Thoreau Saw Everything: From the Memoirs of Julian Hawthorne
In this brief selection from the Memoirs of Julian Hawthorne, we get a glimpse of Henry David Thoreau’s extraordinary depth of attention, his singular curiosity and impartiality, and his endless pursuit of nature ‘with mystery at both ends of it.’ Like Goethe, he wanted to know “the innermost weave of the world, witness its dynamic and creation.”
Once, when I was nearly seven years old, Thoreau came to the Wayside to make a survey of our land, bringing his surveying apparatus on his shoulder. I watched the short, dark, unbeautiful man with interest and followed him about, all over the place, never losing sight of a movement and never asking a question or uttering a word. The thing must have lasted a couple of hours; when we got back, Thoreau remarked to my father: “Good boy! Sharp eyes, and no tongue!” On that basis I was admitted to his friendship; a friendship or comradeship which began in 1852 and was to last until his death in 1862.
In our walks about the country, Thoreau saw every thing, and would indicate the invisible to me with a silent nod of the head. The brook that skirted the foot of our meadow was another treasure-house which he discovered to me, though he was too shy to companion me there; when he had given me a glimpse of Nature in her privacy, he left me alone with her …. [and] on a hot August day, I would often sit, hidden from the world, thinking boy thoughts.
I learned how to snare chub, and even pickerel, with a loop made of a long-stemmed grass; dragon-flies poised like humming-birds, and insects skated zigzag on the surface, casting odd shadows on the bottom …. Yes, Thoreau showed me things, and though it didn’t aid me in the Harvard curriculum, it helped me through life.
Truly, Nature absorbed his attention, but I don’t think he cared much for what is called the beauties of nature; it was her way of working, her mystery, her economy in extravagance; he delighted to trace her footsteps toward their source …. He liked to feel that the pursuit was endless, with mystery at both ends of it ….