Selections from the Journals

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau died a martyr to science, from a cold he caught while counting the age, the rings of trees I seem to recall. One essential essay on him is by my Shakespeare teacher, Theodore Baird, which some perceptive editor found and included in the Norton Walden several decades ago. Baird had read most everything (tens of thousands of books) in the Amherst College Library, named in 1963 by JFK, the (Robert) Frost Library. I played trombone in the College band when bothe JFK and my teacher Archibald MacLeish spoke. MacL later wrote on my behalf for a postdoc studying Giordano Bruno and the lunar Moon-mappers in the 17C. But Baird was an incisive and hilarious classroom presence: see my reviews of two of his books.
As one who has flipped through the dozen large volumes of Thoreau's Journals, finding much botanical classification etc., I found this a useful little book for the classroom.Thoreau often writes with humor here, especially when his publisher sends him the remaindered 706 copies (out of the edition of 1000) of his A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River: "I now have a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself." His story of chasing the pig is a classic, very different from my own family story.My grandfather had a pig, Delfiney, who had the run of the little house-backhouse and barn, but escaped anyway one day.Gramp enlisted his ony neighbor within a mile, who reluctantly agreed to the futile task.When they got about three quarters of a mile, they sighted the pig and Gramp called, "DelFINEY!!"The pig came running to him.
Thoreau reaches down into a bullhead nest to discover their pattern of habitation. Here's part of his long encounter with a Woodchuck.After a long run, he exhausts the creature: "I sat down by his side within a foot. I talked to him quasi forest lingo, baby-talk, at any rate in a conciliatroy tone, and throughout that Ihad some influence on him.He gritted his teeth less. I chewed checkerberry leaves and presented them to his nose at last without a grit, though I saw that by so much gritting of the teeth he had worn them rapidly and they were covered with a fine white powder, which, if you measured it thus, would have made his anger terrible."

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