Page 87 of 99
Again Nature will try, with me for a first settler, and my house raised last spring to be the oldest in the settlement.
The sterile soil would have been proof against any lowland degeneracy.
Farmers far and near call it the paradise of beans.
And here, too, on winter days, while yet is cold January, and snow and ice lie thick, comes the prudent, foreseeing landlord or housekeeper (anticipating thirst) from the village, to get ice to cool his summer drink,---a 424 grateful beverage if he should live, if time should endure so long. How few so wise, so industrious, to lay up treasures which neither rust nor melt, "to cool their summer drink" one day!
And cut off the solid pond, the element and air of fishes, held fast with chain and stake like corded wood, all through favoring, willing, kind, permitting winter air to wintery cellar, to underlie the summer there. And cut and saw the cream of the pond, unroof the house of fishes.
And in early mornings come men with fishing-reels and slender lunch, men of real faith, and let down their fine lines and live minnows through the snowy field to hook the pickerel and perch.
With buried well-stones, and strawberries, raspberries, thimble-berries growing on the sunny sward there; some pitchy pine or gnarled oak in the chimney-nook, or the sweet-scented black birch where the doorstone was.
Breed's,---history must not yet tell the tragedies enacted there. Let time intervene to assuage and lend an azure atmospheric tint to them.
There is something pathetic in the sedentary life of men who have travelled. They must naturally die when they leave the road. 425
What seems so fair and poetic in antiquity---almost fabulous---is realized, too, in Concord life. As poets and historians brought their work to the Grecian games, and genius wrestled there as well as strength of body, so have we seen works of kindred genius read at our Concord games, by their author, in their own Concord amphitheatre. It is virtually repeated by all ages and nations.
Moles nesting in your cellar and nibbling every third potato. A whole rabbit-warren only separated from you by the flooring. To be saluted when you stir in the dawn by the hasty departure of Monsieur,---thump, thump, thump, striking his head against the floor-timbers. Squirrels and field mice that hold to a community of property in your stock of chestnuts.
The blue jays suffered few chestnuts to reach the ground, resorting to your single tree in flocks in the early morning, and picking them out of the burs at a great advantage.
The crop of blackberries small; berries not yet grown. Ground-nuts not dug.
One wonders how so much, after all, was expressed in the old way, so much here depends upon the emphasis, tone, pronunciation, style, and spirit of the reading. No writer uses so profusely all the aids to intelligibility which the printer's art affords. You wonder 426 how others had contrived to write so many pages without emphatic, italicized words, they are so expressive, so natural and indispensable, here. As if none had ever used the demonstrative pronoun demonstratively. In another's sentences the thought, though immortal, is, as it were, embalmed and does not strike you, but here it is so freshly living, not purified by the ordeal of death, that it stirs in the very extremities, the smallest particles and pronouns are all alive with it.---You must not say it, but it. It is not simple it, your it or mine, but it. His books are solid, workmanlike, like all that England does. They tell of endless labor done, well done, and all the rubbish swept away, like this bright cutlery which glitters in the windows, while the coke and ashes, turnings, filings, borings, dust lie far away at Birmingham, unheard of. The words did not come at the command of grammar but of a tyrannous, inexorable meaning; not like the standing soldiers, by vote of Parliament, but any able-bodied countryman pressed into the service. It is no China war, but a revolution. This style is worth attending to as one of the most important features of the man that we at this distance know.
What are the men of New England about? I have travelled some in New England, especially in Concord, and I found that no enterprise was on foot which it would not disgrace a man to take part in. They seemed to be employed everywhere in shops and offices and fields. They seemed, like the Brahmins of the East, to 427 be doing penance in a thousand curious, unheard-of ways, their endurance surpassing anything I had ever seen or heard of,---Simeon Stylites, Brahmins looking in the face of the sun, standing on one leg, dwelling at the roots of trees, nothing to it; any of the twelve labors of Hercules to be matched,---the Nemean lion, Lernan hydra, nan stag, Erymanthian boar, Augean stables, Stymphalian birds, Cretan bull, Diomedes' mares, Amazonian girdle, monster Geryon, Hesperian apples, three-headed Cerberus, nothing at all in comparison, being only twelve and having an end. For I could never see that these men ever slew or captured any of their monsters, or finished any of their labors. They have no "friend Iolaus to burn, with a hot iron, the root" of the hydra's head; for as soon as one head is crushed, two spring up.
Men labor under a mistake; they are laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. Northern Slavery, or the slavery which includes the Southern, Eastern, Western, and all others.
It is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are yourself the slave-driver. Look at the lonely teamster on the highway, wending to market by day or night; is he a son of the morning, with somewhat of divinity in him, fearless because immortal, going to receive his birthright, greeting the sun as his fellow, bounding with youthful, gigantic strength over his mother earth? See 428 how he cowers and sneaks, how vaguely, indefinitely all the day he fears, not being immortal, not divine, the slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself, fame which he has earned by his own deeds. Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with private opinion. What I think of myself, that determines my fate.
I see young men, my equals, who have inherited from their spiritual father a soul,---broad, fertile, uncultivated,---from their earthly father a farm,---with cattle and barns and farming tools, the implements of the picklock and the counterfeiter. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, or perhaps cradled in a manger, that they might have seen with clear eye what was the field they were called to labor in. The young man has got to live a man's life, then, in this world, pushing all these things before him, and get on as well as he can. How many a poor immortal soul I have met, well-nigh crushed and smothered, creeping slowly down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five by forty feet and one hundred acres of land,---tillage, pasture, wood-lot! This dull, opaque garment of the flesh is load enough for the strongest spirit, but with such an earthly garment superadded the spiritual life is soon plowed into the soil for compost. It's a fool's life, as they will all find when they get to the end of it. The man that goes on accumulating property when the bare necessaries of life are cared for is a fool and knows better.