I was reading Thoreau’s essay “Walking” – which is still one of the great things – and I was amazed by the paragraph below. How in the world did he arrive at the last sentence in the paragraph? It appears to be apropos of nothing at all. Any editor would have reduced him to some intelligible line of argument – but of course he had no editor. And that it comes in an essay about wildness, about resisting all such straitjackets, even Common Sense, is just wonderful.
The wildest dreams of wild men, even, are not the less true, though they may not recommend themselves to the sense which is most common among Englishmen and Americans today. It is not every truth that recommends itself to the Common sense. Nature has a place for the wild Clematis as well as for the Cabbage. Some expressions of truth are reminiscent, others merely sensible, as the phrase is, others prophetic. Some forms of disease, even, may prophesy forms of health. The geologist has discovered that the figures of serpents, griffins, flying dragons, and other fanciful embellishments of heraldry, have their prototypes in the forms of fossil species which were extinct before man was created, and hence “indicate a faint and shadowy knowledge of a previous state of organic existence.” The Hindus dreamed that the earth rested on an elephant, and the elephant on a tortoise, and the tortoise on a serpent; and though it may be an unimportant coincidence, it will not be out of place here to state, that a fossil tortoise has lately been discovered in Asia large enough to support an elephant. I confess that I am partial to these wild fancies, which transcend the order of time and development. They are the sublimest recreation of the intellect. The partridge loves peas, but not those that go with her into the pot.