Sunday, July 07, 2013

`Such Sweet and Wholesome Hours'

In 1842, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his new bride, Sophia Peabody, moved into the Old Manse in Concord, adjoining the battlefield. The previous occupant, Ezra Ripley, had died in the fall of 1841. On the day they moved in, July 8, the Hawthornes discovered that Thoreau, as a wedding present, had plowed and planted a new garden for the newlyweds. Ever the bachelor, Thoreau knew something about home economics. He gave a gift that mingled beauty and sustenance, the philosophical and the practical. Little more than a month later, on Aug. 13, Hawthorne writes in his journal:

“After breakfast, I go forth into my garden, and gather whatever the beautiful Mother has made fit for our present sustenance; and, of late days, she generally gives me two squashes and a cucumber, and promises me green corn and shell beans, very soon.”
The differences between the writers, Thoreau and Hawthorne, are apparent. One can hardly imagine even the callow, Transcendentally gaseous Thoreau referring to “the beautiful Mother,” and the author of Walden would seldom “go forth” anywhere, especially into his garden. Nor would he ask, as Hawthorne does in a June 23, 1843, journal entry:
“Why is it, I wonder, that Nature has provided such a host of enemies for every useful esculent, while the weeds are suffered to grow unmolested, and are provided with such tenacity of life, and such methods of propagation, that the gardener must maintain a continual struggle, or they will hopelessly overwhelm him!”
Thoreau was fond of weeds. The only exception was tobacco, which could be found growing wild around Concord and which he condemned as a “vile weed.” He understood seed propagation and the opportunistic persistence of life. In the spring of 1845, while moving into the little house he built at Walden Pond, Thoreau spent $14.72 1/2 on garden supplies. A little guiltily, he confesses the cost includes hiring a neighboring farmer and his team to handle the plowing. But Thoreau boasts he got his seed corn for free, so he reasons that his ledger book balances out. 

On Saturday, my oldest son, Joshua, married Nadia Chaudhury in a Queens venue poetically named Dante Caterers. I’ve already given them a more mundane and useful wedding gift, but wish I could replicate Thoreau’s thoughtful gesture to the Hawthornes. Instead, I’ll offer a poem praised by Charles Lamb for its “witty delicacy” – Andrew Marvell’s “The Garden,” which concludes: 

How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!”

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