Economy, Part IV
Having solved the problems of housing and transportation in the simplest fashion, Thoreau now shows how he solved the problems of food, fuel, clothing, and incidentals. He also discusses farming, building, diet, furniture and the accumulation of property. He also talks about occupations that he has tried, and his conclusions as to which is the best. Finally, he concludes by explaining his attitudes towards charity and doing good.
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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, &c., $14.72½. The seed corn was given me. This
never costs anything to speak of, unless you plant more than enough. I
got twelve bushels of beans, and eighteen bushels of potatoes, beside some
peas and sweet corn. The yellow corn and turnips were too late to come
to anything. My whole income from the farm was
Deducting the outgoes............. 14.72½
There are left....................$ 8.71½
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 to-day, 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.
|As I pointed out earlier, this land belonged to Emerson. Thoreau agreed to help clear the land in exchange for living there, and so farming helped accomplish the task.
It can be seen that Thoreau had no serious interest in living there permanently, although in later years he sometimes looked back nostalgically.
Thoreau has a later chapter discussing his "bean-field" at great length; his purpose here is to deal with the general economic issues. However, in "The Bean-Field," he breaks down these costs further.
He would have done better if he had fertilized the land, planted earlier, and kept up with the hoeing better.
To compare these figures with those of today, it's necessary to remember that a dollar a day was workman's wages in Thoreau's day, while today a workman would make forty to one hundred dollars a day (shorter day too).
Note that his farming provided fuel and food as well as income.
Thoreau's final boast is typical of him; he feels that his amateurish, haphazard, and temporary farming made him more successful than any other farmer -- evidently because of his focus on higher things.
|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.||This is a very simple statement of self-sufficiency. While it is not entirely practical to grow everything for oneself, it is definitely possible, and some have tried the experiment. However, it is not necessary to go to extremes. One can grow the foods that can be grown easily and buy the foods that can not, just as Thoreau bought rice. The main point that Thoreau is making is that it is possible to earn a living without working long, hard hours every day, in fact, by working "with his left hand at odd hours in the summer."
Compare this passage to the fourth paragraph of "Economy" beginning, "I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms . . ."
|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.||In "Old Rivers," an album of songs produced in the 60's, there was a song on this theme. In the song, the farmer explained to his mule that the animal worked only part of the year and part of the day, while the farmer had to work for it all year long, and yet the mule got one third of the crop (a third went to the land-owner) and added, "You take your third and eat it; you're getting the best, and how! / I divide my third between my wife, six kids, and a cow." Perhaps the author got his idea from Thoreau.
Note that while Thoreau is saying that he is not certain if a nation of philosophers is desirable, that is, if all people should live as simply as he does and devote their lives to higher purposes, he is everywhere in Walden advocating at least a giant step in that direction, as he continues to do in this paragraph.
Thoreau's statement about few places for free speech are due to the difficulty he and his friends had in finding places to speak about slavery and other controversial subjects. The transcendentalists found few churches willing to accept them; Emerson even left the Unitarian Church because he felt it was too dogmatic.
It's to be expected that Thoreau is no more impressed with monuments than with modern improvements.
His suggestion as to what should have been done with the pharaoh is hyperbole to show his complete disgust at kowtowing to authority. However, while being an advocate of peaceful protest, Thoreau did not consider violence unjustifiable under any circumstance; thus, he later defended John Brown.
When he says, "The mainspring is vanity, assisted by the love of garlic and bread and butter," he is using "bread and butter" as a term meaning livelihood, but he adds the garlic because it was part of the diet of the builders of the pyramids.
To show his complete comtempt for great monuments, he compares them to the hole a crazy fellow was digging to China. This hole, of course, didn't exist and the story is one of the urban legends that circulates without a grain of truth behind it. I heard it as a boy, long before I read Walden, and it shows up in jokes and even in TV commercials from time to time.
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
|Thoreau's diet was good in emphasizing grain over meat, but he didn't have any knowledge of nutrition, just instinct. He prefered corn to beans, for instance, but corn lacks the vitamins of other grains and vegetables while beans are high in vitamins and are a good protein source also. His diet should have included many more fruits and vegetables, but he did always gather wild fruits, such as huckleberries, during the summer, and notice the mention of gathering wild salad three paragraphs down.
It seems that he was eating a lot of sugars, but the prices for sugar and molasses were relatively much higher in those days, since they were produced by hand labor and imported from the West Indies. He says two paragraphs down that he ate only a very little molasses.
Note here and elsewhere that he was not a vegetarian in any sense, although he ate relatively little meat and his words elsewhere inspired future vegetarians such as H. Salt.
|Yes, I did eat $8.74, all told; but I should not thus unblushingly publish my guilt, if I did not know that most of my readers were equally guilty with myself, and that their deeds would look no better in print. The next year I sometimes caught a mess of fish for my dinner, and once I went so far as to slaughter a woodchuck which ravaged my bean-field, -- effect his transmigration, as a Tartar would say, -- and devour him, partly for experiment's sake; but though it afforded me a momentary enjoyment, notwithstanding a musky flavor, I saw that the longest use would not make that a good practice, however it might seem to have your woodchucks ready dressed by the village butcher.||Thoreau has shifted to gentle sarcasm for he knows that most of his readers ate much richer, more elaborate, and more expensive diets than he did.
Joseph Hosmer reported that Thoreau caught one woodchuck and released it two miles away (Canby 219).
and some incidental expenses within the same dates, though little can be
inferred from this item, amounted to
Oil and some household utensils......... 2.00
So that all the pecuniary outgoes, excepting for washing and mending, which for the most part were done out of the house, and their bills have not yet been received, -- and these are all and more than all the ways by which money necessarily goes out in this part of the world, -- were
Farm one year........................... 14.72½
Food eight months....................... 8.74
Clothing, &c., eight months............ 8.35¾
Oil, &c., eight months................. 2.00
In all..................................$ 61.99¾
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
Earned by day-labor..................... 13.34
In all..................................$ 36.78
which subtracted from the sum of the outgoes leaves a balance of $25.21¾ 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.
|Again, Thoreau has his tongue in cheek when saying that he hadn't yet received his bills for washing and mending, as this work was done by his mother and sister, who would never send him a bill.
It doesn't seen to me that Thoreau should include his farming expenses in with his normal expenses although he did receive some food and fuel from farming that was not caculated in with his income.
To me, the significant part of this statement is that the cost of his house was actually less than his other expenses during eight months.
Looking at Thoreau's costs for oil and clothing, prices are cheaper today. In living in the woods, I am spenting less than $60 a year for propane (cooking) and kerosene (lighting), while $2.00 in Thoreau's day would be the equivalent of somewhere between $80 and $200 today.
My food expenses while living in the woods are about $5.00 a day, and while traveling cross-country by bicycle, less than $9.00
|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.||Again, assuming a day's wages of $1.00 in Thoreau's day and $40 to $100 a day today, this would be between $11 and $27 a week in today's money. My current expenditure of about $150 a month allows me a good variety of healthy, inexpensive foods, plus lunch out twice a week.
"Inveterate cavillers" are people who can't stop quibbling about trivial details; some were scornful of Thoreau's self-sufficiency because he often ate meals elsewhere.
|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.||For the most part, food is cheaper today than it was in Thoreau's time. The healthiest foods are usually the cheapest, while the expensive foods are full of fat and sugar. And, if there are fewer wild fruits and other wild foods available, the number of people gathering them has shrunk even more. On my bike trips, I frequently gather, within a few minutes and within sight of the road, several pounds of berries that are selling for $1.00 or more a pint in the store.|
|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.||This is heavy sarcasm here, as "abstemiousness" means being sparing or moderate in diet.|
|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.||Canby reports that when Joseph Hosmer visited Thoreau before the cabin was finished, Thoreau cooked in a hole in the ground lined with stones. Bread was cooked that day in a thin sheet on a hot rock.
"Cerealian," a made-up word, is similar in sound to "cerulean," a shade of blue.
As a boy, I experimented with unleavened bread, made with flour, salt, and a touch of oil, baking it in squares cut from a thin sheet. It was quite delicious and never seemed to get stale; however, it was slow chewing.
While a teenager and after reading that Thoreau cooked bread on an open fire, I tried the same on a number of occasions. The outside tends to cook while the inside remains raw. Therefore, the bread needs to be in a twist or in a flat sheet or in very small loaves.
In eating food, one can go in two directions: the one towards having more and more spices, fats, and sugars, and the other towards developing a more delicate taste.
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.
|See Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé for nutritional information on living low on the food chain.
Kains' Five Acres and Independence is a classic, first written during the 30's and republished many times since, which explains many of the practical problems of a small farm. There were also a number of books written during the 60's and 70's showing how to plant a garden, live on a homestead, and/or build a small house.
|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.||Note the reference to the fall of man. Thoreau sees becoming a farmer to be a similar fall and the step down to the manager of someone else's farm to be an additional step.
Thoreau liked to pretend that he was squatting (living without permission), but in actuality, he had an agreement with Emerson.
|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 alarmed.||Well, that's one way to get them to shut up, as a statement that faith can make anything possible stiffles all discussion. Fortunately, Thoreau relies on more rational arguments everywhere else, although based on intuition and partially supported by metaphors and hyperbole.
The widow's inheritance is one third by law.
|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.||Tables, chairs, beds, and bookcases can be gotten for almost nothing or can be made in a few minutes from scrap lumber or from a few dollar's worth of 2X4's and plywood.
I do without the plates; they're just something extra to be washed.
A lamp is almost a necessity during the long winter nights, and even the summer nights seem too long without one.
The statement about sitting on a pumpkin was earlier made by Thoreau.
I sometimes wonder if houses are so large just to hold all the furniture; certainly, the attic, basement, and garage end up suffed full of such junk.
When someone dies and goes to the other world, all property is left behind, and Thoreau thinks that leaving it behind would be a good idea during this life as well.
"Trap" means personal belongs or baggage as well as a device to ensnare animals, and Thoreau deliberately continues to confuse the two throughout this paragraph, pointing out that animals are willing to lose legs to get free. The "gay buttterfly" would be his poetic side.
The idea of having to squeeze through a small opening with one's furniture reminds me of Jesus's statement about the rich man passing through the eye of a needle.
The bed, by extention, can mean one's property; Jesus, rather than telling the sick man that he was cured, just told him to pick up his bed and walk; Thoreau gives this an unexpected twist.
Thoreau uses "paw" to enforce the analogy to being caught in an animal trap.
|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.||It seems ironic that people want big windows in their houses and then cover them with curtains. A better design is to have large windows facing south to let in the heat during the winter but with a roof or with trees to shade the window from the sun in the summer.
Note that Thoreau sees housekeeping as a kind of evil.
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 bonfire "good fire" was part of the inquisition originally.|
|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.---"||Today, someone might argue that the acculation of property is wrong because it creates a greater burden on the environment; however, Thoreau sees the accumulation of property as being evil in itself, as these passages amply indicate. Definitely, our preoccupation with our possessions prevents us from being aware of other things, and this seems to be the reason that both Thoreau and Jesus condemn materialism.|
|"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.||In other words, Thoreau thinks that destroying all of our property periodically would be a great blessing.|
|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.||Thoreau said in his commencement address at Havard, "This curious world which we inhabit is more wonderful than it is convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used. The order of things should be somewhat reversed; the seventh should be man's day of toil, wherein to earn his living by the sweat of his brow; and the other six his Sabboth of the affctions and the soul, -- in which to range this widespread garden, and drink in the soft influences and sublime revelations of Nature."
Thoreau rejects teaching because it changed his behavior and even beliefs. His experience with trade was through the family business of making and selling pencils; Thoreau could have become wealthy, if he had desired.
Thoreau agonized for years over a method of earning a living that he would not find offensive; see "Life Without Principle."
|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.||If Thoreau had spent long hours working for possessions, he would not have the time to enjoy Nature, think deeply, and write his books. In view his death at 44, Thoreau's devotion to the "present moment" meant he squeezed more out of life than people who lived much longer.
Note he says he didn't want those things "just yet," probably a scarcastic answer to those who said he would change his mind someday.
Again, he makes some exceptions for those who feel they must work.
Having personally experienced working as a laborer, I can report that the evenings are free, but work is undependable.
|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.||In other words, by living the simple life, one can avoid the curse that God made against Adam and Eve when he expelled them from the Garden of Eden.|
|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.||Note the irony in, "if he had the means" (i. e. enough wealth). This story is similar to one in the Bible in which a wealthy young man asks Jesus what to do. The answer there was to give his property to the poor, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. Thoreau, in contrast, doesn't want followers. On the other hand, he is hardly saying, "Do whatever you want to do." Instead, he very clearly asks him to "keep the polestar in his eye" -- in other words, be guided by the truth. Walden, then is a collection of the insights Thoreau found, but not a blueprint.|
|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 coöperation which is commonly possible is exceedingly partial and superficial; and what little true coöperation there is, is as if it were not, being a harmony inaudible to men. If a man has faith, he will coöperate 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 coöperate 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 coöperate, 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.||There was and had been a good bit of interest in commual living during Thoreau's time, with efforts made by the transcendentalists at Brook Farm and Fruitlands. While acknowledging that group living is more economical, Thoreau points out that some of the savings have equal drawbacks.
Thoreau evidently recognizes the problems of a duplex and of apartment buildings.
He suggests, rather than finding one special group of people to live with, that we learn to have faith in our dealings with everyone.
The story of the two men traveling reminds me of bicycle travel where much less important differences make sticking together very long impossible.
|But all this is very selfish, I have heard some of my townsmen say. I confess that I have hitherto indulged very little in philanthropic enterprises. I have made some sacrifices to a sense of duty, and among others have sacrificed this pleasure also. There are those who have used all their arts to persuade me to undertake the support of some poor family in the town; and if I had nothing to do, -- for the devil finds employment for the idle, -- I might try my hand at some such pastime as that. However, when I have thought to indulge myself in this respect, and lay their Heaven under an obligation by maintaining certain poor persons in all respects as comfortably as I maintain myself, and have even ventured so far as to make them the offer, they have one and all unhesitatingly preferred to remain poor. While my townsmen and women are devoted in so many ways to the good of their fellows, I trust that one at least may be spared to other and less humane pursuits. You must have a genius for charity as well as for anything else. As for Doing-good, that is one of the professions which are full. Moreover, I have tried it fairly, and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution. Probably I should not consciously and deliberately forsake my particular calling to do the good which society demands of me, to save the universe from annihilation; and I believe that a like but infinitely greater steadfastness elsewhere is all that now preserves it. But I would not stand between any man and his genius; and to him who does this work, which I decline, with his whole heart and soul and life, I would say, Persevere, even if the world call it doing evil, as it is most likely they will.||In an age when people worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week, it's easy to understand why Thoreau would be seen as an idler.
Thoreau's statement, "I have made some sacrifices to a sense of duty, and among others have sacrificed this pleasure also" is an honest statement, a sarcastic statement, and a typical upside down statement of Thoreau's at the same time. Throughout the paragraph, he uses delicately loaded words: "try my hand," "some such pastime," "indulge myself," "lay Heaven under an obligation," "in all respects as comfortably as I maintain myself," "at least one may be spared," and "less humane." The joke lies, however, in the idea of some poor family wanting to live as simply as Thoreau.
Moving to hyperbole, he says that he wouldn't give up his career even "to save the universe from annihilation," and he claims that a equal stubborness on the part of others is all that protects it.
|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.||Thoreau suggests rather than trying to do good, we ought to try to be the best possible people we can be, using the analogy of the sun to present his idea; that is, the sun does its good by ignoring everything else.
According to superstition, the moon can cause foods to spoil or drive people insane, "lunatic" coming from the Latin word for moon.
|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.||Spoiled meat smells horribly, but Thoreau says that spoiled goodness -- that is, when the person is doing good rather than being good -- smells even worse. I find nothing more uncomfortable than having someone with different beliefs assume therefore than I am an evil person and need to be saved.
To Thoreau, the Good Samaritan was not doing a good deed but rather behaving naturally.
John Howard was an English prison reformer who worked to get individual cells and meaningful work for the prisoners and who tried to move the system away from punishment to reform. Thoreau suggests that higher reforms are necessary.
|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.||Thoreau here equates charity with torture. He's using Jesus' statements: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," "love your enemies," and "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."|
|Be sure that you give the poor the aid they most need, though it be your example which leaves them far behind. If you give money, spend yourself with it, and do not merely abandon it to them. We make curious mistakes sometimes. Often the poor man is not so cold and hungry as he is dirty and ragged and gross. It is partly his taste, and not merely his misfortune. If you give him money, he will perhaps buy more rags with it. I was wont to pity the clumsy Irish laborers who cut ice on the pond, in such mean and ragged clothes, while I shivered in my more tidy and somewhat more fashionable garments, till, one bitter cold day, one who had slipped into the water came to my house to warm him, and I saw him strip off three pairs of pants and two pairs of stockings ere he got down to the skin, though they were dirty and ragged enough, it is true, and that he could afford to refuse the extra garments which I offered him, he had so many intra ones. This ducking was the very thing he needed. Then I began to pity myself, and I saw that it would be a greater charity to bestow on me a flannel shirt than a whole slop-shop on him. There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. It is the pious slave-breeder devoting the proceeds of every tenth slave to buy a Sunday's liberty for the rest. Some show their kindness to the poor by employing them in their kitchens. Would they not be kinder if they employed themselves there? You boast of spending a tenth part of your income in charity; maybe you should spend the nine tenths so, and done with it. Society recovers only a tenth part of the property then. Is this owing to the generosity of him in whose possession it is found, or to the remissness of the officers of justice?||Here, Thoreau finally addresses the matter directly. One of the ways to eliminate poverty is to change the attitudes of the people who are receiving the help. Very often, people are poor not because of insufficient income but due to inability to manage their resources or take care of their health well. In these cases, education is more important than money.
"Hacking at the branches" would be giving money from time to time and "striking at the root" would be making fundamental changes that would erase poverty.
A second cause of poverty is an economic system that pays extremely high wages to those who contribute very little and very low wages to those who actually do the work. After Thoreau's time, Carnegie became famous for his charities, such as building libraries, and yet he did nothing to ensure that the workers who made him wealthy had fair incomes or safe working areas.
|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.||Jesus warned against self-congratulations for charitable acts, see below.
"Bacon" could be either Frances or Roger Bacon. Elizabeth Fry was English prison reformer who died in 1845.
Thoreau, as a New Englander, underestimates William Penn, who was second to Fox in founding the Quakers, played a pivotal role in changing the power of the jury, helped establish three states, and did more than any other person to bring democracy, freedom, and equality to America.
|I would not subtract anything from the praise that is due to philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all who by their lives and works are a blessing to mankind. I do not value chiefly a man's uprightness and benevolence, which are, as it were, his stem and leaves. Those plants of whose greenness withered we make herb tea for the sick serve but a humble use, and are most employed by quacks. I want the flower and fruit of a man; that some fragrance be wafted over from him to me, and some ripeness flavor our intercourse. His goodness must not be a partial and transitory act, but a constant superfluity, which costs him nothing and of which he is unconscious. This is a charity that hides a multitude of sins. The philanthropist too often surrounds mankind with the remembrance of his own castoff griefs as an atmosphere, and calls it sympathy. We should impart our courage, and not our despair, our health and ease, and not our disease, and take care that this does not spread by contagion. From what southern plains comes up the voice of wailing? Under what latitudes reside the heathen to whom we would send light? Who is that intemperate and brutal man whom we would redeem? If anything ail a man, so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even, -- for that is the seat of sympathy, -- he forthwith sets about reforming -- the world. Being a microcosm himself, he discovers, and it is a true discovery, and he is the man to make it, -- that the world has been eating green apples; to his eyes, in fact, the globe itself is a great green apple, which there is danger awful to think of that the children of men will nibble before it is ripe; and straightway his drastic philanthropy seeks out the Esquimau and the Patagonian, and embraces the populous Indian and Chinese villages; and thus, by a few years of philanthropic activity, the powers in the meanwhile using him for their own ends, no doubt, he cures himself of his dyspepsia, the globe acquires a faint blush on one or both of its cheeks, as if it were beginning to be ripe, and life loses its crudity and is once more sweet and wholesome to live. I never dreamed of any enormity greater than I have committed. I never knew, and never shall know, a worse man than myself.||Thoreau is suggesting that we change and reform ourselves, so that an act of charity is not a conscious act deserving of congratulations but so that it is an unconscious act to which we pay no attention. He believes that one of the main causes for wanting to reform the world is due to internal problems, such as guilt or illness. Jesus said, "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thy own eye?" Thoreau also suggests that charity may have bad consequences because it was given for the wrong reason. Certainly, teaching people that they are inferior and/or destroying their culture does much more damage than good.|
|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.||"Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" is part of Jesus' admonition against seeking earthly recognition for good deeds.|
|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.||Thoreau referred earlier to the chief end of man, a question found in the Westminster Catechism. Now he makes a parody of the answer: "worship God and enjoy him forever." While Thoreau seems unduely harsh here, we must remember that he lived in a time and place still unduely influenced by the Puritans; for instance, New Englanders did not celebrate Christmas.
Thoreau suggests that the way to begin restoring humanity is by making our own lives more meaningful.
|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."||Thoreau never married and never belonged to any organizations or church, so these words would apply especially to him.|
The Pretensions of Poverty.
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.
|Comments | SECTIONS: | The New World | Writing | Thoreau | Home | Bike Pages ||
|WALDEN: | Economy I | Economy II | Economy III | Economy IV | Where I Lived | Reading | Sounds | Solitude ||
|WALDEN: | Visitors |The Bean-Field | The Village | The Ponds | Baker Farm | Higher Laws | Brute Neighbors ||
|WALDEN: | House Warming | Former Inhabitants | Winter Animals | The Pond in Winter | Spring | Conclusion ||