I’m catching up on some Emerson in these days before little bub comes. Trying to build those elements of character that directly relate to living towards the simple Emerson goal: be decent to each other, make the world better, live well among the whole world. In preparation of being a father, attention to such traits seem prudent. As I read R.W. Emerson (and I have, a lot) his long-winded lectures on Heroism and Prudence and Experience all seem to boil down such simple parameters as those: be decent, live well, take little. Emerson knows such a life is not always easy to maintain (and often he did not achieve it); why else write ceaselessly about the subject?
When an individual achieves this simple, good life, there is cause to celebrate. So Emerson does in his eulogy of Henry David Thoreau. I revisited that speech recently. It is lovely. The words inspire me today as they did when I discovered them as an undergraduate; now with fuller meaning and richer context, as a son approaches. Reading R.W.E. on H.D.T, I hope such things will be said of me, when my own death arrives.
Like, “To him there was no such thing as size. The pond was a small ocean; the Atlantic, a large Walden Pond. He referred every minute fact to cosmical laws. Though he meant to be just, he seemed haunted by a certain chronic assumption that the science of the day pretended completeness.”
or, “He was no pedant of a department. His eye was open to beauty, and his ear to music. He found these, not in rare conditions, but wheresoever he went. He thought the best of music was in single strains; and he found poetic suggestion in the humming of the telegraph-wire.”
These are the airs we assume, as we think of how we will be remembered. And, I presume I’m not the only one to hope for grand and literary eulogizing.
But of all the lovely things that Emerson says of his friend, my favorite piece of remembrance is this simple statement: “When asked at table what dish he preferred, he answered, “The nearest.”
That’s the model of the life for which I strive.
When I look in the eye the man in this picture, I do not struggle to see the naturalist amazed by the world which encompassed him. Thoreau’s is a face (and beard) that matched his intellectual pursuits. More difficult to see is the man who was known and loved, frustrated at dinner parties by people too eager to speak, who felt lost in over-crowded streets, and looked about the world with keen perception and a lack of ambition. Those are the things, 150 years later, I relate to. So he lacked ambition? Oh well. He still was always, as Emerson says, “the captain of a huckleberry party.”