What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 16

Steelers win. Oh, well. Thoreau's first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, did not sell. It was a Cardinals loss-like failure. From The Thoreau You Don't Know, by Robert Sullivan:

After A Week, Thoreau owed $300 to the publishers, easily
several years’ income for him. To get out of debt, Thoreau manufactured a large order of pencils. (Thoreau and his family were well-known pencil makers.) However, in the time that he had been at the pond, the pencil market had been flooded with less expensive high-quality German pencils. Thoreau was forced to sell his pencils at a loss. He tried next to sell cranberries in New York; again, he misplayed the market. Finally he had handbills printed, advertising himself locally as a surveyor, a profession he would first use to clear his immediate debt and subsequently rely on for the rest of his life for income and for allowing him to see all of Concord and its environs at once more closely and more profitably. He took the copies of A Week himself, moving them into his parents’ house, 706 copies out of 1,000. “They are something more substantial than fame, as my back knows,” he wrote, “which has borne them up two flights of stairs to a place similar to that to which they trace their origin.” Thoreau could be haughty, of course, but he certainly knew how to be self-deprecating. “I now have a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself,” he wrote to a friend.

And yet the failures of A Week cleared the way for Walden, the way he’d cleared the brambles from his land at the pond in order to grow beans. In some way, A Week, the elegy, was about finding a way to nature, or a life based on some higher truth, but in A Week Thoreau never actually accesses nature—it’s a travelogue that never goes anywhere. “We were always passing some low inviting shore or some overhanging bank, on which, however, we never landed.” He had forgotten a lot of the lessons he learned while in New York about writing commercially. With Walden, he would attempt to access nature more directly and, in so doing, find a way to live better. Sometimes writers have to write things to exorcise them. With A Week, Thoreau had gotten his pure Transcendentalism out of his system. As it happened, A Week ends on a Friday, a smooth sail, the week ready to begin again. (Thoreau especially enjoyed this section, and referred to it on his deathbed.) Now Thoreau was set to begin again, or yet again. One of the things he discovered while writing A Week was that he wanted to delve deeper into the idea of nature as salvation, as opposed to Christ. “I feel that I draw nearest to understanding the great secret of my life in my closest intercourse with nature,” he wrote. He had gotten all mystical, living at the pond, at the same time that he had become more obsessed with transcribing the actual: the details of tree rings, the levels of rivers. His two year-stint at Walden pond had brought him to the definition of what he might have called a good life: “A life of equal simplicity and sincerity with nature, and in harmony with her grandeur and beauty.”

PS: Thoreau went to Harvard. (Library of Congress photo.)

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 15

You have to believe that, at this point, with less than 3 minutes to go and the Cardinals having come from behind and now Pittsburgh looking like they are coming from behind, Thoreau could possibly be out of his mind with excitement. It's a great game.

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 14

You have to ask yourself, if you are Thoreau and you are live bloggin', and you now have a little more hope for Arizona to come back, now that they are only 6 down, what's the best commercial? If you are pretending you are Thoreau and live bloggin' you have to like the careerbuilder ads, even if the best single line was a promo for the Conan O'Brien show ("If you have a Conan lasting for more than four hours, call a doctor"--or whatever it was that Tina Fey said in the Conan O'Brien promo). You have to like the careerbuilder ads because they so relate to Thoreau. People think, Thoreau: nature, trees, birds, etc. But it's really, Thoreau: the nature of work, the ecology of our lives--how are we living if we are living only for one thing, work? Career was not really a word used for what we today call career before Thoreau, as can be seen in this illustration from the Oxford English Dictionary--a list of the years in which the career as we knows it begins to appear. After Thoreau, career becomes a word and, sadly, it begins to gain on the word life, the way the Cardinals seems to be gaining on the Steelers.

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 13

We are in the fourth quarter, at the 10, first down and goal, 20 Pittsburgh, 7 Arizona. The question here is: would Thoreau be interested in a game that is so measurement intense, given that he made his living as a surveyor, as you can see if you visit the Concord Public lirabry, which is where this image of one of his surveys can be found?

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 12

Trying to figure out what is happening in the game--i.e., trying to get a good view of the game...

from here

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 11

Back from the half. Live blogging the Super Bowl as if Thoreau were living blogging the Super Bowl is tiring--I feel like the mass of men. Speaking of which, Thoreau's brother and sister left Concord to work in factory towns, where the money was:

Library of Congress photos

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 10

Bruce and Pete seeger sang the verses that people never sing--the most Thoreauvian verses, if you think in terms of Thoreau's interest in what a community might have in common--when he accompanied Pete Seeger at the President Obama's Inaugural Ball:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
For more see this at truthout.org. And the video...

Meanwhile, Bruce!

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 9

That was a 100 yard touchdown. Thoreau liked to walk but he took the train more than people imagine--no big deal for him. When he walked to Boston, while in school at Harvard, he walked to save some money. He also had to take off from school for a while to make money for tuition. Don't get me wrong. he liked to walk and walked every day, but why wouldn't he have taken the train? He wasn't an idiot. Speaking of idiots, how can you ask a coach of a team who just lost the ball and got hit with a huge touchdown what happened. That reminds me of what Thoreau is said to have said to Emerson when Emerson heard he was in jail, protesting the war against Mexico. (This is not a true story, since it didn't happened, but it speaks to the Thoreau-Emerson relationship which was strained to say the least, kind like the relationship between the coach who is losing and the reporter who says, to paraphrase, why did you blow it?)
Emerson: What are you doing in there?
Thoreau: What are you doing out there?

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 8

How did we get to Arizona from Pittsburgh? When Thoreau was writing, people were moving of town, the suburbs beginning, Concord an early suburb. Farmers were selling their farms. Trains were suddenly everywhere; thousands of miles of tracks laid down in the space of a decade. The west opened up via train travel, and new roads were built to get products to farther away markets. By the early nineteen hundreds, cars appeared, first as occasional touring vehicles, and then as a means of travel.

The railroad first brought tourists to Arizona, to see the ancient civilizations of America--i.e., Native Americans. As more people got more cars, train vacation became car vacations. By the end of World War II, the state roads were turned into an interstate highway system, and roads became not for occasional use but for everyday use, to connect the suburbs that Thoreau saw the beginnings of. In the 1970s and 80s, the South became a suburb of the North. At least that's how Thoreau might see it, if it were the end of the first half and Arizona just made an interception (I think) and he had just finished a beer and was starting a second. (Library of Congress photo.)

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 7

Thoreau never got West of Minnesota! Even though he really wanted to!!!
And he turned down an offer to go to Rome!!!

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 6

Football, of course, was not yet happening when Thoreau was alive. Baseball was just about to begin. As the author of The Thoreau You Don't Know noted in a book about rats, entitled Rats, baseball replaced a sport that was big in cities at the time--cities being suddenly populated by the Irish immigrants that Thoreau lived at Walden Pond, and in Concord (they came to work on the railroad). Here is a gratuitous rat fight illustration:

Rat fights were popular in all the big cities that Thoreau visited and lecture and worked in--NYC, Boston and Philly.

More from James Dabney McCabe, writing in "Secrets of the Great City" (1868), on http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com:

"Rats are plentiful along the East River, and Burns has no difficulty in procuring as many as he desires. These and his dogs furnish the entertainment, in which he delights. The principal room of the house is arranged as an amphitheatre. The seats are rough wooden benches, and in the centre is a ring or pit, enclosed by a circular wooden fence, several feet high. A number of rats are turned into this pit, and a dog of the best feral stock is thrown in amongst them. The little creature at once falls to work to kill the rats, bets being made that she will destroy so many rats in a given time. The time is generally 'made' by the little animal. . . . "

A gratuitous mention of a great rat song, the great rat song, by Casey Neill and the Norway Rats: click on Holy Land here.

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 5

Speakking of Super Bowl parties, the Thoreau family was party family. I would point to evidence but food is coming up here at the What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl Super Bowl Party.

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 4

If Thoreau were me, he would be more into the commercials by now, because the commercials in antebellum America were all about jocular word play--a phrase that feels right to say if you are living blogging about Thoreau and the Super Bowl.

From the Thoreau You Don't Know:
In the year that Thoreau lived at the pond, the Concord Freeman ran an advertisement, by E. Gunnison, the village cleaner: “To Dye, or not to Dye,” it said, adding, ”he is yet alive, though often dyeing! And is ready to dye for anyone who may need his services in the DYEING ART.”

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 3

Well, maybe it's a little like that. Thoreau lived in a time of bad economics, depressions, recessions. Though finally his family business took off, he spent most of his life freaked out about money. (Emerson was even more freaked out, but Emerson would not have watched the Super Bowl, whereas Thoreau would have. This I believe.) Thoreau needed the dough to write. I don't know much about Dylan's current cash situation. Maybe he needs the dough too.

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl, 2

OK, Dylan doing a Super Bowl commercial. Is that like Thoreau working for a developer, which Thoreau did? No, not really.

What if Thoreau Live Blogged the Super Bowl

If Thoreau live blogged the Super Bowl, he might just be getting his beer when the Steelers got the first touchdown. The beer might be from New England. It's not clear that he never drank. He threw an annual watermelon party in Concord, and there are mentions of there being wine there. In fact, a summer watermelon party is to Nineteenth Century Concord what a Super Bowl party is to Twenty-first Century America, maybe.