Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882). The Complete Works. 1904. Vol. XII. Natural History of Intellect and Other Papers
IV. Concord Walks
NOT many men see beauty in the fogs
Of close, low pine-woods in a river town;
Yet unto me not morns magnificence
Nor the red rainbow of a summers eve,
Nor Rome, nor joyful Paris, nor the halls
Of rich men, blazing hospitable light,
Nor wit, not eloquence,no, nor even the song
Of any woman that is now alive,
Hath such a soul, such divine influence,
Such resurrection of the happy past,
As is to me when I behold the morn
Ope in such low, moist roadside, and beneath
Peep the blue violets out of the black loam.
THERE is not rood has not a star above it;
The cordial quality of pear or plum
Ascends as gladly in a single tree
As in broad orchards resonant with bees;
And every atom poises for itself,
And for the whole. The gentle deities
showed me the love of color and of sounds,
The innumerable tenements of beauty,
The miracle of generative force,
Far-reaching concords of astronomy
Felt in the plants and in the punctual birds;
Better, the linked purpose of the whole.
WHEN1 I bought my farm, I did not know what a bargain I had in the bluebirds, bobolinks and thrushes, which were not charged in the bill; as little did I guess what sublime mornings and sunsets I was buyingwhat reaches of landscape, and what fields and lanes for a tramp. Neither did I fully consider what and indescribable luxury is our Indian river, the Musketaquid,which runs parallel with the village street and to which every house on that long street has a back door, which leads down through the garden to the river-bank, when a skiff, or a dory, give you, all summer, access to enchantments, new every day, and all winter, to miles of ice for the skater.2 And because our river is no Hudson or Mississippi I have a problem long waiting for an engineer,this,to what height I must build a tower in my garden that shall show me the Atlantic Ocean from its topthe ocean twenty miles away.
Still less did I know what good and true neighbors I was buying, men of thought and virtue, some of them now known the country through for their learning, or subtlety, or active or patriotic power, but whom I had the pleasure of knowing long before the Country did; and of other men not known widely but known at home, farmers,not doctors of laws but doctors of land, skilled in turning a swamp or a sand-bank into a fruitful field, and, when witch-grass and nettles grew, causing a forest of apple-trees miles of corn and rye to thrive.
Little joy has he who has no garden, said Saadi. Montaigne took much pains to be made a citizen of Rome; and our people are vain, when abroad, of having the freedom of foreign cities presented to them in a gold box. I much prefer to have the freedom of a garden presented me. When I go into a good garden, I think, if it were mine, I should never go out of it. It requires some geometry in the head to lay it out rightly, and there are many who can enjoy to one that can create it.
Linnæus, who was professor of the Royal Garden at Upsala, took the occasion of a public ceremony to say, I thank God, who has ordered my fate, that I live in this time, and so ordered it that I live happier than the king of the Persians. You know, father, and citizens, that I live entirely in the Academy Garden; here is my Vale of Tempe, say rather my Elysium. I possess here all that I desire of the spoils of the East and the West, and unless I am very much mistaken, what is far more beautiful than Babylonian robes, or vases of the Chinese. Here I learn what I teach. Here I admire the wisdom of the Supreme Artist, disclosing Himself by proofs of every kind, and show them to others. Our people are learning that lesson year by year. As you know, nothing in Europe is more elaborately luxurious than the costly gardens,as the Boboli at Florence, the Borghese, the Orsini at Rome, the Villa d Este at Tivoli; with their greenhouses, conservatories, palm-houses, fishponds, sculptured summer-houses and grottoes; but without going into the proud niceties of an European garden, there is happiness all the year round to be had from the square fruit-gardens which we plant in the front or rear of every farmhouse. In the orchard, we build monuments to Van Mons4 annually.
The place where a thoughtful man in the country feels the joy of eminent domain is in his wood-lot. If he suffer from accident or low spirits, his spirits rise when the enters it. He can spend the entire day therein, with hatchet or pruning-shears, making paths, without remorse of wasting time. He can fancy that the birds know him and trust him, and even the trees make little speeches or hint them. Then he remembers that Allah in his allotment of life does not count the time which the Arab spends in the chase.5
If you can add to the garden a noble luxury, let it be an arboretum. In the arboretum you should have things which are of a solitary excellence, and which people who read of them are hungry to see. Thus plant the sequoia Gigantea, give it room, and set it on its way of ten or fifteen centuries. Bayard Taylor planted twoone died, but I saw the other looking well. Plant the Banian, the Sandal-tree, the Lotus, the Upas, Ebony, Century Aloes, the Soma of the VedasAsclepias Viminalis, the Mandrake and Papyrus, Dittany, Asphodel, Nepenthe, Hæmony, Moly, Spikenard, Amomum.6 Make a calendaryour ownof the year, that you may never miss your favorites in their month. As Linnæus made a dial of plants, so shall you of all the objects that guide your walks.
Learn to know the conspicuous planets in the heavens, and the chief constellations. Thus do not forget the 14th of November, when the meteors come, and on some years drop into your house-yard like sky-rockets. And t is worth remarking, what a man may go through life without knowing, that a common spy-glass, which you carry in your pocket, will show the satellites of Jupiter, and turned on the Pleiades, or Seven Stars, in which most eyes can only count six,will show many more,a telescope in an observatory will show two hundred. How many poems have been written, or, at least attempted, on the lost Pleiad! for though that pretty constellation is called for thousands of years the Seven Stars, most eyes can only count six.
Horses and carriage are costly toys, but the word park always charms me. I could not find it in my heart to chide the citizen who should ruin himself to buy a patch of heavy oak timber. I admire the taste which makes the avenue to the housewere the house never so smallthrough a wood;as it disposes the mind of the inhabitant and of his guest to the deference due to each.
There are two companions, with one or other of whom t is desirable to go out on a tramp. One is an artist, that is, who has an eye for beauty. If you use a good and skilful companion, you shall see through his eyes; and, if they be of great discernment, you will learn wonderful secrets. In walking with Allston, you shall see what was never before shown to the eye of man. And as the perception of beauty always exhilarates, if one is so happy as to find the company of a true artist, he is a perpetual holiday and benefactor, and ought only to be used like an oriflamme or a garland, for feasts and May-days, and parliaments of wit and love.
The other is a naturalist, for the reason that it is much better to learn the elements of geology, of botany, of ornithology and astronomy by word of mouth from a companion than dully from a book. There is so much, too, which a book cannot teach which an old friend can. A man should carry Nature in his headshould know the hour of the day or night, and the time of the year, by the sun and stars; should know the solstice and the equinox, the quarter of the moon and the daily tides.7
This is my ideal of the powers of wealth. Find out what lake or sea Agassiz wishes to explore, and offer to carry him there, and he will make you acquainted with all its fishes: or what district Dr. Gray has not found the plants of,carry him; or when Dr. Wyman wishes to find new anatomic structures or fossil remains; or when Dr. Charles Jackson or Mr. Hall would study chemistry or mines; and you secure the best company and the best teaching with every advantage.8
But the countryman, as I said, has more than he paid for; the landscape is his. I am sorry to say the farmers seldom walk for pleasure. It is a fine art;there are degrees of proficiency, and we distinguish the professors of that science from the apprentices. But there is a manifest increase in the taste for it. T is the consolation of mortal men. It is an old saying that physicians or naturalists are the only professional men who continue their tasks out of study-hours; and the naturalist has no barren places, no winter, and no night, pursuing his researches in the sea, in the ground, in barren moors, in the night even, because the woods exhibit a whole new world of nocturnal animals; in winter, because, remove the snow a little, a multitude of plants live and grow, and there is a perpetual push of buds, so that it is impossible to say when vegetation begins. I think no pursuit has more breath of immortality in it.
I admire in trees the creation of property so clean of tears, or crime, or even care. No lesson of chemistry is more impressive to me than this chemical fact that Nineteen twentieths of the timber are drawn from the atmosphere. We knew the root was sucking juices from the ground. But the top of the tree is also a taproot thrust into the public pocket of the atmosphere. This is a highwayman, to be sure. And I am always glad to remember that in proportion to the foliation is the addition of wood. Then they grow, when you wake and when you sleep, at nobodys cost, and for everybodys comfort. Lord Abercorn, when some one praised the rapid growth of his trees, replied, Sir, they have nothing else to do!
That uncorrupted behavior which we admire in the animals, and in young children, belongs also to the farmer, the hunter, the sailor, the man who lives in the presence of Nature. Cities force the growth and make him talkative and entertaining, but they make him artificial. What alone possesses interest for us is the naturel of each, that which is constitutional to him only. This is forever a surprise, and engaging, and lovely; we cant be satiated with knowing it, and about it, and this is that which the conversation with Nature goes to cherish and to guard.
The man finds himself expressed in Nature. Yet when the sees this annual reappearance of beautiful forms, the lovely carpet, the lovely tapestry of June, he may well ask himself the special meaning of the hieroglyphic, as well as the sense and scope of the wholeand there is a general sense which the best knowledge of the particular alphabet leaves unexplained.9
Note 1. This lecture was evidently given by Mr. Emerson as his contribution to the village Lyceum, probably in 1867. Its shortness seems to show that it was the more domestic and local part of the larger lecture on Country Life which here precedes it. Both manuscripts bear that name, and some sheets that occur in both are preserved, in this volume, only in the lecture into which they fit best. [back]
Note 2. The charm of a river trip with Thoreau is celebrated in the essay Nature (Essays, Second Series, p. 173). [back]
Note 3. The young girls and the boys who passed the house daily on their way to the Grammar or High School had little thought of the interest and pleasure with which the older scholar looked at them from his study window. Mr. Emerson was for many years on the School Committee. He much enjoyed the public examinations (they would be called exhibitions now, but they are obsolete), trying to the teacher and the more sensitive pupils, but highly interesting to the elders. Yet there, as elsewhere, he sat as a learner, and came home to praise the declamation or recitation of the girls and boys, and the Napoleonic aplomb of the schoolmistress, daughter of one of his farmer neighbors. [back]
Note 4. The Belgian pomologist, whose results with coarse wild stock in a state of variation (by endless resowing of the better products obtaining fine fruit), are often alluded to in the Essays, and his Theory of Amelioration was carried by Emerson into higher fields. (See note 2 to page 49 in English Traits.) [back]
Note 5. The delight in the wood-walks is set forth in the poem Waldeinsamkeit. Mr. Emerson wrote to Carlyle, in May, 1846: I, too, have a new plaything, the best I ever had,a wood-lot. Last fall I bought a piece of more than forty acres, on the border of Walden Pond,a place to which my feet have for years been accustomed to bring me once or twice a week at all seasons . In these May days, when maples, poplars, oaks, birches, walnut and pine are in their spring glory, I go thither every afternoon. [back]
Note 6. The Upas tree of the tropics was reputed fatal to those who sat beneath it. The Soma was used in sacrifices in ancient India. Asclepias Viminalis, a remarkable plant of the milkweed family. The Mandrake root, because of its resemblance to a human body, was viewed with superstition; it was said to shriek when torn up by night. Mr. Emerson saw the Papyrus reed, which gave the ancients paper, growing in Sicily. Dittany, supposed to be named from Mount Dicte, in Crete, where it grew. Asphodel, associated with legends of Greece and Sicily. Nepenthe, a plant which brought calm and forgetfulness, mentioned in the Odyssey (book IV.) where Helen gives it to Telemachus. Hæmony, a Thessalian magic herb, mentioned in Miltons Comus. The herb Moly, with black root and white flower, was given by Hermes to Odysseus to overcome the charms of Circe (Odyssey, book X.). Amomum, a tropical plant allied to ginger and cardamon. [back]
Note 7. These friends Mr. Emerson had. His walks were usually alone, for, as he said, Natures rule is One to one, my dear; but in the earlier years of his Concord life he went as a pupil to be shown the sights and learn the lore of each season, now with Henry Thoreau, the naturalist who knew the facts, but read also the higher meaning, and now with Ellery Channing, the poet with an artists eye and speech. [back]
Note 8. Dr. Jeffries Wyman of Cambridge, the comparative anatomist, as remarkable for his modesty as his attainments, is here alluded to. He was one of the company celebrated in The Adirondacs (Poems). Dr. Charles T. Jackson (the brother of Mrs. Emerson) and Professor J. Hall of Albany, separately, made the first geological surveys of several States. [back]