Henry D. Thoreau

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HENRY DAVID THOREAU was the last male descendant of a French ancestor who
came to this country from the Isle of Guernsey. His character exhibited
occasional traits drawn from this blood in singular combination with a
very strong Saxon genius.

He was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on the 12th of July, 1817. He was
graduated at Harvard College in 1837, but without any literary
distinction. An iconoclast in literature, he seldom thanked colleges for
their service to him, holding them in small esteem, whilst yet his debt to
them was important. After leaving the University, he joined his brother in
teaching a private school, which he soon renounced. His father was a
manufacturer of lead-pencils, and Henry applied himself for a time to this
craft, believing he could make a better pencil than was then in use. After
completing his experiments, he exhibited his work to chemists and artists
in Boston, and having obtained their certificates to its excellence and to
its equality with the best London manufacture, he returned home contented.
His friends congratulated him that he had now opened his way to fortune.
But he replied, that he should never make another pencil. "Why should I?
I would not do again what I have done once." He resumed his endless walks
and miscellaneous studies, making every day some new acquaintance with
Nature, though as yet never speaking of zoölogy or botany, since, though
very studious of natural facts, he was incurious of technical and textual

At this time, a strong, healthy youth, fresh from college, whilst all his
companions were choosing their profession, or eager to begin some
lucrative employment, it was inevitable that his thoughts should be
exercised on the same question, and it required rare decision to refuse
all the accustomed paths, and keep his solitary freedom at the cost of
disappointing the natural expectations of his family and friends: all the
more difficult that he had a perfect probity, was exact in securing his
own independence, and in holding every man to the like duty. But Thoreau
never faltered. He was a born protestant. He declined to give up his large
ambition of knowledge and action for any narrow craft or profession,
aiming at a much more comprehensive calling, the art of living well.
If he slighted and defied the opinions of others, it was only that he was
more intent to reconcile his practice with his own belief. Never idle or
self-indulgent, he preferred, when he wanted money, earning it by some
piece of manual labor agreeable to him, as building a boat or a fence,
planting, grafting, surveying, or other short work, to any long
engagements. With his hardy habits and few wants, his skill in wood-craft,
and his powerful arithmetic, he was very competent to live in any part of
the world. It would cost him less time to supply his wants than another.
He was therefore secure of his leisure.

A natural skill for mensuration, growing out of his mathematical
knowledge, and his habit of ascertaining the measures and distances of
objects which interested him, the size of trees, the depth and extent of
ponds and rivers, the height of mountains, and the air-line distance of
his favorite summits,--this, and his intimate knowledge of the territory
about Concord, made him drift into the profession of land-surveyor. It had
the advantage for him that it led him continually into new and secluded
grounds, and helped his studies of Nature. His accuracy and skill in this
work were readily appreciated, and he found all the employment he wanted.

He could easily solve the problems of the surveyor, but he was daily beset
with graver questions, which he manfully confronted. He interrogated every
custom, and wished to settle all his practice on an ideal foundation. He
was a protestant _ā l'outrance_, and few lives contain so many
renunciations. He was bred to no profession; he never married; he lived
alone; he never went to church; he never voted; he refused to pay a tax to
the State: he ate no flesh, he drank no wine, he never knew the use of
tobacco; and, though a naturalist, he used neither trap nor gun. He chose,
wisely, no doubt, for himself, to be the bachelor of thought and Nature.
He had no talent for wealth, and knew how to be poor without the least
hint of squalor or inelegance. Perhaps he fell into his way of living
without forecasting it much, but approved it with later wisdom.

"I am often reminded," he wrote in his journal, "that, if I had bestowed
on me the wealth of Croesus, my aims must be still the same, and my means
essentially the same." He had no temptations to fight against,--no
appetites, no passions, no taste for elegant trifles. A fine house, dress,
the manners and talk of highly cultivated people were all thrown away on
him. He much preferred a good Indian, and considered these refinements as
impediments to conversation, wishing to meet his companion on the simplest
terms. He declined invitations to dinner-parties, because there each was
in every one's way, and he could not meet the individuals to any purpose.
"They make their pride," he said, "in making their dinner cost much; I
make my pride in making my dinner cost little." When asked at table what
dish he preferred, he answered, "The nearest." He did not like the taste
of wine, and never had a vice in his life. He said,--"I have a faint
recollection of pleasure derived from smoking dried lily-stems, before I
was a man. I had commonly a supply of these. I have never smoked anything
more noxious."

He chose to be rich by making his wants few, and supplying them himself.
In his travels, he used the railroad only to get over so much country as
was unimportant to the present purpose, walking hundreds of miles,
avoiding taverns, buying a lodging in farmers' and fishermen's houses, as
cheaper, and more agreeable to him, and because there he could better find
the men and the information he wanted.

There was somewhat military in his nature not to be subdued, always manly
and able, but rarely tender, as if he did not feel himself except in
opposition. He wanted a fallacy to expose, a blunder to pillory, I may say
required a little sense of victory, a roll of the drum, to call his powers
into full exercise. It cost him nothing to say No; indeed, he found it
much easier than to say Yes. It seemed as if his first instinct on hearing
a proposition was to controvert it, so impatient was he of the limitations
of our daily thought. This habit, of course, is a little chilling to the
social affections; and though the companion would in the end acquit him of
any malice or untruth, yet it mars conversation. Hence, no equal companion
stood in affectionate relations with one so pure and guileless. "I love
Henry," said one of his friends, "but I cannot like him; and as for taking
his arm, I should as soon think of taking the arm of an elm-tree."

Yet, hermit and stoic as he was, he was really fond of sympathy, and threw
himself heartily and childlike into the company of young people whom he
loved, and whom he delighted to entertain, as he only could, with the
varied and endless anecdotes of his experiences by field and river. And he
was always ready to lead a huckleberry party or a search for chestnuts or
grapes. Talking, one day, of a public discourse, Henry remarked, that
whatever succeeded with the audience was bad. I said, "Who would not like
to write something which all can read, like 'Robinson Crusoe'? and who
does not see with regret that his page is not solid with a right
materialistic treatment, which delights everybody?" Henry objected, of
course, and vaunted the better lectures which reached only a few persons.
But, at supper, a young girl, understanding that he was to lecture at the
Lyceum, sharply asked him, "whether his lecture would be a nice,
interesting story, such as she wished to hear, or whether it was one of
those old philosophical things that she did not care about." Henry turned
to her, and bethought himself, and, I saw, was trying to believe that he
had matter that might fit her and her brother, who were to sit up and go
to the lecture, if it was a good one for them.

He was a speaker and actor of the truth,--born such,--and was ever running
into dramatic situations from this cause. In any circumstance, it
interested all bystanders to know what part Henry would take, and what he
would say; and he did not disappoint expectation, but used an original
judgment on each emergency. In 1845 he built himself a small framed house
on the shores of Walden Pond, and lived there two years alone, a life of
labor and study. This action was quite native and fit for him. No one who
knew him would tax him with affectation. He was more unlike his neighbors
in his thought than in his action. As soon as he had exhausted the
advantages of that solitude, he abandoned it. In 1847, not approving some
uses to which the public expenditure was applied, he refused to pay his
town tax, and was put in jail. A friend paid the tax for him, and he was
released. The like annoyance was threatened the next year. But, as his
friends paid the tax, notwithstanding his protest, I believe he ceased to
resist. No opposition or ridicule had any weight with him. He coldly and
fully stated his opinion without affecting to believe that it was the
opinion of the company. It was of no consequence, if every one present
held the opposite opinion. On one occasion he went to the University
Library to procure some books. The librarian refused to lend them. Mr.
Thoreau repaired to the President, who stated to him the rules and usages,
which permitted the loan of books to resident graduates, to clergymen who
were alumni, and to some others resident within a circle of ten miles'
radius from the College. Mr. Thoreau explained to the President that the
railroad had destroyed the old scale of distances,--that the library was
useless, yes, and President and College useless, on the terms of his
rules,--that the one benefit he owed to the College was its library,--
that, at this moment, not only his want of books was imperative, but he
wanted a large number of books, and assured him that he, Thoreau, and not
the librarian, was the proper custodian of these. In short, the President
found the petitioner so formidable, and the rules getting to look so
ridiculous, that he ended by giving him a privilege which in his hands
proved unlimited thereafter.

No truer American existed than Thoreau. His preference of his country and
condition was genuine, and his aversation from English and European
manners and tastes almost reached contempt. He listened impatiently to
news or _bon mots_ gleaned from London circles; and though he tried to be
civil, these anecdotes fatigued him. The men were all imitating each
other, and on a small mould. Why can they not live as far apart as
possible, and each be a man by himself? What he sought was the most
energetic nature; and he wished to go to Oregon, not to London. "In every
part of Great Britain," he wrote in his diary, "are discovered traces of
the Romans, their funereal urns, their camps, their roads, their
dwellings. But New England, at least, is not based on any Roman ruins. We
have not to lay the foundations of our houses on the ashes of a former

But, idealist as he was, standing for abolition of slavery, abolition of
tariffs, almost for abolition of government, it is needless to say he
found himself not only unrepresented in actual politics, but almost
equally opposed to every class of reformers. Yet he paid the tribute of
his uniform respect to the Anti-Slavery Party. One man, whose personal
acquaintance he had formed, he honored with exceptional regard. Before the
first friendly word had been spoken for Captain John Brown, after the
arrest, he sent notices to most houses in Concord, that he would speak in
a public hall on the condition and character of John Brown, on Sunday
evening, and invited all people to come. The Republican Committee, the
Abolitionist Committee, sent him word that it was premature and not
advisable. He replied,--"I did not send to you for advice, but to announce
that I am to speak." The hall was filled at an early hour by people of all
parties, and his earnest eulogy of the hero was heard by all respectfully,
by many with a sympathy that surprised themselves.

It was said of Plotinus that he was ashamed of his body, and 'tis very
likely he had good reason for it,--that his body was a bad servant, and he
had not skill in dealing with the material world, as happens often to men
of abstract intellect. But Mr. Thoreau was equipped with a most adapted
and serviceable body. He was of short stature, firmly built, of light
complexion, with strong, serious blue eyes, and a grave aspect,--his face
covered in the late years with a becoming beard. His senses were acute,
his frame well-knit and hardy, his hands strong and skilful in the use of
tools. And there was a wonderful fitness of body and mind. He could pace
sixteen rods more accurately than another man could measure them with rod
and chain. He could find his path in the woods at night, he said, better
by his feet than his eyes. He could estimate the measure of a tree very
well by his eyes; he could estimate the weight of a calf or a pig, like a
dealer. From a box containing a bushel or more of loose pencils, he could
take up with his hands fast enough just a dozen pencils at every grasp. He
was a good swimmer, runner, skater, boatman, and would probably outwalk
most countrymen in a day's journey. And the relation of body to mind was
still finer than we have indicated. He said he wanted every stride his
legs made. The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his
writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.

He had a strong common sense, like that which Rose Flammock, the weaver's
daughter, in Scott's romance, commends in her father, as resembling a
yardstick, which, whilst it measures dowlas and diaper, can equally well
measure tapestry and cloth of gold. He had always a new resource. When I
was planting forest-trees, and had procured half a peck of acorns, he said
that only a small portion of them would be sound, and proceeded to examine
them, and select the sound ones. But finding this took time, he said, "I
think, if you put them all into water, the good ones will sink;" which
experiment we tried with success. He could plan a garden, or a house, or a
barn; would have been competent to lead a "Pacific Exploring Expedition";
could give judicious counsel in the gravest private or public affairs.

He lived for the day, not cumbered and mortified by his memory. If he
brought you yesterday a new proposition, he would bring you to-day another
not less revolutionary. A very industrious man, and setting, like all
highly organized men, a high value on his time, he seemed the only man of
leisure in town, always ready for any excursion that promised well, or for
conversation prolonged into late hours. His trenchant sense was never
stopped by his rules of daily prudence, but was always up to the new
occasion. He liked and used the simplest food, yet, when some one urged a
vegetable diet, Thoreau thought all diets a very small matter, saying that
"the man who shoots the buffalo lives better than the man who boards at
the Graham House." He said,--"You can sleep near the railroad, and never
be disturbed: Nature knows very well what sounds are worth attending to,
and has made up her mind not to hear the railroad-whistle. But things
respect the devout mind, and a mental ecstasy was never interrupted." He
noted, what repeatedly befell him, that, after receiving from a distance a
rare plant, he would presently find the same in his own haunts. And those
pieces of luck which happen only to good players happened to him. One day,
walking with a stranger, who inquired where Indian arrow-heads could he
found, he replied, "Everywhere," and, stooping forward, picked one on the
instant from the ground. At Mount Washington, in Tuckerman's Ravine,
Thoreau had a bad fall, and sprained his foot. As he was in the act of
getting up from his fall, he saw for the first time the leaves of the
_Arnica mollis_.

His robust common sense, armed with stout hands, keen perceptions, and
strong will, cannot yet account for the superiority which shone in his
simple and hidden life. I must add the cardinal fact, that there was an
excellent wisdom in him, proper to a rare class of men, which showed him
the material world as a means and symbol. This discovery, which sometimes
yields to poets a certain casual and interrupted light, serving for the
ornament of their writing, was in him an unsleeping insight; and whatever
faults or obstructions of temperament might cloud it, he was not
disobedient to the heavenly vision. In his youth, he said, one day, "The
other world is all my art: my pencils will draw no other; my jack-knife
will cut nothing else; I do not use it as a means." This was the muse and
genius that ruled his opinions, conversation, studies, work, and course of
life. This made him a searching judge of men. At first glance he measured
his companion, and, though insensible to some fine traits of culture,
could very well report his weight and calibre. And this made the
impression of genius which his conversation often gave.

He understood the matter in hand at a glance, and saw the limitations
and poverty of those he talked with, so that nothing seemed concealed
from such terrible eyes. I have repeatedly known young men of sensibility
converted in a moment to the belief that this was the man they were in
search of, the man of men, who could tell them all they should do.
His own dealing with them was never affectionate, but superior,
didactic,--scorning their petty ways,--very slowly conceding, or not
conceding at all, the promise of his society at their houses, or even at
his own. "Would he not walk with them?" "He did not know. There was
nothing so important to him as his walk; he had no walks to throw away on
company." Visits were offered him from respectful parties, but he declined
them. Admiring friends offered to carry him at their own cost to the
Yellow-Stone River,--to the West Indies,--to South America. But though
nothing could be more grave or considered than his refusals, they remind
one in quite new relations of that fop Brummel's reply to the gentleman
who offered him his carriage in a shower, "But where will _you_ ride,
then?"--and what accusing silences, and what searching and irresistible
speeches, battering down all defences, his companions can remember!

Mr. Thoreau dedicated his genius with such entire love to the fields,
hills, and waters of his native town, that he made them known and
interesting to all reading Americans, and to people over the sea.
The river on whose banks he was born and died he knew from its springs to
its confluence with the Merrimack. He had made summer and winter
observations on it for many years, and at every hour of the day and the
night. The result of the recent survey of the Water Commissioners
appointed by the State of Massachusetts he had reached by his private
experiments, several years earlier. Every fact which occurs in the bed,
on the banks, or in the air over it; the fishes, and their spawning and
nests, their manners, their food; the shad-flies which fill the air on a
certain evening once a year, and which are snapped at by the fishes so
ravenously that many of these die of repletion; the conical heaps of small
stones on the river-shallows, one of which heaps will sometimes overfill a
cart,--these heaps the huge nests of small fishes; the birds which
frequent the stream, heron, duck, sheldrake, loon, osprey; the snake,
musk-rat, otter, woodchuck, and fox, on the banks; the turtle, frog, hyla,
and cricket, which make the banks vocal,--were all known to him, and, as
it were, townsmen and fellow-creatures; so that he felt an absurdity or
violence in any narrative of one of these by itself apart, and still more
of its dimensions on an inch-rule, or in the exhibition of its skeleton,
or the specimen of a squirrel or a bird in brandy. He liked to speak of
the manners of the river, as itself a lawful creature, yet with exactness,
and always to an observed fact. As he knew the river, so the ponds in this

One of the weapons he used, more important than microscope or
alcohol-receiver to other investigators, was a whim which grew on him by
indulgence, yet appeared in gravest statement, namely, of extolling his
own town and neighborhood as the most favored centre for natural
observation. He remarked that the Flora of Massachusetts embraced almost
all the important plants of America,--most of the oaks, most of the
willows, the best pines, the ash, the maple, the beech, the nuts. He
returned Kane's "Arctic Voyage" to a friend of whom he had borrowed it,
with the remark, that "most of the phenomena noted might be observed in
Concord." He seemed a little envious of the Pole, for the coincident
sunrise and sunset, or five minutes' day after six months: a splendid
fact, which Annursnuc had never afforded him. He found red snow in one of
his walks, and told me that he expected to find yet the _Victoria regia_
in Concord. He was the attorney of the indigenous plants, and owned to a
preference of the weeds to the imported plants, as of the Indian to the
civilized man,--and noticed, with pleasure, that the willow bean-poles of
his neighbor had grown more than his beans. "See these weeds," he said,
"which have been hoed at by a million farmers all spring and summer, and
yet have prevailed, and just now come out triumphant over all lanes,
pastures, fields, and gardens, such is their vigor. We have insulted them
with low names, too,--as Pigweed, Wormwood, Chickweed, Shad-Blossom." He
says, "They have brave names, too,--Ambrosia, Stellaria, Amelanchia,
Amaranth, etc."

I think his fancy for referring everything to the meridian of Concord did
not grow out of any ignorance or depreciation of other longitudes or
latitudes, but was rather a playful expression of his conviction of the
indifferency of all places, and that the best place for each is where he
stands. He expressed it once in this wise:--"I think nothing is to be
hoped from you, if this bit of mould under your feet is not sweeter to you
to eat than any other in this world, or in any world."

The other weapon with which he conquered all obstacles in science was
patience. He knew how to sit immovable, a part of the rock he rested on,
until the bird, the reptile, the fish, which had retired from him,
should come back, and resume its habits, nay, moved by curiosity, should
come to him and watch him.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him. He knew the country
like a fox or a bird, and passed through it as freely by paths of his own.
He knew every track in the snow or on the ground, and what creature had
taken this path before him. One must submit abjectly to such a guide, and
the reward was great. Under his arm he carried an old music-book to press
plants; in his pocket, his diary and pencil, a spy-glass for birds,
microscope, jack-knife, and twine. He wore straw hat, stout shoes, strong
gray trousers, to brave shrub-oaks and smilax, and to climb a tree for a
hawk's or a squirrel's nest. He waded into the pool for the water-plants,
and his strong legs were no insignificant part of his armor. On the day
I speak of he looked for the Menyanthes, detected it across the wide pool,
and, on examination of the florets, decided that it had been in flower
five days. He drew out of his breast-pocket his diary, and read the names
of all the plants that should bloom on this day, whereof he kept account
as a banker when his notes fall due. The Cypripedium not due till
to-morrow. He thought, that, if waked up from a trance, in this swamp,
he could tell by the plants what time of the year it was within two days.
The redstart was flying about, and presently the fine grosbeaks, whose
brilliant scarlet makes the rash gazer wipe his eye, and whose fine clear
note Thoreau compared to that of a tanager which has got rid of its
hoarseness. Presently he heard a note which he called that of the
night-warbler, a bird he had never identified, had been in search of
twelve years, which always, when he saw it, was in the act of diving down
into a tree or bush, and which it was vain to seek; the only bird that
sings indifferently by night and by day. I told him he must beware of
finding and booking it, lest life should have nothing more to show him.
He said, "What you seek in vain for, half your life, one day you come full
upon all the family at dinner. You seek it like a dream, and as soon as
you find it you become its prey."

His interest in the flower or the bird lay very deep in his mind, was
connected with Nature,--and the meaning of Nature was never attempted to
be defined by him. He would not offer a memoir of his observations to the
Natural History Society. "Why should I? To detach the description from its
connections in my mind would make it no longer true or valuable to me: and
they do not wish what belongs to it." His power of observation seemed to
indicate additional senses. He saw as with microscope, heard as with
ear-trumpet, and his memory was a photographic register of all he saw and
heard. And yet none knew better than he that it is not the fact that
imports, but the impression or effect of the fact on your mind. Every fact
lay in glory in his mind, a type of the order and beauty of the whole.
His determination on Natural History was organic. He confessed that he
sometimes felt like a hound or a panther, and, if born among Indians,
would have been a fell hunter. But, restrained by his Massachusetts
culture, he played out the game in this mild form of botany and
ichthyology. His intimacy with animals suggested what Thomas Fuller
records of Butler the apiologist, that "either he had told the bees things
or the bees had told him." Snakes coiled round his leg; the fishes swam
into his hand, and he took them out of the water; he pulled the woodchuck
out of its hole by the tail, and took the foxes under his protection from
the hunters. Our naturalist had perfect magnanimity; he had no secrets: he
would carry you to the heron's haunt, or even to his most prized botanical
swamp,--possibly knowing that you could never find it again, yet willing
to take his risks.

No college ever offered him a diploma, or a professor's chair; no academy
made him its corresponding secretary, its discoverer, or even its member.
Whether these learned bodies feared the satire of his presence. Yet so
much knowledge of Nature's secret and genius few others possessed, none in
a more large and religious synthesis. For not a particle of respect had he
to the opinions of any man or body of men, but homage solely to the truth
itself; and as he discovered everywhere among doctors some leaning of
courtesy, it discredited them. He grew to be revered and admired by his
townsmen, who had at first known him only as an oddity. The farmers who
employed him as a surveyor soon discovered his rare accuracy and skill,
his knowledge of their lands, of trees, of birds, of Indian remains, and
the like, which enabled him to tell every farmer more than he knew before
of his own farm; so that he began to feel as if Mr. Thoreau had better
rights in his land than he. They felt, too, the superiority of character
which addressed all men with a native authority.

Indian relics abound in Concord,--arrow-heads, stone chisels, pestles, and
fragments of pottery; and on the river-bank, large heaps of clam-shells
and ashes mark spots which the savages frequented. These, and every
circumstance touching the Indian, were important in his eyes. His visits
to Maine were chiefly for love of the Indian. He had the satisfaction of
seeing the manufacture of the bark-canoe, as well as of trying his hand in
its management on the rapids. He was inquisitive about the making of the
stone arrow-head, and in his last days charged a youth setting out for the
Rocky Mountains to find an Indian who could tell him that: "It was well
worth a visit to California to learn it." Occasionally, a small party of
Penobscot Indians would visit Concord, and pitch their tents for a few
weeks in summer on the river-bank. He failed not to make acquaintance with
the best of them; though he well knew that asking questions of Indians is
like catechizing beavers and rabbits. In his last visit to Maine he had
great satisfaction from Joseph Polis, an intelligent Indian of Oldtown,
who was his guide for some weeks.

He was equally interested in every natural fact. The depth of his
perception found likeness of law throughout Nature, and I know not any
genius who so swiftly inferred universal law from the single fact. He was
no pedant of a department. His eye was open to beauty, and his ear to
music. He found these, not in rare conditions, but wheresoever he went.
He thought the best of music was in single strains; and he found poetic
suggestion in the humming of the telegraph-wire.

His poetry might be bad or good; he no doubt wanted a lyric facility and
technical skill; but he had the source of poetry in his spiritual
perception. He was a good reader and critic, and his judgment on poetry
was to the ground of it. He could not be deceived as to the presence or
absence of the poetic element in any composition, and his thirst for this
made him negligent and perhaps scornful of superficial graces. He would
pass by many delicate rhythms, but he would have detected every live
stanza or line in a volume, and knew very well where to find an equal
poetic charm in prose. He was so enamored of the spiritual beauty that
he held all actual written poems in very light esteem in the comparison.
He admired Aeschylus and Pindar; but, when some one was commending them,
he said that "Aeschylus and the Greeks, in describing Apollo and Orpheus,
had given no song, or no good one. They ought not to have moved trees, but
to have chanted to the gods such a hymn as would have sung all their old
ideas out of their heads, and new ones in." His own verses are often rude
and defective. The gold does not yet run pure, is drossy and crude. The
thyme and marjoram are not yet honey. But if he want lyric fineness and
technical merits, if he have not the poetic temperament, he never lacks
the causal thought, showing that his genius was better than his talent.
He knew the worth of the Imagination for the uplifting and consolation of
human life, and liked to throw every thought into a symbol. The fact you
tell is of no value, but only the impression. For this reason his presence
was poetic, always piqued the curiosity to know more deeply the secrets of
his mind. He had many reserves, an unwillingness to exhibit to profane
eyes what was still sacred in his own, and knew well how to throw a poetic
veil over his experience. All readers of "Walden" will remember his
mythical record of his disappointments:--

"I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove, 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." ["Walden" p.20]

His riddles were worth the reading, and I confide, that, if at any time I
do not understand the expression, it is yet just. Such was the wealth of
his truth that it was not worth his while to use words in vain. His poem
entitled "Sympathy" reveals the tenderness under that triple steel of
stoicism, and the intellectual subtilty it could animate. His classic poem
on "Smoke" suggests Simonides, but is better than any poem of Simonides.
His biography is in his verses. His habitual thought makes all his poetry
a hymn to the Cause of causes, the Spirit which vivifies and controls his

"I hearing get, who had but ears,
And sight, who had but eyes before;
I moments live, who lived but years,
And truth discern, who knew but learning's lore."

And still more in these religious lines:--

"Now chiefly is my natal hour,
And only now my prime of life;
I will not doubt the love untold,
Which not my worth or want hath bought,
Which wooed me young, and wooes me old,
And to this evening hath me brought."

Whilst he used in his writings a certain petulance of remark in reference
to churches or churchmen, he was a person of a rare, tender, and absolute
religion, a person incapable of any profanation, by act or by thought. Of
course, the same isolation which belonged to his original thinking and
living detached him from the social religious forms. This is neither to be
censured nor regretted. Aristotle long ago explained it, when he said,
"One who surpasses his fellow-citizens in virtue is no longer a part of
the city. Their law is not for him, since he is a law to himself."

Thoreau was sincerity itself, and might fortify the convictions of
prophets in the ethical laws by his holy living. It was an affirmative
experience which refused to be set aside. A truth-speaker he, capable of
the most deep and strict conversation; a physician to the wounds of any
soul; a friend, knowing not only the secret of friendship, but almost
worshipped by those few persons who resorted to him as their confessor and
prophet, and knew the deep value of his mind and great heart. He thought
that without religion or devotion of some kind nothing great was ever
accomplished: and he thought that the bigoted sectarian had better bear
this in mind.

His virtues, of course, sometimes ran into extremes. It was easy to trace
to the inexorable demand on all for exact truth that austerity which made
this willing hermit more solitary even than he wished. Himself of a
perfect probity, he required not less of others. He had a disgust at
crime, and no worldly success could cover it. He detected paltering as
readily in dignified and prosperous persons as in beggars, and with equal
scorn. Such dangerous frankness was in his dealing that his admirers
called him "that terrible Thoreau," as if he spoke when silent, and was
still present when he had departed. I think the severity of his ideal
interfered to deprive him of a healthy sufficiency of human society.

The habit of a realist to find things the reverse of their appearance
inclined him to put every statement in a paradox. A certain habit of
antagonism defaced his earlier writings,--a trick of rhetoric not quite
outgrown in his later, of substituting for the obvious word and thought
its diametrical opposite. He praised wild mountains and winter forests for
their domestic air, in snow and ice he would find sultriness, and
commended the wilderness for resembling Rome and Paris. "It was so dry,
that you might call it wet."

The tendency to magnify the moment, to read all the laws of Nature in the
one object or one combination under your eye, is of course comic to those
who do not share the philosopher's perception of identity. To him there
was no such thing as size. The pond was a small ocean; the Atlantic, a
large Walden Pond. He referred every minute fact to cosmical laws. Though
he meant to be just, he seemed haunted by a certain chronic assumption
that the science of the day pretended completeness, and he had just found
out that the _savans_ had neglected to discriminate a particular botanical
variety, had failed to describe the seeds or count the sepals. "That is to
say," we replied, "the blockheads were not born in Concord; but who said
they were? It was their unspeakable misfortune to be born in London, or
Paris, or Rome; but, poor fellows, they did what they could, considering
that they never saw Bateman's Pond, or Nine-Acre Corner, or Becky-Stow's
Swamp. Besides, what were you sent into the world for, but to add this

Had his genius been only contemplative, he had been fitted to his life,
but with his energy and practical ability he seemed born for great
enterprise and for command; and I so much regret the loss of his rare
powers of action, that I cannot help counting it a fault in him that he
had no ambition. Wanting this, instead of engineering for all America, he
was the captain of a huckleberry party. Pounding beans is good to the end
of pounding empires one of these days; but if, at the end of years, it is
still only beans!

But these foibles, real or apparent, were fast vanishing in the incessant
growth of a spirit so robust and wise, and which effaced its defeats with
new triumphs. His study of Nature was a perpetual ornament to him, and
inspired his friends with curiosity to see the world through his eyes, and
to hear his adventures. They possessed every kind of interest.

He had many elegances of his own, whilst he scoffed at conventional
elegance. Thus, he could not bear to hear the sound of his own steps, the
grit of gravel; and therefore never willingly walked in the road, but in
the grass, on mountains and in woods. His senses were acute, and he
remarked that by night every dwelling-house gives out bad air, like a
slaughter-house. He liked the pure fragrance of melilot. He honored
certain plants with special regard, and, over all, the pond-lily,--then,
the gentian, and the _Mikania scandens_, and "life-everlasting," and a
bass-tree which he visited every year when it bloomed, in the middle of
July. He thought the scent a more oracular inquisition than the
sight,--more oracular and trustworthy. The scent, of course, reveals
what is concealed from the other senses. By it he detected earthiness.
He delighted in echoes, and said they were almost the only kind of kindred
voices that he heard. He loved Nature so well, was so happy in her
solitude, that he became very jealous of cities, and the sad work which
their refinements and artifices made with man and his dwelling. The axe
was always destroying his forest. "Thank God," he said, "they cannot cut
down the clouds!" "All kinds of figures are drawn on the blue ground with
this fibrous white paint."

I subjoin a few sentences taken from his unpublished manuscripts, not only
as records of his thought and feeling, but for their power of description
and literary excellence.

"Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in
the milk."

"The chub is a soft fish, and tastes like boiled brown paper salted."

"The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or,
perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged
man concludes to built a wood-shed with them."

"The locust z-ing."

"Devil's-needles zigzagging along the Nut-Meadow brook."

"Sugar is not so sweet to the palate as sound to the healthy ear."

"I put on some hemlock-boughs, and the rich salt crackling of their leaves
was like mustard to the ear, the crackling of uncountable regiments. Dead
trees love the fire."

"The bluebird carries the sky on his back."

"The tanager flies through the green foliage as if it would ignite the

"If I wish for a horse-hair for my compass-sight, I must go to the stable;
but the hair-bird, with her sharp eyes, goes to the road."

"Immortal water, alive even to the superficies."

"Fire is the most tolerable third party."

"Nature made ferns for pure leaves, to show what she could do in that

"No tree has so fair a bole and so handsome an instep as the beech."

"How did these beautiful rainbow-tints get into the shell of the
fresh-water clam, buried in the mud at the bottom of our dark river?"

"Hard are the times when the infant's shoes are second-foot."

"We are strictly confined to our men to whom we give liberty."

"Nothing is so much to be feared as fear. Atheism may comparatively be
popular with God himself."

"Of what significance the things you can forget? A little thought is
sexton to all the world."

"How can we expect a harvest of thought who have not had a seed-time of

"Only he can be trusted with gifts who can present a face of bronze to

"I ask to be melted. You can only ask of the metals that they be tender to
the fire that melts them. To nought else can they be tender."

* * * * *

There is a flower known to botanists, one of the same genus with our
summer plant called "Life-Everlasting," a _Gnaphalium_ like that, which
grows on the most inaccessible cliffs of the Tyrolese mountains, where the
chamois dare hardly venture, and which the hunter, tempted by its beauty,
and by his love, (for it is immensely valued by the Swiss maidens,) climbs
the cliffs to gather, and is sometimes found dead at the foot, with the
flower in his hand. It is called by botanists the _Gnaphalium
leontopodium_, but by the Swiss _Edelweisse_, which signifies _Noble
Purity_. Thoreau seemed to me living in the hope to gather this plant,
which belonged to him of right. The scale on which his studies proceeded
was so large as to require longevity, and we were the less prepared for
his sudden disappearance. The country knows not yet, or in the least part,
how great a son it has lost. It seems an injury that he should leave in
the midst his broken task, which none else can finish,--a kind of
indignity to so noble a soul, that it should depart out of Nature before
yet he has been really shown to his peers for what he is. But he, at
least, is content. His soul was made for the noblest society; he had in a
short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; wherever there is
knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will
find a home.


[Footnote: _Reports--on the Fishes, Reptiles, and Birds; the Herbaceous
Plants and Quadrupeds; the Insects Injurious to Vegetation; and the
Invertebrate Animals of Massachusetts_. Published agreeably to an Order of
the Legislature, by the Commissioners on the Zoölogical and Botanical
Survey of the State.]

Books of natural history make the most cheerful winter reading. I read
in Audubon with a thrill of delight, when the snow covers the ground, of
the magnolia, and the Florida keys, and their warm sea-breezes; of the
fence-rail, and the cotton-tree, and the migrations of the rice-bird; of
the breaking up of winter in Labrador, and the melting of the snow on the
forks of the Missouri; and owe an accession of health to these
reminiscences of luxuriant nature.

Within the circuit of this plodding life,
There enter moments of an azure hue,
Untarnished fair as is the violet
Or anemone, when the spring strews them
By some meandering rivulet, which make
The best philosophy untrue that aims
But to console man for his grievances.
I have remembered when the winter came,
High in my chamber in the frosty nights,
When in the still light of the cheerful moon,
On every twig and rail and jutting spout,
The icy spears were adding to their length
Against the arrows of the coming sun,
How in the shimmering noon of summer past
Some unrecorded beam slanted across
The upland pastures where the Johnswort grew;
Or heard, amid the verdure of my mind,
The bee's long smothered hum, on the blue flag
Loitering amidst the mead; or busy rill,
Which now through all its course stands still and dumb
Its own memorial,--purling at its play
Along the slopes, and through the meadows next,
Until its youthful sound was hushed at last
In the staid current of the lowland stream;
Or seen the furrows shine but late upturned,
And where the fieldfare followed in the rear,
When all the fields around lay bound and hoar
Beneath a thick integument of snow.
So by God's cheap economy made rich
To go upon my winter's task again.

I am singularly refreshed in winter when I hear of service-berries,
poke-weed, juniper. Is not heaven made up of these cheap summer glories?
There is a singular health in those words, Labrador and East Main, which
no desponding creed recognizes. How much more than Federal are these
States. If there were no other vicissitudes than the seasons, our interest
would never tire. Much more is adoing than Congress wots of. What journal
do the persimmon and the buckeye keep, and the sharp-shinned hawk? What is
transpiring from summer to winter in the Carolinas, and the Great Pine
Forest, and the Valley of the Mohawk? The merely political aspect of the
land is never very cheering; men are degraded when considered as the
members of a political organization. On this side all lands present only
the symptoms of decay. I see but Bunker Hill and Sing-Sing, the District
of Columbia and Sullivan's Island, with a few avenues connecting them. But
paltry are they all beside one blast of the east or the south wind which
blows over them.

In society you will not find health, but in nature. Unless our feet at
least stood in the midst of nature, all our faces would be pale and livid.
Society is always diseased, and the best is the most so. There is no scent
in it so wholesome as that of the pines, nor any fragrance so penetrating
and restorative as the life-everlasting in high pastures. I would keep
some book of natural history always by me as a sort of elixir, the reading
of which should restore the tone of the system. To the sick, indeed,
nature is sick, but to the well, a fountain of health. To him who
contemplates a trait of natural beauty no harm nor disappointment can
come. The doctrines of despair, of spiritual or political tyranny or
servitude, were never taught by such as shared the serenity of nature.
Surely good courage will not flag here on the Atlantic border, as long as
we are flanked by the Fur Countries. There is enough in that sound to
cheer one under any circumstances. The spruce, the hemlock, and the pine
will not countenance despair. Methinks some creeds in vestries and
churches do forget the hunter wrapped in furs by the Great Slave Lake, and
that the Esquimaux sledges are drawn by dogs, and in the twilight of the
northern night, the hunter does not give over to follow the seal and
walrus on the ice. They are of sick and diseased imaginations who would
toll the world's knell so soon. Cannot these sedentary sects do better
than prepare the shrouds and write the epitaphs of those other busy living
men? The practical faith of all men belies the preacher's consolation.
What is any man's discourse to me, if I am not sensible of something in it
as steady and cheery as the creak of crickets? In it the woods must be
relieved against the sky. Men tire me when I am not constantly greeted and
refreshed as by the flux of sparkling streams. Surely joy is the condition
of life. Think of the young fry that leap in ponds, the myriads of insects
ushered into being on a summer evening, the incessant note of the hyla
with which the woods ring in the spring, the nonchalance of the butterfly
carrying accident and change painted in a thousand hues upon its wings, or
the brook minnow stoutly stemming the current, the lustre of whose scales
worn bright by the attrition is reflected upon the bank.

We fancy that this din of religion, literature, and philosophy, which is
heard in pulpits, lyceums, and parlors, vibrates through the universe,
and is as catholic a sound as the creaking of the earth's axle; but if a
man sleep soundly, he will forget it all between sunset and dawn. It is
the three-inch swing of a pendulum in a cupboard, which the great pulse of
nature vibrates by and through each instant. When we lift our eyelids and
open our ears, it disappears with smoke and rattle like the cars on a
railroad. When I detect a beauty in any of the recesses of nature, I am
reminded, by the serene and retired spirit in which it requires to be
contemplated, of the inexpressible privacy of a life,--how silent and
unambitious it is. The beauty there is in mosses must be considered from
the holiest, quietest nook. What an admirable training is science for the
more active warfare of life. Indeed, the unchallenged bravery, which these
studies imply, is far more impressive than the trumpeted valor of the
warrior. I am pleased to learn that Thales was up and stirring by night
not unfrequently, as his astronomical discoveries prove. Linnaeus, setting
out for Lapland, surveys his "comb" and "spare shirt," "leathern breeches"
and "gauze cap to keep off gnats," with as much complacency as Bonaparte a
park of artillery for the Russian campaign. The quiet bravery of the man
is admirable. His eye is to take in fish, flower, and bird, quadruped and
biped. Science is always brave, for to know, is to know good; doubt and
danger quail before her eye. What the coward overlooks in his hurry, she
calmly scrutinizes, breaking ground like a pioneer for the array of arts
that follow in her train. But cowardice is unscientific; for there cannot
be a science of ignorance. There may be a science of bravery, for that
advances; but a retreat is rarely well conducted; if it is, then is it an
orderly advance in the face of circumstances.

But to draw a little nearer to our promised topics. Entomology extends the
limits of being in a new direction, so that I walk in nature with a sense
of greater space and freedom. It suggests besides, that the universe is
not rough-hewn, but perfect in its details. Nature will bear the closest
inspection; she invites us to lay our eye level with the smallest leaf,
and take an insect view of its plain. She has no interstices; every part
is full of life. I explore, too, with pleasure, the sources of the myriad
sounds which crowd the summer noon, and which seem the very grain and
stuff of which eternity is made. Who does not remember the shrill
roll-call of the harvest fly? There were ears for these sounds in Greece
long ago, as Anacreon's ode will show.

"We pronounce thee happy, Cicada,
For on the tops of the trees,
Drinking a little dew,
Like any king thou singest,
For thine are they all,
Whatever thou seest in the fields,
And whatever the woods bear.
Thou art the friend of the husbandmen,
In no respect injuring any one;
And thou art honored among men,
Sweet prophet of summer.
The Muses love thee,
And Phoebus himself loves thee,
And has given thee a shrill song;
Age does not wrack thee,
Thou skilful, earthborn, song-loving,
Unsuffering, bloodless one;
Almost thou art like the gods."

In the autumn days, the creaking of crickets is heard at noon over all the
land, and as in summer they are heard chiefly at nightfall, so then by
their incessant chirp they usher in the evening of the year. Nor can all
the vanities that vex the world alter one whit the measure that night has
chosen. Every pulse-beat is in exact time with the cricket's chant and the
tickings of the deathwatch in the wall. Alternate with these if you can.

About two hundred and eighty birds either reside permanently in the State,
or spend the summer only, or make us a passing visit. Those which spend
the winter with us have obtained our warmest sympathy. The nut-hatch and
chicadee flitting in company through the dells of the wood, the one
harshly scolding at the intruder, the other with a faint lisping note
enticing him on; the jay screaming in the orchard; the crow cawing in
unison with the storm; the partridge, like a russet link extended over
from autumn to spring, preserving unbroken the chain of summers; the hawk
with warrior-like firmness abiding the blasts of winter; the robin
[Footnote: A white robin, and a white quail have occasionally been seen.
It is mentioned in Audubon as remarkable that the nest of a robin should
be found on the ground; but this bird seems to be less particular than
most in the choice of a building spot. I have seen its nest placed under
the thatched roof of a deserted barn, and in one instance, where the
adjacent country was nearly destitute of trees, together with two of the
phoebe, upon the end of a board in the loft of a saw-mill, but a few feet
from the saw, which vibrated several inches with the motion of the
and lark lurking by warm springs in the woods; the familiar snow-bird
culling a few seeds in the garden, or a few crumbs in the yard; and
occasionally the shrike, with heedless and unfrozen melody bringing back
summer again;--

His steady sails he never furls
At any time o' year,
And perching now on Winter's curls,
He whistles in his ear.

As the spring advances, and the ice is melting in the river, our earliest
and straggling visitors make their appearance. Again does the old Teian
poet sing, as well for New England as for Greece, in the


"Behold, how Spring appearing,
The Graces send forth roses;
Behold, how the wave of the sea
Is made smooth by the calm;
Behold, how the duck dives;
Behold, how the crane travels;
And Titan shines constantly bright.
The shadows of the clouds are moving;
The works of man shine;
The earth puts forth fruits;
The fruit of the olive puts forth.
The cup of Bacchus is crowned,
Along the leaves, along the branches,
The fruit, bending them down, flourishes."

The ducks alight at this season in the still water, in company with the
gulls, which do not fail to improve an east wind to visit our meadows, and
swim about by twos and threes, pluming themselves, and diving to peck at
the root of the lily, and the cranberries which the frost has not
loosened. The first flock of geese is seen beating to north, in long
harrows and waving lines; the gingle of the song-sparrow salutes us from
the shrubs and fences; the plaintive note of the lark comes clear and
sweet from the meadow; and the bluebird, like an azure ray, glances past
us in our walk. The fish-hawk, too, is occasionally seen at this season
sailing majestically over the water, and he who has once observed it will
not soon forget the majesty of its flight. It sails the air like a ship of
the line, worthy to struggle with the elements, falling back from time to
time like a ship on its beam ends, and holding its talons up as if ready
for the arrows, in the attitude of the national bird. It is a great
presence, as of the master of river and forest. Its eye would not quail
before the owner of the soil, but make him feel like an intruder on its
domains. And then its retreat, sailing so steadily away, is a kind of
advance. I have by me one of a pair of ospreys, which have for some years
fished in this vicinity, shot by a neighboring pond, measuring more than
two feet in length, and six in the stretch of its wings. Nuttall mentions
that "The ancients, particularly Aristotle, pretended that the ospreys
taught their young to gaze at the sun, and those who were unable to do so
were destroyed. Linnaeus even believed, on ancient authority, that one of
the feet of this bird had all the toes divided, while the other was partly
webbed, so that it could swim with one foot, and grasp a fish with the
other." But that educated eye is now dim, and those talons are nerveless.
Its shrill scream seems yet to linger in its throat, and the roar of the
sea in its wings. There is the tyranny of Jove in its claws, and his wrath
in the erectile feathers of the head and neck. It reminds me of the
Argonautic expedition, and would inspire the dullest to take flight over

The booming of the bittern, described by Goldsmith and Nuttall, is
frequently heard in our fens, in the morning and evening, sounding like
a pump, or the chopping of wood in a frosty morning in some distant
farm-yard. The manner in which this sound is produced I have not seen
anywhere described. On one occasion, the bird has been seen by one of my
neighbors to thrust its bill into the water, and suck up as much as it
could hold, then raising its head, it pumped it out again with four or
five heaves of the neck, throwing it two or three feet, and making the
sound each time.

At length the summer's eternity is ushered in by the cackle of the flicker
among the oaks on the hill-side, and a new dynasty begins with calm

In May and June the woodland quire is in full tune, and given the immense
spaces of hollow air, and this curious human ear, one does not see how the
void could be better filled.

Each summer sound
Is a summer round.

As the season advances, and those birds which make us but a passing visit
depart, the woods become silent again, and but few feathers ruffle the
drowsy air. But the solitary rambler may still find a response and
expression for every mood in the depths of the wood.

Sometimes-I hear the veery's[+] clarion,
Or brazen trump of the impatient jay,
And in secluded woods the chicadee
Doles out her scanty notes, which sing the praise
Of heroes, and set forth the loveliness
Of virtue evermore.

[Footnote +: This bird, which is so well described by Nuttall, but is
apparently unknown by the author of the Report, is one of the most common
in the woods in this vicinity, and in Cambridge I have heard the college
yard ring with its trill. The boys call it "_yorrick_," from the sound of
its querulous and chiding note, as it flits near the traveller through the
underwood. The cowbird's egg is occasionally found in its nest, as
mentioned by Audubon.]

The phoebe still sings in harmony with the sultry weather by the brink of
the pond, nor are the desultory hours of noon in the midst of the village
without their minstrel.

Upon the lofty elm-tree sprays
The vireo rings the changes sweet,
During the trivial summer days,
Striving to lift our thoughts above the street.

With the autumn begins in some measure a new spring. The plover is heard
whistling high in the air over the dry pastures, the finches flit from
tree to tree, the bobolinks and flickers fly in flocks, and the goldfinch
rides on the earliest blast, like a winged hyla peeping amid the rustle of
the leaves. The crows, too, begin now to congregate; you may stand and
count them as they fly low and straggling over the landscape, singly or by
twos and threes, at intervals of half a mile, until a hundred have passed.

I have seen it suggested somewhere that the crow was brought to this
country by the white man; but I shall as soon believe that the white man
planted these pines and hemlocks. He is no spaniel to follow our steps;
but rather flits about the clearings like the dusky spirit of the Indian,
reminding me oftener of Philip and Powhatan, than of Winthrop and Smith.
He is a relic of the dark ages. By just so slight, by just so lasting a
tenure does superstition hold the world ever; there is the rook in
England, and the crow in New England.

Thou dusky spirit of the wood,
Bird of an ancient brood,
Flitting thy lonely way,
A meteor in the summer's day,
From wood to wood, from hill to hill,
Low over forest, field, and rill,
What wouldst thou say?
Why shouldst thou haunt the day?
What makes thy melancholy float?
What bravery inspires thy throat,
And bears thee up above the clouds,
Over desponding human crowds,
Which far below
Lay thy haunts low?

The late walker or sailor, in the October evenings, may hear the
murmurings of the snipe, circling over the meadows, the most spirit-like
sound in nature; and still later in the autumn, when the frosts have
tinged the leaves, a solitary loon pays a visit to our retired ponds,
where he may lurk undisturbed till the season of moulting is passed,
making the woods ring with his wild laughter. This bird, the Great
Northern Diver, well deserves its name; for when pursued with a boat, it
will dive, and swim like a fish under water, for sixty rods or more, as
fast as a boat can be paddled, and its pursuer, if he would discover his
game again, must put his ear to the surface to hear where it comes up.
When it comes to the surface, it throws the water off with one shake of
its wings, and calmly swims about until again disturbed.

These are the sights and sounds which reach our senses oftenest during the
year. But sometimes one hears a quite new note, which has for background
other Carolinas and Mexicos than the books describe, and learns that his
ornithology has done him no service.

It appears from the Report that there are about forty quadrupeds belonging
to the State, and among these one is glad to hear of a few bears, wolves,
lynxes, and wildcats.

When our river overflows its banks in the spring, the wind from the
meadows is laden with a strong scent of musk, and by its freshness
advertises me of an unexplored wildness. Those backwoods are not far off
then. I am affected by the sight of the cabins of the musk-rat, made of
mud and grass, and raised three or four feet along the river, as when I
read of the barrows of Asia. The musk-rat is the beaver of the settled
States. Their number has even increased within a few years in this
vicinity. Among the rivers which empty into the Merrimack, the Concord is
known to the boatmen as a dead stream. The Indians are said to have called
it Musketaquid, or Prairie River. Its current being much more sluggish,
and its water more muddy than the rest, it abounds more in fish and game
of every kind. According to the History of the town, "The fur-trade was
here once very important. As early as 1641, a company was formed in the
colony, of which Major Willard of Concord was superintendent, and had the
exclusive right to trade with the Indians in furs and other articles; and
for this right they were obliged to pay into the public treasury one
twentieth of all the furs they obtained." There are trappers in our midst
still, as well as on the streams of the far West, who night and morning go
the round of their traps, without fear of the Indian. One of these takes
from one hundred and fifty to two hundred musk-rats in a year, and even
thirty-six have been shot by one man in a day. Their fur, which is not
nearly as valuable as formerly, is in good condition in the winter and
spring only; and upon the breaking up of the ice, when they are driven out
of their holes by the water, the greatest number is shot from boats,
either swimming or resting on their stools, or slight supports of grass
and reeds, by the side of the stream. Though they exhibit considerable
cunning at other times, they are easily taken in a trap, which has only to
be placed in their holes, or wherever they frequent, without any bait
being used, though it is sometimes rubbed with their musk. In the winter
the hunter cuts holes in the ice, and shoots them when they come to the
surface. Their burrows are usually in the high banks of the river, with
the entrance under water, and rising within to above the level of high
water. Sometimes their nests, composed of dried meadow grass and flags,
may be discovered where the bank is low and spongy, by the yielding of the
ground under the feet. They have from three to seven or eight young in the

Frequently, in the morning or evening, a long ripple is seen in the still
water, where a musk-rat is crossing the stream, with only its nose above
the surface, and sometimes a green bough in its mouth to build its house
with. When it finds itself observed, it will dive and swim five or six
rods under water, and at length conceal itself in its hole, or the weeds.
It will remain under water for ten minutes at a time, and on one occasion
has been seen, when undisturbed, to form an air-bubble under the ice,
which contracted and expanded as it breathed at leisure. When it suspects
danger on shore, it will stand erect like a squirrel, and survey its
neighborhood for several minutes, without moving.

In the fall, if a meadow intervene between their burrows and the stream,
they erect cabins of mud and grass, three or four feet high, near its
edge. These are not their breeding-places, though young are sometimes
found in them in late freshets, but rather their hunting-lodges, to which
they resort in the winter with their food, and for shelter. Their food
consists chiefly of flags and fresh-water muscles, the shells of the
latter being left in large quantities around their lodges in the spring.

The Penobscot Indian wears the entire skin of a musk-rat, with the legs
and tail dangling, and the head caught under his girdle, for a pouch, into
which he puts his fishing tackle, and essences to scent his traps with.

The bear, wolf, lynx, wildcat, deer, beaver, and marten, have disappeared;
the otter is rarely if ever seen here at present; and the mink is less
common than formerly.

Perhaps of all our untamed quadrupeds, the fox has obtained the widest and
most familiar reputation, from the time of Pilpay and Aesop to the present
day. His recent tracks still give variety to a winter's walk. I tread in
the steps of the fox that has gone before me by some hours, or which
perhaps I have started, with such a tiptoe of expectation, as if I were on
the trail of the Spirit itself which resides in the wood, and expected
soon to catch it in its lair. I am curious to know what has determined its
graceful curvatures, and how surely they were coincident with the
fluctuations of some mind. I know which way a mind wended, what horizon it
faced, by the setting of these tracks, and whether it moved slowly or
rapidly, by their greater or less intervals and distinctness; for the
swiftest step leaves yet a lasting trace. Sometimes you will see the
trails of many together, and where they have gambolled and gone through a
hundred evolutions, which testify to a singular listlessness and leisure
in nature.

When I see a fox run across the pond on the snow, with the carelessness of
freedom, or at intervals trace his course in the sunshine along the ridge
of a hill, I give up to him sun and earth as to their true proprietor. He
does not go in the sun, but it seems to follow him, and there is a visible
sympathy between him and it. Sometimes, when the snow lies light, and but
five or six inches deep, you may give chase and come up with one on foot.
In such a case he will show a remarkable presence of mind, choosing only
the safest direction, though he may lose ground by it. Notwithstanding his
fright, he will take no step which is not beautiful. His pace is a sort of
leopard canter, as if he were in nowise impeded by the snow, but were
husbanding his strength all the while. When the ground is uneven, the
course is a series of graceful curves, conforming to the shape of the
surface. He runs as though there were not a bone in his back. Occasionally
dropping his muzzle to the ground for a rod or two, and then tossing his
head aloft, when satisfied of his course. When he comes to a declivity, he
will put his forefeet together, and slide swiftly down it, shoving the
snow before him. He treads so softly that you would hardly hear it from
any nearness, and yet with such expression that it would not be quite
inaudible at any distance.

* * * * *

Of fishes, seventy-five genera and one hundred and seven species are
described in the Report. The fisherman will be startled to learn that
there are but about a dozen kinds in the ponds and streams of any inland
town; and almost nothing is known of their habits. Only their names and
residence make one love fishes. I would know even the number of their
fin-rays, and how many scales compose the lateral line. I am the wiser in
respect to all knowledges, and the better qualified for all fortunes, for
knowing that there is a minnow in the brook. Methinks I have need even of
his sympathy, and to be his fellow in a degree.

I have experienced such simple delight in the trivial matters of fishing
and sporting, formerly, as might have inspired the muse of Homer or
Shakspeare; and now, when I turn the pages and ponder the plates of the
Angler's Souvenir, I am fain to exclaim,--

"Can these things be,
And overcome us like a summer's cloud?"

Next to nature, it seems as if man's actions were the most natural, they
so gently accord with her. The small seines of flax stretched across the
shallow and transparent parts of our river, are no more intrusion than the
cobweb in the sun. I stay my boat in midcurrent, and look down in the
sunny water to see the civil meshes of his nets, and wonder how the
blustering people of the town could have done this elvish work. The twine
looks like a new river weed, and is to the river as a beautiful memento of
man's presence in nature, discovered as silently and delicately as a
footprint in the sand.

When the ice is covered with snow, I do not suspect the wealth under my
feet; that there is as good as a mine under me wherever I go. How many
pickerel are poised on easy fin fathoms below the loaded wain. The
revolution of the seasons must be a curious phenomenon to them. At length
the sun and wind brush aside their curtain, and they see the heavens

Early in the spring, after the ice has melted, is the time for spearing
fish. Suddenly the wind shifts from northeast and east to west and south,
and every icicle, which has tinkled on the meadow grass so long, trickles
down its stem, and seeks its level unerringly with a million comrades. The
steam curls up from every roof and fence.

I see the civil sun drying earth's tears,
Her tears of joy, which only faster flow.

In the brooks is heard the slight grating sound of small cakes of ice,
floating with various speed, full of content and promise, and where the
water gurgles under a natural bridge, you may hear these hasty rafts hold
conversation in an undertone. Every rill is a channel for the juices of
the meadow. In the ponds the ice cracks with a merry and inspiriting din,
and down the larger streams is whirled grating hoarsely, and crashing its
way along, which was so lately a highway for the woodman's team and the
fox, sometimes with the tracks of the skaters still fresh upon it, and the
holes cut for pickerel. Town committees anxiously inspect the bridges and
causeways, as if by mere eye-force to intercede with the ice, and save the

The river swelleth more and more,
Like some sweet influence stealing o'er
The passive town; and for a while
Each tussuck makes a tiny isle,
Where, on some friendly Ararat,
Resteth the weary water-rat.

No ripple shows Musketaquid,
Her very current e'en is hid,
As deepest souls do calmest rest,
When thoughts are swelling in the breast,
And she that in the summer's drought
Doth make a rippling and a rout,
Sleeps from Nabshawtuck to the Cliff,
Unruffled by a single skiff.
But by a thousand distant hills
The louder roar a thousand rills,
And many a spring which now is dumb,
And many a stream with smothered hum,
Doth swifter well and faster glide,
Though buried deep beneath the tide.

Our village shows a rural Venice,
Its broad lagoons where yonder fen is;
As lovely as the Bay of Naples
Yon placid cove amid the maples;
And in my neighbor's field of corn
I recognize the Golden Horn.

Here Nature taught from year to year,
When only red men came to hear,
Methinks 'twas in this school of art
Venice and Naples learned their part;
But still their mistress, to my mind,
Her young disciples leaves behind.

The fisherman now repairs and launches his boat. The best time for
spearing is at this season, before the weeds have begun to grow, and while
the fishes lie in the shallow water, for in summer they prefer the cool
depths, and in the autumn they are still more or less concealed by the
grass. The first requisite is fuel for your crate; and for this purpose
the roots of the pitchpine are commonly used, found under decayed stumps,
where the trees have been felled eight or ten years.

With a crate, or jack, made of iron hoops, to contain your fire, and
attached to the bow of your boat about three feet from the water, a
fish-spear with seven tines, and fourteen feet long, a large basket, or
barrow, to carry your fuel and bring back your fish, and a thick outer
garment, you are equipped for a cruise. It should be a warm and still
evening; and then with a fire crackling merrily at the prow, you may
launch forth like a cucullo into the night. The dullest soul cannot go
upon such an expedition without some of the spirit of adventure; as if
he had stolen the boat of Charon and gone down the Styx on a midnight
expedition into the realms of Pluto. And much speculation does this
wandering star afford to the musing nightwalker, leading him on and on,
jack-o'lantern-like, over the meadows; or, if he is wiser, he amuses
himself with imagining what of human life, far in the silent night, is
flitting mothlike round its candle. The silent navigator shoves his craft
gently over the water, with a smothered pride and sense of benefaction, as
if he were the phosphor, or light-bringer, to these dusky realms, or some
sister moon, blessing the spaces with her light. The waters, for a rod or
two on either hand and several feet in depth, are lit up with more than
noonday distinctness, and he enjoys the opportunity which so many have
desired, for the roofs of a city are indeed raised, and he surveys the
midnight economy of the fishes. There they lie in every variety of
posture; some on their backs, with their white bellies uppermost, some
suspended in midwater, some sculling gently along with a dreamy motion of
the fins, and others quite active and wide awake,--a scene not unlike what
the human city would present. Occasionally he will encounter a turtle
selecting the choicest morsels, or a musk-rat resting on a tussuck. He may
exercise his dexterity, if he sees fit, on the more distant and active
fish, or fork the nearer into his boat, as potatoes out of a pot, or even
take the sound sleepers with his hands. But these last accomplishments he
will soon learn to dispense with, distinguishing the real object of his
pursuit, and find compensation in the beauty and never-ending novelty of
his position. The pines growing down to the water's edge will show newly
as in the glare of a conflagration; and as he floats under the willows
with his light, the song-sparrow will often wake on her perch, and sing
that strain at midnight, which she had meditated for the morning. And when
he has done, he may have to steer his way home through the dark by the
north star, and he will feel himself some degrees nearer to it for having
lost his way on the earth.

The fishes commonly taken in this way are pickerel, suckers, perch, eels,
pouts, breams, and shiners,--from thirty to sixty weight in a night.
Some are hard to be recognized in the unnatural light, especially the
perch, which, his dark bands being exaggerated, acquires a ferocious
aspect. The number of these transverse bands, which the Report states to
be seven, is, however, very variable, for in some of our ponds they have
nine and ten even.

* * * * *

It appears that we have eight kinds of tortoises, twelve snakes,--but one
of which is venomous,--nine frogs and toads, nine salamanders, and one
lizard, for our neighbors.

I am particularly attracted by the motions of the serpent tribe. They make
our hands and feet, the wings of the bird, and the fins of the fish seems
very superfluous, as if nature had only indulged her fancy in making them.
The black snake will dart into a bush when pursued, and circle round and
round with an easy and graceful motion, amid the thin and bare twigs, five
or six feet from the ground, as a bird flits from bough to bough, or hang
in festoons between the forks. Elasticity and flexibleness in the simpler
forms of animal life are equivalent to a complex system of limbs in the
higher; and we have only to be as wise and wily as the serpent, to perform
as difficult feats without the vulgar assistance of hands and feet.

In May, the snapping turtle, _Emysaurus serpentina,_ is frequently taken
on the meadows and in the river. The fisherman, taking sight over the calm
surface, discovers its snout projecting above the water, at the distance
of many rods, and easily secures his prey through its unwillingness to
disturb the water by swimming hastily away, for, gradually drawing its
head under, it remains resting on some limb or clump of grass. Its eggs,
which are buried at a distance from the water, in some soft place, as a
pigeon-bed, are frequently devoured by the skunk. It will catch fish by
daylight, as a toad catches flies, and is said to emit a transparent fluid
from its mouth to attract them.

Nature has taken more care than the fondest parent for the education and
refinement of her children. Consider the silent influence which flowers
exert, no less upon the ditcher in the meadow than the lady in the bower.
When I walk in the woods, I am reminded that a wise purveyor has been
there before me; my most delicate experience is typified there. I am
struck with the pleasing friendships and unanimities of nature, as when
the lichen on the trees takes the form of their leaves. In the most
stupendous scenes you will see delicate and fragile features, as slight
wreaths of vapor, dewlines, feathery sprays, which suggest a high
refinement, a noble blood and breeding, as it were. It is not hard to
account for elves and fairies; they represent this light grace, this
ethereal gentility. Bring a spray from the wood, or a crystal from the
brook, and place it on your mantel, and your household ornaments will seem
plebeian beside its nobler fashion and bearing. It will wave superior
there, as if used to a more refined and polished circle. It has a salute
and a response to all your enthusiasm and heroism.

In the winter, I stop short in the path to admire how the trees grow up
without forethought, regardless of the time and circumstances. They do not
wait as man does, but now is the golden age of the sapling. Earth, air,
sun, and rain, are occasion enough; they were no better in primeval
centuries. The "winter of _their_ discontent" never comes. Witness the
buds of the native poplar standing gayly out to the frost on the sides of
its bare switches. They express a naked confidence. With cheerful heart
one could be a sojourner in the wilderness, if he were sure to find there
the catkins of the willow or the alder. When I read of them in the
accounts of northern adventurers, by Baffin's Bay or Mackenzie's river, I
see how even there too I could dwell. They are our little vegetable
redeemers. Methinks our virtue will hold out till they come again. They
are worthy to have had a greater than Minerva or Ceres for their inventor.
Who was the benignant goddess that bestowed them on mankind?

Nature is mythical and mystical always, and works with the license and
extravagance of genius. She has her luxurious and florid style as well as
art. Having a pilgrim's cup to make, she gives to the whole, stem, bowl,
handle, and nose, some fantastic shape, as if it were to be the car of
some fabulous marine deity, a Nereus or Triton.

In the winter, the botanist needs not confine himself to his books and
herbarium, and give over his out-door pursuits, but may study a new
department of vegetable physiology, what may be called crystalline botany,
then. The winter of 1837 was unusually favorable for this. In December of
that year, the Genius of vegetation seemed to hover by night over its
summer haunts with unusual persistency. Such a hoarfrost, as is very
uncommon here or anywhere, and whose full effects can never be witnessed
after sunrise, occurred several times. As I went forth early on a still
and frosty morning, the trees looked like airy creatures of darkness
caught napping; on this side huddled together with their gray hairs
streaming in a secluded valley, which the sun had not penetrated; on that
hurrying off in Indian file along some watercourse, while the shrubs and
grasses, like elves and fairies of the night, sought to hide their
diminished heads in the snow. The river, viewed from the high bank,
appeared of a yellowish green color, though all the landscape was white.
Every tree, shrub, and spire of grass, that could raise its head above the
snow, was covered with a dense ice-foliage, answering, as it were, leaf
for leaf to its summer dress. Even the fences had put forth leaves in the
night. The centre, diverging, and more minute fibres were perfectly
distinct, and the edges regularly indented. These leaves were on the side
of the twig or stubble opposite to the sun, meeting it for the most part
at right angles, and there were others standing out at all possible angles
upon these and upon one another, with no twig or stubble supporting them.
When the first rays of the sun slanted over the scene, the grasses seemed
hung with innumerable jewels, which jingled merrily as they were brushed
by the foot of the traveller, and reflected all the hues of the rainbow
as he moved from side to side. It struck me that these ghost leaves, and
the green ones whose forms they assume, were the creatures of but one law;
that in obedience to the same law the vegetable juices swell gradually
into the perfect leaf, on the one hand, and the crystalline particles
troop to their standard in the same order, on the other. As if the
material were indifferent, but the law one and invariable, and every plant
in the spring but pushed up into and filled a permanent and eternal mould,
which, summer and winter forever, is waiting to be filled.

This foliate structure is common to the coral and the plumage of birds,
and to how large a part of animate and inanimate nature. The same
independence of law on matter is observable in many other instances, as in
the natural rhymes, when some animal form, color, or odor, has its
counterpart in some vegetable. As, indeed, all rhymes imply an eternal
melody, independent of any particular sense.

As confirmation of the fact, that vegetation is but a kind of
crystallization, every one may observe how, upon the edge of the melting
frost on the window, the needle-shaped particles are bundled together
so as to resemble fields waving with grain, or shocks rising here and
there from the stubble; on one side the vegetation of the torrid zone,
high-towering palms and widespread banyans, such as are seen in pictures
of oriental scenery; on the other, arctic pines stiff frozen, with
downcast branches.

Vegetation has been made the type of all growth; but as in crystals the
law is more obvious, their material being more simple, and for the most
part more transient and fleeting, would it not be as philosophical as
convenient to consider all growth, all filling up within the limits of
nature, but a crystallization more or less rapid?

On this occasion, in the side of the high bank of the river, wherever
the water or other cause had formed a cavity, its throat and outer edge,
like the entrance to a citadel, bristled with a glistening ice-armor.
In one place you might see minute ostrich-feathers, which seemed the
waving plumes of the warriors filing into the fortress; in another, the
glancing, fan-shaped banners of the Lilliputian host; and in another, the
needle-shaped particles collected into bundles, resembling the plumes of
the pine, might pass for a phalanx of spears. From the under side of the
ice in the brooks, where there was a thicker ice below, depended a mass of
crystallization, four or five inches deep, in the form of prisms, with
their lower ends open, which, when the ice was laid on its smooth side,
resembled the roofs and steeples of a Gothic city, or the vessels of a
crowded haven under a press of canvas. The very mud in the road, where the
ice had melted, was crystallized with deep rectilinear fissures, and the
crystalline masses in the sides of the ruts resembled exactly asbestos in
the disposition of their needles. Around the roots of the stubble and
flower-stalks, the frost was gathered into the form of irregular conical
shells, or fairy rings. In some places the ice-crystals were lying upon
granite rocks, directly over crystals of quartz, the frost-work of a
longer night, crystals of a longer period, but to some eye unprejudiced by
the short term of human life, melting as fast as the former.

In the Report on the Invertebrate Animals, this singular fact is recorded,
which teaches us to put a new value on time and space. "The distribution
of the marine shells is well worthy of notice as a geological fact. Cape
Cod, the right arm of the Commonwealth, reaches out into the ocean, some
fifty or sixty miles. It is nowhere many miles wide; but this narrow point
of land has hitherto proved a barrier to the migrations of many species of
Mollusca. Several genera and numerous species, which are separated by the
intervention of only a few miles of land, are effectually prevented from
mingling by the Cape, and do not pass from one side to the other.... Of
the one hundred and ninety-seven marine species, eighty-three do not pass
to the south shore, and fifty are not found on the north shore of the

That common muscle, the _Unio complanalus_, or more properly
_fluviatilis_, left in the spring by the musk-rat upon rocks and stumps,
appears to have been an important article of food with the Indians. In one
place, where they are said to have feasted, they are found in large
quantities, at an elevation of thirty feet above the river, filling the
soil to the depth of a foot, and mingled with ashes and Indian remains.

The works we have placed at the head of our chapter, with as much license,
as the preacher selects his text, are such as imply more labor than
enthusiasm. The State wanted complete catalogues of its natural riches,
with such additional facts merely as would be directly useful.

The reports on Fishes, Reptiles, Insects, and Invertebrate Animals,
however, indicate labor and research, and have a value independent of the
object of the legislature.

Those on Herbaceous Plants and Birds cannot be of much value, as long as
Bigelow and Nuttall are accessible. They serve but to indicate, with more
or less exactness, what species are found in the State. We detect several
errors ourselves, and a more practised eye would no doubt expand the list.

The Quadrupeds deserved a more final and instructive report than they have

These volumes deal much in measurements and minute descriptions, not
interesting to the general reader, with only here and there a colored
sentence to allure him, like those plants growing in dark forests, which
bear only leaves without blossoms. But the ground was comparatively
unbroken, and we will not complain of the pioneer, if he raises no flowers
with his first crop. Let us not underrate the value of a fact; it will one
day flower in a truth. It is astonishing how few facts of importance are
added in a century to the natural history of any animal. The natural
history of man himself is still being gradually written. Men are knowing
enough after their fashion. Every countryman and dairymaid knows that the
coats of the fourth stomach of the calf will curdle milk, and what
particular mushroom is a safe and nutritious diet. You cannot go into any
field or wood, but it will seem as if every stone had been turned, and the
bark on every tree ripped up. But, after all, it is much easier to
discover than to see when the cover is off! It has been well said that
"the attitude of inspection is prone." Wisdom does not inspect, but
behold. We must look a long time before we can see. Slow are the
beginnings of philosophy. He has something demoniacal in him, who can
discern a law or couple two facts. We can imagine a time when,--"Water
runs down hill,"--may have been taught in the schools. The true man of
science will know nature better by his finer organization; he will smell,
taste, see, hear, feel, better than other men. His will be a deeper and
finer experience. We do not learn by inference and deduction, and the
application of mathematics to philosophy, but by direct intercourse and
sympathy. It is with science as with ethics,--we cannot know truth by
contrivance and method; the Baconian is as false as any other, and with
all the helps of machinery and the arts, the most scientific will still be
the healthiest and friendliest man, and possess a more perfect Indian



The needles of the pine
All to the west incline.

CONCORD, _July_ 19, 1842.

Summer and winter our eyes had rested on the dim outline of the mountains
in our horizon, to which distance and indistinctness lent a grandeur not
their own, so that they served equally to interpret all the allusions of
poets and travellers; whether with Homer, on a spring morning, we sat down
on the many-peaked Olympus, or, with Virgil and his compeers, roamed the
Etrurian and Thessalian hills, or with Humboldt measured the more modern
Andes and Teneriffe. Thus we spoke our mind to them, standing on the
Concord cliffs.--

With frontier strength ye stand your ground,
With grand content ye circle round,
Tumultuous silence for all sound,
Ye distant nursery of rills,
Monadnock, and the Peterboro' hills;
Like some vast fleet,
Sailing through rain and sleet,
Through winter's cold and summer's heat;
Still holding on, upon your high emprise,
Until ye find a shore amid the skies;
Not skulking close to land,
With cargo contraband.
For they who sent a venture out by ye
Have set the sun to see
Their honesty.
Ships of the line, each one,
Ye to the westward run,
Always before the gale,
Under a press of sail,
With weight of metal all untold.
I seem to feel ye, in my firm seat here,
Immeasurable depth of hold,
And breadth of beam, and length of running gear.

Methinks ye take luxurious pleasure
In your novel western leisure;
So cool your brows, and freshly blue,
As Time had nought for ye to do;
For ye lie at your length,
An unappropriated strength,
Unhewn primeval timber,
For knees so stiff, for masts so limber;
The stock of which new earths are made,
One day to be our western trade,
Fit for the stanchions of a world
Which through the seas of space is hurled.

While we enjoy a lingering ray,
Ye still o'ertop the western day,
Reposing yonder, on God's croft,
Like solid stacks of hay.
Edged with silver, and with gold,
The clouds hang o'er in damask fold,
And with such depth of amber light
The west is dight,
Where still a few rays slant,
That even heaven seems extravagant.
On the earth's edge mountains and trees
Stand as they were on air graven,
Or as the vessels in a haven
Await the morning breeze.
I fancy even
Through your defiles windeth the way to heaven;
And yonder still, in spite of history's page,
Linger the golden and the silver age;
Upon the laboring gale
The news of future centuries is brought,
And of new dynasties of thought,
From your remotest vale.

But special I remember thee,
Wachusett, who like me
Standest alone without society.
Thy far blue eye,
A remnant of the sky,
Seen through the clearing or the gorge,
Or from the windows on the forge,
Doth leaven all it passes by.
Nothing is true,
But stands 'tween me and you,
Thou western pioneer,
Who know'st not shame nor fear,
By venturous spirit driven,
Under the eaves of heaven,
And can'st expand thee there,
And breathe enough of air?
Upholding heaven, holding down earth,
Thy pastime from thy birth,
Not steadied by the one, nor leaning on the other;
May I approve myself thy worthy brother!

At length, like Rasselas, and other inhabitants of happy valleys, we
resolved to scale the blue wall which bound the western horizon, though
not without misgivings, that thereafter no visible fairy land would exist
for us. But we will not leap at once to our journey's end, though near,
but imitate Homer, who conducts his reader over the plain, and along the
resounding sea, though it be but to the tent of Achilles. In the spaces of
thought are the reaches of land and water, where men go and come. The
landscape lies far and fair within, and the deepest thinker is the
farthest travelled.

At a cool and early hour on a pleasant morning in July, my companion and I
passed rapidly through Acton and Stow, stopping to rest and refresh us on
the bank of a small stream, a tributary of the Assabet, in the latter
town. As we traversed the cool woods of Acton, with stout staves in our
hands, we were cheered by the song of the red-eye, the thrushes, the
phoebe, and the cuckoo; and as we passed through the open country, we
inhaled the fresh scent of every field, and all nature lay passive, to be
viewed and travelled. Every rail, every farm-house, seen dimly in the
twilight, every tinkling sound told of peace and purity, and we moved
happily along the dank roads, enjoying not such privacy as the day leaves
when it withdraws, but such as it has not profaned. It was solitude with
light; which is better than darkness. But anon, the sound of the mower's
rifle was heard in the fields, and this, too, mingled with the lowing

This part of our route lay through the country of hops, which plant
perhaps supplies the want of the vine in American scenery, and may remind
the traveller of Italy, and the South of France, whether he traverses the
country when the hop-fields, as then, present solid and regular masses of
verdure, hanging in graceful festoons from pole to pole; the cool coverts
where lurk the gales which refresh the wayfarer; or in September, when the
women and children, and the neighbors from far and near, are gathered to
pick the hops into long troughs; or later still, when the poles stand
piled in vast pyramids in the yards, or lie in heaps by the roadside.

The culture of the hop, with the processes of picking, drying in the kiln,
and packing for the market, as well as the uses to which it is applied,
so analogous to the culture and uses of the grape, may afford a theme for
future poets.

The mower in the adjacent meadow could not tell us the name of the brook
on whose banks we had rested, or whether it had any, but his younger
companion, perhaps his brother, knew that it was Great Brook. Though they
stood very near together in the field, the things they knew were very far
apart; nor did they suspect each other's reserved knowledge, till the
stranger came by. In Bolton, while we rested on the rails of a cottage
fence, the strains of music which issued from within, probably in
compliment to us, sojourners, reminded us that thus far men were fed by
the accustomed pleasures. So soon did we, wayfarers, begin to learn that
man's life is rounded with the same few facts, the same simple relations
everywhere, and it is vain to travel to find it new. The flowers grow more
various ways than he. But coming soon to higher land, which afforded a
prospect of the mountains, we thought we had not travelled in vain, if it
were only to hear a truer and wilder pronunciation of their names, from
the lips of the inhabitants; not _Way_-tatic, _Way_-chusett, but
_Wor_-tatic, _Wor_-chusett. It made us ashamed of our tame and civil
pronunciation, and we looked upon them as born and bred farther west than
we. Their tongues had a more generous accent than ours, as if breath was
cheaper where they wagged. A countryman, who speaks but seldom, talks
copiously, as it were, as his wife sets cream and cheese before you
without stint. Before noon we had reached the highlands overlooking the
valley of Lancaster, (affording the first fair and open prospect into the
west,) and there, on the top of a hill, in the shade of some oaks, near to
where a spring bubbled out from a leaden pipe, we rested during the heat
of the day, reading Virgil, and enjoying the scenery. It was such a place
as one feels to be on the outside of the earth, for from it we could, in
some measure, see the form and structure of the globe. There lay
Wachusett, the object of our journey, lowering upon us with unchanged
proportions, though with a less ethereal aspect than had greeted our
morning gaze, while further north, in successive order, slumbered its
sister mountains along the horizon.

We could get no further into the Aeneid than

--atque altae moenia Romae,
--and the wall of high Rome,

before we were constrained to reflect by what myriad tests a work of
genius has to be tried; that Virgil, away in Rome, two thousand years off,
should have to unfold his meaning, the inspiration of Italian vales, to
the pilgrim on New England hills. This life so raw and modern, that so
civil and ancient; and yet we read Virgil, mainly to be reminded of the
identity of human nature in all ages, and, by the poet's own account, we
are both the children of a late age, and live equally under the reign of

"He shook honey from the leaves, and removed fire,
And stayed the wine, everywhere flowing in rivers;
That experience, by meditating, might invent various arts
By degrees, and seek the blade of corn in furrows,
And strike out hidden fire from the veins of the flint."

The old world stands serenely behind the new, as one mountain yonder
towers behind another, more dim and distant. Rome imposes her story still
upon this late generation. The very children in the school we had that
morning passed, had gone through her wars, and recited her alarms, ere
they had heard of the wars of neighboring Lancaster. The roving eye still
rests inevitably on her hills, and she still holds up the skirts of the
sky on that side, and makes the past remote.

The lay of the land hereabouts is well worthy the attention of the
traveller. The hill on which we were resting made part of an extensive
range, running from southwest to northeast, across the country, and
separating the waters of the Nashua from those of the Concord, whose banks
we had left in the morning; and by bearing in mind this fact, we could
easily determine whither each brook was bound that crossed our path.
Parallel to this, and fifteen miles further west, beyond the deep and
broad valley in which lie Groton, Shirley, Lancaster, and Boylston, runs
the Wachusett range, in the same general direction. The descent into the
valley on the Nashua side, is by far the most sudden; and a couple of
miles brought us to the southern branch of the Nashua, a shallow but rapid
stream, flowing between high and gravelly banks. But we soon learned that
there were no _gelidae valles_ into which we had descended, and missing
the coolness of the morning air, feared it had become the sun's turn to
try his power upon us.

"The sultry sun had gained the middle sky,
And not a tree, and not an herb was nigh."

and with melancholy pleasure we echoed the melodious plaint of our
fellow-traveller, Hassan, in the desert,--

"Sad was the hour, and luckless was the day,
When first from Schiraz' walls I bent my way."

The air lay lifeless between the hills, as in a seething caldron, with no
leaf stirring, and instead of the fresh odor of grass and clover, with
which we had before been regaled, the dry scent of every herb seemed
merely medicinal. Yielding, therefore, to the heat, we strolled into the
woods, and along the course of a rivulet, on whose banks we loitered,
observing at our leisure the products of these new fields. He who
traverses the woodland paths, at this season, will have occasion to
remember the small drooping bell-like flowers and slender red stem of the
dogs-bane, and the coarser stem and berry of the poke, which are both
common in remoter and wilder scenes; and if "the sun casts such a
reflecting heat from the sweet fern," as makes him faint, when he is
climbing the bare hills, as they complained who first penetrated into
these parts, the cool fragrance of the swamp pink restores him again, when
traversing the valleys between.

As we went on our way late in the afternoon, we refreshed ourselves by
bathing our feet in every rill that crossed the road, and anon, as we were
able to walk in the shadows of the hills, recovered our morning
elasticity. Passing through Sterling, we reached the banks of the
Stillwater, in the western part of the town, at evening, where is a small
village collected. We fancied that there was already a certain western
look about this place, a smell of pines and roar of water, recently
confined by dams, belying its name, which were exceedingly grateful. When
the first inroad has been made, a few acres levelled, and a few houses
erected, the forest looks wilder than ever. Left to herself, nature is
always more or less civilized, and delights in a certain refinement; but
where the axe has

encroached upon the edge of the forest, the dead and unsightly limbs of
the pine, which she had concealed with green banks of verdure, are exposed
to sight. This village had, as yet, no post-office, nor any settled name.
In the small villages which we entered, the villagers gazed after us, with
a complacent, almost compassionate look, as if we were just making our
_debut_ in the world at a late hour. "Nevertheless," did they seem to say,
"come and study us, and learn men and manners." So is each one's world but
a clearing in the forest, so much open and inclosed ground. The landlord
had not yet returned from the field with his men, and the cows had yet to
be milked. But we remembered the inscription on the wall of the Swedish
inn, "You will find at Trolhate excellent bread, meat, and wine, provided
you bring them with you," and were contented. But I must confess it did
somewhat disturb our pleasure, in this withdrawn spot, to have our own
village newspaper handed us by our host, as if the greatest charm the
country offered to the traveller was the facility of communication with
the town. Let it recline on its own everlasting hills, and not be looking
out from their summits for some petty Boston or New York in the horizon.

At intervals we heard the murmuring of water, and the slumberous breathing
of crickets throughout the night; and left the inn the next morning in the
gray twilight, after it had been hallowed by the night air, and when only
the innocent cows were stirring, with a kind of regret. It was only four
miles to the base of the mountain, and the scenery was already more
picturesque. Our road lay along the course of the Stillwater, which was
brawling at the bottom of a deep ravine, filled with pines and rocks,
tumbling fresh from the mountains, so soon, alas! to commence its career
of usefulness. At first, a cloud hung between us and the summit, but it
was soon blown away. As we gathered the raspberries, which grew abundantly
by the roadside, we fancied that that action was consistent with a lofty
prudence, as if the traveller who ascends into a mountainous region should
fortify himself by eating of such light ambrosial fruits as grow there;
and, drinking of the springs which gush out from the mountain sides, as he
gradually inhales the subtler and purer atmosphere of those elevated
places, thus propitiating the mountain gods, by a sacrifice of their own
fruits. The gross products of the plains and valleys are for such as dwell
therein; but it seemed to us that the juices of this berry had relation to
the thin air of the mountain-tops.

In due time we began to ascend the mountain, passing, first, through a
grand sugar maple wood, which bore the marks of the augur, then a denser
forest, which gradually became dwarfed, till there were no trees whatever.
We at length pitched our tent on the summit. It is but nineteen hundred
feet above the village of Princeton, and three thousand above the level of
the sea; but by this slight elevation it is infinitely removed from the
plain, and when we reached it, we felt a sense of remoteness, as if we had
travelled into distant regions, to Arabia Petrea, or the farthest east. A
robin upon a staff, was the highest object in sight. Swallows were flying
about us, and the chewink and cuckoo were heard near at hand. The summit
consists of a few acres, destitute of trees, covered with bare rocks,
interspersed with blueberry bushes, raspberries, gooseberries,
strawberries, moss, and a fine wiry grass. The common yellow lily, and
dwarf-cornel, grow abundantly in the crevices of the rocks. This clear
space, which is gently rounded, is bounded a few feet lower by a thick
shrubbery of oaks, with maples, aspens, beeches, cherries, and
occasionally a mountain-ash intermingled, among which we found the bright
blueberries of the Solomon's Seal, and the fruit of the pyrola. From the
foundation of a wooden observatory, which was formerly erected on the
highest point, forming a rude, hollow structure of stone, a dozen feet in
diameter, and five or six in height, we could see Monadnock, in simple
grandeur, in the northwest, rising nearly a thousand feet higher, still
the "far blue mountain," though with an altered profile. The first day the
weather was so hazy that it was in vain we endeavored to unravel the
obscurity. It was like looking into the sky again, and the patches of
forest here and there seemed to flit like clouds over a lower heaven. As
to voyagers of an aërial Polynesia, the earth seemed like a larger island
in the ether; on every side, even as low as we, the sky shutting down,
like an unfathomable deep, around it, a blue Pacific island, where who
knows what islanders inhabit? and as we sail near its shores we see the
waving of trees, and hear the lowing of kine.

We read Virgil and Wordsworth in our tent, with new pleasure there, while,
waiting for a clearer atmosphere, nor did the weather prevent our
appreciating the simple truth and beauty of Peter Bell:

"And he had lain beside his asses,
On lofty Cheviot hills."

"And he had trudged through Yorkshire dales,
Among the rocks and winding _scars_,
Where deep and low the hamlets lie
Beneath their little patch of sky,
And little lot of stars."

Who knows but this hill may one day be a Helvellyn, or even a Parnassus,
and the Muses haunt here, and other Homers frequent the neighboring

Not unconcerned Wachusett rears his head
Above the field, so late from nature won,
With patient brow reserved, as one who read
New annals in the history of man.

The blue-berries which the mountain afforded, added to the milk we had
brought, made our frugal supper, while for entertainment the evensong of
the wood-thrush rung along the ridge. Our eyes rested on no painted
ceiling nor carpeted hall, but on skies of nature's painting, and hills
and forests of her embroidery. Before sunset, we rambled along the ridge
to the north, while a hawk soared still above us. It was a place where
gods might wander, so solemn and solitary, and removed from all contagion
with the plain. As the evening came on, the haze was 'condensed in vapor,
and the landscape became more distinctly visible, and numerous sheets of
water were brought to light.

Et jam summa procul villarum culmina fumant,
Majoresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.

And now the tops of the villas smoke afar off,
And the shadows fall longer from the high mountains.

As we stood on the stone tower while the sun was setting, we saw the
shades of night creep gradually over the valleys of the east, and the
inhabitants went into their houses, and shut their doors, while the moon
silently rose up, and took possession of that part. And then the same
scene was repeated on the west side, as far as the Connecticut and the
Green Mountains, and the sun's rays fell on us two alone, of all New
England men.

It was the night but one before the full of the moon, so bright that we
could see to read distinctly by moonlight, and in the evening strolled
over the summit without danger. There was, by chance, a fire blazing on
Monadnock that night, which lighted up the whole western horizon, and by
making us aware of a community of mountains, made our position seem less
solitary. But at length the wind drove us to the shelter of our tent, and
we closed its door for the night, and fell asleep.

It was thrilling to hear the wind roar over the rocks, at intervals when
we waked, for it had grown quite cold and windy. The night was in its
elements, simple even to majesty in that bleak place,--a bright moonlight
and a piercing wind. It was at no time darker than twilight within the
tent, and we could easily see the moon through its transparent roof as we
lay; for there was the moon still above us, with Jupiter and Saturn on
either hand, looking down on Wachusett, and it was a satisfaction to know
that they were our fellow-travellers still, as high and out of our reach
as our own destiny. Truly the stars were given for a consolation to man.
We should not know but our life were fated to be always grovelling, but it
is permitted to behold them, and surely they are deserving of a fair
destiny. We see laws which never fail, of whose failure we never
conceived; and their lamps burn all the night, too, as well as all day,--
so rich and lavish is that nature which can afford this superfluity of

The morning twilight began as soon as the moon had set, and we arose and
kindled our fire, whose blaze might have been seen for thirty miles
around. As the daylight increased, it was remarkable how rapidly the wind
went down. There was no dew on the summit, but coldness supplied its
place. When the dawn had reached its prime, we enjoyed the view of a
distinct horizon line, and could fancy ourselves at sea, and the distant
hills the waves in the horizon, as seen from the deck of a vessel. The
cherry-birds flitted around us, the nuthatch and flicker were heard among
the bushes, the titmouse perched within a few feet, and the song of the
wood-thrush again rung along the ridge. At length we saw the sun rise up
out of the sea, and shine on Massachusetts; and from this moment the
atmosphere grew more and more transparent till the time of our departure,
and we began to realize the extent of the view, and how the earth, in some
degree, answered to the heavens in breadth, the white villages to the
constellations in the sky. There was little of the sublimity and grandeur
which belong to mountain scenery, but an immense landscape to ponder on a
summer's day. We could see how ample and roomy is nature. As far as the
eye could reach, there was little life in the landscape; the few birds
that flitted past did not crowd. The travellers on the remote highways,
which intersect the country on every side, had no fellow-travellers for
miles, before or behind. On every side, the eye ranged over successive
circles of towns, rising one above another, like the terraces of a
vineyard, till they were lost in the horizon. Wachusett is, in fact, the
observatory of the State. There lay Massachusetts, spread out before us in
its length and breadth, like a map. There was the level horizon, which
told of the sea on the east and south, the well-known hills of New
Hampshire on the north, and the misty summits of the Hoosac and Green
Mountains, first made visible to us the evening before, blue and
unsubstantial, like some bank of clouds which the morning wind would
dissipate, on the northwest and west. These last distant ranges, on which
the eye rests unwearied, commence with an abrupt boulder in the north,
beyond the Connecticut, and travel southward, with three or four peaks
dimly seen. But Monadnock, rearing its masculine front in the northwest,
is the grandest feature. As we beheld it, we knew that it was the height
of land between the two rivers, on this side the valley of the Merrimack,
or that of the Connecticut, fluctuating with their blue seas of
air,--these rival vales, already teeming with Yankee men along their
respective streams, born to what destiny who shall tell? Watatic, and the
neighboring hills in this State and in New Hampshire, are a continuation
of the same elevated range on which we were standing. But that New
Hampshire bluff,--that promontory of a State,--lowering day and night on
this our State of Massachusetts, will longest haunt our dreams.

We could, at length, realize the place mountains occupy on the land, and
how they come into the general scheme of the universe. When first we climb
their summits and observe their lesser irregularities, we do not give
credit to the comprehensive intelligence which shaped them; but when
afterward we behold their outlines in the horizon, we confess that the
hand which moulded their opposite slopes, making one to balance the other,
worked round a deep centre, and was privy to the plan of the universe. So
is the least part of nature in its bearings referred to all space. These
lesser mountain ranges, as well as the Alleghanies, run from northeast to
southwest, and parallel with these mountain streams are the more fluent
rivers, answering to the general direction of the coast, the bank of the


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