Henry David Thoreau’s encounter with an early feminist

I am currently reading The Heart of Thoreau’s Journals, which is more or less an abridged version of Henry David Thoreau’s complete set of journals he kept during the course of his life. Even though he lived more than a century-and-a-half ago, his observations on life and human beings are quite keen, and there are truths he stumbled upon that are still quite relevant today. (Also, he was an introvert.)

One of my favorite passages thus far is dated December 31, 1851, in which he describes an encounter with what I call an early feminist whom he identifies only as “Mrs. S.” It is quite comical, and still quite relevant today when applied to the more militant liberal feminists we encounter today. I have highlighted my favorite parts of the journal entry.

This night I heard Mrs. S——lecture on womanhood. The most important fact about the lecture was that a woman said it, and in that respect it was suggestive. Went to see her afterward, but the interview added nothing to the previous impression, rather subtracted. She was a woman in the too common sense after all. You had to fire small charges: I did not have a finger in once, for fear of blowing away all her works and so ending the game. You had to substitute courtesy for sense and argument. It requires nothing less than a chivalric feeling to sustain a conversation with a lady. I carried her lecture for her in my pocket wrapped in her handkerchief; my pocket exhales cologne to this moment. The championess of woman’s rights still asks you to be a ladies’ man. I can’t fire a salute, even, for fear some of the guns may be shotted. I had to unshot all the guns in truth’s battery and fire powder and wadding only. Certainly the heart is only for rare occasions; the intellect affords the most unfailing entertainment. It would only do to let her feel the wind of the ball. I fear that to the last woman’s lectures will demand mainly courtesy from man.


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