Friday, June 1, 2012

Thoreau 1

From Walden:

"When I consider my neighbors, the farmers of Concord, who are at least as well off as the other classes, I find that for the most part they have been toiling twenty, thirty, or forty years, that they may become the real owners of their farms, which commonly they have inherited with encumbrances, or else bought with hired money, - and we may regard one third of that toil as the cost of their houses, - but commonly they have not paid for them yet.  It is true, the encumbrances sometimes outweigh the value of the farm, so that the farm itself becomes one great encumbrance, and still a man is found to inherit it, being well acquainted with it, as he says.  On applying to the assessors, I am surprised to learn that they cannot at once name a dozen in the town who own their farms free and clear.  If you would know the history of these homesteads, inquire at the bank where they are mortgaged…."
"The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself.  To get his shoestrings, he speculates in herds of cattle.  With consummate skill he has set his trap with a hair spring to catch comfort and independence, and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it.  This is the reason he is poor; and for a similar reason we are all poor in respect to a thousand savage comforts, though surrounded by luxuries...."
"And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.  As I understand it, that was a valid objection urged by Momus against the house which Minerva made, that she “had not made it movable, by which means a bad neighborhood might be avoided;” and it may still be urged, for our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them; and the bad neighborhood to be avoided is our own scurvy selves.  I know one or two families, at least, in this town, who, for nearly a generation, have been wishing to sell their house in the outskirts and move to the village, but have not been able to accomplish it and only death will set them free."
"My imagination carried me so far that I even had the refusal of several farms, -- the refusal was all I wanted, -- but I never got my fingers burned by actual possession. The nearest that I came to actual possession was when I bought the Hollowell place, and had begun to sort my seeds, and collected materials with which to make a wheelbarrow to carry it on or off with; but before the owner gave me a deed of it, his wife -- every man has such a wife -- changed her mind and wished to keep it, and he offered me ten dollars to release him. Now, to speak the truth, I had but ten cents in the world, and it surpassed my arithmetic to tell, if I was that man who had ten cents, or who had a farm, or ten dollars, or all together. However, I let him keep the ten dollars and the farm too, for I had carried it far enough; or rather, to be generous, I sold him the farm for just what I gave for it, and, as he was not a rich man, made him a present of ten dollars, and still had my ten cents, and seeds, and materials for a wheelbarrow left. I found thus that I had been a rich man without any damage to my poverty. But I retained the landscape, and I have since annually carried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow. With respect to landscapes,
  'I am monarch of all I survey,
    My right there is none to dispute.' 

I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer  supposed that he had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk."

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