The Pond in Winter

After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me,

which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep,

as what --how --when --where?

But there was dawning Nature,

in whom all creatures live,

looking in at my broad windows with serene and satisfied face,

and no question on -her- lips.

I awoke to an answered question,

to Nature and daylight.

The snow lying deep on the earth dotted with young pines,

and the very slope of the hill on which my house is placed,

seemed to say,


Nature puts no question and answers none which we mortals ask.

She has long ago taken her resolution.

"O Prince,

our eyes contemplate with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of this universe.

The night veils without doubt a part of this glorious creation;

but day comes to reveal to us this great work,

which extends from earth even into the plains of the ether."

Then to my morning work.

First I take an axe and pail and go in search of water,

if that be not a dream.

After a cold and snowy night it needed a divining-rod to find it.

Every winter the liquid and trembling surface of the pond,

which was so sensitive to every breath,

and reflected every light and shadow,

becomes solid to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half,

so that it will support the heaviest teams,

and perchance the snow covers it to an equal depth,

and it is not to be distinguished from any level field.

Like the marmots in the surrounding hills,

it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for three months or more.

Standing on the snow-covered plain,

as if in a pasture amid the hills,

I cut my way first through a foot of snow,

and then a foot of ice,

and open a window under my feet,


kneeling to drink,

I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes,

pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass,

with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer;

there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky,

corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants.

Heaven is under our feet is well as over our heads.

Early in the morning,

while all things are crisp with frost,

men come with fishing-reels and slender lunch,

and let down their fine lines through the snowy field to take pickerel and perch;

wild men,

who instinctively follow other fashions and trust other authorities than their townsmen,

and by their goings and comings stitch towns together in parts where else they would be ripped.

They sit and eat their luncheon in stout fear-naughts on the dry oak leaves on the shore,

as wise in natural lore as the citizen is in artificial.

They never consulted with books,

and know and can tell much less than they have done.

The things which they practice are said not yet to be known.

Here is one fishing for pickerel with grown perch for bait.

You look into his pail with wonder as into a summer pond,

as if he kept summer locked up at home,

or knew where she had retreated.



did he get these in midwinter?


he got worms out of rotten logs since the ground froze,

and so he caught them.

His life itself passes deeper in nature than the studies of the naturalist penetrate;

himself a subject for the naturalist.

The latter raises the moss and bark gently with his knife in search of insects;

the former lays open logs to their core with his axe,

and moss and bark fly far and wide.

He gets his living by barking trees.

Such a man has some right to fish,

and I love to see nature carried out in him.

The perch swallows the grub-worm,

the pickerel swallows the perch,

and the fisher-man swallows the pickerel;

and so all the chinks in the scale of being are filled.

When I strolled around the pond in misty weather I was sometimes amused by the primitive mode which some ruder fisherman had adopted.

He would perhaps have placed alder branches over the narrow holes in the ice,

which were four or five rods apart and an equal distance from the shore,

and having fastened the end of the line to a stick to prevent its being pulled through,

have passed the slack line over a twig of the alder,

a foot or more above the ice,

and tied a dry oak leaf to it,


being pulled down,

would show when he had a bite.

These alders loomed through the mist at regular intervals as you walked half way round the pond.


the pickerel of Walden!

when I see them lying on the ice,

or in the well which the fisherman cuts in the ice,

making a little hole to admit the water,

I am always surprised by their rare beauty,

as if they were fabulous fishes,

they are so foreign to the streets,

even to the woods,

foreign as Arabia to our Concord life.

They possess a quite dazzling and transcendent beauty which separates them by a wide interval from the cadaverous cod and haddock whose fame is trumpeted in our streets.

They are not green like the pines,

nor gray like the stones,

nor blue like the sky;

but they have,

to my eyes,

if possible,

yet rarer colors,

like flowers and precious stones,

as if they were the pearls,

the animalized nuclei or crystals of the Walden water.


of course,

are Walden all over and all through;

are themselves small Waldens in the animal kingdom,


It is surprising that they are caught here --that in this deep and capacious spring,

far beneath the rattling teams and chaises and tinkling sleighs that travel the Walden road,

this great gold and emerald fish swims.

I never chanced to see its kind in any market;

it would be the cynosure of all eyes there.


with a few convulsive quirks,

they give up their watery ghosts,

like a mortal translated before his time to the thin air of heaven.

* * * * *

As I was desirous to recover the long lost bottom of Walden Pond,

I surveyed it carefully,

before the ice broke up,

early in


with compass and chain and sounding line.

There have been many stories told about the bottom,

or rather no bottom,

of this pond,

which certainly had no foundation for themselves.

It is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it.

I have visited two such Bottomless Ponds in one walk in this neighborhood.

Many have believed that Walden reached quite through to the other side of the globe.

Some who have lain flat on the ice for a long time,

looking down through the illusive medium,

perchance with watery eyes into the bargain,

and driven to hasty conclusions by the fear of catching cold in their breasts,

have seen vast holes "into which a load of hay might be driven,"

if there were anybody to drive it,

the undoubted source of the Styx and entrance to the Infernal Regions from these parts.

Others have gone down from the village with a "fifty-six" and a wagon load of inch rope,

but yet have failed to find any bottom;

for while the "fifty-six" was resting by the way,

they were paying out the rope in the vain attempt to fathom their truly immeasurable capacity for marvellousness.

But I can assure my readers that Walden has a reasonably tight bottom at a not unreasonable,

though at an unusual,


I fathomed it easily with a cod-line and a stone weighing about a pound and a half,

and could tell accurately when the stone left the bottom,

by having to pull so much harder before the water got underneath to help me.

The greatest depth was exactly one hundred and two feet;

to which may be added the five feet which it has risen since,

making one hundred and seven.

This is a remarkable depth for so small an area;

yet not an inch of it can be spared by the imagination.

What if all ponds were shallow?

Would it not react on the minds of men?

I am thankful that this pond was made deep and pure for a symbol.

While men believe in the infinite some ponds will be thought to be bottomless.

A factory-owner,

hearing what depth I had found,

thought that it could not be true,


judging from his acquaintance with dams,

sand would not lie at so steep an angle.

But the deepest ponds are not so deep in proportion to their area as most suppose,


if drained,

would not leave very remarkable valleys.

They are not like cups between the hills;

for this one,

which is so unusually deep for its area,

appears in a vertical section through its centre not deeper than a shallow plate.

Most ponds,


would leave a meadow no more hollow than we frequently see.

William Gilpin,

who is so admirable in all that relates to landscapes,

and usually so correct,

standing at the head of Loch Fyne,

in Scotland,

which he describes as "a bay of salt water,

sixty or seventy fathoms deep,

four miles in breadth,"

and about fifty miles long,

surrounded by mountains,


"If we could have seen it immediately after the diluvian crash,

or whatever convulsion of nature occasioned it,

before the waters gushed in,

what a horrid chasm must it have appeared!

"So high as heaved the tumid hills,

so low Down sunk a hollow bottom broad and deep,

Capacious bed of waters."

But if,

using the shortest diameter of Loch Fyne,

we apply these proportions to Walden,


as we have seen,

appears already in a vertical section only like a shallow plate,

it will appear four times as shallow.

So much for the increased horrors of the chasm of Loch Fyne when emptied.

No doubt many a smiling valley with its stretching cornfields occupies exactly such a "horrid chasm,"

from which the waters have receded,

though it requires the insight and the far sight of the geologist to convince the unsuspecting inhabitants of this fact.

Often an inquisitive eye may detect the shores of a primitive lake in the low horizon hills,

and no subsequent elevation of the plain have been necessary to conceal their history.

But it is easiest,

as they who work on the highways know,

to find the hollows by the puddles after a shower.

The amount of it is,

the imagination give it the least license,

dives deeper and soars higher than Nature goes.



the depth of the ocean will be found to be very inconsiderable compared with its breadth.

As I sounded through the ice I could determine the shape of the bottom with greater accuracy than is possible in surveying harbors which do not freeze over,

and I was surprised at its general regularity.

In the deepest part there are several acres more level than almost any field which is exposed to the sun,


and plow.

In one instance,

on a line arbitrarily chosen,

the depth did not vary more than one foot in thirty rods;

and generally,

near the middle,

I could calculate the variation for each one hundred feet in any direction beforehand within three or four inches.

Some are accustomed to speak of deep and dangerous holes even in quiet sandy ponds like this,

but the effect of water under these circumstances is to level all inequalities.

The regularity of the bottom and its conformity to the shores and the range of the neighboring hills were so perfect that a distant promontory betrayed itself in the soundings quite across the pond,

and its direction could be determined by observing the opposite shore.

Cape becomes bar,

and plain shoal,

and valley and gorge deep water and channel.

When I had mapped the pond by the scale of ten rods to an inch,

and put down the soundings,

more than a hundred in all,

I observed this remarkable coincidence.

Having noticed that the number indicating the greatest depth was apparently in the centre of the map,

I laid a rule on the map lengthwise,

and then breadthwise,

and found,

to my surprise,

that the line of greatest length intersected the line of greatest breadth -exactly- at the point of greatest depth,

notwithstanding that the middle is so nearly level,

the outline of the pond far from regular,

and the extreme length and breadth were got by measuring into the coves;

and I said to myself,

Who knows but this hint would conduct to the deepest part of the ocean as well as of a pond or puddle?

Is not this the rule also for the height of mountains,

regarded as the opposite of valleys?

We know that a hill is not highest at its narrowest part.

Of five coves,


or all which had been sounded,

were observed to have a bar quite across their mouths and deeper water within,

so that the bay tended to be an expansion of water within the land not only horizontally but vertically,

and to form a basin or independent pond,

the direction of the two capes showing the course of the bar.

Every harbor on the sea-coast,


has its bar at its entrance.

In proportion as the mouth of the cove was wider compared with its length,

the water over the bar was deeper compared with that in the basin.



the length and breadth of the cove,

and the character of the surrounding shore,

and you have almost elements enough to make out a formula for all cases.

In order to see how nearly I could guess,

with this experience,

at the deepest point in a pond,

by observing the outlines of a surface and the character of its shores alone,

I made a plan of White Pond,

which contains about forty-one acres,


like this,

has no island in it,

nor any visible inlet or outlet;

and as the line of greatest breadth fell very near the line of least breadth,

where two opposite capes approached each other and two opposite bays receded,

I ventured to mark a point a short distance from the latter line,

but still on the line of greatest length,

as the deepest.

The deepest part was found to be within one hundred feet of this,

still farther in the direction to which I had inclined,

and was only one foot deeper,


sixty feet.

Of course,

a stream running through,

or an island in the pond,

would make the problem much more complicated.

If we knew all the laws of Nature,

we should need only one fact,

or the description of one actual phenomenon,

to infer all the particular results at that point.

Now we know only a few laws,

and our result is vitiated,


of course,

by any confusion or irregularity in Nature,

but by our ignorance of essential elements in the calculation.

Our notions of law and harmony are commonly confined to those instances which we detect;

but the harmony which results from a far greater number of seemingly conflicting,

but really concurring,


which we have not detected,

is still more wonderful.

The particular laws are as our points of view,


to the traveller,

a mountain outline varies with every step,

and it has an infinite number of profiles,

though absolutely but one form.

Even when cleft or bored through it is not comprehended in its entireness.

What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics.

It is the law of average.

Such a rule of the two diameters not only guides us toward the sun in the system and the heart in man,

but draws lines through the length and breadth of the aggregate of a man's particular daily behaviors and waves of life into his coves and inlets,

and where they intersect will be the height or depth of his character.

Perhaps we need only to know how his shores trend and his adjacent country or circumstances,

to infer his depth and concealed bottom.

If he is surrounded by mountainous circumstances,

an Achillean shore,

whose peaks overshadow and are reflected in his bosom,

they suggest a corresponding depth in him.

But a low and smooth shore proves him shallow on that side.

In our bodies,

a bold projecting brow falls off to and indicates a corresponding depth of thought.

Also there is a bar across the entrance of our every cove,

or particular inclination;

each is our harbor for a season,

in which we are detained and partially land-locked.

These inclinations are not whimsical usually,

but their form,


and direction are determined by the promontories of the shore,

the ancient axes of elevation.

When this bar is gradually increased by storms,


or currents,

or there is a subsidence of the waters,

so that it reaches to the surface,

that which was at first but an inclination in the shore in which a thought was harbored becomes an individual lake,

cut off from the ocean,

wherein the thought secures its own conditions --changes,


from salt to fresh,

becomes a sweet sea,

dead sea,

or a marsh.

At the advent of each individual into this life,

may we not suppose that such a bar has risen to the surface somewhere?

It is true,

we are such poor navigators that our thoughts,

for the most part,

stand off and on upon a harborless coast,

are conversant only with the bights of the bays of poesy,

or steer for the public ports of entry,

and go into the dry docks of science,

where they merely refit for this world,

and no natural currents concur to individualize them.

As for the inlet or outlet of Walden,

I have not discovered any but rain and snow and evaporation,

though perhaps,

with a thermometer and a line,

such places may be found,

for where the water flows into the pond it will probably be coldest in summer and warmest in winter.

When the ice-men were at work here in


the cakes sent to the shore were one day rejected by those who were stacking them up there,

not being thick enough to lie side by side with the rest;

and the cutters thus discovered that the ice over a small space was two or three inches thinner than elsewhere,

which made them think that there was an inlet there.

They also showed me in another place what they thought was a "leach-hole,"

through which the pond leaked out under a hill into a neighboring meadow,

pushing me out on a cake of ice to see it.

It was a small cavity under ten feet of water;

but I think that I can warrant the pond not to need soldering till they find a worse leak than that.

One has suggested,

that if such a "leach-hole" should be found,

its connection with the meadow,

if any existed,

might be proved by conveying some colored powder or sawdust to the mouth of the hole,

and then putting a strainer over the spring in the meadow,

which would catch some of the particles carried through by the current.

While I was surveying,

the ice,

which was sixteen inches thick,

undulated under a slight wind like water.

It is well known that a level cannot be used on ice.

At one rod from the shore its greatest fluctuation,

when observed by means of a level on land directed toward a graduated staff on the ice,

was three quarters of an inch,

though the ice appeared firmly attached to the shore.

It was probably greater in the middle.

Who knows but if our instruments were delicate enough we might detect an undulation in the crust of the earth?

When two legs of my level were on the shore and the third on the ice,

and the sights were directed over the latter,

a rise or fall of the ice of an almost infinitesimal amount made a difference of several feet on a tree across the pond.

When I began to cut holes for sounding there were three or four inches of water on the ice under a deep snow which had sunk it thus far;

but the water began immediately to run into these holes,

and continued to run for two days in deep streams,

which wore away the ice on every side,

and contributed essentially,

if not mainly,

to dry the surface of the pond;


as the water ran in,

it raised and floated the ice.

This was somewhat like cutting a hole in the bottom of a ship to let the water out.

When such holes freeze,

and a rain succeeds,

and finally a new freezing forms a fresh smooth ice over all,

it is beautifully mottled internally by dark figures,

shaped somewhat like a spider's web,

what you may call ice rosettes,

produced by the channels worn by the water flowing from all sides to a centre.



when the ice was covered with shallow puddles,

I saw a double shadow of myself,

one standing on the head of the other,

one on the ice,

the other on the trees or hillside.

* * * * *

While yet it is cold January,

and snow and ice are thick and solid,

the prudent landlord comes from the village to get ice to cool his summer drink;


even pathetically,


to foresee the heat and thirst of July now in January --wearing a thick coat and mittens!

when so many things are not provided for.

It may be that he lays up no treasures in this world which will cool his summer drink in the next.

He cuts and saws the solid pond,

unroofs the house of fishes,

and carts off their very element and air,

held fast by chains and stakes like corded wood,

through the favoring winter air,

to wintry cellars,

to underlie the summer there.

It looks like solidified azure,


far off,

it is drawn through the streets.

These ice-cutters are a merry race,

full of jest and sport,

and when I went among them they were wont to invite me to saw pit-fashion with them,

I standing underneath.

In the winter of

'46-7 there came a hundred men of Hyperborean extraction swoop down on to our pond one morning,

with many carloads of ungainly-looking farming tools --sleds,







and each man was armed with a double-pointed pike-staff,

such as is not described in the New-England Farmer or the Cultivator.

I did not know whether they had come to sow a crop of winter rye,

or some other kind of grain recently introduced from Iceland.

As I saw no manure,

I judged that they meant to skim the land,

as I had done,

thinking the soil was deep and had lain fallow long enough.

They said that a gentleman farmer,

who was behind the scenes,

wanted to double his money,


as I understood,

amounted to half a million already;

but in order to cover each one of his dollars with another,

he took off the only coat,


the skin itself,

of Walden Pond in the midst of a hard winter.

They went to work at once,





in admirable order,

as if they were bent on making this a model farm;

but when I was looking sharp to see what kind of seed they dropped into the furrow,

a gang of fellows by my side suddenly began to hook up the virgin mould itself,

with a peculiar jerk,

clean down to the sand,

or rather the water --for it was a very springy soil --indeed all the -terra firma- there was --and haul it away on sleds,

and then I guessed that they must be cutting peat in a bog.

So they came and went every day,

with a peculiar shriek from the locomotive,

from and to some point of the polar regions,

as it seemed to me,

like a flock of arctic snow-birds.

But sometimes Squaw Walden had her revenge,

and a hired man,

walking behind his team,

slipped through a crack in the ground down toward Tartarus,

and he who was so brave before suddenly became but the ninth part of a man,

almost gave up his animal heat,

and was glad to take refuge in my house,

and acknowledged that there was some virtue in a stove;

or sometimes the frozen soil took a piece of steel out of a plowshare,

or a plow got set in the furrow and had to be cut out.

To speak literally,

a hundred Irishmen,

with Yankee overseers,

came from Cambridge every day to get out the ice.

They divided it into cakes by methods too well known to require description,

and these,

being sledded to the shore,

were rapidly hauled off on to an ice platform,

and raised by grappling irons and block and tackle,

worked by horses,

on to a stack,

as surely as so many barrels of flour,

and there placed evenly side by side,

and row upon row,

as if they formed the solid base of an obelisk designed to pierce the clouds.

They told me that in a good day they could get out a thousand tons,

which was the yield of about one acre.

Deep ruts and "cradle-holes" were worn in the ice,

as on -terra firma-,

by the passage of the sleds over the same track,

and the horses invariably ate their oats out of cakes of ice hollowed out like buckets.

They stacked up the cakes thus in the open air in a pile thirty-five feet high on one side and six or seven rods square,

putting hay between the outside layers to exclude the air;

for when the wind,

though never so cold,

finds a passage through,

it will wear large cavities,

leaving slight supports or studs only here and there,

and finally topple it down.

At first it looked like a vast blue fort or Valhalla;

but when they began to tuck the coarse meadow hay into the crevices,

and this became covered with rime and icicles,

it looked like a venerable moss-grown and hoary ruin,

built of azure-tinted marble,

the abode of Winter,

that old man we see in the almanac --his shanty,

as if he had a design to estivate with us.

They calculated that not twenty-five per cent of this would reach its destination,

and that two or three per cent would be wasted in the cars.


a still greater part of this heap had a different destiny from what was intended;


either because the ice was found not to keep so well as was expected,

containing more air than usual,

or for some other reason,

it never got to market.

This heap,

made in the winter of

'46-7 and estimated to contain ten thousand tons,

was finally covered with hay and boards;

and though it was unroofed the following July,

and a part of it carried off,

the rest remaining exposed to the sun,

it stood over that summer and the next winter,

and was not quite melted till September,


Thus the pond recovered the greater part.

Like the water,

the Walden ice,

seen near at hand,

has a green tint,

but at a distance is beautifully blue,

and you can easily tell it from the white ice of the river,

or the merely greenish ice of some ponds,

a quarter of a mile off.

Sometimes one of those great cakes slips from the ice-man's sled into the village street,

and lies there for a week like a great emerald,

an object of interest to all passers.

I have noticed that a portion of Walden which in the state of water was green will often,

when frozen,

appear from the same point of view blue.

So the hollows about this pond will,


in the winter,

be filled with a greenish water somewhat like its own,

but the next day will have frozen blue.

Perhaps the blue color of water and ice is due to the light and air they contain,

and the most transparent is the bluest.

Ice is an interesting subject for contemplation.

They told me that they had some in the ice-houses at Fresh Pond five years old which was as good as ever.

Why is it that a bucket of water soon becomes putrid,

but frozen remains sweet forever?

It is commonly said that this is the difference between the affections and the intellect.

Thus for sixteen days I saw from my window a hundred men at work like busy husbandmen,

with teams and horses and apparently all the implements of farming,

such a picture as we see on the first page of the almanac;

and as often as I looked out I was reminded of the fable of the lark and the reapers,

or the parable of the sower,

and the like;

and now they are all gone,

and in thirty days more,


I shall look from the same window on the pure sea-green Walden water there,

reflecting the clouds and the trees,

and sending up its evaporations in solitude,

and no traces will appear that a man has ever stood there.

Perhaps I shall hear a solitary loon laugh as he dives and plumes himself,

or shall see a lonely fisher in his boat,

like a floating leaf,

beholding his form reflected in the waves,

where lately a hundred men securely labored.

Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans,

of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta,

drink at my well.

In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat-Geeta,

since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed,

and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial;

and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence,

so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions.

I lay down the book and go to my well for water,

and lo!

there I meet the servant of the Bramin,

priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra,

who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas,

or dwells at the root of a tree with his crust and water jug.

I meet his servant come to draw water for his master,

and our buckets as it were grate together in the same well.

The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.

With favoring winds it is wafted past the site of the fabulous islands of Atlantis and the Hesperides,

makes the periplus of Hanno,


floating by Ternate and Tidore and the mouth of the Persian Gulf,

melts in the tropic gales of the Indian seas,

and is landed in ports of which Alexander only heard the names.


The opening of large tracts by the ice-cutters commonly causes a pond to break up earlier;

for the water,

agitated by the wind,

even in cold weather,

wears away the surrounding ice.

But such was not the effect on Walden that year,

for she had soon got a thick new garment to take the place of the old.

This pond never breaks up so soon as the others in this neighborhood,

on account both of its greater depth and its having no stream passing through it to melt or wear away the ice.

I never knew it to open in the course of a winter,

not excepting that of


which gave the ponds so severe a trial.

It commonly opens about the first of April,

a week or ten days later than Flint's Pond and Fair Haven,

beginning to melt on the north side and in the shallower parts where it began to freeze.

It indicates better than any water hereabouts the absolute progress of the season,

being least affected by transient changes of temperature.

A severe cold of a few days' duration in March may very much retard the opening of the former ponds,

while the temperature of Walden increases almost uninterruptedly.

A thermometer thrust into the middle of Walden on the 6th of March,


stood at 32º,

or freezing point;

near the shore at 33º;

in the middle of Flint's Pond,

the same day,

at 32º;

at a dozen rods from the shore,

in shallow water,

under ice a foot thick,

at 36º.

This difference of three and a half degrees between the temperature of the deep water and the shallow in the latter pond,

and the fact that a great proportion of it is comparatively shallow,

show why it should break up so much sooner than Walden.

The ice in the shallowest part was at this time several inches thinner than in the middle.

In midwinter the middle had been the warmest and the ice thinnest there.



every one who has waded about the shores of the pond in summer must have perceived how much warmer the water is close to the shore,

where only three or four inches deep,

than a little distance out,

and on the surface where it is deep,

than near the bottom.

In spring the sun not only exerts an influence through the increased temperature of the air and earth,

but its heat passes through ice a foot or more thick,

and is reflected from the bottom in shallow water,

and so also warms the water and melts the under side of the ice,

at the same time that it is melting it more directly above,

making it uneven,

and causing the air bubbles which it contains to extend themselves upward and downward until it is completely honeycombed,

and at last disappears suddenly in a single spring rain.

Ice has its grain as well as wood,

and when a cake begins to rot or "comb,"

that is,

assume the appearance of honeycomb,

whatever may be its position,

the air cells are at right angles with what was the water surface.

Where there is a rock or a log rising near to the surface the ice over it is much thinner,

and is frequently quite dissolved by this reflected heat;

and I have been told that in the experiment at Cambridge to freeze water in a shallow wooden pond,

though the cold air circulated underneath,

and so had access to both sides,

the reflection of the sun from the bottom more than counterbalanced this advantage.

When a warm rain in the middle of the winter melts off the snow-ice from Walden,

and leaves a hard dark or transparent ice on the middle,

there will be a strip of rotten though thicker white ice,

a rod or more wide,

about the shores,

created by this reflected heat.


as I have said,

the bubbles themselves within the ice operate as burning-glasses to melt the ice beneath.

The phenomena of the year take place every day in a pond on a small scale.

Every morning,

generally speaking,

the shallow water is being warmed more rapidly than the deep,

though it may not be made so warm after all,

and every evening it is being cooled more rapidly until the morning.

The day is an epitome of the year.

The night is the winter,

the morning and evening are the spring and fall,

and the noon is the summer.

The cracking and booming of the ice indicate a change of temperature.

One pleasant morning after a cold night,

February 24th,


having gone to Flint's Pond to spend the day,

I noticed with surprise,

that when I struck the ice with the head of my axe,

it resounded like a gong for many rods around,

or as if I had struck on a tight drum-head.

The pond began to boom about an hour after sunrise,

when it felt the influence of the sun's rays slanted upon it from over the hills;

it stretched itself and yawned like a waking man with a gradually increasing tumult,

which was kept up three or four hours.

It took a short siesta at noon,

and boomed once more toward night,

as the sun was withdrawing his influence.

In the right stage of the weather a pond fires its evening gun with great regularity.

But in the middle of the day,

being full of cracks,

and the air also being less elastic,

it had completely lost its resonance,

and probably fishes and muskrats could not then have been stunned by a blow on it.

The fishermen say that the "thundering of the pond" scares the fishes and prevents their biting.

The pond does not thunder every evening,

and I cannot tell surely when to expect its thundering;

but though I may perceive no difference in the weather,

it does.

Who would have suspected so large and cold and thick-skinned a thing to be so sensitive?

Yet it has its law to which it thunders obedience when it should as surely as the buds expand in the spring.

The earth is all alive and covered with papillae.

The largest pond is as sensitive to atmospheric changes as the globule of mercury in its tube.

One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the Spring come in.

The ice in the pond at length begins to be honeycombed,

and I can set my heel in it as I walk.

Fogs and rains and warmer suns are gradually melting the snow;

the days have grown sensibly longer;

and I see how I shall get through the winter without adding to my wood-pile,

for large fires are no longer necessary.

I am on the alert for the first signs of spring,

to hear the chance note of some arriving bird,

or the striped squirrel's chirp,

for his stores must be now nearly exhausted,

or see the woodchuck venture out of his winter quarters.

On the 13th of March,

after I had heard the bluebird,

song sparrow,

and red-wing,

the ice was still nearly a foot thick.

As the weather grew warmer it was not sensibly worn away by the water,

nor broken up and floated off as in rivers,


though it was completely melted for half a rod in width about the shore,

the middle was merely honeycombed and saturated with water,

so that you could put your foot through it when six inches thick;

but by the next day evening,


after a warm rain followed by fog,

it would have wholly disappeared,

all gone off with the fog,

spirited away.

One year I went across the middle only five days before it disappeared entirely.

In 1845 Walden was first completely open on the 1st of April;



the 25th of March;



the 8th of April;



the 28th of March;



the 18th of April;



the 23d of March;



about the 7th of April.

Every incident connected with the breaking up of the rivers and ponds and the settling of the weather is particularly interesting to us who live in a climate of so great extremes.

When the warmer days come,

they who dwell near the river hear the ice crack at night with a startling whoop as loud as artillery,

as if its icy fetters were rent from end to end,

and within a few days see it rapidly going out.

So the alligator comes out of the mud with quakings of the earth.

One old man,

who has been a close observer of Nature,

and seems as thoroughly wise in regard to all her operations as if she had been put upon the stocks when he was a boy,

and he had helped to lay her keel --who has come to his growth,

and can hardly acquire more of natural lore if he should live to the age of Methuselah --told me --and I was surprised to hear him express wonder at any of Nature's operations,

for I thought that there were no secrets between them --that one spring day he took his gun and boat,

and thought that he would have a little sport with the ducks.

There was ice still on the meadows,

but it was all gone out of the river,

and he dropped down without obstruction from Sudbury,

where he lived,

to Fair Haven Pond,

which he found,


covered for the most part with a firm field of ice.

It was a warm day,

and he was surprised to see so great a body of ice remaining.

Not seeing any ducks,

he hid his boat on the north or back side of an island in the pond,

and then concealed himself in the bushes on the south side,

to await them.

The ice was melted for three or four rods from the shore,

and there was a smooth and warm sheet of water,

with a muddy bottom,

such as the ducks love,


and he thought it likely that some would be along pretty soon.

After he had lain still there about an hour he heard a low and seemingly very distant sound,

but singularly grand and impressive,

unlike anything he had ever heard,

gradually swelling and increasing as if it would have a universal and memorable ending,

a sullen rush and roar,

which seemed to him all at once like the sound of a vast body of fowl coming in to settle there,


seizing his gun,

he started up in haste and excited;

but he found,

to his surprise,

that the whole body of the ice had started while he lay there,

and drifted in to the shore,

and the sound he had heard was made by its edge grating on the shore --at first gently nibbled and crumbled off,

but at length heaving up and scattering its wrecks along the island to a considerable height before it came to a standstill.

At length the sun's rays have attained the right angle,

and warm winds blow up mist and rain and melt the snowbanks,

and the sun,

dispersing the mist,

smiles on a checkered landscape of russet and white smoking with incense,

through which the traveller picks his way from islet to islet,

cheered by the music of a thousand tinkling rills and rivulets whose veins are filled with the blood of winter which they are bearing off.

Few phenomena gave me more delight than to observe the forms which thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the sides of a deep cut on the railroad through which I passed on my way to the village,

a phenomenon not very common on so large a scale,

though the number of freshly exposed banks of the right material must have been greatly multiplied since railroads were invented.

The material was sand of every degree of fineness and of various rich colors,

commonly mixed with a little clay.

When the frost comes out in the spring,

and even in a thawing day in the winter,

the sand begins to flow down the slopes like lava,

sometimes bursting out through the snow and overflowing it where no sand was to be seen before.

Innumerable little streams overlap and interlace one with another,

exhibiting a sort of hybrid product,

which obeys half way the law of currents,

and half way that of vegetation.

As it flows it takes the forms of sappy leaves or vines,

making heaps of pulpy sprays a foot or more in depth,

and resembling,

as you look down on them,

the laciniated,


and imbricated thalluses of some lichens;

or you are reminded of coral,

of leopard's paws or birds' feet,

of brains or lungs or bowels,

and excrements of all kinds.

It is a truly -grotesque- vegetation,

whose forms and color we see imitated in bronze,

a sort of architectural foliage more ancient and typical than acanthus,




or any vegetable leaves;

destined perhaps,

under some circumstances,

to become a puzzle to future geologists.

The whole cut impressed me as if it were a cave with its stalactites laid open to the light.

The various shades of the sand are singularly rich and agreeable,

embracing the different iron colors,




and reddish.

When the flowing mass reaches the drain at the foot of the bank it spreads out flatter into -strands-,

the separate streams losing their semi-cylindrical form and gradually becoming more flat and broad,

running together as they are more moist,

till they form an almost flat -sand-,

still variously and beautifully shaded,

but in which you can trace the original forms of vegetation;

till at length,

in the water itself,

they are converted into -banks-,

like those formed off the mouths of rivers,

and the forms of vegetation are lost in the ripple marks on the bottom.

The whole bank,

which is from twenty to forty feet high,

is sometimes overlaid with a mass of this kind of foliage,

or sandy rupture,

for a quarter of a mile on one or both sides,

the produce of one spring day.

What makes this sand foliage remarkable is its springing into existence thus suddenly.

When I see on the one side the inert bank --for the sun acts on one side first --and on the other this luxuriant foliage,

the creation of an hour,

I am affected as if in a peculiar sense I stood in the laboratory of the Artist who made the world and me --had come to where he was still at work,

sporting on this bank,

and with excess of energy strewing his fresh designs about.

I feel as if I were nearer to the vitals of the globe,

for this sandy overflow is something such a foliaceous mass as the vitals of the animal body.

You find thus in the very sands an anticipation of the vegetable leaf.

No wonder that the earth expresses itself outwardly in leaves,

it so labors with the idea inwardly.

The atoms have already learned this law,

and are pregnant by it.

The overhanging leaf sees here its prototype.


whether in the globe or animal body,

it is a moist thick -lobe-,

a word especially applicable to the liver and lungs and the leaves of fat (γεἱβω,



to flow or slip downward,

a lapsing;





also lap,


and many other words);

-externally- a dry thin -leaf-,

even as the -f- and -v- are a pressed and dried -b-.

The radicals of -lobe- are -lb-,

the soft mass of the -b- (single lobed,

or B,

double lobed),

with the liquid -l- behind it pressing it forward.

In globe,


the guttural -g- adds to the meaning the capacity of the throat.

The feathers and wings of birds are still drier and thinner leaves.



you pass from the lumpish grub in the earth to the airy and fluttering butterfly.

The very globe continually transcends and translates itself,

and becomes winged in its orbit.

Even ice begins with delicate crystal leaves,

as if it had flowed into moulds which the fronds of waterplants have impressed on the watery mirror.

The whole tree itself is but one leaf,

and rivers are still vaster leaves whose pulp is intervening earth,

and towns and cities are the ova of insects in their axils.

When the sun withdraws the sand ceases to flow,

but in the morning the streams will start once more and branch and branch again into a myriad of others.

You here see perchance how blood-vessels are formed.

If you look closely you observe that first there pushes forward from the thawing mass a stream of softened sand with a drop-like point,

like the ball of the finger,

feeling its way slowly and blindly downward,

until at last with more heat and moisture,

as the sun gets higher,

the most fluid portion,

in its effort to obey the law to which the most inert also yields,

separates from the latter and forms for itself a meandering channel or artery within that,

in which is seen a little silvery stream glancing like lightning from one stage of pulpy leaves or branches to another,

and ever and anon swallowed up in the sand.

It is wonderful how rapidly yet perfectly the sand organizes itself as it flows,

using the best material its mass affords to form the sharp edges of its channel.

Such are the sources of rivers.

In the silicious matter which the water deposits is perhaps the bony system,

and in the still finer soil and organic matter the fleshy fibre or cellular tissue.

What is man but a mass of thawing clay?

The ball of the human finger is but a drop congealed.

The fingers and toes flow to their extent from the thawing mass of the body.

Who knows what the human body would expand and flow out to under a more genial heaven?

Is not the hand a spreading -palm- leaf with its lobes and veins?

The ear may be regarded,


as a lichen,


on the side of the head,

with its lobe or drop.

The lip ---labium-,

from -labor- (?) --laps or lapses from the sides of the cavernous mouth.

The nose is a manifest congealed drop or stalactite.

The chin is a still larger drop,

the confluent dripping of the face.

The cheeks are a slide from the brows into the valley of the face,

opposed and diffused by the cheek bones.

Each rounded lobe of the vegetable leaf,


is a thick and now loitering drop,

larger or smaller;

the lobes are the fingers of the leaf;

and as many lobes as it has,

in so many directions it tends to flow,

and more heat or other genial influences would have caused it to flow yet farther.

Thus it seemed that this one hillside illustrated the principle of all the operations of Nature.

The Maker of this earth but patented a leaf.

What Champollion will decipher this hieroglyphic for us,

that we may turn over a new leaf at last?

This phenomenon is more exhilarating to me than the luxuriance and fertility of vineyards.


it is somewhat excrementitious in its character,

and there is no end to the heaps of liver,


and bowels,

as if the globe were turned wrong side outward;

but this suggests at least that Nature has some bowels,

and there again is mother of humanity.

This is the frost coming out of the ground;

this is Spring.

It precedes the green and flowery spring,

as mythology precedes regular poetry.

I know of nothing more purgative of winter fumes and indigestions.

It convinces me that Earth is still in her swaddling-clothes,

and stretches forth baby fingers on every side.

Fresh curls spring from the baldest brow.

There is nothing inorganic.

These foliaceous heaps lie along the bank like the slag of a furnace,

showing that Nature is "in full blast" within.

The earth is not a mere fragment of dead history,

stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a book,

to be studied by geologists and antiquaries chiefly,

but living poetry like the leaves of a tree,

which precede flowers and fruit --not a fossil earth,

but a living earth;

compared with whose great central life all animal and vegetable life is merely parasitic.

Its throes will heave our exuviae from their graves.

You may melt your metals and cast them into the most beautiful moulds you can;

they will never excite me like the forms which this molten earth flows out into.

And not only it,

but the institutions upon it are plastic like clay in the hands of the potter.

Ere long,

not only on these banks,

but on every hill and plain and in every hollow,

the frost comes out of the ground like a dormant quadruped from its burrow,

and seeks the sea with music,

or migrates to other climes in clouds.

Thaw with his gentle persuasion is more powerful than Thor with his hammer.

The one melts,

the other but breaks in pieces.

When the ground was partially bare of snow,

and a few warm days had dried its surface somewhat,

it was pleasant to compare the first tender signs of the infant year just peeping forth with the stately beauty of the withered vegetation which had withstood the winter --life-everlasting,



and graceful wild grasses,

more obvious and interesting frequently than in summer even,

as if their beauty was not ripe till then;

even cotton-grass,






and other strong-stemmed plants,

those unexhausted granaries which entertain the earliest birds --decent weeds,

at least,

which widowed Nature wears.

I am particularly attracted by the arching and sheaf-like top of the wool-grass;

it brings back the summer to our winter memories,

and is among the forms which art loves to copy,

and which,

in the vegetable kingdom,

have the same relation to types already in the mind of man that astronomy has.

It is an antique style,

older than Greek or Egyptian.

Many of the phenomena of Winter are suggestive of an inexpressible tenderness and fragile delicacy.

We are accustomed to hear this king described as a rude and boisterous tyrant;

but with the gentleness of a lover he adorns the tresses of Summer.

At the approach of spring the red squirrels got under my house,

two at a time,

directly under my feet as I sat reading or writing,

and kept up the queerest chuckling and chirruping and vocal pirouetting and gurgling sounds that ever were heard;

and when I stamped they only chirruped the louder,

as if past all fear and respect in their mad pranks,

defying humanity to stop them.


you don't --chickaree --chickaree.

They were wholly deaf to my arguments,

or failed to perceive their force,

and fell into a strain of invective that was irresistible.

The first sparrow of spring!

The year beginning with younger hope than ever!

The faint silvery warblings heard over the partially bare and moist fields from the bluebird,

the song sparrow,

and the red-wing,

as if the last flakes of winter tinkled as they fell!

What at such a time are histories,



and all written revelations?

The brooks sing carols and glees to the spring.

The marsh hawk,

sailing low over the meadow,

is already seeking the first slimy life that awakes.

The sinking sound of melting snow is heard in all dells,

and the ice dissolves apace in the ponds.

The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire --"et primitus oritur herba imbribus primoribus evocata" --as if the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the returning sun;

not yellow but green is the color of its flame;

--the symbol of perpetual youth,

the grass-blade,

like a long green ribbon,

streams from the sod into the summer,

checked indeed by the frost,

but anon pushing on again,

lifting its spear of last year's hay with the fresh life below.

It grows as steadily as the rill oozes out of the ground.

It is almost identical with that,

for in the growing days of June,

when the rills are dry,

the grass-blades are their channels,

and from year to year the herds drink at this perennial green stream,

and the mower draws from it betimes their winter supply.

So our human life but dies down to its root,

and still puts forth its green blade to eternity.

Walden is melting apace.

There is a canal two rods wide along the northerly and westerly sides,

and wider still at the east end.

A great field of ice has cracked off from the main body.

I hear a song sparrow singing from the bushes on the shore,




-- --chip-,



-che char-,

---che wiss-,



He too is helping to crack it.

How handsome the great sweeping curves in the edge of the ice,

answering somewhat to those of the shore,

but more regular!

It is unusually hard,

owing to the recent severe but transient cold,

and all watered or waved like a palace floor.

But the wind slides eastward over its opaque surface in vain,

till it reaches the living surface beyond.

It is glorious to behold this ribbon of water sparkling in the sun,

the bare face of the pond full of glee and youth,

as if it spoke the joy of the fishes within it,

and of the sands on its shore --a silvery sheen as from the scales of a leuciscus,

as it were all one active fish.

Such is the contrast between winter and spring.

Walden was dead and is alive again.

But this spring it broke up more steadily,

as I have said.

The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather,

from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones,

is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim.

It is seemingly instantaneous at last.

Suddenly an influx of light filled my house,

though the evening was at hand,

and the clouds of winter still overhung it,

and the eaves were dripping with sleety rain.

I looked out the window,

and lo!

where yesterday was cold gray ice there lay the transparent pond already calm and full of hope as in a summer evening,

reflecting a summer evening sky in its bosom,

though none was visible overhead,

as if it had intelligence with some remote horizon.

I heard a robin in the distance,

the first I had heard for many a thousand years,


whose note I shall not forget for many a thousand more --the same sweet and powerful song as of yore.

O the evening robin,

at the end of a New England summer day!

If I could ever find the twig he sits upon!

I mean -he-;

I mean the -twig-.

This at least is not the -Turdus migratorius-.

The pitch pines and shrub oaks about my house,

which had so long drooped,

suddenly resumed their several characters,

looked brighter,


and more erect and alive,

as if effectually cleansed and restored by the rain.

I knew that it would not rain any more.

You may tell by looking at any twig of the forest,


at your very wood-pile,

whether its winter is past or not.

As it grew darker,

I was startled by the honking of geese flying low over the woods,

like weary travellers getting in late from Southern lakes,

and indulging at last in unrestrained complaint and mutual consolation.

Standing at my door,

I could hear the rush of their wings;


driving toward my house,

they suddenly spied my light,

and with hushed clamor wheeled and settled in the pond.

So I came in,

and shut the door,

and passed my first spring night in the woods.

In the morning I watched the geese from the door through the mist,

sailing in the middle of the pond,

fifty rods off,

so large and tumultuous that Walden appeared like an artificial pond for their amusement.

But when I stood on the shore they at once rose up with a great flapping of wings at the signal of their commander,

and when they had got into rank circled about over my head,

twenty-nine of them,

and then steered straight to Canada,

with a regular -honk- from the leader at intervals,

trusting to break their fast in muddier pools.

A "plump" of ducks rose at the same time and took the route to the north in the wake of their noisier cousins.

For a week I heard the circling,

groping clangor of some solitary goose in the foggy mornings,

seeking its companion,

and still peopling the woods with the sound of a larger life than they could sustain.

In April the pigeons were seen again flying express in small flocks,

and in due time I heard the martins twittering over my clearing,

though it had not seemed that the township contained so many that it could afford me any,

and I fancied that they were peculiarly of the ancient race that dwelt in hollow trees ere white men came.

In almost all climes the tortoise and the frog are among the precursors and heralds of this season,

and birds fly with song and glancing plumage,

and plants spring and bloom,

and winds blow,

to correct this slight oscillation of the poles and preserve the equilibrium of nature.

As every season seems best to us in its turn,

so the coming in of spring is like the creation of Cosmos out of Chaos and the realization of the Golden Age.


"Eurus ad Auroram Nabathaeaque regna recessit,


et radiis juga subdita matutinis."

"The East-Wind withdrew to Aurora and the Nabathæn kingdom,

And the Persian,

and the ridges placed under the morning rays.


...Man was born.

Whether that Artificer of things,

The origin of a better world,

made him from the divine seed;

Or the earth,

being recent and lately sundered from the high Ether,

retained some seeds of cognate heaven."

A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener.

So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts.

We should be blessed if we lived in the present always,

and took advantage of every accident that befell us,

like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it;

and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities,

which we call doing our duty.

We loiter in winter while it is already spring.

In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are forgiven.

Such a day is a truce to vice.

While such a sun holds out to burn,

the vilest sinner may return.

Through our own recovered innocence we discern the innocence of our neighbors.

You may have known your neighbor yesterday for a thief,

a drunkard,

or a sensualist,

and merely pitied or despised him,

and despaired of the world;

but the sun shines bright and warm this first spring morning,

recreating the world,

and you meet him at some serene work,

and see how it is exhausted and debauched veins expand with still joy and bless the new day,

feel the spring influence with the innocence of infancy,

and all his faults are forgotten.

There is not only an atmosphere of good will about him,

but even a savor of holiness groping for expression,

blindly and ineffectually perhaps,

like a new-born instinct,

and for a short hour the south hill-side echoes to no vulgar jest.

You see some innocent fair shoots preparing to burst from his gnarled rind and try another year's life,

tender and fresh as the youngest plant.

Even he has entered into the joy of his Lord.

Why the jailer does not leave open his prison doors --why the judge does not dismis his case --why the preacher does not dismiss his congregation!

It is because they do not obey the hint which God gives them,

nor accept the pardon which he freely offers to all.

"A return to goodness produced each day in the tranquil and beneficent breath of the morning,

causes that in respect to the love of virtue and the hatred of vice,

one approaches a little the primitive nature of man,

as the sprouts of the forest which has been felled.

In like manner the evil which one does in the interval of a day prevents the germs of virtues which began to spring up again from developing themselves and destroys them.

"After the germs of virtue have thus been prevented many times from developing themselves,

then the beneficent breath of evening does not suffice to preserve them.

As soon as the breath of evening does not suffice longer to preserve them,

then the nature of man does not differ much from that of the brute.

Men seeing the nature of this man like that of the brute,

think that he has never possessed the innate faculty of reason.

Are those the true and natural sentiments of man?"

"The Golden Age was first created,

which without any avenger Spontaneously without law cherished fidelity and rectitude.

Punishment and fear were not;

nor were threatening words read On suspended brass;

nor did the suppliant crowd fear The words of their judge;

but were safe without an avenger.

Not yet the pine felled on its mountains had descended To the liquid waves that it might see a foreign world,

And mortals knew no shores but their own.


...There was eternal spring,

and placid zephyrs with warm Blasts soothed the flowers born without seed."

On the 29th of April,

as I was fishing from the bank of the river near the Nine-Acre-Corner bridge,

standing on the quaking grass and willow roots,

where the muskrats lurk,

I heard a singular rattling sound,

somewhat like that of the sticks which boys play with their fingers,


looking up,

I observed a very slight and graceful hawk,

like a nighthawk,

alternately soaring like a ripple and tumbling a rod or two over and over,

showing the under side of its wings,

which gleamed like a satin ribbon in the sun,

or like the pearly inside of a shell.

This sight reminded me of falconry and what nobleness and poetry are associated with that sport.

The Merlin it seemed to me it might be called: but I care not for its name.

It was the most ethereal flight I had ever witnessed.

It did not simply flutter like a butterfly,

nor soar like the larger hawks,

but it sported with proud reliance in the fields of air;

mounting again and again with its strange chuckle,

it repeated its free and beautiful fall,

turning over and over like a kite,

and then recovering from its lofty tumbling,

as if it had never set its foot on -terra firma-.

It appeared to have no companion in the universe --sporting there alone --and to need none but the morning and the ether with which it played.

It was not lonely,

but made all the earth lonely beneath it.

Where was the parent which hatched it,

its kindred,

and its father in the heavens?

The tenant of the air,

it seemed related to the earth but by an egg hatched some time in the crevice of a crag;

--or was its native nest made in the angle of a cloud,

woven of the rainbow's trimmings and the sunset sky,

and lined with some soft midsummer haze caught up from earth?

Its eyry now some cliffy cloud.

Beside this I got a rare mess of golden and silver and bright cupreous fishes,

which looked like a string of jewels.


I have penetrated to those meadows on the morning of many a first spring day,

jumping from hummock to hummock,

from willow root to willow root,

when the wild river valley and the woods were bathed in so pure and bright a light as would have waked the dead,

if they had been slumbering in their graves,

as some suppose.

There needs no stronger proof of immortality.

All things must live in such a light.

O Death,

where was thy sting?

O Grave,

where was thy victory,


Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.

We need the tonic of wildness --to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk,

and hear the booming of the snipe;

to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest,

and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.

At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things,

we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable,

that land and sea be infinitely wild,

unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.

We can never have enough of nature.

We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor,

vast and titanic features,

the sea-coast with its wrecks,

the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees,

the thunder-cloud,

and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets.

We need to witness our own limits transgressed,

and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.

We are cheered when we observe the vulture feeding on the carrion which disgusts and disheartens us,

and deriving health and strength from the repast.

There was a dead horse in the hollow by the path to my house,

which compelled me sometimes to go out of my way,

especially in the night when the air was heavy,

but the assurance it gave me of the strong appetite and inviolable health of Nature was my compensation for this.

I love to see that Nature is so rife with life that myriads can be afforded to be sacrificed and suffered to prey on one another;

that tender organizations can be so serenely squashed out of existence like pulp --tadpoles which herons gobble up,

and tortoises and toads run over in the road;

and that sometimes it has rained flesh and blood!

With the liability to accident,

we must see how little account is to be made of it.

The impression made on a wise man is that of universal innocence.

Poison is not poisonous after all,

nor are any wounds fatal.

Compassion is a very untenable ground.

It must be expeditious.

Its pleadings will not bear to be stereotyped.

Early in May,

the oaks,



and other trees,

just putting out amidst the pine woods around the pond,

imparted a brightness like sunshine to the landscape,

especially in cloudy days,

as if the sun were breaking through mists and shining faintly on the hillsides here and there.

On the third or fourth of May I saw a loon in the pond,

and during the first week of the month I heard the whip-poor-will,

the brown thrasher,

the veery,

the wood pewee,

the chewink,

and other birds.

I had heard the wood thrush long before.

The phœbe had already come once more and looked in at my door and window,

to see if my house was cavern-like enough for her,

sustaining herself on humming wings with clinched talons,

as if she held by the air,

while she surveyed the premises.

The sulphur-like pollen of the pitch pine soon covered the pond and the stones and rotten wood along the shore,

so that you could have collected a barrelful.

This is the "sulphur showers" we hear of.

Even in Calidas' drama of Sacontala,

we read of "rills dyed yellow with the golden dust of the lotus."

And so the seasons went rolling on into summer,

as one rambles into higher and higher grass.

Thus was my first year's life in the woods completed;

and the second year was similar to it.

I finally left Walden September 6th,



To the sick the doctors wisely recommend a change of air and scenery.

Thank Heaven,

here is not all the world.

The buckeye does not grow in New England,

and the mockingbird is rarely heard here.

The wild goose is more of a cosmopolite than we;

he breaks his fast in Canada,

takes a luncheon in the Ohio,

and plumes himself for the night in a southern bayou.

Even the bison,

to some extent,

keeps pace with the seasons cropping the pastures of the Colorado only till a greener and sweeter grass awaits him by the Yellowstone.

Yet we think that if rail fences are pulled down,

and stone walls piled up on our farms,

bounds are henceforth set to our lives and our fates decided.

If you are chosen town clerk,


you cannot go to Tierra del Fuego this summer: but you may go to the land of infernal fire nevertheless.

The universe is wider than our views of it.

Yet we should oftener look over the tafferel of our craft,

like curious passengers,

and not make the voyage like stupid sailors picking oakum.

The other side of the globe is but the home of our correspondent.

Our voyaging is only great-circle sailing,

and the doctors prescribe for diseases of the skin merely.

One hastens to southern Africa to chase the giraffe;

but surely that is not the game he would be after.

How long,


would a man hunt giraffes if he could?

Snipes and woodcocks also may afford rare sport;

but I trust it 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 own interior white on the chart?

black though it may prove,

like the coast,

when discovered.

Is it the source of the Nile,

or the Niger,

or the Mississippi,

or a Northwest Passage around this continent,

that we would find?

Are these the problems which most concern mankind?

Is Franklin the only man who is lost,

that his wife should be so earnest to find him?

Does Mr. Grinnell know where he himself is?

Be rather the Mungo Park,

the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher,

of your own streams and oceans;

explore your own higher latitudes --with shiploads of preserved meats to support you,

if they be necessary;

and pile the empty cans sky-high for a sign.

Were preserved meats invented to preserve meat merely?


be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you,

opening new channels,

not of trade,

but of thought.

Every man is the lord of a realm beside which the earthly empire 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 sacrifice the greater to the less.

They love the soil which makes their graves,

but have no sympathy with the spirit which may still animate their clay.

Patriotism is a maggot in their heads.

What was the meaning of that South-Sea Exploring Expedition,

with all its parade and expense,

but an indirect recognition of the fact that there are continents and seas in the moral world to which every man is an isthmus or an inlet,

yet unexplored by him,

but that it is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals,

in a government ship,

with five hundred men and boys to assist one,

than it is to explore the private sea,

the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's being alone.


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 in Zanzibar.

Yet do this even till you can do better,

and you may perhaps find 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 ventured out of sight of land,

though it is without doubt the direct way to India.

If you would learn to speak all tongues and conform to the customs of all nations,

if you would travel farther than all travellers,

be naturalized in all climes,

and cause the Sphinx to dash her head against a stone,

even obey the precept of the old philosopher,

and Explore thyself.

Herein are demanded the eye and the nerve.

Only the defeated and deserters go to the wars,

cowards that run away and enlist.

Start now on that farthest western way,

which does not pause at the Mississippi or the Pacific,

nor conduct toward a worn-out China or Japan,

but leads on direct,

a tangent to this 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 ascertain what degree of resolution was necessary in order to place one's self in formal opposition to the most sacred laws of society."

He declared that "a soldier who fights in the ranks does not require half so much courage as a footpad" --"that honor and religion have never stood in the way of a well-considered and a firm resolve."

This was manly,

as the world goes;

and yet it was idle,

if not desperate.

A saner man would have found himself often enough "in formal opposition" to what are deemed "the most sacred laws of society,"

through obedience to yet more sacred laws,

and so have tested his resolution without going out of his way.

It is not for a man to put himself in such an attitude to society,

but to maintain himself in whatever attitude he find himself through obedience to the laws of his being,

which will never be one of opposition to a just government,

if he should chance to meet with such.

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there.

Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live,

and could not spare any more time for that one.

It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route,

and make a beaten track for ourselves.

I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side;

and though it is five or six years since I trod it,

it is still quite distinct.

It is true,

I fear,

that others may have fallen into it,

and so helped to keep it open.

The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men;

and so with the paths which the mind travels.

How worn and dusty,


must be the highways of the world,

how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!

I did not wish to take a cabin passage,

but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world,

for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains.

I do not wish to go below now.

I learned this,

at least,

by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams,

and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,

he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

He will put some things behind,

will pass an invisible boundary;



and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him;

or the old laws be expanded,

and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense,

and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.

In proportion as he simplifies his life,

the laws of the universe will appear less complex,

and solitude will not be solitude,

nor poverty poverty,

nor weakness weakness.

If you have built castles in the air,

your work need not be lost;

that is where they should be.

Now put the foundations under them.

It is a ridiculous demand which England and America make,

that you shall speak so that they can understand you.

Neither men nor toadstools grow so.

As if that were important,

and there were not enough to understand you without them.

As if Nature could support but one order of understandings,

could not sustain birds as well as quadrupeds,

flying as well as creeping things,

and -hush- and -whoa-,

which Bright can understand,

were the best English.

As if there were safety in stupidity alone.

I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be -extra-vagant- enough,

may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limits of my daily experience,

so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced.

-Extra vagance!- it depends on how you are yarded.

The migrating buffalo,

which seeks new pastures in another latitude,

is not extravagant like the cow which kicks over the pail,

leaps the cowyard fence,

and runs after her calf,

in milking time.

I desire to speak somewhere -without- bounds;

like a man in a waking moment,

to men in their waking moments;

for I am convinced that I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a true expression.

Who that has heard a strain of music feared then lest he should speak extravagantly any more forever?

In view of the future or possible,

we should live quite laxly and undefined in front,

our outlines dim and misty on that side;

as our shadows reveal an insensible perspiration toward the sun.

The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement.

Their truth is instantly -translated-;

its literal monument alone remains.

The words which express our faith and piety are not definite;

yet they are significant and fragrant like frankincense to superior natures.

Why level downward to our dullest perception always,

and praise that as common sense?

The commonest sense is the sense of men asleep,

which they express by snoring.

Sometimes we are inclined to class those who are once-and-a-half-witted with the half-witted,

because we appreciate only a third part of their wit.

Some would find fault with the morning red,

if they ever got up early enough.

"They pretend,"

as I hear,

"that the verses of Kabir have four different senses;




and the exoteric doctrine of the Vedas";

but in this part of the world it is considered a ground for complaint if a man's writings admit of more than one interpretation.

While England endeavors to cure the potato-rot,

will not any endeavor to cure the brain-rot,

which prevails so much more widely and fatally?

I do not suppose that I have attained to obscurity,

but I should be proud if no more fatal fault were found with my pages on this score than was found with the Walden ice.

Southern customers objected to its blue color,

which is the evidence of its purity,

as if it were muddy,

and preferred the Cambridge ice,

which is white,

but tastes of weeds.

The purity men love is like the mists which envelop the earth,

and not like the azure ether beyond.

Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans,

and moderns generally,

are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients,

or even the Elizabethan men.

But what is that to the purpose?

A living dog is better than a dead lion.

Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies,

and not be the biggest pygmy that he can?

Let every one mind his own business,

and endeavor to be what he was made.

Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises?

If a man does not keep pace with his companions,

perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.

Let him step to the music which he hears,

however measured or far away.

It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak.

Shall he turn his spring into summer?

If the condition of things which we were made for is not yet,

what were any reality which 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 true ethereal heaven far above,

as if the former were not?

There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection.

One day it came into his mind to make a staff.

Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient,

but into a perfect work time does not enter,

he said to himself,

It shall be perfect in all respects,

though I should do nothing else in my life.

He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood,

being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material;

and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick,

his friends gradually deserted him,

for they grew old in their works and died,

but he grew not older by a moment.

His singleness of purpose and resolution,

and his elevated piety,

endowed him,

without his knowledge,

with perennial youth.

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 of Kouroo was a hoary ruin,

and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick.

Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end,

and with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the sand,

and then resumed his work.

By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star;

and ere he had put on the ferule and the head adorned with precious stones,

Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times.

But why do I stay to mention these things?

When the finishing stroke was put to his work,

it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma.

He had made a new system in making a staff,

a world with full and fair proportions;

in which,

though the old cities and dynasties had passed away,

fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places.

And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet,


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 single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder 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 at last as the truth.

This alone wears well.

For the most part,

we are not where we are,

but in a false position.

Through an infinity of our natures,

we suppose a case,

and put ourselves into it,

and hence are in two cases at the same time,

and it is doubly difficult to get out.

In sane moments we regard only the facts,

the case that is.

Say what you have to say,

not what you ought.

Any truth is better than make-believe.

Tom Hyde,

the tinker,

standing on the gallows,

was asked if he had anything to say.

"Tell the tailors,"

said he,

"to remember to make a knot in their thread before they take the first stitch."

His companion's prayer is forgotten.

However mean your life is,

meet it and live it;

do not shun it and call it hard names.

It is not so bad as you are.

It looks poorest when you are richest.

The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise.

Love your life,

poor as it is.

You may perhaps have some pleasant,


glorious hours,

even in a poorhouse.

The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode;

the snow melts before its door as early in the spring.

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 to me often to live the most independent lives of any.

Maybe they are simply great enough to receive without misgiving.

Most think that they are above being supported by the town;

but it oftener happens that they are not above supporting themselves by dishonest means,

which should be more disreputable.

Cultivate poverty like a garden herb,

like sage.

Do not trouble yourself much to get new things,

whether clothes or friends.

Turn the old;

return to them.

Things do not change;

we change.

Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.

God will see that you do not want society.

If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days,

like a spider,

the world would be just as 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,

and put it in disorder;

from the man the most abject and vulgar one cannot take away his thought."

Do not seek so anxiously to be developed,

to subject yourself to many influences to be played on;

it is all dissipation.

Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights.

The shadows of poverty and meanness gather around us,

"and lo!

creation widens to our view."

We are often reminded that if there were bestowed on us the wealth of Croesus,

our aims must still be the same,

and our means essentially the same.


if you are restricted in your range by poverty,

if you cannot buy books and newspapers,

for instance,

you are but confined to the most significant and vital experiences;

you are compelled to deal with the material which yields the most sugar and the most starch.

It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.

You are defended from being a trifler.

No man loses ever on a lower level by magnanimity on a higher.

Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.

Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.

I live in the angle of a leaden wall,

into whose composition was poured a little alloy of bell-metal.


in the repose of my mid-day,

there reaches my ears a confused tintinnabulum from without.

It is the noise of my contemporaries.

My neighbors tell me of their adventures with famous gentlemen and ladies,

what notabilities they met at the dinner-table;

but I am no more interested in such things than in the contents of the Daily Times.

The interest and the conversation are about costume and manners chiefly;

but a goose is a goose still,

dress it as you will.

They tell me of California and Texas,

of England and the Indies,

of the Hon. Mr. -- --of Georgia or of Massachusetts,

all transient and fleeting phenomena,

till I am ready to leap from their court-yard like the Mameluke bey.

I delight to come to my bearings --not walk in procession with pomp and parade,

in a conspicuous place,

but to walk even with the Builder of the universe,

if I may --not to live in this restless,



trivial Nineteenth Century,

but stand or sit thoughtfully while it goes by.

What are men celebrating?

They are all on a committee of arrangements,

and hourly expect a speech from somebody.

God is only the president of the day,

and Webster is his orator.

I love to weigh,

to settle,

to gravitate toward that which most strongly and rightfully attracts me --not hang by the beam of the scale and try to weigh less --not suppose a case,

but take the case that is;

to travel the only path I can,

and that on which no power can resist me.

It affords me no satisfaction to commerce to spring an arch before I have got a solid foundation.

Let us not play at kittly-benders.

There is a solid bottom everywhere.

We read that the traveller asked the boy if the swamp before him had a hard bottom.

The boy replied that it had.

But presently the traveller's horse sank in up to the girths,

and he observed to the boy,

"I thought you said that this bog had a hard bottom."

"So it has,"

answered the latter,

"but you have not got half way to it yet."

So it is with the bogs and quicksands of society;

but he is an old boy that knows it.

Only what is thought,


or done at a certain rare coincidence is good.

I would not be one of those who will foolishly drive a nail into mere lath and plastering;

such a deed would keep me awake nights.

Give me a hammer,

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 up in the night and think of your work with satisfaction --a work at which you would not be ashamed to invoke the Muse.

So will help you God,

and so only.

Every nail driven should be as another rivet in the machine of the universe,

you carrying on the work.

Rather than love,

than money,

than fame,

give me truth.

I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance,

and obsequious attendance,

but sincerity and truth were not;

and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board.

The hospitality was as cold as the ices.

I thought that there was no need of ice to freeze them.

They talked to me of the age of the wine and the fame of the vintage;

but I thought of an older,

a newer,

and purer wine,

of a more glorious vintage,

which they had not got,

and could not buy.

The style,

the house and grounds and "entertainment" pass for nothing with me.

I called on the king,

but he made me wait in his hall,

and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality.

There was a man in my neighborhood 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 musty virtues,

which any work would make impertinent?

As if one were to begin the day with long-suffering,

and hire a man to hoe his potatoes;

and in the afternoon go forth to practise Christian meekness and charity with goodness aforethought!

Consider the China pride and stagnant self-complacency of mankind.

This generation inclines a little to congratulate itself on being the last of an illustrious line;

and in Boston and London and Paris and Rome,

thinking of its long descent,

it speaks of its progress in art and science and literature with satisfaction.

There are the Records of the Philosophical Societies,

and the public Eulogies of Great Men!

It is the good Adam contemplating his own virtue.


we have done great deeds,

and sung divine songs,

which shall never die" --that is,

as long as we can remember them.

The learned societies and great men of Assyria --where are they?

What youthful philosophers and experimentalists we are!

There is not one of my readers who has yet lived a whole human life.

These may be but the spring months in the life of the race.

If we have had the seven-years' itch,

we have not seen the seventeen-year locust yet in Concord.

We are acquainted with a mere pellicle of the globe on which we live.

Most have not delved six feet beneath the surface,

nor leaped as many above it.

We know not where we are.


we are sound asleep nearly half our time.

Yet we esteem ourselves wise,

and have an established order on the surface.


we are deep thinkers,

we are ambitious spirits!

As I stand over the insect crawling amid the pine needles on the forest floor,

and endeavoring to conceal itself from my sight,

and ask myself why it will cherish those humble thoughts,

and bide its head from me who might,


be its benefactor,

and impart to its race some cheering information,

I am reminded of the greater Benefactor and Intelligence that stands over me the human insect.

There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world,

and yet we tolerate incredible dulness.

I need only suggest what kind of sermons are still listened to in the most enlightened countries.

There are such words as joy and sorrow,

but they are only the burden of a psalm,

sung with a nasal twang,

while we believe in the ordinary and mean.

We think that we can change our clothes only.

It is said that the British Empire is very large and respectable,

and that the United States are a first-rate power.

We do not believe that a tide rises and falls behind every man which can float the British Empire like a chip,

if he should ever harbor it in his mind.

Who knows what sort of seventeen-year locust will next come out of the ground?

The government of the world I live in was not framed,

like that of Britain,

in after-dinner conversations over the wine.

The life in us is like the water in the river.

It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it,

and flood the parched uplands;

even this may be the eventful year,

which will drown out all our muskrats.

It was not always dry land where we dwell.

I see far inland the banks which the stream anciently washed,

before science began to record its freshets.

Every one has heard the story which has gone the rounds of New England,

of a strong and beautiful bug which 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 in Connecticut,

and afterward in Massachusetts --from an egg deposited in the living tree many years earlier still,

as appeared by counting the annual layers beyond it;

which was heard gnawing out for several weeks,

hatched perchance by the heat of an urn.

Who does not feel his faith in a resurrection and immortality strengthened by hearing of this?

Who knows what beautiful and winged life,

whose egg has been buried for ages under many concentric layers of woodenness in the dead dry life of society,

deposited at first in the alburnum of the green and living tree,

which has been gradually converted into the semblance of its well-seasoned tomb --heard perchance gnawing out now for years by the astonished family of man,

as they sat round the festive board --may unexpectedly come forth from amidst society's most trivial and handselled furniture,

to enjoy its perfect summer life at last!

I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this;

but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make 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 to dawn.

The sun is but a morning star.


I heartily accept the motto,

--"That government is best which governs least";

and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.

Carried out,

it finally amounts to this,

which also I believe,

--"That government is best which governs not at all";

and when men are prepared for it,

that will be the kind of government which they will have.

Government is at best but an expedient;

but most governments are usually,

and all governments are sometimes,


The objections which have been brought against a standing army,

and they are many and weighty,

and deserve to prevail,

may also at last be brought against a standing government.

The standing army is only an arm of the standing government.

The government itself,

which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will,

is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.

Witness the present Mexican war,

the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool;


in the outset,

the people would not have consented to this measure.

This American government --what is it but a tradition,

though a recent one,

endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity,

but each instant losing some of its integrity?

It has not the vitality and force of a single living man;

for a single man can bend it to his will.

It is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves.

But it is not the less necessary for this;

for the people must have some complicated machinery or other,

and hear its din,

to satisfy that idea of government which they have.

Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on,

even impose on themselves,

for their own advantage.

It is excellent,

we must all allow.

Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise,

but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.

-It- does not keep the country free.

-It- does not settle the West.

-It- does not educate.

The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished;

and it would have done somewhat more,

if the government had not sometimes got in its way.

For government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone;


as has been said,

when it is most expedient,

the governed are most let alone by it.

Trade and commerce,

if they were not made of India rubber,

would never manage to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are continually putting in their way;


if one were to judge these men wholly by the effects of their actions,

and not partly by their intentions,

they would deserve to be classed and punished with those mischievous persons who put obstructions on the railroads.


to speak practically and as a citizen,

unlike those who call themselves no-government men,

I ask for,

not at once no government,

but -at once- a better government.

Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect,

and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

After all,

the practical reason why,

when the power is once in the hands of the people,

a majority are permitted,

and for a long period continue,

to rule,

is not because they are most likely to be in the right,

nor because this seems fairest to the minority,

but because they are physically the strongest.

But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice,

even as far as men understand it.

Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong,

but conscience?

--in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable?

Must the citizen ever for a moment,

or in the least degree,

resign his conscience to the legislator?

Why has every man a conscience,


I think that we should be men first,

and subjects afterward.

It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law,

so much as for the right.

The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.

It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience;

but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.

Law never made men a whit more just;


by means of their respect for it,

even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is,

that you may see a file of soldiers,






and all,

marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars,

against their wills,


against their common sense and consciences,

which makes it very steep marching indeed,

and produces a palpitation of the heart.

They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned;

they are all peaceably inclined.


what are they?

Men at all?

or small movable forts and magazines,

at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?

Visit the Navy Yard,

and behold a marine,

such a man as an American government can make,

or such as it can make a man with its black arts --a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity,

a man laid out alive and standing,

and already,

as one may say,

buried under arms with funeral accompaniments,

though it may be,


"Not a drum was heard,

not a funeral note,

As his corse to the rampart we hurried;

Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot O'er the grave where our hero we buried."

The mass of men serve the state thus,

not as men mainly,

but as machines,

with their bodies.

They are the standing army,

and the militia,



posse comitatus,


In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense;

but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones;

and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well.

Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt.

They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs.

Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens.


as most legislators,




and office-holders,

serve the state chiefly with their heads;


as they rarely make any moral distinctions,

they are as likely to serve the devil,

without -intending- it,

as God.

A very few,

as heroes,



reformers in the great sense,

and men,

serve the state with their consciences also,

and so necessarily resist it for the most part;

and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.

A wise man will only be useful as a man,

and will not submit to be "clay,"

and "stop a hole to keep the wind away,"

but leave that office to his dust at least: --

"I am too high-born to be propertied,

To be a secondary at control,

Or useful serving-man and instrument To any sovereign state throughout the world."

He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to them useless and selfish;

but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day?

I answer,

that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.

I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as -my- government which is the -slave's- government also.

All men recognize the right of revolution;

that is,

the right to refuse allegiance to,

and to resist,

the government,

when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.

But almost all say that such is not the case now.

But such was the case,

they think,

in the Revolution of


If one were to tell me that this was a bad government because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports,

it is most probable that I should not make an ado about it,

for I can do without them.

All machines have their friction;

and possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the evil.

At any rate,

it is a great evil to make a stir about it.

But when the friction comes to have its machine,

and oppression and robbery are organized,

I say,

let us not have such a machine any longer.

In other words,

when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves,

and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army,

and subjected to military law,

I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize.

What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own,

but ours is the invading army.


a common authority with many on moral questions,

in his chapter on the "Duty of Submission to Civil Government,"

resolves all civil obligation into expediency;

and he proceeds to say that "so long as the interest of the whole society requires it,

that is,

so long as the established government cannot be resisted or changed without public inconveniency,

it is the will of God ...

that the established government be obeyed,

and no longer ....

This principle being admitted,

the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side,

and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other."

Of this,

he says,

every man shall judge for himself.

But Paley appears never to have contemplated those cases to which the rule of expediency does not apply,

in which a people,

as well as an individual,

must do justice,

cost what it may.

If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man,

I must restore it to him though I drown myself.


according to Paley,

would be inconvenient.

But he that would save his life,

in such a case,

shall lose it.

This people must cease to hold slaves,

and to make war on Mexico,

though it cost them their existence as a people.

In their practice,

nations agree with Paley;

but does any one think that Massachusetts does exactly what is right at the present crisis?

"A drab of state,

a cloth-o'-silver slut,

To have her train borne up,

and her soul trail in the dirt."

Practically speaking,

the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South,

but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here,

who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity,

and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico,

-cost what it may-.

I quarrel not with far-off foes,

but with those who,

near at home,

co-operate with,

and do the bidding of those far away,

and without whom the latter would be harmless.

We are accustomed to say,

that the mass of men are unprepared;

but improvement is slow,

because the few are not materially wiser or better than the many.

It is not so important that many should be as good as you,

as that there be some absolute goodness somewhere;

for that will leaven the whole lump.

There are thousands who are -in opinion- opposed to slavery and to the war,

who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them;


esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin,

sit down with their hands in their pockets,

and say that they know not what to do,

and do nothing;

who even postpone the question of freedom to the question of free-trade,

and quietly read the prices-current along with the latest advices from Mexico,

after dinner,


it may be,

fall asleep over them both.

What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot to-day?

They hesitate,

and they regret,

and sometimes they petition;

but they do nothing in earnest and with effect.

They will wait,

well disposed,

for others to remedy the evil,

that they may no longer have it to regret.

At most,

they give only a cheap vote,

and a feeble countenance and Godspeed,

to the right,

as it goes by them.

There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man;

but it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it.

All voting is a sort of gaming,

like checkers or backgammon,

with a slight moral tinge to it,

a playing with right and wrong,

with moral questions;

and betting naturally accompanies it.

The character of the voters is not staked.

I cast my vote,


as I think right;

but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail.

I am willing to leave it to the majority.

Its obligation,


never exceeds that of expediency.

Even voting -for the right- is -doing nothing- for it.

It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.

A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance,

nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.

There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.

When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery,

it will be because they are indifferent to slavery,

or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote.

-They- will then be the only slaves.

Only -his- vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.

I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore,

or elsewhere,

for the selection of a candidate for the Presidency,

made up chiefly of editors,

and men who are politicians by profession;

but I think,

what is it to any independent,


and respectable man what decision they may come to?

Shall we not have the advantage of his wisdom and honesty,


Can we not count upon some independent votes?

Are there not many individuals in the country who do not attend conventions?

But no: I find that the respectable man,

so called,

has immediately drifted from his position,

and despairs of his country,

when his country has more reason to despair of him.

He forthwith adopts one of the candidates thus selected as the only -available- one,

thus proving that he is himself -available- for any purposes of the demagogue.

His vote is of no more worth than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native,

who may have been bought.

Oh for a man who is a -man-,


as my neighbor says,

has a bone in his back which you cannot pass your hand through!

Our statistics are at fault: the population has been returned too large.

How many -men- are there to a square thousand miles in this country?

Hardly one.

Does not America offer any inducement for men to settle here?

The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow --one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness,

and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance;

whose first and chief concern,

on coming into the world,

is to see that the almshouses are in good repair;


before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb,

to collect a fund for the support of the widows and orphans that may be;


in short ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance company,

which has promised to bury him decently.

It is not a man's duty,

as a matter of course,

to devote himself to the eradication of any,

even the most enormous wrong;

he may still properly have other concerns to engage him;

but it is his duty,

at least,

to wash his hands of it,


if he gives it no thought longer,

not to give it practically his support.

If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations,

I must first see,

at least,

that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man's shoulders.

I must get off him first,

that he may pursue his contemplations too.

See what gross inconsistency is tolerated.

I have heard some of my townsmen say,

"I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves,

or to march to Mexico;

--see if I would go";

and yet these very men have each,

directly by their allegiance,

and so indirectly,

at least,

by their money,

furnished a substitute.

The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war;

is applauded by those whose own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught;

as if the state were penitent to that degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned,

but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment.


under the name of Order and Civil Government,

we are all made at last to pay homage to and support our own meanness.

After the first blush of sin comes its indifference;

and from immoral it becomes,

as it were,


and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made.

The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it.

The slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable,

the noble are most likely to incur.

Those who,

while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government,

yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters,

and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.

Some are petitioning the State to dissolve the Union,

to disregard the requisitions of the President.

Why do they not dissolve it themselves --the union between themselves and the State --and refuse to pay their quota into its treasury?

Do not they stand in the same relation to the State,

that the State does to the Union?

And have not the same reasons prevented the State from resisting the Union,

which have prevented them from resisting the State?

How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely,

and enjoy it?

Is there any enjoyment in -it-,

if his opinion is that he is aggrieved?

If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbor,

you do not rest satisfied with knowing that you are cheated,

or with saying that you are cheated,

or even with petitioning him to pay you your due;

but you take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount,

and see that you are never cheated again.

Action from principle --the perception and the performance of right --changes things and relations;

it is essentially revolutionary,

and does not consist wholly with anything which was.

It not only divides states and churches,

it divides families;


it divides the -individual-,

separating the diabolical in him from the divine.

Unjust laws exist;

shall we be content to obey them,

or shall we endeavor to amend them,

and obey them until we have succeeded,

or shall we transgress them at once?

Men generally,

under such a government as this,

think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them.

They think that,

if they should resist,

the remedy would be worse than the evil.

But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy -is- worse than the evil.

-It- makes it worse.

Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform?

Why does it not cherish its wise minority?

Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt?

Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults,

and -do- better than it would have them?

Why does it always crucify Christ,

and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther,

and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

One would think,

that a deliberate and practical denial of its authority was the only offence never contemplated by government;


why has it not assigned its definite,

its suitable and proportionate,


If a man who has no property refuses but once to earn nine shillings for the State,

he is put in prison for a period unlimited by any law that I know,

and determined only by the discretion of those who placed him there;

but if he should steal ninety times nine shillings from the State,

he is soon permitted to go at large again.

If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government,

let it go,

let it go;

perchance it will wear smooth --certainly the machine will wear out.

If the injustice has a spring,

or a pulley,

or a rope,

or a crank,

exclusively for itself,

then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil;

but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another,


I say,

break the law.

Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.

What I have to do is to see,

at any rate,

that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for remedying the evil,

I know not of such ways.

They take too much time,

and a man's life will be gone.

I have other affairs to attend to.

I came into this world,

not chiefly to make this a good place to live in,

but to live in it,

be it good or bad.

A man has not everything to do,

but something;

and because he cannot do -everything-,

it is not necessary that he should do -something- wrong.

It is not my business to be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me;

and if they should not hear my petition,

what should I do then?

But in this case the State has provided no way;

its very Constitution is the evil.

This may seem to be harsh and stubborn and unconciliatory;

but it is to treat with the utmost kindness and consideration the only spirit that can appreciate or deserves it.

So is an change for the better,

like birth and death which convulse the body.

I do not hesitate to say,

that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support,

both in person and property,

from the government of Massachusetts,

and not wait till they constitute a majority of one,

before they suffer the right to prevail through them.

I think that it is enough if they have God on their side,

without waiting for that other one.


any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.

I meet this American government,

or its representative,

the State government,


and face to face,

once a year --no more --in the person of its tax-gatherer;

this is the only mode in which a man situated as I am necessarily meets it;

and it then says distinctly,

Recognize me;

and the simplest,

the most effectual,


in the present posture of affairs,

the indispensablest mode of treating with it on this head,

of expressing your little satisfaction with and love for it,

is to deny it then.

My civil neighbor,

the tax-gatherer,

is the very man I have to deal with --for it is,

after all,

with men and not with parchment that I quarrel --and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the government.

How shall he ever know well what he is and does as an officer of the government,

or as a man,

until he is obliged to consider whether he shall treat me,

his neighbor,

for whom he has respect,

as a neighbor and well-disposed man,

or as a maniac and disturber of the peace,

and see if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborliness without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding with his action?

I know this well,

that if one thousand,

if one hundred,

if ten men whom I could name --if ten -honest- men only --ay,

if -one- HONEST man,

in this State of Massachusetts,

-ceasing to hold slaves-,

were actually to withdraw from this copartnership,

and be locked up in the county jail therefor,

it would be the abolition of slavery in America.

For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever.

But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission.

Reform keeps many scores of newspapers in its service,

but not one man.

If my esteemed neighbor,

the State's ambassador,

who will devote his days to the settlement of the question of human rights in the Council Chamber,

instead of being threatened with the prisons of Carolina,

were to sit down the prisoner of Massachusetts,

that State which is so anxious to foist the sin of slavery upon her sister --though at present she can discover only an act of inhospitality to be the ground of a quarrel with her --the Legislature would not wholly waive the subject the following winter.

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly,

the true place for a just man is also a prison.

The proper place to-day,

the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits,

is in her prisons,

to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act,

as they have already put themselves out by their principles.

It is there that the fugitive slave,

and the Mexican prisoner on parole,

and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race,

should find them;

on that separate,

but more free and honorable ground,

where the State places those who are not -with- her,

but -against- her --the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.

If any think that their influence would be lost there,

and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State,

that they would not be as an enemy within its walls,

they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error,

nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person.

Cast your whole vote,

not a strip of paper merely,

but your whole influence.

A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority;

it is not even a minority then;

but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.

If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison,

or give up war and slavery,

the State will not hesitate which to choose.

If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year,

that would not be a violent and bloody measure,

as it would be to pay them,

and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.

This is,

in fact,

the definition of a peaceable revolution,

if any such is possible.

If the tax-gatherer,

or any other public officer,

asks me,

as one has done,

"But what shall I do?"

my answer is,

"If you really wish to do anything,

resign your office."

When the subject has refused allegiance,

and the officer has resigned his office,

then the revolution is accomplished.

But even suppose blood should flow.

Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded?

Through this wound a man's real manhood and immortality flow out,

and he bleeds to an everlasting death.

I see this blood flowing now.

I have contemplated the imprisonment of the offender,

rather than the seizure of his goods --though both will serve the same purpose --because they who assert the purest right,

and consequently are most dangerous to a corrupt State,

commonly have not spent much time in accumulating property.

To such the State renders comparatively small service,

and a slight tax is wont to appear exorbitant,

particularly if they are obliged to earn it by special labor with their hands.

If there were one who lived wholly without the use of money,

the State itself would hesitate to demand it of him.

But the rich man --not to make any invidious comparison --is always sold to the institution which makes him rich.

Absolutely speaking,

the more money,

the less virtue;

for money comes between a man and his objects,

and obtains them for him;

and it was certainly no great virtue to obtain it.

It puts to rest many questions which he would otherwise be taxed to answer;

while the only new question which it puts is the hard but superfluous one,

how to spend it.

Thus his moral ground is taken from under his feet.

The opportunities of living are diminished in proportion as what are called the "means" are increased.

The best thing a man can do for his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor.

Christ answered the Herodians according to their condition.

"Show me the tribute-money,"

said he;

--and one took a penny out of his pocket;

--if you use money which has the image of Cæsar on it,

and which he has made current and valuable,

that is,

-if you are men of the State-,

and gladly enjoy the advantages of Cæsar's government,

then pay him back some of his own when he demands it;

"Render therefore to Cæsar that which is Cæsar's,

and to God those things which are God's" --leaving them no wiser than before as to which was which;

for they did not wish to know.

When I converse with the freest of my neighbors,

I perceive that,

whatever they may say about the magnitude and seriousness of the question,

and their regard for the public tranquillity,

the long and the short of the matter is,

that they cannot spare the protection of the existing government,

and they dread the consequences to their property and families of disobedience to it.

For my own part,

I should not like to think that I ever rely on the protection of the State.


if I deny the authority of the State when it presents its tax-bill,

it will soon take and waste all my property,

and so harass me and my children without end.

This is hard.

This makes it impossible for a man to live honestly,

and at the same time comfortably in outward respects.

It will not be worth the while to accumulate property;

that would be sure to go again.

You must hire or squat somewhere,

and raise but a small crop,

and eat that soon.

You must live within yourself,

and depend upon yourself always tucked up and ready for a start,

and not have many affairs.

A man may grow rich in Turkey even,

if he will be in all respects a good subject of the Turkish government.

Confucius said,

"If a state is governed by the principles of reason,

poverty and misery are subjects of shame;

if a state is not governed by the principles of reason,

riches and honors are the subjects of shame."

No: until I want the protection of Massachusetts to be extended to me in some distant Southern port,

where my liberty is endangered,

or until I am bent solely on building up an estate at home by peaceful enterprise,

I can afford to refuse allegiance to Massachusetts,

and her right to my property and life.

It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey.

I should feel as if I were worth less in that case.

Some years ago,

the State met me in behalf of the Church,

and commanded me to pay a certain sum toward the support of a clergyman whose preaching my father attended,

but never I myself.


it said,

"or be locked up in the jail."

I declined to pay.



another man saw fit to pay it.

I did not see why the schoolmaster should be taxed to support the priest,

and not the priest the schoolmaster: for I was not the State's schoolmaster,

but I supported myself by voluntary subscription.

I did not see why the lyceum should not present its tax-bill,

and have the State to back its demand,

as well as the Church.


at the request of the selectmen,

I condescended to make some such statement as this in writing: --"Know all men by these presents,

that I,

Henry Thoreau,

do not wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated society which I have not joined."

This I gave to the town clerk;

and he has it.

The State,

having thus learned that I did not wish to be regarded as a member of that church,

has never made a like demand on me since;

though it said that it must adhere to its original presumption that time.

If I had known how to name them,

I should then have signed off in detail from all the societies which I never signed on to;

but I did not know where to find a complete list.

I have paid no poll-tax for six years.

I was put into a jail once on this account,

for one night;


as I stood considering the walls of solid stone,

two or three feet thick,

the door of wood and iron,

a foot thick,

and the iron grating which strained the light,

I could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones,

to be locked up.

I wondered that it should have concluded at length that this was the best use it could put me to,

and had never thought to avail itself of my services in some way.

I saw that,

if there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen,

there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through,

before they could get to be as free as I was.

I did not for a moment feel confined,

and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar.

I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax.

They plainly did not know how to treat me,

but behaved like persons who are underbred.

In every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder;

for they thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of that stone wall.

I could not but smile to see how industriously they locked the door on my meditations,

which followed them out again without let or hindrance,

and -they- were really all that was dangerous.

As they could not reach me,

they had resolved to punish my body;

just as boys,

if they cannot come at some person against whom they have a spite,

will abuse his dog.

I saw that the State was half-witted,

that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons,

and that it did not know its friends from its foes,

and I lost all my remaining respect for it,

and pitied it.

Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man's sense,

intellectual or moral,

but only his body,

his senses.

It is not armed with superior wit or honesty,

but with superior physical strength.

I was not born to be forced.

I will breathe after my own fashion.

Let us see who is the strongest.

What force has a multitude?

They only can force me who obey a higher law than I.

They force me to become like themselves.

I do not hear of -men- being -forced- to have this way or that by masses of men.

What sort of life were that to live?

When I meet a government which says to me,

"Your money or your life,"

why should I be in haste to give it my money?

It may be in a great strait,

and not know what to do: I cannot help that.

It must help itself;

do as I do.

It is not worth the while to snivel about it.

I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society.

I am not the son of the engineer.

I perceive that,

when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side,

the one does not remain inert to make way for the other,

but both obey their own laws,

and spring and grow and flourish as best they can,

till one,


overshadows and destroys the other.

If a plant cannot live according to its nature,

it dies;

and so a man.

The night in prison was novel and interesting enough.

The prisoners in their shirt-sleeves were enjoying a chat and the evening air in the doorway,

when I entered.

But the jailer said,



it is time to lock up";

and so they dispersed,

and I heard the sound of their steps returning into the hollow apartments.

My room-mate was introduced to me by the jailer as "a first-rate fellow and a clever man."

When the door was locked,

he showed me where to hang my hat,

and how he managed matters there.

The rooms were whitewashed once a month;

and this one,

at least,

was the whitest,

most simply furnished,

and probably the neatest apartment in the town.

He naturally wanted to know where I came from,

and what brought me there;


when I had told him,

I asked him in my turn how he came there,

presuming him to be an honest man,

of course;


as the world goes,

I believe he was.


said he,

"they accuse me of burning a barn;

but I never did it."

As near as I could discover,

he had probably gone to bed in a barn when drunk,

and smoked his pipe there;

and so a barn was burnt.

He had the reputation of being a clever man,

had been there some three months waiting for his trial to come on,

and would have to wait as much longer;

but he was quite domesticated and contented,

since he got his board for nothing,

and thought that he was well treated.

He occupied one window,

and I the other;

and I saw that if one stayed there long,

his principal business would be to look out the window.

I had soon read all the tracts that were left there,

and examined where former prisoners had broken out,

and where a grate had been sawed off,

and heard the history of the various occupants of that room;

for I found that even here there was a history and a gossip which never circulated beyond the walls of the jail.

Probably this is the only house in the town where verses are composed,

which are afterward printed in a circular form,

but not published.

I was shown quite a long list of verses which were composed by some young men who had been detected in an attempt to escape,

who avenged themselves by singing them.

I pumped my fellow-prisoner as dry as I could,

for fear I should never see him again;

but at length he showed me which was my bed,

and left me to blow out the lamp.

It was like travelling into a far country,

such as I had never expected to behold,

to lie there for one night.

It seemed to me that I never had heard the town-clock strike before,

nor the evening sounds of the village;

for we slept with the windows open,

which were inside the grating.

It was to see my native village in the light of the Middle Ages,

and our Concord was turned into a Rhine stream,

and visions of knights and castles passed before me.

They were the voices of old burghers that I heard in the streets.

I was an involuntary spectator and auditor of whatever was done and said in the kitchen of the adjacent village-inn --a wholly new and rare experience to me.

It was a closer view of my native town.

I was fairly inside of it.

I never had seen its institutions before.

This is one of its peculiar institutions;

for it is a shire town.

I began to comprehend what its inhabitants were about.

In the morning,

our breakfasts were put through the hole in the door,

in small oblong-square tin pans,

made to fit,

and holding a pint of chocolate,

with brown bread,

and an iron spoon.

When they called for the vessels again,

I was green enough to return what bread I had left;

but my comrade seized it,

and said that I should lay that up for lunch or dinner.

Soon after he was let out to work at haying in a neighboring field,

whither he went every day,

and would not be back till noon;

so he bade me good-day,

saying that he doubted if he should see me again.

When I came out of prison --for some one interfered,

and paid that tax --I did not perceive that great changes had taken place on the common,

such as he observed who went in a youth and emerged a tottering and gray-headed man;

and yet a change had to my eyes come over the scene --the town,

and State,

and country --greater than any that mere time could effect.

I saw yet more distinctly the State in which I lived.

I saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends;

that their friendship was for summer weather only;

that they did not greatly propose to do right;

that they were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions,

as the Chinamen and Malays are;

that in their sacrifices to humanity,

they ran no risks,

not even to their property;

that after all they were not so noble but they treated the thief as he had treated them,

and hoped,

by a certain outward observance and a few prayers,

and by walking in a particular straight though useless path from time to time,

to save their souls.

This may be to judge my neighbors harshly;

for I believe that many of them are not aware that they have such an institution as the jail in their village.

It was formerly the custom in our village,

when a poor debtor came out of jail,

for his acquaintances to salute him,

looking through their fingers,

which were crossed to represent the grating of a jail window,

"How do ye do?"

My neighbors did not thus salute me,

but first looked at me,

and then at one another,

as if I had returned from a long journey.

I was put into jail as I was going to the shoemaker's to get a shoe which was mended.

When I was let out the next morning,

I proceeded to finish my errand,


having put on my mended shoe,

joined a huckleberry party,

who were impatient to put themselves under my conduct;

and in half an hour --for the horse was soon tackled --was in the midst of a huckleberry field,

on one of our highest hills,

two miles off,

and then the State was nowhere to be seen.

This is the whole history of "My Prisons."

* * * * *

I have never declined paying the highway tax,

because I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject;

and as for supporting schools,

I am doing my part to educate my fellow-countrymen now.

It is for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refuse to pay it.

I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State,

to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually.

I do not care to trace the course of my dollar,

if I could,

till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with --the dollar is innocent --but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance.

In fact,

I quietly declare war with the State,

after my fashion,

though I will still make what use and get what advantage of her I can,

as is usual in such cases.

If others pay the tax which is demanded of me,

from a sympathy with the State,

they do but what they have already done in their own case,

or rather they abet injustice to a greater extent than the State requires.

If they pay the tax from a mistaken interest in the individual taxed,

to save his property,

or prevent his going to jail,

it is because they have not considered wisely how far they let their private feelings interfere with the public good.



is my position at present.

But one cannot be too much on his guard in such a case,

lest his action be biased by obstinacy or an undue regard for the opinions of men.

Let him see that he does only what belongs to himself and to the hour.

I think sometimes,


this people mean well;

they are only ignorant;

they would do better if they knew how: why give your neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to?

But I think,


This is no reason why I should do as they do,

or permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different kind.


I sometimes say to myself,

When many millions of men,

without heat,

without ill-will,

without personal feeling of any kind,

demand of you a few shillings only,

without the possibility,

such is their constitution,

of retracting or altering their present demand,

and without the possibility,

on your side,

of appeal to any other millions,

why expose yourself to this overwhelming brute force?

You do not resist cold and hunger,

the winds and the waves,

thus obstinately;

you quietly submit to a thousand similar necessities.

You do not put your head into the fire.

But just in proportion as I regard this as not wholly a brute force,

but partly a human force,

and consider that I have relations to those millions as to so many millions of men,

and not of mere brute or inanimate things,

I see that appeal is possible,

first and instantaneously,

from them to the Maker of them,



from them to themselves.


if I put my head deliberately into the fire,

there is no appeal to fire or to the Maker of fire,

and I have only myself to blame.

If I could convince myself that I have any right to be satisfied with men as they are,

and to treat them accordingly,

and not according,

in some respects,

to my requisitions and expectations of what they and I ought to be,


like a good Mussulman and fatalist,

I should endeavor to be satisfied with things as they are,

and say it is the will of God.


above all,

there is this difference between resisting this and a purely brute or natural force,

that I can resist this with some effect;

but I cannot expect,

like Orpheus,

to change the nature of the rocks and trees and beasts.

I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation.

I do not wish to split hairs,

to make fine distinctions,

or set myself up as better than my neighbors.

I seek rather,

I may say,

even an excuse for conforming to the laws of the land.

I am but too ready to conform to them.


I have reason to suspect myself on this head;

and each year,

as the tax-gatherer comes round,

I find myself disposed to review the acts and position of the general and State governments,

and the spirit of the people,

to discover a pretext for conformity.

"We must affect our country as our parents,

And if at any time we alienate Our love or industry from doing it honor,

We must respect effects and teach the soul Matter of conscience and religion,

And not desire of rule or benefit."

I believe that the State will soon be able to take all my work of this sort out of my hands,

and then I shall be no better a patriot than my fellow-countrymen.

Seen from a lower point of view,

the Constitution,

with all its faults,

is very good;

the law and the courts are very respectable;

even this State and this American government are,

in many respects,

very admirable and rare things,

to be thankful for,

such as a great many have described them;

but seen from a point of view a little higher,

they are what I have described them;

seen from a higher still,

and the highest,

who shall say what they are,

or that they are worth looking at or thinking of at all?


the government does not concern me much,

and I shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts on it.

It is not many moments that I live under a government,

even in this world.

If a man is thought-free,



that which -is not- never for a long time appearing -to be- to him,

unwise rulers or reformers cannot fatally interrupt him.

I know that most men think differently from myself;

but those whose lives are by profession devoted to the study of these or kindred subjects,

content me as little as any.

Statesmen and legislators,

standing so completely within the institution,

never distinctly and nakedly behold it.

They speak of moving society,

but have no resting-place without it.

They may be men of a certain experience and discrimination,

and have no doubt invented ingenious and even useful systems,

for which we sincerely thank them;

but all their wit and usefulness lie within certain not very wide limits.

They are wont to forget that the world is not governed by policy and expediency.

Webster never goes behind government,

and so cannot speak with authority about it.

His words are wisdom to those legislators who contemplate no essential reform in the existing government;

but for thinkers,

and those who legislate for all time,

he never once glances at the subject.

I know of those whose serene and wise speculations on this theme would soon reveal the limits of his mind's range and hospitality.


compared with the cheap professions of most reformers,

and the still cheaper wisdom and eloquence of politicians in general,

his are almost the only sensible and valuable words,

and we thank Heaven for him.


he is always strong,



above all,



his quality is not wisdom,

but prudence.

The lawyer's truth is not truth,

but consistency or a consistent expediency.

Truth is always in harmony with herself,

and is not concerned chiefly to reveal the justice that may consist with wrong-doing.

He well deserves to be called,

as he has been called,

the Defender of the Constitution.

There are really no blows to be given by him but defensive ones.

He is not a leader,

but a follower.

His leaders are the men of


"I have never made an effort,"

he says,

"and never propose to make an effort;

I have never countenanced an effort,

and never mean to countenance an effort,

to disturb the arrangement as originally made,

by which the various States came into the Union."

Still thinking of the sanction which the Constitution gives to slavery,

he says,

"Because it was a part of the original compact --let it stand."

Notwithstanding his special acuteness and ability,

he is unable to take a fact out of its merely political relations,

and behold it as it lies absolutely to be disposed of by the intellect --what,

for instance,

it behooves a man to do here in America to-day with regard to slavery,

but ventures,

or is driven,

to make some such desperate answer as the following,

while professing to speak absolutely,

and as a private man --from which what new and singular code of social duties might be inferred?

"The manner,"

says he,

"in which the governments of those States where slavery exists are to regulate it is for their own consideration,

under their responsibility to their constituents,

to the general laws of propriety,


and justice,

and to God.

Associations formed elsewhere,

springing from a feeling of humanity,

or any other cause,

have nothing whatever to do with it.

They have never received any encouragement from me,

and they never will."

They who know of no purer sources of truth,

who have traced up its stream no higher,


and wisely stand,

by the Bible and the Constitution,

and drink at it there with reverence and humility;

but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool,

gird up their loins once more,

and continue their pilgrimage toward its fountain-head.

No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America.

They are rare in the history of the world.

There are orators,


and eloquent men,

by the thousand;

but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day.

We love eloquence for its own sake,

and not for any truth which it may utter,

or any heroism it may inspire.

Our legislators have not yet learned the comparative value of free-trade and of freedom,

of union,

and of rectitude,

to a nation.

They have no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance,

commerce and manufacturers and agriculture.

If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance,

uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people,

America would not long retain her rank among the nations.

For eighteen hundred years,

though perchance I have no right to say it,

the New Testament has been written;

yet where is the legislator who has wisdom and practical talent enough to avail himself of the light which it sheds on the science of legislation?

The authority of government,

even such as I am willing to submit to --for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I,

and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so well --is still an impure one: to be strictly just,

it must have the sanction and consent of the governed.

It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it.

The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy,

from a limited monarchy to a democracy,

is a progress toward a true respect for the individual.

Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire.

Is a democracy,

such as we know it,

the last improvement possible in government?

Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?

There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power,

from which all its own power and authority are derived,

and treats him accordingly.

I please myself with imagining a State at least which can afford to be just to all men,

and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor;

which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it,

not meddling with it,

nor embraced by it,

who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men.

A State which bore this kind of fruit,

and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened,

would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State,

which also I have imagined,

but not yet anywhere seen.