Winter Days

Extracts from the journal of Henry David Thoreau

Louis K. Harlow / Library of Congress

January 1, 1841.

All, men and women, woo one. There is a fragrance in their breath.

Nosque—equis oriens afflavit anhelis.

And if now they hate, I muse as in sombre, cloudy weather, not despairing of the absent ray.

Illic sera rubens accendit lumina vesper.

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January 1, 1842. … The virtuous soul possesses a fortitude and hardihood which not the grenadier nor pioneer can match. It never shrinks. It goes singing to its work. Effort is its relaxation. The rude pioneer work of the world has been done by the most devoted worshipers of beauty. … In winter is their campaign. They never go into quarters. They are elastic under the heaviest burden, under the extremest physical suffering.

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January 1, 1852. … I have observed that one mood is the natural critic of another. When possessed with a strong feeling on any subject foreign to the one I may be writing on, I know very well what of good and what of bad I have written on the latter. It looks to me now as it will ten years hence. My life is then earnest, and will tolerate no makeshifts nor nonsense. What is tinsel, or euphuism, or irrelevant is revealed to such a touchstone. In the light of a strong feeling all things take their places, and truth of every kind is seen as such. Now let me read my verses, and I will tell you if the god has had a hand in them. I wish to survey my composition for a moment from the least favorable point of view. I wish to be translated to the future, and look at my work as it were at a structure on the plain, to observe what portions have crumbled under the influence of the elements.

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9 1/2 p.m. To Fair Haven. Moon little more than half full. Not a cloud in the sky. It is a remarkably warm night for the season, the ground almost entirely bare. The stars are dazzlingly bright. The fault may be in my own barrenness, but methinks there is a certain poverty about the winter night’s sky. The stars of higher magnitude are more bright and dazzling, and therefore appear more near and numerable; while those that appear indistinct and infinitely remote in the summer, giving the impression of unfathomableness in the sky, are scarcely seen at all. The front halls of heaven are so brilliantly lighted that they quite eclipse the more remote. The sky has fallen many degrees.

The worst kind of chico (?) or tick to get under your skin is yourself in an irritable mood.

… These are some of the differences between this and the autumn or summer night: the stiffened glebe under my feet, the dazzle and seeming nearness of the stars, the duller gleam from ice on rivers and ponds, the white spots in the fields and streaks by the wall sides where are the remains of drifts yet unmelted. Perhaps the only thing that spoke to me in this walk was the bare, lichen-covered, gray rock at the cliff, in the moonlight, naked and almost warm as in summer.

I have so much faith in the power of truth to communicate itself that I should not believe a friend, if he should tell me that he had given credit to an unjust rumor concerning me. Suspect! Ah, yes, you may suspect a thousand things, but I well know that what you suspect most confidently of all is just the truth. Your other doubts but flavor this your main suspicion. They are the condiments which, taken alone, do simply bite the tongue.

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January 1, 1853. This morning we have something between ice and frost on the trees, etc. The rocks cased in ice look like alum rocks. This, not frozen mist or frost, but frozen drizzle, collected around the slightest cores, gives prominence to the least withered herbs and grasses. Where yesterday was a plain, smooth field appears now a teeming crop of fat, icy herbage. The stems of the herbs on the north side are enlarged from ten to one hundred times. The addition is so universally on the north side that a traveler could not lose the points of the compass to-day, though it should be never so dark; for every blade of grass would serve to guide him, telling from which side the storm came yesterday. These straight stems of grasses stand up like white batons, or sceptres, and make a conspicuous foreground to the landscape, from six inches to three feet high. C. thought that these fat, icy branches on the withered grass and herbs had no nucleus, but looking closer I showed him the fine, black, wiry threads on which they impinged, which made him laugh with surprise. … The clover and sorrel send up a dull, green gleam through this icy coat, like strange plants. … Some weeds bear the ice in masses; some, like the trumpet weed and tansy, in balls for each dried flower. What a crash of jewels as you walk! The most careless walker, who never deigned to look at these humble weeds before, cannot help observing them now. This is why the herbage is left to stand dry in the fields all winter. Upon a solid foundation of ice stand out, pointing in all directions between N. W. and N. E., or within the limits of 90°, little spicula, or crystallized points, half an inch, or more, in length. Upon the dark, glazed, ploughed ground, where a mere wiry stem rises, its north side is thickly clad with these snow-white spears, like some Indian head-dress, as if it had attracted all the frost. I saw a Prinos bush full of large berries by the wall in Hubbard’s field. Standing on the west side, the contrast of the red berries with their white incrustation or prolongation on the north was admirable. I thought I had never seen the berries so dazzling]y bright. The whole north side of the bush, berries and stock, was beautifully incrusted, and when I went round to the north side the redness of the berries came softened through, and tinging the allied snow-white bush, like an evening sky beyond. These adjoined snow or ice berries, being beset within the limits of 90° on the N. with those icy particles or spicula, between which the red glow, and sometimes the clear red itself, was sometimes visible, produced the appearance of a raspberry bush full of overripe fruit.

Standing on the north side of a bush or tree, looking against the sky, you see only the white ghost of a tree, without a mote of earthiness; but as you go round it, the dark core comes into view. It makes all the odds imaginable whether you are traveling N. or S. The drooping birches along the edges of woods are the most feathery, fairy-like ostrich plumes, and the color of their trunks increases the delusion. The weight of the ice gives to the pines the forms which northern trees, like the firs, constantly wear, bending and twisting the branches; for the twigs and plumes of the pines, being frozen, remain as the wind held them, and new portions of the trunk are exposed. Seen from the N. there is no greenness in the pines, and the character of the tree is changed. The willows along the edge of the river look like sedge in the meadows. The sky is overcast, and a fine snowy hail and rain is falling, and these ghost-like trees make a scenery which reminds you of Spitzbergen. I see now the beauty of the causeway by the bridge, alders below swelling into the road, overtopped by willows and maples. The fine grasses and shrubs in the meadow rise to meet and mingle with the drooping willows, and the whole makes an indistinct impression like a mist. Through all this, the road runs toward those white, ice-clad, ghostly or fairy trees in the distance, toward spirit-land. The pines are as white as a counterpane, with raised embroidery and white tassels and fringes. Each fascicle of leaves or needles is held apart by an icy club surmounted by a little snowy or icy ball. Finer than the Saxon arch is this path running under the pines, roofed not with crossing boughs, but drooping, ice-covered, irregular twigs. In the midst of this stately pine, towering like the solemn ghost of a tree, I see the white, ice-clad boughs of other trees appearing, of a different character; sometimes oaks with leaves incrusted, or fine-sprayed maples or walnuts. But finer than all, this red oak, its leaves incrusted like shields a quarter of an inch thick, and a thousand fine spicula like long serrations at right angles with their planes upon the edges. It produces an indescribably rich effect, the color of the leaf coming softened through the ice, a delicate fawn of many shades. Where the plumes of the pitch pine are short and spreading close to the trunk, sometimes perfect cups or rays are formed. Pitch pines present rough, massy grenadier plumes, each having a darker spot or cavity in the end where you look in to the bud. I listen to the booming of the pond as if it were a reasonable creature. I return at last in the rain, and am coated with a glaze, like the fields.

* * *

After talking with uncle Charles, the other night, about the worthies of this country, Webster and the rest, as usual, considering who were geniuses and who not, I showed him up to bed; and when I had got into bed myself I heard the chamber door opened, after eleven o’clock, and he called out in an earnest, stentorian voice, loud enough to wake the whole house, “Henry! was John Quincy Adams a genius?” “No, I think not,” was my reply. “Well, I didn’t think he was,” answered he.

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January 1, 1854. Le Jenne, referring to the death of a young Frenchwoman who had devoted her life to the savages of Canada, uses this expression: “Finally this beautiful soul detached itself from its body the 15th of March,” etc.

The drifts mark the standstill or equilibrium between the currents of air or particular winds. In our greatest snowstorms, the wind being northerly, the greatest drifts are on the south side of houses and fences. … I notice that in the angle made by our house and shed, a S. W. exposure, the snow-drift does not lie close about the pump, but is a foot off, forming a circular bowl, showing that there was an eddy about it. The snow is like a mould, showing the form of the eddying currents of air which have been impressed on it, while the drift and all the rest is that which fell between the currents or where they counterbalanced each other. These boundary lines are mountain barriers.

The white-in-tails, or grass finches, linger pretty late, flitting in flocks. They come only so near winter as the white in their tails indicates. …

The snow buntings and the tree sparrows are the true spirits of the snowstorm. They are the animated beings that ride upon it and have their life in it.

The snow is the great betrayer. It not only shows the track of mice, otters, etc., etc., which else we should rarely, if ever, see, but the tree sparrows are more plainly seen against its white ground, and they in turn are attracted by the dark weeds it reveals. It also drives the crows and other birds out of the woods to the villages for food. We might expect to find in the snow the footprint of a life superior to our own, of which no zoölogy takes cognizance. Is there no trace of a nobler life than that of an otter or an escaped convict to be looked for in it? Shall we suppose that is the only life that has been abroad in the night? It is only the savage that can see the track of no higher life than an otter’s. Why do the vast snow plains give us pleasure, the twilight of the bent and half-buried woods? Is not all there consonant with virtue, justice, purity, courage, magnanimity; and does not all this amount to the track of a higher life than the otter’s, — a life which has not gone by and left a footprint merely, but is there with its beauty, its music, its perfume, its sweetness, to exhilarate and recreate us? All that we perceive is the impress of its spirit. If there is a perfect government of the world according to the highest laws, do we find no trace of intelligence there, whether in the snow, or the earth, or in ourselves, — no other trail but such as a dog can scent? Is there none which an angel can detect and follow, — none to guide a man in his pilgrimage, which water will not conceal? Is there no odor of sanctity to be perceived? Is its trail too old? Have mortals lost the scent? … Are there not hunters who seek for something higher than foxes, with judgment more discriminating than the senses of fox-hounds, who rally to a nobler music than that of the hunting-horn? As there is contention among the fishermen who shall be the first to reach the pond as soon as the ice will bear, in spite of the cold; as the hunters are forward to take the field as soon as the first snow has fallen, so he who would make the most of his life for discipline must be abroad early and late, in spite of cold and wet, in pursuit of nobler game, whose traces are there most distinct, — a life which we seek not to destroy, but to make our own; which when pursued does not earth itself, does not burrow downward, but upward, takes not to the trees, but to the heavens, as its home; which the hunter pursues with winged thoughts and aspirations (these the dogs that tree it), rallying his pack with the bugle notes of undying faith. … Do the Indian and hunter only need snow-shoes, while the saint sits indoors in embroidered slippers?

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January 1, 1856.p.m. To Walden. … On the ice at Walden are very beautiful large leaf crystals in great profusion. The ice is frequently thickly covered with them for many rods. They seem to be connected with the rosettes, a running together of them, look like a loose bunch of small white feathers springing from a tuft of down, for their shafts are lost in a tuft of fine snow, like the down about the shaft of a feather, as if a feather bed had been shaken over the ice. They are, on a close examination, surprisingly perfect leaves, like ferns, only very broad for their length, and commonly more on one side the midrib than the other. They are from an inch to an inch and a half long, and three fourths of an inch wide, and slanted, where I look from the S. W. They have first a very distinct midrib, though so thin that they cannot be taken up; then distinct ribs branching from this, commonly opposite; and minute ribs springing again from these last, as in many ferns, the last running to each crenation in the border. How much farther they are subdivided the naked eye cannot discern. They are so thin and fragile that they melt under your breath while you are looking closely at them. A fisherman says they were much finer in the morning. In other places the ice is strewn with a different kind of frost-work, in little patches, as if oats had been spilled, like fibres of asbestos rolled one half or three fourths of an inch long and one eighth or more wide. Here and there patches of them a foot or two over, like some boreal grain spilled.

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January 1, 1858. … I have lately been surveying the Walden woods so extensively and minutely that I can see it mapped in my mind’s eye as so many men’s woodlots, and am aware when I walk there that I am at a given moment passing from such a one’s woodlot to such another’s. I fear this particular dry knowledge may affect my imagination and fancy, that it will not be easy to see so much wildness and native vigor there as formerly. No thicket will seem so unexplored now that I know a stake and stones may be found in it.

In these respects those Maine woods differ essentially from ours. There you are never reminded that the wilderness you are treading is after all some villager’s familiar woodlot, from which his ancestors have sledded their fuel for a generation or two, or some widow’s thirds, minutely described in some old deed which is recorded, of which the owner has got a plan too, and of which the old boundmarks may be found every forty rods, if you will search.

What a history this Concord wilderness which I affect so much may have had! How many old deeds describe it, some particular wild spot, how it passed from Cole to Robinson, and Robinson to Jones, and from Jones finally to Smith in course of years. Some had cut it over three times during their lives, built walls and made a pasture of it perchance, and some burned it and sowed it with rye.

* * *

In the Maine woods you are not reminded of these things. ’T is true the map informs you that you stand on land granted by the State to such an academy, or on Bingham’s purchase; but these names do not impose on you, for you see nothing to remind you of the academy or of Bingham.

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January 2, 1841. … Every needle of the white pine trembles distinctly in the breeze, which on the sunny side gives the whole tree a shimmering, seething aspect.

* * *

I stopped short in the path to-day to admire how the trees grow up without forethought, regardless of the time and circumstances. They do not wait, as men do. Now is the golden age of the sapling; earth, air, sun, and rain are occasion enough.

They were no better in primeval centuries. “The winter of” their “discontent” never comes. Witness the buds of the native poplar, standing gayly out to the frost, on the sides of its bare switches. They express a naked confidence.

With cheerful heart I could be a sojourner in the wilderness. I should be sure to find there the catkins of the alder. When I read of them in the accounts of northern adventurers by Baffin’s Bay or Mackenzie’s River, I see how even there too I could dwell. They are my little vegetable redeemers. Methinks my virtue will not flag ere they come again. They are worthy to have had a greater than Neptune or Ceres for their donor. Who was the benignant goddess that bestowed them on mankind?

I saw a fox run across the pond to-day with the carelessness of freedom. As at intervals I traced his course in the sunshine, as he trotted along the ridge of a hill on the crust, it seemed as if the sun never shone so proudly, sheer down on the hillside, and the winds and woods were hushed in sympathy. I gave up to him sun and earth as to their true proprietor. He did not go in the sunshine, but the sunshine seemed to follow him. There was a visible sympathy between him and it.

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January 2, 1842. The ringing of the church bell is a much more melodious sound than any that is heard within the church. All great values are thus public, and undulate like sound through the atmosphere. Wealth cannot purchase any great private solace or convenience. Riches are only the means of sociality. I will depend on the extravagance of my neighbors for my luxuries; they will take care to pamper me, if I will be overfed. The poor man, who sacrificed nothing for the gratification, seems to derive a safer and more natural enjoyment from his neighbor’s extravagance than he does himself. It is a new natural product, from the contemplation of which he derives new vigor and solace as from a natural phenomenon.

In moments of quiet and leisure my thoughts are more apt to revert to some natural than to any human relation.

Chaucer’s sincere sorrow in his latter days for the grossness of his earlier works, and that he “cannot recall and annul” what he had “written of the base and filthy love of men towards women, but alas, they are now continued from man to man,” says he, “and I cannot do what I desire,” is all very creditable to his character.

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January 2, 1853. 9 a.m. Down R. R. to Cliffs. A clear day, a pure sky with cirrhi. In this clear air and bright sunlight, the ice-covered trees have a new beauty, especially the birches along under the edge of Warren’s wood on each side of the R. R., bent quite to the ground in every kind of curve. At a distance, as you are approaching them endwise, they look like the white tents of Indians under the edge of the wood. The birch is thus remarkable, perhaps, from the feathery form of the tree, whose numerous small branches sustain so great weight, bending it to the ground; and, moreover, because, from the color of the bark, the core is less observable. The oaks not only are less pliant in the trunk, but have fewer and stiffer twigs and branches. The birches droop over in all directions, like ostrich feathers. Most wood paths are impassable now to a carriage, almost to a foot traveler, from the number of saplings and boughs bent over even to the ground in them. Both sides of the deep cut shine in the sun as if silver-plated, and the fine spray of a myriad bushes on the edge of the bank sparkle like silver. The telegraph wire is coated to ten times its size, and looks like a slight fence scalloping along at a distance. … When we climb the bank at Stow’s woodlot and come upon the piles of freshly split white pine wood (for he is ruthlessly laying it waste), the transparent ice, like a thick varnish, beautifully exhibits the color of the clear, tender, yellowish wood, pumpkin pine (?), and its grain. We pick our way over a bed of pine boughs a foot or two deep, covering the ground, each twig and needle thickly incrusted with ice, one vast gelid mass, which our feet crunch, as if we were walking through the cellar of some confectioner to the gods. The invigorating scent of the recently cut pines refreshes us, if that is any atonement for this devastation. … Especially now do I notice the hips, barberries, and winter-berries for their red. The red or purplish catkins of the alders are interesting as a winter fruit, and also of the birch. But few birds about. Apparently their granaries are locked up in ice, with which the grasses and buds are coated. Even far in the horizon the pine tops are turned to fir or spruce by the weight of the ice bending them down, so that they look like a spruce swamp. No two trees wear the ice alike. The short plumes and needles of the spruce make a very pretty and peculiar figure. I see some oaks in the distance, which, from their branches being curved and arched downward and massed, are turned into perfect elms, which suggests that this is the peculiarity of the elm. Few, if any, other trees are thus wisp-like, the branches gracefully drooping. I mean some slender red and white oaks which have been recently left in a clearing. Just apply a weight to the end of the boughs which will cause them to droop, and to each particular twig which will mass them together, and you have perfect elms. Seen at the right angle, each ice-incrusted blade of stubble shines like a prism with some color of the rainbow, intense blue, or violet, and red. The smooth field, clad the other day with a low wiry grass, is now converted into rough stubble land, where you walk with crunching feet. It is remarkable that the trees can ever recover from the burden which bends them to the ground. I should like to weigh a limb of this pitch pine. The character of the tree is changed. I have now passed the bars, and am approaching the Cliffs. The forms and variety of the ice are particularly rich here, there are so many low bushes and weeds before me as I ascend toward the sun, especially very small white pines almost merged in the ice-incrusted ground. All objects are to the eye polished silver. It is a perfect land of faery. Le Jeune describes the same in Canada in 1636: “Nos grands bois ne paroissoient qu’une forest de cristal.” … The bells are particularly sweet this morning. I hear more, methinks, than ever before. … Men obey their call and go to the stove-warmed church, though God exhibits himself to the walker in a frosted bush to-day as much as he did in a burning one to Moses of old. We build a fire on the Cliffs. When kicking to pieces a pine stump for the fat knots which alone would burn this icy day, at the risk of spoiling my boots, having looked in vain for a stone, I thought how convenient would be an Indian stone axe to hatter it with. The bark of white birch, though covered with ice, burned well. We soon had a roaring fire of fat pine on a shelf of rock from which we overlooked the icy landscape. The sun, too, was melting the ice on the rocks, and the water was purling downwards in dark bubbles exactly like pollywogs. What a good word is flame, expressing the form and soul of fire, lambent, with forked tongue! We lit a fire to see it, rather than to feel it, it is so rare a sight these days. It seems good to have our eyes ache once more with smoke. What a peculiar, indescribable color has this flame! — a reddish or lurid yellow, not so splendid or full of light as of life and heat. These fat roots made much flame and a very black smoke, commencing where the flame left off, which cast fine flickering shadows on the rocks. There was some bluish-white smoke from the rotten part of the wood. Then there was the fine white ashes which farmers’ wives sometimes use for pearlash.

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January 2, 1854. … The tints of the sunset sky are never purer and more ethereal than in the coldest winter days. This evening, though the colors are not brilliant, the sky is crystalline, and the pale fawn-tinged clouds are very beautiful. I wish to get on to a hill to look down on the winter landscape. We go about these days as if we were in fetters; we walk in the stocks, stepping into the holes made by our predecessors. … The team and driver have long since gone by, but I see the marks of his whiplash on the snow, its recoil; but, alas! these are not a complete tally of the strokes which fell upon the oxen’s back. The unmerciful driver thought, perhaps, that no one saw him, but unwittingly he recorded each blow on the unspotted snow behind his back as in a book of life. To more searching eyes the marks of his lash are in the air. I paced partly through the pitch-pine wood, and partly, the open field from the turnpike by the Lee place to the R. R. from N. to S., more than one fourth of a mile, measuring at every ten paces. The average of sixty-five measurements up hill and down was nineteen inches. This, after increasing those in the woods by one inch (little enough), on account of the snow on the pines. … I think one would have to pace a mile on a N. and S. line, up and down hill, through woods and fields, to get a quite reliable result. The snow will drift sometimes the whole width of a field? and fill a road or valley beyond, so that it would be well your measuring included several such driftings. Very little reliance is to be put on the usual estimates of the depth of snow. I have heard different men set this snow at six, fifteen, eighteen, twenty-four, thirty-six, and forty-eight inches. My snow-shoes sank about four inches into the snow this morning, but more than twice as much the 29th.

On the N. side of the R. R., above the Red House crossing, the train has cut through a drift about one fourth of a mile long, and two to nine feet high, straight up and down. It reminds me of the Highlands, the Pictured Rocks, the side of an iceberg, etc. Now that the sun has just sunk below the horizon, it is wonderful what an amount of soft light it appears to be absorbing. There appears to be more day just here by its side than anywhere else. I can almost see to a depth of six inches into it. It is made translucent, it is so saturated with light.

I have heard of one precious stone found in Concord, the cinnamon stone. A geologist has spoken of it as found in this town, and a farmer described to me one he once found, perhaps the same referred to by the other. He said it was as large as a brick, and as thick, and yet you could distinguish a pin through it, it was so transparent.

* * *

January 2, 1855. … Yesterday [skating] we saw the pink light on the snow within a rod of us. The shadows of the bridges, etc., on the snow were a dark indigo blue.

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January 2, 1859. … Going up the hill through Stow’s young oak woodland, I listen to the sharp, dry rustle of the withered oak leaves. This is the voice of the wood now. It would be comparatively still and more dreary here in other respects, if it were not for these leaves that hold on. It sounds like the roar of the sea, and is inspiriting like that, suggesting how all the land is sea-coast to the aerial ocean. It is the sound of the surf, the rut, of an unseen ocean, — billows of air breaking on the forest, like water on itself or on sand and rocks. It rises and falls, swells and dies away, with agreeable alternation, as the sea surf does. Perhaps the landsman can foretell a storm by it. It is remarkable how universal these grand murmurs are, these backgrounds of sound, — the surf, the wind in the forest, waterfalls, etc., — which yet to the ear and in their origin are essentially one voice, the earth voice, the breathing or snoring of the creature. The earth is our ship, and this is the sound of the wind in her rigging as we sail. Just as the inhabitant of Cape Cod hears the surf ever breaking on its shores, so we countrymen bear this kindred surf on the leaves of the forest. Regarded as a voice, though it is not articulate, as our articulate pounds are divided into vowels (though this is nearer a consonant sound), labials, dentals, palatals, sibilants, mutes, aspirates, etc., so this may be called folial or frondal, produced by air driven against the leaves, and comes nearest to our sibilants or aspirates.

Michaux said that white oaks might be distinguished by retaining their leaves in the winter, but as far as my observation goes they cannot be so distinguished. All our large oaks may retain a few leaves at the base of the lower limbs and about the trunk, though only a few, and the white oak scarcely more than the others; while the same trees, when young, are all alike thickly clothed in the winter, but the leaves of the white oak are the most withered and shriveled of them all.

There being some snow on the ground, I can easily distinguish the forest on the mountains (the Peterboro Hills, etc.), and tell which are forested, those parts and those mountains being dark, like a shadow. I cannot distinguish the forest thus far in summer.

When I hear the hypercritical quarreling about grammar and style, the position of the particles, etc., etc., stretching or contracting every speaker to certain rules, — Mr. Webster, perhaps, not having spoken according to Mr. Kirkham’s rule, — I see they forget that the first requisite and rule is that expression shall be vital and natural, as much as the voice of a brute, or an interjection: first of all, mother tongue; and last of all, artificial or father tongue. Essentially, your truest poetic sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb’s bleat. The grammarian is often one who can neither cry nor laugh, yet thinks he can express human emotions. So the posture-masters tell you how you shall walk, turning your toes out excessively, perhaps; but so the beautiful walkers are not made.

* * *

Minott says that a fox will lead a dog on to the ice in order that he may get in. Tells of Jake Lakin losing a hound so, which went under the ice and was drowned below the Holt. … They used to cross the river there on the ice, going to market formerly.

* * *

January 3, 1842. It is pleasant when one can relieve the grossness of the kitchen and the table by the simple beauty of his repast, so that there may be anything in it to attract the eye of the artist, even. I have been popping corn to-night, which is only a more rapid blossoming of the seed under a greater than July heat. The popped corn is a perfect winter flower, hinting of anemones and houstonias. … Here has bloomed for my repast such a delicate flower as will soon spring by the wall sides, and this is as it should be. Why should not Nature revel sometimes, and genially relax, and make herself familiar at my board? I would have my house a bower fit to entertain her. It is a feast of such innocence as might have snowed down; on my warm hearth sprang these cerealian blossoms; here was the bank where they grew. Methinks some such visible token of approval would always accompany the simple and healthy repast, — some such smiling or blessing upon it. Our appetite should always be so related to our taste, and our board be an epitome of the primeval table which Nature sets by bill and wood and stream for her dumb pensioners.

* * *

January 3, 1852. … A spirit sweeps the string of the telegraph harp, and strains of music are drawn out suddenly, like the wire itself. … What becomes of the story of a tortoise shell on the seashore now? The world is young, and music is its infant voice. I do not despair of a world where you have only to stretch an ordinary wire from tree to tree to hear such strains drawn from it by New England breezes as make Greece and all antiquity seem poor in melody. Why was man so made as to be thrilled to his inmost being by the vibrating of a wire? Are not inspiration and ecstasy a more rapid vibration of the nerves swept by the inrushing excited spirit, whether zephyral or boreal in its character?

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January 3, 1853. … I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. Here a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself. I should lose all hope. He is constraint; she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world; she makes me content with this. None of the joys she supplies is subject to his rules and definitions. What he touches he taints. In thought he moralizes. One would think that no free, joyful labor was possible to him. How infinite and pure the least pleasure of which nature is basis compared with the congratulation of mankind! The joy which nature yields is like that afforded by the frank words of one we love.

Man, man is the devil,

The source of all evil.

Methinks these prosers, with their saws and their laws, do not know how glad a man can be. What wisdom, what warning, can prevail against gladness? There is no law so strong which a little gladness may not transgress. I have a room all to myself. It is nature. It is a place beyond the jurisdiction of human governments. Pile up your books, the records of sadness, your saws and your laws, Nature is glad outside, and her many worms within will erelong topple them down. … Nature is a prairie for outlaws. There are two worlds, the post-office and nature. I know them both. I continually forget mankind and their institutions, as I do a bank.