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world of spirits that is real and eternal, a family of God, transcending
So let this new piece or continuation both of the letter and spirit of our faith, which contains many like these cited specimens, go forth with our blessing on the way of its own benediction. It cannot fail to shed light on the darkness, still so thick in the world, of fear and doubt and death: for it is a luminous body; no accidental reflector of chance rays, as are many books, like mirrors fetched swinging through the streets, but having light in itself. May the true and ripe scholar, the bright lines of whose long study it shows, have the. reward of labor he will most prize,- to clear from cloud the path of duty and destiny for his fellow-men!
1. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers; 2. Walden; or,
UPON the tablet which friendship and delicate appreciation have raised to exhibit their record of Thoreau's genius, there is still space where a classmate's pen may leave some slight impressions, without claiming either advantage or authority to do so beyond a late but ever-deepening regard. This bids the thoughts return and drop themselves for holding-ground into some recollections of his collegiate career.
He would smile to overhear that word applied to the reserve and unaptness of his college life. He was not signalized by a plentiful distribution of the parts and honors which fall to the successful student. The writer remembers that a speech which was made at a highly inflammatory meeting in Dr. Beck's recitation room, during the Christopher Dunkin Rebellion, claimed, in allusion to Dunkin's arbitrary marking, that "our offence was rank." It certainly was not Thoreau's offence; and many of the rest of us shared, in this respect, his blamelessness. We could sympathize with his tranquil indifference to college honors, but we did not suspect the fine genius that was developing under that impassive demeanor. Of his private tastes there is little of consequence to recall, excepting that he was devoted to the old English literature, and had a good many volumes of the poetry from Gower and Chaucer down through the era of Elizabeth. In this mine he worked with a quiet enthusiasm, diverting to it hours that should have sparkled with emulation in the divisions where other genius stood that never lived, like his, to ripen. For this was the class of C. S. Wheeler, of Hildreth, Hayward, Eustis; scholars and poets all, to whom the sky stretched a too eager diploma.
We owe to those studies not named in the programme, the commencement of a quaint and simple style, and a flavor of old thinking, which appears through all the works of Thoreau. His earliest masters were thus the least artificial of the minds which have drawn from the well of undefiled English. And the phrase "mother-tongue" was cherished by him, and gained his early homage. He did not care for the modern languages; nor was he ever seriously attracted, by the literature which they express, to lay aside his English worthies. His mind was in native harmony with them, and it sometimes produces modern speculation in sentences and fragments of speech and turns of phrase that make you wonder if old Sir Thomas Brown, or Owen Feltham, or Norris, were lodging for awhile with him in their progress upon some transmigrating tour. We wonder if he alludes to the University when he says that he has heard of "a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge." Heard of it, but not personally acquainted with it. For, though he was careful not to miss a recitation, it is plain that he was not present at it, but was already like the man he mentions, who, "in some spring of his life, saunters abroad into the Great Fields of thought, goes to grass like a horse, and leaves all his harness behind in the stable. I would say to the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, sometimes,- Go to grass." So many of us said most fervently, but not because we had attached ourselves to his shyness in order to saunter with him into the Great Fields of thought, where "a man's ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful."
But he passed for nothing, it is suspected, with most of us; for he was cold and unimpressible. The touch of his hand was moist and indifferent, as if he had taken up something when he saw your hand coming, and caught your grasp upon it. How the prominent, gray-blue eyes seemed to rove down the path, just in advance of his feet, as his grave Indian stride carried him down to University Hall! This down-looking habit was Chaucer's also, who walked as if a great deal of surmising went on between the earth and him.
VOL. LXXIX. - 5TH S. VOL. XVII. NO. 1.
"And on the ground, which is my mother's gate,
And say to her, 'Levé mother, let me in." "
But Chaucer's heart sent brisk blood to and fro beneath that modest look, and his poetry is more teeming with the nature of men and women than with that of the air and earth. Thoreau was nourished by its simplicity, but not fanned by its passion. He was colder, but more resolute, and would have gone to prison and starvation for the sake of his opinions, where Chaucer weakly compromised to preserve freedom and comfort. The vivid human life in the Elizabethan writers did not wake a corresponding genius in Thoreau: he seemed to be feeding only upon their raciness and Saxon vigor, upon the clearly phrased and unaffected sentiment. The rest of the leaf never bore the marks of any hunger.
He did not care for people; his classmates seemed very remote. This reverie hung always about him, and not so loosely as the odd garments which the pious household care furnished. Thought had not yet awakened his countenance; it was serene, but rather dull, rather plodding. The lips were not yet firm; there was almost a look of smug satisfaction lurking round their corners. It is plain now that he was preparing to hold his future views with great setness, and personal appreciation of their importance. The nose was prominent, but its curve fell forward without firmness over the upper lip; and we remember him as looking very much like some Egyptian sculptures of faces, large-featured, but brooding, immobile, fixed in a mystic egotism. Yet his eyes. were sometimes searching, as if he had dropped, or expected to find, something. It was the look of Nature's own child learning to detect her wayside secrets; and those eyes have stocked his books with subtile traits of animate and inanimate creation which had escaped less patient observers. For he saw more upon the ground than anybody suspected to be there. His eyes slipped into every tuft of meadow or beach grass, and went winding in and out of the thickest undergrowth, like some slim, silent, cunning animal. They were amphibious besides, and slid under fishes' eggs and into their nests.
at the pond's bottom, to rifle all their contents. Mr. Emerson has noticed, that Thoreau could always find an Indian arrowhead in places that had been ploughed over and ransacked for years. "There is one," he would say, kicking it up with his foot. In fact, his eyes seldom left the ground, even in his most earnest conversation with you, if you can call earnest a tone and manner that was very confident, as of an opinion that had formed from granitic sediment, but also very level and unflushed with feeling. The Sphinx might have become passionate and exalted as soon.
In later years his chin and mouth grew firmer as his resolute and audacious opinions developed, the curves of the lips lost their flabbiness, the eyes twinkled with the latent humor of his criticisms of society. Still the countenance was unruffled: it seemed to lie deep, like a mountain tarn, with cool, still nature all around. There was not a line upon it expressive of ambition or discontent: the affectional emotions had never fretted at it. He went about, like a priest of Buddha who expects to arrive soon at the summit of a life of contemplation, where the divine absorbs the human. All his intellectual activity was of the spontaneous, open-air kind, which keeps the forehead smooth. His thoughts grew with all the rest of nature, and passively took their chance of summer and winter, pause and germination: no more forced than pine-cones; fragrant, but not perfumed, owing nothing to special efforts of art. His extremest and most grotesque opinion had never been under glass. It all grew like the bolls on forest-trees, and the deviations from stem-like or sweeping forms. No man was ever such a placid thinker. It was because his thinking was observation isolated from all the temptations of society, from the artificial exigencies of literature, from the conventional sequence. Its truthfulness was not logically attained, but insensibly imbibed, during wood-chopping, fishing, and scenting through the woods and fields. So that the smoothness and plumpness of a child were spread over his deepest places.
His simple life, so free from the vexations that belong to the most ordinary provision for the day, and from the wear