“Trumpery” — Thoreau talks about stuff (Walden 36)

“If you are a seer, whenever you meet a man you will see all that he owns, ay, and much that he pretends to disown, behind him, even to his kitchen furniture and all the trumpery which he saves and will not burn, and he will appear to be harnessed to it and making what headway he can… I look upon England today as an old gentleman who is travelling with a great deal of baggage, trumpery which has accumulated from long housekeeping, which he has not the courage to burn; great trunk, little trunk, bandbox, and bundle. Throw away the first three at least.” — Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” Walden

It’s all about stuff, as comedian George Carlin reminds us in this famous routine:

“That’s all your house is,” Carlin says, “it’s a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”

I think of that whenever I move. I hope not to have to move again — by this point in our lives my wife and I simply have too much stuff. When we got married, relatives brought our stuff to our new apartment in pickups. When we moved to a house we rented a moving van and loaded it ourselves and with the help of family. The time after that we hired professional movers, who came with an eighteen-wheeler. We’ve tried to find houses that will fit our nice dining room table, the one that was a real bargain when we bought it. In our home shopping we rejected a number of older houses because the closets were too small. Why did they make closets so small in the old days?

Less trumpery back then, Henry says. I thought the English had lots of it, but that’s only because I never met twenty-first century Americans.

We’ve read far enough into the book to know that Henry isn’t concerned only with literal stuff. “Trumpery” can also be ideas, traditions, beliefs, expectations — all the unexamined stuff that accumulates in our individual heads, and in our collective ones.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)


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