I’ve been re-reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau and the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Thoreau was a young friend of Emerson (who was 14 years older). Emerson encouraged Thoreau to write. The two of them formed in the 19th Century and even today a “corrective” on the American Dream. They turned people’s attention away from obsessing over possessions. Nature, literature, philosophy, science–these formed the environment in which Thoreau and Emerson lived their enriched lives.
Sadly, Thoreau died at the age of only 44. Emerson lived three-fourths of the entire 19th Century (1803-1882). Their writings even today are refreshing for their encouragement. The rich, full inner self is possible.
“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but religiously follows the new.”
On the proposed trans-Atlantic cable: “We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”
“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”
On reading: “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”
“There is a certain class of unbelievers who sometimes ask me such questions [like, ‘How can you live with so little?”] I am accustomed to answer that I can live on board nails. If they cannot understand that, they cannot understand much that I have to say.”
“I am glad to have drunk water so long, for the same reason that I prefer the natural sky to an opium-eater’s heaven.”
“Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind. Every reform was once a private opinion, and when it shall be a private opinion again [that is, it is so widespread that now everybody thinks it] it will solve the problem of the age.” [from the essay “History”]
On reading: “All that Shakespeare says of the king, yonder slip of a boy that reads in the corner feels to be true of himself.” [from “History”]
“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men–that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be universal sense.” [from “Self-Reliance”]
On religious beliefs: “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind.” [from “Self-Reliance”]
On the pettiness of scheming to attract a girlfriend: “Let him be treat, and love shall follow him.” [from “Spiritual Laws”]
“Love is our highest word, and the synonym of God.” [from “Love”]
“Thus is the universe alive. All things are moral. That soul which within us is a sentiment, outside of us is a law.” [from “Compensation’]
“Kindness is necessary to perception.” [From “Prudence”]
“Truth is the summit of being. Justice is the application of it to affairs.” [from “Character”]
“The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles.” [from “Nature”]
“Nature is loved by what is best in us. It is the city of God.” [from “Nature”]
Emerson and Thoreau–two reasons to be proud to be an American.