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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoreau on Stoves

I've had Hawthorne here, and Emerson too, so it's got to be time for that third great New Englander.  And his recorded attitudes toward stoves are just as mixed as those of his colleagues.

First, here's a literary critic's interesting summary:

In "House-Warming"  Thoreau complains that "a small cooking-stove," acquired for the sake of economy, "did not keep fire so well as the open fireplace   . .  . [for]  the stove not only took up room and scented the house, but it concealed  the fire" (p. 174).  Behind this observation is Thoreau's vigorous protest in "Economy" against all forms of overheating, particularly overheating  through clothing and housing.  He calls attention to what might be termed the feedback of external, physical heat acting upon the inner fire, vital heat, of spirit, fostering torpor as a consequence, and injuring  the creativity of a man who has work to do.  As always, Thoreau's  ultimate plea is for the periodic return to those natural, unaccommodated  beginnings that are essential to personal growth and spiritual  renewal.

[George Monteiro, "Redemption Through Nature: A Recurring Theme in Thoreau, Frost and Richard Wilbur," American Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 4. (Winter, 1968), pp. 795-809 at p. 800,

Now for the man himself:

(A) Practical:

"According to Liebig, man's body is a stove, and food the fuel which keeps up the internal combustion in the lungs. ...

The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to keep the vital heat in us. ... The poor man is wont to complain that this is a cold world; and to cold, no less physical than social, we refer directly a great part of our ails. [Walden, p. 11.]

THE POND IN WINTER: the ice cutter who fell into the pond "was glad to take refuge in my house, and acknowledged that there was some virtue in a stove..." [Walden, p. 287.]

"When I am going out for an evening I arrange the fire in my stove so that I do not fail to find a good one when I return, tho it would have engaged my frequent attention present.  So that, when I know I am to be at home, I sometimes make believe that I may go out, to save trouble.  And this is the art of living, too, -- to leave our life in a condition to go alone, and not to require a constant supervision.  We will then sit down serenely to live, as by the side of a stove." [Journal, Vol. 1, p. 71, 20 Feb. 1841.]

[On his trip to Canada in the Fall of 1850] p. 61 "They had, as //p. 62 usual, a large, old-fashioned, two-storied box stove in the middle of the room, out of which, in due time, there was sure to be forthcoming a supper, breakfast, or dinner. The lower half held the fire, the upper the hot air, and as it was a cool Canadian evening, this was a comforting sight to us. Being four or five feet high it warmed the whole person as you stood by it. The stove was plainly a very important article of furniture in Canada, and was not set aside during the summer. Its size, and the respect which was paid to it, told of the severe winters which it had seen and prevailed over." [Henry D. Thoreau, Excursions (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1893),

Canadian Stove --
John Holland, A Treatise on the Progressive Improvement & Present State of the
Manufactures in Metal, Vol. II: Iron and Steel
(London: Longman, Rees, Orme,
Brown Green & Longman, 1833),  p. 185,
(B) Romantic and Sentimental:
The luxuriously rich are not simply kept comfortably warm, but unnaturally hot; ... they are cooked, of course a la mode. [Walden, p. 12 -- i.e. the problem is excess.]

An unclean person is universally a slothful one, one who sits by a stove, whom the sun shines on prostrate, who reposes without being fatigued. [Walden, p. 215 -- i.e. the problem is idleness rather than comfort per se.]

[HOUSE WARMING] "The next winter I used a small cooking-stove for economy, since I did not own the forest; but it dd not keep fire so well as the open fire-place.  Cooking ws then, for the most part, no longer a poetic, but merely a chemic process.  It will soon be forgotten, in these days of stoves, that we used to roast potatoes in the ashes, after the Indian fashion.  The stove not only took up room and scented the house, but it concealed the fire, and I felt as if I had lost a companion.  You can always see a face in the fire.  The laborer, looking into it at evening, purifies his thoughts of the dross and earthiness which they have accumulated during the day.  But I could no longer sit and look into the fire..." [Walden, p. 248.]

"The bells are particularly sweet this morning. ... How much more religion in their sound, than they ever call men together to!  Men obey their call, and go to the stove-warmed church, tho God exhibits himself to the walker in a frosted bush to-day, as much as in a burning one to Moses of old.

... What a good word is 'flame,' expressing the form and soul of fire, lambent with forked tongue!  We lit a fire to see it rather than to feel it, it is so rare a sight these days.  To have our eyes ache once more with smoke! ... Fire is the most tolerable third party. [Journal, Vol. 1, p. 511, 2 Jan. 1853.]

I deal so much with my fuel, -- what with finding it, loading it, conveying it home, sawing and splitting it, -- get so many values out of it, am warmed in so many ways by it, that the heat it will yield when in the stove is of a lower temperature and a lesser value in my eyes, -- though when I feel it I am reminded of all my adventures. [Journal, Vol. 2, p. 18, 9 Nov. 1855.]


Henry D. Thoreau, The Journal of Henry D. Thoreau, ed. Bradford Torrey and Frances H. Allen (New York: Dover Publications, 1962), Vol. 1 (orig. vols I-VII, 1837-Oct. 1855) and 2 (orig. vols. VIII-XIV, Nov. 1855-1861),

Henry D. Thoreau, Walden: An Annotated Edition, ed. Walter Harding (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995),

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