Book Notes Visitors Notes from Walden

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Walden Visitors

"I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society. When the visitors came in larger and unexpected numbers there was but the third chair for them all, but they generally economized the room by standing up. It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain. I have had twenty-five or thirty souls, with their bodies, at once under my roof, and yet we often parted without being aware that we had come very near to one another." Visitors, pg. 135

Topic Tracking: Intellectual Space 3

Thoreau begins this chapter by stating his need to be farther away from a visitor once they began a conversation together. When they had "big thoughts" during these conversations, they needed space for the thoughts. It was sometimes necessary to put the pond in between two people during a conversation. Besides which, real "intimate society" comes with silence and space. You can only be truly close to someone when you are silent together. In fact, Thoreau even has a withdrawing room - instead of a drawing room - in the pine forest behind his house that has infinitely more space.

On the subject of visitors and hospitality, Thoreau never offers dinner when he has a lot of visitors. He doesn't even mention it, because to talk about it would only have drawn attention to a lack of food in the house for which there was no solution. He tells the story of the early Massachusetts governor Edward Winslow meeting the Massassoit Indians for territory discussions during the winter. The tribe was only able offer one fish for the whole tribe. No one mentioned the lack of food, they simply ate what they could. Winslow was furious, but didn't realize that no one mentioned the lack of food to call attention to it - otherwise it would have become a much larger issue. In this way they did not distract from the business at hand.

Thoreau had many visitors in the woods - more than he ever had while living in town, but they came only for more serious and earnest business. It was a natural selection of visitors at Walden.

One frequent visitor was the Canadian woodchopper, Aleck Therien. Thoreau was impressed by his simplicity, and the fact that he worked only for his board, because he didn't feel the need for any more. In addition, Aleck was very skillful, but not a slave to his work. He was "genuine and unsophisticated," almost a child in his manners. He was simple in his thought, trusting, and not in the least bit introspective, even when Thoreau asked him introspective questions. Thoreau tried many times to engage him in intellectual thought, but Aleck had never considered the things Thoreau asked about, and had no interest in beginning to do so. He did not speculate, and did not have a spiritual life. However, his honesty, character, and genuine love for his work and surroundings impressed Thoreau a great deal.

"He suggested that there might be men of genius in the lowest grades of life, however permanently humble and illiterate, who take their own view always, or do not pretend to see at all; who are as bottomless even as Walden Pond was thought to be, though they may be dark and muddy." Visitors, pp. 141-42

At the beginning of April many more visitors began to show up, just as things began to move and migrate. Among these visitors were people from the poorhouse, and the pauper, who was "deficient in intellect," but who Thoreau thought to be in better shape than many people who were much smarter, because he knew and told the truth. There was also a runaway slave, whom he helped to hide and pass on along the underground railroad.

However, Thoreau noticed that many people (mostly men) were unwilling and unable to enjoy their time at the pond because they had to accomplish something. They couldn't simply "improve their time" by observing their surroundings, like many of the children and women who came simply to be by the pond. He felt that there were many people also who were afraid to be away from the safety of the town and their doctor, among other comforts. Thoreau feels that that's ridiculous, you have to take risks and live, or there's no point.

There were also some curious people who came and snooped around in his house because they couldn't understand him or what he was doing. One woman even checked to see how clean his sheets were!

Topic Tracking: Water 3

Mostly, they disguised their curiosity by asking for a drink of water. Thoreau always directed them to drink from the pond.

All in all, he decided he liked the old men and children who came out for a walk on Sundays the best, and would always call hello to them.

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