April 5

The storm still continues, raged all night, and it was a tedious one; no order for Washington yet; alas! I fear I am doomed to disappointment all my life. Ah, well, so might it be, if it's God's will. Dick Moon arrived to-night direct from Vermont. I am glad to see him about again. It has ceased storming but the wind is still high.

April Fifth

We are His witnesses. See, where He lay
The snow that late bound us is folded away;
And April, fair Magdalen, weeping anon,
Stands flooded with light of the new-risen Sun!
John B. Tabb
(“Easter Flowers ”)

 

 

April 5, 1863

Sunday. Some time while I was sick Chaplain Parker left us. I hear he had some differences of opinion with the officers, but don't know what. Major Foster was in it in some shape, for his name and the chaplain's are the most common in the yarns that are told about camp. I used to believe all I heard, but I have learned to wait for the truth, and that doesn't always come out. Lieutenant Colonel Smith is a rough and ready customer and stands in no more awe of the officers than of the men. So long as we behave half way decent he is kindness itself, but disobey orders and he is a raging lion. But he is our best friend, and is the only real soldier in the whole outfit. He is a regular army officer and his chief concern seems to be the welfare of the enlisted men. Now that I am able to be about camp and have no duties to perform, I enjoy seeing the captains and lieutenants put through their paces as well as the rank and file. For meeting to-day Major Foster read a chapter from the Bible, read a hymn and then sang it, after which he pronounced the benediction.

April 5

April 5, 1864.--I have been reading "Prince Vitale" for the second time, and have been lost in admiration of it. What wealth of color, facts, ideas--what learning, what fine-edged satire, what esprit, science, and talent, and what an irreproachable finish of style--so limpid, and yet so profound! It is not heartfelt and it is not spontaneous, but all other kinds of merit, culture, and cleverness the author possesses. It would be impossible to be more penetrating, more subtle, and less fettered in mind, than this wizard of language, with his irony and his chameleon-like variety. Victor Cherbuliez, like the sphinx, is able to play all lyres, and takes his profit from them all, with a Goethe-like serenity. It seems as if passion, grief, and error had no hold on this impassive soul. The key of his thought is to be looked for in Hegel's "Phenomenology of Mind," remolded by Greek and French influences.

His faith, if he has one, is that of Strauss-Humanism. But he is perfectly master of himself and of his utterances, and will take good care never to preach anything prematurely.

What is there quite at the bottom of this deep spring?

In any case a mind as free as any can possibly be from stupidity and prejudice. One might almost say that Cherbuliez knows all that he wishes to know, without the trouble of learning it. He is a calm Mephistopheles, with perfect manners, grace, variety, and an exquisite urbanity; and Mephisto is a clever jeweler; and this jeweler is a subtle musician; and this fine singer and storyteller, with his amber-like delicacy and brilliancy, is making mock of us all the while. He takes a malicious pleasure in withdrawing his own personality from scrutiny and divination, while he himself divines everything, and he likes to make us feel that although he holds in his hand the secret of the universe, he will only unfold his prize at his own time, and if it pleases him. Victor Cherbuliez is a little like Proudhon and plays with paradoxes, to shock the bourgeois. Thus he amuses himself with running down Luther and the Reformation in favor of the Renaissance. Of the troubles of conscience he seems to know nothing. His supreme tribunal is reason. At bottom he is Hegelian and intellectualist. But it is a splendid organization. Only sometimes he must be antipathetic to those men of duty who make renunciation, sacrifice, and humility the measure of individual worth.

April 5

April 5, 1877.--I have been thinking over the pleasant evening of yesterday, an experience in which the sweets of friendship, the charm of mutual understanding, aesthetic pleasure, and a general sense of comfort, were happily combined and intermingled. There was not a crease in the rose-leaf. Why? Because "all that is pure, all that is honest, all that is excellent, all that is lovely and of good report," was there gathered together. "The incorruptibility of a gentle and quiet spirit," innocent mirth, faithfulness to duty, fine taste and sympathetic imagination, form an attractive and wholesome milieu in which the soul may rest.

The party--which celebrated the last day of vacation--gave much pleasure, and not to me only. Is not making others happy the best happiness? To illuminate for an instant the depths of a deep soul, to cheer those who bear by sympathy the burdens of so many sorrow-laden hearts and suffering lives, is to me a blessing and a precious privilege. There is a sort of religious joy in helping to renew the strength and courage of noble minds. We are surprised to find ourselves the possessors of a power of which we are not worthy, and we long to exercise it purely and seriously.

I feel most strongly that man, in all that he does or can do which is beautiful, great, or good is but the organ and the vehicle of something or some one higher than himself. This feeling is religion. The religious man takes part with a tremor of sacred joy in these phenomena of which he is the intermediary but not the source, of which he is the scene, but not the author, or rather, the poet. He lends them voice, and will, and help, but he is respectfully careful to efface himself, that he may alter as little as possible the higher work of the genius who is making a momentary use of him. A pure emotion deprives him of personality and annihilates the self in him. Self must perforce disappear when it is the Holy Spirit who speaks, when it is God who acts. This is the mood in which the prophet hears the call, the young mother feels the movement of the child within, the preacher watches the tears of his audience. So long as we are conscious of self we are limited, selfish, held in bondage; when we are in harmony with the universal order, when we vibrate in unison with God, self disappears. Thus, in a perfectly harmonious choir, the individual cannot hear himself unless he makes a false note. The religious state is one of deep enthusiasm, of moved contemplation, of tranquil ecstasy. But how rare a state it is for us poor creatures harassed by duty, by necessity, by the wicked world, by sin, by illness! It is the state which produces inward happiness; but alas! the foundation of existence, the common texture of our days, is made up of action, effort, struggle, and therefore dissonance. Perpetual conflict, interrupted by short and threatened truces--there is a true picture of our human condition.

Let us hail, then, as an echo from heaven, as the foretaste of a more blessed economy, these brief moments of perfect harmony, these halts between two storms. Peace is not in itself a dream, but we know it only as the result of a momentary equilibrium--an accident. "Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

April 5, 1864

Tuesday. We were glad we left the Luminary, for she ran into a nest of Johnnies, who fired on her and killed six men. Heavy firing was heard in front and skirmish firing much nearer. Smith's troops had gone in that direction and had probably met some opposition. I went ashore and fell in with an old resident who told me that Grand Ecore proper lies four miles back in the country now, though it was once right on the river bank. It being on the inside of a bend, the water kept washing the earth from one side and leaving it on the other, until now the village and river are four miles apart. At every time of high water the river moves on a little farther, leaving a strip of new made ground on which young cottonwood trees immediately sprout up. This makes the top look like a great green stairway, the first step of which was made by the last freshet, the next by the freshet before, and so on to the top.

The firing grew nearer and there was more of it. By ten o'clock it was plain that hot fighting was going on, and not very far away. The dense growth of cottonwoods cut our view down in that direction to a little strip along the river, and out of this wounded men and small parties of prisoners began to come. By noon it seemed as if the whole of Smith's army was coming back and coming in a hurry, too. Batteries from below were rushed up and planted in the young cottonwoods right in front of us. Artillery horses, with their traces cut, came out by the dozen, and there was everything to show that a part or the whole of Smith's army was retreating. Soon the woods were alive with choppers, and the trees began to fall. In a time so short I hardly dare tell it the road and a strip each side of it was uncovered for at least a mile. How men could live where trees fell as they did there is a miracle. All the time men, horses and mules kept coming by the hundreds, and maybe thousands. Boats began loading with them. Forty-seven were put on our boat, three of them commissioned officers. A guard of negro soldiers was on the boat and the idea of being put under them made them howl with rage. Such swearing as one captain did would be hard to beat anywhere. The trouble in front began to quiet down. Not a shot had come our way, and not one had been fired in that direction. Whatever had happened was too far away for us to more than guess at. But it was plain that General A. J. Smith had run afoul of something that was a match for him, and what we were looking at was a genuine retreat. From the way boats were loading up and moving down-stream it looked as if the "nigger-stealers" were to have plenty of company on the way to Alexandria. From an artillery sergeant who was not so scared but that he could tell what had happened I found out this much. That the road ran through the woods for a long way and finally went diagonally across a large cleared space and into the woods beyond. That they were not molested until, while crossing this opening, they were fired upon and a panic was the result. The road was full and reinforcements could not get at them from either direction, and they cut loose and ran for it. The infantry caught some of the bolder of the enemy and brought them in. They could not stop the retreat. They had to get out of the way or get run over by the crazy men and horses that filled the narrow road.

One of the prisoners is a Captain Todd. He was quite willing to talk. He said he was a cousin to President Lincoln's wife, and that he should now take the amnesty oath and try to get a job as clerk in some department.

Captain Faulkner, another prisoner, is as full of venom as a rattlesnake. He brags of what he has done and tells of what he will yet do. If he carries out his present intentions we had better skip for the north before he gets loose. He said he led the force that riddled the Black Hawk at Morgan's Bend, and I think he told the truth, for the pilot on the Black Hawk at that time is now pilot on this boat. They knew each other at sight. Captain Faulkner said, "Captain Frayer, I had four shots at you at Morgan's Bend, and all I ask for is one more."

The main force is somewhere in advance, but a good bunch of the rear guard is here. Everyone is blaming everyone else for what happened, and I expect all hands are ashamed of it now. When General Smith gets at them I expect they will feel worse yet.

Captain Faulkner's horse came in with others, and as soon as the captain saw him he begged to have him taken on board. He called him up close to the boat by whistling through his fingers. The coming of his horse changed the captain wonderfully. If he hated us, he certainly loved his horse. I felt sorry for him and told him so. He asked me to take off his saddle and bridle and perhaps he would find his way home. I stripped him and found a bullet had grazed his back and the flies were already at work. The saddle had also galled him. More out of pity for the horse than the captain, I took him to the river and washed his sore back clean, and at the captain's suggestion got some bacon fat from the steward and rubbed it well in. The captain said that would stop the flies. He was very grateful and told me all about the horse, how intelligent he was and how he hated to leave him. Said he never needed training, for he knew more than most people. He had raised him from a colt and no other white man had ever handled him as much as I had just done. Among the soldiers I found one that was a fellow passenger on the McClellan, and that brought up the subject of the rough passage and the rougher passengers. He said the ones I had arrested were tried and sent to the Dry Tortugas, which is an island in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast.

Outlook

Monday, 5.

One's outlook is a part of his virtue. Does it matter nothing to him what objects accost him whenever he glances from his windows, or steps out-of-doors? He who is so far weaned from the landscape, or indifferent to it, as not to derive a sweet and robust habit of character therefrom, seems out of keeping with nature and himself. I suspect something amiss in him who has no love, no enthusiasm for his surroundings, and that his friendships, if such he profess, are of a cold and isolate quality at best; one even questions, at times, whether the residents of cities, where art has thrown around them a world of its own, are compensated by all this luxury of display,—to say nothing of the social artifices wont to steal into their costly compliments,—for the simple surroundings of the countryman, which prompt to manliness and true gentility. A country dwelling without shrubbery, hills near or in the distance, a forest and water view, if but a rivulet, seems so far incomplete as if the occupants themselves were raw and impoverished. Wood and water god both, man loves to traverse the forests, wade the streams, and confess his kindred alliance with primeval things. He leaps not from the woods into civility at a single bound, neither comes from cities and conversations freed from the wildness of his dispositions. Something of the forester stirs within him when occasion provokes, as if men were trees transformed, and delighted to claim their affinities with their sylvan ancestry.

Man never tires of Nature's scene,

Himself the liveliest evergreen.

Thoreau

My friend and neighbor united these qualities of sylvan and human in a more remarkable manner than any whom it has been my happiness to know. Lover of the wild, he lived a borderer on the confines of civilization, jealous of the least encroachment upon his possessions.

"Society were all but rude

In his umbrageous solitude."

I had never thought of knowing a man so thoroughly of the country, and so purely a son of nature. I think he had the profoundest passion for it of any one of his time; and had the human sentiment been as tender and pervading, would have given us pastorals of which Virgil and Theocritus might have envied him the authorship had they chanced to be his contemporaries. As it was, he came nearer the antique spirit than any of our native poets, and touched the fields and groves and streams of his native town with a classic interest that shall not fade. Some of his verses are suffused with an elegiac tenderness, as if the woods and brooks bewailed the absence of their Lycidas, and murmured their griefs meanwhile to one another,—responsive like idyls. Living in close companionship with nature, his muse breathed the spirit and voice of poetry. For when the heart is once divorced from the senses and all sympathy with common things, then poetry has fled and the love that sings.

The most welcome of companions was this plain countryman. One seldom meets with thoughts like his, coming so scented of mountain and field breezes and rippling springs, so like a luxuriant clod from under forest leaves, moist and mossy with earth-spirits. His presence was tonic, like ice water in dog-days to the parched citizen pent in chambers and under brazen ceilings. Welcome as the gurgle of brooks and dipping of pitchers,—then drink and be cool! He seemed one with things, of nature's essence and core, knit of strong timbers,—like a wood and its inhabitants. There was in him sod and shade, wilds and waters manifold,—the mould and mist of earth and sky. Self-poised and sagacious as any denizen of the elements, he had the key to every animal's brain, every plant; and were an Indian to flower forth and reveal the scents hidden in his cranium, it would not be more surprising than the speech of our Sylvanus. He belonged to the Homeric age,—was older than pastures and gardens, as if he were of the race of heroes and one with the elements. He of all men seemed to be the native New-Englander, as much so as the oak, the granite ledge; our best sample of an indigenous American, untouched by the old country, unless he came down rather from Thor, the Northman, whose name he bore.

A peripatetic philosopher, and out-of-doors for the best part of his days and nights, he had manifold weather and seasons in him; the manners of an animal of probity and virtue unstained. Of all our moralists, he seemed the wholesomest, the busiest, and the best republican citizen in the world; always at home minding his own affairs. A little over-confident by genius, and stiffly individual, dropping society clean out of his theories, while standing friendly in his strict sense of friendship, there was in him an integrity and love of justice that made possible and actual the virtues of Sparta and the Stoics,—all the more welcome in his time of shuffling and pusillanimity. Plutarch would have made him immortal in his pages had he lived before his day. Nor have we any so modern withal, so entirely his own and ours: too purely so to be appreciated at once. A scholar by birthright, and an author, his fame had not, at his decease, travelled far from the banks of the rivers he described in his books; but one hazards only the truth in affirming of his prose, that in substance and pith, it surpasses that of any naturalist of his time; and he is sure of large reading in the future. There are fairer fishes in his pages than any swimming in our streams; some sleep of his on the banks of the Merrimack by moonlight that Egypt never rivalled; a morning of which Memnon might have envied the music, and a greyhound he once had, meant for Adonis; frogs, better than any of Aristophanes; apples wilder than Adam's. His senses seemed double, giving him access to secrets not easily read by others; in sagacity resembling that of the beaver, the bee, the dog, the deer; an instinct for seeing and judging, as by some other, or seventh sense; dealing with objects as if they were shooting forth from his mind mythologically, thus completing the world all round to his senses; a creation of his at the moment. I am sure he knew the animals one by one, as most else knowable in his town; the plants, the geography, as Adam did in his Paradise, if, indeed, he were not that ancestor himself. His works are pieces of exquisite sense, celebrations of Nature's virginity exemplified by rare learning, delicate art, replete with observations as accurate as original; contributions of the unique to the natural history of his country, and without which it were incomplete. Seldom has a head circumscribed so much of the sense and core of Cosmos as this footed intelligence.

If one would learn the wealth of wit there was in this plain man, the information, the poetry, the piety, he should have accompanied him on an afternoon walk to Walden, or elsewhere about the skirts of his village residence. Pagan as he might outwardly appear, yet he was the hearty worshipper of whatsoever is sound and wholesome in nature,—a piece of russet probity and strong sense, that nature delighted to own and honor. His talk was suggestive, subtle, sincere, under as many masks and mimicries as the shows he might pass; as significant, substantial,—nature choosing to speak through his mouth-piece,—cynically, perhaps, and searching into the marrows of men and times he spoke of, to his discomfort mostly and avoidance.

Nature, poetry, life,—not politics, not strict science, not society as it is,—were his preferred themes. The world was holy, the things seen symbolizing the things unseen, and thus worthy of worship, calling men out-of-doors and under the firmament for health and wholesomeness to be insinuated into their souls, not as idolators, but as idealists. His religion was of the most primitive type, inclusive of all natural creatures and things, even to "the sparrow that falls to the ground," though never by shot of his, and for whatsoever was manly in men, his worship was comparable to that of the priests and heroes of all time. I should say he inspired the sentiment of love, if, indeed, the sentiment did not seem to partake of something purer, were that possible, but nameless from its excellency. Certainly he was better poised and more nearly self-reliant than other men.

"The happy man who lived content

With his own town, his continent,

Whose chiding streams its banks did curb

As ocean circumscribes its orb,

Round which, when he his walk did take,

Thought he performed far more than Drake;

For other lands he took less thought

Than this his muse and mother brought."

More primitive and Homeric than any American, his style of thinking was robust, racy, as if Nature herself had built his sentences and seasoned the sense of his paragraphs with her own vigor and salubrity. Nothing can be spared from them; there is nothing superfluous; all is compact, concrete, as nature is.

His politics were of a piece with his individualism. We must admit that he found little in political or religious establishments answering to his wants, that his attitude was defiant, if not annihilating, as if he had said to himself:—

"The state is man's pantry at most, and filled at an enormous cost,—a spoliation of the human commonwealth. Let it go. Heroes can live on nuts, and freemen sun themselves in the clefts of rocks, rather than sell their liberty for this pottage of slavery. We, the few honest neighbors, can help one another; and should the state ask any favors of us, we can take the matter into consideration leisurely, and at our convenience give a respectful answer.

"But why require a state to protect one's rights? the man is all. Let him husband himself; needs he other servant or runner? Self-keeping is the best economy. That is a great age when the state is nothing and man is all. He founds himself in freedom, and maintains his uprightness therein; founds an empire and maintains states. Just retire from those concerns, and see how soon they must needs go to pieces, the sooner for the virtue thus withdrawn from them. All the manliness of individuals is sunk in that partnership in trade. Not only must I come out of institutions, but come out of myself, if I will be free and independent. Shall one be denied the privilege on coming of mature age of choosing whether he will be a citizen of the country he happens to be born in, or another? And what better title to a spot of ground than being a man, and having none? Is not man superior to state or country? I plead exemption from all interference by men or states with my individual prerogatives. That is mine which none can steal from me, nor is that yours which I or any man can take away."

"I am too high born to be propertied,

To be a secondary at control,

Or useful serving man and instrument

To any sovereign state throughout the world."

A famous speech is recorded of an old Norseman thoroughly characteristic of this Teuton. "I believe neither in idols nor demons; I put my sole trust in my own strength of body and soul." The ancient crest of a pick-axe, with the motto, "Either I will find a way or make one," characterizes the same sturdy independence and practical materialism which distinguishes the descendants of Thor, whose symbol was a hammer.

He wrote in his Journal:—

"Perhaps I am descended from the Northman named Thorer, the dog-footed. He was the most powerful man of the North. To judge from his name, Thorer Hund  belonged to the same family. Thorer is one of the most, if not the most common name in the chronicles of the Northmen. Snörro Sturleson says, 'from Thor's name comes Thorer, also Thorarimnn.' Again, 'Earl Rognvald was King Harald's dearest friend, and the king had the greatest regard for him. He was married to Hilda, a daughter of Rolf Nalfia, and their sons were Rolf and Thorer. Rolf became a great Viking, and of so stout a growth that no horse could carry him, and wheresoever he went, he went on foot, and therefore he was called Gange-Rolf.' Laing says in a note, what Sturleson also tells in the text, 'Gange-Rolf, Rolf-Ganger, Rolf the walker, was the conqueror of Normandy. Gange-Rolf's son was William, father of Richard, who was the father of Richard Longspear, and grandfather of William the Bastard, from whom the following English kings are descended.'"

"King Harald set Earl Rognvald's son Thorer over Möre, and gave him his daughter Alof in marriage. Thorer, called the Silent, got the same territory his father Rognvald had possessed. His brother Einar going into battle to take vengeance on his father's murderers, sang a kind of reproach against his brothers, Rollang and Rolf, for their slowness, and concludes:—

'And silent Thorer sits and dreams

At home, beside the mead bowl's streams.'

"Of himself it is related, that 'he cut a spread eagle on the back of his enemy Halfdan.'

"So it seems that from one branch of the family were descended the kings of England, and from the other, myself."

In his journal I find these lines:—

"Light-headed, thoughtless, shall I take my way

When I to Thee this being have resigned;

Well knowing when upon a future day,

With usurer's trust, more than myself to find."

Note. "Thoreau was born in Concord on the 12th of July, 1817. The old-fashioned house, its roof nearly reaching to the ground in the rear, remains as it was when he first saw the light in the easternmost of its upper chambers. It was the residence of his grandmother, and a perfect piece of our New-England style of building, with its gray, unpainted boards, its grassy, unfenced door-yard. The house is somewhat isolate and remote from thoroughfares. The Virginia road is an old-fashioned, winding, at length deserted pathway, the more smiling for its forked orchards, tumbling walks, and mossy banks. About the house are pleasant, sunny meadows, deep with their beds of peat, so cheering with its homely, heath-like fragrance, and in its front runs a constant stream through the centre of that great tract sometimes called 'Bedford Levels,'—this brook a source of the Shawsheen River. It was lovely that he should draw his first breath in a pure country air, out of crowded towns, amid the pleasant russet fields.

"His parents were active, vivacious people; his grandfather, by his father's side, coming from the Isle of Jersey, a Frenchman and Catholic, who married a Scotch woman named Jennie Burns. On his mother's side the descent is from the well-known Jones family of Weston, Mass., and the Rev. Charles Dunbar, a graduate of Harvard College, who preached in Salem, and at length settled in Keene, New Hampshire. As variable an ancestry as can well be afforded, with marked family characters on both sides. About a year and a half from Henry's birth, the family removed to the town of Chelmsford, thence to Boston, coming back, however, to Concord when he was of a very tender age; his earliest memory of most of the town was a ride to Walden Pond with his grandmother, when he thought that he should be glad to live there. He retained a peculiar pronunciation of the letter R, with a decided French accent. He says, 'September is the fifth month with a burr in it.' His great-grandmother's name was Marie le Galais, and his grandfather, John Thoreau, was baptized April 28, 1754, and partook of the Catholic sacrament in the parish of St. Helier, Isle of Jersey, in May, 1773. Thus near to old France and the church was our Yankee boy.

"A moment may be spent on a few traits of Thoreau, of a personal kind. In height he was about the average. In his build, spare, with limbs that were rather longer than usual, or of which he made a longer use. His face once seen could not be forgotten; the features quite marked, the nose aquiline, or very Roman, like one of the portraits of Cæsar (more like a beak, as was said), large overhanging brows above the deepest-set blue eyes that could be seen,—blue in certain lights, and in others gray,—eyes expressive of all shades of feeling, but never weak or near-sighted; the forehead not unusually broad or high, full of concentrated energy and purpose; the mouth, with prominent lips, pursed up with meaning and thought when shut, and giving out when open a stream of the most varied and unusual and instructive sayings. His hair was a dark brown, exceedingly abundant, fine, and soft, and for several years he wore a comely beard. His whole figure had an active earnestness as if he had not a moment to waste. The clenched hand betokened purpose. In walking he made a short cut if he could, and when sitting in the shade, or by the wall-side, seemed merely the clearer to look forward into the next piece of activity. Even in the boat he had a wary, transitory air, his eyes on the lookout; perhaps there might be ducks, or the Blondin turtle, or an otter, or sparrow. He was a plain man in his features and dress,—one who could not be mistaken, and this kind of plainness is not out of keeping with beauty. He sometimes went as far as homeliness, which again, even if there be a prejudice against it, shines out at times beyond a vulgar beauty."

W. Ellery Channing.