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PinkMonkey.com Digital Library - PinkMonkey.com-Walden by Henry David Thoreau


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 re-ally
improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future.

My residence was more favorable, not only to thought, but to serious
reading, than a university; and though I was beyond the range of the
ordinary circulating library, I had more than ever come within the
influence of those books which circulate round the world, whose
sentences were first written on bark, and are now merely copied
from time to time on to linen paper. Says the poet Mir Camar Uddin
Mast, "Being seated, to run through the region of the spiritual world;
I have had this advantage in books. To be intoxicated by a single
glass of wine; I have experienced this pleasure when I have drunk
the liquor of the esoteric doctrines." I kept Homerís Iliad on my table
through the summer, though I looked at his page only now and then.
Incessant labor with my hands, at first, for I had my house to finish
and my beans to hoe at the same time, made more study impossible.
Yet I sustained myself by the prospect of such reading in future. I
read one or two shallow books of travel in the intervals of my work,
till that employment made me ashamed of myself, and I asked where
it was then that I lived.

The student may read Homer or Aeschylus in the Greek without
danger of dissipation or luxuriousness, for it implies that he in some
measure emulate their heroes, and consecrate morning hours to their
pages. The heroic books, even if printed in the character of our
mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate
times; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and
line, conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits out of
what wisdom and valor and generosity we have. The modern cheap
and fertile press, with all its translations, has done little to bring us
nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity. They seem as solitary, and
the letter in which they are printed as rare and curious, as ever. It is
worth the expense of youthful days and costly hours, if you learn
only some words of an ancient language, which are raised out of the
trivialness of the street, to be perpetual suggestions and
provocations. It is not in vain that the farmer remembers and repeats
the few Latin words which he has heard. Men sometimes speak as if
the study of the classics would at length make way for more modern
and practical studies; but the adventurous student will always study
classics, in whatever language they may be written and however
ancient they may be. For what are the classics but the noblest
recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not
decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in
them as Delphi and Dodona never gave. We might as well omit to
study Nature because she is old. To read well, that is, to read true
books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the
reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem.
It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady
intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read
as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. It is not enough
even to be able to speak the language of that nation by which they
are written, for there is a memorable interval between the spoken and
the written language, the language heard and the language read. The
one is commonly transitory, a sound, a tongue, a dialect merely,
almost brutish, and we learn it unconsciously, like the brutes, of our
mothers. The other is the maturity and experience of that; if that is
our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved and select
expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be
born again in order to speak. The crowds of men who merely spoke
the Greek and Latin tongues in the Middle Ages were not entitled by
the accident of birth to read the works of genius written in those
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