Sunday, February 19, 2006

Living Deliberately

I'm revisiting an old favorite, WALDEN, by Henry David Thoreau. I don't know why I felt the need to read this book, again, even as I have half a dozen books I'm currently wading through.

For some reason I remembered the most quotable lines from Thoreau as coming from his essays Civil Disobedience or John Brown. But WALDEN -- in addition to being enchantingly written -- is filled with both familiar Thoreau quotes and new nuggets of wisdom. I'm not certain Thoreau really ever understood economics (but who among the Transcendentalists did?), but he is one of those authors we must read at different times in our short lives. Youth cannot appreciate everything he had to say; age can never remember what it was like to have encountered Thoreau for the first time.

I'm only just fifty pages into WALDEN (Library of America ed.). Here's a sample:

"Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them." (pg 327)

Mmm. I suppose libraries could help with this, except that most libraries today are gushing proud if they have the new Al Frankin book. The high culture commitment is gone, though it's not clear any public library could survive if it took such an mission to task.

On manners and morals:

"The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of any thing, it is very likely to be my good behavior." (pg 331)

On owning a house:

"...for our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them; and the bad neighborhood to be avoided is our own scury selves." (pg 349)

On monuments, pyramids, and other reminders of national greatness:

"Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave. What if equal pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners?"

"As for the pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at them in so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs." (pg 368)

Clearly this Thoreau is trouble-maker.


Post a Comment

<< Home