Page 1


VOLUMES IN THIS

SERIES

Published and in Preparation

Edited by

ARNOLD

WILL D. HOWE Stuart P.

BROWNING

Sherman

William Lyon Phelps

BURNS

William Allan Neilson

CARLYLE

Bliss

Perry

DANTE

Alfred M. Brooks

DEFOE

William P. Trent

DICKENS

........

EMERSON

....

HAWTHORNE

THE

.

.

BIBLE

Richard Burton

Samuel McChord Crothers George Edward Woodberry George Hodges

....... Archibald Henderson LAMB ......... Will D. Howe STEVENSON ....... Richard A. Rice IBSEN

TENNYSON

.

WHITMAN WORDSWORTH

.

.

Raymond Mac donald Aid en Brand Whitlock C. T. Winchester


Ralph Waldo Emerson

HOW TO KNOW HIM By

Samuel

McChord

Crothers

^Author of

THE GENTLE READER, THE PARDONER S WALLET OLIVER WENDEL HOLMES AND HIS FELLOW BOARDERS ETC., ETC.

WITH FOR TRAIT

INDIANAPOLIS

THE SOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY PUBLISHERS


COPYRIGHT 1921

THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY

.Printed in the United States of America

wees or BRAUNWORTH ft CO. BOOK MANUFACTURERS BROOKLYN, N.

V.


INTRODUCTORY The mind

Emerson was a

of

searchlight re

vealing not itself but the various objects on which it

successively turned.

beam of

An

intense

would shoot through the darkness some object. Then it would pick up

light

and reveal

another object which would have

of in

and narrow

visibility.

The

its

brief

moment

landscape was never revealed

any one view.

The only way

to

know Emerson

is

to join

him

In spite of his per of no one with whom we

in his intellectual exercises.

sonal aloofness

I

know

can more readily come to a feeling of intellectual intimacy.

He had no pretensions and no

reserves.

In clear sentences he told us what from time to

He made no attempt

to connect

these thoughts into a coherent system.

For any

time he thought.

one

else to

attempt to do this would be to misrep

resent him.

In the short chapters which follow

*

i >

4p>

Ct

<i*0

>

i

I

have


INTRODUCTORY treated as is

Emerson as a contemporary

a writer of the

last generation.

rather than

His thought

as pertinent to the twentieth century as to the

nineteenth. spects

who

Indeed

we may

I

think that in

many

re

be nearer to him than were those

first listened

to him.

The

prejudices which

he encountered have largely died away. The prob lems over which he was meditating remain. I

wish to make grateful acknowledgment to

Houghton Mifflin Company for special permis sion to make extracts from their authorized and copyright editions of

Emerson s works.

Also to

Doctor Edward Emerson for the use of tion of his father s journals.

S.

his edi

M. M.


CONTENTS CHAPTER I II

III

PAGE

THE APPROACH

A

EMERSON

1

DISCRIMINATING OPTIMIST

16

THE OPENER

TO

OF DOORS

29

IV THE PARISH OF YOUNG MEN V SPENT THE DAY AT ESSEX JUNCTION VI FRIENDSHIP WITHOUT INTIMACY VII I HATE THIS SHALLOW AMERICANISM

THE POET IX THE POETRY

40

...

47

....

56

.

.

VIII

X XI XII XIII

OF SCIENCE

95

PIETY

108

THOU SHALT NOT PREACH THE LURE OF THE WEST EMERSON

......

ELUSIVE SMILE

133

QUIET REVOLUTIONIST MEDITATIONS ON POLITICS

142

S

XVI THE CANDID FRIEND XVII AMONG His BOOKS XVIII

XIX

116 122

XIV THE

XV

68 75

OF

ENGLAND

XXII TERMINUS

172 181

EMERSON S HISTORIC SENSE PEACE AND WAR

XX THE FORTUNES OF THE XXI THE CUTTING EDGE

158

....

POOR

197

209 215

223 230


RALPH WALDO EMERSON


EMERSON CHAPTER

I

THE APPROACH TO EMERSON "But,

critic,

spare thy vanity,

Nor show thy pompous parts, To vex zvith odious subtlety The cheerer of men s hearts." Emerson

SOwho He had for,

and with smiling lips thoughts to whosoever chose to listen.

"sat

uttered his

writes of the Persian poet Saadi

in the

sun"

nothing to prove, nothing to apologize

nothing to lament.

who

who will, will deny, pile the hills to scale the sky ;

"Denounce

And

Let theist, atheist, pantheist, Define and wrangle how they

list,

Fierce conserver, fierce destroyer, But thou, joy-giver and enjoyer."

We

are so used to wrangling and defining, to 1


EMERSON

"2

building systems of thought, and with odious sub tlety

other

criticizing

hardly

know how

man

that

systems,

we

to get along without these in

tellectual exercises.

a literary

men s

What

is

there to say about

or a philosopher

who

cares for

none of these things? To become acquainted with Emerson we must discard any conventional idea of the literary

We

or the philosopher.

much

man

must not become too

We

must be gen in the things he was thinking

interested in his works.

uinely interested

about, so as to find joy in comparing notes.

was not a man of

letters in the sense

He

of a maker

of books, and he was careless about the articula tion of his thought,

those

who

try to

and so he

"place"

is

the despair of

him.

There are those who think they can explain a man of genius by means of painstaking investi gation of the

town he

lived in, the folks he knew,

the books he read, the party to which he belonged,

and the family into which he was born. deal can be explained in this way, in fact

A

great

all

those

things in which he was like the thousands of other


THE APPROACH TO EMERSON persons

who were

But what about in

subjected to similar influences.

his genius,

which

is

the one thing

which he differed from those who were about happens that it is this difference which the matter of vital moment.

him? is

3

It

There are indeed great men whose difference from their contemporaries is in the quantity of their

endowment

They

ity.

rather than in

its

essential qual

think and feel as does the average

man, they share

his

opinions

and habits of

thought, only they have everything in greater

abundance. in

w hich r

They

are representative of the time

they lived and

we can not

think of them

any other place or period. This The is perhaps what we mean by a great man. term is quantitative. as belonging to

But there are others whose genius

They owe very

timeless.

ate environment.

where or

at

any

little

is

They might have

time,

essentially

to their

immedi

lived

any and the substance and man

ner of their thinking would have been very the same. order.

much

Ralph Waldo Emerson was of

this

In one sense he was a typical American,


EMERSON

4

more than

that he

was a

New

Englander, and his

thought was colored by the experience of the

But

passing day. ture

born

was not at the

it

was only

The

colored.

tex

That he was

peculiar to America.

beginning of the nineteenth century,

the descendant of a long line of Puritan preach ers, that

he was educated at Harvard College, and

became for a time the minister of a Unitarian Church, that he was interested in what was called the Transcendental Movement, that he traveled

about the country delivering lyceum lectures, that

he took a worthy part in all sorts of reform move ments, and that he lived in Concord to a good old age

all

these are interesting facts.

If

pen to be interested in Emerson, we like about them. But they do not enable us

what manner of man he was, or what have for

to

gift

know

he

may

us.

Indeed,

may

we hap to know

if

we

take such facts too seriously,

we

obscure the real Emerson, for he certainly

did not take them very seriously, and

was rather

absent-minded in regard to them.

was one of

It

his whimsies to profess a great contempt for for-


THE APPROACH TO EMERSON

5

Concord was good enough for him and he could see all that was most worth seeing eign travel.

without wandering from the vicinity of the town house.

But

this

was not because he had any un

usual prejudice for a particular locality, but that

he had means of getting away from

One

neighbors did not possess. as another to one

whose mind

it

that his

is

as

place is

free

good

of the

universe.

Emerson

mind was

s

in the

most

literal sens*?

cosmopolitan he was a citizen of the world, as no

*

;

The globe

mere traveler can become.

lured on by the expectation of

trotter

is

coming to foreign

Emerson did not think of any portion of It was all of a piece. world as foreign.

parts.

the

Wherever he happened

to be, he

was confronted

by the marvel of the whole which manifested it He was like the citizen in a self in every part. great metropolis,

who

leaves to strangers the tran-

sitory joys of sightseeing.

He

own

gladly conscious

business,

and yet he

is

goes about his all

the time that he belongs to the mighty aggre gation.

,


EMERSON

6

is

In dealing with such a person, the biographer always more or less of an intruder. To Emer

son the inner

life

was much more important than

the events and circumstances of the outer

To

the inner life as disclosed by himself,

life.

we may

Thus only we know what manner of man he was. He was describing himself when he go

directly.

wrote

:

an external

which

is

educated at

school, taught to read, write, cipher,

and trade;

"There is

taught to grasp

all

life,

boy can

the

get,

urging him to

put himself forward, to make himself useful and agreeable in the world, to ride, run, argue, and contend, unfold his talents, shine, conquer, and possess. "But

the inner life

sits at

home, and does not

learn to do things, nor value these feats at

Tis a quiet, wise perception. cause

it is itself

now

it

loves right,

it

be

knows noth

makes no progress; was as wise memory of it as now; is just the same

ing else; but in our first

real;

It loves truth,

all.

it

in maturity,

and hereafter

in age, as

it

was

in


THE APPROACH TO EMERSON youth.

7

We have grown to manhood and woman

hood we have powers, connection, children, repu this makes no account of tations, professions ;

:

them

It lives in the great present; it

all.

This tranquil, well-founded,

the present great.

wide-seeing soul

no magistrate

A

man

much

of

no

it lies

:

world.

is

no attorney, the sun, and broods on the

express-rider,

in

person of this temper once said to a activity,

pardon you that that I do nothing.

I will

you do so much, and you me

And

makes

Euripides says that Zeus hates busybodies

and those who do too much/

mind of

All this is, quite foreign to the typical American.

It

the nineteenth century.

why Emerson If,

It is

not easy to explain

should have turned up

however,

it is

Emerson, and to

the

was not characteristic of

when he

necessary for us to

classify him,

it

did.

"place"

might be as well

and put him among those with whom his ways of thinking and speaking would have been most congenial.

to ignore the accident of his birth,

He was a

philosopher, not in the

modern

sense,


EMERSON

8

but in the simpler ancient sense of a lover of

He

wisdom.

who

in

belonged in a

way with

Athens liked to walk about

in the

the

men

gardens

discoursing about the nature of the good, the

and the

Perhaps the Greek dia lectic might have wearied his more direct mind. It would have seemed a too roundabout way of true,

beautiful.

getting at moral truths. I rather

at

think that he would have been

home with

less sophisticated thinkers,

more let

us

say with the lovers of wisdom in the land of Uz,

who

gathered around Job, in his happier days be

fore Satan mingled with his affairs.

It is in the

and they gather at the gate, and Job discourses on the pleasant mysteries of life. And people who had been bearing the heat cool of the evening,

and burden of the day, and whose souls were In their arid parched, came for refreshment. lives, it

was wonderful

to meet a

man who was

thinking aloud. "My speech dropped upon them, and they waited for me as for the rain." Such speech comes in sentences that are easily

remembered.

In the land of

Uz

people do not


THE APPROACH TO EMERSON from books, but from the

get their ideas

a

man who

9

lips

of

has the gift of direct address.

In process of time scribes gather these scattered

we have collections of what the Hebrew scholars call Wisdom Litera ture. So we have the Proverbs, The Wisdom of sentences into volumes, and

Solomon, and the

They contain tions of

Wisdom

Son of

of the

Sirach.

the observations and the medita

men who had found

time for such things.

are enjoyed by those of kindred temper.

They Emerson erature.

s

essays belong to this

They

are gnomic, that

consist of pregnant sentences.

ment

is

Wisdom

is

Lit

to say, thjgy

Their arrange

a matter largely of accident.

Had he lived

in the land of

Uz, Emerson would

have uttered these sentences to a the city gate,

little group at and trusted to their memories for

the preservation of what

was of

Being an American in the nineteenth century, he jotted

them down

in his note-book

value.

when they occurred

and then as opportunity offered presented them to groups of his fellow-citizens, gathered on to him,

winter evenings in poorly ventilated

halls.

All


EMERSON

10 the

way from

Massachusetts to Iowa he found his

audience, and gave

acting as his

them

freely of his best.

own scribe, he gathered

Then

the sentences

together into the form familiar to us.

To

get his general point of view, read the ninth

chapter of Proverbs

:

hath builded her house, she hath

"Wisdom

hewn out her seven beasts

;

pillars; she

hath killed her

she hath mingled her wine ; she hath also

She hath

furnished her table.

sent forth her

maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city. Come, eat of my bread, and .

.

.

drink of the wine which I have

It is all

very simple and natural.

the builder. plan,

mingled."

She

builds according

and when the house

is

Wisdom is to her own

furnished, she

makes

her feast and sends forth her maidens with the invitation to her table.

And

the thinker,

architect,

who

is

he?

He

is

he did not plan the building.

he the high priest ordering the

sacrifice.

not the

Nor

He

is

does


THE APPROACH TO EMERSON not take himself so solemnly. the invited guests,

wondering

down

who

is

only one of

has not lost the sense of

He

curiosity.

He

11

can not churlishly

sit

to the feast without being introduced to the

He

wanders about among all the mar vels, seeking her. For, says the son of Sirach. is the chief point of Wisdom to know whose hostess.

"It

gift

it

is."

In the nineteenth century Ralph

son lived a

life that

was

He

antique philosophers.

has been thought to be tion. all

The

those

practised an art

lost

it

which

the art of medita

fruit of his meditations

whom

Waldo Emer

as simple as that of the

he offered to

might concern.

Emerson was a man

thinking.

There

is

no

Emersonian system of philosophy, only an Emer sonian way of looking at things, and that is per fectly simple. prejudice,"

There

which

is

is

a legal phrase,

"without

used of parties to a contro

versy, implying that should the negotiations

fail,

nothing that has passed shall be taken advantage of thereafter.

Thus should the defendant

offer

without prejudice to pay half the claim, the plain-


EMERSON

12

tiff

can not consider this offer as an admission of

his

having the right to some payment.

To

read the words of

Emerson

in the spirit in

which they were written, we must remember to take what he says without prejudice. Each sen

makes

tence

its

own

determine whether

it

appeal,

and

it

is

rings true or false.

for us to

But we

must not hold him responsible for the inferences which we may draw. He was not uttering though the form might sometimes seern oracular. He aimed to challenge us rather than

oracles,

to secure docile acceptance of his ideas.

He

did

not attempt at any one time to state the whole truth.

He

preferred to state a half truth in such

a manner that other half. ions,

we

should be ready to supply the

Instead of avoiding extreme opin

he wished to have them confront each other

in the

same mind.

This

But our geom etry cannot span the extreme points and reconcile them. What to do? By obeying each thought is true,

that other

frankly, by harping, or if

is

true.

you

will,

pounding on


THE APPROACH TO EMERSON each string,

we

learn at last

same obedience to others theirs

its

power.

thoughts,

13

By the we learn

and then comes some reasonable hope of

harmonizing

them."

The method which he recommended and which he followed was in the highest degree unsyste

method of taking up in turn each of the leading topics which belong to our matic.

was

It

"the

scheme of human agreeable to the

same

and by stating all that is experience on one hand, and doing life,

justice to the

limitations will appear.

opposing

Any

facts, the true

excess of emphasis

on one part would be corrected and a just ance

bal

made."

In other words, Emerson would never assume the cool judicial attitude in regard to any vital question. side

He would

speak as an advocate of the

which for the moment seemed to him most

important.

But he would always reserve the

right to state the other side just as strongly.

Not

only did he claim the right to take both sides, but also to change the subject as often as he liked.


EMERSON

14

He

believed that there were certain general prin

which were applicable to all the various pro fessions and callings. One \vho was in Milton s

ciples

phrase

"a

of

skillful considerer

human

things"

had a rigHt to express his opinions, for in spite of all the modern division of labor, life is still

made up of a few

simple elements.

In the following chapters I have made no at tempt to harmonize the views of Emerson. That

would only obscure the sharp outlines of each separate view. One who would know Emerson

word with

must not read

his

mere

He must

disciple.

and match It is the

the docility of a

rather take

it

as a

game

his wits against a quick antagonist.

mental attitude which that unconven

tional sixteenth-century preacher,

Bishop

Hugh

Latimer, sought to inspire in his congregation. In his

his

famous Sermon on the Cards, he challenged congregation to play a game of cards, which

in those days

was

Quoth Latimer

called :

"Triumph."

"Whereas,

ye are wont to cele

brate Christmas in playing at cards, I intend

God

s

grace to deal unto

you Christ

s

cards.

by

The


THE APPROACH TO EMERSON game we

shall play at shall

(trump) which

if it

15

be called the triumph

be well played, he that deal-

eth shall win, the players shall likewise win, and

the standers and lookers

asmuch

that there

play at this

they shall

is

on

do the same, in

no man that

Triumph with

all

shall

willing to

is

these cards but that

be winners, and no losers.

therefore every Christian at these cards, that they

man and w oman r

may

Let play

have and obtain the

triumph; you must mark also that the triumph must apply to fetch home with him all the other cards whatsoever suit they be of. take ye this

shewed

to

then

card which must appear and be

first

you as

In some such

Now

followeth."

way Emerson

in his favorite recreation.

thought in which

"he

invites us to join

It is the free play

of

that dealeth shall \vin, the

players shall likewise

win and the standers and

lookers on shall do the

same."-


CHAPTER

II

A DISCRIMINATING OPTIMIST "I

am

a willow of the wilderness,

Loving the wind that bent

ONE

me."

of the most familar terms of reproach

in these

is

days

clever literary persons

It is

"Victorian."

who have

used by

rebelled against

the standards of their immediate predecessors. It implies

which

is

a certain smugness and self-satisfaction very irritating to persons

who

are con

scious of the cruel realities of this unfinished

world.

The

incorrigible

Victorians are supposed to have been optimists

who

mistook the Fool

Paradise in which they lived for the place of humanity. respectabilities,

s

final resting

They were worshipers of

the

and were content with the cant of

liberalism as their fathers

had been content with

the cant of Toryism.

To-day, however,

we

are taught that

duty to face the grimmest 16

realities,

it is

our

and not to


A DISCRIMINATING OPTIMIST when we

flinch

threatening. lives,

see something that

We

must

and we must

see

how

17

ugly and

is

the other half

free ourselves

from amiable

delusions.

In turning from the work of our painfully sin cere realists to Emerson, the that

of

we

first

impression

is

are going back to that discredited state 7

mind, the early Victorian optimism// For

Emerson face.

faces the existing world with a smiling

He takes

for granted that there

is

liness in its laws,

and that the ultimate

not to be feared.

He

a friend reality is

has a frank predilection for

beauty and does not feel

duty to feed his and unwholesome. ugly He is always glad to be alive, and glad to find so many other creatures alive at the same time. Sometimes he has a too debonair way of making imagination on what

it

his

is

light of the evils that are encountered

by earnest

people.

But those who look upon the optimism of

Emerson

as a part of the conventionalism of his

time are,

I think, superficial in their

In the

first place,

judgments.

he was not a Victorian, but an


EMERSON

18

American,

who was

good queen and her

not under the spell of the court.

No

one was

less dis

posed to imitate the literary conventions then dominant in England. He was no more a Vic torian than

was Abraham Lincoln.

nothing smug in his optimism.

There was

He was

not an

apologist for the existing state of things, nor in terested in proving that this is the best of all possible worlds.

He

did not try to

agreeable by calling evil good. existence of an enormous cruel things.

"Nature

as

He

make himself

recognized the

number of bad and

we know

her

is

no

saint."

He

taught that nature does not coddle us, nor

provide ready-made houses or clothes. She leaves us to make these things for ourselves. And the process of experiment

is

never an easy one.

It is

a long and tedious way by which we travel toward truth.

Nature does not

us; to discover this

is

tell

us what

is

good for

part of our experience.

compared notes with one of my friends wlio iexpects everything of the Universe and is disap"I


A DISCRIMINATING OPTIMIST pointed, and

found that

19

began at the other am always full and extreme, expecting nothing, of thanks for moderate blessings." I

I

from denying or seeking to hide the darker and more painful aspects of the world, he

So

far

admitted them and placed them where they be long, at the beginning.

They belong

to the realm

of chaos and night

But the outstanding fact is that there has been a gradual emergence from chaos. The existence of

man

as a reasoning creature becomes

wonderful as we think of the odds against good thing can be had without effort.

But the while?"

real question

You may say

is,

"Is

that

it is

know whether or not you

more

it.

No

the effort worth

You do not

not.

shall succeed,

and there

fore you will not try.

Emerson iously "A

declares that the effort

worth while.

man

is

It reveals the

is

most glor

joy of creation.

a golden impossibility.

Power keeps

quite another road than the turnpike of choice

and

will,

namely, the subterranean and invisible


EMERSON

20

tunnels and channels of

Life

life.

is

a series of

and would not be worth taking and Nature hates cal keeping if it were not. culators, her methods are saltatory and impulsive. surprises

.

.

.

.

.

The mind goes antagonizing on, and never

.

prospers but by

....

born, everything

We

fits.

Every man is

is

thrive on casualties.

an impossibility

impossible

till

we

till

see

he

is

it

a

success."

At

this point

Emerson

s

if

would be well

down

essay on Experience and do a

meditating on the words, nizing

to lay

"the

little

mind goes antago

on."

Here

a philosophy that goes behind the old dispute between the optimist and the pessimist. is

The ordinary no

real

and the

optimist tries to prove that there

is

antagonism between the facts of nature ideals of the

human

soul.

Everything

exquisitely fitted to produce happiness.

The

is

pessi

mist denies this and insists on the flagrant opposi tion between

what

is

and what ought to

be.

He


A DISCRIMINATING OPTIMIST,

21

arranges a deadly parallel between the world of

and the world of hard

the ideals

Emerson answers

The human which

and

ereignty,

covery of

That

is

its

the

"The

in

it.

its

power.

way

is

must not be

spirit

beneath

lies

that there

reality.

It

must

resistance

it

an antagonism.

by that

bullied

assert its sov

makes the

It goes "antagonizing

dis on."

of the conqueror.

essence of tragedy does not seem to

me

any list of particular evils. After we have enumerated famine, fever, inaptitude, muti lation, rack, madness and loss of friends, we have

to

lie in

not yet included the proper tragic element, which is

Terror, and which does not respect definite

evils

but

indefinite;

an ominous

spirit

which

haunts the afternoon and night, idleness and

soli

tude."

A low

haggard

spirit sits

by our

side,

"casting

the fashion of uncertain evils, a sinister presenti

ment, a power of the imagination to disclose things orderly and cheerful and

show them

in


EMERSON

22 startling array.

Hark, what sounds on the night

wind? the cry of murder in see those marks of stamping

The whisper

that friendly house,

of hidden

feet,

riot.

overhead, the detected glance, the

glare of malignity, ungrounded fears, suspicions, half knowledge and mistakes, darken the

and is

chill the

heart of man.

And

brow

accordingly

it

natures not clear, nor of quick and steady per

ceptions,

but imperfect characters from which

something

is

hidden that

most from these

move

all

others see, that suffer

In those persons

causes.

who

the profoundest pity, tragedy seems to con

temperament, not in events. There are people who have an appetite for grief; pleasure is not strong enough, and they crave pain, Misist

in

which must be fed on poi soned bread, natures so downed that no prosperity thridatic stomachs

can soothe their ragged and dishevelled desola tion.

They mishear and

and dread.

They handle every

on every snake It is

misbelieve, they suspect nettle,

and tread

in the meadow."

here that Emerson

made

his stand.

It is

not necessary for us to apologize for facts or to


A DISCRIMINATING OPTIMIST attempt to vindicate Eternal Providence.

come and we must

we must There

is

tivated

not yield

a health of the

we

this spirit

Events

But the Terror

face them. to,

23

can overcome.

which

may

and which makes us immune

be cul

to evil in

fluences.

The optimism of Emerson was not pressed in the phrase,

of

things."

There it."

is

That

is

"looking

the lazy

a homelier phrase,

to be ex

at the bright side

man

s

optimism. the best of

"making

Let the circumstances be what they may, the

brave

man

of them. all his

accepts

And

them resolved to make the

the surprise

is

best

that when he puts

strength into the task, the result is

thing better than he had planned.

some

Even when

worst has come to worst, the hero turns upon the Hostile powers and finds the Best which he has

worshiped afar now realized in his "Trembler, do not whine and Art thou not also real ?

Why shouldst thou

own

will.

chide,

stoop to poor excuse

Turn on the accuser roundly, Here am I, here will I abide

say,

;


EMERSON

24

Forever to myself soothfast. Go thou, sweet Heaven, or at thy pleasure stay!

Already Heaven with thee

The most complete

its lot

has

cast."

Emerson

expression of

s

discriminating optimism can be found in his essay

on Fate.

Here he

states the

pessimist in the strongest terms.

work which bring pain and laws which we can not control. at

edies

which are

argument of the There are forces There- are

loss.

There are trag

But the good man Emerson believed that

inevitable.

confronts the evil

fate.

was the creation of a

the result of that conflict

higher good than had before been perceived.

The

struggle with Fate produced power.

"Thus

morals

we

trace Fate,

thought and character as well. It bound or limitation. But Fate has tation

mind, and

in matter,

in race, in retardations of strata,

its

limits

;

is

different seen

is

and

in

everywhere

its

lord

;

limi

from above and

from below from within and from without. For, ;

though Fate

is

immense, so

is

power, which

is

the


A DISCRIMINATING OPTIMIST other fact in the dual world, immense. follows and

If Fate

power, power attends and an

limits

tagonizes Fate.

25

We must respect

Fate as natural

history, but there

is

more than natural

For who and what

is

this criticism that pries into

the matter?

and

Man

sack, belly

is

history.

not order of nature, sack

and members,

link in a chain,

nor

any ignominious baggage, but a stupendous an tagonism, a dragging together of the poles of

He

the universe.

below him

betrays his relation to

thick-skulled,

quadrumanous

what

small-brained,

is

fishy,

quadruped ill-disguised, hardly and has paid for the new

escaped into biped,

powers by

loss of

some of the old

lightning which explodes and

maker of planet and suns, elemental

order,

is

ones.

But the

fashions planets,

in him.

sandstone and

On one granite,

side,

rock-

ledges, peat-bog, forest, sea and shore; and, on

the other part, thought, the spirit

which composes

and decomposes nature here they are, side by side, God and devil, mind and matter, king and conspirator, belt and spasm, riding peacefully to

gether in the eye and brain of every man.


EMERSON

26 "Nor

can he blink the

the contradiction

freedom

Fate

is all

;

then

freedom of man.

is

we

So

And though

far as a

nothing

is

If

wells

man

you and

side of Fate, is

the

up the impulse

of choosing and acting in the soul. nuls Fate.

hazard

a part of Fate

say,

For ever

To

necessary.

on the

please to plant yourself say,

free-will.

Intellect

thinks, he

is

an

free.

more disgusting than

the

crowing about liberty by slaves, as most men are, and the flippant mistaking for freedom of some paper preamble like a Declaration of Indepen dence/ or the statute right to vote, by those who

have never dared to think or to

wholesome to man to look not other way: the practical view

sound relation to these

mand, not

too

much

meanness.

name

is

the other.

it

is

His

and com

Look not on Na

fatal/ said the oracle.

The

contemplation of these limits induces

They who

talk

birth-star, etc., are in a

and

yet

at Fate, but the

is

facts is to use

to cringe to them.

ture, for her

act,

much

of destiny, their

lower dangerous plane,

invite the evils they fear.


A DISCRIMINATING OPTIMIST

and heroic races as

cited the instinctive

"I

27

proud believers in Destiny. They conspire with But it; a loving resignation is with the event. the it

is

dogma makes a different impression, when held by the weak and lazy. Tis weak and

vicious people

who

right use of Fate

cast the is

The

blame on Fate.

up our conduct to Rude and invincible ex

to bring

the loftiness of nature.

So

man

cept

by themselves are the elements.

be.

Let him empty his breast of his windy con

and show

ceits,

on the

by manners and deeds Let him hold his purpose

his lordship

scale of nature.

as with the tug of gravitation. persuasion, no bribe, shall point.

A

with a

river,

have not

let

No

make him

power, no give

up

his

man

ought to compare advantageously an oak, or a mountain. He shall

less the flow,

the expansion, and the re

sistance of these. "

age.

Tis the best use of Fate to teach a fatal cour

Go

face the fire at sea, or the cholera in

your friend

s

house, or the burglar in your own,

or what danger

lies in

the

way

of duty, knowing


EMERSON

28

you are guarded by the cherubim of Destiny. you believe in Fate to your harm, believe it, least,

it,

at

for your good.

"For,

of

If

if

Fate

is

so prevailing,

and can confront Fate with

man

also

is

part

Fate."

-


CHAPTER

III

THE OPENER OF DOORS "Be

an opener of doors for such as come after make the Universe a blind

thee and do not try to alley."

EMERSON

S

JOURNAL (1841).

are certain minds which have exer

THERE

cised a vast influence over the thought of

the world, as constructors of intellectual systems.

Their ambition has been to reduce a

formula.

all

things to

They become masters of

existing

knowledge and arrange it in orderly fashion. Thus

Thomas Aquinas summed up

the thought of the

middle ages in a solid theology to be received by all

who came

John Calvin, with law same thing for sixteenth-

after him.

yer-like logic, did the

Herbert Spencer, with

century Protestantism.

prodigious industry, gathered an immense ber of facts and attempted to bring them

an agreement with

Up

his

own

scientific

to a certain point the

29

num

all

into

formula.

system-maker

is

a


EMERSON

30 helper to

those

all

intellectual life.

who would

He shows

live a reasonable

us where to put our

and to a certain degree how to use them. The difficulty comes when new facts are discov facts

ered which do not

into the system, or

fit

when

the course of our intellectual development

come upon a fresh point of view. Then the system becomes a blind are led into there

is

no

it

by a perfectly

logical

way

round and round and of

its

own

effort

The

It is

more of

conscious of the futility

universe

reality

when we become

We

The mind goes

it.

than

is

narrowed to

The system now

the dimensions of a rigid creed. shuts out

we

logical process, but

out of is

alley.

in

it

explains.

conscious of the dangers

of making the universe a blind alley and becom ing entrapped in rigid forms that

we

appreciate

the function of philosophers like William James

and Bergson. tellect.

They

In their keen criticism of dogmatic sys

tems they show us a sure us,

of

it.

are emancipators of the in

is

way

out.

Reality, they as

something vaster than any definition


THE OPENER OF DOORS Emerson belonged

to this

little

31

company of

emancipators, and he went about his business in

a very simple and yet effective way. the assumption that sistency

is

a virtue.

often quoted, and

"A

tle

what

No

is

He

attacked

usually called con

saying of his

is

more

more generally misunderstood

foolish consistency

minds, adored by

phers and divines.

is

little

lit

statesmen and philoso

With

soul has nothing to do.

the hobgoblin of

:

consistency a great

He may

as well concern

himself with his shadow on the wall.

Speak what you think now in hard words, and to morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard

words again, though said

it

contradict everything

you

to-day."

That may be made to seem like a plea for care and irresponsible ways of thinking and speak What standard are we to have by which ing.

less

to test

our mental processes?

words quoted

as if they offered

tellectual lawlessness.

I

have heard the

an excuse for

in


EMERSON

32

We

approach Emerson

serious

s

meaning only

when we emphasize

the adjective.

consistency which

the hobgoblin of

The fundamental

is

The

what?"

but of

Let

me

mind

see

What

!

little

is

it

says,

what

"This

repeated and there

that of yesterday,

is felt

is

little

must

Then,

?"

s state

the satisfaction

really different

and can not be expressed

accurately by the same phrase? the

an

I said yesterday.

did I say yesterday

which comes with duty done. But what if to-day s fact

from

with

When

with solemn conscientiousness, yesterday

ment

minds.

"consistency

previous utterances.

consistent with

a foolish

thinking not of reality

is

to be expressed,

is

made

be

own

its

opinion

little

is

question

It is

mind does not

This possibility

entertain.

It will

not

allow itself to be contradicted, and so the process goes on which St. Paul describes, "they measur ing themselves by themselves,

themselves

Emerson

we must

among s

and comparing

themselves, are not

real plea is

wise."

for consistency.

But

be consistent not with a form of words


THE OPENER OF DOORS

33

which we have adopted, but with a living reality which we encounter day by day. What have you seen to-day ? What have you

What new

done?

come in

clear to

aspect of the universe has be

What

you?

are the facts revealed

your present consciousness?

These are the

questions that are asked of a person his mind.

And

his

who

is

using

answers are valuable only as

they are simple and direct.

In a court of justice this simplicity

The

witness

who

is

trying to

consistent with one another

ceived theory

is

sure to

come

make

is

required.

his answers

and with a precon to grief.

The

cross-

questioner will discover flaws in the evidence.

The only safe course

is

to

tell

the facts as they oc

curred.

Most of our

intellectual

confusion comes from

the attempts to arrange our opinions according to an artificial order.

The catechism

is

arranged

advance of experience. The questions follow one another in logical order, and each ques in

tion has its appropriate answer.

It is all

very


EMERSON

34

satisfactory until the answers are sharply chal

How

do we happen to know so much? are we able to answer so glibly?

lenged.

How

To Emerson

the chief value of a catechism lay

in the questions, not in the answers.

That the

deepest and most persistent questions have no sat isfactory answers did not depress him.

proved that both the

mind

that asks

It

only

and the uni

verse which delays the answer are greater than

thought.

we

Their meaning can not be expressed in

any form of words. to the Soul

He

hears the Sphinx saying

:

"Thou

art the

unanswered question ;

Couldst see thy proper eye, Alway it asketh, asketh; And each answer is a lie. So take thy quest through nature, It through thousand natures ply; Ask on, thou clothed eternity;

Time

The joy of is

is

the false

reply."

the follower of Truth and Beauty

wonderfully expressed in the

<c

Forerunners."

We

little

poem

called

are out-of-doors, and the


THE OPENER OF DOORS air

is

What our

bracing,

does

matter that

it

"happy

and the distant

guides"?

free to follow.

life that is

It is

are alluring.

not catch up with

enough that we are

Let others sing of the satisfac

tions of achievement.

a

we do

hills

35

Emerson

is

satisfied

with

a continual quest.

I followed happy guides, could never reach their sides Their step is forth, and, ere the day

"Long

I

;

Breaks up their leaguer, and away. Keen my sense, my heart was young, Right good-will my sinews strung, But no speed of mine avails To hunt upon their shining trails. On and away, their hasting feet Make the morning proud and sweet; Flowers they strew I catch the scent ;

Or

tone of silver instrument

Leaves on the wind melodious trace; Yet I could never see their face. On eastern hills I see their smokes, Mixed with mist by distant lochs. I

met many

travellers

Who the

road had surely kept ; saw not my fine revellers, They had crossed them while they ^These Some had heard their fair report, In the country or the court.

slept.


EMERSON

36

Fleetest couriers alive

Never yet could once arrive, As they went or they returned, At the house where these sojourned. Sometimes their strong speed they

Though they

slacken,

are not overtaken;

In sleep their jubilant troop is near, I tuneful voices overhear; It may be in wood or waste, At unawares tis come and past. Their near camp my spirit knows

signs gracious as rainbows. thenceforward, and long after, Listen for their harp-like laughter,

By I

And carry

in

my

heart, for days,

Peace that hallows rudest It is

ways."

not merely the poetic imagination which

opens the doors into an enchanted country where

one

may wander endlessly. Jhe

sober reason has

an emancipatory power. There are realities which lie beyond the limits which the dogmatist also

defines.

They may not be

logically justified but

they are nevertheless a part of the order of the universe.

When we

cease to dogmatize

we be

come conscious of an order more wonderful than that exist

which we had imagined possible. Things side by side which we had supposed to be


THE OPENER OF DOORS We

absolutely incompatible.

37

can not logically

reconcile them, but there they are.

"The

world refuses to be analyzed by addition

When

and subtraction.

much time and with

all

young, we spend

pains in filling our note-books

definitions of

Politics, Art, in the

a few years,

\ve are

we

Religion,

hope

shall

Love, Poetry,

that, in the course of

have condensed into our

encyclopedia the net value of

all

the theories at

which the world has yet arrived. But year after year our tables get no completeness, and at last

we

discover that our curve

is

a parabola, whose

arcs will never meet. "Neither

by detachment, neither by aggrega

tion, is the integrity

to

its

of the intellect transmitted

works, but by a vigilance which brings the greatness and best state to operate

intellect in its

every moment.

which nature

It

has.

must have the same wholeness Although no diligence can

build the universe in a model,

re

by the best accumu world

lation or disposition of details, yet does the

reappear in miniature in every event, so that

all


EMERSON

38

the laws of nature

The

fact.

in its

intellect

be read in the smallest

may

must have the

apprehension and in

Along with Emerson freedom

like perfection

its works."

s insistence

on an absolute

we must remember

in thinking

his

em

phasis on the principle of identity which he dis

The

covers everywhere. tells

us

is

not a blind

universe, he continually

alley, neither is it

welter of conflicting forces. complicated, but touch find

it

it

consistent with

stand one part of

at

It is

a mere

marvelously

any point and you will Could we under

itself.

it

we would have

is

represented in every one of

the key to

all

mysteries.

"The

its

universe

particles.

Everything in nature contains

the powers of nature.

Everything

is

all

made of one

hidden stuff; as the naturalist sees one type under every metamorphosis, and regards a horse as

running man, a

fish as

a

swimming man, a

as a flying man, a tree as a rooted man.

new form

repeats not only the

a.

bird

Each

main character of


THE OPENER OF DOORS

39

the type, but part for part all the details, all the

aims,

hindrances,

furtherances,

whole system of every other. is

trade, art, transaction,

emblem of human

its trials, its

enemies,

each one must

man, and

its

and

Every occupation,

a compend of the world

and a correlative of every entire

energies,

Each one

other.

life;

of

course,

its

and

is

an

good and

ill,

its

somehow accommodate

And

end.

the whole

recite all his destiny.

world globes itself in a drop of dew. The microscope cannot find the animalcule which is "The

less

perfect for being

little.

Eyes, ears, taste,

smell, motion, resistance, appetite,

and organs of

reproduction that take hold on eternity

room

to consist in the small creature.

put our

life into

omnipresence

is,

parts in every

every that

act.

God

The

all

find

So do we

true doctrine of

reappears with

moss and cobweb.

all his

The value of

the universe contrives to throw itself into every point. affinity, tation."

If the

good

is

there, so

so the repulsion;

if

is

the evil; if the

the force, so the limi


CHAPTER IV THE PARISH OF YOUNG MEN

My parish is young men

E

MERSON S

many

did

their

not

"young

way."

include

Indeed he was very

young men.

with the typical are

parish

"inquiring

ill

at ease

And

person/

all

there

anecdotes which indicate that the young

person shared the embarrassment. ousness of youth with

its

The

gregari-

tumultuous mass move

ments were rather appalling to one of his tem perament. Nor was he fitted for the difficult role of spiritual adviser.

Emerson

s

widely scattered parish was

made

up of another kind of young men. They were young men who were not seeking to find out his way, but their own.

That made them

He

encouraged them in

his debtors for

it.

life.

These parishioners of his could not possibly be gathered into one congregation. They formed no

40


THE PARISH OF YOUNG MEN cult

or party.

Each was so absorbed

endeavor that he had

special

the acquaintance of his

41

in his

make

time to

little

own

fellow parishioner, but

each in the formative period of his

life

He

ceived the stimulus he most needed.

had

had been

bewildered by the conflicting counsels of his ders.

Each counsellor had

Then one

clear voice

said,

like

"Be

had suggested,

re

"Why

el

me."

not be

yourself?"

The suggestion was reasonable that it was

man found

so unexpected and yet so acted upon.

himself, which

The young

the one discovery

is

that counts.

America prides itself on being the land of the free. We have had many political emancipators, but the

roll

of intellectual emancipators

Having dethroned of public opinion.

kings,

we

live

is

short.

under the fear

The aggregate mind There

tyrannizes

a deadly

over the individual

intellect.

average which

not considered safe for one

it

is

is

to pass.

To

his parish of

young men Emerson was

ways preaching that the world

is

al

in dire need of


EMERSON

42

men with

who are not The "average

fresh insight

things as they are.

satisfied man"

with

should

not be content with the average attainment. He has within him powers which rightly used could lift

him

far above his present condition.

and of right ought

A

soul.

to be,

He

is,

a free and independent

decent respect for the opinion of the

world demands that he should declare his inde pendence in unmistakable terms.

"What

strikes

us in the fine genius

is

that

which belongs of right to every one. A man should know himself for a necessary actor.

A

was wanting between two craving parts of nature, and he was hurled into being as the bridge link

over that yawning need, the mediator betwixt two

His two parents held each of one of the wants, and the union of for

else

unmarriageable

facts.

eign constitutions in him enables him to do gladly

and gracefully what the assembled human race could not have sufficed to do. He knows his ma terials;

he applies himself to

his

work; he can not

read, or think, or look, but he unites the hitherto


THE PARISH OF YOUNG MEN separated

strands

into

a

perfect

43

The

cord.

thoughts he delights to utter are the reason of his incarnation.

Is

it

for

him

to account himself

cheap and superfluous, or to linger by the wayside

Did he not come into being because something must be done which he and no other is and does ? If only he sees, the world for opportunities?

will be visible

He

enough.

need not study where

to stand, nor to put things in favorable lights

him

the light,

is

from him

nated to their centre.

all

What

;

in

things are illumi

patron shall he ask

for employment and reward?

Hereto was he

born, to deliver the thought of his heart from the

universe to the universe, to do an office which

nature could not forego, nor he be discharged

from rendering, and then immerge again the holy silence and eternity out of which

man he

arose.

God

is rich,

into as a

and many more men

than one he harbours in his bosom, biding their time and the needs and the beauty of this the theory of every

man

s

Why then goest thou as some Boswell worshipper to

this saint

all.

Is

not

genius or faculty?

or to that?

or listening

That

is

the


EMERSON

44 only lese-majesty.

Here

art thou with

whom

so

long the universe travailed in labor; darest thou

whom

think meanly of thyself

the stalwart Fate

brought forth to unite his ragged the gulf, to reconcile the

As

for the chill

counsels, let the

sides, to shoot

irreconcilable?"

wisdom of age with

young man defy

it.

days does not bring wisdom unless

its

timid

Length of it is accom

panied by a power of spiritual rejuvenation, and then

becomes the wisdom of perpetual youth-

it

fulness.

"Why

the

should

new hour?

we import

rags and relics into

Nature abhors the

age seems the only disease; this one.

We

call

it

all

all

the

way onward.

no need of above

us,

it.

inertia,

We

fever, in

and crime; they

forms of old age; they are

atism, appropriation,

and old

others run into

many names

by

temperance, insanity, stupidity, are

old,

rest,

conserv

not newness, not

grizzle every day.

I see

Whilst we converse with what

we do not grow

old,

is

but grow young.

Infancy, youth, receptive, aspiring, with religious


THE PARISH OF YOUNG MEN eye looking upward, counts

abandons

itself

45

nothing, and

the instruction flowing from

itself to

But the man and woman of seventy

all sides.

assume to know

all,

they have outlived their hope,

they renounce aspiration, accept the actual for the necessary, and talk

down

to the young. Let them,

become organs of the Holy Ghost; let them be lovers; let them behold truth; and their eyes

then,

are uplifted, their wrinkles smoothed, they are

perfumed again with hope and power. This old age ought not to creep on a human mind. In nature every

moment

is

new; the past

is

always

swallowed and forgotten; the coming only is sa cred. Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energizing

No

spirit.

or covenant to secure

No

in the light of

wish to be is

settled

;

it

new

may

be

trivial

thoughts.

to

People

only as far as they are unset

there any hope for

The reader

bound by oath

against a higher love.

it

truth so sublime but

morrow tled

love can be

them."

will observe that

midst of his praise of the

spirit

Emerson

in the

of youth gives a


EMERSON

46 sly dig at

There

one of the foibles of his parishioners.

a quality of bumptiousness which is often found in early life. Emerson treats it as is

a kind of premature verse with what

senility.

above us

is

Conversely the person

who

"Whilst

we do

we con

not grow

cannot look up

old."

religi

ously to something above his present attainments

had aged

rapidly.

A person maybe a dotard while

yet in the twenties.

This was a sobering thought

not un frequently presented to the parish of young

men.


CHAPTER V SPENT THE DAY AT ESSEX JUNCTION 16,

"August

Vermont with

1868. Ellen.

Came home

last night

from

Middlebury on the discourse on Greatness,

Stopped

at

nth, Tuesday, and read my and the good work and influence of heroic scholars. On Wednesday spent the day at Essex Junction, and traversed the banks and much of the bed of the Winooski river, much admiring the falls, and the noble mountain peaks of Mansfield and Camel s Hump (which there appears to be the highest), and the view of the Adirondacks across the lake" intent

ONE

erson

Oversoul,

on becoming intimate with

Em

well

might postpone reading the he had meditated on the text,

till

Perhaps no junction point in all New England has been the innocent cause of more vituperation than Essex "Spent

the

Junction.

Day

at

Essex

Junction."

Here, for more than a generation, im

patient people have alighted

and waited for trains

which were not arranged for their convenience. To the commercial traveler, Essex Junction rep-

47


EMERSON

48

To

resents a sheer waste of time. tourist It is

it

the

summer

means a postponement of enjoyment. way to somewhere else.

a place on the

But to Emerson, Essex Junction was not con ceived of as a point of departure until the hour

came when he must not

actually depart.

This was

In the meantime, he was living in Essex Junction rather than merely passing till

evening.

There was no hurry, so that he had ample time to enjoy the banks of the Winooski river and the view of the distant mountains.

through

at

it.

Emerson was on

the

which he arrived

in

way

to

Mount

Mansfield,

due time. The next morn

ing at the Mountain Hotel

"a

man went through

the house ringing a loud bell and shouting rise/

and everybody dressed

down

to the

piazza."

in haste

Emerson joined

Sun

and went the eager

procession and had his look with the rest of them.

many sharp looks at the heavens and we descended to breakfast. I found in this

"After

earth,

company many agreeable In this

recital

losophy of

life.

people."

you have a glimpse of his phi Essex Junction, Mount Mans-


DAY AT ESSEX JUNCTION field

and

the

troop

of

were not

In

all alike.

But they were

different.

who

fellow-boarders

snatched a hasty sunrise on the fast

49

fact,

all

to break

way

they were quite

The

equally real.

contemplation of them absorbed successive

ments of his conscious

Each

life.

for a

mo little

while occupied the foreground of his mind and

became the representative of the cosmos. in its place and in its time was interesting. it

came

to the question

teresting,

he would

let

Each

When

which was the most in

them

it

fight

out

among

themselves.

This was the philosophy of the Mountain and the Squirrel.

am not so large as you, You are not so small as I And not half so

"I

spry."

That

talents differ

is

the fact

on which we must

agree before there can be any toleration or ap preciation.

Most of us have a bad

habit of taking

a personal preference and elevating versal standard of value.

it

into a uni

Each new

object

is


EMERSON

50

and found wanting. We and therefore it is not worth

weighed

in the balance

say, this

is

not that,

The word

our attention.

on a

criminate

are likely to say

The word

against."

takes

"discrimination"

We

hostile meaning.

"dis

has

"criticize"

also a suggestion of unfriendliness, for

con

it is

cerned with the perception of differences.

Emerson

habitual point of view

s

This

appreciative discrimination.

course not;

makes alike, its

it

it is

it

is

quite different

Even where

interesting.

is

was

that of

not that, of

that

is

what

the tubs look

pleasant to consider that each stands

own bottom. What is the most

important place in

all

on

the

For you it is the place where you actu are at this moment. This is the only point

world? ally

from which is visible

to you.

not need a sunrise.

at this particular time the universe

man

If

The day has "The

you are

with a

bell to its

inevitable

Finds them

truly alive,

clear

call.

morning

who

you do

summon you

in cellars be

to the


DAY AT ESSEX JUNCTION

51

And

be sure that all-loving Nature Will smile in a factory.

Yon ridge of purple landscape, Yon sky beneath the walls, Hold

all the hidden wonders In their scanty intervals."

There

is

a curious restlessness which

Not

mistaken for idealism.

our

in

real environment,

somewhere

desire to be

ness becomes chronic, there ing"

often

finding satisfaction

we

else.

is

are

filled

When is

"that

with the

this restless

driven feel

which transforms the pursuit of happiness

into a hurried flight

from unhappiness.

Even

our holidays become nerve-destroying tasks, as with jaded minds we are carried about to the places

come.

And

with our eyes on our watches,

we must hurry if we next sight that we have paid

know the

where we wait for sensations that do not

that

Palestine

when

was not a

we

are not to miss for.

tourist country in the days

the author of Ecclesiastes wrote of the va

rious vanities he

had seen under the sun ;

else

he

might have added a lamentation over the futility of an empty mind going about in search of cul-


EMERSON

52 This

ture.

a

a vanity

old,

I

have seen.

man who came

foolish

rich,

and

is

and that had a great

I

have seen

to a city strange history.

Yet did

he not seek to know what that history was, nor did he save an hour for quiet meditation on what

He

he saw. place

spent

where the

much

city was,

and when he was there

he worried over the delay that foolish rich

gold to come to the

in getting

man remembered

away.

And

nothing of the

a dinner which was not so good as he might have had at home. city except

Because he found so much to interest him at

home Emerson

takes a whimsical pleasure

in

speaking against foreign travel as a means of cul

But he evidently had

ture.

sive value that

and

its

was

in his

in

mind

the exces

day put upon Europe

traditions.

His disparagement of travel did not arise from any incuriosity. He had an eager desire to see all the world.

But he was

like a small

ing learned that the procession

own

is

boy who, hav to pass by his

house, takes his position on his

own door


DAY AT ESSEX JUNCTION Why

step.

at

home he

is

"It

should he go is

sure to see

away when by the show ?

53

staying

for want of self -culture that the super

stition of Travelling,

whose

idols are Italy,

Eng

land, Egypt, retains its fascination for all

edu

cated Americans.

They who made England,

Italy,

or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast

where they were,

like

an axis of the

earth.

In manly hours,

we

place.

The

traveller; the wise

soul

stays at home,

on any

and when

occasion, call

foreign lands, he

men

no

is

sensible

is

feel that

and

home

still,

and

by the expression of

and not "I

visits cities

man

his house, or into

nance, that he goes the missionary of virtue,

our

his necessities, his duties,

him from

at

is

duty

and men

like

shall

his

make

counte

wisdom and a sovereign,

an interloper or a valet. have no churlish objection to the circum like

navigation of the globe, for the purposes of art,

of study, and benevolence, so that the

man

is first

domesticated, or does not go abroad with the


EMERSON

54

hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows.

He who travels to

be amused, or to get somewhat

which he does not

carry, travels

self,

and grows old even

away from him

in

youth among old In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind

things.

He

have become old and dilapidated as they. carries ruins to ruins. "Travelling is

a fool

Our

s paradise.

first

jour

neys discover to us the indifference of places.

home

I

dream

that at Naples, at

Rome,

intoxicated with beauty, and lose

pack

my

trunk, embrace

the sea, and at last beside

me

is

my

wake up

my

friends,

I

At

can be

sadness.

I

embark on

in Naples,

and there

the stern fact, the sad self, unrelent

ing, identical, that I fled from.

can, and the

palaces.

I seek

I affect to

the Vati

be intoxicated

with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxi cated. My giant goes with me wherever I go."

There are times when the medium at a seance ex cuses herself for her inability to put the sitter in

communication with departed

spirits.

She does


DAY AT ESSEX JUNCTION not

know what

are not

the matter, but

"the

conditions

right."

Every ficulty.

is

55

traveler has experienced a similar dif

He

has spent time and

famous spot;

money

to

go to a

but not his soul.

body has been transported There are inhibitions that pre

vent imaginative

communion with

his

the mighty

past

Emerson preferred to be in Essex Junction when the spiritual conditions were right rather than in

Rome when

functioning. if

his

mind was not properly

Essex Junction

one happens to be in the

is

a wonderful place

mood

for seeing

it.


CHAPTER

VI

FRIENDSHIP WITHOUT INTIMACY is a strange face in the Freshman class I should like to know very much. He has a great deal of character in his features and should be a fast friend or a bitter enemy. His name is / shall endeavor to become better ac "There

whom

.

quainted with him and wish, if possible, to recall at a future period the singular sensations which his presence produced in me." JOURNAL, 1820.

was an upper classman,

EMERSON only seventeen years of thus of Martin

age,

albeit

when he wrote

Gay of Hingham, afterward a

distinguished analytical chemist living in Boston.

Emerson

s son,

that there

is

commenting on

no evidence that

college or afterward, ever

ward

his father, either in

made any advances

further acquaintance.

that he ever really

knew him,

interested to hear of him,

untimely death in 1850.

56

this passage, says

It

to

does not appear

yet he

was always

and was grieved at his The two men were en-


FRIENDSHIP WITHOUT INTIMACY tirely different in their ests,

5?

temperaments and inter

Gay being known by

his classmates as

"cool

Gay."

This capacity for shy admirations for his opposites, and for friendly interests in people with

whom

he would find

was

versation,

it

difficult to

characteristic of

keep up a con

Emerson.

He

was sometimes painfully conscious of it as a bar rier which prevented him from really "getting

at"

people

whom

he wished to know.

he defended the attitude that

and so made a virtue of his

To most ship

is

ject,

state

persons,

At other times

was natural

to him,

necessity.

Emerson

s

essay on Friend

unsatisfactory as an exposition of the sub

though it is very revealing of the author s of mind. "Friendship," says Emerson, "like

the immortality of the soul, lieved."

And

is

too good to be be

his account of friendship has a fine

aloofness that befits the love for a disembodied spirit rather

than a

warm

attachment to an im

perfect creature of flesh and blood.

One of make

the conditions that

in a treaty of

Emerson would

friendship would be that


EMERSON

58

neither party should trespass on the personality

of others.

It

was friendship by

"absent

treat

ment."

we

should

"Why

desecrate noble and beautiful

by intruding on them?

souls

personal relations with

and know

his house,

Why

sisters?

Why

insist

your friend ?

his

on rash

Why

go to mother and brother and

be visited by him at your

own?

Are

these things material to our covenant ? Leave

this

touching and clawing.

Let him be to

me

a

spirit. "To

suffices

friend I write a letter, and

my

I receive

a

you

from him little.

come nearer to a man by

shall not

into his house.

In

to

It

me.

"You

should

That seems

letter.

we

intrude

all this

high horse.

We

we

why

?"

feel that

It is

getting

see the noble afar off,

a shy

Emerson was

man s way

riding his

of comforting

himself for something that he unfortunately lacks, x

but which he would give anything to possess.

He


FRIENDSHIP WITHOUT INTIMACY was, to use Paul ties.

ship

s

59

phrase, glorying in his infirmi

That which he was praising was not friend but sublimated hero-worship, which is quite

a different thing. In the privacy of his note-books he treats his

He

infirmity in quite a different spirit.

laments

was not a good mixer. Like so Englanders, it was difficult for him to

the fact that he

many New

establish personal relations.

At

the age of twenty,

when looking forward

to the ministry, he makes this self-criticism

:

comparison of myself with my mates that six or seven, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, "Every

years have

made has convinced me

exists a signal defect of character

which neutral

izes in great part the just influence

ought to of

have."

common

He

sympathies."

mean the absence of "Its

expresses

bitter fruits are

By

it

that there

my

as the

talents

"absence

this he seems to

the material for

"small talk."

a sore uneasiness in the

com

pany of most men and women, a frigid fear of offending and jealousy of disrespect, an inability to lead

and an unwillingness to follow the cur-


EMERSON

60

...

rent conversation.

am

ation I

In

my

frequent humili

compelled to remember the poor boy

who cried, I told you, father, they would find He sums up his youthful confession, me out. "What is called a warm heart, I have it 5

not."

When same book:

he was

He

limitation. "Barriers

he was conscious of the

sixty,

of

jotted

man

down

in his note

They who

impassable.

should be friends cannot pass into each other.

Friends are

fictitious,

tary experience.

founded on some

But what we want

is

momen consecu-

tiveness."

All this It

is

not evidence of lack of a

was rather a

what he

felt.

lack of an easy

The

chill

in the atmosphere that

way

was not

warm heart.

of expressing

in himself, but

was about him. But there

was evidently a personal experience behind

this

generalization about society.

"Society,

derstand

like wealth, is

it.

who do

It is

good for those who un

a foolish waste of time for

seems impossible for any one to expand in a crowd to his natural dimen-

those

not.

It


FRIENDSHIP WITHOUT INTIMACY All character seems to fade

sions.

61

away from

all

Every woman seems suffering and you accuse yourself and com

the accomplices.

for a chair,

miserate those you talk

There

to."

something delightfully amusing in analysis of his own failure as a con

is

Emerson

s

versationalist

seemed, as

"It

I

mused

in the streets of

Bos

ton on the unpropitious effect of the town on

my

humor, that there needs a certain deliberation and tenacity in the entertainment of a thought tain longanimity to

that confidence

a cer

and

sta

which can meet the demands others make

bility

on

make

us.

I

am

too quick-eyed and unstable.

thoughts are too short, as they say

my

My

sentences

along from stone to stone over the Lethe which gurgles around my path, but the I step

are.

companion encounters me just leave one stone, and before my foot has well

odds arc that as I

my

reached the other, and water.

down

I

tumble into Lethe

But the man of long wind who

receives


EMERSON

62

his thought with a certain phlegmatic entertain

ment, and unites himself to

it

for the time, as a

a boat, has a better principle of poise not easily moved from the perpendicular."

sailor to

and

is

With

the remarkable group of

men who made

Concord famous, Emerson was on terms of miliar friendship.

fa

For Bronson Alcott he cher

ished an admiration which seems extravagant.

He

loved to walk and talk with the shy poet,

Thoreau was for two years an inmate of Emerson s house, and the two men

Ellery Channing.

worked

in the

garden together.

In Boston

Emer

son was a member of the Saturday Club, where

he continually met Longfellow, Holmes, Agassiz

and the

rest.

Yet he was not a man to shine

in sucH society.

His mind was contemplative, rather than conver sational.

He

did not care to

"hold

his

own"

in

a controversy. Why should he ? "Emerson was a good citizen and a good neighbor with his neigh bors, always

went to town meeting and

intently to the strong spirits

who

listened

ruled the dis-


FRIENDSHIP WITHOUT INTIMACY cussions, without taking

in

any part

63

them him

self."

The most

Thomas

notable of his friendships

The correspondence between

Carlyle.

them continued for many

many

was with

years,

expressions of esteem.

and there were

The

was

friendship

a real one, but the fact that the broad Atlantic

them was a great aid to their good For though the two men liked each

lay between fellowship.

other, they did not like the

same

things.

Carlyle threatened to visit America, and

may

we

be sure that he would not have enjoyed the

visit.

Emerson

s

common

cheery faith in the

man seemed

to the testy

Scotchman a

mentalism.

They both

believed in hero-worship,

bit

of senti-

but they did not worship the same heroes.

New

England Transcendentalism did not agree

\vith

Carlyle

s

temper.

Emerson

sent a copy of the Dial to his friend.

Carlyle writes,

course

I

of what

read is

"The

it

Dial No.

with interest;

1

came

it is

duly.

Of

the utterance

youngest in your land, pure, etherial

as the voices of the morning!

And

yet

you


EMERSON

64

know me theoretic ;

for all

me

it

is

too etherial, speculative,

theory becomes more and more con

inadequate, untrue,

fessedly

most a kind of mocking "Faithful

to

me."

wounds of a

are the

al

unsatisfactory,

And

friend."

these tokens of friendship were seldom absent

from the

letters

that passed between the two.

Emerson s

Carlyle writes of the impression

says made upon him

"It

is

a sermon to

terances are ; a real

me

as

your deliberate ut word which I feel to be such all

almost or altogether the one such, in a

alas,

world

es

:

all

full

of jargons, hearsays, echoes and

vain noises which cannot pass with

me

for words.

a praise far beyond any literary one; literary praises are not worth repeating in com parison. For the rest I have to object still (what This

is

you will

we

call

objecting to the

Law

of Nature) that

you a speaker indeed, but as it were a soliloquizer on the eternal mountain tops only, in find

vast solitudes where

men and

their affairs

lie all

hushed in a dim remoteness; and only the

man


FRIENDSHIP WITHOUT INTIMACY and the

stars are visible,

whom

65

so fine a fellow

we could perpetually punch into and say, We won t you come and help us then? Why have terrible need of one man like you down seems he,

cold and vacant

up there noth ing paintable but rainbows and emotions; come down and you shall do life pictures, passions,

among

us

facts

which transcend

It is

!

stuttering

all

;

thought, and leave

it

To which he an and stammering! won t, can t and doesn t want to (as

swers that he

the cockneys have

it)

:

so I leave

You Western Gymnosophist ford one man for that, too. This

is all

!

him and

Well,

we

say,

can af

very well for a friendship carried on

by correspondence. Carlyle thinks of himself as a man who is dealing with concrete realities, while

Emerson

is

dealing in remote abstractions.

But had they

lived in the

same town with

opportunity to discuss the practical questions of politics

and

social welfare, they

into collision.

much

The

fact

was

would have come

that

Emerson was

as

interested in concrete realities as Carlyle,


EMERSON

66

but he came to different conclusions in regard to

them.

Carlyle believed in government by strong

Frederick the Great and Cromwell.

like

men,

Democracy was an abomination to him.

man

like Lincoln,

who

A states

thought of himself as an

was altogether Liberalism of the modern

interpreter of the popular will,

outside his sympathy. sort

seemed to him utter weakness and muddle-

headedness.

Emerson, though he preferred to write about principles rather than their immediate applica tions,

on.

was never

The

in doubt as to

principles

which side he was

which he preached were the

ones which were being applied by the democratic

reformers of his

movements

at

own

He

day.

believed in the

which Carlyle scoffed. he says

his friend s criticism,

Answering

:

you say now and heretofore respecting the remoteness of my writing and thinking from "What

real life,

criticism

what

though

I

hear substantially the same

made by my countrymen,

it means."

I

do not know


FRIENDSHIP WITHOUT INTIMACY Indeed,

Emerson

s idea

of real

67

life differed

so

profoundly from Carlyle s that their minds sel dom met. To him the laws of the universe were not only the great

realities,

but the most intimate

Every person and every action

realities.

trated them.

He

illus

believed in the principles of

democracy which Carlyle scorned. These funda mental differences would have been accentuated

The

in daily intercourse.

to

New

that

it

visit

England never took

did not;

"for,"

the style

we demand

establish

it

in flesh

of the Scotchman

place,

and

says Emerson,

it

was well

"the

higher

of friendship the less easy to

and

blood."


CHAPTER

HATE THIS SHALLOW AMERICANISM

I

"I

VII

hate this shallow Americanism which hopes to

get rich by credits, to get knowledge by raps on mid night tables, to learn the economy of mind by phre nology, or skill without study, or mastery without apprenticeship, or sale of goods through pretending they will sell, or power through making believe you are powerful. They think they have got it, but they

have got something

else"

of Emerson was Judge

Haliburton of Nova Scotia, the creator of AONTEMPORARY

Sam

Mr. Slick of

Slick.

was a

typical

Yankee

Slickville, Connecticut,

as seen by neighbors across

the northern border.

He was

shrewd, enterpris

good-humored, and in his way re was an ardent patriot, with his eye on

ing, inquisitive, ligious.

the still

He

main chance. better at

He was

an argument

tude in the transaction.

good

at a bargain,

and

in defense of his recti

He was no hypocrite,

for

he saw no reason to pretend to be something

68


SHALLOW AMERICANISM which he was

not.

He was

ican citizen and he didn

were thousands was.

He

t

simply a plain

care

who knew

in Connecticut just as

felt it

69

it.

Amer There

good as he

a privilege to represent the Great

Republic.

The

blatant

Americanism of Sam Slick must

be compared with the solid English complacency of Mr. Podsnap. tional

failings

Both were caricatures of na

which were

easily

recognizable.

Emerson was enough of an American to under stand Sam Slick and to laugh with him as well as to laugh at him, but he recognized that this

shallow Americanism had

its

dangers.

The very ease with which the American could make a living made him overestimate his own powers.

He

took the gifts of nature in a new

continent for rewards for his as he

was and

own

merit.

Bold

self-assertive in little things, he

lacked in any standard by which to judge him self.

He was

gregarious in his mental habits,

and curiously averse to strenuous

intellectual

effort.

The

timidity of our public opinion

is

our

dis-


EMERSON

70 ease,

or shall

I

say the publicness of our opinion,

Good nature

the absence of private opinion. plentiful but fight

down

duced a

we want justice with the

proud."

sufficient

stinctively

expansive

side,

heart of steel to

America has not pro

number of men who

throw themselves

ness, of youth, of

"on

find

legislative

hope; on the

liberal,

blood.

sumed

mend

weak

on the

never on the defensive, the con system."

no expression in our State papers or debate in our lyceums or churches,

especially in feeling,

will in

the side of

serving, the timorous, the lock-and-bolt

"I

is

our newspapers, of a high national

no lofty counsels that rightfully stir the I speak of those organs which can be pre to speak a popular sense.

They recom

conventional virtues, whatever will earn

and preserve property; always the

capitalist, the

college, the church, the hospital, the theater, the

hotel, the road, the ship, the capitalist,

goes to secure, adorn, enlarge these ever jeopardizes any of these

is

whatever

good what ;

is damnable."


SHALLOW AMERICANISM

71

This description of a familiar kind of Ameri

canism

The

1844

in

is

1920.

easily recognizable in

shallow reformers are equally familiar.

"Many

rubbish, class.

a reformer perishes in the removal of

and that makes the offensiveness of

are partial, they are not equal to the

They

work they

this

They

pretend.

lose their

way

in the

on the kingdom of darkness; they expend their energy on some accidental evil, and lose

assault all

their sanity

moment social

man

and power of

that one or

system be corrected, but of

be in his

No

benefit.

It is

of

two or twenty errors

much

little

in

our

that the

senses."

foreign critic has ever pointed out

clearly the faults of the

more

American temperament.

But shallow Americanism, with its boast fulness and its conventionality, can not blind him to the ideal

America

that lies far deeper.

It is yet in the

making. "We

cannot look on the freedom of this coun-


EMERSON

72 try, in

connection with

its

youth, without a pre

sentiment that here shall laws and institutions exist

on some

of nature.

scale of proportion to the majesty

To men

legislating for the area be

twixt the two oceans, betwixt the snows and the

somewhat of the grandeur of nature

tropics,

infuse

itself

into

the

code.

population crowding on

all

A

ships

will

heterogeneous

from

all

corners

of the world to the great gates of North America,

New

namely, Boston,

York, and

New

Orleans,

and thence proceeding inward to the prairie and the mountains, and quickly contributing their private thought to the public opinion, their to the treasury,

and

toll

their vote to the election,

it

cannot be doubted that the legislation of this country should become more catholic and cos

mopolitan than that of any other. easy for

America

expansive and

to inspire

humane

It

seems so

and express the most

spirit;

new-born,

free,

healthful, strong, the land of the labourer, of the

democrat, of the philanthropist, of the believer,

of the

saint, she

It is the

should speak for the

human

race.

country of the future. Like Washington,


SHALLOW AMERICANISM c

proverbially

through

73

the city of magnificent distances/

and

all its cities, States,

Territories,

it is

a country of beginnings, of projects, of designs,

and expectations. "Gentlemen,

there

is

Destiny by which the

a sublime and friendly

human

race

is

guided

the

race never dying, the individual never spared to results affecting masses

narrow and

selfish,

and

what

his

day

in

are

and voluntary

is

not discovered

It is

activity,

befalls, with or without their

Emerson

Men

but the Genius or Destiny

not narrow, but beneficent. in their calculated

ages.

but in

design."

much

as the politicians of

Manifest Destiny.

But he hoped for

believed as

the country a destiny greater than that politicians planned.

The commercial

w hich T

the

progress of

was something to rejoice in as a part of a great onward movement. But commercialism was not the end toward which the nation was the day

moving. "Our

part

is

plainly not to

throw ourselves

across the track, to block improvement, and

sit


EMERSON

74

t

till

we

are stone, but to watch the uprise of suc

and to conspire with the work Government has been a fossil; it

cessive mornings,

of

new

days.

should be a plant.

I conceive that the office

of

law should be to express, and not to im pede the mind of mankind. New thoughts, new Trade was one instrument, but Trade things. statute

and must give way to some thing broader and better, whose signs are already is

also for a time,

dawning

in the

sky."


CHAPTER

VIII

THE POET

am born a poet of a low class without doubt, but a poet. That is my nature and vocation. My singing, to be sure, is very husky and is for the most part in prose. Still I am a poet in the sense of a perceiver and dear lover of the harmonies that are in the soul and in matter, and specially of the corre "I

spondence between

them."

S estimate of was given EMERSON

in

a

his poetical gifts

letter to his

future wife.

When

he so

seems

ungracious to agree with his critical

-clearly points

ment, but one must do in the sense of a

so.

out his limitations,

He was

it

judg

not a poet

maker of mighty harmonies. He

did not walk like Milton, with his

"singing

robes"

But he was a poet in the sense of being a perceiver and dear lover of natural har monies, and he made us sharers of his perception. about him.

His singing voice was certainly very husky. Only a few of his poems stand the test of being 75


EMERSON

76

read aloud with perfect pleasure. are conscious of a metrical

jolt.

Frequently

Not only

ear pained by dissonance, but there

is

is

we the

a sense that

the poetical inspiration has suddenly given out. I

am

he had frankly adopted "free For though he was a poet, he was not a

have been happier verse/

if

In

natural rhymster.

"Merlin"

he makes a decla

which would please our

ration of independence

new

Emerson would

inclined to think that

poets.

"Great

is

the art

Great be the manners, of the bard. He shall not his brain encumber

With

And

the coil of

rhythm and

number."

then he weakens his declaration by add

ing: "But,

The

leaving rule and pale forethought, aye climb

He

shall

For

his

critic is

rhyme."

tempted to ask,

rhyme go rather than climb

Why

for it?

not

let

the

Emerson

s

rhymes were often most unhappy, and had the air of being forced into service.


Read

his

rhymes

like

THE POET

77

You

will find jingling

"May Day."

"Not

Nor

for a regiment s parade, laws or rulers made,

evil

Blue Walden

We have such lines

rolls its cannonade."

as these

:

"Every tree and stem and chink Gushed with syrup to the brink.

The

air stole into the streets of towns,

Refreshed the wise, reformed the

clowns."

After these rhymes that are easy to a

have others that are

difficult:

fault,

as almanac

we and

coming-back, Superior Lake and Mackinac, cava liers is

and

travelers.

Sometimes an obsolete word

introduced for the sake of an imperfect rhyme

"They

shook the snow from hats and shoon, their April raiment

They put

on."

All this needs to be said at the beginning. is

when

full

lapses that

son

s real

:

allowance

we

is

made

are prepared to appreciate

poetical gifts.

It

for his poetical

Emer

While he had no power


EMERSON

78

of sustained verbal melody, he has given an un

number of

usual

In

perfect lines.

"Voluntaries"

we have a

succession of

com

monplace verses, and then come upon the lines that seemed chiseled by some great artist, aus terely beautiful and true: "So

nigh

is

grandeur to our dust,

So near is God to man, When Duty whispers low, Thou must, The Youth replies, I can."

In

"Forerunners"

word.

There

"Each

and

is

one would not change a

a gladness of adventure.

All,"

"The

Problem,"

sources of endless delight.

In

"Two

Emerson expresses melodiously his

He

is

"Days,"

are

Rivers,"

poetical creed.

a perceiver and dear lover of the corre

spondence between the outer and the inner worlds.

The

little

river that runs through

symbol of the

Concord

the

eternities.

summer

voice, Musketaquit, Repeats the music of the rain, But sweeter rivers pulsing flit Through thee, as thou through Concord "Thy

is

plain.


THE POET "Thou

in thy

narrow bed

79

art pent,

The stream I love unbounded goes Through flood and sea and firmament, Through light, through life, it forward In the longer poems, like "Woodnotes,"

there

is

flows."

"Monadnock"

nothing consecutive.

and

One

might read them as Emerson himself was ac customed to read, beginning at the last page and turning back the leaves in search of a rewarding

But there

sentence.

and a sense of the

a sparkling atmosphere

is

New

England woods and

hills.

Twas one of the charmed days When the genius of God doth flow,

"

The wind may

alter

A tempest cannot

Emerson

is

as revealed in

the poet of nature, and

New

England.

light parks of beech berries, the

twenty ways,

blow."

and

We

pine,"

it is

nature

see the

and the purple

upland pastures, the delicate mosses,

the granite ledges, over which the brooks go bling, the grass,"

mountain lakes

the

"twi

"damp

fields

"edged

known

tum

with sand and

to bird

and

fox."


EMERSON

80

Nowhere land

is

far to the primitive granite, yet the

is it

not bare.

Even on

like pine roots crosswise

the ledges

grown"

"the

give a

rope-

home

like invitation.

Nature

though there

a trace of austerity about her

is

is

everywhere friendly,

welcome.

But

to the poet the

outward forms of nature

are but symbols.

me truths, am weary of surfaces,

"Give

For

I

And

die of

inanition."

Flashing through woods and mountains and sky, he sees truths that strengthen

What he ".

.

and

seeks to express in his poetry

.

inspire.

is

the sweet affluence of love and song,

The rich results of the divine consents Of man and earth, of world beloved and

is

lover."

Every poet who has any distinctive quality and not merely an imitator of other poets sees

something which he wants to express. sight

is

his

real

contribution.

The

This in skill

witfi


THE POET which he

is

able to

81

communicate what he sees

is

another matter.

The

poets of the most universal appeal are

those

who

more

intensely,

see

what everybody else sees, only and who can tell their story in Robert

words which every one understands. Burns, Whittier, James interpreters.

Whitcomb

Riley, need

They themselves are

interpreting

what we have already experienced. There are other poets whose endeavor

make

no

is

to

us see something which, without their help,

we might

miss, or at least treat as something un-

Browning saw a greater complexity in human conduct and character than we usually rec

poetical.

ognize, and he sought to present this complexity

to the imagination as well as to the reason.

This

involved a good deal of explanation on his part,

and explanatory remarks are always prose. But the true Browning lover knows what his poet is driving at and helps him out

when he

gets into

difficulties.

Walt Whitman saw

the poetry

bulk and the sublimity that

is

which

is

in

mere

in great bare spaces.


EMERSON

82

Let others sing of the finished products of art and nature; he would celebrate the glory of the im perfect, the

To

romance of the raw material.

his

mind a catalogue of the most ordinary things was suggestive. It was the stuff poems are made of. was an inventory of the wealth we hold in com mon. He repeats the names of American states It

and

as Milton repeated the names of the

cities

places old in story,

for

all sorts

which

in his imagination stood

of vague sublimities.

we

If

catch

something of this imaginative enthusiasm for crude bulk and wide spaces and overflowing vi tality,

then

Otherwise, in the

we greet Whitman as a we make nothing of him.

adds, if is

says Paul,

world,"

and no voice

is

without

we do

talking,

he

is

"many

great poet "There

are

kinds of voices,

But he

its significance/*

not understand the person

a barbarian to us and

we

who

are as

barbarians to him.

The

poetry of

out of a peculiar

man saw

Emerson has a

quality

way of looking at

things in the rough.

growing

Whit

things. "Here

is

what

moves in magnificent masses, careless of partial-


THE POET Emerson saw

lars."

83

the motion of masses, but

he was not careless of particulars.

was

upon the mass but on the particles was composed. And his quick eye

fixed not

of which

it

perceived that these particles

of

His attention

its

had each a motion

own, and that the motion was bewilderingly

rapid.

Our dull eyes

see results but not processes.

talk of the quickness of thought, but

we

We

are really

very slow-witted creatures and seldom see what is

going on.

The

things which

we watch and

talk

about are really the things which have already happened, just as

which only

light,

current events

not

strictly

The

be looking at a star by

was shining some Our judgment on what we call

centuries ago.

is

we may

is

tells

us that

it

apt to be misleading because

it

contemporaneous.

great illusion

is

that of arrested motion.

Things seem to us to stand

still,

which

in reality

are whirling about with inconceivable velocity.

Our

sciences

have demonstrated what our senses

can not perceive, and that which staggers our imagination.


EMERSON

84

The astronomer tells ball

on which we

live

us of the

way

goes hurtling through space.

But even the astronomer does not

The chemist molecules.

tells

this earthen

feel the

motion.

us of the wild dances of the

We in a dull way perceive the

fact of

growth and decay and attraction and repulsion, but we do not perceive them as incessantly hap

When

pening.

a powder mill

is

destroyed,

we

But of the multi

are startled by the explosion.

tude of tiny explosions, which result in the open ing of a rose, or the scattering of thistledown,

we

are unconscious.

Now

Emerson was profoundly

stirred

by

thought of the explosive power of nature. InHeed his world was always exploding. He at tempts to express the sense of these sudden hap penings in his poetry.

He

is

preeminently the

poet of swift motion. "Hearken!

Hearken!

If thou wouldst know the mystic song Chanted when the sphere was young. Aloft, abroad, the paean swells ; wise man! hear st thou half it tells?

O


THE POET

85

O

wise man! hear st thou the least part? Tis the chronicle of art. To the open air it sings Sweet the genesis of things,

Of tendency through endless ages, Of star dust, and star-pilgrimages, Of rounded w orlds, of space and time, Of the old flood s subsiding slime, Of chemic matter, force and form, Of poles and pow ers, cold, wet and warm: The rushing metamorphosis r

r

Dissolving all that fixture is, Melts things that be to things that seem, And solid nature to a dream.

O,

listen to the

undersong, ever young And, far within the cadent pauses, The chorus of the ancient Causes

The ever

old, the

;

!"

This was the theme of Emerson

was

s poetry.

the genesis of things as revealed by

science

He was It

modern

and interpreted by the poetic imagination. the poet of the

was a world

in

"rushing

metamorphosis."

which there was persistent The world soul

force and ever-changing form. cries,

It


EMERSON

86 "Hearken

once more

I will tell thee the

Older

am

Change

I

!

mundane

lore.

than thy numbers wot, may, but I pass not. I

Hitherto all things fast abide, And anchored in the tempest ride. Trenchant Time behooves to hurry All to yean and all to bury All the forms are fugitive, But the substances survive." :

And

that calm for which philosophers have

always yearned, standing

how

shall

we

Not by

attain it?

seeking refuge in some venerable

still,

form, but by flinging ourselves into the swift cur rent,

and yielding ourselves

It is possible for

with nature

a

man

s

to the eternal power.

thought to keep step

triumphant piercing sight," seeing the end toward which all things move.

"On

"with

him

the light of star and

moon

with purer radiance down Shall All constellations of the sky Shed their virtue through his eye, Him Nature giveth for defence His formidable innocence; fall

;

The mounting All spheres,

all

sap, the shells, the sea, stones his helpers be.


THE He

shall

87

POET]

never be old

Nor

his fate shall be foretold

He

shall

Without wailing, without

The Actual

;

meet the speeding year

is

fear."

swift, but the Ideal is swifter.

"Thee gliding through a sea of form, Like the lightning through a storm,

Somewhat not Somewhat not

No No

to be possessed, to be caressed,

feet so fleet could ever find,

perfect form could ever bind, Thou eternal fugitive, Hovering over all that live, Quick and skilful to inspire

Sweet, extravagant

desire."

There are poems of Emerson whicH we can make nothing of unless we have happened to brood over the same problems. There is "Initial, Daemonic and Celestial Love." It is unreadable, unless one reads between the lines.

When we ask that

it

is

what

it is all

about? the answer

an attempt to follow that

metamorphosis" that \ve call love.

name we speak of

is

"rushing

Under one

the attraction of sex which


EMERSON

88

man

shares with

all

the animal world,

is

a passion in

capable

of

its

and the

affections.

Here

beginning sensuous and

selfish,

highest and most disinterested

infinite

refinement

till

becomes

it

Between love as a natural im

purely spiritual.

pulse and love as a religious experience there are

innumerable subtle gradations.

Emerson s

lines

suggest the swiftness of the transitions.

At

first

love

"He

is

unmoral.

is

wilful, mutable,

Shy, untamed, inscrutable, Swifter- fashioned than the # # #

For Cupid goes behind

all

fairies.

law.

are impulses that are Restless, predatory, hasting; And they pounce on other eyes "There

As lions on their prey. And round their circles

is writ Plainer than the day, Underneath, within, above, Love love love love."

Out of

these primitive instincts arise the higher

kinds of love.

They do not develop

in logical


THE POET They are

order.

89

rather fierce and sudden pas

sions which, however, tend

toward nobleness.

was made of social earth, Child and brother from his birth, Tethered by a liquid cord Of blood through veins of kindred

"Man

poured."

There

developed a loyalty to family and

is

There come

tribe.

There

"throbs

of a wild

religion."

is

of a richer vein Graces of a subtler strain."

"Beauty

After a time love

is

drawn

to

its

object, not

a blind urgency, but a conscious choice. lover

is

The

open-eyed.

doth elect

"He

The

And And

beautiful and fortunate, the sons of intellect,

Who But

by

this

the souls of ample fate, the Future s gate unbar."

love

with

all

its

possibilities

of


EMERSON

90

chivalry and romance

own, and scorns

its

Draws men

but

"the

is

It seeks

all else.

to their likeness

a love that

Daemon ever

pulse which unites

So

divides.

at heart selfish.

Daemons are self-seeking, fierce and limitary will

"The

Their

There

is

it

"Ever

is

a

wall."

road,"

That im

met by an impulse which

happens that

the Daemonic love

Is the ancestor of

But these

to build a

"delights

builds

still."

wars."

and passions do not exhaust the meaning of love. There is a partial preferences

celestial love.

"But

God

I will

There

There truth.

is

It is

perfection.

kind.

said,

have a purer is

smoke

a love that a passion It

gift,

in the flame/ is

still,

comes with

"

one with justice and but

it is

a passion for

insight of a swifter


THE POET

91

must mount for love all form In one only form dissolves.

"Thou

Into vision where

*

*

#

for a beam "Pray Out of that sphere, Thee to guide and to redeem. O, what a load of care and toil, By lying use bestowed, From his shoulders falls who sees

The

The

true

astronomy."

love of the one becomes the symbol of

good-will to "Not

Of

all.

glad, as the low-loving herd,

self in

other

still

preferred,

But they have

heartily designed

The

benefit of

broad mankind.

And

they serve

After their Without a

own

men

austerely,

genius, clearly,

false humility;

For this is Love s nobility, Not to scatter bread and gold, Goods and raiment bought and sold But to hold fast his simple sense,

:

And speak the speech of innocence, And with hand, and body, and blood, To make his bosom-counsel good. For he that feeds men serveth few He serves all who dares be ;

true."


EMERSON

92 In

all this

ophy.

Emerson

But he does

it

is

expressing his philos

not as a formal teacher,

but as a poet.

In the

"Threnody,"

in

which he sought com

fort after the death of a dearly loved child, there is

the same sense of the quick transitions between

He summons

the physical and the spiritual.

his

faltering thought to follow his

regions of the unknown.

of possibilities of

It is

boy into the vast not a void but full

life.

"When frail

Nature can no more,

Then

My

the Spirit strikes the hour : servant Death, with solving rite,

Pours

finite into

The loved form

infinite."

disappears, but the love goes

in search of its object.

on

Change their must be, but

change does not mean destruction of real values.

Emerson is

finds strength in the thought that

"excellent

nence

is

is

permanent."

And

that

what

perma

not of form but of force.

"Wilt

Whose

thou freeze love s tidal flow, streams through nature circling go ?


THE POET

93

Nail the wild star to its track the half -climbed zodiac?

On

Light

Blood Life

is

light

is

which

radiates,

blood which circulates,

is life

which generates,

And many-seeming

life

is

one,

Wilt thou transfix and make

it

none?

onward

force too starkly pent In figure, bone, and lineament? Wilt thou, uncalled, interrogate, Talker! the unreplying Fate? Nor see the genius of the whole Its

Ascendant in the private soul, Beckon it when to go and come, Self-announced its hour of doom? Fair the soul s recess and shrine, Magic-built to last a season; Masterpiece of love benign Fairer that expansive reason

Whose omen

tis, and sign. Wilt thou not ope thy heart to know What rainbows teach, and sunsets show ? Verdict which accumulates

From

lengthening scroll of

human

fates,

Voice of earth to earth returned, Prayers of saints that inly burned, Saying,

What

As God

lives, is

is

excellent,

permanent

;

Hearts are dust, hearts loves remain, Heart s love will meet thee again


EMERSON

94

Revere the Maker; fetch thine eye Up to his style, and manners of the sky. Not of adamant and gold Built he heaven stark and cold; No, but a nest of bending reeds, Flowering grass, and scented weeds; Or like a traveller s fleeing tent, Or bow above the tempest bent Built of tears and sacred flames, And virtue reaching to its aims Built of furtherance and pursuing, ;

;

Not of

spent deeds, but of doing. Silent rushes the swift Lord

Through ruined systems still Broadsowing, bleak and void

restored,

to bless, Plants with worlds the wilderness; Waters with tears of ancient sorrow Apples of Eden ripe to-morrow. House and tenant go to ground,

Lost in God, in Godhead

found."


CHAPTER

IX

THE POETRY OF SCIENCE always goes abreast with the just eleva keeping step with religion and meta physics; or the state of science is an index of selfknozvledge. Since everything in Nature answers to a moral power, if any phenomenon remains brute and dark it is because the corresponding faculty in "Science

man

tion of the

the observer

is

not yet

S

EMERSON gence keeping itual faculties is

active"

idea of the scientific step with the

intelli

moral and

an illuminating one.

It

spir

suggests

to us what happened in the nineteenth century,

and gave

The

rise to so

much

confusion.

orderly progress of the

human mind was

broken up by the sudden and unprecedented ad vance of the physical sciences.

In a single gener

ation knowledge advanced with great leaps, which carried

it

into regions

been entered. the scientific

which had never before

There was a penetrating power in method which amazed those who 95


EMERSON

96 used

it.

The

geologist, the chemist, the biologist,

were daily enlarging the sphere of knowledge. Political economists were claiming the whole sphere of morals as their own.

But

all this

advance of

Was

progress was one-sided.

the

scientific

knowledge only another name for disenchantment? Was the bloom of the world to be brushed off, never

The

turn?

mood

to re

poets and the artists and idealistic

Those who picture Age as one

moralists were panic-stricken. the

more

of the so-called Victorian

of

smug complacency forget the predominant feeling of its men of literary and artistic genius.

Ruskin, Tennyson, Matthew Arnold agree in la

menting the

dom

fact that "knowledge

lingers."

world.

A

comes but wis

glory had departed from the

We are in danger, they thought, of know

ing too much.

Matthew Arnold voiced in his

poem,

"The

Future."

boat that floats upon

beginning

it

was a

this

despondent

Man was

born in a

the River of Time.

clear flowing

moo d

At

the

mountain stream,


THE POETRY OF SCIENCE

97

and looking out upon the romantic mountains the voyager

s

heart

"As

So

Our

is

was

full

of joy.

the world on the banks the mind of the man."

is

fathers lived in a world of poetry.

Life to

them was simple but full of mystery. It was easy But the tract to believe and wonder and enjoy. which the River of Time now flows through is the level plain, bordered by cities, crowded with

Our world

traffic.

ourselves to is

it

is

as best

prosaic,

and we must adapt

we may.

All that remains

a melancholy resignation.

was against this mood of depression that Emerson always protested. The man of science, It

he says, does not divest the world of mystery. He does not "explain away" anything. His explana tions are but the translating one

another.

His knowledge

is

never

mystery into final.

It re

veals deep behind deep.

The

trouble

is

with ourselves.

imagination to grow torpid.

We

allow our

In the processes of


EMERSON

98

nature are the materials not only for scientific investigation, but for poetry also.

universe

is

An

evolving

a theme that can never be exhausted.

Emerson had not science, but

the equipment of the

man

of

he had the imagination which sympa

thized with the tendencies of scientific investiga

seemed to him that they were confirma tions of the intuition of the poets. That matter

tion.

It

is

not dead but thrilling with energy; that space

is

not empty but

is

the

medium through which

all

things are related; that

forces operate; that

lower forms of

ward

life

that which

are always reaching out to

higher; that there

is

is

a ten

dency for the organism to grow more complex and therefore more wonderful, these were dis coveries that ought to kindle the poetic imagina tion.

Emerson Hid not

flatter

ability to express the

The new poetry he without losing

"For

it is

its

himself that he had

new view of believed

ttie

the universe.

would be

realistic

charm.

dislocation

and detachment from

trie


THE POETRY OF SCIENCE of

life

who

God

that

makes things

99

The poet

ugly.

and the whole

reattaches things to nature

reattaching even artificial things and violations of

nature to nature by a deeper insight

very easily of the most disagreeable

That to the true poet

all

things are poetical

a teaching that he repeats continually. this belief that

made him

of

Grass"

fronted.

Whittier,

it is

fire.

his recognition of the

I

in

It

was was

Walt Whitman

1855 the

"Leaves

appeared, the literary world was af

tion copy into the

"I

greet

When

with such effusion.

disposes

facts."

said,

threw

his presenta

Emerson, almost alone in

new

note, wrote,

give you joy of your free and brave thought.

have great joy

in

it.

I find

incomparable things,

said incomparably well, as they

must

be.

I find

the courage of treatment which so delights us,

and which large perception only can

you

at the beginning of a great

But when Walt,

in the

give.

I greet

career."

exuberance of joy over

the appreciation, published a

new

edition with


EMERSON

100

Emerson

commendation printed on the cover, the Concord poet was displeased. There were s

later interviews, but

man became

each

of the limitations of the other. ing,

simmering,

simmering,"

Emerson brought me

to

said

boil."

conscious

was simmer

"I

Whitman, "and Emerson ap

proved the ideas which were simmering

in the

younger poet s mind, but when they actually boiled over he was inclined to get out of the way. This was not mere fastidiousness. different conclusion call

"agreed

the creed of versal

a

drawn from what lawyers Walt Whitman expresses

Emerson

in his

"Song

of the Uni

:"

"Come,

Sing Sing

facts."

It indicated

said the Muse,

me a song no poet me the Universal.

yet has chanted,

broad earth of ours the measureless grossness and the slag, Enclosed and safe within its central heart "In

this

Amid

Nestles the seed perfection.

a share or more or less, but it is born concealed or Unconcealed the seed is waiting. "By

every

life

None born


THE POETRY OF SCIENCE

M

the mountain growths, disease and sorrow, uncaught bird is ever hovering, hovering,

"Over

An

in the purer happier air.

High

"From imperfection s murkiest cloud Darts always forth one ray of perfect One flash of heaven s glory.

light,

fashion s, custom s discords, the mad Babel din, the deafening orgies, Soothing each lull a strain is heard, just heard, From some far shore the final chorus sounding. "To

To

the blest eyes, the happy hearts, see, that know the guiding thread so fine Along the mighty labyrinth." "O

That

That

spiritual realities are

wrapped up

in the

material world, and that the seed of perfection

may

be found amid the apparent grossness of the

earth,

was a

which both poets fervently be But what had it to do with the poet s art ?

lieved.

creed,

Whitman,

was bility

in his

universal,

feast of

good

faith that

goodness

from the responsi Nature had invited him to a

felt

of choice.

robust relieved

things.

He would

and enjoy the rude plenty.

take pot luck,

This he conceived


EMERSON

102

to be the very essence of democracy.

He

would

take good things in the bulk.

Emerson

also chanted the praise of the uni

versal, but with a

He was

somewhat

different emphasis.

interested in the grossness

and the slag

only for the sake of the seed perfection that lay

hidden in

It is the

it.

above the mountain,

now and

that

clouds, that

it is

uncaught bird that

flies

the ray of perfect light

then flashes through the

must be the theme of

murky The poetry.

poet must follow the guiding thread or he is lost in the labyrinth. There must be discrimination.

Nature has

There of

is

something

more than

fecundity.

an austere rejection of the lower forms

life in

tinual refinement going on.

of nature ination he

There

favor of the higher.

is

To interpret

in

harmony with

a con

this side

In this discrim

the function of art.

was

is

the scientific atti

tude.

The man of curiosity.

the

He

science does not yield to an idle selects the objects

method to be

cluttered

up with

used.

all

The

of his study and

laboratory

is

not

the objects which a naturalist


THE POETRY OF SCIENCE

103

Only such objects as are fitted for the purpose are selected. Should not the poet exercise the same kind of discrimina might encounter

in his walks.

tion?

Whitman

how on Beacon

us

tells

Street in

Boston he walked with Emerson for two hours, discussing their agreements and differences.

these

"During

two hours he was the

talker

and

was an argument, statement, reconnoitering, review, attack and pressing home

I the listener.

against

all

It

that could be said against

Children of

Adam.

Emerson

unanswerable, no judge plete or convincing.

better put,

statement was

charge ever more

and pursue

I felt

down

in

my

my own

soul the

not necessary for us to decide.

in the presence of nature. its

all,

way."

As between Emerson and Whitman

in

com

and unmistakable conviction to disobey

clear

it is

poems,

could never hear the points

I

and then

s

s

my

obvious aspects,

its

as poets,

Both stood

Whitman sheer bulk,

delighted its

prodi-


EMERSON

104

gality,

its

Emerson was more

endless variety.

interested in the laws

which

it

the unseen forces which

move

it.

ing to the is

"chorus

what made

science

who

illustrated

He was

of the ancient

and

listen

This

causes."

words so precious to the men of the nineteenth century were wag

his

in

ing a battle against ancient formulas which ob scured the meaning of their researches.

Professor Tyndall, in his famous address to the British Association in

from Emerson, to

whom

1870, took his text

many

other places

he acknowledged his indebtedness.

His theme

was

"The

Scientific

in

Use of

the

Imagination,"

and he began by repeating Emerson I have already quoted, beginning

s lines

which

:

"If

thou wouldst

know

the mystic song

Chanted when the sphere was Here, he spirit

of

said,

modern

is

young."

the poetic expression of the

science.

In another essay, Professor Tyndall denies the

common

notion that advances in science are

made

simply by the patient pushing out of boundaries


THE POETRY OF SCIENCE

105

Be

of knowledge according to a prosaic system. the region of actual light

yond

clearly seen, there

a

is

where

field

intuition

facts are

a penumbral region.

intuition goes

"Here

knowledge.

combining

is

where

in

Here

advance of

the investigator proceeds

and

verification.

He

by

ponders

the knowledge he possesses and tries to push further; he guesses

and checks

jectures and confirms or .

.

.

alist

Thus

con

his guess, he

rejects his conjecture.

the vocation of the true experiment

be defined as the continued use of spir

may

itual

it

insight,

realization.

of which his

and

its

and

incessant correction

His experiments constitute a body purified intuitions are as it were the

soul."

Those

"purified intuitions,"

which Tyndall de were

clares constituted the very soul of science,

to

Emerson

the essence of poetry.

scientist discovered to be true, the poet

beautiful.

was not

Both recognized the

fixed but fluid.

We

phases of an endless genesis.

What saw

the

to be

fact that nature

see the successive


EMERSON

106 "The

lover of nature

outward senses are

who

other;

he whose inward and

is

still

truly adjusted to each

has retained the

even into the era of manhood.

of infancy

spirit

His intercourse

with heaven and earth becomes part of his daily In the presence of nature, a wild delight food. runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.

Nature all

he

says,

is

my

creature,

and maugre

his imperfect griefs, he shall be glad with me.

Not

the sun of the

and season

yields

summer

its

alone, but every

hour

tribute of delight; for every

hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless

noon that

to

fits

grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting equally well a comic or a mourning piece.

In good health, the air Crossing a

virtue.

is

a cordial of incredible

bare

common,

in

snow-

puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without

having in

my

good fortune, tion.

I

am

woods, too, a his slough,

thoughts any occurrence of special I

have enjoyed a perfect exhilara

glad to the brink of fear.

man

and

at

In the

casts off his years, as the snake

what period soever of

life,

is


THE POETRY OF SCIENCE always a

In the woods

child.

is

107

perpetual youth.

Within these plantations of God a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not

how he

should

tire

thousand years.

In the woods

reason and faith.

There

I

of them in a

we

feel that

return to

nothing can

me in life, no disgrace, no calamity (leav me my eyes), which nature cannot repair.

befall

ing

Standing on the bare ground,

head bathed

and uplifted into infinite space, mean egotism vanishes. I become a trans

by the all

my

blithe air,

I

parent eyeball;

am

nothing; I see

all;

the cur

rents of the Universal

Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and acci dental; to be

brothers,

master or servant turbance.

mortal

I

am

beauty."

is

to

be

then a

acquaintances, trifle

and a

dis

a lover of uncontained and im


CHAPTER X PIETY

"We

love the venerable house

Our

-fathers built to

God;

In heaven are kept their grateful vows, Their dust endears the sod. holy thoughts a light have shed* a radiant face,

"Here

From many

And prayers

of humble virtue

The perfume of "And

made

the place.

anxious hearts have pondered here

The mystery of

life,

And

prayed the eternal Light Their doubts, and aid their

"From

to clear strife.

humble tenements around

Came up

the pensive train, in the church a blessing found That filled their homes again;

And

faith and peace and mighty love That from the Godhead flow, Showed them the life of Heaven above "For

Springs from the

life

108

below.


PIETY

109

live with God; their homes are dust; Yet here their children pray,

"They

And To "On

in this fleeting lifetime trust find the narrow way.

him zvho by

On him

the altar stands,

thy blessing

fall,

his lips thy pure heart that lovest all!

Speak through

Thou

A MONG

commands,

the strange adventures of words,

\_which are continually losing their original meanings and taking up with new associations, j

none stranger than that of the word To the Romans it was preeminently a

there

is

Piety.

manly

virtue.

ness about

strong

There was no suggestion of weak

it.

It

represented the behavior of the

man toward

or benefactors.

his parents, kinsmen, country

It implied

a

fine

There was a sober

sense of the fitness of things. affection for all that lations.

courtesy and a

was permanent

in

human

re

Antoninus Pius represented the kind of

loyalty which the Romans most admired. It is this piety in the ancient sense which Emer

son

s

hymn

represents.

conventional pietism.

It is

the very opposite of

To him

the

New

England


EMERSON

110

meeting-house was venerable, because of ciations with

its

asso

what was most sacred and enduring

in the life of his

own

people.

Whittier himself

has not expressed more tenderly his appreciation of the personal influences which have bound the generations together in

The same

note

is

sounded

worship.

in the

hymn sung

at

Concord Monument, April

the completion of the 19,

common

1836/

the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flag to April s breeze unfurled, Here once the embattled farmers stood, And fired the shot heard round the world. "By

foe long since in silence slept ; Alike the conqueror silent sleeps; And Time the ruined bridge has swept Down the dark stream which seaward creeps. "The

"On

this

green bank, by this soft stream,

We set to-day a votive stone That memory may

When, "Spirit,

To

like

that

our

sires,

made

;

their deed

redeem, our sons are gone.

those heroes dare

and leave their children free, Bid Time and Nature gently spare The shaft we raise to them and Thee." die,


PIETY In the

lines entitled

tion of the debt society of

"Grace"

111 there

is

a recogni

which the individual owes to the

which he

is

a part, and by which he

is

protected.

much, preventing God how much I owe the defences thou hast raund me set; 1

"How

To

Example, custom, fear, occasion slow, These scorned bondmen were my parapet. dare not peep over this parapet glance the roaring gulf below, The depth of sin to which I had descended Had not these me against myself defended." I

To gauge which

In considering the individualism of Emerson

we have really

to take account of the fact that he never

broke with the

past,

nor did he consider

it

necessary to do so in order to achieve freedom.

He

acknowledged his indebtedness to those who had gone before him. But his reverence for their

example led him not to stand perpetually where they stood but rather to go on in the same direc ;

which they were going. All who heard Emerson in the pulpit bear wit ness to the atmosphere of reverence which pertion in


EMERSON

112

vaded writes

his utterances.

One who

listened to

him

:

"One

day there came into our pulpit the most

gracious of mortals with a face

all

benignity

who

gave out the first hymn and made the first prayer as an angel might have read or prayed. Our a was but its best choir was pretty good one, coarse and discordant after

remember definite

Emerson

s voice.

I

sermon only that it had an in charm of simplicity and wisdom, with oc the

casional illustrations

from Nature, which were

about the most delicate and dainty things of the kind if

I

had ever heard.

I

could understand them,

not the fresh philosophical novelties of the dis

course."

Emerson was remarkably

incurious in regard

to the problems propounded by formal theolo gians, but he

was a profound

ligion of experience.

Piety,

believer in the re

whether manifest

toward God or man, was something altogether natural.


PIETY "Ineffable

113

man and God in simplest person, who

the union of

is

The

every act of the soul.

in his integrity worships

God, becomes God; yet

for ever and ever the influx of this better and universal self

awe and

spires

new and

is

unsearchable.

astonishment.

How

in

It

how

dear,

soothing to man, arises the idea of God, peopling the lonely place, effacing the scars of our mistakes

and disappointments! When we have broken our god of tradition, and ceased from our god of rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with His presence.

It is the

doubling of the heart

itself,

nay, the infinite enlargement of the heart with a

power of growth It inspires in

new

to a

man an

infinity

on every

infallible trust.

He

has not

the conviction, but the sight, that the best true,

and may

side.

is

the

in that thought easily dismiss all

particular uncertainties

and

fears,

and adjourn

to the sure revelation of time, the solution of his

private riddles.

He

is

sure that his welfare

dear to the heart of being.

law to

his

mind, he

so universal that

it

is

is

In the presence of

overflowed with a reliance

sweeps away

all

cherished


EMERSON

114

hopes and the most stable projects of mortal con

He

dition in its flood.

believes that he cannot

The

escape from his good.

things that are really

You are running to Let your feet run, but your If you do not find him, will you

for thee gravitate to thee.

seek your friend.

mind need

not.

not acquiesce that find

it is

him? for there

him

is

best that

you should not

a power, which, as

it is

in

and could therefore very well bring you together, if it were for the best. You are preparing with eagerness to go and render you,

is

in

also,

a service to which your talent and your taste in vite you, the love of

Has

it

men and

the hope of fame.

not occurred to you that you have no right

to go unless you are equally willing to be pre

vented from going? that every sound that

O, believe, as thou is

livest,

spoken over the round

world, which thou ought to hear, will vibrate on thine ear

word

!

that belongs to thee for aid or comfort,

shall surely

come home through open or winding

Every friend whom not thy fantastic but the great and tender heart in thee crav-

passages. will,

Every proverb, every book, every by


PIETY

115 \

eth,

shall lock thee in his embrace.

because the heart in thee

a

valve, not

a

wall, not

is

And

this,

the heart of all; not

an intersection

is

there

anywhere in nature, but one blood rolls uninter ruptedly an endless circulation through all men, as the water of the globe seen,

its

tide

is

one."

is all

one

sea, and, truly


CHAPTER

XI

THOU SHALT NOT PREACH "

A new

commandment, said the smiling Muse, darling son, Thou shalt not preach

7 give my

"

one sense Emerson was always a preacher. His main interest was in the moral law and in

IN

the development of character.

When

he

left the

was only chang ing one congregation for another. In the Uni tarian ministry to which he belonged, the sermon

pulpit for the lecture platform he

and the essay were not always

clearly differenti

ated.

But

Emerson obeyed the pro smiling muse. He had no genius

in another sense

hibition of the

for exhortation, nor had he any desire to enforce

upon unwilling minds. He lacked the fervor of the true evangelist, and could not

his precepts

cry,

"Turn

ye! turn ye!

why

116

will

ye

die?"

He


THOU SHALT NOT PREACH

117

could not enforce the gospel of liberalism as did his friend, like that

Theodore Parker.

man

of the

his investigation.

Now

investigate

you think of In

the

of science to the subject of

"Here is

the truth as

I see

it.

what

for yourselves and see

it

it."

School

Divinity

startled his hearers

address,

Emerson

by a bold prophecy.

look for the hour

"I

His attitude was

when

that supreme Beauty

which ravished the soul of these Eastern men, Hebrews, and through

and

chiefly of those

lips

spake oracles to

West

also.

all

their

time, shall speak in the

The Hebrew and

the Greek scriptures

contain immortal sentences that have been the

bread of integrity,

life to millions.

are

But they have no

fragmentary,

their order to the intellect.

Teacher that

shall

are not I

look for the

in

new

follow so far these shining

laws that he shall see them come round shall see the

epical

shown

full circle

world to be the mirror of the

shall see the identity

;

soul,

of the law of gravitation

with purity of heart; and shall show that the


118

EMERSON

Ought, that Duty

is

Beauty and "Virtue

much at

an

will.

one thing with Science, with

Joy."

is

He who

infinite

said

vitiated,"

Emerson,

"by

too

aims at progress should aim

not at a special

forms whose fame now

The

benefit.

the land with

fills

perance, Anti-slavery, Non-Resistance,

re

Tem

no Gov

ernment, Equal Labor, fair and generous as each appears, are poor, bitter things

for themselves as an end.

.

.

when prosecuted The soul can .

be appeased not by a deed, but by a

The born preacher appeals to change

He

is

its

He

direction.

instant in season

tendency."

to the will and seeks

pleads and threatens.

and out of season.

Only on a few great occasions did Emerson adopt that The greatest truths seemed to him to be tone. In their presence

self -evidencing.

equal.

"The

down on

is

pressed

the shoulders of each moral agent to task."

us have nothing

evidence.

minds were

weight of the universe

hold him to his "Let

all

There

is

now

surely

but what

is its

own

enough for the heart


THOU SHALT NOT PREACH

Let us not be pestered with

in the religion itself.

half-truths "There

and assertion and

will be

a

and naked, a babe in a the algebra and mathematics of

at first cold

manger

again,

shawms, or

snuffle.

new church founded on moral

science,

ethical law, the

119

church of

men

psaltery, or sackbut

heaven and earth for

its

to come, without ;

but

beams and

ence for symbol and illustration;

it

will

have

rafters; sci it

will

fast

enough gather beauty, music, picture, poetry. never stoicism so stern and exigent as this

Was

shall be.

solitude,

It shall

send

shame these

man home

to his central

social, supplicating

manners,

and make him know that much of the time he

must have himself to

no cooperation, he

his friend.

He

shall expect

shall

walk with no companion.

Jhe nameless Thought,

the nameless Power, tHe

super-personal Heart,

he

that.

He

fame can

Laws

good

no bad fame can hurt him.

The

own

verdict.

are his consolers, the good

are alive, they

on

No

needs only his help,

shall repose alone

know

if

we have

Laws

themselves

kept them, they

animate him with the leading of great duty and


EMERSON

120

an endless horizon.

Honor and

him who always recognizes

fortune exist to

the neighborhood of

the great, always feels himself in the presence of

high

causes."

To have

all this

the preacher might answer,

"You

out of your account something which

left

very important in weakness.

human

nature,

The ordinary man

namely,

lives

is its

amid the

wonders of nature, but he may be very little affected by them. He needs some strong voice to urge him to open his eyes to what If

it is

is

around him.

so with the most obvious sights,

more so with moral and

is it

spiritual beauty ?

not

Is not

the preacher needed as well as the philosopher

and

poet?"

No

one would be more willing to acknowledge

this than

Emerson.

His criticism of Plato would

be equally true of himself. "Plato,

lover of limits, loved the illimitable,

saw the enlargement and nobility that came from truth itself and good itself, and attempted as if on the part of the human intellect to do it ade-


THOU SHALT NOT PREACH quate homage.

...

It

remains to say that the only that which re

defect of Plato in

is

sults

quality.

inevitably

power from his

and therefore

lectual in his aim,

Mounting

literary.

121

He

is

intel

in expression

into heaven, diving into the

expounding the laws of the state, the passion of love, the remorse of crime, the hope of the

pit,

parting soul, he It is

is

literary

and never otherwise.

almost the sole deduction from Plato that

his writings

have not

what

is

no doubt incident

to this regnancy of intellect in his

w ork r

the

which the screams of the prophets and the sermons of unlettered Arabs and Jews vital authority

There

possess.

contact

is

is

an interval; and to cohesion

necessary.

...

I

know

not what

can be said in reply to this criticism but that

we

have come to a fact in the nature of things; an

oak

is

not an orange.

The

qualities of

main with sugar, and those of

salt

with

sugar re salt."


CHAPTER XII THE LURE OF THE WEST I had a pocket full of money I think J should go down the Ohio and up and down the Mississippi by way of antidote to what small remains of Orien talism (so endemic in these parts) there may still be in me to cast out, I mean, the passion for Europe, by the passion for America; and our reverence -for Cambridge, which is only a part of our reverence for London, must be transferred across the Alleghany ridge." EMERSON TO MARGARET FULLER. "If

NEW an

England has always been the home of intense

Jhe

patriotism.

spirit

of

Bunker Hill and Lexington Has never been

Nor can

quenched.

it

be said that any part of

the country has sent out more

taken part in an effective

way

men who have

in large national

enterprises.

Yet

in the Hays before the Civil

Boston became conscious of center,

it

was open

itself

War, when as a literary

to the charge of not having

122


THE LURE OF THE WEST yet discovered America.

England that models.

it

This, I take

was

of those

belonged to a

It

New

looked to Old England for

still

the literary circles

but

123

it,

was always

its

more of

true

than of the mass of the people,

that which determined the admiration

who

aspired to

As Daniel

"culture."

in

Babylon prayed with his windows opened toward Jerusalem, so the Boston literati, when they took pen in hand, wrote with their study windows open toward London. As to what was happening in the great hinterland

cared

little.

who were the

And

beyond the Hudson, they

the people in the hinterland,

so busy opening up the resources of

continent

that

they

hadn

time

t

literary, resented in

a good-natured

tonian attitude.

had that

It

way

"certain

to

be

the Bos-

condescen

which Lowell resented on the part of Euro peans, but from which he and his friends were not sion"

altogether free sentative I think

men it is

when they encountered

the repre

of the West. fair to say that

Emerson did more

than any one else to redeem the

New

England group of authors from the kind of provincialism


EMERSON

124

which was

He

their darling sin.

did

it

a two

in

by attacking their imitation o things English, and then by inculcating a hearty admiration for the America that was growing up fold

way:

in the

In

first,

West. Traits"

"English

he pays tribute to the

sturdy virtues of the English character

wealth of English

But he

talent.

insists

and the

on

treat

ing England not as the Mother Country, but as a different country,

He

admires

it,

but

as different as France or Italy. it is

with a

critical

detachment.

Hawthorne wrote of England as The Old Home. Emerson had very little of the Old Home idea. There were

ties

of deep friendship, but he recog

nized that the genius of Britain and the genius of

America were

He

different.

admired the

differ

ences.

"The

wealth of the source

tude of English nature.

and

talent,

what

is

What

facility

seen in the pleni variety of

power

and plenteousness of

knighthood, lordship, ladyship, royalty, loyalty;

what a proud chivalry

is

indicated in

Collin s


THE LURE OF THE WEST

125

What

peerage* through eight hundred years. dignity resting on

What

what

reality

and stoutness.

courage in war, what sinew in labor, what

cunning unknown, what inventors and engineers,

what

seamen

and

what

pilots,

clerks

and

scholars."

But

this admiration has

provincial

of those "Go

s

nothing in

and privilege Had one said,

attitude to the greatness

who

belong to the

capital.

thou and do and be

Emerson

likewise,"

would not have budged an inch. His toward the sturdy Englishman would be attitude

toward the Churchman

"I

of the

it

attitude like his

:

a cowl, a prophet of the soul,

like a church, I like

I love

Yet not for

Would

I

all

his faith can see

that cowled

churchman

Emerson had an admiration

be."

for the true-born

Englishman, but not for the anglicized Ameri can.

He

believed in culture, but there

must be

an American culture that must grow out of the


126

EMERSON

conditions of our

own

life.

In his lines entitled

he defined the cultivated

"Culture"

man

as one

who his native center fast, Shall into Future fuse the Past, And the world s flowing fates in his "To

own mould

And when fates, his

recast."

he thought of the world

s

flowing

mind turned westward.

things were happening.

A

There great new civilization was be

ing created. There was nothing condescending in the attitude of the thinker to these men of action,

who on an new

unparalleled stage were beginning a

act.

Against the fastidious

critics

of Boston,

son defends the rough and ready

West,

who were

men

Emer of the

already making their influences

felt in politics.

"As

long as our people quote English standards,

they dwarf their

own

proportions.

lawyer of eminence said to

A

Western

me he wished

it

were

a penal offence to bring an English lawbook info court in this country, so pernicious had he found


THE LURE OF THE WEST in his experience

127

our deference to English prece

The very word commerce has only an

dent.

English meaning and

is

pinched to the cramp

exigencies of English experience.

The commerce

of rivers, the commerce of railroads, and

knows but the commerce of

who must

air balloons

give an American extension to the pond-hole of admiralty. standards,

As

long as our people quote English

miss the

they will

of

sovereignty

power."

Even before

the

War Emerson

Civil

dis

cerned clearly the significance of the Middle West

and the great part

it

was destined to play

development of civilization. states

The

had a tradition that was

The

in the

old thirteen

essentially British.

great states which had been established in

the Mississippi valley

were

in their origin purely

There was no colonial background to Here the pioneer spirit had de history.

American. their

veloped freely.

It

was

the spirit of Daniel

Boone

and Davy Crockett and Peter Cartwright.

Emerson reminds there

is

his

fastidious

an explosive energy

in

friends that

young America.


EMERSON

128 "Men

of this surcharge of arterial blood can

not live on nuts and herb tea and elegies, cannot read novels and play whist, cannot satisfy

all

wants at the Thursday lecture or the Boston Athenaeum. They pine for adventure, and must their

go to Pikes Peak, had rather a Pawnee than

day and every day

sit all

counting-room desk.

die of the hatchet of

They

are

made

at

a

for war,

for the sea, for mining, hunting and clearing, for hairbreadth adventures,

venturous

living.

.

.

.

huge risks and ad Their friends and

governors must see that some vent for their ex provided.

The

roisterers

are destined for infamy at

home

will cover

plosive complexion

who

is

you with glory and come back heroes arid gen erals. There are Oregons, Calif ornias and explor ing expeditions enough appertaining to America to find

them

in files to

gnaw and

crocodiles to

eat."

Emerson could not

satisfy all his

wants

in the

Boston Athenaeum or the Saturday Club. Every year he escaped from his neighbors for a lecture


THE LURE OF THE WEST tour in the West.

Pullman

car,

meant roughing

He

It

was before

and traveling

129

the days of the

in interior

America

it.

did not put on any airs as a missionary of

He could not make a living as a books. He must earn something as an

culture.

writer

of

itiner

ant lecturer.

comes to

bet you fifty dollars a weeks that day you will not leave your library and wade and freeze and ride and run, and suffer all manner of indignities, and stand up "It

this.

I

ll

for three

for an hour every night reading in a hall I will.

I

do

it

The ways pleasant.

on the

and win the nine hundred

"Two

me

by another

a canal boat, where the cushion

for a bed tier

was crossed

at the knees

of sleepers as long-limbed as

am

in .the deep

mud

I,

legs."

In 1853 he writes from Springfield, I

dollars."

nights in a rail car and a third

so that the air was a wreath of

"Here

I bet

of the lecturer were not always

floor of

allowed

!

Illinois,

of the prairies.

It


EMERSON

130 rains

and thaws incessantly and

short street

mud.

we go up

My

chamber

if

we

to the shoulders perhaps in

a cabin,

is

boarders are legislators.

Two

my

on

we

are

all

fellow-

or three governors

or ex-governors live in the house. prairie

step off a

But

new men, and must not

in the

stand

trifles."

In mid-winter he makes this entry in his .

journal:

"My

chief adventure

was the

necessity

of riding in a buggy forty-eight miles to Grand

Rapids; then after lecture twenty more in return,

and the next morning back to Kalamazoo in time for the train hither at twelve." This was at a time

when Kalamazoo was a name

strange to

Bostonian ears. It

was not comfortable

traveling through bliz

zards to discourse to audiences which gathered in chilly or stuffy halls, but is

"Here

raw.

and

tis

It is

it

was

in the

a pity to drive only fair to add that Emerson

tion of the

interesting.

making, America in the does not want much to go to lecture,

America

But

it

it."

new West was

s apprecia

intellectual rather

than


THE LURE OF THE WEST He saw

intimately social. treated

it

in a symbolic

nificance of the western

131

and

in the large,

it

He saw

way.

man s

the sig

boast fulness over

He

liked to watch growth of the country. towns grow. He would have delighted in the Chicago man s remark that when Chicago turned

the

to culture

it

Emerson

after

That was

would make culture hum. s

own

heart,

and

which he wished to infuse into

it

was

that spirit

his well-beloved

Boston.

In 1839 he writes,

me

"It

is

a sort of maxim with

never to harp on the omnipotence of limita

do we need any suggestion of checks and measures, as if New England were Least of

tions.

all

anything

else.

row

we have

rill,

like to see like

ing,

.

.

Our

nan

virtue runs in a

never a freshet.

One w oul4 r

Boston and Massachusetts

a wave with some generosity,

mad

agitated,

for learn

for music, for philanthropy, for freedom,

for art. if

.

We have

insight

and

sensibility

enough

we had constitution enough." The old Puritan capital of Massachusetts has

become a great cosmopolitan

city,

and what were


EMERSON

132

then raw towns of the

hum, but

culture

son

s

work

judgments.

West

are to-day making

interesting to read

it is

He

insisted

that the rough

which the pioneers were doing, clearing the

forest, building railroads, laying

incidentally

idealists

arts.

were

of an heroic

doing big things.

The

time.

fierce

materialistic.

sort.

The

cities

They were

big

men

come

in

energy with which they did at length to the finer

greeted them as the makers of a

civilization.

and

They were

amenities would

work would be turned

He

out

speculating in corner lots did not

indicate that they

their

Emer

The men of

the

West knew

new

all this

But they were glad to have Mr. Emerson come out and confirm them in their splendid an

before.

ticipations.


CHAPTER XIII EMERSON "Uprose

And

the

S

ELUSIVE SMILE

merry Sphinx

crouched no more in

stone"

was only the accident of local contiguity that made Doctor Holmes attempt a biography of

IT

The men were

Emerson. their

minds seldom met.

was

Holmes an

to

altogether unlike, and

Emerson

intellectual

s

mysticism

frailty

covered over by a friendly apology.

to

doctor, though averse to transcendentalism,

He

a good judge of wit and humor.

no one can

fully appreciate

be

But the

tells

was

us that

Emerson who has

not seen the quick smile with which he read pas sages which his sober-minded disciples took as oracles to be pondered, while to

him they were

flashes of wit.

Emerson

certainly

had

wit,

but he \vas not

witty in the ordinary sense, nor did he really

133


EMERSON

134

He

enjoy the broader kinds of humor.

how he went with

little

Waldo

"The

pered,

till

his antics.

perform

the clown

Waldo whis

funny man makes me want

to

His father adds that he was of

home."

It

opinion.

when

to

was a

us

to the circus and

they enjoyed themselves hugely

came out

tells

go his

sore trial to him, therefore,

was sometimes expected In preparing them for to play the funny man. the press he, to the disappointment of some of in his lectures he

his friends, cut out the enlivening anecdotes

more

his

Play of wit there was, but solitaire.

which

austere taste disapproved.

The

great wits like

was a game of Sidney Smith need it

antagonists and spectators for their play. Theirs is

the quick give and take, or the unexpected

word

that sets the table in a roar.

we have sational

He

was strangely deficient in conver aptitude, and had no power of repartee. seen,

complains of the

down by

Emerson, as

way

clever talkers.

in

"A

which he was put

snipper snapper eats

me whole." Many

of those

who had been

attracted by his


EMERSON S ELUSIVE SMILE writings were disappointed

him

"whose

phrase,

it

"the

w as,

wit

s

fruit

r

of

to use

reason"

was produced

was a

lexicon and classic.

It

human

part of

He

"the

smile

reasoning.

Emerson

grammar is

s

like

philosophy.

a schoolboy with

hard work, and the schoolboy task.

The frown

grim determination, which is making hard work of it,

the lesson in time.

But

his serious

cates also that he does not yet

of the words he

To

trying to read a Latin

frowns as he bends to the cates his

They are

over the incongruities developed in

him the man thinking was

sign.

s

mind, these happenings having no particu

the course of It

William Penn It

solitude."

lar relation to time or place.

of

remunerative."

thought that took place in his

collisions of

own

which he had sug

conversation was less

Emerson

to

hard to get at him. Henry declares that he knew of no one

They found

James, the elder,

by

when they came

to talk over the subjects

gested.

135

is

is

a good

will learn

demeanor

know

indi

indi

the meaning

painfully puzzling over.

For

they were written in lighter vein and contain a


EMERSON

136

merry jest. When the meaning flashes forth, the words are forgotten, and the boy smiles understandingly.

Emerson

quick but illusive smile came

s

when

he perceived the meaning of something which had

seemed

ex

futile

The sphinx is a very To Emerson the indeed.

understand.

to

solemn

riddle of

most men the cause of

istence seems to effort

The

to be meaningless.

character

He

mystery was not a cause of complaint. pected the sphinx of practical jokes.

sus

She was

concealing something from us.

heard a poet answer Aloud and cheerfully, Say on, sweet Sphinx thy dirges Are pleasant songs to me. Deep love lieth under "I

!

These pictures of time; That fade in the light of Their meaning sublime/

When thus "The

challenged old Sphinx bit her thick lip, taught thee me to name ?

Said, I

am Of

Who

thy

spirit,

thine eye

yoke-fellow, I

am

eyebeam.


EMERSON S ELUSIVE SMILE Then and

the frowning face gave

"up

more

in

The

rose the

to a smile,

merry sphinx and crouched no

stone."

conception of a

liciously

way

137

Emersonian.

the bitter satirist.

"merry

The

The

sphinx"

is

tables are turned

satirist smiles

de-

upon

when he

what men expect receive, between what

sees the incongruity between

and what they actually they profess to be and what they are. In all this it is assumed that the reality is worse than the Things are not what they seem.

expectation.

Quite

so,

says Emerson, but they are not al

ways worse than they seem. infinitely

better than they seem.

They

are often

We are all the We are dull

time entertaining angels unawares. creatures,

If

and are slow to recognize our

amusing to unmask a hypocrite, is it not more amusing to discover that the common

it is

still

place individual is

betters.

whom we

have been patronizing

really a king in disguise?

not beyond thy cottage wall Redeemers that can yield thee all, While thou sittest at the door "Seek

On

the desert s yellow floor,


EMERSON

138

Listening to the grey-haired crones, Saadi, see they rise in stature To the height of mighty Nature, And the secret stands revealed. Fraudulent Time in vain concealed, !

The

blessed gods in servile

masks

Plied for thee thy household

And when

<

tasks."

the performance does not

come up

to the expectation, the sudden discovery

is

not

always unpleasant. "The

to be

essence of

all

jokes, of all

comedy seems

an honest and well-intentioned

non-performance of what formed.

The

half-ness,

a

intended to be per

is

balking of the

intellect,

the frus

trated expectation, the break of the continuity in the intellect

is comedy."

Emerson was very seldom known outright, sion.

and indeed rather

But he was exceedingly

in the continuity of the

naturally logical.

to

laugh

disliked that explo sensitive to

intellect."

"breaks

His mind was

If this be so, that will follow,

But he was quick-witted to see that sometimes the thing which he expected did not

he argued.


EMERSON S ELUSIVE SMILE follow.

He

139

could not help but smile at the con

tradiction to his logic,

"This

is

The

literature.

and truth

the radical joke of life and then of

presence of the ideal of right

in all action

makes the yawning

delin

quencies of practice remorseful to the conscience, tragic to the interest, but droll to the

This

intellectual

perception

is

intellect."

necessary for

our sanity.

have no deeper interest than our integrity, and that we should be aware by joke and by stroke of any lie we entertain. Besides, a perception of "We

the comic seems a balance wheel in our meta physical structure.

It

appears to be an essential

element in a fine character. lect is constructive it will

absence of

it

oracular soul. tie

Wherever the

be found.

We

as a defect in the noblest

The

intel

feel the

and most

perception of the comic

is

a

of sympathy with other men, and a protection

from those perverse tendencies and gloomy in sanities in which fine intellects sometimes lose


EMERSON

140

A rogue alive to the ludicrous

themselves.

If that sense

convertible.

can do

little

for him.

is still

his fellow

is lost,

men

5

The rogue who can laugh

at himself

may

be

But the sentimentalist who takes him

converted.

self too seriously is in

is

"Society

infested

an unsalvable condition.

by persons who, seeing that

the sentiments please, counterfeit the expression

These we

of them.

who

call sentimentalists

talkers

mistake the description for the thing, saying

for having.

They

love of nature; poetry; roses

;

virtue

"dear

whatever merit

make

they adore poetry and

and the moon, and the cavalry regiment,

and the governor they ship

O

an intense

tell us,

have, they

it

is

"dear

liberty

Yes,

virtue."

in

good

repute,

hateful with their praise.

their expressions, the colder

with cold.

A

little

we

;"

they

they

wor adopt

and almost

The warmer

feel;

we

shiver

experience acquaints us with

the inconvertibility of the sentimentalist, the soul ithat is lost

by mimicking

soul.

Cure the drunk-


EMERSON S ELUSIVE SMILE

141

ard, heal the insane, mollify the homicide, civilize

the Pawnee, but

what

lessons can be devised for

the debauchee of sentiment?

Was

ever one con

verted?"

happened that Emerson attracted many of these sentimentalists and he was not unconscious It

of the

humor

of the situation.


CHAPTER XIV THE QUIET REVOLUTIONIST Past has baked my loaf, and in the strength bread I break up the old oven"

"The

of

its

EMERSON is

S

JOURNAL.

not easy for some people to understand

ITEmerson

s

attitude

toward the revolutionary

forces that are all the time threatening the sta bility

of society.

One can

appreciate the fierce

energy of the revolutionist who, believing that the social structure

destroy

who

it.

On

is

altogether bad, seeks to

the other hand, there are those

look with alarm at every project that involves

radical change.

But here was a quiet householder who habit ually uttered the most revolutionary sentiments were the most natural thoughts in the Of course the institutions which we see

as if they

world.

around us are not permanent. real things with

They

which we have to do. 142

are not the

They

are


THE QUIET REVOLUTIONIST

143

what took place yesterday; they are yielding to what is taking place to-day. The only reality is the force which makes and unmakes the results of

them.

Laws, customs,

constitutions,

churches,

are the results of the revolutionary impulse in

man.

They

restless

You

are the temporary embodiments of

thought.

Everything follows thought.

think of armies, and priesthoods, and courts

of justice, as necessities. sities

of thought.

change their form.

Yes, they are neces

Change the thought and they

The temple

that seems to

have grown out of the solid earth has in

grown out of shipper.

It

reality

the vague aspirations of the

grew as the

wor

tree grows, through a

power of working from within.

It

was

built as

the bird builds its nest, through an instinct which

was

irresistible.

thou what wove yon woodbird Of leaves, and feathers from her breast? Or how the fish outbuilt her shell, Painting with morn each annual cell? Or how the sacred pine tree adds To her old leaves new myriads ? "Know st

s nest


144

EMERSON

^

Such and so grew these holy

piles,

Whilst love and terror laid the tiles. Earth proudly wears the Parthenon, As the best gem upon her zone, And morning opes with haste her lids

To

gaze upon the Pyramids

;

O er England s abbeys bends the sky, As on

its

friends, with kindred eye

;

For out of Thought s interior sphere There wonders rose to upper air."

One might watch the face of a man in the act of thinking. As one thought follows another, the mobile features change.

respond to the impulses curve

Nerves and muscles

now downward, now upward,

quiver, the eyes dilate

wrinkles

The

from within.

and then

appear upon the

close,

forehead,

lips

the cheeks tell-tale

the

chin

grows firm and then is relaxed, the pose of the head is now defiant and again it droops. The

man

is lost in

he appears.

Two

thought, and unconscious of

To him the thought

how

is all.

One is a may To him the pose and features are every He imagines himself to be a realist, and thing. his ambition is to portray the man as he actually painters

literalist.

be watching him.


THE QUIET REVOLUTIONIST

145

is.

Now

all

the changing expressions on a single canvas.

it is

So what

the painter does

to seize one attitude

is

were permanent. The result something hard and unyielding. We recognize

and is

obviously impossible literally to put

treat

it

as if

it

no suggestion of the of a change of mood. It is not, as we

the likeness, but there possibility

is

say, a speaking likeness.

The

other painter

is

a real

artist.

To him

and the

features are quivering with expression,

expression changes at every instant. subject as alive.

muscles the

thinking about.

is

of the head

tell

He

sees his

smile, the frown, the tense

mean something.

all

man

The

the

They indicate what The shape and poise

whether nature has endowed him

with the capacity to have thoughts that are signi ficant.

the

The aim of

man

s

the artist

mind and then

is first

to get inside

to interpret that

mind

through the outward features. If

he succeeds, we say his picture

limitation of his art

demands

is alive.

that he shall present

only the attitude of a single moment, but ceive that attitude

is

The

about to change.

we per

He

is

in


EMERSON

146

the act of doing something, and there

part a feeling of expectancy. are mobile, he

hand

on

is

is

it

he

with

is

ways the suggestion of something that marks the work of genius.

Now

s lips

soldier s

about to grasp

his might.

all

on our

orator

The

about to speak.

his sword,

firmly and wield

The

is

it

It is al

that is

coming

two ways of looking at human from without or from within. We

there are

institutions,

may

look at laws and customs as

fixed

and

final.

They

carved in stone. existing order,

Or we may

We

they were

if

are the features of a giant

be idolaters of the

may

worshipping the carved image.

be iconoclasts, ready to give

smashing blow. But to one who seeks to look at

it

all

it

a

from

within, the institutions represent but the transi

tory glory of features of the Great Being.

Great Being

is

to come, he

is

earth.

thinking, he

is

The

dreaming of things

planning his dwelling place upon

The thoughts come

the acts follow each after

its

thick

and

fast,

and

kind.

Humanity, conceived of as a great composite


THE QUIET REVOLUTIONIST being, of

which we are

quivering with aspiration.

with the work of

its

all

is

parts,

alive

and

never satisfied

It is

own

147

hands, and

it

never

gives up working. Thousands of human beings are at a given time impelled by one spirit, and co

Their actions are not rational

operate to one end.

in the sense that each individual

is

able to give a

reason, or least the right reason, for does. is

And

yet the process, looked at as a whole,

not irrational. There

it all,

of which

us time and

all

is

It is

is

some big thought behind

the action

we can see

Humanity perience.

what he

is

expressive.

Give

the outlines of the thought. It

thinking.

up Even what we

is

storing

a creative force.

call matinalistic progress, is itself

o>

but the follow

ing of an idea.

"And

what

Like

if

Trade sow

cities

along the shore, And thatch with towns the prairie broad With railways ironed o er? They are but sailing foam bells shells

Along Thought

s

causing stream,

And take their shape and sun color From him that sends the dream."


EMERSON

148

The

historian

the

alism,

of the

tells

the

Crusades,

These are tremendous nothing

till

we

see

ask

how

the

who

to

idea that

one lies

facts

mean

Royalty as an institution

has never

behind

is

without

does not take the trouble to

toward

feels

And democracy

who

Revolution.

But the

facts.

subject

loyal

anointed king.

name

French

born democrat who

incredible to the

imagination, and

Empire, Feud

them as the expression of suc

cessive states of mind. is

Roman

felt

is

his

an empty

the thrill of the

it.

In looking back from the vantage ground of several centuries,

ation of

it is

men may

determines

all

their achievements.

generation, and lo It is as if

of the Great Being

how

a gener

be obsessed by an idea that

that idea lose hold

interest.

possible to see

We may

see

upon the mind of the next all the mighty works lose all one moment we saw the face

all

aquiver with interest.

Then

suddenly the light fades and he turns away from the

work of

But

it is

his

own

hands.

not so easy to realize that the mighty

works of our own day owe

their existence,

and


THE QUIET REVOLUTIONIST

149

depend for their security on the same transitory support of thought. They represent our present thinking,

and when we come

to think differently

they will disappear. "Ah,"

but

we

say,

"we

go down to hard

\Ye build upon the granite of

actuality, not

anything so unsubstantial as mere

Emerson would answer.

facts.

on

thought."

"You

think of the

Ask the granite mountain peak as unchanging. geologist to tell you what he knows about Monad-

To him

nock. old. It is

the mountain does not seem very

Its present

form

is

but a transitory thing.

but a bubble upon the earth that

through stars with

The

poet

who

is

sailing

all its history."

has learned the lesson of geology

hears the mountain confess

its

own

instability,

him heed who can and will Enchantment fixed me here

"Let

To

;

stand the hurts of time, until In loftier chant I disappear. If thou trowest

How

the chemic eddies pliy, Pole to pole, and what they say And that these gray crags

;


EMERSON

150

Not on crags are hung, But beads are of a rosary On prayer and music strung And, credulous, through the granite seem ;

ing,

Seest the smile of Reason beaming;

"Knowest

thou this?

wandering not amiss Already my rocks lie light, And. soon my cone will spin." pilgrim,

Older than the mountain

which

it

sprang.

And

that

is

power from

the

power

!

is

only inter

preted by Thought. "Monadnock is a mountain strong, Tall and good my kind among; But well I know, no mountain can,

Zion or Meru, measure with man. For it is on zodiacs writ

Adamant is soft to wit And when the greater comes again With my secret in his brain, :

1 shall pass, as glides

Daily over "When

hill

and

my shadow

meadow."

the greater comes

again."

That was

what Emerson was always murmuring to himself. The greatness that he recognized was the great ness of thought.


THE QUIET REVOLUTIONIST He was

151

men

therefore always eager to meet

who were

dissatisfied

with existing things and

He

making plans for betterment. he listened

hospitably,

received

them That

sympathetically.

schemes involved radical changes did not It seemed to be in the order of frighten him.

their

nature. It

was

not enough that their proposal should be

for

But he always applied the same different.

something greater,

It

must

test.

also be something

and the greater includes the

the greater thought comes,

it

shall

less.

When

make us under

stand and appreciate the good that already exists. It will

make

"song

of

universal

Human

what

progress"

is

now

partial.

The

he expresses in the

song of nature. "I

Of

wrote the past in characters rock and fire the scroll,

The The

building of the coral sea, planting of the coal.

"Let war and trade and creeds and song Blend, ripen race on race, The sunburnt world a man shall breed Of all the zones and countless days.


EMERSON

152

"No

My And

dimmed, no atom worn, is good as new, the fresh rose on yonder thorn

ray

is

oldest force

Gives back the bending heavens in

dew."

way in which the view of nature hopes for human nature are blended. Out

Notice the

and the

of a few ancient elements, nature

making new and amazing is

destroyed,

is

continually

combinations. Nothing is

everything

same conservation of energy he discerns

The elements of

manity.

One may trasting

toward

it

see

in

hu

character are old as

the race, but no one can prophesy fection can be obtained

The

transformed.

what new per

from them.

Emerson

s

thought best by con

with that of a poet whose mind turned

the

same

Emerson both loved

subject.

Wordsworth and

to personify nature,

and

in

communion with nature they found refreshment of spirit. But Emerson, who was not accustomed sometimes spoke more harshly of Wordsworth than of any other to use terms of disparagement,

modern English poet. The fact was that the two men looked

at nature


THE QUIET REVOLUTIONIST with quite different eyes. ture

was the arch

153

To Wordsworth, na Over against

conservative.

the vain commotion of humankind was the great

brooding presence of a power that could be relied upon because it was ever the same. And after his first

fever of revolutionary ardor,

Words

worth returned to nature as to a refuge from all innovations. Here was the calm of an established and the more nearly human

order,

conformed

to this stability, the better for them.

To Emerson, what

is

nature was not the symbol of

unchanging;

it

was

eager, flashing, eva

nescent, infinitely suggestive.

same.

institutions

When

it

It

was never the

seemed the same

because our eyes are so dull that

it

we can

was only not catch

all the transitions.

And

which helps us in our contact with the natural world is not its soothing lullabys. It is the challenge which comes to join in the quick that

and rude play of the forces which are creating and recreating the world. Come out-of-doors, the voice cries, and

know what

it is

to live.


EMERSON

154 "

leave thy sloth urbane, greater spirit bids thee forth Than the gray dreams that thee detain. Mark how the climbing Oreads Beckon thee to their arcades, Youth, for a moment free as they, Teach thy feet to feel the ground Ere yet arrives the wintry day When Time thy feet has bound. Take the bounty of thy birth Taste the Lordship of the earth.

A

Bookworm,

heard, and I obeyed, Assured that he who made the claim Well known, but loving not a name, Was not to be gainsaid." "I

Nature does not rebuke our impatience when we break up old forms in order to make better.

She

We

our accomplice, and conspires with us. misrepresent her when we try to imitate her. is

Only

in

some stroke of

her challenge. is

not to see at

To

originality

do we accept

see only repetition in nature

all.

"Alas, thine is the bankruptcy, Blessed nature so to see.


THE QUIET REVOLUTIONIST

155

thee leave thy merchandise,

"Behind

Thy churches and thy chanties, And leave thy peacock wit behind. Enough for thee the primal mind That flows in streams, that breathes in wind. Leave all thy pedant lore apart God hid the whole world in thy heart. Love shuns the sage, the child it crowns, Gives all to them who all renounce. The rain comes when the wind calls, ;

The

knows

river

Without a Blessing

all

the

way

to the sea,

runs and falls, lands with its charity.

pilot

it

The sea tosses and foams to find Its way up to the cloud and wind. The shadow sits close to the flying ball, The date fails not on the palm tree tall,

And

thou, go burn thy wormy pages, Shalt outsee seers and outwit sages."

That which he saw

human

effort that

loved to "which

call

it

was

in nature

free

the Newness.

he saw in every

and spontaneous.

The Newness

is

He that

reconciles impossibilities, atones for short

comings, expiates sins or makes them virtues, buries in oblivion the

crowded

historical

past,

sinks religions, philosophies, persons to legends,

reverses the score of opinion of fame, reduces


EMERSON

156

makes the thought of the the universe and the egg of

science to opinion, and

moment

the key to

history to

come."

Hoe and

Divine Newness.

"The

and pen,

spade,

sword

and

prizes,

pictures, gardens, laws, bibles

only they were means

He

sometimes used.

So

with astronomy, music, arithmetic, castes, feud alism

we

garment.

kiss

We

with devotion these hems of His

them for Him, they

mistake

crumble in ashes on our

lips."

To the worshipper of the was nothing

terrible in the voices of eager in

novators, for innovation

and

"the

Divine Newness, there

good human

is

in the order of nature,

race outlives

them

all,

and

forever in the heart abides the old sovereign senti

ment requiring

and good-will to all, and rebuilds the decayed temples, and with new names justice

chants again the praises of Eternal

"The

idea which

now

Right."

begins to agitate society

has a wider scope than our daily employments,

our households and the

institutions of property.


THE QUIET REVOLUTIONIST

157

We are to revise the whole of our social structure, the state, the school, religion, marriage, trade, science,

and explore

nature

we

;

their foundations in

the former men, but

fits us,

and

of every usage which has not

What

mind.

is

a

lies;

and which

own a Re

roots in our

for but to be

man

has made; a re-

a restorer of truth and good,

imitating that great all,

own

to clear ourselves

its

man born

former, a Re-maker of what

nouncer of

our

are to see that the world not only fitted

sleeps

Nature which embosoms us

no moment on an old

past,

but every hour repairs herself, yielding us every

morning a new day, and \vith every pulsation a new life? Let him renounce everything which is

not true to him, and put

all

his practices back

and do nothing for which he has not the whole world for his reason. If on

their first thoughts,

there are inconveniences, and in the

what

is

called ruin

way, because we have so enervated and

maimed

ourselves, yet

perfumes to sink

it

would be

like

dying of

in the effort to re-attach the

deeds of every day to the holy and mysterious re cesses of

life."


CHAPTER XV MEDITATIONS ON POLITICS "In dealing with the State, we ought to remember that its institutions are not aboriginal, though they existed before we were born; that they are not su perior to the citizen, that every one of them was the act of a single man, every law and usage was a

man s

expedient to meet a particular

WHAT

in the

into account

case"

has been said of Emerson "Divine

when we

Like the Epistles of

Newness"

things hard to be understood,

it

I

politics.

contains

"which

unlearned and unstable wrest to their tion."

faith

must be taken

read his essay on St. Paul,

s

some

they that are

own destruc

have seen an anarchistic pamphlet which

was made up almost

entirely of quotations

from

Emerson. Indeed, on the face of

it,

argument not only against

it

political parties,

is

This

but

is

because

thrown upon what we usually

call the

against government in general.

doubt

appears to be an

158


MEDITATIONS ON POLITICS

159

Emerson did

foundations of organized society.

not believe that government fed any foundations.

He

did not think of

upon a

rock,

as a building solidly resting

it

and where one stone

is fitted

perpetually being renewed and having a

This organism so long as

motion.

can adapt

aim of

itself to all

politics is

Before s

tution

is

The

death.

Emerson on

diatribes

Politics,

read

on the French Revolution.

the British Constitution

English mansion.

It

was a

stately

was the home of ordered

Generations have worked upon this

Liberty.

new

healthy

not to prevent change, but to

reading

To Burke

the

it is

wonderful tributes to the British Consti

and

mighty

power of

kinds of conditions.

prevent stagnation, which

Burke

upon

He thought of the state as a living body

another.

edifice.

It

was founded by

generations could add to

it.

vandal attempt to dislodge one stone. preserved in tion once

all its

original beauty.

formed became

solicitude.

It

itself

was not a

the fathers;

But It

The

let

no

must be institu

the object of pious

tool to be used, but a

sacred symbol of the nation

s life.


EMERSON

160

Emerson did not tion

feel that

had such sanctity as

citizen,"

repose,

he says,

men and

"That

any

all

oak

trees

arrange themselves

may

suddenly become

movement and compel

around

young

lies in rigid

there are no such roots and

particle

the system

it."

kind of government which prevails

the expression of

what

society which permits

memorandum.

We

is

cultivation exists in the it.

The law

is

only a

are superstitious and esteem

the statute somewhat.

the character of living

He

the

But the old statesman knows

is fluid;

the center of the to gyrate

"To

society

"organized

as best they can.

centers, but

political institu

institutions rooted like

to the center around which

that society

any

that.

So much

men

is its

life as it

has in

force."

then considers the two objects for which

governments exist persons and property. He shows how it is the tendency of the propertied) classes to get control of the

the laws.

This

is

government and make

so even in a democracy.

The


MEDITATIONS ON POLITICS

161

protection of property then becomes the business

of governments rather than the welfare of per sons.

"Ordinarily

our parties are parties of circum

and not of

stances

est in conflict

principle, as the planting inter

with the commercial, parties which

are identical in their moral character, and

w hich

can easily change ground with each other in

many

of their

The

r

measures."

conservative party

may

be composed of

kind-hearted and excellent people, but be trusted

when property

personal rights.

it

can never

interests conflict with

conservative party,

"The

com

posed of the most moderate, able and cultivated part of the community, fensive of property. aspires to

no

It

real good,

is

timid and merely de

vindicates no right,

it

brands no crime,

it

it

proposes no generous policy,

it

does not build, nor

cherish the arts, nor foster religion, nor establish schools,

nor encourage

science,

nor emancipate

the slave, nor befriend the poor, or the Indian,

or the

immigrant."


EMERSON

162

We

Americans boast of our

political institu

tions.

our

"But

with the

spirit

from the

though in coincidence

institutions,

of the age, have not any exemption

practical defects

other forms.

Every

which have discredited

actual state is corrupt.

Good

men must not obey the laws too well. What satire on government can equal the

severity of censure

conveyed in the word

which for ages has

politic,

signified cunning, intimating that the state is a trick. "We

pay

a very low state of the world and governments founded on

live in

unwilling tribute to

force."

The

essay ends with a glowing picture of a

society

of perfect freedom, in which reliance

would be put on moral forces

alone,

and

"the

pri

vate citizen might be reasonable and a good neigh

bor without the hint of a

As we come start,

"This

jail

or

confiscation."

to this conclusion,

we

say with a

mild-spoken gentleman has

been


MEDITATIONS ON POLITICS saying something which sounds very

what the revolutionary

163

much

like

have been preach He has brought us

radicals

ing with lamentable results.

to the edge of the precipice of philosophic

an

archy."

Perhaps is

so,

but the mild-mannered gentleman

not an anarchist, and

it

has never entered his

head to jump off the precipice. He has come to look at the view and he intends to return home by way of the turnpike.

What Emerson

has been saying

is

that political

institutions are not ends in themselves, it is

and that

a superstition to regard them as such. They

are expedients that are always capable of improve

ment.

The

resort to physical coercion

be necessary in a perfect society.

meantime, what are

mon

sense

"Let

we

to

would not

But

Emerson

do?

in the s

com

makes answer.

not the most conservative and timid fear

anything from the premature surrender of the bayonet and the system of force.

For according

to the order of Nature, wliich

quite superior

is


EMERSON

164 to our will,

it

stands thus

:

there will always be a

government of force where men are

when they are pure enough force, they will be wise

selfish;

and

to abjure the code of

enough

to see

how

the

public ends of the post-office, of the highway, of

commerce, and the exchange of property, of mu seums, libraries, institutions of art and science can be

answered."

Emerson would agree with

the philosophical

anarchist in saying that a society

possible in

is

which men and women can regulate

their affairs

without the consciousness of any coercive govern

mental force.

He would

But when

to strive after such a free society.

came

to the practical question as to

this ideal, they

archist

would

how

would part company.

say,

"Let

we ought

agree also that

to attain

The an

us abolish government,

and then we

shall

each one of

whom will be a law unto himself."

have a community of individuals

Emerson would

You

it

say,

"I

can not follow you.

put the cart before the horse.

You have


MEDITATIONS ON POLITICS

165

fallen into the political superstition against

which

I

You

have been protesting.

to the

attribute

absence of government power which the legalists attribute to governmental control.

that law can

the lack of titude

is

make men

it

virtuous;

They

think

you think that

can perform the miracle.

My

at

that of Paul in regard to the observance

of the Jewish ceremonial law. availeth nothing,

creature/ "Yes,"

Circumcision

and uncircumcision but the new

"

the practical

man would

say,

"that

is all

how are you going to get the new creature? If we had better men, wise, temperate, just, tolerant, we should not need so many laws but how are we to produce such personalities?"

very well, but

;

At

this point, the

philosophy of the twentieth

century would take issue with the liberalism of the nineteenth century. the

power of

We

have more

institutions than

his contemporaries.

We

had Emerson and

are trying the experi

ment of free government under cult conditions.

faith in

The study of

much more

diffi

the social sciences


EMERSON

166 has

made us emphasize

May

cooperation.

not

through wise laws and well-conceived

society

own

institutions direct its

destinies?

To which Emerson would is

society

answer:

"Yes,

if

composed of enough wise and self-

But

reliant individuals.

on individual progress. stand alone before he

is

social progress

A

man must

depends

be able to

able to cooperate to

any

advantage."

His

faith

in

founded on the than their

the

destiny

of America

belief that the people

politics.

were better

There was a power there

be invoked in time of need.

We

by

that will

to

are as yet only

incompletely organized, but the power Little

was

is

there.

there will be created institutions

little

more adequately

represent the aspirations

of multitudes of private persons.

"When

I

look at the constellations of

which animate and

how daily

little

life,

illustrate the land,

cities

and see

the government has to do with their

how

families are

self -helped

and

self -directed all

knots of people in purely natural


MEDITATIONS ON POLITICS societies

societies

of trade, of kindred blood,

of habitual hospitality, house and house,

ing on

man by

167

man

act

weight of opinion, of longer or

better directed industry, the refining influence of

women, the invitation which experience and per manent causes open to youth and labors when I

how much whom all men see

each virtuous and gifted person, consider, lives affectionately with

scores of excellent people

who

are not

known

far

from home, and perhaps with great reason reckons these people his superiors in virtue and in the

symmetry and force of their qualities, I see what America has, and in these a better

cubic values certificate

mous

of civilization than great cities or enor

wealth."

In regard to the definite political issues of the

time,

expressed.

Emerson

s

sympathies

\vere

clearly

Slavery was always an abomination

to him, but he

was slow

the abolitionists.

to identify himself

with

Their narrowness and intoler

ance offended his sense of fair play, while their

courage attracted him.

When

the issue

became


EMERSON

168

one of the right to free speech, he stood squarely with them. Against the extension of slavery he protested vigorously.

When

Emerson threw himself was one of doubt pation came. did

more

till

War came,

heartily into the side of

Toward Lincoln

the Union.

the Civil

himself his attitude

the proclamation of emanci

After that there was no one

who

to interpret the soul of Lincoln to the

people.

But

in

one thing Emerson differed from most

of the

New

trust

in the

England

idealists.

He

did not put his

respectable classes alone.

He

lighted in the crude strength of the people.

de

His

conception of American politics was that which

Theodore Roosevelt so admirably illustrated in the generation following. It was the magnificent challenge to the reformer to

meet

come them

"A

men on

all

their

who was virile enough own ground and over

there.

timid

man/ Emerson

says,

"listening

to

the alarmist in Congress and in the newspapers

and observing the profligacy of party

sectional


MEDITATIONS ON POLITICS

169

urged with a fury which shuts

eyes

interests

to consequences, with a

extremities, ballot in

its

mind made up to desperate one hand and rifle in the

might easily believe that he and his country

other,

had seen

their best days

and harden himself the

best he can against the coming

ruin."

But he believed that there were elements of strength which the timid account. likely to

person

"Let

man

The rough and ready politician was be more nearly right than the fastidious

who

despairs of the republic.

these rough riders,

sleeves,

did not take into

legislators in shirt

Hoosier, Sucker, Wolverine, Badger,

or whatever hard head Arkansas, Oregon, or

Utah

sends, half orator, half assassin, to represent

wrath and cupidity at Washington, let these drive as they may; and the disposition of terri

its

tories

and public

and keeping

German,

lands, the necessity of balancing

bay the snarling majorities of and of native millions, will bestow

at

Irish,

promptness, address, and reason, at

last,

on our


EMERSON

170 buffalo-hunter,

The

manners.

and authority and majesty of instinct of the people is right.

expect from good

Whigs put

into offices

much

respectability of the country,

Men

by the

less skill to

own

deal with Mexico, Spain, Britain, or with our

malcontent members,

than

from some strong

transgressor, like Jefferson, or Jackson,

conquers his

own government, and

same genius

to conquer the foreigner.

ators

who

who, from

those

who knew

first

then uses the

dissented from Mr. Folk

war were not

who The

s

better,

sen

Mexican but those

political position, could afford

it;

not

Webster, but Benton and Calhoun. "These

Hoosiers and Suckers are really better

than the snivelling opposition. least of

a bold and manly

cast.

Their wrath

They

see,

from

at

against

the unanimous declarations of the people,

much crime

is

how

the people will bear; they proceed

step to step,

and they have calculated but

New Eng Honours, the New

too justly upon their Excellencies, the land governors, and upon

their

England legislators. The messages of the govern ors and the resolutions of the legislatures are a


MEDITATIONS ON POLITICS

171

proverb for expressing a sham virtuous indig nation, which, in the course of events, is sure to

be

belied."

Wisdom son

is justified

s political

the

next

Roosevelt

s

teachings bore fruit in a

man

is

Theodore

generation, "strenuous

position of the

Emer man of

of her children and

life"

Emersonian

Roosevelt.

was a popular ex

doctrine.

needed in a democracy.

The

He must

strong

under

stand the snarling majorities and the obstinate minorities.

He must enjoy the conflict. He must

play the game.

But he must

at the

same time

have a moral ideal of his own, simple and com manding. He must be not a statuesque statesman but a rough and ready

idealist.


CHAPTER XVI THE CANDID FRIEND OF ENGLAND "A wise traveller will naturally choose to visit the best of actual nations, and an American has more

reasons than another to visit

WHEN

in

Britain"

1833 Emerson

land, his chief interest

men whose writings had to see their faces.

first visited

was

inspired

in

Eng

a few great

him with a

desire

He met Coleridge, Wordsworth,

Landor and Carlyle; but he had few opportuni to become acquainted with the English people.

ties

In 1847 he was invited to give a course of lec tures

before

Mechanics

various

different parts of England.

This

Institutes visit

in

gave him

an opportunity to compare the Englishman at home with his own countrymen. The results of his observations titled

were embodied

"English Traits."

the other works of

in a

volume en

This book differs from

Emerson 172

in that

it

follows a


CANDID FRIEND OF ENGLAND distinct

method.

The

173

writer gives us a picture

of England and the English as he saw them in the

The book

middle years of the nineteenth century.

gives the impressions of a philosophic traveler

who was anxious

to get beneath the surface

get at the secrets of power.

He

and

treats of wealth,

race, literature, journalism, aristocracies, religion,

education.

Emerson cans in

contemporary Ameri treating England not as "the mother

is

from

his

The

but as a foreign country.

country,"

of this

differs

result

a detachment of mind \vhich enables him

judgments which are free from prejudice. The thing which impressed Emerson the most

to give

was

the robustness of the people.

There was a

rude vigor which had not been impaired by cen turies of civilization.

The Englishman seemed

better animal than the American. sense, in practical sagacity,

In

a

common

in the adoption of

means to ends the English manifested themselves to be a masterful race.

"Their

self-respect,

their

faith

in

causation,


EMERSON

174

and

means

their realistic logic or coupling of

them the leadership of the

to ends have given

modern world. have true

Montesquieu

common

in

England/

of

all

This

sense but those

common

No

said,

people

who were born

sense

is

a perception

the conditions of our earthly existence, of

laws that can be stated, and of laws that cannot be stated, or that are learned only by practice, in

which allowance for

friction is

made.

They

are

impious in their skepticism of theory, and in high departments they are cramped and

But the unconditional surrender to choice of

means to reach

able as with ants "The

They

and

and the

their ends, are as

admir

bees.

bias of the nation

is

a passion for

utility.

love the lever, the screw and pulley, the

Flanders

draught-horse,

mills, tide mills, the sea

their freight-ships. i-noor,

facts,

sterile.

which

the

and the wind

More than

glitters

among

wind

waterfall,

to bear

the diamond

their

they prize that dull pebble which

is

Koh-

crown- jewels, wiser than a

man, whose poles turn themselves to the poles of whose axis is parallel to the axis

the world, and


CANDID FRIEND OF ENGLAND of the world. galvanism.

Now,

They

their toys are

175

steam and

are heavy at the fine arts, but

adroit at the coarse; not

mosaics, but the best

good in jewelry or iron-masters, colliers, wood-

combers, and tanners in Europe.

They apply

themselves to agriculture, to draining, to resisting

encroachment of

sea,

and wet subsoil; to indispensable

wind, travelling sands, cold fishery, to

plumbago,

salt,

staples,

wool, glass, pottery and brick,

worms; and by succeed.

A

manufacture of

to bees

leather,

and

silk

their steady combinations they

manufacturer

sits

down

to dinner

which was wool on a sheep s You dine with a gentleman on

in a suit of clothes

back at sunrise.

venison, pheasant, quail, pigeons, poultry,

rooms and pineapples,

They

all

growth of

his estate.

are neat husbands for ordering

tools pertaining to house kept.

the

There

is

and

field.

mush

all

their

All are well

no want and no waste.

They

study use and fitness in their building, in the order of their dwellings and in their dress.

man shirt.

The French

Englishman added the The Englishman wears a sensible coat

invented the

ruffle,

the


EMERSON

176

buttoned to the chin, of rough but solid and lasting texture.

If he

is

a lord he dresses a

than a commoner.

They have

little

worse

diffused the taste

for plain substantial hats, shoes arid coats through

Europe.

whose dress notice or

There

think

They is

so

fit

remember

is

him

the best dressed man,

for his use that

to describe

you cannot

it."

a delightful chapter on English

man

ners.

Englishman is very petulant and precise about his accommodation at inns and on the "The

roads ; a quiddle about his toast and his chop, and

every species of convenience, and loud and pun gent in his expressions of impatience at any neg lect.

his

His vivacity betrays

itself at all points, in

manners, in his respiration and the inarticulate

noises he

makes

in clearing the throat,

nificant of burly strength.

He

all

sig

has stamina; he can

take the initiative in emergencies.

He

has that

aplomb which results from a good adjustment of the moral and physical nature and the obedi-


CANDID FRIEND OF ENGLAND ence of

all

177

the powers to the will; as if the axes

of his eyes were united to his backbone and only

moved with

the trunk.

vigour appears in the incuriosity and

"This

stony neglect, each of every other.

Each man

walks, eats, drinks, shaves, dresses, gesticulates, and, in every manner, acts and suffers without

reference to the bystanders, in his

only careful not to interfere with

them; not that he

own man in his

affair,

he

convenience, as

centricity

is

I

is

really occupied with

much

country consults only his as a solitary pioneer in

know not

\vhere any personal ec

so freely allowed,

himself any concern with

walks in a pouring brella like a

them or annoy

and does not think of them. Every

this polished

Wisconsin.

fashion,

trained to neglect the eyes

is

of his neighbours,

own

rain,

walking

and no man gives

it.

An

swinging

stick;

Englishman

his closed

um

wears a wig, or a

shawl, or a saddle, or stands on his head, and no

remark

is

made.

And

for several generations "In

short, every

as he has been doing this it is

now

in the blood.

one of these islanders

is

an


EMERSON

178 island himself,

safe,

incommunicable.

tranquil,

In a company of strangers you would think him deaf; his eyes never wander from his table and

He

newspaper.

is

never betrayed into any curi

unbecoming emotion. They have all been trained in one severe school of manners, and osity or

never put off the harness. hand.

He

does not

let

does not give his

you meet

almost an affront to look a out being introduced.

He man

his eye.

It is

in the face with

In mixed or in select

com

panies they do not introduce persons; so that a presentation tract.

is

a circumstance as valid as a con

Introductions are sacraments.

holds his name. to whisper

it

At

the hotel he

is

He

with

hardly willing

to the clerk at the book-office.

If

he gives you his private address on a card, it is like an avowal of friendship; and his bearing on being introduced

is

cold,

even though he

ing your acquaintance and shall serve

is

studying

is

seek

how he

you."

In regard to America the Englishman was in those days apt to be condescending.


CANDID FRIEND OF ENGLAND

179

English dislike the American structure of

"The

society, whilst yet trade, mills, public education

and chartism are doing what they can to create America in England the same social condition. is

the paradise of the economists

;

is

the favourable

exception invariably quoted to the rules of ruin;

but

when he speaks

directly of the Americans,

the islander forgets his philosophy and his disparaging

Emerson saw

is

s

remembers

anecdotes."

criticism of the

England which he

of interest to-day because most English

men would

agree with

of a period that has

it.

now

It is

a penetrating study

passed away.

From

the

consideration of defects he turns to the wealth

and plenitude of the English nature, and the sential

"I

soundness of character.

feel in

regard to this aged England with the

possessions, honours

the

es

infirmities

around customs

her,

and

trophies,

and also with

of a thousand years gathering

inevitably committed to

many

old

which cannot be suddenly changed;


EMERSON

180

new and com

pressed upon by the transitions of trade, and

and

all

incalculable modes, fabrics, arts

peting populations,

weak but

well

I see

her not dispirited, not

remembering that she has seen dark

days before; indeed with a kind of instinct that she sees rather better in a cloudy day, and that in the storm of battle and calamity she has a secret

vigor and a pulse like a cannon. old age not decrepit but believe in her

I see

young and

still

power of endurance and

her in her daring to

expansion."


CHAPTER XVII AMONG

HIS BOOKS

put the duty of being read invariably on the author. If he is not read, whose fault is it?" EMERSON S JOURNAL, 1854. "I

as he did in the midst of the

E/ING

land colleges, one

son did not find a place

New Eng

may wonder why Emer in some chair of literature.

Longfellow, Lowell and Holmes were professors. Why was not Emerson sought for as a teacher of

youth ?

The

but he answers reason

him more than

once,

in a characteristic fashion.

The

question occurred to

why

it

he was not asked, he says, was because

those in authority thought he

was not

fitted for

such a position, and he had a suspicion that they

were I

right.

am

ready to concur in this judgment.

fessor Emerson,

I

am

sure,

181

Pro

would have been


EMERSON

182

embarrassed by a row of students conscientiously

and giving

taking notes

docile

assent to

his

challenging sentences with a keen eye to the marks that

were to be the reward of

Emerson

s

attempts to be didactic were uni

He

formly unfortunate.

moods

their attention.

could not

command

for any systematic exposition.

He

his

con

ways of the academic scholar were always an astonishment to him. His thoughts would not "stay put." In the course of a year fesses that the

He managed to get through with a respectable

amount of work, but it came occasionally. When he knew that he ought to write a lecture, it quick ened his wits to write a poem for the DM, and

when it

demanded a poem,

the editor of the Dial

stirred his

position.

mind

to a

new

Having found

swered best for his reconciled to

it,

but

own it

effort at prose

that this

method an

constitution, he

became

could not be recommended

by a professor to his students. favorite

com

Neither could his

method of reading, beginning

at the

end

of the book and reading backward, with wide intervals

between the

acts,

be recommended,

al-


AMONG though ing.

it

has

its

If there

is

basket have been

HIS BOOKS

183

advantages as a method of

test

a suspicion that the apples in a the skeptical buyer

"deaconed,"

The

which they appear. looks different bottom side up.

will reverse the order in fruit

But the chief

disability of

Emerson

as a formal

teacher of literature takes us back to the consider ation to which attention chapter.

His mind has

was drawn its

real affinity to the

whom

thinkers of antiquity, to

in the first

books were not an

The proper study of mankind was man and nature. The book was only object of special interest.

the record of

ulating his

"It

some fellow-student, useful

own

as stim

thought.

seems meritorious to read

;

but from every

thing but history or the works of the old

com

come back with the conviction

manding authors

I

that the slightest

wood

cant native emotion of

Bibliolatry, in the

thought, the least signifi

my

own,

is

more

to

me."

wide sense of book worship,

had no more uncompromising enemy.

"We

are


EMERSON

184 too

we

For a few golden sentences turn over and actually read a volume of books.

civil to

will

four or five hundred

pages."

One can imagine Emerson s intonation as he expressed his wonder that we would actually read four or five hundred pages for the sake of a

golden sentence which might be concealed in

The

them.

great art of the reader

was

to pass

quickly over the desert place in order to linger

long in the green

"The

oasis.

colleges, whilst they provide us

with

braries, furnish no professor of books; and,

think,

we

no chair

is

so

much wanted.

are surrounded by

in these paper

know

I

In a library

many hundreds

friends, but they are imprisoned

li

of dear

by an enchanter

and leathern boxes; and, though

and have been waiting two, ten, or twenty centuries for us, some of them, and are eager to give us a sign, and unbosom them they

selves,

it is

us,

the law of their limbo that they

must

not speak until spoken to; and as the enchanter

has dressed them,

like battalions

of infantry, in


AMONG

HIS BOOKS

one

coat and jacket o

cut,

185

by the thousand and

ten thousand, your chance of hitting on the right

computed by the arithmetical rule of Permutation and Combination, not a choice out one

is

to be

of three caskets, but out of half a million caskets all alike.

But

it

happens in our experience, that

in this lottery there are at least fifty or

blanks to a prize.

seems, then, as

It

the false books, and alighting

some char

if

itable soul, after losing a great deal of

a hundred

time

among

upon a few true

ones which made him happy and wise, would do a right act in naming those which have been bridges or ships to carry

him

safely over dark

morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred

cities,

would be books ricii,

into

palaces

best done

who from

and temples.

This

by those great masters of

time to time appear,

the Fab-

the Seldens, Magliabechis, Scaligers, Miran-

whose eyes sweep the whole horizon of learning. But private readers, dolas,

Bayles, Johnsons,

reading purely for love of the book, would serve us by leaving each the shortest note of what he found.


EMERSON

186 "There

are books ; and

it is

practicable to read

We

them, because they are so few.

look over

with a sigh the monumental libraries of Paris, of the Vatican and the British

Museum.

number of printed books Library at Paris was estimated the

In 1858

in the

Imperial

at eight

hundred

thousand volumes, with an annual increase of twelve thousand volumes

;

so that the number of

printed books extant to-day

may

easily exceed

a

number of pages man can read in a day, and the

million. It is easy to count the

which a

number

diligent

of years which

human

life in

favourable

circumstances allows to reading; and to

demon

though he should read from dawn till dark, for sixty years, he must die in the first

strate that,

But nothing can be more deceptive than arithmetic, where none but a natural method

alcoves. this is

really pertinent.

bridge Library, and

I visit

I

occasionally the

Cam

can seldom go there with

out renewing the conviction that the best of is

already within the four walls of

home.

The

my

it all

study at

me who

inspection of the catalogue brings

continually back to the few standard writers


AMONG

HIS BOOKS

187

are on every private shelf; and to these

can

it

afford only the most slight and casual additions.

The crowds and

centuries of books are only

com

mentary and elucidation, echoes and weakeners of these few great voices of Time."

For

the

"And

mere book worm he had

yet

and yet

hesitate

I

little

to denounce

When

reading as aught inferior and mean.

my books come over me,

sions of

when

the remembrance of

accept sad,

it

respect.

as I

sit

vi

writing,

some poet comes,

with pure joy, and quit

my

I

thinking as

lumbering work, and hasten to

my

little

heaven/

There were not many authors who were ad mitted to his little heaven. They were so con genial to his

own mind

of mine and thine. subject

way.

was

The

so that

It it

was no question did not matter what the

that there

was

treated in a suggestive

great purpose of literature

late the faculty of thinking.

is

to stimu


EMERSON

188 "You

say,

Your reading

for you, not for me. If

I read.

read

it is

it till it is

now

It

irrelevant/

is

makes no

read

irrelevant, I

Yes,

difference it

what

deeper.

I

pertinent to Nature and the hour

A

good scholar will find Aris tophanes and Hafiz and Rabelais full of American

that

passes.

history." "**;..

His ambition for

his

own books was

might be treated in the same fashion. have

my books

read as

I

read

my

that they "I

would

favorite books,

not with explosion and astonishment, a marvel

and a

rocket, but as a friendly

and agreeable

in

fluence."

In his incursions into Book-land he followed the

same method, or

lack of method.

He

read

what pleased him. The best guide to such books he thought was common fame. Certain books had pleased generations of readers.

This proved that

they were readable.

"The

frt>m

best rule of reading will be a

method

nature, and not a mechanical one of hours


AMONG and pages.

It

HIS BOOKS

189

holds each student to a pursuit of

his native aim, instead of a desultory miscellany.

Let him read what his

memory on

is

proper to him, and not waste

a crowd of mediocrities.

whole nations have derived their culture

As

from a

as the Bible has been the literature

single book,

as well as the religion of large portions of Europe, as Hafiz

w as r

the eminent genius of the Persians,

Confucius

of

the

Spaniards;

so,

perhaps, the

be a gainer

if all

say, in

of

all

the

human mind would lost,

but Shakespeare, Milton

through the pro founder study so

drawn

to those

of his

own

let

Cervantes

the secondary writers were

England,

and Bacon,

Chinese,

wonderful minds.

With

this pilot

genius, let the student read one, or

him read many, he

will read advantageously.

Doctor Johnson said Whilst you stand deliber ating which book your son shall read first, another :

boy has read both read anything and you will soon be learned. "Nature is much our friend ;

Nature wine.

is

No

five

hours a day

in this matter.

always clarifying her water and her filtration

can be so perfect.

She does


EMERSON

190

the same thing by books as by Her gases and plants.

There

and then a

always a selection in writers,

is

selection

from the

selection.

All books

that get fairly into the vital air of the world were

written by the successful class, by the affirming

and advancing thousands

feel

class,

utter

though they cannot

Emerson s advice is books, but that "classics,"

who

we

that

what tens of say."

we should

read famous

should not approach them as

but with the same familiarity with

which we read the daily newspaper.

Plato s

Socrates was not a dignified literary person.

can

know him

farmer.

just as

He may

whose oddity

We

we know a shrewd Yankee

be to the reader a character

delights us.

was plain

as a

Quaker in habit ancl speech, affected low phrases and illustrations from cocks and quails, soup-pans, and sycamore-spoons, "He

grooms and especially if

farriers,

and unnamable

offices,

he talked with any superfine person.

He had a Franklin-like wisdom.

Thus, he showed


AMONG who was

one that

it

doors,

HIS BOOKS

afraid to go on foot to Olympia,

was no more than if

191

his daily

continuously extended

walk within

would

easily

reach. "Plain

old uncle as he was, with his great ears,

an immense

talker,

the

rumour

ran, that

on

one or two occasions, in the war with Boeotia, he

had shown a determination which had covered the retreat of a troupe;

and there was* some story that,

he had, in the city govern ment, when one day he chanced to hold a seat there, evinced a courage in opposing singly the under cover of

folly,

popular voice, which had well-nigh ruined him.

He

is

very poor, but then he

and can

live

on a few

hardy as a

soldier,

olives; usually,

in the

is

on bread and water, except when His necessary ex entertained by his friends. penses were exceedingly small, and no one else strictest sense,

He wore

no under garment his upper garment was the same for summer and winter; and he went barefooted; and it is said could live as he did.

;

procure the pleasure, which he loves, of talking at his ease all day with the most elegant that, to


EMERSON

192

and cultivated young men, he will now and then return to his shop and carve statues, good or bad, for sale.

However

that be,

certain that he

it is

had grown to delight in nothing else than this conversation and that, under his hypocritical pre tense of knowing nothing, he attacks and brings ;

down all

the fine speakers,

all

the fine philosophers

of Athens, whether natives, or strangers from

Asia Minor and the

islands.

to talk with him, he

is

ous to know; a if

Nobody can and

so honest,

man who was

refuse

really curi

willingly confuted

he did not speak the truth, and

who

willingly

confuted others asserting what was false; and not

less

pleased

when confuted than when con

futing; for he thought not any evil happened to

men of

such magnitude as false opinion respecting

the just and unjust.

knows

A

disputant,

pitiless

who

nothing, but the bounds of whose conquer

ing intelligence no

man had

ever reached ; whose

temper was imperturbable; whose dreadful logic was always leisurely and sportive so careless and ;

ignorant as to disarm the wariest and

draw them


AMONG in the pleasantest

HIS BOOKS

manner

193 doubts

into horrible

But he always knew the way out; knew it, yet would not tell it. No escape; he drives them to terrible choices by his dilemmas, and confusion.

and

tosses

their

the Hippiases

and Gorgiases, with

grand reputations, as a boy tosses his

The tyrannous

realist!

Meno

has discoursed a

thousand times at length on virtue before

companies and very but, at this

it

many

appeared to him;

moment, he cannot even

this cramp-fish

is,

well, as

balls.

tell

what

it

of a Socrates has so bewitched

him. "This

conceits,

hard-headed humourist, whose strange drollery and

bonhommle

diverted the

young patricians, whilst the rumour of his say ings and quibbles gets abroad every day, turns out, in the sequel, to

as his logic,

and

under cover of

have a probity as invincible

to be either insane, or, at least, this play, enthusiastic in his re

ligion."

In

like

manner Shakespeare

is

not to be thought


EMERSON

194

We

of in terms of mere literature. technicalities of his art.

who

liked to

criticism

was a

"He

man

full

talk."

and appreciating

able

"Some

forget the

critics

think no

on Shakespeare valuable that does not on the dramatic merit; that he is

rest purely

judged as poet and philosopher. I think as highly as these critics of his dramatic merit, falsely

but

still

who

think

it

He was

secondary.

man

a full

liked to talk; a brain exhaling thoughts and

images, which, seeking vent, found the drama

Had he been consider how well he

next at hand.

had

to

good a dramatist he was, the world.

say

is

But

we

should have

how

filled his place,

and he

is

the best in

turns out that what he has to

of that weight as to withdraw some atten

from the

tion

it

less

vehicle;

and he

is

like

some

saint

whose history is to be rendered into all languages, into verse and prose, into songs and pictures, and cut

up

into proverbs, so that the occasion

gave the saint tion,

s

which

meaning the form of a conversa

or of a prayer, or of a code of laws,

is

im-


AMONG

HIS BOOKS

195

material compared with the universality of

So

application.

it

fares with the wise Shakes

peare and his book of all

its

life.

He wrote

the airs for

our modern music; he wrote the text of modern of manners; he drew the

life; the text

man man

of

in England and Europe; the father of the America; he drew the man, and described the

day, and

what

is

done

men and women,

in it;

he read the hearts of

their probity

and

their second

thought and wiles; the wiles of innocence, and the transitions by which virtues and vices slide into their contraries

part

he could divide the mother

s

from the

father s part in the face of the

draw

the fine demarcations of freedom

child, or

and of

knew

fate; he

which make the sweets and

mind

;

all

the laws of

police of nature;

the terrors of

human

repression

and

all

the

lot lay in his

as truly but as softly as the landscape lies

And

on the

eye.

dom

life sinks

of

the importance of this wis

the form, as of

Tis

Drama

or Epic,

making a question con cerning the paper on which a king s message is out of notice.

written.

like


EMERSON

196

"Shakespeare is

as

much

of eminent authors, as he

With

is

out of the category

out of the

this conception of literature

crowd."

Emerson

not accept the doctrine of those realists that the highest praise of a literary it

gives an exact transcript of actual

are surrounded by actuality,

we

who

did

think

work

is

life.

We

that all

do not need to

have some one reproduce for us what we have every day an opportunity to see for ourselves.

What

the

man

of genius does

is

to allow us to

become acquainted with the working of his own mind. And the reader must make sure that it is the kind of

mind

that

is

worth knowing.


CHAPTER EMERSON

XVIII

HISTORIC SENSE

S

feel time passing away as an ebbing sea. I feel the eternity of man, the identity of his thought. The Greek had, it seems, the same felloiv beings as I. The sun and moon, water and fire, met his heart precisely as they meet mine. Then the vaunted dis tinction between Greek and English, between Classic and Romantic schools become superficial and pe dantic. When a thought of Plato becomes a thought to me, when a truth that fired the soul of Pindar "I

fires

me, time

is

no has

more."

declared

ARITIC lacking in the means cal

that

scholars.

historian

like

as

Emerson was

"historic sense."

Emerson had no

investigation

modern

that

it

He

By

aptitude for histori

could never have been an

the exact truth in regard to

He was

industry with which

he

has been developed by

Lord Acton, seeking to

periods of time.

this

all

at

the events of past

incapable of the fierce

Thomas 197

get

Carlyle investigated


EMERSON

198

the records of long dead Hohenzollerns.

One Emer

Hohenzollern would have been enough for son. He had no taste for antiquarian research.

But sense

to say that a is like

of humor. little

man

is

without the historic

accusing him of a lack of the sense

This

latter accusation usually

more than there

is

means

a difference in the taste

for jokes.

Instead of saying that toric sense,

which was

it

would be

Emerson lacked

the his

better to inquire as to that

characteristic in his attitude to history.

Only when we sympathize with that can we obtain any benefit from him. There are two ways of looking at human his One may fix his mind on the differences tory. between one period and another, or he

more profoundly he recognizes. In the former

may

interested in the identities

case,

what

is

seen

is

be

which

a succession

of events and personages each having

its

little

day and passing away forever. Each is different from the other, and it is the business of the his torian to note those differences.

He

is

the stage


EMERSON S HISTORIC SENSE

199

manager careful about the entrances and the exits of the actors, and about the way the lights are There are

arranged for each scene.

distinctly

marked periods of time, each with its beginning, middle and end. This is one way of looking at history.

Another way

is

that of the philosopher

who

is

interested primarily not in persons or events, but

in the forces of

manifestations.

which they are the temporary

He

perceives not so

dead

past.

So much of

He

s

did not care for the

as

it

the

This was Emerson

differences as the identities.

habitual point of view.

much

was

really

dead he

would decently bury. But that part of it which was alive he would incorporate into the living present and treat as of contemporary interest. It

was here that Emerson

s

historic sense

mani

fested itself.

In the volume called

Emerson "The

illustrates

his

"Representative

conception of History.

search after the great

men,"

dream of youth, and the most of

manhood."

And

yet

Men"

he

says,

"is

the

serious occupation

when we have found

the


EMERSON

200 great man, selves.

we

much

find a person very

our

like

We agree with him, which means that he

expresses thoughts that are very like our own.

We are conscious is in

of the fact that he reveals what

us as well as in him.

Plato, Shakespeare,

Montaigne, Napoleon, were representative men. There were millions of persons who had the same

The

qualities, but in less degree.

fact that they

have been appreciated proves their kinship to the multitude.

"The

genius of humanity

is

the right point of

view in history. The qualities abide; the men who exhibit them have no more nor less, and pass away; the qualities remain in another brow. No

more

experience

is

phoenixes,

now

familiar.

Once you saw

they are gone; the world

therefore disenchanted.

The

vessels

you read sacred emblems turn out to be pottery; but the sense of the picture

and you may

still

is

not

on which

common

is

sacred,

read them, transferred to the

walls of the world.

For a time our teachers

serve us personally, as meters or milestones of


EMERSON

201

Once they were angels of knowledge Then we drew

progress.

and

HISTORIC SENSE

S

their fig-ares touched the sky.

near,

saw

their

means, culture and limits and they

yielded their place to other geniuses.

Happy

if

a

few names remain so high that we have not been able to read them nearer, and age and compari son have not robbed them of a ray. But at last we shall cease to look in

men

shall content ourselves

with their social and dele

All that respects the individual

gated quality. is

for completeness and

temporary and prospective

himself,

who

is

ascending out of his limits into a

We

catholic existence.

true and best benefit of believe

him an

original

Here Emerson

To

have never come at the

any genius so long as we force."

differed

radically

his

Carlyle the hero

tion of the sixteenth century.

Cromwell and

Frederick the Great were treated as creatures

from

was an orig Luther was more than the Reforma

friend Carlyle. inal force;

like the individual

who were

the Prussians

whom

if

they were

unlike the Englishmen and

they governed.

To Emerson


EMERSON

202

men who

they were

best represented the ideals of

their countrymen.

To my mind Emerson s most

brilliant bit

of

is contained in his Essay on have been the descriptions of Napoleon. Many the life and character of the great Corsican ad

historical criticism

Emerson makes us

venturer.

Napoleon was. movi

men

was the

idol of

man com-

because he had in transcendent degree

the qualities

He was sitting

"Bonaparte

see the kind of

and powers of common men." man of stone and iron, capable of

"a

on horseback sixteen or seventeen hours,

of going

many days

together without rest or

and with the speed and action; a man not embar

food, except by snatches,

spring of a tiger in

rassed by any scruples; compact, instant,

selfish,

prudent, and of a perception which did not suffer to be balked or misled by any pretences of

itself

any superstition or any heat or haste own.

others, or

of his "I

call

Napoleon the agent or attorney of the

middle classes of modern society; of the throng


EMERSON S HISTORIC SENSE who

filled

203

the markets, shops, counting houses,

manufactories, ships of the

He was

to be rich.

modern world, aiming

the agitator, the destroyer of

the internal improver, the liberal,

prescription,

the radical, the inventor of means, the opener of

doors and markets, the subverter of monopoly

and

abuse."

Napoleon ist

to the

democrat

s

change from the young revolution

Emperor was nothing is

the

young

strange.

conservative.

The

The aristo

and gone to seed be stand on the one ground of the

crat is the democrat, ripe

cause both parties

supreme value of property, which one endeavors to get and the other to keep. Bonaparte may be said to represent the its

youth and

its

fate in his

Turn from Power.

its

whole history of

age, yes

this party,

and with poetic

justice

own."

the Essay on Napoleon to that

on

In the description of the village tavern

keeper you will recognize a poor relation of the great Napoleon.

There

is

the same combination

of force and unscrupulousness.


EMERSON

204 "I

knew a

burly Bonaface

who

for

many

years

kept a public house in one of our rural capitals.

He was He was

a knave

selfish.

There

whom

the

town could

ill

spare.

a social vascular creature, grasping and is

no crime which he did not or

But he made good friends of the selectmen, served them with his best chop when they supped at his house, and also with his could not commit.

honor the Judge he was very his hand.

He

introduced

all

cordial, grasping

the fiends, male

and

female, into the town, and united in his person the functions of bully, incendiary, swindler, bar

keeper and burglar. cut off the horses in the night.

He

He

tails

girdled the trees,

and

of the temperance people

led the

rummies and

radicals

town meeting. Meanwhile, he was civil, and easy in his house, and precisely the most

in the fat

public-spirited citizen.

He was

active in getting

and planted with shade trees; he subscribed for the fountains, the gas and the the roads repaired

telegraph, he introduced the

new

new horse

scraper, the baby- jumper

rake, the

and what not that

Connecticut sends to the admiring

citizens."


EMERSON S HISTORIC SENSE Schoolboys of

career

Europe?

the

dispute

question

205

Was

the

Napoleon Bonaparte beneficial to The same question arises in regard to

the public-spirited and disreputable tavern keeper.

Emerson

as an historian

He

give a final verdict. the facts

on both

would not attempt to would insist on having

would judge the value of the respondence with his

thing in

we

own

fact narrated

"The

me

And

sides presented. facts

then he

by their cor

experience.

must correspond to some

We

to be credible or intelligible.

as

read must become Greeks, Romans, Turks,

and king, martyr and executioner, must fasten the image to some reality in our secret ex

priest

perience, or

we

shall learn

nothing

rightly."

One

experiences history as he experiences re

ligion.

There are a few passions that are com

mon

to all men.

of the past.

They

It is

are the keys to

all

story

mere pedantry to explain

the

worship and the achievements of other ages as After all they are nothingif they were mysteries. strange.

We have

felt

the

same impulses.


EMERSON

206 "How

easily these old worships of Moses, of

Zoroaster,

of Menu,

of

themselves in the mind. tiquity in them. "I

have seen the

cannot find any an

I

are mine as

They

domesticate

Socrates,

first

much

as theirs.

monks and anchorets

More than

without crossing seas or centuries.

once some individual has appeared to

me

with

such negligence of labour and such commanding contemplation, a haughty beneficiary, begging in the

name of God,

as

made good

to the nineteenth

century Simeon the Stylite, the Thebais, and the first

Capuchins.

"The

priestcraft of the East

and West, of the

Magian, Brahmin, Druid, and Inca, in the individual s private

expounded

The cramping

life.

influence of a hard formalist

is

on a young

child in

repressing his spirits and courage, paralyzing the

understanding, and that without producing indig nation, but only fear

much sympathy with

and obedience, and even

tyranny,

explained to the child

is

a familiar fact

when he becomes a man,

only by seeing that the oppressor of his youth

is

himself a child tyrannized over by those names


EMERSON S HISTORIC SENSE

207

and words and forms, of whose influence he was

The

merely the organ to the youth.

fact teaches

him how Belus was worshipped, and how the Pyramids were

built,

better than the discovery

by Champollion of the names of

and the cost of every the

tile.

Mounds of Cholula

He

all

the

workmen

finds Assyria

at his door,

and

and himself

has laid the courses. "Again,

in ^hat protest

which each considerate

person makes against the superstition of his times,

he repeats step for step the part of old reformers,

and

in the search after truth finds like

perils to virtue.

vigour

is

stition.

He

learns again

them new

what moral

needed to supply the girdle of a super

A great licentiousness treads on the heels

of a reformation.

How many times in the history

of the world has the Luther of the day had to

lament the decay of piety in his

own

household!

Doctor/ said his wife to Martin Luther, one day,

how

is it that,

we prayed whilst now we

whilst subject to papacy,

so often and with such fervour,

pray with the utmost coldness and very seldom? "The

advancing

man

discovers

how deep a


EMERSON

208

property he has in literature,

He

as in all history.

in all fable as well

finds that the poet

was no

odd fellow who described strange and impossible situations, but that universal

man wrote by

his

pen a confession true for one and true for all. His own secret biography he finds in lines wonder fully intelligible to him, dotted

was

born.

One

after another he

down

before he

comes up

in his

private adventures with every fable of yEsop, of

Homer, of Scott,

and

hands."

Hafiz, of Ariosto, verifies

them with

of Chaucer, of

his

own head and


CHAPTER XIX PEACE AND

WAR

do not like to speak to the Peace Society, if so I am to restrain myself in so extreme a privilege as the use of sword and bullet. For the peace of a man who has forsworn the use of the bullet seems to me not peace, but a canting impotence; but with knife "I

and bullet and honor

in

my

cast

hands,

them

if I

from greater bravery

aside, then I

know

the glory of

peace."

1838 Emerson delivered a lecture on

INwhich has furnished many thoroughgoing

And

pacifists.

War

excellent texts for

yet in the

war

for

the preservation of the Union, he threw himself

unreservedly into the

conflict.

might seem that under the

stress

At

first sight, it

of circumstances

he had given up his earlier convictions.

Yet the words which

I

have placed

at the

head

of this chapter were written at the time he was

making position

his plea for universal peace.

was

Emerson

s

unchanged by the events 209

practically


EMERSON

210

He was

of his time.

was

a believer in peace, but it man armed. It was

the peace of the strong

peace established and maintained by

men who

were not to be coerced. that they

Having demonstrated were able to take care of themselves

they could lay aside their arms and trust to moral force.

His lecture was

in praise of the glory of

peace which he believed in the end would super sede the meretricious glories of war.

"War

perfects the physical constitution,

will,

men

educates the senses, calls into action the

into such swift

moments scale, feit,

that

on the

man

virtues

and

brings

close collision at critical

measures man. it lives, it

On

its

own

endures no counter

but shakes the whole society until every atom

falls into the

What

place

its specific

gravity assigns

it.

does war, beginning from the lowest races

and reaching up

to

man, signify? Is it not mani and beneficent principle

fest that it covers a great

which nature has deeply principle?

at heart?

It is self help.

life the instinct

What

is

that

Nature implants with

of self help, perpetual struggle


PEACE AND

WAR

211

to be, to resist opposition, to attain to

freedom

and the security of a permanent, self -de fended being, and to each creature these objects are made so dear that

it

risks its life continually in the

struggles for these

ends."

But because war has had such uses does

follow that

it

"At

it

must continue

in the past,

indefinitely?

a certain stage of his progress a

man

rights

he be of sound mind and body. At a higher stage he makes no offensive demonstration, but if

and of an unconquerable heart. At a still higher he comes into the region of holiness, passion has passed from him, his war he

is

like

alert to repel injury

nature

converted into an active medicinal

and accepts with wearisome tasks of denial and charity;

principle,

alacrity

is all

he

sacrifices himself,

but being attacked he bears

it

and turns the other

cheek, as one engaged throughout his being,

no

longer to the service of the individual but to the

common

soul of

man."

There are passages in praise of non-resistance jvhich sound very much like the words of doc-


212

EMERSON

trinaire pacifists.

But

the soldier

it is

who with arms

the non-resistance of in his

hand

will

not

cause

of

use them to revenge a private wrong.

"The

cause of peace

cowardice.

If peace

is

not the

is

sought to be defended

or preserved for the safety of the luxurious and

a shame and the peace will be base. If better and the peace will be broken.

the timid,

War

is

it is

must be by brave men who have come up to the same height of the hero, peace

is

to be maintained,

it

namely the will to carry their life in their hands, and have gone a step beyond the hero and will not seek another

man s

life

lectual insight or else

by

men who by their

tained such perception of

their intel

moral education at

their

own

intrinsic

worth that they do not think property or their own body a sufficient good to be saved by such dereliction of principle as treating a man like a sheep."

War

is

barbarous, peace has possibilities of

heroic achievement^ but are these not circum-


WAR

PEACE AND stances under which the

good man must

Emerson answered,

In 1838

213

"A

wise

fight?

man

will

never impawn his future being and action, and decide before-hand

When

the extreme event

unseasonable all its

through

do

in

a given

will

instruct

do."

In 1862 he wrote,

tancy.

the

to

shall

Nature and God

extreme event.

him what

what he

senility

came he had no

"It

of

is

hesi

wonderful to see

the

Peace

Party

masks, blinding their eyes to the

main feature of the war, namely

its

inevitable-

ness."

Heroism or in

is

w ar. r

after all the It

is

same whether

in peace

the deliberate choice of the

highest service possible under the circumstances.

He

who when war is in of duty as one who is

thinks of the soldier

evitable obeys the call sacrificed to

"But

He

make peace

possible.

best befriended of the

who,

God

in evil times,

Warned by an inward

voice,

Heeds not the darkness and the dread, Biding by his rule and choice, Feeling only the fiery thread


EMERSON

214

Leading over heroic ground, Walled with mortal terror round, To the aim which him allures, And the sweet heaven his deed secures. Peril around, all else appalling, in front and leaden rain,

Cannon

Him duty through the clarion calling To the van called not in vain. "Stainless

Knowing

on the walls, and knows no more, and whoso falls,

soldier this,

Whoso

fights,

[Justice

triumphs ever

more."


CHAPTER XX THE FORTUNES OF THE POOR "The

of the

whole

interest of history lies in the fortunes

poor."

Emerson

TO

the present-day reader

we

the problem of poverty.

satisfactory

call

is least

when he touches upon what

We

have

in

mind the condition of thousands of persons who through no fault of their own are condemned to live in city slums.

They

are,

we

believe, victims

They can be redeemed

of social misadjustment.

only by social effort.

When we

hear Emerson saying that the whole

interest of history lies in the fortunes of the poor,

we

expect to hear

upon our problem. abolish poverty? erty, it

has

he

tells us, is

many

him say something bearing

How

We

does he propose to

are disappointed.

not so bad after

advantages.

all.

Sometimes he

215

Pov Indeed

rises into


EMERSON

216

a strain that reminds us of Saint Francis of Assisi.

We

can only understand Emerson and Saint

Francis

When

when we

define the terms

they used.

my lady Pov not he was of the condition of those erty thinking who

He

Francis sang the praises of

lived in the hideous slums of great cities.

had

in

mind

the poverty of the Italian peas

whose fortunes he was glad to share. They were poor in this world s goods, but rich in spir ants

itual resources.

listened to the

in

They

song of

lived in the birds,

human companionship. The poverty which Emerson

poverty of the well-born It

open air, they and they were happy

was a

life

opportunity. sity

New

praised

England youth.

without luxury, but with endless

There was a stimulating of neces

acting upon natural ambition.

man s

was the

The poor

son could aspire to any station in

society.

The way was open to him. If he had health he was to be congratulated as one of the children of good

fortune.

never

tired.

This was a theme of which he


FORTUNES OF THE POOR

217 4

poor man s son is educated. There is many a humble house in every city, in every town, where talent and taste, and sometimes "The

genius, dwell with poverty

not seen,

and labour.

Who

has

and who can see unmoved, under a low

roof, the eager, blushing boys discharging as they

can their household chores, and hastening into the sitting-room to the study of to-morrow s merciless lesson, yet stealing time to read one

chapter

more of the novel hardly smuggled

the tolerance of father

and mother,

into

atoning for

the same by some pages of Plutarch or Gold

smith; the

warm sympathy

with which they kin

dle each other in school-yard, or in

barn or wood

shed, with scraps of poetry or song, with phrases

of the last oration, or mimicry of the orator; the

youthful criticism, on Sunday, of the sermons; the school declamation faithfully rehearsed at

home, sometimes to the

fatigue,

admiration of sisters; the literary vanity,

when

first

sometimes to the solitary joys of

the translation or the theme

has been completed, sitting alone near the top of the house; the cautious comparison of the attrac-


EMERSON

218

live advertisement of the arrival of

Macready, Booth, or Kemble, or of the discourse of a well-

known

speaker, with the expense of the enter

tainment;

the

affectionate

with which

delight

they greet the return of each one after the early separations which school or business require; the foresight with which, during such absences, they

hive the honey which opportunity offers, for the

ear and imagination of the others

;

and the unre

strained glee with which they disburden selves of their early mental treasures

when

that holds

hoop band of poverty, of excluding them

them staunch ?

the

What

holidays bring them again together? the

them

It is

is

the iron

necessity, of austerity, which,

from the sensual enjoyments

which make other boys too early old, has directed their activity in safe and right channels, and

made them,

despite themselves, reverers of the

grand, the beautiful, and the good.

Ah!

short

sighted students of books, of Nature, and of

man! too happy, could they know tages.

They

pine for freedom

parental yoke; they sigh

their

from

advan

that mild

for fine clothes,

for


FORTUNES OF THE POOR rides, for the theater,

dissipation, if their

219

and premature freedom and

which others

Woe

possess.

The

wishes were crowned!

to them,

angels that

dwell with them, and are weaving laurels of life for their youthful brows, are Toil,

and Truth, and Mutual

and Want,

Faith."

In the last fifty years there have been vast

America we have begun to feel the pressure of population on the means of The young man can not obtain a subsistence. social changes.

Even

in

farm by the simple device of going West. And yet America is still a land of opportunity. It is still poor man s country" even though the poor man has to be more alert than formerly in order "a

to

win

success.

It is still true that inherited

wealth

is

not nec

essary for the attainment of the most desirable things.

One may be born poor and

yet be a child

of good fortune. "In

est,

America, the necessity of clearing the for

laying out

town and

and building then church and

street,

every house and barn and fence,


EMERSON

220

town-house, exhausted such means as the Pil

grims brought, and made the whole population poor; and the

new

like necessity is still

found

in each

These needs

settlement in the Territories.

gave their character to the public debates in every village and state. I have been often impressed at

our country town-meetings with the accumulated virility, in

each village, of

who

ten men,

speak so well, and so easily handle

the affairs of the town.

of a

little

discussed

or six or eight or

five

I

often hear the business

town (with which

am

I

most familiar)

and thoroughness,

with a clearness

and with a generosity, too, that would have sat isfied me had it been in one of the larger cap itals.

I

am

sure each one of

parallel experience.

in every

tain

town or

number of

unpaid, a great est

And

city is

my

readers has a

every one knows that

always to be found a cer

public-spirited

men,

who

amount of hard work

perform,

in the inter

of the churches, of schools, of public grounds,

works of

taste

duties, so in social

men of

And as in civil power and duties. Our gentle

and refinement.

the old school, that

is,

of the school of


FORTUNES OF THE POOR

221

Washington, Adams, and Hamilton, were bred after English types, and that style of breeding furnished fine examples in the last generation;

though some of us have seen such,

but,

they are

all

With

gone.

But nature

is

I

doubt

not poorer to

our haste, and slipshod ways, and flippant self-assertion, I have seen examples of day.

new

grace and power in address that honour the

was

It

country.

my

all

my

fortune not long ago, with

eyes directed on this subject, to

an American

to be

proud

of.

I

fall in

said never

with

was

such force, good meaning, good sense, good ac

combined with such domestic lovely be haviour, such modesty and persistent preference

tion,

for others. factor.

Wherever he moved he was the bene

It is

shoot well,

of course that he should ride well,

sail well,

affairs well, but

the

keep house well, administer

he was the best

talker, also, in

company what with a perpetual ;

practical wis

dom, with an eye always to the working of the thing,

what with the multitude and

distinction of

(and one detected continually that he had a hand in everything that has been done), his facts


EMERSON

222 and

in the temperance with

which he parried

all

and opened the eyes of the person he Yet I talked with without contradicting him.

offence,

said to myself,

How little this man suspects, with

sympathy for men and his respect for lettered and scientific people, that he is not likely, in any

his

company, to meet a man superior to himself. And I think this is a good country, that can bear such a creature as he

is."


CHAPTER XXI THE CUTTING EDGE "It

(courage) gives the cutting edge to every pro

fession"

which Emerson

virtue

THE

was courage.

as essential

contacts of life

insisted

it is

common

upon

In the ruder

enough, but

it

is

needed equally in time of peace. "There

is

a courage of the cabinet as well as

a courage of the

field,

a courage of manners in

private assemblies that enables one

man

to speak

masterly to a hostile company whilst another

who can

easily face a

cannon

s

man

mouth does not

open his own. the courage of the merchant in deal

"There is

ing with his trade, by which dangerous turns of affairs are

met and prevailed

recognize as

much

over.

gallantry, well

223

Merchants

judged too, in


EMERSON

224

the conduct of a wise and upright

ness in

difficult times, as soldiers in

There

man a

of busi

soldier.

a courage in the treatment of every art by a master in architecture, in sculpture, in is

painting and in poetry, cheering the

mind of

spec

tator or receiver as by true strokes of genius,

which yet no wise implies the presence of phys ical

valor in the in

genius

every kind.

power belongs

The

artist.

This

A

is

the courage of

certain quantity

of

to a certain quantity of faculty.

beautiful voice in church goes sounding on,

and covers up in

its

volume, as in a cloak,

The

defects in the choir. yield to stinct,

it,

and so the

all

singers I observe

the all

fair singer indulges her in

and dares and dares because she knows she

can."

There could not be a more perfect illustration of the kind of courage which Emerson admired than the voice of the singer directed by a sure sense of power.

It

does not domineer and yet

it

dominates.

Emerson

felt

that

the

America of

his

day


THE CUTTING EDGE exhibited courage in

many

225

directions.

It faced

the material problems with an indomitable energy.

But he

felt

a lack of the cutting edge in dealing

with intellectual problems. ars seemed to

him

The American

schol

They were not

tame-spirited.

sure of themselves, and were followers rather

than leaders. In his oration before the Phi Society of

Harvard

in

Beta Kappa

made

1837, he

a bold

attack on the education of the day and ended with

a plea

for the

courage of the

intellect.

The

scholar must develop a heroism of his own. "In

self trust are all the virtues

Free should the scholar

comprehended.

free

be,

and brave.

Free even to the definition of freedom

any hindrance which does not constitution.

Brave

;

for fear

arise is

from

without his

own

a thing which a

scholar by his very function puts behind him.

Fear always springs from

He "If

ignorance."

does not belong to a protected

class.

he seeks a temporary peace by the diversion

of his thoughts from politics or vexed questions,


EMERSON

226

hiding his head like an ostrich in the flowering

peeping into microscopes and turning

bushes,

rhymes, as a boy whistles to keep his courage up. So is the danger a danger still; so is the fear

Manlike

worse.

him look its

spect

which

let

him turn and

into its eye,

its

no great way back he ;

extent ; he will have

made

his

its

its

through

The world pretension.

stone-blind custom,

behold

is

dealt

it

is

nature and

his

What

it

who

and pass can see

deafness,

what

what overgrown error you by your suf and you have already

there only by sufferance,

See

ferance.

nature, in

hands meet on the

other side, and can henceforth defy superior.

Let

will then find in

himself a perfect comprehension of

on

it.

see the whelping of this lion

origin

lies

and search

face

it

a mortal

to be a

lie

blow."

In 1876, in an address at the University of Virginia, "The

Emerson

scholar

is

returns to the

same theme.

the right hero.

He

is

brave

because he sees the omnipotence of that which inspires him.

Is there only one courage

and one


THE CUTTING EDGE warfare ? I

as

cannot manage sword and

I

not therefore be brave?

many

I

courages as men.

only hero?

Is

a

man

down

rifle

:

can

thought there were

Is

man

an armed

only the breach of a

the haft of a bowie knife? in righting

227

Men

gun or

of thought

malignity, because they

other armor than their own.

the

fail

wear

Let them decline

hence forward foreign methods and foreign cour

Let them do that which they can do.

ages.

them

fight

weakness.

Let

by their strength and not by their .

.

.

have many revivals of religion. We have had once what was called a revival of Letters. I "We

\vish to see

men

s sense

a revival of the

human mind. To

see

of duty extend to the cherishing and

use of their intellectual powers

:

their

religion

should go with their thought and hallow

it."

In his celebrated address to the Cambridge Divinity School,

Emerson

insisted

on a

spiritual

courage which makes of religion an independent force.

"Let

me admonish

you,

first

of

all,

to

go alone,


EMERSON

228

good models, even those which are sacred to the imagination of men, and dare to

to refuse the

love

God without mediator or will find

enough you emulation, prophets. say,

I also

who

will hold

Wesleys and Oberlins,

Thank God

am

"Yourself

a

man/

Friends

veil.

up

to

saints

your and

for these good men, but .

.

.

a new-born bard of the Holy Ghost,

you all conformity, and acquaint hand with Deity. Look to it first

cast behind

men only,

at first

that

fashion,

custom, authority, pleasure

and money are nothing to you,

are not bandages

over your eyes, that you cannot

see,

but live

with the privilege of the immeasurable mind. "Let

us study the grand strokes of rectitude;

a bold benevolence, an independence of friends, so that not the unjust wishes of those

us shall impair our freedom, but

we

who

love

shall resist

for truth s sake the freest flow of kindness, and

appeal to sympathies far in advance; and what the highest

form

element, that

it

in is

which we know

is

this beautiful

taken for granted, that the


THE CUTTING EDGE right, the brave, the

by

In the

lines entitled

same theme.

spiritual courage.

and

generous step will be taken

and nobody thinks of commending

it,

the

229

it

The

it."

he returns to

"Worship"

essence of real worship

It is the

"sword

of the

spirit,"

has a cutting edge.

is he, who, felled by foes, Sprung harmless up, refreshed by blows He to captivity was sold, But him no prison-bars would hold Though they sealed him in a rock, Mountain chains he can unlock "This

:

:

:

Thrown to lions for their meat, The crouching lion kissed his feet Bound to the stake, no flames appalled, :

But arched o er him an honouring vault. This is he men miscall Fate, Threading dark ways, arriving late, But ever coming in time to crown The truth, and hurl wrong-doers down.

He

is

the oldest, and best known,

More near than aught thou

call st

thy own,

Yet, greeted in another s eyes, Disconcerts with glad surprise.

This is Jove, who, deaf to prayers, Floods with blessings unawares. Draw, if thou canst, the mystic line Severing rightly his from thine,

Which

is

human, which

divine."

is


CHAPTER

XXII

TERMINUS "It

is

time fo be old*

To take in sail: The god of bounds,

Who

sets to seas a sHore, to me in his fatal rounds, said: more!

Came

And

No

No

farther shoot Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root, Fancy departs: no more invent; Contract thy firmament To compass of a tent. There s not enough for this and that, Make thy option which of two; Economise the failing river, Not the less revere the Giver, Leave the many and hold the few.

Timely wise accept the terms, Soften the fall with wary foot; A little while Still plan and smile, And, fault of novel germs, Mature the unf alien fruit.

Curse, if thou wilt, thy siresr

Bad husbands of their fires, Who, when they gave thee breath, Failed to bequeath

230


TERMINUS

231

The needful sinew stark as once, The Baresark marrow to thy bones, But

left a legacy of ebbing veins, Inconstant heat and nerveless reins, Amid the Muses, left thee deaf and dumb,

Amid

the gladiators, halt and

numb.

"As the bird trims her to the gale, I trim myself to the storm of time, I man the rudder, reef the sail, Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime: * Lowly faithful, banish fear, Right onward drive unharmed; The port, well worth the cruise, is near.

And

r

X)

A

is

strong

every

the

wave

man

is

charmed/

of action the approach of age

dreaded because

man

"

it

means

defeat.

The

conscious of failing powers yields to

one stronger than himself because younger. To Emerson, as a man thinking, the great weakness of age was to be found in its lack of faith in ideals.

the actual

He saw

and denied the

had not been able

old

men who

accepted

possibility of what they

to achieve.

They

praised the

past time and looked askance at the threatening future.

From

the timidities of age which are

often mistaken for wisdom, he asked to be de livered,

and

his prayer

was

granted.


EMERSON

232

He had

lived through a transition period in

thought.

Almost

ing those

who were younger

all his

contemporaries, includ

left in their later utterances

sion.

Carlyle, Ruskin,

than himself, have

a record of

disillu

Matthew Arnold and Ten

nyson were inclined to sing dirges over a beauti ful age of faith which had vanished before the advance of

James Russell Lowell, with all his sturdy Americanism yielded to the same There was an acknowledgment of impulse. science.

might be expressed in gallant language, but the meaning was none the less spiritual defeat.

It

clear.

To Emerson another

during

this so-called disillusion

illusion.

all

He

speaks of the

was only

man

"who

his years of health has planted himself

on the side of progress, but who as soon as he begins to die, checks his forward play, calls in his troops,

and becomes conservative.

All con

from personal defects. They invalids, act on the defensive."

servatives are such

can only,

One

like

thing he resolved to do, to

"obey

the voice


TERMINUS at eve

obeyed at

233

In this he was emi

prime."

nently successful.

Doctor Holmes speaks delicately and discrimi natingly of faculties.

pened.

decline of

Emerson

s

working That exactly describes what hap

"the

The working

memory became

faculties gradually failed,

less clear,

and loyalty to youthful

but spiritual insight

ideals

remained to the

last.

While yet a young man, he had written down certain resolutions by which he wished to guide his

life.

Seldom has any one been more

consist

ent in following his principles.

"Thou

shalt not profess that

which thou dost

not believe. "Thou

shalt not

man when it God in thine own

heed the voice of

agrees not with the voice of soul. "Thou

shalt study

and obey the laws of the

Universe, and they will be thy fellow servants. "Nature

shall

be to thee as a symbol.

The


EMERSON

234 life

of the soul in conscious union with the In

finite shall

be for thee the only real existence.

men

"Teach

world afresh, ent

is

that each generation begins the

in perfect

freedom; that the pres

not the prisoner of the past, but that to-day

holds captive

all

the yesterdays, to judge, to ac

cept, to reject their teachings, as they are

by

own morning

its

shown

sun.

thy fellow countrymen thou shalt preach

"To

the gospel of the

America,

is

the

New home

World, that here, here of man, that here

is

in

the

promise of a new and more excellent social state than history has recorded."

As

to death, he had always been unafraid.

When year,

it

to him.

it

came

at the

found him

He

"Teach

end of his seventy-ninth

in the

mood

that

was

had long ago learned the

me your mood, O

habitual

lesson.

patient stars ! ancient sky,

Who climb each night the

Leaving on space no shade, no

No

trace of age,

no

fear to

THE END

scars,

die."


BOOKS BY

RALPH WALDO EMERSON From

the

list

of

HOUGHTON

MIFFLIN

COMPANY

His Authorized Publishers

EMERSON S JOURNALS

:

Edited by Edward W. Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes. A chronological record of Emerson s life from 1820 to 1876, published in a style uniform^ with the Cen tenary Edition of his Works. Complete in ten volumes, which are sold either separately or as a set. "No

its

more remarkable

history of the

human

intellect in

untrammeled development has ever been

written,"

Digest of this intimate record of Emerson s spiritual and intellectual development. All Emerson s nobility of thought and felicity of expres sion appear at their best in these volumes, while be yond this they have a deep human interest as a fresh and living picture of the man and his period. From every point of view the Journals rank with the best of Emerson s writings, and without them his Works are said the Literary

incomplete.

EMERSON S WORKS

:

New

Centenary Edition with portraits, biographical sketch, notes and index. Also published in the River side Pocket Edition. Flexible leather bindings: LETTERS AND SOCIAL AIMS NATURE, ADDRESSES, AND LECTURES POEMS ESSAYS: FIRST SERIES LECTURES AND BIOGRAPHIESSAYS SECOND SERIES CAL SKETCHES REPRESENTATIVE MEN MISCELLANIES ENGLISH TRAITS NATURAL HISTORY OF INTELCONDUCT OF LlFE LECT AND OTHER PAPERS SOCIETY AND SOLITUDE For information regarding the format and price of these and of the many other editions of Emerson s separate and :

collected writings, write to

4 Park

Street

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN

Boston, Mass.


14 DAY USE RETURN TO DESK FROM WHICH BORROWED

LOAN

DEPT.

due on the last date stamped below, or on the date to which renewed. Renewed books are subject to immediate recall.

This book

\*,

is

-."Oii


128?

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Samuel McChord Crothers - Ralph Waldo Emerson, How to Know Him, 1921  

Source: Internet Archive; Digitizing Sponsor: Microsoft; Contributor: University of California Libraries

Samuel McChord Crothers - Ralph Waldo Emerson, How to Know Him, 1921  

Source: Internet Archive; Digitizing Sponsor: Microsoft; Contributor: University of California Libraries

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