The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Volume VII (of 20)

Page 67 of 99

Jan. 9. Sunday. One cannot too soon forget his errors and misdemeanors; for [to] dwell long upon them is to add to the offense, and repentance and sorrow can only be displaced by somewhat better, and which is as free and original as if they had not been. Not to grieve long for any action, but to go immediately and do freshly and otherwise, subtracts so much from the wrong. Else we may make the delay of repentance the punishment of the sin. But a great nature will not consider its sins as its own, but be more absorbed in the prospect of that valor and virtue for the future which is more properly it, than in those improper actions which, by being sins, discover themselves to be not it.

Sir W. Raleigh's faults are those of a courtier and a soldier. In his counsels and aphorisms we see not 319 unfrequently the haste and rashness of a boy. His philosophy was not wide nor deep, but continually giving way to the generosity of his nature. What he touches he adorns by his greater humanity and native nobleness, but he touches not the true nor original. He thus embellishes the old, but does not unfold the new. He seems to have been fitted by his genius for short flights of impulsive poetry, but not for the sustained loftiness of Shakespeare or Milton. He was not wise nor a seer in any sense, but rather one of nature's nobility; the most generous nature which can be spared to linger in the purlieus of the court.

His was a singularly perverted genius, with such an inclination to originality and freedom, and yet who never steered his own course. Of so fair and susceptible a nature, rather than broad or deep, that he delayed to slake his thirst at the nearest and even more turbid wells of truth and beauty. Whose homage to the least fair or noble left no space for homage to the all fair. The misfortune of his circumstances, or rather of the man, appears in the fact that he was the author of "Maxims of State" and "The Cabinet Council" and "The Soul's Errand."

Feb. 19. Saturday. I never yet saw two men sufficiently great to meet as two. In proportion as they are great the differences are fatal, because they are felt not to be partial but total. Frankness to him who is unlike me will lead to the utter denial of him. I begin to see how that the preparation for all issues is to do virtuously. When two approach to meet, they incur no petty dangers, 320 but they run terrible risks. Between the sincere there will be no civilities. No greatness seems prepared for the little decorum, even savage unmannerliness, it meets from equal greatness.

Feb. 20. Sunday. "Examine animal forms geometrically, from man, who represents the perpendicular, to the reptile which forms the horizontal line, and then applying to those forms the rules of the exact sciences, which God himself cannot change, we shall see that visible nature contains them all; that the combinations of the seven primitive forms are entirely exhausted, and that, therefore, they can represent all possible varieties of morality."---From "The True Messiah; or the Old and New Testaments, examined according to the Principles of the Language of Nature. By G. Segger," translated from French by Grater.

I am amused to see from my window here how busily man has divided and staked off his domain. God must smile at his puny fences running hither and thither everywhere over the land.

My path hitherto has been like a road through a diversified country, now climbing high mountains, then descending into the lowest vales. From the summits I saw the heavens; from the vales I looked up to the heights again. In prosperity I remember God, or memory is one with consciousness; in adversity I remember my own elevations, and only hope to see God again. 321

It is vain to talk. What do you want? To bandy words, or deliver some grains of truth which stir within you? Will you make a pleasant rumbling sound after feasting, for digestion's sake, or such music as the birds in springtime?

The death of friends should inspire us as much as their lives. If they are great and rich enough, they will leave consolation to the mourners before the expenses of their funerals.[336] It will not be hard to part with any worth, because it is worthy. How can any good depart? It does not go and come, but we. Shall we wait for it? Is it slower than we?

Feb. 21. I must confess there is nothing so strange to me as my own body. I love any other piece of nature, almost, better.

I was always conscious of sounds in nature which my ears could never hear,---that I caught but the prelude to a strain. She always retreats as I advance. Away behind and behind is she and her meaning. Will not this faith and expectation make to itself ears at length? I never saw to the end, nor heard to the end; but the best part was unseen and unheard.

I am like a feather floating in the atmosphere; on every side is depth unfathomable.

I feel as if years had been crowded into the last month,[337] and yet the regularity of what we call time has been so far preserved as that I[338] ... will be 322 welcome in the present. I have lived ill for the most part because too near myself. I have tripped myself up, so that there was no progress for my own narrowness. I cannot walk conveniently and pleasantly but when I hold myself far off in the horizon. And the soul dilutes the body and makes it passable. My soul and body have tottered along together of late, tripping and hindering one another like unpracticed Siamese twins. They two should walk as one, that no obstacle may be nearer than the firmament.

There must be some narrowness in the soul that compels one to have secrets.

Feb. 23. Wednesday. Every poet's muse is circumscribed in her wanderings, and may be well said to haunt some favorite spring or mountain. Chaucer seems to have been the poet of gardens. He has hardly left a poem in which some retired and luxurious retreat of the kind is not described, to which he gains access by some secret port, and there, by some fount or grove, is found his hero and the scene of his tale. It seems as if, by letting his imagination riot in the matchless beauty of an ideal garden, he thus fed [sic] his fancy on to the invention of a tale which would fit the scene. The muse of the most universal poet retires into some familiar nook, whence it spies out the land as the eagle from his eyrie, for he who sees so far over plain and forest is perched in a narrow cleft of the crag. Such pure childlike love of Nature is nowhere to be matched.[339] And it is 323 not strange that the poetry of so rude an age should contain such polished praise of Nature; for the charms of Nature are not enhanced by civilization, as society is, but she possesses a permanent refinement, which at last subdues and educates men.

The reader has great confidence in Chaucer. He tells no lies. You read his story with a smile, as if it were the circumlocution of a child, and yet you find that he has spoke with more directness and economy of words than a sage. He is never heartless. So new was all his theme in those days, that [he] had not to invent, but only to tell.[340]

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