Shall we not have sympathy with the muskrat which
gnaws its third leg off, not as pitying its sufferings,
but through our kindred mortality,
appreciating its majestic pains and its heroic virtue?
Are we not made its brothers by fate?
For whom are psalms sung and mass said,
if not for worthies as these?
When I hear the church organ peal,
or feel the trembling tones of the bass viol,
I see in imagination the musquash gnawing off his leg,
I offer up a note
that his affliction may be sanctified to each and all of us.
Prayer and praise fitly follow such exploits.
I look round for majestic pains and pleasures.
They have our sympathy,
both in their joys and their pains.
When I think of the tragedies which are constantly permitted
in the course of all animal life,
they make the plaintive strain of the universal harp
which elevates us above the trivial.
When I think of the muskrat gnawing off his leg
it is as the plectrum on the harp or the bow upon the viol,
drawing forth a majestic strain or psalm,
which immeasurably dignifies our common fate.
Even as the worthies of mankind
are said to recommend human life having lived it,
so I could not spare the example of the muskrat.
[Thoreau – J, VI, pp. 98-99]