ON THOREAU’S ESSAY ON WALKING
(Rodrigo Peñaloza, Sep. 2015)
“Methinks it would be some advantage to philosophy if men were named merely in the gross, as they are known. It would be necessary only to know the genus and perhaps the race or variety, to know the individual. We are not prepared to believe that every private soldier in a Roman army had a name of his own, — because we have not supposed that he had a character of his own.” — Henry David Thoreau, Essay on Walking.
In his Essay on Walking, Thoreau makes an apology for the wilderness in a man’s character, his eagerness for the unknown and unsameness in all of us. What is it to take a walk in our neighborhood? What does it mean for a peregrine to ambulate to the Holy Land, erring without losing his intuition about the right direction? With this simple motto-questions, he dives into our search for new things and new worlds, just like the settlers who went westwards in the Americas into unknown wilderness only to make themselves better men than before. We have always been told that knowledge would free us. However, there is in ignorance something beautiful that will also free us. Freedom lies in knowledge as much as it does in ignorance. He corroborates it with the scientific fact that even minerals need their share of darkness to counterbalance the effect of daylight on their complexion. He also remembers that Greeks understood it likewise when they attributed order and beauty to the world. Let us face our ignorance, let us walk into the unknown cosmos within. What is the advantage in naming men in the gross, just like cows are collectively called herd? Maybe it is the only way to shake us up. He starts this advice with the expression “methinks”, as if he were a wild native American trying to speak English without realizing the differences between syntactical rôles of pronouns. It is a symbol of anything outside the sameness of urban society. That advice could not come from anyone’s mouth than a savage’s. A savage is born with no name. His name is conquered, it is given by what others see in him, by that aspect of his character that most impresses the eyes of his fellows. He will be named Intrepid if he is intrepid.