Walden at 150

Thoreau’s “Walden” just had its 150th anniversary. Perhaps you celebrated. Me, I retrieved my copy – my grandfather’s copy (The Modern Library, 1950) – and looked at what I’d scribbled and underlined during Fitzgibbon’s college class in 1995.

“I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors.” (Damn straight! was my juvenile marginal put-in)

“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”

“We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.”

“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

“Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection.”

Okay, maybe things are getting a little strange. But man, HDT wasn’t wanting for self-satisfaction, was he? I’m reminded of the passage in Robert D. Richardson Jr.’s terrific book “Emerson: Mind On Fire,” in which he quotes a remembrance of John Albee, who had spent time with the two:

“Emerson pleaded always for the college; said he himself had entered at fourteen. This aroused the wrath of Thoreau, who would not allow any good to the college course. And here it seemed to me Emerson said things on purpose to draw Thoreau’s fire and to amuse himself. When the curriculum at Cambridge was alluded to, and Emerson casually remarked that most of the branches of learning were taught there, Thoreau seized one of his opportunities and replied ‘Yes indeed, all the branches and none of the roots.’ At this Emerson laughed heartily.”

Damn straight!

(Originally published 12/1/04)