Well, had I known what awaited me in the next chapter of Walden, I wouldn’t have gone on and on about how poorly-versed I am in the classics. Now I feel like a complete illiterate!
“The heroic books, even if printed in the character of our mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate times; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and line, conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits out of what wisdom and valor and generosity we have.”
Thoreau goes on to discuss the virtues of the classics. He equates reading the classics with actually making acquaintance with their authors.
“For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed … I aspire to be acquainted with wiser men than this our Concord soil has produced, whose names are hardly known here. Or shall I hear the name of Plato and never read his book? As if Plato were my townsman and I never saw him–my next neighbor and I never heard him speak …”
He has answered my questions, and more, he inspired me! Not just to wade through the classics rather than to skim them, but to bathe in them. Perhaps the skimming may be a means to an end. To be honest with myself, I must see that the goal is not to read, but to understand.
“The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and heart of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.”
I have asked my questions and Thoreau has answered them. I feel as though I have spoken with the man.
“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!”