Thursday, June 24, 2004


Thoreau and Huckleberries

Bill Vallicella quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson's criticism of Henry David Thoreau's interest in huckleberries rather than engineering. In Emerson's eyes it showed a disgraceful lack of ambition.

Emerson's son Edward might have disagreed with his father about the relative merits of huckleberrying and engineering. Here is an account of a Concord huckleberrying party, from Moncure Daniel Conway's Autobiography (Boston, 1904), vol. 1, p. 148:
Then there were the huckleberrying parties. These were under the guidance of Thoreau, because he alone knew the precise locality of every variety of the berry. I recall an occasion when little Edward Emerson, carrying a basket of fine huckleberries, had a fall and spilt them all. Great was his distress, and our offers of berries could not console him for the loss of those gathered by himself. But Thoreau came, put his arm around the troubled child, and explained to him that if the crop of huckleberries was to continue, it was necessary that some should be scattered. Nature had provided that little boys should now and then stumble and sow the berries. We shall have a grand lot of bushes and berries in this spot and we shall owe them to you. Edward began to smile.
This is just one of many examples of the misanthropic Thoreau's kindness and tenderness toward children. Most grownups he had given up on, but children were not yet hardened in their ways and there was still hope for them.

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