Keep Up with the Essay One Paragraph at a Time
A New Feature (Almost) Every Friday
July 1, 2022
by Henry David Thoreau
“I trust that none will stretch the seams in putting on the coat...”
—Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau began his masterpiece, Walden, on the Fourth of July, and each year around that date we celebrate with a feature on him. It is also the birthdate of our 246-year old American democracy and of this humble website which is now entering into its eighth year. In this year’s feature I use a well-known paragraph from Thoreau's essay “Economy” to ponder my website’s name.
The Paragraph of the Week
...In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me. Perhaps these pages are more particularly addressed to poor students. As for the rest of my readers, they will accept such portions as apply to them. I trust that none will stretch the seams in putting on the coat, for it may do good service to him whom it fits.
—Henry David Thoreau
I have often wondered why I call this website The Humble Essayist since I am not a particularly humble person and thoroughly subscribe to Thoreau’s idea that “it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking.” After seventy-three years of living with him it is true that I do not know anyone else as well as myself, though, humans being inscrutable, I only have a dim notion of who he is. It is the last part of this paragraph in Walden, though, that seems clarifying. It is a “distant land” that we must travel for one person to reach another if we are honest about our unfathomable selves. So, is it arrogant to make the attempt? Some that we reach may be malleable, the “poor students” of life who stretch to fill our clothes as they grow into them. Others who are more stubbornly themselves must pick and choose what fits. But when we write honestly about ourselves, we strip down to our secret lives in the humble faith that we can connect and “none will stretch the seams” in trying on our words.
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Cover Reveal: The Beloved Republic
I'm excited about the cover for my next book to be published by Wandering Aengus Press at the beginning of 2023. It is based on an idea that runs through the collection of essays that the universe does not follow straight lines and was created from a photograph by my daughter-in-law, Namrata Harvey.
Learn more at my author site here.--SH
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Announcement: The Beloved Republic
I am pleased to announce that my fourth collection of personal essays called The Beloved Republic won the Wandering Aengus Press nonfiction award and will be published early in 2023. Thanks to the Press for this honor.
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Folly Beach, my newest book, is a personal essay about easing fears of mortality and loss through creativity, certainly a message for our frightening times. It never loses sight of the inevitable losses that life brings, but doesn't let loss have the last word. In the face of the grim, Folly Beach holds up the human capacity to create as our sufficient joy.
“In a world of loss, creativity is the best revenge.”
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You can learn more about the recent work of Steven Harvey at his author's page here.
We at The Humble Essayist are in love with the paragraph, that lowliest of literary techniques. A sentence stands out as a noble thing: a complete thought. But what is a paragraph? And what, in particular, is a good one? You know it when you read it--that is our article of faith. So on Friday of each week, beginning on Independence Day 2014, the very day 169 years earlier that Henry Thoreau moved to Walden Pond, we will select a single paragraph from an essay or a reflective memoir and print it here along with a paragraph of commentary. We will choose paragraphs that are surprising, beautifully written, and, above all, thematic--illuminating the author's comment on life. Each paragraph of the week is, in short, a concise review of the writer's work. We hope that this page will introduce you to many exciting authors and their ideas.
The Humble Essayist thanks Clipartpal for the public domain artwork of "The Old Man Reading" that is the logo for the site.