His letter to her and those which follow were written from Emerson’s house, where Thoreau lived as a younger brother during the master’s absence across the ocean. It was in the orchard of this house that Alcott was building that summer-house at which Thoreau, with his geometrical eye, makes merry in the next letter.
II. THOREAU TO EMERSON IN ENGLAND.
CONCORD, November 14, 1847.
DEAR FRIEND, — I am but a poor neighbor to you here, — a very poor companion am I. I understand that very well, but that need not prevent my writing to you now. I have almost never written letters in my life, yet I think I can write as good ones as I frequently see, so I shall not hesitate to write this, such as it may be, knowing that you welcome anything that reminds you of Concord. I have banked up the young trees against the winter and the mice, and I will look out, in my careless way, to see when a pale is loose or a nail drops out of its place. The broad gaps, at least, I will occupy. I heartily wish I could be of good service to this household. But I, who have only used these ten digits so long to solve the problem of a living, how can I? The world is a cow that is hard to milk, — life does not come so easy, — and oh, how thinly it is watered ere we get it! But the young bunting calf, he will get at it. There is no way so direct. This is to earn one’s living by the sweat of his brow. It is a little like joining a community, this life, to such a hermit as I am; and as I don’t keep the accounts, I don’t know whether the experiment will succeed or fall finally. At any rate, it is good for society, so I do not regret my transient nor my permanent share in it.
Lidian [Mrs. Emerson] and I make very good housekeepers. She is a very dear sister to me. Ellen and Edith and Eddy and Aunty Brown keep up tragedy and comedy and tragic-comedy of life as usual. The two former have not forgotten their old acquaintance; even Edith carries a young memory in her head, I find. Eddy can teach us all how to pronounce. If you should discover any rare hoard of wooden or pewter horses, I have no doubt he will know how to appreciate it. He occasionally surveys mankind from my shoulders as wisely as ever Johnson did. I respect him not a little, though it is I that lift him up so unceremoniously. And sometimes I have to set him down again in a hurry, according to his “mere will and good pleasure.” He very seriously asked me, the other day, “Mr. Thoreau, will you be my father?” I am occasionally Mr. Rough-and-tumble with him that I may not miss him, and lest he should miss you too much. So you must comeback soon, or you will be superseded.
Alcott has heard that I laughed, and so set the people laughing, at his arbor, though I never laughed louder than when I was on the ridgepole. But now I have not laughed for a long time, it is so serious. He is very grave to look at. But, not knowing all this, I strove innocently enough, the other day, to engage his attention to my mathematics. “Did you ever study geometry, the relation of straight lines to curves, the transition from the finite to the infinite? Fine things about it in Newton and Leibnitz.” But he would hear none of it, — men of taste preferred the natural curve. Ah, he is a crooked stick himself. He is getting on now so many knots an hour. There is one knot at present occupying the point of highest elevation, — the present highest point; and as many knots as are not handsome, I presume, are thrown down and cast into the pines.