This proves that the essay was written during the summer of 1840; for the allusion here is to the extraordinary sight of the gravest citizens of Concord, in that summer,—Squire Brooks and Major Barrett, and possibly even Squire Hoar among them,—turning out to roll a huge ball, emblematic of the popular movement against President Van Buren, from the battle-ground of Concord to that of Bunker Hill; singing as they rolled:
"It is the Ball a-rolling on
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too."
This passage occurs in the "Morals," and in those singular "Romaika" or Roman questions, which, to the number of 113, the Chæronean sage undertook to answer. This particular question is, "Why Omens that are called Sinister, in taking the Auspices are reckoned Favorable?" After giving various conjectures in answer to this grave query, Plutarch says, Ἤ τὰ ἐπίγεια καί Θνητὰ τοῖς οὐρανίοις καὶ Θείοις ἀντικεῖσθαι νρμίζοντες, ᾤοντο τὰ πρòς ἡμᾶς ἀριστερὰ, τοὺς θεοὺς ἀπò τῶν δεΣιων προπέμπειν;
That is, "Perhaps 't was because men think that earthly and mortal things lie opposite to heavenly and divine things; and thus conjecture that the gods send forth from their right hands what to us is on the left hand." Thoreau takes the passage from the old version of Dryden's day, since edited by Professor Goodwin, with an Introduction by Emerson. The citation shows with what thoroughness the young philosopher read Plutarch. Indeed, the style is colored by his Greek studies.
Greece was much in Thoreau' s thoughts at this period. In some verses of about this date he said of it,
I thank the gods for Greece,
That permanent realm of peace;
For as the rising moon, far in the night,
Chequers the shade with her forerunning light,
So in my darkest hour my senses seem
To catch from her Acropolis a gleam.
This also is apparently taken from the old version of Plutarch's "Morals."
From which of the splendidly rhetorical writers of the Stuart period is this quotation? Possibly from Jeremy Taylor, but more likely from Sir Thomas Browne, of whom Thoreau had so high an opinion that he told me in his last illness that he thought Emerson would stand, a century or two hence, as Browne did then, in the spring of 1862.
The suggestion of a crusade so often found in this essay is explained by the frequent study made at that time by historians and novelists of the Christian crusades. Godfrey is Tasso's hero, and Gonsalvo the Spanish champion against the Moors.