TO THE sick the doctors wisely recommend a change of air andscenery. Thank Heaven, here is not all the world. The buckeye does notgrow in New England, and the mockingbird is rarely heard here. Thewild goose is more of a cosmopolite than we; he breaks his fast inCanada, takes a luncheon in the Ohio, and plumes himself for the nightin a southern bayou. Even the bison, to some extent, keeps pace withthe seasons cropping the pastures of the Colorado only till agreener and sweeter grass awaits him by the Yellowstone. Yet wethink that if rail fences are pulled down, and stone walls piled up onour farms, bounds are henceforth set to our lives and our fatesdecided. If you are chosen town clerk, forsooth, you cannot go toTierra del Fuego this summer: but you may go to the land of infernalfire nevertheless. The universe is wider than our views of it.
Yet we should oftener look over the tafferel of our craft, likecurious passengers, and not make the voyage like stupid sailorspicking oakum. The other side of the globe is but the home of ourcorrespondent. Our voyaging is only great-circle sailing, and thedoctors prescribe for diseases of the skin merely. One hastens tosouthern Africa to chase the giraffe; but surely that is not thegame he would be after. How long, pray, would a man hunt giraffes ifhe could? Snipes and woodcocks also may afford rare sport; but I trustit would be nobler game to shoot one's self.
"Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find A thousand regions in your mind Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be Expert in home-cosmography."What does Africa- what does the West stand for? Is not our owninterior white on the chart? black though it may prove, like thecoast, when discovered. Is it the source of the Nile, or the Niger, orthe Mississippi, or a Northwest Passage around this continent, that wewould find? Are these the problems which most concern mankind? IsFranklin the only man who is lost, that his wife should be soearnest to find him? Does Mr. Grinnell know where he himself is? Berather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher, of yourown streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes- withshiploads of preserved meats to support you, if they be necessary; andpile the empty cans sky-high for a sign. Were preserved meats inventedto preserve meat merely? Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continentsand worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but ofthought. Every man is the lord of a realm beside which the earthlyempire of the Czar is but a petty state, a hummock left by the ice.Yet some can be patriotic who have no self-respect, and sacrificethe greater to the less. They love the soil which makes theirgraves, but have no sympathy with the spirit which may still animatetheir clay. Patriotism is a maggot in their heads. What was themeaning of that South-Sea Exploring Expedition, with all its paradeand expense, but an indirect recognition of the fact that there arecontinents and seas in the moral world to which every man is anisthmus or an inlet, yet unexplored by him, but that it is easier tosail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in agovernment ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than itis to explore the private seal the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one'sbeing alone.
"Erret, et extremos alter scrutetur Iberos. Plus habet hic vitae, plus habet ille viae."
Let them wander and scrutinize the outlandish Australians. I have more of God, they more of the road.It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats inZanzibar. Yet do this even till you can do better, and you may perhapsfind some "Symmes' Hole" by which to get at the inside at last.England and France, Spain and Portugal, Gold Coast and Slave Coast,all front on this private sea; but no bark from them has venturedout of sight of land, though it is without doubt the direct way toIndia. If you would learn to speak all tongues and conform to thecustoms of all nations, if you would travel farther than alltravellers, be naturalized in all climes, and cause the Sphinx to dashher bead against a stone, even obey the precept of the oldphilosopher, and Explore thyself. Herein are demanded the eye andthe nerve. Only the defeated and deserters go to the wars, cowardsthat run away and enlist. Start now on that farthest western way,which does not pause at the Mississippi or the Pacific, nor conducttoward a wornout China or Japan, but leads on direct, a tangent tothis sphere, summer and winter, day and night, sun down, moon down,and at last earth down too.
It is said that Mirabeau took to highway robbery "to ascertainwhat degree of resolution was necessary in order to place one's selfin formal opposition to the most sacred laws of society." Hedeclared that "a soldier who fights in the ranks does not require halfso much courage as a foot-pad"- "that honor and religion have neverstood in the way of a well-considered and a firm resolve." This wasmanly, as the world goes; and yet it was idle, if not desperate. Asaner man would have found himself often enough "in formal opposition"to what are deemed "the most sacred laws of society," throughobedience to yet more sacred laws, and so have tested his resolutionwithout going out of his way. It is not for a man to put himself insuch an attitude to society, but to maintain himself in whateverattitude he find himself through obedience to the laws of his being,which will never be one of opposition to a just government, if heshould chance to meet with such.
I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps itseemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could notspare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily andinsensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten trackfor ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a pathfrom my door to the pond-side; and though it is Eve or six years sinceI trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that othersmay have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface ofthe earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so withthe paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must bethe Highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition andconformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to gobefore the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could bestsee the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advancesconfidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to livethe life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpectedin common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass aninvisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will beginto establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws beexpanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and hewill live with the license of a higher order of beings. Inproportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe willappear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor povertypoverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in theair, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now putthe foundations under them.
It is a ridiculous demand which England and America make, that youshall speak so that they can understand you. Neither men nortoadstools grow so. As if that were important, and there were notenough to understand you without them. As if Nature could supportbut one order of understandings, could not sustain birds as well asquadrupeds, flying as well as creeping things, and hush and whoa,which Bright can understand, were the best English. As if there weresafety in stupidity alone. I fear chiefly lest my expression may notbe extra-vagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrowlimits of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth ofwhich I have been convinced. Extra vagance! it depends on how youare yarded. The migrating buffalo, which seeks new pastures in anotherlatitude, is not extravagant like the cow which kicks over the pail,leaps the cowyard fence, and runs after her calf, in milking time. Idesire to speak somewhere without bounds; like a man in a wakingmoment, to men in their waking moments; for I am convinced that Icannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a trueexpression. Who that has heard a strain of music feared then lest heshould speak extravagantly any more forever? In view of the futureor possible, we should live quite laxly and undefined in front ouroutlines dim and misty on that side; as our shadows reveal aninsensible perspiration toward the sun. The volatile truth of ourwords should continually betray the inadequacy of the residualstatement. Their truth is instantly translated; its literal monumentalone remains. The words which express our faith and piety are notdefinite; yet they are significant and fragrant like frankincense tosuperior natures.
Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise thatas common sense? The commonest sense is the sense of men asleep, whichthey express by snoring. Sometimes we are inclined to class thosewho are once-and-a-half-witted with the half-witted, because weappreciate only a third part of their wit. Some would find faultwith the morning red, if they ever got up early enough. "Theypretend," as I hear, "that the verses of Kabir have four differentsenses; illusion, spirit, intellect, and the exoteric doctrine ofthe Vedas"; but in this part of the world it is considered a groundfor complaint if a man's writings admit of more than oneinterpretation. While England endeavors to cure the potato-rot, willnot any endeavor to cure the brain-rot, which prevails so much morewidely and fatally?
I do not suppose that I have attained to obscurity, but I shouldbe proud if no more fatal fault were found with my pages on this scorethan was found with the Walden ice. Southern customers objected to itsblue color, which is the evidence of its purity, as if it weremuddy, and preferred the Cambridge ice, which is white, but tastesof weeds. The purity men love is like the mists which envelop theearth, and not like the azure ether beyond.
Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and modernsgenerally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or eventhe Elizabethan men. But what is that to the purpose? A living dogis better than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang himself because hebelongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that hecan? Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what hewas made.
Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in suchdesperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with hiscompanions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Lethim step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Itis not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree oran oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the condition ofthings which we were made for is not yet, what were any realitywhich we can substitute? We will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality.Shall we with pains erect a heaven of blue glass over ourselves,though when it is done we shall be sure to gaze still at the trueethereal heaven far above, as if the former were not?
There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to striveafter perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff.Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, butinto a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, Itshall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else inmy life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolvedthat it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as hesearched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends graduallydeserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grewnot older by a moment. His singleness of purpose and resolution, andhis elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennialyouth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way,and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him.Before he had found a stock in all respects suitable the city ofKouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel thestick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of theCandahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrotethe name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed hiswork. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa wasno longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferule and the headadorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered manytimes. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishingstroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes ofthe astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma.He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with fun andfair proportions; in which, though the old cities and dynasties hadpassed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. Andnow he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that,for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion,and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a singlescintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame thetinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure;how could the result be other than wonderful?
No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well atlast as the truth. This alone wears well. For the most part, we arenot where we are, but in a false position. Through an infinity ofour natures, we suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and henceare in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult to getout. In sane moments we regard only the facts, the case that is. Saywhat you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better thanmake-believe. Tom Hyde, the tinker, standing on the gallows, was askedif he had anything to say. "Tell the tailors," said he, "to rememberto make a knot in their thread before they take the first stitch." Hiscompanion's prayer is forgotten.
However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it andcall it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest whenyou are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise.Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant,thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor-house. The setting sun isreflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from therich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in thespring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there,and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. The town's poor seem tome often to live the most independent lives of any. Maybe they aresimply great enough to receive without misgiving. Most think that theyare above being supported by the town; but it oftener happens thatthey are not above supporting themselves by dishonest means, whichshould be more disreputable. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb,like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whetherclothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do notchange; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. Godwill see that you do not want society. If I were confined to acorner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be justas large to me while I had my thoughts about me. The philosopher said:"From an army of three divisions one can take away its general, andput it in disorder; from the man the most abject and vulgar one cannottake away his thought." Do not seek so anxiously to be developed, tosubject yourself to many influences to be played on; it is alldissipation. Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. Theshadows of poverty and meanness gather around us, "and lo! creationwidens to our view." We are often reminded that if there were bestowedon us the wealth of Croesus, our aims must still be the same, andour means essentially the same. Moreover, if you are restricted inyour range by poverty, if you cannot buy books and newspapers, forinstance, you are but confined to the most significant and vitalexperiences; you are compelled to deal with the material whichyields the most sugar and the most starch. It is life near the bonewhere it is sweetest. You are defended from being a trifler. No manloses ever on a lower level by magnanimity on a higher. Superfluouswealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy onenecessary of the soul.
I live in the angle of a leaden wall, into whose composition waspoured a little alloy of bell-metal. Often, in the repose of mymid-day, there reaches my ears a confused tintinnabulum fromwithout. It is the noise of my contemporaries. My neighbors tell me oftheir adventures with famous gentlemen and ladies, what notabilitiesthey met at the dinner-table; but I am no more interested in suchthings than in the contents of the Daily Times. The interest and theconversation are about costume and manners chiefly; but a goose is agoose still, dress it as you will. They tell me of California andTexas, of England and the Indies, of the Hon. Mr.-- of Georgia or ofMassachusetts, all transient and fleeting phenomena, till I am readyto leap from their court-yard like the Mameluke bey. I delight to cometo my bearings- not walk in procession with pomp and parade, in aconspicuous place, but to walk even with the Builder of theuniverse, if I may- not to live in this restless, nervous, bustling,trivial Nineteenth Century, but stand or sit thoughtfully while itgoes by. What are men celebrating? They are all on a committee ofarrangements, and hourly expect a speech from somebody. God is onlythe president of the day, and Webster is his orator. I love toweigh, to settle, to gravitate toward that which most strongly andrightfully attracts me;- not hang by the beam of the scale and tryto weigh less- not suppose a case, but take the case that is; totravel the only path I can, and that on which no power can resistme. It affords me no satisfaction to commerce to spring an arch beforeI have got a solid foundation. Let us not play at kittly-benders.There is a solid bottom everywhere. We read that the traveller askedthe boy if the swamp before him had a hard bottom. The boy repliedthat it had. But presently the traveller's horse sank in up to thegirths, and he observed to the boy, "I thought you said that thisbog had a hard bottom." "So it has," answered the latter, "but youhave not got half way to it yet." So it is with the bogs andquicksands of society; but he is an old boy that knows it. Only whatis thought, said, or done at a certain rare coincidence is good. Iwould not be one of those who will foolishly drive a nail into merelath and plastering; such a deed would keep me awake nights. Give me ahammer, and let me feel for the furring. Do not depend on the putty.Drive a nail home and clinch it so faithfully that you can wake upin the night and think of your work with satisfaction- a work at whichyou would not be ashamed to invoke the Muse. So will help you God, andso only. Every nail driven should be as another rivet in the machineof the universe, you carrying on the work.
Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at atable where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequiousattendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungryfrom the inhospitable board. The hospitality was as cold as theices. I thought that there was no need of ice to freeze them. Theytalked to me of the age of the wine and the fame of the vintage; but Ithought of an older, a newer, and purer wine, of a more gloriousvintage, which they had not got, and could not buy. The style, thehouse and grounds and "entertainment" pass for nothing with me. Icalled on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conductedlike a man incapacitated for hospitality. There was a man in myneighborhood who lived in a hollow tree. His manners were truly regal.I should have done better had I called on him.
How long shall we sit in our porticoes practising idle and mustyvirtues, which any work would make impertinent? As if one were tobegin the day with long-suffering, and hire a man to hoe his potatoes;and in the afternoon go forth to practise Christian meekness andcharity with goodness aforethought! Consider the China pride andstagnant self-complacency of mankind. This generation inclines alittle to congratulate itself on being the last of an illustriousline; and in Boston and London and Paris and Rome, thinking of itslong descent, it speaks of its progress in art and science andliterature with satisfaction. There are the Records of thePhilosophical Societies, and the public Eulogies of Great Men! It isthe good Adam contemplating his own virtue. "Yes, we have done greatdeeds, and sung divine songs, which shall never die"- that is, as longas we can remember them. The learned societies and great men ofAssyria- where are they? What youthful philosophers andexperimentalists we are! There is not one of my readers who has yetlived a whole human life. These may be but the spring months in thelife of the race. If we have had the seven-years' itch, we have notseen the seventeen-year locust yet in Concord. We are acquaintedwith a mere pellicle of the globe on which we live. Most have notdelved six feet beneath the surface, nor leaped as many above it. Weknow not where we are. Beside, we are sound asleep nearly half ourtime. Yet we esteem ourselves wise, and have an established order onthe surface. Truly, we are deep thinkers, we are ambitious spirits! AsI stand over the insect crawling amid the pine needles on the forestfloor, and endeavoring to conceal itself from my sight, and ask myselfwhy it will cherish those humble thoughts, and bide its head from mewho might, perhaps, be its benefactor, and impart to its race somecheering information, I am reminded of the greater Benefactor andIntelligence that stands over me the human insect.
There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet wetolerate incredible dulness. I need only suggest what kind ofsermons are still listened to in the most enlightened countries. Thereare such words as joy and sorrow, but they are only the burden of apsalm, sung with a nasal twang, while we believe in the ordinary andmean. We think that we can change our clothes only. It is said thatthe British Empire is very large and respectable, and that theUnited States are a first-rate power. We do not believe that a tiderises and falls behind every man which can float the British Empirelike a chip, if he should ever harbor it in his mind. Who knows whatsort of seventeen-year locust will next come out of the ground? Thegovernment of the world I live in was not framed, like that ofBritain, in after-dinner conversations over the wine.
The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this yearhigher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; eventhis may be the eventful year, which will drown out all ourmuskrats. It was not always dry land where we dwell. I see farinland the banks which the stream anciently washed, before sciencebegan to record its freshets. Every one has heard the story whichhas gone the rounds of New England, of a strong and beautiful bugwhich came out of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-tree wood,which had stood in a farmer's kitchen for sixty years, first inConnecticut, and afterward in Massachusetts- from an egg depositedin the living tree many years earlier still, as appeared by countingthe annual layers beyond it; which was heard gnawing out for severalweeks, hatched perchance by the heat of an urn. Who does not feelhis faith in a resurrection and immortality strengthened by hearing ofthis? Who knows what beautiful and winged life, whose egg has beenburied for ages under many concentric layers of woodenness in the deaddry life of society, deposited at first in the alburnum of the greenand living tree, which has been gradually converted into the semblanceof its well-seasoned tomb- heard perchance gnawing out now for yearsby the astonished family of man, as they sat round the festiveboard- may unexpectedly come forth from amidst society's mosttrivial and handselled furniture, to enjoy its perfect summer lifeat last!
I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this; but suchis the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can nevermake to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us.Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day todawn. The sun is but a morning star.