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    Chapter 8

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    Chapter 8
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    THE VILLAGE

    After hoeing, or perhaps reading and writing, in the forenoon, I
    usually bathed again in the pond, swimming across one of its coves
    for a stint, and washed the dust of labor from my person, or
    smoothed out the last wrinkle which study had made, and for the
    afternoon was absolutely free. Every day or two I strolled to the
    village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on
    there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to
    newspaper, and which, taken in homoeopathic doses, was really as
    refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of
    frogs. As I walked in the woods to see the birds and squirrels, so
    I walked in the village to see the men and boys; instead of the wind
    among the pines I heard the carts rattle. In one direction from my
    house there was a colony of muskrats in the river meadows; under the
    grove of elms and buttonwoods in the other horizon was a village of
    busy men, as curious to me as if they had been prairie-dogs, each
    sitting at the mouth of its burrow, or running over to a neighbor's
    to gossip. I went there frequently to observe their habits. The
    village appeared to me a great news room; and on one side, to
    support it, as once at Redding & Company's on State Street, they
    kept nuts and raisins, or salt and meal and other groceries. Some
    have such a vast appetite for the former commodity, that is, the
    news, and such sound digestive organs, that they can sit forever in
    public avenues without stirring, and let it simmer and whisper
    through them like the Etesian winds, or as if inhaling ether, it
    only producing numbness and insensibility to pain -- otherwise it
    would often be painful to bear -- without affecting the
    consciousness. I hardly ever failed, when I rambled through the
    village, to see a row of such worthies, either sitting on a ladder
    sunning themselves, with their bodies inclined forward and their
    eyes glancing along the line this way and that, from time to time,
    with a voluptuous expression, or else leaning against a barn with
    their hands in their pockets, like caryatides, as if to prop it up.
    They, being commonly out of doors, heard whatever was in the wind.
    These are the coarsest mills, in which all gossip is first rudely
    digested or cracked up before it is emptied into finer and more
    delicate hoppers within doors. I observed that the vitals of the
    village were the grocery, the bar-room, the post-office, and the
    bank; and, as a necessary part of the machinery, they kept a bell, a
    big gun, and a fire-engine, at convenient places; and the houses
    were so arranged as to make the most of mankind, in lanes and
    fronting one another, so that every traveller had to run the
    gauntlet, and every man, woman, and child might get a lick at him.
    Of course, those who were stationed nearest to the head of the line,
    where they could most see and be seen, and have the first blow at
    him, paid the highest prices for their places; and the few
    straggling inhabitants in the outskirts, where long gaps in the line
    began to occur, and the traveller could get over walls or turn aside
    into cow-paths, and so escape, paid a very slight ground or window
    tax. Signs were hung out on all sides to allure him; some to catch
    him by the appetite, as the tavern and victualling cellar; some by
    the fancy, as the dry goods store and the jeweller's; and others by
    the hair or the feet or the skirts, as the barber, the shoemaker,
    or the tailor. Besides, there was a still more terrible standing
    invitation to call at every one of these houses, and company
    expected about these times. For the most part I escaped wonderfully
    from these dangers, either by proceeding at once boldly and without
    deliberation to the goal, as is recommended to those who run the
    gauntlet, or by keeping my thoughts on high things, like Orpheus,
    who, "loudly singing the praises of the gods to his lyre, drowned
    the voices of the Sirens, and kept out of danger." Sometimes I
    bolted suddenly, and nobody could tell my whereabouts, for I did not
    stand much about gracefulness, and never hesitated at a gap in a
    fence. I was even accustomed to make an irruption into some houses,
    where I was well entertained, and after learning the kernels and
    very last sieveful of news -- what had subsided, the prospects of
    war and peace, and whether the world was likely to hold together
    much longer -- I was let out through the rear avenues, and so
    escaped to the woods again.
    It was very pleasant, when I stayed late in town, to launch
    myself into the night, especially if it was dark and tempestuous,
    and set sail from some bright village parlor or lecture room, with a
    bag of rye or Indian meal upon my shoulder, for my snug harbor in
    the woods, having made all tight without and withdrawn under hatches
    with a merry crew of thoughts, leaving only my outer man at the
    helm, or even tying up the helm when it was plain sailing. I had
    many a genial thought by the cabin fire "as I sailed." I was never
    cast away nor distressed in any weather, though I encountered some
    severe storms. It is darker in the woods, even in common nights,
    than most suppose. I frequently had to look up at the opening
    between the trees above the path in order to learn my route, and,
    where there was no cart-path, to feel with my feet the faint track
    which I had worn, or steer by the known relation of particular trees
    which I felt with my hands, passing between two pines for instance,
    not more than eighteen inches apart, in the midst of the woods,
    invariably, in the darkest night. Sometimes, after coming home thus
    late in a dark and muggy night, when my feet felt the path which my
    eyes could not see, dreaming and absent-minded all the way, until I
    was aroused by having to raise my hand to lift the latch, I have not
    been able to recall a single step of my walk, and I have thought
    that perhaps my body would find its way home if its master should
    forsake it, as the hand finds its way to the mouth without
    assistance. Several times, when a visitor chanced to stay into
    evening, and it proved a dark night, I was obliged to conduct him to
    the cart-path in the rear of the house, and then point out to him
    the direction he was to pursue, and in keeping which he was to be
    guided rather by his feet than his eyes. One very dark night I
    directed thus on their way two young men who had been fishing in the
    pond. They lived about a mile off through the woods, and were quite
    used to the route. A day or two after one of them told me that they
    wandered about the greater part of the night, close by their own
    premises, and did not get home till toward morning, by which time,
    as there had been several heavy showers in the meanwhile, and the
    leaves were very wet, they were drenched to their skins. I have
    heard of many going astray even in the village streets, when the
    darkness was so thick that you could cut it with a knife, as the
    saying is. Some who live in the outskirts, having come to town
    a-shopping in their wagons, have been obliged to put up for the
    night; and gentlemen and ladies making a call have gone half a mile
    out of their way, feeling the sidewalk only with their feet, and not
    knowing when they turned. It is a surprising and memorable, as well
    as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time. Often in
    a snow-storm, even by day, one will come out upon a well-known road
    and yet find it impossible to tell which way leads to the village.
    Though he knows that he has travelled it a thousand times, he cannot
    recognize a feature in it, but it is as strange to him as if it were
    a road in Siberia. By night, of course, the perplexity is
    infinitely greater. In our most trivial walks, we are constantly,
    though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known
    beacons and headlands, and if we go beyond our usual course we still
    carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape; and not
    till we are completely lost, or turned round -- for a man needs only
    to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost
    -- do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature. Every
    man has to learn the points of compass again as often as be awakes,
    whether from sleep or any abstraction. Not till we are lost, in
    other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find
    ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our
    relations.
    One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, when I went to
    the village to get a shoe from the cobbler's, I was seized and put
    into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax
    to, or recognize the authority of, the State which buys and sells
    men, women, and children, like cattle, at the door of its
    senate-house. I had gone down to the woods for other purposes.
    But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their
    dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to
    their desperate odd-fellow society. It is true, I might have
    resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run "amok"
    against society; but I preferred that society should run "amok"
    against me, it being the desperate party. However, I was released
    the next day, obtained my mended shoe, and returned to the woods in
    season to get my dinner of huckleberries on Fair Haven Hill. I was
    never molested by any person but those who represented the State. I
    had no lock nor bolt but for the desk which held my papers, not even
    a nail to put over my latch or windows. I never fastened my door
    night or day, though I was to be absent several days; not even when
    the next fall I spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine. And yet my
    house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of
    soldiers. The tired rambler could rest and warm himself by my fire,
    the literary amuse himself with the few books on my table, or the
    curious, by opening my closet door, see what was left of my dinner,
    and what prospect I had of a supper. Yet, though many people of
    every class came this way to the pond, I suffered no serious
    inconvenience from these sources, and I never missed anything but
    one small book, a volume of Homer, which perhaps was improperly
    gilded, and this I trust a soldier of our camp has found by this
    time. I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I
    then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place
    only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient
    while others have not enough. The Pope's Homers would soon get
    properly distributed.

    "Nec bella fuerunt,
    Faginus astabat dum scyphus ante dapes."
    "Nor wars did men molest,
    When only beechen bowls were in request."

    "You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ
    punishments? Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The
    virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common
    man are like the grass -- I the grass, when the wind passes over it,
    bends."
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    Chapter 8
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