previous next

[3] quotations. The sunset at Cape Cod brings a line of Homer into his memory ‘with a rush,’ as the shining torch of the sun falls into the ocean. He has words of just appreciation for Anacreon. His odes
charm us by their serenity and freedom from exaggeration and passion, and by a certain flower-like beauty, which does not propose itself, but must be approached and studied like a natural object.

Such genuine admiration for Greek genius is rare at any time, and certainly not many American hands could have been busy translating Aeschylus, Pindar, and Anacreon in the hurried forties and fifties of the nineteenth century. This large and solid academic basis for Thoreau's culture is not generally observed. His devotion to the Greeks rings truer than his various utterances on Indian literature and philosophy. Besides, he was well seen in the English classics from Chaucer downwards. A few pages of A Week yield quotations from Emerson, Ovid, Quarles, Channing, Relations des Jesuits, Gower, Lydgate, Virgil, Tennyson, Percy's Reliques, Byron, Milton, Shakespeare, Spenser, Simonides. As Lowell remarks, ‘His literature was extensive and recondite.’ The truth is, Thoreau was a man of letters, whose great ambition was to study and to write books.

During and after his college career, Thoreau taught school, like the hero of Elsie Venner. He is quite frank about this episode. ‘As I did not teach for the good of my fellow-men, but simply for a livelihood, this was a failure.’ Brief as was his apprenticeship to the schoolmaster trade, one might possibly conjecture that it left some mark upon him. The many citations of recondite literature do not escape the suspicion of parade and pedantry. There is a certain gusto with which he inserts the botanical name of a plant after the picturesque vernacular, and distinguishes between Rana palustris and Rana pipiens. In general, the tone he adopts towards the world is that of the pedagogue dealing habitually with inferior minds.

After his college days comes an episode which his biographers seem inclined to slur over, perhaps from a false sense of the dignity of biography, and that is the two years, from 25 April,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Ovid (Michigan, United States) (1)
Cape Cod (Massachusetts, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Henry Thoreau (3)
Anacreon (2)
Elsie Venner (1)
Tennyson (1)
Edmund Spenser (1)
Simonides (1)
Shakespeare (1)
Quarles (1)
Pindar (1)
Percy (1)
Milton (1)
James Russell Lowell (1)
Homer (1)
Gower (1)
R. W. Emerson (1)
Chaucer (1)
William Ellery Channing (1)
Byron (1)
Aeschylus (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
April 25th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: