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without paint or padding, still fresh and young, full-breasted, strong-backed, fit to suckle and carry her children. The poet is he who bears the charm of freshness in his eyes. He may safely visit Niagara, or those adopted children of nature the Pyramids, sure to find them and to leave them as if no eye had vulgarized them before. For the ordinary tourist all wells have been muddied by the caravans that have passed that way, and his eye, crawling over the monuments of nature and art, adds only its quota of staleness.
Walton quotes an “ingenious Spaniard as saying, that “ rivers and the inhabitants of the watery element were made for wise men to contemplate and fools to pass by without consideration,” and Blount, in one of the notes to his translation of Philostratus, asserts that “as travelling does much advantage wise men, so does it no less prejudice fools.” Mr. Thoreau is clearly the man we want. He is both wise man and poet. A graduate of Cambridge — the fields and woods, the axe, the hoe, and the rake have since admitted him ad eundem. Mark how his imaginative sympathy goes beneath the crust,
down than that of Burns, and needs no plough to turn up the object of its muse. “It is pleasant to think in winter, as we walk over the snowy pastures, of those happy dreamers that lie under the sod, of dormice and all that race of dormant creatures which have such a superfluity of life enveloped in thick folds of fur, impervious to the cold.” — p. 103. “ For every oak and birch, too, growing on the hilltop, as well as for these elms and willows, we knew that there was a graceful ethereal and ideal tree making down from the roots, and sometimes nature in high tides brings her mirror to its foot and makes it visible.' p. 49. Only some word were better here than mirror, (which is true to the fact, but not to the fancy,) since we could not see through that. Leigh Hunt represents a colloquy between man and fish, in which both maintain their orthodoxy so rigidly that neither is able to comprehend or tolerate the other. Mr. Thoreau flounders in no such shallows. He is wiser, or his memory is better, and can recreate the sensations of that part of his embryonic life which he passed as a fish. We know nothing more thoroughly charming than his description of twilight at the river's bottom.
“The light gradually forsook the deep water, as well as the deeper air, and the gloaming came to the fishes as well as to us, and more dim and gloomy to them, whose day is perpetual twilight, though sufficiently bright for their weak and watery eyes.
Vespers had already rung in many a dim and watery chapel down below, where the shadows of the weeds were extended in length over the sandy floor. The vespertinal pout had already begun to flit on leathern fin, and the finny gossips withdrew from the fluvial streets to creeks and coves, and other private haunts, excepting a few of stronger fin, which anchored in the stream, stemming the tide even in their dreams. Meanwhile, like a dark evening cloud, we were wafted over the cope of their sky, deepening the shadows on their deluged fields."
One would say this was the work of some bream Homer. Melville's pictures of life in Typee have no attraction beside it. Truly we could don scales, pectorals, dorsals, and anals, (critics are already cold blooded,) to stroll with our dumb love, fin in fin, through the Rialto of this subfluvial Venice. The Complete Angler, indeed! Walton had but an extraqueous and coquine intimacy with the fishes compared with this. His tench and dace are but the poor transported convicts of the frying-pan.
There was a time when Musketaquid and Merrimack flowed down from the Unknown. The adventurer wist not what fair reaches stretched before him, or what new dusky peoples the next bend would discover. Surveyor and map have done what they could to rob them of their charm of unexpectedness. The urns of the old river-gods have been twitched from under their arms and set up on the museum-shelf, or, worse yet, they serve to boil the manufacturer's plum-porridge. But Mr. Thoreau with the touch of his oar conjures back as much as may be of the old enchantment. His map extends to the bed of the river, and he makes excursions into finland, penetrating among the scaly tribes without an angle. lle is the true cosmopolitan or citizen of the Beautiful. He is thoroughly impartial — Tros, Tyriusve — a lichen or a man, it is all one, he looks on both with equal eyes. We are at a loss where to class him. He might be Mr. Bird, Mr. Fish, Mr. Rivers, Mr. Brook, Mr. Wood, Mr. Stone, or Mr. Flower, as well as Mr. Thoreau. His work has this additional argument for freshness, the birds, beasts, fishes, trees, and plants having this advantage, that none has hitherto gone among them in the missionary line. They are trapped for their furs, shot and speared for their flesh, hewn for their timber, and grubbed for Indian Vegetable Pills, but they remain yet happily unconverted in primitive heathendom. They take neither rum nor gunpowder in the natural way, and pay tithes without being Judaized. Mr. Thoreau goes among them neither as hunter nor propagandist. He makes a few advances to them in the way of Booddhism, but gives no list of catechumens, though flowers would seem to be the natural followers of that prophet.
In truth, Mr. Thoreau himself might absorb the forces of the entire alphabetic sanctity of the A. B. C. F. M., persisting as he does in a fine, intelligent paganism. We need no more go to the underworld to converse with shadows of old philosophers. Here we have the Academy brought to our doors, and our modern world criticized from beneath the shelter of the Portico. Were we writing commendatory verses after the old style, to be prefixed to this volume, we should begin somewhat thus :
If the ancient, mystique, antifabian
The great charm of Mr. Thoreau's book seems to be, that its being a book at all is a happy fortuity. The door of the portfolio-cage has been left open, and the thoughts have flown out of themselves. The paper and types are only accidents. The page is confidential like a diary. Pepys is not more minute, more pleasantly unconscious. It is like a book dug up, that has no date to assign it a special contemporaneousness, and no name of author. It has been written with no uncomfortable sense of a public looking over the shoulder. And the author is the least ingredient in it, too. All which I saw and part of which I was, would be an apt motto for the better portions of the volume : a part, moreover, just as the river, the trees, and the fishes are. Generally he holds a very smooth mirror up to nature, and if, now and then, he shows us his own features in the glass, when we had rather look at something else, it is as a piece of nature, and we must forgive him if he allow it a too usurping position in the landscape. He looks at the country sometimes (as painters advise) through the triumphal arch of his own legs, and, though the upsidedownness of the prospect has its own charm of unassuetude, the arch itself is not the most graceful.
So far of the manner of the book, now of the book itself. It professes to be the journal of a week on Concord and Merrimack Rivers. We must have our libraries enlarged, if Mr.
Thoreau intend to complete his autobiography on this scalefour hundred and thirteen pages to a sennight! He begins honestly enough as the Boswell of Musketaquid and Merrimack. It was a fine subject and a new one. We are curious to know somewhat of the private and interior life of two such prominent and oldest inhabitants. Musketaquid saw the tremulous match half-doubtingly touched to the revolutionary train. The blood of Captain Lincoln and his drummer must have dribbled through the loose planks of the bridge for Musketaquid to carry down to Merrimack, that he in turn might mingle it with the sea. Merrimack is a drudge now, grinding for the Philistines, who takes repeated dammings without resentment, and walks in no procession for higher wages. But its waters remember the Redman, and before the Redman. They knew the first mammoth as a calf, and him a mere parvenu and modern. Even to the saurians they could say - we remember your grandfather.
Much information and entertainment were to be pumped out of individuals like these, and the pump does not suck in Mr. Thoreau's hands. As long as he continues an honest Boswell, his book is delightful, but sometimes he serves his two rivers as Hazlitt did Northcote, and makes them run Thoreau or Emerson, or, indeed, anything but their own transparent element. What, for instance, have Concord and Merrimack to do with Boodh, themselves professors of an elder and to them wholly sufficient religion, namely, the willing subjects of watery laws, to seek their ocean? We have digressions on Boodh, on Anacreon, (with translations hardly so good as Cowley,) on Persius, on Friendship, and we know not what. We come upon them like snags, jolting us head foremost out of our places as we are rowing placidly up stream or drifting down. Mr. Thoreau becomes so absorbed in these discussions, that he seems, as it were, to catch a crab, and disappears uncomfortably from his seat at the bow-oar. We could forgive them all, especially that on Books, and that on Friendship, (which is worthy of one who has so long commerced with Nature and with Emerson,) we could welcome them all, were they put by themselves at the end of the book. But as it is, they are out of proportion and out of place, and mar our Merrimacking dreadfully. We were bid to a river-party, not to be preached at. They thrust themselves obtrusively out of the narrative, like those quarries of red glass which the Bowery dandies (emulous of Sisyphus) push laboriously before them as breastpins.
Before we get through the book, we begin to feel as if the author had used the term week, as the Jews did the number forty, for an indefinite measure of time. It is quite evident that we have something more than a transcript of his fluviatile experiences. The leaves of his portfolio and river-journal seem to have been shuffled together with a trustful dependence on some overruling printer-providence. We trace the lines of successive deposits as plainly as on the sides of a deep cut, or rather on those of a trench carried through made-land in the city, where choiceness of material has been of less import than suitableness to fill up, and where plaster and broken bricks from old buildings, oyster-shells, and dock mud have been shot pellmell together. Yet we must allow that Mr. Thoreau's materials are precious, too. His plaster has bits of ancient symbols painted on it, his bricks are stamped with mystic sentences, his shells are of pearl-oysters, and his mud from the Sacramento.
“Give me a sentence,” prays Mr. Thoreau bravely, “which no intelligence can understand !” — and we think that the kind gods have nodded. There are some of his utterances which have foiled us, and we belong to that class of beings which he thus reproachfully stigmatizes as intelligences. We think it must be this taste that makes him so fond of the Hindoo philosophy, which would seem admirably suited to men, if men were only oysters. Or is it merely because, as he naively confesses in another place, “ his soul is of a bright invisible green”? We would recommend to Mr. Thoreau some of the Welsh sacred poetry. Many of the Triads hold an infinite deal of nothing, especially after the bottoms have been knocked out of them by translation. But it seems ungrateful to find fault with a book which has given us so much pleasure. We have eaten salt (Attic, too,) with Mr. Thoreau. It is the hospitality and not the fare which carries a benediction with it, and it is a sort of ill breeding to report any oddity in the viands. His feast is here and there a little savage, (indeed, he professes himself a kind of volunteer Redman,) and we must make out with the fruits, merely giving a sidelong glance at the baked dog and pickled missionary, and leaving them in grateful silence.
We wish the General Court had been wise enough to have appointed our author to make the report on the Ichthyology of Massachusetts. Then, indeed, would the people of the state have known something of their aquicolal fellow-citizens.