the green and flowery spring, as mythology precedes regular
poetry. I know of nothing more purgative of winter fumes and
indigestions. It convinces me that Earth is still in her
swaddling-clothes, and stretches forth baby fingers on every side.
Fresh curls spring from the baldest brow. There is nothing
inorganic. These foliaceous heaps lie along the bank like the slag
of a furnace, showing that Nature is "in full blast" within. The
earth is not a mere fragment of dead history, stratum upon stratum
like the leaves of a book, to be studied by geologists and
antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry like the leaves of a tree,
which precede flowers and fruit -- not a fossil earth, but a living
earth; compared with whose great central life all animal and
vegetable life is merely parasitic. Its throes will heave our
exuviae from their graves. You may melt your metals and cast them
into the most beautiful moulds you can; they will never excite me
like the forms which this molten earth flows out into. And not only
it, but the institutions upon it are plastic like clay in the hands
of the potter.
Ere long, not only on these banks, but on every hill and plain
and in every hollow, the frost comes out of the ground like a
dormant quadruped from its burrow, and seeks the sea with music, or
migrates to other climes in clouds. Thaw with his gentle persuasion
is more powerful than Thor with his hammer. The one melts, the
other but breaks in pieces.
When the ground was partially bare of snow, and a few warm days
had dried its surface somewhat, it was pleasant to compare the first
tender signs of the infant year just peeping forth with the stately
beauty of the withered vegetation which had withstood the
winter -- life-everlasting, goldenrods, pinweeds, and graceful wild
grasses, more obvious and interesting frequently than in summer
even, as if their beauty was not ripe till then; even cotton-grass,
cat-tails, mulleins, johnswort, hard-hack, meadow-sweet, and other
strong-stemmed plants, those unexhausted granaries which entertain
the earliest birds -- decent weeds, at least, which widowed Nature
wears. I am particularly attracted by the arching and sheaf-like
top of the wool-grass; it brings back the summer to our winter
memories, and is among the forms which art loves to copy, and which,
in the vegetable kingdom, have the same relation to types already in
the mind of man that astronomy has. It is an antique style, older
than Greek or Egyptian. Many of the phenomena of Winter are
suggestive of an inexpressible tenderness and fragile delicacy. We
are accustomed to hear this king described as a rude and boisterous
tyrant; but with the gentleness of a lover he adorns the tresses of
At the approach of spring the red squirrels got under my house,
two at a time, directly under my feet as I sat reading or writing,
and kept up the queerest chuckling and chirruping and vocal
pirouetting and gurgling sounds that ever were heard; and when I
stamped they only chirruped the louder, as if past all fear and
respect in their mad pranks, defying humanity to stop them. No, you
don't -- chickaree -- chickaree. They were wholly deaf to my
arguments, or failed to perceive their force, and fell into a strain
of invective that was irresistible.
The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning with younger
hope than ever! The faint silvery warblings heard over the
partially bare and moist fields from the bluebird, the song sparrow,
and the red-wing, as if the last flakes of winter tinkled as they
fell! What at such a time are histories, chronologies, traditions,
and all written revelations? The brooks sing carols and glees to
the spring. The marsh hawk, sailing low over the meadow, is already
seeking the first slimy life that awakes. The sinking sound of
melting snow is heard in all dells, and the ice dissolves apace in
the ponds. The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire
-- "et primitus oritur herba imbribus primoribus evocata" -- as if
the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the returning sun; not
yellow but green is the color of its flame; -- the symbol of
perpetual youth, the grass-blade, like a long green ribbon, streams
from the sod into the summer, checked indeed by the frost, but anon
pushing on again, lifting its spear of last year's hay with the
fresh life below. It grows as steadily as the rill oozes out of the
ground. It is almost identical with that, for in the growing days
of June, when the rills are dry, the grass-blades are their
channels, and from year to year the herds drink at this perennial
green stream, and the mower draws from it betimes their winter
supply. So our human life but dies down to its root, and still puts
forth its green blade to eternity.
Walden is melting apace. There is a canal two rods wide along
the northerly and westerly sides, and wider still at the east end.
A great field of ice has cracked off from the main body. I hear a
song sparrow singing from the bushes on the shore -- olit, olit,
olit -- chip, chip, chip, che char -- che wiss, wiss, wiss. He too
is helping to crack it. How handsome the great sweeping curves in
the edge of the ice, answering somewhat to those of the shore, but
more regular! It is unusually hard, owing to the recent severe but
transient cold, and all watered or waved like a palace floor. But
the wind slides eastward over its opaque surface in vain, till it
reaches the living surface beyond. It is glorious to behold this
ribbon of water sparkling in the sun, the bare face of the pond full
of glee and youth, as if it spoke the joy of the fishes within it,
and of the sands on its shore -- a silvery sheen as from the scales
of a leuciscus, as it were all one active fish. Such is the
contrast between winter and spring. Walden was dead and is alive
again. But this spring it broke up more steadily, as I have said.
The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather,
from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a
memorable crisis which all things proclaim. It is seemingly
instantaneous at last. Suddenly an influx of light filled my house,
though the evening was at hand, and the clouds of winter still
overhung it, and the eaves were dripping with sleety rain. I looked
out the window, and lo! where yesterday was cold gray ice there lay
the transparent pond already calm and full of hope as in a summer
evening, reflecting a summer evening sky in its bosom, though none
was visible overhead, as if it had intelligence with some remote
horizon. I heard a robin in the distance, the first I had heard for
many a thousand years, methought, whose note I shall not forget for
many a thousand more -- the same sweet and powerful song as of yore.
O the evening robin, at the end of a New England summer day! If I
could ever find the twig he sits upon! I mean he; I mean the twig.
This at least is not the Turdus migratorius. The pitch pines and
shrub oaks about my house, which had so long drooped, suddenly
resumed their several characters, looked brighter, greener, and more
erect and alive, as if effectually cleansed and restored by the
rain. I knew that it would not rain any more. You may tell by
looking at any twig of the forest, ay, at your very wood-pile,
whether its winter is past or not. As it grew darker, I was
startled by the honking of geese flying low over the woods, like
weary travellers getting in late from Southern lakes, and indulging
at last in unrestrained complaint and mutual consolation. Standing
at my door, I could bear the rush of their wings; when, driving
toward my house, they suddenly spied my light, and with hushed
clamor wheeled and settled in the pond. So I came in, and shut the
door, and passed my first spring night in the woods.
In the morning I watched the geese from the door through the
mist, sailing in the middle of the pond, fifty rods off, so large
and tumultuous that Walden appeared like an artificial pond for
their amusement. But when I stood on the shore they at once rose up
with a great flapping of wings at the signal of their commander, and
when they had got into rank circled about over my head, twenty-nine
of them, and then steered straight to Canada, with a regular honk
from the leader at intervals, trusting to break their fast in
muddier pools. A "plump" of ducks rose at the same time and took
the route to the north in the wake of their noisier cousins.
For a week I heard the circling, groping clangor of some
solitary goose in the foggy mornings, seeking its companion, and
still peopling the woods with the sound of a larger life than they
could sustain. In April the pigeons were seen again flying express
in small flocks, and in due time I heard the martins twittering over
my clearing, though it had not seemed that the township contained so
many that it could afford me any, and I fancied that they were
peculiarly of the ancient race that dwelt in hollow trees ere white
men came. In almost all climes the tortoise and the frog are among
the precursors and heralds of this season, and birds fly with song
and glancing plumage, and plants spring and bloom, and winds blow,
to correct this slight oscillation of the poles and preserve the
equilibrium of nature.
As every season seems best to us in its turn, so the coming in
of spring is like the creation of Cosmos out of Chaos and the
realization of the Golden Age.--

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

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

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

A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So
our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should
be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of
every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the
influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend
our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we
call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already
spring. In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are forgiven.
Such a day is a truce to vice. While such a sun holds out to burn,
the vilest sinner may return. Through our own recovered innocence
we discern the innocence of our neighbors. You may have known your
neighbor yesterday for a thief, a drunkard, or a sensualist, and
merely pitied or despised him, and despaired of the world; but the
sun shines bright and warm this first spring morning, recreating the
world, and you meet him at some serene work, and see how it is
exhausted and debauched veins expand with still joy and bless the
new day, feel the spring influence with the innocence of infancy,
and all his faults are forgotten. There is not only an atmosphere
of good will about him, but even a savor of holiness groping for
expression, blindly and ineffectually perhaps, like a new-born
instinct, and for a short hour the south hill-side echoes to no
vulgar jest. You see some innocent fair shoots preparing to burst
from his gnarled rind and try another year's life, tender and fresh
as the youngest plant. Even he has entered into the joy of his
Lord. Why the jailer does not leave open his prison doors -- why
the judge does not dismis his case -- why the preacher does not
dismiss his congregation! It is because they do not obey the hint
which God gives them, nor accept the pardon which he freely offers
to all.
"A return to goodness produced each day in the tranquil and
beneficent breath of the morning, causes that in respect to the love
of virtue and the hatred of vice, one approaches a little the
primitive nature of man, as the sprouts of the forest which has been
felled. In like manner the evil which one does in the interval of a
day prevents the germs of virtues which began to spring up again
from developing themselves and destroys them.
"After the germs of virtue have thus been prevented many times
from developing themselves, then the beneficent breath of evening
does not suffice to preserve them. As soon as the breath of evening
does not suffice longer to preserve them, then the nature of man
does not differ much from that of the brute. Men seeing the nature
of this man like that of the brute, think that he has never
possessed the innate faculty of reason. Are those the true and
natural sentiments of man?"

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

On the 29th of April, as I was fishing from the bank of the
river near the Nine-Acre-Corner bridge, standing on the quaking
grass and willow roots, where the muskrats lurk, I heard a singular
rattling sound, somewhat like that of the sticks which boys play
with their fingers, when, looking up, I observed a very slight and
graceful hawk, like a nighthawk, alternately soaring like a ripple
and tumbling a rod or two over and over, showing the under side of
its wings, which gleamed like a satin ribbon in the sun, or like the
pearly inside of a shell. This sight reminded me of falconry and
what nobleness and poetry are associated with that sport. The
Merlin it seemed to me it might be called: but I care not for its
name. It was the most ethereal flight I had ever witnessed. It did
not simply flutter like a butterfly, nor soar like the larger hawks,
but it sported with proud reliance in the fields of air; mounting
again and again with its strange chuckle, it repeated its free and
beautiful fall, turning over and over like a kite, and then
recovering from its lofty tumbling, as if it had never set its foot
on terra firma. It appeared to have no companion in the universe --
sporting there alone -- and to need none but the morning and the
ether with which it played. It was not lonely, but made all the
earth lonely beneath it. Where was the parent which hatched it, its
kindred, and its father in the heavens? The tenant of the air, it
seemed related to the earth but by an egg hatched some time in the
crevice of a crag; -- or was its native nest made in the angle of a
cloud, woven of the rainbow's trimmings and the sunset sky, and
lined with some soft midsummer haze caught up from earth? Its eyry
now some cliffy cloud.
Beside this I got a rare mess of golden and silver and bright
cupreous fishes, which looked like a string of jewels. Ah! I have
penetrated to those meadows on the morning of many a first spring
day, jumping from hummock to hummock, from willow root to willow
root, when the wild river valley and the woods were bathed in so
pure and bright a light as would have waked the dead, if they had
been slumbering in their graves, as some suppose. There needs no
stronger proof of immortality. All things must live in such a
light. O Death, where was thy sting? O Grave, where was thy
victory, then?
Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the
unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic
of wildness -- to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and
the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the
whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl
builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the
ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn
all things, we require that all things be mysterious and
unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and
unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of
nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor,
vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the
wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the
thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces
freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some
life pasturing freely where we never wander. We are cheered when we
observe the vulture feeding on the carrion which disgusts and
disheartens us, and deriving health and strength from the repast.
There was a dead horse in the hollow by the path to my house, which
compelled me sometimes to go out of my way, especially in the night
when the air was heavy, but the assurance it gave me of the strong
appetite and inviolable health of Nature was my compensation for
this. I love to see that Nature is so rife with life that myriads
can be afforded to be sacrificed and suffered to prey on one
another; that tender organizations can be so serenely squashed out
of existence like pulp -- tadpoles which herons gobble up, and
tortoises and toads run over in the road; and that sometimes it has
rained flesh and blood! With the liability to accident, we must see
how little account is to be made of it. The impression made on a
wise man is that of universal innocence. Poison is not poisonous
after all, nor are any wounds fatal. Compassion is a very untenable
ground. It must be expeditious. Its pleadings will not bear to be
Early in May, the oaks, hickories, maples, and other trees, just
putting out amidst the pine woods around the pond, imparted a
brightness like sunshine to the landscape, especially in cloudy
days, as if the sun were breaking through mists and shining faintly
on the hillsides here and there. On the third or fourth of May I
saw a loon in the pond, and during the first week of the month I
heard the whip-poor-will, the brown thrasher, the veery, the wood
pewee, the chewink, and other birds. I had heard the wood thrush
long before. The phoebe had already come once more and looked in at
my door and window, to see if my house was cavern-like enough for
her, sustaining herself on humming wings with clinched talons, as if
she held by the air, while she surveyed the premises. The
sulphur-like pollen of the pitch pine soon covered the pond and the
stones and rotten wood along the shore, so that you could have
collected a barrelful. This is the "sulphur showers" we bear of.
Even in Calidas' drama of Sacontala, we read of "rills dyed yellow
with the golden dust of the lotus." And so the seasons went rolling
on into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher grass.
Thus was my first year's life in the woods completed; and the
second year was similar to it. I finally left Walden September 6th,


To the sick the doctors wisely recommend a change of air and
scenery. Thank Heaven, here is not all the world. The buckeye does
not grow in New England, and the mockingbird is rarely heard here.
The wild goose is more of a cosmopolite than we; he breaks his fast
in Canada, takes a luncheon in the Ohio, and plumes himself for the
night in a southern bayou. Even the bison, to some extent, keeps
pace with the seasons cropping the pastures of the Colorado only
till a greener and sweeter grass awaits him by the Yellowstone. Yet
we think that if rail fences are pulled down, and stone walls piled
up on our farms, bounds are henceforth set to our lives and our
fates decided. If you are chosen town clerk, forsooth, you cannot
go to Tierra del Fuego this summer: but you may go to the land of
infernal fire nevertheless. The universe is wider than our views of
Yet we should oftener look over the tafferel of our craft, like
curious passengers, and not make the voyage like stupid sailors
picking oakum. The other side of the globe is but the home of our
correspondent. Our voyaging is only great-circle sailing, and the
doctors prescribe for diseases of the skin merely. One hastens to
southern Africa to chase the giraffe; but surely that is not the
game he would be after. How long, pray, would a man hunt giraffes
if he could? Snipes and woodcocks also may afford rare sport; but I
trust it would be nobler game to shoot one's self.--

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

What does Africa -- what does the West stand for? Is not our own
interior white on the chart? black though it may prove, like the
coast, when discovered. Is it the source of the Nile, or the Niger,
or the Mississippi, or a Northwest Passage around this continent,
that we would find? Are these the problems which most concern
mankind? Is Franklin the only man who is lost, that his wife should
be so earnest to find him? Does Mr. Grinnell know where he himself
is? Be rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher, of
your own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes --
with shiploads of preserved meats to support you, if they be
necessary; and pile the empty cans sky-high for a sign. Were
preserved meats invented to preserve meat merely? Nay, be a
Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new
channels, not of trade, but of thought. Every man is the lord of a
realm beside which the earthly empire of the Czar is but a petty
state, a hummock left by the ice. Yet some can be patriotic who
have no self-respect, and sacrifice the greater to the less. They
love the soil which makes their graves, but have no sympathy with
the spirit which may still animate their clay. Patriotism is a
maggot in their heads. What was the meaning of that South-Sea
Exploring Expedition, with all its parade and expense, but an
indirect recognition of the fact that there are continents and seas
in the moral world to which every man is an isthmus or an inlet, yet
unexplored by him, but that it is easier to sail many thousand miles
through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with
five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the
private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's being alone.

"Erret, et extremos alter scrutetur Iberos.
Plus habet hic vitae, plus habet ille viae."

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

It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in
Zanzibar. Yet do this even till you can do better, and you may
perhaps find some "Symmes' Hole" by which to get at the inside at
last. England and France, Spain and Portugal, Gold Coast and Slave
Coast, all front on this private sea; but no bark from them has
ventured out of sight of land, though it is without doubt the direct
way to India. If you would learn to speak all tongues and conform
to the customs of all nations, if you would travel farther than all
travellers, be naturalized in all climes, and cause the Sphinx to
dash her head against a stone, even obey the precept of the old
philosopher, and Explore thyself. Herein are demanded the eye and
the nerve. Only the defeated and deserters go to the wars, cowards
that run away and enlist. Start now on that farthest western way,
which does not pause at the Mississippi or the Pacific, nor conduct
toward a wornout China or Japan, but leads on direct, a tangent to
this sphere, summer and winter, day and night, sun down, moon down,
and at last earth down too.
It is said that Mirabeau took to highway robbery "to ascertain
what degree of resolution was necessary in order to place one's self
in formal opposition to the most sacred laws of society." He
declared that "a soldier who fights in the ranks does not require
half so much courage as a footpad" -- "that honor and religion have
never stood in the way of a well-considered and a firm resolve."
This was manly, as the world goes; and yet it was idle, if not
desperate. A saner man would have found himself often enough "in
formal opposition" to what are deemed "the most sacred laws of
society," through obedience to yet more sacred laws, and so have
tested his resolution without going out of his way. It is not for a
man to put himself in such an attitude to society, but to maintain
himself in whatever attitude he find himself through obedience to
the laws of his being, which will never be one of opposition to a
just government, if he should chance to meet with such.
I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps
it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not
spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and
insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track
for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a
path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six
years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I
fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it
open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet
of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and
dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of
tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage,
but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for
there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not
wish to go below now.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances
confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live
the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success
unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will
pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws
will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old
laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal
sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of
beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the
universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be
solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have
built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where
they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
It is a ridiculous demand which England and America make, that
you shall speak so that they can understand you. Neither men nor
toadstools grow so. As if that were important, and there were not
enough to understand you without them. As if Nature could support
but one order of understandings, could not sustain birds as well as
quadrupeds, flying as well as creeping things, and hush and whoa,
which Bright can understand, were the best English. As if there
were safety in stupidity alone. I fear chiefly lest my expression
may not be extravagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the
narrow limits of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the
truth of which I have been convinced. Extra vagance! it depends on
how you are yarded. The migrating buffalo, which seeks new pastures
in another latitude, is not extravagant like the cow which kicks
over the pail, leaps the cowyard fence, and runs after her calf, in
milking time. I desire to speak somewhere without bounds; like a
man in a waking moment, to men in their waking moments; for I am
convinced that I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation
of a true expression. Who that has heard a strain of music feared
then lest he should speak extravagantly any more forever? In view
of the future or possible, we should live quite laxly and undefined
in front, our outlines dim and misty on that side; as our shadows
reveal an insensible perspiration toward the sun. The volatile
truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the
residual statement. Their truth is instantly translated; its
literal monument alone remains. The words which express our faith
and piety are not definite; yet they are significant and fragrant
like frankincense to superior natures.
Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise
that as common sense? The commonest sense is the sense of men
asleep, which they express by snoring. Sometimes we are inclined to
class those who are once-and-a-half-witted with the half-witted,
because we appreciate only a third part of their wit. Some would
find fault with the morning red, if they ever got up early enough.
"They pretend," as I hear, "that the verses of Kabir have four
different senses; illusion, spirit, intellect, and the exoteric
doctrine of the Vedas"; but in this part of the world it is
considered a ground for complaint if a man's writings admit of more
than one interpretation. While England endeavors to cure the
potato-rot, will not any endeavor to cure the brain-rot, which
prevails so much more widely and fatally?
I do not suppose that I have attained to obscurity, but I should
be proud if no more fatal fault were found with my pages on this
score than was found with the Walden ice. Southern customers
objected to its blue color, which is the evidence of its purity, as
if it were muddy, and preferred the Cambridge ice, which is white,
but tastes of weeds. The purity men love is like the mists which
envelop the earth, and not like the azure ether beyond.
Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns
generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or
even the Elizabethan men. But what is that to the purpose? A
living dog is better than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang
himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the
biggest pygmy that he can? Let every one mind his own business, and
endeavor to be what he was made.
Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such
desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his
companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let
him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree
or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the condition
of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality
which we can substitute? We will not be shipwrecked on a vain
reality. Shall we with pains erect a heaven of blue glass over
ourselves, though when it is done we shall be sure to gaze still at
the true ethereal heaven far above, as if the former were not?
There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to
strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a
staff. Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an
ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to
himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do
nothing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for
wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable
material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his
friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and
died, but he grew not older by a moment. His singleness of purpose
and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his
knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no compromise with
Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance
because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stock in
all respects suitable the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he
sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it
the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and
with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that
race in the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had
smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star;
and ere he had put on the ferule and the head adorned with precious
stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I
stay to mention these things? When the finishing stroke was put to
his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished
artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made
a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair
proportions; in which, though the old cities and dynasties had
passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places.
And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet,
that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an
illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a
single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame
the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art
was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?
No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well at
last as the truth. This alone wears well. For the most part, we
are not where we are, but in a false position. Through an infinity
of our natures, we suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and
hence are in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult
to get out. In sane moments we regard only the facts, the case that
is. Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is
better than make-believe. Tom Hyde, the tinker, standing on the
gallows, was asked if he had anything to say. "Tell the tailors,"
said he, "to remember to make a knot in their thread before they
take the first stitch." His companion's prayer is forgotten.
However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it
and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks
poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults
even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps
have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.
The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as
brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its
door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live
as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.
The town's poor seem to me often to live the most independent lives
of any. Maybe they are simply great enough to receive without
misgiving. Most think that they are above being supported by the
town; but it oftener happens that they are not above supporting
themselves by dishonest means, which should be more disreputable.
Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble
yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn
the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell
your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do not
want society. If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my
days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I
had my thoughts about me. The philosopher said: "From an army of
three divisions one can take away its general, and put it in
disorder; from the man the most abject and vulgar one cannot take
away his thought." Do not seek so anxiously to be developed, to
subject yourself to many influences to be played on; it is all
dissipation. Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights.
The shadows of poverty and meanness gather around us, "and lo!
creation widens to our view." We are often reminded that if there
were bestowed on us the wealth of Croesus, our aims must still be
the same, and our means essentially the same. Moreover, if you are
restricted in your range by poverty, if you cannot buy books and
newspapers, for instance, you are but confined to the most
significant and vital experiences; you are compelled to deal with
the material which yields the most sugar and the most starch. It is
life near the bone where it is sweetest. You are defended from
being a trifler. No man loses ever on a lower level by magnanimity
on a higher. Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money
is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.
I live in the angle of a leaden wall, into whose composition was
poured a little alloy of bell-metal. Often, in the repose of my
mid-day, there reaches my ears a confused tintinnabulum from
without. It is the noise of my contemporaries. My neighbors tell
me of their adventures with famous gentlemen and ladies, what
notabilities they met at the dinner-table; but I am no more
interested in such things than in the contents of the Daily Times.
The interest and the conversation are about costume and manners
chiefly; but a goose is a goose still, dress it as you will. They
tell me of California and Texas, of England and the Indies, of the
Hon. Mr. --- of Georgia or of Massachusetts, all transient and
fleeting phenomena, till I am ready to leap from their court-yard
like the Mameluke bey. I delight to come to my bearings -- not walk
in procession with pomp and parade, in a conspicuous place, but to
walk even with the Builder of the universe, if I may -- not to live
in this restless, nervous, bustling, trivial Nineteenth Century, but
stand or sit thoughtfully while it goes by. What are men
celebrating? They are all on a committee of arrangements, and
hourly expect a speech from somebody. God is only the president of
the day, and Webster is his orator. I love to weigh, to settle, to
gravitate toward that which most strongly and rightfully attracts
me -- not hang by the beam of the scale and try to weigh less -- not
suppose a case, but take the case that is; to travel the only path I
can, and that on which no power can resist me. It affords me no
satisfaction to commerce to spring an arch before I have got a solid
foundation. Let us not play at kittly-benders. There is a solid
bottom everywhere. We read that the traveller asked the boy if the
swamp before him had a hard bottom. The boy replied that it had.
But presently the traveller's horse sank in up to the girths, and he
observed to the boy, "I thought you said that this bog had a hard
bottom." "So it has," answered the latter, "but you have not got
half way to it yet." So it is with the bogs and quicksands of
society; but he is an old boy that knows it. Only what is thought,
said, or done at a certain rare coincidence is good. I would not be
one of those who will foolishly drive a nail into mere lath and
plastering; such a deed would keep me awake nights. Give me a
hammer, and let me feel for the furring. Do not depend on the
putty. Drive a nail home and clinch it so faithfully that you can
wake up in the night and think of your work with satisfaction -- a
work at which you would not be ashamed to invoke the Muse. So will
help you God, and so only. Every nail driven should be as another
rivet in the machine of the universe, you carrying on the work.
Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat
at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and
obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went
away hungry from the inhospitable board. The hospitality was as
cold as the ices. I thought that there was no need of ice to freeze
them. They talked to me of the age of the wine and the fame of the
vintage; but I thought of an older, a newer, and purer wine, of a
more glorious vintage, which they had not got, and could not buy.
The style, the house and grounds and "entertainment" pass for
nothing with me. I called on the king, but he made me wait in his
hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality. There
was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree. His
manners were truly regal. I should have done better had I called on
How long shall we sit in our porticoes practising idle and musty
virtues, which any work would make impertinent? As if one were to
begin the day with long-suffering, and hire a man to hoe his
potatoes; and in the afternoon go forth to practise Christian
meekness and charity with goodness aforethought! Consider the China
pride and stagnant self-complacency of mankind. This generation
inclines a little to congratulate itself on being the last of an
illustrious line; and in Boston and London and Paris and Rome,
thinking of its long descent, it speaks of its progress in art and
science and literature with satisfaction. There are the Records of
the Philosophical Societies, and the public Eulogies of Great Men!
It is the good Adam contemplating his own virtue. "Yes, we have
done great deeds, and sung divine songs, which shall never die" --
that is, as long as we can remember them. The learned societies and
great men of Assyria -- where are they? What youthful philosophers
and experimentalists we are! There is not one of my readers who has
yet lived a whole human life. These may be but the spring months in
the life of the race. If we have had the seven-years' itch, we have
not seen the seventeen-year locust yet in Concord. We are
acquainted with a mere pellicle of the globe on which we live. Most
have not delved six feet beneath the surface, nor leaped as many
above it. We know not where we are. Beside, we are sound asleep
nearly half our time. Yet we esteem ourselves wise, and have an
established order on the surface. Truly, we are deep thinkers, we
are ambitious spirits! As I stand over the insect crawling amid the
pine needles on the forest floor, and endeavoring to conceal itself
from my sight, and ask myself why it will cherish those humble
thoughts, and bide its head from me who might, perhaps, be its
benefactor, and impart to its race some cheering information, I am
reminded of the greater Benefactor and Intelligence that stands over
me the human insect.
There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet
we tolerate incredible dulness. I need only suggest what kind of
sermons are still listened to in the most enlightened countries.
There are such words as joy and sorrow, but they are only the burden
of a psalm, sung with a nasal twang, while we believe in the
ordinary and mean. We think that we can change our clothes only.
It is said that the British Empire is very large and respectable,
and that the United States are a first-rate power. We do not
believe that a tide rises and falls behind every man which can float
the British Empire like a chip, if he should ever harbor it in his
mind. Who knows what sort of seventeen-year locust will next come
out of the ground? The government of the world I live in was not
framed, like that of Britain, in after-dinner conversations over the
The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this
year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched
uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown out
all our muskrats. It was not always dry land where we dwell. I see
far inland the banks which the stream anciently washed, before
science began to record its freshets. Every one has heard the story
which has gone the rounds of New England, of a strong and beautiful
bug which came out of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-tree
wood, which had stood in a farmer's kitchen for sixty years, first
in Connecticut, and afterward in Massachusetts -- from an egg
deposited in the living tree many years earlier still, as appeared
by counting the annual layers beyond it; which was heard gnawing out
for several weeks, hatched perchance by the heat of an urn. Who
does not feel his faith in a resurrection and immortality
strengthened by hearing of this? Who knows what beautiful and
winged life, whose egg has been buried for ages under many
concentric layers of woodenness in the dead dry life of society,
deposited at first in the alburnum of the green and living tree,
which has been gradually converted into the semblance of its
well-seasoned tomb -- heard perchance gnawing out now for years by
the astonished family of man, as they sat round the festive board --
may unexpectedly come forth from amidst society's most trivial and
handselled furniture, to enjoy its perfect summer life at last!
I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this; but
such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can
never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness
to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more
day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.


I heartily accept the motto, -- "That government is best which
governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly
and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which
also I believe, -- "That government is best which governs not at
all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of
government which they will have. Government is at best but an
expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are
sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought
against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve
to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing
government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing
government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the
people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be
abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness
the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals
using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the
people would not have consented to this measure.
This American government -- what is it but a tradition, though a
recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity,
but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the
vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend
it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people
themselves. But it is not the less necessary for this; for the
people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its
din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have.
Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even
impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is excellent, we
must all allow. Yet this government never of itself furthered any
enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.
It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It
does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has
done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat
more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way. For
government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in
letting one another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most
expedient, the governed are most let alone by it. Trade and
commerce, if they were not made of India rubber, would never manage
to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are continually
putting in their way; and, if one were to judge these men wholly by
the effects of their actions, and not partly by their intentions,
they would deserve to be classed and punished with those mischievous
persons who put obstructions on the railroads.
But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who
call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no
government, but at once a better government. Let every man make
known what kind of government would command his respect, and that
will be one step toward obtaining it.
After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in
the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long
period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be
in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but
because they are physically the strongest. But a government in
which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice,
even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in
which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but
conscience? -- in which majorities decide only those questions to
which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever
for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the
legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we
should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to
cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only
obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what
I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no
conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation
with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by
means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made
the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue
respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel,
captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in
admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills,
ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very
steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart.
They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are
concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they?
Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of
some unscrupulous man in power? Visit the Navy Yard, and behold a
marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it
can make a man with its black arts -- a mere shadow and reminiscence
of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one
may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniments, though it
may be
"Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
O'er the grave where our hero we buried."

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as
machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the
militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases
there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral
sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and
stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve
the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw
or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses
and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good
citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers,
ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their
heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as
likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very
few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and
men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily
resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as
enemies by it. A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will
not submit to be "clay," and "stop a hole to keep the wind away,"
but leave that office to his dust at least:--

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

He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to them
useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is
pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.
How does it become a man to behave toward this American
government to-day? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be
associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that
political organization as my government which is the slave's
government also.
All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to
refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its
tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost
all say that such is not the case now. But such was the case, they
think, in the Revolution of '75. If one were to tell me that this
was a bad government because it taxed certain foreign commodities
brought to its ports, it is most probable that I should not make an
ado about it, for I can do without them. All machines have their
friction; and possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the
evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But
when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and
robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any
longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation
which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a
whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army,
and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for
honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the
more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own,
but ours is the invading army.
Paley, a common authority with many on moral questions, in his
chapter on the "Duty of Submission to Civil Government," resolves
all civil obligation into expediency; and he proceeds to say that
"so long as the interest of the whole society requires it, that is,
so long as the established government cannot be resisted or changed
without public inconveniency, it is the will of God... that the
established government be obeyed, and no longer.... This principle
being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance
is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and
grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of
redressing it on the other." Of this, he says, every man shall
judge for himself. But Paley appears never to have contemplated
those cases to which the rule of expediency does not apply, in which
a people, as well as an individual, must do justice, cost what it
may. If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man, I must
restore it to him though I drown myself. This, according to Paley,
would be inconvenient. But he that would save his life, in such a
case, shall lose it. This people must cease to hold slaves, and to
make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people.
In their practice, nations agree with Paley; but does any one
think that Massachusetts does exactly what is right at the present

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

Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are
not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred
thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in
commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not
prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may.
I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home,
co-operate with, and do the bidding of those far away, and without
whom the latter would be harmless. We are accustomed to say, that
the mass of men are unprepared; but improvement is slow, because the
few are not materially wiser or better than the many. It is not so
important that many should be as good as you, as that there be some
absolute goodness somewhere; for that will leaven the whole lump.
There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the
war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who,
esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down
with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what
to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to
the question of free-trade, and quietly read the prices-current
along with the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may
be, fall asleep over them both. What is the price-current of an
honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and
sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with
effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the
evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give
only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the
right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine
patrons of virtue to one virtuous man; but it is easier to deal
with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian
of it.
All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon,
with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong,
with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The
character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance,
as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right
should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its
obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even
voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing
to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will
not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail
through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in
the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote
for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are
indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left
to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves.
Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his
own freedom by his vote.
I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore, or elsewhere,
for the selection of a candidate for the Presidency, made up chiefly
of editors, and men who are politicians by profession; but I think,
what is it to any independent, intelligent, and respectable man what
decision they may come to? Shall we not have the advantage of his
wisdom and honesty, nevertheless? Can we not count upon some
independent votes? Are there not many individuals in the country
who do not attend conventions? But no: I find that the respectable
man, so called, has immediately drifted from his position, and
despairs of his country, when his country has more reason to despair
of him. He forthwith adopts one of the candidates thus selected as
the only available one, thus proving that he is himself available
for any purposes of the demagogue. His vote is of no more worth
than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native, who may
have been bought. Oh for a man who is a man, and, as my neighbor
says, has a bone in his back which you cannot pass your hand
through! Our statistics are at fault: the population has been
returned too large. How many men are there to a square thousand
miles in this country? Hardly one. Does not America offer any
inducement for men to settle here? The American has dwindled into
an Odd Fellow -- one who may be known by the development of his
organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and
cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern, on coming
into the world, is to see that the almshouses are in good repair;
and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a
fund for the support of the widows and orphans that may be; who, in
short ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance
company, which has promised to bury him decently.
It is not a man's duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself
to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may
still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his
duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no
thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If I devote
myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at
least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man's
shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his
contemplations too. See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I
have heard some of my townsmen say, "I should like to have them
order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to
march to Mexico; -- see if I would go"; and yet these very men have
each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by
their money, furnished a substitute. The soldier is applauded who
refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to
sustain the unjust government which makes the war; is applauded by
those whose own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught;
as if the state were penitent to that degree that it hired one to
scourge it while it sinned, but not to that degree that it left off
sinning for a moment. Thus, under the name of Order and Civil
Government, we are all made at last to pay homage to and support our
own meanness. After the first blush of sin comes its indifference;
and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite
unnecessary to that life which we have made.
The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most
disinterested virtue to sustain it. The slight reproach to which
the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most
likely to incur. Those who, while they disapprove of the character
and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and
support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so
frequently the most serious obstacles to reform. Some are
petitioning the State to dissolve the Union, to disregard the
requisitions of the President. Why do they not dissolve it
themselves -- the union between themselves and the State -- and
refuse to pay their quota into its treasury? Do not they stand in
the same relation to the State, that the State does to the Union?
And have not the same reasons prevented the State from resisting the
Union, which have prevented them from resisting the State?
How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and
enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is that he
is aggrieved? If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your
neighbor, you do not rest satisfied with knowing that you are
cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with
petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps at
once to obtain the full amount, and see that you are never cheated
again. Action from principle -- the perception and the performance
of right -- changes things and relations; it is essentially
revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was.
It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it
divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the
Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we
endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or
shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a
government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have
persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they
should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is
the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the
evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and
provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why
does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage
its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do
better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ,
and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington
and Franklin rebels?
One would think, that a deliberate and practical denial of its
authority was the only offence never contemplated by government;
else, why has it not assigned its definite, its suitable and
proportionate, penalty? If a man who has no property refuses but
once to earn nine shillings for the State, he is put in prison for a
period unlimited by any law that I know, and determined only by the
discretion of those who placed him there; but if he should steal
ninety times nine shillings from the State, he is soon permitted to
go at large again.
If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the
machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear
smooth -- certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has
a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for
itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be
worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires
you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the
law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What
I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to
the wrong which I condemn.
As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for
remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much
time, and a man's life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend
to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place
to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not
everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do
everything, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong.
It is not my business to be petitioning the Governor or the
Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they
should not hear my petition, what should I do then? But in this
case the State has provided no way; its very Constitution is the
evil. This may seem to be harsh and stubborn and unconciliatory;
but it is to treat with the utmost kindness and consideration the
only spirit that can appreciate or deserves it. So is an change for
the better, like birth and death which convulse the body.
I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves
Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support,
both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts,
and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they
suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough
if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one.
Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a
majority of one already.
I meet this American government, or its representative, the
State government, directly, and face to face, once a year -- no more
-- in the person of its tax-gatherer; this is the only mode in which
a man situated as I am necessarily meets it; and it then says
distinctly, Recognize me; and the simplest, the most effectual, and,
in the present posture of affairs, the indispensablest mode of
treating with it on this head, of expressing your little
satisfaction with and love for it, is to deny it then. My civil
neighbor, the tax-gatherer, is the very man I have to deal with --
for it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel
-- and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the government.
How shall he ever know well what he is and does as an officer of the
government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider whether he
shall treat me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor
and well-disposed man, or as a maniac and disturber of the peace,
and see if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborliness
without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding
with his action? I know this well, that if one thousand, if one
hundred, if ten men whom I could name -- if ten honest men only --
ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to
hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and
be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition
of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning
may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. But we love
better to talk about it: that we say is our mission. Reform keeps
many scores of newspapers in its service, but not one man. If my
esteemed neighbor, the State's ambassador, who will devote his days
to the settlement of the question of human rights in the Council
Chamber, instead of being threatened with the prisons of Carolina,
were to sit down the prisoner of Massachusetts, that State which is
so anxious to foist the sin of slavery upon her sister -- though at
present she can discover only an act of inhospitality to be the
ground of a quarrel with her -- the Legislature would not wholly
waive the subject the following winter.
Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place
for a just man is also a prison. The proper place to-day, the only
place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less
desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out
of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out
by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the
Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs
of his race, should find them; on that separate, but more free and
honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with
her, but against her -- the only house in a slave State in which a
free man can abide with honor. If any think that their influence
would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of
the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they
do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much
more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has
experienced a little in his own person. Cast your whole vote, not a
strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is
powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a
minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole
weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or
give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to
choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this
year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be
to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed
innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable
revolution, if any such is possible. If the tax-gatherer, or any
other public officer, asks me, as one has done, "But what shall I
do?" my answer is, "If you really wish to do anything, resign your
office." When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer
has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished. But
even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of blood shed
when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man's real
manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting
death. I see this blood flowing now.
I have contemplated the imprisonment of the offender, rather
than the seizure of his goods -- though both will serve the same
purpose -- because they who assert the purest right, and
consequently are most dangerous to a corrupt State, commonly have
not spent much time in accumulating property. To such the State
renders comparatively small service, and a slight tax is wont to
appear exorbitant, particularly if they are obliged to earn it by
special labor with their hands. If there were one who lived wholly
without the use of money, the State itself would hesitate to demand
it of him. But the rich man -- not to make any invidious comparison
-- is always sold to the institution which makes him rich.
Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue; for money
comes between a man and his objects, and obtains them for him; and
it was certainly no great virtue to obtain it. It puts to rest many
questions which he would otherwise be taxed to answer; while the
only new question which it puts is the hard but superfluous one, how
to spend it. Thus his moral ground is taken from under his feet.
The opportunities of living are diminished in proportion as what are
called the "means" are increased. The best thing a man can do for
his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to carry out those
schemes which he entertained when he was poor. Christ answered the
Herodians according to their condition. "Show me the
tribute-money," said he; -- and one took a penny out of his pocket;
-- if you use money which has the image of Caesar on it, and which
he has made current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the
State, and gladly enjoy the advantages of Caesar's government, then
pay him back some of his own when he demands it; "Render therefore
to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God those things which are
God's" -- leaving them no wiser than before as to which was which;
for they did not wish to know.
When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive
that, whatever they may say about the magnitude and seriousness of
the question, and their regard for the public tranquillity, the long
and the short of the matter is, that they cannot spare the
protection of the existing government, and they dread the
consequences to their property and families of disobedience to it.
For my own part, I should not like to think that I ever rely on the
protection of the State. But, if I deny the authority of the State
when it presents its tax-bill, it will soon take and waste all my
property, and so harass me and my children without end. This is
hard. This makes it impossible for a man to live honestly, and at
the same time comfortably in outward respects. It will not be worth
the while to accumulate property; that would be sure to go again.
You must hire or squat somewhere, and raise but a small crop, and
eat that soon. You must live within yourself, and depend upon
yourself always tucked up and ready for a start, and not have many
affairs. A man may grow rich in Turkey even, if he will be in all
respects a good subject of the Turkish government. Confucius said,
"If a state is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and
misery are subjects of shame; if a state is not governed by the
principles of reason, riches and honors are the subjects of shame."
No: until I want the protection of Massachusetts to be extended to
me in some distant Southern port, where my liberty is endangered, or
until I am bent solely on building up an estate at home by peaceful
enterprise, I can afford to refuse allegiance to Massachusetts, and
her right to my property and life. It costs me less in every sense
to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to
obey. I should feel as if I were worth less in that case.
Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of the Church, and
commanded me to pay a certain sum toward the support of a clergyman
whose preaching my father attended, but never I myself. "Pay," it
said, "or be locked up in the jail." I declined to pay. But,
unfortunately, another man saw fit to pay it. I did not see why the
schoolmaster should be taxed to support the priest, and not the
priest the schoolmaster: for I was not the State's schoolmaster, but
I supported myself by voluntary subscription. I did not see why the
lyceum should not present its tax-bill, and have the State to back
its demand, as well as the Church. However, at the request of the
selectmen, I condescended to make some such statement as this in
writing:-- "Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau,
do not wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated society
which I have not joined." This I gave to the town clerk; and he has
it. The State, having thus learned that I did not wish to be
regarded as a member of that church, has never made a like demand on
me since; though it said that it must adhere to its original
presumption that time. If I had known how to name them, I should
then have signed off in detail from all the societies which I never
signed on to; but I did not know where to find a complete list.
I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into a jail
once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the
walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and
iron, a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I
could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution
which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be
locked up. I wondered that it should have concluded at length that
this was the best use it could put me to, and had never thought to
avail itself of my services in some way. I saw that, if there was a
wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more
difficult one to climb or break through, before they could get to be
as free as I was. I did not for a moment feel confined, and the
walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. I felt as if I
alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax. They plainly did not know
how to treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. In
every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder; for they
thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of that
stone wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously they
locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out again
without let or hindrance, and they were really all that was
dangerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish
my body; just as boys, if they cannot come at some person against
whom they have a spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the State
was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver
spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I
lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it.
Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man's sense,
intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not
armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical
strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own
fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a
multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I.
They force me to become like themselves. I do not hear of men being
forced to have this way or that by masses of men. What sort of life
were that to live? When I meet a government which says to me, "Your
money or your life," why should I be in haste to give it my money?
It may be in a great strait, and not know what to do: I cannot help
that. It must help itself; do as I do. It is not worth the while
to snivel about it. I am not responsible for the successful working
of the machinery of society. I am not the son of the engineer. I
perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the
one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey
their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can,
till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant
cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.
The night in prison was novel and interesting enough. The
prisoners in their shirt-sleeves were enjoying a chat and the
evening air in the doorway, when I entered. But the jailer said,
"Come, boys, it is time to lock up"; and so they dispersed, and I
heard the sound of their steps returning into the hollow apartments.
My room-mate was introduced to me by the jailer as "a first-rate
fellow and a clever man." When the door was locked, he showed me
where to hang my hat, and how he managed matters there. The rooms
were whitewashed once a month; and this one, at least, was the
whitest, most simply furnished, and probably the neatest apartment
in the town. He naturally wanted to know where I came from, and
what brought me there; and, when I had told him, I asked him in my
turn how he came there, presuming him to be an honest man, of
course; and, as the world goes, I believe he was. "Why," said he,
"they accuse me of burning a barn; but I never did it." As near as
I could discover, he had probably gone to bed in a barn when drunk,
and smoked his pipe there; and so a barn was burnt. He had the
reputation of being a clever man, had been there some three months
waiting for his trial to come on, and would have to wait as much
longer; but he was quite domesticated and contented, since he got
his board for nothing, and thought that he was well treated.
He occupied one window, and I the other; and I saw that if one
stayed there long, his principal business would be to look out the
window. I had soon read all the tracts that were left there, and
examined where former prisoners had broken out, and where a grate
had been sawed off, and heard the history of the various occupants
of that room; for I found that even here there was a history and a
gossip which never circulated beyond the walls of the jail.
Probably this is the only house in the town where verses are
composed, which are afterward printed in a circular form, but not
published. I was shown quite a long list of verses which were
composed by some young men who had been detected in an attempt to
escape, who avenged themselves by singing them.
I pumped my fellow-prisoner as dry as I could, for fear I should
never see him again; but at length he showed me which was my bed,
and left me to blow out the lamp.
It was like travelling into a far country, such as I had never
expected to behold, to lie there for one night. It seemed to me
that I never had heard the town-clock strike before, nor the evening
sounds of the village; for we slept with the windows open, which
were inside the grating. It was to see my native village in the
light of the Middle Ages, and our Concord was turned into a Rhine
stream, and visions of knights and castles passed before me. They
were the voices of old burghers that I heard in the streets. I was
an involuntary spectator and auditor of whatever was done and said
in the kitchen of the adjacent village-inn -- a wholly new and rare
experience to me. It was a closer view of my native town. I was
fairly inside of it. I never had seen its institutions before.
This is one of its peculiar institutions; for it is a shire town. I
began to comprehend what its inhabitants were about.
In the morning, our breakfasts were put through the hole in the
door, in small oblong-square tin pans, made to fit, and holding a
pint of chocolate, with brown bread, and an iron spoon. When they
called for the vessels again, I was green enough to return what
bread I had left; but my comrade seized it, and said that I should
lay that up for lunch or dinner. Soon after he was let out to work
at haying in a neighboring field, whither he went every day, and
would not be back till noon; so he bade me good-day, saying that he
doubted if he should see me again.
When I came out of prison -- for some one interfered, and paid
that tax -- I did not perceive that great changes had taken place on
the common, such as he observed who went in a youth and emerged a
tottering and gray-headed man; and yet a change had to my eyes come
over the scene -- the town, and State, and country -- greater than
any that mere time could effect. I saw yet more distinctly the
State in which I lived. I saw to what extent the people among whom
I lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; that their
friendship was for summer weather only; that they did not greatly
propose to do right; that they were a distinct race from me by their
prejudices and superstitions, as the Chinamen and Malays are; that
in their sacrifices to humanity, they ran no risks, not even to
their property; that after all they were not so noble but they
treated the thief as he had treated them, and hoped, by a certain
outward observance and a few prayers, and by walking in a particular
straight though useless path from time to time, to save their souls.
This may be to judge my neighbors harshly; for I believe that many
of them are not aware that they have such an institution as the jail
in their village.
It was formerly the custom in our village, when a poor debtor
came out of jail, for his acquaintances to salute him, looking
through their fingers, which were crossed to represent the grating
of a jail window, "How do ye do?" My neighbors did not thus salute
me, but first looked at me, and then at one another, as if I had
returned from a long journey. I was put into jail as I was going to
the shoemaker's to get a shoe which was mended. When I was let out
the next morning, I proceeded to finish my errand, and, having put
on my mended shoe, joined a huckleberry party, who were impatient to
put themselves under my conduct; and in half an hour -- for the
horse was soon tackled -- was in the midst of a huckleberry field,
on one of our highest hills, two miles off, and then the State was
nowhere to be seen.
This is the whole history of "My Prisons."
I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as
desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject;
and as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my
fellow-countrymen now. It is for no particular item in the tax-bill
that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the
State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not
care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a
man or a musket to shoot one with -- the dollar is innocent -- but I
am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I
quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will
still make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual
in such cases.
If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a sympathy
with the State, they do but what they have already done in their own
case, or rather they abet injustice to a greater extent than the
State requires. If they pay the tax from a mistaken interest in the
individual taxed, to save his property, or prevent his going to
jail, it is because they have not considered wisely how far they let
their private feelings interfere with the public good.
This, then, is my position at present. But one cannot be too
much on his guard in such a case, lest his action be biased by
obstinacy or an undue regard for the opinions of men. Let him see
that he does only what belongs to himself and to the hour.
I think sometimes, Why, this people mean well; they are only
ignorant; they would do better if they knew how: why give your
neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to? But I
think, again, This is no reason why I should do as they do, or
permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different kind.
Again, I sometimes say to myself, When many millions of men, without
heat, without ill-will, without personal feeling of any kind, demand
of you a few shillings only, without the possibility, such is their
constitution, of retracting or altering their present demand, and
without the possibility, on your side, of appeal to any other
millions, why expose yourself to this overwhelming brute force? You
do not resist cold and hunger, the winds and the waves, thus
obstinately; you quietly submit to a thousand similar necessities.
You do not put your head into the fire. But just in proportion as I
regard this as not wholly a brute force, but partly a human force,
and consider that I have relations to those millions as to so many
millions of men, and not of mere brute or inanimate things, I see
that appeal is possible, first and instantaneously, from them to the
Maker of them, and, secondly, from them to themselves. But, if I
put my head deliberately into the fire, there is no appeal to fire

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