Henry David Thoreau and Henry James: Dwelling on Nothing
In class we spent some time talking about Thoreau’s idea of practicing yoga, being a yogin, and his response to Blake about being lonely; “No, I am nothing”. While reading through James’s letters letter 47 to his brother William James reminded me of Thoreau’s ideas about wisdom and breaking yourself from conventional life and the cycle of suffering. In this letter James tells his brother William James and is talking about the fast pace of London life.
When it comes to the point, in giving any account of London days & London doings, one hardly knows where to begin, I suppose this is a proof that such days are full, such doings numerous, & that if one could, by a strong effort detach one’s self from them & look at them as objectively, as a person living quite out of it & far away from it like yourself would do – there would be many more things worth dwelling upon than one falls here into the way of seeing (James pg 107).
It seems that he is saying that when he tries to describe life in London, he doesn’t know where to begin, and that’s proof that the days are full, but if you could remove yourself from the city you could think of much better things to do.
“To dwell on nothing, indeed, comes to be here one’s desire as well as one’s habit – & half the facts of London life are tolerable only because they exist to you just for the moment of your personal contact with them” (James pg 1070). James seems to be saying that to dwell on nothing is ideal, and that the reason why some of the inconveniences of city life are tolerable is because we only think about it in the moment we encounter the inconvenience. James’s idea of nothing does not seem to match up with Thoreau’s and sounds more self-centered. Thoreau seemed to believe that to “be nothing” you had to remove yourself from everything that was unnecessary and surround yourself in more eternal things like the nature.