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

Page 95 of 99

The distinguished men of those times had a great flow of spirits, a cheerful and elastic wit far removed from the solemn wisdom of later days. What another thing was fame and a name then than now! This is seen in the familiar manner in which they were spoken of by each other and the nation at large,---Kit Marlowe, and George (Peele), and Will Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson,---great fellows,---chaps.

We pass through all degrees of life from the least organic to the most complex. Sometimes we are mere pudding-stone and scori.

The present is the instant work and near process of living, and will be found in the last analysis to be nothing more nor less than digestion. Sometimes, it is true, it is indigestion.

Daniel deserves praise for his moderation, and sometimes has risen into poetry before you know it. Strong sense appears in his epistles, but you have to remember too often in what age he wrote, and yet that Shakespeare was his contemporary. His style is without the tricks of the trade and really in advance of his 467 age. We can well believe that he was a retired scholar, who would keep himself shut up in his house two whole months together.

Donne was not a poet, but a man of strong sense, a sturdy English thinker, full of conceits and whimsicalities, hammering away at his subject, be it eulogy or epitaph, sonnet or satire, with the patience of a day laborer, without taste but with an occasional fine distinction or poetic phrase. He was rather Doctor Donne, than the poet Donne. His letters are perhaps best.

Lovelace is what his name expresses,---of slight material to make a poet's fame. His goings and comings are of no great account. His taste is not so much love of excellence as fear of failure, though in one instance he has written fearlessly and memorably.

How wholesome are the natural laws to contemplate, as gravity, heat, light, moisture, dryness. Only let us not interfere. Let the soul withdraw into the chambers of the heart, let the mind reside steadily in the labyrinth of the brain, and not interfere with hands or feet more than with other parts of nature.

Thomson was a true lover of nature and seems to have needed only a deeper human experience to have taken a more vigorous and lofty flight. He is deservedly popular, and has found a place on many shelves and in many cottages. There are great merits in "The Seasons"---and the almanac. In "Autumn:"--- 468

"Attemper'd suns arise,

... while broad and brown, below,

Extensive harvests hang the heavy head.

Rich, silent, deep, they stand."

The moon in "Autumn:"---

"Her spotted disk,

Where mountains rise, umbrageous dales descend,

... gives all his blaze again,

Void of its flame, and sheds a softer day.

Now through the passing cloud she seems to stoop,

Now up the pure cerulean rides sublime.

The whole air whitens with a boundless tide

Of silver radiance, trembling round the world."

My friend, thou art not of some other race and family of men;---thou art flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. Has not nature associated us in many ways?[501] Water from the same fountain, lime from the same quarry, grain from the same field compose our bodies. And perchance our elements but reassert their ancient kindredship. Is it of no significance that I have so long partaken of the same loaf with thee, have breathed the same air summer and winter, have felt the same heat and cold, the same fruits of summer have been pleased to refresh us both, and thou hast never had a thought of different fibre from my own?[502]

Our kindred, of one blood with us. With the favor and not the displeasure of the gods, we have partaken the same bread. 469

It is hard to know rocks. They are crude and inaccessible to our nature. We have not enough of the stony element in us.

It is hard to know men by rumor only. But to stand near somewhat living and conscious. Who would not sail through mutiny and storm farther than Columbus, to reach the fabulous retreating shores of some continent man?

My friend can only be in any measure my foe, because he is fundamentally my friend; for everything is after all more nearly what it should rightfully be, than that which it is simply by failing to be the other.

It [friendship] cannot be the subject of reconciliation or the theme of conversation ever between friends. The true friend must in some sense disregard all professions of friendship and forget them.

It is as far from pity as from contempt. I should hesitate even to call it the highest sympathy, since the word is of suspicious origin and suggests suffering rather than joy. It was established before religion, for men are not friends in religion, but over and through it; and it records no apostasy or repentance, but there is a certain divine and innocent and perennial health about it.

Its charity is generosity, its virtue nobleness, its religion trust. We come nearer to friendship with flowers and inanimate objects than with merely affectionate 470 and loving men. It is not for the friend to be just even,---at least he is not to be lost in this attribute,---but to be only a large and free existence, representative of humanity, its general court. Admirable to us as the heavenly bodies, but like them affording rather a summer heat and daylight,---the light and fire of sunshine and stars,---rather than the intense heats and splendors which our weakness and appetite require.

Yesterday I skated after a fox over the ice. Occasionally he sat on his haunches and barked at me like a young wolf. It made me think of the bear and her cubs mentioned by Captain Parry, I think. All brutes seem to have a genius for mystery, an Oriental aptitude for symbols and the language of signs; and this is the origin of Pilpay and sop. The fox manifested an almost human suspicion of mystery in my actions. While I skated directly after him, he cantered at the top of his speed; but when I stood still, though his fear was not abated, some strange but inflexible law of his nature caused him to stop also, and sit again on his haunches. While I still stood motionless, he would go slowly a rod to one side, then sit and bark, then a rod to the other side, and sit and bark again, but did not retreat, as if spellbound. When, however, I commenced the pursuit again, he found himself released from his durance.

Plainly the fox belongs to a different order of things from that which reigns in the village. Our courts, though they offer a bounty for his hide, and our pulpits, though they draw many a moral from his cunning, are in few senses contemporary with his free forest life. 471

To the poet considered as an artist, his words must be as the relation of his oldest and finest memory, and wisdom derived from the remotest experience.

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