WHAT’S THE NEWS?
By Henry David Thoreau
To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip.
There was such a rush, as I hear, the other day in one of the offices to hear the foreign news by the last arrival that several large squares of plate glass belonging to the establishment were broken by the pressure—news which I seriously think a ready wit might write a twelvemonth or twelve years beforehand with sufficient accuracy.
As for Spain, for instance, if you know how to throw in Don Carlos and the Infanta, and Don Pedro and Seville and Granada, from time to time in the right proportions—they may have changed the names a little since I saw the papers—and serve up a bull fight when other entertainments fail, it will be true to the letter, and give us as good an idea of the exact state or ruin of things in Spain as the most succinct and lucid reports under this head in the newspapers.
And as for England, almost the last significant scrap of news from that quarter was the Revolution of 1649 and if you have learned the history of her crops for an average year, you never need attend to that thing again, unless your speculations are of a merely pecuinary character.
If one may judge who rarely looks into the newspapers, nothing new does ever happen in foreign parts, a French revolution not excepted.
What news! How much more important to know what this is which was never old!
“Kieou-he-yu (great digniary of the State of Wei) sent a man to Khoung-tseu to know his news. Khoung-tseu caused the messenger to be seated near and questioned him in these terms: ‘What is your master doing?’
The messenger answered with respect: ‘My master desires to diminish the number of his faults, but he can not come to the end of them.’ The messenger being gone, the philosopher remarked: ‘What a worth messenger! What a worthy messenger!’”
The preacher, instead of vexing the ears of drowsy farmers on their day of rest at the end of the week—for Sunday is the first conclusion of an ill-spent week, an not the fresh and brave beginning of a new one—with this one other draggle-tail of a sermon should shout with thundering voice: “Pause! Avast! Why so seeming fast, but deadly slow?”
Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets.
Excerpted from Models for Study, Funk & Wagnalls, 1911