Friday, October 28, 2011



When newly awaked from lively dreams, we are so near them, still in their sphere; — give us one syllable, one feature, one hint, and we should re-possess the whole; hours of this strange entertainment and conversation would come trooping back to us; but we cannot get our hand on the first link or fibre, and the whole is forever lost. There is a strange wilfulness in the speed with which it disperses, and baffles your grasp.

Cannot we let people be themselves, and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make that man another you. One's enough.

Hitch your wagon to a star. Do the like in your choice of tasks. Let us not fag in paltry selfish tasks which aim at private benefit alone. No god will help. We shall find all the teams going the other way. Charles's Wain, the Great Bear, Orion, Leo, Hercules. Every god will leave us. Let us work rather for those interests which the gods honour and promote: justice, love, utility, freedom, knowledge.

Thoreau. Perhaps his fancy for Walt Whitman grew out of his taste for wild nature, for an otter, a woodchuck, or a loon. He loved sufficiency, hated a sum that would not prove; loved Walk and hated Alcott.

The old school of Boston citizens whom I remember in my childhood had great vigour, great noisy bodies; I think a certain sternutatory vigour the like whereof I have not heard again. When Major B. or old Mr. T.H. took out their pocket handkerchiefs at church, it was plain they meant business; they would snort and roar through their noses, like the lowing of an ox, and make all ring again.

Sam Staples yesterday had been to see Henry Thoreau. "Never saw a man dying with so much pleasure and peace." Thinks that very few men in Concord know Mr. Thoreau; finds him serene and happy.

The first care of a man settling in the country should be to open the face of the earth to himself by a little knowledge of Nature, or a great deal of knowledge, if he can, of birds, plants and astronomy; in short, the art of taking a walk.

Henry Thoreau (died May 6, 1862) remains erect, calm, self-subsistent, before me, and I read him not only truly in his Journal, but he is not long out of mind when I walk, and, as to-day, row upon the pond. He chose wisely no doubt for himself to be the bachelor of thought and nature that he was, — how near to the old monks in their ascetic religion! He had no talent for wealth, and knew how to be poor without the least hint of squalor or inelegance. Perhaps he fell — all of us do — into his way of living, without forecasting it much, but approved and confirmed it with later wisdom.
If there is a little strut in the style of Henry, it is only from a vigour in excess of the size of his body.

A man's connections must be looked after. If he surpasses everybody in mother wit, yet is scholar like the rest, be sure he has got a mother or father or aunt or cousin who has the uncorrupted slang of the street, the pure mind, and which is inestimable to him as spice and alterative, and which delights you in his rhetoric, like the devil's tunes when put to slow time in church-music.

The art of the writer is to speak his fact and have done. Let the reader find that he cannot afford to omit any line of your writing, because you have omitted every word that he can spare.
You are annoyed — are you? — that your fine friends do not read you. They are better friends than you knew, and have done you the rarest service. Now write so that they must.

As people rise in the social scale, they think more of each other's opinion than of their own. And it is hard to find one who does not measure his business and daily performance from the supposed estimate. And yet, his own is the only standard. Down in the pits of hunger and want life has a real dignity, from this doing the best, instead of the seemly. The sailor on the topmost in a storm, the hunter amidst the snowdrifts, the woodman in the depth of the forest, cannot stop to think how he looks, or what London or Paris would say, and therefore his garb and behaviour have a certain dignity, like the works of Nature around him; he would as soon ask what the crows and muskrats think of him.

When I bought my farm, I did not know what a bargain I had in the bluebirds, bobolinks, and thrushes; as little did I know what sublime mornings and sunsets I was buying.

from The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Modern Library)

Henry David Thoreau

Each time I find another edition of Emerson's Journals, feeling right in the hand, I take it up and read from it again. Bring it home. I may have some version of the Journals in every room of our house. Not unusual, there's a lamp in every room of the house.