Excerpts from Henry David Thoreau’s journals
part ten ()
This is part ten of a collection of excerpts from the journals of Henry David
Thoreau concerning law, government, man in society, war, economics, duty, and
conscience. This part covers Thoreau’s journals for
. For other parts, see:
These are based on the journals transcribed by Bradford Torrey and Francis
H. Allen in their The
Journal of Henry D. Thoreau
() and on the online journal transcripts at
The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau. Footnotes are mine unless otherwise noted.
There are many words which are genuine & indigenous & have their root
in our natures — not made by scholars, & as well understood by the
illiterate as others. There are also a great many words which are spurious
& artificial, and can only be used in a bad sense, since the thing they
signify is not fair & substantial — such as the
church, the judiciary, to
&c They who
use them do not stand on solid ground. It is in vain to try to preserve them
by attaching other words to them as the true church,
&c It is like
towing a sinking ship with a canoe.
Who can doubt that men are by a certain fate what they are, contending with
unseen & unimagined difficulties, or encouraged & aided by equally
mysterious auspicious circumstances? Who can doubt this essential & innate
difference between man & man, when he considers a whole race, like the
Indian, inevitably and resignedly passing away in spite of our
efforts to christianize & educate them? Individuals accept their fate
& live according to it, as the Indian does.
Everybody notices that the Indian retains his habits wonderfully — is still
the same man that the discoverers found. The fact is, the history of the White
man is a history of improvement, that of the Red man a history of fixed
The dog is to the fox as the white man to the red. The former has attained to
more clearness in his bark; it is more ringing & musical, more developed;
he explodes the vowels of his alphabet better; and beside he has made his
place so good in the world that he can run without skulking in the open field.
What a smothered, ragged, feeble, & unmusical sound is the bark of the fox!
It seems as if he scarcely dared raise his voice lest he
should catch the ear of his tame cousin & inveterate foe.
At Nut Meadow Brook the small sized water bugs are as abundant & active as
in summer. I see 40 or 50 circling together in the smooth & sunny bays
all along the brook. … I would like to know what it is they communicate to one
another, they who appear to value each other’s society so much. How many water
bugs make a quorum! How many hundreds does their Fourier think it takes to
make a complete bug?1
Ralph Waldo Emerson had, in an speech,
said that “Charles Fourier noting that each man had a different talent,
computed that you must collect 1800 or 2000 souls to make one complete
The creditor is servant to his debtor, especially if he is about paying his
due. I am amused to see what airs men take about themselves when they have
money to pay me. No matter how long they have deferred it, they imagine that
they are my benefactors or patrons, & send me word graciously that if
I will come to their houses they will pay me, when it is their
business to come to me.
… You glide
along the distant woodside, full of joy & expectation, seeing nothing but
beauty, hearing nothing but music, as free as the fox-colored sparrow, seeing
far ahead, a courageous knight, a great philosopher, not indebted to any
academy or college for this expansion, but chiefly to the April rain, which
descendeth on all alike.1
Not encouraged by men in your walks, not by the divines, not the professors,
and to the lawgiver an outlaw; not encouraged
surely when you are reminded of the government at
Geo. Minott tells me that he,
when young, used often to go to a store by the side of where Bigelow’s tavern
was & kept by Ephraim Jones — the Goodknow store. That was
prob. the one kept by my old
trader. Told me how Carey, who was a slave to a man who lived where Hawthorne
owns — — the same house — before the revolution, ran off one Sunday. [He] was pursued by the neighbors, &
hid himself in the river up to his neck till nightfall, just beyond
the great fields . He ran
thro’ Gowing’s swamp &
came back that night to a Mrs Cogswell, who
lived where Charles Davis does, & got something to eat; then cleared far
away, enlisted, & was freed as a soldier after the war. He may have been
20 years old when stolen from Africa; left a wife & one child there. Used
to say that he went home to Africa in the night & came back again in the
morning; i.e. he dreamed of home. Lived to be
old. Called Thanksgiving “Tom Kiver.”
We hear the names of the worthies of Concord — Squire Cumings & the rest — but the poor slave Carey seems to have lived a more adventurous life than any
of them — Squire Cumings probably never had to run for his life on the plains
The last new journal thinks that it is very liberal — nay bold — but it dares
not publish a child’s thought on important subjects — such as life & death
& good books. It requires the sanction of the divines just as surely as
the tamest journal does. If it had been published at the time of the famous
dispute between Christ & the doctors1 it would
have published only the opinions of the doctors & suppressed Christ’s.
There is no need of a law to check the freedom
of the press. It is law enough, & more than enough, to itself. Virtually,
the community have come together & agreed what things shall be uttered — have agreed on a platform & to excommunicate him who departs from it, and
not one in a thousand dares utter anything else. There are plenty of journals
brave enough to say what they think about the government, this being a free
one, but I know of none widely circulated or well conducted that does say what
it thinks about the Sunday or the bible. They have been bribed to keep dark.
They are in the service of hypocrisy.
The state commonly grants a tract of forest to make an academy out
the groves of the academy are straightway cut down & that institution is
built of the its lumber — its coarsest & least valuable part — And as for the public domains, if anybody neglected his
civil duties during the last war, he is privileged to cut & slash there — he is let loose against the well-behaved
trees, as if the liberty he had defended was derived from
liber, bark & meant the liberty
to bark the trees.2
In The Maine Woods this became: “When the State
wishes to endow an academy or university, it grants it a tract of forest
land: one saw represents an academy; a gang, a university.”
“Liber” is Latin for tree bark.
The gregariousness of men is their most contemptible & discouraging
aspect. See how they follow each other like sheep not knowing why. Day &
Martins’ Blackening1 was preferred by the last
generation and also is by this. Apparently in
ancient times several parties were nearly equally matched. They appointed a
committee & made a compromise agreeing to vote or believe so & so,
& they still helplessly abide by that. Men are the inveterate foes of all
improvement. Generally speaking they think more of their hen-houses than of
any desirable heaven. If you aspire to anything better than politics expect no
cooperation from men. They will not further anything good. You must prevail of
your own force, as a plant springs & grows by its own vitality.
Day & Martin’s Blacking was a variety of shoe polish.
The thinker, he who is serene & self-possessed, is the brave — not the
desperate soldier. He who can deal with his thoughts as a material, building
them into poems in which future generations will delight, he is the man of the
greatest & rarest vigor, not sturdy diggers & lusty polygamists. He is
the man of energy in whom subtle & poetic thoughts are bred. Common men
can enjoy partially. They can go a fishing rainy days. They can read
poems perchance but they have not the vigor to beget poems. They can enjoy
feebly but they cannot create. Men talk of freedom! How many are free to
think — free from fear, from perturbation, from prejudice? 999 in a 1000 are
perfect slaves. How many can exercise the highest human faculties? He is the
man truly — courageous, wise, ingenious — who can use his thoughts &
ecstasies as the material of fair & durable creations. One man shall
derive from the fisherman’s story more than the fisher has got who tells it.
The mass of men do not know how to cultivate the fields they traverse. The
mass glean only a scanty pittance where the thinker reaps an abundant harvest.
What is all your building if you do not build with thoughts?
No exercise implies more real manhood & vigor than joining thought to
thought. How few men can tell what they have thought! I hardly know half a
dozen who are not too lazy for this. You
conquer fate by thought. If you think the fatal thought of men &
institutions, you need never pull the trigger. The consequences of thinking
inevitably follow. There is no more Herculean task than to think a thought
about this life & then get it expressed.
Horticulturalists think that they make flower gardens, though in their
thoughts they are barren & flowerless, but to the poet the earth is a
flower garden wherever he goes or thinks. Most men can keep a horse or keep up
a certain fashionable style of living, but few indeed can keep up
great expectations. They justly think very meanly of themselves.
A marked difference when we enter Massachusetts, in roads, farms, houses,
&c — a great
improvement, showing an older settled country.
In New Hampshire there is greater want of shade trees, but long bleak or sunny
roads, from which there is no escape. What barbarians we are. The convenience
of the traveller is very little consulted; he merely has the privilege of
crossing somebody’s farm by a particular narrow & maybe
unpleasant path. The individual retains all the rights as to trees & fruit
& wash of the road
&c On the
other hand these should belong to mankind inalienably. The road should be of
ample width & adorned with trees, expressly for the use of the traveller.
There should be broad recesses in it,
esp. at springs &
watering places, where he can turn out & rest or camp if he will. I feel
commonly as if I were condemned to drive through somebody’s cow yard or
huckleberry pasture & if I make a fire by the
roadside to boil my hasty pudding, the farmer comes running over to see if I
am not burning up his stuff. You are backed along through the country from
door to door.
I hear of pickers ordered out of the huckleberry fields & I see stakes set
up with written notices forbidding any to pick there. Some let their fields or
allow so much for the picking — Sic transit gloria
ruris.1 We are not grateful enough
that we have lived a part of our lives before these evil days came. What
becomes of the true value of country life? What if you must go to market for
it? Shall things come to such a pass that the butcher commonly brings round
huckleberries in his cart? It is as if the hangman were to perform the
marriage ceremony, or were to preside at the communion table. Such is the
inevitable tendency of our civilization to reduce huckleberries to a
level with beefsteak. The butcher’s item on the door is now “calf’s head &
huckleberries.” I suspect that the inhabitants of England & of the
continent of Europe have thus lost their natural rights with the increase of
populations & of monopolies. The wild fruits of the earth disappear before
civilization, or are only to be found in large markets. The whole
city country becomes, as it were, a town or beaten common,
& the fruits left are a few hips & haws.
Latin: “thus passes the glory of the countryside”
(a play on the more familiar phrase, “sic transit gloria mundi” — “thus passes the glory of the world”)
It is surprising to what extent the world is ruled by cliques. They who
constitute, or at least lead, New England or
N. York society in the eyes
of the world are but a clique. A few “men of the age” & of the town, who
work best in the harness provided for them. The institutions of almost all
kinds are thus of a sectarian or party character. Newspapers, magazines,
colleges, & all forms of government & religion express the
rather superficial activity of a few, the mass either conforming or
not attending. The newspapers have just got over this eating-fullness or
dropsy which takes place with the annual commencements & addresses before
the Philomathian or Alpha Β. Γ.
they who make these addresses & they who attend
to them are representative of the latest age. The boys think that these annual
recurrences are part & parcel of the annual revolution of the system.
There are also regattas & fireworks & “surprise parties” & horse
shows. So that I am glad when I hear of a man anywhere who
does not know of these things nor recognizes these particular
fuglers.2 I was pleased to hear the other day that
there were 2 men in Tamworth,
N. H. who had
been fishing for trout there ever since May; but it was a serious drawback to
be told that they sent their fish to Boston & so succumbed
to the few.
The editors of newspapers, the popular clergy, politicians & orators of
the day , though they may be thought to be of
very different politics & religion are essentially one & homogeneous,
in as much as they are only the various ingredients of the froth which ever
floats on the surface of society.
It is surprising what a tissue of trifles & crudities make the daily news.
For one event of interest there are 999 insignificant, but about the same
stress is laid on the last . The newspapers have
just told me that the transatlantic telegraph cable is
they instantly proceed to inform me how the news was received in every larger
town in the U.S.,
how many guns they fired, or how high they jumped in New York & Milwaukee
& Sheboygan, & the boys & girls old and young at the corners of
the streets are reading it all with glistening eyes, down to the very last
scrap, not omitting New Rochelle & Evansville.
You say that you have traveled far & wide. How many men have you seen that
did not belong to any sect, or party, or clique? Did you go further than
letters of introduction would avail?
Society (Alpha Beta Gamma may have been a reference to the actual
society of that name, or just a generic reference to Greek-lettered
Transatlantic telegraph cable.
On , Thoreau noted:
“ one of our neighbors who
has just completed a costly house & front yard — the most showy in
the village — illuminated in honor of the Atlantic telegraph. I read in
great letters before the house the sentence ‘Glory to God in the
highest’” (the opening phrase of the first message sent over the
transatlantic telegraph) “But it seemed to me that that was not a
sentiment to be illuminated, but to keep dark about. A simple &
genuine sentiment of reverence would not emblazon these words as on a
sign board in the streets. They were exploding countless crackers beneath
it, & gay company passing in & out made it a kind of
house-warming. I felt a kind of shame for I was inclined to pass quickly
by, the ideas of indecent exposure & cant being suggested.” See also
Wars are not yet over. I hear one in the outskirts learning to drum every
night; & think you there will be no field for him? He relies on his
instincts. He is instinctively meeting a demand.
In my boating of late I have several times scared up a couple of summer ducks
of this year, bred in our meadows. They allowed me to come quite near &
helped to people the river.
Would you know the end of our intercourse? Goodwin shot them &
Mrs. ——, who never sailed on the river,
ate them. Of course, she knows not what she did. I shall not
eat her canary.
belonged to me, as much as to anyone, when they were alive, but it was
considered of more importance that Mrs. ——
should taste the flavor of them dead than that I should enjoy the beauty of
Stopped & talked with
Wm Wheeler & ate
a watermelon with him on the grass. Once his senseless democracy appeared. He
spoke with an ignorant pride of Buchanan’s telegraphic
message,1 of which most of us were ashamed; said
he supposed he had more learning than Victoria!
President James Buchanan responded to Queen Victoria’s inaugural
transatlantic telegraph message with a message that called the
technological advance “a triumph more glorious, because far more useful
to mankind, than was ever won by conqueror on the field of battle” and
expressed the hope that it would “prove to be a bond of perpetual peace
and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument destined by
Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty, and law
throughout the world.” It seemed designed to one-up the Queen’s own
message, which, for instance, hoped simply that the telegraph “will prove
an additional link between the two nations” and put things in a
less-bombastic tone. See also
I have heard of judges, accidentally met at an evening party, discussing the
efficacy of the laws & courts, & deciding that with the aid of the
jury system “substantial justice was done.” But taking those cases in which
honest men refrain from going to law together with those in which men, honest
& dishonest, do go to law, I think that the law is really a “humbug” &
a benefit principally to the lawyers. This town has made a law recently
against cattle going at large & assigned a penalty of 5 dollars. I am
troubled by an Irish neighbors cow & horse & have threatened to have
them put in the pound. But a lawyer tells me that these town laws are hard to
put through, there are so many quibbles. He never knew the complainant to get
his case if the defendant were a-mind to contend. However the cattle were kept
out several days, till a Sunday came, & then they were all in my ground
again, as I heard, but all my neighbors tell me that I cannot have them
impounded on that day. Indeed I observe that very many of my
neighbors do for this reason regularly turn their cattle loose on
The judges may discuss the question of the courts & law over their nuts
& raisins & mumble forth the decision that “substantial justice is
done” but I must believe they mean that they do really get paid a
Little did the fathers of the town anticipate this brilliant success when they
caused to be imported from farther in the county some straight poles
whe with the tops cut off which they called sugar maple trees. And
a sugar neighboring merchant’s clerk, as I remember, by way of jest
planted beans about them. Yet these which, were then jestingly called bean
poles are these days far the most beautiful object noticeable in our streets.
They are worth all & more than they have cost — though one of the
selectmen did take the cold which occasioned his death in setting
them out — if only because they have filled the open eyes of children with
their rich color so unstintedly which many autumns.
Wealth may be the inheritance of few
in the houses, but it is equally distributed on the common. All children alike
can revel in this golden harvest. These trees, throughout the street, are at
least equal to an annual festival & holiday or a week of such (not
requiring any special police ) & poor indeed
must be that N.E.
“village’s” October which has not the maple in its streets. This October
festival costs no powder, no ringing of bells, but every tree is a
liberty pole on which a thousand bright flags are run up.
Hundreds of children’s eyes are steadily drinking in this color, & by
these teachers even the truants are caught and educated by these
teachers . It is as if some cheap
& innocent gala days were celebrated in our town every autumn — a week or
2 of such days.
What meant the fathers by establishing this living institution before
the Church — this institution which needs no repairing nor
painting — which is continually “enlarged & repaired” by
nature its growth? Surely trees should be set in our streets with a
view to their October splendor. Do you not think it will make some odds to
these children that they were brought up under the maples? Indeed neither the
truant nor the studious are at present taught colors in the schools. These are
instead of the bright colors in Apothecary shops & city windows. It is a
pity we have not more red maples & some hickories in the streets as well.
Our paint box is very imperfectly filled. Instead of, or besides, supplying
paintboxes, I would supply these natural colors to the young.
I know of one man at least, called an excellent farmer, who has thoroughly repaired his house & built a
new barn with a barn cellar, such as any farmer seems fated to have, who has
not set out a single tree or shrub of any kind about his house or
within a considerable distance of it.
No annual training or muster of soldiery, no celebration with its scarfs &
banners, could import into this town a hundredth part of the annual splendor
of an October. We have only to set the trees, or let them stand, & nature
will find the colored drapery — flags of all her nations,
whose private signals hardly the botanist can read. Let us have a good many
maples & hickories & scarlet oaks — then, I say Blaze away! Shall that dirty roll of bunting in the gun-house be all the colors a village can display?
A village is not complete unless it has these trees to mark the season in it.
They are as important as the town-clock. Such a village will not
be found to work well. It has a screw loose; an essential part is wanting.
Let us have willows for spring, elms for summer, maples & walnuts
for Autumn, evergreens for winter, & oaks for all
seasons. What is a gallery in a house to a gallery in the streets! I think
that there is not a picture gallery in the country which would be worth as
much to us as is the western view under the elms of our Main Street. They are
the frame to a picture & we are not in the dilemma of the Irish man who,
having bought a picture frame at an auction, found
himself obliged to buy a picture at private sale to put into it — for our
picture is already painted with each sunset behind it. An avenue of elms as
large as our largest & 3 miles long would seem to lead to some admirable
place, though only Concord were at the end of it. Such a street as I have
described would be to the traveller,
esp. in October, an
A village needs these innocent stimulants of bright & cheery prospects to
keep off melancholy & superstition. Show me two villages, one embowered in
trees & blazing with all the glories of October, the other a merely
trivial & treeless waste, & I shall be sure that in the
latter will be found the most desperate & hardest drinkers.
What if we were to take half as much pains in protecting them, as we do in
setting them out — not stupidly tie our horses to our dahlia stems?
They are cheap preachers, permanently settled, which preach their half
century, & century, aye, & century & a half sermons, with
continually increasing influence , ministering to many
generations of men, & the least we can do is to supply them with suitable
colleagues as they grow infirm.
Barrett’s apprentice, it seems, makes trays of birch-bush & of red maple,
in a dark room under the mill.…
I was the more pleased with the sight of the trays because the tools used
were so simple, and they were made by hand not by machinery. They
make equally good pails, & cheaper as well as faster, at
the pail-factory with the home-made ones, but that interests me less because
that man is turned partly into a machine there
himself. In this case the workman’s relation to his work is more poetic — he
also shows more dexterity & is more of a man. You came away from
the great factory saddened, as if the chief end of man were to make pails. But
in the case of the country man who makes a few by hand, rainy days, the
relative importance of human life and of pails is preserved & you came
away thinking of the simple & helpful life of the man & would fain go to making pails
yourself. We admire more the man who can use in axe or adze skillfully than
him who can merely tend a machine. When labor is reduced to turning a crank it
is no longer amusing nor truly profitable. But let this business
become very profitable in a pecuniary sense, & so be “driven,” as the
phrase is, & carried on on a large scale, & the man is sunk in it
while only the pail or tray floats. We are interested in it only in the same
way as the proprietor or company is.
…I saw yonder a man far off by the edge of the river splitting
billets off a stump. Suspecting who it was took out my glass & beheld
Goodwin — the one eyed Ajax — in his shirt blue frock, short & square
bodied, as broad as for his height he can afford to be, getting his winter’s
It would be no amusement to me to see a gentleman buy his winter wood. It is
to see G. get his. I helped
him tip over a stump or 2. He said that the owner of the land had
given his leave to get them out, but it seemed to me a condescension for him
to ask any man leave to grub up these stumps. The stumps to those who can use
them, I say, to those who will split them. He might as well ask leave of the
same to shoot the musquash1 and the meadow hen; I
might as well ask leave to look at the landscape. Nearby were large hollows in
the ground, now grassed over, where he had got out white oak stumps in
previous years. But, strange to say, the town do not like to have him get his
fuel in this way. They would rather the stumps would rot in the ground or be
floated down stream to the sea. They have almost without dissent agreed on a
different mode of living, with their division of labor. They would have him
stick to his laying wall & buy corded wood for his fuel as they
Preaching? Lecturing? Who are ye that ask for these things? What do ye want
to hear, ye puling infants? a trumpet sound that would train you up to
mankind, or a nurse’s lullaby?
The preachers & lecturers deal with men of straw, as they are men of
straw themselves. Why a free spoken man, of sound lungs, cannot draw a long
breath without causing your rotten institutions to come toppling down by the
vacuum he makes.
Your church is a baby-house made of blocks .
It would be a relief to breathe one’s self occasionally among men. If there
were any magnanimity in us, any grandeur of soul, anything but sects &
parties undertaking to patronize Good & keep the mind within
bounds, how often we might encourage & provoke one another by a free
expression. I will not consent to walk with my mouth muzzled, until
I am rabid, until there is danger that I shall bite the
unoffending & that my bite will produce hydrophobia.
Freedom of speech! It hath not entered into your hearts to conceive what those
words mean. It is not leave given me by your sect to say this or that; it is
when leave is given to your sect to withdraw. The church, the state, the
school, the magazine, think they are liberal & free! It is the freedom
of a prison yard. I ask only that ¼ part of my honest thoughts be spoken
aloud. What is it you tolerate, your church today? not truth, but a
life-long hypocrisy. Let us have institutions framed not out of our rottenness
but out of our soundness. This factitious piety is like stale ginger-bread. I
would like to suggest what a pack of fools & cowards we mankind are. They
want me to agree not to breathe too hard in the neighborhood of their
If I should draw a long breath in the neighborhood of these institutions,
their weak & flabby sides would pull out, for my own inspiration would
exhaust the air about them. The church! it is eminently the timid institution,
& the heads & pillars of it are constitutionally & by principal
the greatest cowards in the community.
The voice that goes up from the monthly concerts is not so brave & so
cheering as that which rises from the frog-ponds of the land. The best
“preachers,” so called, are an effeminate class; their honest thoughts wear
petticoats. If they have any manhood they are sure to forsake the ministry,
though they were to turn their attention to base ball. Look at your editors
of popular magazines. I have dealt with 2 or 3 the most liberal of them.
Look at your They are afraid to print a whole sentence, a
round sentence, a free-spoken sentence. They want to get 30,000
subscribers & they will do anything to get them. They consult the
all the letters of the alphabet before printing a sentence. I have been into
many of these cowardly
N.E towns, where
they profess Christianity — invited to speak perchance — when they
were trembling in their shoes at the thought of the thing you might
say, . The devil they have covenanted with is a timid devil. If they
would let their sores alone they might heal & they could to the wars
again like men — but instead of that they get together in meeting house
cellars, rip off the bandages & poultice them with sermons.
One of our N.E towns
is sealed up hermetically like a molasses hogshead — such is its sweet
christianity — only a little of the sweet trickling out at the cracks enough
to daub you. The few more liberal minded or indifferent inhabitants are the
flies that buzz about it.
The further you go up country, I think, the worse it is, the more benighted
they are. On the one side you will find a bar-room which holds the “Scoffers,”
so called; on the other a vestry, where is a monthly concert of prayer. There
is just as little to cheer you in one of these companies as the other. It may
be often the truth & righteousness of the bar-room that saves the town.
There is nothing to redeem the big city & moral cowardice of
N Englanders in my eyes. You
may find a cape which runs 50 miles into the sea that has not a man of moral
courage upon it. What is called faith is an immense prejudice.
Like the Hindoos & Russianes & Sandwich Islanders (that were), they
are the creatures of an institution. They do not think; they adhere like
oysters to what their fathers & grandfathers adhered to. How often is it
that the shoe maker, by thinking over his last, can think as valuable a
thought as he makes a valuable shoe?
I have been into the town, & being invited to speak to the inhabitants,
not valuing, not having read even, the assembly’s catechism, & I
try to stimulate them by reporting the best of my experience. I see the
craven priest looking for a hole to escape at — alarmed because it was
he that invited me thither — & an awful silence pervades the audience.
They think they will never get me there again. But the seed has not all
fallen in stony & shallow ground.
It is no compliment to be invited to lecture before the rich Institutes &
Lyceums. The settled lecturers are as tame as the settled ministers. The
audiences do not want to hear any prophets; they do not wish to be stimulated
& instructed, but entertained. They, their wives & daughters, go to
the Lyceum to suck a sugar-plum. The little of medicine they get is disguised
with sugar. It is never the reformer they hear there, but a faint & timid
echo of him only. They seek a pass-time merely. Their greatest guns & sons
of thunder are only wooden guns & great grandsons of thunder, who give
them smooth words well pronounced from
MSS well punctuated.
They who have stolen the little fire they have from prophets whom the audience
would quake to hear. They ask for orators that will entertain them
& leave them where they found them. The most successful lecturing on
what on Washington, or what not, is an aweful scratching of backs to the
tune, it may be, of 50,000 dollars. Sluggards that want to have a lullaby sung
to them! Such mannikins as I have described are they, alas, who have made the
greatest stir (and what a shallow stir) in the church & Lyceum
& in Congress.
They want a medicine that will not interfere with their daily meals.
There is the Lowell Institute, with its restriction, requiring a certain
faith in the lecturers.1 How can any free thinking
man accept its terms? It is as if you were to resolve that you would not eat
oysters that were not of a particular faith — that, for instance, did not
believe the 39 articles2 — for the faith that is
in an oyster is just as valuable as the faith referred to in Mr. Lowell’s will.3
These popular lecturers and preachers & magazines are for women &
children in the bad sense
The curators have on their lists the men who came
before the Philomathean Institute4 in the next
large town & did no harm — left things in statu
quo5 so that all slept the better for it — only confirmed the audience in their previous badness — spoke a good word for
God — gave the clergy, that heavy set, a lift — told the little
youngsters to be good boys.
A man may have a good deal to say who has not any desk to thump on, who does
not thunder in bad air.
They want all of a man but his truth & independence & manhood.
One who spoke to their condition would of course make them wince, & they
would retaliate, i.e kick him out,
or stop their ears.
One of the restrictions of the Lowell Institute was that “No man ought to be appointed a lecturer, who is not willing to declare and who does not previously declare his belief in the divine revelation of the Old and New Testaments, leaving the interpretation thereof to his own conscience.”
The fruitless enterprise of some persons who rush helter skelter carrying out
their crazy scheme, merely “putting it through” as they phrase it, reminds me
of those thistle downs which, not being detained nor steadied by any seed at
the base, are blown away at the first impulse & go rolling over all
obstacles. They may indeed go fastest & farthest, but where they rest at
last not even a thistle springs.
I meet these useless barren thistle downs driving over the fields. They
remind me of busy merchants on
change,1 doing business on credit, gambling with
fancy stocks, that have failed over & over again, assisted to get agoing
again to no purpose — a great ado about nothing — all in my eye — with nothing
to deposit, not of the slightest use to the great thistle tribe, not even
tempting a jack ass. When you right or extricate one of these fellows &
set him before the wind again it is worth the while to look & see if he
has any seed of success under him. Such a one you may know afar — he floats more slow & steady — & of his enterprise expect results.
“on change” was a way of saying “on the stock exchange”
Who are bad neighbors? They who suffer their neighbors cattle to go at large
because they don’t want their ill will — are afraid to anger them. They are
abettors of the ill doers.1
Who are the religious? They who do not differ much from mankind generally,
except that they are more conservative & timid, and useless, but who in
their conversation & correspondence talk about kindness of heavenly
Father. Instead of going bravely about their business, trusting God ever,
they do like him who says “Good sir” to the one he fears, or whistles to the
dog that is rushing at him. And because they take his name in vain so often
they presume that they are better than you. Oh their religion is a rotten
Neither England nor America have any right to laugh at that sentence in the
rare book called “The Blazon of Gentry,”1 written
by a zealous student of heraldry, which says “Christ was a gentleman, as to the flesh, by the part of his
mother, … and might have borne coat-armor. The apostles also were gentlemen
of blood, and many of them descended from that worthy conqueror Judas
Machabeus; but, through the tract of time, & persecution of wars, poverty
oppressed the kindred, and they were constrayned to servile workes.”
Whatever we may preach & profess, texts we may quote or
commentaries we may write, when we consider the laws & customs of
these 2 countries we cannot fail to perceive that the above sentence is
of a piece with our practical commentary on the New
Testament. The above is really a pertinent reason offered why Christianity
should be embraced in England & America. Indeed, it is, accordingly, only
what may be called “respectable Christianity” that is embraced in the 2 countries.
The Blazon of Gentrie by John Ferne ()
Talk of fate! How little one can know what is fated to
another! what he can do & what he can not do. I doubt whether one can
give or receive any very pertinent advice. In all important crises one can
only consult his Genius. Though he were the most shiftless & craziest of
mortals, if he still recognizes that he has any Genius to consult, none may
presume to go between him & her. They, methinks, are poor stuff &
creatures of a miserable fate who can be advised & persuaded in very
important steps. Show me a man who consults his genius, & you have shown
me a man who cannot be advised. You may know what a thing costs or is worth
to you, you can never know what it costs or is worth to me.
All the community may scream because one man is born who will not do as it
does, who will not conform because conformity to him is death. He is so
constituted. They know nothing about his case. They are fools when they
presume to advise . The man of genius knows what he is driving
at; nobody else knows. & he alone knows when something comes between him
& his object.
In the course of generations, however, men will excuse you for not doing as
they do, if you will bring enough to pass in your own way.