A Critical Glance Into Thoreau


THE most point-blank and authoritative criticism within my knowledge that Thoreau has received at the hands of his countrymen came from the pen of Lowell about 1864, and was included in My Study Windows. It has all the professional smartness and scholarly qualities which usually characterize Lowell’s critical essays. Thoreau was vulnerable, both as an observer and as a literary craftsman, and Lowell lets him off pretty easily — too easily — on both counts.

The flaws he found in his nature-lore were very inconsiderable: such as his ignorance of the fact, until he built his Walden shanty, that the hickory grew near Concord; also, that he did not know there was such a thing as phosphorescent wood until he went to Maine; or, until he was forty years old, that the pine had seeds. If there were no more serious flaws than these in his nature observations, we could pass them by without comment.

As regards his literary craftsmanship, Lowell charges him only with having revived the age of Concetti while he fancied himself going back to a preclassical nature, basing the charge on such a far-fetched comparison as that in which Thoreau declares his preference for ’the dry wit of decayed cranberry vines and the fresh Attic salt of the moss-beds’ over the wit of the Greek sages as it comes to us in the Banquet of Xenophon — a kind of perversity of comparison all too frequent with Thoreau.

But though Lowell lets Thoreau off easily on these specific counts, he more than makes up by his sweeping criticism, on more general grounds, of his life and character. Here one feels that he overdoes the matter.

It is not true, in the sense which Lowell implies, that Thoreau’s whole life was a search for the doctor. It was such a search in no other sense than that we are all in search of the doctor when we take a walk, or flee to the mountains or to the seashore, or seek to bring our minds and spirits in contact with ‘Nature’s primal sanities.’ His search for the doctor turns out to be an escape from the conditions that make a doctor necessary. His wonderful activity, those long walks in all weathers, in all seasons, by night as well as by day, drenched by rain and chilled by frost, suggest a reckless kind of health. A doctor might wisely have cautioned him against such exposures. Nor was Thoreau a valetudinarian in his physical, moral, or intellectual fibre.

It is not true that it was his indolence that stood in the way of his taking part in the industrial activities in which his friends and neighbors engaged, or that it was his lack of persistence and purpose that hindered him. It is not true that he was poor because he looked upon money as an unmixed evil. Thoreau’s purpose was like adamant, and his industry in his own proper pursuits was tireless. He knew the true value of money, and he knew also that the best things in life are without money and without price. When he had need of money, he earned it. He turned his hand to many things — land-surveying, lecturing, magazine-writing, growing white beans, and doing odd jobs of carpentering, whitewashing, fencebuilding, plastering, and brick-laying.

Lowell’s criticism amounts almost to a diatribe. He was naturally antagonistic to the Thoreau type of mind. Coming from a man near his own age, and a neighbor, Thoreau’s criticism of life was an affront to the smug respectability and scholarly attainments of the class to which Lowell belonged. Thoreau went his own way, with an air of defiance and contempt which, no doubt, his contemporaries were more inclined to resent than we are at our distance. Shall this man in his hut on the shores of Walden Pond assume to lay down the law and the gospel to his elders and betters, and pass unrebuked, no matter on what intimate terms he claims to be with the gods of the woods and mountains? This seems to be Lowell’s spirit. But all this is a divergence from my main purpose. I set out to criticize Thoreau, not Lowell, and to look a little more closely into him than Lowell looked. In doing so, I shall treat him with the frankness that he himself so often employed; not that I love Thoreau less, but that I love the truth more.

I can hold my criticism in the back of my head while I say with my forehead that all our other nature-writers seem tame and insipid beside Thoreau. He was so much more than a mere student and observer of nature; and it is this surplusage which gives the extra weight and value to his nature-writing. He was a critic of life, he was a literary force which made for plain living and high thinking. His nature-lore was an aside; he gathered it as the meditative saunterer gathers a leaf, or a flower, or a shell on the beach, while he ponders on higher things. He had other business with the gods of the woods than taking an inventory of their wares. He was a dreamer, an idealist, a fervid ethical teacher, seeking inspiration in the fields and woods. The hound, the turtle-dove, and the bay horse which he said he had lost, and for whose trail he was constantly seeking, typified his interest in wild nature. The natural history in his books is quite secondary. The natural or supernatural history of his own thought absorbed him more than the exact facts about the wild life around him. He brings us a gospel more than he brings us a history. His science is only the handmaid of his ethics; his wood-lore is the foil of his moral and intellectual teachings. His observations are frequently at fault, or wholly wide of the mark; but the flower or specimen that he brings you always ‘comes laden with a thought.’ There is a tang and a pungency to nearly everything he published; the personal quality which flavors it is like the formic acid which the bee infuses into the nectar he gets from the flower, and which makes it honey.

I feel that some such statement about Thoreau should precede or go along with any criticism of him as a writer or as an observer. He was, first and last, a moral force speaking in the terms of the literary naturalist.

Lowell criticized his philosophy, but Thoreau gave us a life more than he gave us a philosophy — the life of principle, as uncompromising as gravity or chemical affinity. If the things men live by and live for could not stand his acid tests, so much the worse for them. Moreover, he was contrary and disagreeable, which helps make us remember him. The herbs he preferred were bitter herbs; the woods he liked best were shrub-oak woods; the garden he prized most was a sphagnum swamp; the road that best suited him was a cross-lots path, or a railway embankment, where he was pretty sure to meet no traveler.

Walden is probably our only, as it is certainly our first, nature classic. It lives because it has the real breath of life; it embodies a fresh and unique personality, and portrays an experiment in the art of living close to nature, in a racy and invigorating style. It is a pæan in praise of that kind of noble poverty which takes the shine out of wealth completely. All the same, most of its readers would doubtless prefer the lot of the young men, his townsmen, to whom Thoreau refers, ‘whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools’ — things, he added, that ‘are more easily acquired than got rid of.’

It is this audacious gift which Thoreau has, of suddenly turning our notions topsy-turvy, or inside out, that gives spice to his page and makes Walden irritate while it charms. We note such things more easily than we do the occasional lapses in his science. For instance, what can he mean when he says, ‘Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of a rainbow’s arch, which filled the lower stratum of the atmosphere, tingeing the grass and leaves around, and dazzling me as if I looked through a colored crystal?’ Is it possible, then, to reach the end of the rainbow? Why did he not dig for the pot of gold buried there? How he could be aware that he was standing at the foot of one leg of the glowing arch is to me a mystery. When I see a rainbow, it is always just in front of me: I am standing exactly between the highest point of the arch and the sun, and the laws of optics ordain that it can be seen in no other way. You can never see a rainbow either to the right of you or to the left. Hence, no two persons see exactly the same bow, because no two can occupy exactly the same place at the same time. The bow you see is directed to you alone. Move to the right or the left, and it moves as fast as you do. You cannot flank it or reach its end. It is about the most subtle and significant phenomenon that everyday Nature presents to us. Unapproachable as a spirit, like a visitant from another world, yet the creation of the familiar sun and rain! How Thoreau found himself standing in the bow’s abutment will always remain a mystery to me.

Thoreau was not a great philosopher, he was not a great naturalist, he was not a great poet, but as a nature-writer and an original character, he is unique in our literature. His philosophy begins and ends in himself, or is entirely subjective, and is frequently fantastic, and nearly always illogical. His poetry is of the oracular kind, and is only now and then worth attention. There are crudities in his writings which make the conscientious literary craftsman shudder; there are mistakes of observation which make the serious naturalist wonder; and there is often an expression of contempt for his fellow countrymen, and the rest of mankind, and their aims in life, which makes the judicious grieve. But at his best there is a gay symbolism, a felicity of description, and a freshness of observation that delight all readers.

As a person he gave himself to others reluctantly; he was, in truth, a recluse. He stood for character more than for intellect, and for intuition more than for reason. He was often contrary and inconsistent. There was more crust than crumb in the loaf he gave us.


Emerson seems to have been the author of the legend, or superstition, that Thoreau lived on such intimate terms with the wild creatures that, like the old saints, he possessed some mysterious power over them. He said of him, ‘Snakes coiled about his legs, fish swam into his hands, and he lifted them from the water; he pulled the woodchuck out of his hole by the tail, and he rescued the foxes from the hunters.’ Of course, Thoreau could do nothing with the wild creatures that you or I could not do under the same conditions. A snake will coil around any man’s leg if he steps on its tail, but it will not be an embrace of affection; and a fish will swim into his hands under the same conditions as into Thoreau’s.

As for pulling a woodchuck out of its hole by the tail, the only trouble is to get hold of the tail. The ’chuck is pretty careful to keep his tail behind him; but many a farm-boy, aided by his dog, has pulled one out of a stone wall by the tail, much against the ’chuck’s will. If Thoreau’s friends were to claim that he could carry mephitis putrida by the tail with impunity, I can say that I have done the same thing, and had my photograph taken in the act: the skunk is no respecter of persons. But, here again, the trouble is to get hold of the tail at the right, moment, and, I may add, to let go of it at the right moment.

Thoreau’s influence over the wild creatures is what every man possesses who is as gentle in his approach to them. Bradford Torrey succeeded, after a few experiments, in so dispelling the fears of an incubating red-eyed vireo that she would take insect-food from his hand; and I have known several persons to become so familiar with the chickadees that the birds would feed from their hand, and in some instances even take food from between their lips. If you have a chipmunk for a neighbor, you may soon become on such intimate terms with him that he will search your pockets for nuts, and sit on your knee and shoulder and eat them; but you must remain immovable during the process, or he will scamper away. Why keep alive and circulate as truth these animal legends of the prescientific ages?

Thoreau called himself a mystic, and a transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher to boot. But the least of these was the natural philosopher. He did not have the philosophic mind, or the scientific mind; he did not inquire into the reason of things, or the meaning of things; in fact, he had no disinterested interest in the universe apart from himself. He was too personal and illogical for a philosopher. The scientific interpretation of things did not interest him at all. He was interested in things only so far as they related to Henry Thoreau. He interpreted Nature entirely in the light of his own idiosyncrasies.

Thoreau was not a born naturalist, but a born supernaturalist. He was too intent upon the bird behind the bird always to take careful note of the bird itself. He notes the birds, but not too closely. He was at times a little too careless in this respect to be a safe guide to the bird-student. Even the saunterer in the Holy Land ought to know the little brown mate of the indigo bunting, she contrasts so sharply with his striking hue. But this dreamer sees the black-throated blue warbler, with its languid, midsummery ‘Zee-zee, zee-eu,’ as its mate.

Many of his most interesting natural-history notes Thoreau got from his farmer friends — Melvin, Hubbard, Miles, Minott, Wheeler; their eyes were more single to the life around them than were his; none of them had lost a hound, a turtle-dove, and a bay horse whose trail they were daily in quest of.

A haunter of swamps and rivermarshes all his life, he had never yet observed how the night bittern made its booming or pumping sound, but accepted the explanation of one of his neighbors, that it was produced by the bird thrusting its bill in water, sucking up as much as it could hold, and then pumping it out again with four or five heaves of the neck, throwing the water two or three feet — in fact, turning itself into a veritable pump! I have stood within a few yards of the bird when it made the sound, and seen the convulsive movement of the neck and body, and the lifting of the head as the sound escaped. The bird seems literally to vomit up its notes, but it does not likewise emit water.

Every farmer and fox-hunter would smile if he read Thoreau’s statement, made in his paper on the natural history of Massachusetts, that ’when the snow lies light and but five or six inches deep, you may give chase and come up with the fox on foot.’ Evidently Thoreau had never tried it. With a foot and a half, or two feet, of snow on the ground, and traveling on snow-shoes, you might force a fox to take to his hole, but you would not come up to him. In four or five feet of soft snow, hunters come up with deer, and ride on their backs for amusement; but I doubt if a red fox ever ventures out in such a depth of snow. In one of his May walks, in 1860, Thoreau sees the trail of the musquash in the mud along the riverbottoms, and he is taken by the fancy that, as our roads and city streets often follow the early tracks of the cow, so ‘rivers in another period follow the trail of the musquash.’ As if the river was not there before the musquash was!

Again, his mysterious ‘night warbler,’ to which he so often alludes, was one of our common everyday birds which most school-children know, namely, the oven bird, or wood-accentor; yet to Thoreau it was a sort of phantom bird upon which his imagination loved to dwell. Emerson told him he must beware of finding and booking it, lest life should have nothing more to show him. But how such a haunter of woods escaped identifying the bird is a puzzle.

In his walks in the Maine woods Thoreau failed to discriminate the song of the hermit thrush from that of the wood thrush. The melody no doubt went to his heart, and that was enough. Though he sauntered through orchards and rested under apple trees, he never observed that the rings of small holes in the bark were made by the yellow-bellied woodpecker, and not by Downy, and that the bird was not searching for grubs and insects, but was feeding upon the milky cambium layer of the inner bark.

Channing quotes Thoreau as saying that sometimes ‘ you must see with the inside of your eye.’ I think that Thoreau saw, or tried to see, with the inside of his eye too often. He does not always see correctly, and many times he sees more of Thoreau than he does of the nature he assumes to be looking at. Truly it is ‘ needless to travel for wonders,’ but the wonderful is not one with the fantastic or the far-fetched. Forcible expression was his ruling passion as a writer. Only when he is free from its thrall, which in his best moments he surely is, does he write well. When he can forget Thoreau and remember only Nature, we get those delightful descriptions and reflections in Walden. When he goes to the Maine woods, or to Cape Cod, or to Canada, he leaves all his fantastic rhetoric behind him and gives us sane and refreshing books. In his walks with Channing, one suspects that he often let himself go to all lengths, did his best to turn the world insideout, as he did at times in his journals, for his own edification and that of his wondering disciples.

Thoreau was in no sense an interpreter of Nature: he did not draw out her meanings or seize upon and develop her more significant phases. Seldom does he relate what he sees or thinks to the universal human heart and mind. He has rare power of description, but is very limited in his power to translate the facts and movements of nature into human emotion. His passage on the Northern Lights which Channing quotes from the journals, is a good sample of his failure in this respect: —

‘Now the fire in the north increases wonderfully, not shooting up so much as creeping along, like a fire on the mountains of the north, seen afar in the night. The Hyperborean gods are burning brush, and it spread, and all the hoes in Heaven could not stop it. It spread from west to east over the crescent hill. Like a vast fiery worm it lay across the northern sky, broken into many pieces; and each piece, with rainbow colors skirting it, strove to advance itself toward the east, worm-like, on its own annular muscles. It has spread into the choicest wood-lots of Valhalla; now it shoots up like a single, solitary watch-fire, or burning brush, or here it runs up a pine tree like powder; and still it continues to gleam here and there like a fat stump in the burning, and is reflected in the water. And now I see the gods by great exertions have got it under, and the stars have come out without fear, in peace.’

Do we get any impression of the mysterious, almost supernatural, character of the Aurora from such a description in terms of a burning woodlot or a haystack? It is no more like a conflagration than an apparition is like solid flesh and blood. Its wonderful, its almost spiritual, beauty, its sudden vanishings and returnings, its spectral, evanescent character — why, it startles and awes one as if it were the veils around the throne of the Eternal. And then his mixed metaphor — the Hyperborean gods turned farmers and busy at burning brush; then a fiery worm; and then the burning wood-lots of Valhalla! But this is Thoreau — inspired with heavenly elixir one moment, and drunk with the brew in his own cellar the next!

How little Thoreau knew about the hive-bee when he thought it was more difficult to secure the swarm in seasons of much clover-bloom than in seasons of scarcity! Did he fancy that hunger would make the bees more docile and willing to be hived? Did he not know that, in a dearth of honey-producing flowers, as in times of great drought, the hive will not cast a swarm, and will kill the unhatched queens?

If he sees anything unusual in Nature, like galls on trees and plants, he must needs draw some moral from it and indulge his passion for striking expression and fantastic comparisons, usually at the expense of the truth. For instance, he implies that the beauty of the oak-galls is something that was meant to bloom in the flower; that the galls are the scarlet sins of the tree, the tree’s Ode to Dejection — another example of the Concetti, to which Lowell referred. Yet he must have known that they are the work of an insect, and are as healthy a growth as is the regular leaf. The insect gives the magical touch that transforms the leaf into a nursery for its young. Why deceive ourselves by believing that fiction is more interesting than fact? But Thoreau is full of this sort of thing; he must have his analogy, true or false.

A striking example of Thoreau’s exaggerations and confusion of metaphors is seen in his account in Walden of the visits to his hut of a certain philosophical neighbor whose discourse, he says, expanded and rocked his little house.

‘I should not dare to say how many pounds weight there was above the atmospheric pressure on every circular inch; it opened its seams so that they had to be calked with much dulness thereafter to stop the consequent leak — but I had enough of this kind of oakum already picked.’ At the beginning of the paragraph, he says that he and his philosopher sat down, each with ‘some shingles of thoughts well dried,’ which they whittled, trying their knives and admiring the clear yellowish grain of the pumpkin pine. In a twinkling the three shingles of thought are transformed into fishes of thought, in a stream in which the hermit and the philosopher gently and reverently wade, without scaring or disturbing them. Then, presto! the fish becomes a force, ‘ like the pressure of a tornado,’ that nearly wrecks his cabin! Surely this is tipsy rhetoric, and the work that can stand much of it, as Walden does, has a plus vitality that is rarely equaled.

‘Let all things give way to the impulse of expression,’ he says; and he assuredly practised what he preached.

One of his tricks of self-justification was to compare himself with inanimate objects, which is usually as inept as to compare colors with sounds or perfumes.

‘My acquaintances sometimes imply that I am too cold,’ he writes; ‘but each thing is warm enough of its kind. Is the stone too cold which absorbs the heat of the summer sun and does not part with it during the night? Crystals, though they be of ice, are not too cold to melt. . . . Crystal does not complain of crystal, any more than the dove does of its mate.’

He strikes the same false note when, in discussing the question of solitude at Walden, he compares himself to the wild animals around him, and to inanimate objects, and says he was no more lonely than the loons on the pond, or than Walden itself.

‘I am no more lonely than a single mullein of dandelion in a pasture, or a bean-leaf, or a sorrel, or a house-fly, or a humble-bee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the North Star, or the South Wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house.’

Did he imagine that any of these things were ever lonely? Man does get lonely, but Mill Brook and the North Star probably do not.


That Thoreau was what country folk call a crusty person — curt and forbidding in his manner — seems pretty well established. His friend Alcott says he was deficient in the human sentiments. Emerson, who, on the whole, loved and admired him, says,—

‘Thoreau sometimes appears only as a gendarme, good to knock down a cockney with, but without that power to cheer and establish which makes the value of a friend.’

Again he says,—

‘If I knew only Thoreau, I should think coöperation of good men impossible. Must we always talk for victory, and never once for truth, for comfort, and joy? Centrality he has, and penetration, strong understanding, and the higher gifts—the insight of the real, or from the real, and the moral rectitude that belongs to it; but all this, and all his resources of wit and invention are lost to me in every experiment, year after year, that I make to hold intercourse with his mind. Always some weary captious paradox to fight you with, and the time and temper wasted.’

‘It is curious,’ he again says, ‘that Thoreau goes to a house to say with little preface what he has just read or observed, delivers it in a lump, is quite inattentive to any comment or thought which any of the company offer on the matter, nay, is merely interrupted by it, and when he has finished his report, departs with precipitation.’

It is interesting, in this connection, to put alongside of these rather caustic criticisms a remark in kind recorded by Thoreau in his journal concerning Emerson: —

‘Talked, or tried to talk, with R.W.E. Lost my time, nay, almost my identity, he, assuming a false opposition when there was no difference of opinion, talked to the wind, — told me what I knew, — and I lost my time trying to imagine myself someone else to oppose him.’

Evidently Concord philosophers were not always in concord.

Thoreau was the first man in this country, or in any other, so far as I know, who made a religion of walking — the first to announce a gospel of the wild. That he went forth into wild Nature in much the same spirit that the old hermits went into the desert, and was as devout in his way as they were in theirs, is revealed in numerous passages in his journal. He would make his life a sacrament; he discarded the old religious terms and ideas, and struck out new ones of his own.

‘What more glorious condition of being can we imagine than from impure to become pure? May I not forget that I am impure and vicious! May I not cease to love purity! May I go to my slumbers as expecting to arise to a new and more perfect day! May I so live and refine my life as fitting myself for a society ever higher than I actually enjoy!

‘To watch for and describe all the divine features which I detect in Nature. My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in Nature, to know his lurking-place, to attend all the oratories, the operas in Nature.

‘Ah! I would walk, I would sit, and sleep, with natural piety. What if I could pray aloud or to myself, as I went along the brooksides, a cheerful prayer like the birds. For joy I could embrace the earth. I shall delight to be buried in it.

‘I do not deserve anything. I am unworthy the least regard, and yet I am made to rejoice. I am impure and worthless, and yet the world is gilded for my delight, and holidays are prepared for me, and my path is strewn with flowers. But I cannot thank the Giver; I cannot even whisper my thanks to the human friends I have.’

In the essay on Walking, Thoreau says that the art of walking ‘comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of walkers. ... I think I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day, at least, — it is commonly more than that, — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.’

Thoreau made good his boast. He was a new kind of walker, a HolyLander. His walks yielded him mainly spiritual and ideal results. The ten published volumes of his Journal are mainly a record of his mental reactions to the passing seasons and to the landscape he sauntered through. There is a modicum of natural history; but mostly he reaps the intangible harvest of the poet, the saunterer, the mystic, the super-sportsman.

With his usual love of paradox, Thoreau says that the fastest way to travel is to go afoot, because, one may add, the walker is constantly arriving at his destination; all places are alike to him, his harvest grows all along the road and beside every path, in every field and wood, and on every hilltop.

All of Thoreau’s books belong to the literature of Walking, and are as true in spirit in Paris or London as in Concord. His natural history, for which he had a passion, is the natural history of the walker — not always accurate, as I have pointed out, but always graphic and interesting.

Wordsworth was about the first poet-walker — a man of letters who made a business of walking, and whose study was really the open air. But he was not a Holy-Lander in the Thoreau sense. He did not walk to get away from people, as Thoreau did, but to see a greater variety of them, and to gather suggestions for his poems. Not so much the wild, as the human and the morally significant, were the objects of Wordsworth’s quest. He haunted waterfalls and fells and rocky heights and lonely tarns, but he was not averse to footpaths and highways, and the rustic half-domesticated nature of rural England. He was a nature-lover; he even calls himself a nature-worshiper; and he appears to have walked as many or more hours each day, in all seasons, as did Thoreau; but he was hunting for no lost paradise of the wild; nor waging a crusade against the arts and customs of civilization. Man and life were at the bottom of his interest in nature.

Wordsworth never knew the wild as we know it in this country — the pitilessly savage and rebellious; and, on the other hand, he never knew the wonderfully delicate and furtive and elusive Nature that we know; but he knew the sylvan, the pastoral, the rustic-human, as we cannot know them. British birds have nothing plaintive in their songs, and British woods and fells but little that is disorderly and cruel in their expression, or violent in their contrasts.

Wordsworth gathered his finest poetic harvest from common nature and common humanity about him — the wayside birds and flowers and waterfalls, and the wayside people. Though he called himself a worshiper of Nature, it was Nature in her half-human moods that he adored, — Nature that knows no extremes, and that has long been under the influence of man, — a soft, humid, fertile, docile Nature, that suggests a domesticity as old and as permanent as that of cattle and sheep. His poetry reflects these features, reflects the high moral and historic significance of the European landscape, while the poetry of Emerson and of Thoreau is born of the wildness and elusiveness of our more capricious and unkempt Nature.

The walker has no axe to grind; he sniffs the air for new adventure; he loiters in old scenes; he gleans in old fields. He seeks intimacy with Nature only to surprise her preoccupied with her own affairs. He seeks her in the woods, in the swamps, on the hills, along the streams, by night and by day, in season and out of season. He skims the fields and hillsides as the swallow skims the air; and what he gets is intangible to most persons. He sees much with his eyes, but he sees more with his heart and imagination. He bathes in Nature as in a sea. He is alert for the beauty that waves in the trees, that ripples in the grass and grain, that flows in the streams, that drifts in the clouds, that sparkles in the dew and rain. The hammer of the geologist, the notebook of the naturalist, the box of the herbalist, the net of the entomologist, are not for him. He drives no sharp bargains with Nature, he reads no sermons in stones, no books in running brooks, but he does see good in everything. The book he reads he reads through all his senses, — through his eyes, his ears, his nose, and also through his feet and hands, — and its pages are open everywhere; the rocks speak of more than geology to him, the birds of more than ornithology, the flowers of more than botany, the stars of more than astronomy, the wild creatures of more than geology.

Thoreau’s merits as a man and a writer are so many and so great, that I have not hesitated to make much of his defects. Indeed, I have with malice aforethought ransacked his works to find them. But after they are all charged up against him, the balance that remains on the credit side of the account is so great that they do not disturb us.

Thoreau’s work lives and will continue to live because, in the first place, the world loves a writer who can flout it and turn his back upon it and yet make good; and again, because the books which he gave to the world have many and very high literary and ethical values. They are fresh, original, and stimulating. He drew a gospel out of the wild; he brought messages from the wood-gods to men; he made a lonely pond in Massachusetts a fountain of the purest, most elevating thoughts; and, with his great neighbor Emerson, added new lustre to a town over which the muse of our Colonial history has long loved to dwell.