Henry David Thoreau on Books Being the Treasured Wealth - Athletezy Facebook Pixel

“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”

“The book exists for us, perchance, which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones.”

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) is one of his era’s most beloved and prolific writers – a sage of wisdom how to live life to fullest and a master of defiance; a man as unafraid to be rebellious as he is to wise. In his Walden or Life In The Woods, which was first published in 1854, and it details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, and expressly a piece on reading, Thoreau quotes 18th century Persian poet Mir Camar Uddin Mast to describe his feeling of reading:

“Being seated, to run through the region of the spiritual world; I have had this advantage in books. To be intoxicated by a single glass of wine; I have experienced this pleasure when I have drunk the liquor of the esoteric doctrines.”

Thoreau discerns accretion of possessions versus pursuit of truth, which separates mortal and immortal, and eliminates worry of future, he writes:

“In accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change nor accident.”

Henry_David_Thoreau

Thoreau reflects that his circumstance was advantageous for reading and influence of books and further, he believes that what was once written is hardly just replicated over time:

“My residence was more favorable, not only to thought, but to serious reading, than a university; and though I was beyond the range of the ordinary circulating library, I had more than ever come within the influence of those books which circulate round the world, whose sentences were first written on bark, and now merely copied from time to time on to linen paper.”

Author’s encouragement is to search for meaning in the written word, as he is dissatisfied with modern media not concluding the gap and bringing us closer to beauty and gems of ancient times, Thoreau writes:

“The heroic books, even if printed in the character of our mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate times; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and line, conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits out of what wisdom and valor and generosity we have. The modern cheap and fertile press, with all of its translations, has done little to bring us nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity.”

Thoreau further describes that in order to truly understand classics, the adventurous student will do so in language the original work was written:

“Men sometimes speak as if the study of the classics would at length make way for more modern and practical studies; but the adventurous student will always study classics, in whatever language they may be written and however ancient they may be.”

[…]

“To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem.”

He disapproves reading for purpose solely for convenience; he believes reading should be for higher purpose and betterment of oneself:

“The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind, for only great poets can read them. They have only been read as the multitude read the stars, at most astrologically, not astronomically. Most men have learned to read to serve a paltry convenience, as they have learned to cipher in order to keep accounts and not be cheated in trade; but of reading as a noble intellectual exercise they know little or nothing; yet this only is reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tip-top to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours to.”

Walden and Reading is a sublime read in its entirety – the kind that enters the soul like a deep breath and remains there as an eternal exhale. If you can’t get enough of Thoreau, complement it with more complete Walden, Solitude, Where I lived and What I lived For or controversial On Duty Of Civil Disobedience.