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December 2, 2018 at 1:57 pm
Posted in: General Discussion
It seems to me that Thoreau often writes “extra-vagrantly,” or exaggerates. To write that, “We are not a religious people” may be Thoreau’s way of saying that Americans may profess Christianity but not practice the creed of Jesus. Or that they subordinate the teachings of the Bible to the daily news.
See in context
May 5, 2018 at 1:47 am
[ Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 I walk toward one of our ponds; but what signifies the beauty of nature when men are base?]
According to Muslim rules, every Muslim is required to wash his or her hands, arms, face and feet before prayer. It is a strict requirement, but when water is not found, Muslims rub a little soil on the back of their hands and a little on their forehead. They believe nature gives them the purity needed to begin their prayers with. It is the same bond between man and nature that Thoreau speaks so beautifully about here. You cannot approach nature with an impure heart and soul. Human soul receives this purity from the soil.
May 4, 2018 at 10:40 am
Thoreau’s early paragraphs in “Slavery in Massachusetts” are quite interesting. Naturally, one would think a piece on slavery by a known abolitionist would start with (or at least include near the beginning) a strong argument on the morality of slavery. Thoreau comes no where close to doing this.
Instead, he uses his writing (or, more appropriately “time” as SIM was first given as a speech) to attack the government and expose its shortcomings. This is seen clearly in paragraphs 4-6, where Thoreau mocks the Governor of Massachusetts. Additionally, instead of making a moral argument, Thoreau condemns the Governor for not properly following state laws (paragraphs 8 and 9). He builds upon his governmental and legal argument, but does not touch on morality at all. He seems to start his piece with the assumption that everyone hold the same view as him on slavery- that it was evil (“that man’s influence and authority were on the side of the slaveholder, and not of the slave,- of the guilty, and not of the innocent,- of injustice, and not of justice”). But, given the time period, we know this is completely false, even in Massachusetts. Perhaps Thoreau should have supported his argument by explicitly calling out slavery on what it was; a moral atrocity.
May 4, 2018 at 9:39 am
[Slavery and servility have produced no sweet-scented flower annually, to charm the senses of men]
I find it fascinating how throughout “Slavery in Massachusetts” we can find instances of Thoreau going off on “nature-tangents.” Lines like these truly attest to his incredible ability at nature writing. Even in texts which have basically nothing to do with nature, Thoreau is able to cleverly and attractively tie in an aspect of nature. In this specific quote, Thoreau likens positive attributes (of anything) to a blooming flower, and negative attributes to a decaying one. He states that slavery has no positive attributes– thus it does not bloom, and instead decays. I also find the line “offensive to all healthy nostrils” very interesting. Thoreau is basically saying that if you are not offended by slavery, you are not only wrong, but “unhealthy,” and that only “healthy nostrils” are offended by this slavery which wreaks of decay and death.
May 4, 2018 at 9:25 am
[We are not a religious people, but we are a nation of politicians. We do not care for the Bible, but we do care for the newspaper.]
This is another extremely bold statement by Thoreau. Yes, throughout its history the United States had prided itself on not having an official religion. But, this does not change the fact that, even during Thoreau’s time, a large percentage of the population were Christian. Interestingly, the U.S. Census started gathering data on religious demographics just a few years prior to Thoreau writing this- in 1850. According to this census, there were 18 principal denominations in the United States, many and the largest of which were Christianity based religions. For Thoreau to say at the time “we do not care for the Bible” is patently false.
May 4, 2018 at 9:13 am
[I believe that, in this country, the press exerts a greater and a more pernicious influence than the Church did in its worst period.]
Upon reading this passage, I was shocked, but after rereading it I saw he included the words “in this country.” Without those three words, this statement would be unfathomably false. Even with the words, the statement is still bold, and I’m not sure what is the “worst period” to which Thoreau is referring.
May 4, 2018 at 8:45 am
[with Hindoo mercy avoid treading on every venomous reptile]
This line reminds me of Thoreau’s mention of Hindoo philosophers and other ancient thinkers in “Economy” in Walden. In “Economy,” Thoreau praises these philosophers greatly, hinting that they are the most enlightened in history: “The ancient philosophers… were a class than which none has been poor in outward riches, none so rich inward.” Here, Thoreau mentions some kind of innate “Hindoo mercy.” He likens the Fugitive Slave Law to a venomous reptile- a metaphor- but the mention of Hindoo mercy of avoiding these reptiles is somewhat literal. Thoreau as a nature lover does not like the destruction of nature- including animals. So, even though in this instance the Hindoo mercy is bad (because the “reptile” is bad), he seems to still give some sort of underlying appreciation for the Hindoo philosophers. Thoreau uses an interesting combination of metaphors and “semi-metaphors” here.
May 4, 2018 at 12:39 am
Thoreau argues that policy is based on the morals and ideas of the majority of society at a certain time, and therefore cannot be used as a standard moral code or be “right.” It is based on what the majority deems as convenient and easy for them, and therefore certain rights could be abused, which slavery perfectly exemplifies. He determines that just because something is legal does not mean it is “good.” This relates back to his writings in Resistance to Civil Government, where he writes: “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.” Because slavery was crucial to the South’s economy, Thoreau argues that it will be abolished only when it is no longer needed, rather than when the majority’s outrage at its degradation to humankind moves them to abolish it. To many at the time, slavery was a question of legality, not morality, which frustrated Thoreau. His writings show his belief that people influence the law and therefore the morals of their society, and that they need to be aware of the power they have.
May 3, 2018 at 11:36 pm
[since Massachusetts last deliberately sent back an innocent man, Anthony Burns, to slavery. ]
In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was signed under President Fillmore, which required the return of escaped slaves residing in free states to their masters. Anthony Burns was a runaway slave who stowed away on a ship from Richmond to Boston. A letter that held his location sent to his brother was intercepted, and Burns was arrested on May 24, 1854, and put on trial. Many abolitionists protested the case at the courthouse, killing a temporary deputy marshal while making an unsuccessful attempt to rescue Burns. After that, hundreds of military men and armed guards were posted around and within the courtroom. The judge ruled in favor of Burns’ slave owner, and he was returned to Richmond. A group raised enough money to purchase Burns’ freedom, and he moved to Canada and became a minister, where he died in 1862. This case made the divide between North and South even greater, as both were angered over how the case had proceeded, and pushed America closer to the Civil War.
May 3, 2018 at 9:58 pm
[It is evident that there are, in this Commonwealth, at least, two parties, becoming more and more distinct — the party of the city, and the party of the country. ]
I find it fascinating that Thoreau points out issues that are relevant today. He recognized and commented on the beginning of the formation of the two-party system in America. He saw the cultural divide between rural and urban areas forming, and this cultural divide still exists to this day, as rural areas tend to be more conservative and urban areas more liberal. He goes on to say that there are few ways that people can express themselves in government, which is true when there are only two parties to belong to that have any real power, and each party individually encompasses a wide array of opinions (moderate to extreme).
Thoreau also warns against disregarding beliefs of those from the country in favor of “the opinions of the city,” which reminds me of the liberal media bias today, as well as the fact that people from rural areas often say that they feel “ignored” or “overlooked” by politicians who focus on cities. He reminds us to “entertain opinions of our own,” which is important to remember today when so much is on the internet whether it is true or not.
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