Monday, July 27, 2009

Thoreau's Masterwork

Henry David Thoreau wrote over two million words in the journal he kept for a quarter century. A blogger avant la lettre! New York Review Books is coming out with a volume of excerpts this fall. I can't wait. There is also an out-of-print two volume Dover edition that packs in 14 volumes into two evidently big, big books. Princeton University Press says pshaw to all this, and has been publishing an authoritative edition since 1981, spelunking through Thoreau’s messy handwriting, see above…. I note, however, that just one of these PUP volumes costs $99.00.

HDT’s last entry, before succumbing to bronchitis and TB at the age of 44 in 1862, was “All this is perfectly distinct to an observant eye, and yet could easily pass unnoticed by most.” I read this in Robert Sullivan's fine introduction to HDT, The Thoreau You Don't Know, the day after reading Holmes berate Watson on the difference between seeing and observing; everybody sees, but few observe. Two masters, and certainly some of the spiritual forefathers of this blog. HDT again: “It is vain to dream of wildness distant from ourselves.”

Remember that I just finished reading Critchley's The Book of Dead Philosophers? HDT is exemplary in the field. The anecdotes told about his death are famous. Asked by a divine to make peace with God, HDT said he was not aware that he and God had quarreled. Asked by another minister on his deathbed if he could see across to the next world, HDT said, “One world at a time.”

And Emerson said, “Never saw a man dying with so much pleasure and peace.”


amarilla said...

That's inspiring.

nehoccramcire said...

I dig your blog. Please keep up the good werk.

Matthew said...

Thanks, a, n.