In most men’s religion the ligature which should be its muscle and sinew is rather like that thread which the accomplices of Cylon held in their hands, when they went abroad from the temple of Minerva, the other end being attached to the statue of the goddess. But frequently, as in their case, the thread breaks, being stretched, and they are left without an asylum.
I have experienced such simple joy in the trivial matters of fishing and sporting, formerly, as might inspire the muse of Homer and Shakespeare. And now, when I turn over the pages and ponder the plates of the “Angler’s Souvenir,” I exclaim with the poet, -
“Can such things be,
And overcome us like a summer’s cloud?”
The prophane never hear music; the holy ever hear it. It is God’s voice, the divine breath audible. Where it is heard, there is a sabbath. It is omnipotent; all things obey it as they obey virtue. It is the herald of virtue. It passes by sorrow, for grief hangs its harp on the willows.
I am living this 27th of June, 1840, a dull, cloudy day and no sun shining. The clink of the smith’s hammer sounds feebly over the roofs, and the wind is sighing gently, as if dreaming of cheerfuler days. The farmer is plowing in yonder field, craftsmen are busy in the shops, the trader stands behind the counter, and all works go steadily forward. But I will have nothing to do; I will tell fortune that I play no game with her, and she may reach me in my Asia of serenity and indolence if she can.
When I read Cudworth I find I can tolerate all, - atomists, pneumatologists, atheists, and theists, - Plato, Aristotle, Leucippus, Democritus, and Pythagoras. It is the attitude of these men, more than any communication, which charms me. It is so rare to find a man musing. But between them and their commentators there is an endless dispute. But if it come to that, that you compare notes, then you are all wrong. As it is, each takes me up into the serene heavens, and paints earth and sky. Any sincere thought is irresistible; it lifts us to the zenith, whither the smallest bubble rises as surely as the largest.
The river is unusually high, owing to the melting of the snow. Men go in boats over their gardens and potato-fields, and all the children of the village are on tiptoe to see whose fence will be carried away next. Great numbers of muskrats, which have been driven out of their holes by the water, are killed by the sportsmen.
They are to us instead of the beaver. The wind from over the meadows is laden with a strong scent of musk, and by its racy freshness advertises us of an unexplored wildness. Those backwoods are not far off. I am affected by the sight of their cabins of mud and grass, raised four or five feet, along the river, as when I read of the Pyramids, or the barrows of Asia.
The same sun has not yet shined on me and my friend, - He would hardly have to look at me to recognize me - but glimmer with half-shut eye, like some friendly distant taper when we are benighted. - I do not talk to any intellect in nature, but am presuming an infinite heart somewhere - unto which I play - Nature has many rhymes, but friendship is the most heroic of all.
I discover a strange track in the snow, and learn that some migrating otter has made across from the river to the wood, by my yard and the smith’s shop, in the silence of the night. - I cannot but smile at my own wealth, when I am thus reminded that every chink and cranny of nature is full to overflowing. - That each instant is crowded full of great events. Such an incident as this startles me with the assurance that the primeval nature is still working and makes tracks in the snow.
It is my own fault that he must thus skulk across my premises by night. - Now I yearn toward him - and heaven to me consists in a complete communion with the otter nature.
Mere innocence will tame any ferocity.
He travels a more wooded path, by water-courses and hedgerows - I by the highway - but though his tracks are now crosswise to mine, our courses are not divergent, but we shall meet at last.
Commonly we use life sparingly, we husband it as if it were scarce, and admit the right of prudence; but occasionally we see how ample and inexhaustible is the stock from which we so scantily draw, and learn that we need not be prudent, that we may be prodigal, and all expenses will be met.