Nov. 21, 1853. Is not the dew but a humble, gentler rain, the nightly rain, above which we raise our heads, and unobstructedly behold the stars? The mountains are giants which tower above the rain, as we above the dew on the grass. It only wets their feet.
Nov. 20, 1854. 7 a. m. To Boston. 9 a. m. Boston to New York by express train. See the reddish soil (red sandstone?) all through Connecticut. Beyond Hartford a range of rocky hills crossing the State on each side the railroad. The second one very precipitous, and apparently terminating at East Rock, New Haven. Pleasantest part of the whole route between Springfield and Hartford along the river, perhaps including the hilly region this side of Springfield. Reached Canal Street at 5 p. m., or candle-light. Started for Philadelphia from foot of Liberty Street at 6 p. m., by Newark, Bordentown, and Camden Ferry, all in the dark; saw only the glossy paneling of the cars reflected out into the dark like the magnificent lit facade of a row of edifices reaching all the way to Philadelphia, except when we stopped, and a lantern or two showed us a ragged boy and the dark buildings of some New Jersey town. Arrived at 10 p. m. Time, four hours from New York, thirteen from Boston, fifteen from Concord. Put up at Jones's Exchange Hotel, 77 Dock Street. Lodgings, thirty-seven cents and a half per night; meals, separate. Not to be named with French's in New York.
Nov. 21, 1854. Was admitted into the building of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Its collection of birds said to be the largest in the world. They belonged to the son of Massena (Prince of Essling?), and were sold at auction, bought by a Yankee for $22,000, over all the crowned heads of Europe, and presented to the Academy. Other collections also are added to this. The Academy has received great donations.
Furness described a lotus identical with an Egyptian one, as found somewhere down the river below Philadelphia.
Lodged at the United States Hotel, opposite the Girard (formerly United States) bank.
Nov. 22, 1854. Left at 7.30 a. m., for New York. Saw Greeley. He took me to the New Opera House, where I heard Grisi and her troupe. He appeared to know and be known by everybody. Was admitted free to the opera, and we were led by a page to various parts of the house at different times.
Nov. 20, 1857. In books, that which is most generally interesting is what comes home to the most cherished private experience of the greatest number. It is not the book of him who has traveled farthest on the surface of the globe, but of him who has lived the deepest, and been the most at home. If an equal emotion is excited by a familiar homely phenomenon as by the pyramids, there is no advantage in seeing the pyramids. It is on the whole better, as it is simpler, to use the common language. We require that the reporter be very firmly planted before the facts which he observes, not a mere passer-by, hence the facts cannot be too homely. A man is worth most to himself and to others, whether as an observer, or poet, or neighbor, or friend, who is most contented and at home. There his life is the most intense, and he loses the fewest moments. Familiar and surrounding objects are the best symbols and illustrations of his life. If a man who has had deep experiences should endeavor to describe them in a book of travels, it would be to use the language of a wandering tribe instead of a universal language. The poet has made the best roots in his native soil, and is the hardest to transplant. The man who is often thinking that it would be better to be somewhere else than where he is, excommunicates himself. Here I have been these forty years learning the language of these fields that I may the better express myself. If I should travel to the prairies, I should much less understand them, and my past life would serve me but ill to describe them. Many a weed stands for more of life to me than the big trees of California would if I should go there. We need only travel enough to give our intellects an airing. In spite of Malthus and the rest, there will be plenty of room in this world, if every man will mind his own business. I have not heard of any planet running against another yet.
p. m. To Ministerial Swamp. Some bank-swallows' nests are exposed by the caving of the bank at Clamshell. The very smallest hole is about two and a half inches wide horizontally, and barely one high. All are much wider than high. One nest, with an egg in it still, is completely exposed. The cavity at the end is shaped like a thick hoe-cake or lens, about six inches wide and somewhat more than two thick vertically. The nest is a regular but shallow one, made simply of stubble, about five inches in diameter and three quarters of an inch thick.
Returning, I see, methinks, two gentlemen plowing a field as if to try an agricultural experiment. As it is very cold and windy, both plowman and driver have their coats on. But when I get nearer, I hear the driver speak in a peculiarly sharp and petulant manner to the plowman, as they are turning the furrow, and I know at once that they belong to those two races which are so slow to amalgamate. Thus my little Idyl is disturbed.
In the large Wheeler field, Ranunculus bulbosus in full bloom.
The hardy tree sparrow has taken the place of the chipping and song sparrow, so much like the former that most do not know it is another. His faint lisping chip will keep up our spirits till another spring.
I observed this afternoon how some bullocks had a little sportiveness forced upon them. They were running down a steep declivity to water, when, feeling themselves unusually impelled by gravity downward, they took the hint even as boys do, flourished round gratuitously, tossing their hind-quarters into the air, and shaking their heads at each other; but what increases the ludicrousness of it to me is the fact that such capers are never accompanied by a smile. Who does not believe that their step is less elastic, their movement more awkward, from their long domesticity?
Nov. 20, 1855. Again I hear that sharp, crackling, snapping sound, and hastening to the window I find that another of the pitch-pine cones, gathered November 7th, lying in the sun, or which the sun has scorched, has separated its scales very slightly at the apex. It is only discoverable on a close inspection, but while I look the whole cone opens its scales with a smart crackling, and rocks, and seems to bristle up, scattering the dry pitch on the surface. They all thus fairly loosen and open, though they do not at once spread wide open. It is almost like the disintegration of glass. As soon as the tension is relaxed in one part, it is relaxed in every part.
Nov. 20, 1858. p. m. To Ministerial Swamp. [Martial Miles] says that a marsh hawk had a nest in his meadow several years, and though he shot the female three times, the male, with but little delay, returned with a new mate. He often watched these birds, and saw that the female could tell when the male was coining, a long way off. He thought the male fed her and the young all together. She would utter a scream when she perceived him, and rising into the air (before or after the scream?), she turned over with her talons uppermost, while he passed some three rods above, and caught without fail the prey which he let drop, and then carried it to her young. He had seen her do this many times, and always without failing.
I go across the great Wheeler pasture. It is a cool but pleasant November afternoon. The glory of November is in its silvery, sparkling lights, the air is so clear, and there are so many bare, polished, bleached or hoary surfaces to reflect the light. Few things are more exhilarating, if it is only moderately cold, than to walk over bare pastures, and see the abundant sheeny light, like a universal halo, reflected from the russet and bleached earth. The earth shines perhaps more than in spring, for the reflecting surfaces are less dimmed now. It is not a red, but a white light. There are several kinds of twigs, this year's shoots of shrubs, which have a slight down, or haziness, hardly perceptible in ordinary lights, though held in the hand, but which seen toward the sun reflect a sheeny, silvery light. Such are not only the sweet-fern, but the hazel in a less degree, alder twigs, and even the short huckleberry twigs, also lespedeza stems. It is as if they were covered with a myriad fine spicula3, which reflect a dazzling white light exceedingly warming to the spirits and imagination. This gives a character of snug warmth and cheerfulness to the swamp, as if it were a place where the sun consorted with rabbits and partridges. Each individual hair on every such shoot above the swamp is bathed in glowing sunlight, and is directly conversant with the day god.
As I returned over Conantum summit yesterday just before sunset, and was admiring the various rich browns of the shrub-oak plain across the river, which seemed to me more wholesome and remarkable, as more permanent than the late brilliant colors, I was surprised to see a broad halo traveling with me, and always opposite the sun to me, at least one fourth mile off, and some three rods wide on the shrub oaks. The rare, wholesome and permanent beauty of withered oak leaves of various hues of brown, mottling a hillside, especially seen when the sun is low, Quaker colors, sober ornaments, beauty that quite satisfies the eye,—the richness and variety are the same as before, the colors different, more incorruptible and lasting.
Sprague of Cohasset states to the Natural History Society Sept. 1, 1858, that the light under the tail of the common glow-worm "remained for fifteen minutes after death."
Nov. 21, 1850. The witch hazel blossom on Conantum has, for the most part, lost its ribbons now.
I saw the sun falling on a distant white-pine wood whose gray and moss-covered stems were visible amid the green, in an angle where this forest abutted on a hill covered with shrub oaks. It was like looking into dreamland. It is one of the avenues to my future. Certain coincidences like this are accompanied by a certain flash as of hazy lightning flooding all the world suddenly with a tremulous, serene light which it is difficult to see long at a time.
I saw Fair Haven Pond with its island, and a strip of perfectly still and smooth water in the lee of the island, and two hawks, fish-hawks, perhaps, sailing over it. I did not see how it could be improved. Yet I do not see what these things can be. I begin to see such an object when I cease to understand it, and see that I did not realize or appreciate it before, but I get no further than this. How adapted these forms and colors to my eye! A meadow and an island! What are these things? Yet the hawks and the ducks keep so aloof! and nature is so reserved! I am made to love the pond and the meadow, as the wind is made to ripple the water.
Nov. 21, 1851. Better men than they hire to come here never lecture. Why don't they ask Edmund Hosmer or George Minott? I would rather hear them decline than most of these hirelings lecture.
Nov. 21 [?], 1857. p. m. Up Assabet. Just above the grape-hung birches, my attention was drawn to a singular looking dry leaf or parcel of leaves on the shore about a rod off. Then I thought it might be the dry and yellowed skeleton of a bird with all its ribs; then, the shell of a turtle, or possibly some large dry oak leaves peculiarly curled and cut; and then all at once I saw that it was a woodcock, perfectly still, with its head drawn in, standing on its great pink feet. I had apparently noticed only the yellowish-brown portions of the plumage, referring the dark-brown to the shore behind it. May it not be that the yellowish-brown markings of the bird correspond somewhat to its skeleton? At any rate, with my eye steadily on it from a point within a rod, I did not for a considerable time suspect it to be a living creature. Examining the shore after it had flown with a whistling flight, I saw that there was a clear shore of mud between the water and the edge of ice crystals about two inches wide, melted so far by the lapse of the water, and all along the edge of the ice, for a rod or two at least, there was a hole where it had thrust its bill down, probing every half inch, frequently closer. Some animal life must be collected at that depth just in that narrow space, savory morsels for this bird. . . . The chubby bird darted away zigzag, carrying its long tongue-case carefully before it over the witch hazel bushes. This is its walk, the portion of the shore, the narrow strip still left open and unfrozen between the water's edge and the ice.
Nov. 21, 1860. Another finger-cold evening, which I improve in pulling my turnips, the usual amusement of such weather, before they shall be frozen in. It is worth while to see how green and lusty they are yet, still adding to their stock of nutriment for another year, and between the green and also withering leaves it does me good to see their great crimson round or scalloped tops sometimes quite above ground, they are so bold. They remind you of rosy cheeks in cold weather, and indeed there is a relationship. Even pulling turnips when the first cold weather numbs your fingers, like every other kind of harvestry, is interesting, if you have been the sower, and have not sown too many.
Nov. 22, 1851. At the brook [Saw Mill Brook] the partridge berries checker the ground with their leaves, now interspersed with red berries. The cress at the bottom of the brook is doubly beautiful now, because it is green while most other plants are sere. It rises and falls and waves with the current.
As I returned through Hosmer's field, the sun was just setting beneath a black cloud by which it had been obscured, and as it had been a cold and windy afternoon, its light, which fell suddenly on some white pines between me and it, lighting them up like a shimmering fire, and also on the oak leaves and chestnut stems, was quite a circumstance. It was, from the contrast between the dark and comfortless afternoon, and this bright and cheerful light, almost fire. The eastern hills and woods, too, were clothed in a still golden light. It was a sort of Indian summer in the day, which thus far has been denied to the year. After a cold, gray day, this cheering light almost warms us by its resemblance to fire.
Nov. 22, 1853. Geese went over yesterday and to-day, also.
If there is any one with whom we have a quarrel, it is most likely such a person makes a demand on us which we disappoint.
I was just thinking it would be fine to get a specimen leaf from each changing tree and shrub and plant in autumn, in September and October, when it had got its brightest, characteristic color, intermediate in its transition from the green to the russet or brown state, the color of its ripeness, outline it, and copy its color exactly with paint in a book, a book which should be a memorial of October, be entitled October Hues, or Autumnal Tints. I remember especially the beautiful yellow of the Populus grandidentata and the tints of the scarlet maple. What a memento such a book would be, beginning with the earliest reddening of the leaves, woodbine, ivy, etc., and the lake of radical leaves, down to the latest oaks. I might get the impression of their veins and outlines in summer, and after, color them.
Nov. 22, 1858. About the first of November, a wild pig from the West, said to weigh three hundred pounds, jumped out of a car at the depot, and made for the woods. The owner had to give up the chase at once not to lose his passage, while some railroad employees pursued the pig even to the woods one and a half miles off, but there the pig turned and pursued them so resolutely that they ran for their lives, and one climbed a tree. The next day being Sunday, they turned out in force with a gun and a large mastiff, but still the pig had the best of it, fairly frightened the men by his fierce charges, and the dog was so wearied and injured by the pig that the men were obliged to carry him in their arms. The pig stood it better than the dog, ran between the gun-man's legs, threw him over and hurt his shoulder, though pierced in many places by a pitchfork. At the last accounts, he had been driven or baited into a barn in Lincoln, but no one durst enter, and they were preparing to shoot him. Such pork might be called venison. He was caught at last in a snare, and so conveyed to Brighton.
Nov. 22, 1860. p. m. To northwest part of Sudbury. The Linaria Canadensis [Wild Toad-flax] is still freshly blooming. It is the freshest flower I notice now. Considerable ice lasting all day on the meadows and cold pools.
This is a very beautiful November day, a cool but clear crystalline air, through which even the white pines, with their silvery sheen, are an affecting sight. It is a day to behold and to ramble over the stiffening and withered surface of the tawny earth. Every plant's down glistens with a silvery light along the Marlboro' road, the sweet fern, the lespedeza, and bare blueberry twigs, to say nothing of the weather-worn tufts of Andropogon scoparius. A thousand bare twigs gleam like cobwebs in the sun. I rejoice in the bare, bleak, hard, and barren-looking surface of the tawny pastures, the firm outline of the hills, so convenient to walk over, and the air so bracing and wholesome. Though you are finger-cold toward night, and you cast a stone on your first ice, and see the unmelted crystals under every bank, it is glorious November weather. You enjoy not only the bracing coolness, but all the heat and sunlight there is, reflected back to you from the earth. The sandy road itself lit by the November sun is beautiful. Shrub oaks and young oaks generally, and hazel bushes, and other hardy shrubs are your companions, as if it were an iron age, yet in simplicity, innocence, and strength, a golden one.
It is glorious to consider how independent man is of all enervating luxuries, and the poorer he is in respect to them, the richer he is. Summer is gone with its infinite wealth, and still nature is genial to man. Though he no longer bathes in the stream, or reclines on the bank, or plucks berries on the hills, still he beholds the same inaccessible beauty around him. What though he has no juice of the grape stored up for him in cellars, the air itself is wine of an older vintage, and far more sanely exhilarating than any cellar affords. It is ever some gouty senior, and not a blithe child that drinks or cares for that so famous wine. Though so many phenomena which we lately admired have now vanished, others are more remarkable and interesting than before. The smokes from distant chimneys, not only greater because more fire is required, but more distinct in the cooler atmosphere, are a very pleasing sight, and conduct our thoughts quickly to the roof and hearth and family beneath, revealing the homes of men.
Maynard's yard and frontage, and all his barns and fences are singularly neat and substantial, and the high road is in effect converted into a private way through his grounds. It suggests unspeakable peace and happiness. Yet, strange to tell, I noticed that he had a tiger instead of a cock for a vane on his barn, and he himself looked overworked. He had allured the surviving forest trees to grow into ancestral trees about his premises, and so attach themselves to him as if he had planted them. The dirty highway was so subdued that it seemed as if it were lost there. He had all but stretched a bar across it. Each traveler must have felt some misgivings, as if he were trespassing. However, the farmer's life expresses only such content as an ox in his yard, chewing the cud.
What though your hands are numb with cold, your sense of enjoyment is not benumbed. You cannot even find an apple but it is sweet to taste. Simply to see a distant horizon through a clear air, the firm outline of a distant hill, or a blue mountain-top through some new vista, this is wealth enough for one afternoon. We journeyed to the foreign land of Sudbury, to see how the Sudbury men, the Hayneses and the Puffers and the Brighams live; we traversed their pastures and their wood-lots, and were home again at night.
Nov. 23, 1850. To-day it has been finger-cold. Unexpectedly I found ice by the side of the brooks this afternoon nearly an inch thick. The difference in temperature of various localities is greater than is supposed. If I was surprised to find ice on the sides of the brooks, I was much more surprised to find a pond in the woods, containing an acre or more, quite frozen over, so that I walked across it. It was a cold corner where a pine wood excluded the sun. In the larger ponds and the river, of course there is no ice yet. This is a shallow, reedy pond. I lay down on the ice and looked through at the bottom. The plants appeared to grow more uprightly than on the dry land, being sustained and protected by the water. Caddis-worms were everywhere crawling about in their handsome quiver-like sheaths or cases.
I find it to be the height of wisdom not to endeavor to oversee myself, and live a life of prudence and common-sense, but to see over and above myself, entertain sublime conjectures, to make myself the thoroughfare of thrilling thoughts, live all that can be lived. The man who is dissatisfied with himself, what can he not do?
Nov. 23, 1852. This morning the ground is white with snow, and it still snows. This is the first time it has been fairly white this season, though once before, many weeks ago, it was slightly whitened for ten or fifteen minutes. Already the landscape impresses me with a greater sense of fertility. There is something genial even in the first snow, and Nature seems to relent a little of her November harshness. Men, too, are disposed to give thanks for the bounties of the year all over the land, and the sound of the mortar is heard in all houses, and the odor of summer savory reaches even to poets' garrets. This, then, may be considered the end of the flower season for this year, though this snow will probably soon melt again. Among the flowers which may be put down as lasting thus far, as I remember, in the order of their hardiness, are yarrow, tansy, these very fresh and common, cerastium [mouse-ear chickweed], autumnal dandelion, dandelion, and perhaps tall buttercup, the last four scarce. The following seen within a fortnight: a late three-ribbed golden-rod, blue-stemmed golden-rod (these two perhaps within a week), Potentilla argentea, Aster undulatus, Ranunculus repens, Bidens connata, and Shepherd's purse. I have not looked for witch hazel nor Stellaria media [common chickweed] lately.
I had a thought in a dream last night, which surprised me by its strangeness, as if it were based on an experience in a previous state of existence, and could not be entertained by my waking self. Both the thought and the language were equally novel to me, but I at once discovered it to be true, and to coincide with my experience in this state.
Nov. 23, 1853. 6 a. m. To Swamp Bridge Brook mouth. The cocks are the only birds I hear. But they are a host. They crow as freshly and bravely as ever, while poets go down stream, degenerate into science and prose.
By eight o'clock the misty clouds disperse, and it turns out a pleasant, calm, and springlike morning. The water, going down, but still spread far over the meadows, is seen from the window perfectly smooth and full of reflections. What lifts and lightens and makes heaven of earth is the fact that you see the reflection of the humblest weed against the sky, but you cannot put your head low enough to see the substance so. The reflection enchants us, just as an echo does.
If I would preserve my relation to nature, I must make my life more moral, more pure and innocent. The problem is as precise and simple as a mathematical one. I must not live loosely, but more and more continently.
The Indian summer, said to be more remarkable in this country than elsewhere, no less than the reblossoming of certain flowers, the peep of the hylodes, and sometimes the faint warble of some birds, is the reminiscence or rather the return of spring, the year renewing its youth.
At 5 p. m. I saw flying southwest high overhead a flock of geese, and heard the faint honking of one or two. They are in the usual harrow form, twelve in the shorter line, and twenty-four in the longer, the latter abutting on the former at the fourth bird from the front. This is the sixth flock I have seen or heard of since the morning of the 17th, that is, within a week.
Nov. 23, 1860. Most of us are still related to our native fields as the navigator to undiscovered islands in the sea. We can any autumn discover a new fruit there which will surprise us by its beauty or sweetness. So long as I saw one or two kinds of berries in my walks whose names I did not know, the proportion of the unknown seemed indefinitely, if not infinitely, great. Famous fruits imported from the East or South and sold in our markets, as oranges, lemons, pineapples, and bananas, do not concern me so much as many an unnoticed wild berry, whose beauty annually lends a new charm to some wild walk, or which I have found to be palatable to an outdoor taste. The tropical fruits are for those who dwell within the tropics. Their fairest and sweetest parts cannot be exported nor imported. Brought here, they chiefly concern those whose walks are through the market-place. It is not those far-fetched fruits which the speculator imports, that concern us chiefly, but rather those which you have fetched yourself from some far hill or swamp, journeying all the long afternoon, in the hold of a basket, consigned to your friends at home, the first of the season. As some beautiful or palatable fruit is perhaps the noblest gift of Nature to man, so is a fruit with which one has in some measure identified himself by cultivating or collecting it one of the most suitable presents to a friend. It was some compensation for Commodore Porter, who may have introduced some cannon-balls and bombshells into parts where they were not wanted, to have introduced the Valparaiso squash into the United States. I think that this eclipses his military glory.
Nov. 24, 1850. Plucked a buttercup to-day. I have certain friends whom I visit occasionally, but I commonly part from them early, with a certain bitter-sweet sentiment. That which we love is so mixed and entangled with that we hate in one another that we are more grieved and disappointed, aye, and estranged from one another, by meeting than by absence. Some men may be my acquaintances merely, but one whom I have been accustomed to idealize, to have dreams about as a friend, and mix up intimately with myself, can never degenerate into an acquaintance. I must know him on that higher ground, or not know him at all.
We do not confess and explain because we would fain be so intimately related as to understand each other without speech. Our friend must be broad. His must be an atmosphere coextensive with the universe, in which we can expand and breathe. For the most part, we are smothered and stifled by one another. I go to see my friend and try his atmosphere. If our atmospheres do not mingle, if we repel each other strongly, it is of no use to stay.
Nov. 24, 1851. Found on the south side of the [Ministerial] swamp the Lygodium palmatum, which Bigelow calls the only climbing fern in our latitude.
Nov. 24, 1857. Some poets have said that writing poetry was for youths only, but not so. In that fervid and excitable season we only get the impulse which is to carry us onward in our future career. Ideals are exhibited to us then distinctly which all our lives after we may aim at, but not attain. The mere vision is little compared with the steady, corresponding endeavor thitherward. It would be vain for us to be looking ever at promised lands toward which we were not meanwhile steadily and earnestly traveling, whether the way led over a mountain top or through a dusky valley. In youth, when we are most elastic, we merely receive an impulse in the proper direction. To suppose this is equivalent to having traveled the road, or obeyed the impulse faithfully throughout a lifetime, is absurd. We are shown fair scenes in order that we may be tempted to inhabit them, and not simply tell what we have seen.
Nov. 24, 1858. It is a lichen day, with a little moist snow falling. The great green lungwort lichen shows now on the oaks (strange that there should be none on the pines close by), and the fresh, bright chestnut fruit of other kinds, glistening with moisture, brings life and immortality to light.
When I looked out this morning, the landscape presented a very pretty wintry sight, little snow as there was. Being very moist, it had lodged on every twig, and every one had its counterpart in a light, downy white one, twice or thrice its own depth, resting on it.
Here is an author who contrasts love for "the beauties of the person" with that for "excellences of the mind," as if these were the alternatives. I must say that it is for neither of these that I should feel the strongest affection. I love that one with whom I sympathize, be she "beautiful" or otherwise, of excellent mind or not.
Nov. 24, 1859. How pretty amid the downy and cottony fruits of November the head of the white anemone, raised a couple of feet from the ground on slender stalks, two or three together, —small heads of yellowish-white down compact and regular as a thimble beneath, but, at this time, diffusive and bursting forth above, somewhat like a little torch with its flame.
Nov. 24, 1860. The first spitting of snow, a flurry or squall, from out a gray or slate-colored cloud that came up from the west. This consisted almost entirely of pellets an eighth of an inch or less in diameter. They drove along almost horizontally, or curving upward like the outline of a breaker before the strong and chilling wind. The plowed fields were for a short time whitened with them. The green moss about the bases of trees was very prettily spotted white with them, and also the large beds of cladonia in the pastures. They come to contrast with the red cockspur lichens on the stumps which you had not noticed before. Striking against the trunks of the trees on the west side, they fell and accumulated in a white line at the base. Though a slight touch, this was the first wintry scene of the season. The air was so filled with these snow pellets that we could not see a hill half a mile off, for an hour. The hands seek the warmth of the pockets, and fingers are so benumbed that you cannot open your jackknife. The rabbits in the swamp enjoy it as well as you. Methinks the winter gives them more liberty, like a night. I see where a boy has set a box trap, and baited it with half an apple, and, a mile off, come across a snare set for a rabbit or partridge in a cowpath in a pitch-pine wood, near where the rabbits have nibbled the apples which strew the wet ground. How pitiable that the most many see of a rabbit should be the snare some boy has set for one!
The bitter-sweet of a white-oak acorn which you nibble in a bleak November walk over the tawny earth, is more to me than a slice of imported pineapple. We do not think much of table fruits. They are especially for aldermen and epicures. They do not feed the imagination. That would starve on them. These wild fruits, whether eaten or not, are a dessert for the imagination.
Nov. 25, 1850. This afternoon, late and cold as it is, has been a sort of Indian summer. Indeed, I think we have summer days from time to time the winter through, and that it is often the snow on the ground which makes the whole difference. This afternoon the air was indescribably clear and exhilarating, and though the thermometer would have shown it to be cold, I thought there was a finer and purer warmth than in summer, a wholesome, intellectual warmth in which the body was warmed by the mind's contentment,—the warmth hardly sensuous, but rather the satisfaction of existence.
The landscape looked singularly clean and pure and dry, the air like a pure glass being laid over the picture, the trees so tidy and stripped of their leaves; the meadow and pastures clothed with clean, dry grass, looked as if they had been swept; ice on the water and winter in the air, but yet not a particle of snow on the ground. The woods, divested in great part of their leaves, are being ventilated. It is the season of perfect works, of hard, tough, ripe twigs, not of tender buds and leaves. The leaves have made their wood, and a myriad new withes stand up all around, pointing to the sky, and able to survive the cold. It is only the perennial that you see, the iron age of the year.
I saw a muskrat come out of a hole in the ice. He is a man wilder than Ray or Melvin. While I am looking at him, I am thinking what he is thinking of me. He is a different sort of man, that is all. He would dive when I went nearer, then reappear again, and had kept open a place five or six feet square, so that it had not frozen, by swimming about in it. Then he would sit on the edge of the ice, and busy himself about something, I could not see whether it was a clam or not. What a cold-blooded fellow! thoughts at a low temperature, sitting perfectly still so long on ice covered with water, mumbling a cold, wet clam in its shell. What safe, low, moderate thoughts he must have! He does not get upon stilts. The generation of muskrats do not fail. They are not preserved by the legislature of Massachusetts.
I experience such an interior comfort, far removed from the sense of cold, as if the thin atmosphere were rarefied by heat, were the medium of invisible flames, as if the whole landscape were one great hearthside, that where the shrub-oak leaves rustle on the hillside, I seem to hear a crackling fire and see the pure flames, and I wonder that the dry leaves do not blaze into yellow flames.
When I got up high on the side of the cliff, the sun was setting like an Indian summer sun. There was a purple tint in the horizon. It was warm on the face of the rocks, and I could have sat till the sun disappeared, to dream there. It was a mild sunset such as is to be attended to. Just as the sun shines on us warmly and serenely, our creator breathes on us and re-creates us.
Nov. 25, 1852. At Walden. I hear at sundown what I mistake for the squawking of a hen, for they are firing at chickens hereabouts, but it proved to be a flock of wild geese going south.
Nov. 25, 1853. Just after the sun set to-night, I observed the northern part of the heavens was covered with fleecy clouds which abruptly terminated in a straight line stretching east and west directly over my head, the western end being beautifully rose-tinted. Half an hour later, this cloud had advanced southward, showing clear sky behind it in the north, until its southern edge was seen at an angle of 45° by me, but though its line was straight as before, it now appeared regularly curved like a segment of a melon rind, as usual.
Nov. 25, 1857. p. m. To Hubbard's Close, and thence through woods to Goose Pond and Pine Hill. A clear, cold, windy afternoon. The cat crackles with electricity when you stroke her, and the fur rises up to your touch. This is November of the hardest kind, bare frozen ground covered with pale brown or straw-colored herbage, a strong, cold, cutting north wind which makes me seek to cover my ears, a perfectly clear and cloudless sky. The cattle in the fields have a cold, shrunken, shaggy look, their hair standing out every way, as if with electricity, like the cat's. Ditches and pools are fast skimming over, and a few slate-colored snowbirds with thick, shuffling twitter, and fine-chipping tree sparrows flit from bush to bush in the otherwise deserted pastures. This month taxes a walker's resources more than any other. For my part, I should sooner think of going into quarters in November than in winter. If you do feel any fire at this season out of doors, you may depend upon it, it is your own. It is but a short time these afternoons before the night cometh in which no man can walk. If you delay to start till three o'clock, there will be hardly time left for a long and rich adventure, to get fairly out of town. November Eat-heart, is that the name of it? Not only the fingers cease to do their office, but there is often a benumbing of the faculties generally. You can hardly screw up your courage to take a walk when all is thus tightly locked or frozen up, and so little is to be seen in field or wood. I am inclined to take to the swamps or woods as the warmest place, and the former are still the openest. Nature has herself become, like the few fruits she still affords, a very thick-shelled nut with a shrunken meat within. If I find anything to excite a warming thought abroad, it is an agreeable disappointment, for I am obliged to go willfully and against my inclination at first, the prospect looks so barren, so many springs are frozen up, not a flower, perchance, and few birds left, not a companion abroad in all these fields for me. I seem to anticipate a fruitless walk. I think to myself hesitatingly, shall I go there, or there, or there? and cannot make up my mind to any route, all seem so unpromising, mere surface-walking and fronting the cold wind, so that I have to force myself to it often, and at random. But then I am often unexpectedly compensated, and the thinnest yellow light of November is more warming and exhilarating than any wine they tell of. The mite which November contributes becomes equal in value to the bounty of July. I may meet with something that interests me, and immediately it is as warm as in July, as if it were the south instead of the northwest wind that blew.
I do not know if I am singular when I say that I believe there is no man with whom I can associate, who will not, comparatively speaking, spoil my afternoon. That society or encounter may at last yield a fruit which I am not aware of, but I cannot help suspecting that I should have spent those hours more profitably alone.
I notice a thimble-berry vine forming an arch four feet high which has firmly rooted itself at the small end.
The roar of the wind in the trees over my head sounds as cold as the wind feels.
I shiver about awhile on Pine Hill, waiting for the sun to set. The air appears to me dusky now after four, these days. The landscape looks darker than at any other season, like arctic scenery. There is the sun a quarter of an hour high, shining on it through a perfectly clear sky, but to my eye it is singularly dark or dusky. And now the sun has disappeared, there is hardly less light for half a minute. I should not know when it was down, but by looking that way, as I stand at this height.
Returning I see a fox run across the road in the twilight. He is on a canter, but I see the whitish tip of his tail. I feel a certain respect for him, because, though so large, he still maintains himself free and wild in our midst, and is so original, so far as any resemblance to our race is concerned. Perhaps I like him better than his tame cousin, the dog, for it.
It is surprising how much, from the habit of regarding writing as an accomplishment, is wasted on form. A very little information or wit is mixed up with a great deal of conventionalism in the style of expressing it, as with a sort of preponderating paste or vehicle. Some life is not simply expressed, but a long-winded speech is made, with an occasional attempt to put a little life into it.
Nov. 25, 1858. While most keep close to their parlor fires this cold and blustering Thanksgiving afternoon, and think with compassion of those who are abroad, I find the sunny south side of the swamp as warm as is their parlor, and warmer to my spirit. Aye, there is a serenity and warmth here, which the parlor does not suggest, enhanced by the sound of the wind roaring on the northwest side of the swamp a dozen or so rods off. What a wholesome and inspiring warmth is this!
Pass Tarbell's. The farmer, now on the down-hill of life, at length gets his new barn and barn cellar built, far away in some unfrequented vale. This for twoscore years he has struggled for. This is his poem done at last, to get the means to dig that cavity and rear those timbers aloft. How many millions have done just like him, or failed to do it! There is so little originality, and just as little, and just as much fate, so to call it, in literature. With steady struggle, with alternate failure and success, he at length gets a barn cellar completed, and then a tomb. You would think there was a tariff on thinking and originality.
Nov. 25, 1860. Last night and to-day, very cold and blustering. Winter weather has come suddenly this year. The house was shaken by wind last night, and there was a general deficiency of bed-clothes. This morning some windows were as handsomely decorated with frost as ever in winter. I wear mittens or gloves, and my greatcoat. There is much ice on the meadows now, the broken edges shining in the sun. Now for the phenomena of winter. As I go up the meadow-side toward Clamshell I see a very great collection of crows far and wide on the meadows, evidently gathered by this cold and blustering weather. Probably the moist meadows where they feed are frozen up against them. They flit before me in countless numbers, flying very low on account of the strong northwest wind that comes over the hill, and a cold gleam is reflected from the back and wings of each, as from a weather-stained shingle. Some perch within three or four rods of me, and seem weary. I see where they have been pecking the apples of the meadow-side,—an immense cohort of cawing crows which sudden winter has driven near to the habitations of man. When I return after sunset, I see them collecting, and hovering over and settling in the dense pine woods, as if about to roost there. . . .
How is any scientific discovery made? Why, the discoverer takes it into his head first. He must all but see it. . . .
How often you make a man richer in spirit, in proportion as you rob him of earthly luxuries and comforts.
Nov. 26, 1837. I look around for thoughts, when I am overflowing, myself. While I live on, thought is still in embryo, it stirs not within me. Anon it begins to assume shape and comeliness, and I deliver it, and clothe it in its garment of language. But, alas! how often when thoughts choke me, do I resort to a spat on the back, or swallow a crust, or do anything but expectorate them.
Nov. 26, 1857. Minott's is a small, square, one-storied, unpainted house, with a hipped roof, and at least one dormer window, a third of the way up the south side of a long hill, which is some fifty feet high, and extends east and west. A traveler of taste may go straight through the village, without being detained a moment by any dwelling, either the form or surroundings being objectionable; but very few go by this house without being agreeably impressed, and therefore led to inquire who lives in it. Not that its form is so incomparable, nor even its weather-stained color, but chiefly, I think, because of its snug and picturesque position on the hillside, fairly lodged there where all children like to be, and its perfect harmony with its surroundings and position. For if, preserving this form and color, it should be transplanted to the meadow below, nobody would notice it, more than a schoolhouse which was lately of the same form. It is there because somebody was independent, bold enough to carry out the happy thought of placing it high on the hillside. It is the locality, not the architecture, that takes us captive. There is exactly such a site (only, of course, less open on either side) between this house and the next westward, but few, if any, even of the admiring travelers, have thought of this as a house-lot, or would be bold enough to place a cottage there. Without side fences, or graveled walk, or flower-plots, that simple sloping bank before it is pleasanter than any front yard, though many a visitor, and many times the master, has slipped and fallen on the steep path. From its position and exposure, it has shelter and warmth and dryness and prospect. He overlooks the road, the meadow and brook, and houses beyond, to the distant Fair Haven. The spring comes earlier to that door-yard than any other, and summer lingers longest there.
Nov. 26, 1859. To the Colburn farm wood-lot. The chickadee is the bird of the wood, the most unfailing. When in a windy or in any day you have penetrated some thick wood like this, you are pretty sure to hear its cheery note. At this season, it is almost its sole inhabitant. I see to-day one brown creeper busily inspecting the pitch pines. It begins at the base, and creeps rapidly upward by starts, adhering close to the bark, and shifting a little from side to side often till near the top, then suddenly darts off downward to the base of another tree where it repeats the same course. This has no black cockade like the nuthatch.
Nov. 27, 1853. Now a man will eat his heart, if ever, now while the earth is bare, barren, and cheerless, and we have the coldness of winter without the variety of ice and snow. Methinks the variety and compensation are in the stars. How bright they are now in contrast with the dark earth!
Nov. 27, 1855. p. m. By river to J. Farmer's. He gave me the head of a gray rabbit which his boy had snared. This rabbit is white beneath the whole length, reddish brown on the sides, and the same spotted with black, above; the hairs coarse and homely, yet the fur beneath thick and slate-colored, as usual; well defended from the cold; sides, I might say, pale-brick color, the brown part. The fur under the feet dirty yellowish, as if stained by what it trod upon.
Farmer said that his grandfather, who could remember one hundred and twenty-five years before this, told him that they used to catch wolves in Carter's pasture by the North River, east of Dodge's Brook, in this manner: they piled up logs cob-house fashion, beginning with a large base, eight or ten feet square, and narrowing successively each tier, so as to make steps for the wolves to the top, say ten feet high. Then they put a dead sheep within. A wolf soon found it in the night, sat down outside, and howled till he called his comrades to him, and then they ascended step by step, and jumped down within; but when they had done eating, they could not get out again. They always found one of the wolves dead, and supposed he was punished for betraying the others into this trap. A man in Brighton, whom he fully believes, told him that he built a bower near a dead horse, and placed himself within, to shoot crows. One crow took his station as sentinel on the top of a tree, and thirty or forty alighted upon the horse. He fired and killed seven or eight. But the rest, instead of minding him, immediately flew to their sentinel, and pecked him to pieces before his eyes. Also Mr. Joseph Clark told him that as he was going along the road, he cast a stick over the wall and hit some crows in a field, whereupon they flew directly at their sentinel on an apple-tree and beat and buffeted him away to the woods as far as he could see.
Nov. 27, 1857. Standing before Stacy's large glass windows, this morning, I saw that they were gloriously ground by the frost. I never saw such beautiful feather and fir like frosting. His windows are filled with fancy articles and toys for Christmas and New Year's presents, but this delicate and graceful outside frosting surpassed them all infinitely. I saw countless feathers with very distinct midribs and fine pinnae. The half of a trunk seemed to rise in each case up along the sash, and these feathers branched off from it all the way, sometimes nearly horizontally. Other crystals looked like fine plumes, of the natural size. If glass could be ground to look like this, how glorious it would be. You can tell which shopman has the hottest fire within, by the frost being melted off. I was never so struck by the gracefulness of the curves in vegetation, and wonder that Ruskin does not refer to frost work.
Nov. 27, 1859. The Greeks and Romans made much of honey, because they had no sugar; olive oil also was very important. Our poets (?) still sing of honey (though we have sugar) and oil, though we do not produce and scarcely use it.
Nov. 28, 1837. Every tree, fence, and spire of grass that could raise its head above the snow was this morning covered with a dense hoar frost. The trees looked like airy creatures of darkness caught napping. On this side, they were huddled together, their gray hairs streaming, in a secluded valley, which the sun had not yet penetrated, and on that they went hurrying off in Indian file by hedgerows and watercourses, while the shrubs and grasses, like elves and fairies of the night, sought to hide their diminished heads in the snow. The branches and taller grasses were covered with a wonderful ice-foliage answering leaf for leaf to their summer dress. The centre, diverging, and even more minute fibres, were perfectly distinct, and the edges regularly indented. These leaves were on the side of the twig or stubble opposite to the sun (when it was not bent toward the east), meeting it, for the most part, at right angles, and there were others standing out at all possible angles upon this, and upon one another.
It struck me that these ghost leaves, and the green ones whose form they assume, were creatures of the same law. It could not be in obedience to two several laws, that the vegetable juices swelled gradually into the perfect leaf on the one hand, and the crystalline particles trooped to their standard in the same admirable order on the other.
The river viewed from the bank above appeared of a yellowish green color, but on a nearer approach, this phenomenon vanished, and yet the landscape was covered with snow.
Nov. 28, 1853. Settled with J. Munroe & Co., and on a new account placed twelve of my books with him on sale. I have paid him directly out of pocket, since the book was published, two hundred and ninety dollars, and taken a receipt for it. This does not include postage, proof-sheets, etc. I have received from other quarters about fifteen dollars. This has been the pecuniary value of the book.
Dr. Harris described to me his finding a new species of cicindēla [glow-worm] at the White Mountains this fall, the same of which he had found a specimen there some time ago, supposed to be very rare, found at Peter's River and Lake Superior; but he proves it to be common near the White Mountains.
Nov. 28, 1857. Spoke to Skinner about that wild-cat which he says he heard a month ago in Ebby Hubbard's woods. He was going down to Walden in the evening (with a companion) to see if geese had not settled in it, when they heard this sound, which his companion, at first, thought made by a coon, but Skinner said it was a wild-cat. He says he has heard them often in the Adirondack region, where he has purchased furs. He told his companion he would hear it again soon, and he did, somewhat like the domestic cat, a low sort of growling, and then a sudden quick-repeated caterwaul, or yow-yow-yow or yang-yang-yang. He says they utter this from time to time when on the track of some prey.
Nov. 28, 1858. A gray, overcast, still day, and more small birds, tree sparrows and chickadees, than usual about the house. There have been a very few fine snowflakes falling for many hours, and now, by 2 p. m., a regular snowstorm has commenced, fine flakes falling steadily, and rapidly whitening all the landscape. In half an hour the russet landscape is painted white, even to the horizon. Do we know of any other so silent and sudden a change?
I cannot now walk without leaving a track behind me. That is one peculiarity of winter walking. Anybody may follow my trail. I have walked, perhaps, a particular wild path along some swamp side all summer, and thought to myself, I am the only villager that ever comes here. But I go out shortly after the first snow has fallen, and lo, here is the track of a sportsman and his dog in my secluded path, and probably he preceded me in the summer as well. But my hour is not his, and I may never meet him.
Nov. 28, 1859. Saw Abel Brooks with a half-bushel basket on his arm. He was picking up chips on his and neighboring lots, had got about two quarts of old and blackened pine chips, and with these was returning home at dusk more than a mile,—such a petty quantity as you would hardly have gone to the end of your yard for, and yet he said he had got more than two cords of them at home, which he had collected thus, and sometimes with a wheelbarrow. He had thus spent an hour or two, and walked two or three miles in a cool November evening, to pick up two quarts of pine chips scattered through the woods. He evidently takes real satisfaction in collecting his fuel, perhaps gets more heat of all kinds out of it than any man in town. He is not reduced to taking a walk for exercise, as some are. It is one thing to own a wood-lot as he does who perambulates its bounds almost daily, so as to have worn a path about it, and another to own one as many a person does, who hardly knows where it is. Evidently the quantity of chips in his basket is not essential. It is the chipping idea which he pursues. It is to him an unaccountably pleasing occupation, and no doubt he loves to see his pile grow at home. Think how variously men spend the same hour in the same village. The lawyer sits talking with his client after twilight, the trader is weighing sugar and salt, while Abel Brooks is hastening home from the woods with his basket half full of chips. I think I should prefer to be with Brooks. He was literally as smiling as a basket of chips.
Nov. 29, 1839. Many brave men have there been, thank fortune, but I shall never grow brave by comparison. When I remember myself, I shall forget them.
Cambridge, Nov. 29, 1841. One must fight his way after a fashion, even in the most civil and polite society. The most truly kind and generous have to be won by a sort of valor, for the seeds of suspicion as well as those of confidence lurk in every spadeful of earth. Officers of respectable institutions turn the cold shoulder to you, though they are known as genial and well-disposed persons. They cannot imagine you to be other than a ro^ue. It is that instinctive principle which makes the cat show her talons, when you take her by the paw. Certainly that valor which can open the hearts of men is superior to that which can only open the gates of cities. You must let people see that they serve themselves more than you.
Nov. 29, 1850. Still misty, drizzling weather without snow or ice. The pines standing in the ocean of mist seen from the Cliffs are trees in every stage of transition from the actual to the imaginary. The near are more distant, the distant more faint, till at last they are a mere shadowy cone in the distance. You can command only a circle of thirty or forty rods in diameter. As you advance, the trees gradually come out of the mist, and take form before your eyes. You are reminded of your dreams. Life looks like a dream. You are prepared to see visions.
Nov. 29, 1853. p. m. To J. P. Brown's Pond Hole. J. Hosmer showed me a pestle which his son had found this summer, while plowing on the plain between his house and the river. It has a rude bird's head, a hawk's or eagle's, the beak and eyes (the latter a mere prominence) serving for a knob or handle. It is affecting as a work of art by a people who have left so few traces of themselves, a step beyond the common arrow-head and pestle and axe, something more fanciful, a step beyond pure utility. As long as I find traces of works of convenience merely, however much skill they show, I am not so much affected as when I discover works which evince the exercise of fancy and taste, however rude. It is a great step to find a pestle whose handle is ornamented with a bird's-head knob. It brings the maker still nearer to the races which so ornament their umbrellas and cane handles. I have then evidence in stone that men lived here who had fancies to be pleased, and in whom the first steps toward a complete culture were taken. It implies so many more thoughts such as I have. The arrowhead, too, suggests a bird, but a relation to it not in the least godlike. But here an Indian has patiently sat, and fashioned a stone in a likeness of a bird, and added some pure beauty to that pure utility, and so far has begun to leave behind him war and even hunting,—to redeem himself from the savage state. Enough of this would have saved him from extermination.
It has been cloudy and milder this afternoon, but now I begin to see in the western horizon a clear crescent of yellowish sky, and suddenly a glorious yellow sunlight falls on all the eastern landscape, russet fields and hillsides, evergreens and rustling oaks, and single leafless trees. In addition to the clearness of the air at this season, the light is all from one side, and none being absorbed or dissipated in the heavens, but it being reflected both from the russet earth and the clouds, it is intensely bright. All the limbs of a maple seen far eastward rising over a hill are wonderfully distinct and lit. I think we have some such sunsets as this, and peculiar to the season, every year. I should call it the russet afterglow of the year. It may not be warm, but must be clear and comparatively calm.
Nov. 29, 1857. p. m. To Assabet Bath, and down bank. Again I am struck by the singularly wholesome colors of the withered oak leaves, especially the shrub oak, so thick and firm and unworn, without speck, clear reddish-brown, sometimes paler or yellowish-brown, the whitish under sides contrasting with the upper in a very cheerful manner, as if the tree or shrub rejoiced at the advent of winter. It exhibits the fashionable colors of the winter on the two sides of its leaves. It sets the fashions; colors good for bare ground or for snow, grateful to the eyes of rabbits and partridges. This is the extent of its gaudiness, red-brown and misty-white, and yet it is gay. The colors of the brightest flowers are not more agreeable to my eye. Then there is the rich dark brown of the black oak, large and somewhat curled leaf on sprouts, with its light, almost yellowish-brown under side. Then the salmonish hue of white-oak leaves, with the under sides less distinctly lighter. Many, however, have faded already.
Nov. 29, 1858. p. m. To Hill. About three inches of snow fell last night. How light and bright the day now; methinks it is as good as a half hour added to the day. White houses no longer stand out and stare in the landscape. The pine woods snowed up look more like the bare oak woods with their gray boughs. The river meadows show now far off a dull straw color or pale brown amid the general white, where the coarse sedge rises above the snow; and distant oak woods are now indistinctly reddish. It is a clear and pleasant winter day. The snow has taken all the November out of the sky. Now, blue shadows and green rivers (both which I see), and still winter life. I see partridge and mice and fox tracks, and crows sit silent on a bare oak top.
Nov. 29, 1859. To Copan. Saw quite a flock of snow buntings, not yet very white. They rose from the midst of a stubble field unexpectedly. The moment they settled after wheeling around they were perfectly concealed, though quite near. I could only hear their rippling note from the earth from time to time.
Nov. 29, 1860. If a man has spent all his days about some business by which he has merely got to be rich, as it is called, has got much money, many houses and barns and wood-lots, then his life has been a failure, I think. But if he has been trying to better his condition in a higher sense than this, has been trying to be somebody, that is, to invest himself, and get a patent for it, so that all may see his originality, though he should never get above board (and great inventors, you know, commonly die poor), I shall think him comparatively successful.
You would think that some men had been tempted to live in this world at all, only by the offer of a bounty by the general government, a bounty on living. I told such a man the other day that I had got a Canada lynx here in Concord, and his instant question was, "Have you got the reward for him?" "What reward?" "Why, the ten dollars which the State offers." As long as I saw him, he neither said nor thought anything about the lynx, but only about the reward. You might have inferred that ten dollars was something rarer in his neighborhood than a lynx even, and that he was anxious to see it on that account. I had thought that a lynx was a bright-eyed, four-legged, furry beast, of the cat kind, very current indeed, though its natural gait is by leaps. But he knew it to be a draft drawn by the cashier of the Wild Cat Bank on the State Treasury, payable at sight. Then I reflected that the first currency was of leather, or a whole creature (whence pecunia, from pecus, a herd), and since leather was at first furry, I easily understood the connection between a lynx and ten dollars, and found that all money was traceable right back to the Wild Cat Bank. But the fact was that instead of receiving ten dollars for the lynx, I had paid away some dollars in order to get him, so you see, I was away back in a gray antiquity, behind the institution of money, further than history goes. Yet though money can buy no fine fruit whatever, and we are never made truly rich by the possession of it, the value of things is commonly estimated by the amount of money they will fetch. A thing is not valuable, for example, a fine situation for a house, until it is convertible into so much money, that is, can cease to be what it is and become something else which you prefer. So you will see that all prosaic people who possess only the common sense, who believe chiefly in this kind of wealth, are speculators in fancy stocks, and continually cheat themselves; but poets and all discerning people who have an object in life, and know what they want, speculate in real values. The mean and low values of anything depend on its convertibility into something else, that is, have nothing to do with its intrinsic value. The world and our life have practically a similar value only to most. A man has his price at the South, is worth so many dollars, and so he has at the North. Many a man has set out by saying, I will make so many dollars by such a time, or before I die, and that is his price, as much as if he were knocked off for it by a Southern auctioneer.
Tuesday, Nov. 30, 1841. Cambridge. When looking over the dry and dusty volumes of the English poets, I cannot believe that those fresh and fair creations I had imagined are contained in them. English poetry, from Gower down, collected into an alcove, and so from the library window compared with the commonest nature, seems very mean. Poetry cannot breathe in the scholar's atmosphere. The Aubreys and Hickeses, with all their learning, profane it yet indirectly by their zeal. You need not envy his feelings who for the first time had cornered up poetry in an alcove. I can hardly be serious with myself when I remember that I have come to Cambridge after poetry. I think if it would not be a shorter way to a complete volume to step at once into the field or wood, with a very low reverence to students and librarians. On running over the titles of these books, looking from time to time at their first pages or farther, I am oppressed by an inevitable sadness. One must have come into a library by an oriel window as softly and undisturbed as the light which falls on the books through the stained glass, and not by the librarian's door, else all his dreams will vanish. Can the Valhalla be warmed by steam and go by clock and bell?
Good poetry seems so simple and natural a thing that when we meet it, we wonder that all men are not always poets. Poetry is nothing but healthy speech. Though more than any other, the poet stands in the midst of nature, yet more than any other can he stand aloof from her. The best lines, perhaps, only suggest that this man simply saw or heard or felt what seems the commonest fact in my experience.
Nothing is so attractive and unceasingly curious as character. There is no plant that needs such tender treatment, there is none that will endure so rough. It is the violet and the oak. It is divine and related to the heavens, as the earth is by the aurora. It has no acquaintance and no companion. It goes silent and unobserved longer than any planet in space, but when at length it does show itself, it seems like the flowering of all the world, and its before unseen orbit is lit up like the track of a meteor. I hear no good news ever, but some trait of a noble character. It reproaches me plaintively. I am mean in contrast, but again am thrilled and elevated so that I can see my own meanness, and again still, that my own aspiration is realized in that other. You reach me, my friend, not by your kind or wise words uttered to me here or there; but as you retreat, perhaps after years of vain familiarity, some gesture or unconscious action in the distance speaks to me with more emphasis than all those years. I am not concerned to know what eighth planet is wandering in space up there, or when Venus or Orion rises, but if in any cot east or west, and set behind the woods, there is any planetary character illuminating the earth.
Packed in my mind lie all the clothes Which outward nature wears, For, as its hourly fashions change, It all things else repairs. My eyes look inward, not without, And I but hear myself, And that new wealth which I have got Is part of my own pelf. For while I look for change abroad, I can no difference find, Till some new ray of peace uncalled Illumes my inmost mind. As when the sun streams through the wood Upon a winter's morn, Where'er his silent beams may stray, The murky night is gone. How could the patient pine have known The morning breeze would come, Or simple flower anticipate The insect's noonday hum, Till that new light, with morning cheer, From far streamed through the aisles, And nimbly told the forest trees For many stretching miles?