National Geographic : 1920 Feb
WINTER RAMBLES IN THOREAU'S COUNTRY BY HERBERT W. GLEASON AUTHOR OF "THROUGH THE YEAR WITH THOREAU" With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author "I have traveled a great deal in Concord."-THoREAU. T HE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHY IC ITAGA ZINE being pre-eminently a maga zine of travel, it is not inappro priate to call the attention of its readers to the journeyings of one of the most original, observant, and wholly entertain ing travelers whom the continent of America has produced. To be sure, his travels did not cover a very wide field. geographically: they consisted chiefly of daily walks afield or boating trips on the river to various points in his imme diate neighborhood; yet they resulted in giving to his name a higher place in the temple of fame than that of many an other who has roamed the seven seas and encompassed the ends of the earth. Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, a little more than a century ago, and, with the excep tion of a few brief and unimportant ex cursions away from home, his entire life of forty-five years was spent within the confines of his native town. So far, however, from lamenting this as a misfortune, he actually gloried in the supposed limitation. "It takes a man of genius," he declared, "to travel in his own country, in his native village; to make any progress between his door and his gate. If a man is rich and strong any where," he confided to his journal, "it must be on his native soil. Here I have been these forty years, learning the lan guage of these fields that I may the better express myself. PREFERRED HIS OWN VILLAGE To THE PROUDEST PARIS "If I should travel to the prairies, I should much less understand them, and my past life would serve me but ill to de scribe them. Many a weed here stands for more of life to me than the big trees of California would if I should go there." Somebody once suggested to him a trip to Paris. But why should he go to Paris? "It would be a wretched bargain to ac cept the proudest Paris in exchange for my native village. At best, Paris could only be a school in which to learn to live here, a stepping-stone to Concord, a school in which to fit for this university." "TIIE ONLY TRAVEL THAT IS GOOD" And so he records his solemn convic tion: "If these fields and. streams and woods, the phenomena of nature here, and the simple occupations of the inhab itants should cease to interest and inspire me, no culture or wealth would atone for the loss." "My feet forever stand On Concord fields, And T must live the life Which their soil yields." Now, all this, of course, is at a wide remove from commonly accepted ideas, and many a Cook's tourist will smile superciliously on reading this pronuncia mento of a confirmed stay-at-home. Yet Thoreau never meant to disparage for eign travel, as such. Indeed, from his own account it may fairly be assumed that his familiarity with the best books of travel far exceeded that of most peo ple of his time, and certainly few people of any time have possessed, both by na ture and training, a keener appreciation of the advantages which travel brings. He was simply trying to enforce, in somewhat vigorous fashion, the truth that to a man with receptive mind and studi ous purpose there is to be found in his immediate environment a richness of ex perience and a depth of satisfaction which cannot be had in diffuse wanderings, however extended. "Only that travel is good," he claimed, "which reveals to me the value of home and enables me to en joy it better."