¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 12 I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. We may waive just so much care of ourselves as we honestly bestow elsewhere. Nature is as well adapted to our weakness as to our strength. The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well nigh incurable form of disease. We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us! or, what if we had been taken sick? How vigilant we are! determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties. So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are a many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant. Confucius said, “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men at length establish their lives on that basis.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 4 Let us consider for a moment what most of the trouble and anxiety which I have referred to is about, and how much it is necessary that we be troubled, or, at least careful. It would be some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward civilization, if only to learn what are the gross necessaries of life and what methods have been taken to obtain them; or even to look over the old day-books of the merchants, to see what it was that men most commonly bought at the stores, what they stored, that is, what are the grossest groceries. For the improvements of ages have had but little influence on the essential laws of man’s existence: as our skeletons, probably, are not to be distinguished from those of our ancestors.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 10 By the words, necessary of life, I mean whatever, of all that man obtains by his exertions, has been from the first, or from long use has become, so important to human life that few, if any, whether from savageness, or poverty, or philosophy, ever attempt to do without it. To many creatures there is in this sense but one necessary of life, Food. To the bison of the prairie it is a few inches of palatable grass, with water to drink; unless he seeks the Shelter of the forest or the mountain’s shadow. None of the brute creation requires more than Food and Shelter. The necessaries of life for man in this climate may, accurately enough, be distributed under the several heads of Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel; for not till we have secured these are we prepared to entertain the true problems of life with freedom and a prospect of success. Man has invented, not only houses, but clothes and cooked food; and possibly from the accidental discovery of the warmth of fire, and the consequent use of it, at first a luxury, arose the present necessity to sit by it. We observe cats and dogs acquiring the same second nature. By proper Shelter and Clothing we legitimately retain our own internal heat; but with an excess of these, or of Fuel, that is, with an external heat greater than our own internal, may not cookery properly be said to begin? Darwin, the naturalist, says of the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, that while his own party, who were well clothed and sitting close to a fire, were far from too warm, these naked savages, who were farther off, were observed, to his great surprise, “to be streaming with perspiration at undergoing such a roasting.” So, we are told, the New Hollander goes naked with impunity, while the European shivers in his clothes. Is it impossible to combine the hardiness of these savages with the intellectualness of the civilized man? According to Liebig, man’s body is a stove, and food the fuel which keeps up the internal combustion in the lungs. In cold weather we eat more, in warm less. The animal heat is the result of a slow combustion, and disease and death take place when this is too rapid; or for want of fuel, or from some defect in the draught, the fire goes out. Of course the vital heat is not to be confounded with fire; but so much for analogy. It appears, therefore, from the above list, that the expression, animal life, is nearly synonymous with the expression, animal heat; for while Food may be regarded as the Fuel which keeps up the fire within us,—and Fuel serves only to prepare that Food or to increase the warmth of our bodies by addition from without,—Shelter and Clothing also serve only to retain the heat thus generated and absorbed.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 5 The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to keep the vital heat in us. What pains we accordingly take, not only with our Food, and Clothing, and Shelter, but with our beds, which are our night-clothes, robbing the nests and breasts of birds to prepare this shelter within a shelter, as the mole has its bed of grass and leaves at the end of its burrow! The poor man is wont to complain that this is a cold world; and to cold, no less physical than social, we refer directly a great part of our ails. The summer, in some climates, makes possible to man a sort of Elysian life. Fuel, except to cook his Food, is then unnecessary; the sun is his fire, and many of the fruits are sufficiently cooked by its rays; while Food generally is more various, and more easily obtained, and Clothing and Shelter are wholly or half unnecessary. At the present day, and in this country, as I find by my own experience, a few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade, a wheelbarrow, &c., and for the studious, lamplight, stationery, and access to a few books, rank next to necessaries, and can all be obtained at a trifling cost. Yet some, not wise, go to the other side of the globe, to barbarous and unhealthy regions, and devote themselves to trade for ten or twenty years, in order that they may live,—that is, keep comfortably warm,—and die in New England at last. The luxuriously rich are not simply kept comfortably warm, but unnaturally hot; as I implied before, they are cooked, of course à la mode.
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 17 Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor. The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward. We know not much about them. It is remarkable that we know so much of them as we do. The same is true of the more modern reformers and benefactors of their race. None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty. Of a life of luxury the fruit is luxury, whether in agriculture, or commerce, or literature, or art. There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a nobler race of men. But why do men degenerate ever? What makes families run out? What is the nature of the luxury which enervates and destroys nations? Are we sure that there is none of it in our own lives? The philosopher is in advance of his age even in the outward form of his life. He is not fed, sheltered, clothed, warmed, like his contemporaries. How can a man be a philosopher and not maintain his vital heat by better methods than other men?
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 4 When a man is warmed by the several modes which I have described, what does he want next? Surely not more warmth of the same kind, as more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more abundant clothing, more numerous incessant and hotter fires, and the like. When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced. The soil, it appears, is suited to the seed, for it has sent its radicle downward, and it may now send its shoot upward also with confidence. Why has man rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he may rise in the same proportion into the heavens above?—for the nobler plants are valued for the fruit they bear at last in the air and light, far from the ground, and are not treated like the humbler esculents, which, though they may be biennials, are cultivated only till they have perfected their root, and often cut down at top for this purpose, so that most would not know them in their flowering season.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 7 I do not mean to prescribe rules to strong and valiant natures, who will mind their own affairs whether in heaven or hell, and perchance build more magnificently and spend more lavishly than the richest, without ever impoverishing themselves, not knowing how they live,—if, indeed, there are any such, as has been dreamed; nor to those who find their encouragement and inspiration in precisely the present condition of things, and cherish it with the fondness and enthusiasm of lovers,—and, to some extent, I reckon myself in this number; I do not speak to those who are well employed, in whatever circumstances, and they know whether they are well employed or not;—but mainly to the mass of men who are discontented, and idly complaining of the hardness of their lot or of the times, when they might improve them. There are some who complain most energetically and inconsolably of any, because they are, as they say, doing their duty. I also have in mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 1 If I should attempt to tell how I have desired to spend my life in years past, it would probably surprise those of my readers who are somewhat acquainted with its actual history; it would certainly astonish those who know nothing about it. I will only hint at some of the enterprises which I have cherished.
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 4 In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line. You will pardon some obscurities, for there are more secrets in my trade than in most men’s, and yet not voluntarily kept, but inseparable from its very nature. I would gladly tell all that I know about it, and never paint “No Admittance” on my gate.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 1 I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 2 To anticipate, not the sunrise and the dawn merely, but, if possible, Nature herself! How many mornings, summer and winter, before yet any neighbor was stirring about his business, have I been about mine! No doubt, many of my townsmen have met me returning from this enterprise, farmers starting for Boston in the twilight, or woodchoppers going to their work. It is true, I never assisted the sun materially in his rising, but, doubt not, it was of the last importance only to be present at it.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 6 So many autumn, ay, and winter days, spent outside the town, trying to hear what was in the wind, to hear and carry it express! I well-nigh sunk all my capital in it, and lost my own breath into the bargain, running in the face of it. If it had concerned either of the political parties, depend upon it, it would have appeared in the Gazette with the earliest intelligence. At other times watching from the observatory of some some cliff or tree, to telegraph any new arrival; or waiting at evening on the hill-tops for the sky to fall, that I might catch something, though I never caught much, and that, manna-wise, would dissolve again in the sun.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 2 For a long time I was reporter to a journal, of no very wide circulation, whose editor has never yet seen fit to print the bulk of my contributions, and, as is too common with writers, I got only my labor for my pains. However, in this case my pains were their own reward.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 2 For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snow storms and rain storms, and did my duty faithfully; surveyor, if not of highways, then of forest paths and all across-lot routes, keeping them open, and ravines bridged and passable at all seasons, where the public heel had testified to their utility.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 1 I have looked after the wild stock of the town, which give a faithful herdsman a good deal of trouble by leaping fences; and I have had an eye to the unfrequented nooks and corners of the farm; though I did not always know whether Jonas or Solomon worked in a particular field to-day; that was none of my business. I have watered the red huckleberry, the sand cherry and the nettle tree, the red pine and the black ash, the white grape and the yellow violet, which might have withered else in dry seasons.
Posted in: Panel of Experts
Confucian Analects, II, xvii. For analysis of this and other quotations from Confucius, see Cady.
Posted in: General Discussion
There is a duplication of the last two sentences in this paragraph.
It is sometimes said that a miracle is the action of a higher world’s law operating in a lower world (as presented in Edwin Abbott’s Flatland for example), yet this is truly what is happening when we contemplate phenomena deeply. I sense the influence of Goethe’s Italian Journey, where the young Goethe is struck by the concept of the Archetypal Plant.
Posted in: General Discussion
Thanks for pointing out the duplicated sentence! We’ve fixed it. We know that there are other instances scattered throughout our text and are on the look out for them.
Posted in: Open Humanities SUNY Geneseo
[The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well nigh incurable form of disease. We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!]
Humans are made to make themselves look better than they are for society. Those who are well off exaggerate and make it sound as if they did all of the necessary work by themselves to get where they are but this is not always the case. The backbone of big companies are its workers, and deserve their fair cut of the praise.
Posted in: Open Humanities SUNY Geneseo
[We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us! or, what if we had been taken sick? How vigilant we are! determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties. ]
This particular sentence reminds me of a connection with Diderot . Thoreau talks about how we go through the motions of life, doing our labor, having families and lives and our faith and yet at the end of the day we all submit ourselves to persistent uncertainty. This goes with the argument that I and Him have in Rameaus Nephew. I argues for an ethical and moral lifestyle, doing what is right and going through the traditional motions of living while in contrast Him does whatever he needs through whichever ever means to get what he needs and wants. in these two situations, I lives the life of uncertainty that Thoreau speaks of in this passage, whereas Him is not uncertain as he will always do whatever needs to be done in order to have that certainty, he is not deterred for moral or ethical or societal reasons. If Thoreau were to have read Rameau’s Nephew i think Thoreau would agree with the beliefs and lifestyle of Him. Him uses what he has to accomplish his goals. He works with the skills he has been given and is able to manipulate himself and his environment to remove the uncertainties that most experience in life.
Posted in: Open Humanities SUNY Geneseo
In paragraph 15, T begins to describe man’s relationship to nature. He acknowledges how man puts faith in nature to just work correctly, recognizing that humanity does not understand nature as well as it should. He ends by invoking the notion of miracles, and suggests, through the use of his Confucius quote, that man has adopted a sort of ignorance or stupidity towards the natural world, which in turn seeps into man’s daily life.
T’s claim seems like a logical preface to some of Pope Francis’ claims in Laudato si. Pope Francis calls on man to recognize what he already knows about nature and make political and economic changes based on that knowledge. The Pope rationalizes his suggestions by emphasizing the relationship between humanity and nature, arguing that no matter how far removed we try to make ourselves from the natural world, we are very much a part of it. T sees this inherent connection to the natural world, which is why he calls out his peers for choosing to live in ignorance towards the world around them.
T does not acknowledge the economic and political realities of thinking in such a way, but failing to do so makes sense when considering the state of political development still being carried out in T’s lifetime. Further, the lack of understanding that T describes would, in turn, suggest a lack of knowledge about the specific needs for the persistence of life on Earth.
As we read historically back towards Pope Francis’ encyclical, it is interesting to consider how T is the first writer we have encountered who starts to make specific claims about the philosophical relationship between humanity and nature. Up to this point, the writers we have considered have chosen to primarily reframe the man/nature relationship as a pragmatic concern (Locke) or social-economic issue (Marx). It will be interesting to see if T’s genuine anxiety about the state of this man/nature relationship continues to build as we move closer to Francis’ similar worries.
Posted in: ENGL 203 Geneseo F18
[Confucius said, “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men at length establish their lives on that basis.]
This passage is a perfect example of the “they say/I say” technique discussed by Graff and Birkenstein in their book. Thoreau quotes a famous philosopher to establish a basis for his argument and then smoothly transitions to his own interpretation of Confucius’ ideas. I found this passage particularly effective in that Thoreau places the quote near the end of the paragraph, where it nearly summarizes what has been said previously and leaves the reader with succinct, thought provoking idea.
Posted in: ENGL 203 Geneseo F18
[So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are a many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.]
Change is an essential component to both life and narrative. Without change, a life is stagnant: comfortable, but lacking. Without change, a story lacks movement and purpose. Thoreau points out that humans have a tendency to get fixed on what they’re accustomed to, but presses the idea that there is never only one way to do things nor to perceive things. He goes on to say that “all men at length establish their lives on that basis,” that is, whatever it is someone perceives to be fact. Perceived reality becomes that person’s reality, and this can be drawn back to MacIntyre’s point of ‘accountability’ and the narrative form of our lives.
Posted in: ENGL 203 Geneseo F18
[So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are a many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre.]
This passage illustrates MacIntyre’s stance on accountability. Here, Thoreau describes how people may just sit back and let life happen, but they are still responsible for what happens in their lives and are constantly responsible for every change, which happens at every moment of the day. Every decision a person makes, no matter how small, affects the course of their life in unfathomable ways.
Posted in: ENGL 203 Geneseo F18
[ We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!]
Posted in: ENGL 340 S20 Geneseo
[All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant. Confucius said, “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men at length establish their lives on that basis.]
Thoreau talks about the idea of miracles and how man has put false hope in them. Since we believe that nature should work a certain way, we let it blind us to what is really going on. This is best seen in the quote by Confucius. In this quote, it is suggested that man has chosen to believe in false ideas about the world.
Posted in: ENGL 340 S20 Geneseo
“I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do.” While Thoreu is relating this line to the lives of humans in reference to labor and their livelihoods, it is very true of the relationships we carry today with technology. Humans rely on and put trust in their laptops, cellphones, gps, cars, home security systems, and more to ensure they live the most “simple” life of all. We turn over all of our responsibilities to machines that we truly do not understand. Thoreau goes on to say, “We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!” This is entirely true of civilization today. As I am typing this right now, the programs that make up my computer are computing my words into the language that will be read on the internet. As I make presentations for other classes, I might be the one writing the words, but my computer is behind the scenes making the presentation possible. When I drive back to Long Island for winter break, it is not I doing all of that work, it is my car taking the toll of the 7 hr ride and it is my gps doing the work of finding the safest way to travel. Thoreau is right,as humans we have put too much faith in the things we do not understand, and we do not give these the things the credit they deserve for the work they do. He goes on to talk about change, and everyday our technology is changing and advancing to a status humans never thought possible. The idea of a self driving car is absurd to most of us, but who wouldn’t want to take a long trip in a Tesla? Have all of these advancements made our lives more “simple” in the sense that we no longer have to exert as much energy to write out directions before heading off, or using a pen and paper to write an essay without spell check? Or have these advancements made our lives more complicated than ever, increasing our anxiety by the minute because of the unknown. Ever had your laptop shut down as you wrote the last sentence of a 10 page paper that didn’t have autosave? It is a bad feeling. We have become so reliant and trusting of our technology to protect and serve us that the minute there is a glitch in the system, our lives turn to chaos.