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Excursions contains the complete texts of nine of Thoreau’s most popular essays. These include Natural History of Massachusetts, his first essay to appear in The Dial (a quarterly periodical edited by Margaret Fuller), as well as other well known early works like A Winter Walk and The Landlord. Later works include his famous essays Walking, Autumnal Tints and Wild Apples, the last of which was based on a lecture he gave during the Concord Lyceum’s 1859-1860 season and was published in the Atlantic Monthly after his death.
285 pages, with a reading time of ~4.5 hours (71,279 words), and first published in 1863. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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Summer and winter our eyes had rested on the dim outline of the mountains in our horizon, to which distance and indistinctness lent a grandeur not their own, so that they served equally to interpret all the allusions of poets and travellers; whether with Homer, on a spring morning, we sat down on the many-peaked Olympus, or, with Virgil and his compeers, roamed the Etrurian and Thessalian hills, or with Humboldt measured the more modern Andes and Teneriffe. Thus we spoke our mind to them, standing on the Concord cliffs.–
With frontier strength ye stand your ground, With grand content ye circle round, Tumultuous silence for all sound, Ye distant nursery of rills, Monadnock, and the Peterboro’ hills; Like some vast fleet, Sailing through rain and sleet, Through winter’s cold and summer’s heat; Still holding on, upon your high emprise, Until ye find a shore amid the skies; Not skulking close to land, With cargo contraband. For they who sent a venture out by ye Have set the sun to see Their honesty. Ships of the line, each one, Ye to the westward run, Always before the gale, Under a press of sail, With weight of metal all untold. I seem to feel ye, in my firm seat here, Immeasurable depth of hold, And breadth of beam, and length of running gear.
Methinks ye take luxurious pleasure In your novel western leisure; So cool your brows, and freshly blue, As Time had nought for ye to do; For ye lie at your length, An unappropriated strength, Unhewn primeval timber, For knees so stiff, for masts so limber; The stock of which new earths are made, One day to be our western trade, Fit for the stanchions of a world Which through the seas of space is hurled.
While we enjoy a lingering ray, Ye still o’ertop the western day, Reposing yonder, on God’s croft, Like solid stacks of hay. Edged with silver, and with gold, The clouds hang o’er in damask fold, And with such depth of amber light The west is dight, Where still a few rays slant, That even heaven seems extravagant. On the earth’s edge mountains and trees Stand as they were on air graven, Or as the vessels in a haven Await the morning breeze. I fancy even Through your defiles windeth the way to heaven; And yonder still, in spite of history’s page, Linger the golden and the silver age; Upon the laboring gale The news of future centuries is brought, And of new dynasties of thought, From your remotest vale.
But special I remember thee, Wachusett, who like me Standest alone without society. Thy far blue eye, A remnant of the sky, Seen through the clearing or the gorge, Or from the windows on the forge, Doth leaven all it passes by. Nothing is true, But stands ‘tween me and you, Thou western pioneer, Who know’st not shame nor fear, By venturous spirit driven, Under the eaves of heaven, And can’st expand thee there, And breathe enough of air? Upholding heaven, holding down earth, Thy pastime from thy birth, Not steadied by the one, nor leaning on the other; May I approve myself thy worthy brother!
At length, like Rasselas, and other inhabitants of happy valleys, we resolved to scale the blue wall which bound the western horizon, though not without misgivings, that thereafter no visible fairy land would exist for us. But we will not leap at once to our journey’s end, though near, but imitate Homer, who conducts his reader over the plain, and along the resounding sea, though it be but to the tent of Achilles. In the spaces of thought are the reaches of land and water, where men go and come. The landscape lies far and fair within, and the deepest thinker is the farthest travelled.
At a cool and early hour on a pleasant morning in July, my companion and I passed rapidly through Acton and Stow, stopping to rest and refresh us on the bank of a small stream, a tributary of the Assabet, in the latter town. As we traversed the cool woods of Acton, with stout staves in our hands, we were cheered by the song of the red-eye, the thrushes, the phoebe, and the cuckoo; and as we passed through the open country, we inhaled the fresh scent of every field, and all nature lay passive, to be viewed and travelled. Every rail, every farm-house, seen dimly in the twilight, every tinkling sound told of peace and purity, and we moved happily along the dank roads, enjoying not such privacy as the day leaves when it withdraws, but such as it has not profaned. It was solitude with light; which is better than darkness. But anon, the sound of the mower’s rifle was heard in the fields, and this, too, mingled with the lowing kine.