I can say that for me, there is no better remedy available to restore some spirit, than to revisit some Thoreau.
I have recently been re-reading ‘The Norton Book of Nature Writing’ and had come upon E.B. White’s ideas on Thoreau’s state of mind and drive, during the period he lived and wrote at Walden Pond. White’s viewpoint, which I could not argue in the slightest, is that Thoreau was trying to drive home the point of impermanence to men; and whether Walden was written for young men, or for all men for different reasons in their lives, the underlying message could not be more evident and pertinent to all times and societies. He, however haphazardly or disconnected with the reality of monetary constraints to his peers at the time, seemed to sincerely attempt to reconcile true freedom with the very real economic means of his fellow citizens during the period of Walden’s writing.
“With a little more deliberation in the choice of their pursuits, all men would perhaps become essentially students and observers, for certainly their nature and destiny are interesting to all alike. In accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change nor accident. The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did, since it was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that now reviews the vision. No dust has settled on that robe; no time has elapsed since that divinity was revealed. That time which we really improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future.”
These words take many times to read over, and apparently many different life experiences to reconcile.
“There has been much guessing as to why he went to the pond. To set it down to escapism is, of course, to misconstrue what happened. Henry went forth to battle when he took to the woods, and Walden is the report of a man torn by two powerful and opposing drives – the desire to enjoy the world (and not be derailed by a mosquito wing) and the urge to set the world straight. One cannot join these two successfully, but sometimes, in rare cases, something good or even great results from the attempt of the tormented spirit to reconcile them….” E.B. White
My earliest references to Thoreau in my own writings have been to credit him with his influence on my activities (in the sense of recognizing the beauty in just ‘being there’ he constantly drove home): Thoreau was steadfast in his admonishment of those who went to the woods or the wild to partake in a particular activity, yet erroneously forget to enjoy the solitude of the forest, or the water, or the mountains. I can only assure my readers that I will do my sincere best to capture both of these unique and seemingly predestined defeated tasks as honestly as I can, regardless of the alien feeling of those who know the truth of an empathetic lifetime.
“On one occasion he went to the [Harvard] University Library to procure some books. The librarian refused to lend them. Mr. Thoreau repaired to the President, who stated to him the rules and usages, which permitted the loan of books to resident graduates, to clergymen who were alumni, and to some other residents within a circle of ten miles radius from the College. Mr. Thoreau explained to the President that the railroad had destroyed the old scale of distances, — that the library was useless, yes, and President and College useless, on the terms of his rules, — that the one benefit he owed to the College was its library, — that, at this moment, not only his want of books was imperative, but he wanted a large number of books, and assured him that he, Thoreau, and not the librarian, was the proper custodian of these. In short, the President found the petitioner so formidable, and the rules getting to look so ridiculous, that he ended by giving him a privilege which in his hands proved unlimited thereafter.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Never again should we allow our history, for so many, to be constrained by a collection of encyclopedia, no wider than the length of an average man’s arm.