May 2, 2011

Bread that nourished the brain and the heart

Writing to a friend on May 2, 1848, Henry David Thoreau theorized what humanity needs to sustain itself:

"We must have our bread." But what is our bread? Is it baker's bread? Methinks it should be very home-made bread... Man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow... I have tasted but little bread in my life... Of bread that nourished the brain and the heart, scarcely any.

Bread, Thoreau says, varies based on the person: a laborer and a scholar sustain themselves on different types of bread. In the letter, he also tells his friend he has moved:

I do not write this time at my hut in the woods. I am at present living with Mrs. [Lidian] Emerson, whose house is an old home of mine, for company during Mr. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson's absence.

Thoreau first moved into Bush, as the Emerson family called the home, in 1841. There, he served as a handyman and companion to the Emerson children. After his two years at Walden Pond, as early as September 1847, he moved back and stayed through July 1848 (with the exception of that night he spent in jail). During that period, Ralph Waldo Emerson toured through Europe, mostly England, Scotland, and Ireland. Thoreau and Lidian Emerson built a particularly close friendship during this time. While in Europe, Mr. Emerson wrote to his friend Thoreau: "It is a pity that you should not see this England, with its indescribable material superiorities of every kind." Upon his return, Thoreau found Emerson a changed man and soon their friendship dissolved. Thoreau referred to their friendship as a cherished flower, "till one day my friend treated it as a weed."

*This letter is collected in Letters to a Spiritual Seeker (2005) edited by Bradley P. Dean. See also The Cambridge Companion to Henry David Thoreau (1995).

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