Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Morrison Marshall

More info: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/npco/item/npc2007000443/

Washington Statue

New iPad Wallpaper

Portrait of a Man, Known as the Indian Captain

Portrait of an Armenian

Richard Cosway, 1742-1821

In the Conservatory (Crop)

Edouard Manet (1878–1879)

La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine


Girls baseball

More info: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/npco/item/npc2007000420/

President Ireland, Edward [Eamonn] De Valera

Date Created/Published: [between 1918 and 1920]

Scott statue, Scott Circle

Old Corcoran Art Gallery, 17th & PA Ave., [Washington, D.C.]

Representative William D. Upshaw of Georgia

Hiram Johnson, William Borah and Medill McCormick

Hiram Johnson, William Borah and Medill McCormick, posed, standing half-length

Twenty-three members of the U.S. House of Representatives


Truck of G.C. Law

For more info on this photo: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/npco/item/91482392/

Woman carding wool at cottage industries

For more info on this this photo: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/kskm/item/2011646961/

American education

For more info on this photo: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/fsa/item/owi2004051103/PP/

Public Domain Texture

Monday, October 29, 2012

Public Domain Texture

Free Texture Surface

The Final Frontier

Public Domain Texture

Free Texture

WALDEN by Henry David Thoreau




By Henry David Thoreau




Where I Lived, and What I Lived For





The Bean-Field

The Village

The Ponds

Baker Farm

Higher Laws

Brute Neighbors


Former Inhabitants and Winter Visitors

Winter Animals

The Pond in Winter






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

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 offenses; 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 to-day may turn out to
be falsehood to-morrow, 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

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 prætors 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 absorbed.

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 _à 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

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

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 reward.

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 to-day; 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 Prouse;--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
soirées 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 reverence?

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 Parcae, 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 cannonball, 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 affections.

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 dovecots.

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
fire-place, 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 _éclat_ 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 spring 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 _agri_-culture. 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 experiment.

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 any body 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

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 he 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

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 boards.
    Refuse shingles for roof 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

    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

    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

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 hear 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.

       *       *       *       *       *

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 _exuviæ_: 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 wen 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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where I Lived, and What I Lived For

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

My residence was more favorable, not only to thought, but to serious
reading, than a university; and though I was beyond the range of the
ordinary circulating library, I had more than ever come within the
influence of those books which circulate round the world, whose
sentences were first written on bark, and are now merely copied from
time to time on to linen paper. Says the poet Mîr Camar Uddîn 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 Æschylus 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_

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 he 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 Æschylus, 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 to.

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

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


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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I
do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular. Their train
of clouds stretching far behind and rising higher and higher, going to
heaven while the cars are going to Boston, conceals the sun for a minute
and casts my distant field into the shade, a celestial train beside
which the petty train of cars which hugs the earth is but the barb
of the spear. The stabler of the iron horse was up early this winter
morning by the light of the stars amid the mountains, to fodder and
harness his steed. Fire, too, was awakened thus early to put the vital
heat in him and get him off. If the enterprise were as innocent as it is
early! If the snow lies deep, they strap on his snowshoes, and, with the
giant plow, plow a furrow from the mountains to the seaboard, in which
the cars, like a following drill-barrow, sprinkle all the restless men
and floating merchandise in the country for seed. All day the fire-steed
flies over the country, stopping only that his master may rest, and I am
awakened by his tramp and defiant snort at midnight, when in some remote
glen in the woods he fronts the elements incased in ice and snow; and he
will reach his stall only with the morning star, to start once more on
his travels without rest or slumber. Or perchance, at evening, I hear
him in his stable blowing off the superfluous energy of the day, that he
may calm his nerves and cool his liver and brain for a few hours of
iron slumber. If the enterprise were as heroic and commanding as it is
protracted and 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, hang it up by his door for a sign
when he commences business, until at last his oldest customer cannot
tell surely whether it be animal, vegetable, or mineral, and yet it
shall be as pure as a snowflake, and if it be put into a pot and boiled,
will come out an excellent dun-fish for a Saturday's dinner. Next
Spanish hides, with the tails still preserving their twist and the angle
of elevation they had when the oxen that wore them were careering over
the pampas of the Spanish Main--a type of all obstinacy, and evincing
how almost hopeless and incurable are all constitutional vices. I
confess, that practically speaking, when I have learned a man's real
disposition, I have no hopes of changing it for the better or worse
in this state of existence. As the Orientals say, "A cur's tail may be
warmed, and pressed, and bound round with ligatures, and after a twelve
years' labor bestowed upon it, still it will retain its natural form."
The only effectual cure for such inveteracies as these tails exhibit is
to make glue of them, which I believe is what is usually done with them,
and then they will stay put and stick. Here is a hogshead of molasses
or of brandy directed to John Smith, Cuttingsville, Vermont, some
trader among the Green Mountains, who imports for the farmers near his
clearing, and now perchance stands over his bulkhead and thinks of
the last arrivals on the coast, how they may affect the price for him,
telling his customers this moment, as he has told them twenty times
before this morning, that he expects some by the next train of prime
quality. It is advertised in the Cuttingsville Times.

While these things go up other things come down. Warned by the whizzing
sound, I look up from my book and see some tall pine, hewn on far
northern hills, which has winged its way over the Green Mountains and
the Connecticut, shot like an arrow through the township within ten
minutes, and scarce another eye beholds it; 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 bell-wether at the head rattles his bell, the mountains
do indeed skip like rams and the little hills like lambs. A carload
of drovers, too, in the midst, on a level with their droves now, their
vocation gone, but still clinging to their useless sticks as their badge
of office. But their dogs, where are they? It is a stampede to them;
they are quite thrown out; they have lost the scent. Methinks I hear
them barking behind the Peterboro' Hills, or panting up the western
slope of the Green Mountains. They will not be in at the death. Their
vocation, too, is gone. Their fidelity and sagacity are below par now.
They will slink back to their kennels in disgrace, or perchance run wild
and strike a league with the wolf and the fox. So is your pastoral life
whirled past and away. But the bell rings, and I must get off the track
and let the cars go by;--

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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 Æolian
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the pill which will keep us well, serene, contented? Not my or
thy great-grandfather's, but our great-grandmother Nature's universal,
vegetable, botanic medicines, by which she has kept herself young
always, outlived so many old Parrs in her day, and fed her health with
their decaying fatness. For my panacea, instead of one of those quack
vials of a mixture dipped from Acheron and the Dead Sea, which come out
of those long shallow black-schooner looking wagons which we sometimes
see made to carry bottles, let me have a draught of undiluted morning
air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead
of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the
shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket
to morning time in this world. But remember, it will not keep quite till
noonday even in the coolest cellar, but drive out the stopples long
ere that and follow westward the steps of Aurora. I am no worshipper of
Hygeia, who was the daughter of that old herb-doctor Æsculapius, 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

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

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

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

If one guest came he sometimes partook of my frugal meal, and it was no
interruption to conversation to be stirring a hasty-pudding, or
watching the rising and maturing of a loaf of bread in the ashes, in the
meanwhile. But if twenty came and sat in my house there was nothing said
about dinner, though there might be bread enough for two, more than if
eating were a forsaken habit; but we naturally practised abstinence; and
this was never felt to be an offence against hospitality, but the most
proper and considerate course. 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:--

       "Arrivèd 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 Æacus, 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 to-day," 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
existence 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 be 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, simple-minded 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
fellowman 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 _hospitalality_;
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 scenes stamped on my memory. And now
to-night 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 vines.

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. Coleman'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 unusually
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. Coleman 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 (patrem familias vendacem, non emacem esse oportet), from

    Nine bushels and twelve quarts of beans sold.. $16.94
    Five    "    large potatoes..................... 2.50
    Nine    "    small.............................. 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 wings 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 heat 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 homoeopathic
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 shoemaker, 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 he 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

                      "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--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 Cænobites.
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 unwittingly 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 65º or 70º
some of the time, owing partly to the sun on the roof, was 42º, 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 45º,
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 bottom.

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

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 be 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 full 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 you?

              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 period.

_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 long 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 dog-day 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
farmer's 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 alderberry 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 bole 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

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, too 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

"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

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

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

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
phil-_anthropic_ 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 hooks to be used there; but they
know nothing about the hook 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 larvæ.
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 still 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 distress."

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 drinking.

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 in 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 them.

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 hound 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 to-day?

_Poet._ See those clouds; how they hang! That's the greatest thing I have
seen to-day. 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 to-day, 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
ground-nuts, 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 phœbe 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 wings 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 wood-yard, 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 he 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 on 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. "Æneas
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 wild 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

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 ground-nut
(_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! And 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 second-hand 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 as 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 thing, 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
trap-door, 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 there--in 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 dumb-waiters, 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 hook 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

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,
purifies 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

     "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."

Former Inhabitants and Winter Visitors

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 Hill.

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 grow 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 there.

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

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, thimble-berries,
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 philosophy.

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, in 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 low-land 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 hills 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 he preserved a peninsular 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 empty.

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 scared 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

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

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 spring-like days,
a wiry summery _phe-be_ 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 Actæon. 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 he
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 ground 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, asserting 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 fisherman 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 driven," 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 bottomless.

A factory-owner, hearing what depth I had found, thought that it could
not be true, for, judging from his acquaintance with dams, sand would
not lie at so steep an angle. But the deepest ponds are not so deep in
proportion to their area as most suppose, and, if drained, would not
leave very remarkable valleys. They are not like cups between the hills;
for this one, which is so unusually deep for its area, appears in a
vertical section through its centre not deeper than a shallow plate.
Most ponds, emptied, would leave a meadow no more hollow than we
frequently see. William Gilpin, who is so admirable in all that relates
to landscapes, and usually so correct, standing at the head of Loch
Fyne, in Scotland, which he describes as "a bay of salt water, sixty
or seventy fathoms deep, four miles in breadth," and about fifty miles
long, surrounded by mountains, observes, "If we could have seen it
immediately after the diluvian crash, or whatever convulsion of nature
occasioned it, before the waters gushed in, what a horrid chasm must it
have 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

What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics. It is the
law of average. Such a rule of the two diameters not only guides us
toward the sun in the system and the heart in man, but draws lines
through the length and breadth of the aggregate of a man's particular
daily behaviors and waves of life into his coves and inlets, and where
they intersect will be the height or depth of his character. Perhaps
we need only to know how his shores trend and his adjacent country
or circumstances, to infer his depth and concealed bottom. If he is
surrounded by mountainous circumstances, an Achillean shore, whose peaks
overshadow and are reflected in his bosom, they suggest a corresponding
depth in him. But a low and smooth shore proves him shallow on that
side. In our bodies, a bold projecting brow falls off to and indicates a
corresponding depth of thought. Also there is a bar across the entrance
of our every cove, or particular inclination; each is our harbor for
a season, in which we are detained and partially land-locked. These
inclinations are not whimsical usually, but their form, size, and
direction are determined by the promontories of the shore, the ancient
axes of elevation. When this bar is gradually increased by storms,
tides, or currents, or there is a subsidence of the waters, so that it
reaches to the surface, that which was at first but an inclination in
the shore in which a thought was harbored becomes an individual
lake, cut off from the ocean, wherein the thought secures its own
conditions--changes, perhaps, from salt to fresh, becomes a sweet sea,
dead sea, or a marsh. At the advent of each individual into this life,
may we not suppose that such a bar has risen to the surface somewhere?
It is true, we are such poor navigators that our thoughts, for the most
part, stand off and on upon a harborless coast, are conversant only with
the bights of the bays of poesy, or steer for the public ports of entry,
and go into the dry docks of science, where they merely refit for this
world, and no natural currents concur to individualize them.

As for the inlet or outlet of Walden, I have not discovered any but rain
and snow and evaporation, though perhaps, with a thermometer and a line,
such places may be found, for where the water flows into the pond it
will probably be coldest in summer and warmest in winter. When the
ice-men were at work here in '46-7, the cakes sent to the shore were one
day rejected by those who were stacking them up there, not being
thick enough to lie side by side with the rest; and the cutters thus
discovered that the ice over a small space was two or three inches
thinner than elsewhere, which made them think that there was an inlet
there. They also showed me in another place what they thought was a
"leach-hole," through which the pond leaked out under a hill into a
neighboring meadow, pushing me out on a cake of ice to see it. It was a
small cavity under ten feet of water; but I think that I can warrant the
pond not to need soldering till they find a worse leak than that.
One has suggested, that if such a "leach-hole" should be found, its
connection with the meadow, if any existed, might be proved by conveying
some colored powder or sawdust to the mouth of the hole, and then
putting a strainer over the spring in the meadow, which would catch some
of the particles carried through by the current.

While I was surveying, the ice, which was sixteen inches thick,
undulated under a slight wind like water. It is well known that a
level cannot be used on ice. At one rod from the shore its greatest
fluctuation, when observed by means of a level on land directed toward
a graduated staff on the ice, was three quarters of an inch, though the
ice appeared firmly attached to the shore. It was probably greater in
the middle. Who knows but if our instruments were delicate enough we
might detect an undulation in the crust of the earth? When two legs of
my level were on the shore and the third on the ice, and the sights
were directed over the latter, a rise or fall of the ice of an almost
infinitesimal amount made a difference of several feet on a tree across
the pond. When I began to cut holes for sounding there were three or
four inches of water on the ice under a deep snow which had sunk it
thus far; but the water began immediately to run into these holes, and
continued to run for two days in deep streams, which wore away the ice
on every side, and contributed essentially, if not mainly, to dry the
surface of the pond; for, as the water ran in, it raised and floated the
ice. This was somewhat like cutting a hole in the bottom of a ship to
let the water out. When such holes freeze, and a rain succeeds,
and finally a new freezing forms a fresh smooth ice over all, it is
beautifully mottled internally by dark figures, shaped somewhat like a
spider's web, what you may call ice rosettes, produced by the channels
worn by the water flowing from all sides to a centre. Sometimes, also,
when the ice was covered with shallow puddles, I saw a double shadow of
myself, one standing on the head of the other, one on the ice, the other
on the trees or hillside.

       *       *       *       *       *

While yet it is cold January, and snow and ice are thick and solid, the
prudent landlord comes from the village to get ice to cool his summer
drink; impressively, even pathetically, wise, to foresee the heat and
thirst of July now in January--wearing a thick coat and mittens! when so
many things are not provided for. It may be that he lays up no treasures
in this world which will cool his summer drink in the next. He cuts and
saws the solid pond, unroofs the house of fishes, and carts off their
very element and air, held fast by chains and stakes like corded wood,
through the favoring winter air, to wintry cellars, to underlie the
summer there. It looks like solidified azure, as, far off, it is drawn
through the streets. These ice-cutters are a merry race, full of jest
and sport, and when I went among them they were wont to invite me to saw
pit-fashion with them, I standing underneath.

In the winter of '46-7 there came a hundred men of Hyperborean
extraction swoop down on to our pond one morning, with many carloads
of ungainly-looking farming tools--sleds, plows, drill-barrows,
turf-knives, spades, saws, rakes, and each man was armed with a
double-pointed pike-staff, such as is not described in the New-England
Farmer or the Cultivator. I did not know whether they had come to sow a
crop of winter rye, or some other kind of grain recently introduced from
Iceland. As I saw no manure, I judged that they meant to skim the land,
as I had done, thinking the soil was deep and had lain fallow long
enough. They said that a gentleman farmer, who was behind the scenes,
wanted to double his money, which, as I understood, amounted to half
a million already; but in order to cover each one of his dollars with
another, he took off the only coat, ay, the skin itself, of Walden
Pond in the midst of a hard winter. They went to work at once, plowing,
barrowing, rolling, furrowing, in admirable order, as if they were bent
on making this a model farm; but when I was looking sharp to see what
kind of seed they dropped into the furrow, a gang of fellows by my side
suddenly began to hook up the virgin mould itself, with a peculiar jerk,
clean down to the sand, or rather the water--for it was a very springy
soil--indeed all the _terra firma_ there was--and haul it away on sleds,
and then I guessed that they must be cutting peat in a bog. So they came
and went every day, with a peculiar shriek from the locomotive, from and
to some point of the polar regions, as it seemed to me, like a flock
of arctic snow-birds. But sometimes Squaw Walden had her revenge, and
a hired man, walking behind his team, slipped through a crack in the
ground down toward Tartarus, and he who was so brave before suddenly
became but the ninth part of a man, almost gave up his animal heat, and
was glad to take refuge in my house, and acknowledged that there was
some virtue in a stove; or sometimes the frozen soil took a piece of
steel out of a plowshare, or a plow got set in the furrow and had to be
cut out.

To speak literally, a hundred Irishmen, with Yankee overseers, came from
Cambridge every day to get out the ice. They divided it into cakes by
methods too well known to require description, and these, being sledded
to the shore, were rapidly hauled off on to an ice platform, and raised
by grappling irons and block and tackle, worked by horses, on to a
stack, as surely as so many barrels of flour, and there placed evenly
side by side, and row upon row, as if they formed the solid base of an
obelisk designed to pierce the clouds. They told me that in a good day
they could get out a thousand tons, which was the yield of about one
acre. Deep ruts and "cradle-holes" were worn in the ice, as on _terra
firma_, by the passage of the sleds over the same track, and the horses
invariably ate their oats out of cakes of ice hollowed out like buckets.
They stacked up the cakes thus in the open air in a pile thirty-five
feet high on one side and six or seven rods square, putting hay between
the outside layers to exclude the air; for when the wind, though never
so cold, finds a passage through, it will wear large cavities, leaving
slight supports or studs only here and there, and finally topple it
down. At first it looked like a vast blue fort or Valhalla; but when
they began to tuck the coarse meadow hay into the crevices, and this
became covered with rime and icicles, it looked like a venerable
moss-grown and hoary ruin, built of azure-tinted marble, the abode of
Winter, that old man we see in the almanac--his shanty, as if he had
a design to estivate with us. They calculated that not twenty-five per
cent of this would reach its destination, and that two or three per cent
would be wasted in the cars. However, a still greater part of this heap
had a different destiny from what was intended; for, either because the
ice was found not to keep so well as was expected, containing more air
than usual, or for some other reason, it never got to market. This heap,
made in the winter of '46-7 and estimated to contain ten thousand tons,
was finally covered with hay and boards; and though it was unroofed the
following July, and a part of it carried off, the rest remaining exposed
to the sun, it stood over that summer and the next winter, and was not
quite melted till September, 1848. Thus the pond recovered the greater

Like the water, the Walden ice, seen near at hand, has a green tint, but
at a distance is beautifully blue, and you can easily tell it from the
white ice of the river, or the merely greenish ice of some ponds, a
quarter of a mile off. Sometimes one of those great cakes slips from the
ice-man's sled into the village street, and lies there for a week like a
great emerald, an object of interest to all passers. I have noticed that
a portion of Walden which in the state of water was green will often,
when frozen, appear from the same point of view blue. So the hollows
about this pond will, sometimes, in the winter, be filled with a
greenish water somewhat like its own, but the next day will have frozen
blue. Perhaps the blue color of water and ice is due to the light and
air they contain, and the most transparent is the bluest. Ice is an
interesting subject for contemplation. They told me that they had some
in the ice-houses at Fresh Pond five years old which was as good as
ever. Why is it that a bucket of water soon becomes putrid, but frozen
remains sweet forever? It is commonly said that this is the difference
between the affections and the intellect.

Thus for sixteen days I saw from my window a hundred men at work like
busy husbandmen, with teams and horses and apparently all the implements
of farming, such a picture as we see on the first page of the almanac;
and as often as I looked out I was reminded of the fable of the lark and
the reapers, or the parable of the sower, and the like; and now they are
all gone, and in thirty days more, probably, I shall look from the same
window on the pure sea-green Walden water there, reflecting the clouds
and the trees, and sending up its evaporations in solitude, and no
traces will appear that a man has ever stood there. Perhaps I shall hear
a solitary loon laugh as he dives and plumes himself, or shall see a
lonely fisher in his boat, like a floating leaf, beholding his form
reflected in the waves, where lately a hundred men securely labored.

Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New
Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well. In the
morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy
of the Bhagvat-Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods
have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its
literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is
not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its
sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down the book and go to my well
for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of the Bramin, priest of
Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges
reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a tree with his crust and
water jug. I meet his servant come to draw water for his master, and
our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden
water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges. With favoring
winds it is wafted past the site of the fabulous islands of Atlantis and
the Hesperides, makes the periplus of Hanno, and, floating by Ternate
and Tidore and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, melts in the tropic gales
of the Indian seas, and is landed in ports of which Alexander only heard
the names.


The opening of large tracts by the ice-cutters commonly causes a pond
to break up earlier; for the water, agitated by the wind, even in cold
weather, wears away the surrounding ice. But such was not the effect on
Walden that year, for she had soon got a thick new garment to take the
place of the old. This pond never breaks up so soon as the others in
this neighborhood, on account both of its greater depth and its having
no stream passing through it to melt or wear away the ice. I never knew
it to open in the course of a winter, not excepting that of '52-3, which
gave the ponds so severe a trial. It commonly opens about the first
of April, a week or ten days later than Flint's Pond and Fair Haven,
beginning to melt on the north side and in the shallower parts where
it began to freeze. It indicates better than any water hereabouts the
absolute progress of the season, being least affected by transient
changes of temperature. A severe cold of a few days' duration in
March may very much retard the opening of the former ponds, while the
temperature of Walden increases almost uninterruptedly. A thermometer
thrust into the middle of Walden on the 6th of March, 1847, stood at
32º, or freezing point; near the shore at 33º; in the middle of Flint's
Pond, the same day, at 32º; at a dozen rods from the shore, in shallow
water, under ice a foot thick, at 36º. This difference of three and a
half degrees between the temperature of the deep water and the shallow
in the latter pond, and the fact that a great proportion of it is
comparatively shallow, show why it should break up so much sooner than
Walden. The ice in the shallowest part was at this time several inches
thinner than in the middle. In midwinter the middle had been the warmest
and the ice thinnest there. So, also, every one who has waded about the
shores of the pond in summer must have perceived how much warmer the
water is close to the shore, where only three or four inches deep, than
a little distance out, and on the surface where it is deep, than near
the bottom. In spring the sun not only exerts an influence through the
increased temperature of the air and earth, but its heat passes through
ice a foot or more thick, and is reflected from the bottom in shallow
water, and so also warms the water and melts the under side of the ice,
at the same time that it is melting it more directly above, making
it uneven, and causing the air bubbles which it contains to extend
themselves upward and downward until it is completely honeycombed, and
at last disappears suddenly in a single spring rain. Ice has its grain
as well as wood, and when a cake begins to rot or "comb," that is,
assume the appearance of honeycomb, whatever may be its position, the
air cells are at right angles with what was the water surface. Where
there is a rock or a log rising near to the surface the ice over it is
much thinner, and is frequently quite dissolved by this reflected heat;
and I have been told that in the experiment at Cambridge to freeze water
in a shallow wooden pond, though the cold air circulated underneath, and
so had access to both sides, the reflection of the sun from the bottom
more than counterbalanced this advantage. When a warm rain in the middle
of the winter melts off the snow-ice from Walden, and leaves a hard dark
or transparent ice on the middle, there will be a strip of rotten though
thicker white ice, a rod or more wide, about the shores, created by this
reflected heat. Also, as I have said, the bubbles themselves within the
ice operate as burning-glasses to melt the ice beneath.

The phenomena of the year take place every day in a pond on a small
scale. Every morning, generally speaking, the shallow water is being
warmed more rapidly than the deep, though it may not be made so warm
after all, and every evening it is being cooled more rapidly until the
morning. The day is an epitome of the year. The night is the winter, the
morning and evening are the spring and fall, and the noon is the summer.
The cracking and booming of the ice indicate a change of temperature.
One pleasant morning after a cold night, February 24th, 1850, having
gone to Flint's Pond to spend the day, I noticed with surprise, that
when I struck the ice with the head of my axe, it resounded like a gong
for many rods around, or as if I had struck on a tight drum-head.
The pond began to boom about an hour after sunrise, when it felt the
influence of the sun's rays slanted upon it from over the hills;
it stretched itself and yawned like a waking man with a gradually
increasing tumult, which was kept up three or four hours. It took a
short siesta at noon, and boomed once more toward night, as the sun
was withdrawing his influence. In the right stage of the weather a pond
fires its evening gun with great regularity. But in the middle of the
day, being full of cracks, and the air also being less elastic, it had
completely lost its resonance, and probably fishes and muskrats could
not then have been stunned by a blow on it. The fishermen say that the
"thundering of the pond" scares the fishes and prevents their biting.
The pond does not thunder every evening, and I cannot tell surely when
to expect its thundering; but though I may perceive no difference in
the weather, it does. Who would have suspected so large and cold and
thick-skinned a thing to be so sensitive? Yet it has its law to which
it thunders obedience when it should as surely as the buds expand in the
spring. The earth is all alive and covered with papillae. The largest
pond is as sensitive to atmospheric changes as the globule of mercury in
its 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 wood-pile, for large fires are no longer
necessary. I am on the alert for the first signs of spring, to hear the
chance note of some arriving bird, or the striped squirrel's chirp, for
his stores must be now nearly exhausted, or see the woodchuck venture
out of his winter quarters. On the 13th of March, after I had heard the
bluebird, song sparrow, and red-wing, the ice was still nearly a foot
thick. As the weather grew warmer it was not sensibly worn away by the
water, nor broken up and floated off as in rivers, but, though it was
completely melted for half a rod in width about the shore, the middle
was merely honeycombed and saturated with water, so that you could put
your foot through it when six inches thick; but by the next day evening,
perhaps, after a warm rain followed by fog, it would have wholly
disappeared, all gone off with the fog, spirited away. One year I went
across the middle only five days before it disappeared entirely. In 1845
Walden was first completely open on the 1st of April; in '46, the 25th
of March; in '47, the 8th of April; in '51, the 28th of March; in '52,
the 18th of April; in '53, the 23d of March; in '54, about the 7th of

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

Few phenomena gave me more delight than to observe the forms which
thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the sides of a deep cut
on the railroad through which I passed on my way to the village, a
phenomenon not very common on so large a scale, though the number of
freshly exposed banks of the right material must have been greatly
multiplied since railroads were invented. The material was sand of every
degree of fineness and of various rich colors, commonly mixed with
a little clay. When the frost comes out in the spring, and even in a
thawing day in the winter, the sand begins to flow down the slopes like
lava, sometimes bursting out through the snow and overflowing it where
no sand was to be seen before. Innumerable little streams overlap and
interlace one with another, exhibiting a sort of hybrid product, which
obeys half way the law of currents, and half way that of vegetation. As
it flows it takes the forms of sappy leaves or vines, making heaps of
pulpy sprays a foot or more in depth, and resembling, as you look
down on them, the laciniated, lobed, and imbricated thalluses of some
lichens; or you are reminded of coral, of leopard's paws or birds' feet,
of brains or lungs or bowels, and excrements of all kinds. It is a truly
_grotesque_ vegetation, whose forms and color we see imitated in bronze,
a sort of architectural foliage more ancient and typical than acanthus,
chiccory, ivy, vine, or any vegetable leaves; destined perhaps, under
some circumstances, to become a puzzle to future geologists. The whole
cut impressed me as if it were a cave with its stalactites laid open
to the light. The various shades of the sand are singularly rich and
agreeable, embracing the different iron colors, brown, gray, yellowish,
and reddish. When the flowing mass reaches the drain at the foot of the
bank it spreads out flatter into _strands_, the separate streams losing
their semi-cylindrical form and gradually becoming more flat and broad,
running together as they are more moist, till they form an almost flat
_sand_, still variously and beautifully shaded, but in which you can trace
the original forms of vegetation; till at length, in the water itself,
they are converted into _banks_, like those formed off the mouths of
rivers, and the forms of vegetation are lost in the ripple marks on the

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
(γεἱβω, _labor_, _lapsus_, to flow or slip downward, a lapsing; λοβὁς,
_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

Ere long, not only on these banks, but on every hill and plain and in
every hollow, the frost comes out of the ground like a dormant quadruped
from its burrow, and seeks the sea with music, or migrates to other
climes in clouds. Thaw with his gentle persuasion is more powerful than
Thor with his hammer. The one melts, the other but breaks in pieces.

When the ground was partially bare of snow, and a few warm days had
dried its surface somewhat, it was pleasant to compare the first tender
signs of the infant year just peeping forth with the stately
beauty of the withered vegetation which had withstood the
winter--life-everlasting, goldenrods, pinweeds, and graceful wild
grasses, more obvious and interesting frequently than in summer even,
as if their beauty was not ripe till then; even cotton-grass, cat-tails,
mulleins, johnswort, hard-hack, meadow-sweet, and other strong-stemmed
plants, those unexhausted granaries which entertain the earliest
birds--decent weeds, at least, which widowed Nature wears. I am
particularly attracted by the arching and sheaf-like top of the
wool-grass; it brings back the summer to our winter memories, and is
among the forms which art loves to copy, and which, in the vegetable
kingdom, have the same relation to types already in the mind of man that
astronomy has. It is an antique style, older than Greek or Egyptian.
Many of the phenomena of Winter are suggestive of an inexpressible
tenderness and fragile delicacy. We are accustomed to hear this king
described as a rude and boisterous tyrant; but with the gentleness of a
lover he adorns the tresses of 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 irresistible.

The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning with younger hope than
ever! The faint silvery warblings heard over the partially bare and
moist fields from the bluebird, the song sparrow, and the red-wing, as
if the last flakes of winter tinkled as they fell! What at such a time
are histories, chronologies, traditions, and all written revelations?
The brooks sing carols and glees to the spring. The marsh hawk, sailing
low over the meadow, is already seeking the first slimy life that
awakes. The sinking sound of melting snow is heard in all dells, and the
ice dissolves apace in the ponds. The grass flames up on the hillsides
like a spring fire--"et primitus oritur herba imbribus primoribus
evocata"--as if the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the
returning sun; not yellow but green is the color of its flame;--the
symbol of perpetual youth, the grass-blade, like a long green ribbon,
streams from the sod into the summer, checked indeed by the frost, but
anon pushing on again, lifting its spear of last year's hay with the
fresh life below. It grows as steadily as the rill oozes out of the
ground. It is almost identical with that, for in the growing days of
June, when the rills are dry, the grass-blades are their channels, and
from year to year the herds drink at this perennial green stream, and
the mower draws from it betimes their winter supply. So our human life
but dies down to its root, and still puts forth its green blade to

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 hear the rush of their wings;
when, driving toward my house, they suddenly spied my light, and with
hushed clamor wheeled and settled in the pond. So I came in, and shut
the door, and passed my first spring night in the woods.

In the morning I watched the geese from the door through the mist,
sailing in the middle of the pond, fifty rods off, so large and
tumultuous that Walden appeared like an artificial pond for their
amusement. But when I stood on the shore they at once rose up with a
great flapping of wings at the signal of their commander, and when they
had got into rank circled about over my head, twenty-nine of them, and
then steered straight to Canada, with a regular _honk_ from the leader at
intervals, trusting to break their fast in muddier pools. A "plump" of
ducks rose at the same time and took the route to the north in the wake
of their noisier cousins.

For a week I heard the circling, groping clangor of some solitary goose
in the foggy mornings, seeking its companion, and still peopling the
woods with the sound of a larger life than they could sustain. In April
the pigeons were seen again flying express in small flocks, and in due
time I heard the martins twittering over my clearing, though it had not
seemed that the township contained so many that it could afford me any,
and I fancied that they were peculiarly of the ancient race that dwelt
in hollow trees ere white men came. In almost all climes the tortoise
and the frog are among the precursors and heralds of this season, and
birds fly with song and glancing plumage, and plants spring and bloom,
and winds blow, to correct this slight oscillation of the poles and
preserve the equilibrium of nature.

As every season seems best to us in its turn, so the coming in of spring
is like the creation of Cosmos out of Chaos and the realization of the
Golden Age.--

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

  "The East-Wind withdrew to Aurora and the Nabathæn kingdom,
   And the Persian, and the ridges placed under the morning rays.
                        . . . . . . .
   Man was born.  Whether that Artificer of things,
   The origin of a better world, made him from the divine seed;
   Or the earth, being recent and lately sundered from the high
   Ether, retained some seeds of cognate heaven."

A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our
prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be
blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every
accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence
of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in
atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our
duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring. In a pleasant
spring morning all men's sins are forgiven. Such a day is a truce to
vice. While such a sun holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return.
Through our own recovered innocence we discern the innocence of our
neighbors. You may have known your neighbor yesterday for a thief,
a drunkard, or a sensualist, and merely pitied or despised him, and
despaired of the world; but the sun shines bright and warm this first
spring morning, recreating the world, and you meet him at some serene
work, and see how it is exhausted and debauched veins expand with still
joy and bless the new day, feel the spring influence with the innocence
of infancy, and all his faults are forgotten. There is not only an
atmosphere of good will about him, but even a savor of holiness groping
for expression, blindly and ineffectually perhaps, like a new-born
instinct, and for a short hour the south hill-side echoes to no vulgar
jest. You see some innocent fair shoots preparing to burst from his
gnarled rind and try another year's life, tender and fresh as the
youngest plant. Even he has entered into the joy of his Lord. Why the
jailer does not leave open his prison doors--why the judge does not
dismis his case--why the preacher does not dismiss his congregation! It
is because they do not obey the hint which God gives them, nor accept
the pardon which he freely offers to all.

"A return to goodness produced each day in the tranquil and beneficent
breath of the morning, causes that in respect to the love of virtue and
the hatred of vice, one approaches a little the primitive nature of man,
as the sprouts of the forest which has been felled. In like manner
the evil which one does in the interval of a day prevents the germs of
virtues which began to spring up again from developing themselves and
destroys them.

"After the germs of virtue have thus been prevented many times from
developing themselves, then the beneficent breath of evening does not
suffice to preserve them. As soon as the breath of evening does not
suffice longer to preserve them, then the nature of man does not differ
much from that of the brute. Men seeing the nature of this man like that
of the brute, think that he has never possessed the innate faculty of
reason. Are those the true and natural sentiments of man?"

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

On the 29th of April, as I was fishing from the bank of the river near
the Nine-Acre-Corner bridge, standing on the quaking grass and willow
roots, where the muskrats lurk, I heard a singular rattling sound,
somewhat like that of the sticks which boys play with their fingers,
when, looking up, I observed a very slight and graceful hawk, like a
nighthawk, alternately soaring like a ripple and tumbling a rod or two
over and over, showing the under side of its wings, which gleamed like
a satin ribbon in the sun, or like the pearly inside of a shell.
This sight reminded me of falconry and what nobleness and poetry are
associated with that sport. The Merlin it seemed to me it might be
called: but I care not for its name. It was the most ethereal flight I
had ever witnessed. It did not simply flutter like a butterfly, nor soar
like the larger hawks, but it sported with proud reliance in the fields
of air; mounting again and again with its strange chuckle, it repeated
its free and beautiful fall, turning over and over like a kite, and then
recovering from its lofty tumbling, as if it had never set its foot on
_terra firma_. It appeared to have no companion in the universe--sporting
there alone--and to need none but the morning and the ether with which
it played. It was not lonely, but made all the earth lonely beneath it.
Where was the parent which hatched it, its kindred, and its father in
the heavens? The tenant of the air, it seemed related to the earth but
by an egg hatched some time in the crevice of a crag;--or was its native
nest made in the angle of a cloud, woven of the rainbow's trimmings and
the sunset sky, and lined with some soft midsummer haze caught up from
earth? Its eyry now some cliffy cloud.

Beside this I got a rare mess of golden and silver and bright cupreous
fishes, which looked like a string of jewels. Ah! I have penetrated to
those meadows on the morning of many a first spring day, jumping from
hummock to hummock, from willow root to willow root, when the wild river
valley and the woods were bathed in so pure and bright a light as would
have waked the dead, if they had been slumbering in their graves, as
some suppose. There needs no stronger proof of immortality. All things
must live in such a light. O Death, where was thy sting? O Grave, where
was thy victory, then?

Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored
forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness--to
wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and
hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only
some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls
with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are
earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things
be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild,
unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have
enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible
vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the
wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud,
and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need
to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely
where we never wander. We are cheered when we observe the vulture
feeding on the carrion which disgusts and disheartens us, and deriving
health and strength from the repast. There was a dead horse in the
hollow by the path to my house, which compelled me sometimes to go
out of my way, especially in the night when the air was heavy, but the
assurance it gave me of the strong appetite and inviolable health of
Nature was my compensation for this. I love to see that Nature is
so rife with life that myriads can be afforded to be sacrificed and
suffered to prey on one another; that tender organizations can be so
serenely squashed out of existence like pulp--tadpoles which herons
gobble up, and tortoises and toads run over in the road; and that
sometimes it has rained flesh and blood! With the liability to accident,
we must see how little account is to be made of it. The impression made
on a wise man is that of universal innocence. Poison is not poisonous
after all, nor are any wounds fatal. Compassion is a very untenable
ground. It must be expeditious. Its pleadings will not bear to be

Early in May, the oaks, hickories, maples, and other trees, just putting
out amidst the pine woods around the pond, imparted a brightness like
sunshine to the landscape, especially in cloudy days, as if the sun were
breaking through mists and shining faintly on the hillsides here and
there. On the third or fourth of May I saw a loon in the pond, and
during the first week of the month I heard the whip-poor-will, the brown
thrasher, the veery, the wood pewee, the chewink, and other birds. I had
heard the wood thrush long before. The phœbe had already come once more
and looked in at my door and window, to see if my house was cavern-like
enough for her, sustaining herself on humming wings with clinched
talons, as if she held by the air, while she surveyed the premises.
The sulphur-like pollen of the pitch pine soon covered the pond and the
stones and rotten wood along the shore, so that you could have collected
a barrelful. This is the "sulphur showers" we hear 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 sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's
being alone.

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

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

It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in
Zanzibar. Yet do this even till you can do better, and you may perhaps
find some "Symmes' Hole" by which to get at the inside at last. England
and France, Spain and Portugal, Gold Coast and Slave Coast, all front
on this private sea; but no bark from them has ventured out of sight of
land, though it is without doubt the direct way to India. If you would
learn to speak all tongues and conform to the customs of all nations,
if you would travel farther than all travellers, be naturalized in all
climes, and cause the Sphinx to dash her head against a stone, even
obey the precept of the old philosopher, and Explore thyself. Herein are
demanded the eye and the nerve. Only the defeated and deserters go to
the wars, cowards that run away and enlist. Start now on that farthest
western way, which does not pause at the Mississippi or the Pacific, nor
conduct toward a worn-out China or Japan, but leads on direct, a tangent
to this sphere, summer and winter, day and night, sun down, moon down,
and at last earth down too.

It is said that Mirabeau took to highway robbery "to ascertain what
degree of resolution was necessary in order to place one's self in
formal opposition to the most sacred laws of society." He declared that
"a soldier who fights in the ranks does not require half so much courage
as a footpad"--"that honor and religion have never stood in the way of a
well-considered and a firm resolve." This was manly, as the world goes;
and yet it was idle, if not desperate. A saner man would have found
himself often enough "in formal opposition" to what are deemed "the most
sacred laws of society," through obedience to yet more sacred laws, and
so have tested his resolution without going out of his way. It is not
for a man to put himself in such an attitude to society, but to maintain
himself in whatever attitude he find himself through obedience to the
laws of his being, which will never be one of opposition to a just
government, if he should chance to meet with such.

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed
to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any
more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we
fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I
had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to
the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it
is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen
into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft
and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind
travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world,
how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a
cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the
world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do
not wish to go below now.

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances
confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the
life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in
common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible
boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish
themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and
interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with
the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies
his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and
solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness
weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be
lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

It is a ridiculous demand which England and America make, that you shall
speak so that they can understand you. Neither men nor toadstools grow
so. As if that were important, and there were not enough to understand
you without them. As if Nature could support but one order of
understandings, could not sustain birds as well as quadrupeds, flying as
well as creeping things, and _hush_ and _whoa_, which Bright can
understand, were the best English. As if there were safety in stupidity
alone. I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be _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

There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive
after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having
considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into
a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be
perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life.
He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it
should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and
rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they
grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. His
singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed
him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no
compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a
distance because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stock
in all respects suitable the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he
sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it the
proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and with the
point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in
the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had smoothed and
polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star; and ere he had
put on the ferule and the head adorned with precious stones, Brahma
had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to mention these
things? When the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly
expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of
all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff,
a world with full and fair proportions; in which, though the old cities
and dynasties had passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken
their places. And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his
feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been
an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a
single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the
tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure;
how could the result be other than wonderful?

No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well at last as
the truth. This alone wears well. For the most part, we are not where
we are, but in a false position. Through an infinity of our natures, we
suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and hence are in two cases at
the same time, and it is doubly difficult to get out. In sane moments we
regard only the facts, the case that is. Say what you have to say, not
what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe. Tom Hyde, the
tinker, standing on the gallows, was asked if he had anything to say.
"Tell the tailors," said he, "to remember to make a knot in their thread
before they take the first stitch." His companion's prayer is forgotten.

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call
it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you
are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love
your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling,
glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from
the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode;
the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see
but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering
thoughts, as in a palace. The town's poor seem to me often to live the
most independent lives of any. Maybe they are simply great enough
to receive without misgiving. Most think that they are above being
supported by the town; but it oftener happens that they are not
above supporting themselves by dishonest means, which should be more
disreputable. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not
trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends.
Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell
your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do not want
society. If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a
spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts
about me. The philosopher said: "From an army of three divisions one
can take away its general, and put it in disorder; from the man the
most abject and vulgar one cannot take away his thought." Do not seek so
anxiously to be developed, to subject yourself to many influences to
be played on; it is all dissipation. Humility like darkness reveals the
heavenly lights. The shadows of poverty and meanness gather around us,
"and lo! creation widens to our view." We are often reminded that if
there were bestowed on us the wealth of Croesus, our aims must still
be the same, and our means essentially the same. Moreover, if you
are restricted in your range by poverty, if you cannot buy books and
newspapers, for instance, you are but confined to the most significant
and vital experiences; you are compelled to deal with the material which
yields the most sugar and the most starch. It is life near the bone
where it is sweetest. You are defended from being a trifler. No man
loses ever on a lower level by magnanimity on a higher. Superfluous
wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one
necessary of the soul.

I live in the angle of a leaden wall, into whose composition was poured
a little alloy of bell-metal. Often, in the repose of my mid-day, there
reaches my ears a confused tintinnabulum from without. It is the noise
of my contemporaries. My neighbors tell me of their adventures
with famous gentlemen and ladies, what notabilities they met at the
dinner-table; but I am no more interested in such things than in the
contents of the Daily Times. The interest and the conversation are about
costume and manners chiefly; but a goose is a goose still, dress it
as you will. They tell me of California and Texas, of England and the
Indies, of the Hon. Mr.----of Georgia or of Massachusetts, all transient
and fleeting phenomena, till I am ready to leap from their court-yard
like the Mameluke bey. I delight to come to my bearings--not walk in
procession with pomp and parade, in a conspicuous place, but to walk
even with the Builder of the universe, if I may--not to live in this
restless, nervous, bustling, trivial Nineteenth Century, but stand or
sit thoughtfully while it goes by. What are men celebrating? They are
all on a committee of arrangements, and hourly expect a speech from
somebody. God is only the president of the day, and Webster is his
orator. I love to weigh, to settle, to gravitate toward that which most
strongly and rightfully attracts me--not hang by the beam of the scale
and try to weigh less--not suppose a case, but take the case that is; to
travel the only path I can, and that on which no power can resist me. It
affords me no satisfaction to commerce to spring an arch before I have
got a solid foundation. Let us not play at kittly-benders. There is a
solid bottom everywhere. We read that the traveller asked the boy if
the swamp before him had a hard bottom. The boy replied that it had.
But presently the traveller's horse sank in up to the girths, and
he observed to the boy, "I thought you said that this bog had a hard
bottom." "So it has," answered the latter, "but you have not got half
way to it yet." So it is with the bogs and quicksands of society; but
he is an old boy that knows it. Only what is thought, said, or done at
a certain rare coincidence is good. I would not be one of those who will
foolishly drive a nail into mere lath and plastering; such a deed would
keep me awake nights. Give me a hammer, and let me feel for the
furring. Do not depend on the putty. Drive a nail home and clinch it so
faithfully that you can wake up in the night and think of your work with
satisfaction--a work at which you would not be ashamed to invoke the
Muse. So will help you God, and so only. Every nail driven should be as
another rivet in the machine of the universe, you carrying on the work.

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table
where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance,
but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the
inhospitable board. The hospitality was as cold as the ices. I thought
that there was no need of ice to freeze them. They talked to me of the
age of the wine and the fame of the vintage; but I thought of an older,
a newer, and purer wine, of a more glorious vintage, which they had
not got, and could not buy. The style, the house and grounds and
"entertainment" pass for nothing with me. I called on the king, but he
made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for
hospitality. There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow
tree. His manners were truly regal. I should have done better had I
called on 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.


I heartily accept the motto,--"That government is best which governs
least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and
systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I
believe,--"That government is best which governs not at all"; and when
men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they
will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments
are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The
objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are
many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought
against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the
standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which
the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be
abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the
present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using
the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people
would not have consented to this measure.

This American government--what is it but a tradition, though a recent
one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each
instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force
of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will. It is
a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves. But it is not the less
necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated machinery
or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which
they have. Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on,
even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is excellent, we
must all allow. Yet this government never of itself furthered any
enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. _It_
does not keep the country free. _It_ does not settle the West. _It_ does
not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all
that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the
government had not sometimes got in its way. For government is an
expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone;
and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most
let alone by it. Trade and commerce, if they were not made of India
rubber, would never manage to bounce over the obstacles which
legislators are continually putting in their way; and, if one were to
judge these men wholly by the effects of their actions, and not partly
by their intentions, they would deserve to be classed and punished with
those mischievous persons who put obstructions on the railroads.

But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call
themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government,
but _at once_ a better government. Let every man make known what kind of
government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward
obtaining it.

After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands
of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue,
to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right,
nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are
physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in
all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand
it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually
decide right and wrong, but conscience?--in which majorities decide only
those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the
citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience
to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that
we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable
to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only
obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what
I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no
conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation
with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of
their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents
of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law
is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal,
privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over
hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common
sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and
produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a
damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably
inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and
magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? Visit the
Navy Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can
make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts--a mere shadow
and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and
already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniments,
though it may be,--

           "Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
               As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
            Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
               O'er the grave where our hero we buried."

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

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

He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to them useless
and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a
benefactor and philanthropist.

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government
to-day? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with
it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as _my_
government which is the _slave's_ government also.

All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse
allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its
inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is
not the case now. But such was the case, they think, in the Revolution
of '75. If one were to tell me that this was a bad government because
it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is most
probable that I should not make an ado about it, for I can do without
them. All machines have their friction; and possibly this does enough
good to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make
a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine, and
oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a
machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a
nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and
a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and
subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest
men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent
is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the
invading army.

Paley, a common authority with many on moral questions, in his chapter
on the "Duty of Submission to Civil Government," resolves all civil
obligation into expediency; and he proceeds to say that "so long as
the interest of the whole society requires it, that is, so long as the
established government cannot be resisted or changed without public
inconveniency, it is the will of God... that the established government
be obeyed, and no longer.... This principle being admitted, the justice
of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of
the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the
probability and expense of redressing it on the other." Of this, he
says, every man shall judge for himself. But Paley appears never to have
contemplated those cases to which the rule of expediency does not apply,
in which a people, as well as an individual, must do justice, cost what
it may. If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man, I must
restore it to him though I drown myself. This, according to Paley, would
be inconvenient. But he that would save his life, in such a case, shall
lose it. This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on
Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people.

In their practice, nations agree with Paley; but does any one think that
Massachusetts does exactly what is right at the present crisis?

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

Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are
not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred thousand
merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and
agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do
justice to the slave and to Mexico, _cost what it may_. I quarrel not with
far-off foes, but with those who, near at home, co-operate with, and
do the bidding of those far away, and without whom the latter would be
harmless. We are accustomed to say, that the mass of men are unprepared;
but improvement is slow, because the few are not materially wiser or
better than the many. It is not so important that many should be as good
as you, as that there be some absolute goodness somewhere; for that will
leaven the whole lump. There are thousands who are _in opinion_ opposed
to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to
them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit
down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what
to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the
question of free-trade, and quietly read the prices-current along with
the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may be, fall
asleep over them both. What is the price-current of an honest man and
patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they
petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will
wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no
longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a
feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them. There
are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man;
but it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with
the temporary guardian of it.

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a
slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral
questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the
voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I
am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to
leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that
of expediency. Even voting _for the right_ is _doing nothing_ for it. It is
only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A
wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to
prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in
the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for
the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to
slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by
their vote. _They_ will then be the only slaves. Only _his_ vote can hasten
the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.

I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore, or elsewhere, for the
selection of a candidate for the Presidency, made up chiefly of editors,
and men who are politicians by profession; but I think, what is it to
any independent, intelligent, and respectable man what decision they
may come to? Shall we not have the advantage of his wisdom and honesty,
nevertheless? Can we not count upon some independent votes? Are there
not many individuals in the country who do not attend conventions? But
no: I find that the respectable man, so called, has immediately drifted
from his position, and despairs of his country, when his country has
more reason to despair of him. He forthwith adopts one of the candidates
thus selected as the only _available_ one, thus proving that he is himself
_available_ for any purposes of the demagogue. His vote is of no more
worth than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native, who
may have been bought. Oh for a man who is a _man_, and, as my neighbor
says, has a bone in his back which you cannot pass your hand through!
Our statistics are at fault: the population has been returned too large.
How many _men_ are there to a square thousand miles in this country?
Hardly one. Does not America offer any inducement for men to settle
here? The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow--one who may be known
by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack
of intellect and cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern,
on coming into the world, is to see that the almshouses are in good
repair; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to
collect a fund for the support of the widows and orphans that may be;
who, in short ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance
company, which has promised to bury him decently.

It is not a man's duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the
eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly
have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash
his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give
it practically his support. If I devote myself to other pursuits and
contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them
sitting upon another man's shoulders. I must get off him first, that
he may pursue his contemplations too. See what gross inconsistency is
tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, "I should like to have
them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to
march to Mexico;--see if I would go"; and yet these very men have each,
directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their
money, furnished a substitute. The soldier is applauded who refuses to
serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust
government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose own act
and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the state were
penitent to that degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned,
but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment. Thus,
under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at last to
pay homage to and support our own meanness. After the first blush of
sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it were,
_un_moral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made.

The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested
virtue to sustain it. The slight reproach to which the virtue of
patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most likely to incur.
Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a
government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly
its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious
obstacles to reform. Some are petitioning the State to dissolve the
Union, to disregard the requisitions of the President. Why do they not
dissolve it themselves--the union between themselves and the State--and
refuse to pay their quota into its treasury? Do not they stand in the
same relation to the State, that the State does to the Union? And have
not the same reasons prevented the State from resisting the Union, which
have prevented them from resisting the State?

How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it?
Is there any enjoyment in _it_, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved? If
you are cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbor, you do not rest
satisfied with knowing that you are cheated, or with saying that you are
cheated, or even with petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take
effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount, and see that you
are never cheated again. Action from principle--the perception and the
performance of right--changes things and relations; it is essentially
revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was.
It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay,
it divides the _individual_, separating the diabolical in him from the

Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we
endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall
we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government
as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the
majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist,
the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the
government itself that the remedy _is_ worse than the evil. _It_ makes it
worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why
does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before
it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to
point out its faults, and _do_ better than it would have them? Why does
it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and
pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

One would think, that a deliberate and practical denial of its authority
was the only offence never contemplated by government; else, why has it
not assigned its definite, its suitable and proportionate, penalty? If a
man who has no property refuses but once to earn nine shillings for
the State, he is put in prison for a period unlimited by any law that
I know, and determined only by the discretion of those who placed him
there; but if he should steal ninety times nine shillings from the
State, he is soon permitted to go at large again.

If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine
of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear
smooth--certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a
spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then
perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the
evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent
of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be
a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at
any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for remedying the
evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man's life
will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world,
not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it,
be it good or bad. A man has not everything to do, but something; and
because he cannot do _everything_, it is not necessary that he should do
_something_ wrong. It is not my business to be petitioning the Governor or
the Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they
should not hear my petition, what should I do then? But in this case the
State has provided no way; its very Constitution is the evil. This may
seem to be harsh and stubborn and unconciliatory; but it is to treat
with the utmost kindness and consideration the only spirit that can
appreciate or deserves it. So is an change for the better, like birth
and death which convulse the body.

I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists
should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and
property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they
constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail
through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side,
without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than
his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.

I meet this American government, or its representative, the State
government, directly, and face to face, once a year--no more--in
the person of its tax-gatherer; this is the only mode in which a man
situated as I am necessarily meets it; and it then says distinctly,
Recognize me; and the simplest, the most effectual, and, in the present
posture of affairs, the indispensablest mode of treating with it on this
head, of expressing your little satisfaction with and love for it, is
to deny it then. My civil neighbor, the tax-gatherer, is the very man I
have to deal with--for it is, after all, with men and not with parchment
that I quarrel--and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the
government. How shall he ever know well what he is and does as an
officer of the government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider
whether he shall treat me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as
a neighbor and well-disposed man, or as a maniac and disturber of the
peace, and see if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborliness
without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding with
his action? I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if
ten men whom I could name--if ten _honest_ men only--ay, if _one_ HONEST
man, in this State of Massachusetts, _ceasing to hold slaves_, were
actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the
county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America.
For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once
well done is done forever. But we love better to talk about it: that
we say is our mission. Reform keeps many scores of newspapers in
its service, but not one man. If my esteemed neighbor, the State's
ambassador, who will devote his days to the settlement of the question
of human rights in the Council Chamber, instead of being threatened with
the prisons of Carolina, were to sit down the prisoner of Massachusetts,
that State which is so anxious to foist the sin of slavery upon her
sister--though at present she can discover only an act of inhospitality
to be the ground of a quarrel with her--the Legislature would not wholly
waive the subject the following winter.

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a
just man is also a prison. The proper place to-day, the only place which
Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits,
is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own
act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is
there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and
the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find them;
on that separate, but more free and honorable ground, where the State
places those who are not _with_ her, but _against_ her--the only house in a
slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that
their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict
the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its
walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor
how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who
has experienced a little in his own person. Cast your whole vote, not a
strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless
while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but
it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative
is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State
will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay
their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody
measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit
violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a
peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If the tax-gatherer, or
any other public officer, asks me, as one has done, "But what shall
I do?" my answer is, "If you really wish to do anything, resign your
office." When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has
resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished. But even
suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of blood shed when the
conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man's real manhood and
immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this
blood flowing now.

I have contemplated the imprisonment of the offender, rather than the
seizure of his goods--though both will serve the same purpose--because
they who assert the purest right, and consequently are most dangerous
to a corrupt State, commonly have not spent much time in accumulating
property. To such the State renders comparatively small service, and
a slight tax is wont to appear exorbitant, particularly if they are
obliged to earn it by special labor with their hands. If there were
one who lived wholly without the use of money, the State itself
would hesitate to demand it of him. But the rich man--not to make any
invidious comparison--is always sold to the institution which makes him
rich. Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue; for money
comes between a man and his objects, and obtains them for him; and
it was certainly no great virtue to obtain it. It puts to rest many
questions which he would otherwise be taxed to answer; while the only
new question which it puts is the hard but superfluous one, how to
spend it. Thus his moral ground is taken from under his feet. The
opportunities of living are diminished in proportion as what are called
the "means" are increased. The best thing a man can do for his culture
when he is rich is to endeavor to carry out those schemes which he
entertained when he was poor. Christ answered the Herodians according to
their condition. "Show me the tribute-money," said he;--and one took a
penny out of his pocket;--if you use money which has the image of Cæsar
on it, and which he has made current and valuable, that is, _if you
are men of the State_, and gladly enjoy the advantages of Cæsar's
government, then pay him back some of his own when he demands it;
"Render therefore to Cæsar that which is Cæsar's, and to God those
things which are God's"--leaving them no wiser than before as to which
was which; for they did not wish to know.

When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive that,
whatever they may say about the magnitude and seriousness of the
question, and their regard for the public tranquillity, the long and
the short of the matter is, that they cannot spare the protection of the
existing government, and they dread the consequences to their property
and families of disobedience to it. For my own part, I should not like
to think that I ever rely on the protection of the State. But, if I deny
the authority of the State when it presents its tax-bill, it will soon
take and waste all my property, and so harass me and my children without
end. This is hard. This makes it impossible for a man to live honestly,
and at the same time comfortably in outward respects. It will not be
worth the while to accumulate property; that would be sure to go again.
You must hire or squat somewhere, and raise but a small crop, and eat
that soon. You must live within yourself, and depend upon yourself
always tucked up and ready for a start, and not have many affairs. A
man may grow rich in Turkey even, if he will be in all respects a
good subject of the Turkish government. Confucius said, "If a state is
governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are subjects
of shame; if a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches
and honors are the subjects of shame." No: until I want the protection
of Massachusetts to be extended to me in some distant Southern port,
where my liberty is endangered, or until I am bent solely on building
up an estate at home by peaceful enterprise, I can afford to refuse
allegiance to Massachusetts, and her right to my property and life. It
costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the
State than it would to obey. I should feel as if I were worth less in
that case.

Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of the Church, and commanded
me to pay a certain sum toward the support of a clergyman whose
preaching my father attended, but never I myself. "Pay," it said, "or be
locked up in the jail." I declined to pay. But, unfortunately, another
man saw fit to pay it. I did not see why the schoolmaster should be
taxed to support the priest, and not the priest the schoolmaster: for
I was not the State's schoolmaster, but I supported myself by voluntary
subscription. I did not see why the lyceum should not present its
tax-bill, and have the State to back its demand, as well as the Church.
However, at the request of the selectmen, I condescended to make some
such statement as this in writing:--"Know all men by these presents,
that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any
incorporated society which I have not joined." This I gave to the town
clerk; and he has it. The State, having thus learned that I did not wish
to be regarded as a member of that church, has never made a like
demand on me since; though it said that it must adhere to its original
presumption that time. If I had known how to name them, I should then
have signed off in detail from all the societies which I never signed on
to; but I did not know where to find a complete list.

I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into a jail once on
this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the walls of
solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot
thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help
being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated me
as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up. I wondered
that it should have concluded at length that this was the best use it
could put me to, and had never thought to avail itself of my services
in some way. I saw that, if there was a wall of stone between me and
my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break
through, before they could get to be as free as I was. I did not for a
moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and
mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax. They
plainly did not know how to treat me, but behaved like persons who are
underbred. In every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder;
for they thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of
that stone wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously they
locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out again without
let or hindrance, and _they_ were really all that was dangerous. As they
could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body; just as boys,
if they cannot come at some person against whom they have a spite, will
abuse his dog. I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid
as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its
friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and
pitied it.

Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual
or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior
wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to
be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the
strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a
higher law than I. They force me to become like themselves. I do not
hear of _men_ being _forced_ to have this way or that by masses of men.
What sort of life were that to live? When I meet a government which says
to me, "Your money or your life," why should I be in haste to give it my
money? It may be in a great strait, and not know what to do: I cannot
help that. It must help itself; do as I do. It is not worth the while to
snivel about it. I am not responsible for the successful working of the
machinery of society. I am not the son of the engineer. I perceive that,
when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain
inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and
spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance,
overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to
its nature, it dies; and so a man.

The night in prison was novel and interesting enough. The prisoners
in their shirt-sleeves were enjoying a chat and the evening air in the
doorway, when I entered. But the jailer said, "Come, boys, it is time
to lock up"; and so they dispersed, and I heard the sound of their steps
returning into the hollow apartments. My room-mate was introduced to me
by the jailer as "a first-rate fellow and a clever man." When the
door was locked, he showed me where to hang my hat, and how he managed
matters there. The rooms were whitewashed once a month; and this one, at
least, was the whitest, most simply furnished, and probably the neatest
apartment in the town. He naturally wanted to know where I came from,
and what brought me there; and, when I had told him, I asked him in my
turn how he came there, presuming him to be an honest man, of course;
and, as the world goes, I believe he was. "Why," said he, "they accuse
me of burning a barn; but I never did it." As near as I could discover,
he had probably gone to bed in a barn when drunk, and smoked his pipe
there; and so a barn was burnt. He had the reputation of being a clever
man, had been there some three months waiting for his trial to come on,
and would have to wait as much longer; but he was quite domesticated and
contented, since he got his board for nothing, and thought that he was
well treated.

He occupied one window, and I the other; and I saw that if one stayed
there long, his principal business would be to look out the window. I
had soon read all the tracts that were left there, and examined where
former prisoners had broken out, and where a grate had been sawed off,
and heard the history of the various occupants of that room; for I found
that even here there was a history and a gossip which never circulated
beyond the walls of the jail. Probably this is the only house in
the town where verses are composed, which are afterward printed in
a circular form, but not published. I was shown quite a long list of
verses which were composed by some young men who had been detected in an
attempt to escape, who avenged themselves by singing them.

I pumped my fellow-prisoner as dry as I could, for fear I should never
see him again; but at length he showed me which was my bed, and left me
to blow out the lamp.

It was like travelling into a far country, such as I had never expected
to behold, to lie there for one night. It seemed to me that I never
had heard the town-clock strike before, nor the evening sounds of the
village; for we slept with the windows open, which were inside the
grating. It was to see my native village in the light of the Middle
Ages, and our Concord was turned into a Rhine stream, and visions
of knights and castles passed before me. They were the voices of old
burghers that I heard in the streets. I was an involuntary spectator
and auditor of whatever was done and said in the kitchen of the adjacent
village-inn--a wholly new and rare experience to me. It was a closer
view of my native town. I was fairly inside of it. I never had seen its
institutions before. This is one of its peculiar institutions; for it is
a shire town. I began to comprehend what its inhabitants were about.

In the morning, our breakfasts were put through the hole in the door,
in small oblong-square tin pans, made to fit, and holding a pint of
chocolate, with brown bread, and an iron spoon. When they called for the
vessels again, I was green enough to return what bread I had left; but
my comrade seized it, and said that I should lay that up for lunch or
dinner. Soon after he was let out to work at haying in a neighboring
field, whither he went every day, and would not be back till noon; so he
bade me good-day, saying that he doubted if he should see me again.

When I came out of prison--for some one interfered, and paid that tax--I
did not perceive that great changes had taken place on the common,
such as he observed who went in a youth and emerged a tottering
and gray-headed man; and yet a change had to my eyes come over the
scene--the town, and State, and country--greater than any that mere time
could effect. I saw yet more distinctly the State in which I lived. I
saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as
good neighbors and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather
only; that they did not greatly propose to do right; that they were
a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions, as the
Chinamen and Malays are; that in their sacrifices to humanity, they ran
no risks, not even to their property; that after all they were not so
noble but they treated the thief as he had treated them, and hoped, by
a certain outward observance and a few prayers, and by walking in a
particular straight though useless path from time to time, to save their
souls. This may be to judge my neighbors harshly; for I believe that
many of them are not aware that they have such an institution as the
jail in their village.

It was formerly the custom in our village, when a poor debtor came out
of jail, for his acquaintances to salute him, looking through their
fingers, which were crossed to represent the grating of a jail window,
"How do ye do?" My neighbors did not thus salute me, but first looked at
me, and then at one another, as if I had returned from a long journey. I
was put into jail as I was going to the shoemaker's to get a shoe which
was mended. When I was let out the next morning, I proceeded to finish
my errand, and, having put on my mended shoe, joined a huckleberry
party, who were impatient to put themselves under my conduct; and in
half an hour--for the horse was soon tackled--was in the midst of a
huckleberry field, on one of our highest hills, two miles off, and then
the State was nowhere to be seen.

This is the whole history of "My Prisons."

       *       *       *       *       *

I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as desirous
of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject; and as for
supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my fellow-countrymen
now. It is for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refuse to pay
it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and
stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of
my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one
with--the dollar is innocent--but I am concerned to trace the effects of
my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my
fashion, though I will still make what use and get what advantage of her
I can, as is usual in such cases.

If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a sympathy with the
State, they do but what they have already done in their own case, or
rather they abet injustice to a greater extent than the State requires.
If they pay the tax from a mistaken interest in the individual taxed, to
save his property, or prevent his going to jail, it is because they have
not considered wisely how far they let their private feelings interfere
with the public good.

This, then, is my position at present. But one cannot be too much on his
guard in such a case, lest his action be biased by obstinacy or an
undue regard for the opinions of men. Let him see that he does only what
belongs to himself and to the hour.

I think sometimes, Why, this people mean well; they are only ignorant;
they would do better if they knew how: why give your neighbors this pain
to treat you as they are not inclined to? But I think, again, This is
no reason why I should do as they do, or permit others to suffer much
greater pain of a different kind. Again, I sometimes say to myself, When
many millions of men, without heat, without ill-will, without personal
feeling of any kind, demand of you a few shillings only, without the
possibility, such is their constitution, of retracting or altering their
present demand, and without the possibility, on your side, of appeal
to any other millions, why expose yourself to this overwhelming brute
force? You do not resist cold and hunger, the winds and the waves, thus
obstinately; you quietly submit to a thousand similar necessities. You
do not put your head into the fire. But just in proportion as I regard
this as not wholly a brute force, but partly a human force, and consider
that I have relations to those millions as to so many millions of
men, and not of mere brute or inanimate things, I see that appeal is
possible, first and instantaneously, from them to the Maker of
them, and, secondly, from them to themselves. But, if I put my head
deliberately into the fire, there is no appeal to fire or to the Maker
of fire, and I have only myself to blame. If I could convince myself
that I have any right to be satisfied with men as they are, and to
treat them accordingly, and not according, in some respects, to my
requisitions and expectations of what they and I ought to be, then, like
a good Mussulman and fatalist, I should endeavor to be satisfied with
things as they are, and say it is the will of God. And, above all, there
is this difference between resisting this and a purely brute or natural
force, that I can resist this with some effect; but I cannot expect,
like Orpheus, to change the nature of the rocks and trees and beasts.

I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not wish to split
hairs, to make fine distinctions, or set myself up as better than my
neighbors. I seek rather, I may say, even an excuse for conforming to
the laws of the land. I am but too ready to conform to them. Indeed,
I have reason to suspect myself on this head; and each year, as the
tax-gatherer comes round, I find myself disposed to review the acts and
position of the general and State governments, and the spirit of the
people, to discover a pretext for conformity.

            "We must affect our country as our parents,
             And if at any time we alienate
             Our love or industry from doing it honor,
             We must respect effects and teach the soul
             Matter of conscience and religion,
             And not desire of rule or benefit."

I believe that the State will soon be able to take all my work of this
sort out of my hands, and then I shall be no better a patriot than my
fellow-countrymen. Seen from a lower point of view, the Constitution,
with all its faults, is very good; the law and the courts are very
respectable; even this State and this American government are, in many
respects, very admirable and rare things, to be thankful for, such as a
great many have described them; but seen from a point of view a little
higher, they are what I have described them; seen from a higher still,
and the highest, who shall say what they are, or that they are worth
looking at or thinking of at all?

However, the government does not concern me much, and I shall bestow the
fewest possible thoughts on it. It is not many moments that I live under
a government, even in this world. If a man is thought-free, fancy-free,
imagination-free, that which _is not_ never for a long time appearing _to
be_ to him, unwise rulers or reformers cannot fatally interrupt him.

I know that most men think differently from myself; but those whose
lives are by profession devoted to the study of these or kindred
subjects, content me as little as any. Statesmen and legislators,
standing so completely within the institution, never distinctly
and nakedly behold it. They speak of moving society, but have no
resting-place without it. They may be men of a certain experience and
discrimination, and have no doubt invented ingenious and even useful
systems, for which we sincerely thank them; but all their wit and
usefulness lie within certain not very wide limits. They are wont to
forget that the world is not governed by policy and expediency. Webster
never goes behind government, and so cannot speak with authority
about it. His words are wisdom to those legislators who contemplate no
essential reform in the existing government; but for thinkers, and those
who legislate for all time, he never once glances at the subject. I know
of those whose serene and wise speculations on this theme would soon
reveal the limits of his mind's range and hospitality. Yet, compared
with the cheap professions of most reformers, and the still cheaper
wisdom and eloquence of politicians in general, his are almost the only
sensible and valuable words, and we thank Heaven for him. Comparatively,
he is always strong, original, and, above all, practical. Still, his
quality is not wisdom, but prudence. The lawyer's truth is not truth,
but consistency or a consistent expediency. Truth is always in harmony
with herself, and is not concerned chiefly to reveal the justice that
may consist with wrong-doing. He well deserves to be called, as he has
been called, the Defender of the Constitution. There are really no
blows to be given by him but defensive ones. He is not a leader, but a
follower. His leaders are the men of '87. "I have never made an effort,"
he says, "and never propose to make an effort; I have never countenanced
an effort, and never mean to countenance an effort, to disturb the
arrangement as originally made, by which the various States came into
the Union." Still thinking of the sanction which the Constitution gives
to slavery, he says, "Because it was a part of the original compact--let
it stand." Notwithstanding his special acuteness and ability, he is
unable to take a fact out of its merely political relations, and behold
it as it lies absolutely to be disposed of by the intellect--what, for
instance, it behooves a man to do here in America to-day with regard to
slavery, but ventures, or is driven, to make some such desperate answer
as the following, while professing to speak absolutely, and as a private
man--from which what new and singular code of social duties might be
inferred? "The manner," says he, "in which the governments of those
States where slavery exists are to regulate it is for their own
consideration, under their responsibility to their constituents, to
the general laws of propriety, humanity, and justice, and to God.
Associations formed elsewhere, springing from a feeling of humanity, or
any other cause, have nothing whatever to do with it. They have never
received any encouragement from me, and they never will."

They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its
stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible and the
Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humility; but
they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool,
gird up their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage toward its

No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are
rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians, and
eloquent men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his
mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of
the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which
it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not
yet learned the comparative value of free-trade and of freedom, of
union, and of rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for
comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce and
manufacturers and agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy
wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the
seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people,
America would not long retain her rank among the nations. For eighteen
hundred years, though perchance I have no right to say it, the New
Testament has been written; yet where is the legislator who has wisdom
and practical talent enough to avail himself of the light which it sheds
on the science of legislation?

The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to--for
I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I, and in
many things even those who neither know nor can do so well--is still an
impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent
of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property
but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited
monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward
a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was
wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is
a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible
in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards
recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a
really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize
the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own
power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please
myself with imagining a State at least which can afford to be just to
all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which
even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were
to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who
fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men. A State which bore
this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened,
would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which
also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.