Sunday, December 13, 2009

More holiday cheer from Thoreau

While I was typing the entry from Thoreau's journals that closed my most recent post, I noticed two others on the facing page that I can't resist sharing. In their juxtaposition of the serious and the silly, they give a nice sense of the many pleasures to be found in the book.

First, as our Puritan upbringing teaches us, we will be serious:
December 26, 1858
Call at a farmer's this Sunday afternoon, where I surprise the well-to-do masters of the house lounging in very ragged clothes (for which they think it necessary to apologize), and one of them is busy laying the supper-table (at which he invites me to sit down at last), bringing up cold meat from the cellar and a lump of butter on the end of his knife, and making the tea by the time his mother gets home from church. Thus sincere and homely, as I am glad to know, is the actual life of these New England men, wearing rags indoors there which would disgrace a beggar (and are not beggars and paupers they would could be disgraced so?) and doing the indispensable work, however humble. I am glad to find that our New England life has a genuine human core to it; that inside, after all, there is so little pretense and brag.
I'm impressed (and entertained) by the way that Thoreau recasts a moment of embarrassment as an indication of the essential goodness and simplicity of New Englanders--and at the same time I love the little glimpse this entry gives of the social awkwardness we sense underlying much of Thoreau's work. It can't always have been easy to know him, can it? "He will pop up, won't he?" I can imagine the lady of the house above muttering to her husband as he swings wide the front door.

And now for the silly, from two days later:
December 28
Aunt Jane says that she was born on Christmas Day, and they called her a Christmas gift, and she remembers hearing that her Aunt Hannah Orrock was so disconcerted by the event that she threw all the spoons outdoors, when she had washed them, or with the dishwater. . . .
Better the spoons with the dishwater than the baby with the bathwater, I suppose.

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