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    Chapter 11

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    Chapter 11
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    As I came home through the woods with my string of fish,
    trailing my pole, it being now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a
    woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of
    savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him
    raw; not that I was hungry then, except for that wildness which he
    represented. Once or twice, however, while I lived at the pond, I
    found myself ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a
    strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might
    devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me. The
    wildest scenes had become unaccountably familiar. I found in
    myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is
    named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a
    primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both. I love
    the wild not less than the good. The wildness and adventure that
    are in fishing still recommended it to me. I like sometimes to take
    rank hold on life and spend my day more as the animals do. Perhaps
    I have owed to this employment and to hunting, when quite young, my
    closest acquaintance with Nature. They early introduce us to and
    detain us in scenery with which otherwise, at that age, we should
    have little acquaintance. Fishermen, hunters, woodchoppers, and
    others, spending their lives in the fields and woods, in a peculiar
    sense a part of Nature themselves, are often in a more favorable
    mood for observing her, in the intervals of their pursuits, than
    philosophers or poets even, who approach her with expectation. She
    is not afraid to exhibit herself to them. The traveller on the
    prairie is naturally a hunter, on the head waters of the Missouri
    and Columbia a trapper, and at the Falls of St. Mary a fisherman.
    He who is only a traveller learns things at second-hand and by the
    halves, and is poor authority. We are most interested when science
    reports what those men already know practically or instinctively,
    for that alone is a true humanity, or account of human experience.
    They mistake who assert that the Yankee has few amusements,
    because he has not so many public holidays, and men and boys do not
    play so many games as they do in England, for here the more
    primitive but solitary amusements of hunting, fishing, and the like
    have not yet given place to the former. Almost every New England
    boy among my contemporaries shouldered a fowling-piece between the
    ages of ten and fourteen; and his hunting and fishing grounds were
    not limited, like the preserves of an English nobleman, but were
    more boundless even than those of a savage. No wonder, then, that
    he did not oftener stay to play on the common. But already a change
    is taking place, owing, not to an increased humanity, but to an
    increased scarcity of game, for perhaps the hunter is the greatest
    friend of the animals hunted, not excepting the Humane Society.
    Moreover, when at the pond, I wished sometimes to add fish to my
    fare for variety. I have actually fished from the same kind of
    necessity that the first fishers did. Whatever humanity I might
    conjure up against it was all factitious, and concerned my
    philosophy more than my feelings. I speak of fishing only now, for
    I had long felt differently about fowling, and sold my gun before I
    went to the woods. Not that I am less humane than others, but I did
    not perceive that my feelings were much affected. I did not pity
    the fishes nor the worms. This was habit. As for fowling, during
    the last years that I carried a gun my excuse was that I was
    studying ornithology, and sought only new or rare birds. But I
    confess that I am now inclined to think that there is a finer way of
    studying ornithology than this. It requires so much closer
    attention to the habits of the birds, that, if for that reason only,
    I have been willing to omit the gun. Yet notwithstanding the
    objection on the score of humanity, I am compelled to doubt if
    equally valuable sports are ever substituted for these; and when
    some of my friends have asked me anxiously about their boys, whether
    they should let them hunt, I have answered, yes -- remembering that
    it was one of the best parts of my education -- make them hunters,
    though sportsmen only at first, if possible, mighty hunters at last,
    so that they shall not find game large enough for them in this or
    any vegetable wilderness -- hunters as well as fishers of men. Thus
    far I am of the opinion of Chaucer's nun, who

    "yave not of the text a pulled hen
    That saith that hunters ben not holy men."

    There is a period in the history of the individual, as of the race,
    when the hunters are the "best men," as the Algonquins called them.
    We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun; he is no more
    humane, while his education has been sadly neglected. This was my
    answer with respect to those youths who were bent on this pursuit,
    trusting that they would soon outgrow it. No humane being, past the
    thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any creature which
    holds its life by the same tenure that he does. The hare in its
    extremity cries like a child. I warn you, mothers, that my
    sympathies do not always make the usual philanthropic distinctions.
    Such is oftenest the young man's introduction to the forest, and
    the most original part of himself. He goes thither at first as a
    hunter and fisher, until at last, if he has the seeds of a better
    life in him, he distinguishes his proper objects, as a poet or
    naturalist it may be, and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind. The
    mass of men are still and always young in this respect. In some
    countries a hunting parson is no uncommon sight. Such a one might
    make a good shepherd's dog, but is far from being the Good Shepherd.
    I have been surprised to consider that the only obvious employment,
    except wood-chopping, ice-cutting, or the like business, which ever
    to my knowledge detained at Walden Pond for a whole half-day any of
    my fellow-citizens, whether fathers or children of the town, with
    just one exception, was fishing. Commonly they did not think that
    they were lucky, or well paid for their time, unless they got a long
    string of fish, though they had the opportunity of seeing the pond
    all the while. They might go there a thousand times before the
    sediment of fishing would sink to the bottom and leave their purpose
    pure; but no doubt such a clarifying process would be going on all
    the while. The Governor and his Council faintly remember the pond,
    for they went a-fishing there when they were boys; but now they are
    too old and dignified to go a-fishing, and so they know it no more
    forever. Yet even they expect to go to heaven at last. If the
    legislature regards it, it is chiefly to regulate the number of
    hooks to be used there; but they know nothing about the hook of
    hooks with which to angle for the pond itself, impaling the
    legislature for a bait. Thus, even in civilized communities, the
    embryo man passes through the hunter stage of development.
    I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot fish
    without falling a little in self-respect. I have tried it again and
    again. I have skill at it, and, like many of my fellows, a certain
    instinct for it, which revives from time to time, but always when I
    have done I feel that it would have been better if I had not fished.
    I think that I do not mistake. It is a faint intimation, yet so are
    the first streaks of morning. There is unquestionably this instinct
    in me which belongs to the lower orders of creation; yet with every
    year I am less a fisherman, though without more humanity or even
    wisdom; at present I am no fisherman at all. But I see that if I
    were to live in a wilderness I should again be tempted to become a
    fisher and hunter in earnest. Beside, there is something
    essentially unclean about this diet and all flesh, and I began to
    see where housework commences, and whence the endeavor, which costs
    so much, to wear a tidy and respectable appearance each day, to keep
    the house sweet and free from all ill odors and sights. Having been
    my own butcher and scullion and cook, as well as the gentleman for
    whom the dishes were served up, I can speak from an unusually
    complete experience. The practical objection to animal food in my
    case was its uncleanness; and besides, when I had caught and cleaned
    and cooked and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me
    essentially. It was insignificant and unnecessary, and cost more
    than it came to. A little bread or a few potatoes would have done
    as well, with less trouble and filth. Like many of my
    contemporaries, I had rarely for many years used animal food, or
    tea, or coffee, etc.; not so much because of any ill effects which I
    had traced to them, as because they were not agreeable to my
    imagination. The repugnance to animal food is not the effect of
    experience, but is an instinct. It appeared more beautiful to live
    low and fare hard in many respects; and though I never did so, I
    went far enough to please my imagination. I believe that every man
    who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties
    in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from
    animal food, and from much food of any kind. It is a significant
    fact, stated by entomologists -- I find it in Kirby and Spence --
    that "some insects in their perfect state, though furnished with
    organs of feeding, make no use of them"; and they lay it down as "a
    general rule, that almost all insects in this state eat much less
    than in that of larvae. The voracious caterpillar when transformed
    into a butterfly ... and the gluttonous maggot when become a fly"
    content themselves with a drop or two of honey or some other sweet
    liquid. The abdomen under the wings of the butterfly still
    represents the larva. This is the tidbit which tempts his
    insectivorous fate. The gross feeder is a man in the larva state;
    and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without fancy
    or imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them.
    It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean a diet as
    will not offend the imagination; but this, I think, is to be fed
    when we feed the body; they should both sit down at the same table.
    Yet perhaps this may be done. The fruits eaten temperately need not
    make us ashamed of our appetites, nor interrupt the worthiest
    pursuits. But put an extra condiment into your dish, and it will
    poison you. It is not worth the while to live by rich cookery.
    Most men would feel shame if caught preparing with their own hands
    precisely such a dinner, whether of animal or vegetable food, as is
    every day prepared for them by others. Yet till this is otherwise
    we are not civilized, and, if gentlemen and ladies, are not true men
    and women. This certainly suggests what change is to be made. It
    may be vain to ask why the imagination will not be reconciled to
    flesh and fat. I am satisfied that it is not. Is it not a reproach
    that man is a carnivorous animal? True, he can and does live, in a
    great measure, by preying on other animals; but this is a miserable
    way -- as any one who will go to snaring rabbits, or slaughtering
    lambs, may learn -- and he will be regarded as a benefactor of his
    race who shall teach man to confine himself to a more innocent and
    wholesome diet. Whatever my own practice may be, I have no doubt
    that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual
    improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage
    tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact
    with the more civilized.
    If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his
    genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or
    even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more
    resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured
    objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over
    the arguments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed his
    genius till it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness,
    yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be
    regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles.
    If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and
    life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more
    elastic, more starry, more immortal -- that is your success. All
    nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to
    bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from
    being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon
    forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most
    astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The
    true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and
    indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little
    star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.
    Yet, for my part, I was never unusually squeamish; I could
    sometimes eat a fried rat with a good relish, if it were necessary.
    I am glad to have drunk water so long, for the same reason that I
    prefer the natural sky to an opium-eater's heaven. I would fain
    keep sober always; and there are infinite degrees of drunkenness. I
    believe that water is the only drink for a wise man; wine is not so
    noble a liquor; and think of dashing the hopes of a morning with a
    cup of warm coffee, or of an evening with a dish of tea! Ah, how
    low I fall when I am tempted by them! Even music may be
    intoxicating. Such apparently slight causes destroyed Greece and
    Rome, and will destroy England and America. Of all ebriosity, who
    does not prefer to be intoxicated by the air he breathes? I have
    found it to be the most serious objection to coarse labors long
    continued, that they compelled me to eat and drink coarsely also.
    But to tell the truth, I find myself at present somewhat less
    particular in these respects. I carry less religion to the table,
    ask no blessing; not because I am wiser than I was, but, I am
    obliged to confess, because, however much it is to be regretted,
    with years I have grown more coarse and indifferent. Perhaps these
    questions are entertained only in youth, as most believe of poetry.
    My practice is "nowhere," my opinion is here. Nevertheless I am far
    from regarding myself as one of those privileged ones to whom the
    Ved refers when it says, that "he who has true faith in the
    Omnipresent Supreme Being may eat all that exists," that is, is not
    bound to inquire what is his food, or who prepares it; and even in
    their case it is to be observed, as a Hindoo commentator has
    remarked, that the Vedant limits this privilege to "the time of
    Who has not sometimes derived an inexpressible satisfaction from
    his food in which appetite had no share? I have been thrilled to
    think that I owed a mental perception to the commonly gross sense of
    taste, that I have been inspired through the palate, that some
    berries which I had eaten on a hillside had fed my genius. "The
    soul not being mistress of herself," says Thseng-tseu, "one looks,
    and one does not see; one listens, and one does not hear; one eats,
    and one does not know the savor of food." He who distinguishes the
    true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not
    cannot be otherwise. A puritan may go to his brown-bread crust with
    as gross an appetite as ever an alderman to his turtle. Not that
    food which entereth into the mouth defileth a man, but the appetite
    with which it is eaten. It is neither the quality nor the quantity,
    but the devotion to sensual savors; when that which is eaten is not
    a viand to sustain our animal, or inspire our spiritual life, but
    food for the worms that possess us. If the hunter has a taste for
    mud-turtles, muskrats, and other such savage tidbits, the fine lady
    indulges a taste for jelly made of a calf's foot, or for sardines
    from over the sea, and they are even. He goes to the mill-pond, she
    to her preserve-pot. The wonder is how they, how you and I, can
    live this slimy, beastly life, eating and drinking.
    Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an
    instant's truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only
    investment that never fails. In the music of the harp which
    trembles round the world it is the insisting on this which thrills
    us. The harp is the travelling patterer for the Universe's
    Insurance Company, recommending its laws, and our little goodness is
    all the assessment that we pay. Though the youth at last grows
    indifferent, the laws of the universe are not indifferent, but are
    forever on the side of the most sensitive. Listen to every zephyr
    for some reproof, for it is surely there, and he is unfortunate who
    does not hear it. We cannot touch a string or move a stop but the
    charming moral transfixes us. Many an irksome noise, go a long way
    off, is heard as music, a proud, sweet satire on the meanness of our
    We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion
    as our higher nature slumbers. It is reptile and sensual, and
    perhaps cannot be wholly expelled; like the worms which, even in
    life and health, occupy our bodies. Possibly we may withdraw from
    it, but never change its nature. I fear that it may enjoy a certain
    health of its own; that we may be well, yet not pure. The other day
    I picked up the lower jaw of a hog, with white and sound teeth and
    tusks, which suggested that there was an animal health and vigor
    distinct from the spiritual. This creature succeeded by other means
    than temperance and purity. "That in which men differ from brute
    beasts," says Mencius, "is a thing very inconsiderable; the common
    herd lose it very soon; superior men preserve it carefully." Who
    knows what sort of life would result if we had attained to purity?
    If I knew so wise a man as could teach me purity I would go to seek
    him forthwith. "A command over our passions, and over the external
    senses of the body, and good acts, are declared by the Ved to be
    indispensable in the mind's approximation to God." Yet the spirit
    can for the time pervade and control every member and function of
    the body, and transmute what in form is the grossest sensuality
    into purity and devotion. The generative energy, which, when we are
    loose, dissipates and makes us unclean, when we are continent
    invigorates and inspires us. Chastity is the flowering of man; and
    what are called Genius, Heroism, Holiness, and the like, are but
    various fruits which succeed it. Man flows at once to God when the
    channel of purity is open. By turns our purity inspires and our
    impurity casts us down. He is blessed who is assured that the
    animal is dying out in him day by day, and the divine being
    established. Perhaps there is none but has cause for shame on
    account of the inferior and brutish nature to which he is allied. I
    fear that we are such gods or demigods only as fauns and satyrs, the
    divine allied to beasts, the creatures of appetite, and that, to
    some extent, our very life is our disgrace.--

    "How happy's he who hath due place assigned
    To his beasts and disafforested his mind!
    . . . . . . .
    Can use this horse, goat, wolf, and ev'ry beast,
    And is not ass himself to all the rest!
    Else man not only is the herd of swine,
    But he's those devils too which did incline
    Them to a headlong rage, and made them worse."

    All sensuality is one, though it takes many forms; all purity is
    one. It is the same whether a man eat, or drink, or cohabit, or
    sleep sensually. They are but one appetite, and we only need to see
    a person do any one of these things to know how great a sensualist
    he is. The impure can neither stand nor sit with purity. When the
    reptile is attacked at one mouth of his burrow, he shows himself at
    another. If you would be chaste, you must be temperate. What is
    chastity? How shall a man know if he is chaste? He shall not know
    it. We have heard of this virtue, but we know not what it is. We
    speak conformably to the rumor which we have heard. From exertion
    come wisdom and purity; from sloth ignorance and sensuality. In the
    student sensuality is a sluggish habit of mind. An unclean person
    is universally a slothful one, one who sits by a stove, whom the sun
    shines on prostrate, who reposes without being fatigued. If you
    would avoid uncleanness, and all the sins, work earnestly, though it
    be at cleaning a stable. Nature is hard to be overcome, but she
    must be overcome. What avails it that you are Christian, if you are
    not purer than the heathen, if you deny yourself no more, if you are
    not more religious? I know of many systems of religion esteemed
    heathenish whose precepts fill the reader with shame, and provoke
    him to new endeavors, though it be to the performance of rites
    I hesitate to say these things, but it is not because of the
    subject -- I care not how obscene my words are -- but because I
    cannot speak of them without betraying my impurity. We discourse
    freely without shame of one form of sensuality, and are silent about
    another. We are so degraded that we cannot speak simply of the
    necessary functions of human nature. In earlier ages, in some
    countries, every function was reverently spoken of and regulated by
    law. Nothing was too trivial for the Hindoo lawgiver, however
    offensive it may be to modern taste. He teaches how to eat, drink,
    cohabit, void excrement and urine, and the like, elevating what is
    mean, and does not falsely excuse himself by calling these things
    Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the
    god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by
    hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and
    our material is our own flesh and blood and bones. Any nobleness
    begins at once to refine a man's features, any meanness or
    sensuality to imbrute them.
    John Farmer sat at his door one September evening, after a hard
    day's work, his mind still running on his labor more or less.
    Having bathed, he sat down to re-create his intellectual man. It
    was a rather cool evening, and some of his neighbors were
    apprehending a frost. He had not attended to the train of his
    thoughts long when he heard some one playing on a flute, and that
    sound harmonized with his mood. Still he thought of his work; but
    the burden of his thought was, that though this kept running in his
    head, and he found himself planning and contriving it against his
    will, yet it concerned him very little. It was no more than the
    scurf of his skin, which was constantly shuffled off. But the notes
    of the flute came home to his ears out of a different sphere from
    that he worked in, and suggested work for certain faculties which
    slumbered in him. They gently did away with the street, and the
    village, and the state in which he lived. A voice said to him --
    Why do you stay here and live this mean moiling life, when a
    glorious existence is possible for you? Those same stars twinkle
    over other fields than these. -- But how to come out of this
    condition and actually migrate thither? All that he could think of
    was to practise some new austerity, to let his mind descend into his
    body and redeem it, and treat himself with ever increasing respect.
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