Thoreau, Hold the Joe

Noble and wise, Henry David Thoreau also could be irascible, judgy, and temperamental. In Walden, we learn why: a conspicuous absence of coffee. Take his list of supplies:

  • Rice….. $ 1.73½
  • Molasses….. 1.73     Cheapest form of the saccharine.
  • Rye meal….. 1.04¾
  • Indian meal….. 0.99¾     Cheaper than rye.
  • Pork….. 0.22
  • Flour….. 0.88  Costs more than Indian meal, both money and trouble.
  • Sugar….. 0.80
  • Lard,………………..  0.65
  • Apples….. 0.25
  • Dried apple….. 0.22
  • Sweet potatoes….. 0.10
  • One pumpkin….. 0.06
  • One watermelon….. 0.02
  • Salt….. 0.03

It’s no error. The list is meticulous, down to the quarter-penny (1.04 3/4 for rye meal; a nickel less for Indian meal).

Indeed, there are but eleven references to coffee in the entire 106,000-word treatise on his two-year, two-month, two-day experiment in “living simply.”

Twice he references a coffee-mill in the house he buys for spare parts ($4.25); three times it is the chosen beverage of a Canadian woodchopper working the woods nearby (He was a great consumer of meat, usually carrying his dinner to his work a couple of miles past my house,—for he chopped all summer,—in a tin pail; cold meats, often cold woodchucks, and coffee in a stone bottle which dangled by a string from his belt). Thrice more, in the context of his hardscrabble Irish immigrant neighbor.

And of the three remaining, I share only this:

I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man; wine is not so noble a liquor; and think of dashing the hopes of a morning with a cup of warm coffee, or of an evening with a dish of tea! Ah, how low I fall when I am tempted by them!

Sad, noble philosopher-poet! Ye knew not what was good for you.

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