Henry David Thoreau
I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness,
as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil--to regard man as an
inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.
I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one,
for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school
committee and every one of you will take care of that.
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who
understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks--who had a genius,
so to speak, for SAUNTERING, which word is beautifully derived "from
idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked
charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre," to the Holy Land, till
the children exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer," a Saunterer, a HolyLander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they
pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there
are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would
derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore,
in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at
home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who
sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the
saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river,
which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.
But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For
every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us,
to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.
It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers,
nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our
expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old
hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps.
We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of
undying adventure, never to return-- prepared to send back our embalmed

hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave
father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends,
and never see them again--if you have paid your debts, and made your will,
and settled all your affairs, and are a free man--then you are ready for a
To come down to my own experience, my companion and I, for I
sometimes have a companion, take pleasure in fancying ourselves knights
of a new, or rather an old, order--not Equestrians or Chevaliers, not Ritters
or Riders, but Walkers, a still more ancient and honorable class, I trust.
The Chivalric and heroic spirit which once belonged to the Rider seems
now to reside in, or perchance to have subsided into, the Walker--not the
Knight, but Walker, Errant. He is a sort of fourth estate, outside of Church
and State and People.
We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts practiced this noble art;
though, to tell the truth, at least if their own assertions are to be received,
most of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I do, but they
cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and
independence which are the capital in this profession. It comes only by the
grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a
walker. You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator
nascitur, non fit. Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember and have
described to me some walks which they took ten years ago, in which they
were so blessed as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods; but I
know very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever
since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select class.
No doubt they were elevated for a moment as by the reminiscence of a
previous state of existence, when even they were foresters and outlaws.
"When he came to grene wode, In a mery mornynge, There he herde the
notes small Of byrdes mery syngynge.
"It is ferre gone, sayd Robyn, That I was last here; Me Lyste a lytell
for to shote At the donne dere."
I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four
hours a day at least--and it is commonly more than that--sauntering
through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all

worldly engagements. You may safely say, A penny for your thoughts, or a
thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and
shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the
afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them--as if the legs
were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon--I think that they
deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.
I, who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without acquiring
some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a walk at the
eleventh hour, or four o'clock in the afternoon, too late to redeem the day,
when the shades of night were already beginning to be mingled with the
daylight, have felt as if I had committed some sin to be atoned for,--I
confess that I am astonished at the power of endurance, to say nothing of
the moral insensibility, of my neighbors who confine themselves to shops
and offices the whole day for weeks and months, aye, and years almost
together. I know not what manner of stuff they are of--sitting there now at
three o'clock in the afternoon, as if it were three o'clock in the morning.
Bonaparte may talk of the three-o'clock-in-the-morning courage, but it is
nothing to the courage which can sit down cheerfully at this hour in the
afternoon over against one's self whom you have known all the morning,
to starve out a garrison to whom you are bound by such strong ties of
sympathy. I wonder that about this time, or say between four and five
o'clock in the afternoon, too late for the morning papers and too early for
the evening ones, there is not a general explosion heard up and down the
street, scattering a legion of antiquated and house-bred notions and whims
to the four winds for an airing-and so the evil cure itself.
How womankind, who are confined to the house still more than men,
stand it I do not know; but I have ground to suspect that most of them do
not STAND it at all. When, early in a summer afternoon, we have been
shaking the dust of the village from the skirts of our garments, making
haste past those houses with purely Doric or Gothic fronts, which have
such an air of repose about them, my companion whispers that probably
about these times their occupants are all gone to bed. Then it is that I
appreciate the beauty and the glory of architecture, which itself never turns
in, but forever stands out and erect, keeping watch over the slumberers.

No doubt temperament, and, above all, age, have a good deal to do
with it. As a man grows older, his ability to sit still and follow indoor
occupations increases. He grows vespertinal in his habits as the evening of
life approaches, till at last he comes forth only just before sundown, and
gets all the walk that he requires in half an hour.
But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking
exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours--as the
Swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure
of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life.
Think of a man's swinging dumbbells for his health, when those springs
are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him!
Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only
beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveler asked Wordsworth's
servant to show him her master's study, she answered, "Here is his library,
but his study is out of doors."
Living much out of doors, in the sun and wind, will no doubt produce
a certain roughness of character--will cause a thicker cuticle to grow over
some of the finer qualities of our nature, as on the face and hands, or as
severe manual labor robs the hands of some of their delicacy of touch. So
staying in the house, on the other hand, may produce a softness and
smoothness, not to say thinness of skin, accompanied by an increased
sensibility to certain impressions. Perhaps we should be more susceptible
to some influences important to our intellectual and moral growth, if the
sun had shone and the wind blown on us a little less; and no doubt it is a
nice matter to proportion rightly the thick and thin skin. But methinks that
is a scurf that will fall off fast enough--that the natural remedy is to be
found in the proportion which the night bears to the day, the winter to the
summer, thought to experience. There will be so much the more air and
sunshine in our thoughts. The callous palms of the laborer are conversant
with finer tissues of self-respect and heroism, whose touch thrills the heart,
than the languid fingers of idleness. That is mere sentimentality that lies
abed by day and thinks itself white, far from the tan and callus of
When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would

become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall? Even some sects of
philosophers have felt the necessity of importing the woods to themselves,
since they did not go to the woods. "They planted groves and walks of
Platanes," where they took subdiales ambulationes in porticos open to the
air. Of course it is of no use to direct our steps to the woods, if they do not
carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile
into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk
I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to
Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village.
The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my
body is--I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my
senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something
out of the woods? I suspect myself, and cannot help a shudder when I find
myself so implicated even in what are called good works--for this may
sometimes happen.
My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I
have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I
have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great
happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours'
walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A
single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the
dominions of the King of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony
discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of
ten miles' radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore
years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.
Nowadays almost all man's improvements, so called, as the building of
houses and the cutting down of the forest and of all large trees, simply
deform the landscape, and make it more and more tame and cheap. A
people who would begin by burning the fences and let the forest stand! I
saw the fences half consumed, their ends lost in the middle of the prairie,
and some worldly miser with a surveyor looking after his bounds, while
heaven had taken place around him, and he did not see the angels going to
and fro, but was looking for an old post-hole in the midst of paradise. I
looked again, and saw him standing in the middle of a boggy Stygian fen,

surrounded by devils, and he had found his bounds without a doubt, three
little stones, where a stake had been driven, and looking nearer, I saw that
the Prince of Darkness was his surveyor.
I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles,
commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without
crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do: first along by the
river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the woodside. There
are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant. From many a
hill I can see civilization and the abodes of man afar. The farmers and their
works are scarcely more obvious than woodchucks and their burrows.
Man and his affairs, church and state and school, trade and commerce, and
manufactures and agriculture even politics, the most alarming of them all--
I am pleased to see how little space they occupy in the landscape. Politics
is but a narrow field, and that still narrower highway yonder leads to it. I
sometimes direct the traveler thither. If you would go to the political world,
follow the great road--follow that market-man, keep his dust in your eyes,
and it will lead you straight to it; for it, too, has its place merely, and does
not occupy all space. I pass from it as from a bean field into the forest, and
it is forgotten. In one half-hour I can walk off to some portion of the
earth's surface where a man does not stand from one year's end to another,
and there, consequently, politics are not, for they are but as the cigarsmoke of a man.
The village is the place to which the roads tend, a sort of expansion of
the highway, as a lake of a river. It is the body of which roads are the arms
and legs--a trivial or quadrivial place, the thoroughfare and ordinary of
travelers. The word is from the Latin villa which together with via, a way,
or more anciently ved and vella, Varro derives from veho, to carry,
because the villa is the place to and from which things are carried. They
who got their living by teaming were said vellaturam facere. Hence, too,
the Latin word vilis and our vile, also villain. This suggests what kind of
degeneracy villagers are liable to. They are wayworn by the travel that
goes by and over them, without traveling themselves.
Some do not walk at all; others walk in the highways; a few walk
across lots. Roads are made for horses and men of business. I do not travel

in them much, comparatively, because I am not in a hurry to get to any
tavern or grocery or livery-stable or depot to which they lead. I am a good
horse to travel, but not from choice a roadster. The landscape-painter uses
the figures of men to mark a road. He would not make that use of my
figure. I walk out into a nature such as the old prophets and poets, Menu,
Moses, Homer, Chaucer, walked in. You may name it America, but it is not
America; neither Americus Vespueius, nor Columbus, nor the rest were the
discoverers of it. There is a truer amount of it in mythology than in any
history of America, so called, that I have seen.
However, there are a few old roads that may be trodden with profit, as
if they led somewhere now that they are nearly discontinued. There is the
Old Marlborough Road, which does not go to Marlborough now, methinks, unless that is Marlborough where it carries me. I am the bolder to
speak of it here, because I presume that there are one or two such roads in
every town.
Where they once dug for money, But never found any; Where
sometimes Martial Miles Singly files, And Elijah Wood, I fear for no good:
No other man, Save Elisha Dugan-- O man of wild habits, Partridges and
rabbits Who hast no cares Only to set snares, Who liv'st all alone, Close to
the bone And where life is sweetest Constantly eatest. When the spring
stirs my blood With the instinct to travel, I can get enough gravel On the
Old Marlborough Road. Nobody repairs it, For nobody wears it; It is a
living way, As the Christians say. Not many there be Who enter therein,
Only the guests of the Irishman Quin. What is it, what is it But a direction
out there, And the bare possibility Of going somewhere? Great guideboards of stone, But travelers none; Cenotaphs of the towns Named on
their crowns. It is worth going to see
Where you MIGHT be. What king Did the thing, I am still wondering;
Set up how or when, By what selectmen, Gourgas or Lee, Clark or Darby?
They're a great endeavor To be something forever; Blank tablets of stone,
Where a traveler might groan, And in one sentence Grave all that is known
Which another might read, In his extreme need. I know one or two Lines

that would do, Literature that might stand All over the land Which a man
could remember Till next December, And read again in the spring, After
the thawing. If with fancy unfurled You leave your abode, You may go
round the world By the Old Marlborough Road.
At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private
property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative
freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off
into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and
exclusive pleasure only--when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps
and other engines invented to confine men to the PUBLIC road, and
walking over the surface of God's earth shall be construed to mean
trespassing on some gentleman's grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is
commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us
improve our opportunities, then, before the evil days come.
What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to determine whither we
will walk? I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if
we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us
which way we walk. There is a right way; but we are very liable from
heedlessness and stupidity to take the wrong one. We would fain take that
walk, never yet taken by us through this actual world, which is perfectly
symbolical of the path which we love to travel in the interior and ideal
world; and sometimes, no doubt, we find it difficult to choose our
direction, because it does not yet exist distinctly in our idea.
When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I will
bend my steps, and submit myself to my instinct to decide for me, I find,
strange and whimsical as it may seem, that I finally and inevitably settle
southwest, toward some particular wood or meadow or deserted pasture or
hill in that direction. My needle is slow to settle,--varies a few degrees,
and does not always point due southwest, it is true, and it has good
authority for this variation, but it always settles between west and southsouthwest. The future lies that way to me, and the earth seems more
unexhausted and richer on that side. The outline which would bound my
walks would be, not a circle, but a parabola, or rather like one of those

cometary orbits which have been thought to be non-returning curves, in
this case opening westward, in which my house occupies the place of the
sun. I turn round and round irresolute sometimes for a quarter of an hour,
until I decide, for a thousandth time, that I will walk into the southwest or
west. Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free. Thither no
business leads me. It is hard for me to believe that I shall find fair
landscapes or sufficient wildness and freedom behind the eastern horizon.
I am not excited by the prospect of a walk thither; but I believe that the
forest which I see in the western horizon stretches uninterruptedly toward
the setting sun, and there are no towns nor cities in it of enough
consequence to disturb me. Let me live where I will, on this side is the city,
on that the wilderness, and ever I am leaving the city more and more, and
withdrawing into the wilderness. I should not lay so much stress on this
fact, if I did not believe that something like this is the prevailing tendency
of my countrymen. I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe.
And that way the nation is moving, and I may say that mankind progress
from east to west. Within a few years we have witnessed the phenomenon
of a southeastward migration, in the settlement of Australia; but this
affects us as a retrograde movement, and, judging from the moral and
physical character of the first generation of Australians, has not yet proved
a successful experiment. The eastern Tartars think that there is nothing
west beyond Thibet. "The world ends there," say they; "beyond there is
nothing but a shoreless sea." It is unmitigated East where they live.
We go eastward to realize history and study the works of art and
literature, retracing the steps of the race; we go westward as into the future,
with a spirit of enterprise and adventure. The Atlantic is a Lethean stream,
in our passage over which we have had an opportunity to forget the Old
World and its institutions. If we do not succeed this time, there is perhaps
one more chance for the race left before it arrives on the banks of the Styx;
and that is in the Lethe of the Pacific, which is three times as wide.
I know not how significant it is, or how far it is an evidence of
singularity, that an individual should thus consent in his pettiest walk with
the general movement of the race; but I know that something akin to the
migratory instinct in birds and quadrupeds--which, in some instances, is

known to have affected the squirrel tribe, impelling them to a general and
mysterious movement, in which they were seen, say some, crossing the
broadest rivers, each on its particular chip, with its tail raised for a sail,
and bridging narrower streams with their dead--that something like the
furor which affects the domestic cattle in the spring, and which is referred
to a worm in their tails,--affects both nations and individuals, either
perennially or from time to time. Not a flock of wild geese cackles over
our town, but it to some extent unsettles the value of real estate here, and,
if I were a broker, I should probably take that disturbance into account.
"Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages, And palmeres for to seken
strange strondes."
Every sunset which I witness inspires me with the desire to go to a
West as distant and as fair as that into which the sun goes down. He
appears to migrate westward daily, and tempt us to follow him. He is the
Great Western Pioneer whom the nations follow. We dream all night of
those mountain-ridges in the horizon, though they may be of vapor only,
which were last gilded by his rays. The island of Atlantis, and the islands
and gardens of the Hesperides, a sort of terrestrial paradise, appear to have
been the Great West of the ancients, enveloped in mystery and poetry.
Who has not seen in imagination, when looking into the sunset sky, the
gardens of the Hesperides, and the foundation of all those fables?
Columbus felt the westward tendency more strongly than any before.
He obeyed it, and found a New World for Castile and Leon. The herd of
men in those days scented fresh pastures from afar,
"And now the sun had stretched out all the hills, And now was
dropped into the western bay; At last HE rose, and twitched his mantle
blue; Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new."
Where on the globe can there be found an area of equal extent with
that occupied by the bulk of our States, so fertile and so rich and varied in
its productions, and at the same time so habitable by the European, as this
is? Michaux, who knew but part of them, says that "the species of large
trees are much more numerous in North America than in Europe; in the
United States there are more than one hundred and forty species that
exceed thirty feet in height; in France there are but thirty that attain this

size." Later botanists more than confirm his observations. Humboldt came
to America to realize his youthful dreams of a tropical vegetation, and he
beheld it in its greatest perfection in the primitive forests of the Amazon,
the most gigantic wilderness on the earth, which he has so eloquently
described. The geographer Guyot, himself a European, goes farther--
farther than I am ready to follow him; yet not when he says: "As the plant
is made for the animal, as the vegetable world is made for the animal
world, America is made for the man of the Old World.... The man of the
Old World sets out upon his way. Leaving the highlands of Asia, he
descends from station to station towards Europe. Each of his steps is
marked by a new civilization superior to the preceding, by a greater power
of development. Arrived at the Atlantic, he pauses on the shore of this
unknown ocean, the bounds of which he knows not, and turns upon his
footprints for an instant." When he has exhausted the rich soil of Europe,
and reinvigorated himself, "then recommences his adventurous career
westward as in the earliest ages." So far Guyot.
From this western impulse coming in contact with the barrier of the
Atlantic sprang the commerce and enterprise of modern times. The
younger Michaux, in his Travels West of the Alleghanies in 1802, says that
the common inquiry in the newly settled West was, "'From what part of the
world have you come?' As if these vast and fertile regions would naturally
be the place of meeting and common country of all the inhabitants of the
To use an obsolete Latin word, I might say, Ex Oriente lux; ex
Occidente FRUX. From the East light; from the West fruit.
Sir Francis Head, an English traveler and a Governor-General of
Canada, tells us that "in both the northern and southern hemispheres of the
New World, Nature has not only outlined her works on a larger scale, but
has painted the whole picture with brighter and more costly colors than
she used in delineating and in beautifying the Old World.... The heavens of
America appear infinitely higher, the sky is bluer, the air is fresher, the
cold is intenser, the moon looks larger, the stars are brighter the thunder is
louder, the lightning is vivider, the wind is stronger, the rain is heavier, the
mountains are higher, the rivers longer, the forests bigger, the plains

broader." This statement will do at least to set against Buffon's account of
this part of the world and its productions.
Linnaeus said long ago, "Nescio quae facies laeta, glabra plantis
Americanis" (I know not what there is of joyous and smooth in the aspect
of American plants); and I think that in this country there are no, or at
most very few, Africanae bestiae, African beasts, as the Romans called
them, and that in this respect also it is peculiarly fitted for the habitation of
man. We are told that within three miles of the center of the East-Indian
city of Singapore, some of the inhabitants are annually carried off by tigers;
but the traveler can lie down in the woods at night almost anywhere in
North America without fear of wild beasts.
These are encouraging testimonies. If the moon looks larger here than
in Europe, probably the sun looks larger also. If the heavens of America
appear infinitely higher, and the stars brighter, I trust that these facts are
symbolical of the height to which the philosophy and poetry and religion
of her inhabitants may one day soar. At length, perchance, the immaterial
heaven will appear as much higher to the American mind, and the
intimations that star it as much brighter. For I believe that climate does
thus react on man--as there is something in the mountain air that feeds the
spirit and inspires. Will not man grow to greater perfection intellectually
as well as physically under these influences? Or is it unimportant how
many foggy days there are in his life? I trust that we shall be more
imaginative, that our thoughts will be clearer, fresher, and more ethereal,
as our sky--our understanding more comprehensive and broader, like our
plains--our intellect generally on a grander seale, like our thunder and
lightning, our rivers and mountains and forests-and our hearts shall even
correspond in breadth and depth and grandeur to our inland seas.
Perchance there will appear to the traveler something, he knows not what,
of laeta and glabra, of joyous and serene, in our very faces. Else to what
end does the world go on, and why was America discovered?
To Americans I hardly need to say--
"Westward the star of empire takes its way."
As a true patriot, I should be ashamed to think that Adam in paradise
was more favorably situated on the whole than the backwoodsman in this

Our sympathies in Massachusetts are not confined to New England;
though we may be estranged from the South, we sympathize with the West.
There is the home of the younger sons, as among the Scandinavians they
took to the sea for their inheritance. It is too late to be studying Hebrew; it
is more important to understand even the slang of today.
Some months ago I went to see a panorama of the Rhine. It was like a
dream of the Middle Ages. I floated down its historic stream in something
more than imagination, under bridges built by the Romans, and repaired
by later heroes, past cities and castles whose very names were music to my
ears, and each of which was the subject of a legend. There were
Ehrenbreitstein and Rolandseck and Coblentz, which I knew only in
history. They were ruins that interested me chiefly. There seemed to come
up from its waters and its vine-clad hills and valleys a hushed music as of
Crusaders departing for the Holy Land. I floated along under the spell of
enchantment, as if I had been transported to an heroic age, and breathed an
atmosphere of chivalry.
Soon after, I went to see a panorama of the Mississippi, and as I
worked my way up the river in the light of today, and saw the steamboats
wooding up, counted the rising cities, gazed on the fresh ruins of Nauvoo,
beheld the Indians moving west across the stream, and, as before I had
looked up the Moselle, now looked up the Ohio and the Missouri and
heard the legends of Dubuque and of Wenona's Cliff--still thinking more
of the future than of the past or present--I saw that this was a Rhine stream
of a different kind; that the foundations of castles were yet to be laid, and
the famous bridges were yet to be thrown over the river; and I felt that
THIS WAS THE HEROIC AGE ITSELF, though we know it not, for the
hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men.
The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what
I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the
World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities
import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and
wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind. Our ancestors
were savages. The story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf is

not a meaningless fable. The founders of every state which has risen to
eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild
source. It was because the children of the Empire were not suckled by the
wolf that they were conquered and displaced by the children of the
northern forests who were.
I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the
corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce or arbor vitae in
our tea. There is a difference between eating and drinking for strength and
from mere gluttony. The Hottentots eagerly devour the marrow of the
koodoo and other antelopes raw, as a matter of course. Some of our
northern Indians eat raw the marrow of the Arctic reindeer, as well as
various other parts, including the summits of the antlers, as long as they
are soft. And herein, perchance, they have stolen a march on the cooks of
Paris. They get what usually goes to feed the fire. This is probably better
than stall-fed beef and slaughterhouse pork to make a man of. Give me a
wildness whose glance no civilization can endure--as if we lived on the
marrow of koodoos devoured raw.
There are some intervals which border the strain of the wood thrush, to
which I would migrate--wild lands where no settler has squatted; to which,
methinks, I am already acclimated.
The African hunter Cumming tells us that the skin of the eland, as well
as that of most other antelopes just killed, emits the most delicious
perfume of trees and grass. I would have every man so much like a wild
antelope, so much a part and parcel of nature, that his very person should
thus sweetly advertise our senses of his presence, and remind us of those
parts of nature which he most haunts. I feel no disposition to be satirical,
when the trapper's coat emits the odor of musquash even; it is a sweeter
scent to me than that which commonly exhales from the merchant's or the
scholar's garments. When I go into their wardrobes and handle their
vestments, I am reminded of no grassy plains and flowery meads which
they have frequented, but of dusty merchants' exchanges and libraries
A tanned skin is something more than respectable, and perhaps olive is
a fitter color than white for a man--a denizen of the woods. "The pale

white man!" I do not wonder that the African pitied him. Darwin the
naturalist says, "A white man bathing by the side of a Tahitian was like a
plant bleached by the gardener's art, compared with a fine, dark green one,
growing vigorously in the open fields."
Ben Jonson exclaims,--
"How near to good is what is fair!"
So I would say,--
"How near to good is what is WILD!"
Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet
subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward
incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made
infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or
wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be
climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest trees.
Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not
in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. When,
formerly, I have analyzed my partiality for some farm which I had
contemplated purchasing, I have frequently found that I was attracted
solely by a few square rods of impermeable and unfathomable bog--a
natural sink in one corner of it. That was the jewel which dazzled me. I
derive more of my subsistence from the swamps which surround my
native town than from the cultivated gardens in the village. There are no
richer parterres to my eyes than the dense beds of dwarf andromeda
(Cassandra calyculata) which cover these tender places on the earth's
surface. Botany cannot go farther than tell me the names of the shrubs
which grow there--the high blueberry, panicled andromeda, lambkill,
azalea, and rhodora--all standing in the quaking sphagnum. I often think
that I should like to have my house front on this mass of dull red bushes,
omitting other flower plots and borders, transplanted spruce and trim box,
even graveled walks--to have this fertile spot under my windows, not a
few imported barrowfuls of soil only to cover the sand which was thrown
out in digging the cellar. Why not put my house, my parlor, behind this
plot, instead of behind that meager assemblage of curiosities, that poor
apology for a Nature and Art, which I call my front yard? It is an effort to

clear up and make a decent appearance when the carpenter and mason
have departed, though done as much for the passer-by as the dweller
within. The most tasteful front-yard fence was never an agreeable object
of study to me; the most elaborate ornaments, acorn tops, or what not,
soon wearied and disgusted me. Bring your sills up to the very edge of the
swamp, then (though it may not be the best place for a dry cellar), so that
there be no access on that side to citizens. Front yards are not made to
walk in, but, at most, through, and you could go in the back way.
Yes, though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me to
dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human
art contrived, or else of a Dismal Swamp, I should certainly decide for the
swamp. How vain, then, have been all your labors, citizens, for me!
My spirits infallibly rise in proportion to the outward dreariness. Give
me the ocean, the desert, or the wilderness! In the desert, pure air and
solitude compensate for want of moisture and fertility. The traveler Burton
says of it--"Your MORALE improves; you become frank and cordial,
hospitable and single-minded.... In the desert, spirituous liquors excite
only disgust. There is a keen enjoyment in a mere animal existence." They
who have been traveling long on the steppes of Tartary say, "On reentering cultivated lands, the agitation, perplexity, and turmoil of
civilization oppressed and suffocated us; the air seemed to fail us, and we
felt every moment as if about to die of asphyxia." When I would recreate
myself, I seek the darkest woods the thickest and most interminable and,
to the citizen, most dismal, swamp. I enter a swamp as a sacred place,-- a
sanctum sanctorum. There is the strength, the marrow, of Nature. The
wildwood covers the virgin mould,--and the same soil is good for men and
for trees. A man's health requires as many acres of meadow to his prospect
as his farm does loads of muck. There are the strong meats on which he
feeds. A town is saved, not more by the righteous men in it than by the
woods and swamps that surround it. A township where one primitive forest
waves above while another primitive forest rots below--such a town is
fitted to raise not only corn and potatoes, but poets and philosophers for
the coming ages. In such a soil grew Homer and Confucius and the rest,
and out of such a wilderness comes the Reformer eating locusts and wild

To preserve wild animals implies generally the creation of a forest for
them to dwell in or resort to. So it is with man. A hundred years ago they
sold bark in our streets peeled from our own woods. In the very aspect of
those primitive and rugged trees there was, methinks, a tanning principle
which hardened and consolidated the fibers of men's thoughts. Ah! already
I shudder for these comparatively degenerate days of my native village,
when you cannot collect a load of bark of good thickness, and we no
longer produce tar and turpentine.
The civilized nations--Greece, Rome, England--have been sustained
by the primitive forests which anciently rotted where they stand. They
survive as long as the soil is not exhausted. Alas for human culture! little
is to be expected of a nation, when the vegetable mould is exhausted, and
it is compelled to make manure of the bones of its fathers. There the poet
sustains himself merely by his own superfluous fat, and the philosopher
comes down on his marrow-bones.
It is said to be the task of the American "to work the virgin soil," and
that "agriculture here already assumes proportions unknown everywhere
else." I think that the farmer displaces the Indian even because he redeems
the meadow, and so makes himself stronger and in some respects more
natural. I was surveying for a man the other day a single straight line one
hundred and thirty-two rods long, through a swamp at whose entrance
might have been written the words which Dante read over the entrance to
the infernal regions,--"Leave all hope, ye that enter"--that is, of ever
getting out again; where at one time I saw my employer actually up to his
neck and swimming for his life in his property, though it was still winter.
He had another similar swamp which I could not survey at all, because it
was completely under water, and nevertheless, with regard to a third
swamp, which I did SURVEY from a distance, he remarked to me, true to
his instincts, that he would not part with it for any consideration, on
account of the mud which it contained. And that man intends to put a
girdling ditch round the whole in the course of forty months, and so
redeem it by the magic of his spade. I refer to him only as the type of a

The weapons with which we have gained our most important victories,
which should be handed down as heirlooms from father to son, are not the
sword and the lance, but the bushwhack, the turf-cutter, the spade, and the
bog hoe, rusted with the blood of many a meadow, and begrimed with the
dust of many a hard-fought field. The very winds blew the Indian's
cornfield into the meadow, and pointed out the way which he had not the
skill to follow. He had no better implement with which to intrench himself
in the land than a clam-shell. But the farmer is armed with plow and
In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is but another
name for tameness. It is the uncivilized free and wild thinking in Hamlet
and the Iliad, in all the scriptures and mythologies, not learned in the
schools, that delights us. As the wild duck is more swift and beautiful than
the tame, so is the wild--the mallard--thought, which 'mid falling dews
wings its way above the fens. A truly good book is something as natural,
and as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a wild-flower
discovered on the prairies of the West or in the jungles of the East. Genius
is a light which makes the darkness visible, like the lightning's flash,
which perchance shatters the temple of knowledge itself--and not a taper
lighted at the hearthstone of the race, which pales before the light of
common day.
English literature, from the days of the minstrels to the Lake Poets--
Chaucer and Spenser and Milton, and even Shakespeare, included--
breathes no quite fresh and, in this sense, wild strain. It is an essentially
tame and civilized literature, reflecting Greece and Rome. Her wilderness
is a green wood, her wild man a Robin Hood. There is plenty of genial
love of Nature, but not so much of Nature herself. Her chronicles inform
us when her wild animals, but not when the wild man in her, became
The science of Humboldt is one thing, poetry is another thing. The
poet today, notwithstanding all the discoveries of science, and the
accumulated learning of mankind, enjoys no advantage over Homer.
Where is the literature which gives expression to Nature? He would be
a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service, to speak

for him; who nailed words to their primitive senses, as farmers drive down
stakes in the spring, which the frost has heaved; who derived his words as
often as he used them--transplanted them to his page with earth adhering
to their roots; whose words were so true and fresh and natural that they
would appear to expand like the buds at the approach of spring, though
they lay half smothered between two musty leaves in a library--aye, to
bloom and bear fruit there, after their kind, annually, for the faithful reader,
in sympathy with surrounding Nature.
I do not know of any poetry to quote which adequately expresses this
yearning for the Wild. Approached from this side, the best poetry is tame. I
do not know where to find in any literature, ancient or modern, any
account which contents me of that Nature with which even I am
acquainted. You will perceive that I demand something which no Augustan
nor Elizabethan age, which no culture, in short, can give. Mythology
comes nearer to it than anything. How much more fertile a Nature, at least,
has Grecian mythology its root in than English literature! Mythology is the
crop which the Old World bore before its soil was exhausted, before the
fancy and imagination were affected with blight; and which it still bears,
wherever its pristine vigor is unabated. All other literatures endure only as
the elms which overshadow our houses; but this is like the great dragontree of the Western Isles, as old as mankind, and, whether that does or not,
will endure as long; for the decay of other literatures makes the soil in
which it thrives.
The West is preparing to add its fables to those of the East. The valleys
of the Ganges, the Nile, and the Shine having yielded their crop, it remains
to be seen what the valleys of the Amazon, the Plate, the Orinoco, the St.
Lawrence, and the Mississippi will produce. Perchance, when, in the
course of ages, American liberty has become a fiction of the past--as it is
to some extent a fiction of the present--the poets of the world will be
inspired by American mythology.
The wildest dreams of wild men, even, are not the less true, though
they may not recommend themselves to the sense which is most common
among Englishmen and Americans today. It is not every truth that
recommends itself to the common sense. Nature has a place for the wild

Clematis as well as for the cabbage. Some expressions of truth are
reminiscent--others merely SENSIBLE, as the phrase is,--others prophetic.
Some forms of disease, even, may prophesy forms of health. The geologist
has discovered that the figures of serpents, griffins, flying dragons, and
other fanciful embellishments of heraldry, have their prototypes in the
forms of fossil species which were extinct before man was created, and
hence "indicate a faint and shadowy knowledge of a previous state of
organic existence." The Hindus dreamed that the earth rested on an
elephant, and the elephant on a tortoise, and the tortoise on a serpent; and
though it may be an unimportant coincidence, it will not be out of place
here to state, that a fossil tortoise has lately been discovered in Asia large
enough to support an elephant. I confess that I am partial to these wild
fancies, which transcend the order of time and development. They are the
sublimest recreation of the intellect. The partridge loves peas, but not
those that go with her into the pot.
In short, all good things are wild and free. There is something in a
strain of music, whether produced by an instrument or by the human
voice--take the sound of a bugle in a summer night, for instance--which by
its wildness, to speak without satire, reminds me of the cries emitted by
wild beasts in their native forests. It is so much of their wildness as I can
understand. Give me for my friends and neighbors wild men, not tame
ones. The wildness of the savage is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity
with which good men and lovers meet.
I love even to see the domestic animals reassert their native rights--any
evidence that they have not wholly lost their original wild habits and vigor;
as when my neighbor's cow breaks out of her pasture early in the spring
and boldly swims the river, a cold, gray tide, twenty-five or thirty rods
wide, swollen by the melted snow. It is the buffalo crossing the
Mississippi. This exploit confers some dignity on the herd in my eyes--
already dignified. The seeds of instinct are preserved under the thick hides
of cattle and horses, like seeds in the bowels of the earth, an indefinite
Any sportiveness in cattle is unexpected. I saw one day a herd of a
dozen bullocks and cows running about and frisking in unwieldy sport,

like huge rats, even like kittens. They shook their heads, raised their tails,
and rushed up and down a hill, and I perceived by their horns, as well as
by their activity, their relation to the deer tribe. But, alas! a sudden loud
WHOA! would have damped their ardor at once, reduced them from
venison to beef, and stiffened their sides and sinews like the locomotive.
Who but the Evil One has cried "Whoa!" to mankind? Indeed, the life of
cattle, like that of many men, is but a sort of locomotiveness; they move a
side at a time, and man, by his machinery, is meeting the horse and the ox
halfway. Whatever part the whip has touched is thenceforth palsied. Who
would ever think of a SIDE of any of the supple cat tribe, as we speak of a
SIDE of beef?
I rejoice that horses and steers have to be broken before they can be
made the slaves of men, and that men themselves have some wild oats still
left to sow before they become submissive members of society.
Undoubtedly, all men are not equally fit subjects for civilization; and
because the majority, like dogs and sheep, are tame by inherited
disposition, this is no reason why the others should have their natures
broken that they may be reduced to the same level. Men are in the main
alike, but they were made several in order that they might be various. If a
low use is to be served, one man will do nearly or quite as well as another;
if a high one, individual excellence is to be regarded. Any man can stop a
hole to keep the wind away, but no other man could serve so rare a use as
the author of this illustration did. Confucius says,--"The skins of the tiger
and the leopard, when they are tanned, are as the skins of the dog and the
sheep tanned." But it is not the part of a true culture to tame tigers, any
more than it is to make sheep ferocious; and tanning their skins for shoes
is not the best use to which they can be put.
When looking over a list of men's names in a foreign language, as of
military officers, or of authors who have written on a particular subject, I
am reminded once more that there is nothing in a name. The name
Menschikoff, for instance, has nothing in it to my ears more human than a
whisker, and it may belong to a rat. As the names of the Poles and
Russians are to us, so are ours to them. It is as if they had been named by

the child's rigmarole,--IERY FIERY ICHERY VAN, TITTLE-TOL-TAN. I
see in my mind a herd of wild creatures swarming over the earth, and to
each the herdsman has affixed some barbarous sound in his own dialect.
The names of men are, of course, as cheap and meaningless as BOSE and
TRAY, the names of dogs.
Methinks it would be some advantage to philosophy if men were
named merely in the gross, as they are known. It would be necessary only
to know the genus and perhaps the race or variety, to know the individual.
We are not prepared to believe that every private soldier in a Roman army
had a name of his own--because we have not supposed that he had a
character of his own.
At present our only true names are nicknames. I knew a boy who, from
his peculiar energy, was called "Buster" by his playmates, and this rightly
supplanted his Christian name. Some travelers tell us that an Indian had no
name given him at first, but earned it, and his name was his fame; and
among some tribes he acquired a new name with every new exploit. It is
pitiful when a man bears a name for convenience merely, who has earned
neither name nor fame.
I will not allow mere names to make distinctions for me, but still see
men in herds for all them. A familiar name cannot make a man less strange
to me. It may be given to a savage who retains in secret his own wild title
earned in the woods. We have a wild savage in us, and a savage name is
perchance somewhere recorded as ours. I see that my neighbor, who bears
the familiar epithet William or Edwin, takes it off with his jacket. It does
not adhere to him when asleep or in anger, or aroused by any passion or
inspiration. I seem to hear pronounced by some of his kin at such a time
his original wild name in some jaw-breaking or else melodious tongue.
Here is this vast, savage, hovering mother of ours, Nature, lying all
around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as the
leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that
culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man--a sort of
breeding in and in, which produces at most a merely English nobility, a
civilization destined to have a speedy limit.

In society, in the best in



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