Reading Notes from Walden

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Walden Reading

Thoreau feels that his cabin is a better place to read than a university. He reads Homer's Iliad in bits and pieces through the first summer. And, he is ashamed of the light reading he does during this very busy summer growing beans and finishing the house. Along those lines, he underlines the importance of knowing Greek and Latin, so you can read the classics in their original languages. The classics are the only books worth reading. Thoreau also includes Eastern religious and philosophical works in this list, but does not talk about knowing those languages. Next, Thoreau makes a distinction between spoken and written language, and declares the superiority of the latter because it has the potential to last longer and therefore have more meaning. Providing an education to one's children, especially if you are uneducated, is like founding a family. The education allows the next generation to read the classics.

Thoreau then has a fantasy of filling a real library, like the library at Alexandria in the Roman Empire, with all the classics from all cultures - the Vedas, Zendavestas, Bibles, Homers, Dantes, Shakespeares of each culture. Unfortunately, Thoreau says, most people don't read well at all, and don't treat reading as the sacred, intellectual exercise it should be. They don't know how important it is to read anything more than the Bible, and so have no vision of alternate understandings of the world. In addition, there are many things written that, if people could understand them, could tell them important, universal truths. Unfortunately, these immortal words are lost on the inexperienced and unchallenged minds that do not know how to read in depth. To change this Thoreau believes that villages need to become centers of learning - universities for adults - which will allow reading to become sacred and valuable once again. He goes on to call for the village to become a patron of the arts.

"If we live in the nineteenth century, why should we not enjoy the advantages which the nineteenth century offers? Why should our life be in any respect Provincial?" Reading, pg. 114

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