Thursday, September 1
Mr. Thoreau dined with us yesterday. He is a curious character: a young man in whom much of the original wild nature still prevails, and, as sophisticated as he is, he is so in his own way and method. He is as ugly as sin, with a long nose, a strange mouth, and a rough and somewhat rustic, yet courteous, manner that suits his facade very well. But his ugliness is of the honest and agreeable kind, and suits him much better than beauty. He was educated, I believe, at Cambridge, and was at one time a teacher in this city; but for the past two or three years he has repudiated the common ways of making a living, and seems inclined to lead a kind of Indian existence among civilized men – an Indian existence, I mean, insofar as the absence of any systematic effort to seek his livelihood. He has been living with Mr. Emerson’s family for some time, and in return works in the garden, and pursues as many other trades as his dexterity will allow, encouraged by Mr. Emerson to bring out what true manhood there is in him. Mr. Thoreau is a keen and delicate observer of nature, a genuine observer, who, I suspect, is almost as rare a character as he is a very personal poet; and Nature, in reward for so much love, seems to have adopted him as a favorite child, and shows him secrets that very few are allowed to see. He gets on well with beasts, fish, birds, and reptiles, and always has the strangest stories to tell of his adventures, episodes of his friendship with our younger brothers in mortal life. Herbs and flowers, wherever they grow, whether in a garden or in the wild forest, are equally your friends. It also maintains close relationships with clouds, and can presage storms. One trait that characterizes him is the deep respect he feels towards the memory of the Indian tribes, whose wild life would have favored him so much; and, strange as it is to say, he seldom walks through a field without finding an arrowhead, or a spearhead, or some other relic of the Red Indians, as if his spirits wished him to be the heir to such simple riches.
However, he has much more than a mere literary inclination: his is a deep and authentic taste for poetry, especially for the ancient poets, although more limited than it would be desirable, as it happens with all the transcendentalists, as far as I can tell them. know. He is a good writer; at least he has written a good article, an intricate disquisition on natural history, in the last Dial, which he says he drew up mainly from his own observations written in his diaries. In my opinion, this article offers a very representative image of his personality and his thoughts: he is authentic, precise and literal in what he observes, and describes both the essence and the presence of what he sees, in the way that a lake reflects its wooded shores, showing every leaf and at the same time defining the wild beauty of the entire landscape; in the article there are also passages of foggy and dreamy metaphysics, which on the one hand are affected, and, on the other, are nonetheless natural exhalations of his intellect; and others where his thoughts seem to pour out and resonate like spontaneous verses, which, strictly speaking, they are, given that there is true poetry in this man. There is also, throughout the article, a substratum of common sense and moral truth, which is in itself a reflection of his personality; for man does not lack wisdom in thinking and feeling, no matter how imperfect he may be in his way of acting. In general, he seems to me a healthy and upright guy, who is worth knowing.
After dinner (at which we cracked open the first watermelon and melon our garden has ever produced) Mr. Thoreau and I went for a walk along the river bank; and, at a certain moment, he gave a call for the boat to be brought to him. Immediately a young man rowed it up from the river, and Mr. Thoreau and I went upstream, which became far more beautiful than any picture, with its still dark sheet of water, half sunny, half shadowed. , between high and wooded shores. The last rains have increased the flow so much that many trees are knee-deep, as it were, in the river; and the branches, which until recently rose into the air, now bend down and drink from the depths of the passing stream. As for the poor cardinals, who only a few days ago shone on the shore, I could see but a few of their scarlet bonnets poking out of the water. Mr. Thoreau handled the boat so perfectly, whether with two oars or one, that it seemed to respond to his will by sheer instinct, as if it required no physical effort to steer. He told me that when some Indians visited Concord years ago, he found that he had acquired, without the help of a teacher, the exact method they knew of how to propel and steer a canoe. Be that as it may, short of money as he is, the poor fella is eager to sell the boat (of which he is such a good handyman) which he himself built with his own hands; so I agreed to give him his asking price (only seven dollars), and consequently I became the possessor of the Musketaquid. I wish I could acquire the aquatic feats from their original owner for as reasonable a fee as that.
‘Newspapers in the Old Rectory (1842-1843)’. Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Edition and translation by Lorenzo Luengo. Siruela, 2022. 308 pages. €21.95.
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