First Encounters: Early European Accounts of Native America

European voyagers and colonists began writing reports on their ventures. They especially wrote about the land because that is what they wanted to colonize and use for profit. The Native peoples soon became an immense curiosity. Anthropology, as various scholars have argued, was created in the expansion of Europe to the West after 1492. Writings of initial contact between Europeans and Native Americans are often called “First Encounter” writings. European ideology allowed no place either for this other hemisphere or the peoples that dwelled in it. They wondered why Indians weren’t mentioned in the bible. Descriptions of Indians led Europeans to question what were essential human traits.
Common themes were greed, vulnerability, jealousy. European incursions soon became major factors in the economic, political, medical, and cultural life of tribal groups. The sheer geographical range of the phenomenon was enormous. Colonizers took advantage of existing group grudges between the natives. That Hudson’s crew exploited not only weaponry but also liquor as tools for dealing with the Natives reveals the unscrupulous methods often employed by their successors. Much land and people were destroyed. Empire is always implicit or explicit in these texts.
One similarity between explorers Hudson and Champlain is the amount of violence that accompanied their penetration into Native lands. It is crucial to put early American violence into a proper historical context. It occurred on both sides, although European apologists often sought to blame it on Native resistance or what they soon were describing as the inherent “savagery” of the Native peoples. The Iroquois had been carrying out aggressive warfare against other Native peoples, including those of eastern Canada, when the European powers first ventured into that part of the continent. They therefore were much feared and much resisted.
Even without European involvement, intertribal wars in this region could be bloody and widely destructive. However, it is also clear that the coming of Europeans into Native regions exacerbated pre-existing tensions. The presence of Europeans deepened and sharpened Native-on-Native violence. Furthermore, the Europeans not only caused an escalation of Native violence, but also brought their own traditions of bloody warfare with them. Native Americans of the conquest period typically waged war in a restrained, even ritualized, manner as compared with Europeans. But in conveying the Native perception that English warfare was evil because it killed too many people, Underhill provided evidence of the savagery of which European settlers were capable.

Bartolomé De Las Casas: 1474-1566 A Modern European

Concerned with Native American rights. Las Casas recognized Columbus’s seizure of seven Taino Indians as “the first injustice committed in the Indies” but in the moment, had no time to reflect upon the implications of what was occurring.  Las Casas and his writings were the chief source regarding what happened on the island after Columbus. As a young priest, he participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a while he owned slaves, but later gave them up and became a critic of Spanish cruelty. He was to write of his moral blindness in this period, noting that he “went about his concerns like the others, sending his share of Indians to work fields and gold mines, taking advantage of them as much as he could.” He transcribed Columbus’s journals and began to write his own History of the Indies. After becoming a priest, he began to reconsider the slave system as unchristian and began to urge others to give up their slaves. The Spanish government made him “protector of the Indians” and gave him permission to start a peaceful colony on the coast of Venezuela. At one point he thought that Indian slaves should be replaced by African slaves, but after seeing what it did to both the Indians and the Africans, he changed his mind. He wrote of the Indians regarding marriage, religion, trading and all the atrocities placed upon the subjugated. His peaceful colony failed as atrocities in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Peru began to grow. In 1537 the Pope forbade all further enslavement. This was followed by Emperor Charles V making New Laws of the Indies which gave Native Americans full protection of the courts and outlawed slavery.
Las Casas’s most famous writings was An Account, Much Abbreviated, of the Destruction of the Indies: On the Island Hispaniola (1552). This work details the destruction visited on Native Americans by conquistador and colonizer in pursuit of wealth. In his own time. Las Casas was widely accused of treason and endured charges of heresy. Having the work translated into many languages gave Spain’s enemies ammunition of Spain’s sins against America.
When he arrived in Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, “there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it…”

From An Account, Much Abbreviated, of the Destruction of the Indies
On the Island Hispaniola
This was the first land in the New World destroyed and depopulated by the Christians. Subjugation of women and children—taking them away from the men. The Christians always wanted more than the Indians gave; they ate too much. The Indians began to understand that these new people were not good. They began to hide food, family members, or leave the area. The Christians intimidated everyone until they were up to the nobles of the village. One noble Indian’s wife was raped in front of him by a Christian colonizer. It was difficult for the Indians to fight back because their weapons were so basic. Las Casas goes into extremely gory detail regarding what the colonizers did to babies, children, pregnant women and men. If the Indians succeeded in killing a Christian, the colonizers would vow to kill 100 of them in pay-back for the one.

The Spaniards brought two million captives to Hispaniola to work the mines. The rich land began to die along with the people working the mines. On the slave ships the Spanish would only bring enough for the crew to eat while the captives would starve. They would dump any dead bodies over the side. Other ships did not even use maps to travel between islands; they’d just follow the trail of dead Indian bodies to the next island. The captives would arrive on Hispaniola practically dead. The colonizers would get mad about paying for slaves already practically dead.
Pearl workers had to dive all day to scrape oysters from the bottom of the ocean floor. They would be beaten on the surface of the water if they acted tired. The divers are fed terrible food and chained at night so they can’t escape. They are eaten by sharks or die of exhaustion and dissipation.

 

Christopher Columbus: 1451-1506

Born near the Mediterranean port of Genoa. Wanted to find a commercially viable Atlantic route to Asia, and in 1492 won the support of the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, for this “enterprise of the Indies.” Series of four voyages between 1492 and 1504 provided a brief period of wonder followed by disaster and disappointment. Taino Indians of Hispaniola were the first to find trouble with the settlers Columbus left behind. When Columbus returned to see the progress of the new settlers there were none left. He tried to begin a second settlement here but it fell into such disarray that he was forced to return to Spain to clear his name of charges set against him by other Europeans in the West Indies. On his third voyage he found South America. When he returned again to Hispaniola, he found Spanish settlers there who were against Columbus. He felt he could only solve this problem by allowing the Spaniards to enslave the Tainos while he himself was sent back to Spain in chains to answer to more charges. His last voyage, in order to clear his name, resulted in a long period of suffering in Panama and shipwreck in Jamaica and a mental breakdown. He was eventually rescued and returned to Europe where he died. The West Indies remained disorderly and bloody. A letter sent by Columbus to Luis de Santangel, a royal official and early supporter of his venture, provides a more authentic account and served as the basis for the first printed description of America, issued in 1493 in Spain and widely translated and reprinted across Europe.

The Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians of the mainland: remarkable for their hospitality and their sharing. Columbus wrote in his journal:

“They… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

Another entry:

“As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”

The information Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? Like other states of the modern world, Spain sought gold which was more powerful than land since it could buy anything. For finding gold, Spain promised Columbus a ten percent cut of the profits, governorship of the new found lands and the title of Admiral of the Ocean Sea. He was headed to Asia but never would have made it – he thought the world was smaller. The first one to sight land was to get a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life. The first man to sight land was named Rodrigo, but Columbus claimed he saw land first and took the prize.

When the Santa Maria ran aground in Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and Dominican Republic), Columbus used the wood to build a fort, the first military base in the Western Hemisphere. He left thirty-nine crew members there. As the weather turned cold on the route back to Spain the Indian prisoners began to die.
Columbus’s report to the Court in Madrid was extravagant. He insisted he had reached Asia (it was Cuba) and an island off the coast of China (Hispaniola). His descriptions were part fact, part fiction. Because of Columbus’s exaggerated report, he was given more ships and men for his next expedition; (17 ships and 1,200+ men). Their aim was clear: slaves and gold. As word of their intentions spread, Columbus’s gang found more and more empty villages. When he returned to his first military outpost he found all his men dead. The Indians killed them because the men roamed the island taking women and children for labor and as sex slaves.

Because the expedition could find no gold in Haiti they sent as many Indian slaves back as possible. There was a problem with many of the Indians dying in route or during their captivity; the pressure was intense for Columbus to send back something of value. All slaves on the island over the age of 14 were commanded to find a certain amount of gold every three months. They would get a copper ring for every three month allotment of gold. If a slave was found without a copper ring they would cut the Indian’s hands off and allow them to bleed to death. There was not enough gold to find so most slaves fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed. The Arawaks could not fight the Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords and horses. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. When no more gold came in, the Indians were herded into large labor estates called encomiendas. By 1650 all of the Indians of the island had died.

from Letter to Luis de Santangel Regarding the First Voyage
[At sea, February 15, 1493]

I found many islands in the Indies and have taken possession of them in your name. I was met with no opposition and so began naming the islands. I found an infinity of small hamlets and people without number, but nothing of importance. I took some of the Indians who told me this space was only an island, but it was fertile and limitless with harbors, rivers, highlands, sierras, mountains, trees, flowers, fruit, birds, palms, plants, honey, metals and cultivatable lands.

from Select Documents Illustrating the Four Voyages of Columbus (1930-33)
Letter of Discovery (1493)
Sir, you will be pleased at my great victory. In thirty-three days, I passed from the Canary Islands to the Indies. I found very many islands filled with people innumerable, and of them all I have taken possession for their highnesses, by proclamation made and with the royal standard unfurled, and no opposition was offered to me. I named many islands along the way. I saw no habitation along the coast, so I sent a couple men inland. They found an infinity of small hamlets and people without number, but nothing of importance. I understood sufficiently from other Indians, whom I had already taken, that this land was nothing but an island. I named this island Espanola [Haiti] which, along with the others, is very fertile to a limitless degree. Many harbors, rivers, sierras and very lofty mountains. This island is filled with thousands of different kinds of trees; some of them were flowering, some bearing fruit. There are birds of a thousand kinds. They have cultivatable lands, honey, a diversity of fruits, mines of metals and a population without number. Espanola is a marvel. The land is rich for planting and sowing, for breeding cattle of every kind and for building towns and villages. Great harbors, good waters, the majority of which contain gold. Many spices. All go naked. They have no iron or steel or weapons. They are very marvellously timorous. They have no other arms than weapons made of canes. As soon as they have seen my men approaching they have fled, even a father not waiting for his son. Where I have been and been able to have speech, I have given to them of all that I had, such as cloth and many other things, without receiving anything for it; they are incurably timid.
The people are so guileless and so generous with all they possess. They never refuse anything which they possess, if it be asked of them. They invite anyone to share what they have and display love. Some of my men began to trade things of no value for things of immense value. It seemed wrong, so I told them to stop. These people may eventually become Christians. They strive to aid us and to give us of the things which they have in abundance and which are necessary to us. They all believe that power and good are in the heavens, and they are very firmly convinced that I, with these ships and men, came from the heavens. They are of a very acute intelligence and are men who navigate all those seas.
And as soon as I arrived in the Indies, in the first island which I found, I took by force some of them, in order that they might learn and give me information of that which there is in those parts, and so it was that they soon understood us, and we them, either by speech or signs, and they have been very serviceable. I still take them with me, and they are always assured that I come from Heaven, for all the intercourse which they have had with me and they were the first to announce this wherever I went, and the others went running from house to house and to the neighboring towns, with loud cries of, ‘Come! Come to see the people from Heaven!’ So all, men and women alike, when their minds were set at rest concerning us, came, so that not one, great or small, remained behind, and all brought something to eat and drink, which they gave with extraordinary affection. In all the island, they have very many canoes which they use for getting quickly from island to island.
In all these islands, I saw no great diversity in the appearance of the people or in their manners and language. On the contrary, they all understand one another, which is a very curious thing, on account of which I hope that their highnesses will determine upon their conversion to our holy faith, towards which they are very inclined. In this Espanola there are mines of gold. There will be great trade and gain. I have taken possession of a large town and in it I have made a fort. I have left in it sufficient men with arms, artillery and provisions for more than a year. We’ve made great friendship with the king of that land who treats me like a brother. The island is without danger for their persons, if they know how to govern themselves.
In all these islands, it seems to me that all men are content with one woman, and to their chief or king they give as many as twenty. It appears to me that the women work more than the men. In that which one had, all took a share, especially of eatable things. The whole population is very well-formed with flowing hair. They eat meats with many and extremely hot spices. We heard reports of cannibals from another island. In another, larger than Espanola, the people have no hair and gold incalculable. I bring Indians from there as evidence. Their highnesses can see that I will give them as much gold as they may need, if their highnesses will render me very slight assistance. We can get spices and cotton, mastic and aloe wood, slaves, rhubarb and cinnamon. I should have done much more, if the ships had served me, as reason demanded.

[Postscript]
He writes that, due to weather, he had to take shelter for a couple of weeks in Portugal, which he calls “Lisbon.” This made Spain suspicious, as Portugal was an enemy of Spain.

From Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella Regarding the Fourth Voyage
[Jamaica, July 7, 1503]

Paria was the mainland region of what is now Venezuela. Columbus, who had first landed in South America in 1498, argued that the terrestrial paradise lay nearby. It seems that everyone here is an expert at destruction. I pray your highnesses before I went to discover these islands and Terra Firma, that you would leave them to me to govern in your royal name. You gave me wide power over this and over all that I might further discover. Now all, down to the very tailors, seek permission to make discoveries. It can be believed that they go forth to plunder, and it is granted to them to do so, so that they greatly prejudice my honor and do very great damage to the enterprise. After I, by the divine will, had placed them under your royal and exalted lordship, and was on the point of securing a very great revenue, suddenly, while I was waiting for ships to come to your high presence with victory and with great news of gold, being very secure and joyful, I was made a prisoner and with my two brothers and was thrown into a ship, laden with fetters, stripped to the skin, very ill-treated, and without being tried or condemned. Please side with me and back me up. I pray Your Highnesses to pardon me. I am so ruined as I have said.

Literature before 1820: Stories of the Beginning of the World

 

The versions found in the Norton Anthology date from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These written narratives are transcriptions or translations of oral stories whose origins long precede such transcription. Second, the Iroquois and Pima narratives present a worldview that contrasts markedly with the worldview the colonizers brought with them. They serve as representations of early Native American culture.
Literary culture and history can be presented as something changeful, alive, and available to all who read patiently and in good faith. These writings reflect the “importance of balance among all elements.”
Readings bring us into a recognition that other cultures were present, active, and imaginatively engaged at the time of European settlement. The American experience was being looked at passionately, and from many perspectives, as European and native cultures encountered one another.
Creation stories help assure people who they are because the stories attempt to describe where they came from. Native American creation stories were never written down or collected, but they are equal to the functions of Genesis for Christians who read the bible. They offer perspective on what life is and how to understand it. All Native peoples have stories of their earliest times. These stories were not understood or transcribed until the mid-to-late nineteenth century, and they were written by Euro-Americans. This time was also when the Native Americans began to extensively record their myths and legends.

The Iroquois Creation Story

Spend some time in close reading to help fully understand the human sensibility in these texts. Patience and comfort with uncertainty are required of all mature readers who seek to move across time, landscape, and large cultural barriers. Pull help from the head notes and introductory materials.
We can scrutinize the differences between these Native American creation myths and accounts from other cultures. These Native American stories do not enforce a distinction between the Creator and world created. These stories do not talk about a world somewhere else; the world spoken of is a world that is right here, to be gazed on and known firsthand as the tale is told again and again.
These differences matter because we have to then acknowledge certain habits of mind, habits of imagining and telling, that are culturally contingent and yet rarely recognized by us as paradigms, as ways of organizing not just experience, but also our narratives about experience.
It is helpful to create a visual “map” or interpretive sketch of the events of the Iroquois Creation Story. The woman who conceived begins in the “upper world” but falls to the “dark world,” where “monsters” collect enough earth to make a seat for her, on which she gives birth to the twins: the good mind and the bad mind. The twins transform the earthen seat, the Great Island that the monsters have created for the woman who fell, into a world that begins to resemble a world of humans rather than of mythical people; indeed, the story ends with the twins retiring from the earth, as the creation has been accomplished. There are three “generations” of beings: the original parent (the woman who fell from the sky), the twins (one of whom, the good mind, creates the earth and, by deceiving the bad mind, sets in motion the “nature of the system” we know as the world), and the first people with souls (who come to inhabit the universe).
The Iroquois Creation Story is only one variant of a story whose main elements may be relatively fixed but whose details change in its communal and participatory retelling. Communal participation results from viewing creation as a process of descent rather than as a one-time construction in a single god’s image.
Compare to the Book of Genesis. Descent in the Iroquois story suggests a process of creation rather than the completed act of a single creator; the woman who fell from the sky may have become parthenogenetically pregnant, thereby linking the origins of the world to women (or to an asexual being capable of parthenogenesis) rather than to a patriarchal god (note that the Iroquois were matrilineal); and the monsters in the “dark world” are benign compared with the devils that inhabit Western conceptions of hell, and these monsters actually help the falling woman give birth. The good twin creates “two images of the dust of the ground in his own likeness,” unlike the single male image the Western god creates in Genesis, where the female image is later created from a rib of the male.
One could make a list of the characters in the myth and try to determine each one’s particular contribution, without which the creation would not be complete. While a Western narrative might suggest that the woman who fell from the sky and the good twin are “central” characters, the Iroquois story highlights the importance of the other characters and the interdependence of all. The turtle, for example, who offers to endure the falling woman’s weight and who enlarges to become an island of earth is essential to the origin of the world, as are the contrivances of the bad twin, without whom we would not have mountains, waterfalls, reptiles, and the idea that even the good twin’s powers are limited (as are those of humans). This suggests that there is no human agency without help from a variety of participants and that all creative powers must know their limits. If possible, read Wiget’s beautiful interpretation of the story of the woman who fell. He says, in part, that the Earth-Diver is the story of the Fortunate Fall played out against a landscape more vast than Eden and yet on a personal scale equally as intimate. It is a story of losses, the loss of celestial status, the loss of life in the depths of the sea. But it is also the story of gifts, especially the gift of power over life, the gift of agriculture to sustain life, and the gift of the vision to understand man’s place as somewhere between the abyss and the stars.

Pima Stories of the Beginning of the World

Two prevalent themes in Native American creation myths: the “woman who fell from the sky” and the “emergence” of the world. One of the images that distinguishes the emergence narrative, connecting the Pima myth to it, is Juhwertamahkai poking a hole in the sky with his staff and emerging through this hole into another dimension, where he begins his act of world creation anew. Some scholars have suggested that this movement is a metaphor for the numerous migrations of Native American peoples, and that these myths may implicitly record those migrations. In discussing this story, students might try some comparisons, locating similarities and differences between Iroquois and Pima myths and among other Native American and Western versions of “genesis.” Unlike the Judeo-Christian tradition, which favors one story of origin, Native American traditions offer many creation stories, as if this wide and fecund world required many exploits to get it going.
In the Pima, as in Genesis, the world begins “in the beginning” with a person who floated in the darkness; in Genesis, the spirit of God hovers over the darkness. Even so, recognizing the perils of the transcription is crucial to “reading” the opening of this story, for the language of the English transcription itself echoes the language of Genesis—and those echoes could have been wished for by the English-speaking translator as much as inherently there in the original text. Later on the story ceases to resemble Genesis. Indeed, Juhwertamahkai makes several mistakes in the process of creating the world. Unlike the Western god, whose destruction of the world by flood is blamed on human behavior, Juhwertamahkai takes a trial-and-error approach to creation, starting over or letting the sky fall each time the creative act sets in motion a process that will not sustain life. As the headnote points out, he makes the world four times before he is satisfied with his creation, establishing the number four (corresponding to north, south, east, and west) as significant in Native American cosmology.
The Pima Story of the Creation includes the birth of Coyote, the trickster of many Native American legends.
In the Pima Story of the Flood, Seeurhuh, or Ee-ee-toy, and Juhwertamahkai seem to engage in a struggle—not about creation but about recreation. This is an interesting theme and a promising basis for a conversation.

Summer Reading Part 5: Walden, or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau Chapter 3: Reading

[What better ways to spend leisure time in the woods? You know I freaked out that Thoreau dedicated an entire chapter to reading!]
“Men sometimes speak as if the study of the classics would at length make way for more modern and practical studies; but the adventurous student will always study classics, in whatever language they may be written and however ancient they may be. For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave. We might as well omit to study Nature because she is old. To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. It is not enough even to be able to speak the language of that nation by which they are written, for there is a memorable interval between the spoken and the written language, the language heard and the language read. The one is commonly transitory, a sound, a tongue, a dialect merely, almost brutish, and we learn it unconsciously, like the brutes, of our mothers. The other is the maturity and experience of that; if that is our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved and select expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be born again in order to speak” (81).
There are differences between the spoken and the written word. “No wonder that Alexander carried the Iliad with him on his expeditions in a precious casket. A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips;–not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself. The symbol of an ancient man’s thought becomes a modern man’s speech. Two thousand summers have imparted to the monuments of Grecian literature, as to her marbles, only a maturer golden and autumnal tint, for they have carried their own serene and celestial atmosphere into all lands to protect them against the corrosion of time. Books are the treasured wealth of the road and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage. They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse them. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind. When the illiterate and perhaps scornful trader has earned by enterprise and industry his coveted leisure and independence, and is admitted to the circles of wealth and fashion, he turns inevitably at last to those still higher but yet inaccessible circles of intellect and genius, and is sensible only of the imperfection of his culture and the vanity and insufficiency of all his riches, and further proves his good sense by the pains which he takes to secure for his children that intellectual culture whose want he so keenly feels; and thus it is that he becomes the founder of a family.”
One must be aware when reading a translation of the changes that occur between another language and your own.
“…reading as a noble intellectual exercise…this only is reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tip-top to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours to.
“I think that having learned our letters we should read the best that is in literature, and not be forever repeating our a-b-abs, and words of one syllable, in the fourth or fifth classes, sitting on the lowest and foremost form all our lives. Most men are satisfied if they read or hear read, and perchance have been convicted by the wisdom of one good book, the Bible, and for the rest of their lives vegetate and dissipate their faculties in what is called easy reading” (83-4). [Here, Thoreau goes into a discussion on light reading.] “The result is dullness of sight, a stagnation of the vital circulations, and a general delirium and sloughing off of all the intellectual faculties” (84).
When you read a good book there is no one to talk to about it. [This is a sensation often felt by first generation college students as they progress in their studies. The higher they go, the tighter the circle becomes regarding who will be interested in your studies. This is why classrooms and study groups are so important. In these spaces, one can what I call “use ALL your words” and discuss the depth of the text and concepts with people who have been experiencing the same thing. Once outside that bubble, the number of people interested becomes much smaller. This can make higher learning an insular process.] “One who has just come from reading perhaps one of the best English books will find how many with whom he can converse about it? Or suppose he comes from reading a Greek or Latin classic in the original, whose praises are familiar even to the so-called illiterate; he will find nobody at all to speak to, but must keep silence about it. Indeed, there is hardly the professor in our colleges, who, if he has mastered the difficulties of the language, has proportionately mastered the difficulties of the wit and poetry of a Greek poet, and has any sympathy to impart to the alert and heroic reader; and as for the sacred Scriptures, or Bibles of mankind, who in this town can tell me even their titles? Most men do not know that any nation but the Hebrews have had a scripture. A man, any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding age have assured us of;–and yet we learn to read only as far as Easy Reading, the primers and class-books, and when we leave school, the ‘Little Reading,’ and story-books, which are for boys and beginners; and our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins.
“I aspire to be acquainted with wiser men than this our Concord soil has produced, whose names are hardly know 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 or attended to the wisdom of his words. But how actually is it? His Dialogues, which contain what was immortal in him, lie on the next shelf, and yet I never read them. We are underbred and low-lived and illiterate; and in this respect I confess I do not make any very broad distinction between the illiterateness of my townsman who cannot read at all and the illiterateness of him who has learned to read only what is for children and feeble intellects. We should be as good as the worthies of antiquity, but partly by first knowing how good they were. We are a race of tit-men, and soar but little higher in our intellectual flights than the columns of the daily paper” (85-6).
Somewhere there is a book that speaks directly to your situation. “It is not all books that are as dull as their readers. There are probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we could really hear and understand, would be more salutary than the morning or the spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on the face of things for us. How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book! The book exists for us, perchance, which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered. These same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered them, according to his ability, by his words and his life. Moreover, with wisdom we shall learn liberality. The solitary hired man on a farm in the outskirts of Concord, who has had his second birth and peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he believes into silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, may think it is not true; but Zoroaster, thousands of years ago, traveled the same road and had the same experience; but he, being wise, knew it to be universal, and treated his neighbors accordingly, and is even said to have invented and established worship among men. Let him humbly commune with Zoroaster then, and through the liberalizing influence of all the worthies, with Jesus Christ himself, and let ‘our church’ go by the board” (86).
Never stop learning! Each village should have books and wise men to teach year-round whatever we want to learn.

Summer Reading Part 5: Walden, or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau Chapter Two: Where I Lived, and What I Lived For

“…for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone” (68).
“The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?”
[You may have heard the following before:]
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or it it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion” (74).
“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry” (75).
“If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence…” (77).
[I particularly like the following:]
“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things. I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts; so by the divining-rod and thin rising vapors I judge; and here I will begin to mine” (79).
OMG