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Autumn (1892) Thoreau/Preface



With the present volume, the four seasons, as they are represented in Thoreau's journal, are nominally completed, though but a part of the Spring and Summer has been given, and much has been omitted in all the four volumes printed.

As I have said before, my own interest in the journal is in the character and genius of the writer, rather than in any account of the phenomena of nature. According to Thoreau's own view, such a journal is, in the strictest sense, an autobiography. "Our thoughts," he says, "are the epochs in our lives; all else is but as a journal of the winds that blew while we were here." And again in this volume, under October 21, 1857, "Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal? We do not wish to know how his imaginary hero, but how he the actual hero, lived from day to day." As the "Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers," though describing a voyage very limited as to time and distance, yet from its intermingling of thought with loving observation and poetic description seems a far-reaching journey, so these oft-repeated walks and boating excursions in and about Concord, to Fair Haven, the Cliffs, Conantum, etc., abound in more genuine life, more of the true spirit of travel, than the most varied adventures of ordinary travelers in distant lands. One may have visited other continents, and yet never gone so far.

In continuing to publish these volumes, I feel sure of an eager and earnest company of readers, though not a very large one. I have also the satisfaction of discharging a duty which seemed to devolve upon me by inheritance, thus making better known a life which has been to me for so many years of the deepest interest, which in the hurry and rush of our present civilization is certainly well worth attending to, a life which, however partial, as every finite life must be, points so clearly and steadily towards the highest ideal. Here was a young man, with a liberal education and little or no pecuniary means, who on entering the world determined not to throw obstacles in the way of his true life by attempting to earn such a living and such a position as the usages of society set before him. The cheerful serenity which appears in his writings, as it did in his manners and conversation, shows how successful was this plan for him,—how with simple wants and in obscurity he enjoyed the wealth of the world. He knew early, with little experience, through the intimations of his genius, how false the aims of society are; that real success is not in proportion to the property and distinction one acquires, but to the degree in which he finds heaven here upon earth, though this idea was not expressed by him in the language of religion. Many persons talk in this way, listen approvingly to such preaching, but fall in with the current. The remarkable thing about this man is that though not a church-goer, not caring for the institutions of religion, he yet regarded it as the clear dictate of wisdom thus to make the most of life, and acted upon his conviction. In view of these things, the charge of egotism and selfishness will at once spring to the lips of many. But probably few of us know better than he did, that an unworthy self-regard is fatal to the object he had in view.

"Renounce joy for my fellow's sake? That's joy
Beyond joy."

Though deeply interested and sometimes active in the cause of human freedom, he commonly took little part in works of philanthropy and reform. Had he done otherwise, we should probably have lost from his character somewhat of that strong personal element which, though more quiet in its operation than associated schemes of reform, is doubtless the most powerful influence in the progress of mankind.