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Chapter 1. Economy 
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DWill wrote:
Still, is he or is he not a bit of a misanthrope, is the question that runs through my mind. . . .P.S. A hint from you that Emerson was a sellout?


Will, I have been thinking about these matters for days. Wikipedia says:

Quote:
Eventually the two would reconcile some of their differences, although Thoreau privately accused Emerson of having drifted from his original philosophy, and Emerson began to view Thoreau as a misanthrope. Emerson's eulogy to Thoreau is largely credited with the latter's negative reputation during the 19th century.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Waldo_Emerson

I don't think this is fair. Thoreau was shy, focused, and stayed on message. What Emerson said by itself would not have tarnished his reputation. Thoreau's narcolepsy, I believe, contributed to his separation from society, and people judge by appearances.

Emerson did, I think, drift from his original philosophy. It's as if there are two Emersons, the younger radical philosopher and the older conservative man of wealth. The younger Emerson of Nature and The American Scholar made Thoreau. Thoreau was so taken by Emerson that he imitated Emerson's style, gestures, tone of voice, and posture. He become so much like Emerson that you couldn't tell them apart in the dark, someone said. Thoreau reproduces ideas from Nature and The American Scholar in Walden.

Emerson developed serious failings.

He did not treat his wife Lydia as an equal but more like another servant. She came to hate Transcendentalism and retreated into chronic invalidism.

He abandoned his family for long periods of travel.

He made big money and indulged himself. Contrary to Wikipedia, Emerson lived rich. He inherited a small fortune from his first wife and would have been financially independent were it not for his extravagance. At one time he employed five servants. Even his brother reproved him.

Also contrary to what Wikipedia would lead one to believe, Emerson was a closet racist, as were many New Englanders of his era. He found blacks so repulsive that he would not eat food prepared or served by them, I have been told. Thoreau, in contrast, sheltered one or more runaway slaves at Walden:

"Some who had more wits than they knew what to do with; runaway slaves with plantation manners, who listened from time to time, like the fox in the fable, as if they heard the hounds a-baying on their track, and looked at me beseechingly, as much as to say, --

"O Christian, will you send me back?

One real runaway slave, among the rest, whom I helped to forward toward the north star" (6.16).

I suspect that most of the eventual friction between Emerson and Thoreau was that Thoreau reminded him of the self he used to be.

Tom



Thu Aug 07, 2008 9:03 pm
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Tom, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I, too, don't think that Emerson's eulogy could have fixed a negative view of Thoreau in the public's mind. There could be in the eulogy some trace of the conflicts between them, but it seems to be a judicious appraisal overall, full of admiration if not exactly of affection.

Emerson had the relative disadvantage of living so much longer than did Thoreau. His idealism had a longer time to decay and he became too accessible to the mainstream of the country. Emerson also had family to worry about, of course, but this is not an all-purpose excuse. I've read only the biography by Richardson (A Mind on Fire), which does not so much delve into the life as the intellectual development.

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I'm conscious of being behind in my inquiry into Walden, so will try to make up for lost time. Two things to bring up about "Economy" before moving on.

1. Could it be that T. was not well-nourished for much of the time he lived at the cabin? He speaks of being able to live not only on purslane, but on board nails ("for the root of the matter is faith.") He's exaggerating, but just because he doesn't die doesn't mean that he is giving his body what it needs. His "faith" cannot dictate to his body. We'll probably never know about this, because he may have quite regularly obtained "real" food from family and friends in town. Tom believes that his diet brought on the TB that killed him. I'm not sure about this. But he may have confused health with asceticism.

2. The appending of Thomas Carew's "The Pretensions of Poverty" to the "Economy" section might seem odd until we realize that T. was not claiming value for material self-denial, but for the freedom from spirit-sapping toil that denial could allow one to achieve. Once one has gotten clear of of all the "needs" that are not needs at all, T. says, then one can begin to soar, to fulfill one's true human potential.

........but we advance
Such virtues only as admit excess.
Brave, bounteous acts, regal magnificence,
All-seeing prudence, magnanimity
That knows no bound, and that heroic virtue
For which antiquity hath left no name,
But patterns only.....

T., I believe, through his experiment in Walden Woods, was only trying to show how we can have the benefits of civilization while avoiding its evils. He would not have made frequent trips to Concord and occasional trips to Cambridge to borrow books from Harvard library were this not so. We commonly say that anyone who tries to go back to nature and is living without contact with society is living like Thoreau. But such a person could be living very unlike Thoreau if he is not gaining the freedom to nourish his mind and spirit. If this person sees value in separation for its own sake, this is a hermit-like existence for which T. never shows an affinity.

DWill



Fri Aug 08, 2008 8:09 am
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Post Re: Thoreau's privy
Thomas Hood wrote:
DWill wrote:
What Tom said when we first started about the privy stuck in my mind. He never mentions how he managed his waste, . . .


He did give some hints :)


Tom,
I've been in far to serious a state of mind these past few weeks. When I read your post (quoted above), I never saw the smilie. DWill had to point it out.

My response to your post was, "Are you kidding?" I guess you were.

Saffron


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Post Re: Thoreau's privy
Saffron wrote:
Tom,
I've been in far to serious a state of mind these past few weeks.


Saffron, I'm not alway diplomatic, and I do want your input on Walden. Has Walden helped you write poems?

Tom



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DWill wrote:
Could it be that T. was not well-nourished for much of the time he lived at the cabin? He speaks of being able to live not only on purslane, but on board nails. . . .


Yes, I think his diet shortened his life. I once tried purslane myself. It's a dreadful food and should not be eaten by anyone because its high oxalate content can trigger kidney stones. The statement "I can live on board nails" is wordplay, since Thoreau considered himself to be a yogi, and some fakirs live on a bed of nails.

I speculate that Thoreau's excessive use of corn may have given him low-grade pellagra. Symptoms include hypersensitivity to light (both skin and vision) and loss of teeth.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellagra

A drawing I've seen of Thoreau pictures him with an especially large-brimed straw hat, "a summer hat for a quarter of a dollar" (1.37). Perhaps he needed extra protection from the sun. His observations on how light affects appearances is remarkable, and he lost all his teeth by age 34.

Tom



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Post Re: Thoreau's privy
Thomas Hood wrote:
Saffron wrote:
Tom,
I've been in far to serious a state of mind these past few weeks.


Saffron, I'm not alway diplomatic, and I do want your input on Walden. Has Walden helped you write poems?

Tom


I wouldn't say Walden helped me write poetry, but it gave me the courage to walk a little nearer to the idea of myself as poet.


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Fri Aug 08, 2008 6:42 pm
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DWill said,

It's big downside. all right, but what's the alternative? What reasonable alternative does T really suggest?

I think T is suggesting that building a small cabin from second hand materials on a friend's property and living really simply and really really cheaply is an alternative. By by doing this we can we can be self supporting on one or two months work a year leaving us the remainder of the time to read, write, visit friends, go for lovely long walks in the woods, observe nature, contemplate the meaning of it all and entertain guests.
I'd like to think this is a reasonable alternative but I have my doubts. Having said that I have incoorporated some his ideas into my life ie live more cheaply, work part time, leaving more time to do the things important to me (like reading your posts)



Mon Aug 11, 2008 4:25 am
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Post Re: Thoreau's privy
Saffron wrote:
I wouldn't say Walden helped me write poetry, but it gave me the courage to walk a little nearer to the idea of myself as poet.


Saffron, there's an example of Walden maybe used to inspire poetry at

http://www.kouroo.info/kouroo/transclus ... kinson.pdf
"Thoreau's Cosmic Mosquito and Dickinson's Terrestrial Fly," by Thomas Ford, 1975

This JSTOR article argues that parallels between the hum of a mosquito in Walden 2.14 and Dickinson's "I heard a Fly buzz" suggest that Dickinson's funeral imagination was stimulated by reading Walden. I find Ford's conclusion plausible (but not all his parallels) and think that Walden might help to explicate Dickinson's poem:

I heard a Fly buzz
by Emily Dickinson

I heard a Fly buzz



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I'm not getting how the writer steps from Dickinson's poem to Walden. Just from the buzz of a fly to the hum of a mosquito, then drawing in the entire context the passage? It may be I am missing something. My suspicion is that writers influence and inspire other writers in general ways rather than in very specific ways as seems to be the claim here. But who knows.

I did have 2 other topics about "Economy."

1. "For more than five years I maintained myself thus solely by the labor of my hands." (1.91) It has been a long while since I read the Harding biography. I'd like to go back to it to get an idea of his way of earning a living during other years. It is difficult to tell from what point, post-Walden Pond, he is writing these words, since he revised the book, what, seven times?

2. His animadversion against philanthropy. I think I get his basic point--make yourself good first rather than doing good for others-- but it's surprising that he goes on at such length against it. Either he was truly worked up over people telling him he should do charitable work, as he mentions they did, or there was some great emphasis in the day placed on charity work that just rubbed him the wrong way. He suspects in others a motive for doing good that is not so praiseworthy:

"There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom." (1.104)

We would be disappointed, I suspect, if Thoreau did not have a contrary opinion about most things. He seemed to delight in that, as Emerson mentions in his eulogy. I can certainly agree, though, with this statement:

"I once heard a reverend lecturer on England, a man of learning and intelligence, after enumerating her scientific, literary, and political worthies, Shakespeare, Bacon, Cromwell, Milton, Newton, and others, speak next of her Christian heroes, whom, as if his profession required it of him, he elevated to a place far above all the rest, as the greatest of the great. They were Penn, Howard, and Mrs. Fry. Every one must feel the falsehood and cant of this. The last were not England's best men and women; only, perhaps, her best philanthropists." (1.107)

DWill

P.S. to Tom: I noted that only the first 3 chapters of your webpage Walden came through--starts to get garbled in Chapter 4, then ends. But thanks.

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DWill wrote:
His animadversion against philanthropy. I think I get his basic point--make yourself good first rather than doing good for others-- but it's surprising that he goes on at such length against it.


Will, as a practical matter I imagine you are aware of the self-interest, negativity, and irresponsibility of most so-called charity. Charity is the extreme opposite of self-reliance: If you want a helping hand you'll find one at the end of your arm. Thoreau's objection was, I believe, philosophical. Charity assumes a social definition of the individual. A person has worth only as he/she is active in charitable activity. Socialist societies hold that belief.

Tom



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Tom,
I'd have to strongly disagree with you. It's true that while the words "charity case" conjure up a negative image, if we consider charity to be identical with volunteerism and philanthropy, what is wrong with it? It's not my sense, either, that volunteerism or philanthropy is any part of a socialist system. I suspect that America leads the world in volunteerism/philanthropy. That is one thing, at least, that is still right about the country.

I wasn't saying HDT didn't have a leg to stand on. There are excesses in everything, and anything, including philanthropy, can be overvalued or done for the wrong motives.

In A Week, HDT makes an interesting comment on the river dams tht have prevented anadromous fish from returning to their spawning grounds. He says we are well acquainted with the idea of philanthropy, but have no awareness that our love needs to extend to ths other species as well. It's a biocentric viewpoint.

DWill



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DWill wrote:
.. . if we consider charity to be identical with volunteerism and philanthropy, what is wrong with it?


Will, there's nothing wrong with volunteering if a person is truly volunteering, but 'volunteering' and 'donation' are often forced. Such may be an implicit condition of employment, and persons who do not cooperate are fired. In the past such 'contributions' were basically extortion, in which, for example, the United Way was especially skilled.

Collective action is necessary to get much of the world's work done, but volunteerism (physical contribution) and charity (material contribution) often have no relation to efficacy -- actually doing something for someone who cannot do for themselves. My experience is that people waste things they don't have to pay for.

Here's the quote I had forgotten from A Week:

Quote:
Away with the superficial and selfish phil-anthropy of men, -- who knows what admirable virtue of fishes may be below low-water-mark, bearing up against a hard destiny, not admired by that fellow-creature who alone can appreciate it! Who hears the fishes when they cry? It will not be forgotten by some memory that we were contemporaries. Thou shalt erelong have thy way up the rivers, up all the rivers of the globe, if I am not mistaken. Yea, even thy dull watery dream shall be more than realized. If it were not so, but thou wert to be overlooked at first and at last, then would not I take their heaven. Yes, I say so, who think I know better than thou canst. Keep a stiff fin then, and stem all the tides thou mayst meet.


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Quote:
My experience is that people waste things they don't have to pay for.


Tom, my feeling was, and still is, that philanthropy is a good thing, despite observations such as yours above. A good bit of what people are given, through philanthropy, is the chance to keep their lives.

Will



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Post The Poor Man's Tomato Soup
I think Thoreau would have liked this . . . a couple of weeks ago, I was involved in an online discussion about 'living cheaply' . . . somebody mentioned the poor man's tomato soup.

It was in relation to talking about 'bands' . . . an 'on the road' kind of economy - starving artists, kinda' thing.

I was curious about what this poor man's soup was and someone on that forum said he made it from catsup packages that you pick up in fast food places . . .

Well . . . I had to try it - I took a few packs I had in the fridge - don't know why I save them - when we picnic, I never think to take them along - anyway, I set about making the soup.

Click here for the results:

http://wildcity.proboards14.com/index.c ... hread=3075



Fri Aug 29, 2008 1:16 am
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