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

Page 80 of 99

I find an instinct in me conducting to a mystic spiritual life, and also another to a primitive savage life. 385

Toward evening, as the world waxes darker, I am permitted to see the woodchuck stealing across my path, and tempted to seize and devour it. The wildest, most desolate scenes are strangely familiar to me.[412]

Why not live a hard and emphatic life, not to be avoided, full of adventures and work, learn much in it, travel much, though it be only in these woods? I sometimes walk across a field with unexpected expansion and long-missed content, as if there were a field worthy of me. The usual daily boundaries of life are dispersed, and I see in what field I stand.

When on my way this afternoon, Shall I go down this long hill in the rain to fish in the pond? I ask myself. And I say to myself: Yes, roam far, grasp life and conquer it, learn much and live. Your fetters are knocked off; you are really free. Stay till late in the night; be unwise and daring. See many men far and near, in their fields and cottages before the sun sets, though as if many more were to be seen. And yet each rencontre shall be so satisfactory and simple that no other shall seem possible. Do not repose every night as villagers do. The noble life is continuous and unintermitting. At least, live with a longer radius. Men come home at night only from the next field or street, where their household echoes haunt, and their life pines and is sickly because it breathes its own breath. Their shadows morning and evening reach farther than their daily steps. But come home from far, from ventures and perils, from enterprise and discovery and crusading, with faith 386 and experience and character.[413] Do not rest much. Dismiss prudence, fear, conformity. Remember only what is promised. Make the day light you, and the night hold a candle, though you be falling from heaven to earth "from morn to dewy eve a summer's day."

For Vulcan's fall occupied a day, but our highest aspirations and performances fill but the interstices of time.

Are we not reminded in our better moments that we have been needlessly husbanding somewhat, perchance our little God-derived capital, or title to capital, guarding it by methods we know? But the most diffuse prodigality a better wisdom teaches,---that we hold nothing. We are not what we were. By usurers' craft, by Jewish methods, we strive to retain and increase the divinity in us, when infinitely the greater part of divinity is out of us.

Most men have forgotten that it was ever morning; but a few serene memories, healthy and wakeful natures, there are who assure us that the sun rose clear, heralded by the singing of birds,---this very day's sun, which rose before Memnon was ready to greet it.

In all the dissertations on language, men forget the language that is, that is really universal, the inexpressible meaning that is in all things and everywhere, with which the morning and evening teem. As if language were especially of the tongue of course. With a more 387 copious learning or understanding of what is published, the present languages, and all that they express, will be forgotten.

The rays which streamed through the crevices will be no more remembered when the shadow is wholly removed.

Left house on account of plastering, Wednesday, November 12th, at night; returned Saturday, December 6th.[414]

Though the race is not so degenerated but a man might possibly live in a cave to-day and keep himself warm by furs, yet, as caves and wild beasts are not plenty enough to accommodate all at the present day, it were certainly better to accept the advantages which the invention and industry of mankind offer. In thickly settled civilized communities, boards and shingles, lime and brick, are cheaper and more easily come by than suitable caves, or the whole logs, or bark in sufficient quantity, or even well-tempered clay or flat stones.[415] A tolerable house for a rude and hardy race that lived much out of doors was once made here without any of these last materials. According to the testimony of the first settlers of Boston, an Indian wigwam was as comfortable in winter as an English house with all its wainscotting, and they had advanced so far as to regulate the effect of the wind by a mat suspended over the hole 388 in the roof, which was moved by a string. Such a lodge was, in the first instance, constructed in a day or two and taken down and put up again in a few hours, and every family had one.[416]

Thus, to try our civilization by a fair test, in the ruder states of society every family owns a shelter as good as the best, and sufficient for its ruder and simpler wants; but in modern civilized society, though the birds of the air have their nests, and woodchucks and foxes their holes, though each one is commonly the owner of his coat and hat though never so poor, yet not more than one man in a thousand owns a shelter, but the nine hundred and ninety-nine pay an annual tax for this outside garment of all, indispensable summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams and contributes to keep them poor as long as they live. But, answers one, by simply paying this annual tax the poorest man secures an abode which is a palace compared to the Indian's. An annual rent of from twenty to sixty or seventy dollars entitles him to the benefit of all the improvements of centuries,---Rumford fireplace, back plastering, Venetian blinds, copper pump, spring lock, etc., etc.[417] But while civilization has been improving our houses, she has not equally improved the men who should occupy them. She has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings. The mason who finishes the cornice of the palace returns at night, perchance, to a hut no better than a 389 wigwam.[418] If she claims to have made a real advance in the welfare of man, she must show how she has produced better dwellings without making them more costly. And the cost of a thing, it will be remembered, is the amount of life it requires to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. An average house costs perhaps from one thousand to fifteen hundred dollars, and to earn this sum will require from fifteen to twenty years of the day laborer's life, even if he is not incumbered with a family; so that he must spend more than half his life before a wigwam can be earned; and if we suppose he pays a rent instead, this is but a doubtful choice of evils. Would the savage have been wise to exchange his wigwam for a palace on these terms?[419]

When I consider my neighbors, the farmers of Concord, for instance, who are at least as well off as the other classes, what are they about? For the most part I find that they have been toiling ten, twenty, or thirty years to pay for their farms, and we may set down one half of that toil to the cost of their houses; and commonly they have not yet paid for them.[420] This is the reason they are poor; and for similar reasons we are all poor in respect to a thousand savage comforts, though surrounded by luxuries.[421]

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