Too pure to have a market value (Walden 143)

What would happen if you found a great and perfect diamond, a jewel of such stunning beauty that it would surely command a huge price at auction… but, let’s say that by some magic it’s impossible for you or anyone else to take possession of it. No one can buy or sell the diamond. No one can take it away or hide it. And it rests in a spot where no one can prevent people from looking at it. It is beyond commerce and can provide no one with power or profit. What happens next?

I think what happens is that over time most people forget about it. Because the Unobtainable Diamond can have no market value, most people would cease to think of it as having any value. Oh, they might admire it if they happened to pass by, but since anyone could look at it at any time, most people wouldn’t even bother to go out of their way to see it. In today’s reading Thoreau writes:

“White Pond and Walden are great crystals on the surface of the earth, Lakes of Light. If they were permanently congealed, and small enough to be clutched, they would, perchance, be carried off by slaves, like precious stones, to adorn the heads of emperors; but being liquid, and ample, and secured to us and our successors forever, we disregard them, and run after the diamond of Kohinoor. They are too pure to have a market value; they contain no muck. How much more beautiful than our lives, how much more transparent than our characters, are they! We never learned meanness of them.”

“Meanness” in its older sense means stinginess, the opposite of generosity. Wealth that can be owned is subject to meanness. Wealth that can’t be owned is mostly subject to indifference. Had Henry lived in a later day he might’ve worried about private landowners building lake homes around the ponds and putting up fences to keep everyone else out, but during his lifetime the ponds themselves were about as free and open as the stars in the sky.

“Nature has no human inhabitant who appreciates her. The birds with their plumage and their notes are in harmony with the flowers, but what youth or maiden conspires with the wild luxuriant beauty of Nature? She flourishes most alone, far from the towns where they reside. Talk of heaven! ye disgrace earth.”

(End of chapter: “The Ponds”)

(About  “A Year in Walden”)


2 thoughts on “Too pure to have a market value (Walden 143)

    1. thecuriouspeople Post author

      E. B. White visited in 1939, by which time the pond was already a state park. He wrote of seeing a dressing room for swimmers, a float with diving towers, rowboats for hire, and a bronze tablet and granite posts at the cabin site. I think fans of Thoreau have been active in recent years to preserve the immediate area…. but yeah, I can see in some developer’s dream they’d cut it all down to build a subdivision with streets named for Thoreau and Emerson and the other transcendentalists, and it would be governed by a housing association with covenants to prevent someone from trashing the place up by building a too-small house or planting beans instead of tastefully-designed shrubbery.


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