Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sages of Concord #59: A SLACKER AND A HYPOCRITE?

" . . .for all his nature loving, he also loved tools and machines and gadgets. Carpenter, house painter, boatwright, arborist—he truly was as close to self-sufficient as anyone could be in 19th century America. He was Concord’s handyman—the ideal handyman in what might be considered America’s ideal town, since Thoreau’s clients for home repair and gardening included Emerson, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sages of Concord #58 Opening Address at Thoreau Bicentennial

Wen Stephenson’s opening address at Thoreau Bicentennial

Adapted from Wen Stephenson’s opening address at the Thoreau Bicentennial  gathering in Concord, MA, on July 12, 2017—Thoreau’s 200th birthday—and from his Beacon Press book, What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Climate Justice.
There’s a popular image of Henry David Thoreau as an apolitical hermit, a recluse, aloof and detached, even misanthropic, a crank indulging his private fantasy in his cabin in the woods. This has always been a caricature; his active involvement in the Underground Railroad and resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act put the lie to it. We know that he helped multiple fugitives on their way to Canada, guarding over them in his family’s house—the Thoreau family were committed abolitionists, especially his mother and sisters—even escorting them onto the trains, which entailed no small personal risk. And of course, we know that he wrote and spoke forcefully and without compromise against slavery and for human freedom.
But in the fall of 1859, Thoreau’s principles would be put even further to the test. When the news arrived in Concord, in October 1859, of John Brown’s deadly raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, reactions were sharply divided. The whole country was in an uproar. Even Brown’s erstwhile supporters quickly distanced themselves. Most of his co-conspirators—many with close ties to Concord—went into hiding, several fleeing to Canada. The atmosphere was not just tense but dangerous for anyone voicing solidarity with Brown.
Into this picture steps forty-two-year-old Henry Thoreau. He was incensed by what he saw as the timid and hypocritical reactions of his neighbors, and of the press, and let it be known that he would speak in support of Brown at Concord’s First Church on October 30. Thoreau rang the town bell himself to announce the speech because Concord’s selectmen had refused. The address he gave was “A Plea for Captain John Brown.”
It was Thoreau’s most radical moment. He was the first in Concord, and among the first and most prominent in the country, to come to Brown’s defense. Within days he would repeat the speech to large audiences in Worcester and Boston—where he stood in at the last moment for Frederick Douglass, who had been chased into Canada by federal marshals despite having played no part in the Harpers Ferry raid.
The speech itself is stunning. What Thoreau was saying in his “Plea” for Brown was the same thing he’d said a decade earlier in “Civil Disobedience”—“action from principle…is essentially revolutionary”—only now in far stronger terms, and this time with real skin in the game. What was once a kind of philosophical exercise was now in deadly earnest: Brown’s raid and certain execution—and the risk of publicly aligning oneself with him—made Thoreau’s night in jail look like child’s play.
On December 2, Brown was hanged in Virginia. The next day, Thoreau himself would become an accomplice to the escape of a desperate Harpers Ferry conspirator, Francis Jackson Merriam, personally taking him out of Concord by wagon to the train in Acton. Thoreau didn’t know Merriam’s identity (he was told only to call him “Lockwood”), but he surely knew what he was doing and the risk he was taking—that this was a wanted man, with a price on his head.
.   .   .
On July 4, 1854, with Walden in final page proofs, Thoreau mounted a platform at Harmony Grove in Framingham—alongside William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, and other prominent abolitionists—and addressed a fiery antislavery rally (literally fiery: Garrison lit copies of the Fugitive Slave Act and US Constitution on fire). His speech, called “Slavery in Massachusetts,” is merciless, indicting the commonwealth for the moral complacency and hypocrisy of its participation in human bondage, sending escaped slaves, free human beings, back into slavery. It was enough to shake even Thoreau’s sense of nature’s harmony:
I walk toward one of our ponds, but what signifies the beauty of nature when men are base?…Who can be serene in a country where both the rulers and the ruled are without principle? The remembrance of my country spoils my walk.
And yet, there in the final moments of the speech, he finds some reassurance:
But it chanced the other day that I scented a white water-lily, and a season I had waited for had arrived.…What confirmation of our hopes is in the fragrance of this flower! I shall not so soon despair of the world for it, notwithstanding slavery, and the cowardice and want of principle of Northern men. It suggests what kind of laws have prevailed the longest and widest, and still prevail, and that the time may come when man’s deeds will smell as sweet. Such is the odor which the plant emits. If Nature can compound this fragrance still annually, I shall believe her still young and full of vigor, her integrity and genius unimpaired, and that there is virtue even in man, too, who is fitted to perceive and love it. It reminds me that Nature has been partner to no Missouri Compromise. I scent no compromise in the fragrance of the water-lily.
Sorry, but the person who wrote and spoke those words was not “pond scum,” he was not a misanthrope, regardless of what anyone at The New Yorker  magazine may say. Like all of us, he had his flaws—and yes, he could be annoying as hell. But no misanthrope speaks and acts—indeed, risks his own neck—on behalf of his fellow human beings in the way Henry Thoreau did.
“The remembrance of my country spoils my walk.”
You see, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that the remembrance of his country merely spoiled Thoreau’s walk. I think the remembrance of his country revealed the walk’s true purpose. I believe his solitary and profoundly moral, even spiritual awakening in nature led him back to society and to a radical political engagement on behalf of other people—his neighbors, whether follow citizens of Concord or the fugitives who took refuge in Walden’s woods. Because for Henry Thoreau, to live in harmony with nature is to act in solidarity with our fellow human beings.
About the author 

Wen StephensonWen Stephenson
, an independent journalist and activist, writes for The Nationand is the author of What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Climate Justice. Follow him on Twitter at @wenstephenson.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Sages of Concord #57: A Fourth of July Rally

from Massachusetts Historical Society: 
Broadside advertising a Fourth of July rally sponsored by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1854. Noted abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, and Henry David Thoreau addressed the crowd. In a dramatic climax, Garrison burned copies of the Fugitive Slave Law and the United States Constitution.

A sweltering day in July

"And let all the people say, Amen!" exclaimed William Lloyd Garrison. The hundreds of abolitionists assembled at Harmony Grove, a splendid picnicking area in Framingham, about sixteen miles outside of Boston, roared back "Amen!" again and again. More than the extreme heat of July, as one unsympathetic Boston newspaper shrugged, had excited the passion of the crowd. For the Commonwealth's abolitionist community, July 4, 1854 would be a day to recognize the nation's greatest sin and to mourn the death of freedom.

Kindling for the fire

At the end of May, after furious national debate, Congress turned the Kansas-Nebraska act into law, thus permitting western settlers to legally establish slavery in the territories. The legislation, in effect, repealed the Compromise of 1820 and opened the continent, perhaps even the North, to slavery. Northerners who previously had rejected the abolitionists' dire warnings began to see the expansive and explosive power of slave owners and their allies in the North. With the nation burning red hot over enforcement of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, the Kansas-Nebraska Law created a raging blast furnace of hate and fear. Free Soil and Liberty party members, political abolitionists of varying stripes, and "Conscience" Whigs forged a coalition, soon labeled the Republican party, that dedicated itself to halting the spread of slavery.
The same month, state and federal authorities in Boston, Massachusetts, seized Anthony Burns as a fugitive slave. After an interracial abolitionist rescue effort failed to free Burns, authorities surrounded the courthouse holding him with an iron chain and rings of police, cavalry, and several artillery companies. Judge Edward G. Loring declared Burns an escaped slave and ordered him returned to his owner in Virginia. Hundreds of U.S. military bayonets, at a cost of $100,000, insured Burns's safe conduct through the streets of Boston to the city wharf and then to reenslavement. Loring's disgraceful order, according to Garrison, had converted a man into a thing, the Declaration of Independence into a lie, "the Golden Rule [into] an absurdity, and Jesus of Nazareth [into] an imposter."

At the rally in Framingham, a spark ignites

To mark the dark days of 1854, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society called for a rally on July 4 amid the bucolic oaks of Framingham's Grove. The Society conducted July 4 ceremonies at the same spot at Harmony Grove between 1846 and 1865, but this one would be particularly memorable. Organizers had formed a small amphitheater before a stage decorated with two white flags bearing the names of Kansas and Nebraska and banners proclaiming "Virginia" and "Redeem Massachusetts." Above, hung an inverted U.S. flag draped with black crepe. Just before the speakers took to the platform, the irrepressible William C. Nell hurriedly placed a portrait of Garrison between the two state's banners, symbolically breaking the chains binding Massachusetts to Virginia.
The rally began with a prayer and a hymn. Then Garrison launched into one of the most controversial performances of his career. "To-day, we are called to celebrate the seventy-eighth anniversary of American Independence. In what spirit?" he asked, "with what purpose? to what end?" The Declaration of Independence had declared "that all men are created equal ... It is not a declaration of equality of property, bodily strength or beauty, intellectually or moral development, industrial or inventive powers, but equality of RIGHTS--not of one race, but of all races."
Since the early 1830s, Garrisonian antislavery advocates had adopted the message of black abolitionists in denouncing the sin of slavery and of racial prejudice. In words familiar to his audience, Garrison repeated the decades-old warnings that freedom did not exist in the South; who there, he declared, could "avow his belief in the inalienable rights of man, irrespective of complexional caste?" The church in the South, a frequent target of abolitionists, lay outside of Christendom, and was nothing but a "cage of unclean birds, and the synagogue of Satan." Garrison ventured into new territory with his warning that slavery had strengthened--not weakened--since he had begun his antislavery career. Slavery and its minions jeopardized freedom everywhere and its advocates, he warned, intended to tighten their grasp over the Caribbean, expand into Central and South America, and even extend the cursed institution into the Pacific. Freedom was disappearing. What could there be to celebrate on July 4? he asked.
Garrison then produced a copy of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and put a match to it. Amid cries of "Amen" the hated document burned to a cinder. Then he produced copies of Judge Edward G. Loring's decision to send Anthony Burns back to slavery and Judge Benjamin R. Curtis's comments to the U.S. grand jury considering charges of constructive treason against those who had participated in the failed attempt to free Burns. As Martin Luther had burned copies of canon law and the papal bull excommunicating him from the Catholic Church for heresy, Garrison consigned each to the flames. Holding up a copy of the U.S. Constitution, he branded it as "the source and parent of all the other atrocities--'a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell.'" As the nation's founding document burned to ashes, he cried out: "So perish all compromises with tyranny!"

The public reacts

Most of the audience roared its approval but some hissed and groused. Later, many of the state's daily newspapers condemned Garrison's actions. Charles Remond, the great African American abolitionist from Salem, immediately leapt from his seat to defend his good friend. Garrison had acted, Remond announced to the multitudes, in the name of three million slaves. Moncure Daniel Conway, a student at the Harvard Divinity School, mounted the stage and confessed that he was from Virginia and knew his fellow Southerners well. On the subject of slavery, their minds were "diseased," perfectly "insane." He was astonished to have been born in a place where "white men owned slaves" and now, because of what had happened to Anthony Burns, he lived in a place where "white men were slaves."
After the rally broke for a long and well-deserved lunch, Sojourner Truth addressed the throng, warning that God "would yet execute his judgments upon the white people for their oppression and cruelty." Wendell Phillips, Lucy Stone, John Pierpont, Stephen S. Foster, and others added their voices to Garrison's. At about 3:30 p.m., Henry David Thoreau mounted the speaker's platform. With Walden fresh in the bookstores and the Burns affair eating at his conscience, Thoreau uttered his disgust for those in Massachusetts who willingly aided slavery. In an address that would later be published as "Slavery in Massachusetts," Thoreau advised the gathering that the "Law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free."
At the close of the meeting, Garrison resumed his place beneath the banners and flags. When he had begun agitating against the institution of slavery more than twenty years earlier, nearly everyone believed that the institution of slavery would not survive a close scrutiny of the nation's founding documents. Abolitionists assumed that the Founding Fathers had intended to put slavery on the road to extinction. Even the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society had appended copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to their pamphlets, believing that if anyone actually read those sacred words slavery would have to end. But when James Madison's notes from the Constitutional Convention were published in the early 1840s, the truth proved shocking. Many abolitionists who had believed in an antislavery interpretation of the Constitution discovered that the Fathers had traded union and white liberty for black slavery. No longer could Garrison and his allies believe in the Union, much less see the Constitution as inherently antislavery. It was, they sadly discovered, a wicked document, the true underpinning for the institution of slavery. "The only remedy in our case," Garrison exclaimed at the close of the July 4 ceremonies, "is A DISSOLUTION OF THE UNION."

Suggestions for further reading

Finkleman, Paul. "Garrison's Constitution: The Covenant with Death and How it was Made." Prologue: A Quarterly Publication of the National Archives and Records Administration (Winter 2000): 231-245.
Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Francis Jackson Garrison. William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879: The Story of his Life Told by his Children, Vol. 3, 1841-1860. New York: Century Co., 1889.
The Liberator, vol. 24, nos. 27-29 (July 7, 14, 21, 1854). These issues contain descriptions of the rally and excerpts of the speeches given.

Mayer, Henry. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.
Merrill, Walter M. Against Wind and Tide: A Biography of William Lloyd Garrison. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963.
Perry, Lewis. Radical Abolitionism: Anarchy and the Government of God in Antislavery Thought. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973. For more information on the Anthony Burns affair, see our February 2002, "From our cabinet" feature. For detailed information about Thoreau's speech at Harmony Grove see the website of the Walden Woods Project.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Sages of Concord #56: A Wild & Disobedient Life

N. C. Wyeth

A Wild & Disobedient Life

Henry David Thoreau, on his 200th birthday, is an American immortal who got there the hard way – against the grain of his town and his times.  By now he’s the heroic non-conformist who modeled his brief life on religious convictions: that every human being has an original relation with divine spirit, and that on earth a man must become a majority of one.  So he made a dissenting record living apart, and walking the woods more like a Native American, he felt, than a Yankee.  Never to church, never married, never voted and didn’t pay his taxes.  He talked to the trees as almost-people, and he caressed the fish in his stream like almost-children. Manly and able “but rarely tender,” he won Emerson’s obituary praise that flatters us, too: “no truer American existed,” Emerson said, than Henry Thoreau.  The prophet of Concord is our subject this hour on Open Source. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sages Of Concord #55: The Glory of Friendship

Winslow Homer: Snap The Whip
The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, not the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship."
                                                                                                  RW Emerson

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sages of Concord #54: That Devilish Iron Horse


The Boiling spring is turned into a tank for the Iron Horse to drink at, and the Walden Woods have been cut and dried for his fodder. That devilish Iron Horse, whose ear-rending whinner (sic) is heard throughout the town, has defiled the Boiling Spring with his feet and drunk it up, and browsed off all the wood around the pond. . . He robs the country babies of milk, with the breath of his nostrils polluting the air. That Trojan horse, with a thousand men in his belly, insidiously introduced by mercenary Greeks. With the scream of a hawk he beats the bush for men, the man-harrier, and carries them to his infernal home by thousands for his progeny. Where is the country's champion, the Moore of Moore Hall, to meet him at the Deep Cut and throw a victorious and avenging lance against this bloated pest?
from the Journal of HD Thoreau, June 17, 1853

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Sages of Concord #53: The Antony Burns Affair

Thoreau's Journal - June 16, 1854
[After fugitive slave Anthony Burns was captured, arrested, and re-enslaved]
"I had never respected this government. But I had foolishly thought I might manage to live here, attending to my private affairs and forget it....I feel that to some extent the state has fatally interfered with my just and proper business. I am surprised to see men going about their business as if nothing had happened...It is not an era of repose. If we would save our lives, we must fight for them."

thanks to Bill Schecter of the Thoreau Society

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS:The Sages of Concord #52

"Watson had a colt born about ten or eleven the last evening. I went out to see it early this morning, as it lay in the cold pasture. It got up alarmed and trotted about on its long, large legs, and even nibbled a little grass, and behaved altogether as if it had been an inhabitant of this planet for some years at least.  They are as precocious as young partridges. It ran about most of the day with its mother. Watson was surprise to see it so much larger than the night before. Probably they expand at once on coming to the light and air, like a butterfly that has just come out of its chrysalis."

                                                    HD Thoreu's Journal: June 14, 1857

Monday, June 12, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: Emancipation and Self-Emancipation #51


Panel from Diego Rivera’s mural at Pennsylvania’s Unity House,

"Freedom is one of the ideas we cannot do without. . . .One of the important meanings of Thoreau's life, and of Walden, is the imperative of freedom or liberation. . .Walden is about self-emancipation, but not at the expense of ignoring the problem of external, physical freedom. The Thoreau who sought his own freedom was, inevitably, involved in the political movement to abolish slavery, and his involvement grew rather than diminished as time went on."
                                            from Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind by Robert Richardson, Jr.

Upon the capture and arrest of abolitionist John Brown, a man ran to the church tower in the center of Concord Massachusetts. He was full of fury and pain. Of lithe and willowy build, this impassioned human being was known locally more as a contemplator than a man of action. Yet here he was streaking to ring a clarion bell.
He was harkening to his fellow citizens, not only an alarm of the week’s events, but also a warning of dark days ahead unless the scourge of slavery was expunged from the land. It was October 30, 1859. That man was Henry David Thoreau.
Some short-lived acts speak volumes of the person. So it was that autumn day in the life of Henry David Thoreau. Its message rung out loud and clear as did the pealing of the bell warning of consequences for his town and country if the inhumanity and genocide of slavery were to continue.
                        from "HD Thoreau: Bright Glows the Pond" by Len Yanielli
 as appearing in Peoples World:

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sages of Concord #50: What Use?

“What use is a house,” Thoreau wrote a friend in 1860, “if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Sages of Concord #49 (aka The Walden Pond Society)

Thoreau's Journal: 16-Apr-1857
Almost a month ago, at the post-office, Abel Brooks, who is pretty deaf, sidling up to me, observed in a loud voice, which all could hear, “Let me see, your society is pretty large, ain’t it?” “Oh, yes, large enough,” said I, not knowing what he meant. “There’s Stewart belongs to it, and Collier, he’s one of them, and Emerson, and my boarder” (Pulsifer), “and Channing, I believe, I think he goes there.” “You mean the walkers; don’t you?” “Ye-es, I call you the Society. All go to the woods; don’t you?” “Do you miss any of your wood?” I asked. “No, I hain’t worried any yet. I believe you’re a pretty clever set, as good as the average,” etc., etc.
Telling Sanborn of this, he said that, when he first came to town and boarded at Holbrook’s, he asked H. how many religious societies there were in town. H. said that there were three,—the Unitarian, the Orthodox, and the Walden Pond Society.

from the Blog of Henry David Thoreau:

Winslow Homer: White Mountain Wagon

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #48

Photo by Bob Fisher

"When I first paddled a boat on Walden, it was completely surrounded by thick and lofty pine and oak woods, and in some of its coves grape vines had run over the trees next the water and formed bowers under which a boat could pass. . . Many a forenoon have I stolen away, preferring to spend thus the most valued part of the day; for I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly; not do I regret that I did not waste more of them in the workshop or the teacher's desk. But since I left those shores the woodchoppers have still further laid them waste, and now for many a year there will be no more rambling through the aisles of the wood, with occasional vistas through which you see the water. My muse may be excused if she is silent henceforth. How can you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down?"

                                                                        Walden, The Ponds  by HD Thoreau

Monday, June 5, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #47

Margaret Fuller, author of Woman of the Nineteenth Century

Thoreau thought highly of the book, suggesting that its strength came in part from Fuller's conversational ability. As he called it, it was "rich extempore writing, talking with pen in hand." 

from Margaret Fuller: Writing A Woman's Life by Donna Dickenson

Saturday, June 3, 2017


Walden Pond, then and now. Wood Engraving by Michael McCurdy. Photo by Ali Fisher
"In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick, too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line."

                                                                         from Economy, Walden

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #44

Illustration by Andrea Ventura

" . . . Thoreau was an abolitionist who brought Frederick Douglass to speak at the Concord Lyceum—a kind of community university—and participated in the Underground Railroad, to the point of risking charges of treason by helping enslaved people flee to Canada. While living at Walden, Thoreau hosted the annual festival of the Concord Female Anti-­Slavery Society, where the speakers included Lewis Hayden, who had escaped slavery in Kentucky. . ."

Friday, May 26, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: Happy Birthday Waldo #43


"Although Thoreau and Emerson were deeply involved in their work, they did not allow themselves to be distracted from the demands of friendship. They thought about it constantly and wrote about it at length. For both men, however, friendship presented a dilemma, since their expectations of it were never fully met by the reality.  This was as true in their own relationship as it was in their relationships with others. They dreamed of ideal friendship while experiencing the human variety."

                 from MY FRIEND, MY FRIEND by Harmon Smith

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #42

The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant

 3.77  ·   Rating Details ·  231 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews

Henry David Thoreau is one of those authors that readers think they know, even if they don't. He's the solitary curmudgeon with the shack out in the woods, the mystic worshipping solemnly in the quiet church of nature. He's our national Natural Man, the prophet of environmentalism. But here Robert Sullivan—who himself has been called an "urban Thoreau" (New York Times Book Review)—presents the Thoreau you don't know: the activist, the organizer, the gregarious adventurer, the guy who likes to go camping with friends (even if they sometimes accidentally burn the woods down). Sullivan argues that Walden was a book intended to revive America, a communal work forever pigeonholed as a reclusive one, and this misreading is at the heart of our troubled relationship with the environment today. Sullivan shows us not a lonely eccentric but a man in his growing village: a man who danced and sang, who worked throughout his short life at the family pencil-making business, and moved into his parents' house after leaving Walden, but always paid his father rent. Passionate yet whimsical, The Thoreau You Don't Know asks us to re-examine our everyday relationship with the natural world, and one another.
HD Thoreau with RW Emerson's amazing aunt Mary Moody Emerson

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #41


The Rediscovery of Margaret Fuller

The Rediscovery of Margaret Fuller

By Joseph Jay Deiss, Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 1974 
These are days when Margaret Fuller, America's first liberated woman, may well come into her own at last — that full flowering she found so impossible even in transcendental New England. The current rediscovery of Margaret coincides with the demands of our times. She was a woman who defied a man's world to express herself as a woman. In her short life (1810-1850) she did her "own thing" in Cambridge, in Boston, in New York, in Europe — to the horror of many and the delight of some.
Always candid about her feelings, she wrote to her friend William Henry Channing - "I love best to be a woman, but womanhood at present is too straitly bound to give me scope. At hours I live truly as a woman, at others I stifle. . . Men disappoint me so. I weary in this playground of boys! . . . I wish I were a man and then there would be one."
Margaret stretched the bounds of 19th-century womanhood to its limits. Her life was full of firsts for an American woman. She was the first woman to be admitted to the Harvard College library. She was the first woman in a public position to deplore the evil treatment of red men. As editor of the transcendentalist Dial, she was the first woman magazine editor. As crusading columnist and critic for Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, she was not only the first woman journalist but the first paid literary critic of either sex. Traveling abroad for Greeley, she was the first woman foreign correspondent.
Her dispatches covering the French siege of Rome in 1849 made her the first woman war correspondent. She became an underground agent of the exiled Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini, and thus the first American woman partisan in a foreign revolution. Her book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), was the first vigorous plea for women's rights in America; it was a sensation.
It could not have failed to vex and stir her contemporaries when she flatly demanded “We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man.” One of her extraordinary insights especially enraged the male chauvinists of her time. “There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #41

The frog had eyed the heavens from his marsh, until his mind was filled with visions, and he saw more than belongs to this fenny earth. He mistrusted that he was become a dreamer and visionary. Leaping across the swamp to his fellow, what was his joy and consolation to find that he too had seen the same sights in the heavens, he too had dreamed the same dreams!

                                                                           Journal, May 21, 1851

Friday, May 19, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #40

The Finest Qualities of Our Nature

"The finest qualities of our nature , like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly."
                                                                                         Economy, Walden

Thursday, May 18, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #39


by HD Thoreau

I am a parcel of vain strivings tied
By a chance bond together,
Dangling this way and that, their links
Were made so loose and wide,
For milder weather

A bunch of violets without their roots,
And sorrel intermixed,
Encircled by a wisp of straw
Once coiled about their shoots,
The law
By which I'm fixed

A nosegay which Time clutched from out
Those fair Elysian fields,
With weeds and broken stems in haste,
Doth make the rabble rout
That waste
The day he yields.

And here I bloom for a short hour unseen,
Drinking my juices up,
With no roots in the land
To keep my branches green,
But stand
In a bare cup.

Some tender buds were left upon my stem
In mimicry of life,
But ah! the children will not know,
Till time has withered them,
The woe
With which they're rife.

But now I see I was not plucked for naught,
And after in life's vase
Of glass set while I might survive, 
But by a kind hand brought
To a strange place.

That struck thus thinned will soon redeem its hours,
And by another year,
Such as God knows, with freer air,
More fruits with fairer flowers
Will bear,
While I droop here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #38

" A government which deliberately enacts injustice, and persists in it, will at length ever become the laughing-stock of the world.'

- Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, 1849

Monday, May 15, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #36


from EMERSON: The Mind On Fire by Robert D. Richardson, Jr.

“(Thoreau) was a disciple who was incapable of fawning or of uncritical admiration. He was brash, irreverent, rebellious, and amusing. But he was a disciple.”

Friday, May 12, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS" The Sages of Concord #35 


POND SCUM. Yes, you read that right. She is referring to Thoreau as pond scum. (click on the title to see the article) Granted, Scultz wrote the article and probably didn't come up with the Title. But whoever did come up with "Pond Scum" was surely reflecting the tone of her article. I recommend reading it, if only to familiarize yourself with some of the attitudes that many people, who only skim the surface of Walden, come away with. "Who did his laundry?"; "He didn't really live in the wilderness"; "He was a hermit who hated people and people hated him."

Donovan Hohn has a great rebuttal to this essay entitled, "Everybody Hates Henry" in The New Republic (Oct. 21, 2015):

"Of the many charges her indictment levels against Thoreau, the one Schulz gives greatest weight is the charge of Puritanical misanthropy. “Food, drink, friends, family, community, tradition, most work, most education, most conversation: all this he dismissed as outside the real business of living,” she writes. Biographically, she is mistaken on pretty much every count."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #34

"Warbling vireo and chewink. A very cold northwest wind. I hear they had a snow-storm yesterday in Vermont."  Journal: May 11, 1857

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #33drawing of Thoreau by his Quaker Friend, Daniel Ricketson

Drawing of Thoreau by his Quaker friend, Daniel Ricketson

It has been the lot of but few, dear Henry, to extract so much from life as you have done. Although you number fewer years than many who have lived wisely before you, yet I know of no one, either in the past or present times, who has drank so deeply from the sempiternal spring of truth and knowledge, or who in the poetry and beauty of every-day life has enjoyed more or contributed more to the happiness of others. Truly you have not lived in vain – your works, and above all, your brave and truthful life, will become a precious treasure to those whose happiness it has been to have known you, and wo will continue to uphold though with feebler hands the fresh and instructive philosophy you have taught them. . .
                                                Ever faithfully yours, Dan’l Ricketson

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #32


Advices from HD Thoreau.

1.      Confront the essentials
2.      If you’re despairing, make some noise.
3.      Simplify, simplify.
4.      Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.
5.      If you know of any risk to run, run it. If you do not know of any, enjoy confidence.
6.      If you can drive a nail and have any nails to drive, drive them.
7.      If you have any experiments you would like to try, try them; now’s your chance.
8.      Do not entertain doubts, if they are not agreeable to you. Send them to the tavern.
9.      As for health, consider yourself well and mind your business.
10.   Do what nobody can do for you. Omit to do everything else.

Monday, May 8, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #31

Mourning Doves

"What is the singing of birds, or any natural sound, compared with the voice of one we love?" 
                                                                                      Journal, April 30, 1851

Sunday, May 7, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #30

Moral Aphorism in Thoreau’s Walden
The Fox in Details, Details in the Fox

            Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is a philosophical treatise in the guise of a memoir. It is filled with aphorisms, witticisms, sweeping declarations, admonitions, poems, complaints, observations and more. He shows up, he observes, he sums up: “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes;” “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation;” “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.” These are all aphorisms, pithy observations that contain general truths.
            He uses logic in search of freedom, rationalization in search of wisdom. He turns things on their heads in order to get a new perspective and discovers the importance of tails, or lack thereof: “He was the lucky fox that left his tail in a trap.” The very things which we cherish most may be those things which imprison or chain or trap us by virtue of our attachment to them. The use of a fox, as opposed to a bear or a woodchuck, subtly (and cunningly) suggests slyness and cunning. The reader is thrown off, purposely, by the word “lucky.” We are apt to react in surprise: “How can it be luck to lose your tail in a trap?” We are forced to think and to consider the alternatives. We then realize that the “unlucky” fox  (or bear) lost more than its tail. We are reminded that “the muskrat will gnaw his third leg off to be free.” We are also reminded of the idea that it sucks to get old until you consider the alternative.
            Thoreau has begun this paragraph writing about furniture and about how it is not a necessity that we spend much time or money on it. “There is a plenty of such chairs as I like best in the village garrets to be had for taking them away.” We realize that, if chairs are being left behind by starving artists who live in unfinished attics, then we need not spend a lot of money on them. When we put two and two together, we realize that Thoreau is telling us, in no uncertain terms that, when trapped by the temptations of luxurious living, we had better forego the luxurious and keep the living. This is the moral of the “tail.” As beautiful or even functional as a tail may be, it is, in the final analysis, a luxury.

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #29

     The Wreck of the Elizabeth

"Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.. . . Do not trouble yourself to be religious; you will never get a thank-you for it. If you can drive a nail and have any nails to drive, drive them. If you have any experiments you would like to try, try them; now's your chance. Do not entertain doubts, if they are not agreeable to you."

     from Thoreau's Journal, July 16 (?) 1850 shortly after combing the beaches of Fire Island following the drownings of Margaret Fuller, her husband, the Marquis d'Ossoli and their two-year-old son, Nino.

     ". . .whatever actually happens to a man is wonderfully trivial and insignificant, --even to death itself, I imagine. He complains of the Fates who drown him, that they do not touch him. They do not deal directly with him. I have in my pocket a button which I ripped off the coat of the Marquis of Ossoli on the seashore the other day. Held up, it interrupts the light and casts a shadow, an actual button so called, -- and yet all the life it is connected with is less substantial to me than my faintest dreams. This stream of events which we consent to call actual, and that other mightier stream which alone carries us with it, --what makes the difference? . . .We are ever dying to one world and being born into another, and possibly no man knows whether he is at any time dead in the sense in which he affirms that phenomenon of another, or not. Our thoughts are the epochs of our life: all else is but as a journal of the winds that blew while we were here.. . .
    "There was nothing at all remarkable about them. They were simply some bones lying on the beach.They would not detain a walker there more than so much seaweed. I should think that the Fates would not take the trouble to show me any bones again, I so slightly appreciate the favor.
     "Do a little more of that work which you have sometime confessed to be good,which you feel that society and your justest judge rightly demands of you. Do what you reprove yourself for not doing. Know that you are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with yourself for no reason. Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.. . . Do not trouble yourself to be religious; you will never get a thank-you for it. If you can drive a nail and have any nails to drive, drive them. If you have any experiments you would like to try, try them; now's your chance. Do not entertain doubts, if they are not agreeable to you. Send them to the tavern. Do not eat unless you are hungry; there's no need of it. . . . As for health, consider yourself well, and mind your business. Who knows but you are dead already? . . .Do what nobody can do for you. Omit to do everything else."