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WALDEN Or Life In The Woods by Henry David Thoreau 1854

Walden , Life In The Woods

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

  I should not obtrude my affairs so much on the notice of my
readers if very particular inquiries had not been made by my
townsmen concerning my mode of life, which some would call
impertinent, though they do not appear to me at all impertinent,
but, considering the circumstances, very natural and pertinent. Some
have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not
afraid; and the like. Others have been curious to learn what portion
of my income I devoted to charitable purposes; and some, who have
large families, how many poor children I maintained. I will
therefore ask those of my readers who feel no particular interest in
me to pardon me if I undertake to answer some of these questions in
this book. In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in
this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main
difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all,
always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much
about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.
Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my
experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer,first or
last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely
what he has heard of other men's lives; some such account as he
would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived
sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me. Perhaps these
pages are more particularly addressed to poor students. As for the
rest of my readers, they will accept such portions as apply to them. I
trust that none will stretch the seams in putting on the coat, for
it may do good service to him whom it fits.

  I would fain say something, not so much concerning the Chinese and
Sandwich Islanders as you who read these pages, who are said to live
in New England; something about your condition, especially your
outward condition or circumstances in this world, in this town, what
it is, whether it is necessary that it be as bad as it is, whether
it cannot be improved as well as not. I have travelled a good deal
in Concord; and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the
inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand
remarkable ways. What I have heard of Bramins sitting exposed to
four fires and looking in the face of the sun; or hanging suspended,
with their heads downward, over flames; or looking at the heavens over
their shoulders "until it becomes impossible for them to resume
their natural position, while from the twist of the neck nothing but
liquids can pass into the stomach"; or dwelling, chained for life,
at the foot of a tree; or measuring with their bodies, like
caterpillars, the breadth of vast empires; or standing on one leg on
the tops of pillars- even these forms of conscious penance are
hardly more incredible and astonishing than the scenes which I daily
witness. The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison
with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only
twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or
captured any monster or finished any labor. They have no friend Iolaus
to burn with a hot iron the root of the hydra's head, but as soon as
one head is crushed, two spring up.

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

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

        Inde genus durum sumus, experiensque laborum,

        Et documenta damus qua simus origine nati.

Or, as Raleigh rhymes it in his sonorous way,

        "From thence our kind hard-hearted is, enduring pain and care,

         Approving that our bodies of a stony nature are."

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

  Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere
ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and
superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be
plucked by them. Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy
and tremble too much for that. Actually, the laboring man has not
leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain
the manliest relations to men; his labor would be depreciated in the
market. He has no time to be anything but a machine. How can he
remember well his ignorance- which his growth requires- who has so
often to use his knowledge? We should feed and clothe him gratuitously
sometimes, and recruit him with our cordials, before we judge of
him. The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can
be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat
ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.

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

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

  The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called
resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go
into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the
bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair
is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of
mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it
is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

  When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the
chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life,
it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living
because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there
is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun
rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of
thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What
everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to
be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted
for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields. What
old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds
for old people, and new deeds for new. Old people did not know enough
once, perchance, to fetch fresh fuel to keep the fire a-going; new
people put a little dry wood under a pot, and are whirled round the
globe with the speed of birds, in a way to kill old people, as the
phrase is. Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an
instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost.
One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of
absolute value by living. Practically, the old have no very important
advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial,
and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private
reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith
left which belies that experience, and they are only less young than
they were. I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have
yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from
my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me
anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent
untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If I
have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to reflect that
this my Mentors said nothing about.

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

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

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

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

  I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. We may
waive just so much care of ourselves as we honestly bestow
elsewhere. Nature is as well adapted to our weakness as to our
strength. The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well-nigh
incurable form of disease. We are made to exaggerate the importance of
what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us! or, what if we
had been taken sick? How vigilant we are! determined not to live by
faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we
unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties.
So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing
our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way,
we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from
one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a
miracle which is taking place every instant. Confucius said, "To
know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not
know, that is true knowledge." When one man has reduced a fact of
the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that
all men at length establish their lives on that basis.

  Let us consider for a moment what most of the trouble and anxiety
which I have referred to is about, and how much it is necessary that
we be troubled, or at least careful. It would be some advantage to
live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward
civilization, if only to learn what are the gross necessaries of
life and what methods have been taken to obtain them; or even to
look over the old day-books of the merchants, to see what it was
that men most commonly bought at the stores, what they stored, that
is, what are the grossest groceries. For the improvements of ages have
had but little influence on the essential laws of man's existence:
as our skeletons, probably, are not to be distinguished from those
of our ancestors.

  By the words, necessary of life, I mean whatever, of all that man
obtains by his own exertions, has been from the first, or from long
use has become, so important to human life that few, if any, whether
from savageness, or poverty, or philosophy, ever attempt to do without
it. To many creatures there is in this sense but one necessary of
life, Food. To the bison of the prairie it is a few inches of
palatable grass, with water to drink; unless he seeks the Shelter of
the forest or the mountain's shadow. None of the brute creation
requires more than Food and Shelter. The necessaries of life for man
in this climate may, accurately enough, be distributed under the
several heads of Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel; for not till we
have secured these are we prepared to entertain the true problems of
life with freedom and a prospect of success. Man has invented, not
only houses, but clothes and cooked food; and possibly from the
accidental discovery of the warmth of fire, and the consequent use
of it, at first a luxury, arose the present necessity to sit by it. We
observe cats and dogs acquiring the same second nature. By proper
Shelter and Clothing we legitimately retain our own internal heat; but
with an excess of these, or of Fuel, that is, with an external heat
greater than our own internal, may not cookery properly be said to
begin? Darwin, the naturalist, says of the inhabitants of Tierra del
Fuego, that while his own party, who were well clothed and sitting
close to a fire, were far from too warm, these naked savages, who were
farther off, were observed, to his great surprise, "to be streaming
with perspiration at undergoing such a roasting." So, we are told, the
New Hollander goes naked with impunity, while the European shivers
in his clothes. Is it impossible to combine the hardiness of these
savages with the intellectualness of the civilized man? According to
Liebig, man's body is a stove, and food the fuel which keeps up the
internal combustion in the lungs. In cold weather we eat more, in warm
less. The animal heat is the result of a slow combustion, and
disease and death take place when this is too rapid; or for want of
fuel, or from some defect in the draught, the fire goes out. Of course
the vital heat is not to be confounded with fire; but so much for
analogy. It appears, therefore, from the above list, that the
expression, animal life, is nearly synonymous with the expression,
animal heat; for while Food may be regarded as the Fuel which keeps up
the fire within us- and Fuel serves only to prepare that Food or to
increase the warmth of our bodies by addition from without- Shelter
and Clothing also serve only to retain the heat thus generated and

  The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to
keep the vital heat in us. What pains we accordingly take, not only
with our Food, and Clothing, and Shelter, but with our beds, which are
our night-clothes, robbing the nests and breasts of birds to prepare
this shelter within a shelter, as the mole has its bed of grass and
leaves at the end of its burrow! The poor man is wont to complain that
this is a cold world; and to cold, no less physical than social, we
refer directly a great part of our ails. The summer, in some climates,
makes possible to man a sort of Elysian life. Fuel, except to cook his
Food, is then unnecessary; the sun is his fire, and many of the fruits
are sufficiently cooked by its rays; while Food generally is more
various, and more easily obtained, and Clothing and Shelter are wholly
or half unnecessary. At the present day, and in this country, as I
find by my own experience, a few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade,
a wheelbarrow, etc., and for the studious, lamplight, stationery,
and access to a few books, rank next to necessaries, and can all be
obtained at a trifling cost. Yet some, not wise, go to the other
side of the globe, to barbarous and unhealthy regions, and devote
themselves to trade for ten or twenty years, in order that they may
live- that is, keep comfortably warm- and die in New England at
last. The luxuriously rich are not simply kept comfortably warm, but
unnaturally hot; as I implied before, they are cooked, of course a
la mode.

  Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life,
are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the
elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the
wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.
The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were
a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so
rich in inward. We know not much about them. It is remarkable that
we know so much of them as we do. The same is true of the more
modern reformers and benefactors of their race. None can be an
impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground
of what we should call voluntary poverty. Of a life of luxury the
fruit is luxury, whether in agriculture, or commerce, or literature,
or art. There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not
philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once
admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle
thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live
according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence,
magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life,
not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars
and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not
manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as
their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a noble race
of men. But why do men degenerate ever? What makes families run out?
What is the nature of the luxury which enervates and destroys nations?
Are we sure that there is none of it in our own lives? The philosopher
is in advance of his age even in the outward form of his life. He is
not fed, sheltered, clothed, warmed, like his contemporaries. How
can a man be a philosopher and not maintain his vital heat by better
methods than other men?

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

  I do not mean to prescribe rules to strong and valiant natures,
who will mind their own affairs whether in heaven or hell, and
perchance build more magnificently and spend more lavishly than the
richest, without ever impoverishing themselves, not knowing how they
live- if, indeed, there are any such, as has been dreamed; nor to
those who find their encouragement and inspiration in precisely the
present condition of things, and cherish it with the fondness and
enthusiasm of lovers- and, to some extent, I reckon myself in this
number; I do not speak to those who are well employed, in whatever
circumstances, and they know whether they are well employed or not;-
but mainly to the mass of men who are discontented, and idly
complaining of the hardness of their lot or of the times, when they
might improve them. There are some who complain most energetically and
inconsolably of any, because they are, as they say, doing their
duty. I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly
impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not
how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden
or silver fetters.

  If I should attempt to tell how I have desired to spend my life in
years past, it would probably surprise those of my readers who are
somewhat acquainted with its actual history; it would certainly
astonish those who know nothing about it. I will only hint at some
of the enterprises which I have cherished.

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

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

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

  So many autumn, ay, and winter days, spent outside the town,
trying to hear what was in the wind, to hear and carry it express! I
well-nigh sunk all my capital in it, and lost my own breath into the
bargain, running in the face of it. If it had concerned either of
the political parties, depend upon it, it would have appeared in the
Gazette with the earliest intelligence. At other times watching from
the observatory of some cliff or tree, to telegraph any new arrival;
or waiting at evening on the hill-tops for the sky to fall, that I
might catch something, though I never caught much, and that,
manna-wise, would dissolve again in the sun.

  For a long time I was reporter to a journal, of no very wide
circulation, whose editor has never yet seen fit to print the bulk
of my contributions, and, as is too common with writers, I got only my
labor for my pains. However, in this case my pains were their own

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

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

  In short, I went on thus for a long time (I may say it without
boasting), faithfully minding my business, till it became more and
more evident that my townsmen would not after all admit me into the
list of town officers, nor make my place a sinecure with a moderate
allowance. My accounts, which I can swear to have kept faithfully, I
have, indeed, never got audited, still less accepted, still less
paid and settled. However, I have not set my heart on that.

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

  Finding that my fellow-citizens were not likely to offer me any room
in the court house, or any curacy or living anywhere else, but I
must shift for myself, I turned my face more exclusively than ever
to the woods, where I was better known. I determined to go into
business at once, and not wait to acquire the usual capital, using
such slender means as I had already got. My purpose in going to Walden
Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact
some private business with the fewest obstacles; to be hindered from
accomplishing which for want of a little common sense, a little
enterprise and business talent, appeared not so sad as foolish.

  I have always endeavored to acquire strict business habits; they are
indispensable to every man. If your trade is with the Celestial
Empire, then some small counting house on the coast, in some Salem
harbor, will be fixture enough. You will export such articles as the
country affords, purely native products, much ice and pine timber
and a little granite, always in native bottoms. These will be good
ventures. To oversee all the details yourself in person; to be at once
pilot and captain, and owner and underwriter; to buy and sell and keep
the accounts; to read every letter received, and write or read every
letter sent; to superintend the discharge of imports night and day; to
be upon many parts of the coast almost at the same time- often the
richest freight will be discharged upon a Jersey shore;- to be your
own telegraph, unweariedly sweeping the horizon, speaking all
passing vessels bound coastwise; to keep up a steady despatch of
commodities, for the supply of such a distant and exorbitant market;
to keep yourself informed of the state of the markets, prospects of
war and peace everywhere, and anticipate the tendencies of trade and
civilization- taking advantage of the results of all exploring
expeditions, using new passages and all improvements in navigation;-
charts to be studied, the position of reefs and new lights and buoys
to be ascertained, and ever, and ever, the logarithmic tables to be
corrected, for by the error of some calculator the vessel often splits
upon a rock that should have reached a friendly pier- there is the
untold fate of La Perouse;- universal science to be kept pace with,
studying the lives of all great discoverers and navigators, great
adventurers and merchants, from Hanno and the Phoenicians down to
our day; in fine, account of stock to be taken from time to time, to
know how you stand. It is a labor to task the faculties of a man- such
problems of profit and loss, of interest, of tare and tret, and
gauging of all kinds in it, as demand a universal knowledge.

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

  As this business was to be entered into without the usual capital,
it may not be easy to conjecture where those means, that will still be
indispensable to every such undertaking, were to be obtained. As for
Clothing, to come at once to the practical part of the question,
perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty and a regard for the
opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility. Let him
who has work to do recollect that the object of clothing is, first, to
retain the vital heat, and secondly, in this state of society, to
cover nakedness, and he may judge how much of any necessary or
important work may be accomplished without adding to his wardrobe.
Kings and queens who wear a suit but once, though made by some
tailor or dressmaker to their majesties, cannot know the comfort of
wearing a suit that fits. They are no better than wooden horses to
hang the clean clothes on. Every day our garments become more
assimilated to ourselves, receiving the impress of the wearer's
character, until we hesitate to lay them aside without such delay
and medical appliances and some such solemnity even as our bodies.
No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his
clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to
have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to
have a sound conscience. But even if the rent is not mended, perhaps
the worst vice betrayed is improvidence. I sometimes try my
acquaintances by such tests as this- Who could wear a patch, or two
extra seams only, over the knee? Most behave as if they believed
that their prospects for life would be ruined if they should do it. It
would be easier for them to hobble to town with a broken leg than with
a broken pantaloon. Often if an accident happens to a gentleman's
legs, they can be mended; but if a similar accident happens to the
legs of his pantaloons, there is no help for it; for he considers, not
what is truly respectable, but what is respected. We know but few men,
a great many coats and breeches. Dress a scarecrow in your last shift,
you standing shiftless by, who would not soonest salute the scarecrow?
Passing a cornfield the other day, close by a hat and coat on a stake,
I recognized the owner of the farm. He was only a little more weather-
beaten than when I saw him last. I have heard of a dog that barked
at every stranger who approached his master's premises with clothes
on, but was easily quieted by a naked thief. It is an interesting
question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were
divested of their clothes. Could you, in such a case, tell surely of
any company of civilized men which belonged to the most respected
class? When Madam Pfeiffer, in her adventurous travels round the
world, from east to west, had got so near home as Asiatic Russia,
she says that she felt the necessity of wearing other than a
travelling dress, when she went to meet the authorities, for she
"was now in a civilized country, where... people are judged of by
their clothes." Even in our democratic New England towns the
accidental possession of wealth, and its manifestation in dress and
equipage alone, obtain for the possessor almost universal respect. But
they yield such respect, numerous as they are, are so far heathen, and
need to have a missionary sent to them. Beside, clothes introduced
sewing, a kind of work which you may call endless; a woman's dress, at
least, is never done.

  A man who has at length found something to do will not need to get a
new suit to do it in; for him the old will do, that has lain dusty
in the garret for an indeterminate period. Old shoes will serve a hero
longer than they have served his valet- if a hero ever has a valet-
bare feet are older than shoes, and he can make them do. Only they who
go to soirees and legislative balls must have new coats, coats to
change as often as the man changes in them. But if my jacket and
trousers, my hat and shoes, are fit to worship God in, they will do;
will they not? Who ever saw his old clothes- his old coat, actually
worn out, resolved into its primitive elements, so that it was not a
deed of charity to bestow it on some poor boy, by him perchance to
be bestowed on some poorer still, or shall we say richer, who could do
with less? I say, beware of all enterprises that require new
clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new
man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any
enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not
something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to
be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or
dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in
some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain
it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles. Our moulting season,
like that of the fowls, must be a crisis in our lives. The loon
retires to solitary ponds to spend it. Thus also the snake casts its
slough, and the caterpillar its wormy coat, by an internal industry
and expansion; for clothes are but our outmost cuticle and mortal
coil. Otherwise we shall be found sailing under false colors, and be
inevitably cashiered at last by our own opinion, as well as that of

  We don garment after garment, as if we grew like exogenous plants by
addition without. Our outside and often thin and fanciful clothes
are our epidermis, or false skin, which partakes not of our life,
and may be stripped off here and there without fatal injury; our
thicker garments, constantly worn, are our cellular integument, or
cortex; but our shirts are our liber, or true bark, which cannot be
removed without girdling and so destroying the man. I believe that all
races at some seasons wear something equivalent to the shirt. It is
desirable that a man be clad so simply that he can lay his hands on
himself in the dark, and that he live in all respects so compactly and
preparedly that, if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old
philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety. While one
thick garment is, for most purposes, as good as three thin ones, and
cheap clothing can be obtained at prices really to suit customers;
while a thick coat can be bought for five dollars, which will last
as many years, thick pantaloons for two dollars, cowhide boots for a
dollar and a half a pair, a summer hat for a quarter of a dollar,
and a winter cap for sixty-two and a half cents, or a better be made
at home at a nominal cost, where is he so poor that, clad in such a
suit, of his own earning, there will not be found wise men to do him

  When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my tailoress tells me
gravely, "They do not make them so now," not emphasizing the "They" at
all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates, and I
find it difficult to get made what I want, simply because she cannot
believe that I mean what I say, that I am so rash. When I hear this
oracular sentence, I am for a moment absorbed in thought,
emphasizing to myself each word separately that I may come at the
meaning of it, that I may find out by what degree of consanguinity
'They' are related to me, and what authority they may have in an
affair which affects me so nearly; and, finally, I am inclined to
answer her with equal mystery, and without any more emphasis of the
"they"- "It is true, they did not make them so recently, but they do
now." Of what use this measuring of me if she does not measure my
character, but only the breadth of my shoulders, as it were a peg to
bang the coat on? We worship not the Graces, nor the Parcee, but
Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head
monkey at Paris puts on a traveller's cap, and all the monkeys in
America do the same. I sometimes despair of getting anything quite
simple and honest done in this world by the help of men. They would
have to be passed through a powerful press first, to squeeze their old
notions out of them, so that they would not soon get upon their legs
again; and then there would be some one in the company with a maggot
in his head, hatched from an egg deposited there nobody knows when,
for not even fire kills these things, and you would have lost your
labor. Nevertheless, we will not forget that some Egyptian wheat was
handed down to us by a mummy.

  On the whole, I think that it cannot be maintained that dressing has
in this or any country risen to the dignity of an art. At present
men make shift to wear what they can get. Like shipwrecked sailors,
they put on what they can find on the beach, and at a little distance,
whether of space or time, laugh at each other's masquerade. Every
generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the
new. We are amused at beholding the costume of Henry VIII, or Queen
Elizabeth, as much as if it was that of the King and Queen of the
Cannibal Islands. All costume off a man is pitiful or grotesque. It is
only the serious eye peering from and the sincere life passed within
it which restrain laughter and consecrate the costume of any people.
Let Harlequin be taken with a fit of the colic and his trappings
will have to serve that mood too. When the soldier is hit by a
cannon-ball, rags are as becoming as purple.

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

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

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

  We may imagine a time when, in the infancy of the human race, some
enterprising mortal crept into a hollow in a rock for shelter. Every
child begins the world again, to some extent, and loves to stay
outdoors, even in wet and cold. It plays house, as well as horse,
having an instinct for it. Who does not remember the interest with
which, when young, he looked at shelving rocks, or any approach to a
cave? It was the natural yearning of that portion, any portion of
our most primitive ancestor which still survived in us. From the
cave we have advanced to roofs of palm leaves, of bark and boughs,
of linen woven and stretched, of grass and straw, of boards and
shingles, of stones and tiles. At last, we know not what it is to live
in the open air, and our lives are domestic in more senses than we
think. From the hearth the field is a great distance. It would be
well, perhaps, if we were to spend more of our days and nights without
any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies, if the poet did
not speak so much from under a roof, or the saint dwell there so long.
Birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocence in

  However, if one designs to construct a dwelling-house, it behooves
him to exercise a little Yankee shrewdness, lest after all he find
himself in a workhouse, a labyrinth without a clue, a museum, an
almshouse, a prison, or a splendid mausoleum instead. Consider first
how slight a shelter is absolutely necessary. I have seen Penobscot
Indians, in this town, living in tents of thin cotton cloth, while the
snow was nearly a foot deep around them, and I thought that they would
be glad to have it deeper to keep out the wind. Formerly, when how
to get my living honestly, with freedom left for my proper pursuits,
was a question which vexed me even more than it does now, for
unfortunately I am become somewhat callous, I used to see a large
box by the railroad, six feet long by three wide, in which the
laborers locked up their tools at night; and it suggested to me that
every man who was hard pushed might get such a one for a dollar,
and, having bored a few auger holes in it, to admit the air at
least, get into it when it rained and at night, and hook down the lid,
and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free. This did not
appear the worst, nor by any means a despicable alternative. You could
sit up as late as you pleased, and, whenever you got up, go abroad
without any landlord or house-lord dogging you for rent. Many a man is
harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box
who would not have frozen to death in such a box as this. I am far
from jesting. Economy is a subject which admits of being treated
with levity, but it cannot so be disposed of. A comfortable house
for a rude and hardy race, that lived mostly out of doors, was once
made here almost entirely of such materials as Nature furnished
ready to their hands. Gookin, who was superintendent of the Indians
subject to the Massachusetts Colony, writing in 1674, says, "The
best of their houses are covered very neatly, tight and warm, with
barks of trees, slipped from their bodies at those seasons when the
sap is up, and made into great flakes, with pressure of weighty
timber, when they are green.... The meaner sort are covered with
mats which they make of a kind of bulrush, and are also
indifferently tight and warm, but not so good as the former.... Some I
have seen, sixty or a hundred feet long and thirty feet broad.... I
have often lodged in their wigwams, and found them as warm as the best
English houses." He adds that they were commonly carpeted and lined
within with well-wrought embroidered mats, and were furnished with
various utensils. The Indians had advanced so far as to regulate the
effect of the wind by a mat suspended over the hole in the roof and
moved by a string. Such a lodge was in the first instance
constructed in a day or two at most, and taken down and put up in a
few hours; and every family owned one, or its apartment in one.

  In the savage state every family owns a shelter as good as the best,
and sufficient for its coarser and simpler wants; but I think that I
speak within bounds when I say that, though the birds of the air
have their nests, and the foxes their holes, and the savages their
wigwams, in modern civilized society not more than one half the
families own a shelter. In the large towns and cities, where
civilization especially prevails, the number of those who own a
shelter is a very small fraction of the whole. The rest pay an
annual tax for this outside garment of all, become indispensable
summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but
now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. I do not mean to
insist here on the disadvantage of hiring compared with owning, but it
is evident that the savage owns his shelter because it costs so
little, while the civilized man hires his commonly because he cannot
afford to own it; nor can he, in the long run, any better afford to
hire. But, answers one, by merely paying this tax, the poor
civilized man secures an abode which is a palace compared with the
savage's. An annual rent of from twenty-five to a hundred dollars
(these are the country rates) entitles him to the benefit of the
improvements of centuries, spacious apartments, clean paint and paper,
Rumford fireplace, back plastering, Venetian blinds, copper pump,
spring lock, a commodious cellar, and many other things. But how
happens it that he who is said to enjoy these things is so commonly
a poor civilized man, while the savage, who has them not, is rich as a
savage? If it is asserted that civilization is a real advance in the
condition of man- and I think that it is, though only the wise improve
their advantages- it must be shown that it has produced better
dwellings without making them more costly; and the cost of a thing
is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be
exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. An average house
in this neighborhood costs perhaps eight hundred dollars, and to lay
up this sum will take from ten to fifteen years of the laborer's life,
even if he is not encumbered with a family- estimating the pecuniary
value of every man's labor at one dollar a day, for if some receive
more, others receive less;- so that he must have spent more than
half his life commonly before his wigwam will be earned. If we suppose
him to pay a rent instead, this is but a doubtful choice of evils.
Would the savage have been wise to exchange his wigwam for a palace on
these terms?

  It may be guessed that I reduce almost the whole advantage of
holding this superfluous property as a fund in store against the
future, so far as the individual is concerned, mainly to the defraying
of funeral expenses. But perhaps a man is not required to bury
himself. Nevertheless this points to an important distinction
between the civilized man and the savage; and, no doubt, they have
designs on us for our benefit, in making the life of a civilized
people an institution, in which the life of the individual is to a
great extent absorbed, in order to preserve and perfect that of the
race. But I wish to show at what a sacrifice this advantage is at
present obtained, and to suggest that we may possibly so live as to
secure all the advantage without suffering any of the disadvantage.
What mean ye by saying that the poor ye have always with you, or
that the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth
are set on edge?

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

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

  When I consider my neighbors, the farmers of Concord, who are at
least as well off as the other classes, I find that for the most
part they have been toiling twenty, thirty, or forty years, that
they may become the real owners of their farms, which commonly they
have inherited with encumbrances, or else bought with hired money- and
we may regard one third of that toil as the cost of their houses-
but commonly they have not paid for them yet. It is true, the
encumbrances sometimes outweigh the value of the farm, so that the
farm itself becomes one great encumbrance, and still a man is found to
inherit it, being well acquainted with it, as he says. On applying
to the assessors, I am surprised to learn that they cannot at once
name a dozen in the town who own their farms free and clear. If you
would know the history of these homesteads, inquire at the bank
where they are mortgaged. The man who has actually paid for his farm
with labor on it is so rare that every neighbor can point to him. I
doubt if there are three such men in Concord. What has been said of
the merchants, that a very large majority, even ninety-seven in a
hundred, are sure to fail, is equally true of the farmers. With regard
to the merchants, however, one of them says pertinently that a great
part of their failures are not genuine pecuniary failures, but
merely failures to fulfil their engagements, because it is
inconvenient; that is, it is the moral character that breaks down. But
this puts an infinitely worse face on the matter, and suggests,
beside, that probably not even the other three succeed in saving their
souls, but are perchance bankrupt in a worse sense than they who
fail honestly. Bankruptcy and repudiation are the springboards from
which much of our civilization vaults and turns its somersets, but the
savage stands on the unelastic plank of famine. Yet the Middlesex
Cattle Show goes off here with eclat annually, as if all the joints of
the agricultural machine were suent.

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

        "The false society of men-

             -for earthly greatness

         All heavenly comforts rarefies to air."

  And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer
but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him. As I
understand it, that was a valid objection urged by Momus against the
house which Minerva made, that she "had not made it movable, by
which means a bad neighborhood might be avoided"; and it may still
be urged, for our houses are such unwieldy property that we are
often imprisoned rather than housed in them; and the bad
neighborhood to be avoided is our own scurvy selves. I know one or two
families, at least, in this town, who, for nearly a generation, have
been wishing to sell their houses in the outskirts and move into the
village, but have not been able to accomplish it, and only death
will set them free.

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

  But how do the poor minority fare? Perhaps it will be found that
just in proportion as some have been placed in outward circumstances
above the savage, others have been degraded below him. The luxury of
one class is counterbalanced by the indigence of another. On the one
side is the palace, on the other are the almshouse and "silent
poor." The myriads who built the pyramids to be the tombs of the
Pharaohs were fed on garlic, and it may be were not decently buried
themselves. The mason who finishes the cornice of the palace returns
at night perchance to a hut not so good as a wigwam. It is a mistake
to suppose that, in a country where the usual evidences of
civilization exist, the condition of a very large body of the
inhabitants may not be as degraded as that of savages. I refer to
the degraded poor, not now to the degraded rich. To know this I should
not need to look farther than to the shanties which everywhere
border our railroads, that last improvement in civilization; where I
see in my daily walks human beings living in sties, and all winter
with an open door, for the sake of light, without any visible, often
imaginable, wood-pile, and the forms of both old and young are
permanently contracted by the long habit of shrinking from cold and
misery, and the development of all their limbs and faculties is
checked. It certainly is fair to look at that class by whose labor the
works which distinguish this generation are accomplished. Such too, to
a greater or less extent, is the condition of the operatives of
every denomination in England, which is the great workhouse of the
world. Or I could refer you to Ireland, which is marked as one of
the white or enlightened spots on the map. Contrast the physical
condition of the Irish with that of the North American Indian, or
the South Sea Islander, or any other savage race before it was
degraded by contact with the civilized man. Yet I have no doubt that
that people's rulers are as wise as the average of civilized rulers.
Their condition only proves what squalidness may consist with
civilization. I hardly need refer now to the laborers in our
Southern States who produce the staple exports of this country, and
are themselves a staple production of the South. But to confine myself
to those who are said to be in moderate circumstances.

  Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are
actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think
that they must have such a one as their neighbors have. As if one were
to wear any sort of coat which the tailor might cut out for him, or,
gradually leaving off palm-leaf hat or cap of woodchuck skin, complain
of hard times because he could not afford to buy him a crown! It is
possible to invent a house still more convenient and luxurious than we
have, which yet all would admit that man could not afford to pay
for. Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not
sometimes to be content with less? Shall the respectable citizen
thus gravely teach, by precept and example, the necessity of the young
man's providing a certain number of superfluous glow- shoes, and
umbrellas, and empty guest chambers for empty guests, before he
dies? Why should not our furniture be as simple as the Arab's or the
Indian's? When I think of the benefactors of the race, whom we have
apotheosized as messengers from heaven, bearers of divine gifts to
man, I do not see in my mind any retinue at their heels, any carload
of fashionable furniture. Or what if I were to allow- would it not
be a singular allowance?- that our furniture should be more complex
than the Arab's, in proportion as we are morally and intellectually
his superiors! At present our houses are cluttered and defiled with
it, and a good housewife would sweep out the greater part into the
dust hole, and not leave her morning's work undone. Morning work! By
the blushes of Aurora and the music of Memnon, what should be man's
morning work in this world? I had three pieces of limestone on my
desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted
daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw
them out the window in disgust. How, then, could I have a furnished
house? I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on
the grass, unless where man has broken ground.

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

  The very simplicity and nakedness of man's life in the primitive
ages imply this advantage, at least, that they left him still but a
sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep, he
contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in
this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the
plains, or climbing the mountain-tops. But lo! men have become the
tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits
when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree
for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night,
but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven. We have adopted
Christianity merely as an improved method of agriculture. We have
built for this world a family mansion, and for the next a family tomb.
The best works of art are the expression of man's struggle to free
himself from this condition, but the effect of our art is merely to
make this low state comfortable and that higher state to be forgotten.
There is actually no place in this village for a work of fine art,
if any had come down to us, to stand, for our lives, our houses and
streets, furnish no proper pedestal for it. There is not a nail to
hang a picture on, nor a shelf to receive the bust of a hero or a
saint. When I consider how our houses are built and paid for, or not
paid for, and their internal economy managed and sustained, I wonder
that the floor does not give way under the visitor while he is
admiring the gewgaws upon the mantelpiece, and let him through into
the cellar, to some solid and honest though earthy foundation. I
cannot but perceive that this so-called rich and refined life is a
thing jumped at, and I do not get on in the enjoyment of the fine arts
which adorn it, my attention being wholly occupied with the jump;
for I remember that the greatest genuine leap, due to human muscles
alone, on record, is that of certain wandering Arabs, who are said
to have cleared twenty-five feet on level ground. Without factitious
support, man is sure to come to earth again beyond that distance.
The first question which I am tempted to put to the proprietor of such
great impropriety is, Who bolsters you? Are you one of the
ninety-seven who fail, or the three who succeed? Answer me these
questions, and then perhaps I may look at your bawbles and find them
ornamental. The cart before the horse is neither beautiful nor useful.
Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must
be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful
housekeeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation: now, a
taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors, where there
is no house and no housekeeper.

  Old Johnson, in his "Wonder-Working Providence," speaking of the
first settlers of this town, with whom he was contemporary, tells us
that "they burrow themselves in the earth for their first shelter
under some hillside, and, casting the soil aloft upon timber, they
make a smoky fire against the earth, at the highest side." They did
not "provide them houses," says he, "till the earth, by the Lord's
blessing, brought forth bread to feed them," and the first year's crop
was so light that "they were forced to cut their bread very thin for a
long season." The secretary of the Province of New Netherland, writing
in Dutch, in 1650, for the information of those who wished to take
up land there, states more particularly that "those in New Netherland,
and especially in New England, who have no means to build farmhouses
at first according to their wishes, dig a square pit in the ground,
cellar fashion, six or seven feet deep, as long and as broad as they
think proper, case the earth inside with wood all round the wall,
and line the wood with the bark of trees or something else to
prevent the caving in of the earth; floor this cellar with plank,
and wainscot it overhead for a ceiling, raise a roof of spars clear
up, and cover the spars with bark or green sods, so that they can live
dry and warm in these houses with their entire families for two,
three, and four years, it being understood that partitions are run
through those cellars which are adapted to the size of the family. The
wealthy and principal men in New England, in the beginning of the
colonies, commenced their first dwelling-houses in this fashion for
two reasons: firstly, in order not to waste time in building, and
not to want food the next season; secondly, in order not to discourage
poor laboring people whom they brought over in numbers from
Fatherland. In the course of three or four years, when the country
became adapted to agriculture, they built themselves handsome
houses, spending on them several thousands."

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

  Though we are not so degenerate but that we might possibly live in a
cave or a wigwam or wear skins today, it certainly is better to accept
the advantages, though so dearly bought, which the invention and
industry of mankind offer. In such a neighborhood as this, boards
and shingles, lime and bricks, are cheaper and more easily obtained
than suitable caves, or whole logs, or bark in sufficient
quantities, or even well-tempered clay or flat stones. I speak
understandingly on this subject, for I have made myself acquainted
with it both theoretically and practically. With a little more wit
we might use these materials so as to become richer than the richest
now are, and make our civilization a blessing. The civilized man is
a more experienced and wiser savage. But to make haste to my own

  Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to
the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my
house, and began to cut down some tall, arrowy white pines, still in
their youth, for timber. It is difficult to begin without borrowing,
but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your
fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise. The owner of the
axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of
his eye; but I returned it sharper than I received it. It was a
pleasant hillside where I worked, covered with pine woods, through
which I looked out on the pond, and a small open field in the woods
where pines and hickories were springing up. The ice in the pond was
not yet dissolved, though there were some open spaces, and it was
all dark-colored and saturated with water. There were some slight
flurries of snow during the days that I worked there; but for the most
part when I came out on to the railroad, on my way home, its yellow
sand-heap stretched away gleaming in the hazy atmosphere, and the
rails shone in the spring sun, and I heard the lark and pewee and
other birds already come to commence another year with us. They were
pleasant spring days, in which the winter of man's discontent was
thawing as well as the earth, and the life that had lain torpid
began to stretch itself. One day, when my axe had come off and I had
cut a green hickory for a wedge, driving it with a stone, and had
placed the whole to soak in a pond-hole in order to swell the wood,
I saw a striped snake run into the water, and he lay on the bottom,
apparently without inconvenience, as long as I stayed there, or more
than a quarter of an hour; perhaps because he had not yet fairly
come out of the torpid state. It appeared to me that for a like reason
men remain in their present low and primitive condition; but if they
should feel the influence of the spring of springs arousing them, they
would of necessity rise to a higher and more ethereal life. I had
previously seen the snakes in frosty mornings in my path with portions
of their bodies still numb and inflexible, waiting for the sun to thaw
them. On the 1st of April it rained and melted the ice, and in the
early part of the day, which was very foggy, I heard a stray goose
groping about over the pond and cackling as if lost, or like the
spirit of the fog.

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

        Men say they know many things;

        But lo! they have taken wings-

        The arts and sciences,

        And a thousand appliances;

        The wind that blows

        Is all that anybody knows.

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

  By the middle of April, for I made no haste in my work, but rather
made the most of it, my house was framed and ready for the raising.
I had already bought the shanty of James Collins, an Irishman who
worked on the Fitchburg Railroad, for boards. James Collins' shanty
was considered an uncommonly fine one. When I called to see it he
was not at home. I walked about the outside, at first unobserved
from within, the window was so deep and high. It was of small
dimensions, with a peaked cottage roof, and not much else to be
seen, the dirt being raised five feet all around as if it were a
compost heap. The roof was the soundest part, though a good deal
warped and made brittle by the sun. Doorsill there was none, but a
perennial passage for the hens under the door-board. Mrs. C. came to
the door and asked me to view it from the inside. The hens were driven
in by my approach. It was dark, and had a dirt floor for the most
part, dank, clammy, and aguish, only here a board and there a board
which would not bear removal. She lighted a lamp to show me the inside
of the roof and the walls, and also that the board floor extended
under the bed, warning me not to step into the cellar, a sort of
dust hole two feet deep. In her own words, they were good boards
overhead, good boards all around, and a good window"- of two whole
squares originally, only the cat had passed out that way lately. There
was a stove, a bed, and a place to sit, an infant in the house where
it was born, a silk parasol, gilt-framed looking-glass, and a patent
new coffee-mill nailed to an oak sapling, all told. The bargain was
soon concluded, for James had in the meanwhile returned. I to pay four
dollars and twenty-five cents tonight, he to vacate at five tomorrow
morning, selling to nobody else meanwhile: I to take possession at
six. It were well, he said, to be there early, and anticipate
certain indistinct but wholly unjust claims on the score of ground
rent and fuel. This he assured me was the only encumbrance. At six I
passed him and his family on the road. One large bundle held their
all- bed, coffee-mill, looking-glass, hens- all but the cat; she
took to the woods and became a wild cat, and, as I learned
afterward, trod in a trap set for woodchucks, and so became a dead cat
at last.

  I took down this dwelling the same morning, drawing the nails, and
removed it to the pond-side by small cartloads, spreading the boards
on the grass there to bleach and warp back again in the sun. One early
thrush gave me a note or two as I drove along the woodland path. I was
informed treacherously by a young Patrick that neighbor Seeley, an
Irishman, in the intervals of the carting, transferred the still
tolerable, straight, and drivable nails, staples, and spikes to his
pocket, and then stood when I came back to pass the time of day, and
look freshly up, unconcerned, with spring thoughts, at the
devastation; there being a dearth of work, as he said. He was there to
represent spectatordom, and help make this seemingly insignificant
event one with the removal of the gods of Troy.

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

  At length, in the beginning of May, with the help of some of my
acquaintances, rather to improve so good an occasion for
neighborliness than from any necessity, I set up the frame of my
house. No man was ever more honored in the character of his raisers
than I. They are destined, I trust, to assist at the raising of
loftier structures one day. I began to occupy my house on the 4th of
July, as soon as it was boarded and roofed, for the boards were
carefully feather-edged and lapped, so that it was perfectly
impervious to rain, but before boarding I laid the foundation of a
chimney at one end, bringing two cartloads of stones up the hill
from the pond in my arms. I built the chimney after my hoeing in the
fall, before a fire became necessary for warmth, doing my cooking in
the meanwhile out of doors on the ground, early in the morning:
which mode I still think is in some respects more convenient and
agreeable than the usual one. When it stormed before my bread was
baked, I fixed a few boards over the fire, and sat under them to watch
my loaf, and passed some pleasant hours in that way. In those days,
when my hands were much employed, I read but little, but the least
scraps of paper which lay on the ground, my holder, or tablecloth,
afforded me as much entertainment, in fact answered the same purpose
as the Iliad.

  It would be worth the while to build still more deliberately than
I did, considering, for instance, what foundation a door, a window,
a cellar, a garret, have in the nature of man, and perchance never
raising any superstructure until we found a better reason for it
than our temporal necessities even. There is some of the same
fitness in a man's building his own house that there is in a bird's
building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their
dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and
families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be
universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so
engaged? But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their
eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller
with their chattering and unmusical notes. Shall we forever resign the
pleasure of construction to the carpenter? What does architecture
amount to in the experience of the mass of men? I never in all my
walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation
as building his house. We belong to the community. It is not the
tailor alone who is the ninth part of a man; it is as much the
preacher, and the merchant, and the farmer. Where is this division
of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve? No doubt
another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable
that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.

  True, there are architects so called in this country, and I have
heard of one at least possessed with the idea of making
architectural ornaments have a core of truth, a necessity, and hence a
beauty, as if it were a revelation to him. All very well perhaps
from his point of view, but only a little better than the common
dilettantism. A sentimental reformer in architecture, he began at
the cornice, not at the foundation. It was only how to put a core of
truth within the ornaments, that every sugarplum, in fact, might
have an almond or caraway seed in it- though I hold that almonds are
most wholesome without the sugar- and not how the inhabitant, the
indweller, might build truly within and without, and let the ornaments
take care of themselves. What reasonable man ever supposed that
ornaments were something outward and in the skin merely- that the
tortoise got his spotted shell, or the shell-fish its
mother-o'-pearl tints, by such a contract as the inhabitants of
Broadway their Trinity Church? But a man has no more to do with the
style of architecture of his house than a tortoise with that of its
shell: nor need the soldier be so idle as to try to paint the
precise color of his virtue on his standard. The enemy will find it
out. He may turn pale when the trial comes. This man seemed to me to
lean over the cornice, and timidly whisper his half truth to the
rude occupants who really knew it better than he. What of
architectural beauty I now see, I know has gradually grown from within
outward, out of the necessities and character of the indweller, who is
the only builder- out of some unconscious truthfulness, and nobleness,
without ever a thought for the appearance and whatever additional
beauty of this kind is destined to be produced will be preceded by a
like unconscious beauty of life. The most interesting dwellings in
this country, as the painter knows, are the most unpretending,
humble log huts and cottages of the poor commonly; it is the life of
the inhabitants whose shells they are, and not any peculiarity in
their surfaces merely, which makes them picturesque; and equally
interesting will be the citizen's suburban box, when his life shall be
as simple and as agreeable to the imagination, and there is as
little straining after effect in the style of his dwelling. A great
proportion of architectural ornaments are literally hollow, and a
September gale would strip them off, like borrowed plumes, without
injury to the substantials. They can do without architecture who
have no olives nor wines in the cellar. What if an equal ado were made
about the ornaments of style in literature, and the architects of
our bibles spent as much time about their cornices as the architects
of our churches do? So are made the belles-lettres and the
beaux-arts and their professors. Much it concerns a man, forsooth, how
a few sticks are slanted over him or under him, and what colors are
daubed upon his box. It would signify somewhat, if, in any earnest
sense, he slanted them and daubed it; but the spirit having departed
out of the tenant, it is of a piece with constructing his own
coffin- the architecture of the grave- and "carpenter" is but
another name for "coffin-maker." One man says, in his despair or
indifference to life, take up a handful of the earth at your feet, and
paint your house that color. Is he thinking of his last and narrow
house? Toss up a copper for it as well. What an abundance of leisure
be must have! Why do you take up a handful of dirt? Better paint
your house your own complexion; let it turn pale or blush for you.
An enterprise to improve the style of cottage architecture! When you
have got my ornaments ready, I will wear them.

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

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

  Boards................................$  8.03 1/2, (mostly shanty


  Refuse shingles for roof and sides....   4.00

  Laths.................................   1.25

  Two second-hand windows with glass....   2.43

  One thousand old brick................   4.00

  Two casks of lime.....................   2.40 (That was high.)

  Hair..................................   0.31 (More than I needed.)

  Mantle-tree iron......................   0.15

  Nails.................................   3.90

  Hinges and screws.....................   0.14

  Latch.................................   0.10

  Chalk.................................   0.01

  Transportation........................   1.40 (I carried a good

                                                 part on my back.)


  In all................................$ 28.12 1/2

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

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

  I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain
one for a lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he
now pays annually. If I seem to boast more than is becoming, my excuse
is that I brag for humanity rather than for myself; and my
shortcomings and inconsistencies do not affect the truth of my
statement. Notwithstanding much cant and hypocrisy- chaff which I find
it difficult to separate from my wheat, but for which I am as sorry as
any man- I will breathe freely and stretch myself in this respect,
it is such a relief to both the moral and physical system; and I am
resolved that I will not through humility become the devil's attorney.
I will endeavor to speak a good word for the truth. At Cambridge
College the mere rent of a student's room, which is only a little
larger than my own, is thirty dollars each year, though the
corporation had the advantage of building thirty-two side by side
and under one roof, and the occupant suffers the inconvenience of many
and noisy neighbors, and perhaps a residence in the fourth story. I
cannot but think that if we had more true wisdom in these respects,
not only less education would be needed, because, forsooth, more would
already have been acquired, but the pecuniary expense of getting an
education would in a great measure vanish. Those conveniences which
the student requires at Cambridge or elsewhere cost him or somebody
else ten times as great a sacrifice of life as they would with
proper management on both sides. Those things for which the most money
is demanded are never the things which the student most wants.
Tuition, for instance, is an important item in the term bill, while
for the far more valuable education which he gets by associating
with the most cultivated of his contemporaries no charge is made.
The mode of founding a college is, commonly, to get up a
subscription of dollars and cents, and then, following blindly the
principles of a division of labor to its extreme- a principle which
should never be followed but with circumspection- to call in a
contractor who makes this a subject of speculation, and he employs
Irishmen or other operatives actually to lay the foundations, while
the students that are to be are said to be fitting themselves for
it; and for these oversights successive generations have to pay. I
think that it would be better than this, for the students, or those
who desire to be benefited by it, even to lay the foundation
themselves. The student who secures his coveted leisure and retirement
by systematically shirking any labor necessary to man obtains but an
ignoble and unprofitable leisure, defrauding himself of the experience
which alone can make leisure fruitful. "But," says one, "you do not
mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of
their heads?" I do not mean that exactly, but I mean something which
he might think a good deal like that; I mean that they should not play
life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this
expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could
youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of
living? Methinks this would exercise their minds as much as
mathematics. If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and
sciences, for instance, I would not pursue the common course, which is
merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor, where
anything is professed and practised but the art of life;- to survey
the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his
natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is
made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned; to discover new
satellites to Neptune, and not detect the motes in his eyes, or to
what vagabond he is a satellite himself; or to be devoured by the
monsters that swarm all around him, while contemplating the monsters
in a drop of vinegar. Which would have advanced the most at the end of
a month- the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which
he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for
this- or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the
Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rodgers penknife from
his father? Which would be most likely to cut his fingers?... To my
astonishment I was informed on leaving college that I had studied
navigation!- why, if I had taken one turn down the harbor I should
have known more about it. Even the poor student studies and is
taught only political economy, while that economy of living which is
synonymous with philosophy is not even sincerely professed in our
colleges. The consequence is, that while he is reading Adam Smith,
Ricardo, and Say, he runs his father in debt irretrievably.

  As with our colleges, so with a hundred "modern improvements"; there
is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance. The
devil goes on exacting compound interest to the last for his early
share and numerous succeeding investments in them. Our inventions
are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from
serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an
end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads
lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a
magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may
be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a
predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a
distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of
her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the
main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager
to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer
to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into
the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide
has the whooping cough. After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in
a minute does not carry the most important messages; he is not an
evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts and wild honey. I
doubt if Flying Childers ever carried a peck of corn to mill.

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

  Such is the universal law, which no man can ever outwit, and with
regard to the railroad even we may say it is as broad as it is long.
To make a railroad round the world available to all mankind is
equivalent to grading the whole surface of the planet. Men have an
indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks
and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to
no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot,
and the conductor shouts "All aboard!" when the smoke is blown away
and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding,
but the rest are run over- and it will be called, and will be, "A
melancholy accident." No doubt they can ride at last who shall have
earned their fare, that is, if they survive so long, but they will
probably have lost their elasticity and desire to travel by that time.
This spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to
enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it
reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune
first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a
poet. He should have gone up garret at once. "What!" exclaim a million
Irishmen starting up from all the shanties in the land, "is not this
railroad which we have built a good thing?" Yes, I answer,
comparatively good, that is, you might have done worse; but I wish, as
you are brothers of mine, that you could have spent your time better
than digging in this dirt.

  Before I finished my house, wishing to earn ten or twelve dollars by
some honest and agreeable method, in order to meet my unusual
expenses, I planted about two acres and a half of light and sandy soil
near it chiefly with beans, but also a small part with potatoes, corn,
peas, and turnips. The whole lot contains eleven acres, mostly growing
up to pines and hickories, and was sold the preceding season for eight
dollars and eight cents an acre. One farmer said that it was "good for
nothing but to raise cheeping squirrels on." I put no manure
whatever on this land, not being the owner, but merely a squatter, and
not expecting to cultivate so much again, and I did not quite hoe it
all once. I got out several cords of stumps in plowing, which supplied
me with fuel for a long time, and left small circles of virgin
mould, easily distinguishable through the summer by the greater
luxuriance of the beans there. The dead and for the most part
unmerchantable wood behind my house, and the driftwood from the
pond, have supplied the remainder of my fuel. I was obliged to hire
a team and a man for the plowing, though I held the plow myself. My
farm outgoes for the first season were, for implements, seed, work,
etc., $14.72 1/2. The seed corn was given me. This never costs
anything to speak of, unless you plant more than enough. I got
twelve bushels of beans, and eighteen bushels of potatoes, beside some
peas and sweet corn. The yellow corn and turnips were too late to come
to anything. My whole income from the farm was

                                              $ 23.44

            Deducting the outgoes.............  14.72 1/2


            There are left....................$  8.71 1/2

beside produce consumed and on hand at the time this estimate was made
of the value of $4.50- the amount on hand much more than balancing a
little grass which I did not raise. All things considered, that is,
considering the importance of a man's soul and of today,
notwithstanding the short time occupied by my experiment, nay,
partly even because of its transient character, I believe that that
was doing better than any farmer in Concord did that year.

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

  I am wont to think that men are not so much the keepers of herds
as herds are the keepers of men, the former are so much the freer. Men
and oxen exchange work; but if we consider necessary work only, the
oxen will be seen to have greatly the advantage, their farm is so much
the larger. Man does some of his part of the exchange work in his
six weeks of haying, and it is no boy's play. Certainly no nation that
lived simply in all respects, that is, no nation of philosophers,
would commit so great a blunder as to use the labor of animals.
True, there never was and is not likely soon to be a nation of
philosophers, nor am I certain it is desirable that there should be.
However, I should never have broken a horse or bull and taken him to
board for any work he might do for me, for fear I should become a
horseman or a herdsman merely; and if society seems to be the gainer
by so doing, are we certain that what is one man's gain is not
another's loss, and that the stable-boy has equal cause with his
master to be satisfied? Granted that some public works would not
have been constructed without this aid, and let man share the glory of
such with the ox and horse; does it follow that he could not have
accomplished works yet more worthy of himself in that case? When men
begin to do, not merely unnecessary or artistic, but luxurious and
idle work, with their assistance, it is inevitable that a few do all
the exchange work with the oxen, or, in other words, become the slaves
of the strongest. Man thus not only works for the animal within him,
but, for a symbol of this, he works for the animal without him. Though
we have many substantial houses of brick or stone, the prosperity of
the farmer is still measured by the degree to which the barn
overshadows the house. This town is said to have the largest houses
for oxen, cows, and horses hereabouts, and it is not behindhand in its
public buildings; but there are very few halls for free worship or
free speech in this county. It should not be by their architecture,
but why not even by their power of abstract thought, that nations
should seek to commemorate themselves? How much more admirable the
Bhagvat-Geeta than all the ruins of the East! Towers and temples are
the luxury of princes. A simple and independent mind does not toil
at the bidding of any prince. Genius is not a retainer to any emperor,
nor is its material silver, or gold, or marble, except to a trifling
extent. To what end, pray, is so much stone hammered? In Arcadia, when
I was there, I did not see any hammering stone. Nations are
possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of
themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave. What if equal
pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners? One piece of good
sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon. I
love better to see stones in place. The grandeur of Thebes was a
vulgar grandeur. More sensible is a rod of stone wall that bounds an
honest man's field than a hundred-gated Thebes that has wandered
farther from the true end of life. The religion and civilization which
are barbaric and heathenish build splendid temples; but what you might
call Christianity does not. Most of the stone a nation hammers goes
toward its tomb only. It buries itself alive. As for the Pyramids,
there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many
men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a
tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and
manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the
dogs. I might possibly invent some excuse for them and him, but I have
no time for it. As for the religion and love of art of the builders,
it is much the same all the world over, whether the building be an
Egyptian temple or the United States Bank. It costs more than it comes
to. The mainspring is vanity, assisted by the love of garlic and bread
and butter. Mr. Balcom, a promising young architect, designs it on the
back of his Vitruvius, with hard pencil and ruler, and the job is
let out to Dobson & Sons, stonecutters. When the thirty centuries
begin to look down on it, mankind begin to look up at it. As for
your high towers and monuments, there was a crazy fellow once in
this town who undertook to dig through to China, and he got so far
that, as he said, he heard the Chinese pots and kettles rattle; but
I think that I shall not go out of my way to admire the hole which
he made. Many are concerned about the monuments of the West and the
East- to know who built them. For my part, I should like to know who
in those days did not build them- who were above such trifling. But to
proceed with my statistics.

  By surveying, carpentry, and day-labor of various other kinds in the
village in the meanwhile, for I have as many trades as fingers, I
had earned $13.34. The expense of food for eight months, namely,
from July 4th to March 1st, the time when these estimates were made,
though I lived there more than two years- not counting potatoes, a
little green corn, and some peas, which I had raised, nor
considering the value of what was on hand at the last date- was

      Rice......................$ 1.73 1/2

      Molasses..................  1.73     (Cheapest form of the


      Rye meal..................  1.04 3/4

      Indian meal...............  0.99 3/4 (Cheaper than rye.)

      Pork......................  0.22

  (All Experiments Which Failed)

      Flour.....................  0.88 (Costs more than Indian meal,

                                        both money and trouble.)

      Sugar.....................  0.80

      Lard......................  0.65

      Apples....................  0.25

      Dried apple...............  0.22

      Sweet potatoes............  0.10

      One pumpkin...............  0.06

      One watermelon............  0.02

      Salt......................  0.03

Yes, I did eat $8.74, all told; but I should not thus unblushingly
publish my guilt, if I did not know that most of my readers were
equally guilty with myself, and that their deeds would look no
better in print. The next year I sometimes caught a mess of fish for
my dinner, and once I went so far as to slaughter a woodchuck which
ravaged my bean-field- effect his transmigration, as a Tartar would
say- and devour him, partly for experiment's sake; but though it
afforded me a momentary enjoyment, notwithstanding a musky flavor, I
saw that the longest use would not make that a good practice,
however it might seem to have your woodchucks ready dressed by the
village butcher.

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

                                          $  8.40 3/4

  Oil and some household utensils.........   2.00

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

  House...................................$ 28.12 1/2

  Farm one year...........................  14.72 1/2

  Food eight months.......................   8.74

  Clothing, etc., eight months............   8.40 3/4

  Oil, etc., eight months.................   2.00


  In all..................................$ 61.99 3/4

I address myself now to those of my readers who have a living to
get. And to meet this I have for farm produce sold

                                          $ 23.44

  Earned by day-labor.....................  13.34


  In all..................................$ 36.78

which subtracted from the sum of the outgoes leaves a balance of
$25.21 3/4 on the one side- this being very nearly the means with
which I started, and the measure of expenses to be incurred- and on
the other, beside the leisure and independence and health thus
secured, a comfortable house for me as long as I choose to occupy it.

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

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

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

  Bread I at first made of pure Indian meal and salt, genuine
hoe-cakes, which I baked before my fire out of doors on a shingle or
the end of a stick of timber sawed off in building my house; but it
was wont to get smoked and to have a piny flavor, I tried flour
also; but have at last found a mixture of rye and Indian meal most
convenient and agreeable. In cold weather it was no little amusement
to bake several small loaves of this in succession, tending and
turning them as carefully as an Egyptian his hatching eggs. They
were a real cereal fruit which I ripened, and they had to my senses
a fragrance like that of other noble fruits, which I kept in as long
as possible by wrapping them in cloths. I made a study of the
ancient and indispensable art of bread-making, consulting such
authorities as offered, going back to the primitive days and first
invention of the unleavened kind, when from the wildness of nuts and
meats men first reached the mildness and refinement of this diet,
and travelling gradually down in my studies through that accidental
souring of the dough which, it is supposed, taught the leavening
process, and through the various fermentations thereafter, till I came
to "good, sweet, wholesome bread," the staff of life. Leaven, which
some deem the soul of bread, the spiritus which fills its cellular
tissue, which is religiously preserved like the vestal fire- some
precious bottleful, I suppose, first brought over in the Mayflower,
did the business for America, and its influence is still rising,
swelling, spreading, in cerealian billows over the land- this seed I
regularly and faithfully procured from the village, till at length one
morning I forgot the rules, and scalded my yeast; by which accident
I discovered that even this was not indispensable- for my
discoveries were not by the synthetic but analytic process- and I have
gladly omitted it since, though most housewives earnestly assured me
that safe and wholesome bread without yeast might not be, and
elderly people prophesied a speedy decay of the vital forces. Yet I
find it not to be an essential ingredient, and after going without
it for a year am still in the land of the living; and I am glad to
escape the trivialness of carrying a bottleful in my pocket, which
would sometimes pop and discharge its contents to my discomfiture.
It is simpler and more respectable to omit it. Man is an animal who
more than any other can adapt himself to all climates and
circumstances. Neither did I put any sal-soda, or other acid or
alkali, into my bread. It would seem that I made it according to the
recipe which Marcus Porcius Cato gave about two centuries before
Christ. "Panem depsticium sic facito. Manus mortariumque bene
lavato. Farinam in mortarium indito, aquae paulatim addito,
subigitoque pulchre. Ubi bene subegeris, defingito, coquitoque sub
testu." Which I take to mean,- "Make kneaded bread thus. Wash your
hands and trough well. Put the meal into the trough, add water
gradually, and knead it thoroughly. When you have kneaded it well,
mould it, and bake it under a cover," that is, in a baking-kettle. Not
a word about leaven. But I did not always use this staff of life. At
one time, owing to the emptiness of my purse, I saw none of it for
more than a month.

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

            "we can make liquor to sweeten our lips

        Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips."

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

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

  There is a certain class of unbelievers who sometimes ask me such
questions as, if I think that I can live on vegetable food alone;
and to strike at the root of the matter at once- for the root is
faith- I am accustomed to answer such, that I can live on board nails.
If they cannot understand that, they cannot understand much that I
have to say. For my part, I am glad to bear of experiments of this
kind being tried; as that a young man tried for a fortnight to live on
hard, raw corn on the ear, using his teeth for all mortar. The
squirrel tribe tried the same and succeeded. The human race is
interested in these experiments, though a few old women who are
incapacitated for them, or who own their thirds in mills, may be

  My furniture, part of which I made myself- and the rest cost me
nothing of which I have not rendered an account- consisted of a bed, a
table, a desk, three chairs, a looking-glass three inches in diameter,
a pair of tongs and andirons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan, a
dipper, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one cup,
one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a japanned lamp.
None is so poor that he need sit on a pumpkin. That is
shiftlessness. There is a plenty of such chairs as I like best in
the village garrets to be had for taking them away. Furniture! Thank
God, I can sit and I can stand without the aid of a furniture
warehouse. What man but a philosopher would not be ashamed to see
his furniture packed in a cart and going up country exposed to the
light of heaven and the eyes of men, a beggarly account of empty
boxes? That is Spaulding's furniture. I could never tell from
inspecting such a load whether it belonged to a so-called rich man
or a poor one; the owner always seemed poverty-stricken. Indeed, the
more you have of such things the poorer you are. Each load looks as if
it contained the contents of a dozen shanties; and if one shanty is
poor, this is a dozen times as poor. Pray, for what do we move ever
but to get rid of our furniture, our exuviae; at last to go from
this world to another newly furnished, and leave this to be burned? It
is the same as if all these traps were buckled to a man's belt, and he
could not move over the rough country where our lines are cast without
dragging them- dragging his trap. He was a lucky fox that left his
tail in the trap. The muskrat will gnaw his third leg off to be
free. No wonder man has lost his elasticity. How often he is at a dead
set! "Sir, if I may be so bold, what do you mean by a dead set?" If
you are a seer, whenever you meet a man you will see all that he owns,
ay, and much that he pretends to disown, behind him, even to his
kitchen furniture and all the trumpery which he saves and will not
burn, and he will appear to be harnessed to it and making what headway
he can. I think that the man is at a dead set who has got through a
knot-hole or gateway where his sledge load of furniture cannot
follow him. I cannot but feel compassion when I hear some trig,
compact-looking man, seemingly free, all girded and ready, speak of
his "furniture," as whether it is insured or not. "But what shall I do
with my furniture?"- My gay butterfly is entangled in a spider's web
then. Even those who seem for a long while not to have any, if you
inquire more narrowly you will find have some stored in somebody's
barn. I look upon England today as an old gentleman who is
travelling with a great deal of baggage, trumpery which has
accumulated from long housekeeping, which he has not the courage to
burn; great trunk, little trunk, bandbox, and bundle. Throw away the
first three at least. It would surpass the powers of a well man
nowadays to take up his bed and walk, and I should certainly advise
a sick one to lay down his bed and run. When I have met an immigrant
tottering under a bundle which contained his all- looking like an
enormous well which had grown out of the nape of his neck- I have
pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all
that to carry. If I have got to drag my trap, I will take care that it
be a light one and do not nip me in a vital part. But perchance it
would be wisest never to put one's paw into it.

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

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

        "The evil that men do lives after them."

As usual, a great proportion was trumpery which had begun to
accumulate in his father's day. Among the rest was a dried tapeworm.
And now, after lying half a century in his garret and other dust
holes, these things were not burned; instead of a bonfire, or
purifying destruction of them, there was an auction, or increasing
of them. The neighbors eagerly collected to view them, bought them
all, and carefully transported them to their garrets and dust holes,
to lie there till their estates are settled, when they will start
again. When a man dies he kicks the dust.

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

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

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

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

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

  For more than five years I maintained myself thus solely by the
labor of my hands, and I found that, by working about six weeks in a
year, I could meet all the expenses of living. The whole of my
winters, as well as most of my summers, I had free and clear for
study. I have thoroughly tried school- keeping, and found that my
expenses were in proportion, or rather out of proportion, to my
income, for I was obliged to dress and train, not to say think and
believe, accordingly, and I lost my time into the bargain. As I did
not teach for the good of my fellow-men, but simply for a
livelihood, this was a failure. I have tried trade; but I found that
it would take ten years to get under way in that, and that then I
should probably be on my way to the devil. I was actually afraid
that I might by that time be doing what is called a good business.
When formerly I was looking about to see what I could do for a living,
some sad experience in conforming to the wishes of friends being fresh
in my mind to tax my ingenuity, I thought often and seriously of
picking huckleberries; that surely I could do, and its small profits
might suffice- for my greatest skill has been to want but little- so
little capital it required, so little distraction from my wonted
moods, I foolishly thought. While my acquaintances went unhesitatingly
into trade or the professions, I contemplated this occupation as
most like theirs; ranging the hills all summer to pick the berries
which came in my way, and thereafter carelessly dispose of them; so,
to keep the flocks of Admetus. I also dreamed that I might gather
the wild herbs, or carry evergreens to such villagers as loved to be
reminded of the woods, even to the city, by hay-cart loads. But I have
since learned that trade curses everything it handles; and though
you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches
to the business.

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

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

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

  Undoubtedly, in this case, what is true for one is truer still for a
thousand, as a large house is not proportionally more expensive than a
small one, since one roof may cover, one cellar underlie, and one wall
separate several apartments. But for my part, I preferred the solitary
dwelling. Moreover, it will commonly be cheaper to build the whole
yourself than to convince another of the advantage of the common wall;
and when you have done this, the common partition, to be much cheaper,
must be a thin one, and that other may prove a bad neighbor, and
also not keep his side in repair. The only cooperation which is
commonly possible is exceedingly partial and superficial; and what
little true cooperation there is, is as if it were not, being a
harmony inaudible to men. If a man has faith, he will cooperate with
equal faith everywhere; if he has not faith, he will continue to
live like the rest of the world, whatever company he is joined to.
To cooperate in the highest as well as the lowest sense, means to
get our living together. I heard it proposed lately that two young men
should travel together over the world, the one without money,
earning his means as he went, before the mast and behind the plow, the
other carrying a bill of exchange in his pocket. It was easy to see
that they could not long be companions or cooperate, since one would
not operate at all. They would part at the first interesting crisis in
their adventures. Above all, as I have implied, the man who goes alone
can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that
other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.

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

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

  There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness
tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty
that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing
me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching
wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth
and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear
that I should get some of his good done to me- some of its virus
mingled with my blood. No- in this case I would rather suffer evil the
natural way. A man is not a good man to me because he will feed me
if I should be starving, or warm me if I should be freezing, or pull
me out of a ditch if I should ever fall into one. I can find you a
Newfoundland dog that will do as much. Philanthropy is not love for
one's fellow-man in the broadest sense. Howard was no doubt an
exceedingly kind and worthy man in his way, and has his reward; but,
comparatively speaking, what are a hundred Howards to us, if their
philanthropy do not help us in our best estate, when we are most
worthy to be helped? I never heard of a philanthropic meeting in which
it was sincerely proposed to do any good to me, or the like of me.

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

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

  Philanthropy is almost the only virtue which is sufficiently
appreciated by mankind. Nay, it is greatly overrated; and it is our
selfishness which overrates it. A robust poor man, one sunny day
here in Concord, praised a fellow-townsman to me, because, as he said,
he was kind to the poor; meaning himself. The kind uncles and aunts of
the race are more esteemed than its true spiritual fathers and
mothers. I once heard a reverend lecturer on England, a man of
learning and intelligence, after enumerating her scientific, literary,
and political worthies, Shakespeare, Bacon, Cromwell, Milton,
Newton, and others, speak next of her Christian heroes, whom, as if
his profession required it of him, he elevated to a place far above
all the rest, as the greatest of the great. They were Penn, Howard,
and Mrs. Fry. Every one must feel the falsehood and cant of this.
The last were not England's best men and women; only, perhaps, her
best philanthropists.

  I would not subtract anything from the praise that is due to
philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all who by their lives and
works are a blessing to mankind. I do not value chiefly a man's
uprightness and benevolence, which are, as it were, his stem and
leaves. Those plants of whose greenness withered we make herb tea
for the sick serve but a humble use, and are most employed by
quacks. I want the flower and fruit of a man; that some fragrance be
wafted over from him to me, and some ripeness flavor our
intercourse. His goodness must not be a partial and transitory act,
but a constant superfluity, which costs him nothing and of which he is
unconscious. This is a charity that hides a multitude of sins. The
philanthropist too often surrounds mankind with the remembrance of his
own castoff griefs as an atmosphere, and calls it sympathy. We
should impart our courage, and not our despair, our health and ease,
and not our disease, and take care that this does not spread by
contagion. From what southern plains comes up the voice of wailing?
Under what latitudes reside the heathen to whom we would send light?
Who is that intemperate and brutal man whom we would redeem? If
anything ail a man, so that he does not perform his functions, if he
have a pain in his bowels even- for that is the seat of sympathy- he
forthwith sets about reforming- the world. Being a microcosm
himself, he discovers- and it is a true discovery, and he is the man
to make it- that the world has been eating green apples; to his
eyes, in fact, the globe itself is a great green apple, which there is
danger awful to think of that the children of men will nibble before
it is ripe; and straightway his drastic philanthropy seeks out the
Esquimau and the Patagonian, and embraces the populous Indian and
Chinese villages; and thus, by a few years of philanthropic
activity, the powers in the meanwhile using him for their own ends, no
doubt, he cures himself of his dyspepsia, the globe acquires a faint
blush on one or both of its cheeks, as if it were beginning to be
ripe, and life loses its crudity and is once more sweet and
wholesome to live. I never dreamed of any enormity greater than I have
committed. I never knew, and never shall know, a worse man than

  I believe that what so saddens the reformer is not his sympathy with
his fellows in distress, but, though he be the holiest son of God,
is his private ail. Let this be righted, let the spring come to him,
the morning rise over his couch, and he will forsake his generous
companions without apology. My excuse for not lecturing against the
use of tobacco is, that I never chewed it, that is a penalty which
reformed tobacco-chewers have to pay; though there are things enough I
have chewed which I could lecture against. If you should ever be
betrayed into any of these philanthropies, do not let your left hand
know what your right hand does, for it is not worth knowing. Rescue
the drowning and tie your shoestrings. Take your time, and set about
some free labor.

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

  I read in the Gulistan, or Flower Garden, of Sheik Sadi of Shiraz,
that "they asked a wise man, saying: Of the many celebrated trees
which the Most High God has created lofty and umbrageous, they call
none azad, or free, excepting the cypress, which bears no fruit;
what mystery is there in this? He replied: Each has its appropriate
produce, and appointed season, during the continuance of which it is
fresh and blooming, and during their absence dry and withered; to
neither of which states is the cypress exposed, being always
flourishing; and of this nature are the azads, or religious
independents.- Fix not thy heart on that which is transitory; for
the Dijlah, or Tigris, will continue to flow through Bagdad after
the race of caliphs is extinct: if thy hand has plenty, be liberal
as the date tree; but if it affords nothing to give away, be an
azad, or free man, like the cypress."

                        COMPLEMENTAL VERSES.

                     The Pretensions of Poverty.

        Thou dost presume too much, poor needy wretch,

        To claim a station in the firmament

        Because thy humble cottage, or thy tub,

        Nurses some lazy or pedantic virtue

        In the cheap sunshine or by shady springs,

        With roots and pot-herbs; where thy right hand,

        Tearing those humane passions from the mind,

        Upon whose stocks fair blooming virtues flourish,

        Degradeth nature, and benumbeth sense,

        And, Gorgon-like, turns active men to stone.

        We not require the dull society

        Of your necessitated temperance,

        Or that unnatural stupidity

        That knows nor joy nor sorrow; nor your forc'd

        Falsely exalted passive fortitude

        Above the active. This low abject brood,

        That fix their seats in mediocrity,

        Become your servile minds; but we advance

        Such virtues only as admit excess,

        Brave, bounteous acts, regal magnificence,

        All-seeing prudence, magnanimity

        That knows no bound, and that heroic virtue

        For which antiquity hath left no name,

        But patterns only, such as Hercules,

        Achilles, Theseus. Back to thy loath'd cell;

        And when thou seest the new enlightened sphere,

        Study to know but what those worthies were.

                                            T. CAREW


  AT A CERTAIN season of our life we are accustomed to consider
every spot as the possible site of a house. I have thus surveyed the
country on every side within a dozen miles of where I live. In
imagination I have bought all the farms in succession, for all were to
be bought, and I knew their price. I walked over each farmer's
premises, tasted his wild apples, discoursed on husbandry with him,
took his farm at his price, at any price, mortgaging it to him in my
mind; even put a higher price on it- took everything but a deed of it-
took his word for his deed, for I dearly love to talk- cultivated
it, and him too to some extent, I trust, and withdrew when I had
enjoyed it long enough, leaving him to carry it on. This experience
entitled me to be regarded as a sort of real-estate broker by my
friends. Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the landscape
radiated from me accordingly. What is a house but a sedes, a seat?-
better if a country seat. I discovered many a site for a house not
likely to be soon improved, which some might have thought too far from
the village, but to my eyes the village was too far from it. Well,
there I might live, I said; and there I did live, for an hour, a
summer and a winter life; saw how I could let the years run off,
buffet the winter through, and see the spring come in. The future
inhabitants of this region, wherever they may place their houses,
may be sure that they have been anticipated. An afternoon sufficed
to lay out the land into orchard, wood-lot, and pasture, and to decide
what fine oaks or pines should be left to stand before the door, and
whence each blasted tree could be seen to the best advantage; and then
I let it lie, fallow, perchance, for a man is rich in proportion to
the number of things which he can afford to let alone.

  My imagination carried me so far that I even had the refusal of
several farms- the refusal was all I wanted- but I never got my
fingers burned by actual possession. The nearest that I came to actual
possession was when I bought the Hollowell place, and had begun to
sort my seeds, and collected materials with which to make a
wheelbarrow to carry it on or off with; but before the owner gave me a
deed of it, his wife- every man has such a wife- changed her mind
and wished to keep it, and he offered me ten dollars to release him.
Now, to speak the truth, I had but ten cents in the world, and it
surpassed my arithmetic to tell, if I was that man who had ten
cents, or who had a farm, or ten dollars, or all together. However,
I let him keep the ten dollars and the farm too, for I had carried
it far enough; or rather, to be generous, I sold him the farm for just
what I gave for it, and, as he was not a rich man, made him a
present of ten dollars, and still had my ten cents, and seeds, and
materials for a wheelbarrow left. I found thus that I had been a
rich man without any damage to my poverty. But I retained the
landscape, and I have since annually carried off what it yielded
without a wheelbarrow. With respect to landscapes,

        "I am monarch of all I survey,

         My right there is none to dispute."

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

  The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, were: its
complete retirement, being, about two miles from the village, half a
mile from the nearest neighbor, and separated from the highway by a
broad field; its bounding on the river, which the owner said protected
it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was nothing to
me; the gray color and ruinous state of the house and barn, and the
dilapidated fences, which put such an interval between me and the last
occupant; the hollow and lichen-covered apple trees, nawed by rabbits,
showing what kind of neighbors I should have; but above all, the
recollection I had of it from my earliest voyages up the river, when
the house was concealed behind a dense grove of red maples, through
which I heard the house-dog bark. I was in haste to buy it, before the
proprietor finished getting out some rocks, cutting down the hollow
apple trees, and grubbing up some young birches which had sprung up in
the pasture, or, in short, had made any more of his improvements. To
enjoy these advantages I was ready to carry it on; like Atlas, to take
the world on my shoulders- I never heard what compensation he received
for that- and do all those things which had no other motive or
excuse but that I might pay for it and be unmolested in my
possession of it; for I knew all the while that it would yield the
most abundant crop of the kind I wanted, if I could only afford to let
it alone. But it turned out as I have said.

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

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

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

  When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to
spend my nights as well as days there, which, by accident, was on
Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, 1845, my house was not
finished for winter, but was merely a defence against the rain,
without plastering or chimney, the walls being of rough,
weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night.
The upright white hewn studs and freshly planed door and window
casings gave it a clean and airy look, especially in the morning, when
its timbers were saturated with dew, so that I fancied that by noon
some sweet gum would exude from them. To my imagination it retained
throughout the day more or less of this auroral character, reminding
me of a certain house on a mountain which I had visited a year before.
This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a
travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments. The
winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges
of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or celestial parts only,
of terrestrial music. The morning wind forever blows, the poem of
creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it.
Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere.

  The only house I had been the owner of before, if I except a boat,
was a tent, which I used occasionally when making excursions in the
summer, and this is still rolled up in my garret; but the boat,
after passing from hand to hand, has gone down the stream of time.
With this more substantial shelter about me, I had made some
progress toward settling in the world. This frame, so slightly clad,
was a sort of crystallization around me, and reacted on the builder.
It was suggestive somewhat as a picture in outlines. I did not need to
go outdoors to take the air, for the atmosphere within had lost none
of its freshness. It was not so much within doors as behind a door
where I sat, even in the rainiest weather. The Harivansa says, "An
abode without birds is like a meat without seasoning." Such was not my
abode, for I found myself suddenly neighbor to the birds; not by
having imprisoned one, but having caged myself near them. I was not
only nearer to some of those which commonly frequent the garden and
the orchard, but to those smaller and more thrilling songsters of
the forest which never, or rarely, serenade a villager- the wood
thrush, the veery, the scarlet tanager, the field sparrow, the
whip-poor-will, and many others.

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

  This small lake was of most value as a neighbor in the intervals
of a gentle rain-storm in August, when, both air and water being
perfectly still, but the sky overcast, mid-afternoon had all the
serenity of evening, and the wood thrush sang around, and was heard
from shore to shore. A lake like this is never smoother than at such a
time; and the clear portion of the air above it being, shallow and
darkened by clouds, the water, full of light and reflections,
becomes a lower heaven itself so much the more important. From a
hill-top near by, where the wood had been recently cut off, there
was a pleasing vista southward across the pond, through a wide
indentation in the hills which form the shore there, where their
opposite sides sloping toward each other suggested a stream flowing
out in that direction through a wooded valley, but stream there was
none. That way I looked between and over the near green hills to
some distant and higher ones in the horizon, tinged with blue. Indeed,
by standing on tiptoe I could catch a glimpse of some of the peaks
of the still bluer and more distant mountain ranges in the
northwest, those true-blue coins from heaven's own mint, and also of
some portion of the village. But in other directions, even from this
point, I could not see over or beyond the woods which surrounded me.
It is well to have some water in your neighborhood, to give buoyancy
to and float the earth. One value even of the smallest well is, that
when you look into it you see that earth is not continent but insular.
This is as important as that it keeps butter cool. When I looked
across the pond from this peak toward the Sudbury meadows, which in
time of flood I distinguished elevated perhaps by a mirage in their
seething valley, like a coin in a basin, all the earth beyond the pond
appeared like a thin crust insulated and floated even by this small
sheet of interverting water, and I was reminded that this on which I
dwelt was but dry land.

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

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

        "There was a shepherd that did live,

          And held his thoughts as high

        As were the mounts whereon his flocks

          Did hourly feed him by."

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

  Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal
simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have
been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early
and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of
the best things which I did. They say that characters were engraven on
the bathing tub of King Tching-thang to this effect: "Renew thyself
completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again." I can
understand that. Morning brings back the heroic ages. I was as much
affected by the faint burn of a mosquito making its invisible and
unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was
sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet
that ever sang of fame. It was Homer's requiem; itself an Iliad and
Odyssey in the air, singing its own wrath and wanderings. There was
something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden,
of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world. The morning,
which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening
hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least,
some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and
night. Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a
day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical
nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly
acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the
undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a
fragrance filling the air- to a higher life than we fell asleep
from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be
good, no less than the light. That man who does not believe that
each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he
has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a
descending and darkening way. After a partial cessation of his
sensuous life, the soul of man, or its organs rather, are
reinvigorated each day, and his Genius tries again what noble life
it can make. All memorable events, I should say, transpire in
morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, "All
intelligences awake with the morning." Poetry and art, and the fairest
and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour.
All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and
emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought
keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters
not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is
when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the
effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an
account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not
such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with
drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are
awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake
enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred
millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I
have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have
looked him in the face?

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

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

  Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we
were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes;
it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue
has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life
is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count
more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten
toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say,
let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a
thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your
accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of
civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and
thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if
he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at
all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who
succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be
necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce
other things in proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy,
made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so
that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment.
The nation itself, with all its so- called internal improvements,
which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an
unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and
tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by
want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the
land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy,
a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of
purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the
Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph,
and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or
not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a
little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails,
and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our
lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads
are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at
home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on
the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers
are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a
Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with
sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers,
I assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid down and run over;
so that, if some have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have
the misfortune to be ridden upon. And when they run over a man that is
walking in his sleep, a supernumerary sleeper in the wrong position,
and wake him up, they suddenly stop the cars, and make a hue and cry
about it, as if this were an exception. I am glad to know that it
takes a gang of men for every five miles to keep the sleepers down and
level in their beds as it is, for this is a sign that they may
sometime get up again.

  Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are
determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch
in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save
nine tomorrow. As for work, we haven't any of any consequence. We have
the Saint Vitus' dance, and cannot possibly keep our heads still. If I
should only give a few pulls at the parish bell-rope, as for a fire,
that is, without setting the bell, there is hardly a man on his farm
in the outskirts of Concord, notwithstanding that press of engagements
which was his excuse so many times this morning, nor a boy, nor a
woman, I might almost say, but would forsake all and follow that
sound, not mainly to save property from the flames, but, if we will
confess the truth, much more to see it burn, since burn it must, and
we, be it known, did not set it on fire- or to see it put out, and
have a hand in it, if that is done as handsomely; yes, even if it were
the parish church itself. Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after
dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, "What's the
news?" as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels. Some give
directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other
purpose; and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed.
After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast.
"Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this
globe"- and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had
his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never
dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave
of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself.

  For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that
there are very few important communications made through it. To
speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters in
my life- I wrote this some years ago- that were worth the postage. The
penny-post is, commonly, an institution through which you seriously
offer a man that penny for his thoughts which is so often safely
offered in jest. And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in
a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by
accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat
blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad
dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter- we never need
read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the
principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?
To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who
edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are
greedy after this gossip. There was such a rush, as I hear, the
other day at one of the offices to learn the foreign news by the
last arrival, that several large squares of plate glass belonging to
the establishment were broken by the pressure- news which I
seriously think a ready wit might write a twelve-month, or twelve
years, beforehand with sufficient accuracy. As for Spain, for
instance, if you know how to throw in Don Carlos and the Infanta,
and Don Pedro and Seville and Granada, from time to time in the
right proportions- they may have changed the names a little since I
saw the papers- and serve up a bull-fight when other entertainments
fail, it will be true to the letter, and give us as good an idea of
the exact state or ruin of things in Spain as the most succinct and
lucid reports under this head in the newspapers: and as for England,
almost the last significant scrap of news from that quarter was the
revolution of 1649; and if you have learned the history of her crops
for an average year, you never need attend to that thing again, unless
your speculations are of a merely pecuniary character. If one may
judge who rarely looks into the newspapers, nothing new does ever
happen in foreign parts, a French revolution not excepted.

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

  Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while
reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and
not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such
things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian
Nights' Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and
has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets.
When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy
things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and
petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always
exhilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and slumbering, and
consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their
daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on
purely illusory foundations. Children, who play life, discern its true
law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily,
but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by
failure. I have read in a Hindoo book, that "there was a king's son,
who, being expelled in infancy from his native city, was brought up by
a forester, and, growing up to maturity in that state, imagined
himself to belong to the barbarous race with which he lived. One of
his father's ministers having discovered him, revealed to him what
he was, and the misconception of his character was removed, and he
knew himself to be a prince. So soul," continues the Hindoo
philosopher, "from the circumstances in which it is placed, mistakes
its own character, until the truth is revealed to it by some holy
teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahme." I perceive that we
inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because
our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that
that is which appears to be. If a man should walk through this town
and see only the reality, where, think you, would the "Mill-dam" go
to? If he should give us an account of the realities he beheld
there, we should not recognize the place in his description. Look at a
meeting-house, or a court-house, or a jail, or a shop, or a
dwelling-house, and say what that thing really is before a true
gaze, and they would all go to pieces in your account of them. Men
esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of the system, behind the
farthest star, before Adam and after the last man. In eternity there
is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places
and occasions are now and here. God himself culminates in the
present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all
the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and
noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality
that surrounds us. The universe constantly and obediently answers to
our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for
us. Let us spend our lives in conceiving then. The poet or the
artist never yet had so fair and noble a design but some of his
posterity at least could accomplish it.

  Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown
off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on
the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and
without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the
bells ring and the children cry- determined to make a day of it. Why
should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us not be upset
and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a
dinner, situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you
are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With unrelaxed nerves,
with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the
mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is
hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will
consider what kind of music they are like. Let us settle ourselves,
and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of
opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance,
that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London,
through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State,
through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard
bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This
is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d'appui, below
freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or
a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a
Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a
freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If
you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see
the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and
feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and
so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or
death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear
the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we
are alive, let us go about our business.

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


  WITH A LITTLE more deliberation in the choice of their pursuits, all
men would perhaps become essentially students and observers, for
certainly their nature and destiny are interesting to all alike. In
accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a
family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in
dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change nor
accident. The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of
the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling robe
remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did, since it
was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that now
reviews the vision. No dust has settled on that robe; no time has
elapsed since that divinity was revealed. That time which we really
improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future.

  My residence was more favorable, not only to thought, but to serious
reading, than a university; and though I was beyond the range of the
ordinary circulating library, I had more than ever come within the
influence of those books which circulate round the world, whose
sentences were first written on bark, and are now merely copied from
time to time on to linen paper. Says the poet Mir Camar Uddin Mast,
"Being seated, to run through the region of the spiritual world; I
have had this advantage in books. To be intoxicated by a single
glass of wine; I have experienced this pleasure when I have drunk
the liquor of the esoteric doctrines." I kept Homer's Iliad on my
table through the summer, though I looked at his page only now and
then. Incessant labor with my hands, at first, for I had my house to
finish and my beans to hoe at the same time, made more study
impossible. Yet I sustained myself by the prospect of such reading
in future. I read one or two shallow books of travel in the
intervals of my work, till that employment made me ashamed of
myself, and I asked where it was then that I lived.

  The student may read Homer or Aeschylus in the Greek without
danger of dissipation or luxuriousness, for it implies that he in some
measure emulate their heroes, and consecrate morning hours to their
pages. The heroic books, even if printed in the character of our
mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate
times; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and line,
conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits out of what wisdom
and valor and generosity we have. The modern cheap and fertile
press, with all its translations, has done little to bring us nearer
to the heroic writers of antiquity. They seem as solitary, and the
letter in which they are printed as rare and curious, as ever. It is
worth the expense of youthful days and costly hours, if you learn only
some words of an ancient language, which are raised out of the
trivialness of the street, to be perpetual suggestions and
provocations. It is not in vain that the farmer remembers and
repeats the few Latin words which he has heard. Men sometimes speak as
if the study of the classics would at length make way for more
modern and practical studies; but the adventurous student will
always study classics, in whatever language they may be written and
however ancient they may be. For what are the classics but the noblest
recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not
decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them
as Delphi and Dodona never gave. We might as well omit to study Nature
because she is old. To read well, that is, to read true books in a
true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader
more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It
requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady
intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be
read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. It is not
enough even to be able to speak the language of that nation by which
they are written, for there is a memorable interval between the spoken
and the written language, the language heard and the language read.
The one is commonly transitory, a sound, a tongue, a dialect merely,
almost brutish, and we learn it unconsciously, like the brutes, of our
mothers. The other is the maturity and experience of that; if that
is our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved and select
expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be
born again in order to speak. The crowds of men who merely spoke the
Greek and Latin tongues in the Middle Ages were not entitled by the
accident of birth to read the works of genius written in those
languages; for these were not written in that Greek or Latin which
they knew, but in the select language of literature. They had not
learned the nobler dialects of Greece and Rome, but the very materials
on which they were written were waste paper to them, and they prized
instead a cheap contemporary literature. But when the several
nations of Europe had acquired distinct though rude written
languages of their own, sufficient for the purposes of their rising
literatures, then first learning revived, and scholars were enabled to
discern from that remoteness the treasures of antiquity. What the
Roman and Grecian multitude could not hear, after the lapse of ages
a few scholars read, and a few scholars only are still reading it.

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

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

  Those who have not learned to read the ancient classics in the
language in which they were written must have a very imperfect
knowledge of the history of the human race; for it is remarkable
that no transcript of them has ever been made into any modern
tongue, unless our civilization itself may be regarded as such a
transcript. Homer has never yet been printed in English, nor
Aeschylus, nor Virgil even- works as refined, as solidly done, and
as beautiful almost as the morning itself; for later writers, say what
we will of their genius, have rarely, if ever, equalled the
elaborate beauty and finish and the lifelong and heroic literary
labors of the ancients. They only talk of forgetting them who never
knew them. It will be soon enough to forget them when we have the
learning and the genius which will enable us to attend to and
appreciate them. That age will be rich indeed when those relics
which we call Classics, and the still older and more than classic
but even less known Scriptures of the nations, shall have still
further accumulated, when the Vaticans shall be filled with Vedas
and Zendavestas and Bibles, with Homers and Dantes and Shakespeares,
and all the centuries to come shall have successively deposited
their trophies in the forum of the world. By such a pile we may hope
to scale heaven at last.

  The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind,
for only great poets can read them. They have only been read as the
multitude read the stars, at most astrologically, not
astronomically. Most men have learned to read to serve a paltry
convenience, as they have learned to cipher in order to keep
accounts and not be cheated in trade; but of reading as a noble
intellectual exercise they know little or nothing; yet this only is
reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and
suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to
stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours

  I think that having learned our letters we should read the best that
is in literature, and not be forever repeating our a-b-abs, and
words of one syllable, in the fourth or fifth classes, sitting on
the lowest and foremost form all our lives. Most men are satisfied
if they read or hear read, and perchance have been convicted by the
wisdom of one good book, the Bible, and for the rest of their lives
vegetate and dissipate their faculties in what is called easy reading.
There is a work in several volumes in our Circulating Library entitled
"Little Reading," which I thought referred to a town of that name
which I had not been to. There are those who, like cormorants and
ostriches, can digest all sorts of this, even after the fullest dinner
of meats and vegetables, for they suffer nothing to be wasted. If
others are the machines to provide this provender, they are the
machines to read it. They read the nine thousandth tale about
Zebulon and Sophronia, and how they loved as none had ever loved
before, and neither did the course of their true love run smooth- at
any rate, how it did run and stumble, and get up again and go on!
how some poor unfortunate got up on to a steeple, who had better never
have gone up as far as the belfry; and then, having needlessly got him
up there, the happy novelist rings the bell for all the world to
come together and hear, O dear! how he did get down again! For my
part, I think that they had better metamorphose all such aspiring
heroes of universal noveldom into man weather-cocks, as they used to
put heroes among the constellations, and let them swing round there
till they are rusty, and not come down at all to bother honest men
with their pranks. The next time the novelist rings the bell I will
not stir though the meeting-house burn down. "The Skip of the
Tip-Toe-Hop, a Romance of the Middle Ages, by the celebrated author of
'Tittle-Tol-Tan,' to appear in monthly parts; a great rush; don't
all come together." All this they read with saucer eyes, and erect and
primitive curiosity, and with unwearied gizzard, whose corrugations
even yet need no sharpening, just as some little four-year-old bencher
his two-cent gilt-covered edition of Cinderella- without any
improvement, that I can see, in the pronunciation, or accent, or
emphasis, or any more skill in extracting or inserting the moral.
The result is dulness of sight, a stagnation of the vital
circulations, and a general deliquium and sloughing off of all the
intellectual faculties. This sort of gingerbread is baked daily and
more sedulously than pure wheat or rye-and-Indian in almost every
oven, and finds a surer market.

  The best books are not read even by those who are called good
readers. What does our Concord culture amount to? There is in this
town, with a very few exceptions, no taste for the best or for very
good books even in English literature, whose words all can read and
spell. Even the college-bred and so-called liberally educated men here
and elsewhere have really little or no acquaintance with the English
classics; and as for the recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient
classics and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will know of
them, there are the feeblest efforts anywhere made to become
acquainted with them. I know a woodchopper, of middle age, who takes a
French paper, not for news as he says, for he is above that, but to
"keep himself in practice," he being a Canadian by birth; and when I
ask him what he considers the best thing he can do in this world, he
says, beside this, to keep up and add to his English. This is about as
much as the college-bred generally do or aspire to do, and they take
an English paper for the purpose. One who has just come from reading
perhaps one of the best English books will find how many with whom
he can converse about it? Or suppose he comes from reading a Greek
or Latin classic in the original, whose praises are familiar even to
the so-called illiterate; he will find nobody at all to speak to,
but must keep silence about it. Indeed, there is hardly the
professor in our colleges, who, if he has mastered the difficulties of
the language, has proportionally mastered the difficulties of the
wit and poetry of a Greek poet, and has any sympathy to impart to
the alert and heroic reader; and as for the sacred Scriptures, or
Bibles of mankind, who in this town can tell me even their titles?
Most men do not know that any nation but the Hebrews have had a
scripture. A man, any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick
up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of
antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding
age have assured us of;- and yet we learn to read only as far as
Easy Reading, the primers and class-books, and when we leave school,
the "Little Reading," and story-books, which are for boys and
beginners; and our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all
on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins.

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

  It is not all books that are as dull as their readers. There are
probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we
could really bear and understand, would be more salutary than the
morning or the spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on
the face of things for us. How many a man has dated a new era in his
life from the reading of a book! The book exists for us, perchance,
which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present
unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered. These same questions
that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to
all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered
them, according to his ability, by his words and his life. Moreover,
with wisdom we shall learn liberality. The solitary hired man on a
farm in the outskirts of Concord, who has had his second birth and
peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he believes into the
silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, may think it is not
true; but Zoroaster, thousands of years ago, travelled the same road
and had the same experience; but he, being wise, knew it to be
universal, and treated his neighbors accordingly, and is even said
to have invented and established worship among men. Let him humbly
commune with Zoroaster then, and through the liberalizing influence of
all the worthies, with Jesus Christ himself, and let "our church" go
by the board.

  We boast that we belong to the Nineteenth Century and are making the
most rapid strides of any nation. But consider how little this village
does for its own culture. I do not wish to flatter my townsmen, nor to
be flattered by them, for that will not advance either of us. We
need to be provoked- goaded like oxen, as we are, into a trot. We have
a comparatively decent system of common schools, schools for infants
only; but excepting the half-starved Lyceum in the winter, and
latterly the puny beginning of a library suggested by the State, no
school for ourselves. We spend more on almost any article of bodily
aliment or ailment than on our mental ailment. It is time that we
had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when
we begin to be men and women. It is time that villages were
universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows of universities,
with leisure- if they are, indeed, so well off- to pursue liberal
studies the rest of their lives. Shall the world be confined to one
Paris or one Oxford forever? Cannot students be boarded here and get a
liberal education under the skies of Concord? Can we not hire some
Abelard to lecture to us? Alas! what with foddering the cattle and
tending the store, we are kept from school too long, and our education
is sadly neglected. In this country, the village should in some
respects take the place of the nobleman of Europe. It should be the
patron of the fine arts. It is rich enough. It wants only the
magnanimity and refinement. It can spend money enough on such things
as farmers and traders value, but it is thought Utopian to propose
spending money for things which more intelligent men know to be of far
more worth. This town has spent seventeen thousand dollars on a
town-house, thank fortune or politics, but probably it will not
spend so much on living wit, the true meat to put into that shell,
in a hundred years. The one hundred and twenty-five dollars annually
subscribed for a Lyceum in the winter is better spent than any other
equal sum raised in the town. If we live in the Nineteenth Century,
why should we not enjoy the advantages which the Nineteenth Century
offers? Why should our life be in any respect provincial? If we will
read newspapers, why not skip the gossip of Boston and take the best
newspaper in the world at once?- not be sucking the pap of "neutral
family" papers, or browsing "Olive Branches" here in New England.
Let the reports of all the learned societies come to us, and we will
see if they know anything. Why should we leave it to Harper & Brothers
and Redding & Co. to select our reading? As the nobleman of cultivated
taste surrounds himself with whatever conduces to his culture- genius-
learning- wit- books- paintings- statuary- music- philosophical
instruments, and the like; so let the village do-not stop short at a
pedagogue, a parson, a sexton, a parish library, and three
selectmen, because our Pilgrim forefathers got through a cold winter
once on a bleak rock with these. To act collectively is according to
the spirit of our institutions; and I am confident that, as our
circumstances are more flourishing, our means are greater than the
nobleman's. New England can hire all the wise men in the world to come
and teach her, and board them round the while, and not be provincial
at all. That is the uncommon school we want. Instead of noblemen,
let us have noble villages of men. If it is necessary, omit one bridge
over the river, go round a little there, and throw one arch at least
over the darker gulf of ignorance which surrounds us.


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

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

  I had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those who
were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre,
that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be
novel. It was a drama of many scenes and without an end. If we were
always, indeed, getting our living, and regulating our lives according
to the last and best mode we had learned, we should never be
troubled with ennui. Follow your genius closely enough, and it will
not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour. Housework was a
pleasant pastime. When my floor was dirty, I rose early, and,
setting all my furniture out of doors on the grass, bed and bedstead
making but one budget, dashed water on the floor, and sprinkled
white sand from the pond on it, and then with a broom scrubbed it
clean and white; and by the time the villagers had broken their fast
the morning sun had dried my house sufficiently to allow me to move in
again, and my meditations were almost uninterupted. It was pleasant to
see my whole household effects out on the grass, making a little
pile like a gypsy's pack, and my three-legged table, from which I
did not remove the books and pen and ink, standing amid the pines
and hickories. They seemed glad to get out themselves, and as if
unwilling to be brought in. I was sometimes tempted to stretch an
awning over them and take my seat there. It was worth the while to see
the sun shine on these things, and hear the free wind blow on them; so
much more interesting most familiar objects look out of doors than
in the house. A bird sits on the next bough, life-everlasting grows
under the table, and blackberry vines run round its legs; pine
cones, chestnut burs, and strawberry leaves are strewn about. It
looked as if this was the way these forms came to be transferred to
our furniture, to tables, chairs, and bedsteads- because they once
stood in their midst.

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

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

        "In truth, our village has become a butt

        For one of those fleet railroad shafts, and o'er

        Our peaceful plain its soothing sound is- Concord."

  The Fitchburg Railroad touches the pond about a hundred rods south
of where I dwell. I usually go to the village along its causeway,
and am, as it were, related to society by this link. The men on the
freight trains, who go over the whole length of the road, bow to me as
to an old acquaintance, they pass me so often, and apparently they
take me for an employee; and so I am. I too would fain be a
track-repairer somewhere in the orbit of the earth.

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

  When I meet the engine with its train of cars moving off with
planetary motion- or, rather, like a comet, for the beholder knows not
if with that velocity and with that direction it will ever revisit
this system, since its orbit does not look like a returning curve-
with its steam cloud like a banner streaming behind in golden and
silver wreaths, like many a downy cloud which I have seen, high in the
heavens, unfolding its masses to the light- as if this traveling
demigod, this cloud- compeller, would ere long take the sunset sky for
the livery of his train; when I hear the iron horse make the bills
echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and
breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils (what kind of winged
horse or fiery dragon they will put into the new Mythology I don't
know), it seems as if the earth had got a race now worthy to inhabit
it. If all were as it seems, and men made the elements their
servants for noble ends! If the cloud that hangs over the engine
were the perspiration of heroic deeds, or as beneficent as that
which floats over the farmer's fields, then the elements and Nature
herself would cheerfully accompany men on their errands and be their

  I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I
do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular. Their train of
clouds stretching far behind and rising higher and higher, going to
heaven while the cars are going to Boston, conceals the sun for a
minute and casts my distant field into the shade, a celestial train
beside which the petty train of cars which bugs the earth is but the
barb of the spear. The stabler of the iron horse was up early this
winter morning by the light of the stars amid the mountains, to fodder
and harness his steed. Fire, too, was awakened thus early to put the
vital beat in him and get him off. If the enterprise were as
innocent as it is early! If the snow lies deep, they strap on his
snowshoes, and, with the giant plow, plow a furrow from the
mountains to the seaboard, in which the cars, like a following
drill-barrow, sprinkle all the restless men and floating merchandise
in the country for seed. All day the fire-steed flies over the
country, stopping only that his master may rest, and I am awakened
by his tramp and defiant snort at midnight, when in some remote glen
in the woods he fronts the elements incased in ice and snow; and he
will reach his stall only with the morning star, to start once more on
his travels without rest or slumber. Or perchance, at evening, I
hear him in his stable blowing off the superfluous energy of the
day, that he may calm his nerves and cool his liver and brain for a
few hours of iron slumber. If the enterprise were as heroic and
commanding as it is protracted and unwearied!

  Far through unfrequented woods on the confines of towns, where
once only the hunter penetrated by day, in the darkest night dart
these bright saloons without the knowledge of their inhabitants;
this moment stopping at some brilliant station-house in town or
city, where a social crowd is gathered, the next in the Dismal
Swamp, scaring the owl and fox. The startings and arrivals of the cars
are now the epochs in the village day. They go and come with such
regularity and precision, and their whistle can be heard so far,
that the farmers set their clocks by them, and thus one well-conducted
institution regulates a whole country. Have not men improved
somewhat in punctuality since the railroad was invented? Do they not
talk and think faster in the depot than they did in the
stage-office? There is something electrifying in the atmosphere of the
former place. I have been astonished at the miracles it has wrought;
that some of my neighbors, who, I should have prophesied, once for
all, would never get to Boston by so prompt a conveyance, are on
hand when the bell rings. To do things "railroad fashion" is now the
byword; and it is worth the while to be warned so often and so
sincerely by any power to get off its track. There is no stopping to
read the riot act, no firing over the heads of the mob, in this
case. We have constructed a fate, an Atropos, that never turns
aside. (Let that be the name of your engine.) Men are advertised
that at a certain hour and minute these bolts will be shot toward
particular points of the compass; yet it interferes with no man's
business, and the children go to school on the other track. We live
the steadier for it. We are all educated thus to be sons of Tell.
The air is full of invisible bolts. Every path but your own is the
path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.

  What recommends commerce to me is its enterprise and bravery. It
does not clasp its hands and pray to Jupiter. I see these men every
day go about their business with more or less courage and content,
doing more even than they suspect, and perchance better employed
than they could have consciously devised. I am less affected by
their heroism who stood up for half an hour in the front line at Buena
Vista, than by the steady and cheerful valor of the men who inhabit
the snowplow for their winter quarters; who have not merely the
three-o'-clock-in-the-morning courage, which Bonaparte thought was the
rarest, but whose courage does not go to rest so early, who go to
sleep only when the storm sleeps or the sinews of their iron steed are
frozen. On this morning of the Great Snow, perchance, which is still
raging and chilling men's blood, I bear the muffled tone of their
engine bell from out the fog bank of their chilled breath, which
announces that the cars are coming, without long delay,
notwithstanding the veto of a New England northeast snow-storm, and
I behold the plowmen covered with snow and rime, their heads
peering, above the mould-board which is turning down other than
daisies and the nests of field mice, like bowlders of the Sierra
Nevada, that occupy an outside place in the universe.

  Commerce is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert, adventurous,
and unwearied. It is very natural in its methods withal, far more so
than many fantastic enterprises and sentimental experiments, and hence
its singular success. I am refreshed and expanded when the freight
train rattles past me, and I smell the stores which go dispensing
their odors all the way from Long Wharf to Lake Champlain, reminding
me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical
climes, and the extent of the globe. I feel more like a citizen of the
world at the sight of the palm-leaf which will cover so many flaxen
New England heads the next summer, the Manilla hemp and cocoanut
husks, the old junk, gunny bags, scrap iron, and rusty nails. This
carload of torn sails is more legible and interesting now than if they
should be wrought into paper and printed books. Who can write so
graphically the history of the storms they have weathered as these
rents have done? They are proof-sheets which need no correction.
Here goes lumber from the Maine woods, which did not go out to sea
in the last freshet, risen four dollars on the thousand because of
what did go out or was split up; pine, spruce, cedar- first, second,
third, and fourth qualities, so lately all of one quality, to wave
over the bear, and moose, and caribou. Next rolls Thomaston lime, a
prime lot, which will get far among the hills before it gets
slacked. These rags in bales, of all hues and qualities, the lowest
condition to which cotton and linen descend, the final result of
dress- of patterns which are now no longer cried up, unless it be in
Milwaukee, as those splendid articles, English, French, or American
prints, ginghams, muslins, etc., gathered from all quarters both of
fashion and poverty, going to become paper of one color or a few
shades only, on which, forsooth, will be written tales of real life,
high and low, and founded on fact! This closed car smells of salt
fish, the strong New England and commercial scent, reminding me of the
Grand Banks and the fisheries. Who has not seen a salt fish,
thoroughly cured for this world, so that nothing can spoil it, and
putting, the perseverance of the saints to the blush? with which you
may sweep or pave the streets, and split your kindlings, and the
teamster shelter himself and his lading against sun, wind, and rain
behind it- and the trader, as a Concord trader once did, bang it up by
his door for a sign when he commences business, until at last his
oldest customer cannot tell surely whether it be animal, vegetable, or
mineral, and yet it shall be as pure as a snowflake, and if it be
put into a pot and boiled, will come out an excellent dunfish for a
Saturday's dinner. Next Spanish hides, with the tails still preserving
their twist and the angle of elevation they had when the oxen that
wore them were careering over the pampas of the Spanish Main- a type
of all obstinacy, and evincing how almost hopeless and incurable are
all constitutional vices. I confess, that practically speaking, when I
have learned a man's real disposition, I have no hopes of changing
it for the better or worse in this state of existence. As the
Orientals say, "A cur's tail may be warmed, and pressed, and bound
round with ligatures, and after a twelve years' labor bestowed upon
it, still it will retain its natural form." The only effectual cure
for such inveteracies as these tails exhibit is to make glue of
them, which I believe is what is usually done with them, and then they
will stay put and stick. Here is a hogshead of molasses or of brandy
directed to John Smith, Cuttingsville, Vermont, some trader among
the Green Mountains, who imports for the farmers near his clearing,
and now perchance stands over his bulkhead and thinks of the last
arrivals on the coast, how they may affect the price for him,
telling his customers this moment, as he has told them twenty times
before this morning, that he expects some by the next train of prime
quality. It is advertised in the Cuttingsville Times.

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

                      "to be the mast

              Of some great ammiral."

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

            What's the railroad to me?

            I never go to see

            Where it ends.

            It fills a few hollows,

            And makes banks for the swallows,

            It sets the sand a-blowing,

            And the blackberries a-growing,

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

  Now that the cars are gone by and all the restless world with
them, and the fishes in the pond no longer feel their rumbling, I am
more alone than ever. For the rest of the long afternoon, perhaps,
my meditations are interrupted only by the faint rattle of a
carriage or team along the distant highway.

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

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

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

  When other birds are still, the screech owls take up the strain,
like mourning women their ancient u-lu-lu. Their dismal scream is
truly Ben Jonsonian. Wise midnight bags! It is no honest and blunt
tu-whit tu- who of the poets, but, without jesting, a most solemn
graveyard ditty, the mutual consolations of suicide lovers remembering
the pangs and the delights of supernal love in the infernal groves.
Yet I love to hear their wailing, their doleful responses, trilled
along the woodside; reminding me sometimes of music and singing birds;
as if it were the dark and tearful side of music, the regrets and
sighs that would fain be sung. They are the spirits, the low spirits
and melancholy forebodings, of fallen souls that once in human shape
night-walked the earth and did the deeds of darkness, now expiating
their sins with their wailing hymns or threnodies in the scenery of
their transgressions. They give me a new sense of the variety and
capacity of that nature which is our common dwelling. Oh-o-o-o-o
that I never had been bor-r-r-r-n! sighs one on this side of the pond,
and circles with the restlessness of despair to some new perch on
the gray oaks. Then- that I never had been bor-r-r-r-n! echoes another
on the farther side with tremulous sincerity, and- bor-r-r-r-n!
comes faintly from far in the Lincoln woods.

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

  I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and
maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and
twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and
undeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They represent the
stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have. All day the
sun has shone on the surface of some savage swamp, where the single
spruce stands hung with usnea lichens, and small hawks circulate
above, and the chickadee lisps amid the evergreens, and the
partridge and rabbit skulk beneath; but now a more dismal arid fitting
day dawns, and a different race of creatures awakes to express the
meaning of Nature there.

  Late in the evening I heard the distant rumbling of wagons over
bridges- a sound heard farther than almost any other at night- the
baying of dogs, and sometimes again the lowing of some disconsolate
cow in a distant barn-yard. In the meanwhile all the shore rang with
the trump of bullfrogs, the sturdy spirits of ancient wine-bibbers and
wassailers, still unrepentant, trying to sing a catch in their Stygian
lake- if the Walden nymphs will pardon the comparison, for though
there are almost no weeds, there are frogs there- who would fain
keep up the hilarious rules of their old festal tables, though their
voices have waxed hoarse and solemnly grave, mocking at mirth, and the
mine has lost its flavor, and become only liquor to distend their
paunches, and sweet intoxication never comes to drown the memory of
the past, but mere saturation and waterloggedness and distention.
The most aldermanic, with his chin upon a heart-leaf, which serves for
a napkin to his drooling chaps, under this northern shore quaffs a
deep draught of the once scorned water, and passes round the cup
with the ejaculation tr-r-r-oonk, tr-r-r--oonk, tr-r-r-oonk! and
straightway comes over the water from some distant cove the same
password repeated, where the next in seniority and girth has gulped
down to his mark; and when this observance has made the circuit of the
shores, then ejaculates the master of ceremonies, with satisfaction,
tr-r-r-oonk! and each in his turn repeats the same down to the least
distended, leakiest, and flabbiest paunched, that there be no mistake;
and then the howl goes round again and again, until the sun
disperses the morning mist, and only the patriarch is not under the
pond, but vainly bellowing troonk from time to time, and pausing for a

  I am not sure that I ever heard the sound of cock-crowing from my
clearing, and I thought that it might be worth the while to keep a
cockerel for his music merely, as a singing bird. The note of this
once wild Indian pheasant is certainly the most remarkable of any
bird's, and if they could be naturalized without being domesticated,
it would soon become the most famous sound in our woods, surpassing
the clangor of the goose and the hooting of the owl; and then
imagine the cackling of the hens to fill the pauses when their
lords' clarions rested! No wonder that man added this bird to his tame
stock- to say nothing of the eggs and drumsticks. To walk in a
winter morning in a wood where these birds abounded, their native
woods, and hear the wild cockerels crow on the trees, clear and shrill
for miles over the resounding earth, drowning the feebler notes of
other birds- think of it! It would put nations on the alert. Who would
not be early to rise, and rise earlier and earlier every successive
day of his life, till he became unspeakably healthy, wealthy, and
wise? This foreign bird's note is celebrated by the poets of all
countries along with the notes of their native songsters. All climates
agree with brave Chanticleer. He is more indigenous even than the
natives. His health is ever good, his lungs are sound, his spirits
never flag. Even the sailor on the Atlantic and Pacific is awakened by
his voice; but its shrill sound never roused me from my slumbers. I
kept neither dog, cat, cow, pig, nor hens, so that you would have said
there was a deficiency of domestic sounds; neither the chum, nor the
spinning-wheel, nor even the singing of the kettle, nor the hissing of
the urn, nor children crying, to comfort one. An old-fashioned man
would have lost his senses or died of ennui before this. Not even rats
in the wall, for they were starved out, or rather were never baited
in- only squirrels on the roof and under the floor, a whip-poor-will
on the ridge-pole, a blue jay screaming beneath the window, a hare
or woodchuck under the house, a screech owl or a cat owl behind it,
a flock of wild geese or a laughing loon on the pond, and a fox to
bark in the night. Not even a lark or an oriole, those mild plantation
birds, ever visited my clearing. No cockerels to crow nor hens to
cackle in the yard. No yard! but unfenced nature reaching up to your
very sills. A young forest growing up under your meadows, and wild
sumachs and blackberry vines breaking through into your cellar; sturdy
pitch pines rubbing and creaking against the shingles for want of
room, their roots reaching quite under the house. Instead of a scuttle
or a blind blown off in the gale- a pine tree snapped off or torn up
by the roots behind your house for fuel. Instead of no path to the
front-yard gate in the Great Snow- no gate- no front-yard- and no path
to the civilized world.


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

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

  There is commonly sufficient space about us. Our horizon is never
quite at our elbows. The thick wood is not just at our door, nor the
pond, but somewhat is always clearing, familiar and worn by us,
appropriated and fenced in some way, and reclaimed from Nature. For
what reason have I this vast range and circuit, some square miles of
unfrequented forest, for my privacy, abandoned to me by men? My
nearest neighbor is a mile distant, and no house is visible from any
place but the hill-tops within half a mile of my own. I have my
horizon bounded by woods all to myself; a distant view of the railroad
where it touches the pond on the one hand, and of the fence which
skirts the woodland road on the other. But for the most part it is
as solitary where I live as on the prairies. It is as much Asia or
Africa as New England. I have, as it were, my own sun and moon and
stars, and a little world all to myself. At night there was never a
traveller passed my house, or knocked at my door, more than if I
were the first or last man; unless it were in the spring, when at long
intervals some came from the village to fish for pouts- they plainly
fished much more in the Walden Pond of their own natures, and baited
their hooks with darkness- but they soon retreated, usually with light
baskets, and left "the world to darkness and to me," and the black
kernel of the night was never profaned by any human neighborhood. I
believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark,
though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have
been introduced.

  Yet I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and tender, the most
innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural object,
even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man. There can be no
very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature and
has his senses still. There was never yet such a storm but it was
Aeolian music to a healthy and innocent ear. Nothing can rightly
compel a simple and brave man to a vulgar sadness. While I enjoy the
friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a
burden to me. The gentle rain which waters my beans and keeps me in
the house today is not drear and melancholy, but good for me too.
Though it prevents my hoeing them, it is of far more worth than my
hoeing. If it should continue so long as to cause the seeds to rot
in the ground and destroy the potatoes in the low lands, it would
still be good for the grass on the uplands, and, being good for the
grass, it would be good for me. Sometimes, when I compare myself
with other men, it seems as if I were more favored by the gods than
they, beyond any deserts that I am conscious of; as if I had a warrant
and surety at their hands which my fellows have not, and were
especially guided and guarded. I do not flatter myself, but if it be
possible they flatter me. I have never felt lonesome, or in the
least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but once, and that was a few
weeks after I came to the woods, when, for an hour, I doubted if the
near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy
life. To be alone was something unpleasant. But I was at the same time
conscious of a slight insanity in my mood, and seemed to foresee my
recovery. In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts
prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent
society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every
sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable
friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the
fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have
never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and
swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made
aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes which
we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest
of blood to me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I
thought no place could ever be strange to me again.

        "Mourning untimely consumes the sad;

        Few are their days in the land of the living,

        Beautiful daughter of Toscar."

  Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain-storms in the
spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as
well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting;
when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many
thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves. In those driving
northeast rains which tried the village houses so, when the maids
stood ready with mop and pail in front entries to keep the deluge out,
I sat behind my door in my little house, which was all entry, and
thoroughly enjoyed its protection. In one heavy thunder-shower the
lightning struck a large pitch pine across the pond, making a very
conspicuous and perfectly regular spiral groove from top to bottom, an
inch or more deep, and four or five inches wide, as you would groove a
walking-stick. I passed it again the other day, and was struck with
awe on looking up and beholding that mark, now more distinct than
ever, where a terrific and resistless bolt came down out of the
harmless sky eight years ago. Men frequently say to me, "I should
think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to
folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially." I am tempted to
reply to such- This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in
space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant
inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be
appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our
planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be
the most important question. What sort of space is that which
separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have
found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer
to one another. What do we want most to dwell near to? Not to many men
surely, the depot, the post-office, the bar-room, the meeting-house,
the school-house, the grocery, Beacon Hill, or the Five Points,
where men most congregate, but to the perennial source of our life,
whence in all our experience we have found that to issue, as the
willow stands near the water and sends out its roots in that
direction. This will vary with different natures, but this is the
place where a wise man will dig his cellar.... I one evening
overtook one of my townsmen, who has accumulated what is called "a
handsome property"- though I never got a fair view of it- on the
Walden road, driving a pair of cattle to market, who inquired of me
how I could bring my mind to give up so many of the comforts of
life. I answered that I was very sure I liked it passably well; I
was not joking. And so I went home to my bed, and left him to pick his
way through the darkness and the mud to Brighton- or Bright-town-
which place he would reach some time in the morning.

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

  "How vast and profound is the influence of the subtile powers of
Heaven and of Earth!"

  "We seek to perceive them, and we do not see them; we seek to hear
them, and we do not hear them; identified with the substance of
things, they cannot be separated from them."

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

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

  With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense. By a
conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their
consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent.
We are not wholly involved in Nature. I may be either the driftwood in
the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down on it. I may be
affected by a theatrical exhibition; on the other hand, I may not be
affected by an actual event which appears to concern me much more. I
only know myself as a human entity; the scene, so to speak, of
thoughts and affections; and am sensible of a certain doubleness by
which I can stand as remote from myself as from another. However
intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of
a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator,
sharing no experience, but taking note of it, and that is no more I
than it is you. When the play, it may be the tragedy, of life is over,
the spectator goes his way. It was a kind of fiction, a work of the
imagination only, so far as he was concerned. This doubleness may
easily make us poor neighbors and friends sometimes.

  I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To
be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and
dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that
was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely
when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man
thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.
Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene
between a man and his fellows. The really diligent student in one of
the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervis in
the desert. The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all
day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is
employed; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room
alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but must be where he can "see the
folks," and recreate, and, as he thinks, remunerate himself for his
day's solitude; and hence he wonders how the student can sit alone
in the house all night and most of the day without ennui and "the
blues"; but he does not realize that the student, though in the house,
is still at work in his field, and chopping in his woods, as the
farmer in his, and in turn seeks the same recreation and society
that the latter does, though it may be a more condensed form of it.

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

  I have heard of a man lost in the woods and dying of famine and
exhaustion at the foot of a tree, whose loneliness was relieved by the
grotesque visions with which, owing to bodily weakness, his diseased
imagination surrounded him, and which he believed to be real. So also,
owing to bodily and mental health and strength, we may be
continually cheered by a like but more normal and natural society, and
come to know that we are never alone.

  I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the
morning, when nobody calls. Let me suggest a few comparisons, that
some one may convey an idea of my situation. I am no more lonely
than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond
itself. What company has that lonely lake, I pray? And yet it has
not the blue devils, but the blue angels in it, in the azure tint of
its waters. The sun is alone, except in thick weather, when there
sometimes appear to be two, but one is a mock sun. God is alone- but
the devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of
company; he is legion. I am no more lonely than a single mullein or
dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly,
or a bumblebee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a
weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower,
or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house.

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

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

  What is the pill which will keep us well, serene, contented? Not
my or thy great-grandfather's, but our great-grandmother Nature's
universal, vegetable, botanic medicines, by which she has kept herself
young always, outlived so many old Parrs in her day, and fed her
health with their decaying fatness. For my panacea, instead of one of
those quack vials of a mixture dipped from Acheron and the Dead Sea,
which come out of those long shallow black-schooner looking wagons
which we sometimes see made to carry bottles, let me have a draught of
undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at
the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some
and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their
subscription ticket to morning time in this world. But remember, it
will not keep quite till noonday even in the coolest cellar, but
drive out the stopples long ere that and follow westward the steps of
Aurora. I am no worshipper of Hygeia, who was the daughter of that old
herb-doctor Esculapius, and who is represented on monuments holding
a serpent in one hand, and in the other a cup out of which the serpent
sometimes drinks; but rather of Hebe, cup-bearer to Jupiter, who was
the daughter of Juno and wild lettuce, and who had the power of
restoring gods and men to the vigor of youth. She was probably the
only thoroughly sound-conditioned, healthy, and robust young lady
that ever walked the globe, and wherever she came it was spring.


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

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

  One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house, the
difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest when we
began to utter the big thoughts in big words. You want room for your
thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before
they make their port. The bullet of your thought must have overcome
its lateral and ricochet motion and fallen into its last and steady
course before it reaches the ear of the bearer, else it may plow out
again through the side of his head. Also, our sentences wanted room to
unfold and form their columns in the interval. Individuals, like
nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries, even a
considerable neutral ground, between them. I have found it a
singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite
side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to bear-
we could not speak low enough to be heard; as when you throw two
stones into calm water so near that they break each other's
undulations. If we are merely loquacious and loud talkers, then we can
afford to stand very near together, cheek by jowl, and feel each
other's breath; but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want
to be farther apart, that all animal heat and moisture may have a
chance to evaporate. If we would enjoy the most intimate society
with that in each of us which is without, or above, being spoken to,
we must not only be silent, but commonly so far apart bodily that we
cannot possibly hear each other's voice in any case. Referred to
this standard, speech is for the convenience of those who are hard
of hearing; but there are many fine things which we cannot say if we
have to shout. As the conversation began to assume a loftier and
grander tone, we gradually shoved our chairs farther apart till they
touched the wall in opposite corners, and then commonly there was
not room enough.

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

  If one guest came he sometimes partook of my frugal meal, and it was
no interruption to conversation to be stirring a hasty-pudding, or
watching the rising and maturing of a loaf of bread in the ashes, in
the meanwhile. But if twenty came and sat in my house there was
nothing said about dinner, though there might be bread enough for two,
more than if eating were a forsaken habit; but we naturally
practised abstinence; and this was never felt to be an offence against
hospitality, but the most proper and considerate course. The waste and
decay of physical life, which so often needs repair, seemed
miraculously retarded in such a case, and the vital vigor stood its
ground. I could entertain thus a thousand as well as twenty; and if
any ever went away disappointed or hungry from my house when they
found me at home, they may depend upon it that I sympathized with them
at least. So easy is it, though many housekeepers doubt it, to
establish new and better customs in the place of the old. You need not
rest your reputation on the dinners you give. For my own part, I was
never so effectually deterred from frequenting a man's house, by any
kind of Cerberus whatever, as by the parade one made about dining
me, which I took to be a very polite and roundabout hint never to
trouble him so again. I think I shall never revisit those scenes. I
should be proud to have for the motto of my cabin those lines of
Spenser which one of my visitors inscribed on a yellow walnut leaf for
a card:

        "Arrived there, the little house they fill,

          Ne looke for entertainment where none was;

        Rest is their feast, and all things at their will:

          The noblest mind the best contentment has."

  When Winslow, afterward governor of the Plymouth Colony, went with a
companion on a visit of ceremony to Massasoit on foot through the
woods, and arrived tired and hungry at his lodge, they were well
received by the king, but nothing was said about eating that day. When
the night arrived, to quote their own words- "He laid us on the bed
with himself and his wife, they at the one end and we at the other, it
being only planks laid a foot from the ground and a thin mat upon
them. Two more of his chief men, for want of room, pressed by and upon
us; so that we were worse weary of our lodging than of our journey."
At one o'clock the next day Massasoit "brought two fishes that he
had shot," about thrice as big as a bream. "These being boiled,
there were at least forty looked for a share in them; the most eat
of them. This meal only we had in two nights and a day; and had not
one of us bought a partridge, we had taken our journey fasting."
Fearing that they would be light-headed for want of food and also
sleep, owing to "the savages' barbarous singing, (for they use to sing
themselves asleep,)" and that they might get home while they had
strength to travel, they departed. As for lodging, it is true they
were but poorly entertained, though what they found an inconvenience
was no doubt intended for an honor; but as far as eating was
concerned, I do not see how the Indians could have done better. They
had nothing to eat themselves, and they were wiser than to think
that apologies could supply the place of food to their guests; so they
drew their belts tighter and said nothing about it. Another time
when Winslow visited them, it being a season of plenty with them,
there was no deficiency in this respect.

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

  Who should come to my lodge this morning but a true Homeric or
Paphlagonian man- he had so suitable and poetic a name that I am sorry
I cannot print it here- a Canadian, a woodchopper and post-maker,
who can hole fifty posts in a day, who made his last supper on a
woodchuck which his dog caught. He, too, has heard of Homer, and,
"if it were not for books," would "not know what to do rainy days,"
though perhaps he has not read one wholly through for many rainy
seasons. Some priest who could pronounce the Greek itself taught him
to read his verse in the Testament in his native parish far away;
and now I must translate to him, while he holds the book, Achilles'
reproof to Patroclus for his sad countenance.- "Why are you in
tears, Patroclus, like a young girl?"

        "Or have you alone heard some news from Phthia?

        They say that Menoetius lives yet, son of Actor,

        And Peleus lives, son of Aeacus, among the Myrmidons,

        Either of whom having died, we should greatly grieve."

He says, "That's good." He has a great bundle of white oak bark
under his arm for a sick man, gathered this Sunday morning.- I suppose
there's no harm in going after such a thing today," says he. To him
Homer was a great writer, though what his writing was about he did not
know. A more simple and natural man it would be hard to find. Vice and
disease, which cast such a sombre moral hue over the world, seemed
to have hardly any existance for him. He was about twenty-eight
years old, and had left Canada and his father's house a dozen years
before to work in the States, and earn money to buy a farm with at
last, perhaps in his native country. He was cast in the coarsest
mould; a stout but sluggish body, yet gracefully carried, with a thick
sunburnt neck, dark bushy hair, and dull sleepy blue eyes, which
were occasionally lit up with expression. He wore a flat gray cloth
cap, a dingy wool-colored greatcoat, and cowhide boots. He was a great
consumer of meat, usually carrying his dinner to his work a couple
of miles past my house- for he chopped all summer- in a tin pail; cold
meats, often cold woodchucks, and coffee in a stone bottle which
dangled by a string from his belt; and sometimes he offered me a
drink. He came along early, crossing my bean-field, though without
anxiety or haste to get to his work, such as Yankees exhibit. He
wasn't a-going to hurt himself. He didn't care if he only earned his
board. Frequently he would leave his dinner in the bushes, when his
dog had caught a woodchuck by the way, and go back a mile and a half
to dress it and leave it in the cellar of the house where he
boarded, after deliberating first for half an hour whether he could
not sink it in the pond safely till nightfall- loving to dwell long
upon these themes. He would say, as he went by in the morning, "How
thick the pigeons are! If working every day were not my trade, I could
get all the meat I should want by hunting-pigeons, woodchucks,
rabbits, partridges- by gosh! I could get all I should want for a week
in one day."

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

  He interested me because he was so quiet and solitary and so happy
withal; a well of good humor and contentment which overflowed at his
eyes. His mirth was without alloy. Sometimes I saw him at his work
in the woods, felling trees, and he would greet me with a laugh of
inexpressible satisfaction, and a salutation in Canadian French,
though he spoke English as well. When I approached him he would
suspend his work, and with half-suppressed mirth lie along the trunk
of a pine which he had felled, and, peeling off the inner bark, roll
it up into a ball and chew it while he laughed and talked. Such an
exuberance of animal spirits had he that he sometimes tumbled down and
rolled on the ground with laughter at anything which made him think
and tickled him. Looking round upon the trees he would exclaim - "By
George! I can enjoy myself well enough here chopping; I want no better
sport." Sometimes, when at leisure, he amused himself all day in the
woods with a pocket pistol, firing salutes to himself at regular
intervals as he walked. In the winter he had a fire by which at noon
he warmed his coffee in a kettle; and as he sat on a log to eat his
dinner the chickadees would sometimes come round and alight on his arm
and peck at the potato in his fingers; and he said that he "liked to
have the little fellers about him."

  In him the animal man chiefly was developed. In physical endurance
and contentment he was cousin to the pine and the rock. I asked him
once if he was not sometimes tired at night, after working all day;
and he answered, with a sincere and serious look, "Gorrappit, I
never was tired in my life." But the intellectual and what is called
spiritual man in him were slumbering as in an infant. He had been
instructed only in that innocent and ineffectual way in which the
Catholic priests teach the aborigines, by which the pupil is never
educated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the degree of
trust and reverence, and a child is not made a man, but kept a
child. When Nature made him, she gave him a strong body and
contentment for his portion, and propped him on every side with
reverence and reliance, that he might live out his threescore years
and ten a child. He was so genuine and unsophisticated that no
introduction would serve to introduce him, more than if you introduced
a woodchuck to your neighbor. He had got to find him out as you did.
He would not play any part. Men paid him wages for work, and so helped
to feed and clothe him; but he never exchanged opinions with them.
He was so simply and naturally humble- if he can be called humble
who never aspires- that humility was no distinct quality in him, nor
could he conceive of it. Wiser men were demigods to him. If you told
him that such a one was coming, he did as if he thought that
anything so grand would expect nothing of himself, but take all the
responsibility on itself, and let him be forgotten still. He never
heard the sound of praise. He particularly reverenced the writer and
the preacher. Their performances were miracles. When I told him that I
wrote considerably, he thought for a long time that it was merely
the handwriting which I meant, for he could write a remarkably good
hand himself. I sometimes found the name of his native parish
handsomely written in the snow by the highway, with the proper
French accent, and knew that he had passed. I asked him if he ever
wished to write his thoughts. He said that he had read and written
letters for those who could not, but he never tried to write thoughts-
no, he could not, he could not tell what to put first, it would kill
him, and then there was spelling to be attended to at the same time!

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

  His only books were an almanac and an arithmetic, in which last he
was considerably expert. The former was a sort of cyclopaedia to
him, which he supposed to contain an abstract of human knowledge, as
indeed it does to a considerable extent. I loved to sound him on the
various reforms of the day, and he never failed to look at them in the
most simple and practical light. He had never heard of such things
before. Could he do without factories? I asked. He had worn the
home-made Vermont gray, he said, and that was good. Could he
dispense with tea and coffee? Did this country afford any beverage
beside water? He had soaked hemlock leaves in water and drank it,
and thought that was better than water in warm weather. When I asked
him if he could do without money, he showed the convenience of money
in such a way as to suggest and coincide with the most philosophical
accounts of the origin of this institution, and the very derivation of
the word pecunia. If an ox were his property, and he wished to get
needles and thread at the store, he thought it would be inconvenient
and impossible soon to go on mortgaging some portion of the creature
each time to that amount. He could defend many institutions better
than any philosopher, because, in describing them as they concerned
him, he gave the true reason for their prevalence, and speculation had
not suggested to him any other. At another time, hearing Plato's
definition of a man- a biped without feathers- and that one
exhibited a cock plucked and called it Plato's man, he thought it an
important difference that the knees bent the wrong way. He would
sometimes exclaim, "How I love to talk! By George, I could talk all
day!" I asked him once, when I had not seen him for many months, if he
had got a new idea this summer. "Good Lord"- said he, "a man that
has to work as I do, if he does not forget the ideas he has had, he
will do well. May he the man you hoe with is inclined to race; then,
by gorry, your mind must be there; you think of weeds." He would
sometimes ask me first on such occasions, if I had made any
improvement. One winter day I asked him if he was always satisfied
with himself, wishing to suggest a substitute within him for the
priest without, and some higher motive for living. "Satisfied!" said
he; "some men are satisfied with one thing, and some with another. One
man, perhaps, if he has got enough, will be satisfied to sit all day
with his back to the fire and his belly to the table, by George!"
Yet I never, by any manoeuvring, could get him to take the spiritual
view of things; the highest that he appeared to conceive of was a
simple expediency, such as you might expect an animal to appreciate;
and this, practically, is true of most men. If I suggested any
improvement in his mode of life, he merely answered, without
expressing any regret, that it was too late. Yet he thoroughly
believed in honesty and the like virtues.

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

  Many a traveller came out of his way to see me and the inside of
my house, and, as an excuse for calling, asked for a glass of water. I
told them that I drank at the pond, and pointed thither, offering to
lend them a dipper. Far off as I lived, I was not exempted from the
annual visitation which occurs, methinks, about the first of April,
when everybody is on the move; and I had my share of good luck, though
there were some curious specimens among my visitors. Half-witted men
from the almshouse and elsewhere came to see me; but I endeavored to
make them exercise all the wit they had, and make their confessions to
me; in such cases making wit the theme of our conversation; and so was
compensated. Indeed, I found some of them to be wiser than the
so-called overseers of the poor and selectmen of the town, and thought
it was time that the tables were turned. With respect to wit, I
learned that there was not much difference between the half and the
whole. One day, in particular, an inoffensive, simpleminded pauper,
whom with others I had often seen used as fencing stuff, standing or
sitting on a bushel in the fields to keep cattle and himself from
straying, visited me, and expressed a wish to live as I did. He told
me, with the utmost simplicity and truth, quite superior, or rather
inferior, to anything that is called humility, that he was
"deficient in intellect." These were his words. The Lord had made
him so, yet he supposed the Lord cared as much for him as for another.
"I have always been so," said he, "from my childhood; I never had much
mind; I was not like other children; I am weak in the head. It was the
Lord's will, I suppose." And there he was to prove the truth of his
words. He was a metaphysical puzzle to me. I have rarely met a
fellow-man on such promising ground- it was so simple and sincere
and so true all that he said. And, true enough, in proportion as he
appeared to humble himself was he exalted. I did not know at first but
it was the result of a wise policy. It seemed that from such a basis
of truth and frankness as the poor weak-headed pauper had laid, our
intercourse might go forward to something better than the
intercourse of sages.

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

        "O Christian, will you send me back?

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

  I could not but notice some of the peculiarities of my visitors.
Girls and boys and young women generally seemed glad to be in the
woods. They looked in the pond and at the flowers, and improved
their time. Men of business, even farmers, thought only of solitude
and employment, and of the great distance at which I dwelt from
something or other; and though they said that they loved a ramble in
the woods occasionally, it was obvious that they did not. Restless
committed men, whose time was an taken up in getting a living or
keeping it; ministers who spoke of God as if they enjoyed a monopoly
of the subject, who could not bear all kinds of opinions; doctors,
lawyers, uneasy housekeepers who pried into my cupboard and bed when I
was out- how came Mrs.- to know that my sheets were not as clean as
hers?- young men who had ceased to be young, and had concluded that it
was safest to follow the beaten track of the professions- all these
generally said that it was not possible to do so much good in my
position. Ay! there was the rub. The old and infirm and the timid,
of whatever age or sex, thought most of sickness, and sudden
accident and death; to them life seemed full of danger- what danger is
there if you don't think of any?- and they thought that a prudent
man would carefully select the safest position, where Dr. B. might
be on hand at a moment's warning. To them the village was literally
a com-munity, a league for mutual defence, and you would suppose
that they would not go a-huckleberrying without a medicine chest.
The amount of it is, if a man is alive, there is always danger that he
may die, though the danger must be allowed to be less in proportion as
he is dead-and-alive to begin with. A man sits as many risks as he
runs. Finally, there were the self-styled reformers, the greatest
bores of all, who thought that I was forever singing,

        This is the house that I built;

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

but they did not know that the third line was,

        These are the folks that worry the man

        That lives in the house that I built.

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

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

                         THE BEAN-FIELD.

  MEANWHILE MY beans, the length of whose rows, added together, was
seven miles already planted, were impatient to be hoed, for the
earliest had grown considerably before the latest were in the
ground; indeed they were not easily to be put off. What was the
meaning of this so steady and self-respecting, this small Herculean
labor, I knew not. I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many
more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got
strength like Antaeus. But why should I raise them? Only Heaven knows.
This was my curious labor all summer- to make this portion of the
earth's surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries,
johnswort, and the like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasant
flowers, produce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans or
beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an
eye to them; and this is my day's work. It is a fine broad leaf to
look on. My auxiliaries are the dews and rains which water this dry
soil, and what fertility is in the soil itself, which for the most
part is lean and effete. My enemies are worms, cool days, and most
of all woodchucks. The last have nibbled for me a quarter of an acre
clean. But what right had I to oust johnswort and the rest, and
break up their ancient herb garden? Soon, however, the remaining beans
will be too tough for them, and go forward to meet new foes.

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

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

  Before yet any woodchuck or squirrel had run across the road, or the
sun had got above the shrub oaks, while all the dew was on, though the
farmers warned me against it- I would advise you to do all your work
if possible while the dew is on- I began to level the ranks of haughty
weeds in my bean-field and throw dust upon their heads. Early in the
morning I worked barefooted, dabbling like a plastic artist in the
dewy and crumbling sand, but later in the day the sun blistered my
feet. There the sun lighted me to hoe beans, pacing slowly backward
and forward over that yellow gravelly upland, between the long green
rows, fifteen rods, the one end terminating in a shrub oak copse where
I could rest in the shade, the other in a blackberry field where the
green berries deepened their tints by the time I had made another
bout. Removing the weeds, putting fresh soil about the bean stems, and
encouraging this weed which I had sown, making the yellow soil express
its summer thought in bean leaves and blossoms rather than in wormwood
and piper and millet grass, making the earth say beans instead of
grass- this was my daily work. As I had little aid from horses or
cattle, or hired men or boys, or improved implements of husbandry, I
was much slower, and became much more intimate with my beans than
usual. But labor of the hands, even when pursued to the verge of
drudgery, is perhaps never the worst form of idleness. It has a
constant and imperishable moral, and to the scholar it yields a
classic result. A very agricola laboriosus was I to travellers bound
westward through Lincoln and Wayland to nobody knows where; they
sitting at their ease in gigs, with elbows on knees, and reins loosely
hanging in festoons; I the home-staying, laborious native of the soil.
But soon my homestead was out of their sight and thought. It was the
only open and cultivated field for a great distance on either side
of the road, so they made the most of it; and sometimes the man in the
field heard more of travellers' gossip and comment than was meant
for his ear: "Beans so late! peas so late!"- for I continued to
plant when others had begun to hoe- the ministerial husbandman had not
suspected it. "Corn, my boy, for fodder; corn for fodder." "Does he
live there?" asks the black bonnet of the gray coat; and the
hard-featured farmer reins up his grateful dobbin to inquire what
you are doing where he sees no manure in the furrow, and recommends
a little chip dirt, or any little waste stuff, or it may be ashes or
plaster. But here were two acres and a half of furrows, and only a hoe
for cart and two hands to draw it- there being an aversion to other
carts and horses- and chip dirt far away. Fellow-travellers as they
rattled by compared it aloud with the fields which they had passed, so
that I came to know how I stood in the agricultural world. This was
one field not in Mr. Colman's report. And, by the way, who estimates
the value of the crop which nature yields in the still wilder fields
unimproved by man? The crop of English hay is carefully weighed, the
moisture calculated, the silicates and the potash; but in all dells
and pond-holes in the woods and pastures and swamps grows a rich and
various crop only unreaped by man. Mine was, as it were, the
connecting link between wild and cultivated fields; as some states are
civilized, and others half-civilized, and others savage or
barbarous, so my field was, though not in a bad sense, a
half-cultivated field. They were beans cheerfully returning to their
wild and primitive state that I cultivated, and my hoe played the Ranz
des Vaches for them.

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

  As I drew a still fresher soil about the rows with my hoe, I
disturbed the ashes of unchronicled nations who in primeval years
lived under these heavens, and their small implements of war and
hunting were brought to the light of this modern day. They lay mingled
with other natural stones, some of which bore the marks of having been
burned by Indian fires, and some by the sun, and also bits of
pottery and glass brought hither by the recent cultivators of the
soil. When my hoe tinkled against the  stones, that music echoed to
the woods and the sky, and was an accompaniment to my labor which
yielded an instant and immeasurable crop. It was no longer beans
that I hoed, nor I that hoed beans; and I remembered with as much pity
as pride, if I remembered at all, my acquaintances who had gone to the
city to attend the oratorios. The nighthawk circled overhead in the
sunny afternoons- for I sometimes made a day of it- like a mote in the
eye, or in heaven's eye, falling from time to time with a swoop and
a sound as if the heavens were rent, torn at last to very rags and
tatters, and yet a seamless cope remained; small imps that fill the
air and lay their eggs on the ground on bare sand or rocks on the tops
of hills, where few have found them; graceful and slender like ripples
caught up from the pond, as leaves are raised by the wind to float
in the heavens; such kindredship is in nature. The hawk is aerial
brother of the wave which he sails over and surveys, those his perfect
air- inflated wings answering to the elemental unfledged pinions of
the sea. Or sometimes I watched a pair of hen- hawks circling high
in the sky, alternately soaring and descending, approaching, and
leaving one another, as if they were the embodiment of my own
thoughts, Or I was attracted by the passage of wild pigeons from
this wood to that, with a slight quivering winnowing sound and carrier
haste; or from under a rotten stump my hoe turned up a sluggish
portentous and outlandish spotted salamander, a trace of Egypt and the
Nile, yet our contemporary. When I paused to lean on my hoe, these
sounds and sights I heard and saw anywhere in the row, a part of the
inexhaustible entertainment which the country offers.

  On gala days the town fires its great guns, which echo like
popguns to these woods, and some waifs of martial music occasionally
penetrate thus far. To me, away there in my bean-field at the other
end of the town, the big guns sounded as if a puffball had burst;
and when there was a military turnout of which I was ignorant, I
have sometimes had a vague sense all the day of some sort of itching
and disease in the horizon, as if some eruption would break out
there soon, either scarlatina or canker-rash, until at length some
more favorable puff of wind, making haste over the fields and up the
Wayland road, brought me information of the "trainers." It seemed by
the distant hum as if somebody's bees had swarmed, and that the
neighbors, according to Virgil's advice, by a faint tintinnabulum upon
the most sonorous of their domestic utensils, were endeavoring to call
them down into the hive again. And when the sound died quite away, and
the hum had ceased, and the most favorable breezes told no tale, I
knew that they had got the last drone of them all safely into the
Middlesex hive, and that now their minds were bent on the honey with
which it was smeared.

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

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

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

  Those summer days which some of my contemporaries devoted to the
fine arts in Boston or Rome, and others to contemplation in India, and
others to trade in London or New York, I thus, with the other
farmers of New England, devoted to husbandry. Not that I wanted
beans to eat, for I am by nature a Pythagorean, so far as beans are
concerned, whether they mean porridge or voting, and exchanged them
for rice; but, perchance, as some must work in fields if only for
the sake of tropes and expression, to serve a parable-maker one day.
It was on the whole a rare amusement, which, continued too long, might
have become a dissipation. Though I gave them no manure, and did not
hoe them all once, I hoed them unusualy well as far as I went, and was
paid for it in the end, "there being in truth," as Evelyn says, "no
compost or laetation whatsoever comparable to this continual motion,
repastination, and turning of the mould with the spade." "The
earth," he adds elsewhere, "especially if fresh, has a certain
magnetism in it, by which it attracts the salt, power, or virtue (call
it either) which gives it life, and is the logic of all the labor
and stir we keep about it, to sustain us; all dungings and other
sordid temperings being but the vicars succedaneous to this
improvement." Moreover, this being one of those "worn- out and
exhausted lay fields which enjoy their sabbath," had perchance, as Sir
Kenelm Digby thinks likely, attracted "vital spirits" from the air.
I harvested twelve bushels of beans.

  But to be more particular, for it is complained that Mr. Colman
has reported chiefly the expensive experiments of gentlemen farmers,
my outgoes were,

  For a hoe.....................................$  0.54

  Plowing, harrowing, and furrowing.............   7.50 (Too much.)

  Beans for seed................................   3.12 1/2

  Potatoes for seed.............................   1.33

  Peas for seed.................................   0.40

  Turnip seed...................................   0.06

  White line for crow fence.....................   0.02

  Horse cultivator and boy three hours..........   1.00

  Horse and cart to get crop....................   0.75


   In all.......................................$ 14.72 1/2

  My income was (patremfamilias vendacem, non emacem esse oportet),

  Nine bushels and twelve quarts of beans sold..$ 16.94

  Five bushels large potatoes...................   2.50

  Nine bushels small potatoes...................   2.25

  Grass.........................................   1.00

  Stalks........................................   0.75


    In all......................................$ 23.44

  Leaving a pecuniary profit,

      as I have elsewhere said, of..............$  8.71 1/2

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

  This further experience also I gained: I said to myself, I will
not plant beans and corn with so much industry another summer, but
such seeds, if the seed is not lost, as sincerity, truth,
simplicity, faith, innocence, and the like, and see if they will not
grow in this soil, even with less toil and manurance, and sustain
me, for surely it has not been exhausted for these crops. Alas! I said
this to myself; but now another summer is gone, and another, and
another, and I am obliged to say to you, Reader, that the seeds
which I planted, if indeed they were the seeds of those virtues,
were wormeaten or had lost their vitality, and so did not come up.
Commonly men will only be brave as their fathers were brave, or timid.
This generation is very sure to plant corn and beans each new year
precisely as the Indians did centuries ago and taught the first
settlers to do, as if there were a fate in it. I saw an old man the
other day, to my astonishment, making the holes with a hoe for the
seventieth time at least, and not for himself to lie down in! But
why should not the New Englander try new adventures, and not lay so
much stress on his grain, his potato and grass crop, and his orchards-
raise other crops than these? Why concern ourselves so much about
our beans for seed, and not be concerned at all about a new generation
of men? We should really be fed and cheered if when we met a man we
were sure to see that some of the qualities which I have named,
which we all prize more than those other productions, but which are
for the most part broadcast and floating in the air, had taken root
and grown in him. Here comes such a subtile and ineffable quality, for
instance, as truth or justice, though the slightest amount or new
variety of it, along the road. Our ambassadors should be instructed to
send home such seeds as these, and Congress help to distribute them
over all the land. We should never stand upon ceremony with sincerity.
We should never cheat and insult and banish one another by our
meanness, if there were present the kernel of worth and
friendliness. We should not meet thus in haste. Most men I do not meet
at all, for they seem not to have time; they are busy about their
beans. We would not deal with a man thus plodding ever, leaning on a
hoe or a spade as a staff between his work, not as a mushroom, but
partially risen out of the earth, something more than erect, like
swallows alighted and walking on the ground:

        "And as he spake, his mings would now and then

        Spread, as he meant to fly, then close again-"

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

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

  We are wont to forget that the sun looks on our cultivated fields
and on the prairies and forests without distinction. They all
reflect and absorb his rays alike, and the former make but a small
part of the glorious picture which he beholds in his daily course.
In his view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden.
Therefore we should receive the benefit of his light and beat with a
corresponding trust and magnanimity. What though I value the seed of
these beans, and harvest that in the fall of the year? This broad
field which I have looked at so long looks not to me as the
principal cultivator, but away from me to influences more genial to
it, which water and make it green. These beans have results which
are not harvested by me. Do they not grow for woodchucks partly? The
ear of wheat (in Latin spica, obsoletely speca, from spe, hope) should
not be the only hope of the husbandman; its kernel or grain (granum
from gerendo, bearing) is not all that it bears. How, then, can our
harvest fail? Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds
whose seeds are the granary of the birds? It matters little
comparatively whether the fields fill the farmer's barns. The true
husbandman will cease from anxiety, as the squirrels manifest no
concern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not, and
finish his labor with every day, relinquishing all claim to the
produce of his fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only his
first but his last fruits also.

                         THE VILLAGE.

  AFTER HOEING, or perhaps reading and writing, in the forenoon, I
usually bathed again in the pond, swimming across one of its coves for
a stint, and washed the dust of labor from my person, or smoothed
out the last wrinkle which study had made, and for the afternoon was
absolutely free. Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear
some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating
either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which,
taken in homeopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the
rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs. As I walked in the woods to
see the birds and squirrels, so I walked in the village to see the men
and boys; instead of the wind among the pines I heard the carts
rattle. In one direction from my house there was a colony of
muskrats in the river meadows; under the grove of elms and buttonwoods
in the other horizon was a village of busy men, as curious to me as if
they had been prairie-dogs, each sitting at the mouth of its burrow,
or running over to a neighbor's to gossip. I went there frequently
to observe their habits. The village appeared to me a great news room;
and on one side, to support it, as once at Redding & Company's on
State Street, they kept nuts and raisins, or salt and meal and other
groceries. Some have such a vast appetite for the former commodity,
that is, the news, and such sound digestive organs, that they can
sit forever in public avenues without stirring, and let it simmer
and whisper through them like the Etesian winds, or as if inhaling
ether, it only producing numbness and insensibility to pain- otherwise
it would often be painful to bear- without affecting the
consciousness. I hardly ever failed, when I rambled through the
village, to see a row of such worthies, either sitting on a ladder
sunning themselves, with their bodies inclined forward and their
eyes glancing along the line this way and that, from time to time,
with a voluptuous expression, or else leaning against a barn with
their hands in their pockets, like caryatides, as if to prop it up.
They, being commonly out of doors, heard whatever was in the wind.
These are the coarsest mills, in which all gossip is first rudely
digested or cracked up before it is emptied into finer and more
delicate hoppers within doors. I observed that the vitals of the
village were the grocery, the bar-room, the post-office, and the bank;
and, as a necessary part of the machinery, they kept a bell, a big
gun, and a fire-engine, at convenient places; and the houses were so
arranged as to make the most of mankind, in lanes and fronting one
another, so that every traveller had to run the gauntlet, and every
man, woman, and child might get a lick at him. Of course, those who
were stationed nearest to the head of the line, where they could
most see and be seen, and have the first blow at him, paid the highest
prices for their places; and the few straggling inhabitants in the
outskirts, where long gaps in the line began to occur, and the
traveller could get over walls or turn aside into cow-paths, and so
escape, paid a very slight ground or window tax. Signs were hung out
on all sides to allure him; some to catch him by the appetite, as
the tavern and victualling cellar; some by the fancy, as the dry goods
store and the jeweller's; and others by the hair or the feet or the
skirts, as the barber, the shoe-maker, or the tailor. Besides, there
was a still more terrible standing invitation to call at every one
of these houses, and company expected about these times. For the
most part I escaped wonderfully from these dangers, either by
proceeding at once boldly and without deliberation to the goal, as
is recommended to those who run the gauntlet, or by keeping my
thoughts on high things, like Orpheus, who, "loudly singing the
praises of the gods to his lyre, drowned the voices of the Sirens, and
kept out of danger." Sometimes I bolted suddenly, and nobody could
tell my whereabouts, for I did not stand much about gracefulness,
and never hesitated at a gap in a fence. I was even accustomed to make
an irruption into some houses, where I was well entertained, and after
learning the kernels and very last sieveful of news- what had
subsided, the prospects of war and peace, and whether the world was
likely to hold together much longer- I was let out through the rear
avenues, and so escaped to the woods again.

  It was very pleasant, when I stayed late in town, to launch myself
into the night, especially if it was dark and tempestuous, and set
sail from some bright village parlor or lecture room, with a bag of
rye or Indian meal upon my shoulder, for my snug harbor in the
woods, having made all tight without and withdrawn under hatches
with a merry crew of thoughts, leaving only my outer man at the
helm, or even tying up the helm when it was plain sailing. I had
many a genial thought by the cabin fire "as I sailed." I was never
cast away nor distressed in any weather, though I encountered some
severe storms. It is darker in the woods, even in common nights,
than most suppose. I frequently had to look up at the opening
between the trees above the path in order to learn my route, and,
where there was no cart-path, to feel with my feet the faint track
which I had worn, or steer by the known relation of particular trees
which I felt with my hands, passing between two pines for instance,
not more than eighteen inches apart, in the midst of the woods,
invariably, in the darkest night. Sometimes, after coming home thus
late in a dark and muggy night, when my feet felt the path which my
eyes could not see, dreaming and absent-minded all the way, until I
was aroused by having to raise my hand to lift the latch, I have not
been able to recall a single step of my walk, and I have thought
that perhaps my body would find its way home if its master should
forsake it, as the hand finds its way to the mouth without assistance.
Several times, when a visitor chanced to stay into evening, and it
proved a dark night, I was obliged to conduct him to the cart-path
in the rear of the house, and then point out to him the direction he
was to pursue, and in keeping which he was to be guided rather by
his feet than his eyes. One very dark night I directed thus on their
way two young men who had been fishing in the pond. They lived about a
mile off through the woods, and were quite used to the route. A day or
two after one of them told me that they wandered about the greater
part of the night, close by their own premises, and did not get home
till toward morning, by which time, as there had been several heavy
showers in the meanwhile, and the leaves were very wet, they were
drenched to their skins. I have heard of many going astray even in the
village streets, when the darkness was so thick that you could cut
it with a knife, as the saying is. Some who live in the outskirts,
having come to town a-shopping in their wagons, have been obliged to
put up for the night; and gentlemen and ladies making a call have gone
half a mile out of their way, feeling the sidewalk only with their
feet, and not knowing when they turned. It is a surprising and
memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any
time. Often in a snow-storm, even by day, one will come out upon a
well-known road and yet find it impossible to tell which way leads
to the village. Though he knows that he has travelled it a thousand
times, he cannot recognize a feature in it, but it is as strange to
him as if it were a road in Siberia. By night, of course, the
perplexity is infinitely greater. In our most trivial walks, we are
constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain
well-known beacons and headlands, and if we go beyond our usual course
we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape;
and not till we are completely lost, or turned round- for a man
needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to
be lost- do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature.
Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as be
awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction. Not till we are lost,
in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find
ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our

  One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, when I went to
the village to get a shoe from the cobbler's, I was seized and put
into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax
to, or recognize the authority of, the State which buys and sells men,
women, and children, like cattle, at the door of its senate-house. I
had gone down to the woods for other purposes. But, wherever a man
goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions,
and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate
odd-fellow society. It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with
more or less effect, might have run "amok" against society; but I
preferred that society should run "amok" against me, it being the
desperate party. However, I was released the next day, obtained my
mended shoe, and returned to the woods in season to get my dinner of
huckleberries on Fair Haven Hill. I was never molested by any person
but those who represented the State. I had no lock nor bolt but for
the desk which held my papers, not even a nail to put over my latch or
windows. I never fastened my door night or day, though I was to be
absent several days; not even when the next fall I spent a fortnight
in the woods of Maine. And yet my house was more respected than if
it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers. The tired rambler
could rest and warm himself by my fire, the literary amuse himself
with the few books on my table, or the curious, by opening my closet
door, see what was left of my dinner, and what prospect I had of a
supper. Yet, though many people of every class came this way to the
pond, I suffered no serious inconvenience from these sources, and I
never missed anything but one small book, a volume of Homer, which
perhaps was improperly gilded, and this I trust a soldier of our
camp has found by this time. I am convinced, that if all men were to
live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown.
These take place only in communities where some have got more than
is sufficient while others have not enough. The Pope's Homers would
soon get properly distributed.

                             "Nec bella fuerunt,

              Faginus astabat dum scyphus ante dapes."

                             "Nor wars did men molest,

             When only beechen bowls were in request."

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

                              THE PONDS.

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

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

  In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute, and
saw the perch, which I seem to have charmed, hovering around me, and
the moon travelling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the
wrecks of the forest. Formerly I had come to this pond
adventurously, from time to time, in dark summer nights, with a
companion, and, making a fire close to the water's edge, which we
thought attracted the fishes, we caught pouts with a bunch of worms
strung on a thread, and when we had done, far in the night, threw
the burning brands high into the air like skyrockets, which, coming
down into the pond, were quenched with a loud hissing, and we were
suddenly groping in total darkness. Through this, whistling a tune, we
took our way to the haunts of men again. But now I had made my home by
the shore.

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

  The scenery of Walden is on a humble scale, and, though very
beautiful, does not approach to grandeur, nor can it much concern
one who has not long frequented it or lived by its shore; yet this
pond is so remarkable for its depth and purity as to merit a
particular description. It is a clear and deep green well, half a mile
long and a mile and three quarters in circumference, and contains
about sixty-one and a half acres; a perennial spring in the midst of
pine and oak woods, without any visible inlet or outlet except by
the clouds and evaporation. The surrounding hills rise abruptly from
the water to the height of forty to eighty feet, though on the
southeast and east they attain to about one hundred and one hundred
and fifty feet respectively, within a quarter and a third of a mile.
They are exclusively woodland. All our Concord waters have two
colors at least; one when viewed at a distance, and another, more
proper, close at hand. The first depends more on the light, and
follows the sky. In clear weather, in summer, they appear blue at a
little distance, especially if agitated, and at a great distance all
appear alike. In stormy weather they are sometimes of a dark
slate-color. The sea, however, is said to be blue one day and green
another without any perceptible change in the atmosphere. I have
seen our river, when, the landscape being covered with snow, both
water and ice were almost as green as grass. Some consider blue "to be
the color of pure water, whether liquid or solid." But, looking
directly down into our waters from a boat, they are seen to be of very
different colors. Walden is blue at one time and green at another,
even from the same point of view. Lying between the earth and the
heavens, it partakes of the color of both. Viewed from a hilltop it
reflects the color of the sky; but near at hand it is of a yellowish
tint next the shore where you can see the sand, then a light green,
which gradually deepens to a uniform dark green in the body of the
pond. In some lights, viewed even from a hilltop, it is of a vivid
green next the shore. Some have referred this to the reflection of the
verdure; but it is equally green there against the railroad
sandbank, and in the spring, before the leaves are expanded, and it
may be simply the result of the prevailing blue mixed with the
yellow of the sand. Such is the color of its iris. This is that
portion, also, where in the spring, the ice being warmed by the heat
of the sun reflected from the bottom, and also transmitted through the
earth, melts first and forms a narrow canal about the still frozen
middle. Like the rest of our waters, when much agitated, in clear
weather, so that the surface of the waves may reflect the sky at the
right angle, or because there is more light mixed with it, it
appears at a little distance of a darker blue than the sky itself; and
at such a time, being on its surface, and looking with divided vision,
so as to see the reflection, I have discerned a matchless and
indescribable light blue, such as watered or changeable silks and
sword blades suggest, more cerulean than the sky itself, alternating
with the original dark green on the opposite sides of the waves, which
last appeared but muddy in comparison. It is a vitreous greenish blue,
as I remember it, like those patches of the winter sky seen through
cloud vistas in the west before sundown. Yet a single glass of its
water held up to the light is as colorless as an equal quantity of
air. It is well known that a large plate of glass will have a green
tint, owing, as the makers say, to its "body," but a small piece of
the same will be colorless. How large a body of Walden water would
be required to reflect a green tint I have never proved. The water
of our river is black or a very dark brown to one looking directly
down on it, and, like that of most ponds, imparts to the body of one
bathing in it a yellowish tinge; but this water is of such crystalline
purity that the body of the bather appears of an alabaster
whiteness, still more unnatural, which, as the limbs are magnified and
distorted withal, produces a monstrous effect, making fit studies
for a Michael Angelo.

  The water is so transparent that the bottom can easily be
discerned at the depth of twenty-five or thirty feet. Paddling over
it, you may see, many feet beneath the surface, the schools of perch
and shiners, perhaps only an inch long, yet the former easily
distinguished by their transverse bars, and you think that they must
be ascetic fish that find a subsistence there. Once, in the winter,
many years ago, when I had been cutting holes through the ice in order
to catch pickerel, as I stepped ashore I tossed my axe back on to
the ice, but, as if some evil genius had directed it, it slid four
or five rods directly into one of the holes, where the water was
twenty-five feet deep. Out of curiosity, I lay down on the ice and
looked through the hole, until I saw the axe a little on one side,
standing on its head, with its helve erect and gently swaying to and
fro with the pulse of the pond; and there it might have stood erect
and swaying till in the course of time the handle rotted off, if I had
not disturbed it. Making another hole directly over it with an ice
chisel which I had, and cutting down the longest birch which I could
find in the neighborhood with my knife, I made a slip-noose, which I
attached to its end, and, letting it down carefully, passed it over
the knob of the handle, and drew it by a line along the birch, and
so pulled the axe out again.

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

  We have one other pond just like this, White Pond, in Nine Acre
Corner, about two and a half miles westerly; but, though I am
acquainted with most of the ponds within a dozen miles of this
centre I do not know a third of this pure and well-like character.
Successive nations perchance have drank at, admired, and fathomed
it, and passed away, and still its water is green and pellucid as
ever. Not an intermitting spring! Perhaps on that spring morning
when Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden Walden Pond was already in
existence, and even then breaking up in a gentle spring rain
accompanied with mist and a southerly wind, and covered with myriads
of ducks and geese, which had not heard of the fall, when still such
pure lakes sufficed them. Even then it had commenced to rise and fall,
and had clarified its waters and colored them of the hue they now
wear, and obtained a patent of Heaven to be the only Walden Pond in
the world and distiller of celestial dews. Who knows in how many
unremembered nations' literatures this has been the Castalian
Fountain? or what nymphs presided over it in the Golden Age? It is a
gem of the first water which Concord wears in her coronet.

  Yet perchance the first who came to this well have left some trace
of their footsteps. I have been surprised to detect encircling the
pond, even where a thick wood has just been cut down on the shore, a
narrow shelf-like path in the steep hillside, alternately rising and
falling, approaching and receding from the water's edge, as old
probably as the race of man here, worn by the feet of aboriginal
hunters, and still from time to time unmittingly trodden by the
present occupants of the land. This is particularly distinct to one
standing on the middle of the pond in winter, just after a light
snow has fallen, appearing as a clear undulating white line,
unobscured by weeds and twigs, and very obvious a quarter of a mile
off in many places where in summer it is hardly distinguishable
close at hand. The snow reprints it, as it were, in clear white type
alto-relievo. The ornamented grounds of villas which will one day be
built here may still preserve some trace of this.

  The pond rises and falls, but whether regularly or not, and within
what period, nobody knows, though, as usual, many pretend to know.
It is commonly higher in the winter and lower in the summer, though
not corresponding to the general wet and dryness. I can remember
when it was a foot or two lower, and also when it was at least five
feet higher, than when I lived by it. There is a narrow sand-bar
running into it, with very deep water on one side, on which I helped
boil a kettle of chowder, some six rods from the main shore, about the
year 1824, which it has not been possible to do for twenty-five years;
and, on the other hand, my friends used to listen with incredulity
when I told them, that a few years later I was accustomed to fish from
a boat in a secluded cove in the woods, fifteen rods from the only
shore they knew, which place was long since converted into a meadow.
But the pond has risen steadily for two years, and now, in the
summer of '52, is just five feet higher than when I lived there, or as
high as it was thirty years ago, and fishing goes on again in the
meadow. This makes a difference of level, at the outside, of six or
seven feet; and yet the water shed by the surrounding hills is
insignificant in amount, and this overflow must be referred to
causes which affect the deep springs. This same summer the pond has
begun to fall again. It is remarkable that this fluctuation, whether
periodical or not, appears thus to require many years for its
accomplishment. I have observed one rise and a part of two falls,
and I expect that a dozen or fifteen years hence the water will
again be as low as I have ever known it. Flint's Pond, a mile
eastward, allowing for the disturbance occasioned by its inlets and
outlets, and the smaller intermediate ponds also, sympathize with
Walden, and recently attained their greatest height at the same time
with the latter. The same is true, as far as my observation goes, of
White Pond.

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

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

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

  There have been caught in Walden pickerel, one weighing seven
pounds- to say nothing of another which carried off a reel with
great velocity, which the fisherman safely set down at eight pounds
because he did not see him- perch and pouts, some of each weighing
over two pounds, shiners, chivins or roach (Leuciscus pulchellus), a
very few breams, and a couple of eels, one weighing four pounds- I
am thus particular because the weight of a fish is commonly its only
title to fame, and these are the only eels I have heard of here;-
also, I have a faint recollection of a little fish some five inches
long, with silvery sides and a greenish back, somewhat dace-like in
its character, which I mention here chiefly to link my facts to fable.
Nevertheless, this pond is not very fertile in fish. Its pickerel,
though not abundant, are its chief boast. I have seen at one time
lying on the ice pickerel of at least three different kinds: a long
and shallow one, steel-colored, most like those caught in the river; a
bright golden kind, with greenish reflections and remarkably deep,
which is the most common here; and another, golden-colored, and shaped
like the last, but peppered on the sides with small dark brown or
black spots, intermixed with a few faint blood-red ones, very much
like a trout. The specific name reticulatus would not apply to this;
it should be guttatus rather. These are all very firm fish, and
weigh more than their size promises. The shiners, pouts, and perch
also, and indeed all the fishes which inhabit this pond, are much
cleaner, handsomer, and firmer-fleshed than those in the river and
most other ponds, as the water is purer, and they can easily be
distinguished from them. Probably many ichthyologists would make new
varieties of some of them. There are also a clean race of frogs and
tortoises, and a few mussels in it; muskrats and minks leave their
traces about it, and occasionally a travelling mud-turtle visits it.
Sometimes, when I pushed off my boat in the morning, I disturbed a
great mud-turtle which had secreted himself under the boat in the
night. Ducks and geese frequent it in the spring and fall, the
white-bellied swallows (Hirundo bicolor) skim over it, and the
peetweets (Totanus macularius) "teeter" along its stony shores all
summer. I have sometimes disturbed a fish hawk sitting on a white pine
over the water; but I doubt if it is ever profaned by the wind of a
gull, like Fair Haven. At most, it tolerates one annual loon. These
are all the animals of consequence which frequent it now.

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

  The shore is irregular enough not to be monotonous. I have in my
mind's eye the western, indented with deep bays, the bolder
northern, and the beautifully scalloped southern shore, where
successive capes overlap each other and suggest unexplored coves
between. The forest has never so good a setting, nor is so
distinctly beautiful, as when seen from the middle of a small lake
amid hills which rise from the water's edge; for the water in which it
is reflected not only makes the best foreground in such a case, but,
with its winding shore, the most natural and agreeable boundary to it.
There is no rawness nor imperfection in its edge there, as where the
axe has cleared a part, or a cultivated field abuts on it. The trees
have ample room to expand on the water side, and each sends forth
its most vigorous branch in that direction. There Nature has woven a
natural selvage, and the eye rises by just gradations from the low
shrubs of the shore to the highest trees. There are few traces of
man's hand to be seen. The water laves the shore as it did a
thousand years ago.

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

  Standing on the smooth sandy beach at the east end of the pond, in a
calm September afternoon, when a slight haze makes the opposite
shore-line indistinct, I have seen whence came the expression, "the
glassy surface of a lake." When you invert your head, it looks like
a thread of finest gossamer stretched across the valley, and
gleaming against the distant pine woods, separating one stratum of the
atmosphere from another. You would think that you could walk dry under
it to the opposite hills, and that the swallows which skim over
might perch on it. Indeed, they sometimes dive below this line, as
it were by mistake, and are undeceived. As you look over the pond
westward you are obliged to employ both your hands to defend your eyes
against the reflected as well as the true sun, for they are equally
bright; and if, between the two, you survey its surface critically, it
is literally as smooth as glass, except where the skater insects, at
equal intervals scattered over its whole extent, by their motions in
the sun produce the finest imaginable sparkle on it, or, perchance,
a duck plumes itself, or, as I have said, a swallow skims so low as to
touch it. It may be that in the distance a fish describes an arc of
three or four feet in the air, and there is one bright flash where
it emerges, and another where it strikes the water; sometimes the
whole silvery arc is revealed; or here and there, perhaps, is a
thistle-down floating on its surface, which the fishes dart at and
so dimple it again. It is like molten glass cooled but not
congealed, and the few motes in it are pure and beautiful like the
imperfections in glass. You may often detect a yet smoother and darker
water, separated from the rest as if by an invisible cobweb, boom of
the water nymphs, resting on it. From a hilltop you can see a fish
leap in almost any part; for not a pickerel or shiner picks an
insect from this smooth surface but it manifestly disturbs the
equilibrium of the whole lake. It is wonderful with what elaborateness
this simple fact is advertised- this piscine murder will out- and from
my distant perch I distinguish the circling undulations when they
are half a dozen rods in diameter. You can even detect a water-bug
(Gyrinus) ceaselessly progressing over the smooth surface a quarter of
a mile off; for they furrow the water slightly, making a conspicuous
ripple bounded by two diverging lines, but the skaters glide over it
without rippling it perceptibly. When the surface is considerably
agitated there are no skaters nor water-bugs on it, but apparently, in
calm days, they leave their havens and adventurously glide forth
from the shore by short impulses till they completely cover it. It
is a soothing employment, on one of those fine days in the fall when
all the warmth of the sun is fully appreciated, to sit on a stump on
such a height as this, overlooking the pond, and study the dimpling
circles which are incessantly inscribed on its otherwise invisible
surface amid the reflected skies and trees. Over this great expanse
there is no disturbance but it is thus at once gently smoothed away
and assuaged, as, when a vase of water is jarred, the trembling
circles seek the shore and all is smooth again. Not a fish can leap or
an insect fall on the pond but it is thus reported in circling
dimples, in lines of beauty, as it were the constant welling up of its
fountain, the gentle pulsing of its life, the heaving of its breast.
The thrills of joy and thrills of pain are undistinguishable. How
peaceful the phenomena of the lake! Again the works of man shine as in
the spring. Ay, every leaf and twig and stone and cobweb sparkles
now at mid-afternoon as when covered with dew in a spring morning.
Every motion of an oar or an insect produces a flash of light; and
if an oar falls, how sweet the echo!

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

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

  The skaters and water-bugs finally disappear in the latter part of
October, when the severe frosts have come; and then and in November,
usually, in a calm day, there is absolutely nothing to ripple the
surface. One November afternoon, in the calm at the end of a
rain-storm of several days' duration, when the sky was still
completely overcast and the air was full of mist, I observed that
the pond was remarkably smooth, so that it was difficult to
distinguish its surface; though it no longer reflected the bright
tints of October, but the sombre November colors of the surrounding
hills. Though I passed over it as gently as possible, the slight
undulations produced by my boat extended almost as far as I could see,
and gave a ribbed appearance to the reflections. But, as I was looking
over the surface, I saw here and there at a distance a faint
glimmer, as if some skater insects which had escaped the frosts
might be collected there, or, perchance, the surface, being so smooth,
betrayed where a spring welled up from the bottom. Paddling gently
to one of these places, I was surprised to find myself surrounded by
myriads of small perch, about five inches long, of a rich bronze color
in the green water, sporting there, and constantly rising to the
surface and dimpling it, sometimes leaving bubbles on it. In such
transparent and seemingly bottomless water, reflecting the clouds, I
seemed to be floating through the air as in a balloon, and their
swimming impressed me as a kind of flight or hovering, as if they were
a compact flock of birds passing just beneath my level on the right or
left, their fins, like sails, set all around them. There were many
such schools in the pond, apparently improving the short season before
winter would draw an icy shutter over their broad skylight,
sometimes giving to the surface an appearance as if a slight breeze
struck it, or a few rain-drops fell there. When I approached
carelessly and alarmed them, they made a sudden splash and rippling
with their tails, as if one had struck the water with a brushy
bough, and instantly took refuge in the depths. At length the wind
rose, the mist increased, and the waves began to run, and the perch
leaped much higher than before, half out of water, a hundred black
points, three inches long, at once above the surface. Even as late
as the fifth of December, one year, I saw some dimples on the surface,
and thinking it was going to rain hard immediately, the air being
fun of mist, I made haste to take my place at the oars and row
homeward; already the rain seemed rapidly increasing, though I felt
none on my cheek, and I anticipated a thorough soaking. But suddenly
the dimples ceased, for they were produced by the perch, which the
noise of my oars had seared into the depths, and I saw their schools
dimly disappearing; so I spent a dry afternoon after all.

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

  When I first paddled a boat on Walden, it was completely
surrounded by thick and lofty pine and oak woods, and in some of its
coves grape-vines had run over the trees next the water and formed
bowers under which a boat could pass. The hills which form its
shores are so steep, and the woods on them were then so high, that, as
you looked down from the west end, it had the appearance of an
amphitheatre for some land of sylvan spectacle. I have spent many an
hour, when I was younger, floating over its surface as the zephyr
willed, having paddled my boat to the middle, and lying on my back
across the seats, in a summer forenoon, dreaming awake, until I was
aroused by the boat touching the sand, and I arose to see what shore
my fates had impelled me to; days when idleness was the most
attractive and productive industry. Many a forenoon have I stolen
away, preferring to spend thus the most valued part of the day; for
I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and spent
them lavishly; nor do I regret that I did not waste more of them in
the workshop or the teacher's desk. But since I left those shores
the woodchoppers have still further laid them waste, and now for
many a year there will be no more rambling through the aisles of the
wood, with occasional vistas through which you see the water. My
Muse may be excused if she is silent henceforth. How can you expect
the birds to sing when their groves are cut down?

  Now the trunks of trees on the bottom, and the old log canoe, and
the dark surrounding woods, are gone, and the villagers, who
scarcely know where it lies, instead of going to the pond to bathe
or drink, are thinking to bring its water, which should be as sacred
as the Ganges at least, to the village in a pipe, to wash their dishes
with!- to earn their Walden by the turning of a cock or drawing of a
plug! That devilish Iron Horse, whose ear-rending neigh is heard
throughout the town, has muddied the Boiling Spring with his foot, and
he it is that has browsed off all the woods on Walden shore, that
Trojan horse, with a thousand men in his belly, introduced by
mercenary Greeks! Where is the country's champion, the Moore of
Moore Hill, to meet him at the Deep Cut and thrust an avenging lance
between the ribs of the bloated pest?

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

        It is no dream of mine,

        To ornament a line;

        I cannot come nearer to God and Heaven

        Than I live to Walden even.

        I am its stony shore,

        And the breeze that passes o'er;

        In the hollow of my hand

        Are its water and its sand,

        And its deepest resort

        Lies high in my thought.

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

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

  Flint's, or Sandy Pond, in Lincoln, our greatest lake and inland
sea, lies about a mile east of Walden. It is much larger, being said
to contain one hundred and ninety-seven acres, and is more fertile
in fish; but it is comparatively shallow, and not remarkably pure. A
walk through the woods thither was often my recreation. It was worth
the while, if only to feel the wind blow on your cheek freely, and see
the waves run, and remember the life of mariners. I went a-
chestnutting there in the fall, on windy days, when the nuts were
dropping into the water and were washed to my feet; and one day, as
I crept along its sedgy shore, the fresh spray blowing in my face, I
came upon the mouldering wreck of a boat, the sides gone, and hardly
more than the impression of its flat bottom left amid the rushes;
yet its model was sharply defined, as if it were a large decayed
pad, with its veins. It was as impressive a wreck as one could imagine
on the seashore, and had as good a moral. It is by this time mere
vegetable mould and undistinguishable pond shore, through which rushes
and flags have pushed up. I used to admire the ripple marks on the
sandy bottom, at the north end of this pond, made firm and hard to the
feet of the wader by the pressure of the water, and the rushes which
grew in Indian file, in waving lines, corresponding to these marks,
rank behind rank, as if the waves had planted them. There also I
have found, in considerable quantities, curious balls, composed
apparently of fine grass or roots, of pipewort perhaps, from half an
inch to four inches in diameter, and perfectly spherical. These wash
back and forth in shallow water on a sandy bottom, and are sometimes
cast on the shore. They are either solid grass, or have a little
sand in the middle. At first you would say that they were formed by
the action of the waves, like a pebble; yet the smallest are made of
equally coarse materials, half an inch long, and they are produced
only at one season of the year. Moreover, the waves, I suspect, do not
so much construct as wear down a material which has already acquired
consistency. They preserve their form when dry for an indefinite

  Flint's Pond! Such is the poverty of our nomenclature. What right
had the unclean and stupid farmer, whose farm abutted on this sky
water, whose shores he has ruthlessly laid bare, to give his name to
it? Some skin-flint, who loved better the reflecting surface of a
dollar, or a bright cent, in which he could see his own brazen face;
who regarded even the wild ducks which settled in it as trespassers;
his fingers grown into crooked and bony talons from the lodge habit of
grasping harpy-like;- so it is not named for me. I go not there to see
him nor to hear of him; who never saw it, who never bathed in it,
who never loved it, who never protected it, who never spoke a good
word for it, nor thanked God that He had made it. Rather let it be
named from the fishes that swim in it, the wild fowl or quadrupeds
which frequent it, the wild flowers which grow by its shores, or
some wild man or child the thread of whose history is interwoven
with its own; not from him who could show no title to it but the
deed which a like-minded neighbor or legislature gave him- him who
thought only of its money value; whose presence perchance cursed all
the shores; who exhausted the land around it, and would fain have
exhausted the waters within it; who regretted only that it was not
English hay or cranberry meadow- there was nothing to redeem it,
forsooth, in his eyes- and would have drained and sold it for the
mud at its bottom. It did not turn his mill, and it was no privilege
to him to behold it. I respect not his labors, his farm where
everything has its price, who would carry the landscape, who would
carry his God, to market, if he could get anything for him; who goes
to market for his god as it is; on whose farm nothing grows free,
whose fields bear no crops, whose meadows no flowers, whose trees no
fruits, but dollars; who loves not the beauty of his fruits, whose
fruits are not ripe for him till they are turned to dollars. Give me
the poverty that enjoys true wealth. Farmers are respectable and
interesting to me in proportion as they are poor- poor farmers. A
model farm! where the house stands like a fungus in a muckheap,
chambers for men horses, oxen, and swine, cleansed and uncleansed, all
contiguous to one another! Stocked with men! A great grease- spot,
redolent of manures and buttermilk! Under a high state of cultivation,
being manured with the hearts and brains of men! As if you were to
raise your potatoes in the churchyard! Such is a model farm.

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

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

  Since the wood-cutters, and the railroad, and I myself have profaned
Walden, perhaps the most attractive, if not the most beautiful, of all
our lakes, the gem of the woods, is White Pond;- a poor name from
its commonness, whether derived from the remarkable purity of its
waters or the color of its sands. In these as in other respects,
however, it is a lesser twin of Walden. They are so much alike that
you would say they must be connected under ground. It has the same
stony shore, and its waters are of the same hue. As at Walden, in
sultry dogday weather, looking down through the woods on some of its
bays which are not so deep but that the reflection from the bottom
tinges them, its waters are of a misty bluish-green or glaucous color.
Many years since I used to go there to collect the sand by
cartloads, to make sandpaper with, and I have continued to visit it
ever since. One who frequents it proposes to call it Virid Lake.
Perhaps it might be called Yellow Pine Lake, from the following
circumstance. About fifteen years ago you could see the top of a pitch
pine, of the kind called yellow pine hereabouts, though it is not a
distinct species, projecting above the surface in deep water, many
rods from the shore. It was even supposed by some that the pond had
sunk, and this was one of the primitive forest that formerly stood
there. I find that even so long ago as 1792, in a "Topographical
Description of the Town of Concord," by one of its citizens, in the
Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the author, after
speaking of Walden and White Ponds, adds, "In the middle of the latter
may be seen, when the water is very low, a tree which appears as if it
grew in the place where it now stands, although the roots are fifty
feet below the surface of the water; the top of this tree is broken
off, and at that place measures fourteen inches in diameter." In the
spring of '49 I talked with the man who lives nearest the pond in
Sudbury, who told me that it was he who got out this tree ten or
fifteen years before. As near as he could remember, it stood twelve or
fifteen rods from the shore, where the water was thirty or forty
feet deep. It was in the winter, and he had been getting out ice in
the forenoon, and had resolved that in the afternoon, with the aid
of his neighbors, he would take out the old yellow pine. He sawed a
channel in the ice toward the shore, and hauled it over and along
and out on to the ice with oxen; but, before he had gone far in his
work, he was surprised to find that it was wrong end upward, with
the stumps of the branches pointing down, and the small end firmly
fastened in the sandy bottom. It was about a foot in diameter at the
big end, and he had expected to get a good saw-log, but it was so
rotten as to be fit only for fuel, if for that. He had some of it in
his shed then. There were marks of an axe and of woodpeckers on the
butt. He thought that it might have been a dead tree on the shore, but
was finally blown over into the pond, and after the top had become
water-logged, while the butt-end was still dry and light, had
drifted out and sunk wrong end up. His father, eighty years old, could
not remember when it was not there. Several pretty large logs may
still be seen lying on the bottom, where, owing to the undulation of
the surface, they look like huge water snakes in motion.

  This pond has rarely been profaned by a boat, for there is little in
it to tempt a fisherman. Instead of the white lily, which requires
mud, or the common sweet flag, the blue flag (Iris versicolor) grows
thinly in the pure water, rising from the stony bottom all around
the shore, where it is visited by hummingbirds in June; and the
color both of its bluish blades and its flowers and especially their
reflections, is in singular harmony with the glaucous water.

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

                            BAKER FARM.

  SOMETIMES I rambled to pine groves, standing like temples, or like
fleets at sea, full-rigged, with wavy boughs, and rippling with light,
so soft and green and shady that the Druids would have forsaken
their oaks to worship in them; or to the cedar wood beyond Flint's
Pond, where the trees, covered with hoary blue berries, spiring higher
and higher, are fit to stand before Valhalla, and the creeping juniper
covers the ground with wreaths full of fruit; or to swamps where the
usnea lichen hangs in festoons from the white spruce trees, and
toadstools, round tables of the swamp gods, cover the ground, and more
beautiful fungi adorn the stumps, like butterflies or shells,
vegetable winkles; where the swamp-pink and dogwood grow, the red
alder berry glows like eyes of imps, the waxwork grooves and crushes
the hardest woods in its folds, and the wild holly berries make the
beholder forget his home with their beauty, and he is dazzled and
tempted by nameless other wild forbidden fruits, too fair for mortal
taste. Instead of calling on some scholar, I paid many a visit to
particular trees, of kinds which are rare in this neighborhood,
standing far away in the middle of some pasture, or in the depths of a
wood or swamp, or on a hilltop; such as the black birch, of which we
have some handsome specimens two feet in diameter; its cousin, the
yellow birch, with its loose golden vest, perfumed like the first; the
beech, which has so neat a hole and beautifully lichen-painted,
perfect in all its details, of which, excepting scattered specimens, I
know but one small grove of sizable trees left in the township,
supposed by some to have been planted by the pigeons that were once
baited with beechnuts near by; it is worth the while to see the silver
grain sparkle when you split this wood; the bass; the hornbeam; the
Celtis occidentalis, or false elm, of which we have but one
well-grown; some taller mast of a pine, a shingle tree, or a more
perfect hemlock than usual, standing like a pagoda in the midst of the
woods; and many others I could mention. These were the shrines I
visited both summer and winter.

  Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of a rainbow's
arch, which filled the lower stratum of the atmosphere, tinging the
grass and leaves around, and dazzling me as if I looked through
colored crystal. It was a lake of rainbow light, in which, for a short
while, I lived like a dolphin. If it had lasted longer it might have
tinged my employments and life. As I walked on the railroad
causeway, I used to wonder at the halo of light around my shadow,
and would fain fancy myself one of the elect. One who visited me
declared that the shadows of some Irishmen before him had no halo
about them, that it was only natives that were so distinguished.
Benvenuto Cellini tells us in his memoirs, that, after a certain
terrible dream or vision which he had during his confinement in the
castle of St. Angelo a resplendent light appeared over the shadow of
his head at morning and evening, whether he was in Italy or France,
and it was particularly conspicuous when the grass was moist with dew.
This was probably the same phenomenon to which I have referred,
which is especially observed in the morning, but also at other
times, and even by moonlight. Though a constant one, it is not
commonly noticed, and, in the case of an excitable imagination like
Cellini's, it would be basis enough for superstition. Beside, he tells
us that he showed it to very few. But are they not indeed
distinguished who are conscious that they are regarded at all?

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

        "Thy entry is a pleasant field,

        Which some mossy fruit trees yield

        Partly to a ruddy brook,

        By gliding musquash undertook,

        And mercurial trout,

        Darting about."

I thought of living there before I went to Walden. I "hooked" the
apples, leaped the brook, and scared the musquash and the trout. It
was one of those afternoons which seem indefinitely long before one,
in which many events may happen, a large portion of our natural
life, though it was already half spent when I started. By the way
there came up a shower, which compelled me to stand half an hour under
a pine, piling boughs over my head, and wearing my handkerchief for
a shed; and when at length I had made one cast over the
pickerelweed, standing up to my middle in water, I found myself
suddenly in the shadow of a cloud, and the thunder began to rumble
with such emphasis that I could do no more than listen to it. The gods
must be proud, thought I, with such forked flashes to rout a poor
unarmed fisherman. So I made haste for shelter to the nearest hut,
which stood half a mile from any road, but so much the nearer to the
pond, and had long been uninhabited:

        "And here a poet builded,

          In the completed years,

        For behold a trivial cabin

          That to destruction steers."

So the Muse fables. But therein, as I found, dwelt now John Field,
an Irishman, and his wife, and several children, from the
broad-faced boy who assisted his father at his work, and now came
running by his side from the bog to escape the rain, to the
wrinkled, sibyl-like, cone-headed infant that sat upon its father's
knee as in the palaces of nobles, and looked out from its home in
the midst of wet and hunger inquisitively upon the stranger, with
the privilege of infancy, not knowing but it was the last of a noble
line, and the hope and cynosure of the world, instead of John
Field's poor starveling brat. There we sat together under that part of
the roof which leaked the least, while it showered and thundered
without. I had sat there many times of old before the ship was built
that floated his family to America. An honest, hard-working, but
shiftless man plainly was John Field; and his wife, she too was
brave to cook so many successive dinners in the recesses of that lofty
stove; with round greasy face and bare breast, still thinking to
improve her condition one day; with the never absent mop in one
hand, and yet no effects of it visible anywhere. The chickens, which
had also taken shelter here from the rain, stalked about the room like
members of the family, to humanized, methought, to roast well. They
stood and looked in my eye or pecked at my shoe significantly.
Meanwhile my host told me his story, how hard he worked "bogging"
for a neighboring farmer, turning up a meadow with a spade or bog
hoe at the rate of ten dollars an acre and the use of the land with
manure for one year, and his little broad-faced son worked
cheerfully at his father's side the while, not knowing how poor a
bargain the latter had made. I tried to help him with my experience,
telling him that he was one of my nearest neighbors, and that I too,
who came a-fishing here, and looked like a loafer, was getting my
living like himself; that I lived in a tight, light, and clean
house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as
his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month
or two build himself a palace of his own; that I did not use tea,
nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not
have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not
have to eat hard, and it cost me but a trifle for my food; but as he
began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had
to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to
eat hard again to repair the waste of his system- and so it was as
broad as it was long, indeed it was broader than it was long, for he
was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain; and yet he
had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get
tea, and coffee, and meat every day. But the only true America is that
country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as
may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not
endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other
superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the
use of such things. For I purposely talked to him as if he were a
philosopher, or desired to be one. I should be glad if all the meadows
on the earth were left in a wild state, if that were the consequence
of men's beginning to redeem themselves. A man will not need to
study history to find out what is best for his own culture. But
alas! the culture of an Irishman is an enterprise to be undertaken
with a sort of moral bog hoe. I told him, that as he worked so hard at
bogging, he required thick boots and stout clothing, which yet were
soon soiled and worn out, but I wore light shoes and thin clothing,
which cost not half so much, though he might think that I was
dressed like a gentleman (which, however, was not the case), and in an
hour or two, without labor, but as a recreation, I could, if I wished,
catch as many fish as I should want for two days, or earn enough money
to support me a week. If he and his family would live simply, they
might all go a-huckleberrying in the summer for their amusement.
John heaved a sigh at this, and his wife stared with arms a-kimbo, and
both appeared to be wondering if they had capital enough to begin such
a course with, or arithmetic enough to carry it through. It was
sailing by dead reckoning to them, and they saw not clearly how to
make their port so; therefore I suppose they still take life
bravely, after their fashion, face to face, giving it tooth and
nail, not having skill to split its massive columns with any fine
entering wedge, and rout it in detail;- thinking to deal with it
roughly, as one should handle a thistle. But they fight at an
overwhelming disadvantage- living, John Field, alas! without
arithmetic, and failing so.

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

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

  As I was leaving the Irishman's roof after the rain, bending my
steps again to the pond, my haste to catch pickerel, wading in retired
meadows, in sloughs and bog-holes, in forlorn and savage places,
appeared for an instant trivial to me who had been sent to school
and college; but as I ran down the hill toward the reddening west,
with the rainbow over my shoulder, and some faint tinkling sounds
borne to my ear through the cleansed air, from I know not what
quarter, my Good Genius seemed to say- Go fish and hunt far and wide
day by day- farther and wider- and rest thee by many brooks and
hearth-sides without misgiving. Remember thy Creator in the days of
thy youth. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures.
Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee
everywhere at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier
games than may here be played. Grow wild according to thy nature, like
these sedges and brakes, which will never become English bay. Let
the thunder rumble; what if it threaten ruin to farmers' crops? that
is not its errand to thee. Take shelter under the cloud, while they
flee to carts and sheds. Let not to get a living be thy trade, but thy
sport. Enjoy the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise
and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending
their lives like serfs.

  O Baker Farm!

        "Landscape where the richest element

         Is a little sunshine innocent."...

        "No one runs to revel

         On thy rail-fenced lea."...

        "Debate with no man hast thou,

           With questions art never perplexed,

         As tame at the first sight as now,

           In thy plain russet gabardine dressed."

        "Come ye who love,

           And ye who hate,

         Children of the Holy Dove,

           And Guy Faux of the state,

         And hang conspiracies

         From the tough rafters of the trees!"

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

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

                             HIGHER LAWS.

  AS I CAME home through the woods with my string of fish, trailing my
pole, it being now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck
stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage
delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw; not
that I was hungry then, except for that wildness which he represented.
Once or twice, however, while I lived at the pond, I found myself
ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a strange
abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might devour, and no
morsel could have been too savage for me. The wildest scenes had
become unaccountably familiar. I found in myself, and still find, an
instinct toward a higher, or, as it is named, spiritual life, as do
most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I
reverence them both. I love the wild not less than the good. The
wildness and adventure that are in fishing still recommended it to me.
I like sometimes to take rank hold on life and spend my day more as
the animals do. Perhaps I have owed to this employment and to hunting,
when quite young, my closest acquaintance with Nature. They early
introduce us to and detain us in scenery with which otherwise, at that
age, we should have little acquaintance. Fishermen, hunters,
woodchoppers, and others, spending their lives in the fields and
woods, in a peculiar sense a part of Nature themselves, are often in a
more favorable mood for observing her, in the intervals of their
pursuits, than philosophers or poets even, who approach her with
expectation. She is not afraid to exhibit herself to them. The
traveller on the prairie is naturally a hunter, on the head waters
of the Missouri and Columbia a trapper, and at the Falls of St. Mary a
fisherman. He who is only a traveller learns things at second-hand and
by the halves, and is poor authority. We are most interested when
science reports what those men already know practically or
instinctively, for that alone is a true humanity, or account of
human experience.

  They mistake who assert that the Yankee has few amusements,
because he has not so many public holidays, and men and boys do not
play so many games as they do in England, for here the more
primitive but solitary amusements of hunting, fishing, and the like
have not yet given place to the former. Almost every New England boy
among my contemporaries shouldered a fowling-piece between the ages of
ten and fourteen; and his hunting and fishing grounds were not
limited, like the preserves of an English nobleman, but were more
boundless even than those of a savage. No wonder, then, that he did
not oftener stay to play on the common. But already a change is taking
place, owing, not to an increased humanity, but to an increased
scarcity of game, for perhaps the hunter is the greatest friend of the
animals hunted, not excepting the Humane Society.

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

            "yave not of the text a pulled hen

        That saith that hunters ben not holy men."

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

  Such is oftenest the young man's introduction to the forest, and the
most original part of himself. He goes thither at first as a hunter
and fisher, until at last, if he has the seeds of a better life in
him, he distinguishes his proper objects, as a poet or naturalist it
may be, and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind. The mass of men are
still and always young in this respect. In some countries a hunting
parson is no uncommon sight. Such a one might make a good shepherd's
dog, but is far from being the Good Shepherd. I have been surprised to
consider that the only obvious employment, except wood-chopping,
ice-cutting, or the like business, which ever to my knowledge detained
at Walden Pond for a whole half-day any of my fellow-citizens, whether
fathers or children of the town, with just one exception, was fishing.
Commonly they did not think that they were lucky, or well paid for
their time, unless they got a long string of fish, though they had the
opportunity of seeing the pond all the while. They might go there a
thousand times before the sediment of fishing would sink to the bottom
and leave their purpose pure; but no doubt such a clarifying process
would be going on all the while. The Governor and his Council
faintly remember the pond, for they went a-fishing there when they
were boys; but now they are too old and dignified to go a-fishing, and
so they know it no more forever. Yet even they expect to go to
heaven at last. If the legislature regards it, it is chiefly to
regulate the number of books to be used there; but they know nothing
about the book of hooks with which to angle for the pond itself,
impaling the legislature for a bait. Thus, even in civilized
communities, the embryo man passes through the hunter stage of

  I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot fish without
falling a little in self-respect. I have tried it again and again. I
have skill at it, and, like many of my fellows, a certain instinct for
it, which revives from time to time, but always when I have done I
feel that it would have been better if I had not fished. I think
that I do not mistake. It is a faint intimation, yet so are the
first streaks of morning. There is unquestionably this instinct in
me which belongs to the lower orders of creation; yet with every
year I am less a fisherman, though without more humanity or even
wisdom; at present I am no fisherman at all. But I see that if I
were to live in a wilderness I should again be tempted to become a
fisher and hunter in earnest. Beside, there is something essentially
unclean about this diet and all flesh, and I began to see where
housework commences, and whence the endeavor, which costs so much,
to wear a tidy and respectable appearance each day, to keep the
house sweet and free from all ill odors and sights. Having been my own
butcher and scullion and cook, as well as the gentleman for whom the
dishes were served up, I can speak from an unusually complete
experience. The practical objection to animal food in my case was
its uncleanness; and besides, when I had caught and cleaned and cooked
and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me essentially. It
was insignificant and unnecessary, and cost more than it came to. A
little bread or a few potatoes would have done as well, with less
trouble and filth. Like many of my contemporaries, I had rarely for
many years used animal food, or tea, or coffee, etc.; not so much
because of any ill effects which I had traced to them, as because they
were not agreeable to my imagination. The repugnance to animal food is
not the effect of experience, but is an instinct. It appeared more
beautiful to live low and fare hard in many respects; and though I
never did so, I went far enough to please my imagination. I believe
that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or
poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly
inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any
kind. It is a significant fact, stated by entomologists- I find it
in Kirby and Spence- that "some insects in their perfect state, though
furnished with organs of feeding, make no use of them"; and they lay
it down as "a general rule, that almost all insects in this state
eat much less than in that of larvae. The voracious caterpillar when
transformed into a butterfly... and the gluttonous maggot when
become a fly" content themselves with a drop or two of honey or some
other sweet liquid. The abdomen under the wings of the butterfly
stir represents the larva. This is the tidbit which tempts his
insectivorous fate. The gross feeder is a man in the larva state;
and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without fancy
or imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them.

  It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean a diet as will
not offend the imagination; but this, I think, is to be fed when we
feed the body; they should both sit down at the same table. Yet
perhaps this may be done. The fruits eaten temperately need not make
us ashamed of our appetites, nor interrupt the worthiest pursuits. But
put an extra condiment into your dish, and it will poison you. It is
not worth the while to live by rich cookery. Most men would feel shame
if caught preparing with their own hands precisely such a dinner,
whether of animal or vegetable food, as is every day prepared for them
by others. Yet till this is otherwise we are not civilized, and, if
gentlemen and ladies, are not true men and women. This certainly
suggests what change is to be made. It may be vain to ask why the
imagination will not be reconciled to flesh and fat. I am satisfied
that it is not. Is it not a reproach that man is a carnivorous animal?
True, he can and does live, in a great measure, by preying on other
animals; but this is a miserable way- as any one who will go to
snaring rabbits, or slaughtering lambs, may learn- and he will be
regarded as a benefactor of his race who shall teach man to confine
himself to a more innocent and wholesome diet. Whatever my own
practice may be, I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of
the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating
animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each
other when they came in contact with the more civilized.

  If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his
genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or
even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more
resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection
which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the
arguments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed his genius till
it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps
no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these
were a life in conformity to higher principles. If the day and the
night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a
fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic,
more starry, more immortal- that is your success. All nature is your
congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself.
The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated.
We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are
the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real
are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily
life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of
morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of
the rainbow which I have clutched.

  Yet, for my part, I was never unusually squeamish; I could sometimes
eat a fried rat with a good relish, if it were necessary. I am glad to
have drunk water so long, for the same reason that I prefer the
natural sky to an opium-eater's heaven. I would fain keep sober
always; and there are infinite degrees of drunkenness. I believe
that water is the only drink for a wise man; wine is not so noble a
liquor; and think of dashing the hopes of a morning with a cup of warm
coffee, or of an evening with a dish of tea! Ah, how low I fall when I
am tempted by them! Even music may be intoxicating. Such apparently
slight causes destroyed Greece and Rome, and will destroy England
and America. Of all ebriosity, who does not prefer to be intoxicated
by the air he breathes? I have found it to be the most serious
objection to coarse labors long continued, that they compelled me to
eat and drink coarsely also. But to tell the truth, I find myself at
present somewhat less particular in these respects. I carry less
religion to the table, ask no blessing; not because I am wiser than
I was, but, I am obliged to confess, because, however much it is to be
regretted, with years I have grown more coarse and indifferent.
Perhaps these questions are entertained only in youth, as most believe
of poetry. My practice is "nowhere," my opinion is here.
Nevertheless I am far from regarding myself as one of those privileged
ones to whom the Ved refers when it says, that "he who has true
faith in the Omnipresent Supreme Being may eat all that exists,"
that is, is not bound to inquire what is his food, or who prepares it;
and even in their case it is to be observed, as a Hindoo commentator
has remarked, that the Vedant limits this privilege to "the time of

  Who has not sometimes derived an inexpressible satisfaction from his
food in which appetite had no share? I have been thrilled to think
that I owed a mental perception to the commonly gross sense of
taste, that I have been inspired through the palate, that some berries
which I had eaten on a hillside had fed my genius. "The soul not being
mistress of herself," says Thseng-tseu, "one looks, and one does not
see; one listens, and one does not hear; one eats, and one does not
know the savor of food." He who distinguishes the true savor of his
food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise. A
puritan may go to his brown-bread crust with as gross an appetite as
ever an alderman to his turtle. Not that food which entereth into
the mouth defileth a man, but the appetite with which it is eaten.
It is neither the quality nor the quantity, but the devotion to
sensual savors; when that which is eaten is not a viand to sustain our
animal, or inspire our spiritual life, but food for the worms that
possess us. If the hunter has a taste for mud-turtles, muskrats, and
other such savage tidbits, the fine lady indulges a taste for jelly
made of a calf's foot, or for sardines from over the sea, and they are
even. He goes to the mill-pond, she to her preserve-pot. The wonder is
how they, how you and I, can live this slimy, beastly life, eating and

  Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant's
truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only investment that
never fails. In the music of the harp which trembles round the world
it is the insisting on this which thrills us. The harp is the
travelling patterer for the Universe's Insurance Company, recommending
its laws, and our little goodness is all the assessment that we pay.
Though the youth at last grows indifferent, the laws of the universe
are not indifferent, but are forever on the side of the most
sensitive. Listen to every zephyr for some reproof, for it is surely
there, and he is unfortunate who does not hear it. We cannot touch a
string or move a stop but the charming moral transfixes us. Many an
irksome noise, go a long way off, is heard as music, a proud, sweet
satire on the meanness of our lives.

  We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion
as our higher nature slumbers. It is reptile and sensual, and
perhaps cannot be wholly expelled; like the worms which, even in
life and health, occupy our bodies. Possibly we may withdraw from
it, but never change its nature. I fear that it may enjoy a certain
health of its own; that we may be well, yet not pure. The other day
I picked up the lower jaw of a hog, with white and sound teeth and
tusks, which suggested that there was an animal health and vigor
distinct from the spiritual. This creature succeeded by other means
than temperance and purity. "That in which men differ from brute
beasts," says Mencius, "is a thing very inconsiderable; the common
herd lose it very soon; superior men preserve it carefully." Who knows
what sort of life would result if we had attained to purity? If I knew
so wise a man as could teach me purity I would go to seek him
forthwith. "A command over our passions, and over the external
senses of the body, and good acts, are declared by the Ved to be
indispensable in the mind's approximation to God." Yet the spirit
can for the time pervade and control every member and function of
the body, and transmute what ill form is the grossest sensuality
into purity and devotion. The generative energy, which, when we are
loose, dissipates and makes us unclean, when we are continent
invigorates and inspires us. Chastity is the flowering of man; and
what are called Genius, Heroism, Holiness, and the like, are but
various fruits which succeed it. Man flows at once to God when the
channel of purity is open. By turns our purity inspires and our
impurity casts us down. He is blessed who is assured that the animal
is dying out in him day by day, and the divine being established.
Perhaps there is none but has cause for shame on account of the
inferior and brutish nature to which he is allied. I fear that we
are such gods or demigods only as fauns and satyrs, the divine
allied to beasts, the creatures of appetite, and that, to some extent,
our very life is our disgrace.

        "How happy's he who hath due place assigned

         To his beasts and disafforested his mind!

         Can use this horse, goat, wolf, and ev'ry beast,

         And is not ass himself to all the rest!

         Else man not only is the herd of swine,

         But he's those devils too which did incline

         Them to a headlong rage, and made them worse."

  All sensuality is one, though it takes many forms; all purity is
one. It is the same whether a man eat, or drink, or cohabit, or
sleep sensually. They are but one appetite, and we only need to see
a person do any one of these things to know how great a sensualist
he is. The impure can neither stand nor sit with purity. When the
reptile is attacked at one mouth of his burrow, he shows himself at
another. If you would be chaste, you must be temperate. What is
chastity? How shall a man know if he is chaste? He shall not know
it. We have heard of this virtue, but we know not what it is. We speak
conformably to the rumor which we have heard. From exertion come
wisdom and purity; from sloth ignorance and sensuality. In the student
sensuality is a sluggish habit of mind. An unclean person is
universally a slothful one, one who sits by a stove, whom the sun
shines on prostrate, who reposes without being fatigued. If you
would avoid uncleanness, and all the sins, work earnestly, though it
be at cleaning a stable. Nature is hard to be overcome, but she must
be overcome. What avails it that you are Christian, if you are not
purer than the heathen, if you deny yourself no more, if you are not
more religious? I know of many systems of religion esteemed heathenish
whose precepts fill the reader with shame, and provoke him to new
endeavors, though it be to the performance of rites merely.

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

  Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he
worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by
hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and our
material is our own flesh and blood and bones. Any nobleness begins at
once to refine a man's features, any meanness or sensuality to imbrute

  John Farmer sat at his door one September evening, after a hard
day's work, his mind still running on his labor more or less. Having
bathed, he sat down to re-create his intellectual man. It was a rather
cool evening, and some of his neighbors were apprehending a frost.
He had not attended to the train of his thoughts long when he heard
some one playing on a flute, and that sound harmonized with his
mood. Still he thought of his work; but the burden of his thought was,
that though this kept running in his head, and he found himself
planning and contriving it against his will, yet it concerned him very
little. It was no more than the scurf of his skin, which was
constantly shuffled off. But the notes of the flute came home to his
ears out of a different sphere from that he worked in, and suggested
work for certain faculties which slumbered in him. They gently did
away with the street, and the village, and the state in which he
lived. A voice said to him- Why do you stay here and live this mean
moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you? Those
same stars twinkle over other fields than these.- But how to come
out of this condition and actually migrate thither? All that he
could think of was to practise some new austerity, to let his mind
descend into his body and redeem it, and treat himself with ever
increasing respect.

                          BRUTE NEIGHBORS.

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

  Hermit. I wonder what the world is doing now. I have not heard so
much as a locust over the sweet-fern these three hours. The pigeons
are all asleep upon their roosts- no flutter from them. Was that a
farmer's noon horn which sounded from beyond the woods just now? The
hands are coming in to boiled salt beef and cider and Indian bread.
Why will men worry themselves so? He that does not eat need not
work. I wonder how much they have reaped. Who would live there where a
body can never think for the barking of Bose? And oh, the
housekeeping! to keep bright the devil's door-knobs, and scour his
tubs this bright day! Better not keep a house. Say, some hollow
tree; and then for morning calls and dinner-parties! Only a woodpecker
tapping. Oh, they swarm; the sun is too warm there; they are born
too far into life for me. I have water from the spring, and a loaf
of brown bread on the shelf.- Hark! I hear a rustling of the leaves.
Is it some ill-fed village bound yielding to the instinct of the
chase? or the lost pig which is said to be in these woods, whose
tracks I saw after the rain? It comes on apace; my sumachs and
sweetbriers tremble.- Eh, Mr. Poet, is it you? How do you like the
world today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  A phoebe soon built in my shed, and a robin for protection in a pine
which grew against the house. In June the partridge (Tetrao umbellus),
which is so shy a bird, led her brood past my windows, from the
woods in the rear to the front of my house, clucking and calling to
them like a hen, and in all her behavior proving herself the hen of
the woods. The young suddenly disperse on your approach, at a signal
from the mother, as if a whirlwind had swept them away, and they so
exactly resemble the dried leaves and twigs that many a traveler has
placed his foot in the midst of a brood, and heard the whir of the old
bird as she flew off, and her anxious calls and mewing, or seen her
trail her mings to attract his attention, without suspecting their
neighborhood. The parent will sometimes roll and spin round before you
in such a dishabille, that you cannot, for a few moments, detect
what kind of creature it is. The young squat still and flat, often
running their heads under a leaf, and mind only their mother's
directions given from a distance, nor will your approach make them run
again and betray themselves. You may even tread on them, or have
your eyes on them for a minute, without discovering them. I have
held them in my open hand at such a time, and still their only care,
obedient to their mother and their instinct, was to squat there
without fear or trembling. So perfect is this instinct, that once,
when I had laid them on the leaves again, and one accidentally fell on
its side, it was found with the rest in exactly the same position
ten minutes afterward. They are not callow like the young of most
birds, but more perfectly developed and precocious even than chickens.
The remarkably adult yet innocent expression of their open and
serene eyes is very memorable. All intelligence seems reflected in
them. They suggest not merely the purity of infancy, but a wisdom
clarified by experience. Such an eye was not born when the bird was,
but is coeval with the sky it reflects. The woods do not yield another
such a gem. The traveller does not often look into such a limpid well.
The ignorant or reckless sportsman often shoots the parent at such a
time, and leaves these innocents to fall a prey to some prowling beast
or bird, or gradually mingle with the decaying leaves which they so
much resemble. It is said that when hatched by a hen they will
directly disperse on some alarm, and so are lost, for they never
hear the mother's call which gathers them again. These were my hens
and chickens.

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

  I was witness to events of a less peaceful character. One day when I
went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed
two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an
inch long, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Having
once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled
on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find
that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a
duellum, but a bellum, a war between two races of ants, the red always
pitted against the black, and frequently two red ones to one black.
The legions of these Myrmidons covered all the hills and vales in my
woodyard, and the ground was already strewn with the dead and dying,
both red and black. It was the only battle which I have ever
witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle was
raging; internecine war; the red republicans on the one hand, and
the black imperialists on the other. On every side they were engaged
in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human
soldiers never fought so resolutely. I watched a couple that were fast
locked in each other's embraces, in a little sunny valley amid the
chips, now at noonday prepared to fight till the sun went down, or
life went out. The smaller red champion had fastened himself like a
vice to his adversary's front, and through all the tumblings on that
field never for an instant ceased to gnaw at one of his feelers near
the root, having already caused the other to go by the board; while
the stronger black one dashed him from side to side, and, as I saw
on looking nearer, had already divested him of several of his members.
They fought with more pertinacity than bulldogs. Neither manifested
the least disposition to retreat. It was evident that their battle-cry
was "Conquer or die." In the meanwhile there came along a single red
ant on the hillside of this valley, evidently full of excitement,
who either had despatched his foe, or had not yet taken part in the
battle; probably the latter, for he had lost none of his limbs;
whose mother had charged him to return with his shield or upon it.
Or perchance he was some Achilles, who had nourished his wrath
apart, and had now come to avenge or rescue his Patroclus. He saw this
unequal combat from afar- for the blacks were nearly twice the size of
the red- he drew near with rapid pace till be stood on his guard
within half an inch of the combatants; then, watching his opportunity,
he sprang upon the black warrior, and commenced his operations near
the root of his right fore leg, leaving the foe to select among his
own members; and so there were three united for life, as if a new kind
of attraction had been invented which put all other locks and
cements to shame. I should not have wondered by this time to find that
they had their respective musical bands stationed on some eminent
chip, and playing their national airs the while, to excite the slow
and cheer the dying combatants. I was myself excited somewhat even
as if they had been men. The more you think of it, the less the
difference. And certainly there is not the fight recorded in Concord
history, at least, if in the history of America, that will bear a
moment's comparison with this, whether for the numbers engaged in
it, or for the patriotism and heroism displayed. For numbers and for
carnage it was an Austerlitz or Dresden. Concord Fight! Two killed
on the patriots' side, and Luther Blanchard wounded! Why here every
ant was a Buttrick- "Fire! for God's sake fire!"- and thousands shared
the fate of Davis and Hosmer. There was not one hireling there. I have
no doubt that it was a principle they fought for, as much as our
ancestors, and not to avoid a three-penny tax on their tea; and the
results of this battle will be as important and memorable to those
whom it concerns as those of the battle of Bunker Hill, at least.

  I took up the chip oil which the three I have particularly described
were struggling, carried it into my house, and placed it under a
tumbler on my window-sill, in order to see the issue. Holding a
microscope to the first-mentioned red ant, I saw that, though he was
assiduously gnawing at the near fore leg of his enemy, having
severed his remaining feeler, his own breast was all torn away,
exposing what vitals he had there to the jaws of the black warrior,
whose breastplate was apparently too thick for him to pierce; and
the dark carbuncles of the sufferer's eyes shone with ferocity such as
war only could excite. They struggled half an hour longer under the
tumbler, and when I looked again the black soldier had severed the
heads of his foes from their bodies, and the still living heads were
hanging on either side of him like ghastly trophies at his saddle-bow,
still apparently as firmly fastened as ever, and he was endeavoring
with feeble struggles, being without feelers and with only the remnant
of a leg, and I know not how many other wounds, to divest himself of
them; which at length, after half an hour more, he accomplished. I
raised the glass, and he went off over the window-sill in that
crippled state. Whether he finally survived that combat, and spent the
remainder of his days in some Hotel des Invalides, I do not know;
but I thought that his industry would not be worth much thereafter.
I never learned which party was victorious, nor the cause of the
war; but I felt for the rest of that day as if I had had my feelings
excited and harrowed by witnessing the struggle, the ferocity and
carnage, of a human battle before my door.

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

  Many a village Bose, fit only to course a mud-turtle in a
victualling cellar, sported his heavy quarters in the woods, without
the knowledge of his master, and ineffectually smelled at old fox
burrows and woodchucks' holes; led perchance by some slight cur
which nimbly threaded the wood, and might still inspire a natural
terror in its denizens;- now far behind his guide, barking like a
canine bull toward some small squirrel which had treed itself for
scrutiny, then, cantering off, bending the bushes with his weight,
imagining that he is on the track of some stray member of the jerbilla
family. Once I was surprised to see a cat walking along the stony
shore of the pond, for they rarely wander so far from home. The
surprise was mutual. Nevertheless the most domestic cat, which has
lain on a rug all her days, appears quite at home in the woods, and,
by her sly and stealthy behavior, proves herself more native there
than the regular inhabitants. Once, when berrying, I met with a cat
with young kittens in the woods, quite wild, and they all, like
their mother, had their backs up and were fiercely spitting at me. A
few years before I lived in the woods there was what was called a
"winged cat" in one of the farm-houses in Lincoln nearest the pond,
Mr. Gilian Baker's. When I called to see her in June, 1842, she was
gone a-hunting in the woods, as was her wont (I am not sure whether it
was a male or female, and so use the more common pronoun), but her
mistress told me that she came into the neighborhood a little more
than a year before, in April, and was finally taken into their
house; that she was of a dark brownish-gray color, with a white spot
on her throat, and white feet, and had a large bushy tail like a
fox; that in the winter the fur grew thick and flatted out along her
sides, forming stripes ten or twelve inches long by two and a half
wide, and under her chin like a muff, the upper side loose, the
under matted like felt, and in the spring these appendages dropped
off. They gave me a pair of her "wings," which I keep still. There
is no appearance of a membrane about them. Some thought it was part
flying squirrel or some other wild animal, which is not impossible,
for, according to naturalists, prolific hybrids have been produced
by the union of the marten and domestic cat. This would have been
the right kind of cat for me to keep, if I had kept any; for why
should not a poet's cat be winged as well as his horse?

  In the fall the loon (Colymbus glacialis) came, as usual, to moult
and bathe in the pond, making the woods ring with his wild laughter
before I had risen. At rumor of his arrival all the Mill-dam sportsmen
are on the alert, in gigs and on foot, two by two and three by
three, with patent rifles and conical balls and spy-glasses. They come
rustling through the woods like autumn leaves, at least ten men to one
loon. Some station themselves on this side of the pond, some on
that, for the poor bird cannot be omnipresent; if he dive here he must
come up there. But now the kind October wind rises, rustling the
leaves and rippling the surface of the water, so that no loon can be
heard or seen, though his foes sweep the pond with spy-glasses, and
make the woods resound with their discharges. The waves generously
rise and dash angrily, taking sides with all water-fowl, and our
sportsmen must beat a retreat to town and shop and unfinished jobs.
But they were too often successful. When I went to get a pail of water
early in the morning I frequently saw this stately bird sailing out of
my cove within a few rods. If I endeavored to overtake him in a
boat, in order to see how he would manoeuvre, he would dive and be
completely lost, so that I did not discover him again, sometimes, till
the latter part of the day. But I was more than a match for him on the
surface. He commonly went off in a rain.

  As I was paddling along the north shore one very calm October
afternoon, for such days especially they settle on to the lakes,
like the milkweed down, having looked in vain over the pond for a
loon, suddenly one, sailing out from the shore toward the middle a few
rods in front of me, set up his mild laugh and betrayed himself. I
pursued with a paddle and he dived, but when he came up I was nearer
than before. He dived again, but I miscalculated the direction he
would take, and we were fifty rods apart when he came to the surface
this time, for I had helped to widen the interval; and again he
laughed long and loud, and with more reason than before. He manoeuvred
so cunningly that I could not get within half a dozen rods of him.
Each time, when he came to the surface, turning his head this way
and that, he cooly surveyed the water and the land, and apparently
chose his course so that he might come up where there was the widest
expanse of water and at the greatest distance from the boat. It was
surprising how quickly he made up his mind and put his resolve into
execution. He led me at once to the widest part of the pond, and could
not be driven from it. While he was thinking one thing in his brain, I
was endeavoring to divine his thought in mine. It was a pretty game,
played on the smooth surface of the pond, a man against a loon.
Suddenly your adversary's checker disappears beneath the board, and
the problem is to place yours nearest to where his will appear
again. Sometimes he would come up unexpectedly on the opposite side of
me, having apparently passed directly under the boat. So long-winded
was he and so unweariable, that when he had swum farthest he would
immediately plunge again, nevertheless; and then no wit could divine
where in the deep pond, beneath the smooth surface, he might be
speeding his way like a fish, for he had time and ability to visit the
bottom of the pond in its deepest part. It is said that loons have
been caught in the New York lakes eighty feet beneath the surface,
with hooks set for trout- though Walden is deeper than that. How
surprised must the fishes be to see this ungainly visitor from another
sphere speeding his way amid their schools! Yet he appeared to know
his course as surely under water as on the surface, and swam much
faster there. Once or twice I saw a ripple where he approached the
surface, just put his head out to reconnoitre, and instantly dived
again. I found that it was as well for me to rest on my oars and
wait his reappearing as to endeavor to calculate where he would
rise; for again and again, when I was straining my eyes over the
surface one way, I would suddenly be startled by his unearthly laugh
behind me. But why, after displaying so much cunning, did he
invariably betray himself the moment he came up by that loud laugh?
Did not his white breast enough betray him? He was indeed a silly
loon, I thought. I could commonly hear the splash of the water when he
came up, and so also detected him. But after an hour he seemed as
fresh as ever, dived as willingly, and swam yet farther than at first.
It was surprising to see how serenely he sailed off with unruffled
breast when he came to the surface, doing all the work with his webbed
feet beneath. His usual note was this demoniac laughter, yet
somewhat like that of a water-fowl; but occasionally, when he had
balked me most successfully and come up a long way off, he uttered a
long-drawn unearthly howl, probably more like that of a wolf than
any bird; as when a beast puts his muzzle to the ground and
deliberately howls. This was his looning- perhaps the wildest sound
that is ever heard here, making the woods ring far and wide. I
concluded that he laughed in derision of my efforts, confident of
his own resources. Though the sky was by this time overcast, the
pond was so smooth that I could see where he broke the surface when
I did not hear him. His white breast, the stillness of the air, and
the smoothness of the water were all against him. At length having
come up fifty rods off, he uttered one of those prolonged howls, as if
calling on the god of loons to aid him, and immediately there came a
wind from the east and rippled the surface, and filled the whole air
with misty rain, and I was impressed as if it were the prayer of the
loon answered, and his god was angry with me; and so I left him
disappearing far away on the tumultuous surface.

  For hours, in fall days, I watched the ducks cunningly tack and veer
and hold the middle of the pond, far from the sportsman; tricks
which they will have less need to practise in Louisiana bayous. When
compelled to rise they would sometimes circle round and round and over
the pond at a considerable height, from which they could easily see to
other ponds and the river, like black motes in the sky; and, when I
thought they had gone off thither long since, they would settle down
by a slanting flight of a quarter of a mile on to a distant part which
was left free; but what beside safety they got by sailing in the
middle of Walden I do not know, unless they love its water for the
same reason that I do.


  IN OCTOBER I went a-graping to the river meadows, and loaded
myself with clusters more precious for their beauty and fragrance than
for food. There, too, I admired, though I did not gather, the
cranberries, small waxen gems, pendants of the meadow grass, pearly
and red, which the farmer plucks with an ugly rake, leaving the smooth
meadow in a snarl, heedlessly measuring them by the bushel and the
dollar only, and sells the spoils of the meads to Boston and New York;
destined to be jammed, to satisfy the tastes of lovers of Nature
there. So butchers rake the tongues of bison out of the prairie grass,
regardless of the torn and drooping plant. The barberry's brilliant
fruit was likewise food for my eyes merely; but I collected a small
store of wild apples for coddling, which the proprietor and travellers
had overlooked. When chestnuts were ripe I laid up half a bushel for
winter. It was very exciting at that season to roam the then boundless
chestnut woods of Lincoln- they now sleep their long sleep under the
railroad- with a bag on my shoulder, and a stick to open burs with
in my hand, for I did not always wait for the frost, amid the rustling
of leaves and the loud reproofs of the red squirrels and the jays,
whose half-consumed nuts I sometimes stole, for the burs which they
had selected were sure to contain sound ones. Occasionally I climbed
and shook the trees. They grew also behind my house, and one large
tree, which almost overshadowed it, was, when in flower, a bouquet
which scented the whole neighborhood, but the squirrels and the jays
got most of its fruit; the last coming in flocks early in the
morning and picking the nuts out of the burs before they fell, I
relinquished these trees to them and visited the more distant woods
composed wholly of chestnut. These nuts, as far as they went, were a
good substitute for bread. Many other substitutes might, perhaps, be
found. Digging one day for fishworms, I discovered the groundnut
(Apios tuberosa) on its string, the potato of the aborigines, a sort
of fabulous fruit, which I had begun to doubt if I had ever dug and
eaten in childhood, as I had told, and had not dreamed it. I had often
since seen its crumpled red velvety blossom supported by the stems
of other plants without knowing it to be the same. Cultivation has
well-nigh exterminated it. It has a sweetish taste, much like that
of a frost-bitten potato, and I found it better boiled than roasted.
This tuber seemed like a faint promise of Nature to rear her own
children and feed them simply here at some future period. In these
days of fatted cattle and waving grain-fields this humble root,
which was once the totem of an Indian tribe, is quite forgotten, or
known only by its flowering vine; but let wild Nature reign here
once more, and the tender and luxurious English grains will probably
disappear before a myriad of foes, and without the care of man the
crow may carry back even the last seed of corn to the great
cornfield of the Indian's God in the southwest, whence he is said to
have brought it; but the now almost exterminated ground-nut will
perhaps revive and flourish in spite of frosts and wildness, prove
itself indigenous, and resume its ancient importance and dignity as
the diet of the hunter tribe. Some Indian Ceres or Minerva must have
been the inventor and bestower of it; and when the reign of poetry
commences here, its leaves and string of nuts may be represented on
our works of art.

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

  The wasps came by thousands to my lodge in October, as to winter
quarters, and settled on my windows within and on the walls
overhead, sometimes deterring visitors from entering. Each morning,
when they were numbed with cold, I swept some of them out, but I did
not trouble myself much to get rid of them; I even felt complimented
by their regarding my house as a desirable shelter. They never
molested me seriously, though they bedded with me; and they
gradually disappeared, into what crevices I do not know, avoiding
winter and unspeakable cold.

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

  When I came to build my chimney I studied masonry. My bricks,
being second-hand ones, required to be cleaned with a trowel, so
that I learned more than usual of the qualities of bricks and trowels.
The mortar on them was fifty years old, and was said to be still
growing harder; but this is one of those sayings which men love to
repeat whether they are true or not. Such sayings themselves grow
harder and adhere more firmly with age, and it would take many blows
with a trowel to clean an old wiseacre of them. Many of the villages
of Mesopotamia are built of secondhand bricks of a very good
quality, obtained from the ruins of Babylon, and the cement on them is
older and probably harder still. However that may be, I was struck
by the peculiar toughness of the steel which bore so many violent
blows without being worn out. As my bricks had been in a chimney
before, though I did not read the name of Nebuchadnezzar on them, I
picked out its many fireplace bricks as I could find, to save work and
waste, and I filled the spaces between the bricks about the
fireplace with stones from the pond shore, and also made my mortar
with the white sand from the same place. I lingered most about the
fireplace, as the most vital part of the house. Indeed, I worked so
deliberately, that though I commenced at the ground in the morning,
a course of bricks raised a few inches above the floor served for my
pillow at night; yet I did not get a stiff neck for it that I
remember; my stiff neck is of older date. I took a poet to board for a
fortnight about those times, which caused me to be put to it for room.
He brought his own knife, though I had two, and we used to scour
them by thrusting them into the earth. He shared with me the labors of
cooking. I was pleased to see my work rising so square and solid by
degrees, and reflected, that, if it proceeded slowly, it was
calculated to endure a long time. The chimney is to some extent an
independent structure, standing on the ground, and rising through
the house to the heavens; even after the house is burned it still
stands sometimes, and its importance and independence are apparent.
This was toward the end of summer. It was now November.

  The north wind had already begun to cool the pond, though it took
many weeks of steady blowing to accomplish it, it is so deep. When I
began to have a fire at evening, before I plastered my house, the
chimney carried smoke particularly well, because of the numerous
chinks between the boards. Yet I passed some cheerful evenings in that
cool and airy apartment, surrounded by the rough brown boards full
of knots, and rafters with the bark on high overhead. My house never
pleased my eye so much after it was plastered, though I was obliged to
confess that it was more comfortable. Should not every apartment in
which man dwells be lofty enough to create some obscurity overhead,
where flickering shadows may play at evening about the rafters?
These forms are more agreeable to the fancy and imagination than
fresco paintings or other the most expensive furniture. I now first
began to inhabit my house, I may say, when I began to use it for
warmth as well as shelter. I had got a couple of old fire-dogs to keep
the wood from the hearth, and it did me good to see the soot form on
the back of the chimney which I had built, and I poked the fire with
more right and more satisfaction than usual. My dwelling was small,
and I could hardly entertain an echo in it; but it seemed larger for
being a single apartment and remote from neighbors. All the
attractions of a house were concentrated in one room; it was
kitchen, chamber, parlor, and keeping-room; and whatever
satisfaction parent or child, master or servant, derive from living in
a house, I enjoyed it all. Cato says, the master of a family
(patremfamilias) must have in his rustic villa "cellam oleariam,
vinariam, dolia multa, uti lubeat caritatem expectare, et rei, et
virtuti, et gloriae erit," that is, "an oil and wine cellar, many
casks, so that it may be pleasant to expect hard times; it will be for
his advantage, and virtue, and glory." I had in my cellar a firkin
of potatoes, about two quarts of peas with the weevil in them, and
on my shelf a little rice, a jug of molasses, and of rye and Indian
meal a peck each.

  I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house, standing in a
golden age, of enduring materials, and without gingerbread work, which
shall still consist of only one room, a vast, rude, substantial,
primitive hall, without ceiling or plastering, with bare rafters and
purlins supporting a sort of lower heaven over one's head-useful to
keep off rain and snow, where the king and queen posts stand out to
receive your homage, when you have done reverence to the prostrate
Saturn of an older dynasty on stepping over the sill; a cavernous
house, wherein you must reach up a torch upon a pole to see the
roof; where some may live in the fireplace, some in the recess of a
window, and some on settles, some at one end of the hall, some at
another, and some aloft on rafters with the spiders, if they choose; a
house which you have got into when you have opened the outside door,
and the ceremony is over; where the weary traveller may wash, and eat,
and converse, and sleep, without further journey; such a shelter as
you would be glad to reach in a tempestuous night, containing all
the essentials of a house, and nothing for house-keeping; where you
can see all the treasures of the house at one view, and everything
hangs upon its peg, that a man should use; at once kitchen, pantry,
parlor, chamber, storehouse, and garret; where you can see so
necessary a thin, as a barrel or a ladder, so convenient a thing as
a cupboard, and hear the pot boil, and pay your respects to the fire
that cooks your dinner, and the oven that bakes your bread, and the
necessary furniture and utensils are the chief ornaments; where the
washing is not put out, nor the fire, nor the mistress, and perhaps
you are sometimes requested to move from off the trapdoor, when the
cook would descend into the cellar, and so learn whether the ground is
solid or hollow beneath you without stamping. A house whose inside
is as open and manifest as a bird's nest, and you cannot go in at
the front door and out at the back without seeing some of its
inhabitants; where to be a guest is to be presented with the freedom
of the house, and not to be carefully excluded from seven eighths of
it, shut up in a particular cell, and told to make yourself at home
therein solitary confinement. Nowadays the host does not admit you
to his hearth, but has got the mason to build one for yourself
somewhere in his alley, and hospitality is the art of keeping you at
the greatest distance. There is as much secrecy about the cooking as
if he had a design to poison you. I am aware that I have been on
many a man's premises, and might have been legally ordered off, but
I am not aware that I have been in many men's houses. I might visit in
my old clothes a king and queen who lived simply in such a house as
I have described, if I were going their way; but backing out of a
modern palace will be all that I shall desire to learn, if ever I am
caught in one.

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

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

  I did not plaster till it was freezing weather. I brought over
some whiter and cleaner sand for this purpose from the opposite
shore of the pond in a boat, a sort of conveyance which would have
tempted me to go much farther if necessary. My house had in the
meanwhile been shingled down to the ground on every side. In lathing I
was pleased to be able to send home each nail with a single blow of
the hammer, and it was my ambition to transfer the plaster from the
board to the wall neatly and rapidly. I remembered the story of a
conceited fellow, who, in fine clothes, was wont to lounge about the
village once, giving advice to workmen. Venturing one day to
substitute deeds for words, he turned up his cuffs, seized a
plasterer's board, and having loaded his trowel without mishap, with a
complacent look toward the lathing overhead, made a bold gesture
thitherward; and straightway, to his complete discomfiture, received
the whole contents in his ruffled bosom. I admired anew the economy
and convenience of plastering, which so effectually shuts out the cold
and takes a handsome finish, and I learned the various casualties to
which the plasterer is liable. I was surprised to see how thirsty
the bricks were which drank up all the moisture in my plaster before I
had smoothed it, and how many pailfuls of water it takes to christen a
new hearth. I had the previous winter made a small quantity of lime by
burning the shells of the Unio fluviatilis, which our river affords,
for the sake of the experiment; so that I knew where my materials came
from. I might have got good limestone within a mile or two and
burned it myself, if I had cared to do so.

  The pond had in the meanwhile skimmed over in the shadiest and
shallowest coves, some days or even weeks before the general freezing.
The first ice is especially interesting and perfect, being hard, dark,
and transparent, and affords the best opportunity that ever offers for
examining the bottom where it is shallow; for you can lie at your
length on ice only an inch thick, like a skater insect on the
surface of the water, and study the bottom at your leisure, only two
or three inches distant, like a picture behind a glass, and the
water is necessarily always smooth then. There are many furrows in the
sand where some creature has travelled about and doubled on its
tracks; and, for wrecks, it is strewn with the cases of caddis-worms
made of minute grains of white quartz. Perhaps these have creased
it, for you find some of their cases in the furrows, though they are
deep and broad for them to make. But the ice itself is the object of
most interest, though you must improve the earliest opportunity to
study it. If you examine it closely the morning after it freezes,
you find that the greater part of the bubbles, which at first appeared
to be within it, are against its under surface, and that more are
continually rising from the bottom; while the ice is as yet
comparatively solid and dark, that is, you see the water through it.
These bubbles are from an eightieth to an eighth of an inch in
diameter, very clear and beautiful, and you see your face reflected in
them through the ice. There may be thirty or forty of them to a square
inch. There are also already within the ice narrow oblong
perpendicular bubbles about half an inch long, sharp cones with the
apex upward; or oftener, if the ice is quite fresh, minute spherical
bubbles one directly above another, like a string of beads. But
these within the ice are not so numerous nor obvious as those beneath.
I sometimes used to cast on stones to try the strength of the ice, and
those which broke through carried in air with them, which formed
very large and conspicuous white bubbles beneath. One day when I
came to the same place forty-eight hours afterward, I found that those
large bubbles were still perfect, though an inch more of ice had
formed, as I could see distinctly by the seam in the edge of a cake.
But as the last two days had been very warm, like an Indian summer,
the ice was not now transparent, showing the dark green color of the
water, and the bottom, but opaque and whitish or gray, and though
twice as thick was hardly stronger than before, for the air bubbles
had greatly expanded under this heat and run together, and lost
their regularity; they were no longer one directly over another, but
often like silvery coins poured from a bag, one overlapping another,
or in thin flakes, as if occupying slight cleavages. The beauty of the
ice was gone, and it was too late to study the bottom. Being curious
to know what position my great bubbles occupied with regard to the new
ice, I broke out a cake containing a middling sized one, and turned it
bottom upward. The new ice had formed around and under the bubble,
so that it was included between the two ices. It was wholly in the
lower ice, but close against the upper, and was flattish, or perhaps
slightly lenticular, with a rounded edge, a quarter of an inch deep by
four inches in diameter; and I was surprised to find that directly
under the bubble the ice was melted with great regularity in the
form of a saucer reversed, to the height of five eighths of an inch in
the middle, leaving a thin partition there between the water and the
bubble, hardly an eighth of an inch thick; and in many places the
small bubbles in this partition had burst out downward, and probably
there was no ice at all under the largest bubbles, which were a foot
in diameter. I inferred that the infinite number of minute bubbles
which I had first seen against the under surface of the ice were now
frozen in likewise, and that each, in its degree, had operated like
a burning-glass on the ice beneath to melt and rot it. These are the
little air-guns which contribute to make the ice crack and whoop.

  At length the winter set in good earnest, just as I had finished
plastering, and the wind began to howl around the house as if it had
not had permission to do so till then. Night after night the geese
came lumbering in the dark with a clangor and a whistling of wings,
even after the ground was covered with snow, some to alight in Walden,
and some flying low over the woods toward Fair Haven, bound for
Mexico. Several times, when returning from the village at ten or
eleven o'clock at night, I heard the tread of a flock of geese, or
else ducks, on the dry leaves in the woods by a pond-hole behind my
dwelling, where they had come up to feed, and the faint honk or
quack of their leader as they hurried off. In 1845 Walden froze
entirely over for the first time on the night of the 22d of
December, Flint's and other shallower ponds and the river having
been frozen ten days or more; in '46, the 16th; in '49, about the
31st; and in '50, about the 27th of December; in '52, the 5th of
January; in '53, the 31st of December. The snow had already covered
the ground since the 25th of November, and surrounded me suddenly with
the scenery of winter. I withdrew yet farther into my shell, and
endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within my
breast. My employment out of doors now was to collect the dead wood in
the forest, bringing it in my hands or on my shoulders, or sometimes
trailing a dead pine tree under each arm to my shed. An old forest
fence which had seen its best days was a great haul for me. I
sacrificed it to Vulcan, for it was past serving the god Terminus. How
much more interesting an event is that man's supper who has just
been forth in the snow to hunt, nay, you might say, steal, the fuel to
cook it with! His bread and meat are sweet. There are enough fagots
and waste wood of all kinds in the forests of most of our towns to
support many fires, but which at present warm none, and, some think,
hinder the growth of the young wood. There was also the driftwood of
the pond. In the course of the summer I had discovered a raft of pitch
pine logs with the bark on, pinned together by the Irish when the
railroad was built. This I hauled up partly on the shore. After
soaking two years and then lying high six months it was perfectly
sound, though waterlogged past drying. I amused myself one winter
day with sliding this piecemeal across the pond, nearly half a mile,
skating behind with one end of a log fifteen feet long on my shoulder,
and the other on the ice; or I tied several logs together with a birch
withe, and then, with a longer birch or alder which had a book at
the end, dragged them across. Though completely waterlogged and almost
as heavy as lead, they not only burned long, but made a very hot fire;
nay, I thought that they burned better for the soaking, as if the
pitch, being confined by the water, burned longer, as in a lamp.

  Gilpin, in his account of the forest borderers of England, says that
"the encroachments of trespassers, and the houses and fences thus
raised on the borders of the forest," were "considered as great
nuisances by the old forest law, and were severely punished under
the name of purprestures, as tending ad terrorem ferarum- ad
nocumentum forestae, etc.," to the frightening of the game and the
detriment of the forest. But I was interested in the preservation of
the venison and the vert more than the hunters or woodchoppers, and as
much as though I had been the Lord Warden himself; and if any part was
burned, though I burned it myself by accident, I grieved with a
grief that lasted longer and was more inconsolable than that of the
proprietors; nay, I grieved when it was cut down by the proprietors
themselves. I would that our farmers when they cut down a forest
felt some of that awe which the old Romans did when they came to thin,
or let in the light to, a consecrated grove (lucum conlucare), that
is, would believe that it is sacred to some god. The Roman made an
expiatory offering, and prayed, Whatever god or goddess thou art to
whom this grove is sacred, be propitious to me, my family, and
children, etc.

  It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood even in this
age and in this new country, a value more permanent and universal than
that of gold. After all our discoveries and inventions no man will
go by a pile of wood. It is as precious to us as it was to our Saxon
and Norman ancestors. If they made their bows of it, we make our
gun-stocks of it. Michaux, more than thirty years ago, says that the
price of wood for fuel in New York and Philadelphia "nearly equals,
and sometimes exceeds, that of the best wood in Paris, though this
immense capital annually requires more than three hundred thousand
cords, and is surrounded to the distance of three hundred miles by
cultivated plains." In this town the price of wood rises almost
steadily, and the only question is, how much higher it is to be this
year than it was the last. Mechanics and tradesmen who come in
person to the forest on no other errand, are sure to attend the wood
auction, and even pay a high price for the privilege of gleaning after
the woodchopper. It is now many years that men have resorted to the
forest for fuel and the materials of the arts: the New Englander and
the New Hollander, the Parisian and the Celt, the farmer and Robin
Hood, Goody Blake and Harry Gill; in most parts of the world the
prince and the peasant, the scholar and the savage, equally require
still a few sticks from the forest to warm them and cook their food.
Neither could I do without them.

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

  A few pieces of fat pine were a great treasure. It is interesting to
remember how much of this food for fire is still concealed in the
bowels of the earth. In previous years I had often gone prospecting
over some bare hillside, where a pitch pine wood had formerly stood,
and got out the fat pine roots. They are almost indestructible. Stumps
thirty or forty years old, at least, will still be sound at the
core, though the sapwood has all become vegetable mould, as appears by
the scales of the thick bark forming a ring level with the earth
four or five inches distant from the heart. With axe and shovel you
explore this mine, and follow the marrowy store, yellow as beef
tallow, or as if you had struck on a vein of gold, deep into the
earth. But commonly I kindled my fire with the dry leaves of the
forest, which I had stored up in my shed before the snow came. Green
hickory finely split makes the woodchopper's kindlings, when he has
a camp in the woods. Once in a while I got a little of this. When
the villagers were lighting their fires beyond the horizon, I too gave
notice to the various wild inhabitants of Walden vale, by a smoky
streamer from my chimney, that I was awake.

        Light-winged Smoke, Icarian bird,

        Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight,

        Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,

        Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;

        Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form

        Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;

        By night star-veiling, and by day

        Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;

        Go thou my incense upward from this hearth,

        And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.

  Hard green wood just cut, though I used but little of that, answered
my purpose better than any other. I sometimes left a good fire when
I went to take a walk in a winter afternoon; and when I returned,
three or four hours afterward, it would be still alive and glowing. My
house was not empty though I was gone. It was as if I had left a
cheerful housekeeper behind. It was I and Fire that lived there; and
commonly my housekeeper proved trustworthy. One day, however, as I was
splitting wood, I thought that I would just look in at the window
and see if the house was not on fire; it was the only time I
remember to have been particularly anxious on this score; so I
looked and saw that a spark had caught my bed, and I went in and
extinguished it when it had burned a place as big as my hand. But my
house occupied so sunny and sheltered a position, and its roof was
so low, that I could afford to let the fire go out in the middle of
almost any winter day.

  The moles nested in my cellar, nibbling every third potato, and
making a snug bed even there of some hair left after plastering and of
brown paper; for even the wildest animals love comfort and warmth as
well as man, and they survive the winter only because they are so
careful to secure them. Some of my friends spoke as if I was coming to
the woods on purpose to freeze myself. The animal merely makes a
bed, which he warms with his body, in a sheltered place; but man,
having discovered fire, boxes up some air in a spacious apartment, and
warms that, instead of robbing himself, makes that his bed, in which
he can move about divested of more cumbrous clothing, maintain a
kind of summer in the midst of winter, and by means of windows even
admit the light, and with a lamp lengthen out the day. Thus he goes
a step or two beyond instinct, and saves a little time for the fine
arts. Though, when I had been exposed to the rudest blasts a long
time, my whole body began to grow torpid, when I reached the genial
atmosphere of my house I soon recovered my faculties and prolonged
my life. But the most luxuriously housed has little to boast of in
this respect, nor need we trouble ourselves to speculate how the human
race may be at last destroyed. It would be easy to cut their threads
any time with a little sharper blast from the north. We go on dating
from Cold Fridays and Great Snows; but a little colder Friday, or
greater snow would put a period to man's existence on the globe.

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

        "Never, bright flame, may be denied to me

        Thy dear, life imaging, close sympathy.

        What but my hopes shot upward e'er so bright?

        What but my fortunes sunk so low in night?

        Why art thou banished from our hearth and hall,

        Thou who art welcomed and beloved by all?

        Was thy existence then too fanciful

        For our life's common light, who are so dull?

        Did thy bright gleam mysterious converse hold

        With our congenial souls? secrets too bold?

        Well, we are safe and strong, for now we sit

        Beside a hearth where no dim shadows flit,

        Where nothing cheers nor saddens, but a fire

        Warms feet and hands- nor does to more aspire;

        By whose compact utilitarian heap

        The present may sit down and go to sleep,

        Nor fear the ghosts who from the dim past walked,

        And with us by the unequal light of the old wood fire talked."


  I WEATHERED some merry snow-storms, and spent some cheerful winter
evenings by my fireside, while the snow whirled wildly without, and
even the hooting of the owl was hushed. For many weeks I met no one in
my walks but those who came occasionally to cut wood and sled it to
the village. The elements, however, abetted me in making a path
through the deepest snow in the woods, for when I had once gone
through the wind blew the oak leaves into my tracks, where they
lodged, and by absorbing the rays of the sun melted the snow, and so
not only made a my bed for my feet, but in the night their dark line
was my guide. For human society I was obliged to conjure up the former
occupants of these woods. Within the memory of many of my townsmen the
road near which my house stands resounded with the laugh and gossip of
inhabitants, and the woods which border it were notched and dotted
here and there with their little gardens and dwellings, though it
was then much more shut in by the forest than now. In some places,
within my own remembrance, the pines would scrape both sides of a
chaise at once, and women and children who were compelled to go this
way to Lincoln alone and on foot did it with fear, and often ran a
good part of the distance. Though mainly but a humble route to
neighboring villages, or for the woodman's team, it once amused the
traveller more than now by its variety, and lingered longer in his
memory. Where now firm open fields stretch from the village to the
woods, it then ran through a maple swamp on a foundation of logs,
the remnants of which, doubtless, still underlie the present dusty
highway, from the Stratton, now the Alms-House, Farm, to Brister's

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

  Here, by the very corner of my field, still nearer to town,
Zilpha, a colored woman, had her little house, where she spun linen
for the townsfolk, making the Walden Woods ring with her shrill
singing, for she had a loud and notable voice. At length, in the war
of 1812, her dwelling was set on fire by English soldiers, prisoners
on parole, when she was away, and her cat and dog and hens were all
burned up together. She led a hard life, and somewhat inhumane. One
old frequenter of these woods remembers, that as he passed her house
one noon he heard her muttering to herself over her gurgling pot-
"Ye are all bones, bones!" I have seen bricks amid the oak copse

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

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

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

  Breed's hut was standing only a dozen years ago, though it had
long been unoccupied. It was about the size of mine. It was set on
fire by mischievous boys, one Election night, if I do not mistake. I
lived on the edge of the village then, and had just lost myself over
Davenant's "Gondibert," that winter that I labored with a lethargy-
which, by the way, I never knew whether to regard as a family
complaint, having an uncle who goes to sleep shaving himself, and is
obliged to sprout potatoes in a cellar Sundays, in order to keep awake
and keep the Sabbath, or as the consequence of my attempt to read
Chalmers' collection of English poetry without skipping. It fairly
overcame my Nervii. I had just sunk my head on this when the bells
rung fire, and in hot haste the engines rolled that way, led by a
straggling troop of men and boys, and I among the foremost, for I
had leaped the brook. We thought it was far south over the woods- we
who had run to fires before- barn, shop, or dwelling-house, or all
together. "It's Baker's barn," cried one. "It is the Codman place,"
affirmed another. And then fresh sparks went up above the wood, as
if the roof fell in, and we all shouted "Concord to the rescue!"
Wagons shot past with furious speed and crushing loads, bearing,
perchance, among the rest, the agent of the Insurance Company, who was
bound to go however far; and ever and anon the engine bell tinkled
behind, more slow and sure; and rearmost of all, as it was afterward
whispered, came they who set the fire and gave the alarm. Thus we kept
on like true idealists, rejecting the evidence of our senses, until at
a turn in the road we heard the crackling and actually felt the heat
of the fire from over the wall, and realized, alas! that we were
there. The very nearness of the fire but cooled our ardor. At first we
thought to throw a frog-pond on to it; but concluded to let it burn,
it was so far gone and so worthless. So we stood round our engine,
jostled one another, expressed our sentiments through
speaking-trumpets, or in lower tone referred to the great
conflagrations which the world has witnessed, including Bascom's shop,
and, between ourselves, we thought that, were we there in season
with our "tub," and a full frog-pond by, we could turn that threatened
last and universal one into another flood. We finally retreated
without doing any mischief- returned to sleep and "Gondibert." But
as for "Gondibert," I would except that passage in the preface about
wit being the soul's powder- "but most of mankind are strangers to
wit, as Indians are to powder."

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

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

  Farther in the woods than any of these, where the road approaches
nearest to the pond, Wyman the potter squatted, and furnished his
townsmen with earthenware, and left descendants to succeed him.
Neither were they rich in worldly goods, holding the land by
sufferance while they lived; and there often the sheriff came in
vain to collect the taxes, and "attached a chip," for form's sake,
as I have read in his accounts, there being nothing else that he could
lay his hands on. One day in midsummer, when I was hoeing, a man who
was carrying a load of pottery to market stopped his horse against
my field and inquired concerning Wyman the younger. He had long ago
bought a potter's wheel of him, and wished to know what had become
of him. I had read of the potter's clay and wheel in Scripture, but it
had never occurred to me that the pots we use were not such as had
come down unbroken from those days, or grown on trees like gourds
somewhere, and I was pleased to hear that so fictile an art was ever
practiced in my neighborhood.

  The last inhabitant of these woods before me was an Irishman, Hugh
Quoil (if I have spelt his name with coil enough), who occupied
Wyman's tenement- Col. Quoil, he was called. Rumor said that he had
been a soldier at Waterloo. If he had lived I should have made him
fight his battles over again. His trade here was that of a ditcher.
Napoleon went to St. Helena; Quoil came to Walden Woods. All I know of
him is tragic. He was a man of manners, like one who had seen the
world, and was capable of more civil speech than you could well attend
to. He wore a greatcoat in midsummer, being affected with the
trembling delirium, and his face was the color of carmine. He died
in the road at the foot of Brister's Hill shortly after I came to
the woods, so that I have not remembered him as a neighbor. Before his
house was pulled down, when his comrades avoided it as "an unlucky
castle," I visited it. There lay his old clothes curled up by use,
as if they were himself, upon his raised plank bed. His pipe lay
broken on the hearth, instead of a bowl broken at the fountain. The
last could never have been the symbol of his death, for he confessed
to me that, though he had heard of Brister's Spring, he had never seen
it; and soiled cards, kings of diamonds, spades, and hearts, were
scattered over the floor. One black chicken which the administrator
could not catch, black as night and as silent, not even croaking,
awaiting Reynard, still went to roost in the next apartment. In the
rear there was the dim outline of a garden, which had been planted but
had never received its first hoeing, owing to those terrible shaking
fits, though it was now harvest time. It was overrun with Roman
wormwood and beggar-ticks, which last stuck to my clothes for all
fruit. The skin of a woodchuck was freshly stretched upon the back
of the house, a trophy of his last Waterloo; but no warm cap or
mittens would he want more.

  Now only a dent in the earth marks the site of these dwellings, with
buried cellar stones, and strawberries, raspberries, thimbleberries,
hazel-bushes, and sumachs growing in the sunny sward there; some pitch
pine or gnarled oak occupies what was the chimney nook, and a
sweet-scented black birch, perhaps, waves where the door-stone was.
Sometimes the well dent is visible, where once a spring oozed; now dry
and tearless grass; or it was covered deep- not to be discovered
till some late day- with a flat stone under the sod, when the last
of the race departed. What a sorrowful act must that be- the
covering up of wells! coincident with the opening of wells of tears.
These cellar dents, like deserted fox burrows, old holes, are all that
is left where once were the stir and bustle of human life, and
"fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute," in some form and dialect or
other were by turns discussed. But all I can learn of their
conclusions amounts to just this, that "Cato and Brister pulled wool";
which is about as edifying as the history of more famous schools of

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

  But this small village, germ of something more, why did it fail
while Concord keeps its ground? Were there no natural advantages- no
water privileges, forsooth? Ay, the deep Walden Pond and cool
Brister's Spring- privilege to drink long and healthy draughts at
these, all unimproved by these men but to dilute their glass. They
were universally a thirsty race. Might not the basket, stable-broom,
mat-making, corn-parching, linen-spinning, and pottery business have
thrived here, making the wilderness to blossom like the rose, and a
numerous posterity have inherited the land of their fathers? The
sterile soil would at least have been proof against a lowland
degeneracy. Alas! how little does the memory of these human
inhabitants enhance the beauty of the landscape! Again, perhaps,
Nature will try, with me for a first settler, and my house raised last
spring to be the oldest in the hamlet.

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

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

  In the deepest snows, the path which I used from the highway to my
house, about half a mile long, might have been represented by a
meandering dotted line, with wide intervals between the dots. For a
week of even weather I took exactly the same number of steps, and of
the same length, coming and going, stepping deliberately and with
the precision of a pair of dividers in my own deep tracks- to such
routine the winter reduces us- yet often they were filled with
heaven's own blue. But no weather interfered fatally with my walks, or
rather my going abroad, for I frequently tramped eight or ten miles
through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree,
or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines; when the
ice and snow causing their limbs to droop, and so sharpening their
tops, had changed the pines into fir trees; wading to the tops of
the highest bills when the show was nearly two feet deep on a level,
and shaking down another snow-storm on my head at every step; or
sometimes creeping and floundering thither on my hands and knees, when
the hunters had gone into winter quarters. One afternoon I amused
myself by watching a barred owl (Strix nebulosa) sitting on one of the
lower dead limbs of a white pine, close to the trunk, in broad
daylight, I standing within a rod of him. He could hear me when I
moved and cronched the snow with my feet, but could not plainly see
me. When I made most noise he would stretch out his neck, and erect
his neck feathers, and open his eyes wide; but their lids soon fell
again, and he began to nod. I too felt a slumberous influence after
watching him half an hour, as he sat thus with his eyes half open,
like a cat, winged brother of the cat. There was only a narrow slit
left between their lids, by which be preserved a pennisular relation
to me; thus, with half-shut eyes, looking out from the land of dreams,
and endeavoring to realize me, vague object or mote that interrupted
his visions. At length, on some louder noise or my nearer approach, he
would grow uneasy and sluggishly turn about on his perch, as if
impatient at having his dreams disturbed; and when he launched himself
off and flapped through the pines, spreading his wings to unexpected
breadth, I could not hear the slightest sound from them. Thus,
guided amid the pine boughs rather by a delicate sense of their
neighborhood than by sight, feeling his twilight way, as it were, with
his sensitive pinions, he found a new perch, where he might in peace
await the dawning of his day.

  As I walked over the long causeway made for the railroad through the
meadows, I encountered many a blustering and nipping wind, for nowhere
has it freer play; and when the frost had smitten me on one cheek,
heathen as I was, I turned to it the other also. Nor was it much
better by the carriage road from Brister's Hill. For I came to town
still, like a friendly Indian, when the contents of the broad open
fields were all piled up between the walls of the Walden road, and
half an hour sufficed to obliterate the tracks of the last
traveller. And when I returned new drifts would have formed, through
which I floundered, where the busy northwest wind had been
depositing the powdery snow round a sharp angle in the road, and not a
rabbit's track, nor even the fine print, the small type, of a meadow
mouse was to be seen. Yet I rarely failed to find, even in
midwinter, some warm and springly swamp where the grass and the
skunk-cabbage still put forth with perennial verdure, and some hardier
bird occasionally awaited the return of spring.

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

  The one who came from farthest to my lodge, through deepest snows
and most dismal tempests, was a poet. A farmer, a hunter, a soldier, a
reporter, even a philosopher, may be daunted; but nothing can deter
a poet, for he is actuated by pure love. Who can predict his comings
and goings? His business calls him out at all hours, even when doctors
sleep. We made that small house ring with boisterous mirth and resound
with the murmur of much sober talk, making amends then to Walden
vale for the long silences. Broadway was still and deserted in
comparison. At suitable intervals there were regular salutes of
laughter, which might have been referred indifferently to the
last-uttered or the forth-coming jest. We made many a "bran new"
theory of life over a thin dish of gruel, which combined the
advantages of conviviality with the clear-headedness which
philosophy requires.

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

        "How blind that cannot see serenity!"

A true friend of man; almost the only friend of human progress. An Old
Mortality, say rather an Immortality, with unwearied patience and
faith making plain the image engraven in men's bodies, the God of whom
they are but defaced and leaning monuments. With his hospitable
intellect he embraces children, beggars, insane, and scholars, and
entertains the thought of all, adding to it commonly some breadth
and elegance. I think that he should keep a caravansary on the world's
highway, where philosophers of all nations might put up, and on his
sign should be printed, "Entertainment for man, but not for his beast.
Enter ye that have leisure and a quiet mind, who earnestly seek the
right road." He is perhaps the sanest man and has the fewest crotchets
of any I chance to know; the same yesterday and tomorrow. Of yore we
had sauntered and talked, and effectually put the world behind us; for
he was pledged to no institution in it, freeborn, ingenuus.
Whichever way we turned, it seemed that the heavens and the earth
had met together, since he enhanced the beauty of the landscape. A
blue-robed man, whose fittest roof is the overarching sky which
reflects his serenity. I do not see how he can ever die; Nature cannot
spare him.

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

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

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

                           WINTER ANIMALS.

  WHEN THE ponds were firmly frozen, they afforded not only new and
shorter routes to many points, but new views from their surfaces of
the familiar landscape around them. When I crossed Flint's Pond, after
it was covered with snow, though I had often paddled about and
skated over it, it was so unexpectedly wide and so strange that I
could think of nothing but Baffin's Bay. The Lincoln hills rose up
around me at the extremity of a snowy plain, in which I did not
remember to have stood before; and the fishermen, at an indeterminable
distance over the ice, moving slowly about with their wolfish dogs,
passed for sealers, or Esquimaux, or in misty weather loomed like
fabulous creatures, and I did not know whether they were giants or
pygmies. I took this course when I went to lecture in Lincoln in the
evening, travelling in no road and passing no house between my own hut
and the lecture room. In Goose Pond, which lay in my way, a colony
of muskrats dwelt, and raised their cabins high above the ice,
though none could be seen abroad when I crossed it. Walden, being like
the rest usually bare of snow, or with only shallow and interrupted
drifts on it, was my yard where I could walk freely when the snow
was nearly two feet deep on a level elsewhere and the villagers were
confined to their streets. There, far from the village street, and
except at very long intervals, from the jingle of sleigh-bells, I slid
and skated, as in a vast moose-yard well trodden, overhung by oak
woods and solemn pines bent down with snow or bristling with icicles.

  For sounds in winter nights, and often in winter days, I heard the
forlorn but melodious note of a hooting owl indefinitely far; such a
sound as the frozen earth would yield if struck with a suitable
plectrum, the very lingua vernacula of Walden Wood, and quite familiar
to me at last, though I never saw the bird while it was making it. I
seldom opened my door in a winter evening without hearing it; Hoo
hoo hoo, hoorer, hoo, sounded sonorously, and the first three
syllables accented somewhat like how der do; or sometimes hoo, hoo
only. One night in the beginning of winter, before the pond froze
over, about nine o'clock, I was startled by the loud honking of a
goose, and, stepping to the door, heard the sound of their wings
like a tempest in the woods as they flew low over my house. They
passed over the pond toward Fair Haven, seemingly deterred from
settling by my light, their commodore honking all the while with a
regular beat. Suddenly an unmistakable cat owl from very near me, with
the most harsh and tremendous voice I ever heard from any inhabitant
of the woods, responded at regular intervals to the goose, as if
determined to expose and disgrace this intruder from Hudson's Bay by
exhibiting a greater compass and volume of voice in a native, and
boo-hoo him out of Concord horizon. What do you mean by alarming the
citadel at this time of night consecrated to me? Do you think I am
ever caught napping at such an hour, and that I have not got lungs and
a larynx as well as yourself? Boo-hoo, boo-hoo, boo-hoo! It was one of
the most thrilling discords I ever heard. And yet, if you had a
discriminating ear, there were in it the elements of a concord such as
these plains never saw nor heard.

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

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

  Usually the red squirrel (Sciurus Hudsonius) waked me in the dawn,
coursing over the roof and up and down the sides of the house, as if
sent out of the woods for this purpose. In the course of the winter
I threw out half a bushel of ears of sweet corn, which had not got
ripe, on to the snow-crust by my door, and was amused by watching
the motions of the various animals which were baited by it. In the
twilight and the night the rabbits came regularly and made a hearty
meal. All day long the red squirrels came and went, and afforded me
much entertainment by their manoeuvres. One would approach at first
warily through the shrub oaks, running over the snow-crust by fits and
starts like a leaf blown by the wind, now a few paces this way, with
wonderful speed and waste of energy, making inconceivable haste with
his "trotters," as if it were for a wager, and now as many paces
that way, but never getting on more than half a rod at a time; and
then suddenly pausing with a ludicrous expression and a gratuitous
somerset, as if all the eyes in the universe were eyed on him- for all
the motions of a squirrel, even in the most solitary recesses of the
forest, imply spectators as much as those of a dancing girl- wasting
more time in delay and circumspection than would have sufficed to walk
the whole distance- I never saw one walk- and then suddenly, before
you could say Jack Robinson, he would be in the top of a young pitch
pine, winding up his clock and chiding all imaginary spectators,
soliloquizing and talking to all the universe at the same time- for no
reason that I could ever detect, or he himself was aware of, I
suspect. At length he would reach the corn, and selecting a suitable
ear, frisk about in the same uncertain trigonometrical way to the
topmost stick of my wood-pile, before my window, where he looked me in
the face, and there sit for hours, supplying himself with a new ear
from time to time, nibbling at first voraciously and throwing the
half-naked cobs about; till at length he grew more dainty still and
played with his food, tasting only the inside of the kernel, and the
ear, which was held balanced over the stick by one paw, slipped from
his careless grasp and fell to the ground, when he would look over
at it with a ludicrous expression of uncertainty, as if suspecting
that it had life, with a mind not made up whether to get it again,
or a new one, or be off; now thinking of corn, then listening to
hear what was in the wind. So the little impudent fellow would waste
many an ear in a forenoon; till at last, seizing some longer and
plumper one, considerably bigger than himself, and skilfully balancing
it, he would set out with it to the woods, like a tiger with a
buffalo, by the same zig-zag course and frequent pauses, scratching
along with it as if it were too heavy for him and falling all the
while, making its fall a diagonal between a perpendicular and
horizontal, being determined to put it through at any rate;- a
singularly frivolous and whimsical fellow;- and so he would get off
with it to where he lived, perhaps carry it to the top of a pine
tree forty or fifty rods distant, and I would afterwards find the cobs
strewn about the woods in various directions.

  At length the jays arrive, whose discordant screams were heard
long before, as they were warily making their approach an eighth of
a mile off, and in a stealthy and sneaking manner they flit from
tree to tree, nearer and nearer, and pick up the kernels which the
squirrels have dropped. Then, sitting on a pitch pine bough, they
attempt to swallow in their haste a kernel which is too big for
their throats and chokes them; and after great labor they disgorge it,
and spend an hour in the endeavor to crack it by repeated blows with
their bills. They were manifestly thieves, and I had not much
respect for them; but the squirrels, though at first shy, went to work
as if they were taking what was their own.

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

  When the ground was not yet quite covered, and again near the end of
winter, when the snow was melted on my south hillside and about my
wood-pile, the partridges came out of the woods morning and evening to
feed there. Whichever side you walk in the woods the partridge
bursts away on whirring wings, jarring the snow from the dry leaves
and twigs on high, which comes sifting down in the sunbeams like
golden dust, for this brave bird is not to be scared by winter. It
is frequently covered up by drifts, and, it is said, "sometimes
plunges from on wing into the soft snow, where it remains concealed
for a day or two." I used to start them in the open land also, where
they had come out of the woods at sunset to "bud" the wild apple
trees. They will come regularly every evening to particular trees,
where the cunning sportsman lies in wait for them, and the distant
orchards next the woods suffer thus not a little. I am glad that the
partridge gets fed, at any rate. It is Nature's own bird which lives
on buds and diet-drink.

  In dark winter mornings, or in short winter afternoons, I
sometimes heard a pack of hounds threading all the woods with hounding
cry and yelp, unable to resist the instinct of the chase, and the note
of the hunting-horn at intervals, proving that man was in the rear.
The woods ring again, and yet no fox bursts forth on to the open level
of the pond, nor following pack pursuing their Actaeon. And perhaps at
evening I see the hunters returning with a single brush trailing
from their sleigh for a trophy, seeking their inn. They tell me that
if the fox would remain in the bosom of the frozen earth he would be
safe, or if be would run in a straight line away no foxhound could
overtake him; but, having left his pursuers far behind, he stops to
rest and listen till they come up, and when he runs he circles round
to his old haunts, where the hunters await him. Sometimes, however, he
will run upon a wall many rods, and then leap off far to one side, and
he appears to know that water will not retain his scent. A hunter told
me that he once saw a fox pursued by hounds burst out on to Walden
when the ice was covered with shallow puddles, run part way across,
and then return to the same shore. Ere long the hounds arrived, but
here they lost the scent. Sometimes a pack hunting by themselves would
pass my door, and circle round my house, and yelp and hound without
regarding me, as if afflicted by a species of madness, so that nothing
could divert them from the pursuit. Thus they circle until they fall
upon the recent trail of a fox, for a wise hound will forsake
everything else for this. One day a man came to my hut from
Lexington to inquire after his hound that made a large track, and
had been hunting for a week by himself. But I fear that he was not the
wiser for all I told him, for every time I attempted to answer his
questions he interrupted me by asking, "What do you do here?" He had
lost a dog, but found a man.

  One old hunter who has a dry tongue, who used to come to bathe in
Walden once every year when the water was warmest, and at such times
looked in upon me, told me that many years ago he took his gun one
afternoon and went out for a cruise in Walden Wood; and as he walked
the Wayland road he heard the cry of hounds approaching, and ere
long a fox leaped the wall into the road, and as quick as thought
leaped the other wall out of the road, and his swift bullet had not
touched him. Some way behind came an old hound and her three pups in
full pursuit, hunting on their own account, and disappeared again in
the woods. Late in the afternoon, as he was resting in the thick woods
south of Walden, he heard the voice of the hounds far over toward Fair
Haven still pursuing the fox; and on they came, their hounding cry
which made all the woods ring sounding nearer and nearer, now from
Well Meadow, now from the Baker Farm. For a long time he stood still
and listened to their music, so sweet to a hunter's ear, when suddenly
the fox appeared, threading the solemn aisles with an easy coursing
pace, whose sound was concealed by a sympathetic rustle of the leaves,
swift and still, keeping the round, leaving his pursuers far behind;
and, leaping upon a rock amid the woods, he sat erect and listening,
with his back to the hunter. For a moment compassion restrained the
latter's arm; but that was a short-lived mood, and as quick as thought
can follow thought his piece was levelled, and whang!- the fox,
rolling over the rock, lay dead on the ground. The hunter still kept
his place and listened to the hounds. Still on they came, and now
the near woods resounded through all their aisles with their
demoniac cry. At length the old hound burst into view with muzzle to
the ground, and snapping the air as if possessed, and ran directly
to the rock; but, spying the dead fox, she suddenly ceased her
hounding as if struck dumb with amazement, and walked round and
round him in silence; and one by one her pups arrived, and, like their
mother, were sobered into silence by the mystery. Then the hunter came
forward and stood in their midst, and the mystery was solved. They
waited in silence while he skinned the fox, then followed the brush
a while, and at length turned off into the woods again. That evening a
Weston squire came to the Concord hunter's cottage to inquire for
his hounds, and told how for a week they had been hunting on their own
account from Weston woods. The Concord hunter told him what he knew
and offered him the skin; but the other declined it and departed. He
did not find his hounds that night, but the next day learned that they
had crossed the river and put up at a farmhouse for the night, whence,
having been well fed, they took their departure early in the morning.

  The hunter who told me this could remember one Sam Nutting, who used
to hunt bears on Fair Haven Ledges, and exchange their skins for rum
in Concord village; who told him, even, that he had seen a moose
there. Nutting had a famous foxhound named Burgoyne- he pronounced
it Bugine- which my informant used to borrow. In the "Wast Book" of an
old trader of this town, who was also a captain, town-clerk, and
representative, I find the following entry. Jan. 18th, 1742-3, "John
Melven Cr. by 1 Grey Fox 0-2-3"; they are not now found here; and in
his ledger, Feb, 7th, 1743, Hezekiah Stratton has credit "by 1/2 a
Catt skin 0-1-4 1/2"; of course, a wild-cat, for Stratton was a
sergeant in the old French war, and would not have got credit for
hunting less noble game. Credit is given for deerskins also, and
they were daily sold. One man still preserves the horns of the last
deer that was killed in this vicinity, and another has told me the
particulars of the hunt in which his uncle was engaged. The hunters
were formerly a numerous and merry crew here. I remember well one
gaunt Nimrod who would catch up a leaf by the roadside and play a
strain on it wilder and more melodious, if my memory serves me, than
any hunting-horn.

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

  Squirrels and wild mice disputed for my store of nuts. There were
scores of pitch pines around my house, from one to four inches in
diameter, which had been gnawed by mice the previous winter- a
Norwegian winter for them, for the snow lay long and deep, and they
were obliged to mix a large proportion of pine bark with their other
diet. These trees were alive and apparently flourishing at
midsummer, and many of them had grown a foot, though completely
girdled; but after another winter such were without exception dead. It
is remarkable that a single mouse should thus be allowed a whole
pine tree for its dinner, gnawing round instead of up and down it; but
perhaps it is necessary in order to thin these trees, which are wont
to grow up densely.

  The hares (Lepus Americanus) were very familiar. One had her form
under my house all winter, separated from me only by the flooring, and
she startled me each morning by her hasty departure when I began to
stir- thump, thump, thump, striking her head against the floor timbers
in her hurry. They used to come round my door at dusk to nibble the
potato parings which I had thrown out, and were so nearly the color of
the round that they could hardly be distinguished when still.
Sometimes in the twilight I alternately lost and recovered sight of
one sitting motionless under my window. When I opened my door in the
evening, off they would go with a squeak and a bounce. Near at hand
they only excited my pity. One evening one sat by my door two paces
from me, at first trembling with fear, yet unwilling to move; a poor
wee thing, lean and bony, with ragged ears and sharp nose, scant
tail and slender paws. It looked as if Nature no longer contained
the breed of nobler bloods, but stood on her last toes. Its large eyes
appeared young and unhealthy, almost dropsical. I took a step, and lo,
away it scud with an elastic spring over the snow-crust, straightening
its body and its limbs into graceful length, and soon put the forest
between me and itself- the wild free venison, assenting its vigor
and the dignity of Nature. Not without reason was its slenderness.
Such then was its nature. (Lepus, levipes, light-foot, some think.)

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

                        THE POND IN WINTER.

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

  Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in
search of water, if that be not a dream. After a cold and snowy
night it needed a divining-rod to find it. Every winter the liquid and
trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath,
and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of
a foot or a foot and a half, so that it will support the heaviest
teams, and perchance the snow covers it to an equal depth, and it is
not to be distinguished from any level field. Like the marmots in
the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for
three months or more. Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in a
pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and
then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling
to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by
a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its
bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial
waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding
to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under
our feet is well as over our heads.

  Early in the morning, while all things are crisp with frost, men
come with fishing-reels and slender lunch, and let down their fine
lines through the snowy field to take pickerel and perch; wild men,
who instinctively follow other fashions and trust other authorities
than their townsmen, and by their goings and comings stitch towns
together in parts where else they would be ripped. They sit and eat
their luncheon in stout fear- naughts on the dry oak leaves on the
shore, as wise in natural lore as the citizen is in artificial. They
never consulted with books, and know and can tell much less than
they have done. The things which they practice are said not yet to
be known. Here is one fishing for pickerel with grown perch for
bait. You look into his pail with wonder as into a summer pond, as
if he kept summer locked up at home, or knew where she had
retreated. How, pray, did he get these in midwinter? Oh, he got
worms out of rotten logs since the ground froze, and so he caught
them. His life itself passes deeper in nature than the studies of
the naturalist penetrate; himself a subject for the naturalist. The
latter raises the moss and bark gently with his knife in search of
insects; the former lays open logs to their core with his axe, and
moss and bark fly far and wide. He gets his living by barking trees.
Such a man has some right to fish, and I love to see nature carried
out in him. The perch swallows the grub-worm, the pickerel swallows
the perch, and the fisher-man swallows the pickerel; and so all the
chinks in the scale of being are filled.

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

  Ah, the pickerel of Walden! when I see them lying on the ice, or
in the well which the fisherman cuts in the ice, making a little
hole to admit the water, I am always surprised by their rare beauty,
as if they were fabulous fishes, they are so foreign to the streets,
even to the woods, foreign as Arabia to our Concord life. They possess
a quite dazzling and transcendent beauty which separates them by a
wide interval from the cadaverous cod and haddock whose fame is
trumpeted in our streets. They are not green like the pines, nor
gray like the stones, nor blue like the sky; but they have, to my
eyes, if possible, yet rarer colors, like flowers and precious stones,
as if they were the pearls, the animalized nuclei or crystals of the
Walden water. They, of course, are Walden all over and all through;
are themselves small Waldens in the animal kingdom, Waldenses. It is
surprising that they are caught here- that in this deep and
capacious spring, far beneath the rattling teams and chaises and
tinkling sleighs that travel the Walden road, this great gold and
emerald fish swims. I never chanced to see its kind in any market;
it would be the cynosure of all eyes there. Easily, with a few
convulsive quirks, they give up their watery ghosts, like a mortal
translated before his time to the thin air of heaven.

  As I was desirous to recover the long lost bottom of Walden Pond,
I surveyed it carefully, before the ice broke up, early in '46, with
compass and chain and sounding line. There have been many stories told
about the bottom, or rather no bottom, of this pond, which certainly
had no foundation for themselves. It is remarkable how long men will
believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble
to sound it. I have visited two such Bottomless Ponds in one walk in
this neighborhood. Many have believed that Walden reached quite
through to the other side of the globe. Some who have lain flat on the
ice for a long time, looking down through the illusive medium,
perchance with watery eyes into the bargain, and driven to hasty
conclusions by the fear of catching cold in their breasts, have seen
vast holes "into which a load of hay might be drived," if there were
anybody to drive it, the undoubted source of the Styx and entrance
to the Infernal Regions from these parts. Others have gone down from
the village with a "fifty-six" and a wagon load of inch rope, but
yet have failed to find any bottom; for while the "fifty-six" was
resting by the way, they were paying out the rope in the vain
attempt to fathom their truly immeasurable capacity for
marvellousness. But I can assure my readers that Walden has a
reasonably tight bottom at a not unreasonable, though at an unusual,
depth. I fathomed it easily with a cod-line and a stone weighing about
a pound and a half, and could tell 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

  A factory-owner, bearing 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 appeared!

        "So high as heaved the tumid hills, so low

        Down sunk a hollow bottom broad and deep,

        Capacious bed of waters."

But if, using the shortest diameter of Loch Fyne, we 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 breadth.

  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 complicated.

  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 entireness.

  What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics. It is
the law of average. Such a rule of the two diameters not only guides
us toward the sun in the system and the heart in man, but 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 book 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
it 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 32', or freezing point; near the shore at
33'; in the middle of Flint's Pond, the same day, at 32 1/2'; at a
dozen rods from the shore, in shallow water, under ice a foot thick,
at 36'. This difference of three and it 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

  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 tube.

  One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have
leisure and opportunity to see the Spring come in. The ice in the pond
at length begins to be 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 woodpile, 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 semicylindrical 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 call 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 (leibo, labor, lapsus, to
flow or slip downward, a lapsing; lobos, 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, hardhack, meadowsweet, 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 Summer.

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

  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

  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, re-creating 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 hillside 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

        "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 winds 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, 1847.


  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 it.

  Yet we should oftener look over the tafferel of our craft, like
curious passengers, and not make the voyage like stupid sailors
picking oakum. The other side of the globe is but the home of our
correspondent. Our voyaging is only great-circle sailing, and the
doctors prescribe for diseases of the skin merely. One hastens to
southern Africa to chase the giraffe; but surely that is not the
game he would be after. How long, pray, would a man hunt giraffes if
he could? Snipes and woodcocks also may afford rare sport; but I trust
it would be nobler game to shoot one's self.

        "Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find

         A thousand regions in your mind

         Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be

         Expert in home-cosmography."

What does Africa- what does the West stand for? Is not our own
interior white on the chart? black though it may prove, like the
coast, when discovered. Is it the source of the Nile, or the Niger, or
the 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 seal 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 bead 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 foot-pad"- "that honor and religion have never
stood in the way of a well-considered and a firm resolve." This was
manly, as the world goes; and yet it was idle, if not desperate. A
saner man would have found himself often enough "in formal opposition"
to what are deemed "the most sacred laws of society," through
obedience to yet more sacred laws, and so have tested his resolution
without going out of his way. It is not for a man to put himself in
such an attitude to society, but to maintain himself in whatever
attitude he find himself through obedience to the laws of his being,
which will never be one of opposition to a just 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 Eve 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 extra-vagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow
limits of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of
which I have been convinced. Extra vagance! 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 fun 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 poor-house. 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 him.

  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 wine.

  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.

                                    THE END


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