Politics Magazine

Alumni Notes

Posted on the 26 May 2012 by Erictheblue

It's getting on toward the end of May, time not only for graduation ceremonies but also for college reunions, and therefore the mails--US Post and modern ethereal--are carrying those solicitations for information from one of the class's more earnest, officious members.  For those who fill them out, the rhetorical task is daunting: communicating your success without appearing to boast; making a favorable impression without appearing to try. 

This is the fiftieth reunion year for the class of 1962, which includes Ted Kaczynski, aka The Unabomber, who graduated that year from Harvard.  He evidently received his solicitation and filled it out.  For "occupation," he replied: "Prisoner."  Address?  "No. 04475-046, US Penitentiary--Max, P.O. Box 8500, Florence, CO."  In a section for "awards"--Harvard doesn't require its alums to cultivate an appearance of modesty--Kaczynski wrote, "Eight life sentences, issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, 1998."  He claims authorship of one publication, "Technological Slavery," published two years ago by Feral House, and indicates that he had lived in Eliot House while at Harvard.

It happens that Henry David Thoreau, a member of the Harvard class of 1837, who resembled Kaczynski in his predilection for solitary living, his distrust of technological advancement, and his contempt for received opinions, received his solicitation regarding his tenth class reunion while wintering on Walden Pond.  He did not reply till the following fall, when in response to the following questions--where and when were you born? where were you fitted for college? are you married? what is your profession or trade? what is your present employment? and what fact of general importance can you mention?--he wrote:

Dear Sir,

I confess that I have very little class spirit, and have almost forgotten that I ever spent four years at Cambridge.  That must have been in a former state of existence.  It is difficult to realize that the old routine is still kept up.  However, I will undertake at last to answer your questions as well as I can in spite of a poor memory and a defect of information.

1st then, I was born, they say, on the 12th of July 1817, on what is called the Virginia Road, in the east part of Concord.

2nd I was fitted, or rather made unfit, for College, at Concord Academy & elsewhere, mainly by myself, with the countenance of Phineas Allen, Preceptor.

3d I am not married.

4th I dont know whether mine is a profession, or a trade, or what not. It is not yet learned, and in every instance has been practised before being studied.  The mercantile part of it was begun here by myself alone.

--It is not one but legion.  I will give you some of the monster's heads.  I am a Schoolmaster--a Private Tutor, a Surveyor--a Gardener, a Farmer--a Painter, I mean a House Painter, a Carpenter, a Mason, a Day Laborer, a Pencil-Maker, a Glasspaper Maker, a Writer, and sometimes a Poetaster.  If you will act the part of Iolas, and apply a hot iron to any of these heads, I shall be greatly obliged to you.

5th My present employment is to answer such orders as may be expected from so general an advertisement as the above--that is, if I see fit, which is not always the case, for I have found out a way to live without what is commonly called employment or industry attractive or otherwise.  Indeed my steadiest employment, if such it can be called, is to keep myself at the top of my condition, and ready for whatever may turn up in heaven or on earth.  For the last two or three years I have lived in Concord woods alone, something more than a mile from any neighbor, in a house built entirely by myself.

6th I cannot think of a single general fact of any importance before or since graduating. 

He then signed "Henry D Thoreau" before adding a postscript: I beg that the Class will not consider me an object of charity, and if any of them are in want of pecuniary assistance, and will make known their case to me, I will engage to give them some advice of more worth than money.

"Advice of more worth than money"--that would be what he thought he gave the world in Walden, one of the great books of American literature.  I'm embarrassed to think how many times I had read it before it occurred to me that the careful ledgers of his expenses, set down in such exacting detail in the chapter called "Economy," are, however accurate, intended as satire.  (I know what you're interested in: money.  So here you go, have a look.)

A dim view of humanity would be another quality shared by Thoreau and the Unabomber.  Something tending toward the messianic as well.  I don't think, however, that Kaczynski would be capable of my favorite nugget from Thoreau's letter--". . . a Painter, I mean a House Painter. . . ."

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