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


ancient classics and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will
know of them, there are the fee-blest efforts anywhere made to
become acquainted with them. I know a wood-chopper, of middle
age, who takes a French paper, not for news as he says, for he is
above that, but to "keep himself in practice," he being a Canadian by
birth; and when I ask him what he considers the best thing he can do
in this world, he says, beside this, to keep up and add to his English.
This is about as much as the college-bred generally do or aspire to
do, and they take an English paper for the purpose. One who has just
come from reading perhaps one of the best English books will find
how many with whom he can converse about it? Or suppose he
comes from reading a Greek or Latin classic in the original, whose
praises are familiar even to the so-called illiterate; he will find
nobody at all to speak to, but must keep silence about it. Indeed,
there is hardly the professor in our colleges, who, if he has mastered
the difficulties of the language, has proportionally mastered the
difficulties of the wit and poetry of a Greek poet, and has any
sympathy to impart to the alert and heroic reader; and as for the
sacred Scriptures, or Bibles of mankind, who in this town can tell me
even their titles? Most men do not know that any nation but the
Hebrews have had a scripture. A man, any man, will go considerably
out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are golden words,
which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the
wise of every succeeding age have assured us of;- and yet we learn
to read only as far as Easy Reading, the primers and class-books, and
when we leave school, the "Little Reading," and story-books, which
are for boys and beginners; and our reading, our conversation and
thinking, are all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and
manikins.

I aspire to be acquainted with wiser men than this our Concord soil
has produced, whose names are hardly known here. Or shall I hear
the name of Plato and never read his book? As if Plato were my
townsman and I never saw him-my next neighbor and I never heard
him speak or attended to the wisdom of his words. But how actually
is it? His Dialogues, which contain what was immortal in him, lie on
the next shelf, and yet I never read them. We are underbred and low-
lived and illiterate; and in this respect I confess I do not make any
very broad distinction between the illiterateness of my townsman
who cannot read at all and the illiterateness of him who has learned
to read only what is for children and feeble intellects. We should be
as good as the worthies of antiquity, but partly by first knowing how
good they were. We are a race of tit-men, and soar but little higher in
our intellectual flights than the columns of the daily paper.

It is not all books that are as dull as their readers. There are probably
words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we could really
hear and understand, would be more salutary than the morning or the
spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on the face of
things for us. How many a man has dated a new era in his life from
the reading of a book! The book exists for us, perchance, which will
explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable
things we may find somewhere uttered. These same questions that
disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all
the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered
them, according to his ability, by his words and his life. Moreover,
with wisdom we shall learn liberality. The solitary hired man on a
farm in the outskirts of Concord, who has had his second birth and
peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he believes into the
silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, may think it is not true;
but Zoroaster, thousands of years ago, travelled the same road and
had the same experience; but he, being wise, knew it to be universal,
and treated his neighbors accordingly, and is even said to have
invented and established worship among men. Let him humbly
commune with Zoroaster then, and through the liberalizing influence
of all the worthies, with Jesus Christ himself, and let "our church" go
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PinkMonkey.com Digital Library - PinkMonkey.com-Walden by Henry David Thoreau



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