Thoreau's Journal: 18-Oct-1856

Men commonly exaggerate the theme. Some themes they think are significant and others insignificant. I feel that my life is very homely, my pleasures very cheap. Joy and sorrow, success and failure, grandeur and meanness, and indeed most words in the English language do not mean for me what they do for my neighbors. I see that my neighbors look with compassion on me, that they think it is a mean and unfortunate destiny which makes me to walk in these fields and woods so much and sail on this river alone. But as long as I find here the only real elysium, I cannot hesitate in my choice. My work is writing, and I do not hesitate, though I know that no subject is too trivial for me, tried by ordinary standards; for, ye fools, the theme is nothing, the life is everything. All that interests the reader is the depth and intensity of the life excited. We touch our subject but by a point which has no breadth, but the pyramid of our experience, or our interest in it, rests on us by a broader or narrower base. That is, man is all in all. Nature nothing, but as she draws him out and reflects him. Give me simple, cheap, and homely themes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thoreau's theme comes to me on a day when I pulled my grandfather's edition of "Men of Concord" from the shelf. It's filled with clippings, mostly from the Concord Journal; editions printed in 1947. My grandfather, born and raised in Concord, died the following year in Ashland Kentucky.

In a clipping from a 1947 edition of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch September 29, 1947 reads: "Henry Thoreau fought a different battle for human rights - the priviledge to say no to the U.S. Government during a war. ...Ralph Waldo Emerson passed the little Concord jailhouse and was shocked to find Thoreau peering through the bars of a cell.
"Henry," he exclaimed, "What are YOU doing in there?"
"Waldo," was the classic counter, "what are YOU doing out there?"