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IN WOOD AND FIELD.
EXCEPT the Indians themselves, whose wood-craft be never tires of celebrating, few Americans were ever more at home in the open air than Thoreau ; not even his friend John Brown, who, like himself, suggested the Indian by the delicacy of his perceptions and his familiarity with all that goes forward, or stands still, in wood and field. Thoreau could find his path in the woods at night, he said, better by his feet than his eyes.
“ He was a good swimmer,” says Emerson, “a good runner, skater, boatman, and would outwalk most countrymen in a day's journey. And the relation of body to mind was still finer. The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.”
In his last illness says Channing, “ His habit of engrossing his thoughts in a
journal, which had lasted for a quarter of a century, — his out-door life, of which he used to say, if he omitted that, all his living ceased, - this now became so incontrovertibly a thing of the past that he said once, standing at the window, • I cannot see on the outside at all. We thought ourselves great philosophers in those wet days when we used to go out and sit down by the wall-sides. This was absolutely all he was ever heard to say of that outward world during his illness, neither could a stranger in the least infer that he had ever a friend in field or wood.”
This out-door life began as early as he could recollect, and his special attraction to rivers, woods, and lakes was a thing of his boyhood. He had begun to collect Indian relics before leaving college, and was a diligent student of natural history there. Whether he was naturally an observer or not (which has been denied in a kind of malicious paradox), let his life-work attest. Early in 1847 he made some collections of fishes, turtles, etc., in Concord for Agassiz, then newly arrived in America, and I have (in a letter of May 3, 1847) this account of their reception :
“I carried them immediately to Mr. Agassiz, who was highly delighted with them. Some of the species he had seen before, but never in so fresh condition. Others, as the breams and the pout, he had seen only in spirits, and the little turtle he knew only from the books. I am sure you would have felt fully repaid for your trouble, if you could have seen the eager satisfaction with which he surveyed each fin and scale. He said the small mud-turtle was really a very rare species, quite distinct from the snapping-turtle. The breams and pout seemed to please the Professor very much. He would gladly come up to Concord to make a spearing excursion, as you suggested, but is drawn off by numerous and pressing engagements.”
On the 27th of May, Thoreau's correspondent says:
“Mr. Agassiz was very much surprised and pleased at the extent of the collections you sent during his absence; the little fox he has established in comfortable quarters in his backyard, where he is doing well. Among the fishes you sent there is one, probably two, new species.”
June 1st, in other collections, other new species were discovered, much to Agassiz's delight, who never failed afterward to cul.
tivate Thoreau's society when he could. But the poet avoided the man of science, having no love for dissection ; though he recognized in Agassiz the qualities that gave him so much distinction.
The paper on “ Ktaadn and the Maine Woods," which Horace Greeley bought “ at a Jew's bargain,” and sold to a publisher for seventy-five dollars, was the journal of a visit made to the highest mountain of Maine during Thoreau's second summer at Walden. An aunt of his had married in Bangor, Maine, and her daughters had again married there, so that the young forester of Concord had kinsmen on the Penobscot, engaged in converting the Maine forests into pine lumber. At the end of August, in 1846, while his Carlyle manuscript was passing from Greeley to Griswold, from Griswold to Graham, and from Graham to the Philadelphia type-setters, Thoreau himself was on his way from Boston to Bangor; and on the first day of September he started with his cousin from Bangor, to explore the upper waters of the Penobscot and climb the summit of Ktaadn. The forest region about this mountain had been explored
in 1837 by Dr. Jackson, the State Geologist, a brother-in-law of Mr. Emerson; but no poet before Thoreau had visited these solitudes and described his experiences there. James Russell Lowell did so a few years later, and, early in the century, Hawthorne, Longfellow, and Emerson had tested the solitude of the Maine woods, and written about them. The verses of Emerson, describing his own experiences there (not so well known as they should be), are often thought to imply Thoreau, though they were written before Emerson had known his younger friend, whose after adventures they portray with felicity. "In unploughed Maine he sought the lumberers' gang, Where from a hundred lakes young rivers sprang ; He trod the unplanted forest-floor, whereon The all-seeing sun for ages hath not shone ; Where feeds the moose and walks the surly bear, And up the tall mast runs the woodpecker. He saw beneath dim aisles, in odorous beds, The slight Linnæa hang its twin-born heads, And blessed the monument of the man of flowers, Which breathes his sweet fame through the northern
bowers. He heard, when in the grove, at intervals With sudden roar the aged pine-tree falls, – One crash, the death-hymn of the perfect tree, Declares the close of its green century.